The case of MACC chief Azam Baki

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Anyone who wants to tackle corruption must be prepared to go all the way. There are no shortcuts.

— Oby Ezekwesili, ex-World Bank vice-president

MACC chief commissioner Datuk Seri Azam Baki has been in the national spotlight for the most part of this past week.

Surely, he must have wished that he was in the limelight for other reasons other than the one which has been haunting him for the past two months.

Azam’s ownership of millions of shares in two public listed firms in 2015 had raised questions on whether it was commensurate with his income as a public servant and conflict of interest concerns.

The shareholdings allegations were first published by a whistleblower and social activist, Lalitha Kunaratnam, in two articles last October.

Since then, the matter has erupted into a national issue of epic proportion and, not surprisingly, as the case involves the nation’s top graft buster himself.

Opposition lawmakers had lodged multiple police reports against Azam; others have called for the prime minister to sack him, and the MACC chief was also told to step down and to face the Parliamentary Select Committee at the earliest possible date.

That is not all. The issue has also taken on a ‘religious’ twist with the Perlis Mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin weighing in.

The mufti has called for an overhaul of the MACC after what he described as the “strange” conduct of senior officers defending their boss, Azam Baki, even though an investigation has yet to be conducted.

“Considering the letter of support the MACC officers have issued for their boss, I’m of the opinion that in the interest of justice and transparency of the national administration, the entire MACC leadership should be reviewed and reshuffled”, Mohd Asri said.

I would call it a “restructure” of the entire MACC setup. The MACC has to be placed under the purview of Parliament, not the Prime Minister’s Office.

When the prime minister is the one appointing the MACC chief commissioner, how transparent and effective can one expect him and the anti-graft body he heads to be?

We can change the names of the organisation again and again, from ACA (Anti-Corruption Agency) to NBI (National Bureau of Investigation), back to ACA and then MACC (Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission) but it will serve no purpose if its structure and purview remain the same.

In this current imbroglio, I think it is best for Azam to go on garden leave while an independent probe must be conducted.

It is quite ridiculous for the MACC to conduct an investigation for alleged misconduct of its chief commissioner while he is still at work in the office.

Going on leave is also in Azam’s best interest as he will be less prone to making mistakes while attempting to clear his name.

He has already made a grave error in judgement by initiating legal proceedings for defamation against the whistleblower, Lalitha, and demanding an apology and RM10 million in damages.

Why do I say that Azam has erred in taking that action? Because if Azam is certain of his innocence, he should voluntarily offer to suspend himself from duties and accept investigations by the relevant authority.

By publicly naming the whistleblower in his civil suit, hasn’t the MACC chief contravened the MACC’s own Whistleblower Protection Act 2010?

The Act also promises that no civil or criminal suit can be lodged against whistleblowers. It will now make more sense for the whistleblower to sue the enforcement agency for having been publicly exposed and denied the promised protection.

Whistleblowers are key to the fight against corruption. Azam is not exactly setting the right atmosphere for fighting corruption. Or is he?

I also wish to join Transparency International-Malaysia (TI-M) in calling for an independent investigation into the shareholding claims implicating Azam.

It is best for the government to commission an independent investigation body consisting of properly qualified and independent persons to uncover the facts of the case and determine if any laws or rules were broken.

Such a body should be answerable to and report its findings to the Parliamentary Special Committee on Corruption for its review and recommendations.

It will also give Azam the opportunity to defend himself against the allegations levelled against him, and in the process, protect the good name of MACC.

Please get the independent body established and get to the bottom of this Azam controversy.

The sooner we resolve it and move on, the better it will be for all parties concerned.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.

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