A FORMER director of the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) was cleared of 29 bribery charges last week after the prosecution dropped all charges against him.
Former Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor was acquitted by the Court of Appeal last month of taking RM2 mil from a businessman five years ago. The defence had put doubt on the prosecution’s case, according to the court.
As a result, the conviction, which was upheld by the High Court last year, was overturned and struck down by the courts.
Former Sabah chief minister Tan Sri Musa Aman was cleared and dismissed of all 46 corruption related charges related to timber concessions contract in June last year after the prosecution dropped all charges against him in both corruption and money-laundering cases.
According to the Malaysian report of PwC’s 2020 Global Economic Crime and Fraud Survey, the top four most disruptive or impactful incidents of fraud experienced by Malaysian organisations in the last two years are asset misappropriation (16%), bribery and corruption (18%), customer fraud (20%) and cybercrime (16%).
Even though asset misappropriation has decreased by 6% since 2018, the top four most disruptive economic crimes still account for 70% of all economic crimes in Malaysia. Cybercrime has climbed by 16% in the last two years.
In my view, Malaysia’s economic crimes have reached a critical level and it is eroding the country’s basic survival. Even though the Government agencies such as the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has taken numerous steps to address this condition, it has become futile because it has become the “norm” in Malaysia to engage in such “honourable” activities.
According to blogs.worldbank.org, the MACC’s chief commissioner Datuk Seri Azam Baki was cited in April as saying, “As someone who has been in the line of fighting corruption for a long time, it is at a rate that is worrying me.”
Azam was just shy of declaring it a “pandemic”.
As such, now is the moment to improve the functionality of existing agencies, such as the MACC, by making it completely autonomous and exclusively accountable to Parliament. Furthermore, the MACC should have prosecutorial powers that are not based on favouritism.
However, not many realise that just a few years back, the Malaysian Government formed a new body to assist other agencies in combating financial crime.
The National Anti-Financial Crime Centre Act 2019 came into effect on Jan 2 last year. It is a law to provide for the establishment of the National Anti-Financial Crime Centre, which would serve to coordinate integrated operation relating to financial crime amongst Government entities and enforcement agencies, management of centralised data system and other related matters.
Coordinating agency to curb financial crime
While it has no investigation powers, the centre will not also diminish, abolish or eliminate the functions or powers of any existing enforcement agencies.
The setting up of the NAFCC was an initiative under the National Anti-Corruption Plan 2019-2023 aimed at coordinating enforcement actions to combat financial crimes.
The NAFCC will help coordinate the efforts of 12 existing enforcement agencies. Among the agencies include the police, Customs Department, MACC and Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM).
The agency will cover investigations into financial crimes committed locally and abroad. NAFCC also comprises an advisory board which will advise the prime minister on any aspect related to financial crimes, including making recommendations with regards to the matter.
Its executive committee, on the other hand, would determine the operational policies of the NAFCC. The NAFCC’s powers to organise integrated operations comes into play when investigations into financial crimes involves not less than two enforcement agencies.
The centre will also be empowered to summon any persons to provide relevant information or documents related to its functions.
Unfortunately, under the Section 17 of this Act, no prosecution for an offence under this Act shall be instituted except by, or with the written consent of, the public prosecutor.
The functions of the NAFCC under Section 4 of this Act notes that it was only empowered to coordinate and collaborate in an integrated operation with the enforcement agencies in matters relating to financial crime and advise them accordingly.
Furthermore, it is tasked to establish, administer and maintain a centralised data system relating to financial crime, in order to provide support for an integrated operation and transmit information in the centralised data system to other government entities or enforcement agencies. Finally, it also to carry out activities relating to the prevention of financial crime.
While the establishment of this centre is a step forward in Malaysia’s fight against economic crime, it should not become another impotent body with limited capabilities. Financial crimes not only have an impact on our citizens’ livelihoods, but they have also harmed the economy and dented the country’s reputation.
It is upsetting to note this centre does not even have its own website and operates through Facebook!
Even though it is recognised as a coordinating agency for financial crime, it is not inspiring because one of the centre’s activities is prevention, and proper publicity of the centre’s operation and presence is required so that the public is aware of its presence.
This centre first needs a dedicated website, comparable to the UK’s National Economic Crime Centre, which is run by the National Crime Agency, to benefit both the authorities and the general public.
To summarise, increasing the number of entities tasked with combating economic crime in Malaysia is not a long-term or viable solution. The important thing is the agencies must be free from the influence of those who roam the corridors of power.
These agencies must not only be able to investigate, but also be able to prosecute. Therefore, MPs from both factions must amend the Federal Constitution to give these agencies prosecutorial authority.
The question now is whether can we expect our politicians to work together for the sake of our children’s future. – Sept 5, 2021.
R Paneir Selvam is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Business, Economic and Accounting/Institute of Crime and Criminology, HELP University.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.