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C4 Centre: Azam Baki’s reappointment highlights govt’s continued failure at institutional reform

Publish date: Tue, 14 May 2024, 04:58 PM

THE Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4) has slammed Tan Sri Azam Baki’s reappointment as Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief commissioner, saying it highlights the ongoing failure of the government to enact institutional reform.

In a statement on Tuesday (May 14) the corruption watchdog noted that it had previously objected to Azam’s contract extension this time last year, and reiterated the criticism it made then.

“Namely, that the credibility and independence of the MACC remains in question so long as the appointment process of the chief commissioner is not reformed,” it remarked.

“C4 Centre calls for greater momentum in the implementation of extensively discussed reforms to decentralise and democratise executive power.”

C4 Centre further highlighted that Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Mohd Zuki Ali’s announcement of Azam’s appointment was made in accordance with Sections 5(1) and (2) of the MACC Act 2009, which provides for the chief commissioner’s appointment to be made by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the advice of the prime minister.

C4 claimed the phrase “on the advice” under these sections removed any discretion from the Agong pursuant to Article 40(1A) of the Federal Constitution, and asserted that the decision to reappoint Azam for another year was solely attributable to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

“As previously highlighted by C4 Centre, it was revealed through investigations by a journalist that Azam owned millions of shares in two publicly-listed companies while he was the head of MACC’s investigations department,” the agency stated.

“Azam subsequently sued the journalist for defamation in a clear instance of ‘strategic litigation against public participation’ (SLAPP), and even used this defamation suit as one of many excuses not to appear before a Parliamentary Select Committee that had summoned him to testify.”

Alternative process for appointment

According to C4 Centre, the process for appointing the MACC chief has been the subject of criticism for years.

For instance, in 2015, the Malaysian Bar, C4 Centre and several other civil society organisations released a Joint Memorandum for the Reform of the MACC which, among other recommendations, called for the creation of a Parliamentary Select Committee on Corruption which would be tasked with the nomination of commissioners to the anti-corruption commission.

“This issue was even raised during Malaysia’s session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the United Nations Human Rights Council on January 25, 2024, where its human rights record for the past five years was examined by the international community,” it related.

“There, the Canadian delegation emphasised the demands of domestic advocates by recommending that permanent independent bodies such as parliamentary select committees be established to oversee appointments to anti-corruption and other oversight institutions.”

C4 also noted that the government had previously somewhat addressed this issue in the National Anti-Corruption Plan (NACP) 2019-2023 by proposing a Public Appointments Bill to “regulate the exercise of Executive Power in respect of Public Appointments to certain constitutional and statutory offices”.

However, this NACP initiative was never implemented.

“Anwar stated in Parliament on March 28, 2023 that the implementation of an alternative process for appointing the MACC Chief Commissioner would depend on the progress made by Parliament - in the event such a mechanism is decided upon and studied by the relevant stakeholders before the end of Azam’s tenure, he would have no issues with it.

“However, over one year later, no progress has been made in this regard,” C4 Centre lamented.

It said disappointingly, the newly-minted National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS) 2024-2028 stipulated that relooking at the requirements for the appointment and dismissal of the MACC chief shall be a long-term sub-strategy, with an anticipated period of four to five years for implementation.

“This delay shall prove detrimental to Anwar’s administration, as any investigations initiated by MACC on politically-linked persons, especially those who are politically opposed to the prime minister, will inevitably be perceived as unjust and selective,” it added.

Last Friday (May 10) Mohd Zuki announced Azam’s reappointment as MACC chief commissioner for one yar with effect from Sunday (May 12).

Tan Sri Azam Baki has been reappointed Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief commissioner for one year, with effect from Sunday (May 12), says Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Mohd Zuki Ali.

Azam was first appointed MACC chief commissioner on March 9, 2020, replacing Latheefa Koya. - May 14, 2024

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