ANTIDOTE “We are investigating Taib Mahmud and whatever our action is, we cannot reveal at this moment,” announced Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief Abu Kassim Mohamed in June 2011. 

“They (MACC) have not completed the case. If (the cases) have been closed at least I could have announced it today,” the head of the lacklustre MACC operations review panel, Hadenan Abdul Jalil,sighed regretfully, in May 2012. 

NONELast month, MACC director of investigations Mustafar Ali (rightpromised that the commission would “act accordingly” on the shocking conversations of Taib’s cousins and business associates in the covertly filmed Global Witness video. Yet Taib remains unperturbed.

The MACC, and its federal BN cheerleaders, blames a variety of weaknesses in the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009 for its masterly inaction. But most Malaysians, including Taib himself, see lack of political will as the reason the MACC is sitting on its hands.

Taib told reporters that he did not fear the MACC, as long as he delivers parliamentary seats to the BN. He contemptuously dismissed the MACC as “naughty” and accused the MACC of dishonesty. The MACC have declined to comment on Taib’s tirade.

Taib was infuriated by a question about BN losing votes in the upcoming election because of graft allegations against him. “I am a liability? I won the last election with more than two-thirds majority and they do not care about this thing,” he spat.
NONE
The MACC reports directly to the Prime Minister’s Office. Sarawak PKR vice-chairperson See Chee How (left) sees the MACC probe as a sword of Damocles hanging over Taib’s head - wielded by Umno president Najib Abdul Razak.

“There were very spirited MACC investigations into Taib two years ago, but I believe the investigations, and whatever information they have obtained were used as political leverage for Umno’s benefit. Is that why Taib described MACC as “naughty’ and said they ‘have not been honest’?” See asked.

Sarawak DAP secretary Chong Chien Jen pointed out that it is a “shame that an NGO such as Global Witness can come up with such evidence (of corruption). This also shows that the MACC is not serious in its investigations... MACC has a lot to explain to the people on this matter.” 

MACC’s explanation for inaction


Malaysiakini has learnt from a reliable source that Abu Kassim and other senior MACC officers have said that Taib’s probe is ongoing. However, unlike the standard practice by the corresponding commission in Indonesia, the status of investigations in Malaysia cannot be made public.

For example, according to the source, the MACC is unwilling even to divulge to the public that two of the native customary rights (NCR) land dealers exposed in the Global Witness video have skipped town.

NONEOne of the two is known to be lawyer Alvin Chong (right). In the video, Chong had taken pride at being able to evade tax on land transactions, tossing off the memorable remark that Singapore is “the new Switzerland”. He has been referred to a state lawyers’ disciplinary committee, but sanctions in Sarawak, if any, would certainly be lighter than if he fell under the purview of the independent and outspoken Bar Council in peninsula Malaysia. 

The MACC has claimed that weaknesses in the MACC Act 2009 are impeding investigations. According to the MACC, Taib has also been careful - like other politicians, and particularly because he was trained as a lawyer - to leave little evidence to suggest corruption in land deals, the source said.

Furthermore, the MACC has encountered growing difficulty in obtaining financial information from Singapore - particularly after Singapore opened up its casinos - or so the MACC top brass told the source. Singapore has denied being a centre for money-laundering. 

The MACC leaders then complained that there is no law compelling political leaders to declare their assets, unlike Indonesia’s requirement for all legislators to declare their assets to the Corruption Eradication Commission or KPK.

MACC officials also mentioned that they were “trying” to investigate Taib’s taxes, but lacked expertise, for example in forensic accounting.

Examining MACC’s excuses

The MACC’s lament that Taib leaves no paper trail is risible.Sarawak ReportMalaysiakini and other online media, as well as opposition parties, have unearthed reams of evidence that are damning to Taib and his family.

“I’m sure that, over the years, there have been, and still are, some good officers in the MACC, and that the commission has built up their case against Taib Mahmud,” See told Malaysiakini.

Last October, deputy MACC chief Muhd Shukri Abdul claimed that Taib could not be charged over the fortune accumulated by his son Mahmud Bekir from state government contracts, awarded without open tender by Taib’s cabinet.

“It is true, he received things like timber concessions, which he could sell, amounting to a lot of money. But he had applied for the projects and gotten them. His father did not make any decisions, it was approved by exco members (the Sarawak cabinet). This is the weakness in the law.” 

NONEMohd Radzi Sheikh Ahmad (right in photo), BN chairperson of the parliamentary special committee on corruption, stuck to the same story,blaming loopholes in the MACC Act for the MACC’s inertia over allegations of Taib’s corruption. He picked out Sections 23 and 36 in particular. 

“As an example, to secure a project, he knows the laws state that he cannot be in the meeting if his crony applies for the project,” Mohd Radzi hypothesised. “He will tell the members or participants of the meeting beforehand things like ‘please take a look at this application’. Eventually the crony is selected but he has not breached Section 23 (of the Act),” he said.

Section 23 of the Act states that “an officer of a public body shall be presumed, until the contrary is proved, to use his office or position for gratification…when he makes any decision, or takes any action, in relation to any matter in which such officer, any relative or associate of his, has an interest, directly or indirectly.” 

Under Section 36, an MACC commissioner can act if he or she has “reasonable grounds to believe that any officer of a public body…who owns, possesses, controls or holds any interest which is excessive, having regard to his present or past emoluments…and if he fails to explain satisfactorily such excess, he commits an offence,” with a maximum jail term of 20 years, and a fine.

Section 23 does indeed appear to provide a loophole for Taib to award contracts to his family through the state cabinet, while pretending to excuse himself from relevant meetings. But no rational Malaysian would believe that Umno lawmakers did not foresee this. The Act was rushed through Parliament, obviously for the very reason of providing breathing space for themselves and their allies.

However, it is clear that Section 36 allows the MACC to force Taib to explain his self-professed enormous wealth. Sarawak Report has claimed that published documents, for instance, show Taib used his own name in 1987 as a director in Sakti, a property empire in North America. 

During the current campaign, DAP leader Lim Guan Eng has stated that a change in the federal government will spur MACC to act against Taib, and may force him to step down

“I think the MACC is constrained by its own self at this moment, as it is controlled by its masters, the Umno-led BN,” See added. “If the MACC officers are given the independence to work, like revamping the Commission to be answerable only to Parliament, I believe that Taib’s prosecution will not be too far away.”

KERUAH USIT is a human rights activist - ‘anak Sarawak, bangsa Malaysia’. This weekly column is an effort to provide a voice for marginalised Malaysians. Keruah Usit can be contacted at keruah_usit@yahoo.com