KUALA LUMPUR, May 17 - Datuk Paul Low said today he was hoping to rely on the prime minister’s stature to enable him to fight corruption, admitting that he has no enforcement powers.
The newly-minted minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, who used to helm graft watchdog Transparency-International Malaysia (TI-M), said that his job was only to make proposals on changes to government systems, procedures and processes to reduce opportunities for corruption, as well as to strengthen integrity and good governance practices.
“If I’m a lame duck, other alternatives will be lame duck. What do you do? No need to try?” said Low in an interview with The Malaysian Insider today.DAP publicity chief Tony Pua said yesterday that Low would be judged on his achievements in eradicating corruption, noting that the latter would be a “lame duck minister” if Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak did not implement tangible reforms.
“It’s very easy to be critical...what is the other alternative? Shout from outside? From TI, be an armchair critic? I cannot do it alone...I’m a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department. That gives me stature,” he added.
Pua pointed out that Low would be scrutinised on his ability to ensure that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) will continue to investigate Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud despite the latter’s refusal to co-operate with the anti-graft body, to ensure transparency in government contracts, and to ensure that ministers and deputy ministers publicly declare their assets.
Low stressed today that the MACC was independent as it reported to a parliamentary select committee, and not to the Prime Minister’s Department.
“I would think they’re independent because they’re governed by a review panel. They must just uphold the rule of law; nobody gets impunity. If the law is not adequate enough for them to nab the people, then you amend the law,” said the 67-year-old.
He added that the MACC did not need Taib’s “permission” to investigate him on shady land deals in Sarawak exposed by international environmental group Global Witness last March.
“They can go to whatever office that is involved and demand for files or documents, with or without the person’s permission,” said Low.
He also said that investigations should be initiated if ministers were found to be living beyond their means, but noted that it was sufficient for ministers to declare their assets to the prime minister and to the MACC.
“If you tell the public your kid is worth RM20 million, you put your children at security risk, it’s not fair,” said Low.
Low added that he would be heading a public complaints bureau on a range of grouses, besides corruption, that would be channeled to the right agencies and, if necessary, to the prime minister.
“Only through him, we have powers in terms of allocating resources and to engage other ministries to get better governance,” said Low, referring to Najib.
“There must be strong political will. Otherwise, people do not see you walk the talk or that you exercise double standards. The government would lose credibility even further,” added the accountant by training.
He also stressed that all government procurement contracts should generally be awarded through open tenders, unless there were specific reasons to award them through closed negotiations.
“This is the toughest decision I’ve made,” said Low.
“It’s an area, to be frank, that my success will depend not only on myself, but people working with me and the people I need to support me in terms of resources, and who are working alongside to provide necessary expertise and the necessary political will,” he added.
Malaysia’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) ranking has been sliding for the past few years; though Malaysia improved in 2012 to be the 54th least country in the world, the international index still placed Malaysia below African countries like Rwanda (50) and Botswana (30).
But Low expressed hope that government agencies would soon accept that they could not “continue with old ways”.
“We have to convince them that if it’s general policy, they should follow....People want a clean government,” said Low, who has served on various government agencies like the National Economic Action Council and Malaysian Industrial Development Authority.
Singapore’s The Straits Times newspaper reported Low today as saying: “I am changing a culture and that cannot be done overnight”.
~ The Malaysian Insider