In graft fight, Najib sees barometer of trust in government

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 30 — The government’s ability to tackle corruption will be a major factor in winning back the people’s trust, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak acknowledged today.

Najib faces a major perception issue among voters and foreign investors that his Barisan Nasional (BN) administration has not done enough in the graft fight, despite having beating a nascent opposition pact to retain its hold on Putrajaya at the polls in May.

“If we deliver what we promised people, in this instance, a concerted fight against corruption, and deliver consistently over time, that currency will appreciate,” Najib (picture) said, referring to trust.

“The reward is not just a more open and transparent business environment, with more vibrant markets and greater opportunity, but also a renewed faith in the ability of governments to change things for the better,” he added, in his speech at the closing ceremony of the APEC Train-the-trainer workshop for voluntary codes of business ethics in medical device, bio pharmaceutical and construction and engineering sectors here.

Najib, who is also finance minister, said although regional co-ordination in practising good business ethics was critical, tackling graft within the country would be the biggest battle.

“To build truly sustainable economies, we must also signal our commitment to ethical business practices by acting and reforming to tackle corruption at home,” he said.

Corruption and unattractive tax structure were found to have pulled down Malaysia’s popularity among foreign professionals working in Southeast Asia, according to a recent survey by the American Malaysian Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM).

It tied with Singapore and Laos for second place behind tiny Brunei, in a poll of 475 senior executives working for US companies operating in ASEAN countries.

In the chamber’s 2013/2014 ASEAN Business Outlook Survey on Malaysia, 53 per cent of respondents said they were concerned at the level of corruption here while another 41 per cent said they were dissatisfied with the current tax structure, although it noted that other countries in the region ranked much higher in the corruption category.

Despite the introduction of the MACC in 2009, public confidence in the government’s commitment in battling corruption remains low.

Opposition lawmakers pin this on the government’s lack of transparency and accountability in announcing the award of big money public projects and slowness in cracking down on high-profile individuals, among others.

Detractors have claimed a nexus between businesses and politicians in the ruling coalition that have padded the pockets of both sides to the detriment of the majority of taxpayers for the low number of cases brought to book, as well as low rates of conviction of prominent personalities.

Long-serving Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Mahmud Taib, whose influence over the resource-rich state spans over three decades, is a favourite target of critics who question the source of his and his family’s wealth.

But the MACC has proposed amendments to the MACC Act 2009 to hold corporations responsible in corruption cases, as well as prohibit government servants from awarding projects or tenders to family members.