Enhancing governance in Malaysia — M. Santhananaban

MAY 26 — I must congratulate and commend the IGP, Dato Seri Abdul Hamid Bador  for his stern warning to police personnel to cut off  all links with people associated gambling and vice syndicates.

It is a bold statement which has to be welcomed. Adherence to the IGP’s advice would enhance the integrity and image of the nation’s police force.

Illegal gambling exists in all countries and is one of the unseen aspects of the informal economy which provides avenues for tax evasion, revenue loss, crime, corruption, money laundering and other illicit activities.

The Police Force has heavy law and order responsibilities, including crime prevention, public security, intelligence gathering, monitoring, investigation, prosecutorial and enforcement responsibilities. Police personnel cannot be seen or perceived to be linked in any way with individuals and interests involved in any illegal activity. The Police Act (1967) clearly spells out the powers vested in police officers and also their liability to face both criminal and disciplinary action in the event the Act is infringed.

Police personnel in our country have contributed immensely to the peace, law and order situation.

They do not however operate in a vacuum but in a larger socio-cultural environment where citizens go about their daily lives and activities in a law-abiding manner.

There are regulations that affect almost every aspect of our daily lives ranging from air quality, water and sewerage services, electricity, food sanitation, medical and health services, labour, education, transport, housing, public works, communications etc, etc.

For the police to perform their duties efficiently and effectively they need the proper functioning, support and cooperation of several other oversight, regulatory and enforcement agencies.

It is essential that these other agencies also function in accordance with the letter and spirit of their respective missions and charters. The Pakatan Harapan government has, in the past year, clearly stated its high priority and policy in regard to eradicating corruption, providing accountability and transparency and in the observance of ethical conduct.

In keeping with these principles and pledges the government has to address promptly serious breaches of conflict-of-interest situations that can often arise. This is a subject of much study and commentary by scholars and management experts.

In our country every school child is taught that the highest office in the land, that of the Yang Dipertuan Agong can only be filled by a Ruler with the precondition that the personage selected is able, available and willing. This simple requirement for that highest office in the land in spite of its restricted talent pool should perhaps be applied to all public sector appointments.

This is particularly pertinent now.

It has been reported that a majority of those retired super senior judges appointed to a tribunal to enquire into the conduct of the members of the Election Commission who had oversight over the 14th general elections have opted to abort their work. This is highly irregular, to say the least.

 If they did not want to perform this vital public duty to the best of their ability they should have declined their appointments in the first instance.

Had this tribunal satisfactorily concluded its work, it would have had to come out with specific findings and recommendations on what was required of the members of the Election Commission in carrying out their duties. The failings of the EC members, if any, would also have been pointed out. The fact that the EC members had resigned en masse is of no relevance.

There should have been some critical analysis of the EC members’ collective or individual misconduct, including a reprimand, or the recommendation of some penalty. Aborting the important task the tribunal had at hand is irresponsible.

On a related subject, the current PH government has appointed hundreds of individuals to various bodies including regulatory, professional oversight, supervisory commissions and government-owned and government-linked companies. The simple pre- qualifications for these appointees is that they are able, available and willing to perform the fiduciary and other duties assigned to them. It is no use appointing retired Federal Court judges, senior professionals, pensioners, experts and specialists who do not have the time, the inclination to perform their duties or are simply unable to execute their duties. The irony is that they would quietly draw their monthly and sitting allowances paid by these regulatory, supervisory and corporatised entities.

We do not need decorative wallflowers on these bodies where watchful persons of exceptional probity, courage and dedication are needed.

 Another important requirement is the need to monitor the movement of the revolving door between regulatory bodies and industries. While generally beneficial to the service commissions some of these appointments should raise alarm bells. No appointing authority can afford to overlook possible conflict-of-interest situations. Appointees to regulatory bodies from the industries should not be acting as lobbyists, promotors of particular products and industry players. Products and industry players have their own narrow (often commercial) agenda rather than the public good. They have to be evaluated independently.

There should also be a mandatory interval of at least a year from when a person vacates a position from an industry to be appointed to a regulatory, supervisory, service or professional commission or vice versa. No such rules seem to exist at the moment.

I believe that the current government is doing its best to rebuild a country that has bled badly from almost a decade of unbridled kleptocracy.

Ministers of the current government should exercise utmost care and caution when appointing directors, commissioners and CEOs of the agencies, companies and regulatory bodies in their purview. While we believe in the Malaysia Inc concept ministers, deputy ministers and senior civil servants should also not become unduly close or obliged to corporate figures especially in the industries over which they have oversight or regulatory responsibilities.

*Datuk M. Santhananaban is a retired ambassador with more than 45 years’ experience in the public sector.

*This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.