On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Pile on pressure against the corrupt

He has lessened the opportunities for corrupt activities by improving the public service delivery system and increasing transparency and accountability in the public sector.

That is not all. Abdullah has set up institutions promoting national integrity to instil a culture that hates corruption. He has also pushed for the return of an open tender system, when previously selected companies only needed to submit their bids to the Economic Planning Unit which then makes its recommendations to the government.

Just two weeks ago, the public had their first detailed look at the level of corruption in the police force following the release of the report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry.

Abdullah has taken the lead by heading a task force that would carry out the recommendations of the commission. His personal attention will certainly help to push the proposals through more effectively.

But Malaysians want to see more. They would like to see the Anti-Corruption Agency as truly independent and modelled after Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), to give our investigators more clout.

Giving the ACA a free hand to carry out its tasks is insufficient if the public have the perception that there is interference from powerful politicians, even if that is not true.

Enforcement of the laws must be carried out without fear and favour. The public should not be given the impression, rightly or wrongly, that selective prosecution is being practised.

Abdullah must be supported in his fight against graft because it must be accorded the highest priority. This sickness must not be allowed to become  deep-rooted, like in Indonesia and Thailand. Worse, Malaysians now complain about enforcement officers who openly demand for money because these officers no longer try to hide the fact that they are corrupt.

Our leaders only need to go down to the ground. Talk to the petty traders at markets, talk to people who have to seek approvals from government departments, talk to motorists who are stopped by traffic cops. The list is endless.

It is not a surprise that the commission found that next to the police, the municipal councils and Road Transport Department (JPJ) are perceived to be the most corrupt.

In fact, a commission should be set up to investigate these two bodies. Why should only the police be subject to a 15-month probe when their numbers, in proportion to the population, are much smaller than the councils and JPJ?

Last week, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said political parties must not allow corruption to exist, saying that they must be willing to take action against even the most prominent and highest official of the party.

There were indications, he said, that corruption might be getting to a point of no return and leaders were willing to pay money to get themselves elected. Although he did not specify Umno, he said that "everybody talks about money politics (in Umno)".

It is good that Dr Mahathir has come out strongly against corruption but personally, I wish he could have done more during his over 20 years in office, such as carrying out anti-corruption campaigns to create awareness of the debilitating impact of corruption.

With his strong leadership, authority and grip on Umno, he let slip the opportunity to introduce reforms including effective enforcement of laws against corruption.

Malaysians may remain grateful to Dr Mahathir for the economic boom they enjoyed during his tenure, but one source of unhappiness was the introduction of the negotiated tender, which lacked accountability and openness. In fact, for many, it was no tender at all.

Money politics in Umno did not rear its ugly head one year or two years ago but at least a decade ago, when we saw the big fights in Umno.  Leaders like then Umno deputy president Tun Ghafar Baba and present deputy minister Datuk Aziz Shamsuddin, who lost his divisional chief's post, were victims who openly tell their stories.

No fight against corruption can be meaningful unless there is a demonstration of political will and commitment from the public to reject all forms of corruption, not just in the public sector but also in the private sector.

The pressure from the Abdullah Administration and the public must continue if we are serious about the war against corruption. We are all waiting to see what the government intends to do next now that the commission's report is out.

More action, less rhetoric, please.