On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Who watches the watchman?

Former Sabah ACA chief Mohamed Ramli Manan has accused his former boss of amassing properties disproportionate to his wealth, including allegedly owning six houses in Pagoh, Johor. 

He has also been accused of operating two petrol stations. Both types of properties are said to be registered under his sons’ and sister’s names. Worse, Zulkipli has been accused of sexual crime and assault against a woman with police reports made in Kuala Lumpur and Negri Sembilan. 

The whistle blower, Ramli, is not an ordinary graft buster as he has been credited with completing the case against former minister Tan Sri Kasitah Gaddam, whose graft case is ongoing. 

The case has grabbed national attention because Ramli claimed he was put in cold storage until his retirement on Dec 8 last year.  

Investigations into corruption are the work of the ACA but in Zulkipli’s extraordinary situation, the police have been entrusted with the job. It would be difficult for the ACA officers to investigate their boss.  

Zulkipli has also been summoned to appear before the Parliamentary Select Committee on Integrity on March 12 where he can expect to be grilled by its 12 members, including Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang. 

But as much as Malaysians are angry at these developments, we need to adopt an open mind in this case. Allegations of sexual assault and crime against Zulkipli were first made 10 years ago when he was the Johor police chief but he was cleared of the charges.  

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has also said Zulkipli had been subjected to background vetting prior to his appointment as ACA director-general in 2001 and again in 2005 when his term was extended for two years.  

In short, the allegations against Zulkipli didn’t stick. It could either be due to lack of evidence or they were baseless allegations. In all fairness, it is easy for anyone to lodge police reports or make allegations but they need not be the truth. 

Personality clashes, rivalry and office politics could also be contributing factors that led to this controversy. 

Zulkipli must be given every opportunity to redeem his image and clear his name as the integrity of the ACA as an institution is now being questioned. 

No one can deny that the faith of the public in politicians and civil servants has been eroding for a long time. For us to hear these allegations is surely another blow. 

But the twist now is that the police would zero in on whether his properties tallied with his declaration of assets and financial position.  

The police probe is crucial because it is doubtful whether the parliamentary panel carries sufficient clout to act. Ultimately, it would be the police investigations that would determine the outcome.  

Civil servants and politicians must understand that when they live pompous lifestyles, the public cannot help but question their seeming wealth. They should not send out the wrong signals – job applicants should not perceive that joining the Immigration, Customs or the police is a lucrative career move because one can make easy money. 

Neither should a political party membership be seen as a passport to securing lucrative projects or at the very least a sub-contract. There must be something seriously wrong when someone joins a party, not for its political belief and struggle, but to amass wealth, be it in a big or small way. The same applies to joining a particular government department for the wrong reasons.  

Perceptions are important. When a low-level politician builds a mansion without council approval, ignore assessment fees and shows off a fleet of luxury cars, we have a right as voters to ask whether his wealth is due to his business ingenuity or political power.  

Similarly, when we see civil servants leading lifestyles beyond their salaries, we have a right to ask why the ACA isn't carrying out investigations and why formal reports need to be made first.  

It is also essential for the ACA, which now comes under the Prime Minister’s Department, to be made an independent body which reports to Parliament if we truly want to combat graft. 

The police and the attorney-general need to prioritise the investigations on Zulkipli because the nation is holding its breath.