Government Secrecy a Block to Combating Corruption & Cronyism

The Centre to Combat Corruption & Cronyism (C4) condemns Prime Minister Najib Razak’s latest harangue targeted at civil servants to obey their secrecy oath and keep their mouths tightly shut over government secrets.

How contradictory his words when he assumed power in 2009 - “We believe in open politics, in increasing participation, embracing greater transparency and improving the state of democracy. We now have technology that supports a much wider and deeper range of public involvement in policy-making, with ‘open source government’ and open data breaking down traditional divides”.

While respecting confidentiality clauses are an entrenched part of the work culture of a public official, developments these past months have shown a rise in government secrets leaked from within by brave insiders, despite the coterie of laws in place to remind public officials that government secrets are off limits to the public.

The snowballing 1MDB scandal, the purchase of a new private jet, the Tabung Haji leak on the sale of TRX land to 1MDB and most recently the toll rates hike from a cabinet meeting, all point to a growing number of whistleblowers from within, risking the long arm of the law, to tell on suspicious government transactions and wrongdoing.

C4 believes that the root to combating corruption lies in creating an environment conducive to building accountability and openness, and encouraging a culture of whistle blowing. Wrongdoing and suspicious financial activity should no longer be shielded away.

The entrenched culture of secrecy made impermeable through multiple statutory barriers, have contributed wholly to the culture of impunity in the public sector. In a recently released report on the Official Secrets Act, C4 believes that secrecy has served a powerful tool in government, incubating negligence and misconduct as a result, and ushered in corruption unabated. We only have to look at the periodic Auditor General’s report findings to remind us constantly that this culture is so deeply embedded in our administration.

For issues unrelated to national security concerns especially, it becomes imperative that the paradigm should be one of greater openness and citizens access to information. It is only then the public trust can be built and be sensitized to the machinations of government policy formulation.

For Najib Razak to regain any semblance of legitimacy and credibility, he must return to his earlier promises of breaking traditional divides between the government and its people. He must show genuine commitment in breaking the information asymmetry that has contributed to unbridled power imbalance, and not just pay lip service to improving integrity and accountability in the public sector.

Najib must show that he is sincere in building a culture to combat corruption, and not encourage wrongdoing to fester behind the veil of secrecy.

Released by

Cynthia Gabriel
Executive Director.