On 10 May 2023, it was reported that the current Chief Commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Azam Baki’s term as chief commissioner has been extended for another year. His term was due to end on 12 May, with the extension taking effect that same day. The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center) expresses our disappointment with this turn of events – Azam has been involved in numerous controversies during his tenure that leave a stain on the MACC’s credibility as long as he continues occupying this position. His continued presence in the commission also signals that the MACC is, at present, still resistant to critique and reform.
As previously highlighted by C4 Center, it was revealed through investigations by a journalist that Azam owned millions of shares in two publicly-listed companies while he was the head of MACC’s investigations department – Azam subsequently retaliated by suing them for defamation. He even used this defamation suit as one of many excuses not to appear before a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC).
Azam Baki’s alleged misconduct and his public response are unacceptable and his removal from the post is imperative, as his continued tenure is directly at odds with the principles and interests of the Commission. If this was not bad enough, Azam has displayed little interest in reforming the MACC, having previously stated that the commission did not need to be placed under Parliament only to change his stand when the unity government came into power signalling his lack of principles.
This potentially leads to a major concern that the MACC will continue their trend of being resistant to reforms for yet another year while Azam is at the helm. Up until the present day, the government has been slow to introduce any of the reforms that have been long advocated by C4 Center and other civil society organisations.
While Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim had previously stated that he would be agreeable to the position of Chief Commissioner being selected via a Parliamentary process, Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Mohd Zuki Ali announced that Azam’s appointment was made in accordance with sections 5(1) and (2) of the MACC Act, which provides for the Chief Commissioner’s appointment to be made by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the advice of the Prime Minister. It is noteworthy that the Pakatan Harapan manifesto included a pledge that nomination of the MACC Chief Commissioner “must be vetted by a bipartisan Parliamentary Special Committee”. The fact that the Prime Minister remains blatantly involved in the appointment of the Chief of the MACC despite his earlier statements brings into question his government’s supposed commitment to reforms of the MACC.
On May 15, 2023, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim informed reporters at Perdana Putra that the decision to extend Azam Baki’s tenure as Chief Commissioner was because he believed that he was doing “a satisfactory job” and “taking action without bias”. He gave examples of ministers’ offices being raided and action being taken against officers by the MACC as examples of the commission’s good performance. The government’s position in this regard clearly indicates its failure to consider the prior allegations of misconduct against Azam Baki, and the regrettable manner in which he responded.
In any event, the Prime Minister’s response to the criticism against this decision misses the central point entirely: whether or not the Prime Minister/the government of the day is satisfied with the performance of an individual should not be determinative of whether that individual ought to be appointed as the leader of an important oversight body such as the MACC. Rather, it should fall to Parliament to make the decision in order to reduce, as much as possible, the influence of undue considerations upon the decision-making process – something which the Anwar administration is well aware of.
We take note of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s statement in Parliament on March 28, 2023, where he stated that the implementation of an alternative process for appointing the MACC Chief Commissioner would depend on the progress made by Parliament, i.e. in the event such a mechanism is decided upon and studied by the relevant stakeholders before the end of Azam Baki’s tenure, he would have no issues with it. However, the Prime Minister should not pass the buck for failing to implement an alternative appointment process and place the blame on Parliament. Knowing that Azam Baki’s term would be coming to an end and bearing in mind the allegations that have been made against him, the Anwar administration should have made this particular reform agenda a priority several months ago.
The issues surrounding Azam Baki and his appointment are also representative of the issues that the MACC faces as a whole, with the consequences mirroring each other. In this sense, both the MACC and Azam Baki are being politicised with narratives surrounding them being pushed and pulled in different directions by political entities. Both PH and PN have cried political persecution whilst serving as the opposition but subsequently refused to carry out reforms once they assumed office.
The avenues for the politicisation and narrative manipulation could have been much more restricted had reforms of the MACC been implemented, making it more independent and placing it under the purview of Parliament such that its functions can never be abused nor seen to be abused, ensuring that corruption can never take place from whichever side of the political spectrum. In this way, it is also demonstrable that for an institution as prominent as the MACC, structural and institutional flaws can be exploited to destabilise politics even outside of its immediate ambit of anti-corruption, with individuals attempting to use them to instigate further political squabbles.
With Azam Baki remaining as the chief of the MACC, having not faced open and transparent investigations into his share purchase-related misconduct, public trust in the MACC will be left wanting. Without public support and with certain individuals deepening existing cracks in the foundation of the MACC, institutional collapse is on the horizon unless adequate reform is carried out to strengthen it. As such, this unfortunate appointment should act as a catalyst for reformation of the appointment mechanism of the role of MACC Chief Commissioner to be expedited, and for amendments to the MACC Act 2009 to be tabled during the next Parliament sitting.
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Center to Combat Corruption & Cronyism (C4 Center)
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