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Continuing weakness in Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s administration

Updated On: Nov 02, 2007

Although Badawi won the elections in 2004 on an anti-corruption mandate, he did not seem to have succeeded.

Two recent episodes showed the current sorry state of the Malaysian government.

First, a video-clip showing a prominent lawyer brokering the appointment of top judges in 2002, was released by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. The video-clip led to a recent public demonstration by 2,000 lawyers. Although a commission has been established by the Malaysian government to investigate the authenticity of the clip, the commission has yet to call the lawyer. Instead, it has focused on getting the opposition party to release the source of the video.

Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s response as shown in his speech to the Malaysian Bar Council is unlikely to bolster his anti-corruption credentials. He did not promise more action but warned the Malaysian Bar Council that the demonstrations by the lawyers create ‘the impression that a problem has reached an intractable impasse- even if in reality, it has not.’ He went to the extent of claiming that the lawyers’ action was detrimental to the country’s development. He said, “Above and beyond this, it also sends negative vibes to domestic and foreign investors, undermining tireless efforts of industry and government in attracting investments.”

Badawi’s plea for the lawyers to back down from their call for judicial reforms is unlikely to be heeded. The Bar Council President Ambiga Sreenevasan told reporters, “We think that problems with the judiciary are what would damage investments -- not freedom of expression.” More crucially, another prominent figure has joined the call for judicial reforms- the Sultan of Perak, Sultan Azlan Shah who was the former chief justice. Azlan warned, “A judiciary loses its value and service to the community if there is no public confidence in its decision making.” The sultans had also earlier refused a government’s choice for a top judicial post and have signalled their disapproval at the state of affairs.

Second, the reforms in the police sector also do not seem to have gone very far. Instead a power struggle within the police force has broken out in the open. In an unexpected move, the head of the Federal Commercial Crime Division, Ramli Yusoff openly admitted that he was under investigation by the Anti-Corruption Agency for alleged abuse of power and failure to declare assets of up to RM27 million.

Ramli had earlier been responsible for a case in which a businessman, Goh Cheng Poh was banished to the state of Kelantan due to allegations of crime. However, Goh was subsequently cleared by the Anti-Corruption Agency and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Ramli was also instructed to send confidential files containing informants to the Attorney-General. Subsequently, some of the informers’ identities have been compromised. The Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan has refused any comment on the case.

Badawi’s popularity has been sinking due to the public perception of his failure to tackle corruption effectively. Badawi has been trying to use new mega projects to focus the public’s attention on economic development. This week, he launched the third economic region initiative in 12 months. This time it is the East Coast Economic Region (ECER) initiative which would encompass Terengganu, Kelantan and Pahang, as well as the Johor district of Mersing.

The Malaysian government would be spending RM6 billion on high-impact projects initially and the entire ECER would cost RM112 billion. Badawi must have his eyes on the coming elections when he planned this project. The ECER would cover primarily ethnic Malay areas. A large number of those Malays support the opposition Islamic Party Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS). If the ECER is successful, it will increase the amount of Malay support for Badawi’s party.  (1 November 2007)

Sources:

Surprise move by cop under probe(New Straits Times, 31 October 2007)

Malaysian top cop accuses police of fixing him(Straits Times, 31 October 2007)

Deep rifts in M’sia police: senior officer(Business Times Singapore, 31 October 2007)

Malaysia's leader tells lawyers to object less outside courtroom (Associated Press, 30 October 2007)

Better to talk, PM tells Bar(New Straits Times, 30 October 2007)

Perak ruler - a former chief justice - calls for judicial reforms(Straits Times, 30 October 2007)

Govt allocates RM6b for high-impact projects in ECER(The Edge Financial Daily, 30 October 2007)

Abdullah launches $48b growth plan for rural east(Straits Times, 30 October 2007)

PM launches plan to develop east coast(Business Time Singapore, 30 October 2007)

MalaysiaPM To Lawyers: Reform Demands Could Hurt Investments (Dow Jones, 29 October 2007)