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Defending Malaysia’s anti-graft drive and the Iskandar Development Region

Updated On: Apr 17, 2007

At the launch of the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Academy (MACA) on April 13, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi defended the government’s anti-graft record noting the rise in conviction rates from below 50 per cent to 74 per cent, and the rise in corruption-related arrests by 77 per cent.

With an anti-graft campaign as the backbone of Badawi’s 2004 landslide victory, the latter was determined to knock aside criticisms from opposition politicians and anti-graft watchdogs that progress has been slow with few meaningful reforms.

The chief self-defense of Badawi and his administration is ‘public cynicism’ and ‘apathy’ that have become “the biggest enemy of the anti-corruption agenda”, he said. “Cynicism and apathy occurs when people do not have enough information and do not know how to engage and participate in resolving the problem,” he added. 

"Perception indicators would have us believe that the fight against corruption is stagnating…It must be remembered that perceptions do not always mirror reality. To an extent, the worsening of corruption perceptions is to be expected as we turn the spotlight on corruption,” he explained.

As a possible solution, Badawi stressed the importance of the custodians of integrity and anti-corruption – the Attorney-General, police, the Institute of Integrity Malaysia, and MACA – to work closely and find solutions to these problems. 

Turning the attention to justice, Badawi also said that it should be done in a timely manner. “Justice will not be served if the accused, due to the sluggishness of the system, is forced to undergo a trial by the media…This situation is unfair, unwarranted and must be guarded against at all costs.”

Finally, Badawi highlighted that the crime of corruption is now no longer a problem affecting individual nations but has become a global issue which needs joint efforts towards its eradication. "The process of corruption has become more complex and complicated with the advent of technology and almost all financial transactions now are done through computers and the Internet.”

Besides the issue of corruption, another common perception or criticism against Prime Minister Badawi two years after his landslide election victory in 2004 was the cutback on development projects.  He had responded with his Ninth Malaysian Plan, and one of the most ambitious project was the proposed Iskandar Development Region (IDR) in Johor.  This is a special economic zone of 2217 square kilometres aimed at transforming the Johor state into an economic dynamo.

However, the plan has drawn criticisms that the generous conditions, particularly the exemptions from the requirement to have at least 30% bumiputera equity, to welcome foreign investments, would lead to Johor Malays “being trampled by foreign competition”.  Sensitivity with regards to investments in Singapore has been expressed, and in an attempt to reassure its own constituency of the IDR project, Johor Menteri Besar, Datuk Abdul Ghani has taken on active role to explain the project to UMNO grassroot leaders.  He also announced that Johor will launch a special bumiputera trust fund to invest in real estate in IDR to ensure that the “bumiputeras are not forced out due to intense competition…”. 

At the same time, Abdul Ghani also sent a clear signal to Singaporean investors that they are welcome to invest in IDR. 

In a rare interview that The Straits Times, Prime Minister Badawi’s son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin also spoke about the IDR.  He also defended the government’s decision to offer investors an incentive package that exempted them from the 30% bumiputera equity.  He further advised both Singaporeans and Malaysians to see the IDR as a pure business proposition and not allowed politics or diplomacy to be dragged into it.  He particularly felt that while there is still “a general distrust of Singapore” and there are still some “longstanding issues that have yet to be resolved”, all these should be kept separate from the IDR. 

During the interview, Khairy also shed light on some of the ongoing criticisms of his politics, such as exerting a domineering influence on government policy, overly-ambitious, and more recently of being an overbearing champion of Malay rights, and being ungraciously labelled as a Malay radical. Khairy explained his motivation for championing Malay rights as a race against time (13 years) to fulfil Malaysia’s hopes of becoming a developed nation, and preventing the Malays from being left behind.  (16 April 2007)

Sources:

Corruption Now A Global Issue, Says PM (Bernama, 12 April 2007)

PM: We’re making strides in fight against corruption (The Star, 13 April 2007)

Abdullah defends graft record, chides cynical M'sians (TODAY, 13 April 2007)

S’poreans welcome to invest in IDR: Johor MB (The Straits Times, 15 April 2007)

Khairy: Malays need to make up for lost time (Bernama/The Straits Times, 16 April 2007)