Growing up I took it as Gospel that the Courts would hand down decisions that were fair. It never occurred to me that a decision might be flawed, dubious, or dishonest.
It was simple: we believed in our institutions back then. If the then Anti-Corruption Agency saw fit to charge Harun Idris, then the chief minister of the richest state in Malaysia, for corruption, then it must have been the right thing to do. Indeed, Harun was found guilty and served time.
The erosion of trust in the country’s institutions can be traced back to the 1980s. When Dr Mahathir took over, it became apparent, beyond all reasonable doubt, why leaders, like a baby’s diapers, should be changed frequently. 22 years is way too long and Dr M is, by no stretch of the imagination, an Angela Merkel.
It was during his tenure when the doubts began. About the way contracts were handed down; about the way the courts behaved; about the way questionable practices were simply ignored; about things that we once held sacred like Malaysia’s secular status being suddenly called into question.
Dr M showed that even in a democracy, one man can still call the shots. During his second incarnation as premier, he couldn’t do as he liked which is always a good thing. It’s the main reason why check and balance is vital for a country such as ours.
But the PH government imploded in 2020 – again, no thanks to the old man – and nothing’s improved. If anything, it’s gotten worse.
History, wrote Israel’s Abba Eban, teaches us that men and nations only behave wisely once they have exhausted all possible alternatives. It appears that Premier Ismail seems bent on exhausting the latter option.
Indeed, his style of leadership resembles an ostrich with its head in the sand. He prefers to simply ignore problems until they go away.
Problems don’t vanish. That is the nature of the beast. During the recent floods, the premier and his Cabinet were about as useful as grave robbers in a crematorium. He might start to rectify that by acting decisively in the current controversy swirling around the anti-corruption agency.
Its chief Azam Baki ignored calls to explain his involvement in the ownership of millions of shares until public pressure got too much.
He then said that he didn’t see any reason for a reply as he’d already explained to the agency’s advisory board that he’d allowed his brother to use his trading account to trade in shares. And that he had no idea of what his brother had been doing.
Quite apart from the manifest incredulity of Azam’s explanation, what he’s ignoring is the agency’s reputation, its status as a national institution.
The Azam’s of the world come and go but the institution remains. And for it to remain, its integrity must be unscathed and unquestioned. Indeed, it has to be the public’s perception of the MACC.
That’s why the PM should order Azam to go on leave until the results of an independent inquiry into the matter be made public. The agency’s board of advisors has cleared Azam. Ergo, the agency has cleared itself. This is manifestly conflicted.
It also screams an obvious question: who watches the watchers?