Cleaning Up Malaysia

18 December 2008


Pendapat Anda?

From Wall Street Journal Asia

December 18 2008
In the era of Blagojevich, Illinois isn’t the only place considering how better to deal with political corruption. This week Malaysia passed its most aggressive anticorruption legislation in a decade as well as a bill that aims to protect judicial independence.

These steps are worth applauding, but they’re a far cry from the reforms that Malaysia needs. Like many young democracies, Malaysia lacks the full separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches that lies at the core of successful democracies. Until these branches of government can act as checks and balances against each other, band-aid reforms will make little difference.

A case in point is the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, proposed by Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, which parliament passed yesterday. High-profile scandals — including a videotape released last year that purports to show an attorney brokering judicial appointments with a top judge — have eroded trust in the judiciary. The bill’s purpose is to “provide a more transparent mechanism in the process of appointments and promotions of senior judges,” a government spokesperson told us by telephone.

Yet the legislation still gives the prime minister sole power to appoint all senior judges in the nation’s three highest courts. The bill creates a body, the Judicial Appointments Commission, that makes recommendations to the PM, but he is free to reject them, ask for more recommendations or appoint someone else entirely. The PM also appoints the majority of the members of the commission.

The other side of Mr. Abdullah’s reform plan is the Anti-Corruption Commission Bill, which was passed on Tuesday. The bill upgrades Malaysia’s anticorruption watchdog from an agency to a commission, and greatly increases the scope of its mandate, including, for example, the power to investigate relatives of corrupt officials. Mr. Abdullah said last month that the staff of the commission would be increased to 5,000 over the next five years.

But the catch is that the commission is still tied to Malaysia’s political establishment. Its members are appointed by the prime minister, with royal approval, and the commission must obtain approval from the Attorney General or someone approved by the AG before conducting certain types of investigations. The PM also appoints, with royal approval, all members of the advisory board that oversees the commission.

Mr. Abdullah is expected to step down in March, and he has made judicial reform and anticorruption efforts high priorities during his last months in office. Bravo to him for drawing public attention to the problems. It will be up to a successor to establish the full separation of powers that Malaysia’s democracy needs.

Pendapat Anda

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