C4 slams MACC chief on whistleblower protection U-turn

·4-min read
C4 slams MACC chief on whistleblower protection U-turn
C4 slams MACC chief on whistleblower protection U-turn

Graft watchdog Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4) has lambasted MACC’s chief commissioner Azam Baki over an alleged contradictory stance on whistleblower protection.

This comes after he initiated legal proceedings for defamation against the whistleblower, Lalitha Kunaratnam, despite previously showing support for whistleblower protection.

“Azam's attempt to silence her (the whistleblower) smacks of grave intimidation and fear tactics completely unbecoming of a top graft buster.

“The exposé and Azam's hostile response serve as yet another devastating blow to the credibility of the MACC, an institution already wrecked by corruption and criminal scandals involving its own officers.

“His legal threats upon a notable anti-corruption campaigner also reiterate the huge personal risk that whistleblowers face when exposing wrongdoing. It is the cruellest irony that it is Azam, of all people, who should be assisting Lalitha to obtain whistleblower protection,” it said in a statement today.

C4 demanded that Azam withdraw the letter of demand upon Lalitha.

Azam came under intense scrutiny after allegations surfaced about him having owned shares in two companies back in 2015.

According to Excel Force Bhd’s 2015 annual report, Azam owned 2,156,000 warrants in the company as of March 21, 2016. At the time, Azam was the head of MACC’s investigation division.

Yesterday, Lalitha - who first published the shareholding allegations against him - shared a snippet of a letter of demand (LOD) sent to her by Azam’s lawyer.

The lawyer demanded Lalitha make a public apology for a report she wrote on this matter and is asking her to pay damages amounting to RM10 million.

Whistleblower support, a lip service?

C4 claimed that this case merely proved that the provisions listed in the Whistleblower Protection Act 2010 (WPA 2010) were insufficient to protect whistleblowers nor give them the confidence to come forward with information, namely Section 6 (1) WPA 2010.

Section 6 (1) limits whistleblowers to report cases to enforcement agencies only, failing which whistleblower protection would be revoked. Furthermore, it carries with it the condition that the disclosure cannot break any existing law, essentially stifling effective whistleblower efforts.

On Nov 17 last year, Azam said the MACC was in full support of amendments to the WPA 2010 as a way for “enforcement authorities being able to better convince the public to report any misdeeds”.

“Where is the support for whistleblowers now? Was this all mere lip service?

“The only right cause of action for Azam now is to immediately withdraw his LOD and prove to the public that the MACC genuinely advocates for whistleblower protection.

"He must cease with threats to whistleblowers, and amidst this mounting criticism, declare his assets at once,” said C4.

It added that in light of the Securities Commission’s involvement, Azam should go on garden leave until all investigations into his actions have been completed.

The centre also urged for a special task force to be enacted by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, comprising independent personalities to conduct an investigation into Azam's alleged wrongdoings.

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob
Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob

Calls for RCI or PSC

C4 has called for special committees to be set up immediately as well to revamp the MACC’s advisory boards and panels, along with the implementation of reforms to the structure of the MACC.

The Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH) echoed similar sentiments, calling for external and impartial units to investigate the allegations made against Azam.

In a statement today, KLSCAH called for a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) or a Special Parliamentary Select Committee to conduct an independent investigation into the matter from all angles.

It claimed that while it is fair to use special committees such as the Anti-Corruption Advisory Board (LPPR) to oversee MACC officials, but their powers do not extend to thorough investigations into the wrongdoings conducted by the officials.

Amend MACC Act

KLSCAH requested an amendment to the MACC Act 2009 to allow the LPPR to explicitly exercise investigation powers against anti-corruption officials involved in power abuse and strengthen the integrity and accountability of MACC officials.

“The issue presently lies within the MACC Act 2009. The Act does not specify whether its authority extends investigative powers against MACC officials, especially those suspected of wrongdoings.

“The case of Azam is based solely on internal investigations and judgements of the LPPR. Therefore, this allows for the case to conclude quickly, and eliminate the need for an external, independent body to conduct a more thorough investigation.

"It's still debatable if their practice complies with the law,” it said.

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