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Azam has cleared his name, says PAS. I say, “My foot!”

By P Ramakrishnan

Ramakrishnan scoffs at PAS’ claim that Azam Baki, the scandal ridden commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, and he urges the swift setting up a Royal Commission of Inquiry, to restore the lost prestige and respect of the MACC.

PAS’ contention that Azam Baki, the head of Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), had cleared his name is nothing but hogwash. Without being investigated, he cannot be cleared. That is the absolute truth. Just because Azam claimed that he had done no wrong, that doesn’t clear him. That’s not how justice works.

When PAS says that Azam has been cleared, I say, “My foot!”

A bare denial doesn’t establish innocence. He wasn’t investigated. All he said was, “I did not do anything wrong”. On that basis he was cleared? It was bizarre. It was absurd.

It has not been established that his younger brother had used his account to acquire those shares way back in 2012 or that the brother had indeed paid for those shares. Both remain only a mere claim on the part of Azam.

These are the central issues that cry out for a cogent and coherent explanation.

Azam was not given a show cause letter. He did not appear before a committee. Questions were not put to him seeking answers. None of this took place.

How then did PAS secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan come to the incredulous conclusion that Azam had cleared his name? He also said that PAS hoped allegations against Azam will now be put to rest, and that the burden of proof lies on the MACC chief’s accusers.

It is difficult to follow his convoluted logic. Who is accusing Azam? The burden of proof stares at the world from what is reported about Azam’s unexplained fantastic shares. People did not accuse him, but only asked for an explanation how he was able to own such huge number of shares. That is a legitimate query.

Inexplicably, Takiyuddin also alleged that the accusations against Azam were meant to destabilize Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s government.

This is clearly a red herring. What has Azam’s case to do with the stability of Ismail Sabri’s government? He is trying to hoodwink the public by bringing in politics to divert the people’s attention from the real issue, i.e., Azam’s flouting of the rules and regulations. How can this violation be tied to the stability of a government? He is merely a civil servant – not a cabinet minister!

Now who is playing politics?

Seriously, some thinking Malaysians wonder whether this story about Azam’s younger brother buying shares using his name was conveniently concocted as an after-thought to ward off criticism when it came to light that Azam had this huge amount of shares in his accounts in violation of Service Circular 3 of 2002 that forbids civil servants from holding more than RM100,000 worth of shares. Is this an attempt to extricate himself from a tight situation?

Was Azam ignorant of this service circular? It’s impossible for him not to know. After all he was the investigating officer of  MACC in 2015-16 and in the course of his investigation of any civil servant for corruption this circular must have been at his disposal.

But what cannot be disputed is the fact that until the shares were transferred to his brother, they were his legally though not, as thus far argued, beneficially. He was the legal owner of that asset requiring him to declare his interest.

Did he declare this beneficial asset to his head of department? Was this new asset disclosed to the Inland Revenue Board?

He being a public servant, he must have known vide Service Circular that he could not own more than RM100,000 in shares. He had violated this condition. He has flouted this rule and therefore must face the consequence.

There is no solid proof that his brother indeed bought those shares in his name. It is only his word without any evidence adduced in and accepted by an appropriate forum to support his claim. His brother did not come forward to collaborate this claim.

Azam in his Press conference only mentioned that he had informed his unnamed superior about the shares. That seems to be the only occasion when he had discussed the share-buying controversy. If this was discussed on any other occasion, he would certainly have mentioned it. But he did not.

And yet, MACC Anti-Corruption Advisory Board chairperson, Abu Zahar Ujang,  had mentioned at the special Press Conference on Jan. 5, 2022 that the Board had met on Nov. 24, 2021. According to him, Azam gave its members an explanation of the allegations made against him.

This raises two issues.

First, when on Dec. 14 – i.e., some three weeks later – PKR Sungai Buloh MP Sivarasa Rasiah disclosed that Azam had massive shares worth millions of ringgit, why didn’t the board clarify this issue and clear Azam’s name immediately? After all, they had a ready explanation at hand from the horse’s mouth! Why didn’t they take this opportunity to put an end to this controversy? Why wait six weeks before revealing this? Why the unexplained delay?

Second, why didn’t Azam at his Press conference on Jan. 5, 2022 mention that he had already cleared this with the board on Nov. 24 – i.e., six weeks ago? It could not have skipped his mind. He only mentioned about informing his superior, something that he did long ago. He remembered that but forgot what happened just six weeks ago! Isn’t that very strange?

With so much unanswered questions, can Takiyuddin honestly claim that Azam had cleared himself?

MACC’s image has been battered and shattered and restoring its dignity and integrity will prove to be a grave challenge. Any internal investigation will be seen as a gloss-over to save its image which no one will believe or trust. It’s just like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. We cannot have this important corruption buster existing as a lame duck in a cloud of doubt and suspicion.

Only a thorough and external investigation by a body of impeccable character can retrievethe lost dignity and integrity and restore public confidence in its role as a fearless agency that will fight corruption with all its might.

For this, there is an urgent need to set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry. It is the only way to restore the lost prestige and respect of the MACC.

(The views expressed are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rebuilding Malaysia.)

10 January 2022

P Ramakrishnan is the long-serving former president of Aliran who served three and a half decades on its executive committee, and has been with Aliran since its inception in 1977. Now an ordinary Aliran member, he continues to highlight issues of public interest to a larger audience.
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