NST Leader: Graft, a national threat

Anti-graft enforcement in Malaysia appears to have a pattern, or so the people think. We can't fault them for that.

Every time there is a call from the top for this or that enforcement agency to redouble its efforts against corrupt officers, a big haul is made.

Some of these, like the Customs Department, do act against its kleptocrats, but only as a knee-jerk reaction to the call from the top.

Anti-graft enforcement shouldn't be seasonal. It is a fight for all seasons. Winter, spring, summer or fall. What is worse, some of these enforcement agencies just wait for the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to do the job for them.

The arrest of the 34 Customs officers by the MACC for allegedly being in cahoots with contraband smuggling syndicates operating at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport Cargo centre since 2017 sure reads so. The Customs Department must explain why it allowed its officers to rob the government of RM2 billion.

How could the many bosses at the Customs Department have missed such a huge number of suspected kleptocrats in their outfit? And for about eight years at that.

Corrupt activities such as this aren't easily hidden from the eyes of the higher up.

Firstly, it involved a cross section of officers, ranging from the rank of assistant enforcement officer to as high as assistant director.

Secondly, it involved not one but several contraband products — chewing tobacco, cigarettes, alcohol, health products and car spare parts.

Thirdly, there were forwarding agents acting as intermediaries facilitating payments from the syndicates to the officers.

All in all, the 34 Customs officers were alleged to have received RM4.7 million. Such elaborate operations could not have gone on this long without raising a red flag or two. Willing or unwilling slumber at heads of department level is shameful and unforgivable.

They are causing the government to bleed billions, compelling it to resort to other sources of tax revenue to finance its budget. There should be no place for corrupt officers in the Customs Department nor in any enforcement agencies.

We are glad that the MACC didn't just stop at arresting only the 34 officers, but went on to arrest 27 people and business owners. Graft equals givers and takers.

Ending the scourge involves solving both sides of the equation. Givers and takers must be punished severely. If we understand the MACC correctly, the 27 people and business owners alleged to be involved in the smuggling are being investigated under Section 17A of the MACC Act, an amendment that introduced corporate liability for graft.

The section spells out a hefty penalty: a fine 10 times the value of the bribe or RM1 million, whichever is higher and/or an imprisonment of 20 years.

Frankly, RM1 million is peanuts for corrupt corporate entities. If they can afford to pay the Customs officers RM4.7 million, what is RM1 million? As we said, peanuts. It should be 10 per cent of revenue. As for the 20-year imprisonment, none has been handed the sentence.

The deputy public prosecutors and the courts, too, have a role in ending graft. The former must argue for a deterrent sentence and the latter must be generous with sentencing, especially in cases involving corruption.

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