Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mohamed Hanipa Maidin shares his views on government reforms.
Question: When can people expect to see reforms and experience the changes?
Answer: I think Malaysians can see the difference between the old and new government. For reforms in governance and integrity, there are those that can yield immediate results, within a year; for mid-term ones, up to three years; and, long-term ones, after three to five years.
For example, the National Anti-Corruption Plan (NACP) 2019-2023 was launched on Jan 29. Its focus is to address corruption at all levels of the government administration (federal, state and local), as well as the private sector.
In Parliament, we want to make reforms too. As the minister in charge of parliamentary reform, I have been engaging with the speakers to convince them that we need to bring reform to the institution. Some we can do within a short time, but some will need more time because it’s not easy to change the (existing) mentality.
Q: Is it difficult to implement changes?
A: Some reforms will need a two-thirds majority as they involve the Constitution. Without a majority, it is a bit difficult to make amendments unless the opposition supports us. I was once in the opposition, so I know the mentality. Their main duty is to criticise the government. No harm in them doing that because we know that, as the government, whatever we do will be scrutinised.
It is a bit difficult to get opposition support, but we are going to engage them and tell them that these (reforms) are for Malaysia, and this should transcend political considerations. It will take time to convince them, however, as we are still trapped in the old culture.
Q: What is your take on Malaysia striving to become a corruption-free country?
A: There are 115 initiatives outlined in NACP. This plan aims to make Malaysia a corruption-free country through three goals. The process of reform on this may be longer as it includes the accountability and credibility of the judiciary, prosecution and law enforcement agencies; efficiency and responsiveness in public service delivery; and, integrity in business. On that note, it is more accurate to strive for zero-tolerance of corruption instead of a corruption-free country. I do not think any country is free from corruption. I like to think that we are going for zero tolerance, but, of course, we do want to have a corruption-free country. Still, it is very idealistic and utopian.
Q: How serious is corruption in Malaysia?
A: Unfortunately, corruption is deeply embedded in Malaysia. We inherited a government with problems. But we do not want to go into that. We do not want to be trapped in a blame game, but instead, go forward. For those who have embezzled money, they will have to face the music. We do not want to exact revenge. We are not a government of vendetta. We just want the rule of law to be upheld and observed. Those who have committed crimes, they must face the law. It doesn’t matter whether you are from the government or opposition. There is no time limit for criminal cases. You can commit a crime now or in the last 20 years, and you can still be brought to trial. This is the difference between criminal and civil charges. Criminal cases have no expiration date.
Q: What is the progress of reforms that have been rolled out?
A: On legislative reforms, most bills are at the drafting and revision stage, including those on Ombudsman Malaysia, IPCMC (Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission) and political financing. People have asked why we are very slow. Actually, we are not being slow. As a government, there are certain ways of doing things. For instance, to present a bill, we have to prepare cabinet papers first. We need to consult certain agencies to get their feedback and bring it to the cabinet meeting. So the process might be cumbersome, but this is how the government works. When I was in the opposition, I never had to deal with such issues.
But this is the process and whether we like it or not, we have to go through the processes.
Also, there are no political appointees in government-linked companies, a policy decided by the government. All candidates for the board of directors for statutory bodies are vetted to ensure highly qualified and professional candidates are appointed.
We are also reviewing and preparing circulars and guidelines to strengthen the governance and integrity of public officials. The government also announces initiatives on a regular basis, which are discussed in the Special Cabinet Committee on Anti-Corruption (JKKMAR), held every two months.
To improve transparency and budget integrity as well as budgeting processes, a mid-year budget review has to be made. Criteria for off-budget allocation should be scrutinised. All money spent must be promptly recorded. The initiative to limit the prime minister’s tenure to two term is under way as it requires amendments to the Constitution.
Reforming the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is also under way. The appointment of the chief commissioner will be done via a Parliamentary Select Committee, and this has been approved by the cabinet. MACC will also be forming a regulatory body to monitor governance in investment agencies.
Even the Election Commission is reviewing the election process and it will be presented to JKKMAR on May 20. For IPCMC, the bill has been drafted and is now in final discussions with the Attorney-General’s Chambers.
Q: Some claim the Pakatan Harapan government is not carrying out reforms and there are no new broad policies, only firefighting. What is your take?
A: Who are these people? I think there are divided views on this. I think most people realise the PH government is doing a good job. Some reforms are harder to feel as they are not tangible. These are structural reforms. Granted, for some, receiving monetary aid, such as the 1Malaysia People’s Aid, makes it easier for them to like the government. But this is where problems arise, which can involve corruption. We cannot be populist all the time and the people have to be aware of this. If we want to be populist, we can easily be like the old government — get money by setting up 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Bhd). Thus, you can be very popular, but it’s not good for the country.
It is important to have structural reforms. Without it, any other reforms will be meaningless. Also, we want to have a different style of managing the country. We are in the healing process. Unfortunately, it will take a long time as the ailment is chronic.
Q: What does the government need to do to make the people trust that things are improving under the new leadership?
A: The current administration needs to communicate better and more effectively on what has been done. We also need to address the wrong perception that not much has been achieved under the new administration since the 14th General Election.
On governance, integrity and anti-corruption reforms, the Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption Centre has rolled out more than 80 initiatives.
Malaysia should also promote its work in international institutions via the United Nations Convention against Corruption and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Those in the public service need to properly present their work and communicate their efforts to all levels of society, as well as the grassroots.
We want to reinstitute trust in our public governance and institutions by making a clear statement about the government’s will and commitment. We want to promote values and integrity through education and leadership by example. Sustainable efforts are being made to eradicate corruption, with better collaboration among enforcement agencies via the use of technology.