Opposition braces for MACC scrutiny as polls near

THE recent spate of corruption investigations that involve opposition politicians could be intimidation tactics ahead of the 14th general election, say analysts and Pakatan Harapan leaders.

Earlier this week, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) remanded two company directors and raided several agencies of the Penang state government in its probe on three of the state’s highway projects as well as an undersea tunnel development.

The case has sparked concerns that Pakatan Harapan leaders and states governed by the opposition will come under more scrutiny, said Ilham Centre’s executive director Hisommuddin Bakar.

“We all know this is an election year. MACC’s action on the tunnel project can be described as an act of intimidation against Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng,” Hisommuddin said.

Lim is also the secretary general of DAP, which has ruled Penang since the 2008 general election.

“As usual, something like this is going to make election campaign material in the mainstream media. The aim is to shift the people’s support from PH in Penang,” said Hisommuddin.

MACC deputy chief commissioner Azam Baki on Thursday alluded to the possibility of further arrests depending on what the agency discovers from documents and witness statements gathered. 

It is understood that MACC is looking at documents related to the project’s tunnel feasibility study contract and the land swap payment to the special purpose vehicle. 

The state government has since explained that it had not paid the company anything for the tunnel feasibility study. 

A RM208 million payment via land swap was made for the EIA (environmental impact assessment) approved for three highways. 

Lim is also facing graft charges at the Penang High Court over his Jalan Pinhorn bungalow purchase at below the market price several years ago. Trial begins in March. 

Redirecting attention

DAP and the Penang government are not the only opposition parties to have come under graft probes by MACC.

Parti Warisan Sabah president Shafie Apdal, a BN minister-turned-opposition leader, his brothers and fellow party leaders are all being investigated by MACC over the alleged embezzlement of RM1.5 billion meant for rural development projects in the state when Shafie was rural and regional development minister. 

Selangor Menteri Besar Azmin Ali’s administration was also shaken last November when the MACC arrested and remanded four people, including Azmin’s nephew, for investigations into illegal sand mining in Kajang.

The suspects allegedly bribed local government officers in the case that dates back to 2014. 

Hisommuddin said the investigations appeared to be attempts to divert attention away from other scandals, like the dubious sale of Felda’s Jalan Semarak land.

Last month, news broke that the 66,000 sq m Felda land in Kuala Lumpur, worth RM270 million, was transferred under dubious circumstances by a Felda-authorised company without the knowledge of Felda’s board of directors. 

“A case of that scale will need the MACC to be more serious and efficient. So far, this big issue doesn’t seem to pressure the former Felda chairman Isa Samad. 

“As a result, the tunnel case looks like an act by the ruling party to pile pressure on the DAP-led administration of Penang instead,” Hisommuddin said. 

Pakatan Harapan Youth vice chief Faiz Fadzil echoed those sentiments, saying that “real corruption issues and those clearly committed by Umno leaders and their cronies” like the 1Malaysia Development Bhd and Felda scandals appeared to be kept in the backburner as opposition figures were being probed. 

“Is MACC so weak that it can’t smell the corruption in the 1MDB and Felda scandals when the facts revealed clearly showed the element of corruption?”

PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli said tarnishing Pakatan’s image and credentials was the only way prime minister Najib Razak would be able to persuade voters to stick to the status quo in terms of government.

“He can only do this by playing the narrative, ‘both PH and BN are corrupt, so please don’t abandon BN because PH is not an angel either’,” Rafizi told The Malaysian Insight. 

MACC lacking credibility

DAP national political education director Liew Chin Tong said the arrests of opposition leaders and raids on parties did not help in creating an image of impartiality for the MACC.

“Their actions are seen as pursuing Umno’s political agenda. 

 “It will give the impression that they (MACC) are trying to help Umno cement the perception that the Penang government is corrupt, Warisan is corrupt and same goes to Azmin,” he said. 

Faiz said MACC “appears to be more involved in politicking, in the context of covering up the wrongdoings of Umno leaders”. 

Independent analyst Khoo Kay Peng said while all parties, whether from the government or opposition, should be made to answer allegations of corruption and misconduct, the MACC’s lack of consistency had made it easy for people to accuse the commission of doing their duty under political pressure. 

“I’m not taking anything away from the sweep. If there is corruption, they should be subjected to scrutiny, opposition state or not. The same goes for other government-related projects,” said Khoo.

“But there is no consistency. Look at the progress made in the 1MDB case, for example. There is nothing happening, but the initiative (1MDB) continues to lose money and is affecting the country. 

“That’s why it’s very important for key agencies like MACC to not only act fairly but also seen to be fair and independent.” – January 13, 2018.