Should the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act (MACC) 2009 be amended so that the inordinately wealthy can be asked to prove the means of their wealth?

NONEThis was a suggestion thrown up by Transparency International-Malaysia chief Paul Low (right) on how to plug the loophole which the MACC claims is hampering their investigations into corruption among those in power.

"Perhaps what we have in Section 114A of the Evidence Act should be adopted into the MACC Act to say that the authorities can compel those who have amassed an unexplained amount of wealth to show how the wealth was obtained," he said when contacted.

With such a provision, Low said, the authorities can also request international agencies to disclose information which could be crucial in piecing together money trails.

"The authorities can't just demand records from international agencies without showing that there is reason for their investigations. If there is an assumption of wrongdoing, they can do so," he said.

He said an example of this is the ongoing Syariah Court trial involving the Sarawak chief minister's son Mahmud Abu Bekir Abdul Taib and his ex-wife, Shahnaz Abdul Majid.

Shahnaz is seeking RM400 million in mutaah (gift) and joint assets from their 19-year marriage.

"Under the present law, MACC cannot do anything (to Bekir), but the wealth is unexplained. How can he have RM800 million?

"If there is a change in the law, the MACC can subpoena the wife to give evidence," he said.

How it's done abroad

Low added that in other countries, like in the United States, corrupt individuals had been jailed based on the testimonies of former allies in exchange of immunity through plea bargaining.

Plea bargaining was adopted in Malaysia last year.

Section 50 of the MACC Act presumes that all monies or other gratifications awarded to be corruptly received unless otherwise proven.

NONEThe MACC is currently investigating Sarawak CM Abdul Taib Mahmud (left).

The anti-graft body had earlier lamented that it is difficult for it to link powerful individuals with abuse of power based on Section 32 of the MACC Act.

It claims that these top officials are clever enough to made sure that they declare their interest and excuse themselves from decision-making in projects involving cronies.

This leads to lack of documentary evidence to pin the suspect to the crime, while witness testimonies are hard to come by as subordinates are often political allies, who refuse to speak out.

Low shares the views of a top official from the MACC who said that one way to stop officials from taking advantage of the loophole is for the government to stop the practice of direct negotiations.

"Direct negotiations are open to abuse. If everything needs to go through an open tender, then all recipients will have to go through technical and financial evaluations, and likelihood of abuse is lower," the official, who declined to be named, said.

The onus, however, will be on the government as this can only be regulated at the policy level, he said.

Finally it's all about culture

As for the law, he suggested that a clause be inserted into Section 32 of the Act to compel an open tender if a project could involve an official's relatives or close associates.

"This is to ensure that the even if the relatives are awarded the projects, they are competent as they have had to go through the evaluations," he said.

The evaluation results, he added, could also be used as evidence of wrongdoing if a company which had failed the competency tests was eventually awarded the project.

Megat Najmuddin Megat KhasHowever, Malaysian Institute of Corporate Governance president Megat Najmuddin Megat Khas (right) said Malaysia's laws and regulations have been rated as the best in Asia.

"But unfortunately, we rank low in compliance and enforcement!" he said in a text message to Malaysiakini.

He said that corruption has somehow also become part of Malaysian values and this is evident in a recent survey of university students.

"A survey by Mampu... showed that a majority of (the students) do not mind being corrupt when they start working.

"So the answer is not more laws and regulations, but a change of values and culture," he said.