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  Speech (4) by Lim Kit Siang in Parliament on the Royal Address on Tuesday, 6th May 2008: 

Press freedom reform to ensure Anti-corruption effort is not mere talk

The reform proposals announced by the Prime Minister in the fight against corruption are also most unsatisfactory, viz:

• The Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) to become an “independent” Malaysian Commission Against Corruption (MCAC) by year end, to be answerable to Parliament.

• Increase of the MCAC’s workforce to 5,000 officers over a period of five years, whistle-blowers protection legislation and improvement in the public procurement system.

An anti-corruption agency does not become “independent” just because the government describes it as “independent” – particularly when it continues to come under the Prime Minister’s Deparment instead fo operating as a completely autonomous organization, bereft of prosecution powers for corruption as this will remain the discretion of the Attorney-General.

Whether Malaysia can break the back of the problem of worsening corruption is not just through organizational or institutional changes but on whether there is the political will by the highest level of government to support an all-out war against corruption, vesting all the necessary powers to the anti-corruption institutions.

After his unprecedented landslide victory, Abdullah launched the National Integrity Plan which set the five-year target to improve Malaysia’s ranking in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index from No. 37 in 2003 to at least No. 30 by 2008.

There is no more mention of this five-year NIP target for Malaysia’s ranking on the TI CPI had worsened by another six places from No. 37 to No. 43 in 2007 – giving former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad the justification to say that corruption under Abdullah’s premiership worse than under his administration, that corruption, which was under the table during his time, had come above the table under his successor!

How can Malaysians be convinced that there is now a new political will to fight corruption by giving free and unfettered powers to the MCAC at the end of the year when nobody in government dares to say a single word about creating a new political culture of zero tolerance for corruption starting from the Cabinet and to be reflected in improved rankings in the TI CPI?

The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, should embrace press freedom reform to ensure that the reform measures he has announced on the judiciary and corruption is successful.

Furthermore, if Abdullah is serious about reform measures for the judiciary and anti-corruption, then it is time for him to embrace press reforms to ensure that these reforms are meaningful and sustainable.

Without a fair and independent media, no reform measures whether to restore public confidence in the independence, impartiality and quality of the judiciary or an all-out battle against corruption can succeed.

When Abdullah first became Home Minister eight years ago, he was presented with a memorandum by Malaysian journalists calling for press freedom reform. He had at that time promised to study the memorandum but nothing has come out of it so far.

The March 8 political tsunami should be a salutary lesson to the Prime Minister that it is time that he embrace press freedom reform although it is eight years late.

The latest press ranking for Malaysia being placed at 141 in the Freedom House survey report on Global Media is another adverse international verdict on the state of the media in Malaysia. Is Abdullah prepared to come to Parliament to announce bold measures on press freedom reform especially an end to the annual newspaper licensing requirement as well as the repeal of the Printing Presses and Publications Act?

* Lim Kit Siang,  DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman & MP for Ipoh Timor


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