Malaysia and Sierra Leone, both former British colonies, have similar corruption challenges but different national anti-corruption strategies.
Malaysia and Sierra Leone respectively ranked 62 and 130 out of 180 countries in Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (CPI) in 2017. Moreover, both countries are conducting series of investigations over alleged corruption including Malaysia’s MDB1 and Sierra Leone’s Commission of Inquiry.
Malaysia has Abu Kassim Bin Mohamed and Najib Razak while Sierra Leone has Abdul Tejan-Cole and Earnest Bai Koroma. Abu Kassim resigned in 2016 as Chief Commissioner of Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), giving disagreement with then Prime Minister Najib Razak as the main reason for leaving. And Tejan-Cole resigned in 2011 as commissioner of Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), blaming then president Earnest Bai Koroma for failing to provide him with security.
However, Malaysia emphasises on political-will while Sierra Leone insists on implementation to reduce corruption. ”I just came to see you briefly to make sure you feel warmly welcome at the Prime Mister’s office before I meet with cabinet ministers in few minutes time,” Abu Kassim, on January 18, 2019 told visiting students from the International Anti-Corruption Academy (IACA) in Vienna, Austria.
Malaysia’s political-will theory of anti-corruption
Making politicians preserve integrity has been one of Malaysia’s main national anti-corruption strategies. Therefore, the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) allocates enormous resources to training and education to prevent misconduct within public institutions. Since the formation of Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) in 1967, Malaysia has reformed the agency from National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in 1973 to Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in 2008.
Moreover, the country wants education and training to play a leading role to reduce corruption. Many anti-corruption experts have said making the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Academy (MACA) the only organisation responsible for education and training would make combating corruption more efficient and effective, getting rid of institutions such as the Integrity Institute. The Southeast Asian country with a population of 31 million depends on MACA to supply human resources to satisfy MACC’s high demand for competent workforce.
“Finance and human resources are crucial to run MACC’s 13 offices in each 13 states, three federal territories, 21 branches in major towns and MACA in Kuala Lumpur,” said Premraj Victor, Assistant Commissioner at MACC. Victor was speaking on 14 January 2019 during a presentation to the visiting students at the MACC’s headquarter in the federal territory of Putrajaya. According to Victor, the commission had 2937 staffs in 2017 with an annual budget of $62 million. In comparison, in 2017, Sierra Leone’s ACC had an annual budget of $5 million and 198 staffs.
During 14-25 January 2019, MACA hosted 18 IACA students for their sixth module classes of a Master’s degree in Anti-Corruption Studies (MACS). The visiting students come from diverse countries such as Sierra Leone, United States, Macedonia, China and Bahrain. The students are anti-corruption professionals who come from the public, private and civil society sectors.
Malaysia’s decision to host the students was not surprising and was not the first time MACA had received students from IACA. Moreover, Malaysia and IACA are partners in many fronts of preventing and fighting corruption, especially education and development of human resources. Abu Kassim is a Board of Governors for IACA since 2012, a faculty member and a lecturer. Therefore, the visiting students were familiar with him as their lecturer.
“I had to resign because the prime minister refused to listen to me,” Abu Kassim answered while taking questions from the vising students during his lectures at MACA. He said he urged the prime minister several times to accept the facts and evidences developed by investigators, especially by MACC. The MDB1 case that started in 2015 reminded Malaysia that political corruption could be difficult to combat.
International media reported in 2016 that facts and evidence that corroborate the transfer of over $1 billion from 1Malaysia Development Bhd accounts to the private accounts of Prime Minister Razak had been established. Moreover, the US Department of Justice had alleged $3.5 billion was stolen from 1Malaysia Development Bhd, an organization set up in 2009 by Razak to transform Kuala Lumpur, the capital city, into global financial center. However, both Razak and MDB1 denied any transfer of money. The MDB1 case is still on going.
“Our assets seizure from Razak, family and associates included cash, properties, private jet and jewelries worth hundreds of millions of US Dollars,” said Mohamad Zamri Bin Zainul Abidin, a top investigator who specializes on money laundering and asset recovery at MACC. Zamri had brought his team of four top investigators to MACA training center where the visiting students were taking classes. In two days, Zamri and his colleagues presented and shared stories of many cases they investigated. Most of their investigations, including the MDB1 led to asset seizure, arrests and criminal proceedings.
“I am going to tell the ministers that reducing corruption in Malaysia depends on their wiliness to do the right thing,” Abu Kassim said to the visiting students before leaving in a hurry for his meeting. Abu Kassim, who has become an indispensable partner for the new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to reduce corruption, has always emphasized on political-will.
Mahathir ended decades of political monopoly enjoyed by Razak and his Barisan National coalition when he surprisingly won the elections in 2018. The 92-year-old Prime Minister has vowed to root out political corruption beginning from the top. Moreover, Abu Kassim is presently the Director General at the National Centre for Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption at the Prime Minister’s office.
Whatever criticism the literature of political-will levels against Malaysia, the MDB1 case highlighted the need for more political-will to preserve integrity and prevent workplace deviance, especially workplace deviance of top public officials such as the Prime Minister’s.
Sierra Leone’s implementation theory of anti-corruption
Sierra Leone with a population of 7 million has always adopted implementation as its main national anti-corruption strategy. The ruling Sierra Leone People Party (SLPP) and the main opposition All People Congress Party (APC) have dominated politics since the West African country gained independence from Britain in 1961. APC and SLPP have always enjoyed overwhelming support from ethnic groups - Temne (35 percent) in the North and Mende (31 percent) in the South respectively.
Preventing and fighting corruption has not been as divisive in Malaysia as in Sierra Leone. Ethnic groups in Malaysia have, for most part, been united against corruption since independence in 1957 when the British struck a deal between the majority indigenes and the minority Indians and Chinese.
By the end of Sierra Leone’s 11-year bloody civil war in 2002, the country had already established the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in 2000, adopting prevention and education as its main strategy. Moreover, the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 granted the ACC prosecutorial power the same year Tejan-Cole was appointed commissioner by president Earnest Bai Koroma who had won the 2007 general elections with the APC. Tejan-Cole, a lawyer and former lecturer at Fourah Bay College (FBC), vowed to implement the new legal instrument. The ACC under Tejan-Cole investigated and developed facts and evidence that unveiled rampant corruption perpetuated by top government officials including cabinet ministers.
“I had to resign because the president refused to answer my repeated calls for guarantying my security,” Tejan-Cole would always answer whenever asked to give reasons for resigning. Tejan-Cole in 2011 resigned and fled Sierra Leone and did not return till 2018. He went to work as executive director of Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) for seven years while residing in Dakar, Senegal. It was unusual for an ACC commissioner to go after an administration headed by a president who appointed him. However, Koroma’s administration said reducing corruption was a priority and it introduced the Anti-Corruption Act 2008.
Implementing the laws or law enforcement has always been an anti-corruption strategy that dominates the activities of the ACC. "We have indicted the former vice president Victor Bockarie Foh on four charges over misuse of public funds," Francis Ben Kaifala, the ACC commissioner, told reporters in Freetown, just one month after his appointment in June 2018 by president Bio.
Moreover, the much anticipated Commissions of Inquiry meant to probe into the affairs of the former government was inaugurated on January 29, 2019.Three separate commissions, headed by judges from Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone, will hear testimonies from witnesses that will include former officials who served in the administration of former President Ernest Bai Koroma from 2007 to 2018.
The setting up of the Commission of Inquiry was recommended by findings of a presidential committee appointed in April by President Bio shortly after he was sworn-in, following his victory in March 2018 elections with the SLPP. “All those who will be invited by the Commissions must comply. Anyone who fails to comply, and I repeat, anyone who fails to comply will face the full force of the law,” Bio warned in his statement during the launching of the Commission of Inquiry on Tuesday at the compound of the former Special Court for war crimes located in the west end of the capital, Freetown.
The Bio-led administration said the move is part of the president’s desire to root out corruption that has plagued the country for far too long. “If we do not fight and win the fight against corruption we are preparing this nation for another problem that will take us down; corruption is at a level that can destroy this nation,” Bio told reporters in Freetown in July 2018.
The Commission of Inquiry looks forward to requesting legal and structural assistance from the international community and organizations such as World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery and the UK’s Serious Fraud Office.
However, public support for the commission of inquiry is divided along political lines. When the former deputy defense minister Palo Conteh was arrested on December 28, 2018 after being questioned by the ACC over corruption, APC supporters staged a two-day protest in Freetown to express their opposition to the arrest and the setting up of Commission of Inquiry.
Change of strategy is required if Sierra Leone wants to copy the Malaysian model. Implementation without political-will, education and public support has made it almost impossible to reduce corruption. Moreover, preventing and fighting corruption would be more daunting if Sierra Leone is divided against the scourge. The most remarkable observation in comparing Malaysia and Sierra Leone seems both countries are grappling with political corruption.