Graft a big factor in M’sian polls

Editorial, Normal

The National, Monday 15th April, 2013

 KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysians head to the polls next month with the country’s persistent corruption high on the list of public concerns, and few have done more to put it there than baby-faced Rafizi Ramli.

Officially the strategist for the political party of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, Rafizi is best-known to his enemies in the ruling coalition as Malaysia’s foremost whistle-blower on official graft.

Formerly a top executive at state oil firm Petronas, Rafizi joined the opposition fulltime five years ago and has used his financial smarts to sting the 

government with corruption revelations pulled from his now-feared files.

“I have about three more in my back pocket,” Rafizi, 35, told AFP at his office in the capital Kuala Lumpur.

The Barisan Nasional (BN) has governed the multi-ethnic nation since 1957 independence, bringing economic growth and political stability under its rule, but also longstanding allegations of large-scale graft.

Elections on May 5 however could be Malaysia’s tightest 

yet after the opposition handed BN its worst-ever showing in 2008 polls.

A survey in December found corruption was the top concern of 51 percent of voters, which the opposition has fed by hammering the government on recurring scandals, and through revelations coming from Rafizi.

Most recently, Rafizi produced documents late last year that he says show a powerful state leader received US$13 million in kickbacks and a cabinet minister’s son got a Hummer SUV in exchange for timber contracts. The accusations were denied.

Corruption – ranging from small bribes sought by police, up to huge kickbacks alleged in a string of large projects — is blamed for hastening a decline in Malaysia’s economic competitiveness.

It has failed to significantly improve its standing in corruption rankings.

It suffered the world’s third-highest illicit capital flight from 2001-2010 – US$285 billion – according to financial watchdog Global Financial Integrity, and topped Transparency International’s (TI) 30-economy bribery survey in 2012.

“When 50 percent of businesses surveyed say they lost a deal because they refused to pay a bribe, it’s not just perception. It’s institutionalised,” TI-Malaysia’s president, Paul Low said. – AFP


A Malaysian government spokesman told AFP tackling corruption remains a “key priority” of Najib’s, adding that “failure to eradicate it will harm our democratic and economic progress”.


He pointed to recent initiatives such as setting up special corruption courts across the country and a 2010 Whistleblower Protection Act.


Despite that law, however, Rafizi is now facing charges of revealing private banking details in the cow case, which the opposition dismisses as an attempt to muzzle him.


“I have no children, so I don’t have to worry about threats against my family. And with a finance background, I guess I was the best man for the job,” said Rafizi, who now plans a parliament run.


Rafizi’s notoriety has brought him a flood of documents from other whistle-blowers who distrust the commission. In August, he set up a centre to handle the flow.


Criticised by the government as partisan, Rafizi insists the centre will also look into credible allegations against the opposition.


As for future revelations involving the government, Rafizi does not rule out wielding them as campaigning begins.


Rafizi said the three-party opposition alliance led by Anwar expects to find “massive” corruption in government books if it takes power, and Anwar has said he will save the country billions of dollars by wiping out official graft.


But Rafizi insists the opposition won’t launch a “witch-hunt”, but instead will focus on recouping lost funds in larger cases.