Malaysia – what needs to change

Malaysia – what needs to change

The Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, is currently facing allegations that nearly US$700 million from the national fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd ended up in his personal accounts. This week he was widely criticised for firing the attorney general leading the investigation into 1MDB, replacing five cabinet ministers and dismissing his deputy prime minister for speaking out about the handling of the affair. 

There is a lot that needs to be talked about. Here are three issues that need to be focused on:

1. Malaysia needs strong and independent investigative authorities

The 1MDB scandal has underlined some serious weaknesses in Malaysia’s capacity to hold leaders to account. 

Under the current system, the Attorney General serves as both principal legal adviser to the government and decides which cases are investigated, while the prime minister plays a key role in appointing some members of the Judicial Appointments Commission, which in turn selects judges.

These structures pose clear conflicts of interest.

Meanwhile the country’s anti-corruption commission lacks genuine independence and has no assurance that its proposed cases will be taken forward.

The current scandal requires credible and effective investigations. Reform is needed urgently.

2. Press freedoms must be guaranteed and respected 

This year the Malaysian authorities have stepped up arrests of journalists, activists, and human rights lawyers on sedition charges. The government blocked access to a British website that was investigating the 1MDB case and suspended two national newspapers who reported on the scandal.

Najib should be protecting free journalism, not attacking it.

3. Serious action is needed on cross-border corruption

With Singapore investigating two bank accounts reportedly linked to the 1MDB case the issue of cross-border corruption should be high on the agenda.  

Following his own call that “there should be no place for dirty money anywhere” the UK prime minister should press Malaysia to step up its action on illicit money flows and ensure a clean level playing field for companies operating in the region.  

As current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Malaysia is well-placed to drive stronger cooperation to tackle sophisticated corruption networks in the region. While it needs to tackle corruption at home first, Malaysia could demonstrate genuine leadership at the ASEAN summit in November by supporting Transparency International’s call to create a regional body to integrate anti-corruption principles.

Anti-Corruption Conference to tackle the issues

From 2-4 September, 1,000 anti-corruption experts will meet in Malaysia to take part in the 16th International Anti-Corruption Conference and the current corruption allegations will be high on the agenda.

This year’s conference is supported by the government of Malaysia, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and the Malaysian Society for Transparency and Integrity, Transparency International’s chapter in Malaysia. The conference theme is Ending Impunity: People, Integrity, Action.

By hosting the conference in Malaysia, Transparency International believes that the government and the Malaysian civil society, as well as the media, have a unique opportunity to seek concrete solutions to its corruption challenges, engage with and gain the support of the global anti-corruption community.

Editor's note: On 30 July 2015 we amended the article to better clarify the allegations, and on 3 August adjusted the title and opening to reflect that the meeting between the British and Malaysian prime ministers had occurred.

For any press enquiries please contact


Support Transparency International

Fighting land corruption in Sub-Saharan Africa: Widows tell their story

See a short film created by Ghanaian widows evicted from their land who decided to organise and challenge official indifference.

Corruption in Asia Pacific: what 20,000+ people told us

We spoke to nearly 22,000 people about their recent experiences with corruption in 16 countries and territories in the Asia Pacific region. See what they revealed.

FIFA must do more to win back trust of football fans

It’s been one year since Gianni Infantino was elected president of FIFA with promises to clean up football. How do football fans think he's doing?

17 commitments for a clean Bulgaria – will politicians sign on?

Bulgaria’s voters will head to the polls in a snap election on 26 March. Our chapter is urging politicians to commit to needed reforms.

Applications now open for the Transparency Summer School on Integrity 2017

Apply now for the Transparency School on Integrity (TISI), taking place during 10-16 July, 2017 in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Open data: promise, but not enough progress from G20 countries

G20 countries made commitments to publish data that could help curb corruption. How well are they keeping their promises?

República Dominicana marcha para acabar con la impunidad

Desde que salió a la luz el escándalo de corrupción en torno al constructor Odebrecht, miles de dominicanos salieron a la calle para denunciar la impunidad y luchar contra la corrupción.

Social Media

Hundreds of anti-corruption protesters arrested in Russia after mass demonstrations

Hundreds of people have been arrested in a crackdown in Russia after thousands gathered for massive anti-corruption protests Sunday in the nation's capital, and other demonstrations were held in dozens of cities across the country.

A Life Sentence in Cambodia, but Kem Ley’s Murder Is Far From Solved

The man on trial had admitted shooting Mr. Kem Ley, a government critic. But glaring holes in the case, which recalled past assassinations, raise troubling questions.

Follow us on Social Media

Would you like to know more?

Sign up to stay informed about corruption news and our work around the world