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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.


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