Following the Prime Minister Datuk Najib Razak’s pledge to tackle corruption, former Transparency International (TI) President, Y.B. Senator Datuk Paul Low Seng Kwan, was recently appointed as Minister in thePrime Minister’s department, and had this to say on the subject: “The main issue that came out of the last two elections was corruption,” he says. “As a result, the MACC (Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission) and TI are joining forces to combat this, to stress that there is now a higher intolerance for corruption.”
Low, the minister responsible for the governance and integrity among the ministries, believes that the increased public awareness of a zero tolerance policy towards corruption is extremely beneficial. “This change in attitude now demands better ethics from everyone, which is great for us.” Low feels that this demand for change is the precise reason why he was chosen for his job, as he represented a committee known for its strong work ethics at the time: “I think I was appointed because I can be quite critical of the government. However, I give constructive criticism and feedback.”
Being dedicated to the position was something Low was committed to right from the start. “Integrity means always providing a solution,” he explains. “I strongly believe that if someone is prepared to ask me for help, I need to go the extra mile and deliver. That is precisely why I took on this job.”
Low is quick to dismiss rumours that his position was ‘bought’. “People often think that I have a collection of Mega Projects under my belt. But in reality, my portfolio is that I’m championing integrity and transparency,” he says. “So wherever I go, the message is very clear. My job is to champion governance and honesty. I have a very strong belief in the safeguarding of institutions like the MACC.”
In fact, Low goes so far to say that without institutions like the MACC, he does not see a positive future for the country. “If we don’t have institutions, including the police, and the judiciary, I don’t think Malaysia can advance very far in terms of economic development,” he confesses. “My main duty as minister is to protect their independence and to ensure that all resources as readily available to them.”
One of Low’s first duties is working on the ‘Comprehensive Integrity Action Program’, and he candidly cites the support of his colleagues as an influential factor. “Fortunately I have a lot of colleagues in the cabinet who are ministers themselves, and who have strong political views to transform the ministry they are in,” he explains. “As a result, I aim to set up an inter-ministry programme so I’m able to penetrate every level of ministry, right to frontline desks in a local government. Bringing the voice of the people to the cabinet makes a lot of difference.”
Low’s plan is an ambitious one. “For every ministry we want to have a template for all the action programmes, so each one is able to produce their strategy to fight corruption,” he says. “It is difficult to form a coalition but this is part of my position here. I want to be able to propose solutions that will make substantial changes.”
Low also hopes that all upcoming Mega Projects will come under close-scrutiny to ensure transparency and integrity for future projects. “We want to work with others and get independent monitors to supervise these processes,” he stresses. “The success of the MAS rail Transit project can be replicated, so selecting reputable monitors is also key.”
Sustainability is also a mitigating factor, and one that Low believes holds the key to long term success. “We have to build up competency and make some institutional changes, be it structural or process-centred,” he states. “We hope that every agency will have at least one Chief Integrity Compliance Officer. These officers will be trained and dedicated to fighting corruption. It may seem like a daunting transformation but I’m confident we will succeed.”
Despite his lofty ambitions, Low is a realist when it comes to setting achievable goals. “We cannot achieve everything overnight but we can share the plans we would like to implement and perhaps get some help,” he admits. Building a strong base has always been at the forefront of his plans, and Low is confident that this joining of forces will prove beneficial in the long run. “The construction coalitions are really big, as well as the housing developer coalition. Now we can combat corruption by building a strong coalition amongst all the stakeholders followed by the implementation of Integrity Pacts, and then enforcing those pledges.”
Low hopes that in a year’s time he and his team will be able to recount real transformation stories with equally successful results: “I believe in every single person working on this with me, and I am confident that Malaysia will change. This change may be gradual but it will come if we work towards it.”
For more information, please visit www.nkracorruption.gov.my.
Source: The Expat August 2013
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