Back in mid-2018, Malaysia looked like it might have finally reached a turning point in its fight against corruption, following the country’s first democratic transfer of power. The winning parties in 2018 promised significant anticorruption reforms, including swift action to respond to the 1MDB scandal that had led to the ruling government’s defeat. Unfortunately, the hoped-for clean-up of Malaysian politics has not occurred. Part of this is due to the fact that, since the 2018 elections, Malaysia has been embroiled in seemingly unending political turmoil, with two governing coalitions collapsing in fairly rapid succession as a result of shifting party alliances. But part of the problem concerns longstanding problems with Malaysia’s main anti-graft body, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).
The MACC was created by statute in 2009 as an “independent” body. But like far too many anticorruption agencies around the world, in practice the MACC suffers from a lack of genuine independence from the executive branch. This leads to the public perception, and possibly the reality, of improper political bias. (Indeed, the MACC’s lack of true independence may explain its slack response when investigative journalists and opposition politicians first raised concerns about the 1MDB fund.) Even if Malaysia’s politics stabilizes, it will not be possible for the country to make genuine progress against corruption without reforming the MACC’s structure in order to ensure that it is truly independent of the executive, and seen to be so.