Islamic States Agree to Anticorruption Convention

On 28 Jumada Al-Awwal, 1444h (December 22, 2022), Anticorruption Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation agreed to assist one another in preventing, detecting, investigating, and prosecuting corruption crimes.

The Makkah Al-Mukarramah Convention commits OIC’s 57 member states to exchange information and share expertise on bribery, embezzlement, trading in influence, and the other corruption offenses listed in the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. Member states foreign ministers are expected to ratify the Convention by March of this year.

The Convention is an important step forward. For two reasons. One, as a practical matter requests from one OIC member to another for assistance in locating fugitives, securing evidence, or recovering stolen assets often run up against obstacles ranging from outmoded procedures to a lack of trust between law enforcement agencies.

This makes it easy for embezzlers, bribe takers and payers, and other scam artists to escape prosecution.  Not only does the Convention require states to eliminate these barriers, but its creation of a General Secretariat and a Conference of State Parties should help smooth working relations among law enforcement personnel as well as provide a forum for resolving disputes.

The greater impact is surely the Convention’s demonstrative effect. Beyond an immediate effect on behavior, law serves an expressive function, creating and validating social norms. The OIC is in its own words “the collective voice of the Muslim world.” For the representative of the believers in one of the world’s great religions to join the fight against corruption validates and reaffirms the importance of the fight. That the English for “Makkah Al-Mukarramah” is “Holy City of Mecca” serves to emphasize this importance to Muslims of all states.

How Ethno-Religious Divisions Stymie Anticorruption Reform in Malaysia–and What to Do About It

In 2018, Malaysia surmounted the biggest test of its democracy since gaining independence from Britain in 1963—the first democratic transfer of power in the country’s history. That change in leadership occurred in the wake of the 1MDB scandal—one of the largest kleptocracy schemes ever uncovered—which implicated former Prime Minister Najib Razak. The repudiation of Najib and his party, UNMO, in the 2018 election was seen by many as a hopeful sign that the Malaysian people were no longer willing to tolerate the systemic corruption that had long been seen as business as usual. To be sure, the leader of the victorious coalition in the 2018 election—nonagenarian Mahathir Mohamed, who had previously served as Prime Minister from 1983 to 2001—was an unlikely champion of anticorruption and good governance reform. Yet in 2018, Mahathir’s victory was cause for hope that there would finally be genuine systemic reform.

Within two years, that hope had all but vanished. Prime Minister Mahathir was forced to resign in the middle of his first term in office and was replaced by UMNO politician Muhyiddin Yassin, who had served as Deputy Prime Minister under Najib. What went wrong? In an earlier post, I explored how a free press and multi-party government may have contributed to the failure of Mahathir’s coalition. But that is not the whole story. Those democratic institutions were susceptible to manipulation because of the deeply embedded ethnic and religious divisions that have been a defining feature of Malaysian politics since independence. By exacerbating racial and religious tensions, UMNO managed to convince key voting blocs that the biggest threat they faced was not corrupt politicians, but rather their neighbors who look and pray differently. In short, the reformist coalition ultimately failed because the Malaysian populace lost sight of their common enemy: the corrupt system of governance robbing them all.

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