MACC chief’s issue expected to intrude parliamentary discussion

This is after a special parliamentary committee on the issue that was supposed to convene yesterday is being postponed indefinitely

by AZREEN HANI & NUR HANANI AZMAN / pic by BERNAMA

THE controversy surrounding Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) commissioner Tan Sri Azam Baki’s (picture) stockholding threatens to overshadow a special parliamentary sitting on floods today.

This comes after a special parliamentary committee on the issue that was supposed to convene yesterday was indefinitely postponed, and a statement yesterday by the Securities Commission Malaysia (SC) seeming to absolve Azam of wrongdoing.

The SC yesterday explicitly said “Azam operated the account that he had opened, in that he had given instructions to buy, sell and transfer securities from the said account”.

“Therefore, SC arrived at the decision that there was no breach of section 25(4) of the Securities Industry (Central Depositories) Act 1991 (SICDA).”

The regulator also said that Azam is the named account holder and had control of the said trading account.

This contrasted to an earlier statement on Jan 18 that said the regulator could not conclude that Azam had breached any of its regulations when he admitted that a stock account in his name was used by his brother.

Under section 25 of SICDA, every securities account opened with a central depository must be in the name of the beneficial owner of the deposited securities or in the name of an authorised nominee.

Azam, who has been embroiled in a proxy stock trading scandal, told a press conference earlier this month that his share trading account had been used by his younger brother to purchase shares in 2015, following allegations that the MACC chief had interests and shareholdings in several companies. He also denied any wrongdoing.

The Dewan Rakyat sitting today is aimed to discuss matters relating to floods and long-term flood disaster management planning.

“This session is also the best platform for MPs to get feedback on flood issues,” Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on Jan 6.

However, the shares trading issue involving Azam remains under scrutiny from industry players and the Opposition.

The postponement of the Parliament Select Committee’s (PSC) special meeting on this share ownership issue may lead to more questions by lawmakers in the August house.

An industry expert told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) that this issue should be handled thoroughly by the authorities to ensure investors and public’s confidence remain intact.

“It will set a bad precedent and does not augur well with the investors’ confidence. It is suggested for the SC chairman to take a leave to allow objectivity in investigation,” the expert who requested anonymity said.

Malaysian-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Daniel Bernbeck said for the German business community today, corruption is a topic of zero tolerance, not only legally, but also when it comes to ethical behaviour.

He said managers know that when it comes to corruption, nowhere else is the statement more true that “perception is reality”.

Malaysia’s reputation has suffered since 2015 with the investigations around 1Malaysia Development Bhd which put Malaysia in the global news negatively, he added.

“This is why we are concerned that any connection between Malaysia and corruption being shared in the news could again be quite harmful to Malaysia’s reputation as a preferred investment destination which could also affect the viability of Malaysian companies as business partners to foreign investors.

“We trust that the Malaysian authorities are aware of such a damaging scenario and will continue to apply the highest standards of due process on any corruption case that is being investigated,” he told TMR.

Meanwhile, Retail and Trade Brands Advocacy Malaysia Chapter (RTBA Malaysia) said this is a time when the entire MACC must rally together to protect and defend its institution while keeping a wary eye on those who may be trying to disrupt its job and question its integrity.

RTBA Malaysia MD Datuk Fazli Nordin said in most circumstances, a “red flag” is normally raised when a senior anti-graft official is suddenly brought into disrepute with accusations and claims.

“Naturally, questions will be asked on the motivation and timing of these allegations, are there more to it than meets the eye?” he said in a statement yesterday.

Malaysian University of Science and Technology’s Institute of Post-graduate Studies dean Dr Geoffrey Williams does not believe this issue will have much impact on investors’ sentiment because it does not affect commercial matters directly.

He said it is really about governance and accountability in the regulatory environment and the enforcement processes are underway to conduct these inquiries formally, so investors will likely watch what unfolds.

“Local and international investors generally understand the corruption risks in Malaysia and there are many high-profile cases in the past and currently underway that have led to convictions.

“The convictions show the process can work properly. So, this will ensure some form of confidence. There are many corruption and malpractice cases elsewhere, in Europe or the US for example, that never see convictions,” he said.

Separately, Puchong MP Gobind Singh Deo said the Attorney General cannot and must not be silent on this matter.

“He must, as a public prosecutor, explain. Did he study the findings made in the inquiry and decide on it? If he did not, did SC have the power to conclude the matter as it did without prior reference to him?” Gobind said.