Recognising that the MACC will have to redeem its image following a number of controversies, Abu Kassim said the commission must demonstrate that it is independent.
“I need you to be our champion. By doing that, if anyone wants to kill MACC, you'll be our protector. But believe me, if I'm wrong, you kick my ass,” he said without mincing his words.
“Just say, 'Abu, you're wrong. If you want us to protect you, behave yourself.' I will make sure that I go straight. My words, (and) my actions must show that I'm independent.”
Abu Kassim made these remarks at a recent hour-long informal discussion with MACC advisory panel member Anis Yusoff, andMalaysiakini columnist KJ John and editor-in-chief Steven Gan at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Academy in Jalan Duta, Kuala Lumpur.
Topics covered included the actions MACC must take to regain public trust, its never-ending probe on Selangor Opposition Leader Dr Mohd Khir Toyo and why the commission is reaching out to the alternative media.
Abu Kassim, who took over the embattled MACC less than two months ago, revealed that the advisory panel had requested attorney-general Abdul Gani Patail to explain why no action had been taken on the Lingam tape scandal.
He also described the MACC's police report against Thai pathologistDr Pornthip Rojanasunand - a witness in the Teoh Beng Hock inquest - as a “shot in the foot” [sic].
Excerpts of the discussion follow.
Gan: One of the major problems with MACC is the accusation that it ignores politically sensitive cases.
Abu Kassim: In the case of Rafidah Aziz (former international trade and industry minister), it was very clear that we recommended that she be charged.
All big cases, we investigate. In many countries, to investigate big cases, you have to get permission. In one country, (the anti-corruption agency is) very independent, but the government did not give it enough resources - no people, no investigation. In another country, the anti-corruption agency has no powers. It is merely a coordinating agency.
In Malaysia, the MACC is accountable directly to Parliament. At the end of the year, we have to present our report (to Parliament). We are now preparing our annual report. After that, we have to present it to our advisory board.
And we have to bring that report to the special committee under the Parliament which consists of (MPs) from the opposition and the government. And they can call us up at any time to answer all the issues raised in the report.
The prime minister has no role. The Prime Minister's Department controls only the (MACC) budget. And it answers questions in Parliament on issues not directly involving us. We are more afraid of the (advisory) committee and the Parliament. We are answerable to the committee and the Parliament.
Those who are sitting in the committee, do you think they will keep quiet? Even at today's (advisory panel) meeting, sampai habis (until the very end), I have to answer, answer, answer - non-stop answering.
But I'm happy. They make sure that you don't go astray. You must be straight. If something is wrong, they will say, 'Go back, go back. Straight line, please'. I like that. I like that because they are representing the society.
The problem is people don't understand. One of the committee member just now thought that we have the powers to prosecute.
Anis: They have been in the committee for nearly a year, they still did not know...
Abu Kassim: I had to explain to him, 'No, I don't have the powers to prosecute'. Although the law says that I can act as the DPP (deputy public prosecutor), but it's the AG (attorney-general) who gives me the power. We control the investigation, not the prosecution.
So if you want to assess me, assess me on the investigations. We investigate all cases which have been reported to us. Furthermore,lagi susah (even more troublesome is that) the operation review committee wants everything to be presented to them - any case which we decide not to investigate, we must justify (our decision).
Anis: (The advisory panel chief) Hadenan (Abdul Jalil) is on the committee...
Abu Kassim: Tan Sri Hadenan, Cecil Abraham - all these people are well-trained. Cases which we keep after one year and do not submit to the DPP, we have to tell them. And they start asking why tak habis lagi? (why haven't these been completed yet?).
If there is a conflict between MACC and DPP - we suggest charge, they suggest don't charge - we have to explain why. And before we want to close any case, we have to explain to them (the advisory committee). 'This case is going to be close and these are the reasons'. And they can call up all the cases which the public have complained (about) to them at any time.
That's why, although their terms of reference involved cases only for 2009, when they saw the Lingam tape case, they made a public announcement that they want the AG to present to the (advisory) committee.
So they wrote a letter, and AG will have to make a presentation.
Gan: When is the presentation?
Abu Kassim: The meeting will be next month. This is now a totally different world, believe me. Working in MACC is like (being in) hell. Previously we were not transparent. I have to be frank - then, it was only between us and that AG. Now we have to be accountable.
John: What is the relationship between the minister and MACC?
Abu Kassim: He answers questions in Parliament only. We prepare answers for him to answer, that's all. He has no administrative powers over us. If he calls me to see him, and I don't want to see him, it's okay. I never go and see him, unless he says, 'Abu, this is the answer in Parliament, I want to know more in case the wakil rakyat (members of parliament) ask'. Normally I send my officer.
Even if he has a post-cabinet meeting to coordinate something, I don't go. My junior officer goes. All other heads of department, they go. I don't go. Why should I? I don't want to be seen as...
I need to be frank with you. I need you to be our champion. By doing that, if anyone wants to kill MACC, you'll be our protector. But believe me, if I'm wrong, you kick my ass. If I'm wrong, don't agak-agak (don't hesitate). Just say, 'Abu, you're wrong. If you want us to protect you, behave yourself.' I will make sure that I go straight.
My words, my actions must show that I'm independent.
Anis: Today at the (advisory panel) meeting, one of the suggestions was that you cannot sign off as menurut perintah(following orders) any more. You will sign off as pemegang amanah (as holder of the public trust).
Abu Kassim: From now on, with all my letters, I'll signed off asSaya pemegang amanah.
John: All the MACC officers (should do so). Menurut perintah is old culture.
Abu Kassim: I'm happy (with the suggestion). Sometimes you don't see the problem as you're used to it.
John: I'm a retired civil servant. Out there, all ex-civil servants want to see country do well. But you must be able to listen to them. And they will tell you as it is.
Abu Kassim: Based on the law, I don't have to attend the meeting today. Only my deputy needs to attend.
Gan: What meeting?
Abu Kassim: The advisory panel.
John: The full panel?
Abu Kassim: No, no, one of the five panels. The one chaired by Tan Sri (Ramon) Navarathnam.
Anis: The one dealing with media, democracy...
Abu Kassim: Getting public support and all that. But I wanted to come. I wanted to hear. I wanted to interact with them. I wanted to hear what they say. They are not MACC. They are representing the public. I wanted to be close to the public.
They don't even get any salary from us, or the government. They are people like you, who have been appointed to the advisory panel.
Anis: People read Malaysiakini. All the criticism (inMalaysiakini) is coming from one side. But they are not at fault. The criticisms are based on perception.
Abu Kassim: Here's a classic example, the sand case...
Gan: The 'sand and sex' case?
Abu Kassim: Yes... about how it is being politicised. When our officers wanted to make arrests,(Selangor exco Yaakob Sapari)called all the media. And he spun things which were totally irrelevant and not right. He said that we were investigating him for going to China.
How did he know that we were investigating him for going to China? No, we didn't investigate him for going to China.
We were forced to come up with a statement, or else the damage would have been worse. So I asked my officers to tell how many (were arrested). But the mistake that we made was we didn't put the dates on (all) the arrests.
Gan: It looked like the arrests were made on the same day.
Anis: Or that Selangor was the only state where the arrests were made.
Abu Kassim: We had been arresting people the week before - Johor, Pahang...
Gan: But the timing was also bad as Dr Mahathir (Mohamad) said something on the matter in his blog a day or two before...
Abu Kassim: That I totally did not know.
Gan: So you're saying that it was a coincidence.
Abu Kassim: 100 percent. If I knew, I'd have made sure...
Gan: Some people put two and two together and come to the opinion that...
John: That was the unfunny part - the timing (of the arrests).
Gan: What about the MACC's police report against Dr Pornthip? That was...
Abu Kassim: A shot in the foot.
Gan: That's right. How did you come to that decision? What made you do it?
Abu Kassim: For me, it's very important to focus on the Teoh Beng Hock case. Make the (inquest) complete as fast as possible. All the plot within the plot is not important. We have to move forward. How can we move forward if this keeps dragging, dragging and dragging (on)?
Gan: I can understand if the police report is made againstSuara Keadilan. But not Pornthip. It looked like MACC has an axe to grind.
Abu Kassim: I agree with you. I went to Mecca to perform myumrah (minor pilgrimage). I came back and the next morning I and my wife went to have nasi lemak. When we were almost finished, a TV station (reporter) came and asked, 'Datuk, what's your opinion (about the report against) Dr Pornthip?'
I said, 'What report?' What to answer? So I said if there was a report, then let them (police) investigate.
But I was very sincere when I said, 'I did not know'. I asked AG (about it), the AG said every (MACC) officer has the right make a police report.
But I would say that if he had made a police report against Suara Keadilan, then there may be some basis to it. I don't really understand why a report was made against Pornthip.
Gan: So the officer did not consult you?
Abu Kassim: I was away. I just came back.
John: Can an officer make a report without consulting any of his bosses?
Abu Kassim: I referred to the AG, and the AG said that if an officer wants to make a report, he can.
John: But he is doing it as a public official, he is not doing it as an individual.
Gan: Yes, he is seen to be representing MACC when making the police report.
Abu Kassim: He made the report as an MACC official, to preserve the (image of) MACC. I believe he might have asked somebody... I was not there at that particular time. At the particular time, I did not know. So I can seriously answer, I did not know.