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Alleged 9th ranking for Malaysia out of 62 countries in global survey on perceived judicial corruption so groundless and untrue that even the judiciary and government are too embarrassed to come forward to claim credit

Speech at DAP Forum “Civil Service Excellence –Quality vs Quantity”         
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Kuala Lumpur, Wednesday) : Since last Friday, I had been baffled and mystified by news reports that Malaysia is ranked ninth out of 62 countries in a global survey by Transparency International (TI) on perceived judicial corruption – which is so groundless and untrue that the judiciary and government are too embarrassed to come forward to claim credit. 

At the launching of the TI Global Corruption  Report 2007 on “Corruption in Judicial Systems” marked by a panel discussion  participated by the Bar Council and the Malaysia Integrity Institute, Transparency International Malaysia President Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam said he was “pleasantly surprised” with the TI survey on perceived judicial corruption for Malaysia. 

If it is true that Malaysia is ranked as the ninth least corrupt nation in the world in perceived judicial corruption, then it is a fantastic feather in the cap on the occasion of Malaysia’s 50th Merdeka Anniversary celebrations and should be trumpeted all over the country and the world as Malaysians have the right to take pride at such an achievement. 

But mystery of mysteries, there had been total silence from the judiciary and the government on the claim that Malaysia is ranked No. 9 among the world’s cleanest judiciary in the whole of the past week – when the government had never been shy in exploiting such good news to the hilt. 

For instance, when Malaysia’s world competitiveness ranking improved by five places and  was ranked 16th as compared to 21st position in 2003 in the Swiss-based International Institute of Management Development (IMD) World Competitiveness Yearbook (WCY)  2004, the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi immediately quoted it as authority in his keynote address at the Malaysia-China Business Dialogue in Beijing on 28th May 2004 during his first official visit to China as premier as testimonial why Malaysia was a good place to do business. 

However, when Malaysia’s world competitiveness ranking plunged 12 places from 16th to 28th position in the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2005 in May 2005, it was met with a six-month stony silence by Ministers and government leaders as if the report never existed.

Why is the judiciary and government behaving so strangely as if they are more embarrassed than elated by the TI’s global survey reportedly placing Malaysia in the world’s top 10 countries on judicial integrity and honesty. 

Could it be that the judiciary and government do not believe it themselves and are too shy to claim credit for what they know is patently groundless and untrue? 

The first question that baffled me was how could Malaysia be ranked No. 9 in perceived judicial corruption in the world when it is ranked No. 44 in the 2006 TI Corruption Perception Index 2006, having dropped seven places since 2003 when Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took over as Prime Minister when Malaysia was ranked No. 37. 

Is it credible that Malaysia could be ranked much higher in perceived judicial corruption than the top 20 countries in the TI 2006 Corruption Perception Index as the world’s least corrupt nations, such as the following: 

                    2006 TI CPI ranking          Perceived judicial corruption

Malaysia                 44                                                       9

Iceland                     1                                                      10

Hong Kong            15                                                      11

Austria                   11                                                      13

Netherlands            9                                                       14

France                   18                                                       15

Japan                     17                                                       16

Canada                  14                                                       18

UK                        11                                                       21

If Malaysia’s TI CPI 2006 is ranked No. 44, and yet its perceived judicial corruption is ranked No. 9, does this mean that the rest of the public service could be ranked No.70 or 80 to make the necessary adjustments?  

Secondly, if nobody in Malaysia believes that the country’s judiciary could be ranked No. 9 in the world for integrity and incorruptibility, why then the No. 9 ranking by the TI Global Corruption Report on Judicial Corruption, when TI had been well-regarded internationally for its credibility and authority in the global fight against corruption? 

Or has TI stumbled this time and fallen far short of the high standards it had set itself for more than a decade? 

I have just the opportunity today to browse through the TI Global Corruption Report (GCR) and I think there are two reasons for this major disconnect between TI’s international credibility and the GCR finding on perceived judicial corruption in Malaysia. 

Firstly, the GCR never claimed to issue a global ranking of perceived judicial corruption like the annual ranking of corruption perception index (CPI) of nations.

What is issued was a table on  “Percentage of respondents who described their judicial/legal system as corrupt”. 

This has been mistakenly interpreted as a global ranking of perceived judicial corruption with Malaysia ranked as No. 9 among the least-corrupt judicial systems – which is utter bunkum. 

Although from the survey of some 2,000 respondents in Malaysia, the country is the ninth country with the lowest percentage of respondents who described the judiciary as corrupt (less than 20 per cent), this does not mean that the Malaysian judiciary is the world’s ninth least corrupt system. 

Secondly, the finding that less than 20 per cent of the respondents surveyed in Malaysia are of the view that the judiciary is corrupt is open to serious challenge, for clearly, the respondents have not fully understood what TI understood as “judicial corruption”. 

A close reading of the TI GCR will show that TI GCR definition of “judicial corruption” is not confined to judges receiving bribes, but is very wide as it “takes many forms and is influenced by many factors, whether legal, social, cultural, economic or political”. 

For instance, judicial corruption “includes any inappropriate influence on the impartiality of the judicial process by any actor within the court system”. TI GCR recognizes that “Other parts of the justice system may influence judicial corruption”, such as:

  • “Criminal cases can be corrupted before they reach the courts if police tamper with evidence that supports a criminal indictment, or prosecutors fail to apply uniform criteria to evidence generated by the police. In countries where the prosecution has a monopoly on bringing prosecution before the courts, a corrupt prosecutor can effectively block off any avenue for legal redress.”

  • “Despite several decades of reform efforts and international instruments protecting judicial independence, judges and court personnel around the world continue to face pressure to rule in favour of powerful political or economic entities, rather than according to the law.”

The record of Malaysia’s system of justice in the past two decades is of a judiciary under continuous crisis of confidence since  the sacking of Lord President Tun Salleh Abas and two Supreme Court judges in 1988 right down to the catalogue of miscarriage of injustices which were the subject of an indictment of the international judicial and legal community in 2000, in a report entitled: “Justice in Jeopardy: Malaysia 2000”.   

There was a long list of the victims of such miscarriage of injustices in the past two decades including Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Guan Eng, Karpal Singh, Zainur Zakaria, Param Cumaraswamy, Tommy Thomas and Irene Fernandez. 

Till today, the national and international confidence enjoyed by the judiciary in the first three decades of nationhood have not been fully restored. 

In the circumstances, if the 2,000 Malaysian respondents surveyed by the TI GCR had been properly briefed as to the meaning of “judicial corruption” in the survey, there is no way that only less than 20 per cent of the respondents would have described the Malaysian judiciary as corrupt. 

I would call on the four panelists at the launching of the TI GCR last week, i.e. Ramon Naravatnam of TI Malaysia, Malaysia Integrity Institute president Datuk Dr. Mohd Tap Salleh, Bar Council chairman Ambiga Sreenevasan and the Bar Council human rights committee deputy chairman Andrew Khoo to individually declare whether they agree with media reports that Malaysia is ranked No. 9 among the world’s least corrupt judicial system so that such misimpression is not allowed to persist for another day. 

This is because such a misimpression is a great disservice to the cause to uphold integrity and to fight corruption.


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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