The Elephant In The Room Trumpets

Good morning. Today I have yet another Public Accounts Committee hearing. I also have a meeting with political consultants/analysts Vriens and Partners. If I recall correctly, I first met them in 2014. I also have a community dialogue tonight in USJ 12 at 9 pm.

The elephant in the room for Parliament today is the tabling of the National Anti-Financial Crime Centre (NAFCC) bill. In my opinion, the centre is somewhat superfluous, as Bank Negara is already primarily in charge of gathering data, monitoring and generally combating money laundering and other financial crimes. Since Bank Negara is obviously in charge, why can’t Bank Negara officials also do the “coordination” work with the police, MACC and AG office (which I am quite sure, they must already be doing).

Whether we need another “coordinating” centre, is also a matter of money. Have we done a cost benefit analysis? In the explanatory notes attached to the bill, the government has issued a standard answer that says that this bill will definitely cost money, but they have yet to ascertain how much it will cost. So far nothing has been publicly said by the minister on how much this centre will cost taxpayers. Will it be RM5 million to RM10 million a year? Why spend money on this somewhat superfluous centre, when Parliament itself is under severe budget constraints to operate existing select committees? So this bill is also a question of money and priorities.

The fact that 1MDB (the world’s biggest ever financial crime) happened despite Bank Negara’s “monitoring”, is due to the systemic problem of unfettered supreme powers of the then prime minister, Najib. Putting a new administrative layer and giving it the fancy name of NAFCC, will not solve the root problem; that our current system vests immense appointment powers in the prime minister, which then can unduly influence investigative and judicial matters.

Ironically, as Bersih has rightly pointed out, today’s bill will enable the prime minister to further extend his appointment powers. In other words, he can legally, if he chooses to, stack the entire NAFCC board. Whether these powers in the bill were deliberately drafted or a legal oversight, the political optics and the administrative outcomes, are just very bad for the new Malaysia. After all, Pakatan Harapan did promise to reduce the powers of the prime minister, to prevent the return of authoritarian politics and to systemically return powers to Parliament to ensure proper separation of powers.

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