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Monday, June 18, 2012

Ambiga: Let there be no witchhunt

 By RK Anand | FMT

Should Pakatan Rakyat form the government, the Bersih chairperson says it should set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to look into issues of corruption.

There is a fear lurking in the hearts of some that should Pakatan Rakyat form the federal government, it will embark on a witchhunt against the corrupt.

The condemning paper trails, observers noted, might land high-ranking civil servants, politicians and their kin as well as corporate captains behind bars.

The courts would need to work overtime as prosecutions would involve those at the bottom and at the top of the food chain.

But Bersih co-chairperson S Ambiga argued that it would be counter-productive to do so.

The former Bar Council president said the nation should not be burdened with these court proceedings during a period of transition in governance.

“If Pakatan wins the next general election, they should refrain from initiating a witchhunt and I believe that they won’t resort to such a move based on the statements made [by the leaders].

“But at the same time, those guilty of corruption must be made accountable,” she told FMT.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

In view of this, Ambiga suggested that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) – a court-like restorative justice body – be formed to look into the cases of corruption and recovering lost assets.

She said the new government should also explore the possibility of granting amnesty, pointing out that there were many ways how this could be implemented.

“One way is to grant complete amnesty to those who choose to come clean while those who don’t will have to face the full force of the law.

“Those in the lower ranks of the civil service can be granted amnesty; there are no hard and fast rules, it requires thought and a study on the corruption,” she added.

Ambiga also stressed the importance of asset recovery.

“I suggest that they [Pakatan] look at amnesty together with asset recovery as this is one way that those guilty of corruption can be made accountable,” she added.

Conceding that the amnesty proposal would draw brickbats, she said: “Many will resist the idea but it must be explained to them, how and why it is important and how it can help move the nation forward.”

However, Ambiga said that amnesty should be for monetary-related offences and not crimes involving violence, such as alleged state-sanctioned communal bloodletting and custodial deaths.

“Acts of violence cannot be forgiven,” she stressed.

Noting that a TRC is a complex and exhaustive process, Ambiga said Pakatan must start planning it even before the general election is called.

One of the consistent allegations against the Barisan Nasional government, which had ruled the nation for more than five decades, is that corruption had become institutionalised under its watch and the nation is bleeding colossal sums of money due to this.

In a paper presented at a convention in Geneva last year, Ambiga had underscored how graft affected Malaysia’s economy.

Citing the United Nations World Investment Report 2010, she said that illegal capital flight from Malaysia had surpassed legitimate capital inflows in recent years.

“The report is especially worrying as it shows that the outflow has tripled in the monitored period of eight years,” she added.

Look into race-relations as well

Ambiga told FMT that a witchhunt might breed resistance, which in turn could present obstacles for a nation in transition.

To illustrate her point, she cited the problems encountered by Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) with regard to its dragnet against errant policemen.

The tension subsided after the announcement of a partial amnesty for minor acts of corruption.

Ambiga said the TRC should also look into race-relations and other issues which affected the fabric of Malaysian society as well as accept complaints from the public with regard to all institutions.

“Many things are in need of correction after 54 years of independence and race-relations happens to be one of them,” she added.

The witchhunt issue surfaced following DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang’s statement that former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad feared prosecution should Pakatan seize control of Putrajaya.

In his response, Mahathir claimed that he never indulged in corrupt practices during his 22-year tenure and accused Lim of harbouring a desire to see him imprisoned or sentenced to death.

Weighing in on the matter, PKR vice-president Nurul Izzah said that Pakatan had no intention of incarcerating Mahathir as it is more concerned about saving Malaysia.

Raise the bar on debates

Meanwhile, sharing her views on the opposition, Ambiga said Pakatan must behave like a government in waiting.

Although the opposition bloc had outlined certain ideas, she added that it is imperative for Pakatan to provide more depth to its socio-economic blueprint for governing this nation.

Responding to a question, she agreed that Pakatan should also reveal its shadow Cabinet list for the people to evaluate.

“It is time for them to raise the bar on the debate; they must bring it to the level of statesmanship. At present, all parties appear to be indulging largely in the trading of barbs,” she said.

Ambiga also called on all parties to address the issues troubling the people, one of which being political violence.

“I have always said that the parties should look at a bipartisan solution. It is advisable for all leaders to come out strongly, to take a stand and assure the people. Such an assurance will be telling.

“The people want to be assured that this [political violence] will stop. I dare say this will affect the way they vote. The people are watching.
“Crime is another matter of concern. So rather than defending the indefensible, they must look into the issues troubling the rakyat,” she added.

In a related development, Nurul said she welcomed Ambiga’s suggestions to set up a TRC and grant amnesty if Pakatan comes into power.

“I am very receptive to her suggestions, especially in light of Mahathir’s recent outburst, which probably is indicative of his guilt-stricken paranoia,” the PKR vice-president told FMT.

“We need to source a workable mechanism that helps to address the country’s drying coffers yet not to the detriment of a smooth and peaceful transition,” she added.

In the 2008 general election, Pakatan, under the stewardship of Nurul’s father Anwar Ibrahim, dealt a severe blow to BN, denying the ruling coalition its customary two-thirds parliamentary majority and robbing it of several states.

The coming election, which would be the nation’s 13th, is a poignant contest for both sides of the political divide as the opposition had set its sights on the administrative capital.

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