Malaysia’s new Cabinet vows to fight corruption

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s new government on Wednesday announced anticorruption efforts as its main commitment, with observers raising their eyebrows as a number of the ruling coalition’s leaders are currently facing graft trials.

After the Cabinet’s first meeting since its inauguration on Tuesday, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin told reporters in Putrajaya that “the Malaysian government is committed to combat corruption” and its members are required to declare their assets to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) within one month, and sign an anticorruption pledge for the sake of “the highest level of integrity.”

He also assured the public that his government “is working for all Malaysians,” although its appointment was not through a general election.

Dr. Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, told Arab News that unlike the previous Alliance of Hope government under Mahathir Mohamad who abruptly resigned two weeks ago, Muhyiddin’s coalition included politicians who have been charged with high-profile graft.

“The Alliance cabinet was mostly filled with, at the time, supposedly clean and capable ministers. It remains to be seen if Muhyiddin’s cabinet can replicate that,” he said.

Among Muhyiddin’s coalition partners is the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which leader and Malaysia’s former prime minister Najib Razak was arrested by MACC in July 2018, on charges of channeling multimillion-dollar sums from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state-run development company, to his personal bank accounts.

“Time will tell whether existing high-profile cases involving leaders of his new coalition partners would continue, as eyes will be on the trials of several high-profile UMNO leaders accused of corruption,” said Thomas Fann, chairman of Bersih 2.0, an anti-corruption civil society movement formed during Najib’s rule.

Najib and UMNO lost the 2018 election to Mahathir, who earlier ruled Malaysia as prime minister between 1981 and 2003. Mahathir’s return to politics and his coalition with opposition parties under the Alliance of Hope was informed mainly by the goal to take Najib down after the 1MDB corruption scandal broke out.

“It’s one thing to pledge to fight corruption, but Muhyiddin will be judged by whether the MACC will be independent in investigating corruption without political interference,” Fann told Arab News.

Meanwhile, the national antigraft agency itself has been in turmoil as its chief Latheefa Koya and Malaysia’s Attorney General Tommy Thomas resigned days before Muhyiddin’s inauguration. Both were appointed by Mahathir’s administration.

After Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, the new premier also announced the formation of the Economic Action Council to address the country’s economic slowdown amid plunging crude oil prices and the coronavirus epidemic.

The council will meet every week, Muhyiddin said, adding that it will be headed by him, International Trade Minister Azmin Ali, Finance Minister Zafrul Aziz, Economic Affairs Minister Mustapa Mohamed, and the head of Malaysia’s central bank, Nor Shamsiah Yunus.

The prime minister said that the new cabinet would review the economic stimulus package that Mahathir introduced just before quitting.

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