Malaysia’s loudest voice on corruption tells critics, Give me a chance
In a country where graft is like a weed that throttles anything else that takes root, it used to be a highly coveted prize to be the leader of Transparency International-Malaysia, also known as TI-M.
People looked to the president of the Malaysian chapter of the global watchdog against corruption for clarity and voice, to thunder against the opaque practices here that hurt the average Ahmad.
Today, not so much.
Not after its former head, Datuk Paul Low, was inducted into the top ranks of government, which somehow dimmed the image of TI-M, instead of enhancing the image of government.
Not after the messy public tussles within its committee made it look like its house is out of order.
And certainly not after it hired as its new president, of all people, a former officer of the Anti-Corruption Agency, which has since morphed into the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).
In the court of public opinion, MACC has been indicted for anything from blatant biasedness against the opposition to the deaths of political aide Teoh Beng Hock and Customs deputy director Ahmad Sarbani Mohamed.
Enter Datuk Akhbar Satar (pic). Is it any wonder that the fit-looking former investigator has a resigned look when all this is put to him by The Malaysian Insider?
"Yes, I've heard it all. Some have asked me, how am I going to helm the TI-M, given where I came from. This shouldn't be an issue," he said.
"Because I left in 2001, long before the commission came under public scrutiny," responded the 57-year-old.
Yet Akhbar is under no illusion that this argument may not wash with those who will say that the precursor of the MACC – the ACA, where he was – was marked by inaction against any senior leader. Like the nasi lemak man, its speciality was small fry.
"What can I do? If where I came from is going to be an issue, I cannot say much other than to ask the people to let me show them and prove myself as the new president of TI-M. Give me a chance."
Akhbar took over the presidency of TI-M from Datuk Paul Low in May and has come under fire since.
It began with his background and then went on to allegations of gender-discrimination after TI-M’s former secretary-general Josie Fernandez accused the executive council of wrongfully throwing her out of her post.
This prompted a group to come up with a petition alleging gender discrimination in TI-M, which was sent right up to TI global headquarters in Berlin.
When this was pointed out to Akhbar in his office in Plaza Damas, he picked up his laptop, walked around his desk and showed The Malaysian Insider an e-mail which he had received from TI Regional Director for Asia Pacific Srirak Plipat who commended the executive committee of the Malaysian chapter and expressed support for Akhbar's leadership.
"They have advised us to move forward and get on with things," he added.
He then lit up when he spoke about his plans for TI-M.
Perhaps a surprise to his critics, one of his targets is MACC itself.
"Criminals nowadays are smart, educated people. So the MACC officers need to be trained to be two steps ahead of those involved in corruption to outwit them.
"They need to be trained to have good analytical skills and how to get evidence more effectively,”
He is seeking several amendments to the MACC Act 2009 to give the anti-graft body more bite.
"They should be given additional powers to compel anyone to declare their assets without the need to prove an element of corruption, which is what the current Act insists on.”
This is part of what he and TI-M secretary-general Dr Loi Kheng Min have in mind for a three-year strategic plan focusing on People, Institutions and Impact.
"It is no more enough to just simply be against corruption. It must start with each of us.
"We will provide tools, techniques and training for the public and private sector on ways to control corruption in their organisations,” he said.
The Global Corruption Barometer survey by TI-M recently found the police force to be seen as the most corrupt institution.
Akhbar revealed that he is hoping to sit with Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar to find ways to change this.
"But they must do a few things first. Most importantly, to be more stringent when recruiting new cadets.
"Assess them using psychological tests and have thorough background checks. The police must also have continuous integrity training for their personnel, make sure that they understand the consequences of corruption," he said.
The internal disciplinary unit in the police force, he said, must also take the problem seriously and weed out personnel found to be involved in corruption, without fear and favour.
"There should be leadership by example. Subordinates tend to rationalise when they see their superiors breaking the law and think they can get away with it too.”
Who would know this better than a former investigator?
Akhbar began his career with the ACA in 1983 as an investigating officer after he became a certified fraud examiner the same year.
He obtained a Masters in Criminal Justice in 1990 and was promoted to state director in Perlis two years later.
He opted to retire early in 2001 while he was the state director in Negri Sembilan, and went on to work with Hill & Associates (Malaysia), a Hong Kong-based risk management firm. He set up his own company, which specialises in fraud investigation, economic crime, risk management and conducting polygraph examination.
He started HELP's Institute of Crime and Criminology.
His wife of 30 years retired as a bank officer just two days ago. They have two boys and three girls, aged between 17 and 29.
For their sake and the sake of all other Malaysians, what can Akhbar or TI-M really do anymore about the weed that has covered more ground in Malaysia with each passing year?
"It is going to be hard work among political leaders, civil society and citizens and once again, I say we can do better," he said, adding later, "I love my job and I am passionate about what I do." – August 3, 2013.