By Dennis Ignatius

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--For an institution already struggling with integrity issues, the resignation of Professor Edmund Terence Gomez, a respected political economist and academic who sat on the MACC’s Consultation and Corruption Prevention Panel, was the final blow.

According to media reports, Gomez resigned after his numerous efforts to seek a proper investigation into allegations that MACC chief, Azam Baki, owns millions of ringgit worth of shares in a publicly listed company were rebuffed.

Calls by opposition politicians and civil society groups for Azam to step aside and allow for a thorough investigation have also been met with stony silence.

It is not the only worrying sign that all is not well at the MACC. The mysterious disappearance of US$6.94 million confiscated in another case and held by the MACC has yet to be explained. Senior officers have also been implicated in crimes.

As well, there have been persistent allegations that the MACC has allowed itself to be used as a political weapon against the government’s opponents.

Whichever way you look at it, the MACC now stands exposed as an institution bereft of credibility and integrity. It is hard to see how Malaysians can trust the MACC to do its job under the present circumstances.

No doubt there are still many good officers within the agency, but poor leadership and an appalling disregard for integrity and honour have rendered the institution suspect in the eyes of the public.

And it’s not just the MACC that has let Malaysians down. The MACC has not one but five independent oversight bodies and yet not a single one of them has demanded a thorough investigation into what is without doubt the biggest scandal the agency has faced thus far.

What it tells us is that for the most part, these oversight bodies are staffed by yes-men and cronies who are reluctant to rock the boat, who do not have the courage to do the right thing.  

When asked why he had not responded to Gomez’s calls for an urgent investigation, the head of the Consultation and Corruption Prevention Panel simply said that Gomez had not mentioned any alleged wrongdoings by the MACC chief.

Did he really need to wait for someone to raise the issue with him given that the whole country has been talking about it for months? Did it not occur to him that at the very least, he has a moral responsibility as head of an oversight panel to demand answers?

But this is part of the problem; wrongdoing succeeds because many of those in positions of responsibility do nothing in the face of egregious wrongdoing. An insidious culture of tolerating unethical behaviour, of covering up wrongdoings, of overlooking abuse of power now predominates.

The 1MDB scandal, for example, would never have occurred if the senior officials around former prime minister Najib Tun Razak had done their job and acted with integrity.

Azam Baki for one can learn something about honour and integrity from Gomez. Given the serious allegations that have been levelled against him, the honourable thing for him to do would have been to immediately step aside and defend himself against all the allegations.

Silence, under such circumstances, is far from golden. But then such notions of honour, duty and public service are by and large distant memories now in our once vaunted public service.

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri’s inaction is even worse. By failing to act decisively, he has made a mockery of the government’s commitment to combating corruption, upholding the rule of law and preserving the basic tenets of good governance.

His silence and his inaction create the impression that the system is protecting its own, that they are all covering up for each other. It is a shameful dereliction of duty; a terrible example for the rest of the country.

Make no mistake: this is another black day for Malaysia. Yet another critical national institution is now mortally compromised.

It is another sign that the whole legal and constitutional framework that holds our nation together, along with the whole system of checks and balances, is crumbling before our very eyes. If there is no respect for the law, if some are above and beyond its reach, if integrity matters little, if people in power can act with such impunity, then what are we if not a failed state?

In my recent book Paradise Lost: Mahathir & the End of Hope, I concluded that the war on corruption is over and we have lost.

The MACC saga confirms that we no longer have the moral capacity or the political will to fight corruption; it is too deeply rooted, too widely accepted by those in power. We have lost our pride, our dignity, our honour. How has it come to this?