Malaysian civil service needs whistleblowing policy, says former law chief

By on 17/09/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Civil servant whistleblowers need better protection, a former Malaysian chief justice said last week (Image courtesy: Alno).

A former Malaysian chief justice has called on the country’s government to introduce a whistleblowing policy for the civil service.

Speaking at an event held by the National Institute of Public Administration last week, Tun Zaki Azmi, who held the office of chief justice from 2008-2011, argued that civil servants need formal policies enabling them to report incidents of wrongdoing or corruption, according to national newspaper the Star.

Civil servants could be provided with a special email or phone number to contact, as is the case in the private sector, he said. It would be up to the government to decide who should handle incoming reports, he added – but he suggested ministerial secretary generals (civil service departmental leaders) or the chief secretary to the government (the civil service’s policy and corporate head).

“If we have the policy, the policy will determine how they make the report and ensure protection be given to the whistle blower,” he said, arguing that whistleblowers must be protected unless and until it’s proved that the information they supply is fake.

Second attempt

Malaysia introduced legislation to protect whistleblowers in 2010, providing for employment-specific criminal liability for retaliatory action taken by an employer against a whistleblower who has disclosed the improper conduct of their employer or colleagues, according to Malaysian law firm Skrine.

However, critics say that the Whistleblowing Protection Act 2010 is flawed. Only 28 out of 8,953 complaints made to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in 2012 were by whistleblowers, according to Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive of the Malaysia think-tank the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS).

A report by the organisation, written by past president of the Malaysia Bar Christopher Leong, last year recommended that the legislation was reformed to improve whistleblower protection. In some cases, the effect of the legislation has been to actively discourage reporting of wrongdoing, it found. For example, employees who reported information that fell under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) could be handed a RM1 million fine (US$241,000), imprisonment of up to one year, or both.

Conflict of interest

“Public servants and lawmakers who are privy to more sensitive information should be encouraged to highlight cases of fraud or corruption instead of being punished,” Wan Saiful said, according to the Free Malaysia Today news site.

Under the act, a minister needs to decide if any action should be taken by an enforcement agency, such as the police, MACC or the Securities Commission – something that Wan Saiful described as a “major setback” to the legislation’s effectiveness.

“This is completely contradictory to the purpose of the act, which is to help expose misconduct in public officials,” he said. The organisation recommended that an independent ombudsman managed the whistleblowing process.

About Catherine Early

Catherine is a journalist and editor specialising in government policy and regulation. She writes predominantly about environmental issues and has held permanent roles at the Environmentalist (now known as Transform), the ENDS Report, Planning magazine and Windpower Monthly, and has also written for the Guardian, the Ecologist and China Dialogue. She was a finalist in the Guardian’s International Development Journalism competition 2009, and was part of the team that won PPA Business Magazine of the Year 2011 for Windpower Monthly. She also won an outstanding content award at Haymarket Media Group’s employee awards for data-led stories in Planning magazine. She holds a 2:1 honours degree in English language and literature from Birmingham University.

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