His conviction seems to suggest that in the name of secrecy, individual wrongdoings could be swept under the rug

COMMENT

With an opposition activist apparently persecuted for exposing corruption involving a government-linked corporation, Putrajaya has unwittingly underscored its unwillingness to free the nation from the shackles of graft.

Opposition PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli and former bank clerk Johari Mohamad were on Wednesday (Feb 7) sentenced to a 30-month jail term for ironically, being a whistleblower.

The Shah Alam Sessions Court declared Rafizi and Johari guilty of leaking banking information related to the National Feedlot Corporation (NFCorp).

The court, however, allowed a stay of execution pending an appeal.

Rafizi had in 2011 exposed the national cattle-farm breeder’s purchases of luxury condominium units, a luxury car, two plots of land in Putrajaya, overseas trips and credit card expenses close to RM600,000 for business development purposes.

The Auditor-General’s report in 2010 had highlighted NFCorp’s failure to achieve its target of breeding 8,000 head of cattle in Gemas, Negri Sembilan. NFCorp is owned by former federal minister and Umno Wanita head Shahrizat Abdul Jalil’s husband Mohamad Salleh Ismail.

Perplexing that instead of the perpetrators, it is the whistleblowers that were prosecuted.

Lawyer Ahmad Nizam Hamid, who represented Rafizi, aptly said: “It was not a spur of the moment (decision); it was a spur of conscience.”

Where has the Whistleblower Protection Act gone wrong that informers end up facing the short end of the stick?

Lack of stamina in fighting graft

For Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4), the court verdict was disappointing.

“It demonstrates the flaws in our Whistleblower Protection Act that essentially does not encourage public reporting of corruption cases. It must be urgently amended to include safety and security of whistleblowers,” C4 director Cynthia Gabriel told an online news site.

She said the Whistleblower Protection Act should not be subservient to the Banking and Financial Institutions Act and the Official Secrets Act.

“Today’s judgment shows why laws cannot be rushed through in Parliament without proper debates. It further reflects a clear lack of political will and leadership to fight corruption,” Cynthia said.

While C4 has hit the nail on the head by questioning Putrajaya’s lack of political stamina in fighting corruption, the issue of why the Whistleblower Protection Act is at best a toothless tiger needs to be addressed.

Was it a deliberate move to create shortcomings in the Whitsleblower Protection Act and provide leeways for certain entities?

That Rafizi has been sentenced to jail for exposing banking details involving NFCorp is inimical and prevents others from coming forward with damaging information related to government agencies.

Lawyers for Liberty executive director Eric Paulsen found the jail term imposed on Rafizi and Johari too harsh, all because the duo contravened the banking law to expose mismanagement of public funds.

Amanah strategic director Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad meanwhile believed Rafizi was being punished for his efforts to expose corruption.

“This is a dark day for the country’s judiciary. 30 months is a heavy sentence, very frightening for citizens who could be potential whistleblowers to expose abuse of power, breach of trust, embezzlement and various forms of white collar crime,” Dzulkefly lamented to The Malaysian Insight.

“You can’t avoid the bad perception the people have towards the country’s judiciary… which doesn’t protect the good citizens, but on the contrary, protects criminals.

“If the effort to stop crime is considered a crime, then this country is being led by criminals,” he said.

Persecuting informers?

Indeed, the onus is on Putrajaya to come clean on whether the Whistleblower Protection Act is invalid and serves to the contrary, punishing informers and not safeguarding them.

As former Balik Pulau MP Yusmadi Yusoff pointed out, the court’s decision reflected a disturbing message, that in the name of secrecy, individual wrongdoings could conveniently be swept under the rug.

The conviction leaves Rafizi ineligible to contest in the 14th general election, which must happen by August.

Under Article 48(1)(e) of the Federal Constitution, an elected representative loses his seat if he is jailed for at least a year or fined a minimum of RM2,000.

Still, the Election Commission (EC) said it was too early to conclude on Rafizi’s status vis-a-vis GE14.

“The EC wishes to clarify that it is too early for us to give any statement regarding Rafizi’s status, whether he is eligible or not to contest in PRU14 (the 14th General Election),” EC chairman Mohd Hashim Abdullah said in a media statement.

“For the time being, Rafizi is still Pandan MP,” he said.

All said and done, indiscriminate punitive action against whistleblowers has cast aspersion on the Whistleblower Protection Act. Is this piece of legislation for or against the nation when it comes to ridding the country of the menace called corruption?

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