Saifuddin Abdullah says the organisation, with regard to whistleblowers, spearheaded by PKR's Rafizi Ramli, is essential for good governance
SUNGAI BESI: As the government copes with accusations of political persecution on whistleblowers, Deputy Higher Education Minister Saifuddin Abdullah today gave his endorsement to an opposition initiative to encourage informants to expose power abuse.
The Temerloh MP, one of the few progressive leaders in right-wing Umno, said the formation of the National Oversight and Whistleblowers (NOW) was timely amid widespread calls for a joint public-government effort to fight corruption.
The non-profit organisation is spearheaded by PKR’s prodigal “exposé man” Rafizi Ramli, whose series of exposé on scandals implicating the Najib administration have caused much damage to the ruling coalition’s self-styled reform image just ahead of the national polls.
“We need to raise public awareness on the important role of whistleblowers. That they are not mischievous people with bad intentions, but, rather agents of change,” Saifuddin said in a statement faxed to Rafizi amidst NOW’s launching here today.
And it is exactly for the same reason the PKR man – who is also facing legal action under the country’s banking laws for his exposé on the RM250 million National Feedlot Centre scandal – had decided to set up NOW.
The timing of the project is also key. Rafizi told participants at the launching that his outfit wants to encourage whistleblowers to come forward at a time when public confidence in government agencies have dipped to an all-time low.
The PKR strategy director said NOW aims to provide an alternative to the anti-graft battle in light of the “confidence crisis” in key government institutions like the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and police.
Low conviction rate over graft cases involving the “big fishes” and repeated cases of custodial deaths have forced voters to perceive the agencies with pessimism despite Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s vow to make the fight against corruption an important aspect of his government.
This included the introduction of the Whistleblower Protection Act. But with the charges against Rafizi and another public informant in relation to the “cow-gate” scandal, the law’s effectiveness is seen as questionable.
“I think the public generally distrusts them and this is when NOW steps in – to help whistleblowers come forward,” said Rafizi.
Advice on legal risks
The centre will prepare a step-by-step process for whistleblowing, which will include offering advice to informants on the legal risks they may face with their disclosures should they agree to proceed.
This will be followed by a thorough vetting process of the credibility of the information and evidences provided before they are revealed to the public through the media.
However, the law only offers protection to whistleblowers if they make a disclosure of improper conduct to an authorised enforcement agency, which means it does not accord protection to whistleblowers who go to the media.
This means Rafizi’s NOW will likely force the outfit to deal with lawsuits and prosecutions.
But any legal action against the outfit could be good for the opposition. Any prosecution will likely be seen as a move to silence the ruling coalition’s political rivals which can jeopardise Najib’s reform credentials.