Much more anti-corruption efforts is still needed to restore public faith in the authorities, said Regional Environmental Awareness of Cameron Highlands (REACH) president Ramakrishnan Ramasamy.
He said despite the arrest of several Cameron Highlands vegetable farmers yesterday by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), the public’s outrage with mounting corruption could only be abated with the successful prosecution of big farmers behind the illegal land clearing and farming.
According to MACC yesterday, 16 farmers were arrested while five others surrendered after they had offered bribes totaling RM163,577 to enforcement officers who were posted in the area following the tragic landslide in October last year that caused seven deaths.
He lamented that corruption had been a major social and political issue in Cameron Highlands for decades and caught the nation’s attention again following the tragic landslide.
“After the tragedy, the authorities have given priority to anti-corruption work on their agenda and strengthened anti-corruption efforts by flushing out illegal foreign workers and farms.
“But up to now, the corruption phenomenon is still very much alive as evident from the illegal land clearing activities which had resumed.
“Corruption is still seen as the second greatest public concern behind environmental problems such as water pollution and depleting forests,” he told The Rakyat Post.
He said the ability or inability of the authorities, MACC in particular, to prosecute the main culprits would play a major role in determining public support in fighting these practices.
In February this year, MACC Deputy Chief Commissioner (Prevention) Datuk Mustafar Ali said the commission needed help from the public to fight corruption in Cameron Highlands.
Mustafar said to ensure corruption would not prevail, the public could give tip-offs or intelligence on corrupt practices which could be of help to MACC.
Meanwhile, Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) Cameron Highlands branch chief Suresh Kumar said big farmers would continue to have strong incentives to engage in corrupt practices if none of them were arrested and successfully charged.
“The lack of action against them by the authorities undermines the anti-corruption efforts.
“As such, it is feared that the recent arrests is another case of appearance rather than substance,” he said.
He cautioned that public sentiment was of the opinion that corrupt officials had established networks of personal ties with big farmers and became their “protective umbrellas”.
This seriously restricted the ability of the anti-corruption agency to investigate and deal with corruption independently, as the public increasingly felt that it would take a total overhaul of the government to combat endemic corrupt practices.