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Brunei steps up to fight corruption

Publication Date : 09-12-2013

 

2013 has been a landmark year in the fight against corruption in Brunei.

With a conviction in one of the biggest corruption cases in the Brunei’s history - involving Brunei Shell Petroleum, one the largest public bodies in the country - the government intended to make a statement - that even those who occupy the loftiest positions are not exempt from the rule of law.

More investigation and prosecution of corrupt practices have advanced Brunei’s standing in Transparency International’s ‘Corruption Perceptions Index’, improving its ranking from 44 to 38.

With a score of 60 points, Brunei ranked 38 out of 177 countries, the second ‘cleanest’ country in Asean.

Only Singapore bettered Brunei in corruption rankings among Asean nations, ranking fifth overall.

The rest of Asean - with the exception of Malaysia (53rd) - performed dismally, all ranking above 100.

In the 31 years since its establishment in 1982, Brunei's Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has investigated 2,469 cases of alleged corruption.

From those investigations, 284 people were brought to court to face criminal charges, with 231 of them convicted for offences ranging from bribery, criminal breach of trust, submitting false financial claims, cheating, and receiving sexual gratification in exchange for favours.

In addition to the individuals serving time, 260 public servants have also been dismissed or reprimanded for using their position for personal gain, or for showing favour or disfavour to members of the public they have dealt with in their official capacity.

Some of the administrative punishments have included suspension, demotion, cancellation of annual bonus, among others.

“The agency ... will be tasked to uphold integrity of the public service and to hold accountable persons strayed in corruption to justice,” said the bureau in a statement released yesterday to mark International Anti-Corruption Day.

“The price of corruption is not just the dollar amount of the bribe, but the cost to society of the bad decisions and the malfunctioning system which far exceeds the money which is exchanged.”

Aside from the strong political will needed to back up the work of the ACB, cooperation from the private sector is crucial to expose some of the largest graft syndicates in the country.

This year, the courts successfully prosecuted a key vendor of Brunei Shell Petroleum (BSP), whose owner was convicted of providing bribes worth more than US$100,000, in exchange for over US$3 million worth of contracts from BSP.

David Chong, owner of Musfada Enterprise, was jailed for six years and four months, for 96 counts relating to corruption.

The High Court called it “syndicated corruption on a large scale”, saying Chong had endangered the lifeblood of the nation.

While Chong sits in jail, the five Shell employees he bribed between 2007 and 2009 have not faced criminal charges in court.

Recovery of Chong’s assets from various foreign bank accounts has also been a key component of the case, with new legislation, such as the Criminal Asset Recovery Order, as well as the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), allowing the government to freeze and recover his assets.

“This shows that the government is never complacent in the fight against corruption. Anyone who the breaks the law, be it from the public sector or the private sector will be caught and punished,” said the bureau.

Brunei has demonstrated its commitment to fight corruption on the international stage, by ratifying UNCAC, a legally binding international anti-corruption instrument that provides a unique opportunity to mount a global response to corruption. So far, 168 countries have become party to UNCAC.

The bureau said: “The recovery of assets is a fundamental principle of the Convention. This clearly sends the message to corrupt officials that there will be no place to hide their illicit assets.”

“The nature of crimes are becoming more complex and criminals getting to be more educated and sophisticated, Anti-corruption agencies need to strive to always be steps ahead of them through continuously raising the bar of the organisation by upgrading the quality of investigation tools and techniques, and the capacity building of the officers.”

In tandem to this, the country’s legal framework needs to be updated in order to keep up with the current corrupt practices.

“The role of the civil society can never be undermined, as their support and active participation can be valuable in combating the culture of corruption,” the bureau added.

ACB stressed that the fight against corruption should not only be left to the enforcement agencies, but that the role of civil society is invaluable in combating a culture of corruption. “The overall approach involves the mobilisation and cooperation of all sectors of the government, private sector, as well as members of the society. Every component or sector needs to come up with a collective action and doing their part in promoting the cohesiveness of the overall anti-corruption

 

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