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Repost: How a non-profit group aims to keep public, private sector clean

By Sharon Tan / The Malaysian Insight | October 29, 2017

THE anecdotal stories are aplenty, of attempted bribery or threats to revoke licences or withdraw approvals. And private sector companies caught in such situations often do not know what to do or who to go to with these experiences.

These are “integrity issues” that the Business Integrity Alliance (BIA) seeks to address by being a bridge between business and government.

BIA secretary-general Dr Mark Lovatt said the non-profit social enterprise has established a confidential channel for companies to supply information, which it then takes to government officials in the Prime Minister’s Department.

“We have good links with the government and work with Minister in Prime Minister’s Department Paul Low, whose department has an Integrity and Management section (BITU, or Bahagian Integriti dan Takbir Urus),” Lovatt told The Malaysian Insight in an interview.

BITU’s role is to connect BIA with the government department or agency concerned, so that BIA can relay the concerns of private sector companies.

BIA will withhold the names of the private sector entities. The goal is to convey to the top officials of government departments that integrity issues exist so that they can take action.

“These officials are those who have been prepared and briefed from the top level about this. They can then take the information and fix the problem,” said Lovatt.

Earlier this month, BIA and the Prime Minister’s Department signed a memorandum of understanding on this initiative, thus beginning a partnership to combat corruption in private-public sector dealings.

Malaysia has the Whistleblower Protection Act 2010 but its stipulation of requirements in order for an informant to receive protection has been criticised.

Lovatt is aware that getting a buy-in for BIA from both the private and public sector is a huge task. When BIA was launched late last year after breaking away from Transparency International Malaysia, where it started as a unit, many companies were sceptical of its work.

Currently, among the few companies that support BIA are Top Glove, Digi and Infineon. BIA is funded by the private sector, in particular companies who pay a subscription fee to become partners in its work to enhance business integrity in Malaysia.

The non-profit is a registered participant of the United Nations Global Compact, a UN initiative to promote sustainable and socially responsible businesses.

Gathering information

Lovatt said BIA intends to engage both the private sector and civil service to uncover problems and identify where and how they take place.

“We will take generic information, for example, about a particular port notorious for certain kinds of things and how its officers (behave), to the head of department, who will know exactly where to focus the investigation and auditing,” he explained.

“We start with the end user and back track to the sources rather than starting with the sources.”

There is little risk for companies to provide information as BIA mitigates the risk factor by withholding their identities.

“When we take information, we make sure that it is done in such a way that it is not clear where it came from,” said Lovatt.

BIA has the buy-in of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), and is in the midst of developing the anti-graft body’s role under its initiative.

“The MACC has actually been trying to reach out to the private sector for quite a while but with limited success,” he said.

One dilemma is whether BIA should channel information it receives from the private sector directly to the MACC.

“From what we learnt so far, it is best to start with the government department first and let them engage with MACC on their own terms,” said Lovatt.

Whether government departments will act on BIA’s information will require strategy, confidentiality and accurate information, he added. BIA must develop high-quality intelligence so that government departments can target problem areas.

Having just signed the agreement with the Prime Minister’s Department, Lovatt said BIA is currently waiting for meetings with government departments. It has yet to receive any information from the private sector.

If the initiative takes off, BIA will survey the companies that come forward after three months to see if the integrity issues they faced were resolved.

That way, it will know whether the public sector has taken action with the information given.

“This is a way to track changes. If nothing has changed, we will tell the department that things are still the same.” – October 29, 2017.

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