Imagine you are driving down a highway and you are stopped by traffic police for speeding.
What if the police officer, instead of promptly issuing you a ‘summons’ or penalty notice, instead dithers and uses language that sounds like an invitation to ‘settle’? What would you do?
For me, I would tell him to issue the summons. If I was speeding, I would deserve the penalty, hefty or otherwise. Speeding is an offence and I should have adhered to the speed limit.
A friend of mine thinks otherwise; he tells me with no hesitation he would ‘settle’ the matter. “We are not wealthy enough to pay hefty fines or summons,” he said.
To which I instantly reminded him, “Then, don’t speed!”
We tend to forget we can always choose to live within the law.
Anyone who pays to expedite a matter or to ‘remove’ an unsavoury sticky issue is complicit in graft. They immediately lose all moral right to complain about the corruption of others.
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We also tend to forget it always takes two to tango in these deplorable acts of crime: those who expect gratification and those who offer or give.
Corruption is not something that is remote from the person on the street.
It does not just begin and end with a corrupt ex-PM or a deputy minister or a high-ranking anti-corruption agency officer in a compromising situation.
Nor does it end with a shady cabinet minister who may seek to pump out slush funds on the pretext that it is morally acceptable if it is done to finance an election win.
And while at it, he or she may probably see no harm in siphoning off a little to buy a few luxury homes and cars – and why not throw in a few designer shirts.
Ironically, our cabinet ministers, many of whom have themselves ‘hopped’ parties and betrayed the people’s votes and trust, now tell us that a compulsory course will be introduced in all institutions of higher learning from next year to enable students to have “a better understanding of corruption and its impact”.
Will this be the elusive magic bullet to end our woes? Or is it just another clamp to stem any growing public awareness of the matter?
From my experience as a parent and teacher, I have learnt that values are caught, not taught. If the perpetrators of graft are repeatedly seen to be rewarded with great wealth, position, honour and respect, it would have a way of blurring values.
Do we need to remind ourselves that Islamic knowledge and moral studies have already been taught in our schools for decades. The number of hours at any higher education institution will not make a dent in erasing this other subtle messaging that is seeping down the ranks.
If acts of graft are committed too many times by too many people for too long, they would become the acceptable way of doing things. That graft is a crime, a sin, is selectively forgotten.
Whether it is an abuse of power by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission or the police or the judges, we should have the confidence to call them out. No one should be exempted from investigations, nor should anyone be party to a system of pervasive malfeasance.
Change will not be easy, but the people can make a difference. And so, it was gratifying to see university students speaking out against the rising cost of living.
Yes! We should protest. We should make demands and be totally intolerant of all abuses of power or influence. More than that, we should constantly remind ourselves that the real power to begin change starts with us.
We do not need to be lawyers or students to change this country. Nor can all of us be a Fahmi Reza, a Siti Kasim or a Zunar. Sometimes, all it may take for us is to just refuse to tango.Sukeshini Nair
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
6 July 2022