War on corruption

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We hope that corruption will one day be a thing of the distant past.

We need to send the simple message that those who treat their positions with impunity at all levels will henceforth be called to answer, asserts K Haridas.

The theme was Malaysia’s War on Corruption: It’s Now or Never.

About 80 delegates participated in this two-day event which highlighted the obvious: namely, the endemic nature of corruption across the country. Despite so-called definitive action taken in recent years to curb the rise of corruption, the scourge and scale continue to infect the vitals of the nation.

While there was no direct mention about 1MDB and its advisor, there were enough innuendos which only highlighted the gap between the talk and the walk. What was clear was the element of fear with regard to what is said in public and what is shared on a one-to-one basis.

Regulatory bodies such as the MACC are cautious as investigations are proceeding while they are also fearful of the challenges they face.

When will Malaysians learn? Who will speak up for the nation? We are grateful for the voice of Dr Mahathir and can only assume that there is some realisation on his part. Better late than never, he speaks out about those who exhibit an excessive lifestyle, the nature and scale of corruption, the costs to the nation and how small fish are caught while the big fish get away.

The press is also facing a backlash on what is actually an issue that could have been resolved if the individual involved had spoken the truth in the first place. That he chose not to speak resulted in subsequent revelations from the international media and Sarawak Report, which were taken as sources providing much credibility. The government from then on has been on the defensive, defending the indefensible.

Every step they have taken – from abruptly terminating the old attorney general, appointing a new attorney general, delaying the work of the task force, and announcing transfers and re-transfers, to dealing with the deputy Special Branch director – all stink of undue pressure and bad faith. Then the decision to remove the deputy prime minister and an Umno vice-president tilted the balance of power.

With the prime minister having tied himself in knots with one statement after the other being expressed by his cronies, we now have a situation where people are being hauled up. For the leadership, it is about what goes around eventually coming around.

While many are amazed by the scale of the possible cover up, they can only shake their heads in disbelief – for to do otherwise seems neither religiously nor culturally right.

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This only reveals the amount of power that is today vested in the Executive that manages the nation and more significantly in the leader himself.

When a foreigner was asked the question as to whether this could happen in western Europe, Canada, Australia or New Zealand, he responded by saying that the press and the way parliament is constituted make it just not possible at all. In addition, there exists a culture that makes it so shameful to indulge in such acts.

It is amazing that these nations which are often highlighted for their poor morals and religious values exhibit a culture and have a sense of shame about such behaviour. This definitely challenges many believers who for all their talk and exhibition indulge in personal moral compromise in this very religiously inclined nation. Again, it is a lot of fashion and show but with little inner substance.

An Islamic religious teacher meanwhile shared that we do teach our children about what is halal and not halal but how is it that we do not teach them that corruption itself is seriously a non-halal way to act and behave.

In Malaysia, religious authorities seem more interested in ‘khalwat’, ‘hudud’, trolleys and moral policing. Why is it that many working in enforcement authorities, regulatory bodies, approving departments, customs and immigration fall prey to corruption?

This emphasises that the problem is not with religion but with believers, ordinary people struggling with temptations and challenges. Many who see wrong being committed and who know that what is happening is unacceptable remain silent – and through their silence, condone what is wrong.

One parent told me that all his children are anti-government. “I am unable to defend for they feel things strongly and ask questions and they challenge me.”

Another young man working with the government said that he is unable to say anything while at office for fear that he would be demoted or transferred. But he and his friends gather at the ‘mamak shop’ where they speak out and express themselves without fear. “We have lost faith in the older generation. They remain mere obedient servants, spineless and ready to follow any orders even if this goes against their conscience.”

I suppose the notion that everyone has a price has been perfected by Umno.

The leader delivers, so the followers tolerate and receive their allocations. The leader has already promised that next year’s constituency allocations for BN MPs will be greatly increased. This will attract many to remain silent because the amount will be more than the RM1m disbursed this year.

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‘Cowgate’ was about misusing political connections within Umno. ‘Maragate’ was the same with the apartment units in Australia.

In case after case, we see this pattern which prompted an exasperated Wanita Umno leader to candidly challenge Umno politicians to stand up, namely those who have not benefited from being with Umno. Not a startling confession, but a candid expression of the obvious. New entanglements will be revealed because the culture is now deeply rooted.

Dissent is part of democracy, and if those in power are unable to read the signs, they will eventually end up like the frog that was slowly steamed in warm water, ultimately losing the ability to jump out and save itself as the water gets hotter. It is only a matter of time, and if Umno members do not see and read the signs, then they are blind to the realities of corruption.

What is the message that the government communicates when compromised leaders are given Executive responsibilities to head government-linked companies? At a luncheon talk organised by the Business Ethics Institute of Malaysia Minister, in the PM’s Department Paul Low was asked questions about GLC’s.

His simple response was that he had no oversight responsibilities regarding these companies. So he sits happy with a halo around his head as Malaysia’s Minister for Integrity, Transparency and Human Rights. We had hoped that he would bring to his office a standard of moral and ethical principles that would lift the cabinet and improve governance in the nation.

Over the years, we have had scandal after scandal covering several GLCs. The list is enormous, and I state some to highlight the fact that we do not seem to be learning anything. Let us recall issues relating to Bank Bumiputra, Maminco, Markuasa, Perwaja, Bank Islam, MAS, Putra Transport System, Sime Darby, PKFZ, the IPPs, Cowgate, Maragate and the Plus toll scandals.

Can we recall if anyone was ever arrested or hauled up to account? Yes, in the case of BMF, a Malaysian internal auditor was murdered and the case in Hong Kong led to some convictions. On the others, we can only speculate because of the nexus between money and politics that is so apparent in Malaysia.

In the Time Asia magazine issue of 15 March 2004, South East Asian economist at Morgan Stanley in Singapore Danial Lian estimates that the county may have lost as much as US$100bn since the early 1980s to corruption.

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With an increasingly autocratic Executive, a pliant Judiciary and a Legislature under the thumbs of the Executive, we have lost all checks and balances. The depth and cost of corruption in the nation today is a testimony to this reality. This is what Barisan Nasional under the leadership of Umno has pioneered and continues to do so. Corruption today has become systemic.

My memory fails me but I cannot even cite five senior political leaders who have been sent to jail for graft in the country. There would be many small fish, and this is why a mere statement to the MACC from the prime minister is inadequate. He needs to be questioned for, ultimately, he is the chairman of the advisory panel for 1MDB, the key witness to certify that money went into his account and perhaps to outline the purpose and details of the transaction.

It is sad when a prime minister is held in such low esteem by many, and yet wants to cling onto power. He will never know it because those around him will ensure that he hears only what he needs to hear! This comes at great cost to the nation’s integrity. Diplomats from around the globe can attest to this reality by noting several negative articles that have appeared in the global news media.

We talk of the ‘rule of law’ under the Rukunegara. All our children study this, and it appears in their exercise books. Yet this raises the question as to whether it is applies equally to all citizens.

If we are going to save this nation, then ordinary citizens, the media and the anti-corruption authorities will have to stand up and be counted without any sense of fear. Interrogate him with Allah as your guardian and let him defend himself as a ‘Bugis warrior’ and not run away with a mere statement.

To do otherwise, is to sell one’s soul and to mortgage the future of our children and grandchildren. The cause is noble and non-violent, the aim is clear and specific.

We need to inspire young and old and send the simple message that those who treat their positions with impunity at all levels will henceforth be called to answer. I pray that Malaysia has enough believers and practitioners to make a difference.

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