‘Small change’ graft is still corruption

There should be no double standards in meting out punishments to the culpable

Zaid Ibrahim

The call for an early release of convicted felon Najib Razak resurfaced at the recent Umno general assembly, citing his supposed immense contributions to the party and the nation as justification.

There were also other grounds given by Umno supporters of the former prime minister to rationalise his early discharge.

Former law minister Zaid Ibrahim weighed in, reportedly urging Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to free Najib “for the sake of the people”.

Zaid argued that the political fortunes of Anwar and his “unity government” would be assured if Najib was freed soon and allowed to lead Umno in wooing the ethnic Malays in the state elections. This assumes that many Malays are still enamoured with the former Umno president who is well-known for his kleptocracy.

Such a suggestion is bordering on asking Anwar to flip-flop on his resolve to have zero tolerance for corruption, as well as disrespecting our justice system.

But what takes the cake is Zaid arguing that in the scheme of things, RM42m is “small change”.

Najib is serving a 12-year jail sentence after being convicted for misappropriating RM42m of SRC International funds. He was also fined RM210m.

Zaid later clarified to Malaysiakini that he was only comparing Najib’s “smaller” RM42m corruption case with other corruption cases that run into hundreds of millions or even billions of ringgit. Mind you, the so-called mere RM42m that was stolen is the people’s money.

For starters, RM42m may be small change to the well-heeled, but it is a far-fetched dream to most middle-income earners and the vulnerable in our society. These people who earn a decent living can hardly amass that kind of money in their lifetime and, possibly, in the hereafter too.

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Second, it is trivialising the gravity of such a corrupt act. Corruption, whether it involves RM42m or RM420, is still heinous, especially if it is plundered from public funds.

That is why there should be no double standards in meting out punishments to the culpable. A person who steals huge sums of money and someone else who shoplifts powdered milk for babies out of desperation must be brought to justice accordingly.

Besides, if one who embezzled millions is to be given an early release from the slammer, shouldn’t the person who stole powdered milk for babies be given an early discharge as well? At the end of the day, what signal are we sending to the rest of society, especially the young?

Going by Zaid’s logic, cynics would be tempted to ask whether it’s advisable for would-be thieves to aim for a heist worth less than RM42m in order to qualify for an early release from prison.

Third, money that was stolen from national coffers could have been used to uplift the quality of life in society – which would largely benefit those who need government assistance.

The RM42m could have been well spent on helping students who have been driven away from schools because of economic hardship, with some having to find work and skip last year’s SPM (equivalent to O level) exams to help support their respective families.

To be sure, we are talking about future generations of the nation, upon whom much money for a good education should be spent.

Politicians in high offices should know that they are entrusted to use public funds for the wellbeing of the majority in society. To abuse public funds for self gain is simply a betrayal.

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Can such a betrayal be justified, especially if it is done at the expense of the rule of law and justice? – The Malaysian Insight

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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Tris W
Tris W
19 Jun 2023 2.34pm

Unbelievable statement from an ex-law minister! RM42mil to Zaid or Najib is chicken feet but to 99% of the Malaysian public it could be everything! Truly no brainer! I believe he’s back pedaling for allegedly misleading Najib into ditching Shafee for his firm during the federal court appeal which backfired badly.