Kautilya noted: “Just as it is impossible not to taste honey or the poison that finds itself at the tip of the tongue, so it is impossible for a government servant not to eat up, at least, a bit of the king’s revenue. Just as a fish underwater cannot possibly be found out either as drinking or not drinking the water, so government work cannot be found out (while) taking money (for themselves).”
Transparency International, in its mission statement, states: “(corruption) undermines good governance, fundamentally distorts public policy, leads to the misallocation of resources, and particularly, hurts the poor. Controlling it is only possible with the cooperation of a wide range of stakeholders in the integrity system, including, most importantly, the state, civil society and the private sector”.
Corruption is often the key issue in the downfall of a leader to be replaced by another. Every leader who has been given the trust to lead pledges to fight corruption. New laws are drafted, existing laws are amended, various agencies are formed, promises are made and hope is given. But if the law’s status is only as a written document and not enforced, it is unlikely to be an effective weapon for victory on the battlefield against corruption. The various agencies established will not form a war brigade, which could fly the flag of victory, if the fight against corruption is done selectively.
Among Asian countries, the Philippines has the most anti-corruption instruments, with seven laws and 19 enforcement agencies. President Ferdinand Marcos introduced five new Anti-Corruption Agencies (ACAs) during his 21-year reign (1965-1986), but they were only decorative cosmetics for protecting an ugly face.
The Filipino land and sky were overcast by a shroud of corruption. Corrupt practices peaked during Marcos’ era, breeding rampant cronyism, where relatives and close friends were appointed to head the various agencies, with each accumulating more personal wealth.
Speaking at the opening of the International Association of Anti-Corruption Enforcement Agencies Conference on Oct 4, 2012, the prime minister stressed the will and the effort of the government of Malaysia to eradicate corruption.
The fight against corruption was designated as one of the seven components of the National Key Result Areas (NKRA) under the Government Transformation Programme (GTP) and Economic Transformation Programme (ETP). Various follow-up measures have been initiated, including the establishment of 14 special corruption courts.
The 2013 Perception of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) Effectiveness study showed the level of confidence in the effectiveness of the agency had risen from 64 per cent to 65.8 per cent, while the level of community support to the MACC also rose from 86.4 per cent in 2012, to 87.3 per cent last year. Efforts to streamline the law and increase the capacity and capability of the enforcement agency have continued to be carried out.
Laws and enforcement agencies are instruments which need to be completed with comprehensive and holistic programmes. Understanding the background of those who commit acts of corruption will give an advantage to enforcers and enable them to give the correct prescription and diagnosis.
Simplistically speaking, corruption offenders are divided into two categories. The first category is a group which is desperate, who have turned to corruption due to life’s hardships, the inability to balance their wages with having to pay for their daily basic needs.
Data from the New Economic Model report showed that 80 per cent of households in this country earn incomes less than RM5,000 a month, 40 per cent earn less than RM2,000 a month, 78.6 per cent of Employees Provident Fund subscribers earn less than RM3,000 a month. The investment capability among the Bumiputera majority is manifested in data which shows that 75 per cent of Amanah Saham Bumiputera unit holders had an average savings of just RM611 per person. The request by the Cuepacs president for banks to supply more RM10 notes to automated teller machines (ATM) is a sign that at any given moment, a number of ATM cardholders did not even have a minimum of RM50 in their bank accounts.
The data on wealth distribution is extremely worrying in light of the country’s efforts to reach developed-nation status with a target of RM48,000 per capita income by 2020. Uneven wealth distribution and wide income gaps will create an environment which will nurture a culture of petty corruption. What are the options for public servants and private sector professionals if their salaries are not enough to cover their daily expenses?
The majority in this category actually do not want to commit corrupt acts. There are those who take on second jobs, trade at pasar malam, drive taxis part-time, hold tuition classes, sell kuih, sew, become involved in direct-selling, as well as carry out all kinds of side jobs in order to get by. As a result, they lack rest — they are fatigued, causing them to become weak workers and affecting their productivity.
This is the true present scenario in the country. The number of those within this category will rise if an effective formula is not introduced, focusing on aspects such as housing, food, transport, health services and medical treatment, where costs are rising daily.
The country cannot be in a state of denial over present realities. This is a big challenge for the nation. It is not a temporary sore throat that can be cured with Strepsils. It is a serious social disease, needing intensive treatment from society’s doctors and surgeons, and a formula for a cure from pharmacies with the ability to dispense comprehensive and holistic social policies.
The second category of corruption offenders are driven by greed. In general, they occupy high-ranking positions, hold important posts, have great desires and live lavish lifestyles. Offenders in this category are slick and sophisticated, adept at washing their hands of any wrongdoing, difficult to convict and some of them are intimately connected to the powerful.
The fight to combat corruption has to focus on two aspects. The first aspect is punitive actions that are STERN AND INDISCRIMINATE, and carried out without fear or favour. The second aspect is PREVENTIVE MEASURES TO STRENGTHEN INTEGRITY.
STERN and INDISCRIMINATE are two key words that should be considered as principles. The country has many examples that can be a source of direction and reference, sources of inspiration and strength for bold action.
The first magistrate appointed in Penang over 200 years ago in the colonial administration era was fired for bribery.
During the era of the late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, the education minister cum health minister in 1964, Abdul Rahman Talib, lost a civil case against S.P. Seenivasagam, who implied that Rahman was involved in corrupt acts. Rahman later resigned from the cabinet.
Support towards the ruling party, Perikatan, declined during the 1969 general election. The late Tun Abdul Razak Hussein was very good at reading the rakyat’s sentiment. He kept track of the key issues, which became ammunition for attacks against Perikatan and the government during the election campaign, and immediately acted to correct the flaws. The government’s response to corruption was handled without delay.
Razak did not protect any administration member or party members suspected of being involved in graft. On the advice of Datuk Harun Hashim of the National Operations Council (Mageran), through the Emergency Ordinance No. 22, he gave the power to the director-general of the ACA to freeze the assets of those suspected of receiving bribes.
The Perak menteri besar Datuk Ahmad Said was revealed to have nearly RM1.2 million in his accounts. RM330,000 was confiscated as it was found to have been attained through bribery. Ahmad resigned in February 1970. In July that year, Terengganu menteri besar Ibrahim Fikri was ordered to take two months’ leave and was then replaced by Mahmood Sulaiman. At the federal level, Khaw Kai Boh was asked to withdraw from the cabinet in September.
During the great Roman era, the law permitted a dictatorship to be elected for six months in the situation where the country faced a crisis. After that, the power needed to be returned to the people. Cincinnatus, a retired general, had been chosen to rule as a dictator but remains as an example of a Roman leader who did not seek either power or fame.
Cincinnatus was elected to rule Rome during a crisis. After peacetime returned, even though the Romans asked him to continue leading, Cincinnatus rejected the request and returned the power to the people. Machiavelli referred to his act as a noble gesture, the sign of a leader who had both the strength and the fortitude to reject corruption, without the greed to retain power.
This admirable trait of Cincinnatus reprised itself in Razak, whose mind could not be influenced by the desire for power. As the director of Mageran, after the tragedy of May 13, 1969, Razak commanded absolute power. After the country’s situation returned to stability, even though he was asked not to disband Mageran, Razak chose to return the power to public institutions, reviving the system of parliamentary democracy.
During the late Tun Hussein Onn’s era, the late Datuk Harun Idris in 1976 was convicted of corruption. He was tried by my father, at the time Justice Raja Azlan Shah.
My father faced a difficult task. The accused not only had strong political support, but he was also someone His Highness was familiar with.
While delivering the verdict, Justice Raja Azlan Shah, among others, said: “It is painful for me to have to sentence a man I know. I wish it were the duty of some other judge to perform that task.
“To me, this hearing seems to reaffirm the vitality of the rule of law. But to many of us, this hearing also suggests a frightening decay in the integrity of some of our leaders.
“It has given horrible illustrations of Lord Acton’s aphorism ‘power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’, and has focused concern on the need of some avowed limitations upon political authority.
“...the law is no respecter of persons. Nevertheless it will be impossible to ignore the fact that you are in a different category from any person that I have ever tried. It would be impossible to ignore the fact that, in the eyes of millions of our countrymen and women, you are a patriot and a leader. Even those who differ from you in politics look upon you as a man of high ideals. You had every chance to reach the greatest height of human achievement. But half-way along the road, you allowed avarice to corrupt you. It is incomprehensible how a man in your position could not in your own conscience, recognise corruption for what it is. In so doing, you have not only betrayed your party cause, for which you have spoken so eloquently, but also the oath of office which you have taken and subscribed before your sovereign ruler, and above all, the law of which you are its servant”.
The verdict contained not only the conviction and sentence, but also components of advice, reminders and warnings so that it may serve as a lesson. It was hard for Justice Raja Azlan Shah to utter those words so harshly and sternly towards the accused who he knew, but he was more concerned about upholding the law and the public interest than of the body of an acquaintance.
STERN AND INDISCRIMINATE ACTION is not an option but a necessity.
Allah has given us guidance. Adam is a creation of God, revered and given such high status that the angels were asked to bow before him. But when Adam violated the rules, God’s sentence was swift and stern, and Adam was ordered to leave heaven.
Verse 135 of Surah An-Nisaa states: “O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort (your testimony) or refuse (to give it), then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted.”
Thus, is the sternness by which the principle of justice in Islam is upheld. No exceptions or special treatment is given to anyone who carries out wrongful deeds, whether it be themselves, close friends, family members or even their parents.
The decree carried in this verse is strengthened further in the Prophet Muhammad’s hadith: “O people, those who came before you were doomed because if a nobleman among them stole, they let him off, but if a lowly person stole, they carried out the punishment on him. By Allah, if Fatimah, the daughter of Muhammad, were to steal, I would cut off her hand.”
The preventive aspect requires the effort of strengthening integrity so that humans can be built with the inner fortitude to reject their whims and desires. Greed is the factor which frequently drives humans to sin. Islam calls on humanity to practice moderation, and to refrain from hubris and excess.
God’s reminder is stated in the story of the Prophet Hud, in verse 128 of Surah Asy-Syu’araa: “Do you construct on every elevation a sign, amusing yourselves, and take for yourselves palaces and fortresses that you might abide eternally?”
When Allah punished Adam for succumbing to the devil’s temptation, Adam was in the comfort of heaven, with all the goodness guaranteed by God, as described in verses 118 and 119 of Surah Thaahaa: “Indeed, it is (promised) for you not to be hungry therein or be unclothed. And indeed, you will not be thirsty therein or be hot from the sun.”
Adam was deceived by the devil. And so, Allah has given a reminder in verse 117 of that Surah: “Iblis (the devil) is the enemy”.
Adam was defeated by the enemy with false promises to give power, false promises to retain power as said in verse 120 of the same Surah: “Then Satan whispered to him, saying: ‘O Adam, shall I direct you to the tree of eternity and possession that will not deteriorate?’”
How the walls of faith crumbled by the attraction towards power. The desire for absolute power can defeat the rational mind. Strengthening one’s faith is the defence that needs to be built in order to raise the person’s resistance towards material possessions and wealth, and the desire for rank and power. Humanity must always be reminded of Allah’s decree in verse 35 of Surah Al-Anbiyaa: “Every soul will taste death. And We test you with evil and with good as trial; and to Us you will be returned.”
David Owen, in his book The Hubris Syndrome: Bush, Blair and the Intoxication of Power, analysed corruption through the lens of a medical doctor. Owen described the act of corruption driven by the lust for power as a mental condition.
Mahatma Gandhi observed that power made humans deaf and blind. Thus, decisions made were based on desire. Personal satisfaction overpowered public interest. Any dissenting opinion, even if it came from close acquaintances, would be regarded as the voice of an enemy — threatening their position, and all actions would be taken to destroy any resistance.
Life on earth is a test. Positions and posts are a test. Trust and responsibility are a test. Standing up for good and fighting evil is a responsibility. Every promise uttered, every action taken or not taken will be examined in the afterlife, where there will be no lawyers to defend our sins or the trust we failed to complete.
Fighting corruption is a jihad, which needs to be absorbed in the hearts of man. Prophet Muhammad said: “There is in the body a clump of flesh — if it becomes good the whole body becomes good, and if it becomes bad the whole body becomes bad.”
That “FLESH” is the HEART. Fill the HEARTS of man with the strength of ILAHIYAH, the fortitude that is in line with the teachings of the Quran and the prophet’s Sunnah so that Allah would improve our minds and faith to make them strong and not easily swayed by the devil’s temptation.
Put your trust in Allah Almighty in fulfilling this noble task. Hold on to the spirit of mutually reminding and criticising each other, consistent with the call contained in Surah Al-Ashr: “By time, indeed mankind is in loss, except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.”
May Allah Almighty give guidance and strength to each member of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, who must work hard to fulfil the heavy task of fighting corruption. May every honest intention and the work conducted honestly and rightly receive the reward of God. The above is a translation of the royal address by Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah in conjunction with the 47th anniversary of the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Agency, now known as the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission
SULTAN NAZRIN MUIZZUDDIN SHAH - NST Columnist 4 OCTOBER 2014 @ 8:10 AM