ON MARCH 17 this year, Tenaga Nasional Bhd employee Muhammad Prem Haikal Abdullah had a workday he would not forget easily. Two women, separately, offered him RM400 and RM300 in the hope that despite their unpaid electricity bills, the power supply to their shops would not be cut.
He did not go along with that. Instead, he reported those incidents and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) charged the women with the offences. On Wednesday, the two pleaded guilty and the Shah Alam Sessions Court fined one RM4,000 and the other RM3,000.
This is not the first time that Muhammad Prem Haikal, a senior manager with the power company’s investigation and intelligence unit, had refused to be bribed. In March 2012, RM1,000 was dangled before him because a businessman wanted to avoid being hauled up for electricity theft. A year later, the man was punished with a day in jail and a RM10,000 fine.
There have been many similar court cases centred on failed attempts to bribe other Tenaga Nasional officers.
Most Malaysians probably consider these as minor wins in the fight against corruption in Malaysia, which is a key focus of the Government Transformation Programme. But these cases also underscore two crucial points – corruption is not just the public sector’s problem, and often, corruption involves both the givers and the takers.
It is useful to bear these in mind in these days of raging controversies, persistent allegations and dramatic developments.
It may be hard for us to stay patient, rational and far-sighted in the current political and economic conditions, but as this week’s International Anti-Corruption Conference in Putrajaya has shown, there is no quick and easy way to beat corruption.
Nevertheless, everyone can agree that the efforts must go on. How can Malaysia achieve high-income nation status if corruption undermines public confidence in the Government and other cornerstone institutions; puts off people from participating and investing in the national economy; and deprives the economy of resources?
On Thursday, when defending the Government’s record in countering corruption, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi pointed out that Malaysia was ranked 50th out of the 175 countries covered in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2014. The year before, Malaysia was 53rd. The aim is to be in the top 30 by 2020.
He added that the Government was looking into plans to strengthen the independence of the MACC and the office of the Auditor-General.
This is a clear statement of intent. What is less apparent though is whether there is sufficient national resolve to embrace transparency, integrity and accountability.
It is not enough to merely rail against corruption. For Malaysia to battle corruption effectively, we must all spurn illegal short cuts such as giving bribes to escape enforcement action or to tilt the playing field.
Also, we have to be ready to act. Of late, there has been some contention over what qualifies as whistle blowing, but one thing has not changed – every time a brave and conscientious person exposes an abuse of power, corruption dies a little. And that has to be coupled with a collective will to ensure the wrongdoers do not get away with it.
The anti-corruption war is long and arduous, but it is without doubt a fight worth fighting. The STAR Home News Opinion Columnist 6 September 2015