October 3rd, 2014

Facing the challenges of corruption


CORRUPTION is the act of a breach of trust. The first sin of man was the breaching of trust, as told in verse 115 of Surah Thaahaa, which means: “And We had already taken a promise from Adam before, but he forgot; and We found not in him determination.”

The decree was contained in verse 35 of Surah Al-Baqarah, which means: “And We said, ‘O Adam, dwell, you and your wife, in Paradise and eat therefrom in [ease and] abundance from wherever you will. But do not approach this tree, lest you be among the wrongdoers’.”

Corruption is defined as the act of misusing power in order to enrich or benefit individuals, family members and close associates when one has been entrusted with the responsibility of administering and managing public resources.



Sultan of Perak Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah delivering his royal address during the 47th anniversary of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission on Wednesday in Kuala Lumpur. Seated on the stage are Dewan Negara president Tan Sri Abu Zahar Ujang (left) and MACC chief commissioner Tan Sri Abu Kassim Mohamed. Pic by Mohd Yusni Ariffin

The oldest discovered document touching on the subject of corruption is the Arthasastra by Kautilya in India, in 300 AD. In China, in 220 AD, the Qing dynasty understood the concept of corruption, and meted out severe punishments upon those involved in corrupt acts.

Corruption is defined as the act of misusing power in order to enrich or benefit individuals, family members and close associates when one has been entrusted with the responsibility of administering and managing public resources. Abu Hurairah narrates: “I once heard the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) say: ‘A time will come upon the people that they will not care for that which is being taken or earned, if it is from Halal or Haram sources.’”

Profesor Emeritus Dr Petrus van Duyne (Tilburg University), a noted researcher of economic crimes, money laundering and corruption, describes the concept of corruption in a scientific manner: “Corruption is an improbity or decay in the decision-making process, in which a decision-maker consents to deviate or demands deviation from the criterion, which should rule his or her decision-making, in exchange for a reward or for the promise or expectation of a reward, while these motives influencing his or her decision-making cannot be part of the justification of the decision.”

Corruption exists within the public and private sectors, and, today, also exists in international institutions, religious institutions, volunteer bodies and sports organisations. United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said in September 2007: “Corruption undermines democracy and the rule of law. It leads to violations of human rights. It erodes public trust in government. It can kill.”

Corruption has been identified as a leading cause of economic growth stagnation, loss of foreign investment interest, rising administrative and management costs, preventing citizens from accessing public services, and contributing to political instability. Many countries have been blessed by God with sources of wealth but due to corruption, some of them are unable to progress, buried in the mud of poverty. The country’s wealth is abused — revenues disappear, spurring decline, while poverty continues to spread. When there is no will to fight corruption, it will grow and spread, accepted as the norm and, in turn, becomes a part of the culture, until it destroys the nation.

Corruption causes the loss of national treasures, unsustainable development, environmental degradation, the unequal distribution of wealth and increasing poverty. Between 2001 and 2010, nearly US$6 trillion (RM18.7 trillion) were misused in poor countries, affecting the lives of ordinary citizens. It is estimated that each year, US$1 trillion worth of money laundering occurs in poor and less developed countries. It is also estimated that each year, between US$38 billion and US$64 billion in tax revenue in developing countries is uncollected due to corruption. Leakages of some US$1 trillion cause around 3.6 million deaths per year, as revenue, which should have been spent on health services, food and infrastructure, is dissipated. Statistics in 2012 reveal that half of the 61 million children who drop out of primary school are in sub-Saharan Africa. If corruption could be successfully eradicated in sub-Saharan Africa, each year, 10 million children would have access to schools, 500,000 teachers could be appointed, and more than 11 million people living with HIV/AIDS could be supplied with antiretroviral drugs.

Corruption doesn’t just exist in declining or poor nations. Corruption also occurs in developed nations, rich nations and in international institutions. In fact, it happens on a larger scale, and has a global impact that affects the lives of people all over the world. Those in developed nations are not as clean as a white sheet nor as clear as the water in the Zamzam well.

The private sector has not been able to escape corruption scandals. In 2012, several notable international banks were fined US$21 billion for various offences involving fraud, tax evasion, manipulating interest rates and high-risk investments. Siemens, in 2008, processed its company accounts in order to legitimise corruption, preparing a US$50 million annual budget for paying bribes. Siemens was fined US$800 millon under the United States’ Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. In 2010, six oil and gas companies operating in the US were fined US$236 million under the same Act. For 25 years, Wal-Mart was under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act scrutiny before eventually admitting to consistently paying bribes in Mexico between 2003 and 2008. Rolls-Royce made a public admission of using bribes to penetrate the Chinese market.

International institutions, too, are not free of scandals. The good name of the United Nations was tarnished after the oil-for-food programme scandal, which involved certain parties, individuals and companies in several countries, including the US, Australia, Great Britain, Germany, France, Russia and Switzerland. The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) programme, introduced in 2000, was aimed at helping the lives of one billion people earning less than a dollar a day; corruption resulted in the cost of the programme to supply clean water and sanitation climbing by some US$48 billion.

In a communist system, economic resources and activities are under the direct control of the state. Information is strictly controlled, the media is under the control of the government and civil society does not have the freedom to speak openly. Such a system of government allows the roots of corruption to grow.

Beginning with the Deng Xiaoping era in 1978, although it retained a political doctrine based on communism, China radically transformed its economy, emerging as the second-largest economic power in the world today. Economic reforms have opened space for greater corruption, through a variety of new privatisation opportunities. New wealth created new problems. The Washington-based Global Financial Integrity estimated that US$2.83 trillion flowed out illegally from China between 2005 and 2011. More than 150 “economic fugitives” from China, the majority of whom were officials with a record of corruption, were now reported to be in the US. Reuters reported that Interpol had arrest warrants for 69 Chinese citizens for corruption, embezzlement, fraud and bribery. Xinhua News Agency, in July 2014, reported that since 2008, 730 Chinese nationals in various countries around the world have been extradited; suspected of committing economic crimes.

President Xi Jinping has admitted openly that China was currently struggling with corruption, announcing a firm stance that his administration was determined to fight corruption. In a maiden speech after taking over leadership of the state, Xi stressed: “Inside the party, there are many problems that need to be addressed, especially the problems among party members and officials of corruption and taking bribes, being out of touch with the people, undue emphasis on formalities and bureaucracy; ...to forge iron, one must be strong.”

Chinese citizens are reminded that the Chinese military lost to the Japanese in 1894 even though China’s forces owned expensive ships from Europe. Historians attributed the defeat to corruption among high-ranking Chinese leaders at the time. Xi had warned that the party and the country would be destroyed if corruption was not stopped. Li Keqiang, in his first press conference after being appointed prime minister on March 15, 2013, asserted: “Stirring vested interest may be more difficult than stirring the soul... clean government should start with oneself. Only if one is upright himself should he ask others to be upright. After entering public service, we should give up all thought of making money.”

Government officials living in luxury and holding massive receptions, including weddings, were investigated and asked to declare the sources of funding. The policy of declaring personal and family assets was introduced among party members and members of the administration. Raids were conducted on entertainment and prostitution centres, and action taken against police and local authorities for not stopping such activities. Since 2013, more than 200,000 officials have been sentenced for various offences.

The democratic system of government upholds the doctrine of “the government of the people, by the people, for the people”. Regardless of its weaknesses, the democratic system is considered superior, having the mechanisms and channels to expose the corrupt practices of elite leadership. It is said to be the best module to enable transparency, accountability and checks and balances. The democratic doctrine allows the people to change the government if it fails to provide the best services to the people.

India is known as the biggest democracy in the world, giving generous space to its people to voice their views. Even so, a democracy that allows for free speech has not been able to curb corruption effectively. Corrupt practices continue to grow like a parasite clinging on to every branch of the country’s administration, and are feared to be spreading.

The case of Tehelka.com serves as an interesting reference. On March 13, 2001, Tehelka.com held a press conference, revealing a corruption scandal in the government’s acquisition of weapons. Video footage revealed the involvement of top political leaders, bureaucrats and the military. Two Tehelka.com journalists, posing as agents of West End International, negotiated a contract for the supply of safety equipment. A hidden camera recorded the illegal transaction. The footage also revealed that Bangaru Laxman, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, received a bribe of 100,000 Indian rupees (US$2,170).

Tehelka.com exposed a culture of corruption within the Indian Defence Ministry. Video footage showed senior military officers drinking whiskey with prostitutes. It also revealed that 16 military officers received kickbacks between September and December 2000. After a public outcry, Defence Minister George Fernandes resigned, Bangaru Laxman stepped down as Bharatiya Janata Party president, while four senior Defence Ministry officers were suspended.

Tehelka.com was praised by the people for daring to expose the high level of corruption, but the government spread word that Tehelka.com had become an instrument of the opposition parties in addition to acting as agents for Pakistan and the European intelligence agencies, with the aim of disgracing the government. The Directorate of the Indian Intelligence Agency, Tax Authorities, Customs and the Police Department conducted various probes against Tehelka.com. Ironically, the investigation focused more on journalism ethics rather than the corrupt practices they exposed.

In the end, Tehelka.com’s chief editor Tarun Tejpal was charged in September 2001 for the moral offence of offering prostitutes to military officials. Shanker Sharma, the largest investor in Tehelka.com, was imprisoned without charge. The number of Tehelka.com staff shrunk from 120 people in 2001 to four in 2003, while the company’s assets were reduced to just three computers and a few dusty chairs. In short, Tehelka.com was forced out of business for acting as whistle-blowers, while those exposed for corruption escaped punishment. George Fernandes was even reappointed as defence minister seven months after his resignation.

India is deemed to have a continuing culture of corruption and abuse. Data in 2003 showed that only 15 per cent of the country’s poverty eradication funds reached the poor. A report by the Centre of International Policy, based in Washington, dated November 2010, noted that since achieving independence, India was estimated to have lost US$452 billion, at the rate of US$20 billion a year, through the illegal transfer of funds abroad. According to an interview with Julian Assange, published by Times Now News Channel on April 26, 2011, Swiss banks held more savings from Indian clients than any other citizens in the world.

In Japan, the Lockheed scandal of 1976 saw prime minister Kakuei Tanaka’s involvement in the purchase of 21 Airbus aircraft by the All Nippon Airways. Tanaka went through a seven-year trial. In October 1983, he was convicted by the Tokyo District Court, sentenced to four years in prison and a fine of ¥500 million (RM15 million). Tanaka appealed. In July 1987, the Tokyo High Court upheld the decision. Tanaka once again appealed.

Despite the conviction, Tanaka continued to receive the people’s support and was voted in as a member of parliament (Diet) in the Niigata area, with a large majority in the December 1983 elections. Tanaka’s entire trial proceedings took over 17 years. When he died on Dec 16, 1993, the appeal process was still pending, which meant that Tanaka managed to escape any punishment. A survey conducted in January 1995 by the Yomiuri Shimbun found that Tanaka’s popularity had not been affected by the Lockheed scandal. In fact, Tanaka was ranked highest over prime ministers Shigeru Yoshida, Eisaku Sato and Hayato Ikeda. Among supporters, he was respected as a leader who cared about the fate of the people, and is considered Japan’s most popular political leader in the post-World War 2 era.

Japan has a score of 74 points and is ranked 18th in the Corruption Perception Index 2013. But corruption scandals have put Japan in a paradox, between the clear water on the lake surface, with the black mud on the lake’s bottom. Japan was close to zero status in petty corruption cases involving subordinates, but there was massive structural corruption involving top management. Japanese politicians often need huge capital for survival, to support their political activities and to gain political support.

The 1976 Lockheed scandal was among the factors that led the US to enact the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Other major scandals in Japan include the Recruit case (1989), which caused the collapse of prime minister Noboru Takeshita’s administration; the Zenecon contractor cases (1993-1994), resulting in the conviction of a number of prefectural governors, while one committed suicide; and, the Bank of Japan/Ministry of Finance scandals (1997-1998), which resulted in the arrest, resignation and suicide of high-ranking officials. The political culture of post-WW2 Japan recorded election campaign expenses reaching US$10 billion; most of which were sponsored by a group known as the Yakuza, or mafia groups, which hover in the political and economic systems of Japan, donating to politicians in exchange for protection. Structural corruption is so endemic in the system, controlled by oligarchs, who practice the politics of patronage and compensation, and built a three-sided corrupt structure (the Rotten triangle): a collusion between politicians, members of the bureaucracy and business leaders.

The US is no exception to corruption scandals. Spiro Agnew became the first vice-president to resign in disgrace on Oct 10, 1973 after the Department of Justice found sufficient evidence of his political corruption and acceptance of kickbacks. As a compromise, Agnew chose not to challenge the charges against him, made under the Federal Income Tax Evasion Act, in exchange for the political corruption charges being dropped. He was fined US$10,000, sentenced to three years’ probation and prohibited from submitting an appeal. The Watergate scandal of June 17, 1972, revealed that president Richard Nixon knew and was involved in espionage operations. In addition to offering money to bury the case, Nixon used the CIA to obstruct the FBI from conducting an investigation, destroying evidence and dismissing staff who did not want to collaborate with him; a significant abuse of power. When Nixon’s involvement could no longer be hidden, he resigned on Aug 8, 1974. His successor, president Gerald Ford, gave Nixon a pardon for any crimes he did or might have committed as president; meaning that Nixon remained free of any charges or penalties.

What is the moral behind the scandals that occurred in these three democracies? It reflects the value system in a society caught in the paradox between law, morality and emotion. Regardless of position and status, the granting of immunity releases a person who has committed an offence from being sentenced accordingly. It involves the question of morality, the emotional ties between followers and leaders, the esprit de corps among those in the same league, sparking loyalty and preventing the course of justice. They defend each other, shield each other, and protect their friends from retribution.

Nicollo Machiavelli and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, citing examples from countries in the past, concluded that corruption happened when the people no longer cared, and, instead, gave their blind loyalty to leaders. They were too dependent on the leaders until they lost their independent minds and souls. As a result, society was trapped in the vicious cycle of corruption and became a corrupted community, and, therefore, could not control the leaders from practising corruption.

Religious institutions must hold on to ethics and high moral values. However, the world has been exposed to various scandals involving the Vatican. Among them, Monsignor Nunzio Scarano was detained and questioned over suspected involvement in a plan to smuggle €20 million (RM82.4 million) from Switzerland to Italy. The Vatican Bank director, Paolo Cipriani, and his deputy, Massimo Tulli, were instructed to resign following a financial scandal involving €23 million.

Islam is a comprehensive, complete and holistic religion. The life of this world sustains the life in the hereafter, as mentioned in verse 39 of Surah Al-Mu’min, which means: “O my people; the life of this world is only a temporary enjoyment, and the Hereafter is certainly the home for permanent residence”

A hadith by Prophet Muhammad,  which was related by Bazzar, Thabrani-Al-Targhib also states: “A slave’s feet won’t be able to move on the Day of Resurrection, until he is asked of these four things: Of his age, how did he spend his life? Of his youth, what did he use it for? Of his knowledge, did he practice it? Of his wealth, how did he acquire it and how was it spent?”

Islam sets a high benchmark for preventing corruption by stressing the importance of integrity. It is a religion that forbids the misuse of  power among those who have been entrusted with positions of power. Abu Humaid Ibn Sa’d As-Saidi, narrated what happened between Prophet Muhammad and Ibn Al-Lutabiyyah, whom he had appointed to collect alms. While Al-Lutabiyyah was conducting his duty, he was given a gift. When submitting the alms, the prophet asked him if he had been given anything else. Al-Lutabiyyah then informed the prophet that he had been given a token by those paying the alms. The prophet then asked whether he would have been given a gift if he had not been assigned to collect the alms. The prophet felt that the gifts would cast doubt and could lead to corruption, and advised that they be returned to the givers.

The Quran and the prophet’s sunnah are filled with warnings forbidding Muslims from committing bribery. Muslims, Muslim leaders and Muslim countries have enough references to fulfil the trust and responsibility toward Siratul Mustaqim (“the true path”), as read in verse 6 of Surah Al-Fatihah. If Islam was fully internalised and practised, an Islamic nation under the leadership of Muslims should record zero corruption.

On the night of Isra Mi’raj, the prophet saw a group of people whose tongues had been cut. He asked: “Who are those people?” The angel Gabriel answered: “They are the missionaries from among thy people who do not practise what they call.”

Allah says in verse 44 Surah Al-Baqarah, meaning: “Do you order righteousness of the people and forget yourselves while you recite the Scripture? Then will you not reason?”

The vision shown during Isra Mi’raj is a warning to anyone entrusted with the responsibility of leadership, especially those who have pledged to do right and fight wrongfulness, to avoid being caught in rhetoric.

Tomorrow: Combating corruption 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 3 OCTOBER 2014 @ 8:11 AM