MALAYSIA'S ranking in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) published by the Transparency International (TI) came down from last year's 56th to 60th position in 2011 among 183 countries surveyed. We were at 47th place in 2008 and 26th in 2004.
On a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 10 (very clean), we scored 4.3 this year. No region or country in the world is immune to corruption, with the majority of the countries assessed this year scoring below five.
The Berlin-based TI, a non-governmental organisation operating through more than 70 national chapters, including one in Malaysia, monitors and publicises corporate and political corruption, ranking countries "by their perceived levels of corruption", as determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys.
The definition used for measuring corruption broadly refers to the misuse and abuse of power for private benefit.
Among countries in the Asian region that scored above us were Singapore (five), Hong Kong (12), Japan (14), Taiwan (32), South Korea (43) and Brunei (44). The top four countries were New Zealand (one), Denmark and Finland (both two) and Sweden (four).
Often when a survey and its rankings are published and the outcome places us in a positive light, we tend to gloat over it and flaunt our "achievement". For instance, in the World Bank's global Doing Business 2011 report, Malaysia moved up from 23rd to 21st position from among 183 economies surveyed -- a creditable accomplishment indeed.
But when a survey and ranking such as the TI's CPI shows we have, as reported, progressively declined, we tend to question the veracity of the exercise and cry foul.
We must, however, recognise that all surveys, while attempting to be as robust as possible, have inherent weaknesses, ranging from criteria and coverage to how representative and responsible are those from whom responses are obtained; the consistency of sources for comparison purposes and the accuracy and objectivity of the analysis to draw out conclusions and assign rankings.
In other words, the perceptions arrived at in most if not all surveys are often a matter of perspective, which at best is an evaluation of a situation or facts from a specific point of view. Often, such surveys cannot and are not designed to be widely comprehensive, universal or able to examine a particular condition or set of circumstances from a broad range of dimensions.
Having said that, let's not be mistaken or be under any illusion about the extreme depravity of corruption, its intensely immoral and exploitative nature and its debilitating consequences in any nation or society.
Corruption is, and should indeed be, a matter of deep concern for everyone.
Corruption, wherever and in whatever form it exists, is a big obstacle in the transformation of a country towards moving up the ladder of development socially and economically. To eradicate this evil, it would require acting simultaneously on many fronts.
For instance, a country will have to improve its justice delivery system. Everyone, from those in power to the man in the street, should know that quick action would be taken against the corrupt and corresponding punishment meted out to culprits without fear or favour in an open and transparent manner.
When an administration and its justice delivery system are seen to be accountable and function in a just and effective manner, anyone would think twice before committing a wrongful act out of greed, or use power and position for personal gain.
Our government has taken a number of steps to deal with this problem. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak declared after assuming office and again in the New Economic Model that the fight against corruption was one of his top priorities.
A primary focus of the Government Transformation Programme (GTP) is fighting corruption. Bribery is deemed a criminal act.
In 2008, Parliament passed the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Bill and also the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, the latter intended to make judicial appointments more transparent.
The MACC, as we have seen, has wide powers of investigation, seizure of assets and prosecution and its provisions are consistent with Article 16 of the United Nation's Convention Against Corruption, which Malaysia ratified in September 2008.
Recently, the all-party Special Committee on Corruption (SCC) tabled its report in Parliament highlighting a greater need for the commission's independence, impartiality, better staffing arrangements and higher-level authority of the commissioner.
The government will certainly do well to address these matters to further strengthen and improve the capability and efficiency of the MACC.
The Whistleblower Act, that took effect in December 2010, is another legally enforceable mechanism aimed to protect those disclosing information on fraud, corruption and abuse from persecution for assisting in investigations and prosecution of crimes.
Whether the corruption level in a country is perceived to be "highly corrupt" or to an extent "clean", it is the wider perspective of the will and real actions to address and alleviate this problem that will matter in the end.
The broader approach to deal with corruption depends largely on meeting the aspirations of the citizens, especially the youth, by reducing inequalities and building an environment in which everyone's abilities, energy, enthusiasm and potential are afforded the opportunity and support to be channelled into activities for personal development and nation-building.
This year, we witnessed "corruption" on protesters' banners in countries around the world, rich and poor. The demands for better government, fiscal responsibility, fundamental rights and decent livelihoods were vociferous in the United States and Europe hit by crushing debt burdens and in the Arab countries starting a new political era.
Governance that puts the interests of a nation's citizens first is a responsibility that transcends borders.
Governments must act accordingly and citizens need to constructively engage their leaders demanding better performance by administrations and institutions that are there to serve them.
By Rueben Dudley, Petaling Jaya, Selangor email@example.com
Source: New Straits Times Letters to the Editor 15 December 2011