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A Graft-Free Culture

CLEAR MESSAGE: Unless this scourge is tackled on a serious footing, the cost to the nation will be more than it can bear

TAN Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan, the former top civil servant and reputedly a man of high integrity, has one simple wish as he retired after 38 years in the government service -- that the country's civil service is incorruptible.

A few months ago, when launching an anti-corruption drive among public sector workers, Sidek said government servants should send a strong signal to the nation that they abhor corruption.

"If previously we used to hear or read about civil servants being arrested for corruption, we hope that through this campaign, there will be stories of members of the public being arrested for attempting to bribe officers of the civil service.

"We should send a strong message, a simple message -- that the public service is incorruptible," he was quoted by Bernama as saying.

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The campaign was targeted mainly at the main enforcement agencies such as the Police, Customs, Immigration, local authorities and the Road Transport Department, which are more often than not the target of bribe-givers.

The message from Sidek, who will now take over the helm of Petronas as chairman, was crystal-clear: that there should be a corruption-free culture in the government service in Malaysia and that no one in the service is above the law.

This can be a tall order where perception of corrupt practices has not improved much in Malaysia despite endless anti-corruption efforts by the government and the private sector.

This perception was arguably strengthened when Malaysia dropped four places from 56 to 60 in Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index for last year.

Unlike in Hong Kong or Singapore, where there had been a spate of high-level arrests of corrupt officials and corporate people recently, there have been a dearth of fresh high-profile cases in Malaysia that could make a big impact in the fight against corruption.

Until recently, former Selangor menteri besar Datuk Seri Dr Khir Toyo was the highest-ranking politician to be convicted for corruption in many years, although he was not the first menteri besar to be hauled up for graft.

Besides receiving a one-year jail sentence, the judge had also ordered Dr Khir's land and bungalow to be forfeited. Presiding judge Datuk Mohtarudin Baki, when delivering the sentence, said: "This is a heinous crime that demands a deterrent sentence."

Besides Dr Khir, former ministers Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik and Tan Sri Chan Kong Choy are facing separate corruption charges in court.

To be fair, there has been some success in the fight against corruption, but these measures are not enough to counter the notion that the "big fish", rather than the ikan bilis, are the ones that the authorities should be after, if they are really serious in the war against corruption.

Pemandu, which drives the seven National Key Result Areas including corruption, noted that perception towards petty corruption, efforts and initiatives implemented throughout 2010 and last year were being felt by the public.

These measures include making the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission's (MACC) "name and shame" list public. Others measures include enforcing the Whistleblower Protection Act and the setting up of compliance units within the five key enforcement agencies.

While these steps are commendable, the MACC should also focus on tackling the so-called "grand corruption", or high-level corruption, which will have a lasting impact on Malaysia's global ranking on corruption.

MACC already has a database of more than 900 people convicted of corrupt practices. Their names will only be removed from the list three years from the date of conviction.

MACC has said that at least two multinationals and a company belonging to a royal family will be on the list.

Corruption, if unchecked, could cost the country a staggering RM10 billion a year or between one and two per cent of the Gross Domestic Product.

Other side-effects of corruption include reduced public trust in government and making the poor more vulnerable.

Basically, corruption destroys people's trust in public institutions given the correlation between corruption, trust and poverty.

Corruption is also perceived as one of the impediments to economic growth and prosperity.

As such, the government has included corruption as one of the seven NKRAs under the Government Transformation Plan (GTP) as we embark on the road to become a high-income nation by 2020.

No culture tolerates corruption. It simply increases the cost of doing business. It is, in fact, part of bread and butter issue.

More businessmen and ordinary voters will certainly warm up to the government if it shows that it means business in the fight against corruption.

There must be strict enforcement and that no one is above the law. Both the "giver" and the "taker" are equally guilty.

There must also be a simpler way for members of the public to deal with government departments to avoid incidences of corruption.

The government procurement policy should be overhauled. There must be better accountability and transparency across all levels of the procurement process.

Sidek brings his vast work experience to Petronas, where there is already a strong culture against graft and unethical behaviour.

Its code of conduct and business ethics, for example, states a "no gifts" policy that prohibits the receiving and offering of gifts between the staff and external parties.

There is no reason why other companies in Malaysia cannot emulate this.



A. Jalil Hamid is NSTP Group managing Editor
 By A. Jalil Hamid  | jalil@nstp.com.my 
Source: New Straits Times Columnists Sunday 24 June 2012
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