THE continuing revelations in the media about the alleged financial misconduct of our past and present political leaders on both sides of the political divide are alarming.
How can we tackle this problem? The axiom which says power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely seems to be universally true. It may be too naive to expect those in political power to lead with ethics and integrity. It is the nature of the beast. Of course, there are exceptions, but the exceptions only support the axiom.
Where does this leave us? It does not mean we cannot have clean governments.
There are many examples of good governments that are transparent, accountable and clean. It appears that a number of prerequisites are required to ensure political and other leaders govern and manage with financial integrity.
It is not enough to set up institutes of integrity and good governance. Moral codes are fine, but they are ineffective in the real Darwinian world. We need to build a system of checks and balances to control the greed of those in power and position.
Irrespective of who comes to power after the coming general election, it is important that we ensure that the past record of corruption and misdeeds do not continue. This is essential because there is a correlation between economic development and corruption.
If we want to realise our economic growth, we need to arrest financial leaks and privileges, and ensure greater income equality in our society.
As government servants have been generously compensated, there should be no tolerance for corruption in the civil service. Politicians should be paid well and in return held to high ethical standards in dealing with public funds. Systems need to be built in to discourage politicians from misbehaving.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission should be converted into an independent Ombudsman, reporting directly to Parliament.
The tendency to abuse power is too great to be left to individual altruism and moral platitudes.
The people need to remain extremely vigilant if they want a clean government. They must not be afraid to demand accountability from those in power. Social institutions that can help to keep the government on its toes must be nourished.
This includes a free and independent press that can undertake investigative reporting, a judiciary and police force that can act without fear or favour, a liberal democracy that empowers people to question wrongdoings and an educational system that provides the critical thinking to discern what is right from wrong.
Unless the systems are in place to create the needed checks and balances, I'm afraid our dream of creating a developed society with a vibrant democracy will continue to elude us or remain illusory.
Integrity cannot be legislated. It has to come from within. Since the record of integrity among our leaders is not encouraging, the solution lies in building the necessary checks and balances to make corruption more difficult to take place. This should be a priority for whoever wins the next election.
Dr I. Lourdesamy, chief executive, Pacific Institute of Technology, Petaling Jaya, SelangorSource: New Straits Times Letters to the Editor 29 June 2012