ETHICAL VALUES: Transparency and accountability crucial in tackling civilisation's greatest enemy
INTEREST in corruption and its effects on society in our country have been growing by leaps and bounds. This is a good sign of heightened public awareness of the burdens inflicted on ordinary men and women, often the poor, the marginalised and the least educated members of society.
They represent the underclass. They, because of the social and economic circumstances in which they find themselves, do not even know their rights as citizens and generally tend to accept the kind of petty official corruption they come across as a way of life.
Corruption, petty or grand, if not confronted decisively, retards human development and denies our citizens their rights to benefits that should be accrued to them in the first place.
In 2003, in my capacity as president of Transparency International Malaysia, I gave an interview to a highly perceptive New Straits Times journalist by the name of Sarah Sabaratnam. Among the questions that she posed was: "Is corruption a necessary evil?"
I responded: "It is a very sad commentary on our culture when we can even entertain the thought that corruption is all right, and necessary, to lubricate the unwieldy and rusty wheels of government or, for that matter, commercial transactions in the business sector. It is a totally unacceptable notion. As long as we have this attitude, corruption will plague us and our country.
"We do not have to give in to corruption if we do not want to. There are all sorts of mechanisms in place that are there for us to report cases of extortion or bribery. It is extremely important for us to make a clear stand against corruption.
"We should bear in mind, as law-abiding citizens, that according to our laws, it is a criminal offence to give or receive a bribe. If people understand that in ethical terms -- the principles and values that should drive business are fairness, honesty and transparency, and nothing else -- they will not condone corrupt practices."
I uttered the word "culture" in the same breath as corruption with a sense of guilt and a bitter taste in the mouth because it is an insult to our civilisation: there is no culture or religion that you and I know of that teaches or encourages anyone to be corrupt.
Corruption is civilisation's greatest enemy and we have a duty to ourselves and the generations that come after us to do all in our power to prevent this debilitating scourge from gaining a foothold in our national, as well as personal, lives.
Edmund Burke (1729-1797), from whose words we may draw inspiration as we prepare to battle corrupt practices in our midst, said, and I quote: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
In Malaysia today, corruption has already become a fact of national life and if we do nothing to fight it now and in the decades to come, it will become a way of life, such as we have seen happening in much of Asean. Singapore is the sole exception.
Corruption never sleeps and time is not on our side. The fight against corruption is so crucial to our wellbeing, peace, security and prosperity that it would be putting all that we cherish at risk to place the responsibility to fight it completely in the grubby hands of politicians or even the government's specialised agencies. It is our fight, and fighting it by proxy is simply irresponsible.
People often wonder whether the government is serious about fighting corruption and if it has the political will. As someone who founded Transparency International Malaysia with a group of like-minded individuals, when Malaysia's fourth prime minister was in office, I can say with complete honesty that Datuk Seri Najib Razak is absolutely convinced that corruption remains a stumbling block in the country's aspiration to move up the income ladder from middle to high.
His overarching brave new world, the Government Transformation Programme, has made good progress and is already beginning to make an impact on the way the country is governed, in line with accountable, democratic principles.
Corruption cannot thrive in an open, transparent and accountable climate, and we must hold the government accountable and make sure good governance is here to stay.
No corrupt government can hold on to power without recourse to draconian laws, such as the Internal Security Act (ISA) of unhappy memory. Najib does not need all those, having done away with ISA and many other laws that he felt tended to detract from his democratic governing transformation objectives. A principled government does not need undemocratic props to support its legitimacy to govern.
I hope that fairly answers questions about the political will and seriousness to fight corruption in our country. We have, in the past, challenged the government, and I think it is only fair that we issue a similar challenge to ourselves. Are we up to it to take on the responsibility?
Tunku Abdul Aziz New Straits Times Columnist 24 May 2014