WE naturally welcome any new official initiative to reduce corruption, the bane of our lives for much of the post-Merdeka era. The massive development that the nation experienced during Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s long tenure as prime minister turned out to be a double-edged sword.
Development came with a big price tag: it created enormous opportunities for unethical behaviour, both in the corridors of power as well as in the panelled executive suites. The “golden years” of frenetic, unstoppable development that changed the Malaysian economic landscape beyond all recognition were also, sadly, the lost ethical years.
Overnight, corruption took on an ominous aspect. It became a growth industry in its own right. Senior public servants suddenly found themselves exercising new powers as part of the New Economic Policy with its slew of rules to control and regulate economic activities.
Only good governance, the antithesis of unethical public behaviour, can take us out of the corruption quagmire.
The introduction of the Industrial Coordination Act (ICA), in particular, was all grist to the mill of the corrupt bureaucracy and the political elite. The ICA was regarded by many as the business equivalent of the dreaded Internal Security Act. Mercifully, both the ICA and ISA have been consigned to the dustbin of history.
Civil servants, who once were on the straight and narrow and lived well within their means, were on the take. They were merely taking the cue from their political masters, and together, they took to heart with renewed fervour Oscar Wilde’s most famous quote: “I can resist everything except temptation” and went on their merry way to put the future of Malaysia at risk.
The massive problem of corruption in our society during Dr Mahathir’s stewardship, rightly or wrongly, was blamed on an absence of political commitment. All that is history and nothing to be gained by dwelling on the past.
We now have a new prime minister from a totally different mould, who is working his guts out to put in train the Government Transformation Programme, which, if implemented professionally, will not only improve the way government business is conducted, but also close windows of opportunity for corruption.
Only good governance, the antithesis of unethical public behaviour, can take us out of the corruption quagmire we are in today.
Datuk Seri Najib Razak surely deserves to be supported in this great national non-partisan endeavour.
Over the years, we have poured hundreds of millions of ringgit to set up an anti-graft agency to “eradicate corruption”. Eradicating corruption is an unrealistic target at best and a fool’s dream at worst.
Even squeaky clean Singapore has only succeeded in keeping it under control, albeit effective control. If the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission ever manages to eradicate this greatest of all social and economic threats to our country, it will be guaranteed a place in theGuinness Book of Records.
So, let us stop talking rubbish about eradicating the cancer of our society. I have no wish to be dismissive of what MACC is trying to do, but as long as it is tinkering around the edges, it is wasting scarce human and financial resources.
Our country can ill afford to squander on a venture which has so far produced pathetically low returns. One of the problems as I see it is that examples of corrupt and unethical practices we see around us in both government administration and the corporate sector are mere symptoms of a deeper malady or malaise, and treating them as we have been trying to do at great expense will not produce the desired outcome. MACC would be well advised to seek answers to such basic questions as: Where and why corruption takes place?
We all know what corruption is. It is the abuse of entrusted power for personal advantage by those who exercise it. This definition has now been extended to include directors and officers of public-listed companies. We all know where corrupt practices are in robust good health.
Will the MACC please tell us why corruption has taken such a hold on Malaysian society and, more to the point, what has it done to identify the root causes of corruption?
Can it share its strategy with members of the public whose support is crucial to the success of the anti-corruption campaign?
Corruption cannot be fought with gimmicks, such as the half-understood Integrity Pact and clever slogans. Without sanctions that hurt their reputation, such as it is and about which they barely care and their deep pocket about which they care a great deal more, do we really believe the signatories to the pact will not bribe in order to gain a business advantage, out of a sense of high-mindedness?
Can we be expected to trust those business tycoons in sharp suits to abide by the pact voluntarily?
I recall now with amusement when I was undergoing training in the Bank of England in the early seventies, to be told by my English hosts with understandable pride that the City of London had been conducting business for a few hundred years on trust.
“My word is my bond” — and a handshake was all it took to seal a deal. It might have worked before but it is no longer true today. It is sad but in today’s permissive business culture, without the force of legal sanctions, the Integrity Pact, much in vogue in our anti-corruption strategy, has a very good chance of joining the ranks of the Ten Commandments — more observed in the breach than the observance.
I am a product of the corporate sector and I know from experience that few companies will do anything that interferes with their bottom line. It is not in the nature of men and women motivated and driven solely by returns on capital employed and profit margins to do anything that does nothing to improve the balance sheet. The business community has always been part of the problem of unethical behaviour or not to put too fine a point on it, corruption.It would be well to start putting the spotlight on them from now because in the economics of corruption, the supply side that they represent is what creates the dynamism that sustains this growth industry we know as corruption. It is corruption that distorts our economy and victimises millions of our poor. An effective MACC must remain focused and treat the root causes of corruption instead of trying to treat the symptoms. TUNKU ABDUL AZIZ - NST Columnist 21 JUNE 2014 @ 8:05 AM