As Malaysians wait in eager expectation for Premier Najib Abdul Razak to annouce the date of the 13th general election, seen by most as a potentially pivotal general election that would decide the future of this country, the stakes are high and the issues many.
As I glance at the headlines of newspapers and online media, there are a myriad of issues that surface every day.
Today it's the alternative flag issue, yesterday was the size of rallies, previously and no doubt in the days to come, the ketuanan Melayu issue, Chinese education, marginalisation of Indians, the Sabah IC for votes, Hudud, electoral reforms, high or disputed crime rates, police brutality, death in detention, etc.
These are all highly sensitive and important issues, especially to those affected by them.
Mother of all issues
But I would like to suggest that the mother of all issues should be corruption. It is about the money.
There is a saying, "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil".
According to Transparency International, "Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It hurts everyone who depends on the integrity of people in a position of authority.
"It is more than the receiving of bribes or commission for which the person is not entitled to but it includes cronyism, nepotism, embezzlement, extortion, lobbying with inducements, laziness, incompetence, theft, pilfering, etc."
Let's cut through all the chase, corruption is stealing and we are the victim.
Let us not gloss over this criminal act by using legal-sounding terms like commission, appreciation, and incentives.
It is stealing. When you use your position for private gain either in the form of money, perks, sex, discounts, pervert justice, or favour someone, it is stealing and you are a thief.
Whilst many other countries in the Asia-Pacific region have been making big strides in combating corruption and has risen in ranking on Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index ranking, Malaysia has been slipping.
In the 2011 ranking, we are 60th out of 183 countries, a drop of four places from the previous year with a score of 4.3/10 (10 being highly clean).
In fact, our score has been steadily slipping since 1995 when the first TI CPI index came out when we scored 5.28/10 then.
Some may live in denial and tell us that it is just a perception problem and the solution is to improve public perception by focusing on the positive news and distorting the truth.
That in itself is corruption! Let's look at the facts.
Unfortunately, it is hard to get the facts, thanks to laws that hide the facts like the Official Secrets Acts, Banking and Financial Institutions Act (Bafia) 1989, which do not promote transparency but are used to prosecute whistleblowers of corrupt practices.
Under PM Najib's administration, we have seen the passing of several progressive-sounding laws like The Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA), the Peaceful Assembly Act and the Security Offences [Special Measures] Act.
But that is all they are, nice sounding titles because there are enough provisions in them to nullify their objectives.
They are just perception-correction exercises by PM Najib, something that he is very good at.
Scandal after scandal
Thanks to the many courageous people who blew the whistle on the corrupt, we get to know about some of the scandals.
Our country has been plagued by scandals after scandals since the BMF scandal hit us in 1983, enough for dozens of harakiri if it was Japan, yet most of these were covered up.
We had financial scandals like Perwaja, Bank Islam, BNM forex loss, PKFZ, etc.
All these are in the billions of ringgit.
On top of these, you have the bailouts of state-owned and crony-owned companies using public funds and wealth like the MAS bailouts, Putra Transport System, STAR-LRT, Renong, Konsortium Perkapalan, etc.
Again, billions of ringgit.
You can Google for "Malaysian financial scandals" and find no shortage of articles on the topic or you can see a list at http:// list.wikia.com/wiki/List of Malaysia scandals.
Subsidies to IPPs
But perhaps the mother of "leaks" would be the annual subsidies which Petronas pays to Independent Power Producers (IPPs).
In June 2011, the national news agency reported that Petronas had to forgo RM133 billion in subsidies between 1997 and mid-2011 to keep gas prices low for these privately-owned IPPs.
In June 2012, Petronas' CEO Shamsul Azhar Abbas told the delegates at the World Gas Conference that it is plain wrong for Petronas to continue subsidising these IPPs, in front of PM Najib.
It is just wrong. It is corruption.
To make matters worse, now we hear that 1MDB, a strategic development company wholly owned by the government of Malaysia, has bought two of these crony-owned IPPs at inflated prices - Tanjung Energy (RM8 billion) and Genting Sanyen (RM2.3 billion).
Indeed "strategic", for these cronies, not for the rakyat.
If you think these are wild claims, then please do yourself a favour and start Googling and do your own research.
Follow the money trail and see where it leads.
How much stolen?
It is about the money. The present government has been in power for 55 years and they had it too good.
We have voted them in for the past 12 general elections, oftentimes with a huge majority in Parliament and with the power we have given them, they have mismanaged our wealth and in many cases, simply robbed us blind.
It is about the money. To stay in power, they have resorted to all kinds of schemes to divide us, using race, religion and rulers.
Just like the teargas they fired at protesters, they fired non- issues like communist elements, ketuanan Melayu, alternative flags, hudud, LGBT, threat of Christianisation, etc, to confuse the issues and to hide behind the real issue - the plundering of our nation's wealth.
It is about the money. That our judiciary's independence was undermined and lost much of its integrity, that criminals can reign with rampant disregard.
Money buys almost anything - justice, votes, favours, titles but it will not buy respect or salvation.
How much was lost or stolen or wasted in all these years is anyone's guess but a World Bank study estimated that corruption costs Malaysia in the vicinity of RM10 billion a year or 1-2% of our GDP, a figure admitted by the government (maybe because it is on the low side).
Barry Wain in his book about Mahathir estimated that under the former PM alone, RM100 billion was lost.
The lack of transparency and prosecution of these corruption scandals makes it very hard for us to know the exact amount stolen but it would probably be in the range of RM100- RM300 billion in the last 30 years.
It is a crime and it is our shame if we continue to let this go on and on.
Remember, it is about the MONEY.
THOMAS FANN Fann blogs at www.newmalaysia.org