It is arguable whether Malaysia has really done better in the latest Corruption Perception Index (CPI) report released by Transparency International-Malaysia, on behalf of Transparency International in Berlin.
As the report states clearly, the scoring system this year has been upgraded. Hence it cannot be accurately compared to last year's scoring.
Thus it can be misleading to highlight the claim that Malaysia has moved up six places to number 54 this year, compared to the ranking of 60 last year.
Furthermore Malaysia scored 49 out of 100 marks for this year. This is below the half mark of 50 thus placing Malaysia amongst the two-thirds of the 176 countries surveyed, that have serious corruption problems.
So how can we say that we have improved? If at all we have improved, it is a very insignificant improvement, which does not deserve all the praise bestowed on this dubious success.
Indeed it is disappointing that after so many government initiatives through MACC and Pemandu to combat corruption, we are not making much headway to improve the universal perception that we have a high level of corruption in Malaysia.
More disturbing is the TI Bribes Payers Survey which indicates that we scored the worst score at 50 percent of respondents who said they had ‘failed to win a contract or gain new business because a competitor has paid a bribe' in the last 12 months!
This is very damaging to our image especially to the foreign and domestic investors and our overall perception of well-being and the new Happiness Index that we plan to introduce in the national budget.
All this begs the question as to why we should go so far to pat ourselves on the back for perceived success when we should be ringing our hands in concern and do much more to fight corruption?
Being unduly optimistic can in fact become counter-productive as we can become unnecessarily complacent and lose the war against corruption.
But perhaps there could be some misconception or misunderstanding on the part of TI Berlin in their analysis of our corruption?
It may be that local and foreign contractors fail so badly to get contracts and new businesses, because of the official preferential treatment that we widely practise in the award of government contracts for goods and services?
Therefore I would urge Pemandu and TI-Malaysia therefore to take this matter up with TI in Berlin to set this bad record straight.
Could also our low scores in combatting corruption, be due to our relative lack in our success to fight grand corruption, which includes the big fish that get away?
We seem to be more successful in catching the small fish and this is most unfortunate, as it sends the wrong signals to the public.
But there are lessons to be learnt. Now that we know how poorly we are assessed by TI Berlin, even with the new revised CPI, we need to introduce much stronger measures to fight grand corruption.
We need to raise our sense of urgency and political will, to go all out to fight corruption or we will surely lose out in improving our quality of governance, our quality of Life and happiness and also our prospects to achieve Industrial status by 2020.
RAMON NAVARATNAM is chairperson of the Asli Centre of Public Policy Studies.