Should betrayal of public trust be forgiven?

Steve Oh

Modified 13 Dec 2012, 9:11 am

Corruption is at the heart of what's ailing Malaysia and much citizen discontent but the biggest issue is one of public trust.

The Americans loathed the charismatic and capable Bill Clinton not because he had a sexual tryst with an intern but that he lied to those who trusted and defended him.

The public has certain high expectations of those in high office and in public service that they may not expect of private individuals. It is the proper way to safeguard the integrity of any high office.

Former US president Bill Clinton had big dreams of reform to make his mark in his last term in office but now he will be remembered for the lost opportunities, and his betrayal of the public trust of the American people.

What of the betrayals in Malaysia and will Malaysians be as forgiving of their leaders?

What is happening in the country seems to parallel what is happening to the government. The government suffers from a credibility crisis as it fails to explain what is happening to it, the corruption scandals and all.

There is a loathing uncertainty and sense of despair and many feel change is the panacea to the country's troubled and troublesome government they blame for many of their own troubles - rising crimes and costs of living.

Thus more and more Malaysians are openly asking and working for change and even the incumbent government promises change but has little to show of substance.

It does not look good when someone unelected and not in government speaks for the government and asks in a supercilious manner, "What more do you want?" and then boasts about his ability to get the government to put it into effect ‘immediately' when the government itself drags its feet.

People will be wondering who is really in charge of the government and if they have misplaced their trust in the last elections. They thought they voted for someone else to lead the country.

"If it ain't broke why fix it?" is half the story because Bert Lance, Jimmy Carter's budget administrator who said it in 1977 while trying to save Uncle Sam billions, explained, "That's the trouble with government, fixing things that aren't broken and not fixing things that are broken."

It makes people feel that a change of government is the panacea by getting rid of the whole lot and starting anew with a fresh government. It is the only way to clean out all the skeletons in the over-crowded closet.

Citizens should feel betrayed and humiliated when they have to beg for something that they expect any good government to do for them on its own initiative.

Sooner or later corrupt politicians fall on their own swords or at the hands of a Brutus who murdered Julius Caesar.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim vows to slay the corruption dragon and it can be done if there is the political will and political clout to do it. Every single BN leader who has said they would tackle corruption has failed for obvious reasons.

Every single one of them has been ‘tainted' and time will tell if they are guilty or unfairly pilloried.

A new government after GE13 whether formed out of the ashes of the old one or a different one drawn from the fresh faces of the Pakatan Rakyat coalition - who can predict the outcome of GE13 and what happens after? - cannot continue to betray the people and allow corruption and the abuse of power to continue.

What people want is a good government that functions as a good government should without all they see today of the corruption scandals, accusations and counter-accusations and the inability of those in power to clear their names or for the government to take decent action.

We may not care about sick politicians but we should care that the government as a public institution serves the people and not the politicians and is in good health.

It cannot be corruption as usual by any government not only because it is wrong but there will be nothing left to steal or for the people when a country is broke. Reading about the wealth of the politicians while the citizens eke out an austere living does make one feel sick.

And the people most likely to suffer are those in the low-income group and with little savings, mostly the Malays.

An extract from an article by Ahmad Fuad Rahmat in Centre for Policy Initiatives is revealing: "We are often told of how the bottom 40 percent of Malaysian households earn RM1,500 or less on average. But we don't hear as much about the fact that this is equivalent to 2.6 million households, or to be more exact, 12.4 million Malaysians. We even hear less of how 56 percent of that total, nearly 1.3 million households, are Malay households.

A recent study conducted at the Malaysian National University's (UKM) Institute for Malaysian and International Studies (IKMAS) reveals more: an average bumiputera can only rely on one month of financial reserves in the sudden event of unemployment. 50.8 percent of overall bumiputera wealth is concentrated in the top 20 percent of bumiputera earners, while the bottom 40 percent can only claim a cumulative share of 7.6 percent. It is not surprising then that 66 percent of bumiputera households have no financial assets."

Another report placing Malaysia at the top in "a Transparency International survey of 30 countries where companies felt they had lost deals because they did not pay bribes," reflects what Malaysians already know.

Malaysians are not Americans and they do not like to impeach their leaders.

The political ‘birds of the same feather' do not expose one another's ‘sins' either because they won't know who has the thicker file on them. It is safer to keep a poker face while plotting someone's downfall and relying on a Brutus.

Still the country risks being labeled the ‘Sick man of Asia.'

Many Malaysians feel betrayed and that justice has not been done as in the court's overturning of the guilty verdict and exonerating the killer of an innocent Malay boy Aminrulrasyid Amzah, shot dead so mercilessly by excessive and brutal police force.

Like Clinton who initially saw his expose as a political plot and not his personal moral failing, there are politicians who cannot accept their faults and blame others for their problems.

How do you expect change when someone points the finger at others and says it is the fault of the ‘ungrateful Malays' or the ‘greedy Chinese' or ‘George Soros' or ‘Anwar Ibrahim' or the ‘PAS extremists' or the ‘chauvinist DAP" but never his fault behind Malaysia's economic, social and political woes.

Even a tennis champion serves double faults and has many unforced errors and the Pope no longer claims to be infallible but someone who never admits his mistakes because he believes he has made none must be out of this world or his mind.

Malaysians want a future without sick politicians in power.

They do not enjoy picking on the government, any government. If a government performs it can't boast about it because it is merely doing its job and the people know that.

But if a government hears of wrong, sees wrongs done, and even does wrong itself, then if it has any self-respect it should do the right thing and not continue to stymie those who are merely doing what any concerned citizen would do and helping it.

Many of us serial letter writers merely state the facts, as the late Tunku Abdul Rahman would say,"As I see it."

And he was among the first to cry ‘betrayal' when he saw his country fall into a state of repressiveness, as Operation Lalang 1987 happened and the police state came into prominence, so Pak Lah can't be credited for creating the ‘police state'.

Betrayal is when a political party fails to govern properly and abuses its government powers to commit wrongs and punishes anyone who dares bring it to account.

The persecution of Suaram illustrates the point.

It is a betrayal of the voters' trust and the nation's Constitution and oaths of public office. Politicians may politick but governments are supposed to govern.

It is a betrayal and abuse of power for a political party to use the powers of government to persecute some other political party, NGO or even an individual.

It is a double betrayal when this is done in the pretext of upholding some law. That is why a change of laws is deceitful when the old habit of applying the law unfairly and for political purposes is still there.

In short, betrayal is a corrupt political party in government, wittingly or unwittingly, making itself the people's enemy by its unjust acts.

Such betrayal then sees the degeneration of a country's moral values into a society where people take the law and matters into their hands to commit ridiculous and criminal acts that outrage its citizens.

If the government is sincere in its confession for past mistakes it should grant the stateless Indians their rightful citizenship. It should not continue to direct the police to harass democratic activities.

Politicians do not need a lesson on graft avoidance but a reminder that "You shall not steal, or deal falsely or lie to one another" if they honestly believe there is God, then start living as if they have to give him an accounting besides the voters.

Not every member of parliament is corrupt, and not all politicians can be tarred with the same feather or needs a lesson in Morality 101 and it is an insult for the honest to be lumped in the same bandwagon as those who are brazenly dishonest.

You treat the sick not the healthy.

As GE13 looms the question then is will Malaysians vote for those who have betrayed their trust?

STEVE OH is a singer and composer and also author of the book ' Tiger King of the Golden Jungle '.