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Ensuring integrity and fighting corruption has been among the greatest challenges of all times to humanity. Religions have addressed the issues as have governments of all shapes, sizes and structures.

Sadly, it continues to be an unremitting scourge globally. It is a deep malaise that, like a malignant cancer, continues to grow, destroy, while sometimes appearing in unexpected and even in quasi-legal ways with the complicity of the very institutions established for ensuring justice and good governance.

Malaysia’s journey in meeting these challenges continues to be a struggle. One of the most significant publications in this field was done in Malaysia appearing first as ‘The Sociology of Corruption’ in 1968, and subsequently and extensively updated.This globally classic intellectual work on corruption was published in Malaysia by one of its outstanding public intellectuals, Dr Syed Hussein Alatas.

The 1991 edition was entitled ‘Corruption: its nature, causes and functions’. The book was reprinted in 2005 and the distinguished Malaysian prince who launched it warned us that “Corruption may become an industry”.

The late Professor Syed Hussein Alatas’ book has one of the best description of the scourge of corruption. His nine point characteristics of corruption have not been better stated:

a. A betrayal of trust.

b. Deception of a public body, private institution or society at large.

c. Subordination of common interests by specific interests.

d. Secrecy of execution except in situations which allow powerful individuals or those under their protection to dispense with it.

e. Involvement of more than one person or party.

f. The presence of mutual obligations and benefits, in pecuniary or other forms.

g. The focusing of action on those who want definite decisions and those who can influence them.

h. The attempt to camouflage the corrupt act by some form of lawful justification.

i. The expression of a contradictory dual function by those committing the act.

Deep reminders

The monumental struggle to address the scourge continues to be challenging and recent episodes have only been disturbing. We need to have faith and courage and the following enunciations from our spiritual traditions are deep reminders and should manifest our conscience:

The Law of Moses says “You must not distort justice, you must not show partiality and you must not accept bribes for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right”.

The law of Manu from the Hindu tradition says “Men who are appointed by the King to protect his subjects generally become hypocrites who take the property of others, and he must protect those subjects from them”.

Buddha states “Unjust officials are the thieves of people’s happiness, they defraud both ruler and people and are the cause of the nations troubles”.

Islam - the Quran reminds us “(do not) give bribery to the rulers” and the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) elaborated "Allah curses the giver of bribes and the receiver of bribes and the person who paves the way for both parties”.

Christianity - John the Baptist reminded his followers “Do not extort money from anyone”.

As for those who think no one will ever know of their illegal or unethical acts, I would welcome them to visit the ‘Four Knows Hall’ of the Yeoh Kongsi in George Town, Penang. There is a deep saying there that reminds us of our conscience:

“Don’t say nobody knows.

The Heavens know,

The Earth knows,

You know and I know.”

History has taught us one thing and that one thing above all has made a difference - leadership that means ‘political will’ at the top and ‘popular will’ from the bottom. It is leadership at all levels - people who are prepared to stand up against injustice and dishonesty at the community level, in government and corporate board rooms.

We need that more than ever now!

ANWAR FAZAL was a co-founder of Transparency International-Malaysia and a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award popularly known as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’.