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Combatting corruption - rhetorically or realistically?

Ramon Navaratnam  |  Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT To its credit the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) has come out again with some commendable recommendations to combat corruption.

However, Malaysians who suffer from the growing scourge of corruption, that we see destroying our beloved country, at all levels, ask whether these measures are rhetorical or realistic?

The measures are necessary, but are they sufficient? They appear only partially adequate. And certainly not comprehensive nor holistic enough!

A. Why do the new MACC measures appear to be mere rhetoric?

1. Creating awareness among students of the evils of corruption and the consequent urgent need to combat corruption is important. But, we ask, what about educating our many leaders and, particularly, politicians to resist and combat corruption?

It is they who  must set the examples for integrity or be seriously penalised and punished?

How can we let powerful politicians off scot-free and focus on students instead?

Political leaders are mainly the ones who make the real decisions at federal, state and local council levels on the award of huge contracts in corrupt ways. The corrupt are not the engineering, or finance or kindergarten students at this time.

2. Why not also give orientation courses to all Members of Parliament, state assemblypersons and local councillors on the dangers of corruption? Why not the MACC show them the records of their wealth and assets before taking office and warn them that their conduct and wealth accumulation will be carefully monitored?

Any major changes to their wealth should be thoroughly scrutinised and brought to the notice of an Independent Commission or even made public. Those who can't prove that their new wealth is legitimate should be prosecuted, especially if there is evidence of suspected wrongdoing.

3. As is quite obvious to anyone, how long can the values of integrity taught by parents at home and teachers at school stand up to the raw power and greed that is shown and practised brazenly in the real world, outside the homes and classrooms?

B. What else should also be done to fight corruption?

1. Speed up the introduction of new laws to fight money politics. After all money politics give birth to, nurture and amplify the corruption that is eating into our society, like white ants.

What has happened to the political promises made so strongly before? Have they softened and will they be left in the dusty bureaucratic drawers of decay?

I dare say that, as in the case of many matters, the voting public are getting more and more disenchanted and restless with the false promises of many politicians. The people will surely react and protest for justice, at the ballot boxes, sooner than later!

2. The MACC itself has been asking for reforms in the role and structure of the MACC Act and related laws. Civil society has been consistently asking for more effective means to fight corruption. But so far only peripheral politicise and practices have been proposed!

Is the new awareness programmes in schools, on how to deal with corruption, another soft and ad hoc measure to fight corruption?

3. How serious are we in fully and sincerely implementing the UN Convention against Corruption that our government signed in 2003, and which we ratified only reluctantly, after five long years of timid indecision?

This vital question brings us all to the overriding Malaysian concern: how much political will  does our government really have in combatting corruption realistically?

Does our government feel that fighting corruption more effectively would be akin to cutting its nose to spite its face? Are we to protect the faces of corrupt officials, both in government and in the private sector at the expense of our people, especially the poor?

4. Besides parents and teachers, let's not forget the powerful influence of our diverse and fervent and dedicated religious teachers and religious leaders.

Why have they not been more actively encouraged, and even incentivised, to preach the fear of God and to  struggle or jihad against corruption?\

Surely these religious leaders and preachers are all seriously and religiously committed to fight corruption? Can they not be persuaded, all these ulama and priests, to join the government in a 'National Campaign or Jihad to Combat Corruption'?

They would be much more effective in converting the corrupt rich and the powerful to walk the straight and narrow path of justice and righteousness!

Please include the clergy of all religions to lead in the Campaign against Corruption. Please don't depend mainly on young students. Let the elders set the example of good governance, so that the students can follow them!

C. Conclusion

We Malaysians must ask ourselves whether we want to be rhetorical or realistic in fighting corruption seriously, passionately and relentlessly.

If we are realistic and not just rhetoric, we have to send more powerful signals to our government to be more realistic, and not rhetoric, in order to overcome the evils of corruption. The sad alternative is to allow our beloved country to decay and decline through self-destruction.

I am very serious in my views as a former president of Transparency International-Malaysia and previous chairperson of the Prevention of Corruption Panel of the MACC itself.

Can I hope my views that are, hopefully gently expressed, will be given tough consideration and be followed up with strong commitment to promote the national and public interests for  a brighter future for our dear country, Malaysia ?

RAMON NAVARATNAM is chairperson of Asli/Centre of Public Policy Studies.

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