Monday, December 5

Corruption crisis – is there or isn’t there?

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THE 1,000-strong delegates at the 16th International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) held in KL last week have come and gone.

Many of them might have gone home with the impression that there is rampant corruption amounting to a crisis in Malaysia, if they believed what Jose Ugaz, president of Transparency International (TI) had alleged.

Although he could have skinned the cat in some other way or called a spade a digger, he chose not to. As a result, his statement hurt the feelings of certain people, among whom are the Chief Secretary to the Federal Government and the deputy commissioner of the MACC.

Both denied there is any such corruption crisis. However, the Minister of Home Affairs is happy with his defence of the efforts of the government in the fight against graft by citing the United Nations Anti-Corruption Report 2014 which, he said, has praised the Malaysian efforts.

Jose Ugaz should know what he was talking about. I’ve looked at his statement objectively. If he had said something pleasant to our ears, then he would not have reflected the true objectives of his organisation – transparency, frankness and openness.

“As a global anti-corruption movement, it is our role to ask questions, to challenge those who abuse their power, to champion those who cannot speak, and to engage with those who sincerely wish to change,” he said.

My gut feeling is that there are considerable doubts in the minds of many Malaysians as to the true stage of the corruption problem in this country. The public perception is that there is definitely a corruption problem, its symptoms are everywhere.

Is it rampant or pervasive or widespread?

Does it amount to a crisis?

Are we referring to the grand corruption only or do we include other types of corruption?

The people who can provide answers to these questions are working for the anti-corruption agency. For a couple of years now, the MACC has intensified its fight against graft against all types of corruption and has been appealing for support from members of the public for support and understanding in terms of public confidence. And trust, if I might add.

I think the public have placed their trust in the MACC but like the TI, we would like it to do much more in terms of catching the big fish in the grand pond. We know ikan bilis have been caught from time to time but the sharks and whales are still free even though Dr Mahathir on becoming PM threatened “to put the fear of God in them by hanging the Sword of Damocles above their heads”. That was in 1981!

But how can the MACC as an institution earn that public confidence when, in the course of investigating a report of alleged wrongdoings purportedly done by a government investment company, have two of its officers stop what they were doing to be moved to the Prime Minister’s Department?

Were they not good enough for the job at hand? If so, more competent officers should have been given the job so that the investigation would be wound up fast. However, in the minds of intelligent members of the public, these two officers were too good. They not only spotted the elephant in the room; they were about to talk about it!

Two years ago, I attended a meeting organised by TI in Kuching. A representative of the MACC spelt out the objectives. He assured us that we can have confidence in MACC. Credibility is another matter altogether; that must wait for successful prosecution. But most prosecutions are the job of the Attorney General’s Chambers. So don’t blame the MACC if the prosecution fails in particular cases. But when the chief public prosecutor was replaced in a manner hard for the general public to grasp, it is impossible not to ask what the heck was going on. So a perception was formed, good or bad or unsure.

However, Jose Ugaz recognised there have been efforts worth commending. He also said that the TI would like to see more of them. So would the MACC, I’m sure. And so would all of us!

Both organisations are in fact on the warpath to eradicate corruption, so what is the reason for splitting hairs over a problem that both want solved as quickly as soon as possible?

Unlike poco-poco, corruption is a tango. It takes two to dance.

Transparency International defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. If I may add, a power herein includes authority.

If a country is governed by power hungry politicians for a long time, the tendency is for the powerful elite there to abuse power and authority. For time breeds power and if power is exercised long enough without restrain it becomes absolute. Then when absolute power corrupts, it corrupts absolutely.

Have you not heard that the President of Guatamala has been jailed because under his watch there was rampant corruption in that Central American country?

I read somewhere that the subject of corruption – well, the prevention of it I hope – may be introduced in schools. The youngsters might as well learn how not to bribe teachers to pass an exam.

According to the TI, there are three types of corruption – grand, petty, and political. You and I know all about them, all three, if only by reading the daily newspaper or listening to coffee shop gossip. Extra definition not needed.

Comments can reach the writer via columnists@theborneopost.com.