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Corruption - a thing of the past?

Publication Date : 03-01-2014


Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has declared war on corruption. In September 2013, Bernama reported him as saying in San Francisco that he wanted to make corruption part of Malaysia’s past and that it had no place in our future.

Najib added that he had “created a new governance and integrity minister role in the cabinet; it is held by the former president of the Malaysian chapter of Transparency International” and that the Anti-Corruption Agency had been elevated to that of a self-regulated and independent Commission.

This is a very reassuring statement, coming especially from the prime minister himself. Incidentally, former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad made the same vow when he took office in 1981.

In November, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief Abu Kassim Mohamed added credence to the claims of a new corruption-free culture by saying that the MACC’s conviction rate was comparable to that of Hong Kong, Singapore and Indonesia.

“Thanks to improvements introduced, we have reached a (conviction) rate of 71% in 2010, 75% in 2011 and followed by 85% (in 2012),” he said. In other words, it looks like the prime minister’s wish for zero-tolerance on corruption has been granted earlier than most people have expected.

The only troubling blot on this landscape has been the claim by Mahathir that corruption now is higher than it was under his administration. Also, the Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer has found that, in 2011, fewer than one in three Malaysians believed that the government’s fight against bribery was effective.

Despite these reservations, there is no doubt that the prime minister is dead serious in combating corruption. His appointment of an integrity minister specifically in charge of integrity is unprecedented and now many government agencies, departments and government-linked companies have set up integrity units to make sure all their business decisions and processes are ethical and free from abuse of power and corrupt practices.

As such, the people of Malaysia must continue to be vigilant and do whatever they can to assist the prime minister in creating a corruption-free country, and a good way to contribute towards this is to be a whistleblower.

An effective whistleblower is someone who is unafraid of the consequences of divulging information that can lead to the discovery of a corrupt act or other crime. In theory, the law may protect a whistleblower but in reality only courage and a great abhorrence of corruption can provide the needed strength.

In Indonesia there have been a number of whistleblowers who have become “national celebrities” – their popularity stemming from a willingness to take on huge risks even to personal safety in order to expose the activities of the corrupt.

Sukotjo Sastronegoro Bambang, himself a corrupt businessman, exposed a massive graft syndicate within the Indonesian National Police Force (Polri) and became a celebrity in doing so.

He took on the “mafia” within Polri and even the Chief of Police was implicated. When Sukotjo squealed, the rotten branches of Polri shook with fear and his family had to be placed under the witness protection programme of the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) for its own safety.

Then there is lawmaker Agus Condro Prayitno, who has been jailed for corrupt practices. He divulged some big names (including that of the regent of Batang, Bambang Bintoro) and was sacked from his own party, Partai Demokrasi Indonesia-Perjuangan, but bravely announced that he would rather serve time in jail for two years than be in “hell” forever.

Even the powerful Chief of the Constitutional Court, Akil Mokhtar, and the Governor of Banten, Ratu Atut Chosiyah, have been charged for corrupt practices.

Indeed, 2013 was a good year for anti-corruption operations in Indonesia. In January, Partai Keadilan Sejahtera president Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq was arrested for taking bribes in a beef-import scandal.

In February, the chairman of the ruling Partai Demokrat, Anas Urbaningrum, resigned after the KPK named him as a suspect in a graft case involving the construction of a sports complex. In August the KPK arrested Rudi Rubiandini, the head of SKKMigas (Indonesia’s oil and gas regulator) and a former deputy minister, for taking bribes.

Due to the increasing participation of whistleblowers in the machinery of Indonesian government, top army officials, businessmen, judges and politicians have been hauled up on corruption charges, with many ending up serving time in prison.

There is now huge public interest in volunteering information to the KPK and the Indonesian Press where malpractices and corrupt activities are concerned.

Indonesia still has a long way to go in eradicating corruption, but there is no doubt about their commitment towards that end and it appears that ordinary Indonesians value integrity as the chief principle of national governance.

Malaysia is of course free of corrupt practices amongst top civil servants, political leaders, police officers and judges. This probably explains why we have not heard of any “big fish” being hauled up except for a few discredited former grandees.

Still, it is our collective duty to use the full protection we have under the Whistleblower Protection Act 2010 and, more importantly, our conscience to free our country from the scourge of corruption.

We must to do all we can to help the prime minister achieve his dream of making corruption a thing of the past. However, having impressive buildings with well-manicured lawns to house the enforcement agencies is simply not enough.

Equally useless are the numerous committees we have set up to oversee the many departments and processes of our great bureaucracy. The only certainty in all this is our disgust at corrupt decision-makers and our willingness to blow the whistle without fear or favour.

Thus, I hope all Malaysians will make a vow to help eradicate corruption in the new year. As a Muslim country it is unbecoming of us to be soft on corruption and abuse of power.

Muslims know that there is no place in heaven for those who are corrupt, so let the fear of God visit us all.


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