Sunday, March 9, 2008

Corruption In Malaysia


For the first time in all my blessed life whistle-blowers are being threatened with custodial terms by the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) in Malaysia, including even the Mentri Besar (Chief Minister) of Kelantan, the venerable Datuk Haji Nik Aziz Nik Mat, generally believed as a man who would not lie. In light of the losing battle against corruption, the agency has certainly done a vulgar recall of a feudal distaste. Perhaps Pak Lah should quickly act to redress the widespread disenchantment with his leadership on this score.

The general perception is corruption has never been as bad. Under Dr. Mahathir, when corruption had become heady at the height of the Malaysia Incorporated exercise, the ACA would get to work even on an anonymous tip. Now, like a wheel of fortune, it has gone round on a 180-degree turn. Who would even care to write to the ACA when corruption is often a syndicated assemblage of the crooks and of crookedness?

Corruption is culture when the people agree it is foolish not to accept a bribe, or not to demand payment when the privilege can be assumed real. Have we come to that in Malaysia?

Most people we ask will answer positive. Sitting at level 44 on the world anti-corruption index, wearing the crown of corruption in the midst of the heavy pricing inflation is more then demoralizing. It is disillusioning.

In the time of Tunku Abdul Rahman, Dato’ D.R. Seenivasagam alleged in parliament a member of the Cabinet was corrupt and when he was asked to repeat the allegation outside the august House he did.

The case isn’t even worth to mention in the setting of corruption of today. The Minister then had gotten for his wife a license to extract guano. He was duly booked.

The Tunku was a relaxed Prime Minister and Malaysia with him at the helm was not altogether so successful a developmental state. When the May 13 racial riot burst out in blood, he was said to have been with friends playing poker. But corruption wasn’t his pet nor did his Cabinet feed on the contraband stuff.

His Ministers were known to pay the taxes for items they bought in Penang or Singapore that the customs did not charge them for, and called the officer in-charge to be reprimanded.

During Tun Razak’s time one Minister was known to have helped his school-mate to riches by giving him an import license of an essential item. The friend taped the conversation that involved RM750,000 payable to the Minister. The man was never booked but copies of the tape were spread around. Little else was required to usher in a new modus operandi of power.

During the same time Umno, in having to find the means to relieve itself of being dependent on the MCA for funds, decided all Mentri Besars (Chief Ministers) would be allowed to keep a “special fund” bank account with one of the signatories from among the party Supreme Council members. It was over that kind of account that the Mentri Besar of Selangor and Umno Youth chief, Datuk Harun Idris, was booked in 1977 and spent years as the special guest of His Majesty.

Corruption had become a political means but by no means a culture, meaning here with a positive value attached.

The value factor changed under Dr. Mahathir. Corruption during his time had become a way to riches. But he was not hypocritical about it. He was purported to have written somewhere to say the Malays suffered a dilemma about becoming rich in their country and he was probably determined to offset that indetermination.

The rest is for folklore to record either orally or in writing. Legend has about it a shyness to recount the real stuff. That may dwarf King Kong. When Pak Lah first rose from the seat of Prime Minister, a hidden hand had taken pages from several Chinese dailies to advertise. The advertisement damned the predecessor’s regime as “corrupt to the core”.

Mahathir had his chance to even the score several years after. He gave interviews to redress the misunderstanding. He said about corruption that Pak Lah’s leadership was even worse and the anti-corruption campaign had been a failure..

But the general perception has tilted to the Mahathirean delight. Corruption is perceived much worse today than it was before, not necessarily in terms of the volume stashed in numbered and unnumbered accounts or in pillows and mistresses, but in the terms of acceptance.

Now, when the ACA has repeatedly threatened the whistle-blowers and it has become a stock joke that it would be the whistle-blowers who will do time and the corrupt set free. They may soon report whistle-blowers to the ACA even.

The first thing about the fight against CORRUPTION is it must be sincere to purpose. Then it must be relentless. As for the means, many of us have been suggesting that the government follow the route that Hong Kong had taken.

But now that we are saddled with a new turn of events after the ACA has serially threatened to book whistle-blowers for false allegations even before “the interview”, it looks to a lot of people like the battle against corruption has become farcical.

This makes useless the anonymous letter of appeal to the ACA to act on the corrupt and especially on syndicated corruption. This also demoralizes whistle-blowing into drafted meanness. --- a. ghani ismail, 21 Nov. 2007

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