EMPOWER OUR GRAFT – BUSTERS
Published in The Sun 21 January 2013
THE question of how to effectively and quickly eradicate corruption has resurfaced in my email engagements, this time with my more enlightened associates contributing specific recommendations. This is indeed heartening!
While the people’s displeasure at public sector corruption grows stronger with each disclosure of criminal acts of graft, their mud-slinging at the agencies set up to fight corruption is self-defeating. Instead of empowering the agencies with constructive support and urging them on with substantive recommendations, there seems to be a purposeful move to discredit them every step of the way.
My nagging at the immorality of bribery and graft and its socio-cultural basis has not gone down well with people who see these acts as an outcome of societal inequities and inequalities. Their argument is that Malaysians are prone to corrupt practices because of pure survival as “what they are doing is totally justifiable under the circumstances and makes perfect sense. It is the most rationale move in order (for them) to survive”.
In the same way the retiring civil servants rationalise accepting a gift/bribe by saying they have served and sacrificed much for the country. They need to feed their dependants at this critical stage of their lives. They have not been fairly compensated enough for their loyal service. There is no underlying immorality it is argued.
An academic argument distinguishes between “egoistic” corruption when people commit acts of corruption to acquire wealth for themselves and “solidaristic” corruption when they do it for the family, community and the other groups they belong to, including political parties. The so-called cultural elements are apparently inherent in the latter, not in the former.
Their recommendations for swift action from the government include the following:
» Establish more stringent laws and consolidate an independent judiciary, prosecution and investigating agency that will act without fear or favour. Appoint people with the highest integrity to lead these organisations.
» Instil laws that forbid the police from accepting bribes and encourage the public to report such cases. Make the paying of fines easier. Have a demerit point system that makes it difficult to renew the driving licence of repeat traffic offenders.
» Offer civil servants higher salaries commensurate with their service and sacrifice to the nation. Reward retirees well.
» Enforce transparent and fair rules in awarding tenders and contracts. Have a proper pre-qualification phase before calling for quotes and tenders to ensure only qualified companies are allowed to compete. Once the tender rules and specifications are set, do not change the goal posts to favour the well-connected.
For the MACC in particular, the following are recommended:
» Communication with the public must be expertly handled. It is of vital importance that the MACC chief projects the image that he is in command and that the buck stops at his desk. If he is given the power to be the only spokesman in an investigation, this will elevate him into the position of authority to release information to the public in an organised, coherent and concerted manner.
» The MACC chief commissioner must be prepared to face the scrutiny of the press and to do this skilfully, drawing the line between what they can disclose and what they cannot. This will give the impression that he is in full control of the case.
» To ensure that the MACC is open to informed and constructive comment from the public, the press should be allowed to do their own follow-up to check on the veracity of the MACC statement. This will ensure there is no case cover-up, which will in turn bring about positive public perception.
This open and honest engagement with my email colleagues confirms my hypothesis that bribery and corruption which fall under the general definition of “abuse of public office for self-gratification” are highly complex phenomena which cannot be successfully defined and explicated at one level. Neither can anti-corruption efforts be successfully implemented for one group of offenders viz the proverbial “big fish” or politicians.
While these pragmatic recommendations are appreciated, it must be said that some of the measures are already being put in place. In the immediate future, moves such as the establishment of a task force to tackle specific issues will see the real-time collaboration between these agencies.
With the continued support of the Parliamentary Special Committee on Corruption to amend the many loopholes in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009 (Act 694) by parliamentary decree, the MACC will be given the bite it deserves.
Lastly, it is highly recommended that the prime minister and his cabinet play a more visible role as powerful commanders in the anti-corruption war. Their lip-service must turn into a battle cry to resonate on TV and the other media.