Archive for October, 2011

25
Oct
11

HARD TALK

 

Now for the hard part

THIS N THAT

Halimah Mohd Said

IT IS heartening to have a prime minister who listens to the pulse of the people, to their grievances and grouses and attends to them as best as he can. Who says it’s easy to manage a volatile citizenry clamouring for change at every turn?

In a country driven by round-the-clock developments and transformations at every level of society, where economic activity is its heart-beat and knowledge acquisition its bedrock, it’s easy to be caught in the mad rush for development. It’s easy to forget the people and the nation have a soul that needs careful nurturing.

It is only germane that having fulfilled the monetary requirements of a large cross-section of the population in the Budget, Datuk Seri Najib Razak is now responding to those concerned about where the nation is heading ethically and morally. Having put economic and financial concerns at the top of the national agenda, the prime minister must now focus on the moral and ethical issues surrounding people’s lives.

I cannot agree more with the relevance of the prime minister’s words “… great knowledge without wisdom and integrity is indeed dangerous”. The call to Malaysians to build up not only their knowledge and skills but more importantly, their wisdom and moral values must be heeded by all if the nation is to achieve sustainable greatness.

For, of what use is tremendous and uninterrupted success to Malaysians and Malaysia if in achieving it their integrity is in disarray? Of what good is a booming economy or a thriving education industry if there is a feeling in the community that ethics and morality have been compromised?

The concepts of “integrity” and “morality” however are not straightforward or easy to define. If you ask people what “integrity” means to them, most would not hesitate to say “honesty” or “truthfulness”. A clear definition would go something like “uprightness of character; the condition or quality of being unimpaired or sound.”

To most, “morality” refers to the values and moral principles which separate right from wrong, good behaviour from bad behaviour. It implies a soundness of morals and a freedom from the corrupting influences within society. Religion has traditionally been used to instil standards of morality in its adherents and to keep the community in check.

However, as secularity become an honoured way of life and civil liberty and freedom are touted as human rights, the country’s laws, rules and regulations, codes of ethics and principles of good governance are perhaps more effective in enforcing them.

Too often people rise to positions of authority and power for which they are ill-suited. We see this occurring in government, in the business world, in politics, in institutions of learning and the other levels of the social hierarchy.

We go to a public or private centre to address an issue only to be frustrated by its inability to provide the information/ service requested or to do it in an efficacious manner. We are frustrated because the staff do not have the integrity to meet our needs efficiently. Often there is procrastination and delay which say little for the integrity of the centre.

In a hierarchical society like Malaysia, protocol plays an important role in maintaining a semblance of order and discipline which, in a sense, defines Malaysian integrity and ethical standards. Public functions are steeped in protocol with clear demarcations in logistics and language. There are segregations in seating and speeches are lined with salutations and honorifics. Woe betide the event organisers if any of these are breached.

But it is equally important for the honoured guests to play their part by being punctual and keeping to the time painstakingly determined and observed by all concerned. It is not stressed enough that punctuality is a crucial part of official and personal integrity.

The smooth-running of a nation’s logistics, whether it is administrative, protocol, legal, physical, etc, is therefore very much determined by how the cogs in the social wheel synchronise with one another to produce a value chain that makes us proud to be Malaysians.

And these include, but are not limited to, commitment to contracted obligations, honesty in all dealings and fairness and equality in regard to the treatment of its citizens.

The country’s leaders and role models in government, politics, industry, academia, religion, etc are obliged to manifest the highest standards of integrity and morality in their private and public behaviour in order for these to be the examples followed by the people they lead.

To quote Dwight D. Eisenhower, one of the great World War II heroes and American presidents of our time: “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a football field, in an army or in an office.”

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20
Oct
11

CULTURE OF PATRONAGE

 

PATRONAGE

THIS N THAT

Halimah Mohd Said

FOR the MACC alone to crusade against bribery and corruption is an impossible task. To successfully enforce anti-corruption laws, the cooperation of the police and the Attorney-General’s Office is indispensable. With the undivided commitment of the three agencies, there will be some success in hauling the sharks and ikan tenggiri guilty of corruption at the higher levels of authority in the public and private sectors. The takers and the givers of bribes will face the law and hopefully be found guilty.

For a start there must be complete screening and house-cleaning within these enforcement agencies, among the officers and staff who man anti-bribery and corruption posts. If they themselves are gullible and fall prey to corruption, the credibility of the agencies they serve is diminished. Their anti-corruption crusade becomes meaningless.

However without the support of the Malaysian ikan bilis i.e. the ordinary man in the street, national efforts to wipe out corruption through these agencies will be in vain. When the Malaysian public are, knowingly or unknowingly, cohorts in these acts of corruption, they are guilty of perpetuating the very scourge they abhor. They must admit that they themselves are the bribers who corrupt these officers of the law.

What Malaysians fail to see is that they live in a deeply rooted culture of patronage which encourages the currying and carrying of favours along the social hierarchy. When the social hierarchy discriminates between the haves and have-nots, patronage becomes a way of life as it has always been from the days of feudalism.

In the old feudal structure, from the royal houses right through to the foreign emissaries who court them for trade and commerce and the villagers over whom the ruler and his chieftains exercise their rule, the custom of gift-bearing was the norm.

Whether it came in the form of bunga mas and buah tangan; monetary inducements in the form of coffee money and ang pow; or reward for services rendered in the form of upah, these cultural gestures have been a vital part of our eastern culture. We do it without batting an eyelid because they form the basis of goodwill and harmony in our social relationships.

Unfortunately in this modern era of development, these acts have become contrived and positioned to extract the greatest economic gain. Gifts are given for favours granted and profits projected. And as the business relationships grow in complexity, the favours asked for and given are more wide-ranging. The gestures are less direct and the gifts are camouflaged in subtlety and sophistication.

Malaysians do not realise that the designer handbags and other fashion accessories given to them, their wives and children; the sponsorship of private events and holidays abroad; the granting of tithes and titles are all part of the modern schema of bribery and corruption.

In all of this, one thing must be made clear to distinguish the good, bad and ugly. When people surreptitiously give and gain favours to leverage their own selfish positions to reap huge profits, they are corrupted and are more guilty than the person who offers a policeman a RM50 bribe or the underpaid policeman who takes it.

There is no doubt that to gain the trust of the electorate and win votes in the next general election the government must declare a national blitz against bribery and corruption. This is of the utmost urgency as corruption and abuse of power surface again and again as the two banes in the present government’s cap.

There must be an unequivocal statement from the prime minister, endorsed by his cabinet and members of parliament from both sides of the political divide that they are committed to eradicating corruption at all levels of Malaysian society.

For a start there must be the transparent and honest declaration of private assets by the country’s political, public and corporate movers and shakers of society, to be updated regularly and open to scrutiny by the relevant authorities. On the ground there must be a concerted effort to educate the people and create awareness among individuals, organisations and the greater community.

The MACC, the AG’s office and the police aided by citizen movements must launch a nationwide anti-bribery and corruption blitz to inform people about the complexities, types and forms of this despicable disease of society. Public and private corporations must establish principles of good governance, outline rules and regulations, and organise in-house workshops to educate their workforce on the dos and don’ts of ethical conduct.

It is a war that will, ironically, meet with public apathy and skepticism as Malaysians struggle with their conscience and admit to their own moral failings, but it is a war well-worth waging. It is the Malaysian people who must rise and rally together in the anti-bribery and corruption crusade.




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