Archive for July, 2013





Posted on 21 July 2013 – 07:03pm


IN his book Curbing Corruption in Asian Countries: An Impossible Dream?, Jon S. T. Quah takes us on a lengthy journey (533 pages) to identify the causes, consequences and control patterns of corruption in 10 Asian countries – Japan, India, the Philippines, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia, and Mongolia.

The level of detail and breadth of analysis provided are a result of more than 30 years of teaching and research on the anti-corruption strategies of these countries. Many lessons for Malaysia to learn, and many more lessons to teach Malaysians.

Recently, I had the good fortune of listening to Professor Quah in person at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Academy where he took questions after a two-hour presentation.

I was especially interested in two points (i) the relationship between crime and corruption, in particular the nebulous ties between the police and crime syndicates and (ii) the symbiosis among politicians, civil servants and businessmen.

My suspicions were indeed confirmed – these seedy networks exist with some of them deeply embedded in the culture. There’s no question that corruption-breeding links have to be busted if anti-corruption efforts are to succeed.

In general, Quah argues that the extent of corruption in a country depends on two factors viz the nature of the causes of corruption and the degree of effectiveness of the various measures undertaken to combat corruption.

To effectively control the level of corruption, the causes of corruption must first be correctly diagnosed and appropriate action be taken by the political leaders to minimise, if not to remove, such causes.

Quah’s answer to the question in the book title is that eradicating corruption is tough but it is possible if tough measures and laws are in place and they are enforced by tough people.

Hong Kong and Singapore are exemplary in this. The two countries have succeeded in minimising corruption by giving their independent anti-corruption agencies greater powers to fight corruption.

Here, a clean government, tough laws and good governance are in place to drive the anti-corruption efforts forward.

The overriding prerequisite is thus the political will to instate and enforce effective anti-corruption laws without exception; to equip anti-corruption agencies with the funds and manpower to work independently and without interference; and most important of all, for the political leaders themselves to show exemplary conduct and lifestyle.

May I add that leaders who have the courage and conviction to be the frontliners in the anti-corruption war will long be remembered for bringing about real and intrinsic development to the nation and its people, much more than those who brandish the artificial spoils of a thriving economy or a technologically savvy society.

In Malaysia, the public contempt for corruption has never been more intense than now, ie in the pre- and post-GE 13 period, when cases of petty and grand corruption are uncovered regularly, all pointing to the systemic corruption in the country.

Contributing to the perception that the government’s anti-corruption efforts are less than effective is the fact that those guilty of grand corruption somehow manage to evade the law. The perception then grows that they are indeed protected by their godfathers.

It does not take genius to argue that to dispel the perception that there is selective prosecution of corruption offenders, all cases of corruption must be investigated under the anti-corruption laws and the offenders punished regardless of their status or position.

Public perception is a tricky matter, encouraged not only by careless talk, rumour and slander but by poor media coverage. These days cyber communication is swift and sweeping in spreading unsavoury information which is soon taken to be the truth.

All the more then that media communication must be expertly handled to counter the misinformation and to update the public regularly on the progress and success of anti-corruption efforts.

However, those who are convinced that laws and their enforcement are the only cures for corruption have missed out a crucial aspect of the disease diagnosis viz its cultural causes.

There’s no doubt that the Asian/Malaysian custom of gift-bearing underlies much of the practice of bribery and graft. Gifts are given between and among friends to say “please” and “thank you” so why not between two or more business partners?

It might not be far-fetched to suggest that some may not even know that gift-giving can be construed as an inducement to get things done or as a reward for having things done.

Public education must be positioned as a crucial component of the anti-corruption measures especially among the gullible and less-educated. The recently announced no-gift policy of public and private sector corporations and business houses must be explained to the man in the street.

What better way than to have month-long public anti-corruption campaigns at regular intervals to sustain the efforts and remind the people?





Published in The Sun on 8 July 2013

Halimah Mohd Said

WHILE everywhere democracy, egalitarianism and inclusiveness are being touted as the levellers of human society, the stark ground reality is that the human animal is an exclusive creature distinguished by his/her social, cultural, educational, economic and political characteristics.

Much as we want to establish equality and social justice at the level of ideology and philosophy or even policy, these characteristics come into play when we have to deal with real-life experiences.

There’s no denying that humans are defined biologically by our genes, that is our DNAs produce white skin, blond hair and blue eyes or yellow skin, black hair and flat nose. These determine our external features and mark us as belonging to a certain human group or a mixture of a few groups.

Very often my small eyes and fair skin lead people to ask me point-blank if I have Chinese blood to which my reply is always, “I don’t know but probably yes, as my mother was from Melaka and there might have been intermarriage or adoptions in her family”. Or “My father was of Bugis ancestry and the early Bugis people had different characteristics from the other ethnic groups in the then Malay Archipelago”.

Yes – much against our societal (good)will, this natural birth phenomenon which produces different variations in our physical make-up is a given and leads to some kind of exclusiveness. We are indeed distinguished by our physical features which mark us as belonging to a certain variety or community of the human species. As with the other animal groups, the human animal is naturally drawn towards its own species.

Over the centuries, the racial categorisation of human groups according to physical and even mental characteristics have proven to be untenable, as differences emerge even within the bigger stock such as Caucasian.

There are many ethnicities within the Caucasian race e.g. Irish, Welsh, German, French and Slovak, differentiated these by their country of origin, the language(s) they speak, cultural heritage and traditions, beliefs and rituals. And so with the Malay, Chinese and Indian peoples of the world.

These days “race” has become a bad word as “ethnicity” takes over to define cultural factors such as nationality, culture, ancestry, language and beliefs.

However, the reality remains that there are these distinguishing characteristics which sometimes influence us to remain within our exclusive silos. Much as we strive to equalise and harmonise our socio-cultural, educational and economic experiences, Malaysians are not homogeneous.

In her book Unmistakably Chinese Genuinely Malaysian (2011), Rita Sim unravels some striking observations about exclusiveness among the Chinese community. Even as globally they are seen as one huge human group with distinct physical characteristics, their historical, demographic, social, and educational backgrounds determine the exclusiveness of each sub-group.

Even as they comprise one ethnic group in Malaysia, Rita Sim’s research reveals unmistakeable sub-groups or what she calls “clusters” – the G1, G2 and G3 – distinguished by their social, historical and educational background.

Of special interest is the G1 cluster, which according to Rita Sim is “the largest group (90%) within the Malaysian Chinese community (and) comprises those who identify completely with the traditions of ethnic Chinese culture, language and expression. It is the most widespread group, found in both urban and rural environments…Its worldview is rooted deeply in the core values of Chinese-language education and expression through the vernacular media” (p 13). The G1 are seen as quite exclusive by the much smaller G2 and G3 sub-groups, more so by the mainly urban English – educated and non-Mandarin-speaking G2.

I am sure other studies will reveal similar sub-groupings in the Malay and Indian communities.

Some important questions to ask with regard to inclusiveness as a national ideology are:
>Are we inclusive within our own communities?
>Are we inclusive across the different communities?
>What are the things that perpetuate the phenomenon of intra and inter-group exclusiveness?
>What can we do to reduce, if not eradicate, the feeling of exclusiveness?
>How can the notion of “multiculturalism” be redefined to chart a more realistic and achievable path towards inclusiveness and peaceful coexistence?

These are questions worth pondering and mulling over before answering them as honestly and intelligently as we can. Before the bigots and extremists in our respective communities take over with their exclusive stances in the streets and in Parliament, the more sensible among us must prevail to mediate the dangers of exclusiveness.

July 2013