Anti-corruption wave picks up speed

IT’S rare that people get excited about changes at the helm of a government department or agency. By and large, they have come to accept that the civil service being what it is, the new boss who comes in is going to provide more of the same quality of leadership. Or simply put, it’s business as usual.

Rightly or wrongly, there is a myth embedded in the civil service that it’s a “comfort zone” and that civil servants and their bosses at all levels tend to play safe and won’t rock the boat.

But this myth has been broken with the anti-corruption wave sweeping the country and which has had everyone at all levels talking, right from the King, ministers and VIPs.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is now the talk of the town and the man making all the difference is its chief commissioner, Datuk Dzulkifli Ahmad, who is making a very strong pitch for the government to declare corruption as the nation’s No. 1 enemy.

He has met senators on his anti-corruption crusade and let’s hope he will get a chance to address members of the Dewan Rakyat and state legislative assemblies, who as elected representatives are key grassroots leaders.

The aggressive campaign urging people to say “no” to corruption that Dzulkifli spearheads is something unlike we have seen before. In the nine months he has been in office, there has been an average of one arrest and one accused person being charged in court each week, including many VIPs.

The front pages of newspapers, too, have been filled with pictures of those arrested, dressed in the orange MACC attire emblazoned with the word “LOKAP” (lock-up) as they were being led to court to obtain the remand order.

It’s been a popular coffee-shop jest that pretty soon, the MACC will run out of space to accommodate those placed under remand before they are released while awaiting trial.

At a meeting with media editors last week, Dzulkifli asked for three years for the MACC to create a society which would stand up to corruption in a way citizens would hate and feel disgusted when it comes to this scourge.

He wants the people to “protest” and ask “why should I pay?” when a bribe is demanded by those they are dealing with.

“We are committed and going all out to see changes over the next three years. We want to achieve a social revolution,” Dzulkifli said.

And he has also just launched the Anti-Corruption Revolution Movement (Gerah), a new initiative to fight corruption and abuse of power, aimed to create fear and uneasiness so that wrongdoers will feel the heat.

Despite drastic action from numerous operations with many arrests and prosecutions all these years, the fear for corruption is still very low while corruption remains high and this series of new initiatives is a social revolution via a quick and stern approach to eradicate corrupt practices at all levels.

For a start, the MACC will mobilise 2,000 officers from all over the country to meet the people directly and foster closer rapport and cooperation and for them to regard the MACC as part of their family.

Added to this is another campaign called “Jangan Hulur, Jangan Kawtim, Jangan Settle” or 3J (Don’t Give, Don’t Collude and Don’t Settle) with the Star Media Group as its partner.

Cases of abuse of power by officials dealing directly with members of the public who want to get things done fast in exchange for cash, in many cases running into tens of millions, uncovered by the MACC since Dzulkifli took over, have been so mind-boggling and even shaken the ordinary citizens to the core.

In one case, cool cash amounting to well over RM50 million was found stashed in a small room in Sabah and to me as a journalist, who has covered all sorts of corruption stories, this one certainly was the biggest amount ever involved.

I take this opportunity here to suggest to Islamic religious preachers, especially in the thousands of mosques and suraus in the nation, as well as for Malaysians of other faiths, to spread the fear of God in their sermons to deter the congregation from committing corruption.

I have been to virtually all parts of the country and in such religious lectures that I have attended, very rarely has the topic of corruption been raised.

Our ustaz and religious scholars need to help the MACC on this score.

When it comes to committing corruption, deemed a huge sin in Islam, even money in the form zakat or alms Muslims are required to give to the poor and needy was in the spotlight this week on the corruption front.

Twelve people, including several staff of the Zakat Centre in Penang were detained by the MACC after investigations showed that they had misappropriated millions.

Zakat centres in the country, many of which are cash rich, need to revisit their internal check and balance systems to prevent such abuse.

I must also thank Dzulkifli for texting me some extra remarks exclusively for the readers of this column which I attach below:

“The fight against corruption demands a holistic multi-pronged approach for it to be successful. The consistent and aggressive approach by MACC on operations and arrests though effective, would mean nothing if it is not supported by the masses and their ability to stand up and say ‘No’ to corruption.

“For this reason, I feel that it is necessary for MACC to adopt an approach to combat corruption that widely and genuinely seeks ‘citizen engagement’ which would advocate change in the people’s mindset towards corruption and abuse of power at its very core.

“We have to realise that corruption permeates the entire society and has an effect on people from all walks of life. Therefore the people must have the courage to change and the MACC is seeking to stand together in solidarity to bring about change now more than ever.”