Plug the loopholes?

ON July 1, 61 years ago, a modest land scheme authority was set up which later became the country's pride. But thanks to endemic corruption all is not well at the world's third largest oil palm plantation operator.

With each passing day many are hoping that the number of corruption cases will fizzle out. On the contrary, it seems to get "bigger". This is demonstrated by FGV (Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd) when it made the headlines recently, taking the issue to a more complex level that threatens far more livelihoods than before.

As the FVG boardroom polemics became public and the personalities involved exposed – more people are having misgivings. Many people are dumbfounded as some of the personalities are spent forces who have lost their appeal but are still clinging on. This sets the stage for corruption "fatigue".

Malaysians are just too tired to cope with the worsening corruption rearing its head almost everywhere. Sadly, even one of our most celebrated flagships that has given hope to many Malaysians to live with dignity is now being devoured.

In a wink, the country's position on the world map, in relation to eradicating poverty and instilling social justice and integrity among its citizens, slipped into oblivion.

Launched by the first prime minister in 1956, Felda used to stand tall as its members took part in the march past during Merdeka celebrations. We took pride that Felda has survived many trials while embracing the concept of "sustainability" ahead of its time. It is not only "inter-generational" and
"transformational" in its impact, it is also community-focused involving millions of families and individuals who benefited from its ventures. This is no small feat in the battle against poverty and in correcting socio-economic imbalances and historical injustices. Felda is now a household name and internationally recognised for its credible effort to restructure communities and give them a better quality of life.

The CEO of one of its subsidiaries is said to be among the many examples of the kind of successes that the scheme has been identified with. They are living testimonies to what Felda is all about.

While it is hard to imagine that there were no corrupt practices along the way, the cases (if any) do not seem distracting relative to what is happening today. The latter threatens to obliterate Felda as a trusted global brand.

This is now the concern with one subsidiary – FGV that came into being in 2007. It was intended to have a greater reach and presence globally which it did, but only to be tainted a mere decade down the road. News was rife of bad vibes within the subsidiary hinting at the loss of public confidence in the "leadership" marked by a voluntary resignation. FGV shares soared nearly 5% in response to the resignation and changes to positions in the company. MACC has interviewed about 60 people including the former FGV chairman and his wife.

Another factor contributes to the fatigue: the recycling of leaders with "questionable" reputations, sometimes more than once! There is not even a "cooling-off" period, let alone a leave of absence. Nor is there any explanation for the decision.

Are we desperate for credible leaders to fill key posts? If so, it is very sad to note that over six decades not a single Felda "insider" has been groomed for such an eventuality in terms of capacity building. And if it is not so, it is sadder still as to why the recycling is necessary. What's the big "deal" (pun intended)? Ultimately, it is tantamount to the lack of political wisdom rooted in the nasty habits of money politics that has kept corruption alive to enable the corrupt to climb back in and stay "protected" within the political system.

There is a fundamental flaw creating loopholes to be exploited. Unless this is rectified there will never be a time where entities like FGV can be corrupt-free no matter how hard MACC works.

We must insist on a corrupt-proof ecosystem covering not just matters of monitoring and investigation (thumbs up to MACC) but also aspects of selection, appointment and retention which ought to be equally robust if the merry-go-round syndrome is to be dismantled.

Whenever there is a scandal, those responsible for the selection and appointment must be held accountable as an "accomplice" until there is strong evidence to indicate otherwise. It is well known that when the "gatekeepers" are indisciplined and corrupt, they have no qualms about letting their kind of people through as long as there are strings attached. This is one weakness that must be stamped out if ever Felda is to regain its footing with its reputation again flying high on the world map.

Until then the corruption fatigue will hang shamefully over our heads, something that Malaysia can ill-afford.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that "another world is possible". Comments: