Corruption - Prevention is the key

THE mood among the top management of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) was one of deep disappointment recently when Transparency International released its latest much-awaited corruption perception index (CPI).

Malaysia's ranking was worse than what everyone had expected. This time dropping seven rungs from 55 to 62 out of 180 countries. And our CPI score declining two steps to 47/100, below the perceived passing mark of 50/100.

It's public knowledge given the extensive media publicity since Tan Sri Dzulkifli Ahmad took over as the MACC chief commissioner 18 months ago that the anti-corruption drive has been more robust and effective.

This resulted in more public officials coming under its radar and a record number of arrests of those suspected of taking bribes, sometimes running into tens of millions.

With more successes against operators and collaborators in the realm of corruption, the MACC had expected the good news of a more positive CPI but this was not to be and so it's understandable that everyone in its corridors was very upset.

But if we look at the way the CPI works, there is a co-relation between a more aggressive fight against corruption as the MACC is doing and the index itself.

This is the irony of the situation.

It means that if more people are arrested and prosecuted within the period covered by the CPI, then it also shows that there is an increase in the number of corruption cases being uncovered. In other words, the environment for committing corrupt practice is "fertile" otherwise it's tougher or near impossible for anyone to give or receive a bribe.

Just like in the enforcement and prevention of crime by the police, if more criminals are arrested or accounted for, the crime index will rise.

What this also means is that in my opinion, the MACC should not be too upset over any CPI finding but instead continue to be relentless in its anti-corruption drive. It has done an excellent job.

As Dzulkifli himself rightly reacted when the CPI was released, it was not solely due to corruption per se in its narrow sense but the decline in other factors in the country as well.

A newly-appointed honorary adviser in the MACC, Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, has cited a number of such factors that could influence the CPI rankings that have to do with good governance, including the growing religious and racial intolerance and wastage of public funds.

While the MACC has more than achieved its key performance indicators, one area that I strongly feel that should be beefed up is prevention.

To me, prevention is the key if ever we are to achieve the goal of containing or minimising corruption because everyone knows that the scourge cannot be eliminated.

It's not for nothing that corruption is billed as the world's second oldest profession.

The MACC's high public profile now has a lot to do with effective enforcement but more ought to done in prevention.

The word "prevention" itself appears in the very name of this agency whether in its upgraded present status as a commission or its predecessor, Badan Pencegah Rasuah or Anti-Corruption Agency.

This means that our lawmakers who passed the successive Acts in Parliament to set up these bodies wanted prevention to be the core business.

More effective prevention efforts could lead to the window of opportunity to demand for a bribe and to give as well to be not as widely open or rampant as they now seem to be.

How else could one explain the case of one arrest made by the MACC over a year ago that led to the discovery of over RM50 million cash stashed in the home of one civil servant?

Corruption no longer involves just thousands of ringgit but runs well into millions.

We certainly need more of what I would call anti-corruption "icons" to spread or instil the phobia against committing corruption.

Merely arresting and charging those corruptors might act as a phobia but let's go beyond this by having some of those who have served time in jail to tell their stories about the "hell" they went through following their involvement in this crime.

Many might not want to expose themselves after their release from prison but for some who want to do their bit so that others would think many times before they commit a corrupt act, they should be encouraged to come forward.

In this regard, the MACC already has at least one such icon.

He is a former magistrate, now only in his early forties, who in 2012 was sentenced to three years' jail for accepting a bribe and upon his release has been going round the country with the prevention unit in MACC giving talks and taking part in its integrity teambuilding campaigns.

Such campaigns are mainly done in government agencies and government-linked companies where this former magistrate spoke about the sufferings he and his family went through during his arrest, conviction and imprisonment.

He has written a book about his traumatic experience and if the MACC can get more such people to speak up, we can expect the prevention side of fighting corruption to bear fruit to break the backbone of corruption.

There's tremendous wisdom in the saying "Prevention is better than cure" and it's even more relevant and compelling in the fight against corruption.