Prevention is the best cure

CORRUPTION, healthcare costs, road accidents and fires all have something in common – they can be effectively minimised if the focus had been on prevention rather than cure.

The statistics are very high for all four issues and should be frowned upon.

The nation has been fighting corruption by means of a designated institution like the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) for well over 40 years but there is no light at the end of the tunnel. It has worsened despite the aggressive efforts of the MACC.

When Transparency International's next Corruption Perception Index is announced it's almost certain that our scores will be worse than last year's.

According to MACC Chief Commissioner Datuk Seri Shukri Abdull, the No. 1 cause of corruption is abuse of power.

And in the context of Malaysia, a fast developing country, where so much money is being moved around to implement projects, there are many opportunities to siphon off millions.

Which is why most of those under the MACC radar are public servants who have powers to implement projects.

When abuse of power kicks in, power such as the authority to approve tenders or worse when open tenders are compromised in favour of "direct negotiation", the cost of such projects would be fixed at well above what they should actually be.

This is ostensibly to pay for commissions meant for the players involved which for all intents and purposes is a huge loss of taxpayers' money.

Taking this cue, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad on Tuesday announced bold new measures to fight corruption, undoubtedly Malaysia's Enemy No 1, beginning with the reintroduction of the 1980's tagline "Kepimpinan Melalui Tauladan (Leadership by Example) originally meant to instil leadership values for civil servants and the people.

This time around, the slogan is focused on fighting corruption with a vengeance.

"Since the Pakatan Harapan government took over the administration, we have worked hard to fight corruption as it is one of our election pledges," Mahathir said, pointing to the formation of the Centre for Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption headed by former MACC chief Tan Sri Abu Kassim Mohamed.

This new body will assume much of the efforts of the MACC on the prevention front as the latter has been bogged down with enforcement and time-consuming investigation work.

Mahathir makes it clear that corruption can only be successfully curbed if the top leaders from the prime minister to ministers and elected representatives are truly free from corrupt practices.

"Good example must be shown by the leadership. If the prime minister, deputy prime minister and ministers are not involved in corruption, the chances of reducing or eliminating corruption will be better.

"If we ask those under us to fight corruption but we ourselves don't, then corruption will continue to happen," he said.

To walk the talk, Mahathir said all cabinet ministers, deputy ministers and Pakatan members of Parliament will now be required to declare their assets to the MACC.

The civil service has been tainted with many major cases of corruption with the most shocking one being the discovery of over RM50 million in the house of a senior civil servant in Sabah two years ago.

There is a lot more that secretaries-general of ministries should do to plug the bleeding of public funds via financial mismanagement.

By the same token, when we talk of our very high statistics on fatal road accidents, the Road Safety Department should come out with more proactive and out-of-the-box measures to reduce wanton loss of lives on our highways and byways.

We have one of if not the highest rates of road fatalities in the world as measured per 100,000 vehicles.

Reading news reports of these tragedies that sometimes killed an entire family can be heart-wrenching not to mention the fact that the majority of the average 6,700 people killed annually are motorcyclists and pillion riders.

This is a huge toll on our human resource especially the younger generation and they form the highest amount of compensation paid out annually by the Social Security Organisation running into billions, for deaths that occurred to and from their workplace.

Then I would like to suggest that the Fire and Rescue Department, or Bomba, do much more to create awareness of fire prevention and safety than what they have been doing.

The last big fire that occurred at a religious residential school at Kampung Pandan in Kuala Lumpur last year killed 21 young boys and two wardens again drove home the message that the authorities have been closing one eye on such premises, seemingly due to religious sensitivities.

There should not be a double standard when it comes to enforcing fire safety rules or laws in the interest of saving lives because there had been many such school fires including the hostel fire in Kedah many years ago where 27 students were killed.

In fact, enforcement by Bomba on such premises should be stricter than say at an office building which are not occupied after office hours compared to a hostel where students are residing.

There is a need for a mindset change on fire safety in society and Bomba could also make it mandatory for all homes to install a portable fire extinguisher at the very least, while regular fire drills should be the norm at workplaces and schools.

But the most important of all is prevention efforts by the Health Ministry and concerned NGOs to educate the public on a healthy lifestyle to bring down significantly the huge cost of healthcare.

If this is not done in a concerted or consistent manner, the day might come when such costs borne by the taxpayers would become unsustainable and the country would end up having more sick people than we can afford to treat, both financially and in terms of manpower.

For example, the government spends some RM2 billion yearly just to provide medicines for its 1.6 million civil servants, a group that should set a good example on staying healthy to the other 30 million Malaysians.

Spare a thought for this, you guys.

In this regard, national news agency Bernama has launched a new site called HEALTH on its news portal Bernama.com

It's a gateway to simple and informative news and tips on health and wellness.

Maintaining wellness and optimal health is essential in building a healthy nation.

Prevention is not only better than cure, it is the best cure.

Comments: letters@thesundaily.com