People’s will in fighting corruption

WHENEVER corruption in the public sector is talked about in Malaysia, the agencies that are perceived to be among the most susceptible are the Police, Immigration, Customs, JPJ (Jabatan Pengangkutan Jalan). The Fire Department and Income Tax Department are also named as are the various departments handling government procurement.

No prizes for guessing as these are the agencies and departments that have regular, face-to-face dealings with the public. They issue permits, approve licences and award projects, and in the case of non-compliance impose summonses, determine fines and execute raids and arrests.

A large part of servicing the public also involves handling appeals and reviews. Underscoring these transactions on paper are of course the monetary considerations, some resulting in great losses or huge gains for the individuals and their cohorts.

Public service involves layers of direct negotiations with the people where subjective decisions sometimes have to be made by the civil servant. It is at this point that his duty to assist members of the public may be interpreted as their obligation to reciprocate with thanks. This is where the open spirit of give and take underlying Malaysia's multicultural traditions may lead to the clandestine giving and taking in the form of bribery and corruption.

While the overriding argument is that public servants have a moral obligation to carry out their work without fear or favour, the public have to be equally responsible by not tempting them with bribes. In the equation of bribery and corruption, the giver is as guilty as the taker. Unless and until Malaysians stop giving bribes, the culture of corruption will continue shamelessly. Who, then, do you point your fingers at?

I would to share a perspective on corruption contributed by a young Facebook friend TZK:

"Many Malaysians claim the moral high ground by saying they do not practise corruption and hence have the right to voice out their grouses against the establishment for corrupt practices. They regularly cast aspersions on the effectiveness and efficiency of the MACC, the country's anti-corruption agency.

"There are a few questions these moralists need to answer before condemning the MACC for not catching the "big fish".

If you know that:

your friends and colleagues are involved in corrupt practices, would you turn him/her in to the MACC?

your superior/manager/director is involved in corrupt practices, would you turn him/her in to the MACC?

your family members, i.e. your siblings, parents, cousins, aunts and uncles are involved in corrupt practices, would you turn him/her in to the MACC?

And if you turn in all the above persons to the MACC, would you be willing to stand in the witness dock to testify against them in court?

"If your answer is "Yes" to all the four questions, you are indeed a moral person. If you have answered "Maybe" or "No" to any of the questions, you might want to reconsider your accusations before hurling them at the MACC.

"The MACC is the enforcement body tasked with fighting corruption, and its personnel as well as affiliated panels and boards ensure its independence and integrity in doing so.

However, much as the anti-corruption efforts are carried out officially at the level of reporting and investigating to come up with evidence and proof that a corrupt act can be ascertained, a lot of information still lies in the hands of the Malaysian public.

"The real problem is if the people themselves condone corruption by choosing not to cooperate with the authorities, is it fair to blame the enforcement agencies and the justice system for failing to put the corrupted Malaysians behind bars? The key witnesses in a corruption trial are often people who are close to the accused. If they are not prepared to testify in court there is a high likelihood that the case will be dismissed and the corrupted person will get away scot free.

"Corruption exists in every society to a lesser or greater degree. Corrupt people are found anywhere in the world – Singapore, Hong Kong, UK, US, Africa, China and Australia. The difference between Malaysians and citizens of the countries where corruption has been greatly reduced lies in the fact that they are better educated about the pitfalls of corruption. The main difference is that they are willing to cooperate with the enforcement agencies – not to break the laws but to reinforce them with a greater civic consciousness. They understand that to eradicate corruption, the people themselves must be law abiding in all aspects of their lives. The people's will is all important.

"So before we judge others, look at the man in the mirror. If we are true advocates of a corruption-free society, play a positive role in the anti-corruption war as we are the real soldiers on the ground. If corruption-ridden Hong Kong can do it so can Malaysia".

The writer keenly follows developments in politics, culture and education. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com