IN memory of Bapa Malaysia Tunku Abdul Rahman, Lim Kit Siang has called on Malaysians to remember the late Tunku’s wish for Malaysia to be “a beacon of light in a difficult and distracted world”. Lim calls it “a sad indictment of Malaysian nation-building” that after six decades of nationhood the country is still hounded and haunted by narrow and intolerant politics of race and religion.And after independence in 1957, it is poignant that the country’s ranking in the corruption perceptions index (CPI) – the perceived level of public sector corruption in 180 countries – is at 57 in 2020.A year before when the country had moved up 10 places in 2019, Lim called on all sectors of society to aim not only for the best CPI score in 2020 but work “to ensure Malaysia can be placed in the top bracket in the top 30 countries in public integrity well before 2030”. Corruption occurs when a corruptor covertly gives a favour to a corruptee or to a nominee to influence action(s) that may benefit the corruptor or a nominee and for which the corruptee has authority (see Ian Senior, Corruption – The World’s Big C, IEA 2006).So, it takes two to tango. But so, too ,to combat corruption. Political leaders and citizens must come together. In his perceptive study on corruption and anti-corruption policies of governments, Senior observed that “some assert that corruption, particularly in developing countries, benefits the economy by making it work better rather than worse. For example, Theobald (1999) has argued that corruption doesn’t matter very much anyway. His title encapsulates his view: ‘So what really is the problem about corruption?’ His conclusion is that not only is the underpinning dichotomy merely descriptive and therefore analytically unproductive, but the consequent policy implications (relating to corruption) may be both misplaced and inappropriate.”Seemingly, therefore, corruption should be viewed as a storm in a teacup.Senior, though, rejected the view outright. He asserted that “corruption is economically undesirable wherever it exists: in any state, company or institution including those in the private sector, both for-profit and not-for-profit”.There is empirical evidence that firms which bribe bureaucrats spend more, not less, management time dealing with bureaucrats and face a higher, not lower, cost of capital.But to Senior, there is a more fundamental rejection of corruption. Corruption is a cancer. He wrote:“Cancer destroys individual bodies; corruption destroys institutions and societies. However, cancer spreads within a physical body but, not being contagious or infectious, remains within the body, corruption, by contrast, is both contagious and infectious. Unchecked and unpunished it can and does spread to other institutions and to other countries.”Just like doctors and scientists who are continually finding ways to eliminate cancer within the human body – like they are currently finding ways to fight the coronavirus – so must politicians and heads of institutions and departments find and apply ways to eliminate the cancer of corruption from the institutional bodies and departments over which they exert authority.When corruption has become ingrained, Senior pointed to the politicians as the “principal people who can change a culture of corruption if they wish to do”.This is because “they make the laws and allocate the funds that enable laws to be enforced. If, however, politicians at the top of the hierarchy have routinely worked their way up by accepting bribes to fund their parties and themselves, there is little prospect that they will wish to cleanse their colleagues or their nation of corruption. Those who have paid and received bribes know of too much dirty linen. If their party depends on corrupt donations, their aim is to garner donations as much as they wish to garner votes.”How then to get rid of corrupt politicians? Senior argued that a fully functional democracy “is the most effective way” and offered a recipe:“First find a completely uncorrupt politician and make him president or prime minister, whichever is the position of executive authority. Then let him appoint a cabinet of other ministers who also are untainted by corruption. Next pass laws that give freedom to the press, provide heavy penalties for proven corruption, give protection to whistle-blowers, and dismiss on the spot any minister, law-maker or functionary found to be corrupt. It is as simple as that …”At least in theory!Which is why to succeed in curbing corruption, the citizens, too, must not tolerate corruption and show that intolerance by electing into public office political leaders who are committed to clean and honest government.Both political leaders and citizens must tango together. Both must demonstrate the will to curb corruption. – February 14, 2021.* Hafiz Hassan reads The Malaysian Insight. * This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.
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