Malaysia's Silent Killer
This article was featured in Organisation for National Empowerment (ONE)'s website.
Do you know anyone who has given bribes? I am sure many of us Malaysians do. Our country is infected with a cancer. If left unchecked, the cancer will spread everywhere and eventually kill Malaysia. My essay will touch on 3 points: the gravity of corruption; our current approach to tackling it; and how can we as a nation can do better in overcoming corruption.
Corruption is a serious, if not the most pressing issue in Malaysia. The perception of corruption in Malaysia is very real. According to a recent survey done by Merdeka Centre, 51% of Malaysian voters believe fighting corruption should be the government’s top priority.1 That means at least half of the rakyat believe our number 1 issue is corruption. When we look at the world, Malaysia’s standing is mediocre at best. Malaysia ranked 53rd out of 177 countries last year in the Corruption Perceptions Index.2 There was a slight improvement – we moved up by one place from 54th in 2012 down to 53rd in 2013. Auditor firm KPMG did a survey among Malaysia’s top CEOs and released its report recently. Its findings were worrying. 7 out of 10 corporate leaders believe bribery and corruption is an inevitable cost of doing business. 3 The former President of Transparency International Malaysia, Datuk Paul Low has long called on government to take bold steps. The government took the bold step of appointing Datuk Paul Low as a Minister in charge of good governance and transparency. Despite the seriousness of the issue, I believe our country is moving in the right direction.
Under Prime Minister Najib Razak, his government has made addressing corruption as one of its main priorities. Evidently, Fighting Corruption is one of the 7 National Key Results Area or NKRAs under the Government Transformation Programme (GTP) 4. According to the agency handling it, PEMANDU, the first phase of fighting corruption is centred on strengthening existing institutions. Some of these measures were introducing the Whistleblower Protection Act, establishing special courts to expedite corruptions cases and setting up a ‘name and shame’ database. This approach was mostly top down. Moving forward to 2nd phase, the government has taken a more holistic approach by raising awareness on its initiatives. If you listen to the radio, watch the TV or go on social media, you might have heard advertisements by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC). Moreover, MACC sent ‘integrity officers’ to each Ministry to monitor and curb corruption. The reforms have complemented the MACC. Recently in the news, the MACC remanded a special officer to a Cabinet Minister for corruption.5 However, many would question ‘catching the big fish’ or ‘Grand Corruption’ and it is understandably important. Nonetheless, it is encouraging to see MACC taking the bold step to probe into a Minister’s inner circle. At the very least, it is a good start. Nonetheless, some progress has been made but corruption remains a major issue. We can take another perspective on how we can address the issue better.
No government in the world can overcome corruption on its own. The solution in combating corruption lies in every Malaysian. Corruption affects the whole nation; it affects all of us. Thus, government officials, opposition leaders, NGOs and the rakyat have a shared responsibility as stakeholders to address corruption. We can take a leaf from Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).6 The ICAC has been credited in turning Hong Kong from once a heavily corrupted region into one of the cleanest places in the world. ICAC uses a three-pronged approach to corruption: law enforcement, prevention and education. We should focus on education. In a survey conducted by PEMANDU among university students, a majority of 1,800 undergraduates felt it was “okay” to give and take bribes when in power.7 This study is troubling. As citizens, we have an obligation to learn about corruption and educate people in our circle of influence, particularly our family. MACC can start providing the public, specifically parents the tools and resources (e.g. brochures, workshops). The community can, then, run its own initiatives such as action groups to further education on corruption. We cannot just outsource our duty to the teachers and the government. We are all stakeholders. When we are involved and feel we are involved, it not only puts pressure on the government but reduces the perception of corruption. ICAC largely credited the community for its success. We should be optimistic Malaysians can come together to fight corruption just like how Hong Kong did it.
Corruption is the most pressing issue in Malaysia not only due to strong public perception but the damage done is critical. While the government has made strides in taking effective steps to address corruption, it can and must do more. Everyone from political leaders to the community is a stakeholder and must be involved in combating corruption because it affects everyone. Only when everyone is involved against corruption can Malaysia put an end to this cancer. We have to kill the silent killer before it slowly kills our nation.