October 14, 2012
Who is to blame for graft?
By Datin Halimah Mohd Said*@http://http://www.thesundaily.my
VERY few of us can profess to be scrupulously clean in all senses of the word – physical, ethical or moral. In one way or another, we’ve had to compromise our integrity however we choose to define the concept. Yes, few among us are saints who can claim to be whiter than white.
For most, there might have been instances in our lives when we could not walk the straight and narrow; there would have been occasions when we told a white lie or slanted an argument to preserve peace and harmony. They say every man or woman has a price, that is humans are corruptible, if not in their bodies at least in their minds and hearts.
People perceive something as the truth and will swear they have spoken the truth and nothing less, but even in a court of law we know that this is open to interpretation. We may lay out the bare facts and evidence but their validity is interpretable by judges, lawyers and laymen alike. Beyond reasonable doubt may be determined by legal minds but the truth beyond all doubts is the prerogative of the Almighty alone.
As succinctly expounded in one theory of communication and cognition – Relevance (Sperber & Wilson 1986) – the human mind has the greatest capacity for interpreting the information it receives from the immediate context against the huge knowledge repertoire embedded in its recesses.
The more information and knowledge it has, the more the potential for interpretation as it tries to make sense or cognise, often selecting a particular line of logic or reasoning. Even pure sensory input is interpreted, hence “corrupted” by the mind.
An explanation in cognitive terms is that whether the mind processes information in real or delayed time, it is selective and foregrounds the interpretation that is most relevant to it, which will provide it with the most relevant meanings and implications.
On the communicators’ side, they can wilfully select what they think are relevant and articulate it convincingly as the “truth”. Among the professionals, lawyers take this mental versatility seriously, making it their business to interpret the law in pursuit of their client’s interests. Some, as we know, have literally gotten away with murder. Ordinary people are more susceptible to their personal perceptions and will argue for them, however skewed the arguments may seem to others.
Simply put, faced with the vicissitude of life’s demands and the multitude of variables in society, the potential for self-interpretation is tremendous and more often than not overwhelms the search for fairer and more objective “truths”, if not absolute truth. These days everyone seems to have an opinion about what they consider as the truth, and the opinionated among them sometimes succeed in brandishing it as God’s truth.
For instance, interpretations of what constitute societal corruption are as many as there are crimes against society. Many consider accepting bribes as a despicable crime of corruption that has far-reaching implications for society. They demand that the offenders be tried for their crimes and meted out due punishment.
The outcry is for the “big fish” in the public and private sectors to be caught and made examples of, so that their smaller fishy subordinates in the organisation will not commit similar acts. The oft-quoted case is where low-ranking police constables audaciously admit to taking bribes because they say their superiors right up the ranks are accepting bigger “ang pows” from the underworld.
Fair and logical reasoning provides another interpretation of bribery – that there cannot be takers if there are no givers in the first place, so people who offer bribes must be as liable to prosecution as those who accept them, no matter which party initiates the transaction.
The answers to the question of who is to blame and who is responsible in the war against corruption must be prioritised lest it be turned into another vicious circle of finger-pointing. The big fish who takes huge bites of the bribery bait must be as relentlessly pursued as the little ones enjoying the smaller bites. The abuse of power by government officials and those they do business with at the expense of public interest must be seen as societal corruption of the highest order.
Honesty, uprightness, ethics and morality are among the virtues explicated in all religions and they must be prioritised over and above material development. It is the responsibility of every Malaysian to imbue these values in their lives at home, in the organisation and among the community.
Don’t just point fingers at the authorities when things go awry or when corruption becomes rampant in the nation. Ask yourself who really are to blame; who are the real offenders? The anti-corruption war will succeed only if you are prepared to walk the straight and narrow and fight corruption. This is an interpretation of a societal “truth” that must be taken seriously.
*Datin Halimah Mohd Said serves as Advisor to MACC and is President of Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason Association.