October 27, 2012
Can Asia Beat Corruption?
by Tunku Abdul Aziz@http://www.nst.com.my
ON October 2, I was invited to participate in a televised debate on corruption, organised by Channel News Asia as part of its Bridging Asia: The Singapore Debates. The motion before the house was “Can Asia Beat Corruption?”
Professor Mark Thompson, director, Southeast Asian Research Centre at the City University, Hong Kong, teamed up with prominent Singapore anti-corruption lawyer Wilson Ang to try and convince a critical studio audience that Asia could lick corruption, citing cases of countries once at the bottom of the Transparency International Perceptions Index and today showing signs of improvement.
They drew comfort from, and put great store by, the fact that nearly all Asian countries had introduced anti-corruption laws. But they forgot to mention that a million anti-corruption laws would amount to nothing without strong, effective enforcement.
In those countries, and to some extent in Malaysia, enforcement continued to be derisory. Laws are of course required for defining public service behaviour: they are essential for creating institutions, but of themselves, “as a deterrent to unethical public behaviour”, are largely ineffective.
Ann Florini, Professor of Public Policy, School of Social Sciences, Singapore Management University and I were not persuaded that Asia could confront corruption decisively because, unlike Singapore or Hong Kong, there was no evidence of strong political will emerging any time soon in much of Asia.
Good governance was totally absent in seriously corrupt societies where best practices were more observed in the breach than the observance. In such countries, corruption would continue to run its course with little or no prospect of even reducing it marginally.
I said that in the case of Singapore, which was once a very corrupt colonial backwater, if at the time of independence the city state was run by a bunch of crooks instead of Lee Kuan Yew, the course of its history might have been quite different.
Countries in Asia that managed their affairs well and supported their institutions, the likes of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia, while still wrestling with corruption at the national level, apparently had a better chance of reducing corruption substantially over a shorter time frame.
Ann Florini and I won the debate against worthy opponents. The verdict was that as long as Asia continued to pay lip service to fighting corruption in their societies, it would invariably be regarded as a profitable, low-risk enterprise. Corruption would be in robust good health.
Electronic voting was employed by those in the studio as well as those watching at home. I must say they do these things extremely well in Singapore, as indeed we have come to expect. I believe it is the institutions in which they worked that made the difference. Strong institutions produce highly motivated and competent people.
I remain unabashed and unrepentant in my complete support of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s national transformation programmes as I see in his initiatives a brave new approach to transparent and accountable governance for Malaysia, and not a day too soon.
Over the years, we have, largely by default, allowed unprincipled governance to take on a life of its own, with predictable consequences. These comprehensive transformation programmes, covering a whole range of critical social, economic, legislative and governance issues, once implemented, will help ensure for Malaysia a place of honour at the top table, among the “clean” nations of the world.
I am confident that as a result of these measures, we would be better armed and equipped to tackle the scourge of corruption head on. I am happy that the Najib administration has shown great moral strength to resist the temptation of turning the national transformation programmes into a political slogan: they are far too important for the long-term future of our nation to be trivialised and used as a political play thing.
They are not about scoring a political point. They are about getting the country out of its slumber, out of the rut and bouncing back with clear and transparent policies that will grow the economy, unite our people and ensure peace and harmony for all Malaysians.
The government should not be distracted by the mountains of lies and innuendoes spun without a break by the opposition “axis of evil”, with apologies to the junior Bush.
Najib must do whatever it takes legally to win big and win well to save the country from the clutches of unprincipled political adventurers, who, lacking experience, would be too risky a gamble to be allowed to govern this country.
Let me remind the Anwars and Guan Engs of this world that it is easier to destroy than to build.