The Missing Ingredient in National Reform–The Political Will to Fight Corruption

January 24, 2015

The Missing Ingredient in National Reform–The Political Will to Fight Corruption

by R.B. Bhattacharjee


Turbulent times like the current era, when our nation is facing multiple crises on the economic, political and even constitutional fronts, prompt some soul-searching questions.

One query that arises when reforms are proposed to address a particular issue, be it corruption, the quality of education, religious intolerance or similar weighty matters, is: Why do we feel that despite the wealth of well-intentioned solutions that are proposed, there is a strong sense of uncertainty about their outcomes?

Are there some missing ingredients that are essential for change to be successful? This is important to ponder not only because massive amounts of resources are committed towards the achievement of their proposed goals, but also because the failure of these efforts carry huge costs for society in terms of lost opportunities and poor life outcomes for the victims.

At this point, it is useful to note that this dilemma is equally pertinent in relation to global conundrums such as the world economic (dis)order, climate change and the perpetual geopolitical crisis.

It seems incredible that entire institutions and even multi-stakeholder organisations can be engaged in extensive programmes that can run for decades without paying attention to this fundamental deficiency in the results department.

Cash is King

The paradox becomes clear when an issue like corruption is examined. The givens include Malaysia’s troubling ranking in corruption surveys, which has been trending downwards for at least more than a decade. In the Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, for example, Malaysia dropped 14 places from 36th spot among some 170 countries in 2001 to 50th position in 2014.

It is pertinent to note that the decline continued even after extensive efforts to reform the situation, including the establishment of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in 2009.

To see it from a different angle, The Global Competitiveness Report 2014-15 by the World Economic Forum found corruption to be the most problematic factor by far for doing business in Malaysia .Some 17% of respondents cited this point out of 16 parameters in its survey. This issue jumps out of the page when compared to the next highest factor, access to financing, which drew 9.7% of responses, while the remaining factors taper off in importance.

The paradox of Malaysia’s growing corruption problem in the face of conspicuous efforts by the government to address the scourge prompted the Malaysian Bar, in association with several advocacy groups, to submit a memorandum for the reform of the MACC to the commission in July 2015.

The timely memorandum identifies four substantive areas of institutional reforms that are pivotal to the successful prosecution of corrupt persons. These areas are:

  • the creation of a constitutional mandate for the anti-corruption commission that places it beyond the control of the executive enlargement of the scope of the MACC Act 2009 amendments to related legislation to support whistleblowing, etc, and the separation of powers between the Attorney-General and Public Prosecutor.
  • This brings us back to the question of the missing ingredients that may prevent these much-needed reforms from being successfully adopted. The first of these elements is the obvious cooperation that is needed from the executive to limit its own powers. In turn, such a development can follow only when the number of voters who are responsive to issues of good governance is substantial enough to prevent unethical politicians from taking office or to remove those who are abusing their powers.
  • That, in turn, is a factor of the health of a society’s democratic institutions and the public expectations about their rights, liberties and responsibilities in a civil society.
  • Beyond these institutional factors, however, there is another dimension of a society’s democratic culture that may be overlooked because of its subtle quality. This is the element of the individual’s self-identification with an ethical value system that breathes life into a code of conduct or norms of behaviour.

While it is common to draw these values from religious and institutional codes of ethics, there is a tendency to confuse the formal rules of these codes with the spirit of ethical behaviour that is at the core of such rules.

These are the values that manifest as decency, public-spiritedness, compassion, fellow-feeling, humility, thoughtfulness, honesty, generosity and many such beautiful sentiments that adorn civilised human beings.They are meaningless when codified, but the lack of this spirit of ethical conduct in an institution, organisation or society will surely rob that entity of meaningful purpose.

So while the battle against corruption serves as a useful example to demonstrate the vital importance of a spirit of ethical behaviour in sustaining a purposeful existence, the same principle is equally valid when applied to the many challenges we face as a nation, and as a global community.

To build a new future for our people, we may need to learn once more how to infuse this universal spirit of ethical conduct into the child who sits on our knee.And to teach this lesson well, the best precept may well be our own example. –

* R.B. Bhattacharjee is Associate Editor at The Edge Malaysia.


14 thoughts on “The Missing Ingredient in National Reform–The Political Will to Fight Corruption

  1. It is not political will but the overhaul of the core values of people in Malaysia.

    Politicians and people in public office are actively engaged institutionalised corruption. To expect them to fight corruption? You must be joking. For such corruption to stop, we need a radical change in the thinking and core values of Malaysians. If the masses do not take this kind of nonsense and show loudly and openly, corruption will decline.

  2. “Why do we feel that despite the wealth of well-intentioned solutions that are proposed, there is a strong sense of uncertainty about their outcomes?”

    Is this really what passes as journalism these days ?

  3. Now that they have PAS as their partner in crime? EVEN if Najib and Mahathir agree to fight it and give up all their billions, they will fail. It IS TOO LATE. CORRUPTION is part of Malay and it has for centuries eventually part of Islamic statism, even worst version

  4. Corruption is worldwide and has always been there. The only difference is the degree and the level of sophistication.

    Some countries pay very high remuneration packages to those with power and then have high penalties to deter all. This is upfront method. This is the ethical way to reward and thus this might be the best corruption method against which there is little opposition.

    Most countries pay small remuneration but have lax laws and nominal enforcement and penalties and thus make corruption as an accepted culture. The ordinary citizens are ‘corrupted’ with subsidies and handouts on a regular basis to keep them addicted to subsidies/handouts which ensure that they will never use their minds if they have it as if used they may realize that they get peanuts while those on top continue to plunder.

    Developed countries with ‘advanced’ economies use the laws to ensure that the rich have tax-exempt incomes and thus this may be referred to as ‘legalized’ corruption.

  5. ‘conspicuous efforts by the government’ appears to be a misnomer especially when the perception may be that the ‘govt’ is pro-corruption.

  6. @muthu is right. dato din shared the wsj article he linked at the bottom. we got to change entire political system. it is not about race, culture or religion. it is about feudal statism. need to get organized. if we are really machiavelli, we know we got to make that change. time to be greedy and be that politician. time to be kj 🙆

    whether we view corruption as a cause or a symptom has major consequences. Chinese President Xi Jinping insists that corruption must be stamped out, but he never addresses the underlying problem: the Communist Party’s monopoly of power, which continues to create economic imbalances, stifle opportunity and enrich party cronies.

  7. Corrupt leaders are traitors to the Nation because they steal the people’s money alloted for defense, schools, hospitals, amenities, food for the poor etc

    Corrupt leaders are heartless and ruthless
    Do you think out leaders care for the people!?
    Politicians also gang up with bizmen and corporates to screw the people?

  8. Agree with Muthu. Politicians only care for themselves plus those that finance them into power.
    But within a nation of followers, what you need is a true LEADER, not more useless politicians who care for themselves, every single time, there is an election.
    Be the change you want to see within yourself, and stop waiting for change!

  9. Look folks the issue here is that nobody trusts the System – and with good reason. Nobody has any faith in the System because nobody wants to confront issues like race and religion because (1) fear but more likely (2) it is not politically expedient to do so.

    People (generally) in Western societies trust their System because there are checks and balances built within the System. The System is flawed as it would be because we are talking about human beings and not machines.

    However democracies (Western) have evolved to a point where the confluence of the Legislative, Judicial , Enforcement and Media, working independently have managed to maintain some kind equilibrium that keeps corruption in check.

    Decentralized power, a free media, a vocal and active citizenry but most importantly people who feel they are part of System is what will make changes in the System .

  10. To fight corruption, you must have uncorrupt people who can enforce the anti-corruption provisions. If the top politicians are corrupt, there is no way for them to police their underlings. As long as money politics is practised by UMNO, then there the political will cannot be realized. How to have the political will if you are not elected in the first place?

  11. UMNOb ask “If its ain’t broken, why fix it” Corruption is UMNO’s way of life and have benefitted them tremendously so why change the system.

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