Ethics, corruption and courage

ALL of us face challenging situations in our personal and professional lives that have required of us to make ethical decisions.

It is easier at the personal level – family, relatives, friends and acquaintances – and even if the decision is later questioned, there are lessons to be learnt. At the professional level, the fall out can be ever so serious and have great consequences.

However, what does one do when the working climate is one where there are many issues that do not sit well with one’s own sense of conscience?

The options are to just accept the situation, dull one’s sense of conscience, adopt the majority culture, maintain silence and in many ways, be silently complicit to all the corruption, conflict of interest, cronyism and other evident compromises.

How else can one accept that we live in a nation that has produced the greatest global “kleptocrat” in modern times, a former prime minister now facing trials. I am sure there were many who saw all the lapses. Some of his well-educated cabinet colleagues must have had reservations about all that was happening.

You do not need any qualification to be a politician in this country. In fact, some have educational credentials that are questionable or faked. All have reasons for their silence. Without their political positions, many would be reduced to nothing.

It is about the hierarchy, the titles, salary and perks and all the benefits that come with the job not to mention their power to dispense benefits. So why rock the boat. “It’s OK everyone sees it and are silent.” So, the mob psychology takes over.

This is much more dangerous in Malaysia where the hierarchy is sustained by a culture of non-questioning of people in higher authority. The norm is to follow the leader, “no ifs and no buts”. When you have mediocrity generally all round, silence is often the best option. Very rarely is there a creative option on the table.

When this culture is fossilised over years with one predominant race at the helm, many find it difficult to deal with leaders from other ethnic groups who are used to questioning and reasoning. Add to this the factor of racism and you have a situation that now describes the state of the nation. The inability to accept other Malaysians as part of the ruling elite has its fallout.

We have just dropped further down the rungs of the corruption perceptions index released by Transparency International.

Malaysia fell five rungs and some of the reasons attributed to this relate to the dropping of charges against Musa Aman and Najib’s stepson. For the Attorney-General’s Chambers to drop all 46 charges is to make a mockery of prosecution.

The perception of high-level involvement and trade-offs seems plausible. Where has the self-respect of the office of the A-G gone? What drives well-trained graduates in law to accept such decisions? This is not space science. You can make your own guess. It could just be a directive.

They have to ask themselves whether they were violating any civil and criminal law or protecting someone from prosecution. The reason given that a letter from an earlier A-G satisfies them does not sit well with the public at large. How is his credibility perceived?

What did this all lead to eventually? An election in Sabah; a rise in the number of Covid-19 cases there and a new state government. The second question would have been to ask if the decision taken was balanced in the short and long term.

While the answer could be very subjective the third question about how this would have made individuals within the AGC feel as well as the perception among the public who were shocked by this announcement.

Many would have silently accepted and spoken adversely behind the back of the authorities. Would they be proud about this decision within their department and how would they explain this to their friends and family?

For any individual with a deep sense of conscience they would have been clearly disturbed by the decision made. The herd mentality takes over and when you have an executive that is not known for trust or integrity then his political interests take precedence. How does an individual of conscience take responsibility under these circumstances?

An executive branch that is large enough to buy loyalty, that can dish out positions in GLCs and GLICs as well as provide other benefits. Does this not smack of corruption and cronyism?

One minister wanted his son to be appointed to the board of a GLC. Consider all that they have been able to dish out to secure loyalty and obedience over the years and one can understand how this branch of office needs to be held to account.

Ethnicity is an expression of identity not a value or a norm. Racism promotes an apartheid complex, a toxic atmosphere and this eventually destroys the racist themselves for there is nothing inclusive in their appeal.

In the end, this leads to fragmentation as is so evident among the “ketuanan Melayu” group. Even Bersatu is not “bersatu”.

The Institute Integrity Malaysia undertook to train integrity officers. Many got certified and were present in several ministries.

However, they were not given the power to exercise their role and when some did so they were threatened with cold storage or posted to other states. We must understand that these interests within the politics and administration of our nation represent very powerful vested interests.

Had the Pakatan Harapan government succeeded in appointing an ombudsman, we would have had some opportunity to make a difference. We know what has happened to whistle-blower Rafizi Ramli relating to the “cowgate” issue, Bank Negara and the cases against him.

Several of our regulatory bodies have come under focus regarding corruption. The Companies Commission Malaysia, the retirement of a governor of Bank Negara, conflict of interest with the Securities Commission and issues in the judiciary to mention a few.

How can a truly conscience sensitive individual, a god-fearing person tolerate such levels of corruption that is so evident. There will come a time when his/her toleration point snaps and he speaks out. The entire establishment than comes down like a tonne of bricks for such exposure will indict many.

This is now evident in the judiciary. The call for a royal commission of inquiry which would have been a fairer approach has been set aside. When professionals step out and take a stand they do so at enormous cost. It takes a lot of courage and conviction.

If we are serious and have the political will to deal with corruption then we need to give primacy to the setting up of the office of the ombudsman. Let us learn from countries like New Zealand and consider the best practices they adopt.

Second, these corrupt officials act with subtlety and it is difficult to prosecute them unless you extend more protection to whistle-blowers. For those sincere ones, who find the incongruency between beliefs, prayers and actions and who want to make a difference, will need the support of all fair-thinking individuals.

Such individuals need encouragement and without whistle-blowers, it is difficult to unhinge cronyism, nepotism and conflict of interest that bedevil our nation. You need to get the facts and the actors before prosecution can take place. Corruption thrives in the dark and is often a consensual crime.

There is no right way to do a wrong thing. Will those with spine serving in our executive, the legislature and the judiciary stand up to make a difference for how else can we preserve, protect and defend our constitution. The time is now. – February 3, 2021.  

* K. Haridas 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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