No quick fix in fight against corruption

THE Perak sultan yesterday launched M. Kamal Hassan’s “Corruption And Hypocrisy in Malay Muslim Politics”. The book was published in January 2021 and I reviewed it last July.

A Malay version has also been released but this royal launch was for the English edition only. The Malay version was not even mentioned. I wonder how the language nationalists feel about that.

The sultan’s 45-minute speech and the author’s subsequent remarks were followed by an hour of panel discussion comprising former journalist and chairman of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Johan Jaafar, academic architect and public intellectual Tajuddin Rasdi, and Hafiz Saleh Hudin from the International Islamic University Malaysia. It was moderated by Annuar Zaini, former Bernama chairman. 

Halfway into his speech, the sultan revealed that his state religious department (of which he is titular head) had ordered 2,000 copies of the book to be distributed to the state’s imams as material for their sermons. For added measure, at the end of his speech, the sultan ordered two new supplications, condemning corruption, to be recited during Friday sermons. That was his solution to the endemic, entrenched corruption in the country. In short, the sultan echoed Kamal’s thesis in his book that the answer to Malay society’s corruption is more religion – Islam – to be specific.

The sultan is the head of Islam in his state. Nazrin played that role to the hilt that morning, quoting the Quran and hadith more than a dozen times.

I cannot help but feel how far detached from reality the whole programme and participants were. No one suggested learning from nations that had successfully tackled the problem, like Singapore. Nor did anyone mention or allude to the perverse, if not pathological, national deification of that traitor “Bossku” Najib Razak. The young participant from the Islamic university, Hafiz, briefly mentioned his displeasure about the incident during the ensuing panel discussion. 

The programme could have been tackled very differently and created a great national impact. 

Imagine if at the end of the ceremony, there was an announcement that as an expression of his great displeasure with the corrupt and considering the seriousness of the pestilence of corruption, Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor were being stripped of their Perak royal titles. That would capture in an instant the audience’s as well as the nation’s attention. That would be the next day’s headlines!

“Innocent until proven guilty” is the standard in a criminal court. In positions requiring great trust, as with the leadership of the nation, the standard must necessarily be much more stringent, as with not even a hint of impropriety. Yet Umno, the party most identified with Malays, is led by a character facing serious criminal charges. Nobody in the party’s governing Supreme Council has the gumption to demand that Ahmad Zahid Hamidi resign. If these characters cannot stand up to this slimy, stuttering character, how can we expect them to negotiate with or face foreign leaders? 

With the long speeches by both the sultan and the author, there was little time for questions from the audience, the most important part in any discussion or book launching. Noting the number of ex-dignitaries from Umno in the audience, the moderator gave the floor first to Musa Hitam, former deputy prime minister. He took his senior statesman status too seriously and went on a long monologue, with the moderator having to interrupt him. As for the other half a dozen or so speakers, they, too, were interested in making their own mini speeches rather than posing probing questions.

If not for Tajuddin Rasdi, the ensuing panel discussion too would have been a dud. Johan was asked about the greatest pressure he had faced when chairing the MACC. Political interference, he said! Surprise of surprises! The moderator then asked him to judge the independence (from political pressure) of the MACC. Johan meekly replied: a passable 6 out of 10. Good enough for a general degree, as the moderator commented. If I were the moderator, I would have pressed Johan as to what he does to resist those pressures. I suspect that Johan, too, is one of those all too common “kami menurut perintah” (we follow orders) type of public servant. 

The spark of the panel discussion came from Tajuddin. He prefaced his remarks by noting that that was the first time he had been invited to address an almost exclusively Malay or Muslim audience. Tajuddin is of course well known to non-Malay or at least English-speaking readers through his trenchant columns in The Star.

He made the profound observation that corruption is difficult to eradicate among Malays and Muslims because it has been enmeshed into the Malay versus non-Malay (or non-Muslim) narrative. It is but a sub-variety of the old “us versus them” divide. We have framed corruption as war against the infidel and thus halal, or can be made so. To make that narrative stick, to Malays, anything coming from the land of the Arabs is halal. It is thus not a surprise that Najib had framed the loot he pilfered from the 1Malaysia Development Bhd scandal as money coming from an Arab prince. 

Another astute observation from Tajuddin is that, as in universities, we are more interested in answers without first asking the necessary probing questions. Worse, often the solutions would have been imposed upon us. However, we are more likely to find the right solution if we first begin by asking some tough questions. 

One simple question is this: Why are the corrupt so admired in our culture? Prime exhibit: Najib. The next complementary question is why are the talented in our midst not rewarded? Instead, we reward the duds and those satisfied with a general degree, as the moderator commented. You can bet that Tajuddin will never make it to the National Professors Council! 

Malays should learn from our farmer ancestors. To ensure a bountiful harvest and a productive orchard, they pruned their fruit trees, getting rid of the unproductive suckers and water sprouts. They also uprooted weeds that would sap precious nutrients from the soil. Malay culture today perversely nurtures and rewards those parasites. My late father (himself a part-time farmer besides being a teacher) had an apt expression for that stupidity – “membajakan lalang (fertilising weeds)”. – September 23, 2022.

* M. Bakri Musa reads The Malaysian Insight.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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  • "...... No one suggested learning from nations that had successfully tackled the problem, like Singapore....."

    "..... Why are the corrupt so admired in our culture? ..... why are the talented in our midst not rewarded? Instead, we reward the duds and those satisfied with a general degree..... "

    As I said many times before, there are plenty of crooks and idiots as leaders in all sectors of society (ie. in politics, civil service, academia, commerce and industries, etc)

    For Malaysia to progress, we had to get rid of both, the crooks and the morons.

    Singapore chose leaders on merit, intelligence, integrity, honesty, hard work, etc. It is now Asia's top financial center - and the third in the world, behind New York and London.

    In 1965, when it was "kicked" from Malaysia, it was just a swampy mosquito ridden island. See how the country had developed!!!

    Posted 1 year ago by Malaysian First · Reply