‘Small change’ graft is still corruption

Mustafa K. Anuar

Supporters of ex-PM and convicted felon Najib Razak have called for his early release at the recent Umno General Assembly. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, June 16, 2023.

Commentary by Mustafa K Anuar

THE call for an early release of convicted felon Najib Razak resurfaced at the recent Umno General Assembly, citing his supposed immense contributions to the party and the nation as justification.

There were also other grounds given by Umno supporters of the former prime minister to rationalise his early discharge.

Former law minister Zaid Ibrahim weighed in, reportedly urging Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to free Najib “for the sake of the people”. 

Zaid argued that the political fortunes of Anwar and his unity government would be assured if Najib was freed soon and allowed to lead Umno in wooing the Malays in the state elections. This assumes that many Malays are still enamoured with the former Umno president who is well-known for his kleptocracy. 

Such a suggestion is bordering on asking Anwar to flip-flop on his resolve to have zero tolerance for corruption, as well as disrespecting our justice system.

But what takes the cake is Zaid arguing that in the scheme of things, RM42 million is “small change”.

Najib is serving a 12-year jail sentence after being convicted for misappropriating RM42 million of SRC International funds. He was also fined RM210 million.

Zaid later clarified to Malaysiakini that he was only comparing Najib’s “smaller” RM42 million corruption case with other corruption cases that run into hundreds of millions or even billions of ringgit. Mind you, the so-called mere RM42 million that was stolen is the people’s money.

For starters, RM42 million may be small change to the well-heeled, but it is a far-fetched dream to most middle-income earners and the vulnerable in our society. These people who earn a decent living can hardly amass that kind of money in their lifetime and, possibly, hereafter too.

Secondly, it is trivialising the gravity of such a corrupt act. Corruption, whether it involves RM42 million or RM420, is still heinous, especially if it is plundered from public funds.

That is why there should be no double standard in meting out punishments to the culpable. A person who steals huge sums of money and someone else who shoplifts powdered milk for babies out of desperation must be brought to justice accordingly.

Besides, if one who embezzled millions is to be given an early release from the slammer, shouldn’t the person who stole powdered milk for babies be given an early discharge as well? At the end of the day, what signal are we sending to the rest of society, especially the young?

Going by Zaid’s logic, cynics would be tempted to ask whether it’s advisable for would-be thieves to aim for a heist worth less than RM42 million in order to qualify for an early release from prison.

Thirdly, money that was stolen from national coffers could have been used for the purpose of uplifting the quality of life in our society, which would largely benefit those who need government assistance.

The RM42 million could have been well spent on helping, for example, students who have been driven away from schools because of economic hardship, with some having to find work and skip last year’s Sijil Peperiksaan Malaysia examination in order to help support their respective families.

To be sure, we are talking about the future generations of our nation, upon which much money for a good education should be spent.

Politicians in high offices should know that they are entrusted to use public funds for the well-being of the majority in society. To abuse public funds for self gain is simply a betrayal.

Can such a betrayal be justified, especially if it is done at the expense of the rule of law and justice? – June 16, 2023. 

Former law minister Zaid Ibrahim has reportedly urged Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to free Najib ‘for the sake of the people’. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, June 16, 2023.

Sign up or sign in here to comment.