Testing time for Malaysia: Ethics on trial

 |Jun 24, 2017
Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim. – MO file pic.

Corruption is at the heart of many of the problems that beset us as a nation. Whether it is illegal immigrants or gangland mayhem, a little scratching of the surface will confirm what we have always known that corruption in its widest sense is systemic in Malaysian society.

It is everywhere and from what we can see corruption is in indecently robust health. Our society is by and large tolerant of unethical public behaviour. Yes, we gossip about people in high, or even low, places whom we know to be corrupt, but beyond that we do not lift a finger to help the government and ourselves in the fight against corrupt practices.

We somehow persuade ourselves that it is none of our business. The fight is our fight: it is our business because society at large is the victim sooner rather than later.

Take the illegal immigrants in our midst. We do not even know how many there are but there are large numbers of them, running probably into more than a million, who are to be found working openly in every sector of the economy.

Many have even set themselves up in business, operating as petty traders and street vendors. You cannot believe that enforcement agencies do not know of the presence of illegal immigrants because everyone else does.

One may be forgiven for wondering why only with the appointment of the new minister of home affairs and the equally new Inspector-General of Police has there been any serious and determined effort made to deal with this issue which has an important bearing on national security?

The current flurry of activity to flush them out and deport them is surely too little too late.

The same applies to the crackdown against criminal gangs that assassinate their victim’s gangland style, with apparent impunity. It is hard to believe that the police with their widespread network of informers have only now stumbled on the fact that there are triad organisations operating actively in our society.

We want to know how so many illegal weapons have got through our border security posts.

Why did the police have to wait until the streets had become unsafe and for people demanding action, with some going to the extreme of claiming that they had lost confidence in the capability of police to protect life and property, before addressing the situation?

All this is unfortunate but the police, by their apparent lack of enthusiasm to get on top of this dangerous situation, have encouraged the development of negative perceptions.

As we know, perceptions may not have any basis in fact, but they are real to those whose minds are made up.

The fact of the matter is that the corrupt few in the police, immigration and customs enforcement agencies see illegal activities, such as human, arms and drugs trafficking as an important source of additional income.

Thousands of economic migrants from Myanmar claiming refugee status get into serious debt and pay a lot of money to their agents in their country to get them through Thailand into Malaysia.

The agents have an arrangement with corrupt officials in both Thailand and Malaysia to facilitate the passage of illegals into Malaysia without let or hindrance. This practice is repeated at all border posts in our country.

Once they are in Malaysia, the long arm of corruption will not let them be and continue to tug at their purse strings.

The will be harassed at will and have to part with the little they have earned in the factories and on the construction sites.

Now as the campaign to flush them out gets into top gear, many are desperate to leave the country, and without proper travel documents, they have to repeat the process in order to get across the border.

The relevant enforcement agencies will protest their innocence and cry foul that imputations of improper motives have been made against their officers.

Those comfortably ensconced on the gravy train of corruption will deny any wrongdoing. We cannot tackle corruption effectively by dragging our feet or fighting a rearguard action. Corruption must be confronted with courage and honesty.

The rhetoric of political slogans cannot replace an unequivocal rejection of corruption at all levels. It is quite clear from what we are experiencing today that corruption compromises the nation’s security, and those who argue that corruption lubricates the wheels of government, makes for greater efficiency and that there are no victims, need to think again.

In the meantime, what surprises have the experts at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) put together in their bag of tricks to contain and make corruption an unprofitable business particularly for the frontline trustees of our nation’s security?

The situation facing the country requires urgent attention and the long suffering citizens of Malaysia deserve a great deal more from the authorities than mere assurances that the situation is under control.

We should like to see all windows of opportunity for corruption closed without further ado. Are the authorities up to the challenge?

Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim

Author’s note: This article was first published in the New Straits Times (NST) on Sept 13, 2013. For all practical purposes, the intervening years have done nothing except to confirm what we had feared – that corruption in Malaysia if anything has remained in excellent health. This modest article I expect will never get out of date from what we have seen of corruption in our country.      

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Tunku Abdul Aziz is the former Special Adviser to former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the Establishment of the UN Ethics Office and former Adviser to Bank Negara Malaysia.