THE key to progress in all areas is honesty, integrity, competence and equal opportunity, and incentive to excel. The precondition for that is ethical behaviour in every area of society.
The question is what do we do to bring this about. The first step in this direction always is to take concrete measures to eliminate corruption and to remove those things that contribute to corruption. The next is to put in place measures which discourage it.
This is not very difficult to do in practice, but the necessary condition for it to take place is political will. Any amount of legislation can be enacted, any number of bodies can be set up. But if they are not given the mandate and resources to act freely, fairly, competently and fearlessly, nothing will happen.
Just two recent examples will suffice. The Perak government has been toppled by crossovers of state assemblymen, two of whom have been charged for corruption. What induced them to cross? Was money involved? Or something else, perhaps? Is this not something that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commis-sion should be investigating?
How ethical are we as a society when we legally permit the will of the people in an election to be thwarted by allowing freely the crossing over of a candidate who stood under one party’s ticket to another party?
When an Umno Youth leader aspiring for a top position in the youth movement said he “gives permission” to do “whatever is necessary” to uphold the Perak Sultan’s sovereignty over the issue, was he being ethical or was he playing to the gallery? And why?
More recently, a former Selangor Mentri Besar called for the resignation of Elizabeth Wong as state executive councillor and state assemblyman over revealing pictures of her taken without her knowledge and consent by a person believed to be her former boyfriend.
But this same person said nothing when another Selangor Mentri Besar some time ago crossed the border into Thailand and married the daughter of the then Selangor Sultan without the Sultan’s consent or the consent of the Mentri Besar’s first wife. And he kept his Mentri Besar’s position. Which was an ethical mistake?
To say the least, our sense of ethics has gone more out of whack over the years when it should have been strengthened and solidified to ensure that our moral underpinnings are on better, surer ground.
Last week we wrote about how the New Economic Policy (NEP) of 1971, particularly quotas and equity targets, led to a culture and system of patronage and corruption where many members of the ruling elite and their cronies benefited from these while much of the Malays were left out of mainstream development.
Because such corruption and patronage is so entrenched in the system, it is going to be very difficult to remove and will be fought tooth and nail by a large section within Umno, not because it will affect the majority of Malays but because it will affect many Malays who are in politics or are politically connected.
To change will not only take courage but will take some doing, even if that is what the public is crying out for. When Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi promised a fight against corruption ahead of the 2004 general election, he received a huge mandate from the public, who gave him more than 90% of Parliament seats. PAS kept Kelantan by a mere whisker. It was an unprecedented mandate from the people.
But he back-pedalled when it came to Umno. His advisers told him to go easy ahead of the Umno elections. He watered down the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the police when it came to implementation. He lost momentum for his reform plan and never recovered it.
When he faced the voters again, his plan to fight corruption and his exhortation for the people to work with him four years earlier rang hollow.
The March 8 election of last year saw Barisan Nasional in its worst showing ever, even worse than in 1969. An unprecedented five states went to the opposition coalition and the majority of the people in Peninsular Malaysia voted against Barisan. Sabah and Sarawak saved the day.
If there is one reason why the opposition did so well in the polls, above even their own expectations, it is because the general populace was disappointed and distraught that Barisan had failed to deliver by a wide margin on its election promises four years ago.
The first start to improvement in ethical standards is to have zero tolerance for corruption. That means giving the teeth and the authority to law enforcement agencies and putting the best people in place to bring offenders to book.
The quality, efficiency and impartiality of all law-enforcement agencies must be upgraded and made accountable to the public through overseeing independent commissions. All instances of transgression must be promptly and quickly investigated.
The power to prosecute should not rest with a single individual but should be devolved to prosecutors at the scene, with the Attorney-General having right of review only when a case is NOT prosecuted. A prosecuting board should also be considered.
The next is to ensure that all procedures discourage corruption. There must be openness in government processes and proper disclosure of how money is spent. Tenders must be open and transparent and tender boards must comprise individuals of unquestioned integrity.
Appropriate data must be collected and maintained by those who know how to do so, and the methodology disclosed so that there can be no question as to how data is collected and disseminated.
Directors and others must be apprised of their responsibilities under the law and be taken to task if they don’t perform their duties under the law.
Above all, the message must be sent out that corruption and patronage will no longer be tolerated and that anyone and everyone who is engaged in it will be prosecuted. That can only be done if there is great political will. And political will is more likely to be there if there is greater public pressure.
It will be a hazardous undertaking for anyone brave enough to push the agenda. But not to do anything about it will be more hazardous.
If we don’t raise our ethical levels substantially, and soon, we will go the dogs – no doubt about it – and eventually become another Third World casualty despite huge resources – unable to stop the abuse of power, the tide of corruption and patronage and the eventual rot of civil society.
If the existing government does not change, we simply must give the opportunity to someone else or risk losing ourselves in a moral morass that may be near impossible to get out of.
Malaysia will go to the dogs if our ethical levels does not improve