Many people welcomed the jailing of our ex-prime minister for corruption. It was a pivotal moment in the fight against corruption.
Well, one crook is in – for now, at least. There are still many others out there operating in a system of endemic corruption.
Corruption erodes the integrity of our government. It makes a mockery of the positions of public service held by such crooks. When government funds (to which taxpayers contribute) are siphoned off or stolen, it is wrong. Worse, the theft erodes public coffers, thus depriving the people of quality public services.
We have heard the phrase “bajet tak ada” (there’s no budget) when we look at deficiencies in important public services. We suffer yearly announcements of ‘leakages’ of funds through the government procurement system.
The various corruption trials have revealed how people have siphoned off government money.
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According to our finance minister, at the end of June 2022, 1MDB’s debt stood at RM32bn. It will take us many years to recover from the current financial mess.
Let’s not forget government money wasted in other ways. The cost of overseas trips with a huge government entourage is one such example. Lavish salaries and perks, especially for underperforming government officials, is another. Yes, we the people, will be paying for this in many ways.
Some people still think that corruption just involves business deals and corrupt politicians. Others may find it too complicated to follow the money trail of who took what from whom, when, where and how.
But let’s think about how corruption hurts the ordinary person. When government funds are misused, what does it mean for the country, for the public services provided and ultimately for the people? Let’s look at its impact on safeguarding children in the country.
Protecting children from online sexual exploitation and abuse
Recently, a report “Disrupting Harm In Malaysia” on online child sexual exploitation and abuse was launched. According to this report, 4% of internet-using children aged 12 to 17 in Malaysia (38 of the 995 children surveyed) were victims of online sexual exploitation and abuse.
This is hardly surprising. According to a Bernama article, the police received 93,368 IP addresses suspected of sharing child pornography from 2017 to March 2022. It is awful to think of the number of people allegedly involved in child pornography.
Now here is where it gets even more worrying. The police probed about 0.1% (103/93,368) of these IP addresses. Arrests took place in half of these cases (50/103).
The principal assistant director of the Sexual, Women and Children Crime Investigation Division (D11) of the police reportedly said that this “was due to a lack of trained staff to filter and scrutinise the information received”.
Is it time to froth about the lack of effectiveness, efficiency and due diligence of the police?
Or should we ask why the Malaysian Internet Crime Against Children (MICAC), a D11 investigation unit at Bukit Aman, has only three trained officers to address such an important issue?
The Disrupting Harm in Malaysia report (p26) also pointed out: “Government representatives noted that the main challenges facing government agencies in the implementation of policies were related to limited financial resources and a lack of trained personnel.”
Real commitment comes with a budget
All government commitments towards stopping online sexual abuse and exploitation of children must have an adequate budget. There are a variety of stakeholders and processes involved in handling the issue holistically.
This budget would have to take into consideration many things, including:
- the need for enough personnel with digital forensic expertise
- the need for the police to have the latest equipment to carry out effective investigations
- the need for trained personnel to support child victims and their families – eg social workers, counsellors, play therapists and mental health therapists
The Bernama article cited earlier mentions 50 arrests. What was the outcome of the arrests? Were people actually charged and convicted?
The criminal justice system is another important area to consider. The budget should cover the cost of sustainable skill training for criminal justice personnel involved in this area. What is the point of legislation if we are unable to apply the law?
And finally, the budget should also include the cost of monitoring and evaluating all the initiatives taken. This would allow for the relevant heads to assess progress (or the lack of it) and make changes where necessary.
The costs of all these things add up. It will not be a small sum if the plan is to have the MICAC and support services in place in each state. How can the budget be increased if public funds continue to be siphoned off or misappropriated?
More public funds – if not lost, wasted or stolen – can be channelled into providing quality public services. This has a higher chance of happening if we have a government of integrity which also prioritises the provision of quality public services and the protection of the vulnerable.
General election: Shaping the future
So how do we get such a government? Where do we find policymakers who will act with integrity and prioritise people’s needs?
Well, as many can see, the country is being bullied into an early general election. Voters may therefore soon have a chance to show what we feel about corrupt leaders, the wastage of public funds, and politicians who don’t care about the people’s needs.
It is time once again to push back via the ballot box and vote in the leaders we want for the country.
Yes, the Sheraton Move left many in despair. But we must keep in mind what we achieved.
People’s voices helped put a crook in jail.
People’s voices helped lower the voting age to 18.
People’s voices helped bring about an anti-‘hopping’ law.
People’s voices led to discussions about government reform on so many levels.
People’s voices, through their votes, created an avenue for a big change in the 2018 general election.
We need to take lessons from the Sheraton Move and move forward. Let’s look at the coming general election as another chance to push for the continuation of reform in the country.
Who to vote for?
At a recent talk on the coming general election, a member of the public said, “It’s not so clear cut-lah. I am not sure who the good guys are anymore.”
So yes, it is confusing at the moment and politicians are not making it easier.
Various people and parties are trying to form electoral pacts.
Some are still involved in mudslinging within their own party and between parties.
There are those who are beating their chests and proclaiming themselves as champions of the people.
Social media propaganda is going into overdrive with propaganda as the push for the coming general election continues.
Then, of course, some of us are also wondering about what will happen after the election.
But the choice can also be very simple.
First, look up the Reclaim our Nation: People’s Agenda and Manifesto Rakyat (People’s Manifesto). Look at the principles which are important for nation-building and recovery. Look at the commitment needed to build a just nation and protect the vulnerable in society.
Then look at the candidates who have acted with integrity in their constituencies. Are they trustworthy or corrupt? Have they leapt from party to party? Look at their performances in Parliament and in the state assembly.
Look at the various parties’ commitment to issues affecting people. Have these parties been inclusive of people’s needs? Have they been consistent in their efforts? Or are you only hearing from them now in the run-up to the election?
Think about the Malaysia you want to live and grow old in. Think about the Malaysia you want to build for your children. Then make your choice. Your vote matters. Our country’s future depends on it.