All of us face challenging situations in our personal and professional lives that have required of us to make ethical decisions.
It is easier at the personal level with family, relatives, friends and acquaintances. Even if the decision is later questioned, there are lessons that can be learned.
At the professional level, the fallout can be serious and have great consequences.
However, what do we do when the working climate has many issues that do not sit well with our personal conscience? The options are to just accept the situation, dull our sense of conscience, adopt the majority culture, maintain silence and be silently complicit to all the corruption, conflicts of interest, cronyism and other obvious compromises.
How else can we accept that we live in a nation that has produced the greatest global kleptocrat in modern times, a former prime minister now facing trials. I am sure there were many who saw all the lapses. Some of his well-educated cabinet colleagues must have had reservations about what was happening.
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You do not need any qualifications to be a politician in this country. Some may even have educational credentials that are questionable or fake.
All have reasons for their silence. Without their political positions, many would be reduced to nothing. It is about the hierarchy, the titles, salary and perks and all the benefits that come with the job, not to mention the power to dispense benefits.
So why rock the boat? “It’s OK, everyone sees it and is silent.” So, the mob psychology takes over.
This is much more dangerous in Malaysia, where the hierarchy is sustained by a culture of non-questioning of people in higher authority. The norm is to follow the leader, no ifs and buts. When you have mediocrity all round, silence is often a convenient option. Rarely is there a creative option on the table.
When this culture is fossilised over years with one predominant race at the helm, many may find it difficult to deal with leaders from other ethnic groups who are used to questioning and reasoning.
Add to this the factor of racism and we have a situation that now describes the state of the nation. The inability to accept other Malaysians as part of the ruling elite has its fallout.
Malaysia has dropped six rungs in the latest Corruption Perception Index released by Transparency International. This has been partly attributed to the dropping of charges in high-profile cases involving well-connected persons. Transparency International Malaysia noted this has “given a negative perception on how the legal process is used”.
The perception of high-level involvement and trade-offs seems plausible. Where has the self-respect of the office of the attorney general gone? What drives well-trained graduates in law to accept such decisions? This is not space science. You can make your own guess. It could just be a directive.
They have to ask themselves if they were violating any civil and criminal law or protecting someone from prosecution. The reason given that a letter from an earlier attorney general satisfies them does not sit well in the eyes of the public at large. How is his credibility perceived?
What did this all lead to? An election in Sabah; a rise in the number of Covid-19 cases there and a new state government.
The question that should have been asked was whether this decision was balanced in the short and long term. While the answer could be subjective, the next question should have been how this would have made individuals within the Attorney General’s Chambers feel and what the perception of the shocked public would be.
Many would have silently accepted and spoken adversely behind the back of the authorities. Would they have been proud of such decisions within their department? How would they explain to their friends and family?
Any individual with a deep sense of conscience would have been disturbed by the decisions made. The herd mentality takes over, and when you have an executive arm not known for trust or integrity, then narrow political interests take precedence. How does an individual of conscience take responsibility under these circumstances?
An executive branch that is large enough to buy loyalty can dish out positions in government-linked companies and government-linked investment companies and provide other benefits. Does this not smack of corruption and cronyism?
One minister wanted his son to be appointed to the board of a government-linked company. Consider all that they have been able to dish out to secure loyalty and obedience over the years, and we can understand how this branch of office needs to be held accountable.
Ethnicity is an expression of identity, not a value or a norm. Racism promotes an apartheid complex, a toxic atmosphere and this eventually destroys the racists themselves for there is nothing inclusive in their appeal.
In the end, race-based politics leads to fragmentation as is so evident amongst the ‘ketuanan Melayu’ group. Even ‘Bersatu’ is not ‘Bersatu’.
The Institute Integrity Malaysia undertook to train integrity officers. Many got certified and were present in several ministries. However, they were not given the power to exercise their role, and when some did, they were allegedly threatened with cold storage or posted to other states. We must understand that these interests within the politics and administration of our nation represent powerful vested interests.
Had the Pakatan Harapan government succeeded in appointing an ombudsman, we would have had some opportunity to make a difference. We know what happened to whistleblower Rafizi Ramli in the ‘Cowgate’ issue, Bank Negara and the cases against him.
Several of our regulatory bodies have come under focus regarding corruption. The Companies Commission of Malaysia, the retirement of a governor of Bank Negara, alleged conflict of interest issues with the Securities Commission and issues in the judiciary come to mind.
How can conscience-sensitive individuals, God-fearing persons, tolerate such evident levels of corruption? There will come a time when their tolerance point snaps and they speak out. The entire establishment may then come down on them like a ton of bricks for such exposures could indict many.
In the case of the judiciary, the call for a commission of inquiry, which would have been a fairer approach, has been set aside. When professionals step out and take a stand, they do so at enormous cost. It takes a lot of courage and conviction.
If we are serious and have the political will to deal with corruption, then we need to give primacy to the setting up of the office of the ombudsman. Let us learn from countries like New Zealand and consider the best practices they adopt.
Corrupt officials act with subtlety, and it is difficult to prosecute them unless we extend more protection to whistleblowers. The sincere ones who find the incongruence between beliefs, prayers and actions difficult to accept and who want to make a difference will need the support of all fair-minded individuals.
These individuals with a conscience need encouragement to become whistleblowers, for without them, it will be difficult to fight the cronyism, nepotism and conflicts of interest that bedevil our nation.
Corruption thrives in the dark and is often a consensual crime. We need to get the facts and the actors responsible before prosecution can take place.
We can receive through prayers only that which we earn through ethical attitudes, behaviour and conduct – in essence, our character. Otherwise, prayer is reduced to a mere ritual and practice that bears no relation to our will, conscience and self-awareness.
When the best among us step out, they need respect and their issues need to be treated with the highest regard and attention. Anything less would result in good men and women remaining silent and corruption and exploitation thriving unchecked. We would then fail the many and miss an opportunity to bring about change.
There is no right way to do a wrong thing. Will those with spine serving in our executive, legislature and judiciary stand up to make a difference – for how else can we preserve, protect and defend our Constitution?
The time is now.