It is heartening to learn that over 400 independent groups are coming together as Rasuah Busters (corruption busters) to create a corruption-free future.
Creating a corruption-free future society – when corruption is presently so endemic – will be a Herculean task. It would be a miracle if we can achieve this in a single generation – and that too, if seriously thought-out, workable methods are put into practice and applied unfailingly until they become a culture. Easier said than done.
The Star (19 August) reported on this initiative: “In conjunction with Merdeka month, young children share their hopes for a corruption-free future through a series of multi-language videos unveiled by Rasuah Busters, a movement to eradicate the chain of corruption in the country.”
Excited about what children had to say, I watched all the four videos. It was a great disappointment. The same thing was said by the four children in Malay, English, Chinese and Tamil. The children did a good job of acting out their roles, but what they were saying were not their own words but of some adult who had written the script.
It would have been be so different and better if the children were speaking their own minds. The videos were a far cry from being genuine children’s dreams of a corruption-free Malaysia.
I wonder what strategy Rasuah Busters will use to achieve their objectives?
Past campaigns have failed
In the past, we have seen efforts to change Malaysians’ behaviour on various issues of concern, without credible success even after spending much money and time.
The government’s “tak nak” (say no) campaign to discourage smoking failed miserably after it spent so much on ‘educating’ people through campaigns, publications, advertisements and even enormous billboards along highways.
A few years back, the Sun ran a campaign “Red means stop” to drive home the point that road users should not beat the lights. It religiously carried pictures of motorists beating the red lights every week. The campaign failed to have any impact on road users’ behaviour and today many still try to beat the lights.
The Ministry of Education introduced religious and moral studies to mould the character of children so that they would become disciplined, law-abiding adults. These subjects were even ‘upgraded’ to compulsory exam subjects to ensure teachers and children were serious about them.
Although these subjects are still in the syllabus, they have been ineffective in moulding children’s character. The evidence of failure can be seen in rampant school indiscipline and the rise of crime, as both are related. School indiscipline not firmly nipped in the bud leads to criminal adult behaviour, but nobody is looking at this connection seriously.
The Road Safety Department was set up to tackle mayhem on the roads. It carried out campaigns annually, distributed pamphlets and goody bags to motorists and helmets to motorcyclists. It failed miserably: road users’ behaviour has not changed much and accident rates remain high.
A petroleum company sponsored “road safety games” in schools for over 40 years but failed to produce disciplined road users. Some of these undisciplined road users have ‘graduated’ as Mat Rempit or samseng jalanan (road bullies).
A few years ago, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission had suggested that anti-corruption lessons should be taught in schools, and it could help prepare a teaching module. This would have ended up just like religious and moral education, which has done little to mould the children’s character.
Teachers’ key role
To achieve a corruption-free society, we need to successfully recondition minds to hate corruption. Reconditioning adult minds is difficult as old habits die hard! It requires strong political which the government does not have, as seen by several high-profile corruption cases being suddenly withdrawn or dropped using the standard excuse that further investigations revealed insufficient evidence to proceed with court cases. Then we see these people suddenly getting into high political office!!
Corruption is the fuel that has kept the Umno-led regime in power for six decades, during which corruption tore deeper and deeper into the fabric of Malaysian society, not just among the politicians.
What kind of political will do we need to rid the country of corruption? An excellent example is the case of Singapore Minister Teh Cheang Wan (The Straits Times, 27 March 2015). According to the late Lee Kuan Yew, fighting corruption has to start with people in the highest office.
It is a top-down process – not bottom-up, as we have in Malaysia, to placate the people that the government is fighting corruption. A bottom-up process cannot go up beyond a certain point as it is fighting against ‘gravity’, unlike a top-down process that sinks to the bottom easily.
We need to examine if the seeds of corruption are being sown inadvertently in the children of today, as it could bloom into full-blown corruption in the adults of tomorrow.
What happens in a child’s minds when a teacher gives them a sweet, an eraser or a pencil for giving a correct answer? It spurs motivation, as some educationists will claim.
But let’s tread carefully here. Can we create an environment where there is no expectation of a material reward for merely doing what ought to be done? Otherwise, if any of these children become government officers who deal with the public, would that expectation of a reward for doing something have left their minds?
What happens when parents give ‘pocket money’ or ‘upah’ to their children when they are sent on an errand to the corner shop or stall when that errand should be carried out voluntarily or as a matter of responsibility?
What moral value are teachers showing when they accept gifts from children on Teachers’ Day? Wouldn’t refusing to accept any gift send a strong anti-corruption moral lesson? Are there no other ways for children to show their love and appreciation for their teachers? There was no such practice in the schools of the 1950s.
It is said that the road to hell is sometimes paved with good intentions. Do we realise that ‘good intentions’ are not good if the outcome – immediate or long term – is the ‘spoiling’ of the person who was showered with those good intentions?
Corruption is the giving and receiving of something (a reward) for doing or not doing something.
When children are taught (inadvertently, unknowingly or due to misplaced love) that the giving or receiving of a material reward is a proper social norm for doing something that ought to be done voluntarily, selflessly or just as matter of duty, then they will believe that such a practice is proper.
Schools are the place where nations are built or destroyed. They can create a society that is morally upright, law-abiding, respectful and caring to everyone – without considerations of race, religion or status – or they can create a society that is immoral, lawless and racist.
Teachers are therefore the most important people in any society as they mould the character of future generations, who will either carry the nation to higher levels or bring it down into a morass.
Society is a mirror image of its schools. Today’s Malaysian society is the product of an education system that has failed to mould character of its charges. This is a far cry from the way education in schools was in the 1950s, when the practice of good moral values was inculcated by maintaining strict discipline.
The Rasuah Busters have a tough job ahead. It is nigh impossible to reprogramme corrupted adult minds to hate corruption. Any hope of creating a corruption-free future lies in changing children’s minds. This must be a never-ending activity – not a campaign that has a time limit – starting from the time pupils begin formal education until they leave school.
Teachers, about 500,000 of them, are the key people who can and should mould the character of children. Are today’s teachers capable of doing what the teachers of the 1950s did?
Whatever strategy Rasuah Busters has for creating a corruption-free future, they must look at the failures of past efforts to change minds, and avoid the pitfalls.
Is MACC up for it?
We already have people who hate corruption, but they do not have any say, let alone any clout, to curb ongoing corruption. I experienced frustration going to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission to report fishy activities that had a strong whiff of corruption.
But I was asked: “Was any money given? Did the other party ask for any money? Did that party make any gesture that he wanted money?”
It is as if corruption is all about money changing hands visibly. What an irony that a few MACC officers have themselves been caught for corruption!
The best education about laws is through the strictest enforcement of those laws without fear or favour as in the Singapore minister’s case. Poor enforcement is the main reason for corruption being so endemic. It has been allowed to go on right under the noses of the law.
A novel excuse was engineered by the MACC not to take action against cases of overpaying that were so obvious in the auditor general’s annual reports. A former MACC director general, Abu Kassim Mohamed, observed just before he retired that cases of “overspending” or paying exorbitant prices for goods and services, as reported in the auditor general’s reports. were the work of “stupid people”. And since “stupidity” is not an offence, the MACC apparently could not take against ‘stupid people’! This form of corruption was thus sanctioned by the MACC and, by extension, the government.
It is the concentration of power in the hands of a small band of people whose moral and religious values have evaporated that has brought us to where we are. Such people probably believe that those on the government payroll, including those in enforcement agencies and even the judiciary, should not bite the hand that feeds them (as though they are paying these officers’ salaries with their own money and not out of public funds!).
Getting people to hate corruption alone is not enough if the enforcement agencies and the judiciary are not on the same boat. Ultimately, it is the corrupt politicians that must be removed, and their replacements must not be allowed to become corrupt. We simply cannot achieve a corruption-free society if we remain under the rule of corrupt leaders.
Rasuah Busters face a formidable task ahead. Still, that there is such a concerned group of people coming forward to undertake this arduous task is commendable.