The sudden resignation of political economist Dr Edmund Terence Gomez from the consultation and corruption prevention panel of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has raised grave concerns.
Most vexatious was panel chairman Borhan Dolah’s immediate press statement over Gomez’s resignation that made it look like the well-respected academic was not telling the truth.
However, Gomez’s tell-all rebuttal has exposed how even the body that is supposed to battle corruption is now yet another failing entity in Malaysia.
Many civil society leaders have thrown their support behind Gomez. The more independent media have not shied away from publishing the news related to Gomez’s resignation and his clarifications.
The public are not naïve. People have been crying out for decisive efforts to clean up our nation and free the government and businesses from the destructive tentacles of corruption.
Many had hoped the MACC would be the ultimate saviour in a nation where others appear powerless to curb rampant corruption. But the expose over the MACC chief’s questionable indulgences – which many had suspected for quite a while – has now hit the fan.
Borhan’s response to Edmund’s resignation will only boomerang on the panel, who have not distanced themselves from him. All this is happening when another case has surfaced about huge amounts of money that went missing from the vaults of the MACC.
Gomez’s decision to resign and the seemingly hollow denial by Borhan has made the MACC’s credibility appear highly questionable. Many salute the political economist for standing up to truth and being guided by principles.
The MACC and the government have a tough job now. Unless the truth upheld, Malaysia will sink further into the hands of dark forces. A quick, honest admission and convincing, corrective action are the only means to improve public perception.
Unless we face up to the truth, we will never enhance our country’s future and will instead sink into a self-inflicted fate. That future is not decades away but has been set into motion since 2019.
A key symptom is the ongoing political whitewashing – from the start of the Covid pandemic to the deluge swirling around us now. Underlying the many failures in tackling the pandemic, mitigating a flood disaster and managing the economic cave-in is our political instability.
That political instability is not anyone’s fault but everyone’s failure.
First, we do not have capable leaders who can inspire at least three-fourths of the population to march with them.
Second, we do not have a single political party that can rally the people together beyond the divides of race, religion and feudal mindsets.
Third, the people are deeply divided – a well-informed minority on the one hand and a most gullible majority on the other. Between this chasm, political propaganda and political whitewashing thrive.
The recent Covid battles and the devastating floods have revealed our strength in critically scrutinising all government actions and inaction, and our weakness, ie the gullibility of many who keep swallowing hook, line and sinker the political propaganda and whitewashing.
Take, for instance, the prime minister’s hopeful promises of the “government seeking long-term solutions to floods“.
Ismail Sabri Yaakob assured the people that the measures the government would take could include “more flood mitigation projects, deepening rivers and other waterways and building tunnels” and even the study of “methods adopted by other countries that could also be considered if suitable for Malaysia”. He said the “sponge city” concept used in China to help slow the flow of flood waters or even the river dykes in the Netherlands could be solutions.
What were we doing this past one decade when scientists watching geological and weather patterns were warning of rising sea levels and increased rainfall?
If Indonesia is shifting its Jakarta to Kalimantan and Thailand is branching out to ‘outer’ Bangkok to mitigate against a potential deluge, what have the authorities been doing in Kuala Lumpur and our flood-prone states? Did they heed the concerns of residents’ associations and warnings from environmental activists all this while?
We may applaud the exemplary caring spirit of Malaysians who did not hesitate to bring desperately needed aid and reach out to save lives. But we have also enabled politicians and leaders who failed to live up to their duties and responsibilities to hide behind the goodwill of these caring people.
Likewise, we see the many failings in the battle against Covid and its variants.
We need a resolute will to reset – something that is long overdue.
We must stop being content with handouts when faced with calamities arising from negligence, dereliction of duty and compromised responsibility. We must cultivate a culture of owning up and being accountable.
We need to break away from the feudal mindset of prostrating before the very people who lord over the people. Instead, we need to hold them accountable for the very position they occupy and the privileges that the people shower on them through their goodwill.
Accountability must be nurtured at all levels – at home, at school, at work or at play, we need to be accountable to our fellow citizens. When a society continues to shun public accountability, corruption extends its roots deeper.
Our problem is not ignorance or because we are a third-world nation. Our problem is a lack of political maturity. Ours is a focus on form rather than substance.
Despite all the religious credos, we have failed to live up to the true teachings of our respective religions. Despite our rich heritage of cultures and traditions, we are prepared to forsake these by playing up issues of the ‘survival’ of religion and race.
We are fast losing our economic advantage while our neighbouring nations excel by harnessing their diversity. We are fast losing our decades of oil wealth.
Today, we remain in a vulnerable state, unable to provide free food and shelter quickly when a calamity strikes or unable to curb the prices of essential items from spiralling.
Despite announcing ambitious national budgets, the poverty gap has widened as more people from the middle class fall into the lower-income group.
Our national happiness index has plunged, although many will deny this. How can it be otherwise when the people’s happiness is not the concern of those in the corridors of power?
We need to go back to basics.
To begin with, downsize the civil service. If downsizing is unlikely, as it is a proven political tool to remain in power, then at least get the government to raise productivity and efficiency.
Stop talking about fighting corruption and start acting decisively against the corrupt, irrespective of their status. We do not need to reinvent the wheel: there are proven methods to free a nation from corruption.
Will we succeed in the years ahead when we have kept falling until now?
If a multibillion ringgit felon is a celebrated ‘boss’ among his large numbers of followers, then the light at the end of this Malaysian tunnel will only dim.
We may laugh. We may easily forget. But all the news we read daily points to where we are heading. Malaysia’s future will not be a stroll in the park.
Our nation is like a ship punctured on all sides. And the government’s efforts to stay afloat are like amateurish patchwork to prevent water from gushing in.
Some have warned we are becoming a failed state. Do you know of anyone – a family member, a relative, a friend, a business associate – who thinks otherwise?
Today, Malaysia faces multiple crises – an unending political crisis, an economic crisis, a health crisis, an environmental crisis, frayed religious and ethnic ties. All this has created a huge trust deficit across the nation.
The leadership vacuum, the bankruptcy of political parties, the entrenched corruption, mounting allegations and cases of corruption on trial – all these have weakened the economy and resulted in knee-jerk responses to the health and environmental crises.
As a former senior cabinet minister said, we are faced with a “say nothing, hear nothing and do nothing” government and leaders. A looming social crisis may even be taking shape.
There was a time when civil servants and corporate executives maintained a stoic silence if you tried to strike a conversation on politics and government.
But today, even inside the confined space of a lift in Putrajaya or in a government-linked company or even at a foreign company in Malaysia, people easily blurt out their opinions and acknowledge your fears. This is an indication of how bad things are turning out.
Malaysia’s ‘Big C’s’ refer to Councils, Committees and Commissions that seem to be afflicted with suspicions, allegations, legal battles and mounting corruption.
When specific institutions charged with administering or overseeing the country seem to be compromised, can we blame the people for doubting or even dismissing these institutions?
When specific institutions set up to battle corruption are themselves found to be suspect, can we admonish the people for not trusting them?
The purpose of many special Committees, Commissions and Councils in government today is to restore the falling trust in government and its leaders. They also serve to ensure that justice prevails and public opinion shifts for the better.
But when such special institutions themselves are suspect or riddled with allegations, have we lost the battle to restore confidence in Malaysia?
Today, public opinion of our leaders and those in positions of power is nothing to be proud of. In fact, it is unprecedented. Never in our nation’s history have people’s trust and confidence sunk so low.
Some political leaders do not even hesitate to throw their weight behind the obvious violations of best practices that the people have raised as grave concerns.
Some politicians even have no shame: they maintain an elegant silence, hide behind “let the authorities investigate” or rush to negate public opinion with a media statement, which they may retract later under the cover of “I have been misquoted” or “my statement was distorted”.
Some other leaders will keep harping that allegations of corrupt conduct brought into the public domain could be part of a “political agenda” to undermine the government and its leaders.
The worst are those in power who admonish the people with blanket threats of taking action against fake news peddlers.
For as long as our Councils, Committees and Commissions are susceptible to even a hint of corruption or tainted by public distrust, we have lost the battle against corruption.
Has this erosion of public trust in the institutions that are supposed to be custodians of good governance resulted in globally renowned businesses fleeing from our shores?
Several of the big-names foreign investors in Malaysia for some decades have uprooted themselves and moved to our regional neighbours.
The recent 2021 floods exposed many questionable operatives under the purview of those with power and control.
The damage to infrastructure, property and vehicles in Selangor and Pahang have sparked public opinion over social media that the indiscriminate plunder of our forests is the root cause of the suffering endured by the people.
More ordinary people are now aware of the crippling loss of trust in politicians, leaders and those in the higher echelons of power.
Social media bears testimony to the proliferation of the public’s concerns and demands. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and TikTok are overflowing with photos, videos and audios chipping away at the credibility of those in power. Today, we are witnessing first-hand accounts of the cost of corruption.
Will the coming general election save the nation or will it result in a whirlpool of suspicions and allegations of a corrupt electoral process?
If we are concerned about Malaysia, then we should be worried. If we continue to think that all is well in our beloved land, if we are naïve or indifferent, then we are equally responsible for the many failures in our country.