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Corruption must be gauged by the impact on citizens

A kleptocrat who has been charged with embezzling billions of taxpayer’s monies should be labelled as such and shunned

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In January this year, Transparency International released its 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which ranks 180 countries and territories around the world by their perceived levels of public sector corruption.

The results are given on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

Denmark, New Zealand and Finland were once again ranked as least corrupt, with scores in the high-80s.

Syria, Sudan, and Somalia were at the bottom of the list (most corrupt) with scores of 13, 20 and 13 respectively.

Germany and Singapore remained at the same spot scoring 80 and 85 respectively.

Malaysia’s position dropped to 48. It was 51 in 2020 and 53 in 2019.

For context, the US scored 67, while Russia scored 29 and China, 45. These three countries are considered the main powers behind the world order. They shape geopolitics and have the power to control the financial, political, economic, social and environmental conditions affecting 7.9 billion humans on the planet.

It is ironic that among the least corrupt countries, one is a neutral nation (Switzerland) and one is a tiny island city-state which is still considered “developing” (Singapore).

By the way, India scored 40, much lower than Malaysia. India is a country that the US considers ‘close to its heart’ merely because these two are the largest democracies in the world. India is also considered a strategic and reliable ally within the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad).

The Quad is an informal partnership among four countries (India, Japan, the US and Australia) to counter China’s military and political influence in the Indo-Pacific region. One wonders why a country that scores a very low score on the corruption index, is praised for being the largest democracy and accepted as part of a security partnership to supposedly defend our region.

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob was critical of Malaysia’s drop in the latest ranking, saying it is not a true reflection of the actual situation on the ground. Ismail also said that the CPI published by Transparency International is based merely on perceptions. All this is true, but Ismail’s alluding to “situation on the ground” requires serious elaboration.

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‘Commitment’ is when guilty are punished

While our prime minister may be right about Transparency International and its CPI, this does not mean we can declare our various national initiatives against corruption as being a commitment to eradicating corruption.

What the ordinary Malaysian considers “commitment” is when an honest and just government treats corruption as a criminal act, regardless of who the offender is.

The situation on the ground is that citizens want the authorities to depoliticise the fight against corruption. Whether one is a VVIP, a politician, a powerful corporate leader, or a rubber tapper, any act of corruption must be prosecuted and the perpetrator punished.

No exceptions.

Therefore, in this context I suggest we pay less attention to the CPI and the Global Corruption Barometer.

Malaysia is embroiled in a kleptocracy, which goes beyond corruption. A kleptocracy is a state dominated by kleptocrats who engage in corruption as a principal means of accumulating wealth. These are high-level politicians and bureaucrats who engage in corrupt activities to accumulate capital. They have a close relationship with the private sector, which is clearly seen in how our government-linked companies operate.

A well-oiled kleptocracy

In Malaysia, kleptocracy is no longer random. Our nation has a well-oiled system with shameless participants. The key kleptocrats are not mid to low-level civil servants who accept bribes to supplement their monthly income.

There is no kleptocracy perceptions index (yet). If there is one in the future, indicators should be based solely on how ordinary citizens are affected by kleptocratic machinations. We Malaysians are no longer interested in mere perceptions.

Critics of the CPI claim it gives a distorted view of the Malaysian government’s “anti-graft efforts”.

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Rather, I prefer to say that the CPI distorts the debilitating and dehumanising effects of corruption on the ordinary Malaysian citizen. Both kleptocracy and other forms of corruption must be assessed against how the daily lives of ordinary Malaysians are affected. Transparency International, the CPI, the Global Corruption Barometer and the Malaysian government have yet to do this.

Malaysians often praise our system of governance for the excellent laws we have. However, we are equally frustrated at how these laws are often not implemented. We know it is because of corruption at many levels.

For example, over the last two years of the coronavirus pandemic, the laws surrounding punishments for breaching standard operating procedures have been fraught with double standards. The phrase double standards is just a substitute for corruption.

The media have highlighted numerous reports of the lenient treatment of several elite members of Malaysian society, despite their violations of the standard operating procedures. Ordinary citizens are fined – and quite unfairly too.

Corruption gives us dangerous roads

While I think the CPI is somewhat useless for Malaysia, it is unjustified for our leaders to deconstruct and find fault with Transparency International. This is because Malaysia has simply no leg to stand on in defending itself from corruption or kleptocracy. Corruption and kleptocracy have affected ordinary Malaysians, in most aspects of our everyday lives.

We drive on dangerous roads due to substandard materials used. In the tourist spots around Malaysia, most of the roads are kept in pristine condition. However, in other parts of Malaysia, potholes are everywhere.

Potholes cause serious accidents when cars swerve to avoid them, or when motorcyclists are flung off because they ride unknowingly right into them. If accidents do not happen, cars still get damaged. Wheel axles get warped or tyres may burst. All this is an extra expense for the ordinary Malaysian, not to mention the inconvenience of time spent on repairs and finding alternative transport during this period.

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We can only guess why we have poor roads and a high incidence of road accidents. Substandard materials are being used by contractors who make a lot of money from government contracts. If the government is truly serious about serving the public, they should conduct a thorough study on potholes. Instead, we often hear of excuses such as heavy vehicles, heavy rainfall and “the weather” as being the causes of potholes.

Ludicrous to screen old drivers

Late last year (2021), some top civil servants suggested a change in Malaysian road use regulations. It was recommended that senior citizens (60 years and above) be screened before getting their driving licence renewed. The reasoning was to reduce the number of road accidents.

This off-the-cuff ridiculous idea was not based on any systematic study. Also, what would this “screening” involve? Would it mean the acquisition of fancy equipment, or the hiring of more civil servants? All these involve money. In my opinion, such a suggestion is ludicrous and discriminatory, and smells of corruption.

Also, a kleptocrat should be treated as a despicable criminal. A kleptocrat who has been charged with embezzling billions of taxpayer’s monies should be labelled as such and shunned. Unfortunately, corruption in Malaysia is not considered as heinous a crime as homosexuality, apostasy, cross-dressing, drug abuse or rape.

However, ‘abuse’ and ‘rape’ metaphorically describe how ordinary Malaysians feel about rampant corruption in the country, and how it is affecting us. – Free Malaysia Today

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
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