Behind every successful nation there are great leaders with intellectual honesty and sincerity, leaders who pursue the truth, keep their word, make decisions based on facts and formulate policies for the benefit of their electorate. As leaders, they always think of their country first and avoid placing their personal needs above others.
Thomas Jefferson famously said that “Knowledge is Power” but what happens when power is misused and does not serve the people’s interest? What is the cost to the rakyat and country? This is why intellectual honesty and sincerity must be practised by leaders. And, to do so, they must have integrity.
Integrity has become an important concept for the understanding and practice of good governance. Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching for the benefit of the organisation and people. It resides deep within us, and is something you either have or you don’t – there’s no middle ground.
So, how do we rate integrity? How is it linked to our personal values and the position we hold in society? We have seen politicians swindle billions of ringgits by transferring public funds to their private accounts. We have the case of an enforcement officer arrested for allegedly soliciting a RM15,000 bribe to not act against an offender. People entrusted with a noble responsibility that have chosen to abuse it for their personal gain.
On the other hand, we have the case of a Japanese driver who surrendered herself to the police for beating the light at a traffic junction, an ordinary person with high values and an equally high level of integrity.
Every country needs leaders with integrity. Malaysia is no exception. Unfortunately, we see many national leaders being charged in court for corruption and abuse of power. Today, corruption is considered a national tragedy that is so rampant that it is no longer conducted discreetly “under the table”. It is done blatantly and shamelessly in the open.
It becomes tragically ironic when those who are corrupt start giving advice on how to deal with corruption. Even worse, we see convicted leaders going about their affairs without any remorse or humility, and continuing to receive adulation from their followers. Are they so willing to ignore proven evidence for the sake of blind loyalty? In the end they, and by extension we, end up becoming a laughing stock.
Corruption a heinous crime
Corruption in any form is wrong. However, when it involves corruptly influencing election results and stealing public money it becomes a heinous crime.
On 24 September 2020, Datuk Seri Azam Baki, the Chief Commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), informed that the agency had received 18 reports related to corruption in connection with the recently concluded Sabah state election. It includes a case involving two individuals who were suspected of receiving money for distribution to voters.
Last week, Datuk Seri Azam further stated that MACC has seen an increase in corruption cases related to leakages in government procurement that involve top leadership in government agencies. More alarmingly, 50% of MACC’s investigation work is currently taken up by such cases, while 53% of total arrests between 2015 and 2019 involved civil servants. How did the government procurement process become so compromised?
Corrupt practices within the government can take place both at the political and bureaucratic level. Projects are created at the policy level with the aim of awarding contracts to cronies and funnelling money out of the treasury, with little emphasis placed on project viability or necessity. This deprives the country of resources which are needed for the rakyat’s benefit such as healthcare, clean water and schools. This process is further compounded by civil servants who possess the necessary knowledge but lack moral integrity to stop the misuse of power and corruption.
In responding to Azam’s statement, the Chief Secretary to the Government, Tan Sri Mohd Zuki Ali, stated that he will convene a meeting with the MACC to discuss the allegations of leakages in government procurement. He said the matter must be addressed immediately to allay fears that it will negatively impact our economic recovery process, especially now given the renewed threat Malaysia is facing from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Flattening the COVID-19 curve
The Ministry of Health, meanwhile, warned of a new wave of COVID-19 cases after 260 new infections were reported on Oct 1, the biggest daily spike since the pandemic began. This sharp increase comes after a surge in travel by politicians between Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah for the recent state election. Of the 259 cases, 31 involved individuals with a history of travel to Sabah.
We are constantly reminded to play our part to flatten the curve. Here is where our leaders and politicians who travelled recently to Sabah must show their integrity and credibility by leading from the front and setting a good example. Perform self-quarantine, practise physical distancing and avoid leaving their homes during the quarantine period. They must walk the talk, more so now during this health crisis. Honesty and sincerity are the core of leadership.
Whilst we continue to count the cost of this pandemic and await the arrival of an effective vaccine, steps must also be taken to ensure that we do not suffer further losses from loose procurement procedures and a lack of applying checks and balances to the system. Here, it is suggested that the Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption Centre (GIACC) in Putrajaya introduce a special anti-corruption plan for the COVID-19 pandemic to avoid ethical misconduct, conflicts of interest, fraud and other lapses in governance and integrity which can cost billions of ringgit to the government. Amounts which we can ill afford to lose.
Anything less will result in the loss of public trust in the government, and be an abdication of our collective responsibility to protect our country against corruption, greed and fraud. It will directly affect Malaysia’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) ranking, a useful barometer used by foreign investors when deciding on countries to invest in. For the record, Malaysia’s CPI ranking in 2019 improved 10 places to 51 compared to the previous year. It is crucial that this momentum is maintained and we continue to take steps to improve our ranking for the benefit of our economy.
Every good leader has a role to play in fighting corruption by guiding our actions based on intellectual honesty or sincerity or personal integrity by making ethical choices for the benefit of the rakyat and country, above self-interest. When we practise and strengthen the above concept within ourselves and our organisations, we contribute to the future well-being of our country and its future generations.
Datuk Seri Akhbar Satar is the President of the Malaysia Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.