Fight public enemy No. 1 – corruption
Akhbar Satar 

The latest strategy of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is to declare corruption and power abuse as the country’s “public enemy No. 1”. The time has come for all parties to be up in arms against corruption. The declaration from the MACC head clearly shows how serious the problem of corruption is in Malaysia.

The costs of corruption for economic, political and social development are becoming increasingly evident. World Bank estimates show that the cost of corruption equals more than 5% of global gross domestic product or US$2.6 tril (RM10.55 tril), with more than US$1 tril paid in bribes each year.

The International Monetary Fund found that corruption increases the cost of doing business by at least 10% while the ACFE Global Fraud Survey Report to Nation 2016 showed that on average, an organisation loses 5% of its revenue to corruption. Fighting corruption and improving the internal control policies can deter, detect and keep the losses minimal.

Corruption not only jeopardises the economic development of a nation in terms of economic efficiency but can distort markets, stifle economic growth and create income inequality. Furthermore, empirical evidence suggests that corruption lowers investment and retards economic growth, debases democracy to a significant extent and will ultimately destroy a nation. There are many glaring examples on the global scene.

Certainly, bribery and corruption have become a national issue and undermines the rule of law. So many untoward public incidents have been linked closely to power abuse and corruption. This is detrimental to the nation’s image.

Bribery can be defined as offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of something of value for the purpose of influencing the action of an official in the discharge of his or her public or legal duties. Corruption is the abuse of public or private office for personal gain.

The abuse of power involving contracts is rampant. Contracts are given to cronies and those who are not reliable. Some parties which have been given contracts farm them out to others, or in layman’s terms did an “Alibaba”. Their unethical actions cause great loss to public money and give rise to poor quality in infrastructure and other services or projects. In a proper government system, contracts should only be given to the most competent companies.

To ensure there is no corruption and misappropriation, community-level committees known as oversight committees can be used to monitor enforcement. The committee should also monitor contracts given out to companies so that there is no abuse of power, especially involving government tenders. The committee members should be people of good standing and high integrity and their membership should be reviewed periodically, for example, every three years.

It is true that drug and human trafficking, leakages in government funds, gambling, financial fraud, prostitution and turf wars are growing due to corrupt practices and power abuse among enforcement agencies that are entrusted with the powers to uphold the law.

Bribery involving border officials is one reason why contraband, drugs, illegal weapons, illegal immigrants and criminals as well as terrorists can easily penetrate our country. There should be redeployment in these gateways and high-risk posts with officials who have high integrity. The government should implement a three- to five-year job rotation system for those who are in “high-risk” positions.

Corruption and abuse of power continue to thrive as enforcement agencies fail to execute the responsibilities given to them. With the appointment of the new IGP Tan Sri Fuzi Harun, Director-General of Immigration Datuk Seri Mustafa Ali, Director-General of the Road Transport Department Datuk Sharuddin Khalid, and Director-General of Customs Datuk T Subromaniam, these issues need to be addressed. It is time to build integrity walls that keep out corruption and cement integrity as a core element of these sectors. This is a good way to clean up corruption from within.

Nonetheless, support from the public is crucial. The right to report wrongdoing is a natural extension of the right of freedom of expression. The public should come forward without fear to provide information and details about corruption-related activities or cases. What is important is that whistleblowers must come forward to facilitate investigations and they should be protected when they do so.

Besides that, the MACC also needs support from the country’s top leaders and the Attorney-General’s Office where they must be allowed to carry out duties assigned to them without interference or threat from any party, especially those with political connections.


Afraid of the consequences

In the Global Corruption Barometer 2017, 55% of Malaysians also believed that ordinary people could make a difference in the fight against corruption. However, the most common reason stated (15% of respondents) was that Malaysians did not report because they were afraid of the consequences. This clearly demonstrates that fear of retaliation or a negative backlash (such as losing one’s job) is a major barrier to more people coming forward.

The second most common reason (12% of respondents) was that people do not know where to report corruption or felt nothing would be done or it would not make a difference, suggesting a lack of trust in the effectiveness of reporting channels or that public officials have impunity when they commit corruption offences.

Any person who knows and fails to report an act of giving and offering of bribes is committing an offence under Section 25 (1) and (2) of the MACC Act 2009. Anyone found guilty will face a fine not exceeding RM100,000, and/or imprisonment not exceeding 10 years, or both. The whistleblower is protected and the information will not be disclosed to any party under any circumstances under the Whistleblower Protection Act 2010 as well as under Section 65 of the MACC Act 2009.

The law enforcement agencies have to find ways to encourage people to report corruption and to eliminate the opportunities that would allow mischievous individuals with corrupt intent to use Malaysia for their wanton criminal acts. This can be done by gathering information from various sources such as whistleblower tips, referrals from NGOs and law enforcement agencies, and human and electronic sources.

The spread of the corruption disease must be stopped and then eradicated. We all have the inherent right to protect the well-being of other citizens and a duty to report bribery. This must be our hope for the future of our nation and our next generations.

Datuk Akhbar Satar is the director of Institute of Crime & Criminology, HELP University, a criminologist and certified fraud examiner. Comments:

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 266.