ALONG THE WATCHTOWER WITH M.VEERA PANDIYAN
Whether it is duit kopi or commissions and brokerage fees, graft has thrived for too long. The corrupt must be reeled in and made to pay the price.
THE Spanish describe it as mordida (small bite), to Italians, it’s tangente (slice); Arabs ask for baksheesh (tip) and Russians bluntly call it vzyatka (bribe).
Over here we have many names for it – from the condoning duit kopi (coffee money) to the contemptous makan suap (being fed).
In the good old days when much shame was still attached to bribery, it used to be called tumbuk rusuk (punching the ribs).
These days, people brazenly ask for duit minyak (petrol money), wang pelincir (lubrication money) or use euphemisms like commissions, brokerage fees, lobbying fees and political fund contributions.
The official word for it in Bahasa Malaysia is rasuah, borrowed from the Arabic rashwah (bribe) although fassad would be the most literal translation of the word corruption used in the context of good governance.
Perhaps, it is time that wasta, another Arabic word, should come into Bahasa Malaysia. It is a term used to describe nepotism, something this country is familiar with.
Wasta, in its basic form, means using a common connection to get undue benefits and gains. Perhaps the word swasta (privatise) could get a whole new sub-meaning out of this.
The cancer of corruption, which can be traced to the earliest days of mankind, is broadly defined as misuse of public authority for personal or group profit.
In Malaysia, it has thrived for too long because the laws are not strictly enforced and there is a lack of integrity in existing administrative systems, the watchdog agencies included.
Malaysia’s current Corruption Perception Index (CPI) is 5.1, and the country ranks 47th out of 180 countries, a position no different from last year. This compares with a CPI of 4.9, and 36th out of 91 countries in 2001. Transparency International, which tabulates the index, evaluates countries on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 10 (highly clean).
It is not just about reeling in corrupt politicians and other big fish snapping up huge commissions and kickbacks at the expense of taxpayers.
Those getting their palms greased for approvals, or for looking the other way, and those who demand petty sums to move files have been given too much leeway and must be made to pay the price.
As such, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Bill passed in the Dewan Rakyat on Tuesday should be looked at as a monumental step towards an independent, transparent and accountable anti-graft agency.
With five bodies supervising it – the Anti-Corruption Advisory Board, the Special Committee on Corruption, Operations Review Panel, Corruption Prevention and Consultative Panel and Complaints Committee – the MACC will definitely be more autonomous.
Members of these bodies will be selected from among prominent Malaysians and representatives of NGOs and civil society organisations, and be assisted by ex-officio officers drawn from the commission.
The seven-man advisory board will comprise individuals appointed by the King on the advice of the Prime Minister – and both government and opposition MPs will be on the Special Committee.
In a stroke, the ACA has also been armed with more powers, including acting against close relatives of the corrupt.
Under the newly-defined rules, family members of those caught for graft will be extended to mean spouses, children, uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces and also in-laws. All stand to face the same punishment as the culprit.
The penalties will be harsher, too. Under amended provisions in Clauses 23 and 36 of the Bill, offenders can be jailed for up to 20 years or fined five times the monetary value of the bribe or a minimum of RM10,000, whichever is the higher.
For any action against corruption to succeed, the people’s participation is crucial. Citizens and ethical officials in the public and private sectors must be motivated and protected before they can be expected to report any form of wrongdoing.
There have been too many cases of whistle-blowers being put in danger or being faced with legal prosecution.
So, it is indeed timely that the Witness Protection Bill has also been tabled in Parlia- ment, making it the fourth major law to be introduced over the past two weeks after the MACC, the Judicial Appointments Commission and the Judicial Ethics Committee.
Under the provisions of the new law, whistle-blowers and key witnesses will be protected, given compensation, new employment and even a change of identity, if necessary.
It is a welcome change to see such sound efforts to ensure accountability being moved in Parliament as the year winds to a close amid a global economic crisis.
Better transparency and accountability will certainly help the country abate the expected fallout and weather the storm.
Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes to share ancient Roman poet Ovid’s observation: All things may corrupt when minds are prone to evil.
The net to arrest corruption widens
Malaysia Star, Malaysia -