Desperation will fuel corruption post-MCO, warn groups

Transparency International Malaysia says parties reeling from the Covid-19 crisis may turn to corrupt practices to get out of their predicament.

PETALING JAYA: Anti-corruption group Transparency International Malaysia foresees an increase in corruption once the movement control order (MCO) is lifted, citing the desperation caused by the economic slowdown in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.

Its president Muhammad Mohan said the pandemic and the ensuing MCO – enforced to contain the outbreak – have crippled a lot of businesses and many will be trying to look for new business opportunities.

“And this is where the risk is because when they are desperate for business they will go the extra mile to bribe officials or decision-makers,” he told FMT.

Muhammad said there was an indirect link between desperation and corruption, with desperate individuals seeking those in power to help them.

They include politicians, senior government officials and key decision-makers in the private sector.

Similarly, he said, individuals who were in positions of power will use this opportunity to get kickbacks.

“Thus, there is a possibility that approvals are granted even though the applicants may not be qualified,” he said.

Muhammad’s predecessor, Akhbar Satar, said the situation caused by the MCO would increase the “space and opportunity” for corruption to breed in the public and private sector.

Noting the Department of Statistics’ finding on Friday that the number of unemployed people rose by 17.1% to over 600,000 in March due to the MCO, Akhbar said the situation would be worse once the order was lifted.

He said that when people cannot secure jobs and suffered from loss of income, there was a possibility that they would get involved in unethical practices like corruption, cybercrime, online scams and fraud, especially after exhausting all avenues.

A weakened economy would add to the hardships faced by individuals, families and organisations.

“If you can’t get a job and you have a family to feed, the only way out could be through fraud or corruption,” he said. “Those with discretionary powers will be tested.”

Meanwhile, think tank IDEAS said the rise in graft cases would depend on whether transparency, accountability and checks and balance processes continue to be upheld.

Its democracy and governance unit manager, Aira Azhari, noted that there was already a case of alleged corruption within the health ministry during the MCO, although it could be due to weakened procurement processes.

Aira was referring to an MACC probe into a company’s alleged RM30 million contract to supply the ministry with testing laboratories for Covid-19.

“In terms of small scale graft, a rise in unemployment and economic hardship might cause some to resort to desperate measures. However, this may not necessarily be corruption,” she said.

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