By Saleh Mohammed
“We understood that if we offered bribes, we could survive. But if we didn’t, our company would likely die. We met until 4pm and finally decided: we will never offer bribes. We would rather close down the company than operate without integrity.”
Those are the words of Jack Ma, the self-made billionaire who is the founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, a family of successful Internet-based businesses. He credits his success to integrity in his business practices and a commitment to being transparent, even if it means losing money.
Many Malaysians would take Ma’s statement with a pinch of salt.
This year, in its Global Economic Crime Survey, PricewaterhouseCoopers’s (PwC) found that 30 per cent of 80 Malaysian companies were involved in bribery and other forms corruption (B&C) in their daily operations, compared with just 19 per cent in 2014.
According to the survey, Malaysia has the second highest reported level of corruption after China (46 per cent), Japan (24 per cent) and Singapore (17 percent). About one-third of the respondents were from public-listed companies.
We pride ourselves at being number 18 for ease of doing business, but planting the seeds of B&C will make us a risky place to do business.
B&C is one of the major criteria I used in evaluating proposed investments in a foreign country during my working life. Ease of doing business is not a major consideration because, in the long-term, B&C will eat up returns.
B&C can be as addictive as cocaine or alcohol.
Contrary to popular belief, it is seldom that lowly-paid officials are the worst offenders. Corruption is widespread even among middle-income and high-income officials. Thus corruption is a matter of greed rather than need.
If the PwC report could tell us when, where and who are involved in B&C, our MACC would find itself severely shorthanded. Of course, company officials are not the only culprits. We can be certain that public officials are also involved in B&C.
The MACC is supposed to be an independent, transparent and professional body that effectively and efficiently manages the nation’s anti-corruption efforts.
To convince the public of the MACC’s independence, transparency and professionalism, the government instituted a “check and balance mechanism” in the form of five panels which are independent external oversight bodies. They are supposed to closely and constantly monitor the MACC to ensure that it functions efficiently, effectively, independently, professionally and transparently.
Its vision and mission is to create a corrupt-free Malaysian society based on high spiritual and moral values. “Integrity” is a core element in its Code of Ethics and Conduct.
With such a grandiose set up, we need to know its performance.
In 2015, Malaysia was the 54th least corrupt nation out of 175 countries. In 2008, we were at number 47. So, what happened? Is there something not working with MACC’s check and balance mechanism? Is it truly independent?
We need vision, will and courage to contain B&C.
Now, do our political leaders, corporate generals and bureaucrats possess those attributes? Some of them probably do. But the man of the hour has to be Abu Kassim Mohamed, who has helmed MACC since 2010. On July 31, 2010, he pledged to resign if any graft reports were not investigated by his agency.
He has kept his promise, but others have not.
Saleh Mohammed is an FMT reader
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