Perception of corruption: All it takes are a few bad apples

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By TK Chua

Chief Secretary to the Government, Ali Hamsa was technically correct when he said the public should not regard all the 1.61 million civil servants in the country as corrupt because of the involvement of a few individuals in malpractice.

As the “numero uno” in the civil service, it is his job to defend and motivate members of the civil service. However, it is also his responsibility to ensure that the civil service is able to carry out the tasks entrusted without distraction and malfeasance.

However defending the civil service should not be done at all costs. It must be tempered with specific measures to ensure good governance and accountability prevail.

A civil service deemed as corrupt does not require 100 per cent of its members to be corrupt. In fact, it does not even require 10 per cent of its members to be corrupt. I believe five per cent of the civil service in the “right positions” and in the “right places” does sufficient damage to give the entire civil service the perception of being corrupt.

Not all ministries and agencies are equally prone to corruption. Some probably have more opportunities to engage in corrupt practices than others. Similarly, not all departments within an agency are equally susceptible to corruption. Again, some departments have more opportunities to solicit bribes than others.

To tackle corruption, we need to focus on the right agencies and the right departments.

Hence it pays to prioritise. By saying that not all the 1.61 million civil servants are corrupt could actually divert our attention and dilute the seriousness of the problem facing us. This is where the “20-80 rule” applies. If we are able to tackle the five per cent who are corrupt, we could effectively solve the endemic corruption taking root in the civil service.

Priority and focus are most important. Sometimes I think our anti-corruption efforts are just for show and therefore a sheer waste of time. Why give integrity talks and seminars to every civil servant when many have never had to deal with integrity issues? Why ask 1.6 million civil servants to sign integrity pledges when most have never had the chance to be corrupt?

If we focus on the right five per cent, we should be able to solve 90 per cent of our problems. Most Malaysians are happy to live with 10 per cent of the problems.

TK Chua is an FMT reader.

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