By Mohamed Ghouse Nasuruddin
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) must be commended for successfully bringing to book those involved in Sabah’s colossal corruption case.
The director and deputy director of the Sabah Water Department are among the four detained to help in investigations.
It is mind-boggling how these two civil servants could have amassed such an enormous amount of wealth of almost RM115 million.
But what is more perplexing is that the Sabah Government was blind to their activities.
It would be almost impossible to conduct such corrupt practices without the connivance of other vested parties in the Sabah government’s administration. This corrupt scheme must have been so elaborate and inclusive that it blinded the authorities. The public and certain officials lodged complaints as far back as 2011 but the Government did nothing to investigate. It was left to the MACC to unearth this colossal corruption.
It is surprising that the Sabah Government does not have a systemic monitoring procedure of positive and negative vetting of projects and other irregular transactions.
The latest misappropriation of public funds exposed by the MACC suggests that corruption is endemic in Malaysia and that it must be seriously addressed. Corruption at the highest levels of governance is not helping either, for it sets a bad example for others.
A cursory glance at the recent corruption cases shows cross-occupational involvements, ranging from a few hundred ringgit at the lower occupational rungs to hundreds of millions at the upper echelon of the occupational strata. There is no documentation or indictment of corrupt practices at the highest level.
Greed seems to be the main cause of corruption, as well as to sustain a lavish lifestyle beyond one’s income. There may also be cases of corrupt practices by the lower income group in an effort to make ends meet. Another probable cause of corruption at the lower levels is the example set by the top echelon.
Curbing corruption is not that easy as it has become cancerous, affecting a significant part of the populace. Some may say it is a part of our lifeline and culture; but that is too drastic because there are still honest government servants and the lay public around who eke out an honest living. Their honesty and integrity are, however, overwhelmed by the dishonesty and cheating of the rich and the powerful.
Even in the unlikely scenario of politicians, lawmakers and civil servants becoming impeccable role models of integrity and honesty with a strong moral bias, corruption will still exist, for there are those who cannot resist the easy way to riches and power.
The electronic and print media are equally culpable for advertising visuals of luxurious lifestyles of the rich and the powerful and promoting them as the norm, enticing the less fortunate to dream and to want a lifestyle that is beyond their meagre earnings. Some desperate citizens would throw caution to the wind and surrender to corrupt practices.
Corruption at all levels must be dealt with swiftly without fear or favour irrespective of the position of the perpetrators. Selective prosecution or immunity from prosecution would send a wrong message to the people and would not augur well for curbing corruption.
The state and Federal Governments must play their part in ensuring clean governance by having systemic monitoring procedures to detect and prevent corruption. Any misdemeanor must be dealt with swiftly and efficiently as a warning that the state or federal authorities brook no nonsense when it comes to corruption.
In this context, the Sabah Government has failed to address this scourge, as it does not have systemic procedures to effectively monitor financial transactions and allocations as well as the selection and award of projects tendered. No less than the Chief Minister, Musa Aman, has suggested a review of the management of federal allocations and state funds. Even his deputy, Joseph Pairin Kitingan, who is also the state infrastructure development minister, admitted the need to set up a monitoring system.
It is quite clear the Sabah State Government needs a total review and revamp of its governance and standard operating procedure to ensure that public funds are not misappropriated for personal gains. The state ministers must now reassess their portfolios and spend more time in ensuring proper governance and the administration of their respective ministries and not just leave things to their senior officials.
This episode reflects unfavourably on Sabah because the misappropriation of funds, which went unnoticed for so long, exposes the weaknesses of the operations of the State Government. At the same time it puts pressure on our ringgit and may deter foreign investments, thus adversely affecting our economy.
To reverse the adverse effects on our economy, we must show that we are serious in combating and eradicating corruption and that our governance is based on integrity.
This Sabah episode is only the tip of the iceberg. The MACC must continue with its efforts to safeguard the interests of the people by bringing to book all and sundry who are implicated in corrupt practices irrespective of their social, corporate or political positions.
Mohamed Ghouse Nasuruddin is a keen observer in governance and a FMT reader.
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