Several years ago, I asked the 50-year-old father of four college students about the scandals rocking our nation. He didn’t seem perturbed. If given half a chance, he would accept bribes if it would help him put his children through their education and pay for the high maintenance of his wife.
He said: “Do you know how hard I have to work to pay the college fees? When I read about the millions of ringgit accepted by the corrupt in our country, I too want a share of that money.”
This man is a highly trained professional, enjoys a senior position in a government-linked company, counts many titled people as his friends and is widely travelled.
His father is a retired teacher, his mother is a housewife and they could easily be the average Malaysian family with a terraced house and one car.
It’s safe to assume that this man was once a rational person. Has he become so pressured by the cost of living that he’s willing to be part of the corrupt scene? Do his children have the same attitude?
Last year, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission conducted a study involving 1,000 university students. According to MACC chief Dzulkifli Ahmad, 16% of the respondents said they would be prepared to accept bribes or offer them to avoid penalties.
Many of us are probably not surprised. But we should be filled with dread for the future. These are the people who will one day lead the nation or at least be part of the society of tomorrow.
In Malaysia and many other third world countries, there is a heavy dependence on the use of local intermediaries to handle transactions with the government. Being well connected to key officials and politicians means that these agents will use illicit payments to secure contracts and the various permits for business.
Our parents and teachers can only teach us so much, but when students read about prominent people in respectable positions and politicians being convicted of bribery and corruption, what sort of message does this send to them?
News about senior civil servants and politicians hoarding money in the attic must be enticing to them. Today’s youths want to have the latest watches, the most high tech gadgets, imported fast cars and exotic holidays. To get those, they’ll have to slog for years even if they’re good at their jobs. So they probably see corruption as a way of fulfilling those wants.
An English expatriate in Malaysia said, “I was speeding and had too much to drink, but when I was stopped, I just paid the policeman a few hundred ringgit. It was either that or be sacked. The car is essential to my work. Of course, I would not dream of bribing a cop in my own country.”
So what sort of image is Malaysia giving our youths and the rest of the world?
Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.
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