Earlier this week, an aide to Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Salahuddin Ayub was arrested by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) for allegedly accepting a luxury watch valued at RM28,000.
The 47-year-old was alleged to have accepted the watch in exchange for help in obtaining projects under a particular ministry.
The minister later said he would not interfere in the investigation but would allow the law to take its course.
Ministers of state, their political aides, civil servants, the police, the judiciary and others in government are paid by the people to do their jobs. When one of them takes a bribe in the form of, say, a luxury watch, car, holidays or money, that person has broken the law.
The recipient may be told that the gift is just that – a gift, nothing more. But what happens a few years later when he or she is asked to grant the giver a favour? What if the recipient refuses, but is then subjected to blackmail by the giver?
This shows why it is important for politicians and their departments to operate with honesty, integrity, transparency and accountability.
When I worked with a multinational company, both in Malaysia and overseas, the company had strict rules on gifts and “hospitality services” like transport arrangement when visiting a foreign facility.
Gifts from the contractor over a certain value had to be declared to the personnel department, or to the boss. This was to prevent any conflict of interest.
Gifts make us beholden to the giver. In our case, an expensive gift might influence the results of a survey or chemical trial, or the award of a multimillion-dollar contract. It is important that gifts, especially high-end goods, do not influence such decisions.
These protocols were introduced because in the past, senior managers, the final decision-makers, were accused of receiving free use of luxury apartments in holiday locations. Their family holidays were paid for, and their “rest and recreation” entertainment expenses settled.
If companies can adopt such controls, so should politicians and governments. We need to know that taxpayers’ money is not abused.
At that company, anyone caught flouting the rules was immediately dismissed. The same punishment should be meted out to government servants and politicians.
The majority of ministers and their aides had not tasted real power before this. Some of them may now be intoxicated by the power that allows them to influence important, multimillion-ringgit decisions with CEOs and their representatives paying them so much attention.
The question at the back of our minds is: will these individuals have the strength of character to ward off attempts to bribe them? Or will they succumb to temptation?
If convicted, the aide can expect a maximum sentence of 20 years’ jail and a fine of not less than five times the value of gratification received.
Malaysians may have high expectations of their leaders but it has not all been smooth sailing since last year’s general election.
We expect Pakatan Harapan to be put to the test. There will be many teething problems and many individuals who will fail that test. It is not possible to undo 61 years of wrongdoing in just 10 months, or even a few years.
Further details about the aide’s “gift” might soon be made known, but it would be judicious to also name and shame the company or individual who reportedly offered the inducement. After all, it takes two to tango.
Why should the recipient be the only one to shoulder the blame? Both giver and receiver should be punished, if wrongdoing is found. Let their punishment be a lesson to all that no compromise should be made.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.