By Tunku Aziz
The Malaysian Insider
In late 2006 as I was completing my term of office as a Special Advisor to the Secretary-General of the United Nations in New York, I received an unexpected invitation to deliver a speech at an anti-corruption conference in Jerusalem, Israel. It was an important gathering of academics, senior government officials and NGO luminaries.
The president of Israel, Moshe Katsav, the guest of honour, made a stirring speech about the evils of corruption, enjoining us all to fight it in our society.
Even as he was extolling the virtues of integrity in personal and public life, the police were crawling all over the presidential mansion rummaging through documents as part of an investigation into multiple allegations of rape and sexual harassment by several members of his female staff, over an extended period of time going back to when he was the tourism minister. He was finally sentenced to seven years in prison last week by a Tel Aviv District Court.
I mention all this for two reasons. The first is that I have never known any president, prime minister, chief minister or even a garden variety politician, however corrupt he is known to be, opposing measures to fight corruption. Many are so sincere and convincing that you think a new corruption-free dawn is about to break.
In our case, we have political leaders swearing blind that corruption is evil. They, by any standard, even if you want to be charitable, cannot in all honesty be described as morally upright where corruption is concerned.
The same applies to corrupt civil servants: They would dearly love you to believe that they are all valiant corruption fighters.
So, it seems logical to ask why do we rate so poorly in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, year in and year out?
Corruption is not just about money changing hands. That is common bribery. Corruption is about abusing entrusted power for private gain.
The latest to join the serried ranks of the country’s star-studded corruption fighters’ gallery is Daim Zainuddin, who, in my humble view, is the last person to lecture us about probity and rectitude.
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, with his oversized baggage of religious credentials and other feel-good paraphernalia, had me fooled completely and the experience was all the more unpalatably galling because I genuinely like him as a person.
Whether he likes me or not, I dare not say. His intentions were I am sure very good, but then as we all know, the road to hell and moral damnation is paved with good intentions.
One lesson we should never ever forget is that politicians as a breed are pathological liars. There are naturally one or two who are reliable and decent.
But seriously, you would probably be better off trusting a cat with a plate of fried fish. Opposition politicians are no exception to this universal truth. So keep an eagle eye on them too, including me, just to be on the safe side.
They cannot abuse power because for now they have no power to abuse. Many will find the temptation irresistible. Name me one honest politician; I will name you 10 wayward Yang Berhormat, together with a clutch of even more crooked Yang Amat Berhormat.
Now, as for the second reason: My highlighting of the sentencing of Moshe Katsav of Israel is to draw comparison between the justice system of Israel and our own Mahathir-defaced system.
I cannot, figuratively speaking, for the life of me ever hope to see, not in a million years, a similar demonstration of the application one law for all enacted in our Palace of Justice. While we are not yet a failed state, our judiciary has, by general acclaim, failed to justify its existence.
What a stark contrast between a working democracy that is Israel and a thoroughly corrupt country that is Malaysia today.
Najib Razak’s tantalising array of transformation plans are doomed to failure if he continues to show arrogance and disdain for public opinion by putting disreputable, unsavoury and corruption-tainted Umno politicians to head Felda, Felcra and other institutional milch cows.
Let me remind Najib, the self-proclaimed listening ear of the people’s needs, that in the ultimate analysis, actions speak louder than words.
Malaysia cannot achieve wholesome, ethical developed nation status by 2020 or 2099 if Barisan Nasional politics remains stuck in the same groove of careless indifference to basic values and value systems that Malaysia desperate lacks and needs.
Knuckle down to basics and the rest will fall in place. At present the transformation plans sound like so much noise and nothing more because it is inconceivable that they will ever be carried out in a prudent and accountable and sustainable way for the benefit of the long-suffering people of Malaysia.
Discerning Malaysians are not blind to the fact that all the public money being so generously doled out on a daily basis in Sarawak and Selangor is nothing less than advance vote buying.
Money cannot buy the nation’s burning desire for change and change there will be. Try another tack, and save the country from bankruptcy.