LAST_UPDATEWed, 20 Jun 2018 8pm

Corruption in Malaysia: Perception vs Reality

Malaysia and Corruption. Two words that are interlinked in so many ways.

Fact I: The international accounting firm KPMG’s Fraud, Bribery and Corruption Survey 2013 revealed that an overwhelming 90% of business organizations feel that bribery and corruption is necessary to do business in Malaysia at the moment.

Fact II: Transparency International (Malaysia) first ever Malaysian Corruption Barometer (MCB) 2014 released in January this year recorded as many as 45% of Malaysians feel political parties are the most corrupt, followed by the police force then public and civil servants.

Fact III: Transparency International global survey revealed that Malaysia is now ranked 50 among 175 countries worldwide in the Corruption Perception Index 2014. Malaysia has moved up 3 places from 53 last year and is placed second after Singapore in Southeast Asia (incidentally, Singapore is ranked 7 out of 175).

On the positive side, Malaysia is in the top one third of countries polled. That’s not so bad, right? But do these statistics translate to the everyday lives of Malaysians?

While Malaysians do not have to put up with rampant and petty bribery from every level of police, civil service, education and politics like in the countries ranked lower on the corruption perception index, just to get through their daily lives, the first two surveys above prove that corruption is still very much part of the ecosystem of ‘getting things done’ in Malaysia.

After so many years, the underlying notion that bribe or corruption is part of our ‘culture’ still exists although many organizations - both government and private sectors - have come up with all necessary measures to arrest it. How far does perception reflect reality?

What do the facts tell us?

Let’s breakdown the statistics:

Malaysia scored 52 out of 100, placing us second least corrupt in Southeast Asia.

Below is the scores breakdown of Asean countries:

Globally, Malaysia managed to position itself better than other developed countries including Italy, Greece and the Czech Republic, according to the same report.

The table below shows the global scores and rankings:

The improvement in ranking shows that the government's transformation plans have made some achievements while proving that the active roles of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) have shown results. Also, it shows that the government can do better as long as they are determined in curbing corruption.

When contacted, Datuk Akbar Satar (pic below), the President of Transparency International Malaysia (TI-M) told Malaysian Digest: “It is something commendable to see Malaysia climbed up three spots on the latest Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) as this proves the government efforts in fighting against corruption in the country  has been effective.

The index, said Akhbar, is based on a combination of surveys and assessments collected by various reputable institutions, among them the World Bank, World Economic Forum, and research bodies in major continents;  in all eight research institutions spanning the globe.

“Although Malaysia moved up the rankings, we must not rest on our laurels if we aspire to reach a rank of 30 in the CPI. A change of mind-set and a holistic approach is of utmost importance in order to counter corruption effectively; the support from the public is also equally crucial to curb integrity crisis,” he said. Datuk Akbar Satar is the President of Transparency International Malaysia (TI-M)Datuk Akbar Satar is the President of Transparency International Malaysia (TI-M)

When asked if the government is doing enough in fighting against corruption, he said: “The government is obviously doing its part in anti-corruption efforts but the government should walk the talk by setting a good leadership example first before asking people to follow their footsteps.”

“At TI-M, we have been quite vocal and outspoken in the fight against corruption. In recent years, we have made some recommendations [to the government] to improve the corruption situation in the country and we believe, only by rectifying the loopholes in certain areas we can trace the root causes of the problem.

“If the country’s corruption problem left unsolved, not only would it cause illicit capital outflow and budget deficit but the image of the country would also be tarnished,” he said, adding that the problem of unequal opportunities [in the workplace] would also arise, if the problem worsens.

What is the government’s stance?

In response to the recently announced CPI results, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had urged all Malaysians to combat graft as the country continues its effort to improve its position in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI).

Najib was quoted a New Straits Times report dated Dec 5 as saying that stronger measures and practices need to be enforced and must be taken to eliminate entrenched interests and processes that support abuses.

On Dec 4, Najib expressed his jubilant view and wrote in his blog that: “Although an encouraging achievement, we must not rest on our laurels. Our target is to be at the 30th spot by 2020. And to achieve that, we need everyone to work together in the fight against corruption.

In 2010, the Government’s Transformational Programme (NKRA) was launched with one of its visions being to tackle corruption.  The fight against corruption in Malaysia is a key focus of the GTP as it could stand in the way of the country attaining its ambition of being a high-income nation by 2020, as stated in the NKRA website.

GTP Impact Assessment Survey conducted by Frost & Sullivan in 2012GTP Impact Assessment Survey conducted by Frost & Sullivan in 2012

Pemandu CEO and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of the Government’s Transformational Programme has spoken publicly about the government’s efforts in combating corruption, highlighting the importance of cultivating good governance and integrity at every level of our social fabric, not just the official institutions.

Writing in his blog earlier this year, Idris shared that “Corruption is a beast. It rears its ugly head in the worst and best of us. If we want to be brutally honest with ourselves; many of us have given, received or tempted one way or another in our lifetime.”

He also outlined that there are three main categories of corruption, namely “regulatory/enforcement corruption, procurement corruption and corruption related to political funding. In some areas, we have made progress but there are stumbling blocks.”

“As long as there is giving, there will be taking”

Yes, the stumbling blocks are certainly everywhere these days. Take for example, the controversial former Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, whose long term of governance has been plagued by allegations of corruption and abuse of power yet his stronghold on politics and business ensured the state's continued prosperity.

The recent media storm surrounding the alleged mismanagement of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) in what is perceived as its non-transparent handling of public funds, eventually led to a police report being lodged by Datuk Paduka Khairuddin Abu Hassan, Umno Batu Kawan Division Deputy Chief against 1MDB last week as reported by Malaysian Digest (read here) earlier is another example of the major setbacks the government faces in battling corruption.

Nga Kor Ming is Perak’s DAP chairmanNga Kor Ming is Perak’s DAP chairman“With such a tiny population (30 million), can you imagine that a whopping RM1.3 trillion is flown out as corrupted money in Malaysia?” asked Perak DAP chairman, Nga Kor Ming (pic left).

When contacted by Malaysian Digest, Nga had been unimpressed about the CPI results. Instead, he called attention to another recent survey by the Global Financial Integrity (GFI).

“The CPI result is just a figure after all; it does not paint a conclusive picture of corruption problem in the country. In fact, Malaysia is among the worst country for illicit capital outflows, where the country ranked 5th in 2012 with total illicit capital outflows of US$ 48.93 billion,” he said, referring to a recent survey by GFI.

Nga continued: “In order to curb corruption, the government should first set a good example; they should declare all their assets. Secondly, all the government contracts and land must be given out to open tender, no more direct negotiations. Thirdly, all the findings in the Auditor-General’s Reports should be appropriately addressed.”

Ironically, Nga inadvertently echoes Idris Jala’s view that “corruption is a vicious cycle – as long as there is giving, there will be taking. It is no denying that corruption is a cancer prevalent in administrative culture in Malaysia and this is the main reason why Malaysian household income is relatively low if compared with other countries, say Singapore,” he said, describing the situation of corruption in Malaysia as ‘fourth-stage cancer’.

Set up a fund administered by independent bodies to fund anti-corruption programmes – Dr Chandra Muzaffar

President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), Dr Chandra Muzaffar (pic below), who is both a social activist and academic, also gave his take on the issue of corruption when contacted by Malaysian Digest, and echoed Nga and Idris view that rampant corruption can only be combated  by a change of mind-set through public campaigns to create awareness.

“Apart from improving enforcement and evidence-gathering, the government should also create a fund that is administered by independent bodies where members could draw money for related campaign as this can help to deter potential fraud or corruption.”

“Anti-corruption efforts in Malaysia have been quite forthright in recent years. Many panels, agencies and organizations are now given much prominent role in the country if compared with the situation in 10 years ago, which is something worth praising,” he said. Dr Chandra Muzaffar is the President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST)Dr Chandra Muzaffar is the President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST)

However, corruption in Malaysia, said Dr Chandra, remains a rampant epidemic in the country although there are laws and institutional measures to monitor the situations.

“The role played by middlemen and internal bidding which allows relative to bid for contracts are among some unhealthy practices that could potentially thwart the government’s efforts in the fight against corruption,” he said.

“We have to practice governance with total transparency and accountability,” Dr Chandra observed.

Moving forward, there is also a responsibility upon every Malaysian to ensure they do not engage in or encourage corrupt practices while the government deploys measures to curb corruption.

To quote TI-M President Datuk Akbar Satar, we cannot rely solely on the Government to fight against corruption in the country; all Malaysians should come and work together as it is a shared responsibility to ensure a corruption-free environment.


-- mD