Along The Watchtower

Published: Wednesday October 8, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday October 8, 2014 MYT 7:08:07 AM

A yardstick to catch the corrupt

The MACC should use the ‘assets disproportionate to income’ measure to hunt down those abusing positions to amass wealth.

WHEN politicians are idolised to the point of absurdity, there are no limits to what their fanatical supporters will do.

At least 20 followers of one populist leader have killed themselves, including by self-immolation and poisoning, while 10 others have died of heart attacks, all because she has been jailed for corruption.

There has been mayhem in Tamil Nadu since Jayalalithaa Jayaram became the first Indian chief minister in office to be convicted for corruption on Sept 27, 18 years after the case was filed.

The special court that convicted the woman, revered as “Amma” (Mother in Tamil), was convened in Bangalore, in the neighbouring state of Karnataka, because the Indian Supreme Court ruled that a fair trial was not possible in Tamil Nadu.

Jayalalithaa, 66, was guilty of amassing wealth of Rs666mil (RM35mil), deemed grossly disproportionate to her declared sources of income and sentenced to four years jail, effectively disqualifying her from office. She was also fined Rs1bil (RM52.8mil).

The conviction also bars the former actress from contesting in elections for 10 years – six after the completion of her sentence – unless reversed by a higher court.

Since Jayalalithaa’s conviction, her supporters have been holding protests and fasts, shaving their heads bald and putting up posters questioning the judgment. One asked: “Can a mortal punish God?”

The rumoured former mistress of the iconic film idol and Chief Minister Marudhur Gopalamenon Ramachan-dran, fondly known as MGR, carved her leadership in a similar mould to portray herself as a deity-like saviour of the masses.

Such adulation is indeed ironical, especially when the ideology of her All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) is supposedly rooted on the philosophy of Erode Venkata Ramasamy, popularly known as Periyar (Respected Elder).

Periyar was an outstanding social reformer, a rationalist and above all an avowed atheist who radically denounced gods and religion. He never held any government post but the Justice Party that he founded evolved into the Dravida Kazhagam, from which the now rival parties of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and AIADMK broke away.

Such irrational support by followers of flawed politicians also exists in Malaysia, although not to the point of killing themselves if their leaders are jailed. At most, they resort to street protests.

In any case, no mentris besar, chief ministers or ministers have been charged with corruption while still holding office but there have been many cases of those compelled to resign.

The most notable cases seem to involve former Selangor MBs, beginning with Datuk Harun Idris who was forced to quit in 1976 and charged with corruption and abuse of state funds.

The former Umno Youth leader was found guilty and sentenced to six years jail but was freed in 1981 after serving three years when he received a pardon from the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

In 2011, the Shah Alam High Court sentenced former Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Khir Toyo to 12 months’ jail for corruptly getting two plots of land and a bungalow in 2007 for himself and his wife.

The court also ruled that the properties be forfeited and handed over to the government.

The Court of Appeal upheld the sentence in May this year but allowed a stay of execution.

When the appeal hearing came up for hearing in August, it was postponed to Nov 6 after Dr Khir’s lawyer said his client had been admitted to hospital.

Let’s not forget another former Selangor mentri besar, Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib, aka Mike Tyson, who was forced to resign after he was arrested in Brisbane for bringing in RM2.4mil in cash in 1997.

Although he was found not guilty, millions of ringgit worth in terms of spending and properties were attributed to him then, including a RM2mil Gold Coast home at Sovereign Islands, a RM5mil ranch in Queensland and RM16mil in divorce settlement with Tengku Puteri Zahariah (Ku Yah) with whom he had eloped and whom he secretly married in Thailand.

Last week, Perak Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah highlighted the two categories of corruption offenders in the country in his speech at the 47th anniversary celebrations of the Anti-Corruption Agency, now known as the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

The first, he said, comprised those who were desperate and resorted to petty corruption due to their inability to balance their wages and paying for their basic needs, noting that 80% of households in Malaysia earned less than RM5,000 a month and 40% earned less than RM2,000 while 75% of Amanah Saham Bumiputra unit holders had an average savings of only RM611.

He warned that the number of those who were forced to be involved in petty graft would rise if there were no effective formulas to resolve the costs of housing, food, transport, health services and medical treatment.

He said those in the second group were the greedy ones holding high ranking posts and adept at washing their hands of wrongdoing and those intimately connected to the powerful.

In recent case involving scores of Customs officers, a special MACC task force managed to nab them after probing their lavish lifestyles and tracing their ownership of vehicles and properties.

Using the same “assets disproportionate to income” yardstick, it can’t be too difficult to hunt down the corrupt holding high positions in the Government and in its departments and agencies.

As Sultan Nazrin said, the fight against corruption must focus on enforcing punitive action without fear or favour and strengthening integrity through preventive measures.

> Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by Lao Tze: There is no calamity greater than lavish desires, no greater guilt than discontentment and no greater disaster than greed.

>The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Tags / Keywords: M. Veera Pandiyan

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