THERE is no denying that the scourge of corruption has soaked into the fabric of our society. A recent survey by Transparency International-Malaysia (TI-M) found that corruption is rampant and set to get worse, according to the majority of Malaysians.
Seventy-one per cent of locals surveyed under the Global Corruption Barometer for Asia 2020, which covered 20,000 people across 17 countries, felt that corruption had become a major problem, with Parliament, the police and civil servants ranked at the top for perception of corruption among public institutions.
The study was done between July 2019 and June 2020, covering both the previous Pakatan Harapan and current Perikatan Nasional governments.
Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) for 2020 also shows that Malaysia has fallen six rungs down to 57th out of the 180 countries assessed. Our score dipped by two points, from 53/100 to 51/100.
But amid the despair over this dire scenario, there is a ray of hope shining through the amazing story of a former magistrate who was jailed after being caught taking bribes. Instead of denying his wrongdoings or hiding in shame, Mohd Firdaus Ramlan has been bravely sharing his experience.
His aim is to educate civil servants, who are often tempted with juicy bribes, from ending up in jail and causing their families to suffer.
The sessions focus on the base immorality of feeding families with ill-gotten gains.
At the time of his own sentencing in 2010, Firdaus had just lost his mother, brother and father in a horrific car accident.
He was engulfed by guilt, feeling that it was retribution for feeding his family with dirty money.
Firdaus has been on his campaign for the past seven years, starting immediately after serving a 19-month jail term.
He was originally sentenced to three years but due to good behaviour, the term was shortened to a year and seven months.
In between, he wrote a book titled Tumbuk Rusuk: Pengkisahan dari Tirai Besi (Corruption: Story from Behind Bars) and is currently working on a second one.
His story, first published by an online portal on Feb 5, exposes the corruption believed to be prevalent in our justice system through the culture of “kowtim” (settle in Cantonese) of cases.
The Universiti Teknologi Mara graduate, who served as Klang City Council legal adviser and senior registrar of the Kota Baru High Court before his posting as magistrate in Gua Musang, claimed that corruption was already in place before his tenure but no one forced him into it.
At the height of his days as a corrupt magistrate, Firdaus, who then earned a basic salary of RM1,500, said he could make as much as RM10,000 a case with three or four cases for him to hear each day.
Based on this alone, there should be a thorough probe into the workings of the various levels of courts in the country to restore public confidence in the Judiciary and prevent its image from being tarnished unfairly.
When I contacted Firdaus through a mutual friend on Monday, he told me he was buoyed by the positive impact of his sharing sessions, conducted with the support of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).
“There are many who thanked me for making them realise their criminal behaviour. Some confessed their offences and pledged to stop. There are also those who asked whether they should return the amounts from false claims that they had made.
“There was also the child of a man jailed for corruption. He had never visited his father (in prison) before but did so after listening to one of my sessions.
“A few racists who heard my story of how prisoners practised racial harmony in spite of their situation told me that they would no longer be bigots, “ he said, adding that there had also been cases of companies which improved profits after employees stopped corrupt practices and dishonest claims.
Firdaus said many were sceptical when he first started his sessions, but over the years more welcomed the sharing of his experience and agreed that it was a good means of preventing corrupt practices.
Among ways to fight the scourge, he said, are to implement all anti-corruption plans without compromise, intensify anti-graft education, emphasise religious principles and highlight the consequences of committing this grave sin.
Firdaus said Malaysians could play an active role by joining #RasuahBusters, an ongoing campaign to uproot all forms of corruption – bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, patronage, influence peddling, graft and embezzlement.
The extraordinary crusade by this repentant former magistrate is indeed a breath of fresh air at a time when corruption appears to be deeply entrenched, even at the highest levels of politics and government, and questions are being asked about the integrity of our Judiciary.
Among them is the proposed Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) into alleged corruption in the Judiciary, which was endorsed by the Cabinet two years ago.
Going by former attorney-general Tan Sri Tommy Thomas’ revelations in his memoir My Story: Justice
in The Wilderness, the Cabinet
had agreed to set up the RCI after Court of Appeal judge Datuk
Hamid Sultan Abu Backer made allegations about corruption in the Judiciary.
Apparently, it was pushed to the back burner after then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad received feedback that judges, both serving and retired, voiced their objections to it.
Media consultant M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by Martin Luther King: “We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.” The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.