The elephant in our midst

IT’S like a movie. Leonard Glenn Francis, aka Fat Leonard, staged a dramatic escape from house arrest in the United States and made a bid to reach Russia earlier this month before he was recaptured in Venezuela on Wednesday.

The Malaysian businessman was arrested in 2013 in the largest bribery scandal the US Navy has faced.

Then there’s that other Malaysian who also broke records when he initiated what has been described as “one of the world’s greatest financial scandals”: Low Taek Jho, aka Jho Low, who masterminded the looting of the 1MDB sovereign fund.

These men pulled off their crimes partly because they managed to corrupt government officials in many countries, including Malaysia.

While what they did has had an enormous financial impact, it’s more worrying that so much government corruption allowed them to get away with their crimes for so long.One of the best recent explanations of how corruption can affect an entire country beyond individual behaviour was given on Thursday by Perak’s Ruler, Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah, when he called corruption a cancer.

The disease, he said, spreads slowly while destroying an organisation’s “organs”, and if not treated, will eventually bring the organisation down and kill it.

Extend the metaphor to a country and it becomes chillingly apparent how our public institutions – the country’s “organs” – can be affected until the entire system is infected.

“Therefore, we cannot take corruption lightly, be complacent, choose to deny it, or justify it – even fighting for it with all the tricks to suppress the existence of the ‘elephant’ of corruption in front of our eyes,” Sultan Nazrin said at the launch of the book Korupsi dan Kemunafikan Dalam Politik Melayu (Corruption and Hypocrisy in Malay Politics) by Emeritus Prof Tan Sri Dr M. Kamal Hassan in Shah Alam.

However, as the Sultan pointed out, the cancer of corruption, like any other disease, is curable – but only if we are courageous enough to admit the country is ailing and are strong enough to battle the disease genuinely.

“We must be brave enough to admit that the reality is that corruption is happening on a dangerous scale, based on the repeated warnings contained in the Auditor-General’s reports and the various findings of the Public Accounts Committee,” he said.

Taking part in the country’s democratic processes, such as voting in elections, and reporting instances of bribery or abuses of power, are some steps the ordinary citizen can take in the fight against corruption.

And not offering bribes is the other side of the battle: Get pulled over for running a red light and so many Malaysians automatically assume that offering “duit kopi” (coffee money) will get us out of a ticket.

It’s sad that corruption has become so endemic in our society that this is done almost unthinkingly, along with paying to pass driving tests, to get renovation plans approved, getting permission to log precious forests or develop dangerously on a hillslope, and so many other instances.

Indeed, as Sultan Nazrin pointed out: “Corruption results in unsustainable development, environmental pollution, unbalanced distribution of wealth and draining of national treasures.”

Whether it’s you and I offering a RM100 bribe to a traffic cop or a high-level government official looting public funds to the tune of millions, it’s all corruption.

It all points to a disease that is out of control.

If we don’t want to end up a country bankrupt not only of money but also morality, we must all fight the “elephant” in our midst.

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