By MAZILAN MUSA Musa, Senior Fellow and Director of the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia.
WHILE you are reading this article, the city of Kuching is hosting a convention on integrity, which is jointly organised by the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) and the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (Mampu).
Among the many issues discussed, one that is of great concern to the Government is corruption. Since bribery involves two parties, the supplier and the one who demands the goods, the Government is trying very hard to eliminate the second party (whom we know are mainly made up of civil servants).
Is bribery so rampant in this country that we need a convention to discuss it? Whether it is rampant or not is not the issue. The real issue is that bribery should not be practised at all, regardless of how much money is involved.
As Malaysia develops, the opportunities for corruption are wide open. Development is synonymous with urbanisation.
More and more people will move to the urban areas as a result of development and modernisation.
It is expected that by 2020, more than half of the Malaysian population will live in urban areas.
In addition to the higher cost of living, the needs of the urban populace are greater than that of their rural counterparts.
This is partly due to urban lifestyles and social pressures.
The need to keep up with the trends and social pressures, coupled with the availability of opportunities, lead some of us to indulge in malpractices and corruption.
Life can be so competitive. When a friend buys a Mercedes C200 Kompressor we also would like to have one or at least a Toyota Harrier.
When the neighbours go on family holidays to Australia or London, the wife starts to pester the husband about holidaying overseas too.
Raising children in the city can be quite expensive.
They are exposed to many things, many of which are undesirable.
While their friends in the kampung play hide and seek, without the need for any kind of toys, the urbanites want the latest PlayStation.
This costs a lot of money. Not to mention their tuition fees, transportation fares, food allowances, etc.
As heads of families, we would like very much to provide the best for our families.
Indeed, it is a great pleasure to see our family have what others have.
It is the responsibility of the heads of families to fulfil the needs and wants of the members.
However, one must be realistic in attempts to provide the best for one’s family. One cannot live beyond one’s means.
If your monthly salary is just RM1,000, it is impossible for you to drive a brand new imported car, let alone own a home with enough space for even grazing cows.
Owning a single-storey link house is the more likely thing to happen.
It is good to be competitive but it must be in a positive way. One has to work hard if one wishes to add on to one’s income. Maybe one could operate a foodstall at the pasar malam (night market) or get involved in multi-level marketing to generate extra income.
But one should not at all resort to bribery to boost one’s income.
There are several reasons why taking bribes is wrong and must be eliminated from society. Firstly, a bribe is not a well-earned income.
Therefore, it is haram or not permissible in Islam.
I believe this is also true for other religions. Income must be earned. One has to work for it.
Secondly, by taking bribes, one sacrifices the quality and safety of products or services that are supposed to be given or supplied.
I cannot imagine the consequences if we sacrifice on the quality and safety of public infrastructures such as tall buildings and bridges. It puts the lives of others in danger.
Thirdly, bribes elevate the cost of production, be it a product or service. The additional cost will be passed down to consumers in the form of higher prices.
Fourthly, bribery downgrades the image of the bribe-takers. If it is rampant in a particular organisation, the image of the whole organisation will be tarnished.
This will affect the level of confidence the public has in it.
On a larger scale, foreign investors will shy away from a bribery-infested country.
This will lower the opportunity for foreign direct investments.
What is more dangerous is when corruption becomes a culture or a system. It is no secret some government agencies are gold mines for crooked public servants.
Some people might argue bribery can be reduced by legalising it. In certain cultures, bribery is customary and acceptable as business expenditure.
However, I strongly believe that by doing so, we are actually taking an easy way out.
Religiously, it is prohibited.
But the disease is still there in every fabric of the society.
With regards to the prohibition of bribery, Allah says: “And do not eat up your property among yourselves for vanities, nor use it as bait for the judges, with intent that ye may eat up wrongfully and knowingly a little of (other) people’s property.” (Chapter al-Baqarah: Verse 188).
What is the role of society in combating this bad practice of bribery?
As members of the society, we could help the Government in waging war against corruption. How?
Be patient and follow the rules.
How can these reduce corruption?
In this equatorial climate, people tend to be impatient. Everything needs to be done extra fast.
For example, people will start house renovations before getting approval from the relevant authorities.
They will pay bribes as long as they get what they want with little effort.
If one is patient enough and does not break the rules, he is not obliged to give bribes.
Can bribery and corruption be totally eliminated?
As long as greed exists, the opportunity for corrupt practices will knock on one’s door.
Physical and economic developments always expose civil servants to bribery.
The success of the war against corruption very much depends upon the moral and religious conviction of the office-bearers. Even stringent laws cannot ensure that a country is free from bribery and corruption.
If one really believes in the hereafter, one will not violate the trust given to one by the Government and, more importantly, the public.
Allah says: “O ye who believe! Betray not the trust of God and the Apostle, nor misappropriate knowingly things entrusted to you.” (Chapter al-Anfal: Verse 27).
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