Support Pak Lah in fighting corruption


  • Letters
  • Sunday, 09 Nov 2003

By WONG CHUN WAI

DATUK Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi sent out a strong message after chairing his first Cabinet meeting as Prime Minister last week: he will not tolerate bureaucracy and corruption. 

He reminded the civil service to cut red tape and simplify the approval process for land and licence applications, saying the long waiting period was one cause of corruption. 

If his warning is still being taken lightly, then let me jog your memory. Known as Mr Clean to Umno members, it was Pak Lah's third reminder on corruption this year. 

In what has now been regarded as a preview of his leadership, Abdullah told his listeners in March that the issues of corruption and abuse of trust must be effectively addressed if Malaysia wanted to compete successfully in the future. 

Corruption is a key concern as it occurs in the public and private sectors and is perpetrated by Malaysians of all races, and it is dealt with by enforcement and effective management. 

Corruption, in Pak Lah's words, cannot be dismissed as a problem by saying that “this is the way things are done” in Malaysia. The premier also pointed out that in a recent study commissioned by the Government, 89% of respondents disagreed with using bribes to get things done. 

We all know that Malaysia has the most stringent anti-corruption laws and codes for corporate governance but it is useless if the Anti-Corruption Agency has no bite. The people cannot be faulted if that is their perception of the ACA. 

Corruption, in the eyes of ordinary folk, is so entrenched in the system that the fight against graft could only work if there is strong political will. 

The call by Pak Lah deserves our support. It will not be easy for him but, as he said, the war against corruption needed the commitment of everyone and a change of mentality or mindset. 

Speaking on “Competing for Tomorrow” to the Oxford and Cambridge Society of Malaysia at the Sunway Convention Centre, Abdullah said that “in the public sector, it manifests itself in layers of bureaucracy that impedes effective delivery; in the private sector, it is evident in low service levels and the lack of global best practices.” 

One example Pak Lah has used is that if you operate a hotel in Malaysia, you need about 64 separate approvals every year from multiple agencies, and then there is the Land Office which needs six months or more for a simple approval for the transfer of land. Loan documentation, according to the premier, takes months while the international benchmarks are measured in days. 

In the IMD World Competitiveness Report 2002, Malaysian was ranked seventh in the world for infrastructure planning but when it came to bureaucracy hindering business, Malaysia fell to 13th spot. When it came to customer satisfaction, Malaysia was placed 24th. 

Under the new leadership, we can expect him to change these man-made rules which have frustrated so many of us, especially businessmen who have to deal with the civil service. 

To fight corruption, the Government obviously needs to give the ACA more independence and clout. It does the ACA no good when it is regarded as an agency that is only capable of catching ikan bilis (small fry). 

At dinners hosted by the country's elite and businessmen, one hears allegations of how greedy some politicians can be. Names are named openly but they remain unsubstantiated allegations. 

While it is difficult to prove these allegations, particularly when many do not want to lodge reports and cooperate with the authorities for fear of reprisal to their businesses or political agenda, these culprits remain in their positions of influence. 

Surely the leadership is capable of gathering information from its own sources in party and government on the reputation of these political figures. Something is wrong when the public sees politicians and officials living extravagantly, well beyond their means. 

There is a great need for transparency and accountability, especially in the awarding of government contracts, if the Government is serious about fighting graft. 

o Wong Chun Wai can be reached at onthebeat@thestar.com.my  

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