Integrity at stake

THE perceived collapse of integrity and trust led to the events of May 9, 2018 wherein the electorate felt the need to change the government of the day as its influence had permeated the institutional governance framework of the country, leading to, among others, Malaysia being labelled a kleptocracy.

Of concern was the integrity of the electoral process and the possibility of electoral fraud which was widely trumpeted by prominent social activist groups to the detriment of the nation. History has shown otherwise, notwithstanding that the defeated coalition won 51% of the popular vote!

A new team headed by an experienced stalwart from a previous generation took over the reins. The optimistic electorate expected all and sundry to change overnight. At the very least, integrity should prevail as without it, trust and truth will have no meaning in the dawn of Malaysia Baru.

Prior to this, there were concerns over the ability of the current ruling coalition to constitute a team that would have the depth of talent, expertise and experience to tackle the myriad of perceived problems and economic wastage that the previous government had left behind.

Given the mammoth task ahead, experience and academic merit would have been taken into consideration in appointments to the Cabinet. Much has surfaced over the recent days on the veracity of academic and professional qualifications of certain politicians. This has cast aspersions not only on their inherent ability but, more importantly, the virtue of integrity has been compromised.

Comments likening the revelations of academic inconsistencies to a witch hunt reflect an immature response consequent to a bankruptcy of integrity in addressing the issues at hand – either one is an accountant or not, either one is a college dropout or not. Surely, if such simple issues cannot be handled expeditiously, one wonders how the purported trillion ringgit debt will be managed!

We are cajoled to look East – Japan in particular. What would be the scenario if such incidents surface in their public realm? As a nation, we cannot cherry pick the fruits that we want! Where is the much heralded vision of creating a nation of high integrity built on trust?

It is in this context that the comments by an MP (a lawyer from an accredited university and member of the Bar) that “Hanafiah has forgotten that the AG is independent and prosecutes according to evidence and never is directed, whether by the government or otherwise,” are most disturbing! It is confusing to the public on integrity.

Apparently, it is a reaction to a comment made by a solicitor-general on an internal memo which has gone public. The authenticity is not debated as it is not “fake”.

Such was the case of the Xavier Justo revelations as contained in internal memos, for which a hefty sum was paid, possibly on the premise that the truth must prevail. Integrity was heralded.

To the layman, justice must be fair and must be seen to be done without fear or favour. Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has gone on record that his conviction was “a travesty of justice”. Does this compromise the integrity of the system?

As a member of the independent Operation Review Oversight Panel of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in its early years, I know it was made crystal clear to the panel by the then attorney general that only he has the absolute power to determine if a person is to be charged. This was in response to certain corruption cases investigated by the MACC on which the AG had decided not to proceed, resulting in calls for the MACC to have prosecutorial powers.

Integrity is crucial in such instances and any semblance of perceived interference as alluded to by the MP from the ruling coalition raises eyebrows. Alternatively, senior officers from the Attorney General’s Chambers should craft their communications with more thought and finesse.

The practice of law hinges primarily on the use of words to convince, and fair justice presupposes integrity on the part of all stakeholders.

As a nation, we have to re-examine the current stance on integrity. The winds of change are here to stay, and the intensity with which the winds are blowing is gathering greater momentum day by day. Just standing still or offering nonsensical responses will have dire consequences.

A culture that does not give importance to integrity or adopts an indifferent attitude is on the road to destruction. Efforts have to be in first gear and initiatives have to move speedily. As this is a social issue, resolution will take much effort.

We cannot afford to be careless with the truth as it will inevitably lead to trust deficits on many fronts. The electorate is most discerning and politicians should take heed for their own survival.

As Albert Einstein once said: “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”


Kuala Lumpur

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