WHEN addressing Kedah civil servants at Wisma Darul Aman last month, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad expressed regret that Muslims are involved in corruption when Islam prohibits it. He stated that we often emphasise the demands of the religion to engage in mandatory practices and refrain from prohibited activities. Unfortunately, we are unaware of or choose not to take seriously how sinful we are if we are involved in corruption and abuse of power for self-interest. So much so that integrity, for us, is not a demand of Islam and we are not embarrassed when committing it (corruption) and it is not seen as something despicable.
It is interesting to note the trend in fighting corruption in Muslim and Muslim-majority countries. The 2018 Corruption Perception Index (compiled by Transparency International) results clearly shows there is no Muslim country ranked in the top 20 (of being least corrupt) out of the 180 countries surveyed. However, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) took the 23rd place out of 180 nations with a score of 70/100, topping the table as the “cleanest” among Muslim countries. (See details at bit.ly/star_index.) Qatar, meanwhile, came in second place, ranked 62 in the world with a score of 33/100.
Based on the 2018 CPI, Brunei ranked 31st with a score of 63/100; in 2017, Brunei was ranked 62nd with a score of 32/100. Jordan ranks 58th (49/100), Saudi Arabia 58th (49/100), and Bahrain scored 39 and ranked 99th.
Malaysia is the seventh least corrupt among Muslim countries, but has moved up to 61, one notch higher from the previous year, retaining the score of 47/100. Indonesia is in 89th position (38/100).
The rankings and scores of other Muslim countries are: Turkey 81 (40/100), Egypt 105 (35/100), Kosovo 93 (37/100), Pakistan 117 (33/100), Yemen 176 (14/100), Iraq 168 (18/100), Sudan 172 (16/100), Afghanistan 172 (16/100), Syria 178 (13/100) and Somalia 180 (13/100).
Worldwide, Denmark is in the top spot with 88 points, while New Zealand ranked second with 87 points. Finland, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland shared the third spot with 85 points each, putting them into the top five countries on the index.
Among the criteria used to determine rankings are a robust rule of law, independent oversight institutions and a broad societal consensus against the misuse of public offices and resources for private interests.
The 19th century Egyptian scholar and jurist, Muhammad ’Abduh, once said: “I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but not Islam.” About 200 years later, corruption still remains a huge problem in many Muslim-majority governments in the Middle-East, North Africa and Asia.
Most of the core values of Western countries, such as transparency, integrity, accountability, freedom, human rights and justice, are universal values and do not conflict with Islam or any religion – in fact, they are even important constituents of Islamic teachings.
A study of 208 countries and territories conducted by Prof Hussain Askari of George Washington University in the United States entitled “How Islamic are the Islamic Countries” showed that most of the countries that apply Islamic principles in their daily lives are not ones that are traditionally Muslim.
The study has found that the top countries in both economic achievement and social values are New Zealand, Ireland, Demark, and Luxembourg. Among the traditional Muslim majority countries, Malaysia was in 33rd place, Saudi Arabia 91st and Somalia ranked 199th, falling at the bottom of the list. This is a complete failure of Muslim society to uphold good values, ethics and integrity.
We have to improve this corruption perception, and to do that, perhaps we can learn from experiences and strategies of how to fight corruption from the least corrupt countries in the world, such as Denmark and New Zealand. They have leaders with integrity, good governance, and easy access to information systems, improved accountability in the public sector, openness of contracts and independent oversight committees to monitor procurement processes. And the public give full support to anti-corruption agencies in fighting corruption.
For true Muslims, there is, from a religious and spiritual standpoint, the added concern of accountability to God for acts of corruption. In fact, there is a strong emphasis in Islam against corruption and support for just and equitable transactions.
Being a good Muslim is not just about praying, fasting, reading the Quran and giving to charity, but also about being good citizens and having a high degree of ethics, integrity and accountability to God for acts of corruption.
Prof Hussain added that Muslims listen to religious lessons and sermons more than the practioners of any other religion on earth, but we are still not the best of nations. In the last 60 years, we have listened to 3,000 Friday sermons. We must practise what we preach or hear being preached. And surely in Islam, as stated above, corruption is a sin.
But above all, the best solution to prevent corruption is to restore strong ethical and moral values based on Islamic principles and an ideal Islamic administration model.
Since the UAE and Qatar’s governments are seen to be the most trustworthy among Muslim countries, perhaps they can assist by promoting and sharing with other Muslim countries their best practices to improve the CPI score and reduce corruption.
If we do not take real steps to practise Islam sincerely, including by rejecting corruption, it will be Muslims’ downfall and, truly, the God we worship and honour will hold us accountable in His judgment. DATUK SERI AKHBAR SATAR
Malaysian Association of Certified Fraud Examiners