In a pandemic, fighting corruption matters

Integrity, transparency and the fight against corruption have to be part of the culture. They have to be taught as fundamental values. – Angel Gurría, OECD secretary general

With the frequent rumblings from the opposition, it is quite clear that there is a lot of mistrust against the government. 

It’s understandable when the trust deficit against a hugely unpopular governing coalition in Putrajaya is particularly high.

But let’s be fair – it works both ways. Many have very little faith in the current opposition to deliver too. I have declared months ago – to hell with the two coalitions; both are not worth my support. This is how disillusioned I am with politicians from both sides today.

Not that the attacks from the opposite side are of any surprise but during these tough, abnormal times, ordinary citizens like you and me must sit up and pay serious attention to how our government performs.

One key issue we must watch out for more now than ever is corruption, particularly on how public funds are utilised.

We cannot afford any misuse or mismanagement especially after our prime minister had already sounded the alarm bell that “the government has no money now”.

Queries about the purchase prices and new orders of the Covid-19 vaccines, the stimulus packages, overseas visits by ministers and other public expenditures considered ‘unnecessary’ etc are proper and valid.

The people want to know too, particularly during this difficult time of the pandemic when many are suffering. A transparent, accountable and caring government will be quick to furnish the details and allay suspicions and fears of malpractice within its ranks.

Latest at the federal level is the opposition shouting high and low about the RM5 billion taken from the National Trust Fund for Covid-19 expenses as the vaccination rate remains very low.

In Sarawak, the government has been urged to halt the implementation of major projects and to prioritise cash assistance to the people, particularly the suffering business community.  

However, we must accept that the government also has its own priorities and ways of doing things. Don’t expect those in power to heed the advice of their opponents, no matter how sound it might be.

Nonetheless, it pays to be attentive at times to researches and surveys carried out by bona fide and credible organisations which have toiled to provide sound and valid feedback on pressing issues. 

For example, we have been warned that corruption and emergencies feed off each other, creating a vicious cycle of mismanagement and deeper crisis. This is a fact which must be recognised by those in power.

The large sums of money required to deal with emergencies and the risk of undue influence over policy responses can increase opportunities for corruption, while weakening the mechanisms in place to prevent it.

This, in turn, undermines fair, efficient and equitable responses to crises. The handling of the Covid-19 pandemic around the world perfectly illustrates the need for integrity in the management of crises.

Last October, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief Datuk Seri Azam Baki warned that corruption cases resulting in leakage in government procurement had become increasingly critical, with 50 percent of such cases involving government agencies.

What many of us had probably missed was that Azam also spoke of a recent road upgrade project in Sarawak in which corruption had caused a reduction in the quality of the work, thus making the road prone to damage and costing the government millions of ringgit.

Oh boy, have we not heard of such alleged malpractices only too often nationwide? What else is new?

Pointing out that corruption increases the cost of doing business, Transparency International Malaysia president Muhammad Mohan recently said that it would cause companies to compromise on specifications to cut corners and save cost.

“In the end, the taxpayers are the victims,” he said. “Not only is their money being stolen, but the public is robbed of good value assets due to substandard infrastructure or poor infrastructure which may cause safety risks.”

Mohan said investors would be wary of putting money in the country if the cost of doing business were to rise because of corruption.

Tough it might be to initiate but civil society has to reignite citizen involvement to shame and conquer corruption. People’s sense of responsibility and ownership is a strong driver to foster a culture of integrity

Folks, let’s face it. We are at the tipping point.

We see governments come to power on the wave of promises to eradicate corruption. Some actually lose power when public indignation rises over a failure to deal with corruption and plunder.

Are we, in Malaysia, only too familiar with that?

The views expressed are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.

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