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I don’t know about you but I’m really sick and tired of the constant reports about how some public official made off with billions of ringgit in public funds, or reaped a fortune selling off our natural resources to cronies, or made their family members millionaires by giving them the right to scam migrant workers.

Pervasive culture of corruption

Let’s face it: our nation is corrupt, utterly, hopelessly corrupt. The culture of corruption, impunity and greed is so pervasive that it touches almost every aspect of life in our nation.

It is a staggering fact that each year billions upon billions of public fund – our money –  are stolen by corrupt politicians and civil servants.  A  recent Transparency International Malaysia report, for example, noted that we, the people of Malaysia, lost RM46.9 billion in 2017 due to corruption within the public sector; an amount higher than all the GST collected that year.

As well, year after year, Malaysia is singled out for mention internationally for illicit financial outflows. Last year, Malaysia even earned the dubious distinction of having the highest illicit financial outflow per capita in the world. And all we do is make a few sanctimonious speeches about how committed we are to tackling corruption.

When we are going to get angry enough?

When are we going to get angry enough with this brazen wholesale theft of our money to do something about it, to demand that our politicians and our justice system bring to book these thieves – no excuses, no compromises and no mercy.

We’ve been fooling ourselves that there is even a modest effort going on to slay the demon of corruption. The fact is we’ve long since lost the war on corruption despite the occasional headlines of some major arrest. Even when there’s an arrest, there’s no  guarantee that the culprits will go to jail. Remember the RM12 billion PKFZ scandal?  Remember the RM250 million  ‘Cowgate’ scandal?

Vast sums of public money disappear and no one is held responsible – scandals without culprits, crimes without criminals.

And we’ve lost the battle against corruption not because it’s a war we can’t win but because the political will to seriously root out corruption wherever it may be found is lacking.

Great expectations

There is great expectation that our new government, born out of our long struggle for justice, and now comprising several vocal anti-corruption crusaders,  would aggressively move not just to strip away the impunity that corrupt officials  have long enjoyed but to ruthlessly destroy the very culture that enables corruption to thrive.

To be sure the task facing our new government is a broad and massive one. It will take time and much effort to put in place the kind of legal, political and ethical infrastructure to effectively eradicate corruption. However, impressions and perceptions are important even in these early days as people look to see just how serious the government is on the issue.

No doubt, the government is right to focus on the 1MDB scandal and endeavour to bring to justice all the crooks involved but does it also plan to go after the dozens of other crooks out there who have stolen or misappropriated public funds?

When we hear senior officials say that they investigated a certain tycoon in Sarawak  a few years ago and found no evidence against him we have to wonder whether Najib-era  cover-ups are still going on.

What we would like to see, even in these early days, is a clear and unambiguous signal that there will be no compromise in the fight against corruption – not just against Najib but against anyone anywhere who is found to be corrupt.  Is tougher legislation in the offing? Will the MACC be given independent prosecutorial powers? Will it be completely free of political interference?

The government can also do much to restore public faith in the fight against corruption by bringing in someone with unimpeachable credentials and integrity – someone like former Court of Appeal Judge Mohd Hisamudin Yunus, for example – to overhaul and oversee the war against corruption.

Just look at how a few inspired appointments –  theSpeaker of the Dewan Rakyat, the Attorney-General, the Chief Justice of Malaysia, the Chief Judge of Malaya – radically altered the public perception and credibility of those institutions.

A national priority

The fight against corruption is one of our most important national priorities; it deserves to be given high priority. If we don’t do it now – with a new government and a new parliament in place – we will never find the will to do it.

So many former opposition members now sitting on the government side of the house cut their teeth fighting against corruption; hopefully it was not all politics.

Our new government is doing outstanding work transforming our nation. Just recently the prime minister announced, to the delight of the nation, that all repressive laws will be repealed. I hope the government will also delight the nation with its determination to finally slay the demon of corruption.

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 24th July 2018]