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Two disparate events this week reminded me just how absurd things are getting in this nation of ours. It’s almost like our politicians and bureaucrats are living in an alternate universe, a universe far removed from the one the rest of us live in.

In Parliament the other day, our elected representatives found time to discuss the status of Malaysians jailed abroad. The Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs informed the House that the consular assistance provided by our missions abroad to Malaysian citizens includes “notifying the family or next of kin and ensuring the welfare, safety and health of the detainee.” How nice that they are so concerned with the ”welfare, safety and health” of Malaysians imprisoned abroad.

In the meantime, since 2016 more than 284 Malaysians have died in custody at home along with some 151 foreigners. And yet there has been little serious discussion on this important issue. Who is responsible for “ensuring the welfare, safety and health” of Malaysians and others in our own prisons and detention centres?”  

I suppose it’s always easier to talk about the plight of Malaysians in far-off places than the ones who are suffering grave injustice right here at home. When is the government going to do something to stop the abuse that is going on right under their noses?

Then there was the statement by a senior MACC official that “corruption and power abuse among civil servants in the country is like a cancer, one that will slowly damage institutions of governance.” Why do these officials keep telling us things we already know instead of telling us what they intend to do about it? They’ve been making such statements for years even as we keep dropping further and further in almost every global list of corruption imaginable.  

And what about the far worse corruption within the ranks of the political elites? A recent survey indicates that most Malaysians think their politicians are horribly corrupt. If one former cabinet minister can leave behind an estate worth over a billion ringgit, what must all the others, especially those who have been in office for decades,  be worth now? 

It wouldn’t have escaped anyone’s attention as well  that while the said MACC official was talking about the “shared responsibility” to fight corruption, officials in another government department suddenly withdrew corruption charges against yet another senior government politician because of mysterious “new developments.” Things have come to such a pretty pass that the person who offered the bribe was found guilty and fined a hefty sum while the person who received the bribe was given a discharge. There’s simply no words to capture the sense of utter disgust and anger that most Malaysians feel about how these high-profile cases are being handled.

As the Managing Director of Credit Suisse Malaysia warned, Malaysia will suffer if corrupt political leaders and figures continue to walk free from corruption charges. “Sadly, the country will pay the price for this,” he said in an unusual rebuke that even included a hint that perhaps the new evidence might have been a phone call from the powers that be.  Brave man he but he might as well be talking to a brick wall.

No one will be surprised if yet more “new developments” suddenly surface that will oblige the government to withdraw charges against all the other leading politicians now facing criminal charges. We finally have a good judiciary in place but they are rendered powerless if charges are withdrawn by the Attorney-General. And then they have the audacity to talk about the “shared responsibility” to fight corruption?

Anyway, if we are honest with ourselves, we’d admit that corruption is now so widespread and so deeply entrenched that the battle against corruption is over and we’ve lost. Just read the newspapers; it’s all there – the sordid litany of corrupt politicians, businessmen, civil servants, police, customs, immigration, road transport and military officers. 

And while all this is going on, the country is slowly sinking under the weight of corruption, abuse of power, mismanagement and monumental incompetence. In recent weeks alone, Malaysia has suffered a ratings downgrade by Fitch and Vietnam has overtaken Malaysia to become the fourth largest economy in Southeast Asia.

While there are plenty of real and pressing problems – thousands out of work and struggling, the economy in serious straits, a disastrous education system that churns out graduates with little prospect of employment, an out of control foreign worker programme, to name a few –our politicians worry about where alcohol is sold, which temple to demolish or muse about the plight of Malaysians in foreign prisons. It doesn’t get any more surreal than that.

A new year will soon be upon us but there’s really nothing much to look forward to. There’s simply no end in sight to all the absurdity and chicanery being perpetuated by inane politicians with their fake degrees, false religiosity, unbridled greed and relentless ambition.  What we have now is arguably the most unprincipled coterie of men and women ever assembled in government. No wonder so many Malaysians are utterly fed up and disgusted by the way things are going, why so many are slowly losing faith in the future of this nation and leaving.

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 11 December 2020]