I had expressed disappointment that in the seven-week period in June and July when the Acting Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, gave top priority to the all-out war against corruption, the mass media had by and large been mere bystanders against the war against corruption when they should be full participants and warriors in the campaign for public integrity.
I also asked the Malaysian press and journalists to consider whether weak press freedom in Malaysia was not one important reason why the all-out war against corruption was fizzling out, and whether the press should play any role in the larger national effort to create a new culture of integrity in politics and public service with zero tolerance for corruption.
There had been two mass media responses to my speech on the press and corruption. One was that I was asking for the impossible to ask the press to playing a leading role in the all-out war against corruption if this is not led by the political leadership.
The history of courageous journalism elsewhere in the world shows that the press have a different role from that of the political leadership, and that it is not necessary for the press to be dependant on the signals of the political leadership to declare war against corruption.
It is on public record that many top government leaders, including Tun Daim Zainuddin, had said more than once that there is too much self-censorship in the Malaysian press and that there should be more investigative journalism to expose abuses of power and malpractices.
The second media response by the Editor-in-Chief of News Straits Times, Datuk Kadir Jasin in his "Other Thots" Column yesterday was that I was being both unfair and unreasonable, the former for doubting that the media was less than keen to be a full participant in the war against corruption and the latter in expecting the Press to "throw caution to the wind in its zeal to pursue the subject".
Kadir wrote: "Unlike MPs who enjoy the protection of the law when they speak in the Dewan, even when they make the most serious allegations, journalists do not enjoy such freedom. The best defences journalists have are truth and fair comment - both of which are subject to legal challenge."
I do not doubt Kadir’s statement that "the majority of journalists and editors in this country are more than aware of the wisdom of being part and parcel of the national effort to create a culture of integrity in politics and public service with zero tolerance for corruption", but what I disagree is that the Malaysian press could not do more than what they have done at present in promote and strengthen a national integrity system.
Instead of just claiming that the majority of journalists and editors are concerned about a new culture of integrity in politics and public service with zero tolerance for corruption, the Malaysian press should convene a meeting to consider how they could translate such concern into real-life journalism and how the conditions could be altered to make responsible investigative journalism a hallmark of Malaysian journalism and an example for other countries to emulate.
Malaysia will be celebrating our 40th National Day anniversary in two weeks time. Let us learn from the National Day celebrations of India and Indonesia, which were dominated by the issue of corruption.
In India, President K.R. Narayanan and Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral had to use the 50th Independence Day celebrations to appeal to Indian citizens in nationally televised speeches to launch a mass movement in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi to stamp out pervasive graft which is "eating into the country’s vitals like termites" and "cleanse the system".
What will be Malaysia’s corruption problem in ten years’ time? Malaysia’s ranking in the 1997 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index has fallen from No. 23rd place in 1995 and 26th place to 32nd place.
Malaysians should not pretend that TI’s 1997 Corruption Perception Index does not exist but must regard this a great affront to our international reputation and dignity and I call on all political parties, both in the government and in opposition, to reach a national consensus that Malaysia should aim to be among the world ten least corrupt nations on the occasion of the 50th National Day anniversary in ten years’ time Let us not be like India in ten years time where the single biggest national preoccupation is how to mobilise national support to deal with a runaway corruption problem.
Let us start now to launch a national movement to mobilise the people’s support to creat a new culture of integrity in politics and public life with zero tolerance for corruption.
This is why it is most shocking that the police banned this DAPSY forum on corruption when it was first organised three weeks ago on the ridiculous ground that similar forums had been organised and that there was no need for another forum on corruption.
In actual fact, what what is needed is to have more forums on corruption all over the country, and all political parties, civic organisations and NGOs should be given incentives to hold as many forums on corruption as possible in order to create a new culture of integrity where the government, society and people are united in abhorring corruption and have zero tolerance for corruption.
What the Police had done in banning the DAPSY forum on corruption was in fact to nullify the intent of Parliament in passing a new Anti-Corruption Bill to give more powers to fight corruption. This was why during the Committee stage of the debate on the Anti-Corruption Bill in Parliament, I had proposed an amendment to give the Anti-Corruption Agency the statutory duty "to promote a national culture of integrity with zero tolerance for corruption", not only among the people but also among all public officers - so that we do not have the ludicrous situation of the Police banning forums on anti-corruption.
The DAP proposes to organise more conferences and seminars as part of our contribution to help the ACA "enlist and foster public support in combating corruption".
I agree with the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim that the war against corruption should not be a political agenda but must be a national agenda uniting the efforts of all political parties regardless of party politics.
However, the people must be convinced that the government has the political will to combat corruption, particularly to catch the "big ones" and not just the "small ones".
There is an urgent need for the Anti-Corruption Agency to demonstrate that with the passage of the Anti-Corruption Act, it could bring into its nets the "sharks" whose corrupt ill-gotten gains run into millions or ten of millions of ringgit, and is not just concerned about trifles like gifts and souvenirs to political leaders.