However, let us be honest and courageous enough to concede that although Anwar had declared in no uncertain terms that "Now is the time to act…we will catch the big ones and we will catch the small ones", the people are still waiting for the "big ones" and not just the "middling ones" to be caught, and that there is widespread nation-wide skepticism as to whether the all-out war against corruption this time could deliver results.
As one speaker at the Round Table last Sunday put it, there has been a lot of thunder but the people are still waiting for the rain. Or as another speaker said, there had been a lot of strong words, but the people want results, big results!
The widespread skepticism as to whether the all-out war against corruption this time would be just all thunder and no rain is not without basis, for past anti-corruption drives had all not come to much.
The highly-publicised campaign for a "Clean, Efficient and Trustworthy" Government in 1981 fizzled out in a slew of corruption and accountability scandals so much so that 15 years later, the Prime Minister was moved to tears to publicly warn that the cancer of corruption and money politics could lead to the ruination of the nation.
In fact, 22 years ago, at a Joint Meeting of UMNO Youth and Wanita UMNO in June 1975, the then Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Hussein Onn, famous in the annals of Malaysian history for his personal integrity, gave a stirring speech on corruption, condemning it as "deviations in the country’s development" which left unchecked would "sap the fibre of the nation and bring about decadence". He pledged that the government would expose these corrupt practices "irrespective of who are involved – be they mouse-deer or dragon".
In response to Hussein Onn’s pledge to fight the corrupt, whether "mouse-deer or dragon", on 27th October 1975, I moved a motion to seek leave of the Dewan Rakyat to introduce a private member’s bill to amend the Prevention of Corruption Act 1961 to to reverse the onus of proof by make it an offence of corruption for any public officer including Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries, Chief Ministers, Exco Members, Members of Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies or civil servants who have amassed property or pecuniary resources disproportionate to his known sources of income unless he can prove his innocence and for the forfeiture of such ill-gotten gains. The motion seeking the leave of the Dewan Rakyat to move such a private member’s bill was defeated. At least in the seventies, there could still be debates on motions to seek the leave of the House to move private members’ bill, allowing the rationale behind the application to be ventilated. Such a parliamentary avenue was subsequently amended into oblivion by changes to the Standing Orders and this is why nobody has heard of any moves by any MP try to introduce a Private Member’s Bill, which is very common in other Commonwealth Parliaments.
I am very happy that the Education Minister, Datuk Najib Tun Razak, announced this morning that the Bill to amend the Prevention of Corruption Act 1961 which would be tabled in the current meeting of Parliament would contain these two proposals of reversing the onus of proof in the case of disproportionate assets and pecuniary resources and the confiscation of corrupt ill-gotten gains – 22 years after I had tried to table them in the form of a private member’s bill.
It is definitely better late, even if it is a matter of 22 years, than never. Najib said this morning that the Opposition is due some credit, but it should not take all the credit. The Opposition does not want any credit, but we certainly appreciate recognition of what we had been trying to do to combat corruption in the past three decades – and not to be victimised, persecuted or selectively prosecuted in the courts.
Successful anti-corruption reforms had been rare in human history, while failures had been numerous – with grandiose promises and the conspicuous inability to deliver, in many cases, with genuine intentions which are overwhelmed by the size of problem of corruption. Sometimes of course, the anti-reform postures were just postures with no expectation that any meaningful change will follow – and the best example is of course former President of South Korea, Roh Tae Woo, who at his inauguration vowed that he intended to be the cleanest President in his country’s history but who is presently in prison convicted of a host of major corruption charges.
Najib said this morning that although corruption in Malaysia has increased through the decades, it has not yet become a "way of life". I think he is in the minority as far as the panellists are concerned who mostly believe not only that corruption has become more serious over the years, but has become accepted and institutionalised as a way of life.
This is one reason why there is such a lack of a sense of moral indignation and outrage among Malaysians against rampant corruption in our society.
If we are to ensure that the current all-out war against corruption is not to join the litter of history’s failures, It will be instructive for us to study why the two previous anti-corruption drives in Malaysia had failed.
I submit two main reasons for the failures of the previous anti-corruption drives in our country are firstly, absence of political will or commitment at the top of the government leadership; and secondly, the failure of the government to draw civil society and the private sector into the anti-corruption reform process.
The Conference today is signficant because of the participation of several components of the civil society, although it is still not comprehensive and all-inclusive enough as seen in the omission of professions, the various religions, the youth organisations, the university students and the full participation of both the printed and electronic mass media - not to cover this Conference but to participate in drawing up a holistic approach and strategy to combat corruption.
It think it would not be an unfair to state that the civil society (which is still quite weak in Malaysia), and in particular the press ( which should have been in the vanguard in such a campaign by embarking on investigative journalism instead of just confining themselves to reporting speeches and statements), had not played any major role in the past few weeks and months to mobilise public support to create a new culture of integrity in political life and public service, and that this is probably born out of the skepticism as to whether the government leadership is serious in the all-out war against corruption, and whether it could be sustained - for fear of being caught on the wrong foot should such a campaign suddenly ground to a halt!
The role of political parties in combatting corruption is to play a key role to create national awareness and understanding of the underlying causes, loopholes and incentives which feed corruption and enlist the people as crusaders against corruption.
All political parties, for instance, should set aside their differences and unite to ensure that Parliament is in the very forefront to strengthen the national integrity system in Malaysia to make it a world model by creating a new culture of integrity in political life and public service with zero tolerance for corruption, as for instance in setting the aim of being universally recognised as one of the top "cleanest" nations in the world instead of being ranked No. 26 out of 54 countries in the 1996 Transparency International international corruption perception index.
I will like to see a change in the past few decades where the issue of corruption seems to be the monopoly of the Opposition in Parliament - when this is a national issue affecting all Malaysians and the nation.
I support Najib when he said this morning that corruption should be regarded as an even bigger national problem than dadah and the proposal by the BBC Chairman, YB Ruhanie Ahmad for the establishment of a National Council Against Corruption.
Parliament itself should set up an all-party Parliamentary Committee on Corruption to exercise the most important oversight function in the battle against graft, with the Anti-Corruption Agency required to submit an annual report to be scrutinised in the same way as the Parliamentary Accounts Committee examines the Auditor-General’s annual reports.
We have had quite a long list of former Anti-Corruption Agency Director-Generals since its establishment in 1967 under the first DG, Tan Sri Harun Hashim, and the Parliamentary Committee on Corruption should conduct public hearings with everyone of the former ACA DGs to learn from their experience and insights as to how to develop an effective strategy to fight corruption. The time has also come for the country to have the first comprehensive examination at the whole of the country’s national integrity system, to cover areas such as:
Malaysia has many distinguished citizens who have deep knowledge and vast experience on the problem of corruption, who could be tapped if a Royal Commission of Inquiry on a National Integrity System is established, people like Dr. Syed Hussein Alatas, Tan Sri Harun Hashim, Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, just to mention a few.
Finally, the Government or Parliament should consider making use of opinion polls to gauge public perceptions about corruption in the country.
The ordinary man and woman knows his or her community, and has a pretty fair idea of what is going on. Corruption, particularly petty corruption, is rife, directly affects their daily lives. They have strongly held views on the question, especially its impact on the services that they are entitled to receive. Perhaps the best approach to date is simply to poll the public. If this is done at regular intervals, and in a professional way, it should be possible to monitor progress towards the eventual elimination of corruption in all of its forms.
I want to conclude by making two proposals which all political parties can do, firstly, to organise public rallies throughout the country to rally the support of individuals, groups and the whole nation for the war against corruption and to create a new culture for political life and public services with zero tolerance for corruption - starting with a grand rally in Dataran Merdeka.
Secondly, to give full support for Malaysia to host the Ninth International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) in 1999 in Malaysia. In September, the 8th IACC Conference would be held in Lima, Peru and Malaysia should send a strong delegation to make a bid to host the 1999 IACC, which would be an announcement to the world that Malaysia is serious in its all-out war against corruption.