Thursday, January 12, 2017

Remembering my dad's legacy against corruption

MY father was a civil servant.
He served as a Federal Government auditor and later the Johor state government in the same capacity until he retired. He then joined the Johor State Economic Development Corporation (now known as Johor Corporation). He didn’t play golf. He didn’t have a girlfriend, a mistress or a second wife. He wasn’t into branded stuff. His only weakness would probably be smoking cheap cigars after dinner at home with visiting family members.
Growing up, my brothers and I would envy our friends and cousins on the many hampers that their family received, especially during the festive season. We never got any. It was not because we weren’t offered any, but because my father refused to receive any.
We didn’t know he had put in place a no-gift policy until my mother, in his absence, accepted a hamper that was delivered to the house. He then warned us against receiving any gift under his name.
On another occasion, he turned away a delivery boy who came to deliver a hamper. My father refused to allow the boy into the compound and told him to return the hamper to the sender. We saw how the delivery boy pleaded with my father to take the hamper, saying that he would be scolded if he were to return with it. The front gate was shut on him.
That was how strict he was; so much so that he received threats on the phone and bullets in the mail for what he stood for. There were no threats to the family but there was one attempt on his life.
He was in a position of power, one that could yield him wealth, if he had succumbed to more than just the hamper offerings. He passed away in
1986 with a few ringgit in his pocket and some savings in the bank. He left us a house and a small debt that we settled on his behalf.
It was years after his death that I realised what a position of power can give you. And, this was when I was approached by a relative to introduce
her husband to a politician friend, whom I knew through work, for some timber concessions. I would have done the introduction had she not said something that put me off doing it. She promised us (the politician and I) a cut if the deal went through. When I refused, she remarked that I was my father’s daughter and her tone wasn’t at all complimentary.
I firmly believe that there is significant truth in what British historian Lord Acton wrote in his letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
In fact, Lord Acton wasn’t the first to put words on paper on this matter. William Pitt the Elder, Earl of Chatham and British prime minister from 1766 to 1778, had said something similar in a speech to the United Kingdom House of Lords in 1770: “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it.”
Transparency International defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs”. It also said that “corruption corrodes the fabric of society. It undermines people’s trust in political and economic systems, institutions and leaders. It can cost people their freedom, health, money — and sometimes, their lives”.
And, the World Bank, on one of its blog postings on corruption, said an average citizen was exposed to power and corruption from the cradle tothe grave. Admittedly, babies have total control of their parents’ lives by merely batting their eyelids, making cooing sounds or screaming their
lungs out. And, how do parents pacify their out-of-control children? They either reward (or bribe) them with candies, chocolates and toys.
Some of them grow out of it as they get older (a smack or two from the parents can put them in their place) while others don’t. And having tasted
that power as a child, would it feel any different when one is holding a position in office either in the public or private sector?
Having a father who served with integrity with the civil service and a brother who is also a government servant, I am happy that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is cracking down on corrupt civil servants. The mainstream media and news portals have been reporting on the MACC raids, the arrests, the suspects under remand and those who are charged in court. All, if not most, pleaded not guilty despite having found in their possession currencies, gold and expensive items and documents pertaining to land titles and luxury houses and cars worth millions of ringgit.
MACC’s action may paint a bad picture of the civil service but I believe otherwise. MACC is weeding out the bad apples from the 1.6 million
Malaysians who are in the civil service, which is reportedly 11 per cent of the country’s labour force.
A lot of work needs to be done by MACC and the relevant authorities, but at the end of the day, God willing, we can be assured of a clean, efficient and trustworthy civil service.

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