When we take what is not ours without permission, it is called stealing. Everyone, even a thief, knows that stealing is wrong.
When one steals, one does it furtively so that no one will know and see.
When we were children, our elders told us that stealing was wrong — “don’t take what is not yours”. This is the value that many of us live by. It stays with us. And we pass it on to our children. We tell them, “Don’t steal. It’s wrong.”
So, what do we call it when a person in power gives or receives something — in secret — that is not rightfully his in return for favours? Corruption.
Why is corruption rampant? While many of us will condemn those who steal, why do we close an eye when we know someone is corrupt? Is the decay in society today so bad that corruption is acceptable?
Corruption is a disease. To cure a disease, we have to get to the root cause. If we have a sick plant with brown leaves, merely cutting away the dead leaves will not cure the plant. If it is not cured, another green leaf will turn brown. What we need to do is focus on the roots of the plant, fertilise, nurture and water it, and create an environment that is conducive for its healthy growth.
Similarly, in eradicating corruption, imprisoning those convicted of giving and accepting bribes may not solve the problem. Sometimes, even the fine imposed is negligible when compared to the amount involved in the corruption. The punitive measures on both counts probably need a review. The media has reported numerous cases of suspects going in and out of court for many years and in the process, wasting taxpayers’ hard-earned money. The whole effort seems to be a waste of time, money and resources for everyone — except, of course, the lawyers — as corruption is still rampant out there.
This reminds me of the Hong Kong triad in the 19th century when the people were terrorised by organised crime. Corruption was part of life, shackling the business community, politicians and even the police. Until the 20th century, the Hong Kong police force was still widely corrupt and working hand in glove with the triad to protect their criminal activities.
Concerned top brass then started to take action, including introducing emergency legislation and intensifying enforcement through various legal provisions. They went to the extent of getting the cooperation of triad leaders by offering to legitimise their activities for a period before the legislation was enforced. The police department warned the triad leaders that after a declared period, strict non-negotiable action would be taken against them if they did not accept the opportunity. Stern, consistent and concerted action by the police to “strike at and disrupt triad and gang activities in all their various forms” resulted in a significant increase in arrests. A major operation took place in 1974. Two years later, the police claimed victory over the triad. By the 1980s, there was a huge drop in the number of arrests.
This is an example of a nation that had the required level of conviction and innovativeness to eradicate a problem that was plaguing its society. I am not advocating the same method for Malaysia but I am highlighting the kind of willpower and seriousness it takes to effectively do something to kill the disease of corruption that has infected our society.
I wonder if nations like ours lack the know-how to combat corruption or, worse, the conviction and will to do it.
As a nation, we need to educate ourselves and possess the will to detest bribes and the people who offer them. If we come across such people, we must have the ability to keep them at arm’s length or isolate them. Do not take or give bribes. There is no such thing as a small or a big bribe. A bribe is a bribe. Bribing spells corruption and everyone must say no to it. Malaysians should act vehemently against corruption. It is an illness that can afflict individuals, societies, companies, states and even nations.
We must develop the spirituality and inner strength to do the right thing, which is to totally reject bribes. Corruption will not happen if there are neither takers nor givers.
Feeding our family with money earned corruptly is wrong on all counts. What we feed ourselves and our loved ones becomes flesh and blood. It becomes part of us.
We know that every action has a co-related reaction. So, how can we expect our family, especially our innocent children, to turn out good when we consciously feed them something bad? Knowing that being corrupt is wrong and yet continuing to feed one’s family using ill-gained money is irresponsible.
In some societies, camouflaging bribing as gift-giving has become the cultural norm and an art honed to such an extent that the receivers are won over by the offers of friendships and niceties. By the time they realise what is happening, it may be too late as they are already entrapped by skilful givers. These are the ones who have mastered the art of bribing. So good are they in this art that they can get away scot-free while the amateurs get caught.
Corruption on a larger scale can destroy nations. History has shown that there are corrupt leaders who have no qualms about selling the soul and assets of their country. When corruption takes place, everything is at risk — even the security and the sovereignty of nations. Corruption destroys trust and when the people elected to govern nations are corrupt, how can they be trusted to protect the country, the economy and the people?
If we agree that corruption is wrong, now let us agree to eradicate it. This stance must be assimilated in our young right from the time they are at school. The fundamental value to put across to everyone, from the young to the old, and from the ordinary to the powerful, is this: corruption is akin to stealing.
The ability to identify a wrong and take the right course of action can be guided by a strong spiritual conviction. This, I believe, is the backbone of any society and its nation. It is what we need to build in everyone.
Eradicating corruption through education and the assimilation of good life values as well as building spirituality is a long-term process to bring about change in society. The short-term approach is bold enforcement of the law on the corrupt without fear or favour.
Datuk Azrin Mohd Noor is the founder of Sedania Group, an innovator, author and IP expert