CORRUPTION has ancient and deep roots. John Thomas Noonan, one of the few authors who have dug deep into the origins of corruption, traces the scourge to 1500 BC in his book Bribes. Others will remember the corruption of Delilah by the Philistines to get the secret of Samson’s strength.
But that is not the point. We cannot stand here in the 21st century and blame antiquity for all our problems associated with corruption.
There is a better route to its resolution: we must begin with us as individuals. Over time, the virtuous circle will expand outwards to our family, community, country and the world. There is a ripple at work here.
Call it major consequences of slight actions. Like charity, the chase to get rid of corruption must begin at home. If we want Malaysia to be corruption-free, we need first to be an incorruptible individual.
The trick is to not get near corruptible behaviour. Expensive lifestyle is not one to hanker after.
A multi-million ringgit house may be good for “Bungalow Bill”, but not for an officer who is just building his career.
We must neither give nor take bribes. The people around us will follow suit. Our reputation will precede us. But we must be the first cause of the ripple.
The road to a corruption-free society will surely come with obstacles, but we must do a few things right to make the journey less arduous.
First, we must seek to be just at individual and national levels. Being just means, placing the right things in the right place.
Perhaps its opposite will bring home the point better. Injustice means to do wrong to a thing or people. Or to claim for ourselves what is not ours.
This requires personal transformation and institutional reforms at the national level.
A nation cannot practise justice if its people are unjust to one another. Institutions are after all manned by people. One does not go to bed unjust and wake up being just. It requires knowledge.
Both the young and the old need to be schooled in this.
Transparency in governance is equally important. The government’s move to get ministers to make their assets public is a step in the right direction. It should not stop there.
Public procurement must be made public, too. Procurement is a nest for corruption. The more open and transparent the procurement process, the less opportunity for abuse.
There is a role for a free press and civil society in the fight against corruption. Both can highlight such abuses and help shape a corruption-free society.
They can, and must, demand accountability from political leaders, civil servants and private-sector actors. Granted, the war against bribery has been waged since antiquity, but that doesn’t mean bribery cannot be beaten. Never underestimate the consequences of concerted actions.
To paraphrase the late Indra Gandhi, one must beware of those who can do nothing without money, and those who want to do everything with money.