A source of embarrassment

4 January 2017 @ 10:15 AM

THE avenues of corruption are many and one highlighted recently by the deputy chief commissioner (operations) of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is the game of golf. Apparently, civil servants go overseas to play golf with potentially corrupt people; contractors and suppliers. This, according to the MACC, must stop. It is not that the game should not be played but the reason behind the popularity of the game amongst public servants and their penchant for playing it in other countries. Golf, as played by amateurs, is not as innocent as it looks. On the course, large sums are “gambled” and the game is fixed to favour the corrupt official. Hence, the MACC’s clear warning to civil servants to play in the country where, one assumes, they can be better policed.

It is a pity that it has come to this, but obviously, given the number of public officials caught red-handed with millions of ringgit stashed away in these past few months, the MACC must have identified it as a usual kickback conduit. More is the pity when civil servants are openly told to behave properly and not look to have their palms greased by businessmen pursuing government contracts, reputedly the most lucrative, given the certainty of payment. It has become a source of embarrassment when administrators, especially senior ones, are being openly warned against behaving in ways that are construed as criminal, because that is what corruption is — a crime. What makes it odious is its impact: it bleeds the public coffers. For, it is ultimately the public that pays for the kickbacks, which are worked into a contract’s total cost.

Unfortunately, even if they were to stop playing golf abroad, those bent on criminality will find other ways to perpetrate the evil. It would not be surprising to find there is more than one way to skin the corruption cat. The most innocuous is the all-expenses paid entertainment afforded to officers. Then, the more objectionable so-called revolving door, where officers move from government service to become bosses of private companies. There are innumerable ways for favours to be returned to the contract beneficiary.

Would the MACC then be able to plug every loophole? Can prosecution be retrospective? That is, when the kickback comes after public service, like when one is sitting on the company board? It is one thing to exhort exemplary behaviour, but when there is neither carrot nor stick, can this happen voluntarily? A few cases of righteousness have been known to happen but looking around at the open display of wealth — the means by which some have been identified — many are more prone to abuse of office than not. A more effective mechanism to stop the cancer in its tracks then would be to punish those caught severely and to such an extent that the resulting stigma deters the whole family, not just the perpetrator. And, once convicted, all assets are confiscated causing sudden impoverishment accompanied by prison time. In short, the threat of merciless pain, and nothing less.