(File pix) Piles of cash seized by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission in the Sabah Water Department corruption case in October, last year. Bernama Photo

AS a nation, we have been numbed by the sheer scale of the rampant abuse of power and corruption.

Nothing shocks us any more. Barely days after a greedy and corrupt few who denied several million Sabahans their basic right to water were dragged to court to possibly pay for their alleged crime, we were again alerted to another case of wanton abuse of power.

How many of us batted an eyelid when headlines yesterday screamed RM3 million embezzled, or had our eyeballs popping, just looking at the gold bars or the luxury handbags and watches seized?

This is slowly becoming academic as fear starts to set in, knowing that those netted by the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission are officials in decision-making positions, those whose calls are, technically, directives which cannot be questioned.

As our graft busters stay true to their promise of going after corrupt government servants pillaging, plundering and siphoning off our hardearned money — like they’re entitled to it — they have resorted to naming these suspects immediately. I would think that their forensics team has no doubt that their case will be airtight.

The secretary-general of the Rural and Regional Development Ministry, Datuk Mohd Arif Ab Rahman, would be the first poster boy remanded for alleged top-level corruption involving public servants.

Again, we can’t help but wonder about the millions who have been denied the aid that should have been given by the ministry, because this man allegedly chose to enrich himself.

Let’s have a quick recap of how corruption in the public service is being institutionalised and why we must give the MACC our strongest support.

Last year, a City Hall (DBKL) official and a bank chairman were nabbed by MACC officers for corruption, just when the country was reeling from news of arrests involving a Sabah utilities agency.

In that case, what became the talking point for netizens and the public at large were the wads of cash that took up almost every inch of the press conference venue.

Stacks of RM100, RM50 and RM20 bills were piled up high. Someone remarked, “So this is what RM50 million looks like”. It took 30 MACC officers 15 hours to count it all.

This case was different because of the staggering amount involved — RM112 million. Almost half of the amount was in cold hard cash, the rest in handbags and jewellery.

Graft busters probing the case said they had barely scratched the surface since this particular case had been going on for more than 10 years.

Investigators estimate that the cash haul could ultimately be as much as RM300 million.

Those charged in this case had been enriching themselves and keeping their fat wives happy with designer handbags in these trying economic times, which had resulted in everyone tightening their belts, and allocations across the board slashed.

RM300 million can go a long way. Maybe RM100 million or RM300 million these days do not elicit the shock effect that it should. Not when barely two years ago, a dozen men from the Customs Department were arrested for allegedly having been under the payroll of syndicates. The estimated losses to the country? An insanely obscene RM4 billion!

The slew of initiatives announced to curb corruption over the years, such as integrity pledges, the rotation of officers holding critical posts and the declaration of assets, have all come up sounding like empty rhetoric, hollow and devoid of meaning.

For the record, DBKL, is a signatory of the integrity pledge. So too are the police, Customs, Immigration and the Road Transport Departments, just to name a few. All of which had been embroiled in one corruption scandal or another.

In 2011, in what is believed to be the first such case in the country, a former director of a federal agency was charged with failing to explain how he had accumulated assets in excess of RM152,081.

Those around these holders of public office, are they blind? If a public servant, an assistant director of a government department, for instance, drives around in a posh

sports car or a tricked out SUV or a Vellfire in the course of a five-day work week, then there’s a good chance that he’s probably on the take.

So take them down, lest they prosper at the expense of hardworking, God-fearing, honest-living taxpayers who toil day in, day out with hardly a designer handbag or a fire-breathing sports car to their name.

This is also a good time to remind those who suspect, but refuse to lift a finger to fight corruption, that the MACC Act 2009, “criminalises any person who knows and fails to report an act of giving and offering of bribes”.

Obviously, anything less than tangible measures, is not going to cut it any more. Pledges are good, but only if you’re a boy scout. But when you’re up against corrupt officials, you need a bigger stick.

Two of the most effective measures are asset profiling and a yearly polygraph test for those holding critical positions and with access to public funds. Both must be done in tandem and with the understanding that this is mandatory.

I recently arranged for a polygraph test to be administered. Results could have been anywhere between 95 and 98 per cent conclusive. And it only costsRM2,500 a pop. I’m certain the government rate is a whole lot more attractive.

A crooked official may be able to adjust the books, hide the money trail and confound forensics experts, especially if he’s been at it for years.

But wire him up to a polygraph machine and chances are, things will go pear-shaped fairly quickly.

If the needles on the lie detector go crazy when the officer answers ‘No’ to the question “Have you ever taken a bribe”, or “Yes” to whether his wife’s latest Birkin was paid for with his hard-earned money, carry out due diligence and yank him out of there.

Making this a standard operating procedure for all government agencies will go a long way in rebuilding the trust that had been lost and assuage the mounting public anger over the billions of ringgit that had been squadered — billions that could have gone to the rakyat to improve their lives.

If these tangible measures are put in place now, they, coupled with the existing laws will go a long way in addressing the growing public disgust at the rampant, unbridled corruption plaguing certain segments of society.

Or we could just wait for the next billion-ringgit bust and continue to be unfazed by the sheer scale of human greed. The ball is in our court...

Farrah Naz Karim is a back-to-back Kajai award winner who has a penchant for hard-hitting investigative reporting and has won numerous accolodes. This news editor also leads NST Special Probes Team.

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