A FEW years ago, Transparency International named former Indonesian president Suharto as the most corrupt world leader of the past 20 years, having stolen up to US$35 billion.
He topped Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, who took up to US$10 billion.
Both countries suffered under the kleptocrats, who were corrupt, implemented inefficient economic policies and used deceit to fill their pockets with illegal proceeds.
Transparency International regularly monitors corruption across the globe. To date, no single country gets a perfect score.
The 2018 Corruption Perception Index (CPI), which ranks 180 countries, uses a scale of between 0 and 100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean. More than two-thirds of countries scored below 50 in this year’s CPI, and Malaysia scored 47.
Part of the reason is that Malaysia has been plagued by a series of high-profile political corruption scandals.
Kleptocracy is a word that is several hundred years old, but has recently seen an upsurge in popularity. It is different from kakistocracy, where a country is run by incompetent people.
‘Klepto’ means ‘thief’ and ‘cracy’ means ‘rule’.
Therefore, literally ‘kleptocracy’ means ‘rule by thieves’. In Greek, ‘klepto’ means ‘I steal’.
Basically, it is a term applied to a government which has the following characteristics:
THOSE in power steal national resources. Kleptocracy is not just government by theft, it is the government by the institutionalisation of theft.
THOSE in power use their official position to steal from the people, and seek to stay in power through corruption, collusion and nepotism. Kleptocracies destroy communities but pretend to nurture them.
A GOVERNMENT dominated by leaders who pretend to be honest, when in reality there is rampant greed and involvement in corruption.
IMPOSING a massive tax or other financial burden on the public and enterprises.
TREATING the country’s treasury as though it were their own bank account.
EXPLOITATION of the wealth of the public and using the proceeds for themselves, including spending funds on luxury or unnecessary projects which sometimes even leads to the payment of more illegal commissions.
A GOVERNMENT leader practising cronyism and nepotism by awarding prime contracts and civil service posts to relatives or personal friends rather than giving them to competent and qualified candidates; projects are created at the policy level with the main reason of being able to funnel money out of the treasury, with little viability or necessity of the projects, thus depriving the people and country of resources which are truly needed.
Every ringgit a kleptocrat puts in his pocket is a ringgit stolen from the poor, who need healthcare, roads, clean water and schools.
Therefore, kleptocracy is a form of political and government corruption where the government exists to increase the personal wealth and political power of its officials and the ruling class at the expense of the wider population.
A kleptocracy is a country ruled by an elite that seeks self-enrichment as its primary goal. It is one’s way of diverting public funds into private pockets.
Corruption erodes trust in government, undermines the social contract and impedes investment with consequential effects on growth.
Many kleptocrats are still enriching themselves, left, right and centre.
Kleptocrats normally launder the fruits of their crimes through a variety of ways. They send money around the world at the touch of a button, aided by unscrupulous professionals with the expertise to launder it through anonymous offshore companies and secure it in luxury assets in the West.
The annual costs of international corruption amounted to a staggering US$3.6 trillion in the form of bribes and stolen money, said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said corruption in Malaysia last year cost the country RM47 billion which is about 4.0 per cent of the county’s gross domestic product and nearly double what it spent on healthcare.
Yet the weak financial measures and lack of transparency demonstrated by certain kleptocratic regimes may provide an opportunity for terrorists to use vulnerable points in the global financial system to move funds to finance their activities.
In order to prevent and combat kleptocracy, each country must have leaders with sincere and strong political will with effective anti-corruption agencies and strong support from the public.
The leaders must strengthen the institutions that maintain checks and balances on political power, enforce anti-corruption legislation, get civil society organisations to be strategic partners of the government and also allow a free and independent media.
The leader must set a good example for others to follow.
The enduring legacy of good governance and integrity will prevent corruption and improve the CPI.
The country can learn how to fight corruption from the least corrupt countries in the world such as Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore.
They have leaders with integrity, good governance, accountability in the public sector, openness of contracts and appoint independent oversight committees to monitor the procurement process.
The public, on the other hand, must give full support to the anti-corruption agencies to fight corruption.
the writer is is the former immediate president of Transparency International Malaysia