LOOKING beyond the 14th general election, Malaysia needs to address the question of corruption that lies the root of many of its problems.
At a midday forum in Kuala Lumpur today, former Bar Council president and Bersih 2.0 chairman Ambiga Sreenevasan said 90% of Malaysia’s problems would be solved if corruption was wiped out.
“Utopia is if we have an honest government. But we haven’t had one for many years now and that’s why we are in the mess that we are in now.
“Just stop to think for a minute what Malaysia would be if we have had one in the last 20 years,” said the outspoken human rights activist at the forum, Envisioning The Future – Beyond GE14
The other speakers were Kluang MP Liew Chin Tong and human rights lawyer Syahredzan Johan. Zan Azlee was the moderator.
Ambiga said Malaysia was blessed with a wealth of natural resources and talent, but corruption had become part and parcel of daily life.
“We have all forgotten that it is wrong. Juniors think corruption is okay because their superiors are doing it. And that is the way it works.”
But education and enforcement alone would not end corruption, she said, and the next government, be it Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Harapan, would need to enlist the people in the battle against corruption.
She suggested that the next government consider an amnesty plan so that those who were corrupt had a chance to admit wrongdoing and make redress, such as by returning the money they had taken, after which they would be able to start afresh.
“Admit you have been corrupt and the state will not prosecute. This can convince the middle and lower end groups. Otherwise every corrupt person will oppose any plan to fight corruption.
“I know that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has been doing a lot lately. But I will only have respect for MACC if it goes after the prime minister. It is still selective enforcement at the moment.”
Corruption also arises when agencies and individuals do not do their duties.
For example, said Ambiga quoting a Parti Socialis Malaysia report, the Rubber Industry Smallholders Development Authority (Risda) hired contractors to plant new trees for the rubber farmers.
Rubber farmers are entitled to ask Risda to replace trees that were 20 years old with new ones.
“But Risda uses contractors to do this. And after the trees are grown, after five years, the farmers find out that the contractors had used sub quality seedlings resulting in poorer harvests or trees. This is corruption, too.
“People are not doing what they are meant to do. The same thing is happening in the fishing industry, where Vietnam ships are registered here and rented out to Vietnamese fisherman who then use them to fish in our waters. This is bad for our local fishermen.”
The proposal to end corruption was put forth by Ambiga, along with tackling poverty and convening a truth and reconciliation commission, at the forum.
Ambiga said Malaysia has done very well in eradicating extreme hunger and poverty under the United Nations Development Programme, but relative poverty remained a concern.
“We have come to a stage where we have unemployable graduates. Some of them have turned to becoming maids.
“We used to be sorry for the Philippines when they began exporting maids but this is happening to us now.”
Ambiga said the recent Muslim-only laundromat controversy in Muar illustrated the lack of leadership in the country.
“It was only after the sultan of Johor took a stand that everybody backed k off. None of the politicians did that.
“When GE14 is over we wiil need to look at this and start a truth and reconciliation commission to fix things. People are living in fear at the moment.”
She said PH should consider Penang Institute’s Dr Wong Chin Huat’s suggestion for a transition plan.
“They can’t just look at election manifestos. How do they plan to roll out a transition plan over the next few years?” she added.
Wong suggested that PH treated GE14 as a transition election and establish a transition pact with the people on how it would manage regime change if it wins.
“PH cannot afford to repeat past mistakes and publish a strategically ambiguous election manifesto as a simple public relations exercise.
“It needs to produce a transition pact that clearly spells out what its victory would change and what it would not,” said Wong in a commentary carried by the East Asia Forum.