Good afternoon and Salam 1Malaysia!
When I was given the title “The Journey to Create a High Integrity Society”, I was wondering whether all of us really know where our destination is – and if so, whether we will even reach that destination.
As the saying goes – a journey begins with one small step, taken with a definitive purpose and intent. In other words, with political will.
Political will can be said to be a “strong determination to achieve a desired outcome” – in this case, a high integrity society. It requires collective and concerted actions to be taken by all stakeholders of civil society – namely politicians, civil servants, the business community, interest groups, and even individuals.
Empirical research has shown that there is direct correlation between sustainable economic growth and the level of integrity in societies. Societies that have a higher degree of intolerance for corruption and have sound governance in managing its affairs generally enjoy a higher standard of living.
The high level of integrity is manifested in the high degree of trust that the civil society has for its institutions, in their steadfastness in upholding the rule of law and justice and the delivery of public services with efficiency.
Our journey starts with the need to instil in our society a culture of honesty and truth and being law-abiding.
The hallmarks of a society with high integrity are characterized as follows:
- Support for a high-trust society, economy, and polity, and a general culture that does not tolerate overt corruption.
- Overall, wide support for democratic institutions, and elections that are free and fair.
- Overall assurance of the political and civil rights of citizens.
Generally speaking, a high integrity society will have a national integrity system consisting of the institutions, laws, procedures, practices and attitudes that encourage and support integrity in the exercise of authority and power.
The apex of a high integrity society is the integrity of the political institution, because this institution is represented by the elected representatives and law makers in the country. It determines the executive of the government.
Therefore if the political institution lacks integrity, it loses its legitimacy as a true representative of the people. The quest to consolidate more power may lead to an extractive political institution that is only governed by a few with narrow interests, leaving limited space for others in the society to engage in national affairs.
This is usually seen in an authoritarian regime. To further consolidate its power, an extractive political institution will create extractive economic institutions whereby only a few will benefit from the wealth of the nation. These are sure signs of a declining nation as it creates a vicious cycle of extraction of national wealth for personal gains at the expense of the interest of the society.
Therefore, political integrity needs to be ensured by an electoral system where the election commission must be absolutely independent from the influence of all political parties in order to support an electoral process that is fair and just.
Elections must be clean, with a minimal influence of vote buying and money politics. Political integrity can only exist when people trust the results of the election.
The evil of money politics must be eradicated whether at party elections or general elections. There must be a more regulated framework for political financing and expenditure. This is an area that the nation must deal with, as the unhealthy relationship between politics and business will continue to form strong obstruction for reform towards a government that is more transparent and accountable.
MEDIA, CIVIL SOCIETY AND INTEGRITY
Transparency and public scrutiny have proven to be one of the most powerful forms of monitoring public officials and maintaining their high integrity. A free and vibrant media is one of the necessary factors in making transparency work.
Thus, the role of the media and civil society groups in monitoring the functioning of political institutions and political power-holders deserves particular attention. By acting effectively, responsibly, and constructively, journalists and civil society actors compliment official mechanisms in addressing issues – such as controlling electoral fraud, regulating political finance, managing conflicts of interest and preventing illicit gain.
In order to be effective, however, they must not themselves be corrupt. Such corruption undermines the confidence in these institutions as unbiased and neutral providers of information.
Through monitoring and oversight efforts, media and civil society groups can identify and uncover improprieties and transgressions of the law. Such improprieties and transgressions are made public through objective news stories, press releases, and reports that can then be used by official bodies to take appropriate action.
Formal channels also exist. In some countries, journalists, civil society actors, and citizens can and are encouraged to make formal complaints of identified wrongdoing. Such complaint mechanisms provide the regulator with an added level of information that makes their job easier, while at the same time discourages non-compliance with a country’s laws and regulations.
Overall, effective monitoring and oversight by the media and civil society can add another important layer of transparency and accountability in promoting high integrity in the society.
Today, the power of the social media cannot be underestimated. It allows for self- expression – reaching out to a wide audience with speed and high frequency. Everyone has become a “journalist”. We now have a voice in the voiceless world.
In the media, unfortunately – not everything you hear or read is the truth, and therefore can be said to lack integrity. It is quite easy to make false accusations without accountability and most often under anonymity or under a pseudonymous name.
Many of such accusations borders on deceit and manipulation through “spinning” – to shape public opinions to serve personal or a group’s interest rather than providing an objective view of reality.
PUBLIC SECTOR INTEGRITY
The public sector – being the provider of common and societal services and also being the regulators of our laws – has an overbearing presence in our daily lives.
Here, the challenge is to ensure that integrity exists at all levels and functions of government. Under the current phase of the Government Transformation Programme (GTP2), we are now undertaking a transformative journey involving a “ministry by ministry” approach to combat corruption and enhance operational integrity.
It is our intention that changes are made not only at the top echelon of the civil service, but at “ground zero” as well. The transformation must be felt in the daily lives of the people.
The key measures that are being undertaken are:
- Strengthening of law enforcement institutions to improve their professionalism and their independence from the executive branch of government.
- Restructuring of the audit process to improve accountability and check-and-balance, and to ensure that irregularities are dealt with in a timely manner. Disciplinary measures are taken on abusers to deter violations.
- Chief Integrity Officers to be appointed and an Integrity Unit being established in each ministry and key agencies.
- Improvement on upholding the rule of law.
- Open tenders and no direct negotiation except under certain justifiable circumstances.
- The use of technology to improve transactional visibility and monitoring and to reduce human discretion.
PRIVATE SECTOR INTEGRITY
Since the financial crisis of 1997, Malaysia had taken significant steps to improve corporate governance and – more recently – sustainable development. The single-minded quest for profits is often the greatest obstacle to the exercise of integrity in the private sector. Many businesses see corruption as a competitive weapon rather than an economic crime.
Holistically, governance in businesses will have to be regulated to ensure compliance to acceptable standards. While there are sufficient initiatives to promote good governance especially for public listed companies, there is however a lack of initiatives to reduce the role of the private sector in corruption.
Under our ministry, the following initiatives are already being implemented:
- The enactment of corporate liability law to improve corporate accountability.
- The promotion of having a corporate integrity system in companies.
- The formulation of an anti-bribery management system standard for third party verification.
- The formation of anti-corruption sectorial coalitions.
The journey towards a high integrity society must be taken with involvement from all stakeholders, and this journey can only progress through small incremental steps resulting in an accumulation of sustainable improvements. It is imperative for us to persevere and not to be discouraged.
Where there is a will, there is always hope that we will reach our destination. The stakes are high and the options are limited.