Good morning and Salam 1Malaysia!
It is indeed a great privilege and honour for me to be invited to speak at this Intan Public Policy Ministerial Forum.
My appointment as Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department with the portfolio ofgovernance and integrity – which includes anti-corruption – is a clear indication of the Prime Minister’s political will to deal with issue of corruption. Issues of corruption and the lack of governance are prevailing matters of great concern of the Rakyat that were prominent in the last two elections and will be even more so, in the next 14th General Election.
Any government that wants to continue to stay in power must be trusted by a significant majority of its people. Malaysia is at a crossroad in our democratic development and with the existence of a two-party system, demands for greater transparency and accountability, and the assurance of social justice is the order of the day.
It is not just about politics and having a free and fair elections, but building a democracy that is sustainable and brings about real economic growth that improves the standard of living and the quality of life for all its people.
To achieve this, the government of the day must embark on continuous reform to transform and strengthen its institutions and its administrative prowess to effectively respond to not only domestic or local issues but also internationally as well.
The title of my talk today, perhaps may offend some of you. It looks like I am making a politically incorrect question associating you to the dirty word “corruption”. Maybe it would be more appropriate to use the nice sounding term “integrity”. Nevertheless, they both mean the same thing from a different angle.
Corruption is the consequence of the lack of integrity.
The subject of corruption, integrity and ethics have been important issues throughout the history of mankind because how much we know about them and how we define and pursue or practice them will impact our personal lives and that of others. And as we as individuals are part of our society collectively, we can have profound influence on the way we live, work and build a nation or a civilization.
For example, the Arab Spring up-risings are manifestations of failed states, failed leadership and failed institutions. The root causes I believe can be traced to failure on multiple fronts - failure to deal with corruption, to observe principles of integrity and to govern on sound ethical values.
The current crisis in the Eurozone starting with Greece is an economic crisis that is rooted in issues of corruption, integrity and ethics. Similarly, what is happening in Ukraine is also a collapse of a government that failed to manage its economy and to practice good governance and rein in corruption.
The same can be said of the global financial crisis of 2008 which caused the collapse of large financial institutions such as Lehman Bros and others – the consequences of which have caused many ordinary people to lose their lifesavings. As a result, we are seeing economic activism like the “occupy Wall Street” movement protesting against the people in power or influence, and the institutions that support the manipulation of markets which are fed by unbridled greed giving rise to inequitable distribution of wealth.
A new era of awakening in people’s activism is facilitated by changes from globalisation and the new social media and communication. People are holding their elected leaders more accountable to deliver what they have promised, and they are prepared to go to the streets to express their frustrations over the misuse of powers and maladministration.
It is a failure of the type of democratic capitalism which we have today, unfettered by any sense of righteousness or the absence of guidance from a moral compass coming from a good conscience of the people in authority and power.
Foremost, let me touch on the subject of corruption.
Most people have a very simplistic view about corruption. This is the main reason why the fight against corruption is directed mainly through enforcement but not prevention. People often view corruption as less than a crime and accept corrupt practices as the way things are. Some may even consider it a necessary part of doing business.
In a broad sense, Transparency International defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for person gain or benefit.” It is an economic crime because it is by nature similar to extortion, stealing of national assets and is the primary enabler of organised crime.
Corruption does not occur in a vacuum. When it becomes systemic, it causes directly or indirectly many other social ills and injustices in society. From violence to poverty, human rights abuses, authoritarian and oppressive regime, environmental destruction and also prolonging political and civil conflicts and wars. Ultimately, it impairs social and economic development leading to the creation of failed states, examples of which I have cited earlier.
On a grand scale, corruption is an enabler of state capture whereby people in position of power forms interrelationship with other interest groups (such as business and organised crime interests) to undermine the proper functioning of institutions (such as enforcement agencies and the judiciary), administrative processes and policies to unfairly favour themselves, their relatives or their political supporters so as to gain financially from state resources.
On a personal basis, each of us to a certain degree is entrusted with powers either explicitly by virtue of the position we hold or implicitly by the profession which we belong to. Entrusted powers in the hands of someone with no regard for integrity is highly dangerous.
What then is integrity? We know that it is a value or character trait almost all persons think they have except those who are in jail. Many may not understand what it is, but few will accept being described as someone as lacking of integrity. The lack of it denotes that we are not truthful, we are dishonest and the implications are that we cannot be trusted. It can also mean that we are inconsistent, practicing double standard and being hypocritical.
Integrity is being committed and steadfast on righteousness regardless of the personal cost to us. It is shaped by:
Firstly, it requires an unwavering commitment to do what is right in spite of what it might cost us. It is based on a personal conviction that is displayed in our behaviour and how we live our lives. Many would uphold integrity until it involves a personal sacrifice and the personal cost becomes too high.
But this is not so for one of the recipients of the TI Integrity award in 2010:
Sergei Magnitsky’s commitment to integrity ultimately cost him his life. A Moscow-based lawyer, Magnitsky was representing US investment firm Hermitage when he bravely agreed to testify against senior Russian officials, accusing them of using Hermitage-owned assets to fraudulently reclaim US $230 million in taxes.
In November 2008, Magnitsky was imprisoned on charges of conspiracy. In pre-trial detention, he developed acute health disorders, but was reportedly denied medical treatment.
Despite suffering excruciating pain, Magnitsky persistently refused to withdraw his statement. He died almost a year after being jailed. An official inquiry launched in 2009 resulted in the dismissal of a number of senior prison officials. The initial tax fraud case was never concluded, but the unbreakable strength of one individual will not be forgotten.
And secondly, integrity acknowledges that there is an absolute standard of right or wrong. One that exists independent of our own emotional experience and preference. Without an absolute context, “integrity” conveys no meaning to us having differing definitions of morality and righteousness. It would be a vague assertion of political correctness or popularity.
In a post-modern society where relativism of truth dominates in our thinking, having a standard of absolute truths becomes difficult. Truth is necessary to provide what is acceptable and what is not. It requires boundaries to be defined and set and it requires its compliance to be monitored and regulated without fear or favour.
We need these ethical values to be defined because human have the propensity to do more bad than good.
We need a set of moral principles that forms a guide to human conduct with respect to what is right and what is wrong, whether in our actions or behaviour or our motives. Such a guide may apply to a particular set of human actions or a particular group such as a group of practicing professionals or broadly, even to a culture.
As much as ethics refer to well-founded standards of righteousness that prescribe what humans ought to do, its determination is often difficult.
Some may argue that it is determined by what one feels is right or wrong. Feelings are subjective and may deviate from what is ethical. Neither is being ethical the same as compliance to a set of civil laws.
Although laws are formulated to include ethical values to which most citizens subscribe, they may not be ethical. For example, laws that legalise and uphold discriminatory practices or violate human rights and freedom may not be ethical.
Being ethical is also not the same as what is accepted as the norms of behaviour of society. History has shown that an entire society and by extension a civilisation can become ethically corrupt. Nazi Germany is a good example of a morally corrupt society. Many nations have risen and fallen due to the decadence coming from not upholding moral values.
What then is ethics? Without having a definitive framework of ethics, it would not be possible to know what corruption or integrity is.
Firstly, ethics need well-founded standards of right and wrong of human behaviour in terms of rights, obligations, fairness, benefits to society and specific virtues. Secondly, it also needs standards that define boundaries and obligations, and thirdly, it needs to expound virtues such as honesty, compassion and loyalty.
Finally, as most of our behaviour does affect others in terms of our relationship, I believe in the guiding principle of being responsible for our actions and not being evasive of it and – in addition – loving our neighbour as ourselves. We would be deemed to have integrity if we discern what is ethical and act on it even at our personal cost.
WHAT ABOUT EACH OF US?
We can have the institutions, laws, procedures and practices but without the right culture and attitudes that support and enhance integrity in the exercise of authority and power, curbing corruption will be limited. Every individual must contribute positively towards building and sustaining a corrupt-free society.
How often have we taken paths that may not be ethical? Codes of conduct, ethical rules, guides and regulations are there to give us a point of reference or benchmark. They help to point out where we deviate. But compliance will depend on our will power to walk the path of integrity, and this will depend on our own conviction being formed by our conscience and having the will power not to succumb to lustful desires of our hearts through greed, unbridle materialism, acquisition of power and even the need for self glorification.
How often have we engaged in unrighteous actions to satisfy our ego and self-gratification?
Our walk in integrity is a battle that is to be fought not in the outside but within us in our hearts and minds.
People of integrity are consistently truthful. Their word is their bond, allowing their “yes” to mean “yes” and their “no” to mean “no”. They don’t say one thing and do another. They are genuine and authentic. There is no malice and deceit in their actions. They are straightforward, fair and even-handed.
They are respectful, helpful and gracious to everyone and anyone. They go the extra mile to serve others more than themselves, and they do more than is required of them. They are also peacemakers.
They walk the talk. What they do matches what they say.
Finally, people of integrity are always willing to be held accountable for their actions. They don’t blame others to save their own skin.
As the saying goes: “The man of integrity walks securely (confidently, not stressed out), but he who takes crooked paths will be found out sooner or later”.
To be a person of good character requires humility to accept and make intentional change in our mind-set to focus and uphold what is proper and right in our daily lives. Especially for you as civil servants, this requires your commitment in exercising the authority and power that have been entrusted to you in a righteous manner.
Be a “light” in the darkness. Be a good role model by showing righteousness for the young to look up to. Be an activist for integrity by influencing others to observe ethical values and by taking firm action against dishonesty and corruption, especially when you have the authority and power to do so.
So each of us must ask ourselves, “Am I the problem or the solution?”
The Diffusion Of Innovation theory explains that it will take 16% of a population to first adopt a new idea before the rest of the population will take up the idea and follow on. This 16% is made up of 2.5% called innovators and 13.5% called early adopters.
Who are you? If you are already combating corruption, giving your all to maintain the highest standards of integrity and ethics not only in your work place, your family and your life; if you are already building networks of like-minded persons, then you are a true leader; the 2.5% of innovators.
If you are those who are asking and saying, “Where can I find courageous people who will stand up for a better Malaysia? Where can I find persons who will champion right against wrong without discriminating?”, then you are likely to be an early adopter.
Besides the innovators and early adopters what kinds of persons are there? If you are thinking, “Well, let’s see what will happen. Let’s see who will take the first step”. If that is you, then you are likely to be in the majority which make up 68% of the population. You know a good idea when you see it but you are not willing to be one of the innovators or early adopters who take it on. You sit back and wait until 16% of the population take it on.
But worse still are the laggards – the last 16%.
When faced with questions of integrity, ethics or doing the right thing, they are the ones who say, “No choice. Have to one. Everyone else doing already. Better do – otherwise kena!”
Ladies and gentlemen, we are all on the journey of life, and the Malaysian train has already left the station. Are you one of those who will stand for integrity and fight corruption? You need to ask yourself like I ask myself, “Are you an innovator, early adopter? A laggard? Are you the problem or the solution?”