When we take what’s not ours and without permission it is called stealing. Everyone, even thieves, know that stealing is wrong.
When one steals, one does it furtively so that no one will know and see.
When we were kids, our elders told us that stealing is wrong. “Don’t take what’s not yours.” This is the value that many of us live by. It stays with us. Now we pass it on to our kids. We repeat it to them, “Don’t steal. It’s wrong.”
Now let me ask: what do we call a person in power who gives or receives something which is not rightfully his, in return for favours and normally done in secret? That is called corruption.
Why is corruption so rampant? While many of us will scoff at someone who steals, why do we close an eye when we know someone is corrupt? Is the decay in society so bad that corruption is widely acceptable in society today?
Corruption is a disease. To cure a disease, we have to get to the root cause. If we have a sick plant with brown leaves, merely cutting away those dead leaves will not cure the plant. If its not cured then another green leaf will turn to brown. What we need to do is to focus on the root of the tree, fertilize and nurture it, water it and create a conducive environment for it to grow healthily.
Similarly, in eradicating corruption, imprisoning those convicted of giving and accepting bribes may not solve the problem of a corrupted society. Sometimes even the fine imposed is negligible to the amount involved in the corruption. The punitive measures on both counts probably needs review. The media has reported to us numerous cases of suspects going in and out of court for many years and in the process wasting taxpayers’ hard earned income. The whole effort eventually turns out to be a waste of time, money and resources for everyone. Except for lawyers. And corruption is still rampant out there.
This reminds me of the scenario in Hong Kong in the 19th century when there was a strong triad presence. Societies were gripped by controlling triads and organised crime. Corruption was part of life, shackling many from business people to politicians and even to the police. Towards the 20th century, the police force were still widely believed to be corrupt and working hand in hand with triads to protect their criminal activities.
Concerned top brass started to take actions, including introducing emergency legislation and intensifying enforcements through various legal provisions. They went to the extent of getting the co-operation of triad leaders by offering them to ‘legitimise’ their activities within a timeframe before enforcement was carried out. The police department warned the triad leaders that after the declared timeframe strict non negotiable actions would be taken against them if they didn't take this opportunity. Stern, consistent and concerted actions by the Police to “strike at and disrupt triad and gang activities in all their various forms” resulted in significant increase in arrests. The major operation took place in 1974. Two years later, the Police claimed victory over the triads. By 1980s, arrest figures had declined drastically.
This is an example of a nation having the required level of conviction and innovativeness to eradicate a serious plague in its society. I am not advocating the same method undertaken by the Hong Kong Police against the triads, but I am highlighting the kind of willpower and seriousness that it takes to effectively do something to cure corruption that has infected our society.
I wonder if nations like ours lack the knowhow to combat corruption. Or worse, if we lack the conviction and the will to do it?
As a nation, we need to educate and instil in ourselves the will to detest bribes and the people who offer them. If we come across such people, we must have the ability to keep them at arm’s length or isolate them even further away. Do not take or give bribes. There is no such thing as a small or a big bribe. A bribe is still a bribe. Bribing, whether big or small, spells corruption and everyone must say no to it. I call upon all my fellow countrymen to vehemently act against corruption. It is a disease that affects the health of individuals, societies, companies, states and nations.
We must develop a certain level of spirituality and inner strength that can help us choose to do the right thing, and that is, to totally reject any bribe let alone offer them. Corruption will not happen when there are no takers nor givers.
Feeding our family using money earned corruptly is extremely wrong on all counts. What we feed ourselves and our loved ones become flesh and blood. It becomes part of you.
We know that every action has a correlated reaction. So how can we expect our family, especially our innocent children to turn out good when we consciously feed them something bad. Knowing that being corrupt is wrong and yet continue to feed the family from this ill gained income is very irresponsible.
In some societies, camouflaging the action of bribing as giving gifts has become a cultural norm and a “skilful art” honed to such finesse to the extent that the receivers are won over with friendships and niceties. By the time they realise what is happening it may be too late as they are already entrapped in the hands of the skilful givers. These are the ones who have mastered the art of bribing. So good are they in this art that they can get away scot free while those who partake in it crudely are the ones who get caught.
Corruption on a larger scale can destroy nations. History has shown that there are corrupt leaders who have no qualms in selling the soul and assets of their countries. When corruption takes place, everything is at risk. Even the security and the sovereignty of nations. Corruption destroys trust, and when the people elected to govern nations are corrupt, how can they be trusted to protect the country, the economy and the people?
If we agree that corruption is wrong, now let us agree to eradicate it. This stance must be assimilated in our young right from the time they are at school. The fundamental value to put across to everyone, from the young to the old, and from the ordinary people to the powerful, is this: corruption is wrong for it is akin to stealing.
The ability to identify a wrong and to choose the right course of action can be guided by a strong spiritual conviction. This, I believe is the core backbone of any society and its nation. It is what we need to build in everyone.
Eradicating corruption through education and the assimilation of good life values as well as building spirituality are a long-term process to bring about change in society. The short-term approach is bold enforcement of the law on the corrupt without fear and favour.
Datuk Azrin Mohd Noor is the founder of Sedania Group, an innovator, author and IP expert.