On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

It’s time for a strong push against corruption

We can dismiss or challenge the index, including the criteria used, but it would not help Malaysia. It will be better if we do something about it to improve our standing in the international community.

Malaysia still has a chance to get things right. On the forefront of the campaign against corruption is the Prime Minister but he alone cannot eliminate or reduce graft overnight. Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has kept the momentum going and has attempted to introduce a new culture of national integrity but all this takes time.

All the efforts including the setting up of a National Integrity Institute and the launching of a National Integrity Plan have the support of all Malaysians but the time has come for a strong push.

Pak Lah's efforts must not be allowed to go to waste. Corruption must be regarded as a criminal act and nothing less. If not, corruption will be regarded as a way of life and a norm.

But Malaysia may come to that point if we are not careful. According to a survey carried out among hawkers and stall operators by the Kuala Lumpur Society for Transparency and Integrity, the respondents viewed corruption among local councils as a "very serious" problem.

Unfortunately, the victims of bribery also said that corruption was a norm, with 17% of the respondents saying that giving bribes was acceptable to ensure their business could operate smoothly.

Pak Lah has taken the right move by insisting that the delivery system must be simple and effective. That means doing away with regulations or, at least, simplifying them, to prevent corruption. More transactions with the Government should be done online to cut red tape and corruption.

The media must continue to expose corruption, with prominence given to civil servants and politicians charged with corruption. That's not all – their titles should be automatically revoked when they have been sentenced.

I can detect the frustration of many Malaysians, especially businessmen, who believe that individual Malaysians cannot do anything to effect change. There is growing pessimism and the perception that corruption has become so entrenched in some areas that it can no longer be fought.

For example, despite the prominence given by the media to the blatant practice of restaurants placing tables and chairs along roadsides, many municipal councils have ignored the media outcry. In short, the media can shout but the status quo remains.

Some Malaysians believe that it does not pay to stand on principle and feel that it is acceptable for a low-ranking government officer to take a small bribe since the bigger fish are doing it and getting away with it.

Despite such a dampening mood, there is certainly greater public awareness but unless the proper mechanism is put in place, all the good intentions of the leadership will go to waste. Worse, its sincerity will be questioned because of the rising expectations.

Unless the Anti-Corruption Agency is made independent, and not just another government department, its effectiveness will be limited and even compromised. Our ACA deserves to be given the kind of autonomy like that of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) of Hong Kong, which drew much objection from police officers when it was set up.

There is also a need to introduce laws to protect whistle-blowers if we want the public to come forward to testify against the corrupt. There should be no fear of reprisals once such laws are in place.

Steps should also be made by the ACA, with the support of the National Integrity Institute, to make it more accessible to the public to lodge reports against those who take bribes.

In Hong Kong, the ICAC have offices near market places and even shopping areas to enable the public to interact with them. The public can just walk into these offices to voice their grievances.

Fighting corruption should be regarded as community work. Let's join hands with Pak Lah to fight graft.