Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Corruption and Inadequate Transparency Prevalent in Malaysia

Written by johnleemk on 8:19:06 am Mar 5, 2007.
Categories: ,

Recently, an acquaintance of mine forwarded me the findings of a survey by the Merdeka Research Centre carried out on the topic of corruption. The findings confirm a lot of long-held assumptions (well, at least ones I have held) about the state of transparency and honesty in our country.

One interesting, and I think good, thing the survey did was divide its respondents into two categories: corporations and individuals. By distinguishing between members of the public and members of the corporate sector, it's possible to refine our understanding of the divergence (if any) in the views held by individuals and corporations.

One thing which shocked me, although it probably shouldn't have, is that over half of all respondents from the public thought the Police to have the lowest level of transparency and integrity. The proportion for the corporate sector was even higher — 60%!

Other major institutions labeled as corrupt included the Road Transport Department/Licensing Board, Customs & Excise, and local governments.

One very interesting I noted, though, is that only slightly over 2% of the public mentioned political parties as one of the worst offenders. For the corporate sector, however, over half of all respondents named political parties as another institution without transparency or integrity.

I think my own views jibe very well with those of the corporate respondents. As I wrote in the Government Rules and UMNO Reigns, it is the political parties of the governing coalition who hold the true reins of power in this country, and they abuse it to their full benefit.

If anything, this finding indicates a shocking lack of awareness among the public on just how much trouble our political parties are causing. But perhaps this should not be too surprising. For the average salaryman, there is no use in joining a political party. But for the businessman, it's almost impossible to secure government contracts without flashing a membership card from one of the ruling coalition's constituent parties.

Another extremely odd divergence was that over two-thirds of corporate respondents lambasted the education system as ineffective in cementing a culture of transparency and integrity. The numbers were reversed for the public, with 63% saying they believed the education system was doing an effective job.

Again, I am inclined to side with the views of the corporate sector. In our schools, cheating on coursework is open and blatant. "Moral Education" is just another subject to memorise, instead of encouraging thinking about morals and philosophy. The culture of our schools is one that encourages ass-kissing, cheating and gaming the system to get ahead, and it's unsurprising that this culture has become the culture of the country.

The survey also quizzed respondents on their opinions about possible reforms. Generally all respondents were supportive of installing an ombudsman, blacklisting companies which breach government contracts, passing laws to protect whistle-blowers, and making the Anti-Corruption Agency report to Parliament instead of the Prime Minister.

One very odd disagreement was found on the subject of juries, however. 84% of the public supported restoring them, while only 55% of the corporate respondents did. The numbers of those disagreeing did not really vary (12% for corporations, 11% for the public), but an overwhelming 24% of corporate respondents didn't know whether juries should be restored. Can any reader offer some suggestions why? Perhaps the issue of juries is not too important to businessmen?

An odd finding is that the corporate sector is much more critical of itself than the public is. When quizzed on corporate governance, almost half of the corporate respondents said that there was a low level of corporate governance in the country, while 67% of the public said that there was a medium level.

Assuming a positive bias towards themselves on the part of corporations, and assuming they know themselves better than the public, this is astounding. This means that the level of corporate governance in the country is almost certainly at a very low level. Okay, this really isn't astounding — it shouldn't be that huge a shock to anyone actually — but nevertheless, it's surprising that there's such a divergence in opinions between the individual and the corporate sector.

The corporations were also pessimistic about the attainment of Vision 2020 — the goal of making Malaysia a developed country by 2020 — with 57% stating this was unlikely. 51% of the public, on the other hand, said that it was likely we would reach developed status by 2020.

Again, I side with the corporations. I actually think there's a good chance Malaysia will regress in the medium or long run, and I see no reason to believe things will be getting better any time soon. We are still mired in the horrid policies of our government.

One thing that struck me as I browsed through the survey's findings was the clear racial divide. On almost every issue, the Chinese took a far more pessimistic view than the Malays and Indians.

Explaining this divergence between the Malays and Chinese is very easy. The government has consistently implemented pro-Malay policies, effectively labeling non-Malays as second-class citizens, at the expense of the Chinese community in particular. As a result, there is a lot more skepticism amongst the discriminated against, while those discriminated for are more optimistic.

What I really find odd is the Indians. I can't think of many explanations for why they would be more optimistic than the Chinese. They have had the worst deal of any ethnic community. They aren't Bumiputra, unless they're mamak, so no special rights for them. They don't have the critical mass of the Chinese to make demands on the government. They are the poorest ethnic group in Malaysia.

So why the optimism, Indians? I hope some readers can enlighten me on this issue, and if possible, also on the odd "I don't know" attitude taken by the corporate sector towards juries.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.


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