Graft in the Civil Service

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

Lately, reports of corruption have been hitting the headlines of the national dailies, radio and television stations. Online news portals have been busy as well, churning out stories of government servants being nabbed by the nation’s graft buster, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission or MACC.

Are these an indication that corruption in high places and involving politicians and senior civil servants is on the mend? Or are they being stage-managed to divert people’s attention from the mother of all corruption scandals, the 1MDB fiasco. The burning question on everyone’s lips is whether the dubious financial entity ever existed?

The notoriety of the scandal, which began in 2015, has earned a detailed entry in Wikipedia, a free online encyclopaedias managed by volunteers around the world. The popularity of Wikipedia has reached an all-time high, as prominent personalities such as President Donald Trump are using it as a guide and a reference other than the omnipotent WikiLeaks.

Besides two major cases, one involving a Johor state executive councillor and the other the Sabah state water department, which resulted in the confiscation of over RM100 million in cash, the rest are minor in comparison.

Thirteen enforcement officers in Selangor, a fire chief in Kedah and 12 immigration officers from Sarawak were nabbed. Four policemen were also caught for soliciting protection money from errant lorry drivers and ketum leave traders. Two were arrested in Kulim, one in Raub and the other in Penang. Their rank ranged from Inspector to corporal.

It is always the case of the small fry getting tangled in the dragnet while the shark, the crocodile and the whale easily swim away returning with a vengeance another day.

A recent survey by MACC revealed that half of Malaysian civil servants found guilty of graft are under the age of 40. The reason, according to Deputy Chief Commissioner (Prevention) Datuk Shamshun Baharin, is today’s demanding lifestyle and the high cost of living, especially in cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor Bahru and Kota Kinabalu. Surprisingly, Ipoh is spared.

Between 2014 and 2016 of the 2329 people apprehended for graft, 1267 were aged 40 and below. Out of that number, 635 or 50 per cent were civil servants.

I had, on a number of occasions, witnessed the dealings with my own eyes and marvelled how sleek the perpetrators had been, bordering on the incredulous at times. There is always the giver and the taker, as no corrupt deal can happen without one giving and the other taking. That is how things work regardless of one’s position and standing. I guess the higher up the social ladder the more sophisticated the process will be. The level of sophistication, however, is contingent upon one’s stature and status. Just look at the 1MDB farce, it is simply mind-boggling.

On returning from a two-year course in Bandung, Indonesia, I was posted to the Army Logistics Division of the Ministry of Defence, Kuala Lumpur. This was in I986. I was a couple of years shy of 40, within the age limit defined by the Deputy Commissioner of MACC. Although incidences of corruption in the military were few then (I don’t know now), the Logistics Division was the place to be if you were looking for some fun and illicit money. Opportunities for corruption were aplenty and all you need to do was to avail yourself.

I was responsible for drafting specifications for hand-held weapons, armoured and soft-skin vehicles and general equipment that the army planned to acquire. We would source for pamphlets and brochures of such items and work on the ideal specifications required for their use in the army. We were highly sought after by arms and equipment manufacturers and their local agents and were accosted everywhere we went, in the ministry and in town.

The things they promised and gave us were unbelievable – dinner at fancy restaurants, golf at upscale clubs, expensive gifts and if a deal was coming through, expense-paid trips to Bangkok or Jakarta or Bali. A trip to London was dangled in front of me once. It was simply too tempting.

This was in the 1980s, the situation now can be much worse and more enticing, perhaps. If your resolve is weak and you are easily swayed by money and material things, you will go down the slippery road in double-quick time.

I remained resolute and never gave in however tempting the offers were. But I could not say the same of a friend whose office was next to mine. His phone would ring like one at a stock exchange. After joining us barely a year he got a brand new Honda Accord and had his house in Taman Melawati rebuilt and refurbished.

Unfortunately, he met an untimely death years later succumbing to a heart attack while playing on the links of an exclusive golf club in Jakarta. Could it be karma? Or perhaps, time had finally caught up with him.

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