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The end of integrity in Malaysia - Dennis Ignatius

12 June 2022

Every day there’s more news highlighting our nation’s tragic and shocking moral decline. It’s not just the corruption, horrific as that may be; it’s the appalling lack of integrity behind it all that is cause for concern. Gone are the days when integrity was one of the hallmarks of public service. Now, for the most part, our public service is inhabited by rapacious and unethical men and women, people without honour, integrity or conscience. It is yet another indication of how the moral foundations of our nation continue to steadily erode.

The latest example of this steady moral decline was headlined in the New Straits Times a few days ago with an apt banner: “MONEY FOR NOTHING!” It revealed that a former chief secretary to the government received about RM1 million as a member of the 1MDB advisory board but did nothing to earn it. According to his own statement, he was never invited to attend a single board meeting or was ever consulted about 1MDB. And there’s no indication either that he even felt obliged to enquire into an unfolding scandal that shocked the nation and the world.

And it was not just him alone. Several other high-powered individuals including very senior civil servants did the same. Reading all these reports, it’s hard not to conclude that all the undeserved remunerations they received were simply inducements to provide legitimacy to a dubious and illegal enterprise.

If such men – men who once held some of the highest public service positions in the nation and who have been conferred some of the highest awards and honours in the land – have no qualms lending their names to dubious capers for the right price, what hope is there for our nation?

But it is not the only example. Former prime minister Najib Tun Razak, now a convicted felon, shamelessly prances around insisting that he was not convicted of theft but of money laundering. Is that supposed to make us feel better? The truth is he was found guilty of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering. He can deny it all he wants, but there’s no escaping the fact that he now stands condemned as a man without an iota of integrity, honesty or credibility.

And still, there are those with souls so dead who fete him, honour him, whitewash his criminality and conspire to return him to office. Gone is the revulsion we once used to feel for dishonourable, devious and despicable men. Perhaps it tells us that men like Najib are not just corrupt; they have corrupted the entire machinery of government! The IMDB scandal, for example, could not have happened without dozens of people – from bankers to public servants in multiple institutions – looking the other way in exchange for some reward. That’s how rotten the whole system is!

It should come as no surprise then that we have dozens of politicians with neither the credentials nor the credibility who now serve as GLC chairmen, sit as advisers to statutory bodies or feign as envoys and diplomats – earning millions for doing nothing. They can pretend all they want that they are serving the public good, but the truth is they have sold their loyalty to the highest bidder and pawned their dignity for financial gain.

The rot extends to the corporate sector too. CEOs think nothing about falsifying reports and paying themselves billions while their companies go broke. They steal from projects that are entrusted to them certain that they will not be charged, sure that the government will bail them out. Indeed, it is part of the culture now – steal and misappropriate whatever you can for as long as you can and call it public service.

And you know what is so perverse about this situation? We are one of the few countries in the world to have a National Integrity Institute and a National Integrity Plan. Why do we even have a minister responsible for integrity at one time? Great plans are drawn up. Great speeches are made. But it is all a sham. Behind the façade of righteousness, the whole putrid system is crumbling. Whitewashed tombs on the outside; full of rot and decay within.

As I wrote in my recent book – Paradise Lost: Mahathir & the End of Hope nothing better sums up this hypocrisy and moral degeneracy than the speech that Najib gave to the Commonwealth Club in September 2013. “I want to make corruption part of Malaysia’s past, not its future,” he declared. Continuing, he said, “I have created new governance and integrity minister role in the cabinet; it is held by the former president of the Malaysian chapter of Transparency International… the government [has also] elevated Malaysia’s anti-corruption agency to self-regulated, independent commission status… It is our hope that the commission may serve as an example for other countries looking to build institutional capacity to combat corruption.” And this, while the plunder of 1MDB resources was well underway!

Integrity has died; immoral men hold sway now.

Dennis Ignatius

Former Ambasador


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