KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 28 – Despite the efforts of the government and other stakeholders to curb corruption, the issue remains widespread, with the most worrying part being statistics that implicate the involvement of youths in corrupt practices.
According to Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) statistics, civil servants in their 40s and below constituted 57.8 percent of the 5,652 people arrested for graft between 2007 and August 2022.
In fact, in 2020 alone, MACC detained 275 individuals aged between 18 and 30 – comprising students from institutions of higher learning and government employees – for their involvement in corrupt acts.
Meanwhile, a 2021 study by Universiti Putra Malaysia on attitudes towards bribery revealed that 13.3 percent of the 2,254 respondents, comprising students from public and private institutions of higher learning, admitted to having been offered a bribe. Out of these, 2.5 percent or 56 of them said it was a deliberate move on their part to take the bribe.
The findings are disconcerting, to say the least, and local experts are calling for tougher anti-corruption laws to prevent the spread of this cancer that can ruin the socioeconomic structure of a country.
ARE THE LAWS TOOTHLESS?
Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) Faculty of Human Ecology lecturer Associate Prof Dr Amini Amir Abdullah said the time has come for the government to evaluate and improve the Anti-Corruption Act 1997 (Act 575), particularly in terms of its penalties.
“Under Act 575, convicted offenders face a jail term of not less than 14 days and not more than 20 years. I suggest that the minimum jail term be increased to not less than two years,” he told Bernama.
He said a more deterrent minimum imprisonment should be put in place in view of previous cases where individuals convicted of corrupt acts worth millions of ringgit were sentenced to a jail term of less than a month.
“(To me) this is not fair,” he stressed.
For the record, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009 (MACC Act or Act 694) provides for a maximum jail term of 20 years. Since the minimum term is not specified in the Act, it is left to the judge’s discretion.
The same Act provides for a fine of not less than five times the sum of the gratification or RM10,000, whichever is higher. Commenting on this, Amini Amir proposed that the minimum fine be raised to RM50,000 from RM10,000, adding that the “not less than five times the sum of the gratification” and “whichever is higher” clauses should be retained.
Besides the above two laws, action against corrupt activities can also be taken under the Penal Code.
Associate Prof Dr Haliza Abdul Rahman, head of the Laboratory of Youth in Leadership, Politics and Citizenship at UPM’s Institute of Social Studies, agreed that harsher punishment is required to discourage people from giving or accepting bribes.
She also pointed out that the same modality cannot be used for the execution of punishment for people convicted of corruption and those charged with stealing something from a supermarket.
This, she said, is because people involved in corruption come from various backgrounds and include people of high standing in society and institutions.
“(Hence) severe punishment should be meted out to those convicted of corruption to make them repent. Such a punishment is not only in line with public interest but will also cause the general public to despise such criminal acts.
“It will also reflect the seriousness of the government in fighting corruption as well as serve as a lesson to the people not to get caught up in immoral activity,” she said.
Studies have shown that there are various factors causing people, especially those wielding power, to veer towards corrupt practices, one of them being the desire to lead a more luxurious lifestyle. This is especially true in the case of the younger generation who appear to compete with one another in flaunting their possessions on social media.
Commenting on this, Amini Amir said it is this materialistic attitude that’s compelling young people to be corrupt.
“Their (desire to lead a) luxurious life will initially cause them to rack up debts. And, when the situation worsens and they are unable to settle their debts, they will get involved in corruption. To them, bribes are a source of ‘side income’ that can help them resolve their debt issues,” he said.
He said some young people could also possibly be drawn to graft after seeing their own superiors at work accepting bribes and not being caught by MACC, or released after being detained.
Universiti Utara Malaysia Centre for International Studies lecturer Prof Dr Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani opined that the presence of “busybodies” can potentially prevent corrupt practices from spreading in an organisation.
“The term ‘busybody’ has a negative connotation as it refers to a person who interferes in other people’s affairs. (As a result of this), some employees are reluctant to report (corruption) because they are afraid of being dismissed or ostracised by their colleagues. They should, by right, know that they can be charged under Section 25 of the MACC Act 2009 for failing to report corrupt activities (in their organisation).
“So, it’s better that they report the matter… (they have nothing to fear) as they will be protected under the Whistleblowers Protection Act 2010, as well as receive a reward in recognition of their efforts to uncover the corrupt activities concerned,” he said.
IMPROVE ANTI-CORRUPTION EDUCATION
Amini Amir, meanwhile, said there is a need to improve the anti-corruption syllabus in the education system to enable the nation to produce a new generation of young people who possess a high level of integrity and self-identity.
He also felt that there is a need for primary and secondary schools to introduce the MACC cadet movement to expose children to the ills of corruption and enhance their integrity.
“This proposal will surely add more value to the proactive efforts taken by MACC to include an anti-corruption education element in the Year Five Bahasa Melayu textbook effective 2021.
“And, to raise awareness of the dangers of being involved in corrupt practices, schools can also organise visits to prisons where individuals convicted of corruption are incarcerated,” he added.