Corruption? It’s OK lah

JAN 7 — “It’s amazing how much shit people put up with, as long as you give it to them slowly.”

The above quote from Mack Leighty echoed in my head as I read that we are ranked second out of 150 countries in Global Financial Integrity’s latest report on illicit financial outflows worldwide. According to GFI, in 2010 alone we lost RM196.84 billion in funds to tax havens and Western banks, second only to China.

Earlier this month, it was Transparency International’s survey. They asked this: “During the last 12 months, do you think that your company has failed to win a contract or gain new business because a competitor has paid a bribe?” We scored the highest out of 30 countries with 50 per cent. 

The same survey also found that respondents feel the misuse of public fund by public servants and politicians is common. They also said they feel it’s common for public officials to demand or accept bribes. On the whole respondents perceive government efforts to fight corruption as largely ineffective.

How did it become so bad?

The very malaise at work is our attitude. Writer William Citrin calls it the “it’s OK lah attitude.” “Simply put, the ‘it’s OK lah’ stance is a serene (and often blind) acceptance of the minor inconveniences and irritations of everyday life,” he wrote.

Like everything that inconveniences us every day, initially we feel upset — angry even. Why do people clutter up our mailboxes with flyers and business cards every day? Why do people deface signboards and traffic lights and lamp posts with their advertisements and car-for-rent flyers? Why is the traffic jam so horrible that we can watch a 30-minute sitcom on the Federal Highway during the rush hour? Why do we need to slip somebody “duit kopi” to get the bureaucratic wheels turning?

These things outrage us. But then we encounter them again and again day in, day out. Anger turns to exasperation and before long we grow jaded enough not to care so much. Just another pothole in the road, we drive around it and it’s behind us. We see those flyers lying around outside our mailbox and we shake our heads, then we drive off to work and we forget about them. “Duit kopi” becomes part of operating costs, unrecorded or maybe put under “entertainment” allowances.

Over time, we accept these things as facts of life that we have to deal with. As we accept them as part of the environment, they get worse. More and more potholes appear on the road, and we just slow down so that we can drive around each and every one of them. We don’t bother reporting them to the authorities, because we have other things to worry about. Let someone else make that phone call, we think.

Bit by bit we acclimatise to these “minor inconveniences”, and as they slowly get worse, we acclimatise even more, barely noticing that the pothole in the road is getting bigger and bigger. Just like the culture of corruption and bribery and “gifts” which also grow. We resign ourselves to their existence and do our best to get by, while the cynical ones begin to think of ways to benefit from it. The cycle continues and compounds the issue.

Today, corruption is monstrous. Some government officials become absurdly, suspiciously and unnaturally well-off and wealthy after assuming a public post, and we barely bat an eye at this. We still think it’s not that bad, because we’re used to it. “It’s OK lah,” we say, “country still developing what, a bit corrupt only, where got country without corruption?”

But it’s not okay. Even a small hole in the road is one hole too big, because wrong is wrong regardless of scale. We can’t rid ourselves of the corruption that infects the country in a day, but every great journey begins with the first step. The first step is to change our mentality about the pothole in the road.

It’s not OK lah.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.



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