Paralysis ‘Samethink’ a worldwide affliction

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SAMETHINK paralysis is a common condition among politicians and civil servants around the world. It is prevalent in UK, USA, India and other countries. Basically, it refers to character weaknesses when power is at stake rather than a matter of race. The issues surrounding MACC leader Azam Baki perhaps illustrate this from a local perspective.

I remember representing the Business Ethics Institute on the MACC Academy committee. Meetings were held and attended by people from the establishment who were titled and distinguished. In particular, I was part of the minority species. Ninety-nine percent of the rest were prominent Malaysian officials.

Work would begin with the minutes followed by presentations. Questions were very rarely asked. The institute objected and I resigned when the then Attorney General appointed someone from his office to be the next Chief Commissioner of MACC.

We thought it should be someone promoted within MACC. In this case, events have proven that the choice of the AG was wrong. The personal scandals that followed the appointment of this individual have further confirmed the poor quality of his choice.

The institute’s protest letter and my resignation were sent to the then Chief Secretary, Ali Hamsa. No acknowledgment received. We didn’t want to be a mere decoration on the committee. It was amazing to see the culture of submission that surrounds people with power.

I was therefore not surprised by the revelations of Edmund Terrence Gomez. Now, the views of MACC advisory board chairman Abu Zahar Ujang are being challenged by other board members. With their titles and positions, they rarely know how to be inclusive. Questions are seen as threats.

The president was confident that no one would question his assertions because it is not in the nature of the culture that promotes the paralysis of “samethink”. In essence, this is also feudal in nature. Edmund, being a teacher, is used to asking questions and evaluating problems. Without the antithesis of the thesis, one will never discover synthesis or clarity.

Although there are many Malaysians of all ethnic backgrounds who will speak out and take a stand, you will rarely see this race in the ‘ketuanan Melayu’ group. Their culture is to listen but not to question. By their silence, they continue to excuse wrongs.

This may be one of the reasons why Malaysians of other ethnic backgrounds are not represented in government-related companies or in the upper echelons of the civil service and important committees. When present, they are seen as troublemakers as they question and raise issues. This can even be seen in Parliament and in parliamentary committees.

Imagine the freedom with which Najib Razak and Ahmad Zaid Hamidi did what they did, believing they could get away with it because they were sure no one would raise questions. This shows the depth of systemic corruption and the “likeminded paralysis” that makes it possible.

Today these two are facing very serious charges and this is largely due to the silence of many of those who tolerated their actions and who are still today in government as ministers and marching in the corridors of power. Many of those who were members of his cabinet and party also come from all ethnic backgrounds, but this bacteria afflicts them all.

Today some have defected but has their character changed? It is said that if you spend more than two decades in government as a senior civil servant or politician in power, most will have no vertebrae left in their body. They evolve into spineless selfish individuals.

Azam’s question is in a way an illustration of this reality. He is strong because he is perceived to have information that could be held against powerful figures in all areas of government, public service and politics. Only those with clean hands and guts will stand up and speak out for justice. Where to find this rare breed?

Why has MP Sivarasa Rasiah’s service center been summoned to court for an alleged corruption offense related to the events of 2017? Many will perceive this as a power play on the part of MACC, highlighting a possible abuse of power and position. Is it because the deputy had raised in Parliament the question of Azam’s major holdings?

Here is a MACC Commissioner who can even challenge Parliament. If he had a moral compass and valued his sense of integrity, he would have been open to independent investigation. But he’s smart enough to realize that his power only exists with his position and so stepping down to clear his name might be the first step out the door.

Corruption is endemic in Malaysia. Just consider the critical institutions of governance that have been plagued by this affliction. Bank Negara with its two previous governors both now under a cloud; a deputy governor unable to accept compromises resigned because of his beliefs. We do not know the status of the former CEO of Companies Commission Malaysia who also had to resign over corruption-related issues.

The same can be said of some of the former heads of the Securities Commission, who had to resign citing conflict of interest concerns. Let’s not talk about the embarrassment of MACC itself when millions of people disappeared and its own agents were found guilty and charged.

We learned about the corruption in the police from none other than the former Inspector General of Police. We have heard of aircraft and equipment purchased for the armed forces that never arrived. Regularly, we receive the auditor’s report highlighting irrefutable evidence of poor accountability and misuse of money and facilities.

Many of these are possible due to the endemic nature of “same-thought” paralysis. If you speak out, you forfeit titles, promotions, perks, and other benefits. You have to sacrifice your spine and keep silent. If you speak out, you will be ostracized even within the community. Otherwise, you will find very little support.

Consider the case of retired Justice Hamid Sultan of the Court of Appeal and how the judiciary, the cornerstone of our thinking about justice, turned inward and silenced him through the ethics committee. The sheer lack of commitment shown by judicial colleagues to support the courage of an individual in the interests of justice is alarming.

I was one of those who believed that “reformasi” was possible through joint action within the nation. Increasingly, I believe we need voices like the Sarawak Report, the international media, the US Department of Justice and Malaysian writers abroad to shine a light on the difficulties we face.

We are on a slippery slope and when we hit the bottom we will be like Pakistan and Sri Lanka looking to the IMF or China to bail us out. The vested interests remain so powerful that self-interest and sheer self-preservation compel them to shut up and stamp out any form of dissent.

If we are to consider the recent floods and landslides, deforestation is a critical issue. In some states, this is a matter that involves royalty. So the problem continues and the people suffer while the wealthy elites loot.

If you expose wrongdoing, legal action is taken against individuals. Our Whistleblower Act needs more support for whistleblowers. Many consider that the damage is done, be it abuse of power, sexual exploitation, corruption, favouritism, cronyism and nepotism. Perhaps for some, race and “rezaki” justify their silence!

We need independent voices with the courage to speak out and nail down these power-abusing elites and that can only happen if we hold whistleblowers accountable. How come groups like Abim and other Islamic groups don’t do more in upholding Islamic values? Loyalty demands dissent, or else the ruling elites will sell the soul of this nation disguised as patriots.

Many within the establishment do not want to do this and prefer the “paralysis of the same thought”, which is the breeding ground for so many of our current challenges. We now have groups called “court groups”. Imagine the power of the executive that trumps the notion of separation of powers. After doing it several times already, they think they can do it again.

Our lack of trust with the institutions of governance, the judiciary, the executive and the legislature runs deep because those who condoned the widespread abuse of power and wealth in the case of Najib and Zahid are still walking the halls power. Those who are today part of the “judicial cluster” seem convinced that they can influence the balance of justice.

Neither vaccines nor boosters will cure “paralysis of the same thought”. If one were to read about the powerful impact Islam had on the life of Muhammad Asad or Malcolm X, one wonders how that magic was lost. Their transformation was inspiring.

Perhaps, as Imam Al Ghazzali said, Islamic culture has been lost and people are just following the movements of the cult and not seeking transformation. Perhaps this is also true for most people imbued with religiosity, regardless of their religious orientation.

As JH Leuba, one of the first religious psychologists, said, “God is not known, not understood, but used”. In the final analysis, religion takes the blame for people’s weaknesses. – January 31, 2022.

* K. Haridas reads The Malaysian Insight.

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