It is a very common condition among politicians and civil servants around the world, prevalent in countries like the UK, USA and India.
This affliction illustrates weaknesses in character, where power is involved rather than a matter of race. The issues surrounding the head of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Azam Baki, perhaps illustrate this from a local perspective.
I remember representing the Business Ethics Institute of Malaysia (BEIM) on the MACC academy committee. All the titled and distinguished persons of the establishment attended the meetings of the committee. Notably, I was a minority species. The rest, the 99%, were titled – all distinguished Malaysian officials.
Discussions would begin with minutes followed by presentations. Few questions were asked. BEIM objected and I resigned when the then Attorney General appointed someone from the Attorney General’s office to become the next MACC commissioner.
We thought it should be someone promoted within MACC. In this case, events proved that their choice was wrong. The personal scandals that followed this individual’s appointment as MACC commissioner further confirmed the poor quality of those selected.
Our protest letter and resignation were sent to the then Chief Secretary, Ali Hamsa. We have not received an acknowledgment of receipt. We didn’t want to be a mere decoration on the committee. It is amazing to see the culture of submission that surrounds those in power.
I am therefore not surprised by the statements of Dr. Edmund Terrence Gomez.
We now have the chairman of the advisory council, Abu Zahar Ujang, whose opinions have been challenged by other members of the council. With their titles and positions, they rarely know how to be inclusive. Questions are seen as threats.
The president was so confident that no one would question his claims – because it is the nature of the culture that promotes “same-thinking” paralysis – which, in essence, is also feudal in nature.
Dr. Gomez is good at asking questions and assessing issues. 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, we rarely see this race within the ‘ketuanan Melayu’ (Malay Supremacist) group. Their culture is to listen but not to question. By their silence, they continue to support the evil which is obvious!
This may be one of the reasons why people of other ethnic backgrounds are not represented in government-related companies or in the upper echelons of the civil service and other important committees. When present, they are seen as troublemakers as they question and raise issues. We even see it in Parliament and in parliamentary committees.
Imagine the freedom with which former Prime Minister Najib Razak and his then deputy, Zahid Hamidi, did everything they did and the scale on which they operated. They thought they could get away with it, because they were sure no one would question what was going on. This shows the seriousness of the deep systemic corruption and “paralysis of the same thought”, which makes this possible.
Today, these two face serious charges. What happened was largely due to the silence of many of those who tolerated their actions and who are, even today, still in government as ministers and roam the halls of power. Many of those who were members of their cabinet and party also come from all ethnic backgrounds, but this “bacteria” afflicts them all.
Today, some have become political frogs (defectors) – but has their character changed? It is said that if people spend more than two decades in government, whether as a senior civil servant or a politician in power, many will have no vertebrae left in their body. They evolve into selfish, selfish individuals.
Azam Baki’s number illustrates this reality in some ways. 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 is the director of Sungai Buloh MP’s service center, Sivarasa Rasiah, being summoned to court for an alleged corruption offense related to events in 2017? Many will perceive this as a power play on the part of MACC, thus highlighting a possible abuse of power and position. Does this have a connection with the fact that the MP raises the question of the substantial shares of Azam Baki in the companies listed in Parliament?
Here is a MACC Chief 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 are now both under a cloud. A deputy governor unable to accept compromises resigned because of his beliefs.
We do not know the status of a former CEO of the Companies Commission Malaysia, who also had to resign due to concerns over corruption allegations.
The same can be said for some of the former Securities Commission executives, who had to resign citing conflict of interest concerns.
Let’s not talk about the embarrassment of MACC itself when millions of people went missing and their own agents were held accountable and, in some cases, charged.
None other than the former inspector general of police informed us through the press of the corruption within the forces of order.
We have heard of planes and equipment purchased for the armed forces, which never arrived.
In addition, the Auditor General’s reports regularly bring to light compelling evidence of poor accountability and misuse of money and facilities.
Much of this is possible due to the endemic nature of same-thought paralysis. If you speak, you risk losing titles, promotions, benefits and other benefits. You have to sacrifice your spine and keep silent.
If you speak out, you will be ostracized even within the community. Alternatively, you will find very little support.
Take 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 had been one of those who believed that “reform” was possible through joint action within the nation. Increasingly, I believe we need voices like the Sarawak Report, international media, the US Department of Justice and other Malaysian writers abroad to shine a light on the difficulties we face.
We are on a slippery slope, and the moment we reach the depths we will, like Pakistan and Sri Lanka, look to the International Monetary Fund or China for bailouts.
The vested interests remain so powerful that self-interest and simple self-preservation compel them to silence the voices of critics and stamp out any form of dissent.
Recent floods and landslides have shown us that deforestation is a critical issue. In some states, this is a matter for high-ranking people. So the problem continues and the people suffer while the wealthy elites loot.
If you report wrongdoing, you risk having legal action taken against you or those associated with you. Our Whistleblower Protection Act needs more support for whistleblowers. Many see wrongs being done, whether it is abuse of power, sexual exploitation, corruption, favouritism, cronyism or nepotism. Perhaps, for some, race and ‘rezeki’ (income and livelihood) 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. Why don’t some Islamic groups do more by upholding Islamic values? Loyalty requires dissent, or else the ruling elites will sell the soul of this nation while posing 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 can override the notion of separation of powers. Having done it many times in the past, they believe they can do it again.
Our deficit of trust in the institutions of governance, the judiciary, the executive and the legislature runs deep because those who tolerated the widespread abuse of power and wealth in the cases of Najib Razak and Zahid Hamidi still walk the halls of power in Malaysia. Those who are part of the tribunal groups today seem convinced that they can make a difference in the scales of justice in Malaysia.
Neither vaccines nor boosters can be an antidote to “like-minded paralysis”. If we read about the powerful impact Islam had on the life of Muhammad Asad or Malcolm X, then one wonders how that magic was lost. Their transformation was inspiring.
Perhaps, as Imam Al-Ghazali says, Islamic culture has gone astray, people just following the movements of worship 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 psychologists of religion, once said: “God is not known, not understood, but used”. Ultimately, religion takes the blame for people’s weaknesses.