In Malaysia, we are not accustomed to a situation whereby the country is rocked by major resignations involving politicians – of a ministerial rank – with the exception of a Prime Minister which was in an unprecedented manner when Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had to step down due to loss of support from his Umno parliamentary colleagues last year.
Unlike in some countries, where heads of government and ministers have resigned because they have acknowledged breaches of conduct and “malfeasance”, at most, what we have in Malaysia are resignations of non-politicians either from the corporate world or government entities.
This is very telling.
It expresses a political culture where deference and subservience are far too entrenched and deep-rooted in our society.
Our psyche of obeisance and “simulated” (i.e., an imitation of) genuflection – which by right is usually reserved for royalty, or parents and the elderly – as embodied in the act of kissing the hand of a VIP or VVIP expresses that relationship of total dependence on the powers that be as the “saviour” of the nation.
It is such reality that allows the political elite in our society to enjoy “free reign” (bermaharajalela) and govern with impunity.
Instead of acting on the basis of “synderesis”, i.e., the conscience as moral cognition or reasoning (as very loosely translated from the Latin original) which befits and is expected of a political leader, so that interests of the people are always paramount, the prevalent “morality” in politics and culture today is greed and lust.
In short – “what’s in it for me”.
The conscience is one of the most single critical aspects of what it means to have that self-awareness (which is to be differentiated from mere self-consciousness) in being a human.
It’s the “innate moral principle” (to quote from the medieval scholastics) which can also take an understanding of the divine spark in us (e.g., among some Greek philosophers like the Stoics and Platonists) or it’s conceived as part of a person’s basic dignity/make-up (e.g., Kant’s categorical imperative).
Or the conscience is to be understood against the theological backdrop of the creature as made in the image of God and endowed with righteousness alongside entrusted to be a vice-regent here on earth (khalifah). Here, the conscience would be the “divine voice” that either approves (justifies) or disapproves (judges).
As such, we have been “overwhelmed” by the wrong kind of pragmatism – one that is based on fulfilment and gratification of material desires, even if it takes one down the wrong path.
So that at the end of the day, many who are in positions of authority and power, and with that comes the privilege and prestige also, are not prepared to do the right thing because the price is just “too heavy” or it comes at a personal cost.
And these figures can “afford” to do that, i.e., cling on to their positions despite having been grossly derelict in the discharge of their mandate and responsibility, and complicit in wrongdoings.
Furthermore, they can still present themselves as victims of political persecution if they are charged in court or in some cases convicted – as in the case of a former Prime Minister known for his technocratic aptitude.
This figure has successfully “rebranded” himself by an adept deployment of the social media – capitalising on a “captive” audience.
For a very long time, they have been politically conditioned to be grateful to their political masters – whose existence is correlated to their interests and welfare.
An alternative universe or political “metaverse” for such a servile (in terms of psyche, at least) constituency is, therefore, simply inconceivable.
Hence, reality is then able to be upended and turned upside down.
This, then, is one of the root causes of the pervasiveness of corruption.
That is to say, the personal interests of the political masters or elite are camouflaged in the form of the toxic mix of ethno-religious politics.
Race and religion are misused for personal ends.
And the “captive” audience sees no difference between the two, i.e., the personal and national interests.
This is why there’s a need for a clarion call to return to the right path.
Those who are the beneficiaries at the lower rungs in the hierarchy are beholden and servile to the leaders – like in a multi-level marketing (MLM) pyramidal scam as best embodied in the phrase that “cash is king”.
In turn, the leaders themselves are servile to their insatiable/voracious greed and lusts for material wealth as status symbols and the source by which they can dispense their largesse to further consolidate and maintain their grip on power.
By contrast, we have non-politicians (albeit not necessarily non-political, to be sure) that over the decades and years have demonstrated moral mettle and resolve to do the right thing – in the face of what’s an inexorable permeation and infiltration of corrupt values and practices in our politics, system of governance and institutions.
Resignation of prominent Malaysians from both public and private (i.e., government-linked companies/corporations) entities on the basis of principles have included (but not limited to and in no particular order):
- Professor Dr Edmund Terence Gomez – from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC)’s Consultation and Corruption Prevention Panel as member;
- Tan Sri Hassan Marican – from Khazanah Nasional as member of the Board of Directors;
- Datuk Wira Dr Haji Rais Hussin Haji Muhammad Arif – from the Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) as Chairman;
- Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar – from Khazanah Nasional as Managing Director;
- Jalil Rasheed – from Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB) as CEO; and
- Datuk Mohd Shukrie Mohd Salleh – from Malaysia Airport Holdings Berhad (MAHB) as Group CEO.
Perhaps the most famous of all, which caught the popular imagination at the time, at least, was the “abrupt” resignation of the late Tan Sri Ani Arope as the then Chairman of TNB. In fact, the late Tan Sri Ani Arope was already a “hate figure” or persona non grata among some quarters due to his reputation as a conscientious man.
His resignation was related to the birth of independent power producers (IPP) in the electricity sector. This, of course, meant that TNB was no longer in the sole monopoly of the power generation activity (upstream). However, this wasn’t the issue as such as the crux of the matter was the lop-sided power-producing agreements (PPA) which Tan Sri Ani Arope resisted to the hilt as he could not sign in good faith.
Tan Sri Ani Arope stood his ground – a “rarity”, so to speak, then and now.
We can certainly draw inspiration and strength from Tan Sri Ani Arope as an exemplar par excellence. And of course, not forgetting the names mentioned before also who are more contemporary and all of whom are still living.
Luminaries like that give the country and rakyat fresh hope that a brighter future is still possible.
May we who are on the side of truth and justice and goodness stay true to the course.
For our conscience is bound to principles, to what’s right.
We can do no other!
Jason Loh Seong Wei is Head of Social, Law & Human Rights at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focussed on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.