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The blitz on graft
Published on: Sunday, January 08, 2017

By Richard Joe Jimmy
THE RECENT and latest arrest of a 59-year-old Secretary General with the title Datuk and his son by Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) should become a valuable reminder to all level of civil servants that corruption doesn’t pay with honour.

While the case of Sabah Watergate Scandal that involved a director and a deputy director is still in its infant prosecution, we are again fed with news of top officials involving in graft. This led to a question whether we still have reliable and trusted officers at the top of government’s administration.

It is also praiseworthy that MACC is enhancing its use of Intelligence Based Investigation (IBI) in an effort to curb corruption in the public sector, government linked companies (GLCs) and the banking institution.

According to the Deputy Chief Commissioner (Operation) Datuk Azam Baki, the IBI had proven its success with cases such as Ops Water in Sabah, Ops Bauxite in Pahang and the embezzling of over RM100 million of government funds by a senior official of the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

As such, “The MACC urges public officials who engage in corruption and abuse of power, to repent and stop their activities.” Indeed, this is not a difficult commitment for all officers. Just repent and stop doing it.

Now let us look at the top ten most corrupted countries in the world. I think by looking at the names of those countries, we should be scared of the evil impacts of corruption it inflicted on the welfare of their countries and the future of their citizens.

The Transparency International’s research, a Berlin-based global watchdog annually ranks countries according to perceived corruption within public sector. They found out that in 2015, the ten most corrupted countries are:

1. North Korea and Somalia (tied) 2. Afghanistan 3. Sudan 4. Angola and South Sudan (tied) 5. Iraq and Libya (tied) 6. Haiti, Guinea-Bissau and Venezuela (tied) 7. Eritrea, Syria, Turkmenistan and Yemen (tied) 8. Uzbekistan 9. Burundi, Cambodia and Zimbabwe (tied) 10. Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar (tied)

However, according to Maggie Murphy, senior global advocacy manager at Transparency International, Nigeria which ranks just outside the top 30 most corrupted countries is in the wrong half of the index.

He believed that it should be placed alongside with Afghanistan because both suffer from “rampant corruption.”

She said countries suffer from corruption when they lack strong institutions, like an independent judiciary and independent police.

She added that in order to fight corruption, nations must “build up a zero-tolerance for corruption, strengthen rule of law and offer no impunity to corruption, no matter who is accused.”

Ms Murphy believes that “If people see that people at the top can get away with corruption then that will only filter down. The corrupt must be held to account.”

So why should the people unite to fight corruption? Let us take the example of Somalia.

A researched conducted in September 2015 by The Legacy Centre for Peace and Transparency (LCPT) found out that 61.5pc of respondents from a phone survey of 465 people singled out corruption as the number one issue hindering Somalia’s key to peace. It believes that Somalia government ability to reduce government and political corruption is the only solution for Somalia achieving increased economic activity, which will then lead to increased peace and political stability among clans and Federal Member States.

Lack of political stability arising from historical, external and internal influences is a root cause of corruption.

This corruption depresses economic activity in Somalia. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita in Somalia was estimated at $284 – against a sub-Saharan Africa average of $1,300 per capita according to the 2012 Human Development Report.

The corruption occurs along four apexes. Each kind of corruption reinforces an overall environment where corruption is taken as customary and accepted as an informal part of everyday life.

Financial Misappropriations at the Government Level – Official documents obtained by LCPT in September of 2015, from credible sources, provide examples of corruption. The Federal Government of Somalia borrowed ten million dollars from the Dahabshiil and Salaam banks. Of that money, only six million dollars was deposited to the account of the Federal Government of Somalia, with the remaining four million dollars unaccounted for.

Security Sector Incongruities – There are approximately less than 10,000 Al-Shabaab fighters, 33,000 Somali army troops, and 22,000 African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops. From this perspective, there are 5.5 soldieries for every Al-Shabaab fighter.

AMISOM troops are paid substantially more than Somali National Army (SNA), a probability that could create an incongruous situation where it becomes expedient to turn the peacekeeping mission into a Mission Creep.

Private Sector – Many business transactions require payment of bribes to government officials.

According to International Crisis Group 2013, government leaders have interests in local telecommunication companies.

As a result, these companies allegedly offer undeclared fees, to public officials in relevant ministries, on a routine basis.

Political Sector – It is well known that one can “buy votes” of public officials. This is especially common with respect to “no confidence votes” for prime ministers. Corruption is one of the causes of the protracted political instability in Somalia.

Equally, political instability is one of the sources of corruption and this in turn causes lack of economic development, which in turn is a major cause of lack of peace. LCTP recognises that it can do little about top government officials and armies.

Somalia’s central government lacks the ability to administer taxes or provide essential basic services effectively.

Although some duties and taxes are collected, little or no effective fiscal policy exists. Most government expenditures are financed through aid with some limited internal revenue mainly from Mogadishu Sea and Air ports.

Institutional shortcomings, including absence of the rule of law, severely impede any meaningful and sustained economic activity. A functioning formal labour market is nearly absent, and much of the labour force is employed in the informal sector. Despite almost nonexistent national governance, the informal agricultural, financial, and telecommunications sectors have prospered without subsidies or effective governance.

Violence in Somalia has deterred international trade and investment flows. Political instability, an outmoded regulatory environment, and inadequate infrastructure continue to suppress development of the financial sector, which has been under reconstruction following the civil war. A large portion of the population remains outside of the formal banking sector, and access to credit remains severely inadequate. Despite daunting challenges and insecurities, Somalia’s first cash machine has opened in Mogadishu in October 2014.

Despite the resilience of local communities and businesses, the absence or weakness of central and state governments seem to be at the root of underdevelopment and insecurity. Many business people have found the creativity to cope and make a living, and some have taken advantage of insecurity and unpredictability.

However, the business community as a whole has not prospered due to lack of regulation and displacement.

Conditions of environmental predation during the past 25 years have significantly altered Somalia’s natural resources, infrastructure, and human resources.

As an emerging state from a long and difficult period of instability, Somalia lacks the necessary rule of law and means to enforce them so it can govern itself.

Somalia faces many of the major corruption challenges that affect conflict torn countries, with widespread corruption and a deeply entrenched patronage system undermining the legitimacy of the Federal Government of Somalia. Corruption is further exacerbated by the absence of a strong functional central government, a lack of resources and administrative capacity, weak leadership structures as well as a limited ability to pay public officials.

Quantifying corruption is difficult given the various types of corruption and the illicit nature of the activities.

It is even more difficult to assess the consequences in terms of the economic cost and societal damage.

Although there are limitations to corruption assessment methods, Transparency International believes that perceptions and other methods are useful for gauging corruption.

In its Global Corruption Barometer, Somalia ranks at the absolute bottom as the world’s most corrupt country tied with North Korea in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. Corruption is a significant cause of unrest and lack of peace and political instability in Somalia. Further, facts attest to the public’s concern about corruption.

Indeed, with surmounting proofs, the Auditor General of the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) alleged 19 ministries of the FGS to have committed irregularities, fraud, and misuse of public funds during his testimony before the General Assembly. Corruption is present and occurs at all levels in both public and private sectors and is visible and anticipated at every level of society from local government, civil society and large and small businesses, all the way up to the judiciary, the security forces, and the financial system in federal and state governments.

Undeniably, corruption has marred every aspect of the Somali society; businesses have adjusted to the climate of lawlessness, avoiding taxes, selling expired food and drugs, and commercializing services traditionally in the public sector to make a profit. Corruption in Somalia includes not only public officials’ misuse of public goods for private gain, but also everyday activities such as the demanding of bribes to use basic services, networks to obtain employment and registering political appointees.

The extensive corruption in Somali society has been institutionalized, become customary and accepted as an informal part of everyday life. Therefore, the public does not challenge the status quo that enables corruption to thrive, as it is accepted as a fact of life.

The government itself has acknowledged that corruption is systemic and endemic.

Government officials often do not view corruption as a criminal act as they rationalize their actions—a sense of entitlement is at the core of corruption and there are clear evidences that Somali’s government officials regularly engage in corrupt practices due to a culture of impunity, which is sustained by low pay for the civil service, minimal job training, lack of anti-corruption laws, lack of enforcement mechanisms, minimal paper trail for government transactions, lack of court convictions for corrupt practices. Corruption in Somalia has undermined security institutions and slowed down development, so even if all surveys, statistics, and indexes were to put aside, there are undeniable and convincing evidences that reality sides with perception.

Corruption is widespread and part of everyday life in most developing countries and societies have learned to live with it (even considering it, philosophically) as an integral part of their culture. However, Somalia’s corruption has gone too far. Not only are public or official decisions such as government contracts or the amount of tax due bought and sold, but very often access to a public service or the exercise of a right, such as obtaining civil documents, also has to be paid for. In Somalia, political and economic powers are directly linked because access to political power ensures access to economic privileges. Similarly, access to economic privileges ensures access to political power, such as a privileged position in the present patronage-based system. The process of allocating political and administrative posts, particularly those with powers of decisions over the import and export licenses, logistics, and banks are influenced by the gains that can be made from them. The political foundations are cemented, as these exchanges of privileges are reciprocated by political support or loyalty. These and similar settings encourage the corruption.

Another very important feature that aids corruption in Somalia is the country’s utter underdevelopment, which is also conducive to corruption. In fact, underdevelopment encourages corruption. These are due to low to nonexistence wages in the civil service encourage petty corruption, and the imbalance between the supply of, and demand for, public services likewise creates opportunities for corruption.

Also, individuals tend to invest in a career in the public service, given the shortage of opportunities in the private sector, thus increasing the likelihood of their involvement in corrupt practices.

Lack of skilled labour in the government and adaptation of advanced technology that can detect and discourage corrupt officials’ behaviour is another feature that entices unethical practices to overwhelmingly prosper in Somalia.

The low level of education found in the country maintains citizens in a state of ignorance of their rights, barring them from participating constructively in the political life.

Corruption is undeniably the greatest challenge to rebuilding Somalia’s political, educational, economic, security, health and infrastructural networks. Corruption discourages taxing and stifles entrepreneurship, “lowering the quality of public infrastructure, decreasing tax revenues, diverting public talent into rent-seeking, and distorting the composition of public expenditure.” Furthermore, the consequences of corruption negatively affect democracy and rule of law, as well as erode public trust in government, which undermines institutions, as well as processes at all levels of society.

In Somalia, corruption incapacitates the judicial integrity and rule of law, facilitates trafficking in arms and empowers insecurity and terror (Al-Shabaab & others), undermines development and humanitarian programs, and diverts funds from education, infrastructure, and other essential societal programs; thus deepening poverty in society, impeding the qualities and oversight of infrastructure, distorting business competitions, circumventing environmental resources: water, forests, and fisheries, and subverting domestic institutions.

Another critically vital area is procurement. Because the country’s institutions are zero to nonexistence, international donors spend tons of money to rebuild institutions. Government officials take advantage of this sector and rip off funds intended to rebuild the country. Corrupt officials hide their activities and introduce distortions into the procurement activity. First, since corruption is secret, corrupt officials effectively underfund activities relative to its preferences and pocket the remaining financial gains. Second, procurement officials substitute the types of goods, making hiding corruption easier both in terms of qualities and quantities, which in the public eyes seem effortless, but makes tons of money for these government officials and greatly undermines public projects.

It’s for those reasons that in many parts of the country intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations have become the de facto governments, without any directives and accountability from the Somali Federal and regional state governments. These organizations provide the little humanitarian assistance the Somali people receive such as education and health care. Paradoxically, even the United Nations, World Bank, and advanced western nations prefer to fund NGOs rather than local and national government institutions.

So Malaysians, do we want our nation to be like Somalia? And do we want the life experienced by Somalis?

Think about it.

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