THE corruption scourge in Malaysia is so rife that is has led many to believe that dodgy officials in the nation’s corridors of power are artisans at swindling taxpayer funds.
But despite their craftiness in carting away money that was otherwise meant for nation-building, many appear not to know how to conceal their ill-gotten gains.
On Wednesday, anti-graft busters made the first big case of the year, announcing yet another arrest of high-ranking government official. This time, authorities seized RM3 million (roughly US$668,000) in gold bars and cash from his upper middle-class property in Subang Jaya.
The following day, the authorities uncovered another RM 2 million (US$450,000) worth of items from the official, bringing the total seized to RM5 million (US$1.1 mil).
— Bumi Gemilang (@BumiGemilang) January 6, 2017
Aside from the varying types of gaudy watches, branded handbags, and foreign currencies recovered during the graft haul, such arrests of senior civil servants have, unfortunately and, absurdly, become a run-of-the-mill.
This is not to suggest that all Malaysian politicians and 1.6 million civil servants are tainted by corruption, but the problem seems so rampant that news of any related arrest of a high-ranking official is the new norm.
We have to give credit where it is due, though, as the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) boasts seizing RM200 million (US$44 mil) in cash and assets last year, investigating 982 cases with 932 arrests and 258 successful prosecutions.
Despite the MACC’s successes, the total number of arrests coupled with the assets seized alone is evident of how corruption is so deeply entrenched in the system.
In October last year, the commission also seized a whopping RM52 million (US$11 mil) cash, freezing another RM60 million in bank accounts following the arrests of two senior Sabah Water Department officials in a scandal dubbed as the Sabah Watergate. Like the latest arrest, again, the MACC also seized nine luxury vehicles, 94 handbags, and an assortment of jewellery and watches.
A few months prior, a former Youth and Sports Ministry senior finance officer was slapped with 32 counts of corruption involving RM38.5 million (US$8.5 mil) in federal funds. This case created quite a buzz as the estimated total taxpayers lost was to the tune of RM107 million (US$23 mil) – which is very sad indeed, given the country’s dismal performance at the Rio Olympics last year and sports achievements overall.
— Malaysia News (@Malaysia_Latest) December 29, 2016
All this begs a slew questions (many of which will be left unanswered), such as:
a) How did they even have the gall to make off with millions and sleep soundly at night? and;
b) Of all things to splurge on, why god awful looking luxury cars, watches and handbags? (Since you are going to be a millionaire with a penchant for expensive things, you should at least have good taste, no?)
So how do they sleep at night? Well in the Youth and Sports ministry’s case, the MACC discovered a bed mattress worth RM300,000 (US$74,000) – a novel solution to stressed-induced insomnia, of course.
While some fail miserably at concealing their loot, others don’t even bother to hide it at all. Some even flaunt their dubious wealth much like the reviled ‘Rich kids of Instagram‘, only with a more kampung (which means villager in Malay but sometimes implies country bumpkin) outlook on life.
On Friday, The Star quoted the MACC as saying that its officers have been monitoring social media postings of civil servants living beyond their means after a group went on what appeared to be a lavish, all-expense paid trip to London.
Although there was nothing wrong with owning luxury handbags, the MACC’s Deputy Commissioner Azam Baki said: “Having one too many Hermes, Chanel or Louis Vuitton bags will raise eyebrows and suspicion as to the source of their wealth.”
“If civil servants or their family members are having more than a dozen and flaunt them around, then we would like to know where they got the money to buy those bags.”
All of this is happening against the backdrop of the plummeting value of the Ringgit – the worst in nearly 20 years – and the government’s steep budget cuts on critical areas such as health and education.
This is also taking place as disparity between the resource rich country’s haves and have-nots.
And why is this all “allowed” to happen? Well, perhaps it is due to the Malaysia’s feudalistic ways, and perhaps it is also due a culture that glorifies opulence.
Out of 168 countries, Malaysia is ranked 54th in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception index 2015, but while this is a fairly “moderate” ranking (a fact that the government would love to tout), the country is second to Russia in the Economists’ Crony Capitalism Index 2016.
The MACC says it aims to eliminate graft by 2020, but with only three years to go, it all seems pretty far fetched.
Again, the total seized by the MACC last year was RM200 million (US$44 mil).
Imagine how many homes that kind of money could have been used to build homes, hospitals and schools. Now, multiply that figure by tenfold – and that would equate to the minimum amount estimated to have been lost to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent