Most Malaysians don’t think twice about the level of corruption in this country. Some even welcome it. How many times have you illegally parked your car or dashed through a red light and paid the policeman a bribe of RM50 or RM100 to save paying a RM300 fine if you are issued a summons?
And that is cheap, mind you. In the police lockup, we have to pay the policemen RM100 for a three-minute local phone call and RM10 for a stick of cigarette. So that comes to RM200 per packet. I paid RM200 for one night’s ‘protection’. For RM200 I was placed in a ‘special’ lockup where a detainee awaiting trial for murder took me under his wing so that the others could not get at me. He even threw in a cigarette as part of the ‘package’.
And it costs RM250,000 for a drug dealer to escape the gallows.
My wife, who in 2001 was detained overnight in the women’s section of the police lockup, the same night I was arrested, spoke to one Indonesian woman who was on her second drug dealing arrest. The first time she and her husband were arrested they had to pay RM500,000 for both of them to get released. They were trying to arrange another RM500,000 to get out of this second arrest. So that came to RM1 million for two arrests. Imagine how much they must be making dealing in drugs. More importantly, imagine how much the police are making each time they get arrested.
I spoke to many of my Chinese businessmen friends and they admitted that it is easier to do business when corruption is involved. This saves time since you can bypass the normal requirements and get your applications approved much faster by just bribing the government officers. Sometimes, when you are not ‘eligible’, you can become eligible by paying bribes. So bribes actually help when faced with certain obstacles — and there are definitely many ‘obstacles’ when dealing with governments in third world countries like Malaysia.
When corruption does not affect you directly you are not too concerned about it. It is like crime. As long as the robbers do not break into your home to rob you and rape your wife or daughter then who bothers too much about the high level of crime? It is when it is you that is hit that you become outraged about the high crime rate and the low level of police enforcement and lack of effort to combat crime.
Is it not those who suffer or suffered from cancer, or have lost a loved one to cancer, who gets involved in anti-cancer movements or associations? How many of us who never had to face cancer would want to donate generously to the anti-cancer effort? We never bother about something that does not affect us. And the same goes for other things as well, such as corruption and whatnot.
But corruption does affect us, contrary to what many may be thinking. Sometimes it affects us directly. Most times, indirectly.
An average of ten people die each day on Malaysian roads. Many more are seriously injured or maimed, sometimes resulting in them no longer being able to work and earn a living. The main reason for this is that Malaysians do not know how to drive.
Now, let there not be any confusion over this statement. Malaysians may have a valid driving licence. But Malaysians do not know how to drive. Do you know that in some European countries you can exchange your Singapore driving licence for a driving licence of your host country? But they will not accept a Malaysian driving licence. Malaysian driving licences tak laku (have no value).
I know someone, now deceased, who had a driving licence but could not even reverse her car out of the driveway. How in heaven’s name did she pass her driving test and get a licence if she can’t even reverse her car? And for sure she can’t drive.
Well, she told me. The driving school has two schemes. One is the ‘guaranteed to pass your driving test’ scheme — which means you will pass your driving test and get a driving licence even if you can’t drive. The other scheme involves you taking the driving test and passing it all on your own.
The trouble with this legitimate scheme, though, is that even if you know how to drive they will still fail you as ‘punishment’ for refusing to participate in the ‘guaranteed to pass’ scheme. So it is better to pay, even if you can drive, and especially if you can’t, to be assured off a driving licence.
So, about ten people a day die on Malaysian roads because most of them have a driving licence but do not know how to drive. And those who die could be you, a family member, an office colleague, or a close friend. In short, that person who died in the traffic accident could be someone you know or someone close to you.
Therefore, corruption does affect you when you lose someone because of corruption — or if it is you who dies. If this person were forced to learn how to drive properly before being given a licence then maybe he or she would still be alive today. I have personally lost scores of friends and relatives due to traffic accidents over the last 50 years or so. Sometimes it is their fault. The sad part is when the accident is someone else’s fault and you are a victim of reckless or inconsiderate drivers who have absolutely no road sense whatsoever.
I have also lost people dear to me due to poor medical facilities. There are not enough hospital beds in the intensive care unit or not enough dialysis machines or whatever, which results in poor medical facilities. And these people had to die because of this.
It is not that Malaysia does not have enough money to improve its medical facilities. It is that Malaysia spends the money for the wrong reasons — and spends too much on top of that because there are kickbacks and commissions involved in every project and procurement. So medical facilities take a back seat and many of us have lost friends, colleagues and relatives because they were denied prompt or proper medical treatment.
If the money had not been wasted and had instead been spent for the right purposes — medical and education being the two most important — then Malaysia would be a much better place. As it is, our medical and educational facilities are below the so-called first world infrastructure that we are so proud of.
We have the best weapons. We have fantastic bridges, buildings and roads. Heck, we even have submarines now. But we are extremely lacking when it comes to medical and educational facilities. And health and education are far more important than all those white elephants and monuments that swallow billions but bring no income to the country, as would most white elephants and monuments.
Cars cost a lot in Malaysia. That, again, is due to corruption. If the government allowed a free-for-all in the car industry then cars would cost much cheaper than they do now. But they can’t allow a free-for-all. They can’t because cronies of those who walk in the corridors of power are making a lot of money from the car import permits and whatnot. So Malaysians have to pay double what they should actually be paying for their cars. But their salaries are not double what they should be.
So you end up a slave of your car instead of the car being your slave. You work for your car when your car should instead be working for you. And because of the sorry state of public transport you have no choice but to own a car. You just can’t get around without a car like you can in so many other countries.
After paying for your car what do you have left at the end of the day? Most times, because of your car, you can’t afford a decent home. Malaysians are actually very poor. The cost of living is so high while the salaries are very low. And corruption keeps Malaysians poor.
So perish the thought if you thought corruption does not affect you. It does, in more ways than you realise. And only naïve people would believe that corruption does not personally affect them or is actually beneficial to business. Malaysians are paying a heavy price for corruption. And the worse thing is we do not even realise we are paying.
Malaysians pay billions in all forms of taxes. But a lot of this money does not come back to us. It gets flushed down the toilet. Billions are lost — RM30 billion by some estimates. And this is our money. Imagine if we had to pay only RM0.30 for a litre of petrol or RM1.80 for a packet of cigarette or RM50,000 for a Honda Civic. Would you not have more money left in your pocket? Nowadays, your money is finished by the tenth day of the month and you have to wait another 20 days for your next paycheque.
Don’t even start talking about saving money for a rainy day. This is just not possible. Corruption has taken away all your money whereas considering how rich this country is we should not even be asked to pay taxes or, even if we are, it could be a very minimum level that hardly hurts us.
For decades, the opposition has been fighting for the government to set a fair minimum wage appropriate to the cost of living. But the government does not agree to the RM900 per month minimum wage proposal.
In fact, even RM900 is still too low. Countries like the UK have announced that the minimum wage will now be adjusted to about RM35 per hour. That is what some Malaysians earn in a day. Yet the price of cigarettes in the UK is almost the same as in Malaysia. And so goes for many other things as well — while cars are half the price or less compared to Malaysia.
No, Malaysians are poor. You earn so much less and have to pay so much more. Then corruption takes away what little you have left. And Malaysians still believe that corruption does not affect them directly.
And that is why I am of the opinion that PAS is not focused. They should be addressing the core issues. And the core issue here is corruption and how it affects us. Banning beer or sexy singers from appearing on stage does not offer Malaysians a better life. Even if beer and sexy singers are banned Malaysians will still remain poor. And we will remain poor because our money is being plundered and our low salaries and high taxes do not allow us a decent life.
Prophet Muhammad declared war on riba’ (usury). Riba’ basically means making money from no effort of your own. And, according to Sheikh Imran Hossein, there are 80 levels of riba’, corruption being one of them (since corruption involves making money in a dishonest manner and from no effort of your own).
But PAS does not declare war on corruption. PAS declares war on beer and sexy women. PAS does not understand that corruption and poverty is the real enemy. Poverty enslaves us. Corruption makes us even poorer.
PAS should take up the Prophet’s real fight, the fight against corruption and poverty. And poverty is the breeding ground of corruption. When you are broke one week after receiving your salary you need to resort to corruption to survive.