Don: Economy shows signs of kleptocracy

Associate Professor Syed Farid Alatas of the Department of Sociology, National University of S’pore

( – Farid emphasised that corruption is not one of the many problems that Malaysia faces but the major problem that spawns other problems in other areas such as crime, the environment and education.

An academician said the Malaysian political system shows signs of “kleptocracy”, which he saw as a systemic practice of corruption embedded into the state and politics.

 “There is corruption in all countries,” said Associate Professor Syed Farid Alatas of the Department of Sociology at the National University of Singapore.
“The question is whether we are a country where corruption is the dominant means of doing business. In other words, is Malaysia what I call a kleptocracy?”
Farid was speaking at a forum entitled “Eradicating Corruption: How Successful Have We Been?” held in conjunction with the launch of an interim research report on anti-corruption initiatives in Malaysia.
He defined kleptocracy as a state dominated by kleptocrats who engage in corruption as a major, if not principal, means of capital accumulation.
He also noted that corruption in a country like Malaysia isn’t a random or occasional phenomenon and could well be the fifth factor of production.
“Key kleptocrats are not mid or low level civil servants who extort or accept bribes to make a living but high-level politicians and bureaucrats who engage in corrupt activities as a means of accumulating capital,” Farid added.
He then sought to move away from the usual indicators of Malaysia’s level of corruption – like the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) and the Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) – opting instead to base his views on objective rather than perceptive criteria.
The CPI score is predominantly based on the opinion of experts or business executives and not of the common citizens, and has been criticised for being skewed by the experiences of these groups.
Farid pointed out that there are many other issues that reflect the realities in Malaysia that suggest flaws in the way laws have been implemented or with the laws themselves.
“There are many aspects of a country’s development that point to a constant or even increasing rate of corruption,” he said.
“For example, Malaysia doesn’t seem to be able to build decent roads. Many believe that the reason for our poor roads is because substandard materials are being used and that somewhere along the expenditure and procurement chain officials and contractors are making money from government contracts.”
Farid then questioned why taxis that ferry passengers to the airport are not allowed to bring passengers home as is the practice in every developed and even underdeveloped country.
He further said that corruption is experienced by the ordinary Malaysian in rising crime rates, fragmentation of natural forest cover, the “sorry state” of the education system and the unemployability of fresh graduates.

“Corruption is not a crime like other crimes,” Farid stated. “In other crimes the impact of the criminal act is restricted to the victim whereas corruption has far-reaching consequences. In a sense, corruption is a weapon of mass destruction.” 

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