Dr Mahathir's warnings

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 June, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 June, 1994, 12:00am

THE discovery by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of the ''twin evils'' of money politics and corruption is welcome, if belated. The connection between Dr Mahathir's United Malays National Organisation and the businesses involved in Malaysia's large infrastructure projects has been a source of speculation for a number of years.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post in 1990, Dr Mahathir blandly dismissed such concerns with the assurance: ''Everybody has a fair chance.'' But in a number of countries, not everyone does have a fair chance, and as 1997 approaches, Hong Kong people have particular reason to be concerned about problems associated with corruption.

If there have been problems in Malaysia, these would appear to resemble those of Japan under the Liberal Democratic Party, where industrialists and politicians worked hand-in-hand, forging progress and development while pocketing some of the proceeds. This contrasts with the situation in the Philippines under the late President Ferdinand Marcos, where the corruption consisted of a form of asset-stripping, for which Filipinos continue to pay a price, both in financial terms and in terms of a culture of cynicism.

In decades past, before the establishment of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, Hong Kong had serious problems of its own, problems that the ICAC has largely stamped out.

Now, and with good reason, the sweeping powers of the ICAC are increasingly coming under the microscope, just as the territory is coming to grips with a wave of corruption across the border that, if unchecked, could swamp Hong Kong after 1997. If the territory were to lose the fight against corruption, citizens could face adverse political - as well as economic - consequences.

Dr Mahathir may have drawn attention to money politics because of domestic considerations, but the warning he gave should be heeded, nonetheless.

Far from oiling the wheels of development, corruption and money politics serve to undermine social cohesion and can debase the quality of life. If Asian leaders were really to focus on corruption, their peoples would benefit immeasurably, and the people of Hong Kong might be able to breathe a little easier.