Malaysia election

For Mahathir, Malaysian election victory was the easy part: culture of corruption will be the real test

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 May, 2018, 3:09pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 May, 2018, 11:05pm

Joseph Ting of Brisbane (“Mahathir’s return in Malaysia is the victory of moral justice”, May 10) wrote of his pride and celebration at Malaysia’s recent election outcome and that “after 60 years, Malaysians have lately become immunised to the bribes of wealth and privilege conferred by the ‘rich pappas’”. 

The optimism is unfounded, the celebration perhaps premature. On corruption alone, Malaysia has a very long and dark tunnel to navigate before any light emerges. 

Malaysians are a long way from being “immunised” from all forms of corruption. It will take years to control corruption at the top level of the state and economy. Then there’s institutional corruption writ large; this includes Malaysia’s sprawling bureaucracy. 

There’s widespread corruption in business, courtesy of Malaysia’s New Economic Policy implemented in 1970 on the back of Mahathir Mohamad’s Malay Dilemma tome. The policy has lifted a sizeable chunk of Malaysians, especially Malays, from entrenched poverty. 

But around 1980, the New Economic Policy’s “Ali Baba” practices (“Ali” being the Malay company that received a contract through affirmative action, fronting a possibly more skilled “Baba” – Chinese or Indian – company) morphed into full-scale corruption, which the Mahathir state (1981-2003) spawned and even nurtured. 

This began with Mahathir’s state-owned firms. Mahathir’s rentier economy also gave rise to rampant cronyism and what Yoshihara Kunio called “ersatz capitalism” (“Can Mahathir redux undo his own legacy and build a corruption-free Malaysia?”, May 13). 

I wish Mahathir all the luck to weed out corruption from Malaysia’s police and the immigration and customs bureaucracies. 

Then there’s lower-level corruption within society; that is, among Malaysians. Cash remains king among many Malaysians, and favours can be done on the smell and colour of money. Another example: local council fines are commuted on the exchange of cold hard cash. 

Malaysian PM Mahathir begins big government clean up, but is his ruling coalition in a mess?

The “culture of corruption” is ubiquitous and endemic in Malaysia. It is likely to remain this way for decades in this low- to middle-income country. 

As long as incomes are paltry and wealth distribution remains horribly skewed towards the rich and powerful classes, including the capital-owning class, corruption will long be Malaysia’s societal, political and economic curse.

Manjit Bhatia, Hanover, New Hampshire