Why many of our countrymen are so tolerant about corruption?
Everyone knows corruption is a crime. And everyone knows Najib Razak, our former prime minister, is now on trial for charges involving not millions, but billions, of Ringgit. Notwithstanding, he is still the boss-ku to many of his die-hard supporters and admirers. You can understand if these people are not the well-educated or read type, since any figure beyond 3-zeroes is largely beyond their grasps. But to my utter surprise, I see some of my acquaintances in Facebook still think Najib is a victim of slander. These people are senior professionals and well-placed in society, albeit some in retirement now.
I started to think hard…
To Chinese, corruption is a serious crime. It doesn’t mean the Chinese societies are free of corruption. Chinese history is full of stories of corrupt officials and how they met eventually had to pay for their crimes. But corruption is viewed quite differently by Chinese. Corruption involving public money is as bad as robbery. It carries capital punishment in China. The phenomenon you see in Malaysia will not happen. Once you are caught, everyone will treat you like a leper. Nobody is going to help you, no matter how high you once were. And you live with the consequences. But punishment is only a part of the whole cause-and-effect (因果) “ecosystem”. The shame is not on you alone; it cascades down for generations – your children, your grandchildren, your great grandchildren. That’s where Confucianism ethics differ from other cultural norms. Not only you suffer, your offspring too!
We even had a minister who said corruption is not a crime until you got caught. This speaks volumes of the attitude towards corruption in Malaysia. When a policeman or a uniformed officer received a gratification, he might actually believe that he was doing the corrupting party a favour, lest the latter would have to be charged for some offences. When millions ended up in a minister or a top government official’s personal account, no actual misery was felt. The “losers” are usually not individuals, but the country or the economy as a whole. But the taker does not feel it when he takes. If the plundering was true, does Najib Razak feel any remorse? After all, some had actually benefited from his “philanthropy”. No wonder!