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Irony to the power of infinity

FCRO Subsection: 
Nigel Morris-Cotterill

In Malaysia, one of the successes of former Prime Minister Najib is something he won't get credit for - and something which is so ironic that it's almost hypocritical. But it's very, very welcome anyway.

Across the Malaysian civil service corruption was long endemic. The general population remains worn down by it, simply refusing to engage with government departments, even when it's essential and in their interests to do so, because of the multi-level obstruction they face until someone says they can help and an accommodation is reached.

But, in truth, the percentage of corrupt federal officers has reduced to near-insignificance and not only government departments but also agencies and providers of outsourced services post statements on premises and, even, in email tailpieces, saying that gratuities must not be offered or solicited.

This author found this taken to what might be taken to be extremes. Entirely due to his own actions, he found himself needing to go through a long and complex process to transfer what had been his company car to his own name. The process as laid down was simple but this author's position was not covered by the rules. And so, he started to get things in order. Worse, mostly the steps required him, or the car, to be present for certain steps and long periods away caused chaos with the campaign. No one was being difficult: far from it: everyone was being incredibly helpful. But, at every step, something went wrong. Even the big day of what should have been the first pre-transfer inspection fell into failure: a tax document was required; it was missing. A copy was needed from the importer of the replacement engine and his receipt wasn't enough. The car had been insured the previous day, so that it could be driven to the test centre. So, setting TomTom to find the importer (at which it proved curiously inept and drove around in circles, down dead-end lanes so narrow the wing mirrors had to be pulled in) it was off to get the document, until a lorry drove across the front of the car and ripped off or bent every front end panel on both sides and the bonnet but somehow didn't damage the wheel assembly or engine. One officer, sympathetic as she had to issue a new authorisation to drive an untaxed car every few days, asked her boss to help. He took a holistic view of the documents, said what he could accept, and once they were produced, ownership was transferred. Absolutely no one caused delay, no one asked for anything or even hinted. They were just happy to help. Find that in the British civil service, if you can. But that's not the extreme example: during one of the several inspections (one of which the car failed repeatedly and we could not find out what was causing the failure) this writer was standing outside the inspection shed with his mechanic and the centre manager who took out a cigarette. Despite rarely smoking, this author bummed one. Back again a couple of days later, pack in hand, one was offered in return. "No, thanks. I can't accept it." "Even just a cigarette?" "Yes, nothing at all."

Few will recognise that version of Malaysian government and its contractors. But in the past five years or so it has become the overwhelming norm.

In a few days, it's Hari Raya, the end of Ramadan. Last Friday, MDEC, what was the Multi-Media Super-Corridor Project launched by the first iteration of PM Mahathir nearly 20 years ago, wrote to all those it deals with. The e-mail was irritatingly flowery, as they always are but the subject line was not. It said, in capitals, in bold NO FESTIVE GIFT POLICY.

A clean civil service under the auspices of a man who, along with some members of his family, are accused of prodigious levels of corruption and plunder, is just one of the absolutely delightful ironies of this amazing country.

------- The MDEC e-mail --------

We at MDEC, are committed to conducting ourselves with the highest standards of
ethics and integrity as #weservethenation.

We are unrelenting in our commitment to this, and as such, with our hands on our
collective hearts, we ask for your sincere support in the implementation of our
'No Festive Gift' Policy.

Under our 'No Festive Gift' Policy, our employees will not:

1. Receive any festive gifts from external parties who have business
partnerships with MDEC (current and future potential work);
2. Give any festive gifts - either directly or indirectly-to external parties
who have business partnerships with MDEC (current and future potential work).

We remain greatly appreciative of the continuing support from our business
partners stakeholders and for observing MDEC's 'No Festive Gifts' Policy.

Your kind understanding is highly appreciated.