Malaysia has successfully transformed itself from an agriculture-based to an upper-middle income economy over a period of 53 years. Throughout its years of nation building, the nation’s resources have been effectively managed and today the country’s infrastructure remains strong and resilient. Yet, beyond the façade of our economic progress, there is an urgent need to instill the principles to face the society’s number one enemy- fraud and corruption.
Indeed, the never-ending quest of building a world-class economic infrastructure rest on our country’s ability to nurture its human-capital resources by instilling a deep and profound sense of integrity and virtuousness, and this should remain as one of the ‘hidden’ pillars of our economic strength .
The launching of the New Economic Model reiterates the need to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability to satisfy the demands of future generations, setting the stage to address fundamental issues relating to ethics and integrity.Every country has its fair share of corporate scandals, Malaysia included.Who could ever forget corporate failures besieging giants like WorldCom and Enron that had successfully dispel the myth of high Western values and business integrity that many thought were well embedded in the way businesses were run in the United States.Malaysians were also not spared of major corporate scandals involving lost of billion ringgit as evidenced in the corporate companies like Transmile Group, Pewaja Steel and PKFZ.
There were also embarrassing episodes of shoddy state construction projects with Trenggganu infamously bearing the biggest brunt of collapsing roofs and buildings. To add to these concerns is the recent move by the Education Ministry to blacklist contractors after failing to complete their projets amounting to RM180 million.The slogan of ‘people first and performance now’ begets the need for organizations to accountable to its citizens. In the first place, were there proper mechanisms to ensure that state-sponsored projects were carried out efficiently and with due diligence in the interest of the people?
Last week’s parliamentary bill on whistle-blowing is certainly a move in the right direction. What better way to reduce frauds and scandals than to encourage those from within to spill the beans ? If passed, the impact will be profound as it is the first time in our country’s history that whistle blowers will be protected and cash rewards given as incentives. This can also be the first leap towards implementing a comprehensive and systematic policy on whistle-blowing.
The challenge now is to shift the negative perception of whistle blowing as an act of treachery.Providing incentives and protection may not be enough to encoutage whistle-blowers; instead the focus should be on the act itself that must be perceived as virtuous and ethical.
To understand the vibes surrounding whisle-blowing, one has to trace and understand the historical cultures of our Asian society. To some Asian community, particularly the Chinese community, the term “man” culturally relates to a being which is socially situated and is defined within an “interactive context”. Another primary importance to the Chinese community is the relative term “ego” which literally means that one should be representative of the entire society and not an individual concern. Hence, shaming the community is something that should be avoided. A public disgrace or anything that would ridicule the whole community is a taboo.
Within the Indian culture, more emphasis is placed on the importance of affection reciprocity that is reflected in the Hindu concept of collective ego. This perspective upholds that one’s ego is not as important as the need to maintain a hierarchical sequence to forge strong interpersonal relationship based on inter-communities bonding and the need to sustain a stable social order.
In the eyes of every Malay and Muslim individual, the concept of tauhid should be the guiding principle where a man’s life is viewed in homogeneity and the ultimate realization of submitting to Islamic values is the primary goal. Looking from Islamic Hadhari Perspective, such religiousity involves emphasis on development, consistent with the tenets of Islam while focusing towards enhancing the quality of life without compromising the demand of the future population.
As we attempt to relate and engrossed ourselves in the interpretation of whistle-blowing, we should never ceased in our pursuit to build good ethical behavior at every strata of our society – youths, elderly workers, professionals, and civil servants. Old values such as ‘ Jangan menjaga tepi kain orang’ should be discarded as part of our country’s strategy to instill ethics and integrity. Only then can whistle-blowing be implemented successfully.
Ishak Ismail (School of Management, USM) & Hasnah Haron (Graduate School of Business, USM)
(The writers are an Associate Professor with the Graduate School of Business and Dean of School of Management Universiti Sains Malaysia and a Professor of Auditing and Dean Graduate School of Business, Universiti Sains Malaysia).