Dennis Ignatius: Our indolent and corrupt political culture

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We are far too tolerant of malfeasance and corruption and far too easily influenced by personalities instead of principles.

BBC

There was an interesting snippet of news from Austria yesterday. Sebastian Kurtz, the very popular and well-liked Chancellor of Austria announced he was stepping down from office after allegations surfaced that he had used government funds to ensure positive coverage in a newspaper. He said he was stepping down so he could clear his name without disrupting the business of government. That is what responsible politicians do when faced with corruption allegations. Besides, the people of Austria expect nothing less of their leaders.

Of course, it immediately made me think of our own situation. Here we have a former prime minister – a man convicted of misappropriating public funds, criminal breach of trust and money laundering – still attending parliament, getting appointed head of the backbenchers’ club, and dishing out advice on good governance to the nation. And he is not alone. Several others continue to linger on despite facing dozens of charges. They have no shame, no sense of remorse, no respect for the people.

Surely, it is an indolent and corrupt political culture that allows convicted felons and those charged with massive corruption to carry on with business as usual, to pretend that they are really good and decent politicians interested only in the welfare of the people. We, the people, are to blame, too, for allowing them to get away with it. We are far too tolerant of malfeasance and corruption and far too easily influenced by personalities instead of principles. We have set the bar so low that even crooks can now masquerade as patriots.

Recently, Pandora’s Box was opened and several of our political leaders were found to have hidden accounts in the British Virgin Islands. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim called for the matter to be discussed immediately in Parliament. The Speaker, however, nixed the idea, saying it was of no immediate importance. It is precisely this kind of attitude that led me to conclude in my recent book – Paradise Lost: Mahathir & the End of Hope – that the battle against corruption is over and we have lost.