Corruption in our country is rampant. People have become cynical and take it for granted that all politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen are corrupt if given the opportunity. How did we arrive at this state of affairs?
To better appreciate the issue of corruption, I thought I should tell the story of my first encounter with corruption at the age of 18 in 1952.
I had joined the Technical College Kuala Lumpur. We had hardly settled down when my college mates started talking about the opportunities for making money from contractors after graduation. It came as a shock to me. How did my young college mates know about such matters? Public Works Department was considered the most desirable, since there were more dealings with contractors, while those joining the survey and telecoms departments were pitied for having no opportunity to make money. The words “corruption” or “bribe” were never used.
The stories I heard in college were played out in real life when I began working in the Irrigation Department in a small town. It was known to everyone in the office that those connected with any dealings involving suppliers and contractors would get some “reward”. The sums involved were small and the transactions always friendly. Later I resigned to practice as a consulting engineer. I was rather taken aback when my father’s friends—some of whom were well-respected community elders—called me a fool for leaving the “lucrative” government service.
With the onset of large-scale property development, these transactions became more substantial in the ‘60s. The rights to land concessions, especially in prime areas like the Klang Valley, imparted enormous wealth to recipients. It was the same with land conversions from agricultural use to building, as well as the rights to forest concessions particularly in East Malaysia. The “coffee money” of the old days soon became serious money running to millions of ringgit.