Integrity is in his blood BY Shaila Koshy - The STAR
Dr Anis: ‘We need to repeat the message. The power of one is very strong. Sooner or later, change will come’
In advocating the right ethics, Dr Anis Yusal Yusoff, who took office as the Institute of Integrity Malaysia president early this month, is not just walking the talk, he is also walking tall.
“I BELIEVE in the cause,” says Dr Anis Yusal Yusoff.
“I grew up watching my father. Once he took us out for makan to Tanjung Bungah in the 1970s and only realised on our way home to Kampung Makam that he hadn’t paid at one stall. He drove back 20km to pay maybe 30 sen.
“He told us, ‘I forgot. But we ate, so we have to pay’.”
Then there were times when gifts were delivered to our home during Hari Raya Aidil Fitri and an inquisition would follow.
“My sisters and I would be so happy when we got chocolates but my father would ask who had brought them and tell us to return them if they came from traders. He would say, ‘If they are genuine, let’s see if they still bring gifts after I’ve retired’.”
Dr Anis’ father was chief health and petty traders inspector in the then Penang Municipal Council.
“It was a very powerful position and he did not want to be used,” says Dr Anis, 48, in an exclusive interview with The Star.
“My father didn’t lecture us but showed us by example,” recounts the former Francis Light Primary School pupil.
He was such a good student that Dr Anis made his wife return an expensive gift one time – a prayer mat from overseas.
On June 1, he took over as president of the Institute of Integrity Malaysia (IIM). But even before that he was at the office, off Jalan Tunku Halim in Kuala Lumpur.
“Marking my territory,” he says with a chuckle, slipping into the military jargon from his time at Royal Military College, Sungei Besi.
The six-footer wanted to get to know the IIM family and vice-versa: “I have two years to deliver.”
For starters, IIM is going to make greater use of its building with the following activities:
WEEK 1: Breakfast talk
WEEK 2: Roundtable dialogue – smaller group and topical matters – for example, the impact of GST and how consumers are taken for a ride
WEEK 3: Discussions with university researchers, prioritise the issues to be studied and form the research questions.
WEEK 4: Art Night!
Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission chief commissioner Tan Sri Abu Kassim Mohamed spoke at the first breakfast talk on June 4.
Dr Anis says the talks and dialogues would identify problems, to then be analysed deeper for policy recommendations.
For the Art Night Dr Anis is thinking of engaging stand-up comedians like Harith Iskandar and Afdlin Shauki, “to make fun of ourselves on integrity”.
“Jokes, even radio DJs, can create awareness. We can show films. IIM will be a meeting point.”
And not to be KL-centric, they are scoping state integrity bodies to collaborate on holding projects there, says Dr Anis who also has dreams of creating a studio at IIM.
Dr Anis’ appointment by the Prime Minister has drawn varied responses.
When some people familiar with Government appointments heard of my interview, they asked which department he had retired from!
Whereas some in government were wondering where this “young fellow” came from.
Dr Anis has over 20 years experience in international level policy formulation especially on human development and governance. He was UNDP’s Assistant Resident Representative in Malaysia and served at the UN Volunteers Headquarters in Bonn, Germany, as a Specialist.
He has also served on a number of national advisory councils in recent years relating to corruption, consumerism and national unity and integrity. He is a Commissioner in the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission.
Prior to this appointment, he was Principal Fellow at the Institute of Ethnic Studies (KITA), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, and was responsible for developing KITA-MESRA, an early warning system to manage potential ethnic tension and conflict. Before KITA, he had already served in IIM as the founding Director of the Political Sector from 2005-2008.
What are his aspirations?
Dr Anis wants research to go beyond perception.
“If people read three articles about corruption, their perception of the level of corruption then would be that it is bad. If they had not read any such articles, they might not have any views about it.”
It’s his experience that perception data is only useful as a guide.
He says reports of snatch thefts may be down because of non-reporting since victims don’t expect to get their valuables back or the thief to be caught.
“But if that’s referenced with bank and Registration department statistics on applications for replacement ATM cards and MyKad, you’d have a more accurate picture.”
In KITA’s ethnic relations survey, they didn’t ask “what do you think about the level of ethnic relations in Malaysia?”
“Instead we asked ‘when was the last time you had a meal with a friend of a different race?’, ‘When did you last visit a friend of a different race?’ and ‘In the past year, how many times did you receive visits from a friend of a different race?”
“As a think-tank on integrity, we are organising (breakfast) talks so we can bring selected thinkers together and have experts come and give us their thoughts. We hope the writers we invite will capture the issues in depth and write on them for the public.”
In his talk, Abu Kassim asked the rakyat to take ownership for their own behaviour.
“Do you think you are friends with those from other religions because of programmes by the National Unity Department?” he asked the audience.
He had a pertinent question on corrupt people – ‘is it orang bodoh or buat bodoh?’ How do you eradicate the practice of accepting gifts when those who buat bodoh say ‘but it’s Malaysian culture!’ or ‘it’s just food lah’?
“Many companies have a no-gift policy. I’m sure during Ramadan, boxes of dates will sent to many offices, even yours,” says Dr Anis.
“You have to say no because the gifts will keep getting more expensive, like top of the range smart phones. If you’re a journalist you could feel so indebted from having accepted gifts/food you would think twice, three times before you do a story unfavourable to that person or company.”
So should the Government preach about integrity when it doesn’t take up recommendations to improve itself?
Dr Anis, who has seen the Government accept and ignore recommendations, says it’s a catch-up game for them.
He points out that consumer and environmental groups were already active before we had ministers for the two areas.
“I was part of the group in UN that helped Malaysia set up Suhakam but Aliran and Hakam were talking human rights long before that. As for integrity and governance, groups like TI-M (Transparency International-Malaysia) which I helped set up were talking about it first. Only now is there a minister.
In 1995, he says not many in Government knew what governance meant. “But today, governance is the word of the day,” he laughs.
“Similarly with integrity. We need to repeat the message. The power of one is very strong. Sooner or later, change will come.”
C.S. Lewis said, “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”
With a ghost of a smile on his face, Dr Anis says this would be good to see in the long run: “Audit yourself. You must be accountable – if you play truant, take long lunches, sleep in the surau – tell your boss you’d like to return some of your salary.”
For the “shorter” long term, he says the way to move forward is to amend laws that give people the opportunity to breach the law.