Public procurement everywhere in the world is the single most important source of corruption.
It goes without saying that official secrecy surrounding this vitally important activity was what keeps corruption alive and well.
It does not help matters if the Official Secrets Act (OSA) 1972 is abused to hide a multitude of sins, and in the process to stifle efforts to make our procurement system open, transparent and accountable.
We have come a long way in improving the systems and procedures involved, but much remains to be done to ensure that corrupt practices are kept at bay.
Years of indifference and disregard for public opinion have rendered the procurement system, such as it is, more honoured in the breach than the observance.
I am not, and have never been, opposed to the OSA as I believe that it was an important instrument for the regulation of orderly government business.
A country soon becomes ungovernable if confidential and top secret information is leaked with impunity.
That said, the OSA must only be used for the purpose for which it was legislated in the first place and not abused, as was often the case in many countries all over the world, to conceal their governments’ more questionable and often corrupt actions that cannot stand close public scrutiny.
Guarantees that only information that passes the most rigorous national secrets standards tests must be incorporated in the revised Act currently under active consideration.
Today, more than ever before, government business ethics are taking centre stage whenever public policy issues are discussed and debated.
Many countries are grappling with mounting problems of unethical public behaviour particularly in the area of government procurement.
There are tried and tested anti-corruption procurement procedures in place in many member OECD countries, and with appropriate modifications, they could be adopted by our country.
The question is, as always, do we have the political will to put an end to corruption in the Malaysian government’s procurement process?
After all the allegations of financial impropriety thrown at Prime Minister Najib Razak and his administration even if unfounded, it would surely be prudent for the government to put its house in order by putting ethics to work in the business of managing the country.
The perception that ours was a corrupt society may well be underserved and greatly exaggerated, but it is a fact that our reputation has spread far and wide.
It is hardly surprising that Malaysia has become a destination of choice for drug and human traffickers, for terrorists in transit waiting to go to heaven by blowing themselves up in Syria, and for other assorted nasties.
We should be promoting Malaysia as a regional business hub or centre for international company operations but instead we have become the leading regional drug manufacturing and distribution centre operated by Nigerians and Iranians, many are here masquerading as mature private university students.
I am told they find Kuala Lumpur more attractive than even Bangkok, and this says a lot about our welcoming ways, with our outstretched palms waiting to be greased.
All this in spite of the fact that we have more laws to fight criminal activities than half a dozen countries put together; and the obvious reason for our country’s special attraction has to do with the enforcement of our laws which remains, for whatever reason, at best derisory.
The police are doing an excellent job busting the syndicates relentlessly, but if at the entry points Immigration had done their job better, then the hard pressed police could devote more time keeping our towns and cities safe to live and work in.
Screening non-citizens at entry points is a crucial control mechanism that immigration officers must take a lot more seriously.
Prevention is cheaper than cure.
Malaysians must do everything possible for a return to the time when we took justifiable pride that ‘grand corruption’ was the least of our problems.
It is our biggest problem today and confronting corruption decisively is, therefore, our collective business because our international reputation is in grave danger of going down the chute.