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The Bowerbird Writes

Monday, 20 March 2017 | MYT 12:00 AM

We need integrity crusaders

SOME years ago I contributed an essay for a book, Political Integrity in Malaysia: Towards a Better Understanding. It was published by the Malaysian Institute of Integrity. One of the editors, Datuk Dr Anis Yusal Yusoff, is currently the president and CEO of the institute.

I wrote about the relationship between politicians and journalists. There is a little love-hate relationship between them, mostly suspicion.

I quoted a hit 1999 Tamil movie, Mudhalvan, directed by S. Shankar, to illustrate my point. The protagonist was a TV journalist known for his uncompromising stand on inte­grity, Pughazhendi (played by Arjun Sarja).

He interviewed the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu (Raghuvaran), who was offended by his line of questioning. The Chief Minister challenged him to take his place for one day. Pughazhendi readily agreed. To cut the story short, he did a great job and the people were clamouring for him to stay on.

Like any good Tamil movie, it sounds too good to be true. There was romance (between the journo-turned-politician) and his lover (Manisha Koraila).

There were a lot of eye-catching fight scenes, too. Of course the songs, composed by the legendary A.R. Rahman, added to the popula­rity of the movie.

Journalists are supposed to be idealists. Politicians, on the other hand, are pragmatic people. The two seldom intertwine.

As proven by Mudhalvan, their interests differ. But then Mudhalvan was a creative endeavour. No sane politician would surrender his position, even for one day, to a journa­list. A journalist might even fail mi­­serably as a politician.

Being a Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu or anywhere else is no small feat. Despite the mostly terse relationship between them, both journalists and politicians have responsibilities to society.

Only in Mudhalvan, Pughazhendi could change Tamil Nadu in one day. Fiction is strange. But reality can even be stranger.

But what matters in Mudhalvan is the notion of integrity. You can’t blame Pughazhendi for his pursuit of truth and probity.

He couldn’t stand around witnessing the desecration of all the good values he cared about. He had no personal agenda, he was just a dedicated, committed and decent journalist trying to do his work. When he became the Chief Minister, he did what he believed he must do: cleanse the state of corruption and abuse of power.

Mudhalvan aside, integrity is everything! Integrity should not be just a concept, a notion or an ideal, it should be a way of life.

So words like honesty, rectitude, truthfulness, trustworthiness and such are critical in ensuring the values associated with integrity. It matters now more than ever before.

Integrity applies to all, not just in politics but in all areas of human endeavour.

“The quality of being honest and upright”, as integrity has always been defined, must be inculcated at all levels of society. The values must be taught at schools and universities. It must be a principle to be taken seriously by everyone.

It is a tall order indeed. Values are changing fast in society today, even ours. We are living in a new, frightening world where old values are being discarded for something new and untested.

We are becoming more individualistic, thus adhering to the values of the old is fast becoming unnecessary. We are living in the age of greed. Success is defined by material gains. Remember the character, Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street (1987)?

Michael Douglas played him with such menacing exactitude you couldn’t help but admire him, despite despising him. He famously said, “greed is good”.

You may invite him for lunch but he’s simply too busy making money.

“Lunch is for wimps,” the character famously said.

Perhaps it is true that money matters. Money is king. Thus many among us are short-cutting our way to make more money and to accumulate wealth. Taking bribes is one sure-fire way to hoard money in the closet, build a massive house or buy luxury cars. Corruption doesn’t pay. Sooner or later, as proven by many high-profile cases of corruption in the country of late, the law will get to you. We have to have faith in the system.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is not perfect. But it is doing its best. I know how difficult it is to fight the scourge: I was formerly the head of its Consultation and Prevention Panel.

The MACC needs help. People Power will take them places.

We already have a National Integrity Plan in place, launched by the then Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in April 2004. It must be revisited.

I am sure the Malaysian Institute of Integrity, under the able leadership of Dr Anis, is looking at it real hard. It is not the policies that matter – eventually, it is about the application and implementation.

The good news is, the institute is bringing “integrity” to the people via schools, institutions of higher learning, organisations, NGOs, societies, even cultural and literary groups.

Perhaps we need integrity crusaders to start with, someone like Pughazhendi in the real world.

Johan Jaaffar was a journalist, editor and, for some years, chairman of a media company. He is passionate about all things literature and the arts. The views expressed here are entirely his own.