WHILE Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was defined by his drive to turn Malaysia into an industrialised nation, Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi will be staking his administration on integrity.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister launched the National Integrity Plan, a cornerstone of his ambitions to remake Malaysian society.
To attain integrity, he has set lofty targets: reduce corruption and abuse of power, enhance public-sector efficiency, enhance business ethics, strengthen the family and improve the quality of life.
But the main target of the plan will be to reduce graft, a subject he dedicated a major portion of his launch speech to.
He acknowledged how pervasive corruption is in Malaysian society, pointing out that 'everyone has a story about paying someone off'.
'Nearly everyone has his own story about paying off someone to speed up an application or to get off paying a traffic summons.
'We also hear of corruption cases, breaches of trust or abuse of power involving corporate and political personalities,' he said.
His zero tolerance approach towards corruption and his promise of a more efficient civil service were seen as crucial factors in the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition's big victory in the general election.
One minister, a corporate tycoon, various civil servants and even one close friend of the Premier have been charged with corruption.
The Premier has also launched a code of ethics for BN elected representatives.
But the National Integrity Plan is his most serious effort yet in turning around the perception that Malaysia is a graft-ridden country with a government that frequently awards contracts to politically connected businessmen.
Datuk Seri Abdullah said that while Malaysia has achieved tremendous economic growth, it has come at a cost to the social fabric, and brought about erosion of the value system of Malaysian society.
This, he said, could be seen everywhere - on the road where Malaysians lack civic consciousness, in Malaysian attitudes towards the environment and public facilities, poor counter service at government departments and even the practice of queue-jumping.
Worst yet is the element of corruption, said the Prime Minister, pointing out that a materialistic mentality had resulted in Malaysians looking for ways to get rich quickly.
He revealed statistics from a survey commissioned by the Anti-Corruption Agency in 2002 that showed how widespread graft is.
About 15 per cent of the 7,594 respondents admit to having been involved in a corrupt act, and 20 per cent have witnessed an act of corruption. The government feels the real figures are higher.
'We have to tackle this problem. There is no use if Malaysian society is rich in material terms but bankrupt from the aspect of morality, ethics and integrity,' he said.
A Malaysian Integrity Institute will be set up as part of the plan to formulate policy, organise activities, compile data and research, as well as conduct periodic studies on public perception.
The Prime Minister said he hoped the National Integrity Plan, outlined in a 150-page book of guidelines that act as a mould for Malaysian society, will be a catalyst to improve integrity.
'We want to develop a Malaysian society that is ethical, imbued with a strong sense of right and wrong, and equipped with a moral compass to show the way forward.'
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