As posted by Dr. Mahathir Mohamad at Che Det on January 21, 2014
1. We need laws to punish corrupt people and to deter others from accepting bribes. But actually it is very difficult to catch corrupt personnel in Government or in business. It is even more difficult to prove corruption in a court of law. Most corrupt people escape unpunished.
2. Perhaps it is better to try and prevent corruption from taking place rather than to try to catch them after the fact. Actually the best way to prevent corruption is to instil in everyone the belief that corruption is wrong, that it is a crime and a sin. Most of us do not steal not because we are afraid or being caught and punished but because we know it is wrong. Similarly we will reject bribes if it is instilled in us that it is wrong. Unfortunately today it is difficult to instil good values in our children because, for most of us, less quality time is spent with them. And so many would accept bribes or offer bribes because we do not see it as wrong, as being a sin in our religion. We think and we believe that everyone is doing it and we would lose if we don’t do it. Self-restrain and self-discipline cannot be relied upon to curb corruption.
3. But it is possible to make corruption very difficult by removing temptations and opportunities.
4. Opportunities for corruption arise because of the need for interaction between those with authority and the public. The authorities need to process and approve all kinds of requests or proposals from the public. It is a kind of power and as we know power corrupts. If the authorised person reject or delay, the applicants may want to offer bribes to expedite or to approve.
5. Although we believe that the conditions or reasons for approval or disapproval have been determined and fixed for every kind of request or proposal, actually they are not. Where they are, they are quite vague and not precise. This gives rise to discretion on the part of those with authority. They may reject or at least delay as they like. The applicants may then offer bribes. If the reasons for approval or rejections are clear and precise there will be no room for discretion. It will either be approved or rejected. Should the authority reject or disapprove when it is clear that the conditions or requirements have all been fulfilled, then it would be easily detected.
6. The applicants generally would not dispute the decision made by the authority or complain because of delay. If rejected or delayed he would be tempted to bribe. This holds less danger for him than challenging the authority. He may need to deal with the same authority again or with his colleagues. They can create all kinds of trouble for him. But when the conditions for approval are simple and made known to the public, the authority will be exposing himself to his seniors who will go through all the processed application to ensure that the officer has made the right decision. But maybe the supervisor is working with his officer for a share of the bribe. But should there be an investigation the failure of the supervisor to act would be discovered immediately and he would have to bear the consequence. This would be a strong deterrence.
7. It is important that the top man show tangible interest in the work of the officers. Every month reports must be made to him with clear indications of the number rejected and the reasons why. The report must be made public, including actions taken when there is corruption.
8. To reduce further the opportunities for corruption, forms of application must be made as simple as possible. Long explanations and descriptions on how to fill the forms should be avoided. Instead Yes/No answers in boxed areas should be filled by applicants. The officer will need only to tick or cross in the box provided for each answer by the applicant.
9. Each officer should be required to examine, approve or reject only a small number of required conditions. There should be a work-flow chart. It should take only a few minutes to tick-off or to put a cross in the required box before passing the application to the next officer. The whole process including the decision of all the officers should not take more than three days. The applicant must be required by law to present himself at the office after three days had elapsed to enquire whether his application has been approved or not. All these meetings between officers and the applicant must be taped and recorded in a diary.
10. The authority of the particular officer must be spelt out. This includes which part of the application is he in charge of. If other parts have not been ticked off properly by other officers, he must ignore them. He must just give his yes or no only with regard to the areas of his responsibility. The application will then go to the other officers for them to decide regardless as to whether earlier officers had already found that the approval cannot be given.
11. There must be enough officers to deal with the expected number of applications. When necessary more officers should be appointed.
12. All the applications which have been scrutinized by the designated officers must be handed to the senior officer who will scrutinise the forms and if there is no disapproval, the senior officer will approve the application. If there is, he must call up the officer concerned to explain. If he is satisfied with the explanation, the application will not be approved.
13. The senior officer will then see the applicant and explain. The applicant can then correct his application for resubmission. If he cannot correct them for whatever reason the application would be rejected.
14. Time is of the essence. It is important that the processing of the application take a fixed time. For all the officers to approve or disapprove should not take more than three days. If they take more time they should be called up to explain. If this happens three times the officer concerned should be blacklisted. He should not be promoted and he should be transferred to another job.
15. These are rough suggestions. The people in the government can improve on them and design the forms so as to make approval and disapproval easy. The forms must be updated from time to time when found to be confusing or not workable.
16. The public should be consulted, privately or publicly, to hear their suggestions or objections over the procedures and forms. In all cases the consultation and the new forms must be made public. Complaints should be studied and changes made when necessary. Openness and transparency must be maintained.
17. Doctors like to say prevention is better than cure. What is being suggested is a transformation from cure to prevention.
18. Why did I not do it when I had the authority? To a certain extent I did. If anyone cares to examine, he will discover that the rapid growth of Kuala Lumpur for example took place from the early eighties because it was made easier for people to get approvals.