Leadership, Civic Virtue and the Antidote to Corruption

Leadership, Civic Virtue and the Antidote to Corruption

Date : 18 October 2018

Reported by : dsh

Category : News


Leadership, Civic Virtue and the Antidote to Corruption

By Dr. James Campbell

 “Worst, then, is he who treats both himself and his friends in a corrupt way, but best is he who makes use of virtue not in relation to himself but in relation to another. For this is a difficult task. This justice, then, is not a part of virtue but the whole of virtue, and the injustice opposed to it is not a part of vice but the whole of vice.” - Aristotle

Much has been made of the election of the new government in Malaysia as a result of the 14th General Election. So-called experts expressed surprise at the result and yet many working people at street level sensed that change was in the air. This was certainly the case in urban Malaysia and in rural Malaysia as well; there was a perceptible shift by some voters to the coalition. Signs of this could be seen in rural rallies where Tun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad was well received and also in the fact that issues such as 1MDB as well as rising costs and unemployment were increasingly worrisome for rural voters despite government handouts.

Cynics would be forgiven for thinking the only thing that experts have got right in a string of recent elections around the world is getting them wrong. Experiencing the change of government was, of course, invigorating for those who had supported the opposition coalition of parties and sobering for supporters of the outgoing government. This is usual wherever there is a change in government but in Malaysia's case, the jubilation and sense of history were deeply felt. It should be noted that Malaysia had the longest continuous running coalition ruling Malaysia in different guises for sixty-one years; so there is no doubt that for many, even those who expected the win, there was still a sense of disbelief that it had actually happened.

Most attention, however, has been paid to the return to power ofTun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad. Currently 93 years old, Tun Dr. Mahathir is the oldest Prime Minister in the world and possibly the most well-known. inevitably given Tun Dr. Mahathir’s past as Prime Minister and especially when we take into consideration previous criticism of what was seen by some as his authoritarian inclination there have been doubts raised by some about his suitability to lead a complex coalition in restoring trust and integrity to Malaysia's institutions.

However critics aside, it is clear that without Tun Dr. Mahathir’s leadership at the helm ofthe Pakatan Harapan coalition, there would not have been a change of government in Malaysia.  Mahathir’s leadership, absolute persistence and tenacity was the tipping point. One of the issues that has dominated news portals and comment has been the shift in policy from the previous BN government under the new Prime Minister.

In the realm of economics and business investment, the plain facts are that the new government has inherited debts, contingent liabilities as well as losses through corruption that have severely impacted on the government's ability to fund many of the grand plans of the previous regime. It has required tough-minded leadership to face these facts and to trim the sails of government. While much media attention has been on the so-called first hundred days of the government and its ability to keep its promises serious observers of the Malaysian scene recognize that the job ahead of the new coalition government is tough and some of the problems it faces deeply ingrained.

What then is the core attribute that characterizes Malaysia's current leadership underTun Dr. Mahathir? The first thing that strikes this writer's eye is his commitment to rooting out corruption and setting Malaysia back on a path towards sustainable development and national dignity. It was Lord Acton who pointed out that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Perhaps it is also true that continuous power also corrupts. Over time all governments are open to the temptations of corruption.

Original principles of self-sacrifice, duty for the common good and temperance of the passions which are central to nation building can wither and decay over time under the pressures and seductions of money and power. Corruption has many forms, but its most insidious form is when it becomes something that people simply think is the norm and when accountability has little meaning. Corruption feeds on a collapse of civic virtue and a corrupt society is one where political and civic virtue is in decline. Corruption exists in societies where there is a breakdown of the original values, mores and principles that informed its earlier nation builders. This breakdown can occur over time and people can contribute to it without being aware.

While the examples of corruption we currently see revealed in the media focus on graft, theft and fraudulent behaviours the deeper wellsprings of corruption lie in a diminution of civic virtue on the part of both politicians, public servants, businessmen and sections of the broader citizenry. Greed, privilege, arrogance even success can breed corruption. Opposed to corruption are the virtues of commitment to the common good and commitment to the nation. These are the characteristics of civic virtue and a dignified politics.  These are also the characteristics of classical leadership.

It is on this point that I think we see what is distinctive about Tun Dr.  Mahathir’s approach to politics. Whether one disagrees or agrees with his policies, whether one views with suspicion a so-called authoritarian past, there seems to be little doubt that he is motivated by a commitment to the betterment of his county and the common good. If we have to point to one characteristic above all others that strikes us when we think of Tun Dr. Mahathir, it is his commitment to the welfare of the nation and his commitment to the tough civic virtues of self-sacrifice, personal temperance and putting the common good above individual profit. He knows that corruption robs the soul of a nation. Understanding this and grasping its deeper meaning provides us with an insight into why addressing corruption is so central to his leadership. It also provides us with an insight into his character and its deeper motivations.

Dr. James Campbell is an independent writer and researcher based in Melbourne, Australia


Journal of the Women's Institute of Management.

INSPIRE - Leadership, Civic Virtue And The Antidote To Corruption (Volume 38 for December 2018 - March 2019 Issue)