A Malaysian politician has said that corrupt Malaysian immigration officials are allowing refugees to get to Indonesia before boarding "leaky boats" to get to Australia.
Senator Tunku Abdul Aziz Ibrahim gave the international keynote address at the ACLA Conference yesterday (11 November). Addressing the topic of "Overcoming corruption: A regional challenge", Ibrahim, who studied at the University of Tasmania, made the point that with the onset of globalisation, if authorities turn a blind eye to corruption in one jurisdiction, it will have adverse effects on the political and economic situation in other countries.
Ibrahim cited the example of three senior Malaysian immigration officers who have been arrested recently, one with a personal bank account holding in excess of $4 million, on allegations of corruption.
"These are the people who have been bribed by human traffickers, to allow people from Afghanistan and other places to board leaky boats to Australia," he said. "This is why corruption is so evil. What you do or don't do in Malaysia affects you here in Australia."
Ibrahim said that once the refugees are in Malaysia, they can then get to Indonesia and go on to Australia.
Ibrahim, a former vice-president of the global anti-corruption body Transparency and director of the Commonwealth Secretariat, argued that the fight against corruption begins with acknowledging its existence.
He said that the investigation of corruption is considerably more transparent than when discussion of corruption was "a taboo in polite societies". Ibrahim relayed an anecdote that when James Wolfensohn became head of the World Bank in 1995, his advisers told him to refer to corruption as the 'c word'".
"You can see that we have come a long way since then, but in a perverse way, so has corruption," Ibrahim added.
He said that if you look at the 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, many countries are on a "downward slippery slope".
He acknowledged that Australia, New Zealand and Scandinavian countries continue to maintain a good position on the index, but in the Asia-Pacific region, Ibrahim reserved the highest praise for Singapore as a "shining star".
He said corruption has become systemic across the world and it is flourishing in south-east Asia, with Australia not being spared.
He relayed the story of when he previously visited Sydney to speak at an OECD convention to tackle bribery. Ibrahim said there was a large group of corporate lawyers present, but that many of the lawyers attending were only there to see what loopholes existed within the relevant laws, to the business advantage of their clients.
Declaring himself a believer in capitalism, Ibrahim said that while it was good on a corporate level for businesses to make money, it was also in a company's interests to fulfil their social responsibilities.
"Good governance should go beyond the immediate task of looking after the bottom line," he said. "When you have good governance policies in place, you will have less of a problem with corruption."
Ibrahim argued that in the modern business environment, investment and growth opportunities awaited companies that had a solid ethical base.
"People are looking to invest in companies that have a sound code of ethics," he said. Ibrahim said that from both a public policy and financial perspective, Asian political and business leaders should "focus their undivided attention on reforming the political, economic and social institutions and seek ways to change public behaviour and attitudes towards business ethics".
"The problem today is that many people don't even realise that unless they do business in a principled and ethical way, that business is not going to get anywhere," he said.
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