Khin Maung Myint
Many writers, including me, have written about corruptions and corrupted persons in our essays, opinions and articles and the necessity to eradicate them. I’m sure everyone has written with good intentions and in good faiths, free from any animosity towards anyone, but for the good of the country.
In this article, I would like to explore the term corruption and how to get rid of it. In doing so, I will approach it not only from the legal and literary aspects, but also from the practical perspectives based on my meager experiences gained while in the government service. I found that in the legal sense, corruption can be generally interpreted as taking of, or asking for bribes. Thus in English, the term corruption is often used in conjunction with the word bribery; thus the usage bribery and corruption is more relevant and sounds more legally correct. From the literary aspect, corruption is defined as a fraudulent conduct of those in power, involving taking of bribes, misconducts, fraudulences, unscrupulousness, cheating, wrongdoings: such as misappropriation of public funds, misuse of government facilities and abuse of office or power.
Here, the vocabulary bribe should also be defined. It’s either in kind or cash, given by someone to somebody in position of power or authority in return for undue privileges or favours. It should not be confused with a gift, which is given without expectation for anything from the recipient in return. To further clarify the difference between a bribe and a gift, I would like to quote what one veteran session judge explained to me, while I was still a very junior officer.
According to him only fruits and flowers or other presents, in kind, if they are in small quantities should be deemed as gifts, but if they are in abundance they become bribes. A very good example he gave me was: “You can accept a basket of few oranges or a bunch of flowers as a gift, but if someone gives you a truckload of oranges or flowers, that would be deemed a bribe, because they could fetch a small fortune”. However, cash of any amount, whether small or large, is deemed as a bribe in the legal sense.
Thus, from the first definition it is quite clear that there is only a very thin line separating a gift from a bribe. So, in my opinion, it would be safe not to accept any present from the subordinates or businesspersons, even a small amount, if their intentions are not sincere. As for the cash present it should absolutely be avoided. My outlooks may seem too extreme in a society like ours’, where the custom or tradition of offering presents to elders as marks of respect or paying obeisance (ကန္ေတာ့) is part of our culture since time immemorial. This custom or tradition provides excuses or covers to camouflage the acts of bribery and corruption.
In this context, the fixing of the amount acceptable as gift may seem a good move, but without any monitoring measures in place, I don’t think it would be effective in fighting corruption. Most of the readers may have heard of the stories of money stashed in biscuit tins bought from stores where the families of the elites used as their outlets. Those were undoubtedly the presents given as bribes to someone. Those were the days when bribery and corruption was strictly under close watch and high ranking officials were required to surrender the valuable presents they had received to the authorities. Thus the bribers tried to camouflage the bribe money in biscuit tins.
However, as the fight against bribery and corruptions gradually become lax, the bribers become more open. The bribes took the forms of refrigerators, high-end television sets, electronic equipments, expensive silk longyis, jeweleries, even motor car keys and apartment keys in tiny packages and uncountable varieties of commodities, which were given as presents at birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and many other imaginable occasions.
If we want to get rid of the bribery and corruptions, strict monitoring and severe actions should be taken if found guilty. In taking actions, both the briber and the taker or the corrupted person should be punished equally. They are partners in crime, as they collaborated in committing it and thus are equally guilty.
Though I don’t want to mention it, I must do it for the sake of the country. The rampant corruptions among the government employees stemmed from the misinterpretations or misconception of the term bribery and corruption. Most thought that it’s okay to take it as long as they don’t demand it. Though they may not demand, the bribers are always there, finding ways and means or the path (လမ္းေၾကာင္း), ready to solicit for undue favours and privileges by bribing.
Thus, to eradicate the corruptions in our government offices and departments, all employees, right from the top to the lowest levels should be reeducated to free them from their misconceptions concerning bribery and corruptions. Also the citizens should fulfill their civic duties by reporting on such cases to the authorities if they should come across them. The President’s and the State Counsellor’s offices have opened channels for the people to be able to send in reports and complaints. The citizens are also encouraged to report on such fraudulent persons by guaranteeing that the names of those who report on such matters will not be disclosed. These moves are unprecedented and indicate the government’s determination to eradicate corruptions.
I would like to repeat some of my opinions expressed in my previous articles. Because of the leaky roofs the floors had decayed. Just repairing the floors without repairing or replacing the roof wouldn’t be enough. Now that the roof had been replaced and not leaking anymore, it’s the floor’s turn to be either repaired, if still repairable or replaced if it’s beyond repairs. In conclusion, let me warn the corrupted persons that the people wouldn’t tolerate corruptions anymore. Now that they are given some latitude to get involved in the fight against corruption, the corrupt persons should consider “turning over a new leaf”, or else !