by | Datuk Dr Anis Yusal Yusoff Deputy Director-General, National Centre for Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption (GIACC)
Datuk Dr Anis Yusal Yusoff is currently the Deputy Director General of the National Centre for Governance, Integrity & Anti-Corruption (GIACC) at the Prime Minister’s Department. Prior to this he was the Director General of the National Integrity and Good Governance Department, Malaysia and the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Malaysian Institute of Integrity (INTEGRITI). He has served over years at The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as well as at the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) Headquarters in Bonn, Germany. Before joining INTEGRITI, he was a Principal Research Fellow at the Institute of Ethnic Studies, the National University of Malaysia. He was recently appointed as an Adjunct Professor by University Malaya and has served since January 2018 as Adjunt Proffesor at Tun Hussein Onn University (UTHM). Datuk Dr. Anis Yusal has also served on a number of national advisory councils in the past. To name a few, he was a member of the Advisory Panel for The Consultation and Prevention of Corruption under the Malaysian Anti-‐Corruption Commission and until August 2018, he was the Deputy Chairman of the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC).
New behaviours need to be ingrained and we must take pains to understand these expectations that at the moment revolve around integrity and austerity.
A dedicated fight against corruption
We have been fighting corruption and promoting integrity even before independence. This is nothing new and it’s something we have been doing for a long time. In fact, in 1955 the British government had introduced a special commission to look into the integrity of the civil service. It is an ongoing thing, in order for us to make a society better, you obviously need a continuous monitoring effort.
Let’s go back about just a little more than a decade ago, in 2004, during former Prime Minister, Tun Dato’ Seri Haji Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi’s tenure, The Malaysian Institute of Integrity (INTEGRITI) was established. Nonetheless, even prior to the inception, we’ve had an anti-corruption agency that was established earlier in 1967. Put simply, the government at that time was of the opinion that it needed to educate the society. We cannot just go on detaining the perpetrators to no end without any means of educating to put a halt to the problem. Had it been the case, we would be playing catching up forever. There needs to be a plan to embed moral values and social causes in our society, and this was the basis of the National Integrity Plan. Following this, the Malaysian Institute of Integrity was established to oversee the implementation of this plan. Although we see educating efforts are being carried out, after so many years, many still endeavour to go above the law committing wrongdoings in so many creative ways, trying to fend off or dilute the law.
Recently, a major deterrent to the public service was the breakdown in the rule of integrity. Unfortunately, enforcement too has degraded over time and at the height of recent crisis, the impact was traumatic when although for a short spell, the world looked down at us as a kleptocrat nation. That was an alarming signal. These are the problems that we need to deal with where the solution requires measures that go beyond prevention. If one was diagnosed with cancer, as does the current context, considering the magnitude of the problem, the narrative requires an aggressive action to deal with the problem head on to be able to put a stop to it.
Differences in fighting corruption in the past, today and in the future
I come from an IT background. All too often, there are positives and negatives of technology. When I was doing my master’s degree, one of the things we were developing at the time was virtual reality (VR). In the early 90s, it was a novelty. We were thinking about how VR could be used to solve a host of problems. When we started, we had to reduce the size of the computer monitor, designed a simple glove and programmed the system to simulate a variety of actions such as playing volleyball.
Initially, the idea was to allow medical students to virtually dissect the human body. One of our research partners later teamed up with another university to further the research. To profit from the research, he sold the technology to a toy making company. Using the glove, the company subsequently produced a boxing game with Mike Tyson. Virtually, by playing the game, you go up against the great Mike Tyson. It wasn’t as perfect as what we have today, but it had already started back then. While a toy company used it to create an immersive boxing game, other iterations of VR have unfortunately challenged our moral conscience. Some of the ideas are so misguided that they have induced something like virtual sex for example.
In today’s climate, technology development is a great asset waiting to be tapped. Take bribery for example, the use of drone to supervise certain high risk sites such as the country’s borders or territorial waters for illegal barter trading activities can be a great surveillance tool. If we could have a drone hovering over and monitoring more frequently, it would be a deterrent to the people to commit such crime when they know there is someone watching. However, we need to weigh the decisions thoroughly and align the objectives with our national causes. In the wake of this, every year, the smuggling of illegal cigarettes and alcoholic beverages is a huge loss to the country said to be somewhere in the region of RM8billion a year. That money should have been tax money collected and returned to the people of Malaysia. Therefore, we need to seek greater influence over the supervision of these incidences because they take place in the middle of the sea, and currently, there are limitations in some areas that we are yet to bridge and soon we need to turn to technology to improve our service delivery.
At present, we are in the midst of formalising an anti-corruption national plan that will outline Malaysia’s fight against corruption. We should take advantage of our expertise in foresight to aid the cause. Maybe in the past, it was described as “duit kopi” (underthe-counter-money), but now since we are moving toward a cashless society, we need to be ahead of these possible scenarios to overcome those who are likely suspects to commit bribery. Perhaps to educate the future generation about bribery and red tape, there will no longer be a need to conduct seminars. With social media, you can do so many things, people are reading WhatsApp messages more than books these days. These are the changes that foresight activities can inform to help society planners make better decisions and making sure we are well aware of the challenges that lie ahead. You don’t want to look at it just on the bright side, but you also need to dive into the worst possible scenario. All this can help us pay close attention to the issue to devise a clear strategic narrative and condense it to a critical few imperatives to take action.
4IR technology development and potential disruption
First, there must be a buy-in of any new technology being introduced. Mapping the context, we need to know where we are. Whether to adapt or adopt the technology, in 1992, I wrote a paper about the importance of adapting and adopting technology with a local wisdom. Case in point, the technology is already there, we are not just adopting it, we are also adapting it to our environment and surrounding. We need to come to terms that cultural immersion is also a part of the whole exercise.
I have a bit of a reservation when it comes to adopting a technology without adapting it to our culture. We sometimes forget that those who design these new technologies, they may come from a different place. We can’t just be adopting technology just for the sake of adopting it to the extent where we are jeopardising our culture and the good things about it.
With technology, sometimes, some are going to argue, why are we defending things that by modern standards are obsolete. However, behind them are the wisdom and ingenuity that have helped us carry out basic tasks very well right to this day. Let me explain. If you only know how to cook rice using a rice cooker, you have abandoned the simple way to cook rice the way it was done before the technology was ever-present. This is the type of wisdom that is very important for us to preserve. When there comes a time electricity gets cut off, you wouldn’t know how to cook rice. Again, I would like to stress, embracing the new is important, but not for its own sake.
Public service navigating 4IR challenges
At one point in the 90s, everyone was talking about one stop centre. When I was staying in Bukit Bandaraya, the Bangsar post office was telling us consumers that we could pay all of our utility bills at the post office. So I went there and it was a long queue. When my turn was up, the lady at the counter told me the system was down. I asked her why couldn’t I pay? I had waited 45 minutes in the queue and I certainly didn’t want my time to just go up in smoke. At that time, I just came back from the U.S with a master’s degree in IT. So it occurred to me, why couldn’t we do it the old way? In the parameters of what we are discussing, lest we forget, we cannot be totally dependent on technology. I probed further, before there was the system, how was the payment done? They said we would take your bill, record it in the logbook, take your payment, return your balance and issue you a receipt. So why couldn’t we do it now I asked them. I exasperatingly lamented and pointed out that when the system would eventually get up and running again, you could update my payment. And the lady looked at me puzzled. The point is, if we don’t prepare ahead of time and simply adopt technology just for the sake of adopting it, technology is going to weigh us down and cripple us.
This is the real issue, in the context of technology adoption for the improvement of the public service, it boils down to our preparation. We need to understand where we are, and how technology can move us forward. Otherwise, we could even adopt a monumental technology, but it would not be used to its full capacity and sadly we would still be producing the same results and repeating the way we do things but with just a different device. If not thought through, it is going to dictate how we do things, like walking with a crutch, it would hinder our ability to do things better without really focusing on improvement in results delivery. Therefore, we need to figure out how we can gain from technology and wean ourselves from its ills. Both of these considerations are equally important and they act as counterweights for one another.
Public service in the next 10 years
The public needs to understand that the public service sector is made up of people. In relation, it is very important for us to comprehend human behaviour. What’s more important is this, we need to prepare the people who are going to be joining the public service in the coming years. In the face of current challenges, we need socially-conscious candidates who uphold integrity and honesty to fill the jobs that will be offered in the future. Significantly, we must upgrade our talent base. This is why we need to apply simple psychology and mental-health metrics to assess the integrity of the candidates beforehand to sift through the selection. For future public service hiring, for example, if the person being interviewed is showing signs of being curtly quarrelsome which makes him a poor fit for the job, similarly, it is like hiring a Dracula who could become the CEO of a blood bank, it is fraught with potential implications. Therefore, we need to understand the compatibility factors for every job offered, and gather a sense of what the public is expecting from the public service sector. New behaviours need to be ingrained and we must take pains to understand these expectations that at the moment revolve around integrity and austerity.
On a similar note, one of the things we want to encourage is to get anti bribery management system,
standard ISO 37000/1 introduced. At the same time, we need to educate and advocate vast members of the public. Now though, the current climate is calling for a drastic action. However, for the future, we have to nurture a new group of society. Our society needs credible thought leaders. And we need to make sure, the public service sector has the right leaders in every section. Unfortunately, while there are many bosses, there are very few leaders and we need true leaders to emerge, ones who lead by example and champion integrity. Together, everyone has to act with integrity and when we are confronted with any illegal or dishonest behaviour, we need to practice the whistle blowing act. In any case, we must put the larger mission before our individual goals. All these are important measures to be able to muster the courage to stand up to wrongdoings. Our stance on the consolidation needs to bring about a shift in thinking to promote a sense of collective responsibility among public officials.
Plus, we need to be prepared. Future preparedness is what’s going to determine our future. Hence, foresight gives us this advantage. It’s good that we have this special window to peek into the future. When opening it, I get some views about possibilities and probabilities of what might happen, then I say ok, now let me plan, how can I do this and deal with it in the right way. There are now so many opportunities—each with its own costs and complications —that it can be difficult to cut through the noise and find the best way forward. The risk of making the wrong decision is of course, huge, but the risk of not acting at all may be even worse. This is one old wisdom that will never get old. Preparedness.