Thursday, September 15, 2016

What Fabricating Dumb Lies Says about a Corrupt Public Official and Corruption Itself

You would think that a prime minister of a country would not cover an accusation of corruption with ludicrous lies. For one thing, the lies easily made transparent by fact-checking journalists would reflect back on the statement of innocence itself. Just being accused in public should prompt carefully thought-out lies because the failure to sustain the lies would naturally cause people to conclude that the corruption charge is valid. The connector here is bad character, plus the assumption that it is easy to obviate charges of corruption. This assumption itself may indicate that the office-holder believes that corruption is widespread—and from this belief can come the assumption that it is easy to get away with taking money benefitting the office-holder and spouse. The conduct of Malayia’s prime minister Razak Najib and his wife Mansor Rosmah between 2008 and 2015 bear out my thesis.

 During the seven years, Mansor racked up $6 million in credit-card debt on purchases of clothing, shoes and jewelry. At the time, she had no income other than her husband’s $100,000 a year as prime-minister pay.[1]  After all this became public knowledge, she “said she saved that money since she was small,” but that is impossible, an organizer of an anticorruption protest said.[2] Mansor is the only child of school-teachers and she had not had a regular-paying job in years. Even so, Mansor wrote in her autobiography that she had a habit of saving, and that she bought jewelry and dresses with her own money. The prime-minister’s office commented in 2015 that Mansor’s spending is commensurate with Razak’s inheritance from his father, a former prime minister. Nevermind that Razak’s four brothers subsequently “denied that their father had left a big estate.”[3] So the prime minister was lying about his inheritance and his wife was claiming that she had saved $6 million of her own money.

The allegations are very serious, hence not easily brushed off, at least ideally. They include the claims that 1) the prime minister received hundreds of millions of dollars between 2009 and 2015 from 1Malaysia Development, a state investment fund that he had set up, 2) large amounts of which wound up in the prime minister’s personal account via intermediaries, and 3) at least $1 million of his wife’s spending were paid for by her husband using credit cards that drew on 1MDB funds.[4] The prime minister’s attorney general counter-claimed that the money from 1MDB was a legal political donation from Saudi Arabia, and the prime minister had returned most of the money.[5] So the prime minister had not returned at least $1 million, and his wife had not used her own savings to pay for all her purchases as she claimed.

Taking a step back, it looks like the couple encapsulated themselves in a web of faulty lies, which in itself is audacious considering what the couple were up against. Why would the two think that such terrible lies would proffer the sort of defense that would put the corruption allegations to rest? Wouldn’t the two be especially careful in crafting a defense, given the money involved in the alleged corruption? They must have thought that simply making statements would be sufficient, and this in turn is based on the assumption that it is easy to get away with corruption. This is an indictment not only on the corruption itself, but on the couple’s character and their perception of corruption itself—as being easy to get away with either because the enforcers are not doing a good job or corruption is so widespread that chances are slim that even most of it will face prosecution. Just because modern society has progressed in some ways, such as in technology and medicine, does not mean that we have progressed against corruption. Perhaps we do not allocate enough money to enforcement, or corruption has been getting worse.

1. Tom Wright, First Lady Draws Scrutiny in 1MDB Affair, The Wall Street Journal, September 12, 2016.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.