Great wealth and the temptation of corruption

The other day, someone I know told me that while he was in downtown KL, he had bumped into a familiar person who had been implicated in a major corruption scandal.

Feb 19, 2016

BY Anil Netto
The other day, someone I know told me that while he was in downtown KL, he had bumped into a familiar person who had been implicated in a major corruption scandal.

Although the said person was a free man, for now at least, he looked unhappy, sad and full of anguish, a pathetic sight, I was told. All the money in the world could not buy his happiness and peace of mind.

It reminded me of Matthew, chapter 19:

22 But when the young man heard these words he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “In truth I tell you, it is hard for someone rich to enter the kingdom of Heaven.

24 Yes, I tell you again, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone rich to enter the kingdom of Heaven.”

Is it wrong to be wealthy? I don’t think God is against wealth per se, for He would not have rewarded Job with twice as much of everything he had after all the trials he underwent.

Perhaps, just as important, is how that wealth is acquired. Is wealth acquired through corrupt or speculative means, through the exploitation of workers, whether local or foreign? Does it leave the environment degraded or depleted? Does the product pose a risk to the health or wellbeing of the consumer? Is wealth acquired by neglecting, or worse by trampling upon the poor, the sick and the marginalised, or by dispossessing communities from their homes, their lands and their means of earning a livelihood? Maybe that is what Jesus meant. It is difficult to earn great wealth while at the same time avoiding all the above. Perhaps, Jesus’ words could just as easily be rephrased: It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone rich who has acquired his wealth unethically to enter the kingdom of Heaven.

And as we read in Jesus’ parable of the selfish rich man and the poor man outside his house hoping for scraps, the wealthy have the added responsibility of displaying concern and compassion for those not as well off. And what if the wealth was acquired through corrupt practices?

But, we might wonder how it is that those who are massively corrupt or evil, seem to evade justice whether in the courts — or even divine justice — during their earthly lives? Malaysia recorded well over RM1.0-1.5 trillion in illicit financial flows over the last decade, precious money siphoned away from the country.

These illicit flows may have taken the form of trade mis-invoicing to evade tax or to divert money to hidden third parties. Or it could have been money paid to hidden secret third parties via shell companies in tax havens. Or it could have been money ferreted out to drug kingpins or human traffickers.

Those who indulge in such activities are often adept at coming up with convoluted schemes to cover their tracks.

There may also be a lack of will, for whatever reason, to detect or prosecute the offenders. How many white-collared personnel have been caught and tried? How is it those who have siphoned away public funds seem to escape most of the time? Malaysians can only shake their heads and wonder at the brazen corruption when a number of prime suspects seem to get away.

The effects are felt by the rest of society, especially if public funds are siphoned away. Every one ringgit of public funds siphoned away, or abused for personal gain, is one ringgit that is no longer available for improving the quality of life of ordinary Malaysians.

The other day, a doctor was telling me how the general hospital she works in has a serious shortage of beds or space for beds. Why should this be so in a country, if not rich in “milk and honey”, with abundant natural resources, including oil wealth?

So why is it that God allows wrongdoers, who betray the community or the people, to escape and roam free?

The philosopher Boethius (480-524AD) had an interesting theory. He believed that those who do ill suffer more if they are not caught than those who are caught!

How? If the culprits avoid punishment, he reasoned, they would continue in their evil or corrupt ways rather than turn to the path of good. And so they will stray even farther from blessedness and ultimate happiness — the happiness which, surely, is the goal of every human being.

How will they find peace of mind in such circumstances? As my contact did, look at the faces of those who are implicated in major corruption and other crimes against society. Do they look happy and at peace?

Conversely, Boethius believed that God is synonymous with goodness, and that everyone who is truly good would be happy and would participate in God’s goodness.

No matter what line of work we are involved in, especially in politics and the corporate sector, even in the church, we can expect to encounter ethical or moral challenges. Every one ringgit of public or church funds siphoned away, or abused for personal gain or vainglory, is one ringgit that is no longer available to the community.

Even Peter, the apostle, had to grapple with this challenge when two disciples, Ananias and Sapphira, conspired and held back a part of the proceeds from the property they sold while giving the rest to the church. The result was swift. The couple perished after being questioned by Peter about their deception, indicating that God takes a dim view of those who siphon away or abuse funds meant for community solidarity and wellbeing, what more if church funds are abused or squandered.

So, let us be aware of the ethical challenges we are confronted with and pray that we can resist the temptation of falling over into the dark side.

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