Expats Share Their Views on Corruption in Malaysia

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This ;post was written by J. Andrew Davison.

Andy Davison shares the findings of the expat group’s recent survey to better understand resident expats’ views on corruption.

Our recent survey seeking expats’ views on corruption produced some interesting results. Some 230 expats families, from 32 different countries, shared their opinions. This represents a little over 4% of our subscriber base which was a good response and roughly in line with prior surveys. The replies came from a mix of working expats, their spouses and retirees living here. Over half have lived in Malaysia for over 5 years so there was a fair amount of local knowledge among the respondents.

It is clear that expats agree with the Government that corruption is a problem. However, they do not consider it as bad as the situation in most other Asian countries. Most welcomed the Government’s efforts to address the problem and many had views on how it should be done.

As can be seen from the chart, virtually all the respondents thought that corruption was a problem in Malaysia, with over 40% thinking it was a significant problem.

The vast majority of respondents feel that the current levels of corruption have an impact on foreign investment, with nearly 40% of expats thinking it will have a big impact. Many expats are in a position to influence investment decisions so clearly they need to be convinced things are changing.

Expats who have lived in Malaysia over two years were asked if they felt the situation had improved since they arrived here. The overwhelming majority felt that the situation was essentially unchanged from their arrival. Only 11% felt the situation was improving, while 17% thought the situation had worsened since they arrived.



An American, John Zepke, wrote: “I think the Government is trying very hard to reduce corruption and it seems to be working most of the time. I am happy to see this as I think corruption is a deterrent to Malaysia moving forward.”

Awareness of the Government’s efforts was very high but not all expats are convinced the Government will succeed. Just under half of the respondents felt the current efforts would work, with most of them recognising it would take time. Only 15% thought the efforts would fail, but over one third were not sure of the outcome.

We asked expats to share their views on those areas where they feel corruption is a problem. We specifically asked about the police, Government and day-to-day business.

We asked expats with no experience in this area to indicate this fact by ticking a box marked “not applicable”. The four charts showing the response to these questions exclude those with no experience of the area to give a truer picture.

Not surprisingly, most expats felt that corruption was worst in the police force. This appears to be the result of a high number stating they had been asked for money for traffic offences. As can be seen in the chart, when we exclude expats with no exposure to this area, some 75% indicated they had been asked for money.


Expats who have had dealings with the Government also felt corruption was prevalent in getting approvals and in major government contracts. Their views about corruption in day-to-day business varied but the situation was seen to be slightly less serious in this area.

Nearly two thirds of the expats said they did not know how to report corruption, so clearly there is a need to educate the expat community about this. The challenge then is to get them to report it. The majority of expats are not sure if they would report it and only 37% said they would definitely report it if they came across it.


The main reasons given for not wanting to report it were fear of reprisals (particularly loss of their visa), a concern that nothing would happen and the degree of hassle involved in making the report.

On the positive side, we asked respondents who had worked in other Asian countries if they felt corruption was more prevalent in those countries or Malaysia. Around half the respondents said they had experience and the overwhelming feeling was that corruption was worse in other Asian countries with the exception of Singapore and Hong Kong. Both of them have successfully implemented anti-corruption programmes back in the 1970s.

Around half the respondents came up with suggestions to fight corruption and not surprisingly there were a diverse range of views. However, a few points were mentioned multiple times. This included concerns regarding low pay for the police and junior civil servants being a contributing factor for corruption.

Most expats feel the success of the campaign will depend on the level of commitment of the Government and the Malaysian people to see an end to corrupt practices. A zero tolerance policy at all levels, equitably applied, was considered essential.

Expats can do their part by not engaging in it and reporting cases when they come across them. As one expat wrote “people deplore corruption, but engage in it, they pay bribes to police to reduce traffic fines. What is needed is for citizens to buy into the conviction that paying a bribe to save money is just as greedy and antisocial as receiving a bribe.”

We will share information with our readers as we receive further advice on the progress being made to eradicate this problem.

This artilce was written by Andy Davison
Source: The Expat March 2011 

This article has been edited for
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