We are thankful to God for a well-attended Forum and Book Launch, held on 6 April at Fairfield Methodist Church, and organized in partnership with Graceworks Pte Ltd. Bishop Hwa Yung’s address, together with responses from Mr L.T. Jeyachandran (RZIM) and Mr Yap Poh Kheng (Centre for Christian Entrepreneurship), as well as lively contributions from the floor, provided much food for thought. The following report on the event appeared on the local Christian news portal The Christian Post on 7 April 2010 (picture and article used with permission; link: http://sg.christianpost.com/dbase.php?cat=church&id=2483).
No Easy Answer to Bribery, Corruption: Bishop (by Edmond Chua, The Christian Post)
A hawker's license has expired. The stall is his livelihood. But he knows that to get his license renewed he would need to pay a bribe. He is hesitant, because he is a Christian and has been told that all forms of bribery are wrong. He paid it anyway and was left with a guilty conscience.
In another case, the head of a sales team in a telecommunication engineering company was tasked to bid for a telecommunication network project in a neighboring country. His company was facing financial difficulties and desperately needed to expand. He was told that if he failed he would be sacked along with his team members.
When he was bidding, an officer in charge demanded a consultancy fee of 20 percent to be paid to the overseas account of a designated consultancy firm. This firm had no involvement in the project. The officer warned this man that if he did not do this he would not have any chance of winning the contract.
His staff pleaded with him to compromise. They desperately needed their jobs to support their families amid the economic downturn. The man cared for his staff and finally chose to pay the consultancy fee. Feeling guilty about what he had done, he resigned after the deal was settled.
These were some examples cited in a book on bribery and corruption by Malaysian Methodist bishop Hwa Yung.
‘Bribery and Corruption: Biblical Reflections and Case Studies for the Marketplace in Asia’ (Graceworks, 2010) highlighted the complexity of a biblical response to the subject. A book launch cum forum was held yesterday at Fairfield Methodist Church.
Speaking mainly to Christians working in the marketplace, the bishop noted the prevalence of corruption in the region. He prefaced his speech by explaining the need to talk about bribery and
corruption in Singapore even though the city-state is ‘squeaky-clean’. It is because there are Singaporean businessmen who work in the region.
A central thesis of his book is that Christians should avoid all forms of ‘active’ corruption. He defined that as paying a bribe to get something done illegally or immorally. Christians should also avoid ‘passive’ acceptance of corruption, which is paying to get something legitimate done. However there may be special cases where it is a lesser of two evils.
“We cannot avoid some forms of passive acceptance of corruption in life,” Bishop Hwa wrote. “To think otherwise is to be untruthful to the facts of life.”
The bishop drew a few observations from Scripture grounding such a response of ‘graded absolutism’.
He pointed out that “whilst God’s moral demands are absolute, a certain degree of accommodation to human weaknesses is found in the way they are applied in real-life situations.”
Bishop Hwa cited Jesus’ attitude to the Roman taxation system. That system was highly corrupt. The collection of taxes was farmed out to tax collectors who often made much in the form of bribes.
He said: “Yet, having challenged the corruption of the system through the conversion of Zacchaeus, Jesus nevertheless stated that taxes (with all the extras going towards corruption) must still be paid – ‘give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.’”
While the Christian message is radical, the Bible recognizes that not everything can be changed overnight.
The bishop cited monogamy and slavery as cases showing that God is “prepared to give a society time (sometimes thousands of years) to work at changes gradually.” As such, Christians need to apply wisdom to cases of passive acceptance of corruption, he concluded.
Furthermore there is often no clear line between a gift and a bribe in non-Western cultures, Bishop Hwa noted.
What is significant is there is no condemnation in the Bible of those who had to pay bribes “because they are in a position of weakness and forced to do so,” he highlighted. Having said that, Bishop Hwa reiterated that passive acceptance of corruption should be viewed as ‘the very last resort’.
“It should never be used as a short cut to avoid the hard work to find every legitimate means of solving the problem,” he said.
“Or, if we are under orders, we may need to say to the boss, at the risk of incurring his wrath or even losing our jobs, ‘Please get someone else to do it.’”
The forum and book launch were organised by Biblical Graduate School of Theology and Graceworks Pte Ltd.