Datuk Hussamuddin Yaacub is on a crusade to flush out corruption at all levels. It is not a Malay problem, he says. “People of all races and religions are involved in this mess. Even those who do not, condone it. It’s a Malaysian problem cemented in the system and we have to put a stop to it!”
People always blame the politicians for being corrupt, forgetting that we voted for them and give them our support, he adds. “We idolise our leaders too much. This also must change.”
The chairman of Kumpulan Media Karangkraf Group — he retired last year as managing director and publisher but still goes into the office weekly for old times’ sake — has spent the last few weeks agitating for a public awakening on corruption. “Everyone must unite to fight it.”
The fight is not about race or religion, says this rasuah-buster. What he is advocating is a revolution based on values, morals and character because the time has come to stop the blame game and take action.
“In the past 50 years, our value system has collapsed. We’re more divided and are fighting among ourselves. We need a moral revival, starting with individuals, whatever they believe in. The individual then instils values in his family and upholds them when he goes out. As human beings, what holds us up are our values,” says Hussamuddin.
What unites people, irrespective of their beliefs, is shared values, he thinks. “The strong moral values you have in your heart are the strongest deterrent, not the SPRM (Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission).
“Reformasi must happen and it begins with the people. Every religion teaches values. Freethinkers have their own ethics. When someone of high character gets elected as a government servant, he knows he has to serve the rakyat because his responsibility is bigger than his right.”
Looking at the state of things today, Hussamuddin laments that leaders who do not fully understand what their religion teaches have hijacked it and passed on their own low standard of understanding to their followers, and then try to justify what they say. He hopes to correct that too.
Why the jihad moral and why now?
“Someone has to do the job, otherwise our anak-anak and cucu-cucu will inherit something horrible. I’m 66 this year. It’s high time I do this because I owe it to my country, my family and my friends, who also have grandchildren.”
He has 15 of his own and they all live near him. “Every day, I see them. That’s why I worry about their future.”
Corruption is difficult to uproot because it is entrenched, but he also sees hope. “Social media offers the possibility of doing something. It can happen, at least in our lifetime. If we start now, the future generations can continue.”
The moral revolution Hussamuddin champions has no place for arms, but room for tolerance and compassion. Anyone can join it in their own way, within their own capacity and community, he explains. Devotees can base their actions on their faith while religious leaders can review what they have been teaching, in relation to questions like why intolerance towards others has increased, for example.
With everybody doing their bit to wipe out the corrupt culture, change will happen, he believes. “Together, we can connect the dots and become compassionate Malaysians. We can rebuild this country together, and insya-Allah, we can make it.”
Young blood is needed for this rebuilding and the old must make way for them. DAP was relevant in the 1960s but not now, Hussamuddin says. The same goes for parties like Umno, PAS and PKR.
“We can’t use the script for Gone with the Wind for Avengers: Endgame. We need new narratives, a new way of doing things. The politics of race and religion should stop. Like Covid-19, we have to break the chain, uninstall, then reinstall. The whole operating system must be overhauled.
“The old leaders have been around for too long and failed. There are good people and we must let them come in, give them the platform to perform. We must allow the parties to reform and start from zero again. People must change; the political parties must change and the government must also change.”
He also has a message for the prime minister: “If he really loves the country, this is the moratorium for him. He owes it to the people, and to God, to correct what has been wrong in the past few years. He has the darurat, the power. He should lay the foundation for structural change, then the rakyat can choose. If not, the vicious cycle will continue. If Malaysia is well-managed, we have enough for all.”
Hussamuddin emphasises that he has no intention to get into politics, but rather, to put right what is wrong and leave a legacy. Calling his campaign Bersih 5.0, he borrows from its precedents in emphasising the peaceful approach. “It’s reformation and reconciliation. From there, we can embrace the Rukun Negara, which is well-crafted and can hold us together.”
The opportunity to do right by the younger generation is also what compelled Kelantan-born Hussamuddin to act.
He started Karangkraf in 1978 as a small publishing business in a shoplot in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. From its first product, children’s weekly magazine Mingguan Kanak-Kanak, the group now produces 13 magazines as well as the daily Sinar Harian, a Malay newspaper started in 2006 and which is circulated in various states today. The group also owns commercial printer Ultimate Print, and Nu Ideaktiv, a joint venture with Astro that provides digital content for various markets in the region.
“I’m using Sinar Harian to promote this,” says this self-made entrepreneur who has shared in news reports how he got where he is today by being thrifty and diligent. “Astro has committed to back this campaign. Many NGOs, politicians and even palace officers have called me to say they support what I’m doing. It is a holistic call by the people, for the people.”
On what more can be done to wipe out the scourge, he pauses, then adds: “Maybe, maybe, this is my two cents’ worth. Those involved in corrupt practices must admit their guilt and pay for their wrongdoing. They have to come clean and change. I think we must punish.” It is a necessary process that may involve returning bribes received, paying compensation for what they took, or even going to jail.
He suggests that a special court be set up to handle such cases and clear them fast so there is no backlog. Also, SPRM could come up with a programme to offer those who own up amnesty as a form of plea bargaining. Or, they could turn witness and help the authorities to nail cases.
“I hope this campaign will bring [out] the guilty feeling, the malu feeling and make people want to stop. If we turn the tables on the corrupt, people will stop giving. And I believe God is forgiving, as long as you repent and make good.”
Is a corrupt-free nation wishful thinking?
It is, he admits, “but at least we’re talking openly about it and getting everybody involved. All this while, we talk only in chat groups or during chiak chiu time (‘drinking sessions’, in Hokkien). Now, we speak of all these ideas openly, vocally. I think, ada effect lah. I always believe in high touch, high effect.”
Going full throttle is the only way to fight this war, he thinks, otherwise nothing will happen beyond the talking. He also takes heart from World #Quran Hour, of which Sinar Harian has been a media partner since 2016. The programme aims to help Muslims become better persons by reading, understanding and applying values from the Holy Book and bring compassion to the world.
“I want to create a practice whereby Muslims spend at least an hour a day going back to understanding the Quran, which says there is no racism in the religion. Everybody is equal and we must respect each other.
“All religious organisations must revisit how they have been teaching Islam all this while. I think what is being practised is not according to the religion, which is so open, so easy. It teaches harmony, peace and love. The Quran clearly says you have to protect your neighbour irrespective of his religion. You don’t declare war unless the other person declares war on you.”
Hussamuddin knows those who dare to speak up, even when they talk sense, risk reprisal. But that does not hold him back. “God will protect me. The good people around me will protect me. Also, I am saying the right thing. I’m not accusing anyone. I’m talking generally about the culture of corruption.”
Unlike those who throw words around, he has put a lot of thought into what he is championing. “Through careful planning, I became a very successful businessman. I gained respect and people listen to me.”
He credits his radical ideas to having a father who was religious but not orthodox. Yaacub Idris ran a small bookstall in Kota Baru town, where his children grew up in a multiracial neighbourhood. He studied in Singapore and Mecca, spoke English and Arabic very well and a bit of Tamil and Chinese, and started a school for girls in Kelantan 80 years ago.
“He saw the world differently. He knew that if he sent his six boys to religious school, all of them would become ustadz. He wanted us to open our minds, pick up things and become successful. Only then will people listen to you, he said. I think my father would have wanted me to do this,” says Hussamuddin, who studied economics at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
He has followed tradition by telling his four sons to start from the bottom and launch their own careers. “I built up my life from zero, so they must do the same. None of them are involved in the company.”
But his two daughters are: Firdaus, the eldest of his children, is CEO of Grup Buku Karangkraf while Farah, the third, is CEO of Sinar Harian. Three nephews are in the business, taking care of printing, digital content and Karangkraf Medicare.
He lives by what he says about fresh blood and rejuvenation. “I’ve been training my daughters to take over for 15 years. In the past six years, I brought in professionals to run the place but it wasn’t good enough. Early last year, I decided to give them full freedom to take over. I think they’re doing very well.”
Now that the family business is secure and profitable, he is focussed on using his money to finance his social responsibility.
Hussamuddin, for whom family values and a good upbringing are priority, is happy spending the day with his grandchildren, jogging in the morning and cycling in the evening. In between, he spends time planning programmes for World #Quran Hour and now, the anti-corruption campaign.
“I created it from my house. With digital communication, it’s so easy. I’m always fired up. I’m happy, live in a very good multiracial neighbourhood where we mix and meet. It’s a quality life.”
Life today reminds him of growing up in the heart of Kota Baru, where most of his neighbours were Chinese and he picked up Hokkien. “When I meet my friends and they chiak chiu, I chiak Coca-Cola.” He does not hesitate to dine at a Chinese restaurant: “I eat fish lah.”
He hopes his crusade will gain traction with the Chinese and English media too and envisions a day when Malaysia will stand tall among countries such as New Zealand and Denmark, known and respected for their high moral values. Wishful thinking? Let us hope not.
This article first appeared on Feb 15, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.