Conferral of the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa to Senator Tunku Abdul Aziz by the University of Tasmania on Friday 12 August 2011
UTAS Chancellor Damian Bugg AM QC introduces the Provost, Professor David Rich. Professor Rich reads the Honorary Degree citation for Senator Tunku Abdul Aziz:
"As members of a democratic society all of us place high value on the principles of integrity, transparency, and ethical conduct. We expect our politicians, business, and community leaders to act according to these principles in their dealings with each other and with us. We also expect to see these principles exhibited in our day to day interactions with our peers and with government agencies and business.
Most of us are dismayed when we see these cornerstones of our way of life eroded by self-interest or corrupt conduct. Many of us are prepared to condemn infringements, but few of us are prepared to stand up in public forums and be counted – being critical where necessary and championing the importance of integrity, transparency, and ethical conduct in our dealings with one other.
Tunku Aziz has made this his lifetime’s work and has campaigned fearlessly and relentlessly for good governance and ethical conduct in his fight against corruption.
With the support of a number of like-minded individuals, he founded, in 1998, the Malaysian Chapter of Transparency International, the global coalition against corruption – known locally in Malaysia as the Malaysian Society for Transparency and Integrity. He was President of the organisation in Malaysia until December 2004.
In October 1997, Tunku Aziz was elected to the international board of Transparency International and in March of the following year became Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors. He was re-elected Vice-Chairman in October 1999 and served in this office until he relinquished the position in 2002.
He has written and spoken widely on corruption and integrity issues both in Malaysia and internationally. He has three books on the subject to his credit – Fighting Corruption: My Mission, released in 2004, Straight Talk, released in August 2009, and Someone Had to Say It, released in 2011.
He is a member of the World Bank High Level Advisory Group on Anti-Corruption in the East Asia and Pacific Region, and a member of the Advisory Board of Global Public Policy Networks, a project of “Visioning the UN”, an initiative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the United Nations Foundation.
He also serves as a member of the Asian Pacific Advisory Panel on Good Urban Governance, and is a member of the Board of the International Institute for Public Ethics. He was a member of the UNDP Advisory Panel for the Human Development Report 2002. He is a member of the Global Advisory Council of the Caux Roundtable, a US-based business organisation promoting, among other things, principles of good governance. In February 2004, he was appointed a member of the Royal Commission in Malaysia inquiring into the police service.
It is testament to his high international stature as a champion of good governance and ethical conduct that he was appointed in February 2006 by the then United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, as a Special Advisor to provide advice on the set-up of the United Nations Ethics Office, and its operating procedures.
Tunku Aziz came to the University of Tasmania as a private student in 1962 graduating Bachelor of Arts with majors in History and Political Science in 1965. He joined many other young people from Australia’s South East Asian neighbours undertaking study in Australia at that time with the intent of later assuming leadership roles in their home countries. Tunku Aziz not only reached, but exceeded that expectation, achieving international prominence for championing, and driving to embed in all our dealings with one another, principles that good and upright people throughout the world hold dear to their hearts.
In doing so Tunku Aziz has brought honour to himself, to his country, and to his university. It is, indeed, most fitting that his university should reciprocate by recognising his achievements through the conferral of the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa."
Senator Tunku Abdul Aziz delivers his acceptance speech:
Chancellor, Provost, Distinguished Guests, Senior Officers of the University, Members of Faculty, Ladies and Gentlemen, Graduates and Diplomates:
I know we have all had a long and exciting day; so let me assure you at the outset that this speech will be short.
It is good to return to my old stamping ground, I am completely overwhelmed and humbled by the honour that has just been conferred upon me on this splendid occasion. This award means more to me than anything else that has come my way, because it is my university, after all, that has seen fit to recognise my small contribution to the fight against corruption both inside my country as well as in the wider world.
If anyone had suggested to me when I was a student here in the distant past, that one day, in this lovely city of Hobart of happy memory, the University of Tasmania Council would graciously admit me to the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws of this great university, I would have told them that I did not believe in miracles. Well, as you can see, I do now.
I thank you Chancellor, Rector and other high officers of the University for giving me this opportunity to take part in celebrating, with fellow graduates and diplomates, this momentous and magnificent event that is steeped in history and tradition. It is a great privilege to be allowed to share the joy, pride and happiness so evident on the faces of the University’s newest batch of graduates. As a parent I know only too well the sacrifices that your parents have made for you and, I do want to pay a warm tribute to all parents and hope that they will feel able, as I was in my time, to say on an occasion such as this, “It has not always been easy, but yes, it has all been worthwhile.”
I find myself today in the company of law, business and other graduates. I am naturally happy, and which politician is not, to have a captive audience to lecture at, as opposed to lecture to. Law and business graduates will in the nature of things be drawn to the judiciary, politics and the world of business and will inevitably make an impact on the way society is organised and governed.
Bearing that in mind, I should like to talk about integrity in professional life, and, by extension, national life. Ours is a world of few absolutes. However, integrity happens to be one of them. The thing about integrity is that you either have it or you don’t. There is nothing in between. You cannot grade integrity in the same way you would academic performance and allocate points or marks. What integrity does is that it defines our true worth, not in dollar terms as individuals. Integrity is no longer a luxury of the virtuous few; it has become life’s necessity.
Until the Enron, WorldCom and other accounting scandals rocked the United States, and indeed the world, with such devastating effects, the accounting profession was held in great esteem. I remember my early years in the corporate sector. We would never dream of questioning the professional integrity of public accountants or their profession. A statement of accounts duly certified by a firm of auditors as representing a full and accurate financial position was accepted without even a faint murmur. The Big Five were almost god-like in the absolute finality of their pronouncements on accounting matters.
As I grew in seniority, I realised that what was apparent was not always real. Audit firms grew fat not only on the huge audit fees they charged, but also on the even bigger fees for the consultancy packages they were offering to the firms they audited. A clear, blatant case of conflict of interest you might say. There was nothing illegal in what they were doing, but what is legal is not always necessarily ethical or moral. Now, that is something to think about.
Mind you, not an awful lot has changed since: avoidance of conflicts of interest is more honoured in the breach than the observance. What is worse is that in many cases, regulating bodies, or watchdogs, do not even bark, let alone bite. Creative accounting had been the unmaking of Arthur Anderson and the other giants of the auditing fraternity. They would have been better off, in my opinion, if they had just stuck to basic accounting principles without all that fancy footwork.
In the vast majority of cases of corruption which we define as the abuse of entrusted power for personal gain, the most important single contributory factor is a failure to recognise a conflict of interest situation. In fact I am prepared to go so far as to suggest that a conflict of interest is the culprit in every reported case involving public servants, in particular.
In my time as Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the Establishment of the Ethics Office in New York, I came across several cases of the great and good who were genuinely insensitive to the warning signs that they were getting themselves into untenable conflict of interest situations. Even Kofi Annan, that most honourable of men, needed some help in this respect.
Kofi Annan, as UN Secretary-General accepted half a million dollars, part of the Zayed International Prize for the Environment from the Emir of Dubai in 2006. Now listen to this carefully. The prize was awarded on the recommendation of a panel of judges comprising, in the main, top UN officials and others with close UN connections. Conflict of interest was written all over the cheque that was presented to the UN Secretary-General.
He thought he could use it to set up a foundation bearing his, and his wife’s, name to promote girls’ education and agricultural development in Africa. You could not fault the noble motivation, but, of course, there was everything wrong on at least two counts.
There was, first, a conflict of interest involved – the panel was packed with UN officials. And second, however noble his intentions might be for Africa, using the prize money to set up a foundation to be named after him and his wife was a serious error of judgement. What may be legally kosher is not always ethically right. I advised him to drop the idea before it became an embarrassment. Kofi Annan, man of integrity that he is, agreed at once and the money went to support UN peace keeping operations in Darfur instead. There was, of course, no suggestion that he was benefiting personally from this initiative.
I relate this little story by way of showing you how vitally important it is for people in positions of professional authority such as you will soon be, to learn quickly in your work to recognise a conflict of interest situation and to avoid it like the plague. So many reputations have been ruined because people have chosen to ignore a fundamental rule of integrity.
One of the most endearing features of an Australian is his capacity to tell a joke against himself and his institutions. In New South Wales they used to say they had the best police force in the world - that money could buy. We borrowed that joke and applied it not only to our police but to our once impeccable judiciary. So, we gave you two for the price of one. A real bargain by any measure.
To you future chief justices, high court and appeal court judges, attorneys-general, corporate lawyers, business tycoons, and other high flying legal eagles, let me tell you from experience that there is no substitute for personal integrity. Also remember that integrity is about doing what is demonstrably right when no one is watching you. Remember, you can grow a business and succeed at what you do without the need to resort to corruption. You have had the advantage of a first rate education in a first class university, and don’t ruin your good name and that of your university by actions and behaviour which are unethical and reprehensible professionally.
And, finally, I wish you success and contentment in your chosen career. There will be temptations galore I assure as you exercise power and authority at work. You must always remember that the power you exercise is entrusted power for you to use with the utmost care for the sole benefit of those for whom you have a public responsibility and to whom you owe a public duty.
So whether you work in government, in a firm of auditors, in academia, you are a public servant in the wider sense of the word. The highest form of service is that which is performed in the public interest. There can be no greater satisfaction than knowing that you have discharged your duty honourably.
Thank you for being such a good captive audience."
Chancellor Damian Bugg thanks Senator Tunku Abdul Aziz and makes closing remarks.
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26 September, 2011