I HAVE from time to time written about people past and present, who have taken a clear, unequivocal stand on ethical issues in both their personal and professional dealings.
Today, I put the spotlight on Tan Sri Robert Phang, the intrepid, if sometimes controversial, campaigner against criminality in all its manifestations.
Unlike many whom I know who will go to any length to mask their humble origins, Robert, true to form, seems to derive enormous comfort from sharing the story of his early life: a long personal journey punctuated by grinding poverty when growing up all those years ago in Penang.
It was, according to him, a life of unremitting struggle for survival for the family.
Young Robert and his siblings somehow survived, to his own utter amazement.
Robert is a survivor in the best possible sense. He is not given to self-pity, and for him, the misfortunes of his early life were part of a natural order of things that God, in His wisdom, had ordained.
The past was a series of lessons to be learnt. His deep and abiding faith in his religion is reflected in his highly developed sense of right and wrong.
His concerns for the welfare of his fellow human beings manifest themselves in his devotion to many humanitarian causes that involve both great financial expenditure as well as putting his life at risk.
This is his way of giving something back to society. For all that, and perhaps because of that, he is a much maligned and misunderstood man: his intolerance of acts of injustice, hypocrisy, and corruption has earned him names that would make your maiden aunt blush.
No accolade for him, but this has not affected him in the least. If anything, it makes him ever more determined to confront corruption in national life.
He tells me that he is not in the popularity stake, and that his principles, which are not "for turning", are his most valuable assets.
The man as we say in today's parlance "walks the talk" and I speak from personal experience of the man going back a few years.
He can be infuriatingly obstinate and stubborn as the proverbial mule when defending ethical practices and standards: he pulls no punches and the tired overused phrase "without fear or favour" is what he lives by, and obviously thrives on -- all his adult life.
I can see why he is considered dangerous in certain circles where a flexible, variable conscience is de rigueur. We have many philanthropists who support worthy causes.
Robert may not be in the same major league as some of them, but he "walks the job" and becomes personally involved in their day to day problems.
His Social Care Foundation that carries the tagline "Mercy in abundance - To love & serve all" has continued to benefit a great many deserving individuals and organisations in a variety of ways, ranging from meeting their specialist medical needs to supporting single mothers in desperate circumstances.
To this man who is larger than life, compassion goes beyond gift giving.
In October 2005, he was instrumental in rescuing two young Malaysian KPMG accountants who were detained in Sorowoko, Makassar, Indonesia, for 50 days. Robert made five trips to negotiate with the local authorities for their release.
It was not a walk in the park and it was a difficult and dangerous mission. Two aspects of his character have emerged from this episode, courage and selflessness.
I may fairly add another Robert trademark and that is his natural ability to get along with people of all walks of life. That having said, I must confess that on first acquaintance, Robert could be a little overpowering.
But I quickly realised that here was a rough diamond, a gem of an individual who had his heart in the right place.
His personal fight against corruption in the larger context in our society has lost none of the passion and vigour in spite of attempts by powerful forces to ridicule and marginalise him.
It will take a great deal more than imputations of improper motives and snide remarks to divert Robert from the course he has set for himself to fight corruption no matter what.
He believes that corruption extends beyond bribery.
Like most of us, he believes that mega or grand corruption, in the ugly shape of abuse of power, is what is standing in the way of our country achieving the level of progress that it should given the talents and other resources at our disposal.
Robert is a firm believer that in the fight for an ethical Malaysia, one man or woman can make a difference.
It is a sentiment that resonates with those who love their Malaysia. Robert's detractors describe him as loose cannon. Loose cannon or not, Robert is aiming at the right target.