Shamsuddin Othman should be removed as Chief Secretary as his  statement that corruption in Malaysia  is “not serious” has undermined the credibility of new Prime Minister’s  campaign against corruption – exposing the lack of full support of the Cabinet and the top civil service

Petaling Jaya Anniversary Dinner
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling JayaFriday): Malaysia  has a new Prime Minister for 35 days and Malaysians are still having a “political honeymoon” with Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, hoping that the fifth Prime Minister  will be able to bring about changes and improvements to the quality of life, governance, democracy and human rights in Malaysia. 

The last time Malaysians had a “political honeymoon” with a new Prime Minister and such high hopes of change and improvement was 22 years ago, when Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad became the fourth Prime Minister in 1981, and he successfully raised the expectations of the people in his first months in office with the ABC slogan of “Amanah, Bersih and Cekap”, the release of 21 long-serving Internal Security Act detainees in his  first two weeks in office, and promises of greater openness, accountability,  press freedom and democracy. 

All these Mahathir promises of 22 years ago have come to nought but the electoral power of such a “political honeymoon” was awesome as shown by the results of the 1982 general election, when  Mahathir won with a  landslide victory with the Barisan Nasional winning 132 of the 154 parliamentary seats, more than two-thirds, in fact more than five-sixths, the parliamentary majority with 85.7 per cent of the parliamentary seats!  DAP’s parliamentary representation was slashed from 16 parliamentary seats to nine, with  the number of parliamentary seats in Peninsular Malaysia reduced to a miserable six. 

Will the power of the “political honeymoon” with the fifth Prime Minister have  a similar awesome effect in the next general election, and if so, the DAP’s present number of 10 MPs may be slashed to only three or four! 

But the biggest lesson of the “political honeymoon” of Mahathir and the landslide Barisan Nasional victory in the 1982 general election was that the only way to make sure that a  new Prime Minister keeps his “First Hundred Days” pledges of change and improvements is to  strengthen and not weaken the Opposition to keep the new Prime Minister and his administration on their toes. 

In his 35 days in office, Abdullah had pledged to lead “a clean, incorruptible, modest and beyond suspicion” government, called for the end of bureaucracy and an efficient public service, as well as asking the people to tell him the truth. 

To make the war on graft his top priority, Abdullah has announced the establishment of a National Institute for Public Ethics, a  regional anti-corruption academy and the ratification of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in Mexico next week.

Abdullah has the reputation of Mr. Clean, but has he got the support of the entire Cabinet and the top civil service in declaring an all-out war against corruption or is it an example of “a man vis the system”? 

Abdullah does not appear to have the full backing of the entire Cabinet for a corruption-free administration  or the Cabinet would have given the new Prime Minister total endorsement in the anti-corruption campaign by taking two decisions in the past five weeks, viz: 

  • Ministers publicly declaring their assets to set an example by leadership in promoting a new political culture of accountability, transparency and  zero tolerance for corruption;
  • Adoption of  the proposal by the Anti-Corruption Agency Director-General that Malaysia should aim to become the world’s ten least corrupt nations by declaring it as a national objective and target.

The DAP had been the only political party in the country to  advocate that Malaysia should adopt the national objective of becoming one of  the world’s ten least corrupt nations, which was also the subject of a DAP memorandom on corruption to the ACA in August this year.  I was therefore quite excited when the ACA Director-General Datuk Zulkipli Mat Nor said on 17th November 2003 that the ACA wants to make Malaysia one of the world’s ten least corrupt nations and I had immediately called on the Cabinet to formally endorse the ACA objective to make it a national goal.  For the past three weeks, however, there had only been silence from the Cabinet on this issue. 

But it is not only the Cabinet which has failed to give full and unstinting support to Abdullah in an all-out war against corruption, the top civil service leadership does not seem to  have its heart in the campaign. 

I have just seen this  evening’s  edition of Sin Chew Jit Poh which carries this headline: “Chief Secretary: Malaysia’s corruption not serious”. 

I find the statement by the Chief Secretary, Tan Sri Shamsuddin Othman, most shocking. Firstly, If he endorses the view that Malaysia’s corruption is not serious, is he suggesting that Abdullah had been wasting everybody’s time focusing on corruption and raising expectations that there would be an all-out war against corruption? 

Secondly, how can Shamsuddin be so smug as to claim that corruption in Malaysia is not serious when we have fallen from the 23rd ranking of the Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception  Index  (CPI) 1995 to the current  worst position of 37th place in TI CPI 2003? 

When will Shamsuddin regard Malaysia as facing a “serious” corruption problem – is it when Malaysia plunges to the ranks of the most corrupt nations in the world, such as Myanmar, Paraguay, Haiti, Nigeria and Bangladesh, which occupy the last five places in the 133-nation TI CPI 2003? 

Thirdly,  it is the latest evidence to expose the “Achilles’ heel” of Abdullah’s campaign against corruption – the lack of full support of the Cabinet and the top civil service. 

In fact, as head of the civil service since 2001, Shamsuddin must bear personal responsibility for the plunge of Malaysia to its worst ranking in the TI CPI 2003 from last year’s 33rd to 37th ranking – as compared to the 23rd placing in 1995. 

But far from acknowledging responsibility, failure and remorse for his failure as the Chief Secretary to ensure a good ranking for Malaysia in the TI CPI, his contention that corruption in Malaysia is not serious can only undermine the efforts by the new Prime Minister to declare an all-out war against corruption. 

Abdullah should remove Shamsuddin as Chief Secretary as the credibility and integrity  of his  campaign against corruption has been undermined by the No. 1 civil servant in the country who claimed that corruption in Malaysia is not serious. 


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman