Abdullah should invite  the Malaysian people, and not just Barisan Nasional  leaders, to tell him the truth and ask the printed and electronic media to be free and fair to report on these “truths” whether from the Opposition, NGOs or dissenting civil society

at the DAP Gurun Branch  dinner
by Lim Kit Siang

(GurunSunday): The Prime Minister and Barisan Nasional Chairman Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi this morning  advised leaders of Barisan Nasional  component parties to tell him the truth so that the government can take effective and timely action to resolve any particular problem.

The Prime Minister said at the MIC National General Election Convention in Shah Alam this morning that  BN leaders should be bold, brave and strong to hear the truth for it was only after knowing the truth that correct action could be taken to improve the situation.

Two thoughts occurred to me when I read this report before I came here tonight. Firstly, how could the Barisan Nasional leaders like the MIC President, Datuk Seri Samy Vellu tell the Prime Minister the “truth”, when he is not prepared to admit that 24 years as the sole Indian Cabinet Minister, the Indians have become an “underclass” in Malaysia as well as the new criminal class.

In fact, how could Samy Vellu tell the “truth” to the Prime Minister when ordinary MIC members and grassroot leaders are not allowed to tell the “truth” to the MIC President – as evident from the media reports over the years of the MIC President summarily silencing MIC delegates or representatives who raised unpleasant but truthful issues about the political, socio-economic, educational and cultural regression  of the Indian community whether by ordering them  to stop speaking or adjourning the entire meeting in high dudgeon.

Secondly, why is Abdullah only asking the Barisan Nasional leaders to tell him the truth when he should have issued a general invitation to all Malaysians to tell him the truth as well as asking the printed and electronic media to be free and fair to report on these “truths” whether from the Opposition, NGOs or dissenting civil society.

Abdullah had rightly said this morning:

"Tell me the truth. At times people do not give truthful information... afraid that I may cry or cannot sleep over it but as the leader we have to hear the truth. If unwilling to hear the truth then there is no need to be a leader."

He should however extend this invitation beyond the circle of the Barisan Nasional leaders to the general Malaysian society, including the Malaysian press. 

Acting on the spirit of Abdullah’s appeal to be told the “truth”, I wish tonight to urge him to respect the wishes of the ordinary Malaysian people that he should be humane and compassionate by  granting permission to  the former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim,  currently serving his second jail sentence in Sungei Buloh Prison, to go to Germany  to undergo spinal surgery.

Anwar’s health condition has take a definite turn for the worse.  In the early years of his detention in 1998, he walked without aid in his various court appearances, but in the past year or two, he had to be wheel-chaired as he   could only move about unaided with great strain and difficulty because of his worsening spinal condition.

Without touching on  the legal and judicial aspects of his appeals against conviction and sentence, Abdullah should  respect the medical treatment rights of Anwar, who has been diagnosed with a serious spinal injury resulting from the beating on the night of his arrest and the delayed medical attention, by allowing him to go to Munich for his spinal surgery with proper safeguards for his return for the judicial appeals or the rest of his jail sentence.

DAP lauds Abdullah in his first week as the new Prime Minister  for his emphasis on an administration which is “clean, incorruptible, modest and beyond suspicion”  – in particular his  focus on the need to reduce bureaucracy, cut red tape and to revamp front-line agencies such as  the land office, district office and local councils. 

DAP wishes  Abdullah not only every success but extends our fullest co-operation to him to end the scourge of such “petty corruption” which occurs when a public official demands, or expects, “speed money” to   “grease payments” for doing an act which he or she is ordinarily required by law to do, or when a bribe is paid to obtain services which the official is prohibited from providing. 

But there is another type of corruption which is more heinous than such “petty corruption”, as  they do not just involve fifty or a hundred bucks or even thousands of ringgit, but is on the mega scale of millions, tens of millions or even hundreds of millions of ringgit – what I would call “grand corruption”.  Unless such “grand corruption” is stamped out, no  campaign to wipe out “petty corruption” could be sustained.

“Grand corruption”, which occurs when  a person in a high position who formulates government policy or is able to influence government decision-making, seeks, as a quid pro quo, payment, usually off-shore and in a foreign currency, for exercising the extensive arbitrary powers vested in him or her.

Fruitful sources of such “grand corruption” are government transactions or supplies such as:

  • The purchase of aircraft, ships and military supplies, including telecommunications.
  • The purchase  of capital goods required for major industrial and agro-industrial projects.
  • Major civil engineering contracts such as in respect of dams, bridges, highways, railways, airports and hospitals.
  • The ongoing purchase of bulk supplies, such as oil, fertilizers,  cement, pharmaceuticals,  school textbooks, etc.
  • Consultancy fees, the usual beneficiary being the public official whose sole responsibility it is to select the consultants.

It is such “grand corruption” which led to mega financial scandals like the RM2.5 billion Bumiputra Finance Malaysia (BMF) scandal and the RM11 billion Perwaja scandal.

After his first Cabinet meeting, Abdullah announced that he had directed Ministers to set up a task force in their ministries to tighten procedures and reduce bureaucracy to spearhead the  fight against  corruption.

Ministers do not   have any  credibility to lead the   campaign against corruption in their respective Ministries  to end “petty corruption” unless they have an unblemished record and reputation on “grand corruption” – and this is why Ministers must publicly declare their assets and those of their next of kin to demonstrate that their  private wealth had  nothing to do whatever with any form of “grand corruption”.

Malaysia is not short of adequate anti-corruption laws, infrastructure, expertise and personnel to launch an all-out war against corruption although existing anti-corruption laws could still be strengthened.

For instance, the Anti-Corruption Act 1997 provides that it is a corruption offence for any public official, including Cabinet Ministers, to have assets and wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income, entailing  a maximum sentence  of 20 years’ jail and not just confiscation of his ill-gotten gains, but also a fine which could be five times the value of the excess of his unlawful assets.

However, there has not been a single case of prosecution or confiscation of such ill-gotten gains involving public officials whose assets and wealth are disproportionate to their known sources of income – although it would not be difficult for the Anti-Corruption Agency to launch many such arrests and prosecutions, including very high-profile ones.  This raises the question as to whether there is political will to conduct an all-out war against “grand corruption” which will also determine the success and sustainability of an all-out war against “petty corruption”.

How will the new Prime Minister respond to these  three “truths”, firstly,  that the people want him to allow Anwar to go to Munich for spinial surgery; secondly,  that he should declare war not only on “petty corruption” but also on “grand corruption”; and thirdly, that he should direct the Cabinet Ministers to publicly declare their assets to demonstrate that they have nothing to do with “grand corruption”.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman