It is of utmost importance that we create a healthy political culture in Malaysia to overcome corruption, business politics and money politics

during the debate in the Dewan Rakyat on the Supply Bill (Budget) 2004
by Dr Tan Seng Giaw

(Parliament, Monday): I rise to take part in this debate in the hope that the Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad will lay a foundation for a new political culture to face the challenges in this information and communications technology (ICT) era – politics that is not based on money (irregularities) or racialism.

 Dr Mahathir will leave his office next month. He has taken three hours to deliver this budget speech. Since his tenure as Prime Minister and Finance Minister (twice) in the past 22 years, this is his longest and last budget speech. The total budget expenditure of RM112,5 billion is from public fund. He has spread the largesse to virtually all sectors so as to leave a good memory on himself and good image for Barisan Nasional (BN). No wonder, he believes that in the 11th General Election BN will do better than the last election.

 Here I am going to read the first four lines of the Sonnet by William Shakespeare, “When to the Sessions of Sweet Silent Thought”:

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I thought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste.

 The Finance Minister began with what he regarded as good things such as ‘We value our independence. We are free from domination from superpowers. We are also able to regain our honour and dignity. We are able to manage our country.’

 He touched on unilateralism – the world influenced by the only super power, the United States of America (USA). He was against terrorism. He did not comment on suicide bombings in Palestine and Israel. He only said that he was against suicide bombings in the lobby after the speech.

 Since suicide bombings appear in Sri Lanka (adopted by the Tamil tigers) for over two decades, we have not agreed with this method of struggle. All religions forbid suicide. Although situations may be dire, we find other ways than violence.

 Israel intends to exile Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian chairman. He was elected by Palestinians. Israel or America or anybody else should not expel him. Only Palestinians can determine his fate.

 It is true that the face of Malaysia has changed since Independence in 1957: the economy moving from agriculture to industry and now Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), KL Telecommunications Tower, Petronas Twin Towers, 18 public institutes of higher learning (public IHL), Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and Putrajaya. We need KLIA and Putrajaya. But, are these value for money?

 If Dr Mahathir recapitulates the weaknesses in the country, he must know that the current political culture is an important factor in corruption, business politics and money politics. Then, there are racial polarization, the lack of system of meritocracy, the lack of accountability and transparency, abuses of power and privileges as well as poor maintenance.  There are elements of feudalism, mediocrity and bloody-mindedness in some places. It is appropriate to put the cards on the table.

 It is more just to sum up all his meritorious services and sins (good and bad things). Every man has his faults. We want to know whether the good things are is more than the bad ones or vice versa.

 Berjalan di tepi sungai,
   Lekas ke hulu mencuci tangan;
Kekenalan isi ucapan sesuai,
   Melepaskan peluru petunangan.

 Come into the open.
Bring to light without reserve.
Hit the nail right on the head.

 Although the Prime Minister is satisfied with the forecast of GDP growth of 4.5% in 2003 and 5.5 to 6% in 2004, he knows that this depends on world and domestic economy including the participation of the private sector. Whether the incentives for the private sector are attractive enough remains to be seen. If the above-mentioned weaknesses are corrected, then the economy will be much better.

 There may be an element of uncertainty in the latter part of 2004. It hinges on the recovery of the US economy. Will it sustain the momentum in 6 to 12 months? If the external demand increases, the US economy sustains and the private sector plays its part, the economy will grow at 5.5% or more in 2004.

 The 2004 Budget is RM112.5 billion compared with RM112.3 billion in 2003, less 1.6%. The 2004 revenue is estimated at RM95.6 billion with a budget deficit of 3.3% GDP compared with 5.4% in 2003. From the operating expenditure of RM80.5 billion and development expenditure of RM30 billion, the allocation for education is RM23.9 billion or 21.3% of the budget compared with 24% in 2003. Once again, this biggest allocation is a step in the right direction. But, this allocation including RM3.7 billion for development must be used effectively. The incidence in which over 200 computer laboratories in schools are substandard and dangerous for students should not be repeated.

 The methods for monitoring projects must be improved. The RM30 billion development expenditure includes RM3.28 billion for Home Affairs, RM4.98 billion Works , RM2.76 billion Transport, RM2.64 billion Health, RM2 billion Defence and RM1.8 billion Agriculture. The tender system must follow the international standards. The Government must eradicate the crony system.

 Political Culture

 Since the 80s last century, there have been more changes in the political culture in this country. Politics has become an investment – a channel for social mobility. This is obvious in the BN especially UMNO which is the dominant party that influences politics in the nation. Just look at the struggle for power now. Previously, UMNO was dominated by teachers. Now, corporate people have taken over the role. (If they succeed in backing the right persons, everything goes well. They have their nose in the air.)

 Dr Mahathir did admit that a candidate for a divisional head may spend a million or two million or more ringgits. What more at state and national levels? They get the money from various sources. After elections, how do they recoup this investment? (They win the horse or lose the saddle.)

 In fact, we see companies that are connected to politicians obtaining projects such as Taman Bukit Maluri, Metro Prima and Mutiara Fadason in Kepong. For example, Renong, UEM (PLUS) and Time Engineering are giants connected with UMNO. The cost of projects is deliberately doubled or even tripled. A RM 1 billion project, may be marked up to RM2 or 3 billion. Whenever, these companies or consortiums fail, the Government takes over the ailing companies as has been done with PLUS.

 We need projects to mitigate floods in many areas including KL. If the smart tunnel project, that is being implemented, is thought to cost RM1 billion, and is given to Gamuda and Malaysian Mining Corporation (MMC) at RM2.1 billion, then the Government must explain what is so extraordinary as to require RM1.1 billion more.

 The political culture of patronage and abuse of power and privileges is often apparent. It is normal. Although the management of some projects is apt, some people are bestowed with largesse. They feast at the public crib. They do not implement the projects. After robbing the commission, they subcontract the projects to another person. Sometimes, the subcontracts are handed to a third person, sub-subcontracts. Some projects are abandoned.

 Briefly, I raise the issue of bus services. The concept of a good or world-class public transport is acceptable. The Government has implemented the mergers of bus companies in KL for over five years. Cityliner (Park May), owned by Renong, has taken over all the minibus routes and Intrakota, the subsidiary of DRB, has bus routes from five and a half bus companies, Kee Hup, Tong Fong, Len Bus, Lian Chee and half from Selangor Bus. Lian Seng in Setapak refuses to sell their routes. Sri Jaya becomes Metrobus. These three consortiums monopolize all bus routes within nine square miles of KL.

 The Entrepreneur Development Ministry must have a comprehensive investigation of public transport including Intrakota and Cityliner. What are the reasons for their failure? Has their management comprised of highly qualified people with MBAs (?Harvard) and so forth ? Has Danaharta taken over such companies? What are the losses? Billions?

 I have been told that Cityliner (Park May) has over 1,000 modern buses. But, over 300 of them are out of action, lying idle at Sungai Tua, Selangor. Why?

 KL is divided into zones, on which depends the price of the tickets. For instance, Zone 3, from Jinjang to Kepong, the ticket for air-conditioned bus is RM1.60 whereas that for a bus with no air-condition is RM1.40. In Jinjang, there are only 10 Intrakota buses whereas the place needs 20 to 30 buses. A fast growing area requires more buses.

 Modern buses need big capital. They look beautiful and comfortable. We had hoped that bus services would improve with the above-stated consortiums. Hitherto, it is not to be.. City folks are encouraged to leave their cars at home or in the outskirt and to take buses (or other modes of public transport) to the city centre. (Bus services are not good enough. People still drive their own cars into the city.)

 As big sums have been invested, it takes time to recoup and to make profits.  Then, the factors that result in the failure include mismanagement, irregularities, diesel price hike, ticket price can only be increased every 8 to 10 years but workers’ salaries increase every two to three years.

 One of the budget strategies is to accelerate local private sector investment. If only companies with political background have the right of ways and they do not reach the destinations, how do we accelerate the private sector?

 Nasi tak dingin,
   Pinggan tak retak;
Engkau tak ingin,
   Aku tak hendak.

 The Prime Minister should take the initiative to do a good job by getting rid of the bad political culture. He should lay a foundation for a new political culture.

 In the last session of the House, I did give a warning about corruption in Malaysia. It occurs in more subtle forms in this country compared with that in Indonesia and Thailand. This subtlety reflects the state of corruption here being not as serious as that in the neighbouring countries. We have to deal with it before it worsens so that we would not end up as Argentina that went bankrupt. (The Government has yet to investigate the alleged dualism in the judiciary – overt and covert judiciary.)

 Among the one million civil servants, many are not corrupt. We respect those who are committed and clean. There are corrupted ones.

 DAP National Chairman Lim Kit Siang urges the Deputy Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to show public integrity to all civil servants by announcing his assets when he becomes the Prime Minister after next month.

 He criticizes the director-general of the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) Datuk Zulkifli who has not fulfilled the vision, mission and objective of the agency. He says:

 “Over a month ago, I made two visits to the grand office of the ACA headquarters at Putrajaya but on both occasions, DAP MPs and I were unable to meet Zulkifli. I learnt however that his driver was the envy of the ACA staff and those of nearby government offices, as he had hardly any work to do – with the ACA director-general outstation if not out of the country.

 “In his two years as ACA director-general, becoming the first policeman to be appointed to this sensitive and critical post, Zulkifli had probably spent more time outside the country than anyone of his predecessors to attend international conferences, covering countries including Switzerland, Austria (at least twice), Netherlands, Japan, The Philippines, Australia, Hong Kong, South Korea and China – all from the ACA budget and taxpayers’ expenses.

 “Clearly, Zulkifli finds it more comfortable and pleasant in the era of globalization to travel the world to attend conferences to address the problem of corruption on a global level than to have to tackle local corruption, globe-trotting to conferences with themes like ‘Global Forum On Fighting Corruption and Safeguard Integrity’,  ‘Anti-Corruption Action Plan For Asia-Pacific’ and ‘Promoting Integrity and Fighting Corruption In The Public Servant’.

 “Zulkifli should be reminded that he is paid by the Malaysian taxpayers not to lecture other countries about anti-corruption action plans or how to promote integrity in the public servant, but to deliver these very services and public goods to Malaysian citizens in the country.”

 Zulkifli can go overseas, provided that he ensures that ACA carries out its duties and responsibilities. (The priority is to eradicate corruption in Malaysia.)

 ACA should be responsible only to Parliament, not just to the Prime Minister Department as it is at present. It should be free from any form of interference.

 Once again, we propose the setting up of a Royal Commission of Enquiry on corruption in this country. The ramifications of corruption are protean. Only a royal commission can get to the bottom of things.

 Tax Strategy

 The Finance Minister has several tax proposals and incentives for the private sector and small and medium enterprise (SME). He has not reduced the corporate, but has altered the threshold.

 Companies owned by the government contribute 89% corporate tax while 66% of companies pay only 2.1%. These government-related companies include Petronas, Sime Darby and Pernas.

 Indirect taxes such as sale and service tax are difficult to collect. There are many complaints. Value Added Tax (VAT) has been suggested in Parliament for over one decade. But, the Government is not comfortable with it. It is not easy to implement. However, I propose that the Government has a comprehensive review of the tax strategy.

 KLSE Performance

 Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange (KLSE) provides one of the indicators of the Malaysian economy. KLSE is the biggest in this region. It is cyclical. Dr Mahahtir gloats on the composite index (KLCI) that has arisen above 700 points. If KLSE compared with bourses in Korea, Singapore and Thailand, its composite index is not so impressive.

 On 4 September, 2003, KLCI for the last five years and eight months increased by +26.5%, Korean Composite +103.1%, SET +46.3% and JCI +43.2%. Why is KLCI not going up as much as Korean Composite or SET?

 Clearly, the Government should review the factors that have given rise to such a state of affairs. Korea and Thailand receive aid from International Monetary Fund (IMF). Malaysia does not. She has chosen to brave the 1997 economic crisis by herself, free from IMF (World Bank or others) pressure.

 Jangan bawa resmi jagung:
makin berisi makin jegang.
Makin kaya makin sombong.
Makin kuat makin angkuh.


* Dr Tan Seng Giaw, DAP National Vice Chairman & MP for Kepong