Mahathir’s fear that “corruption might be getting to a point of no return” the most significant and worrisome statement on the gulf between rhetoric and reality of anti-corruption campaign in the past 19 months of Abdullah premiership

Media Statement (2)

by Lim Kit Siang

(Parliament, Thursday): The fear expressed by former Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad that “corruption might be getting to a point of no return” is  the most significant and worrisome statement on the gulf between the  rhetoric and reality of the anti-corruption campaign in the past 19 months of the premiership of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Presenting the keynote address on “Social Re-engineering” for a 10-part series of discourses at the Perdana Leadership Foundation in Putrajaya  yesterday, Dr. Mahathir warned that corruption was becoming a culture in Malaysia with more and more people no longer trying to hide the fact that they are corrupt.

Voicing his fear that corruption might one day become institutionalised, Dr Mahathir said the Government and political parties must be more serious in tackling the problem.

Dr Mahathir said political parties in the Government had to act without fear or favour against anyone involved in corruption, including "even the most prominent officials or persons".

He said they had to act fast to fight corruption at all levels, and within themselves, or face a loss of credibility.

The former Prime Minister said corruption was almost at the "above the table" level, with a significant number being involved.

"Where are we now? We are slowly breaking through the ceiling. We are slowly emerging ‘above the table’, and when that occurs, I hope I won’t be around," he said.

Dr Mahathir said there could be no turning back if corruption becomes rampant, "because everybody, from the bottom to the top, will be corrupt”. He added: “If we have better values, this will not happen."

The message from Dr. Mahathir is sombre and bleak – that corruption in Malaysia in the past 19  months is even worse than during his 22-year premiership ending in October 2003, confirmed by the worsening of Malaysia’s falling another two places to 39th ranking  in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2005 as compared to 37th ranking in 2003.

Dr Mahathir’s call for action “without fear or favour” against anyone involved in corruption, including "even the most prominent officials or persons", has reminded Malaysians of the 18 “high-ranking individuals and decision-makers” who have so far escape the anti-corruption dragnet.

If more evidence is needed about the worsening corruption in Malaysia in the past 19 months, two further reminders  should suffice:

  • The “advice” by the former Deputy Prime Minister Tun Ghafar Baba at his 80th birthday celebration in Kota Bharu last month proposing the auction of top UMNO posts to the highest bidder – with UMNO division chief probably fetching RM50,000 while a UMNO Vice President bidding RM5 million – if there is no way to resolve the problem of money politics in UMNO.  (Berita Minggu 17.4.05)
  • The systemic and even syndicated corruption in the Malaysian police as exposed by  the Police Royal Commission in its Report, which “is part of a larger problem of corruption in Malaysia”.

Although any national opinion poll will show a sharp increase in disappointment with Abdullah among Malaysians and a great drop in the Prime Minister’s popularity ratings as compared to his first six months in office which led to the unprecedented Barisan Nasional general election  victory in March 2004 winning over 91 per cent of parliamentary seats, Malaysians still believe that the Prime Minister is personally clean and  well-meaning with good intentions.

However, if the former Prime Minister’s warning that corruption in the past 19 months is worse than the previous 22 years and that corruption in the country is “getting  to a point of no return” cannot have the effect of a final wake-up call for Abdullah to stop just  talking and start acting in the anti-corruption  campaign, then there appears to be no hope in the immediate future  that Malaysia can turn the tide  in the battle against corruption.

Corruption cannot be waged by speeches alone without action.  Islam Hadhari alone is also not adequate, as reflected by Dr. Mahathir’s comment: “If we have better values, this will not happen”.

Abdullah must now act, not only against the 18 “big fishes”  who have enjoyed impunity so far, but initiate meaningful and effective institutional reforms to create a new culture of zero tolerance for corruption  in the Malaysian  political and public life with the national objective for Malaysia to join the ranks among the world’s least corrupt nations.



*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman