Ever since the Selangor Mentri Besar, Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib was charged in Brisbane magistrate’s court for not declaring RM2.4 million cash in foreign currencies on December 22, and the numerous questions which had been raised rather than answered by his press conference on December 30, one UMNO leader after another had been declaring that Muhammad Taib’s case would not affect the voters of Pulai Chondong by-election in Kelantan on Monday.
I do not want to get into the Pulai Chondong by-election fray between UMNO and PAS, but there is no doubt that statements by UMNO leaders that Muhammad Taib’s RM2.4 million Brisbane cash case would not affect the voters of the Pulai Chondong by-election are very smug and most disturbing for two important reasons:
Firstly, it shows a smug attitude that regardless of whatever scandals UMNO leaders may be involved in, both these leaders and UMNO could get away with them without any appreciable loss of public support and therefore could disregard public opinion or pressure for greater accountability and transparency; and
Secondly, a poor reflection on the public and civic-mindedness of the voters of Pulai Chondong implying that they are not interested or concerned about the larger national issues of accountability and integrity of national political leaders.
The claim by certain UMNO leaders that Muhammad Taib’s case is a personal problem and not a party or government matter has only reinforced public concern that there is a lack of political will to uphold the highest standards of integrity among the government and political leadership.
UMNO Youth chief, Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, said that UMNO is satisfied with Muhammad Taib’s explanation and that the public should not pre-judge the case as it had not been heard in the court.
I have no doubt that if UMNO Youth conducts a public opinion poll, even among UMNO Youth members, the majority would express their dissatisfaction with Muhammad Taib’s explanation, as it has raised so many new questions which destroys its entire credibility.
For instance, why did Muhammad have to deal with RM2.4 million cash in an era of electronic transactions?
Secondly, why did Muhammad take the RM2.4 million to Brisbane when he knew even before he left that his brothers could not be in Australia to conclude the Purchase and Sale agreement, as they had to stay behind to prepare for their children’s weddings?
Thirdly, if the RM2.4 million was meant to buy property in Australia, why were they in Singapore and New Zealand dollars - apart from Malaysian ringgit?
Fourthly, if the purpose of buying the property is to have a place for his brothers’ children to stay when they go to Australia to further their studies, why go to Gold Coast, Brisbane, which is not known as an education centre but as an entertainment and tourist centre, with its nightspots, 24-hour casinos and Surfers’ Paradise?
Fifthly, did Muhammad take the RM2.4 million cash in various currencies from Malaysia to Australia, or did he come to this cash only when he was in Australia?
Sixthly, tourists in Australia are given conspicuous warnings that they have to declare cash exceeding A$5,000, just like tourists to Malaysia are warned about the death sentence for drugs. How could Muhammad, as a seasoned traveller, now claim he is not aware of this Australian law?
The voters of Pulai Chondong, like all Malaysians, must be asking these questions and many others in their daily conversations for the past two weeks - but whether this would be sufficient to affect their voting would only be known on polling day in the by-election on Monday. However, any suggestion that the voters of Pulau Chondong are not bothered about the case of Muhammad Taib’s RM2.4 million cash in Brisbane is not only being very unfair to the voters of Pulau Chondong, but to hold a very low opinion of their civic-mindedness.
In principle, the UMNO Youth leader is right when he said that the public should not prejudge Muhammad Taib as his case had not been heard in court. In actual fact, there is nothing for the public to prejudge Muhammad about the Australian charge as Muhammad had admitted to the offence in his press conference, claiming that it was at most a “technical offence”.
What the Malaysian public want to know and have a right to judge is why Muhammad had such vast sums of money when in Brisbane, the origin, source and purpose of the RM2.4 million cash in various currencies.
Muhammad has only himself to blame if the public judge him unfavourably because his press conference statement has created even more questions which if not answered before the bar of Malaysian public opinion must make the Selangor Mentri Besar unsuitable to continue in his present office!