(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): I am calling this press conference to ask the Cabinet to send a clear signal to the mass media, both printed and electronic, that they should play a more active role to expose and fight corruption in Malaysia.
It has been said that a free press ranks alongside an independent judiciary as one of the twin powers that should not be beholden to politicians and that should serve as powerful counterforces to corruption in public life.
A few days ago, when I was in Penang, a journalist asked me whether I have names of State Exco members who are corrupt and he was pressing me to give him their names.
This journalist did not seem to know that in investigative reporting, journalists should not depend on politicians but should be able to investigate on their own to uncover malpractices and corruption.
There is no doubt that if Malaysia is to develop a new culture which abhors corruption in public life, the mass media must develop a tradition of investigative journalism. The Economic Adviser to the Government, Tun Daim Zainuddin, had lamented more than once about the lack of the tradition of investigative journalism in Malaysia and that there is too much self-censorship in Malaysia.
Too much press self-censorship in Malaysia is indeed a great problem, but there is the bigger problem of censorship and fear of the Home Ministry because of a panopoly of various laws like the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Sedition Act, etc.
The recent case where one Chinese newspaper was penalised because of the shock Gerakan defeat in the Teluk Intan by-election is an example of the bane of such press censorship and self-censorship in Malaysia.
I do not expect Malaysian journalists to strike out on the path of investigative journalism or the Malaysian press to stop being a bystander and spectator and become an active player in the all-out war against corruption in Malaysia unless there is clear signal and encouragement from the highest levels of the government leadership.
The Malaysian press must regard it as national shame that the country is ranked No. 26 out of 54 countries in the 1996 Transparency Internationalís international corruption perception index and ranked No. 28 out of 46 countries in the 1996 World Competitiveness Report on "Improper practices such as bribery or corruption", and must do their part to improve the international image of Malaysia in terms of government integrity and honesty.
It is time the Malaysian press gain international recognition and respect as a crusader against corruption in public life and play their part in building a civil society where rampant corruption is rooted out of our national life.
I welcome the call by the UMNO Youth leader, Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi calling for the revelation of the names of the six state exco members and a Sabah state minister under investigations by the Anti-Corruption Agency and that the seven should go on leave until the probe was over.
This is the first sensible statement that Zahid had made since becoming UMNO Youth leader.
The question is whether the UMNO Youth Leaderís call for the revelation of the names of the State Exco members and Sabah State Minister under ACA investigations has the support of MCA and Gerakan Youth movements.
In this connection, it is unfortunate that the new Selangor Mentri Besar, Datuk Abu Hassan, had mishandled to dropping of Datuk Aini Taib from the new Selangor State Government line-up.
Abu Hassan should be given full support in forming a new State Exco to fulfil his vow of establishing a clean government and if he thinks that Datuk Ainiís dropping from the State Exco could help in this objective, he should be given the benefit of the doubt.
He should not have concocted a reason however that Aini had not been reappointed because the latter wanted to concentrate on his business, which Aini had denied. In any event, Aini could not have any busines interests while holding the offices of State Exco and President of Shah Alam Municipal Council or he would have broken the law and should be investigated by the ACA.
The Anti-Corruption Agency has said that Aini was not the State Exco member in Selangor who is being investigated for corruption. This means that this Selangor State Exco member under investigation by ACA had been re-appointed to the new State Exco by Abu Hassan. This is not a good start for a clean Selangor State Government.
Abu Hassan should realise that his first task as Selangor Mentri Besar is to restore public confidence in the integrity and uprightness of the state administration and he should have been verry careful in selecting the Selangor State Exco members.
This is particularly pertinent as the Prime Minister had not been able to find a single UMNO or Barisan Nasional State Exco or Assembly member who could fulfil the two conditions of "clean and honest" to be appointed Mentri Besar to take over from Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib, and he had to resort to the unprecedented action of getting a senior Federal Cabinet Minister to resign and fight a by-election to become the new head of Selangor state government.
This can only mean that out of the entire Selangor Barisan Nasional team in the Selangor State Assembly, Abu Hassan is the only person who is recognised and acknowleged by the Prime Minister as both "clean and capable".
All the other UMNO and Barisan State Exco and Assembly members fall into one of the following three categories:
Can Abu Hassan categorise as to which of the three categories each of his State Exco members fall into, who is "clean but not capable", "capable but not clean" and whether anyone who is "neither clean nor capable".
I congratulate the Chief Justice of the Federal Court, Tun Mohd Eusoff Chin for being conferred the Darjah Kebesaran Seri Setia Mahkota Malaysia award by the Yang di Pertuan Agong, which carries the title of "Tun".
It is the hope of all Malaysians that Tun Eusoff Chin would redouble efforts to fully restore national and international confidence in the independence of the judiciary in Malaysia, which is an important pillar for Malaysia to gain the ranking of a world-class nation, and repair the very strained relationship between the Bench and the Bar to work closely to uphold the Rule of Law in Malaysia.
It is reported today that the legal service officers would be holding their second annual conference in Kuala Lumpur beginning tomorrow. The three-day conference would focus on several issues including the Multimedia Super Corridor, cyberlaws and the implementation of the ISO 9000 in the civil service.
The Special Officer to the Attorney-General, Tun Abdul Majid Tun Hamzah said the agenda for the three-day conference would also include environmental laws, Malaysiaís foreign policy and creative thinking.
It is obvious that the three-day conference of legal service officers have omitted two important issues, namely the all-out war against corruption and the controversy over the abuse of powers by the Attorney-General in the exercise of his prosecutorial discretionary powers. These two subjects should feature in this conference if the legal service officers are to deal with relevant current issues of the country.