(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): The statement by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad yesterday that Swiss banks are free to reveal the names of Malaysian ministers who have numbered accounts with them is ridiculous and meaningless unless Ministers are prepared to publicly declare their assets.
Even if the Prime Minister had announced that Malaysian banks are free to make public all details of all accounts held with them by Malaysian ministers and their next-of-kin, will any Malaysian bank release such details?
The answer is a clear no - and if no Malaysian bank will respond to any such statement by the Prime Minister, why should any Swiss bank respond to his statement that Swiss banks are free to reveal the names of Malaysian ministers who have numbered accounts with them?
If Mahathir is serious in wanting to demonstrate to Malaysians and the world about the probity and integrity of Cabinet Ministers, then let the Prime Minister make public the declaration of assets submitted by all Cabinet Ministers to him after the Cabinet appointment or each general election.
In this connection, Malaysians do not know whether the Finance Minister, Tun Daim Zainuddin had divested himself of all his business interests since his appointment as Minister for Special Functions in the Prime Minister's Department in June last year.
On his appointment last June, Daim had numerous business interests, including ownership of Hock Hua Bank, giving rise to serious conflict of interest situations.
Mahathir had said at the time that Daim had to give up his business interests, including ownership of Hock Hua Bank but that it would take a little bit of time for him to make these arrangements.
Have Daim divested himself of all his business interests and when was this completed.
The saddest thing is that the anti-corruption drive reached its high tide in July 1997 when Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was Acting Prime Minister and was shepherding the drafting of the new Anti-Corruption Bill for Parliament, but the campaign was immediately cold-storaged when the cold war between No. 1 and No. 2 began in earnest with the decline of the power and influence of Anwar in government although he was still Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister until he was sacked by Mahathir on Sept. 2 last year.
Instead of making empty gestures like a statement that Swiss banks are free to reveal the names of Malaysians who have numbered accounts with them, the Cabinet yesterday should have taken a policy decision to launch a high-powered nation-wide campaign against corruption to demonstrate that the fight against corruption is not the sole concern of Anwar Ibrahim when he was Deputy Prime Minister.
The new Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has the reputation of "Mr. Clean" and I commend him for it, as Abdullah has an established reputation of honesty and integrity.
However, what Malaysia needs is not just a Deputy Prime Minister who is "Mr. Clean" but indifferent to the corruption, malpractices and abuses of power rampant in public and political life in the country, but who is prepared to provide the leadership to clean up the system and develop a culture of zero tolerance for corruption in Malaysian political and public life.
Is Abdullah capable of taking such a lead to clean up corrupt practices in the country and if so, when will he take the lead?