Barisan Nasional government has become even less democratic, accountable and transparent after the November general election last year

- Joint Swearing-In Ceremony for new committee members of  Penang DAP Branches
Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Thursday): It is now more than six months after the last general election on Nov. 29, 1999, and one consequence of the failure of the Barisan Alternative to break the political hegemony of the Barisan Nasional by denying it two-thirds parliamentary majority is that  the government has become even less democratic, accountable and transparent than ever, as  highlighted by the following four instances  in the past week:

1. Perwaja loses another RM800 million to make it the biggest financial scandal in Malaysian history.

On Tuesday, I had called on the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to  present a White Paper to explain whether Malaysian taxpayers have lost another RM800 million in the Perwaja Terengganu Sdn. Bhd.  since the disclosures by former Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim of colossal Perwaja losses four years ago,  bringing Perwaja’s  total losses to close to RM11 billion and making it the biggest financial scandal in the nation’s history.

In response to DAP queries, Anwar had disclosed during the debate on the Seventh Malaysia Plan in May 1996 that Perwaja as end of 1995 had suffered   RM2.9 billion in accumulated losses and RM6.9 billion in liabilities.

In December 1996, I had questioned the government decision to approve the "bail-out" plan for Perwaja by a consortium headed by Maju Holdings Sdn. Bhd., as it was a modest-sized company which lacked the financial resources and technical expertise to spearhead such a complex job.

DAP’s reservations at the time about the wisdom of the decision to approve the "bail-out plan" by Maju Holdings Sdn. Bhd. has now been proved right, as the government and the taxpayers have now been placed in a position of having to bail out the bailor!

In 1996, the government assumed full responsibility for Perwaja’s RM9.9 billion in accumulated losses and other liabilities to allow Maju Holdings Sdn. Bhd. to start all over on a clean slate in Perwaja through Equal Concept Sdn. Bhd. which is 51% owned  by Maju Holdings and 49% by the government.

ASWJ reported that Perwaja’s steel business under Equal Concept posted a loss of RM340 million in 1998 and the company continues to run in the red.

Federal Public Accounts 1998 prepared by the Accountant-General and tabled in  Parliament for the budget debate shows that as at the end of 1998 Malaysian taxpayers are burdened with Perwaja’s RM9.1 billion liabilities, comprising RM4.01 billion direct loans to Perwaja Terengganu Sdn. Bhd., RM105 million direct loan to Equal Concept Sdn. Bhd. and RM5.1 billion in government-guaranteed borrowings from local and foreign banks.

To date, there has been no accountability on the Perwaja scandal.

2. Mahathir’s interference to stop ACA investigations into former EPU director-general and later Bank Negara governor

On the same day on Tuesday, former  Anti-Corruption Agency  (ACA) director-general, Datuk Shafee Yahya gave shocking testimony in the Anwar Ibrahim trial when he said that the Prime Minister Dr.  Mahathir Mohamad had personally ordered the ACA to drop an inquiry into the then Economic Planning Unit (EPU) director-general, Tan Sri  Ali Abul Hassan Sulaiman, who was later appointed Bank Negara Governor.

Shafee said the incident happened in June 1998 - three months before Mahathir sacked Anwar – after the agency raided the office of the EPU director general and found a large sum of money.

Shafee said Mahathir called him up after the raid and  he  was "told off". The Prime Minister’s words were: "How dare you raid my senior officer's office?", accused him of "trying to fix" the official and wanted to know whether he had acted under the instruction of Anwar.

Shafee said that Mahathir ordered him to  close the case against EPU chief.  He was "highly disillusioned"  and  told his wife that he  wanted to resign but she advised him to finish his contract which had three months left.

In April last year,  Anwar Ibrahim was jailed for six years for corruption offences for  misusing  his official powers to get the police to retract unproven allegations of  sexual misconduct and sodomy.

What  Shafee Yahya had  testified in open court that  Mahathir  had  personally ordered the ACA to drop an inquiry into the then EPU  director-general, was definitely more serious than the case against Anwar.

So far two police reports, one by Anwar, had been lodged against Mahathir arising from Shafee’s testimony.

Do the public have confidence that the Police and the Attorney-General, Tan Sir Mohtar Abdullah would perform their duties to investigate, arrest  and prosecute Mahathir for corruption offences as in the case of Anwar?

3. Cabinet with "eyes that see not, ears that hear not" on  Eusoff Chin’s improper judicial conduct

Utusan Malaysia today reported the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Rais Yatim as saying after the Cabinet meeting yesterday that that the Eusoff Chin issue was "regarded as settled" (dianggap sudah selesai). Utusan Malaysia under the heading "Isu Ketua Hakim Negara di anggap selesai" reported:

How can the Cabinet decide otherwise with regard to the setting of a judicial tribunal when the Prime Minister on his return from Subang a day earlier, although he admitted that he had not been fully briefed about the matter, had announced that there was no need for a judicial tribunal to be set up?

However, Rais is very wrong when he said that the Eusoff Chin matter had been resolved, for Rais had not said as to whether the Cabinet had been informed or taken into consideration the latest mass media reports challenging Eusoff Chin’s claim that he had coincidentally "bumped" into lawyer Datuk V.K. Lingam in his controversial New Zealand holiday in December 1994.

Malaysiakini yesterday reported on what it called the "The Bowman papers",  alleging that  according to investigations by Bowman Investigations, a UK-based private investigation agency, Eusoff and Lingam flew together with their families for their Christmas holiday from Singapore to New Zealand in 1994.

Five days earlier, veteran journalist MGG Pillai had put up an Internet posting giving particulars that Eusoff and Lingam had travelled together on the same New Zealand Airways flight from Singapore to Auckland on business class and  also for the internal flight sector  between Auckland and Christchurch.

Yesterday’s Asian Wall Street Journal in its report "LEGAL ROW MAKES WAVES IN MALAYSIA", also made more allegations  about Eusoff’s controversial New Zealand holiday, reporting that Eusoff and Lingam and their families had spent their holiday in New Zealand together, and that they had rented a 13-meter catamaran for a cruise on Lake Wakatipu just outside Queenstown, New Zealand.

Eusoff  cannot continue to keep silent as the Pillai’s Internet posting as well as the Malaysiakini and Asian Wall Street Journal reports, if uncontradicted, would mean that he had publicly told a lie about his New Zealand holiday with Lingam in December 1994.

4. Malaysia’s legal system among the worst in Asia

Over the weekend, Malaysia suffered a major international blow as a centre for international investments when  the latest report of the  Hong Kong-based Political Economic And Risk Consultancy(PERC)  ranked  Malaysia as amongst the five  countries with the worst legal system in Asia.

The PERC survey, released  during the weekend, were based on polling of more than 1,000 respondents, mostly in the countries assessed.

The legal systems of Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong are ranked as the best in Asia by expatriate businessmen, followed by Taiwan, Philippines, Thailand and South Korea. Malaysia headed the worst list followed by India, Vietnam, China and Indonesia.

PERC Survey(0 is the best possible score and 10 the worst)
     1. Singapore -- 2.57
     2. Japan -- 3.00
     3. Hong Kong -- 3.76
     4. Taiwan -- 6.00
     5. Philippines -- 6.50
     6. Thailand -- 6.67
     7. South Korea -- 6.83
     8. Malaysia -- 7.43
     9. India -- 8.40
     10. Vietnam -- 9.00
     11. China -- 9.33
     12. Indonesia -- 9.38

The PERC survey said:

The Cabinet Ministers  continue to  act with "eyes that see not and ears that hear not" pretending, for instance,  to be  blissfully unaware of the damning indictment of the system of justice in "Justice in Jeopardy: Malaysia 2000" and the worst crisis of confidence in the independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary.

On 17th February 2000, the Malaysian Permanent Mission in Geneva was sent two  advance copies of the report: "Justice in Jeopardy: Malaysia 2000", inviting comments from the Malaysian Government by 15th March 2000 for incorporation in the published version of the report.

The four international legal organisations which jointly sponsored the report, the International Bar Association (IBA), the Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers of the International Commission of Jurists (CIJL), the Commonwealth Lawyers’  Association (CLA) and the Union Internationale des Avocats (UIA) never received any reply from the Malaysian Government and it published its report, without any comments by the Malaysian authorities.

The Cabinet however has refused to respond to the report, although it is more than two months since its publication world-wide and more than two weeks since Rais Yatim had promised the Second Australia-Malaysia Conference in Canberra that he would be presenting the report to the Cabinet.

From these four instances in a week, it is clear that the goals of justice, freedom, democracy and good governance for Malaysians are  even further than ever as a result of the failure of the Barisan Alternative to break the political hegemony of the Barisan Nasional in the recent general election, and things are going to get worse before they can get better.

In these difficult times, it is heartening that there are more and more Malaysians who are prepared to come forward to keep high the standards for justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman