Daim has upstaged Mahathir’s 8th Plan presentation with his mysterious “leave” and parliamenary appearance

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): The RM253 billion Eighth Malaysia Plan 2001-2005  unveiled by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was a national “yawn” , as testified by its failure to give a fillip to the stock market with the benchmark Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange Composite Index (KLCI) falling by 2.3 points or 0.4% to close at 573.37 in thin trade yesterday, as compared to the 28.71 or 1.73 gain registered by the Singapore composite index.

Tun Daim Zainuddin in fact upstaged Mahathir’s Eighth Plan presentation with his mysterious “leave” and parliamentary appearance yesterday.

Mahathir’s remark "I don't know why he came since he is on a holiday, but he seems to want to listen to my speech” could only compound the mystery, as it is clear that the Prime Minister is hardly in communication or even  on speaking terms with his Finance Minister.

Earlier in the morning, when addressing the International Conference on   Corporate Governance - From Conformance to Performance, Daim expressed the hope that the Corporate Governance conference would  not be “obscured
by the boundless enthusiasm of the Press to discuss the matter of my leave”.

In actual fact, Daim’s mysterious “leave” had obscured not only the Corporate Governance Conference but Mahathir’s presentation of the Eighth Malaysia Plan in Parliament as well.

Yesterday, when pressed by reporters, Daim refused to respond to questions as to whether he was leaving the Cabinet, merely saying that he wanted to take a break, countering with the question:  "Why? Am I not entitled to my leave?"

Yes, Daim is entitled to take  his leave, and even being irresponsible by doing so at a time when the country is in the midst of a second economic crisis in four years  - but it must be a proper leave and not one in mysterious circumstances that raises even more questions about the government’s credibility, accountability and transparency detrimental to restoration of a badly-dented  investor confidence.

Daim, for instance, has taken the most “bizarre” leave not only in Malaysia but in Commonwealth parliamentary history, for he has left so many questions unanswered.

Firstly, when did his “leave” begin and when will it end?  Even the Prime Minister does not seem to know.

Daim’s aide said last Thursday that the Finance Minister  had started his leave early this month and that when he opened the fifth Asean Finance Ministers meeting in Kuala Lumpur on 7th April 2001,   he was already on leave.  Did Daim’s  Asean counterparts know that he was on “leave”, and if not, why was this kept as a great secret?

Why wasn’t there a formal and proper announcement of Daim’s leave?

Secondly, what is the meaning and implication of Daim taking leave as Finance Minister  but “still visits the office to go through all his documents and letters” without attending Cabinet meetings where he would be represented by a comparatively junior Minister Datuk Mohamad  Nazri Abdul Aziz?

Is the Daim the person to sign all papers and orders as Finance Minister during his “leave” or has this task devolved on another, and if so who?

If it is Daim who is still the person to sign all papers and documents as Finance Minister, why had he failed to gazette the two per cent cut in employees’ EPF contribution from 11% to 9% after the Prime Minister had announced it for four weeks, making the enforcement of the two per cent cut with effect from April 1 by  Employees’ Provident Fund unlawful and challengeable in the courts?

Or is Daim’s leave confined only to his not having to attend the Cabinet meetings?

This is the most extraordinary part of Daim’s mysterious “leave” as it goes against all concepts  of individual and collective Ministerial responsibilities as well as representative democracy as the Cabinet is the most important and highest decision-making executive body in a parliamentary government.

Just as it is unthinkable and impossible for the Prime Minister to continue to act as Prime Minister but refusing to attend Cabinet meetings, it should be equally unthinkable and impossible for a Finance Minister or a Minister to discharge his functions when he refuses to attend or takes “leave” of the Cabinet!

Very important constitutional principles concerning the government’s credibility, accountability and transparency are involved in this mysterious “leave” of Daim from the Cabinet.

Or is Daim conveying the strong message that in Mahathir’s government today, it is not the Cabinet which is the most powerful and highest executive body, but another extra-Cabinet body and this is why there is no need for him to attend Cabinet meetings?  If this is the case, then we are seeing the illegal usurpaton of the powers of the Cabinet for Parliament and the Constitution  had never approved such a new power configuration in the country.

If Malaysians Ministers are men and women of principle and  integrity, they should force a showdown at the Cabinet meeting tomorrow to redeem the honour and proper constitutional position  of the Cabinet, protest at the contempt to all other Ministers shown  by Daim in absenting from Cabinet meetings while continuing to operate as Finance Minister, and demand that either Daim continue to attend all Cabinet meetings and be subject to the principe of collective Ministerial responsibility or take full leave where all his functions would be discharged by an Acting Finance Minister answerable fully to the Cabinet.

Daim’s “bizarre” leave undermines the principle of parliamentary accountability as well - as it seems to be a device for Daim to escape responsibility to account to Parliament for all the scandalous bail-outs and buy-outs using government-linked funds and agencies like the EPF, Pensions Trust Fund, Khazanah, etc involving hundreds of millions and even billions of ringgit for the salvation  of privileged crony companies and individuals.

The strongest sign that Daim is on his way out as Finance Minister has come from his protégé, Renong Bhd chief Tan Sri Halim Saad who saidthat the United Engineers Bhd (UEM)-Renong group, which has close links with the ruling UMNO, would not be affected if Daim resigns as Finance Minister. (Reuters/Sun).


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman