Mahathir is right that Abdullah should be given enough time to realize his own vision and plans for the country but this must be accompanied by heightened public awareness and close monitoring to ensure that Abdullah is not placed in a position of “one man vs the system” in Cabinet and government for a clean, incorruptible, efficient and people-friendly administration
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Monday): DAP fully agrees with the former Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad that the new Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi should be given enough time to realize his own vision and plans for the country. Speaking at the official farewell dinner for him and his wife, Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, at the Putrajaya Convention Centre last night, Mahathir said that in his 22-year tenure as Prime Minister, he had adequate time to carry out whatever he had envisioned for Malaysia.
Mahathir had both successes and failures for over two decades as the head of government and among the latter must rank his inability to fulfil one of the cardinal pledges of his “First Hundred Days” as the fourth Prime Minister in 1981 – his ABC slogan of “Amanah, Bersih and Cekap” as the motto of his administration.
The strongest testimony of the failure of his 22-year premiership to usher in a clean, efficient and trustworthy government is that Abdullah has to start his new premiership on precisely the same ABC promise of a clean, incorruptible, efficient and people-friendly administration, which had raised the same high public hopes and expectations when it was first promised a generation ago.
If further proof is needed of the failure of the ABC slogan and pledge of the Mahathir administration in 1981, there is the nine-year plunge of Malaysia’s international standing in the Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perception Index from 23rd position in 1995 to 37th position this year.
DAP fully supports Abdullah to bring about fundamental changes to create a clean, incorruptible, efficient and people-friendly government, and is prepared to give him all co-operation in these objectives.
However, Malaysians must learn from the lesson of the failure of the ABC slogan of the political honeymoon of the “First Hundred Days” of the Mahathir administration in 1981 – the need for heightened public awareness and close monitoring of the fulfillment of these pledges by strengthening the checks and balances in our system of democratic governance with a stronger Opposition in Parliament and State Assemblies and a more vigilant civil society.
This is because the creation of a government which is clean, incorruptible, efficient and people-friendly is no easy task and cannot achieved by words alone or by the commitment of merely one person, even if that person is the Prime Minister himself.
The primary reason why the “Amanah, Bersih and Cekap” promises of the Mahathir “First Hundred Days” came to nought was the national euphoria over the promises of a new Prime Minister which resulted in the Barisan Nasional landslide election victory in the 1982 general election, winning 132 of the 154 parliamentary seats, more than five-sixths and not just two-thirds parliamentary majority, grabbing 85.7 per cent of the parliamentary seats!
When the checks and balances necessary to ensure good governance were gravely undermined with a considerably weakened Opposition in the 1982 general election, it set the stage for the rot to set in as far as a clean, efficient and trustworthy government was concerned.
The situation today is even more fragile than in Mahathir’s “First Hundred Days” in 1981 – for there is the legitimate question whether Abdullah has the full support of the Cabinet and government in his pledge for a clean, incorruptible, efficient and people-friendly administration or whether it is basically “one man versus the old system”.
The Gerakan President Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik and the MCA President Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting both paid lip-service tribute to Abdullah’s priority to fight corruption at the special dinner for the new Prime Minister at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium on Saturday, but both were Cabinet members of the “old system” which had allowed corruption, government inefficiency, insensitivity and lack of accountability to run wild.
This is why DAP had asked for a mid-term report of Abdullah’s “First Hundred Days” on both the pledges and actions for a clean, incorruptible and efficient administration with the people able to tell him the “truth”.
It is understandable that in his First Fifty Days, there will be more pledges than actions but in his second Fifty Days as the new Prime Minister, his agenda and record should be dominated more by action than pledges for a clean, incorruptible, efficient and people-friendly administration.
In Abdullah’s “Second Fifty Days”, Malaysians want to see the Cabinet give the new Prime Minister 100 per cent support to declare an all-out war against corruption by taking at least four measures:
Abdullah needs a reliable group of advisers to let him know that there is a vast gulf between his promises and deeds of a clean, incorruptible and efficient civil service. This is best illustrated by Abdullah’s surprise visit to the Immigration Department, which was more of a “Public Relations” exercise than having any root-and-branch effect in changing the mindset of the civil service, whether in the Immigration Department, the Home Ministry or the whole government as evident from widespread public complaints that little had changed in government red tape, bureaucracy, inefficiency and insensitivity since then.
Most serious of all, Abdullah is still prevented from hearing the “truth” from the ordinary rakyat. Although his statement that he wanted the people to tell him the truth came like a breath of fresh air, there had been no perceptible change in the system of governance to encourage a free two-way flow of information between the government and the governed.
If the people have not been empowered to tell him the truth through the ushering in of a new era of press freedom in Malaysia, with the voices of the Opposition and dissent in the civil society continue to be suppressed in the mainstream media, both printed or electronic, how can Abdullah hear the truth from the people?
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman