Transparency International Malaysia National Integrity Medal award ceremony a painful event as it reminded Malaysians that Tunku’s 13-year premiership could produce two recipients from his Cabinet for unquestionable integrity but not a single Minister in the 22 years of Mahathir premiership
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Sunday): The Transparency International Malaysia National Integrity Medal award ceremony on Saturday night to honour posthumously Tun Dr. Ismail Abdul Rahman, Tun Tan Siew Sin and Tun Ismail Mohamed Ali for their unquestionable integrity throughout their services to the nation was a painful event as it reminded Malaysians that Bapa Malaysia Tunku Abdul Rahman’s 13-year premiership could produce two recipients from his Cabinet but not a single Minister from the 22 years of Mahathir premiership.
In his address at the ceremony, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad made the startling confession about one major downside of his 22-year premiership when he lamented that the country had “seen a steady deterioration and erosion of ethical standards of behaviour in both the public and business sectors, with predictable consequences for sustainable human development, not only here in Malaysia, but unfortunately in many of the countries we look up to”.
During the recent Ampang Jaya Municipal Council controversy over the head of its enforcement unit, the then Deputy Housing and Local Government Minister, Datuk M. Kayveas suggested that the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) should conduct a study on local council presidents and officers who led the life-styles of the rich, as some of them owned expensive cars, lived in homes costing RM2 million to RM3 million, and went on sponsored overseas holidays. Kayveas was right except that he seemed to have forgotten the saying that those who stay or are in the company of those in “glass houses” should not throw stones!
Tun Dr. Ismail and Tun Tan Siew Sin would have passed with flying colours any ACA investigation at any time of their services in Cabinet whether they had lived beyond their means totally disproportionate to their known sources of income, but how many of the Ministers, Mentri-Mentri Besar and Chief Ministers during the 22-year premiership of Mahathir would have passed such ACA investigations?
In his speech at the ceremony to honour the three Tuns, Mahathir sought to justify why no “sharks” of corruption had been arrested and punished during his long premiership by challenging the belief that the “big fish” must be caught while the “minnows” were considered unimportant, contending that this was wrong as the culture of corruption began with the minnows. He said: “Besides, when corruption is tolerated among the minnows, the big fish are encouraged and society accepts the practice, and it becomes a culture.”
This is a pathetic excuse for the lack of ACA action against the “big fish” during the past two decades, and totally contradictory to the promise made by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim when he was Acting Prime Minister in the two fateful months in 1997 when shepherding the Anti-Corruption Bill 1997 with the pledge to the nation: "Now is the time to act…we will catch the big ones and we will catch the small ones".
Ironically and tragically, the only “big fish” to be caught during the 22-year Mahathir premiership was none other than Anwar Ibrahim himself, who was convicted and jailed for six years for a corruption offence which did not involve a single sen or had anything to do with any monetary or material consideration whatsoever!
During the first major financial scandal of the Mahathir premiership, the RM2.5 billion Bumiputra Malaysia Finance scandal which caused the murder of an up-and-coming, young, conscientious and model management executive, Jalil Ibrahim, Mahathir made the prophetic comment that it was “a heinous crime without criminals” – as since then, the “heinous crimes” of financial scandals had continued to increase in scale reaching tens of billions of ringgit but still “without criminals”!
In his speech, Mahathir said that Malaysia must compare its public behaviour with Finland, which came out as the world’s least corrupt and most ethical country yearly in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.
He said: “I know we have some way to go, but given the level of public support the Anti-Corruption Agency now enjoys, and the wide-ranging anti-corruption measures now firmly in place, we can get to be among the highest ranking countries.”
Mahathir’s recognition of the work of the global anti-corruption NGO coalition, Transparency International (TI), is most welcome for this is the first time in seven years that he had good words for it or its annual Corruption Perception Index (CPI).
When TI released its first CPI in 1996, placing Malaysia as No. 23 out of 41 countries, Mahathir denounced the Berlin-based organization and its CPI for their European bias and ulterior agenda against the non-White world, asserting that European countries were more corrupt than any other and that if a similar watchdog group was set up in Malaysia, it would find that countries in Europe were the most corrupt!
Mahathir’s belated recognition and commendation of TI is all the more remarkable as in the past seven years, Malaysia’s ranking on the TI’s CPI had fallen well below the original 23rd placing, viz. 23rd in 1996, 26th in 1997, 32nd in 1998, 29th in 1999, 32nd in 2000, 36th in 2001 and 33rd in 2002.
With some two weeks to go to mark his full 22nd anniversary as Prime Minister and four months before he steps down from the highest political office in the land after 22 years, Mahathir should revisit the hopes and aspirations of the country when the Anti-Corruption Act was passed in 1997: that the country develop a new culture of zero-tolerance for corruption in high public places; that Malaysia aim to be ranked among the top 10 least corrupt nations in the world in the annual TI Corruption Perception Index and that the Anti-Corruption Agency be elevated to be an independent and autonomous body with real teeth and powers to fight corruption.
If Mahathir can get the government to embrace these three goals in his last months in office, he will leave behind a legacy which he and the nation can rightly feel proud.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman