Abdullah’s greatest challenge is to ensure that the next  Prime Minister will not have to make the same “first hundred days” promises of a clean, incorruptible, open, accountable and  efficient government which was first made by Mahathir 22 years ago and have to be repeated by him

DAP Public Forum “Abdullah’s 100 Days – A Report Card”
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling JayaMonday): The JUST President and former Parti Keadilan Nasional Deputy President, Dr. Chandra Muzaffar started his appraisal of the “First Hundred Days” of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as Prime Minister in his article in Malaysikini today  with the following introduction:

“If Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has made an impact in the 100 days that he has been in office, it is because his agenda for the nation reflects the aspirations of the people. He has promised to improve the public delivery system, eradicate corruption, enhance transparency and strengthen inter-ethnic harmony”

This paragraph, word for word except for the change of name, could equally be used to appraise the first hundred days of Abdullah’s predecessor, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad  as Prime Minister 22 years ago!

I spent today at the National Archives, a journey “down the memory lane”, to look up the various language newspapers 22 years ago, particularly the period between July 16 to October 26, 1981, the “first hundred days” of the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.

I would recommend to all who are interested about the politics of the present and the future to make such a “journey down the memory lane”, for they will find how strikingly similar were  the two “political honeymoons” of the fourth and fifth Malaysian  new Prime Minister although 22 years apart – the high hopes of the people raised by  the pledges on the same issues of a clean, incorruptible, open, accountable, efficient, people-oriented, responsible and responsive government!

The “first hundred days” 22 years ago also started with a war against corruption and a revamp of the civil service, encapsulated  by the now discredited ABC – amanah, bersih, cekap -  slogan of a clean, efficient and trustworthy government.  The civil service name tag and clock-in and clock-work system were introduced to ensure an efficient public administration, while the anti-corruption agency declared a war against corruption with  top civil  servants required to declare their assets.

Twenty-two years down the line, all these earlier promises of a clean, incorruptible, open, accountable, efficient and people-oriented government have come to naught, with people groaning under an even more inefficient and  insensitive civil service while corruption and financial scandals have worsened more than thousand-fold, from millions or rarely tens of millions of ringgit to billions and even tens of billions of ringgit!

What went so horribly wrong to  the great promises of the “first hundred days” of the new prime minister in 1981 that the past 22 years proved to be wasted two decades as far as a “clean, incorruptible, modest and beyond suspicion” administration is concerned, and what lessons have been learnt to ensure that the sincere and good intentions of Abdullah for a clean, incorruptible, open, accountable, efficient and people-oriented government would not also come to nought?

Abdullah’s greatest challenge is to ensure that the next  Prime Minister will not have to make the same “first hundred days” promises of a clean, incorruptible, open, accountable and  efficient government which was first made by Mahathir 22 years ago and have to be repeated by him – by institutionalizing  such a system of clean, accountable  and good governance and which is regarded as  an undisputed  right of Malaysians, not promises still to be delivered in the unknown future! 

Abdullah’s image of “one man versus the system” in his call for a clean, incorruptible, open, accountable, efficient and people-oriented government, without whole-hearted support from his cabinet or the government, was vividly highlighted when he was compared most inappropriately to former Chinese Premier, Zhu Rongji and a Chinese historic character, Hai Rui by the MCA President, Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting at the joint MCA-Gerakan Chinese New Year Open House in Penang recently. 

When Zhu Rongji became Chinese premier in 1998, he declared war against corruption and asked for a hundred coffins, 99 for the corrupt in high places and one for himself – underlining the high stakes and personal risks involved in any all-out war against corruption.  Has Abdullah demonstrated that he is prepared to go as far as Zhu Rongji  in his war against corruption?  All I can say is that Abdullah has not emulated Zhu Rongji to ask  for a hundred coffins, 99 for the corrupt and powerful and one for himself. 

Ka Ting’s comparison of Abdullah is scandalous.  Hai Rui was a Ming dynasty official famous for his  honesty, uprightness and incorruptibility but the classic example of the failure of “one man versus the system”, as he himself became victim to a corrupt, decadent and oppressive system of governance immortalized in Chinese stories and operas by the episode “Hai Rui Dismissed from Office”.(Hai Rui ba guan) 

Firstly, Abdullah is not Hai Rui. Although he did not hold very high office, Hai Rui was blunt and fearless. What made him immortal was his scathing memorial to the reigning emperor, Shizong, charging the throne with neglect of government, abuses of power and extravagant misuse of state funds, and buying a coffin to demonstrate his preparedness to pay the price for his memorial.  Abdullah is not Hai Rui or he would have told Mahathir bluntly and fearlessly his concerns about corruption, government inefficiency and incompetence when he was serving under the previous Prime Minister  – but then he might not be Prime Minister today. 

Secondly, we do not want Abdullah to  suffer the fate of Hai Rui of being dismissed from office and victimized by a corrupt, decadent and oppressive system. On the other hand, we want Abdullah to succeed  as Prime Minister to clean up the corrupt system and make every Minister and public servant a Hai Rui – honest, upright and incorruptible. 

My greatest concern on Abdullah’s “First Hundred Days” is that although he has called on  the people tell him the truth, he has not created the conditions where the people could tell him the truth – ushering in  press freedom and full government respect for the right to information of Malaysians. 

Anyone who goes through the press archives of the past two decades would be struck by the air of greater press freedom during Mahathir’s  first hundred days 22 years ago – which was completely snuffed out only six years later in the infamous Operation Lalang  - as compared to the situation today, where there has been no change to the stifling press condition before and after Abdullah’s premiership.   I hope Abdullah will make the ushering  of press freedom his first top priority in his post-hundred days.                                                                                         

Going through the newspaper archives of  the “first hundred days” 22 years ago, I came across the news of the pardon of former UMNO strongman Harun Idris and release from jail, without having to complete his six-year jail sentence for corruption, and the restoration of his civil and political rights by immediately assuming the office of UMNO Vice President. 

One of the greatest injustices in Malaysian history is the case of former deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, and it is within the powers of Abdullah in his first months in office to end this  grave injustice, restore  Anwar his personal freedom and  his civic and political rights.   In this connection, the pardon of the father of the Pakistani atomic bomb, A.Q. Khan by President Musharaff before Khan was even charged should be food for thought by Abdullah.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman