Malaysians asking two questions: “Which is the ‘bigger fish’ - Kasitah Gaddam or Eric Chia?” and “Will all ‘big fishes’ be prosecuted without fear or favour, or is there a new selective ‘pick and choose’ in the prosecution of ‘big fishes’”?
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Thursday): With the second high-profile arrest of the Land and Co-operative Development Minister, Tan Sri Kasitah Gaddam – a second Tan Sri – the immediate question Malaysians ask is: “Is this the ‘big fish?’”, which is immediately followed by the question: “Which is ‘the bigger fish’ – Kasitah Gaddam or Eric Chia?” This is no presumption of guilt as under our system of criminal justice, a person is innocent until proven guilty.
There is no doubt that as Minister, Kasitah outranks Chia but he is not only a Cabinet lightweight. In terms of actual piscine weight, he is not in the league of Chia. However, I do not regard Chia as “big fish” but only of middling size.
Another question which quickly crops up is more pertinent – “Will all ‘big fishes’ be prosecuted without fear or favour, or is there a new selective ‘pick and choose’ in the prosecution of ‘big fishes’”?
On Monday, I was at the National Archives in Kuala Lumpur to look up the various language newspapers 22 years ago, particularly the period between July 16 to October 26, 1981, to confirm the eerie similarity of the “first hundred days” of the fourth and fifth Prime Ministers of Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, although 22 years apart – as both started with a bang in the revamp of the civil service and the war against corruption.
In his “first hundred days” interview to the media on 27th October 1981, speaking on the war against corruption, Mahathir said:
“If we find that some person cannot explain why he has more wealth than he should have, some action will have to be taken against him. That’s the only way.”
All that Abdullah needs to do to make a success of his pledge for a “clean, incorruptible, modest and beyond suspicion” administration is to fully empower the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) and the Attorney-General to scrupulously follow the simple anti-corruption principles enunciated by Mahathir 22 years ago, but never implemented.
The former Sabah Land Development Board general manager Datuk Wasli Mohd Said has also been charged today on five counts of corruption in the Kota Kinabalu sessions court, one of which is related to the corruption charge against Kasitah.
In the 1994 Sabah state general election, one of the “Sabah Baru” pledges made by the Barisan Nasional was zero corruption in the state. Instead of zero corruption, Sabah swiftly gained the reputation in the past decade as among the states with the worst corruption problem, with a once wealthy state reduced to “the same economic league as Kelantan” – to quote a top Barisan Nasional leader - as a result of swarms of “political locusts”.
In the past ten years, the ACA in Sabah had initiated countless corruption investigations, as the administration of every Chief Minister under the two-year rotation system seemed to have spawned an unique set and legacy creating more misgovernment, abuses of power and even corruption to the extent that an article in the Sunday Star in February 2001 about Sabah’s “power-sharing system” had this cynical comment about the Chief Ministership rotation system:
“Ask politicians and journalists about the rotation system, and they will jokingly say: ‘One CM took the hills, one gave away the sea, one signed off the valleys and another bet on watery deals.’
“They cannot help but compare what veteran politicians say about the Usno-Berjaya-PBS governments: ‘Usno took the meat of the timber, Berjaya the bones and PBS the crumbs with Barisan looking at leftovers.’”
On Sabah, the question all Sabahans and Malaysians are entitled to ask Abdullah is whether the new Prime Minister is prepared to deliver the Barisan Nasional’s 10-year-old election pledge of zero corruption in Sabah now, and not after the Sabah state general election.
If Abdullah adopts the simple anti-corruption rule enunciated by Mahathir 22 years ago, of acting against those who have wealth incommensurate with their known sources of income, how many current Ministers would survive the test?
Is this the reason why no Minister is prepared to go beyond lip-service support to give full-hearted endorsement to Abdullah’s campaign for a new political culture of public integrity with zero tolerance for corruption by setting the leadership example with all Cabinet Ministers publicly declaring their assets and those of their next-of-kin?
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman