Abdullah should not just be Hai Rui, a Ming dynasty official famous for his incorruptibility but was removed from office by a corrupt system after a short tenure, but must create a system of national integrity where every Minister and public officer is a modern-day Hai Rui
- at Bukit Mertajam DAP Chinese New Year 2004 celebration
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Tuesday): The Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi made a very powerful speech on a clean, honest and incorruptible government to the Fifth Public Service Council Meeting on 9th January where he called on political leaders to lead by example in combating corruption, declaring that there will be no place in his administration for political leaders who cakap tak serupa bikin (do not do as they say).
Declaring that it was sheer hypocrisy to tell government officials to behave when the political leaders did not uphold good work ethics, Abdullah asked: “If the political leaders are themselves involved in corruption or are inefficient in carrying out their duties, how can they expect the officials under them to serve the people well?”
Tomorrow is the 90th day since Abdullah was sworn in as the fifth Prime Minister, with his promise of a “clean, incorruptible, modest and beyond suspicion” administration. However, there is nothing to show in the past three months as no “shark” of corruption had been arrested and Abdullah continued to be the lone voice in the administration calling for a clean, honest and incorruptible government with little or mere lip-service support from other Cabinet Ministers or top government officials.
All Cabinet Ministers knew that for the past three months, questions had been asked not only by the DAP but by the Malaysian public as to whether Abdullah would be able to get total and unalloyed support for his pledge of a “clean and incorruptible” government from a Cabinet which must bear responsibility for Malaysia’s poor international ranking in the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, plunging from 23rd to 37th placing in nine years from 1995 to 2003!
Yet, the Cabinet had not taken any step or action to lead by example to convince Malaysians that all Ministers have undergone a fundamental change of mind and heart on the corruption issue – where they are prepared to demonstrate public support for Abdullah’s campaign for a clean and incorruptible government with the leadership example of all Ministers publicly declaring their assets to underline their integrity, and not cakap tak serupa bikin.
In his speech at the joint Gerakan-MCA Chinese New Year in Penang, MCA President Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting praised Abdullah and likened him to Hai Rui, which the New Straits Times described as “a politician of China’s Ming Dynasty, who abhorred corruption and had enforced discipline, redressed mishandled cases and checked local despots in a successful attempt to boost public morale”. (New Straits Times 24.1.04)
I am not so sure that likening Abdullah to Hai Rui is a good or happy comparison, as Abdullah, being the Prime Minister of a modern country, should not just be a Hai Rui, a Ming dynasty official famous for his incorruptibility but was removed from office by a corrupt system after a short tenure, but must create a system of national integrity where every Minister and public officer is a modern-day Hai Rui!
After his short tenure as a governor of ten prefectures, Hai Rui fell victim to a corrupt and autocratic system of government and was impeached and removed from his post – and the romanticized versions of “Hui Rui Leaves Office” (Hai Rui ba guan) have become a staple diet of Chinese stories and dramas.
Hai Rui is a tragic character for although he is famous for his honesty, uprightness and incorruptibility, he is the classic example of the failure of “one man versus the system” – totally helpless in changing or making any significant dent in a very corrupt and oppressive system of governance.
There is something amiss in a Cabinet Minister praising the Prime Minister by likening him to Hai Rui, as it conveys the message that the goal of a clean and incorruptible government is a very lonely campaign of Abdullah, when it should be the collective commitment of the entire Cabinet by turning every Minister into a Hai Rui!
Abdullah cannot succeed in his pledge of a clean and incorruptible administration and would be swallowed by the system if he is the only Hai Rui in the government – as success can only come if every Cabinet Minister and government leaders sets the example of being a modern-day Hui Rui who does not compromise the principles of public service and national duty whether for fame or wealth.
Are all the other Cabinet Ministers of Abdullah, whether DPM Najib Razak, Rafidah Aziz, Ong Ka Ting, Samy Vellu or Lim Keng Yaik prepared to be modern-day Hai Ruis – starting with the public declaration of their assets and their next-of-kin?
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman