There is no international media conspiracy against Abdullah, who should face up to increasing reports expressing disappointment about his failure to “walk to talk” to launch a “zero-tolerance for corruption” clean-up campaign

Speech (3)
Parliamentary Opposition Leader and MP for Ipoh Timor
by Lim Kit Siang

(Dewan Rakyat, Tuesday):  Yesterday I asked during question time whether there is an international media conspiracy against the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in view of the spate of reports expressing disappointment about his failure to “walk the talk” to launch a “zero-tolerance for corruption” clean-up campaign – when for the past year or more, he had been receiving an excellent international press. 

A year ago, Abdullah was the darling of the international media, who could do no wrong. Today, he is in danger of slipping into a vortex where he is difficult to do things  right. 

This is how the Singapore Straits Times under “Successor in good form – Abdullah off to flying start but many challenges await new PM” put it on  29th December 2003: 

“A few months ago, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi looked like a prime-minister-in-waiting with some serious question marks: He was too indecisive; he was too nitice; he was a pushover….Today, he looks like the Prime Minister with everything.” 

Seventeen months after Abdullah’s premiership, the international media perceptions have changed. 

The International Herald Tribune on its March 29, 2005 report entitled “Leader Underwhelms Malaysians” by Thomas Fuller said a year ago, the Prime Minister was basking in an election victory that gave his coalition 90 per cent of seats in Parliament, but now, “with little to show for his promises to fight corruption, Malaysians are showing signs of impatience”. 

London’s Financial Times on April 12, 2005, under the heading “Mission impossible to stop the rot in Malaysia” was even more damaging, opening right from the start:  

“We should have guessed when we drove to our interview with the amiable Abdullah Badawi last year that he was going to have a tough job as prime minister of Malaysia.

“This was not because of anything he said. On the contrary, he sensibly vowed to cut the budget deficit and tackle corruption. The clues to Mr Abdullah's present difficulties were lounging on the roadside between the airport and his home. A gang of policemen, in broad daylight, was extorting sums of 20 ringgit - about $5 (£2.80) - from passing taxi drivers, including ours, on pain of prosecution for trumped-up traffic offences.

“Petty bribe-taking is just the visible part of a scourge that includes dubious land deals and multi-million dollar pay-offs for government construction contracts. In a small African dictatorship, such corruption might be shrugged off as normal. In Malaysia - a successful south-east Asian electronics exporter, tourist destination and constitutional monarchy with ambitions to be an advanced economy by 2020 - it is embarrassing and incongruous.”

Even more embarrassing and serious, down  the report, is the statement  that the Prime Minister’s close associates “are now saying he is a big disappointment”, that “he has abandoned the fight against corruption after the initial fanfare”, and that “Despite a prime ministerial promise, there is still much to do: there is still no system of open, competitive tendering for government projects”.

But the most damaging are not the writings of the foreign journalists, but the statement the UMNO Youth deputy leader Jamaluddin  Khairy in  the International Herald Tribune report “Leader underwhelms Malaysians”, viz: 

“As for criticism that the government is not pushing hard enough against corruption, Jamaluddin said Abdullah decided after the election not to dig up the past. ‘We decided not to focus on retroactive actions,’ he said, ‘but rather look forward’.” 

Although Khairy has clarified that he never used the word “immunity”, the import of his statement is very clear – that after the unprecedented landslide victory in the  March 2004 general election, Abdullah decided to give immunity to all “old corruption cases” involving Barisan Nasional leaders by not “digging up the past” and to be only concerned about “new corruption cases”.  It is significant that while claiming that he never used the word “immunity”, he did not deny the veracity of the quotation! 

When pressed on this issue in Parliament, Nazri had repeatedly denied that there was any such policy of  granting de facto  “immunity” to old corruption cases. If so, isn’t Khairy as much guilty as Malaysiakini in being “a liar” in deliberately publishing a false report? Is Khairy being investigated by the AG’s Chambers?

Although Nazri is a Cabinet Minister while Khairy is not, Khairy’s statement has greater credibility as he is no ordinary UMNO Youth deputy leader, being the Prime Minister’s son-in-law and key strategist in Abdullah’s policy inner circle privy to  information and exercising  greater influence and power not enjoyed by the overwhelming majority of the Cabinet Ministers, including Nazri. 

This is why only  Abdullah can  clarify Khairy’s statement  that he had made a policy decision after the March general election  last year to grant immunity to all corruption cases involving the high and mighty, impliedly  including the 18 “high-profile cases”, as part of the policy to “look forward” and “not to dig up the past” in the anti-corruption campaign and to justify such a policy. 

It is most unfortunate that the Prime Minister had not availed of the various opportunities in the current meeting to come to Parliament to clear the air about immunity being given to  old corruption cases, especially in view of the widespread national and international perception that he had failed to “walk the talk” in the past 17 months with regard to his pledge and commitment to bring to book the corrupt and crooked, regardless or rank or status. 

Let us face the brute reality – Parliament, the country and the government. Just because there are  increasing international media  reports expressing disappointment about his failure to “walk to talk” to launch a “zero-tolerance for corruption” clean-up campaign, there is no international media conspiracy against Abdullah. This is a perception which is widely,  deeply and genuinely felt both  inside and outside  the country, which must be frontally and courageous addressed. 

This is why I had openly invited the Prime Minister  last weekend to come to Parliament to explain how he proposes to resuscitate his  17-month anti-corruption campaign which has lost steam without ever  picking up any real momentum 

The confirmation by the Minister for Energy, Water and Communications Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik last Thursday  that the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission are investigating the Malaysiakini’s April Fool prank, as “It was a bad joke” with “malicious intention”, could only mean one thing – that many  Cabinet Ministers want their “pound of flesh” for the fright and panic they suffered during those few minutes on April Fool’s Day when even  Ministers believed that they  might be arrested and prosecuted on corruption charges. 

If the Cabinet is comprised of Ministers who are  squeaky clean, with Malaysia internationally recognized among the world’s top ten least-corrupt nations in the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index and not keep plunging from the 23rd placing in 1995 to 37th ranking in 2003 and further down to 39th position one year after Abdullah’s administration, Malaysiakini’s three-minute April Fool prank would not only have no credibility, the Ministers could have a hearty laugh at the online media’s poor choice of a damp squib as a  subject. 

But Cabinet Ministers cannot afford to laugh at Malaysiakini’s April Fook prank because it hit home too deep and hard, sparking fear and even panic that it might be true. 

This is what Abdullah should be concerned about, grasping  the opportunity to conduct a long-overdue review of  the increasingly widespread perception,  both nationally and internationally, that 17 months after his premiership and  despite the two corruption charges against former Land and Co-operatives Development Minister Kasitah Gadam and former Perwaja chief Eric Chia, a  high-powered “zero tolerance for corruption” campaign  regardless of rank or status seemed to have fizzled out even before a proper take-off.  

In fact, in his also long-overdue Cabinet reshuffle, one criteria he should employ is to drop Ministers who clamour the loudest,  particularly in the secrecy of Cabinet meetings,   for action to be taken against Malaysiakini’s April Fool prank when they should be thankful to the online media for reminding the government that time is fast running out as far as fulfilling the key pledge of “zero-tolerance corruption” campaign is concerned. 

It is most regrettable that the government has refused to seriously consider an important step to restore public confidence in the anti-corruption campaign – the elevation of the status of the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) to make it fully autonomous from the government-of-the-day, and answerable only to Parliament through a Parliamentary Select Committee on National Integrity comprising of equal number of parliamentarians from the government and opposition benches. 

On 1st May 2003, the press, including Utusan Malaysia reported the Selangor State Assembly uproar the previous day, where the DAP State Assembly Opposition Leader and Assemblyman for Bandar Klang, Teng Chang Khim, menyentoh pemberian tanah seluas 0.4 hektar seorang kepada 107 orang pemohon, termasuk anggota Exco dan beberapa pegawai kanan kerajaan. 

This is Utusan Malaysia’s report: 

“Bercakap kepada pemberita di lobi Dewan Undangan Negeri disini hari ini, Mohamad Khir (Toyo, Mentri Besar Selangor) membertahu, semasa Exco kerajaan negeri membuat keputusan itu, beliau telah meninggalkan bilik mesyuarat selepas mengisytiharkan kepentingan. 

“’Tuduhan pembangkang kata saya tak keluar mesyuarat tak betul, selalunya bila saya tinggalkan mesyuarat Timbalan Menteri Besar atau Datuk Tang See Hang akan mempengerusikan, itu dah jadi procedure,’ katanya.”

Mohamad Khir’s claim had been immediately rebutted by the then Selangor Deputy Mentri Besar, Dato Dr. Zainal Abidin Ahmad, who wrote to the ACA Director-General Dato Zulkifli Mohd Noor the same day stating that the Selangor Mentri Besar had not told the truth, and that in the land case concerned, although the Mentri Besar and the Exco concerned had declared their interests, none of them had left the meeting chamber and that the meeting continued and was chaired by the Mentri Besar to approve the land alienation. 

This is clearly an abuse of power and  act of corruption as demonstrated by decided cases, but the question is why no action had been taken by the ACA since the letter by the then Deputy Mentri Besar to the ACA Director-General dated May 1, 2003? 

When top ACA officers are given state honours on the recommendation of the state Mentri Besar, members of the public cannot but question the independence or even bias of the ACA. 

Last week, the UMNO Assemblyman for Taman Templer Ahmad Bahari, alleged that Mohd Khir Toyo misused his powers to award 89 ha of land belonging to state subsidiary, Shah Alam Properties (SAP) Sdn. Bhd. To several private companies without the approvalo of the state executive council. 

Although Mohd Khir had issued a denial, has the ACA in the public interest to uphold national integrity started investigations on its own, without having to wait for anyone to lodge a report, as it had done in many cases in the past? 

I hope what I said about the deplorable state of corruption could be given a serious reply, if not during the second reading of the supplementary estimates bill, at least during the committee stage under the Prime Minister’s Department when on supplementary vote for the ACA.


*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman