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Saturday, July 1, 2017

The scandal king?

The expanded administrative powers given to the government under Dr Mahathir Mohamad helped distract from government irregularities and was at the expense of accountability.
COMMENT
mahathir-malaysiaBy Lim Sue Goan
The government has set up a royal commission of inquiry into the US$10 billion forex loss incurred by Bank Negara. This has served to refresh many people’s old memories of many a scandal in this country over the past three decades that would have very extensive ramifications if we were to pursue all of them.
Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s authoritarian rule set democracy back by many years, and scandals which had taken place when he was in office were too many and increasingly unfathomable.
When Mahathir was deputy prime minister in 1980, the cabinet approved a secretive tin market manipulation plan, allowing the government to conduct physical tin and futures dealings through Maminco throughout 1981. The country incurred a US$253 million loss as a result of an unexpected collapse in tin prices. Mahathir admitted to this as late as 1986.
After Mahathir took over as the prime minster, he introduced a heavy industries programme, setting up Perwaja Steel that eventually suffered a RM10 billion loss. He admitted the mistake only in 2002.
Mahathir was allegedly involved in the Bumiputra Malaysia Finance Ltd’s RM2.5 billion criminal breach of trust case in 1983, according to a CIA document declassified earlier this year.
The bailout of Malaysia Airlines also ate into much of the country’s resources. During the seven-year leadership of Tajudin Ramli, the national carrier incurred a cumulative loss in excess of RM8 billion.
In 2001, when MAS was on the brink of a liquidation crisis, its shares plummeted from RM8 to RM3.68, and the Mahathir administration bought 32% of shares at RM8 per share for a total of RM1.8 billion from Tajuddin.
In addition, the RM4.6 billion PKFZ scandal has not been accounted for to this day, with none of the accused convicted.
Thanks to the already slanting independence of the three branches of government, Mahathir remained largely unperturbed despite all the scandals.
Among his “masterpieces” were Ops Lalang that saw the arrest of politicians and closure of three daily newspapers that has since eroded the power of the fourth estate in overseeing government operations, along with a judicial crisis as a result of the removal of the Lord President Tun Salleh Abas in 1988.
All these have resulted in remarkably expanded administrative powers, not to mention his allegedly racist politics that distracted the public’s attention from government irregularities at the expense of accountability and rule of law spirit.
As a consequence, this country has lost hundreds of billions of ringgit from unsettled cases, putting the government heavily in debt.
The irregularities during Mahathir’s time had everything to do with Umno’s policies back then.
Mahathir wanted to install bumi entrepreneurs and he therefore awarded countless numbers of government contracts to companies with political links, thus giving rise to nepotism.
Johor Bahru MP Shahrir Samad who supported the so-called Team B during the Umno infighting in 1987, had been previously reported as saying that corruption, nepotism and the widening wealth gap were not by-products of the New Economic Policy (NEP), but Mahathir’s leadership.
Mohd Sidek Hassan, chairman of a special task force to probe BNM’s forex losses, said only a royal commission of inquiry (RCI) would have more power to gain access to relevant documents and reveal more details.
But the thing is, could the establishment of a RCI possibly bring out the truth and see that justice is done?
I remember a RCI set up by former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who succeeded Mahathir, during the early days of his premiership with the intention of creating a world-class police force.
After the RCI presented its findings, the most crucial proposal it made for the setting up of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) never materialised.
On June 1, 2012, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced the setting up of a RCI to probe the chronic illegal migrant issue in Sabah. The RCI submitted the report to the King on May 14, 2014, but the report was only made public more than six months later on Dec 3.
The cabinet subsequently formed a technical committee headed by Joseph Pairin Kitingan to study the proposals made by the RCI.
Even though the RCI highlighted weaknesses in government institutions, so far no one has been charged, and the RCI could not even be sure who should be held responsible for “Project IC”.
Investigations into irregularities must not be selective or subject to any political considerations, and the government must have sufficient political courage to ensure the government’s integrity is maintained.
Mahathir’s “political legacy” has done immeasurable damage to the country, and we can only put a complete stop to the endless stream of scandals by restoring our destroyed system. But, how long more do we have to wait for this to happen?
Lim Sue Goan is deputy executive chief editor of Sin Chew Daily. -FMT

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