Can UMNO wipe out corruption?
by Fan Yew Teng
Aliran Monthly 2003:10
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Mahathir was reported to have told an UMNO gathering, “I have urged, pleaded, cried. This time there is no more urging, no more pleading, no more crying. I ask for your support and the support of all UMNO members for the action which we will take against those engaging in corruption.”
On the surface, Mahathir’s words on the subject of money politics and corruption in UMNO sounded earnest enough, although they were not as melodramatic as the occasions when he cried.
And yet one must humbly ask how serious UMNO and Mahathir's successor really are now about the need to eradicate money politics from the party.
Surely the new UMNO leader, Abdullah Badawi, who is also the country’s prime minister, can seriously reduce money politics not only in UMNO but in the whole country, if he is serious and sincere about it. After all, he has all the powers, hasn’t he?
What the UMNO leader should do about money politics is not merely to bellyache about it at big UMNO meetings once every few years, or for the purpose of making an intra-party political point, or to attempt to score one against the Opposition. One can perhaps concede that as a politician he has to do one or all of those things once in a while. Unless, of course, he manages to transcend himself into a statesman in the truest sense of the word.
Merely telling UMNO members that the party is serious about curbing money politics to prevent the people from losing faith in UMNO is not enough.
This legal requirementof office-bearers to declare assets should then be extended to all office-bearers in all other political parties both in the government as well as the Opposition, NGOs and statutory bodies, in order to be fair to everybody and to achieve the highest possible transparency in the land.
This means that all Cabinet ministers, deputy ministers, parliamentary and political and private secretaries, Members of Parliament, Chief Ministers and Menteris Besar, State Assemblymen/women, State Exco Members, appointed members to city, municipal, town and local councils will have to declare their assets to the ACA. This should include all civil servants and judges. Any Malaysian who wants to know the financial assets of any minister or any local councillor or a judge or the attorney-general should have the right to obtain such yearly updated information from the ACA.
Those officials who have nothing to hide should not and need not object to such a rigorous requirement. Only people who have something or lots to hide would get jittery about such a practice.
There is a serious anomaly in the way assets are declared by Cabinet ministers at present, for instance. Members of the Cabinet are required to declare their assets to the prime minister. If, for one reason or another, a prime minister does not want to question the ill-gotten wealth of a minister or that a particular minister is living way beyond his means, the people are kept in the dark about it. Who benefits and who loses then?
Equally serious is the fact that at present the prime minister declares his assets to nobody. Why? Is Caesar above suspicion? The prime minister’s assets should be declared assnually to the ACA, just like everybody else’s.
Such a serious anomaly involving the prime minister should be rectified immediately. I challenge him to do this before he talks again about money politics and corruption.
Second, the ACA should be made a fully and truly independent investigative and prosecuting body, and should not be a department under the Prime Minister’s Office. As long as the ACA is not fully and truly independent but a mere department under the jurisdiction of the prime minister, so long will the public perception of the fight against corruption in Malaysia be one that it is not as serious as it is officially claimed.
And it is not merely a matter of the people’s perception, although it is most important. It is also a perception by politicians themselves, including of course UMNO politicians.
And, if politicians — especially UMNO politicians — continue to perceive that the campaign against corruption and money politics is not as serious as it ought to be or officially claimed, and that in fact the campaign itself is full of anomalies and flaws, then they can only be fortified by the `don’t worry, be happy’ attitude. They would feel free to devise ways and means to circumvent existing weak rules and regulations.
Thus, the ACA must be made fully and truly independent, responsible to Parliament, not the prime minister.
Closely linked to the above requirement is the need to abolish the Official Secrets Act and to replace it with a Freedom of Information Act. We cannot be a transparent society if transparency is punishable under the law.
Third, UMNO in particular and the government in general must do away completely with the unhealthy and corrupt practice of rewarding the spoils of office to party loyalists and faithfuls. No less a person than Mahathir himself has admitted, whether reluctantly or inadvertently or otherwise, that this has been for many years the practice!
How on earth can you curb money politics and corruption if contracts and development projects are promised to party loyalists or rewarded on the basis of party affiliation?
Is it any wonder that UMNO is sinking in the pond of filthy money politics? As an UMNO Youth leader once admitted, many young Malays do not want to join UMNO these days because they see it as a party of corruption.
UMNO started off 57 years ago as a party of sacrifice, courage, principles and ideals to help the Malay community. The spirit of sacrifice has, to a large extent, evaporated; the principles and ideals have mostly disappeared; and whatever courage left is linked to money and power - power to make more money to gain more power to make yet larger sums of money to ...
Can UMNO re-invent itself? That depends on how soon and how deeply it is prepared to reform itself
And that in turn depends on whether it still has the political will. Last but not least is whether that political will - assuming that UMNO still has some of it left - is buttered with sincerity or yet more opportunism.
For now I would like to leave with this. In Chapter 10 on "Protector or Betrayer" in my book The UMNO Drama: Power Struggles in Malaysia (published in 1989), I quoted Haji Suhaimi Said, a former PAS legal adviser as saying, "The privatisation and Malaysia Incorporated concepts can be considered as the early burial prayer for UMNO. And when those concepts are fully implemented, this burial prayer can be read for UMNO."
I ended the chapter with these lines by one Richard Armour:
That money talks
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