Questions For Dr.M
By P. Gunasegaran, Group Exec Editor, The Edge
(It is only fair to have a balanced view, below was the timely piece in The Edge, ... people who live in glass houses...)
Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is only in his third year as Prime Minister but his predecessor Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad already has four questions for his administration to answer. They relate to Proton’s sale of MV Agusta; the exit of the former Proton chief executive officer; approved permits for cars; and scrapping of the bridge project. While we would like to hear a better explanation from the government than what has been given so far, Abdullah should not be the only one answeringquestions. I am sure we all have questions for Mahathir too — on how he ran the country for 22 years. Here’s a list of 22 questions or rather 22 groups of questions we would like to ask Mahathir, one for each of his 22 years in power:
1) On clean government. You came to power in 1981 and introduced the slogan “bersih, cekap dan amanah” (clean, efficient and trustworthy). What did you do to further that? Did you make the Anti-Corruption Agency more independent and effective? Did you ensure that the police and judiciary did their job properly and reduce corruption in their ranks? Did you ensure that ministers and chief ministers not have income beyond their legal means? How many big guns were prosecuted for corruption offences during your long tenure? What happened to “bersih, cekap dan amanah”?
2) Press freedom. Your criticism of the government got plenty of coverage in the local media whereas during your time, criticisms against you by two former prime ministers were muted in the mainstream newspapers. Editors in Umno-linked newspapers too were removed during your time for not toeing the line. What did you do to advance the cause of responsible press freedom?
3) Proton. You went ahead with the national car project in 1983 despite a number of experts disagreeing with you, especially with respect to lack of economies of scale. Isn’t it true that Proton’s profits over the last 20 years came out of vastly higher prices that the Malaysian public has to pay to subsidise Proton, resulting in considerable hardship for Malaysians who need cars because of the poor public transport system? More lately, why was it necessary for Proton to buy a stake in a failed Italian motorcycle manufacturer when it could not even produce cars competitively?
4) Heavy industries. Why did you push into heavy industries such as steel and cement in the 1980s, ignoring studies which suggested developing natural resource-based industries instead? They caused major problems and billions of ringgit in losses.
5) Population. Why did you encourage a population of 70 million for Malaysia and change the name of the National Family Planning Board to the National Population Development Board? How do you expect poor people to take care of five, six or more children? What kind of quality of life can they provide their children?
6) Immigration. Why did you allow hordes of people to immigrate, mainly from Indonesia, in such an unregulated way that there are as many or more illegal immigrants than legal ones now, accounting for some two million or more people? Did you not realise that this would cause serious social problems?
7) On his first deputy. Some five years after you came to power, there were serious rifts between you and your deputy Datuk (now Tun) Musa Hitam. What was the cause of these problems and was it because you were heavy-handed and did not consult your ministers?
8) On the first serious Umno split. When Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and Musa took on Tun Ghafar Baba and you at the Umno general assembly of 1987, it caused a serious split in Umno, with you winning by a very narrow margin (761 to 718). Why did you not seek to heal the rift in Umno post the elections? Instead, you purged Umno and its successor Umno Baru of those who opposed you, causing an unprecedented split in Malay unity.
9) Operasi Lalang. Why did you have to resort to this move in October 1987, when you used wide powers of detention under the Internal Security Act to detain over 100 people, close down four newspapers and cause a wave of fear throughout the country? Was it to consolidate your tenuous hold on power then by using an oppressive law?
10) Judiciary. What was your motive to take action in 1988 to remove the then Lord President and several Supreme Court judges from their positions under allegations of judicial misconduct, a move which was heavily criticised by the Bar Council and other bodies? Was it because you needed more compliant judges whose rulings would not threaten your position of power in a number of cases in court? Was this the first step in dismantling the judiciary’s role as a system of checks and balances against the legislature and the executive? What have you to say to repeated assertions by many, including prominent ex-chief justices, who maintain that this led to the erosion of judicial independence?
11) Education. You presided over the education system at an important part of its transformation first as Education Minister in the 1970s, then as Prime Minister. Would it be correct to surmise therefore that you were also responsible for its decline during those years? Why did you not spend more money and resources to ensure that our education system was excellent and continued to improve but instead spent billions on other showpiece projects? Why did you allow our national school system, which is the ideal place to develop ties among young Malaysians, to become so divisive that today, 90% of those who attend national schools come from only one race while the rest have opted out?
12) Former finance minister Tun Daim Zainuddin. Why did you give this one man so much power? And you have not given a satisfactory explanation why he left government the second time round. Did it have anything to do with the forced consolidation of banks? Why did the government buy back Malaysian Airline System (MAS) at RM8 a share in 2000 from Tan Sri Tajudin Ramli when the market price was less than half that?
13) Cronyism and patronage. Did you not encourage cronyism and patronage by dishing out major projects to a few within the inner circle? People such as Tan Sri Halim Saad (the Renong group — toll roads, telecommunications and so on), Tajudin (mobile telephone group TRI and MAS), Tan Sri Amin Shah Omar (the failed PSC Industries — multi-billion ringgit naval dockyard contracts) and Tan Sri Ting Pek Khiing (Ekran — the Bakun Dam), to mention just a few?
14) Privatisation. Why did you allow privatisation to take place in such a manner that the most profitable parts of government operations were given away? Toll roads had guaranteed toll increases and compensation in the event traffic projections were not met. Independent power producers had contracts that guaranteed them profits at the expense of Tenaga Nasional.
15) Tun Ghafar Baba. Although Ghafar had the highest number of votes among Umno vice-presidents when Tun Hussein Onn became Prime Minister in 1976, you, who got the lowest number of votes, were chosen as Hussein’s deputy. Yet, when you called upon Ghafar to be your deputy in 1986 when you fell out with Musa, he obliged, helping you to win the Umno presidency. Yet, you and your supporters did little to back him up when he was challenged for the deputy presidency in 1993 by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Can we say that you stabbed him in the back? And what about Hussein, the man who picked you as his successor? He died not as a member of Umno as he had refused to join your Umno Baru.
16) Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Did you move against him because he was a threat to your position in 1998? Did you use the entire government machinery at your disposal to get him sentenced? Do you think he got a fair trial? Don’t you think the country suffered terribly because of nothing more than a power struggle involving the two of you?
17) Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Was it really necessary to spend RM10 billion on a showpiece airport at Sepang when Subang airport could have been so easily expanded?
18) Putrajaya. What is the justification for spending RM20 billion on a grandiose government city at a time when office space was available in Kuala Lumpur? Could the money not have been put to better use, such as improving educational resources?
19) Government-linked companies. Why did you not make efforts to improve the performance of GLCs? Why did you allow funds such as the Employees Provident Fund and Kumpulan Wang Amanah Pencen to take up dubious investments? These have led to hundreds, if not billions, of ringgit in losses to these funds.
20) Islamisation. At the end of your tenure after your falling out with Anwar, you criticised the extreme elements in Islam of taking control of government institutions and doing things that divided Muslims from non-Muslims. But isn’t it true you started it all with your “Menyerap Nilai-Nilai Islam Dalam Pentadbiran Negara” policy of 1981 when you lured Anwar into Umno to help you promote it? And why did you declare that Malaysia was an Islamic state when it is clearly enshrined in our Federal Constitution as the wishes of our founding fathers that Malaysia should be a secular country given our multi-racial and multi-religious composition? Were you trying to reverse the policy of the nation’s founding leaders?
21) Approved permits. You blamed International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz for the AP fiasco. As we recall, you appointed her and kept her at the ministry since 1986 until you stepped down in 2003 and never once complained or took action over the issuance of APs by the ministry. Indeed, she was embroiled in some controversy over bumiputera share allotment but you stood by her. So why make it an issue now? If you say you were not aware back then, what does that tell us?
22) Money politics. Why did money politics (vote buying) in Umno become such a big issue during your tenure as Umno president? Why were you so powerless to do anything about it when the solutions were so simple? There are other questions, of course, but this is our list of 22. In the same way that Mahathir hopes the government will answer his questions, we hope that Mahathir will answer ours.