Saturday, October 27, 2007

Michael Backman strikes back

Malaysia's PM seems to be failing his people at every chance
by Michael Backman
October 24,2007

ON OCTOBER 31, Abdullah Badawi, Malaysia's Prime Minister, will have been in office for four years. Abdullah
came to office promising to fight corruption and to be a breath of fresh air. He has failed on both counts.

But he has achieved one remarkable feat none of his predecessors could: he has united most of his country's
elder statesmen, established businessmen and intellectuals.

They are united in their utter dismay at his performance, a point that many such individuals made to me on a
recent visit to Malaysia.

The despair is compounded by the near impossibility of getting rid of Abdullah.

Before 1987, anyone who wanted to challenge the president of the ruling UMNO party (and hence prime minister),
needed to get endorsements from just two divisions of UMNO. Previous prime minister Mahathir Mohamad had that
changed after his finance minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah challenged him for the leadership and almost won.

Would-be challengers must now acquire the endorsement of 30 per cent, or 58, of 191 divisions. This means that
the prime minister's office needs to pay off fewer than 150 division heads with government contracts and licences
to ensure their support.

Critics within UMNO are anaesthetised by patronage and sadly the Prime Minister probably thinks that he is doing a
good job because his inner circle constantly tells him he is. He is their ticket to riches, after all.

Ramadan has just ended and once again Malaysia has been treated to the spectacle of government ministers and
other officials fasting and playing the pious Muslim on the one hand and stealing from their fellow Malaysians on
the other.

Abdullah has had three chances in recent times to show that times have changed in Malaysia and to clearly assert
his authority when presented with examples of such theft.
He has blown each one.

The first was when it emerged that his Trade Minister, Rafidah Aziz, had handed out to her relatives, government
officials and former officials hundreds of lucrative licences to import cars - without any clear procedures or
transparency. A good leader would have fired Rafidah immediately. She is still there.

Another opportunity arose with revelations by the auditor-general last month of fraud and corruption in government
purchasing. Some of the more flagrant abuses were at the Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs. It had wasted
millions on purchases such as paying 224 ringgit ($A75) for sets of screwdivers worth 40 ringgit, or 1146 ringgit for
a 160 ringgit pen set.

More seriously, the ministry's head, who had the authority to approve contracts worth less than 5 million ringgit,
was found to have approved contracts for almost 450 million ringgit. The ministry claimed that the then minister and
now Education Minister Hishammuddin Hussein had written a letter of authority for the purchases but this
disappeared during auditing. Despite all this occurring under Hishammuddin's watch, he remains in the cabinet.

The third incident relates to an ongoing scandal at the Port Klang Free Trade Zone - Port Klang is Malaysia's main
shipping port. Essentially, the port authority was forced by well-connected individuals to buy far more land than
planned for the free trade zone and at highly inflated prices, even though it could have compulsorily acquired the
land, literally saving billions.

This and development costs, and "professional fees", blew out the total cost for the zone from 1.845 billion ringgit
to 4.2 billion ringgit. It is a scam of outrageous proportions and is just the sort of thing that is turning foreign
investors off Malaysia in their droves.

Rather than make arrests, the Government is using taxpayers' funds to bail out the authority. The auditor-general
tipped off the responsible minister (a term I use loosely) - Chan Kong Choy, the Transport Minister - about the
problems, as did a foreign partner in the zone, but Chan ignored the warning. Has Abdullah fired Chan? Of course
not. Has the previous minister Ling Liong Sik been questioned by the police? Of course not.

These three instances were good opportunities for Abdullah to show his ministers who is boss. Well, he certainly
did that.

One might ask what on earth the Finance Minister has been doing in the face of all this waste and theft. Or,
indeed, even who is the Finance Minister? Extraordinarily, it is Abdullah. In a break with tradition, he occupies that
post as well as being Prime Minister. The firings should start with him.

After all, it's not as if Malaysia has a shortfall of ministers. On the contrary, Malaysia has no fewer than 72 ministers
and deputy ministers at the federal level. By way of comparison, Australia has 32 ministers and assistant ministers.
Is the quality of public administration in Malaysia more than twice as good as in Australia? Let the facts speak for

Malaysia is truly at a cross-roads. It has many good people with great potential but it is slipping beneath the waves
of mediocrity, weighed down by officials intent on an orgy of plunder while the ship's captain stands idly by.

The process of government needs to be dramatically and urgently overhauled. Malaysia needs a dynamic, strong
visionary leader who is up to the task. Instead, it has Abdullah Badawi.


Remember Rafidah Aziz once has asked the public not to take heed of foreigner's point of view regarding our country as she purported them to be not well-versed with the social hardship situation(multiracial) in Malaysia? Yes, she was actually referring to Michael Backman subsequent to the article written by him bombarding Rafidah Aziz about her impropriety in administrating her Cabinet power.

No comments: