"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me."
- Pastor Martin Niemöller
I applaud and I even salute the newly appointed IGP’s call for war against corruption at all level, particularly on the police force. While he has expressed his commitment and goodwill on this matter, I remain skeptical of its impact in reality. Past experiences have unfortunately revealed that those who are courageous enough to question the integrity of certain sectors or individuals in the government have been asked to keep their mouths shut.
Despite its constant promise to the people that corruption is deemed as evil and should be eradicated, it would almost appear as if there is an unwritten gag order by the government on any probe against corruption and the integrity of our government representatives.
In the course of just four months, we have witnessed two significant events, which is, and should be a huge cause for great concern. In May, the MP for Jasin, Datuk Mohd. Said Yusof, had allegedly asked a custom officer to “close one eye” over a timber consignment that failed custom regulations. Datuk Shahrir Samad, the Backbenchers Club chairman and also the person responsible for this allegation had later resigned from his position. The allegation has also subsequently opened up another can of worms, mainly in relation to the handling of confiscated luxury cars by the custom department.
Even then, the Prime Minister insisted that such “private” disputes should not be discussed in a public domain. We, the people, will be the ones to cast votes at the ballot box and if the integrity of a member of parliament is not a matter of public interest, what else is?
In the recent weeks, the Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Ong Tee Keat was chastised by the cabinet for making a public statement, alleging the misuse of allocated fund to rehabilitate several Chinese schools in Johor by officers at the Ministry of Education. He was reprimanded that it is against the government policy to comment on another fellow minister and subsequently was shamed into submitting a public apology through the Minister of Higher Education. He was also accused of wanting to be “a hero for the Chinese.” Are we now allowed to express racial sentiment, as a defense?
I quote the Deputy Prime Minister’s statement on the issue, “I don’t want to talk about facts, that’s another issue. But as a matter of principle, deputy ministers and ministers, except the prime minister and deputy prime minister, must look (at issues) under their own jurisdiction and not to touch on other ministries.”
Such statement should not be taken lightly as the relevance of facts has shockingly been regarded as irrelevant and only the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have the power to publicly probe on issues pertaining to the integrity of all ministries. Every member of the Parliament is elected by the people for the people and as such, each and every one of them, owes a responsibility towards the people, not the government.
Whether any actions, right or wrong, have been taken or not, for better or for worse, the issues were made public as a result of those probes. If these individuals have not stood up and challenged what they deemed as suspicious or questionable, we, the people would have been kept in the dark.
By shaming and gagging individuals who are courageous enough to question the integrity of certain government representatives who are supposed to protect the people’s interest, will subsequently deter or prevent others from voicing out their concerns. Perhaps that is precisely what the government aims to achieve, to nurture a nation that will “close one eye”.
When the Prime Minister was accused of nepotism, he did not ask anyone to shut their mouths. Instead he challenged the accuser to present evidence. Should that not be the right way to search for the truth and facts? Or are facts irrelevant? Thanks to Datuk Ong’s probe, official visit and investigation are being carried out to evaluate the progress of the school construction. Is this not what we call accountability?
As a citizen, I am extremely disappointed with how the government is handling issues pertaining to public interest. We have been ordered repeatedly to shut our mouths on what are perceived as sensitive issues such as religion and special privileges awarded to the Bumiputeras. We are told that it is seditious and unconstitutional to question these rights and privileges. It is in the law!
Subsequently like subservient and dutiful slaves, we learn to suppress ourselves from talking and questioning fundamental issues such as right to freedom of religion and non-discrimination. These issues have become facts that we must learn to accept but now we are suddenly confronted by a new form of suppression, which hopefully will not become a law.
At one stage, when all the whole nation could talk about was the shocking rise of heinous crimes; robbery cum murder, rape, etc. the government responded by declaring the need to combat these crimes in order to attract and maintain the flow of tourists. What has happened to our interest, the Malaysian’s interest? Have we somehow fallen out from the government’s agenda?
Hence, my ultimate questions are as below. What have happened to accountability, transparency and integrity of the government towards its people, which in essence sum up the definition of good governance?
The new IGP can continue his pledge to combat corruption until the cows come home, the Housing and Local Government Ministry can call for a crusade against graft, but will they succeed, if the top guys are not setting a role model?
What defines democracy? Is it a government that is elected to serve the people’s interest or the other way round?
Oh, and my final question, would it be a crime for me to ask these questions?
Written on 20 September 2006
* This article was posted on Malaysiakini.com under Letter and Opinion