September 2, 2015
Post Najib Reforms needed for a better Malaysia
by Dr.M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California
Despite the bravado, Najib Razak’s days as Prime Minister are numbered. Last weekend’s massive Bersih 4 demonstrations are only the latest and most public expressions of citizens’ disgust and contempt for him and his ilk.
I hope Najib is spared the ignominious fate of many corrupt Third World leaders. The visceral hatred for him not just as a leader but also a person is palpable. The sentiment is worse for his obscenely ostentatious wife. Judging by the extraordinarily tight security around him these days, Najib too is aware of this.
If Najib were to suffer a Marcos, or worse, a Ngo Dinh Diem, that would plunge Malaysia into an abyss; likewise if Najib were to execute an Assad. Assad is still in power but I shudder to imagine the images of his last days, as surely that would come. I saw enough gory details of Gaddafi’s.
Regardless of Najib’s fate, prudence calls for Malaysia to be ready for a post-Najib administration. Those arguing for patience have it wrong. Nothing in the constitution precludes the removal of a sitting prime minister between elections. It has been done.
If Najib’s successor were to be chosen in the manner of recent past, meaning, by UMNO power brokers, that would only ensure another mediocre pick. Najib is worse than Abdullah (who would have thought that possible!); rest assured that Najib’s successor chosen thus would be even worse. This Ahmad Zahid character, Najib’s current deputy, is fast living up (or down) to that low expectation.
Mahathir has apologized for his role in picking Najib, and Abdullah before that. It is not productive to continue blaming Mahathir; he retired over a decade ago. Malaysia should be able to recover from his blunders by now. At least the man recognizes his error and is trying to rectify it. He succeeded in ridding us of Abdullah; let’s hope he would be too with Najib.
It is not enough to dump just Najib. His entire cabinet too has to go, plus half a dozen top heads in the permanent establishment. To redress Najib’s legacy of endemic corruption, I propose granting temporary amnesty to corruptors who confess. To discourage future such acts, I propose a permanent body to scrutinize all gifts and public contracts awarded to the top 100 officials. They would also have to declare their assets annually to this body. Anything less would condemn Malaysia to “business as usual.” It cannot afford that.
Transition Prime Minister and Unity Cabinet
Najib’s successor should be chosen through consensus by the parties now in Parliament. That would be the only way to get a unity leader. That individual would of course have to be ratified by Parliament. As UMNO has the largest number of representatives, it is only right that the Prime Minister should be a current UMNO MP. His cabinet however, should comprise nominees of all parties.
The new Prime Minister and his ministers should commit to three stipulations. One, they should not be candidates in the next general elections; two, give up their party positions (if they have any) in the interim; and three, agree to stay out of government for at least a year immediately following their tenure.
Reduce the cabinet to about a dozen ministers, as with Tunku’s original team back in 1955. The current bloated one is inefficient, designed less to pick the best candidates more to bribe compliant and none too bright supporters. Former Parliamentary Accounts Committee Chairman Nur Juzlan tasked with investigating 1MDB, now a junior minister, is Exhibit A.
The first stipulation would ensure that ministers focus on their cabinet responsibilities and not be sidelined with jockeying to be candidates in the next election. Without this stricture those new ministers would begin their next political campaign right away, mocking the unity theme of the cabinet.
The second — decoupling cabinet appointments from party positions – could prove to be a worthy precedent for future administrations. The duties of a minister are onerous enough without the added burden of party obligations. This stipulation would also widen the talent pool beyond career politicians.
Najib’s current ministers have to go with him. They have either explicitly or implicitly by their silence endorsed Najib’s corrupt ways. They do not deserve to lead the nation. Firing them would impress upon new ministers that while they may serve at the pleasure of the Prime Minister, their ultimate paymaster and thus clients are the citizens.
One standout candidate for Prime Minister is Tengku Razaleigh. He commands instant respect at home and abroad. Untainted by the many sordid UMNO scandals, he is also highly regarded by the opposition as well as ordinary citizens. At age 78 we can believe him when he says that he would not stand in the next election, as he informed Najib last week. He is robust physically and mentally. No other candidate comes close to Razaleigh.
If reluctant leaders make the best ones, then the Tengku is the embodiment of that principle. With his accomplishments he does not need yet another accolade, especially now that the Prime Minister’s post has been soiled.
Fire Key Leaders in the Permanent Establishment
One least-noted but very revealing aspect to the present 1MDB scandal is the less-than-admirable to downright despicable performances of many heads in the permanent establishment.
Bank Negara Governor, hitherto distinguished by her sterling professional reputation, was reduced to saying that her duties were done with the handing in of her report on 1MDB to the Attorney General. She was not in the least interested on whether her findings would be acted upon, using the Jamaican excuse, “It’s not my job, mon!” She felt no compulsion to protect the integrity of her institution. She also failed in her obligation to the public, her ultimate paymaster.
It gets worse. Chief Secretary Ali Hamsa, the top civil servant, announced the retroactive retirement of Attorney-General Gani Patail while he (Gani) was in the final stages of investigating Najib’s scandal. Not to be outdone, Hamsa’s new appointee as A-G, Apandi Ali, announced even before being sworn in that Najib was cleared of any wrongdoing!
If you want to bodek (suck up) at least do so in a credible way so as to spare yourself and your master needless embarrassment. In case the point is missed, Apandi, a retired judge, was a former state UMNO treasurer. A political hack, essentially.
Meanwhile the number one and two at the Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) chose to be on elective medical leave in the midst of the crisis. To top that, Inspector-General of the Police (IGP) Khalid Abu Bakar made himself the subject of international ridicule when his request to Interpol for the arrest of the Sarawak Report editor was rebuffed. In an unusual departure, Interpol asserted that its Red Alert is meant to nab terrorists and dangerous criminals. The smack to the IGP’s face was heard around the world.
The IGP tried to keep that rebuff secret. The first blunder was bad enough, but a second one so soon! Sheer incompetence and lack of professionalism personified.
Low and Abu–Corruption Busters
At a minimum Chief Secretary Ali Hamsa, IGP Khalid Abu Bakar, MACC Chief Abu Kassim, and new Attorney-General Apandi Ali should be fired. They should be prosecuted for obstruction of justice with respect to the 1MDB investigation.
There are many capable Malaysians who could replace those four, and others. However, with citizens now so deeply polarized, it is unlikely that any local replacement could command the confidence and respect of the populace. Thus the new administration should initiate a global search to get the best talent without regard to nationality.
An important task for these new appointees would be to groom their local successors, to impress upon them the importance of protecting and enhancing the integrity of their institutions. They should not be handmaidens to their political superiors. This is especially critical now as our public institutions, even religious ones, are hopelessly corrupt and politicized.
Consider that Najib was embarrassed enough to withdraw his previously arranged address to an international conference on anti-corruption. The urbane and sophisticated audience would laugh him off. Not so at local mosques. There he was in his long white jubbah a la the Grand Ayatollah, Najib leading a congregational prayer with the compliant local media in full force with cameras on hand. Next the man would go for umrah and announced that he had a vision that the RM2 billion “donation” was rezeki, and the donor a descendant of the Prophet!
Samuel Johnson had it off; religion, not patriotism, is the last refuge of scoundrels, at least Malay-Muslim ones.
Amnesty for Corruptors and Asset Declaration
Corruption is now endemic in Malaysia; it is the norm at all levels. The only reason Najib’s RM 2 billion “donation” raised a raucous was the sheer colossal amount (even in today’s devalued ringgit) and the utter brazenness of the man.
It is hard to gauge the extent of or aggregate loss from corruption. Its corrosive consequences are of course beyond quantification, from collapsed buildings endangering their occupants to watered-down academic standards depriving the young their rightful opportunities.
One suggestion would be to grant amnesty to encourage corruptors to come forward. That would give some insight as to the extent of the blight as well as its infinite variations. There is no limit to human ingenuity in disguising corruption, from friendly “wagers” at golf games to the funding of Hajj pilgrimages. Nothing is sacred to the corrupt.
Amnesty would also create a prisoner’s dilemma between the corrupting parties that could potentially be exploited. If one side confesses and the other does not, you now have the evidence to prosecute the other party.
To reduce future opportunities for corruption, there should be a permanent body to scrutinize all gifts and contracts given to the top 100 public officials and their immediate families. This 100 would include the sultans and governors, cabinet and chief ministers, top civil servants and heads of major statutory bodies, as well as Federal Court judges. They would also have to declare their assets annually to this body.There are many excellent models of such bodies out there; there is no need to reinvent the wheel.