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Abdullah’s place in history will be determined not by whether he passes the Mahathir test but whether he fulfils his reform pledge and programme which netted him the greatest Barisan Nasional election victory in 2004                            

Press Statement
by Lim Kit Siang  

, Monday) : Former Deputy Prime Minister, Tun Musa Hitam, has commended the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi for his “elegant silence” and “mark of a very, very good leader” for not responding to Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s criticisms against the Prime Minister for dismantling many of his policies and projects and his statement that Abdullah had not been his first choice as successor.

I agree with Musa, but the Prime Minister’s “elegant silence” cannot be accompanied by the “inelegant silence” of the Abdullah government, as the questions raised by Mahathir, just like all public-interest issues raised by any Malaysian in an administration which fully understands and is committed to the principles of openness, accountability, transparency and good governance, deserve full and satisfactory answers.

The answers need not be given by Abdullah himself but they must be addressed by  other leaders of the government, and if the other leaders prove to be incapable of giving satisfactory answers to public interest issues, then  Abdullah as the Prime Minister will have to step into the breach.

There will be something fundamentally amiss with the Abdullah administration if the questions raised by Mahathir – the government decision to scrap the crooked half bridge in Johor, the sale of Agusta, the issuance of Approved Permits (AP) for car imports, and why Proton Holding Bhd chief executive officer Tengku Tan Sri Mahaleel Tengku Ariff’s contract was not renewed – could not be satisfactorily answered by the government without involving the Prime Minister.

While one holds that Mahathir was being too petty, personal  and churlish with the “unkind” statement that Abdullah had not been his first choice as his successor and his demand for “a degree of gratefulness”, one can nonetheless maintain that the public-interest issues raised by Mahathir warrant proper answer in line with the principles of accountability, transparency and good governance -  without implying agreement with Mahathir’s stand on all or anyone of the four issues concerned.

Musa alleged that Mahathir is suffering from “severe post-prime-ministerial  syndrome” which caused the former premier to think that “only he is right”. Musa is spot-on in his diagnosis of the latest  Mahathirish condition, but I do not agree when the former deputy prime minister went on to assert  that Mahathir’s open criticisms could only bring adverse effects to UMNO, the government and the nation.

I do not presume to speak for UMNO, but is Musa seriously suggesting that the open criticisms of a former Prime Minister on the policies and programmes of an incumbent Prime Minister is inevitably and inexorably detrimental to the best interests of the government and nation?

Will Musa pass a similar judgment on Bapa Malaysia and the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman and the third Prime Minister, Tun Hussein Onn, for being divisive and destructive influences when they criticized Mahathir when he was Prime Minister particularly over his undemocratic and repressive policies and programmes in the eighties?

A reverse case can be made – that if Tunku and Tun Hussein had made stronger and more sustained criticisms of Mahathir’s undemocratic and repressive policies, the country might have been spared many of the excesses and abuses of the Mahathir premiership which had blighted Malaysia’s democratic growth and undermined the nation’s international competitiveness.

Mahathir had  said that ministers who disagreed with him during his tenure should have voiced their opposition and resigned then.

He said on Friday: “They (the ministers) are saying it’s a collective responsibility (pertaining to the decisions made by the current administration). So it means the cabinet reversed the very decision they agreed to before.

“Now, (when) they have a new leader, they disagree. If they did not agree before, tell me and resign but they did not.”

I had raised precisely the same question in the April  Parliament – as to how the Ministers who had unanimously agreed under Mahathir to build the RM1.1 billion crooked half-bridge in Johore could also unanimously agree to  scrap it – costing  the taxpayers at least RM730 million in various forms of compensation, viz RM100 million compensation to contractor Gerbang Perdana, RM250 million to build a new elevated road connection from the causeway to the new Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex and  RM380 million land premium demanded by the Johor state government following the cancellation.

I agree with Musa that Cabinet Ministers are entitled to change their previous stand on a plan or policy, based on feedback, information and knowledge, but the Malaysian citizenry are entitled to know the reasons for this “unanimous” change of mind, especially when it is going to cost the taxpayers at least RM730 million for the cancellation of the RM1.1 billion crooked half bridge!

I fully support and endorse Abdullah’s sentiments when commenting on Mahathir’s criticisms: “Tun is free to say anything. It’s not a problem to me because our country is democratic.”

I will in fact take one step further and propose that Abdullah nominate Mahathir as a Senator to provide him with a proper parliamentary forum to articulate his views, criticisms and even grievances, with all the mixed benefits of his experience and hindsight after 22 years as Prime Minister.

There is no reason why anyone should fear giving Mahathir a parliamentary voice in the Dewan Negara, as such an appointment will be particularly significant on the eve of Malaysia’s attainment of half-century of  democratic nationhood, doubly marking a government which is confident of itself as well a maturing democracy.  It will also have the added benefit of raising the quality and significance of Dewan Negara.

In the same vein, Mahathir must be prepared to give a proper accounting of the various controversial decisions, policies and projects undertaken during his premiership.

In the final analysis, Abdullah’s place in history will be determined not by whether he passes the Mahathir test but whether he fulfils his reform pledge and programme which netted him the greatest Barisan Nasional election victory in 2004 – but with poor mid-term report 26 months after the last general election or 32 months after becoming the fifth Prime Minister, whether in public service reforms, the campaign against corruption, the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) controversy, the creation of first-class mentality among Malaysians, etc.

It is time Abdullah “walk the talk” to deliver his reform pledge and programme to create a clean, incorruptible, efficient, trustworthy, democratic and just Malaysia which is prepared to listen to the truth from the people, which has been distracted by  Mahathir’s severe post-prime-ministerial syndrome.


*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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