Media statement by Lim Kit Siang in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday, 23rd February 2012:
Mahathir should not try to wriggle out of his responsibility to the nation to account for the MAS scandal
Former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad should not try to wriggle out of his responsibility to the nation to account for the Malaysian Airline System (MAS) scandal, reducing in less than a decade one of the continent's top-fliers into the sick man of the airline industry.
Mahathir was too fast off-the-mark when he dismissed Datuk Zaid Ibrahim's call that he “write a book” on why MAS was privatised to Tan Sri Tajudin Ramli in 1994, claiming that he was not in charge of the loss-making national carrier.
Mahathir is trying to re-write the history of his 22 years as Prime Minister to make Malaysians believe that he was a very “blur blur” Prime Minister who did not know what was going on in the various Ministries under him – not only disclaiming responsibility for the worst judicial crisis in the nation's history with the sacking of the Lord President, Tun Salleh Abas and two Supreme Court judges, Tan Sri Sulaiman Pawanteh and Datuk George Seah; the darkest period of human rights violations with the Internal Security Act mass arrests under Operation Lalang but also the series of financial scandals under his watch including the MAS debacle.
Mahathir has proven during the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Lingam Video Tape scandal that he is a master of selective memory, but this does not qualify him to rewrite the history of his 22 years as Prime Minister, particularly episodes causing far-reaching bane to the healthy political, economic and social development of the country.
What is Mahathir's credibility when he can totally disclaim responsibility for the major scandals under his premiership, or is the MAS scandal, which has destroyed an internationally-acclaimed airline causing the country tens of billion of ringgit of losses, another “heinous crime without criminals” like Mahathir's first financial scandal in 1983 – the RM2.5 billion Bumiputra Malaysia Finance (BMF) scandal?
It is in the public domain that one-time high-flying tycoon Tan Sri Tajudin Ramli had claimed that former premier Mahathir had made him buy MAS to help bail out Bank Negara after the central bank suffered massive foreign exchange losses due partly to speculation in foreign currency markets.
Tajudin purchased a controlling stake of 29 percent in Malaysia Airlines in 1994 from Bank Negara, paying eight ringgit per share when the market price was around half that.
The purchase was disguised as a commercial deal as "it was essential for the public and the international investment community to perceive the entire transaction as a normal commercial arms length deal (which clearly it was not)".
Tajudin said he was reluctant to buy the under-performing MAS, but Mahathir had told him he was performing "national service".
Tajudin took out a RM1.8 billion loan to buy the airline but he signed an "Overriding Agreement" in which he could eventually sell the carrier back to the government, which would indemnify him against any losses suffered.
Tajudin said he had been told to keep mum on the deal, and that he was not allowed to manage the airline according to normal commercial practices, but had to consult the government.
In 2000, the government bought back the loss-making airline in a mega bailout after Tajudin's loans became non-performing and were taken over by then-national asset management agency Danaharta.
The government paid eight ringgit per share, more than twice its market value, in the purchase.
A bare denial by Mahathir about such a secret deal between him when he was Prime Minister and Tajudin on the MAS deal lacks credibility whatsoever and he should not try to wriggle out of his responsibility to the country to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the sorry MAS scandal.
Is it because of this secret deal between Mahathir and Tajuddin in the nineties indemnifying the latter for any losses in the MAS deal that explains the lack of transparency in the recent settlement in court between Tajudin and government-linked corporations (GLCs), casting a dark shadow on the Najib's premiership on accountability, good governance and integrity and sure to cause a further plunge in the country's Transparency Interntional Corruption Perception Index next year?
*Lim Kit Siang, DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Ipoh Timor