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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/17/19

Corruption in Malaysia - Mahathir's broken promises

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Corruption in Malaysia is so widespread it had become a part of the national identity. In 2017, Transparency International conducted surveys and polls to portray how intrinsic corruption is in Malaysia. 60% of Malaysians felt that corruption had worsened in recent years and perceived the government was doing poorly in fighting corruption. When accessing basic services such as public schools, public hospitals, ID or voter's card issuing, utilities, police and event courts, 23% of Malaysians said they paid a bribe. Malaysian Bar president Datuk Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor said in a statement, "The rot of corruption must be stamped out. Acts of public corruption are a violation of public trust, and deprive citizens of State resources that should be used for public benefit instead of being pocketed for personal gain." The top challenges Transparency International found in Malaysia were political and campaign financing, "revolving doors" (individuals regularly switch back and forth between working for both the private and public sectors), and access to information. Corruption is so common in Malaysia that Malaysians learn to live with it, paying bribes when needed, rather than abolishing it.

One of the most corrupt spheres in Malaysia is the judiciary, which is overbearingly controlled by the Prime Minister who directs court decisions to promote his own agendas. Mahathir retains final say in all judges and attorney general appointments or promotions by replacing Najib's appointed committee members in the JAC (Judicial Appointments Commission) ahead of schedule. With his own loyalists, he is capable of exerting influence on the judiciary, as evident by the Malaysian Bar's ongoing outcry regarding his nominations, which sometimes overlook obvious choices for promotion. Mahathir further tightened this grip by nominating his own attorney general. Mahathir built the judiciary with his associates, and he controls court decisions as they might affect himself or his interest.

Instead of being a separate and independent branch, the Malaysian judiciary is interlinked with the executive branch (led by the Prime Minister). Consequently, rather than facilitating checks and balances, the judiciary serves as an extension of the executive. Malaysian blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin posted, "It is said the only way to get to the top of the judiciary is to be crooked. If not, you will end up like a number of highly qualified and principled judges who suffered because they were too Shariah-compliant and not UMNO-compliant enough." Kamarudin points to the fact that, despite basing the judiciary on Islamic Sharia law, Malaysia promotes judges that comply with the ruling political party. Court of Appeal judge Hamid Sultan Abu Backer described "judicial rowdyism" earlier this year, as "certain members of the judiciary have been aiding private parties and politicians to defraud the government of public funds." In an affidavit, Hamid described this worked by "nominees of politicians getting into contracts with the government, but once the government pulled out, the private parties would take the government to court to claim compensation. The private parties created contracts with the government to defraud public funds and the apex court was perceived to be sympathetic to them", said Hamid. "I will give an example. The government will enter into a contract with a political nominee with no intention of honoring it. Subsequently, the government will terminate the contract and the nominee will sue the government for breach of contract. The government may record a consent judgment accepting liability and agreeing to assess damages. This modus operandi was to deprive the exchequer by false claims." Risking his own career, Hamid blew the whistle on the corrupted symbiosis between the judiciary and executive branches, a system Mahathir cleverly constructed. It is surprising that this is the same Mahathir who got elected by promising to eradicate corruption.

As media outlets in Malaysia are almost entirely governmentally owned, its wide influence is wielded by Mahathir to create disinformation campaigns that capitalize on the natural division between ethnic and religious group in Malaysia, predominantly in rural and Islamic regions. Influencing these key regions is what secured Mahathir's premiership and what continues to fuel his dominance over key electoral groups. Mahathir uses his authority over the media to influence the ways in which Malaysians understand the realities in their country. Mahathir chooses the images and ideas that Malaysians would consume in their homes. This way, not only can Mahathir affect how Malaysians vote, but also who they think is an enemy of the state, who is the hero, what are moral values according to the Islam, and what is just.

Mahathir's nepotism and cronyism brought a lot of criticism from political counterparts, citing these as the reasons the public is starting to lose faith in Mahathir. The leader of the multi-racial, center-left Malaysian political party advocating social democracy and secularism, social justice, progressivism, and multi-racialism - Democratic Action Party (DAP) Dr Boo Cheng Hau said, "Pakatan under the present Prime Minister has seen the old Barisan and UMNO ways creeping into its culture and policies. Cronyism creeps in a more sophisticated form into Pakatan and the powers-that-be." In April this year, PH lost the by-election in Rantau, a Malaysian state constituency in Negeri Sembilan. PKR leader P. Ganapathy claimed nepotism and cronyism within the government and unfulfilled promises were the reasons why Pakatan Harapan (PH) failed to win the Rantau seat. "It must be admitted that PH's failure to fulfill election promises, addressing economy and living-cost issues, infighting among component parties and cronyism, nepotism of a cabinet minister with problematic family politics became the factor for people's rejection." he wrote. Ganapathy openly describes Mahathir's corruption as a reason for loss in public support. His corruption is so known that it is not even the topic. Criticism in Malaysia about Mahathir's corruption is not about the existence of said corruption, but about the ways in which Mahathir uses corruption to advance his own wealth and influence.

Malaysians have grown so weary of corruption that they do not show signs of hope corruption will ever be eradicated from Malaysian discourses. Malaysia today had become a multinational corporation that employs worthy Malaysians in order to increase the profits of those managing the business. Mahathir established this factory and its mechanisms. He retired from management, thinking he and his family could prosper on dividends, but it was not enough, and he returned to power. He promised to change things. He promised to better the lives of working Malaysians, regardless of their ethnicity or religion. Nevertheless, all Mahathir did since returning to power was to restructure his old mechanisms to adhere with his current needs. Malaysians realized it, but there is no hope for change. Mahathir will remain PM, and Malaysians will continue slaving so that Mahathir's family could prosper. Everything in Malaysia is going according to Mahathir's directions.

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