KUALA LUMPUR: Political willpower is essential to fight the corruption malady afflicting the country, says Daim Zainuddin.
Daim, a former finance minister and now chairman of the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP), said Malaysia has no choice as corruption has permeated all levels in the government.
“We are now at a crossroads. Our only way forward is to cleanse the system,” he said in an interview in The Star daily.
“And I am confident that this new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government has the gumption to do just that.”
The five-member CEP, named by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad shortly after the general election, has been given 100 days to advise on actions to wipe out corruption, bring back stolen 1MDB money and how to govern with transparency and accountability.
Other members in the council are former Bank Negara governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz, former Petronas president Hassan Marican, economist Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Hong Kong-based tycoon Robert Kuok.
Asked whether Malaysia could get back the stolen money soon, Daim told the daily the government knew there were monies frozen in a few locations around the world.
“We are talking in terms of billions. For a start, Singapore has agreed to repatriate whatever amount that is stuck there. I believe efforts are being made by the authorities to get back our money, which was originally stolen,” he said.
On whether Mahathir would stick by his promise to stay as prime minister for two years, Daim said Mahathir had stated in an interview with Financial Times recently that it would be difficult for him to stay on beyond the age of 95.
“But for now, I think everyone knows that he is committed to fulfilling the promises in Pakatan’s manifesto.
“After all, he is the chairman of Pakatan. Above all, his greatest achievement is that the rakyat put their trust in him and have given him their support to get rid of (former prime minister) Najib (Razak) and his government.”
Daim was also asked in the interview about his relationship with PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim and whether he could be a good prime minister.
“We have always been friends. Anwar and I have known each other for a long time.
“I just want to mention I met him in prison numerous times. We discussed how to topple the previous government and, with the support of the rakyat, we succeeded. We must stay united and deliver our promises to them.
“Anwar had served in various ministries and his last post was deputy prime minister. Nobody can run a government alone. A PM needs a Cabinet that supports him and honest civil servants with integrity.
“He also needs good, honest advisers and must never forget the rakyat. Anwar is aware of all these.”
Commenting on the volatility in the stock market after Pakatan’s polls victory, Daim said investors in a capitalist society didn’t mind corruption, as long as they made money.
“Now they say they want a clean government, but before that they didn’t mind corruption because that’s the way to make money – easier and faster.
“The more money you have, the easier for you, because you have the money to bribe. As far as the capitalist society is concerned, that kind of government is good,” he said.
He said the foreigners and rating agencies did not expect Pakatan to win.
“They underestimated the will of the rakyat. The rakyat cannot accept this. They don’t want a corrupt government.”
Questioned on the existence of corruption during his time in the government, when he served as finance minister twice, he said it happened, but was not rampant.
“There was corruption, but now it is blatant,” he said.
On his close relationship with Mahathir, Daim said the two went to the same school in the same village in Kedah, and their parents knew each other.
“I always like to joke: from Kedah we have the same Yang di-Pertuan Agong serving twice, prime minister serving twice, finance minister serving twice. It must be the water we drink.”
Asked why the government was not bringing charges against Najib, Daim said the investigation against the former premier would be completed “very soon”.
“The people’s expectations in us are high, but… let the authorities complete the investigation,” he added.
Daim also took a swipe at the mainstream media for failing “miserably to protect the interest of the nation and the rakyat” during Najib’s time.
“For far too long the mainstream media in Malaysia had been timid and irrelevant.
“The fourth estate is important. We must always keep an eye on any wrongdoing.
“By exposing scandals, it will certainly provide a check and balance to the administration,” he said.