Don’t blindly trust your leaders

John-Profumo--Chen-Shui-bian--Elliot-Spitzer

Around the world, there are hundreds of shady deals involving politicians who claim to be serving their countries.

Many of these remain secret. The few that are exposed represent only the tip of the iceberg.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman Said claims to have no doubt that it would be good for Malaysia to have the Official Secrets Act (OSA) amended as proposed by the Attorney-General. The AG wants to make punishments under the act more severe.

She has expressed worries that the leaking of confidential government information would interfere with the proper governing of the nation. She said she saw a distinction between freedom of expression and breach of trust.

“You don’t get this in other countries, but you get a lot of breaches in Malaysia,” she said. “I think what the Attorney-General said is very timely. How can we govern if there are a lot of breaches by government officers and third parties?”

The rakyat has no proper channels for exposing scandals, murders, miscarriages of justice and large-scale corruption. Laws are amended to protect those at the top and those who are supposed to be responsible for the good running of the government administration. The big fish escape and the small fry are prosecuted. Whistleblowers are punished to serve as an example to others. Sedition laws silence people who are critical of bad governance.

Azalina said, “I think even in America, if too much information is exposed, you will be arrested. So why should it be different for Malaysia?”

To help Azalina understand why some secret government information must be leaked, here are summaries of some notorious scandals:

Watergate: This is the mother of all American political scandals. President Richard Nixon was desperate to be re-elected. So he ordered his men to tap phones and photograph documents. At first, he denied his involvement in the Watergate affair, but tapes of his private conversations with top government officials sealed his fate. In order to avoid impeachment, he resigned in 1974. Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were fed most of the critical information by an undisclosed source, whom they referred to as Deep Throat.

The Profumo Affair of 1963: The British Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, had an affair with Christine Keeler, an aspiring model who happened to be the mistress of the Soviet naval attaché. Profumo lied about the affair and was forced to resign. There was also the issue of a possible breach of security because Keeler may have leaked potential secrets about British defences to the Soviet spy. It was alleged that she could have gained information about the secrets during her pillow talk with Profumo.

The corruption of Chen Shui-bian: Chen was Taiwan’s president from 2000 to 2008. He was a popular president and had great ambitions for Taiwan, but he could not control his own and his family’s greed. The first lady, Wu Shu-chen, was accused of corruption and wiring millions of dollars to various banks abroad. Chen’s son-in-law was accused of money laundering and insider trading. Chen was arrested in 2009, six months after he left office. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for bribery, money laundering and misuse of public funds, but the sentence was reduced to 20 years.

The Spitzer affair: For eight years, Elliot Spitzer was the Attorney-General of New York before he was elected its Governor. Federal officers uncovered a prostitution ring while investigating suspicious money transfers from Spitzer’s bank. They found that he had paid $80,000 for prostitutes when he was in office. He resigned.

The moral of these stories is that citizens should not blindly trust their leaders. They should treat everything these politicians say or do with great cynicism.

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.