By Kerk Chee Yee
“What can you do to the system after forming the government in the next election to prevent any prime minister from abusing his power or extending his affluence to gain political mileage?
“How can you prevent the next prime minister from exercising the ‘cash is king’ philosophy?”
These were the questions asked by one of the participants in the “What Say Youth” town hall meeting held in Petaling Jaya.
It featured two most recognisable political giants — former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang.
The town hall session attracted more than 200 youths. It provided an interesting interaction for two hours.
The participants raised concerns that a change in system is necessary because if the current prime minister is seen as abusing the system, so can the next prime minister.
The speakers did not immediately provide the standard political answers, which were contained in the series of institutional reforms declared during the “Himpunan Sayangi Malaysia, Hapuskan Kleptokrasi” held last month and adopted in Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto.
After all, the participants would probably have heard of them plenty of times.
Mahathir instead explained that what brought us to where Malaysia is today was not the system, but the person in power. There is a system in place and it has been abused, he said.
Any effort or attempt to modify the system is futile if the person in power lacks the integrity and will in upholding the spirit of the system, or would game (manipulate) the system for the desired outcome.
It reminded me of a case study I came across in a book on corporate management: How do you create a security system that is most effective in safeguarding the most important documents of your company?
You can place your documents in a vault, locked in an armoured room, have numerous CCTV cameras installed, require biometric passcodes by two individuals for entry and even have an armed team patrolling the premises.
However, collusion with the personnel will easily enable a person to get his hands on the documents.
This case study depicts a management limitation in any system.
This is precisely what happened to Malaysia.
Our system of separation of powers — that is the independence of judiciary, legislative and executive branches — should have encouraged checks and balances.
Our laws should have prevented abuse of power.
Our police force should have acted on or deterred any conduct that has criminal elements.
Our anti-corruption agency should have taken a more decisive stand on financial scandals.
Our ministers in power should have been able to address the elephant in the room.
Our government should have acted in the interests of the people.
Our opposition should have formed the federal government when they garnered 52% of the popular vote.
Why then did the system, if you think it did fail? This is because the key to success of any system are the people.
Yes, Pakatan Harapan can enact a dozen more laws when they come to power. Yes, a couple more agencies can be formed to fight corruption.
However, all these will only be in vain if there is no political will in making the system work.
If we believe that no system is perfect, the reforms that Pakatan Harapan propose and preach cannot be perfect as well.
But it very much tells us what kind of government it aspires to become.
This is exactly the difference between the current government and Pakatan Harapan — the government in waiting.
One key take-away from this exchange: a system is as good as the person who guards it. If the person is corrupt, the system becomes corrupted.
Kerk Chee Yee is political secretary to DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.