Lessons, and a warning, for the PM and his ministers

Most of us enter the New Year with fresh determination and hope or with a clutch of resolutions. The reflective types will look to the lessons they have learned or can learn from the previous year.

More than anyone else, I think, our prime minister, Cabinet ministers, politicians, religious leaders and pseudo-religious leaders, and certain NGO heads, need to reflect on their words and actions of the past year to see whether they have helped Malaysia grow and Malaysians unite, or whether they are the problem dragging down the nation.

I don’t wish to pontificate or moralise, but I would like to tell them that Malaysian citizens expect better from them; that they are not only more aware but also want to be consulted on the direction the nation should take; and that more and more decent people are looking beyond race and religion.

I would also like to point out to Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his Cabinet, and leaders of political parties, that 2019 has not been particularly kind to ex-leaders and politicians.

We are all aware that 2019 was not a good year for former prime minister Najib Razak. The man who has reinvented himself as “Bossku” faces 42 charges of criminal breach of trust, abuse of power, corruption and money laundering directly or indirectly related to the 1Malaysia Development Bhd scandal.

Former deputy prime minister Zahid Hamidi was slapped with 87 charges related to money laundering, criminal breach of trust and bribery. Najib and Zahid have denied the charges. Several officials of the previous administration also face criminal charges.

But Najib is not the only former leader of a nation who was brought before the courts last year, when we consider the world stage. In fact, quite a number were in the dock – all charged with abuse of power and corruption.

On Dec 17, Pakistan’s former military ruler Pervez Musharraf was sentenced to death for treason, stemming from his decision to suspend the national constitution and impose a state of emergency in 2007.

Musharraf, 76, who ruled Pakistan from 1999 to 2008, was sentenced in absentia as he was in Dubai receiving medical treatment. The former strongman, however, is not the only ex-Pakistani president to be hauled to court.

Last month too, a Pakistani court ordered another ex-president, Asif Ali Zardari, who had been arrested for alleged money laundering five months ago, to be released on bail so that he can seek medical treatment. Zardari, a member of Parliament, was president from 2008 to 2013.

In November, Nawaz Sharif, who is serving a seven-year prison sentence for corruption, left the country to receive medical treatment in London after the Lahore High Court lifted a travel ban. Sharif, 69, was jailed for corruption in relation to his family’s ownership of steel mills in Saudi Arabia. Sharif, who has served 12 months of the jail term so far, was prime minister of Pakistan from 1990-1993, 1997-1999 and again from 2013 to 2017.

In Sudan, former Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir was convicted on corruption and money laundering charges and sentenced to two years in jail on Dec 15.

Omar, 75, who rose to power in a military coup in 1989, also faces another trial related to incitement and playing a role in the killing of protesters before he was toppled from office.

In December, Armenia’s state investigation agency accused Serzh Sargsyan, who was president for a decade from 2008, of embezzling more than US$1 million in state funds meant as subsidy for farmers.

Last November, former Maldives president Abdulla Yameen was sentenced to five years in jail and fined millions after being found guilty of money laundering

Like Najib, Yameen unexpectedly lost the election. He was subsequently charged with misusing US$1 million of government money through a private company as part of a deal to lease a number of tropical islands for hotel development.

In March 2019, former Brazilian president Michel Temer was arrested for alleged graft, including in the construction of a nuclear power plant. The 78-year-old was president from 2016 to 2018, after taking over from then president Dilma Rousseff who was impeached. He was her vice-president then.

On Dec 10, two former prime ministers of Algeria were convicted and sentenced to prison on corruption and abuse of power charges. Ahmed Ouyahia was sentenced to 15 years in prison while Abdelmalek Sellal was sentenced to 12 years.

Ouyahia was forced out of office in a popular uprising last March while Sellal was his predecessor as prime minister.

In addition, the Algerian court sentenced two former industry ministers to jail in the same case, which involved a car-manufacturing scandal where inflated invoices, suspect loans and huge bribes are said to have figured prominently.

But it was not just about corruption charges last year. Former Slovak prime minister Robert Fico was charged with uttering racist words last month.

Fico, investigators said, had publicly agreed with remarks by MP Milan Mazurek that the Roma minority “have never done anything for the nation”. Mazurek lost his seat after being convicted of racism earlier this year.

Fico is alleged to have said that almost the entire nation would agree with Mazurek’s words.

I am just wondering how many Malaysian ministers and politicians would be charged with racism, and found guilty, if our investigators were as professional, or efficient, as the Slovakians when it comes to going after powerful politicians.

Unfortunately in Malaysia, certain leaders of political parties and some religious leaders are treated as if they are above the law, while ordinary citizens are slammed with charges for making similar comments out of anger or ignorance or stupidity on social media.

I have just mentioned the heads, not the many ministers and assorted politicians charged in various countries for corruption and abuse of power in 2019.

In enumerating these cases of ex-prime ministers and ex-presidents being investigated or sentenced, I hope to remind our own politicians – especially the prime minister and his Cabinet who have more power than us mere citizens – that they have a sacred duty to perform; that they are not here to go on a power trip or enrich themselves and their families and friends.

Such cases should be a lesson to them to ensure they do not indulge in graft or abuse their power; and that includes the misuse of civil servants, especially the police and enforcement agencies, for their political or pecuniary advantage.

Also, Mahathir and his Cabinet must understand that they have gone after certain leaders of the previous administration and that if Umno were to form the government following the next general election, it almost certainly will return the favour. So Mahathir and his men have more reason not to abuse their powers or bail out cronies or enrich themselves.

But this should not apply just to ministers; everyone in a leadership position can learn from such happenings.

The views expressed by the author are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.