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MGG: A transparent mentri besar's hidden assets
By M.G.G. Pillai

6/11/2001 1:20 pm Tue

The times are hard for Malaysia's mentris besar. Dato' Abdul Ghani Othman of Johore insisted upon compulsory AIDS testing for Muslim couples intending to marry in the state. It backfired, with egg on his face, and he beat a hasty retreat. In Selangor, Dato' Mohamed Khir Toyo found, if a fraction of what I hear is true, his experience in extracting teeth came in useful as mentri besar for other extractions. When a journalist openly accused him of corruption recently, it raised questions in the state assembly that showed him, despite his assertive denials, to be the master of extraction he allegedly is.

As usual, mentris besar gets their backs up when accused of corruption: it is collective responsibility, they insist, so how could they be corrupt? Indeed! It is, no doubt, the natural love and affection of business men with projects in the state have for mentris besar that cause them to leave unmarked parcels in unmarked cash and kind when they come acalling, and it is only much later that it is found to be with forbidden stuff. Since by then they do not know who had given the money, especially since they meets lots of people every day, including holidays, they do not know to whom to send them back to. If they return the money to the Khazanah, that would raise more questions than answers, and the money itself may disappear into some one else's pocket. Especially, he would also acquire an unjustified reputation of being corrupt. That would not do.

To prevent all that hassle, these mentris besar have no choice than to use the money -- not for themselves, but in the name of the people who elected them -- for the betterment of humanity, country, and incidentally, mind you only incidentally, themselves. When the wife needs a RM500,000 diamond tiara for the sultan's birthday celebrations, they could not take the money from the state treasury, could they? These large caches of unaccounted money come in useful, so that the state would not be let down with the mentri besar's wife not dressed like the queen she would dearly like to be.

In today's political climate, it is considered right and proper that mentris besar acquire a reputation of being thoroughly corrupt with being so. So, Dr Khir's predecessor, Tan Sri Taib Mahmud, could go on a holiday to Australia with an undeclared RM2.5 million in foreign notes, and he is elected an UMNO vice president, after the initial hullabaloo. Since Malaysia is an Islamic state, the mentris besar also must practice it, and have at least enough wives to tell the world of Malaysia's Islamic regime. That is also when that unexplained caches of money come in useful.

But there are limits that must be respected: Do not be accused of sexual peccadillos; it does not matter then whether you are the Prime Minister's pet, or the accusations are false, or the girl involved is lying, or her grandmother has a vested interest in removing Tan Sri Rahim Tamby Chik as chief minister of Malacca: he would be out. Worse, if you allow yourself to be accused of homosexuality: again it does not matter if it true, if the courts say you are, you lose your political office and your freedom, but not your self-respect. If mentris besar stick to the current norms of the office, you are safe and free.

Not quite. This was true at one time. Today, it is not. Again it is not their fault. They have become the targets of a larger political quarrel the Malays have with their Prime Minister. So, when a Malaysian journalist, who made his name in the alternate media, accused him of a propensity to corruption in land deals, and it became an issue in the just concluded Selangor state assembly, Dr Khir was right to believe he is targetted. It does not matter in this instance whether the accusations are true. He is a creature of the Prime Minister, who must be put in his place, and so any allegation with a basis of fact gets the credence it would not have just last year.

Dr Khir himself is clear in his mind, so he tells his acolytes and friends, he is a one-term MP, and he is frightened of not having the money to sustain a lifestyle he acquired in office in private life. And since he is still only four decades old, and he could live as long, imagine his fear if he should live as long out of office. I hear his savings account increase by month what that international business man of unquestioned repute wanted from me. That might be scuttle butt, spread by those who are jealous of the upright politician he is. The last time I looked, he does not, unlike me, carry a tongkat and his name is not Ali.

But these rumours are bad for his reputation. He should show his anger at these rumour mongers and do what no mentri besar, Barisan Nasional or opposition would dare: refuse to sit on the committee that dispenses land to those business men and the political satraps. Unfortunately, they insist they must be there to ensure that his executive councillors are not corrupt. There should only be only one corrupt man in the government, where all bribes can be diverted to. Too many could well bring the opposition into power. More frightening than the loss of office and perks, is that the corruption would then shift to new players. And UMNO could not allow that, could it? So, mentris besar like Dr Khir must shoulder on in the national interest while acquiring this un-Islamic reputation of being corrupt. What a tragedy!

M.G.G. Pillai