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MGG: Nepotism a la Malaysia
By M.G.G. Pillai

31/1/2002 3:59 pm Thu

It is a truth untold if BN and its leaders make nepotism a way of life. But woe betold if it is the opposition that does it. It is perfectly right and proper Dato' Seri Najib Tun Razak entered Parliament when his father, Malaysia's second prime minister, died; and his cousin, Dato' Hishamuddin Hussein, when his father, Malaysia's third prime minister, died. That in UMNO's definition of nepotism, Tun Abdul Razak and Tun Hussein Onn should not have been in the cabinet at the same -- both men married sisters -- is excused. But not if Mr Lim Kit Siang, the DAP leader, got his son, Mr Lim Guan Eng, into politics. Or if Dato' Nik Aziz Nik Mat is Kelantan mentri besar when his son is appointed a Kota Bharu municipal councillor for a year.

When the children of the Prime Minister, Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed, acquire businesses and take over companies controlled by the government and ground them into losses, no one could,or dare, ask how and why. In Parliament or elsewhere. It is, in the BN view, its God-given right to be nepotistic. But not, under any circumstance, in the opposition. The BN attacks it even more fervently now, as its hold on the country is tenuous, with the Malay cultural ground going its own way, and the Chinese cultural ground distancing itself from the MCA and prefers to deal with the Prime Minister instead. Both are disenchanted with their leaders. But not nepotism as the perk of office, especially under Dr Mahathir. At one cabinet meeting, in the 1980s, he defended his sons in business and special favours they got from government departments. He said Mrs Thatcher intervened so his son's businesses were favoured in foreign countries.

The list is endless. The MCA president, Dato' Seri Ling Liong Sik, made his son a billionaire at 27. The then Gerakan president, Tun Lim Chong Eu, pushed business his son's way when large projects in Penang were dished when he was chief minister. The MIC president appointed his son managing director of Maika Holdings, formed as an investment arm of the Indian community, collapsed spectacularly. In the states, the National Front mentris besar is assiduous in distributing government projects to relatives and others close to their families. When I asked the late Tengku Abdul Rahman, well into his retirement, why when in office he did not help his son, Tengku Nerang, in business, he turned to me sharply and said: "I did not become His Majesty's Prime Minister to enrich my family." Then he added: "But it seems now one becomes Prime Minister only to."

The minister of international trade and industry, Datin Seri Rafidah Aziz, did not blink an eyelid when she gave her son-in-law enough APs (automobile permits) to earn him RM1.5 million a month, one which he enjoys to this day. They need not do this. When new companies are floated, the government releases what are known in the market as "pink forms", the right to purchase hundreds of thousands of shares at par value, whatever the price at which it is offered to the public at large. The Cabinet ministers get special priority. So, when the Prime Minister claims how poorly paid he is, he does not tell the truth. There is money to be made and get legally. Which is one reason why cabinet ministers do not give up their post easily. The perks and the money are too comfortable to give up.

As the BN finds itself cornered, it finds creative ways to spread these habits throughout the country. Students applying for scholarships cannot succeed if their parents are not members of a BN component parties. It is officially denied, of course, but this is implied, for one's father's politicial affiliation is invariably asked at the interview. To most Malaysians, these are reprehensible. It throws into question what Malaysia stands for. For it is an unforgivable descent from nepotism to corruption on a national scale. The "Aku Janji" ("I promise") is an attempt to ensure all who sign it support, by inference, the BN. It is this blatant policisation that turns people off.

But it also uses the big stick to force the civil servant to walk the straight and narrow. After failing to bribe them back, it now wants to force them. What frightens now is the BN whitewashes its failings while magnifying the minor indescretions of the opposition. The danger is this comes back to haunt it. The more it flounders, the more it over-reacts. Especially when the BN needs nepotism and corruption more than ever to hang on to power.

M.G.G. Pillai