.. people join Umno to get something out of it. Instead of political gain, they also want financial gain. They join for other reasons, not to contribute to society.
And as time goes by, I see more and more of this happening. Today because of the quota system, you won’t be getting the right people at the top, because those who got to the top may have used some way or other to get to the top. You may get the votes because you do certain things, but you know very well inside you that you are not the right person, but through your influence … like the former vice-president who used money politics, he got up there and got disgraced. And if Umno continues with this, where the wrong people sit at the top, it will destroy the party as the right people who really want to serve cannot get there. We want people with the credibility, the knowledge and the experience.
I can put this question: Even if you are the president of the party today, are you really the most popular person in the party? I would put a question mark! It’s true because of the system. But if three million people could vote, then we will know if he is the most popular person in Umno. But we don’t have this system of referendum in the country today.
So, what kind of reforms are you looking at?
Get rid of the quota and maybe get a bigger number of delegates where money politics cannot penetrate. If you have 30-40 thousand people voting, it will be difficult to buy votes, right? A thousand plus, very easy!
Talking about the vice-president being involved in money politics, do you think Umno has learnt from this or do you think it will continue in the coming party polls?
No. People who are used to doing it will continue to do it.
What is holding Umno back from having good people? Why are professionals reluctant to join the party?
It is how the leader perceives it. When you are outspoken, it doesn’t pay. You become a nuisance, sort of a maverick. For me, I will say it if something is not right. Whether you like what I say is secondary, but I will point it out if it is wrong, at the risk of me being unpopular with the leadership.
Why has Umno deviated from this founding principle that it takes care of all races?
Somewhere, somehow, people got greedy. And this is something that started during Mahathir’s time. If you look at all the big projects that have been given over the last 15-20 years, I think it is between 12 to 20 companies that keep getting these projects.
That is the dilemma of some leaders, where you have to wear two masks. At the kawasan they are MPs and they wakil everyone; at the Umno level, they say I don’t need the votes of the Indians or Chinese.
You cannot say those things. When you contested in the election, you contested under the BN banner, not Umno. I have 28% Chinese votes in Jerantut. I need every vote.
What kind of reforms would you have instituted had you been in the Cabinet? What kind of reforms have you pushed for?
In those days, the party had some control over the government. Anything that the Cabinet is going to discuss, at the supreme council level, if the party feels this is not what the government should be doing – things would have to stop there and then. Today, there is no sensitivity between party and government, no good rapport between the party supreme council and the Cabinet. We should go back to those days, where there was some check and balance. Discuss with the parties in the coalition.
Also, all projects must be (by) open tender. No more direct negotiations, may the best person win. These days, we tell people no “direct nego”, but we know these things are still happening. I have already suggested that we scrap the Economic Planning Unit (EPU). Every ministry must have its own intelligence unit to study projects and proposals. Sometimes we make them too strong and high-handed, especially the officers there. Sometimes some proposal gets stuck there. If you have a small EPU in every ministry, let the ministry do the evaluation and bring up to the Cabinet. If the Cabinet is not happy, go back to the ministry, re-evaluate. Otherwise, there is bureaucracy … ministry blames EPU, EPU blames ministry, ding dong ding dong, it goes on for months.
Also you must pay government servants and ministers private sector rates, but … no second chance. Whether minister or deputy minister, if you do something wrong, you are sacked or go to jail, then we will see how effective it is to reform the civil service.
The problem now is that only the small fish are getting caught. They tried to make an example of (former land and cooperative development minister) Kasitah Gaddam but in the pecking order, he is quite small.
The big fish also must catch-lah. That’s double standards, right? No one is above the law, including the PM. He said so himself. Even if he is the prime minister, that does not mean he is an angel. If he did something wrong, then he should also face the music.
The problem is that the enforcement agencies are beholden to the politicians.
You are a public servant. You have your guidelines. If you feel something needs to be made known to the public, you make it known to the public even at the expense of your job. If you think you are right, then you should not kow-tow to the political masters. You must be a civil servant of some calibre.
If the PM asks me to do something wrong, I won’t do it. My conscience is clear, even if I lose my position. This jawatan (position) is not forever, you know. One day, you’ll be an ordinary person walking into a bookshop and people will spit at you. Malu! (shame).
Can you tell us about your four years as deputy transport minister?
There were things done before my time and before Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy’s time. We as members of the government felt there were things that were not supposed to be done, but we have to defend collective decisions.
Also there is a lot of bureaucracy. Bureaucracy invites corruption. If things can be done fast, it will cut down on corruption. Also, the federal projects that go down to the state, a lot of hiccups and I’m sorry to say that at the state level, they cannot understand what the federal government wants to do.
Many government servants also do not understand the concept of privatisation. They need to be open to having the private sector involved in the decision-making process
But like I said before, government servants must be paid well. We are so far behind other countries in this respect. You get what you pay-lah! Good pay means you get good things, this is the world today.
Did you find good civil servants whose ideas were shot down and their progress stifled?
I’m sure it happens. But in the ministry during my time there, I was always open to good suggestions. We are quite okay. We work well with our officers.
What would you perceive to be the ideal Malaysia?
I think we must go back to our roots, take a good look at where we came from and where we went wrong. The whole foundation of Malaysia as a people is cracking. We have been lost and we need to go back to the starting point.
Maybe we should start with dismantling communal politics. As the last election showed, race-based politics is out of style.
Barisan Nasional itself is already ready for it.
You think so? Why can’t we just have Barisan Nasional?
Someone should suggest it. There’s nothing wrong. You see, if you are an Indian and you talk about strengthening your community at a platform full of Indians, if I am sitting there, I will not take offence. Depends on where you say it and how you say it. If I am a Malay speaking about uplifting the Malays and killing all these jealousies, it is okay, but you cannot say “I want you to be better than the Chinese or Indians, so we should suppress them”.
Why should I get offended if you are talking about uplifting the Indians? But if you say “go to hell with the Malays”, sure-lah I get offended.
We have co-existed for so long. Mana ada problem dulu? (There weren’t problems then). Look at Tun Tan Siew Sin, how he took care of the country’s money. I have full respect for him. I don’t hold a grudge because he is Chinese. He is one of the best finance ministers we ever had. Tun V.T. Sambanthan and Tan Sri V. Manickavasagam … they were great leaders.
How did we come about this communal thing? We had no issues before.
In my kawasan, I speak about strengthening Umno in front of Indians and Chinese. They have no problems.
When I go to the Indian area, I tell MIC “you must tell us what you want”, and if I have programmes with Indians, I go through MIC.
At the height of the Hindraf issue, I had programmes with the Indians. I asked them how many went for Hindraf? Only one person, and he is not even a voter from Jerantut!
I said “why didn’t you go? You should have all gone just to listen to what they had to say. Nothing wrong with that”.
If you are an open-minded person, there will not be any problems. These are narrow-minded politicians.
That’s the problem. These politicians feel they have to play the race card just to fish for votes, even if it means offending the other communities.
The bloody fools should not be talking like that.
If you read some statements these politicians have been making, they are all preparing for the party AGM. We are liberal people and can recognise political rhetoric, but what about those who are not so discerning? They will take rhetoric for reality and react.
That’s why I said these are wrong leaders. Umno has put wrong people in place. You remember those days – Tunku, Tun Razak, Tun Hussein Onn, even Mahathir – where were there problems?
Didn’t the rot start with Mahathir?
Mahathir is a very liberal person, you know.
But he allowed people to say this. Mahathir has done great things for the country, but he messed up the judiciary and condoned corruption.
Yes. Correct. You are right.