All should be open to public criticism

by Hafidz Baharom

Once again, another Umno deputy minister decides that public criticism is considered tantamount to treason and once again, it is just too awkward to comprehend.

In his recent flub, Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman — the same guy who wanted to “slap” the Chinese for being “too loud” — decided it was necessary to criticise the former deputy prime minister for speaking up against the prime minister’s mysterious “donation”.

According to the “honourable” deputy, such criticism would not “help the party”. And here is where the problem lies because whatever is done now is slowly showing that Umno as a party is fractured over whether or not to support Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

This can be seen when 19 division heads from Umno Teluk Kemang, Negri Sembilan, called out for Najib’s resignation as party president. Even before this, we have seen Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin axed from his cabinet post due to asking about 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) and also the substantial US$700 million “donation” banked into Najib’s account.

In fact, Tan Sri Shahrir Samad as Umno Treasurer himself said that the donation was never recorded in the party’s books.

But the idea of publicly criticising a political party and its leaders is not just an Umno problem. In fact, the Opposition is also seeing itself in this bind. For instance, the reason for the PAS and Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) split is due to the public outcry from both sides and the total landslide loss of the latter in the recent general assembly.

Basically, PAS supporters themselves decided to side with the conservatives rather than the progressives after much name-calling in the press.

Similarly just two weeks ago, DAP’s Tony Pua got himself into a bit of a bind with PKR grassroots leaders over the placement of Deepavali stalls. To this day, it is unclear just what is going on between Pua and the PKR leaders who have subsequently filed a police report against him.

Also, there is the public criticism from assemblymen and women regarding Selangor Mentri Besar Azmin Ali’s brainchild — the Darul Ehsan Investment Group (DEIG) which is a RM2 company to be put in charge of centralising and managing the investments of Selangor which are currently parked under Menteri Besar Incorporated (MBI).

The problem thus far with this plan is that unlike Azmin’s example of Khazanah Nasional, the MBI’s accounts and subsequently DEIG’s have so far remained opaque — the company does not even have to show its books publicly or even to the state assembly. In fact, you will not even find it presented to the Selangor Select Committee on Competency, Accountability and Transparency (Selcat).

With the above all plenty of examples from both sides regarding the need to keep open criticism allowed, Malaysians are now about to be limited through yet another measure — this time from both the government and PAS.

In the recent days, the idea has been floated around that the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) will take up an oath of secrecy over the conducting of hearings regarding the misappropriations and shenanigans of 1MDB.

So far, the new head of the PAC wants public input, the Opposition lawmakers are against it and PAS — being all “neutral” and all — says it is for secrecy. Of course, there are two sides to this argument, even if one makes less sense than the other.

To keep it secret is to basically keep it under wraps until it is ready to be published for public consumption. As such, we would have to wait for the reports coming out of the National Audit Department instead.

Keeping it secret would also allow 1MDB — if all its assets are sold off to other government linked and private companies — can recuperate some of the cash that the government put in.

However, to keep it open would instil more confidence that the government is serious in getting to the bottom of what happened in 1MDB to the point that even filing a police report overseas to investigate the company has suddenly become an act of economic sabotage.

Of course, the news of more corporate horror stories from the government investment arm would likely allow scavenging companies to wait for a fire sale of all 1MDB’s assets and let the government settle whatever loans are left over.

This is, of course, what the government is doing even now through arrests, sedition charges, even firing members of its political party and ignoring the 22 year former prime minister’s calls.

For myself, the government cannot hide this corporate scandal and expect the private sector to start backing it by buying 1MDB assets at market prices. At the same time, the continued cover up can only go so far.

It is time to let everyone see it as it is, before we see another repeat of what happened with BMF, Bakun, PKFZ and even Bank Negara’s Forex losses.

For myself, I think 1MDB is already there.

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