Friday, May 17, 2013

Paul Low's Ministerial Appointment: The Test of Najib's Success or Failure

The appointment of Datuk Paul Low as a Minister in Prime Minister’s Department will be the barometer by which Datuk Seri Najib’s new 5 year reign as the premier will be judged.

The Cabinet line up provided many disappointments such as its bloated size, the inclusion of controversial characters with questionable repute.  These disappointment will be dealt with to varying degrees by my Pakatan Rakyat colleagues.

However, Datuk Seri Najib Razak sprung his only surprise with the “bold” inclusion of Datuk Paul Low, who is the current Chairman of Transparency International, as a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.

This “bold” appointment, will in fact decide the fate of Datuk Seri Najib Razak in his second term as the Prime Minister because it will determine if his administration is willing to carry out the far-reaching reforms necessary to ensure a clean, transparent and competitive administration as advocated by Transparency International.

With Datuk Paul Low, we look to seeing an uncompromising stance in the Government’s fight against corruption and cronyism, to uphold the Transparency International’s Integrity Pledge which Najib has himself signed.  The pledge demands that Najib’s administration will “observe the principles of truth, integrity, ethical conduct and accountability, including not accepting or giving bribes or being involved in any way in corrupt practices.”

More generally, the pledge requires that the government “uphold and give priority to the interests of the Rakyat as a whole” as well as “practice good governance and transparency”.

While Barisan Nasional has trampled upon the above pledge before and during the General Election, with the blatant practice of vote-buying and media manipulation, the people of Malaysia still hope to see that the BN leaders have learnt their lesson after clearly losing the popular vote.

The first priority for the BN Government, with Datuk Paul Low acting as a “Transparency Minister”, is to immediately declare that all Government privatisation and procurement contracts will henceforth by awarded via open and competitive tenders with all details and information made in a transparent manner.

In fact all recently concluded procurement contracts, particularly in the defence industry as well as mega-privatisation contracts such as the RM5.3 billion West Coast Expressway, the RM2.2 billion Kinrara-Damansara Expressway, the Penang Port and KTM Bhd which have not been completed or where works have yet to commence, be immediately suspended pending a new open tender exercise.

The measures carried out by Pemandu under Datuk Idris Jala to date to ensure greater transparency have also failed to gain traction with many Ministries openly defying directives to publish the outcomes and details procurement contracts.  Datuk Paul Low must hence wield the uncompromising stick to enforce discipline among the many ministries to cut back on wastages, corruption and cronyism.

At the same time, we expect the new administration to be resolute in carrying out effective investigations against those who are corrupt, regardless of the position these powerful may hold in the Government.  For a start, the new Cabinet must immediately rebuke the Sarawak Chief Minister, Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud for his outright refusal to cooperate with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) because the latter is “naughty”.  The failure to even admonish such behaviour will erase all “positive” perceptions arising from Datuk Paul Low’s appointment.

Most importantly, beyond the expected minimum of just acting against corrupt and opaque practices, we look to Datuk Paul Low to raise the bar of transparency in the Malaysian government by requiring that all Ministers and Deputy Ministers publicly declare their assets as had been done in both Penang and Selangor state governments.  The asset declaration is a critical element to regain public trust of the administration which has been riddled with corruption and abuse of power, contributing to a continuous decline of Malaysia’s rankings in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index.

Pakatan Rakyat will provide the fullest support to Datuk Paul Low to implement all necessary measures to ensure a clean, transparent and competitive government.  In fact Datuk Paul Low can afford to be the “bad cop” in the Najib administration because he will owe no political allegiance to any person or party.

However, we hope that the Najib administration isn’t just trying to have Datuk Paul Low’s impeccable credentials rub off on the former, without real and tangible reforms enforced.  Without such measures by the Prime Minister, Datuk Paul Low will only become a lame duck Minsiter, and his reputation severely tarnished.

The eyes and hopes of all Malaysians will be on the performance of Datuk Paul Low to check the rampant corruption in government.  We will not want to be disappointed.

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