The appointment of Anwar Ibrahim as the nation’s 10th prime minister offers him an opportunity to rectify many of the recent mistakes that led to the 2018 ouster of Najib Razak’s Barisan Nasional government.
Political maneuvering over the past four years, beginning with the Sheraton Move in March 2020, has scuttled the outcome of the 14th general election and sidelined the Rakyat’s mandate.
This mandate grew out of harsh lessons Malaysia learned by allowing one man to exercise supreme authority and power over all aspects of government.
This control allowed him to put his personal and private interests ahead of those of the government.
A Prime Minister who is also in control of the Treasury effectively has unguarded access to the treasury and will most likely use it for personal gain at some point.
This is the harshest lesson Malaysians have learned from the 1MDB saga, first through revelations in the media and later through facts proven in court during Najib’s SRC International corruption case.
This case revealed how Najib used his position as prime minister to make himself 1MDB’s adviser emeritus. He then used his powers as finance minister and used his position to seize control of SRC International’s property.
He then intervened to obtain loan approvals, specifically a RM4 billion loan from KWAP – another entity under the Treasury Department’s control.
He also used the power of his combined powers as Prime Minister and Treasury Secretary to secure the issuance of government guarantees and the transfer of ownership of SRC from 1MDB to the Treasury.
He then cleared the way himself by ordering his second finance minister not to interfere in SRC matters and telling 1MDB officials to ignore existing standard operating procedures and protocols and instead report directly to him.
He also took a leading role in appointing the company’s directors, exercising complete control over the decisions made and personally signing off on all transactions.
In doing so, he became entangled in the most elaborate conflicts of interest.
When the matter became public, he used his power as prime minister to purge the country’s top officials, including its deputy prime minister, second finance minister and attorney general.
Whatever good intentions he may have had in taking on both positions was ultimately thwarted by the convenient fact that he had too much access to government machinery.
Ultimately, this led to the plundering of the nation’s riches, and in the process sullying our beloved country with the unwanted day of kleptocracy capital of the world.
This is not what the real Malaysia was or wants to be known for.
We were once a proud nation made up of principled institutions of government that followed to the letter time-honoured democratic principles that derive from the Westminster model of government that we have inherited.
As these principles were diminished, the 2018 Rakyat overthrew the incumbent government and mandated the victorious Pakatan-Harapan government to restore these principles of good governance in public life.
This is the same mandate that the current unity government must abide by.
Anwar Ibrahim’s government must show clearly and unequivocally that it understands these principles from the outset and will apply them throughout its term.
This has to start with the Prime Minister not making himself Finance Minister.
No other democracy in the world allows its prime minister to control the treasury. Malaysia should be no different.
Ibrahim M Ahmad is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.