Why do Malaysian Ministers refuse to go on leave, or better still, resign, when their character in public office is called into question?

Ministers who suffer even a whiff of impropriety should immediately
(1) make a public statement explaining the circumstances of the allegations against them;
(2) allow space for enforcement agencies and Parliamentary Committees to do their investigation; and
(3) go on leave.

[1] There are larger issues at play here

A fundamental point about democracy is that no one leader is above public query.

For many decades, this used to be the standard in the UK and the US. So also, in the Nordic countries (e.g. Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland).

[2] Examples

All who followed this rule were later rehabilitated into politics.

Several examples will drive home the point.

In 1963  Macmillan’s resigned as British PM over the Profumo affair. Lord Denning shot to early fame when he headed the investigation.

In July 2022, Boris Johnson resigned over a simple issue. Fifty MPs resigned without thought to their political careers. Johnson had no choice but to go.

Similarly, Health Minister Matt Hancock and Gina Coladangelo were caught kissing. It was a breach of COVID-19 restrictions. The Health Minister resigned the next day.

The Prime Minister of Estonia, Jüri Ratas, resigned after an investigation suspected that his party was involved in ‘criminal involvement’ in relation to a businessman, one Hillar Teder.

Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson was the prime minister of Iceland from May 2013.

In April 2016, the Swedish television station SVT’s investigative programme interviewed David. The interview was held after the financial crisis.

During the interview, Sigmundur David was specifically asked about his connection to any Panama Papers revelations.  He claimed to have made all the proper disclosures.

The Panama Papers are 11.5 million leaked documents that were published on April 3, 2016. The papers detail finances for over 214,488 offshore entities. 

David said it was “very important” for everyone to “pay a fair share into society” and that “paying less than one’s share constituted cheating society.”

Later news coverage on the Panama Papers revealed that David and his wife shared ownership of a foreign company, and a creditor of failed Icelandic banks, Wintris.

These reports revealed that David had failed to disclose his 50% share when he entered the parliament in 2009. He resigned forthwith.

[3] Has it ever happened in Malaysia?

Only twice, as I recall: you know why Chua Soi Lek resigned in 2008.

In June 2018, Shahrizat Abdul Jalil stepped down as minister for Women, Family and Community Ministry.

She said, “The one thing we must know in politics is when to leave”.

Do you remember why?

Which brings me to Patel.  in 2020, UK Home Minister Priti Patel broke the UK ministerial code by bullying civil servants.

When PM Johnson supported her, this led to an Independent Advisor on Ministerial Standards, Alex Allan resigning in protest.

[4] Does the Malaysian Cabinet have even a written Ministerial Code?

Speaking of that, does the Malaysian Cabinet have even a written Ministerial Code? Or is it a white elephant whose existence is only celebrated by its constant breach?

[5] What about Asian ministers?

Teh Cheang Wan was a Singaporean politician. He was in charge of the Housing Development Board. He was also the Minister for National Development of Singapore. He was investigated for corruption in November 1986. He committed suicide a month later.

Certainly, the Vietnamese seem to exhibit some honour. In mid-January 2023, Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc resigned after a series of high-profile corruption scandals broke. He was held responsible for them.

One can go on listing examples of men and women who have acted with ministerial responsibility.

[6] Silence in the face of crisis

Our ministers, when assailed by factors that question their suitability for public office, instead of resorting to this standard, remain silent.

They hope the public will forget. They hope the shadows of doubts gnawing at the public mind will gradually dissipate.

This attitude is not only improper, but it is also positively irresponsible: in some cases, even criminal. And remember this, if you are a politician: the public has a long memory.

If Najib can be charged, tried and sent to prison, why should not the corrupt ministers of the current government?

Why should they enjoy special treatment? What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

[7] Why are Malaysian ministers and civil servants reluctant to act by a proper set of ethical rules?

Are they no different from the self-serving Backdoor Cabinet that did all sorts of things unknown in a civilised, democratic society based on the Rule of Law?

Minister Siva should go on leave and explain himself, or at least be seen to be rendering his immediate resignation.

This will set a high standard that is practised in all successful democracies, where the Rule of Law and public interest are more important than holding on to one’s ministerial seat.

The current set of Malaysian cabinet ministers and senior civil servants must set a high standard. Their predecessors have singularly failed in it.



I thank Prabhkirat Singh for helping with editing.

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