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Politicians never learn
Published on: Sunday, July 30, 2017

By Datuk Dr Johan Arriffin
PPBM Chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said its best to forget about the past to create a better political future for the country.

In response to Mahathir’s call, Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak said the past must never be forgotten especially in politics, there are many mistakes that must be rectified, that history was a lifelong teacher and we should not forget history as it is an important reference for future generations.

“If we do not learn from history, then we will not move forward because we are doomed to repeat it,” he said.

Salleh cited the BMF (Bumiputra Malaysia Finance) case, Memali, Operasi Lalang, Forex, MAS privatisation, 1997 financial crisis, Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy trial, the dismissal of the Chief Justice as examples of the murky past under Mahathir’s regime.

Detractors of the current regime would say we have not moved forward as we are already doomed and repeated the past mistakes that Mahathir made. They would offer numerous examples; the Scorpene submarine case where two former top executives of DCNI has been indicted for allegedly paying commission of US 131 million to a Malaysian contact, the successful prosecution of Anwar Ibrahim sodomy trial in 2015 led by allegedly Muhammad Shafee who was paid RM 9.5 million as fees according to Sarawak Report, the US Department of Justice biggest kleptocracy case involving 1MDB, the Felda FGV alleged corruption and losses, the National Security Council (NSC) Act 2016, the RM107 million Sport Ministry corruption scandal and the RM 114 million Sabah waterworks scandal, to name a few.

The German Philosopher GWF Hegel (1770-1832) observed. “What experience and history teaches us is that people and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.

We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” GWF Hegel observations are reinforced by the Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952) who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Salleh was part of Mahathir’s regime and served as the Chief Minister of Sabah from 1994-1996.

If history is a lifelong teacher, shouldn’t we learn something by now and not repeat the same mistakes.

Certainly, many of us have not forgotten the past especially in politics, unless we are senile.

But simply saying mistakes must be rectified needs more than just mere talk.

Even if we learn from Mahathir’s past mistakes and misdeeds, history repeats itself when it comes to abuses and misdeeds. Take the case of Isa Samad. Isa was suspended for three years from June 24, 2005 on seven corruption charges for money politics and vote buying in the 2004 Umno elections.

But he was made Chairman of Felda FGV and saw damage to what was supposedly to be one of the biggest oil palm conglomerate and the darling of the stock market. Isa’s tenure at Felda FGV has done irreparable damage to help the Malay poor out of poverty and dented the government’s reputation; a government which has yet to recover from the 1MDB controversy.

I am sure that many people did not forget Isa Samad’s failings. Using the selective memory mode, our leaders just repeated the same mistakes all over again. In double quick time Isa was appointed as Chairman of SPAD, another prominent government organisation with big budget. In Isa’s case, it clearly shows how the current leadership is willing to forget the past quickly and move on without holding anyone accountable for the mess.

MACC chief Dzulkifli Ahmad announced that he has ordered for the Felda probe to be re-opened on July 10, and that the MACC would act against “traitors”. The sad thing is, it will be sometime before anyone is charged or made responsible as MACC has already declared a moratorium on politicians until the next election is over!

Under damage control mode, PM Najib on July 23 announced six incentives for Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) settlers with a total allocation of RM474.78 million.

These incentives were in the form of debt disposals, incentive payments, the setting-up of a special fund and grant as well as a housing incentive, among others.

This begs the question, where is the money coming from to pay for these new allocation and incentives?

Is it from the Malaysian taxpayers or from the shareholders of the company under a financial restructuring plan?

People will say why throw good money after bad? Why mop up somebody’s mess at the expense of the rakyat?

The new allocation of RM474.78 million could have been used to provide more university scholarships, build rural hospitals, roads and bridges and new housing for the poor.

There is no lifelong learning from Isa’s case as we are repeating the mistakes of the past at the expense of the rakyat.

While our politicians sell a rosy picture of the future to the rakyat they also hope that the bad are forgotten, the slate is wiped clean and that people are willing to forget and forgive and move on.

With Mahathir as the number one enemy of the ruling government, it’s no wonder that a RCI has been formed to investigate the forex losses in 1990s. One way of learning from history is to form a RCI which the current government has done to investigate the forex losses during Mahathir’s regime in the 1990s.

A former Bank Negara Assistant Governor revealed that BNM suffered US$10 billion in foreign exchange market losses in the early 1990s, much higher than the figure of RM9 billion disclosed by BNM.

An opinion piece in Singapore’s The Straits Times by associate editor Ravi Velour says it is not easy to predict if the inquiry will have its intended outcome. “However, by stirring skeletons thought to have been buried a quarter-century ago, it will certainly embarrass the grand old man of Malaysian politics in the twilight of his long and remarkable life.”

If we look at the Project IC as an example, the outcome is inconclusive. Sabahans expected more after a lengthy public hearing and testimonies from 211 witnesses.

Since then everything has gone quiet and Sabahans who expected an affirmative action were disappointed with the outcome and described the RCI findings as a whitewash. RCI is useless unless there is a positive outcome and lessons learnt not to repeat the same mistakes.

What in fact the forex RCI will do is to create a precedent where successive government will investigate the past government’s misdeeds.

It is unlikely that anyone would be brought to book and whatever papers comes out of it will soon be gathering dust. History lessons have become academic for politicians and the abuses and misdeeds are likely to be repeated. It doesn’t happen only in Malaysia. The only difference perhaps with other countries is that culprits are brought to book and charged in court or resign their posts. But not in Malaysia.

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