KUALA LUMPUR, June 29 ― Former minister Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz today revealed her recent no-holds-barred talk at the request of Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, where she disclosed having bluntly advised the mostly months-old ministers and their wives against going on “ego trips” or engaging in corruption.
Rafidah, who was herself previously the international trade and industry minister for about 21 years, said she gave a talk lasting more than one hour on December 8, 2018 to ministers, deputy ministers and top civil servants in the new Pakatan Harapan administration.
“First I give a talk to support staff, special secretary and political secretary. Second, I have to give a talk to the ministers’ wives, deputy ministers’ wives. Thirdly, give a talk to ministers.
“And who sat there in front? The prime minister and his wife,” she told a public forum today, adding that Dr Mahathir would already have known what she would say due to their decades-long working relationship in the past.
Rafidah said she shared what “I think they need to know”, noting that she had started off by telling the ministers to not go on an “ego trip” after being elevated to their new positions.
“What do I mean by ego trip? Look at your car, how many of you got nameplate ‘menteri’ (minister)?
“And you go somewhere, the security guard and the police salute. They are not saluting you, they are saluting your car. You get down the car, you walk in the mall, nobody even recognises you.
“I said I look at the prime minister’s car, doesn’t say PM there, just says ‘2020’,” she said when recounting her talk.
Rafidah said she also advised the ministers’ wives and children from going on an “ego trip” by preferring to use honorary titles such as “Datuk Seri” or “Datuk” when referring to the ministers, instead of using their names or referring them as their father.
Rafidah also recalled her mother’s own remark of living a “blessed life” where one who has not betrayed the trust of people can sleep well, noting that she had advised the new leaders against corruption.
Rafidah also questioned the need to accumulate so much while being in administration, pointing out that all expenses including for maids and drivers are paid by the government and also noting that wealth would be left behind when one dies.
“So you leave everything behind, all the money, glory and title. What are you supposed to do? Work.
“Don’t surround yourself with cronies, surround yourself with civil servants who know the job, who can advise you,” she said.
“I said this is a trust of the people in you. If you are corrupt, look at those who are now proven corrupt, where you want to put your face?
“You think you can sleep well at night? You think you can pretend to smile? You should smile from your heart,” she added.
Rafidah said she had given her talk to pin drop silence.
“I did that, I was asked to talk, not that these people have not been told, some are stubborn,” said Rafidah, who was MITI minister from 1987 to 2008.
Rafidah revealed the talk she had given when asked during the forum to provide her advice to ministers who claim that their senior civil servants were undermining them.
Rafidah had also responded by saying that all senior and junior civil servants alike would be bound by certain rules and standard operating procedures.
“No reason why anybody senior or junior should be allowed to digress, in the context of good governance,” she said, noting that she would have removed such senior servants if they went against the procedures.
“Because you can’t have these kind of wrong examples set by so-called seniors,” she said, adding that senior civil servants should know better and are supposed to guide the ministers if the latter are new to the job.
Rafidah said she had also advised the ministers to treat civil servants as “friends” and not “make enemies” of them, but also said civil servants found to be corrupt should be removed.
Rafidah was speaking at a forum titled The Current State of Malaysia’s Education System and the Way Forward, which was jointly organised by Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (GERAK) and Persatuan Patriot Kebangsaan (Patriot) and held at Universiti Malaya’s law faculty.