Putting an end to ‘tutup-tutup’ culture in Malaysia

JUNE 22 — Just recently, a private citizen with absolutely no position in the government or a seat in Parliament suggested a gag order on Minister of Finance Lim Guan Eng. 

According to him, Guan Eng exposing all the financial scandals (which the finance minister clarified was at the behest of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad) scares away investors.

Why should we keep our financial troubles hush hush? 

That would mean we are misleading investors into thinking we have no problems!

But this tutup-tutup (cover up) culture is prevalent in Malaysian politics and at no time was this more obvious than during the time of Najib Razak’s administration. 

During this period in our history, the financial scandal elephant in the room was 1MDB. In the operating room of democracy — Parliament — the biggest financial scandal in the country could not be discussed. When high ranking officials voiced their concern, they were removed. This was the height of tutup-tutup culture.

In Malaysia Baru, we should not have any room for this toxic tutup-tutup culture. It has cost us literally billions of ringgit before so why should we fall into that trap again? 

To tutup aib orang (cover the shortcomings of others) is fine if it is dealing with something personal. Example, there were several unflattering pictures of the former prime minister and his wife during their Hari Raya open house which received jeers and insults from Malaysians online. 

I thought that particularly uncouth and ill-mannered. No one deserves such treatment. 

But commenting on the money and luxury items found in their homes is not a personal attack. Rather, the possible misappropriation of public funds needs to be investigated thoroughly. We cannot practise tutup-tutup there because a possible crime might have been committed.

In order for us to promote the culture of transparency, we need to give the rakyat access to their leaders. Najib Razak had a coterie of bodyguards who ensured that he did not have to answer awkward questions. 

This can be seen in the damning documentary by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation a few years ago. While politicians’ safety should still be maintained, they need to speak to the rakyat face to face on a regular basis.

The rakyat then needs to form groups of experts who can effectively question such politicians. This ought to be at the level of expertise Tony Pua demonstrated when dealing with 1MDB. 

We should remember that Arul Kanda, the then-CEO of 1MDB, was paid to give a series of answers which would be impenetrable to the average Malaysian. However, I noticed several counter arguments on social media by financial professionals to which Arul was either unaware or simply could not answer. 

Imagine what would happen if Arul was on stage with Najib Razak (the 1MDB supremo who was also the finance minister as well as the prime minister then) and they had to face a team of financial experts led by Tony Pua? 1MDB would have been exposed a long time ago!

In short, it would be all too easy for us to slip back into the dark days of Umno. Umno with its tutup-tutup mentality thrives on these shady dealings behind closed doors.  

1MDB is now emerging as the tip of the iceberg. Politicians, with their layers of insulation from the rakyat, can easily avoid being exposed. We cannot allow this to happen. Transparency must be practised if we are to fulfil the vision of Malaysia Baru.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.