Letter of support and the Bazaar-gate - By Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Malaysiakini : “The worst disease in the world today is corruption. And there is a cure: transparency.” – Bono, U2
COMMENT | A number of readers
have written in asking me what I thought about the whole ‘bazaar-gate’
and this controversy over letters of support. Something sticks in my
craw when it comes to this issue. Besides demonstrating the “petty”
corruption that is endemic to the system, it also illustrates the kind
of corruption that slowly builds into something more over the long term.
When DAP’s Tan Kok Wai says something extremely dumb like this
- “So are you (DBKL Licensing and Petty Traders Developmental
Department director Anwar Mohd Zain) actually saying that the MP is more
powerful than the mayor? – when attempting to defend the actions of
Bukit Bintang MP Fong Kui Lun in issuing a letter of support, two points
need to be made:
1. If the letter of support or any letter of support from an MP is not influential in any way, then why write such letters?
2. Considering the culture of bureaucratic corruption and connivance
with the state, these letters, especially during the Umno regime,
obviously meant something. The fact that elements in the Kuala Lumpur
City Hall (DBKL) consider such letters as influential should tell us
something about the way how politicians and bureaucrats engage with one
another. Maybe if Pakatan Harapan had sent a memo that such letters should not
be entertained, then perhaps, Tan could use this line of attack. Tan in
defending his party member and laying the blame solely on DBKL is
mendacious and the kind of political legerdemain that Harapan should not
In fact, what the DAP should be doing is conducting an independent
investigation on Fong and make the results known to the rakyat. This, of
course, should be in tandem with whatever investigations that the MACC
does and whatever the state security apparatus is doing. As to the question of letters of support, this is problematic.
Politicians engaging in some form of corruption often do so with these
so-called letters of support. However, the reality is that politicians
who genuinely want to help their constituents also use letters of
support when it comes to dealing with the bureaucracy.
Are letters of support done in good faith a bad thing? This depends
if you believe that there should be a strict separation between the
bureaucracy and political operatives. Real life is messy and there are
as many examples of politicians engaging with the bureaucracy through
letters of support which have helped the lives of people. But more often
than not, letters of support, specifically in the former regime, were
used to facilitate corruption.
When it comes to Fong (photo), my main issue is, why didn’t
he do his due diligence? Look, when it comes to these traders, the
culture of DBKL and the way how small business people are routinely
preyed upon by the system, there is ample evidence that something
stinks. Claiming that traders would not be charged is not an acceptable
answer when issuing these letters of support. If the traders should be
legitimately charged, then it should not be the job of the politicians
to allow them to circumvent this regulation.
Fong is described as a “long-term” MP so surely, he would understand
the kind of corrupt practices that goes on in the bureaucracy which
Harapan claims it wants to reform. Now I’m not saying that there was
anything mala fide in what Fong did, but it just seems so
bizarre that someone of Fong’s experience does not think it queer that
something could go wrong when it comes to political operatives, traders
and the way DBKL works.
I mean surely if these traders could not get licences from DBKL, the
solution would be to discover why they could not get licenses - is there
an unbalance of power between long-term traders and short-term traders
and how this issue could be resolved. Honestly isn’t this what the
common rakyat voted Harapan in for - to reform the system so there would
not be a pecking order for people who just want to trade or make some
extra money in these trying economic times, for example?
Surely there are better ways to raise funds for these fees without
circumventing the law. Also, this whole idea of traffic congestion. If
trading along these path causes traffic congestion, then the needs of
the majority of road users unfortunately trump the economic interest of
these traders. Again, a politician should not be in the business of
facilitating traffic jams or circumventing regulations merely to help
What would happen if any investigation discovered corruption in this
issue? What would be the DAP’s and Bersatu’s stand be? Even if Fong
acted in good faith, what would be the consequences if it was discovered
that there was a conspiracy to screw the traders in a manner which is
entirely consistent with the way how the former regime did things?
Furthermore, what is DBKL doing approving lots for political
operatives as claimed by Bukit Bintang Bersatu Youth chief Mohd
Noorhisyam Abdul Karim (photo). He “also said
that even though DBKL had approved 80 lots for him, the actual space
given was only enough for 53 lots.” Can DBKL approve lots for anyone or
is it just political operatives, which would again make the claim by Tan
about the lack of influence of letters of support nonsensical
considering the operating procedures of DBKL.
But all of this gets even more complicated. In all these reports,
traders make many allegations in the press but as yet no trader has been
named as being fleeced by political operatives. In press reports, no
trader – as yet – has actually lodged a report against any political
operatives. This is understandable, of course, and one of the reasons
why they should be a strict line separating political operatives from
the bureaucracy even though it may sometimes come at the costs of
hurting those who actually need the assistance of politicians when it
involves the bureaucracy.
Bone fide letters of support issued by the former BN regime and the
current Harapan regime have helped individuals. Make no mistake about
that. But helping individuals, or maybe even groups of people, does not
reform the system. Instead it reinforces a certain mentality that in
order for the bureaucracy to work, what is needed is the right political
connections. This is never a good thing.
I may sound simplistic but really isn’t the goal of reforming the
civil service mean that politicians should not be needed in the
interaction between the rakyat and the bureaucracy? Should not
politicians come into play to expose the inadequacy of the civil service
and the need for reforms?
Are not letters of support (even in good faith) merely a symptom of a dysfunctional bureaucracy?