Saturday, May 17, 2008


Datuk Seri Tengku Azlan Sultan Abu Bakar has always been out of the Malaysian political radar. Thus, it was ironic that the name of this low-profile younger brother of the Sultan of Pahang was on the lips of many when he marked the beginning of his political exit by rejecting the deputy FOREIGN minister’s post. He talks to R. Nadeswaran and Terence Fernandez about this and his reservations about Umno.

"This jawatan is not for ever, you know.
One day, you’ll be an ordinary person walking
into a bookshop and people will spit at you. Malu!"

You are one of few members of the royal household who ventured into politics. What were your reasons?

The 1987 Umno crisis. It was a hell of a fight and when Mahathir did not allow Tengku Razaleigh’s followers to join Umno Baru, the party was deregistered, and then several events like the sacking of Tun Salleh Abas. So I thought I would like to be part of the movement to correct the situation and help people like Tengku Razaleigh correct situations like the involvement of political masters in the judiciary. Of course he (Mahathir) says there was no such thing, but we all know that he got involved.

So I thought I could help the people. Although I was in a position to do so, we could only do so much to highlight the problems.

So you were a Semangat 46 member before you became an Umno member?

I was a member of the Pekan Lama Umno branch around 1983-84. I stood against Sabaruddin Chik in Temerloh but lost by 3,000-over votes. To me it’s not a matter of losing but being able to put your point across. It’s okay. This is a better way, through elections, instead of taking to the streets.

What changes would you like to see in Umno for the betterment of the country?

For a party that has done a lot of service to the country since independence … whether it’s Umno, MCA or MIC … its members sacrificed in order to contribute to the party funds. And those were big sacrifices. Now it’s the other way – people join Umno to get something out of it. Instead of political gain, they also want financial gain. They join for other reasons, not to contribute to society.

And as time goes by, I see more and more of this happening. Today because of the quota system, you won’t be getting the right people at the top, because those who got to the top may have used some way or other to get to the top. You may get the votes because you do certain things, but you know very well inside you that you are not the right person, but through your influence … like the former vice-president who used money politics, he got up there and got disgraced. And if Umno continues with this, where the wrong people sit at the top, it will destroy the party as the right people who really want to serve cannot get there. We want people with the credibility, the knowledge and the experience.

I can put this question: Even if you are the president of the party today, are you really the most popular person in the party? I would put a question mark! It’s true because of the system. But if three million people could vote, then we will know if he is the most popular person in Umno. But we don’t have this system of referendum in the country today.

So, what kind of reforms are you looking at?

Get rid of the quota and maybe get a bigger number of delegates where money politics cannot penetrate. If you have 30-40 thousand people voting, it will be difficult to buy votes, right? A thousand plus, very easy!

Talking about the vice-president being involved in money politics, do you think Umno has learnt from this or do you think it will continue in the coming party polls?

No. People who are used to doing it will continue to do it.

What is holding Umno back from having good people? Why are professionals reluctant to join the party?

It is how the leader perceives it. When you are outspoken, it doesn’t pay. You become a nuisance, sort of a maverick. For me, I will say it if something is not right. Whether you like what I say is secondary, but I will point it out if it is wrong, at the risk of me being unpopular with the leadership.

You were one of those who did not really vie for party positions. How did you survive in Umno by being unambitious?

Well, I contested for the supreme council twice, and got over 700 votes, but I never got myself involved in any wrongdoing. I believe my conscience is clear. I offer myself to serve. I leave it to you-lah! If you feel I’m not good enough, it’s not my problem-lah. To me, position is just a conduit to get things done for the people. You can do a lot more if you have position. It’s not something that is glamorous so you can be sombong (cocky) about it. I don’t need titles. The moment I was born I had a title and though today I am no longer deputy minister, I can still walk with my head held high. People still respect me. Respect is something you earn. People look at you as a person. They don’t care a damn if you are a minister or not, if you act like a hooligan.

I believe I can still contribute even as an ordinary MP. That’s why I rejected the deputy minister’s post, do a bit of business, serve the people of Jerantut. This is my last term. I am also getting old.

So rejecting the deputy minister’s post was not because you were disappointed at not being made a full minister?

I wouldn’t say that. In fact I was happy to get out. I said "if you cannot put me up, then I will go". Give others a chance. I can do more on the outside.

So if you were promoted, you would have stayed?

I would have continued, as then I can help people more. As a minister you have more power. A deputy minister has got no powers … powerless actually, just answer questions in Parliament. You want to put forward ideas which you cannot as a deputy minister.

Tengku, did it occur to you that to survive in Umno, you need to align yourself with someone? That’s why you got only 700 votes.

Why should I align myself with anybody? I am aligned with Umno!

Being a lone ranger does not show political savvy as people cannot gauge your support for particular camps.

But if Umno has changed, when we have good people in Umno, they will appreciate people like me. Problem is you don’t have many good people in Umno today; so they won’t appreciate people like me. Only good people appreciate good people (laughs).

If there are good people in Umno, they should appreciate what I have done. I think there are only 30% of good people in Umno. The 700 people who voted for me are good people. The quality of delegates is diminishing.

Like Pak Lah, when he was out in the cold, he was voted back into Umno. These are the good people who voted for him because they thought this man could do something good for Umno.

Why has Umno deviated from this founding principle that it takes care of all races?

Somewhere, somehow, people got greedy. And this is something that started during Mahathir’s time. If you look at all the big projects that have been given over the last 15-20 years, I think it is between 12 to 20 companies that keep getting these projects.

If you talk about Indians, in my area there about 1,400, and I know some of them are suffering. In Kampung Muhibbah – the land that they stayed on for over 20 years – they were never given any titles. I solved the problem in a matter of months. That’s why the Indian community is still supportive of me there.

The orang asli also, they need to be looked after. The Indians and orang asli – 95% supported Barisan Nasional. They did not know any other party. Why can’t we help them? Also some Chinese, the Malays – many have supported the BN. We should take care of them. Repay them for keeping this government in place for 50 years.

But then, look at the election results. These are the people who said "enough is enough!". They said "you never helped us. For all the loyalty we have shown, you did not help us".

Actually, they wanted to give the BN a wake-up call. I don’t think they expected such results.

Look at Hindraf. If things were looked into seriously to help the Indians, they would probably have been happier with us.

That’s why I said, as a wakil rakyat (people’s representative) you cannot be arrogant. The rakyat is the boss. Even the prime minister, when he goes back to his kawasan (constituency), he is the wakil rakyat.

That is the dilemma of some leaders, where you have to wear two masks. At the kawasan they are MPs and they wakil everyone; at the Umno level, they say I don’t need the votes of the Indians or Chinese.

You cannot say those things. When you contested in the election, you contested under the BN banner, not Umno. I have 28% Chinese votes in Jerantut. I need every vote.

What kind of reforms would you have instituted had you been in the Cabinet? What kind of reforms have you pushed for?

In those days, the party had some control over the government. Anything that the Cabinet is going to discuss, at the supreme council level, if the party feels this is not what the government should be doing – things would have to stop there and then. Today, there is no sensitivity between party and government, no good rapport between the party supreme council and the Cabinet. We should go back to those days, where there was some check and balance. Discuss with the parties in the coalition.

Also, all projects must be (by) open tender. No more direct negotiations, may the best person win. These days, we tell people no "direct nego", but we know these things are still happening. I have already suggested that we scrap the Economic Planning Unit (EPU). Every ministry must have its own intelligence unit to study projects and proposals. Sometimes we make them too strong and high-handed, especially the officers there. Sometimes some proposal gets stuck there. If you have a small EPU in every ministry, let the ministry do the evaluation and bring up to the Cabinet. If the Cabinet is not happy, go back to the ministry, re-evaluate. Otherwise, there is bureaucracy ... ministry blames EPU, EPU blames ministry, ding dong ding dong, it goes on for months.

Also you must pay government servants and ministers private sector rates, but … no second chance. Whether minister or deputy minister, if you do something wrong, you are sacked or go to jail, then we will see how effective it is to reform the civil service.

The problem now is that only the small fish are getting caught. They tried to make an example of (former land and cooperative development minister) Kasitah Gaddam but in the pecking order, he is quite small.

The big fish also must catch-lah. That’s double standards, right? No one is above the law, including the PM. He said so himself. Even if he is the prime minister, that does not mean he is an angel. If he did something wrong, then he should also face the music.

The problem is that the enforcement agencies are beholden to the politicians.

You are a public servant. You have your guidelines. If you feel something needs to be made known to the public, you make it known to the public even at the expense of your job. If you think you are right, then you should not kow-tow to the political masters. You must be a civil servant of some calibre.

If the PM asks me to do something wrong, I won’t do it. My conscience is clear, even if I lose my position. This jawatan (position) is not forever, you know. One day, you’ll be an ordinary person walking into a bookshop and people will spit at you. Malu! (shame).

Can you tell us about your four years as deputy transport minister?

There were things done before my time and before Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy’s time. We as members of the government felt there were things that were not supposed to be done, but we have to defend collective decisions.

Also there is a lot of bureaucracy. Bureaucracy invites corruption. If things can be done fast, it will cut down on corruption. Also, the federal projects that go down to the state, a lot of hiccups and I’m sorry to say that at the state level, they cannot understand what the federal government wants to do.

Many government servants also do not understand the concept of privatisation. They need to be open to having the private sector involved in the decision-making process

But like I said before, government servants must be paid well. We are so far behind other countries in this respect. You get what you pay-lah! Good pay means you get good things, this is the world today.

Did you find good civil servants whose ideas were shot down and their progress stifled?

I’m sure it happens. But in the ministry during my time there, I was always open to good suggestions. We are quite okay. We work well with our officers.

What would you perceive to be the ideal Malaysia?

I think we must go back to our roots, take a good look at where we came from and where we went wrong. The whole foundation of Malaysia as a people is cracking. We have been lost and we need to go back to the starting point.

Maybe we should start with dismantling communal politics. As the last election showed, race-based politics is out of style.

Barisan Nasional itself is already ready for it.

You think so? Why can’t we just have Barisan Nasional?

Someone should suggest it. There’s nothing wrong. You see, if you are an Indian and you talk about strengthening your community at a platform full of Indians, if I am sitting there, I will not take offence. Depends on where you say it and how you say it. If I am a Malay speaking about uplifting the Malays and killing all these jealousies, it is okay, but you cannot say "I want you to be better than the Chinese or Indians, so we should suppress them".

Why should I get offended if you are talking about uplifting the Indians? But if you say "go to hell with the Malays", sure-lah I get offended.

We have co-existed for so long. Mana ada problem dulu? (There weren’t problems then). Look at Tun Tan Siew Sin, how he took care of the country’s money. I have full respect for him. I don’t hold a grudge because he is Chinese. He is one of the best finance ministers we ever had. Tun V.T. Sambanthan and Tan Sri V. Manickavasagam ... they were great leaders.

How did we come about this communal thing? We had no issues before.

In my kawasan, I speak about strengthening Umno in front of Indians and Chinese. They have no problems.

When I go to the Indian area, I tell MIC "you must tell us what you want", and if I have programmes with Indians, I go through MIC.

At the height of the Hindraf issue, I had programmes with the Indians. I asked them how many went for Hindraf? Only one person, and he is not even a voter from Jerantut!

I said "why didn’t you go? You should have all gone just to listen to what they had to say. Nothing wrong with that".

If you are an open-minded person, there will not be any problems. These are narrow-minded politicians.

That’s the problem. These politicians feel they have to play the race card just to fish for votes, even if it means offending the other communities.

The bloody fools should not be talking like that.

If you read some statements these politicians have been making, they are all preparing for the party AGM. We are liberal people and can recognise political rhetoric, but what about those who are not so discerning? They will take rhetoric for reality and react.

That’s why I said these are wrong leaders. Umno has put wrong people in place. You remember those days – Tunku, Tun Razak, Tun Hussein Onn, even Mahathir – where were there problems?

Didn’t the rot start with Mahathir?

Mahathir is a very liberal person, you know.

But he allowed people to say this. Mahathir has done great things for the country, but he messed up the judiciary and condoned corruption.

Yes. Correct. You are right.

Is Pak Lah still the right man to lead Umno?

For the moment. He cannot resign now. Give him some time to reorganise the party and then step down. He cannot be wholly faulted for the poor showing in the election, but as the leader he must take responsibility.

He has to go before the next general election but not now. And this time, he has to serve the full term. It was bad timing this time around with so much unfinished business … the Khairy factor et cetera. He still had one year for damage control and I think he should have taken advantage of this.

Somehow his image as a leader has taken a beating and he will never recover from it.

This article was printed from Welcome to Sun2Surf
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