PETALING JAYA,Feb 9: Dr Mahathir Mohamad, accusing the government of being backed by individuals with “criminal records”, says this has contributed to the rise in corruption in Malaysia.
Speaking at length on graft in the country, the former prime minister told FMT in a special interview that corruption had led to the subversion of the Pakatan Harapan government that came to power in 2018 after several MPs decided to join forces with the then opposition.
The opposition at that time, he said, was “led by people who were under suspicion and who have been tried in court for a lot of crimes”.
“So, the government (now) is backed up by people who have criminal records. And they seem to have powerful influence. So the corruption in Malaysia has reached a very high level that endangers the government of this country,” he said.
Mahathir said the 1MDB scandal showed that an “entire government” could be bought and it was at a very serious stage. He said this could lead to an administration that was either incompetent or one that is focused on power to be used as a means to enrich individuals.
The current Perikatan Nasional government, he claimed, “used a lot of money to buy support”.
Mahathir also said corruption had led to the fall of Barisan Nasional, something which he had predicted during his first stint as prime minister. Even then, people were being bribed for support.
BN lost control of the federal government in the 2018 general election.
“At that stage I had already warned them, but it is very difficult because the people were all wanting to become ministers and all that … they were prepared to even borrow money to bribe people.”
This culture, he said, was not just endemic to the then government, adding that the opposition were also guilty of such practices. “Even the opposition tries, to an extent, to bribe the people,” he said.
Mahathir said democracy had in some ways enabled corruption, as the ideology was premised on popularity. Thus, individuals will do anything to win over supporters, even resorting to money politics.
“Now, people vote according to what they are paid. It’s no longer a question of choosing the best candidate, but choosing the candidate who will give you (the most) money.
“This has gone on until it reached a stage where whole governments can be bought with money,” he said.
Mahathir’s comments come barely a month after Malaysia scored 51 points out of 100 in the latest corruption index report.
In 2019, it had reached a higher score of 53, a significant increase from 47 before the 2018 polls – the lowest since the methodology was revised in 2012.
With the latest drop in the score, Malaysia now ranks 57th in the world, from 51st previously, falling behind Saudi Arabia, Mauritius and Italy.
Mahathir said the corruption at government level had naturally seeped into the civil service.
“Normally, the civil service is quite clean, relatively clean although at some levels there would be some corruption.”
He said that when PH took over, it got rid of senior civil servants who either aided the corruption or were corrupt themselves.
“But now it has come back. As you can see, the ranking has gone down much more during the present government.”