Malaysia Incorporated: Mahathir’s distortion of ethical standards

By Tunku Abdul Aziz

Today many question why, all of a sudden, I am taking Tun Mahathir to task for his excesses, many verging dangerously on the criminal that happened in the dim and distant past.

And what good would an official probe, such as that conducted by a Royal Commission of Inquiry do, they ask? For the record, I have been a Mahathir critic even when he was prime minister.

What follows, with minor refining, is an excerpt of a speech I made at the International Conference sponsored by the Queensland University of Technology Centre for the Study of Ethics, at Parliament House, Brisbane, from 11 – 13 February, 1999.

The speech was subsequently published by the Australian Journal of Public Administration in Volume 58 Number 4 – December 1999, under the title: Malaysia Inc. Ethics on Trial.

Mahathir often says somewhat sweepingly that Malays forget easily. To help jog the memory of readers of Malaysia Outlook, especially Malays of the younger generation, I offer the following tale of one man’s misguided sense of his own political immortality that took this country to the brink of unsalvageable disaster in racial, social, economic and political terms.

Mahathir’s 22 year stewardship, a word used here advisedly, is a legacy that has left a bitter taste in the mouth of the nation.

IN the wake of the NEP, Malays in positions of power and authority perverted the banking system to an extent that was not thought possible in a country that prided itself on having put in place apparently sophisticated corporate legal systems for dealing with just such ethical lapses.

Yet, the problems were compounded by an administration that was in many instances, responsible for perpetrating some of the worst financial excesses and scams.

In these circumstances, it would have been totally unrealistic to expect a commitment to transparency and accountability in either government or corporate sector business transactions.

Bank Bumiputra, touted as the ‘flagship’ of the New Economic Policy was established in 1978 and by 1988 it had assets worth more than US$15 billion. It moved aggressively into new territories, lending recklessly to politically well-connected companies and individuals, many of whom possessed neither the capacity nor the intention to make good the loans.

The bank shifted large sums of money to its wholly-owned subsidiary in Hong Kong, Bumiputra Malaysia Finance Limited, or BMF, which in turn lent in total close to US$1 billion to a Hong Kong $2.00 company called Plessey Investment Limited and another, Carrian Investments Limited.

Carrian went on a shopping spree, picking up a US$350 million investment in California and a 328-hectare real estate development in Florida (Clad 1989:53).

Within months of the BMF money going through his books, George Tan, the man who boasted that his Carrian Conglomerate would last centuries, saw his empire reduced to ashes. Bank Bumiputra’s catastrophic financial loss caused irreparable damage to Malay pride and prestige.

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