Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who turned 93 today, said his birthday wish was for the Press to help the government fight corruption. The Prime Minister shared his birthday wish with the media when asked what he desired most on his special day. “I wish the press will help us overcome corruption,” he replied when quizzed on his wish during a press conference at the MACC headquarters in Putrajaya this morning.
Dr Mahathir was at the MACC headquarters where a briefing will be held for all Harapan lawmakers about the government’s new anti-corruption measures. Yesterday, Mahathir had announced that all Harapan elected representatives will have to declare their assets as well as report any gifts they receive to the relevant authorities. Today’s briefing will be delivered by National Centre for Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption chief Abu Kassim Mohamed. “All Harapan elected representatives including the ministers are expected to attend the briefing. Unfortunately, I have been given this briefing many times by Abu Kassim so I know what he is going to say and I will not be present,” he said. The briefing is supposed to ensure their lawmakers are leading by example, he said. “If they do not lead by example, then it is difficult for them to advise others to reject corruption,” Dr Mahathir said.
Dr Mahathir also said his government and members of parliament of the government must set the best example in the fight against corruption. “Otherwise, it will be difficult for them to advise others not to practice corruption and to say no to corruption.” Dr Mahathir said the government would be going all out to fight corruption, citing various examples including strengthening the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and making sure no one including the prime minister and the deputy prime minister would be above the law. On matters concerning reducing graft among public officials, Dr Mahathir said he was aware that the government paid salary at the lower scale and joked that he would consider slashing the salary of those in the private sector too. His response immediately sparked a nervous laugh from the media working in the private sector, who responded with a loud “no”.
The prime minister then related how some government-linked company bosses were taking home up to RM7 million annually. Saying he could not understand how so much money was being paid for their salaries, Dr Mahathir related how he used to earn only RM20,000 per month when he was prime minister previously. However, he said the amount was more than enough for him as all other expenses were paid by the government. “I did not even touch my salary back then as everything was paid for,” he said. On his take about corruption now compared with the time he took office in the 80s, Dr Mahathir said the government machinery then was as clean as it could be. “When we took over the government (after the 14th general election, many things have been done to fight corruption,” he added.
The statesman, who became Malaysia’s seventh prime minister after Pakatan Harapan won the last 14th general election, also joked that he was forgetful and never remembered his own birthday. But his wife, Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, is a person who will always remember his special day. “I’m forgetful, so I never remember my birthday. But my wife never forgets. Early this morning, she wished me, Happy Birthday. So I’m safe and I celebrate it too, lah. If I have to rely on myself, even my own birthday, I don’t remember,” he said. He said a dish of glutinous rice and meat rendang also marked the special day. Dr Mahathir also said before he was a public figure, he would occasionally bring Siti Hasmah out for dinner but now they could no longer do so.
Mahathir, who was Malaysia’s fourth prime minister from 1981 until 2003, was also asked about the differences in his previous and current administration. “A lot of differences. Previously, I took over the government from my own party and it was not much of a problem. The government machinery ran smoothly and I was just guiding it. This time, it was as if I had to form a new government and look for officers who are clean to manage the administration of the country and I myself don’t know them. I have to get information about them on whether or not they are suitable to helm the government machinery,” he added.