Would a vigilant and responsible Parliament have saved $350 million from the $2.5 billion Bumiputra Malaysia Finance (BMF) loans scandal?

Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, at the ALIRAN Dialogue
of Concern III held at Hotel Merlin, Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, 14.7.1985 at l0.30 am.

Would a vigilant and responsible Parliament have saved $350 million from the $2.5 billion Bumiputra Malaysia Finance (BMF) loans scandal?

The 25th anniversary of Malaysian Parliament is marked by the constant erosion of the principle and practice of parliamentary democracy in the last quarter of a century.

There is on the one hand the relentless curtailment of the basic freedoms of political
organisation, of speech, expression, assembly, press, information, as well as the growing
politics of corruption and money, marked by blatant attempts to nullify the electoral
verdicts of the people as happened in Sabah recently.

On the other hand, there has been the ceaseless dimunition of the supreme role and
position of Parliament by the arbitrary majority amendments to the Standing Orders,
parliamentary practices and conventions to reduce Parliament to be a rubber stamp
of the Government.

I do not propose to deal with these large issues today, as the Aliran Chairman,
Chandra Muzaffar, had eloquently dealt with them, and I am sure other participants
would also be dwelling on theme.

I propose to confine myself to a more narrow focus, Parliament and the BMF. One good
way to evaluate the role, function and relevance of Malaysian Parliament is to examine
its record on the biggest financial and banking scandal of the country – the $2.5 billion
Bumiputra Malaysia Finance scandal.

Ever since March 1983, DAP MPs had tried to get the government to give a full and
proper accounting of the BMF loans scandal to Parliament and the people, but we were
met with evasions, deceptions, half-truths and even downright lies.

For instance, in March 1983, we sought to adjourn the House to debate an
Asian Wall Street Journal report detailing the improper and corrupt loan and financial
transactions of BMF officials with Carrian and Eda group of companies as a definite
matter of urgent public importance. We failed, although 20 months later, the Ahmad Nordin
BMF Inquiry Committee confirmed the Asian Wall Street revelations.

In retrospect, if Parliament had been more vigilant and responsible way back in March 1983,
demanding a full and proper accounting of the BMF loans scandal, it might have saved the
country some $350 million! This is because according to the interim report of the Ahmad Nordin
BMF Inquiry Committee, BMF loans to the Carrian and Eda groups increased from $1,497 million
in 1982 to $1,841 million in 1983 – an increase of some $350 million, Malaysians
should be asking whether a vigilant and responsible Parliament would have saved $350 million
from the $2.5-billion BMF loans scandal, if Parliament had intervened in March 1983.

DAP MPs had used all available parliamentary manoevres to try to compel greater government accountability to Parliament on the BMF loans scandal, whether in the form of parliamentary questions, attempts to adjourn the House on a definite matter of urgent public importance, motion or even $10-cut motions to the salary of the Finance Minister during Budget proceedings, but not to much avail.
We have even been accused by UMNO MPs and Ministers of trying to destroy the Malay political leadership in the country because of our demands on the BMF loans scandal!

The government’s contempt for Parliament could best be seen by the Prime Minister,
Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed’s action in choosing to make a statement on the
BMF scandal in October l983 outside Parliament, although the Dewan Rakyat was in session –
when it was impossible for the government to pretend nothing was amiss as the Hong Kong Court
had come out with startling revelations about the massive BMF loans to Carrian.

What was shocking was that MPs of the ruling parties did not have any
sense of moral outrage at the ‘heinous crimes’ and ‘criminal breaches of trust’
of the BMF loans scandal. Their attitude appeared to be that there was nothing
to be agitated, and it was a great pity that the BMF ‘culprits’ were ‘caught’.

The position would probably have been very different if Tun Hussein Onn was still
Prime Minister when the BMF scandal erupted, for on his public disclosure of the
Price Waterhouse investigations into the Bank Rakyat scandal, it was likely that he would have established a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the BMF scandals.

Tun Hussein has emerged as a uncompromising advocate for a full public accounting of the
BMF loans scandal, and this is most remarkable in view of some allegations that Tun Hussein Onn
should bear responsibility for the BMF loans scandal as it was under his Prime Ministership that the BMF-Carrian connection was first established, in l979 and l980. Clearly, Tun Hussein Onn
has nothing to hide.

The pressures inside and outside Parliament had led to the grudging establishment of
a house inquiry committee headed by Tan Sri Ahmad Nordin, which is a far cry from the
popular demand for a Royal Commission of Inquiry.

Recent developments of the BMF scandal had again put Parliament to the test. Firstly,
the Prime Minister has come out publicly against the government being more open and
forthright, as in the publication of the Ahmad Nordin BMF Committee reports. Secondly,
the Attorney-General’s decision and announcement that Malaysia had no jurisdiction against BMF officials for offences committed in Hong Kong in the BMF scandal, although the Lord President
had to deny the next day that he was the authority for the AG’s views. Thirdly,
the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Musa Hitam’s statement to foreign correspondents that Malaysia would fully collaborate with the Hong Kong authorities and expressing confidence in the British
course of justice appeared to indicate a new government policy stand to wash its hands of any responsibility to bring the BMF culprits to book.

Parliament is now the last forum and resort for Malaysians to overrule the Attorney-General,
the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, and the entire Cabinet, to demand that there should be a full, unrestricted accounting of the entire sordid tale of the BMF scandal, and that the Malaysian
authorities should leave no stone unturned to bring the BMF culprits to justice in Malaysia as it is
$2.5 billion of Malaysian public monies which are involved.

Despite the principle of the supremacy of Parliament, which decrees that the Executive is answerable to Parliament, Parliament had up till now proved to be a very subservient creature without a mind or will
of its own.
The time has come for Malaysians to hold Parliament as a whole, and MPs individually,
responsible for Parliament’s failures. If Ministers and MPs are held personally responsible for their parliamentary actions or omissions, and are regularly called to account by their constituents,
the Malaysian public, Malaysian organisations and public opinion, then MPs and Ministers may have
to take into account public opinion and national interests when they discharge their parliamentary duties and not merely submit to the Party Whip.

It has been suggested that a movement should be launched to strengthen Parliamentary Democracy in Malaysia by providing a mechanism to enhance democratic freedoms and check abuses threatening democratic principles and institutions. If such a movement could also include in its tasks the regular monitoring and review of parliament’s record on various national issues, it would probably contribute to a more responsible Parliament.