Mahathir to civil servants: Reject orders that break law

Malaysian PM says he finds it hard to trust all public servants due to outside 'instigation'

Malaysia's Prime Mininster Mahathir Mohamad addresses a press conference at the prime minister's office in Putrajaya on Aug 13, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

PUTRAJAYA • Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, in his first meeting with Malaysian civil servants, said he would not mind copying what China does to corrupt government officers, but knew his Cabinet would be against it, eliciting laughter from those present.

Speaking with his usual dry humour, he said that following China's practice could curb corruption, but his "Cabinet ministers do not agree to this", Free Malaysia Today news site quoted him as saying.

China is known to execute those found guilty of corruption.

His comments drew laughter from the 3,500 officers from the diplomatic and administrative services.

He said civil servants should not carry out orders from the top if these had criminal intent or are illegal.

Tun Dr Mahathir also said he could not trust everyone in the 1.6 million-strong civil service as a result of "instigation" from outside forces.

His three-month-old government removed several dozen top civil servants after the Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance won the May general election.

"When you are asked to do something that you know is wrong, including hiding any wrongdoings and even campaigning for certain parties, you should say no," Dr Mahathir said.

"Granted, the government expects you to be loyal. But, if we ask you to do things against the law, you should reject. Don't do it," New Straits Times quoted him as saying.

"If I ask you to murder someone, will you kill?" he asked, with the floor replying with a solid "no".

He was referring to cases of several top public officials openly campaigning for Barisan Nasional (BN) in the general election.

The PH government is also incensed at what it sees as blatant embezzlement of public coffers, including from state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, that was allegedly covered up or overlooked by senior civil servants.

"When corruption becomes part of the people, there will be no medicine to cure it because the authorities who are supposed to look into it are also corrupt," Dr Mahathir said.

He said that in Japan, people committed suicide out of shame but here, "when they say that you are a thief, you just smile".

The Mahathir administration is grappling with senior civil servants who apparently pass on confidential government information to Umno party leaders.

Said Dr Mahathir: "In the past, when I was the Prime Minister, there was no problem because I could trust everyone.

"Now, however, there is instigation from certain quarters and there's the problem of people being less trustworthy."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2018, with the headline Mahathir to civil servants: Reject orders that break law. Subscribe