Malaysia's new administration seeks to clean up government

The Perdana Leadership Foundation in Putrajaya, where Malaysia's newly installed Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is expected to hold meetings on May 14, 2018.

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's new administration made several leadership changes at government agencies on Monday (May 14) in pursuit of its pledge to weed out corruption and probe the previous government's dealings.

Newly-appointed Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad got straight to work on the first day financial markets opened after Wednesday's shock election defeat of the Barisan Nasional coalition that had governed the country since its independence 60 years ago.

Among his first steps was to place Attorney-General (AG) Apandi Ali on leave.

"There have been a lot of complaints against the AG," said Dr Mahathir at a press conference on Monday. "On that basis we give him a holiday".

Anti-graft agency chief Dzulkifli Ahmad reportedly tendered his resignation early Monday morning, though the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) later issued a statement that his contract had ended Monday and he will be returning to work at the AG's Chambers.

Later in the day, the service contract for Ministry of Finance secretary-general Irwan Serigar Abdullah was cut short to mid-June, from its original end date of March 2019, and Tan Sri Irwan was immediately reassigned to the Public Service Department.

According to a statement issued by Chief Secretary Ali Hamsa, Mr Irwan "is not allowed to conduct any duties as the secretary-general of the Treasury, Ministry of Finance and anything related to the Ministry of Finance".

These high-ranking civil servants are believed to be supporters of the administration led by former premier Najib Razak.

Tan Sri Apandi was appointed AG in 2015, in the midst of an ongoing probe into the 1MDB financial scandal. Datuk Seri Najib was implicated in the money laundering allegations at the state fund after RM2.6 billion (S$880 million)was found in his personal accounts. He has said the funds were a donation from the Saudi royal family and was later cleared by Mr Apandi of any wrongdoing.

Tan Sri Dzulkifli was installed a year later in Aug 2016, as chief commissioner of MACC after his predecessor Tan Sri Abu Kassim Mohamed retired early. Sources say Mr Abu Kassim will soon return to the agency.

Dr Mahathir said he'll be appointing Mr Dzulkifli's replacement as soon as Tuesday.

When asked if any senior government officials would be suspended anytime soon, Dr Mahathir said: "At the moment I need to get proper information before I can act. I can't just suspend any officer I like".

Just five days into the job, Dr Mahathir is already looking at reopening investigations into 1MDB, which at the height of the scandal, had debts of up to RM50 billion.

Dr Mahathir also hinted on Monday that his government is aware of the whereabouts of Mr Jho Low, a former consultant to 1MDB and alleged mastermind behind its missing funds. Mr Low denies any wrongdoing and has not been seen in public since 2015, but is believed to be still residing in Asia.

"There are many faults committed by the previous government. All of it will be investigated," said Dr Mahathir. "But we can't do everything in one day".

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.