The View From Asia

Shouldn't leaders lead by example?

Asia News Network commentators slam recent moves by political leaders in their countries for not being in the national interest. Here are excerpts.

Moon's wrong choices


The Korea Herald, South Korea

Three minister nominees are at the centre of a qualification controversy.

Opposition parties have demanded their nominations be withdrawn, while the ruling Democratic Party of Korea has said it is a political offensive.

But suspicions about them look too serious to call the demand political attacks.

Deputy Prime Minister for Social Affairs and Education Minister nominee Kim Sang Kon has rarely penned research papers as a professor, yet all the three papers he wrote are involved in a plagiarism controversy. He also said in a speech to students of an online university in 2007: "Let's refuse the shackles of capital and imagine socialism."

Suspicions about Defence Minister nominee Song Young Moo are snowballing.

He is suspected of having covered up the military investigation into a naval supply contract when he served as the navy's top commander in 2007.

He is also suspected of having influenced a defence technology agency into hiring his daughter.

It is questionable if he is qualified to eliminate graft in the defence industry, which President Moon Jae In has vowed to root out.

Employment and Labour Minister nominee Cho Dae Yop is suspected of being involved in a back pay scandal. A company he partly owned has been late in paying wages, and its employees have lodged an overdue wage claim with a district labour office.

Given these suspicions, it is no wonder that opposition parties demand the withdrawal of their nominations.

Yet it would be legal if Mr Moon appoints them, ignoring parliamentary objections. He should not make a mockery of confirmation hearings.

Disregarding objections from opposition lawmakers runs counter to the spirit of the Constitution.

It is understandable that Mr Moon had to disregard his own criteria on nominee qualifications to fill vacancies as soon as possible because there was no transition period and little vetting time. Yet the five criteria he set forth are not so difficult to abide by.

Confirmation hearings are not a minor formality to sound the Parliament out.

Suspicions should be resolved in hearings, but nominees need to reflect on their shortcomings and think what they could do to help Mr Moon run state affairs well.

But where is Duterte?

John Nery

Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippines

I understand, from the official daily schedule circulated on Monday by the Presidential Communications Operations Office, that President Rodrigo Duterte will make a public appearance the day after, for the first time in almost a week. The "tentative schedule" (these releases are almost always classified as tentative) show he is attending the "Eid'l Fitr Celebration" in Malacanang at 7pm.

This marks the second time in weeks that he has been missed. He was not seen in public from June 12 to 16, and again from June 21 to 26 .

During the question-and-answer session at a general meeting of the Public Relations Society of the Philippines last week , a man noted the traditional media's "failure" to report on Mr Duterte whereabouts.

First, I cannot recall a president who has missed Independence Day. I do not mean presence at the Rizal Park rites, but participation in any appropriate ceremony on June 12. No constitutional or legal obligation requires the president's presence or participation in Independence Day ceremonies. But - and I borrow the exact phrase which Mr Duterte as a then-candidate used when he explained to me, more than a year ago, why he meets certain obligations despite a personal disinclination to do so - officials have a "sovereign function" to discharge.

Second, two Cabinet officials offered contradictory explanations for Mr Duterte absence. Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella justified Mr Duterte's absence in terms that were too general to be believed. The President, he said, was busy facing the country's challenges.

This was an obvious lame attempt at a rationalisation.

At the same June 12 rites, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told curious reporters what sounded like a better approximation of the truth. He said: "The President has been working 24/7, meeting the troops, meeting the commanders and then late last night, visiting the wounded and the dead. So that's why this morning, he didn't feel that well."

That was the far better answer. It wasn't perfect because it raised the question about who manages the President's schedule. But the oldest president the country has elected is not feeling well? That seems more plausible and something everyone can understand.

Third, Mr Duterte's main supporters on social media seemed conspicuously silent for most of the time he was not seen in public. I think this means that even they were out of the loop and did not know what was really going on.

Why is Mr Duterte making himself scarce?

The President enjoys a reputation for candour. About his mysterious absences, it is time for him to be candid with us.

Mahathir: The scandal king

Lim Sue Goan

Sin Chew Daily, Malaysia

The government has set up a royal commission of inquiry into the US$10 billion (S$13.7 billion) forex loss incurred by Bank Negara. This has served to refresh many people's old memories of many a scandal in Malaysia over the past three decades.

Former premier Mahathir Mohamad's authoritarian rule set democracy back by many years.

When he was deputy prime minister in 1980, the Cabinet approved a secretive tin market manipulation plan. The country incurred a US$253 million loss as a result of an unexpected collapse in tin prices. He admitted this in 1986.

After he took over as the prime minster, he introduced a heavy industries programme setting up Perwaja Steel in the early 1980s that suffered a RM10 billion loss. He admitted the mistake only in 2002.The bailout of Malaysia Airlines also ate into much of the country's resources. Under the seven-year leadership of Tan Sri Tajudin Ramli, the national carrier incurred a cumulative loss of more than RM8 billion.

Thanks to the already slanting independence of the three branches of government, Dr Mahathir remained largely unperturbed despite all the scandals. Because of significantly expanded administrative powers, public institutions have been rendered powerless in performing their duties.

Dr Mahathir's "political legacy" has done immeasurable damage, and we can put a complete stop to the endless stream of scandals only by restoring our destroyed system. But how long more do we have to wait for this to happen?

  • The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner, Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 news media entities.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2017, with the headline 'Shouldn't leaders lead by example?'. Print Edition | Subscribe