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The Ministerial Code - Zaid Ibrahim

25 January 2022

When Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul visited Kota Bharu on January 15, 2022, he said Putrajaya had channelled RM400 million in petroleum payments to Kelantan in 2020 and 2021. These payments, he added, were made directly to the state government based on 5% of the state's petroleum revenue, a multifold increase from the amount paid in 2019, at RM28 million.

What a shocking about turn from the Minister who in November 2021 - some two months earlier - said there will be no royalty payments of 5% to any state in the peninsula! At that time, he said Kelantan would only receive 'wang ehsan’ for petroleum produced off its coast. In a written reply to a parliamentary question in the Dewan Rakyat, Zafrul said although close to Kelantan, the oil wells were outside the state’s territorial waters.

I applaud and am happy with his U-turn but it did make me wonder - will there be another U-turn closer to the election? Clearly, this is not the way ministers should conduct themselves in a Westminster style government. They have to be professional in their statements, precise in their answers, and not mislead on any material points.

Is Kelantan entitled to 5% royalty payments or is it not? Are the oil wells found in areas off the coast of Kelantan or are they not? Are territorial waters relevant to the issue? Has the Federal government determined the maritime borders for Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang, which Azmin Ali had promised in 2019? Is Petronas keeping records on how many barrels came from Kelantan that have been sold since 1975?

In Britain, ministers are governed by the Ministerial Code. The Code sets out the standards of conduct of those who hold the position of government ministers and how they discharge their duties. They are expected to tell the truth and be transparent with the subject matter under their portfolios. They must never tell half truths or fudge on materials that are important for the public to know.

The Code directs Ministers to “behave in a way that upholds the highest standards of propriety", not to mislead Parliament, and to avoid conflict of interest at all times. The Code also regulates the appointment of special advisers and special envoys by ministers, including the Prime Minister (PM). These have to follow proper procedures and not be done at a minister’s whim and fancy.

Now, if Zafrul were a minister in Britain, thanks to the Code, he would have been asked to explain all the inconsistencies and contradictions.

Which brings me to this: Should we have a MINISTERIAL CODE here that is a public document so the Rakyat knows what to expect from their ministers? Of course we should.

In our beloved country, the PM and his ministers are not governed by any Code. Even civil servants, if they hold top positions and are robust enough, can dispense with following any CODE applicable to those in the civil service.

Some Ministers and Advisers with the rank of Ministers can get by talking nonsense every day and still keep their jobs. Religious Affairs Minister Idris Ahmad when asked to comment on the issue of our children having more religious classes than learning science and mathematics, replied that everyone can make comments.

They might not know the purpose of that arrangement. Does he know the purpose of education? His boss Hadi Awang went on video to describe corruption as less serious than stealing as it is not part of hudud. It is a voluntary arrangement. Hadi Awang alluded to corruption being tied up to western values. Nothing will happen to either of them for talking nonsense.

No reprimand by the PM on his ministers is ever done. In fact, some Ministers from key factions appear to be more powerful than the PM - that’s how the public views our government. I have come to the conclusion that we cannot expect a Ministerial Code from this government. It’s too weak. It has no strength to enforce anything decent.

The opposition has complained about the handling of the floods, about Azam Baki, about why Parliament is not permitting a public inquiry on the case, and so on. The opposition also said it’s a waste of money to have an election in Johor.

The opposition is more interested in keeping this government in power, as long as they get a few million ringgit for their constituency development fund.

We are faced with a double whammy - a weak government, supported by a weak opposition. Ismail Sabri and his Cabinet Cluster may be trying everything to prolong the life of this government. They have all the power to make this happen.

The PM also knows fully well that the Opposition will accept whatever this government does, their barking and yelling notwithstanding.

Power to the people is the only way out of this mess. That’s why we need a general election as soon as possible.


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