Lembu punya susu, sapi dapat nama

Raja Petra Kamarudin

The Malays have a saying: lembu punya susu, sapi dapat nama — which means someone else being credit for your (positive) efforts. I suppose the reverse can also apply; someone else being blamed for your (negative) deeds.

Over the last couple of weeks there has been much royal family bashing in Malaysia Today’s blogs. This is good. And I say ‘good’ because for many decades Malaysians just murmur in the background about their discontentment with Malaysia’s many royal families. Someone said there are only 20 Monarchies left in this world and half of them are in Malaysia. This may be true. But is this something to be apologetic about or something that should be proudly listed in the Guinness Book of Records like our almost tallest tower, almost longest bridge, most corrupted elections, most expensive Prime Minister, and much, much more?

Anyway, back to why I say this is good. Frustrations, if not released, will one day cause an emotional explosion. For 30 or 40 years Malaysians have felt frustration with the many royal families, in particular the state rulers and at times even with the Agong. But they do not dare express this frustration publicly for fear of getting arrested under the Sedition Act, and maybe even under the Internal Security Act if your expressions of frustration are regarded as a threat to national security and/or public order.

The danger with this is: one day, when the frustration reaches intolerable levels, the rakyat will rise up in anger and ‘storm the Bastille’. That would be the day of reckoning for the Sultanate and the beginning of the end for the royal families.

So people must be allowed to speak. People must be allowed to release their frustrations. People must be allowed to say their piece so that they then not continue holding a grudge against the rulers that would one day make them want to act on it.

The rulers must realise that the Constitution is supreme. Of course the Islamists would say that God is Supreme and above the Malaysian Constitution. But today we are not going to enter into a theologian debate. We are going to merely confine our discussion to the man-made Constitution that guides (and sometimes stifles) this nation of ours.

Malaysia practices a system of Constitutional Monarchy, not absolute Monarchy. This means even the rulers come under the Constitution, just like the rakyat. The rulers must therefore reflect on their relationship with the rakyat.

Granted, the rulers are not infallible and they do make mistakes. Sometimes these mistakes are unintentional and at times are consciously done. Nevertheless, the rulers must be prepared to admit to their mistakes and agree that the rakyat has a right to criticise them for these mistakes. Even in Britain the Queen and her family have to behave lest the media takes them to task. And the British public does not hesitate to do so if the British Royal Family gets out of line.

Prophet Muhammad’s comrade, Abu Bakar, who succeeded the Prophet as the Caliphate, once took off his sword and placed it in front of him and said if, as the new ruler, he errs in any way, then take his own sword and cut off his head. That was the Prophet’s right-hand man talking, a man the Prophet said has been guaranteed a place in heaven. What more mere mortals like our rulers (modern Caliphates) who are certainly no comrades of Prophet Muhammad and in some cases are not even the legitimate heirs to the throne? Are they above Abu Bakar?

But let us also be fair to the rulers. While, as I said, they do make mistakes and this is only human, are all mistakes they are perceived to have made really been made by them? Or is this a case of ‘lembu punya susu, sapi dapat nama’?

Whether this is the exception rather than the rule is one thing. But if there are enough incidences where others have committed a crime but the rulers were ultimately blamed for it, then this raises a doubt as to whether the rulers are really what they are made out to seem.

I mean, if you blame someone for ten bank robberies, then it is proven later that five of those bank robberies were committed by someone else, would there not be a possibility therefore that all ten could have been committed by someone else? This question would certainly be valid.

Let me give you an example or two of what I am trying to say. Of course, if you want, I can go on and on and write a book about this but I do not think this is quite necessary. If I can raise enough examples to throw doubts on some of the allegations against the rulers that should be sufficient.

During the heat of the Constitutional Crisis, about 20 years ago, the late Sultan of Terengganu was accused of abusing his office by forcing the state government to award more than RM100 million worth of contracts to his own company, Seri Terukon. RM100 million, 20 years ago, would be worth half a billion Ringgit (RM500 million) today considering a car then cost only 20% what it costs today. Take the Mercedes S Class as an example. In those days you can drive one for less than RM100,000 and today it will cost you about half a million Ringgit. So five times is a fair yardstick to use.

To digress a bit, I bought my first car in 1972, a Mitsubishi Colt Galant 1600, for RM10,000. About six years later I bought my first Mercedes 200 and paid only RM37,000 for it. Around the time Seri Terukon got its RM100 million contracts, I bought a Mercedes 380 SE and I only had to pay RM125,000 for it. How much would all this cost today? This is to give you an idea of what RM100 million then would be worth today.

Back to our story. The Malay Chamber of Commerce of Terengganu was most unhappy that RM118 million worth of contracts were given to only one company. There were 3,000 registered contractors in Terengganu with about 1,200 active. And most of them were ‘hungry’ and were not getting any government jobs. And, to make matters worse, according to the Director of the Public Works Department (JKR), they were all awarded to Seri Terukon on a negotiated-without-tender basis and at twice the budgeted price. This means, if JKR had tendered out the jobs, the government would have only had to pay about RM50 million and the jobs could have been awarded to many companies instead of just one company.

The Malay Chamber then sent a delegation to meet the Chief Minister, Wan Mokhtar, who lamented that he could not do anything about it. He had received a ‘surat kuning’ (yellow letter) from the palace so he had no choice but to award all these many jobs to Seri Terukon. And the palace also dictated at what price the jobs were supposed to be awarded to the ‘Sultan’s company’. He showed us the surat kuning and I saw it with my own eyes.

I was both a Terengganu and Central Committee member of the Malay Chamber and I decided to wage war on the Terengganu Palace. Yes, that’s right, more than 20 years ago I had already started attacking the palace.

I brought this issue to the attention of Shahidan Kassim, the then Parliament Back Benchers Club (BBC) Chairman (now held by Shahrir Samad). Shahidan, who is now the Chief Minister of Perlis, was excited with the documents I gave him. Dr Mahathir was then fiercely attacking the rulers and he needed new ammunition to hurl at them. And the documents I had brought to him were dynamite and would really put the Terengganu Palace to shame.

Shahidan then spoke to the Deputy Prime Minister, Ghaffar Baba, who called for a press conference to announce what was going on in Terengganu. It hit the front pages of all the newspapers the very next day and all hell broke loose.

Wan Mokhtar panicked. There was no yellow letter. He had lied to us. And we believed him because he is an ulamak (religious scholar). And ulamaks are supposed to be pious and not lie (or do they?). So what ‘yellow letter‘ was it that he showed us that day? Was it a fake?

Wan Mokhtar then denied he had ever said he awarded more than RM100 million worth of contacts to Seri Terukon because he had received a yellow letter from the palace. He made the State Secretary, Rahman Nasir, go on primetime TV and deny it. The opposition, those aligned to Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s Semangat 46, was spreading lies, said Wan Mokhtar.

All of a sudden we were now Tengku Razaleigh’s agents. And I as well as architect Raja Bahrin — who was the architect for all those jobs and the prime suspect who leaked the documents — were named as the dalang (agents) working for Semangat 46. (Raja Bahrin’s Uncle, Tengku Seri Paduka, was Semangat 46’s Terengganu Chief while I was his Deputy for the Terengganu Branch of the Malay College Old Boys’ Association. So that made us prime suspects).

Then the truth surfaced. Seri Terukon was owned by four prominent Terengganu personalities — Dato Azhar, Dato Yusoff, Dato Yong and a fourth ‘hidden’ Dato. Dato Azhar, the Sultan’s private secretary, went on to become the new Terengganu State Secretary (the Malays say; suruh kambing jaga sireh) at the behest of Wan Mokhtar. Dato Yusoff was one of the Sultan’s aides and the CEO of Seri Terukon. Dato Yong was an underworld racketeer who was sent to Terengganu under restricted residence. The ‘hidden’ partner was Wan Mokhtar himself.

Seri Terukon also built Wan Mokhtar’s lavish house free-of-charge and, further to the more than RM100 million worth of government contracts, they also had massive logging concessions and a sawmill under the name of Mizan that, according to Wan Mokhtar, was given to them at the insistence of the palace.

The Sultan did not even know all this was going on as he was in fact quite sick and not in touch with the goings-on. The Regent, who is presently the Sultan, did though, and he was outraged that they were using his father’s name to scam the state, then blame it on the palace — plus were using his name in a sawmill that had nothing to do with him. But with the Mizan name on the front gate of the sawmill who dared question them and they plundered huge logging areas in Kenyir Lake and all the Forest Department could do was look on helplessly. This was taking illegal logging to new heights, the record only now broken by Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman.

Yes, that was the Terengganu experience. The Chief Minister, the State Secretary, and the Sultan’s aides, in collusion with Chinese towkays, were scamming the state in the name of the palace. And it was not only in Terengganu this was happening. Pahang too had the same experience. But where we had ‘Tengku’ Yong in Terengganu, we had ‘Tengku’ Wong in Pahang.

One day, Lim Keng Yaik went before the TV cameras and, foaming at the mouth as usual, alleged that a certain Chinese gangster under restricted residence in Pahang (yes, another Chinese gangster under restricted residence. See the pattern?) was in partnership with the Sultan of Pahang and was ripping off logging areas in Pahang. And this gangster, said Keng Yaik, was called ‘Tengku’ Wong.

And they dragged out all the other ‘shit’ to prove what a terrible Sultan the State of Pahang had.

While Malaysians all over the country were outraged at this revelation by no less than a Malaysian Minister, the Pahang citizens just laughed at Keng Yaik’s most absurd allegation. Wong was actually the Chief Minister’s business partner and not that of the Sultan. At every state EXCO meeting, the Chief Minister would approve large logging concessions to Wong and, whenever any EXCO member protested or questioned it, the Chief Minister would say that this is the Sultan’s orders and if they were not happy with it then take it up with the Sultan.

Of course no one would dare do this.

The Seri Terukon and ‘Tengku’ Wong episodes were two ‘hot’ issues that hit the front pages of the newspapers and got onto primetime TV news. Ministers as well as the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister spoke out in condemnation of the Terengganu and Pahang palaces’ abuse of power. But both stories were lies. The Sultans were not guilty. In both cases the Chief Ministers of the states were the ones scamming the state and were using the Sultans’ names to stop anyone from raising questions or protest.