Lessons from WikiLeaks for Malaysia

by AB Sulaiman
Dec 27 10


In the last few weeks, WikiLeaks has been the focus of the world’s attention. Founder Julian Assange has followed the principle that a government might have secrets but these are not to be used to cover abuses. Bad government is bad for the country; that seems to be his credo.

So he leaked out inter-governmental documents despite the ‘secret’ or other similar labels stamped on them. It looks like human rights, open democracy and light-speed push button communication offered by the Internet has combined in a new version of the perfect storm, wreaking havoc to secretive cross-border communications.

Thanks to WikiLeaks we are now able to taste not only more of the spice of the hot curry of international politics but also to know the ‘off the record so please do not quote me’ other people’s views of us.

Is WikiLeaks good or bad; is it morally sound, is it legally tenable? And should we embrace this new communication ‘medium’ with all gusto and enthusiasm?

I am no expert on the question of the morality and legality of this issue. But I am of the view that WikiLeaks is decidedly good for the country.

My reasons are basic. I am in favour of the good old fashioned way of running a country, especially one like ours whose buzzword is ‘nation-building’.

First there should be open democracy. This means that the government is run on the rule of law, on the check and balance between the executive, legislature and judiciary; on power belonging to the people; on the people enjoying their human rights; on the government managed on the platform of transparency, responsibility and accountability to us the people.

Second, the country must develop economic sustainability. The national resources should be managed properly so as to generate good and continuous returns; that markets must be developed.

Thirdly, the human resource must also be developed. The people must be educated, be knowledgeable; that they must be taught or acquire some skills, and that they be professional whenever they perform their economic roles.

Transparency all but gone

In the first two decades after Independence the country has seen a lot of these principles. But at present I see very little of them. So many things have been done behind the cloak of national interest and security. Transparency is all but gone.

Consider the following:

First, the government has this penchant for secrecy in conducting state affairs. To begin with when our ministers are sworn to office they have to take the oath to protect government secrets; not truth, the constitution, or the people’s interest like most other ministers in other democracies do.

Also, many government business transactions like the purchase of military equipment (remember the French Scorpene submarine purchase?) are done on a negotiated basis, citing ‘national security’ for it.

Even civilian affairs would be labelled as such, like the contract terms and conditions given to highway concessionaires. I say that if a harmless highway concessions contract is deemed secret then many thousands of other lesser cases would easily be labelled as one too.

Furthermore, other national transactions like the sale of MAS shares to Tajuddin Ramli that caused the national carrier RM8 billion loss, has been declared as done in the name of ‘national interest’.

What more, even the construction of Putrajaya costing horrible billions was a state secret, with the people not knowing anything about it until the project was well under way.

Invariably these closed-door negotiations, projects and developments were done in the name of ‘national security’ and ‘national interest’. This in turn suggests jacked up prices, deliveries below specifications, huge kickbacks, wastages and total disregard of any economic principles; of corruption at the highest levels and involving obscene amounts.

Secondly, I’d say that our government has this easy tendency to label its affairs and their supporting and recording documents as secret, thereby beyond the people’s reach for discussion.

Third, the government has this practice of dealing harshly with lawbreakers or whistleblowers. Once a case is classified as secret then there are numerous laws to ensure for it to remains so, like the Official Secrets Act and the Internal Security Act.

These Acts are specially designed to protect government secrets (but more ‘abuse’ to me) from being leaked to the people. They are there waiting to pounce on ‘lawbreakers’.

Over-using ‘secret’ label

With this government penchant, it does appear that our government has been over-using the ‘secret’ label, so as to make its activities beyond the reach of citizens: how can a citizen say anything at all without falling prey into the ISA/OSA net?

With all these in mind it is obvious that the elements of transparency, responsibility, accountability are heavily compromised, and hardly visible to the people. They receive sugar-coated information, half-truths, if not downright deceits and lies.

This is where WikiLeaks comes in handy.

The good news is we have enjoyed a fair version of it through the works of people like Raja Petra Kamarudin, the doyen of Malaysian blogosphere (exposing many subjects including the selling of state honours), Barry Wain with his book on Mahathir Mohamad ‘Malaysian Maverick’ and of late Kua Kia Soong’s series of articles (Malaysiakini dated Dec 11, 12, and 13, in turn excerpts from his book ‘Questioning Arms Spending in Malaysia: From Altantuya to Zikorsky’) on defence spending.

There are of course many others too numerous to mention. They have one common message: expose government lies and deception, go for truth.

Put together, I agree totally with Assange that a bad government is bad for our country. So, yes, we need a WikiLeaks exposure.

Another form of WikiLeaks Malaysian-style has also been with us in the recent past. This time they are in the form of official comments and behavior patterns. Malaysian politicians and officials are prone to saying things that are crude, racist and anti-national in nature. I’d quote just some of the familiar ones:

1.Hishammuddin Hussein wielding a kris in an Umno General Assembly.

2.Najib Abdul Razak saying ‘1Malaysia’, but his deputy saying ‘I am Malay first, Malaysian second’.

3.A Malay government or official will say to a Malay crowd: we are dependent on government help so help the government to stay in power.

4.To a Malay leader e.g Najib speaking during a Barisan Nasional convention non-Malays are equals. In Parliament recently he said the NEP is still required.

5.Ibrahim Ali is more specific: he claims the non-Malays are there to rob Malays of their special ‘rights as enshrined in the constitution’.

6.Malay leaders have variously made the trite remarks that non-Malays are pendatang (immigrants), children of prostitutes, si sepet (the slit-eyed), si kaki botol (the boozer), the one wearing a dog leash. The connotation is that non-Malays are here not as full-pledged citizens but as guests – if you don’t like this country or how it is governed, then just take the next Air Asia flight back to the country of your origin.


With all these Orwellian Double-speak and shenanigans, I reiterate, yes WikiLeaks is a Godsend to the country. The following are a few lessons we can learn from it:

1.On the part of the government, keeping things secret from the people is not the best way of running a country. The government would miss a lot of good and solid inputs from the people. The people will get to know them anyway.

2.In a democracy the power they enjoy has been entrusted to them by the people. The first thing that they should do is to have a lot transparency when performing their duties as public servants. In other words, they must do their work with professionalism and integrity, with moral courage.

3.When the people get to know the government’s secrets through leaks, their trust in the government will shrink. The government must learn to respect the very people they govern. After all, political leaders are the people’s nominees in the seat of government, and civil servants are just that – the people’s servants.

4.On the part of the officials, yes, they too have to bear in mind that power is not a one-way principle. It carries with it the element of responsibility.

5.With transparency and responsibility they have to be accountable to the people who put them up there and pay their salaries.

6.On both their parts they have to be aware of the reality that government secrets are all too easy to expose. People are more aware of nasty goings on and can share information at the press of a button.

7.They therefore should develop a fear for such exposures, fear of his integrity and honour (call that ‘mertabat’), plus that of his ethnic origin (‘Malay’) being severely compromised.
In short, nation building is best done with an open democracy, a well-managed economy, and a people committed to contribute their best in the wealth creation of the country. This in turn reflects the need for the government to treat the people as equals. And do away with secrets.

At the present time public opinion says that we are terribly short of these three items. WikiLeaks should therefore be treated as an alarm bell by our leaders.

Should our present crop of political leaders and officials pay heed to their responsibilities as public servants, and perform their duties with transparency, professionalism and moral courage, they need not worry about WikiLeaks, or any leak at all. They will not be accused and be guilty of running a bad government.

They stand tall with an intact mertabat. And, I dare say the present frustrating rate of nation building might then get a catalytic push forward.

AB SULAIMAN is an observer of human traits and foibles, especially within the context of religion and culture. As a liberal, he marvels at the way orthodoxy fights to maintain its credibility in a devilishly fast-changing world. He hopes to provide some understanding to the issues at hand and wherever possible, suggest some solutions. He holds a Bachelor in Social Sciences (Leicester, UK) and a Diploma in Public Administration, Universiti Malaya.

  1. #1 by good coolie on Tuesday, 28 December 2010 - 12:25 am

    My message to the Government of the Day (whether Barisan or Pakatan) is that they should get used to leaks concerning their misdoings, and that they should stop hiding behind their Mother’s aprons; that is, behind the ISA, OSA, and what not. The Whistle Blower is the latter-day saint.

    Wiki-leaks has it that Singapore leaders believe Anwar to be a sodomist; but the same source also has it that Malaysia is run by incompetents!

  2. #2 by monsterball on Tuesday, 28 December 2010 - 12:34 am

    Mahathir made himself a Dictator and started all the so call secret dealings stealing billions….and encouraged corruptions for 22 years.
    With his race and religion dirty politics…there is no turning back for UMNO B ..as it is now…a corrupted party..to the core.
    It is now twisting and turning employing APCO for RM77 million per year’s service how to stay in power.
    It is a double headed snake game….to fool Malaysians with this new art.
    It can never be a Govt. representing the voters that voted for them in 12th GE anymore.
    It is decades of drug feeding to poison minds in the form of MONEY…to buy loyalties and souls. When money is concerned…Mahathir…started it all..and it is the most powerful temptations ..making him PM for 22 years.
    Two decades of mind poisoning gave him the base that Najib is following up to win votes.
    It is the presence of Anwar Ibrahim as a free man…started to turn the tides and the ever daring of Lim Kit Siang’s tireless efforts to expose all corruptions plus the Internet era with so much to read that cannot be found in local medias..that exposes the Govt. hypocrisy.
    It is constant exposures made by daring citizens like Raja Petra and Balan..and Barry Wain…cornering UMNO B with no answers that we see..as clear as crystals…how corrupted UMNO B PMs and ministers…are..past and present lot….with the ever ready help from MCA…MIC and Gerakan..
    There is no turning back..for Najib…and so the art to fool Malaysians have stepped up few notches.
    It is about how much more UMNO B can fool Malaysians .and since after 12th GE…dictatorship to have…so call..secret documents..to do as they like..are over..as they now do not have 2/3 majority to vote and hide things now.
    It is now an open battle…and Jews are employed to do the devils work for Najib.
    Is is RM77 million paid for one year out of tax payers money for UMNO B’s benefits….and if voters is still not convinced that we must change the Govt. to save Malaysians and country..they should have their heads examined or are gone case racists converted by Mahathir.
    If majority Malaysians think Mahathir is a Savior…we are doomed for life.
    It is Mahathir’s doctrine and agendas….that the UMNO B rouges and thieves are holding each other’s hands…….to fight it all out..with their lives hanging on a balance…tilting unfavorably to them.
    Yes….Mahathir started it all.

  3. #3 by atlk on Tuesday, 28 December 2010 - 2:13 am

    Wikileaks will not work in Malaysia. Anything happens, TMNet will just block Wikileaks IP.

  4. #4 by drngsc on Tuesday, 28 December 2010 - 9:17 am

    Ayooh, we dont need wikileak, although I believe that worldwide, wikileak does more good than harm. In Malaysia, it is just total abuse of power because, they have stayed in Putrajaya too long. Even a full disclosure by their own Auditor General yearly, on all the “leakages”, they ignore. Even the findings of their own Royal Commission, they ignore. It is just abuse of power. We need a change. A new resident at Putrajaya, to tell them that Putrajaya must take care of the Rakyat, not UMNO-putras only.
    Time to change! Time to change! Time to change!

  5. #5 by yhsiew on Tuesday, 28 December 2010 - 9:34 am

    WikiLeaks is good for Malaysia where the ruling regime does not practice transparency.

    With the help of WikiLeaks, Malaysians know whether the ruling regime’s undisclosed financial transactions, hidden goals and policies are fair to the rakyat and the various races.

  6. #6 by dagen on Tuesday, 28 December 2010 - 2:21 pm

    We already have our own wikileak. And I would call it Petraleak. The grandson of kutty once said that raja petra’s leaks are only 40% correct and 60% wrong. Even so, given that umno operates in absolute secrecy, the acknowledged 40% accuracy surely is something for us to shout about.


  7. #7 by cemerlang on Tuesday, 28 December 2010 - 9:11 pm

    Let’s be real. Today there are no secrets. With just one SMS, the whole world will know. Don’t ask how come she knows. But many people just keep quiet because they do not want to be seen as instigators and troublemakers. The I.T. world knows no boundaries. Just today, it was reported that there is a gadget that can scan through and know all your credit card information and any information in whatever digital card that you have. Social security card. Mykad. What else card. So we all want transparency. Yes we will get uncontrolled transparency. Should ISA not be abolished ? Wikileaks is not a one man show. If you want to arrest Julian Assange, you will have to arrest the others. The ones with the information. The ones with the website. The ones who pay and buy. How can it be he can acquire so much information in a period of time ? He is not a soldier involve in any wars. So why should he land himself in hot soup ? Blackmail for the reported sx scandal ? Instead of classified or secret information, just chop a X on the documents because X means no entry but it does not mean not to be known. It is not just Malaysia. Wikileaks will find out anyone, any country that has any fishy business going on. It tracks down using links. Just because it has not reported any one particular country does not mean that there is no fishy business. It is not surprising they find out uranium or some terrorist ties because these are not exactly unknown information. We are Indonesia’s nearest neighbour. So is Philippines. So is Thailand. We have Islam as official religion and that itself already sounds the alarm. But our part in Wikileaks is tiny, compared to US, UK, Australia, Canada and others directly involve in the Middle East conflicts. So got bocor, quickly get a tape and tape it to stop the kebocoran.

  8. #8 by boh-liao on Sunday, 2 January 2011 - 7:10 am

    Umno was far-sighted 2 hv OSA n ISA in M’sia

You must be logged in to post a comment.