Whitewash over blue tapes?

... the government succeeded in concealing the truth ... it destroyed the evidence ...

The government has done it again. It has covered up yet another scandal.

We never thought it would succeeded this time. For a while it looked as if the naked truth was staring at the whole nation. The bare facts were there for all of us to see. And yet the government succeeded in concealing the truth.

This time it destroyed the evidence. There was another occasion when it concocted evidence to destroy an innocent human being. The government - the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General and a few of their cronies - went to great lengths to get rid of the then Lord President, Tun Salleh Abas. These men lied, thley fabricated, they deceived, they distorted, they concealed and they camouflaged in order to get what they wanted. The tribunal that found Tun Salleh guilty was a farce, a charade.

But the Deputy Speaker of Parliament goes on long leave. He does not resign. "Every man is innocent until he is proven guilty," they chant in chorus. "Justice must be done," says the Prime Minister. "The rule of law must be upheld," pontificates the speaker of Parliament. And, not to be outdone, "This government is most concerned about integrity," proclaims the Minister of Education. That is the biggest laugh of it all.

A government that cherishes integrity would want to establish the truth as soon as a serious allegation is made involving one of its officials: It will investigate on its own. It will not wait for the opposition or the public to mount pressure. It will want to clear its name. It will demand that the official who is allegedly involved in the scandal steps down while investigations are going on.

That is how a government with integrity will act. It will manifest a strong sense of right and wrong. Its commitment to ethical standards, to moral values, will be so overwhelming that no wrongdoer will dare to loiter around the corridors of power.

What morality is the Barisan Nasional leadership talking about? How many allegations of wrong-doings involving sex and women has the government investigated?

What about the allegations involving a couple of Ministers in one instance, a deputy Minister in another instance, a Chief Minister in a third instance? Was the whole truth ever known? Did anyone resign? Did anyone even ask for forgiveness or seek repentance?
Compare our situation to the Japanese Prime Minister a year ago, who quit his high office the moment a magazine alleged that he was once involved with a geisha girl. Remember Bob Hawke, the Australian Prime Minister who confessed in a television interview, about his extra-marital affairs? Remember Gary Hart, one of the Democratic Party's Presidential aspirants in the 1988 American Presidential elections, who quit the race as soon as his illicit relationship with a woman became public knowledge?

Our leaders don't quit. They stay on and on. And keep on 'covering up'. There is no sense of shame. There is no sense of honour. And yet our leaders talk incessantly about integrity and honesty. They once promised us a bersih (clean) administration, an amanah (trustworthy) government. Bersih - after all these scandals? Amanah - after destroying the evidence in the Vijandran video affair?

Can we be blamed if some of us have become totally disillusioned with the ruling regime? Can we be blamed if some of us are totally revolted by the hypocrisy and fraudulence that confronts us everyday?

But the Mahathir leadership knows that how some of us feel will not affect its power or its authority. For the government controls the press. If a scandal breaks out, there will be a bit of noise for a few days and then the press will be told to shut up. And it will obey the master, without as much as a whimper. What other institution is there that can check the arrogant display of state power? The Judiciary? Parliament? The Opposition? The public?

But will the public react - react not in coffee shops and at cocktail parties. Can public opinion be mobilised and organised to expose blatant wrong wrongdoings? That is the crucial question that confronts us as we begin the last decade of the twentieth century.

Questions but no answers

The newspapers have been selling like hot cakes lately. Everyone wants to know the latest on the pornographic video tapes scandal.

The affair has really captured the nation's imagination. Actually, if one looks closely, there are two scandals - the Vijandran scandal and the Abu Talib scandal. The first one was of course ignited by the allegation that Dewan Rakyat deputy speaker D.P. Vijandran had been featured in several pornographic video tapes. Barely a month later, while the dirt and dust was still swirling over the claim, the Attorney-General created yet another scandal with his explanation of why investigation into the video tapes affair was closed.

As such, there are now two vital questions begging answer. First, should Mr. Vijandran be disqualified as a Member of Parliament? (He seems to have defied public opinion - several Cabinet members were reported to be of similar opinion - to resign as deputy speaker by merely taking long leave).

Second, what is to be done about the Attorney-General Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman? His statement that he had ordered the police to destroy 11 video tapes and four envelopes containing photographs and negatives belonging to Mr. Vijandran - and with Mr. Vijandran's consent - caused an outraged uproar and led several groups and individuals to publicly accuse the government of a cover-up.

The AG's handling of the case has brought odium and contempt to the high office that he occupies and he should resign immediately. Aliran views his action as blatant attempt to destroy evidence and to subvert the course of justice. Even more deplorable is that this is not the first time that the AG has been implicated up to the eyeballs in covering up scandals and in protecting those responsible for abuse of power. The public has not forgotten his part in covering up the BMF scandal and his Machiavellian role in the events leading to the dismissal of the former Lord President Tun Salleh Abas.

The Prime Minister's response to the affair is greatly disappointing. It is not enough for Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to say that the AG used his discretion in advising police to destroy the video tapes and photographs. The PM should order an investigation into the conduct of the AG for a number of reasons.

For almost a month since the sex scandal hit the headlines, the public was led to believe - on the basis of statements by the Deputy Home Minister and high ranking police officials - that investigations into the case were still on. Little did the public know that videotapes and photographs had already been destroyed on the instruction of the AG way back in January 1989. Were some people in authority lying? Was there a deliberate attempt to deceive the people? Or was it a genuine mistake on the part of the police? Or was it a problem of miscommunication between AG and the public?

The public has a right to answers to all these questions. As it is, many people are indignant and shocked over the way the scandal has been handled and they are convinced that the destruction of the video tapes is part of a massive cover-up. They very rightly feel the authorities are trying to bluff their way out.

There is another reason why the PM should act immediately. It has been argued in legal circles that the AG overstepped the bounds of his authority when he ordered the evidence destroyed. If he has indeed abused his powers, then the PM should order an investigation into the scandal. Did the AG have certain reasons, best known to him, in ordering the destruction of the tapes and photographs? Did he do so to protect certain individuals?

The AG also claimed that he could not prosecute the men caught with the stolen tapes and photographs because there was insufficient evidence that they were the ones who stole them. However, he could not explain why the men were not charged with possession of stolen property.

There is also no question that the videotapes and photographs belonged to Mr. Vijandran and were part of the contents of the safe which the burglars stole from the MIC leader's bedroom. Why then was no action taken against Mr. Vijandran for lodging a false police report as he had initially reported to the police that the safe contained important MIC documents?

This gives rise to another set of questions. Neither the PM or the AG nor any public official has denied the allegation that the video tapes were pornographic in contents. As such, it seems as though the AG has failed in his duty by not prosecuting the owner of the videotapes. Shouldn't action be taken against the AG for failing to carry out his duties? Isn't it all the more important for the PM to act in this instance since the allegation of the pornographic tapes involves a public figure? The PM has a responsibility to institute an investigation into the conduct of the AG.

It is not enough for the PM to sidetrack the issue by saying that the AG used his discretion. For after all, what is discretion? The Oxford Dictionary defines discretion as the "liberty of suiting one's action to circumstances" or an "excuse for cowardice". For the man-in-the-street, there is little doubt which definition best suits the AG's handling of this terrible scandal.

Aliran Executive Committee
Extracted from Aliran Monthly 1990: Vol. 10 No.1