Mahathir, the ‘forgetful’ former prime minister

 |Sep 21, 2017
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. – MO file pic.

OPINION

BEING forgetful is a common thing. It is common among both the elderly and the younger generations.

Just to put things in perspective, I sometimes even forget what I had for dinner last night and need a few minutes to recall.

The mind is a wonderful thing, it can be tricky too. There are things we can recall easily, and there are certain things that we suppress and eventually forget.

However, it must also be taken into consideration that sometimes, people claim to have forgotten certain things because that is the easier thing to do.

If a father asks his children who dented his car, most may just say “I’m not sure, maybe it happened when I borrowed it last week, but I can’t remember”. Common excuse.

In the case of former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, it is hard to discern whether his “forgetfulness” is a result of old age or is being used as an excuse.

It is not up to anyone to judge, after all he is over 90 and it is not unheard of for people at that age to start forgetting things, especially events that took place more than three or fourĀ  decades ago.

The only concern is that of all the things Dr Mahathir is claiming to have forgotten, he is still the chairman of an Opposition party and the chairman of the Opposition coalition.

He has not forgotten how to lead in politics but with regard to allegations being thrown his way, it appears that “I don’t remember” and “I was not aware” are his favourite comebacks.

Today, Mahathir took to his blog to answer yet another allegation.

Last week, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak claimed Dr Mahathir had paid millions to a lobbyist to secure a meeting with then US President George W Bush.

Following that, Datuk Megat Fairouz Junaidi, the son of Dr Mahathir’s former Cabinet Minister, the late Tan Sri Megat Junid Megat Ayob said his father had paid several lobbyists, after receiving instruction from Dr Mahathir to arrange the meeting.

“Saya tidak tahu benar atau tidak kenyataan ini. Mungkin pegawai Wisma (Putra) yang mengurus perkara lawatan saya yang tahu. Yang saya tahu tidak ada arahan dari saya untuk lobi. Tak apalah Fairouz, anak sahabat saya nak cari makan,” Mahathir wrote on his blog today.

To sum it up, Dr Mahathir said he does not know if this allegation is true. He said perhaps officers at the Foreign Ministry were aware of this, but to his knowledge, he had never given any instructions to lobby (for a meeting with Bush).

Going back a few years, 2014 to be exact, former Deputy Prime Minister Tun Musa Hitam said Dr Mahathir was advised to postpone his trip to China during the 1985 Memali incident.

In Dr Mahathir’s response a few days later, the former prime minister said, “I cannot recall Tun Musa (Hitam) coming up to me to ask me not to go to Beijing but he was, with many others, at the airport, to wish me well on my trip to China. Even at that time I cannot recall if he (Musa) had advised me against going abroad.”

Coming back to this year, Dr Mahathir told the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) into the Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) foreign exchange (forex) scandal of the 90s that he was not informed of the central bank’s detailed daily forex transactions.

Dr Mahathir, in his witness statement, also said he could not recall the amount of RM30 billion being mentioned on a claim that then Finance Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Tan Sri Clifford Francis Herbert had met with him in his office in early 1993 to report on BNM’s losses of RM30 billion.

Focusing on these few examples is not meant to hit out at an elderly statesman who celebrated his 92nd birthday last July. As mentioned, being forgetful is not uncommon.

What is of concern here is that some of these are not insignificant events. To narrow the focus down to the RCI on the forex scandal, it is rather unsettling to note that as prime minister at the time, Dr Mahathir was not aware of such aggressive measures taken by the Central Bank in its forex trading in 1990 which later led to losses amounting to RM30 billion.

Also worth noting is the testimony by then Director and Assistant General Auditor for all Federal and State Statutory Bodies at the Auditor-General’s Office P Kanosan Pothinker, who told the RCI that the forex trading in question did not comply with the requirements of the Central Bank Malaysia Act of 1958.

Could it be that the prime minister was not aware the central bank of his own country was alleged to have gone against the law?

If it isn’t his forgetfulness or claims of not being aware about certain things, Dr Mahathir has also resorted to asking for the past to be left in the past.

This came into play when he had to justify working hand in hand with members of the Opposition, the same people he worked tirelessly against and who were also against him, once upon a time.

Being the chairman of an Opposition coalition in which he is now sitting on the same side of the fence as PKR and its de facto leader, has given rise to the question of his treatment of Anwar Ibrahim back in 1998.

To this, Dr Mahathir said what happened in 1998 was merely him responding to the situation at hand, adding that it is different today.

Dr Mahathir said if we keep raking up the past, we can never work with anybody and that we will always be fighting our enemies.

It appears that Dr Mahathir wants a clean slate. He has “forgotten” certain things, and wishes for the past to be left where it belongs so we can soldier on to “save Malaysia”.

There is nothing wrong in wanting to save Malaysia, if one means well, but there has to be accountability for one’s actions, regardless of whether it is over something that happened close to 30 years ago.

To simply brush things under the carpet with excuses of not remembering and claiming to have been kept in the dark may work for the manager of a small enterprise.

For a former prime minister to keep repeating these excuses, there has to be a point where it stops making sense to the general public.

All said and done, there is still the possibility that Dr Mahathir has truly forgotten many things that happened in the past.

What is certain is that Dr Mahathir has yet to forget the zeal in which he wants to overthrow the current government, which comprises the very party he once helmed. – MO