Don’t be the pot calling kettle black

Thomas Jefferson enunciated the basic principle of public service: “When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property.” This sentiment has been expressed by others, too, and over time it has become the familiar principle of  “Public service is a public trust”.

US ethics rule allows a public servant to accept gifts of $20 or less on a single occasion, and not more than $50 per year per source.

A public servant needs to be seen not to be practicing favouritism in his discharge of duties, and receiving gifts may create a perception that he or she may be more inclined to the gift bearers.

A Gift can be a physical item, a special discount not given to others, a free meal, a paid holiday.

As an example, under NASA’s ethics rules on gifts, it is stated that:

The public servant may pay the donor market value for the gift if he or she wants to keep it. If not, he or she may return it. If the gift is perishable, such as food or flowers, it may be shared within his office, donated to charity or destroyed, as long as an ethics official or his supervisor grants approval.

Market value is the retail price or face value that he or she would have to pay to purchase the gift. If he cannot readily determine the retail value of a gift, he may estimate its value by comparing the retail cost of like items of similar quality.

In August 2015, Australian Speaker of the House of Representatives ,  Bronwyn Bishop, resigned  following sustained pressure over her travel expenses following revelation that she had spent more than $5,000 government money in chartering a helicopter from Melbourne to Geelong in November to attend a Liberal Party fundraiser.

in 2002, a German politician, Gregor Gysi, the economics minister in the city-state of Berlin resigned because he was using frequent flyer points accrued from his official travels for a private holiday trip.  Critics argued that frequent flier points earned during official travel should be used only for official trip.

These examples show that in a true democracy practicing CAT (competency, accountability and transparency), leaders and public officials must really be above board.

Malaysians are generally fed up of the corruptions and abuses in BN led government. It is one of the main reasons that many of them voted for the opposition coalition, hoping that the opposition can bring changes in government. So all eyes are actually on those states that are currently run by opposition coalition. These states must show that they are different. Elected  public officials in these states have heavy responsibilities. They must show that they are honest, humble, listen to the ground, and practice what they have preached on CAT. They must show that they are really of a different breed. They should not betray public trust.

Otherwise, it would only give the people an impression that they are just hypocrites, a pot calling the kettle black!

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Gist of the bungalow matter

Recently, there is this news that a CM of a state bought a bungalow house for RM2.8 million. The house has a land area of 10000 sq ft.

This person, when questioned, replied that the house is 30 years old and that it has no swimming pool.

In my opinion, this reply is really unwise, and can be considered a monstrous gaffe for a seasoned politician. Bear in mind that most Malaysians, even some professionals, cannot even afford a linked house, let alone a bungalow. So to say the house has no swimming pool is like the case of Queen Marie Antoinette, who  famously asked starving peasants why they didn’t eat cake.

Then the father of the person came to his defence and contrast  this house with the case of Toyo,  former chief of another state who was found guilty of corruption.

The gist of the matter is not whether this bungalow is a palatial one like Toyo’s . It does not matter whether this house has no swimming pool.

The fact is this is a house with land area of 10000 sq feet in land-scarce Penang, which is beyond the dream of most ordinary people. The fact is the purchaser is a person holding a powerful public position answerable to the people who elected him.

We need to establish a few more facts:

1. What is the market rate of the house? How much is the going rate per sq feet at the time of purchase , and how much per sq ft  he paid for it ?

2. If the house is sold cheaper than the market rate as alleged, why is the seller selling it cheaper?

3. Is there extensive renovation of the house prior to selling/ renting it out? If so, then it does not matter whether the house is 30 years old or 5 years old. An old house that is extensively renovated is as good as a new house.

4. If the selling price is below market rate, then we cannot simply attribute it to ‘willing buyer’ willing seller. Just like the 2.6 billion donation, we cannot just conclude that it is a case of willing donor willing receiver.  We need to know whether the seller has benefited in any deals , just like we are asking the motive of the donation of 2.6 billion.

Bear in mind that it is not the sum that matters. A crime is a crime.  A billion dollar crime is a crime. A one dollar crime is also a crime. It does not matter.

If any political party wants to do well, its leaders must show examples that they are totally accountable and practice transparency, to distinguish themselves from the Big Brother. Otherwise, it would just be a case of a pot calling the kettle black.


also published as ‘why the bungalow matter matters’, here.