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Sunday September 22, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday September 22, 2013 MYT 11:19:11 AM
by razak ahmad AND mazwin nik anis
Dedicated: Low is now working on a number of joint projects to improve Malaysia’s public sector integrity and anti-graft effort.
The Malaysian Cabinet minister speaks of challenges faced on the job and why making radical decisions do not worry him.
THERE are no photos of Datuk Paul Low Seng Kuan or any sign bearing his name and designation at the entrance to his office at the west wing of Perdana Putra here.
It is a sign that is Low is not your typical Malaysian Cabinet minister.
“I’m not a politician, so these things are not important to me,” he said during a recent interview at his office, which is connected to the block housing the Prime Minister’s office.
The anti-graft campaigner’s appointment as Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department after the last general election shocked many as he has been a vocal government critic.
He shares a similarity with another activist, P. Waytha Moorthy, a Hindu-rights campaigner who was appointed Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.
Both are outsiders whom Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak roped into his administration to offer a fresh outsider’s perspective on how things can be improved.
Low said he accepted the Prime Minister’s job offer because it is better to tackle problems “from inside, rather than just being critical on the outside”.
“I am still critical and I do make a stand during Cabinet meetings. But people must bear in mind that I’m not an ‘NGO’ minister.
“I can’t behave like an NGO when I’m a minister and start criticising other ministers openly,” he said.
Asked about the view on issues as an insider, Low replied by explaining how outsiders tend to be idealistic on how things should be done.
“But when you are inside (the government) you have to weigh the consequences of your words. You don’t compromise on your principles but you must weigh the cost and benefit of every decision.
“I may compromise on the way I approach things, but I won’t compromise on my principles about the importance of integrity,” said the 67-year-old former president of Transparency-International Malaysia (TI-M) who is now in charge of integrity, governance and human rights.
During his five-year tenure as TI-M president, Low made the anti-graft watchdog’s annual corruption perceptions index a household name in Malaysia, and for some not in a good way.
The country’s performance in the index is still disputed, although Malaysia’s ranking has gone up from 60th place in 2011 to 54th last year out of 176 countries and territories.
Other critics accuse Low of having little authority to bring change as he is not in charge of a particular department or agency.
They have demanded that he start investigations on the police after recent cases of custodial deaths and called him a “toothless minister” when he refused.
Low said he prefers a more collaborative effort to find solutions rather than barging into a fellow minister’s jurisdiction.
“People say my credibility is gone just because I take a different view on how to solve these problems.”
In the case of custodial deaths, Low spoke with his colleague Nancy Shukri and they agreed to the setting up of 14 coroner’s courts.
He also engaged with the police, resulting in them taking up his suggestion to set up centralised lockups.
Low is now working on a number of joint projects to improve Malaysia’s public sector integrity and anti-graft effort.
One initiative is to set up a governance and integrity committee in every ministry, allowing authorities to keep a closer check on corruption.
Low said he wants to champion his cause by winning over ministers and key civil servants to his side. It is the only way to ensure that his proposals have a lasting effect, he said.
On the challenges of his job, he said the biggest one was getting politics out of the decision-making process in cases where it can lead to abuse.
“When government procurements are awarded to relatives of officials, this is definitely not in the interest of the rakyat because the project could have been awarded to someone more deserving,” said Low.
“I can make unpopular decisions, ones that are more radical and daring, because in the end I’m not satisfying any constituents. I don’t have to worry about people not voting for me.
“I’m not worried if anyone doesn’t want to hire me after this so long as the changes I am fighting for now take root,” he said.
Low out to make changes from within
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Politics, Datuk Paul Low Seng Kuan
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