A new direction, but the same director

WE live in heady times. After 61 years. there is a freshness in the country, a new government, renewed hope and a rejuvenated nation.

There is an air of freedom – press freedom. It’s something we have not tasted in 30 years.

The people have found new strength. They know now that they have the power to change the government every five years – that they are indeed the bosses and not the politicians who have been robbing them blind all these years.

The new Government is delivering great news every day.

The newspapers – considered by many as passe – are now flying off the newsstands.

The advertisers are coming back, especially with a tax holiday in the offing for all.

At least one new minister, Gobind Singh, has been passionate about freedom of speech. Now, it is left to be seen if the Home Minister will agree with him.

Still, this is a great time to be a journalist. There’s so much that can be done, so much to be achieved as a nation. It’s exhilarating.

For me, it’s quite sad – it is the time I say goodbye to the trade.

After 38 years – three decades of them spent under the yoke of subservience – it’s time to leave the scene.

It’s hard, really, watching the young ones rush from one place to another, calling back with excitement. Unjust laws are being repealed, the burden on the people is being lifted, suspected thieves are being questioned, millions are being seized and good people are coming back.

There’s an outgoing Chief Minister who was living in almost obscene luxury. His breathtaking six-acre home is now open for all to see. And there’s an incoming Defence Minister who lives in a terrace house and drives a Perodua Viva.

Strange things are happening.

Journalists are excited. There’s just too much to do, too much information out there to absorb.

It reminds me of the days before 1987, when we jumped out of bed, looking forward to what the new day would hold. That was a time when The Star stood out from among its peers.

The RM3.5bil BMF scandal was the largest financial scandal the country had seen in the 1980s. It led to the murder of a banker and the largest bankruptcy case in Hong Kong.

The case was said to go way up in the Malaysian government, right to the Prime Minister’s office. This newspaper led the charge in telling all.

The Kuantan Port scandal, my boss from the 80s Gobind Rudra recalls, came when this newspaper raised doubts about the RM250mil port after engineers questioned the quality of piling work by French contractors. The entire job had to be redone.

These are long-forgotten exposes. Many today would not even have heard of these events.

The scandal of today is 1MDB.

The directors, the CEO and president, even the former Prime Minister are embroiled in a financial web so tangled that it may take years to unravel. The CEO himself seems to know little about what was going on.

The stories of this scandal are only now coming to the mainstream, after years of being silently spread only on the World Wide Web.

And it’s all largely due to the new Prime Minister – a doctor who is trying to heal a sick nation. The problem is, the nation fell ill due to his medicine, and was made worse by those who he handpicked to lead after him.

He was the man behind Ops Lalang. Although he says the police made most of the decisions, he was the man in charge. The Star and several other publications were shut down.

They came back, in print, but never in spirit. Until now.

I will never forget the days then when I was reduced to being a part-time carpenter, my friends were selling pizza on a street corner and my wife was peddling lottery tickets so we could make ends meet.

Scores of politicians were jailed under the ISA then. Now, some of these politicians and their close supporters are in the Cabinet. They believe they have the right man at the top.

As ironic as it seems, they may be right. At 93, he could be the man who has seen all that could go wrong with a country and who is now stepping up to right those wrongs.

When he wanted to be Education Minister a week ago, he looked like the perfect choice. He could hold back the religionists, he could bring back meritocracy, he could make our education system work again.

Many brilliant minds in the country clamoured for him to take the job despite the political shenanigans going on.

This was Tun Dr Mahathir Mark II, the perfect man for the job.

The Mark I version was a far different thing. As Education Minister then, Dr Mahathir oversaw a change of curriculum, a move that saw excellence give way to nationalism, and then to religious fervour.

He also had help from another Educaton Minister of that era – Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

The man who is touted to be the next Prime Minister is another supposedly changed man. Prison, they say, changed him.

Two changed men, leading the nation into change. It is all very exciting. Me? I will only be watching from the sidelines.

The writer, who can now be reached at ndraj60@gmail.com, will continue to take a keen interest in the goings-on in the country and write about them. Like the Old Frees of Penang, journalists will always be journalists.


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