People who felt they were so powerful because they reported directly to the PM that they intimidated civil servants into doing their bidding and dictated terms to privately-held or public-listed companies.
Former international trade and industries (MITI) minister Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz claimed that one of the reasons behind former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s downfall was the appointment of those she termed as “political mafia”.
Speaking to the Malay Mail recently, Rafidah claimed these individuals appointed by Najib had not only intimidated many civil servants into doing their bidding, but also dictated terms to many privately held or public-listed companies.
“They were ‘political mafia’. These people felt they were so powerful because they reported directly to the prime minister. So, at their level, where they were in charge of agencies or as gatekeepers, they could actually dictate terms to companies.
“So, there was that sense of power at all levels.
“They were appointed by the prime minister, whether it was a political appointment or not I don’t know. There were people who had direct access to the prime minister and could tell him whatever they wanted,” said Rafidah.
She elaborated since these individuals happened to be the heads of agencies or gatekeepers to the Prime Minister’s Office, it created a culture of “aberration” that she had never witnessed before in her political career.
The culture she observed was one of pandering to the ego of the gatekeepers and agency heads, while allowing them to do as they wish, including acts of corruption, without questioning for fear of repercussions.
Although she admitted that such “aberrations” occurred in the past, it was never perceived to be the norm or the culture by the world at large, unlike in the last 10 to 12 years.
“The Chinese say rotten fish starts at the head. In this case, it was from the head from everywhere. It’s crazy. It was nothing I had ever seen before. We never had so many agencies and structures working outside the government.
“With Najib, everything was centralised to Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). People don’t realise that you don’t report to some of the relevant ministries anymore but straight to PMO. And in PMO, they had these gatekeepers. People who were then given the task to supervise each agency.
“So, when you have these chains of vicarious authority, what can you expect? People begin to know who to favour and who to be subservient to. It is loyalty, not to the government, but individuals who would report you to the Big Boss,” she explained, referring to Najib.
However, she did not put much blame on the civil service, the nation’s security forces nor the judiciary for demurring to the “political mafia” since their livelihoods were on the line.
Rafidah observed that many civil servants did not like the directive given by these “political mafia” but could not afford to risk their livelihoods or have their pensions affected by threats and intimidation.
“So they just toed the line, not that they liked to do it. By virtue of the powers that be, they felt forced to do it because they are part of the system. If they don’t do it, they will be identified,” she said, referring to civil servants.
“But there are some who fought and were either suspended from work or transferred away for refusing to do biddings. They came and talked to me. Some of these are very qualified people and I guess the more qualified they are, the more confident they are of finding employment elsewhere.
“But sometimes, when you reach the level where the job starts to become competitive, what will you do? There are others waiting to get the job and they’re stuck,” said Rafidah. – Malay Mail