A contractor-home owner analogy if indeed the Mahathir-Daim inner circle has betrayed Malaysians

TUN Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his inner circle promised that if Malaysians gave them the power to move the nation’s wealth in any way which they deemed fit, they would make Malaysia a developed nation by 2020.

Malaysians trusted them and gave them the near absolute power they asked for. They did use the nation’s resources to implement many projects like the construction of the PETRONAS twin towers and the creation of Putrajaya to turn Malaysia into a developed nation.

However, Dr Mahathir and his inner circle failed to make Malaysia a developed nation by 2020. Despite failing to fully own up to their end of the bargain, Dr Mahathir and his inner circle have even accumulated an extraordinary amount of wealth.

It is an open secret that Dr Mahathir’s children are extremely rich. From the seizure of the RM 2.3 bil Menara Ilham, we can see that Tun Daim Zainuddin, a member of Mahathir’s inner circle, is also likely to be extraordinarily rich.

It is the extraordinary riches of Dr Mahathir and his inner circle that is raising the question of whether Dr Mahathir and his inner circle had betrayed the trust of the nation.

In terms of analogy, what happened between Dr Mahathir’s inner circle and Malaysians can be explained by the analogy of a contractor and a house owner.

Over-promising but under-delivering

If a contractor promised you that they will upgrade your house into a mansion if you gave them a certain of money and authority to do as they see fit to your house but only delivered a shabby bungalow that doesn’t function well and frequently breaks down, naturally, you will suspect that either the contractor did not know what he was talking about when he said that he could transform your house into a mansion.

Worse still if the contractor himself has upgraded his car in the process, you may be inclined to assume that he had betrayed your trust by using most of the money you gave him to upgrade himself instead of delivering on his promise.

Now if the contractor has upgraded his car after delivering you the mansion that he promised, you would have had no problem with him upgrading his car. As a matter of fact, you would have probably consider him as a role model.

You would have told yourself: “I should emulate the way this contractor leads his life. He is an intelligent and true person who does what he says and says what he does, and in return, made a good life for himself. If I use him as an example in my life, I too can lead a good and praiseworthy life, too.”

However, if the contractor upgraded his car after failing to deliver you the mansion that he promised, you would feel that the contractor had betrayed your trust, cheated you and made a fool of you.

(Pic credit: LegalZoom)

If you do not take any action against him, you will be forever condemned to be harassed by the suspicion that you are a fool that can be taken for granted or a weakling who has no capacity to live a respectable life because even if somebody robs you blind, you have no capacity to right the wrong that is done to you.

I am not saying that Dr Mahathir and his inner circle deliberately cheated Malaysians just because they did not deliver what they promised in the same way that you cannot say that a contractor has cheated you just because they did not deliver you the mansion that they promised.

For all you know, Dr Mahathir and his inner circle might have intended to do what they promised but things just didn’t go as planned.

Gentlemen’s agreement

The question, however, is what are we going to do about it?

Are we just going to accept Mahathir and his inner circle’s explanation and make our peace with it? Dr Mahathir and his inner circle will most certainly say that they did not cheat us or rob us.

They will say that they had told us what they were going to do, we had agreed to everything they said and we had consensually given them the nation’s wealth.

They can even claim that given the circumstances, they had given us a mansion anyhow and we should not rue them for upgrading their car because that is their right after delivering upon their promise even if it is not in full measure.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (right) and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim during the former’s second premiership stint (May 2018-February 2020)

The problem with making our peace with their explanation, however, is that it will legitimise their actions. If we legitimise their actions, many of us will also start to feel that we also have a right to over-promise and under deliver while taking a big fat pay cheque in the process by justifying that if Mahathir and his inner circle can do it, why can’t we?

But if we don’t make peace with their action and demand for rectification (or reformation as it is called in political terms), we are going to require Dr Mahathir and his inner circle to admit that they had not fulfilled their end of the bargain.

So long as Dr Mahathir and his inner circle stubbornly insist that they had done nothing wrong – that they didn’t cheat us and they have only upgraded their car using the income that they had legitimately obtained from us by delivering us a mansion – we cannot take any action against them.

We cannot do so because the terms of our agreement with them are vague. It was sealed chiefly by trust. In other words, our agreement with Dr Mahathir and his inner circle is akin to a gentleman’s agreement and a gentleman’s agreement cannot be arbitrated in court.

If any of the parties in the gentleman’s agreement did not honour their agreement, a lawyer and a judge will refuse to get involved.

So, what are we going to do now? Are we just going to just blame ourselves for trusting and respecting people who are not worth trusting or respecting?

Are we going to tell ourselves that maybe Dr Mahathir and his inner circle had done their best despite coming out short and resign ourselves to accept the broken country that they have given us?

Or are we – like Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has decided to do – go knocking on the contractor’s door and demand that they return the money that we gave them or we will seize their upgraded car?

That is the question that is before us as 2024 approaches. – Dec 30, 2023


Nehru Sathiamoorthy is a roving tutor who loves politics, philosophy and psychology.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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