The Prime Minister, Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed, a past master in "cruelty" to his challenger, is terribly upset when others are as "cruel". So, the former deputy prime minister, Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim, is in Sungei Buloh. That is how it should be, in the good doctor's considered opinion. But not PAS administration in Trengganu sacks a recalcitrant chief executive of its Trengganu Advanced Technical Institute (TATI). It is cruel, he said, to hire someone and sack him immediately without by your leave. The PAS government, unlike the National Front government, is both cruel and pitiless to those who oppose it. When a man disobeys orders to return Federal funds disbursed without its approve, the Prime Minister says it is cruelty to sack him. The Trengganu state government had ordered Prof. Mohd. Zaki Abdul Muin not to accept "wang ehsan" funds from the Federal Government. He disobeyed it, and was sacked.
"Wang Ehsan", if you recall, is Petronas royalties due Trengganu which Kuala Lumpur decided, after PAS took office in 1999, is not due it, and it could the royalties in the state as it deems fit. The fear what nearly a billion ringgit annual funds in PAS hands gave the Old Man and UMNO such fearsome nightmares that he was prepared to rape the federal constitution and contract law to prevent it. If there is one federal action which puts the Malaysian federation at risk, this is it. The matter rightly is in the courts. Petronas and the Malaysian government have agreements with states that have petroleum giving them half the royalties the centre receives. Kuala Lumpur, as a matter of policy, would not allow this money into opposition hands. The states survive on federal handouts, its source of independent funds severely curtailed by the centre and constitutional restrictions to states raising funds. When oil became an important money spinner, the states which had it became flush with funds.
For 22 years, the federal government did not object when it controlled Trengganu, only after PAS took office. "Wang Ehsan" does not apply in Sarawak and Sabah, the other oil producing states in Malaysia. If it did, the two states would well secede. Unfortunately, the other state with sizeable oil and gas reserves, Kelantan, is also PAS-controlled and disagrees with Petronas' plans to extract it. Without any benefit, it sees no reason to agree; and asks why Petronas needs its approval since Kuala Lumpur insists the state is not entitled to royalties beyond the three-mile limit. Kuala Lumpur is caught in its own Catch-22 trap.
Meanwhile, Prof. Mohd Zaki Abdul Muin threatens to sue over his sacking. It "tarnished my reputation as former deputy dean of the Universiti Malay and as an educationist" and "the public perception is that I am guilty." He does not explain what this has to do with his wilful disobeying orders, which he does not challenge. Instead, he says he disobeyed orders in the larger national interest: to assist students pursuing degree-level programms at TATI "so that they would not abandon their studies halfway". He refused to return to the state treasury, as ordered, the "wang ehsan" given TATI by the federal government.
He insists he can do as he please, use funds from third parties as he sees fit. The state did not object when he said what he intended to do with the funds and so it has no right to complain. He also sees it as his right to defy his employers if he thinks it is in the national interest. He, in other words, feels it within his rights to refuse to disobey orders as he chooses, an arrogance we expect from the politically protected and connected. The Prime Minister's comment confirms it. He obeys a higher authority than who pays his bills. Any who employs him, he gives notice, must accept it. The sacking -- he calls it expulsion -- insults him, and he wants redress. He was appointed on a two-year contract in April last year. He obviously did not look at his contract closely when he signed it. He now says "he would look into the legal aspects and the work procedure to determine whether his sacking contravened the contract agreement" (as Bernama puts it). In short, the state government cannot sack him for disobeying orders. It is cruel, says the Prime Minister.
But it is another facet in this fight for the Malay cultural ground. UMNO must confront PAS but it shoots itself on every issue it takes on. The federal government disburses "wang ehsan" to educational institutions in the state; the state orders them to hand them over to the state treasury. Prof. Mohd Zaki disobeyed that. UMNO must be seen to be a step ahead. But it invariably moves two steps backward. For instance, some of that "wang ehsan" has disappeared into private UMNO pockets in Trengganu, where it lost power after 22 years.
The deputy UMNO liaison chief, Dato' Idris Jusoh, a former deputy minister defeated in the 1999 general election, is in day-to-day charge of the rudderless and leaderless state UMNO. About a hundred million ringgit was misused and in deliberate corruption. He was sent on a three-month course at Harvard, since extended to a year and probably longer. A similar scandal in Kelantan diverted RM36 million for the hardcore poor to far wealthier pockets and implicates the former minister for land and regional development, Dato' Seri Anwar Musa, and several senior ministry officials are indicted. But sum involved is more than three times that.