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THE MILLION RINGGIT WEDDING

When Malaysians struggle to deal with the economic recession the government tells us does not exist, one cabinet minister marries his son off at a conservatively estimated cost of RM1,000,000.  Dato' Seri S. Samy Vellu's son, Dato' Paari Vellu, married in style at a five-star hotel, before 8,000 guests amidst the garish opulence we have come to expect at such chintzy gatherings;  with another dinner for 1,000 at another five-star hotel.  There is no suggestion, of course, that the works minister cannot afford it.  He can.  After all, he informed the Anti-Corruption Agency sometime ago that he is worth at least US$200 million, a figure that went up from US$120 million after two interviews with their officers.  How he got them in 25 years in the government after a lacklustre career as a draftsman-turned-Grade Two-architect is one of Bolehland's enduring mysteries.  But spending a million ringgit on a wedding does make one want to vomit.  The happy couple should not be faulted for this garish display of wealth, but his father certainly has lost touch with the ground.  The Amma of Indian politics, the film actress turned politician, Madam Jayalalitha, was not there -- she ignored the minister rather too blatantly to merit an invitation -- but her predecessor's thespian rival, Sivaji Ganesan, was among the Indian personalities down from India for the wedding.

The minister's conspicious consumption is one of several recently, with one senior civil servant explaining to ACA officers the source of the RM100,000 found in his desk drawer was "small change" for his son's wedding reception at a local hotel.  (These days, it seems, you are not really someone until the Anti-Corruption boys have come acalling;  longevity as a cabinet minister is
possible only if you have ...)  Corruption happens only when you bribe a police man RM2; ministerial and civil servant wealth is safe from public scrutiny, as are shareholdings of ministerial cronies and newspaper editors even if the ACA does inquire into how they came by it.  The ACA, of course, does not have independent powers of prosecution;  that is the Attorney General's prerogative.  His fearsome independence is well known, especially when cases that would redound on the government often get shortshrift at the political electronic shredder in his office.

When Tun Razak had to be rushed to London for specialist treatment in 1976 for what turned out to be his last illness, the
country's, and his finances, were in such parlous state that his wife, Tun Rahah, went herself without her children, but only after
his condition turned for the worse.  The explosion of wealth in ministerial bank accounts were still in the future, with his successor holding on to a frugal existence.  Indeed, Dato' (later Tun), as prime minister, got the UMNO bigwigs -- ministers and chief ministers -- to reveal their political funds, a move he had to take after the Selangor mentri besar, Dato' Harun Idris, went to jail for seeking a donation from the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank.  The figure was so large, he once told me, that just the interest for one year was sufficient to meet the National Front expenses in the 1978 general elections. The funds, he said then, had to be deposited elsewhere to prevent internal inflation. The expansion of Bank Bumiputra into the Middle East and elsewhere, and the BMF deposit taking office in Hongkong, was a direct result of that action.  That Bank Bumiputra could not handle that is now a well known footnote in Malaysian history.

The Malaysian attempt to corner the tin market, which Tun Daim Zainuddin orchestrated through a little known RM2 company known as Maminco, and its subsequent debacle, had to do with the arrogance of that wealth.  The march to the 2020 Valhalla was another expression of that.  No particular brilliance is needed to spend money like a drunk in a pub, building irrelevant structures and ego-strutting "National" monuments.  A side product of that is expanding corruption, which only the government insists is not there.  The corruption in Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim's trial refers to subborning officers to do his bidding.  Cabinet ministers, politicians, civil servants succumb to it just as the next man, and become richer than Croessus.  Few show it.  Dato' Seri Samy Vellu does.  His is a symptom of the cancer that threatens us all.  He would not, of course, see it that way.  Nor would his camp followers.  His son gets married, and the proud father ensures that no expense is spared to make that a grand occasion.  One trusts the wedding went off well, and the couple would settle down to domesticated happiness.  But he is also leader of a community badly in need of direction, which he does not provide.  If he had backed this wedding with a massive personal donation for the betterment of his community, much of this carping would not be there.  But then in Bolehland, he who
controls the purse can do what he likes.  Or so he thinks.

M.G.G. Pillai