Graft buster Paul Low joins Najib's cabinet

Surprise appointment of ethnic Chinese NGO chief greeted with applause and scepticism

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 May, 2013, 12:45am

Well-respected Malaysian graft buster, Paul Low Seng Kwan, 67, has his work cut out for him.

Low - the president of Transparency International Malaysia (TI), an NGO that monitors political and corporate corruption - was appointed to the cabinet of Prime Minister Najib Razak in a surprise move that was greeted with applause and scepticism.

Corruption was cited as a major issue in the May 5 general elections which saw the ruling coalition National Front (BN) lose the majority of its popular vote and returned to power with a reduced majority.

"This is a brave move by [Prime Minister] Najib as TI is a watchdog," said Josie Fernandez, TI secretary-general, adding that Low could potentially investigate allegations of corruption by members of the component parties within BN in the future.

"Paul is a person of moral fibre. Paul knows how serious grand corruption is in this country. He also knows what reforms are needed.

Paul is a person of moral fibre. Paul knows how serious grand corruption is in this country. He also knows what reforms are needed

"I hope Najib will give him [Low] the freedom to make all the reforms and not interfere in any corruption investigations of political leaders from the BN component parties," said Fernandez.

Low is also one of the two ethnic Chinese appointed to the 57-member cabinet, after BN's coalition partner, the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), declined to take up any cabinet position following the dismal performance.

The other ethnic Chinese is Mary Yap from the eastern state of Sabah who was appointed as the deputy education minister. An influential Chinese group said it was irrelevant to have ethnic Chinese represent the Chinese community as it was far more important to have government policies that represent every Malaysian.

"Even though there are few Chinese ministers, it's not an issue. What is important is the policy," said Tan Yew Sing, head of the influential Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall.

"Malaysians must learn to break away from the mentality of race apportion and representation in the cabinet. A Malay can speak for the Chinese and a Chinese can speak for the Malay," said Tan who also heads a multi-racial civil society group called Malaysia Action Coalition.

A Chinese businessman said Malaysia was "still a good place to do business" despite dissatisfaction by some over certain aspects in the country and described the cabinet as "business friendly".

"From the appointments, I can see the government is serious in moving the economy forward, liberalising the economy, get tougher on compliance to keep up with globalisation and open up for international investment to come in," he said.

"In the past, the country used to rely a lot on old Chinese wealth."