Frankly Speaking: Tun Razak would be proud of Salwani and Saadatul

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on November 25, 2019 - December 01, 2019.
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When Tun Abdul Razak was prime minister, he stated in an address to the civil service: “As civil servants, I hope you will stand up to us politicians, and not allow yourselves to be dominated by us. Because in a true democracy, the civil servants have a duty to perform. The future of our country’s democratic way of life is dependent on you.”

Razak would have been very proud of the two brave civil servants who stood up against instructions they felt were against the interests of the nation. They are Nor Salwani Muhammad and her immediate superior Saadatul Nafisah Bashir Ahmad. From the National Audit Department, the brave women were in the team that conducted a special audit on 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) in 2015.

Last week, revelations were made at the 1MDB audit tampering trial of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who, ironically, is Razak’s son, about how the two public servants did their best to stop attempts to cover up damaging parts of the audit report.

Blocked from taking minutes of a meeting called in early 2016 to amend the report, Salwani secretly put a tape recorder into the pencil case of her immediate boss Saadatul, who had been allowed to remain in the meeting room.

In the recording, Saadatul was heard speaking out against the instruction given by her ultimate boss, Chief Secretary Tan Sri Ali Hamsa, and Najib’s then senior private secretary Tan Sri Shukry Mohd Salleh, to delete parts deemed to be politically damaging.

Her objection proved futile because those at the meeting, like Ali Hamsa and the then Auditor-General Tan Sri Amrin Buang, caved in to Najib’s demands.

Instructions were also given to destroy all copies of the original audit report but Salwani kept one copy. Today, that copy and the audio recording are critical to the framing of the charges against Najib and Arul Kanda.

Kudos to Salwani and Saadatul. We are sure there are many more brave public servants like them and hope there will be even more going forward. Civil servants must stand up to politicians in power and say no when they are asked to do something that is illegal and against the national interest.

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