PRESS STATEMENT, 19 November 2014, KUALA LUMPUR – Transparency International – Malaysia (TI-M) lauds the proclamation by HRH the Sultan of Johor for a blanket ban on the use of “key words” in “recommendation or support letters” quoting or linking them to the State Royalty. TI-M notes that this proclamation is long overdue and notes that the HRH Sultan of Johor has also commented that such abuses are rampant in the whole country and not just limited to the southern state.
The recent mudslides at Cameron Highlands where five (5) lives were unnecessarily and tragically lost, has prompted TI-M to appeal for the Rulers of the other States as well as Chief Ministers and Menteri Besars to follow the example of the HRH the Sultan of Johor to put a stop to such recommendation or political support letters with immediate effect.
This recommendation letter predicament actually surfaced even before the Cameron Highlands debacle, where the former Johor state secretary issued a letter in October last year, to Johor and federal departments, statutory bodies, local authorities, registrar of societies as well as the state’s cooperatives and companies, commissions, instructing them to look out for words linked to the Johor royal institution and the State. The letter, which took effect immediately, required them to refer documents bearing words such as “Diraja”, “Mahkota” to the State Government. The recommendation letters came in various forms. Some were dropping names of member of the Royalty, while some were traced back to members of royal households.
TI-M is aware that it is not an offence from a legal and technical point of view for members of the Royalty and politicians to issue recommendation or support letters especially relating to good or charitable causes such as scholarship, medical assistance and other humanitarian aid. However, these recommendation or support letters should not be used in other situations where they may be used as a basis to make any administrative or governmental decisions which may lead to an abuse of power or for personal gain.
The Johor Ruler’s proclamation came amid reports that recommendation letters or “surat kuning” (literally translated as yellow letter) said to have linked to the Pahang palace have often been used to pressure local authorities in Cameron Highlands. The authorities in Cameron Highlands have pointed to such documents as one of the causes for over-development at the highlands, which resulted in the massive mudslides on 5th November.
The President of TI-M, Dato’ Akhbar Satar, questioned how many more human lives need to be sacrificed, to see the end to this travesty. Now that the existence of the “yellow letters” is out in the open, Dato’ Akhbar hopes that there would be an immediate blanket ban on such letters in all states. “The relevant enforcement agencies need to act without fear or favour and the existence of such recommendation or support letters puts undue pressure on them in the discharge of their duties and certainly can adversely affect their resolve to combat corruption at all levels” reiterated Dato’ Akhbar.
Transparency International-Malaysia is an independent, non-governmental and non-partisan organisation committed to the fight against corruption.