There was corruption in 1981 but not as bad as now, says Dr Mahathir

PETALING JAYA - Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has acknowledged that there was corruption when he assumed office in 1981, but that it was not as damaging as now.

"It is totally different then when I took over as prime minister. When I became prime minister in 1981, everything was in place.

"The civil service was well trained and performed their part of the work quite well. There was corruption of course, but hardly damaging to the country," he said during a forum titled The Future of Democracy in Asia which was streamed live by Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London on Monday (Oct 1).

Dr Mahathir was responding to a question by the chair of the forum Adam Ward who had asked about his experience in returning to the government for the second time.

Dr Mahathir said that back then, the level of corruption was "so low" that it was "not a priority" for the then government.

However, he said this time around, when he moved in as prime minister, he found that the government machinery was corrupted.

"Not all (government officers are corrupted), but some of them, not the officers who are here," he said.

He added that if he was as young as he was in 1981, he could put up with the strain, but it was "almost unbearable the number of decisions that have to be made" now.

"Even changing heads of department, appointing somebody to take over, all these things I have to decide because that's the job as prime minister. So, the experience is not the same, but to the extent that I can, I will do the right thing," he said.

During the forum, Dr Mahathir had also said that it was a misconception that he had helped his cronies in the past.

"They believe that I was helping my cronies. Actually, I was helping people who are capable of benefiting from whatever business they do.

"If you ask somebody who has no business knowledge to construct a building or to give contract to do anything which he doesn't know and have no evidence that he has succeeded in the past, then you are going to invite failure," he said.

However, Dr Mahathir said although there was limited tender in the past, that has changed now as the government was implementing a "full tender" process.

He said everyone would be able to make a bid and the best bid would be awarded.