When conscience rules
Nur Salwani Muhammad/ graphic by MZUKRI

Conscience is a powerful tool that guides one’s actions, be it right or wrong

graphic by MZUKRI

NOT all heroes wear capes. This is the general reaction by Malaysians following a confession by Nur Salwani Muhammad (picture) that she possessed a secret audio recording of a highly controversial meeting related to the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) audit report tampering.

Social media was abuzz with the National Audit Department director’s revelation, which could be something of from a Hollywood spy movie. In fact, the 1MDB audit report tampering trial so far has all the elements for a good legal movie like “A Few Good Men”. The trial remains one of the most trending topics despite it is only into Day 4.

What was her actual motive? Critics had questioned whether her actions were ethical or did she breach related laws, especially the Official Secrets Act 1972.

On the other side of the divide, she has become a beacon of hope. Various parties, including politicians, hailed her as a national hero.

But critics had their day, too. Umno Youth leader Dr Fathul Bari said it is easy to be a hero nowadays, a civil servant only needs to commit a “treacherous” act to be regarded as one. Stealing billions from a state-owned fund is not treachery, one can argue.

Certain quarters had gone to the extreme. Some people had issued veiled threats against Nur Salwani online. This action prompted many users to call for the police to provide her “protection at all cost”.

Only Nur Salwani knew why she did what she did. It could just be that she has to file the minutes of meetings, and the usual way is to record the meetings’ proceedings.

It is worth noting that for the past three years, none of the findings nor recordings were leaked to any parties. She could have leveraged on the situation but instead, she reported it to her new superior, Tan Sri Dr Madinah Mohamad, who told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in 2018 that the report was tampered with.

Without Nur Salwani’s recording, we would never know what actually transpired during the days before the final audit report presentation to the PAC.

If that action alone was not courageous enough, the 52-year-old officer told the Kuala Lumpur High Court how she kept the 60-page copy of the original audit report, despite being told by her superiors to destroy all copies.

Nur Salwani testified that she had surrendered the original report, watermarked “09” to the new auditor- general for a better understanding of the findings churned by her team a few years ago.

In retrospect, Nur Salwani might have defied orders. But, she had actually exhausted the proper, available channel within her line of duty to preserve the actual work of the audit department.

Nur Salwani’s case should push for better protection of whistleblowers. Too often, we hear people or civil servants who are afraid to report any wrongdoings due to fear of repercussions. In her case, she put her job on the line and fortunately for her, she had the support needed. On the flip side, what agony would she face if there was no change of government in May last year.

Was Nur Salwani wrong in her actions? It is a public debate, but for a civil servant whose duty is to serve the nation and its best interest — it is hard to argue otherwise, especially when the country was at risk of being plundered.

To an ordinary person, Nur Salwani demonstrated what a good, dedicated civil servant should be. Former Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Dr Ali Hamsa — who was also a witness in the trial — had said in his parting message last year that civil servants should uphold integrity and dedication in carrying out their duty as their contribution is critical to the nation.

Nur Salwani did just that. She showed us how a civil servant puts the nation’s interest above her own.

In the words of Lembah Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzil: “Nor Salwani Muhammad: What you did is beyond the call of duty. What you did is the call of conscience.”

And conscience is a powerful tool that guides our actions, be it right or wrong. It is said when all is lost, hope is all we have.


Azreen Hani is the online news editor of The Malaysian Reserve.