The 'New Malaysia', the label now popularly used to describe the new Pakatan Harapan government after the May 9 general election, should be "certainly better" than the previous administrations ruling the country, said Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
"The 'New Malaysia' is even an improvement on the period during which I was prime minister for 22 years," he said in an interview with Investvine, the Hong Kong-based business news portal covering mainly South East Asia, referring to his first stint as prime minister until November 2003.
Mahathir said the New Malaysia would mean the government would have to go back to democracy and the rule of law and respect for the wishes of the people.
"They have shown that they did not like the previous government, and of course we have to take corrective action to bring back the country to its former organisation. In the past, civil servants, for example, did not dabble in politics, but they are there to carry out the policies and rules of the government and not be members of the party.
"But it's quite clear that in the last 10 years or so, the civil servants have changed so much so that they were openly seen to be campaigning for the government and it was wrong. It makes them biased and it makes them want to ensure the previous government wins (the election), sometimes by doing wrong things " he said.
In the interview with Investvine director Imran Saddique and correspondent Firoz Abdul Hamid, the prime minister also spoke about corruption in the civil service.
"They saw opportunities for making money for themselves and didn't hesitate to keep away from such temptations.
“Seeing the leader of the government himself being accused of corruption, we find that many of them are involved in corrupt activities, and of course we cannot have those people continuing because the perception of things, their ethics towards things are not what is expected from civil servants, " he added.
Mahathir pointed out that the new government was not taking revenge by removing these civil servnats, but when they are involved in wrongdoings, it would be wrong for the government to retain them.
"Those who are clear, they are retained. Sometimes it's so difficult to replace current officials because below them would also be corrupt officers. Sometimes we have to go down three or four steps before we can find an officer who's not involved.
"So the process has taken quite some time because without a leader or head of government who is clean, we will not be able to bring about the reforms and the rule of law to be applied," he said.
Mahathir revealed that the government was currently removing "quite a lot of people" not due to their involvement as party members but rather for cases where they were openly campaigning for the previous ruling party.
"We cannot expect them to carry out their jobs without being affected by their loyalties.
"So that is the main problem there, and then we have first to uphold the rule of law and once again accept the democratic system of governance," he said.
Asked how he plans to change such a culture in the civil service, the prime minister conceded that this would take time as the whole value system of the people had been undermined especially under the previous government.
No more 'free money'
The prime minister also spoke of the previous government being very fond of giving money to the people apparently because of poverty, but even those who are not poor were also the beneficiaries.
"In fact, everybody has been given free money by the government. This makes the people government-dependent and they no longer work in order to earn income. They expect their income to come from the government which undermines their work ethics to a point when they no longer work to earn a living.
“They feel that even if they don't work, the government has a duty to support them and this is of course very bad because that means they are not productive," he said.
Mahathir said if this continued, eventually the number of productive people would be reduced and they would not be able to pay taxes which the government needed in order to support this "very lavish style of administration" that gave free gifts to the people.
"So we have to change and it would cost something," he said.
He cited money given to fishermen who were paid monthly whether they caught fish or not, and this was something the government could not afford because the money was taken from the government or from illegal sources such as 1MDB.
"Like money from 1MDB that was taken by the government and given to the people. We can't do that as we don't have the money.
“But if we tell the people that 'sorry we cannot give you what you have become used to’, it would not be easily accepted because they would say ‘well, the previous government was better’.
“But we have to slowly tell them that there is no way we can give you money unless of course you work for your income," he said
Asked if the whole performance management system in the Public Services Department had to be reviewed as part of efforts to change the culture, Mahathir said he saw the need to promote younger civil servants to replace some of the "incorrigible" ones.
"They perhaps are less experienced but with retraining, there will be a new breed of people who are not tainted by bad practices of the past," he said