‘If PM’s RM6,900 shirt was a gift, who was it from, why was it given?’

A Malaysian lawmaker’s revelation that it was normal for prime ministers to receive expensive clothes or branded goods has raised more questions about integrity among the nation’s top leaders.

During his visit to the ‘Jom Heboh’ carnival in Putrajaya Saturday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob wore a RM6,900 Burberry shirt. This was the second time in recent weeks that he was seen in a designer outfit from the same brand.

As the nation continues to struggle with rising prices and food inflation, Ismail Sabri’s wardrobe preference, naturally struck the wrong chord with ordinary Malaysians.

Padang Rengas MP, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, immediately came to Ismail Sabri’s defence. He was quoted saying that previously, when he served as a minister, many had gifted prime ministers with expensive clothes, and other items.

Social activist and Malaysia Crime Prevention Foundation honorary life member, Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, said: “I do not want to comment on anyone’s fashion sense or their ability to afford branded goods.

“It does not matter what the shirt costs. If it was a gift, who was it from? And why was it given?

“There is a limit to the value of a gift that a civil servant can keep,” he added.

He said it did not matter if a gift was worth RM1 or RM7,000. A good leader must always set an example for civil servants and the people.

The Public Service Circular No. 3 of 1998 (SC 3/1998) states that civil servants in Malaysia are allowed to receive gifts, provided that the value is a quarter of their emoluments (salary), or less than RM500.

If an item is valued more than the allowable value, the officer is required to report the item to the Head of Department for approval.

The circular, however, is silent on the maximum value of a gift for the serving prime minister.

Checks with experts also revealed that there is no limit to the value of a gift that a prime minister can accept.

Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, during his second stint in office in 2018, said ministers and government servants were not allowed to receive gifts, adding that if anyone wanted to give him presents, he would only accept “flowers, food, or fruits, but nothing more.”

In the United Kingdom, the prime minister can only keep gifts worth less than £140 and must top up the difference in value if he or she wants to keep the gift.

The same rule applies in Singapore, where the prime minister can keep a gift worth less than S$50, or “may purchase the gift from the government at its cash value”.

Indonesian Prime Minister Joko Widodo, had in 2018, paid US$800 to keep a limited-edition Metallica album he received from then Danish prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmusse, to avoid any conflict of interest.

Integrity among leaders in Malaysia continues to hog the spotlight for the wrong reasons.

Former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is embroiled in the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal, that has caught worldwide attention, while his former deputy, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is facing 33 charges of receiving bribes amounting to S$13.56 million from a local company.

Former finance minister Lim Guan Eng and ex-youth and sports minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman are also facing corruption charges in court.

Lee added that regardless if it was a gift, wearing something so expensive showed that Ismail Sabri was somewhat disconnected from the plight of the ordinary people.

“At a time when many are expressing anger over the rising cost of living, a leader should not be wearing something that costs almost RM7,000,” said the former Bukit Bintang MP.

“It would appear as if he was not listening to their grouses, or it looks like he is showing off.

“A good leader always does what is best for the people,” he added.