- Going Rogue: Malaysia and the 1MDB Scandal
- Malaysians must end reign of Emperor Najib
- Opposition leader appeals to all MPs to work together to save nation
- Arrest warrant for Sarawak Report editor a futile exercise, say lawyers
Posted: 05 Aug 2015 03:48 AM PDT
Democracy and rule of law won't magically clear society of cronies and corruption.
In 1971, more than forty years before the world would turn its attention to the so-called one percent and the problem of income inequality, Malaysia embarked on one of history's boldest and most noble experiments to reduce social disparity. Malaysia's New Economic Policy, or NEP, would seek to "eradicate poverty for all" and "eliminate identification of race by economic function and geographic location." This polity that had achieved national independence just over a decade before, this country that was still a low-income emerging economy, was setting out to solve the massive problem of injustice and inequality over which other societies much more mature continued to struggle.
Malaysia was a democracy that hewed to the rule of law. The NEP would be Malaysia's key political driver. Over the decades that followed, the NEP's mantra would serve as a backdrop to almost all political discourse in the country. NEP-themed policies would, among much else, flesh out the concept of Bumiputera – an ethnic-driven formulation of native peoples in Malaysia.
It is difficult to grow an economy – look at train wrecks strewn around the world. But seeking to do so and at the same reduce ethnic- and rural-urban inequality, and maintain social harmony among diverse ethnic and religious groups is an order of magnitude more arduous. Malaysia succeeded: From tropical jungle, Malaysia has grown to have an average income now well above the world emerging-economy average. Its urban infrastructure and worker skills approach those in the first world. Malaysia's top bankers, businesspeople, and entrepreneurs are admired everywhere. NEP reduced pockets of extreme poverty and created a significant, thriving, and successful Bumiputera middle class – a group of professionals and intellectuals whose contributions to Malaysian society would be the pride of any country.
And, although from time to time patchily diverging from the ideal, throughout this history Malaysia worked hard to maintain its young democracy and its adherence to rule of law, and to support a healthy vigorous open sphere of public debate. Sensitive racial questions were out of bounds, but open questioning of the government was lively. Top government officials routinely had the judiciary rule against them. And a national identity emerged, one that combined the best aspects of local culture and an easy-going, open-minded cosmopolitanism developed from, among other things, the many Malaysians who have seen significant international experience. More so than when at home, Malaysians outside Malaysia saw each other for the warm and lively friends they genuinely were for one another, people who felt driven by a mission to make their country better.
Since his 2009 swearing-in, Malaysia's current prime minister has sought to articulate an international vision for a "coalition of moderates." As leader of a successful moderate Muslim country, he carried an authority and credibility sorely needed in global discourse. He was widely accepted in international circles, and even famously golfed with Barack Obama.
All this is now at risk.
However noble the goal of reducing social disparity, and however laudable the democracy, transparency, and rule of law to which Malaysia has desperately clung, this NEP half-century has seen the emergence of an increasingly hateful race-based narrative to Malaysia's political and economic strategies. The Bumiputera concept has become conflated with questions of religion, and threatens the open society that Malaysia has built. That concept is now considered by many – both Bumiputera and non-Bumiputera alike – to hold back continued social development for the country. Significant Bumiputera and rural poverty remain. Ever more frequent accounts have appeared of government agencies intended to reduce Bumiputera poverty yet only enriching the elites of that group. A recent article by one of Malaysia's most thoughtful interlocutors has had to ask:
In March 2010 at an international investors' conference, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced an urgent need for a revision to the NEP, towards a national development strategy more transparent, merit-driven, and market-friendly, and towards a new needs-based affirmative action. The prime minister had just won a resounding electoral victory; he had the backing of all Malaysians. (I am told by reliable sources that even Malaysia's opposition MPs felt like standing up and cheering.) But then elements within the prime minister's political party mounted significant pushback, the moment passed, and he did not stay the course. Open democratic process has not kept in check the rise of extremists rallying together the Bumiputera grassroots, good people who have been told this time will be different, this time more of the same will help them, despite its having failed to do so these last 50 years. Since 2010 no one has been able to recount significant action on that announcement.
A Malaysia of Cronies
All this is background. The practice continues to worsen in a Malaysia of cronies undermining good intentions and exploiting for self interest the very instruments designed to help others. The latest most visible instance of this is 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, an investment fund set up to steward the nation's resources. Elsewhere in the world, international scrutiny of sovereign wealth management vehicles has led to their applying the highest possible standards of financial probity; indeed, among the world's most respected, successful, and scrupulously managed of those is Malaysia's own Khazanah Nasional. By contrast, 1MDB has seen billions of dollars of public money moved around the world in suspicious circumstances, with allegations that hundreds of millions of dollars were funneled into the prime minister's personal bank accounts. (Malaysia's anti-corruption agency has ruled that the money came from legitimate "donations," without specifying who the donor was.) All of this has dragged down in the world's eyes Malaysia's otherwise globally esteemed financial infrastructure.
And the egregious actions continue: shutting down the press has become the next step in that escalation. In July 2015 Malaysian authorities blocked a website that had become a significant and honest whistleblower on high-level developments in Malaysia. That same month Malaysian authorities suspended The Edge newspaper for its reports on 1MDB. Criminal defamation litigation threatened by the prime minister against the Wall Street Journal on its 1MDB reporting turned into a fiasco of the most basic legal ineptitude. Towards the end of July Najib removed from Cabinet his own deputy prime minister, the government's most significant and prominent voice to raise questions on 1MDB. While four different official Malaysian government investigations are underway, there has now been a sudden replacement of the attorney-general and chief prosecutor. The deputy public prosecutor and others involved in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission have been arrested. The prime minister moved four members of the 1MDB parliamentary committee into his cabinet, thereby shutting down all further proceedings even as the committee's official report comes due. Opposition MPs have been prevented from leaving the country on their way to discussing 1MDB and the political crisis in Malaysia.
In all this turmoil, many of Malaysia's most remarkable leaders and numerous ordinary people have spoken out on the need for the country to get back to its roots. The country again needs to have a government that runs for the well-being of its people. Malaysia's current political leadership no longer articulates a vision that serves Malaysia's people. Malaysia's leadership is no longer one admired by and hopeful for others around the world.
One of Britain's greatest friends – a former colony that admired and reflected the grand British ideals of democracy, rule of law, free speech, and egalitarianism – has gone rogue.
It does not take authoritarian autocracy to run a country into the ground. Regardless of the system of government, it takes only political elites out of touch with their people, a co-opted judiciary, an electoral process that even while open fails to surface progressive leadership, and a system that keeps to the law but fails to protect those speaking truth to power. Malaysia now has all of these sorry attributes.
Posted: 05 Aug 2015 03:46 AM PDT
There seems to be no end to the incredulity by the country’s top executive in clearing both the prime minister as well as the government backed investment mammoth, 1MDB – perception wise.
The latest twist saw an unsigned MACC statement clear the RM2.6 billion found in our premier’s personal account – as mere donation money – after many weeks of allowed speculation and feigned ignorance to the existence and nature of the personal accounts.
Notwithstanding the Malay translation is derma falls within the ambit of the MACC as suapan : ‘suapan’ ertinya – (a) wang, derma, alang, pinjaman … atau apa-apa manfaat seumpama itu yang lain;
This definition then opens the door wide open for the person responsible – in receiving or paying a bribe – to be in violation of Section 3 and Section 50 of the MACC Act respectively.
Specifically Section 16 of the Act highlights that those found guilty can be jailed up to 20 years. Clearly if the executive is seen to hamper the anti-corruption agency; it is a move most detrimental to our parliamentary democracy.
While the MACC resolves its wide-ranging dilemma from releasing unsigned statements to last minute prayers for a corrupt-free regime plus integrity to prevail; we are left wondering on the roles of the following institutions :
Bank Negara – our central bank. For the first time in Malaysian history, our governor is being sought after by the IGP for investigations related to section 124B for activities being detrimental to parliamentary democracy – in the exact moment the public awaits the outcome of a task force she jointly chairs – investigating none other than 1MBD and the PM (chair of 1MDB advisory board).
Any threat and harassment against the governor – the bastion of Malaysia’s economic and financial well-being – is certainly a threat against our parliamentary democracy.
As arrests and investigations become the prevailing order – we are left asking : Does BNM have anything to comment on the massive inflow of fund? How did the transfer of RM2.6 billion escape the AMLA automated alert?
Who was the deep-pocketed donor allegedly from the Middle East that donated this money to the PM? An immediate disclosure of the nameless Middle East donors must be made as Israel also is in the Middle East.
Was the donor from SRC international and how was the money utilised? Was the money used to fund the Barisan Nasional’s 2013 general election campaign?
Fourth Estate under attack
Affronts within the executive have also taken place with the PM sacking of his deputy and members of his cabinet who were vocally critical against him and the 1MDB fiasco.
Whilst the sacking can be replaceable with other like-minded yet less outspoken Umno / BN leaders; the same cannot be said for the removal of the attorney- general in the background of a rumored, purported charge sheet against our premier.
In his place we have a new AG, no less a former Umno member and disinterested in either disclosing the interim AG’s report on 1MDB or updates on the now derailed investigations by the 1MDB task force. The main cause for the derailment is the often used phrase of being detrimental to parliamentary democracy.
Whither the PAC? Courage of members easily wilt in the face of cabinet upgrades – whilst the remaining members of the quorum are blocked from continuing meetings , deliberations, or downright access to the PAC office.
The Fourth Estate is also not spared by our executive – latest victims include The Edge Financial Daily – whose dogged interest in exposing the 1MDB saga has cost it a three-month ban. Whistleblower site Sarawak Report is not only blocked but there is also an arrest warrant on its owner.
Clearly, the Fourth Estate is being severely attacked – a move that is most detrimental to our parliamentary democracy .
Malaysians – on the other hand – will not enjoy rights enshrined under Article 10 of our Federal Constitution – as those assembled against the prime minister’s involvement in allegations of embezzlement and corruption are spuriously arrested – the list of 37 arrested include an octogenarian and a minor in last Saturday’s #DemiMalaysia rally.
?Such systematic dismantling of democratic principles of separation of power threatens our parliamentary democracy .
The more the prime minister strengthens his authoritarian and emperor-like grip, the more frail our parliamentary democracy becomes.
Such growth of authoritarianism will only bring the country into further ruin and disrepute.
Malaysians cannot live with an emperor. All agencies and democratic institutions must be reminded to achieve this aim and end the reign of the Emperor Prime Minister.
The well-being of the rakyat and survival of the nation are predicated on a working and thriving parliamentary democracy.
Posted: 05 Aug 2015 03:44 AM PDT
In light of the country’s mounting financial scandals and weakening ringgit, Opposition leader Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail has urged members of parliament from both sides of the divide to put aside their differences and work towards an action plan for the sake of the nation.
In a statement today, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail also said the comedy of errors committed by Putrajaya over the RM2.6 billion channelled into the prime minister’s accounts did not instill confidence in the people that the government will handle the matter properly.
She said the statement by the Dewan Rakyat Speaker that the bi-partisan Public Accounts Committee (PAC) , which is in the midst of probing debt-ridden state investor 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), cannot continue their meetings, raised many questions.
“The people who have been waiting to hear the explanation by 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda and former CEO Datuk Shahrol Halmi were disappointed as this was the second time their scheduled hearing was postponed.”This postponement does not bode well for the democratic process in Malaysia and will only create negative perceptions of the integrity of PAC,” Wan Azizah said.
She urged all MPs and civil society to come together for the sake of the nation given the current political developments in the country.
“We are running out of time. The Malaysian ringgit is losing its value, investment sentiments are on the decline and the government’s actions are affecting the country’s image on the world stage.
“We need to set aside our differences and work together to bring change,” she added.
The bipartisan panel was scheduled to continue its inquiry with former 1MDB CEO Shahrol in Parliament yesterday, and Arul today, while Mohd Hazem Abdul Rahman, who served as 1MDB’s CEO from March 2013 to January 2015, was scheduled to appear before the panel tomorrow.
However, a Cabinet reshuffle that saw the PAC chairman and three of its members elevated to the administration resulted in Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar declaring that all PAC proceedings, including its ongoing inquiry into 1MDB, temporarily suspended pending the appointment of a new chairman and members.
Pandikar’s view has been disputed by PAC opposition members as well as the Bar Council, which said the committee could still function as it had the required quota, and that DAP’s Dr Tan Seng Giaw as deputy chair could take over the functions of the chairman.
Posted: 05 Aug 2015 03:43 AM PDT
A warrant of arrest for Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown is not enforceable outside Malaysia, lawyers said, adding that it is also very unlikely that the British national will step foot here anytime soon for police to pick her up.
They said the Malaysian authorities were dreaming and their act only showed they were making a fool of themselves as the offence she was being investigated for was not a crime in the United Kingdom.
They said any extradition attempt on Rewcastle-Brown with the assistance of the crown public prosecutor in Britain would fail.
Lawyer Joshua Teh said the warrant was only enforceable against Rewcastle-Brown if she came to Malaysia to submit to the investigating agency.
“The warrant has no value outside Malaysia. It was just obtained to put on a show to the Malaysian public,” he told The Malaysian Insider.
Teh said the warrant of arrest only showed that Rewcastle-Brown was wanted by Malaysian authorities.”Police can only arrest and detain her if she on Malaysian soil,” he added.
He said this in response to a report quoting the head of the Criminal Investigation Department Datuk Seri Mohmad Salleh that police had obtained a warrant of arrest for Rewcastle-Brown and would begin the process of obtaining help from Interpol and Aseanapol to facilitate her detention.
Mohmad said Rewcastle-Brown, who is based in the UK, would be investigated under Section 124B and 124I of the Penal Code, which relate to activities that are detrimental to parliamentary democracy.
Mohmad in a statement last evening said the warrant of arrest was obtained from the Kuala Lumpur High Court.
Section 124I pertains to the dissemination of false reports which was likely to cause public alarm and those found guilty can be jailed for up to five years.
Section 124B, meanwhile, allows for imprisonment up to 20 years for actions that are detrimental to parliamentary democracy.
Rewcastle-Brown has been accused of using allegedly false or tampered information in Sarawak Report’s exposes on 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), obtained from former PetroSaudi International employee Xavier Andre Justo.
The Sarawak Report website was blocked by Malaysian Internet regulators more than two weeks ago purportedly because the site carried false information that could disrupt “national stability”.
Lawyer Datuk N. Sivananthan said British prosecutors would not render any assistance to their Malaysian counterparts to extradite her as the United Kingdom did not have an offence for action that were detrimental to parliamentary democracy.
“It is definitely not an offence there and so extradition is out of question,” said Sivananthan, who is also a International Criminal Court counsel.
Lawyer S.N. Nair described the act of the police similar to pulling wool over gullible Malaysians’ eyes to demonstrate that they were doing something against the “white woman”.
He said Malaysia and the United Kingdom may have an understanding to extradite a suspect but the British government would be unlikely to render assistance because the offence under section 124 of the Penal Code was something alien there.
“The crown public prosecutor there will not do anything illegal to send Rewcastle-Brown to Malaysia as the public and media there are vigilant,” said Nair, an ex-police officer who has handled extradition cases.
Nair said the warrant of arrest for Rewcastle-Brown was only a starting mechanism and the Attorney-General of Malaysia would have to seek the cooperation of his British counterpart to arrest her.
“They will decline to act based on the evidence presented by the Malaysian A-G if they feel there was no case.
“If there was a case, prosecutors in England have to go the court to obtain a warrant and the court may decline such an application,” he added.
Looking at the evidence from press reports, Nair said it was virtually impossible for any application for warrant of arrest or extradition order to succeed.
“This act by the police is an exercise in futility and waste of public funds,” he added.
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