Malaysiakini Hit By Yet Another CyberAttack

June 30, 2012

Malaysiakini Hit By Yet Another CyberAttack

The Malaysiakini website was once again attacked starting from 2.45pm yesterday. Although the cyberattack continued, the site was fully restored at 11.30pm.

It appeared that this was not an isolated attack against Malaysiakini – simultaneous attacks were launch against a number of other websites in the country. At press time, most these websites, including those of Opposition parties DAP, PAS and PKR remain unavailable.

In a Twitter message, DAP leader Lim Kit Siang said: “DDoS attacks on DAP, PAS, PKR websites since afternoon. UMNO-/BN cyber saboteurs rehearsing even more serious DDoS in 13GE.”

The attack against Malaysiakini was the most sophisticated to date. “It used a complex attack pattern, and not easily detectable,” said CEO Premesh Chandran.

International syndicates

The attack – commonly known as a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) - managed to overwhelm the Malaysiakini servers. It involves using a large number of computers to flood Malaysiakini’s servers with fake traffic, causing a traffic jam which denies access to legitimate users.

The attack is normally carried out by international syndicates paid to disrupt targeted websites. However, Malaysiakini’s technology team was able to bring the site back up after battling the debilitating attack for eight hours.

Over the past year, Malaysiakini has been hit with a number cyberattacks, most notably during the BERSIH 2.0 and 3.0 rallies as well as the Sarawak state election.–

The MAS Story: Malaysian Hospitality or Malaysian Humbug

June 30, 2012

The MAS Story: Malaysian Hospitality or Malaysian Humbug

by Mariam Mokhtar (received via e-mail)

In MAS, MH stands for Malaysian hospitality which many of us know is highly overrated; MH might as well stand for Malaysian humbug. Or Malaysian hanky-panky.

A once proud airline is now a shadow of its former self. It is run by the corrupt and the incompetent – all puppets of the government. If the MACC were a responsible outfit, MAS would not be in the position it is today and many MAS senior managers, and government ministers, past and present would be languishing in jail.

The new MAS-AirAsia merger is shrouded in secrecy. Tony Fernandes is just a public front and assumes the rôle of pilot in this move.Someone else has charted the route for him. Who is that person?

One thing is certain. There is talk about solving the operational issues in MAS. Will Tony be able to alter an UMNO-BN culture that has been allowed to corrupt all levels of the airline’s hierarchy? This UMNO-BN culture is mired in controversy. MAS, like other GLCs, is haemorrhaging money. Attempts to stem this outflow have been unsuccessful.

Would any CEO of MAS be as daring as Peter Hill, the British CEO of Sri Lankan Airlines, who stood up against the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2007?

President Rajapaksa, together with his family and several officials, was in the United Kingdom to witness the passing out parade of Rajapaksa’s son from the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. When Rajapaksa demanded that 35 seats be reserved for his entourage to return to Colombo, Hill refused to bump passengers off the flight from London. Hill may have been the passengers’ hero but his work permit was rescinded.

Unfortunately, the work culture that exists in MAS is symptomatic of our government’s performance. Some dishonest MAS staff allegedly “steal” from the airline.

Perhaps they are taking their cue from the government officials or from previous chairmen. Perhaps they see this as part of their perks and benefits.

Cost cutting has reduced many allowances which they once enjoyed.One stewardess who declined to be named, said that she had lost track of all the items she took from the plane and according to her, “everyone did it”. In an attempt to justify her actions, she blurted, “What about the millions the chairmen have ‘stolen’?” She is wrong. It is billions. Not millions.

How many politicians and their spouses have used their influence to obtain free flights or bullied airline staff for upgrades for themselves, their officials, friends or relatives? How many times have we heard of a spouse of a leading politician wasting taxpayers’ money on transporting her shopping via MAS and MAS Air Cargo?

How many genuine passengers have been victims of alleged over-booking by MAS when it is well known that government officials were offered preferential seats over normal fare-paying passengers?

It is also well known that MAS practices two sets of rules: one for Malaysians and another for westerners. One Malaysian mother and child were bumped off one flight to the UK. Under EU rules, cancellation of the flight meant they were due compensation. Only her teenage son was offered compensation because he had an English name. The mother was refused compensation despite pointing out the discrepancy to the senior managers in London.

In one European airport, it is alleged that some members of staff have protected their long-term positions by fraternizing with senior politicians and VVIPs. In most companies, employees would not be allowed to remain in one posting indefinitely, but not, apparently, in this location.

Another person alleges that it is common knowledge that a member of staff would use influence to perform “dodgy” upgrades for friends or people of influence and later be rewarded with “gifts”. Others allege, too, that this person removes items from the aircraft on a regular basis. Cheese, toilet rolls, toiletry bags, duvets and blankets from First and Business Class may not be classed as the crime of the century, but it is theft all the same.

The modus operandi appears to be to wait till the flight and cabin crew, have left the aircraft. The security staff must be complicit in these thefts. Could there be hanky-panky with food and fine wines from the Golden lounge?

One wonders why work colleagues have remained silent about the alleged petty theft. Are the senior station managers in these postings incompetent or in collusion? Perhaps theses managers don’t want to deal with the problem.

Co-workers are probably afraid of whistleblowing because they fear they will be known as troublemakers. They wonder, “Can the system be trusted or will they will be identified and crucified?” Like the Malaysian public and corrupt politicians, employees are reluctant to report irregularities because they do not see much hope of redress.

Perhaps the worst sort sycophancy is the one which is ignored by all because it involves VVIPs. In one European airport, it is alleged by many that some MAS employees turn up, even when they are not officially on duty, to attend to the VVIPs. This is no charitable act or selfless dedication to duty. The rewards are high. Cash and expensive, small personal electrical items are the norm but the most prized of all is a title.

When even the bodyguards of the VVIPs proudly display their designer labels, which lowly worker can fail to be impressed?Which junior employee would refuse a title in exchange for making sure personal baggage and the truckloads of luxury goods are safely loaded onto the plane? Who dares ensure that the customs at KLIA will tax these items?

It wouldn’t take a genius to trace the titles that are dished out to MAS employees at some of the overseas airports which are frequented by VVIPs. And it would surprise no-one that even those in menial positions in the airline, can acquire Datukships.

The equilibrium at work must be disturbed as it is alleged that those conferred titles are known to be generally work-shy, are late for work, despite occasionally reporting for extra duty for VVIPs.

It is baffling that these employees are allowed, allegedly, to have a stake, either directly or indirectly, in companies which provide airline services which are in conflict with MAS cargo services.

Will Tony address the staff, who only attend to VVIPs and celebrities who give them benefit in kind? This is a form of bribery and theft from the airline, reminiscent of UMNO political tactics.

Will he put pressure on those in charge of complaints? VIPs get their complaints seen to promptly. Others may take months. The truly unlucky customers have theirs swept under the carpet by lazy station managers.

So what else is going on? Tony should whip the corrupt and inefficient MAS work-culture back into shape and the MACC should investigate these irregularities. Then again, pigs might fly.

The MAS-AirAsia deal has been aborted. Agitated Tony Fernandes has decided to relocate the airline’s regional hub to Jakarta, Indonesia. But the problems of MAS remain. This is because the MAS culture is rotten to the core, and it is also trite to say that the culture has to change. Mana Ada Sistem is the reputation MAS enjoys.

We need a Peter Hill, or Jan Carlzon who changed SAS (Scandinavian Airlines System) in MAS so that real transformation can take place. If the MAS Union is an obstacle to change fix it.

To operate an airline profitably every seat must generate revenue and every flight is  making money.  That is basic in management. It is, therefore, the duty of the sales people in our national airline to do their job. And they are not.

Have you tried booking a flight to London? It is always full. But when you are finally given a seat and board the aircraft, you will find there are still plenty of seats available. The problem of overbooking must be solved and ticketing agents should be penalised for blocking more seats than they can sell . You can deal firmly with erring ticketing agents, if they are your cronies, friends or relatives.

I myself cannot understand why certain number of Business class seats on domestic routes, for example, must be reserved for Royalty and Politicians. Can’t these VVIPs plan their trips? What are the private and political secretaries doing if they do not know the travel schedules of their bosses. It is that simple, yet it is not done.

There is no such a thing as a free lunch. MAS has to bear the burden of serving privileged customers. Furthermore, first and business class passengers must be treated in the same manner, irrespective of their social class or political office. No double standards, please. Will MAS top management answer me?–Din Merican

Kassim Ahmad goes over the top on Anwar Ibrahim

June 30, 2012

Kassim Ahmad goes over the top on Anwar Ibrahim

by Fathi Aris Omar & Jimadie Shah Othman

INTERVIEW: There may be no Malay intellectual more opposed to opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim than Kassim Ahmad.

To him, Anwar is a “forked-tongued” politician and a slandering “traitor” to the nation who has been implicated in various issues such as accepting foreign funds.

At the mere mention of his name, the controversial author’s tone hardened. He repeatedly expressed his desire to “spit”, “hang”, “behead” and “slap” the de facto PKR leader.“As I have said, I am willing to hang Anwar to death. Even now I am willing to shoot him”. “He is evil,” said Kassim while defending Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak on the Altantuya Shaariibuu issue.

The supposed link between the Premier and the Mongolian national is just “slander” by Anwar, he told Malaysiakini at his home in Kulim.The authorities need not fear taking action against Anwar despite his oratory skills, because he has been accused of repeatedly lying, he added.

Even Pakatan Rakyat is uneasy with the Opposition Leader, he charged, citing DAP chairperson Karpal Singh’s “slip of the tongue” on the non-Malay Prime Minister issue.

The interview with Malaysiakini had not even begun when Kassim read out a letter in The Star criticising Anwar in relation to foreign observer groups at the BERSIH 3.0 rally.

Nik Aziz ‘deified’

The international group on an electoral system fact-finding mission consisted of Anwar’s friends, alleged the letter, among other things. Kassim then went on to heavily criticise PAS spiritual adviser Nik Aziz Nik Mat , saying he feels that Nik Aziz is too deified by his followers.

His criticisms were vague, but he frequently mentioned the culture of “feudal ulama (religious scholars)” in the Islamic party.

He is known to be critical of the scholar “caste” in Islam. Shifting to fellow comrade PKR senator Syed Husin Ali’s joining of Pakatan, Kassim said the former PKR Deputy President was just “being influenced”.Syed Husin was formerly with Kassim in Parti Sosialis Rakyat Malaysia (PSRM). Kassim headed the leftist party from 1966 to 1984, and was succeeded by Kampo Radjo and then Syed Husin.

“When Anwar was sacked (from UMNO and the government in 1998), thousands came to listen to him speak. He claimed that it was a people’s uprising. I said masya-Allah, (Adolf) Hitler also gathered millions,” he said.

‘Late and stupid’

However, Kassim’s ‘cold war’ with Anwar may have begun even earlier in 1986, when he believed that Anwar was behind the banning of his controversial book Hadis: Satu Penilaian Semula (Hadith: A Re-evaluation).

Anwar  conspired with the “scholars” to pressure him despite initially agreeing with him “in principle”, he claimed.In the 1990s, Anwar blocked his proposal to hold a dialogue with Perak mufti Harussani Zakaria on the contents of his book, despite Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s supposed approval, he added.

Even his first meeting with Anwar was not encouraging, when the former Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM) leader arrived 45 minutes late, he revealed.

“When I entered, I spoke. He listened but did not say a word. That is Anwar. He was afraid, really afraid that I would write or ask him anything.That is my experience with Anwar – once he was late, once he acted stupidly,” he said.—

Cartooning in Malaysia: A Tragicomedy

June 29, 2012

Cartooning in Malaysia: A Tragicomedy

by Mariam

Instead of demanding for the restoration of their right to freedom of expression, these professionals are allowing themselves to be used as a propaganda tool by Najib.

The latest group of professionals to fall prey to Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s charm offensive are the cartoonists. If this thought is not depressing enough, UMNO appears to have politicised everything from hawkers to households, and car tyres to cartoons.

The event ‘You, PM and Cartoons: Cartoon and Animation Exhibition 2012’ had been billed as the largest gathering of cartoonists and animators, but conspicuous by his absence was Malaysia’s greatest and most well-known political cartoonist, Zunar (above).

In the past few months, Najib has preyed on FELDA settlers, petty traders and taxi drivers. He has rained goodies on them, given them cash handouts and made promises, which he probably does not intend to keep.

Last weekend, the Central Market played host to cartoonists and animation artists in the cartoon and animation exhibition. It was a joint effort by the Konsortium Cartoonist at Work (CAW) and Kelab Putera 1Malaysia (KP1M). Posters and banners for the event included the ‘1Malaysia’ logo.

UMNO Youth Exco, Sohaimi Shahadan and President Kelab Putera 1Malaysia, Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim (of the Somalia Fiasco) are believed to be the two main people behind the scenes.

Sohaimi is alleged to have instigated the cow-head scandal in front of the Selangor State secretariat, he was behind the harassment of Ambiga after BERSIH 3.0 and he is also implicated in the IMPad scandal.

Observers have asked why the cartoonists are allowing themselves to be used as a propaganda tool by Najib. They appear to be seduced by awards, inclusion in the Malaysia Book of Records and offers of cash, when they should instead, demand that their rights and freedom of expression are restored.

Abdul Azeez claimed that the event was to acknowledge the work of cartoon and animation artists. “Not many people realise that cartoonists and animators play a very important role in the entertainment we enjoy every day.”

Awards and Prize Money

It was reported that the event had scored a milestone in the Malaysia Book of Records as the largest gathering of cartoonists and animators. This was disputed by various people who allege that of the 356 supposed cartoonists, only 50 were actual cartoonists whereas the rest were those who had just signed up to participate in the event.

Najib praised the work of cartoonists and presented awards and prize money to them, because they ‘helped strengthen racial unity’, but he said that “provocative and inciteful work, which could lead to disunity and discord must be avoided”.

Around RM300,000 had been allocated via KP1M, for the formation of Yayasan Kartunis 1Malaysia; however, the details of this organisation are unspecified.

He said, “Cartoonists and animators have an important role in development and progress. Humour in the jokes must insert messages on solidarity, cooperation, tolerance and togetherness to uphold the 1Malaysia philosophy,” and he urged them to “translate and communicate all government policies in a light and relaxed way easily understood by society”.

Najib has taken the unprecedented step of banning the use of caricatures in the forthcoming GE-13. Zunar’s depiction of corruption, excesses by the self-styled “First Lady” Rosmah Mansor, the murder of Mongolian model Altantuya, the Scorpene scandal and the corruption of the judiciary, make stimulating reading.

Sources close to Zunar said: “He refuses to be a part of this programme because it is a political programme, not a cartooning programme. He feels that cartoonists are being used by political leaders for their own agendas.

“The exhibition is not organised by the Cartoonist Association, but an association headed by two UMNO leaders – Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim (Kelab Putra UMNO) and Suhaimi Shadan (UMNO Youth’s Economic Bureau Chief).”

Beholden to UMNO

When contacted, Zunar confirmed that he objects to being made a propaganda tool and has rejected the award and prize money. Zunar, whose cartoons have courted controversy, says “Lift the ban on my books, drop the charges against me, stop the threats against my vendors and printers. If you present me with an award and prize money of RM10,000 but still enforce the ban on freedom of expression, then what is the point of the award?”

He criticised the selection procedure whereby politicians decide who receives the awards. He said that it would have been more appropriate to have a selection committee of lecturers in the cartooning field, other cartoonists and writers in the creative world.

Awards were given to 10 other cartoonists and animators including Mior Sariman Mior Hassan for the Revolutionary Cartoons category, Jaafar Taib (Cartoonist with dedication); Hassan Abd Muthalib (Father of Malaysian Animations); Lim Kok Wing (for Innovative Artwork) and Reggie Lee (Community Cartoonist-above).

Zunar claimed that with the award and prize money as sweeteners, cartoonists are beholden to UMNO and will refrain from criticising the government: “Why do the cartoonists not demand their rights and the freedom of expression?

“Does this mean that by binding the cartoonists’ hands and feet with law and rules, he can gain support from the cartoonists? Cartoons should be encouraged to flourish so they can evolve and thrive with freedom to create. It must not to be used to support government policies”.

Zunar said that the Prime Minister should learn to accept humour as positive criticism of his policies and work. He described ‘1Malaysia as a symbol of corruption and said that Najib has detained cartoonists who are critical, banned their books and restricted their freedom, using acts such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the Sedition Act.

Zunar said: “My award would have been Kartunis Berminda Kritis – The Critical Cartoonist. I disagree, because everyone should learn to be critical. Are they trying to say that others do not know how to be critical? Why can’t the authorities acknowledge the content of my cartoons?”

He condemns the way UMNO believes that a trophy, prize money, a photograph with Najib and a listing in the Malaysia Book of Records, are sufficient to placate Malaysians. Zunar said: “What is more fitting than an award is to give cartoonists their rights and restore the freedom to be creative.”

Mariam Mokhtar is a FMT contributor

Mahathir to Marina: Time to Draw the Line

June 29, 2012

Mahathir to Marina: Time to Draw the Line

by  Wong Choon Mei, Malaysia Chronicle

Fresh from publicly endorsing his son Mukhriz for the Kedah Chief Minister’s seat, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad next trained his sights on his daughter – Marina.

Urging the sometimes outspoken Marina to be ‘sensitive’ of how her often liberal behavior could affect her brother’s political chances, the 86-year-old Mahathir revealed for the first time his parenting skills to the nation.

And it is clear, as far as the Mahathir family goes, politics come first. “I do hope she will realise what she is doing is not good for herself, not good for the government party at least. She should also be sensitive about her brother who is contesting in the election,” Mahathir said during an interview with online television station The Malaysian Observer (MobTV).

He had been asked to comment on Marina, an AIDS/HIV activist and open supporter of the BERSIH rallies for clean elections – two issues that Mahathir is openly and vehemently against, but which Marina apparently endorses.

Drawing a line

Just a day ago, Mahathir warned that allowing the LGBT community rights would lead to the end of ‘mankind’. Today, he publicly warned his daughter not to get carried away with her volunteer work and end up fighting for the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender folk.

“She never said she supports this; I hope she doesn’t. She cared for this people but she has to draw a line between them and the idea that being homosexual is okay, or men marrying men is okay,” said Mahathir.

The former Prime Minister who ruled Malaysia for 22 years from 1981 to 2003 also let slip he did not like Marina to associate herself with BERSIH, the movement for free and fair elections as he believed it had been hijacked by the Opposition.

However, Mahathir skirted the issue of whether he supported the principle of clean polls. This is not surprising given that his critics have often accused him of massive gerrymandering and even offering citizenship to foreign workers if they voted to keep his UMNO-BN coalition in power.

Typical big-mouth Asian Dad?

And in reminding Marina to be ‘sensitive’ for Mukhriz’s sake, Mahathir revealed his own insensitivity not only by putting his daughter’s interests lower than her brother’s, but also by blaring to the public that she had “no ambition”.

“She doesn’t care about what people think. I care about what people think. If not, I won’t get anywhere,” said Mahathir.“Maybe it’s because she has no ambition so she speaks her mind. I cannot agree with the things she is doing, but nowadays you cannot tell your children ‘please stop this, please stop that’; they have a mind of their own.”

Marina is Mahathir’s eldest child and despite his current obsession in making sure Mukhriz lands the Kedah Chief Minister’s post, it is well-known that she is his favorite offspring and their father-and-daughter relationship enviably strong.

Nonetheless, it would be interesting to ask Marina what she thinks of her dad’s latest comments – has his thinking become antiquated with age or is he just another Asian dad, cherishing the sons as serious business and the daughters as mere decoration.

Malaysia Chronicle


Najib’s Political Football: Strive and Trash the Opponents

June 29, 2012

Najib’s Political Football: Strive and Trash the Opponents

by Mariam Mokhtar@

English footballer Ian Wright once said: “I’ve got the passion but no idea of tactics – I’d be like a black Kevin Keegan.” Is this an apt description of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, the wannabe football player?

Last Saturday, the football-mad Najib used Euro 212 as an analogy for BN to “strive like football players to thrash their opponents”. Sir Stanley Matthews, one of England’s finest footballers, once said: “Whenever I see a bald man walk down the street I never think, ‘there’s a man who has done a lot of worrying’, I think, ‘there’s a man who looks like he was a good header of a ball’.”

We were wrong to assume that Najib has lost sleep and hair from worrying about the likely outcome of GE13. Najib must have been busy in his backyard, heading balls into the net.

Employers also worry that Najib will contract football fever again. In 2010, the Malaysian team won the AFF Suzuki cup against Indonesia. Patriotism cost companies dearly. Absent workers meant that orders for goods were unfulfilled, and those who turned up for work, had to be paid ‘public holiday’ rates. Cynics mocked Najib and wondered if he would declare a month-long holiday should Malaysia win the World Cup.

At the opening of the Urban Transformation Centre in Malacca, Najib boasted: “The Euro 2012 tournament probably will not see a record score like what I hope Barisan can achieve in the 13th general election, but I am confident we will emerge with 14-0 with 0 for the Opposition. We will thrash our rival; let them go back with a zero score.” [sic]

It is widely known that soccer is a ‘beautiful’ game but is it a gentleman’s game? UMNO is not known for its sportsmanlike behaviour.Most soccer coaches would tell the budding player that if he were to practise hard enough, he might be able to turn professional.

The end justifies the means; BN has had 54 years of practice to ‘win’ every match by any means, including foul-play and match-fixing.

To achieve success, a football team must have a strong defence and a dependable core of strikers and wingers who are prepared to take risks. A good coach will warn you not to be motivated by glory, that good sportsmanship is vital, and to desist the urge to hog the ball or show off.

So isn’t Najib deluded? UMNO tends to hog the metaphorical ball, the party is famous for rough tackles and they are consumed with their ‘image’. To Najib, winning is everything and he has already said he would defend Putrajaya at all costs. The words of Bill Shankly mirror Najib’s views: “First is first, and second is nowhere.”

The PM, who has an inflated view of his own ‘brilliance’, is just like Cristiano Ronaldo, who once said: “If I am named the best in the world, it won’t be a surprise to me.”

‘Numbers don’t mean support’
Both Najib and Rais Yatim, his Minister for Information, Communications and Culture, have rejected the rakyat’s demands for free, clean and fair elections. They lied about the 250,000 turnout for BERSIH 3.0 and contrasted this with the 66th anniversary UMNO celebrations at Stadium Merdeka, which they claimed was orderly, well attended and far superior.

Alan McInally said: “England should’ve won against Croatia because they had 800 million people in the stadium,” while John Motson described the Emirates Stadium thus: “The atmosphere within the Emirates Stadium has really improved since Arsenal moved here.”

Najib may have claimed that 100,000 people gathered in Stadium Merdeka, but that does not mean he has the support of Malaysians or the backing of the Malay community.

He is aware he must win GE13 at all costs. The memories of former premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s leadership of UMNO – and BN’s losses in GE12 in 2008 – are fresh in his mind.

Ian Wright once said: “Without being too harsh on David Beckham, he cost us the match.” When Gordon Banks said, “The goalkeeper parried the ball or, as we used to say in my day, he couldn’t hold it,” he might as well have been describing Abdullah.

On hindsight, UMNO members might also reflect on Yossi Benayoun’s words: “We played like a bunch of drunks”, as they remember GE12.

A word about the Opposition team would be appropriate. Brian Clough once said: “The FA didn’t offer me the job as England manager because they thought I’d make too many changes, stir things up and cause them problems…and they were bloody right”.

His remarks remind us of Anwar Ibrahim’s bust-up with former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Today, Anwar and the Opposition coalition, with its long list of reforms, are causing problems for BN.

Najib’s team coach has to be Mahathir.  Before he left Arsenal, Thierry Henry said: “I am not going to leave. Never. I am staying here for life.” Weary Malaysians are finding the spirit of Henry in Mahathir. Despite his retirement, Mahathir still dabbles in Malaysian politics.

A quote from George Best sums up Najib: “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.”

It is always the poor rakyat who suffer. They are hampered by the Election Commission (EC) which is not aware it is breaking the rules. We sometimes feel like Gary Lineker, who once declared: “A handball is when your hand touches the ball.”

We are exasperated with the EC’s handling of Malaysian elections and again, empathise with Lineker: “My granny could probably have managed Brazil to World Cup success.” We feel the same way about the EC, or Najib and GE13.

MARIAM MOKHTAR is a non-conformist traditionalist from Perak, a bucket chemist and an armchair eco-warrior. In ‘real-speak’, this translates into that she comes from Ipoh, values change but respects culture, is a petroleum chemist and also an environmental pollution-control scientist.

Euro 2012: Super Mario stuns the Germans

June 29, 2012

Euro 2012: Super Mario stuns the Germans for a Date with Spain in the  Euro-2012 Finals

Mario Balotelli’s first-half double saw Italy through to the final of Euro 2012 as they stunned Germany in Warsaw.

Germany were hot favourites going into this semi-final but Balotelli struck twice before half-time and Germany were unable to claw their way back.

Mesut Ozil pulled a goal back from the penalty spot in injury time, but Italy deservedly held on to set up a final against Spain on Sunday.

The win continues Italy’s remarkable record in major tournaments against Germany, who have failed to beat the Italians in eight attempts.

This emerging young German side were tipped by many to go all the way at this tournament, but their burgeoning progress was checked by a clinical Italy team.

Germany started the match as expected and the Italians were lucky to survive a couple of early wobbles by their goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.The Italy captain was caught in no-man’s-land early on, allowing Mats Hummels to poke goal wards only to see Andrea Pirlo scramble the ball off the line.

Minutes later, Buffon pushed out a Jerome Boateng cross and was relieved to see the loose ball bounce off his own defender, Andrea Barzagli, and behind for a corner.

But midway through the first half it was Italy who made the breakthrough with a quite brilliantly worked goal. Germany stood off Pirlo, allowing the Italy playmaker to sweep a pass out to Giorgio Chiellini who fed Antonio Cassano.

Cassano superbly spun away from two defenders and swept in an inviting cross that allowed Balotelli to drift away from Bastuber and head home from close range.

Sixteen minutes later, the Italians remarkably doubled their lead with a sweeping counter-attack following a Germany corner.

Italy left two strikers forward and the tactic paid off as Riccardo Montolivo swept a long ball over the head of Philipp Lahm, allowing Balotelli to chest the ball down and run clear before smashing an unstoppable shot beyond a stunned Manuel Neuer.

The first-half double saw the young Manchester City striker double his international goal tally — having scored just once coming in to Euro 2012 Balotelli is now the tournament’s joint leading goalscorer on three.

Germany needed a response in the second half and they got it in effort, but not in goals. A smart one-two on the edge of the area between Lahm and Toni Kroos ended with Lahm side footing over when he should have hit the target. A goal then would have ensured a fascinating second half , but Italy looked just as likely to score again as Germany increasingly gambled at the back.

Balotelli curled a shot across the face of goal before limping off with cramp and Claudio Marchisio twice drilled wide from inviting positions as Italy failed to kill off the German threat.

Substitute Antonio Di Natale wasted another golden chance eight minutes from time when he ran clear but fired into the side netting, but at the other end Italy’s defending was outstanding.

That resilience was emphatically underlined by Federico Balzaretti’s goal-saving tackle to keep out substitute Marco Reus late on, although Balzaretti’s handball in stoppage time did give Ozul the chance to score from the spot.

That came too late to save Germany though and Italy now face a Spain side who they held 1-1 in the group stages earlier in this tournament.–

BERSIH3.0 and Singapore: A Point of View

June 29, 2012

BERSIH3.0 and Singapore: A Point of View

By Rita Sim, Co-Founder, Centre for Strategic Engagement (CENSE)  | (06-28-12)

WHEN BERSIH 3.0 supporters took to the streets on April 28, the number of Singaporeans paying attention was not insignificant. Among the most common threads of discussion was: “Will Singaporeans ever have the same freedom?”

Meanwhile, Singapore’s authorities behaved true to form, forbidding Malaysians living in Singapore from organising a solidarity BERSIH rally.Their caution probably had less to do with public safety than with the possibility that it could engender similar feelings among its people.

Singapore has been keeping a close eye on political happenings in Malaysia since the 2008 general election here. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s government has good reason to be worried, as his country’s political awakening has been influenced by events occurring here.

Singapore’s wake-up call came during its May elections last year. The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) learned not to take voters for granted when it had to contest 84 out of 87 seats, unheard of in Singapore’s electoral history.

Traditionally, PAP has always come to power on nomination day, but in the elections last year, it faced a stiff fight from Opposition parties that fielded young, well-educated and highly-qualified candidates. Although PAP eventually won 81 seats, Lee admitted that it was time for the party to do some soul-searching, as younger Singaporeans were showing a marked shift away from PAP’s rigid rule.

Malaysia’s own political “black swan” — an unexpected event that has a major impact — was far more dramatic, with a huge swing towards the opposition in the 2008 general election. Fuelled by an electorate that is becoming increasingly aware of its democratic rights and an active online media, the political discourse in Malaysia has become louder and more strident in the last four years.

Opposition parties are behaving less like the underdog and more like lawmakers. At the same time, the BN government, like PAP, has come to realise that business-as-usual is not going to work any more.

Singapore is watching how the BN government is handling a completely new political landscape. Not only does the ruling coalition now have to work with the Opposition, but it has to transform itself to appeal to a voter base that has different values from generations before. Among the reforms instituted by our prime minister in a bid to transform the country, the repeal of the Internal Security Act, was most closely-watched by Singapore.

The abolition of the ISA, seen as a victory for civil liberties in Malaysia, clearly struck fear in the Singapore government, which immediately issued a statement to distance its ISA from that of Malaysia’s.

“The ISA in Singapore has evolved and is now different from that in Malaysia. The ISA continues to be relevant and crucial as a measure of last resort for the preservation of our national security,” stated excerpts from the press release by the Home Affairs Ministry.

The Singapore government has always been perceived as using censorship and intimidation to maintain tight control on its people, who live with the unspoken knowledge that dissent can bring unpleasant reprisals.

Although the repeal of Malaysia’s ISA does not directly affect Singapore, it is the symbolism that will hurt Singapore the most.

As the race towards Malaysia’s 13th general election heats up, Singapore is ever vigilant in observing our developments, particularly in Johor, where DAP is working hard to break BN’s stronghold.

DAP’s efforts in Johor are actually doing a disservice to the PAP government, as many Singaporeans nearby get caught up in the anti-establishment sentiment and start asking for more freedom in their own country.

It is ironic that DAP and PAP now represent opposing sides of the divide, as DAP was originally the Malaysian branch of PAP before Singapore left Malaysia in 1965.

In fact, it leads one to wonder: if DAP ever has the opportunity to be in the Federal Government, will it start to behave like PAP? This is a question DAP supporters might want to ask themselves. –

Opposition Takeover of Putrajaya unlikely, says Kassim Ahmad

June 29, 2012

Kassim Ahmad: Opposition Takeover of Putrajaya unlikely

by Fathi Aris Omar and Jimadie Shah Othman (06-28-12)

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s administration is still seen as plagued by corruption in UMNO’s leadership ranks, in direct contrast with that of his father’s, the late Abdul Razak Hussein in the 1970s.

Controversial author Kassim Ahmad said that lack of strong action caused the culture of corruption among UMNO leaders to flourish after its birth during the time of Fourth Premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

“Maybe there are too many people involved. So if firm action is taken, all the leaders will go down at once. And so he (Najib) dare not do so. This is the big problem,” said the former leftist leader, who was with UMNO from 1986 to 1995.

While Najib’s strength is in going to the ground frequently, his administration suffers from a lack of effectiveness from being “top heavy” and a product of wastage, he said in an interview with Malaysiakini at his Kulim house recently.

“The public service has 1.4 million staff, I don’t think we need that many,” he said, suggesting that around 25 percent of that work force should be channeled to critical areas such as agriculture.

Public service top heavy

“Government offices are bloated at the top. There is the director, the deputy director, the pengarah kanan (senior director), pengarah kiri also sometimes, it is top heavy. We can cut part of it and reduce wastage.”

Asked about the attacks on the perception of Najib and his family, Kassim sees the repeated assaults by the Opposition on them as unsuccessful because they are based on “defamation” by Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim.

“If we look at the Altantuya issue, it is based on Anwar’s own accusations. If we follow Najib himself, he already took an oath in a mosque a long time ago,” he added.

According to Kassim, this is balanced by Najib’s strength in introducing various transformation programmes, including the aim to turn Malaysia into a high-income nation by 2020, coordinating rural development and spearheading moderate movements.

Asked if these weaknesses could result in UMNO and BN losing Putrajaya in the coming general election, Kassim saw it as unlikely as the Opposition itself is not strong.

“BN has been defeated in several states. In Kelantan it has been very long. But what does PAS have? There is no reason for Malays to be fanatics for religious scholars. Feudalism and scholars are the same,” he said.

However, if the Opposition still had a great leader like Ahmad Boestamam, then their goals may not be out of reach, he said.

Touching on Abdul Razak’s administration, Kassim cast the “father of development” as the best prime minister for his legacy of initiating many policy reforms, in addition to preventing corruption.

“The coup d’etat of (first premier) Tunku Abdul Rahman, and many policy changes,” he said when asked what other services Abdul Razak had provided the country.

On Razak’s cooling effect

In Kassim’s political journey, the Tunku factor played a big role in prompting his return from teaching at the University of London to taking over the Parti Sosialis Rakyat Malaysia (PSRM) from freedom fighter Ahmad Boestamam.

“Anger towards Tunku made me return to PSRM, and take over from Boestamam,” he said.NONE Despite this, his anger waned when Abdul Razak (left) openly tried to bring PSRM into the BN fold.

However, his efforts were unsuccessful when his invitation did not make it to Kassim.

“Tragically, Tun Abdul Razak passed away early in London from leukemia. When I heard the news, the tears just began flowing!” he wrote in his memoir Mencari Jalan Pulang (The Road Home).

Meanwhile, speaking about two other former Prime Ministers, Kassim sees Dr Mahathir’s leadership as doing more good than harm, despite the heavy criticisms he has faced.

“Don’t tell me we should blame Mahathir when there was only 30 percent harm compared to 70 percent good,” said the man who personally handed his UMNO registration form to Dr Mahathir, in the year where his controversial book Hadis: Satu Penilaian (Hadith: A Re-evaluation) was published.

He also singled out the longest-serving Prime Minister’s strength as being “pragmatic”, as he had an open mind and was open to discussion, even with his enemies.

“Look at his book, Doctor in the House, when they were discussing (Anwar’s sacking), Anwar was sitting right beside them. That is what you call being democratic,”he said, referring to Mahathir’s (right) firing of Anwar in 1998.

Whereas Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, or Pak Lah as he is known, is considered the weakest Premier for his lack of character and firm ideas.

“This Pak Lah, when people take pictures of him most of them show him sleeping during meetings,” he said. However, notwithstanding the weaknesses of these UMNO leaders, Kassim sees hope in newer leaders who may save the party from sinking.

UMNO Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin and Deputy Higher Education Minister Saifuddin Abdullah were two he singled out.” But they must keep learning. They are still young. They will need at least ten years to reach that stage,” he said.

This comes with the condition that all UMNO members be schooled in Malay patriotism in the context of Malaysian patriotism, the nation’s history and philosophy based on al-Quran.

Impartiality of Civil Service compromised

June 29, 2012

Impartiality of Civil Service compromised

by The (06-28-120)

The spate of statements by senior government officers backing the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) is piling as Datuk Seri Najib Razak seeks a big win in a general election he must call within a year despite his coalition inching to gain public approval.

The newly appointed Chief Secretary to the Government called on his new charges on Sunday to be loyal to the government and ignore the Opposition’s “empty promises”.

The 1.4-million-strong public sector has been a traditional vote bank for BN but controversy over a new pay scheme and attacks on the ruling parties from Pakatan Rakyat over bread-and-butter issues have given the Opposition hope of swinging the civil service over.

Although the Prime Minister’s popularity rating in Peninsular Malaysia dropped by four percentage points after violent clashes between the Police and protestors at the April 28 BERSIH rally it still remains at 65 per cent, while his government has been unable to breach the 50 per cent mark.

Analysts told The Malaysian Insider that with the political contest stiffer than ever, the public sector’s confidence in the political leadership has been shaken. They said issues such as the alleged abuse of a RM250 million federal loan by a then Cabinet minister’s family, a higher education loan scheme said to saddle students with debt and claims of kickbacks in the RM7 billion purchase of Scorpene submarines linked to Najib weighed heavily among voters.

“Despite obvious advantages to BN, Najib has delayed polls to a point where he has a very narrow window left. The net effect of these issues and an ‘uneven’ handling from his administration has resulted in a lot of new tactics coming to play.

“So (civil servants) are seeing subtle and not-so-subtle reminders from their senior colleagues to ‘vote the right way’,” said Ibrahim Suffian who heads opinion researchers Merdeka Center.

Independent political analyst Khoo Kay Peng sees a “cohesive strategy to win over the middle ground” by talking up the “certainty that comes with a BN government.”

Making references to Najib’s “Janji Ditepati (Promises Fulfilled)” campaign, which is now also the theme for upcoming National Day celebrations, he said that “with hard times coming, there are many who will want to take care of their rice bowl and not make their bosses look bad.”

Chief Secretary Datuk Seri Ali Hamsa (Tan Sri in 2013) had said civil servants “should know better” than to believe “empty promises” from the Opposition, calling them to “serve the government of the day” in an interview published by the New Sunday Times.

Foreign Ministry Under Secretary Ahmad Rozian Abdul Ghani then attacked a Canadian newspaper yesterday for describing Najib as a “false democrat,” insisting the Prime Minister had “an impressive track record by anyone’s standards.”

“While the Prime Minister takes nothing for granted, he hopes he will be given a mandate to continue Malaysia’s transformation,” the diplomat added.

A director at Putrajaya’s efficiency unit PEMANDU also made a public attack on Pakatan Rakyat yesterday for not improving the states it governs and focusing on sniping and criticising the Federal Government’s efforts.

“All oppos do is snipe & critic wot is being done but not focused on improving their states! Wot hv they done??” communications director Alex Iskandar Liew said on his public account on micro-blogging site Twitter, copying @barisannasional and @NRC11, a fan club dedicated to the Prime Minister.

Political science lecturer James Chin refused to single out any act of impartiality by government officials but said that “by convention and in the government’s General Orders, civil servants cannot make any political statement.”

“Politics must be handled by political appointees such as political or press secretaries who are on contract and not governed by the Public Service Department,” he said.

The Chief Secretary is the country’s top government servant while undersecretaries are the top level of civil service officers. Most PEMANDU employees, however, are hired on a contract basis.

GE-13: Delay Means Prolonging Najib’s Day of Reckoning

June 28, 2012

GE-13: Delay Means Prolonging Najib’s Day of Reckoning

by Nigel Aw@

ANALYSIS: If the old adage that one week in politics is a long time is anything to go by, then one election cycle may be seen as an eternity.

As Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak races against time to restore BN to its former glory, eternity is a luxury he does not have. With less than a year left before the 13th general election deadline, speculations of a snap election have repeatedly fizzled out despite the Prime Minister’s continuous hints of such a move.

NONEThe closest signal yet was when Najib visited a Felda settlement in Pahang on May 8, where he cheekily said of the warm reception: “If this is the kind of support that we are getting, then I think we can dissolve Parliament tomorrow.”

That was more than two weeks after MPs rushed to pass close to two dozen bills in Parliament, including Najib’s political reforms – an arduous task that required Parliament’s clock to be frozen in a move not seen in 22 years.

But like speculations many times before, the dissolution of Parliament did not materialise, indicating that Najib is still not confident enough to get the mandate from the people.

Though detractors would like to believe that this was because the Prime Minister has had a difficult time in office, Najib has in fact restored some stability with BN as chief of the ruling coalition.

Taking power on April 3, 2009 from his predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who was pressured to leave after leading the BN to its worst electoral performance in 36 years, Najib inherited a coalition that was in shambles.

NONEBut three years later, MCA chieftains have ended their open civil war while the former MIC strongman S Samy Vellu was finally convinced to hand over power to a successor.

UMNO warlords too have coalesced around Najib’s leadership and – at least for now – they do not appear ready to make a move to unseat him as they did to his predecessor.

Despite the stronger position of the BN machinery today, the spectre of Abdullah’s political demise for failing to retain the two-thirds majority in Parliament in the 2008 general election is a cause for Najib’s concern.

Najib’s Middle Class Dilemma

Mindful that the elusive super-majority hinges on a largely progressive-minded middle class, Najib on the eve of Malaysia Day last year announced a slew of political reforms, including the abolition of the colonial-inherited Internal Security Act.

But having to juggle the reforms with push-backs from ultra-conservatives within UMNO- who are finding it difficult to adopt to progressive ideas after decades of ethno-nationalism – the middle class and professionals have dismissed the changes as half-hearted.

Instead, many responded by turning out in force for the BERSIH 3.0 protest which, aimed at electoral reform, attracted various dissenting groups upset with the government. Organisers claimed the April 28 rally attracted up to 250,000 people, the largest since the Reformasi protests of 1999.

Caught between rivals bidding their time against Najib if he is not able to revive BN’s electoral fortunes and an adamant middle class hungry for genuine reforms, the Prime Minister has sought to buy more time to ensure stronger electoral support.

Putting part of his fiscal economic reforms that would require unpopular moves such as subsidy cuts and the introduction of the goods and services tax on the back burner, Najib has embarked on a campaign to dangle carrots to the more malleable groups in a bid to cover ailing support from the middle class.

Since early this year, Najib has made appearances at gatherings of targeted groups, such as Felda settlers, petty traders and taxi drivers, showering them with goodies.

NONEAt such gatherings, Felda settlers’ households were given RM15,000 each, while taxi drivers drove off with RM520 in tyre vouchers and petty traders received large discounts for their licence renewal.

This was on top of BN’s ‘Janji Ditetapi’ (Promises Kept) campaign across the country to remind people about the various populist policies and disbursements under the banner of 1Malaysia.

Najib boasted during his gathering with the cabbies last Sunday that the Taxi Rakyat 1Malaysia (TR1Ma) voucher was an “addition to the long list of 1Malaysia brands”, including Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M), the two KR1Ms – Klinik Rakyat 1Malaysia and Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia – and a slew of other “products” under a slogan that has turned into a brand name.

With time and money, the Prime Minister hopes that if he cannot lead BN to regain the much sought two-thirds majority, then he can at least out-perform his predecessor’s 140-seat victory in the 222-seat Parliament that will ultimately decide his political fate in UMNO as well.

This is on top of his ambition to regain Selangor, one of the wealthiest states in the country that has traditionally been a source of patronage for the UMNO grassroots.

However, time does not appear to be on Najib’s side as Parliament will automatically dissolve, going by the Federal Constitution, when it reaches its full five-year term by April 29 next year, forcing fresh elections within 60 days.

‘Perfect weather’ may turn to storm

While waiting will allow Najib more time to woo voters from more groups, it may prove to be a double-edged sword as it can also undo the inroads made in other areas.

Soon after coming to power, Najib announced a slew of liberalisation exercises for the economic sector, which invited cautious optimism from the business community. But with the uncertainty of a snap general election looming continuously, even the optimists within the business community grew impatient, with Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers president Yong Poh Kon urging Najib to get on with the election as the uncertainty is hurting businesses.

NONEEven Najib’s National Key Results Areas (NKRA), which initially received much attention, albeit with some skepticism from the Opposition, have began to lose their sparkle.

One example is the government’s insistence that crime, one of the country’s NKRAs, has dropped despite a surge in violent crimes reported in recent months.

The insistence of technocrats in bandying numbers has proven confusing. Not empathising with the citizens on their growing fears and not focusing on doubling efforts to curb crimes has not helped Najib’s administration.

As Najib criss-crosses the nation, lending star power from his fairly high approval ratings to BN, the question that begs to be answered is whether the he can gain more new ground than he loses by waiting for the “right time” to call the election.

His star power may not necessarily translate into votes, as seen from a Merdeka Centre report that shows the BN government achieving a much lower approval rating than Najib himself.

However, the greatest risk Najib could face if he continues to wait for the right time to call the general election would be the little room he would have left for damage control should a new scandal plague the BN.

This was the case with the National Feedlot Corporation scandal, which dragged on for four months.

NONEFortunately for the BN, that issue has been mitigated – though it remains a potent topic for the opposition – after government took measures by charging NFC chairperson Mohamad Salleh Ismail with criminal breach of trust.

While pundits continue to move their predicted general election dates to later this year, while some suggest it could even be early next year, Najib may prove them wrong by going for it soon – or the ‘perfect weather’ he is waiting for could well be a ‘perfect storm’.

UMNO MP “Treason” remarks are his Own

June 27, 2012

UMNO MP “Treason” remarks are his Own

by The Malaysian Insider

The Barisan Nasional (BN) today played down an UMNO lawmaker’s call for BERSIH chief Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan to be hanged for treason, saying it was not the ruling coalition’s stand in what seems to be a bid to arrest its sliding popularity ahead of key national polls.

“What was mentioned by the Sri Gading MP, Datuk Mohamad Aziz (left), in the Parliamentary session yesterday (June 26, 2012) suggesting that the organiser of the Bersih Assembly, Datuk S. Ambiga, be hanged to death by linking her to the Al-Ma’unah militants for attempting to create disorder and overthrow the government of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is personal and not BN’s stand.

“I would like to stress that Barisan Nasional upholds the Malaysian Constitution and the rule of law and the BERSIH Assembly case is still being investigated by the authorities,” BN Secretary-General Tengku Datuk Seri Adnan Tengku Mansor said.

The two-paragraph media statement came just hours after the MIC President, Datuk G. Palanivel, called on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and BN leaders to put a stop to the relentless attacks against the electoral reform chief.

“It is not right for a Member of Parliament to say that Datuk Ambiga should be hanged.In fact, no Member of Parliament should make this kind of a remark,” Palanivel said in statement sent by his aide via text message.

Palanivel also questioned why Ambiga has been made a “scapegoat” and appeared to be the only target of criticism over the BERSIH rally for free and fair elections.

“Why didn’t these people demonstrate or put up burger stalls in front (the houses) of other BERSIH leaders?” he asked, referring to a recent protest by anti-BERSIH proponents outside Ambiga’s house.

“The Prime Minister and other BN leaders should put a stop to this matter. Such remarks will affect Indian voters who are turning towards BN now,” he added.

Mohamad had last night called for Ambiga to be hanged for the “treasonous” act of organising the April 28 BERSIH rally, which the ruling BN has claimed was an attempt to topple the Najib Administration.

The Sri Gading MP had compared the BERSIH chief to a militant Muslim group that had tried to overthrow the government in 2000 and were eventually sentenced to death by hanging for “waging war against the King,” the first people to be convicted of the offence.

“Shouldn’t we also hang Ambiga for treason towards the Agong? Traitors should be punished as harshly as possible,” Mohamad told Parliament when debating the supplementary supply bill last night.

Pakatan Rakyat (PR) lawmakers had accused the UMNO MP of abusing his parliamentary immunity and demanded action be taken against him for stirring racial hatred.

The Opposition lawmakers pointed out that parliamentary immunity is still limited to provisions in the Federal Constitution, adding that the Sri Gading MP could still be investigated by police for his remarks.

At a press conference here, DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng said he would direct all elected representatives from the party to lodge simultaneous reports against Mohamad for the latter’s “samseng-like”, “seditious”, “racist”, “repulsive”, “repugnant” and “derogatory” remarks against Ambiga, who is the co-chair of election watchdog BERSIH.

“Clearly these remarks are inflammatory, designed to stir disaffection, extremism and racism… it was directed against her because she’s a woman, Hindu and Indian,” the Bagan MP said.

“This is the first time in history that a lawmaker is demanding for the murder of someone,” he added.

Lim noted that although Article 63 of the Federal Constitution grants immunity to a parliamentarian when addressing the august House, there are several exceptions, particularly when the remark uttered has racial undertones or is an attack on the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

Ambiga personally appeared tickled by Mohamad’s remark instead of being incensed.“ ‘Off with her head!’ Sounds like Alice in Wonderland! The statement, of course, reflects more on the maker than on me,” Ambiga said in response to Mohamad’s remark.

The prominent lawyer-activist was able to maintain her composure and even pressed the UMNO MP if BERSIH’s eight demands for electoral reform would be implemented before the 13th general elections, which must be called by next year.

Together with national laureate Datuk A. Samad Said, Ambiga led a massive public rally for the voter roll to be cleaned of dubious entries, for which she has been repeatedly branded a “traitor” by right-wing elements within the pro-BN establishment.

They have also demanded that she is stripped of her citizenship.“The offer by civil society to help with the cleaning up of the electoral roll still stands, and as he is an elected MP, I believe the public would be more interested in his response to these critical questions,” Ambiga said.

She added, “As for treason, asking for free and fair elections is not treason. Giving away citizenship for votes is.”

Book Banning: Of What Benefit is that to the Ummah

June 27, 2012

Book Banning: Of What Benefit is that to the Ummah

by Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa

COMMENT: What does book banning, in this age of globalisation and information technology, really achieve for Muslims?

This question echoes throughout social media as countless Malaysians express their ire and bafflement at the sudden arrest of Nik Raina Nik Abdul Aziz, an employee at bookshop Border’s, who had allegedly defied Jawi’s ban against the sale of Allah, Liberty and Love by Irshad Manji.

As a store manager, Nik Raina had no say over the selection of books that were sold. And yet she now faces the possibility of imprisonment, with no legal counsel offered at the time of arrest. Many wonder why a simple warning was not enough.

Before that, a book of popular local author Faisal Tehrani, Sebongkah Batu di Kuala Berang was also banned for obscure reasons, though one may suspect that it has to do with the author’s leaning towards the Shi’ite sect.

Thus, suspicions that maybe Islam has nothing to say about the freedom of expression are increasing. Perhaps our talents and resources should all be channelled towards moral policing, book banning and intolerance, as that appears to be what Muslims want most.

Perhaps we should just forget about exploring solutions to real pressing challenges facing humanity.

Indeed, if non-Muslims, or even some Muslims for that matter, are expressing doubts about Islam’s potential to be a religion of progress, then who can really blame them?

New ideas can only come from fresh minds

New ideas can only come from fresh minds that are not discouraged or inhibited from original thinking, but it appears that new thinking is what Muslims fear the most. They are not even open for any intellectual debate. The question we must now ask if this has always been the case? Have Muslims really been afraid of new, different or unconventional ideas?

A brief consideration of history will confirm the fact that there is nothing at all Islamic about book banning and religious policing. For if that was the case, then Islam would not have had its Golden Ages, which saw centuries of science, art and discovery flourish.

Indeed, the freedom to think, express and to risk original ideas defined the many Muslim civilisations that prospered across the Islamic world, from Baghdad to Spain in the West and India, China and the Nusantara in the East.

Take for example, the advances under the Abbasid caliphate in the 8th century, which saw the rise of algebra, astronomy, medicine, literature and even agricultural technology, advances that are still considered to be far ahead of its time. These advances did not emerge de novo, but were born in conversation with knowledge inherited from Greek, Roman, Persian, Chinese and Indian civilisations.

But the culture of exploration and experimentation can also be found in the novel ideas about religion that also flourished then. It was during this era that the Muslim world became the intellectual centre for learning, during which the famous House of Wisdom or Baitul Hikmah was established. Muslims and non-Muslims worked together, hand-in-hand, to translate and gather all the possible knowledge that was within reach to them at the time into Arabic.

The underlying basis of this intellectual culture at that time was none other the “Mu’tazilite” school of rational theology. They were inspired by the Hadith and Quranic verses that emphasised the value of knowledge, reflection and discovery in Islam and considered “the ink of a scholar is more holy than the blood of a martyr”.

The Mu’tazilite school of thought claimed, among other things, that humans have total free will, that our actions were not predetermined. They do so to protect God’s total innocence of any evil in this world, while reserving all responsibility for evil deeds to humans: in other words, humans must have the power to choose their actions in order to be held accountable for them.

Thus, humans would receive the appropriate reward in heaven or punishment in hell as a result of their good or bad free choices. Anyone who believes in a just God had to accept that man is the creator of his deeds.

“There shall be no coercion in matters of faith’

This idea of free-will doctrine led them to conclude that the whole world had to be seen as an abode of trial where people are tested on whether they are willing or unwilling to accept the true faith. The acceptance of faith could occur only with genuine conviction, an idea that emanated from the Quranic teaching: “There shall be no coercion in matters of faith.” Their conclusion was that people deserved the liberty to make their own choices.

This commitment to human autonomy and God’s supreme transcendence also led them to conclude that the Quran was created, and not “uncreated”. Otherwise it would be elevated almost to the level of a second deity, something that contradicts Islam’s uncompromising monotheism. This led to an important conclusion in that a created al-Quran can be interpreted; whereas an uncreated al-Quran can only be applied.

As strange as all this may sound to contemporary Muslims, it is nonetheless a historical fact that the Mu’tazilites endured as the most dominant school of theology in Baghdad for nearly three centuries.

Hence, the idea of freedom, be it freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, freedom of speech or freedom to read whatever we want to read was not unknown in classical Islamdom. The People of Reason clearly aspired to it. And they may have headed toward establishing a genuine concept of “hurriyyah” or freedom.

The end of the People of Reason or Mu’tazilite’s reign did not, however, signal the end of rational inquiry. Indeed, the thriving culture of science and exploration eventually produced the likes of Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi and Ibn Sina who undertook indepth exploration of Greek philosophy while the West was still in its dark ages.

Indeed, philosophy was so dominant that it compelled Al-Ghazali to in turn produce his magnum opus, The Incoherence of the Philosophers. He used some choice words to describe the philosophers but note that he did so through rational argumentation and discourse.

Note also the cosmopolitan nature of the Golden Age: none of the philosophers mentioned above, with the exception of Al-Kindi, was Arab. Al-Farabi was Turkish, Ibn Sina and Al-Ghazali were Persians. Ibn Sina in fact was believed to be a Shi’ite. The openness to ideas was accompanied by a remarkable openness to other ethnicities and sects.

Culture of openness and rational inquiry continued

This was not just happening in Baghdad. The culture of openness and rational inquiry continued in Andalusia, Western Europe, most notably in the works of Ibn Rushd who painstakingly undertook indepth studies of Aristotle.

The intellectual culture of Muslim Spain is all the more fascinating for how it also became where the Golden Age of Jewish Culture occurred. Jewish philosophers like Maimonides and Moses Ibn Ezra thrived under Muslim rule.

Today, contemporary Muslims only hark back to our past military conquests for simplistic proof of Islam’s historical glory, when the reality is that those were only few and far between.

What is undeniable is the depth of learning and exploration that Muslims throughout the world pioneered over centuries, and this could have only been possible because of the love of learning that was part and parcel of Muslim culture then.

This is of course not to paint a perfect and rosy picture of the past. There were other problems of medieval life that need not be romanticised. But it does suggest that the notion of Muslim progress need not be defined in terms of state power or control over the life of others but terms of genuine inquiry, exploration of knowledge and discovery of the world.

All this is of course, a stark contrast to the reality of today, where conformity, often by coercion, has become the norm in Muslim societies. Muslims are expected to simply obey and listen to authorities who are effectively in power due to random reasons that have nothing to do with whether or not they understand the modern globalised world in which young Muslims are living in today.

But there is still hope. Muslim Spain lasted for 700 years. The conservative Salafist-inspired Islam that has not stopped scrambling for nation-state power only ascended over the past 30 years. Things can be otherwise because Muslims have not always been like this.
DR AHMAD FAROUK MUSA was trained as a cardiothoracic surgeon. He is an academician at Monash University and chairperson of the Islamic Renaissance Front, an intellectual movement that focuses on youth empowerment.

Finance and The Good Society

June 27, 2012

Ny Times: Finance and The Good Society

Finance and the Good Society

Reviewed by Sebastian Mallaby (06-22-12)

Robert J. Shiller made his name in 2000 with “Irrational Exuberance,” a book that drew on behavioral economics to explain why financial markets overshoot. Shiller concentrated on the boom-bust cycle in technology stocks, but a later edition published while real estate was taking off correctly anticipated the popping of that bubble, too.

With his latest volume, “Finance and the Good Society,” Shiller is coming at us from the opposite direction. Quoting Walt Whitman, who found “the eternal meanings” in muscular commerce, he celebrates finance’s “genuine beauty” and exhorts idealistic young students to pursue careers in derivatives, insurance and related fields.

Shiller’s main line of argument is an extension of Kenneth Arrow’s classic 1964 article, “The Role of Securities in the Optimal Allocation of Risk Bearing,” which emphasized the importance of markets for protecting against risk. If firms and individuals cannot insure themselves against bad outcomes, they will be necessarily cautious; the economy will grow more slowly than it should. A company will not invest in a new factory if it cannot hedge against swings in exchange rates that might render its investment unprofitable. An individual will not consume to the full extent of his capacity if he cannot insure his house or health. By connecting the ranks of insurance seekers with specialists who pool risk and so reduce it, finance liberates animal spirits and boosts prosperity.

Shiller’s book is a lament that nearly 50 years after Arrow’s article, many forms of risk remain hard to buy and sell. This is most obviously true in poor countries. The tragedy of the Haitian earthquake of 2010 was that so few buildings were insured there. This meant not only that homeowners faced financial ruin; it meant that far more people died, since the absence of insurance deprived Haiti of an industry with an incentive to police compliance with building codes. As a result, at least 50,000 Haitians perished, whereas an earthquake of comparable force in Northridge, Calif., in 1994 resulted in just 33 deaths. However loudly critics yell that the financial sector is bloated, the world needs more insurers.

Rich countries may not lack standard insurance, Shiller (left) says, but other markets for risk remain underdeveloped. For example, ordinary families have no easy way to protect themselves from the risk posed by sharp moves in house prices. If convenient markets in house-price futures existed, a young couple expecting to need a bigger home with the arrival of children could hedge the risk that house prices in their area might climb into the stratosphere. An older couple expecting to downsize as kids head off to college could hedge the risk that their nest egg might lose value. If the first family could buy a house-price future from the second, both would have their risk reduced. Such is the magic of financial markets.

Newfangled mortgages have earned a bad name, but Shiller would like to make them even more complex. The standard home loan obliges the borrower to pay back a fixed amount, and obstinately ignores the truth that if the economy or real estate market tanks, the borrower won’t do so. Far better, Shiller says, to equip mortgages with “preplanned workouts,” so that the amount to be paid back automatically declines if the economy collapses. Preplanned workouts would avoid the absurdity of a family buying a $300,000 home, defaulting on its $275,000 mortgage when the home’s value falls to $250,000 and eventually buying an equivalent home at the new price and with a smaller mortgage.

Vast amounts of transaction costs, uncertainty and suffering could have been prevented if the mortgage had been reduced pre-emptively and the family had stayed in its original home. Indeed, Shiller goes so far as to suggest that flexible mortgages might have averted the 2007-9 crisis.

The same sort of innovation might also work for government finance. Rather than raising capital by issuing fixed-value bonds and then defaulting if times get tough, governments could issue shares in their economies. Each share might represent, say, one-trillionth of a country’s G.D.P.; these “trills” would pay dividends whose value would depend on the performance of the economy. If the Greek government had raised money in this form, its financial obligations would have fallen with the onset of its troubles — which might have headed off a full-blown crisis. Just as with mortgages, intelligent contracts could improve risk sharing between providers and users of capital.

Shiller applies similar thinking to other policy challenges. Like mortgages and sovereign debt, government pension promises are specified as fixed entitlements. But the needs of the elderly must be balanced against the ability of younger generations to foot the bill; so Shiller suggests that pensions could be indexed to some indicator of taxpayer ability to pay, G.D.P. being one obvious metric. What is more, the world faces a rising challenge of inequality. Why not agree, in advance, what level of inequality a society is prepared to tolerate, and then devise variable tax rates that will deliver that target?

The big point is that despite the popular revulsion at Wall Street, society needs more financial innovation, not less. But what is holding innovation back? Here Shiller offers two answers. New financial instruments are attractive only if they can be bought and sold easily; they have to be widely adopted before people will want to adopt them widely. Shiller would like to solve this chicken-and-egg problem with government-supported tax incentives for market makers who kick-start trading in new instruments. One gulps at the prospect of yet another subsidy for too-big-to-fail banks. But Shiller’s proposal is logical.

The second reason for the shortfall in financial experimentation is that society has grown suspicious of it. New smartphone apps are celebrated in the popular culture; new derivatives for hedging risk are reviled as tricks to enrich hucksters.

Shiller devotes a large part of his book to the assertion that this prejudice against finance is wrong. Psychologists have established that the key to happiness lies not in riches but in social esteem; therefore, Shiller says, financiers face powerful emotional incentives to balance profit seeking with a social conscience. “The futility of conquest in business mirrors the futility of conquest in war,” he writes. Just as it is impossible to extract much wealth from conquered countries, so it is impossible to extract much happiness from wealth earned unscrupulously.

Some readers may suspect that Shiller, a Yale professor, underestimates the materialism of Manhattan and Greenwich. Others may be frustrated by his meandering style. Reading his book is like wandering through an interesting garden.

We learn that Israel and Brazil have more lawyers per person than the United States. We are urged to believe that Washington lobbyists “are probably more public-spirited than most” people. We read chapters on the history of business schools and the theory of public goods that do little to advance the main argument. But the best passages in this book make a persuasive case for a fresh view of an industry that is too glibly demonized. The most promising way to promote the good society, Shiller says, is not to restrain finance but to release it.

Sebastian Mallaby is the Paul A. Volcker senior fellow for international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of “More Money Than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite.”

A version of this review appeared in print on June 24, 2012, on page BR18 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: Boiler Rooms.

Domestic Politics and Bilateral Relations: An Unending Story of Malaysia and Singapore

June 26, 2012

Domestic Politics and Bilateral Relations: An Unending Story of Malaysia and Singapore

Comment: Utusan Malaysia is being unduly provocative with regard to the presence of Singapore Diplomats at the BERSIH3.0 rally on April 28, 2012.

In the meantime, as if acting in concert, the ultra Malay NGO PERKASA organised on June 25, 2012 a protest at the Singapore High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, demanding that demanding three of its diplomats be withdrawn. On what grounds for such an action? None, it is just an overreaction and political grandstanding by PERKASA’s Ibrahim Ali.

As a result, there is renewed tensions between two nation states, whose relations have been on a even keel under Badawi (2003-2009) and have further improved under Prime Minister Najib. For 22 years, our relations with Singapore under Mahathir have been tension-filled and acrimonious. This is because we have allowed our emotions (egos and prejudices) to get the better of us.

Why single out Singapore, when it is known that diplomats from United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Holland, Pakistan, Thailand, China and Indonesia were also at the rally? Why the need for PERKASA to stage a protest when there is clear evidence that Singapore did not interfere in the internal affairs of Malaysia.

Singapore, like Malaysia, is a signatory to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia which enjoins all signatories to non-interference in the internal affairs of one another. I for one am perplexed at the way we conduct our relations with our immediate neighbours like the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia, not  to mention Singapore.

The President of the Philippines has yet to visit Kuala Lumpur, while the Indonesians perceive our leaders and our country as being presumptuous when we staked a claim to their musical and cultural heritage.

We have allowed our aloofness and sense of superiority to get the better of us. Domestic politics should, therefore, not dictate our relations with our ASEAN member states and the rest of the world.--Din Merican

Singapore to UMNO’s Utusan Malaysia: Publish our Letter

by K. Pragalath@

Singapore High Commissioner Ong Keng Yong today bemoaned Utusan Malaysia’s refusal to publish his office’s defence against the UMNO paper’s allegation that it might have supported the BERSIH 3.0 rally in order to see Barisan Nasional fall.

“We have put across our stand, but Utusan has not published the letter that we sent on Saturday,” Ong said.“Their readers think that we have not done anything.”

Ong said he sent the letter in response to Utusan’s publication last Wednesday of an opinion piece written by editor Zaini Hassan.

The article questioned Malaysia’s silence on allegations linking Singaporean diplomats to Bersih and a bid to topple BN from power.

On Friday, Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Ministry rejected claims that three officials of its mission in Kuala Lumpur participated in the rally.

It said the three were impartial observers conducting their “normal professional diplomatic duties”, according to the Singapore Straits Times.

The three are Deputy High Commissioner and Counsellor Ariel Eunice Tan Hwi Tiang, and First Secretaries Philomena Aw Li Fen and Regina Low Kay Yin.

On the same day, the high commission published a letter on its website, addressed to Utusan Malaysia. It said the High Commission was an impartial observer in a wide range of social, economic, and political activities in Malaysia.

“The Singapore High Commission takes an impartial stance on all political developments in Malaysia,” the letter said.“We do not take any actions to affiliate ourselves with any political entity.”

Zaini’s opinion piece prompted a protest by Malay rights group PERKASA yesterday. The protesters demanded the replacement of the three high commission officials.

PERKASA also demanded an apology from the High Commission as well as an assurance that such an incident would not be repeated. Ong said PERKASA’s demand had been forwarded to the Government in Singapore.


Letter to Utusan Malaysia

The Editor
Utusan Malaysia

22nd June 2012

Dear Editor,

I refer to the commentary by Datuk Zaini Hassan on 20 June 2012 titled “Pendedahan ini, jika benar, cukup memeranjatkan!”  The allegations in the commentary, and in the websites referred to in the commentary, are clearly directed at Singapore and are patently false.  As part of its diplomatic duties, the Singapore High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, like any other High Commission or Embassy, is present as an impartial observer in a wide range of social, economic, and political activities in Malaysia.

The Singapore High Commission also has a responsibility to render consular assistance to Singapore citizens who may inadvertently find themselves caught in difficult situations in their host countries.  Understanding the nature of these situations is part of providing effective consular advice and assistance.

The Singapore High Commission takes an impartial stance on all political developments in Malaysia.  We do not take any actions to affiliate ourselves with any political entity (for example, in our comments or dressing). The Singapore government does not interfere in any country’s political processes.

With regard to the alleged training of some youth on the electoral process of Malaysia that supposedly took place in Singapore, we would like to state that Singapore does not allow foreign citizens to engage in any activity of a political nature in Singapore.  Our authorities are checking on these claims.

Please publish my response in full in your newspaper.  Thank you.

Press Officer

The Universality of Clean Governance

E&O, Penang

June 25, 2012

The Universality of Clean Governance

by Zairil Khir Johari

The great statesman Sir Winston Churchill once noted, with customary astuteness, that a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity, while an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. In this vein, I posit that the current global financial crisis, though potentially perilous, may in effect present a golden opportunity to us in ASEAN.

While it is true that the traditional consumer markets of the West are now sinking in a sea of debt, thereby causing direct and substantial impact to our export-oriented economies, it is also true that industrial production and exports have begun to cautiously accelerate in this region. Momentum in the last one year has been positive, with contracting demand from America and Europe offset by growing regional demand, especially from China.

In fact, statistics from the last three quarters of last year reveal that Southeast Asian consumption expenditure had expanded by a healthy 4.7 per cent. This interesting trend suggests that domestic demand in East Asia is not only able to withstand the financial pressures from the West, but also reveals the potential of this region to become the next major consumer market.

This is particularly significant to us. Geographically bridging the rising giants of East Asia and the Indian subcontinent, and with more than 600 million people or nearly a tenth of the world’s population living in ASEAN countries, we are well-poised to take advantage of this emerging development.

However, it is imperative that we tread carefully. This promised opportunity is doubled-edged. While we must be prepared to realise the prospective benefits of economic growth, we must also take great care in leveraging on this opportunity to ensure that any development that results is one that is equitable, just and inclusive.

This is where our public institutions are critical. If our executive, legislative, judicial, financial and electoral systems are not robust, durable and even more importantly clean, then we will not be able to safeguard the fundamental rights and well-being of our people.

Avoiding Tragedy

That said, economic opportunities – and this also applies to conditions of economic uncertainty – are rife with pitfalls. In a capitalistic environment unfettered by the absence of strong, functional and accountable public institutions, it is only too easy to fall into either one or both of two traps.

Firstly, corruption and abuse of power usually thrive in such circumstances. As a result, state monopoly capitalism and rent-seeking behaviour will lead to an inefficient economy that benefits only politically-connected capitalists and those adept at the art of bureaucratic lubrication. In this case, economic development will occur, but corruption will produce inequitable development.

The other trap is known as the tragedy of the commons; a dilemma characterised by independent, rational actors in singular pursuit of their own self-interest. This behavioural pattern is unsustainable and will ultimately result in long-term ruin as resources are greedily exhausted without regard for collective consciousness. In this case, “every one for himself” will mean that the biggest, strongest and richest will amass the lion’s share, while everyone else will be left fighting for scraps.

In the context of ASEAN today, with some member countries in a state of transitional flux and others still entrenched in the old habits of patronage, corruption and abuse of power, it would be only too easy to fall into either one or both of these traps.

The only way to prevent such adverse circumstances is to provide the necessary institutional protections through good and clean governance based on the rule of law, legitimacy of power, consistency and integrity in public service delivery, and participatory processes that will provide every man and woman with a real and lasting stake in their own future.

Is freedom not an Asian value?

There are of course those who argue against the need for values such as freedom and democracy as a basis for clean governance. In their opinion, the peculiarities of “Asian values” make democracy and human rights incompatible with the genetic makeup of our society. They instead argue that economic needs are more important than human rights and political freedoms, and that development can in fact be achieved without freedom.

This is of course the hypothesis of the “absolute benign dictator”, most recently postulated by a prominent former (Malaysian) Prime Minister. Such a leader would indeed be powerful and strong enough to engender efficient and effective functioning of public institutions. The system will work as intended, so long as the dictator is inclined to be benign and benevolent. Unfortunately, no one has told us what will happen when the dictator is eventually replaced or when he or she decides one day that being benign is not that fun, after all.

Advocates of this thesis often point out that development and freedom are not necessarily mutually inclusive. After all, some Asian economies have been able to achieve development without necessarily giving due regards to freedom and human rights. However, here we must ask ourselves two important questions. To whom does development benefit, and what do we mean by development?

To address the first question, it is often the case that economic development in authoritarian regimes, even with double digit expansion, results only in one-sided distribution and widening inequality. In other words, while the pie gets bigger, the crumbs for those at the bottom of society do not increase. It is only the elite that enjoy the excesses.

Secondly, development should not only be measured in material terms. While the escape from income poverty must be a goal, development should also entail the release of the shackles of “unfreedom”, to use the term made famous by Amartya Sen. In other words, societal development can only be achieved when people are empowered with the freedom to live their lives to their fullest capabilities. That is the only way to ensure sustainable and equitable development.

Opportunity to cultivate freedom

The “Asian values” thesis is a fallacy and at best a justification for authoritarian regimes. We must remember that democracy, which is the structural manifestation of freedom, is founded upon the derivation of legitimacy from the masses. Though it is a Western term, it is not a Western concept.

As Kim Dae Jung pointed out in his seminal rebuttal against the notion of “Asian values”, Chinese philosophy dating as far back as a few millennia ago have been advancing the idea that the “heavenly” mandate bestowed upon rulers were not only derived from the will of the people, but also predicated upon good and righteous governance.

And this was long before John Locke articulated the foundations of modern democracy. In other words, the fundamental values and traditions for democracy are not peculiar to the West, or the East for that matter. They are in fact universal human values.

Therefore, Asian cultural heritage is not an obstacle but in fact a platform to foster and encourage the values of freedom and democracy. In this regard, the challenge for us is to ensure the embodiment of these values into our public institutions. And this is something that only we can do ourselves.

The responsibility to exercise clean, efficient and accountable governance in ASEAN cannot be imposed or imported from the outside. After all, it is our own freedom, our own development and our own livelihood that is at stake. Thus, it is entirely incumbent upon us to meet this challenge of ensuring that our public institutions embrace the universal values of truth, freedom and democracy.


In a turbulent future that promises both challenges and opportunity, it is critical that we get our foundations right. We must resist the urge to retreat into our own comfort zones. We need to recognise that only by a collective regional effort can we build a substantive force to face the coming shift in the global order.

The key to building sustainable development is to empower our people through the adherence of the fundamental principles of truth, freedom and democracy. It is our duty to ensure that development and its distribution is not only fair materially, but also inclusive in terms of access and opportunity. To do this, we must avoid the pitfalls of selfishness and corruption.

We must also take heed that freedom and democracy are not concepts that are anathema to our culture; they are in fact symbiotic values that must be embraced in order to achieve the ultimate goal of human development.

At the end of the day, whether we call it clean governance, good governance or judicious governance, it is about building strong, functioning, accountable and transparent public institutions. Only then can we reduce the avenues for corruption, provide representation at all levels of society, allow meaningful space for democratic participation and be responsive to the present and future needs of our society.

Zairil Khir Johari is Chief Executive Officer, Penang Institute. This is his Closing Speech at the Inaugural Conference of the ASEAN Coalition for Clean Governance, E&O Hotel, Penang on Jube 25, 2012

Deep and Dirty: Malaysia’s Submarine Scandal

June 25, 2012

Deep and Dirty: Malaysia’s Submarine Scandal

by John Berthelsen@

Leaked prosecution documents show a pattern of official misdeeds in two countries

A two-decade campaign by the French state-owned defense giant DCN and its subsidiaries to sell submarines to the Malaysian ministry of defense has resulted in a long tangle of blackmail, bribery, influence peddling, misuse of corporate assets and concealment, among other allegations, according to documents made available to Asia Sentinel.

Some of the misdeeds appear to have taken place with the knowledge of top French government officials including then-foreign Minister Alain Juppe and with the consent of former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, according to the documents, comprising 133 separate files and hundreds of pages.

They were presented to the French Prosecuting Magistrate at the Court de Grand Instance de Paris in May and June of 2011. French lawyers have begun preparing subpoenas for leading Malaysian politicians including Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, the current Defense Minister, Ahmad Zaki Hamad and several other figures.

The documents were sent anonymously to Asia Sentinel via a circuitous route that took them to Brussels, Belgium; Lagos, Nigeria; Brazzaville,Congo; Libreville, Gabon; then to Leipzig, Germany and finally to Hong Kong. The documents, written in French, can be found in a collection in Asia Sentinel’s Scribd account.

ImageClick here to view documents.

The documents were compiled as a result of a raid on April 7, 2010, when scores of investigators from the anti-organized and financial crime unit of the French Directorate of Judicial Police swooped down on DCN’s offices at 19 rue du Colonel Pierre Avia in Paris’s 15th Arondissement, and four other locations, demanding that stunned officials give them access to safes, files and computers. They collected thousands of documents that form the bulk of the files delivered to Asia Sentinel.

Together, they present a damning indictment of Malaysian officials whose goal was to steer a €114.96 million (US$114.3 million at current exchange rates) payment through a private company called Perimekar Sdn Bhd, wholly owned by Abdul Razak Baginda. Razak Baginda was then the head of a Malaysian think tank called Malaysian Strategic Research, which was connected with the United Malays National Organization, the country’s biggest political party.

The payment appears to have been in violation of the OECD Convention on Bribery, which France ratified on June 30, 2000. On Sep. 29, 2000, according to document D00015, DCNI, a DCN subsidiary, “took corrective actions” after France joined the bribery convention. Contracts concluded after that date were to be routed to Eurolux and Gifen, companies held by Jean-Marie Boivin, DCN’s former finance chief, and headquartered in Luxembourg and Malta respectively Boivin is being investigated for having played a central role in the “corrective actions,” with what were described as “outlandish commissions” traveling through the welter of companies that he established in tax havens around the world. Among the documents is one that shows Boivin paid to send Razak Baginda on a jaunt to Macau with his then-girlfriend, Altantuya Shaariibuu, a Mongolian national who was later murdered by two of Najib’s bodyguards.

“A separate agreement sets other compensation consisting of a fixed amount independent of the actual price of the main contract,” one document reads in reference to the payment to Perimekar. “This has been made to be consistent with [DCN’s] internal rules and [its subsidiary] Thales and those of the OECD. The beneficiaries of these funds are not difficult to imagine: the clan and family relations of Mr. Razak Baginda. In addition, these funds will find their way to the dominant political party.” Malaysia’s dominant political party was and is UMNO.

Malaysian Defense Spree

The story in essence began when Najib Tun Razak was appointed defense minister in Mahathir’s cabinet in 1991 and embarked on a massive buildup of the country’s military, arranging for the purchase of tanks, Sukhoi jets, coastal patrol boats – and submarines. That kicked off a stiff competition between French, German, Swedish, Russian and Dutch manufacturers, who in turn went looking for the most effective cronies of the Malaysian leadership to help them out. By 1995, according to document DC00078, DCN’s subsidiary Thales was losing out to the German manufacturer Kockums AB, which was represented by Amin Shah, dubbed “Malaysia’s Onassis” because of his business and shipping interests, who was close to then-finance minister Daim Zainuddin and was suspected of being a front man for Daim’s interests.

French authorities seemed to counter by paying a “consultancy fee” according to a handwritten document called a “Consultancy Agreement” signed in Kuala Lumpur on Oct. 1, 1996 between DCN International representative Emmanel Aris and a Malaysian Army major named Abdul Rahim Saad. The purpose was “to reintroduce DCNI in the short list of tenders after it was rejected by the Government of Malaysia” on Dec. 14, 1995, according to the French documents.

The remuneration was to be paid in two lots, US$20,000 before Jan. 31, 1996, and US$80,000 after acceptance. Apparently it was successful. Rahim is now managing director of a company called ARS Sehajatera Sdn Bhd., which supplies logistical equipment to the Malaysian armed forces.

However, there are questions whether Rahim was ever paid. A memo found in the DCN files said he “expresses discontent and proclaims his support for the Agosta [the Spanish manufacturer of the Scorpenes for DCN] submarines since 1996 but he ‘has not had any news from DCNI to date.’ He says he organized shady activities to promote the French bid…He complains of not having been paid for his services.”

Eventually, according to the documents, Amin Shah began to lose his influence with the government after Daim Zainuddin left his position as finance minister. DCN and its subsidiaries began casting around for other sources of influence within the Malaysian government.

An attempt to woo Tan Sri Razali Ismail, one of Malaysia’s most distinguished diplomats, failed. “It was ultimately unsuccessful and Mr. Abdul Razak Baginda was chosen in his place,” the documents note. “The role of the latter was to facilitate the submission procedure to the Malaysian government and the responsible ministers, in particular the Minister of Defense, with whom he claimed to have a close relationship.”

According to Document D000112, “…Razak Baginda has maintained excellent relationships with the Defense Minister and Prime Minister. Moreover, his wife, Mazlinda Makhzan, is a close friend of the Defense Minister’s wife. Thus, Baginda has become the center of the network. Both companies are at the center of this network: Terasasi, related to Baginda, and Perimekar, which was initially controlled by Mohamad Ibrahim Mohamad Nor,” who was also close to Daim Zainuddin. However, with Daim stepping down as finance minister after a spat with Mahathir, Razak Baginda took over sole proprietorship of that company through his wife.

“The major defense contracts in Malaysia as in other countries require substantial money transfers to individuals and/or [political] organizations,” the document noted. “In Malaysia, other than individuals, the ruling party [UMNO] is the largest beneficiary [rather than Perimekar, the company to which the commission was directed]. Consultants [agents or companies] are often used as a political network to facilitate such transfers and receive commissions for their principals.”

The Heart of the Deal

Over the next few years, the documents show, as the contract came closer to fruition Razak Baginda and Najib maneuvered in France to get the best possible deal for themselves and UMNO, establishing a tangle of companies through which funds would ultimately pass.

Their activities included the founding of several companies including Perimekar in 2000 as a vehicle to funnel the €114.9 million commission to Razak Baginda and others, with Razak Baginda’s wife the principal shareholder. The plan appears to have had the approval of Mahathir. A diplomatic cable to Foreign Minister Juppe said, “The company chosen by the government for the submarine project is…Perimekar. This choice is the subject of an official notification from the Malaysian Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Defence… Note that this decision of the Ministry of Finance was taken while the Prime Minister himself held the post of Minister of Finance, after the departure of Tun Daim.”

The French company appears to have had no illusions as to Perimekar’s function. Documents note that “Perimekar was a limited liability company with a capital of MR5 million (€1.4 million) of which 1 million is available. It was created in August 1999 … it has no record of sales during 2000. Its ownership is in the process of restructuring.”

As Asia Sentinel has previously reported, document D00087 shows that Najib demanded a US$1 billion “condition” for Perimekar Sdn Bhd’s “stay in France.” The notes, however, don’t make it clear exactly what that means. The information is contained in a note faxed from Francois Dupont, the Asian representative of Thales International Asia, to his bosses but the notation in the documents presented to the court doesn’t elaborate. Dupont indicated that a meeting with Najib on July 14, 2001 would take place with the above mentioned “condition” but it was not known if the meeting transpired.

Along the way, Jasbir Singh Chahl, one of Razak Baginda’s associates at Perimekar, decided he hadn’t been paid enough. In several memos to DCN, Jasbir Chahl demanded a full fourth of Perimekar’s total €114.96 million. Despite several demands, there is no indication that Chahl has ever been paid. He has been subpoenaed as a witness in the case, but after first indicating to French lawyers that he would cooperate, he has since said he knows nothing of the affair. He is said to be extremely ill and suffering from some form of cancer.

Other documents made public by Asia Sentinel earlier show that at least €36 million flowed from the DCNS subsidiary to Terasasi Hong Kong Ltd., whose principal officers are listed as Razak Baginda and his father. Najib was defense minister from 1991 through the time when the submarines were delivered in 2002. Terasasi only exists as a name on the wall of a Wanchai district accounting firm in Hong Kong.