December 30, 2009
X-Files – The unanswered questions
Malaysians are waiting for 2010 with bated breath to find out if there are indeed answers to this year’s unresolved issues. Here are 10 unsolved cases of 2009. This list is by no means complete.
Anwar’s fate hinges on Sodomy Trial II
Early this month, the Pakatan Rakyat opposition component parties finally took their partnership to another level by forging a common policy framework.
Political ideologies aside, the PKR-DAP-PAS allies managed to sit down to identify common areas to work on from where they could launch the bid to win power under the stewardship of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
However, the future and fate of Pakatan remains under a dark cloud as Anwar himself is threatened by the impending sodomy trial – the second time he was slapped with a homosexual charge.It was supposed to be the trial of the year for 2009, but this did not take place after a series of court challenges mounted by the opposition leader.
The PKR de facto leader made numerous applications – from seeking more evidence to striking out the charge. Despite all this, the judgments were not in his favour.His trial is set to begin on Jan 25 and has been fixed for a month, but uncertainty still reigns as to whether the court would actually hear the celebrated case on the scheduled date as Anwar exhausts the remaining options – the appellate and apex courts – still open to him. Will Anwar go to jail for the second time? And what would happen to Pakatan if should that be the case?
A new tax while the economy putters
The government desperately needs more money beyond what it can get from oil and income tax. Petronas has contributed 40 percent of the national budget over the decades but this is not going continue as the country run out of new oil fields to exploit.
Of the 12 million working population, only 1.8 million – or 15 percent – pay income tax. The rest are too poor to fall into that category. With the pro-business government slashing corporate tax from 40 percent in 1988 to the present 28 percent, a new tax is imperative.
Enter the goods and services tax (GST), said to be set at 4 percent and which will pour an additional RM1 billion into government coffers. But the catch here is the administration will need more than just RM1 billion to make up for the tax shortfall, so expect GST to be upped in the coming years.
Opponents to GST argued that it benefits the rich as it shifts the tax burden to the ordinary people. Instead of a new tax, they suggest the government to focus on cutting waste by cracking down on corruption and introduce open tenders for government projects.
Meanwhile, the government is targeting 5 percent GDP growth next year after shrinking an estimated 3 percent in 2009. To some, that’s a little too ambitious. Amidst a fall in foreign investment and in the country’s competitiveness, Prime Minister Najib Razak is set to announce a new economic model in February.
But Najib’s most immediate economic problem will be the implementation of the GST, which is up for parliamentary debate in March. For Malaysians, however, the question will be how much more will they be asked to fork out.
Lingam tape case closed, or is it?
There was hope among some that the judiciary was on the mend with the appointment of a new chief justice, Zaki Azmi, and passing of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill.
But all that fizzled out with its first acid test – the Perak constitutional crisis. That was followed the Tan Boon Wah versus MACC suit and Anwar’s many applications in his sodomy trial. While the High Court often ruled in favour of Pakatan, the higher courts overturned the decisions.
Worse still was that no apparent action was taken following the royal commission on the Lingam tape.The royal commission had recommended action against six individuals – former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad, former chief justices Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim and Eusoff Chin, senior lawyer VK Lingam, UMNO secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor and business tycoon Vincent Tan.
A year later, the authorities are still undecided whether to throw the book at those involved. Even the call from renowned lawyer Karpal Singh, who had volunteered his services to charge Lingam, on the attorney-general to grant him a ‘fiat’ was met with lukewarm response.As we enter 2010, don’t expect to much in the efforts to restore judicial independence.
Uncertainty in PAS as Nik Aziz flounders
There is little doubt that PAS spiritual leader Nik Aziz Nik Mat has helped bring together various factions in PAS. The esteemed religious scholar, who is notorious for issuing controversial statements, has been the bedrock of PAS strength. That is no longer true.
The 2008 general electoral triumph has split the party into two loose factions, with Nik Aziz strongly backing the Anwar Ibrahim-led Pakatan Rakyat against a pro-UMNO group.
The pro-UMNO faction, led by PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang along with his lieutenant Hasan Ali, sowed the seeds of discord within the three-party alliance with their idea of forming a ‘unity government’ with UMNO.
To compound the problem, Nik Aziz has personal issues of his own. He has been accused of practising cronyism in appointing his son-in-law Abdul Ariffahmi Ab Rahman as head of a strategic state government-linked company.
But this time around, Nik Aziz’ own faction – dubbed as “the Erdogan group” – has distanced itself from him. Even Nik Aziz’s most prominent and promising protégé Husam Musa is said to be not solidly behind the Tok Guru.
While everyone is watching Selangor closely – said to be the BN’s most susceptible target after the Perak putsch – something is apparently brewing in Kelantan. How this is resolved will determine not just PAS’s political fortunes, but UMNO’s as well.
Can BN reform itself?
In the wake of their dismal performance in the 2008 general elections, newly-minted Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak proposed wide-ranging reforms to regain political support.
Graft remains a thorn in the flesh for Najib with UMNO’s many tainted leaders being let off the hook. Although Najib had vowed to clean up UMNO by ending its electoral quota system to curb money politics, a Herculean effort is needed on the corruption front.Meanwhile, its component parties – MCA and MIC – had both failed to heed Najib’s calls for reform. The BN’s failure is best encapsulated by UMNO Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin’s remark that BN components no longer shared the same dream.
Meanwhile, Najib’s efforts to foster a transparent government threatens to fall flat should misuse and abuse of public funds remain ignored. Follow-up action on the recent reports by the auditor-general and the public accounts committee is clearly lacking.
Making public the National Key Result Areas (NKRAs) and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will not likely to impress if these initiatives prove unable to energise a lethargic public service which is filled with ‘Little Napoleons’.
Political will is essential for Najib to prove that his pledges are not mere rhetoric but firm resolve to restore an ailing party to its former glory. But has he got what it takes to deliver?
What exactly is ‘1Malaysia’?
As is often the case with every new prime minister, there are the typical promises of reforms, better governance and a better Malaysia.
Najib’s started out with the often repeated call for a united Malaysia, this time through a platform dubbed ‘1Malaysia’. Eight months into his reign however, it is still unclear what Najib meant by ‘1Malaysia’.
Since his maiden speech after taking over from his somewhat languid predecessor, Najib offered a raft of slogans, presumably coined by international firm APCO Worldwide hired to help polish up his image. But 1Malaysia’s biggest enemy is Umno-owned Malay language daily Utusan Malaysia. The rag continues to run racist articles, some labelling Malaysians of Indian descent with the derogatory term of ‘keling’. This strikes a discordant note.
Most recently, the two-decade-old National Civics Bureau (or BTN) had also stirred up a controversy as some legislators from both sides of the divide, in a rare show of unanimity, urged it be scrapped or revamped.
How ‘1Malaysia’ can fit into age-old slogans of ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ and Malay’s special rights is yet to be seen. Or is this another cynical attempt to tailor different messages to different audiences?
PAS disunity over unity government
The idea a unity government was first floated by PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang last March but it received powerful opposition from party leaders especially party’s spiritual leader, Nik Aziz Nik Mat.
In what was an uncharacteristic airing of disagreement, the Kelantan MB blasted ‘problematic leaders’ such as deputy president Nasharuddin Mat Isa, secretary-general Mustafa Ali and Selangor commissioner Hasan Ali for insisting on holding the talks with Umno on the idea of a unity government.
He demanded that PAS hold an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) to get rid of these problematic leaders and replace Abdul Hadi as party president. Hadi responded by saying that the party had closed the door to talks to form a unity government.
Nik Aziz had also lashed out at party deputy president Nasharuddin Mat Isa, telling him to quit the party and join Umno, for supporting unity talks with its arch foe. Nasharuddin had earlier retained his deputy president seat against an onslaught from vice-presidents Husam Musa and Mohamad Sabu.
The elections saw a fierce battle between the liberals and the fundamentalists for control of the party.The feud between the Erdogans and the conservatives will not go away anytime soon. It is unclear how this will pan out. But what is certain is that UMNO is waiting in the wings, ever eager to exploit the split in PAS.
Missing: RPK and PI Bala
Barely having warm his PM’s seat, Najib was again assailed by yet another damning allegation from private investigator P Balasubramaniam, who went missing after releasing two contradictory and controversial statutory declarations last year.
The private eye resurfaced this year with the explosive claim that he was offered RM5 million by Najib’s younger brother Nazim to retract his declaration linking the premier to slain Mongolian woman Altantuya Shaariibuu.
The public had expected an immediate and firm response from the famous brothers, but their hopes were dashed when Najib merely dismissed the allegation as “frivolous“, while Nazim had “nothing to say”.Despite the response, the public was still interested in knowing what had actually transpired and whether Bala was telling the truth or all was simply the product of an imaginative over active mind.
Also gone missing is controversial blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin, who went into hiding early this year following a string of charges slapped on him for implicating a few prominent people, including Najib’s wife Rosmah, with the Altantuya murder.It is believed that he is in London but will continue to be active in writing his Malaysia Today blog. The two will remain the thorn in Najib’s side.
To whip or not to whip?
Conversion and religious issues again hogged the headlines this year. The Penang Syariah Court surprised many by allowing a woman to renounce Islam in March, giving a glimmer of hope that the right to religious freedom was finally being respected.
However, barely two months after the decision, Indira Gandhi sought a court injunction court to nullify her husband K Pamananthan’s conversion of their three children to Islam. After much ado from the Parliament that they will look into cases of children’s conversion, no concrete steps followed where the Law (Reform) Marriage Act was concerned.
Later, the religious authority struck again when the Selangor Islamic Council (Mais) seized the body of deceased film director Mohan Singh, insisting on conducting an Islamic burial rites because they claimed that he had converted to Islam.
The Shah Alam court ruled that he was a Muslim, indicating that the conservative judicial approach over issues related to Islam had won again.
The case of Model Kartika Seri Dewi Shukarnor, 32, further rocked the country when she was sentenced to be whipped six times and fined RM5,000 for drinking beer in public. She shocked the public even more when she agreed to the punishment and refused help from NGOs and women’s rights activist.
In November, the case of Banggarma highlighted how the Welfare Department had changed her life, when she claimed it had converted her to Islam when she was seven.
Also, Selangor PAS, Hasan Ali’s proposed ban on alcohol stirred some discomfort among non-Muslims as the Pakatan government was seen to be using religion to police the rakyat’s sins.
Finally, it seems like the kind of Islam you practise can get you on the wrong side of law. The arrest of former Perlis mufti Mohd Asri Zainal Abidin for giving a talk without ‘tauliah’ generated much publicity.
This is something that will never end. Expect more of this next year.
Still no justice for the Penan
Eight months after the conclusion of a fact-finding mission, the report by the Ministry for Women, Family and Community Development released in September finally confirmed news reports of sexual exploitation of the Penans by timber camp workers.
But since then, no one has been brought to justice, while those have been victimised are now intimidated into keeping silent, raising some questions about Prime Minister Najib’s 1Malaysia policy.
To add insult to injury, the abuse has been repeatedly denied by the Sarawak state government, with the chief minister and his cohorts dismissing the Penans “good storytellers” and that the report was all “lies” generated by “NGOs”.
To their credit, the police made the arduous journey into the interior to gather further evidence about the alleged rapes, but they returned empty handed.
Even now hardly anything has been done to make it safer for the Penans, much less the children, who are continually exposed to sexual abuse as timber trucks remain the only way for them to get to school.
Are Penans part of the 1Malaysia concept?