Trump embraces a post-American world


September 24, 2017

Trump embraces a post-American world

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-embraces-a-post-american-world/2017/09/21/91342088-9f09-11e7-9083-fbfddf6804c2_story.html?utm_term=.5fd39afd8d31

President Trump’s speech to the United Nations was well delivered. But it was a strange mishmash of topics and tones, in parts celebrating realpolitik but then also asserting the importance of freedom and democracy. There was, however, one overriding theme — the embrace of nationalism. And in striking that chord, Trump did something unusual, perhaps unique for a U.S. president: He encouraged, even embraced the rise of a post-American world.

President Donald Trump’s Speech @ UNGA –ENCORE

First, the mishmash. Early in his speech, Trump asserted, “In America, we do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone.” But then, a few minutes later, Trump proceeded to castigate North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba for their undemocratic political systems, virtually demanding that they all become Western-style liberal democracies.

The danger of this kind of lofty rhetoric is that it has been selectively applied, so it is seen cynically by the rest of the world as a way to dress up American self-interest. Trump took this hypocrisy to a new level. He denounced Iran for its lack of freedoms and, almost in the same breath, made favorable mention of Saudi Arabia. By any yardstick — political rights, religious tolerance, free speech — Iran is a much more open society than Saudi Arabia, which is an absolute monarchy allied to the world’s most fanatical religious establishment, where churches and synagogues are prohibited.

The main thrust of Trump’s speech was about nationalism. He celebrated sovereignty and nationalism, choosing an odd example. Latching onto a few words by President Harry S. Truman in support of the Marshall Plan, Trump described that approach to international relations as “beautiful” and “noble.” But can anyone imagine Trump actually supporting the Marshall Plan? It was a massive foreign aid program, administered by government bureaucrats to help foreigners revive their industries — which became competitors to U.S. firms. Washington spent, as a percentage of gross domestic product, roughly five times what it spent during the combat phase of the war in Afghanistan, according to one estimate. To make the Marshall Plan work, Washington encouraged European nations to cede economic sovereignty and create the European Coal and Steel Community, which was the genesis of the European Union.

The most significant line in Trump’s speech was this one, delivered dramatically: “As President of the United States, I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries will always, and should always, put your countries first.”

But this is what countries such as Russia and China have been saying for the past few decades. For the past 70 years, the great debate among nations has been between those who argued for narrow national interests and those who believed that lasting peace and prosperity depended on promoting broader common interests. The latter stance, conceived by FDR and supported by every U.S. president since, is what produced the United Nations and all the organizations that monitor and assist with trade, travel, disease, crime and weather issues, among a host of others, that spill over borders and can only be handled at a regional or global level.

Image result for fareed zakaria

But Trump is tired of being the world’s leader. He whined in his speech that other countries are unfair in their dealings with the United States, and that somehow the most powerful nation in the world, which dominates almost every international forum, is being had. His solution, a return to nationalism, would be warmly welcomed by most of the world’s major players — Russia and China, but also countries such as India and Turkey — which tend to act on the basis of their narrow self-interest. Of course, that will mean a dramatic acceleration of the post-American world, one in which these countries will shape policies and institutions, unashamedly to their own benefit rather than any broader one.

Trump grumbled about the fact that the United States pays 22 percent of the U.N.’s budget, which is actually appropriate because it’s roughly equivalent to America’s share of global GDP. Were he to scale back U.S. support, he might be surprised how fast a country like China will leap in to fill the gap. And once it does, China will dominate and shape the United Nations — and the global agenda — just as the United States has done for seven decades. Perhaps the Chinese will suggest that the organization’s headquarters be moved to Beijing. Come to think of it, it would free up acres of land on the East River where Trump could build a few more condominiums.

 

Former Prime Minister Dr.Mahathir Mohamed allowed in Sarawak. Congrats to Chief Minister Abang Jo and Sarawakians


September 24, 2017

Former Prime Minister Dr.Mahathir Mohamed allowed in Sarawak. Congrats to Chief Minister Abang Jo and Sarawakians

by Francis Siah

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for mahathir mohamad

At long last, former Premier and Pakatan Harapan chairperson Dr Mahathir Mohamad will be stepping onto Sarawak soil again. He is scheduled to speak at a Pakatan Harapan event in Kuching on September 24.

Mahathir’s visit this time is significant as he is visiting the Hornbill State for the first time as a leader of the opposition.

In the past, I paid little or no attention to Mahathir’s visit to my home state when he was Prime Minister. Those were normal, ordinary events – yeah, what is so extraordinary about a Prime Minister visiting a state within his own country? Like many others, Sarawakians or not, I must honestly concede that I didn’t really care when Mahathir came a-visiting.

This time, however, I care. Why? I had wanted to arrange a Mahathir visit to Sarawak since late last year. No, my intention was not political. I would be inviting him under the auspices of my NGO, the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS).

Image result for sarawak land of the hornbills

Welcome to Sarawak, the mystical Land of the Hornbills, where the legendary headhunters of Borneo originated. A land rich in cultural heritage and colourful ethnic tribes, discover the excitement of traditional animistic beliefs and immerse in this festive paradise.

Be mesmerised by Sarawak’s treasure of natural wonders; from ancient rainforests to national parks, wild caves to spectacular limestone pinnacles, pristine beaches to sparkling azure ocean, and rare flora to exotic fauna. Seeped in old-world exotic charm, Sarawak is also blessed with modern technology, infrastructure and facilities and is ready to take on the world. Sarawak’s brand new state-of-the-art hotels and convention centre are supported by a fantastic range of great eco-tourism products, adventure destinations and world-famed hospitality. Sarawak joined Malaysia on Septmber 16, 1963–54 Years ago.

My objective? I feel that Mahathir owes it to the people of Sarawak to explain what he has been doing or intends to achieve for the nation should he be successful in unseating Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak in the 14th General Election (GE14). There are so many questions Sarawakians would want to ask him.

It has been more than two years since he came out with his guns blazing at Najib Razak and all throughout, the people of Sarawak were left in the dark about his intentions. A visit to the state to personally explain his goals and future plans for the nation would be in order, or so I thought.

Early this year, I spoke to a Mahathir aide (I will not mention his name as I did not obtain his permission to do so) about my plan to invite Mahathir to visit Sarawak. He was very positive about my proposal and got back to me after a while, informing me that his boss has agreed in principle to visit my home state at the invitation of MoCS.

On May 15 this year, I met up with the aide at the Perdana Leadership Foundation in Cyberjaya to discuss my plan in detail on the proposed Mahathir visit to my home state.

Image result for Kuching Cat City

Kuching–The Enchanting Cat City–welcomes former Prime Minister of Malaysia Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

By this time, it was not just a visit to Kuching and a meet-the-NGOs session as I had originally planned. A friend who leads a Dayak NGO has also asked whether a visit to Betong to meet the Iban community leaders could be arranged in Mahathir’s itinerary. This was put forward in our discussion that morning and as always, Mahathir’s aide was very positive about including it in the itinerary.

Then came the all-important question which he placed before me. Would Mahathir be barred from stepping foot in Sarawak?

A ‘mortal sin’

To be honest, that question had not crossed my mind but that was a valid question indeed. A number of opposition politicians and prominent social activists have been barred from Sarawak but would Mahathir, a former long serving Prime Minister, receive the same cold treatment?

Faced with that poser, my immediate reaction was, “Surely, the Chief Minister of Sarawak would have more in him than to find some flimsy excuses to stop a 92-year-old former Prime Minister from stepping foot in Sarawak.

No, that couldn’t and shouldn’t happen, I thought to myself. It would be a mortal sin to bar Mahathir’s entry into the state.

Image result for Abang Johari and His Cabinet

Surely, my Chief Minister, Abang Johari Openg (photo), would not stoop that low in imposing a ban on a highly revered Malaysian statesman just because Mahathir has aligned himself with the opposition now. Abang Jo should understand politics better than anyone else in Sarawak since he is the Chief Minister.

Must I also mention that Abang Jo should know what a “mortal sin” is since he also received his early education in a Catholic institution, St Joseph’s School, in Kuching?

But in planning for Mahathir to visit Sarawak, I had to ensure that he is allowed in. Oh, wouldn’t it be embarrassing if the nonagenarian former PM were to be stopped at the Kuching Airport and sent back to Kuala Lumpur on the next available flight? We could not afford for this to happen. It would be a total disaster.

The very next day, I quickly checked with my sources in the Sarawak Chief Minister’s Office and was greatly relieved to find out that Mahathir was not on the “blacklist” of unwelcomed visitors, whether in the political or other categories. He is “clean”.

Yes, why should Mahathir be barred at all? Sarawak BN leaders should have no quarrel with Mahathir. All of Sarawak should consider this an internal UMNO problem which has spiraled out of control. And there is no UMNO in Sarawak.

Image result for Mahathir and Najib

Mahathir and Najib have reached a point of no return. One is adamant on staying in power, come what may, and the other is determined to oust a sitting Prime Minister, no matter what it takes.

I have to say that I am very happy that not a single BN leader from Sarawak has come out publicly to criticise or condemn Mahathir since he formed Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) and teamed up with the opposition. Not a squeak came from them against the former Prime Minister.

Call it what you like, political wisdom or political maturity, but the fact remains – Sarawak BN leaders have no axe to grind with Mahathir. Wisely, they have stayed above the fray, and Abang Jo and his team should continue to do so.

Since May, other commitments have delayed my plan to organise a Mahathir visit to Sarawak. But I am most glad that he will be in my home state on September 24.

Image result for Mahathir and Najib

Dr. Mahathir Mohamad at The White House with America’s Political Icon President Ronald Reagan

Image result for Najib Razak meets DonaldTrump

Najib Razak pays hormage to an American Political Novice President Donald Trump

This is the opportunity for him to explain in person to Sarawakians his plans and programmes for the nation should Pakatan Harapan win GE14, and what will happen if BN retains power.

I hope Mahathir will have a dialogue with leaders of civil society while he is in Kuching and answer all their lingering questions. Confusion and doubts on his plans of action for the future and progress of the country must be cleared.As a Sarawakian, I extend a warm welcome to Tun to my home state. May your first visit as an opposition leader to Sarawak be fruitful, meaningful and memorable.

Welcome to the Land of the Hornbill again, Tun.


FRANCIS PAUL SIAH heads the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS) and can be reached at sirsiah@gmail.com.

Daw Suu and Ibu Mega


September 23, 2017

Daw Suu and Ibu Mega

http://www.newmandala.org

Image result for aung san suu kyi and megawati

EDITOR’S NOTE: the following opinion piece by Indonesian journalist and filmmaker Dandhy Laksono made headlines after he was reported to police under Indonesia’s controversial online defamation laws for comparing Megawati Soekarnoputri to Aung San Suu Kyi. For readers’ interest we are pleased to share a translation of his post prepared by Hellena Souisa.

It’s hard not to join the crowd of those furious with the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, for what has happened to the Rohingya. A former political prisoner of 15 years, Suu Kyi is now considered to have power and influence after her party (NLD) won national elections in November 2015. However, she has been seen as inadequate in preventing the slaughter of ethnic Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar’s army and Buddhist hardliners.

In addition to being the leader of the winning party of the election, she is also the State Counsellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs. The office of Counsellor is equivalent to Prime Minister and has a 5 year term. Of course, in a country that has a number of powerful generals, I think political assessments cannot be naive. Often military members have their own agenda that is not always in line with the civilian government in power.

President John F Kennedy was feeling overwhelmed with the agenda of his generals at the Pentagon and the CIA amid the Cuban missile crisis and the Bay of Pigs invasion (1961), which brought him to the brink of starting a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Likewise, Suharto and his comrade generals built contacts discreetly with Allied parties in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, when then President Sukarno was promoting a ‘Ganyang Malaysia’ (‘crush Malaysia’) campaign in 1963.

Image result for stop rohingya genocide

Our judgement of Suu Kyi in the case of the Rohingya should therefore always consider this delicate balance of power within the country, especially as Myanmar has been under the power of a military regime for more than 50 years, one which also had a record of killing civilians: for example, the bloody 8888 uprising in which 3,000 to 10,000 people died. (The number of 8888 is taken from the date of the event, 8 August 1988, while the resistance movement also has the other “magic number” of 7777, from the series of protests started on 7 July 1977).

Nevertheless, it seems that Suu Kyi did not push back in the same way that Kennedy did when he felt he was being harassed by the hardline generals. Instead, there is an impression that Suu Kyi is part of the problem. She always mentions that the case of the Rohingya is another example of violence that also occurs among other ethnic groups, such as the Karen.

The disappointment in Suu Kyi was further evident in May 2017, when the Myanmar Government refused and denied UN reports of what was happening to the Rohingya in Rakhine State. In June 2017, the Myanmar government shut down access to UN investigators.

In 2013 Suu Kyi even made a comment that was considered racist, when being interviewed by the BBC reporter, Mishal Husain. After the interviewer bombarded her with questions about the Rohingya case, Suu Kyi said “no-one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim”, according to a biography written by Peter Popham. Moreover, there is an excerpt of Suu Kyi’s interview which showed her determination to accumulate power after she won the election: she said she would be “above the president, I will make all the decisions because I am the leader of the winning party.” The context of the statement was an affirmation of Suu Kyi that although the military group challenged her with a constitution that made her ineligible to be president (because both of her children hold a British passport) she considers herself more powerful than the head of state.

So, how does this have anything to do with Megawati? In a different context and with different details, Indonesians also have experienced a situation where an icon of the struggle for democracy—one who was once repressed by the New Order regime (such repression meeting its peak in the events of 27 July 1996)—turned out to be unreliable, and did not fulfil their promise of being an agent of nonviolent problem solving.

Even though her party won national elections in June 1999 with about 34% of the vote, the Chairperson of PDI-P (Indonesian Democratic Party of Stuggle), Megawati Soekarnoputri, was aware that it did not automatically make her president, since at that moment the president was still elected by the People’s Consultative Assembly.

In her post-election victory speech at Lenteng Agung on 29 July 1999, she continued her campaign and burst into tears:

“For the people of Aceh, if I am trusted to lead the country, believe me, Cut Nyak [comparing herself to the Acehnese anticolonial fighter] will not allow a single drop of blood to hit the land of Rencong, which has great merit in promising the independence of Indonesia. For you all, I will give my love. I will give the outcome of your Arun [natural gas field] so that the people can enjoy how the beautiful Porch of Mecca is if built with love and responsibility for our fellow citizens of Indonesia.”

Not only addressing the Acehnese, who had experienced the bloody operation under the code name of ‘Red Net’ from 1988 to 1998, Megawati also had some words for Papua:

“This is also what I am going to do to my brothers and sisters in Irian Jaya and beloved Ambon. The day of victory is not far away, brothers and sisters.”

But we all know what happened later, as has been written in our history. After she replaced President Abdurrahman Wahid, who took the road of peace and cultural diplomacy in handling Aceh, President Megawati sent 40,000 soldiers to Aceh on 19 May 2003 and declared martial law. Much more than “one single drop” of blood was spilt there.

Most likely, she followed the beat of the drum played by generals and diplomats who engineered the war in Aceh by leaving series of international negotiations deadlocked, even capturing the Free Aceh Movement (GAM)’s negotiator. (This is particularly reminiscent of what the Dutch General de Kock did when he caught Diponegoro during the negotiation process in the Java War in colonial times.)

As a producer of the Liputan6 SCTV news program at that time, the footage of Megawati’s speech in Lenteng Agung on 29 July 1999 was one that I looked for when I made a review of the martial law in Aceh.

According to the digital catalogue, the recording was on one of the Betacam cassettes in the library. I sought for it in racks of tapes, and yet I could not find it. The librarian was also confused because that tape was not on the lending list. I insisted the tape be found immediately.

Senior journalists tipped me off that tapes containing sensitive material have always ended up “missing” in Indonesian televisions stations’ libraries, let alone recordings of the speeches of a politician who becomes president. Hearing that, the librarians and I became even more active in looking for it. We looked in every corner of the library and the editing room, with faith that it was unlikely that the tape was smuggled out. Martial Law was announced early that morning and I only mentioned the tape in the afternoon editorial meeting.

After hours of searching, the tape was finally found on top of a shelf. We could only see the tape after the librarian climbed up a chair. There were no other tapes in there, only that one. When we played it back, it was exactly in the middle of Megawati’s speech. (One tape lasted up to 90 minutes, and usually consisted of a variety of events). Luckily, someone uploaded that historic speech to YouTube, although it is incomplete. (The speech about Aceh can be viewed here from minute 03:00.)

Arun gas field revenue sharing, which she mentioned, was only included in the Aceh Government Law after the Helsinki peace talks in August 2005. Even these negotiations were forced by the tsunami, and not based on political will.

As for Papua, Abdurrahman Wahid, who had never campaigned for President nor wept in front of cameras, in fact implemented humanitarian diplomacy in Papua. The Morning Star flag could be raised as a cultural symbol, and he permitted the Papuans to hold the Papuan People’s Congress.

But when replaced by Megawati, the approach to Papua suddenly changed. The generals who complained during the time of Gus Dur were again given an opportunity to discharge their libido of “nationalism and patriotism”. In November 2001, during Megawati’s presidency, the assassination of Theys Hiyo Eluay occurred. Theys was the leader of a transformation in Papua from physical resistance to political diplomacy.

So until now, the supposedly imminent “day of victory” has taken the shape of a massive and historically unprecedented capture. Right after Megawati’s party returned to power through PDI-P’s legislative victory in 2014, and the election of President Joko Widodo (whom she called a “party functionary”, just as Suu Kyi asserted her power), the number of arrests of citizens in Papua has rocketed to 1,083 people, higher than the number arrested by President SBY. Even according to the records of LBH Jakarta and Tapol, between April and June 2016 alone, there were 4,198 Papuans arrested in various places in Indonesia for expressing their political aspirations.

Dandhy Dwi Laksono is a documentarian, and journalist. He is a founder of WatchdoC Documentary, and co-founder of acehkita.com, where this article first appeared in Bahasa Indonesia. You can follow him on Twitter at @dandhy_laksono.

Hellena Souisa is a PhD Candidate at the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne. You can follow her on Twitter at @sweethellena.

 

Bank Negara Malaysia Forex RCI – what it has, and has not, established


September 23, 2017

Bank Negara Malaysia Forex RCI – what it has, and has not, established

by P. Gunasegaram@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for nor mohamed yakcop deputy chairman, khazanah nasional berhad

No Longer Deputy Chairman, Khazanah Nasional Berhad. Finally. He may end up carrying the can. But that is purely academic; the foreign exchange loss incurred by Bank Negara Malaysia is real–some RM30 billion

QUESTION TIME | Three people collectively knew of what exactly transpired in Malaysia’s RM31.5 billion foreign exchange losses, but the demise of one of them results in a missing piece of evidence which would have provided the link in the chain of accountability as to who was ultimately responsible.

Even as the first casualty of the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) into Bank Negara Malaysia’s (BNM) foreign exchange losses occurs, it is clear that the commission has not established much going by the proceedings which ended two days ago.

If the political intention in the setting up of this inquiry, or inquisition as some have called it, is to ascribe blame to and imply benefit to some – especially the Prime Minister at the time, Dr Mahathir Mohamad – it has not been conclusive.

But the extent of the losses to the country is clear – RM31.5 billion between 1991 and 1994, given to the RCI by a BNM staff member. Even this piece of vital information was in the public realm for some time, although it is good to have clear confirmation now.

The difference between the situation at BNM (highly irregular and speculative trading by the central bank) and 1MDB (alleged theft) are quite different even if the amounts involved are of the same order of RM30 billion. No one except the counterparties to BNM’s trade, including currency trader George Soros, benefited from the massive positions taken by BNM.

It was also established that there were attempts to hide the extent of losses, widely reported at the time to be just RM5.7 billion, going by the deficiency in shareholders’ funds of BNM for 1993. In fact, the RCI was told by a BNM official that several papers involving the losses were classified under the Official Secrets Act. But it was not established who decided to classify the documents.

There were gaps in terms of the chain of command that led to the losses which the RCI was not able to fill. Former Bank Negara advisor Nor Mohamed Yakcop said he accepted his fair share of accountability over the foreign exchange (forex) losses incurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

But he said he never discussed the forex transactions in the years between 1986 and 1993 with both the then Finance Minister Anwar Ibrahim and Prime Minister Mahathir, which if true, absolves them of blame for the losses.

“The forex losses occurred, there is no denying it. There is also no denying my accountability for the forex losses. I accepted my fair share of the accountability and resigned from Bank Negara.”

Nor Mohamed became the first casualty of the RCI as he resigned his Deputy Chairman’s position at Khazanah Nasional Bhd, the government sovereign fund which he had helped nurture back into capability and trust starting in 2004 under previous Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

He had been under political pressure to finger Mahathir over the forex scandal but he steadfastly refused to do so.

Lengthy document

He issued a document of nearly 4,000 words to the RCI, which makes compelling reading, outlining the events leading to BNM’s forex trading activities.

“Prior to 1985, BNM was not active in external reserves management, including forex trading, given the relative stability in the international foreign exchange market.

“The situation changed in 1985. On 22 September 1985, five OECD countries met in private at the Plaza Hotel in New York and decided among themselves, without consulting other countries, that the yen and the German Deutsche mark should be strengthened significantly against the US dollar by way of market intervention,” he said.

This was the exact same argument given by Mahathir as I explained in this article when he justified BNM’s interventions in the currency market.

Image result for mahathir mohamad

“If the political intention in the setting up of this inquiry, or inquisition as some have called it, is to ascribe blame to and imply benefit to some – especially the Prime Minister at the time, Dr Mahathir Mohamad – it has not been conclusive.”–P. Gunasegaram

Bernama reported on November 5, 1990: “Speaking to reporters after delivering a keynote address at the 17th Asian Advertising Congress here, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir said, ‘We are stabilising our own currency.

“‘When they do something it is always alright. We are trying to protect our currency. We have lost a lot of money before when they revalued their currency like the yen. We lost a lot of money because we borrowed yen, when they devalued their currency we also lost money.

“‘So what is wrong with our protecting our own interest, why is it when they can protect their interest and we cannot. I cannot understand this.’”

That’s clear indication he condoned currency trading by BNM. Of course, that does not necessarily mean Nor Mohamed would have taken instructions from Mahathir, although they were on the same page in their views.

The person who Nor Mohamed reported to was Jaffar Hussein, then BNM Governor. He quoted Jaffar’s speech which advocated active intervention in the forex markets to manage reserves, to indicate that Jaffar was the main architect of the policy. Mahathir too put the responsibility of the forex trades on Jaffar.

Said Nor Mohamed in his statement: “I need to elaborate on this point because Allahyarham Tan Sri Jaffar Hussein is no more with us, and it is important that we recognise the wisdom of this great man. The Governor believed that by active management of the external reserves, we will be able to acquire the skills, knowledge and experience required to serve the nation, when required, both in developmental activities as well as to overcome any financial crisis that the nation may face in the future. He termed this as ‘market expertise’.

“Indeed, Allahyarham Tan Sri Jaffar Hussein’s foresight regarding market expertise saved the nation during the 1997/1998 financial crisis. In a strange twist of history, the skills, knowledge and experience acquired in BNM enabled the nation to implement the Unorthodox Measures of September 1998.”

And Nor Mohamed went on to enumerate how he used this “expertise” to help rescue the country from the ravages of 1997-98 Asian financial crisis and saving the country hundreds of billions of ringgit.

Missing link

However, former Finance Minister Anwar Ibrahim, now an ally of Mahathir under Pakatan Harapan, fingered Nor Mohamed as the person most responsible and had wanted him sacked.

Anwar said Nor Mohamed was found to have overstepped his boundaries following the forex losses.

“He did not report the true picture to him (Jaffar). I instructed that Nor Mohamed be sacked, if possible, by 4pm (on the day of the meeting). If he didn’t resign, I would have sacked him.”

Asked about Nor Mohamed’s comments about learning a lesson, he was scathing: “His assertions are absurd. You must be accountable. It doesn’t have to cost the country billions to learn a lesson. He should go back to business school (to learn a lesson),” said Anwar.

Mahathir similarly laid the blame on Jaffar. Citing a meeting with Jaffar, he said he was informed verbally by the then governor that BNM could strengthen the country’s reserves and currency through forex trading. Jaffar’s decision to go actively into forex trading, said Mahathir, was not made with his knowledge.

“As Prime Minister, I was never involved in Bank Negara’s administration and I believe that I was not permitted under the law to get involved in its policies and affairs.”

Mahathir, however, says this does not mean that the Governor, then, never talked about the central bank in general terms.

According to Nor Mohamed, in his written communication to the RCI, he was tasked with implementing the external reserves management policy as determined by the BNM’s board.

“…I reported both to the Governor and the External Reserves Committee (ERC). I spoke to the Governor on external reserves management regularly, and certainly whenever there was a large movement in the exchange rates. I also reported to the ERC whenever it met. The membership of the ERC comprised, amongst others, the Governor, Deputy Governor, and the Advisors. Further, there were weekly Senior Officers Meeting, where the external reserves matters were sometimes discussed.”

However, then deputy governor of BNM Lin See Yan has a different story to tell. Lin told the RCI he was first informed about the losses by the former bank Special assistant to the Governor, Lee Siew Kuan.

He also said he was then informed about the losses by “friends from the International Monetary Fund (IMF)”. “They told me ‘we know you have made open positions and you have made big losses, please stop it’.” Both Lin and Lee then went to see Jaffar whom Lin said had confirmed the losses.

“We asked how big the losses were, he said he was not sure.”

Jaffar, said Lin, had then agreed that Lee, with the help of former Bank Negara Assistant Governor Abdul Murad Khalid, were to then carry out preliminary investigations immediately. The investigations then had found that Bank Negara had large open forward positions in multiple currencies which meant that the bank would suffer more losses.

“As a central banker, (for me) the risk was not acceptable,” said Lin.

Circumstantial evidence

Meantime former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin, during whose tenure from 1985 to 1991 BNM started engaging in active forex trading, denied any knowledge of forex dealings, raising the question as to who the instructions came from. Daim also said if he knew about the forex trading, he would have stopped it.

Mahathir, as explained, is likely to have known and sanctioned BNM’s orthodox foreign exchange activity. The three people who would have known for sure the chain of authority are Mahathir, Nor Mohamed and Jaffar. Mahathir and Nor Mohamed’s accounts to the RCI implicate Jaffar, who is not here to defend himself.

The RCI is expected to complete its probe within three months from the date of its setting up on July 15 and thereafter submit its report to the Agong.

But unfortunately, there are not many conclusions that it can make considering that the RCI comes 25 years too late. What is clear is RM31.5 billion in losses were made.

What is not clear is how they were made and why certain people were given so much authority to trade way beyond the normal acceptable limits for a central bank. No central bank has before or since lost more money on trading than BNM.

The answers will continue to be in the realm of conjecture and circumstantial evidence. There can be little doubt that Nor Mohamed was doing what he thought was best for the country. But it should have been very clear to him that he was taking a large risk because the losses would have been massive – and turned out to be so – if his bet was wrong.

Was he acting entirely on his own when he took that bet? Is it likely he consulted no one before he made his bets? Who gave him the go-ahead to make such unprecedentedly large bets? Did he exceed the limits set by BNM? Were there any limits?

Was Jaffar indeed the architect of BNM’s forex policy? Remember, his background was accountancy  – he was a partner at PwC. He was known to be conservative when he was CEO of Malayan Banking. Was he protecting someone when he took the rap?

This hastily convened RCI, which has a couple of months to complete its report and recommendations, is not going to answer all these questions satisfactorily.

 

Malaysia: How can a beer fest be a security threat?


September 22, 2017

MY COMMENT: Actions taken by bureaucrats (most of them with degrees from local universities and abroad) at the behest of their hypocritical UMNO political masters make us a laughing stock to the rest of the world. My colleagues at The University of Cambodia and my students look at me as if I were from another planet of saints of the Islamic variety who say one thing and do something else, worse still when no one else is watching.

Image result for Din Merican

The beer fest affair is just of one of those stupid things our politicians of the Islamic faith do to our citizens by depriving them of their rights to be themselves as long as they respect the rights of their Muslim brothers and sisters. What irreparable harm is being done when we and our friends gather socially for a glass of beer!

My friend Nades is gutsy enough to say what he thinks about this affair. By giving security concerns as the excuse for calling off the event is not only flimsy and cynical,  but also nonsensical. Furthermore, in this case, Malaysians are being treated as “kids and fools”. It is alright to treat MCA, MIC and Gerakan leaders and their supporters that way. After all, they have grown  accustomed to being scorned and insulted by their UMNO bosses in Barisan  Nasional. But doing that to us all by infringing upon our fundamental rights to  be ourselves and choose our friends is unacceptable.

I can only add my disgust at the attitude of our authorities. I am wondering how  much more we as Malaysians can tolerate this patronizing attitude of the current Administration. It has been trampling on our rights to freedom of speech, association and expression since Najib Razak took office in 2009 with a 1Malaysia slogan, Rakyat DiDahulukan, Prestasi DiUtamakan. What he has shown over these years is Rakyat diKetepikan, Prestasi diAbaikan.

To think that Najib Razak’s UMNO-BN will be returned to power come GE-14 makes me throw my hands in the air. If that happens, unless our East Malaysian brothers and sisters vote to reject his leadership, I think I can say that we deserve the government we choose, one that uses religion to differentiate and divide us.–Din Merican

How can a beer fest be a security threat?

COMMENT | There are some moments in our daily lives when we ask ourselves, “Do we deserve to be treated this way?” The answer is always, “We deserve the government we elected.” Really?

When government leaders treat citizens as children and expect us to accept everything they say – hook, line and sinker – the anger seethes and churns in our systems. While many can take it with a pinch of salt and laugh at their antics, there are times when their puerile statements make us wonder why they are sitting up there.

When they tell us the “political sensitivity” and “security threat” have similar meanings and connotations, we are compelled to stand up and ask: “Sir, are you taking us to be kids or fools or idiots?”

Now before anyone takes up the cudgel and tar our leaders with the same brush, let it be specific.

On Monday, Sinar Harian had quoted Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s (DBKL) Corporate Planning Department Director Khalid Zakaria as saying that an application to hold the Better Beer Festival had been rejected because of “political sensitivity”. On the same evening, Kuala Lumpur Mayor Mohd Amin Nordin Abd Aziz has declined to comment on this matter.

The organisers – Mybeer (M) Sdn Bhd – issued a statement which read: “We were further informed that the decision was made due to political sensitivity surrounding the event.”

Of course, right-minded citizens expressed their disgust over this insisting that their rights are being impeded. Joining the chorus were politicians on both sides of the divide. Well and good. Every inch of their support, although in some cases, couched in politically-correct language, was needed to stop this intrusion into one’s personal choice.

The MCA asked City Hall to be “consistent and accountable”. Its religious harmony bureau chief Ti Lian Ker, said: “They cannot arbitrarily reject the application and threaten to take action against the organiser without giving a proper account or reasons for the rejection.”

But on Wednesday, there was a complete turnaround. MCA president and Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said the authorities had told cabinet during its weekly meeting that safety was one of the reasons why the craft beer festival was cancelled.

If security had been “real” reason, why was it not conveyed to the organisers? Why did City Hall have to lie by saying “political sensitivity”? If security was an issue, surely the organisers would have made other arrangements and beefed up security.

From Joe Public’s standpoint, all this appears to be an afterthought and a shameful charade. We have no intention of causing alarm and panic, but are we to assume that any congregation of people would require them to look over their shoulders while sipping their beer?

Held to ransom

Two Saturdays ago, a group of friends were at a screening party where the match between Liverpool and Manchester City was telecast on a large screen. The venue was a pub in Sri Hartamas and there were more than 100 people. Fans of both clubs enjoyed the beers and game. Liverpool fans drowned their sorrows while City fans celebrated.

Every weekend, there are scores of such screening parties in pubs, restaurants and mamak shops. Are they targets too? Will they ban such screenings?

If the mantra previously was “moderation”, it has now become “security”. What purpose do sloganeering, walks and campaigns serve when our rights are being disregarded and dismissed summarily?

Six years ago, in one of the hallowed halls of University of Cambridge, Prime Minister Najib Razak extolled the virtues of Malaysia’s moderation quoting the Quran, the Bible and even the Torah.

Today, such notations are in shambles; the nation is being held to ransom by a handful of zealots. Yet, the government is watching with folded arms and refuses to stand up to this kind of bullying.

Even the civil service has become subservient to the frolics of the few. All and sundry have got their priorities wrong for political expediency.

At every turn, religion is creeping into our daily lives unabated. Despite espousing moderation both verbally and in writing, these so-called advocates of temperance and reasonableness retreat into their cocoons when confronted with issues.

We cannot continue putting up our hands and saying, “What can we do?” We have to say, “Enough is enough”, and collectively drown the voices of the few who are trying to impose their values on the rest of the citizens.


R Nadeswaran.

Home and away, Najib has a China dilemma


September 22, 2017

Home and away, Najib has a China dilemma

While the Malaysian leader relies on Beijing for economic succor, he’s still viewed skeptically by his country’s ethnic Chinese voting bloc with tight polls on the horizon

Singapore
Image result for Najib's Chinese Dilemma
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak looks on duringIndependence Day celebrations in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia August 31, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Lai Seng Sin

 

Prime Minister Najib Razak addressed Malaysia’s Chinese community at a well-attended gathering last week to urge support for his Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition government ahead of new national polls.

The leader called for stronger Chinese representation in his United Malays National Organization-led (UMNO) government and doubled down on promises of delivering prosperity and quality education across all of the country’s ethnic groups.

“If the Chinese voice is stronger in BN, then you are able to shape the policies and possibilities of this government even better and even stronger,” Najib said. “Without peace in the country, the Chinese will be the first to be targeted and that is why we are a moderate government committed to peace and mutual harmony.”

Image result for Najib's Chinese Dilemma

While Najib placed emphasis on Malaysia as a multiracial nation and struck an overall moderate tone, others interpreted his remark as a fear-mongering veiled threat. Opposition parliamentarian Liew Chin Tong accused the premier of trying to win votes by “singling out the ethnic Chinese,” a move he said would actually undermine support for his government.

Malaysia’s next election is due by August 2018, though there is speculation that early polls could soon be announced. Najib’s outreach to the Chinese community signals an attempt to re-engage the minority voter bloc following general elections in 2013 where the BN coalition delivered its worst-ever election performance.

At the time, Najib acknowledged how ethnic Chinese voters had supported the opposition in droves, controversially characterizing their voting behavior as a “Chinese tsunami.” Najib initially vowed to undertake national reconciliation following the electoral upset, but instead has moved to burnish his Islamic credentials in a bid to consolidate support from conservative and rural ethnic Malay voters.

Ethnic Chinese communities make up around 23% of Malaysia’s population and are seen to be largely in opposition to Najib’s continued rule. His term has been defined by the international multi-billion dollar money laundering controversies related to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state development fund he created and until recently oversaw.

Lesser noticed, however, have been perennial allegations of money politics, elite corruption, stark political polarization and a widening cultural divide between Malaysia’s ethnic and religious groups that some fear could tip towards instability if not effectively reconciled.

Image result for Najib and HadiThis strange alliance with Hadi Awang may prove costly to Najib Razak in East Malaysia where Islamisation is viewed with anxiety and suspicion.

Recent studies show nearly half the country’s ethnic Chinese population have a strong desire to leave Malaysia due to perceived discrimination, political disenfranchisement and fears of Islamization. Nearly 88% of the 56,576 Malaysians who renounced their citizenship in the decade spanning 2006 to 2016 were ethnic Chinese.

Shortly after assuming office in 2009, Najib introduced the 1Malaysia national concept, a governing philosophy which placed emphasis on ethnic harmony, national unity and efficient governance. Following the 2013 election, the Prime Minister has placed less pretense on the talking points of the scheme, opting to posture as a defender of Islam and Malay unity.

“Political parties from both sides of the divide are centered around the Malay agenda, winning votes in Malay majority constituencies. Meanwhile, government efforts like 1Malaysia and its subsequent rebranding has neither substance nor strategy,” political analyst Khoo Kay Peng recently wrote. “The concept of unity is not even at the forefront of societal discussion.”

An important aspect of Najib’s domestic agenda in recent years has been the formation of a loose alliance with the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), which has an electoral stronghold in Malaysia’s rural and conservative north and advocates a hardline sharia punishment code known as hudud.

Abdul Hadi Awang, PAS’ influential President, was given tacit government approval to table a controversial hudud bill in parliament in 2015, which sought to ease some of the constitutional restrictions imposed on sharia courts in order to implement more severe punishments, subjecting offenders to longer prison sentences and corporal punishment.

Though observers were initially dismissive of Najib’s support for hudud, his government attempted to take over Hadi’s bill last year. The prime minister reversed course in March due to strong opposition from other BN coalition partners – notably from the Malaysian Chinese Association and other ethnic minority parties – and concerns it would dampen foreign investor sentiment.

Against a backdrop of political controversies and a deepening cultural divide, Malaysia’s upcoming general election is expected to be one of the tightest in decades. The political opposition, once a fractured grouping of disparate parties, appears more cohesive under the leadership of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who defected from UMNO and embraced opposition parties to form the Pakatan Harapan coalition.

Comeback kid: Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, 92, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Putrajaya, Malaysia, March 30, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Lai Seng Sin