Pakatan Harapan or Pakatan Rakyat or Whatever–The Opposition has an Identity Problem


March 16, 2017

Pakatan Harapan or Pakatan Rakyat or Whatever–The Opposition has an Identity Problem

by Scott Ng@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Semua mahu jadi tauwkey, hanya rakyat boleh jadi hamba, sama macam UMNO

Opposition supporters are apparently divided over former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s proposal that Pakatan Harapan undergo a rebranding after his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia joins it. Mahathir has suggested that Pakatan adopt a new name and a common manifesto and symbol.

To some, the call confirms their suspicion that PPBM is merely a reskinned UMNO and the inclusion of the party in a grand coalition will simply make it a version of Barisan Nasional, with Mahathir in control. After all, old habits die hard, especially the habits of a confessed dictator. Mahathir ruled for more than 22 years and is used to having his way.

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Le Boss not like a Boss

Of course, this theory assumes that the other parties are willing to make way for Mahathir to ascend to the position of opposition leader and will unquestioningly give in to his dictates. Given PKR’s lack of direction, Amanah’s continuing search for a concrete identity and DAP’s poor appeal among rural Malays, it isn’t hard to imagine Mahathir leading the charge.

However, PPBM does not enter the coalition as the first among equals. It joins as yet another party despite the pedigree of its luminaries, and fittingly so. Mahathir & Co will have much work to do in convincing liberals, progressives, and moderates that PPBM is not Umno in sheep’s clothing. What good would it do to replace a government if it merely results in more of the same?

So the first order of business, should Pakatan accept PPBM into its fold, should be to come out with a concrete policy platform, one that looks at the specific laws and practices that must be reformed, mechanisms that must be reviewed and government agencies that must be revamped.

Although Mahathir’s proposals are still merely suggestions, Pakatan’s discussions around them are sure to be robust. Nevertheless, it is hoped that all the Pakatan parties recognise the suggestions as eminently reasonable.

Pundits have long pointed out the need for a uniform identity and platform for Pakatan Harapan, and the appearance of being united via a common symbol is a first step towards consolidating the coalition as an entity. With PAS poised to be a spoiler in the coming election, it is more important than ever to present a unified front. Certainly, only one candidate from the coalition should be fielded in every constituency.

Whether Mahathir’s agenda dominates the coalition platform is truly a problem for the three Pakatan parties to hash out on their own. There is little to suggest that Mahathir will get his way unquestioned, but perhaps ideas coming from a field-tested veteran of political battles will be beneficial in the long run.

Scott Ng is an FMT columnist.

 

US Justice Department Probe of 1MDB in Danger?


March 15, 2017

US Justice Department Probe of 1MDB in Danger?

by John Berthelsen @www.asiasentinel.com

Image result for preet bharara time magazine

U.S Attorney Preet Bharara

There is concern in Kuala Lumpur that the United States Justice Department’s investigation into the state-owned 1Malaysia Development Bhd., which is ensnared in one of the world’s biggest financial scandals, could be stymied in the wake of the March 10 firing by President Donald Trump of the country’s 46 US attorneys.

The Trump administration announced it had ordered all Obama administration prosecutors to tender their resignations immediately, including Preet Bharara, the most aggressive of the US prosecutors, who said he had met with Trump in November, telling reporters that both Trump and Jeff Sessions, now the Attorney General, had asked him about staying on, which Bharara said he would do, according to the New York Times.

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Trump is not interested in Malaya. To him Najib Razak is not a small potato

“We fear (Prime Minister Najib Razak) has Trumped us,” said a member of the political opposition in Kuala Lumpur. “Bharara’s firing has discouraged all the reformers in KL. They think the 1MDB investigation will die.”

That may be too pessimistic. Nonetheless, the concerns over the departure of federal attorneys handling the 1MDB case were compounded by the fact that the case also involves an investigation into the activities of the investment bank Goldman Sachs and its role in underwriting and steering US$6.5 billion in bond sales for 1MDB. Gary Cohn, the current president and chief operating officer of Goldman, has been appointed the head of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisors.  Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Securities and Exchange Commission head Jay Clayton and Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief adviser, have all been connected to Goldman as well.

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In addition, Trump himself called Prime Minister Najib in the middle of the night in mid-November for an amicable conversation at the behest of businessman Syed Azman of Weststar Group, a sprawling Malaysia-based conglomerate with interests in cars, aviation, construction, defense and engineering. Azman’s 40 helicopters shuttle people and goods to offshore oil platforms.

 Azman, according to sources in Kuala Lumpur, knows Trump relatively well and plays golf with the President, a real estate tycoon before his election. Some years ago Azman bought two of Trump’s ornate branded jets for use by his own businesses. During the presidential campaign, he re-loaned one of the jets back for use by Trump’s aides. It was repainted in the Trump livery and used during the campaign, a source in Kuala Lumpur told Asia Sentinel.

According to details of the conversation by Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor, Trump, also asked Najib when the latter planned to visit the US, to which the Prime Minister replied, “Wait until you settle in and I will come. I would like to discuss a few things with you.”

The US Justice Department last July announced a sweeping investigation into the activities of 1MDB, with US Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch alleging “an international conspiracy to launder funds misappropriated from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund.”

Although he is identified only as “Malaysian Public Official No. 1,” it was clear that Najib was the target of what Lynch called “the largest single action ever brought” under the US’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative.

The US Justice Department investigation is a damning indictment of the entire structure surrounding 1MDB.  It found that from 2009 through 2015, more than US$3.5 billion in funds belonging to 1MDB were misappropriated from an entity ostensibly created by the Malaysian government to promote economic development in Malaysia through global partnerships and foreign direct investment, and intended to be used for improving the well-being of the Malaysian people.

Despite the allegations, Najib appears to be secure in his job as premier, which he assumed in 2009. In fact, he believed to be solid enough to call a snap election prior to the deadline required for national elections in April of 2018.

Goldman Sachs came into the picture in July last year with the allegations that billions of dollars were diverted from 1MDB for personal use by Public Official No. 1, his stepson and others.  It was Goldman that helped 1MDB raise US$6.5 billion in three bond sales   to invest in energy projects and real estate. Goldman earned nearly US$600 million to underwrite the sale of the bonds. The lawsuits alleged investors weren’t properly informed about the use and nature of the bonds and that the offering circulars for two of the bonds issued in 2012 allegedly contained “material misrepresentations and omissions” over what the proceeds of the bonds would be used for and the nature of the relationship between 1MDB and International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC), an entity owned by the Abu Dhabi government.

Goldman has denied all wrongdoing, saying it had no visibility into whether some of the funds were subsequently diverted into things like the purchase of expensive art work and the funding of the blockbuster movie Wolf of Wall Street, produced by Najib’s stepson and others.

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High Flying Investment Banker Leissner

Nonetheless, Tim Leissner, once Goldman’s star banker in Southeast Asia, stepped down from his position last March, either voluntarily or because he was suspended, as investigations widened in Singapore, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi, France and other countries in addition to the US.

There is no indication that the investigations into 1MDB and Goldman have been stopped.  Justice Department officials in New York and Los Angeles are said to be continuing to search for additional assets connected to 1MDB and the Najib family to sequester under the kleptocracy statute.

In addition, all presidents have had the authority to dismiss regional US attorneys, who are political appointees and serve at the pleasure of the President. However, unlike Ambassadors, for instance, the prosecutors are almost always professionals widely respected in their field.

Bharara, who rules over Manhattan, was appointed in 2009 by President Obama. He has earned a reputation as an aggressive prosecutor who has taken on a wide range of white-collar crimes and won a flock of convictions.

Playing Malaysia’s Number Game


March 13, 2017

Manjit Bhatia’s article’s article is on my blog.

https://dinmerican.wordpress.com/2017/03/08/najibs-criminal-state-of-mind/

Image result for Najib Razak and the Malaysian economyThe Malaysian Treasury is all but full

What follows is my friend Nurhisham Hussein’s response.

My own reaction is that I do not trust Malaysian government statistics since they are subject to manipulation by politicians in power. I do respect Nurhisham’s views and commend him for attempting to defend  “economic data from Malaysia”.

The sad truth is that there is so much fake news from Najib Razak and his cohorts in recent years that I have difficulty in knowing what is fact and what is fiction. It is something I experienced in attempting to figure out Donald Trump. But when it comes to Malaysia it is pretty straight forward since in the Malaysian context, fiction is fact.

By the way, what China has to do with the issues raised in Manjit’s article. This statement which I quote from Nurhisham’s article –“One of the key tests to determine whether economic data is falsified is internal consistency and statistical irregularity. China, for example, fails on both counts”–is irrelevant.

Allow me to quote a comment from Greg Balkin who regards Nurhisham’s article as: “A very strong rebuttal to Manjit Bhatia’s shoddy arguments.

Unlike MB who simply fights against the wind and even with his own shadow, at least Nurhisham Hussein provided actual facts and statistics for readers to contemplate on and question if necessary.

As a long-time Southeast Asia watcher, I have been very concerned about Malaysia which is increasingly beset with contradictory developments. Economically, it continues to grow faster than some neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Cambodia (That is bull Greg, check your facts on Cambodia from the Asian Development Bank before making your comment. In its most recent assessment,the Bank described Cambodia as an emerging tiger economy), yet it is mired in a series of financial scandals over the past three years, not to mention the worrying political scene.

The problem is many Malaysians have lost faith in the Najib Administration to the extent that any article that chastises Putrajaya is welcome even if it is not backed up with facts and statistics. One can read many of them on Malaysiakini or Free Malaysia Today. But it does not help Malaysians to develop a more critical mind when it comes to holding the powers-that-be to account.

This explains why many opposition leaders, blinded by popular support and swayed by populist sentiment, simply make one unsubstantiated allegation after another, only to find their position untenable and forced to retract thereafter.

No worries, for they have the people behind them whose negative perceptions of the government are already cast in stone and it matters not if these allegations hold water. If this vicious circle persists, I would not surprise to see Malaysia vote out UMNO and replace it with another set of arrogant politicians armed with half-baked policies to administer the country.

But it is a politician’s job to make sensational yet unsubstantiated claims, and an economist’s one to right them. Precisely why MB’s latest article is not only a huge letdown, but one that is unbecoming of his credentials, if any.”

Let me present an alternative reaction to Nurhisham’s article. It is from someone who calls himself Bumiputera Graduate as follows:

“I am unsure if Nurhisham is trying to shore up confidence in the Malaysian economy or defend the credibility of social and economic data produced in Malaysia.

I think Nurhisham is an expert at  the sleight of hand.  He has shifted the focus in the article from the main points that Manjit is making to those where Manjit is inaccurate.

Among the inaccuracies Nurhisham pointed out is that Malaysia does publish its labour force participation numbers, and that its budget deficit is going down. But Nurhisham doesn’t deny that perceived inflation figures are higher than reported figures; he only says it’s also the case with the US, which is not an answer at all.

He doesn’t touch on Manjit’s point on Bank Negara Malaysia manipulating the currency. Is Manjit right? Or is he wrong? Nurhisham says that his friends and associates at IMF and the World Bank have full confidence in Malaysia’s statistics.

Who knows if Manjit’s friends at the Fund and the Bank don’t have any confidence in Malaysia’s statistics. Hardly an argument worth a pinch of salt coming from the general manager, economics and capital markets of a government agency – the Employers Provident Fund – whose investment decisions are themselves questionable.

Again, when there are conservative estimates of 2 million undocumented migrant workers, with what confidence will you say that the minimum wage is implemented?

The labour market, going by his 3.6% indicator, may be at full employment, but he’s sweeping away the big problem of graduate unemployment (predominantly a Malay problem), the huge migrant labour problem, and the low productivity.

But if Manjit does a bit more of research and does a full article on the Malaysian economy, he may come up with a longer menu of issues that plague the economy than Nurhisham will be able to defend.

Manjit Bhatia, the byline says, is with a risk analysis company. If people like Manjit have views like this, that says a lot for the confidence that foreign analysts have in the Malaysian economy.

I think Nurhisham fails miserably in trying to shore up optimism in the economy, if that was his intention, even as he defends the credibility of data coming from Malaysia. With rebuttals such as his, what little confidence the public has, will further slide down.”

I leave you, my blog readers, to decide between the two views (Greg Balkin and Bumiputera Graduate). As far as I am concerned, and if I have surplus cash to invest, I will stay out the Malaysian stock exchange, the bond market and the Malaysian ringgit for a while, since I have no confidence in the Najib Administration’s management of the Malaysian economy. –Din Merican

 Playing Malaysia’s number game

by Nurhisham Hussein

The article further states that there is no data for the job participation rate in Malaysia. This is rather unconventional classification, as everyone else uses the term labour force participation rate (LFPR) instead. In any case, the article is completely mistaken. The LFPR for Malaysia has been available at monthly frequencies since 2009, quarterly since 1998, and annual frequencies going back to 1982. The annual numbers are further broken down by age, gender, education, and ethnic background. The data shows, far from a decline in labour market conditions, a steeply rising LFPR from 62.6 per cent in 2009, to a near record high of 67.6 per cent in 2016 (with a long term average of 65 per cent). It should also be noted that Malaysia’s long term average unemployment rate is just under 4 per cent. At the current rate of 3.6 per cent, the labour market would still be considered to be at full employment.

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Between Idris Jala and Najib Razak–A Deformed Malaysia

The article goes on to say that Malaysia’s minimum wage is scarcely enforced. On the contrary, data from the EPF, to which all salaried workers are required to contribute, show a massive shift in Malaysia’s salary distribution when the minimum wage was introduced in 2013. Fully 10 per cent of the workforce shifted from below the minimum wage to above it, and the wage effect was evident across the entire bottom half of the distribution.

Fourth, the article claims that, “In Kuala Lumpur alone, credible estimates put inflation at least twice the ‘official’ number”, and “inflation hits close to double-digits, in real terms, according to some investment banks’ research.” The second statement is nonsensical – there is no such thing as inflation in “real” terms, because in economics real prices of goods refer to inflation-adjusted prices. But the larger point – that inflation is perceived to be higher than official statistics – is actually well known. Well known because the same discrepancy has been documented nearly everywhere.

A recent Federal Reserve research note explicitly addressing this issue, found that US citizens perceptions of inflation were consistently twice as high as the official statistics. Why that is so is an interesting question in itself and would take far too long to explore, but the larger point is that differences between perception and official statistics cannot be taken as prima facie evidence that those statistics are false. There is plenty of evidence that the opposite is true, for example via MIT’s Billion Prices Project, that it is perceptions that are mistaken and not the statistics. Furthermore, research into the methodology and mechanics of constructing consumer price indices conclude that if anything, the CPI tends to overstate inflation, not understate it.

Fifth, the article claims Malaysia’s fiscal deficit and national debt are “ballooning”. In fact, the deficit has been halved since 2009, to just 3.1 per cent for 2016, while the debt to GDP ratio has been kept under the 55 per cent limit the government imposed on itself. Manufacturing, far from being routed, has continued to thrive, with sales breaching an all time high of ringgit 60 billion a month over the past few months. Moreover, Malaysia has been one of the very few countries in the region to record positive trade growth over the past two years.

In the Age of Trump, democratic institutions are under attack everywhere. Trust in public institutions has declined, not just in Malaysia, but globally. Globalisation itself is in retreat, and schisms and conflicts that we thought were gone, have arisen anew. Be that as it may, undermining confidence in public institutions without substantive evidence reinforces these troubling trends, and works against the very foundations of a democratic society. Without them, the very thing that Manjit Bhatia appears to be arguing for, becomes further from reality.

Nurhisham Hussein is General Manager, Economics and Capital Markets at Employees Provident Fund, Malaysia.

Idris Jala strums the Permandu Blues– Delusional Transformasi


March 13, 2017

Idris Jala strums the Permandu Blues– Delusional Transformasi

by Idris Jala@www.thestar.com.my

Image result for Idris Jala playing guitar

Idris Jala: Strumming the Permandu Blues

WE started Pemandu in 2009 with two clear objectives: to drive Malaysia’s transformation into a high-income nation by 2020, and to work ourselves out of this job. I have always said that Pemandu will be successful when we become redundant, that is, when the civil service is prepared to take up the mantle to lead Malaysia’s transformation.

We were also clear that the handover of Pemandu’s work on the National Transformation Programme (NTP) can only be initiated when it is “sticky”, meaning there is strong potential for the civil service to independently implement the NTP’s initiatives.

Permandu-led NTP at what cost to Taxpayers?

In 2016, as the NTP reached almost seven years of implementation and continued to yield tangible results, it became apparent that the time had come for Pemandu to transition our work on the NTP to the civil service. On Jan 23 2017, the Prime Minister’s Office announced the commencement of this transition over a two-year period.

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The Transformasi Hang Over:Najib Razak–Racism and Hududism

We have scheduled this transition into three categories. The first involves work which will be handed over immediately to the civil service without any need for transition. This was completed on 1 March 2017.

Under the second category, some of the NTP work will be transferred to the civil service on a gradual basis. This requires a two-year transition period during which Pemandu will continue to support the civil service in the NTP activities, until the civil service has built sufficient capacity to enable full handover in the third year.

Over this period, Pemandu will commit 45 of its employees to work with the civil service in 2017. This will reduce to 30 in 2018, until no further support is required from Pemandu in 2019.

The third category involves work which still requires NTP coordination even after work has been transferred to the civil service. Pemandu will hand over these coordination activities to the Economic Planning Unit’s Civil Service Delivery Unit.

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Malaysia–Paradise Found or Lost?

The key to succeeding in this exercise is to ensure an orderly transition. As set forth by change management expert William Bridges, there are three stages of transition, namely Ending/Letting Go; the Neutral Zone; and the New Beginning.

In the past seven years, we have worked closely with the civil service to ensure adoption of the new processes introduced to ensure consistent delivery of the NTP initiatives. This has seen the civil service gradually applying these new processes across their operations.

We are confident of their continued ability and commitment to do so. In short, all our work thus far has been leading up to this point.However, in tandem with this gradual shift, there remains a segment of the civil service which has yet to adopt any of the new ways of working.Therefore, within the civil service now exists two methods of delivery – the old way of working and the new.

According to Bridges’ transition model, the civil service is in the Neutral Zone, which, if allowed to continue, results in the organisation becoming choked. Therefore, it is critical to our transition timeline that by February 2019, the civil service must make way for new beginnings to ensure we achieve our high-income aspirations by 2020.

Let me come to why we felt it was time to begin this transition. Since the start of the NTP, we have been committed to our True North: the high-income GNI per capita threshold as set by the World Bank, jobs and investment.

According to latest available data from the World Bank, Malaysia’s GNI per capita as at 2015 was US$10,570, just 15% short of the current high-income threshold of US$12,475.

This is compared to our GNI per capita of just US$8,280 in 2010, with a gap of 33% from the-then high-income threshold of US$12,276. Additionally, we have catalysed a 2.2 times growth in the CAGR of private investment, which previously recorded a CAGR of 5.5% in 2006-2010. Between 2011-2015, private investment recorded a CAGR of 12.1%.

This data shows that we are more than halfway to high-income status and on track to achieve our goals by 2020.

We have also assessed the ministries’ competencies in taking over the reins of the NTP, with the programme’s total KPIs recording an average score of more than 100% every year.More importantly, through the NTP, we have helped to raise the incomes of everyday Malaysians in an inclusive way, such as through the completion of 5,286 km of rural roads benefiting 3.5 million people.

We have also connected 144,025 rural houses to reliable electricity, lighting up the lives of 720,125 people, provided 1.68 million living in 334,593 rural houses with access to clean water and built and restored 79,137 houses benefiting 412,360 people.

With just three years left to our deadline, considering the pace of progress we have seen over the past seven years, I am confident of the civil service’s capability to deliver the national transformation.

In this transition, this will mark my final Transformation Unplugged entry. Pemandu as an organisation will also embark on a new journey as a global consultancy firm focusing on government transformation and business turnaround.

On behalf of the team, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to everyone whom we have worked closely with in the past seven years. I would also like to thank the folks who have been following my column. I must commend the Prime Minister and civil servants for their commitment and cooperation in delivering the NTP to date. I look forward to work together with them to embrace this New Beginning in the coming two years.

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In the meantime, I hope to see you at the Global Transformation Forum 2017 on March 22-23. The Government of Malaysia is playing host again, bringing the best minds in transformation from all over the world to inspire Malaysians. The transformation mindset you will experience will bring clarity and inspire real behavioural change in driving your own transformation.

The Man called Donald Trump as POTUS and Malaysian Prime Minister known as Najib Razak


March 9, 2017

The Man called  Donald Trump as POTUS and Malaysian Prime Minister  known as Najib Razak

My American friends,

Please tell me more about the man called Trump who you put in The White House on November 8, 2016. I am unable to decipher him. Unbelievable. He has the audacity to tell you that your 44th President had ordered a wiretap on Trump Towers during the 2016 Presidential Campaign. It is an unprecedented act in US history where a sitting President accuses his predecessor of breaking the law with no evidence to support his allegation.

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Mr. Trump is probably not aware that Mr. Obama is an outstanding graduate of the world-famous Harvard Law School and a popular President. While it is acceptable to be critical of his policies ( that is politics), it is at the height of irresponsibility to attempt to damage Mr. Obama’s integrity and reputation.

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Tom Friedman’s comment, which I now quote, is worth noting. “There  is nothing more dangerous than a US President who’s squandered his trust before he has to lead us  through a crisis. But that’s  happens when he’s surrounded by people ready to slather peanut butter on their chins. It greases the decline of companies and countries”.

I am not worried about you because you have judicial and legislative mechanisms in place to impeach a US President and a fiercely independent and free media  to keep your politicians including your President in check. I am only  trying to understand how your democratic system can take a Trump to The White House.

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I thought it can only happen in a country like Malaysia where our legislature and our judicial system have become dysfunctional leaving a powerful Executive Branch in total control, while our media is neither free nor independent. That is why we have a Prime Minister, Mr. Najib Razak, who betrayed our trust with impunity since he came to power in 2009. He is a pathological liar and a corrupt and dishonest politician who surrounds himself with “people ready to slather peanut butter on their chins”(or carmas as we call them in Malaysia).–Din Merican

Najib’s Criminal State of Mind


March 8, 2017

Najib’s Criminal State of Mind

by Manjit Bhatia

http://www.newmandala.org

Image result for Najib Razak the ciminalThe Face of a Troubled Prime Minister of Malaysia

The Jong-nam case is serious — on legal paper. His killing hasn’t caused Beijing’s eunuchs a twitch. But Najib is using the assassination to his own political ends. It’s what dastardly regimes or political leaders in trouble or on the people’s noses would do — exploit an awful criminal matter to cement their illegitimate and immoral positions.    

Malaysian PM Najib Razak is using the assassination of Kim Jong-nam to deflect heat from ongoing scandal and economic slowdown ahead of scheduled elections, writes Manjit Bhatia.

Image result for Zahid Hamidi and Tiga Line Gang

The Man from Pornorogo now Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister

It’s comical when Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi demands that criminals backed by North Korea, China’s client rogue state, respect the “sovereignty” of his country’s laws. As Home Minister , in 2013, Zahid had lavished praise on Tiga Line, the outlawed Malay gangsters. He also called on police to “shoot first” if non-Malay thugs threaten or kill his fellow Malays.

Meanwhile, Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar requested the same abominable Pyongyang “authorities” to extradite suspects in Kim Jong-nam’s assassination at Kuala Lumpur’s budget carrier airport on 13 February. Khalid’s lightning-fast move here isn’t surprising, seeking fame and kudos. Yet, when it comes to netting official corruption’s big fish, including corporate leaders, and independently investigating Prime Minister Najib Razak, he disinclines at every turn.

Strictly speaking, Malaysia has not a single independent institution. Instead, patron-client relations rule. Others call it patronage. Simple example: Khalid is subservient to Zahid who is subservient to Najib who holds Malaysia’s purse-strings as finance minister. This buys him allegiance and serious protection in a country racked by state-ordained corruption, cronyism and some of the worst forms of racism. What has this to do with the Jong-nam case? Everything. And just as well — Malaysia-North Korea diplomatic ties are flexing for bust-up.    

As baffling as the assassination was, it couldn’t have happened sooner. Malaysian elections are due mid-2018. Zahid and Khalid, like Najib, are hoping the matter of the half-brother of North Korea’s insane leader Kim Jong-un will grip Malaysians like a John Le Carre thriller. The state-controlled media is acting to orders of ensuring the case is lead news, 24/7. After all, Malaysians need distractions. Being a Muslim country — not an Islamic state,at least not yet — the visit of the King of Saudi Arabia this week has somewhat displaced the Jong-nam as the lead story, albeit temporarily.   

Interestingly, the North Korean Ambassador has had unprecedented scope in being seen to attempt to interfere in police investigations. Also curiously, Malaysian officials didn’t refute the Ambassador’s claim that South Korea and Malaysia were in cahoots, ostensibly to bring down the Jong-un dynastic regime. But when news outlets ran stories of a North Korean spy network operating in Malaysia, the episode moved from the bizarre to the whacky. Still, that’s exactly what Najib needs.

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Najib Razak–The Corruption Delivery Man

Problem is, the Jong-nam murder hasn’t absorbed Malaysians. They’re far more worried about their jobs future. Some factories have closed down; some others are moving offshore, to Vietnam, Burma and Bangladesh. The old ways of enticing foreign firms, via tax and other incentives, no longer work. These days China demands 99-year leases among its preconditions of investing in Malaysia. Like Singapore, Malaysia is struggling to establish anew its global competitiveness. For over a decade the international division of labor has shifted away from Asia’s first and second-tier ‘miracle economies’. 

Nonetheless, Najib boasts a high economic growth rate for the country. At 4.2 per cent GDP for 2016, it is significantly lower than 5 per cent in 2015. Between 2000 to 2016, average GDP has been 4.73 per cent. The jobs outlook is even bleaker. Official statistics put unemployment averaging 3 per cent; last year it climbed to 3.6 per cent, with 3.5 per cent in 2015. Most credible economists, even the market type,  know Malaysia’s official numbers are as rubbery as North Korea’s or China’s.

There’s no data for job participation rate in Malaysia. Yet it makes a better unemployment indicator, regardless or perhaps especially given the Najib regime’s propensity to embellish everything, including statistics. There’s sufficient anecdotal evidence to suggest joblessness is far higher among Malays and Indians, the groups increasingly engaged in crime. There’s also extensive under-employment among Malays, Chinese and Indians. And Malaysians are struggling on a single income, where the ‘minimum’ monthly wage of MYR900 ($US200) is scarcely enforced.

Exacerbating Malaysians’ worries is inflation. At 3.2 per cent, it spiked after the introduction of a consumption tax. In Kuala Lumpur alone, credible estimates put inflation at least twice the “official” number. At 6 per cent GST, Malaysia was never ready for it, in the structural sense. Add the measly value of the Malaysian ringgit, inflation hits close to double-digits, in real terms, according to some investment banks’ research. Meanwhile, Najib will maintain taxpayer-funded personal income subsidies, mostly for the Malays, and he’ll boost ‘free money’ ahead of next year’s polls.

If Bank Negara, the central bank, isn’t manipulating the low currency, then it’s a ‘market godsend’ for this heavily export-dependent, natural resource-based economy. Yet after two years of the collapsing ringgit, Malaysia’s competitiveness hasn’t improved. Its budget deficit and national debt are ballooning. Najib is banking on a commodities boom as the manufacturing base is routed by global forces. Take the long-failed local auto industry: Proton is effectively sold off to cheap China money. Selling the farm is the last resort of a scoundrel. But don’t expect Najib to sell the family jewels.

Blockbusting official corruption remains front and centre in Malaysian minds. Najib’s sudden great wealth humiliates Malays and irks the others. Nobody believe a rich Saudi or the Saudi state had “donated” $US1.4 billion to Najib; almost everyone, including the Malays, believe it was siphoned from bankrupt state firm 1MDB – brainchild of its chairman, Najib. And those proceeds miraculously wound up in Najib’s personal bank accounts.

The 2018 polls should humiliate Najib but it won’t defeat him or the ruling UMNO party. Many Malays feel especially aggrieved at how easily the ruling class has enriched itself while Malay villagers eke out a meagre living from plots of land Najib has ‘given’ them. No similar generosity has been extended to non-Malays. Some Malays agree this is unfair; most, however, subscribe to Machiavellian politics. But it’s Malaysia’s banal inter-racial harmony that’ll suffer the more as a consequence.

The Jong-nam case is serious — on legal paper. His killing hasn’t caused Beijing’s eunuchs a twitch. But Najib is using the assassination to his own political ends. It’s what dastardly regimes or political leaders in trouble or on the people’s noses would do — exploit an awful criminal matter to cement their illegitimate and immoral positions.