1MDB Buck passes on to Malaysian Taxpayers


May 5, 2016

MALAYSIA: Irresponsible Prime Minister Najib Razak passes 1MDB Buck to Malaysian Taxpayers

by Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

1MDB is not a wealth fund as it is touted to be. Except for the one million Ringgit contributed by the Government, the rest of the RM 42,000,000,000 (forty-two thousand million) is borrowed money. Borrowed money cannot be regarded or classified a wealth. It is a liability which imposes on 1MDB or in case of its failure the Government to repay the interest and the principal. The sum is so huge that if the Government cannot pay them it could be bankrupted. This has happened to Greece.

The possibility of this happening imposes a heavy responsibility on the management of 1MDB and oversight by the Government. And very quickly it became clear that the executives and Board of 1MDB did not take their responsibilities seriously.

Shahrol, the CEO of 1MDB, borrowed five billion Ringgit from the banks without the knowledge and approval of the Board of Directors. The borrowings were at high interest rates. In one case Goldman Sachs was paid a 10% commission for raising a loan with a 5.9% interest. This means that 1MDB gets only 90% of the loan but has to pay interest on 100%. It is the same with the principal.

The Former CEO of 1MDB– The Probable Scapegoat

The money was apparently used to buy power plants at well over the market price. The licences for some of the plants were due to expire. If the purchases were delayed until the expiration of the licences the prices would be for less than market price. But the management seemed not to care about getting the best prices. As a result when the plants were sold to the Chinese, 1MDB suffered a loss of more than one billion Ringgit. This is the 1MDB style of doing business.

There are two other cases where the CEO Shahrol had acted without the approval of the Directors of 1MDB. He entered into a joint venture (JV) with Petro Saudi before a proper and intensive due diligence was carried out. Then he invested USD 1 billion in the JV also without approval of the Board.

The investment was so big that it demands for thorough and extensive due diligence before it could request for approval by the Board of Directors. The CEO really has no authority to invest such a huge amount. But this was what he did.

It is unthinkable that on three occasions the CEO, Shahrol, would act without following the rules of the company. In the memorandum of the company Section 117 states that all the affairs of the company must be approved by the Advisor of 1MDB, i.e. by Dato’ Seri Najib, the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance.

While Shahrol may be brave enough to act without the Board’s approval, it is unthinkable that he would act without Najib’s approval. The responsibility for the three actions by Shahrol must have been made after, or on the instruction of Najib, the company’s Advisor. If not he would have been scolded and probably sacked by Najib.

Then 1MDB was unable to pay interest of two billion Ringgit on the loans. It had to borrow in order to pay. The borrowings have thus increased to RM 50 billion due probably to subsequent borrowings. This increase in the amount of borrowings is recorded in the PAC report.

Then it was reported that Najib had 681 million USD, equal to 2.6 billion Malaysian Ringgit in his personal and secret account in Ambank. No Prime Minister of Malaysia should have so much money in his own account. He should reject any such gift. If it is not a crime, it is morally wrong.

At first Dato’ Seri Najib denied the truth of the report. He said he could not be so stupid as to put the money in his account. His stooges all echoed his words.Then he admitted that he did have the 2.6 billion Ringgit in his account but it was a gift. Then he explained that it was a donation from an Arab for his actions against I.S. and his interest in Islam.Then the Arab became a prince and subsequently the late King of Saudi Arabia. What is next, only God knows.

None of his explanation can be believed. No one would give this huge amount to anyone even if he had done something for Islam or for any other cause. The belief is that the money came from 1MDB, the only source of such sums accessible to Najib. He denies, of course, but he has no documentary evidence to prove the money is not from 1MDB.

Then IPIC which was appointed as guarantor for the loans for 1MDB made a statement to the authorities in London that a sum of 1.7 billion USD which was due to it had not been paid by 1MDB. It therefore refused to pay the USD50 million interests due on the loan taken by 1MDB.

The Penang Born Crook Extraordinaire

1MDB said it had paid the money to a subsidiary of IPIC named Aabar PJS Ltd (British Virgin Islands)..IPIC says that Aabar PJS(BVI) is not an IPIC company although it has a company by almost the same name i.e. Aabar PJS Ltd. This company had received no payment from 1MDB. IPIC implied that the company the 1MDB paid to was a false company.

Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who is investigating 1MDB money laundering activities

There was a suggestion of fraud and Arul the CEO of 1MDB admitted that it may have paid to the wrong company. But 1MDB insist that IPIC should pay the USD50 million interests as it was the guarantor of the loan. 1MDB would not pay.

A guarantor could be obliged to pay if 1MDB was really incapable of paying. But a guarantor is not obliged to pay simply because 1MDB refused to pay. Besides IPIC as guarantor had not been paid the USD1.7 billion which was due.

As both 1MDB and IPIC would not pay the interest on the loans, there would be a default. This will cross default other loans taken by 1MDB. Since 1MDB is a fully-owned Government company the defaults will affect the Government’s credit-worthiness. The Government may not be able to borrow any more in the market.

The Government will have financial deficits which may lead to bankruptcy if the loans are not serviced and the principal paid.In the meantime the 2.6 billion Ringgit in Najib’s account were said to be moved into Singapore banks. Singapore was said to have frozen accounts of several people pending investigations for money laundering. Though no mention was made that the frozen accounts belong to Najib, as a financial center Singapore cannot be seen to cover up an obvious case of money laundering.

Bank Negara had made a report to the Attorney General presumably on Najib’s money in Ambank. But the Attorney-General (AG). dismissed the report, claiming that there was no wrongdoing by the Prime Minister. Similarly the report by MACC was also dismissed by the AG. The contents of those reports were made official secrets to prevent public scrutiny. But the OSA is not meant to cover up possible crimes.

RM42 Billion is no Peanuts

1Malaysia Development Bhd. Nears a Sorry End


May 5, 2016

With International Relations Student at University of Cambodia Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations, Ven. Thy Theoun who is interested in Buddhist Economics and Ethics

COMMENT: The easy part of the whole saga is to dismantle  1MDB and then the Malaysian Treasury, basically the Malaysian taxpayers, will  absorb the losses. We are  now told that 1MDB directors have resigned and the Chairman of the Advisory Board who is also the Prime Minister cum Minister of Finance is absolved of any wrongdoing, despite irrefutable evidence that he admitted he had received money in the form of “donation” from a generous Arab into his personal bank account at Arab-Malaysian Bank.

This whole affair makes a mockery of transparency and accountability of directors and management. It is a disgrace that we haven’t done anything about coming to grip with our failure to hold our corporate leaders and their political leader to account. Recall that the Prime Minister of Iceland had to quit over the Panama Papers revelation and the President of Brazil is running the risk of being impeached for budgetary violations. What signal is the Najib administration sending to the banks and capital markets around the world? How long do  we in Malaysia want to perpetuate this culture of impunity.–Din Merican

­

1Malaysia Development Bhd. Nears a Sorry End – Asia Sentinel | Asia Sentinel

by John Bethelsen

Wan Saiful Wan Jan, Head of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, a think-tank in Kuala Lumpur, said: “The most powerful person in the country was chair of the advisory board. This is someone whose advice must be obeyed. It’s a serious conflict in terms of corporate governance — who is in charge, the Board of Directors or the Prime Minister?” 

The Malaysian government has begun to officially dismantle 1Malaysia Development Bhd., the Ministry of Finance-backed development fund that was brought into being by Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2008 and which has morphed into what arguably is the biggest scandal in Malaysian history.

The implications for investors are unclear. What assets are not sold off are expected to be moved into the Ministry of Finance, with the Board of Advisers – headed by Najib – and the Board of Directors being dissolved. A well-connected businessman told Asia Sentinel last week that the government – and thus the taxpayers – will probably end up having to eat the losses.

However, the eight-year history of the fund is an astonishing tale of greed and chicanery, with billions of dollars apparently having been stolen or otherwise unaccounted for, diverted into accounts in the Cayman and British Virgin Islands. Investigators believe that as much as US$1 billion was routed into Najib’s own accounts in March of 2013 before being diverted out again in October of that year, to disappear into cyberspace.

The scandal has played a major part in fomenting distrust in the United Malays National Organization, the leading party in the national ruling coalition, with Najib firing his own Vice President and Deputy Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, as well as Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail, in an effort to contain the scandal. Other government officials have been sidelined or neutralized.

It has driven former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (above) to seek a deal with opposition figures including Lim Kit Siang, the head of the Democratic Action Party, whom he jailed in 1986, and others, in the vain attempt to bring down Najib. So far, propped up as head of UMNO and thus as Prime Minister by the votes of 196 district chiefs who are said to have been bought off with rent-seeking jobs and contracts as well as outright bribes, Najib has remained invulnerable, also by threatening opponents with jail, closing influential newspapers temporarily and short stopping a reported investigation by the Malaysian Anti-Crime Commission that was on the edge of recommending his indictment. A similar request from Bank Negara, the central bank, for an investigation into the movement of funds was simply ignored.

The scandal has also ensnared Goldman Sachs’ former Southeast Asia head, Tim Leissner, who engineered a huge US$3 billion sale of 1MDB bonds that earned Goldman an estimated US$500 million. Leissner left the firm and moved to Los Angeles, where he has reportedly been meeting with FBI officials.

The fund is believed to be RM42 billion (US$11.6 million) in debt against an unknown amount of assets, and with the government in a protracted squabble with an Abu Dhabi entity, the International Petroleum Investment Corp. (IPIC) over as much as US$3.5 billion of funds that 1MDB officials thought they were transferring to an IPIC subsidiary, Aabar Investments PJS.

The money instead went into a BVI-registered company called Aabar BVI and has since disappeared. IPIC officials refused to make a payment of US$50 million to bondholders when it discovered that the money had been diverted, stirring fears of a cross-default that could imperil the country’s financial system.

Rafizi Ramli, the Secretary -General of the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat, in March reportedly displayed figures indicating that transfers from Tabung Haji, the fund that invests savings for Muslims to make the Haj to Mecca, were depleted to the point that the fund was endangered. Rafizi was charged with sedition and briefly jailed. Several other opposition figures including Tony Pua, spokesman for the DAP, have been threatened with sedition charges for questioning the 1MDB operations.

Officials of 1MDB and others associated with the sovereign investment company, with interests in power and property, are being pursued by investigators in five countries, most prominently the United States, whose US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, has sent FBI investigators to Malaysia to seek clues to allegations of money laundering on the part of the Najib family for the purchase of expensive real estate in New York and California and for the funding of the blockbuster movie Wolf of Wall Street.

Other law enforcement agencies include the Attorney General of Switzerland, which has accused unnamed individuals of laundering as much as US$4 billion from 1MDB through Swiss bank outlets in Singapore. Singapore is said to have frozen the bank accounts of several individuals as well. Most recently, officials in Luxembourg opened an investigation into 1MDB’s affairs.

The fund got its start in 2008 when Jho Taek Low, then a 27-year-old Penang-born financier and friend of the Najib family, persuaded Najib to take over a budding investment fund that he had proposed to the Sultan of Terengganu, who backed away from it. The fund embarked on a torrid acquisition process, buying vastly overpriced independent power producers from companies and individuals closely connected with the UMNO ruling clique including the Genting gaming and plantation conglomerate and Ananda Khrishnan, one of the country’s richest men. With 1MDB facing huge debts from the purchases, the government pushed through no-bid contracts to hand 1MDB’s power units lucrative deals at the expense of competitive bidding.

It was given the gift of the obsolete Sungei Besi air force base, close to downtown Kuala Lumpur, which it sought to turn into a high-priced financial center called the Tun Razak Exchange, named for Najib’s father

But hundreds of millions of dollars allegedly were diverted into Jho Low’s personal accounts. As Asia Sentinel reported in 2014, Jho Low – a private individual – attempted to use 1MDB guarantees in a vain attempt to buy three of London’s finest hotels, the Connaught, the Berkeley and Claridge’s. He acquired a 300-foot yacht and a flock of enormously expensive paintings that he has since begun to sell off.

Reuters reported in April that RM18 billion of 1MDB’s debt linked to its power assets would go under Edra Energy, which is due to be sold off in nine months’ times. It is also expected to sell off two high-profile property projects, the Tun Razak Exchange and Bandar Malaysia, after splitting them into separate entities. Critics have charged that the land under the stalled projects has repeatedly been revalued upward to unrealistic levels in an attempt to cover the indebtedness.  Once the assets are sold off, 1MDB is expected to be dissolved completely.

A case of Harapkan Pagar Pagar Makan Padi (Dr. Mahathir– Wawasan 2020 and Najib Razak–Sapu Malaysia)


May 4, 2016

A case of Harapkan Pagar Pagar Makan Padi (Dr. Mahathir– Wawasan 2020 and Najib Razak–Sapu Malaysia)

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

The epigram, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (“the more it changes, the more it’s the same thing”) by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr in the January 1849 issue of his journal Les Guêpes (“The Wasps”) best describes what has been happening to this country in the realm of political economy.

Thus the pervasive pessimism and sense of inevitability as the unsavoury details of the donation uncovered in the Prime Minister’s personal account and 1MDB scandals have unfolded. What’s discernible is the same pattern of “pagar makan padi”, malfeasance, abdication of responsibility, incompetence, and attempts at cover up and whitewashing at the highest level. And predictably too, the chorus by Barisan’s cheerleaders and supporters, and exhortations by implicated leaders and the authorities urging the public and nation to “move on” from “self inflicted wounds”.

But what’s the cost of moving on from our alleged national masochism?This is not the first blow to our national treasury, leading to a hard hit at the wallet and well being of every Malaysian. The list of similar fiascos goes a long way back. More than 30 years, and even further back.

It includes the Bank Bumiputra bailout in the 80s, the Maminco debacle, Perwaja Steel wipeout, Bank Islam rescue, the Scorpene submarine scandal to name some of the spectacular cases in what is a massive and growing iceberg of fraud, embezzlement, cheating and chicanery orchestrated or sanctioned by those at the top with approval authority over the hundreds of thousands of government projects, big and small, carried out especially during the past three decades – and with just the tip of the iceberg uncovered and visible.

Various scholars have attempted to quantify the financial losses the country has squandered. During the 22 year+ rule of Dr Mahathir, Barry Wain, author of the book ‘Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times’ estimated that the direct financial losses amounted to about RM50 billion. This doubled if the invisible costs, such as unrecorded write-offs, were taken into account. The RM100 billion total loss was equivalent to US$40 billion at the then prevailing exchange rates.

No authoritative estimate has yet been made of losses on similar bloated, questionable or mismanaged projects undertaken after Dr. Mahathir left office. But the list of scandal-ridden mega projects and often related bailouts of government-linked companies since then has been equally, if not more, impressive; and depressing. They include the National Palace project, Port Klang Free Trade Zone project, and the smaller cost but oversized on infamy, ‘Cowgate’ project.

Between 2001 and 2015, Federal Government development expenditure totalled about RM 610 billion. If we assume that there is a hidden charge of 20% for commissions, kickbacks, overpayments and other forms of leakages and corrupt financial practices incurred in this category of expenditure alone, the country was poorer by RM120 billion.

Even a conservative estimate of 10 percent of the development budget lost to corruption, rent seeking and other forms of financial abuse means that the country has incurred a loss of RM 60 billion.

Should We Move On?

So what lessons can we take from this failure of our political leaders and authorities to curb the rot in the nation’s finances which is systemic and endemic.Apart from the huge financial losses, there are social costs that are non-quantifiable but more grievious in the impact on our national culture and consciousness.

One is that bad behavior is rewarded; and “clean, efficient and trustworthy” are simply empty slogans meant to distract and deceive.Two is that crime – especially white collar and also, the occasional murder – pays; and at the highest levels pays really well.

Three is that cash is especially king for those who, although they themselves may not be engaged in wrong doing, are perfectly happy with abetting or defending the wrong doers. American author Upton Sinclair wrote: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

We see it all the time in Malaysia with money and positions being the key determinants of the cognitive ability of the battery of financial experts, lawyers, media propagandists and other support cast of Barisan misgovernance; which has led them to ignore facts and truths inconvenient to their cause, or their client’s cause.

Four is that our belief and trust in justice being done at the end of the day in relation to financial or political scandals may prove to be idealistic or wildly over-optimistic.

This is especially the case when vested political interests have undermined, if not destroyed, what should be an autonomous, influence-free and non-partisan judiciary as well as other key governance agencies, including enforcement ones.

As the culture of impunity takes deep roots among those who control the levers of power, we find that the rakyat‘s trust in their politicians and officials has been eroding at a rapid pace. This is confirmed by the finding of the Edelman Trust Barometer 2016 which found that trust in the government fell seven points to 39% among the general population and 11 points to 34% among the informed public, compared to last year.

There are some things that are right as well as done well in the country which give us confidence and pride that we are moving on.But we cannot and should not move on from the current wrongs and controversies until the root causes are identified and eliminated.

MALAYSIA: ‘Same Old’in Sarawak Election Campaign (Part 1 of 5)


May 4,2016

MALAYSIA: ‘Same Old’in Sarawak Election Campaign (Part 1 of 5)

by Dr. Bridget Welsh

Bridget_welsh_PUBLICFORUM_190414_TMIAFIF_002

Billed as one of the most important elections in the Malaysian state’s history, Sarawak heads to the polls on 7 May. But the campaign has sent confusing messages and failed to inspire voters, reports Bridget Welsh.

As the lackluster 11th Sarawak 2016 election campaign comes to a close on Friday, consistency rather than change has predominated.Most Sarawakians on both sides of the political divide had made up their minds on how they will vote before the campaign began. So far, the campaign has done little to change their orientations, and even less to inspire Sarawakians to vote at all. Political parties have mainly relied on old strategies, offering little new in their engagement with the electorate.

Strongman versus pressure politics

The main substantive campaign issue is autonomy, the mantra of ‘Sarawak for Sarawakians’. The prominence of this call is different than earlier campaigns but not new to Malaysian electoral politics as Sabahans will understand.

 Concerns about autonomy in East Malaysia have been long-standing and extend for decades to when the two Borneo states joined the Federation. Not surprising, all of the parties in the Sarawak polls are calling for greater control of decision-making at the state level in areas involving language, immigration, education, religion and resources (oil royalty). Where they differ slightly is in their priority in areas of governance, with those aligned with the BN tapping into immigration and those in the opposition pushing harder on issues of religion and resources.

The parties also differ in how they will implement autonomy. Current Chief Minister Adenan Satem has personified autonomy around himself, portraying the image that voting for him will assure the protection of state rights. He follows this pattern set by his brother-in-law, current Governor and former Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud.

Adenan has projected the view that his working relationship with the federal government will assure protection, and that he is ‘his own man’. This argument runs that a strong mandate for Adenan will strengthen his hand with the federal government. The choice by ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) to focus on autonomy aims to neutralise traditional opposition demands for fairer representation for citizens in the state. It echoes electoral strategies adopted in the recent past, where the new incumbent co-opts ‘reform’ to win support.

The opposition on its part has repeated its call for checks and balances, arguing that a strong opposition is necessary to assure that the substantive issues related to autonomy are implemented. They are calling for pressure politics. Given that these issues have been traditional ones for the opposition, and they have been their strongest advocates by putting them into the public arena and introducing measures in the legislature, they are hoping that the electorate does not forget their commitment — even as these issues have been effectively co-opted by the incumbent government.

At stake for Sarawakians are two different visions of state representation, one based on repeating the independent strongman politics of Taib that Adenan is portraying versus the long-standing call for alternative voices in government.

Shadow of Pak Lah

Closely connected to calls for greater representation is the personification of political power in Sarawak. This is also not new. Personal politics and personality have been at the core of East Malaysian politics. They help us understand the fragmentation of the candidate slates and account for the long tenures of many of the incumbents. The campaign around Adenan and the use of his coattails for his team is not new. We saw this in the 2004 General Election, where former premier Abdullah Badawi, or Pak Lah, was showcased as ‘his own man’ and different than his predecessor.

Like Adenan, Abdullah was chosen by a predecessor who had become a political target for criticism. Although in Adenan’s case, he is part of the Taib family and has consistently been a part of the previous leadership, never challenging Taib or openly criticising his policies during his tenure. This is opposed to Abdullah, who was relegated to the political wilderness for a few years as ‘Team B’ and more openly campaigned against his predecessor to win support. Adenan has used the time since he was appointed in 2014 to try to distinguish rather than distance himself, featuring similar “nice guy,” “reformer” and “clean” traits that were part of comparable electoral efforts in Malaysia’s past. As with Pak Lah, the Adenan campaign has promised a new leadership.

Sarawakians are facing the difficult decision of whether Adenan can be trusted. Faith in Malaysian politicians is low, and the national politics of taking politicians down has become engrained in the fabric. Sarawakians are more trustworthy than their counterparts on the peninsula. They are also following the national trend and becoming more cynical.

Many Sarawakians recognise that the multitude of promises Adenan is making echoes unrealistic goals of the past. Adenan is building up expectations, with the repeated potential for disappointment.  Voters question whether he will have the power and political will to implement the promises after the election, especially given that Adenan will be a lame duck after he has won office as he has stated that he only wants one term.

Undermining leadership

Questions about Adenan’s leadership are understandable, given the prominence of his persona in the campaign. Two areas are prominent.

The first involves the perceived abuse of political power for electoral gains by Adenan, namely the use of Sarawak’s immigration authority to prevent opposition politicians and activists from entering the state. Scores of people have been denied entry, to prevent the opposition crowds from building and weakening the opposition machinery. On their part, peninsula-based BN politicians and government department and activists have been given access.

Deemed ‘extremists’ and ‘troublemakers’ many of those denied entry have used Skype to engage voters, but the dampening impact on ceramah crowds has been evident. This is in spite of more Sarawakians following the campaign online. This ‘strongman’ denial of entry and subsequent calls for politicians to write letters as pleas for entry as occurred for the female leader of the opposition, Anwar’s wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, feed the portrayal of a man in control. They simultaneously reveal a politician with weakness, as these measures suggest fear, and have raised questions about fairness in Adenan’s leadership. The denials of entries have backfired among many voters, who no longer see the chief minister as ‘Mr Nice Guy’.

Another factor undermining Adenan is Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak. The relationship between the two men is challenging to navigate as they are mutually dependent, as Adenan needs funds from the federal government to support his campaign. Najib on his part needs a decisive victory in the Sarawak polls to sustain his power, given the seriousness of the corruption, embezzlement, and abuse of power allegations being made in multiple investigations in the 1MDB scandal.

Striking a balance where Adenan is in charge, but Najib gains credit is difficult. In the 2011 polls, the relationship between Taib and the Najib campaign was problematic, as the latter tried to control the campaign. A similar pattern has occurred in 2016, with Najib’s pictures of ‘Saya Sayang Sarawak’ and with Adenam himself featured all over rural areas, and coverage of his promises overshadowing Adenan’s.  It is not clear whether this is a Najib or Adenan campaign. Clearly, it is both.  Rural folk often highlight the similarity in the appearance of both men.  Najib’s significant presence is a liability for Adenan, as the premier is deeply unpopular and he undercuts the chief minister’s claim of independence. It appears as if Najib has hijacked Adenan’s thunder to serve himself.

Disconnecting messages

Amidst the personas, voters are navigating the messages of the various campaigns. The campaign messages showcase disconnection between their slogans and delivery. The Sarawak United Peoples Party’s (SUPP) slogan ‘United We Can’ is perhaps the most ironic, as the party remains dangerously divided. The splits in the party have the potential to lead to further downfalls of its leaders, as SUPP has yet to meaningfully justify why Sarawakians should vote for their party. They are effectively no longer their own players, as has occurred to other non-Malay parties in the BN.

The opposition parties are also delivering disengaging messages. The Democratic Action Party’s (DAP) ‘4Real Change’ raises questions about delivery, especially since they are not working with other parties in their campaign. One feature of the 2016 campaign is that for the opposition it is a step back to the past of 2001, even 1999 when parties worked against each other rather than together. While in urban areas there is little open vitriol against each other (with the BN the main target), the fact that they are competing with each other undercuts messages of ‘change’.

Voters are not clear what is meant by ‘real change’ as this theme has been so overused that is has lost meaning. Indeed, the fact that even the BN is using the word, in its call to remove the DAP from Kuching (notably the Kota Sentosa seat where DAP Chairman Chong Chieng Jen is contesting), shows how unclear the word has become. On its part, the People’s Justice Party’s (PKR) focus has been on autonomy, but the word ‘trust’ has featured in much of its campaign posters, with questions arising from its use given the distrust in the opposition evident in the split among the various parties. The opposition’s lack of collaboration in the campaign has undermined their momentum and undercut their connection with voters, especially younger and swing voters. They have damaged themselves.

Playing cards and scandals

As the campaign draws to a close, political parties are fighting hard. To date, what distinguishes Sarawak’s campaign has been the lack of prominence of the racial card. Religion, however, has been mobilised by the BN, which has used funds to woo Christians, estimated to comprise 40 per cent of the electorate.

The use of religion has been contradicted by broad trends to undercut freedom of religion in Sarawak and the slating of candidates by the BN that have conservative views that are not in line with more tolerant calls of moderation. Whether the BN can win back Christian support lies with the priorities of the churches themselves, whether they buy into the wooing effort, how they perceive Adenan’s sincerity and the choice of moral example they will set.

The opposition is relying on the 1MDB scandal to swing the electorate. This issue is difficult for many Sarawakians to connect to, especially in rural areas. Many do not believe it at all and do not see how the issue affects them directly. Others are outraged, and this undercurrent is strong among those who hold political leaders to standards. These issues about rights and scandals have become even more serious for Malaysia’s future, but it is not clear whether national concerns will displace local interests.

Sarawakians, like many Malaysians, are tired. The campaign has not yet inspired, and as such voter engagement has been markedly lower. There is a palpable lack of enthusiasm for either side, with a focus on livelihoods and ordinary routines. This is in part because the 2016 campaign has been in fact quite routine itself, offering little new and relying on the old strategies and tactics. The question ahead will be whether the same old campaign approaches will yield the same old results.

Bridget Welsh is Professor of Political Science at Ipek University, Senior Research Associate at the Center for East Asian Democratic Studies of National Taiwan University, Senior Associate Fellow of The Habibie Center, and University Fellow of Charles Darwin University.

http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2016/05/03/same-old-in-sarawak-campaign/

This article is part of a five-part series on the Sarawak 2016 state election. The next article will focus on voting trends and constituencies. Bridget Welsh thanks Sarawakians for sharing their views and kind hospitality.

Zeti gets glowing tribute from Barrons’Pesek


May 3, 2016

Zeti gets glowing tribute from Barrons’Pesek

 by FMT Reporters
 www.freemalaysiatoday.com

It says smart, strong and charming Zeti Akhtar Aziz was “the glue that held Malaysia’s economy together amid failed reforms”.

None of these Task Force Professionals could stand up the Force behind Najib

Former Bank Negara Governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz has received a glowing tribute from American financial magazine barrons.com, in which she was called “the glue that held Malaysia’s economy together amid failed reforms and scandals”.

The magazine’s executive editor, William Pesek, wrote: “Globally respected Zeti was a vocal thorn in the Prime Minister’s (Najib Razak) side, calling for investigations into a state-owned fund he oversaw.” This was in reference to Najib’s link to 1MDB, as well as the billions in donations found in the premier’s personal accounts.

“Najib didn’t fire Zeti; he waited out the end of her term (last Friday). It comforted many that Najib didn’t replace her with a crony or a cousin, but with one of her deputy governors.Still, Najib dragged the decision out until the very last moment – two days before Zeti left the building. But let’s pause for a different snapshot: how Malaysia just lost its most globally respected public official and the implications of her departure,” the article said.

Pesek, a self-professed “unabashed Zeti fan”, said the “smart, strong and charming” Zeti was the reassuring face of “an economy with a knack for bizarre international headlines”. He listed instances where Zeti was apparently there to “calm nerves”, held things together and pushed back when the administration tried to “pull the wool over (the eyes of) 30 million people”.

“It was nothing short of breathtaking to watch her make uncharacteristically blunt statements about funding irregularities Najib tried to sell as a foreign conspiracy to destablise Malaysia.When Zeti said the scandal (1MDB) was denting confidence, she was fighting for Malaysians, not the ruling party – a rarity in Kuala Lumpur.As many foreign central bank peers and investors told me over the years, it made the outside world feel better to know Zeti was at the top of the power pyramid,” Pesek wrote.

He raised the question whether Zeti’s replacement, the “Harvard-educated Muhammad Ibrahim”, would follow in her reformist footsteps.

“Perhaps he too will have the mettle to speak truth to powers, both internationally and domestically. All we can do is hope.”

Pesek then called Malaysia’s affirmative action policies benefiting the majority Malay population as “apartheid economy which kills innovation and productivity, and drives many of Malaysia’s best and brightest to Singapore and Hong Kong”.

“It turns off foreign executives, investing in Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam instead.”

Zeti was also commended for taking a technocratic, rather than a blusterous approach, when the ringgit was falling and she was thrust to the limelight.

Pesek queried how anyone else but Zeti, especially someone beholden to Najib and his inner circle, would have fared in the last 10 months, as questions swirled around 1MDB.

Muhammad may be as “liberated and feisty” as Zeti during his stint, but there’s ample reason to worry as his every word, deed and gesture will be scrutinised for any signs of sympathy for Najib’s government, Pesek wrote.

Zeti’s departure isn’t a pretty picture for investors hoping for a more transparent and vibrant Malaysia, Pesek concluded.

 

Malay Stereotypes in Academia and Business


May 2, 2016

Malay Stereotypes in Academia and Business

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

Malay Academic Inferiority stated at this age

This burden of self-affirmation and stereotype threat can crop up well beyond our formative years and at the most unexpected venues. During the Alif Ba Ta Conference a few years ago, organized by the UMNO Club of New York and New Jersey at which I discussed self-affirmation and stereotype threat, a group of students confided to me their experiences in the special matriculation class preparing them for American universities. Midway through that class they were given a test. Those who excelled were sent abroad earlier.

Even though the class was filled predominantly with Malays, for the group selected to leave earlier, non-Malays were over represented. How do I explain that, the students inquired? I immediately sensed their burden of stereotype threat – Malay ineptitude in academics.

Matured with a wrong attitude towards Learning

So I asked them what they had done between their school examination in November the preceding year until they were enrolled in that special class the following July. To a person they all replied “Nothing!” Yes, nothing! Then I also asked them whether they had discussed with their successful and predominantly non-Malay classmates how they managed to do so well, specifically what were they doing from January till July when they started their matriculation classes together. The Malay students could not answer me.

Obviously they never thought to ask or were too embarrassed to discuss that sensitive topic with their non-Malay classmates, or their teachers. For their part, their matriculation teachers, unlike my Mr. Peter Norton at Malay College in the 1960s during my Sixth Form years there, merely accepted the fact as it was.

Whenever I meet Malaysians at elite American campuses I always try to discern through casual conversation what schools they attended (in particular their matriculation classes) in Malaysia and what made them choose America and pick that particular university. Invariably those students (even Malays) came from other than our national schools, reflecting the quality of such schools. Further and far more crucial, they had spent the six-or seven-month hiatus following their November SPM examination enrolled in private pre-university classes.

So when they were selected into the government’s special matrikulasi class, they were already six months ahead as compared to their Malay classmates who did “nothing.” That is a significant advantage in what would typically be a two-year course at most.

The Malay College IB Program

Malay College recently (July 2011) started its International Baccalaureate (IB) program after over a decade in planning. Again, the students were those who did well in their SPM the previous November. Apart from its radically different learning and teaching philosophy, IB is all English. Meanwhile those students had spent the previous 11 years in Malay medium. I suggested to those in charge that they should enroll the students earlier (as in January) so they could have six months of “pre-IB” where they could improve their English and other skills.

The response? No funds lah! I hope the first batch of students had done well. Should they fail or even just not excel, then expect those ugly stereotypes to be resurrected. The burden would fall not only on them but also on those following and on Malays generally. They will certainly not blame the teachers or the organizers of the program.

The government had already spent hundreds of millions of ringgit to set up the IB program, yet it could not secure extra funds to ensure that it would succeed.

An UMNO Crony

Meanwhile in the business sphere, when Bank Bumiputra collapsed in the 1990s, ugly stereotypes on Malay aptitude for and competence in commerce were again resurrected, and not just by non-Malays. That too was very ugly, and the public behaviors of the key players merely reinforced those stereotypes. Conveniently forgotten was that the bank failed not because it was run by Malays, but because of corruption, incompetence and political patronage, the very same afflictions that burdened GLCs in China (CITIC), India (Air India), and America (Freddie Mac).

From BMBB to 1MDB

Today a generation later, the same tragic story is being repeated with 1MDB, another GLC, this time at a much greater cost and with the nation’s highest leader involved. Again here the main players are Malays. Just in case the point is missed, they brought in a non-Malay to resolve the mess. Never mind that he was no more successful than his predecessor.

The 1MDB scandal again resurrected yet another stereotype, this time on the Chinese. One of the players, the few except of course for Najib who came out like bandits literally, was a Malaysian Chinese character close to Najib’s family.  Here we have the all-too-familiar story of a scheming Chinese taking advantage of a dumb Malay leader. Well, that dumb Malay leader part of the stereotype is true. At least Malaysians should be comforted by that fact. Imagine if we had a Malay leader who was smart as well as corrupt. The damage he would inflict could be horrendous! Count your blessings, Malaysians!

He did not do well academically

Linked to stereotype threat is the maintenance of the integrity of self-affirmation. When we see something that threatens our self-image, for example, Malays not doing well academically, we shift the focus elsewhere. Thus we say we do not care for “secular knowledge;” we are more into “spiritual” and “real” knowledge, the kind that would get us into Heaven. In that way we protect ourselves as non-Muslims would certainly not be competing with us in that field. If Muslim Chinese and Indians were to later beat us and excel in the same field, then we would have to spin yet another fanciful narrative.

When I see Malays focused on religion and the Hereafter and neglect their worldly obligations, I see that as nothing more than a manifestation of this threat to their self-affirmation rather than a genuine love for religious knowledge or concerns with personal salvation.

A similar phenomenon is seen in children. When kids run a playground race, those who are left behind would rationalize that they are not really “racing” or competing. Or, it’s only a “practice.” Likewise when I am sailing; I am always racing, that is, when I am overtaking the other sailboats. When I am being overtaken, well, I am out just for a leisurely afternoon cruise!

Both stereotypes and self-affirmation threats can be remedied. We do not have to be resigned to being their victims. To do that however, we first have to free up our minds from those cluttered and unproductive mental patterns. We have to create new or modify existing narratives to be more reflective of reality, one that would also be more useful and productive.

We can learn much from the insights of modern neuroscience on how to better understand and appreciate our current particular dilemmas.