Cut out middlemen and save billions – and the rakyat


June 19, 2018

Cut out middlemen and save billions – and the rakyat

by P Gunasegaram
QUESTION TIME |Coming in the wake of the decisive election victory for Pakatan Harapan, the Ramadan bazaar scandal in Jalan Masjid India, Kuala Lumpur is a clear indication of the kind of corrupt patronage middlemen deals that the coalition has to face and overcome as it moves forward.

 

Such deals where political clout is used to dish out projects to essentially middlemen who subsequently just palm it off to others for huge profits is one of the major forms of leakage the economy is currently facing.

Most of the projects may be small but the same process is repeated in large contracts too where the company that gets the project oftentimes does not have any expertise in the project area and simply gets in partners from elsewhere, earning a fat commission in the process for basically doing nothing but getting the project in.

If the government had long ago stopped such middlemen from profiteering at the expense of nation and rakyat, we would be in much better shape now. But instead, such deals worsened with outright kleptocracy, using 1MDB to first borrow funds and then steal from it. It is now incumbent upon Harapan to bring about such a change, nothing less.

The Ramadan bazaar is an excellent case study of middlemen pilferage and how politicians and authorities facilitated it. According to the exclusive report by Malaysiakini, a Bersatu party leader used political connections via a DAP MP who issued a “letter of support” for the Ramadan bazaar in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

‘Letter of support’

The Bukit Bintang Bersatu Youth chief, Mohd Noorhisyam Abd Karim, secured approval from Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) to organise the bazaar with this “letter of support” from DAP Bukit Bintang MP and DAP treasurer Fong Kui Lan. A letter from DBKL to Mohd Noorhisyam, which had gone viral on social media, showed that 80 lots were approved for nine days for RM6,238.

This included a payment of RM180 per lot (RM20 per day) for licensing, space and cleaning fees for the bazaar which stretched from the Mydin hypermarket in Pudu to Masjid India. In the Ramadan bazaar case, the government got a little over RM6,000, while the middleman allegedly could have pocketed RM400,000 from the sale of the 80 lots at RM5,000, each making an incredible 66 times his initial outlay.

This is classic UMNO-style patronage politics at its worst which worrisomely, has infected Harapan so early in its term of office. It has to get rid of this forthwith if it is to make plenty of savings from procurement contracts and get revenue for the government directly instead of much of it going to middlemen.

Fong, while admitting he issued the “letter of support”, told Malaysiakini that Mohd Noorhisyam promised him that no money would be collected. “He promised they would not collect money and they would not obstruct the shops. I gave him a support letter to help hawkers who could not get a license from DBKL,” said the five-term MP.

Fong also denied receiving a cut from Mohd Noorhisyam or his associates.

Meanwhile, DBKL hawker licensing and development department director Anwar Mohd Zain told Malaysiakini that City Hall was unaware that Mohd Noorhisyam was allegedly charging exorbitant fees for the bazaar lots.

Mohd Noorhisyam has since denied the allegations against him and told Malaysiakini that he had not taken any money from traders.

Still, there is vital explanation required. Why does DBKL have to issue lots through a third party? Why does Bukit Bintang MP Fong need to issue a “letter of support” to a middleman, when he could have done it directly to DBKL? What is the role of Mohd Noorhisyam in all these, especially when DBKL could have issued the lots directly to traders through a bidding cum draw?

Nefarious activities

If true, such an outlandish profit came from the poor stallholders who were trying to make some money during Ramadan but whose profits would have been massively scaled back by the RM5,000 they had to shell out for the nine-day period, equivalent to a massive RM555 a day.

That shows the nature of the greed of these unscrupulous people who during the holy month of Ramadan, fleece RM400,000 of their own kind who are poor and struggling to make ends meet. Where is their moral and religious conscience?

Think of things like these repeated many thousands of time all over Malaysia at local and district levels and the billions pilfered or lost. Think of all the hassle that people who are trying to make a living with small businesses suffer at the hands of enforcement agencies such as DBKL scattered throughout the country.

Think of all the bribes they have to pay and the harassment they get even if they are fully compliant with all council regulations and think of all the rules and regulations flouted by those who “pay” the authorities regularly.

Think of all the revenue that the government, state and local authorities can raise if they directly, properly, efficiently and cleanly allocate precious resources without resorting to politically-connected businesspersons and those willing to grease palms.

Harapan now controls seven out of 11 state governments in the peninsula while Sarawak and Sabah are already in the hands of parties now friendly to Harapan. Together they can draw up and implement measures throughout the country to ensure that everything is run in the interest of the rakyat and the government – and profiteering is no longer allowed at any level via middlemen.

Indeed, those who are involved in such nefarious activities must be brought to book and the weight of the law brought to bear upon them without discrimination from the largest to the smallest projects.

 

For those states still ruled by parties other than Harapan, the call should be made to follow the example of the other states in the award of all contracts and for all procurement. If they don’t, the warning should be issued that the police and the MACC will be on the lookout for any malpractices and will bring miscreants swiftly to the book.

Proper procedure

This does not mean sidelining bumiputera entrepreneurs and companies but ensuring that they really are that and not acting as middlemen for others and that they actually have the capacity to undertake projects and that they are actually needed to do the job.

Genuine bumiputera contractors who bid for the job could be given a small price advantage as part of the continuation of affirmative action programmes and other advantages, much like what some government agencies currently did for bona fide bumiputera contractors in the past.

This is not an abandonment of Malay rights or privileges provided for under the constitution but actually a reinforcement of that through a proper procedure which weeds out profiteering that only benefits middlemen at the expense of real bumiputera entrepreneurs as it was with this Ramadan bazaar incident.

Harapan has a responsibility to ensure that incidents such as this Ramadan bazaar spectacle never happens anywhere again and that all blood-sucking middlemen are removed forthwith from the scene. Doing so would not only save the country billions of ringgit but ensure that the rakyat benefits from the proper use and allocation of scarce government resources.

We did not vote in Harapan for another new crop of leeches coming up to suck the nation and the rakyat dry. Such notions must be suitably disabused by quick action over the Ramadan bazaar case to bring to account everyone involved – politician, middleman and the overseeing authority.

Otherwise, Harapan is going to lose credibility pretty fast.

 


P GUNASEGARAM says that being in government is more onerous than being in opposition. He hopes fervently that Harapan will rise to the occasion and not succumb to the habits of old. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Tainted Love in UMNO’s Polls


June 19, 2018

Tainted Love in UMNO’s Polls

by Dr. Bridget Welsh

GE-14 sent a clear call for the need for UMNO to change. This month, UMNO delegates are facing another reckoning. Ultimately, the party polls will decide whether the party moves out of Najib’s shadow and works toward becoming the much-needed constructive opposition Malaysia needs, to regain some of its dignity, or whether misplaced loyalties and deep-seated “old” practices will tattoo the taint of past government into the party’s future.–Bridget Welsh

 

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UMNO General Assembly 2018–No Longer a Laughing Matter

COMMENT | UMNO heads to its party elections at the end of the month. Nominations are in and a real contest is taking shape. This is a contest not just about the future of UMNO but for the future of Malaysia. Despite being decimated in the May 9 elections, UMNO continues to hold onto the support of at least a third of the Malay electorate and its actions in opposition will affect the country’s political direction.

While the steps to rebuilding UMNO’s credibility will require significant internal party reform and the adoption of new forms of political legitimacy and public engagement that are likely to take years to take root, the first test for UMNO will be its party polls.

At the core of this test is whether party stalwarts, tainted by close associations to the disgraceful leadership of Najib Razak, will put the love of the party above self-interest and, finally, long overdue, put the interests of the country before its discredited leaders.

‘Old’ versus ‘new’ politics

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Najib Loyalist Faction led by Zahid Hamidi

Few have confidence in UMNO to do the right thing. This is understandable as they watched the party pilfer the national coffers and pander to the turpitude of the Najib government. This said, the competitive contest for UMNO’s leadership shows that there is indeed some recognition of the party’s new reality in opposition, and some appreciation of the factors that have gotten UMNO into the crisis it now faces. Make no bones about it, this is a crisis for the very survival of the party itself.

There are, however, differences on what those factors are and, importantly, interests of those who actively engage in denial to maintain their power and influence in the party. Broadly, the contest is a battle between “old” and “new” politics, with the former engaged mostly in denial and the latter willing to embrace change, albeit at this juncture, of a conservative nature.

While there are many contenders, there are three main teams – the close Najib allies, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Annuar Musa and Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor; those around veteran leader Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah; and those around the last-minute entrant for the presidency, Khairy Jamaluddin.

In coming days, the composition of the different teams will likely be finalised as sides are chosen. Zahid has the heaviest burden to bear as Najib’s right-hand man and strongest stalwart and is using the issue of loyalty as part of his appeal to the voting leaders.

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Razaleigh distinguishes himself as one of the few MPs who criticised the 1MDB scandal early on and opposed the controversial Goods and Service Tax (GST). He also stands as a contemporary to Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad in an era where age and experience are more of an asset than in the past.

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Khairy was among the first to call for the acceptance of the GE14 results and publicly urge for party reforms after the UMNO’s defeat. He is capitalising on his youthfulness. His entrance into the presidential race, after opting initially for a vice-presidency, has however potentially made him a spoiler, with calls of ‘treachery’ circulating as a result of his earlier pledge to support Razaleigh’s candidacy.

There are four important issues that differentiate the political camps: 1) role of racial/religious chauvinism, 2) corruption and use of money politics, 3) the calibre of intellect, and 4) the defence of Najib’s tenure.

Those advocating for “old” UMNO politics push for exclusionary politics, justify graft and the use of these funds for personal power, are largely less adept in understanding policy issues and continue to stand by ‘their’ man, a.k.a Najib.

Those advocating for “new” politics have a more open outlook towards non-Malays and, importantly, see Malays as much more than their race and religion, recognise the excesses of the previous regime and the corrosive influence money has played on the party itself, are more capable of engaging on policy matters, and would like greater distance between Najib and the party’s future.

Zahid’s team personifies the “old” UMNO, with Razaleigh and Khairy both embodying more “new” UMNO although in different ways and, as will be developed below, appeal to different constituencies. Add to this mix, there are three important decisions the party will need to face.

The first is whether to ally with PAS, as the Islamist party would like to continue to control the direction of UMNO toward a more religiously conservative direction. This was what Najib put in motion and arguably resulted in UMNO’s loss of the East Coast states of Terengganu and Kelantan.

The second is what will happen when its former, current (and potential) future leaders will face criminal charges for scandals, from 1MDB to MARA. Those holding positions in the Najib government face a greater likelihood of investigation and possible charges and should shoulder more responsibility for allowing the malfeasance.

The third is the potential threat of illegality of the organisation due to the jeopardy that Najib placed on the party by delaying GE-14 to after April and failing to hold the party elections in a timely fashion before the 18-month period ran out. Know that the party polls are only one of many critical tests the party will face in coming months.

Whether “old” or “new” forces win, it will shape the outcomes of alliances, party identity and trials, with those adopting “old” politics more likely to take a more defensive and racialised posture toward its role in opposition politics. With the choices on different sides, delegates will have to decide how tainted they want the future leadership to be.

Institutions versus identity

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The 2018 party contests will be competitive, arguably among the most competitive since 1987 as effectively all the main positions are being contested. This contest has the potential to split UMNO, especially with Khairy’s late entrance into the race. Going into the contest, the incumbents and “old” politics hold the advantage in part due to division among those advocating a “new” UMNO, but the contests are too early to call as events are evolving.

There is a mix of factors shaping the outcome beyond the camp divisions that make this an interesting race to watch.

Money politics will no longer have the same influence as in the past, reducing the incumbent advantage. In fact, many on the ground understand that greed for money is the poison that has gotten the party to where it is, and in fact the same money already reportedly being circulated as “duit raya” is tainted by the misdeeds of the party’s top leadership. Razaleigh has already pledged not to use money, recognising its toxicity, while others, notably in the “old” team, has reportedly already started distributing funds.

Along with money, incumbents holding official positions are using their organisational advantage. From the use of the information chief position to control over the central office and paramilitary groups within the party, Zahid and team have the greater institutional upper hand. Khairy also will have this institutional advantage as the former Youth chief.

What makes this election different is that many of these organisations have been weakened during Najib’s tenure and are arguably weaker post GE-14. UMNO stalwarts no longer can rely on government agencies and departments to win office. This party election is likely to bring to the fore the erosion of support within the party machinery itself and expose how limited it is without the government behind it.

Quite a few leaders at the branch level are opting not to compete this time around, as there is more of an exodus from the party than before. Some of this is about the drying up of the money stream, but for others it is a sense that the party itself has lost its purpose and identity. It is important to acknowledge that many UMNO members, including many branches, voted for Pakatan Harapan in GE-14. If the old forces win, this exodus is likely to continue.

Another factor that has emerged are the calls for reforms within the party. These have been present, but ultimately the desire to stay in power (and reap the benefits of office) overpowered any calls for change. Changes that did happen regularly empowered those in office, as supposed ‘democratising’ drives were in fact used to strengthen the hold of the top leadership.

Now, many members are openly calling for reforms, a movement that underscores key differences as the party heads to elections. More reform-minded delegates are divided on who they would like to lead this effort.

Najib’s Legacy

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Najib’s 1Malaysia Legacy–1MDB, Shattered UMNO and a Tainted Malaysia

Najib very much overshadows these polls. He is seen to be backing his loyalists. Persisting to seemingly attest to no wrongdoing and dismissing the potential of any imprisonment, Najib continues to be active in political life as a leader behind the scenes.

A scenario is supposedly that Najib will assure his loyalists win to defend him, and if need be, stand ready to have him pardoned if ever (and given where UMNO is now, it is a big “if” in the short and medium term) the party returns to power. Najib anchors the tie to the “old” politics. For his allies, defending Najib is defending themselves.

Ironically, however, Najib has put in place an electoral system that offers the potential for change. In the electoral system he introduced, around 146,000 delegates will be able to vote. These delegates are not just the branch and division chiefs, but Youth, Puteri and Women’s wing delegates, along with additional delegates from larger branches.

There are more voices that can determine the outcome, thereby making the competitive contests interesting. While the system works as an electoral college, with votes from branches and divisions tied to the winner, it is a mistake to assume that there is unanimity at the branch level and that races will be determined before the contest begins.

At the same time, it is more difficult to control these individuals than in the past without the hold on power. It is, after all, Najib who spearheaded the party’s defeat. Internal divisions about Najib’s leadership are brewing among the ranks of the delegates, with resentments being directed against many of the stalwarts who seemed to benefit from Najib’s favour.

Many of the traditional warlords are seen within this group and do not hold the same dominance in this era of opposition uncertainty compared to before. There are no real “state blocks” that can be delivered, although alliances from the key states with larger divisions will be impactful, although here too is potentially less cohesively than in earlier elections.

In contrast, there are two groups that were sidelined that will be particularly important. The first is the youth. This election has the potential to be the biggest generational shift. Khairy is capitalising on this sentiment and driving this movement.

The second is the women, both the Wanita and Puteri members, who collectively make up almost a third of the voting delegates. On the frontline during GE-14, UMNO women witnessed the erosion of support for the party and had to directly face the interference of Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor in their organisations. In this election, a stronger slate is competing for leadership of these party organs and collectively, the female delegates will be decisive in the polls outcome.

As the polls approach, there are many who would like UMNO to wallow in their defeat. They would like the party to suffer for its misdeeds and mismanagement, and for its wounds to fester. The politics of division, confrontation and resentment run deep in Malaysian politics, with anger still simmering. Legitimate questions arise on who should be accountable for the party’s poor leadership and how far and in what ways its leaders should face responsibility for their actions.

GE-14 sent a clear call for the need for UMNO to change. This month, UMNO delegates are facing another reckoning. Ultimately, the party polls will decide whether the party moves out of Najib’s shadow and works toward becoming the much-needed constructive opposition Malaysia needs, to regain some of its dignity, or whether misplaced loyalties and deep-seated “old” practices will tattoo the taint of past government into the party’s future.


BRIDGET WELSH is an Associate Professor of Political Science at John Cabot University in Rome. She also continues to be a Senior Associate Research Fellow at National Taiwan University’s Center for East Asia Democratic Studies and The Habibie Center, as well as a University Fellow of Charles Darwin University. Her latest book (with co-author Greg Lopez) is entitled ‘Regime Resilience in Malaysia and Singapore’. She can be reached at bridgetwelsh1@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Stealing Money from the National Treasury is an Act of Treason


June 17, 2018

Stealing Money from the National Treasury is an Act of Treason–so, Najib Razak is a Traitor

by Mariam Mokhtar@www.asiasentinel.com

Image result for Najib is a CrookIt takes time, but Justice will come eventually to Najib Razak and Rosmah Mansor

 

 

93-year-old Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who heads Malaysia’s reform coalition Pakatan Harapan, has lost no time in knuckling down to work. A week after he assumed office in the wake of the political earthquake of the country’s May 9 general election, he terminated the contracts of 17,000 political appointees as a drain on public expenditure.

The move was hailed by a public taken aback  by the numbers of people involved, although some are concerned that the shock and awe of Mahathir’s move would generate the same kind of guerilla underground that cropped up when Paul Bremer, the American proconsul in Iraq, disbanded the army and civil service in 2003. That played a major role in the eventual creation of the Islamic State which has terrorized Syria and Iraq for the past several years.

Nonetheless, the sackings are looked upon by Malaysia’s 31 million people as just the start of the cleanup of decades of appalling corruption. Police seized 72 bags alone of loot from deposed Prime Minister Najib Razak’s residence in the days after the May 9 election, of which 35 contained RM114 million (US$28.6 million) in cash in 26 different currencies. Another 35 bags contained jewelry and watches, and 284 boxes were filled with designer handbags including Ellen Birkin bags by Hermes that can cost upwards of US$200,000. The former Premier is not likely to go hungry. He is believed to have hundreds of millions more stashed overseas. Famously, in 2013 US$681 million appeared in his personal account at Ambank in Kuala Lumpur and almost immediately was moved overseas.

The biggest mess, of course, is the state-backed development fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd., from which US$4.5 billion is said by the US Justice Department to have disappeared in corruption and mismanagement. Mahathir has said the scale of corruption is even greater and has demanded a full explanation. The Finance Ministry, now under Lim Guan Eng of the Democratic Action Party, says Malaysia’s total government debt and liabilities exceed RM1 trillion (US$250.7 billion).

The number of no-bid contracts awarded to crony companies and government-linked companies – now termed by many to be government-linked crookedry – is overwhelming.

Mahathir for instance cancelled a high-speed rail contract from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore that cost RM70 billion which, with other government commitments including operating expenses over 20 years ran the total to RM110  billion. “Estimates are that in a proper open tender, the project could have been done for a maximum of RM25 billion,” said a well-placed business source in Kuala Lumpur.

Equally questionable is a contract for Malaysia’s Eastern Corridor Rail Line, awarded to a Chinese company at RM67 billion. The payment was time-based, not on a completion basis. As such, 40 percent of the total payment has been made while only 7 percent of the work has been completed. The project cost is widely believed to have been a subterfuge for Chinese help in paying off 1MDB’s massive debt.

Next is the Sarawak and Sabah gas pipeline, again awarded on time-based payments with 87 percent of RM9 billion paid and only 13 percent of the work completed.

Contracts such as these are aplenty. The gadfly website Sarawak Report reported on June 10 that a car rental company headed by an official with a Barisan-aligned party in Sarawak received a RM1.25 billion no-bid contract to install solar energy facilities for 369 Sarawak schools. The three-year contract, allegedly steered by Najib himself, has been underway for 18 months. Not a single solar power unit has ever been installed.

But beyond that, dozens of government-linked companies have been found to be paying exorbitant salaries to their executives. Malaysia has the fifth highest number of GLCs in the world, for which Mahathir himself must share the blame, since many came into existence during the 22 years he headed the government from 1981 to 2003.

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Many are household names – the national car project Proton, now peddled to China’s car company Geely; the national energy company Petronas, the electrical utility Tenaga Nasional, the electric utility Telekom Malaysia, the Tabung Haji Pilgrimage Fund, the Federal Land Development Authority, Malaysian Airlines, The Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Malay People’s Trust Council), the Sime Darby plantation and property conglomerate.

Publicly traded GLCs currently comprise 36 percent the market capitalization of Bursa Malaysia and 54 percent of the benchmark Kuala Lumpur Composite Index according to a study by the think tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs. They employ 5 percent of the national workforce.  According to the study, government bailouts of GLCs have “resulted in a huge drain on the public purse.” They include RM1.5 billion for Proton in 2016 and RM 6 billion for Malaysia Airlines in 2014.

”One estimate suggests that around RM85.51 billion has been used to bail out GLCs over the past 36 years,” according to the report putting pressure on commercial interest rates as a result of recurring budget deficits that “may have been a separate factor operating to crowd out private investment, at the margin.”

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As an example of exorbitant salaries, the Transport Minister, Anthony Loke, told reporters that the executive chairman of the Aviation Commission (MAVCOM), retired Gen. Abdullah Ahmad, drew a monthly salary of RM85,000 (US$21,325). The figure is over four times the basic recorded salary of the Malaysian Prime Minister and is similar to the salary of millionaire CEOs of successful private enterprises.

Veteran journalist, R Nadeswaran, formerly of The Sun Daily, reported that his investigations into MAVCOM, an independent body established in 2015 to regulate economic and commercial matters relating to civil aviation, revealed that RM570,000 had been paid in directors’ fees, and a further RM770,000 on directors’ travel and accommodation.

More revelations have followed. One “former minister turned adviser” in Najib’s Prime Minister’s Office received a monthly wage of RM200,000 (US$50,177), which is about 10 times Najib’s official salary. Other “advisers” were paid from RM70,000 upwards per month in a country where per capita income on a PPP basis is RM26,900 annually.

Other ministries, together with the newly-revitalized Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), have been directed to investigate the various GLCs and political appointees  Apart from the allegations of huge bonuses and exorbitant salaries, it has also been alleged that officials of various GLCs collaborated with contractors to submit false claims for maintenance work. The MACC is investigating.

The almost daily revelations of cronyism and large-scale corruption have been described by one Malaysian as akin to “Chinese water torture,” when water is slowly dripped onto a person’s forehead and drives the restrained victim insane.

Loke’s disclosure also prompted the veteran MP, Lim Kit Siang, Mahathir’s onetime adversary turned ally, to demand transparency and public accountability in the wages of the heads of the GLCs. He proposed the implementation of a public website showing the perks, salaries and remuneration of all GLC heads and members.

Lim wanted to know how many of the heads of the GLCs are political appointees and how many of the UMNO/Barisan Nasional appointees have resigned since Najib lost power.

Malaysians responded swiftly to Loke’s report. One person multiplied Loke’s figure by the number of existing GLCs and was astounded by the money which taxpayers had to fork out for GLC directors’ fees. Who approved the salaries of the board members in this public regulatory body?

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A Foreign Friend In Cambodia asked me, “Din, is your recently pardoned felon running a parallel government?”  And I answered, “For Malaysia’s sake, I hope not.–Din Merican

Surprisingly, the revelations over the GLCs are in contrast to those by newly released and pardoned former Opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, the PM-in-waiting, who told a crowd in Perak that chief ministers should not rush to take action against GLCs, and to refrain from being vengeful.

“I have no problem with GLCs, if their performance is good and the Menteri Besar (Chief Minister) thinks it’s appropriate to continue, we accept (the continuance),” unless, he added, “that it was proven at the federal level,  there was wasteful overlapping and excessive payment of allowances to political figures.”

Malaysians demanding intense scrutiny of GLCs wonder what to make of the PM-designate’s remarks and actions.

Mariam Mokhtar is a Malaysia-based reporter and regular contributor to Asia Sentinel.

It is time we act as Malaysians


June 8, 2018

It is time we act as Malaysians

by Dharm Navaratnam

https://www.malaymail.com

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Malaysia’s National Flower–Symbol of Unity and Racial and Religious Harmony

It has been almost a month since the new Government of Pakatan Harapan has been in power and what a month it has been.

Almost immediately we have seen sweeping changes. For a start, meritocracy seems to have made a startling comeback. The initial cabinet of 10 has seen a multiracial makeup, where even such important portfolios of Finance and Communication and Multimedia, have been given based on merit and not on racial or religious makeup.

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We are Malaysians united for a better future

The position of Attorney General is also held by a non-Malay, the first time in more than 40 years. So while many have assumed that certain positions must be filled by a particular race, nothing in our Constitution alludes to that.

Corruption is being dealt with swiftly. Many prominent civil servants have been removed. The once toothless MACC seems to have found their teeth and are carrying out investigations on many prominent personalities including our former Prime Minister and his wife.

The level of  corruption is almost stupefying with new details of billions of ringgit squandered being announced with alarming frequency. It has been said before but bears repeating that what is indeed almost sickening is the fact that every hierarchy of the previous Barisan Nasional government did nothing to stop this corruption.

Were they all in cahoots or were they just too afraid of their own rice bowl? Was there really not even an iota of integrity in these politicians ?  How much money did members of our previous government siphon off?

There has been a massive shakeup in government institutions with the most recent being the resignation of the Governor of Bank Negara. Transfers or resignations include the Treasury Secretary General, the Chairman of Felda, the chairman of Tabung Haji, the Chief Commissioner of the MACC and the Chairman of the Higher Education fund. These resignations lend credence to the assumption that there was definitely corruption of some form or fashion.

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We reject this corrupt couple–Najib Razak and Rosmah Mansor

The former Prime Minister is crying political revenge which is really ironic when you consider the sacking of the then DPM, four ministers and also A-G Gani Patail when questions were raised about 1MDB back in July 2015.

To compound this further, some previous ministers are still trying to defend the previous regime’s  corruption. The fact that there are people still trying to justify and defend it is even more scary as they must brazenly think that we, the rakyat, are stupid.

You even have previous ministers accusing the current government of politics of hate when they were the ones who used to brandish a ‘keris’ and never took action when threats of another May 13th were made by UMNO extremist party members.

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Telecom Malaysia CEO and Astro CEO quit

The dominoes have started to fall in the corporate world as well where the CEO of Telekom Malaysia has resigned.  You have to wonder what is going through the minds of all the other CEOs of GLCs who made a video where they were singing the BN election slogan.

Freedom of the media has suddenly taken centre stage and I believe many newspapers and alternative media are having trouble coping with the amount of information that our  new Ministers are giving out.

There seems to be openness, honesty, transparency and accountability.  There also seems to be a willingness to accept criticism.  Something that was sorely missing before. I am sure that many reporters are having trouble digesting and filing reports with sufficient detail.

Such has been the level of reporting over the years that has been so controlled and so biased that many editors must surely be scratching their heads wondering how to report on certain issues.  The Government controlled media of TV1, TV2 and TV3 must also be going through a culture shock as those that were previously maligned or ignored are now part of the ruling party.

And the news is really happening fast and furious.  It’s almost a full time job following the news these days.  This seems to show that the new powers that be are doing their job.  With the availability of a much more free media, the Rakyat is closely monitoring the government.

The downside, however, is that almost overnight, everyone, especially on social media, seems to have become a financial expert, political analyst,  Harapan Manifesto expert and a Constitutional expert, among others.

This is where the state of our disunity springs to fore.  While everyone may be entitled to their own opinion, it has become a case where everyone believes that they are a subject matter expert when they are clearly not. Certain parties also seem to think that only their opinion is right.  When there is disagreement, caustic and vulgar language is used.

There has been the usual racial and religious outburst, except this time it is coming from members of the Rakyat and not the government. Why have a Chinese Minister of Finance? How can a supposed Islamist be the Education Minister?  How can the A-G be a non-Malay?

The Government has also stressed the importance of English. I wait for the outcry from detractors that Bahasa Malaysia should be the one and only language used.

To take it a step further, we have champions of race and religion calling for the defence of their rights. While these supposed champions are purportedly defending these rights, we have videos of some people calling for the death of members of their own religion just because they have a differing opinion. Death threats? Really? In the holy month of Ramadan?

Finally, there are police reports being made against every slight criticism or opinion that goes against the norm.  The police surely have more important things to do than investigate people for sedition. It is after all an archaic law that does nothing but stifle independent and free thought.

So while we have made great strides in changing our government through the ballot box, these are still early days.  The biggest problem is not with our government but with ourselves. We are to blame for the excesses and mismanagement that haves happened.

We have been so caught up with defending our own rights based on racial and religious lines. It is time for all of us to get rid of our disunity and to focus on what we really are. Malaysians. Until and unless we can do that, we will never get very far.

*This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

DAIM: We need to cleanse the system


June 4, 2018

DAIM: We need to cleanse the system

https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2018/06/04/daim-we-need-to-cleanse-the-system-the-only-way-forward-is-to-get-rid-of-the-corruption-in-the-natio/

IN an hour-long interview, Tun Daim Zainuddin shared his views on politics, besides giving an insight into his relationship with some Malaysian leaders. Excerpts of the interview:

The Star: What are the biggest challenges for the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP)? Are you confident Malaysia can overcome the challenges, particularly corruption?

Daim: Malaysia has no choice. Corruption has permeated all levels in the government. We are now at a crossroad. Our only way forward is to cleanse the system and get rid of this malady that is afflicting this nation. In order to do that, political willpower will be the main criterion for success. And I am confident that this new Pakatan Harapan Government has the gumption to do just that.

People are watching. The biggest challenge for the council is the time frame. We are working hard to develop the best recommendations for the Government to chew upon, based on the 100-day promises laid out in the Pakatan manifesto during the election campaign. Can we overcome major challenges? We have faced two major economic crises before (in 1987 and 1998), and we overcame them.

Can Malaysia get back the stolen money and funds linked to 1MDB soon?

We know that there are monies frozen in a few locations around the world. We are talking in terms of billions. For a start, Singapore has agreed to repatriate whatever amount that is stuck there. I believe efforts are being made by the authorities to get back our money, which was originally stolen.

With the appointment of Lim Guan Eng as the Finance Minister, what can we conclude? Was it a political decision?

The fact that Pakatan won the popular vote and proceeded to appoint Lim of the DAP as Finance Minister says a lot about this new government. Obviously, the decision was also political, but it has a positive impact on the psyche of the nation. Now the people know that we mean business. There is no more room for tomfoolery or abuse.

That appointment has de-politicised the post, which is a good thing given that the Finance Ministry had often been used to reward UMNO loyalists in the past. Now the gravy train has stopped.

Lim is not the first Chinese to hold the post of Finance Minister. The appointment was made based on consultation with the various parties. Malaysians in general should accept his appointment based on his vast experience and knowledge, and not his race.

How can we ensure there is no more prized land sold by the Government to selected developers privately at very low prices?

The role of the mainstream media will become more important. For far too long the mainstream media in Malaysia had been timid and irrelevant. By exposing such scandals, it will certainly provide a check and balance in the administration.

During Najib’s time, mainstream media had failed miserably to protect the interest of the nation and the rakyat. The fourth estate is important. We must always keep an eye on any wrongdoing.

Will Barisan play an effective role as Opposition? Do you think UMNO has the capability to retake the Government?

For an Opposition to become effective, they need to have credibility. Right now what kind of credibility has Barisan got? If you don’t have it, people will find it hard to trust you. Up till today, there is no apology from any of the leaders in UMNO. They are still unrepentant. The stealers of 1MDB money are still in denial, claiming they had done nothing wrong.

Can UMNO rely on its youth wing to speed up the reformation process? It will be difficult, due to the fact that all of its youth wing, including its chief, defended 1MDB back then.

If they had read the US Department of Justice report, the Public Accounts Committee report and the Auditor-General’s report and yet still have the audacity to support the crimes committed, then they should not be the role models for the youths in Malaysia. They have shown no remorse. I doubt they can retake the Government with the current crop of leaders.

In order to have a vibrant and lively democracy, we need a strong Opposition. If UMNO realises this and makes the necessary changes, that will be their role.

Do you think Dr Mahathir will stay beyond two years?

In his interview with Financial Times last Monday, he stated it would be difficult for him to stay on as Prime Minister beyond the age of 95. But for now, I think everyone knows that he is committed to fulfilling the promises in Pakatan’s manifesto.

After all, he is the chairman of Pakatan. Above all, his greatest achievement is that the rakyat put their trust in him and have given him their support to get rid of (Datuk Seri) Najib (Tun Razak) and his kleptocracy government.

We have the Finance Minister and Economic Affairs Minister. Will their roles overlap?

The Economic Affairs Minister takes the place of the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of the Economic Planning Unit (EPU). The Economic Minister does the planning and makes sure the project is implemented properly. He will monitor and supervise. The Finance Minister will look for money lah.

Meeting of minds: Daim (third from left) chairing a CEP meeting in Kuala Lumpur. Also present are Kuok (second from left) and (from right) economist Prof Dr Jomo Kwame Sundaram, former Petronas president Tan Sri Hassan Marican and former Bank Negara Governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz. — Bernama

How is your relationship with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim? Both of you were critical of each other in the past. Do you think he can be a good prime minister?

We have always been friends but politics is different. Anwar and I have known each other for a long time. I just want to mention I met him in prison numerous times. We discussed how to topple the previous government and with the support of the rakyat, we succeeded. We must stay united and deliver our promises to them.

Anwar had served in various ministries and his last post was Deputy Prime Minister. Nobody can run a government alone. A PM needs a Cabinet that supports him and honest civil servants with integrity. He also needs good, honest advisers and must never forget the rakyat. Anwar is aware of all these.

The reunion photos of you and billionaire Robert Kuok holding hands and hugging each other melted the hearts of many Malaysians. What can Mr Kuok contribute to the new Malaysia?

Robert Kuok is a dear family friend. I have known him since the early 1970s. My second son is working for him. Malaysians should be proud to have this distinguished man who answered the call of the nation to serve. He has many ideas and insight as to how Malaysia can move forward. I value his opinions given to the CEP.

You have said you will leave the council after 100 days of work. What have you set out to do and will you stay longer?

It is very tough to complete within the time given but we will try our best to achieve it. We are volunteers. We are not given a cent. There is no office given. We requested for some staff from EPU, Bank Negara, Attorney General’s Chambers, PNB, Sime Darby and Khazanah. We thank them for their support.

We know the rakyat’s expectations are very high. We are trying to meet the timeline so we work on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays too. It is very important that all give their support to this Government. Don’t put obstacles in the way.

I plead to all to give their sincere support. But by all means, criticise if you feel the Government is not on the right track.

My role is just to help. I am not interested in anything else. After we deliver our report, I will play no more of a role. I want to write on the last general election but to do that I have to go away somewhere quiet.

When Pakatan won, it was the rakyats victory. We proved Malaysia boleh. If Malaysia can, the world too can get rid of corrupt, repressive and kleptocracy governments. We have shown the world how to do it.

The stock market seems to be volatile after Pakatan won. What is your advice to the investors in the stock market?

They did not expect Pakatan to win; the foreigners and the rating agencies.

Basically, in a capitalist society, they don’t mind corruption, as long as they make money. Of course, now they say they want a clean government, but before that they didn’t mind corruption because that’s the way to make money – easier and faster. The more money you have, the easier for you, because you have the money to bribe. As far as the capitalist society is concerned, that kind of government is good. They underestimated the will of the rakyat. The rakyat cannot accept this. They don’t want a corrupt government.

During your time in the Government, corruption was also quite rampant. You all didn’t take any action?

It happened, but not rampant. There was corruption, but now it is blatant.

Why are you close to the Prime Minister?

He is 12 years older than me. We went to the same school in the same village in Kedah. Our parents know each other. I always like to joke: from Kedah we have the same Yang di-Pertuan Agong serving twice, Prime Minister serving twice, Finance Minister serving twice. It must be the water we drink.

Will the report by the council be disclosed to the public?

Up to the Government. I have no right. I am only playing an advisory role. I will pass the report to the Government, the Prime Minister. The PM will brief the Cabinet. If the Cabinet decides to publish, then publish it.

I would prefer it to be published so that the rakyat know the actual situation when the Pakatan Harapan Government took over, the state of the country, in particular the economy and the financial position.

How much has been the nation’s total loss due to scandals and corruption?

I won’t mention figures. I don’t want to shock everybody, but it is depressing. Every (government) agency that we called, we will go through the account. We find shocking news. We are doing what we can to stop the bleeding immediately.

Do they listen to you?

You think they won’t listen to me? (laughs)

You are not the boss. How do you know that they will take your advice?

It doesn’t matter. As far as I am concerned, I will inform the minister in charge. I stop the bleeding first, if not they will bleed till death. You lose a lot of blood, you will die.

Are the economic fundamentals of the country still intact?

The Central Bank said fundamentals are still intact, everything is intact. If fundamentals are intact, what has gone wrong?

People don’t trust the Government. So there is trust deficit. The new Government has tried to restore confidence. You can do it very quickly but the depressing news is coming out.

Why is the Government not instituting charges against Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak?

I don’t want to disclose all these things. We are going to complete our investigation very soon. When the investigation is not completed yet, you cannot charge people. The people’s expectations on us are high, but cannot disclose. Let the authorities complete the investigation.

Western investors used to shun Malaysia because of the 1MDB scandal. Is there any indication they are coming back?

The US-Asean Business Council came to see me. They want us to go to America. I have not told Tun Mahathir.

They are very excited with the news that we are going to have a clean government and there will be reforms in the institutions. They said they are coming back. It is better for us to go and see them and explain to them.

Tun Mahathir is going to Japan. Japan is very excited too.

In China, in spite of everything, the Ambassador said since the new Government took over, their businessmen have invested RM1.2bil.

What we want is genuine investment bringing in new technologies, creating employment. It will help the country and the investors can make money.

Singapore has shown interest. That will instil confidence. Singapore companies have been talking about joint ventures with EPF. They came and met me. I said go ahead. I am busy. They should go and ask the Government. They came to see me because I know them.

PM of India dropped in. There is tremendous interest. But we are busy for the time being. When the Cabinet is fully formed, the trade minister can handle it.

You didn’t tell them you are retired?

I told them I am retired. But I can open doors, facilitate meetings between them and MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry).