The Ethically-Blighted Prime Minister of Malaysia–Najib Razak


June 19, 2017

The Ethically-Blighted Prime Minister of Malaysia–Najib Razak

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

Image result for Najib Razak and Rosmah Mansor

As for MO1, his spouse and stepson, they are beyond shame. With the millions if not billions they have already expropriated, they can handle the setback. Malaysians however, would be saddled for generations with 1MDB’s humongous debt. Quite a legacy for the son of the late Tun Razak! As for the Tun, what a legacy to have bequeathed Malaysia with his ethically-blighted son.–M.Bakri Musa

The dismissive attitude of Malaysian officials to the latest US Department of Justice’s (DOJ) civil forfeiture lawsuit targeting expensive assets allegedly acquired with funds illicitly siphoned from 1MDB is misplaced. Their stance is an embarrassing display of gross ignorance.

Yes, civil lawsuits in America are as common as mushrooms after a rainfall. This DOJ action however, is the largest (in dollar value) such forfeitures to date. This second set of lawsuits targeted assets allegedly given to Hollywood celebrities, as well as to the spouse of “Malaysian Official 1” (MO1). The two categories are separate though the latter believe that she is in the same class as the former.

Najib apologists and enablers never fail to point out with unconcealed smugness that the defendants to the lawsuits are not individuals, specifically Najib or his associates and relatives, rather those assets.

That is right, but such sophistry reveals a fundamental ignorance of the American judicial system. Those targeted assets do not exist in vacuo; someone or somebody owns them. They in effect are the defendants.

By targeting those assets and not their owners, DOJ is spared the task of identifying their rightful owners. That can be an arduous and expensive task, what with multiple shell companies involved in dizzying number of foreign jurisdictions. Instead, all DOJ has to do is wait for the owners to come out of the woodwork to identify themselves and lay claim to those assets by challenging the lawsuit. They have to, otherwise they would lose those assets, or at least their share.

One of those owners is Jho Low. He claimed to have bought those assets with his family’s wealth. That at least was believable as he came from a wealthy clan in Penang. Sure enough, his family’s assorted trusts too have contested the lawsuit from faraway New Zealand!

Image result for Reza Aziz and J Lo

Then there is one Reza Aziz, identified as the “stepson of MO1.” Where did this son of a nondescript Malaysian army officer get his wealth? From his mother, the daughter of my parent’s contemporary as a village school teacher in Kuala Pilah? Visit her dilapidated ancestral home back in my kampong, and her current flamboyant lifestyle today would make you puke. As for Reza’s stepfather Najib Razak, that man had spent his entire adult life in government, with its measly pay.

Reza Aziz concocted the idea that the money (some hundred million!) was a “gift” from a benevolent Saudi Sheik. Even the wealthiest corpulent Sheik would not be so extravagant with his favorite toy-boy, yet this Reza Aziz character wants those seasoned DOJ prosecutors to believe his story! Even his American accountants did not believe him.

One other owner has also come forward. Hollywood celebrity Leonardo DiCaprio has not only surrendered the gifts he had received “from the parties named in the civil complaint” but went further and cooperated with DOJ investigators. That cannot be good news for either Jho Low or Reza Aziz.

Any bets whether any of the other “owners,” specifically the alleged recipient of that pink diamond, MO1’s spouse, would return their gifts? It is worth pondering whose actions better reflect the forgiving spirit of Ramadan, hers or DiCaprio’s?

Najib supporters trivialize the DOJ’s lawsuit, citing its lack of “action” after its first filing last year as proof of its political intent. To them, these series of forfeiture lawsuits are yet another albeit more sophisticated American attempt at regime change.  Such commentaries reveal a pathetic lack of the basic understanding of the US justice system.

This asset forfeiture is a civil lawsuit. Unlike criminal ones where the axiom “justice delayed, justice denied” is adhered to, civil suits can and do drag on for years. They go to trial only when all parties are ready, and all extraneous issues as with ownership claims settled. The fact that these forfeiture lawsuits drag on should not be misinterpreted in any way.

There is also the possibility that criminal charges would be filed against specific individuals during the discovery or the trial.

There is only one certainty. Once a lawsuit is filed, those assets are effectively tied up. They cannot be sold, mortgaged, or altered in any way without the court’s consent. DOJ has in effect total control of those assets, meaning, their de facto owner.

These forfeiture lawsuits will not be settled out of court. Those prosecutors have a point to prove, and with unlimited resources to pursue it. That reality has prompted owners like DiCaprio to cooperate with DOJ.

This will not be like a Malaysian trial where prosecutors could be illicitly paid off or where defense lawyers openly brag about having judges in their (lawyer’s) back pockets. The defendants have hired some of the best legal minds including those who had once worked in DOJ and had successfully prosecuted many high profile kleptocrats. It will be far from a walk in the park for the DOJ lawyers.

DOJ does have something in its favor. In a civil suit, unlike a criminal trial, the burden of proof is lower, only the “preponderance of evidence” and not “beyond reasonable doubt.” The burden of proof also shifts from the plaintiff to the defendant. Meaning, the owners have to prove that the funds they used to purchase those assets were untainted. It would be very difficult to convince an American jury that a Middle Eastern sheik would willingly part away with hundreds of millions of dollars to a Malay boy no matter how pretty he looks, for nothing in return.

Regardless of the outcome, this trial would expose to the world all the sordid ugly details of the 1MDB shenanigans. Once those are out, not many would be proud to call themselves Malaysians. They would be downright ashamed for having elected a leader with such unbounded avarice, and then letting him get away with it for so long.

Image result for Najib Razak and Tun Razak

As for MO1, his spouse and stepson, they are beyond shame. With the millions if not billions they have already expropriated, they can handle the setback. Malaysians however, would be saddled for generations with 1MDB’s humongous debt. Quite a legacy for the son of the late Tun Razak! As for the Tun, what a legacy to have bequeathed Malaysia with his ethically-blighted son.

FGV Falls from Grace but Isa Samad Stays: Governance Malaysian Style


June 16, 2017

FGV Falls from Grace but Isa Samad Stays: Governance Malaysian Style

by P.Gunasegarm@www.malaysiakini.com

A QUESTION OF BUSINESS | The latest fallout at Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) controlled Felda Global Ventures Ventures Holdings Bhd (FGV), is just a continuation of the wrong and highly questionable actions of the company since listing in 2012.

Image result for FGV Chairman Isa Abdul Samad

The solution is to simply go back to basics which means that FGV should stick to the business it knows well – oil palm plantations and related processing. It should pay fair prices for related acquisitions, not astronomical sums. And be run by competent professional managers who understand the business and are straight.

But too much damage has already been done by these actions and it will be some time before it recovers completely.

In the latest controversy, FGV board chairperson Isa Abdul Samad announced on June 6 that FGV CEO Zakaria Arshad was to take an immediate leave of absence. He added that it was a board decision.

Apart from Zakaria, FGV chief finance officer Ahmad Tifli Mohd Talha, FGV Trading chief executive officer Ahmad Salman Omar and Delima Oil Products Sdn Bhd senior general manager Kamarzaman Abd Karim were also suspended.

Zakaria hit back saying he had tried to stop hundreds of millions in investments by the company’s board which he described as “ridiculous”.

Amongst the investments, he said, were plans for a 100 million pound sterling (approximately RM551 million) expansion of Felda Cambridge Nanosystems Ltd, a nanocarbon company, which had already lost RM117 million in the last three to four years.

“Now they (the FGV board) want to expand, they need another 100 million pounds. To me this is ridiculous, we’re a plantation company,” he was quoted as saying by The Star.

To understand what is going on, it is necessary to go back into FGV’s short history. While it was listed in mid-2012 with high hopes that it will provide great returns for Felda settlers who hold a direct stake, Felda which holds about a 34% stake and various government institutions including the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), the share performance has been atrocious.

When it was first listed on June 28, 2012 confidence was so high that it opened higher than expected over its initial public offer (IPO) price of RM4.55. Reuters reported: “Malaysian palm oil firm Felda Global surged 20 percent in its trading debut on Thursday (June 28, 2012) as investors cheered on the world’s second largest IPO after Facebook’s botched float and the company pledged stronger profits in the coming months.

“The firm raised US$3.1 billion (about RM10 billion then) in Asia’s biggest initial public offering of this year, running against the global gloom in IPO markets and giving the government a political dividend ahead of what is likely to be a closely fought election (the 2013 general election).”

FGV closed that day at RM5.30, some 16% higher than its IPO price but it has been downhill all the way after that, reflecting poor results and an extreme lack of market confidence in the share following a string of poor purchases over the years, squandering some RM4.46 billion net that came directly to FGV from the issue of new shares from the IPO.

Between June 28, 2012 and its last trading day on Friday, FGV’s share price went from RM5.30 to RM1.66, wiping out nearly seven-tenths of its market value. Even comparing with the IPO price of RM4.55, the drop was over 63% – more than six-tenths of value was lost. The EPF itself lost RM203 million when it sold off some of its investments in FGV.

If one thought that this decline in value is because of a general decline in plantation stocks generally, they are wrong. Bursa Malaysia’s plantation index, which aggregates the performance of major plantation companies, declined just 6% over the same period, or about a twentieth of its value against FGV’s seven-tenths, a rate of decline which was 20 times higher.

Acquisition spree

FGV’s acquisition spree under previous CEO Mohd Emir Mavani Abdullah included the takeover of Pontian United Plantations Bhd for RM1.2 billion, Asia Plantation Ltd for RM628 million and RM2.2 billion for Felda Holdings Bhd, and 836 ha of oil palm land from Golden Land Bhd for RM655 million cash.

It culminated in a deal with the Rajawali Group announced in June 2015 for FGV to acquire a 37% stake in PT Eagle High Plantations (EHP) and 93% to 95% stakes in Rajawali Group’s sugar project, in all worth about US$680 million (about RM2.9 billion) in cash and FGV stock.

Emir was strangely involved in a corruption case earlier this month when an employee of The Star newspaper was charged in the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court with receiving RM20,000 in bribes. M Youganesparan was accused of receiving the money from Emir at The Intermark Hotel, Jalan Tun Razak about 9.15pm on May 30 this year.

By the time the Eagle High acquisition was announced, FGV needed to borrow money to do the deal as it had exhausted the RM4.46 billion from IPO proceeds. The deal was heavily criticised as being way too expensive, even by the EPF, at an estimated 70% premium to market. Also Peter Sondakh, the founder and owner of the Rajawali group was said to be part of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s inner circle and served as his adviser on Indonesian affairs.

Fortunately CEO Zakaria Arshad, appointed on April 1, 2016 and the same one who is now on a leave of absence, nixed the deal, which was officially aborted in July 2016 after FGV started negotiations to restructure the deal in December 2015. Eventually in December 2016, the Eagle High deal was done with Felda which paid US$505 million (about RM2.2 billion) a quarter less, for the same deal.

Zakaria also cut other merger and acquisition deals saying that FGV should concentrate on the plantation business instead, in all saving FGV at least RM4 billion in spending.

Isa was chairman of both FGV and Felda at this time but was replaced as Felda chairman in January this year by another politician Shahrir Samad, although it was not clear why he was replaced. Isa, during Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s time as Umno president, was found guilty of money politics in 2005 and suspended from the party for six years. He had to give up his post as UMNO Vice-President and Federal Territories Minister.

Image result for Idris Jala looks FGV

Idris Jala–The Financial Whiz appointed to fix GFV

Now former cabinet minister Idris Jala is supposed to look into this whole mess and make his recommendations. But at the end of the day, the solution is very straight forward. First, appoint people with impeccable credentials to the board and ensure that there is board diversity, independence and honesty.

Don’t just cram them chock full with politicians, often of dubious quality even then, and civil servants who know little or nothing about the corporate world and how it operates. Directors collectively should have expertise which covers all aspects of running a business.

Then pick a CEO with proven credentials and give him a free hand to run the company within the broad guidelines and mandate set out by the shareholders and the board. Make him accountable for set targets.

The needless failure of FGV is that of basic corporate governance. At the heart of this is the hijacking of what could have been a good, solid plantation company by the politicians for their own purpose, in the process screwing Felda settlers, investors and other stakeholders.


P GUNASEGARAM says too much is discussed but too little is done about corporate governance in Malaysia, even for listed companies. What happens with unlisted government companies, he wonders. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com.

 

US Targets USD540 million in assets bought with 1MDB Funds


June 16, 2017

1Malaysia Development Bhd

US Targets USD540 million in assets bought with 1MDB Funds

Latest move to recover money allegedly stolen from Malaysian sovereign wealth fund

by David J Lynch in Washington

https://www.ft.com/content/c7669654-51e8-11e7-bfb8-997009366969?mhq5j=e2

The US Department of Justice on Thursday moved to seize an additional $540m in assets purchased with funds stolen from Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB, including a luxury yacht, a Picasso painting, jewellery and rights to the movie Dumb and Dumber.

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The Wolves of 1MDB

The suit, which was filed in federal court in Los Angeles, is the latest move in an ambitious US effort to recover money allegedly siphoned from the fund in a sophisticated operation that ran from 2009 until 2015.

The US now estimates that a total of $4.5bn was pilfered by Malaysian public officials and their associates including Jho Low, a well-connected Malaysian businessman who held no formal role in the project.

Including the new lawsuit and earlier civil forfeiture actions, the US government has moved to recover $1.7bn of that amount, according to Kendall Day, acting deputy assistant attorney-general. This represents the largest such US seizure action under a DoJ initiative aimed at recovering money stolen by corrupt foreign officials.

Mr Day said the latest action was aimed at recovering “proceeds of a massive fraud”.

The scheme involved $1.2bn that 1MDB borrowed from Deutsche Bank in 2014, ostensibly to repay options connected with an earlier bond offering, prosecutors say. Of that borrowing, $850m was stolen to fund the lavish lifestyles of individuals including Mr Low and an official identified only as “Malaysian official 1”, a designation that in previous court filings has matched the biography of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The Prime Minister has denied any wrongdoing, as has Mr Low.

In a statement on Thursday the Malaysian government said it would co-operate with any lawful investigation of the country’s companies or citizens but expressed concern “that again the DoJ has failed to seek such co-operation from the Malaysian government or 1MDB”.

The proceeds from two Deutsche Bank loans also were used to operate a Ponzi scheme designed to show that an earlier 1MDB investment in a joint venture with PetroSaudi International, a private Saudi Arabia-based oil services company, had been profitable.

In reality, none of the fund’s investments, which were to have promoted economic growth and foreign direct investment in Malaysia, paid off, according to Mr Day.

The fund obtained the loans “through material misrepresentations and omissions to Deutsche Bank”, according to the lawsuit. At one point, when bank officials requested documentation verifying key financial details, a 1MDB official replied that the fund had suffered a “server breakdown and all files were lost”, according to court filings.

The fund eventually defaulted on the larger of the two loans.Several 1MDB officials, along with their relatives and associates, used a global network of shell companies and bank accounts in the US, Singapore, Switzerland, and Luxembourg to pull off the heist, prosecutors say.

Mr Day said the investigation is continuing. The Financial Times reported last year that prosecutors are investigating Goldman Sachs’ handling of the proceeds of $6.5bn in bond offerings it conducted for the fund to determine whether it complied with reporting requirements of the Bank Secrecy Act. The bank has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

Among the assets targeted in the civil lawsuit filed on Wednesday was a $261m yacht called “The Equanimity”, which prosecutors said was constructed in 2014 and could hold 25 guests and a crew of 33. The 300 feet long vessel boasted a helicopter pad, a gymnasium, cinema, and plunge pool, prosecutors said.

The US also moved to seize 2.5m shares of Palantir stock, a Madison Avenue condominium, a framed colour poster for the 1927 silent movie Metropolis, and rights to the movie Daddy’s Home, which starred Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg.

The lawsuit also targeted several diamonds, including a nearly 12-carat heart-shaped item, and the painting “Nature Morte au Crane de Taureau” by Picasso.

The Picasso was given in January 2014 as a birthday gift to the actor Leo DiCaprio, who starred in the movie The Wolf of Wall Street. The film was produced by Red Granite, which was backed financially by individuals allegedly involved in the scandal, including Riza Aziz, a relative of Mr Najib, and Mr Low.

Through a spokesman, Mr DiCaprio said on Thursday that before the government filed its latest action, he had “initiated return of these items, which were received and accepted by him for the purpose of being included in an annual charity auction to benefit his eponymous foundation”.

The actor also has returned an Oscar originally won by Marlon Brando, which he received as another gift from Red Granite.

The company, which also produced Dumb and Dumber and Daddy’s Home, said it “is actively engaged in discussions with the Justice Department aimed at resolving” the civil litigation.

Last year, the US filed civil forfeiture actions seeking more than $1bn in assets purchased with money allegedly stolen from the 1MDB fund.

The new suit says assets belonging to several individuals or businesses such as Jho Low; Low Taek Szen; JW Hospitality (VHG Intl) Ltd; FFP (Cayman) Ltd; Mubadala Development Company PJSC; Viceroy Hotel Group; and Jynwel Capital Ltd, may be affected by the action.

Additional reporting by Kara Scannell in New York

Follow David J Lynch on Twitter: @davidjlynch

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE CIVIL LAWSUITS:PRIME MINISTER’S PRESS SECRETARY STATEMENT

16 June 2017

1. We note the United States Department of Justice’s (DoJ) latest civil lawsuits brought against various assets. The Malaysian government will fully cooperate with any lawful investigation of Malaysian companies or citizens in accordance with international protocols. So we are concerned that again the DoJ has failed to seek such cooperation from the Malaysian government or 1MDB, the Malaysian company concerned.

2. We are also concerned by the unnecessary and gratuitous naming of certain matters and individuals that are only relevant to domestic political manipulation and interference. This suggests a motivation that goes beyond the objective of seizing assets.

3. There have been numerous and extensive investigations by Malaysian authorities into 1MDB, including by independent and bi-partisan bodies such as the Public Accounts Committee, and no crime was found. 1MDB is still the subject of an investigation by the Royal Malaysia Police. If there is evidence of wrongdoing, Malaysia will not hesitate to take action.

4.Until then, unproven allegations should not be taken as facts. And we take note of DoJ’s own press release, which states that “A civil forfeiture complaint is merely an allegation that money or property was involved in or represents the proceeds of a crime. These allegations are not proven until a court awards judgment in favor of the U.S.”.

5. The judicial process is not served by headline seeking. Malaysia stands firm in its support of transparency and good governance. That includes ensuring that accusations have a basis in fact, rather than smears briefed by political opponents. We are confident that justice will take its course and Malaysia will continue to cooperate with all willing international agencies. As the Prime Minister has always maintained, if any wrongdoing is proven, the law will be enforced without exception.

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DATUK SERI TENGKU SARIFFUDDIN, PRESS SECRETARY TO THE PRIME MINISTER 

Citizen Nades: Malaysians are suffering truth deficiency syndrome


June 8, 2017

Citizen Nades: Malaysians are suffering  truth deficiency syndrome

Image result for R.Nadeswaran

 

by R. Nadeswaran @ http://www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT | Every other day, the people of this country are jolted, shaken, stirred and dazed by the information put out by foreign news portals and newspapers. Like junkies hooked on opium, a good section of the population eagerly awaits the next fix via the Internet.

From the extravagance in the casinos in the United States running into millions to the six-figure ringside seats for a boxing match from allegedly stolen Malaysian funds, we have heard it all. But has there been an explanation by the parties involved?

The discovery of cash in the millions at the homes of officials of the Sabah Water Board made the transfer of RM2 million into the account of an unemployed housewife child’s play. Has anyone explained?

How would you describe such overindulgence? Crazy or madness or insanity? Yet, these people whose hands are tainted continue to lead lives, living up with the Joneses and pretend as if nothing had happened.

To the average Malaysian wage earner whose taxes have been used to pay for such opulence, there’s cause to be concerned. Not that there is no evidence to proceed.

From across the Causeway, came some dribs and drabs, if pieced together would give us some inkling into this whole fiasco and the key players and perpetrators who should be brought to book.

The trial of banker Yeo Jiawei last year revealed the many fears of that had been previously allayed and dismissed by our leaders. Following coverage of the trial through various media, it is now apparent that someone had put his hands in the till of what was supposed to be our sovereign fund – 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) and its then subsidiary, SRC International Ltd.

Yeo, described in court as former BSI banker for 1MDB, said in open court that the first structure he did for the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund was for US$100 million for SRC International Ltd. The scheme devised was for SRC, then a subsidiary of 1MDB, to invest in a fiduciary fund called Enterprise Emerging Market Fund (EEMF).

He told the court that SRC asked that EEMF extend a loan of US$100 million to a company called Blackstone whose beneficial owner is Eric Tan Kim Loong, an associate of Low Taek Jho or Jho Low. (We were to know later that Eric is allegedly Jho Low.)

Image result for jho low 1mdbThe Master of the Mother of Scandals–1Malaysia Development Berhad

From the box, Yeo said: “I asked what if the investment became zero and what would happen?” SRC then gave an indemnity that shielded BSI from responsibility should all the money be lost. Has anyone explained why SRC, a government-linked company, be giving such indemnity?

Low is also among the people named in civil lawsuits filed by the US Department of Justice, which alleged that more than US$3.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB.The latest episode of lawyer Muhammed Shafee Abdullah allegedly receiving RM9.5 million from the prime minister’s personal bank account once again reinforces the need for some plausible explanation.

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Najib Razak’s RM9.5 million Man–Muhammad Shafee Abdullah 

The quantum of fees paid in legal cases is something that is not tariffed. Like a willing buyer and a willing seller, the fees is agreed upon and no one can fault Shafee on the quantum. Like most other professions, there is always confidentiality with the client. But the mind wonders what kind of legal work would justify the quantum.

It is not in the least suggested that there had been any wrongdoing, but the timing of the payment leaves right-thinking Malaysians to ask if there was something sinister. Adding fuel to the already burning fire is the re-release of the exchanges of SMSes between Shafee and the prime minister immediately after the murder of a Mongolian woman, Altantuya Shaariibuu.

There has been hardly any riposte from the alleged giver or the taker. By maintaining stoic silence hoping the issue will fade away is no longer an option. While generally Malaysians tend to forget easily, this issue will continue to haunt the government, the leaders, parties involved and above all, citizens who are quick to make up their own minds after reading such reports.

These reports can be easily and summarily dismissed as “rubbish” or “one-sided” concocted by those who have axe to grind with the government. But when details including cheques and bank statements are thrown in for a good measure to support such accusations, it becomes a different ball game altogether.

Foreign conspiracy?

Malaysians are suffering from a disease called the truth deficiency syndrome. This has certainly been vindicated by the revelations in the court proceedings and what has been reported in prestigious and credible newspapers like the New York Times, the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal.

At the height of the release of the findings of the Public Accounts Committee hearings and the related Auditor General’s Report last year, no effort was spared to paint a picture which depicted otherwise. So many other issues have been exposed. Has there been any response?

First, there was this accusation of a foreign conspiracy to overthrow the government; then we were told that the Western media is giving the wrong picture by publishing false reports; and there were even preposterous claims that the West was jealous of the progress made by the government.

Some may have accepted a “Yahudi” (Jewish) or “Western” plot to de-stabilise the government. But with advent of the Internet and instantaneous communication, like-minded citizens have dismissed these as mere propaganda for political expediency.

The problem is that no one in the officialdom comes forward to address the claims. Usually, they are third parties, “hound dogs” or minor officials who come to the fore, making valiant but yet disastrous attempts to allay the fears of Malaysians.

Banning newspapers and blocking websites is not even a solution. Sarawak Report, Malaysian Chronicle, OutSyed the Box and other portals have been blocked, but one does not need a degree in rocket science to get around this.

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Who’s Who in RoguesLand led by the Notorious Malaysian Official No.1–All Alive and Hearty

It has been said before and it is worth repeating: The people must have trust and faith in the government. For this to happen, it must be open, transparent and accountable to the people.

Mistakes have been made. Misinformation has been fed. Laws have been broken. Punishment must be meted out. Put simply, the people have not been told the truth.

Turning a deaf ear to the issues that have and will continue to emerge does not bode well for the government, the prime minister and the cabinet. As more and more dirt continues to be unearthed, it will come a time when any government announcement will be treated with contempt.

The government must look to the future and that starts with coming clean on this whole 1MDB issue which has had tongues wagging – correctly and incorrectly – for the past three years.

Only the truth will help to re-build our country to be a united nation. Perhaps, an amnesty programme will help the emergence of the truth which will put an end to all the politicking and other issues that are distracting us from achieving our goals.


R NADESWARAN is an award-winning veteran journalist who writes on bread and butter issues with one agenda – a better quality of life for all Malaysians irrespective of colour, creed or religion. He can be reached at: citizen.nades22@gmail.com.

Najib Razak has no interest in Electoral Reform


April 16, 2017

Najib Razak has no interest in Electoral Reform–Should he?

by Teck Chi Wong

http://www.newmandala.org

Mr. Teck Chi Wong, a former journalist and editor with Malaysiakini.com, is currently pursuing a Master of Public Policy at the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy.

Malaysia’s enthusiasm for electoral reform is arguably at its lowest point, after being high on the tide in the past 10 years as reflected by successive Bersih gatherings from 2007 to 2016.

But electoral reform is now more important than ever, particularly after the 1MDB scandal. If the authoritarian and corrupt political system is not overhauled, it will seriously impede the country’s ability to achieve high-income status in the long run.

In Malaysia, growth is never purely about the market. The state has been, and still is, playing important roles in steering and managing the economy. In fact, Malaysia was regarded in the 1990s as one of the successful models of the ‘development state’ in East Asia, which through learning and transferring resources to productive sectors had successfully industrialised the country and lifted many of its citizens out of poverty.

These East Asian developmental states, including Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea, shared some common characteristics. Many of them (except Japan) were authoritarian regimes in the 1970s and 1980s. But all of them were strong in facilitating policies and learning from others for growth.

On top of that, being authoritarian also helped these countries to stabilise their political landscape and therefore create a business environment which encouraged foreign investment to flow in. However, in Malaysia, it came at a tremendous and bloody price: the racial riots of 1969.

Key to this development model is the quality of the state. But it is difficult for these authoritarian regimes to maintain or improve their quality in the long run. Authoritarian order means that a lack of appropriate checks and balances for those in power leaves the system susceptible to corruption. At the same time, social and economic development gives rise to new needs and demands of accountability and integrity from the publics. As a result, political and social tensions emerge.

The East Asian developmental states approached this problem differently. Both South Korea and Taiwan had since democratised in 1980s and 1990s. Intense political competitions subjected those in power to greater checks and balances, and therefore reduced the most blatant forms of corruption.

Singapore, meanwhile, is an outlier. Despite not much progress in terms of democratisation, the city state has been outstanding in eliminating corruption. Many would point to the tough law and the high salaries of politicians and civil servants for the reason behind low corruption in the country. But exactly how Singaporean leaders could be disciplined despite no strong institutional checks and balances is still subject to debate, although this could possibly relate to their strong desire to guarantee Singapore’s survival in the international market and the region.

Image result for Corrupt Najib Razak and Zahid Hamidi

Zahid Hamidi, Keruak and Najib Razak–Patronage and Corruption is rampant in Malaysia today

Malaysia is stuck in the middle. Not only is it in the middle-income trap, but it is also wrestling between authoritarianism and democracy. The quality of its institutions, including its cabinet system, parliament and judiciary, has been on the decline and they cannot mount any effective checks and balances against UMNO, the dominant ruling party. Resultantly, corruption and patronage are widespread in the government.

This has serious implications for the economy, particularly when the country is seeking to leave the middle-income trap. To entrepreneurs, rent-seeking is simply more profitable, as reflected by the fact that most of the wealth of Malaysian billionaires is created in rent-heavy industries, like banking, construction, housing development and resources.

All of these forces are embodied in the recent 1MDB scandal. Although Prime Minister Najib Razak is accused of embezzling billions of public funds and the scandal has rocked investor confidence, no institutions can hold him accountable and no amount of public pressure can force him to step down. As long as Najib is controlling UMNO, his position is solid, as opponents are eliminated from the government and the party. Zahid Hamidi knows this well since Hishamuddin Tun Hussein has been appointed as Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department to hold him in check.

If there is one lesson we can learn from South Korea and Taiwan, that would be democratisation can help to change the underlying political structure and strengthen the quality of the state. Through intensified political competition and appropriate checks and balances, the public can put more pressure on those in power to be more accountable and focus on economic development.

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In fact, the difference between South Korea and Malaysia is particularly stark now that Park Guen-hye, the former President of South Korea, was impeached. This happened just within months after the corruption scandal involving Park’s best friend erupted in October last year.

In Malaysia, the overhaul in political structure over the long run must be achieved through electoral reform, which includes making the Election Commission independent and reducing gerrymandering and malapportionment. As long as the electoral system is not changed, UMNO can remain in power by holding onto its support bases in rural areas. The recent controversies surrounding redelineation process just again highlight the need for reform.

To many, for Malaysia to regain its shine after the 1MDB scandal, Najib must go. But that would be just a tiny first step on a long journey to reform and democratise its political and administrative institutions.

 

Malaysia: Ceremonial Titles for Sale to Status Conscious Desperadoes


April 11, 2017

Malaysia:  Ceremonial Titles for Sale

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

http://www.bakrimusa.com

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A prominent businessman who had hosted more than one Agong (King of Malaysia) as well as many Sultans was hauled away in his orange lock-up attire, desperate to hide his face, on charges of trying to bribe the Sultan of Johor over recommendations for a federal royal honorific title.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency (MACC) has yet to release the suspect’s identity, or the charges. The social and mainstream media have already condemned him, Malaysia’s corruption personified. It is rare for the two often very contrasting views to coincide.

Conspicuous by its absence is any mention of the complementary if not necessary role of the other half of the equation, recipients of his alleged bribes. If we were to focus on that instead, it would expose this corrosive and despicable aspect of Malaysian society. The man, as well as MACC Chief, the Sultan of Johor, and a few others would then emerge as heroes, and Malaysia the better for it. As for who the true villains were, we would have to wait.

The suspect was also alleged to have “brokered” on behalf of aspiring Malay knight wannabes among rich non-Malays, those willing to fork out huge sums for the privilege of donning the white songkok and the accompanying monkey suit during official functions.

The irony does not escape me. Non-Malays, the Chinese in particular, may be resentful if not disdainful of Malay community and culture, the consequence of being excluded from the New Economic Policy. Their elite however, are not at all bashful in pursuing feudal Malay titles. That reflects more the financial, social and other clouts such titles confer in contemporary Malaysia, less the honorees’ respect for Malay values.

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UMNO’s Hulubalangs (Warriors)

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Hulubalang- in-Chief: UMNO’s Najib Razak

Cases of Malaysian royal titles being bought, or allegations thereof, are not news. They are also far from being mere allegations. There is a portrait, viral in the social media, of a mongoloid-looking character barely out of his teens, all prim and proper in his official pose as a Malay hulubalang (warrior). I wonder what great service this prodigy had rendered.

I was once at a social function in America hosted by one of Malaysia’s many Sultans here on a private visit. I found myself in a quiet corner with some of the guests. The conversation drifted on the many titled ones in the crowd, and of royal awards generally. To clarify and confirm what I thought I was hearing, I inquired as to the prevailing price of such titles, specifically with this Sultan, known for his exuberant generosity in dispensing such honors. When told, I replied with nonchalant casualness that it was well within my affordability range. With the other sultans, the rates could be doubled, I was told.

Imagine my surprise when a few weeks later I received a phone call from Malaysia. The caller identified himself as a “Raja” and “well connected to the palace.” He wanted to pursue “the topic we had discussed!”

I burst out laughing and assured him that I had only been joking. He kept pressing me, unconvinced by my reply. He was so persistent that I had to hang up on him. I did not know whether he was genuine or a con artist trying to rip me off. I was not interested to find out.

Thus, when the Sultan of Johor exposed that bribery attempt, it elicited a yawn in me. What was new? There was indeed something new, or at least unusual. First, the manner of his revealing it – on his social media. My inquisitiveness then took over. Why him, and of much greater significance, why now and the manner?

When I was a surgeon in General Hospital Johor Bharu in 1977, a colleague was banished out of state within 24 hours for allegedly being rude to a sultan. No trial, no due process. Imagine trying to bribe one! I expected the royal keris to have been sharpened, as in days of yore, not a posting in social media. Not many would dare even consider bribing a sultan, except perhaps the Sultan of Sulu. That would not be a bribe as he has no official function or power, and thus no favors to bestow.

It is safe to conclude that the Johor Sultan was not the suspect’s first or only attempted bribee. It is also safe to conclude that he must have some familiarity with sultans generally and that of Johor specifically.

In Malay culture, peasants bringing tributes to their Sultans is the norm, much like Hindus their deities. That businessman could be trying to be a humble and loyal rakyat.

If MACC were to focus only on the briber, then this case would be no different from the many others. The same dynamics, comparable greed, and similar motives; only the personalities differ, and of course the size, nature, and purpose of the loot.

Circumstances create heroes. This is the rare and unique opportunity for the MACC chief to prove his mettle, to be a true, honest, and devoted public servant, as he without end claims to be. “Flip” this alleged briber; make him a prosecution witness instead of the defendant. Offer him immunity and a deal he could not refuse in return for the “goods” he would deliver.

It would not be an easy choice for the suspect. Coming from a culture that bred the feared Triads, not dissimilar from the Mafia, with its code of silence enforced with unimaginable brutality, being truthful would not come naturally, not to mention could be very dangerous. On the other hand, the prospect of a long jail sentence, and leaving behind your foreign wife and young children, is not palatable either.

Then consider the potential rewards, of being hailed a hero for exposing the seedy aspect of the royalty class, by Malays and non-Malays alike. He would then be truly deserving of his Tan Sri title.

He had it easy thus far, out on only RM200K bail. Peanuts to someone like him and in these days of the depreciated ringgit. From another aspect, the price of one Datukship from a cheap Sultan.

Imagine if he were to reveal all. A special tribunal, as provided for in the constitution (thanks to Mahathir), would have to be empaneled to prosecute those alleged corrupt Sultans. Imagine the electricity once the charges were proffered. Najib would sigh a huge relief as it would wipe off the festering 1MDB scandal from the front pages. His ardent defender, aka Attorney-General Apandi Ali, would also emerge as a hero among honest Malaysians, instead of as now, a renegade and protector of the corrupt.

On the political front, in one fell swoop Najib would outstrip Mahathir in striking fear and terror among the sultans. They are still chafing at their collective treatment by Mahathir in the 1980s and 90s when he stripped them of their personal immunity as well as their veto powers over legislations. The sultans have been asserting themselves lately, in tandem with Najib’s increasing vulnerability. Their not assenting to the National Security Act of 2016 was a non-too-subtle manifestation of this new assertiveness. The so-called First Lady of Malaysia outflanking the Queen and the various Sultanahs in the gaudy ostentatious arenas also did not sit well with the royals.

Expect UMNO newsletters Utusan, Berita Harian and The New Straits Times reprising the 1980s, filling their pages with lurid titillating details of royal peccadilloes.

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Forest City Project in Johor

What prompted Sultan Ibrahim, the son of the only sultan ever convicted of murder, to expose this alleged bribery? The Johore Royal Household is the wealthiest not just in Malaysia and not just among Sultans. Its involvement in the massive Forest City Project would ensure its wealth would remain undiminished for generations no matter how profligate their princes and princesses. Perhaps the amount of the alleged bribe was insulting.

Forest City is drawing much negative reaction, in part because of the mega sums, massive Mainland Chinese involvement, and unknown environmental consequences. To many Malays this development rekindles painful humiliating memories of what his great grandfather did to that little island across Selat Tebrau.

Then there was the sultan declining to offer himself for election by his brother rulers to be Deputy King a few months ago. As all kids know, the difference between not wanting versus not being given can be hard to discern. There is not much fraternal love lost between him and his brother rulers. This exposé could be payback time.

This high-profile case will not end up in the usual NFA (No Further Action) file. The only question is whether the suspect, together with MACC chief, AG Apandi Ali, and the Sultan emerge as heroes or renegades?