1MDB case must be watertight, says Malaysia’s Mahathir


June 21, 2018

1MDB case must be watertight, says Malaysia’s Mahathir 

 

As prime suspect – and defeated Prime Minister – Najib Razak holidays in Langkawi, Malaysia’s new leader says it is better to build an indisputable case than be swayed by populist sentiment into hasty action.

By Zuraidah Ibrahim/ Bhavan Jaipragas

http://www.scmp.com/week-asia/politics/article/2151474/1mdb-probe-needs-time-be-watertight-malaysias-mahathir-calls-cool

The Malaysian government is taking time to build a watertight case in the 1MDB financial scandal and not be swayed by populist sentiment, according to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Najib Razak: prime suspect in the 1MDB financial scandal. Photo: Xinhua

His predecessor Najib Razak is the prime suspect under investigation and has been banned from leaving the country. This week, Najib’s decision to go on holiday to the resort island of Langkawi – which coincidentally is the parliamentary seat of Mahathir – sparked fears he was trying to slip out of Malaysia.

Malaysia’s billion-dollar question: where did 1MDB money go?

The government and the people know that billions have been stolen, Mahathir said. But, calling for cool heads, Mahathir said in an interview with the South China Morning Post that the government wanted indisputable evidence. “So the prosecutors now are gathering that evidence so that when they go to the court of law, the judges don’t base their judgment on sentiment, but … on facts and evidence shown in the court of law. So that is why we are taking a little bit more time than we expected.”

 

He declined to give a timeline on the next stage of the investigations, even as speculation swirled in Malaysia that the charges could be filed against Najib as soon as the next two weeks.

But on Tuesday afternoon, he was quoted as saying that charges would be filed on key suspects – Najib, businessman Jho Low and “a few others” – within months, while a trial would begin later this year.

Charges against Najib would include “embezzlement, stealing government money, and a number of other charges,” he said in the interview with Reuters.

The 1MDB probe extends across six jurisdictions, including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore. It has also targeted Najib’s wife, Rosmah, known for her flagrantly ostentatious taste in luxury goods. Set up in 2009 as an infrastructure fund drawn from oil revenues, it has lost US$4.5 billion and is now insolvent. Around US$731 million allegedly ended up in Najib’s personal account. The beleaguered former premier has denied any wrongdoing, insisting that the money was a donation from an Arab benefactor.

 

Rosmah Mansor, wife of Najib Razak, arrives at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission headquarters in Putrajaya, Malaysia. Photo: EPA

Pakatan Harapan: Vulnerable?

In the interview with the Post, Mahathir, who won a stunning election on May 9, was asked about his views of a rising China and the region. In addition to taking questions about the 1MDB scandal, he was also asked to comment on the possible vulnerabilities of his Pakatan Harapan coalition.

While Pakatan now claims 125 seats in the 222-seat Parliament, a recent survey by the reputable think-tank Merdeka Centre has found that the coalition did not win over the majority of Malays, who make up 65 per cent of the population.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is interviewed by the South China Morning Post in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: SCMP Pictures

According to the Merdeka Centre survey, UMNO retained 35-40 per cent of the Malay vote, while the rest was almost evenly split between Pakatan and the Islamic-based party, PAS. In comparison, 95 per cent of Chinese voters chose Pakatan.

Malays have special rights granted by Malaysia’s Constitution. Almost all Malays follow Islam, the official religion of the country. Under the previous Barisan Nasional coalition, the Malay-based United Malays National Organisation was the dominant component party led by Najib. Umno had increasingly played the ethnic and religious cards in elections over the decades.

Supporters of Mahathir Mohamad celebrate his victory in the May 9 election. Photo: Reuters

Commentators credited Mahathir for attracting enough Malays into the Pakatan camp to tilt the balance decisively in its favour. Mahathir has immense stature among Malays as a respected former Prime Minister who held office from 1981 to 2003. The argument, if correct, begs the question of whether Pakatan will be able to retain Malay support after Mahathir steps down, which he has promised to do after two years.

In the interview, Mahathir said there was a clear swing of Malay votes from the Barisan coalition to the opposition in the recent election compared with the previous one in 2015 that contributed to their victory.

Ignoring 1MDB scandal caused Umno’s downfall in Malaysia: Najib

But the Malay vote itself was split between the rural, suburban and urban areas. It was in the latter two areas that Malays had turned against the previous government because they were disenchanted with the “bad things” happening within Umno, especially the corruption scandal.

For rural voters, he said, such issues were harder to grasp but they could understand cost of living woes.

He shrugged off his own personal appeal in winning the Malay vote for the future, saying: “Well, I can’t always be popular, one day I will become unpopular because when you are in the government, you have to do unpopular things. That is not something permanent.” But for now, people were upbeat and they felt that life during his first tenure as Prime Minister was better than during Najib’s time, he said.

Let’s Get Physical

Mahathir, who turns 93 on July 10, was also asked about his physical energy. He laughed, saying it was the number one question he was asked. Although Mahathir, a trained medical doctor, has had two heart bypass operations, he feels fortunate not to have suffered debilitating diseases such as cancer.

His secret to good health? “I think simple things like not putting on weight, not eating too much, proper sleep, a little bit of exercise,” he said, adding that he gets “enough” sleep – about six hours. When he is not able to do that, he has short power naps.

In May, a picture of him at the dining table with just a few spoonfuls of rice on his plate caught the attention of internet users. But then a close-up showed that next to his plate was a small green canister of multivitamin supplements, Berocca. Sales of the supplement received a sudden boost.

Anwar Ibrahim with Mahathir Mohamad in 1997, during the latter’s first stint as prime minister. File photo

Moving On

Under a pact made with his former nemesis turned coalition partner, former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim, he is supposed to hand over the prime minister’s position after two years. However, there have been hints recently that Mahathir intends to stay beyond two years.

Asked about this, he admitted there was a lot to be done. Would he stay beyond two years? “Well, I don’t know whether people will permit me to stay longer. If there is some work I can still do, if I am still healthy, I can think and talk.”

But would he do so as Prime Minister? He demurred smilingly and said softly: “Ya”.

Throughout the interview, he answered questions evenly in his trademark unflappable tone, as an aide kept a strict watch on his time. Asked by a photographer for an autograph, he obliged willingly, noting aloud the date to write to accompany his signature. When the Post invited him to visit Hong Kong, the headquarters of the publication, Mahathir politely remarked about the times he spent there.

“My first ever visit to Hong Kong was in 1960. Where were you?” he quipped to his much younger interviewers.

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?

Image result for Anwar Ibrahim

 

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.

Enough Evidence to Charge Najib Razak and Rosmah Mansor–Just Do It, Dr. Mahathir


June 15, 2018

Enough Evidence to Charge Najib Razak and Rosmah Mansor–Just Do It, Dr. Mahathir

By FMT Reporters@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

The Prime Minister tells the New York Times that Najib’s government ‘raped’ not just 1MDB but also other govt-funded initiatives.

Image result for Malaysia's Najib Razak and Rosmah lose power

KUALA LUMPUR: Before the 14th General Election, Pakatan Harapan (PH) felt things were rotten at the core of Najib Razak’s government, but now they find it is even worse than they thought, said Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

“The more we look into the previous administration, the more bad things we find. Any organisation that had money, the previous government found the means to take the money,” he told the New York Times (NYT) in his office on Wednesday.

Image result for Malaysia's Najib Razak and Rosmah lose power

Let us hope Justice comes to him soon–Sungei Buloh Beckons

Mahathir said his government had accumulated “enough evidence” to put former Prime Minister Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor on trial.

Mahathir, who served as Prime Minister from 1981 to 2003 and who led the PH to a stunning win on May 9, said he discovered that Malaysia was in far worse financial shape than they had feared.

Image result for rosmah mansor and her jewellery and handbags

How can you ever trust her for taking care of Malaysia’s Permata Kids

The national debt, tallied at US$170 billion by Najib’s administration, had been reassessed, along with other government liabilities, at US$250 billion. That is 80% of Malaysia’s gross domestic product, the report said.

But Mahathir told the NYT, the problems extended beyond 1MDB to encompass an array of government-funded initiatives.

“All have been raped by the previous government. They have taken money. Now they have lost the money,” Mahathir was quoted as saying.The report quoted Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng as adding: “They were just robbing the country blind. I’m having nightmares practically every day, wondering what land mines will I tread on the following day.”

Image result for malaysia's 7th prime minister

Lim claimed if the PH had not won, Malaysia “would have become a basket case”. The report noted that Mahathir had been criticised for “his authoritarian impulses”, playing race politics, muzzling the news media and locking up his enemies during his first stint as Prime Minister. However, it added, even former detractors contended that he was a changed man now and that he understood that unchecked power in the wrong hands could devastate a country.

The report quoted James Chin, the Malaysian-born director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, as saying: “He has mellowed, and unlike his first time in office, he has now realised that independent institutions are not a bad thing. Previously, he was all about centralisation of power in the prime minister’s office.”

Lim, who was imprisoned twice during Mahathir’s previous time in office, agreed, adding: “I think it’s Mahathir version 2.0. I think it’s very different from the version 1.0 we saw when he first became prime minister. He’s more reformist.”

Lim described Mahathir as a “man with a mission, driven by the need to get things done in the shortest possible time. He’s moving at a frenetic pace.” The NYT report noted, however, that Malaysia’s problems did not start with Najib.

“The state in which the country is today is not just the result of Najib Razak’s misgovernance but also decades of populist politics and semi-authoritarian practices,” it quoted Sophie Lemière, a Malaysia specialist at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University, as saying.

But, the report said, Mahathir refused to acknowledge any systemic faults with the Malaysian political system. He blamed Najib’s “astonishing greed” for the nation’s predicament.The report also noted that Mahathir had distanced himself from his vow to hand over power within two years to PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim.

Mahathir joked that he had suggested that time frame only because some thought he might become senile at age 95.

Lim told the NYT that Mahathir had never expressed regret for jailing him, adding: “I forgive, but that doesn’t mean I will forget. I think the most important thing is to look forward.”

Image result for malaysia's 7th prime minister

When the NYT suggested that Mahathir had a rare opportunity to reshape his legacy and erase his strongman reputation, Mahathir replied, in his usual blunt style: “When you die, they rewrite your story. So when I am not around, they can say what they like.”

 

Luckily we have a new Government


May 30, 2018

Luckily we have a new Government

By Lim Sue Goan @ Sin Chew Daily

http://mysinchew.com/node/119710?tid=12

Luckily we had a new government after the May 9 General Elections. If Barisan Nasional (BN) were to continue running this country, more unimaginable things could pop up.

Image result for Najib Razak belongs in jail

Najib Razak belongs in jail for betraying Malaysia. What is wrong with you, Zahid Hamidi?

Imagine Najib were to remain as our Prime Minister. First of all, the economy would continue to go downhill because BN would have to honor its election pledges, including pay raise for 1.6 million civil servants from July and RM5,000 bonuses for each Felda settler.

Government’s operating expenditure would continue to rise at the expense of development expenditure. If this goes beyond what the government could cope, GST rate would be further revised upward.

Secondly, the hidden debts could burst, including RM199.1 billion government-guaranteed debts (14.6% of GDP) and RM201.4 billion lease payments for public-private partnership (PPP) projects. The government would be victimized if the companies involved could not settle their debts.

Image result for Najib Razak belongs in jail

The BN government would likely siphon resources elsewhere to settle 1MDB’s immediate debts. Bank Negara reportedly purchased a 22.58-hectare plot of land for RM2 billion in the name of constructing a financial education center. The money was subsequently used to settle 1MDB’s end-2017 debt.

With 1MDB unable to honor its debts and interests, if BN were to remain as federal government, it would continue to cover up and siphon resources from somewhere else to settle 1MDB’s debts, which would snowball to unthinkable proportions, while the world would continue to be kept in the dark over the scandal.

Image result for Governor Bank Negara should resign

The New Gabenor. Bank Negara Malaysia

Meanwhile, politics has penetrated deep into key national institutions, infinitely expanding the executive powers and rendering the checks and balances mechanism basically dysfunctional. The Parliament and other institutions would not raise a question over such irregularities and acts of contempt of law would keep happening in future.

From the many things revealed after the 14th General Elections, including the confession by AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes that he had come under tremendous pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office to express open support for BN shortly before GE-14; and revelation by MACC Chief Commissioner Mohd Shukri Abdul that his life was in danger while he was probing SRC International and the RM2.6 billion political donation, forcing him to momentarily flee to the United States.

All these point to the fact that BN leaders were in jitters to cling on to power. If BN were to remain the government, press freedom would be further eroded.

The previous administration also exploited all sorts of racist and religious tactics to divide the people, trying to raise fears among the Malays for DAP. All these are time bombs that could go off anytime.

Fortunately we now have a two-party system that would bring acts of racism under control.

The so-called TN50 is just an excuse, and the damages inflicted upon democracy and the Malaysian society by the autocratic ex-regime will only grow by the day.

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Mahathir 2.O Administration faces daunting challenges

Given the complete mess left behind by the previous BN administration, little wonder Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir has described his premiership this time as a very challenging one given the highly uncertain environment when compared to when he took over the same job for the first time in 1981.

Tun Mahathir also said he was inheriting a practically destroyed country, financially and institutionally. It is foreseeable that rebuilding the country is never an easy task. It will take a lot of drastic measures to trim the debts (the PM has announced to scrap the KL-Singapore HSR project), not to mention PH needs to honor its election pledges, including financial aid ahead of Hari Raya, RM50 monthly EPF contributions for housewives, deferment of PTPTN loan settlement for borrowers earning less than RM4,000 a month, abolition of highway tolls, etc.

With the saving from axed mega projects channeled instead to fulfilling election pledges, do we still have anything left to stimulate the country’s economy?

Moreover, the eroded independence of the three branches of government need to be restored through legislation to accord independent status to the Attorney-General’s Chambers and MACC, among others.

Consequently, PH may need to enlist the help from outside to reverse the existing racist policies and antiquated economic models while drawing up more liberal new policies to lure foreign funds and expertise in pushing ahead institutional reforms and economic transformation.

PH’s electoral victory is widely perceived by the world as a positive development. It is now time for the new government to introduce new policies to expedite the rebuilding and re-engineering of this country.

While the 2018 elections have buried the hypocritical “1Malaysia” in favor of a “New Malaysia”, the journey ahead of us is by no means smooth, and we all must do our part to see to its success.

Honesty Beats ‘Tact’–Sarawak Report


May 25, 2018

Honesty Beats ‘Tact’–Sarawak Report

http://www.sarawakreport.org/talkback/honesty-beats-tact/

Image result for sarawak report

New Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng would do well to remember he is no longer an opposition politician, as while his vocal tell-all approach on the 1MDB scandal certainly wins points for honesty, it is having the opposite effect on investors…

Instead, the writer said it only risked leaving investors with an “uncertain fiscal outlook”.

“Investors are uneasy about things getting out of hand. Already, foreigners have sold out on the nation’s stocks for 13 consecutive days.

“For Lim to declare in his first press conference that government debt has exceeded one trillion ringgit ($251 billion) because of a sly public bailout of 1MDB gets him full marks for honesty, but not for tact.

Mukherjee’s opinion also ran in line with that of Najib, who warned his successor that revealing the nation’s debt level at RM1 trillion without providing adequate details would only alarm the credit rating agencies and investors’ confidence.

Meanwhile, Arul Kanda today said he is mulling legal action against Lim, as the former felt the claims made against him by Lim were unfair and did not accurately represent his answers to the ministry.

Our comment

To suggest that it is better for the Finance Minister to continue to lie ‘tactfully’, in order to gull investors is preposterous.

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Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng is off to a good start by being honest about Malaysia’s Finances

The run on stocks came after investors realised they had put money into Malaysia based on lies by the previous Prime Minister cum Finance Minister and an administration that failed to stand up to his autocratic power.  Some have been panicking to hear that Malaysia’s economic position is not the rosy picture that Najib had deceitfully pretended it was.

More fool them. Wiser investors had already seen through the blatant dishonesty, which was the reason why the ringgit plunged in 2015 after the 1MDB scandal. The recent partial recovery owed to currency manipulation and false assurances by Najib.

What sort of foundation is deceit towards building future prosperity and why should this new government continue with the cover-ups and thereby inherit the blame for Najib’s excesses?

 

As the new Finance Minister and his team set proper standards of openess and honest management in Malaysia, confidence and investors should soon come back.  Thanks to Najib’s legacy the transition may be tough in the immediate future, but the smart money ought to return soon enough.

The fundamentals for the future are being laid to bring long-term confidence back to Malaysia and that has to start with a frank assessment, followed by steps to ensure efficient and transparent governance (see, for example, the minister’s home state of Penang).  That is what investors like to deal with, not lies.

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Adei, Thamby Arul, it is time for  you and your Board colleagues to own up to the truth–1MDB is a financial mess. The burden is Malaysia’s. It is quite known in civil society that you were engaged by Najib Razak to lie on his behalf.

 

As for Arul Kanda, nothing would amuse Malaysians more than to see him attempt to sue the Finance Minister for suggesting he has been telling lies.

The Mahathir 2.0 Cabinet of the Few, For the Many


May 24, 2018

The Mahathir 2.0 Cabinet of the Few, For the Many

by Rais Hussin@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT | Clocking in on time has always been a trademark of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamed. The use of name tags, even by ministers, was another signature move of his during his previous tenure.

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Neither of these initiatives were missed by the local and international press covering the inaugural cabinet meeting on May 23. They saw the return of that same efficiency, the very quality that made Pakatan Harapan stronger and better than the BN they defeated on May 9.

But there is one issue which they overlooked. One that Mahathir had to announce himself, albeit in jest – his willingness of Mahathir to allow all thirteen cabinet ministers to speak their mind.In his words, “Everyone spoke so that I would not be seen as a dictator.”

In a way, he never was, precisely because Mahathir was constantly looking for an intellectual sparring partners, which he did not have much in his earlier tenure.

It was the fear to speak up with knowledge and facts that stunted the earlier government of UMNO-BN, one which Harapan is determined not to repeat.

Nevertheless, there are three reasons why Mahathir willingly allowed everyone to express their views, and with candour. Firstly, the cabinet is still new. Everyone has to be given the chance to speak his or her mind, without which true talents cannot be found, ever. Freedom of expression even in cabinet requires thorough study of one’s ministry papers.

But when such ‘noises’ are generated, without critical thinking, Mahathir would have to whittle the noise levels down. Consequently, to help the new ministers’ grapple with policies that are coherent and practical, as befitting the new politics of Harapan.

Secondly, unlike the ingratiation of the previous administration of Najib Abdul Razak, the new Harapan cabinet will now echo the frustrations and hopes of Malaysians at large, without fear or favour.

The former Prime Minister, in contrast, only made himself privy to positive news. This was a feature reinforced by gratuitous politicians like Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Hishammuddin Hussein and even Khairy Jamaluddin – who admitted to Singapore’s Channel News Asia, of all outlets, that “no one would like to bell the cat.”

Whether one is a cabinet member of Amanah, Bersatu, DAP or PKR, each is bound to speak with facts drawn from the field that constitutes the rakyat. The people’s voice, be it positive or negative, must be articulated, debated and presented to ensure the cabinet stays rooted to the realities on the ground.

The cabinet must at all costs avoid being circumambulated by advisors and advocates who would only promote their ideas and views for their own good, and not for the good of many.

Democracy at work

For once, the cabinet is not for the few. The level of contestation of ideas is intense and all are allowed to speak their mind, just like what happens in Harapan’s presidential council meetings, which Mahathir chairs and always concludes with specific decisions made.

I know this is being replicated at the cabinet, given that many of its members also sit on the presidential council, and they have come to be accustomed with such process of decision making.

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Thirdly, the cabinet may not meet as often as the esteemed Council of Eminent Persons, but they have to match their ‘elders’ in terms of intellectual calibre. And they do, at the risk of being removed in they are non-performing.

Be this over the next one hundred days or a year, dysfunctional cabinet members will have to be quickly replenished as Malaysia’s national debt level does not allow one to wallow.

The rich oasis of talents in the cabinet plus the experience hands of Mahathir, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Muhyiddin Yassin, Lim Guan Eng and the like will ensure that the nation will be navigated and reinvented properly towards regaining prosperity for the many.

That being said, barring any untoward financial crisis of cataclysmic proportions, the cabinet can perform to the satisfaction of Harapan’s presidential council.

Financial strength

To begin with, the price of oil is inching up, not down. The sovereign risk agencies know that Malaysia’s fiscal strengths are substantial when our oil and gas sectors are firing on all cylinders.

Image result for irwan serigar abdullahWhere is the Najib Apple Polisher, Irwan Serigar Abdullah now?

 

Nevertheless, consistent with global warming, and the transition to a greener economy, the Malaysian government should not be relying on the proceeds of Petronas alone. To do so would be to make oneself vulnerable to the curse of the ‘black gold,’ as Russia and many Arab countries are vulnerable to.

Be that as it may, Malaysia has a temporary lifeline from oil. The original budget of Harapan was conceptualised in 2017 when the price of oil was hovering around US$52 per barrel.

As things stand, the price of oil looks likely to breach US$85 per barrel, perhaps even US$90. This may not last, however, as it is due to the strategic tensions in Iran and the instabilities in Venezuela.

Nevertheless, both events have enhanced the financial strength of the Harapan administration, especially its determination to knock down the national debt of more than RM 1 trillion – a contested figure, but something I alerted to last year in terms of on-budget and off-budget debts.

Image result for Lim Guan Eng at Finance Ministry

As I write, the Finance Ministry is still assessing the final damage. Will it breach RM2 trillion? I expect it to reach closer to RM1.8 trillion. Now with Lim having access to detailed files and numbers, I am keeping my fingers crossed. But suffice to say we do have safe pair of hands in Lim.

With debt at 65 percent of the GDP, as opposed to the fake numbers of 50.1 percent given by the previous Najib administration, obviously the fiscal strength of Malaysia is more diminished than what Umno-BN had originally let on.

‘Bersih, Cekap, dan Amanah’

From day one, Harapan has refused to govern based on lies and deception. The present administration will be guided by good governance and best practices echoing the maxim of ‘Bersih, cekap and amanah’ (Clean, competent and accountable) that Mahathir introduced during his previous tenure.

The Harapan manifesto, Buku Harapan, clearly spells out the various specifics on the institutional reforms to safeguard the nation with proper checks and balances.

But with a truthful government comes the need to eliminate the excesses too. Not surprisingly, Mahathir has taken to eliminating the redundancies on the payroll, as exemplified by the termination of the National Professors Council.

At 3,000 members, it stands testament to how a uncontrollably bloated the government has become. This council was nothing but a group of cheerleaders who lauded Najib’s supposed transformation plan. A sheer waste of productive resources of the nation.

One must remember that of the various clusters in the council, those that dealt with political and polling issues, constantly got the results wrong – sometimes intentionally and conveniently to appease the powers that be. Outcome-based research rather than research-based outcomes.

Such poor analysis has no role in the new government. In fact, the academic contracts of these professors must now be reviewed in their respective universities when they return to the fold. Academic dishonesty is unacceptable. Students need not look up to them at all. If they did, they would be learning the wrong lessons even before they are working in their respective fields.

Image result for majlis profesor negara

No more Allowances for this Majlis Members since Majlis Profesor Negara has been abolished.

The abolition of the National Professors Council, each member of which was getting an additional allowance on top of their own salaries, is the surest sign from Harapan that learned individuals should not be wasting the precious public resources of the government.

It is also a first shot across the bow that there are no proverbial sacred cows that Harapan must protect.

In fact, the 17,000 officers on political contracts were removed last week, to end political patronage appointments and their blind loyalty and support, which Mahathir does not need nor does Harapan demand.

The village councils (JKKK), a traditional bastion of UMNO-BN, was set up to eavesdrop on the political preferences of the people, were abolished too.

Indeed, the same review is now being placed on the Malaysian External Intelligence Organisation, better known as the Research Division (RD) of the Prime Minister’s Department, is yet another sign that heads must roll when they work in cahoots with the regime to peddle false analysis.

Throughout the tenure of Najib, the RD was politicised to preserve the regime, to the degree of creating the false facade that the regime cannot fail even when it was becoming totally dysfunctional.

Clearing out deadwood

Heads must and have rolled. By taking all the above measures, and more, Harapan is confident it can raise the strength of Malaysia into a developed country, ideally, by 2020, if not a little later.

This is the second week of the Harapan administration at work. The people’s expectations are simply monumental as seen in their willingness to offer their views democratically and responsibly.

Harapan welcomes this type of participatory democracy, as opposed to the ‘once in five years’ democracy. It certainly welcomes constructive criticism for continuous improvement. Ideas are never a monopoly of the administration or political party or any single group.

It is indeed time for all of us to be in this together to reinvent Malaysia in a new mould, as a nation that belongs to the many – not the few.


RAIS HUSSIN is a Bersatu supreme council member, and heads its policy and strategy bureau.