Najib Razak: Malaysian Liars in Officialdom change their stories

February 10, 2016

Najib Razak:  Malaysian Liars in Officialdom change their stories

by John Berthelsen

What Obama will not do for his country–He  even shakes hands with Malaysia’s No.1 Crook

By now, the mysterious US$681 million (RMB2.83 billion at current exchange rates) that showed up in the personal AmBank account of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2013 has been said to come from so many different sources and to be used for so many different purposes that the government can’t keep track.

The source of the money is just one of a series of questions dogging Najib, who has fought to stay in power by firing or neutralizing anybody who might get in his way, including Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and a long string of others.

To reports that he is being investigated in Singapore, New York, Switzerland and France, Najib has blamed unnamed dark forces or political enemies. He has hinted that the Chinese are involved in a plot to take over the country from ethnic Malays. He has paid vast amounts of money, created make-work jobs or allowed rent-seeking from top UMNO cadres through dodgy contracts to keep himself in power. In his latest move, last week he ousted Mukhriz Mahathir, the son of the onetime Prime Minister, from power in Kedah after a bruising fight that sources in the northern part of the country said was won by payments to turn around the votes of state assembly members backing Mukhriz.

When the US$681 million was first made public in July 2015, Najib said it came from an unnamed Middle Eastern source whom he declined to identify and denied that it was for his personal use. He refused to go beyond that.

Then officials said the money had come from a Saudi source and that it was to be spent in the 2013 election to ward off Islamic fundamentalists, although there were none – a violation of Malaysian constitutional law, which bars donations from foreign sources from being used for political purposes – and that US$620 million had been returned to the donor.

On January 26, the Attorney General, Mohamed Apandi Ali, a longtime United Malays National Organization stooge, held a hasty press conference “clearing” Najib of any wrongdoing in the affair while at that time refusing to name the source. Then he told the Malaysian daily Sin Chew the money had come from a member of the Saudi royal family “out of a belief in [Najib] and his leadership on key issues.”

But on February 5, the New York Times reported the Saudi Foreign Minister as saying the money hadn’t come from the Saudi Royal Family, but that he believed it had come from a businessman who was involved in a business deal with Najib – although he offered no further details. In any event, in the intervening three years, there has been no evidence that Najib was involved in a business deal that would require that much money.

In fact, the only thing that is clear about the donation is that nobody knows where it came from or what it was to be used for. There has been no documentation produced to show the provenance of the money. Apandi didn’t produce a paper trail when he cleared Najib on January 26.

According to a July report by the website Sarawak Report, edited by Clare Rewcastle Brown from the UK, the money actually was sent to Malaysia from a British Virgin Islands shell company into the Singapore account of a private Swiss bank and from there into Najib’s personal account at AmBank in Kuala Lumpur. It seems unlikely that either a Saudi prince or a businessman would choose to channel that much money through a shell company from the BVI for legitimate business purposes, or to seek to ward off Islamists in a moderate Muslim country that has no problems with fundamentalists.

A few months after the 2013 election, the US$620 million was returned to the same account. Some reports have said the money has been frozen by the Singaporeans. The Singaporeans announced last week that they were investigating several Malaysian accounts although they didn’t name who the accounts belonged to. Mahathir Mohamad, who has become the most potent adversary against a man who was once his protégé, has demanded an answer from the Singaporean on whether they froze the money or not.

Story Keeps Changing on Malaysian PM’s Embarrassing Accounts

Apandi Ali–The Destroyer of The Rule of Law

The main informant for newspaper and television reports giving the Saudis as the source of the money appears to be a minor Saudi prince named Turki bin Abdullah, the late King Abdullah’s seventh son, who is known to have received US$70 million from a firm connected to 1Malaysia Development Bd., the troubled state-backed investment fund.

Turki has been linked to the renegade Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, or Jho Low, as he is known, who collaborated with Najib in setting up 1MDB in 2009. The Swiss government has charged that 1MDB has been looted of US$4 billion, although it didn’t name Najib. Jho Low is currently keeping a low profile, believed to be living in Taiwan. The huge yacht he owns, the 91.5-meter Equanimity, is sitting at a dock in New Zealand, apparently for servicing.

In any case, the growing confusion over the explanations is raising further doubts in Malaysia and portraying a government in disarray, to the point where Apandi has threatened journalists with life imprisonment and 10 strokes of the cane under proposed amendments to the Official Secrets Act for being a party to leaking state secrets. Both Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists said they are “appalled” by Apandi’s statement.

In the past, “state secrets” have largely been anything the government says is a secret including criminal breach of trust and abuse of power. In addition, Khalid Abu Bakar, the Inspector-General of Police aka Twitter King, is warning the public not to comment on the 2006 murder of the Mongolian beauty and translator Altantuya Shaariibuu in the wake of reports in France that two top officials connected to the 1996 purchase by the Malaysian Ministry of Defense when Najib was Defense Minister, prior to becoming Prime Minister of French submarines have been charged with bribing Najib.

The purchase earned Najib €114 million (US$127.1 million at current exchange rates) in kickbacks that allegedly were transferred to the United Malays National Organization. Another €36 million, said to be for the personal use of Najib and his close friend Abdul Razak Baginda, was routed to a mysterious company in Hong Kong called Terasasi Hong Kong Ltd., which is nothing more than a name on a wall at a Wan Chai accounting firm’s office.

February 9, 2016

Dismay and Disappointment internationally over Malaysia’s Financial Scandals, says former Malaysian Envoy

by Jennifer Gomez

Putrajaya and Prime Minister Dato’Seri Najib Razak are facing an unprecedented onslaught amid the negative reporting globally about 1MDB related financial scandals, says Ex Envoy, Dennis Ignatius.

Dennis Ignatius, who was with the Malaysian foreign service for more than three decades, said there was increasing dismay and disappointment internationally over the direction Malaysia had taken.

He added that the negative press was bad for the country’s economy and Malaysia’s reputation as a moderate, stable and progressive nation was in tatters, squandered by leaders who were only concerned with personal power and personal gain.

“Today, we are viewed as corrupt, undemocratic, unstable and retrogressive, a nation heading towards extremism and intolerance,” the former ambassador to Canada told The Malaysian Insider through email.

Commenting on certain ministers and the Malaysian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Dato’ Ahmad Rasidi Hazizi’s defence of Putrajaya in the wake of the bad press over debt-ridden state investor 1Malaysia Development Bhd and the RM2.6 billion donation received by Najib, Ignatius said even a single report by the likes of Bloomberg or the Financial Times had an impact more than “a hundred ambassadors peddling government propaganda”.

Ignatius, who also served as Malaysian Ambassador to Chile and Argentina, said Malaysia’s High Commissioner to UK could push the government line in letters to British newspapers all he wanted, but this would only go down well with the UMNO crowd at home and not with anyone else.

He added that politicians these days said things to burnish their own credentials within the party to score cheap points at home rather than try to win arguments abroad.

Below are excerpts from the email interview.

Malaysia’s reputation as a moderate, stable and progressive nation, a reputation that has taken us many decades to cultivate, is now in absolute tatters, squandered by leaders who are only concerned with personal power and personal gain. Today, we are viewed as corrupt, undemocratic, unstable and retrogressive, a nation heading towards extremism and intolerance.-Former Malaysian Envoy, Dato’ Dennis Ignatius

TMI: The international spotlight Malaysia is experiencing now, is it unprecedented?

Ignatius: In all my decades as a diplomat, ambassador and political commentator, I have never seen such an unprecedented level of scrutiny not just by the international media but by other governments as well. Never before has Malaysia received such sustained bad press, such negative reviews, such pointed criticism. This even goes beyond the criticisms that were forthcoming when Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim was jailed and that was already awfully bad.

I think there is now increasing dismay and disappointment internationally over the direction Malaysia has taken. For many years, the international community was willing to give the government the benefit of the doubt despite so many questionable policies because it viewed Malaysia as a valuable partner or perhaps it was hoping that somehow the government would come to its senses and correct itself. Now, there is frustration and increasing impatience over the unwillingness of the government to get its act together. We are becoming a liability to our friends, and neighbours, an embarrassment.

TMI: In the past, how did the Malaysian government respond to such things? Was it done through the Malaysian ambassadors or other channels? What we have now are ministers issuing statements against certain foreign reports, such as Communications and Multimedia Minister Dato’ Seri Salleh Said Keruak and in the case of the report in Financial Times (FT), the Malaysian ambassador to UK wrote to FT in protest.

The Lalang Minister from Sabah

Ignatius: Ambassadors are, of course, expected to press the government’s case with their host countries and to engage the foreign press. It is never an easy task, even at the best of times. Ambassadors can try to spin the truth (didn’t Lord Acton once say that an ambassador is an honest man sent abroad to lie on behalf of his country?), but there’s only so much they can do especially when the news from home is so devastating, when the facts on the ground are so compelling and when the government itself is being evasive and unconvincing. And it continues to spin lies with batting an eyelid.

In any case, a single report by a newspaper like Bloomberg or the Financial Times carries more weight and has more impact than a hundred ambassadors peddling government propaganda.

The strategy of buying their way out of bad press by hiring slick PR firms to plant feel good stories in the foreign media has undoubtedly backfired on them. Most western media are now wary of such PR people though there may still be unscrupulous journalists willing to obfuscate the truth for money.

And don’t forget that it is now much harder for governments to spin the facts because of the Internet and things like Facebook and Twitter. Local news goes global in an instant; opinions are formed and conclusions are made based on group connections that are extremely difficult to change. Undemocratic governments are rightly fearful of the Internet and seek to control it.

Our High Commissioner in London can, therefore, push the government line all he wants in letters to the Financial Times and other British newspapers, but it is clear that the series of scandals that have rocked the government have gone well past anyone’s ability to spin. His letter might go down well with the UMNO crowd at home but it will be scorned by almost everyone else.

Of course, it doesn’t help when our ministers also shoot their mouths off and talk  unadulterated nonsense. But you must understand that these ministers are not thinking about foreign reaction; they are fighting to convince their own supporters and their domestic constituency. They know they cannot hope to convince other governments or the international press; all they can do is to try to hold the line where it matters most to them – domestically.

Besides, so much of what is said these days by some of these politicians is simply designed to burnish their own credentials within the party, shameless and unprincipled apple polishers, rather than to seriously win over the international media. It’s about scoring cheap points at home rather than trying to win the argument abroad.

TMI:In your opinion, are Putrajaya and The Prime Minister facing an unprecedented onslaught?

Ignatius: I think that’s clear enough. And about time too. For too long the international community has been largely silent in the face of so much abuse of power – the jailing of Anwar, the use of draconian laws to stifle dissent, the harassment of the opposition, and the slow death of our once proud democracy. While human rights NGOs rightfully took the government to task, Western democracies stayed largely silent or just confined themselves to issuing pro forma protests so as not to jeopardise lucrative business deals or stay on side with a so-called “moderate” Islamic nation. US President Barack Obama, for example, shamefully coddled one of the most undemocratic leaders we’ve ever had instead of upholding the great democratic traditions of his own country. It simply encouraged the government into thinking that they could get away with anything, that they were too important to be criticised.

Malaysians, frustrated at not being able to find justice at home, subsequently went global with their concerns – the globalisation of our discontent as I called in a recent article. People like Khairuddin Abu Hassan appealed to foreign jurisdictions to take action and it has forced the international community to sit up and take notice, particularly when these scandals also violate the laws of a number of foreign jurisdictions.

With foreign authorities investigating high level corruption and money-laundering in Malaysia, we may at last see some justice done.

TMI: In your opinion, how damaging are these international reports to Malaysia?

Ignatius: There is no doubt that the many exposés about corruption and malfeasance as well as the crackdown on the opposition, the stifling of the media and Internet, the restrictions on civil liberties and the whole hudud debate have been extremely damaging to Malaysia’s reputation.

Malaysia’s reputation as a moderate, stable and progressive nation, a reputation that has taken us many decades to cultivate, is now in absolute tatters, squandered by leaders who are only concerned with personal power and personal gain. Today, we are viewed as corrupt, undemocratic, unstable and retrogressive, a nation heading towards extremism and intolerance.

The economic consequences have been devastating as well. Respected financial commentators like Bloomberg are reporting an erosion of investor confidence. There’s too much political uncertainty, too many reports of corruption, mismanagement and sleaze and that always makes investors nervous. It is not for no reason that last year, foreign investors sold a net US$7.4 billion of Malaysia stocks and bonds and the ringgit fell 19%.

TMI: What can or should Putrajaya do, should ministers continue with their knee jerk reactions to reject the international reports or should there be more diplomacy?

Ignatius: Diplomacy? I don’t know that there’s a role for diplomacy in all this. Diplomacy can’t cover over scandal and corruption and neither is it designed to do that. The government must put its house in order, get real and undertake meaningful reform. It has to convince both Malaysians and the world that it can change for the better. Regretfully, there is no sign of that. Their strategy is to deny everything, keep insisting that everything is fine, vilify their critics and hope that it will all blow over. It’s the Mugabe method, I suppose.

TMI: What do you think about the Swiss attorney-general (A-G) making a public statement about the 1MDB probe. Minister Salleh Keruak said it was wrong of him to issue a public statement. Do you agree?

Ignatius: Of course the minister would want things done on a government to government basis, away from the glare of publicity. They want to try to control the message, put their own spin on the issue. By going public the way he did, the Swiss A-G, who by the way is free of political interference, brought the international spotlight back on the issue. It was nothing short of a slap in the face of our own A-G who conveniently dismissed the case against his boss.

It was a sign that the international community has lost confidence in the ability of Malaysian law enforcement to properly and fairly investigate the matter. I’m sure most Malaysians consider the Swiss A-G a hero, an example of what a real A-G should be like. More power to him!

And the latest reports that the Saudi foreign minister is now distancing his country from the so-called donation speaks, I think, of Saudi unhappiness and impatience that they are being dragged into the scandal. I wonder what our A-G will now have to say after so smugly dismissing the case.

Joseph Stiglitz: Creating a Learning Society

February 9, 2016

Joseph Stiglitz: Creating a Learning Society


Calculus on a blackboard

(pic) Financial market liberalisation may undermine countries? ability to learn another set of skills that are essential for development: how to allocate resources and manage risk. Photograph: Image Source / Alamy/Alamy

by Joseph E.  Stiglitz

Citizens in the world’s richest countries have come to think of their economies as being based on innovation. But innovation has been part of the developed world’s economy for more than two centuries. Indeed, for thousands of years, until the Industrial Revolution, incomes stagnated. Then per capita income soared, increasing year after year, interrupted only by the occasional effects of cyclical fluctuations.

The Nobel laureate economist Robert Solow noted some 60 years ago that rising incomes should largely be attributed not to capital accumulation, but to technological progress – to learning how to do things better. While some of the productivity increase reflects the impact of dramatic discoveries, much of it has been due to small, incremental changes. And, if that is the case, it makes sense to focus attention on how societies learn, and what can be done to promote learning – including learning how to learn.

A century ago, the economist and political scientist Joseph Schumpeter argued that the central virtue of a market economy was its capacity to innovate. He contended that economists’ traditional focus on competitive markets was misplaced; what mattered was competition for the market, not competition in the market. Competition for the market drove innovation. A succession of monopolists would lead, in this view, to higher standards of living in the long run.

Schumpeter’s conclusions have not gone unchallenged. Monopolists and dominant firms, like Microsoft, can actually suppress innovation. Unless checked by anti-trust authorities, they can engage in anti-competitive behavior that reinforces their monopoly power.

Moreover, markets may not be efficient in either the level or direction of investments in research and learning. Private incentives are not well aligned with social returns: firms can gain from innovations that increase their market power, enable them to circumvent regulations, or channel rents that would otherwise accrue to others.

But one of Schumpeter’s fundamental insights has held up well: conventional policies focusing on short-run efficiency may not be desirable, once one takes a long-run innovation/learning perspective. This is especially true for developing countries and emerging markets.

Industrial policies – in which governments intervene in the allocation of resources among sectors or favour some technologies over others – can help “infant economies” learn. Learning may be more marked in some sectors (such as industrial manufacturing) than in others, and the benefits of that learning, including the institutional development required for success, may spill over to other economic activities.

Such policies, when adopted, have been frequent targets of criticism. Government, it is often said, should not be engaged in picking winners. The market is far better in making such judgments.

But the evidence on that is not as compelling as free-market advocates claim. America’s private sector was notoriously bad in allocating capital and managing risk in the years before the global financial crisis, while studies show that average returns to the economy from government research projects are actually higher than those from private-sector projects – especially because the government invests more heavily in important basic research. One only needs to think of the social benefits traceable to the research that led to the development of the internet or the discovery of DNA.

But, putting such successes aside, the point of industrial policy is not to pick winners at all. Rather, successful industrial policies identify sources of positive externalities – sectors where learning might generate benefits elsewhere in the economy.

Viewing economic policies through the lens of learning provides a different perspective on many issues. The great economist Kenneth Arrow emphasised the importance of learning by doing. The only way to learn what is required for industrial growth, for example, is to have industry. And that may require either ensuring that one’s exchange rate is competitive or that certain industries have privileged access to credit – as a number of East Asian countries did as part of their remarkably successful development strategies.

There is a compelling infant economy argument for industrial protection. Moreover, financial market liberalisation may undermine countries’ ability to learn another set of skills that are essential for development: how to allocate resources and manage risk.

Likewise, intellectual property, if not designed properly, can be a two-edged sword when viewed from a learning perspective. While it may enhance incentives to invest in research, it may also enhance incentives for secrecy – impeding the flow of knowledge that is essential to learning while encouraging firms to maximise what they draw from the pool of collective knowledge and to minimise what they contribute. In this scenario, the pace of innovation is actually reduced.

More broadly, many of the policies (especially those associated with the neoliberal “Washington Consensus”) foisted on developing countries with the noble objective of promoting the efficiency of resource allocation today actually impede learning, and thus lead to lower standards of living in the long run.

Virtually every government policy, intentionally or not, for better or for worse, has direct and indirect effects on learning. Developing countries where policymakers are cognisant of these effects are more likely to close the knowledge gap that separates them from the more developed countries. Developed countries, meanwhile, have an opportunity to narrow the gap between average and best practices, and to avoid the danger of secular stagnation.

• Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, is University Professor at Columbia University. His most recent book, co-authored with Bruce Greenwald, is Creating a Learning Society: A New Approach to Growth, Development, and Social Progress.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2014.

My friend Abu Talib responds to this UMNO Fella Apandi

February 8, 2016

My friend Abu Talib responds to this UMNO Fella: A-G Apandi

by V. Anbalagan, Assistant News Editor

My principle is to assist them in the performance of their duties and responsibilities.It was also my directive not to prefer any criminal charge on any suspect unless the prosecution has sufficient, credible and admissible evidence to justify prosecution.–Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman

Former Attorney-General Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman today said he had never directed investigation agencies, including the anti-graft body, to stop their probes.

“My principle is to assist them in the performance of their duties and responsibilities. It was also my directive not to prefer any criminal charge on any suspect unless the prosecution has sufficient, credible and admissible evidence to justify prosecution,” he said.

Current A-G Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali had said he had followed in Abu Talib’s footsteps when he ordered the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to close its investigations into the RM2.6 billion donation and RM42 million SRC International funds deposited in prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s private accounts.

“I am just following my master’s footsteps. Now he said I couldn’t do that. I am confused.I hope he can come to see me so that I can offer my explanation,” Apandi reportedly told Sin Chew Daily in an exclusive interview.

Apandi was a senior officer with the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) in the early 1980s when Abu Talib was the A-G. Abu Talib last week told The Malaysian Insider that the A-G, who is also the public prosecutor, had no authority to order MACC to close its investigations into the two cases.

“This is a case of public importance that has attracted worldwide attention. The A-G must help MACC to collect evidence as the source of the fund is outside Malaysia,” Abu Talib had said.

Today, Abu Talib said Apandi should refresh his memory of cases where he had directed an on-going investigation to be closed.”Frankly, I cannot remember,” he said.

Abu Talib also said Apandi would not have been in a confused state of mind if he had indeed followed in his footsteps.

“His decision in the circumstances has raised more questions than solve the allegations against the Prime Minister, the status of other investigations related to the activities of 1MDB and persons connected with the company,” he said.

He said that in all fairness to Najib and the public, and mindful that the RM2.6 billion came from outside Malaysia, Apandi should have given all the necessary assistance to MACC to complete their investigations.

“It may well be that at the end of the day, Apandi will find enough evidence to show that Najib had done no wrong under the law,” he added.

The public, said Abu Talib, was not likely to question Apandi’s decision (to clear the PM of criminal wrongdoing) if he had allowed MACC to collect evidence outside Malaysia.

“As it is, Apandi’s decision appears questionable and has cast negative perceptions on his impartiality, commitment to justice and rule of law,” he added.

Abu Talib said he was not answerable to Apandi and that he was free to exercise his constitutional right to comment on a case of great public interest, so long he did not cross the limits of freedom of expression.

“My comment is clear and made in good faith. There is nothing further to explain,” he said.He added that Apandi was welcome to see him if he wanted to learn and know more about the law.


ASEAN: 50 Years and Beyond

February 8, 2016

ASEAN: 50 Years and Beyond

by Nunn Nagara

THE Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) enters its 50th year of operation this year, and many in the region sought to peek into what it would look like in another 50 years.

ISIS Malaysia held two days of brainstorming during the week in an international Track Two (non-governmental) roundtable in Kuala Lumpur titled “ASEAN in 50 Years” in the context of a rapidly changing world.

The discussions did not lack optimism: despite challenges, there was general agreement that ASEAN would still be around as a centenarian in 2066-67. This was not without cause. Evidently ASEAN today, upon growing steadily towards a formal Community, has stood the test of time.

ASEANn (1967) has endured and lasted better than its predecessors SEATO (South-East Asia Treaty Organisation, 1954), ASA (Association of South-East Asia, 1961) and Maphilindo (Malaya-Philippines-Indonesia, 1963).

ASEAN endured precisely because it was unlike its predecessors. With ASEAN, the sovereign nations of South-East Asia at last have a regional organisation fit for their purposes.

SEATO (Eisenhower-Dulles project) was a Cold War  of the West alien to South-East Asia. Its members were Australia, Britain, France, New Zealand, Pakistan and the US, with the only South-East Asian countries being US allies Thailand and the Philippines. Although without overwhelming contradictions, its small membership proved too limited for regional needs and it too died a natural death.

Maphilindo began as an emotional pan-regional appeal to ethnic identity, but in coming on the eve of the formation of Malaysia and being promoted by Indonesia and the Philippines which tried to pre-empt Malaysia, it was regarded as subversive to Malaysian territory and identity.

By 1967, Indonesia and the Philippines were under new leadership. Gen. Suharto replaced Sukarno and Marcos succeeded Macapagal, and Malaysia together with Singapore and Thailand worked with them to form ASEAN.

All member nations would have equal rights and privileges, and none would interfere in the internal affairs of the others including territorial integrity. In time, ASEAN would take in new members and acquire a higher international profile.

Among the questions raised at the Track Two ASEAN Roundtable was whether ASEAN would become an integrated regional body or remain an inter-governmental organisation in 50 years. Related to this was the question of whether it was better to have ASEAN as a supranational regional “superstate” or have it remain as an agglomeration of sovereign states.

Such discussions risk veering off at an tangent, as these artificial dichotomies have little to do with the real world. Such debates make intriguing academic discourses but are unrelated to the here and now.

Even the EU as the most developed regional grouping of states never considered replacing the national with the supranational. It is not a question of either national or regional, but both.

EU member countries, like those of ASEAN, see advantages in exercising their diplomatic clout and economic potential within a larger regional body – provided it does not preclude their core national prerogatives.It makes sense to develop common regional propensities to the fullest, or until it begins to compromise national sovereignty or interests. There is often a trade-off, and several EU states are already seeing some limits on certain fronts.

Ultimately, such dualities of national-supranational are false, misleading and distracting. It is like pitting the extreme of the free market against that of state control, when every economic system in the world is a combination of the two where both exist at all.

There was also a roundtable consensus that the nation state will continue to evolve, prevail, and remain significant as an arbiter of national and international policymaking.

Then the question becomes, to what extent would a South-East Asian nation evolve in 50 years? More to the point, what would ASEAN itself as a grouping of 10 or 11 countries including Timor Leste become by then?

Meanwhile, the identity of the nation state as formally defined continues to be eroded practically everywhere. Erosive factors include the growing influence of NGOs or CSOs, increasing multi-ethnicities and various other diversities, and territorial disputes that tug at the physical character of the state itself.

The operations of all regional institutions are limited and messy, and ASEAN is no exception. Yet, members choose to remain and non-members wish they could someday join.

ASEAN continues to experience centripetal forces tending towards coalescing inwards, as well as centrifugal forces pulling it apart. Global markets and major powers in the neighbourhood are responsible.

There are times when a member nation may feel tempted to drift away, thinking that its fortunes are better met outside ASEAN. Singapore once felt that way, followed by Indonesia more lately. But any (passing) sense of self-importance or regional frustration is soon overcome by the prevailing realities. As a Singapore policymaker once put it privately, it is not as if Singapore can just row away and join another region of its choice.

Beyond all the bubbly talk of a “borderless world,” geography is still important. It remains at the centre of geopolitics and geo-economics. Beyond the formal state, however, lies the “deep state” said to act as the ultimate determinant of policy direction above and beyond official channels and procedures. On a regional level, it can also apply to a transnational body like ASEAN.

Thus, a Deep ASEAN would act much like an ASEAN state, but on a regional scale and in the common collective interest of its member states. There are signs that a Deep Asean has taken root after the inclusion of the CLMV countries (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam).

Progress towards the regalia of a Deep ASEAN.however. has been slow. It took many years for the Secretary-General to acquire the status of an ASEAN government minister, then full regional coverage in its membership, then a formal legal identity with a Charter, with more developments set to come.

The extended powers that a Deep ASEAN offers member nations in representing their shared interests are also an attraction for them to compromise on some aspects of their national sovereignty to join.

Asean must then develop its legitimacy by broadening its internal constituency. This has come with moves towards a people-oriented ASEAN, then a people-centred ASEAN, and now with talk of a people-led ASEAN.

But “people” as an indeterminate mass is quite meaningless without being harnessed and honed into policy making form. Unless this is done through the appropriate political processes, improved people-to-people exchanges could mean little more than expanded tourism flows and enhanced student exchange programmes.

Another question raised was whether ASEAN had to include all countries in South-East Asia. The name “ASEAN” says so, its founding fathers said so, and it serves ASEAN’s legitimacy to do so.

There was also discussion and confusion over neutrality or non-alignment as an ASEAN imperative. ASEAN is, has been, and needs to be neutral or non-aligned in respect of the major powers – but not with the sanctity of international law which it must embrace.

ASEAN remains a minnow relative to the US, China, Russia and India – all of which have renewed or heightened their interests in this region. Asean members have no choice but to close ranks.

The major powers will keep ASEAN relevant and important, but only if ASEAN deals with all equally and impartially.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Respect Citizens’ Right to Participation in Governance Mr Apandi Ali told

February 7, 2016

Malaysia’s  Attorney-General Apandi Ali told: Respect Citizens’ Right to Participation in Governance

by Edgardo Legaspi

COMMENT | It was a rather unfortunate statement from Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali (on harsher punishments for press who report on information leaks), one which may move Malaysia further backwards in its path toward transparency, accountability and democracy.

His reference to China is telling – as this is one of the most restrictive countries in the world – and it may indicate the direction he wants to the country to go. Malaysia has two states with Freedom of Information (FOI) laws (Selangor and Penang). This is a rarity in the region (only Indonesia and Thailand have FOI laws).

Now Apandi is threatening to strengthen the Official Secrets Act (OSA) by imposing harsher penalties on violators – and including medieval corporal punishment at that.

The A-G need not be too literal when looking at the constitution. It is true that the ‘right to know’ is not explicitly written in it, but it is generally accepted that freedom of information is an essential component to the practice of freedom of expression, as a guarantee to ensure public participation in governance.

This view is too literal. Is he also going to argue that Malaysia need not guarantee press freedom because it is not written in the constitution?He may well also argue that since Malaysia has not ratified the international covenant on civil and political rights, which is more explicit on FOI (“right to seek, receive… information”), that the country is not obliged to guarantee this right.

Secrecy means something to hide

As chief lawyer of the state, such a statement is irresponsible, as his duty is to promote the rule of law and public interest. It is not his job to defend politicians and government officials. On the contrary, his role is to protect the country and its people from abuse committed by such people.

The problem is that official secrecy is often used to hide corruption and state abuses.In these instances, whistleblowers must be protected as these disclosures are in the interest of the public and the country.

Who will be the Next Governor of Bank Negara and  who is the Replacement for MACC Top Post will confirm that 1mDB Cover-up is complete

Apandi’s statements are also a serious threat to freedom of the press.By threatening to prosecute journalists who disseminate information from whistleblowers, he is in effect telling the media to avoid covering such stories, or else face the risk of a criminal case.

The obligation of the media is to the public – to facilitate free speech and public participation by keeping citizens informed, especially about public affairs. To raise this threat of prosecution by forcing journalists to reveal their sources is a direct attack on the public trust that the media is trying to build.

Protection of journalistic sources is sacred in keeping this trust.It is precisely because whistleblowers face the threats and the risk of attacks from powerful people that protection of sources is at the core of journalistic ethics.

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EDGARDO LEGASPI is Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) Executive Director.