Global Anti-Corruption Conclave in Malaysia?

August 19, 2015

Global Anti-Corruption Conclave in Malaysia?

by John

‘Premier’ world gathering in September is not a joke. Or maybe it is.

Right in the middle of what looks to be the biggest political and economic scandal in Malaysia’s history, the International Anti-Corruption Conference and Transparency International will hold their 16th bi-annual anti-corruption conclave in the country’s political capital of Putrajaya September 2-4 – with Malaysia both host and a likely target.

The event is billed as “the world premier forum that brings together heads of state, civil society, the private sector and more to tackle the increasingly sophisticated challenges posed by corruption.”

TS Abu KassimGone Missing

The conference was originally scheduled for Tunisia, but because of a scheduling problem over parliamentary polls it was moved to Malaysia with the cooperation of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission. This makes it all the more uncomfortable, since the MACC’s chief, Abu Kassim Mohamed, was hurriedly sent on vacation in July as the MACC appeared to be closing in on Prime Minister Najib Razak over suspicious transfers of US$681 million into his personal AmBank Account in 2013. The money was transferred back out a few weeks later into an account in Singapore that has now been closed.

The MACC’s probe has seemingly gone quiet with the boss out and other investigators facing police questioning over alleged leaks to the press. Abu Kassim may not even be at the event he is hosting. He reported to a hospital for a back operation and is scheduled to be on leave until October. He has said he would continue the probe of Najib’s finances if and when he comes back.

They know it’s a mess

To the IACC’s credit, it displays a summary of the scandal prominently on its website and acknowledges that it will arrive in the midst of a scandal. “The IACC is indeed still on despite the controversy,” one potential registrant was told by email. “We see the event as an ideal opportunity to explore ongoing issues in Malaysian and beyond.” Having held previous gatherings in Brazil, Peru and South Africa the IACC is presumably used to engaging with countries where corruption is a live issue.

Najib-It takes a worried man

Given press controls and the United Malays National Organization’s lock on media and state power, Malaysia will be a challenge. With so many top officials having been sacked or sidelined by Najib as he defends his position, the country currently looks like a text-book case for how to stonewall a corruption scandal.

Abu Kassim is only one of a large number of officials who have been sacked, bribed, promoted to other positions or otherwise refused to slow investigations into the money transfer or the indebtedness of the troubled 1Malaysia Development Bhd. state development fund. They include Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin; a rival for power; Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail, who was  reportedly preparing to indict Najib; and several others.

‘Ending impunity’

According to a press release from the IACC, the conference is being held “following close collaboration with the Malaysian government and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission,” which are both hosting the event. The conference theme remains “Ending Impunity: People, Integrity, Action.” The anti-graft organization said, “We are delighted to be able take the event to a key country in the fight against corruption in Asia.”

Najib, under fire as never before, was expected to speak at the event. It is unknown if he will still be there. Abu Kassim is also slated to speak. Among the other listed speakers are Aruna Roy, the Indian social activist and freedom of information campaigner; Simon Peh, commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption in Hong Kong; and Daniel Kaufmann, president of the Natural Resource Governance Institute and former director of the World Bank Institute, where he pioneered techniques to measure corruption. The full list is on the IACC website.

The opposition Democratic Action Party parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang, on his blog, demanded that the conference be cancelled, asking “What type of an example of ‘Ending Impunity: People. Integrity. Action’ can Malaysia present to the world and some 800 international participants who will attend and be engaged in plenary debates and workshops on ending impunity for corruption? Or is Malaysia to present a live example as to how difficult or even impossible it is in a country like ours to end impunity for corruption, unless there is a total change of government?”

Beware domestic media

Lim has a point. Given the control the government exerts over the mainstream media in all its forms, one can easily imagine Najib’s administration pulling out all the stops to show domestic viewers and readers that the world has arrived in Malaysia to praise his anti-corruption efforts. An email from Asia Sentinel to the IACC hadn’t been answered as of this posting.

As the conference date has come closer, the IACC website has been crammed with stories on the Malaysian corruption scandal, noting, for instance, on August 3 that Najib had sacked all of the officials connected with the investigation. The IACC laid out a road map for the country, saying Malaysia “needs strong and independent authorities;” and that “press freedoms must be guaranteed and respected;” and that “serious action is needed on cross-border corruption.”

It added that the anti-corruption conference, which involves credible anti-corruption NGOs and officials from across the world, would be on hand to tackle the issues.

If the conference indeed provides a forum that the Malaysian authorities took seriously, the Plenary Agenda offers a possible guide to Malaysian corruption. Plenary I deals with ending impunity. Plenary II deals with fighting corruption in development and investment beyond 2015. Plenary III deals with “keeping business clean and stopping illicit financial flows.” Plenary IV deals with “investigating and exposing the truth.”

State Dept Accused of Watering Down Human Rights Ratings

August 14, 2015

by Common Dreams

US State Department 2014 Human Trafficking Report

State Dept Accused of Watering Down Human Rights Ratings to Advance Obama Trade Agenda

Reuters investigation shows American diplomats played politics with annual human trafficking report

by Lauren McCauley, staff writer

The U.S. State Department is being accused of playing politics with human rights after a damning new Reuters investigation published late Monday revealed that high level officials watered down the opinions of rights experts hired to evaluate nations’ human trafficking records seemingly to advance a number of the Obama administration’s key agenda items.

Exposing a “degree of intervention not previously known,” according to the investigation, there were 14 instances where senior American diplomats overruled the analyst opinions to inflate the record of “strategically important countries” for this year’s Trafficking in Persons Report, released last week.

John Kerry -HT

Among those cases, Malaysia had its status upgraded from the lowest level “Tier 3” to the “Tier 2 Watchlist,” which is one rung down from “Tier 2,” despite analysts finding no improvement in the country’s trafficking record. Rights observers charge that this was a deliberate move to pave the way for the passage of the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.

In June, Congress passed a provision barring the U.S. from entering into trade agreements with “Tier 3” countries. New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez (D), who had spearheaded that effort, issued a statement after the investigation was published, saying: “If true, the Reuters report further confirms what I, along with the human-rights community, have feared all along: The State Department’s trafficking report has been blatantly and intentionally politicized.”

Reuters reports:

Congressional sources and current and former State Department officials said experts in the [Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, or J/TIP] had recommended keeping Malaysia on Tier 3, highlighting a drop in human-trafficking convictions in the country to three last year from nine in 2013. They said, according to the sources, that some of Malaysia’s efforts to end forced labor amounted to promises rather than action.

The country has been cited for having a robust sex slavery industry as well as forced labor camps.Though the news of Malaysia’s pending status change first broke last month, human rights groups reiterated their discontent.

“The vultures circled,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia Division for Human Rights Watch, told Huffington Post. “What you are seeing is significant damage to the credibility of that report because of these political games played back in Washington.”

Other countries where the State Department issued such “inflated recommendations,” according to human rights analysts, included: China, India, Cuba, Mexico, and Uzbekistan.

Reuters notes that “while a Tier 3 ranking can trigger sanctions limiting access to aid…such action is frequently waived.” However, the real power of the trafficking report “is its ability to embarrass countries into action.”

Lawmakers, including Menendez, on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are convening to review the State Department report.

Cambodia: Resolving Internal Political Differences over Maps and Borders

August 15, 2015

Cambodia: Resolving Internal Political Differences over Maps and Borders

by Dr. Y. Ratana*

Cambodia borders with three ASEAN neighbors, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. The three countries had long history of joy and bitterness, peace and non peace with Cambodia. Among three neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam are more serious than Laos; territorial conflicts particularly sea and land are the major impediment to better relations.

Politicians and their political activities and associated non-governmental organizations resort to all means to further their political interests and power by streaming nationalism, racial discrimination, democracy, human rights, and freedom to thwart Cambodia’s relations with its three Indochinese neighbours.

Recently, political parties, political activists, civil society groups drew public attention on the use of wrong border maps between Cambodia and Vietnam; local and international newspapers and social media published news on the activities of these people, such as the confrontation between Cambodian people, opposition law makers with Vietnamese people and the army in some locations in Svay Rieng Province and Kandal Province. The media continue to cover news on the use of wrong map to demarcate the borders  and build the border posts. Of late,the use of map is in the front line and hotline news in recent Cambodian politics.

Hun Sen with Sam Rainsy

To explain the border issue, the government led by Prime Minister  Samdech Hun Sen has been taking several approaches including  explaining the public by national border committees and reaction units and writing letters to the United Nations, the United States, France and the United Kingdom for cooperation to provide Cambodia’s border maps and technical assistance on border demarcation in order to check and verify about the truth of maps, and using Royal Academy of Cambodia to study and explain the frustration of using the maps… according to The Cambodia Daily newspaper published on August 13, 2015:

The Constitution says that only the border maps drawn by the French between 1933 and 1953 at a 1:100,000 scale and deposited at the U.N. by then Prince Norodom Sihanouk in the 1960s can be used for border demarcation. Prime Minister Hun Sen last month wrote to the U.N. requesting the maps, but the U.N. responded last week saying it could not find them. Instead, it offered maps of the border sent by Prince Sihanouk as part of a complaint over U.S. bombing during the Second Indochina War.

The Royal Academy of Cambodia team led by Dr. Sok Touch has been studying on the issue and gathering sources of information, maps from different stakeholders as his first step. His team had  given a press conference on the information and maps in their possession. His team is under strong criticism from politicians, political activists, Cambodian associations, both local and overseas and some groups of people. They have accused him and his team of being biased and working for the Cambodian Peoples’ Party (CPP) of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Border conflicts with Vietnam and illegal migrant Vietnamese have become the focus of political discourse in Cambodia  since 1990s. In 2005, political conflicts on the border with Vietnam became so tense that some politicians and political activists were arrested, tried and sentenced, and exiled. More recently, some political activists and opposition law makers  used the border issue to agitate the public which led  to confrontation with Vietnamese soldiers and people in some areas along the border. It has becoming a hot issue which  angered the CPP government.

The public is concerned about the way Cambodian politicians  treat each other on the border and map issue. There is common concern about the different  interpretations of maps and agreements reflecting the prevailing political disunity and solidarity among Cambodians. They call for unity and peace resolution for all conflict interests. The government side wants to explain that all they had done and have been doing  for the country; they always protect the constitution and Cambodia”s national interest. Prime Minster Hun Sen said that he was not responsible for the loss of Cambodia territory like Kampucheakrom (lower parts of Cambodia) located in Vietnam and some parts of land to Thailand because it was the result of colonial and post colonial but he was the one who came to lead the country and solving the problems he inherited from past leaders left. He always stood firm and promised that he and his CPP party is the protector of monarchy and the country, but he always received unfair treatment and injustice from the opposition and other rival groups.

Political resolution of the territorial conflicts with neighbors will continue into unknown period of times because of the lack of unity and harmony, political will from different parties and general ignorance of  history, about demarcation  and on geopolitics on the part of Cambodians. On the other hand, our  neighboring countries  are not prepared to seek win-win solutions to their border disputes. Their nationalism makes conflict resolution complex and painstakingly slow. This is further hampered by the lack of trust between these governments.

It seems in Cambodia there is no one person who can unite the Cambodian politicians except the King  Norodom Sihamoni. Cambodia may not find political unity and harmonization in the short-term. There is no  respect for a leader who had sacrificed and done so much for the nation. In stead, the opposition in Cambodia can only see some of negative parts of his policies and actions for short-term political gains.

There is a need for good education on history, national identity, religion, culture, and politics to enable Cambodia to be a modern and progressive nation founded Buddhist values of compassion, tolerance, harmony, reciprocity, and  peace.

*Dr. Y. Ratana is Vice President (Academic Affairs), University of Cambodia and Development Economist. The views expressed in this article are his own and do not reflect those of the University of Cambodia.

Malaysia: Foreign Minister Anifah, don’t be ridiculous

July 26, 2017

Dear Foreign Minister Anifah Aman,

You know me and I  know you too since we used to chat on the phone and exchange sms and e-mail on foreign policy, especially on matters relating to Wisma Putra and ASEAN. I have always thought of you as the most level-headed Minister in Najib’s cabinet. That has all changed after reading your comment on Malaysiakini today.

You are wasting your time trying to defend Prime Minister Najib Razak who has lost public trust at home, and blemished his standing abroad. In doing so, not once but twice, you have put your personal reputation on the line by sounding ridiculous.

It does not take a knowledge of Malaysian history to know that the UMNO-BN government led by Najib Razak is corrupt, incompetent, arrogant and dishonest; it has mismanaged our economy. That is common knowledge. I have, for example, lived under 6 Prime Ministers and I know that the 1MBD scandal is but one example of how Najib achieved the distinction of the worst of them. Everything you write below is a distortion of the facts, which are known to all Malaysians and the world at large.

ASEAN Community 2015As Foreign Minister, you should be concerned about Malaysia’s international image.  You would be well advised to worry about Malaysia’s role as the ASEAN Chair 2015 and work in earnest on your people-centered 2015 ASEAN Community project. Right now, this important regional commitment has taken a back seat because Prime Minister Najib is pre-occupied with his own political survival.

Furthermore, I find it  hard to believe that the Wall Street Journal is ignorant about what is happening in Malaysia when you assume that their researchers and journalists do not know our history and politics. The problem with people like you and your Cabinet colleagues is that you refuse to accept the views of intelligent and knowledgeable Malaysians and other observers of the Malaysian political economy. Malaysia  has become a laughing stock of the international community. If you have pride and dignity, you should resign from your post and stop being a circus clown. –Din Merican

Malaysia: Foreign Minister advises Wall Street Journal– Know and Understand Malaysian History

COMMENT by Foreign Minister Anifah Aman: The Wall Street Journal takes aim at Malaysia, but once again displays a woeful lack of knowledge and understanding of our country and its history.

Malaysia has been a democracy since independence in 1957. Elections are fiercely contested, and the opposition won five out of the country’s 13 states in 2008. Political discourse is vibrant and noisy.

The “voices of dissent” that the opposition’s former leader, Anwar Ibrahim, claims not to be able to hear are dominant in Malaysia’s online news media, which has far more readers here than the print press. If anyone doubts Malaysians’ “fundamental liberties”, they can easily see for themselves how free anyone is to criticise the government on these news sites.

Anwar mentions the recent Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) as “encroaching” on those liberties. But he fails to mention that it explicitly states that “No person shall be arrested and detained solely for his political belief or political activity”.

Pota in fact further secures the liberties of Malaysians: both their freedom to speak out, and their freedom from extremists who pose a real threat to the country. Anwar may not take this threat seriously, but the Malaysian government does.

The WSJ gives Anwar the platform to raise false and politically motivated allegations of corruption against our prime minister. Perhaps it might have been relevant for the WSJ to mention that Anwar himself was convicted of corruption in 1999. The verdict was not overturned.

He is currently in jail after a legal process that lasted years. He was first acquitted, then convicted, allowed to appeal, and only when that failed did he go to prison. If he truly believed in his innocence, he could have submitted his own DNA to the court. If the charge had been “trumped up”, as the WSJ falsely says, that would have proven it. But he did not – hardly the action of an innocent man. Far from “sowing communal and religious animosity”, the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak early on launched the 1Malaysia policy.

This is the greatest attempt in Malaysia’s history to forge a national identity that includes all races and religions, and the Prime Minister regularly attends the festivals of non-Muslims, going to churches and temples to share the celebrations of fellow Malaysians.

anifah_amanUNAnwar and the opposition, however, never supported 1Malaysia. Why not? Was it because Anwar himself had a well-documented history of rabble-rousing and extremism, as well as of spouting anti-Semitic remarks – as the WSJ well knows but again fails to mention.

The suggestion that Malaysia is in danger of becoming a “failed state” would be laughable – if it were not for the fact that some people take Anwar seriously and will believe what he says, no matter how wild or imaginary.

Here is what some other people have said about Malaysia recently:

  • Bloomberg rated Malaysia as the world’s 5th most promising emerging market in 2015.
  • The IMF’s latest report on our country was titled: “Favourable Prospects for Malaysia’s Diversified Economy”.
  • A Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations wrote: “Malaysian political discourse is becoming far more open than it was even a decade ago.”
  • The ratings agency Fitch recently upgraded the outlook for Malaysia.

This is the truth about Malaysia today. It is a pity that the WSJ has fallen for desperate, unfounded allegations by a politician and presented them as facts – thereby taking sides in internal Malaysian politics.

Dato’Seri ANIFAH AMAN is Malaysia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Shashi Tharoor on British Colonialism: The Indian Experience

July 22, 2015

Shashi Tharoor on British Colonialism: The Indian Experience

This is for all those who believe India benefited more than that it lost from being ruled by the British. Here’s a wonderful speech at the Oxford Union Society by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor on the motion “This house believes Britain owes reparations to her former colonies.”

In his stirring speech he brilliantly explains how India was governed for the benefit of the Britain and the effect of 200 year rules. What did 200 years of British rule cost us? India had been 23% of the global economy in the early 18th century. When the British left 200 years later, they’d managed to bring it down to a mere 4%! …and that is just a fraction of what the British did. He also spoke about how Britain’s industrialiation was anchored on the de-industrialisation  of India.

Before listening to Dr. Tharoor, hear the views of Henna Dattani–Britain Does Owe Reparations.

INDIA: Does democracy lead to good governance?

July 18, 2015

INDIA: Does democracy lead to good governance?

by Shashi Tharoor

tharoorAfter gaining independence from Britain in 1947, India was something of a poster child for the virtues of democracy — in stark contrast with China, which became a Communist dictatorship in 1949.

Until the 1970s, it was widely argued that, while both countries suffered from extreme poverty, underdevelopment and disease, India’s model was superior because its people were free to choose their own rulers.

With China’s economic boom, however, the counter argument — that a repressive political system is more conducive to development — has gained currency. But while China’s recent performance has been spectacular, India’s model may well stand up better in the long run.

The conversation changed after 1978, when China surged ahead of India economically, causing many to conclude that India’s chaotic democracy was holding back its people. After all, if China’s leaders want to build a new six-lane expressway, they can bulldoze any number of villages. In India, widening a two-lane road could incite popular protests and be tied up in court for years.

That old debate has now taken a new twist with the publication of a new book by Professor Daniel A Bell of Beijing’s Tsinghua University. Professor Bell argues that Chinese authoritarianism — specifically, its “political meritocracy” — is a viable model of governance, possibly even superior to the democracy of India and the West.

Democracy’s advantage

India debated this question 40 years ago, when then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a State of Emergency. She suspended civil liberties, locked up opposition leaders and censored the press, based on the belief that democracy had impeded India’s development. The issue was resolved in 1977, with an election that defenestrated Gandhi and restored democracy.

But the “bread versus freedom” dilemma remains: Can governments deliver economic growth and prosperity while respecting their citizens’ rights and freedoms? The dysfunction of Indian politics in recent years, with its fractious coalitions and disrupted parliament sessions, has made that question seem more relevant than ever.

I am not convinced that Professor Bell’s answer is the right one. Rapid industrialisation and development have lifted millions of Chinese out of poverty, but often at the cost of great human suffering. China may have grown at breakneck speed, but it has broken a lot of necks in the process.

One might like to contrast India’s sclerotic bureaucracy with China’s efficient one, India’s red tape with China’s red carpet for foreign investors, and India’s partisan politics with China’s Party hierarchy.

But there is no doubt that India’s pluralist democracy has enabled it to manage its diversity superbly, giving all citizens the sense that they have a strong stake in their country — and a real influence over how it is run.

In fact, it is India’s large population of poor and disadvantaged citizens — not the elite — that lends Indian democracy its legitimacy.

The poor turn out to vote because they know that participating in elections is their most effective means of letting the government know their demands. When they are frustrated with their government, they vote against its leaders in the next election, rather than launching revolts or insurrections.

When violent movements do arise, the democratic process often defuses them through accommodation: Yesterday’s militants become today’s chief ministers — and tomorrow’s opposition leaders.

By contrast, if China’s system faces a fundamental challenge, its only response is repression. That may have worked so far, but every autocratic state in history has reached a point where repression was no longer enough to ensure order and progress. If China encounters widespread popular unrest, all bets are off. The dragon could stumble, while the elephant trundles on.

Moreover, Professor Bell’s perception of China’s meritocracy may be too optimistic. Given that the Chinese system is rigidly bureaucratic, permitting only gradual ascent up the career ladder, it is impossible for a young and relatively inexperienced but dynamic and inspiring leader — like, say, US President Barack Obama — to emerge.

China would not choose gifted leaders who were failures in their youth, such as US presidents Franklin D Roosevelt or Abraham Lincoln. Rebels and non-conformists who have flourished in Indian politics — leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi or Jawaharlal Nehru — would never have gotten started in China’s system.

Beyond China, Professor Bell cites the success of authoritarian systems such as Singapore and Taiwan. But these countries probably would have been at least as successful without authoritarianism. The methods they used to promote growth and development are consistent with democratic principles, to the point that many formerly authoritarian states in East Asia managed to carry out successful transitions to democracy, without derailing their development.

Finally, Professor Bell’s view can be refuted by a simple observation: No population that has gained democratic rights has clamoured for a return to dictatorship. That alone should be enough to prove that democracy is a strength, not a weakness.

China’s system may have enabled its rapid economic rise, but its dependence on a top-to-bottom consensus means that it functions well only in a predictable environment. India’s system, by contrast, requires consensus on only one point: That everyone does not always need to agree, so long as they agree on how to disagree.

In an unpredictable world, that gives India an undeniable — and invaluable — advantage. ― Today

*Shashi Tharoor, a former United Nations under-secretary-general, is a member of India’s Parliament for the Congress Party and chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs.


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