Kleptocracy, Corruption and Media Control

July 30, 2015

Malaysia: Kleptocracy, Corruption and Media Control

by Dr Syed Farid Alatas


Syed FaridThe recent reports in the Wall Street Journal and Sarawak Report alleging massive corruption involving the upper echelons of the political and corporate elite of Malaysia have once again raised the question of whether or not Malaysia is a kleptocracy. The term is derived from the words ‘klepto’ — (thief) and — cracy’ (rule) and refers to a government dominated by those who use their office to seek personal financial gain, power and status at the expense of the governed. The impact of kleptocratic rulers and officials on a country is devastating. They rule with unscrupulousness and hypocrisy, and distort development planning and policy. Such rulers do not seem to have any interest in the rights, opinions or sentiments of the people they govern. Under their watch a country would undergo large-scale resource depletion and experience a loss of talented human resources. Kleptocratic rule also has dire consequences for the freedom of expression in a country.

A vital means of combating corruption and preventing the emergence of a kleptocratic state is the maintenance of a free press. Although it is true that the irresponsible exercise of the freedom of the press and freedom of expression in general can be harmful to the stability and security of a country, the muzzling of voices of conscience pose a greater danger. Excessive media control is a symptom of authoritarianism. The gradual imposition of high-handed governmental controls over the media takes place as rulers feel more and more insecure and vulnerable as a result of their misdeeds being publicised and debated by academics, activists and the population in general.

The kleptocrats impose restrictions and controls over the media in order to shield themselves from criticism, minimise public information and debate about their misadventures, and eventually prevent voters from acting against them at the polls. It is obvious that the freer people are to obtain information, analyse government decisions and actions, and criticise the perpetrators of illegal and despicable acts, the stronger those people become vis à vis their government. Is that not how things should be? After all, elected polit In fact, there is evidence from cross-country research to show that “a free press is bad news for corruption”.

In a study published in 2003, Aymo Brunetti and Beatrice Weber showed that having free media was positively correlated with better governance (A Free Press is Bad News for Corruption, Journal of Public Economics, 87). This is because press freedom allows for more information to be available to people which in turn enables citizens to exert more pressure on their governments.

Some days ago, the Malaysian Home Ministry suspended the publishing permit of The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily for three months starting from July 27, 2015. The reason given by the Home Ministry is that the reports of the two publications on 1MDB were “prejudicial or likely to be prejudicial to public order, security or likely to alarm public opinion or is likely to be prejudicial to public and national interest”.

This is a claim that few thinking Malaysians would accept. Most Malaysians would also agree that the real danger to the nation is corruption. Furthermore, most people in Malaysia who support free reporting and public discourse on corruption would not condone the spread of rumours to destabilise our country. Those who do act in this irresponsible manner should be dealt with by the law. But, the media should not be gagged. This is because the media have a vital role to play in preventing instability.

Research has shown that it is corruption that results in instability. Sarah Chayes, in her book entitled Thieves of State: Why Corruption threatens global security (W.W. Norton & Co., 2015), investigates how kleptocratic governance results in civil unrest and even provokes violent extremism. To the extent that a free media results in pressures on the government to clean up or at least minimise the incidence of corruption, it can be said that freedom of the press, far from being prejudicial to public interest, is necessary for the stability of the nation.  The probability that kleptocracy would be publicly debated and kleptocrats investigated, exposed and prosecuted, is higher in a country with a free press than in one with a controlled and irresponsible press.

In Islam, as in all the great religious traditions that make up Malaysia, there is the universal value of attachment to the truth. It is regarded as sinful to provide false information, particularly about events that one has personally witnessed. Equally sinful is the withholding of the truth. The Qur’an frequently exhorts humans to avoid concealing testimony and refrain from confounding the truth by lacing it with falsehood.

If it cannot be proven that The Edge reported falsehoods and violated journalistic norms or broke the law, the suspension is against both the standards of universal values as well as Islamic tradition. Islam is the religion of state in Malaysia. Therefore, Malaysians expect the politicians and civil servants to rule with justice and integrity.

The Qur’an commands those entrusted with public and professional duties to carry out their rule with justice and fairness (4:58-59). The vizier and scholar of the eleventh century Seljuq Empire, Nizam al-Mulk, in his famous treatise, the Siyasatnameh or Book of Government, advised his sultan that he should listen to the grievances of his subjects directly, without intermediaries.  A thousand years later, this is still what we want from our leaders.

The fourteenth century Muslim social theorist, Abdul Rahman Ibn Khaldun, believed that government decisions were as a rule unjust. This was based on his study of West Asian and North African polities as well as his experience with the vicissitudes of political life. More than five hundred years later, the Spanish philosopher and intellectual leader of the Spanish Republican government, José Ortega y Gasset, referred to the state as the greatest danger. He believed that state intervention was the greatest danger that threatened civilisation. Malaysians want a strong state that can establish and maintain public order and run an efficient administration. But we do not want a dangerous state, one with disproportionate power such that its intervention results in rule by thieves.

* Dr. Syed Farid Alatas is the Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, in the National University of Singapore.

Malaysia: A rich history of Media Suspension

July 27, 2015

Malaysia: A rich history of Media Suspension

by Anisah Shukry@www.themalaysianinsider.com


The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily’s three-month suspension starting today marks the government’s continued tradition of clamping down on print media, a practice which began nearly three decades ago with the infamous Ops Lalang of 1987.

The Edge joins The Star, The Sunday Star, Sin Chew Jit Poh, Watan, Sarawak Tribune, Guang Ming Daily, Berita Petang Sarawak, The Weekend Mail, Makkal Ossai, The Heat and Thina Kural, which had their publishing permits revoked for reasons ranging from national security to technical issues.

Most papers survived their suspension, even as it dragged on for months, with journalists reportedly taking up part-time jobs to support their families until the newsrooms reopened. But some newspapers never recovered, while others never saw their suspensions lifted.

The Edge, however, which is being punished for its reportage on debt-ridden state investment firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), is fighting this. This morning, The Edge will file a leave application for a judicial review.

Speaking to reporters after briefing The Edge’s staff, hours after the suspensions were announced on Friday, The Edge Media Group publisher and group CEO Ho Kay Tat said: “We will be filing it on Monday and we hope to get a speedy hearing.”We must file a judicial review as a matter of principle because we don’t think the suspension is justified,” Ho also said The Edge would continue reporting on 1MDB through its online platforms despite the suspension of the two papers.

“We will not apologise as we have not done anything wrong.” The Malaysian Insider looks at the brief, yet colourful, history of media suspensions in Malaysia.

Dr M and the Media

1987: The Star, Sin Chew Jit Poh, The Sunday Star and Watan

Within three years of the enforcement of the heavily criticised Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) 1984, Malaysia witnessed what is often described as the worst attack on media freedom in the country.

In October 1987, The Star along with its weekend edition The Sunday Star, Sin Chew Jit Poh, and weekly paper Watan had their publishing permits revoked, just days after the government embarked on Ops Lalang, a crackdown that saw more than 100 political leaders and activists arrested and detained.

A day earlier, the front page of The Star featured mug shots of prominent leaders nabbed in then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Ops Lalang swoop.

The headline screamed a single word: Detained. The next day, The Star was no longer available on newsstands. After nearly six months, the papers were allowed to resume publications, but not without a price – for the newspapers affected, as well as the entire industry. Journalists spoke of self-censorship to avoid facing similar action, while Watan shut down in 1996.

2006: Prophet Muhammad caricatures in 3 papers

In 2006, the controversial caricatures of Prophet Muhammad from a Danish newspaper were carried by several newspapers and TV channels, including Berita Petang Sarawak, Guang Ming Daily, Sarawak Tribune and The New Straits Times.

Sarawak Tribune, an English-language newspaper published in Kuching, Sibu and Bintulu, in Sarawak, was indefinitely suspended that year for publishing the caricature in an article titled “Cartoon not much impact here” on February 4, 2006. The newspaper, which was established in 1945, reappeared in 2010 as the New Sarawak Tribune.

Chinese-language newspapers Guang Ming Daily and Berita Petang Sarawak were suspended for two weeks for carrying the caricatures in their newspapers.

Guang Ming Daily’s article was titled “European media republish caricature to heighten controversy; Denmark paper insults Islam, apology sought” while Berita Petang Sarawak’s was “We are prepared to launch a holy war”.


Then Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who was also the internal security minister, suspended the permits under sub-section 6(2) of the PPPA 1984, Bernama had reported. However, no action was taken against the NST because it had published an open apology for publishing the comic, Abdullah had said.

2006: The Weekend Mail discusses Malaysians’ sex lives

The Weekend Mail – the short-lived weekend issue of The Malay Mail – courted outrage among lawmakers when it published a series focusing on the sexual lifestyle of Kuala Lumpur residents in its November 4-5 issue.

According to The Straits Times in Singapore, the English-language tabloid had surveyed 100 people in the capital city to write the “unusually frank articles”, and published it alongside pictures of pregnant women in bikinis, a woman performing an erotic dance and a couple kissing.

Then Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had said he received endless angry calls over the article, and said such stories could hurt the fabric of Malaysian society, the NST reported.

“The media going overboard in exploiting sex will only worsen our social problems,” Najib reportedly said.

“The feature spoke of this and that position and I am not talking about positions during a football game or the Middle East position.”

Home Ministry Secretary-general Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof said the reports and photographs were contrary to the values practised by Malaysians, according to The Star.

The New Straits Times Press’ then Chief Executive Officer Datuk Syed Faisal Albar apologised to the papers’ readers for the distress caused the following Monday, while The Malay Mail editor Zulkifli Jalil was suspended.

But the government suspended the Weekend Mail anyway, for breaching guidelines and conditions in the PPPA 1984.

2007: Jesus caricature in Makkal Osai

Tamil daily Makkal Osai, or “The People’s Voice” was slapped with a one-month suspension three days after it published an image of Jesus holding a cigarette and a beer can on the front page of its August 21, 2007 edition.

The caricature was published under its “Quote of the Day” column, with a caption quoting Jesus as saying that those who repent for their mistakes would enter heaven, according to Bernama.

The suspension came after Makkal Osai apologised for what it said was an oversight, the paper’s general manager had reportedly said the picture was mistakenly inserted by a graphic artist.

2013: Putrajaya takes down The Heat

On December 19, 2013, the Heat became the first newspaper suspended under Prime Minister Najib’s administration.

The official reason for the indefinite suspension was that the weekly had not informed the Home Ministry of changes in its ownership and refusal to respond to two show-cause letters.

But speculation was rife that the Ministry clamped down on The Heat over its front-page article on Najib and his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor’s allegedly lavish lifestyle.

The suspension was lifted on January 27 the following year, but the weekly’s return to the newsstands was short-lived. It was soon pulled off the streets and now remains a digital publication.

2014: Thina Kural fails to notify government of printer change

Failure to notify the Home Ministry that it had changed printers led to Tamil daily Thina Kural’s three-month suspension starting on March 27, The Malaysian Times reported.

The suspension was also a result of the daily’s error in publishing two different versions of the paper on January 24, causing confusion among readers.

Thina Kural editor-n-chief D.R. Rajan told The Malaysian Times that 63 families were affected by the suspension, and that the editorial team would continue to operate under a new publication called Tamil Puthiya Paarva.

2015: The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily

najib and rosmah

The Home Ministry on Friday suspended the publishing permits of The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily for three months beginning today.

A letter from the Ministry stated that the publications’ coverage of 1MDB was “prejudicial or likely to be prejudicial to public order, security or likely to alarm public opinion or is likely to be prejudicial to public and national interests”.

Earlier this month, The Edge received a show-cause letter in which the ministry gave it seven days to explain why action should not be taken under the PPPA 1984.

The Edge was accused of publishing articles on the controversial state fund which were said to have created confusion and doubt about the Malaysian government and financial institutions.

Last week, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has admitted to instructing local Internet service providers to block access to whistle-blower site Sarawak Report, claiming that the site was disrupting “national stability”.

The site was blocked under Section 211 and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, it said.

Darkness has descended on Malaysia

July 24, 2015

Malaysia: Darkness has descended when the Fourth Estate is under attack

by Lim Kit Siang



Three days ago, I warned: “A darkness is descending on Malaysia.” Two days ago, DAP MP for Petaling Jaya Utara Tony Pua was barred from leaving the country to fly to Yogyakarta, Indonesia and may be investigated under the new-fangled offence of “activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy” which could send him to jail up to 20 years.

Today, the Home Ministry suspended the publishing permit of The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily for three months from July 27, for reporting on the RM42 billion 1MDB scandal which were regarded by the Najib premiership as “prejudicial or likely to be prejudicial to public order, security or likely to alarm public opinion or is likely to be prejudicial to public and national interest”.

Darkness is swiftly descending in Malaysia. Malaysia has become a topsy-turvy world. It is freedom of speech, thought and expression, and the freedom of the press, which are the sine qua non of a free society and a fully developed nation. It is not such freedoms but corruption, abuses of power and avarice which are prejudicial to public and national interests.

After spearheading six years of National Transformation Programme, Malaysia of Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak has been “transformed” into a country where the expose of the biggest financial scandal in Malaysia, the RM42 billion 1MDB scandal, and not the 1MDB scandal which has become “prejudicial to public and national interest”.

More than three weeks after the Wall Street Journal report and allegation that US$700 million (RM2.6 billion) had been deposited into Najib’s personal bank accounts in AmBank in March 2013 just before the 13th General Election, not one of the three enforcement agencies in the “special task force”, namely Bank Negara Malaysia, the Royal Malaysian Police and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, had yet interviewed Najib himself.

Press FreedomThank You, Tun Dr. Mahathir, you started it

Instead of going on leave until the outcome of an investigation by independent and respected Malaysians who are not subordinate and answerable to the Prime Minister, we have Najib remaining in office to “mastermind” the counter-attack against all those who had sought to pry upon the 1MDB scandal and to ensure that the “special task force” set up to investigate into the WSJ report on July 2 and the 1MDB scandal would clear him of any wrongdoing – and Najib had no hesitation in announcing such a result at the early stage of inquiry by the “special task force”.

With the latest assaults on press freedom, Malaysia is plunging to the bottom of the World Press Freedom Index, when we had already fallen to a historic low of 147th out of 180 countries, a 25-point drop from 122nd ranking in 2012.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Is it possible to save Malaysia from a free fall to become a failed state? These are questions which the birthday bash for the Prime Minister would not waste time on, for it is a night for celebration – but these two questions should be sombre food for thought for another birthday bash tonight for the person who had previously caused darkness to descend in Malaysia, whether he could now help save Malaysia from the free fall of becoming a failed state.

Malaysia : Investigate Corrupt Prime Minister, not punish the Fourth Estate

July 24, 2015

READ THIS: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/the-edge-weekly-daily-suspended-for-3-months-from-july-27

Malaysia : Investigate Corrupt Prime Minister, not punish the Fourth Estate

by Malaysiakini


Gan and ChandranSteven Gan and Premesh Chandran–The Malaysiakini Dynamic Duo

The media as the Fourth Estate serves as an indispensable pillar in a democratic nation. It has the sacrosanct task of monitoring those in the seat of power to ensure that the people and their rights are safeguarded. To use a draconian legislation to silence or punish the media is an act that is detrimental to parliamentary democracy and press freedom.

October 1987

That was the last time a major mainstream newspaper was shut down for publishing dissenting views. The Star – labelled as ‘Suara Tunku Abdul Rahman’ by certain pro-government forces – was among the dailies suspended as part of Operation Lallang in a bid to silence detractors of then Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Over 100 activists, politicians and intellectuals were incarcerated without trial.

Now, twenty-eight years later, The Edge Weekly and The Financial Daily – both part of The Edge Media Group – have been suspended for three months. This comes hot on the heels of the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission blocking access to whistleblower website Sarawak Report.

Mahathir is now raising the alarm on the alleged wrongdoings of the country’s top man. But Najib Abdul Razak would probably laugh it off while inviting the former Premier to take a good look at himself in the mirror.

Ironically, Abdul Rahman Dahlan, who is now Barisan Nasional Strategic Communications Director, had criticised DAP statesman Lim Kit Siang for “shooting the messenger”. Perhaps Abdul Rahman should also school Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on this. Alas, we have to live with such ironies under the 1Malaysian sky.

The suspension today of The Edge Weekly and The Financial Daily by the Home Ministry is an outrage, unwarranted and unjustifiable. It is a case of punishing the messengers rather than the criminals.

At the heart of the attack against The Edge and Sarawak Report is the matter of whether their reporting on the 1MDB scandal is true or false. If based on the evidence they have, public funds have indeed been siphoned away to serve private and political interests.

If indeed these media companies had fabricated evidence in a bid to topple an elected government, they can be charged with publishing false news. The matter would then go to court, where surely 1MDB, banks and the parties involved can produce conclusive evidence of fabrication.

The Edge has handed over all the documents it obtained from former PetroSaudi International executive Xavier Andre Justo to the authorities.  Till today, neither 1MDB nor the government is able to back up their claims of tampering, nor have the authorities charged The Edge with any other offence.

Rosmah Exposed by Sarawak Report
For a leadership that has nothing to hide, silencing the media does nothing for its credibility. Instead, this suspension sends an indelible message to Malaysians that the government has indeed something big to hide.

Malaysiakini calls on the government to immediately lift the suspension of The Edge and the blocking of Sarawak Report. It must allow the media to do its job to hold power to account.

Malaysian Politics reminiscent of the Suharto Era

June 15, 2015

TEMPO: Malaysian Politics reminiscent of the Suharto Era

by Ram Anand@www.themalaysiainsider.com

bambang_harymurti_tempo_FBpic_150615Political developments in Malaysia, including Putrajaya’s crackdown on critics, resonate with Indonesians because they remind them of times under the late Suharto who ruled for 31 years, said a senior editor of Indonesia’s Tempo magazine.

Bambang Harymurti said following the magazine’s report in April on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, there has been increased interest among Indonesians in Malaysian affairs.

The article in Tempo, titled “Hidup Mewah Sang Perdana Menteri” (The Luxurious Life of the Prime Minister), discussed at length the couple’s reported purchases, including Rosmah’s range of expensive Birkin handbags and jewellery.

Malaysian Ambassador to Indonesia Datuk Seri Zahrain Hashim had then said there was no need to scrutinise their spending habits because Najib came from an upper class family.

“The Prime Minister is of high-standing and noble descent (berdarjat dan bangsawan). His spending is not a problem if he can afford it,” he reportedly said.

Zahrain had also said that he would meet Tempo editors, but that did not faze the weekly, Bambang said. “We are even more interested now, because things are tightening in Malaysia now, we heard.

“Even cartoonists are being arrested. So we are concerned about our media colleagues here,” Bambang told The Malaysian Insider in a phone interview during a recent visit to Malaysia.

He was referring to cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, better known as Zunar, who was arrested and currently faces 9 sedition charges over his tweets criticising the judiciary following former opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy conviction in February.

Zunar is among many opposition leaders, activists and journalists who have been investigated or charged under the Sedition Act since last year.

Dejected Najib with FLOMWith loads of Money but still unhappy

Five editors from The Malaysian Insider were also detained in late March over a report on the implementation of hudud law in Kelantan.

“All this reminds us of Indonesia under the time of Suharto,” Bambang said. He described the interest shown in Najib’s lifestyle as deja vu for the popular magazine.

“That news was very hot at that time, and it was started by the Malaysian press,” he said.

“But it’s of great interest to Indonesia because we are neighbours and also because of the proximity of the issue; we have been there before,” he said.

He also said that Zahrain’s reported attempt to meet Tempo editors over the Najib article possibly did not reach the higher management.

“I have not heard any follow-up to that. Maybe it was handled by the editor without it reaching very high up in the organisation,” he added.

Tempo was started in 1971 but was banned during Suharto’s rule after being cited as a threat to national stability.

Suharto, who ruled Indonesia for 31 years before he resigned following mass protests known as reformasi, was widely known as a dictator who clamped down on freedom of speech during his military-backed reign.

Malaysia’s Creeping Authoritarianism – Wall Street Journal

The government arrests Nurul Izzah Anwar, the daughter of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and his daugther Nurul Izzah in 2012. ENLARGE
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and his daugther Nurul Izzah in 2012.

Malaysian politics are moving down a dark path. A month after the country’s highest court upheld the conviction of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on trumped-up charges of sodomy, police on Monday arrested Mr. Anwar’s daughter for violating the Sedition Act, a colonial-era law increasingly used to chill political debate.

Nurul Izzah Anwar’s apparent offense was to criticize the judiciary last week in Parliament, where she is opposition vice president. In addition to reading a statement from her father condemning his trial as a political conspiracy, Ms. Nurul Izzah condemned Malaysia’s Federal Court for “bowing to political masters” and being “partners in a crime that contributed to the death of a free judiciary.”

Western diplomats have also criticized her father’s prosecution. “The decision to prosecute Mr. Anwar, and his trial, have raised serious concerns regarding the rule of law and the independence of the courts,” the U.S. State Department said last month.

Mr. Anwar was convicted on similar sodomy charges in 1999, only to have the conviction overturned after six years in prison. This time his accuser met with senior government officials—including Prime Minister Najib Razak, then the deputy prime minister—days before the alleged incident, but judges blocked Mr. Anwar’s lawyers from questioning those involved.

Mr. Anwar is 67, so a five-year prison sentence and additional five-year ban from politics could end his career. His multireligious coalition won 53% of the popular vote in 2013 but never took power from the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which has controlled Malaysia during its nearly six decades since independence.

The persecution of the Anwar family is a further blot on UMNO’s reputation. Mr. Najib promised to repeal the Sedition Act in 2012 but has since used it against more than a dozen opposition politicians, academics and even cartoonists such as Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, known as Zunar. In November he proposed strengthening the law with new provisions “to protect the sanctity of Islam and other religions.”

Creeping authoritarianism won’t slow UMNO’s rising unpopularity among young people, urbanites and ethnic minorities. Nor will it help Malaysia’s ties with the U.S., which are important for combating terrorism; Malaysian police arrested 19 Islamic State supporters plotting attacks around Kuala Lumpur last year. Nurul Izzah Anwar and Anwar Ibrahim should be released for their own sake and that of a democracy sliding into repression.