COMMENT | Reading the US Department Of Justice’s (DOJ) criminal indictment of November 1, 2018, relating to 1MDB, as well as its earlier (July 2016) civil forfeiture lawsuit on assets allegedly linked to it, I am struck by three singular observations.
First is the appalling avarice of the alleged culprits; second, the utter impunity with which they conducted themselves; and third, the sheer stupidity of the man without whose authority those shenanigans would not have been possible – Malaysian Official 1, as referred to in both charges. The world now knows him as Najib Abdul Razak. While he is not facing any DOJ charges as yet, in Malaysia he faces several criminal ones that could put him in jail for the rest of his life.
This 1MDB heist is by far the most complex and largest in terms of monetary value. The sheer hubris of the perpetrators to think that they could get away with it. As for Najib, he is not terribly bright, just wily enough to know that his fellow ministers and UMNO leaders could be bought cheaply with the loot from 1MDB.
As for his rise in UMNO, that too is more the consequence of Malay culture. Malays are suckers for terhutangbudi, an excessive sense of gratitude. With Najib, it was for his father Abdul Razak Hussein – Malaysia’s second Prime Minister who died unexpectedly while in office in 1976.
Had Najib not been a Bin Razak, he would be but a middling civil servant, at best. Think of it; had his Bin Razak status been ignored, or the powerful had not been terhutangbudi, Malaysia would have been spared much grief today, and a whole lot less debt.
Najib Razak and his Master Yoda
The trail of financial liabilities of 1MDB, though massive and painful, is at least quantifiable. Not so the associated lost opportunities. Had the billions not been squandered on luxuries in London, Beverley Hills, and New York or funding soft porno movies, but on improving national schools and Felda settlements, we would be that much closer to the goals of Ketuanan Melayu and Vision 2020.
This being Malaysia, the dangerous race factor is never far from the surface. That is the most pernicious and consequential legacy of 1MDB. Already there are ugly rumours, and not just within UMNO but also other segments of the Malay community, blaming those smart, greedy Chinese once again taking advantage, if not outright cheating, of sweet, innocent Malay leaders.
Even Najib is now distancing himself from Jho Low This potential explosive component is the most dangerous and incendiary, and one that cannot be unquantified.
Even uglier and more painful to express publicly is this: Malays are downright ashamed by the outrageous behaviour of their corrupt leaders. Not stated but obvious is that all those charged in Malaysia are Malays, not ordinary ones but top leaders.
Malaysians must thank Mahathir for appointing Tommy Thomas as the attorney-general. It is amazing what you can achieve when you put a premium on honesty, integrity, and competence. Yes, there were many Malays who complained of Thomas not being a Malay or Muslim, as well as on his less-than-polished Malay.
Regardless, he put to shame his predecessor, Mohamed Apandi Ali. He, together with Najib, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim and others, is but an unmitigated disaster and gross embarrassment to Malays and Muslims, bar none.
UMNO new Leadership devoid of Honour and Integrity
By normal reckoning, Apandi should have been impeached. Again in a perversion of values, Najib made him a Tan Sri, and the Yang di-Pertuan Agong agreed. Like it or not, to many non-Malays as well as Malays, the likes of Najib and Apandi represent the best that our community could offer. That hurts!
UMNO’s Bro Azeez Mamak Rahim
As for those other champions of Ketuanan Melayu, their goals would be achieved that much faster and more efficaciously if they would first get rid of these characters in their midst.
It is good to be reminded that with DOJ’s filings, a pivotal defendant in its criminal case has already pleaded guilty; with its civil (case), at least two have agreed to settle.
Much can be deduced from the local reactions, and even more so from the lack of same among some notable quarters. It is not surprising that simple kampung folks still believe Najib despite those charges as well as the boxes of gold and cash hauled from his residences. They still believe that the money was for them!
What stretches one’s credulity is that UMNO leaders too bought Najib’s snake oil, and they included many lawyers and accountants, as well as an Oxford graduate and even an Ivy League PhD! That is the greatest Malay shame and tragedy.
M BAKRI MUSA, a surgeon in California, is a frequent commentator on Malaysian affairs.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.
The Boys In Blue Catch Up With The Masters Of The Universe – Comment
November 4, 2018
Thank you to you Clare too for your tenacity and persistence. 1MDB won’t go away until Najib and his cohorts are punished for money laundering and corruption
In a recent commentary the former US Ambassador to Malaysia, John Malott, expressed his pride in the ordinary men and women of his country’s law enforcement, who had done such a wonderful, dogged and persistent job on bringing the perpetrators of 1MDB to book.
Ambassador John Malott
He was right. The issues around this scandal are not to do with politics, they are to do with law and order and the vital principle that laws, once made, must apply equally to all. As a result, as predicted by Sarawak Report, the US Department of Justice issued indictments yesterday, not only against Malaysia’s fugitive financier Jho Low, but also against leading executives of the US banking giant Goldman Sachs.
Some in Malaysia have understandably expressed a little scepticism about the role of the United States in this matter. After all, big power politics have so often operated with no respect for justice whatsoever and evidence abounds of lobbying efforts funded by Najib and his cohorts to undermine the work of the Department of Justice in this case as well.
However, the point of the rule of law and its application to all, is that it benefits all and in this inter-related world corruption is a global menace. Receiver countries in the kleptocratic network have now belatedly come to appreciate that serious problems accompany the advent of very large sums of dirty money in the hands of a few highly criminal entities.
It was in the interests of the United States to deal with 1MDB, therefore, as well as being the right thing to do in the minds of the humble officials and their political bosses, who sorted out this giant kleptocratic theft. Otherwise, the beneficiaries of corrupt billions – filtered without being taxed through the off-shore system – can start to negatively influence politics and decision-making in the United States and other recipient countries.
The criminally super-rich can become super-powerful: sponsoring political parties and so-called think tanks; bribing officials and confusing the public with a deluge of false information all to increase their own position and power by undermining democracy.
Kleptocracy is a Global Danger
Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, introduced the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Unit in 2014 to counter the threat of laundered billions finding their way into the United States, after decades during which global regulators had dangerously turned a relative blind eye to extra-judicial corruption and money laundering.
1MDB happens to have been one of the first major strikes by that unit of the Department of Justice and FBI. Last year the present Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, upheld the value of its work.
It is hugely significant that this department has now moved to indict senior figures within one of the United States’ own most powerful financial institutions, Goldman Sachs, who are now charged with actively conspiring with then Prime Minister Najib Razak’s agent, Jho Low, to steal billions and bribe officials in Abu Dhabi and Malaysia in order to make big kickbacks for themselves.
Those officials are stated as including ‘Malaysian Official One (MO1), ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak, and plainly also include the former Chairman and CEO of Abu Dhabi’s Aabar sovereign fund, who received vast kickbacks for siphoning money out of the Goldman bond structures (using the fund’s ownership of the private Falcon Bank).
“A three-count criminal indictment was unsealed today in federal court in the Eastern District of New York charging Low Taek Jho, also known as “Jho Low,” and Ng Chong Hwa, also known as “Roger Ng,” with conspiring to launder billions of dollars embezzled from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), Malaysia’s investment development fund, and conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by paying bribes to various Malaysian and Abu Dhabi officials. As part of the three-count indictment, Ng is also charged with conspiring to violate the FCPA by circumventing the internal accounting controls of a major New York-headquartered financial institution (Financial Institution), which underwrote more than $6 billion in bonds issued by 1MDB in three separate bond offerings in 2012 and 2013, while Ng was employed at the Financial Institution as a managing director. Ng was arrested earlier today in Malaysia, pursuant to a provisional arrest warrant issued at the request of the United States. Low remains at large.” [DOJ Criminal Indictment]
The ‘Financial Institution’ referred to is clearly Goldman Sachs. In a related move at the start of this week, Malaysia’s own Attorney General challenged in the UK High Court a 2017 judgement by the private arbitration service the LCIA (London Court of International Arbitration) in favour of Abu Dhabi to the tune of some $4.5 billion, on the very grounds that the entire arrangement could plainly have been seen as a fraudulent attempt to steal Malaysia’s public money. Malaysia’s Attorney General ought by justice win his case.
Justice For Goldman Sachs?
In the process of facilitating all this theft, Goldman Sachs made one of the biggest series of profits in the history of banking out of three questionable bond issues for 1MDB, surreptitiously raised via opaque off-shore instruments to the detriment of transparency over the handling of public finances. The details are now laid out in the US criminal indictment, matters which were ignored for nearly a decade by the bank’s own hierarchy.
Tim Leissner pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate.
Although the financial world had politely wondered at the enormous payments secured by Goldman Sachs in raising $6.5 billion for 1MDB ($600 million in fees), no one at the bank appears to have examined or reviewed the deals arranged by their Asia Golden Boys, Tim Leissner and Roger Ng – any more than they had checked ‘Dr’ Leissner’s fake academic qualifications.
America’s most powerful bank at the very least failed to adequately scrutinise these eye-watering deals, which are now acknowledged to have been criminal by Leissner, who has pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate.
The likelihood is worse, that some of the most senior figures were complicit (the bonuses that year were exponential all round) and/or there were systemic problems at the bank, that caused money laundering alerts to fail. Such systemic problems could hardly have been hard to detect by such a major institution concerned to stay within the law.
This Story Spreads Wider Than 1MDB
Malaysia’s mysterious Mr Ng (left)has now finally also been arrested and will likely be shipped to the United State to face the music.
He ought to emulate his former boss and cut a deal. Mr Ng’s antics include a long career of collaboration with Malaysia’s worst kleptocrats, including equally obscure and complex off-shore financial deals involving Goldman Sachs and the Sarawak Government of Taib Mahmud.
Prior to that Mr Ng was a player in Deutsche Bank, which was also extensively in business with the Taib family fortune, particularly with regard to Kenanga Holdings, a jointly owned investment house with CMSB, Taib’s family owned conglomerate.
A thorough clean out of Malaysia’s dirty kleptocratic dealings is what is needed out of 1MDB and beyond that a thorough clean out of the global banks who have proven happy to deal with regimes like these. Ultimately, a thorough clean out of the off-shore system is required.
There is only one jurisdiction who can force this through and that is the Department of Justice of the United States.
Brader Arul probably back to Sitiawan to sell Boe-Tie Chendol
COMMENT | Six months ago, he was a much sought-after speaker. Not so for pre- and post-dinner entertainment but to propagate to the masses that everything is hunky-dory in a company called 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).
He undertook a series of 30 roadshows throughout the country. However, for all intents and purposes, they were political gatherings in support of the then ruling party. The blue buntings and minders dressed in blue vests with the “dacing” logos gave away the charade.
He didn’t exactly draw big crowds or enthral them with his mantra. But the media copiously repeated his chants through interviews.
Brader Apandi silenced
On eve of Election Day on May 9, he declared that the roadshow had achieved its objectives, claiming more and more people were beginning “to understand and accept the issues facing the 1MDB”.
Forty-eight hours later, Arul Kanda’s world came tumbling down. So did the fate of thousands of others who thought that their shenanigans and tom-fooleries had been adequately covered so that they could continue ripping the nation.
Despite the entire hullabaloo and the worldwide coverage of the US Department of Justice findings, Arul Kanda had once famously boomed: “I have no idea of the identity of Malaysian Official 1 (MO1) in the report and do not want to speculate”— even after BN propaganda chief Abdul Rahman Dahlan’s admission on the identity.
Brader Ali Hamsa put to pasture
These prophetic words were plentifully and profusely reproduced in the subservient mainstream media in its election propaganda. After all, wasn’t he the Messiah who had arrived from the Middle East to save 1MDB? Wasn’t he willing to face all and sundry in any debate at anytime and anywhere? Wasn’t he touted by some sections of the Royal Military College alumni that only a “budak boy” could put the house in order?
Flamboyant Brader Irwan Serigar Abdullah put in cold storage pending trial
Wasn’t he the man whose magic wand could turn bad to good; wrong to right; losses to profits; and anything he touched would turn into gold?
Those who questioned any activities of 1MDB were treated as “enemies of the state” and he was the much-sought after person by news persons in the BN-related media houses. He attached labels on his detractors. He could do no wrong. And their responses were spiked by editors.
MP Tony Pua –The Luke Sky Walker of The 1MDB Saga
After Petaling Utara MP Tony Pua made a series of satirical videos, Arul Kanda bellowed: “He is a hypocrite and would make a great comedian.” He described fellow Malaysiakini columnist P Gunasegaram (pic below) a “coward”. But when the writer invited Arul Kanda to a public discussion on 1MDB, the latter chickened out. The last we heard on the issue was: “I will await their (his lawyers’) legal advice on how best to clear my name and to let the facts stand on its own.”
hen the facts and figures which Arul Kanda and company were fudging with some sort of creative accounting emerged. On May 23, the new Finance Minister revealed that 1MDB was unable to pay its debts. For that too, he had an answer— he didn’t know financial details of the company.
Wasn’t he the same guy, who went on the roadshows to tell Malaysian voters “the truth” among which was his claim that the 1MDB’s debt of US$7.75 billion is backed by US$11 billion in assets?
Why the sudden interest in Arul Kanda? On Thursday, Najib Abdul Razak and former Treasury chief Irwan Serigar Abdullah pleaded not guilty in the Sessions Court in Kuala Lumpur to six counts of criminal breach of trust (CBT) of RM6.64 million of funds belonging to the government.
The offences were alleged to have been committed at the Finance Ministry Complex in Putrajaya between December 21, 2016 and December 18, 2017. Wasn’t this done for 1MDB which was then under Arul Kanda’s watch? And wasn’t he aware of these arrangements when he went on his roadshows?
Let’s digress. Najib wanted to gag the media when he was first charged with offences related to SRC International last month, claiming he did not want a “trial by media”. He failed.
It is the same Najib now, trying to provide his defence via the media. He spoke to reporters after the proceedings, proclaiming innocence.
This man and his infamous wife have been striped of their titles by The Ruler of Negri Sembilan and are now on bail pending trial for corruption, money laundering and abuse of power.
“My conscience is clear that the decisions were taken in the interest of the nation, in context of when you receive certain money, you will have to pay it back.
Otherwise, we would be at default and it would lead to a collapse of the bond market. That would be very serious.”
In a Facebook post, Najib said four of the six charges were related to a settlement with the International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC), where the government had to pay US$1.2 billion in arrears last year.
Let us put this into perspective. N is the owner of a hospital. Money, say RM100,000, has been set aside for payment to the food contractor, RM100,000 for pharmaceuticals and RM50,000 for cleaning services. N tells the finance director, S, to “pakat” with him to pay a bank loan unrelated to the hospital. S then instructs A, the chief executive officer to remit RM250,000 to the bank to prevent foreclosure.
Is it acceptable for N to come out and claim that those transactions had to be done to avoid embarrassment to the hospital and other loans will be recalled? It is true that N, S and A received no personal gain. But wouldn’t that be wrong in the eyes of the law?
We will leave it to the legal eagles to sort this out but on the issue of 1MDB, IPIC and related issues, the silence from Arul Kanda is deafening. He had previously talked about “solid assets” and “units” which could be converted to cash. Where are they?
For someone who came with his guns blazing, giving Najib cover, Arul Kanda appears to have taken to the bunker as the bombs drop all around him.
For a man who thumped his chest and said “take me on”, he has become as silent as a church mouse. Malaysians are not exactly watching a double-tragedy play like Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, but it is worth asking: “Where art thou, Arul Kanda?”
R NADESWARAN is keeping track on the key players who put their hands in the cookie jar in the name of development. Comments: email@example.com
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.
After two decades of reformasi, two generations of resistance to ‘Malaysia lama’ spent September addressing capacity crowds of Malaysians abroad about ‘Malaysia baru’ and the horizon ahead.
As the two veteran campaigners for Malaysia’s democracy traversed the Australian continent across September, another leader Anwar Ibrahim formally started his campaign to reclaim parliamentary leadership, nominating for the Port Dickson by-election almost 20 years to the day his jailing sparked off reformasi, the democratic reform movement that led to Malaysia’s regime change on May 9 this year.
Amid this frenetic activity was the background rattle of ruling party PKR’s own tightly contested polls this month, threatening to split it apart in bitter recriminations as two proteges contest to become Anwar’s party deputy. All at a time when this year’s historic victory under the PKR flag has become a drama of a fragile coalition, rather than about how the biggest ruling party enables reformasi coming to pass.
As veteran reformasi activist and PKR Vice-President Tian Chua blitzed three Australian cities in four days over the Hari Merdeka (Independence day) weekend, he provoked a raft of thorny questions about a new Malaysia that were sometimes left unanswered.
Those in two minds about new Malaysia’s ambivalence on liberalism, religious laws, and political values found the DAP icon Lim Kit Siang cajoling and bristling in front of record crowds over such questions a few weeks later. After a half-century as an integral part of Malaysia’s parliamentary democracy, the once-‘Mr Opposition’ Lim now counsels patience and fortitude as an elder in the new government. Like Mr Chua earlier in the month, Mr Lim by September’s end encouraged Malaysians he met abroad to not judge the new coalition government too quickly or harshly.
The 77-year-old occasionally displayed flashes of his famed street-fighting rhetoric when parrying questions in jammed venues across Perth, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, before continuing his tour of the Malaysian diaspora this week in New Zealand. Like his former nemesis and now coalition partner Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Mr Lim took all questions, barbed and not, with a deftness and directness that was so alien to the previous prime minister’s leaden events.
He wanted the Melbourne crowd, which packed three rooms with scores more stranded outside on a Saturday evening, to forgive but not necessarily forget the DAP’s old foes. In the new Malaysia the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government hopes to build, “we all need to have a big picture outlook, to have a lo-o-o-ng vision.”
Nobody in the new government joined this endeavour with entirely clean hands, he said, and Malaysians when united demonstrated to the region how corrupt governments could be tossed out peacefully via the ballot box.
“Tainted people? We’re all tainted. To some, Mahathir is tainted,” he told the crowd. “Let’s give a chance to all who’re tainted to turn over a new leaf. We want Malaysia to succeed. In the past, some said ‘Malays must unite’ but today we say ‘Malaysians unite!’. So we must give them a chance. So we can go forward. So that we can be inclusive, so that we can be progressive.”
“That’s why when people ask how can Lim Kit Siang cooperate with Mahathir when he had put Lim Kit Siang in jail? Not only that, Mahathir put my son (new finance minister) Lim Guan Eng in jail, and Guan Eng’s daughter is here!” he said, as the audience applauded his granddaughter in the room.
“Yes, it’s not easy. But there’s the larger interest of the nation. Personally, of course, you’ve jailed me twice (referring to the previous Barisan Nasional regime). You say I’m anti-Malay, I’m anti-Islam, you tell lies about me. But what is the larger picture? If Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai Shek can unite for the larger interest, why can’t we do so too? So we must be above ourselves, we must rise above our personal likes and dislikes. National interest, national good.
“So we’re in uncharted waters, in completely new territory,” he stressed. “There’s no simple answer to solve all problems. Of course there are a lot of reports about Mahathir, about Anwar disagreeing, but nobody can give answers to that. But you must have a positive outlook because we want the (PH) experiment to succeed. We don’t want it to fail. And if we continue with that approach, if Mahathir, if Anwar and everyone else has this approach, it will succeed, whatever difficulties and contradictions that arise. But if our attitude is ‘so what? let it fail’, then it will fail. But we want it to succeed. Of course the differences will develop, it will come. Let’s have a big picture outlook, a long vision. That’s also my message to the Malaysian diaspora. Not just now, tomorrow, the day after, but the next 10, 15, 20 years. Can we survive that?”
Mr Lim proved more gnomic and nuanced off stage the night before in Sydney, at a vegetarian dinner after a more formal panel discussion where he insisted Malaysia was created as a secular state, framed as it was by Sabah and Sarawak when the nation formed in 1963. He was relaxed about his ‘backseat’ role in the new government, he said, bemused when referred to as an ‘elder statesman’ after receiving the Bersih Sydney Democracy Award earlier in the evening. His political secretary, the young constitutional lawyer Syahredzan Johan, drew giggles among the Sydney crowd thanking the “boss” when Mr Lim pointed audience misunderstandings about Malay rights and religion for him to answer.
While the crowd had come to hail “the opposition legend”, as someone synonymous with leading the resistance against the UMNO-dominated Barisan Nasional government’s corruption and other abuses since 1969, there was also a reflection of where the past 20 years had left Mr Lim’s DAP and the instrumental role he played in the reformasi coalition.
There were principles of accountability, of good governance that couldn’t be cast aside, he said, that urgently needed reform in any ‘new Malaysia’. He suggested old men like the new nonagenarian Prime Minister, and octogenarian advisors like former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin, were atoning for previous mistakes, keen to leave behind a nation that worked for more than just the few. The Malaysian people had to continue playing their renewed role, he stressed, whether it was through civil society movements like Bersih or other groups, to ensure the new government stayed true to their promises.
Fellow coalition leader Tian Chua faced similar questioning a few weeks earlier, when he took to the stage at a ‘Malam Merdeka’ dinner event in Sydney featuring Malaysian dancers, and a performance by legendary chanteuse Saloma’s niece Rozita Rohaizad that included the crowd singing along to the Mahathir-era anthem ‘Sejahtera Malaysia’. Unlike the mostly older crowd that attended Mr Lim’s talk a few weeks later, many younger Malaysians at Mr Chua’s event had been part of the storied overseas voters contingent that had gone to great lengths to vote at the historic 14th general elections (GE14).
The questions posed to Mr Chua suggested the crowd was still unsure about how a disparate coalition worked together, under a former authoritarian leader that had jailed so many in the new government, while doubts about another leader returning to center stage also hovered into view. Where this fits into the past 20 years of acrimony between politicians now unexpectedly triumphant together was not easily answered by Mr Chua.
“I was quite surprised when Mahathir invited me to his office the day before he quit UMNO. We hadn’t seen each other since 1999, when he had advised me to eat more as I was going in and out of jail so often,” he revealed, as the audience laughed along.
“Both of us we alone in his office, and I started by saying that most of the time we’ve been opposite each other (sic), we’ve disagreed about most things, we have fought over various issues. But one thing I’ve never doubted was his commitment to Malaysia, never doubted his love for the country. That’s what I said to him. But now we could sit down and work out our differences. We wanted the country to be free, to have a proud and better future,” he said, explaining the meeting in 2016.
“Today, whether it’s led by Anwar or Mahathir, Malaysia will be governed by the set of principles laid down in the (Pakatan Harapan GE14) manifesto. It doesn’t matter who takes over from Mahathir, and after Anwar there will be others. We have to follow a new way of governance. We must strike a consensus among those running the country. There will be no more one-man-shows, no more PM-decides-everything. We must all agree, and the leaders must follow this principle.
“It’s inconsequential whether we think Mahathir is a reformed man, or whether Anwar is up for doing the job. It will be a collective effort. Those in Putrajaya must be executing the collective wishes of the Malaysian people. And if any of us deviate from this, you all know what to do! That’s why May 9 can be repeated, the guarantee that helps us stay on the right track.”
This question of Dr Mahathir’s notorious authoritarianism, and how it had damaged Malaysia’s democracy by the time of 1998’s reformasi, intrigued the Australian parliamentarians Mr Chua met with during this short trip.
When catching up with Anthony Albanese, the former Australian Deputy Prime Minister who’s now a senior leader of the opposition Labor Party, Mr Chua had explained to his old university comrade how a delicate coalition of parties was galvanised to win power after the previous regime’s scandals proved too much for Malaysians. This Sydney meeting contrasted with one a few years earlier, when Mr Albanese learnt of the outrage over the multi-billion dollar 1MDB heist that was still unfolding, and how opposition parliamentarians like Mr Chua faced arrest and worse as they raised the alarm.
The respect for human rights and the supremacy of Malaysia’s Federal Constitution (which had co-drafters from Australia) was a critical part of new Malaysia, said Mr Chua, and keeping the new government true to its word will not only be the task of parliamentarians but also a responsibility of civil society. Adhering to the principles outlined in the winning coalition’s election manifesto will be tough, he admitted, and as Mr Lim echoed a few weeks later, the disappointments will pile up if “practical” timelines for promised reforms are not publically discussed and expectations managed.
“Sometimes people forget that some of us were pushing for the reforms we’re discussing as policy today, before this time 20 years ago. We helped start the reformasi movement, we weren’t parachuted in afterwards,” he said.
But it was the discussions about the tough party elections headlined by Rafizi Ramli’s challenge to Azmin Ali, and the opposing camps Mr Chua and his party peers were slotting into that made his long road trip between the Canberra and Sydney events so weary. The unbridled ambition and the urgency for power often obscured the ideals of the reformasi movement that he felt was still a core part of his identity.
ian Chua and Anthony Albanese, with classic regime change poster as backdrop.
Tian Chua and Anthony Albanese, with classic regime change poster as backdrop.
The party polls had sounded a little like the party fratricide that Mr Albanese alluded to when explaining how yet another prime minister was torn down in Australia the previous week, making it the fifth time in 10 years. The enmity stayed raw for quite some time, and a brutal contest for party power was no way to ensure stability and purpose when in government.
It was a sobering reminder that lingered as we left Mr Albanese’s inner Sydney enclave. Just as we stepped out, the overcast skies broke into a stormy deluge as the Malaysian reformist rushed to the airport for his flight home, straight into another bruising election season.
The MACC investigation on former Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s wife Rosmah Mansor has been completed and the report submitted to the Attorney-General for the next move, MACC Chief Commissioner Mohd Shukri Abdull said.
“The MACC is only responsible for carrying out the investigation and it is up to the Attorney-General whether to prosecute Rosmah or not,” he said.
Prior to this, media reported that Rosmah may face over 20 criminal charges, mostly involving money laundering.
Last June, she was summoned to give her statements to the MACC at the agency’s headquarters in Putrajaya.
On Sept 20, it was also reported that MACC did not rule out that Rosmah would be charged soon.
Shukri, however, refused to comment further. “I cannot answer your questions on whether or not she will be prosecuted because it is outside our jurisdiction,” he said when met after delivering an executive talk titled “Corruption: A Challenge for the Young People” in conjunction with the Varsity Anti-Corruption Convention at (KoMawAR) at Universiti Malaysia Perlis (UniMAP) in Arau.
On the PKR President-Elect Anwar Ibrahim’s claim that there were elements of corruption in PKR elections, Shukri called on the PKR de facto leader to provide the authorities with information about the persons involved.
He said without the information, it would be difficult for the MACC to begin investigation.Anwar was today reported to have said that there were unnamed leaders in PKR offering projects for support in the party polls, and that the would not tolerate those who use “dirty tactics” in the party polls.
Former Prime Minister Najib Razak should be awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economics for his management of the Malaysian Economy. He pioneered the 1MDB method of robbing the Malaysian Treasury.
COMMENT | The Malaysian economy is in bad shape. Very bad.
Revisiting the 2014 magnum opus of the Prime Minister’s new Economic Advisor Dr. Muhammed Abdul Khalid, The Colour of Inequality: Ethnicity, Class, Income and Wealth in Malaysia, we see that Malaysia’s income gap has not changed much from 1957 levels, when the country first gained independence.
Between 1990 and 2018, Malaysians on the whole gained little, except the very rich. Muhammed describes a small breakthrough in 2012, but there is no telling if this was due to fiscal spending to ward off the effects of the 2007-2008 global financial crisis.
Muhammed’s reliance on the Statistics Department’s Household Income Survey, while illuminating, is not entirely convincing, especially when paired with numbers or assertions culled from Pemandu, the now-defunct government-funded performance delivery unit.
In other words, the actual picture of the Malaysian economy could be worse than what Muhammed actually describes.
Income from the manufacturing sector, for example, has been on the decline, which may be due to the over-reliance on cheap foreign labour – with an estimated 5.5 million migrant workers in the country – which further depresses the cycle of Malaysian wages.
Indeed, Muhammed correctly notes that “90 percent of each ethnic group does not have any liquid savings, and would not be able to survive more than few months in case they lose their source of income or employment”.
Ticking time bomb
This is not a very pleasant picture, even if it is colour blind. Why? The danger lies in the ticking time bomb that cuts across all races and groups. When the income chasm widens, people tend to blame one another for their problems, which in turn accentuates social, political, religious and racial tensions.
While democracy can ameliorate the tensions, it cannot overcome them completely. What democracy cannot structurally and systematically solve, groups of all religious and ideological fancies might rise to plug the policy gaps. When they do so, inter- and intra-ideological or religious pressures will only become more acute.
When political parties refuse to have elections, or postpone them indefinitely, they become blindsided by what the people want, which in turn hastens their own demise, as witnessed with Umno and BN.
Knowingly or unknowingly, as the book was completed well before the May 9 polls in which a kleptocracy was defeated, the above was one of the key takeaways of Muhammed’s simple but sophisticated book.
A bad economy will skew a political party’s fate, even if it well-larded with cash, corruption and connections. Reading the book now, after the 14th general election, it almost seems like a eulogy to UMNO-BN.
Barely a trickle
But The Colour of Inequality is also a sad indictment of how politicians and corporate leaders have steered the mighty Malaysian ship aground.
As Muhammed (photo, below) notes, most companies simply refuse to pay their workers well. When they don’t, and with less than nine percent of workers unionised, the bargaining power of the workers is overwhelmingly diminished, leaving them to the mercy of their corporate masters.
If the book is anything go by, the whole of Malaysia is sputtering to a halt – despite a GDP that “grew from RM5.1 billion in 1957 to RM1 trillion in 2012”. With the national debt now standing at RM1.09 trillion, Malaysia is caught in the vice-like middle-income trap.
The infamous trickle-down economics, for the lack of a better term, is not just non-existent here; wealth seems to be flowing upwards. Given when it was written, The Colour of Inequality references the Occupy Wall Street, where the 99 percent were trying, seemingly in vain, to challenge the grip of the exalted one percent.
In any case, widespread disempowerment is a phenomenon that should not be happening if the state and the market, as is the case in Malaysia, have vouched to work in tandem to help the poor – as reflected in the National Economic Policy and its derivatives.
But although Malaysia as a whole was becoming richer, the income differentials of Malaysians is growing wider. The lethal brew of myriad income determinants and gangly systems of income distribution have conspired to render the middle and working classes disempowered.
As Muhammed puts it: “(As of 2012), the top 20 percent held more than 52.1 percent of all wealth, while the bottom 40 percent held less than eight percent. The distribution of liquid assets was very extreme – the top 20 percent had 95 percent of all financial wealth, while the bottom 80 percent had only five percent.”This shouldn’t be happening
This process of emasculation should not be happening. Especially not after 61 years of independence.
In 1958, there were only 3,000 Malay taxpayers out of the overall of 33,000 taxpayers. A decade later, of the 1,488 students in Universiti Malaya – the only university in the country at the time – who graduated with a BSc, only 69 were Malays. Only four of the 408 who graduated with an engineering degree were Malays.
“During the same period,” Muhammed adds, “only 12 Malays graduated from the medical faculty, representing less than 10 percent of the total medical faculty graduates.”
But while the number of Malay graduates, technocrats and universities between 1970-2018 have risen dramatically, the chasm between rich and poor continues to stay the same, if not widened.
Statistics from the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) show that 92 percent of the people are earning less than RM 6,000 a month; four out of 10 Malaysians have no pensions at all; close to 40 percent earn less than RM3,000 per month; 25 percent of Malaysians have no properties to their names; and the money that pilgrims save for the hajj is spent entirely on the hajj, leaving their children with nothing to draw on.
Muhammed adds that it is “estimated that there were only 150,000 inter (-racial) marriages in Malaysia, a small figure in a population of 28 million”. Wealth, or, the lack of it, tends to have the same clustering effects in one group and one race.
One thing that Muhammed does not address at length is the extent to which the state can compel GLCs and GLICs to remunerate their workers well, or at least put a cap on the salary differentials between those at the top and the workers at the bottom.
Additionally, in the aftermath of the financial crisis and Occupy Wall Street, the honeycomb, gig, platform and sharing economy has emerged. If more people put their minds together, more bottom-up solutions – as manifested by Uber, Grab, Air BnB and other forms of electronic commerce – can and will emerge.
But are Malaysians ready for this, beyond the template of the digital free trade zone offered by Alibaba? Or will the proverbial cheese of Malaysians once again be consumed wholesale by a flood of new migrants from China, India and the rest of the world?
Come what may, Malaysians have to work together and understand the structural and systemic reforms that are needed beyond the mere creation of a few digital unicorns.
They need to empower themselves through education, especially online education, even if this involves disciplining themselves to start taking self-enrichment courses – including learning management systems such as edX or Class Central.
If anyone is in need of more inspiration, Muhammed’s book is the best place to start.
The Colour of Inequality, if not redressed, will lead to the panic of inequality, in which only the paranoid will survive. Especially because it is only another 20 years or so before Malaysia starts greying, a process that took European societies a century to experience.
PHAR KIM BENG was a multiple award-winning Head Teaching Fellow on China and Cultural Revolution in Harvard University.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.