Global Anti-Corruption Conclave in Malaysia?


August 19, 2015

Global Anti-Corruption Conclave in Malaysia?

by John Berthelsen@www.asiasentinel.com

‘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.”

More Bad News for Malaysia’s Democracy


June 22, 2015

More Bad News for Malaysia’s Democracy

by James Giggacher

http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2015/06/18/more-bad-news-for-malaysias-democracy/

Back in February, 2015 just after Anwar Ibrahim lost his appeal against sodomy charges and was given a harsh five-year jail sentence, New Mandala spoke to Malaysia politics expert John Funston.

John FunstonHe said that without Anwar around to unite the conflicting policies and personalities, maintaining the opposition alliance would be “extremely difficult”.

He was spot on.

A mere four months after Anwar’s jailing and the seven-year-old People’s Alliance, or Pakatan Rakyat, has called it a day, declaring Wednesday that it no longer “functions formally”.

It brings an end to Malaysia’s most successful opposition movement; one which won the majority of votes in 2013’s general election to almost unseat the six-decade ruling coalition Barisan Nasional. Only gerrymandering of seats saw Barisan Nasional maintain power.

The collapse of the coalition comes about after attempts by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) to enforce the controversial Islamic law, hudud. The Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) objected to the move and now the two parties have severed ties.

Which raises the question; what does this mean for the already slim hopes of democracy in Malaysia? The first thing to keep in mind is that while Pakatan Rakyat showed great promise as a possible alternative to the ruling Barisan Nasional, it was never a cohesive alliance.

“The collapse came about for the same reason the parties split after the 1999 election – because a group within PAS has sought to press for an extreme version of its Islamic ideology,” says Funston.

“This time the pro-Ulama group are even stronger – after a bitter campaign they won a clean sweep of all top positions in the party’s general assembly earlier this month.”

Another key difference is that the pro-Ulama group is now looking to work with Prime Minister Najib Razak’s UMNO party to achieve its goals – in particular the implementation of the extreme hudud law in PAS-run Kelantan.

But as Funston points out, as too Tom Pepinsky here, it might not be the end of collaboration between the former alliance parties.

“In the absence of a formal coalition some cooperation still seems likely, in particular for the Selangor state administration where the three parties have similar representation,” says Funston. “But this will not make for a unified administration, and further efforts by PAS to implement hudud might imperil even this.”

With elections due in 2018, the demise of the alliance will significantly reduce the opposition’s prospects of successfully challenging the government. And if PAS does end up building an alliance with UMNO, this also does not bode well for Malaysia’s non-Malay parties.

“Some opposition members have mooted a grand alliance against the ruling coalition, drawing on support from moderate Malay NGOs, and perhaps headed by UMNO veteran Tengku Razaleigh,” says Funston.

“Such a realignment would be difficult to accomplish, though some movement in this direction is possible if the PAS professionals align more closely with DAP and PKR, and other Malay moderates continue to join these two parties.”

Meanwhile Barisan Nasional are going through their own potential divorce, with an ongoing clash between former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir and Najib sending the ruling party to the brink (read this New York Times piece for a good overview of the back story involving the PM’s wife’s spending sprees and the murder of a Mongolian model).

The upshot is that Mahathir has called time on Razak, saying his many failures, including that of sovereign wealth fund 1MDB, means he must go.

“The 90-year-old Mahathir is relentless, and has an outstanding record of bringing opponents down,” says Funston. “He may well continue until he succeeds in this case.

“Najib has responded vigorously, and benefits from the fact that there is no obvious successor. But he has not mounted a plausible defence against Mahathir’s charges, and momentum could move against him quickly if party leaders come to accept Mahathir’s claim that UMNO will not win the next election while Najib remains in charge.” With three years until elections, the drama is only set to build.

James Giggacher is editor of New Mandala.

New Political Party in Malaysia–Parti Ikatan Bangsa Malaysia (Ikatan)


May 15, 2015

Phnom Penh by The Mekong

Tan Sri Kadir,

I am sorry that I am unable to be with you and your friends at the launch of Ikatan. It is interesting to note Din MericanYthat 76 you still have enough energy and determination to be in the rough and tumble of Malaysian politics. It will be tough to make a comeback given the fact you have been associated with UMNO Baru, a corrupt and racist party over many years and have served both Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Your immediate challenge to convince voters that your party is in for the long haul, not a flash in the pan; that you have the sustaining power in terms of finance and organization;  and a team of outstanding and highly motivated leaders, political strategists, and operatives to carry your message throughout the length and breadth of our expansive country. I  think you now must explain fully why this change of heart and the need to return to politics.

You have made all the encouraging remarks at the launch, giving hope to Malaysians who are desperate for change. I wish you and your team, backers and supporters all the best. As an old friend and fellow Kedahan, you have my good wishes for your continued good health. Your second chance has come but please be sure that you remain true to your cause and not succumb to the temptations of power.--Din Merican

New Political Party in Malaysia–Parti Ikatan Bangsa Malaysia (Ikatan)

Former Information Minister Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir today launched a new political party named Parti Ikatan Bangsa Malaysia (Ikatan) which he claims to be ‘pro-rakyat’.

“After struggling so hard for more than two years and with the help of a court order, Ikatan is finally registered,” Kadir said in his speech to some 300 people in attendance at the launching ceremony in Seri Kembangan.Kadir said his party was neither pro-BN nor pro-opposition and was instead closely aligned with the spirit of the country’s founding fathers and the aspirations of the country’s future generations. He also explained that the party’s focus would not be on the next general election, which is due in 2018.

“Hence, we are free to push our position on the various issues facing the country that would bring maximum benefit to the rakyat, the country and to our future generations. We need not be ‘populist’,” Kadir added.

‘We will be more issue-based’

Asked at a press conference held after the launch, Kadir said Ikatan would make a stand (on whether to contest in the next general election or not) when the time comes. As to whether the party planned to work together with other political parties, Kadir reiterated that the party is not placing its focus on the next general election.

“We are more concerned about various issues in the country. As such, we will be more issue-based.If we are on the same wavelength with Pakatan on certain issues, then we are with them. It’s the same if the government has good policies. What is good for the rakyat, we will give our support,” he said.

He also expressed confidence that many out there actually supported the party. “Many want to support us, but they are probably scared that they will not get contracts. “Many out there support us. But I prefer new faces. Although they are new, they know what’s happening in the country,” he said, adding that the party will be guided by the values of the country’s founding fathers.

Pointing out how the current spirit has veered far from the spirit then, issues such as corruption and power abuse are rampant today, he said.

“Back then, all these things did not happen. Our leaders knew that they cannot touch the rakyat’s money,” Kadir said, adding that the rakyat were initially successful due to the strong foundations set by the founding fathers.

Nevertheless, as based on 6,000 years of human history, Kadir said bad habits would set in for any government that remains in power for more than 30 years, continuously. “The present government in our country has been in power continiously for more than 57 years. It is not surprising that decadence and corrupt practices have set in.

“Corrupt practices are committed on a huge scale, without any feeling or consideration for the ordinary rakyat,” he said. Kadir also expressed confidence that without corruption, Malaysia would have long become a high income and developed country.

‘Close one eye, or else…’

“When you are already corrupt, it comes naturally to abuse power, which leads to wastage. If the political leadership is like that, when those under you want to steal a little, you close one eye. Because if you don’t, then your secret will be out. So it’s just like ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine’,” he said.

Stressing that he was speaking on behalf of the souls of those who have passed on, Kadir added that he believes they were all “crying in their graves” as they  looked at the country’s current state. He also denied that he had launched the party because he was “ambitious”.

“I have been a minister, I even had to pujuk Pak Lah (former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, right) for nine months for him to let me resign.I deserve to have a good life, but I can’t sleep soundly thinking about our founding fathers,” he said.

Asked on whether the party supported former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad or Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak in the tiff between the two, Kadir said his party would wait for investigations that are currently under way. “If the Prime Minister is wrong, then he is wrong and he will be punished. If he is not wrong, then what can we do? We just want investigations on 1MDB to be expedited. If he is not wrong, we won’t say he is in the wrong because that would be opportunistic politics,” he said.

Asked to comment on Najib’s leadership, Kadir said he preferred not to be “personal”. “We will not be personal in fighting for issues,” he said.

Meanwhile, the 76-year-old said they were determined to be a “massed-based” party with divisions and branches throughout the country.

“On Malaysia Day (Septeber 16), we hope to introduce to the rakyat the whole national leadership of Ikatan from all over the country. The recruitment drive for members starts today and those interested can register online,” he said.

Apart from Kadir’s speech and the press conference today, the launch saw party members leading the audience in reciting the “Rukun Negara”. The “Amanat Merdeka” of the country’s first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, was also read by his grandson, Tunku Muinuddin Putra, who is also Ikatan’s Vice-President.