Malaysia’s 1MDB, Abu Dhabi State Investment Fund Reach Repayment Agreement


April 25, 2017

Malaysia’s 1MDB, Abu Dhabi State Investment Fund Reach Repayment AgreementPassing the Buck to Malaysian Taxpayers with more to come

Malaysian state investment fund to pay $1.2 billion to settle part of its dispute with Abu Dhabi sovereign fund

by Bradley Hope and Tom Wright

http://www.wsj.com

Image result for IMDB --Screwing Malaysian Taxpayers

State investment funds in Abu Dhabi and Malaysia struck an agreement to avoid potentially embarrassing arbitration proceedings related to billions of dollars that were allegedly misappropriated by a conspiracy of former executives and advisers to both funds, according to people with direct knowledge of the deal.

The agreement could ease tension between 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB, and Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Co., or IPIC, according to an agreement signed by the parties on Saturday, the people said.

The Malaysian fund agreed to pay $1.2 billion to IPIC, and both sides agreed to keep discussing a further $3.5 billion of disputed payments. A formal announcement on the London Stock Exchange, where IPIC bonds are listed, could come as early as Monday, the people added. News of the deal was earlier reported by the Straits Times in Singapore.

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Former IPIC Chairman Khadem Al Qubaisi, is now  is now in jailAbu Dhabi, but this Malaysian Chinese Arab is scot free because of his connections to Prime Minister Najib Razak

Malaysia and Abu Dhabi have been in a dispute since last year over who should foot the bill for billions of dollars that U.S. investigators allege was stolen from 1MDB. The money was allegedly funneled out with the help of former 1MDB executives and people close to the fund, as well as assistance from former senior executives of IPIC, U.S. prosecutors said in their filings.

The former chairman of IPIC, Khadem Al Qubaisi, is now in jail in Abu Dhabi, although he hasn’t been formally charged, while many of the alleged Malaysian conspirators are living overseas. They include Jho Low, a 35-year-old Malaysian who the U.S. Justice Department believes directed the fraud, and who has been living in Thailand and China.

Attempts to reach Messrs. Low and Al Qubaisi weren’t successful. Both have previously denied wrongdoing.

The Justice Department filed civil lawsuits last summer seeking to seize assets worth more than $1 billion—including mansions in Los Angeles and New York, as well as some of the rights to profits from the movie “The Wolf of Wall Street”—which it claims were financed with money from 1MDB. The department is building a criminal case against Mr. Low for alleged money laundering among other potential charges, according to people aware of the matter.

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This Man is  feeling the heat from Malaysian civil society–Tranquilizers could be keeping him from losing sleep or is it because he has a thick face?

Before the scandal was publicized in 2015, IPIC was a key business partner of 1MDB, helping guarantee $3.5 billion in bonds that Goldman Sachs Group Inc. sold for the Malaysian fund. Under the cover of these dealings, IPIC executives, including Mr. Al Qubaisi, helped Mr. Low and officials from 1MDB siphon billions of dollars from the fund, the Justice Department alleged. When a consortium led by Deutsche Bank AG pulled a loan to 1MDB over concerns about the collateral, IPIC stepped in with an emergency loan of $1 billion.

But as the scandal erupted, relations deteriorated between Malaysia and Abu Dhabi, and both sides began trading public accusations over who was to blame.

The agreement would repay the emergency loan that IPIC made to 1MDB, plus interest the Abu Dhabi fund paid when 1MDB was unable to service its bonds. Malaysia will pay IPIC about $600 million by the end of July and another $600 million by the end of December, the people said.

The agreement doesn’t resolve the $3.5 billion in funds 1MDB says it transferred to a shell company in the British Virgin Islands set up by Mr. Al Qubaisi and an associate. That shell company had a similar name to an IPIC subsidiary. Abu Dhabi says IPIC or the subsidiary never received the money; Malaysia claims the shell company was a de facto part of IPIC.

Hundreds of millions of dollars of 1MDB money also allegedly found their way into the accounts of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak via a chain of intermediaries, including the disputed shell company, according to court documents. Much of that money was returned to the web of offshore companies from where it came, records show. Mr. Najib has said the money was a donation from Saudi Arabia and that most of it was returned. The Malaysian attorney general has cleared him of any wrongdoing.

A company controlled by Mr. Najib’s stepson, Riza Aziz, also received hundreds of millions of dollars originating from 1MDB and transferred to him by intermediaries, the Justice Department said. He has denied wrongdoing.

Negotiations between IPIC, 1MDB and the Malaysian government broke down on several previous occasions, including in January. Abu Dhabi merged IPIC with another state fund called Mubadala Development Co. earlier this year. The new fund is called Mubadala Investment Co.

Write to Bradley Hope at bradley.hope@wsj.com and Tom Wright at tom.wright@wsj.com

 

Malaysia: Harassment of Critics intensified


April 24, 2017

Malaysia: Harassment of Critics intensified

by John Berthelsen@www.asiasentinel.com

http://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/new-round-repression-malaysia/

Image result for Najib Razak --Harassment of OpponentsSorry Dad, I messed up Felda and stole billions from the rakyat(people)

Malaysian authorities have increased the pace of their harassment of critics, according to human rights organizations in Kuala Lumpur, which political analysts view as a prelude to early elections.

Ominously, five people have been kidnapped or disappeared and people are being arrested over Facebook postings and held for three or four days, critics say. Opposition websites and independent news publications have been warned to mute their criticism or face being shut down. The Chinese-language newspaper Nanyang Siang Pau was warned over a cartoon satirizing the Speaker of Parliament as a monkey and told to suspend the staff involved.

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Hudud Monkees–Pandikar Amin (Tak) Mulia and PAS Hadi Awang

A general election must be held before August 23, 2018. However, Parliament is expected to be dissolved sometime in August or September of this year in preparation for the polls, to allow time for slippage in case unexpected events take place, such as the possible prosecution in the United States of the scandal-scarred Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is under investigation by the US Justice Department’s kleptocracy unit on suspicion that as much as US$1 billion from the Malaysian state-backed 1Malaysia Development Bhd. investment fund found its way into his personal accounts.

“They have been warning people, there have been many arrests over Facebook postings, things deemed to be critical, not only of government but of government leaders,” said Ambiga Sreenevasan, one of Malaysia’s most prominent lawyers and civil rights advocates. “There is a general feeling that the government is not going to tolerate dissent.”

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By all rights, the government should be confident of a landslide in the upcoming polls. The opposition’s most charismatic figure, Anwar Ibrahim, languishes in prison on what human rights organizations have criticized as trumped-up charges of sexual perversion. Other leaders have been threatened with sedition or criminal libel. The opposition, led by Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat, is in disarray with one wing – the rural-based Parti Islam se-Malaysia, or PAS, having collapsed into two organizations, neither of which has much remaining clout.  The conservative wing has largely aligned itself with the government over religious issues.

Najib Running Scared?

But, according to Ambiga and other sources, the reason Najib may be running scared is Mahathir Mohamad, the 91-year-old former Prime Minister, Najib’s most implacable critic, who with other dissidents established Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, and set to woo away ethnic Malays from the United Malays National Organization.

Image result for Mahathir takes on NajibThe Malaysian Kantoi All Party Team

From the start, it seemed a lost cause. Mahathir has been attempting to dump Najib since before the 2013 General Election, with little effect. His son Mukhriz has been fired by Najib as Menteri Besar (Chief Minister) of the state of Kedah. Muhyiddin Yassin, the former Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy President of UMNO, was kicked out of the party. Others have been neutralized or driven out, while the remainder of UMNO chieftains have been bribed/bought to support Najib.

But, according to a political analyst, the key is the Federal Land Development Authority, or FELDA, which was founded to handle the resettlement of the rural poor, most of them ethnic Malays.

The government listed FELDA on the Malaysian stock exchange in 2012 and allowed the thousands of settlers – whose territory covers 54 of UMNO’s 86 seats in parliament – to invest in the shares. Because of a variety of missteps, the shares have fallen  in value steeply, impoverishing the settlers who bought into them. FELDA Global Ventures as the public vehicle is now known, may be forced to delist.

Mahathir and PPBM, which he calls Parti Bersatu against the wishes of the government, have capitalized on the discontent to the point where political analysts believe he will pull away a number of those UMNO seats, perhaps 10 or 11 – two of which are held by Najib’s lieutenants.

FELDA in Revolt

“Bersatu isn’t really viable, but he’s making inroads into the Malay areas,” said one knowledgeable source. “Two ministers – Ismail Shabri Yaacob in Pahang and Ahmad Shabery Cheek in Terengganu – could lose their seats. If they lose two ministers, Najib’s position is dicey.”

If the other opposition parties, including the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party and Anwar’s PKR, plus the shards of PAC – can do well, especially in the face of brutal gerrymandering by the government – perhaps they could pull 100 seats in the 222-member parliament.

That would mean the East Malaysia states of Sabah and Sarawak, whose representation in Parliament is outsized compared to their population, and which have been demanding a bigger share of oil revenues now flowing to the central government from their own areas, plus increased development, would be in a position to blackmail the government for more spoils.

Scorched-Earth Policy

New Round of Repression in Malaysia

 FELDA Settlers in Revolt–Costly to Najib Razak

Accordingly, according to Ambiga and sources who prefer not to be named, the government has embarked on a scorched-earth program to suppress dissent. The most troubling is the kidnapping or disappearance of five social activists, including the well-organized kidnapping and disappearance of a Chinese Christian pastor, Raymond Koh Keng Joo on Feb. 13 in the middle of Petaling Jaya, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, whose car was rammed and who was driven away in broad daylight. As Asia Sentinel reported, “His disappearance and the lack of any news or ransom demand suggest he has likely been killed and his body disposed of.”

The others who have disappeared are social activists Peter Chong, Joshua and Ruth Hilmy and Amri Che Mat.

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In addition, Nalini Elumalai, the Malaysia representative of Article 19, an international human rights organization with a Malaysia chapter, said that “recent arrests, investigations and charges under the Multimedia & Communications Act 1998 (MCA) are becoming more and more frequent. This is no longer just a crackdown on public figures (i.e. activists, human rights defenders, opposition politicians or journalists), but the targeting of ordinary social media users, in what appears to be an exercise in clamping down on criticism.”

Article 19 in particular identified one individual who was arrested last week for carrying a placard and wearing a yellow T-shirt identifying him as a member of the election reform organization Bersih. His phone and other articles were seized.

“The arrest and confiscations represent a violation of the individual’s right to privacy and freedom of expression, as it targets him for expressing his opinion on government corruption.

Article 19 also specified the cases of the graphic artist Fahmi Reza, Malaysian cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, known as Zunar, and Bersih Chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah under the Security Offences Special Measures Act (SOSMA), the organization said.

“There is grave concern about how SOSMA has been extended for another five years,” Ambiga said. “Maria [Chin’s] detention was a classic example of the abuse of security legislation. The detention under SOSMA of Maria was completely unacceptable. I anticipate a worsening situation for human rights in view of the elections. It’s going to be even dirtier than the last.”

How uneven are our scales of justice?


January 9, 2017

How uneven are our scales of justice?

by Dr,Lim Teck Ghee@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for Ambassador Tommy Koh of Singapore

Professor and Ambassadoor Koh is the first Singaporean to receive the “Great Negotiator Award”, given out by the programme on negotiation at Harvard Law School, which comprises of students and faculty from the university as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tufts University.

COMMENT In an exchange with Tommy Koh at a seminar on ‘Japan as an economic power and its implications for South-East Asia’ in 1974, the Singaporean diplomat reminded me that members of the legal profession did not comprise members of the world’s oldest profession, perhaps only second. That’s probably untrue as they could be third or fourth on this list.

Whatever anyone’s opinion of lawyers derived from personal experience is – we should not forget that lawyers generally sell their services to the higher bidder – there needs to be concern about how unevenly tilted the scales of justice in Malaysia have become.

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Surprisingly or not surprisingly, there has been little discussion of this important topic though we have had a courageous whistleblower, Justice NH Chan, who called attention to the shortcomings of some of his former judicial colleagues in his book, ‘Judging the Judges’, subsequently printed in its second edition as ‘How to Judge the Judges’.

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Although Justice Chan, who sadly passed away recently, directed his criticism principally against his senior colleagues, his reiteration of the fundamental underpinnings of justice administration resonate in its relevance to the entire judiciary and other members of the legal profession.

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Members of the Judiciary–The judge must be fair and impartial. At the same time, it is important that even litigants who lose should feel that they had a fair trial.–Lim Teck Ghee

To him, the epitome of justice is a fair trial and this requires that the judge must do justice according to law – “this is what the rule of law is all about”. The judge must be fair and impartial. At the same time, it is important that even litigants who lose should feel that they had a fair trial.

Justice Chan also felt that the public should have sufficient knowledge to enable them to judge the performance of the judges.

However, even when there is public scrutiny – which rarely happens except in the most attention-grabbing of cases, say one in every tens of thousands – it appears to be well-nigh impossible to bring anyone from the judiciary – from the lowest subordinate magistrate level to the highest level of federal supreme judge – to book for any abuse of power, corrupt practice or judgment or judicial behavior seen to be unfair or unjust.

The Royal Commission’s no-action decision on the notorious VK Lingam case serves as a good example.Being fair and impartial means that each and all members of the judiciary especially have to rise above the factors of class, race or religion in arriving at judgment. Do integrity and impartiality constitute the norm or is the judiciary – as with the rest of the civil service – influenced by extraneous factors in the cases they hear?

To what extent, for example, are members of the judiciary influenced or affected by the racial identity of the accused and/or of the lawyers in the cases they hear? Are they likely to be more lenient when sentencing members from the rich and powerful strata of society or from members of their own racial grouping?

Are they biased against those from the poorer classes who do not have the services of sharp and expensive lawyers to ensure that they get a fair trial or against those from different racial or religious groups?

Seldom raised in public realm

To my knowledge, these and similar questions have seldom been raised or discussed in the public realm. Colleagues from the legal fraternity to whom I have addressed this question in private, although generally agreeing that the judiciary is far from being independent or free from political influence, argue that the scales of justice are generally evenly and fairly administered in Malaysia in terms of the influence and impact of race and religion.

The most recent findings in the 2016 Rule of Law Index conducted by the World Justice Project appear to contradict this view. This is Malaysia’s score on the following components of civil and criminal law

Civil Justice

No discrimination – 0.5
No corruption – 0.5
No improper government influence – 0.38
Accessibility and affordability – 0.5

Criminal Justice

No discrimination – 0.51
Due process of law – 0.57
No improper government influence – 0.39
Timely and effective adjudication – 0.53

Source here, p110.

What the data by this organisation seems to indicate – the index is based on over 100,000 households and 2,400 expert surveys to measure how the rule of law is experienced, but we do not know the details of this sampling for Malaysia – is that one out of every two cases of civil and criminal justice in the country is tainted by discriminatory or corrupt action by the law enforcement agencies, including the judiciary.

Public attention – local and international – has tended to focus on issues related to fundamental rights and freedoms, constraints on government powers, and open government.

However in a robust and thriving democracy, it is equally important to ensure that the rule of law – as experienced in practical, everyday situations by ordinary people – is also subject to scrutiny and reform so that it is fair and impartial in all aspects.

A good example of such public examination is that recently conducted by British Columbia in its 2012 Justice Reform Initiative which resulted in a white paper and road map for justice reform in the state. We are sorely in need of such an initiative or minimally a clear and useful dialogue on this often neglected aspect of the Rule of Law. Perhaps the Bar Council can take the lead in this exercise.


LIM TECK GHEE is a former World Bank senior social scientist, whose report on bumiputera equity when he was director of Asli’s Centre for Public Policy Studies sparked controversy in 2006. He is now CEO of the Centre for Policy Initiatives.

 

Bersih, BERSIH, Bersih–A Great Success


November 20, 2016

Bersih, BERSIH, Bersih–A Great Success

by Dean Johns

http://www.malaysiakini.com

BERSIH wants him to get lost

Here’s to success for BERSIH in its fifth public rally in support of its campaign for clean, free and fair elections in Malaysia.

Not that I, or I imagine anybody else, expects anything like success, at least in the short-term. But even false optimism beats succumbing to feelings of despair and defeat.

Though it must be terribly difficult not to concede defeat in the face of an electoral system so corrupt that it leaves Malaysians with no choice but to vote with their feet.

READ THIS:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/the-conversation-global/malaysias-bersih-5-rally_b_13070788.html

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Bersih, BERSIH, Bersih

To either walk away from the criminal cesspit to which the UMNO-BN regime has systematically reduced the country, as millions of Malaysians including my wife and daughter have done, or to stay and walk the talk like the BERSIH marchers are doing on November 19.

Of course both sets of walkers are playing their parts in striving to perform the feat of forcing UMNO-BN to clean-up the disgusting mess it has made of the country in its greed for power and plunder, or to clear-out in favour of an honest, people-friendly government.

Countless Malaysian emigrants and expatriates around the world in Global BERSIH gather together to agitate, rally and march in support of their fellows back home.

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Congrats to Maria Chin, Ambiga, and Your Colleagues

And many work hard individually for clean, free and fair elections and clean, free and fair government for Malaysia.

My wife, for example, who as a Malay-Chinese married to a mat salleh is a living exemplar of multi-ethnic accord, is close to completing a PhD at Sydney University on the possibility or otherwise of Malaysian’s achievement of a unifying national identity despite UMNO-BN’s determination to maintain its domination of the nation by preaching unity but actually promoting racial and religious division and discord.

A PhD that wouldn’t be totally impossible to pursue in any of Malaysia’s local or internationally-affiliated universities, given their all-too-obvious domination by regime-friendly management and academic appointees.

Meanwhile our daughter, as dearly as she loves going balik kampong to spend time with her maternal relatives, has been inspired by the fact that she feels physically and spiritually ‘grubby’ every time she visits UMNO-BN’s Malaysia, to aspire to an eventual career in human-rights law.

My own motivation for at least metaphorically walking in support of BERSIH and indeed all other Malaysian organisations and individuals working to clean-up the malodorous mess that UMNO-BN has made of Malaysia by writing this Malaysiakini column for the past decade or so is both personal and a matter of principle.

Driven to seek the light

As vividly aware as I am of the unceasing power-struggles within our human psyches between opposing forces for either good or evil like virtue and vice, greed and generosity, creation and destruction, co-operation and conflict, truth and falsehood and so on, I find myself driven to support and seek the light along with those of my fellows who similarly try and avoid the dark.

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Dean Johns–Malaysia’s Mat Salleh Friend

And thus I’m delighted to declare my solidarity and write if not literally walk in step with BERSIH and its supporters, especially those with sufficient spine to stride out on the streets in demonstration of their disgust at government corruption and sundry other criminalities, rather than settling for complaining in secret.

All of which is a very long-winded way of saying that I wish all power to BERSIH in its latest street-march calling for Malaysians to be accorded their constitutional right to clean, free and fair elections, and by extension clean, free and fair government.

And conversely, all the bad luck in the world to every member, supporter and crony of the discredited UMNO-BN regime, from its alleged 1MDB-billionaire Crime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his cabinet, through its Judiciary, Police Force and fawning mainstream media, on down to its very dregs, those dedak-hungry so-called red-shirts, all united in their efforts to keep empowering and enriching themselves and in the process sending Malaysia and Malaysians on the road to ruin.

Malaysia–The Land of Fear and Intimidation


November 17, 2016

Malaysia–The Land of Fear and Intimidation

by Dennis Ignatius

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Image result for The Red Shirts in Malaysia

Fear is filling our land. People are becoming increasingly afraid of their government, a government which has been amassing more and more power to harass, intimidate, threaten, punish or imprison those who oppose or disagree with it.

The goal is to cow the people into submission, force them to toe the line, pressure them to bend their knees to what their heart cries out against, to keep silent when citizenship demands a response.

Liberty impoverished

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Najib Razak’s  Lapdog or Guardian of Public Order?

There are so many oppressive laws now and so many different ways they can be applied and enforced.There are laws against sedition, laws prohibiting actions detrimental to parliamentary democracy (a law that is itself detrimental to democracy), laws against online posts that are deemed offensive or that might hurt the feelings of others and laws against insulting behaviour, to name a few.

A tweet, a Facebook post or a careless comment on a blog can suddenly bring tactical teams to your front door. What is free speech in other democracies is increasingly criminal here.

Even harmless yellow balloons can become subversive material, leading to a “breach of peace,” be seen as “intent to provoke anger” or be taken as “insulting behaviour.”

On pain of suspension or dismissal, university students are denied the right to protest, make known their unhappiness or be politically active unless, of course, they are active on behalf of the establishment.

Cartoonist and artists may not lampoon political leaders or bruise their ever so sensitive egos. Evidently many thin-skinned politicians feel they need protection from the disdain of the people.

The people may not insult their political leaders or hurt their feelings; political leaders, however, are under no obligation to respect the feelings or the intelligence of the people.

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Freedom is their cause

Whatever it is, the underlying message from those in power is simply this: public opposition and dissent invite state retaliation in one form or another. If you play the game – close your eyes, turn away, keep silent and wave the flag when it is demanded of you – you’ll be spared their wrath.

It appears that as citizens the only privilege we have is to pay for all the profligacy, misgovernance and corruption that we see all around us. And, of course, to suffer in silence.

Never in our history have we been so impoverished of our rights, so at the mercy of those in power.

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Is this what they mean when they talk about wanting a governance system based on Asian values, standards and requirements rather than on “the lopsided ethos” of the West (whatever that means) as one leader asserted recently?

The word is out

The word is out: don’t talk publicly, don’t write, don’t demonstrate because you never know who’s listening, who’s watching, who’s waiting for you. The state may not have such vast capabilities to monitor what people are saying or doing but when the people believe it, it becomes real. They modify their behaviour, they tone it down, they retreat from the public square.

Dissent is slowly being driven behind closed doors – people complain in private, grouse quietly among friends, surreptitiously share black humour on WhatsApp or vent their anger online under cover of anonymity. This is what we have been reduced to.

Outsourcing terror

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UMNO’s Gangsters

And then there’s the outsourcing of terror and intimidation to groups like the Red Shirts who run around with apparent impunity threatening, intimidating and sowing fear. They vow bloodshed and promise destruction if they don’t get their way – to stifle all criticism of the party in power, to silence dissenting opinions, to deter public protest. They are shallow, crude and thuggish but they have their secret admirers.

It is simply devious for political leaders to disavow any connection to the Red Shirts while allowing them to continue their reign of terror and excusing their ugly behaviour.

In the meantime, those responsible for public safety, quick to investigate and arrest opposition leaders and activists for what they say, dismiss the threatening language of the Red Shirts as harmless talk, a mere “war of words.”

Perhaps to demonstrate some resolve, some semblance of impartiality, a few Red Shirt minions are being investigated for the minor offense of dumping trash in front of Malaysiakini’s offices.

That in itself is an affront; it is the leader of the Red Shirts himself who should be held accountable and not simply for usurping the functions of Alam Flora but for criminal intimidation.

For so long as the Red Shirts leader is allowed to strut around like a peacock on heat, it will be hard not to conclude that he has a patron in high places, that he is merely a protected hired-hand doing the dirty work of men hiding in the shadows.

The colour of legitimacy

Some, of course, are endeavouring to conflate the illegitimacy of the Red Shirts with BERSIH, suggesting that both are but different sides of the same coin, that both should stop their activities.Nothing could be more disingenuous.

BERSIH is exercising its constitutional right to peaceful assembly to demand clean elections, clean government, support for parliamentary democracy, the right to dissent and the empowerment of Sabah and Sarawak.

The Red Shirts, on the other hand, have no other agenda than to prevent citizens from exercising their constitutional rights. They have no legitimacy, no integrity and no business harassing BERSIH supporters.

There’s no moral equivalency here; they are poles apart, as different as night is from day. And in harassing BERSIH, they cannot even claim the right to peaceful assembly.

 

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Tan Sri Razali Ismail

As Razali Ismail, the Suhakam chairman, said, “If the intention of the organizers of a counter-demonstration is to prevent another assembly from taking place, or to interfere with it, the counter-demonstration will cease to enjoy the protection afforded by the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.” That makes them a mob, illegitimate and illegal.

Hard choices ahead

Whatever it is, we all have a hard and difficult choice before us: keep silent as our nation continues on its downward trajectory towards tyranny or stand up and speak out despite the threats and intimidation.

Many feel the battle is already lost and are leaving. Others have decided to just stay out of the fray, abandon the struggle to build a better nation. They figure the only option that they have is make the best of a bad situation, keep their heads down, learn to survive in tyranny’s shadow.

But submission to tyranny doesn’t buy peace; it merely postpones the day of reckoning. Unbridled greed, misgovernance and the abuse of power will take its toll; it always does.

Benjamin Franklin may well be right: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty not safety.”

We all have some soul-searching to do to confront both the fear within and the fear without. We either overcome our fears or go quietly into the dark night that awaits us if we do nothing.

 

 

Time for Scholars and Intellectuals to speak up for Freedom of Thought


October 29, 2016

Time for Scholars and Intellectuals to speak up for Freedom of Thought

by Kris Hartley

Kris Hartley is a Lecturer in the Department of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University, where he teaches quantitative methods and public sector economics. He is also a Faculty Fellow at Cornell’s Atkinson Center and a Nonresident Fellow for Global Cities at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

He holds research appointments at the Center for New Structural Economics at Peking University, the Institute of Water Policy at National University of Singapore, and the Center for Government Competitiveness at Seoul National University. In the past four years Kris has held academic appointments throughout Asia, including Visiting Researcher at the University of Hong Kong, Visiting Lecturer in economics at Vietnam National University, Visiting Researcher at Seoul National University, Visiting Research Fellow at the University of the Philippines, and research and teaching assistant at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Kris focuses on economic policy, urban planning, and environmental management. An avid global traveller, he has visited 50 countries and resided in ten on three continents. Kris received a B.A. in classics (Phi Beta Kappa) from the University of Tennessee, an M.B.A. from Baylor University, a Master of City Planning from the University of California–Berkeley, and a PhD in Public Policy from the National University of Singapore.

Scholars should allocate a portion of their time to addressing social injustice, Kris Hartley writes, and academics of all disciplines have a crucial role to play.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s draconian crackdown on university professors and deans has sent a chill through global academia. While Turkey’s oppressive political climate appears uniquely hopeless, free speech is under assault around the world as a wave of authoritarianism crashes ashore. Politically opportunistic ‘strong-men’ such as Erdoğan, Vladimir Putin, Rodrigo Duterte, and potentially Donald Trump are taking advantage of fears about terrorism and globalisation while ridiculing opponents as weak and traitorous.

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Sadly, their actions do not end there. Stifling freedom of thought has priority status in the dictator’s playbook and limited press freedom in many countries is an unsettling bellwether. Scholars may be next in line at the figurative guillotine, but does the academic system encourage them to fight back?

A widely circulated 2015 commentary by Asit Biswas and Julian Kirchherr argued that scholars are not doing enough to address real-world problems, with credibility and job security reliant almost exclusively on publishing output. Indeed, the academic promotion system rewards publication in journals that are at once elite (to a few) and obscure (to everyone else). Aspiring scholars are further incentivised by the metricization of research. One example is “impact factor,” a measurement of the mentions one article receives in other articles.

Like a tempest in a teacup, this tiny professional realm buzzes with insular measures of self-importance. It can do better.

Are academic elites repelled by activism and public engagement? The aforementioned term “impact” is misleading and has little concern with the practical world. Resources and intellectual capital are devoted to journal articles that reflect brilliant work but often receive little attention outside the teacup. More tragically, such work monopolises the time of scholars who could otherwise allocate some effort to social advocacy through their own discipline-specific perspectives.

A sea-change in the way scholars view their profession – rejecting the role of intellectual line-workers and embracing that of publically-engaged thought leaders – would not only inspire change-makers to enter academia but also lead to more impactful research.

Scholars are often portrayed as arrogant pontificators luxuriating in the proverbial ivory tower. Indeed, modern society has in most parts of the world granted them the freedom to speak as they please. It is left to the marketplace of ideas to reward some with publicity and others with indifference. However, when authoritarianism rises, scholars are among the first to be silenced. From Hitler to Pol Pot, and now to Erdoğan, the early stages of power consolidation see intellectual freedom deemed a threat to political legitimacy. Unenlightened governments fear that an informed populace is a noncompliant one. Fortunately, they are correct.

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What can the world’s scholars do to help inform the populace? The modern academic profession is globally connected, particularly in research addressing universal problems like financial crises, pandemics, terrorism, and climate change. Academia offers a platform for immediate action through the strength of its networks. It is as unfair to expect scholars in Erdoğan’s Turkey to take a public stand against rising authoritarianism, as it also would have been in Stalin’s Russia or Pol Pot’s Cambodia. Outspokenness in such environments can be career suicide – or worse.

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However, scholars in liberal countries can be valuable partners in exposing political ills, using information provided by their peers in at-risk countries. Information, like education, is a peaceful but useful weapon against authoritarianism. Several years passed before the world became aware of Pol Pot’s atrocities in Cambodia and governments were slow to act. It took the Khmer Rouge’s foolish military provocations to elicit the ire of Vietnam, resulting in swift regime change. Pol Pot, like Kim Jong-un today, tried to seal his country from information flows. Even in the modern era of ubiquitous information access, awareness alone has not always led to action (an example is the Darfur crisis). External intervention for regime change is a risky strategy and many governments fear domestic political blowback. Regardless, lack of exposure should never be a reason for predatory regimes enduring and academia can play an important role.

This call to action recognises the importance of maintaining a firewall between scholarly research and commentary. Credibility in one is not mutually exclusive of the other, as proven by the many internationally visible thought leaders holding academic positions (such as Paul Krugman and Robert Reich). It is crucial to the quality of scholarship that academic writing remains robust, scientific, and ideologically neutral; research should stand on its own scientific merit rather than on emotional arguments or political currency. Still, many journals now request authors to provide bullet points listing the practical implications of their research. While this effort recognises the gap between theory and practice, scholars must also go beyond bullet points and use their credibility to draw broader attention to social, economic, and political issues that have an impact on – and are explained by – their own particular disciplines.
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History may regard the current era as a reincarnation of the 1930s, when a ramp-up of authoritarianism was watched with nervousness before spiralling out of control. Scholars are positioned to fight back through a global conversation about freedom, fairness, and social justice. Hasty actions against academia by nervous authoritarian governments are evidence of this power.

Scholars who allot even a paltry 10 per cent of their time to addressing social injustice can make a transformative difference. No discipline is beyond this conversation. The social sciences – including economics, political science and sociology – are directly relevant. The fields of business, health, education, science, and humanities also offer valuable perspectives on government malfeasance, failed policy, and humanitarian strife. The venues are numerous – press publications, blogs, even Facebook posts – and in the modern era of social media a commentary in an obscure outlet can receive widespread attention almost instantly.

The renowned educator Horace Mann once said: “be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” To paraphrase this, scholars should feel professionally unfulfilled until they have made dictators uncomfortable. Academia is capable of maintaining its scientific standards while mobilising for progress. Growing authoritarianism is a call to reinforce this effort.

Kris Hartley is a Lecturer in the Department of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University, a Faculty Fellow at Cornell’s Atkinson Center and a Nonresident Fellow for Global Cities at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

This article is published in collaboration with Policy Forum — Asia and the Pacific’s leading platform for policy analysis and discussion.

Professor, speak up and make a difference