Vision 2020 marred by scandals, corruption and abuse of power

October 22, 2015

Vision 2020 marred by scandals, corruption and abuse of power

by Dr. Lee Hwok-Aun

Financial scandals, public protests against corruption and authoritarianism, economic anxiety and a depreciating currency are factors that would threaten the position of any elected national leader. Not in Malaysia.

Lee_Hwok_Aun_0511-480x360Faced with the above, Dato’ Seri Najib Razak has maintained his grip on the prime ministership. But with his credibility damaged, public trust shattered, and his signature 1Malaysia concept buried, his policy record increasingly hinges on fulfilling transformation.

The Global Transformation Forum, running in Kuala Lumpur October 21-23, will showcase Malaysia’s new policy making and monitoring model, and perhaps cast a warm glow on the administration.

Malaysia’s economic and government transformation programs are driven by Dato’ Idris Jala, Najib’s cabinet appointee and CEO of the performance management and delivery unit, and chief proponent of the “Big Fast Results” method for undertaking such endeavours.

The Prime Minister’s continued blessing for such programs has been returned with loyalty, such that even the crafting of political funding reform was entrusted to Idris and Paul Low, the Minister of Governance and Integrity.

Notably as well, Najib withdrew from launching a major global anti-corruption conference in August, but delivered the opening address of this forum. How far can the programs transform Malaysia and preserve the power of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition? The regime counts on two important balances tipping in its favor: short-term gains outweighing long-term goals and service delivery overshadowing government integrity.

Malaysia’s policy horizon is short, by destiny and by choice. Less than five years remain until the nation’s day of reckoning with Vision 2020, a grand mission launched in 1991 by then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Come 2020, Malaysia is supposed to already be a fully developed nation, attaining high income, capability and technology, and fostering a democratic, liberal, progressive and innovative society.

But in reality, reaching these lofty goals will take a longer time, beyond 2020. With Malaysia’s economy continuing to grow faster than the high-income entry bar, it will join the club, although when is uncertain.

Achieving that target will also yield political returns. It is a distinct and quantifiable accomplishment. Continual public spending of growth dividends on the lower-income population does provide some help in times of economic stress, while shoring up electoral support.

Short-term bias is accentuated by design; Malaysia’s transformation model favors programs that generate big fast results and filters out those that do not.The selection process is disinclined toward initiatives that require long and slow gestations, although a number of such projects will make it through.

idris-jala-pemandu-genericOn the one hand, commitment to short-term fixes is spirited, such as the implementation of Bantuan Rakyat 1 Malaysia — or better known as BR1M — a program of massive cash transfers to lower-income families. On the other hand, the government is lukewarm in its pursuit of systemic, broad-based innovation and sociopolitical maturation.

This trumping of immediate, quantifiable targets over gradual, qualitative progress is particularly stark in the education system, which is vital for sustaining socioeconomic advancement over the long term.

In schools and universities, learning outcomes and performance targets are spelled out while resources and personnel are constrained by standardization and audit requirements. Inquisitiveness, creativity and critical thinking remain barely encouraged. International recognition of this model revolves around its methods more than its contents.

PEMANDU has instituted a streamlined mechanism for consultative policy formulation, detailed planning, internal monitoring and performance assessments. The methodology has clearly spurred heated discussion and generated novel programs.

But far-reaching transformation entails major structural change, even disruptive contents and breakpoints. Leadership change often precedes transformational change, and there must be substantial cohesion between messenger and message, between the authority and the agenda.

Malaysia’s transformation is now being executed by a scandal-tainted Prime Minister heading a controlling and change-resistant establishment — the Barisan Nasional coalition that has held power for almost sixty years.

Governments the world over gain legitimacy and placate discontent by providing material goods and managing economic affairs. But in Najib’s case, the onus on government service delivery to scrub away doubts about his personal integrity is particularly high.

Transformation halts at pivotal points. From the political funding reform dialogue so far, it seems the US$700 million deposited into the Prime Minister’s personal account has already been exonerated as a “donation.”

Transformation into a more responsive government requires consultation in policy formulation and regular self-reporting of performance outcomes. But Najib’s government remains decidedly opposed to freer and fairer elections, accountability of the executive to parliament, rule of law, and freedom of information.

To be fair, these bigger issues lie beyond PEMANDU’s ambit; its programs specifically address economic and government transformation. But the exclusion of political transformation is precisely the problem from a national standpoint.

As technocratic as PEMANDU may be, the enduring impact of its programs lies in the hands of Malaysia’s untransformed political masters. – Nikkei Asian Review, October 22, 2015.

* Dr.Hwok-Aun Lee is a senior lecturer in development studies at the University of Malaya.

Remembering the Asian Statesman: Lee Kuan Yew

October 10, 2015

Remembering the Asian Statesman: Lee Kuan Yew

Farewell, Mr. Lee Kuan YewA little bit of history will not harm anyone. That sounds trite. I feel that history is about repeat itself, particularly in Malaysia. It would appear that we seem to forget its lessons. Why? Simply it is because our leadership and public officials and pundits are not grounded in reality.

Our Prime Minister, Najib Razak, is unable to deal with our national problems, preferring to delude himself with his spins and lies, and recklessly clinging to power with the support of his fawning public officials, and doing all he can to prolong his hold on power and postponing the inevitable.

Today, Najib Tun Razak, is the most unpopular (and hen pecked too) Prime Minister in our country’s history and has to resort to draconian laws and repressive measures to silence his critics in civil society. I wonder how long he can continue to stay in his job when our economy is slowing down and when will UMNO Malays  wake up to realise that their President can longer lead our country.–Din Merican

Malaysia Blocks UK-Based Critic

July 22, 2015

Malaysia Blocks UK-Based Critic

by John Berthelsen

Claire BrownAfter months of devastating reportage by the UK-based Sarawak Report, the Malaysian government has had enough, attempting to block the internet site, edited and mostly reported by former BBC reporter Clare Rewcastle Brown.  However, almost immediately, social media have come alive with alternate routes to the site, making the government attempt look futile.

Readers attempting to access the site on July 19 were greeted with a notification in Malay and English by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission that “This website is not available in Malaysia as it violates the National Law.” As far as can be determined, it is the first time the government has closed down a website and it is reminiscent of an action by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1986 when, infuriated by detailed reporting on a variety of scandals, he ordered two Asian Wall Street Journal reporters out of the country within 72 hours.

Malaysia’s Center for Independent Journalism condemned the blockage, saying that “For any restriction on the guaranteed right of freedom of expression to be legitimate, it must firstly be authorized by a specific law. There must also be adequate provision for a website that has been blocked to appeal and challenge the decision of MCMC.  

The government’s action came at the end of a week during which it attempted to prove Brown had used documents allegedly doctored by Xavier Justo, a Swiss national now in jail in Thailand, to lay out detailed charges of massive fraud surrounding the scandal-ridden 1Malaysia Development Bhd. state-backed investment fund.  According to local media, Justo downloaded 2 million emails from PetroSaudi International, a Middle Eastern oil exploration company through which stolen funds are alleged to have passed. Justo was once an officer of the company but was paid the equivalent of US$5 million to leave. Apparently he sought to sell the documents to the highest bidder in Singapore. Brown did not pay for them.

Brown, on the Sarawak Report page,  called the commission’s action “a blatant attempt to censor our exposures of major corruption through the development fund 1MDB, including the information that nearly US$700 million of 1MDB-related money was paid into the Prime Minister of Malaysia’s personal AmBank account in KL just before the last election. This information has already long been disseminated and backed up by other major global news organizations, so we can only assume that the MCMC is fearful that we are about to bring out further revelations.”

The New Straits Times, owned by the United Malays National Organization, quoted a Thai Police lieutenant general as saying Justo had confessed to doctoring emails he had obtained from PetroSaudi International. But the Associated Press reported that Thai officials had refused to share any information on Justo with Malaysia.

In any case the allegations against Brown were almost immediately knocked down today [July 20] by an equally detailed report by The Edge Financial Daily, Malaysia’s leading business publication, titled “How Jho Low & PetroSaudi schemed to steal money from the people of Malaysia via 1Mdb.”  The article supports virtually every charge Brown has made against Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and the officials of 1MDB.

The 2,800 word article, complete with flow charts, describes in overwhelming detail the money trail by which US$1.83 billion was stolen from 1MDB by individuals connected PetroSaudi International and diverted into various accounts at banks in Singapore, New York, Switzerland and London by Jho Low, the young tycoon and family friend of Najib’s who was instrumental in setting up 1MDB in 2009, as well as two PetroSaudi officials and officers of 1MDB itself.

The government has threatened to pull the publishing licenses of both the financial daily and its affiliated publication The Edge Weekly over their aggressive reporting on 1MDB.

As the charges over 1MDB have continued to pile up – including one by Sarawak Report and the Wall Street Journal that US$680 million had been diverted from companies connected to the investment fund had ended up in Najib’s own account – Najib’s UMNO allies have pulled out all the stops, using the New Straits Times and other party-owned, Malay-language newspapers, radio and television and an army of bloggers to attempt to discredit the reports. 

Bloggers and government officials over the past three weeks have issued a barrage of charges against Brown, including one by a onetime employee of Radio Free Sarawak, also started in 2010 by Brown that the former employee had participated in faking evidence against the government.  But his charges have been largely discarded, partly because of an email he presented as “proof” had been doctored.  He has never written for or edited the Sarawak Report, Brown said. A picture of a man identified as Brown’s “mastermind” online forger of documents in the UK turned out to be the manager of a bus station in Norwich.

To most middle-class Malaysians, the government’s campaign against Brown and the international media including the New York Times and the Washington Post carries little weight. It is clear, especially since the stories have been backed up by local reporting on The Edge Financial Review, Malaysian Insider, Malaysiakini and other websites, that 1MDB faces a huge financial crisis.  It has struggled to find the money to meet its loan obligations and a planned IPO looks dead for the foreseeable future.  It has dismissed its auditors twice after they refused to issue unqualified reports. 

But the question is how the scandal plays in the kampungs, the rural villages in the Malay heartland that provide UMNO with a reliable supply of votes.  UMNO’s support has been draining away in successive elections although now, with the opposition near collapse, and with an election three years away, it remains to be seen if UMNO can repair itself.  Its component parties in the Barisan Nasional, or ruling national coalition, have become irrelevant.  The next big test is the Sarawak state election, which must be held before August 2016.  At the moment, say political analysts in Kuala Lumpur, the Barisan holds a strong lead, if not an insurmountable one.

Should Najib resign?

July 11, 2015

Should Najib resign?

by Hafidz Baharom

Personally, yes. He has tarnished the office of Prime minister with his continued failure in doing the one thing he had to do: lead. And quite frankly, I would rather he do so before succumbing to his “media triggered” depression, letting this country fall further into economic ruin and then promoting a “Twinkie defence”. Or, before he calls for martial law.

Najib must resignSo respectfully, it is time to clock out, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. And I’ll tell you why? In fact, I’ll write it out. The recent exposé by The Wall Street Journal has eroded whatever little confidence I have in the Prime Minister’s government, but I doubt his die-hard fans are quite in that position yet.

These are probably the same people who think the Titanic was an unsinkable ship that did not sink. Or to use Monty Python, still believe the parrot isn’t dead and is just “pining for the fjords”. Malaysians are a sarcastic and humorous people who have recently been able to channel this – directly or indirectly – through social media.

And with the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) public relations quagmire and the currently happening probe into how the Prime Minister had millions (or billions) placed into his personal accounts, the authorities have taken measures to try and keep this “parrot” alive through any means necessary.

Let us look at what is being suggested by these – for a lack of a better word – morons. First we have the conspiracy theorists, which include the Prime Minister himself. Initially, he had accused former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad of conspiring against him with the foreign press. When this was too ridiculous for the press to buy, or even the general public, he moved on to saying that the Dow Jones was conspiring to topple his government.

While there is a task force which is investigating these allegations, our Attorney-General found it necessary to task the police to look for who leaked the documents, even without first confirming that these documents were real or faked.

You read right. Insofar as the scandal has surfaced, the documents have been branded as “tampered documents” without any proof or revelation of the authentic ones from the parties involved. Why? Is it because the documents are classified under the Official Secrets Act, perhaps? And yet, a task force was established to investigate these allegations by an American newspaper based on these documents, and the Prime Minister is mulling action against the paper.

Personally, I would like to see this in court simply to see our Prime Minister take the stand and have the government prove that the documents released were  not real, untampered and untrue. It would allow the Sarawak Report, The Edge and The Malaysian Insider to then sue the Malaysian government for defamation and be vindicated.

Also, since the Journal is not published in Malaysia, it is outside the jurisdiction of the Royal Malaysian Police. In fact, can the Police actually take action against the Journal in any way or form since it is published and read online?

I sincerely doubt it. I’m guessing it is the same reason both Raja Petra Kamaruddin’s Malaysia Today and Clare Rewcastle Brown’s Sarawak Report are based beyond our borders. Perhaps our internet regulator will consider adding both websites in their Green Wall list – a list of websites inaccessible to the Malaysian public.

Speaking of which, we had a regulator weigh in saying that spreading false news on 1MDB was punishable by law. The Malaysian Commission for Multimedia and Communication (MCMC) found it necessary to even post this on Facebook.

Pro-government supporters are even considering the shutdown of the social network for nothing more than allowing Malaysians their right in expressing their views in the most hilarious and sarcastic ways possible – something that was guaranteed when we were granted Multimedia Supper-corridor (MSC) status.

Even going so far as to say it would make Malaysians more “productive”. Perhaps they would be so kind to practice what they preach and do so themselves, to set examples for the rest of us.

Of course, the typical UMNO leaders have also weighed in by saying that this is a foreign, Jewish conspiracy, but that is so overplayed by this government and its supporters that it rings on deaf ears. And then we have a leader of a bank who insisted on voicing his dissatisfaction and questioning the authenticity of the documents on social media, being shared by pro-government factions and being proven wrong. Sadly, his recant was not shared with the same enthusiasm as his calling the Journal stupid.

And he’s now being investigated by his employers, a move that I also do not support. We must not stifle anyone’s ability to express their thoughts on social media, and we should know where to draw the line between our individual and our jobs in the realm of social networks. For many reasons, this has been blurred drastically in the last decade when employers, the authorities and even insurance companies decided it a valid source of information.Even journalism has taken entries on Facebook as a source of news, as experienced by a fellow The Malaysian Insider columnist.

But all this makes it necessary for us to question a few things. Primarily, our government has embarrassed itself through its inability to follow up on former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s promise for reform towards transparency, especially in the case of 1MDB.

Instead of allowing Malaysians and its stakeholders to openly view the wheeling and dealings of this company under the Ministry of Finance, the company chose to shun the press to the point of refusing to even allow reporters covering them from viewing their pitch at property events.

Even the Pime Minister himself destroyed his credibility in the court of public opinion. From being too fast on the draw during Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s guilty verdict, his “golf diplomacy” trip to Hawaii during the worst flood since 1971, the insistence on flying to the Middle East during earthquakes in Sabah, yet the quick draw ability to comment on “gay parades” and 24-hour eateries callously shows his failure in setting priorities for a country.

Adding on to this was his no-show from the ironically named “Nothing2Hide” closed door forum, his insistence on continued sniping instead of a face to face session with Mahathir, the MARA scandal and even the continued hiring of people to help his faltering public image.

Goons in Malaysia's CabinetAll I can say is, this government was led by an ineffecive leader and an even worse a Cabinet that has led to the exhaustion of their political capital built up in the past 60 years, all spent up in the last decade. But don’t take my word for it. Let us wait for Merdeka Center to conduct their poll. Better yet, take a look at the Edelman Trust Barometer. In 2012, the Malaysian government scored 52%. In 2015, that number went down to 45%.

Erosion of trust, inability to defend the nation, an ineffective cabinet of dunces, a public persona of ridicule and allegations of underhanded dealings and nepotism, and more importantly, bankrupting the ruling party’s political capital, all of which have been highlighted by both government and alternative media.

UMNO Uses Whistleblower’s Arrest to Defend 1MDB

June 28, 2015

UMNO Uses Whistleblower’s Arrest to Defend 1MDB

by John Berthelsen

Xavier Justo

Malaysia’s political establishment is using the arrest of Xavier Justo in Thailand to try derail questions over the ill-starred 1Malaysia Development Bhd Fund that go far beyond whether the whistle-blowing Swiss national did or did not steal and doctor documents and pass them to Sarawak Report, a critical blog run by a British reporter.

The United Malays National Organization has mounted a full-court attack on Sarawak Report and the Malaysian financial publication The Edge, threatening to crack down on The Edge’s printing license and driving a campaign through allied bloggers, the UMNO-owned New Straits Times and other media.

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak himself threatened action against Sarawak Report, which responded angrily that there was no wrongdoing. At the same time, there appears to be a move to tie Mahathir Mohamad, the nonagenarian former premier and 1MDB’s fiercest critic, to allegations that the case against 1MDB has been doctored. 

For months, 1MDB has been under significant pressure both from the political opposition and some members of Najib’s own UMNO to come up with answers over what has become of RMB42 billion [US$11.3 billion] in liabilities the state-funded investment company has accrued since it came into being six years ago. Some sources in Kuala Lumpur say as much as RMB25 billion may be unrecoverable. Najib and company officials have been scrambling to find funds to meet regular interest payments, some of which have been deferred, apparently for lack of funds to meet them.

Thais Nab Justo in Koh Samui

Justo was arrested by Thai police in the presence of reporters and photographers from the UMNO-owned New Straits Times to record the event and print a front-page story accusing the “heavily tattooed Justo” of a long series of sins including theft and attempting to blackmail officials of PetroSaudi International, a controversial oil exploration firm closely connected to 1Malaysia Development Bhd, whose problems are said to threaten Malaysia’s entire financial structure. 

“This shocking story had the country talking,” according to the New Straits Times. “Who is Xavier Andre Justo? How could such a sorry figure have ignited a major Malaysian political storm? What motivated this man, so disconnected from the nation of Malaysia, to launch such a callous attack on our people without a thought for the consequences? The answer appears to be cold, hard cash. Greed can be a route to riches, but it can also be a dangerous road to ruin, as Xavier Justo is learning the hard way. Now, he finds himself in a Thai jail awaiting prosecution on charges of attempting to blackmail and extort money from his former employers; with further charges to follow in the United Kingdom and Switzerland.”

Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi threatened to take action against Sarawak Report and The Edge, a leading financial and investment news publication, both of which for months have been breaking embarrassing stories on the parlous state of 1MDB’s finances and on the connections between flamboyant young financier Low Taek Jho and Najib. Jho Low, as he is known, and Najib were instrumental in establishing 1MDB in 2009. Najib remains as the fund’s chief financial advisor.

 Home Minister’s Threat

Zahid charged that The Edge and Sarawak Report had been “spinning the facts” over the state of 1MDB’s finances. The government is armed with colonial-era legislation under the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act to attempt to deny licenses to what it deems to be offending publications.  With Sarawak Report headquartered in the UK, however, Zahid’s threat remains an empty one.

Justo, who left PetroSaudi several years ago, somehow got back into the company’s computers to download 3 million emails that allege damaging information on the transactions with 1MDB and a company closely connected to Jho Low, as he is known.

There have been attempts to tie Justo’s revelations to Mahathir.  In a report by Malaysia Today, a blog also operated from the UK, Raja Petra Kamarudin said he had been told Sufi Yusof, Mahathir’s secretary, had made “a number of trips to Thailand over the past year to meet [Justo] and the Thai authorities are trying to establish this through immigration records.”

If the Thai authorities manage to establish that some of the documents and e-mails were, in fact doctored, Raja Petra wrote, “and that Sufi did make a few trips to Thailand to meet [Justo] and was aware of, or was a party to, this fraud, it is not going to look good for Dr Mahathir.

A Furious Brown  Answers

Clare Rewcastle Brown, the UK-based blogger who publishes the Sarawak Report, fired back with a furious 1,600 word riposte in which she threatened to sue for libel and defended on a case by case basis the documents that PetroSaudi officials alleged were doctored.

“Sarawak Report will be demanding satisfaction over these false allegations of ‘tampering,’” she wrote. “We suggest these misrepresentations are added to the list of potentially criminal activities by PetroSaudi, whose false charges on this point currently number amongst the allegations that have landed [Justo] in a jail in Bangkok.”

The blog, Brown said, “has closely researched the extremely serious and libelous allegations, which claim documents relating to our coverage of the PetroSaudi 1MDB joint venture were ‘tampered’ and ‘distorted’ in order to ‘creatively alter’ the truth. We can now prove that these allegations are demonstrably untrue, by examining the evidence on which they were based.

So, she wrote, “our message to those who have accused us is check your facts before you sound off your accusations and start to worry about libel suits, if you have defamed us or an innocent man who is now in jail. We can confirm that there is zero evidence brought forward so far to substantiate the claims of ‘distortion’ made over the past 48 hours by the New Straits Times and taken up by certain media, bloggers and UMNO politicians.”

Indeed, she charged, “the little evidence that has been provided by these parties can be shown to confirm the exact opposite, which is that there has been no tampering of documents. Even so, people who could also have made the very same checks have falsely alleged that Sarawak Report and the Edge newspaper lied and deliberately misled readers with ‘distorted’ information about 1MDB’s missing billions.”

The New Straits Times, she said, never bothered to substantiate “grave and libelous charges” by showing their readers the actual evidence.

“As Sarawak Report pointed out yesterday, we corroborate our claims, so why can’t they? The reason turns out to be that it is startlingly easy to show that the claim is completely untrue.”

Malaysian Activists: Soldier on for Democracy, Freedom and Justice

June 1, 2015

Malaysian Activists: Soldier on for Democracy, Freedom and Justice

Tiananmen Square
Malaysian activists who appeared to suffer from political fatigue are told to embrace the never-give-up spirit in Hong Kong’s social movement. “What we should learn from Hong Kong activists? Persistence,” said political analyst Low Chee Chong at the ‘Remembering Tiananmen Square Massacre’ forum last night.

He related the emergence of Hong Kong’s social movement which was sparked by the infamous Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, where a Beijing student movement demanding for political reforms was brutally stamped out by Chinese troops.

According to Beijing, 200 were killed in the massacre, while the international media reported up to 3,000 deaths.

“The Hong Kongers commemorate the Tianamen massacre every year without fail. They have the July 1 rally as well as the recent 79-day Occupy movement,” said Low.

Likewise, Malaysians were inspired by politicians and activists who stood up against oppression, he added. The social movement here gained traction particularly after the 2008 general election, where hundreds of thousands of Malaysians poured into the streets of Kuala Lumpur to demand free and fair elections. However, the clamour for democracy seems to have died down after the 2013 general election.

Low, who is former PKR Deputy Treasurer, conceded that the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition has failed to live up to the people’s expectation.

But he argued Malaysians who want to see a two-party system should continue to back Pakatan as an alternative to the ruling BN.

“Bear in mind, political change is a long-term struggle. You will not see all your targets achieved at the various stages of the movement,” he said.

The ‘Remembering Tiananmen’ forum, which was attended by 300 people, saw Hong Kong student activist Joshua Wong and lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung sharing their experience on video after they were deported on arrival in Malaysia earlier this week.

Hong Kong teen’s advice

Wong, who rose to fame at the tender age of 14 for protesting against changes to the education system imposed by Beijing, urged Malaysians to continue to fight for democracy through his pre-recorded video message.

“While I am not familiar with Malaysian politics, I want to encourage you to continue to fight, (just like) Hong Kong is fighting to uphold its core values of justice and democracy,” said the ‘Umbrella revolution’ activist.

Malaysians can reclaim their democratic rights if they persist in their struggle despite facing suppression by the government, he said.

Wong also shared the difficulties faced by youth activists, which include the likelihood of being banned by local universities, defamed by pro-Beijing media and being rebuffed by the older generation, who prefer not to rock the boat.

Meanwhile, Wong Ji-yuet, a 17-year-old Hong Kong student activist, admitted they made some mistakes in the Occupy movement, dubbed the ‘Umbrella revolution’, which saw thousands of protesters setting up camps in the territory’s business district for weeks last year.

“We tend to go to the streets, but forget to go back to the community and do advocacy work. This needs to be strengthened,” said Ji-yuet, who is spokesperson for student movement Scholarism. Unlike Joshua and Leung, Ji-yuet was allowed to enter Malaysia to attend the forum.