10 August 2015

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TMI

A hard-hitting opinion piece by international business daily Financial Times (FT) has compared Singapore’s achievements with Malaysia’s, saying that despite the city-state’s tightly controlled society, its ruling party is largely appreciated by Singaporeans due to the success of its socio-economic policies.

In comments on Singapore’s Golden Jubilee celebrations yesterday, which marked 50 years since it separation from Malaysia, FT said the difficulties faced by Singapore “paled in comparison with those in Malaysia”.

“Not only is Malaysia going through its worst political crisis in years after hundreds of millions of dollars found their way into the bank accounts of (Datuk Seri) Najib Razak, the prime minister,” said FT, referring to allegations surrounding Najib in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) saga.

“More critically, Malaysia has been undergoing a long-term meltdown in which the political, religious and ethnic compact that has underpinned the country since independence groans under its own rotten contradictions,” said the paper, noting that Singapore’s per capita gross domestic product is five times that of Malaysia’s.FT said Malaysia could learn from Singapore, adding that its fight against corruption should start with Najib coming clean on the 1MDB affair, or stepping down.

Drawing comparisons between PAP and Umno, the two political parties which have dominated Singapore and Malaysia respectively since independence, FT said Singaporeans still regarded PAP as “honest and competent”, despite recent inroads by opposition parties in the republic.

On the other hand, it said the Malaysian public “senses” that Umno has long fronted a corrupt system.

But the paper acknowledged that both countries are vastly different in terms of demography, and that Singapore’s micromanagement style might not work for Malaysia.

“Still, both countries have potentially combustible ethnic mixes. Singapore has done better at forging a sense of fairness and national unity, through language, meritocracy and incorruptibility.

“Malaysia, in the name of protecting Malays through positive discrimination, has by contrast created a crony capitalist state,” said FT, calling for the dismantling of religion and race-based policies.

10 August 2015

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South China Morning Post

Would a government manipulate news of a devastating plane crash in an attempt to save its political skin?

No one is directly accusing Malaysia of doing that. But Prime Minister Najib Razak’s crisis-plagued government’s controversial statements about the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 crash investigation make some wonder.

Three days after Razak’s middle-of-the-night announcement that a wing flap that washed ashore in the southern Indian Ocean was definitely part of the missing plane, investigators from France, the U.S., Australia and other countries have not backed up his assertion.

Things got stranger after Razak’s transport minister said Malaysian searchers found a window, seat cushions and other plane debris on the French island of Reunion and gave them to French investigators. But French officials told news agencies Friday they had not received the parts.

During the worst financial scandal in Malaysian history, the confusion surrounding the multinational flight investigation seemed, for some, to thicken the gloom enveloping this country, long a bulwark of stability and wealth in Southeast Asia.

For months, Razak’s government has been dealing with much more than the mystery over Flight 370, which went missing in March 2014 after taking off from Kuala Lumpur with 239 people aboard, most of them Chinese. All are presumed dead.

Malaysian officials have been investigating a troubled government-owned investment fund that Razak founded, known as 1MDB, which has racked up $11 billion in debt and might need a public bailout. The prime minister’s problems worsened last month after The Wall Street Journal and Sarawak Report, a British-based website, obtained leaked documents showing that nearly $700 million from entities linked to 1MDB ended up in his personal bank accounts.

Razak has not explained the source of the funds, although in the past, he has denied taking money from 1MDB for personal gain.

Some of his recent moves have appeared panicky. Authorities suspended two newspapers that reported on the scandal, and last month, Razak fired the deputy prime minister, who had publicly raised questions about the government’s handling of the matter.

This was the backdrop of the 1:45 a.m. news conference that Razak called Thursday, where he announced that the wing flap found on Reunion was definitely part of Flight 370. State-run Malaysia Airlines contacted family members of the passengers and crew, calling the news “a major breakthrough for us in resolving the disappearance of MH370.”

Relatives accused the airline and the Malaysian government of trying to close the book on the incident without definitive evidence. Malaysian authorities had already come under fire after the plane’s disappearance for a series of contradictory statements, including about the jet’s flight path, that critics say hampered the initial search.

Opposition lawmaker Liew Chin Tong called on the transportation minister to explain “the haste and hurry” to declare that the wreckage belonged to Flight 370.

Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country of 30 million, is not used to crisis. Its people are better educated and wealthier than most of their neighbours, and it has been ruled since independence in 1957 by one party, the United Malays National Organisation.

But this year, the most prominent opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, was jailed on sodomy charges that many say were politically motivated. Dozens of other politicians, human rights advocates and journalists have since been detained.

Malaysia also faced scrutiny after winning a slight upgrade last month in the State Department’s annual global report on human trafficking – despite the discovery earlier this year of mass graves near the Thai border that were believed to contain the remains of Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar.

Malaysia has long been criticised for its policies toward Asian migrants, and human rights groups questioned whether the Obama administration did the government a favor to secure its participation in a U.S.-backed regional trade agreement.

In Kuala Lumpur last week for a summit of Southeast Asian countries, Secretary of State John Kerry defended the upgrade, saying Malaysia “has made significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards” on fighting human trafficking.

All this is overshadowed domestically, however, by 1MDB, which comes as Malaysia’s oil-dependent currency slides to its lowest value in nearly two decades and the cost of living rises sharply. The prospect that the government will have to bail out 1MDB – and that the country’s top leaders may have gotten rich while ordinary people suffer – have deepened the sense of crisis.

10 August 2015

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Forbes

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak broke a cardinal rule in politics. He inadvertently admitted ‘guilt’ when the Malaysian Anti-corruption Commission cleared him of any wrongdoing in accepting a political donation. His position – vulnerable since his ascent to premiership – is no longer tenable as Malaysians question his sincerity and trustworthiness.

On 2 July 2015, the Wall Street Journal alleged that $700 million had gone into a personal bank account of Razak’s. The Prime Minister offered a non-denial denial:

Let me be very clear: I have never taken funds for personal gain as alleged by my political opponents – whether from 1MDB, SRC International or other entities, as these companies have confirmed.

Razak also labelled the report a political sabotage and threatened to sue the Wall Street Journal (more than a month after the allegation was made, at the time of publishing this article, the Prime Minister has yet to sue).

As the noose tightened around his neck, Razak went for broke.

On 20 July 2015, the Sarawak Report, a blog that had been systematically publishing reports on corruption and abuse of power in Malaysia was blocked by ‘the government’. An arrest warrant for its founder-editor, Clare Rewcastle-Brown, was subsequently issued.

On 24 July 2015, ‘the government’ announced that The Edge Financial Daily and The Edge Weekly that had been reporting extensively on the 1MDB issue were to be suspended for three months.

On 28 July 2015, the prime minister sacked his deputy and four other ministers in a cabinet reshuffle in an effort to strengthen his control of the government and the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). With the cabinet reshuffle, Razak also neutralized the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee that had been vigorously investigating the 1MDB affair. He also removed the attorney-general, who as part of a high-level task force (involving the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Central Bank of Malaysia, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and the Royal Malaysian Police) was believed to have been preparing to charge the prime minister for corruption.

After pulling off this brazen act skilfully, the Prime Minister blinked.

On 3 August 2015, the ‘MACC’ announced that the $700 million channeled into Razak’s personal bank account came from donors. In doing this, Razak inadvertently confirmed the Wall Street Journal’s report and opened Pandora’s Box.

This admission of ‘guilt’ has taken the toxicity of the Prime Minister to an all-time high. More damaging than the legality of the matter (i.e. was it corrupt for Razak to solicit donations on behalf of UMNO; is it certain that the donations were for UMNO; who donated; what were the donations for; were the donations used at the 2013 general elections; did the donation break Malaysian laws; etc) is the question of trust and legitimacy.

Malaysians will now once again question Razak’s honesty and sincerity in denying all other allegations made against him, his family and his administration. After all, if the Wall Street Journal’s  preposterous allegation is correct, could all other preposterous allegations be true?

Malaysians will begin to wonder if there is truth to the preposterous allegations made by the suspended The Edge Finance Daily and The Edge Weekly.

Malaysians will begin to wonder if there is truth to the numerous preposterous allegations made by the blocked Sarawak Report.

Malaysians will begin to wonder if there is truth to the many preposterous allegations on 1MDB made by members of the opposition.

Malaysians may also begin to wonder if there is truth to all other preposterous allegations made about the Prime Minister, his wife and his family.

Malaysians will begin to wonder if there is truth to the preposterous claims being made by Bersih 2.0, namely that elections are neither free nor fair in Malaysia.

UMNO members will begin to wonder if there is truth to the sacked Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyddin’s preposterous premonitions about UMNO’s future.

Having realised this faux pas, the Prime Minister and UMNO are currently engaged in rear-guard action to correct the mistake. But for an embattled Prime Minister already suffering serious trust and legitimacy deficit, this may be too late.

One should not however dismiss Razak outright. It goes without saying that a dead man walking can be very unpredictable and dangerous.

Note: It appears that ‘the government’ and its ‘agencies’ (e.g. the Attorney General’s Office, the MACC, the Central Bank) are divided on 1MDB. It appears that some are aligned to protecting the Prime Minister, others intent on removing him, and some who are just doing their work. I discuss this in next week’s article.

7 August 2015

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The New York Times

Malaysia’s handling of the discovery of a wing part that apparently came from the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has worsened frictions with its partners in the investigation, rekindled frustrations among the families of people who were aboard the plane and further dented the country’s battered credibility.

Many questioned the timing and motives of the Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, who announced in the early hours of Thursday that the wing part had been “conclusively confirmed” to be from the missing plane. He spoke just before a news conference in Paris at which French investigators were much more guarded, saying only that the experts had “very strong presumptions” that the part came from the plane, a Boeing 777.

Later on Thursday the Malaysian transportation minister, Liow Tiong Lai, clouded the picture further when he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur that a Malaysian team had found more aircraft debris on the French island of Réunion, where the wing part was discovered last week. The French authorities in Paris denied that any new aircraft debris had been found.

The discrepancies between the Malaysian declarations and what others involved in the investigation, including experts from Boeing, were prepared to conclude about the evidence have created significant tensions between Malaysian and French officials, according to a person close to the investigation.

Mr. Najib has domestic political worries, not least a scandal swirling around a troubled state investment fund that has put him under intense scrutiny. The Wall Street Journal and The Sarawak Report, a website based in Britain, have reported that documents found by investigators in Malaysia indicate that almost $700 million was transferred to accounts that Mr. Najib is believed to control.

In late July, Mr. Najib dismissed his deputy prime minister, who had publicly called on him to give a full account of the matter, and the country’s attorney general, who was one of the leaders of the investigation into the scandal.

But exasperation with the Malaysian authorities dates to when the plane first disappeared, on a night flight from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing in the early hours of March 8, 2014. Ground controllers lost contact with the plane about 40 minutes after takeoff, but the authorities did not issue an alert about the missing plane for hours.

Then, Malaysia spent a full week directing a major search-and-rescue effort focused on the Gulf of Thailand, along the plane’s scheduled flight path, even though the Malaysian military had tracked an unidentified aircraft flying in nearly the opposite direction — westward and out into the Indian Ocean — which investigators later concluded was Flight 370.

Eventually, based on the radar data and automated satellite signals received from the jet, investigators concluded that it had flown on for hours more, and probably ran out of fuel and crashed in the Indian Ocean west or southwest of Australia. Searchers began working from the air, and later scanning the deep ocean floor with sonar devices, but nothing has been found there.

The wing part was the first tangible trace of the plane to turn up.

For many people who had loved ones aboard Flight 370, the identification, or near-identification, of the object only intensified their desire to know how and why the jet had veered off course and flown unnoticed into remote ocean waters.

Chinese citizens made up about two-thirds of the 239 people on the plane, and in Beijing, relatives of the victims viewed Mr. Najib’s announcement with skepticism or outright disbelief.

On Thursday morning, about 20 relatives gathered outside the Malaysia Airlines office in Beijing, demanding to talk to airline representatives and to be flown to Réunion. More than two dozen police officers kept them from entering the office building.

“We don’t accept this; this is not closure,” said Dai Shuqing, who had five relatives on the plane, including her sister. “The Malaysians want to lie to the whole world, but they cannot lie to us. We will persevere and keep digging.”

Others outside the airline’s office held signs with slogans such as “Malaysia hides the truth.” Later in the day, some of the relatives moved the demonstration to Boeing’s offices in the city.

Under international aviation conventions, Malaysia is leading the overall Flight 370 investigation because the aircraft was registered in Malaysia and took off from Kuala Lumpur. The ocean search is being led by Australia, whose ports are nearest the search area. But the wing part found on Réunion is being examined at a laboratory near Toulouse, France, because it washed ashore on French territory. The Paris prosecutor’s office has opened an inquiry into the crash because four French citizens were aboard the flight.

Though Malaysian officials appeared eager to reach conclusions swiftly and put the mystery of Flight 370 behind them, Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister, said Thursday that the ocean search would continue. “We owe it to the hundreds of millions of people who use our skies,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jean-Paul Virapoullé, the mayor of St.-André, Réunion, near where the wing debris was found, said Thursday that his town would organize a “meticulous search” of the beaches there next week.

“If it can soothe the terrible pain of these hundreds of families, the city of St.-André, with the agreement of the relevant international authorities, is ready to erect a memorial for the people who are missing,” the mayor said in the statement.

The person close to the investigation said that volunteers on Réunion turned in some additional debris to French aviation officials on the island on Thursday, but that a preliminary evaluation indicated that none of the objects were from a plane.

Still, David Griffin, an Australian scientist who has mapped ocean currents in the area, said Thursday that he believed more debris from Flight 370 could wash up on Madagascar, the much larger island nation to the west of Réunion.

“There could be a very large amount of debris floating, or a very small amount,” said Mr. Griffin, who is with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia. “I am slightly surprised that something turned up at Réunion, rather than Madagascar, because Madagascar is so much bigger.”

Wen Wancheng, 63, whose son was on the aircraft, said finding one wing part did not resolve the mystery of Flight 370.

“The sort of closure the families want is to know what exactly happened to the plane, and have the bodies returned,” he said by telephone from Jinan, in eastern China.

That sentiment was shared by other relatives of Flight 370 victims around the world, some of whom said that the discovery of the wing part, known as a flaperon, only intensified the mystery.

“Ultimately in the end for the families to have a sort of closure, we need to know why it ended up in the ocean, what happened,” Sara Weeks, whose brother Paul was a passenger, said in an interview with Australian radio from Christchurch, New Zealand. “It is really important for everyone because if that plane can go missing, another one can.”

For some, the longing for more evidence has only grown stronger.

“It’s a piece of flaperon; it’s not my husband,” said Jacquita Gonzales, the wife of a Flight 370 crew member, Patrick Gomes. Ms. Gonzales was one of a small group of family members who spoke to reporters on Thursday in the Malaysian city of Petaling Jaya.

“Although they found something, it’s not the end,” she added. “They still need to find the whole plane and our spouses as well. We still want them back.”

7 August 2015

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Bloomberg

International investors are selling Malaysian stocks at the quickest pace in Asia as Prime Minister Najib Razak struggles to contain a political scandal and doubts grow over the outlook for the economy.

Foreign funds have pulled a net 11.7 billion ringgit ($3 billion) of the nation’s shares this year as the benchmark FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI Index retreated 4.6 percent. The ringgit has slumped to its weakest since 1998 after tumbling 11 percent against the dollar, the biggest decline among Asian currencies.

Overseas money managers are withdrawing funds amid concern the crisis will distract Najib as a commodities rout and the prospect of higher U.S. interest rates threaten economic growth. The prime minister is fighting off a scandal linked to 1Malaysia Development Bhd., a debt-ridden state investment company. A probe into about 2.6 billion ringgit that was deposited into Najib’s personal accounts found that the funds were legal donations from the Middle East.

“Already shaky trust of foreign investors is being eroded,” said Mixo Das, a strategist at Nomura Holdings Inc. in Singapore. “Further outflows are possible.”

Net foreign sales in Malaysian stocks this year are almost double the 6.9 billion ringgit for the whole of 2014, exchange data show. Overseas investors have been net sellers for 14 straight weeks through the week ended July 31, the longest selloff since 2008, according to MIDF Amanah Investment Bank Bhd.

International ownership of government and corporate debt dropped 2.4 percent in July to 206.8 billion ringgit, the least since August 2012, the central bank reported on Friday.

Rising Volatility

The KLCI has slumped 9.8 percent from its April 21 high, including a 1.8 percent decline on Thursday that was the biggest this year. The gauge lost 0.8 percent at 4:35 p.m. in Kuala Lumpur on Friday. The ringgit dropped 0.3 percent, taking its weekly decline to 2.4 percent. That would be the biggest slump in eight months.

Volatility is increasing, with a gauge of 30-day price swings rising to its highest level in six months. The stock measure trades at 15.2 times projected 12-month earnings, or about 10 percent higher than the MSCI Southeast Asia Index.

The Wall Street Journal reported on July 3 that $700 million may have moved through government agencies and state-linked companies to accounts bearing Najib’s name. The premier has denied taking money for personal gain and has described the furor as part of a campaign to remove him from office.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission said it won’t disclose the identities of the donors to Najib and plans to question him to seek an explanation on the funds.

Stability Threatened

For Aberdeen Asset Management Sdn.’s Gerald Ambrose, the political crisis means Malaysia risks losing its status as a safe haven in the region.

The ruling National Front coalition has dominated power since the country gained independence in 1957. Neighboring Thailand is under military rule after a coup, while in Indonesia, President Joko Widodo is struggling to push through policies following the closest election in more than a decade.

“Long-term political stability has long been one of Malaysia’s trump cards, but it’s not so easy to say that nowadays,” said Ambrose, who oversees about $3.6 billion as managing director of Aberdeen Asset Management in Kuala Lumpur. “Uncertainties surrounding 1MDB and the quite public political spat has clearly not helped foreign investors’ sentiment towards the country.”

Minister Sacked

Najib chairs the advisory board of 1MDB and has resisted calls from ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad to quit over the fund’s performance as it amassed about 42 billion ringgit of debt in less than five years. Najib on July 28 sacked his deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who had called for answers on the 1MDB imbroglio including its investment decisions.

Franklin Templeton Investment is sticking with its investments in the nation’s stocks.

“We actually stayed in and we will continue to stay in,” Mark Mobius, chairman of the emerging markets group at Franklin Templeton Investment, said by phone from Singapore. “We are still finding opportunities in that market and particularly when there are concerns there, you can see some possibilities.”

Foreign outflows may accelerate if the political scandal prevents the government from tackling the issues affecting the economy, says Alan Richardson, a Hong Kong-based money manager at Samsung Asset Management, which oversees about $112 billion.

Growth Concern

Malaysia’s foreign-exchange reserves have dropped to the lowest level since the 2008 global credit crunch, reducing ammunition to shore up the currency. A plunge in Brent crude is cutting revenue for Asia’s only major net oil exporter, while the Federal Reserve is mulling its first increase since 2006 as soon as next month.

The government forecasts the economy will expand 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent this year, down from its earlier projection of as much as 6 percent. Earnings at companies on the KLCI are projected to grow 11 percent in the next 12 months, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That compares with a 41 percent gain in Thailand and an increase of 82 percent in Indonesia.

“Investors are worried,” said Richardson, who has been underweight Malaysian equities since November. Stocks in the nation would only start to look attractive “if some of the adverse developments” are resolved, he said.

7 August 2015

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Malaysiakini

US Secretary of State John Kerry said he raised the issue of former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in his talk with Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

Kerry, who is in Malaysia for a two-day visit to attend the Asean meetings, had bilateral talks with Najib and Anifah yesterday.

“I raised concerns about freedom of expression and I spoke to the prime minister about Anwar Ibrahim’s situation (in the bilateral talks),” he said at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur today.

Kerry did not elaborate on how the discussions about freedom of expression and Anwar went.

On Feb 10, Anwar was convicted of sodomising a former aide and is currently serving a five-year jail sentence in Sungai Buloh prison.

However, opposition supporters and human rights groups have criticised the verdict, saying the proceedings were politically motivated.

Last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron also spoke to Najib about the treatment of Anwar during his visit to Malaysia.
British newspaper The Telegraph had reported that Cameron also challenged his Malaysian counterpart to clean up his government, in reference to allegations that RM2.6 billion had been deposited into the PM’s personal accounts, as well as other issues plaguing 1MDB.
Anwar’s conviction received a chorus of criticisms and concerns from various governments, including the US.
The jailed politician, declared a “prisoner of conscience” by global human rights organisation Amnesty International, had also been facing increasingly serious health problems while in jail.

In December last year, before the apex court verdict, US vice-precident Joe Biden (photo) tweeted on Malaysia’s use of sedition to silence opposition, but expressed hope that the government would make things right through Anwar’s case.

“Anwar’s appeal gives Malaysia a vital chance to make things right and promote confidence in its democracy and judiciary,” Biden added then.

7 August 2015

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TMI

Former opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has urged Datuk Seri Najib Razak to stop intimidating investigators probing into the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) controversy.

In a statement from prison released through his lawyer R. Sivarasa, Anwar said there were indications that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM)  were being threatened.

“I call upon Prime Minister Najib to cease all acts of interference and intimidation of public officers of our key investigatory and regulatory agencies.

“I refer in particular to the recent use of PDRM officers to arrest, interrogate and even remand persons involved with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, including those directly investigating how RM42 million from SRC International ended up in Najib’s personal accounts at Ambank,” he said in the statement.The PKR de facto leader also urged Malaysians to rally behind MACC and Bank Negara to protect them from facing intimidation in their investigations.

He said these institutions must be “saved” from political disturbances.

“I urge all the people, NGOs, politicians and civil society to set aside their differences and unite to save the country from the economic and political crisis we are going through,” he said.

Recently, the police conducted a series of raids and arrested MACC officers over alleged leaks in the 1MDB probe.

7 August 2015

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TMI

PKR today urged newly minted Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to allow Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to be put under house arrest to undergo medical treatment.

In a statement, the party’s strategic director Sim Tze Tzin, information chief Syed Ibrahim and communications director Fahmi Fadhil expressed their worries over the health of Anwar, who is currently serving a jail term in Sungai Buloh prison for sodomy.

“Keadilan urges Zahid, who is also the home minister, to use his new position to hasten Anwar’s medical treatment outside of jail, and allow Anwar to go through his treatment under house arrest,” they said in a statement today.

The trio said since Anwar was jailed on February 10, he had suffered from kidney problems, arthritis and a shoulder muscle tear.They said checks by the prison doctor did not help to alleviate his condition, adding that the PKR de facto leader needed hospital treatment.

Moreover, the condition of the prison with high humidity, insufficient ventilation, lack of a sitting toilet and only a bucket to shower exacerbated his condition, they said.

With Anwar due to celebrate his 68th birthday on Monday, the three leaders expressed hope that the former opposition leader would be allowed to undergo treatment under house arrest.

“This is not a political issue but an issue of humanity. The deputy prime minister can show his humane leadership,” they said.

In conjunction with Anwar’s birthday, the party has also launched a programme urging the public to send postcards to him on August 10. PKR has prepared 1,000 postcards available for purchase at RM50 apiece. The purchase can be made through PKR’s Maybank account at 5641 9102 5409 and proof of money transfer can be sent via WhatsApp to 012-936 8442.

“We urge all Malaysians to show their love to Anwar by purchasing the cards,” they said.

On February 10, the Federal Court found Anwar guilty of sodomising his former aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan in a condominium unit at Bukit Damansara, Kuala Lumpur, in 2008.

Anwar was handed a five-year jail term.

Anwar’s long political career has been twice interrupted by sodomy charges, first in 1998 after he was sacked from government, and now.

He and the opposition maintain that the charges were a political conspiracy to end his career.

Following his latest conviction, Anwar’s family filed a petition seeking a royal pardon which was subsequently rejected by the Pardons Board on March 16.

As a result, Anwar lost his Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat and a by-election last month saw his wife, PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, wining the seat.

She was subsequently appointed opposition leader.

5 August 2015

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The Diplomat

Democracy and rule of law won’t magically clear society of cronies and corruption.

In 1971, more than forty years before the world would turn its attention to the so-called one percent and the problem of income inequality, Malaysia embarked on one of history’s boldest and most noble experiments to reduce social disparity. Malaysia’s New Economic Policy, or NEP, would seek to “eradicate poverty for all” and “eliminate identification of race by economic function and geographic location.” This polity that had achieved national independence just over a decade before, this country that was still a low-income emerging economy, was setting out to solve the massive problem of injustice and inequality over which other societies much more mature continued to struggle.

Malaysia was a democracy that hewed to the rule of law. The NEP would be Malaysia’s key political driver. Over the decades that followed, the NEP’s mantra would serve as a backdrop to almost all political discourse in the country. NEP-themed policies would, among much else, flesh out the concept of Bumiputera – an ethnic-driven formulation of native peoples in Malaysia.

It is difficult to grow an economy – look at train wrecks strewn around the world. But seeking to do so and at the same reduce ethnic- and rural-urban inequality, and maintain social harmony among diverse ethnic and religious groups is an order of magnitude more arduous. Malaysia succeeded: From tropical jungle, Malaysia has grown to have an average income now well above the world emerging-economy average. Its urban infrastructure and worker skills approach those in the first world. Malaysia’s top bankers, businesspeople, and entrepreneurs are admired everywhere. NEP reduced pockets of extreme poverty and created a significant, thriving, and successful Bumiputera middle class – a group of professionals and intellectuals whose contributions to Malaysian society would be the pride of any country.

And, although from time to time patchily diverging from the ideal, throughout this history Malaysia worked hard to maintain its young democracy and its adherence to rule of law, and to support a healthy vigorous open sphere of public debate. Sensitive racial questions were out of bounds, but open questioning of the government was lively. Top government officials routinely had the judiciary rule against them. And a national identity emerged, one that combined the best aspects of local culture and an easy-going, open-minded cosmopolitanism developed from, among other things, the many Malaysians who have seen significant international experience. More so than when at home, Malaysians outside Malaysia saw each other for the warm and lively friends they genuinely were for one another, people who felt driven by a mission to make their country better.

Since his 2009 swearing-in, Malaysia’s current prime minister has sought to articulate an international vision for a “coalition of moderates.” As leader of a successful moderate Muslim country, he carried an authority and credibility sorely needed in global discourse. He was widely accepted in international circles, and even famously golfed with Barack Obama.

All this is now at risk.

However noble the goal of reducing social disparity, and however laudable the democracy, transparency, and rule of law to which Malaysia has desperately clung, this NEP half-century has seen the emergence of an increasingly hateful race-based narrative to Malaysia’s political and economic strategies. The Bumiputera concept has become conflated with questions of religion, and threatens the open society that Malaysia has built. That concept is now considered by many – both Bumiputera and non-Bumiputera alike – to hold back continued social development for the country. Significant Bumiputera and rural poverty remain. Ever more frequent accounts have appeared of government agencies intended to reduce Bumiputera poverty yet only enriching the elites of that group. A recent article by one of Malaysia’s most thoughtful interlocutors has had to ask:

Why after decades of rigourous development planning, 40% of Malaysian households earn only about RM1,847 a month? Why after more than four decades of the NEP, 75.5% of those at the bottom are Bumiputeras? Why in spite of the billions poured into education and boarding schools, 64.3% of the Bumiputera workforce have only SPM qualifications? Why some 90% of the unemployable university graduates are Bumiputras? Why of the $54 billion worth of shares pumped to Bumiputera individuals and institutions between 1984 and 2005, only $2 billion remained in Bumiputera hands today?

In March 2010 at an international investors’ conference, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced an urgent need for a revision to the NEP, towards a national development strategy more transparent, merit-driven, and market-friendly, and towards a new needs-based affirmative action. The prime minister had just won a resounding electoral victory; he had the backing of all Malaysians. (I am told by reliable sources that even Malaysia’s opposition MPs felt like standing up and cheering.)  But then elements within the prime minister’s political party mounted significant pushback, the moment passed, and he did not stay the course. Open democratic process has not kept in check the rise of extremists rallying together the Bumiputera grassroots, good people who have been told this time will be different, this time more of the same will help them, despite its having failed to do so these last 50 years.  Since 2010 no one has been able to recount significant action on that announcement.

A Malaysia of Cronies

All this is background. The practice continues to worsen in a Malaysia of cronies undermining good intentions and exploiting for self interest the very instruments designed to help others. The latest most visible instance of this is 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, an investment fund set up to steward the nation’s resources. Elsewhere in the world, international scrutiny of sovereign wealth management vehicles has led to their applying the highest possible standards of financial probity; indeed, among the world’s most respected, successful, and scrupulously managed of those is Malaysia’s own Khazanah Nasional. By contrast, 1MDB has seen billions of dollars of public money moved around the world in suspicious circumstances, with allegations that hundreds of millions of dollars were funneled into the prime minister’s personal bank accounts. (Malaysia’s anti-corruption agency has ruled that the money came from legitimate “donations,” without specifying who the donor was.) All of this has dragged down in the world’s eyes Malaysia’s otherwise globally esteemed financial infrastructure.

And the egregious actions continue: shutting down the press has become the next step in that escalation. In July 2015 Malaysian authorities blocked a website that had become a significant and honest whistleblower on high-level developments in Malaysia. That same month Malaysian authorities suspended The Edge newspaper for its reports on 1MDB. Criminal defamation litigation threatened by the prime minister against the Wall Street Journal on its 1MDB reporting turned into a fiasco of the most basic legal ineptitude. Towards the end of July Najib removed from Cabinet his own deputy prime minister, the government’s most significant and prominent voice to raise questions on 1MDB. While four different official Malaysian government investigations are underway, there has now been a sudden replacement of the attorney-general and chief prosecutor. The deputy public prosecutor and others involved in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission have been arrested. The prime minister moved four members of the 1MDB parliamentary committee into his cabinet, thereby shutting down all further proceedings even as the committee’s official report comes due. Opposition MPs have been prevented from leaving the country on their way to discussing 1MDB and the political crisis in Malaysia.

In all this turmoil, many of Malaysia’s most remarkable leaders and numerous ordinary people have spoken out on the need for the country to get back to its roots. The country again needs to have a government that runs for the well-being of its people. Malaysia’s current political leadership no longer articulates a vision that serves Malaysia’s people. Malaysia’s leadership is no longer one admired by and hopeful for others around the world.

One of Britain’s greatest friends – a former colony that admired and reflected the grand British ideals of democracy, rule of law, free speech, and egalitarianism – has gone rogue.

It does not take authoritarian autocracy to run a country into the ground. Regardless of the system of government, it takes only political elites out of touch with their people, a co-opted judiciary, an electoral process that even while open fails to surface progressive leadership, and a system that keeps to the law but fails to protect those speaking truth to power. Malaysia now has all of these sorry attributes.

 

5 August 2015

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

Malaysiakini

There seems to be no end to the incredulity by the country’s top executive in clearing both the prime minister as well as the government backed investment mammoth, 1MDB – perception wise.

The latest twist saw an unsigned MACC statement clear the RM2.6 billion found in our premier’s personal account – as mere donation money – after many weeks of allowed speculation and feigned ignorance to the existence and nature of the personal accounts.

Notwithstanding the Malay translation is derma falls within the ambit of the MACC as suapan : ‘suapan’ ertinya – (a) wang, derma, alang, pinjaman … atau apa-apa manfaat seumpama itu yang lain;

This definition then opens the door wide open for the person responsible – in receiving or paying a bribe – to be in violation of Section 3 and Section 50 of the MACC Act respectively.

Specifically Section 16 of the Act highlights that those found guilty can be jailed up to 20 years. Clearly if the executive is seen to hamper the anti-corruption agency; it is a move most detrimental to our parliamentary democracy.

While the MACC resolves its wide-ranging dilemma from releasing unsigned statements to last minute prayers for a corrupt-free regime plus integrity to prevail; we are left wondering on the roles of the following institutions :

Bank Negara – our central bank. For the first time in Malaysian history, our governor is being sought after by the IGP for investigations related to section 124B for activities being detrimental to parliamentary democracy – in the exact moment the public awaits the outcome of a task force she jointly chairs – investigating none other than 1MBD and the PM (chair of 1MDB advisory board).

Any threat and harassment against the governor – the bastion of Malaysia’s economic and financial well-being – is certainly a threat against our parliamentary democracy.

As arrests and investigations become the prevailing order – we are left asking : Does BNM have anything to comment on the massive inflow of fund? How did the transfer of RM2.6 billion escape the AMLA automated alert?

Who was the deep-pocketed donor allegedly from the Middle East that donated this money to the PM? An immediate disclosure of the nameless Middle East donors must be made as Israel also is in the Middle East.

Was the donor from SRC international and how was the money utilised? Was the money used to fund the Barisan Nasional’s 2013 general election campaign?

Fourth Estate under attack

Affronts within the executive have also taken place with the PM sacking of his deputy and members of his cabinet who were vocally critical against him and the 1MDB fiasco.

Whilst the sacking can be replaceable with other like-minded yet less outspoken Umno / BN leaders;  the same cannot be said for the removal of the attorney- general in the background of a rumored, purported charge sheet against our premier.

In his place we have a new AG, no less a former Umno member and disinterested in either disclosing the interim AG’s report on 1MDB or updates on the now derailed investigations by the 1MDB  task force. The main cause for the derailment is the often used phrase of being detrimental to parliamentary democracy.

Whither the PAC? Courage of members easily wilt in the face of cabinet upgrades – whilst the remaining members of the quorum are blocked from continuing meetings , deliberations, or downright access to the PAC office.

The Fourth Estate is also not spared by our executive – latest victims include The Edge Financial Daily – whose dogged interest in exposing the 1MDB saga has cost it a three-month ban. Whistleblower site Sarawak Report is not only blocked but there is also an arrest warrant on its owner.

Clearly, the Fourth Estate is being severely attacked – a move that is most detrimental to our parliamentary democracy .

Malaysians – on the other hand – will not enjoy rights enshrined under Article 10 of our Federal Constitution – as those assembled against the prime minister’s involvement in allegations of embezzlement and corruption are spuriously arrested – the list of 37 arrested include an octogenarian and a minor in last Saturday’s #DemiMalaysia rally.

?Such systematic dismantling of democratic principles of separation of power threatens our parliamentary democracy .

The more the prime minister strengthens his authoritarian and emperor-like grip, the more frail our parliamentary democracy becomes.

Such growth of authoritarianism will only bring the country into further ruin and disrepute.

Malaysians cannot live with an emperor.  All agencies and democratic institutions must be reminded to achieve this aim and end the reign of the Emperor Prime Minister.

The well-being of the rakyat and survival of the nation are predicated on a working and thriving parliamentary democracy.

5 August 2015

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

TMI

In light of the country’s mounting financial scandals and weakening ringgit, Opposition leader Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail has urged members of parliament from both sides of the divide to put aside their differences and work towards an action plan for the sake of the nation.

In a statement today, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail also said the comedy of errors committed by Putrajaya over the RM2.6 billion channelled into the prime minister’s accounts did not instill confidence in the people that the government will handle the matter properly.

She said the statement by the Dewan Rakyat Speaker that the bi-partisan Public Accounts Committee (PAC) , which is in the midst of probing debt-ridden state investor 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), cannot continue their meetings, raised many questions.

“The people who have been waiting to hear the explanation by 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda and former CEO Datuk Shahrol Halmi were disappointed as this was the second time their scheduled hearing was postponed.”This postponement does not bode well for the democratic process in Malaysia and will only create negative perceptions of the integrity of PAC,” Wan Azizah said.

She urged all MPs and civil society to come together for the sake of the nation given the current political developments in the country.

“We are running out of time. The Malaysian ringgit is losing its value, investment sentiments are on the decline and the government’s actions are affecting the country’s image on the world stage.

“We need to set aside our differences and work together to bring change,” she added.

The bipartisan panel was scheduled to continue its inquiry with former 1MDB CEO Shahrol in Parliament yesterday, and Arul today, while Mohd Hazem Abdul Rahman, who served as 1MDB’s CEO from March 2013 to January 2015, was scheduled to appear before the panel tomorrow.

However, a Cabinet reshuffle that saw the PAC chairman and three of its members elevated to the administration resulted in Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar declaring that all PAC proceedings, including its ongoing inquiry into 1MDB, temporarily suspended pending the appointment of a new chairman and members.

Pandikar’s view has been disputed by PAC opposition members as well as the Bar Council, which said the committee could still function as it had the required quota, and that DAP’s Dr Tan Seng Giaw as deputy chair could take over the functions of the chairman.

5 August 2015

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

TMI

A warrant of arrest for Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown is not enforceable outside Malaysia, lawyers said, adding that it is also very unlikely that the British national will step foot here anytime soon for police to pick her up.

They said the Malaysian authorities were dreaming and their act only showed they were making a fool of themselves as the offence she was being investigated for was not a crime in the United Kingdom.

They said any extradition attempt on Rewcastle-Brown with the assistance of the crown  public prosecutor in Britain would fail.

Lawyer Joshua Teh said the warrant was only enforceable against Rewcastle-Brown if she came to Malaysia to submit to the investigating agency.

“The warrant has no value outside Malaysia. It was just obtained to put on a show to the Malaysian public,” he told The Malaysian Insider.

Teh said the warrant of arrest only showed that Rewcastle-Brown was wanted by Malaysian authorities.”Police can only arrest and detain her if she on Malaysian soil,” he added.

He said this in response to a report quoting the head of the Criminal Investigation Department Datuk Seri Mohmad Salleh that police had obtained a warrant of arrest for Rewcastle-Brown and would begin the process of obtaining help from Interpol and Aseanapol to facilitate her detention.

Mohmad said Rewcastle-Brown, who is based in the UK, would be investigated under Section 124B and 124I of the Penal Code, which relate to activities that are detrimental to parliamentary democracy.

Mohmad in a statement last evening said the warrant of arrest was obtained from the Kuala Lumpur High Court.

Section 124I pertains to the dissemination of false reports which was likely to cause public alarm and those found guilty can be jailed for up to five years.

Section 124B, meanwhile, allows for imprisonment up to 20 years for actions that are detrimental to parliamentary democracy.

Rewcastle-Brown has been accused of using allegedly false or tampered information in Sarawak Report’s exposes on 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), obtained from former PetroSaudi International employee Xavier Andre Justo.

The Sarawak Report website was blocked by Malaysian Internet regulators more than two weeks ago purportedly because the site carried false information that could disrupt “national stability”.

Lawyer Datuk N. Sivananthan said British prosecutors would not render any assistance to their Malaysian counterparts to extradite her as the United Kingdom did not have an offence for action that were detrimental to parliamentary democracy.

“It is definitely not an offence there and so extradition is out of question,” said Sivananthan, who is also a International Criminal Court counsel.

Lawyer S.N. Nair described the act of the police similar to pulling wool over gullible Malaysians’ eyes to demonstrate that they were doing something against the “white woman”.

He said Malaysia and the United Kingdom may have an understanding to extradite a suspect but the British government would be unlikely to render assistance because the offence under section 124 of the Penal Code was something alien there.

“The crown public prosecutor there will not do anything illegal to send Rewcastle-Brown to Malaysia as the public and media there are vigilant,” said Nair, an ex-police officer who has handled extradition cases.

Nair said the warrant of arrest for Rewcastle-Brown was only a starting mechanism and the Attorney-General of Malaysia would have to seek the cooperation of his British counterpart to arrest her.

“They will decline to act based on the evidence presented by the Malaysian A-G if they feel there was no case.

“If there was a case, prosecutors in England have to go the court to obtain a warrant and the court may decline such an application,” he added.

Looking at the evidence from press reports, Nair said it was virtually impossible for any application for warrant of arrest or extradition order to succeed.

“This act by the police is an exercise in futility and waste of public funds,” he added.

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