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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Malaysia facing double jeopardy in ties with Saudi Arabia



Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak is right to claim that Saudi Arabia could have located its King Salman Centre for International Peace elsewhere. Instead, he chose Putrajaya.
Invariably, Najib claimed that the custodians of the two holy mosques, which is Saudi Arabia, is close to Malaysia, and that the whole 1MDB fiasco emanating from the US$681 million donation from Saudi Arabia was all a lie by the opposition.
As former investigative journalist R Nadeswaran wrote in Malaysiakini, the issue of who lied and who did not is easy to resolve. Just ask Najib to show a copy of the transaction, and the ostensible return of the money.
US$681 million could not have come into Malaysia in carton of boxes. They would have to be wired to Malaysia and if returned, wired back, all in black and white.
To this day, evidence shows that Najib received the money in his AmBank private bank account, but there has been no evidence to show that he returned it in full.
Meanwhile, people who built the case on the financial transactions were all allegedly transferred, dismissed or fired by the prime minister.
Additionally, Zeti Akhtar Aziz, the former governor of Bank Negara who retired last year, claimed that she has “learned her lesson” and will not give interviews when approached by the media.
Does this "smell" like truth or some form of hideous conceit?
Now, as for Saudi Arabia, if the relationship with Malaysia is indeed excellent - which it is not - why didn't the Saudis increase the haj quota of Malaysia, and alternatively, decrease the visa and haj pilgrimage fees?
On both scores, the haj pilgrimage and visa application fees have gone up. In turn, Tabung Haji has had to fork out RM200 million a year to subsidise the haj of those people who cannot afford to go for their haj, with another RM56 million coming from the questionable sources of 1MDB.
In other words, nearly a quarter of a billion ringgit is needed each year to help Muslims in Malaysia to perform their haj. Indeed, Saudi Arabia appears to cut Malaysian Muslims little slack.
A single-entry visa to Saudi Arabia will cost RM533; a six-month entry visa will cost RM3,220; a one-year multiple entry visa will cost RM5,370; while a two-year multiple entry visa will cost RM8,597.
On average, only about 30,000 Malaysians make it to the haj each year. Granted that the demography of Malaysian Muslims remains young, with more than 70 percent of the Muslims under the age of 50, Malaysians do have time to be in Mecca for their haj.
But the cost of living in Malaysia is increasing too, at an inflation rate of 5 percent - albeit a massaged figure - each year.
Thus, every decade, the cost of going to haj will double, assuming that the ringgit does not continue to depreciate against the Saudi riyal.
Malaysia hence faces a double jeopardy in our relationship with Saudi Arabia.
They keep increasing the cost of the visa and haj fees, while Malaysia, through Tabung Haji, keeps having to subsidise and increase the subsidy to Muslims in Malaysia.
All that glitters is not gold
Now, if our relationship with Saudi Arabia is good, should Malaysia not be part of the Islamic Military Alliance (IMA) which Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman wants to form?
Instead, Malaysia has stayed away from the IMA, even though the IMA has declared itself to be against the dreaded Islamic State.
By staying away from the IMA, Malaysia has shown that it cannot be trusted with any heavy lifting. King Salman Abdulaziz Al-Saud knows this, and he is right.
Najib went against his former ally Lim Kang Hoo in the Bandar Malaysia project. Instead of sticking to the contract, it was reneged upon. Iskandar Waterfront Holdings and China Railway Engineering Cooperation are no longer part of Bandar Malaysia. Thus, the track record of Najib is not strong.
As for the King Salman Centre for International Peace, no one knows who is paying what, and how much.
Does this sound like a good relationship with another sovereign Muslim country, or just another one where transactions are done purely to show the facade of goodwill but nothing more? With Najib, all that glitters is not gold.
Felda Global Ventures Holdings Berhad's shares rose merely one day and one time from RM4.50 to RM5.20, but has dropped to less than RM1.50, on average, over the last few years.
1MDB is also a mess, as is Bandar Malaysia, which Saudi Arabia did not even want to touch.
If Malaysia's relationship with Saudi Arabia is indeed so good, surely they would have invested in Bandar Malaysia and not in the Saudi Aramco Petronas project, which has yet to confirm its final terms.

In fact, it is reported that this international joint venture (IJV) will take up to about a year’s time for the definitive agreement to be inked.

RAIS HUSSIN is a supreme council member of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu). He also heads the Policy and Strategy Bureau of Bersatu. - Mkini

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