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Monday, July 3, 2017

Malaysia’s 'five risks' - who are we kidding?



Just half a year ago, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak urged those who were out of a job to resort to becoming a driver with ride-sharing app Uber. He further cited the example of an industrious female graduate who put bread and butter on the table by selling "nasi lemak" (coconut milk rice).
Fast forward to the eve of Hari Raya, and almost dramatically, the Malaysian economy was said to be growing at more than 5.6 percent, and rated the best Asian country to invest in, according to BAV Consulting and the University of Pennsylvania.
Now, something is obviously not right here. When the prime minister is experiencing a litany of alleged corruption and malfeasance scandals, exposed by the Wall Street JournalNew York Times and Washington Post not least, his spinners in Putrajaya and Umno - including Hadi Awang - claimed that there was an "American plot" to bring down the Malaysian government and its ostensible "Muslim or Islamic" leadership.
Two issues arise here: If the Malaysian government and party mouthpieces, including PAS and Umno, ask the people to distrust the American media, why then cite American indices to showcase the growth of the country?
Now, if the reverse is true, that the statistics and revelations from America are indeed valid, why then ask Malaysians to reject them only when the issue revolves around 1MDB?
Obviously, the Malaysian prime minister and his spinners cannot get the facts right, and are nitpicking their way through a heap of ludicrous propaganda materials as they see fit. If there was anything related to corruption or malfeasance, out they went. When the numbers seemed to reflect their own spin, in they came, into the prime minister's speech.
With a prime-minister-cum-finance-minister who cannot get the narrative right, why does Putrajaya even care what the people think?
But then they do. The election is coming. Come hell or high water, the 14th general election has to be called by the middle of 2018. The government can only enjoy a certain margin of advantage, if at all, only by lying through its teeth - the same way it has lied about 1MDB, Felda Global Ventures Holdings Berhad (FGV), incoming Chinese investments and even the infamous Saudi donation.
Barring a repeated narrative of falsehoods and deceptions through coordinated fake news dissemination, the prime minister and his cabinet cannot survive.
But what did the prime minister name in his Aidilfitri speech as the "five risks" facing Malaysia?
On geopolitics, Malaysia has clearly lost the plot. Instead of being fair and good to all great powers, Malaysia has become entrenched in China’s corner, at a time when China is behaving aggressively and assertively in the South China Sea.
When the US and members of ASEAN cannot trust Malaysia on our foreign policy - granted our tilt to the axis of Beijing - why does the government even want to mention geopolitics as a national risk to begin with?
Well, Najib had to. If not, he would have risked looking more irrelevant than ever.
Despite claiming to be a golfing buddy of President Donald Trump, has Trump made any phone calls or extended any visits to Malaysia yet? No.
In fact, during the ASEAN Summit in April this year, Trump invited the Thai prime minister, the Singaporean prime minister and the Philippine president to visit the White House. But there was no invitation to Najib. In fact, when Trump spoke to President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, he asked Duterte if China could be “trusted” to handle North Korea.
Najib himself must have assumed that such a question could have been posed to him, as he has been trying to position himself as an insider on China.
But, wait, something is not right here. If Najib is an insider on China, as he likes to claim, how did he invite Wanda Group to invest in Bandar Malaysia, only to see Wanda Group being investigated for financial irregularities?
And, if Najib is such a savvy insider on China, why are there illegal Chinese trawlers and fishing vessels still operating in the waters off Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Johor, Sabah, and Sarawak?
It would have been better if Najib did not place geopolitics at the top of the risks Malaysia currently faces. After all, Najib's impotence in issues ranging from 1MDB to Malaysian fishing rights has been as clear as night and day since 2009.
As for the threat of Islamic State, Najib affirmed that Malaysia is one of the safest countries in the world, ranked well within the first fifty. But with more than 160 Malaysians fighting in Iraq and Syria, and several others already fighting in Marawi in the Philippines,  how safe can Malaysia be when the shores of Sabah and Sarawak could be easily breached?
In fact, there have been numerous cases of kidnappings off the coast of Sabah and Sarawak, all of which have hit families without the means of paying the ransom. Several families have had to go down on their knees in opposition rallies - not government rallies - to beg for donations to rescue their loved ones who have been kidnapped.
Additionally, when a recent ransom was paid for four Sarawakian hostages, inspector-general of police Khalid Abu Bakar claimed ignorance about the money collected for the ransom.
When Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, Najib’s own cousin, could not resolve any of the issues above, he was appointed as a special functions minister in the Prime Minister's Department in charge of Islamic State.
When the shares of FGV went under, former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Idris Jala was brought in to look into the issue. Instead of resolving it, Idris Jala took to declaring that he only needed six days to find a solution. Six days came, and went, and again no solution was presented. But did the prime minister hold him accountable? No.
If this is a normal country, it is only "normal" by Najib's own "Jho Low" standards. This is how Jho Low went missing with a vessel named “The Equanimity”.
Does the prime minister even know what "equanimity" means? Well, it means mental calmness and composure.
With a prime minister who allegedly allowed someone who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business to steal billions from Malaysia, it is no wonder that he still looks up to Wharton’s rankings.
In other words, one can borrow heavily, and steal from Malaysian coffers, and not be punished at all. With a prime minister like Najib, who needs enemies?

The real challenges the nation is facing now are corruption, malfeasance, abuse of power, the destruction of democratic institutions, and the complete eclipse of integrity. Corruption used to be a fact of life in Malaysia. Now it is a way of life.

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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