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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Rakyat’s Merdeka message - send the embezzlers to jail


Is Merdeka Day the time for deep reflection on what independence means or is it just another public holiday for most people?
The precious freedoms spawned by Merdeka are in danger of being lost because of evident corruption in corporate governance that has not been adequately investigated and resolved.
The 1MDB imbroglio is like a festering cancer on the nation. The call by our Malay Rulers for an expeditious outcome was not as the country had expected, when all is brushed under the carpet and key investigators gratuitously replaced.
Former deputy prime minister Musa Hitam warned of Malaysia becoming like the Philippines under Ferdinand Marcos. I was there and know of the horrors of a corrupt and lawless state.
Many see our country sailing into the similar perilous waters of lawlessness and violence. You observe the disorder in the ‘mat rempit’ menace and how road users defy the highway code.
I recall the Merdeka prime minister, the late Tunku Abdul Rahman, lament out loud his disappointment with then-prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who had turned the nation into a 'dictatorship'. This compulsive 'Look East' leader governed like a mediaeval 'shogun' with obsequious cronies as 'daimyos'. He was untouchable and still appears so.
Mahathir had governed against the ideals of Merdeka, quenched its liberating spirit and dampened its future for freedom. The Tunku vented much of his fury on Mahathir in his regular column 'As I See It' in The Star, then known as 'The People's Paper' in the early 1980s, a void now filled by Malaysiakini. Disappointing leaders seem a quirk of local politics and their tainted history repeats itself.
The Tunku was critical of Mahathir's use of the Internal Security Act during Operation Lallang in 1987 and his resort to leftover draconian British laws to stifle political dissent. Sadly, the Tunku passed away while Mahathir was still in power but was spared the pain of seeing more repressive acts in the “failed tenure” of the “authoritarian, belligerent and contemptuous” Mahathir, as Musa Hitam described in his book.
In the Tunku's eyes, Mahathir was the 'Malay Dilemma', but not what Mahathir wrote in his book. The Tunku feared the country's leaders might become our worst enemies, without proper legal checks and balances. And now we have Mahathir lamenting on PM Najib Abdul Razak's failures. History repeats itself.
Merdeka - the won freedom - had to be fought for again.
Dramatically, in 1998, the country saw a public 'Reformasi' backlash against Mahathir's 'neo-colonialism' in mass street demonstrations. Mahathir may need to do a new book and title it 'The Real Malay Dilemma' and it has nothing to do with the faults of the British or others.
Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of Reformasi, paid the price of what many foreign governments, including the United States, believe was a political conspiracy to jail him on “trumped-up charges” of corruption and sodomy.
They complained, but sadly, did nothing more. Justice was refused, and like the bruised victim, resides with Anwar in prison. The country struggles on with a fractured judiciary, despite revelations of 'judge fixing' in a subsequent royal commission.
Capitalising on Dr M's chequered legacy
Mahathir in a gesture of conciliation and self-redemption ought to appeal to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to pardon Anwar, so that the tainted slate of Malaysia's justice system may be cleansed. The novice democrat may earn his credentials as a reformist leader this way and be the country's first tiger to change his stripes.
Today the government has capitalised on Mahathir's chequered legacy and made new incursions into the people's freedom. Leaders who deride Mahathir's past but emulate him are hypocritical. The new National Security Council Act, however, will make Mahathir pale in comparison as a 'dictator' if the all-empowering law is activated. If the Mahathir years were 'turbulent times', Malaysia now faces even more 'perilous times'.
The leader has the power to act without accountability and the police will enjoy impunity under the Act. Frightening indeed!
This is not a pro-Merdeka ethos, nor a liberating defensive exercise. This is a dictator's law. And it’s all official, even without the royal assent. The country has never needed such a law and the people fear that its use may be abused is real...
The Sedition Act is already overheated through overuse on innocent citizens, whose only crime is they bothered and dared to expose corruption, to speak out and act. A noble patriot, like activist lawyer Haris Ibrahim, is a classic victim. He will be vindicated. We ought to stand behind patriots like him.
Why would a government that budgets more than RM1 billion for its anti-corruption agency to combat corruption want to ban and persecute someone like Clare Rewcastle-Brown and her whistleblowing websiteSarawak Report? Such action is so un-Merdeka and absurd.
Should the government not commend the whistleblowers and seek their cooperation in investigating the 1MDB and other acts of corruption in the country that they reveal? After all, informants are indispensable in helping solve crimes. The government could indulge in some 'Blue Ocean' thinking and recruit Rewcastle-Brown to consult for the MACC. The results may be astounding.
In stark contrast, Najib appears slow to act against corruption. So far he has failed to do what should be done to remove the opaqueness of 1MDB. It worsens his dilemma and public standing. That is why Mahathir is the monkey on his back. Making the auditor-general's report on 1MDB an official secret was a faux pas. Opposition politicians accuse Najib of being an ‘obstructionist’.
Najib's credibility faces the litmus test, now that four countries, including the US, have or will press charges against those linked to him through 1MDB. Like Mahathir, who faces a credibility test of another sort, their future actions will decide the outcomes.
Australian academician and Asia analyst James Chin revealed in a recent ABC Radio interview that there is discussion on a 'retirement package' for the embattled PM. Rewcastle-Brown, in the same interview, was more sceptical.
Corrupt leaders rarely get prosecuted and the country's biggest scandal in the 1970s involving the Bumiputra Malaysia Finance (BMF), saw the alleged culprit abscond to London, not spend jail time. A Malaysian accountant investigating the case was murdered, just like deputy public prosecutor Kevin Morais.
So far Malaysia's track record of catching and convicting its allegedly corrupt politicians lag behind South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and even more recently, China. In the West, a corrupt leader can expect jail time and no one has political impunity from prosecution for corrupt acts, not even American presidents.
A tag of “world's largest kleptocracy case” is far more damaging to a country's national integrity than the failure to attain the dubious title of “world's best democracy”. Najib promised the people the truth but has he delivered? Where is the truth on 1MDB? Leaders should take their promises seriously because the people do. They must be held accountable.
It is perilous for corporate fraud and corruption not to be punished, especially when the wrongdoings may have had their genesis in the corridors of power. Corrupt leaders are treacherous and dangerous.
The Americans took their treacherous leaders to task. Malaysia must not fail to take any leader found corrupt to court. Najib stood behind 1MDB, and he publicly said that all was in order, but he may now have to change his story. Did he not know someone was stealing money from 1MDB? How can that be in order?
The auditors of 1MDB have released public statements advising that the financial statements for FY13 and FY14 cannot be relied on, in view of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) civil suits.
Is this an admission of fraud? This is an auditor's worst nightmare to discover, after having given a company a clean, unqualified audit report, only to realise that, subsequent to the event, all is not 'true and fair'.
Public patience is wearing thin
The ultimate shareholders and supposed beneficiaries of 1MDB - the rakyat - have every right to demand answers. All is not well in 1MDB because the official story does not stick, and it is the reason why the country's protesting students echo the sentiments of the rakyat that “we are not stupid”. The Tangkap MO1 group went as far as placing an effigy of Najib in a cage, symbolising prison.
At the onset of investigations into 1MDB on four fronts, Najib promised to give the people the truth. He told the country to be patient. The people were, but public patience is wearing thin as it appears that Najib is not bent on digging deeper into 1MDB and moving on. Why?
His public exoneration by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) was premature. His manoeuvrings of key investigators raised eyebrows. Sarawak Report's allegation that Abdul Gani Patail, the former attorney-general, was pre-emptively sacked when he was about to present a charge sheet against Najib remains unchallenged. There are disturbing signs of conspiracy and cover-up.
That is why it was crucial for Najib to step aside so as not to interfere with investigations. As it panned out, their worst fears have come to pass. The removal of key investigators in the 1MDB fraud investigations is a blow to the nation and to credible investigations, not to mention Najib's own credibility. Manipulations are not investigations.
Why have the police not called in 'MO1' (Malaysian Official 1) for questioning? Why has the MACC become so busy, all of a sudden, and chasing after others when the Americans have given them many clues as to who MO1 is?
And why is MACC not going after MO1 as a priority? Why are the investigators all looking the other way, or at some others in unrelated cases? Are they afraid to face the incriminating truth? Such and more questions are on people's minds and lips. And why not?
That a local real estate leader has warned of foreign investors shying away from Malaysia because of the 1MDB imbroglio signifies more foreboding times for the nation and the urgent need for the 1MDB mess to be cleaned up.
No one innocent should be blamed, no one should be victimised as the fall guy. The hardcore guilty ones must pay for their dishonesty and treachery, especially the corrupt leader of the quiet heist done under the rakyat's noses.
A minor mercantile nation dependent on world trade and tourism cannot afford to be ostracised as a pariah state or act tough. Neither can it continue to be plundered. Merdeka time is the time to declare open war on the corrupt, whoever they are. National interest is more important than any leader's personal interests.
In the Merdeka spirit, leaders need to dig deep and be guided by altruism and act righteously. They need to start thinking about honouring the truth and doing the right thing for their nation - or they will be damned for their acts of omission and cowardice when all is revealed in future.
Business as usual is bad for business until the embezzlers are all in jail and the monies are recovered for the country and the nation's tattered reputation is repaired.The government can't afford to be a spectator while the 1MDB drama unfolds and as more charges are laid by foreign authorities against the alleged culprits. The Americans seem more concerned than Malaysia's leaders in recovering lost 1MDB funds that belong to the rakyat and this looks rather strange.

Will this Merdeka usher in a year for 'national altruists' - concerned citizens from all walks of life who will, without fear or prejudice, stand up and be counted to save their nation? Will they decide to do what is right for their country? Or will it be more of the same ‘business as usual’ from rogue politicians and bureaucrats corrupting and plundering the nation and getting away with it?
'Tangkap MO1' appears the most patriotic thing to do this Merdeka and I hope Najib, the intrepid Bugis warrior, will be at the front of the crowds leading the pursuit, arrest, charging and jailing of the nation's 1Thief. He may not have to look far.
May God bless and deliver this ransomed land of promise from the corrupt. 

STEVE OH is the author of the novel ‘Tiger King of the Golden Jungle’ and composer of the musical of the same title. He believes in good governance and morally upright leaders.-Mkini

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