Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said today he would leave it to the authorities to investigate allegations that non-governmental organisation Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) receives foreign funding.
“Let the Companies Commission of Malaysia (CCM) and the relevant authorities investigate (the matter),” he told reporters after launching the Urban Transformation Centre (UTC) at Pudu Sentral, here.
Preliminary investigation by CCM had revealed the existence of fund transactions between Suaram and its parent company, Suara Inisiatif Sdn Bhd.
Suaram, which claimed to be a non-governmental organisation, was also found to have not registered with the Registrar of Societies (ROS).
Asked to comment on the Saudi Arabian government’s rejection of a Malaysian application to increase its annual quota of pilgrims to the Holy Land, Najib said the decision rested with the Saudi Arabian government.
Outrage at Putrajaya’s clampdown on Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) appears to have given a major boost to civil society activism here, likely affecting the Najib government’s bid for votes from middle Malaysia ahead of an election expected soon.
The human rights watchdog has been instrumental in the French probe on Malaysia’s multibillion ringgit purchase of two Scorpene submarines, a high-profile scandal that many believe will unearth incriminating evidence against top government officials here.
Global rights group Amnesty International had yesterday raised suspicion over the timing of the government’s sudden interest in SUARAM’s operations and funding sources, saying the probe was opened only four weeks after the organisation revealed documents showing a close associate to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had allegedly sold Malaysian naval secrets to the French.
A new citizen group has now sprouted, joining the burgeoning of other civil society movements nationwide in a campaign to help SUARAM keep the Scorpene scandal in the limelight.
Calling themselves the “Scorpene Never Dies” Action Team, the group of youths and “concerned citizens” has demanded that the Najib administration stop its “politically-motivated” investigation against SUARAM.
Team coordinator Ng Yap Hwa said this was a poignant moment for Malaysians as their failure to band together to protect SUARAM would only encourage the government to continue to quell public dissent.
“We feel we need to stand by Suaram in this critical time.
“If we as citizens don’t rally behind a human rights defender, the government could easily clamp down… no more people can stand by us in the future,” he said.
The team is organising a one-hour candlelight vigil next Tuesday at the historic Merdeka Square in the city centre here where several other protests fuelled by civil society activism have taken place recently.
The team has also urged Malaysians nationwide to hold simultaneous events next week to record their disdain for the alleged harassment against SUARAM.
Ng said that if members of the public keep silent now, “we will be the next (victim)” one day.
He said that to “defend Suaram and to stand by Suaram” is for everyone’s benefit.
Ng added that the team would not be applying for a police permit for its 8pm event at the historic Merdeka square, as it was every individual’s “constitutional right” to have a peaceful assembly.
“Let us spread the Scorpene submarines issue far and wide to express our solidarity with the human rights defender, thereby warning the government that even if it could keep down SUARAM, the Scorpene submarines issue would never die and we would carry on the struggle to uncover the truth of the Scorpenes scandal and uphold justice for Altantuya,” the group said in a statement.
SUARAM recently came under close scrutiny of the Companies Commission of Malaysia (CCM) due to its foreign funding sources and the government agency said earlier this week that it plans to charge the activist group for its “misleading accounts”.
The human rights NGO has been actively pursuing the Scorpene scandal in the French courts, determined to expose the government of alleged corruption in the purchase multibillion submarines in 2009 and possibly reopen the murder case of Mongolian model Altantuyaa Shaariibuu, which is said to be linked to the deal.
In April this year, the Tribunal de Grand Instance in Paris began its inquiry into Suaram’s claim that the French naval firm DCNS had paid some RM452 million as a bribe to Malaysian officials to obtain a contract for two submarines. Suaram had filed the complaint with the French courts in 2009.
At a May 30 press conference in Bangkok, SUARAM’s French lawyer Joseph Breham had revealed that a highly-document government document on the Malaysian navy’s evaluation of the Scorpene submarines it planned to buy was sold by Terasasi (Hong Kong) Ltd to DCNS for RM142 million.
Abdul Razak Baginda, a former think-tank head who was at the centre of the 2006 investigation into Altantuya’s murder, is listed as a director of Terasasi with his father, Abdul Malim Baginda. Abdul Razak is said to be a close associate to Najib.
Human rights group Suaram has claimed that it is being persecuted by the authorities for having filed a case in the French courts on alleged corruption in Malaysia’s purchase of two Scorpene-class submarines
“It was a secret document by the Malaysian navy, an evaluation for the order of the submarines, which is a highly confidential report,” Breham had said at the conference.
A total of 138 local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and 56 regional NGOs recently pledged their support for SUARAM, calling for a stop to the “harassment” while the group has also launched its own “Stand up for SUARAM” campaign to garner public support.
Dataran Merdeka has this year seen two rallies by civil society – the April 28 sit-in protest for elections reform by the Bersih 2.0 movement and the Janji Demokrasi pre-Independence Day rally.
Unhappiness over environmental issues such as the Lynas rare earth plant in Kuantan has also prompted rallies.
Najib recently wrote to young voters in Selangor, asking them to consider if a “confrontational” approach would be the best way to solve problems and push for reforms.
His administration had passed the Peaceful Assembly Act earlier this year, a legislation which is said to allow freedom of assembly in accordance with “international norms”.
Barisan Nasional (BN) insiders have said that several recent surveys show that the coalition needs to work harder to get a convincing victory in the coming polls especially with some 2.2 million voters casting ballots for the first time. The next general election is only due after April 2013 when BN’s mandate expires.
It is understood that the compilation of surveys had revealed that BN could win up to 146 parliamentary seats with at least 80 sure wins, more than the 140 won in Election 2008.
Najib’s approval rating from the Chinese and Indian communities had slipped after the government’s highly-criticised clampdown on the April 28 Bersih 3.0 rally although the latest survey by pollster Merdeka Center showed the leader’s percentage points climb to 69 per cent, largely due to a surge of support from poorer Malaysians.
Malaysian Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah has called for a “New Politics” as “a path for a better Malaysia”.
He said a new political approach would lead to a culture of politics that would achieve a “healthier, cleaner, mature and progressive democracy”.
He was speaking at a “Human Capital Development” seminar organised by the Melbourne Umno Club at the University of Melbourne here on yesterday. It was attended by more than 200 students, academics and the Malaysian Consul-General here Dr Mohd Rameez Yahaya.
Saifuddin said “New Politics”, which comprised four areas, was about bringing “our political discourse to a higher level”.
To achieve this, there was a need for political integrity, he said.
“Politics should be based on idealism, activism and intellectualism, not personal/vested interest,” Saifuddin said.
“We should implement knowledge politics, wisdom politics and service politics.”
He said the second area was in a new governance framework.
“This area has the three sectors in which state, business and civil society worked hand in hand in a genuine partnership in decision-making structures and processes in every area of nation-building and at every level — from the grassroots to Putrajaya,” he said.
Saifuddin called the third area “innovations in democracy”.
“We should create new platforms and approaches for greater people participation in decision-making,” he said.
“Issues include lowering the age of voting to 18, automatic registration of voters, election of local councils and reform of the Dewan Negara (Senate).”
He said progressive political thoughts should bring up the quartet.
“We need more and deeper thoughts in decision-making.
“We need to come up with better ideas and programmes to develop a better society that is based on faith in God, knowledge culture, civilisation, economic growth and equity, social inclusion and sustainable development,” he said.
He told his enthusiastic young listeners that youth always wanted change in most aspects of life, but they must achieve change with due process.
Saifuddin’s speech and the Q&A that followed were well-received and impressed the students, with one suggesting that he should aspire to be prime minister. “I am not that ambitious,” he said to the audible disappointment of the students.
Perlis Mufti Dr Juanda Jaya, told the students that living overseas did not prevent them from mixing with non-Muslims and joining them in celebrations.
He said they could join in celebrating other religious occasions like Christmas, Deepavali and Chinese New Year as long as they observed “halal” and “haram”. — Bernama
Saifuddin’s new politics
It is just as well that he did not delineate what this “real change” was because in Melbourne a day earlier, Deputy Higher Education Minister Saifuddin Abdullah, a sporadic liberal within the staunchly conservative ranks of UMNO, enumerated before an UMNO-organised seminar steps he suggested would be integral to the “new politics” that he envisions for his country.
Saifuddin (right) listed some features of this new dispensation: lowering the voting age to 18, automatic registration of voters, local council elections, and reform of the Dewan Negara (Senate).
No prizes for guessing which coalitions competing for the votes of the electorate have proposed – and where feasible, moved to enact – these substantive reforms to the Malaysian polity.
In Melbourne, Saifuddin spoke like he had a dream (“new politics”) that he hoped would be transmuted into reality. In Setapak, Najib was saying that the future Saifuddin envisaged is already Malaysia’s current reality.
True, cognitive dissonance is a staple in all democracies, not just among competing political parties, but also within individual parties.
But as they say reality, sooner or later, has a way of wheeling us all into surgery for illusion-stripping. We have to wait for the general election before we can be sure whose illusions are in for surgical extirpation.
He framed this authority in terms of the different stages of democracy, the history of Malaysia in that journey, and the paths Malaysia needed to take in that transformation.
“There are many paths to a better Malaysia,” he told a mixed audience of about 130 at the annual Seminar Pembangunan Insan (Seminar on Human Development) at Melbourne Umno Club (KUAM) on Thursday.
“To me, the path to take is the path less travelled.
“I am very careful not to say there is a new path… (for) it is not rocket science,” the quiet-spoken Saifuddin said.
In his 38-minute talk — and half-hour Q&A — he suggested the many antecedents on the road to democracy.
Saifuddin identified four features for the participatory democracy needed to respond to today’s new social consciousness, especially among the young — integrity, governance, innovations in democracy, and progressive political thought.
He defined “progressive” as to “start the conversation on how Malaysians can bring discourse to a higher level”.
Among his sources, he drew from his book New Politics: Towards a Mature Malaysian Democracy (2008), which Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak launched in 2009.
Saifuddin took pains to clarify that the compilation of essays that made up the book was from his writing from 2006, “not after the 2008 elections” (in which Barisan Nasional lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament).
Monash University law student Ahmad Hamidi has been reading Saifuddin’s writing and following his political career from 2008.
“I have no doubt your struggle is sincere,” Ahmad Hamidi said at the Q&A.
“My question is does it echo the Umno view.”
Saifuddin said the dynamic of Umno, and the dynamic of politics, was that it was viral. There were others like him in Barisan Nasional.
He singled out for mention Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin and Senator Gan Ping Siew, one of four MCA vice-presidents, and deputy youth and sports minister.
Expectations had been high of Saifuddin and his fellow keynote speaker at the seminar, Perlis Mufti Dr Juanda Jaya, speaking on “Surviving in the Western country as a Muslim”.
Before Melbourne, Saifuddin had met students in Sydney and Canberra, where he gave a public lecture at the Australian National University.
Greg Lopez, from ANU’s Crawford School Executive Education programme, described Saifuddin as “a breath of fresh air” in Umno.
In a post, Lopez wrote: “Most unusual is that despite having liberal views on a range of issues (not only talking the talk but also walking the walk), he has made it to the top echelons of the Umno leadership.”
Zaim Mohzani, outgoing deputy chairperson of the Malaysian Students’ Council of Australia (MASCA), Victoria, spoke for many in thanking KUAM: “We left in no doubt that we have intellectually gained much from this event, and are inspired to do our part for our community.”
KUAM president Mohd Hazwan Mohd Hairollah told The Malaysian Insider: “I knew Datuk Saifuddin for his vocal voice criticising Umno from within the party.
“For me, he’s been a symbol of Umno regeneration. Besides that, I like his personality. He is so humble and easygoing; a good role-model politician for the younger generation.”
Hazwan said most of the overseas Umno clubs shared Saifuddin’s sentiments. In Melbourne, the Umno Club had always worked to educate students and Malaysians to be politically aware, and to get involved through educational activities.
“I believe a new generation with political integrity is the key to drive our country forward,” he said.
“Datuk Saifuddin’s ‘New Politics’ is evidence that he believes in the youth as co-leaders of today. Thus, it will be interesting to see this generation taking over our country’s leadership one day.
“I am positive that more reform can be done since they are more progressive and proactive.”
Ahmad Hamidi told The Malaysian Insider that Saifuddin was evidence that Malaysia “still has a bright future. It is up to us whether or not to be a part of this new wave of change.”
Public Service Department scholar Gajanayagam Jeyasundram said he had always remained optimistic about Malaysia. “So my attitude towards Malaysia (after having heard Saifuddin) is reinforced,” said the third-year commerce student at the University of Melbourne.
Saifuddin also spoke to Radio Australia on “Umno and its place in Malaysia’s ‘new politics’.”
Saifuddin is in Perth, the next stop in his four-city programme, to meet Malaysian students, and meet Australian agencies — sports councils, national library, election commission and tertiary education officials.
He will attend the general meeting of MASCA, Western Australia, and join Malaysian students at Curtin University in their pasar malam.
The next time Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak gets up on his soapbox and sounds off on the change he has brought the country, he should check to see if among his ministerial cohort there’s anyone propounding something at variance to what the skipper of the crew is saying.
The current witch-hunt against SUARAM for receiving foreign funds should not make us forget a key fact: that Malaysia’s overall approach to development is in fact dependent on foreign funding.
Malaysia’s “growth” is FDI funding
In 2010 Malaysian Foreign Direct Investment was the strongest in Asia.In 2011, the Malaysian government allowed for at least 17 service sub-sectors to be liberalized, permitting 100% foreign equity. These so called “sub sectors” include: private hospital services; medical and dental specialist services; architectural, engineering, accounting and taxation, legal services; courier services; education and training services; as well as telecommunication services.
Viewed closely these services that are open to foreign ownership are rather far reaching indeed: they even include “welfare services delivered through residential institutions to old person and the handicapped” and “child day-care services including day-care services for the handicapped.”
The fact that basic healthcare and education in Malaysia are open for foreign ownership should alarm us. Our fundamental needs are being put up for sale for the sake of foreign profits.
Lynas is just one example of what that has amounted to. Exxon Mobil, the largest company by revenue in the world, whose gross annual income is bigger than Malaysia’s, is also on the list, currently operating off the shores of Terengganu.
Attempts to attract foreign multinationals to run their treasury management services in Malaysia has compelled the government to offer them tax breaks of up to 70% for five years.
As of now, there is also much talk of the need to go beyond the 30% cap on foreign ownership of local banks, although the cap for Islamic banks, investment banks and insurance companies has been raised to 70%.
Malaysia’s real estate sector
Since 2006, any foreigner – who now has the same property rights as a Malaysian – wishing to purchase a piece of property worth more than RM 250,000 need not go through the Foreign Investment Committee (a division in the Prime Minister’s Department) nor do they have pay to the Real Property Gains Tax. The current ratio of foreign to local property ownership in Kuala Lumpur alone is 30:70.
Do Malaysians benefit?
The typical defensive and conservative response to all this is to say that foreign investment creates jobs while foreign funding for NGOs merely disrupts local politics.
This can’t be further from the truth. The liberalization of trade has been followed by a liberalization of hiring policies, as well. This impacts low wage employment in particular, an enticing prospect for corporations hell bent on operating with as little regulation as possible while paying workers as low as possible. According to REFSA, for every ten Malaysians in the workforce, there are four foreign workers.
With working class Malaysians having to compete with low wage foreign labour, can we really expect any improvement in wages for the 33% of Malaysia’s workforce earning RM700 per month?
How seriously then can we take BN’s allegation that the meagre help SUARAM receives from its international friends are “interfering with the internal affairs of a sovereign state”, when that is more accurately reserved for the government’s strategy for development as a whole?
The hypocritical scenario is clear for all to see: The government aims to liberalize the economy for as much foreign investment as possible. Development, according to this approach, is not about human rights, transparency, justice, academic freedom or quality of life but pure materialistic accumulation with the help of foreign investment. Globalization is to benefit the elites first and foremost, not the improvement of Malaysia’s democracy.
In the meantime it harasses an NGO which champions the rights of the average working Malaysian. When it can it maximizes the “foreigner” vs. “Malaysian” scare tactic, exercising the xenophobia it has mastered after decades of practice.
The government puts its Malay-nationalist-Keris-waving chauvinist hat when dealing with a racially insecure Malay middle class. But in front of the world’s wealthiest, it puts on its cosmopolitan reformist smile. The Rakyat loses either way.
Admittedly, this is not an easy thing to do when at the level of Deputy Prime Minister, the point man has a second-in-command who often stakes out a position that is at an awkward angle to what he is proposing.
Nevertheless, when it is a question of thematic centrality – when you are pronouncing on what is supposed to be a defining feature of your administration – it is damaging to your credibility, if not to confidence in your powers of cognition, to find that you as commander are professing one thing and a lieutenant down the line is propounding something else.
This is the position the Prime Minister found himself yesterday as he held forth on a defining theme of his three-and-a-half year administration and before a constituency whose supposed and massive shift in electoral allegiance suggests that anything he is selling they are not buying.
“In the last three years, we (BN) have delivered real progress and change in this country,”said the Prime Minister to a large gathering of Kolej Tunku Abdul Rahman (KTAR) alumni in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
The audience was largely composed of Chinese Malaysian graduates, a demographic that is said to have moved their votes substantively to the opposition Pakatan Rakyat’s column.
Big dinner in BN fortress
The latest indication of this massive shift in electoral allegiance was seen at a PKR-organised dinner in the BN-bastion of Johor exactly a week before the PM spoke to the KTAR alumni in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur, yesterday.
Up to 8,000 largely Chinese Malaysians attended the dinner, the largest subscription paying political event held in the country in recent years.
The diners heard that as many as 10 parliamentary seats may fall to Pakatan in a hitherto invulnerable BN fortress in the coming general election. Presently, in Johor, the opposition has only one seat (Bakri, held by DAP).
The projection of a 10-seat take by Pakatan is founded on a supposedly massive shift in allegiance by Chinese voters to the opposition in a state where the Chinese complement of the BN, MCA, has long enjoyed unparalleled dominance.
Variously, the public has heard in the last few weeks that the PM keeps deferring the date of the general election because he reckons that there is still a chance he can convince Chinese Malaysians not to throw their votes after the hypothetical change promised by Pakatan in preference to the “real change” that the Najib administration has wrought since he took over as Prime Minister in April 2009.
To his audience in Setapak, Najib did not specify the contours of the “real change” he has brought other than saying that the country has posted a 5.4 percent rate of growth in the last economic quarter that is counter to the downward trend in much of the rest of the world.