Press statement by SUARAM Adviser Kua Kia Soong, 6 Decemebr 2016

With the BN’s latest ruse to spread “false news” about Kit Siang being Prime Minister in a prospective PH government, I actually think Kit Siang is better suited as Attorney-General to bring to justice all former Prime Ministers to ensure they get their just desserts.

Getting away with impunity

The spectacle of former PM Dr Mahathir joining the Opposition raises an important question surrounding his culpability in so many scandals that have been documented by the Leader of the Opposition from 1981 to 2003. Does he now get away with impunity for all his transgressions against accountability and loss of the national coffers? Political scientists Milne & Mauzy commented that Malaysia’s financial scandals “reached endemic proportions” in the mid-80s. Barry Wain, author of ‘Malaysian Maverick’ reckons that Dr Mahathir squandered close to RM100 billion during his term as PM. Indeed, Lim Kit Siang would be a good choice as Attorney General to bring the former PM to account for his past record.

One of the first scandals soon after Mahathir came into office in the 80s was what Lim Kit Siang called the RM2.5 billion “scandal of scandals” when Bumiputra Malaysia Finance, a Hong Kong based subsidiary of state-owned Bank Bumiputra Malaysia Berhad, was found to have engaged in a wide range of shady dealings involving the Carrian Group. The sordid details included the murder of a BBMB auditor who questioned the propriety of the loans.”

Then there is Lim’s statement on the more than $600 million losses suffered by the country over the Maminco-Makuwasa tin caper on 19 Nov 1986:

“The Malaysian public has the right to know the real circumstances and background for the establishment of MAMINCO and the attempt to corner the international tin market in 1981, whether it was really a Cabinet decision, especially as there are many questions surrounding this operation affecting the credibility, integrity, and motives of government leaders. This is particularly important when the Government, just like the $2.5 billion BMF scandal, is trying to use half-truths and evasions to avoid telling the Malaysian people the whole truth about the 1981 London mysterious tin-buying scandal.”

And who can forget Lim’s denunciation of Mahathir’s “piratisation” of the North-South Highway in 1987?

“In opposing the North-South Expressway privatisation to the United Engineers Malaysia (UEM) because of improprieties in the tender exercise, conflict of interest, lack of accountability and transparency and one-sided terms inimical to the interests of Malaysians for three decades, I coined the word ‘piratisation’ to describe the most rapacious aspects of the Barisan Nasional privatisation programme…In August 1987, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad stated that UEM, owned by UMNO trustee company, Hatibudi Sdn. Bhd.,  was chosen in order to finance the $360 million  UMNO Headquarters, the Putra World Trade Centre!”

There was also Lim’s statement on the huge forex losses we suffered in the 90s:

“Up to now, the government has failed to “come clean” on the colossal Bank Negara forex losses as a result of speculation in the international currency markets from 1992-1994, with the losses cited as ranging from RM10 billion to RM30 billion…The reasons which I had advanced in Parliament in 1994 for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the colossal Bank Negara forex losses remain valid today, and should be the terms of reference of a White Paper… To determine the actual extent of the colossal forex losses suffered by Bank Negara 1992-1994; whether there had been any financial malpractices and abuses in view of the inconsistencies and conflicting explanations about the colossal forex losses; and establish how Bank Negara could incur such colossal losses.”

Regarding Mahathir’s nepotism, Lim Kit Siang said in 16 June 1998:

“I had also referred to a memorandum submitted by 15 NGOs including Aliran, AWAM, FOMCA, ERA, SUARAM and Tenaganita to the Anti-Corruption Agency in August last year asking for swift investigations concerning various noted personalities, including the children of the Prime Minister and an accompanying document containing lists of private limited companies where three children of the Prime Minister – Mirzan, Mokhzani and Mukhriz Mahathir – acted as directors, and that according to searches made at the Registry of Companies at the end of 1994, Mirzan had interests in 98 companies, Mokhzani in 48 companies and Mukhriz in 67 companies…Mahathir should similarly give full co-operation to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Nepotism, particularly as to whether there is any nepotism in the government, through Petronas, using hundreds of millions of ringgit of public funds to bail out Mirzan Mahathir’s Konsortium Perkapalan Bhd.”

When cronies were bailed out after the 1997 financial crisis, this is what Lim had to say:

“The management irregularities being investigated by the police can only be the tip of an iceberg as MAS has chalked up colossal debts of RM9.2 billion and accumulated losses of R2.5 billion, requiring repeated billion-ringgit bailouts at the public taxpayers’ expense – and the Malaysian public are entitled to demand a full accountability as to how the national airline could end up as such a sick company, a national embarrassment and a burden on public coffers…It was reported that the management irregularities in the cargo division  were discovered in   an audit ordered by the government after taking control of MAS early last year  following  the scandalous RM1.79 billion buyback  bailout of Tajudin’s 29.09 per cent stake at RM8 a share when the market price was only RM3.68…This raises the question as to why an audit was not conducted before the government’s  buyback  bailout of Tajudin’s MAS stake – which would have a very important bearing on the proper price of the government buyout.”

Lim had equally strong views on the bailout of Renong:

“The RM10.5 billion Renong bailout is the beginning of what Malaysians had feared – a government bail-out spree of politically well-connected companies…This is the second rescue operation for Renong since the start of the financial crisis in July last year – the first time being the disastrous RM2.4 billion United Engineers (M) Bhd (UEM) bail-out of its parent company,  Renong by acquiring 32.6 per cent stake at a hefty premium to the market price to the detriment of UEM minority shares in November 1997 which precipitated a plunge of market confidence and  a stock market catastrophe wiping out some RM70 billion of capitalisation in three days…As a result of the failure of the first bailout  operation for Renong by UEM, the government has now to be involved in the second bailout operation of Renong. Renong is estimated to have debts totalling RM20 billion – about eight per cent of all loans in the entire banking system.”

 On the RM11 billion Perwaja Steel scandals, Lim Kit Siang said on 11.2.2001:

“The Accountant-General’s Federal Public Accounts 1998 showed that as at the end of 1998, Malaysian taxpayers were  burdened with Perwaja’s RM9.1 billion liabilities, comprising RM4.01 billion direct loans to Perwaja Terengganu Sdn. Bhd., RM105 million direct loan to Equal Concept Sdn. Bhd. and RM5.1 billion in government-guaranteed borrowings from local and foreign banks. Current accumulated losses and liabilities should exceed RM11 billion by now. Are ACA’s investigations into the RM11 billion Perwaja scandal hinged solely on the RM76.4 million item and that it has no leads whatsoever on other corruption and malpractices in Perwaja?”

“Father, forgive him for he knew not what he did…”

Thus, recent developments in Malaysian politics seem to suggest that an autocrat can run the country, wreak havoc on ethnic relations, mishandle the economy through corruption, enrich selected elites, detain innocent Malaysians without trial, etc… but once this autocrat becomes a ‘born again democrat’ and denounces the current regime, it looks as though his past record can be wiped clean at a stroke!

This ‘Born Again’ rule seems to apply even to the Prime Minister who assaulted the Malaysian Judiciary so badly we have hardly recovered thirty years afterwards. He has not only been cleansed and forgiven; some Opposition leaders are even calling for him to lead the opposition against the current regime!

So, will Pakatan Harapan leaders come out and say categorically that when they come into office they will re-open the books on all the financial scandals since the seventies and eighties that have cost the rakyat so many billions of ringgit?

For human rights defenders who demand social justice, democracy and human rights, there is no place for impunity. Impunity means “exemption from punishment or loss or escape from fines”. It refers to the failure to bring perpetrators of human rights violations, rule of law flouters and the corrupt to justice and constitutes a denial of the victims’ right to justice and redress. We are familiar with impunity which is especially common in countries that do not respect the rule of law, that suffer from corruption and have entrenched systems of patronage, or where the judiciary is weak and the security forces are protected by the powers-that-be.

The First Principle of the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights through Action to Combat Impunity, submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on 8 February 2005 states that:

“Impunity arises from a failure by States to meet their obligations to investigate violations; to take appropriate measures in respect of the perpetrators, particularly in the area of justice, by ensuring that those suspected of criminal responsibility are prosecuted, tried and duly punished; to provide victims with effective remedies and to ensure that they receive reparation for the injuries suffered; to ensure the inalienable right to know the truth about violations; and to take other necessary steps to prevent a recurrence of violations.”

SUARAM has been at the forefront of the struggle against impunity. We do not want to see impunity being entrenched in this country through the rehabilitation of “born again democrats” and we expect any future governments to bear this in mind. Those who have transgressed against the people must prepare to face the charges on their judgement day here on earth. This principle applies for past transgressors as much as it does for present leaders who flout good governance for if PH can let Mahathir get away with impunity, they will have to do the same for MO#1 when he decides to step down from office.



Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 27 October 2016

This 29th anniversary of the launch of Operation Lalang is perhaps the best opportunity for Dr Mahathir – if he has indeed become a reformed democrat – to apologise to the former Ops Lalang detainees and to the nation for that dastardly action in 1987 and subsequent assault on the Malaysian Judiciary.

On 27 October 1987, Mahathir’s Government began arresting and detaining without trial a very large number of people: Members of Parliament, politicians, unionists, NGO activists, religious leaders and educationists, including the writer. The official figure was 106 people detained. While the justification given was that this was necessary to defuse the racial tension at the time, Bapa Malaysia, the Tunku put it bluntly:

“UMNO was facing a break-up. The Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s hold on the party appeared critical when election rigging was alleged to have given him a very narrow victory against Tengku Razaleigh. The case alleging irregularities brought by UMNO members was pending in court. If the judgement went against him he would have no choice but to step down. So he had to find a way out of his predicament. A national crisis had to be created to bring UMNO together as a united force to fight a common enemy – and the imaginary enemy in this case was the Chinese community…Overnight, Malaysia has become a Police State…”

In other words, Operation Lalang was a deliberate and cynical move by Dr Mahathir to stay in office. This is a far cry from his recent boast about “never ever been asked to go…unlike the present Prime Minister!”

His subsequent action in sacking the Lord President Tun Salleh Abas and suspending three Supreme Court judges in order to pre-empt the legal challenge to his position in UMNO was unprecedented in the history of Commonwealth countries. The Tribunal’s Report recommending the sacking of Tun Salleh Abas was described by world renowned Geoffrey Robertson QC as “among the most despicable documents in modern legal history…”

Kit Siang on Mahathir, 2014

On 16 Feb 2014, the Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang who was also detained under Ops Lalang likewise called for Mahathir to apologise to all those detained in Operation Lalang under the ISA as he could not shirk responsibility for the dragnet, especially as he was Home Minister at the time:

“Former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was reported in the media as denying that he was responsible for the infamous Operation Lalang in 1987 where 106 persons were detained under the draconian detention-without-trial Internal Security Act for him to consolidate political control and power in government, Umno and Barisan Nasional. Nanyang Siang Pau today even quoted Mahathir as disclaiming that he was Home Minister at the time of Operation Lalang, claiming that at the time he was in China and the Home Minister was one ‘Musa’.

Mahathir was talking rubbish. He is not only guilty of selective amnesia when it suits him, as when he told the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Lingam Videotape scandal that he could not remember anything about the incidents related to the scandal of the fixing of judicial appointments, he has now shown that he is capable of telling downright lies to disclaim responsibility for the human rights violations perpetrated during his time as Prime Minister and Home Minister.

Mahathir can tell lies without batting an eyelid about the history of his premiership but he cannot change history at his whim and fancy. It is indisputable that Mahathir was the Home Minister during the Operation Lalang crackdown in 1987 and there was no ‘Musa” at the time acting as Home Minister. It is most unworthy and even cowardly of Mahathir to deny that he was responsible for the most infamous violation of human rights in the Operation Lalang ISA crackdown in 1987, made doubly worse by his attempt to even deny that he was Home Minister.”

Show us you are a born-again democrat, Tun

Whether an autocrat who has squandered close to RM100 billion of the nation’s wealth (according to social scientist Barry Wain in ‘Malaysian Maverick’) can get away with impunity is a separate question.

On this 29th anniversary of Operation Lalang, an anniversary during which I still reflect on the 445 days of my life that were cynically stolen by Dr Mahathir, I would hope for some sign of contrition by our supposedly born-again democrat, a democrat who recently signed the Citizens’ Declaration expressing “concern over the deteriorating political, economic and social situation in the country…”


Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 17 Oct 2016

I understand the sentiments of “moderates” who are rightly alarmed at the increasing racism, religious bigotry and corruption in Malaysia and are proposing the establishment of a new ‘National Consultative Council’ (NCC2) like the one that was set up after May 13, 1969. But are they harbouring naïve views about how an NCC type approach can meaningfully address such concerns?

The presupposition behind those who call for unity and good sense and a rational way ahead for the nation is that “racial” discord in our society and the present slide into a banana republic can be solved through a council of eminent persons who will plot the path forward for the nation. But was that what was actually achieved by the NCC after the May 13 riots in 1969?

Who were behind the May 13 incident?

The official version of Malaysian history places the cause of May 13 on an inevitable clash between the “races” because of intractable inequalities between the ethnic communities. ‘Tanda Putera’, the official film goes even further by imputing blame on “provocation of the Malays” by the Opposition after the 1969 general election. My 2007 analysis of the evidence relating to the May 13 incident (‘Declassified documents on the Malaysian riots of 1969’) shows an orchestrated coup by the emergent state capitalists at the time who wanted the Tunku out. And in order to “restore order” and plot the route ahead for this new ascendant class, the National Consultative Council was established to give credence to a “national unity” that was sorely needed after the riots. It comprised of “eminent persons” representing the various ethnic communities in Malaysia.

What did the NCC actually achieve?

The National Consultative Council was headed by Tun Abdul Razak who became the new Prime Minister after the Tunku stepped down. It formulated the ‘Rukun Negara’ which was intended to create harmony and unity among the various races in Malaysia. Although the Rukunegara has often been touted as the panacea for our current problems in the country, I demur on two grounds: Firstly, this so-called “national philosophy” was crafted and promulgated under a state of emergency and not passed through the democratic processes afforded by the Federal Parliament; secondly, the ‘eminent persons’ responsible for it were not inclusive enough for they left out groups such as our indigenous peoples and Buddhists among others when they insisted on “belief in God” as one of the pillars of this state ideology.

The NEP was the game changer

Thereafter, the New Economic Policy (NEP) was launched in 1971. The NEP was aimed at “creating unity among the various races in Malaysia through reducing of the economic gap between the Malays and Bumiputera on the one hand, and the Non-Malays on the other”. It was a social re-engineering action program formulated by the National Operation Council (NOC) formed in the aftermath of 13 May 1969 riots. This policy was intended to be implemented for a period of 20 years but it has since, under different guises, become a Never Ending Policy.

It is important to note that the New Economic Policy that has transformed Malaysian society and also institutionalized racial discrimination all these years was the prerogative of the National Operation Council (NOC) and not the NCC. The NOC was the preserve of the Minister of Home Affairs, the leaders of UMNO, MCA & MIC, Chief of Armed Forces Staff and Inspector-General of Police. The council of eminent persons in the NCC only dealt with the formulation of the Rukun Negara. The National Cultural Policy was announced also in 1971 after a conference at which a token number of non-Malay academics were invited.

So let us be clear about what the NCC actually achieved after May 13. The NCC certainly failed to prevent the numerous amendments to the Constitution which have entrenched inequality since 1971, the most serious of which has been Amendment 8A to Article 153 in 1971, allowing more racial discrimination through the “quota system”. Nor did it prevent the amendment to Article 121 in 1988 which made provisions for the recognition of Islamic Syariah Courts/Laws – since then, the Judiciary has tended to defer its powers to the Syariah courts whenever there is dispute in conversion cases.

A fine mess you’ve got us into!

So how did we end up in the mess we find ourselves at the present and that is troubling the ‘moderates’ and corporate players?

First, we have to thank Dr Mahathir for privatizing most of our state assets when he came to office in 1981 right up to 2003. These were assets that we all owned that were sold for a song to private capitalists. By 1989, the contribution of the private sector to economic growth had exceeded that of the public sector and Mahathir’s mission to transfer state capital to private Malay capitalist hands was well on target. During Mahathir’s tenure as Prime Minister, three main UMNO officials focused their attention on building “Bumiputera capitalists”. This was facilitated after UMNO was declared illegal in 1988 and its assets were required to be sold off. The three were Mahathir himself, Daim Zainuddin who was his finance minister during two phases in Mahathir’s term and thirdly, Anwar Ibrahim who, before his downfall in September 1998, was second in power to Mahathir. All three had their respective corporate connections.

During the financial crisis of 1997, the state provided support for favored firms linked to the “Bumiputera capitalists” after the imposition of capital controls, such as reflationary measures which included cutting interest rates and making credit more readily available to these fledgling firms. Banks were also encouraged to lend more, and to bail out troubled firms – including that of Mahathir’s son – and a new expansionary budget was introduced in October 1998.

Apart from his historic creation of Malay private capital through privatization of state assets and his grandiose projects, Mahathir left a racist legacy that was the result of his populist intention to win over the Bumiputera votes. The racial discrimination implicit in the NEP was continued without any public debate; poverty was racialized as mainly a Bumiputera phenomenon; “Bumiputeras only” institutions were expanded, and racial discrimination was extended to discounts and quotas for housing, access to investment funds, loans and scholarships. This racist legacy included a chauvinistic National Cultural Policy that tried to pander to Malay-centrism with dire consequences for ethnic relations, especially in 1987.

Mahathir’s term in office was marked by sensational financial scandals which were not unexpected of an authoritarian populist who did not pay much heed to accountability and good governance. No one knows about all these scandals better than the leader of the Opposition who must declare if Mahathir can get away with impunity.

Mahathir’s racist paradigm was translated across the board to incorporate political, economic, educational, social and cultural policies and he left a racist legacy that has today been latched upon by a far-right Malay supremacist group of which he is the patron. This Malay-centric ideology they purvey has become increasingly infused with extreme Islamic populism, leaving even “moderate” Malays worried for the future.

Najib has merely extended Mahathir’s methods of rule

At the 13th general election (GE13) held on 5 May 2013, the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition won 133 of the 222 seats in Parliament, preserving its majority, despite the fact that it only received 47.38 percent of the popular vote against 50.87 for the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition. Soon after GE13, UMNO decided to punish the non-Malays for their support of the opposition PR by giving only 19 percent of places in the public universities to Chinese students and 4 percent to Indian students even though the two ethnic groups together make up about 30 percent of the student population. Mahathir castigated Najib for wasting election funds on Chinese voters.

The GE13 results signaled a return to Mahathir’s strident racial politics and a U-turn on Najib’s pre-election attempt to reach out to the other races through his slogan “1Malaysia”. As noted above, UMNO’s erstwhile Malay chauvinist credentials have since been farmed out to Malay far-right organisations Perkasa and other groups. The latter will seek to prolong the pro-Malay discriminatory policies and Najib’s pre-election attempts to cut back on ethnic Malay privileges in the NEP now seem politically futile.

While it is the growing trend of many countries to reduce their civil service, Malaysia’s Prime Minister’s Department in particular, has done the opposite. It has more than doubled its number of civil servants from 21,000 to 43,554. In stark contrast, the White House employs only 1,888 staff!  To date, there are ten “Ministers in the Prime Minister’s Department” alone, on top of other important agencies or governmental bodies that fall within the purview of the Prime Minister’s Department. These include, among others, the Attorney General’s Chambers, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Election Commission of Malaysia, Department of Islamic Development, Public Service Department, Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal, the Judicial Appointments Commission, Economic Planning Unit and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.

The oversized bureaucracy and the Bumiputeraist populism have, in turn, created massive leakages in the economy. In 2010, Cuepacs President Omar Osman revealed that a total of 418,200 or 41% of the 1.2 million civil servants in the country were suspected to be involved in corruption The 2009 Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) report revealed that Malaysians generally consider political parties and civil service to be the most corrupt groups, and the government’s anti-corruption drive to be ineffective.

Thus, instead of focusing on remedying the particular needs of the various poor classes in Malaysian society, the state has chosen to blame the plight of the Malay peasantry on “Chinese dominance of the economy”. At the same time, the state’s populist Bumiputera policy is intended to win over the allegiance of the whole Malay community while mainly benefiting the wealthier strata most of all.

The NEP and the state’s authoritarian populism

The state has subverted the democratic process through the proscription of so-called “sensitive” issues which include questioning the special position of the Malays, the national language and the rulers’ privileges. These proscriptions have been implemented through the use of detention without trial laws as well as the Sedition Act. Thus, the demands of workers and peasants, educational, religious and cultural organisations, indigenous peoples and regional minorities have been summarily dealt with through the cynical use of such repressive laws.

The NEP has served to institutionalize racial discrimination and its continuation is crucial to the authoritarian populism of the Malaysian state. This is blatantly practiced in the armed and civil services, education and economic sectors. Communalism, which is an intrinsic part of the state’s ideology, continues to produce tension in Malaysian society today and even more so after the challenge to the status quo at the 2008 general election. Even while Malaysia has been experiencing healthy economic growth rate since the seventies, the Malaysian state has had to rely on continued repression and communalist policies to divide the people.

The movement for genuine reforms

To conclude, as long as pro-Bumiputera policies remain useful in winning Bumiputera votes, it is unlikely that the ruling class in UMNO will want to dispense with this method of rule. Racism has been thoroughly infused in all the national institutions, including racist indoctrination of Bumiputeras in state institutions such as the BTN which recently came to light. Since Prime Minister Najib Razak introduced the slogan ‘1Malaysia’ to try to woo the disaffected non-Bumiputera voters after the 2008 fiasco, strident racism often associated with UMNO Youth has now been outsourced to the far-right Malay supremacist groups. They continue to play the role of storm troopers and disrupt activities organized by civil society to promote social justice, democracy and human rights. UMNO’s competition with PAS has also heightened Islamic populism in the country, with dire consequences for ethnic relations. Above all, racial discrimination facilitates crony capitalism which is essential to UMNO’s monopoly of power. This has not changed since the Mahathir era.

The ethnic Indian working class and the indigenous peoples in both East and West Malaysia are the poorest communities in Malaysia; the former and the Orang Asli cannot rely on “Bumiputera” privileges, while the indigenous peoples of East Malaysia do not enjoy the same amount of state largesse as the Malays in West Malaysia even though they are categorized as Bumiputeras.

So, if there is going to be an NCC2, will the new council of ‘eminent persons’ be prepared to face this reality and join the movement for genuine reforms in order to progress into the future? The road toward uniting the Malaysian peoples is through a concerted effort for greater democracy not only in the political realm but also in economic, educational, social and cultural policies. The state’s ideological view of “national unity” through one language and one culture and the dissolution of Chinese and Tamil schools are intended to fuel Malay chauvinism. The basis of unity rests fundamentally on the recognition of the equality of all nationalities. The imposition of one language and one culture on all the communities will produce only a hollow unity.

The basis for unity among the people has also to embody a commitment to democracy and policies that will improve the living standards of the workers and farmers of all communities and at the same time unite them. These components involve the lifting of restrictions on legitimate political organisation and activity, as well as the encouragement of social and political institutions that ensure genuine popular control.

Thus, the task for all Malaysians is to build a solidarity movement for democracy, fully cognizant of the need for improving the livelihood of the masses and building a society that is progressive, inclusive and truly equal.


By Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser, 31 August 2016

‘The Patriot Game’ is a personal view of what it means to be a ‘Malaysian patriot’. I wrote it in 2010 and it hit a raw nerve when it was released on the internet because I received an overwhelming response from Malaysians in many corners of the globe. It will be interesting to see whether the situation today in Malaysia is any different from what it was six years ago, what with the increasing religious encroachments into our lives, the ever-growing gulf in income inequality and the frustrating impunity of corruption in high places. I also want to find out how the new generation of young Malaysians today responds…

Come all you young rebels

And list while I sing

For love of one’s country is a terrible thing

It banishes fear with the speed of a flame

And makes us all part of the patriot game…”

These plaintive yet stirring lines from an old Irish republican song also inspired Bob Dylan’s “With God on our side”. As we hear of more Malaysians emigrating (one million in 2010) and their reasons for doing so, allow me to write about my own part in the patriot game…

When I was a young rebel in the Seventies, I received the news that my brother-in-law and eldest sister were emigrating to Australia with pious indignation. I felt that despite the injustices, Malaysians should stay and fight for our rights while helping to build the country.

It was easy for me to say as a propertyless and angry young man. But I was unable to honestly feel how my brother-in-law felt as a Professor of Medicine in the University of Malaya, watching the compromises to academic excellence in the name of bumiputeraism and suffering the indignity of being systematically bypassed in his career advancement? His warning of the possible de-recognition of MU’s MBBS degree by the British Medical Council was not heeded and this became a reality in the Eighties. The rest is history…

Counting the brain drain

Today, I am not as sanguine as I was in my youth except to feel a deep sadness that talented Malaysians are forced to leave the land where they were born in order to pursue their careers in other countries.

Has the government cared to record how many Malaysian talents have been lost to other countries since 1969 and how much this translates into economic terms?

In my family alone, our country has lost not only a Professor of Radiology (my brother-in-law), but also a Professor of Psychological Medicine (my brother at NUS). His daughter is an A&E specialist in Singapore and we have three other psychiatrists abroad (a cousin in Ottawa, my nephew in Newcastle and another cousin in Singapore). Two other young cousins are doctors in Singapore, while two more nieces have just graduated as doctors from Imperial College. I doubt they will be coming to practice in Malaysia. Our own daughter is now a practicing doctor in Australia.

A colleague of mine in the Eighties had four children who were all accomplished academics at MIT, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge. In the housing estate we live in, practically every household has children studying or working abroad and some of them have truly illustrious careers, all benefiting other countries. Apart from our medical professionals, many talented professionals in LLN, JKR, KTM, RRI have been forced to seek employment overseas ever since the “bumiputera policy” came into being. During my recent speaking tour at Melbourne in 2016, I discovered that there are 80,000 Malaysians in that city alone and these include Malay emigres.

Barry Wain has counted the glaring costs of Mahathir’s rule. He puts it at RM100 billion! Maybe someone should count the collateral damage of the bumiputera policy since 1969.

Has any UMNO leader expressed regret or remorse over this brain drain? No! These “drained brains” have been greeted with “good riddance!” at UMNO general assemblies through the years since the Umnoputras seem to be more concerned about the dubious figures proclaiming a higher proportion of bumiputera representation in the professions.

No doubt the creeping rise in religious bigotry and unjust divisive rulings has sickened many Malaysians and will prompt even more to emigrate.

Our so-called “nation builders” and “outside-the-box” thinkers seem incapable of producing a “win-win” situation that can prevent this brain drain while simultaneously building national unity.

Wasn’t it Robert Frost who said “Originality and initiative are what I ask for my country”?

My First Stirrings of Patriotism

Patriotism is indeed a “terrible” thing – when the Irish use the adjective “terrible” they mean something equivalent to “awesome” rather than “contemptible”.

The pogrom of May 13, 1969 had left a traumatic imprint on me and many other Malaysians who had lived through the post-Independence period. I had just completed my Higher School Certificate (A levels). Soon after, I saved up enough to buy a ticket to London and borrowed a month’s living expenses from my sister.

During those early years of sojourn in London, my first instinctive “patriotic” feelings were kindled whenever I met British people who would ask me where I was from. After I had told them I was from Malaysia, they would invariably add:

I suppose you won’t be going back there no more then…”

Without a moment’s hesitation and recognizing the assumption behind that statement, I invariably replied:

“Of course I am. I’m certainly going back to my country when I’ve finished my studies!”

I’ve kept true to that undertaking I made to myself even though these British people I met were just strangers in the pub or in the street.

That’s not just patriotism, that’s integrity to myself.

A Choice in the Seventies

Then when I was at university in 1975, I suddenly got a letter from the British Home Office asking me to send them my passport since they suspected that my leave of stay in the UK had expired. Weeks later, I got my passport back with a letter saying:

I am writing to say that the time limit and conditions attached to your leave to enter the United Kingdom have been removed…You are now free to remain permanently in the United Kingdom. You do not require permission from a Government Department to take or change employment in England, Wales or Scotland and you may engage in business or a profession …”

                                                                     (The Under Secretary of State, 6 March 1975)

Until today, some people I meet in Malaysia still ask if I’ll be emigrating to the UK since my kids are working abroad and I have a British wife. My answer, with my wife’s support, is always:

If I had wanted to emigrate, I would have done so in the Seventies!”

When I finally finished my PhD in the early Eighties, I returned to Malaysia to “build my homeland” with my British wife. I could have stayed and enjoyed a good bourgeois existence in Britain – enjoying the English countryside, good ale and the arts but my social conscience would have got the better of me ere too long…

Back in Malaysia at the end of 1982, apart from working, I wrote profusely in response to many issues confronting our society during that time. It was a period when the press such as The Star were relatively freer and while it was owned by the MCA, we used to joke that it was “edited by the MIC for the DAP”.

It turned out to be a false spring. The Eighties were the heyday of activism in the country which culminated in the “Operation Lalang” crackdown. The BN government showed its appreciation of my nation building efforts by arresting and detaining me without trial during Operation Lalang in October 1987.

ISA “Rehabilitation”

Detention without trial under the ISA is a good test of one’s patriotism. During the first sixty days of solitary confinement when the Special Branch was trying to “rehabilitate” me, I remember they had a three-pronged approach to my rehabilitation programme (sic), viz.:

(i)                 Why don’t you emigrate since you have a British wife rather than “cause trouble” here?

(ii)               Why don’t you join the Barisan Nasional instead of always siding with the Opposition?

(iii)             Why can’t you be like Khoo Khay Kim instead of speaking for those Chinese educationists?

To the first question, I told them I was a Malaysian who had come home to serve the country. To the second, I said it was against my principles to join racist political parties. To the third, I said, “You’ve already got one Khoo Khay Kim, why do you want another one?”

During those weeks of harrowing interrogation, they also wanted to know about my activities when I was in the UK. At one stage, they asked me if I had ever written to the British press. When I couldn’t recall what they were getting at, they produced a news cutting of an article I had written to “The Guardian” in the Seventies. It was a critique of a feature in the paper by the famous writer Anthony Burgess in which he had written patronisingly about the old colonial stereotypes of Malaysian society.

There,” I pointed out, “there you have perfect evidence of my multi-ethnic perspective and my defence of our country, the opposite of what you are making me out to be!”

Of course they knew what I was made of but still, they sent me to Kamunting Rehabilitation Camp on a two-year detention order for being “a threat to national security”.

At Kamunting, the so-called “rehab” programme included a weekly “assembly” during which we were supposed to sing the national anthem as if we were back at school and to make a pledge (Ikrar) of allegiance to the king, country and the Rukunegara. Many of us (who were labelled “hardcore”) did not participate in this vacuous token of “patriotism”.

It brought home the scathing quote by Samuel Johnson that, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

The American humorist Kin Hubbard adds: “The less a politician amounts to, the more he loves the flag.”

While in detention, my wife and I made the decision to change our six-year-old son’s British passport to a Malaysian one since otherwise, he would have to leave the country with his mother every few months to have it stamped. When some of my Camp inmates heard about this they exclaimed:

What! You mad ah? As soon as we’re released, we’ll be leaving this country! You crazy lah, giving up his British passport for a Malaysian one!”

Several of these Operation Lalang jail birds have flown and good luck to them. Patriotism is not something that you can foist on people. People make choices according to what they have experienced, especially in today’s globalised world. They certainly love the country where they were born and grew up but alas, their country does not seem to love them in return, instead incarcerating them and robbing them of their precious freedom.

Would you defend your country with your life?

In recent years, there has been plenty of breast beating among the Umnoputras, with flag waving, keris kissing and singing of patriotic songs. But how many of these Umnoputras can proudly stand up and say that they patriotically took part in the liberation war against the British colonialists and the Japanese fascists?

Hardly any!

Yet, how many Malayan patriots have given their lives in these two campaigns? Have they ever been honoured by the country they defended?

They were honoured by the Allies for their valour during the anti-Japanese resistance after the Second World War in London. Have our historians exposed those who collaborated with the Japanese fascists during the Second World War – the “quislings who sold out the patriot game”?

At least one man, Chin Peng can claim that he achieved this and before he died, he merely wanted the opportunity to visit his homeland that he had defended against British colonialism and Japanese fascism but he was unable to do this! If he were an Irish republican, Chin Peng might have been inspired to sing this other republican song I have adapted:

Show me the man

“Where is the man who does not love

The land where he was born

Who does not speak of it with pride

No matter how forlorn

I only know that I love mine

And long again to see

Oppression banished from our land

And (Malaysia) truly free…


Let friends all turn against me

Let foes say what they will

For my heart is in my country

And I love our people still


There is not a (Malaysian) today

Who’d ever wish to roam

Into a foreign land to toil

 If he could stay at home

So give to us our liberty

Let our banners be unfurled

Then (Malaysians) will prove to be

A credit to the world!”


Press statement by Dr Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser, 30 August 2016

In 2008, in a knee-jerk reaction to the Bukit Antarabangsa tragedy, then Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim issued a blanket ban on development in Class Three and Four slopes.  These two categories refer to slopes with steep inclines of more than 20 degrees. He said the state government would blacklist developers and companies that failed to adhere to its directives and was even prepared to face the legal consequences of stopping the projects.

Our last green lung has just been destroyed

Residents in our housing estate, Taman Cuepacs Fasa I, Cheras came out in force last week to protest the destruction of our last green lung, a forested hill of more than 50 degrees gradient on our eastern flank for a new development project to build three-story bungalows on this slope. Our prized green lung, the Bukit Sungai Putih permanent forest reserve that was gazetted in 1932 by the colonial government but degazetted in 1992 by MB Muhamad Taib, was already destroyed more than ten years ago by housing developers.

Our forested hill and the Bukit Sungai Putih forest have been a green environmental feature of Taman Cuepacs Fasa I ever since the housing was first conceived more than 35 years ago and was a reason residents chose to live in this taman. Apart from contributing to the cooling effect on our entire taman, the forest is frequented by exotic birds and mammals.

With the forest on this >50 degree gradient, we did not expect the Kajang Council could possibly approve any housing project on such a slope since there is a blanket ban on such development by the Selangor State Government. The federal and state governments have ceaselessly called on Malaysians to preserve our trees and protect our green environment but all this has been shown to be phony hot air.

MACC should investigate tree cutting scams

Apart from this rude violation of the green policy in our taman, we notice that as is also happening elsewhere in Malaysia, old trees are being slaughtered by the local authorities which leaves us physically ill and wondering when something drastic is going to happen to stop this tree cutting scam. Some of the most beautiful features of Malaysian towns and villages are our heritage banyan tress and even these are being slaughtered.

The excuse for cutting the trees is invariably that they are diseased and this is a way to prevent contamination. We have heard this before. Some time ago, our residents association had asked the local Kajang Council to prune the trees around the only playground in our taman. They replied by suggesting that we cut down all the trees instead. We of course said “No way”. Soon after, the council came to cut down ALL the trees around the playground that were at least forty years old. Their excuse was that the trees were diseased.

Why are the councils so fond of such chain saw massacres? Have you noticed the many ‘NAK POTONG POKOK’ signs on telegraph poles all over the place? Do you know that it costs a few thousand bucks to take down an imperious banyan tree!

Forest Research Institute of Malaysia should step in to affirm if all these trees that have been cut down in many towns and cities in Malaysia have indeed been stricken by some form of tree-inflicting disease. State governments throughout Malaysia should record how many trees have been cut and the amount of money spent by municipal councils on tree cutting contracts. The MACC should investigate if there are favoured contractors who are given the bulk of these contracts.

Sacrificing our forests for highways!

The Selangor state government has proposed to degazette 106.65 hectares of four forest reserves that form part of the Selangor State Park for the construction of The Kuala Lumpur Outer Ring Road (KLORR), also known as the East Klang Valley Expressway (EKVE). By degazetting the Ulu Langat Forest Reserve, Bukit Sungei Puteh Forest Reserve, Ampang Forest Reserve, and Ulu Gombak Forest Reserve, these forests will lose their “forest reserve” status and will be fair game for developers. The Selangor State Park happens to be the third largest park in Peninsular Malaysia. It was gazetted in 2007 as a state park under the National Forestry Act Enactment 2005 of Selangor and is managed by the Forestry Department of Selangor. These forests are not only rich in biodiversity but provide crucial water catchments for the people of Selangor.

It is the height of irresponsibility by the Selangor State Government that the proposal to degazette crucial water catchment forests should come at a time when water shortages have reached a critical stage in different parts of the Klang Valley and water levels in Selangor dams are prone to diminishing.

Having put up with decades of BN wanton destruction of the environment in the name of “development”, we expect a more principled stand from Pakatan Harapan beyond pious rhetoric. It is ironic that we should have to lobby the Selangor State Government to preserve the state park. One would have expected the politicians who have pledged to defend the Malaysian environment to refuse to degazette any part of Selangor’s gazetted forests for a highway.

Having campaigned against the “development” of a sizeable portion of Bukit Sungai Putih Permanent Forest Reserve in the late nineties, the result is evident for all to see today – rampant housing development with more and more encroachments into the forest. An important water catchment, never mind irreplaceable flora and fauna, has been lost forever to the Klang Valley people.

Any highway built through these precious natural resources will affect the function of the forest reserve as a water catchment. With easy access to the forest reserve, illegal encroachment into the forests will take place, as is evident elsewhere in Malaysia with our lax enforcement. Easy access will also make it more attractive for so-called “development” in the future, resulting in even more forests being cleared and more water catchment polluted or lost.

Loss of forests will not only exacerbate the water crisis but will also cause more flash floods and landslides. The highway will also fragment the forest, making it difficult for wildlife to get from one part of the forest patch to another. Living on the edge of the Bukit Sungai Putih forest, we witness the plight of dusky leaf monkeys and other primates which have been marooned in the small patches of forest cut off from the main forest. During the eighties, a serow (a very rare mammal) was found in a drain just outside this forest because it had been forced out of its restricted habitat.

We need good public transport not bleeding highways!

In recent years, residents in the Klang Valley have seen the rampant building of highways which have accompanied the national car project. In other environmentally conscious cities, there would have been protests over their indiscriminate construction with no heed for the environment, aesthetics or the peoples’ right to the commons and public footpaths. The authorities seem to have taken Malaysians’ patience for granted in now pushing for this highway that will desecrate the Selangor state park.

A sustainable solution that ensures both the preservation of Malaysian nature and enables ease of mobility for majority of urban dwellers lies in creating an effective integrated public transport system, and not endless highways and tunnels.