MALAYSIA’S FINANCIAL SCANDALS: MEMORY JOLT FOR FORGETFUL POLITICIANS

Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 15 July 2019

George Orwell once said:

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”

Those who are in power today can try to rewrite the past but they won’t succeed, not when almost all of history has been digitised already. We are made to believe by the new history changers that the 1MDB scandal has been the only financial scandal in Malaysian history and the previous Prime Minister is the first kleptocrat our country has ever had. The former Leader of the Opposition, perhaps thankful that his son’s corruption charges were dropped and further rewarded with a Finance Minister’s post, is now quick to say that he never said that Mahathir was ever corrupt. Let us remind him of the financial scandals in the Mahathir era and what he said about them…

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I WOULD PREFER KIT SIANG AS ATTORNEY-GENERAL

I WOULD PREFER KIT SIANG AS ATTORNEY-GENERAL
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.