Is BRIM corruption or crass populism?

Is BRIM corruption or crass populism?
Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 30 December 2016

Dr Mahathir and now Azmin Ali have claimed that the BRIM handouts are akin to corruption by the Najib government. While Dr Mahathir is prone to selective amnesia, the Selangor MB should know that Najib’s BRIM cash handouts are actually a copy of similar cash handouts made by the opposition-led Penang state government.

After the 2008 general election, the Penang state government prided itself on a plan to give cash handouts of 100 ringgit annually to every senior citizen aged above 60. It also introduced a scheme to wipe out hard-core poverty by ensuring that every family receives at least 500 ringgit a month. Then in a move that I called “populism gone mad”, the Selangor state government decided to provide free water to consumers in the state. The current water crisis in Selangor is perhaps the instant karma that comes from such a poorly conceived populist project. Water is a limited precious resource and water demand management acknowledges this by setting targets for per capita water use, and reducing the scale of non-revenue water – giving away free water makes a mockery of the need to conserve that precious resource through water demand management.

Free makan at whose expence?

Before he became Menteri Besar, Azmin Ali’s had criticised the State Government under Khalid Ibrahim for it’s spendthrift ways in splurging RM500,000 on a single official ceremony at a time when the state reserves had dipped below RM800 million. Has Azmin put a stop to such wasteful and populist free makan splurges? Who pays for the free makan at Open Houses during each festival – the state government, Pakatan coalition or Selangor ratepayers? There was even the time when the PR Speaker told off the State Exco Ronnie Liu for spending RM10,000 on durian feasts for his constituents. Who knows what else goes on…

Is this corruption, or do free handouts count as corruption only when they are given out close to an election? Both coalitions are equally guilty of vote buying through free handouts during the election campaign.

Mahathir gave only to favoured Bumis

While Dr Mahathir’s term in office was not noted for free cash handouts to the lower income masses irrespective of ethnicity, he did grant contracts, licences, share options and other benefits specifically to ethnic Malay individuals and companies over and above other ethnic minority groups. He created a class of newly rich Malays with a vested interest in keeping their patrons in power. Many of these “favoured Bumiputera capitalists” only managed to survive the 1998 financial crisis through being bailed out indirectly by Malaysian taxpayers.

In fact, soon after the 2013 general election, Dr Mahathir accused Najib not so much for this alleged corrupt practice of free cash handouts but of pandering too much to the Chinese and of not giving enough attention to the Malays, who form the backbone of Umno’s support.

During Abdullah Badawi’s administration in July 2007, ahead of the March 2008 general election, civil servants were awarded hefty pay increments of between 7.5% and 35% while their cost-of-living allowances were doubled. Government pensioners, too, were awarded significant hikes in their monthly checks.

Can all this be considered corruption too or is it only considered corruption when free handouts are race-free as in the case of BRIM?

The nation needs improved social services & reforms

For a sustainable economy and society, the lower income earning Malaysians require an improved social and public welfare services and other reforms, not one-off cash handouts which are not sustainable and will worsen the budget deficit and national debt.

First, we need fiscal reforms to ensure fair income redistribution by imposing a higher marginal tax rate on high income earners, an incremental Capital Gains Tax on property, other progressive taxes on wealth and luxury goods; plugging tax loopholes; reviewing capital allowances and tax holidays for foreign firms; regulating and imposing a tax on all international financial transactions and hedge funds; abolishing regressive taxes such as GST.

Secondly, we need to defend workers’ rights & interests by promoting workers’ right to unionise; legislating a progressive guaranteed minimum wage for all workers, including foreign workers; ensuring full employment, retrenchment and pension fund for all workers; abolishing the contractor system for employment of workers; allowing workers and their trade unions to be part of economic influence and decision-making of enterprises, especially control of their pension funds; promoting self-governing workers’ cooperatives to produce goods that are useful for society; according full rights as workers to all migrant workers irrespective of their immigration status.

Thirdly, we need an improved free public health care system for all Malaysians by allocating at least 10% of the GDP in the annual budget to healthcare; implementing better conditions for doctors, nurses and hospital workers in the public sector; freezing the expansion of private hospitals and preventing the leakages in the public sector to private contractors; providing homes and day-care centres for the elderly and disabled through benefits, support services, including access to mobile health care.

Fourthly, we need a people-centred and caring social policy by instituting a Housing Development Board, managed by elected local councils to implement an effective low-cost public housing programme for rental or ownership throughout the country for the poor and marginalized communities, with adequate space for community activities, recreation and green areas; respecting the rights of urban settlers in any development plan to upgrade their area or to re-house them; prioritizing the public transport system in the country while regulating highway construction and car traffic in city and town centres; providing child-care and crèche facilities in all public and private sectors; providing rehabilitation facilities for those suffering from substance abuse.

Cash handouts do not empower the people

While some economists claim that these cash handouts will lead to higher domestic demand and consumption and stimulate the economy, others are concerned about rising fiscal deficits and inflationary pressures. They do not consider the most important factor in all this populism – the long term dignity and empowerment of the people in the process of a sustainable national development.



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, 5 Aug 2016

Mahathir’s new “Bumi-only” party deserves to be shunned like the other mono-ethnic parties in the BN. I am truly surprised that leaders of Pakatan Harapan as well as some civil society leaders have welcomed this new party with open arms when it is neither civil nor hopeful.

Can any civil society leader or political leader espousing progressive reforms for our country accept a political party that is open only to “Bumiputeras”? Have they lost their marbles simply because Mahathir is staunchly anti-Najib? They better come to their senses or they may lose their credibility altogether in their contortionist bid to perform the art of the possible.

Racism and racial discrimination have been part of Malaysian political, economic, social and cultural realities ever since colonial times. Today, race has been so deeply institutionalised that it is a key factor determining benefits from government development policies, bids for business contracts, education policy, social policy, cultural policy, entry into educational institutions, discounts for purchasing houses and other official policies. Practically every aspect of Malaysian life is permeated by the so-called “Bumiputra policy” based on Malay-centrism. This is unabashedly spelled out by political leaders in the daily mass media in Malaysia.

Institutional racism is an integral part of the Malaysian socio-political system. The ruling coalition is still dominated by racially-defined component parties, the United Malays National Organisation, the Malaysian Chinese Association and the Malaysian Indian Congress. These parties compete for electoral support from their respective “racial” constituencies by pandering to “racial” interests. Invariably, their racist inclinations are exposed at their respective party congresses.

UMNO, the ruling party continues to insist that “Malay Unity” and even “Malay Dominance” are essential for National Unity. “Malay dominance” is invariably used interchangeably with “Malay Privileges”, which these ruling Malay elite justify in the Malaysian Federal Constitution. No doubt Mahathir is still caught up in this racist ideology.

Reformists must transcend “Race”

It is time for Malaysians to reaffirm the non-discriminatory basis of the Federal Constitution and to uphold human rights principles which are strictly anti-racist. Article 8 (1) of the Malaysian Constitution clearly spells out the principle of equality of all Malaysians while Article 12 (1) allows no discrimination against any citizens on the grounds of religion, race, descent or place of birth.

While it is widely recognised that racial polarisation exists in many Malaysian institutions such as schools, universities, the civil service, it must be stressed that this is not a “natural” consequence of a plural society. On the contrary, through the years there have been deliberate attempts by those in power to create divisions among the people. There is general agreement that racial polarisation has its origins in colonial divide-and-rule strategy.

The racialist formula (UMNO-MCA-MIC) was institutionalised in the Alliance at Independence and perpetuated by the Barisan Nasional to the present day. Attempts at creating racial discord among the people continue to be perpetrated in public institutions and the mass media whenever it suits the politicians.

Of all the official policies and public institutions which practice racial discrimination, there is none more pervasive than the New Economic Policy (NEP) which has been implemented as a fait accompli after the Emergency declared in 1969. Although its specific objectives were “restructuring of society to correct the economic imbalance of wealth holding which led to the identification of race with economic function” and “eradication of poverty irrespective of race”, the NEP has been implemented these thirty years in a racially discriminatory way with little transparency or accountability.

Racist game over, Tun

Mahathir’s “Malay Dilemma” was an instant hit among the emergent Malay state capitalists in UMNO since it provided the instant recipe for them to rally populist support for their bid for power during May 13, 1969. It was the time tested recipe for opportunistic politicians to use “race” as the rallying cry for political support.

Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” was of course the model of such a political route. Since the demise of Hitler and his race-steeped ideology and the price paid in blood by the freedom loving peoples of the world, racism, racial discrimination and other forms of intolerance have been outlawed in the world community.

The very existence of racially-based political parties – UMNO, MCA and MIC – is an anachronism way past their sell-by date. Where in the world today can one find political parties that are restricted to only one race?

Time for non-racial solutions to Malaysian challenges

We will only truly be a united nation when we ban race-based political parties from our midst and ratify the Convention on the Eradication of Racism and Racial Discrimination (CERD). This can be done through a Race & Religious Relations Act and Equality & Human Rights Commission. It would be the mother of all transformations!

Political parties formed on the basis of “race” to further the interests of their respective “races” should be outlawed as such practices are inconsistent with international conventions against racism and racial discrimination.

My admonition to Tun is:

“Wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age.  Sometimes age just shows up all by itself.”