Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) is concerned with the conduct of the Royal Malaysian Police in conducting pre-dawn raids at Najib Razak’s residence despite the lack of any imminent threat to security posed by the former Prime Minister and the subsequent complaints raised by Najib Razak and Family.
Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 1 Jan 2018
Before I could respond to Mahathir’s supposed apology, he had already “de-apologised”! All the excited crypto-Mahathiristas who had hailed this mother of hollow apologies were quickly left disappointed…
Before his de-apology, Mahathir’s supposed apology was executed in the manner of the ritual ‘maaf, zahir & batin’ that Malays express during Hari Raya Puasa. Anyway, we subsequently heard from the horse’s mouth that his apology was expected of Malay custom and that he was not saying sorry for any mistakes made during his 22-year rule. Any autocrat, any kleptocrat could easily do the same. If Najib does the same ritualistic apology tomorrow without even mentioning 1MDB, will he also be forgiven by the crypto-Mahathiristas?
But the suffering he imposed on individuals, families, communities and Malaysian taxpayers in general is precisely what Malaysians want him to apologise for…
So far, it has only been lawyer Aziz Bari from Pakatan Harapan who has rightly clarified that even if Mahathir apologises, it does not mean that he is absolved from prosecution for past wrongdoings. Indeed, in terms of human rights, democracy and justice, miscreant autocrats and kleptocrats cannot get away with 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.
Mahathir must prove he is a born-again democrat
Before Mahathir embarks on the GE14 campaign trail, he needs to demonstrate his credibility as a truly ‘born-again’ democrat. Otherwise, the trumpeted reforms he professes in GE14 will have no credibility at all. If he has indeed undergone a democratic transformation rather than merely wanting Najib out so that his son can rise up the political ladder, it is vital that he engages in a process of reconciliation and seeks clarity about the democratic space Malaysians are seeking. Thus, Mahathir needs to tell us how his thinking has changed from the time he was PM and now and what that means for democracy. First of all, does he even accept that there were terrible violations of human rights and financial scandals during his term in office?
Does he, for example, acknowledge that grave injustices were committed during Operation Lalang? Does he acknowledge that harm was done via the incarceration without trial, of key contributors who served the community in multiple ways? Does he acknowledge the hardships and psychological damage experienced by the detainees’ families? Does he acknowledge that many lives were destroyed even though some robotic politicians treated their detentions as “chilling out” time away from political work?
Does he acknowledge the lasting damage he was responsible for with our democratic institutions, such as the Judiciary, and which affects all Malaysians, to the present day. Najib has merely inherited Mahathir’s handiwork and then made the concentration of Executive powers even more fool proof!
If these PH politicians know anything about accountability and justice, they will know that the Malaysian people still want to ensure that former politicians get their just desserts and repay their dues to the rakyat. Is Mahathir willing to come to the table and be held to account?
Apologise to the many, not the few!
Let us not forget that some of our elite did rather well under Mahathir – some got favoured contracts including legal contracts, others gained from Mahathir’s privatisation policies in all areas including private higher education; politicians who were not physically tortured under Operation Lalang actually earned a badge of honour from their ISA detention which boosted their political careers. They might even want to thank Mahathir for his reign. As one of these PH leaders has recently confessed to being a crypto-Mahathirista while condemning Mahathir for decades: “Under Mahathir, we could hold our heads high, now under Najib…”
No, Mahathir may not owe these elite any apologies. He owes an apology not only to all the victims of Operation Lalang but also to the former Lord President and the Supreme Court judges that he sacked in 1988 and to the Malaysian rakyat for all the financial scandals since the seventies and eighties that have cost the rakyat billions of ringgit! Mahathir can be seen as the Father of Crony Capitalism in Malaysia. According to the social scientist Barry Wain, Mahathir squandered close to RM100 billion during his reign as Prime Minister. The leader of the Opposition knows of these scandals more than anyone else in this country – during the Eighties, he called Mahathir’s privatisation of our national assets, “piratisation”!
This is not to mention the billions lost through the Proton fiasco and its costs to the environment and the failure of a public transport system in the country. And don’t forget the RM5 billion arms deal that Mahathir signed with Margaret Thatcher in 1988 also led to allegations of “commissions” paid to UMNO which led to the “Arms for Aid” and “Buy British Last” furore in 1994.
Actually, if I had to say what was the worst thing that Mahathir did during his term in office, I would say it was the forced displacement of 10,000 indigenous peoples from 15 different ethnic communities from their Bakun ancestral lands. It was a wicked thing to do at a time when the Bakun dam project had been suspended as a result of the financial crisis in 1998. Then there were the hundreds of plantation communities and urban settlers displaced through Mahathir’s privatisation policies. These have been thoroughly documented through the years in SUARAM’s publications including our annual Human Rights Reports.
GE14 is about real reforms, not opportunism
Opportunism in its crudest form can be seen when politicians target an individual and not the political regime and political economic system that oppresses, divides and exploits the people. This so-called “Save Malaysia” campaign to only expel Najib but maintain rule of the same racist and exploitative dominant party is nothing short of pure opportunism. Does Mahathir’s “Pribumi” party intend to cleanse Malaysia from the racism and racial discrimination that we have suffered from since 1971?
Reforms that do not target the neoliberal economic policies that were set in fast motion by Mahathir in the early Eighties are not serious reforms. Taxes on the rakyat will continue and income disparities will continue to widen while the working class will continue to bear the burden of so-called development.
Najib has merely made more extreme the structures created by Mahathir to entrench the powers of the Executive, emasculate the democratic institutions and provide the means for private enrichment of the elite in this country. Mahathir’s legacy lives on in the racist and racial discriminatory policies that were entrenched during the early Eighties and further strengthened by Najib until today.
Press statement by SUARAM Adviser Kua Kia Soong 5 Mar 2017
It is amusing to watch Tun Mahathir continuing criticisms of China investments in Forest City in Johor and other multi-billion foreign direct investments (FDI) in the country. You would think that this is a new policy by Prime Minister Najib to seek such multi-billion inflow of FDIs.
When Japan was Flavour of the Month
In fact, it was Tun Mahathir’s policy in 1982 to “Look East” that started the trend of encouraging FDIs from a singular source. When he looked east then, without a 20/20 vision he could only see Japan. Beyond the fluffy talk of equating “Eastern values” with Japanese values, the Look East policy was actually a camouflage for an influx of Japanese foreign direct investments into Malaysia.
Before long, Malaysia’s iconic building at the time, the RM400 million Dayabumi Complex was built by a Japanese company and in a very short time, Japanese and South Korean construction companies bagged about RM5 billion in major contracts, frustrating local builders. (AWSJ, 8 March 1984) Malaysia’s national car was a partnership between HICOM and Mitsubishi; Japanese companies were favorites to win energy contracts during the Eighties and Nineties, and there were many more contracts won by Japanese investors. Before long, more and more Japanese were making Malaysia their “second home”. Did Tun Mahathir raise any alarm bells about any suspicious “Project IC” that might be used by these Japanese second homers?
And like a good student of his former mentor, Prime Minister Najib seems to be keen to carry out the second phase of the Look east Policy especially after the Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s recent visit to Malaysia. The Japanese investors are certainly eyeing the multi-billion KL-Singapore High Speed Rail project.
The East used to be Red
Ironically, in recent years it has been “Red China” that has rescued world capitalism, especially the US and the Eurozone from their sovereign debt crisis. China’s financial resources helped to contribute to solving the eurozone’s debt problem and to continue to sustain the US’ deficit. In the process, China has increased its investments in European industrial and infrastructure projects.
Closer to home, China’s latest mission is the timely purchase of our national assets that needed rescue after the recent 1MDB fiasco. Thus we can say that former “Red China” has rescued Malaysian capitalism and especially the political fortunes of Prime Minister Najib in the nick of time!
Thus, while Singapore, the US, and Japan have traditionally been Malaysia’s main trading partners, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has now become the country’s most important trading partner and source of FDIs. China has invested in manufacturing projects as well as in real estate such as the Malaysia-Kuantan Industrial Park as well as Bandar Malaysia, the main terminus of the planned High Speed Rail, Forest City in Johor Bahru, port development in Klang, Malacca, Kuantan and Tumpat. In infrastructure development, the PRC government-linked corporations have secured contracts for the RM55 billion East Coast Rail Link, the RM9 billion Gemas-Johor Bahru dual tracking project, as well as provisions of rolling stoc
Certainly, without transparency, such increased FDI will see more rent-seeking activities and strengthen Najib’s grip on power just as it did for Mahathir during the Aching Eighties.
Lessons from Mahathir’s Look East Policy
Mahathir’s Look East Policy should be a lesson for Malaysia to be wary of these multi-billion inflows of FDIs from singular sources. Despite the hype, Mahathir’s Look East Policy with massive Japanese FDI inflows failed to lift Malaysia out of the middle-income trap chiefly because the strategy was founded on utilizing unskilled and semiskilled local labour. Japanese companies were slow to invest in skill-intensive industries in Malaysia and even slower to transfer new technology to their Malaysian units. They tended to employ more expatriate managers than other foreign investors.
Will the latest purveyors of FDI largesse – the PRC and Saudi Arabia – be any different from the Japanese investors of the 1980s? Will they also be using mainly expatriate managers and relying on their own supply chains and raw materials? We should ensure that the failures of the past are not repeated and these foreign investors adhere to our local requirements.
Transparency in award of contracts
First, for a very different outcome, we need transparency over the award of all these multi-billion contracts to ensure that the successful tenders are made in the people’s interest, for the good of all. Next, we must ensure that the terms and conditions agreed in the contracts with foreign investors fully commit to: engaging and developing local human capital, enhancing enterprise development and applying clean technologies to Malaysian projects.
Most important of all, we have to ensure that these development projects do not violate or degrade our environment or encroach on the customary lands of our indigenous peoples such as the Mah Meri on Carey Island or in Sarawak and Sabah. If the PRC still claims to be Socialist, we could depend on it being more discriminating in its choice of investments to ensure that indigenous peoples’ rights are not violated.
Consolidating rule of law and good governance
For a firm people-centred strategy with foreign investors, the government must do much more to build trust at home by consolidating the rule of law and good governance, including stepping up efforts against corruption and enhancing policy and regulatory frameworks. Otherwise, there will be opportunities for rent-seeking activities and corruption, which will continue to suck the nation dry.
If foreign investors are to be rid of the excuse that we cannot provide the high skills they need, then we have to thoroughly reform our education system to provide specialised skills beyond basic education and to curb the brain drain. To ensure a healthy workforce, we need a good public health infrastructure, including a secure supply of clean water. Workers’ rights to unionise and collective bargaining are essential to eliminate child labour, workplace discrimination and will help to upgrade their skills and raise the motivation of Malaysian workers.