Monday 4 June 2012

Only way out - change the government

COMMENT The simultaneous announcement on May 31 by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) on the following three corruption issues has once again brought into sharp focus the severely criticised integrity and independence of the commission:
  • Former minister and current Wanita Umno chief Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, whose husband and children had been landed with a plum multi-million government project (National Feedlot Corporation or NFC) a few years ago under highly dubious circumstances, is finally pronounced innocent of  improprieties after many months of swirling controversy.
  • Opposition PKR deputy president Azmin Ali’s 17-year-old corruption allegation, abandoned for further investigation then due to lack of corruption evidence, is now re-opened for further investigation with lightning speed upon a blogger highlighting the case in his website.
  • No further progress to the age-old investigation into the chief ministers of both Sabah and Sarawak, whose legendary corruption scandals are now world renown due to the long-running and continuous surfacing of stunning evidence in the cyberworld of their improprieties and fabulous unaccounted-for wealth.
As if the above glaring double standard applied by our law enforcers to leaders of the ruling coalition and its opponents is not enough to discredit the the Barisan Nasional (BN) government, Bank Negara (Malaysia’s central bank) also stepped into the fray by summoning the whistle-blower of the NFC scandal for interrogation.

PKR strategic director Rafizi Ramli, who has been diligently exposing the many legal and financial improprieties of the project, was grilled for breach of the Banking and Financial Institutions Act (Bafia) for having disclosed banking details of players in the scandal.

Let me briefly touch on each of these scandals.

The NFC scandal

The exoneration of Shahrizat from wrongdoing immediately triggers off an alarm bell. It begs the question of whether a public servant can from now on openly commit corruption as long as the corrupt government largesse is parked under the name of his wife and children?

nfc office frontHe may ask: If a minister’s spouse and family can legally receive an underserved windfall from the government through the minister’s connection, why can’t I also do the same? Doesn’t this MACC ruling open the floodgate of open corruption by public servants?

What constitutes an act of corruption? Apart from the obvious case of receiving or giving a bribe, taking or giving undue favours through wrongful exercise of authority, or even interference of due process with illegitimate motive can also be considered corruption.

It is pertinent to remind ourselves that Anwar Ibrahim was sentenced to six years’ jail under a charge of corruption simply because he was alleged to have interfered with police investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct.

(In this case, it was an obvious miscarriage of justice, as the prosecution evidence of sexual misconduct was exposed in court to be a hoax, prompting the judge to hurriedly expunge all such relevant evidence in order to save the prosecution case from collapsing.)

I mention the Anwar case to demonstrate how far MACC has deviated from the high standard with which our laws define corruption.

Shahrizat’s family was given a pivotal national project to build up the country’s beef production and supply industry, for which they received a RM250 million soft loan and a RM13 million grant, despite being eminently unqualified - having neither the know-how nor the financial capacity to fulfill the mission.

azlanThe project was a flop as only miserable amount of beef was produced. Meanwhile, the family had splurged tens of million of ringgit from the loan and grant to acquire assets unrelated to the project, such as luxurious condos and commercial premises, premier housing lands, expensive limousine and high-end restaurants, in addition to each of the family members receiving exorbitant monthly salaries.

To any casual observer, this is an obvious case of high corruption, but not our MACC. After passing the ball to the police for months on ground that there was no corruption element, MACC finally relented under public pressure and agreed to investigate.

After a lapse of another few months, MACC finally came out with the current verdict: Shahrizat is not guilty.

How credible is this so-called investigation when the chief accusers, Rafizi and his colleagues, who have constantly exposed new evidences of improprieties were not interviewed even once by MACC to obtain their statements?

Would Shahrizat’s family have been given such a project if she had not been a cabinet colleague of the top decision-makers, considering that the family had no merit of their own whatsoever to qualify for such an undertaking?

Obviously, this is a favour granted to Shahrizat in her position as a key political ally to the top Umno leadership. As a result of this favour (or even a trade-off), the family had enjoyed enormous pecuniary benefits - benefits that Shahrizat cannot possibly dissociate herself from.

If such illegitimate favouritism and financial benefits received by Shahrizat and her family is not  corruption, then what is?

Apart from Shahrizat having to answer for this apparent corrupt practice, the bigger culprits are the top decision-makers who awarded the project.

Both Premier Najib Abdul Razak, as chairperson of the high-impact project committee, and Deputy Premier Muhyiddin Yassin as then agriculture minister, who had jointly approved the award of the project, are clearly duty-bound to answer the questions as to why and how they had reached their decision. Unless satisfactory answers are forthcoming from them, they will be deemed guilty of abuse of power and corruption.

As far as we know, MACC has not even commenced investigation in this direction.

MACC has often prided itself as an independent institution which pursues the corrupt without fear or favour. Now is the time to show its mettle.

MACC, are you up to the task of uncovering the truth from Najib and Muhyiddin, who are the obvious potential culprits? If you are not, then please stop the nonsensical claim that you are an independent institution and a fearless corruption buster.

Azmin’s corruption allegation

On May 29, blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin (RPK) on the Malaysia Today website, accused Anwar Ibrahim of influencing the then-Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA, forerunner of MACC) to stop the investigation on allegation of corruption against Azmin Ali back in 1995. As a result, RPK said, the case was buried until he was given the investigation file recently by an ex-ACA officer, hence the current expose.

RPK further claimed that ACA had found enough evidence to arrest and prosecute Azmin then, but had refrained from doing so due to orders to shelve the case. RPK also exhibited part of the file on the website.

Within hours of this RPK posting, MACC swung into immediate action by lodging a police report. The next day, MACC’s Operations Review Panel convened a meeting during which it decided to re-open investigation on the case.

Many Malaysians must have been amazed (or perhaps amused) by the uncharacteristically super efficiency displayed by MACC over this almost ancient allegation against Anwar-Azmin, being already accustomed to its customary lethargy in probing the many BN-linked mega scandals.
But what is the truth of RPK’s allegation?

NONEImmediately after the RPK accusation, then-ACA director general Shafee Yahya at the material time, whose biography by his wife Kalsom Taib entitled ‘The Shafee Yahya Story’ had already thrown light on this incident, came out to strongly deny such allegation. Shafee categorically said that the investigation on Azmin was discontinued not because of any order but because the probe had not uncovered strong elements of corruption to warrant prosecution.

Shafee has been recognised as a man of impeccable integrity, whose rectitude and moral  courage shone through in his now famous raid on the office of the powerful Economic Planning Unit (EPU) director-general Ali Abul Hassan (a top Mahathir Mohamad confidante) where Shafee uncovered large amount of unaccounted-for cash in Ali’s drawer back in 1998.

For that raid, Shafee incurred the wrath of then-premier Mahathir who angrily rebuked the former and ordered the case against Ali Hassan closed. Several months later, Shafee found his tenure as DG of ACA truncated upon expiry of his service contract.

As we have the highest respect for Shafee’s honesty, we have no question over his version of the story on this Azmin episode.

The question we have is: why has MACC’s operation suddenly switched into such high gear over this apparently archaic and inconsequential allegation as if this is a matter of top national urgency, while it continues to crawl at its usual snail’s space over other BN mega corruption investigations that are a thousand times graver?

Isn’t it obvious that by practicing such awful double standards at this time, MACC has in effect turned itself into a part of the BN propaganda juggernaut to sabotage Pakatan Rakyat’s electoral prospects ahead of the imminent general election?

The scandal-ridden CMs of Sarawak and Sabah

The long reigning warlord-cum-timber baron of Sarawak, Chief Minister extraordinaire Taib Mahmud (since 1981), needs no introduction. His fabulous wealth, derived principally from his ruthless exploitation of Sarawak’s rainforest for personal gain and his monopoly of lucrative government contracts, is too enormous to enumerate.

azlanTaib’s assets have been chronicled to the minutest details in recent years in the Internet, particularly in Sarawak Report and the Bruno Manser Fund, an outline of which was summarised in my article on Malaysiakini on April 2, 2011.
Suffice to say that Taib’s fortune, valued at billions of ringgit, is spread far and wide across the globe. These assets, held under scores of family-linked companies, encompass oversea real estates, enterprises at home and abroad, and large areas of Sarawak land dubiously alienated from the ancestral land of the native inhabitants (known as NCR land).

There have of course been many reports lodged against Taib over the past few years, but all to no avail. These reports, well documented with incontrovertible evidence of corruption, seem to have sunk to the bottom of the sea, as MACC has steadfastly refused to divulge its position over the Taib corruption issue, as if the subject is taboo.

It looks set that Taib will continue his high pillage of Sarawak with impunity as he has done for the past three decades. That is, while BN is still in the helm at Putrajaya.

azlanSabah Chief Minister Musa Aman’s timber corruption allegation came into the limelight when his agent Michael Chia was caught red handed with RM16 million worth of Singapore currency at the Hong Kong International Airport on Aug 14, 2008. When Chia was arrested, he reportedly pleaded with the police to release him on the grounds that the money belonged to Musa Aman and he was only an agent smuggling the money.

Subsequently, MACC launched a major investigation into timber corruption in Sabah and found, among others, Musa had corruptly awarded timber concessions worth tens of million of ringgit to his brother, Foreign Minister Hanifah Aman (via nominee companies), according to leaked MACC documents, as reported by Sarawak Report (part of the leaked documents were exhibited in the latter’s website).

Sarawak Report also said that this MACC investigation was, however, blocked by attorney-general Abdul Gani Patail who is also from Sabah, and related by marriage to the Aman family.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) had been busy investigating into money laundering sourced from Sabah timber corruption, following the arrest  of Chia.

It had uncovered the entire network of the multi-billion timber corruption money trail from Sabah via Hong Kong, British Virginia Island to its final destination, Switzerland, where the money is deposited into Musa’s personal account in UBS Zurich.

A flow chart illustrating this complicated network of money flow was passed on to MACC, a copy of which is now with Sarawak Report. This flow chart gives elaborate details of names of account holders, bank account numbers and amounts transacted. The chart together with bank statements showing payers (Sabah timber tycoons) and payees (Musa’s nominees) can be viewed here.

However, these investigations in both Malaysia and Hong Kong have not reached any fruitful conclusion, as inter-country cooperation was blocked, again by Gani, when the latter refused to sign a co-operation agreement, according to Sarawak Report.

With Gani standing in the way, do not expect any new development in MACC’s investigation of Musa Aman timber corruption scandal. And Gani will stay as AG, while BN is still in Putrajaya.

Rafizi Ramli - turning a hero into a villain?

The interrogation of Rafizi by Bank Negara for breach of the Bafia reflects very badly on the BN government.

It is a vindictive move to punish the whistleblower, not an act to uphold the law.

NONERafizi (right) has in truth done the nation a great service by diligently and conscientiously exposing improprieties in a major public project failure that led to prosecution of a culprit. So, why should he be punished just because he had to disclose certain banking details in the course of performing his civic duty?

Section 97 of Bafia is intended to safeguard legitimate confidentiality of account holders, not to shield the illegitimate banking transactions of the corrupt.

So any attempt to use Section 97 against Rafizi is not only morally wrong, but also legally untenable.

Does BN also realise that such a sinister move against Rafizi is tantamount to admitting that its top leadership had a hand in these sordid NFC affairs, otherwise, why should it seek retaliation and intimidation through Bank Negara?

If the leadership of BN has any cow sense, it should cease such abhorrent action forthwith.

Looking over the above narration, doubters of BN’s critics should be satisfied that this BN government is not going to bring the country to where it promises to bring - transformation, greater prosperity, greater unity, etc, etc. BN’s abuse of our institutions to serve its parochial political interests in contemptuous disregard for law and decency has gotten from bad to worse.

One should be convinced by now that the BN leadership has neither the political will nor the capacity to reform or “transform” (coining Najib’s rhetoric), and the result can only be: greater corruption, more abuse of power and worsening social dissension and antagonism.

There is only one way out for the country: change the government.

KIM QUEK is a retired accountant and author of the banned book ‘The March to Putrajaya’.

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