Saturday 11 August 2012

Whistleblower Rafizi and his political impact — Galvin Wong

AUG 11 — On August 1, 2012, online media headlines were filled with news of Rafizi Ramli being arrested and charged together with Johari Mohamad, formerly of Public Bank.

They were charged with breaching the Banking and Financial Institutions Act 1989 (BAFIA), an Act that prevented anyone from disclosing confidential accounts of private companies. Their hearing will be on September 10.

There has since been widespread talk about public anger and how this will be detrimental to the current government. This article analyses the political impact the charging and the possible jailing of Rafizi will have on both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat, and we first look how this action affects almost the whole cross section of society in Malaysia.

It is arguable that if another whistleblower besides Rafizi were jailed, the political impact generated on the rural folks of Malaysia would not have been very strong. After all, the people in rural areas mainly focus on constituent issues and the importance placed on national issues such as these are much lesser than urban people.

However, the National Feedlot Centre is an issue that strongly affects rural areas. This is because if the NFC programme would have been administered well, it would have been the rural folks who would have been the main benefactors.

This factor combined with the fact that Rafizi was the man that stood up to reveal the corruption involved, thus immediately gaining him popularity was jailed, would have made the rural folks sit up and take notice.

The second section of society strongly affected by this would be the older urban folk. They are strongly affected by national issues and battling corruption is one of their top priorities. The jailing of a whistleblower is the complete opposite of what they want and would increase the anger they already feel from past injustices.

Finally and perhaps the most important section of the society that will be affected come GE13 is the younger people. The young people understand the issue at hand and possess the similar wants of the older urban folk — a government that battles corruption.

Rafizi himself is young, on the forefront of policy making (reform of the National Automotive Policy) and revealing corruption (George Kent scandal is his latest expose) and especially popular among the students because he was the face behind the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) policy.

The fact that he is an excellent orator and debator (PTPTN debate with Khairy Jamaluddin) just raises his star further. These characteristics have made him a popular leader among both the young people and the older urban folk.

Both these factors and the media attention generated for him will make him much more popular and well-known as well as dealing BN’s popularity a big blow.

Although the prime minister has since come out to justify why the government decided to charge Rafizi, it is unlikely that the impact would reduce much because, firstly, people believe that although the law was followed to the letter, the government should have withheld the charge in the spirit of fighting corruption.

Rafizi’s reasoning of not trusting the MACC because the organization itself has no integrity rings well with people. The Teoh Beng Hock fiasco is not one that is easily forgotten.

We must also not forget the side effects from this episode. There would be much increased scrutiny placed on other ongoing scandals as well as the current trial of Mohamad Salleh Ismail. Already both Anwar Ibrahim and Rafizi himself have stated that they believe this possible jailing as being related to the George Kent scandal Rafizi has been highlighting.

Tony Pua immediately refocused public attention on this issue as well as to the question of why Mohamad Salleh Ismail was not charged to the full extent of the law.

Out from all this, what does BN gain? Two things. The possibility of putting Rafizi away and for the long term, discouraging many more whistleblowers from stepping forward.

Jailing Rafizi would not only mean that there will be one less winnable candidate for GE13, it would also mean that there will be one less leader for PR who able to understand and speak clearly on economic and policy issues.

In PR, there are perhaps only three who understand the numbers thoroughly and are able to speak with authority on economic policy matters. They are Tony Pua, Rafizi, and Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad. Losing one of them would be a big blow to PKR especially in run up to GE13 where they would want to put forth new policies that appeal to voters. Even if someone were to step up to take Rafizi’s place, his words and statements would carry less weight and publicity than Rafizi’s did.

In conclusion, it was an extremely poor decision by BN to do what it did. But it is not too late to withdraw the charge now; the opposition would be claiming victory but at least people would see a side to BN that is hardly seen — the side that admits its mistakes and is willing to change.

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