Tuesday 11 September 2012

‘Government also funded foreign NGOs’

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian government and several local corporations gave financial support to anti-apartheid movements in South Africa in the 80s, said Centre for Independent Journalism executive director Masjaliza Hamzah
“We are also providing support to pro-Palestinian cause. Civil society movements have to secure funds from wherever they can to manage their operations,” Masjaliza said at a press conference here today.
Earlier, over 130 NGOs voiced their solidarity with Suaram as the latter is currently under the government’s radar for allegedly breaching provisions under the Companies Act.
Among the NGOs present today were Lawyers for Liberty (LFL), Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), Tenaganita and Sisters in Islam.
Yesterday, English daily The Star reported that Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob as urging Bank Negara to investigate allegations that Suaram was receving funding from an American organisation linked to billionaire financial speculator, George Soros.
“This is because the issue involves the transfer of money from the United States. I hope Bank Negara will do something,” Ismail reportedly said.
It was also reported earlier that Suaram had registered itself under the Registrar of Companies (ROC) instead of Registrar of Societies (ROS).
Masjaliza said that many NGOs such as Suaram registered themselves with the ROC due to various red tapes imposed by the ROS on the registration of civil society movements.
“The Home Minister has the power to arbitrarily deregister a society under the ROS with no judicial review. However, the ministry cannot do so for companies,” said Masjaliza.
‘Buying submarines or cows?’
Suaram adviser Kua Kia Soong pointed out that even former prime ministers, Tunku Abdul Rahman and Hussein Onn, were not allowed to register human rights movement, Hakam, in 1989 and had to register it under ROC.
On receiving foreign funding, Kua said that receiving funds from other countries did not mean that the civil society movements were under the thumbs of foreign powers.
He said that Suaram was a principled civil society movement that stood firm on the tenets of human rights and had not wavered since its inception in 1989.
“But the same can’t be said about the Malaysian government. We supported the Palestinian and the Bosnian cause which was good but decided to support the Indonesian government on the East Timor issue,” said Kua.
Pusat Komunikasi Masyarakat (Komas) executive director Tan Jo Hann challenged the Malaysian government to open its books on how it is spending taxpayers’ money instead of targeting Suaram.
“Tell us what are you doing with our money. Buying submarines or buying cows?” asked Tan.
Meanwhile, Bersih co-chairperson S Ambiga said she was horrified on how Suaram is being persecuted by the authorities despite being a respected human rights movement.
She said that in a globalised world, it was common for anyone from anywhere to contribute on issues close to their hearts.
“It’s not a crime as long as the funds are accounted for. No civil society movement will have any issues with authorities investigating our books as we are transparent,” said Ambiga.
However, Ambiga described the government’s move to single out Suaram as an attempt to divert attention from the Scorpene submarine purchase being investigated by the French courts.
“It’s attempt to kill the messenger. Remember that the more you try to kill the messenger, the louder the message becomes,” she said.

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