Sunday 23 September 2012

Ops Suaram: What next, BN? - Jeswan Kaur

The government is making sure it does all within its power to 'bury' Suaram, in any way possible.
It is no secret that Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud practically owns the state and together with his family and cronies has raked in millions allegedly using fraudulent means to clean up the state’s rainforest of its priceless timber.

Still, Taib who has been safeguarding his chief minister’s seat for 31 years now has never been prosecuted under any law, despite there being proof of his corrupt and meandering ways.

From the look of things, it seems that nothing is going to stop the 76-year-old Taib from further plundering Sarawak’s rainforest and usurping the native customary rights land of the indigenous people of Sarawak .
As to why and how he carries on playing villian, it is because Taib has both the backing and blessing of the federal government of Najib Tun Razak.

But when a human rights body, Suaram, turns protagonist and goes all out to expose the corruption involved in the purchase of two Scorpene submarines, the Najib administration promptly clamped down on Suaram’s efforts to reveal the truth.

On July 22 last year, William Bourdon, the French lawyer who had briefed an audience in Penang on the progress of a judicial probe into the Scorpene deal, was forcefully and unceremoniously deported back by the Malaysian government upon landing at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang.

Still, in spite of the obstacles thrown its way, the 23-year-old Suaram or Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Voice of the Malaysian People) is unfazed and is bent on completing its most “hazardous” task to-date, come what may.

For its courage to unveil the dirt behind the Scorpene scandal, Suaram deserves an applause for its endeavour to bring the culprits to book. But its task is far from easy.

Dragging the prime minister to France to testify as a witness is not going to be a smooth process for the already rattled Najib had five months ago refused to utter a word on anything related to Scorpene.

Suaram has submitted Najib’s name as a witness as he was the defence minister involved in the procurement of the submarine 10 years ago.

The Scorpene issue implicates Najib in the RM7.3 billion deal as well as the gruesome murder of Mongolian model Altantuyaa Shaariibuu.

Only time will tell whether Najib will eventually end in court in France, testifying as he has gone so far as to swear on the Quran at a mosque denying any link with the case and Altantuya.

Even Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who once claimed willingness to testify in the Scorpene deal, has opted to sing a different tune, saying the ministry would not send any representatives to France.

In the interim, the government is making sure it does all within its power to “bury” Suaram, in any way possible. Instructions have come trickling down that all attempts be made to character- assassinate the human rights body in the most dishonourable way possible.

Hence the “Suaram and foreign funding” and “Suaram and George Soros” news that of late have been “generated”.

BN’s scare tactics

Suaram came both under the media and government scrutiny recently due to its foreign source of funds, especially its association with currency speculator George Soros.

The latest “scare” is that six government agencies will take action against Suara Inisiatif Sdn Bhd, the operating entity of Suaram, under five sections of the Companies Act 1965.

“The Companies Commission Malaysia (CCM) has no power over Suaram as it is not registered as a society. As such, we are taking action against Suara Inisiatif Rakyat for its misleading accounts,” Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on Sept 18.

Ismail Sabri said the six agencies – CCM, Registrar of Societies, Bank Negara, Home Ministry, Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commissions (MCMC) and police – were not interested in the source of the organisations’ funds.

“We know where their funds come from, but [the issue is with] the way they report their accounts, which is misleading,” the minister had said.

Suaram, however, is far from jittery and remains focused on its case filed in France involving alleged kickbacks to top Malaysian officials over the Scorpene deal.

The charges levelled against Suaram by BN are funereal in nature and at best hypocritical. To Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Bersih) co-chairperson S Ambiga, the recent probe against Suaram raised suspicion that it was politically motivated.

“We also wish to question why the CCM has only launched its investigation now, after the president of Jaringan Melayu Malaysia (JMM) questioned Suaram’s legitimacy as an NGO,” Ambiga said last week, representing 135 NGOs .

Women’s Aid Organisation executive director Ivy Josiah said as the BN government too received funding for its programmes, did it amount to the government serving foreign interests?

Komas executive director Tan Jo Hann said the funding was given to support initiatives from the NGOs, not by the foreign funders.

“If you look into government-linked associations, you will similarly find that they also receive foreign funding,” Tan said.

While BN continues to fire its salvoes at Suaram, an equivocal word of caution has come from Ambiga, the former Malaysian Bar president:

“What we wish to tell the government today is that Suaram will not stand alone, we will support them,” Ambiga said.

What next, BN?

Jeswan Kaur is a freelance writer and a FMT columnist.

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