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All aboard the sinking mothership?

Manjit Bhatia  |  Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | Whichever coalition wins power on May 9 will most likely find itself sitting on a pile of new cash, courtesy of Petronas, the state oil firm, as world oil price approaches US$70 a barrel. It’s been a while coming but a financial bonanza is on the cusp.

It’ll lead to more interesting times, though not necessarily happy times. After all, Malaysia is historically notorious for opacity and poor governance across its state institutions - emblematic of decades of systemic rot, neglect and misuse of public finances by the Umno state.

Global ratings agencies have held Malaysia’s credit rank at A3 (stable) on average over 2017-18. These strange creatures have their own methodologies for calculating risk. All they want to know is if a country is good for its debt.

But Fitch recently noted “weaker governance standards” in Malaysia, as well as “lower levels of income per capita and human development compared to the median for sovereigns rated in the ‘A’ category.” The "official" Malaysian statistics tell another story. And then there is you, the voters, with your interpretation and narrative of "reality".

If political stability and governance erodes further, Malaysia’s rating will turn negative. Clearly Malaysians will wear that burden harder, especially the working class and farmers. Both final sentences sound like tautology but there you have it: rating agencies are as predictable as Malaysian politics. None of this should surprise anyone.

Malaysiakini columnist James Chai recently asked what’s wrong with Malaysia. Well, everything! History in Malaysia has a peculiar habit of repeating itself as fast as a rat-pedalled spinning wheel.

Since 1970, ruling regimes have routinely abused public coffers. Several big ones happened under Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s watch. But the mother of all Malaysian scandals can’t go past 1MDB - under Najib Razak. It remains mysteriously unresolved. As long as it does, it’ll hang like an alabaster around Najib’s neck.

Only if Pakatan Harapan wins the May 9 elections will the Official Secrets Act be removed to reveal, potentially, grand larceny and the true state of 1MDB finances and culpability. So far Najib’s tool man, 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy, stands before the vault of secrets like a Praetorian guard.

If anybody should be raising hell and questions of probity of 1MDB, Najib and his continuously bungling regime, it should be those Malays, Chinese, Indians and the real bumiputeras who are considering voting for the Najib regime. They’re the ones who Najib and Arul Kanda have been snafuing with their evasions. It’s these voters' and their children's and grandchildren's money too - as it is of Harapan supporters’ - that has vanished into thin air.

Something else voters should note, and ask - in spite of Najib's cravenly anti-fake news law – is Arul Kanda’s road trips around Malaysia. Apparently, he’s “explaining” to the public the “business” of 1MDB. Fine – if that’s what he’s been doing. But he hasn’t. He’s being evasive while his puppet-master Najib has gone strangely mute on 1MDB.

Strange because some US$700 million was found stashed in his personal bank accounts at the height of revelations of the 1MDB scandal. Strange because Arul Kanda began his roadshow right as Najib called elections. That's one hell of a coincidence.

There’s a gulf of difference between Arul Kanda explaining the business of 1MDB and his “campaigning” for Najib with Najibist spin. Perhaps there’s truth in Arul Kanda’s words after all: he boasted last Thursday that he’s 1MDB’s “big and powerful tool”. Indeed.

Note that he has regularly failed to explain anything, customarily employing “commercial-in-confidence” excuses as tool of his trade. 

Accounting obfuscations

The 1MDB saga doesn’t end there. With more than US$4.5 billion missing, likely stolen, these BN voters should ask how much more battering to Malaysia’s sullied international image, courtesy of Najib and Co, are they prepared to endure.

Under the circumstances, it would be utterly idiotic for anyone to consider Najib a “statesman” - a term cavalierly used by unthinking people, by sycophants, a term that once hailed Mahathir. One does not glorify racists, any more than one does thieves and monsters.

But don’t stop there. Pro-BN voters should also wonder if the tens or hundreds of millions ringgit Najib is spending on wholly corrupting GE14, and bribing people to garner their votes, is ethical, moral and legal. They should also ask how Najib is financing his cowardice and illegality in conjunction with those in the Election Commission and the Registrar of Societies.

Somehow the US$700 million that was found in Najib’s personal safe - which he most incredulously said he had returned to his extremely generous - and unidentified (Saudi) - Arab donor, comes into full glare. This is not halal money; it’s ‘duit haram’.

There’s more. With Arul Kanda’s persistent accounting obfuscations and Najib’s ongoing cowardly dodging, the one other obvious question is what impact will 1MDB’s “missing” US$4.5 billion have on the lives of Malaysians – and the environment and the economy - over the medium term to long run.

This one is yet to be worked out in full, although nobody can deny there isn’t or won’t be a direct net effect. After all, Najib’s goods and services tax has delivered a deleterious effect on lower middle and working-class people.

Ask what the opportunity cost will be. Ask what will RM20 billion (roughly US$4.5 billion) buy Malaysians on low and stagnant wages. Add to this the large-scale bribery that's afoot in this election, as every other since 1969, that is so typical of corrupt Malaysia - the dirtiness of money politics, the dirtiness of Najib’s BR1Ms, even the Mercedes C200, valued at RM300,000, that an Umno politician is ‘gifting’.

How many poor ‘kampung’ Malays, Chinese, Indians and the real bumiputeras will this sum of money feed, clothe, house, bring piped water, sanitation, electricity, clinics and medicines to in their regions? Another Malaysiakini columnist P Gunasegaram has nicely elucidated what ordinary Malaysians could have in lieu of the massive 1MDB rort.

Other rorts abound - unchecked. So how much more of their treasured lives, and for how much longer, will these voters - you! - be prepared to forfeit or surrender to MO1 whose deception harks back to 2002; to Umno whose deception harks back to 1946; to BN whose deception harks back to 1973 (and its predecessor the Alliance Party, harking back to 1957); to Najib’s “big and powerful” toolman Arul Kanda since 2015?

Surely after 61 years of incessant lies, deviousness and Umno-dominated ‘kleptokrasi’, the party must end. Or else the canard and suffering continues.

And Malaysia’s already hugely tarnished image - as an insidiously corrupt and racist country, in spite of its pretensions of being a democracy, religiously devout and conservative - gets flayed even more around the world as nothing more than an archetypal Third World state.


MANJIT BHATIA is a US-based Australian academic, researcher and analyst in New Hampshire.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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