We have what appears to be one of the most inept, corrupt and foolish governments Malaysia has ever had the privilege of seeing in power. But is it really all that bad? Or is it that this government simply has no clue as to what to do or say in moments of crisis? Every time one occurs, as indeed one did in KUALK LUMPUR last week, the nation Marches helplessly as its leaders make a fool of themselves. Having been a journalist for three decades, one has seen worse, far worse governments, though not perhaps as corrupt. But never have I seen one that has both its feet so firmly in its mouth.
Almost everyone who speaks for the UMNO has zero communications skills and, curiously, none of them, from the Prime Minister downwards, have chosen a single convincing person to speak on their behalf. Their speech writers are lousier. More often than not, they make things worse by what they say.
One would like to assume that the Najib administration has the best and brightest from among the government ranks to be ministers.
And Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz is among the smartest in the Cabinet of 29 ministers. But his statement linking the PSM 6 to communism smacks of reasoning more applicable to kindergarten kids.
Would wearing a t-shirt that has the portrait of Mao Tse-Tung or Che Guevara or Rashid Maidin be equated with “deifying” or “glorifying” communism? Or just plain outdated fashion?
But even if we accept for argument sake his assertion that the six are “involved in glorifying communism”, it is shocking that government is using the Emergency Ordinance (EO).
“We don’t tolerate this because… how to explain to soldiers and soldiers’ families they died for nothing?” Nazri said today.
He stressed that the issue with the PSM detention was wholly a “security” issue and that the police were entitled to use whatever law necessary to ensure the nation’s safety.
Conveniently, both Nazri and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak have passed the buck to the police, who now also have additional duties of policing fashion.
To think that only the Bersih 2.0 logo is illegal because the coalition has been outlawed. It’s a circular argument that reflects the shallow thinking in the Home Ministry or security experts who advise the prime minister.
The long and short of this is that the government has mishandled Bersih 2.0 and is still trying to justify its wrong decisions ranging from initially banning yellow to reneging on a promise of a stadium to trying to bar 91 people from entering the city.
It is time we stopped “accepting and glorifying” incompetence in the police force, civil service and political leadership.
Wearing a t-shirt with Che Guevara’s mug is not supporting communism as much as is smoking a Cuban cigar. If that is the measure, then Umno leaders should also be locked up for inviting communist leaders for their annual assemblies.
French prosecutors edge closer to Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak
The noose could be tightening on one of Malaysia’s greatest military procurement scandals, the US$1 billion purchase of French-built Scorpène submarines commissioned by then-Defense Minister Najib Tun Razak in 2002.
The latest developments come at a time when Najib, as prime minister, has been touring Europe, meeting with Queen Elizabeth and Pope Benedict XVI in an effort to repair an image battered by an ugly crackdown on July 9 against tens of thousands of protesters asking for reforms of Malaysia’s electoral system, which is regarded as rigged to keep the ruling national coalitoin in power.
The scandal allegedly involves French politicians, the giant state-owned DCNS defense contractor and politicians and military procurement units across the world. The scandal netted a company owned by Najib’s close friend Abdul Razak Baginda, €114 million in “commissions,” according to testimony in Malaysia’s Parliament. Some of the money is rumored to have been kicked back to French and Malaysian politicians.
French investigators have been poring over DCNS records for months in connection with the larger scandal. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has declined to investigate the scandal, maintaining that the giant commission was payment for legitimate services.
“It is likely that in September we should have access to the first police conclusions from all the investigations that have taken place over the last 18 months,” Paris-based lawyer William Bourdon told Asia Sentinel Tuesday. “We know that the police seem to have obtained quite crucial documents.”
Bourdon, the leader of a team of lawyers investigating the case, is to visit Kuala Lumpur on July 20 to confer with Suaram, the NGO that has filed a complaint with French authorities over the scandal. The question in France is whether under French law an NGO can act as a complainant. That will be decided in coming days by a French judge, Bourdon said. He added that he is confident that he will succeed.
For years, Malaysian authorities have been trying to keep the scandal under the carpet. The matter broke into the open in 2006, however, with the gruesome murder of Mongolian translator and party girl Altantuya Shaariibuu, who had served as a translator for part of the submarine deal. She had been shot in the head and her body was blown up with military explosives, Her last words, according to a confession by one of her killers, was that she was pregnant. The fact that her body was blown up has led to suspicions that the killers were trying to hide evidence of who the father might be.
The French prosecutors are not expected to investigate Altantuya’s death as such. Instead, they are following the case on the basis that it is illegal to pay or take kickbacks in France. If the €114 million is found to be a kickback, the French prosecutors can act, Bourdon said.
According to Altantuya’s final letter, which was found in a hotel room after her death, she was supposed to have received a US$500,000 fee for her work. After a whirlwind courtship in which she was given thousands of dollars and whisked off to Paris and other destinations by Razak Baginda, who is married, according to testimony, Altantuya was jilted by and ended up in front of his Kuala Lumpur house, calling him a “bastard” and demanding that he come out to face her.
Shortly after that, a sedan full of Malaysian police officers pulled up and took her away. She was never seen alive again. In the letter left behind at her death, she said she had been blackmailing Razak Baginda, at that time a well-connected political analyst.
Two of Najib’s bodyguards have been convicted and sentenced to death for her murder. Abdul Razak Baginda was acquitted in a trial seemingly held to make sure top government officials’ names would not come out. He fled to the UK and has not been back to Malaysia since.
French investigators have been going through the state-owned DCN’s records for months. In France, the scandal has major implications. Tied to the global sales of weaponry have been deaths and scandal not only in Malaysia but in Pakistan, Taiwan and France itself. Allegations of kickbacks being examined by French prosecutors go clear up to former French President Jacques Chirac, former Prime Ministers Dominique de Villipin and Edouard Balladur and the country’s current president, Nicholas Sarkozy in addition to an unknown number current and former French defense executives. Military procurement officials in Taiwan, India, Chile and Brazil may be involved, in addition to Malaysia.
Lawyers for the families of 11 French engineers killed in a 2002 bomb attack in Karachi were quoted in April as saying they would file a manslaughter suit against Chirac, allegedly because he cancelled a bribe to Pakistani military officials in the sale of three Agosta 90-class submarines to that country’s navy. Sarkozy was Minister of the Budget when the government sold the subs, built by the French defense giant DCN (later known as DCNS) to Pakistan for a reported US$950 million.
Prosecutors allege that Pakistani politicians and military officials and middlemen received large “commissions” with as much as €2 million in kickbacks routed back to Paris to fund Balladur’s unsuccessful 1995 presidential campaign against Chirac. As budget minister, Sarkozy would have authorized the financial elements of the submarine sale. At the time he was the spokesman for Balladur’s presidential campaign and, according to French media, has been accused of establishing two Luxemburg companies to handle the kickbacks.
It is alleged that when Chirac was re-elected, the president canceled the bribes to the Pakistanis, which resulted in the revenge attack on a vehicle in which the French engineers and at least three Pakistanis were riding. For years, the Pakistanis blamed the attack on fundamentalist Islamic militants, including Al Qaeda.
L’affaire Karachi, as it is widely known in France, has been called the most explosive corruption investigation in recent French history. It may well be far bigger than just the unpaid bribes to the Pakistanis. Executives of DCNS embarked on a global marketing drive to sell the diesel-electric Scorpène-class subs, a new design. They peddled two to the Chilean Navy in 1997, breaking into a market previously dominated by HDN of Germany.
DCNS also sold six Scorpènes in 2005 with the option for six other boats, to India, whose defense procurement agency has been involved in massive bribery scandals in the past. Defense Minister George Fernandes was forced to step down in 2001 after videos surfaced of procurement officials taking bribes. In 2008, Gen. Sudipto Ghosh, the chairman of the Ordnance Factory Board, was arrested and seven foreign companies were barred from doing business in India as a result of a bribery scandal.
In 2008, DCNS also won a bid to supply four Scorpènes to Brazil. DCNS is to provide the hull for a fifth boat that Brazil intends to use as a basis for developing its first nuclear-powered submarine.
At about the same time the French engineers were murdered in 2002 in Karachi, Malaysia placed its US$1 billion order for two Scorpènes in the deal engineered by Najib. In exchange, a company wholly owned by Najib’s close friend, Abdul Razak Baginda, was paid the €114 million in “commissions,” according to testimony in the Malaysian parliament.
Although the Malaysians have done their level best to ignore the case, it remains alive in France. In April, Bourdon, Renaud Semerdjian and Joseph Breham filed a case with prosecutors in Paris on behalf Suaram, which supports good-governance causes and, Malaysian officials charge, is closely linked to opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
Any investigation into corruption at the levels now underway in France is inherently unpredictable given the interests involved. What began as a ripple in Paris may yet build into a tsunami threatening individuals and plans previously thought impervious to such a threat. Questioning Abdul Razak Baginda in the UK might be a place to start.
Pick up your newspaper any day and I can guarantee that you will see at least one item about the Supreme Court and many more about High Courts and lower courts. Why is our judiciary so much in the news? One reason, of course, is that many cases are interesting anyway. Another reason is that the courts, particularly the Supreme Court, get into areas which should really be in the ambit of the Executive.
Let me give some examples, the first being one which is agitating the Government of India so much that it is likely to go in appeal against the order. The case is of Hasan Ali, much in the news for the huge sums of money involved in the income tax – hawala scam. Not content to rebuke the government for moving too slowly in the matter, it has taken over the role of the Executive by appointing a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under two retired Supreme Court judges to look into the issue of black money. Astonishingly, the Supreme Court order goes beyond the specific case of Hasan Ali: the SIT, reporting directly to the court, has been asked to “prepare a comprehensive action plan, including creation of necessary institutional structures that can enable and strengthen the country’s battle against generations of unaccounted monies, and their stashing away in foreign banks or in various forms domestically.”
If Anna Hazare and his team had made such sweeping demands, we would have dismissed them as good intentions overcoming good sense, perhaps caused by a failure to see the different roles assigned by the Constitution to the ‘three estates’. But these aren’t vague social reformers talking; this is an order of the Supreme Court.
The order that you see above is one that should have ideally come from the Ministry of Finance. The SC order, in effect, takes over the governance function of very many executive agencies such as the Reserve Bank, the Enforcement Directorate, CBI, CBDT to name a few. Incidentally, by an amazing coincidence, on the very day the Supreme Court issued this order, the Finance Ministry came out with the proposal of making the Central Economic Intelligence Bureau the nodal agency for all economic offences, with all enforcement agencies compulsorily reporting to it.
This, of course, isn’t the first time that the Supreme Court has intervened in this way. The 2G probe, for example, is now being conducted solely under its directions. A look at the daily newspaper will tell you how our courts seem to be overstepping from the constitutionally assigned role for the judiciary in different fields: there’s the recent Supreme Court judgment which virtually tells the government how to fight the war against Naxals in Chhattisgarh. Local issues are not exempt either. These are examples picked up at random on one single day: “High Court orders probe into pollution near Taloja jail” or “Court raps BMC for squatters near water pipelines.” Where are the questions of law that are being resolved here? Aren’t these matters for the Executive, and the Executive alone?
Apart from the question of roles, these interventions also take up the courts’ time. In the meanwhile, the arrears of pending cases mount daily, denying justice to lakhs of people. Should clearing the backlog not be a greater priority for the courts? In many of these cases real legal questions crop up and can only be resolved by the judiciary. Many more are of vital importance to the litigants involved. Yet they have to wait for years and years for a resolution.
There is one more point I would like to raise without meaning any disrespect to the Supreme Court: why not set up an SIT to look into cases of corruption in the judiciary which have been alleged from an ex-CJI downwards to the lower courts? The Supreme Court seems to accord these a very low priority. Now suppose the government decided to take over an investigation into these allegations, how would the judiciary react?
There is never a dull moment in Pakistan. You’ll always find big news of one sort or another. If it’s not extremists killing hundreds of people in broad daylight in a crowded marketplace, then it’s a suicide bomber blowing himself up in a mosque or a shrine. If it’s not supporters of extremists rallying in the streets of Lahore or Islamabad, then it’s some kind of anti-America protest.
But this kind of political upheaval and violence happen in almost every country, more so if it’s an epicenter of al Qaeda and Taliban activities. What distinguishes a failed state from the rest is their response to such upheaval and the ability to restore law and order according to the wishes of the people. This ability is ensured by the leadership of the country. It was the leadership of Abraham Lincoln that united different states. It was the leadership of Lyndon Johnson that implemented civil rights. It was the leadership of Mohammad Ali Jinnah who lead a movement for the rights of Muslims in India. It was the leadership of Gandhi that got India freedom. Surely the standards of leadership have diminished in the last two decades. America was ruled by George W. Bush, and Pakistan is now ruled by a weak political establishment.
If you want to see an example of the sorry state of the current political leadership in Pakistan, consider the statements issued by government officials after the recent mayhem in Karachi. In just four days, as many as 100 people were brutally killed by rampaging gunmen in the streets. One would expect that the government would step in to put a stop to the carnage and vow to bring the killers to justice; instead, Interior Minister Rehman Malik claimed that the reported figures of deaths due to targeted killings was not accurate.According to
the Minister, 70 percent of the victims died at the hands of their wives or girlfriends. It’s not a joke that most Pakistanis wished Malik had a wife or girlfriend like that. Even if one were to accept Malik’s creative explanation, wouldn’t it makes sense to ask why law and order was not maintained? Are rogue-minded wives and girlfriends above the law?
Two days after the paramilitary was called in to restore calm in the city and the two political parties — PPP and MQM representatives — cooled down their ferocious war of words, the Interior Minister claimed that foreign forces were behind the unrest, saying that Israeli-made weapons were being used by “miscreants” in the killings. If one were to follow the Minister’s explanations to their logical end, one would conclude that the aforementioned wives and girlfriends got ahold of Israeli-made weapons, or that Israel declared war with Pakistan and hired proxies to do its dirty work in the streets of Karachi. Such theories truly boggle the mind.
Baluchistan is a province that has been plagued by waves of kidnappings, killings, a separatist insurgency and sectarian violence. The situation there is also blamed on a foreign conspiracy, and the army is periodically sent in to quell the violence. Surely most politicians believe that army is not the answer and a political deal is required to resolve the issues within Baluchistan. Apparently a political resolution is not possible, because the Chief Minister of the province is busy dealing with his own “health issues
The same chief minister, Raisani, has courted controversy before. A few months ago, the local media and members of a few political parties started identifying public officials who had fake degrees. Several were dismissed from their positions. Some of them even managed to get back into the political scene after their voters re-elected them. The issue turned into a national saga. Responding to the scandal, Baluchistan’s chief ministerremarked
that “a degree is a degree, no matter whether it’s authentic or fake.”
These incidents reveal that Pakistan is not only facing serious terrorism threats on daily basis from insurgents and militants, but also a grave crisis of political leadership. The insurgent threat cannot be defeated with military force alone. Pakistan’s political leaders have to demonstrate strong will and vision. The unfortunate reality is that Pakistan is suffering from a leadership vacuum and the politicians are neither serious about their jobs nor willing to act responsibly.