Monday, November 5, 2007

You've Blown It, Pak Blah

November 5th - Guy Fawkes Day - has taken on a fresh meaning with the wide popularity of the 2006 movie V for Vendetta. All the more so when 100,000 people are expected to assemble at Dataran Merdeka in the heart of Kuala Lumpur five days from now, on November 10th 2007, to demand electoral and judicial reforms.

A petition will be delivered to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (chief representative of all the monarchs) requesting royal intervention in the current impasse between the Malaysian government and the people on a multitude of critical issues - in particular the rotten state of the Judiciary which has been sliding down the slippery slope of ignominy since 1988, when former prime minister Dr Mahathir sacked the Lord President, Salleh Abbas - along with several senior judges - for refusing to kowtow to the Executive.

I'm not generally a political animal - but it's inevitable that when things are truly rotten in the state of public affairs, you'll get more than a whiff of the unbearable stench. This is one such occasion when I, as a private citizen of this country, am prompted to make a public stand - or forever hold my peace. The way I have chosen to do so is by speaking my mind to our prime minister in the fervent hope that he will take sober stock of the situation and come to his senses before our beloved nation is thrown into further disharmony and disrepute - thereby disintegrating our dreams of genuine peace, prosperity and a fair deal for all.


Dear Pak Blah (I'm sorry if this sounds disrespectful but that moniker has gained popular usage amongst your detractors because it expresses so precisely and wittily your greatest weakness):

Four years ago when you took over the helm from Dr M, there was an audible sigh of relief. Truth be told we had grown terribly weary of seeing the Old Man's scowling face every day on the front pages of our newspapers, and hearing his snarling, metallic voice on the radio. Five years of seeing the ISA being misused to imprison all those demanding Reformasi and Justice for Anwar Ibrahim - and witnessing the Polis Di Raja Malaysia (Royal Malaysian Police) being turned into a lawless pack of Rottweilers under IGP Rahim Noor serving only their political masters. Families were split down the middle between Mahathir loyalists who had benefited from his political patronage and young reformists impatient for a change of management.

When you became PM it was more a change in management style than in the management itself. Umno still called the shots on almost every aspect of official policy. However, it was refreshing to see a smiling face and to hear a firm but gentle voice promising us a major overhaul of the government machinery. For the first couple of years, your public image of accessibility and reasonability was carefully cultivated.

The new PM listens to other views and makes important decisions by consensus - that was the official spin. Indeed, you won my admiration by saying favorable things about NGOs and citizen action groups. You even invited dissident groups to work with the government of the day rather than against it. People across the board had had enough of street action, water cannons, mace and police truncheons. Everybody really just wanted things to return to normal - after all, we all have personal lives we want to get on with. Nobody likes conflict, least of all Malaysians ("Cornflakes okay but we dowan conflicts," says the typical Malaysian raised on a diet of silly American sitcoms.)

We were secretly pleased that you decided to scrap a few mega projects mooted during Dr M's tenure. Who wants their grandchildren to be born in debt? Your late wife Endon Mahmood won our hearts with her passionate interest in nurturing the arts and the entire nation mourned when she succumbed to breast cancer in October 2005. At that point, Pak Blah, you had the nation's support and sympathy. Even when you took to spouting platitudes and saying the most banal things at public events, we overlooked it as a minor shortcoming. At least you managed to sound generally benign and avuncular.

Indeed, many of us simply shrugged when word reached our ears about the unseemly ambition and greed of your son-in-law KJ (that young hooligan with an Oxbridge accent). He couldn't be all bad, we consoled ourselves. A young man dabbling in Umno politics, making hay while the sun shines, perhaps. Once he's made his first billion he'll cool down. And with a little more maturity he might turn out to be an asset; after all he's well educated and seems like a bright young man.

Even when Dr M got restless and started railing against your administration, you had our sympathy for the most part. The Old Man misses the limelight, we laughed. Right up to that point, Pak Blah, you still had my respect - especially when you maintained an elegant silence rather than lash out publicly at your truculent accuser. You even humbled yourself to meet him at his residence in an attempt to work things out. That was laudable.

So what went wrong after that? For me the most appalling indication of serious disorder beyond the usual issues of cronyism, corruption and incompetence was the vicious murder of the Mongolian woman. Around that time a few Malaysian bloggers began publishing some ugly facts pertaining to defence ministry kickbacks of unbelievable magnitude. Five hundred million ringgit in commissions paid out to Abdul Razak Baginda, the man arrested on suspicion of abetting the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu? A close friend and business associate of defence minister Najib Razak who also happens to be your deputy?

Two policemen implicated in the brutal killing who turn out to be the minister's personal bodyguards? The Mongolian woman's body blown to bits with C4 explosives unavailable to anyone outside the defence ministry? We expected a solemn announcement from you: "I have instructed my deputy to take a temporary leave of absence while police investigations are underway. I urge the public to refrain from jumping to hasty conclusions. We take a grim view of this matter and will ensure that justice runs its course regardless of where it may lead. The dignity, honor and integrity of the Malaysian government are at stake."

No such announcement came. Instead we were subjected to the grotesque spectacle of a bumbling and obviously flustered Attorney-General doing everything he could to sabotage the murder trial - including switch prosecutors 24 hours before the start of the trial, thereby causing a 2-week postponement. When it surfaced in court that somebody had ordered the deletion of immigration records pertaining to the entry of the murdered woman and her cousin into Malaysia, we expected a full probe ordered by the head of immigration (who is answerable to the Home Minister, namely you, Pak Blah) into how such an outrageous crime could have been committed. And when the murdered woman's cousin testified in court that she was once shown a photograph of Altantuya Shaariibuu dining in France with two Razaks, nobody stood up and asked who had possession of the incriminating photo. Indeed, the court could easily have subpoenaed the photograph as evidence that the defence minister had told a bare-faced lie when he denied knowing the Mongolian beauty. After all, she was reported to have served as translator for the defence ministry consultant during negotiations in 2005 for the purchase of French submarines, when the defence minister himself would also have been in France.

It doesn't require a Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot to connect a few dots in this sordid case. In failing to act decisively and impartially to get to the bottom of it all, the entire Malaysian government is in danger of being an accomplice to a capital crime - or at least to an excruciatingly clumsy and stupid cover-up. While it is true that the governments of other, more developed countries like the US, the UK, and Israel may well be guilty of criminal and murderous behavior, that does not exempt us from culpability.

Apart from the negative karma accruing from the Altantuya case, you have blown it in many other ways - too many to enumerate here but, off the top of my head, here are a few glaring instances of arrogance compounded by stupidity:

In May 2004 a coalition of civil society groups called Article 11 was formed to restore the supremacy of the Federal Constitution and the rule of law in ensuring multi-ethnic harmony and justice for all, regardless of race or religion. When fanatical thugs disrupted a public forum hosted by Article 11 in Penang, you declared a ban on future forums instead of making a firm stand on this important issue and charging the thugs with disorderly conduct. In so doing you worsened an already bad situation and widened the growing rift between those who love freedom and those who fear loss of special privileges. Subsequently, when the Federal Court passed the buck on the Lina Joy case, you failed to intervene on behalf of simple justice. Your lameness was, in effect, an endorsement of fanaticism and fascism in matters pertaining to Islam.

During your watch a Royal Commission for Police Reform submitted a report which recommended, among other things, the establishment of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission. You lacked the verve and will to immediately implement the Royal Commission's recommendations - and so the Malaysian Police Force continues to be abhorred and held in contempt as corrupt, inefficient, and politically compromised.

We have been subjected to the embarrassment of seeing three high-ranking public servants in key positions face accusations of corruption within a matter of weeks: the Inspector-General of Police was accused of being on the payroll of Chinese criminal syndicates; the deputy minister of Internal Security was accused of accepting a RM5.5 million bribe to facilitate the release of criminal kingpins from police custody; and the Director-General of the Anti-Corruption Agency was himself accused of major corruption by his own deputy. All three were cleared and investigations closed with unholy haste by the Attorney-General, whose own integrity is hardly above question, since he was promoted to his present position for the key role he played in putting Anwar Ibrahim in jail.

Meanwhile, scandal upon scandal has surfaced (mainly via political blogs) with regard to multi-billion ringgit fiascos like the Port Klang Free Zone project and the PSC-Naval Dockyard patrol boat scam. The recent Auditor-General's report on gross misappropriation of public funds by a multitude of government departments raised a few eyebrows beyond face level and caused 25 million heads to shake in disgust. Yet public outcry was muted - if only because everybody is too fatigued by the endless stream of bad news to dwell on the subject. In any case there is no avenue by which the public can express its feelings except through the Internet. And this has led your Umno yesmen to launch a futile assault against bloggers. All very pathetic, Pak Blah.

And if all this wasn't enough to tarnish your administration beyond all hope of redemption, there is the dangling question of the infamous V.K. Lingam video on YouTube. There for all to witness is some candid footage showing a crooked lawyer fix the appointment of crooked judges in cahoots with a bunch of crooked businessmen and crooked politicians. The implications are grave indeed. Assuming the authenticity of the evidence - and there is absolutely no reason why anyone would bother faking such an obscene episode - almost every major court case involving prominent business and political figures would have to be reassessed and many sitting judges would have to be sacked and charged with gross impropriety. This could ultimately result in 95% of Umno leaders being incarcerated for various crimes. Now that would indeed be a very great shame - but one many of us are prepared to bear because we love our country enough to wish it a glorious rather than inglorious future.

Pak Blah, we cannot allow the unreformed descendants of pirates to mismanage Malaysia. Perhaps they can't help themselves, being genetically prone to pillage, rape, and plunder. Nevertheless, anyone caught with his hand in the till must be rapped sharply on the knuckles and summarily dismissed (it would be a further waste of public funds to send them to prison where they have to be fed for any number of years). I do not insist that these betrayers of public trust be flayed alive or flogged in public. Indeed I have long unsubscribed from a belief in punishment. However, I do insist that you take what I say to you to heart. If you have it in you to redeem yourself and restore public confidence in your managerial competence, you will take immediate action to CLEAN UP - NOT COVER UP!

I feel the malaise has progressed beyond the stage where medication is enough. Painful as it will be, only amputation can save our potentially great country from moral and financial catastrophe.

My dear Pak Blah, you only have a few weeks (at most a few months) in which to make up your mind: Face the problems like a man and initiate a massive overhaul of the government machinery as you promised - or resign. But before you do, please instruct your deputy to voluntarily turn himself (or his wife) in for a bit of questioning.

And by the way: I received an email a few days ago with a Turkish news report about your new yacht. Please tell me this isn't true. Because, if it is, I shall have to pry into your private affairs and ask you point blank how you could possibly afford such a luxury on your civil servant's salary. And if you admit that the boat is being paid for with public funds, then we would have to conclude that you are really no different than the rest of your buccaneer cronies in Umno.

English translation of a report in Hurriyet, a Turkish newspaper:
Malaysian Prime Minister here to see his boat
17 Dec 2006

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmed Badawi arrived in Bodrum yesterday to see his boat which he ordered four months ago. Badawi arrived in Bodrum at 1.30 am in a private jet belonging to Malaysia Airlines.

The head official of Milas, Bahattin Atci, and Malaysian businessman Ananda Krishnan, (reputedly the sixth richest man in Asia), were on hand to welcome Badawi. Kamil Sezgun, who is the director of Kobra Yachting and Tourism Co Ltd, was also present.

Badawi and his friend Krishnan went to Gokova for a spot of fishing on a luxury motor yacht belonging to Kremala Holding, specially brought over here from Malta. The luxury yacht "Obsessions" is 40 meters long, made in the Netherlands, and the captain of the yacht is Cavit Kabak. The yacht was anchored in Milta Marina.

Badawi said he loves Bodrum and the south Aegean and the Mediterranean very much. It is a great pleasure for him to be here fishing and relaxing from his duties.

The boat is made of Akaju, Maun, Sipo and Brimanya woods imported from South Africa. It is expected to be completed in 16 months. Some 60 people are involved in the construction of the boat. The boat will be delivered 12 months from now. The capacity of the boat is up to 14 people and its length is 44 meters. The boat will cost 8 million US dollars.