Malaysians forget easily

by M. Shanmugam

Critics are entitled to find fault with Pakatan Harapan for not fulfilling its promises. However, it has been a good year for the country as a whole, with the government taking criticism in its stride and continuing to uncover scams left by the previous regime.

On the first anniversary of the new government, a can of worms opened up in the Defence Ministry (Mindef). Sixteen questionable land-swap deals involving 2,923 acres valued at RM4.7bil were made public.

On paper, the land-swap deals were watertight and supposed to benefit Mindef, with the private sector building new army camps, quarters and other facilities in return for land in prime areas.

However, implementation of the scheme was weak due largely to political interference. At the end of the day, Mindef lost out. It failed to capitalise on prime land it was sitting on in the Klang Valley and other major towns.

Among the parcels are 94 acres in Bandar Kinrara, Puchong, 280 acres in Setapak and 314 acres in Sungai Buloh. All three parcels are located in prime areas in the Klang Valley.

The questionable land-swap deals would not have come to light had there been no change in government. Likewise, many other dubious transactions would not have been exposed either in the last one year. The list goes beyond Felda and Lembaga Tabung Haji.

Who would have thought that the police would seize valuables and cash worth close to RM1bil from the house of former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor and several luxury condominiums belonging to friends of the couple.

In relation to the seizure, the government has filed two suits to seize RM711mil worth of the items from Najib, Rosmah and several others. It will be interesting to see how the suits would be contested, as anybody who puts a claim on the assets would need to prove when, where and how they had purchased the items.

Some parties have already clarified that they do not own the assets seized. OBYU Holdings, a company that is linked to Tan Sri Bustari Yusof, stated that although it owns the premises where some of the items were seized, it has no interest in the things.

Bustari, who is from Sarawak, is the golfing partner of Najib.

A year ago, businessmen, politicians and lobbyists waited for their turn to be called up to have a round of golf with Najib. Today, the former prime minister is said to be playing at golf courses far away from the city with only a few friends.

A year ago, he was the most powerful man in the country. He had a few operatives who provided him with “political intelligence” in return for cash. One of them is Datuk Habibul Rahman Kadir Shah who testified in court recently of the role he played for Najib.

Najib muzzled the mainstream media – through his aides in Putrajaya and those working outside his office.

At one stage in late 2015, the mainstream media was banned from even mentioning the word “1MDB” (1Malaysia Development Bhd) in their daily coverage. Negative news related to 1MDB was not given prominence.

One of Najib’s aides even called newspaper editors to “blackout” news of Jho Low partying in New York.

Today, it’s a totally new game.

People can criticise Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his government. They can hit out at the government without fear, although these very same critics had never questioned the previous government for mismanaging the country’s finances.

Contrary to what some may believe, there is a fair amount of political stability in the country. There are no signs of mass defections of elected representatives that could threaten Pakatan Harapan’s hold on the government.

So far, the ruling party has won four of the seven by-elections. The opposition Barisan Nasional won the last three by-elections, sparking hope for the coalition that was battered a year ago.

Nevertheless, so far, there is no danger of Dr Mahathir’s government collapsing.

The economy is still growing, but at a slower pace amidst a volatile external environment. To keep the momentum going towards a projected 4.9% economic growth for this year, Bank Negara cut the base rate by a quarter percent earlier this week to 3%.

The US-China trade war has had a profound negative effect on global capital markets. At one stage this week, China’s CSI 300 was down 2.6% while the S&P 500, which is a broad measure of US stocks, shed 1.8%.

The benchmark FBM KLCI is also affected. However, the ringgit is holding at about the 4.15 level against the US dollar. There are no riots or people going to the streets.

In comparison, one needs to only look at Venezuela and the chaos the country is in, although it has one of the largest oil reserves in the world. Turkey and Argentina have also seen a significant depreciation of their currencies.

The Pakatan Harapan government is not perfect, but then, it has another four years to improve and fix the economy. And really, if one were to look at the current political scenario, there is no viable alternative today.

Dr Mahathir even takes on the royalty, something that the previous leadership stayed away from. If anybody thinks that the Opposition – in its present state where an alliance with PAS is necessary – is a better alternative, they had better think again.

First published in The Star

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