NST sits down with Dr M for exclusive interview

By Lokman Mansor/ Sofea Chok Suat Ling/ Fauziah Ismail/ David Christy

NST sits down with Dr M for exclusive interview – Part 1

THE long walk through the halls of the Prime Minister’s Department in Putrajaya that Wednesday morning was filled with anticipation. We were there to interview Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, whose second term as prime minister of Malaysia had earned him a place in the record books as the world’s oldest state leader.

As chairman of the new alliance Pakatan Harapan (PH), the 93-year-old physician’s political comeback pulled the rug from under Barisan Nasional (BN) after six decades of power. It ushered in an era of wide-ranging reform and healing that, as Malaysians are starting to realise, will take longer than expected to accomplish.

The New Straits Times editors who sat across from Dr Mahathir in his 5th floor office — Lokman Mansor, Sofea Chok Suat Ling, Fauziah Ismail and David Christy — were allotted 40 minutes, but he obliged us extra time. Dr Mahathir offered answers and explainers to a range of lingering worries that had greeted the first 11 months of the first governnent not led by Umno and BN. He spoke frankly about the legacy issues of the previous government, stalled projects, corruption, the economy, and pace of reforms.

This new government had a mandate to clean up, but soon discovered that it would be dispensing injustice to mere followers of the previous administration. It has since gone into a rethink.

As a political leader, Dr Mahathir has found himself having to joust with a momentarily rejuvenated Datuk Seri Najib Razak and an emboldened Umno, consolidating the Malay credentials.

On education and the multiracial society, Dr Mahathir’s passionate response displayed a consistency in theme and messaging that began more than 70 years ago when, while in college, he contributed to this newspaper (then The Straits Times) under the pseudonym C.H.E. Det.

In total, the number of questions asked tripled from the advanced set of 10 we submitted a day before, and Dr Mahathir answered all of them without any hesitation. He was at times extremely frank and, we suspect, purposely vague on certain issues.

For this reason, we have decided to publish the interview transcript in full, and allow readers to draw their own conclusions. The first part of the transcript appears today, and will continue in tomorrow’s edition.

For added insight, the editors will share some of their personal observations and perspectives from the interview. Videotaped portions of the session will be published online and in our social media platforms in the days to come.

For the NST, the interview with Dr Mahathir was long overdue. We did not merely interview a sitting prime minister. We spoke to Che Det, who has been a part of the national conversation for seven decades.

And the good doctor gave us his prognosis of things that have gone wrong, and how we as a nation should address those frailties.

Thank you, Che Det.

THE FULL INTERVIEW

Question: It is now almost one year since the 14th General Election (GE14). What would you say are some of the major accomplishments of the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government?

Answer: Number one is keeping the party together. It’s not an easy thing to do because we have different parties to manage and to get them to reach a decision is much more difficult than when I was leading the previous party.

That is a very difficult task, but they have stayed together.

Maybe other people may not think of it as much of an achievement, but actually it is a big achievement because these parties have never really worked together.

Q: How is it different, this new coalition, from the one you were in previously?

A: The cabinet meeting is illustrative of the fact we are a real coalition of parties of almost equal strength, and each party would want to give its view on all the subjects that we discuss. So cabinet meetings normally take a much longer time than in the previous government.

Everybody wants to have a say, and sometimes repeatedly, and that means we cannot reach a decision easily, but even then the fact that we can stay together and actually give direction to the government is, to me, an achievement.

Q: Some have said without Tun at the helm, PH would disintegrate. How do you ensure this doesn’t happen?

A: Well, this is a difficult question to answer because I have to sum up whatever it is that they (have) argued (about) and declare that this is the decision that we are making. I cannot sum up unless, of course, they agree with my views and these are sometimes very contrary views.

So far, I have been able to lead. We don’t see any substitute yet at the moment, but there have been occasions when I left the cabinet and Wan Azizah was leading and she was able to conduct the meeting, at least for the short period I was away. There was once when I was out of the country, she conducted the meeting.

So, in a sense, the structure is expected. Now, who fills in after me, or after Wan Azizah, is something else. Of course, what we say is that Anwar will take over. Anwar has been a deputy prime minister before. He ought to know how to keep the party together.

Q: But you have said numerous times in the past that Anwar is not fit to be a leader. What has changed between then and now?

A: Well, that was before. Yes, I did say that. But between Najib and Anwar, I think Najib is a worse leader than Anwar. The worst leader.

I think that to have Anwar replace a person like Najib is more acceptable than to have Najib carry on, so I decided that I would work Anwar, whatever I may have said about him before, whatever he has said against me before. I thought that our working together was far more important, in order to displace Najib, than for us to quarrel because I knew if we didn’t work together, Najib would be the next prime minister and that would be disastrous for the country.

Q: Do you see Anwar as able to keep PH together?

A: I think he has been leading a considerable part of Pakatan Harapan. In fact, he was the architect of Pakatan Rakyat. Of course, Pakatan Rakyat failed because they were not that cohesive. But after we came together, we were able to work much more closely.

The fact remains that he was from Umno, and Umno, of course, was not very liked by the opposition. He left Umno and he was able to bring DAP, Pas even, and his party together, so he has leadership quality.

Q: One of the criticisms we often hear about the new government is that sometimes it is slow in implementing initiatives or unclear in terms of the policy direction. How much of that is due to the inexperience of the new ministers and how much to the legacy issues, the problems left by the previous government?

A: A lot of it is due to what was left by the previous government. The fact is that the previous government was very secretive. We didn’t know what they were doing and we assumed that they had done certain things and we formulated a way to get rid of the wrong decisions made before.

But when we took over, we found out the truth about what they had done.

For example, when they entered into the contract for ECRL, we did not realise that we cannot terminate the contract. It means we have to pay a huge compensation. And if you don’t terminate, then we will incur huge costs.

And the borrowings were very bad in the sense that they were expensive and were from Chinese sources and all payments are made not according to work in progress, but according to time taken.

Periodically we have to pay, without regard for the work that has been done. All these things created a big problem for us because it is difficult to get out of this project.

We thought we could just cancel the project, but it was not to be like that because they had entered into an agreement which tied them up very tightly to the other party. So to get out of it, we need not only offer to take over but also to persuade the other party to agree to our case.

So it has taken almost a year, we still cannot get around to determining (an outcome). We have been able to talk about reducing the cost, and this must be substantial, but the amount the other party was prepared to reduce is not sufficient for us. So many things have to be negotiated and at the back of it is the Chinese government. We cannot afford to ill-treat a Chinese company here without incurring the displeasure of the Chinese government. So it has been very tough trying to undo the wrong things that Najib has done.

The civil service, for example. He has corrupted the civil service to the point where these people took money. We have to get rid of them, but we have to retrain a new set of younger civil servants. They are good, but they are new. They cannot manage in the way the entrenched leaders were able to.

Then we have this problem of the high cost of living, which — despite doing away with GST — did not come down. As you know, when prices go up it is very difficult to bring them down in any circumstances. Now we are trying to bring them down because the high cost of living is something that people are unhappy about.

Then, there is unemployment. When we decided to terminate all the contracts given out by the previous government because they involved wrongdoings, we found that we were not punishing Najib. We were punishing these people, and they included not just the contractor, the sub-contractor. They were not involved in the negotiations or whatever. The workers, the suppliers, all kinds of people get hurt because we stop.

It’s not an easy task. If it involves only a few companies, yes, but we have hundreds of contracts that we stopped with the intention of restarting but at the moment we are not able to restart because some of the contracts are too costly. We have to reduce. All these things take time.

It’s not that there is no idea how to go about it, but to negotiate a reduction in price, to renegotiate the terms of the contract, that takes time, especially with the big companies. But the small companies also suffer, because they cannot carry on and therefore they have to lay off workers and all that. The workers get hurt, and we find that instead of punishing Najib, who is going around quite freely, we are punishing other people.

So when we realise that, we need to reverse our decision. If we don’t reverse just because we want to maintain a decision without being accused of flip-flopping, we would do injustice to a lot of people.

People say we’ve flip-flopped and all that, but this is based on number one, a lack of information on the extent of Najib’s depredation, and secondly, that when you take action, he’s denying everything but the people who obtained contracts in the last government, these are the people who are hurt, including the workers.

Q: Would you say you have uncovered all the dubious practices of the previous government?

A: We are still finding more. It’s almost endless. It’s not only 1MDB. There is the CRC, the pension funds, there is Tabung Haji, there is Felda. These institutions have been robbed of money and now they are suffering. Badly managed, money stolen and all that. It’s not easy to solve these problems, because the money has disappeared.

For example, if you say you invest in Petro Saudi, if it is a real investment we can go to Petro Saudi and maybe dismantle the thing and get back our money. But the money is not with Petro Saudi. It has travelled to many different places and we believe, finally, it ended up in his account.

But in law, you need to prove that you are the owner. The money that moves from one bank to another is ours, we have to prove that. Without that proof, you can’t go to court.

Q: When you first became prime minister in 1981, you introduced the slogan ‘Bersih, Cekap dan Amanah’ (Clean, Efficient and Trustworthy). Now you’re back in the government and having to yet again clean up and fight corruption. What happened along the way? Can we ever have a clean government?

A: Corruption is endemic everywhere, and any government would face that problem. The thing is how to reduce corruption. Eliminating it is almost impossible.

During my time, corruption was not so bad that the government could not function. The government could function. Everything could be built and people trusted us.

But when Najib took over, there was extensive corruption involving him! He is the head of government. When the head of government is known to be openly corrupt, then the whole government machinery becomes corrupt. The extent of corruption during Najib’s time is a scandal of enormous proportions.

When we took over, almost immediately that stopped. Our government is not corrupt, but we are getting rid of the corrupt people. We are also taking action in the courts for corruption. So at the moment what we are receiving is information on corruption that happened before, so there are lots more.

After we took over, incidences of corruption have been very few. For example, a political secretary is accused of taking a watch or something like that. That is nothing compared to the billions that were stolen before. So I would say we have reduced corruption by about 90 per cent. We no longer have people complaining when they go to the office, they ask for money.

Q: So there was a loss of trust in the government before?

A: Yes, a complete loss of trust. You know, I was told of a story while I was still out there (of the government). A lady wanted to do some business. She has some friends in the government and she expected her friend would help her. And she went to her friend, and her friend asked her, ‘How much are you giving upfront?’ Her friend!

You see, that’s the extent of corruption during Najib’s time. But now we don’t hear stories like that any more.

Q: Despite these transgressions, there are those who say Najib is innocent until proven guilty in court. What do you have to say to that?

A: Yes, it’s true. But if the court doesn’t hear the case, he will not be proven guilty. And what Najib has done is to wangle so that the trial is delayed. Almost 11 months after we won, his case has just started.

If his case is not heard then he cannot be found guilty, and to claim that until he is declared guilty then only you can accuse him? And he is delaying it because he knows he is guilty.

Even today (Wednesday) at the first hearing, he tried to find an excuse, appealing to the higher court, saying that this decision is wrong. All these things are done in order to delay a hearing. If the hearing is delayed, then he can never be described as guilty, until the court says he’s guilty. So that is his strategy.

In the meantime, of course, he is going around fishing for support, saying that ‘No. I am not guilty’. The public may say he is not guilty, but until the court says he is guilty or not guilty, he is guilty. Under French law, you are guilty before you are proven not guilty.

Q: Coming back to the ECRL, how confident are you about the prospect of this project going ahead?

A: It would seem that the project may have to go on, perhaps on a lesser scale and at a lower cost. That is what we’re aiming for, but at the moment we need to have the agreement of the contractor. If we terminate the contract, we have to pay compensation. Huge compensation. If we go on, we don’t have to pay compensation but the cost will be less. So this is still ongoing.

It has not been easy for us to persuade the contractor that ‘you have to reduce your cost’, ‘you have to reduce the scale’, all these things. Of course, the contractor entered into this contract hoping to make a lot of money, but we are trying to reduce the amount that he can make. Naturally, he is not very willing to reduce the contract value because he wants to make money.

Q: Have they given us a deadline?

A: We wish to have a deadline, if we can fix (it), but it depends on the other side agreeing. We don’t know what that side is going to do. If we fix the deadline, you come to the deadline, (but) the other side still won’t agree, what are we going to do?

Q: Recently, you had asked the people to be patient, that it would take three years to restore the administrative and financial conditions. On the RM1 trillion debt, are you looking at a specific reduction in three years’ time?

A: We think we should reduce the borrowings by the government and we see some signs of being able to do this. We can reduce the cost of various contracts.

We may have to resort to selling government assets because we have to pay the debts. We can’t maintain the debts and just service them. That will take us 30 to 40 years. We have to pay off the debt, to retire the debt, and that means we have to raise money.

Q: How much debt are we targeting to retire in three years?

A: I can’t say very well, but I think if we reach about RM800 billion that will make us quite comfortable. Now it is more than RM1 trillion. When the debt is smaller, the burden of interest is also smaller.

Q: How do you see the ongoing reforms impacting the economy? Because we have projects that are being reviewed, not continuing, the cost of living, the issue of wages? In terms of the economy, what can people expect in the next few years?

A: Faith in the government has been restored. Not fully yet, but restored to the point where people are now coming with proposals to invest in Malaysia. Some of these proposals, of course, involve some government funds. We may not be able to come up with the funds. But many of the proposals are entirely private, that is to say, they will raise the funds, they will build, they will do everything and the government merely has to approve. That is coming, quite a lot.

The process is a little slow because we are very careful not to be taken for a ride again. So we already have many, many proposals, which when implemented will reverse the trend in the economy.

But as you can see, this economy is still growing; 4.7 per cent is a big figure for an economy of our size and therefore, when we grow, the size of the base will be bigger and the rate of growth will be smaller. You see, one per cent of $100 would be just $1, but when the growth comes to $1,000, that one per cent becomes smaller by comparison with the base. So that will happen. I am confident. Many people have come to see me, the Japanese have come, the Chinese have come, the Europeans have come. At the airshow (Lima 2019), they were all very positive about Malaysia’s growth. Confidence has returned.

Q: Do you see these changes being implemented in PH’s first term as the government?

A: We are working on it, but it’s not an overnight change. It’s not possible. As you go along, you meet a lot of problems. You introduce a system, and then find that the system is wrong. You need to make corrections. You can’t say, ‘I have decided this. Right or wrong, you must go ahead’. That is a stupid position to take, just because you want to say, ‘Oh, I don’t flip-flop’.

But flip-flop is necessary when you find that what you have done is wrong. But, of course, before you do it, you must study things very carefully, know all the facts, all the background, before you make a decision. That is what we are doing now.

So you find that sometimes we come up very late with a solution. It’s now almost one year, and there are some things which are still not fully resolved.

For example, when we stopped contracts given out by the government, we found that the effect was worse than we thought. You are thinking of stopping the contract, but we are creating unemployment. That is the effect of stopping the contract. So when we find that out, we can’t say, ‘Oh, we have decided. No change’. That is bad. You have to tackle this problem.

Q: What are the things that frustrate you, Tun, in the first year of your administration?

A: Well, if I compare with my previous stint as prime minister, the whole machinery of government was in place. People knew what to do. All I needed to do was to come up with some decision and they would carry it out.

Now I find that I can make a decision but whether it is carried out the way I want it or not, more often it is not. So I need to keep on going back and finding out what is it that they have done.

In the past, in my previous life, I visited the sites, I asked questions. I required that they all take dated pictures so that I could know what was happening. I make reports, because I believe in micro-management. I think if you make a decision and then leave it to somebody else, they will do something else.

Q: Is there sabotage now in the civil service? Is that what you are saying?

A: There is that reluctance, because the civil service has been working with one party for 60 years, now they are going to work with the opposition party and some of them are reluctant.

Many civil servants are very strong Umno supporters and all that. Sometimes you find that the civil servants cannot work with his minister, like the KSU (secretary-general) for example.

On the one hand, the elected minister should not interfere in the promotion or position of the civil servant. On the other hand, if he cannot work with the civil servant, if the civil servant does not follow his instructions or goes the opposite (way), we need to voice our unhappiness and the need for a change.

NST sits down with Dr M for exclusive interview – Part 2

Yesterday, the NST ran Part One of its interview with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, his first with this newspaper since he reassumed the premiership last year. It was a wide-ranging interview that went well over the alloted 40 minutes, and as such we decided to publish it in full to allow readers to draw their own conclusions on the issues he covered. In the second part today, he delves into the performance of his ministers, the racial narrative being increasingly propagated by the opposition, income gap and wages.

He also outlines to NST executive editors LOKMAN MANSOR, SOFEA CHOK SUAT LING, FAUZIAH ISMAIL and DAVID CHRISTY what he resolves to do for education — bring back the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English in all schools, and review the way Islam is being taught to students.

Question: Is the slow pace of reforms due to the inexperience of ministers?

Answer: No. It is not because of inexperience. We know what we want to do, but we realise that some of the reforms require amendments to the Federal Constitution. To amend the Constitution, we need a two-thirds majority. We don’t have a two-thirds majority. We need the support of the opposition to achieve a two-thirds majority and we cannot guarantee the opposition will support (us).

We have the intention to go to Parliament to amend the laws and remove some of the more draconian laws, but we need the support of the majority of the members of parliament, in some cases, a two-thirds majority. If we can’t get a two-thirds majority, it means we cannot push through our reforms.

But some things can be done on our own initiative, like saying that the prime minister will serve for only two terms. That needs a constitutional amendment, but we as a party can do that. We can remove the prime minister, as a party we can.

But to make the amendment, we have to look at the Constitution, what is there that needs to be amended? There are so many things, like the voting age, removal or modification of the death penalty, all these require amendments to the Constitution. That is holding us up, because we don’t have a two-thirds majority.

Q: So, you are happy with the ministers?

A: The ministers are new. You don’t expect a new person to know everything. If I change to another new minister, it’s not going to help at all.

But they are very concerned about their own performance, and I keep in very close contact with them. Every minister comes to see me if they have a problem, but sometimes they need to know what their functions are and all that. I will advise them. Of course, it takes a lot of time but in some cases I will help them to make decisions.

Q: You would have been the education minister if not for the Pakatan Harapan (PH) election manifesto. What would you have done if you were the education minister?

A: A lot of things. One of the things I believe is that the schools, from kindergarten onwards, should introduce some kind of moral education, to know values. In the past, our parents told us what was right, what was wrong. What is a sin, what is not. But today, parents — father and mother — are working. No quality time for the children, so the schools have to take over that task.

Secondly, with regard to religious education, we believe schools should provide religious education but it should not encroach on the teachings of other subjects. We find that in the curriculum, so much (time) is given to religious education at the expense of other subjects — Science and Mathematics.

Then, we have the English language. We need to teach Science and Maths in English. The idea that the Malays cannot learn in English is stupid. It’s not true at all. I am a Malay, I can speak reasonable English. Why can’t other people?

Today we have computers, we have the Internet. (If) we cannot get teachers, we can have teaching programmes through the computers, so that you can project the lesson on the screen and the screen will teach. And also teach the teacher. The teacher also will learn. It will make teaching much more easier because we can get experts to prepare the programmes. If that is done, I think the quality will remain the same throughout the whole system.

If we depend on the teachers, some teachers are good, some teachers are not so good. And their quality affects the students. But when you have a standard format, a standard programme, I think that will ensure the achievement of the students will be higher, at the level of the teacher who is chosen to prepare the programme. I must admit, at this moment, there are some programmes but we are not yet satisfied with the use of computers to teach.

Q: Why isn’t Science and Maths in English yet?

A: Today, it seems that whereas they say Maths and Science should be taught in Malay, they do allow some schools to teach in English.

That is unfair, because the graduates of these schools will be employable. Those who go through the Malay stream will not be employable. That is discrimination against them. Of course, they don’t like it. Even the teachers don’t like it.

It is a burden on the teachers to teach the way they are teaching now. But if we resort to using programmes to teach, I think they will learn how to master the English language. I find that there are courses available today for learning English, and there are very good courses for learning any language, and we can get people to prepare courses with regard to the teaching of languages in particular, so that everybody will have access to the same master or teacher.

Q: So, we will introduce Science and Maths in English again soon?

A: Yes, we will. We are actually doing so now, but without announcing (it). The previous government, because of the demand, they allowed certain schools, selected schools, to teach in English, but some schools actually refused to teach in English.

Q: Tun, have you shared your ideas on education with the education minister?

A: I have seen him many, many times, because this thing is evolving. We have to know the problem. For example, I asked for the curriculum, the school timetable and I looked through it and it is nonsense. It is not giving due time to important subjects.

Yes, I believe that you should learn all about your religion but what they are teaching as religion is not what they should be teaching. They are teaching only certain parts of the religion, like the performance of rituals. That is what they emphasise. ‘If you don’t perform this ritual, you go to hell’. But what is important about Islam, in particular, is the way of life. When you say way of life, that means certain values. These values are not taught. In fact, the teacher himself doesn’t know.

We read the Quran in Arabic, we don’t understand. I (have) read the Quran. I finished the Quran when I was in my teens, but I didn’t know the contents. I now read the Quran in English and Malay, and now I understand the teachings of Islam and they are all very, very good. But this is not conveyed to the students.

We need to go back and find out what are really the standards insisted by the Quran for Muslims so as to lead the way of life of a Muslim.

Q: After one year, how would you assess the new opposition?

A: They are not concentrating on the government. They are just trying to survive and to survive now they have resorted to playing up racial and religious issues. Umno has become Pas. They are totally dominated by Pas. They are listening to Pas. It is not the Umno that I knew. It is not the Umno that was founded in 1946.

I have been with Umno from 1946. I know what Umno is all about, but this is not Umno. It is just a group of politicians who want to perpetuate their positions.

Q: How is PH going to deal with the racial narrative brought up by Umno and Pas?

A: The fact of race is there. We cannot deny that. The fact of the differences between the races is there. While we do not want to play the racial issue, we must ensure that no race is left behind. And we know at this moment, the Malays in particular, are very far behind. We need to make corrections and that is why we say it’s not just about equality, it is also about fairness. We have to be fair.

If we work on the basis of equality and people are asked to make beads for tender. Some people are capable, some are not capable. Unfortunately, I believe that if you don’t look into the interests of the Bumiputeras, they will lose out. The disparity between the Bumiputeras and non-Bumiputeras will grow much bigger and when that happens, there’s bound to be tension and the opposition party will play it up.

So while we want to have equal treatment of all races, that equal treatment must be accompanied by fair treatment. For example, before we invented this direct negotiation and limited tender, that actually is discrimination in favour of the Bumiputeras. But if you remove that, there is a likelihood that the Bumiputeras will get nothing. Because they are not people who are commercially oriented. They don’t even understand the use of money. So we have to give consideration to that.

Q: Talking about disparity, Khazanah Research Institute mentioned in its 2018 report that the gap between the rich and poor has been increasing since 2008. With all that the government has been doing, we are still caught in this situation.

A: The government is doing a lot under affirmative action, the New Economic Policy. But we are dealing with people who do not have the culture of doing business. For them, money is to be spent to exchange for goods. It is not meant for investment. We have to teach them how to invest, how to manage the money.

For example, they borrow RM1 million for a business. They use only RM500,000. The other RM500,000 is used to buy cars and all that. Now, on a RM500,000 investment, they have to pay interest on RM1 million. That is a burden.

That means that if you take interest at 3.0 per cent or 4.0 per cent, the interest they have to pay is 8.0 per cent. You shouldn’t make use of your business borrowings for other things. But they don’t understand this. We have to teach (them).

First is to teach ‘Why’. But then, there is a cultural part. They did not grow up absorbing a culture that is commensurate with the task of going into business. The Chinese are different. For thousands of years they have been doing business. They understand business very well, so they can manage better. That is why the competition is not between equals. We need to overcome the inequality. We need to change the Malay culture. But that is very difficult.

Q: But not all the poor can go into business.

A: I’m not talking just about business. About working. You know that they don’t want to work. When I say that they are lazy, I was scolded. But why are the Bangladeshis here? Because we don’t want to work.

People come here because we don’t fill the jobs that are created. In Japan, even a man wearing a tie is sweeping the road outside his shop. Because the culture is different. But here … ‘Oh, that is too dangerous’. ‘That is too humiliating’. They don’t want to work actually. You see them, just lying about doing nothing.

I met a Malay who has a pineapple plantation. He was a lorry driver, but because of his spirit, his willingness to work, he is now a millionaire, just by planting pineapples. And when I talked to him, he said, ‘In Malaysia, there shouldn’t be anybody who is unemployed’. Because there are jobs everywhere. But we don’t want to do the job. And when we don’t want to do the job, then, of course, we cannot become rich.

There are Malays who are so poorly qualified that the only thing they can do is to become a labourer. He must accept, but he says ‘No. No. I am Malay. I don’t do these kinds of jobs’. So we have that cultural problem to overcome.

Q: Is it also possible that low wages are a factor?

A: Salaries are a very sensitive matter. People want to earn more money. If they live in some other country, they will be paid $1 million for becoming a clerk. $1 million of their currency. But the purchasing power of that salary is equivalent maybe to about RM1,000 or RM500.

What is important is the purchasing power, not the amount. Many countries with major inflation, they pay huge salaries, but the purchasing power is low. When the purchasing power is low, what do you do? You don’t raise the salary. You improve the performance.

I think that we are not productive. We have so many holidays. For the number of people working in the government, we should be a roaring success. But our productivity is not adequate for the money we are paying. A country that pays a high salary but is very productive, it grows the economy.

We need people who are well trained, capable, skilled and all that, they can have a high salary. But when you think about high salary just by moving up the minimum wage, the only effect you get is a high cost of living, because everything now costs more because of the high salary and when everything costs more, that high salary that you get does not purchase that amount, but purchases the same amount as when your salary is low.

Q: Donald Trump thinks he is putting the squeeze on the Chinese in their trade war. Is our government concerned that he may turn his sights on other countries that have surpluses with America, like Malaysia?

A: He will have to go against the whole world if he wants to do that. Already, he is causing a lot of damage, not only with China but also with Iran.

When they apply sanctions, they actually do it against weak countries. Strong countries do not care. You can apply sanctions against Iran, and China and Russia will continue to deal with Iran.

But small countries like us, we are threatened. If you go and do business with Iran, your banks will be closed. You will not be able to transact. All kinds of threats are being hurled at us. We have to accept being sanctioned by the US, not because we have done anything wrong, but because of not obeying them with regard to trade with North Korea or trade with Iran.

Q: But are we concerned that the US may also increase tariffs?

A: So far, they have not done so. But I think they have a handful dealing with China and I think to single out countries like Malay-sia… you know we have been very critical. I have voiced my opinion on Trump. I have been asked umpteen times about Trump. I gave my fair opinion — he is not somebody you can deal with, because he changes his mind, sometimes three times in one day. He wants to meet Kim. He doesn’t want to meet Kim. I’m in love with Kim. How do you deal with a person like that?

First published in nst.com.my as parts 1 and 2.

Foreign minister: Withdrawal of Rome Statute due to risk of “coup d’etat” triggered by “deep state”

Editor: A deeply troubling report and cause for much prayer

KUALA LUMPUR, April 7 — The Cabinet’s reversal of its ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was a “political” move done for fear of a coup d’etat attempt spurred on by powers behind the scene, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah explained.

The foreign minister pointed out history has shown that a coup d’etat is a common reaction to democratic advancement and the public rising up following an election, and it is usually instigated by the “deep state.”

“[There was the] possibility of the issue being manipulated to the extent that people go to the streets, moved by the ‘deep state’ and certain apparatus,” Saifuddin told Malay Mail and several other media outlets in an interview yesterday.

“Deep state”, also known as a “state within a state”, refers to a form of secret government or network that operates independently of a country’s political leadership for its own personal agenda.

Depending on each country, it may include the armed forces, secret police, intelligence agencies, or even civil servants but Saifuddin refused to clarify his definition of the term during the interview.

“I would keep it that way, let the ‘rakyat’ decide. I use the term apparatus… that are not democratically elected,” said the Pakatan Harapan (PH) secretariat chief.

Malaysians have many times expressed their displeasure with the government through street protests and rallies, so what is the difference this time round?

The minister said, “This is a slightly different story because this seems to involve the royals.”

The worry over a possible coup d’etat punctuated Dr Mahathir’s warning on Friday that critics of the Rome Statute wanted to trigger a row between the country’s monarchy and the new government.

The Langkawi MP had accused critics of engaging in a political move “to get the rulers to back them up”, but also added that some members of the royal family may be involved.

This was backed up by Dr Mahathir’s planned successor Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who clarified yesterday that the prime minister’s barbs were not directed at other political parties or anyone within PH.

“The statement is rather specific. The prime minister was making reference to a specific attempt by a particular personality in a royal family or household,” the PKR president was quoted saying.

Following Dr Mahathir’s announcement on Friday, several ministers immediately backed him and his administration in public, urging Malaysians to protect the PH administration against any ouster.

“Over my dead body before you try to remove our prime minister. Malaysia’s prime minister,” said Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman on Twitter.

“Dr Mahathir’s leadership must be defended from undemocratic interference. We must all defend it,” said Education Minister Maszlee Malik, in a Twitter thread where he accused critics of being “cowards” trying to use the issue to oust the prime minister.

Both ministers are from Dr Mahathir’s party Bersatu. No other senior ministers have made such public remarks on the issue at the time of writing.

What swayed the Cabinet’s decision?

According to Saifuddin, the decision to withdraw was made following a lengthy discussion during a routine Cabinet meeting on Friday.

The Cabinet meeting itself was held after Dr Mahathir’s audience with Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah.

But a few days prior to that, the Conference of Rulers had held an informal meeting to discuss the matter on Tuesday.

Three other people were called to explain the situation besides Saifuddin, who attended with the Cabinet’s permission: Attorney-General Tommy Thomas, Chief of the Armed Forces General Tan Sri Zulkifli Zainal Abidin, and Universiti Teknologi Mara’s deputy vice-chancellor and the dean of its Faculty of Law Professor Datuk Dr Rahmat Mohamad.

It was not the first time Saifuddin was called to explain the issue, as he had already met the Agong on March 12, following which the Agong decreed him to dispel any misinformation regarding the statute, including the false claim that the King would be exposed to prosecution.

Also present during the rulers’ meeting on April 2 was Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Ibrahim, who tweeted photos of him briefing the Agong and the other rulers on the same date, saying: “Closer to the truth.”

The frequent critic of the Rome Statute and Dr Mahathir had afterwards accused Putrajaya of allegedly contravening the Constitution by ratifying it without the consent of the Conference of Rulers ― although the Constitution states otherwise.

His father Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar had accused Putrajaya of the same thing in his birthday address last month, while also harshly labelling those who are allegedly disputing the authorities of state rulers and governments when it comes to Islam, water, forestry, and land as “traitors.”

Putrajaya had previously informed the Agong that it wished to ratify the Statute on February 15.

Saifuddin had then signed the Instrument of Accession to the Rome Statute on March 4, and it was deposited to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the same day.

The minister also clarified that the Cabinet arrived at the decision on Friday unanimously, following a report that quoted an anonymous source saying that 90 per cent of the Cabinet wanted to keep the ratification while the minority had advocated the withdrawal to protect PH’s position as the government.

“During the Cabinet meeting, the prime minister brought up the issue. There was a discussion, and we were unanimous in agreeing to not continue ratifying,” he said.

Later in his announcement, Dr Mahathir himself conceded that the withdrawal was not because the Cabinet felt negatively about the decision, blaming instead “confusion created by one particular person who wants to be free to beat up people.”

When asked in the press conference if he was alluding to a member of the royal family from a southern state, Dr Mahathir replied: “You can make your guess. You are welcome.”

Saifuddin also dismissed the allegation that the Cabinet had turned its back on Dr Mahathir who held the press conference alone, following a rebuke by lawyer-activist Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan.

“The PM decided to have the press conference that way He knows best when he wants ministers to be with him, and how many,” he said.

The decision to withdraw from the Rome Statute received backlash from human rights defenders, especially since it came just less than half a year after Putrajaya said it will not ratify anti-racial discrimination convention ICERD following pressure from the Malay-Muslim lobby.

Putrajaya now has until June to withdraw from ratifying the treaty, and Dr Mahathir said it will do so officially by then.

Over 100 countries are party to the ICC, that probes genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression that are committed either in the territory of a state party or by a citizen of a state party.

Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, and Article 40 of the Federal Constitution states that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall act in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet.

First published in MalayMail.com

Like all things heading for greatness, we are a work in progress

By Vinod Sekhar

Over the last six months I’ve seen statements coming from my friends and acquaintances about some of the decisions of our current government. About how bad some statements are, or how so many promises are unfulfilled.

Recently we had the issue of the Rome Statute. In many cases I agree with the criticism, perhaps more vehemently than others. The decision on the Rome Statute was simply wrong. But what caused that decision? It wasn’t Tun M, or Anwar. Where were the noises loudest.

Perhaps Tun M should have just done it, pushed it through. I’m disappointed he didn’t. But I guess politics is politics. They keep telling me that in politics you have to pick your battles. Perhaps that’s why I’m not a politician.

But with just the above, to ignore the great leaps we have taken in society in the last 9 months, and say we are sliding into being a pariah nation or statements in that vein are plain and simply wrong. We are not. Yes, we have problems. And yes, we are getting many things wrong. But pariah or anything remotely like that is just plain nonsense. We have to stop repeating and vomiting misinformation at will, simply because social media has made it easier to.

A great many people sacrificed for decades to fight a system that would not change, filled with injustice and fear. Filled with ignorance. Many risked their livelihood, reputation and freedom to stand and get us a change. That change has happened. And if anyone thinks that things are still the same – well look around properly. And remember what it was like before May 9th. I can see that change everyday. I can hear it on the radio, I can see it on the news, I can read it. I feel it in all the Univerities.

Yes we have a long way to go. And yes there are many things that are still unacceptable, and yes some of the current leaders are much to be desired. But we are still so much better, so much stronger than we have been in 30 years. And we still have so much more to do.

So we have to keep moving forward. Please be proud, very proud of what OUR country has achieved and fight to keep fixing what we need to fix. We have the leaders WE elected and for the first time, NOT ONE of them can be assured of their positions. The people, US, can throw them out come the next election. And perhaps we won’t like what the majority decide, but that’s democracy. But it will be the people that decide, not a corrupt group of individuals buying or stealing elections.

If we want to influence hearts and minds then we have to get into the mix, that’s our call. Get involved and convince the people to vote on the ideas we want, the future we see. We have now at least, the right to do that. We have the outlets to do that, whatever the view or perspective.

We are not a pariah nation, and we certainly are not remotely sliding into that area – Brunei and many other nations are more akin to that. Look at the world around us and you could say we’re doing pretty well. Let’s stop misinterpreting and misrepresenting issues with the current quality of our nationhood. Our Nationhood is strong. Our citizenry proved their might, their will. But like all things heading for greatness, we are a work in progress.

Let’s just keep working. We are Malaysia.

First published in Facebook

The Suhakam Inquiry

This was published on March 6

On the 3rd of April 2019, Suhakam will tell the nation whether and to what extent it believes the Malaysian government, in particular the police force, is responsible for the disappearances of Amri Che Mat, Raymond Koh and Joshua and Ruth Hilmy.

Today the Inquiry panel received the clarifications it had sought from four parties who have participated in the hearings. These are (1) Counsel (lawyers) appearing for the families of Amri and Raymond, (2) Suhakam officers, (3) the Bar Council and (4) the police.

I’ll describe some key conclusions we can draw about the cases of Amri and Raymond. This post runs to about 3,000 words. Please feel free to scan the text in bold and read the details only of what interests you.

AMRI CHE’ MAT (based on key points presented by Datuk David Morais for Amri’s family)

First, three witnesses saw a boxing-in operation conducted by three vehicles on Amri’s car. This indicates abduction. Police interviewed one witness immediately, the second a year later (and now say they cannot find him – though he’s right under their noses). They didn’t interview the third witness.

Although the police continue to classify Amri as a disappeared person rather than an abducted person, there is much evidence that his disappearance is at the behest, assistance or blessing of the state, in particular the police force.

Three men claim to have witnessed what appears to be his abduction. One of them, Syed Amri, described Amri’s car being boxed in by three dark four wheel drive vehicles. What he saw was so unusual that as soon as he got home he described to his father what he had seen. Another, Saiful, a restaurant operator, said he saw one of the presumed abductors draw a gun – he was so alarmed by this that he shuttered the doors of his restaurant.

Amri was interviewed by the police within days of Amri’s disappearance. Saiful was interviewed only a year after the police were made aware that he too was a potential witnesses – the interview was conducted after the Suhakam Inquiry was announced. Another witness who was together with Saiful at the material time was neither interviewed nor called before the Inquiry.

Saiful was issued with a warrant to appear before the Inquiry, but did not show-up. For this, he was charged in court. He did not show up in court either. Today a Senior Police officer (DSP Nuzulan), in response to a question put to the police by Inquiry Chairman Dato’ Mah, said Saiful “could not be located.” Two men from Perlis who were seated beside me muttered “we see him every day.”

Second, Amri’s car was abandoned by persons who took pains to hide themselves.

Amri’s car was found by a witness (a security guard) who observed a four wheel drive open back truck “with men on it who were trying to avoid being identified” driving away from an isolated location.

The guard immediately went to the location. He discovered a car (Amri’s) with shattered windows. He quickly made a police report. He deduced that those who departed the scene “suspiciously” must have brought Amri’s car and abandoned it there, thus indicating that Amri’s disappearance involved other actors – as also suggested by the observations reported by the two witnesses noted above.

Third, Amri was under surveillance before he was abducted

A workshop owner, Vee Yak, testified that Amri may have been under surveillance 3 days before his disappearance, including by a person in a gold-coloured Toyota Vios with registration number PFC 1623. (The persons in the presumed “surveillance team” were acting so suspiciously that Vee Yak wondered if they might be re-possessors targeting one of the vehicles in his workshop. He therefore recorded the registration number of one of the cars – the Vios.)

Fourth, lack of forensics on Amri’s car.

The police say only one partial print was found in the car. Astonishingly, the police didn’t think to challenge this supposed finding of the forensic unit despite the fact that the car had broken glass, had documents and stickers removed and had been in daily use by Amri’s family.

Fifth, targeting of Syiah Muslims by the police and the religious authorities.

A national fatwa was issued against Syiah in 1996 and the Inquiry was shown a pattern of activity and scrutiny of those suspected of Syiah activities from 1996 till 2016 when Amri was abducted.

Also, dichotomy within the police is evident. ASP Razman said Amri had been investigated for Syiah activity but no evidence was found and the case was closed. However, DCP Awaludin Jadid said evidence of Syiah activity by Amri and Perlis Hope had in fact been found, thanks in part to his wider network of informants (compared to Razman’s).

Awaluddin claimed Perlis Hope was a front for propagating Syiah teachings. Today the Inquiry was reminded of a remark by police anti-terrorism chief Ayob Khan that “identifying me as a Syiah amounts to calling upon Salafists to murder me.”

Awaludin met with Perlis Mufti Dr Asri (“Dr Maza”) weeks before Amri’s abduction. Soon after that meeting Awaludin made a “rivers of blood” speech in which he, lamenting the repeal of the Internal Security Act (ISA), called upon NGOs to work with others to take matters into their own hands to halt both Syiah activity and “Christianization.”

It was noted that while the police told the Inquiry they could not act against individuals or groups in matters related to religious doctrine, the Perlis Mufti told the Inquiry the religious authorities couldn’t act either, despite the matter being one of “national security.”

Shockingly, photos of Awaludin’s meeting with the Mufti, posted on a Facebook page controlled by the Perlis Mufti, provide evidence that Awaludin showed the Mufti and his team a slide which included a photo of Amri’s home. The Inquiry was not provided with minutes of the meeting, but both Asri and Awaludin said Syiah were discussed as a threat to national security.

(The Awaludin/Maza meeting was on 7 October 2016; Awaludin’s “rivers of blood” speech was on 6 November 2016; Amri’s abduction was on 24 November 2016.)

Sixth, the police can’t locate their employee of 18 years who owns the gold Toyota Vios PFC 1623

Within days of Amri’s disappearance the police learned that the car with registration number PFC 1623 did in fact match the general description given by the eyewitness who had recorded the number. This eyewitness, Vee Yak, had connected the Vios to a surveillance operation which is highly likely to be connected with Amri’s abduction.

The police learned that the owner of the Vios worked for the police in the police college (Pulapol) in Jalan Semarak, Kuala Lumpur. The police “rapidly” concluded – and still maintain – that the car is not connected to Amri’s disappearance.

Claiming secrecy in an ongoing investigation, the police refused to reveal, to the team of lawyers acting for Amri’s family, the identity of the owner (and his connection with the police).

It was only after police Sergeant Shamzaini – in a furtive, nocturnal visit to Amri’s wife in her home in Perlis – asked Amri’s wife Norhayati to instruct her lawyers to probe the police (Inspector Khor) about the car and its location in Jalan Semarak that the police revealed information about the car and its owner.

Mysteriously, about a month after the Suhakam Inquiry began, the owner of the car, Saiful Bahari, ceased coming to work. In March 2018 the police did not renew his contract of employment.

The Inquiry panel asked the police to locate Saiful Bahari. The police responded that despite their best efforts, they are still unable to locate Saiful Bahari.

An employee of the police for 18 years, presumably with many friends in the police force, “has vanished like a phantom” and the Malaysian police can’t find him. This despite the fact that the road tax and insurance on his car are still “alive.”

Only one conclusion can be drawn: the police do not wish for Saiful Bahari to be found. Their motive is to hide the truth about the abductions.

Seventh, Norhayati has provided an accurate account of Sergeant Shamzaini’s nocturnal visit.

Shamzaini is the nocturnal visitor mentioned earlier. What he said to Norhayati (Amri’s wife) was recounted by her in a police report. Days after she made the report Shamzaini made his own police report in which he denied her version and gave his own version. This was discussed by the counsel acting for Raymond Koh’s family, so I will discuss it below.

Shamzaini very likely back-tracked because of pressure placed upon him by his superiors and also because he operates a business without written approval of his superiors as required by established policies.

Note: Though Shamzaini’s version of events hinges on him operating a vehicle repair business in Kedah which he wishes to relocate (and expand) in Perlis, the Inquiry received no substantive evidence to corroborate his claims about business activity.

PASTOR RAYMOND KOH (based on key points presented by Datuk Jerald Gomez for the Koh family)

Before Dato’ Jerald presented his points, Dato’ Dr Gurdial Nijar addressed the Inquiry on “the legal effect” of using evidence taken during the Amri hearing to support the Raymond case. He did so as requested by the panel of Inquiry.

Dato’ Gurdial made references to the Evidence Act and the Suhakam Act as well as to several cases which serve as precedents. His central themes were (1) evidence must be allowed if its omission would result in “an affront to justice” (2) the Amri and Raymond cases were convened as a composite cluster, (3) there were similar witnesses and (4) the same counsel appeared across both cases.

It is worth pointing out that though the “reasonable suspicion” rule is used during the Inquiry to draw conclusions, the Inquiry often attempts to use the more demanding “beyond reasonable doubt” rule which is used in the courts.

Dato’ Jerald’s points were selected to support his contention that Raymond Koh’s abduction was either at the behest of the state or state actors or with the acquiescence of the state or state actors.

First, the modus operandi of the abduction was “police style.”

The abduction involved seven vehicles, fifteen abductors including a videographer and was completed in under 40 seconds.

The abductors demonstrated division of responsibility and dress. For instance, some were “in plain clothes,” so they could identify themselves to other police officers who might attempt to intervene, while others were in “standard gear” which included concealment of identity via the use of balaclavas (head/face coverings). The vehicles used were black SUVs very similar to those used by the police.

The abduction was executed in similar manner as the abduction of the Sultan of Kelantan in 2010 when one part of the force, “the Sultan’s detail” was protecting the Sultan while another part of the force abducted him.

Second, DCP Awaludin encouraged NGOs to take direct action to end Christianization and promotion of Syiah practices and he discussed Amri with the Perlis Mufti before Amri’s abduction.

I discussed this under Amri above, so I will not go into it again here.

Third (& fourth), CP Huzir in Bukit Aman, co-ordinated and directed the “investigation” of the 3 cases (Amri, Raymond, Hilmi & Ruth), despite his denials. And fourth, Huzir’s STAFOC team likely planted photos as evidence.

The head of the Ops Jejak Paderi Task Force, SAC Fadzil, told the Inquiry that he met at least three times with CP Huzir who was coordinating the investigation of the three cases. ASP Supari, the Investigating Officer in the Raymond Koh case, said he had met Huzir and received instructions about the case.

Huzir however told the Inquiry he was neither coordinating nor giving instructions concerning the three cases. Huzir lied.

It is hard-to-believe it is coincidental that Huzir was in charge of a special operations STAFOC (Special Task Force on Organized Crime) team which claims to have discovered photos of Pastor Raymond Koh in a second search of the Kg. Hulu house of Fauzi Tajuddin whom the team had shot dead in Baling, Kedah.

Note: the STAFOC team was disbanded in late 2018. Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is reported to have said that the reason for disbanding is so that “the public [will] retain their confidence and trust in the police force.” (The Star, 27 June 2018) According to another report, “Allegations of corruption have been levelled at the [the taskforce] introduced during Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s administration. (Malay Mail, 03 July 2018).

It is likely that Huzir’s team planted evidence in the Kg. Hulu house in order to change the narrative of the Koh abduction into one of human trafficking – though the person who was shot dead was initially alleged to have run a drug and arms smuggling operation, with no mention of human trafficking.

Datuk Jerald went into considerable detail about the discrepancies in the evidence about the items recovered in Tajuddin’s house. I’ll just give an overview.

These include (1) false recording of the name of the officer who received a related police report, (2) obvious discrepancies in handwriting on a list of items seized – indicating two persons wrote it –although one officer (Hazril) claims to have recorded the entire list, (3) evidence of ex-IGP Khalid that members of Tajuddin’s group were involved in Koh’s abduction and the Malaysian police were collaborating with Thai police vs. (4) Koh Investigating Officer ASP Supari’s evidence that he is not aware of any such involvement or collaboration, (5) failure of the police to satisfactorily explain discrepancies in the house number of the residence where the items are said to have been found – is it house #71 or #76? As Chairman Mah pointed out, one is a wooden kampong house on stilts, while the other is a brick house.

As I listened, I recalled what I wrote on 23 November 2017, Day 11 of the Koh Inquiry:

As I listened to the evidence being adduced, I recalled what Justice V T Singham said about Khalid in his decision on the case of death in custody of 22 year old Kugan in January 2009. Singham found that Khalid had made false statements about the case to the media and that Khalid had tried to cover-up what really happened. He wrote, in paragraph 22 (page 64) of his judgement:

… the evidence of [Khalid] when considered together with the evidence of [other officers] tantamounts to suppression of evidence … This court wishes to state that no person, be it in any position, status or rank, when testifying in court should take this court for granted and attempt to suppress the truth with the view to escape liability.

The second is that despite his previous testimony, the SAC now agrees that the wife of suspect Fauzi Tajuddin who was shot to death in Kedah was never brought to Selangor for questioning. How is it possible that the head of the task force in a high priority case can’t remember whether his team questioned the sole woman suspect in the case? Does he even realize how bad this makes him look?

The third was aptly described by Chairman Mah as “the one big question mark in the RK case.” The head of the task force is clueless about how the four pieces of evidence allegedly found in a search of the home of shot-to-death Fauzi Tajuddin are connected to the abduction of the pastor. These items are a photo of the pastor, a photo of his residence, a photo of his car and a number plate bearing the registration number of his car.

Fifth, Norhayati’s report of Sgt. Shamzaini’s visit is a lot more credible than Shamzaini’s version.

As soon as Shamzaini left after speaking with Norhayati late one evening at her home, (1) she made phone calls to her friends in Perlis Hope during which she repeated what Shamzaini told her – as corroborated by her friends who provided evidence to the Inquiry; (2) she made a hand-written record of what Shamzaini said to her – a record which was provided to the Inquiry panel as an unplanned submission – even her counsel had not seen it before the panel saw it; (3) Norhayati’s daughter verified much of what Norhayati said because she too listened to Shamzaini.

The information which Norhayati gave the police in her report of what Shamzaini said to her includes information about transfers and retirements of police officers – information which Norhayati or any member of the public has no other means of obtaining. Evidence taken from police officers confirmed that the information about the police officers is true.

It was the information provided to Norhayati by Shamzaini which led to a breakthrough in the case: the gold coloured Toyota Vios and the police (contract) employee, Saiful Bahari, who owns it and subsequently disappeared without trace, as described earlier.

Sixth, the gold-coloured Toyota Vios PFC 1623 and its mysteriously un-locatable owner Saiful Bahari who worked for the police for 18 years.

I discussed this in the Amri section above, so I will not provide an extended discussion here.

The fact that Saiful Bahari was not brought to a police line-up for potential identification by Roshan who witnessed Pastor Koh’s abduction is astonishing since the police were aware from (1) the viral video, (2) a description provided by Roshan and (3) other undisclosed CCTV footage that a gold Vios featured in the abductions of both Amri and Raymond.

Note: The police did ask Roshan to work with a police artist to produce a photo-fit of the driver of the Vios but Roshan was unsuccessful.

The evasiveness of the police over the Vios, their resort to the OSA to withhold information and their unwillingness to produce Saiful Bahari is a damning indictment on their complicity in the abductions of both Amri and Raymond. This is especially so in light of the fact that the police themselves have said the two cases may be connected – supposedly the reason why Huzir “co-ordinated” the investigations.

Seventh, the police tried to use Lam Cheng Nam as a red-herring to derail the Suhakam Inquiry.

Before the Suhakam Inquiry was announced, “Lam Chang Nam was charged with extorting RM30,000 from Jonathan Koh Szu Hao, 33, for the release of the pastor” (The Star, 16 March 2017). The charge was made after Investigation Papers were compiled by the police, submitted to the Attorney General’s Chambers and subsequently accepted.

Raymond Koh Task Force head SAC Fadzil told the Inquiry “Investigations revealed that the suspect had nothing to do with the case and only tried to take advantage by extorting the victim’s family” and IGP Khalid told the Inquiry “the man was not involved in the pastor’s abduction.”

Before SAC Fadzil was due to provide evidence to the Inquiry the police informed the Inquiry Panel that they had opened investigation papers against counsel Dato’ Jerald Gomez for purported falsification of evidence.

That was an obvious threat against the family’s team of lawyers, a threat designed to “encourage” them not to probe SAC Fadzil – who, it appears, wishes to distance himself from false associations (by his superiors) of Koh’s abduction with a smuggling ring, claims of supposed collaboration with Thailand and other far-fetched fabrications.

What next?

The police told the panel today that they will, by Monday next week, make one more written submission in which they will address the points raised today by counsel for family, Suhakam officers and the Bar Council.

Note: In the interest of brevity I have limited myself to reporting what counsel for the families said since the others – apart from the police – concurred with what the family counsel said.

Chairman Mah said the panel will announce its decision on 3rd April 2019.

Rama Ramanathan is a member of the Citizen Action Group On Enforced Disappearance (Caged)

First published in Rest Stop Thoughts.

Ahead of LGBT crackdown, fleeing Bruneians fear for friends back home – Reuters

KUALA LUMPUR: As a transgender woman growing up in Brunei, Zoe saw the country’s slide towards conservatism from an early age, so plans to introduce strict new Islamic laws this week came as no surprise.

The 19-year-old, who was born male but identified as female from early childhood, is now awaiting the outcome of her asylum application in Canada after fleeing her country late last year.

“Even before Sharia law, LGBT+ people could be prosecuted under civil law,” Zoe told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which is identifying her by only one name for her protection.

“I’ve always been scared of living my life openly in Brunei. I still am. I still think about how I present myself, because I was conditioned to survive.”

Brunei, a Muslim-majority former British protectorate with a population of about 400,000, is due to implement Sharia laws from April 3, punishing sodomy, adultery and rape with the death penalty, and theft with amputation.

The laws, elements of which were first adopted in 2014, could see LGBT+ people whipped or stoned to death for same-sex activity. Some aspects of the laws will apply to non-Muslims.

“I knew it was going to happen,” said Zoe, who hopes to one day undergo hormone therapy and formally change her name to the one she sometimes goes by.

“Our oil reserves were dwindling and the sultan needed a way to control the economy once he started to enforce taxes and reduce the high subsidies.”

The Brunei Prime Minister’s Department did not respond to an emailed request for comment on Monday.

Brunei does not hold elections and any discontent is assuaged with generous government polices including zero taxes, subsidised housing, and free healthcare and education.

Zoe, who is worried that her LGBT+ friends back in Brunei do not fully appreciate how dangerous the situation will soon become, faces an uncertain future.

“If I get sent back to Brunei, I will confess who I am and what I believe in to the Bruneian authorities,” she said.

“I’d rather die being true to myself than resenting a long life. I wish that Muslims who want Sharia law just keep it with themselves and God. Not enforce it onto other people.”

Asia’s silence

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, 72, is the world’s second-longest-reigning monarch and prime minister of oil-rich Brunei. He ranks as one of the world’s wealthiest people.

Since details of the new laws were announced, actor George Clooney and musician Elton John are among celebrities who have called for a boycott of hotels owned by the government-owned Brunei Investment Agency.

Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have all called on Brunei to abandon changes to its penal code.

“It is seriously regrettable that Brunei’s decision contravenes a number of international norms on human rights,” New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Winston Peters said in a statement on Sunday.

Matthew Woolfe, founder of human rights group The Brunei Project, said it was now very unlikely that Brunei would backtrack, but diplomatic pressure from Asian countries could help ensure the laws were not enforced fully.

“We want to see more Asian governments coming out and speaking out on this. They have been too quiet,” said the Australia-based campaigner.

Socially conservative attitudes prevail across Asia, with Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore banning sexual relationships between men, while Indonesia has seen an increase in raids targeting LGBT+ people in recent years.

Members of the Association of South East Asian Nations, which did not respond to requests for a comment, have a principle of non-interference in each others’ domestic affairs.

“I’m not aware of any Asian country having come out and said anything about these laws,” said Woolfe.

‘Barbaric laws’

Brunei, which neighbours two Malaysian states on Borneo island, already enforces Islamic teachings more strictly than Malaysia and Indonesia, the other majority Muslim countries in Southeast Asia.

Previously homosexuality was illegal in Brunei and punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment, while the sale of alcohol is banned and evangelism by other religions is forbidden.

Ging Cristobal, project coordinator at OutRight Action International in Manila, urged other Muslim countries in the region to put pressure on Brunei.

“In reality, Brunei will not succumb to pressure from countries that are not Muslim-majority countries,” said Cristobal.

“Brunei might say that other regions are imposing on Asia, so it would be good to see other Asian nations condemn these barbaric laws.”

Better to leave

Shahiransheriffuddin bin Shahrani Muhammad is a gay man who fled Brunei last year after being charged with sedition for a Facebook post that was critical of the government.

Now seeking asylum in Canada, the 40-year-old was surprised at the speed with which the new Sharia laws were being implemented.

“I expected it to happen, just not so soon,” he said. I thought there would be more time for people like me in Brunei to realise that it’s better to leave.”

Many people in Brunei back the Sharia laws because of rising unemployment and crime, he said.

The death penalty has rarely been used in Brunei and the burden of proof needed to secure a conviction for same-sex activities is very high, he added.

Nonetheless, for LGBT+ people, the prospect of going to trial is terrifying, carrying the risk of being the first person to be stoned, he added.

Even if exonerated, they face being stigmatised for the rest of their lives – Cristobal said the new laws gave license “for other people to see LGBTIQ (people) as criminals and commit violence and abuse towards them”.

Khairul, 19, is a gay Muslim man living in Brunei who now fears for his future.

“With the added laws that affect the LGBTQ+ community, I am scared,” said Khairul, who asked not to be identified by his real name for fear of reprisals. “My life here will become more complicated and hard.

“The fear of dying has become a reality, while the hope of being accepted by family is now just a dream.”

First published in Free Malaysia Today

Bukit Aman also behind Pastor Koh’s disappearance, says Suhakam

KUALA LUMPUR: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) is pointing its finger at Bukit Aman in the case of the disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh, saying that he – like Amri Che Mat – was a victim of “enforced disappearance by state agents”.

Suhakam commissioner Datuk Mah Weng Kwai said an inquiry panel looking into Koh’s disappearance came up with the unanimous conclusion after lengthy discussions.

“There is direct and circumstantial evidence which proves, on balance of probabilities, that he was abducted by state agents, by Special Branch, Bukit Aman,” he said when announcing the findings of the public inquiry on Wednesday (April 3).

Koh, who founded the NGO Harapan Komuniti, was abducted by a group of men along Jalan SS4B/10 in Petaling Jaya on Feb 13, 2017, while on his way to a friend’s house.

CCTV footage of the incident showed at least 15 men and three black SUVs were involved in the abduction, which was done in “professional” style.

Koh’s silver-coloured car bearing the number plate ST5515D has yet to be found.

The police were not present at the announcement of the findings.

The inquiry was held under Section 12(1) of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act in connection with the disappearances of Amri and Koh.

The panel of inquiry consists of commissioners Datuk Mah Weng Kwai as chairman, Prof Datuk Dr Aishah Bidin and Dr Nik Salida Suhaila Nik Saleh.

Bukit Aman has yet to respond to The Star’s request for comments.

First published in The Star Online

Suhakam says Amri abducted by Bukit Aman

KUALA LUMPUR: Amri Che Mat was a victim of enforced disappearance with circumstantial evidence pointing to Bukit Aman as the culprit, says the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam).

Suhakam commissioner Datuk Mah Weng Kwai said an inquiry panel looking into Amri’s disappearance came up with the unanimous conclusion after lengthy discussions.

“There is direct and circumstantial evidence that he was abducted by state agents, by Bukit Aman,” he said when announcing the findings of the public inquiry on Wednesday (April 3).

According to Mah, there was no evidence that the abduction was conducted by “non-state agents”.

The police were not present at the press conference announcing the findings.

Amri, who was the founder of the NGO Perlis Hope, had gone out from his home in Kangar at about 11.30pm on Nov 24, 2016, in his SUV.

His car was later found at the construction site of the Bukit Cabang Sports School in the wee hours of the following day.

Amri, who was being investigated for allegedly spreading Shia teachings, was also a mountain climber who was part of the 1997 Mount Everest Malaysian expedition team.

The inquiry was held under Section 12(1) of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act in connection with the disappearances of Amri and Pastor Raymond Koh.

Suhakam will announce its conclusion on Koh later.

Koh, who founded the NGO Harapan Komuniti, was abducted by a group of men along Jalan SS4B/10 in Petaling Jaya on Feb 13, 2017, while on his way to a friend’s house.

CCTV footage of the incident showed at least 15 men and three black SUVs involved in the abduction, which was done in “professional” style.

Koh’s silver-coloured car bearing the number plate ST5515D has yet to be found.

The panel of inquiry consists of commissioners Datuk Mah Weng Kwai as chairman, Prof Datuk Dr Aishah Bidin, and Dr Nik Salida Suhaila Nik Saleh.

First published in The Star Online

The emasculated academic

By Tajuddin Rasdi

Daim Zainuddin recently made two important points in his speech at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia in Skudai.

Firstly, he said the Malays are being fed a narrative bordering on the idea that their race and Islam are both under threat, and that more affirmative policies will be needed in the new Pakatan Harapan government in the coming years and decades.

Secondly, and this is the main point of my article, he said Malay academics appear to be doing nothing at all but are letting this narrative play out to the opportunism of certain political parties and selfish NGOs.

I have been writing to the media for 20 years, saying absolutely the same thing, but it has earned me a negative perception from the Malay establishment especially in the public universities and even the previous higher education ministry.

Daim’s statement came as a sweet surprise to me as he was never one of my favourite politicians.

I know him as a savvy businessman who grew up within the Malay patronage system. As the economic and corporate worlds are outside of my understanding, I have shied away from trying to know anything about the man himself.

But a few days ago, I was surprised to find him articulating a historical, religious and political construct of what I consider a “Malaysia-Malay construct” as opposed to what I term a “Melayu-Malaysia” one.

A Malaysia-Malay construct is simply a Malay who understands his or her own heritage and faith within a Malaysian constitutional, multi-religious and multi-ethnic acceptance of co-existence, while a Melayu-Malaysia construct is a Malay who is just a Malay, then, now and forever, living in a land geopolitically defined as “Malaysia”. No compromise, no apologies.

The Melayu-Malaysia expects others to change for the sake of his race and faith, without the need to understand, tolerate or even acknowledge the importance of the existence of others as partners in nation-building.

The academics of this country have become purely self-serving and disinterested in nation-building.

The story of a disinterested academia began in the 1980s.

The Universities and University Colleges Act, or UUCA, was instituted to kill off or control student political activities and also that of the academics.

Under UUCA, no academic can speak or write to the media or the public without getting permission from the authorities. That basically sums it up.

A few academics were charged under the act, one of them the late Fadzil Noor who was the PAS president and an academic at a public university.

The involvement of the academia in nation-building basically died. With this law, the culture of academia turned inwards to a concentration on teaching until the idea of “world class” and being “internationally recognised” in rankings came into being in the late 1990s.

With this new mantra, academics are said to be successful if they publish in “high impact” or Scopus journals and receive million ringgit grants.

It would also sweeten the deal if an MoU were signed with European or American or Western universities deemed to be “world class” and “international”. Whether such ties would produce a culture of research and inquiry was disregarded as long as universities “dapat nama”, and a minister was there to observe the deals being signed. That’s it.

After the turn of the 21st century, public universities went full blast on rankings by journals with overseas publications. Locally published books, encyclopaedias and journals were regarded as third rate.

In the old days, books and media writings commanded a high percentage and weightage but now there is hardly a column to put them in on an evaluation or KPI form.

Once, I had to put my books, articles and 200 encyclopaedia entries in a column marked “other publications”.

I used to read Aliran, whose writers are academics from universities in the north. I found their writings to be fresh, bold and highly academic.

After 10 years, I noticed their designation was still “associate professor” and wondered when these people would be called “professor”.

I soon found out that they had migrated to the National University of Singapore. There is no future in Malaysia for “public intellectuals”.

I was lucky enough to be appointed a full professor before all the crazy journal hype began to take place in universities. I managed to squeeze by with my books, papers and other writings after attending the professor interview twice.

As my writings increasingly touched on society and the nation, my appointments at committees on the national level became fewer and fewer.

I no longer got invitations to public talks from universities, because I was told that I am “controversial” in the corridors of the chancellery.

So the only appointment letters from public universities that came to me were to be an examiner for PhD candidates and evaluator of professorships and associate professorships in architecture.

The coup de grace came after I went on optional retirement, leaving after 27 years of teaching and writing at a public university, exiting the campus alone and uncelebrated.

My application as contract professor to two public universities was rejected on grounds of me being “controversial”.

I have mentioned that the key to our future is the reeducation process of the Malay mind by Malay academics who understand that Islam is strong only if you read and understand, and not sit in front of the TV or the mosque podium listening to an ustaz giving his half-baked ideas of religion and society.

The fate of our country hinges on academics changing the narratives of what is important for Malaysians in the coming decades and centuries, to be in line with the goals of sustainable development outlined by the United Nations.

We won’t go very far listening to Friday sermons condemning progressive thinkers or LGBT that may have caused Allah to turn the hot weather on us.

Forget about STEM education if academics do not speak about it.

We are facing a Malay-Muslim society that has grown up with the Islamic resurgence of the 1980s with most Malays conscious about the afterlife and religious values for their children and society.

The International Islamic University Malaysia as well as Istac and Ikim were supposed to guide the Malays into a new era of modern and democratic understanding of Islam vis-a-vis nation-building and coexistence.

But where were these academics when two muftis encouraged the use of “kafir” on non-Muslim citizens, or when calls for “jihad” against the enemies of Islam came from the national mosque?

Daim’s speech must give pause to all the vice-chancellors of public universities to rethink their KPI for academics.

We need more public intellectuals to reform and rewrite the narratives of the nation, to bring social and religious harmony and sustainable wealth to the country.

We don’t need “high impact” journals to measure our success.

Just ask the man on the street whether he should vaccinate his children or whether the world is flat or defending minority groups would start a tsunami somewhere.

First published in freemalaysiatoday.com

Christchurch killings: Deputy minister highlights hypocrisy of Malaysian politicians

Following the massacre at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, Malaysian politicians from both sides of the divide condemned the incident.

Umno politicians such as Khairy Jamaluddin and Annuar Musa were also quick to criticise Australian senator Fraser Anning, who linked the shootings to the influx of Muslim radicals.

However, Housing and Local Government Deputy Minister Raja Kamarul Bahrin Shah highlighted the similarities between the New Zealand shooter Brenton Tarrant and the hate being spread in Malaysia along racial and religious lines.

Without mentioning names, but in an obvious reference to Umno and PAS leaders, he also noted the hypocrisy of Malaysia’s opposition politicians with regard to this issue.

“The biggest irony is that there are certain opposition politicians who become livid over the threats against Muslims, who are the minority in New Zealand, France and the United States.

“At the same time, these politicians continue to threaten and make rash accusations based on racial and religious sentiments against the minorities in Malaysia,” he said in a statement today.

The Amanah leader also warned that if the racial and religious hate on social media is not curbed, then a similar tragedy could happen in Malaysia.

“Statements like halal darah (permissible to kill), kafir harbi (infidels who can be killed), pendatang (immigrants) which have long been spread through social media by influential personalities can create a fertile ground for serious racial and religious conflicts in Malaysia,” he said.

Apart from politicians, Raja Bahrin said religious scholars also make such statements which can influence the people.

“The label ‘pendatang’ accorded to a portion of Malaysian citizens is the same as the label ‘invaders’ used by the New Zealand shooter to describe Muslims.

“Using social media to fan hatred towards other races and faiths is also similar to the New Zealand’s shooter’s tactics,” he added.

Noting how the Dewan Rakyat yesterday condemned the incident in New Zealand, Raja Kamarul said Malaysian lawmakers should not criticise others on issues of racial and religious extremism when guilty of doing the same back home.

“If someday, an equally devastating incident happens in Malaysia, can Parliament say it happened without any sign or warning?” he asked.

Since the last general election, Umno and PAS, which are now in a formal alliance, have repeatedly accused the Pakatan Harapan administration of failing to safeguard the interests of the Malays and Islam.

Despite repeated denials, there are also accusations that the current administration is controlled by the predominantly Chinese DAP, whom certain Muslim politicians and groups claim is bent on undermining the special position of Islam and the Malays.

First published in Malaysiakini.com