Let’s have a happy first anniversary

By Marina Mahathir

AS the cliche goes, time has whizzed by. Wasn’t it just yesterday we were queuing up by the thousands at polling stations, and then getting together with friends to wait for the results? And waited and waited?

Meanwhile, our phones buzzed with unofficial results. Yet on TV we were made to twiddle our thumbs until the early hours of the morning. Another long tense wait followed. We voted for the government we wanted and yet we didn’t know for an entire day whether it would be sworn in.

Who doesn’t remember the emotions of that day? The camaraderie at the polling stations, the frustration of people not being allowed to vote past closing time despite the extra-long queues, the exhilaration of winning and then that long agonising wait for the new government to take over.

Whichever side you may be on that day, all Malaysians should take pride in one thing: in this chaotic violent world today, we were arguably the only developing country that changed governments – after sixty years! – in the best way possible, through the ballot box.

Without a single drop of blood being shed. Just read about all the elections now being held elsewhere and see how unusual this is.

It was certainly a new experience for everyone, to see a new government sworn in.

Faces we had barely seen in the news were suddenly ministers.

But how refreshing that was to see a Cabinet that looked like us, instead of a bunch of tired and jaded entitled folk who had been there too long.

But reality can be a hard bone to swallow. Only those who believe in fairy tales could have expected things to become wonderful overnight.

We didn’t get extra change in our pockets and justice and equality the day after the elections.

There are only four people in the Cabinet who have actual experience in governing, two at the Federal level and two at the state level. It’s not a skill that one picks up overnight.

Furthermore, they were inheriting an almost broken machine that had to be fixed up first. Some patience is needed.

Having said that, one year on, the government’s track record is uneven.

On the one hand, we are finally seeing some people being brought to court. The media has a new freedom, which even they are finding it hard to get used to.

I read a letter from a teacher who praised the Education Minister for lessening the burdens put on teachers in schools.

The Environment Minister was very proactive and quick in dealing with the Sungai Kim Kim toxic fumes disaster.

I’m sure there is more but we just don’t hear about them.

The good news is being overwhelmed by the bad news. Partly this is because of the relentless attacks by the opposition.

I do wish they would behave like a good opposition because a good democracy always needs one.

But they’ve become single-issue fanatics. Everything is only about race and religion.

I do understand that they are unable to talk about corruption without a lot of the mud splashing back on their faces but seriously, are there no other policy issues that they are interested in?

What are their views on climate change for instance? Or equal pay for equal work for women?

What do they think about the attacks on Yemen, causing the deaths of 5200 civilians, and a further 50,000 deaths from famine?

What are their views on genocide, say, in Myanmar, and what do they think is the best way to deal with it? What do they think is the appropriate response to attacks on houses of worship around the world that cause so many deaths?

What is their stand on nuclear arms? On what issues would they be willing to join the government in a bipartisan stand?

I would really like to know the answers to these. Is it simply too much to expect this from the opposition or from their paid trolls on social media?

I live in hope though because if they intend to rule again, the least we can expect is a government that can sing more than one note.

But we cannot lay the entire blame on an opposition deprived of ideas.

The government too needs to stop looking like amateurs. I don’t understand why a government that was so soundly voted in should get defensive at all about any of their policies. Especially social policies.

Why be afraid to raise the age of marriage and ban child marriage altogether? Why attack minorities who voted for you just because the other side keeps baiting you on them?

Why the need to respond to every single thing that reporters ask you about? Some things benefit from better investigation and longer reflection.

Other things are best left to the technical people who actually know what they’re talking about.

I think some people forget that they’re now in government and they don’t have to fight for media coverage anymore.

The one thing I really wish this government had done from the beginning is to have some sort of coordinating mechanism so that ministries no longer work in silos.

This was a huge problem in the old government when, for example, the Health Ministry didn’t know how international trade agreements affected them simply because they were negotiated by the International Trade and Industry Ministry.

Or how only the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry dealt with gender issues when in fact women are affected by policies from every ministry.

In Indonesia, there is such a thing as a Coordinating Minister whose job is to ensure horizontal cooperation between ministries.

Something like that would be very useful here too in my opinion.

But since it’s the first anniversary coming up soon, let me end on a positive note.

I remember the days when we all felt like there was not enough air to breathe, when hate poured out of our TV screens like poisoned rivers, when nobody could even fly a balloon without being arrested and taken to court. Those days must never return.

For at least the next four years, I wish to see a kinder, gentler and fairer government – one that considers every single citizen in this land a Malaysian, whether they voted for it or not.

I’d like to have a government that respects us all and not treat us like ignorant children, that spends its resources on what would benefit all of us and not on monitoring imaginary insults.

It would be terrific if this was a government that raised the level of intellectual discourse in this country, that doesn’t ban books but instead invites people to debate them in an orderly civilized way.

A government that shows us through very clear values and by example how to be exemplary citizens.

It’s not just about putting down the other side, it’s also about how you raise the bar for governance.

Raise standards and the other side will have to keep up. And the rakyat wins either way.

Happy first anniversary in advance, Pakatan Harapan. And happy first anniversary, rakyat Malaysia Baharu.

First published in The Star Online

Open letter to Council of Churches Malaysia – Too Xing Ji

I write to you in good faith as a fellow citizen of Malaysia to humbly ask that the Council of Churches reconsiders its decision to object to the Devouror Concert on April 21, 2019.

The reason is simple: Cancelling the concert on the basis that it offends the sensitivities of Christians sets a very dangerous precedent for Malaysia.

Over the years, the Malaysian Christian community has had its freedom of speech and belief, unjustly taken away on many occasions by the authorities, to avoid offending the sensitivities of those who follow the religion of the Federation.

Here are a few examples:

  • The ban of the use of the word “Allah;”
  • The seizure of Bibles printed in the national language;
  • The removal of crosses from the facades of churches.

The logic and policy behind those actions, and the cancellation of the Devouror Concert, are exactly the same.

We cannot complain when the authorities take away our freedoms to make other people happy, when we ask them to do the exact same thing to those who offend us.

Today’s actions undermine the position of all of us who seek the refuge of the law from the tyranny of the majority.

Respecting someone’s right to freedom of speech does not mean that we have to respect the content of the speech itself.

In fact, the CCM will be all the more respected, if it expressly states that even though it continues to find heavy metal offensive and distasteful, it respects the right of the people of Malaysia to exercise their freedoms in a democratic society, by allowing the concert to proceed.

We have not fought so hard all these years to achieve Malaysia Baru, only to start emulating our oppressors before the year is out.

The choices that we make today will determine which path our country will take in the ongoing national conversation. Do we choose freedom over fear; tolerance over mistrust?

It is still not too late.

I am begging you. Please reconsider.

First published in malaymail.com

The controversy surrounding Israel Folau

Let’s just say that I wouldn’t have done the same. I don’t necessarily disagree with the message, but it has too narrow a focus. After all, the bible says “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. And so to say “Warning: Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolators – Hell awaits you. Repent! Only Jesus saves.” in a public tweet is to invite controversy and misunderstanding; certainly not repentance.

That Instagram post carried the message, “Those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him.” and quoted Galatians 5:19,

“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these, adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19‭-‬21 KJV”.

Despite addressing a wide variety of sins, and a message that is essentially a call to repentance, Israel Folau’s tweet has been condemned as homophobic, and Folau characterised as a bully, a “f-ing” misinformed bigot who is spreading hate, by fellow rugby players.

Israel Folau is a key member of Australia’s Wallabies, the national rugby union team. But as a result of his tweet, Rugby Australia has decided to sack him from the team.

Billy Vunipola, a member of the England squad defended Folau, on Instagram, saying, “So this morning I got 3 phone calls from people telling me to ‘unlike’ the @izzyfolau post. This is my position on it. I don’t HATE anyone neither do I think I’m perfect. There just comes a point when you insult what I grew up believing in that you just say enough is enough, what he’s saying isn’t that he doesn’t like or love those people. He’s saying how we live our lives needs to be closer to how God intended them to be. Man was made for woman to pro create that was the goal no? I’m not perfect I’m at least everything on that list at least at one point in my life. It hurts to know that. But that’s why I believe there’s a God. To guide and protect us and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Saracens (the rugby club Vunipola plays for) have formally warned Billy Vunipola over his controversial social media posts which defended the Australia international Israel Folau’s “homophobia”.

Saracens made clear that they believe Vunipola made “a serious error of judgement in publicly sharing his opinion, which is inconsistent with the values of the club and contravenes his contractual obligations”.

Billy Vunipola has also been dropped as the face of Channel 4’s European rugby coverage.

A Channel 4 spokesman said on Friday: ”These views are incompatible with our values as an inclusive broadcaster. In light of this Billy Vunipola will not be used as a contributor in Channel 4’s coverage.”

And, the 26-year-old is set to meet with the Rugby Football Union, the body that governs English Rugby, over his support for Folau.

The only sane response I found was from Australian Liberal MP Tim Wilson, a gay MP, who proposed to his husband in parliament while speaking on the same-sex marriage bill in 2017:

“There is a need for people to be able to express their views on something like religion, and their religious beliefs, without censorship,” Mr Wilson told the ABC.

“I don’t know the details of the EBA or the contractual arrangements that sit between (Rugby Australia) and Israel Folau, but I would have thought that Rugby Australia should be very cautious in how they are conducting themselves.

“Rugby isn’t just a game for people who are agnostic or atheist. In a free, pluralistic democracy, that should have space for everybody to express their opinion.”

Mr Wilson said there were often provisions in employment contracts that prevent employees from making statements that do “unnecessary harm or damage”.

“Quoting the Bible or reciting a well established position around morality and private morality I don’t think crosses that line,” he said.

Quietly doing what needs to be done

EDUCATION Minister Dr Maszlee Malik has come under criticism over and over again.

As a teacher, I have seen his numerous efforts to improve our education system, how he reacts almost immediately when needed, and how he has humbly recognised teachers as the heroes of the future.

He helms one of the largest ministries, under which there are about 10,000 schools, half a million teachers, and 500,000 students, excluding those at tertiary level.

I attended a few talks by Dr Maszlee before he became involved in politics. I like his character and his thoughtful responses to questions and he seems to have his mind on the right priorities.

However, he has been under intense scrutiny since he became Education Minister, and there have been baseless accusations that he has done nothing since last year other than initiating menial changes in the system, such as changing the colour of shoes for pupils.

Perhaps the work that his ministry is doing to unclog the education system makes boring headlines, which is why I would like to highlight what he has done, at least in the things which I can to relate to.

1. Reducing the non-teaching burden of teachers: This is something he emphasised from the very beginning. Most Malaysians can agree that teachers are burdened by unnecessary paperwork and clerical duties that take their energy and time away from their actual and most important job – teaching. Today, many teachers spend more time doing other things instead of their core duty.

Under Dr Maszlee, the Education Ministry introduced a set of reforms (five initiatives, nine interventions) this year to reduce the burden of teachers by 25%. From filing and documentation to monitoring the textbook borrowing scheme, recording of class assessments, taking students’ attendance, and assessing the cleanliness of school canteens (apparently, this is a duty some teachers are burdened with), the work of teachers has been streamlined, simplified or simply removed.

The administrative burden of teachers has been reduced with the collaboration of the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP). At last, someone like Dr Maszlee is willing to listen to the grassroots and adopt the bottom-up approach in formulating policies, instead of just coming up with new things without considering teachers on the ground.

Yes, teachers are still burdened at school. They are still dreading clerical work and nonstop filing. But I personally feel less burdened and I know things will get better with time.

2. Revamping the curriculum: Some things, however, cannot be done with haste, like curriculum change. There have been critics who argue that the minister has done nothing to correct our national curriculum/syllabus, which is deemed as below par and biased. However, this minister has quietly formed the National Education Policy Review Committee and engaged various stakeholders, including NGOs and experts who are not bureaucrats (a more inclusive approach), to recommend improvements to the curriculum. The National Civics and Religious Education curriculum is also being reviewed to ensure that values are practised and inculcated. The minister expects the new curriculum to be implemented in 2021 based on the recommendations made.

Dr Maszlee always highlights the ministry’s key initiatives: values-based education; equitable, inclusive and quality education; and autonomy and empowerment of learning institutions. I believe all these elements will be included and considered in the curriculum. Schools, according to Dr Maszlee, should be a place where learning is fun and where children are nurtured and protected.

I am looking forward to discovering other improvements that the Education Ministry can execute even though I know that Dr Maszlee is being criticised by a lot of people. I love how close he is with my fellow teachers where he uses his own social media accounts to directly connect with and reach out to them, be it through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even YouTube. No education minister has ever reached out to this extent, and I know a good minister when I see one through his efforts. I hope this beautiful rapport can benefit both in enhancing the quality of the curriculum and producing better teachers.



First published in The Star Online

PH’s greatest achievement

The full headline said “PH’s greatest achievement, one year on.” Of course I was intrigued. It was an opinion piece by A Kathirasen, the executive editor of FMT.

He wrote of meeting two neighbours who felt PH had lost credibility because it had failed to keep many of its major election promises. Once again, no details. (Every this is mentioned, no details follow. My conclusion is that it is an impression that has sunk deep into people’s psyche so that it is now fact).

In the meantime one of them said that Najib is innocent until proven guilty. Once again, despite ECRL, FELDA, 1MDb, Tabung Haji, this is mentioned. Except we don’t make a distinction between proven and declared guilty in a court of law.

How quickly we forget how close we were to having Najib continue to be our PM. How quickly we forget what a miracle it was that PH is now the government of the day.

OK. What was “PH’s greatest achievement, one year on?”

For Kathirasen, it is that there is greater freedom today than in the past 35 years.

He did not elaborate, but as I thought about it, the presence of PKR and DAP must have had a real influence.

I felt that the commitment early on to institutional reform was the key. Perhaps there were other motivations but the appointment of Tommy Thomas as AG was crucial as all legal matters must flow through him. Art Harun as EC chair bolsters its independence and Richard Malanjum as CJ signals that the government is willing to allow justice free rein. He has just retired and who replaces him is a matter for urgent prayer.

The IGP remains unchanged but he will also retire soon and thus have no motivation to endanger his remaining time as IGP. Who replaces him will be another crucial matter for prayer.

What many fail to understand and appreciate is how much political capital among the Malays PH had expended to do all these. And when they gripe and scorn and belittle PH’s efforts, even more political capital is depleted wastefully. And in a state of depleting political capital it is much harder to achieve reforms that are necessary but unpopular.

It must have been tempting for Mahathir to come down hard on Najib and manipulate the establishment to crucify him early on. But he has shown remarkable restraint this time round. But the price is time and space for Najib and UMNO to regroup and spin their way into the minds of the masses. They can say anything and lie shamelessly (and they do) and the media, social or otherwise, amplify their messages uncritically, because, of course, Najib is innocent until proven guilty, and PH is using 1MDb to excuse their incompetence, and the trillion ringgit debt to justify their inaction while in truth they have lost credibility because they have failed to keep their promises.

For me though, PH’s greatest achievement has to be defeating BN and successfully forming the government. That creates the possibility of a viable two-party political system for the country. I say “possibility” because PH has to win a second term, as the incumbent, to be truly legitimate, or be dismissed as an aberration.

That this achievement was the result of many different groups coming together and working together is the icing on the cake. It was not just a single race, or a single group of people with an agenda. It was not won solely on the back of urban Malaysia. It was not a victory wrought by civil society or society’s elite. It even took Mahathir and Anwar to set aside their differences and suspicion.

Truly this government is our government. It is my government. I voted for it, I prayed for it and I rejoiced when it came into being.

And this is why I believe we should not treat it as if it is our adversary. Or begin to abandon it. And yet we do. We are critical and demanding of PH and nice and understanding towards Najib, even when he is lying through his teeth. And now we too are repeating the mantra of the opposition, that PH has lost credibility because they have failed to keep their promises (the two neighbours Kathirasen spoke of were clearly those who had voted for PH in the last election).

The UMNO-PAS axis to consolidate the Malay vote is a powerful possibility. And we should fear it. MIC and MCA’s continued association with UMNO in this context is puzzling. Do they seriously think they can influence them to abandon their propensity to do whatever they please?

This by the way is not an anti-umno-pas sentiment. If they stand on clear ideals and objectives for the betterment of the country and its people, sure. But they are standing on Malay-Muslim grounds. And that is destructive.

The more we suggest that the present government is no better than the last, the more we make it easier for the Malay voter to return to UMNO’s fold. And once the UMNO-PAS marriage succeeds in gaining power, we will have to seek God for another miracle.

PH still the better choice, warts and all

By Wan Haron Wan Hassan

A number of political developments and events have unfolded over the past few weeks, casting a pall over Malaysia Baru.

They are causing great stress, strain and concern to the people.

1. The Rome Statute

Malaysia will not be ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) – a month after acceding to the treaty.

A visibly upset Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the government “was forced” to withdraw from the treaty following confusion created by those with political interests.

The foreign minister, meanwhile, revealed that the forces of “the deep state” were busy scheming a coup against the government.

Mahathir also alluded to the involvement of royalty in opposing the treaty.

People are obviously unhappy with this development. Like the ICERD affair, the Rome Statute has fallen victim to spins and misinformation.

Even Umno’s Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah was on record as saying that the royal institution has been misled by overzealous quarters, who include some academics.

Tengku Rithauddeen said that mischief had triumphed over truth in the case.

2. Tabung Haji, Felda and LTAT

Lembaga Tabung Haji continues to be a troubling issue with the latest announcement of 1.25% returns to the depositors for 2018. It is the lowest return in history – the depositors had been enjoying an average return of about 6-7% dividends over the last few years.

The reasons behind this are easy to understand.

TH has been in the red for a few years now on account of abuse and financial mismanagement. They have been operating with a deficit of about RM4.1 billion for 2017, with liabilities of RM74.4 billion outstripping assets of RM70.3 billion.

They have been declaring good dividends over the past few years, not from income but from non-income sources, which is illegal under the Tabung Haji Act 1995. Accounts have been doctored to misrepresent, mislead and distort the true state of affairs.

At a recent special briefing for Pakatan Harapan MPs, it was revealed that the fund had suffered losses amounting to RM10 billion which were kept off the books.

On Felda, the government announced that it had to inject RM6.23 billion following soaring losses and debts over the past decade.

This included the latest police report by Felda on Najib Razak and its purchase of Eagle High Plantations at a highly inflated price of RM2.3 billion, whereas the market price was only RM440 million.

Then, Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu dropped another bombshell when he announced that the audit report for the Armed Forces Fund Board (LTAT) has to be re-declared because its report last year was manipulated.

It remains to be seen how many billions more have been squandered.

It is unfortunate that the PH government is the bringer of bad news, left with the unenviable task of cleaning up the mess.

Yet, many are gullible enough to believe the spins and lies being churned out by some political parties bent on blaming PH for the mess.

3. MA63

The bill to amend the constitution which sought to restore the status of Sabah and Sarawak as equal partners in the Federation of Malaysia was defeated in Parliament with only 138 MPs voting for it while 59 abstained.

How this will pan out remains to be seen, and it will require all the skill, wisdom and foresight of all parties concerned to work out a solution or a compromise.

4. Other troubling issues

In the countdown to the Rantau by-election tomorrow, we see racism and religious bigotry rearing their ugly heads.

PH is still saddled with the legacy of financial and administrative mismanagement, questionable development projects, massive corruption and mega scandals, and a compromised jury and civil service.

The high cost of living continues to be a bane. One cannot fail to mention the real threat of global economic slowdown and trade wars between superpowers.

Silver linings

Yet, there is good reason for us to feel upbeat about the prospects ahead as we look at some of the other significant unfolding events.

1. Mahathir on Anwar

A few days ago, Mahathir reiterated that his successor would be Anwar Ibrahim, in another statement to show his commitment to the two-year timeline.

The naysayers and prophets of doom will be unimpressed by this latest development. We can expect them to continue with their conspiracy theories, spins and deception. They will stop at nothing to create a wedge between the two men and sow seeds of discord between the component parties of PH.

2. Najib’s trials

Najib’s klepto trials are finally underway with the seven charges in relation to SRC International involving RM42 million, while another six CBT charges in relation to 1MDB involving RM6.6 billion will begin next month.

The remaining charges will also be tried this year.

The people have been waiting for this, after months of debate and trial by media.

We shall see when the hard facts are revealed whether the realities will take a bite at the facade of beliefs and perceptions about the cases.

And at the end of the day, we will get to see whether the people will continue to cheer and support “Bossku” as some do now.


There are indications that both China and Malaysia are now close to a resolution on the East Coast Rail Link, with the project expected to cost less with a deal for China to buy our palm oil.

4. Other positive news

The controversy surrounding Ronald Kiandee’s chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee is resolved.

Right commission Suhakam made a brave finding on how state agents abducted Pastor Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat.

The PH government has finally agreed to launch further investigation into the matter when the police get a new chief next month, so that investigations are not compromised by the involvement of current and previous police chiefs in the cases.

There is now greater urgency to establish the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission to address grouses and take enforcement action against the police.

Fireman Muhammad Adib’s inquest has also debunked the many allegations by some quarters, especially the extremist groups who see a racial slant to the tragedy.

We will realise that there is more good than bad under PH in the New Malaysia.

But people are impatient and expect immediate results.

There is still a long way before the next polls. And there is reason for us to remain upbeat that things will get better as we move forward.

When it comes to the crunch, the PH government is still our best bet for a safer and better future. Warts and all, PH is still a better choice than Umno/BN and PAS. They remain trapped in a time warp with the old mindset of racial chauvinism.

Wan Haron Wan Hassan is a senior practising lawyer, active in civil society movements.

First published in Free Malaysia Today

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.

Tok Mat says …

Dato’ Mohamad Hasan is currently a candidate for the Rantau state by-election. He is also the acting president of UMNO.

Too many penumpang

Umno acting president said Malays are being made to feel like visitors in their own country as there are too many ‘penumpang’ in Parliament.

“This government is not looking out for Malays and Muslim rights. Right now the ‘big house’ is full of ‘penumpang’,” said Mohamad alluding to the many non-Malays as ministers in office.

“We’ve been made to feel like visitors in our own country. This is a spineless government. One that we should reject.”

I was talking about weak ministers

Umno acting president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan today asserted that his “penumpang” (squatter) remark was not aimed at non-Malay ministers in the Cabinet.

He said in a Malaysiakini report that he was referring to ministers in the current Cabinet who were not living up to expectations, while blaming Pakatan Harapan (PH) for intentionally smearing his name by misinterpreting his words.

“The ‘penumpang’ I meant were the non-performers in Mahathir’s Cabinet, but it was deliberately misunderstood by Harapan, who claimed I used the word against non-Malay ministers,” said Mohamad said in the news portal’s report.

Dr M won’t let Anwar be PM

Umno’s Mohamad Hasan has questioned the likelihood of Dr Mahathir Mohamad handing over the reins to Anwar Ibrahim in two years’ time as promised, saying the PKR president will likely remain “the longest prime minister-in-waiting”.

“I know our ‘atok’ very well,” he said, referring to the 93-year-old statesman. “He will not give Anwar the post.

“Our ‘atok’ is hard-hearted. Those who dream of (Anwar) becoming prime minister will be disappointed,” he added.

Losing Rantau won’t hurt Anwar’s chance to be PM

Anwar Ibrahim’s chances to become prime minister would not be affected if PKR loses the Rantau by-election, said Umno acting president Mohamad Hasan.

“The issue of Anwar’s chances becoming slim (if PKR loses) doesn’t arise,” Mohamad said at a press conference in Rantau today.

He said Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has stressed that Anwar would succeed him.

“It’s just that we don’t know when (Mahathir) will step down,” Mohamad (photo) added.

Don’t taint UMNO with 1MDb (Nov 2018)

“Umno as a party is not guilty and has no­­thing to do with the 1MDB operations and transactions. It is unfair to blame Umno for something it does not know about and that it has not done.

“Umno and I sympathise with Najib and we leave it to the authorities to manage and judge it according to the constitution,” added Mohamad.

Tok Mat says theft allegations all lies

Umno acting president Mohamad Hasan says the accusations of theft and embezzlement related to 1MDB against Najib Razak are baseless, and challenges the authorities to bring solid proof that could put the former leader behind bars.

But Mohamad added that 10 months after the change of government, Najib is still free despite repeated references to the 1MDB scandal by Pakatan Harapan (PH) politicians.

“In Parliament, it is always about 1MDB,” Mohamad, better known as Tok Mat, told a late-night ceramah in Kampung Sendayan, Rantau, where he is trying to retain the state seat for Barisan Nasional after his default win was nullified by the election court last year.

He said Najib has yet to be found guilty in the 1MDB scandal, adding that the fact that Najib is still free shows that the allegations against him “are all lies and slander”.

It seems a politician can say anything with no reference to truth in Malaysia, and still remain the favorite candidate to win the Rantau by-election.

How much we need to pray for our nation.