PH ministers are L license drivers: Daim

PETALING JAYA, Feb 20 (Sin Chew Daily) — Former Finance Minister Tun Daim Zainuddin described the ministers of the Pakatan Harapan government as the “L license” drivers, and they took over a “dried tree” with only roots left, estimating that the tree grow again after two years, and the national economy and administration can gradually get better.

Last year, Malaysia celebrated 60 years of independence and changed government. After 9 months of the administration under Pakatan Harapan government, Daim evaluated the performance of the new government when he accepted an exclusive interview with the Sin Chew Daily.

He joked that he used to work in the government for a long time and did things very quickly. Like Mahathir, he was an “F1 racer”, and the new government minister was still “L license holders”. People should not hope that they could compete with F1 racers.

”In the 100 days after Pakatan Harapan took office, I (then the chairman of the elite advisory group) was responsible for collecting and analyzing the information. My staff worked until 4 am, and as the F1 driver I had to work until midnight.”

He said that the operation of a government is not easy. Pakatan took over a “dried tree” in a mess. The people are now eager to make various demands from the government. They have forgotten that the new gardeners are looking after the dying tree for it to continue growing.

”This tree will continue to grow and the people should have more patience.”

He said that as long as the “L-license ministers” become qualified drivers, everything will improve and they will need two years for the country to be in good shape.

Asked when the national economy will improve, Daim expects it to get better in two years. “The pre-condition is that there is no external intervention. We don’t know what will happen. Just like the Sino-US trade war and the US involvement in Venezuela, politics is complicated and inter-related, so we must always be vigilant.”

His advice to the L-license ministers are to remain united. Although the ministers can have their own agendas on behalf of their respective political parties, the issues can be brought to the cabinet for discussion. However, the cabinet must adhere to the principle of collective responsibility and no criticism outside the cabinet.

”For example, if the Ministry of Housing wants to build low cost houses, it must be approved by the EPU, the Ministry of Finance, the municipal government, etc. This is a complicated issue. If it is too long, the people are impatient and think that the minister says too much and cannot deliver.”

Pakatan Harapan must honour the election manifesto

Daim said that he reminded the Pakatan government that it must fulfill the promise of the election manifesto, otherwise it will not be able to gain the trust of the people in the future.

”If there is something that cannot be done now, it must be explained to the people, such as the abolition of toll promised.”

He pointed out that after research and analysis, if the toll is to be abolished immediately, the Government must pay RM110 billion compensation.

He said, but now Malaysia’s debt level exceeds RM1 trillion, and it still need to borrow some money. If the money is borrowed for the acquisition of the company, the debt level will increase, the credit rating will be lowered, the ringgit value will decline, and the price will continue to increase. People will criticized, so the Government must strike a balance.

”So the government need more time to study, this can be done, it takes more time, and the government must explain to the people at this time.”

Ministers should go to rural areas too

Asked about his assessment of the ministers’ performance, Daim disclosed that someone told him that he had waited for six months to meet with a minister but still to no avail.

”They were full of frustration and anger when they complained to me. In fact, the people just want the minister to listen to their grievances and they are very happy. Even if some of the matters can’t be solved, people won’t mind.”

He said that the elected representative must blend with the crowd, get the support of the people, and not to repeat the mistakes of Umno.

He also said that ministers cannot just believe in their own teams, but they must also cooperate with civil servants in order to allow government matters to be handled smoothly without delay.

The cabinet is not an opposition party

Daim reminded the cabinet ministers that they are the ruling government and should no longer have the opposition party’s mindset where they only know how to attack, but they do not know how to defend government’s policies.

He pointed out that many people in the cabinet still stay in the “opposition mindset” and are good at attacking, but they cannot defend their own policies.

”Everyone likes to attack each other but now the leaders of the Pakatan Harapan are no longer opposition parties, they can’t just attack, and they must not attack each other.”

He said that what the Pakatan Harapan government needs to do now is to defend the government’s policies and explain the government’s policies to the world.

As some ministers have expressed different opinions on some topics such as the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), Daim believes that there should be a unified voice in the government.

”Other countries such as China, the United States, and the United Kingdom leave it to a spokesperson to speak, to avoid confusion.”

He believes that the government should set up a team to communicate with the people. The existing team focuses on attacking the former government, rather than promoting the government’s policies.

Former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib has recently shot to fame in social media. He believes that the reason is that Najib has a team coming up with questions and Pakatan Harapan rarely responds.

He said that Najib’s team is good at publicity. In fact, the new government has made many reforms but lack of coordination and like to publicise through the media.

In response to the people still facing the problem of excessive living expenses, Daim said that the Pakatan government has stopped collecting (GST) from July to September last year, where its income was reduced by RM10 billion. The people should save money when GST was abolished instead, they were spending unwisely.

”Under the principle of supply and demand, since everyone is willing to spend money, how can prices of goods be reduced? Since everyone spends money, why should businesses lower prices? When the sales and service tax (SST) is implemented in September, prices will certainly be higher.”

He said that the government must explain to the people that the government has “sacrificed” RM10 billion in taxes. It was savings for the Rakyat but the Rakyat wants to spend.

Economy

Daim said that this year’s economy is expected to slow down due to the fluctuation of international oil prices. Other issues included Brexit, Sino-US trade war, Venezuela, the Middle East issue, Syria and Afghanistan, oil palm price decline, etc. The entire world is affected.

He said that in the economic recession that first experienced in the 1980s, it also faced a decline in price for commodities such as palm oil and rubber prices. Before that, when the price of palm oil fell, the price of rubber rose, and vice versa. However, when prices fell simultaneously, the economic recession occurred.

”At that time, we sat down to discuss how to stabilize the price. I asked the then Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Tun Lim Keng Yaik to talk with Indonesia and Thailand to set the ceiling price and floor price. At least the small estate holders know the top price and the reserve price.

At that time, the cooperation of the three countries could stabilize the price of the raw materials. The current situation is unclear, but I believe we can talk to our neighboring countries.”

Asked whether the establishment of Economic Action Council can revive our economy, Daim pointed out that the council can allow cabinet ministers to make quick decisions on economic issues.

He said prior to this the Council of Elders could collect information and data, such as how to deal with the national debt problem, but could not implement various debt relief measures. But the council chaired by the prime minister can implement measures to deal with the problem more quickly.

As for why he is not a member of the Economic Action Council, he said that it would be nice to let the newcomers to join with new ideas. He laughed that his “F1 racer” was running too fast and that accidents might occur.

”I hope that this council can solve economic problems more quickly, and the decision made by the council can be implemented after approval by the cabinet.”

On ringgit’s performance in future, he said that too many external factors are involved and he is unable to predict.

”I manage the economy in a style that is like managing a family, spend in a prudent manner and not to have too much borrowings. Adhere to financial discipline in a strict manner. “

Elite Advisory Group report contains 15 topics

Daim said that the report submitted by the Council of Elders to the government should be made public to let the people debate and discuss, and then the government will know which recommendations should be implemented.

He said that the report has 15 topics, including institutional reforms, parliamentary reforms, living expenses, affordable homes, toll rates, e-hailing car services, debt, and unemployment.

”We collect the information and analyze the problem and hand it over to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister decides what to do. The people are asking about the content of this report. I think it should be made public so that the people can debate but I also appreciate the sensitivities and there are laws to follow”.

Tun Daim was given key responsibilities by Prime Minister Tun Mahathir in the past. He was invited to the cabinet twice in the 1980s and 1990s. He was in charge of the Finance Ministry and the Special Functions minister of the Prime Minister’s Department where he retired in 2001.

After Mahathir returned to power, he also set up a council of elders before he first announced the cabinet line-up. Daim was appointed the chairman and assisted the government and provided advice 100 days after the new government won the election.

The other members of the Council of Elders are Malaysian richest man Robert Kuok, former National Bank President Tan Sri Zeti, former President and CEO of Petronas Tan Sri Hasan Malik and economist Jomo.

ECRL is still under negotiation

Tun Daim said that the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) contract is still in the negotiation stage and there is no final decision. Prime Minister Tun Mahathir will visit China in April this year. When attending the 2nd Belt and Road International Cooperation Summit, both Malaysia and China would be hoping to be able to achieve a win-win situation for this matter.

He said that Malaysia and China have set a deadline to negotiate and hope to conclude the negotiation this year. But of course, the sooner the better.

In an exclusive interview with Sin Chew Daily, Tun Daim said that the Malaysian government had considered cancelling the ECRL project because the cost is too high where Malaysia has to bear both construction and running costs. The government also faces terms which we feel not fair.

The cost of ECRL soar from the original RM55 billion to RM66 billion. If interest is added, the cost may be as high as RM90 billion.

”We believe that these costs are unfair, the government is not against the plan, and more dissatisfied with the pricing, operation and running cost, plus the payment terms. These are the conditions agreed by the former BN government.”

”However, basically this is an infrastructure project. We believe that if there is better planning and a blueprint for development, plus more reasonable development costs, in the long run, this project can and should benefit the people.”

”We also need to explore how to share some of our operations and running costs with China, not just in terms of cost, but also technology transfer and other matters.”

”We have initiated multiple rounds of negotiations to explore how to reduce the cost of this project. We also explore the joint operating costs after the project is completed.”

He believes that the existing railways are sufficient. The money is generated by freight rather than passengers. The passenger fare is subsidised by the government.

”This plan was mainly for former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib… because 1MDB is in trouble.”

In addition, Tun Daim said that the Malaysian government needs to be very cautious in dealing with the East Rail project because it involves government agencies and government-owned companies.

”I think the issues involving bilateral countries should not be made public. I have been conducting negotiations on behalf of the Malaysian government since 1981. The ECRL project is still under negotiation and there is no final decision.”

”This involves bilateral relations, and the situation is complicated, because it involves not only the ECRL but also other areas such as trade, oil palm, tourism, etc.”

Tun Daim said that China is Malaysia’s main trading partner and China is also an important trading partner in the region. “I believe that this issue can be resolved through proper diplomatic channel. At the same time, Malaysia and China can also achieve a win-win situation.”

”I can say that both parties have reached a comfortable level in terms of relationship.”

”There must be mutual trust in negotiations. Therefore, we cannot have too many people involved, as this may cause confusion and can be muddled.”

He believes that important things, especially for the corporate sector, they want certainty and decisiveness, which is what we hope to achieve in the current round of negotiations.

Tun Daim stressed that the ECRL project is not just a contract, which includes Malaysia-China relations and friendship dating back centuries.

”We must maintain close political, trade and cultural ties.”

Tun Daim said that according to the contract, if Malaysia and China want to terminate the project, he can bring the case for arbitration first, but both sides agree not to do so. At present he tries to negotiate with the China on price.

”The current stage is negotiating the price and the price has not yet been recognized. I am doing commercial settlement so that both parties gain,’’ he said.

”As reported earlier, significant progress has been made in reducing development costs, and we believe that if a good price can be negotiated, along with some other issues currently under discussion, the project is likely to be implemented.”

Asked if he knew the Cabinet’s decision on the ECRL, Daim said that he did not know the decision of the Cabinet.

With regards to the amount of compensation that the Malaysian government needs pay to cancel ECRL, Tun Daim did not give positive response. He merely said the parties can bring the case for arbitration if both parties so decide. We prefer to sit, talk and settle.

Tun Daim believes that Malaysia’s recent cancellation or suspension of development projects between Malaysia and China will not affect the friendship between the two countries. China is more concerned about the issue of “face”.

”So, we want to help maintain China’s ‘face.’ We are old friends.”

”Our relationship with China is not only 45 years, but dated back to the Malacca dynasty. We are very close to China in terms of culture and economy. They are happy with Malaysia and we are happy with them.”

Anwar is the choice for the future prime minister

Whether PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar, can take over the baton of Prime Minister from Tun Dr Mahathir in 2020 has various versions. Daim is of the view that according to Pakatan Harapan’s agreement, Anwar is the successor to Dr Mahathir as future prime minister.

He said: “Pakatan Harapan has reached an agreement. I don’t understand why there are unnecessary arguments which create instability. Why do we have to speculate, create problems and instability? They have agreed, let them and we should not intervene.”

Tun Daim is also a former finance minister. He accepted an exclusive interview with Sin Chew Daily and responded to questions whether Anwar, the former deputy prime minister, could take over as the future prime minister.

”I said: This is an agreement, let’s go through with the agreement.”

He said that Anwar’s decision to take over as prime minister is not an issue. He does not understand why someone deliberately create unnecessary problems.

”Because they want to win the party election, they have created all kinds of issues.”

Asked if Dr Mahathir has given assurance of stepping down in 2020 for Anwar to take over, Daim replied: “I often meet Anwar and he praised Dr Mahathir of believe him.’’

”I tell you that in the current economic situation, no one wants to be the prime minister. Let Dr Mahathir completes the task in order. When the food is ready, you can eat it. Why do you want empty dishes? Let Dr Mahathir do everything, and he will retire.”

The consequences of cooperation between Umno and PAS

Tun Daim believes if Umno and PAS collaborate to play with religious issues, it is a very dangerous matter for Malaysia, and may take Malaysia to a more extreme direction.

He stressed that religion must not be allowed to infiltrate politics.

He said that one can’t argue with religion because it is seen as a fate and it involves emotions.

”PAS has its own interpretations on things. To manage the country, religion must be left aside. Religion should be an individual matter.”

”They accused Pakatan Harapan of not protecting Islam and organised demonstrations against the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). I have explained that if we violate the positions of the Malays, we need to amend the Constitution… and ICERD is a Convention, not a legal issue.”

If you turn matters into emotional issues, you can’t argue anymore..”

Tun Daim also said that if Malaysia were to vote based on race and religion, rather than universal/common values, this will be the saddest day for Malaysia.

”PAS continues to use religion and persuade the Malays to vote for Muslim candidates as an obligation, even though these candidates are corrupt, lazy or inefficient.”

”PAS continues to play on emotions and causes the Malay community to panic, including the fate of their after life depends on which party they support. We cant stop PAS with its politics” but he believes that the best way to solve this kind of issue is to educate and improve people’s standard of living.

50% chance in Semenyih by-election

According to Tun Daim’s analysis, both Pakatan Harapan and BN share equal chance in winning the Semenyih by-election. Pakatan Harapan government must be in control and offer explanation to voters.

A minister’s capability as well as his willingness to go on the ground to physically and diligently conduct field visits, will add that chances of winning the by-election.

He said that the Pakatan Harapan candidate did not manage to win the Cameron Highlands by-election and the problem is not about high cost of living or that the election manifesto has not been fulfilled. Instead, Pakatan Harapan has not been able to offer good explanations to the people and feel for the people.

He believes that ministers should walk on the ground and know how to explain to the people why the government has not been able to fulfil the promises in the election manifesto, rather than attacking the opposition.

According to Umno analysis, they can win the by-election with a majority of about 300 votes, so they may arrange for a Chinese candidate to become an independent person in order to split the votes.

”If it is a 50 to 50 situation, more than 300 of majority votes are a large number of votes.”

”The result of the Cameron by-election is negative for Pakatan Harapan. When BN arranged for Orang Asli to contest, Pakatan Harapan should not field a Malaysian Indian candidate. Because 50% of the votes are the Orang Aslis or the Malays.”

”In terms of strategy, PH should look for an Orang Asli…but PH candidate has lost three times, you can’t always field a loser to contest …”

Former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib shot to fame online during Cameron Highlands by-election. He was referred as “bossku.”

In response to this, Tun Daim asked: “Why is Najib becoming popular? Because Pakatan Harapan does not have a communication team.”

”When Najib said, ‘I am a thief who steals people’s heart,’ why no one immediately jumped out to refute him:, ‘If you are a thief who steals heart, you would not have lost GE14.’’’

Umno MPs’ crossover

Crossover of some Umno MPs to Bersatu has caused protest among some people and even high-ranking leaders in Pakatan Harapan. Tun Daim believes for Pakatan Harapan to do reforms and it needs to have two-thirds majority.

”I think the people are really confused. If we want to carry out reforms, we need to have two-third majority, otherwise we are unable to deliver.”

”Some people are impatient. Even some non-governmental organizations have lost patience. They accuse the government of not doing anything. But they know that PH needs two-thirds majority in order to deliver. Now there are Umno members who want to crossover to Pakatan Harapan. They choose Bersatu. You should support PH, if you want to reform. If Umno members have changed, why not them?”

”You complain that PH fails to deliver… The party wants to accept frog, but you don’t want the party to do this. What do you want? Which one is your priority? Reform?”

”If you want them to stay in the original party, don’t complain that the government has not fulfilled election pledges,” he said.

In addition, Tun Daim said that there is no law in Malaysia prohibiting MPs from crossing over. MPs have the freedom to choose the political parties they want to join.

”Tun Dr Mahathir himself comes from Umno, Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin too, PAS was also the former Umno and PKR too. As long as they change, you should not oppose.”

”It is up to them to either join Pribumi, PKR, DAP or Amanah. They have the freedom and there is no law to stop them.”

”Some people have accused Pakatan Harapan a weak government, and the Malays refer to this government as led by the DAP. This is not true.”

”Prior to this Umno was strong, no one could oppose it. It was very powerful. Now, the four parties of Pakatan Harapan are all equal, and the number of ministers of each party is almost the same, no matter how many seats you have. The new government pays attention to equality.”

Tun Daim believes that although Pribumi receives a large number of Umno members, Pribumi will not be Umno 2.0.

He said that Umno has deteriorated, so members will leave to join Pribumi.

He stressed that the Pribumi did not use money to lure Umno MPs from crossing over but they sincerely want to join Pribumi, such as the former Minister of Trade and Industry, Datuk Seri Mustapa.

”MPs need to take care of their constituencies. The current government is fair, and the opposition party can also receive constituency grants, but the sum is not enough. They need more funds to serve the area.”

On whether the government intend to draft an anti-hopping law to stop MPs from crossing over, Tun Daim believes that the Constitution allows people to freely join political parties unless the government amends the constitution.

”Earlier someone in Sabah took the cross-over case of an elected representative to the court, but the court stated that people enjoy this freedom in the constitution, so they can’t do anything and the case was dismissed.”

Recognition of UEC

On recognition of UEC, Tun Daim said, the Malays must first be assured and discard their defensive mode for the Malays to know that they have nothing to lose.

He believes that the Malays will oppose the government’s recognition of UEC because they believe the move violates constitution and the rights of the Malays, so the government need to explain.

”The only way is to educate. If they are educated, you can argue that you can find good jobs, good income, and you don’t have to worry about anything. But unfortunately, this subject has been politicized.”

Tun Daim explained that first of all, the government need pacify the Malays that they have nothing to lose. After all, education is the key to our future.

”We need to sit down and discuss. Even DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang said PH needs Malay support. We need to deal with this subject with caution.”

”We must make sure we inform everyone that we are all Malaysians, this is our country, let us fight together. We can discuss details, but deal with the principle matters first.”

He also mentioned that there are currently many Malays who send their children to Chinese schools because the schools are more disciplined.

”People seek good education, and you will find that only the rich Chinese and the wealthy Malays send their children to English (private) schools.”

”If the national schools offer the best like those English (private) schools, everyone will want to go to the national schools. Therefore, the Ministry of Education must sit down and discuss this issue and ensure national schools offer the best on education.”

”Parents want the best education for their children and they sent their children to best schools. It is a duty of the Government to provide the best schools and education to the people. Children are our future. Education must unite all of us.”

You ask about economy, I know and I can answer. If you ask about education or health, I find it difficult to answer. I don’t know these subjects.

First published in mysinchew.com.

A decade without her daughter

ON the night of March 31, 2009, M. Indira Gandhi was at home feeling apprehensive, knowing that her estranged husband would probably be showing up soon.

She was a little bit afraid that Muhammad Riduan Abdullah might get aggressive. Her husband had a history of domestic abuse, she would later claim in police reports and when speaking to others.

Earlier in the morning, they had an argument. He wanted a divorce.

That night he returned home, Riduan quarrelled with Indira Gandhi’s mother and two sisters. It was alleged that he hit his mother-in-law several times and slapped his two sisters-in-law.

The enraged Riduan then grabbed his 11-month-old daughter, Prasana Diksa, and fled on a motorcycle.

“At that time, I thought he would bring back our baby. He was like that. He came in and out of the house whenever he liked,” she said.

Two days later, without Indira Gandhi’s consent, he converted to Islam their three children – a 12-year-old daughter, an 11-year-old son and Prasana – using their birth certificates.

Twenty days earlier, Riduan, who went by the name K. Pathmanathan when he married Indira Gandhi in April 1996, also converted to Islam.

It was a year after that fateful night that Indira Gandhi saw her baby again. This was when the Ipoh High Court granted her full custody of her children. It was also the last time she was with Prasana.

It was the beginning of her decade­-long legal battle against Riduan and the system to get back her daughter.

Here are the key developments:

  • Sept 29, 2009 – The Ipoh Syariah Court grants Riduan permanent custody of the three children.
  • March 11, 2010 – The Ipoh High Court grants Indira Gandhi full custody of her children.
  • July 25, 2013 – The Ipoh High Court annuls the children’s conversion, ruling that unilateral conversion was unconstitutional.
  • May 30, 2014 – The Ipoh High Court orders Riduan arrested unless Prasana is returned by June 6.
  • June 12, 2014 – After Riduan misses the June 6 deadline, the Ipoh High Court orders the police to locate Prasana.
  • April 29, 2016 – The Federal Court orders the Inspector-General of Police to arrest Riduan for contempt of court.
  • Jan 29, 2018 – The Federal Court unanimously declares unilateral conversion was unlawful.

When reading out a summary of the 99-page landmark decision, Justice Zainun Ali said consent of both parents must be sought and the word “parent” in Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution should not be construed literally.

March 31 marks the 10th anniversary of Prasana’s abduction. Indira Gandhi said the last decade can’t be described with words.

“Until now, I have not seen my youngest daughter. If she is beside me today, I will not be able to recognise her. That is very heartbreaking. That is my trauma,” she told me in a telephone conversation.

The issue of her missing daughter, according to Indira Gandhi, has nothing to do with Prasana’s religion. She doesn’t care whether Prasana is a Muslim or a Hindu.

“As a mother, I want to hold my child, I want to see my child. All I want to know is how she looks like and what she has gone through in the last 10 years. I just want to talk to her,” she said.

What Prasana is missing, she said, are her biological mother, sister and brother.

“I don’t know whether she knows that we exist,” she said.

Last Saturday, the Indira Gandhi Action Team (Ingat) announced a RM10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Riduan or on the whereabouts of Prasana.

Ingat chairman Arun Dorasamy said the team was set up in the first week of August – about 100 days after the formation of the Pakatan Harapan government.

“There is a new government and we were really hoping that it would find the missing girl. But it wasn’t happening,” he said.

Instead of waiting for something to happen, Dorasamy and friends formed an investigation team to find Prasana.

“We can’t sit and watch a mother cry for her daughter,” he said.

The tip-offs from the public have been encouraging.

Since Saturday, Ingat has received hundreds of promising leads as well as some information that has turned out to be false.

So far, the investigators have found out that the 50-year-old fugitive has been spotted around southern Thailand and the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. He was said to be repeatedly slipping past the Thai-Malaysia border without proper documents.

Ingat has no information yet on Prasana. Her last known appearance was at a court in March 2010.

The Indira Gandhi story is not about conversion, Dorasamy said. It is instead a simple story of a working-class mother who lost her daughter 10 years ago.

Against all odds, Indira Gandhi won the legal cases. And yet, she has not been reunited with Prasana.

It is also a story about an 11-year-old girl who the system apparently has trouble locating.

How difficult is it to find her?

First published in The Star

Food Bank Malaysia Programme

GEORGE TOWN, Dec 22 ― The government is confident that the Food Bank Malaysia Programme (FBMP) can lighten the impact of the rising cost of living on the populace and reduce food wastage.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the implementation of the FBMP, to be headed by the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry, was timely with the focus of the government to lighten the burden in the cost of living of the people especially the B40 (lower income) group.

“This group must be given full attention to enable them access to (cheaper) food supply. This will boost their disposable income which can be use for education and health,” he said in his speech for the launching of the national-level FBMP at Kompleks Masyarakat Penyayang here today. The text of his speech was read out by Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng.

Dr Mahathir said the initiative was a voluntary effort which did not have a large financial implication to the government.

“This initiative can be implemented via a high social responsibility commitment and voluntary spirit in the private sector and non-government organisations to together help the government in tackling the issue of food wastage and cost of living,” he said.

He said the issue of surplus food was not a strange matter to Malaysia as its people produced 15,000 tonnes of excess food a day, of which 3,000 tonnes were safe for consumption.

“Almost two million people can benefit from the 3,000 tonnes of excess food if it can be distributed optimally. The issue of surplus food may appear trivial but it has a huge impact on the needy,” he said.

He said that he was told that via FBMP the surplus food would be channelled to the target groups and registered welfare homes.

“I was also told that FBMP will target 186,354 households which are below the poverty line nationwide to receive the surplus food,” he said.

To ensure a more systematic and orderly management of the surplus food and implementation of FBMP, Dr Mahathir said the government had agreed to launch a foundation which would be known as the Food Bank Malaysia Foundation.

“This foundation will become the catalyst in the effort of the government to reduce food wastage and tackle the issue of rising cost of living and will be headed by trustees comprising those with experience and committed in implementing successfully the government agenda,” he said.

He also hoped that with the completion of all mechanisms of operation of its implementation, FBMP could be successfully mobilised to help all needy groups not only in Peninsular Malaysia but also in the interiors of Sabah and Sarawak.

“I also take this opportunity to once again call on all quarters especially corporate bodies, non-governmental organisations (NGO) and also individuals to be with the government in making FBMP a success,” he said.

First published in malaymail.com

Maria Ressa, Khashoggi, other journalists named Time Person of the Year

NEW YORK — Time Magazine on Tuesday recognized journalists, including the slain Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi, as its 2018 Person of the Year in what it said was an effort to emphasize the importance of reporters’ work in an increasingly hostile world.

The designation wasn’t intended as a specific message to the magazine’s runner-up choice, President Donald Trump, who has denounced “fake news” and called some reporters enemies of the people, said Ben Goldberger, executive editor.

Time cited four figures it called “the guardians.” Besides Khashoggi, they are the staff of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, where five people were shot to death in June; Philippine journalist Maria Ressa; and Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who have been jailed in Myanmar for a year.

It’s the first time since the magazine began the end-of-year tradition in 1927 that Time has featured a journalist or recognized someone posthumously.

Time said that 2018 has been marked by manipulation and abuse of information, along with efforts by governments to foment mistrust of the facts.

Goldberger said the magazine hopes the choice reminds people outside of journalism about the importance of the work.

Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said he sees this message already starting to get through — sadly, in part because of the attention paid to Khashoggi’s killing. Khashoggi is one of at least 52 journalists murdered so far this year, the committee said.

“In some ways, I feel we’re at a turning point,” Simon said.

Khashoggi was killed two months ago when The Washington Post columnist, who had lived in the U.S., visited Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Turkey for paperwork so he could get married. He had been critical of the Saudi regime.

The Washington Post applauded Time for its message of support for journalists.

“We hope this recognition will prompt our nation’s leaders to stand up for America’s values and hold accountable those who attempt to silence journalists who cover our communities or in Jamal’s case, an oppressive authoritarian government,” said Fred Ryan, the Post’s publisher and CEO.

Ressa co-founded the online site the Rappler, which has aggressively covered the government of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. She was recently charged with tax fraud, with many in the Philippines seeing that as a reaction to the Rappler’s reporting.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were imprisoned after investigating a massacre of Rohingya Muslims.

Four journalists and a sales assistant were killed by a gunman at the Capital Gazette newspaper last spring.

First published in inquirer.net

Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, one of Duterte’s fiercest critics, remains defiant despite arrest

  • Her news site, Rappler, has been investigated by police after challenging extrajudicial killings in Duterte’s war on drugs
  • The case has become a symbol of the deterioration of democracy under the current administration and a blow for press freedom

Maria Ressa, the editor of Philippine online news site Rappler and one of the most outspoken critics of President Rodrigo Duterte, has refused to back down despite her arrest earlier today on charges of tax fraud.

Ressa turned herself over to the authorities at Pasig city regional trial court in Manila this morning and was released on bail of 60,000 Philippine pesos (US$1,150). She is due to be arraigned on Friday.

“I surrendered to the court, but that doesn’t mean I accept its jurisdiction,” she told the South China Morning Post in a telephone interview.

“Part of the reason the government is attacking us is that we have shown data-based evidence that officials were complicit in the spreading of hate.

“We’ve called a spade a spade. When I ask why are they targeting us, this tells me that we must be doing something right.”

Rappler has been vocal in holding the Duterte administration to account, particularly over the deadly war on drugs which has claimed thousands of lives in the Philippines.

The official number of deaths is 5,000 people, but human rights organisations estimate the true figure could be in the tens of thousands.

Journalists around the world have commended her commitment to defending press freedom. A crowdfunding campaign has raised thousands of dollars for Rappler’s legal fees in a case observers and activists said had become a symbol of the deterioration of democracy under Duterte.

Luis Teodoro, board member at Philippines NGO Centre for Media Freedom and Responsibility, said the charges against Rappler and the crackdown on other organisations were an assault on press freedom and part of a “creeping authoritarianism” overtaking the Philippines.

Teodoro said this had created an environment in which all media organisations, not just those critical of the government, were vulnerable: “What it all amounts to is a presidency that is virtually unchallenged.”

There’s nothing to negotiate. We’re not going to stop telling stories Maria Ressa

Ressa returned to the Philippines on Sunday night after travelling abroad to receive the Press Freedom award from the Committee to Protect Journalists and the 2018 Knight International Journalism award.

“I will do what I need to do to face all of this,” she told reporters at the airport upon her arrival last night.

“I’m going to challenge the process and I’m going to challenge the charges. I am going to hold my government accountable for publicly calling me a criminal.

“We have to continue to do our jobs. We have to tell people – here is the line, and we have to make sure the government doesn’t cross it. Because when it does, we’re no longer a democracy.”

The Philippine Department of Justice last week charged Rappler with three counts of failure to file returns, and one count of tax evasion, with penalties including heavy fines and up to 10 years in prison.

The Philippines Securities and Exchange Commission in January temporarily revoked Rappler’s registration for allegedly violating foreign ownership rules owing to investments in some of its Philippine Depositary Receipts – financial instruments allowing firms in the country to raise capital from foreign funds or other investors. Rappler says these investors do not own any shares of the company.

Officials also claim Rappler failed to disclose US$3 million on 2015 tax returns from investment by the Omidyar Network, an investment fund created by eBay founder and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar.

Ressa previously said the government had classified her media organisation as a “dealer in securities”, thus holding her accountable to different tax obligations. She has flatly denied this categorisation.

“We’re obviously not a stock brokerage agency,” she told reporters yesterday. “I’m a journalist. I’ve always been a journalist.”

In a Monday press conference, Philippine presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the charges against Ressa and Rappler were not politically motivated.

Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Reporters without Borders have publicly called for the campaign against Rappler to be dropped.

The Society of Publishers in Asia has condemned the arrest and called on authorities to respect due process.

In a statement released yesterday, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines warned that arresting Ressa sent “a clear signal that the country’s democracy is fast receding under a feckless administration that cannot abide criticism and free expression and will go to ridiculous lengths to muzzle all those it does not agree with”.

“More than his inability to tolerate dissent, Duterte’s relentless persecution of media appears to be part of the increasingly authoritarian direction his presidency has taken,” it said.

Danilo Arana Arao, associate professor at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, said Ressa’s arrest and ongoing legal battles against other outspoken outlets would have a chilling effect on journalists’ willingness to report anything controversial and on the public’s ability to rely on the press for accurate information.

“What Mr. Duterte is doing is not constructive criticism – what he is doing is destructive. It seeks to destroy not just the lives and livelihood of Rappler but press freedom in general. We have to expose this circus for what it really is – an attack on the media.”

Teodoro from the Centre for Media Freedom and Responsibility said the rest of the press must be willing to continue to report on the truth despite the risks.

“Rappler is being persecuted because Rappler has been providing the analysis and interpretation of events that is necessary,” he said.

“The rest of the press must do the same thing, must be more critical, more discerning. It’s the only way people can understand what the hell is going on.”

Ressa plans to fight the charges. “I’ve seen others give in and try to negotiate,” she told the Post. “There’s nothing to negotiate. We’re not going to stop telling stories.”

This story was first published on scmp.com.

Malaysia to introduce ISO anti-corruption certification system in all high-risk sectors of the government

KUALA LUMPUR: In a world first, Malaysia will introduce the International Standards Organisation’s (ISO) anti-corruption certification system in all high-risk sectors of the government, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced yesterday.

The ISO 37001 certification for the Anti-Bribery Management System will be applied in all ministries, agencies, departments and government-linked companies (GLCs) that are at high risk in order to prevent corruption and develop a culture of integrity, he said.

“This effort will make Malaysia the first country in the world to apply the ISO 37001 certification in the public sector,” Dr Mahathir said.

The initiative was among seven policy measures that were discussed at a meeting of the Special Cabinet Committee on Anti-Corruption yesterday, which Dr Mahathir chaired yesterday.

The major drive against graft will begin in January with the launching of the National Anti-Corruption Plan, he said in a statement.

The plan features measures that are designed to strengthen the government’s administrative management system particularly on governance, integrity and anti-corruption, Dr Mahathir said.

The government will establish a public service ethics codes, including a requirement to sign a pledge of compliance by all civil servants and a review of regulations for the rotation of postings so that the public service will continue to be strengthened, he said.

A guideline on Corporate Liabilities and Adequate Procedures will be issued to all companies and from January 2020, Section 17A of the MACC Act, covering offences committed by commercial firms will be enforced, the statement said.

Bernama reported that a detailed study is being made on the proposed separation of functions of the public prosecutor and the attorney-general.

Dr Mahathir said the implementation of the proposal will have to be deferred because it involves amendments to the Federal Constitution.

“Right now we do not have the two-thirds majority in the Dewan Rakyat for the amendment to be approved,” he said.

In a report quoting Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Hanipa Maidin, he said that the implementation of the proposal requires amending Article 145 of the Federal Constitution and a revision of the laws relating the powers of the public prosecutor and attorney-general provided under the Criminal Procedure Code and the Interpretation Acts 1948 and 1967.

On the political involvement of public servants, Dr Mahathir said that the policy will be fine-tuned to avoid conflicts of interest in the conduct of their official duties and to ensure that these functions are discharged in a fair and just manner.

He said that a detailed study would be conducted into this matter as the committee was currently still unable to determine the extent to which officers can be allowed to get involved in politics.

For example, Dr Mahathir said, officers appointed by Cabinet members have to be involved in politics because they communicate with the people.

Other officers have also been involved in politics, such as those from the Department of Community Development, he said.

Dr Mahathir said the involvement of civil servants in politics will undermine the transparency of the country’s administration because they will be bound to the parties they join and their decisions will be biased.

He said that in the previous government administration, many civil servants were involved in politics, including campaigning and wearing the party attire.

“We have to look into the level where we should cut them off. People who do not really make serious decisions might be allowed to be involved in politics but we have not reached a final decision on that,” he said.

The Cabinet Committee also reviewed a proposal for enhancing the jurisdiction of the Judicial Appointment Commission to ensure that no external influence occurs.

In addition, the government has ordered the establishment of the Integrity and Governance Units (IGUs) in all GLCs, companies owned by government ministries and agencies including those under the state government which has been enforced on Oct 5, 2018.

The IGU will be placed under the company’s board of directors while the implementation and reporting of core functions will be regulated by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, he said.

“The GLCs are granted a grace period of two years from the date of this instruction to establish the IGU,” Dr Mahathir added.

First published in theedgemarkets.com

I am trying to be a reforming AG in a reforming government

Following are excerpts of the interview, attended by Ho Kay Tat, Tan Choe Choe and S Kanagaraju from TEFD, touching on 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), lopsided government contracts, legal reforms and decisions to withdraw charges against Pakatan Harapan politicians and supporters:

Q: What’s your assessment of your first 100 days?

A: The challenges have been much greater than what I had expected. What I said on the first day remains, that I have three priorities. Firstly, everything to do with 1MDB, which is not just the criminal aspects, but there’s also the civil recovery. Secondly, the lopsided contracts, and thirdly, law reforms. Those have always been my focus, and remain my focus. But it was only when I came into the office and sat down and started doing work, that I realised the awesome responsibilities attached to the office. And I think you will not know it unless you are sitting here. It’s difficult for anyone from the outside — certainly not a private practitioner, as I was. Even somebody from this Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) — there are about 1,200 lawyers here — even they won’t understand the amount of responsibilities [of the AG]. So that has surprised me.

Q: How about your officers’ competency? There have been some criticisms that there are not enough competent people dealing with the prosecution. Do you find that a problem?

A: I think that’s unfair. We have tremendous specialisation, but of course also lacking in some areas. For example, in things like AMLA (Anti-Money Laundering Act), very critical in the next few years, and Mutual Legal Assistance — again very critical because we’ve got to deal with different countries — we have top-class specialists. For the review of contracts, we also have excellent people as I’m personally dealing with them. In so far as prosecution is concerned, what I would say is never in the history of the [AG’s] Chambers has there been so much demand for prosecution which is because of past misdeeds accumulated over the years, problems that I’ve inherited.

Whether it’s 1MDB or not, there is a long list of cases waiting once the IPs (investigation papers) are delivered to me. Even if you have 1,000 world-class prosecutors, it’s just not enough. That tells you — it’s a commentary on the alleged crimes built up over the years. So, the pressure is awesome. That’s why we’re setting up the 1MDB unit; we’re setting up different units to cope, because we’ve never done this before. If the AGC had done this from 2011… if prosecutions had taken place from 2011 or 2012, then it would not have built up.

Just to get it in relative terms, please look at the US. Their DoJ (Department of Justice) is obviously world-class because they have so many talented people — forensic accountants, lawyers… unmatched resources; look at how special counsel Robert Mueller and his team are doing. It took more than a year before they charged anybody. Then they went very fast; they’ve charged, I think, about 20 people in the last three months and they have got a few convictions. But it took them one year. And I tell you, the 1MDB scandal is much, much more complex than what [US President Donald] Trump has allegedly done. 1MDB is the world’s greatest kleptocracy!

Q: You mentioned there’re criminal as well as asset recovery aspects with regard to 1MDB. Maybe you can share with us the approach that your office is taking concerning these two aspects?

A: On the criminal aspect, we can’t do anything until the IPs come. Just to remind you that in our system [of investigation] — many countries also have it to prevent too much concentration of power — the idea is to distribute power. For checks and balances, there are four or five investigative agencies in Malaysia, such as the police, the MACC (Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission), Bank Negara Malaysia, Securities Commission Malaysia, [and Royal Malaysian] Customs [Department] which investigate, but they cannot charge. Otherwise, they would be too powerful. The AG’s Chambers prosecutes; we have the sole monopoly on prosecution, and we should not carry out investigations because we’re already so powerful. So can you imagine how much more powerful we will be if we investigate as well. So I’m against those who say the MACC must prosecute. They don’t know how much power that will give to the MACC, if that happens. The existing system is perhaps the least worst.

But the disadvantage of this is if the agencies do not give us the IPs, then the AGC cannot do much. We cannot do anything until the IPs are given to us. So until today, there is not a single 1MDB IP given to us. When it comes to Jho Low (who was charged in absentia for money laundering), the AGC asked the police to share their investigations, and we then charged him. So, on 1MDB, not yet, but hopefully it will happen soon.

Q: Do you know how many IPs have been opened as far as 1MDB is concerned?

A: No, I don’t know. And of course you know the MACC’s public position — I think they reiterated that about two weeks ago — is [that the investigation is] 60% [completed]. They’ve been saying that to me from the time I took office. So what they’ve told me is what they’ve told the public: 60% of the first IP on 1MDB is done. And of course, ‘1MDB’ is a shorthand description of a massive fraud done over five to six years across the world, in numerous transactions. You really have to look at it the way the fraudsters had planned it. The fraudsters designed one transaction after another, deal by deal. So there could be a 2011 fraud, a 2012 fraud, a 2013 transaction, a 2014 deal and so on.

Q: Your immediate predecessor Tan Sri Apandi Ali has been accused of conspiring in covering up the 1MDB scandal. Can we expect charges to be brought against him as well?

A: I don’t know anything about that. We have not gone in that direction. What I can tell you is — and all of you know it — there were no prosecutions during his three-year tenure on 1MDB, that’s a fact. You have to ask him why there were no prosecutions, and none during the previous AG’s time too. Because as you know, the origin of 1MDB is the TIA (Terengganu Investment Authority). Anyone living in KL would be aware that there were things horribly wrong. I was aware of things that were questionable in 2009 and 2010 just by mixing with the business community, journalists and politicians. Those in KL with an informed opinion knew something was wrong in 2009 and 2010. So why didn’t my predecessors do anything about it? You have to ask them.

Q: Do you have any authority to ask investigators to provide you with updates or to speed up things?

A: Yes, they do provide updates and all that. But that’s of no use; I would rather not be updated. I want the complete IP. It’s better to have the complete package, otherwise you’re reading it twice. If you ask my team to read it when it’s at 60%, they would have to reread it when the 100% comes. So it’s of no help and of no practical assistance, unless they give us the complete package.

Now I must answer the civil part. The civil part is absolutely neglected. Everybody forgets that because the criminal dimension is ‘sexy’ and ‘newsworthy’.

Civil recovery is the one that’s underrated and not understood at all. It is essentially to recover as much of the stolen stuff as possible, and most of them are [found] abroad.

So we start with the US. The DoJ, as you know, has been successful. They began in 2016, with [former US attorney-general] Loretta Lynch’s press conference with the filing of complaints where they have frozen assets — which we say, and the US government does not deny — belong to us in trust. Because taxpayers’ money was used, indeed stolen, to buy these assets. So they are assets that belong in trust to Malaysia, but were held by other people who misused them. So we have to stake a claim. Again, we lost three years of it.

I must remind you that the previous government had distanced itself [from these assets] — its public position was these weren’t Malaysian assets, when actually they are. Until GE14 (the 14th general election), Malaysia’s official position was they were not Malaysia’s assets. Seldom would a beneficiary tell the world “these are not my assets”, and that’s what Malaysia was doing. We only started telling the truth after GE14.

So that’s the US, [and] we have to intervene. We have appointed lawyers and they’re going to intervene in court proceedings because it’s quite technical and related to sovereign immunity and jurisdictional questions. We are receiving advice, and hope to make a decision shortly.

Then in Singapore, it has also started. Again, it’s the same process. We have appointed lawyers and they are appearing in court. We’ve got some low hanging fruits. But where there are opposition and contest, it’ll take five to six months. This first group of defendants did not object at all. They relinquished all claims. They surrendered, so it’s no problem. And Singapore wants the identities of the defendants to be anonymous. One can understand because Singapore wants to encourage more claimants to give up their claims, and in return Singapore would keep their names confidential. That makes sense. We just want the assets.

Q: It (the identities of the defendants) will be kept anonymous forever?

A: That I don’t know; it is a matter for Singapore to decide. But for us, we want the monies returned to Kuala Lumpur.

Q: Does your office have an indication how much money is involved in Singapore? The US DoJ has mentioned US$4.5 billion in its suit.

A: Singapore has not really mentioned it because they’re not really sure as there are some contests. But what will happen in the next six months or so, we will get court orders, and monies will be returned. And as you know we’ve opened an account, a special segregated new account, controlled by the MoF (ministry of finance). It’s the MoF and the new directors of 1MDB who are controlling it.

Q: So it’s an MoF-1MDB recovery account?

A: Yes, [and it’s] specially set up. After the RM19 billion hole in [unpaid] goods and services tax [refunds], there has to be a specially protected, segregated trust account earning interests and controlled by honest signatories.

Q: This is for recovered assets from everywhere, and not just Singapore?

A: Yes, it starts with Singapore. And then we’ve got Switzerland, again they’re cooperating with us.

Q: The biggest one is in the US?

A: Yes.

Q: It will take several years, you think?

A: No, I don’t think so. I think… well, the US… well, maybe. It goes asset by asset. They are ‘in rem’ actions.

Q: So it’s not a collective action?

A: No. The US claims: Let’s say they have got 10 separate complaints, then it’ll be because these are 10 different assets. So they may have one for the yacht, one for the artwork, one for this land, one for that land and so on. Just like our admiralty claim for the yacht: it is also ‘in rem’. What ‘in rem’ means is a claim against an identified property, as opposed to an individual, which would be an ‘in personam’ action.

Q: Has there been any challenge in the US? Jho Low?

A: Yes, court challenges.

Q: To be clear, in Singapore, what exactly are the assets that are involved. Is the jet one of them or not?

A: Most are bank accounts. Cash in bank. But I think there may be one or two properties, apartments.

Q: What about the private jet?

A: The private jet, we are in no hurry to receive it. Because as things stand, Singapore has done it skilfully. Singapore has taken steps to ensure that the plane cannot fly off without air traffic control, which they will not give. The plane cannot leave Singapore air space, to the best of my knowledge. But the maintenance of the plane remains Jho Low’s. So from Jho Low’s perspective, he’s got the worst of both worlds. He’s got to maintain the plane, which is parked on the runway, but cannot fly it out. From our perspective, there’s no hurry to get it — it’s safe there — let us sell the yacht, then we can turn our attention to the plane. Unfortunately, the plane doesn’t come within our admiralty jurisdiction, so it’s more complicated. We have to be concerned about giving clean title to a buyer.

Q: There has been no complaint about the AG’s office using private lawyers overseas to help in asset recovery. And yet when the AG’s office uses the private lawyers here to help in the case of the yacht, or even brings in Tuan Haji Sulaiman Abdullah and Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, there has been criticism. Would you like to respond to that?

A: First of all, in foreign jurisdictions, we have no choice, absolutely no options. So we have to use local lawyers there, for instance, Swiss lawyers in Switzerland. In so far as Malaysian lawyers, I think what has surprised me is the outcry, as if this was the first time that AGC has used external lawyers. I asked Chambers to do some research on previous appointments.

In the last 20 years, beginning with our first dispute with Singapore in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Pulau Batu Puteh dispute — the first one, which was about 20 years ago — we appointed a large group of foreign lawyers. I can’t understand why we did not appoint Malaysian lawyers. The foreigners charged large sums of fees, and Malaysia lost anyway.

Domestically, AGC has in the past appointed local lawyers. AGC appointed Datuk KC Vohrah, Tan Sri Cecil Abraham and Datuk Sunil Abraham and their firm, Zul Rafique for many civil matters. In our dispute with Singapore on Temasek: our joint venture in the Singapore land — whether we ought to pay the development fees. That went to arbitration. Again, I don’t see why Malaysian lawyers could not have been used. It was a straightforward case of interpretation of a contract. Quite straightforward. And I think we had three or four foreign lawyers charging hefty fees.

Q: This was in Singapore?

A: No, in London. A dispute between Malaysia and Singapore heard in London. But it is arbitration and so any lawyer can appear. Malaysian lawyers can appear. It was followed by a trademark registration case at the EU General Court. Again AGC appointed foreign lawyers. There were other disputes of an international nature which were all kept secret, and not made known to the public. Not even the Malaysian legal profession knew about them, but taxpayers were paying for such litigations.

Finally, with the second Pulau Batu Puteh dispute, where Malaysia wanted to revisit the dispute, Prime Minister Tun [Dr] Mahathir [Mohamad] decided to discontinue it. We had four foreign lawyers and two Malaysian lawyers — Datuk Abu Bakar bin Mohamed Sidek from Penang and Datuk Firoz Hussein bin Ahmad Jamaluddin from Kuala Lumpur. One of the foreign lawyers informed the prime minister that the case was doomed to fail. That’s why the PM decided to discontinue.

Coming back to domestic disputes, we’ve had Tan Hock Chuan acting for the Malaysian government in the Teoh Beng Hock inquest. We had Tan Sri Shafee Abdullah acting for the public prosecutor against Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in the Court of Appeal and the Federal Court. Actual criminal prosecution — so that’s the closest analogy to Tuan Hj Sulaiman and Sri Ram.

In civil suits, AGC appointed Cecil Abraham and Zul Rafique for defendants such as Tan Sri Gani Patail, MACC, the Government of Malaysia.

Of the five lawyers I have appointed, three of them are acting “pro bono” — Sulaiman, Sri Ram and Sitpah Selvaratnam. The other two, Jeremy Joseph and Ong Chee Kwan, are entitled to be paid because they are advising us in a really specialist area, shipping and admiralty where AGC doesn’t have the expertise, and it’s a commercial deal.

Whatever proceeds we get, hopefully in the hundreds of millions, the two lawyers should be paid. But I’m closely monitoring it — it’s an hourly rate — and of course the MoF is also monitoring.

Q: Could it (the outcry) be because people were taken by surprise because you mentioned 1MDB as one of your top three priorities? And now, you’re being seen as passing over the lead prosecution, so perhaps people are taken aback by that.

A: Possibly. But you see, you can’t have it both ways. On the one hand, the criticism is that I don’t have criminal law experience and yet when I appoint two senior lawyers who have substantial criminal law experience, the criticism continues. So one has to accept: Anything one does is wrong! But the truth is that it is just not possible to do a long trial and combine the work of AG. I know that because when I was in practice I used to do long trials — heavy corporate commercial disputes. In fact, about a year before I left the Bar, I did a 40-day trial. It was a reported bonds case. For four weeks before the trial, I did nothing but preparations for the trial. When the trial starts, you have to be full-time with the trial, because at night you have to prepare cross-examination questions. When the trial is over, you have to do research, and draft exhaustive written submissions. I was a hands-on barrister who took my court commitments seriously and professionally. Knowing that first-hand, you cannot combine that with the demands of the AG, where the PM wants to see you, the cabinet wants to consult you, [while] parliament is sitting, and so on. It’s just not possible, you cannot combine all these demanding tasks with the work of counsel in court.

Q: But you have not competely stepped away from it…

A: No, I’m still absolutely in charge. Like, for example… the Shafee prosecution. The MACC team interviewed the witnesses. Sri Ram was involved in the final stages of investigations. I was involved in the preparation of the charges with the team. The final decision to prosecute is mine, and mine alone. Malaysia must use all the resources available to pursue such matters.

Q: What about your officers within the chambers itself, isn’t that a vote of no confidence?

A: Not really. Because as I’ve said, there’s just so much work, and there are many cases in the horizon as we are planning and we can see where it is going. They are part of the team and they are working together. So it’s not a vote of no confidence. In fact, the SRC (prosecution) team was happy because most of them were tutored by Sulaiman at university. They look to Sulaiman as their intellectual guru. One must look at it in terms of what does Malaysia need. The people of Malaysia want justice, they want speedy justice. The people of Malaysia deserve the best and the brightest to appear for them.

Q: What about political pressure? Has there been any on the office since you started here, any political pressure or messages sent to you saying we want this done, or that done?

A: Absolutely not. All concerned have been very good. They have all acted properly and correctly: the PM, the cabinet, the ministers. Of course many ministers are known to me as I’ve worked with them in the past. They have left matters of law to me and the AGC. There is neither pressure nor interference.

Q: Are you surprised that there has been no political interference, especially coming from a PM who is accused of keeping the judiciary on a tight leash?

A: No, I’m not surprised. Tun Mahathir is a reformed PM.

Q: You truly believe he has reformed?

A: Absolutely. In my dealings, Tun has been right and proper. In fact, on the first day, he informed me, “Tell me if there’s something wrong, tell me I can’t do it”. So I said “Yes, Tun, I will”.

Q: Have you changed your opinion of Dr Mahathir? You were quite critical of him before.

A: (Laughs) There’s no doubt in my mind that the PM and the members of the cabinet whom I have dealt with genuinely believe in reform. So I can confirm that I am trying to be a reforming AG in a reforming government!

(from theedgemarkets.com )

Part 2 of the interview