WRITING for The Malaysian Insight, Jahabar Sadiq asked a simple question that deserves an appropriate answer: Why does Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) harp on 1MDB, when the 2,881 respondents in an internal poll have stated that their number one concern is the increasing cost of living?
First of all, Bersatu is not the only party “harping” on 1MDB. Tuan Ibrahim of PAS has raised the issue. DAP has, of course, highlighted it the most through Tony Pua. But, as the author correctly noted, even Anwar Ibrahim had raised it in 2010, before the job was taken over by Rafizi Ramli in PKR. In other words, all parties are raising the issue and this includes, first and foremost, some members of Umno.
Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Muhyiddin Yassin and Mukhriz Mahathir had all raised within the internal structure of the party. But to no avail. Thus, Bersatu was formed to check the rot in Umno and the stain that the latter has left on the honour and dignity of the Malays.
Secondly, the gargantuan size of the issue does not allow one to remain impervious to it. The author said that the average or rural voters cannot compute or comprehend anything in the billions of ringgit. Dr Mahathir has raised the same point too. But he has not given up, precisely because the voters fail to understand. It was now his duty to make them see the gravity of the situation.
The job of exposing systemic and scurrilous corruption cannot be left solely to the countries that are investigating the financial malfeasance. As the author may note, there are six (or more) ongoing investigations into 1MDB. If this issue had been left to the device of “outsiders” only, wherein the pride of Malaysians? In fact, the whole of the country would stand accused of being cavalier with high larceny.
Thirdly, The Malaysian Insider then, has gained a strong following by exposing 1MDB almost on a daily basis in 2015. It didn’t seem to lose any readers and followers. In fact, it is on this basis that it was probably bought over by The Edge, before it reincarnated as The Malaysian Insight. Has the new online portal dropped 1MDB? No. It can’t. Precisely because this is an issue of serious national importance, with grave ramifications. If 1MBD does not rationalise its debts – and it doesn’t seem like it can – Malaysian taxpayers would be looking at paying picking up the tab of RM43 billion or more.
Granted that no one in Malaysia has been held criminally responsible, it is all the more vital to focus on the 1MDB issue. Perhaps the presentation to the people needs to be simplified given the complexity of 1MDB story involving a web of extra-territorial and international financial and non-financial institutions. Perhaps some Phd candidate in the field of finance, financial crime or even strategy should take up a research on this web of deceitful financial interplay.
Fourth, since when is the focus on 1MDB a zero sum game? By latching onto 1MDB, since when did Bersatu forgo other issues? It didn’t, and it won’t. In fact, in the history of all political parties in Malaysia, none has resorted to using focus groups and opinion surveys right from the very inception of the party to understand the “voice of the people.”
Bersatu has done just that. It has canvassed the views of thousands of voters in order to warn Umno of its egregious violation of the fiduciary and financial rights of the Malaysian taxpayers. That shows Bersatu is truly a people’s movement that has evolved into a political party with very specific aims and objectives as enshrined in its constitution.
Fifth, granted that the financial malfeasance of 1MDB is due to the financial ineptness of the Malaysian prime minister cum financial minister, indeed, cum public official as alleged, isn’t it only apt to hold him to account, as he has failed in all three portfolios, as alleged? As the prime Minister, his dereliction of duties, as alleged, suggests a sheer indifference to corruption that had affected the entire fifth and fourth floor of his office, if not Umno in its entirety.
As the sitting finance minister, some RM44 billion or more is allegedly now the debt of Malaysia’s sovereign fund that is 1MDB. If Khazanah, the sovereign fund of Malaysia, had mismanaged the funds, wouldn’t heads be rolling now? Yes, they would. But in the case of 1MDB, there has been zero culpability and accountability. Instead those who had wanted to initiate investigations into 1MDB had been either sacked, transferred or, in one case, even transferred to the Prime Minister’s Office. Done with such arrogated impunity.
Last but not least, the debt of 1MDB could have been used to build basic amenities for the poor and under privileged people in Malaysia, without reference to race, creed and colour. Yet, instead of using the money to defray the economic pain and burden of the average Malaysian, the US Department of Justice investigations alone show that they splurged – yes, splurged – on art pieces, paintings, obscene movies, fancy condominiums in New York and elsewhere. If this is not conspicuous corruption and money laundering, both of which impact the living standards of the average Malaysian, what is?
A media portal like The Malaysian Insight can serve Malaysia by focusing on, among others, issues of corruption, malfeasance, abuse of power, and grand larceny. It does itself a disservice by resorting to telling Bersatu – and by logical extension, other parties – to drop the issues from their agenda and re-education campaign. If anything, The Malaysian Insight should ask if there is anything it can do to help the Malaysian voters, both rural and urban, to understand the severity of the 1MDB problem. It is important that the rural voters, and that includes the Felda settlers, be told of what is happening in 1MDB in a simplified manner. Telling them about the Islamic Medium Term Notes that 1MDB had issued may not be the way to do it.
Bersatu is willing to convene a cross party dialogue, with The Malaysian Insight in attendance, on why this issue can and will break Umno-led Barisan National (BN). Perhaps the author is right in suggesting that the average voter cannot comprehend the magnitude and scale of the alleged state-sponsored heist when it crosses the billion ringgit threshold, but the ongoing explanation cannot just stop. In fact, as the survey has showed, many of them are not sure about or do not understand the 1MDB issues. It is incumbent upon us, all parties and the media, to explain the issues in a more simplified way, as Dr Mahathir, Muhyddin and Mukhriz have done after the survey.
The education system in Malaysia, weak as it is, still teaches students to differentiate between thousands and millions. All the students need to do to undestand is to break the figures up decimally. Thus, RM44 billion would be 44 times of RM100 million; or 440 times of 10 million; or 4,440 times of one million; 4,440 times of 100,000; or 44,440 of 10, 000; or 444,440 of 1,000.
Whichever the permutation, the Malaysian prime minister doesn’t care. Had he done so, he would have spent the money in any one of the combination above in building better schools, hospitals, and universities. This 1MDB debacle is actually a huge “corruption tax” that the people need to bear, through no fault of theirs except in voting for Barisan Nasional.