Former coalition allies Teresa Kok (Harapan-Seputeh) and Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah (PN-Indera Mahkota) traded barbs over the raid today on Al Jazeera’s premises.

Saifuddin, in dismissing Kok’s persistence in pressing for an answer, said that she was playing politics, while the latter took to Twitter to express her disappointment in Saifuddin whom she called a “changed man”.

Kok was pressing Saifuddin over the raid earlier today on Al Jazeera’s KL office in which authorities seized several devices believed to be used in the production of the 25-minute documentary titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown”.

She had earlier sought an answer from Home Minister Hamzah Zainuddin but had not received one.

“I have answered this earlier. There is the law, there are enforcement agencies but the MP wants to keep asking,” said Saifuddin.

“This is not a legal answer but a political answer,” he added.

“We must remember the symbiotic relationship that was established during Covid-19 between frontliners and the people,” answered Saifuddin, who also claimed that foreigners were disparaging Malaysia’s frontliners and quoted a proverb saying that if one pinches the left thigh, the right thigh feels the pinch too.

Countering his intimation that Al Jazeera’s documentary had tarnished Malaysia’s image, Kok (below) suggested that raiding an internationally accepted media would negatively impact upon the image of the minister and the country.

“Who is (negatively) impacting the image, if not that documentary?” Saifuddin asked back.

Kok then asked why the government was so reluctant to investigate the documentary’s claims and went after its makers and participants instead.

Later on, she tweeted: “He failed to answer me and accused me of playing politics. Very disappointed. He is a changed man!”

Saifuddin had earlier diced with DAP’s Kluang MP Wong Shu Qi on the issue of the National Film Development Corporation (Finas) Act 1981, for which he was heavily criticised after initially saying that a license from Finas was required for all filming activities in Malaysia before clarifying that he intended to amend the law.

“Looking at the complex issue, the Cabinet has made a decision to amend the Finas act,” he told Wong, who asked why an act that was intended to encourage filmmaking in the country was being used to censor unfavourable news.

When Wong asked why Saifuddin’s government was using such outdated laws, he asked why they had not been amended during Pakatan Harapan’s time in power.

“YB, our (Communications) minister (Gobind Singh Deo) also did not use these laws in the field of news,” replied Wong. MKINI

Azmin not entirely forthright on ratification of trade deal

 I refer to the remarks made in Parliament yesterday by the International Trade and Industry Minister Azmin Ali on the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

He claimed that the Harapan-Warisan cabinet had on Sept 5, 2018, decided to ratify the CPTPP without any timeline. However, he neglected to mention important additional information about that decision, as well as subsequent deliberations of the cabinet, the Economic Action Council (EAC), and his former Economic Affairs Ministry (MEA, now EPU).

On Nov 29, 2019, after over a year of reflection and research from the decision cited by Azmin, the cabinet agreed that the government had taken a sound step by not ratifying the CPTPP given the negative impacts to the domestic industry.

The cabinet deliberated the CPTPP several times after the date mentioned by Azmin. On Jan 9, the cabinet decided that all issues had to be resolved prior to ratification. Many of these issues had been raised by Azmin’s then ministry, EPU, who presented to the EAC on Sept 19, 2019 where Azmin, myself, as well as the former and current prime ministers, were present.

EPU found that while Malaysia’s exports would rise by RM516 million, this would be dwarfed by a surge in imports of RM10 billion per year, mainly in the sensitive automobile sector and plastics. Our trade balance would, therefore, decline by RM9.6 billion per year. The government would also lose RM6.4 billion per year in import duties for a total negative loss of RM16 billion per year.

There would be negative impacts on government-linked companies (GLCs) including Petronas and Khazanah Nasional, government procurement, the Malaysia Plan, local firms and SMEs, local share ownership, bumiputera firms, and the B40 group, especially farmers and fisherfolk.

Conceding sovereignty

Ratifying the CPTPP would allow Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), whereby foreign companies could sue the Malaysian government in private arbitration tribunals for unlimited compensation (up to billions of US dollars). ISDS is an unnecessary concession of sovereignty when companies are able to secure commercial justice in Malaysian courts.

The cabinet resolved on July 31, 2019, to reject ISDS on principle. Thus, sanctioned by the cabinet on behalf of Malaysia, I persuaded the 16 nations participating in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to drop ISDS. It was possible to drop ISDS from RCEP because negotiations had not concluded, but ISDS is locked into CPTPP as the deal is long done.

Does the Perikatan Nasional government wish to concede Malaysia’s legal sovereignty on commercial matters? How does a government of Bersatu, Umno, PAS, and GPS plan to deal with the impacts to bumiputera businesses and jobs?

Free trade agreements (FTAs) are undertaken in the hope that they will lead to deals that are commercially meaningful and in harmony with Malaysia’s domestic policies and economic ambitions. If they are not commercially meaningful, any government has the right not to sign or ratify an agreement. In fact, Malaysia has in the past signed, but not ratified, a number of such agreements. For the national interest, we can do the same with CPTPP.

DARELL LEIKING is former minister of international trade and industry. He is Penampang MP.