A YEAR OF BULL, BROKEN PROMISES, "BLOG-HEADS", BIGOTS AND BRAVEHEARTS
Voters should study the track record of the ruling coalition. Martin Jalleh casts a spotlight on the BN government’s record over the preceding year and finds a once looking-good PM, who had the people feeling good, failing to deliver the goods of transparency and accountability.
Fifty years ago, in terms of economic development, we were second in Asia after Japan. In 2007, we lost out to Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong and now risk being overtaken by Thailand, Vietnam and even Indonesia. A United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) report on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) showed that Malaysia has much lower FDIs than many other countries in Asean such as Thailand and Indonesia But the above sorry and scary scenario did not seem to bother the sedated government in 2007. A BN MP even declared in parliament that Malaysia had great cause to celebrate, for the country is 10 times more advanced than Ghana, which became independent in the same year as our country.In June, the European Commission’s ambassador to Malaysia, Thierry Rommel, sparked a firestorm by declaring that the New Economic Policy (NEP) was discriminatory and amounted to protectionism against foreign companies. Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak called Rommel’s remarks “factually disputable”. But he did not go on to show where the latter had erred. Umno Youth leader Hishammuddin Hussein preferred to organise a BN Youth protest (an illegal gathering?) instead of an intelligent debate.Yet Pak Lah would drop some of the NEP rules to lure foreign firms in health care, tourism and four other service sectors in the Iskandar Development Region (IDR) in southern Johor. This was consistent with the advice given by the project’s advisor, Musa Hitam, a former deputy premier. The overly positive economic indicators by the government were eventually questioned by government backbenchers themselves. They expressed disappointment that the grassroots were not benefiting from domestic economic development (theSun, 19 April 2007).
The writing on the wall showed that Pak Lah’s “zero tolerance for corruption” drew a big zero in 2007. Three years after his announced crackdown on high-profile corruption cases, the PM revealed last year that the government had hit a brick wall and corruption was hurting the economy.Slowly but surely, Bolehland saw a slew of serious corruption allegations such as those against the deputy internal security minister, the then ACA chief, the Sabah chief minister, the Sarawak chief minister, judges, the top cop of the nation and the Commercial Crime Investigation Department (CCID) chief! Former police chief Hanif Omar said the expressed inability of both the police and the ACA in cleaning up their own backyards was “sadly disappointing”. He revealed that “40 per cent of the senior (police) officers could be arrested without further investigations – strictly on the basis of their lifestyles”.The nation watched with amusement as the parties involved in corruption investigations investigated each other. The police investigated the (then) ACA chief; the ACA investigated the Internal Security Deputy Minister and the IGP... and the Attorney-General decided that all three were clean!According to Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang, Pak Lah faces the risk of being compared unfavourably with the 22-year Mahathir administration. He gave the following examples:• The annual Auditor-General’s Report of the early Mahathir years revealed pervasive corruption and criminal breach of trust, mismanagement and wastage of public funds. The 2006 AG’s Report made public last year showed that the country fared worse by comparison. • The Mahathir premiership kicked off with the RM2.5 billion Bumiputra Malaysia Finance (BMF) scandal. Pak Lah’s premiership started with a greater “heinous crime without criminals” — the RM4.6 billion Port Klang Free Zone scandal.• Mahathir’s 22-year administration ended with Malaysia being ranked No. 37 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index in 2003. Three years after Pak Lah took over, Malaysia’s TI CPI ranking plunged to No. 44 in 2006. It is likely to plunge further. The cult of secrecy grew in 2007. In January, four opposition leaders were summoned to the police headquarters under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) for disclosing a toll concession agreement. The government broke off revealing highway privatisation concession agreements to the public.The year also saw the resignation of Bernard Dompok as chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Integrity due to differences with Minister in the PM’s Department Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz Nazri over the committee’s scope of duties. Nazri claimed that Dompok might have been influenced by Kit Siang, who is a member of the committee. Dompok told his colleague that it was “a cheap shot”.
Crime reached endemic proportions in 2007. The rakyat in Bolehland did not feel good. They also did not feel safe at all – whether inside or outside their houses! Pak Lah had failed to live up to his pledge to drastically reduce the crime rate. Instead, the crime rate soared from 156,315 cases in 2003 to 224,298 cases in 2007 – a sharp rise of some 45 per cent in the past four years of Pak Lah’s premiership. Furthermore, for the first time in the country’s history, the crime index crossed the 200,000 mark. The number of serious crimes increased by 13.4 per cent nationwide, with gang robbery without the use of firearms rising by more than 159 per cent. An average of nine cases of rape were reported daily in the first nine months of 2007 - compared to four cases a day in 2003 and seven cases a day in 2006!“I am worried and anyone looking at it will be worried. Seriously, I am very concerned about the percentage of crime in Malaysia,” said Pak Lah’s in a recent response to the rising crime rate. He has come up with a multi-pronged anti-crime strategy.But any strategy to curb crime in Malaysia will come to naught if it does not include the political will to create a clean, efficient and professional police force. To achieve this an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC), a key proposal by the Royal Commission on the police, should be set up. Unfortunately, by the end of the year, the PM committed the “crime” of shelving the IPCMC and replacing it with a toothless Special Complaints Commission proposal.Lest we be tempted to blame the high crime rate on foreigners, it was revealed by police in October last year that 80 per cent of crimes committed in the country are by Malaysians. IGP Tan Sri Musa Hassan made a shocking confession that in the war against crime, the police are at times frustrated by some politicians who want the police to “keep one eye open and one eye closed”.
Last year saw the elite in Umno (also read as “Government”) going berserk over blogs. They realised they were losing control over how people receive information and form opinions. They could not “buy over” the countless Internet blogs as they do with newspapers. For so long, they had monopolised “the truth”. The year 2007 saw them doing what they are best at – “criminalising” or demonising what is a major threat to them. Last January, socio-political bloggers Ahirudin Attan and Jeff Ooi were served with different suits by lawyers representing the Umno-linked New Straits Times Press (NSTP) over postings in their blogs that were deemed defamatory. Predictably, the PM supported the unprecedented controversial defamation lawsuit. But bloggers were not bothered by the blatant intimidation. It made them even bolder. They set up legal funds for the two and formed Bloggers United.In March, Malaysians cringed as they heard Tourism Minister Tunku Adnan Tengku Mansor declare: “All bloggers are liars, they cheat people using all kinds of methods. From my understanding, out of 10,000 unemployed bloggers, 8,000 are women.” It was International Women’s Day! “All bloggers are not in favour of national unity. Our country has been successful because we are very tolerant with each other, if not, there will be civil war, the Malays will kill the Chinese, the Chinese will take revenge and kill the Malays, and the Indians will kill everyone.” After 50 years of independence, our politicians insult our intelligence by trying to make us believe that we cannot debate, dialogue, discuss and disagree decently and intelligently without destroying each other. In July, PKR webmaster Nathaniel Tan was arrested and the webmaster of popular political website Malaysia Today, Raja Petra Kamarudin, was summoned to the police station following a police report by Umno information chief Muhammad Muhammad Taib. They even summoned Raja Petra’s wife for questioning. But Raja Petra was the least petrified.The intimidation intensified. Nazri warned that the government would not hesitate to use the ISA, the Sedition Act 1948 and Section 121b of the Penal Code against bloggers who make disparaging statements. There was also the insistence by ministers that bloggers be forced to register themselves. Pak Lah revealed the foolishness of it all: “Even if we asked them to register there will be those who will go by other names and will use other channels, including using servers outside the country.” Bloggers refused to be cowed by the blather on blogs by the bunch of blockheads mentioned above. They took to heart Mahathir’s description of them as the “only hope” left to speak out on problems in the country. “Umno has become completely paralysed. It cannot do anything (to correct itself). The only hope left is with the bloggers,” said Dr M during a two-and-a-half hour speech to some 100 bloggers on 15 August at his Perdana Leadership Foundation headquarters in Putrajaya.
“Parliament’s importance has not diminished even after 50 years of independence” - so declared Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak in August 2007. He added that the role of the country’s legislative should be given due respect not only from elected representatives but also the people. Not many MPs, especially those in the BN, shared Najib’s conviction. In April, Nazri, who is the minister in charge of parliamentary affairs revealed the problem of high absenteeism rate in Parliament last year was “becoming bad and has to be stopped immediately”.Such was the importance of the role of Parliament after 50 years that, on 10 July, the Parliament grounds were insensitively occupied by six cows and 10 goats waiting to be slaughtered for a dinner scheduled at the banquet hall in the hallowed grounds of Parliament to celebrate Pak Lah’s wedding. A severe and recurrent roof leak in Parliament in May and the “bocor” comments of two BN MPs that followed further revealed how “important” Parliament was to the powers-that-be as the country celebrated her 50th anniversary. Najib should be the last to speak of “due respect” in Parliament for he defended the two MPs whose sexist and most insensitive remarks were far from being an isolated incident but ingrained and systemic.It also showed how easy it is to be an MP of a component party of the Barisan Nasional. It is really peanuts. One only needs to be spineless, silly, sexist and of course ‘stupid’. And to lead the way was none other than the minister in charge of parliamentary affairs, Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz himself. Nazri’s level of “respect” for the country’s legislative was matchless. Judging from his sterling performance in 2007, surely the Minister in the PM’s Department will continue to take us to greater heights in hype, hypocrisy and, of course, hysterics and histrionics in Parliament!Coming back to Najib, the Deputy PM should have been present to observe how the police gave “due respect” to Parliament when they arrested over 20 people within the parliamentary precincts on 11 December, in spite of strong protests by the Opposition Leader and his colleagues. They had turned up to hand over a memorandum to protest the extension of the Election Commission chief’s retirement age via a constitutional amendment.
The year 2007 was the 20th anniversary of Operation Lalang. To justify the continued use of the ISA, Pak Lah and his cohorts dished out some of the most incomprehensible statements ever heard before. For example, in March, foreign affairs ministry parliamentary secretary Ahmad Shabery Cheek foolishly claimed that “no one has demanded that the ISA be abolished”. In July, the PM declared that the ISA “is still relevant and useful”. He added that “matters pertaining to the rights of detainees will be given due consideration and assessment”. How can this be done when the basic tenet of the ISA is to detain a person without trial – a grave violation of a basic human right?Then came Bernard Dompok’s assertion that there had been no ISA detention after Pak Lah took over as PM in 2003. The Abolish ISA Movement (GMI) called Dompok’s statement “a blatant lie”. It provided the statistics of ISA arrests and renewal of detention orders during Pak Lah’s premiership.Just before the 20th Anniversary of Operation Lalang, Kuala Lumpur High Court judge Mohd Hishamudin Mohd Yunus, in a landmark decision, courageously ruled that ex-ISA detainee Abdul Malek’s arrest was unlawful and that he was assaulted in custody. He was awarded RM2.5 million in damages.On 13 December, police arrested five leaders of the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) under the ISA on the false notion that they were linked to terrorists - without providing a shred of evidence.
“I think this government under Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is a very, very liberal government,” Nazri tried very hard to convince himself as he spoke at a National Union of Journalists (NUJ) forum in September. “(But) I must tell you that it is not easy, because there are many leaders who are not comfortable with the present liberalism given by the prime minister to the press. This is something we have to manage properly.” How and when was Pak Lah’s government “very, very liberal”?Was it when Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin (Zam) summoned top media editors to a special briefing and, in the name of the PM, laid down the law that the PM’s repeated pledges to “listen to the truth” did not mean that the media have the green light to “practice unrestrained reporting”?Was it when Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission Chairman Halim Shafie ordered broadcasters against giving airtime for speeches by opposition political parties? (This, however, was reversed by Energy, Water and Communication Minister Lim Keng Yaik.) Was it when the media were barred from covering the public hearing on crime held by the Parliamentary Caucus on Human Rights and Good Governance in Petaling Jaya because, according to Caucus chairman Nazri Abdul Aziz, the meeting had to be a closed-door session so that some parties would not be uncomfortable due to media reports? Was it when all editors were rounded up to take specific instructions from the “Fourth Floor Boys” in Putrajaya as to how to report the Pak Lah’s wedding?Was it when Zam told local newspapers not to quote from blogs or use them as sources of information? Was it when the Internal Security Ministry issued a directive to all mainstream media not to publish any news on the issue of Malaysia being an Islamic state and only to publish statements from Pak Lah and his deputy? Was it when editorial interference led to self-censorship, which in turn resulted in stories being slanted heavily towards the government such as the public rallies by Bersih in Batu Burok, Terengganu. and in Kuala Lumpur, and the one organised by Hindraf? The “liberalism” which Nazri spoke so proudly about resulted in Malaysia achieving the worst-ever ranking in the latest annual worldwide press freedom index released by the Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF). It saw the sharpest plunge of 32 spots in Malaysia’s ranking - from 92nd to 124th place, which is also Malaysia’s worst ranking since the rankings began in 2002.
The defects that began to show on nine occasions in a three-month period after the opening of the second largest court complex in the world in Jalan Duta were symbolic of the state of the judiciary. It became apparent that the manner in which Pak Lah’s administration saw and handled the judiciary was similar to how the Mahathir government regarded it: the judiciary was made to serve the government’s (also read as “Umno’s) interest and not the rakyat’s.The government is not even shy about this fact. Nazri, who is also the de facto law minister, put it unashamedly: “…the concept of separation of powers between the legislative, judiciary and executive is ‘too idealistic’ to be implemented in the country”.Chief Justice (CJ) Ahmad Fairuz and Nazri were ready to do whatever it took and to utter the most naïve and nonsensical opinions in order to maintain the status quo. Nazri would insist: “There is no crisis in our judiciary” – in spite of Sultan Azlan Shah’s “disquiet about our judiciary” and the new CJ Abdul Hamid Mohamad’s “house-cleaning” pledge.Fairuz mocked the proposal for the setting up of an independent judicial commission on the appointment and promotion of judges by comparing such an effort towards transparency to nudity! In August several newspapers reported that Fairuz had advocated the abolition of Common Law, favouring its replacement by an Islamic legal system in the country. Nazri later denied - on behalf of Fairuz - in Parliament that the CJ had made such a proposal. Kit Siang provided Nazri with a newspaper tape transcript as proof that Fairuz had indeed made such a proposal. Nazri played down its significance, claiming that the Chief Justice was pressed by reporters to offer his opinion that there was “no need” for the country to continue with Common Law!When Karpal Singh revealed the name of a Federal Court judge who had not written judgments in as many as 35 cases, including four in which the convicted were languishing in jail despite being sentenced to death seven years ago, Nazri declared: “the writing of judgments was not the only criterion to promote judges”!When the country did not have a Chief Judge for eight months, Nazri would absurdly insist that there “is no law that says the Chief Justice cannot act as the Chief Judge of Malaya”. He would challenge them: “Show me where it says, either in the Constitution or elsewhere, that it cannot be done.” The Bar Council pointed to the fact that provisions in the Constitution state that the posts of Chief Justice and Chief Judge of Malaya are independent of one another and therefore if read together with the Courts of Judicature Act 1964, the CJ should appoint a Federal Court Judge to act as the Chief Judge of Malaya. Once in a while, unwittingly, they would blurt out the truth, such as Fairuz’s frank admission of the existence of (a) judges who were often seen socialising with lawyers, prosecutors and corporate figures while hearing their cases in court; (b) judges who were “constantly angry and foul-tempered”, who portrayed themselves as being the most brilliant or perfect judge in court; and (c) judges who accept bribes. His admission was a terrible indictment on the entire judiciary, crying out aloud for a complete judicial review.When asked to explain why he had issued a denial on behalf of Fairuz in connection with the Lingam video scandal, Nazri said: “I am his Minister”. It was ignorance par excellence but, to be fair, it was one of those rare moments when the de facto law minister told the truth! The Executive, Legislative and Judiciary are in reality not independent of one another.On the super fast-track appointment of Zaki Azmi as Court of Appeal president, Nazri said that the government was “not doing something unconstitutional”. He failed to realise that the government was passing a vote of ‘no confidence’ in the judiciary and saying there was no one in the judiciary worthy of the position! Fairuz was put on a fast-track to retirement. It was perhaps the most “correct, correct, correct” thing that Pak Lah and his government did in 2007 when it came to the judiciary. It would also give Fairuz a lot of time to recall his infamous alleged telephone conversation with V K Lingam.
Last year will be well remembered as a year when the ordinary citizens of Bolehland courageously decided to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and to freedom of expression. The rakyat were fed up of being fed with lies and half-truths. It was time to give the powers-that-be their feedback. They told Pak Lah the truth – on 8 September, when 750 people gathered near Batu Buruk, in Trengganu for a Bersih ceremah, and on 26 September, when 2,000 lawyers and others marched to the Prime Minister’s Department in Putrajaya to hand over a memorandum asking for a Royal Commission to investigate the Lingam video clip. They also told Pak Lah the truth on 10 November, when 50,000 converged at Istana Negara to express their concern over the conduct of elections in Malaysia to the Agong; on 25 November, when some 30,000 Indian Malaysians protested against their marginalisation and discrimination; on 9 December, when several dozen human rights lawyers and activists attempted to march in commemoration of Human Rights Day. The government’s response to these assemblies was predictable and pathetic. Malaysians could see that it was not those who protested on the streets who damaged the country’s good name (for street protests are so common overseas) but the less-than-eloquent ministers who stammered and struggled in front of the international media to justify the authorities’ desperate responses such as charging demonstrators for “attempted murder” (a charge that was later dropped). Except for the lawyers’ “Walk for Justice”, the powers-that-be sent in the police – a force ever ready to pander to the wishes of its political masters and protect the interests and “internal security” of Umno.The police proudly ensured law and order – the PM’s “law” and his orders. They pranced, pounced on and provoked. They pushed and pulverized. They pummelled and reduced to a pulp. They sprayed jet-streams of chemically laced water and shot cannisters of tear gas. But the people, especially in the Bersih and Hindraf assemblies, showed they were no longer afraid. There were even moments when they stood their ground. The police lost all authority; fully armed, they were helpless!After every public assembly it was depressing to see how low journalism had sunk as the country celebrated her 50th anniversary. Can anything be sadder than seeing a servile press sucking up to their political superiors and giving stories a spin and a slant that suits, soothes and serves the government?But not all was lost. The citizens of Bolehland would hear the Raja Muda of Perak, Raja Dr Nazrin Shah declare that “the desire to maintain public order should not be an excuse for never allowing peaceful assemblies”. He emphasised that freedom of expression through peaceful demonstrations “is a right people can reasonably expect to enjoy in a democratic society.” Would the government care to listen to this: “The right to live in peace and harmony in a safe environment is also a right people can reasonably expect to enjoy in any well-run society. The government is responsible for public order.”Equally pertinent was Musa Hitam’s spontaneous answer when he was asked whether Malaysia is ready for peaceful assemblies: “Yes! Come on, we have been independent for 50 years.” The former deputy PM also suggested that Malaysia move forward and away from the mentality of equating “demonstrations” with “violence”. He also proposed that peaceful demonstrations be allowed by the government, with the responsibility for ensuring that the demonstrations are peaceful placed on the organisers.
“2007 has proved to be one of the most divisive and troubled years in the half-a-century of Malaysia’s nationhood – with religious polarization assuming its most serious dimension, compounding an already difficult problem of racial polarisation in the nation-building process,” wrote Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang. “These are troubling times. We have every reason to be troubled. Race and religion seem to be running riot and upsetting the equilibrium of our lives and portending a dangerous future for the nation. The silent majority must wake up and take a stand against opportunistic politicians who are using race and religion to stir the cauldron,” warned Aliran president P Ramakrishnan in his pre-Merdeka deliberations.Equally concerned was civil rights activist and lawyer Malik Imtiaz Sarwar: “There is a general sense on the ground that things are getting out of hand. My fears are that we’ll become even more racially divided, the economy’s going to plunge, the Islamist aspects will become even more pronounced, and what you’ll have is a wholesale dismantling of the rule of law.”“Due to several high profile court cases regarding religious freedoms, we see an increasing polarisation of Malaysians that is chipping away at the national unity block that our leaders have strove so hard to build since independence,” commented Ramon Navaratnam, a Malaysian socio-economic expert.Pak Lah would contradict himself time and again on matters concerning race and religion in 2007. For example, he would preach the virtues of inter-religious dialogue but would go on to ban the Building Bridges Conference, a seminar meant to bring together Christian and Muslim scholars of international reputation. He would insist on Malaysians being sensitive to each other but he would defend the brandishing of the keris at the Umno annual general assembly. He emphasised that Malaysia is not a secular nor a theocratic state but later decided to follow his deputy by declaring that Malaysia is an Islamic state. In his Christmas message, he called on Malaysians to move forward and put the country’s interest before any “narrowly-defined demands”. He would be “narrow-minded” enough to ban the use of the word “Allah” by those of non-Muslim faiths, and its use in The Herald, a Catholic weekly.In a recent forum recently, Anwar Ibrahim gave a good reason for the disturbing reality that confronts us: “The ruling BN coalition is appealing to Muslim sentiment to reinforce its support in elections which could come in March…Malaysia’s problem is not radicalism…The real issue is what I would describe as state-sponsored Muslim puritanism more by racist sentiments than religious principles. “For some reason it is the belief of the present administration in Kuala Lumpur that playing the puritanical card would be the best bet for the Umno-dominated ruling coalition to secure electoral success in the coming elections… By holding themselves out to be the staunchest defenders of Islam, Umno hopes to garner greater support...”
Flip-flopping into the future
Throughout 2007, whether it was on matters concerning the economy, the judiciary, parliament, police, race relations, religion, health, education Pak Lah and his government appeared incompetent, inconsistent and even ignorant, adept only at incendiary propaganda. The once looking-good PM, who had the people feeling good, increasingly failed to deliver the goods of transparency and accountability. Indeed in 2007, the Pak Lah’s supposed fairy tale of change became what it really was – a full-blown farce.A general election is near. Will Bolehland citizens re-elect the “flip-flop” PM, whom well-known writer M Bakri Musa calls “His Hollowness the Imam of Islam Hadhari”? Will they still want to give the PM - who had to insist in June 2007 that “I am no sleeping PM” - a fresh mandate? Will Malaysians want to bring back the many soiled reputations, spent characters and self-seeking Umno and Barisan Nasional politicians? May the realities of the year 2007 serve as our guide in making a wise and crucial decision. - ALIRAN