Probe on ‘fake notes’ must be independent

Photo: Focus Malaysia

“Based on new findings (obtained) through Noor Ehsanuddin’s new (defence) statement, the accused successfully proved that he had paid back the sum in question BEFORE (emphasis is the writer’s) the start of the (initial) investigation. A key witness also confirmed the matter (money) as advances.”

MACC statement, Sept 6

ACAB views there are shortcomings in the investigation; and the decisions by the Attorney-General’s Chambers in early February 2019 and the MACC management and administration at the time was made without a comprehensive consideration. Because of actions at the time that was not transparent, unprofessional and leaned towards political interests, the MACC management today has to bear its consequences.

MACC Anti-Corruption Advisory Committee (ACAB) chairperson Abu Zahar Ujang, Sept 7

These two statements made in relation to the withdrawal of 29 charges of corruption against former Felda board member Noor Ehsanuddin Mohd Harun Narrashid on May 21 were unpalatable, unaccepted and at the worse irrational and ridiculous.

In two commentaries published two weeks ago, I asked a loaded question: Is it legal and acceptable for any person to accept gratification and later repay the money and call it “advances” to escape prosecution?

No answers have been forthcoming from the MACC or ACAB chairperson Abu Zahar Ujang.

But what happens if the MACC officers allegedly involved in the missing millions offer the same defence used by Noor Ehsanuddin under Section 62 of the MACC Act?

So, if they return or replace the allegedly stolen money, wouldn’t it be a case of what’s good for the goose is also good for the gander?

But lawyers say such a defence is not available to them as in this case, it is theft of public money and not a bribe or laundering of money.

That’s assuring indeed but it is debatable and arguable as legal opinions defer depending on which side you are representing.

Since the investigations are being carried out by the MACC itself, will it not prejudice the case?

The rules of natural justice state that in making a decision, there should be no bias in the person making the decision as he or she must act impartially when considering the matter, and must not have any relationships with anyone that could lead someone to reasonably doubt their impartiality.

Similarly, the same can be said of investigations as there is always a likelihood of bias when investigating wrongdoing by a colleague, a friend or a family member. To dispel any notions of doubts on impartiality, it is imperative that an “outsider” – someone totally unconnected – be involved in the investigations.

In the past, many files had been closed and marked as “no further action” (NFA) for various reasons. What happens when the customary “not enough evidence” is offered to allow them to go free? What happens when they use another claim that “witnesses were not cooperative”?

In this case, it has been reported that counterfeit notes were used to replace the stolen greenbacks but where did these notes originate from? What happens when this source suddenly becomes untraceable?

No police report made

Whatever “independent investigation” put forward by MACC chief Azam Baki is utter bunkum and he must give a plausible explanation as to why a police report was not made on the commission of a criminal offence as soon as it was discovered.

Shouldn’t the Riot Act be read to Azam and shouldn’t this charade and promises of “independent” investigations be stopped as a police report is mandatory.

Section 202 of the Penal Code states: Whoever, knowing or having reason to believe that an offence has been committed, intentionally omits to give any information respecting that offence which he is legally bound to give, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months or a fine or both.

But must there be a report before the police start investigations? The answer is “no” as in many court cases, we have come across police officers testifying that they made the report after reading articles in the media.

In short, the investigation must not only be independent but seen to be independent.

So, why are the police dragging their feet? But I could be wrong because there is yet another twist to this whole affair.

On Tuesday, Free Malaysia Today quoted Bukit Aman Criminal Investigation Department director Abd Jalil Hassan as saying that “relevant information will be obtained from the owner of the blog – Edisi Siasat – to assist in the investigation.”

“We are also tracking down the operator of the blog site to obtain information and conduct further investigations and the act of disseminating and transmitting untrue information is wrong and can be investigated,” he said.

Untrue information?

Surely the police have better things to investigate because a statement subsequently from the MACC confirmed the arrest of three officers and that they had been remanded for a week. A case of shooting the messenger?

Now, let us look at another scenario: The alleged perpetrators plead guilty as charged before a judge. The prosecutor will read out the facts of the case given to him by the investigating officer or the deputy public prosecutor in the MACC office.

In this scenario, wouldn’t certain important issues be purposely omitted to protect the weaknesses which led to the theft?

What would have been the role of minor players like officers holding the keys to the secured room where valuable exhibits are stored? Isn’t there a logbook in which removal of exhibits is maintained? So many other questions will remain unanswered.

Some may conclude that these observations are conspiracy theories but I beg to differ. These are probabilities that must be anticipated.

There have been calls for Azam to go on garden leave to allow a truly independent police team but will he?

R NADESWARAN is closely following the saga of the missing millions in the custody of the MACC and hopes its head honcho does the right thing.

*The views expressed are those of the author. If you have any questions about the content, copyright or other issues of the work, please contact Newswav.

What will it take to end MACC’s endless woes?

Photo: MalayMail

On July 27, 2015, representatives from civil society groups gathered in Putrajaya to deliver a memorandum outlining proposals to strengthen the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Act.

That 21-page document was prepared by the Malaysian Bar, in collaboration with the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas), the Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4), Citizens’ Network for a Better Malaysia (CNBM), and Transparency International Malaysia (TI-M).

But it was an exercise in futility. In the morning, Bernama issued a statement quoting the then chief secretary to the government Ali Hamsa as saying that Abdul Gani Patail’s services as the attorney-general were terminated early due to the latter’s “health problems”.

Almost immediately, the three top guns in the MACC were replaced and it marked the week of the long knives – the darkest period in Malaysia’s fight against corruption. Any and every civil servant, especially enforcement officers who had knowledge about the wheeling and dealing in 1MDB and related agencies, were forced to clear their desks.

That document from the civil society was delivered but it suffered like other evidence – untouched and ignored.

While there were a series of exposés by the media – local and foreign – on what the government of the day under Abdul Najib Razak was covering up, it was not until the court cases began in 2019 that Malaysians understood the reasons behind the black operation to get rid of top graft busters.

The change of government in May 2018 saw the return of former MACC deputy chief Mohamad Shukri Abdull to helm the commission and after him, lawyer Latheefa Koya for a short spell.

But following another change of government in 2020, a raft of criminal charges was withdrawn and as expected, many read into these actions and the MACC, being the investigating body, bore the blame. When civil servants escaped with fines, MACC was seen to be influenced by the social status and political hierarchy of the perpetrators.

Hence, it was the assumption that the prosecution did not push for custodial sentences.

Other ominous signs began to appear. It is difficult to fathom how low a once acclaimed and highly-respected institution has dropped.

The MACC has transcended into an organisation which is now making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Its series of howlers has now become the perfect example to illustrate the idiom “it never rains but it pours.”

This month, it has been besieged with issues starting with the withdrawal of 27 charges against Felda director Noor Ehsanuddin Mohd Harun Narrashid. When confronted for an explanation, MACC said that the “bribe had been returned before investigations started”.

Then came the muddle which did more damage – the MACC advisors claiming that investigations were “unprofessionally conducted and were influenced by political considerations.”

But the key question remained unanswered: Is it legal and acceptable for any person to accept gratification and later repay the money and call it “advances” to escape prosecution?

Yesterday’s announcement by the MACC chief Azam Baki that three of its officers had been remanded was stale news.

The remand took place one week ago – last Tuesday, Sept 14, to be exact, and the matter was hushed up until the news appeared in a blog, Edisi Siasat, on Saturday.

Within these events lies the only certainty in this desperate affair – an apparent attempt at covering up the case of the missing money; a lot of money, at least RM6 million.

The money was from the case of former Malaysia External Intelligence Organisation (MEIO) chief Hasanah Abdul Hamid who stood trial for criminal breach of trust involving a sum of RM50.4 million belonging to the government. In April, she was given a discharge not amounting to an acquittal during her trial.

Already, there are accusations of cloak and dagger operations to protect the guilty.

Among others, the blog claimed that one of the alleged perpetrators is a close aide of Azam and hence it became an internal investigation.

Indeed, a riveting story is to be told when and if it goes to court, and the MACC’s tattered image is likely to turn the worst way imaginable.

In Parliament yesterday, Puchong MP Gobind Singh rightly raised two pointed questions: Theft falls under the jurisdiction of the police and not the MACC. So why is MACC the one making the arrest and detention? This involves MACC officers. Is the MACC going to investigate itself?

Newspaper publisher, former MACC advisory panel member and head of Rasuah Busters, an anti-corruption platform, Hussamuddin Yaacub called on Azam to accept responsibility for the debacle and resign and allow a special police team to investigate the alleged theft.

As Malaysians begin to digest the course of events, shenanigans and goings-on in the MACC, it will be a good time to have a re-look at the civil society proposals which must be gathering dust in either the AG’s Chambers or the MACC headquarters.

With MPs now in the mood to propose private member’s bills, will some caring lawmaker take up the cause for a better Malaysia? We need a MACC that is helmed by people of integrity, and one which is totally independent and apolitical.

R NADESWARAN is a veteran journalist who has written extensively on governance issues including corruption.

*The views expressed are those of the author. If you have any questions about the content, copyright or other issues of the work, please contact Newswav.

Now MACC is pinning blame on its own officers

Pic: The Rakyat Post

The saga of the Felda director whose corruption case made headlines for the past four days took yet another murky twist – the MACC Anti-Corruption Advisory Committee (ACAB) declared that its own officers acted “unprofessionally and were influenced by political considerations.”

The revelation is a slap in the face for hundreds of honest MACC officers (present and past) who carry out their responsibilities without fear or favour. Besides, this has caused a serious dent on MACC’s image and independence which the commission touts brazenly. And now, critics have every reason to shout: “I told you so”.

To put matters in the right perspective, this is a brief re-cap of the events:

  • In 2019, Noor Ehsanuddin Mohd Harun Narrashid was charged at the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court on 14 charges of accepting a bribe of RM23,540.68 in instalment payments for a BMW 3 Series car from a printing company, Karya Hidayah Sdn Bhd, in 2014 and 2015.
  • In the Johor Bahru court, he faced 10 charges including receiving a bribe of RM50,000 and a piece of land from the same company in 2013 and 2014. He was also charged in the Shah Alam Sessions Court with five counts of accepting the maintenance of two vehicles and the legal fee payment of RM12,707.60 for the purchase of a piece of land.
  • On May 21, the MACC withdrew all charges. On Sept 2, belatedly, his counsel, Hasnal Rezua Merican explained: “This came about after the MACC investigated the defence’s statement under Section 62 of the MACC Act and was satisfied that all transactions made as stated in the charges were advances that had been fully repaid.”
  • On Sept 6, the MACC issued a statement, which among others, said: “Based on new findings (obtained) through Noor Ehsanuddin’s new (defence) statement, the accused successfully proved that he had paid back the sum in question before the start of the (initial) investigation. A key witness also confirmed the matter (money) as advances.”

Yesterday, the same mantra was repeated in a statement by ACAB chairperson Abu Zahar Ujang, who said: “Following explanations from MACC’s top brass, the committee found that the decision to drop charges against Noor Ehsanuddin was due to new facts that emerged only after he had been charged in court.”

As I had argued in my column on Tuesday, the “real” issue is the reason advanced by the MACC on its decision to withdraw charges, which many found unacceptable.

The question was and still is: Does the repayment or reimbursement of monies paid as a bribe towards the instalment of the car absolve the accused of any liability?

For example, one pays for a civil servant’s monthly travel pass for over two years in exchange for favours. When the latter gets wind of impending investigations into the arrangement, he pays a lump sum and asks that the monies be treated as advances. Both would certainly be guilty.

Even if there was evidence that the monies had been repaid, the mere act of accepting gratification is an offence.

If at the material time of investigations (in 2019), there was no evidence of repayment (which only emerged in a subsequent defence statement), how does it make it “unprofessional or influenced by political considerations”?

AGC must explain too

For good measure, the Attorney General’s Chambers has been drawn into this fiasco.

Abu Zahar said: “The ACAB views there are shortcomings in the investigation; and the decisions by the Attorney-General’s Chambers in early February 2019 and the MACC management and administration at the time was made without a comprehensive consideration.”

What is meant by “without comprehensive consideration”? What were the shortcomings? If they were so monumental and crucial to the case, how did the AGC give the sanction to prosecute?

According to Abu Zahar, “new facts emerged only after he (Noor Ehsanuddin) had been charged” but that was hardly unprofessional. It was not that there was no case in the first place, but how and where did “political considerations” come in?

It is not for the public to get involved in word games and puzzles to try and decipher the cryptic messages emanating from MACC. There’s much more that is being hidden from the public. Unless the committee and the management are willing to have an open discussion on this issue, the people will always be suspicious of the motives of MACC’s actions or inaction in certain cases.

By the way, Abu Zahar and his committee have not addressed the elephant in the room: Is it legal and acceptable for any person to accept gratification and later repay the money and call it “advances” to escape prosecution?

R NADESWARAN says the latest turn of events has left a bad taste in the mouths of right-thinking Malaysians whose confidence in MACC will be somewhat diminished.

*The views expressed are those of the author. If you have any questions about the content, copyright or other issues of the work, please contact Newswav.

Withdrawal of charges fails to pass the smell test

Photo: Malay Mail

The process is simple. Whichever tool you use, either by counting ice-cream sticks (as we did in our pre-school days), by mental arithmetic or with an electronic calculator, the result of adding two and two is always four.

But the answer to the same arithmetic question provided by the MACC and by extension, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), is 3.99.
In addition, there’s a game of “before” and “after” being played out by the principals involved in perhaps an imaginary parody of “Who wants to be a millionaire?”

Didn’t catch the drift? The explanation given for the withdrawal of 29 bribery charges against former Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) board of directors member, Noor Ehsanuddin Mohd Harun Narrashid, in modern lingo amounts to the same – it does not compute.

Last Wednesday, Malaysiakini quoted a Bernama report saying: “His counsel Hasnal Rezua Merican, when contacted, said the prosecution informed the court of the withdrawal of the 29 charges during case proceedings before Sessions Court judge Suzana Hussin on May 21.

“Actually, the date (May 21) was set for the continuation of the case hearing but the prosecution informed the court on withdrawing all the charges against the accused.”

Quite strange that a decision made almost four months ago only surfaced last week, but it’s a moot point.

“This came about after the MACC investigated the defence’s statement under Section 62 of the MACC Act and was satisfied that all transactions made as stated in the charges were advances that had been fully repaid.,” Hasnal was quoted as saying.

[Section 62 states: Once delivery of documents by the prosecution pursuant to Section 51a of the Criminal Procedure Code has taken place, the accused shall, before commencement of the trial, deliver the following documents to the prosecution:
(a) a defence statement setting out in general terms the nature of the defence and the matters on which the accused takes issue with the prosecution, with reasons; and
(b) a copy of any document which would be tendered as part of the evidence for the defence.]

Before and after

The MACC attempted to placate an angry public and in a statement yesterday explained: “Based on new findings (obtained) through Noor Ehsanuddin’s new (defence) statement, the accused successfully proved that he had paid back the sum in question BEFORE (emphasis is the writer’s) the start of the (initial) investigation. A key witness also confirmed the matter (money) as advances.”

Now, now, please do tell us that the MACC is not giving ideas to the corrupt and the dishonest that if they return the dirty money once they get a whiff of an investigation, they can get away scot-free!

Please do also tell us that a bribe, a kickback, a back-hander, or whatever you call it, remains a bribe and returning it does not absolve one from being prosecuted.

What is more intriguing is that the MACC decided to charge Noor Ehsanuddin AFTER they completed their investigations and found that no restitution or refund of the money had been made.

For the record, in the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court, Noor Ehsanuddin, 58, faced 14 charges of accepting a bribe of RM23,540.68 in instalment payments for a BMW 3 Series car, from a printing company, Karya Hidayah Sdn Bhd in 2014 and 2015.

In the Johor Bahru court, he faced 10 charges including receiving a bribe of RM50,000 and a piece of land from the same company in 2013 and 2014.

He was also charged in the Shah Alam Sessions Court with five counts of accepting the maintenance of two vehicles and the legal fee payment of RM12,707.60 for the purchase of a piece of land.

Wouldn’t Joe Public wonder why despite thorough investigations, MACC failed to find an iota of evidence on the payback BEFORE the charges were proffered?

Surely, procedures would have necessitated the investigators to check with the printing company and recorded witness statements from its officials BEFORE submitting to the AGC for sanction to prosecute.

Only AFTER the AGC is satisfied that there is a case to answer (and all loopholes covered) will the suspect be charged in court. The MACC does not have powers of prosecution and refers all matters “upstairs” for a decision.

Now, even if we were to believe the MACC, who has told us that the accused had made payments BEFORE investigations started, the obvious retort colloquially would be: “Do you have half-past six investigators or have they been sleeping on the job?”

If at the time of investigations, no proof of such repayments was made but we have been told that AFTER the defence submitted a “new” witness statement under Section 62 of the MACC Act, the whole scenario changed.
The instalments for the BMW were made in 2014 and 2015 and came to light during MACC’s investigations.

Even it was settled a day BEFORE or much earlier, the probe started, can the accused be absolved of the charge of accepting bribe?
What does the Oversight Panel of the MACC have to say about this “oversight” or whatever you call it?

None, because its terms of reference restrict their powers to cases which are classified as “No Further Action (NFA)” and investigations which have been dormant for more than a year.

Wouldn’t another level of checks and balances be introduced to allow cases to be reviewed by this panel before they are withdrawn and incur the wrath of the people?

R NADESWARAN says speaking from the heart does not make him unpatriotic or un-nationalistic or a lesser Malaysian.

*The views expressed are those of the author. If you have any questions about the content, copyright or other issues of the work, please contact Newswav.

Be yourself tomorrow – just flinch and baulk

Embrace true meaning of Merdeka -
Photo: Twentytwo13

Tomorrow is a public holiday. It is a day to mark the 64th year of independence. Period. The day is to get your car washed; buy groceries or go to the market; watch special programmes on TV. Nothing more.

The sloganeering, the rhetoric, the patriotism, unity and togetherness are secondary. This annual observation (read: holiday) is a front for pretenders, hypocrites and those apple-polishing politicians who believe what they say will end years of “my race is mightier than yours” and “my religion rules supreme over all others”.

It is not something new.

They talk about religious tolerance but not acceptance; they talk of a nation for all but not a nation of all. They talk about unity in one breath and scream ketuanan in another.

Bangsa Malaysia remains a pipedream and anyone promoting it should be asked: “What have you been smoking?”

The divide is so deep-rooted and even without the cajoling by self-serving politicians, it continues to go grow deeper, diving into an already a divided nation.

1Malaysia (1MDB will be easier to recall!) coined by the convicted felon has metamorphosised into Keluarga Malaysia with the interceding Abah and Makcik Kiah still in the pupa.

So, will raising the flag once a year immediately instil a new form of patriotism, just like instant noodles?

Malaysian PM Muhyiddin to give TV address amid calls to quit

Yes, radio and television stations – both public and private – are pounding the messages. Yes, many are listening or watching, perhaps because they are interspersed with their favourite Tamil or Korean serial or at halftime of live football matches or news bulletins. But are the messages absorbed? What do they signify?

Is raising the flag at the gate of your house or office is the only way to show patriotism? What purpose does it serve when the next moment you go into an expletive-laden racist attack on your neighbour because he has parked his car in front of your entrance?

Do all these messages mean anything to hundreds of cyber troopers on the payroll of politicians who stir hatred and contempt with their own provocative and divisive messages? Or do they mean anything to the paymasters themselves? For many of them, the end justifies the means.

A week ago, there was some hope. A new prime minister, we had hoped, would introduce fresh faces who will bring in fresh ideas. But last Friday, our hopes landed with a thud and melted in the air. A recycled cabinet devoid of any concepts or notions is what we got.

Have we scrapped the bottom of the barrel? Is this all the talent we have? Or has political expediency superseded all other considerations?

The rent-seekers and cronies will continue to flourish, expecting handouts from new sources because any cut to money means having to change lifestyles. No more RM600 cigars; no more designer T-shirts or even taking a new wife.

The theme (whatever that means) for tomorrow’s holiday is Malaysia Prihatin. We seem to be fixated by the word “prihatin”, which means concerned or cares. But does the government or anyone in government actually care?

Some are busy making videos promoting themselves instead of the cause. Kerepek and curry mee have got celebrity endorsements but is this what we expect of our leaders?

Some demean the learning of English and yet are comfortable falling on their feet by sending out their messages in well-designed posters but blinded by improper use of the language. Are these the people who are going to lead us?

A thousand deaths over three days last week are grim reminders of how the government handled the Covid-19 pandemic. Friday marked the 10th day out of the previous 14 where there were more than 20,000 new cases. Doesn’t this say something?

The warm water cure and the Spanish fly lecture may be behind us, but let these be a constant reminder of the quality of the leaders.

There is a glimmer of hope, though. The new health minister’s hands-on approach in testing and vaccination brought some tangible results. The stance that “the government knows best” has ended.

The consultation process with all stakeholders is expected to be the frontrunner in the fight to return the country to normalcy but lurking in the shadows will be hidden hands for contracts and supplies.

Walking through the quagmire as a principled and no-sense man is not going to be an easy task. The minister must be aware of the dangers within, some sharpening their knives (or keris) to thrust if they do not get their shares of the spoils.

We have had so many religious and cultural festivals which were public holidays. The only option was to stay at home, say your prayers and hope for the best.

Is there any reason to rejoice, celebrate or revel tomorrow? If we do, the leaders who fought for self-rule more than six decades ago will cringe, grovel and turn in their graves.

R NADESWARAN says speaking from the heart does not make him unpatriotic or un-nationalistic or a lesser Malaysian.

*The views expressed are those of the author. If you have any questions about the content, copyright or other issues of the work, please contact Newswav.

To Afghanistan – with love from Malaysia

Pic: MalayMail

YB Ampang (Zuraida Kamaruddin), we have to admit that behind those feisty political speeches, the façade of a no-nonsense politician and the sturdy defiance you took against expert opinion, you definitely have a wicked sense of humour.

On a serious note, when we first read about your offer to go to Afghanistan on a mission to promote women’s rights, it was thought the media misquoted you. We were also wondering if one of our journalists had ventured into satire.

Besides, there was also apprehension if you had been misquoted. What, you may ask? Many politicians have previously taken the easy way out by blaming the media after putting their feet in their mouths.

Phrases like “twisting facts”, “misunderstood what I meant”, and the tired old cliché of “putting words in my mouth” are familiar. In your case, it is apparent that you are doggedly pursuing something close to your heart.

So, we checked with colleagues who said that you did not say such things in or utter these words in an interview or at a gathering. They told us that to ensure you meant every word, you decided to put them in a statement. How clever! How considerate.

You have saved your media advisers and consultants from having to call up editors to complain that the report misquoted the boss. That’s also good because the public no longer have to read denials.

The written statement is the perfect defence when confronted by many cronies and wannabes who would like to get into your good books by admonishing the media on your behalf.

We also believe your offer is not just one-upmanship against former colleagues who find themselves in the unemployed queue.

It is said that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop and having been unemployed for just four days, innovative ideas and plans have cropped up. Just think of the hundreds of thousands of Malaysians who are currently twiddling their thumbs having nothing to do.

Just make a guess as to the number of ideas for humanity that they would have come up with. Even if a paltry 1 percent is acceptable, what a wonderful society we will have.

There would have been no need to walk around in a hazmat suit or pose for cameras holding hoses; there wouldn’t have been any quarrels with experts on public health and the money saved would have gone to Hospital Tengku Ampuan Rahmah in Klang, which is in dire straits due to lack of medical equipment.

But back to your plans. Already, the offers are pouring in. One lawyer, yes, a lady who also has a good sense of comicality, has offered to buy you a one-way ticket but this is if the new administrators in Kabul allow your feet to touch their land.

If you can’t, head to Karachi or Lahore and then travel by road to Peshawar and through the Khyber Pass and arrive in Afghan territory. There will be great sceneries including bomb craters to see.

On reaching your destination, do not propose or introduce sanitisation of the roads, building, furniture and fittings in offices. The Afghans have their own way of dealing with the problem – they just exterminate pests, viruses and humans too.

If you need someone to give Afghan women expert advice on grooming, you can always turn to fellow unemployed minister Rina Harun, who can help, because she knows a thing or two about make-up and make-overs.

There’s also Dr Adham Baba, another out-of-job minister to improve the regime’s tattered image internationally by making conference calls and communicating with leaders of 500 nations. We are certain air suam will feature extensively at his meetings.

Sometimes, our politicians seemed fixated on the happenings outside the country while ignoring the issues in their backyard.

YB, if you are talking of better opportunities for women and girls, I wonder why you did not take a stand against child marriages. No one wanted you to take up cudgels to do battle but the least you could have done as a lawmaker was to convince fellow MPs of the need to protect young women.

Instances of girls being asked to discontinue school and get married are no longer isolated. Would you allow your teenage daughter or granddaughter to marry a man who is old enough to be their grandfather?

The elephant in the room cannot be ignored. Nor will it go away by remaining spineless – afraid to express views for fear of being derided by people on your own side.

Now that you have plucked up the courage to offer to go to war-torn Afghanistan compared with many of your unemployed male counterparts, who would prefer to spend retirement with their grandchildren, can you walk the extra mile for our girls?

While the whole world rallied behind Malala Yousafzai for her stand on education for girls, you could also enjoy the same if your root for empowerment and opportunities for Malaysian girls. Is that asking too much before you step on the plane to Kabul?

It is normal practice to give plum postings abroad for failed politicians or their spouses. Will you consider being our first ambassador to Afghanistan? Although Malaysia will lose a brilliant minister, you must go where your heart takes you.

R NADESWARAN offers a tongue-in-cheek view of the happenings and darndest things said after the government was dissolved.

*The views expressed are those of the author. If you have any questions about the content, copyright or other issues of the work, please contact Newswav.

Creativity facing gale-force winds

Malaysiakini - Tak benar PN kerajaan gagal - Alexander
Pic: MelakaExplorer

In November 2016, I was one of the many (including officers of the law) who watched helplessly as a mob (later identified by Aliran as members of Penang Umno Youth) stormed an exhibition at Komtar in Penang.

They were protesting the display of the caricature works of renowned cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, better known as Zunar. To avoid any further disturbance, he voluntarily took his work down.

The next day, the police arrested Zunar after he turned himself in for questioning following the previous day’s disturbance. Fourteen months later, internationally renowned Lithuanian street artist, Ernest Zacharevic, was banned from entering Malaysia.

Elsewhere, the infamous Jamal Yunus led 300 men in red shirts to protest in front of the Malaysiakini office demanding for the news portal’s closure. Earlier, the publisher of The Edge, Ho Kay Tat, and the editor of the now-defunct The Malaysian Insider, Jahabar Sadiq were arrested.

It was then an era when anyone who did not “say nice things” about the government or the then prime minister Najib Abdul Razak and his wife were on the receiving end of such mobs and actions. No one was spared – civil societies, individuals and those who spoke about 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). 1MDB was taboo for members of the media and the ruling party and every government machinery was involved in preventing the truth from emerging.

Zunar was in his element when he fired the perfect riposte to intrusions into creative expressions: “Why is the government afraid of artists? We do not carry guns and bombs. We only carry pens and brushes.”

These days, he has not only graphic artist Fahmi Reza for company but scores of other creative people including journalists, theatre personalities and political analysts as dissent appears to be unacceptable.

The authorities are apt at carrying out investigations under Section 233(1) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, which prohibits online content deemed to “annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass” others. This clause encompasses almost everything in cyberspace.

Those days, these actions were to be classified as “ikut arahan” (following orders) but no one was cowed. Zunar continued to draw and The Edge sustained its disclosure on the dirty deals and the soiled hands of many of our leaders and civil servants in the 1MDB debacle.

Then everything changed. The 14th general election rejected the lot and the new government gave creativity and freedom a fresh breath of air. But it did not last long.

The creative fraternity is now feeling the gust of gale-force winds. The authorities are coming down hard on any attempt which shows dissent or expresses contrary opinions.

Is this a subtle message to Alan Perera, Jason Leong and others who dabble in satire and parody in the course of their work? Already, three Malaysiakini journalists who did serious work – reporting a death in custody – have been pulled up for questioning.

The journalists were just doing their jobs and reporting allegations of police misconduct as part of their job. Instead of going on a witch hunt, wouldn’t it be more appropriate if they carried investigations into the many deaths in custody?

Yesterday, the police in Kedah arrested arrested a 61-year-old man for a nine-minute-long video deriding Kedah Menteri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor over a joke the politician made about containers being used as a makeshift morgue for those who died from Covid-19.

He is being investigated under Section 504 of the Penal Code, Section 14 of the Minor Offences Act 1955, and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.

What was the senior citizen’s supposed offence? He repeatedly questioned the Kedah menteri besar’s intelligence! But to criminalise someone for offering an enlightenment to the maker of a crude joke at a press conference is a no-brainer.

Pic: Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor Facebook

Why can’t we have a laugh at some incredulous statements and actions made of our political leaders? Do the police expect us to applaud and cheer Health Minister Dr Adham Baba minister who goes on national television and decrees that air suam (warm water) as the cure for Covid-19?

Should we garland him when he says he had a video conference with leaders of 500 countries? Do we nod our heads in agreement and congratulate Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein referring to his Chinese counterpart as “elder brother”.

Were we supposed to maintain deadpan silence when former higher education Minister Noraini Ahmad proposed a TikTok competition to convince young Malaysians to stay home during the movement control order (MCO)?

What do we make of ex-Prasarana chairperson Tajuddin Abdul Rahman’s arrogance and indifference in addressing issues of the LRT crash? His infamous “train kissing” is no tear-jerker and most would have let out a hefty laugh.

A man of much controversy: Here's a list of the times Tajuddin made  headlines for all the wrong reasons | Malaysia | Malay Mail
Pic: MalayMail

Such faux pas will continue judging from the number of incompetent people having been parachuted to high office because of political expediency.

With D-Day approaching and less than a month before Prime Minister Muhyuddin Yasin faces a confidence vote, there is an inherent danger that more such ridiculous statements will be made. This means investigations and prosecutions for touching on such speeches will continue.

But we should not be browbeaten into fear or submission by such threats. On the contrary, we must collectively stand up to such strategies which border on curbing the right to free speech which is enshrined in our constitution.

Having said that, why do the lawmakers in Putrajaya remain silent when they are referred to as the backdoor government? Is it a silent admission that they are not the rightful occupiers of those hot seats or do they not understand its meaning? Or do they have that “we can do no wrong” sensation in their heads?

R NADESWARAN feels the “ikut arahan” syndrome is back in full swing, affecting several government agencies.

*The views expressed are those of the author. If you have any questions about the content, copyright or other issues of the work, please contact Newswav.

Our health services: On a wing and prayer

On July 10, a group of friends from Klang sent out a note which among others said: “The medical services in Klang, a Covid-19 red zone, have been critically affected particularly Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Hospital (HTAR).

“This pandemic is turning out to be an unprecedented health crisis and Klang is now ground zero in the battle against the raging chain of virus infections that has devastated lives and livelihoods across the social and economic spectrum.

“Staff at HTAR’s Intensive Care Unit are struggling to cope with the rising number of cases amid a shortage of beds, oxygen supplies and other essential needs.”

Three days later, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin visited the hospital which is struggling to cope with the number of Covid-19 patients and announced that an additional 151 beds would be placed at the Mother and Child Care Complex and the hospital would also receive another 15 ventilators.

“I have ordered (the authorities) to look into the mental health of (frontliners) and the people and ensure that the welfare and morale of health workers are taken care of,” he was quoted as saying by Astro Awani.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin visiting HTAR in Klang

Crisis settled? Not exactly. Besides ventilators and beds, other equipment was still lacking. The fund-raising continued and on July 17, I received a note from a former classmate: “Talking about HTAR, the ordinary folks in Klang in a matter of days collected more than RM100,000 and purchased much-needed equipment (as indicated by hospital authorities) and handed over the same.

“This even included even stethoscopes. Would you believe that? And they have some excess funds. Where the government has failed (discriminated) the people stepped in. The true spirit of oneness.”

My immediate retort in annoyance was: “I do not agree with collecting money to buy equipment for government hospitals. It is supposed to be fully funded but money is being diverted elsewhere. That minister spent millions on sanitisation which brought no benefits. She refused to listen to experts. So many other instances.”

For a good measure, I quipped: “Money from the public should be used to feed the people, most of whom have been ignored and isolated by the government. By the way, if they don’t have money to buy stethoscopes, it is an indication that the coffers have been emptied by political looters.”

A week later, in jest, I asked one of the friends: “Why did you stop with the hospital? When are you starting a collection for the police station? They need two more personal computers at the inquiry office. Maybe you should consider supplying stationary like A4 paper and printer ink for to all the government offices in Klang.”

These brief exchanges of messages on WhatsApp over a week sum up the state of the healthcare system in the country. Neither here nor there, the system is struggling with insufficient equipment and overworked and fatigued frontliners and a host of other problems.

The situation is further aggravated by over-zealous bosses, some of whom themselves need to attend a course on communications and managing people.

My argument was and still is: Shouldn’t the supply of proper equipment be made available by the government? As a matter of fact, the government has allocated billions for the fight against Covid-19 and if hospitals are going out with begging bowls, then we can only assume it is mismanagement.

Subang Jaya assemblyperson Michelle Ng Mei Sze’s has chronicled the events which led to her running from pillar to post just to get an ambulance to transport a constituent to the hospital. It is a telling story on how even support services are collapsing because of the sheer numbers and that nothing is being done about it.

In her Facebook on Tuesday, she noted: “At about 10.30pm, I got an urgent call from a woman who lives in one of Subang’s low-cost flats. My assistant called various ambulance services but none could assist. He called 999 only to be told that the request had been channelled to the nearest hospital, ‘but it is up to the hospital to decide whether or not to respond’.”

Private ambulance services are charging between RM700 and RM1,400 plus RM200 to every hospital the patient is taken to. To cut a long story short, the patient was finally taken to Kuala Lumpur Hospital (HKL).

At about 2am, the assistant texted to inform Ng that the ambulance had arrived, and updated that woman’s blood pressure was soaring. They had to give her oxygen as she had difficulty breathing after walking down the stairs.

At 2.52am, the ambulance reached HKL, and had to wait under the tent outside the door for a doctor. Finally, at 7.43am, the assistant updated: “She is in the decompression room now. There are seven other people before her waiting for a bed. At least she is inside.”

One live may have been saved but how many are being lost because of the shambles the health system is in? Hopefully, the money allocated by the Treasury has not been cleaned out – yet.

In his budget speech last November, Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz said a total of RM475 million has been allocated for the purchase of reagent supplies, test kits and consumables for the Health Ministry (MOH).

Meanwhile, some RM318 million has been set aside for Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and hand sanitisers to frontliners while RM150 million was allocated to the National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma).

Since then, there have been additional allocations for health services. As recent as May 22, Zafrul announced an additional allocation of RM200 million to help the ministry treat and fight Covid-19, including buying equipment.

The additional sum would make the total Covid-19 allocation for MOH this year RM1 billion. This does not include donations from the public and a whopping RM400 million from glove manufacturers.

Thumping chests and patting each other on the shoulders and claiming that Malaysia’s daily vaccination rate is amongst the highest in the world counts little when our health workers are not provided the basic equipment – stethoscopes.

If the government cannot even provide ambulance services and when patients have to wait hours to be attended to, something is severely wrong with how the ministry manages its finances and allocations.

If you have no money to buy a basic necessity such as a stethoscope, what else can be said? Where has all the money gone to? Pray tell us.

R NADESWARAN is a veteran journalist who writes on bread and butter issues.

*The views expressed are those of the author. If you have any questions about the content, copyright or other issues of the work, please contact Newswav.

Up in the air – the big Malaysian disconnect

Pic: Oh My Perak Facebook

The heading of a Malaysiakini report yesterday, “Heli lands at Padang Ipoh ‘without clearance’ to pick up food for KL customer”, and its contents reflect the many ills that have afflicted our nation as a whole and in particular, its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

It also reflects the serious disconnect between the haves and have nots; the rich and the poor; the affluent and impoverished; and the moneyed and the moneyless.

But what transpired in Ipoh yesterday does not justify nor validate the broad divide between the two.

It appeared to be a case of “do it and be damned” and face the consequences later. How else would you describe the audacity of landing a helicopter (without permission) on one of the last remaining hallowed turfs and greenery in Ipoh? 

It would have certainly been permissible in an emergency or when it is a matter of life and death. But it is an unequivocal “no” when it comes to satisfying the hunger pangs and cravings of a few.

To dismiss it as a spur of the moment would be a fallacy. What can be gleaned from news reports was that the operation was planned, prepared and executed to the T.

The food was pre-ordered and pre-paid – the restaurant was told to prepare 36 packets of rice, chicken, salted egg and beef. And it was then delivered to the door of the helicopter.

It was not just a case of one rich (and perhaps famous) satisfying the cravings for his or her favourite meal. Neither was it a case of thrift and paying little for good and tasty food. 

On the contrary, it was extravagance – forking out RM10,000 in transport charges (to charter the helicopter) to pick up packets of food from Ipoh and deliver them to a designated drop point.

It was not just a case of displaying opulence. Neither was it lunch for a high-powered meeting of the board of directors and aides.

It was arrogance personified and defiance of laws, rules and regulations. It was showing scant regard for procedures that are in place to restrict the movement of people and stop the spread of Covid-19.

It cannot be said that it was a dare or a game of “catch me if you can”. The success of the operation must have prompted the organiser to pump fists in the air and thump the chest to be able to pull off an audacious task and in the process taunt authority.

There is no funny side to this and no one will find it amusing. The Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM) said the helicopter was only cleared for landing at the Sultan Azlan Shah Airport. Was it then a diversion of the flight plan which was submitted before take-off?

Perak police chief Mior Faridalatrash Wahid was quoted by Utusan Malaysia as saying the helicopter landed between 9.55am and 10.15am and that it did not have permission to land on Padang Ipoh.

Let them eat cake

We are not pontificating on how those endowed with an enormous amount of wealth should spend their money and neither are we specifying how they should flaunt their wealth. 

But with the country ravaged by a pandemic that has caused more than 7,000 deaths and total Covid-19 cases nearing the million mark, it would be a gross understatement to state it was wrong timing.

At a time when white flags are being raised by the poor and needy, such a show of extravagance cannot even be seen as a futile and fruitless effort to lend credence to the prime minister’s claim that the “kitchens are full of supplies”.

Malaysians use 'White Flag Campaign' to convey distress during COVID-19  lockdown
Pic: DNA India

But sarcasm aside, this whole shindig has left a bitter taste in the mouths of most Malaysians. At a time when even a kilo of rice is beyond many, such a display of supposed height of enrichment and total abuse of wealth can be nauseating.

When one is fined RM5,000 for going to buy groceries from Taman Tun Dr Ismail in Kuala Lumpur, across the road to Kampung Kayu Ara in Petaling Jaya – a distance of 4km – what else can be said of an hour’s helicopter ride to Perak to pick up packed meals?

The transgressions by VVIPs including ministers have been pooh-poohed with paltry fines, but what is an RM2,000 fine to one whose superior food delivery service by air cost five times more than that?

R NADESWARAN is a veteran journalist who writes on bread and butter issues.

*The views expressed are those of the author. If you have any questions about the content, copyright or other issues of the work, please contact Newswav.

Mr Prime Minister, Can I Advise You Something?

Malaysia Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin Vows to Fight Corruption -  Bloomberg

“I think if we go to the ground, we will probably find the kitchens of homes to be full (with supplies). I don’t mean this is the case for everyone, that’s why we have a registration system so that distribution can be fair.” – Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin

Your acidic words must have hit the hearts of millions of Malaysians in these difficult times, especially those who have lost their jobs and have no source of income. To conclude that the needy are involved in a game of deception is the unkindest cut of all from no less than Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

I am still wondering what made you utter those words. It is unbecoming of any politician, let alone a sitting prime minister. It could be a clear sign that you are either naïve and ignorant or being misled by your coterie of hangers-on and cronies who may not have gone to the ground. Perhaps their minds are tuned and fixated on telling you what you would like to hear.

Your scathing comments lacked empathy and citizens were quick to quip that “maybe you live in a different world”. Klang MP Charles Santiago’s remarks were more scornful: “I think we have a delusional prime minister who is quite divorced from what’s happening on the ground.” Rightly or wrongly, many Malaysians agree with this assertion.

The kitchens filled with supplies you talked about may be those of your party members or the political elite or those who live in upmarket neighbourhoods like Bukit Damansara or Bukit Tunku. Of course, they have different tastes and traits like wearing an RM100,000 watch, using an RM120 face mask, owning an Alphard (as a second car), and sending their children, not to the neighbourhood tadika, but to a Montessori in France.

Sir, have you or members of your family ever gone to bed on an empty stomach? You should also be reminded that the political elite never had experienced empty stomachs and had never been subjected to surviving on a meal of only bread and tap water.

Every day, several thousands of empty stomachs are filled, thanks to contributions from fellow Malaysians from all walks of life. For the hungry, food did not drop from the sky, nor did they get food from the government. They were identified by the white flags they raised.

This is not politics where you keep denying and passing the buck, hoping that people will forget the transgressions soon enough. The government of which you are the leader has a real problem in its hands. By brushing it aside and pooh-poohing it with rhetoric is not going to make the problem go away.

Mr Prime Minister, you were also quoted as saying that the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry has a record of those who need assistance but these records are not up to date.

If aid has indeed been given, why are there long queues at soup kitchens and service centres run by individuals and charity organisations? In times of restricted movement of people, how and where does one register for such aid?

Even then, the ministry, for lack of a better phrase, does not have a good record when distributing food items to the needy. Last year, despite being allocated RM100 for each pack, what was delivered to residents in Seremban were packs with items worth less than RM35.

Sir, you were quoted as saying: “Most of the target groups, be they from the M40, B40 or the T20 households, were affected by the pandemic as they may have lost their jobs, cannot run their business, so we give them aid.”

What aid has been accorded to businesses? They have been clamouring for some easing of restrictions so that they can carry out their business activities, but this plea has fallen on deaf ears.

In Cameron Highlands, tonnes of vegetables are going to waste every day because the farmers are unable to leave their homes to harvest their produce. Elsewhere, restaurants and coffee shops are closing down and thousands have become unemployed.

Not a day passes without one sector or industry pleading for help. The small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have been severely hit and despite assurances by all and sundry, they continue with their pleas. Ditto for mall operators and retailers.

Mr Prime Minister, you can no longer rely on your ministers or your aides to give you accurate feedback on what is happening on the ground. The time has come for you to pound the streets and get a first-hand look at the issues and problems.

Please do so unannounced, sans the fanfare and protocol. Otherwise, it will be a repeat of what happened at the Klang General Hospital, where the “bad” side of what was really happening was hidden and kept away from your entourage.

And finally, providing constructive criticism of the prime minister and the government does not make me unpatriotic or a lesser Malaysian.

R NADESWARAN is a veteran journalist who writes on bread and butter issues.

*The views expressed are those of the author. If you have any questions about the content, copyright or other issues of the work, please contact Newswav.