Asia Malaysia faces formidable fault lines in February 2020

Malaysia faces formidable fault lines in February 2020

Letter from Kuala Lumpur

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In the first week of this February, some five weeks after Malaysia’s Vision 2020 was to have entered its final stages, a former Prime Minister and his wife were to have made simultaneous but separate court appearances in Kuala Lumpur to answer criminal charges.

Veering from Vision 2020

That is the unmistakable, unpleasant and uncomfortable reality of Malaysia at the beginning of 2020. That miraculous, magical 2020 was the much anticipated, almost utopian year, for the fruition of a fully developed, dynamic and distinguished united nation of people who would transcend the reality of race, religion and region and focus on living morally and ethically in a mature, civil, law-abiding society. The ultimate objective was the realisation of a Malaysian race who would uphold the highest standards of civilisational conduct and discourse.

While the nation was somewhat united in overthrowing the government in May 2018, 20 months later most Malaysians are beginning to realise how far the country is from laying the foundations for a fully united and developed nation.

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Rosmah Mansor, the wife of Najib Razak, did not make her court appearance on the expected day (Feb 3) but claimed serious illness and her lawyer submitted a medical certificate. Both clearly have the intention to clear their names.

Malaysia’s Vision 2020 was planned and premised on making Malaysia a First World nation. Najib Razak and, to a lesser extent, Rosmah Mansor were an integral part of the leadership team that launched the rather ambitious Vision 2020 plan. They must have known that the vision was focused and formulated on creating a specific high per capita income level for Malaysians. The pursuit of wealth creation was intended as a national public endeavour. It was to correct inequality, achieve a more equitable and just society and was sanctioned by the state and supported and sustained by Dr Mahathir Mohamad, seemingly the eternal Prime Minister.

Ethical Values For 2020

That wealth creation objective largely overshadowed and nearly concealed a valued and vital cornerstone of Vision 2020. This related to the fourth quantum leap that was to have been made between 1990 and the end of 2019 — the establishment of a “fully moral and ethical society, whose citizens are strong in religious and spiritual values and imbued with the highest ethical standards”.

The late Dr Noordin Sopiee (1944-2005), a rare breed of an ebullient and erudite strategist and an inclusive, insightful and incisive intellectual of Malaysia, often spoke of the need to emphasise moral and ethical values. He is quoted as saying:
“We must pursue without respite all the nine central objectives of Vision 2020. We must not forget its fourth imperative: The secure establishment of a fully moral and ethical society. We will need to ensure that it is accorded the priority it deserves. We risk all of Vision 2020 if we cannot achieve this fourth imperative.”

These prescient words ring out from the first five pages of a memorial publication, entitled Noordin Sopiee, A Man & His Ideas, by the Institute of Strategic and International Studies, Kuala Lumpur (2006).

Private Against Public Wealth

In the pursuit of private, not public, wealth creation many top Malaysian leaders forgot the warning sounded out by Dr Noordin. They led various institutions on the basis of their academic qualifications, ability, entrepreneurial experience and political connections and some of these institutions and entities failed and sustained heavy losses but the private wealth of those running these establishments, if opened for public scrutiny, would have shown impressive increases.

Since May 2018, when this new government led by Pakatan Harapan came to power, some sensational, startling cases have come before the courts in Malaysia. They involve quite a number of senior and seasoned politicians, corporate figures and a few civil servants. The holder of a political office could only have done the undoable corrupt and criminal act if there was active acquiescence on the part of an errant banker, bureaucrat, barrister or a bribed news media person. This last category of journalists is seldom the focus of attention and analysis in Malaysia but they are undoubtedly pivotal in portraying the actual situation in a society and country.

But for a few fine exceptions there has been a dearth of good journalism and media coverage in Malaysia.

Quality Journalism

Investigative journalism of the type carried out by the Sarawak Report has been unattainable because of the widely feared, unusual and draconian treatment that would be visited on an inquisitive news rookie. The law against fake news, in spite of its short life span, was a most effective weapon against a nosey but nifty news person. There is simply no culture of asking the right, informed questions when exceptionally bizarre or brutal things happen.

Wealth confers Status

Social prestige and status attained as a result of private/family wealth formation, often obtained through illegal, improper means and advertising and flaunting it has become a fashionable way in life in Malaysia.

Corruption had become almost systemic and there was the firm belief that the anti-corruption agency was only concerned with the small fry as the big fish were too closely linked to the top political leadership to be touched.

A book, The Sociology Of Corruption, by the late Professor Syed Hussein Alatas comes to mind as one speculates on the highly placed senior officials who largely got away with corruption and misconduct in a previous era.

In fact beneath the surface of headline-grabbing prosecutions there must be hundreds of cases of political leaders and senior government officials who have accumulated private wealth way beyond their known legitimate incomes and lavish lifestyles. Bribes were collected on the golf course, at wedding receptions, in aircraft cabins, in offices and at plush hotel lobbies both inside and outside Malaysia. It is, of course, not possible to go after all the suspected people.

Corruption Clampdown Must Continue

But in the new Malaysia everyone is on notice that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and other law enforcement agencies feel empowered to clamp down on corruption and the abuse of public office. There are many cases being investigated currently and the MACC and other law enforcement agencies must be operating under constraints of manpower and fund limitations.

There is, however, the sense that there continues to exist strong willpower to clamp down on corruption. As the late Dr Noordin Sopiee put it bluntly, should corruption not be checked all of Vision 2020, including its unity and rounded STEM-based education objective, will be at risk.

M Santhananaban

Dato M Santhananaban is a retired ambassador with 45 years of public sector experience. 

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of The Independent Singapore. /TISG

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