For my son, when he grows up, this site will be my legacy for him. The decisions his mother and I made for him, to understand them, to learn from them and to lead a life without prejudice and to succeed in it on his own merit.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Magician at play

Spare us the sham diatribe
by Mariam Mokhtar (11-12-12)
Faith, like strength, comes from within. When opposition MP Nurul Izzah Anwar made reference to the Quranic verse which states that there should be no compulsion in religion, UMNO politicians, with feigned indignation, projected themselves as defenders of the faith. Cranked-up by Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian, the nation became fired up with what Nurul did, or did not say.
To claim that all UMNO politicians are illiterate would be wrong; but their refusal to participate in intelligent discourse leaves one with the following conclusions; UMNO think debates will fuel heresy, that to express an opinion is treacherous and to be sceptical is a sin.
UMNO politicians are trying their utmost to discredit Nurul, but failing miserably and making themselves look ridiculous in the process. They have bastardised the Malay language and now they are saying that the Surah al-Baqarah verse 2:256, which Nurul was referring to, is wrong. Perhaps, UMNO was referring to their version of Islam – UMNO’s Islam.
If Article 11 of the constitution guarantees every citizen religious freedom, why should Malays be excluded? Are Malays not citizens of Malaysia? After this religious debacle, Bung Mokhtar Radin is beginning to look like one of the most sensible UMNO politicians.
If Malays loathe the awkward definition that religion equates to ethnicity, then let’s return to the drawing board and correct this puerile approach. This writer knows enough people who fit the description of being a Malay, by virtue of their upbringing amongst a Malay community, except that they are staunch Catholics. By the same token, there are many who were born Malay, but who are an embarrassment to both the Malay race and Islam.
UMNO politicians, including its patriarch Mahathir, have an infinite capacity to divide the rakyat and their manipulation of Nurul’s statement serves two purposes; first, to distract the country from the allegations of corruption and crime linked to UMNO; second, to waste Nurul’s and her colleagues’ time, in defending her.
With the media maelstrom and the witch-hunt, we are diverted from the real purpose of rooting out corruption and the other ills associated with UMNO. The people – UMNO politicians, VVIPs and UMNO sympathisers – who have cast the first stone at Nurul, are laughable. Their criticisms range from accusations of encouraging apostasy to maligning Islam, and the destruction of the Malay race. They have demanded an apology or a retraction of her statement.
If people are scornful of Islam, it is the UMNO politicians who are responsible; they condone corruption, injustice and debauchery. They treat people of other faiths with contempt. They discredit other businesses so that their halal foods can gain a foothold. These UMNO politicians wear religion on their sleeves but have ignored the true teachings of Islam.
Stealth op to erode Malay values
UMNO is responsible for the destruction of the Malays, and for four decades, it has waged a stealth operation to erode Malay values.
Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad touted his often declared “the decadent west” line, to discredit Nurul. The usual Jewish or Soros scapegoats cannot be used this time, as they have been ridden hard and put away wet. The bogeyman needs a rest between outings.
Despite his role as the Minister in charge of national security, Hishammuddin Hussein , the Home Minister, fanned the flames of public anger, instead of dousing the rising tensions in the rakyat. He talked about Nurul being insensitive but he treated Malays like imbeciles when he said, “The victims in this matter are the young who could get confused over the question of religious belief with the statement (Nurul’s).”
No one is confused by UMNO’s ulterior motive. Another opportunist is the chairperson of Gerakan Masyarakat Prihatin Meru, Jaya Kusuma Rosman, who found it convenient to use Nurul as a scapegoat when he said, she “should be responsible should there be Malays who leave Islam as a result of her statement”. Where was Jaya when poverty-stricken Malays were declined assistance by the government, but were given a lifeline by Christian charities?
Last week, UMNO was like a beached whale, floundering for answers; Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Aziz’s unhealthy relationship with Michael Chia, Chia’s largesse towards Nazri’s son Nadim and the alleged corruption of RM40 million, involving Musa Aman, the Chief Minister of Sabah and Sabah UMNO chief, are still unresolved.
The difficulties experienced by the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) for the Chia case, were also faced by India’s Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) and the Indian Supreme Court in New Delhi. Last Friday, an online paper claimed that the Malaysian government would not cooperate and allow the CBI access to T Ananda Krishnan’s bank details.
The controversial acquisition of Indian telco Aircel, by Krishnan’s Maxis Communications Berhad, was allegedly sweetened with a RM351 million bribe to former Indian Telecommunications Minister Dayanidhi Maran and his brother.
Reasoning is beyond the capacity of most UMNO politicians. Islam, like other great religions, has a lot to teach us but its teachings are lost on UMNO politicians and UMNO Malays.
A person’s devotion cannot be measured by his public display of adherence to the religion. This is similar to UMNO’s warped belief that one’s patriotism equates with the number of Malaysian flags one flies outside one’s home, place of work, shop and vehicle.
Justice, UMNO style
Malaysians are intimidated by UMNO’s tactics. A bad word breathed about the country, VVIPs or its leaders, lands the individual in trouble. Justice, UMNO style is like kindergarten children finding the right peg to fit into the correct hole. If one charge doesn’t fit, try another.
How one practises one’s religion is a private matter. If UMNO’s version of Islam considers rituals more important than its teachings, or if force is considered necessary, then it is no better than worshiping a lump of rock. The descent of Umno into a criminal organisation with the enforcement agencies turning a blind eye to its many evils is a most heinous crime.
Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak wants Malaysians to emulate America and vote UMNO for continuity. American leaders do not cling onto power for more than two terms in office. After 55 years, we still argue over the ethnicity and religion of the leader of the country. In Malaysia, it is not the best man or woman for the job, but who has most money to pay everybody off to keep the incumbent in power.
The Malays are at a crossroads and instead of acting on what the Prophet (pbuh) said, such as “God helps those who help themselves”, many Malays procrastinate and would rather God decide their future; “Tuhan saja yang tahu (God is all seeing), “Tuhan akan balas di Neraka” (God will dispense justice in Hell).
The situation in Malaysia and in UMNO is dire. Religious bullies run riot, as in the Nik Raina-Borders case, and distract the nation from the real causes of this country’s problems. The Malays should seize the bull by the horns and in the upcoming UMNO general assembly, pass a no-confidence motion on the entire cabinet.
Don’t let these sideshows distract you from the real issues such as Nazri Aziz and Sabah UMNO’s RM40 million, the Scorpene submarines, the National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) scandal and the Automated Enforcement Syatem (AES).

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A case of trying too hard

A murky and embarrassing case is closed, hiding top government officials’ involvement

Sometime over the next few days, a court in Kuala Lumpur will put the finishing touches to an agreement that allows Tajudin Ramli, the former head of Malaysian Airline System, not only to walk away from charges that he had allegedly looted the airline of tens of millions of US dollars but with an RM580 million (US$293.2 million) out-of-court settlement from the government.

It appears to be a settlement that the government would rather keep to itself. At the heart of the agreement with Tajudin is a convoluted story that began as long ago as the 1980s when Malaysia’s central bank, Bank Negara Malaysia, at the urging of then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, began speculating aggressively in global foreign exchange markets, at one time running up exposure rumored to be in the region of RM270 billion -- three times the country’s gross domestic product and more than five times its foreign reserves at the time.

Eventually, playing with the big boys came home to roost. In 1992 and 1993, Mahathir became convinced he could make billions of ringgit by taking advantage of a British recession, rising unemployment and a decision by the British government to float the pound sterling free of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.

Mahathir ordered Bank Negara to buy vast amounts of pounds sterling on the theory that the British currency would appreciate once it floated. However, in what has been described as the greatest currency trade ever made, the financier and currency wizard George Soros’s Quantum hedge fund established short positions borrowing in pounds and investing in Deutschemark-denominated assets as well as using options and futures positions.

In all, Soros’s positions alone ac¬counted for a gargantuan US$10 billion. Many other investors, sensing Quantum was in for the kill, soon followed, putting strenuous downward pressure on the pound. The collapse was inevitable. Quantum walked away with US$1 billion in a single day, earning Mahathir’s eternal enmity and earning Soros the title “the man who broke the Bank of England.”

Mahathir and Bank Negara, on the other hand, walked away with a US$4 billion loss, followed by another US$2.2 billion loss in 1993, the total equivalent of RM15.5 billion. Although the disastrous trades destroyed the entire capital base of Bank Negara, after first denying it had taken place, the then-Finance Minister Anwar Ibrahim repeatedly reassured parliament that the losses were only “paper losses” and, now that he is Opposition Leader and head of the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition, has managed to skate free of the controversy.

Eventually, the Finance Ministry had to recapitalize the central bank, almost unheard of for any government anywhere. It is reliably estimated that Bank Negara lost as much as US$30 billion in this and other disastrous currency trades, costing the head of the central bank and his currency trader deputy their jobs.

It was at one with Mahathir’s unfortunate penchant for believing he could beat the global financial system in other ways. In the early 1980s, at his behest the Malaysian government attempted to corner the tin market through Maminco Sdn Bhd, a dummy company set up to buy tin futures and physical tin to push up prices on the London Tin Market. Malaysia at that point was producing 31 percent of the world’s tin.

However, the rising prices as a result of Malaysia’s action caused miners to increase production in the other 69 percent of the tin world. At the same time the US government released its tin stockpile. The price collapsed, costing Malaysia RM1.6 billon with the subsequent low prices wrecking Malaysia’s tin industry. Mahathir has repeatedly railed against western governments for rigging the rules against him.

The attempt to corner the tin market and the subsequent loss established an interesting precedent in terms of what would take place with the speculation in the pound sterling. Rather than acknowledge the losses in the tin speculation, the government set up another dummy company called Makuwasa Sdn Bhd, creating new shares supposedly reserved for ethnic Malays which were allocated to the Employee Provident Fund, the country’s retirement fund for private and public workers. The plan was to sell these cheaply acquired shares at market price for a profit to cover Maminco’s losses. Finally, in 1986, Mahathir was forced to admit that Makuwasa was created to recoup the government’s losses from the Maminco debacle and to repay loans to Bank Bumiputra.

Fast forward to today and the out-of-court settlement between several government-linked companies and Tajudin Ramli, in which the government quietly cancelled Tajudin’s debt of RM840 million. It is believed to be the biggest such sum awarded in Malaysian history.

In 1994, according to affidavits that Tajudin filed in court he bought 32 percent of the shares of the government-controlled Malaysian Airline System at a price of RM8.00 at Mahathir’s behest – while the shares were trading at RM3.30 – and became executive chairman using funds from government-linked companies. According his allegations, the idea was to use the “profit” off the share sale to cover as much as possible of the forex losses by Bank Negara from Mahathir’s currency speculation.

When Tajudin took control of MAS in 1994 through his company, Naluri Bhd, MAS had a cash reserve in excess of RM600 million. Seven years later, in 2001, when the government bought back MAS for RM8 a share, the state-owned airline had accumulated losses in excess of RM8 billion. The government bought back an almost bankrupt airline for the same price that it sold to Tajudin.

In the welter of lawsuits and countersuits that eventually followed, including a RM13.46 billion statement of claim that Tajudini brought against a government-linked company involved in the mess, he alleged in his affidavit that it was Mahathir who had instructed him to acquire the stake to bail out Bank Negara.

Like Mahathir, the then 49-year-old Tajudin was a native of Alor Setar in Kedah state. He was regarded as a shining example of the bumi businessman that Mahathir wanted to foster to run the country and take the commanding heights of the economy back from the ethnic Chinese.

Unfortunately, according to a long list of whistle-blowers within the airline, he was also involved in looting it of tens of millions of dollars and very nearly putting it into bankruptcy before the government buyback. When officials not connected to the United Malays National Organization recommended prosecution, they came under fire that nearly ruined their careers and almost put them in jail.

According to allegations in documents made public in August of 2010, Tajudin colluded with three other MAS officers and directors through two nominee companies, one in Singapore and the other in Hong Kong, to establish a company called Advanced Cargo Logistics GmbH Germany, at Hahn Airport in Frankfurt, Germany, to provide ground-handling services for MAS.

According to a report filed in March 2007 to then-Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi by Ramli Yusuff, the director of Malaysia's Commercial Crime Investigation Department and an official who seems to have been singularly incorruptible, "Tan Sri Tajudin Ramli was in control of MAS from 1994 to 2001. When he left MAS in 2001, MAS had accumulated losses in excess of RM8 billion (US$2.54 billion). Many projects were made under very suspicious circumstances."

Ramli Yusuff’s report indicated a wide range of abuses that indicated Tajudin’s family was deeply involved in setting up shell companies to siphon off money from MAS ancillary operations. But instead of preferring charges against Tajudin, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) went after the inspecting officer, Ramli Yusuff instead for allegedly not declaring his assets, for misusing a police airplane, and abusing his power as a police officer, all of which were convincingly refuted.

Ramli, however, wasn't the only one to go before the courts. His lawyer, Rosli Dahlan, who was also the lawyer for the airline itself, prepared Ramli's defense against the criminal charges only to be arrested on charges of collaborating with Ramli. At one point, on a pretext that Rosli had mishandled a letter from the MACC, police officers invaded Rosli's office, arrested and handcuffed him, then kept him in a cell overnight, refusing him medical treatment for injuries to his wrists from the handcuffs. They also refused his request to file a report against the arresting officers.

Rosli went to a court especially created to handle MACC cases, only to have the case fizzle out when a prosecutor announced that neither Rosli nor Ramli had been charged for corruption, having been summarily acquitted without having to put on a defense.

For his part, Rosli has charged that the MACC, Bank Negara, the government of Malaysia and the three major newspapers owned by the political parties had conspired with those in power to damage him for his attempts to defend Ramli.

And for his part, Tan Sri Tajudin Ramli remains uninvestigated and uncharged, and a continuing example of bumiputera power at the top of Malaysia's political and social structure, apparently RM580 million richer.

It also brings into question Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s March 30, 2010, statement that the government "can no longer tolerate practices that support the behavior of rent-seeking and patronage, which have long tarnished the altruistic aims of the New Economic Policy. Inclusiveness, where all Malaysians contribute and benefit from economic growth - must be a fundamental element of any new economic approach."

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Jack Abramoff, smooth operator

Jack Abramoff, the notorious former lobbyist at the center of Washington's biggest corruption scandal in decades, spent more than three years in prison for his crimes. Now a free man, he reveals how he was able to influence politicians and their staffers through generous gifts and job offers. He tells Lesley Stahl the reforms instituted in the wake of his scandal have had little effect.

The following is a script of "The Lobbyist's Playbook" which aired on Nov. 6, 2011.

Jack Abramoff may be the most notorious and crooked lobbyist of our time. He was at the center of a massive scandal of brazen corruption and influence peddling.

As a Republican lobbyist starting in the mid 1990s, he became a master at showering gifts on lawmakers in return for their votes on legislation and tax breaks favorable to his clients. He was so good at it, he took home $20 million a year.

How corrupt is lobbying in Washington, DC? Enough to get "60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl angry when she hears how Jack Abramoff bribed and influenced legislators. It all came crashing down five years ago, when Jack Abramoff pled guilty to corrupting public officials, tax evasion and fraud, and served three and a half years in prison. Today he's a symbol of how money corrupts Washington. In our interview tonight, he opens up his playbook for the first time. And explains exactly how he used his clients' money to buy powerful friends and influence legislation.

Extract from the interview:-
Jack Abramoff: I was so far into it that I couldn't figure out where right and wrong was. I believed that I was among the top moral people in the business. I was totally blinded by what was going on.

Jack Abramoff was a whiz at influencing legislation and one way he did that was to get his clients, like some Indian tribes, to make substantial campaign contributions to select members of Congress.

Abramoff: We would certainly try to make the activity legal, if we could. At times we didn't care.

But the "best way" to get a congressional office to do his bidding - he says - was to offer a staffer a job that could triple his salary.

Abramoff: When we would become friendly with an office and they were important to us, and the chief of staff was a competent person, I would say or my staff would say to him or her at some point, "You know, when you're done working on the Hill, we'd very much like you to consider coming to work for us." Now the moment I said that to them or any of our staff said that to 'em, that was it. We owned them. And what does that mean? Every request from our office, every request of our clients, everything that we want, they're gonna do. And not only that, they're gonna think of things we can't think of to do.

Neil Volz: Jack Abramoff could sweet talk a dog off a meat truck, that's how persuasive he was.

Neil Volz was one of the staffers Abramoff was talking about. He was chief of staff to Congressman Bob Ney, who as chairman of the House Administration Committee had considerable power to dispense favors. Abramoff targeted Volz and offered him a job.

And the rest is history. Search his name, you will never find short of information.

Monday, January 9, 2012