‘Smear campaign’, NGOs say of foreign plot claim

By Leannza Chia and Md Izwan
The Malaysian Insider
Sep 21, 2012

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 21 ― Activists said today they are now the target of a smear campaign after a number of newspapers aligned with Barisan Nasional (BN) published stories alleging organisations like SUARAM and Bersih took foreign funds as part of a plot to destabilise the country.

It is understood the stories appearing in mainstream newspapers and television news programmes are based on a skeleton plan produced by Putrajaya.

Today, the activists acknowledged to The Malaysian Insider that many of their organisations had received funds from foreign and local sources, but said the money was meant to help finance their respective causes such as to promote democratic practices and campaign for human rights.

They said the funds and their sources were not part of any plot, as suggested by a headline today on the front page of the Umno-controlled New Straits Times.

A host of local non-governmental organisations were named in the report, including Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), Lawyers for Liberty, Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Bersih) and the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ).

A similar story also appeared in MCA-owned newspaper The Star. Both stories quoted sources and unnamed investigators probing the financial background of the NGOs.

The stories pointed out that RM20 million had been received by the NGOs between 2005 and last year from foreign sources such as the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the New York-based Open Society Institute (OSI).

It was not stated why the organisations were under investigation and what they had been doing to destabilise the government or the country.

But many of these organisations have been involved in recent years with campaigns for electoral reforms and for human rights.

“I don’t think there should be an issue about where the funding comes from, as long as whatever that has been done, the funder does not dictate the purpose of why an NGO does something.

“We (as an NGO) have a certain principle and stance. Whether it’s RM1 from (a Malaysian) or US$1 from someone outside the country, it doesn’t matter to us,” said Eric Paulsen, an advisor to Lawyers for Liberty.

He acknowledged that Pakatan Rakyat (PR) parties and many of the NGOs listed in the report were often seen as working together, but pointed out that this was because they were campaigning on the same issues such as being “against the Internal Security Act, Official Secrets Act, abuse of power and corruption.”

“However, if the opposition were to win GE13 and if they were to use the ISA and abuse power, then as NGOs who stand for liberty, we will remain the same and question and campaign against the use of such power.”

“What we are doing is done all over the world. We are campaigning against detention without trial. Is [there] talk about it destabilising the government? No, it’s about justice and stopping oppression.”

“This (story by the NST) is a smear campaign,” he said.

Masjaliza Hamzah from the CIJ told The Malaysian Insider that funding was a major issue for NGOs, as these organisations are constantly scrounging for funds.

“A lot of people who work at NGOs take pay cuts, because they believe in the cause, that it is important to build Malaysia’s democracy. You take this on knowing one day you may be labelled a ‘foreign agent’.

“NST should respond to that (on what they had meant by posting the story). CIJ has spoken up on media freedom, spoken of people being beaten up in Bersih. Are we speaking up for foreign institutions? If you make allegations you should back it with facts. NST, back up your claims.

“I cannot understand the stupidity this country can sink to,” said Masjaliza when referring to the allegations made by NST.

Bersih steering committee member Hishammuddin Rais told The Malaysian Insider that NGO finances have never been a secret.

He compared the foreign funding of NGOs to Malaysia conducting joint military exercises with the United States, which he suggested NST should also look into.

“All the Malays are (also) insisting that the money comes from ‘Yahudi’ (Israel), from the Jews. It is racist. Yes, it comes from NED, and George Soros, but there are also a lot of people who are Jews donating to NGOs. I think this is playing into very racial politics. We should call for a stop on this.”

Arumugam Kalimuthu from SUARAM called the NST report irresponsible and pointed out that his organisation receiving some funding from the US did not equate to trying to topple any government.

  1. #1 by yhsiew on Friday, 21 September 2012 - 9:56 pm

    People who pocketed the money are using all sorts of stories to hide their wrongdoings.

  2. #2 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 22 September 2012 - 2:26 am

    Suaram ‘hentam’ govt for the Scorpene submarine’s commissions, so govt (for survival of BN) ‘hentam’ back (tit for tat) for foreign funding. For ordinary citizens trying to break stranglehold of an unshakeable undemocratic govt/ruling party, who cares where the funding comes from? They look at the legitimacy of the cause promoted by the NGO, and its results – exposing corruption. They don’t care where the funding comes from. So what if they were from international organisations (asked Malaysiakini) ? The issue (revolving around legitimacy) is however not that simple & straight forward. The International organisation funding is not UN or affiliates. When one talks of US based NED or OSI, it’s a different ball game. One gets all kinds of allegations. NED, itself an NGO, is funded by US govt (with deep pockets). Annual budget of US$30 million per year during the 1990s increased to US$80 million in 2005) Reagan founded NED on the recommendation of CIA director Bill Casey! It is alleged to be an effective instrument to advance US foreign policy as alternative to CIA discredited by allegations of high publicity assassinations/destabilization. And Soros (OSI) is also alleged to have connections with high level US officials to advance US foreign policy which coincidentally is “promotion of democracy” around the world, sometimes a guise for US geo political ambitions. Foreign funding from such US NGos naturally is Achilles heels for our local NGOs in context of ‘smear campaign’ by a govt wanting to stay in power forever.

  3. #3 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 22 September 2012 - 2:42 am

    Its a little ironical. Here we talk of ‘best democracy’. We condemn Myanmar military junta for persecuting Aung San Suu Kyi. We’re full of praise that Myanmar now is on fast track to democratic liberalisation with Suu Kyi freed – in no small measure thanks to NED or OSI (advancing US govt foreign polipolicy of promoting democracy around the world) – as long as after Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria don’t support local NGOs here against our own govt (for shortcomings measured against universal bench marks of democracy). Alas double standards but its natural for self & power preservation. Suaram admits it has been helped by NED with an estimated RM1.6 million. Its an indictment of our rich local philanthropists & corporations (responsible corporate citizens) that they would not donate to NGOs like Suaram which has to depend on foreign US based NGOs like the controversial NED & OSI, funded by US govt and accused (whether fairly or uinfairly) as instruments of US foreign policies, often selectively democratic and other times imperialistic/capitalistic driven.

  4. #4 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 22 September 2012 - 2:49 am

    Correction of above post – whilst NED is funded by US govt, OSI is not , though they share common accusation from detractors of being linked to highest levels of US govt to advance US’s foreign policy.

  5. #5 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 22 September 2012 - 3:04 am

    Like it or not when one’s operational viability depends on funding from a source, then those whose vested interests are perceived threatened by your action will sure question/attack your legitimacy based on questioning/attacking legitimacy of your financial patron (the funder) and its not just the record of what you have done but also the record of what your funder has done elsewhere that comes to focus. It may be unfair and not entirely logical a link but it is not that easy to dissociate entirely in terms of motivation what you are doing from that of your funder/financial patron whom you depend substantially for viability. Its guilt by association : its not innocence until proven guilty but the opposite in this blame game of tarnishing with one brush.

  6. #6 by yhsiew on Saturday, 22 September 2012 - 6:02 am

    How come Najib’s government can receive foreign funding and Suaram cannot? Isn’t that double standards?

  7. #7 by yhsiew on Saturday, 22 September 2012 - 6:08 am

    Simple-minded leaders would not receive foreign funding but smart leaders would receive UNCONDITIONAL foreign funding and use the fund appropriately for the benefit of Malaysians.

  8. #8 by dagen wanna "ABU" on Saturday, 22 September 2012 - 9:25 am

    Umno is in panic mode!
    And rock bottom confidence.
    Good sign.

  9. #9 by Bigjoe on Saturday, 22 September 2012 - 10:38 am

    To smear is merely to dirty or to cover with something untrue, false. What they are doing is DEFAMATORY – Its INJURIOUS and DEPRIVATION even possibly downright THEFT..

    If what UMNO/BN was done by private people, its called RACKETEERING…

  10. #10 by Cinapek on Saturday, 22 September 2012 - 10:51 am

    Should SUARAM and like minded NGOs be at all surprised by the smear campaign? BN is fighting for its political survival and will do everything in its power to destroy the credibility of SUARAM and other NGOs who can damage BN’s election chances.

    This smear campaign is BN gong on the offensive. Since BN have no defence against those corruption allegations the NGOs has highlighted, the only option left is to destroy these NGOs credibility. Likewise the way they have gone after Rafizi and the allegations of Hadi’s sex exploits are all indications the BN are desperately fighting for its survival.

    These NGOs should up their ante instead of complaining. Throw the offensive back at BN. Put them on the defensive with more revelations.

  11. #11 by boh-liao on Saturday, 22 September 2012 - 10:54 am

    Dis is exactly what NR n UmnoB/BN want rakyat, esp rural folks, 2 believe: dat dis nation is under siege by subversive elements aimed 2 topple UmnoB/BN with foreign gomens’ help
    Dis is part of NR n Umno/BN’s GE strategy, blast rakyat with LIES n MORE LIES + bribe rakyat with goodies b4 holding GE13 in order 2 retain power

  12. #12 by Winston on Saturday, 22 September 2012 - 12:41 pm

    Let me ask this question.
    Is it better for NGOs to accept foreign funds to work for the betterment of the citizens of this country or for the ruling party to use taxpayers’ money to work against these very same taxpayers?
    Not only that, those in power even want to hang on to power to prolong their corruption, cheating and scamming!
    That must be the unkindest cut of all!!!
    Don’t every right minded citizen of this country want a clean and fair government?
    So, it really doesn’t matter where the funds are coming from, isn’t it?

  13. #13 by sotong on Saturday, 22 September 2012 - 12:41 pm

    Everything is fair game for their political survival.

    What do you classify foreign aids, government and private, including Middle East to the country?

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