1MDB a 1-tonne millstone

George Chang
The Malaysian Insider
25 August 2015

Are those joining the Bersih 4 rally in various parts of the globe in bed with the conjured-up conspirators to sabotage the economy and dislodge Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak from office?

Look at the mess the government is in and you won’t fault them for wanting to see the PM go.

There is indeed frustration and anger with the state of affairs, and for those who identify themselves as Malaysians abroad, the rally is an opportunity to show their solidarity with the people back home.

After all public protests are very much part and parcel of life in the west.

No one in authority is going to threaten or stop you from attending a political gathering let alone an “illegal assembly”. A rally is a “proper channel” to voice your grievances.

Almost every other week there is a protest of one kind or another in Australia.

Whether it is over same-sex marriage, immigration controls, or even the use of the “halal” label on food packaging, public protests are acceptable forms of collective expression.

Dissent does not transform the protesters into disloyal citizens or traitors. They may feel things are not right and seek change, but this does not make them collaborators.

And calling for a politician to step down is not a crime either by any stretch of the imagination.

One can’t help but be dumbfounded that US$700 million (RM2.6 billion) in “political donation” has been found in the personal bank account of the head of government.

Najib’s integrity has been called into question and the office that he occupies as prime minister has been sullied.

Compared with the debt-ridden 1MDB the amount involved in the Australian “choppergate” affair is chicken feed to say the least.

In Canberra, the speaker of the federal parliament, Bronwyn Bishop, was forced to step down recently following exposure of her use of a helicopter to attend her Liberal Party’s fundraiser event at a golf club.

Instead of hiring a taxi (about A$100), she chartered a helicopter costing the taxpayers A$5227 for the short trip from Melbourne to Geelong.

The veteran politician dug her heels in insisting that the travel entitlements came with the perks of the office.

However, public outrage intensified with more media revelations of her extravagant travel expenses.

She held her ground, with the support of prime minister Tony Abbott, for almost three weeks before apologising to the public, conceding her “error of judgement”, repaid the money that she had claimed and resigned as speaker.

The impression is that she is out of touch with public expectations of their elected representatives. Public perception matters and politicians ignore it at their peril.

Are the values different in Malaysia and public expectations lower? Paul Low, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, reckons that Malaysians’ expectations are too high.

The reactions to his statement speak for themselves, but it would suffice to say that lowering expectations is not an option for a country that needs to move forward.

Malaysia may not be a failed state but would it be fair to say that trust, integrity and transparency are in short supply in the government?

There is much scepticism about the early retirement or sudden transfer of senior government officers close to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) controversy.

Mere official denials and explanations that these are “normal” and routine administrative decisions have not been convincing and have been met with derision. Public confidence is surely lacking.

These are challenging times and the threat of another global financial crisis is never far away, and 1MDB is a debilitating distraction the PM, who is also the finance minister, can ill afford.

It is wishful thinking on the part of the Najib regime that the 1MDB issue will eventually go away with the disbanding of the joint task force or silencing of critics.

Unlike the financial disasters during Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s time, this scandal is too close for comfort and too big to cover up, not in this day and age.

Najib has to bite the proverbial bullet. 1MDB is a one-tonne millstone the prime minister will carry with him wherever he goes – from meeting Umno grassroots to greeting foreign dignitaries.

This is a more than a pain in the neck that he has to fix, and how he wiggles out of it will determine his future in the party and his place in history as the sixth prime minister of Malaysia. – August 25, 2015.

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