25 July 2017
Dear Honourable Members,
When you arrive in Kuala Lumpur later this week you will find their parliament to be sitting. Don’t be fooled.
It was convened today after months of inactivity and will be recessed on August 12th, a total of 12 days of actual business.
It was also open for less than a month in March and will open again only in October for less than a month (if that is not interrupted by plans for a flash election, which appears currently on the cards). In all, just 57 days in a year, allowing Malaysia’s very well paid MPs to effectively treat their representative responsibilities as a sort of part-time hobby.
This is not least because even whilst sitting they are not allowed to perform their primary function, which is to call the government to account by demanding answers over matters of concern.
In Malaysia the executive ignores the ‘parler’ in parliament and takes it upon itself to vet each and every question that an MP is allowed to ask. The sacred principles of parliamentary privilege and freedom of speech are thus chucked into the dustbin thanks to an outrageous system of simply striking out any discussion of awkward issues.
You will not therefore be surprised to hear that all questions by opposition MPs on the current most pressing issue of the day, which is the scandalous misappropriation of billions of dollars of public money by the Prime Minister, have been ditched as ‘inappropriate’ at the start of this session.
The principal tool for this ‘screening’ is an interesting Standing Order 23(1)(c), which states that “a question shall not contain any argument, interference, opinion, imputation, epithet or misleading, ironical or offensive expression, nor shall a question be frivolous or be asked seeking information on trivial matters“.
There are a number of other similarly catch all standing orders that might alternatively be applied.
The fellow who dictates whether something is “frivolous” or “trivial” or contains “inference” or is “offensive” or whatever it may be, is the Speaker of the Houseaided by his government controlled staff. In Malaysia the Speaker is not a bi-partisan champion to protect MP’s interests, he is effectively at the beck and call of the Prime Minister to run the house, as if he were the teacher of a classroom and Najib the headmaster. The present speaker, an unelected Senator, was announced to his post by the Government in 2008.
This, of course, turns on its head the fundamental keystone of our democratic system (upon which Malaysia is constituted) which is that the people are sovereign and their representatives in Parliament therefore entitled to ask what they like (foul language and brickbats excepted).
Thanks to this rampant abuse of lawful procedure the managers of the house have struck out all questions inconvenient to Najib, including questions about why the Prime Minister used RM9.5 million stolen from 1MDB to personally pay the special prosecutor during the trial of the opposition leader? Anwar’s earlier acquittal was over-turned thanks to an untoward appeal by prosecutors.
The above would seem to be an extremely valid question you might think, especially since the prosecutor had earlier claimed he was doing the job for free ‘for the good of the country’ – odd in itself.
You might also be tempted to ask how it could be that an acquittal for a criminal charge could have been appealed in such a manner, without any further evidence arising or even a re-trial on the case?
But, by now you will probably have realised that you have entered a La La land of phony democracy and phony institutions, where the higher judges are generally believed to do what Najib tells them (although you are imprisoned for voicing that opinion, which has been deemed ‘seditious’).
Another question that has been binned from the batch put forward by the opposition was why did the PM also personally pay RM10 million out of the same stolen money to the Chief of Defence Intelligence just a few weeks before the last election?
Najib has long since been forced to admit that he bought the last election, pouring hundreds of millions of ringgit into the coffers of his own political party, allied MPs, bag carriers and the like – he doesn’t deny it. He is just arguing the toss as to whether the money was stolen from Malaysia’s own public funds (demonstrably the case) or ‘donated’ by a foreign power (an anonymous/bogus Saudi Royal), which was the best excuse he could cook up at the time.
Take your pick, it’s all illegal, which is why the Prime Minister doesn’t want to answer questions about 1MDB, the false imprisonment of the opposition leader or any other such sensitive matters.
It is not that Malaysians are happy about this state of affairs. Most are only too painfully aware that the thieves had taken over in the kitchen of this decades old regime some time ago.
By the time Najib succeeded to the top job in 2009 he had plainly determined that he could take control of the whole rotten edifice: elevate himself to full autocratic status; personally help himself to the lion’s share of the country’s finances and install himself as some kind of political and religious icon, in keeping with the system in certain Gulf countries which he is constantly given to praising. In KL they have already nicknamed him ‘The Emperor’ or ‘Crime Minister’, never a genuine democrat.
People do remember better times and they are dismayed and angered by their predicament under Najib, when what is needed is reform. However, Najib is an election cheat and he is also a top world-ranking briber. They fear they may not be able to dislodge him.
Take for example those very MPs who have been turned to puppets by his outrageous abuses of procedure – in 2015 he didn’t just give them a pay-rise for their non-jobs, he more than doubled their pay. In fact, he nearly trebled it: Salaries went up from RM6,500 a month to RM16,000!
That will shut them up he must have thought. Since that kind gesture Najib has rarely found it convenient to step inside the Houses of Parliament in Putrajaya. He once explained that he had better things to do with his time than waste it answering MPs: like going on foreign trips and engaging in PR stunts and all the rest.
Instead, complain frustrated would-be legislators, junior ministers are put up to answer questions, for which they are not equipped to manage any supplementary issues. “They always say they will have to go back and ask“, one critic grumbled to Sarawak Report.
What just about everyone would like to do, therefore, is throw Najib out at the ballot box, then bring in a slew of reforms that would rectify this dreadful situation; return checks and balances; restore independent institutions and bring the representatives of the people back to their rightful position as the sovereign power within the state.
However, Malaysians have been driven to ask for outside help. Although domestic forces have now joined across the political spectrum to champion the removal of the corrupted Emperor, they say matters have gone so far that they need an objective outside referee to make sure elections are conducted fairly.
They are also concerned that Najib is thrashing around for excuses to utilise new and unconstitutional emergency powers that would enable him to take full personal control of the country without reference to the monarchy or anyone else – and run it as he chooses.
His docile MPs nodded through that ‘National Security’ bill after it was introduced late at night on the last day of a previous parliamentary session last year. So, now that he has a dictatorship law in his back pocket Najib is clearly toying with the idea of by-passing the election or ignoring its result, if neccessary.
It is for this reason that Malaysians are asking for prompt engagement by countries such as the UK. They want to see enforcement action on the 1MDB affair – now that the fact of money laundering has been well and truly established – including warrants issued against the perpetrators.
Also, just as vital and important, they as asking for outside monitoring when it comes to the next election.
Najib is fully intending to cheat: he has been playing around with the electoral register for months and has already started announcing bribes and handouts; but it is jiggery pokery at the ballot boxes that opposition folk are worried most about.
This matter is of grave and pressing concern and it is your duty as Commonwealth MPs to start lobbying now to be part of the process of ensuring at least a modicum of standards and supervision in this up-coming election – even if this is the only one thing you do of value on what will doubtless otherwise be a very jolly trip over to KL.
It is not just Malaysians to whom this matters. It is important also to the UK, not least because come 2020 whoever governs Malaysia will assume the top position as Chairman of the Commonwealth. It will do very little credit to the already fragile reputation of the Commonwealth if it is to be publicly led by the man who has become the world’s most notorious kleptocrat and evader of justice in his own country.
So, now it’s over to you!