Sunday 29 December 2013

When the economy collapses, Rosmah will still be able to buy her Hermes handbags. The insanely wealthy businessmen and politicians will simply pack their bags and move to London or places unknown where their riches are parked.

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At the mercy of politicians and businessmen

CT Ali
 | December 29, 2013
When the economy collapses and we suffer, they can switch off the game and go on with their lives elsewhere
Is politics in Malaysia under the control of big business? Are big business and politics one and the same? Does big business in Malaysia share political power with Barisan Nasional? In a one-party state like Malaysia was until recently, is it true to say that it is normal for big business to be part and parcel of politics? Now that Malaysia is effectively a two-party state, when choose one political party over another, are we also choosing the big businesses associated with it?
The answer to these questions depends on who is doing the questioning and who is doing the answering, but we can be sure that on both sides of the political divide big business is already entrenched, some with feet planted firmly on both sides with everybody scratching each other’s back. Wealth distribution be dammed! Dishonesty and criminality will prevail!
There seems to be no concern that our nation is heading towards economic collapse caused by the powerful in politics and business.
Why should there be any concern? When the economy collapses, Rosmah will still be able to buy her Hermes handbags. The insanely wealthy businessmen and politicians will simply pack their bags and move to London or places unknown where their riches are parked. And the Malaysian public can go and fly kites for all they care.
For the Umno-led BN government and their rich cronies, watching this nation of ours go down the drain would be like watching it all happening in a video game. We suffer , but they just switch off the game and go on with their lives elsewhere.
There was a time, a few decades back, when politicians got rich the old way—by taking bribes from anybody who asked them for favours—businessmen who wanted business opportunities or even ordinary citizens needing things done. These bribes were given through intermediaries, trusted family members, cronies or front men. Soon these politicians began cut out the middlemen and started to take bribes direct from the giver, furtively. And all was still good because it was in everybody’s interest to keep quiet.
But as greed overcame any sense of propriety and confidence in their ability to escape censure or arrest increased, they began to throw caution to the wind.
After a while the sums required by the politicians got bigger (there was just so much for even the towkays to pay) and they started looking for themselves at tenders and negotiated projects, privatisations, IPPs and the many other business opportunities on offer because of the NEP and Ketuanan Melayu policies of the federal government.
Everything started to shift into a frenzy of pillaging and plundering of our nation’s wealth. Now it was more profitable for politicians to involve themselves in business equities and operations and that meant creating companies with nominees, proxies and complex holdings arrangements—all made worthwhile because the amounts to be made ran into the millions if not billions of ringgit. Even Umno and their coalition partners got into the act by creating their own vehicles for their shares of the loot.

Paper trail
When these politicians started grabbing ringgits in the millions through these arrangements, it became less easy to conceal their theft because when public funds are used there will be public records and a paper trail to follow. So things started to unravel when questions were asked and information leaked into the public domain through the social media and, to a lesser extent, by the opposition in Parliament.
The image of Khir Toyo’s mansion posted on the public domain required the authorities to pursue the matter “in the public interest,” which ultimately led to his conviction. PKFZ and NFC were but just two instances of the unraveling of the paper trail, leading to exposure of the plundering and pillaging of public funds.
The use of government jets for shopping trips to Milan can no longer be concealed or denied once the flight plans and schedules of the said government jet are made public. And for Mahathir and his family, the damming evidence of using MISC money to rescue his son’s business empire can no longer be denied because it is a matter of public record.
We now know that in the building of vast infrastructure projects like the North South Highway, privatisation projects, national car projects, IPP arrangements and other “business opportunities” parceled out by this Umno-led Barisan Nasional government over these last three decades, the only people making money are the businessmen and the politicians – both serving and retired. These projects no longer serve the people, they serve big business.
The principle of pay-for-use is that all money spent on a project is spent in order to get a decent return on investment. And all these huge business opportunities will earn enormous profits for the businessmen who are awarded these contracts and of course will also earn vast sums in bribery for politicians and their cronies. So obvious have these business arrangements become that the opposition has had an easy job turning the public against the BN, as evident in its loss of support in the last two general elections.
But why do succeeding Prime Ministers no longer bother to stop these abuses despite the loss in electoral support to BN?
Why is this continuing to happen? Is Najib, like Mahathir, allowing people to make themselves vulnerable to blackmail and censure because of personal weaknesses for money or sex?
Perhaps UMNO is more than confident of being able to hold on to power and keep all this under wraps on a need basis. When someone has to be removed from public office for reasons of political expediency, then Umno simply calls up his record and use it to force him out of office.
Perhaps Najib is confident of still having the power to protect himself even if he is removed from office. But then look at what Mahathir faced when Pak Lah took over as PM. True, he then worked to get Pak Lah out of office and succeeded, but I am sure Najib would less be able to do that to anyone who succeeds him.
The conjectures are endless, but leaders in Umno and Barisan Nasional must understand that rationalisation is the last refuge for liars. You can rationalise as much as you like when you put your nominees in RISDA, FELDA and Tabung Haji—to name but a few organisations already in Umno’s grasps—but it is still wrong.
Today these politicians just grab the money because they have been accustomed to getting away with bribes and abuses for so long that they no longer bother to run like Amin Shah or Razak Baginda.
All around us are lies serving those who are corrupt. Lies perpetrated by the politicians and lies perpetrated by the government enmeshed in greed. Every time we question their intentions we are told “national security” forbids such queries. Every time investigations are begun, the paper trial mysteriously tapers into myriads of tunnels and holes that implicate no one. Only the rakyat are left to carry the debts incurred while the real culprits enjoy their ill-gotten gains without fear of retribution now or in the future.
This is the way this Barisan Nasional government has governed and will govern in the foreseeable future. What astounds me is that there are enough people in Malaysia today to keep them in political power, enough people who have allowed this Umno-led Barisan Nasional government to claim that it is the legitimately elected government of Malaysia. What does it say of our people? What does it say of our future? Not much.
CT Ali is a reformist who believes in Pakatan Rakyat’s ideologies. He is a FMT columnist.

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