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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Mind: Insights From Science

The Mind: Insights From Science

M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com


Much of the scientific insights on the human brain emerge from four sources: “wet labs” on laboratory animals; clinical observations on brain-damaged patients; observing babies and children; and human psychology experiments.

Insights on the mind however, are best gleaned through reading Shakespeare and pondering the philosophers.

  The current popular specie for “wet labs” is the nematode (worm) Caenorhabditis elegans. It is transparent, easily manipulated genetically, and has only 302 neurons (as compared to billions for humans). It would be far fetched to consider that organism as having a brain compatible to that of humans; nonetheless its far fewer neurons enable scientists to study the basic physiology of nerve cells.

Imprinting experiments with birds, specifically geese, give us insights on such concepts as the “critical” period of learning.

Nothing in nature however is clear-cut. If you cut the nerve to the frog’s eye and then rotate it 180 degrees, and then after the nerves have regenerated, observe the frog catching flies. It could not; its tongue keeps flipping in the opposite direction. The explanation there is that the eye had been “hard wired” to the brain in a certain way and that no amount of “learning” could change the situation. In short, no neuroplasticity (the ability of nerve cells to modify its functions) operating there.

If you were to suture shut one eye of a kitten and weeks later remove the sutures, that eye is functionally blind even though it is still receiving the images. The lack of visual stimulation in that eye disrupts the production of the specific factors needed for the nerve cells to grow longer branches (dendrites) and connect to the brain, illustrating the significant role of the environment in brain development.

Baby monkeys raised in isolation with only a fluffy doll as their “mother” grew up to be severely disturbed, again illustrating the crucial role of early nurturing or mothering.
The second source of insight comes from brain-injured patients. One was the case of Phineas Gage who had a crowbar pierced through his skull. He survived, but his subsequent personality changes were such that he was “no longer Gage.”

Another patient, HM, had a scar surgically removed from an “old” part of his brain (hippocampus) to control burdensome seizures. After the surgery he had severe anterograde memory loss; he could not remember events occurring afterwards. He still had his “old” memories of events before the surgery. That led to the insight of different memories. Certain medications can also cause this distressing side effect, fortunately only transiently.

In the 1960s Sperry studied patients who had their corpus callossum severed to prevent epileptic seizures from spreading from one hemisphere of the brain to the other. The corpus callosum is the thick tissue that sits at the base of and binds the two hemispheres. After surgery these patients would behave like any other normal person, with no impairment of speech, walking, or other activities.

Through studies on these patients Sperry was able to demonstrate the lateralization of brain function, with the right more visual and able to process information in an integrative and intuitive way while the left, more verbal and adept at processing information in a sequential and analytical manner. Popularly expressed, the left-brain is rational and analytical while the right, emotional and creative, a neuro-scientific variation of the Yin and Yang theme. Women tend to use their right brain more than men. The implications of Sperry’s insight go beyond differences in how boys and girls learn; it also explains why men and women differ in their views on social issues.

In 1966 at the University of Texas, Charles Whitman shot and killed 13 people while wounding another 32 before he was shot dead. Whitman left a suicide note, admitting that he had been bothered by irrational thoughts and requesting an autopsy be done as he suspected that there was something wrong inside his brain. They did, and he was right. They found a tumor pressing on his amygdale, the part of the brain controlling emotions, especially fear and aggression.

These and other dramatic if not tragic examples challenge our concept of free will and culpability.

At that time there were no CAT scans or MRIs. Today an enhancement, f MRI (for functional) scan, is an important tool in brain research; it shows which part of the brain is ‘lighted’ or active during dynamic studies.

Another research involves patients with parts of their nervous system damaged from birth and then restored later in life. An example would be congenital cataracts. In developed countries these children would be treated early, with minimal if any eyesight loss. In the Third World these children would remain blind, with all its tragic consequences.

Recently a fortunate few in India were operated on through the surgical intervention of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Prakash Project. Contrary to the findings of the earlier experiments with kittens, those treated children were able to see following their cataract surgery. However, they do not “see” immediately, nor is what they see initially the same as what people with normal vision would see.

While we see Holstein cows munching leisurely in the lush meadow under the cloudless blue sky, those children would see blotches of black and white over a green background under a blue patch. They would not see what we see until their brain has learned to interpret those images, a process that could take days or weeks. The images transmitted from their eye to their visual center of the brain (optical cortex) are exactly the same immediately after surgery as well as later, but the brain has not yet learned to see, or interpret those images properly until much later.

The third source of insight comes from observing babies and children. A baby’s brain is neither a blank slate nor an adult one in miniature. A remarkable feature is its steep learning curve, unseen again at any other time. A baby has to learn to recognize its mother and get her attention, process the sights and sounds of the world, as well as learn to crawl, walk and control its sphincters.

This learning predates delivery. The baby in utero learns to recognize the sound of its parent’s voices and the movements of its mother. If the father is absent, then little of this pre-delivery bonding would take place with him.

After birth there is the all-important filial bonding and imprinting. The baby learns to recognize its mother. It can do this within a few days but that recognition is fragile. If the mother were to later wear a scarf for example, the infant would treat that face as that of a stranger. A similar “make strange” response would occur if the mother were to approach the baby from its head, thus presenting to the baby an upside-down image. Only much later does the baby learn to recognize its mother’s face from every angle.

The fourth source of insight comes from the study of normal, healthy human beings. These human psychology experiments contribute much to our understanding of the human brain, and thus the mind. I will devote the next two chapters to reviewing some of the insightful ones.

Excerpted from the author's book, Liberating The Malay Mind, published by ZI Publications, Petaling Jaya, 2013. The second edition was released recently in January 2016.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Dancing Dragons Have No Partners, Only Prey

Dancing Dragons Have No Partners, Only Prey

M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com


With Prime Minister Najib Razak dancing with the Chinese dragon, it is worth reminding him and his admirers that dragons have no dance partners, only prey.

Najib is using the old and dangerous game of playing the major powers against each other. During his latest visit to Beijing he railed against the Americans for lecturing him on lapses in his leadership, specifically his corruption and trampling on his fellow citizens’ human rights. Najib then went on to poke America’s eyes by putting out a joint declaration with his Chinese counterpart calling for no outside interference in the brewing South China Sea crisis.

Only the deluded would believe that Najib had an equal or any say in that joint communique. His only contribution was to agree. Najib was there to beg China to bail out his 1MDB, as well as to borrow money. Beggars don’t get to choose.

The world is full of tragic examples of once stable nations now in tatters because their leaders thought they were smart or adroit enough to play one world power against the other. Egypt’s Nasser had the Russians finance his ambitious Aswan Dam, and banked on them to help Egypt against Israel. The humiliation of the Six Day War still haunts the Egyptians. His successor Anwar Sadat reversed course and cozied up to America, and in the process won the approval of the ultimate values gatekeeper of the West, the Nobel Committee, which awarded him the Peace Prize. At least Sadat brought peace to his people, albeit only too briefly. Egyptians today are still being whipsawed from one extreme to the other.

In dealing with others, local or foreign, small or great powers, we must be guided by our internal compass, our values. Those others may or may not share our qiblat. We have for example, no desire to emulate China on how it treats its minorities or dissidents. Nor does Malaysia wish to be treated like Tibet or China’s western Muslim provinces. Although I must admit that at times I wish Malaysia would adopt China’s treatment of its corrupt officials.

Najib thinks that he looks elegant and puffed up dancing with the Chinese dragon. To me, he is more the painted lady on the dance floor of a Vegas whorehouse. We know who is paying for Najib’s services, on the dance floor and afterwards. Najib is paid well to act like an equal and enthusiastic partner, but we know what his role really is, as well as his price tag.

        It is well over RM140 billion. Regardless, a high-priced hooker is still a hooker.

Najib would like us to believe that China is investing in Malaysia, and he has convinced many. The reality is that Malaysia is borrowing those hundreds of billions. That money has to be repaid. The only positive aspect is that some of the money would be for financing infrastructures like the East Coast Rail and Trans Sabah Gas Pipeline, not for skyscrapers and fancy headquarters for civil servants.

Left unanswered however, is how much those projects would have cost had there been competitive international bidding. Nor do we know the financing terms. The 1MDB bonds cost several hundred basis points above the prevailing rates. Another unknown is how much of the Chinese money would be shifted to Najib’s personal account a la the Saudi investor and 1MDB, in gratitude for Najib’s ‘leadership?’

Beijing was generous to Najib. I am reminded of the rich towkay in a Malay village, charitable to his customers, extending them easy credit. Soon he owned the entire village. As we Malays say, Menang sorak, kampung tergadia (win the applause but mortgage the village).

China is an important country, quite apart from it being Malaysia’s biggest trading partner and sharing an extensive and contested maritime border. That relationship should be based on mutual respect and in accordance with international laws and norms, acknowledging that China is a major power while Malaysia isn’t. Being deeply in hock to China is not a good start to that kind of relationship.

The sparkle of Najib’s golf soiree with President Obama in Hawaii during Christmas of 2014 was short-lived, eclipsed by the blasting Malaysian sun. Najib is discovering to his sorrow that America has robust independent institutions. You may be Obama’s golfing partner, but if you indulge in illicit activities, its media will expose you and the Attorney-General will prosecute you. Malaysian officials may be bought with cheap titles and trinkets, not so America’s.

The Malaysian media is Najib’s lapdog, not so foreign ones or local social media. Thanks to the Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, and others, Najib is being subjected to unaccustomed scrutiny. Local alternate media amplify and extend the reach of those foreign news sources to average Malaysians.

There are a few certainties to Najib’s leadership. One, it will end. As for when, how and under what circumstances, the bomohs have as much credibility as the experts. With his echo chambers well amplified, Najib feels invincible. So did Saddam and Ghaddafi not too long ago; they were even more ruthless and in power far longer than Najib. Two, the massive debts through 1MDB and now the Chinese loans incurred by Najib will burden Malaysians for generations. Three, Najib’s rank corruption. Regardless of the outcome of the current US Department of Justice’s 1MDB asset forfeiture lawsuit, it has already put a black mark on Malaysia.

Najib’s future does not interest me. As for the debt load, at least that is quantifiable; not so the soiling of Malaysia’s name. The plastic glitter of Najib dancing with the dragon star, like his earlier soiree with Obama, will also be short-lived. The dragon will not be denied its prey. Najib, and Malaysians, may yet feel the true impact of a tsunami, the Chinese version.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sultanah Aminah Hospital's Fire Rekindled Old Ugly Memories

Sultanah Aminah Hospital’s Fire Rekindled Old Ugly Memories
M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com

Like many, I am saddened by the tragic death of six patients from the fire that started at the Intensive Care Unit of Hospital Sultanah Aminah (HSA) Johor Baru last Tuesday, October 25, 2016. My condolences to their families and loved ones. Those patients came to be treated and instead ended up being killed.

Having worked at that facility in the late 1970s I have endless fond memories of the place and the many wonderful people I had worked with, as well as the countless grateful patients I was privileged to treat. As a surgeon, that particular ICU was familiar turf to me.

There was something else hauntingly familiar to me on seeing those frightening videotapes of the huge fireballs and the bellowing black smoke. Perhaps it was because I had just been through a massive forest fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains in California that forced my family’s temporary evacuation. More likely it was the familiar bright red bricks of the hospital building, unchanged over the years but for the telltale stains from tropical black molds, that opened the floodgates to my old memory banks.  

Yes, I have many pleasant memories of that place. However, I also remember the more than a few not-so-wonderful ones of all-too-frequent VVIPs' visits. That particular sediment of my memory was stirred by videos of visits to the hospital by VVIPs only hours after the fire. The embers were still smoldering when the sultan and his chief minister as well as the Deputy Prime Minister and his equally huge federal entourage flooded the hospital.

I do not question their good intentions and can appreciate the boost in morale among those visited–patients, nurses, doctors, firefighters and others. Well meaning though those visits may be, they also interrupt and interfere with the immediate and pressing business at hand, that of ensuring the welfare and safety of patients as well as the public. Those colorful videotapes and glossy pictures of appreciative hosts and the genuine concerns expressed by those important guests do not reveal the entire picture.

What you do not see are the crowds of patients kept waiting for their treatment or whose transfer to safety was delayed because their doctors, nurses and other personnel are occupied with the big shots. Nor do you appreciate the consequences of scarce resources being diverted from patient care and services towards hosting those important visitors.

There were also many VVIP visits during my brief tenure at HSA. Two in particular I recall for specific reasons; both happened at a time of acute crisis at the hospital, though not as critical as the present one.

The first was by the Ministry of Health’s then new Director-General who had just taken over from the retiring Dr. Majid Ismail, a former Queens scholar and accomplished orthopedic surgeon.

This new DG had a point or two to prove, one being that he was a worthy successor to his distinguished predecessor. This new official was determined to not only show the flag but also demonstrate that he was not the typical senior civil servant afflicted with the sultan syndrome–departmental heads who behave like detached sultans but clueless as what to do except issue endless edicts.

On the appointed day this gentleman arrived. Late of course, in fact very late. By the time we finished the obligatory long line of introductions, it was decided that since it was close to lunchtime we would retreat to the nearby country club. The rest of the day was a washout.

It was a Thursday. Later I discovered that it was a favorite day for federal officials to visit Johor. With Fridays and Saturdays being the weekends there, those officials had an early start for their weekend of shopping across the causeway.

The second episode was when the state sultan and his consort were involved in a car accident. Both were hospitalized in the royal suite, which coincidentally was just above the ICU. Within hours (and for months afterwards) the hospital was inundated with VVIPs from all over the country.

Late that first night at the height of the crisis, a colleague was called to the hospital to help on a complex case. He had not heard of the accident and on seeing so many strangers loitering and one in his private office, asked him to vacate. Unfortunately, that gentleman happened to be one of Malaysia’s many sultans.

Within 24 hours that good doctor was banished out of state. I heard of the incident the next morning when there was confusion in the operating suites as the doctor’s surgical cases were left in limbo.

Had there been a tipping point to my decision to emigrate, the summary banishment of that physician was definitely one. I saw the basic indecency and unfairness of it all.

No, that specialist was not a pendatang or contract consultant from abroad (not that it mattered); he was “the son of the soil.”

Fires erase memories. The fire at HSA however, rekindled my old ugly ones.


Sunday, September 04, 2016

Luqman Al-Hikmah Versus Najib Al-Kebas

Luqman Al-Hikmah Versus Najib Al-Kebas
M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com



Luqman Al-Hikmah (Luqman The Wise) is revered in Islam. There is a Surah (31) in the Koran named after him, chronicling his sage advice to his son. Those are wise words for anyone, anytime, and anywhere.

Legend has it that once as a slave, his master ordered him to slaughter a sheep and bring its best and worst parts to him. Luqman did, and brought the animal’s heart and tongue. Intrigued, the next day the master asked him to do the same thing but this time to bring the worst parts. Luqman brought him again the heart and tongue.

When asked, Luqman explained that when a sheep is halal, the heart and tongue are the sweetest parts. When it is haram, the two are the worst. Likewise with leaders; halal leaders’ words (the consequence of their tongue) and deeds (heart) inspire and bring out the best in their followers. They in turn make the world better. In contrast, the words and deeds of a Hitler agitate his followers and bring out the worst in them. They in turn wreck the world, theirs and ours. Brandishing a ketchup-soaked keris and stretching out a stiff-arm salute are but different deeds from the same heart.

With individuals, the same attribute may be venerated in a pious person but detested in the corrupt. Prime Minister Najib values loyalty above everything else in his staff and ministers. Loyalty is the finest attribute you can heap upon a leader, but only when he is halal, meaning honest, competent, and does not betray the faith and trust you have in him. When he is not, then that loyalty is not only misplaced but also your most hideous attribute. You betray not only yourself and your values but also your fellow citizens’ and theirs.

Hang Jebat put it best, “Raja adil raja di sembah; Raja zalim raja di sanggah.”

Najib is confused about loyalty and what it stands for. His staff, ministers and supporters too are confused on whether their loyalty is to the country and its enshrined principles, or to a leader and his unbounded avarice. Had UMNO members been loyal to the person of Datuk Onn as leader back in 1951, Malaysia would still be a British colony today. Although he fought against and prevailed over the Malayan Union, Onn opposed merdeka.

As Prime Minister, Najib should be loyal not to his party, ministers or supporters but to the oath of office he took in front of the King, and to the constitution he swore to uphold and defend. Loyalty to anyone or anything else is misplaced, even treasonous.

In defending his hideous corrupt act with 1MDB, Najib points with pride to the BR1M grants to the poor. Caliph Bakar gave every man, woman and child twenty durham annually, long before economists advocated guaranteed minimum income. Credit Najib for implementing a good idea. However, lest it be forgotten he has also burdened Malaysians with the Goods and Services Tax. GST is the least progressive of taxes, meaning, the poor bears a disproportionate burden.

The 2016 budget for BR1M is RM4.9 billion; the government estimates raking in RM5.6 with GST. The ledger does not favor the rakyat, especially the poor.

If 1MDB funded BR1M, as Najib intimated, consider that the American DOJ alleges an estimated over US$3 billion (in excess of RM12B) have been corruptly siphoned off from that sovereign fund. Thus while Najib gives away RM4.9B in BR1M, Malaysian Official 1 has kebas (swiped off) over RM12B from 1MDB. The ledger again favors him to the tune in excess of RM7B.

So unlike Luqman Al-Hikmah, we have Najib Al-Kebas. Loyalty to Al-Kebas would be the worst attribute in a Malaysian.

Najib fessed up to swiping off hundreds of millions into his personal bank account. It was a “gift” from a Saudi sheikh, he claimed. For Malays, anything from the Holy Land is halal, even its flies and maggots.

Would Najib have received the gift had he not been Prime Minister? Obviously not. Which means that the donation was to his office. Najib admitted as much when he said it was in appreciation for Malaysia’s fight against ISIS. Najib did not fight ISIS alone, Malaysians did. Thus the money should have gone to Treasury, not his personal account.

Even in the days of generous foreign aid no nation ever received such a windfall, except Israel from America.

When Najib’s ‘explanation’ did not sell even to UMNO members, he concocted yet another spin. It was a political donation. That satisfied UMNO “wise” ones, the likes of Shahril Samad and Ahmad Maslan with their MBAs, chartered accountant Wahid Omar, and lawyers Nazri and Azalina. Shahril and Maslan admitted to receiving a million or two from Najib. Crumbs really, but that satisfied them. Wahid was rewarded with the PNB chairmanship. Nazri and Azlina are still ministers. For these characters, loyalty is but a commodity with a price tag. Rather cheap, fitting their characters.

Ponder this. Today Saudis can buy Malaysian elections by financing the party they favor. Tomorrow, Americans to Pakatan? How about China or Singapore to DAP? UMNO is Saudi’s current favored flavor. Tomorrow, PAS?

Why not put up Malaysian elections to the highest bidder? That would simplify things and remove the charade. It would also be clean and transparent, with the rakyat benefitting from the cash. Do likewise with UMNO elections and distribute the loot to the members. At least they would get something. Right now Najib kebas (swiped) all, with only the crumbs falling to the lesser chiefs. Ordinary members are still waiting for the leftovers, if any.

Legend also has it Luqman advised his son to be wary of women with heavy makeup. In today’s parlance, those who resort to plastic surgery and anti-ageing potions. They will end up spending everything you have, he cautioned. When Luqman died, his son ignored that advice. He partied and chased women with heavy makeup. Within a year he was bankrupt.

If as Najib says that he fears only Allah, then heed His advice as revealed through Lukman Al-Hikmah.

I risk flattering Najib and his supporters by mentioning him in the same breath with Luqman Al-Hikmah. Najib Al-Kebas has more in common with Luqman’s son. If Malaysians were to be spared the fate that befell Luqman’s son, then they ought to get rid of Al-Kebas.




Sunday, August 28, 2016

Devolution and the Rise of Sarawak's Adenan Setam




Devolution and the Rise of Sarawak’s Adenan Satem
M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com


Do not anticipate any positive change in Malaysia coming from the center, not from the current corrupt and incompetent UMNO leadership. Instead expect it from the periphery, in particular Sarawak’s Chief Minister Adenan Setam.

This rise of the periphery is a worldwide phenomenon. Witness the successes of the Scottish Nationalist Party and the Brexit referendum. Devolution there is a backlash against globalization; with Malaysia, a weak and distracted center.
 
            Adenan’s rise is facilitated both by his political prowess as well as Najib’s precarious position. Najib is inept in dealing with state leaders other than those from UMNO. With those from UMNO, Najib could bribe or bully his way.

            A measure of Najib’s lack of sensitivity to matters Sarawak is that not a single university has a Department of Iban Studies. Petronas, which gets the bulk of its oil from Sarawak, does not even have one Board Director or senior manager who is from the state. Now Adenan has imposed a moratorium on work permits for West Malaysians in Petronas. It is significant that he spared non-Malaysians.
 
           Unlike his predecessor the crude and greedy Taib Mahmud who exploited his leverage to enrich himself, Adenan uses his to extract greater autonomy for Sarawak. He acts as if he already has that, declaring English to be on par with Malay in schools and the state’s administration, in defiance of federal policies. The surprise is the silence of UMNO chauvinists and Malay language nationalists. That can only happen with specific directives from Najib.

            Adenan has banned UMNO from Sarawak; there is no legal basis for that. Again, no challenge from Najib. If UMNO were to defy that, Adenan would quit the ruling coalition and Najib would fall. Note Adenan’s ease in castrating UMNO jantans. Not a peep of protest from them. They bear and grin, as instructed.

            Sarawak (and also Sabah) already enjoys considerable autonomy on immigration. West Malaysians need a passport to enter. Adenan exploited that to maximal effect in the last state election, denying entry to opposition MPs from West Malaysia, a slap to Parliament’s prestige. Again, the surprise was the silence of the Speaker, an UMNO man, to this unprecedented affront to his institution.

            Adenan could act with impunity as his party is critical to Barisan. Through that he controls Najib. To Najib, Sarawak is his “fixed deposit.” That euphemism cannot hide the political reality. Without Adenan’s party, Najib and UMNO would topple. Right now it is to Adenan’s (and Sarawak’s) advantage to stay with the ruling coalition. Najib will do everything to ensure that; his survival depends on it.

            Autonomy is meaningless without changes in federal tax laws, a formidable obstacle. The federal government has near-exclusive taxing authority. Only minor items like land taxes are under state control. The oil royalty-sharing formula heavily favors the central government. Even if Sarawak could re-negotiate that, it is no windfall, what with the declining oil price. Despite its massive rain forest with its valuable hardwood, Sarawak still cannot forgo massive federal transfer payments.

            One way to circumvent the tax hurdle would be to execute a secular zakat maneuver. Zakat is a religious tax based on assets, not income, and is under state jurisdiction, albeit applicable only to Muslims and is voluntary. It could be made mandatory and extended to all, non-Muslims included. Both moves would enthrall the Islamists.

            Zakat contributions are federal tax credits, not deductions. That provides a neat way to circumvent federal income tax.

            Sarawakians have minimal fondness for the federal government. They could be persuaded to pay zakat (and its secular equivalent for non-Muslims) instead of income tax as the benefits would accrue to them, as the money stays in Sarawak. Sarawakians would not be paying both, rather diverting income tax to zakat.

          Adenan has adopted an excellent negotiating strategy with Najib by creating momentum with the easily-agreed upon and costless items like increasing the number of Sarawakians in Petronas and having one on its Board of Directors.

With Najib’s current weakness, Sarawak could drive a hard bargain for greater autonomy, including independent taxing power, to the point of being a virtual sovereign state. Once that happens, Sabah would be next in line to demand similar status. Sabah UMNO leaders would not dare defy the demands of their members no matter how much Najib bribes those leaders. From there, others. Johor sultan already stirs noises for Bangsa Johor and threatens secession. Kelantan wants its hudud. Najib supporting that ill-advised initiative could come back to haunt him.

            Once the unravelling begins, it is unstoppable. The prospect of a chief minister being on par with the prime minister is a giddy one to ambitious state politicians. Remember, the federation is of recent vintage. The old Malaya was set up only in 1948; Malaysia, even more recent.

            Consider the impact of autonomy on national policies like education and special privileges. Even with the current restrictions, note the ease with which the opposition DAP terminated special privileges for Malay contractors in Penang. Selangor under Pakatan’s Khalid Ibrahim annihilated a whole class of UMNO rent seekers, and saw his predecessor, that dentist character, jailed for corruption.

           Even if Najib were to balk at Adenan’s demands, what’s to stop Adenan from asking his party members in Parliament to submit a private member’s bill, a la PAS Hadi’s hudud, seeking greater autonomy and taxing authority for Sarawak? If Adenan were to do that, then watch both Najib and the opposition compete to accommodate Adenan in an epic lu tolong gua, gua tolong lu battle. He would be holding Parliament–and Malaysia–to ransom.

            I support the principle that a government closest to the people governs best. There are pitfalls, however.

           Sarawak shares a long unguarded border with Indonesia. Most of Borneo is Indonesia; Sarawak being part of Malaysia is an anomaly. It would not take much for the Indonesians to overwhelm Sarawak. If not for the British, they would have during konfrontasi. Besides, Jokowi is everything that Najib is not: honest, effective and charismatic.

            As for Sabah, Filipino pirates can enter it with impunity, and Philippines is resurrecting her claim. Another complicating mix, traditional kinship ties between Sabah and Southern Philippines.

Adenan envies tiny independent Brunei. The lesson there is not the Brunei of today but earlier. In 1962 one A. M. Azahari toppled the sultan. If not for the British Gurkhas, the sultan would have remained a refugee in Singapore. The son of Azahari may yet arise. This time there will be no Gurkhas.

           As for Johor, it wasn’t too long ago that its sultan treated the state as his private property and gave away a strategic and valuable part of it (Singapore). It would be the supreme irony if his descendant were to repeat the folly.

Those aside, I see great potential for Sarawak under Adenan Satem. He may be the transforming leader Malaysia needs while remaining within the ruling coalition. Today that coalition is Barisan. Tomorrow who knows. If Adenan plays his card well, that would be good for him, Sarawak, and most of all, Malaysia.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Hyenas, Vultures and Maggots of 1MDB

The Hyenas, Vultures and Maggots of 1MDB
M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com


1MDB is not yet a bloated carcass (it is bloated only with debt) and already the hyenas, vultures and maggots are feasting with glee. In the wild, hyenas and vultures wait till their prey is dead, and maggots, rotting. Not these human hyenas, vultures and maggots.

Scavengers are vital in the ecosystem; they cleanse the environment of dead and decomposing bodies. In contrast, these human hyenas, vultures and maggots feasting on 1MDB are part of the rubbish. Perverse as it may seem, they have an exalted opinion of themselves. They view what they are doing–defending “Malaysian Official 1” who is related to one of the hyenas Reza Aziz–as honorable.

This 1MDB mess is humungous; it will burden Malaysians for generations. That is a grim and undeniable fact.

Other facts, also undeniable, include these. One, 1MDB’s debt in excess of RM42 billion, and growing fast, exceeds the current budgetary allocation for education. No other entity, private or public, then or now could come even close. Those loans are ultimately the responsibility of taxpayers as well as those who do not pay tax. Those non-taxpayers, meaning the poor, are impacted because funds meant for them would be diverted to servicing those debts.

Two, 1MDB has gone through as many accounting firms as Britney Spears with boyfriends.  Its latest, Deloitte, has resigned, but not before making a most unusual declaration. That is, the US Department of Justice’s June 20, 2016 asset forfeiture lawsuit contained information that, if known at the time of the 2013 and 2014 audits “would have impacted the financial statements and affected the audit reports.”

Along the same vein, the Auditor-General’s Report on 1MDB which the government had promised to make public is now under the Official Secrets Act. Those reports have always been public. Why keep this one secret?  

Three, 1MDB has gone through as many chief executives in as many years, not the sign of a well-managed company. Four, drive by the site of the proposed Tun Razak Exchange, 1MDB’s signature development. It is empty. Last, 1MDB has yet to generate a sen of profit despite being in existence since 2009.

Meanwhile Switzerland has forced the sale of the bank involved with 1MDB and imposed an unusual and tough stipulation. Its new owner must not employ any of the existing senior managers of the sold bank. Singapore summarily closed the local branch of that bank. Its head now faces criminal charges. He was denied bail while awaiting trial, reflecting the gravity of the alleged crime. Singapore admitted to being lax in monitoring the bank’s activities with respect to 1MDB. Singapore also froze the assets of Jho Low, Najib’s financial confidant and key 1MDB player, an unprecedented as well as severe action.

There are other facts. The Attorney-General and Bank Negara have closed their investigations with no negative findings. Then there are the American DOJ’s asset forfeiture lawsuits and the class-action suit of Husam and Chang.

In America anyone can file a lawsuit. Thus you may dismiss the American lawsuits but not the actions of the Swiss and Singaporean authorities. As for the Attorney-General and Bank Negara Governor exonerating 1MDB, I let readers give that its proper weightage and relevance. Nonetheless that would still not explain 1MDB’s huge debts, changes in management and auditing firms, empty TRX lot, and the Auditor-General Report being kept secret.

For those who believe that Najib is God’s gift to Malaysians, you can’t argue with them. It would also be blasphemous to dispute Allah’s choice. For the rest of us, we need a more rational explanation, one that does not assault credibility or insult intelligence.

Back to the hyenas, they are now uncharacteristically quiet, their former flamboyance gone. Perhaps they are enjoying their morsels while they can, in their penthouses of Manhattan, mansions of Beverly Hills, and luxury yachts cruising the South China Sea. One would expect that having benefited handsomely from 1MDB they would harbor some gratitude to defend their benefactor.

The vast majority of Najib’s supporters are simple, unsophisticated Malay villagers still under the grip of feudalism. To them it is a simplistic “my leader, my race, my country, right or wrong!” Their loyalty to leaders is intense and unquestioning, up to a point. Betray that, and you pay the price. Datuk Onn was a hero for stopping Malayan Union, and Tunku Abdul Rahman for bringing merdeka. When they fell out of step with their followers, their drop from hero to villain was precipitous and merciless.

Najib is nowhere near the caliber of those two giants. We must remind him and his ardent supporters of that.

Those villagers aside, only those vultures and maggots remain Najib’s supporters. The hyenas should be, but for reasons best known to themselves have chosen to remain silent. That leaves the vultures to be his noisiest and ugliest cheerleaders. Unlike the hyenas with their bounties in the millions, those vultures are satisfied with a promotion or two and a federal award (second or third class) thrown in. Satisfied because stripped of their new appointments, they would earn but a mere fraction back at their old law practices or whatever they did before prostituting themselves to Najib.

The maggots are there as long as there is a decaying carcass.  A few ringgit tossed their way to fill the tanks of their used motorbikes, and they are happy parading their red shirts or polluting the social media with their inane comments. Once the carrion is gone, so will they.

Some support Najib out of inertia, buttressed by the havoc of regime change in Iraq and Libya as well as the performance of the opposition. Others reflect the forbearance of Malaysians. Najib, they rationalize, won the last election albeit without the majority of the popular votes. Nonetheless that victory was reaffirmed by the recent state elections in Sarawak as well as the two by-elections in Peninsula Malaysia.

That is a dicey defense. Winning elections is no license to steal or be corrupt. Nixon won a landslide in 1972, yet that did not stop his impeachment and subsequent resignation in disgrace for covering up the Watergate break-in.

A few would argue that Najib’s shenanigans are no different from Mahathir’s many opaque UMNO proxy companies plus London Tin, Bank Bumiputra, and Forex debacles. To them 1MDB is merely a different crocodile, albeit much more menacing, but from the same fetid swamp. Malaysia will never progress with that attitude.

Then there is the reflected glory argument. Reza Aziz, Malaysian Official 1’s stepson, is one of the producers of the Academy Award-winning The Wolf of Wall Street. Most would miss the irony as the film is banned in Malaysia. Nonetheless Malays in particular should celebrate that achievement.

Malaysians would have, and proudly too, had the film not been tainted. Indeed, the Academy publicly demanded that Reza Aziz’s name be officially deleted. It is like winning at the Olympics, and later disqualified for doping. Instead of glory, shame.

Another aspect of Najib’s support is crude anti-American rage triggered by the DOJ’s lawsuit. That was seen as interference as well as double standards. America too is blighted with corruption, they sniff. True. As South Korean Tongsun Park and Indonesian James Riady, as well as former Attorney-General Mitchell and President’s Counsel John Dean found out, the corrupt do get caught, convicted, and jailed. That’s the lesson Malaysians should draw from America.

As for American interference, if Najib and other corrupt Third World leaders do not want that, then next time accept only Zimbabwean dollars and use a bank in Uzbekistan. Buy properties in Bali or Cancun, not Manhattan or Beverly Hills, and bet at casinos in Macau not Las Vegas. There are no shortages of hyenas, vultures and maggots in those countries to clean up your mess.








Sunday, August 14, 2016

1MDB - Malaysia's Enron and Watergate Combined


1MDB – Malaysia’s Enron and Watergate Combined
M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com

         
The One Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) corruption is business as usual in Malaysia. That is a great tragedy as well as a gross injustice. To Malaysia, 1MDB is “case closed.” That reflects the nation’s system of justice and quality of its institutions, as well as the caliber of those entrusted to run them.

            Like ugliness, injustice is obvious to all and transcends boundaries. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) first shone the light at the hideous pox on 1MDB’s face with the filing of the asset forfeiture lawsuit on July 20, 2016. That was only the beginning. Shortly thereafter, Singapore froze the assets of Jho Low, one of the culprits. Together with Switzerland, it also closed the bank involved.

            There is now a racketeering suit filed by Husam Musa and Matthias Chang, as private citizens, on August 11, 2016 in New York. That has yet to be certified as a class action suit. With the huge number of potential plaintiffs, it will have no difficulty meeting the numerosity criterion.

            1MDB will be Malaysia’s Watergate and Enron combined.

            The US Senate Watergate Hearings of the 1970s, triggered by the “third-rate burglary” at the Democratic Party Election Headquarters in Washington, DC, saw many jailed. More than a few prominent lawyers were disbarred, including a former Attorney General as well as the Counsel to the President. It forced President Nixon to resign in disgrace.

            The Enron debacle also saw many of its principals imprisoned. The main culprit had a fatal heart attack while being investigated. Enron’s principal advisor, the giant accounting firm Arthur Andersen, collapsed. Quite a collateral damage!

            The suit by Husam and Chang differs from the earlier DOJ’s in that the defendants are individuals and firms, not assets. They include the usual culprits Jho Low and Reza Aziz, plus his principal accountant Debra Johnson, Goldman Sachs’ bond salesman Timothy Leissner, and film producer Joey McFarland, together with their respective enterprises Metroplex Capital Advisors, Goldman Sachs, and Red Granite Pictures respectively.

            Lawsuits are complex and expensive, both to initiate and defend. As for costs, we are looking at high six figures or even millions. That’s US dollars, not devalued ringgit. I do not know about Chang, but I am certain that Husam does not have the kind of resources to engage the high-powered law firms of Louis F Burke PC of New York and Ajamie, LLP of Houston. I do not know their arrangements.  

            America has the wonderful concept of contingency fees where plaintiffs’ lawyers would get paid only from the awards. Meaning, they have to prevail in order to get paid. That’s laudable public policy as it would ensure that the poor get access to good legal representation.

            It would be in the plaintiff lawyers’ interest to ensure that there is a good or at least winnable case, as well as a pot of gold at the end of the trail, or trial. To put it in the colloquial, their defendants must have deep pockets.

            Reza Aziz’s and Jho Low’s major assets are now tied up in the DOJ’s forfeiture lawsuit, while Low’s are also frozen in Singapore. Reza Aziz may have a super rich stepfather or donor somewhere. As for the other defendants, Goldman Sachs has the deepest pocket, tantalizing enough target by itself.

            While the other defendants and their enterprises may not have deep pockets on cursory examination, they may have generous liability and other insurances. It would be a hollow victory, not to mention a very expensive one, if in the end you could not collect your awards.

            In their lawsuit Husam and Chang seek awards of actual damages, restitution or disgorgement of wrongful profits obtained by the defendants, triple damages as provided for by the racketeering Act and other statutes cited, punitive damages, as well as costs and expenses. Tallying those will take a battalion of accountants. Insurances usually do not cover punitive damages or racketeering acts. The threat of both is motivation enough to make defendants settle early.

            Husam and Chang have already won a victory of sorts in securing the services of these two top law firms. Those lawyers would not risk their reputation and resources to see their case thrown out of court at the first hearing. They must have done their research and found the case not without merit.

            What’s in it for Husam and Chang? Certainly not the money. For even if they were to prevail and the awards be in the mega millions, their share after their lawyers’ cut would not be substantial. They must be doing it to ensure that justice prevails. They could not get that in Malaysia, so they come to America.

            The irony should not escape us. The pair could not find justice in an Islamic country but instead have to fly ten thousand miles away in the land of the kafir to seek it. The paradox must have struck Husam hard, being a former PAS Vice-President. That should impress upon him the essential difference between label and content.

            Lawyers however, have as much to do with justice as doctors to health. Lawsuits in particular have even less; they are but business decisions to law firms. Victory is settlement in their favor without having to go through an expensive and uncertain trial.

            For others, justice would be served if Jho Low and Reza Aziz were forced to disgorge their illicit gains, and then be punished. For Malaysians, that would not be enough. For them justice would come only with full exposure, as with a trial so all the ugly truth could be revealed. Then with that information they could make a better choice on whom to elect as their next leaders to ensure that such corruption and injustice would not recur.

            As President Johnson once noted, the vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man to fight injustice. We must erase this perversity among Malaysians, leaders and followers alike, that corrupt and illicit gains are but rewards and gifts from generous donors or a benevolent Allah. An open trail would be a great effort in that direction.

            The highest reach of injustice is to be deemed just when you are not, wrote Plato. Likewise, the most depraved act of corruption is to view it as otherwise. 1MDB is the most egregious corruption, and we have to expose it to Malaysians as such.

            To Husam Musa and Matthias Chang, thank you for your initiative in taking that brave first step. Yours is the finest form of patriotism. The corrupt, the perverts and the traitors would view your act as treason. That is the ultimate compliment! You do not want them to praise you. Reserve that for Najib.