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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
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.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Single Rotten Apple Versus The Whole Barrel Infected

 Single Rotten Apple Versus The Whole Barrel Infected


M. Bakri Musa



There was no joy with that pengkhianat bangsa (traitor to our race), aka Datuk Sri Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak Al Haj, now behind bars. Some relief perhaps, what with the protracted hearings, appeals, and request for adjournments now over. However, this is Malaysia. Hang on and be prepared for the ensuing even more ugly sagas, however difficult that may be to imagine.


            More fundamental is this. Is Najib the lone corrupt leader or is corruption now an ingrained trait of modern Malay leadership? A lone rotten apple versus the whole barrel being infected. Or to resort to a clinical metaphor, is Najib a solitary cancer or has the malignancy metastasized throughout Malay culture?


With the former, the best chance of cure would be to take aggressive action, as with wide radical excision of the tumor. That is, throw Najib in the slammer for a long time so as to impress others who would be similarly tempted. Even when the cancer has spread, it is still important to gain local control of the primary lesion but you would have to have additional modalities as with chemo and radiation therapy.


This localized versus disseminated cancer metaphor becomes more relevant what with new scandals like the Littoral Ships Contracts now unfolding and many old ones like the Bank Bumiputra, Forex debacle, and Perwaja Steel Mill still to be fully examined. 


            As for corruption, the narrative of a pious, upright and not too bright Malay leader being cheated by a slimy cunning Chinaman is an old one. Today that still resonates among not only Najib’s seemingly urbane lawyers but also by insular Islamist leaders like Hadi Awang. To them, their Najib is honest, only that moonfaced Jho Low had swindled their man.


At the practical level, Najib being jailed does not make those massive 1MDB debts disappear. They would still have to be serviced, consuming the nation’s scarce resources for the next decade or more. Imagine the colossal opportunity costs, with citizens bearing that burden, not Najib. Those costs are at least quantifiable. Not so the many more far greater and longer-lasting negative consequences. Already Najib is perceived a hero, and not just among simple kampung folks. Recall that earlier palace invitation of a few months ago. 


This degradation of our society’s norms and values may already be irreparable. In short, the cancer has spread.


Consider Najib’s last moments of freedom yesterday (August 23, 2022). He was whisked away not in the usual prison lorry but a dark-tinted luxury SUV, with police outriders fit for the Agung. Those tinted windows notwithstanding, Najib was seen through the clear front windscreen to be still in his Armani suit. Mug shots and orange prison garbs are only for opposition politicians and the common criminal, it seems. 


Somebody must explain this gross breach of standard protocol. Otherwise be prepared to see for even more bizarre and offensive scenes, the cancer having spread to the prison system. 


 Najib’s endless legal maneuverings, fervent multiple appeals, and cheap delaying tactics did not impress the judges. As per Chief Justice Maimun, “Putting aside the personality of the appellant, this [was]. . . a simple and straightforward case of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust, and money laundering.” Najib was found guilty on all seven charges, reinforcing the earlier decisions of the Trial Judge and Appeals Court Judges. Both appellate decisions were unanimous. 

Chief Justice Maimun went further. “[T]he evidence . . . points overwhelmingly to guilt    . . .  so much so that it would have been a travesty of justice of the highest order if any reasonable tribunal, faced with such evidence staring it in the face, were to find that the appellant is not guilty . . . .” 

As for spurious delaying tactics, imagine bringing up an issue that allegedly first appeared in social media over four years ago, as the defense attorneys did in trying at the last moment to recuse the Chief Justice. I wished one of the Judges would have asked Najib’s smart lawyers whether they had first ascertained the veracity of that alleged Facebook posting. Very elementary, my dear! On the other hand maybe Najib’s lawyers should appreciate the judges’ kind courtroom gesture of sparing them this embarrassing basic question.


These ugly courtroom spectacles that Malaysians had to endure could all have been prevented if only Judge Nazlan had used his discretion and denied Najib bail, sending him straight to jail back in July 2020. Considering the gravity of the offense, Najib’s brazen manner, and the unprecedented size of the loot, Judge Nazlan would have been justified. And we would all have been spared the ubiquitous hideous displays of his “Malu Apa Bossku” (What’s there to be ashamed of?) placards, with Najib’s grinning face dominating the local social and mainstream media. As it turned out, Najib had a lot to be ashamed. 


For Nazlan, that would have at least spared him Najib’s clumsy, belated, and ultimately unsuccessful attempt at smearing his (Nazlan’s) integrity. 


Those notwithstanding, it did not stop the Agung from inviting Najib, a convicted criminal, to an official palace dinner. I do not know whether the Chief Justice was also invited to that event. If she was, she did the right thing by not accepting. The King and his advisors should have known better not to invite a criminal onto hallowed palace grounds.


Any bets that the Agung, the current Sultan of Pahang (Najib’s home state), would in the coming 65thAnniversary Merdeka Celebration proclaim a new Wira Negara (National Hero) and grant Najib a pardon? Stay tuned!


There are many villains in this sorry expensive saga. Some have paid the price. Whether Najib would be included in this group remains to be seen, this latest denial of his appeal notwithstanding. This after all is Malaysia. 


There are also many victims, but Najib, his family and cronies, are not among them despite the cries of protestations of UMNO people. Instead there are those millions of Malaysians, the burden disproportionately borne by the poor. Imagine the many decrepit rural schools and underfunded hospitals because of 1MDB looting! 


There are also many heroes in this sad chapter of the nation’s history. Foremost are ordinary Malaysians. It was their collective courage in throwing out the whole corrupt lot in the 2018 elections that made possible the emergence of Latheeffa Koya to head the Anti-Corruption Agency, then Attorney-General Tommy Thomas, and most of all the prosecuting team headed by Datuk Sithambaram. 


The nation owes you much, and thank you for what you have done!



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