With this cash I thee wed: here comes the bribe
By Michael Backman
June 20, 2007
A NEW term has emerged in Malaysian political debate and it arose from a column I wrote at the end of last year.
In the column, I said that Malaysian government waste wasn't "Malaysia boleh" (the national slogan that means "Malaysia can") but "Malaysia bodoh" ("bodoh" translates as stupid.) The column was emailed pretty much to anyone in Malaysia with an email account.
Many in Malaysia have taken to referring to government waste and poor decision making as coming from "Bodohland".
But really the term is too strong because there's a lot that is good in Malaysia. And besides, Malaysia is still a developing country. Allowances need to be made for that, but then the Malaysian Government needs to be careful that allowances do not become excuses.
Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi came to office in 2003 claiming he would tackle corruption. His efforts have been less than "boleh".
The man he appointed to head the anti-corruption agency was soon accused of corruption. At about the same time, a deputy police minister was accused of taking bribes to set criminal suspects free.
Abdullah did not require either man to step aside while investigations were made. Instead, he insisted that 85 per cent of corruption allegations proved baseless.
But then, that is because most are inadequately investigated in the first place.
Probably, there's less top-level corruption than is commonly imagined. The most damaging corruption that eats away at the very foundations of Malaysia as a civil society relates to police corruption.
A recent survey by Transparency International found that the public and business nominated the police as Malaysia's most corrupt institution, far ahead of more obvious candidates such as public works authorities or land offices.
A royal commission established by Abdullah called for an independent police complaints body to be set up. But the police chiefs objected. So, one was not set up.
Last year, Malaysians were shocked by the particularly nasty murder of a Mongolian model who had claimed to have had a child by the head of the Malaysian Strategic Research Centre, a local think tank with links to ruling party UMNO and the Malaysian armed forces. The head was close to Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Najib Abdul Razak.
The model was shot twice and her body blown up by hand grenades or explosives, presumably in an attempt to destroy evidence. Two members of an elite police unit were arrested for the murder. The unit is under Najib's administration.
That police allegedly would not only commit a murder but then go to such gruesome lengths to destroy the evidence sums up for many Malaysians all that is rotten about their police force. The trial of the police opened on Monday.
Why have Malaysians had to put up with such rotten police for so long? It makes you ask who is in charge. The police are under the Home Affairs Ministry. And, who was home affairs minister under the last prime minister? Current Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi.
Elsewhere a police minister in charge of such a corrupt police force would be fired, not promoted to be prime minister. But of course that would be to judge the Malaysian Government by the international standards from which it has long asked to be excused.
In more disappointing news for ordinary Malaysians, nine Japanese shipping companies that transport timber from Malaysia's timber-rich Sarawak state have been accused by Japanese tax authorities of failing to report $US9 million ($A10.6 million) income between 1999 and 2006.
The money was paid to a Hong Kong company, Regent Star, which is connected to Abdul Taib Mahmud, Sarawak's Chief Minister since 1981, and his family.
The Japanese authorities decided these payments were not legitimate tax expenses but bribes. Taib Mahmud has denied the allegations and has asked his administration's anti-corruption agency to investigate. He has not stood aside.
Not only is Taib Mahmud the Chief Minister, he is also Resource Management and Planning Minister. This means he is also Forestry Minister. And that is fortuitous because his brother, Moh'd Tufail bin Mahmud, is co-owner of Sanyan Group, one of Sarawak's biggest timber companies.
When the state-controlled cement and construction group CMS was privatised, it was sold to the Chief Minister's family. Two of the Chief Minister's sons are directors and CMS now gets the lion's share of state government road works and construction tenders.
Wealth from CMS and huge timber concessions have helped the family to buy a bank in Malaysia, and many other assets. The Malaysian media has reported, for example, that Taib Mahmud's wife and children control an Australian company, Sitehost, which owns the Hilton Hotel in Adelaide.
The wealth of Taib Mahmud and his family has long been an embarrassment to the Malaysian Government — but Taib Mahmud delivers votes and parliamentary seats.
As for the Japanese bribery allegations, no doubt Taib Mahmud and his family will be exonerated. Perhaps the Japanese are confused. Or perhaps bribes were paid and the independent investigation is not independent.
But it does seem unlikely that Taib Mahmud or his family would take bribes. They are already very wealthy and it's hard to imagine they could be that greedy.