With 1MDB and a RM2.6 billion “gift” still making headlines, columnist William Pesek says claims that all’s well in Malaysia is fooling no one.
PETALING JAYA: Malaysia’s penchant for “pulling the wool over the eyes” of its people and the global community is not working so well this time around as claims that all is well at 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and that the RM2.6 billion was a “gift” from a Saudi donor are a little too hard to swallow even if one tried.
So said Tokyo-based William Pesek, a columnist who writes on economics, markets and politics throughout the Asia-Pacific region in his commentary appearing in Barron’s Asia.
Saying the “Twilight Zone” and “Malaysia Zone” were one and the same thing, Pesek added, “Najib-gate grew even more surreal last week when Malaysia’s Attorney-General suddenly cleared him of criminal or corruption charges.”
Pesek remarked, however, that although Apandi Ali “kept a straight face” when he declared the matter closed, the Swiss could not help but speak out about the likely misappropriation of some USD4 billion in 1MDB despite the declaration having distressed Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi who wanted it kept private.
“Yet Malaysia Inc went too far in the camouflage department for Swiss officials. Ditto for the US and Singapore,” Pesek wrote of investigations in the US where Goldman Sachs is being probed for their role as advisor to 1MDB and where Singapore authorities are probing allegations of money laundering and other offences.
“Ostensibly, 1MDB was set up to spur economic growth. Instead, it’s emblematic of why Malaysia is becoming a smaller blip on investors’ radar screens,” Pesek said, pointing that Malaysia’s ranking in Transparency International’s 2015 corruption perception index was down four positions from last year.
“The perception that corruption has worsened on Najib’s watch (a Swiss one, perhaps?) can be found in everything from stock and currency gyrations to foreign-direct-investment trends to divergent political dynamics in Asia,” he said.
He noted that Malaysia had become worse off than Indonesia and the Philippines and added, “Burying such a global scandal is no longer possible in a globalised world in which Malaysia competes for investment.
“The growing number of foreign probes – and escalating ones at that – risk denting Malaysia’s standing. They’re also as clear an explanation as any for why Malaysia is being left behind as Indonesia, the Philippines and other neighbours zoom ahead.”
Repeating the joke on most people’s lips that CBS’s next crime-scene investigation series should be “CSI: Malaysia”, Pesek said that the controversy surrounding the missing MH370, that till this day is a mystery, and 1MDB stem from the same problem i.e. “a political elite that cares about staying in power, not the people”.
He said the AG’s decision to “whitewash” the crisis and Najib’s ensuing declaration that the matter “has been comprehensively put to rest” has done the country no favours.
While praising Malaysia as an “amazing and unique place” with breathtaking physical beauty, a multiethnic population and a thriving culinary scene, he said, “Sadly, it’s run by a government that claims all’s well when the rest of the world knows something’s rotten in Najib’s Malaysia.”