Almost 20 years after then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad accused him of causing the Asian financial crisis, George Soros is making headlines in Malaysia once more.
The American billionaire/philanthropist and his Open Society Foundations (OSF) are now in the crosshairs of many pro-government supporters after it was revealed that the foundation gave funds to a number of local civic organisations. This reportedly includes Bersih, C4 Malaysia, Pusat Kesedaran Komuniti (Empower), Islamic Renaissance Front, Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research, Penang Institute, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), Citizen Journalists Malaysia (Sabah) and the Committee For Free Elections (Comfrel).
According to leaked documents on whistleblower site DC Leaks, the OSF is trying to influence the outcome of the coming general election. OSF has denied this, saying it gives money to civil society movements in the country to promote public health, foster fair migration policies and encourage the civic and political participation of all Malaysian citizens.
These are indeed noble objectives, which makes it all the more perplexing that the civic groups have not come to Soros’s or the OSF’s defence.
When FMT contacted the leaders of a number of these groups, most declined to comment or respond. One civil society leader, who would speak only on condition of anonymity, said that NGOs sought funding from overseas because it was difficult to get funds from the government.
So what if funds are sourced from overseas, or even from Soros? If they are to be used to pursue noble goals, there’s every reason to defend the sources.
It seems that there are some who are intent on distancing themselves from being linked to the OSF, which pours in some USD700,000 annually into Malaysia.
Even Prime Minister Najib Razak has received foreign funding, and what these NGOs allegedly received is miniscule in comparison.
Following the revelation that USD681 million (RM2.08 billion) had been deposited into Najib’s accounts, Attorney-General Apandi Ali said his investigation had found that the money was a donation from the Saudi royal family.
The BBC had reported that the money had been given by the Saudi’s to help Najib and the BN win the13th General Election.
Other organisations in the country too are known to have received money from foreign funders.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Maina Kiai, had said in September 2012 that there was nothing wrong in any NGO receiving foreign funding.
This unwillingness of civic groups to speak up on the issue of funding and to address allegations made about the OSF and what it is doing in Malaysia has fueled claims of foreign meddling through civil society movements.
Perhaps these civic groups should speak openly to rebut the claims made against them. If no wrong has been committed, there should be no reason for anyone to be afraid.