Some Malays May Hate Some Chinese- But Money Conquers All
ITS ALL ABOUT THE MONEY STUPID
What most people don’t understand or refuse to acknowledge about the current destabilization of government and UMNO is that the entire anti UMNO anti Barisan battles being waged in a propaganda disinformation campaign by a mainly Chinese led opposition in Malaysia, is nothing more nothing less than a fight to the death for control of a very large and lucrative (political) industrial complex and its finances.
Whether it was Gordon “Pasha” conquering the Sudan and Egypt or Robert Clive India or the Rajah James Brooke Sarawak in East Malaysia adventuring on behalf of the British Crown, politics, power and money have always been inextricably intertwined with personal ambition and the pursuit of wealth.
Often disguised as seemingly noble pursuits, honourable intentions (like the desire to civilize savages) justified and camouflaged with constitutions, religious principles and unsustainable laws, the pursuit of power in politics or through politics is where the quotation by Lord Dalberg Acton, “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely” finds meaning.
Is there really an incorruptible government or man anywhere? Is there an uncorrupted leader, government or individual anywhere on the face of this earth? is “corruption” ( graft) as we have come to know it avoidable? is it necessarily bad or is it a matter of degree that makes ‘corruption’ bad and intolerable?
UMNO PRIMED AND READY TO BE RIDDEN
UMNO has always had great potential as a seemingly inexhaustible source of wealth for those who control its organizational structure.
UMNO had no money, no organizational capabilities, no sources of income in its formative years and at independence to sustain itself. It always had a vast rural Malay base as its unexploited constituency. It had no sophisticated organizational structure other than the potential, the political power and the vast untapped unexploited (then) resources of its constituency, the Malays.
The Indians and the Chinese both saw power, potential and opportunity to exploit in the vast Malay constituency following independence. Each was driven by a different motive, by a different need and a diametrically opposite set of principles towards a common objective. The Chinese settlers in pursuit of their own survival and belief that all of south east Asia belonged to them (greater China) won out hands down.
The Tengku it is known and documented sold a number of properties (shop houses) he owned to ensure UMNO’s survival in its early days. There was no money, nor real organizational structure and no financial plan for UMNO after independence.
Tun Razak father of the current prime minister was more sophisticated in his thinking and set up a funding structure to finance the activities and the structure of UMNO and its vast branch network during his time in office. Much of his structures consisted of secret trusts and nominees to control the funding UMNO received. There was no need for probity checks because he trusted those in charge. Nonetheless he was known to have been ruthlessly strict about protocols and accountability when it came to dispensation of the funds UMNO received. But there were limits to these controls.
The Chinese sensing an opportunity to win favours and influence government decisions their way were willing to step up to the plate and make generous albeit secret ‘contributions’ to the Malay causes via the Malaysian Chinese Association and to UMNO. There began what has largely turned out to be Chinese control of the Malaysian economy and the fight for UMNO and the Barisan leadership. The current fight as it was with previous struggles within has nothing to do with ‘corruption’ ‘anti Chinese’ sentiment, ‘racism’ political direction or incompetence in government.
A NEW JOCKEY A NEW RACE
The rise of Tun Dr. Mahathir in the late 1970’s was about changing stewardship of the organization and controlling the vast wealth and potential within the power structures within UMNO. He was the new broom and sweep the organization he did.
His struggle was about ultimately correcting the complacency and dereliction UMNO had become used to. Where much of of the country and especially an exclusive Malay polity in UMNO was being held to ransom by the Chinese and interests associated with them, he would ensure they would be replaced by the Malays in the spirit of their independence.
After all most rich Chinese then were hardly men of letters or educated. ‘Why is it’, Mahathir thought ‘could Malays of similar disposition not be masters of their own destiny in their own land and enjoy the same economic status, benefits and opportunities which were there for them?
Tun Dr. Mahathir set out in office with a radical experiment to return control and the dignity of the Malay via UMNO to the Malays. He opened the doors to wealth and opportunity to them. Mahathirsm and the NEP was born.
On the one side there was Chin Peng fighting (literally) in the jungles using violence for control of Malaya as an ally and proxy of communist China. On the other was the MCA an ally, a proxy and surrogate of the Kuomintang and the Chiang Kai Shek model of government as an enterprise combining power and industry in the hands of a few.
The Kuomintang (and MCA) enjoyed the added advantage of being staunch anti communist allies of the west in the region. They were a government within government surrogates of Britain and the US throughout south east Asia (Indo China, Thailand and Malaysia). As a consequence they wielded significant political clout unavailable to indigenous governments in the region.
Suharto in Indonesia, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines and the King Bhumibol of Thailand are but three examples of how the Chinese were able to manipulate governments through ‘corrupted’ self serving rulers through whom they achieved their unparalleled economic success in the region.
HE WHO COMES TO EQUITY
Tengku Razaleigh is less than honourable when he attacks the Mahathir era and UMNO whilst remaining silent about his own misconduct in UMNO. His own involvement in the various scandals that rocked Malaysia whilst he was at the helm at the ministry of finance are conveniently glossed over.
Tengku Razaleigh’s involvement in many of the scandals that rocked government during his time in office may be ‘long in the tooth’. They however remain as smelly as a decaying corpse hidden under the bed.
Take for example the seldom mentioned purchase of Bian Chiang Bank in Sarawak in the 1970’s for the paltry sum of just under MYR 5,000,000 using UMNO money without proper authorization. That purchase was in fact made by Tengku Razaleigh to save a Chinese friend of his, Wee Hood Teck to settle a gambling debt the latter owed to Triads.
Now how much more ‘noble’ a cause could a Malay prince in public office engage in with Malay money? Bian Ching we all know later became the Bank of Commerce.
Whilst some speculate it was not UMNO money that Razaleigh used for that purchase, the economist trained prince was smart in the way he made that purchase. In the end it was UMNO money he used to save a Chinese gambler. It gave Daim Zainuddin and Tun Dr. Mahathir the moral high ground they needed as the new Malay pedigree in UMNO, to acquire the bank then on their own terms.
The later acquisition of the same bank by an UMNO related entity only became a sin when the Fleet group to whom it was sold later emerged as a giant conglomerate under the control of one Diam Zainuddin.
Daim Zainuddin was no friend of Tengku Raleigh who had lofty ambitions of his own at UMNO. Tengku Razaleigh with ambitions of his own to grab the treasure chest of UMNO was bitterly disappointed when he was outmaneuvered by commoners in “Daim Zainudin and his boys” a term that inner circle in UMNO was known by then.
The battle between Dr. Mahathir Mohamed and Tengku Razaleigh’s respective factions within UMNO was really a struggle between two paradigms in Malay politics. On the one side were the traditional rulers (like the Tengku Abdul Rahman and Tungku Razaleigh) who claimed an almost divine right by convention to rule. On the other were commoners of mixed race many of Indian Malay heritage, an emergent power elite (now entrenched) not titled but skilled, savvy, wily and ambitious. These were a different pedigree to the Tengkus in government. These were self made men with an education, strong nationalistic credentials an aversion to the old colonial ties. They believed in their destiny and were determined to be masters of their destiny on their own terms.
That battle it appears will continue well into the future in one form or the other regardless of the Chinese led opposition behind the facade of Royalty whom many believe the Chinese own as their property. Of the other group, Tun Dr. Mahathir and Daim Zainuddin are perhaps the most outstanding examples of what Malays could achieve on their own terms without the Chinese or Indians.
Tengku Razaleigh’s other misadventures and exploits in money politics have been carefully and quietly swept under the carpet and if for no other reason than to avoid embarrassment to his family. That’s a very Malay trait and a dignified one at that.
Tengku Razaleigh’s dignity is wrapped in the silence and diplomatic avoidance of public mention of a number of things he (and Anwar) were involved in whilst in office. It may well emerge now if the attacks on Najib were to continue unabated. That veneer of respectability that Tengku Razaleigh enjoys protected by Malay custom will peel off in the heat of battle.
MUST COME WITH HANDS CLEAN
Barry Wain in his book ‘Malaysian Maverick’ which became the bible of the opposition claimed UMNO had been looted of between $5 to $6 billion. Not true. From other sources and a simple calculation of the asset base of the various companies UMNO either had an interest in or controlled outright (through proxies of course) the figure quoted far exceeded what Wain had estimated.
Wain was careful not to get too deeply involved in a proper estimate because that would have involved Singapore and Australia in the matrix of what he called corruption.
In UMNO’s case there were factions who were engaged in the politics of money and vote buying. It is not as if the Chinese and Indian’s, the DAP and PKR were not involved in such an enterprise either. Penang’s politics of money is far more entrenched, parochial, corrupted and sinister than the sum total of what UMNO is believed to be engaged in.
The Indians do not allow non Indians or even other Indians into their captive constituency of Tamils who they milk and exploit with impunity within the MIC. The MIC does not even allow other non Tamil Indians into their inner sanctum, which UMNO at least allows on condition of them being Muslim and declaring themselves to be Malays.
In fact as far as the PKR is concerned it would be terribly surprising if money were not the sole criteria for nomination to pre selection. Anwar was very prominent in UMNO’s money politics during his days as Deputy Prime Minister and before. Anwar’s ambitions for political control and to control of the purse strings of UMNO during his time as an insider with Razaleigh is the stuff of legend.
Many of Anwar’s business cronies continue to wallow in their accumulated wealth from his patronage. Anwar continues to receive financial backing from a group of businessmen who rose to prominence during the Mahathir era when Anwar was untouchable. The backing Anwar receives from these princelings of UMNO is no secret, even though many of them believe that no one knows of their existence, their means and and how they came by their wealth.
No one has ever questioned Anwar’s source of wealth over the past nearly 2 decades. Since he was thrown out of office and attempted a coup against his government, someone has been paying for his lawyers, his international jet setting jaunts, his daughter’s education at John’s Hopkins (another story for another day), his numerous lawsuits and lobbying and media campaigns.
THE TENGKU WAS AN HONOURABLE MAN- THE BEST LEADER BY CHINESE AND OPPOSITION STANDARDS
When the Tengku Abdul Rahman discovered belatedly that UMNO needed funds, significant amounts of money to survive he turned to the Chinese for help. The Tengku’s bed then became the resting place for a numbers of Chinese women supplied generously by various Chinese factions (and the British). That practice endures to this day with some in UMNO. The Tamil Chettiars and Jaffna Tamils who he approached were not subtle about the terms and conditions they demanded for giving assistance and he gradually grew apart from them.
The Tengku was courted by the Chinese and became a captive of the Chinese who were generously rewarded with banking licenses sans the scrutiny required for such licenses.
Joe Studwell documents in his book (Asian Godfathers) the way in which the Chinese used banks to advance their own causes using government and private money deposited with them in breach of banking laws. It is what underwrote much of the Chinese wealth in post colonial south east Malaysia. Malaysia is no exception to that practice.
The trade off between the Tengku (and successive UMNO leaders) and the Chinese was that the banks would serve as a source and conduit for money. Government, dirty and clean money, no questions asked by the regulator. In exchange for this the Chinese owned banks would make generous donations to UMNO, to its leaders and to keep the Barisan especially UMNO functioning. A Chinese Malaysia, a Chinese UMNO was born. UMNO and its vast resources choreographed a Chinese shadow play. It became the biggest Chinese owned bank in the region. A Chinese “piggy bank”.
BANKING LICENSES MILKING THE MALAY RESERVE
The Sultan of Brunei however was not so impressed with one such Chinese licensee doing business on similar terms in Brunei. Tan Sri Khoo Teck Phuat left Bandar Seri Bagawan just hours before he was to be arrested by the Sultan for fraud. His son David was not so lucky. David served time in a prison there inspite of a personal approach for clemency by the late Lee Kuan Yew to the Sultan.
Khoo it is known had milked the Sultan through the National Bank of Brunei using the Sultan’s (and state’s) wealth to enrich himself at the Sultan’s expense. The Sultan was tipped off by his friend a retired British army Colonel, turned banking consultant in Brunei of Khoo Teck Phuat’s perfidious conduct against Brunei and the Sultan.
Another gift to the Chinese UMNO money machine, the Genting Highlands gaming license, was a gift from the Tengku to his friend Lim Goh Tong. That license was a temporary six monthly license subject to renewal till Tun Razak and later Tun Hussein Onn (related by marriage) changed that structure and licensing arrangement to a more permanent one in exchange for equity in the Genting Group held for them in discreet family trusts.
Most construction companies in Malaysia prospered in the hands of the Chinese during the Tengku’s, Razak’s and Hussein Onn’s time. Land tenure was changed by administrative action in a number of instances to allow the Chinese to cultivate rubber and oil Palm in what would otherwise have been non transferable Malay reserve land.
There were no public announcements or tenders that preceded such decisions or grants of privilege (where they did announce such tenders, they were often to the exclusion of the public and limited to a privileged few Chinese businessmen).
The same administrative actions allowed change of use to large tracts of land in the Klang Valley, Penang, Johor and the KL region making instant multi millionaires of Chinese ‘property investors’ who purchased in advance of such administrative decisions. Some in UMNO benefited but not all of them. That is till Dr. Mahathir came along.
PATRONAGE AND DYNASTIC POLITICS- POURING OIL ON TROUBLED WATERS- THE MAHATHIR FACTOR
In order to understand the dynamics of this relationships between Chinese interests and the UMNO organization where no questions would be asked for what was being done, one has to understand the dynamics of Malay politics itself.
The Malays are almost unquestioning in their loyalty to their traditional rulers. The Tengku was one such traditional ruler. Tun Razak was the son of a traditional Orang Besar. Onn was his brother in law. But the bane of Malay ruling classes was the prickly but nonetheless highly efficient and Machiavellian Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammed who transformed not only Malaysia, but also the power structures within the Malays and especially within UMNO. This change (ore restructure or reforms) in some cases meant sidelining the traditional rulers especially those who were corrupted.
Dr. Mahathir did not come from that accepted social pedigree of Tengkus (princes) or traditional rulers. An outsider by any measure and a better player by a country mile he fought his way through deeply entrenched social and political interests that were not necessarily interested in the welfare of the Malays.
Tun Dr. Mahathir left an unsuspecting complacent upper class of entrenched ‘leaders’ behind whilst he rode off in a cloud of dust with his new vision for Malaysia leaving the old blood standing glued to their tracks. The Chinese caught off guard labelled him a thief, corrupt and a racist. Suddenly the business of politics and money became a sin for the Chinese and their Malay supporters within UMNO.
The problem for the opposition and critics of UMNO is this. None of the monied politicians during the time of Dr. Mahathir had in fact committed any breaches of the law in accumulating wealth whilst in office. This is because the laws that govern what is described as ‘corruption’ by a western definition is very weak in Malaysia and difficult to prosecute in order to secure a conviction. This is especially true where so called ‘corrupt’ transactions involve the use of nominees, trust structures, inter corporate holdings and variety of capital structures difficult to monitor or trace. The ambiguity of the law does not assist those attempting to pin the label of corruption anywhere. As a result the definition of ‘corruption’ is often reduced to simple graft and bribery and further still reduced by definition as being an offence attributed only those who take and not to those who facilitate or pay it.
The epic battles over control for Renong and United Engineers is a text book example of how business actually operates in places like Malaysia. It is best described as Wayang Kulit in the corporate sector and is not simply the work of UMNO Putera’s but more the work a highly sophisticated group of Chinese puppet masters skilled in the art of fiscal manipulation without having to get their hands dirty.
Controlling UMNO is controlling the Barisan is controlling the seat of power in Malaysia. Where a commercial opportunity arises to which an aspirant may not be entitled, the situation can quickly be reversed by administrative action as has so often been the case in Malaysia’s heady mix of politics and money.
The discovery of significant amounts of oil in Malaysia’s coastal waters and in places like Sarawak generated a stream of untold billions of dollars into treasury. That flow of wealth gave the centre and those who controlled it unbridled power to access not only wealth and to re distribute it to those who were close to them and to their causes. It also gave them the power to buy off dissent and to remain in power.
Suharto did it with his oil money. Those who were the primary beneficiaries of Suharto’s wealth were in Indonesia like in Malaysia were and remain the Chinese. Cukongs in Indonesia like the late Liem Soei Liong.
BUT WHO WILL CALL THE NEXT ROUND? WILL POLITICS CHANGE WITH A NEW GOVERNMENT?
The call to oust Najib has been heard loud and clear at many levels. The problem is that amongst those who call for his removal there is only one who claims clean hands. That one person is Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammed. Thus far no one, not even his most strident and vociferous critics like Anwar Ibrahim, his family and supporters have risen to the occasion and dared to pick up the gauntlet and challenge the man with an investigation into his ‘accumulated wealth’.
The problem with the politics of the opposition in Malaysia is that those who continue to back opposition parties and causes have no alternative agenda or policies. It is a naked fight driven by an equally naked ambition to control the wealth of a strategically located piece of real estate essential to the security of international trade and commerce.
When the time comes if it does and when Najib steps down,the belief in some is that the nature of politics in Malaysia will change. It won’t. It did not in the Philippines with the fall of Marcos, it did not in Viet Nam with the fall of Diem, Ky and Thieu, it did not in Indonesia with the fall of Suharto and it won’t if the Barisan is replaced by the Pakatan. Many rural Malays have begun to understand whats at stake in this game.
In Malaysia thanks to Tun Dr. Mahathir who caught the last ball in the last over in the final innings, Anwar Ibrahim as a surrogate of another group wanting to access Malaysian’s enormous potential and its wealth was bowled out. Well at least for the present. But its far from game over.
The wealth of material in documentary evidence about how not only the opposition and its backers have prospered but also how many others in government and the opposition also have is no secret.
As with that proverbial monkey with its hand in the coconut, many are not ready to let go. The scent of power and everything that goes with it is worth risking all for. But the Tun must also understand that Datuk Seri Najib is not his father. And silence against brutal allegations of murder and corruption is not consent. It may yet turn out to be the loudest and most effective response. Beware a blowback.