A seismic seminal event occurred a few weeks ago on the way to the forum. Zeti Akhtar Aziz former controversial governor of Malaysia’s Central Bank disclosed publicly certain facts about suspicious large financial transactions (SLFT) related to the 1MDB scandal whilst defending allegations that her family may have also been beneficiaries of that same scandal tainted money. But what about the other hundreds of millions of dollars in SLFT’s she had a duty to report but failed to?
At around the same time, the statesman prince Tenku Razaleigh Hamza a veteran of Malaysian politics, urbane, educated and highly respected, threw down the gauntlet to Malaysia’s largest political party the United Malay Nationalist Organization (now UMNO Baru) to validate their legitimacy in parliament in a challenge to the late Justice Harun’s decision to invalidate the legitimacy of the original UMNO of 1946.
Mired for decades in controversy and corruption, the UMNO Tenku Razaleigh was confronting was not the UMNO of 1946. Instead his challenge was directed to the more recently created UMNO in its place UMNO Baru. UMNO Baru is the by product of a divisive and controversial former prime minister Dr. Mahathir Mohammed. The new UMNO although appropriating to itself the same acronym by which UMNO (1946) is known is not the same as the 1946 model.
UMNO Baru has dominated Malaysian politics for decades and has become a by word for financial scandals, tribalism and for having abandoned the economically disadvantaged and rural Malays. Not for good government. UMNO Baru is also characterized by the cult of patronage, corruption and scandal, and for leading the country into turmoil and to its first defeat in over 6 decades of government at the 2018 general elections.
Decades of internal squabbling within UMNO Baru, has crippled the machinery of government so much so that the judiciary, parliament and the reserve bank (Bank Negara) have all become mired in corruption in stark contrast to their sworn obligations to upholding the constitution, transparency, independence and integrity within the law. Neither parliament, Bank Negara nor the courts observe their respective obligations or honour their commitments to the people or to the constitution today.
Although volumes have been written about the sin of corruption engulfing government, none has yet come close to identifying with any degree of specificity, the source and nature of the problem in any substantive way.
Malaysia’s courts, its parliament and the legal system are in convulsion. Gripped by a paralysis of fear and ignorance, they each have to guess what their powers, limitations and roles are in a parliamentary democracy to simply survive. And if the courts, the legal system and parliament can’t get it right, you know the country is in trouble.
Tenku Razaleigh’s courage in standing up to the issues that confronts political instability in Malaysia is like rain upon a barren desert landscape. Unexpected yet subtle, it is welcomed for the promise it brings with it. The only reason UMNO Baru and the opposition have not yet responded to his speech is that they have been taken by surprise.
Delegitimization of the old UMNO and appropriation of its assets by UMNO Baru is on any reading of Justice Harun’s decision 30 years on is not only reversable and a bad decision but a seminal legal wrongdoing as well. That decision was conceptually flawed. A review of that decision will not only open up a can of worms, it will release the bats out of hell.
What’s been described by some observers as reclaiming the “Golden Fleece” snatched from the Malays some 30 years ago perhaps, lies at the root of UMNO’s internal problems. In truth it goes much further than that.
Zeti Akhtar Aziz holds the keys to resolving the other half of the equation at the core of Malaysia’s problems stemming from financial corruption. The Bank holds vital records to many SLFT’s executed in inexplicable circumstances, benefiting certain individuals and organizations which must see the light of day for scrutiny. That obligation on Zeti and the Bank is unavoidable.
A myriad of SLFT’s that have never been previously reported by Bank Negara, which Zeti as governor ought to have known and reported remain ignored and undisclosed. Recent selective disclosures by her and the Bank appear to have been politically motivated.
The real fear that grips parliament, UMNO Baru and government from Zeti’s and Tengku Razaleigh’s separate though unintendedly convergent actions is this: that disclosures of SLSFT’s spanning decades, will reveal the extent of illegality and financial corruption on an industrial scale within government and UMNO Baru. And with such disclosures of the extent of corruption especially within UMNO Baru will bring the organization down.
Tengku Razaleigh and UMNO Baru are each acutely aware of that ticking timebomb within UMNO Baru and Bank Negara’s records since Zeti’s selective disclosure of those records relating to 1MDB.
This is Tunku Razaleigh’s nuclear option. UMNO Baru is vulnerable. The Bank Negara and in particular Zeti Akthar Azis is vulnerable to investigation on undisclosed financial transactions not only those relating to UMNO cronies, the Petronas transfers but also and more importantly those relating to funding of extremist Arab Islamist groups. The opposition can’t take any comfort in this situation as it too is vulnerable.
Tenku Razaleigh now confronts the damage done by Justice Harun’s decision to Malaysia’s majority, its Malays, in creating UMNO Baru (the refuge of the urban elite). This is a matter that’s been lying dormant at the heart and heat of an internecine decades old battle for that “Golden Fleece”, UMNO. The real UMNO and its vast asset base that is.
What can be implied from Tengku Razaleigh’s recent move is this. He has the keys to unlocking that door behind which lies a panacea for root causes of the nation’s woes. Exposing the naked truth of corruption. It is a relatively simple solution he offers to a complex web of problems. So what was it that caused Tengku Razaleigh to spit the dummy?
Fueling Tengku Razaleigh’s tour de force is that much maligned ‘elephant in the room’ Zeti’s explosive though selective disclosure of details of the 1MDB transactions which condemned DS Najib. Zeti’s disclosures of alleged financial impropriety by the former prime minister, the consequences of which she hardly expected or foresaw has exploded in her and in UMNO Baru’s hands.
Her disclosures has added to the impetus of Tengku Razaleigh’s drive to a clean-up politics and government and with it UMNO Baru and its political structure. Many of whom do not have a legal right to sit in parliament. Zeti’s disclosures on 1MDB has politicized the Bank and her role in it. The Bank and she are now bound to reveal the rest of the available evidence of years of suspicious LSFT’s from corrupt activities in the Bank’s possession. The disclosures will not rattle UMNO Baru alone. Opposition members seeking to benefit from such disclosures are themselves vulnerable.