Thursday, March 30, 2006

Mahathir's US lobbyist to be sentenced for fraud

US lobbyist Jack Abramoff, with close links to the US Republican Party, is about to be sentenced for fraud charges. He cheated native Americans, conning them of millions with a vague promise to set up casinos for their business benefit. Additionally, he is under a dark cloud for tax evasion, defrauding his clients and conspiring to bribe public officials. A federal inquiry into his activities wants to know more about his dealings with 20 politicians in Congress.

I wonder whether the US inquiry would raise the matter of him being paid by the Malaysian government to set up a meeting for Dr Mahathir with President George Bush. In the Malaysian parliament, Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang grilled Syed Hamid, our Foreign Minister, on the payment made to Abramoff. The Minister shifted into high gear to avoid answering Lim’s probing queries.

In Malaysia, yes, ministers can simply get away with such evasive manoeuvres to answer opposition queries or even make either racist, sexist or plain stupid remarks. In the West, for example Australia, the ministers might to choose to do that in defiance of parliamentary convention and accountability, but you can bet that when they're outside parliament, the press would toast them until they were barbequed. Very few though, and then only those belonging to the ultra fringe groups, dare to be so politically reckless.

In all fairness, lobbying is not illegal in the USA. The fact that Abramoff has been found guilty of fraud charges does not in any way implicate Dr Mahathir’s use of the lobbyist. Abramoff’s fraud charges and his political lobbying for Dr Mahathir weren’t related. The question is whether the fees paid to Abramoff had been worth the results?

Many years ago Malaysia had to engage a product lobbyist when America’s soya bean producers were badmouthing our palm oil. Some adverts depicting palm oil as bad were hitting below the belt of commercial decency, and worse, denying the real fact that palm oil is superior in many departments to soya bean oil.

One ad showed a fat pot-bellied moustached unshaven greasy sweaty badly dressed swarthy man (South American variety) smoking a disgusting cheroot while sitting in a cane chair next to a 44-gallon drum marked ‘palm oil’. The accompanying and contrasting photo showed a smart lean handsome and well dressed all-American boy with gleaming white teeth flashing a fulsome smile [a Tom Cruise-like personality] standing smartly at attention besides a cute package labelled ‘US soya oil’.

In America, lobbying is vital to being heard in Congress – it’s the American capitalist way, basically a legal means of ‘bribing’ your way to the ears of the lawmakers or President. If one wants to make a headway, politically or commercially, one has to engage a professional lobbyist, unless of course one is a partner in the Coalition of the Killing or a Head of State of a country with the world’s biggest, largest whatever oil reserves, or the Israeli PM.

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