Thursday, September 30, 2021

Asia's Deputy Sheriff is back

The Star:

Asean nations caught in a quandary


AUSTRALIA’S moniker of “deputy sheriff” is back in circulation again with last week’s announcement of the Aukus trilateral military alliance involving the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.

The agreement, under which the US and the UK would provide Australia the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines for the first time, was declared in a joint virtual press conference by US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian PM Scott Morrison on Sept 15.The three Anglo Saxon nations declared that the new deal is meant to protect and defend shared interests in the Indo-Pacific amid “regional security concerns which had grown significantly”.

The epithet “deputy sheriff of the US” first gained infamy 22 years ago when then Australian PM John Howard used it in an interview to describe the country’s projected role in regional peacekeeping.

In an interview with The Bulletin magazine, he defined Australia as a medium-sized, economically strong regional power, “acting in a deputy role to the US in maintaining peace”.

He also said Australia had a responsibility within its region to do things “above and beyond”, bringing into play its unique characteristics as a Western country in Asia.

The remarks led to both ridicule at home and diplomatic backlash from regional leaders who rebuked Australia for taking orders from the United States while being geographically closer to Asia. History repeats itself often, and Australia’s partnership in Aukus has brought the focus back on that lackey image.

Besides drawing indignation from China, which condemned the deal as “extremely irresponsible, narrow-minded and severely damaging regional peace”, Aukus – the abbreviation representing the initials of the three countries – has also ruffled feathers within Asean and divided the 10-member grouping.

Based on the reactions over the past few days, two camps have emerged. Malaysia and Indonesia are clearly opposed to it on the grounds that it would unsettle the region. Thailand, a traditional US ally which has a close economic relationship with China, is also of the view that the security pact would undermine stability.

On the opposite side, the Philippines has taken a totally contrary stand. It has declared support, with its foreign minister Teodoro Locsin arguing that Aukus would address the imbalance in the forces available to the Asean member states and that the enhancement of Australia’s military capacity would be beneficial in the long term.

Vietnam, which recently hosted US vice-president Kamala Harris, has not commented on the pact although its spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang offered this ambiguous response: “All countries strive for the same goal.”

Meanwhile, Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has stated that the city state is “not unduly anxious” about the new strategic alliance because of its longstanding relationship with the three countries.

The four other countries in the grouping have been largely silent on the issue.

Malaysia was swift and forthright in making its position clear. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob warned that Aukus would spark a nuclear arms race and provoke other powers to act more aggressively in the region, especially in the South China Sea.

In his phone call to Morrison, he also raised the importance of abiding by existing positions on nuclear-powered submarines operating in Malaysia’s waters, including rules under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS) and the Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty (SEANWFZ).

The questions being asked now are: How will China react to Aukus? Will it intensify the arms technology race in the region by increasing military expenditure for its navy or create more missile launch facilities, also known as underground missile silos, for the storage and launching of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)?

That is what is being predicted by the hawks in the US military establishment, who have been consistently exaggerating China’s supposed military threat.

Among the talk is that China would boost the number of missile silos to 100 over the next two decades. For the record, the US already has at least 450 such facilities.

It is no secret that China has been building up its navy although it is still a long way from matching the marine power of the United States or the United Kingdom with just two aircraft carriers and a third still under construction. In comparison, the United States has 11 aircraft carriers and the United Kingdom two, but only one has been commissioned.

The US has 72 submarines – all nuclear-powered – compared with China’s 56, out of which only six are nuclear-powered.

With the entry of this newfangled military pact, Asean nations are now caught in a quandary. The quest for a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality in South-East Asia (Zopfan) declared on Nov 27, 1971, when the world was in the midst of a Cold War between the US and its Western allies and the USSR, looks like a distant dream today.

Zopfan was mainly aimed at preventing the world’s big powers from competing for influence and military prowess in the region.

The concept was inspired by the UN’s principles of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states, abstention from threat or use of force, peaceful settlement of international disputes, equal rights and self-determination, and non-interference in the affairs of member states.

But as Dr Laura Southgate, a specialist in South-East Asian regional security and international relations, highlighted in a recent article in The Diplomat, Aukus has clearly exposed Asean’s lack of cohesion.

As she put it, driven by different threat perceptions and geo-strategic interests, it had become very difficult for Asean member nations to speak with one voice, although many states hope to maintain a balance between China and the US and its allies.

Media consultant M. Veera Pandiyan likes this observation by Niccolò Machiavelli: “Wars begin when you will, but they do not end when you please.” The views expressed here are the writer’s own

Should non-Muslims care about transgender mosque bans?

S Thayaparan

“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”

- Winston S Churchill

COMMENT | The question is much more urgent than merely the banning of transgender folk of their right of religious worship.

Not that the rights of trans people are not urgent but rather all these issues of rights are in jeopardy because of the balkanisation of dissent when it comes to collective and individual rights in this country.

This balkanisation happens because of the Muslim/Non-Muslim divide, which is a political construct, and one that has systemically encroached upon our public and private spheres for decades under successive governments including that of supposedly "moderate" Pakatan Harapan.

When this balkanisation does occur, it makes the divide and conquer strategy much more effective to totalitarian or fascist power structures.

This means that we cannot dissent as Malaysians but rather we have to sublimate egalitarian principles based on race and religion (which is not mutually exclusive in this country), which then makes systemic change impossible.

The point is not that dissent, especially when it comes to religious issues, is not favoured by the majority.

What this balkanisation does is silence the voices of the minority in the majority by denying them access to like-minded individuals, thus negating a collective diverse response to issues.

Nowhere in this more evident when then Harapan religious czar Mujahid Yusof Rawa expressed disgust that a woman’s march also included advocates for LGBTQ+ rights.

He said: "I was very shocked by the actions of some quarters today who abused democratic space to defend something that is wrong by Islam.

"As I have said before, the government is firm that LGBT practices will never be accepted in this country. It is impossible for us to acknowledge something illegal."

Former de facto Islamic affairs minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa

Mujahid, who was the de facto Islamic affairs minister, actually said that it is an abuse of our democratic space to defend something that is deemed wrong by his professed faith. Does anyone see the problem here?

This is why the balkanisation of dissent profits existing ethnoreligious power structures and you can bet your last ringgit that so-called secular political operatives were squirming because most often they wear their religious beliefs on their sleeves, which goes against the whole separation of church and state idea, which they tell their base is what would save this country.

Furthermore, what Mujahid did was narrowly define democratic spaces for all, through the narrow confines of his religious beliefs.

This idea that non-Muslims "should not touch” on Muslims issues, has been used to silence critics of unjust laws or bureaucratic diktats in the name of racial and religious solidarity.

The idea behind this is that the issues facing Muslims are separate from those facing non-Muslims and has no impact on the non-Muslim community. This of course is a complete lie. Herein lies the problem.

The question sets up an "us versus them" dialectic, of non-Muslims versus Muslims. Nobody has a right to tell anyone how to practise his or her religion, including the state whose religious laws have far-reaching consequences for all the country’s citizens.

When we object to certain practices of the state which we deem immoral or corrupt, we do so as citizens of the country. The same principle applies to certain religious practices.

We speak for those who cannot, we support those who have been unfairly targeted and who have no choice as to whether they accept or reject religious dogma as defined by the state.

'Separate but equal' policy

Across the world, in regimes that actively oppose secularism, the agenda is to separate communities either by religion or race and the means by which they do this is through legislation.

If communities cannot come together to oppose injustice or prejudice, merely because such is defined as religious imperatives, there can be no hope for change.

Now, if this “separate but equal” policy was a reality, then there would be a realpolitik argument to be made for non-Muslims not voicing their dissent about laws and rules that they consider unjust or arbitrary to their Muslim brethren. I would not make such an argument, of course.

But the reality has always been that sanctions against Muslims have always had an effect on non-Muslims.

The most cogent example of this, are the remarks of a former chief cleric of PAS who advocated that party's ministers speak up against the increase of special draws in this country.

The key is not as the cleric contends that the present government is a Malay-Muslim government but rather this: “Knowing what is halal and haram, PAS ministers must voice out (their opposition) as they are now part of the government.”

In other words, this is not about what is haram or halal for Muslims but rather what is haram and halal for everyone.

This of course means that the idea that non-Muslims do not have to be concerned about what happens to their Muslim brethren in this country is complete bunkum because, ultimately, we are all affected by the religious imperatives of the religious and political class.

Former deputy minister in the Prime Minister's Department Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki

Only in this country, can a supposedly “moderate” Muslim political operative from Amanah raise (a couple of years back) the spectre of dangerous atheist groups attempting to corrupt Malay youths and then deputy minister in the Prime Minister's Department Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki claimed:

"We need to understand in the context of Malaysia, freedom of religion stated in our Federal Constitution does not mean freedom not to have a religion.”

Now you may be wondering: does this apply to non-Muslims or only to Muslims?

And if you are an atheist, would you be sanctioned by the state because your very presence apparently affects Muslims?

Take the issue of proselytisation for example. As yet there have been no concrete examples of non-Muslims proselytising to Muslims, which would require actions of the state or the strengthening of existing laws.

Meanwhile, the state allows conversion through proselytisation, even unilateral conversions of minors.

This idea that converting in this country does not come with some state-sponsored benefits is something that is often overlooked in these conversion debates.

Nobody wants to have that conversation because to do so would invite religious groups to lodge police reports that claim you were disrespecting the Muslim faith.

This balkanisation of dissent affects us all.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy. Fīat jūstitia ruat cælum - "Let justice be done though the heavens fall"

Alleged RM25m theft in MACC 'tip of the iceberg', claim sources

Alleged RM25m theft in MACC 'tip of the iceberg', claim sources

UPDATED 3.52PM | One of the MACC officers detained in connection with the alleged theft of RM25 million is described as “problematic” but well-connected within the anti-graft commission.

This is according to sources, including a former senior officer who is familiar with the developments in MACC.

"This officer is known to be problematic,” one of them told Malaysiakini. “We have a nickname for him - 'penyamun anak emas' (blue-eyed boy bandit)."

MACC had arrested three of its officers after former Malaysian External Intelligence Organisation (MEIO) director-general Hasanah Abdul Hamid lodged a report that a large sum of cash - which the commission seized when investigating her in 2018 - had gone missing.

Malaysiakini learned that the three suspects were part of a special investigation unit that handled Hasanah's case.

Former Malaysian External Intelligence Organisation (MEIO) director-general Hasanah Abdul Hamid

The sources claimed that one of the suspects was also investigated over a separate matter prior to this incident but declined to reveal details.

According to them, the officer was "untouchable" due to his connections.

"This is only the tip of the iceberg,” said one source, adding that a police investigation into the latest case could open a can of worms.

“We heard there were other things (involving the suspect). If police investigate this case, I believe all hell will break loose,” he noted.

"This is what happens when you have 'anak emas' (blue-eyed boys) but you fail to monitor and take action (when they break the law)," said another source, who is a retired MACC officer.

"I am sad it has come to this. We worked to build MACC's image with sweat and tears, but they have smeared MACC's name,” he rued.

The former officer also echoed the criticism against MACC for failing to report the alleged theft to the police as it fell under the latter's jurisdiction.

He added that MACC's move to investigate the alleged theft on its own raised the question of a possible attempt to cover up the matter.

Malaysiakini is withholding the names of the three suspects in line with the practice of not naming an accused until the person is charged, except under special circumstances.

'Drugs, bullets and fake pistol'

MACC chief commissioner Azam Baki has yet to respond to Malaysiakini's queries regarding this allegation.

However, it is learned that Azam and Bukit Aman Criminal Investigation Department director Abd Jalil Hassan plan to call for a press conference soon to speak about the theft case.

Last Thursday, police said they had arrested one of three suspects to facilitate investigations on a separate matter under Section 12(3) of the Dangerous Drugs Act for drug possession.

The person is also being investigated under Section 8(a) which stipulates offences of being in unlawful possession of firearms or ammunition, and Section 36 of the same Act that deals with offences related to fake firearms.

According to sources, the suspect has a licence for a pistol but was allegedly found to have several hundred rounds of 9mm ammunition, which surpassed the permitted amount.

Abd Jalil said that the CID has opened two investigation papers against the suspect.

As for the missing RM25 million, he said the police will summon the three suspects and Hasanah for questioning.

Hasanah was charged in 2018 in a criminal breach of trust (CBT) case involving RM50.4 million belonging to the government.

MACC seized cash and other belongings from her in relation to the investigation. In April, she was granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal by the court.

Following this, she went to MACC to reclaim the seized cash and found RM25 million missing.

The case came to light when a blog called ‘Edisi Siasat’ published an article claiming that police were afraid to act on Hasanah's police report.

However, the police denied receiving a report on the matter.

On the same day, MACC issued a statement that the commission had detained three of its officers over the missing cash.

Kadir: ‘Exorcising the ghost’ of Seri Perdana with RM38.5 mil renovation

Kadir: ‘Exorcising the ghost’ of Seri Perdana with RM38.5 mil renovation

AT a time when generally every single citizen has to tighten his or her belt to ensure survivability, the latest Facebook posting by veteran journalist Datuk A Kadir Jasin, “Hantu raya Seri Perdana terus menggila” (loosely translated as “Seri Perdana’s great ghost goes berserk”) easily strikes a chord with Malaysians of all levels.

In his captivating post, Kadir clarified that the actual renovation cost of the Prime Minister’s (PM) official residence in Putrajaya stood at RM38.5 mil instead of RM30 mil (as per the media statement of Special Functions Minister Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad).

To re-cap, the renovation project was only approved on March 19 this year during the premiership of Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin with works commencing 10 days later on March 29.

As of Sept 29, the project was already 74% completed although the irony is that Muhyiddin is not destined to occupy the residence in view of his resignation as PM on Aug 16.

“Responding to netizen Ba Yon, without prejudice, based on the information that I received, the project’s contractor is Kumpulan Awam Bina Sdn Bhd. If indeed this is true, can we know if the project was secured via tender or direct negotiation?” asked Kadir in his FB posting.

“They preach about being concerned of the rakyat’s plight and the Malaysian Family concept. With the exorbitant RM38.5 mil renovation cost, we can rent 310,483 units of the Hardcore Poor Housing Project (PPRT) flat at a monthly rental cost of RM124 per unit.”

Netizen Yeop Antan seconded Kadir’s call for the Government to reveal the true identity of the contractor.

“Not even a year of work and the price already fetches RM38.5 mil. Moreover, it’s not like they’re starting from scratch, it’s just renovating. Starting from scratch might even cost less. How bad was the wiring? Did Rosmah’s demons bite off the wires?”

Tun Mikael felt that such a major allocation is uncalled for at this moment in time when the economic outlook is bleak and uncertain.

“Shouldn’t this be the time to be prudent and to spend carefully? Is it because the current Government is not chosen by the people, hence there is no sense of trust and accountability in their action?”

Soon Tet Leong philosophised that what has been revealed and what is still happening each day are all signs of a general failure of Malaysia as a nation. – Sept 30, 2021

Nasty back-stabbing but so typical of Scott Morrison

Guardian (Aus):

‘Someone lied’: French foreign minister accuses Australia of submarine betrayal in latest broadside

Jean-Yves Le Drian says Australia reassured France everything was fine right up to the day the Aukus pact was announced

Jean-Yves Le Drian has told a French parliamentary hearing that Australia never expressed doubts about the submarine deal before breaking the contract. Photograph: Reuters

France has accused Australia of lying shortly before Canberra cancelled a major submarine contract, with the French foreign minister declaring “someone lied”.

With no sign of any imminent easing of tensions between the two countries, Jean-Yves Le Drian told a parliamentary hearing that Australia had never expressed doubts about the €56bn (A$90bn) submarine contract or the strategic Indo-Pacific pact before breaking the contract.

“Everything I have told you is confirmed by the letter I received on 15 September from the Australian ministry of defence that said everything is OK let’s continue,” Le Drian said.

The French foreign minister said this suggested “someone lied”. He added: “Something doesn’t add up and we don’t know what.”

France cool on efforts by Australia to repair Aukus rift damage

Le Drian reiterated that French contractor Naval Group had received a letter on the same day the contract was broken saying Australia was “satisfied” with the strategic review of the submarines and was ready for the “rapid signature for the second phase of the programme”.

As a result, the decision to break the multibillion submarine contract was met with “stupor” in France, he said.

The letter in question has not been publicly released. The Guardian has contacted the Australian government for comment, but it has previously played down the letter’s significance.

Last week a spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Defence told the Guardian: “On 15 September 2021, Naval Group was advised that the formal exit of a system review had been achieved as required under the contractual arrangements in place at the time.”

The spokesperson added: “This correspondence did not refer to or authorise commencement of the next phase of the program, which remained subject to the announcement of decisions by the Australian government.”

The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, has repeatedly defended the fallout from his joining with the UK and the US for a new defence cooperation arrangement to deliver nuclear-propelled submarines.

Wee KS and Lim GE will debate cabotage policy - Hope Lim GE won't run away like his father

Heated argument in Dewan over tech giants bypassing Malaysia

Wee Ka Siong says the issue of the Apricot subsea cable bypassing Malaysia does not arise because the cabotage rule is only for repairs and not for installation. (Bernama pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: A heated argument erupted over the country’s cabotage policy in the Dewan Rakyat today over the decision by tech giants Facebook and Google to bypass Malaysia for their new Apricot subsea cable in Asia Pacific.

It started with Lim Guan Eng (PH-Bagan) asking transport minister Wee Ka Siong over media reports in August that said the technology giants are bypassing Malaysia, causing the country to lose billions in investments.

Lim said that even Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) chairman Rais Hussin Mohamed Ariff had urged the government to restore the cabotage policy or miss out on progress.

He also said there are strong industry sources indicating that three new cables originally planned to be landing in Malaysia are now under review.

“Also under review are potential data centre investments worth RM12 billion to RM15 billion in foreign investments,” he said, quoting Rais’ previous remarks.

The cabotage exemption had previously allowed foreign vessels to perform undersea repair jobs in Malaysian waters. However, in November, Wee revoked the exemption for submarine cable repair, and dismissed claims that it would affect investments.

Lim urged Wee to correct any wrong cabotage policies to attract investors.

Wee, however, said the Apricot subsea project took place after a trade war between the US and China in 2015.

“Before that, there were a lot of old cables from Hong Kong and Japan to Singapore. When the trade war took place, they wanted to use alternative routes, through the Pacific Ocean which does not go through Malaysia.

“It goes through Japan, Taipei, the Philippines and Indonesia to Singapore over about 12,000km.”

Wee also explained that Malaysia’s cabotage policy on installation has remained the same since 1980.

“The Apricot project is about installation. Repair work and installation work are two different issues,” he said, adding that for repair work, the companies will need to inform if they are coming into Malaysian sea, and will get permission in three days.

“What the chairman of MDEC said is not correct because the policy (changes) are only for repair work, not for installation,” he said.

Thus, he said, the issue of investors bypassing Malaysia does not arise.

“I am ready to debate with Guan Eng for one hour in whatever programme (over the matter),” Wee said.

Lim then stood up and said he accepted the challenge to debate.

“You said the MDEC chairman was not right. I want to ask if Rais Hussin will be sacked? Who is right?” Lim said.

Wee replied that it was not about sacking anyone. “This is about being professional.”

The Hifalutin Kerbau of Anglo-Saxon nations and their bloody hands of the past

by Lim Teck Ghee

COMMENT | Tucked away in the inner pages of the mainstream western media covering the furore over the Australia-UK-US (Aukus) trilateral nuclear submarine deal recently was a report on the response from Indonesia.

Among Asean countries, Indonesia had been the quickest to respond, with its Foreign Ministry noting that “Indonesia is deeply concerned over the continuing arms race and power projection in the region”.

This concern is with good reason. Geographically and strategically, the country is the quintessential Indo-Pacific country.

With a population of 270 million scattered over 17,000 islands straddling the Indian and Pacific Oceans and the South China Sea, it has the most to worry about and lose from any change to the military and security status quo, in particular, any brought about by foreign nations that have little or no legitimate place in the region.

It is not only the timing and manner of the announcement which treated Malaysia, Indonesia and the other countries in the Indo-Pacific as an afterthought to be informed very late in the day - after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement to his country folk and the rest of the world regarding the procurement of nuclear submarines that has caused discomfort and alarm.

It is also the establishment of a new Anglo-centric military pact in the region with the clear intention to encircle, contain and weaken China. The dangers from this new phase of an ideological cold war that also has strong racial undertones are both in the intended and unintended consequences.

Indonesian concerns

Muhadi Sugiono, a campaigner for the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), expressed it clearly:

“Although the Australian government insists that the submarine is not nuclear-armed, this decision has clearly sent the wrong message at the wrong time. The possession of these nuclear submarines and the presence of a military nuclear reactor being built in Adelaide indicate the increasing nuclearisation of Australian military forces and the potential for nuclear weapons proliferation in Australia.”

Another Indonesian opinion leader, Mutti Anggita, lead analyst at the Laboratorium 2045 think tank, has pointed to other ripple effects:

“The presence of nuclear submarines in Australia puts Australia, its neighbours and the Asia-Pacific region at risk of becoming a nuclear accident site, whose impact can be as devastating as the impact of a nuclear weapon explosion.”

She omitted to mention that any explosion by accident or design in the seas or lands of our region, set off by or associated with prowling submarines, will kill off life for many generations to come.

West's record on peace and security in the Asia Pacific

There is another important reason why Southeast Asians should beware of the sales talk by Western big brothers promising peace whilst adding substantially to the risk of a war that can end everything.

Those of us with longer memories will never forget how our three Western nations ‘eternal’ friends, together with France and other Western colonial powers as well as Japan with its heinous past, have imposed themselves in this part of the world.

Indonesians, in particular, will recall the role that the three countries of Aukus played in the political disturbance and tragedy of the Sept 30, 1965, coup which led to the blackest period in Indonesian history.

Estimates of the innocent people who died range from a figure of 500,000 to one million arrived at by independent experts, with higher estimates of as many as two million casualties. In addition, 600,000 to 750,000 people were imprisoned in the aftermath for periods of between one and 30 years.

Roles of US, UK and Australia in Sept 30 genocide

The three nations of Aukus set up today to ‘maintain peace and security’ in our region were identified as playing a key role in fomenting and abetting the mass killings in Indonesia.

According to the International People's Tribunal on 1965 Crimes Against Humanity in Indonesia held in November 2015 and presided over by seven international judges, the massacres "intended to annihilate a section of the population and could be categorised as genocide”.

Chief Judge Zak Yacoob stated that "the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Australia were all complicit to differing degrees in the commission of these crimes against humanity".

Although Australia's foreign affairs ministry rejected the tribunal's conclusion and denied that the country was in any way complicit in the killings, independent studies, including from Australia, have shown that the Australian Government played a larger role than is commonly known or acknowledged.

Performative politics and demonising strategies

Today, as the Aukus nations preach their performative support for peace, freedom and human rights in the Indo-Pacific region, they have a long history of falsehoods, lies and bloodied hands to account for; as well as the true intentions of the new military pact to divulge.

In opening remarks to a conference to mark the 50th anniversary of Sept 30 held at the Australian National University in 2016, Gareth Evans, professor emeritus of the International Crisis Group, the Brussels-based independent global conflict prevention and resolution organisation, described the September coup as “a case study in the politics of mass murder – what you can get away with when you characterise and demonise opponents in a particular way, achieving ends which are conceivably defensible by means which are morally atrocious”.

These words should not only serve as a reminder to Indo-Pacific countries to oppose any attempt to be drawn into an ideological war that draws upon racist and fear-mongering sentiments.

We in Asean should also reject being used as proxies by the West’s political leaders seeking to make use of our region in the imposition of their own hegemonic designs and opportunistic version of rights, wrongs and rules.

LIM TECK GHEE is the author of Challenging Malaysia’s Status Quo

Former minister calls for MM2H to be reinstated under Tourism Ministry

Former minister calls for MM2H to be reinstated under Tourism Ministry

PARLIAMENT | Backbencher Nazri Abdul Aziz (BN-Padang Rengas) has called for the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme to be reinstated under the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, and Culture (Motac).

The programme was recently placed under the Home Ministry.

He also expressed objections to the ministry’s move to subject both new and existing MM2H holders to a host of new eligibility terms.

Debating the 12th Malaysian Plan (12MP) today, the former tourism minister said the new arrangement will frustrate the programme.

“I have been made to understand that in the past when Motac had to get immigration approval for applications, (sometimes) immigration would end up rejecting them for no reason.

“If MM2H was placed under the immigration department, I think more applications will be rejected by immigration,” he said.

Nazri (above) contended that MM2H was more suited for Motac as the programme was aimed at attracting foreign retirees to retire and invest in Malaysia.

He opined that MM2H participants were not “security threats” and thus did not need such close scrutiny by the Home Ministry.

He was further concerned that making existing MM2H participants comply with new rules would lead to an exodus, negatively affecting the domestic economy.

“We should invite them and make it easy for them. They contribute RM4 billion to the country per year.

“If the existing (MM2H) holders are not satisfied with the new rules and decide to sell their assets and cash out their deposits, we will lose RM48 billion which they will bring to other countries,” he cautioned.

According to the Home Ministry, there are presently 57,478 MM2H visa holders plus dependents.

“I urge the government to return the MM2H programme under Motac where the Home Ministry will be able to reject applications if there is evidence that they are a threat to us,” Nazri proposed.

Nazri is the latest high-profile individual to speak out against the MM2H revamp.

Hannah Yeoh (DAP-Segambut), the Johor state government, and Johor ruler Sultan Ibrahim Sultan İskandar previously urged for the new rules to be reconsidered.

Last month, the Home Ministry announced significant changes to the MM2H programme effective from October 2021.

To qualify for the programme, the minimum monthly income was raised from RM10,000 to RM40,000. The minimum fixed deposit was raised from RM150,000 to RM1 million.

Previously at RM350,000, the minimum liquidity requirement was changed to RM1.5 million.

Processing fees per applicant was changed to RM5,000 per applicant and RM2,500 per dependent. No such fees were charged previously.

Yearly visa fees, meanwhile, was raised from RM90 to RM500. The duration of an MM2H visa was slashed from 10 years to five years.

At the time, Home Ministry secretary-general Wan Ahmad Dahlan Abdul Aziz explained the revamp was to target “quality participants” and mitigate local “concerns” about foreign citizens.

Since coming under fire over MM2H, Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin has defended the new rules saying they were based on a study by global professional services firm KPMG.

Biden blamed Australia for sneaky cancellation of contract with French

The New Daily:

Paul Bongiorno: The government has much to learn from George Washington’s cherry tree

Prime Minister Scott Morrison must confront some major home truths in the weeks and months ahead. Photo: TND

One of the enduring cultural myths of the United States is the honesty of its most famous founder George Washington as a six-year-old boy.

Young George chopped down his father’s cherry tree with the birthday gift hatchet he had received and when confronted by the angry parent fessed up.

“I cannot tell a lie … I did cut it with my hatchet,” he said and so the fable goes “his father rejoiced that his son’s honesty was worth more than a thousand trees”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has just returned from his trip to the nation that takes its capital’s name from the truthful boy and while there confronted some home truths on why honesty is the best policy.

The blowback from the jilted French over the abandoned $90 billion submarine deal was fierce and unresolved, leaving Australia with the reputation as an untrustworthy and devious partner.

The French President Emmanuel Macron refuses point blank to talk to the PM and all the signs are France has neither forgiven nor forgotten, which could have severe consequences for Australia.US President Joe Biden has shifted the submarines blame to Mr Morrison and Australia. Photo: AFP/Getty

To add insult to injury while in the US Mr Macron – after leaving the US President hanging – finally took Joe Biden’s call, only to have the American none too subtly blame Australia for the sneaky way the contract ended.

Explanations for Australia’s double dealing would have us believe that had the protracted negotiations with Britain and America leaked, the French would have torpedoed them.


It was always going to be a brutal result for the French, but would the American assessment of the worth of further enmeshing Australia in its containment of China really have changed?

At least we would have emerged as an honest broker with our reputation better intact.

The news that Mr Morrison may now not attend the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November – dropped to a reporter from The West Australian high over the Pacific on his return home, is intriguing.

That conference has 100 world leaders signed up including presidents Macron and Biden. What sort of message will the absence of the born-again climate warrior from Australia send?

The Prime Minister’s office says he has not decided if he will attend the G20 meeting in Rome in late October that is designed as a prelude to Glasgow.

One theory is, despite his denials Mr Morrison is planning on a late November or early December election.

Another more compelling theory is that the calculating Mr Morrison won’t want to be caught out with an emissions reduction target and plan that simply won’t pass muster.

Neither Mr Macron, who will be the most senior European at the conference, nor even the host Britain’s Boris Johnson will be as ready as US Congressional leader Nancy Pelosi to dub Australia as world leading.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson denied Mr Morrison a speaking spot at a climate summit.

Unlike Ms Pelosi’s staff, these more militant climate leaders won’t be scanning Mr Morrison’s Facebook page for assessments of his record in this area.

Mr Biden’s special envoy for climate, John Kerry, has already called for more ambition from Australia as has Mr Johnson, who embarrassed Mr Morrison by denying him a speaking spot at last year’s climate summit for his lack of commitment to stronger targets.

Director of the climate and energy program at The Australia Institute, Richie Merzian, says Australia’s emissions when you remove contentious land use measurement “have gone up, not down unlike the UK, the US and the EU”.

The fact is net zero in three decades time means nothing without a legislated stepped road map to get there.

The government’s own experts recommended to then prime minister Tony Abbott a 45 per cent emissions reduction target was needed for 2030.

The “technology without taxes” slogan is fine, providing the technology exists and is delivering, something carbon capture and storage and gas technologies are not doing.

Labor’s Anthony Albanese is not far off the mark when he describes the Coalition Nationals as a roadblock in the process.

It is not at all clear that the Nationals Party room would all fall in with any net-zero plan Barnaby Joyce could be persuaded to adopt.

The Prime Minister may well have to avoid the ultimate confrontation in the Parliament by unveiling a plan and promising to deliver it if he wins the election.

Does he have enough credibility with the electorate to make it work? I hardly think so.

There is precedent for the Coalition reverting to type after an election.

John Howard promised an emissions trading scheme in 2007. When he lost, the Liberals and Nationals then defeated the one proposed by the Rudd Labor government.

Truth has a habit of coming out in the end.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics

Boss of 3rd-Classers

Santhara picked as first chief of Bersatu’s associate wing

Segamat MP Edmund Santhara Kumar was the first non-Bumiputera elected representative to join Bersatu in 2020.

PETALING JAYA: Bersatu’s Supreme Council has unanimously agreed to appoint Segamat MP Edmund Santhara Kumar as the first chief of the party’s associate wing.

Santhara, the deputy tourism, arts and culture minister, became the first non-Bumiputera MP to join Bersatu in August 2020.

“The Bersatu Supreme Council congratulates him on his appointment and believes that it will be able to attract the participation of more associate members and further increase the rakyat’s support for Bersatu,” said party secretary-general Hamzah Zainudin in a statement.

Hamzah said the decision was reached at yesterday’s Bersatu Supreme Council meeting.

Rights groups worry M'sia will use Interpol to get S'wak Report editor - Crime? Not reporting on Sarawak

Rights groups worry M'sia will use Interpol to get S'wak Report editor

A group of international rights organisations has written to Interpol over concerns that Malaysia will again attempt to use the red notice mechanism to secure the arrest of Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle Brown.

In a letter dated Sept 28 and addressed to Interpol secretary-general Jürgen Stock, they pointed out that Malaysia had in 2015 similarly sought a red notice against Rewcastle Brown on charges of "activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy".

This was over the British journalist's role in exposing the 1MDB scandal involving then prime minister Najib Abdul Razak, who is now standing trial, on her Sarawak Report portal.

"We have recently been contacted by Rewcastle Brown (above), who informed us that as of Sept 23, she is subject to a new arrest warrant in Malaysia.

"According to media reports, she is being sought to face criminal defamation charges brought by the wife of the Sultan of Terengganu regarding statements made about her in Rewcastle Brown’s 2018 book about the 1MDB scandal.

"We have serious concerns that the Malaysian national central bureau (NCB) has attempted or is in the process of attempting to use Interpol systems once again to seek her arrest," they said in the letter.

Violation of Interpol rules

The letter was signed by Fair Trials legal director (UK and International) Bruno Min, Index on Censorship policy and campaign manager Jessica Ní Mhainín and Article 19 Europe and Central Asia head Sarah Clarke.

They said any extradition request against Rewcastle Brown would be in violation of Interpol rules.

"These accusations, like the ones she faced in 2015, are based solely on Rewcastle Brown’s activities as a journalist and a writer, and any attempt to use Interpol to curb the freedom of the media and harass members of the press should be viewed as a matter of grave concern," they added.

They asked Interpol to clarify if any such requests have been made by Malaysia.

Sultanah Nur Zahirah

Interpol does not normally reveal red notice applications, but in 2015, it took the unusual step to clarify that Malaysia had sought a red notice against Rewcastle Brown but was rejected.

"Given the high level of public interest in Rewcastle Brown’s case, and the previous history of the Malaysian NCB’s attempt to use Interpol to seek her arrest, we strongly believe that it would be Interpol's interests to respond to our letter publicly," they said.

In a statement, 14 international rights groups also called on Interpol to clarify its role in the attempt to arrest Rewcastle Brown.

"If a red notice has been issued, Rewcastle Brown could be arrested when she travels to Spain later this week to visit an elderly relative who needs her support.

"There is also a risk that she could be held in detention and face extradition to Malaysia," they said.

The statement was issued by Article 19, Blueprint for Free Speech, The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, English PEN, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, Fair Trials, IFEX, Index on Censorship, International Press Institute (IPI), Justice for Journalists Foundation, OBC Transeuropa, PEN International, Reporters Without Borders, and South East Europe Media Organisation.

"This latest act of legal intimidation by the Malaysian authorities against Rewcastle Brown is part of a pattern of serious judicial harassment against the journalist as a direct reprisal for her work in exposing massive corruption.

"Interpol must recognise this as a vexatious act of intimidation and ensure they are not complicit in the abuse of their system," said Article 19's Clarke.

'I could be thrown in jail'

Rewcastle Brown, who also provided comments for the statement, called the criminal defamation charge against her abuse of due process.

She noted that the criminal complaint was brought in 2018 but no charges were ever filed until recently.

She noted this coincided with Umno, Najib's party, regaining the prime ministerial position.

"I am concerned that the same actors who tried to abuse Interpol by having me arrested as a terrorist in 2015 will, having returned to power, attempt to file another Interpol red notice alert with the aim of having me detained anywhere in the world...

"I could be thrown into jail at a border by officials who have no idea about the background to this case or the spurious nature of these charges and then face months of legal action fighting extradition charges to get back to Britain," she said.

On Sept 23, Rewcastle Brown was charged in absentia in a Magistrate's Court in Kuala Terengganu under Section 500 of the Penal Code for criminal defamation which provides a punishment of up to two years imprisonment or a fine or both.

This is over her book 'The Sarawak Report - The inside story of 1MDB' which mentioned the Terengganu sultanah.

Previously, Sultanah Nur Zahirah had also initiated defamation proceedings in the civil courts against Rewcastle Brown.

Sultanah Nur Zahirah who filed the suit on Nov 21, 2018, alleged Rewcastle Brown's 438-page book inferred that she was involved in corrupt practice and had interfered in Terengganu’s administration.

Rewcastle Brown had argued that there was no imputation that the sultanah had committed graft or that she had influenced the Terengganu government.

She said the only suggestion was that businessperson Low Taek Jho had used his ties with the Terengganu royal family to obtain an advisory role at the Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA), the predecessor of 1MDB.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Australia tore up French submarine contract ‘for convenience’ Naval Group says

Guardian (Aus Ed):

Australia tore up French submarine contract ‘for convenience’ Naval Group says

Shipbuilding company maintains it ‘did not fail in its commitment’ to the $90bn project, as Franco-Australian relations remain strained over ‘stab in the back’

An artist's impression of Naval Group’s Shortfin Barracuda submarine, which was to become the Royal Australian Navy’s Attack-class. Photograph: DCNS/AAP

Australia scrapped the $90bn submarine deal with France “for convenience”, the contractor Naval Group says, adding it “did not fail in its commitment” to the project.

The announcement that Australia was ditching the contract in favour of United States or United Kingdom nuclear-powered submarines as part of the Aukus pact has caused fury in France, which has described it as a “stab in the back”.

“The Australian authorities have terminated the contract for convenience thus acknowledging that Naval Group did not fail in its commitment,” the statement from Naval Group’s Paris headquarters said.

“The consequences of the termination of the contract for convenience are addressed in the strategic partnership agreement (SPA) signed in 2019.”

The nuclear option: why has Australia ditched the French submarine plan for the Aukus pact?

The comments come as a French official said Australia had made a fresh approach several days ago for a call between Scott Morrison and French president Emmanuel Macron. While France would “prepare seriously” for such a phone call, its position is that it will have to be a conversation of substance.

Since the SPA between Australia and Naval Group was negotiated there have been accusations of cost and schedule overruns.

The SPA is secret, but an auditor general’s report has revealed it contains “off ramps”, or “exit gates” – points at which Australia could withdraw from the contract in the event of poor performance. What is not clear is what happens if that withdrawal is because of a preference for a different deal instead of a failure by Naval Group to deliver specific outcomes.

Early on the morning of 16 September Australia time, Morrison, in a joint virtual address with US president Joe Biden and UK prime minister Boris Johnson, announced the switch to nuclear-powered submarines.

Defence minister Peter Dutton has said Naval Group’s Attack-class submarines were no longer suited to the nation’s operational needs, and that the government had been “upfront, open and honest” with France about its decision.

Last week Herve Grandjean, the French Ministry of Defence spokesperson, said Naval Group received an official letter from the Australian navy saying it was “extremely satisfied that performance of the French submarine was excellent” on the same day the cancellation announcement was made.

Macron has apparently snubbed Morrison’s attempts to make contact in the wake of the Aukus announcement. The French ambassador to Australia was recalled to Paris and is yet to return.

Under the SPA, Australia will pay a “break fee” to Naval Group, but company is also planning to seek further compensation.

“We have begun to analyse the financial and contractual consequences of this Australian sovereign decision for Naval Group,” the statement said.

“We are discussing this with the Australian authorities in a constructive mindset but it is too early at this stage to give any estimation [of costs].”

France beat Germany and Japan to win the submarine contract with a diesel-electric version of its existing nuclear submarine, the Barracuda. France has been open to the idea of converting back to nuclear power, and Dutton says that option was considered then dismissed in favour of a submarine developed under the Aukus aegis.

On Wednesday, the Nine newspapers reported that Malcolm Turnbull, who was prime minister when the contract with France was inked, said the current government should have considered the French nuclear option. It has “safety and non-proliferation advantages” over the UK and UK options, as the uranium used has a lower level of enrichment, he said.

Paying The Price For Incompetence – The RM14 Billion Reason Singapore Isn’t As Desperate As Johor To Reopen Its Border

Paying The Price For Incompetence – The RM14 Billion Reason Singapore Isn’t As Desperate As Johor To Reopen Its Border

More than 500,000 people travel across the Johor-Singapore Causeway every day, making it one of the busiest overland border crossings in the region. An average 300,000 Malaysian crossed the border daily to work in Singapore, lured by a favourable exchange rate. At today’s currency rate, it’s like earning Australian dollar (or US dollar in 2013).

On weekdays, the commute from Johor Bahru across the 1 km-long Causeway bridge takes about 1 to 2 hours. On weekends and public holidays, the same journey could be a nightmare. Still, Malaysians willingly wake up before dawn to beat the rush-hour jam, and wait in traffic. About 145,000 vehicles pass through Johor Bahru’s Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) complex daily.

Some even crossed the bridge on foot, and it was normal to see pedestrians making a mad dash across the road with motorcycles and cars whizzing past. They had no choice as the jam was extremely bad, partly because customs officers would turn up late and not opened counters on time. Most have seen how officers were busy playing with their phones on duty, holding up the immigration queue.

That was before the Coronavirus. The border, or the gateway for Malaysians to earn triple what they could earn in their homeland, has been closed since March 18, 2020. Four days ago (Sept 24), National Recovery Council chairman Muhyiddin Yassin said both countries were discussing to recognize each other’s Covid-19 vaccination certificate to facilitate border crossings.

Muhyiddin claimed his counterpart Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has agreed in principle about the recognition. But PM Lee was just dragging his feet and has no intention to “fully” recognize Malaysia’s Covid vaccination. Muhyiddin should stop hallucinating that he could score some brownie points in fixing one of the biggest economic and unemployment problems that he created.

Back in April, Muhyiddin, who was still the prime minister, had planned to personally visit Singapore to discuss the prospect of reopening the border. Equally eager and desperate to reopen the Johor-Singapore Causeway was the Johor state government, who wished that it could be done in June. But even after Muhyiddin had resigned, the discussion process is still ongoing.

In fact, as early as June 2020, both governments talked about cross-border travel through a Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) and a Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA) to address the needs of different groups of cross-border travellers. Heck, the clueless Muhyiddin had even hinted that his government was considering opening Malaysia to international tourism by the end of August last year.

In his speech at the 36th ASEAN Summit in June 2020, then-PM Muhyiddin desperately called on fellow countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for “travel bubbles” to counter the economic slump caused by Covid-19. Hilariously, Singapore has opened travel bubbles last month to residents from Hong Kong, Macao, Germany and even Brunei – but not to Malaysia.

If Muhyiddin still did not get the message behind Singapore’s travel bubble that deliberately excluded Malaysia, then he is stupider than he looks. Do you think PM Lee gives a hoot about what Muhyiddin says now that he is no longer a premier, when the Singapore leader did not even respect or trust what Muhyiddin said when he was still a prime minister?

Some politicians and so-called local professors made some silly comments that the cross-border travel should resume as soon as possible because Singapore needs Malaysian workers. Exactly what do you think Singapore has been doing for the last 18 months since the border was closed on March 18, 2020? Do you see their economy crumbles due to lack of Malaysian workers?

In reality, Malaysia, especially Johor, needs Singapore investments more than the island needs Malaysian workers. Singaporeans are big spenders, thanks to their purchasing power as a result of the stronger Singapore dollar (or the super weak Malaysian Ringgit), and among the biggest group of tourists visiting many states in Malaysia, helping to grow the tourism sector.

If you have relatives or friends currently working in Singapore, just ask them whether the government there is desperate for Malaysian workers. On the contrary, the Singapore government could not be happier for the last 18 months that the border is closed. The country actually enjoys a booming economy due to economic overflow as a result of the border closure.

Yes, the local economy, including petrol stations was doing a roaring business as residents could not cross over to Johor and other Malaysian states to spend. Singaporeans, who used to exchange dollar for Ringgit before splashing their cash on groceries in Johor, are forced to spend their money locally. The business has been so good that supermarket employees received up to 16 months’ bonus.

Sheng Siong, for example, saw its net profit for its nine months ended Sept 30, 2020 jumped 83.3% to S$107 million from a year ago. In recognition of the company’s extremely good performance, the supermarket gave away 4.68 months’ bonus for part-time staff, 8.36 months’ bonus for general staff, while assistant managers and above received up to 15.72 months’ bonus.

But locking Singaporeans was just part of the story. While the Johor state government said more than 100,000 Malaysians are still in Singapore since the closure of the border, Malaysian Workers Association of Singapore (Pemas) president S. Dayalan said the number is higher – 215,000 Malaysians. They refused to return home to Malaysia for fear of losing the jobs that “pay triple”.

And because they can’t or refuse to return to Malaysia, they have to spend in Singapore. Based on the assumption each worker spends S$1,500 a month, an estimated RM14 billion would be spent in a year by the Malaysian workers there. So, instead of Singaporeans boosting Johor economy, it was Malaysian workers who have helped stimulate the economy of Singapore.

Clearly, there is no compelling reason for Singapore to reopen the border and kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. Thanks to Covid-19, Malaysian workers cannot benefit from earning Singapore dollar, but spend in Malaysia Ringgit. For the first time in decades, the Singapore dollar outflow to neighbouring Malaysia has been stopped significantly.

But can you blame the Singapore government when it was the clueless and incompetent Malaysia government that has mishandled the pandemic? To cling to power, the power-hungry Muhyiddin had used every trick, including a State of Emergency and even allowed the virus to escalate. Earning Singapore dollar aside, Malaysians prefer to stay there because of the never-ending Covid cases and deaths.

When Singapore showed as early as April 2020 that migrant workers living in dormitories had to be screened and quarantined, Malaysia Health Director-General Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said – “We are learning from Singapore, our migrant workers, we are embarking on a big scale screening of our migrant workers”. But it has remained as empty promises and rhetoric.

The Sabah state election, which became the epicentre of the “Third Wave” Covid-19 since September 2020 due to Muhyiddin’s lust for power, never actually ended even till today. Under the leadership of Muhyiddin and his deputy-turn-premier Ismail Sabri, Malaysia has successfully accumulated over 2.2 million Coronavirus cases and close to 26,000 deaths.

While the government, particularly Muhyiddin, has issued chest-thumping declaration that the country has the highest daily inoculation in the world, Johor is still seventh from the bottom for vaccinations in the country. Only 56.3% of people in Johor are fully vaccinated. Even then, Johor Sultan Ibrahim had to complain until foaming at the mouth before vaccination in the state improves.

The exorbitant cost of quarantine – roughly S$3,000 (RM9,300) – on both sides of the border under the Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA) also discourages many Malaysians from returning. The endless policy flip-flops and SOP u-turns practised by the Malaysian government have instilled fear and doubt that once they come back, there’s no guarantee they could return to work in Singapore.

Johor’s economy shrank by 4.6% last year instead of the forecast for 5.2% to 5.5% growth. It means the state has lost close to 10% of the economic pie under the brilliant Muhyiddin leadership. Without the Singapore tourism dollars, the state’s ailing retail and tourism sectors saw many of the 500 hotels shuttered. Dozens of malls and hundreds, if not thousands, of shop lots have closed down.

The 18-month lockdown and border shutdown have badly affected the business owners in Johor, especially Johor Bahru, the district that accounts for half of the state’s 153 business complexes and 44% of 90,000 shop lots. In addition, 90% of small-and-medium-businesses (SMEs) are stagnant because of the repeated lockdowns and border closure.

According to ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, a Singaporean statutory board and research institution, the Covid-19 period is the “worst in Johor since the 1987 financial crisis”. Singapore does not need to think too hard how to reject Malaysia’s Covid-19 vaccination certificates. The empty syringe scandal and fake vaccination certificates are some excuses to continue shut down the border.

Singapore also knew about the exploitation or manipulation of Covid-19 data in Malaysia. The newly appointed Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has admitted that the Covid death rate was due to backlogs in data collection. It means neither data on daily infections, nor death toll was accurate all this while, but has been manipulated to serve the political agenda of Muhyiddin (and probably Ismail Sabri).

The two main vaccines used in Singapore are developed by Pfizer-BioNtech or Moderna. It can question the quality of Sinovac vaccine, which, instead of direct import from China, has instead been awarded to Pharmaniaga – a crony company of UMNO – to do relabelling and rebottling for the sole purpose of profiteering. Indeed, Singapore has a truckload of reasons to not reopen the Johor-Singapore Causeway.

Like it or not, Malaysia is at the mercy of Singapore. There’s nothing turtle-egg PM Ismail Sabri or power-hungry Muhyiddin Yassin can do if PM Lee Hsien Loong decides against reopening the border. Singapore will most likely use its neighbour’s desperation to extract some lucrative concessions before even considering recognizing partial of Malaysian Covid vaccination certificat