By Mariam Mokhtar
The tragedy of the 1MDB scandal is that people at the top react only after ordinary lives have long been severely affected. The influential in society try to show concern only when it has become obvious that the stakes are high.
Money had started haemorrhaging from the system long ago, reducing funding for government agencies. So the GST, among other things, was used to prop up the system, bleeding the ordinary citizen dry. Meanwhile, people at the top remained in power.
The CIMB Chairman, Nazir Razak, said in a fairly recent interview with Euromoney that he was upset to be dragged into the 1MDB scandal. He also said that with Malaysia’s reputation tarnished, it was difficult to represent Malaysia on the world stage.
Last March, in a written statement to the Wall Street Journal, he confirmed receiving nearly US$7 million, which he said was afterwards disbursed to Barisan Nasional politicians as campaign funds for the 13th general election. He said he thought the money was from donations from companies and individuals.
Corruption is not the only issue making it difficult to promote foreign investment in Malaysia. There are many others: poor governance, disrespect for the rule of law and for human rights, confrontations between pro-people and pro-government NGOS, racial and religious intolerance, and the declining standard of education.
And then there’s the rising crime rate. Anyone who reads the news regularly can see that there are shootings, stabbings, gang warfare and other forms of violence nearly every day.
Foreign investors want a safe place from which to operate, a place where their employees can feel secure, not a place where criminal activity can disrupt business. For example, who wants to set up shop where the risk of kidnapping is high?
There are also serious environmental issues, and these are treated lightly in Malaysia. Any foreign investor staring at the red-streaked countryside and waterways in Kuantan would be appalled by the danger lurking beneath the surface.
The power abuse, the endemic corruption, the hounding of human rights NGOs and other civic groups, as well as the crackdown on the opposition, do not provide an environment that is conducive for business.
The 1MDB scandal did not happen overnight. Our government failed to deal with nearly every corruption scandal that has occurred over the past four decades and so helped to lay a firm foundation for 1MDB.
Can we seriously say we are business friendly? Our leaders and influential men would take heed only after foreign investors have turned to our neighbours.
There is still time to salvage the nation, but who will make the first move? – FMT
Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.