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Morally repugnant to honour Najib

27 March 2022

Not content with all the negative publicity over an earlier invitation to former prime minister Najib Tun Razak to deliver a keynote address at an economic forum in Kuala Lumpur last December, the same organizers have done it again, this time in Penang.

Najib – a convicted felon, whom the trial judge called a “national embarrassment” when he found him guilty on seven counts of criminal breach of trust, abuse of power and money laundering, and sentenced him to 72 years in prison – was invited to deliver the keynote address at the grandiosely named 2nd Penang International Business and Investment Summit.

The organizers, who clearly have their own agenda, justified their invitation to Najib with a number of disingenuous arguments. They insisted that the invitation should be viewed from an economic rather than a political perspective. Najib, they said, is an economics graduate, a leader with expertise and vision. They opined that the issue of whether Najib was liked or disliked was subjective and, since the Chinese community found a way to work with Tun Dr Mahathir despite him being a “hated” figure, there was no reason they could not work with Najib.

No amount of self-serving arguments, however, can obscure the fact Najib is a convicted felon; inviting him was morally indefensible, terribly ill-conceived and in extremely poor taste. Najib’s academic qualifications are completely irrelevant; he is a convicted felon. It matters not if he has wisdom, experience or vision; he’s still a crook who abused his office for personal gain. He may have ushered in an era of prosperity and stability but there’s no escaping the fact that he betrayed the trust of the people and abused his office.

And it has nothing to do with liking or disliking him; it has everything to do with his criminal conviction. The analogy the organizers drew with Mahathir is also a false one. Mahathir may be disliked but he was not found guilty and convicted of serious crimes, and therein lies the difference between the two men.

If the organizers cannot or will not see how morally wrong it is to honour, even celebrate a convicted felon whose actions have done so much harm to the nation, then they simply do not understand what so many Malaysians are fighting for – a better nation where integrity in public office matters, where good governance is valued, where politicians respect the law and are subject to it.

Shockingly, the organizers even justified the invitation on the grounds that Chinese businessmen had prospered under Najib’s rule. Are they saying that the Chinese business community values profit over principle, dishonesty over integrity, corruption over good governance? Isn’t this exactly the kind of shibboleth that Chinese businessmen and political leaders have long endeavoured to dispel?

The short, sharp rejoinder from the Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce, which represents more than 10,000 members, set the record straight: Business people always emphasise that leaders should have integrity and are free of corruption… Najib had committed a crime… we would not have invited him to come.”

The organizers insisted that Najib’s participation should not be politicised; clearly, they forgot to tell Najib that. His attendance at the conference, and indeed his whole visit to Penang, was pure political theatre from start to finish. It was another one of those carefully choregraphed events put on by Najib’s team designed to make Najib look great. It exploited divisions within the Penang Chinese business community to make it look like the Chinese community in Penang is ready to welcome UMNO-BN back. Of course, it was all hype designed to cement his position within UMNO as the indispensable leader more than anything else.

The whole visit to Penang was a charade, an affront to the rule of law and an insult to the people of Malaysia who will have to pay dearly for the billions that were misappropriated. In the end, the whole affair reflects as badly on the organizers and on those who participated in the event as on that convicted felon who prances about without shame or honour.

Dennis Ignatius

Former Malaysian Ambassador

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