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What the Najib case teaches us - Zaid Ibrahim

11 Dec 2021

The Court of Appeal has confirmed Najib Razak as guilty of abuse of power, corruption and money laundering charges. Although there can be instances where the law is an ass, as Charles Dickens would like us to believe, I have no intention of commenting on our judges' verdict. I have difficulty though in the part of the judgement where the donation from the Saudi royal family was considered a fabrication and not tenable. I suppose Malaysian Ministers seeking "donation" for the coming election are better off asking from a Chinese businessman or contractor; they are more believable.

Please remember that this case does not mean much despite many rejoicing and expressing happiness on social media at the verdict. It does not mean Ministers and Prime Ministers from now on will never abuse their powers. A swallow does not make a summer.

For me, this case is not only an indictment against Najib but also an indictment against our country's justice system. It is an indictment of the kind of people we are.

When Najib "instructed" his boys in SRC to pay RM42 million into his account in Ambank (as the prosecution put it), that instruction would not have been carried out if our senior civil servants working in MOF and in government-linked companies like SRC had integrity and moral rectitude. If they did, they would remind the then PM that what he asked them to do was wrong and criminal. They did nothing of that sort.

When Ashok Ramamurthy (seconded to AmBank from the ANZ Group, which is the single largest shareholder of AmBank Group) told Bank Negara about the billions being remitted into AmBank from overseas, what did then-governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz and colleagues in Bank Negara do? Nothing to suggest some illegalities were involved.

There are now reports that Zeti's family received hundreds of millions from Jho Low. Some are quick to say Zeti is not on trial, only Najib. Even if that is the case, this is not justice – someone who received RM42 million gets a jail sentence for 12 years but those who received hundreds of millions remain untouched.

When AmBank received billions of ringgit from sources outside the country, did they do anything to report the matter to the authorities? Or were the hundreds of millions they receive as fees for facilitating this fraud too much to expect them to do the right thing? Why did Bank Negara impose a paltry fine on AmBank for the so-called "non-compliances"? Did this pat on the hand induce AmBank to play ball?

Anyway, the lessons from this case for our Prime Minister and Ministers are plenty. The meaning of abuse of power under the MACC Act is broad. It catches you quickly if the right Attorney General is in office. We know from experience that the Prime Minister is all-powerful. No major decisions can be made in our country without a nod from the PM. Such power held by the PM makes it ripe for abuse.

For example, if the government decides to give Ericsson the monopoly for 5G contracts, then the PM will make such a decision. Suppose those close to the PM – his relatives, his political party, or groups of Ministers in his camp – would benefit from such award, whether directly or indirectly. If that was the case, the PM would be guilty of abuse of power and corruption. Suppose the PM appoints certain individuals to top government posts as advisers to buy their loyalty and political support; this would also be an abuse of power. The lesson is this: what happened to Najib could happen to other Ministers when the time is ripe.

Let's assume the country wants to get rid of abuse of power. If that was the case, the best thing to do is to give security of tenure to the position of Attorney General so that he is not worried about being sacked if he disobeys the dictates of the PM. The separation of the office of AG and the Public Prosecutor is key and must be done.

But I doubt this will happen. You see, we do not want to put in jail everyone who transgresses the law, only some who are not helpful or no longer useful to our political ambitions. Selective prosecution is the order of the day. This is what sickens me about the country.

If UMNO/BN feels sorry about what happens to Najib Razak, then they must for once promise to undertake complete reforms of our institutions. They must know the value of honesty and integrity of civil servants and political allies and understand that only good men and women can ensure fairness and justice for all.

But then again, if UMNO is only interested in power and if that means going to bed with those who have no integrity or loyalty, they will do just that. They talk incessantly of the unity of Ummah to attract PAS support, although the Ummah they bring along with them may put them in jail one day if they cease to serve some political purpose or other.

However, if they truly want a dominant party that cares about the country, then they must put the right values at the forefront. They must put the right kind of people at the forefront. They must change their ways. Then the conviction against Najib Razak would have meaning and offer some useful lessons for the future.


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