Najib’s Nixon Moment
M. Bakri Musa
The Special Task Force and Parliamentary Committee investigating 1MDB (Najib Administration’s business entity) are missing the crux of the matter. They are distracted by and consumed with extraneous and irrelevant issues, either through incompetence or on purpose, as being directed to do so.
The consequence is that what was initially a problem of corporate cash-flow squeeze has now degenerated into a full-blown scandal engulfing not only Najib’s leadership but also the national governance. The only redeeming feature is that for once a national crisis does not parallel the country’s volatile racial divide, despite attempts by many to make it so.
Torrent of ink has been expended on that tattooed Swiss national now in a Thai jail, the suspension of The Edge, the threatened lawsuit against the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), and the blocking of the Sarawak Report website. These are but distracting sideshows. Even veteran and hard-nosed observers and commentators are taken in by these distractions.
The central and very simple issue is this: Did Prime Minister Najib divert funds from 1MDB to his private account as alleged by WSJ and others?
The issue is simple because it requires only a brief “Yes” or “No” response. If the answer is “Yes,” then all else pales in comparison.
If the answer is “No,” then we could proceed to such secondary issues as how much debt 1MDB has incurred, the extent of the government’s exposure, and whether the company could service its loans or even generate any revenue, as well as the related question of who leaked confidential bank and other sensitive financial information.
Thus all, whether pro or anti Najib, should be asking him to answer that simple central question whether public funds were diverted to Najib’s account. That is the Malaysian Nixonian equivalent of “What did the president know and when did he know it?” of the infamous Watergate scandal of the 1970s.
Queries that do not confront this central issue serve only to distract matters. Likewise the commentaries; they succeed only in exposing the biases and political leanings of their writers. We all can be spared of that, as well as the obvious sucking-up gestures by Najib’s flatterers.
If Najib chooses to remain silent, then the parliamentary committee and special task force must focus their investigations to answering that basic question. They do not need the cooperation of the Monetary Authority of Singapore to do that. Nor do they have to travel to Thailand and interview that tattooed character, or subpoena that moon-faced chubby fellow who is so taken in with Paris Hilton.
Arresting low-level employees like the company dispatcher would only divert resources and distract the staff. Instead there should be laser-like focus on ascertaining the central truth. All other matters as who leaked the incriminating information are secondary.
This allegation of illegal diversion of public funds is made not by some kucing kurap anti-government blogger or a disgruntled UMNO operative deprived of his lucrative government contracts but by WSJ. The only way to rebut the damning allegation is to show that the documents laid out were false by producing your own evidence to the contrary.
Alternatively, sue the publication. When the Financial Times alleged impropriety on the part of Tengku Razaleigh regarding the Bank Bumiputra fiasco of yore, he sued. And won; the rare occasion when that influential publication was humbled!
If Najib were to sue WSJ, the ensuing depositions would uncover the truth. Lawsuits however, are expensive and protracted. All these hullabaloos would go away and confidence restored fast if Najib were to answer with a simple “No” to the central question, and if his answer were indeed the truth and could be substantiated as such. Then he can sue WSJ and everyone else.
Tengku Razaleigh called upon those Malaysians who know the truth on this matter to come forward. There are only a few who are so privileged. They owe it to their fellow citizens to do so. As he so wisely put it, “Not telling the truth is not an option.”
Malaysia however should not be held hostage to their honesty and integrity, or lack of either. We all must do our part to make sure that the truth be exposed.
I am heartened by the reactions of our corporate leaders. Nazir Razak and Tony Fernandes, both widely admired and highly accomplished, have condemned the suspension of The Edge. They have done more; they praised the paper!
I applaud Nazir for another reason. What he did was another not-so-subtle rebuke to his oldest brother. He did it earlier as when he and his other brothers (minus Najib of course) reminded everyone that their father died leaving only a modest estate. In our culture, Nazir’s action took great courage. He did it in the finest Jebat tradition of fidelity to principle and country, over kin and leaders.
We need others to do likewise. The Bar Council has taken an exemplary lead; likewise the Raja Muda of Johore and a former Mufti of Perlis. When exposing a crime is treated as a crime, the former Mufti reminded us, then we are ruled by criminals. The young prince upbraided politicians who are more loyal to their party than their fellow citizens.
This 1MDB scandal threatens to not only bring down Najib but also damage Malaysia’s credibility, much like Nixon’s Watergate was to him and to America. It took the courage of Nixon’s closest allies in his own Republican Party to convince him to do the honorable thing. As a result, America was spared an unnecessary crisis, and a generous nation later forgave Nixon. With that, his monumental legacies, as with his engagement with China, remain intact.
Najib does not have any positive legacy despite his over six years as Prime Minister, longer than Nixon was as President. Nonetheless Najib could still save his skin if he were to do the honorable thing – tell the truth.
If he does not, then it is up to those closest to him to do the honorable thing – tell him the truth. The chance of that happening however, is remote as UMNO is bereft of courageous individuals who could see beyond their party (and its lucrative patronage) and tell it straight to Najib’s face.
Deputy Prime Minister Muhyyiddin’s belated protest is too little, too late. It is also self-serving. Now if he were to resign in protest, that would mean something. Meanwhile as a member of Najib’s cabinet, he and the other ministers are collectively responsible and should be held jointly accountable.
The only person who could force Najib would be Barisan’s Sarawak leaders, in particular Chief Minister Adenan Satem. His support is critical to Najib. Thus far Adenan is satisfied with squeezing the maximum out of Najib in his hour of crisis to benefit Sarawak. In the long term however, Adenan should remember that Sarawak, like the rest of the country, would progress only if the central government is competent and honest. An inept, corrupt and distracted central government would be detrimental to all, Sarawak included.
It is time for Najib to do or made to do a Nixon. If Najib were to do it voluntarily then he could control the timing and to some extent, subsequent developments. Specifically he could choose his successor. Nothing in the constitution mandates that his current Deputy be the one.
If he were to pick Tengku Razaleigh, a man of proven leadership and impeccable integrity, not only would that meet widespread approval including within Parliament, he would have secured for himself a significant legacy. He would also better his nemesis, Tun Mahathir, in one respect. The Tun chose two duds as his successors and in the process wasted a precious decade for Malaysia.
Najib’s personal fate does not interest me. He could suffer a Marcos for all I care, but if Malaysia were to degenerate into another Philippines because of Najib, then those who remain silent or don’t take a stand now must bear some responsibility. How would they answer their grandchildren’s lament?
May God bless those many brave and righteous Malaysians who have done and continue to do their part, and at great risks. I salute them! We must remain focused on the central issue: Did Najib embezzle those funds?