by Wong Choon Mei, Malaysia Chronicle
Amid signs that Prime Minister Najib Razak's UMNO is fast unraveling, hit by massive graft and infighting amongst its top leadership, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has announced that a special team will be formed to investigate claims that UMNO Minister Shahrizat Jalil's family had squandered public funds allocated to the RM250 million NFC cattle livestock project on personal items and luxurious assets.
However, instead of appeasing public anger, all eyes are now on the drama at play in UMNO. While Shahrizat has hinted she was ready to quit, it is unlikely that she will allow herself to be railroaded or be made an easy scapegoat of by her own party mates.
All eyes are now on how Najib, himself the subject of a probe by the French government over allegations of having taken a 114 million euros or RM570 million kickback from French naval giant DCN for the purchase of 2 Scorpene submarines, will deal with the issue. Najib is also the UMNO President.
“Tell me, which UMNO leader does not have problem?” was Shahrizat's sharp retort when asked to comment whether she would heed the growing calls to resign, as reported in the Sin Chew newspaper a few days ago.
Lip service expected from the MACC
Indeed, public cynicism is inevitable given that the MACC had previously passed the buck to the police despite receiving reports from Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim's Parti Keadilan Rakyat.
The Najib administration lost further credibility when Deputy Inspector General of Police Khalid Bakar publicly declared there were no elements of criminal breach of trust during the recent UMNO General Assembly. Khalid, often called a stooge for the UMNO-led government, was accused of 'play-acting' in a bid to save the UMNO leaders embarrassment.
"We have acted accordingly by collecting evidence and statements since the issue was reported in the Auditor-General's Report. A large part of the issues brought up in the latest complaint (against NFC) had already been acted upon,” a defensive-sounding MACC investigations director Mustafar Ali said in a statement released on Thursday.
The MACC was also quick to stress it could not divulge details of investigations as stipulated under Section 29(4) of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009. “We call on the parties to give their full co-operation by not politicising the issues which could affect our investigation,” Mustafar added.
Given the tone of the statement, it was clear to political watchers that the MACC was not going to do much to uncover the dirt in NFC or National Feedlot Centre, a project aimed to raise local supply of beef to up to 40% of consumption and keep prices affordable.
The project was awarded to Shahrizat's husband, Salleh Ismail, and her children in 2006 by then then Agriculture minister Muhyiddin Yassin on the prodding of UMNO Youth Chief Khairy Jamaluddin, the son-in-law of former premier Abdullah Badawi. Najib also played a part in approving the project to Shahrizat's family.
Another shameless sandiwara
Cynicism is high that this was the latest 'sandiwara' or drama enacted by UMNO to tell Shahrizat to quit her Cabinet post and take responsiblity before general elections are held next year.
No one is expecting any major change in the attitude of the top UMNO leaders, who are renowned for their corruption-tainted records - as Shahrizat herself alluded to.
"Both Shahrizat and UMNO are shameless. The issue is why such a loan was given to her family when she was holding the position of a Cabinet minister. It is impossible they could have got the loan if she were not a minister. She and her family have deprived needy and hardworking Malaysians from the benefit of the fund (meant to supply everyday Malaysians with a cheap source of beef)," PKR vice president N Surendran told Malaysia Chronicle.
"It is also pointless to blame Shahrizat alone. UMNO bears the biggest blame. Benefiting cronies and families from public funds is a central part of UMNO's political culture."
Victim of the Mahathir legacy of corruption?
Furthermore, those who have called on her to quit before she is "chased out" include former premier Mahathir Mohamad, notorious for defining and expanding UMNO's feudal system of politics where the ruling elite have carte blanche over almost every aspect of economic and political life in Malaysia.
In the recently released Global Financial Integrity report, Malaysia was identified to be the 4th most corrupt nation in the world, racking up a total of US$338 billion (RM1.08 trillion) in illicit outflows over the first decade of the century.
GFI also said the Malaysian increase was “at a scale seen in few Asian countries.” In January, it had reported that RM930 billion flowed out of Malaysia from 2000 to 2008, growing to RM218 billion per year from an initial RM71 billion in that period.
“This report should be a wake-up call to world leaders that more must be done to address these harmful outflows,” GFI director Raymond Baker said in a press release.
Upon release of the GFI's report in January, it was telling that one of the first UMNO leaders to cast doubt on the renowned Washington-based body was Mukhriz Mahathir, the youngest son of the former PM. Now 86, Mahathir had ruled Malaysia for 22 years and is widely believed to be the one who has salted away the biggest fortune at taxpayers' expense.