Sarawak's Frail 'Democracy' Exposes Its Failings With Suspension Of Opposition Leader

Sarawak's Frail 'Democracy' Exposes Its Failings With Suspension Of Opposition Leader

Yb Chong is the leader of Sarawak’s largest opposition party, Democratic Action Party (DAP).  He is also the elected representative of the Kota Sentosa Kuching constituency in the heart of the State’s capital city, comprising some 25,000 voters.

Yesterday, the Speaker of the Assembly,  Amar Mohamad Asfia, nonetheless booted him out of the Assembly, for what he and 35 BN representatives considered to be an ‘insulting‘ speech, in which he complained of ‘David Copperfield accounting’ in the state.

He will be banished for the remainder of the session, which granted in Sarawak can only mean a few days, since no session of the DUN is ever allowed to last more than a couple of weeks in this so-called democracy.

It is relevant to note that Asfia himself is not himself elected and in fact represents nobody but Taib Mahmud.  The Governor appointed him back in 2000 and he has been acting as the DUN headmaster ever since – shutting people up, switching off microphones and telling YBs what they can and cannot do.

So, under this singular arrangement, the Speaker in Sarawak (and Sabah) is not a member of the house, chosen by his fellow YBs, as with normal parliaments across the world, but an unelected bureaucrat selected by the head of the executive, the Chief Minister himself.

This one anomaly turns the tables on democracy, because it means that the elected  representatives of the people, are not in fact in charge of the executive, which is their legal role as the ultimate authority in the state.

Instead, it is the executive which appoints this lapdog Speaker, who calls the shots over the elected assembly and selectively ‘punishes’ those who cause problems for the Chief Minister.

Other democratic parliaments across the world would gasp at such an authoritarian system, which takes the power away from the people’s representatives and places it so squarely with the executive. However, it is strongly suspected that most people in Sarawak do not realise how they have been cheated and that BN are in no hurry to educate them on the basics of democracy.

‘Insulting’ or doing his duty – what caused Chong’s censure?

So, what was this “insulting” speech for which the leader of the opposition has been silenced and removed for an entire session?

It turns out that Chong had raised an issue that is quite rightly of major concern to his constituents – the subject of the state finances and the mysterious waste of huge sums of public money.

He aptly conjured a term ‘David Copperfield economics’ to express the frustration of YBs faced with claims of a surplus, when the state is patently earning less than it is spending. Is it not the job of an opposition politician to raise such issues and wasn’t the strong arm response merely a sign that this government was short of convincing answers?

Sarawak’s dodgy high interest loans are draining state finances

Of course, Chong has been a thorn in the side of the state government for some time on the subject of financial mismanagement.  At the start of this session he issued a statement which raised a long standing concern – those vast and shadowy borrowings initiated by Taib for various unspecified projects, for which the state is still paying enormous rates of interest.

“Adenan has tried to justify these borrowings but failed miserably,” said Chong. “It only confirms my suspicion that there are great improprieties in these offshore loans taken by the Sarawak Government.”

..Who are the bond holders?” he asked. “Are these bond holders related to the top Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders with a lot of money overseas? Why is the Sarawak Government paying so much interest on these loans?” [Free Malaysia Today Nov 29th]

Chong and DAP have been warning for the past five years that around half of Sarawak’s budget has been hived off to sustain borrowing for projects no one has any information about.  Huge sums are being diverted into an ‘Approved Agencies Trust Fund’, believed to be guaranteeing money, which is believed to have been borrowed to finance SCORE.

It is not lost on Sarawakians that most of the projects in this so-called mega-industrialisation project have been earmarked for Taib family companies.

What Chong pointed out was that there continues to be a very expensive mystery surrounding these borrowed monies, which were not raised in the way governments normally do, through mainstream banking institutions on the open markets, but through shadowy and unusual off-shore deals, which have turned out to be hugely costly and remain totally non-transparent.

“On average, the state government is paying more than 6 per cent per annum on these loans.”

The 6 per cent, pointed out Chong, is 40 per cent more than the average interest paid on sovereign loans taken by the Malaysian Government at various times. “Why borrow and pay interest when we have RM27 billion in reserves sitting in the bank, in Fixed Deposit, earning only 2 per cent to 3 per cent interest per annum?”

Why indeed?

Sarawak Report has covered this issue in the past, asking why the Chief Minister has chosen to raise billions for example, in the case of Sarawak Energy, through the auspices of a wealth management company called Equity Trust using a secretive off-shore bond issue in Labuan, rather than raising money through a mainstream bank in the normal way?

Why are Sarawakians not entitled to know why they are forking out some 6% interest for that enormous loan, when given the state’s credit rating they could have borrowed it on the open market from an international bank for around 3%?

Chong has drawn attention to other such loans, including the mysterious financing of a Sarawak State company Equisar, which again is through Labuan and again at double the rate of the open market.

“It doesn’t make financial sense. When the money is paid out from these offshore loans, no questions can be asked in the State Assembly.”

…..all the loans taken were at extremely high interest rates payable by the state government.

Chong said that based on figures revealed by the Sarawak Government, the particulars on the offshore loans taken by it were as follows for the year end 2015: Sarawak Capital Incorporated Bond due in 2026. Principal amount still owing is USD165 million and balance of interest owing is USD148.96 million; Equisar International Incorporated Notes due in 2026. Principal amount still owing is USD533.5 million and balance of interest owing is USD556.75 million; and SSG Resources Ltd Notes due in 2022. Principal amount still owing is USD560 million and balance of interest still owing is USD238 million.[Free Malaysia Today)

Why is it so “insulting” to make such points and to ask for explanations on behalf of the public – this is their hard-earned public cash?

Indeed the extreme reluctance to answer Chong and the extraordinary strong arm tactics in chucking him out of the Assembly, for doing nothing but his duty, can only set minds wandering.

One can’t help but surmise how, Taib and his family have plenty of money tucked away in the very same tax havens where these bonds have been raised – money that must actually be pretty hard to find ways to invest it, since they ought not have it in the first place.

If Sarawakians are not given proper answers about who is lending them this money for mysterious projects, therefore, then they are entitled to wonder if this high rate of interest is being offered to none other than the obscenely wealthy Taib family themselves and their various hangers-on, who have been looking for ways to invest their billions rather than leave it loitering in the hands of wealth managers in off-shore havens.

It is hard to think of another incentive that could have mades sense for the Chief Minister to have authorised the borrowing of such huge sums of money at double the rate of interest the State of Sarawak needed to pay.

If there is another good reason, why are the people’s representatives not entitled to hear it loud and clear in the proper place – which is the DUN Assembly?

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