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Foong Li Mei brings you another edition of REFSA Rojak – a weekly take on the goings-on in Malaysia by Research for Social Advancement (REFSA).

REFSA Rojak – “trawl the newsflow, cut to the core and focus on the really pertinent. Full of flavour, lots of crunch, this is the concise snapshot to help Malaysians keep abreast of the issues of the day.”

Source: autodidact/

Elusive corrupt leaders and their secret bank balances easily slip through loopholes in anti-graft legislation.  That is the tale as told by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

It says provisions in the law prevent it from linking Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud to abuse of power, even though his former daughter-in-law had testified in court about the “extraordinary” fortune of Taib’s son, Mahmud Abu Bekir.

Mahmud has won state deals including lucrative timber concessions but the MACC said there was no evidence that the Chief Minister participated in the meetings that decided on their award to his son. MACC also blamed Section 53 of the Anti-graft Act for hampering investigations. Even if both the giver and receiver of bribe admitted to their crime, their confessions need to be independently verified by a witness or banking documents which may be difficult to get hold of.

Legal experts, however, say the flaw lies not in the law, but in MACC’s methods. They propose that MACC should stop relying on confessions to win cases. We note the Bruno Manser Fund, an NGO, has conducted an audit which estimates the Taib family fortune at a staggering USD 15 billion (RM45 billion), making him the richest man in Malaysia. Taib himself has not refuted the allegation.

Surely the MACC, with its investigative powers, no matter how limited, can out-do an NGO? Will MACC continue to be the toothless tiger when facing the ringleaders of resource exploitation? We can plug all the loopholes in law, but ultimately, strict enforcement makes a sturdy net to haul in the big fishes that know not when to stop biting.

Sarawak – where the boss has “more money than he can ever spend”

The supposedly richest man in Malaysia is leading one of the poorest communities in the country. While Chief Minister Taib declares that he has “more money than he can ever spend”, the poor Penans in Sarawak are struggling to make their plight heard.

According to a leaked government-commissioned report on the Murum Hydroelectric Dam, the 1,500 villagers’ average family income is a meager RM102 per month – far below Sarawak’s poverty line of RM830. The average monthly stipend given by the logging companies felling trees in the forests around the village is only RM54 for each household, and payments are often irregular.

Now, the villagers are being driven out of their homes to make way for the dam. Sarawak PKR chairman Baru Bian revealed that the Penans do not have identity cards, thus preventing their access to poverty eradication programmes. Less than 10% have access to education, woman and infant mortality rates are high due to a lack of medical support, and they can no longer depend on traditional medicine from the forest as logging has destroyed medicinal herbs.

Things aren’t so peachy for Sabahans  either. The monthly family income of the bumiputera in Sabah is found to be behind the rest of the nation. This could very well blow a breeze of change in the ‘Land below the Wind’. The majority (57 percent) of Sabah voters are unhappy with the economy in the state currently, as compared to just 37 percent in 2009. Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman also saw a 50 percent dive in his approval rating.

Sabah and Sarawak are the crucial frontline states that BN or PR has to clinch if they wish to seize Putrajaya. Dissatisfaction of the East Malaysians notwithstanding, would the winds of change sweep through the whole nation as well in the 13th general elections?

Can Budget 2013 save BN?

Voters’ confidence may be lacking but BN is not giving up the fight to win more support. Budget 2013’s goodies are a strong indication, but our Prime Minister’s delay in setting the election date may be costing his government more than an imprudent financial plan.

The Economist observed that Najib “fancies himself as the Tony Blair of Malaysian politics”, but the truth is he “increasingly resembles the hapless Gordon Brown”. Instead of calling for elections to win the people’s mandate, “Mr Brown, unelected and indecisive, watched his authority drain away until he was boxed into calling an election right at the end of his term—which he then lost.” Guest columnist Zairil Khir Johari has previously drew a similar connection between Najib and Brown in a REFSA Rojak Special Feature.

In any case, the federal government Budget may not be as “people-first” as it claims to be. Budget 2013 did not include any systematic efforts to overhaul the “terrible state of the country’s public transport”, complained the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca), despite a national survey showing that Malaysians are deeply concerned over public transport. Instead, overt emphasis is given to mega-projects such as MRT and KTM commuters.

Is Najib the man for women affairs?

Malaysia’s Minister for Women Affairs may be wearing pants, but that doesn’t mean females in the country are calling the shots.

In fact, gender equality is still an ongoing struggle, says Free Malaysia Today columnist Jeswan Kaur. The writer criticised the National Women’s Day speech made by Prime Minister Najib, who is also the Women, Family and Community Development Minister. Najib brushed off the need for a women’s rights movement in Malaysia, saying that “equality has been given from the start”.

Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) points out that Malaysia’s current cabinet has only one female minister – far short of the 30% requirement indicated by the United Nations. Our country also sits near the bottom of the Global Gender Gap Index, with a ranking of 97 among 134 countries.

Men have often lamented their bafflement as to what women want. The man helming our Women, Family and Community Development Ministry seems no less confused. Here’s an idea  – a female leader for the ministry would be an excellent start.

Why ‘Rojak’? Disparate flavours and textures come together in a harmonious mix to make this delicious but underrated concoction. Our Rojak weekly is much like this mix, making sense of the noise of daily newsflow and politicking.

It is also our ultimate dream that our multi-ethnic melange of communities can be made richer within the unique ‘sauce’ that is Malaysia. Let’s take pride in the ‘rojakness’ of our nation!

Click here for previous issues of REFSA Rojak.

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(Featured image accompanying article on main page courtesy of David Bruce, source:

REFSA is an independent, not-for-profit research institute providing relevant and reliable information on social, economic and political issues affecting Malaysians with the aim of promoting open and constructive...