Friday, May 18, 2007

The May 13 Ethnic Riots

Digging up Malaysia’s Racial Past
Philip Bowring; 16 May 2007

A new book presents the view that 1969 race riots were instigated by ambitious Malay politicians. Now it seems the book will be banned by the government.

Thirty-eight years on, the traumatic ethnic riots of May 13, 1969 in Malaysia remain as much a subject of official censorship as the events of June 4, 1989 in China. Now a new book by a Malaysian Chinese academic is on the point of being officially banned for suggesting that May 13 was the occasion for what amounted to a coup against the independence leader and Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman by his United Malays National Organisation colleagues who were pushing pro-Malay policies. Officials of Malaysia’s Internal Security Ministry Tuesday confiscated 10 copies of the book from a Kuala Lumpur bookstore, advising the store not to sell it as it may be banned. According to a letter issued by ministry officials, the book is suspected of being an “undesirable publication.”

What happened on May 13 remains highly relevant to UMNO’s position as the leader of the Barisan National, the alliance of race-based parties that has ruled the country since independence 50 years ago.

“Declassified Documents on the Malaysian riots of 1969” by Dr. Kua Kia Soong, the principal of New Era College, is based not directly on Malaysian sources but on now-open British documents held at the Public Records Office in Kew Gardens, near London. These consist of contemporary British diplomatic and intelligence reports which suggest that the riots were not spontaneous acts of communal violence, as is constantly alleged by UMNO, but were fanned by Malay elements, with support from the army and police, wanting to discredit the accommodating prime minister and impose a much more rigorous Malay agenda. One British document concluded that the goal was to “formalize Malay dominance, sideline the Chinese and shelve Tunku.”

The official Malaysian government version of events was that the riots were sparked by opposition parties “infiltrated by communist insurgents” following huge opposition gains in the election. Although the UMNO-led Alliance, the predecessor of the Barisan National, retained an overall majority, it lost its two thirds majority and its control of Selangor state was threatened. Certainly there was much celebrating among the mainly Chinese opposition parties at the election result, which angered Malay politicians who sensed their political dominance was under threat.

By the time the riots were over, official figures said 196 people had been killed, 6,000 made homeless and more than 700 buildings destroyed or damaged.

Non-Malays in particular have long believed that though there was violence on both sides, it was a mostly one-sided affair with some Malay politicians, notably Selangor Chief Minister Harun Idris, encouraging mobs to attack Chinese areas and that the security forces initially did little to prevent violence. This is largely confirmed by contemporary reports such as those of Far Eastern Economic Review correspondent Bob Reece.

Kua’s thesis suggests that there was a grander political design behind the episode, which from the beginning was intended to create a new political agenda and new leadership. He attributes this to a younger Malay group dissatisfied with the aristocratic, pro-British the Tunku.

In any event, the Tunku effectively stepped aside as emergency powers to rule by decree were (temporarily) placed in the hands of a National Operations Council headed by his deputy Tun Abdul Razak – father of current deputy prime minister Najib Abdul Razak. The Tunku remained prime minister until September 1970 but had little authority any more. In 1971 he also stepped down as president of UMNO after virulent criticism by the Malay “Young Turks,” headed by Mahathir Mohamad, the future Prime Minister. The same year the government enunciated the New Economic Policy and began aggressive affirmative action programs to advance the economic and educational level of Malays.

However, while the consequences of May 13 may be clear, there are disagreements about Kua’s thesis even among those who attribute the riots to Malay politicians. For example, Dr Syed Husin Ali also a respected academic and deputy head of the opposition Keadilan Party, has suggested that while some UMNO figures used the events as an opportunity to sideline the Tunku and set out a pro-Malay agenda, it was not planned as such.

In other words, Razak and others took advantage of the situation which arose after the election and the appearance of Malay mobs to grab the reins of power from the Tunku, with whom they were dissatisfied, but that it was not premeditated. Syed also takes issue with Kua’s view that they represented an aspirant Malay capitalist class when most had traditional and feudal links.

Bookstores have been advised not to sell Kua’s book and a formal ban looks likely on the grounds that it will stir up racial animosities, which it could well do in the short run. However, from a broader perspective it is hard to see how a multi-racial, multi-religious Malaysia can flourish if events such as May 13 can only be discussed in private, while the public is fed a distorted official version in order to sustain the legitimacy of UMNO politicians.

Monday, May 14, 2007


KUCHING, May 14 (Bernama) -- Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud today issued a statement to the state legislative assembly refuting all insinuations of corrupt practices against him and the state government stemming from an article carried by the "Japan Times" newspaper.

The March 29 report captioned "Wood Carriers Allegedly Hid 1.1 Billion Yen Income" had claimed that Japanese shipping companies paid the sum to a Hong Kong agent as kickbacks to unnamed Sarawak officials and "rebates as lubricant to facilitate their timber trade".

[Dewaniaga Sarawak (DNS), a company affiliated with the Malaysian state of Sarawak, instructed NFA members to pay so-called intermediation fees to the Hong Kong agent, Regent Star (RS). The Chief Minister's brother Onn bin Mahmud also sits on the board of CMS. Not only is Abdul Taib Mahmud Chief Minister, he's also the Resource Management and Planning Minister.]

In his Personal Statement issued under Standing Order 22, Taib said that neither he nor state government officials had been contacted by Japan Times for clarification or comment before such serious allegations were made."

I take this opportunity to categorically and completely refute all these allegations contained in Japan Times. They are absolutely false," he said.

The chief minister explained that the timber industry in Sarawak was regulated by two principal laws, namely the Forests Ordinance of Sarawak and Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation Ordinance 1973.

He said that no law or state government agencies regulated the shipment or transport of timber exported from Sarawak to overseas destinations.

"The sellers and buyers of Sarawak timber make their own arrangement for transportation of timber abroad," he added.

Taib said that after the Japan Times published the allegations without providing any proof, both print and electronic media in Malaysia reproduced them.

He also said that it was irresponsible for some political parties or politicians in this country to attempt to make political capital out of these allegations.

Taib said that legal proceedings would be filed immediately in Malaysia and Japan unless the offending newspapers and persons published unqualified retraction and apologies, and pay legal costs and damages.-- BERNAMA

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Corruption allegations against Sarawak CM Taib Mahmud and freedom of speech in Malaysia

Japanese NGO joint letter to PM Badawi & ACA

April 27th 2007

Dato' Seri Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi
Prime Minister of Malaysia

CC: Director, Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA)

Subject: Corruption allegations against Sarawak CM Taib Mahmud and freedom of speech in Malaysia

Your Excellency,

We, the undersigned Japanese non-governmental organizations and citizen's groups, wish to express our profound concern regarding threats by the Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Pehin Taib Mahmud to lodge a defamation suit against the Malaysiakini news service and leaders of Party Keadilan Rakyat Sarawak for raising allegations of his involvement in a RM 32 million kickback scheme reported by the Japan Times and other Japanese newspapers.

We understand that the corruption allegations raised against CM Taib Mahmud originated from a report in the Japan Times on Mar 29,, 2007 that nine Japanese shipping companies which transport lumber from Sarawak failed to report some 1.1 billion yen (approximately RM 32 million) in income paid as remuneration to Regent Star, a Hong Kong-based agent with connections to CM Taib Mahmud and his family, during a period of seven years through last March. According to the report, the Tokyo Regional Taxation Bureau determined that these payments were rebates, not legitimate expenses, and is likely to impose well over 400 million in back taxes and penalties against the shipping companies.

The Yomiuri Shimbun (in Japanese) also reported the above facts in an article on March 28th. Furthermore, the Asahi Shimbun English edition reported on March 28th that the Tokyo Regional Taxation Bureau had ordered Kansai Line Co. to pay 50 million yen in back taxes and penalties for falsely including so-called intermediation fees totaling 130 million yen paid to Regent Star over a seven year period until December 2005, in its cost of loading logs in ports in Sarawak, in an effort to hide the payments.

The Asahi Shimbun Japanese edition further reported on March 27th that shipping companies affiliated with the Nanyozai Freight Agreement (NFA) cartel are suspected to have paid more than US $25 million (approx. 2.5 billion yen) in intermediation fees to Regent Star in the ten years up to 2005. An anonymous industry source is quoted as admitting that "there was an understanding that these were payments to the Chief Minister's family" and in essence, kickbacks.

According to the article, the NFA admitted that it had in 1981 entered into an agreement with Dewaniaga Sarawak (DNS) on log exports to Japan, and had been instructed by DNS to pay intermediation fees to Regent Star in Hong Kong. The payments, which are said to have continued for 26 years since 1981, are said to have started at a rate of approximately US $1.50 per cubic meter of logs shipped, and to have increased over the years to the current rate of US $3.28, while the log shipments declined from a peak of 3.8 million m3 in 1990 to about 410,000 m3 in 2005. The report estimates that an average of one to four million dollars per year, totaling US $25,250,000 was paid to Regent Star between 1996 and 2005 alone. The article also mentions that an industry source alleged that DNS director Dato' Onn Bin Mahmud, brother of CM Taib Mahmud, sometimes participated in person in negotiations of the intermediation fees between Regent Star and the NFA.

From the above, it should be crystal clear that the allegations lodged against CM Taib Mahmud by Malaysiakini and Party Keadilan Rakyat Sarawak are not based on rumor or hearsay, but on information reported in a consistent manner by several leading Japanese newspapers. As organizations working in the Malaysian public interest, Malaysiakini and Party Keadilan have merely been exercising their freedom of expression and fulfilling their duty to raise concerns to the public and competent authorities regarding highly disturbing information meriting further investigation. In fact, it would have been dereliction of their public duty not to have done so.

If whistleblowers immediately face threats of litigation for defamation, how can citizens play an active role in eliminating corruption? Should not CM Taib Mahmud present a clear explanation rather than resort to such intimidation? And if he disagrees with the allegations in the reports, should he not question their sources in Japan and the Japanese tax authorities, rather than Malaysian citizens who are merely bringing them to the public attention?

In light of your pledge to make anti-corruption a top policy priority with "zero tolerance for corruption," we urge you to live up to your reputation by instructing the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) directly under your supervision to immediately commence a formal investigation into the allegations raised in these media reports, and to keep the public informed of developments thereof. Party Keadilan Rakyat Sarawak has already lodged two reports on this matter as of April 13th 2007, one with the Kuching Central Police Station and another with the Anti-Corruption Agency in Kuching, following your public statement advising that reports be lodged so that the ACA could take action. Japanese civil society will do its most to urge the Japanese tax authorities to cooperate with Malaysia in its investigation, so that the truth can be revealed and justice served.

Furthermore, we ask you to ensure that Malaysian citizens do not face undue pressure or malicious litigation in an attempt to suppress their freedom of speech when raising issues in the public interest. Certainly such transparency is crucial in upholding the honor and untarnished reputation of Malaysia in the international community.


Sarawak Campaign Committee (SCC)
Friends of the Earth Japan (FOEJ)
Japan Tropical Forest Action Network (JATAN)
The Japan Citizens' Coalition for the UN International Decade of theWorld's Indigenous Peoples (INDEC)
Japan Network on Human Rights in Malaysia
Pacific Asia Resource Center (PARC)
Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands Forest Protection Group in JapanY. Sakamoto, Global Environment Forum