Leaders of Malaysian civil society and non-governmental organizations expressed their wishes that 2017 would bring a return of integrity among government leaders, respect for workers and the opportunity for dissenting voices to be heard unimpeded.
Akhbar Satar, president of the Malaysian chapter of Transparency International and one of several local NGO leaders who gave BenarNews their “wish list” for the new year, said he wanted to see leadership by example at the government and non-government level.
“I wish to see leaders with a sincere political will to fight corruption,” he told BenarNews.
For Lawyers of Liberty (LFL) Executive Director Eric Paulsen, it is important that state institutions, including the judiciary, police, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and the Attorney General’s Office, remain free and independent in 2017 “as the only way to ensure good governance,” he said.
Paulsen’s new year’s wish is that a corruption and financial mismanagement scandal linked to state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and that has overshadowed Prime Minister Najib Razak for 17 months be settled once and for all.
“1MDB will be the prime target as billions and billions of state funds were plundered but yet not a single person (in Malaysia) has been charged or held liable,” Paulsen told BenarNews.
The United States Department of Justice is seeking to recover more than U.S. $1 billion (4.49 billion ringgit) in money allegedly stolen through 1MDB. Neighboring Singapore has sentenced three bankers to jail for their involvement.
To date, no individual in Malaysia has been named nor charged for any form of wrongdoing pertaining to 1MDB.
“We are still investigating,” Inspector General Police Khalid Abu Bakar told BenarNews on Dec. 21.
Najib has maintained his innocence over 1MDB since the Wall Street Journal reported in July 2015 that about $700 million was transferred from the state fund to his personal bank accounts.
While Najib was not named in the U.S. lawsuits, which were announced in July 2016, news organizations have identified him as “Malaysian Official 1” in court documents.
On July 21, a day after U.S. Justice officials publicized the suits, Najib said that the Malaysian government was “serious about good governance.” He urged people to not jump to any conclusions, saying that no criminal charges had been filed.
Shamini Darshni, executive director of Amnesty International Malaysia, said she wished to see no laws being “used and misused” against dissenting voices, pointing to disturbing actions in 2016.
“I’m waiting for the day that the civil society space will be expanded to include various points of view, that meaningful, healthy and intelligent debates and discussions may take place without fear of reprisal,” Shamini told BenarNews.
She pointed to the case of Maria Chin Abdullah, leader of the Bersih grassroots coalition that advocates clean government. On Nov. 18, Maria Chin was arrested on the eve of a massive good government rally that Bersih was organizing in Kuala Lumpur. She was held for 10 days under Malaysia’s strict Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA).
Activists protested her detention, claiming the government had trampled on her right to free speech.
Another public figure and government critic, Zunar, has been arrested twice since November and faces a travel ban. The winner of the 2016 Cartooning for Peace Award and BenarNews contributor is known for cartoons that lampoon Malaysia’s ruling Barisan Nasional coalition and Najib while highlighting themes such as corruption.
Zunar also faces nine counts under the Sedition Act for allegedly insulting the judiciary in tweets made regarding the conviction of former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in a sodomy case in February 2015. If convicted on all counts, he could be sentenced to 43 years in jail.
A worker’s perspective: ‘Treated as tools’
For J. Solomon, the secretary general of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC), the government in 2017 must address a lack of respect for workers, suppressed wages along with insufficient job opportunities, among other things.
“Workers are being treated as tools and not as living souls with families and a life to live.
“A genuine and constructive collaboration and cooperation between the tripartite organs – MTUC, Malaysian Employers Federation and the Malaysian government – will be able to uplift the morale of the workers by putting in place the necessary international standards to improve their livelihoods,” he told BenarNews.
Meanwhile, leaders of migrant workers are calling on the government to give refugees and asylum seekers the opportunity to contribute to the country’s growth by giving them jobs.
“We have at least 90,000 Rohingya Muslims in the country and we are ready to work. Please allow us,” Faisal Islam Muhammad Kassim, president of the Rohingya Society in Malaysia (RSM), told BenarNews recently.