Distracted by notorious videos, Malaysia must tackle unresolved issues

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The loss of Orang Asli land in Kelantan through aggressive logging and deforestation is an example of how human dignity is shredded. - Photograph: Bernama pic/Malay Mail

Henry Loh reminds the government to prioritise the poor and marginalised, and uphold justice and truth at all times.

Since the exposure of the notorious video(s) depicting two men in an intimate and compromising situation on 10 June, social and mainstream media have for the past several weeks continued to highlight the issue.

One person who confirmed and confessed that the videos were genuine and that he was one of the men in it was Haziq Abdullah Aziz, the Santubong PKR youth chief. When he posted his confessional video he was still employed as the senior private secretary to the deputy primary industries minister. He has since been sacked from that position.

In the confession, Haziq announced that the other man in the compromising videos with him was Azmin Ali, the Economic Affairs Minister and PKR deputy president.

Azmin has vehemently denied he was the other man in the videos and condemned the actions of those who were behind the release of these sordid videos. He has made it clear that it is a nefarious plot to disparage his reputation with the ultimate aim of derailing his political career.

Azmin has also received the support of his boss, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who believes the view that the videos are fake. Police reports have been lodged over this matter and it is being investigated.

Whilst Haziq is claiming that the videos are genuine, Azmin and his supporters are arguing that the videos are “deepfakes” created using artificial intelligence. We will just leave it to the police investigation to determine the authenticity or otherwise of the videos.

When the expose on the videos broke, there was a sense of déjà vu: over 22 years ago, current PKR president Anwar Ibrahim was also accused of being involved in sodomy and was ultimately sacked from his position as Deputy Prime Minister.

Most Malaysians would know this part of our country’s history well. Suffice to say that the Reformasi movement and the subsequent formation of PKR were largely attributed to this major event in the country.

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Back then, many already felt that playing gutter politics was totally unacceptable and a below-the-belt way of dealing with political opponents. Hence it is most unfortunate and even depressing that the country has not moved on from this kind of politics and that in 2019, in new Malaysia, such base, crude and unrefined tactics may still have traction.

One way that we as a nation can move away from these low, shallow, dirty and scurrilous personal attacks is to stop giving focus and attention or attaching importance to these forms of politics. Yes, we Malaysians deserve better and all political actors and parties must raise the bar and focus on issues that really matter especially in the new Malaysia.

Toward this end, one major issue that the powers that be should urgently look into is the plight of the Orang Asli community. Few groups, if any, can claim to be more “bumiputera” than the Orang Asli community. But their socio-economic and living conditions leave much to be desired.

A majority of the Orang Asli community continue to be deprived, marginalised and live in poverty. Dominic Damian laments the fact that the authorities are only seen to be doing something to help the indigenous people when tragedy strikes rather than being proactive and tackling the root causes of the deprivation of the Orang Asli and other indigenous groups.

In early June, news broke out regarding the mysterious deaths of some 14 Bateq Orang Asli villagers in Kampung Kuala Koh in Gua Musang, Kelantan. Officials scrambled to declare the settlement a “red zone” barring entry to all except authorised personnel. Some graves were exhumed and autopsies carried out.

After due examination, it turned out that the members of the Bateq community had died because they were afflicted by measles. The health minister also announced “the main factor that had caused the spread of measles in the area was the low coverage of MMR immunisation among them. MMR refers to measles, mumps and rubella. This clearly indicates that if the Bateq community in Kuala Koh had received the necessary vaccination to prevent these diseases many of these deaths could have been prevented. Questions arose as why they were not given the necessary vaccination.

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But the absence of immunisation against common diseases such as measles and mumps only scratches the surface. The much larger and deep-rooted issue is why the Orang Asli throughout peninsula Malaysia are the poorest and most neglected. It is not just a health issue but also encompasses education, poor economic conditions, land rights, cultural rights and other matters that need serious attention.

The powers that be should therefore seriously consider the call by Kua Kia Soong, the advisor of Suaram, for the setting up of an Orang Asli ministry.

This call is also supported by Colin Nicholas, coordinator of the Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC), who for decades has championed the rights of the Orang Asli. Nicholas acknowledged that having a special ministry won’t necessarily solve the issues affecting the Orang Asli, but it will at least give more attention to their plight.

Now if we think that the Orang Asli are the only ones affected by poverty, think again. Any notion that Malaysia will achieve developed status anytime soon must take a back seat when there are some places where citizens do not have even access to clean water.

Unfortunately the villages where the lack of clean water persists, Kampung Sungai Tias and Kampung Gertak Kangkong, are also in Kelantan. But this does not mean that this problem of a lack of basic amenities does not exist in other parts of Malaysia. Once again elected representatives holding the reins of power in affected areas should give these fundamental problems urgent attention.

Of late we have also witnessed serious environmental problems affecting the health of Malaysians. In Sungai Kim Kim in Pasir Gudang, Johor industrial pollution has purportedly affected the health of over 6,000 people living in that area. This led to the closure of schools, and lots of money (RM6.4m) was expended to carry out the cleaning up of the river.

The Bar Council issued a statement urging the authorities to urgently address these serious environmental concerns and to bring the polluters to book.

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The problem at Sungei Kim Kim first flared up sometime in March. It was indeed disappointing and even frightening when on 27 June a contamination problem again hit the residents of Pasir Gudang in Johor. Once again schools were ordered closed and students were hospitalised as they encountered breathing difficulties.

These examples clearly show us that insufficient enforcement is being carried out to ensure polluters are caught and made to account for their actions.

Usually when it comes to the lack of enforcement by the relevant authorities, the issue of possible corruption rears its ugly head. In the new Malaysia, it is good that the powers that be have committed themselves to fight corruption – but are they doing enough?

Also, are existing laws adequate and effective in deterring wrongdoers? In Penang, for example, a landowner who was charged and pleaded guilty to allowing his land to be used as an illegal dumpsite was made to pay a paltry fine of RM1,000 without any jail sentence.

This year-old Pakatan government had committed itself through the promises in its manifesto to carry out reforms that would sustain and nurture good governance. Hence the rakyat have high expectations. We are encouraged that former leaders such as Najib Razak and Zahid Hamidi and others are facing corruption charges in court. But clearly this cannot be the be-all and end-all.

Many other issues remain unresolved. For instance, Suhakam had concluded after its inquiry that Amri Che Mat and Pastor Raymond Koh were victims of enforced disappearance by state agents – ie the Special Branch, Bukit Aman.

After almost three months the government through the home affairs minister announced the formation of a special taskforce to further investigate the findings of the Suhakam inquiry. What was disappointing is that the composition of the taskforce has failed to inspire confidence that they will be fully independent and bent on uncovering the truth.

And so Aliran joined other civil society organisations in calling for a review of the composition of the task force. As it stands, the current taskforce “seems to please the perpetrators and this is unacceptable”. The National Patriots Association (Patriot) has similarly urged the government not to procrastinate and bring closure to the issue of enforced disappearances.

It cannot inspire confidence for the home affairs minister to be quoted as saying that the “findings of the task force will be presented to him but whether it will be made public as a whole or in part depends on what is discovered (emphasis added).

It is as if we are being forewarned that if the minister finds the findings are ‘too sensitive”, then don’t expect the public to be enlightened. What about the concept that “the truth shall prevail”?

So to those in power, please remember that the rakyat are watching and full of expectations. Good governance is essential and there can be no compromise.

Henry Loh
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
29 June 2019
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