Report from Washington DC
It was a strange scene at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington on Wednesday morning. When the seminar on Governance & Rule of Law in Malaysia began, only one of the speakers came into the room, Nazri Abdul Aziz.
Attorney-General Gani Patail and former Chief Justice Abdul Hamid Mohamed were somehow nowhere to be seen.
And in good Malaysian fashion, the seminar started 10 minutes late.
The seminar's chairman, Ernest Bower, looked tired and nervous, saying that he had received a number of e-mails expressing concern that the seminar would not be balanced. He said that he wants a dialogue on important issues. Therefore he also has invited the opposition to speak at CSIS. He hopes they will accept.
Ernest Bower then shocked the audience of about 40 people by saying that the session was 'off the record'. The flyer announcing the seminar never said it was an off the record session.
It doesn't matter though. The session was so boring there is very little to report anyway.
Malaysian Ambassador to the US, Jamaluddin Jarjis a.k.a. JJ, spoke for two minutes. He just said that he is working very hard to improve relations with the US (whenever he happens to be in town, that is). He made no mention, though, whether the new US$150,000 Porsche he just bought is paid for by the Malaysian taxpayers or by him personally.
Nazri said that it was just a coincidence that he, Gani and Abdul Hamid happen to be in Washington at the same time. (Sure. If you believe that then I have half a bridge to Singapore to sell you.) He said he didn't know where the two missing persons were.
He then introduced the "four members of my delegation," all MPs. (Talk about wasting the taxpayers’ money!) Two of them were PKR turncoats, including the infamous Zahrain Mohamed Hashim.
In a tribute to Malaysia Today, Nazri held up an Internet printout and referred to Martin Jalleh's article, "Malaysian Circus goes to Washington". He claimed that he had been planning the trip to Washington for nine months because he and the PM believe it is important to strengthen ties with the US.
Nazri then started his formal speech and spoke for 30 minutes. It was a very academic and therefore a very boring speech. There was no real substance to it and the audience quickly grew bored. Even JJ got so bored as he sat next to Nazri on the podium.
But what shocked the audience was to watch JJ's antics at such an "important meeting" at such a "prestigious think tank."
The whole while Nazri was speaking, JJ was sending and receiving messages on his Blackberry and mobile phone. He never turned off the ringer.
When he tapped out a message, one could hear the "click, click, click" of the keys. He even called his aide up to the podium twice to have conversations. He also got up and left the room and then came back.
And here is a first for Washington.
Then, as Nazri was still speaking, JJ picked up the Washington Post and started to read it -- not once, but twice.
Nazri went on and on, quoting Malaysia's many laws banning corruption. But of course he never said that they apply only to the opposition and not to UMNO politicians or taxi permit holders (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).
Finally, he stopped speaking and said he would welcome tough questions. He got one right from the start from Kumar, the head of Amnesty International's Washington DC office.
Kumar said Nazri and JJ had both just said that they want to improve relations with the United States. But that will never happen as long as people in Washington have concerns about Malaysia's harassment of the opposition and Anwar's trial.
Referring to the Malaysia Today article, Kumar said if there's a Malaysian circus, it's Anwar's trial.
Nazri replied, "Anwar is a friend of mine." (With friends like Nazri, who needs enemies?).
Nazri said he underwent his legal training in the UK and claimed that if he ever sensed that the Prime Minister was interfering in the case and there is political interference in Malaysia's independent judiciary, he would tender his resignation.
"When we heard about Saiful's charges against Anwar, I thought it was unfortunate. For the sake of the country, we don't want the nation to endure a trial like this again. But Saiful is entitled to justice. Why talk about rule of law if you ignore his report?JJ clapped.
He had a right to report to the police. In any event, Anwar's acquittal before shows that our judiciary is independent, and we did not appeal that decision. That shows we are interested only in justice, not political persecution.
We do not have an agenda against Anwar. Why would we want to use the same old charge of sodomy, again? If you don't believe me, there is nothing I can do."
JJ was the only one who clapped.
Murray Hiebert then stood up to introduce himself as the former Asian Wall Street Journal correspondent in Malaysia (but politely declined to mention his experience with ‘good governance’ and ‘the rule of law’ in Malaysia when he was the guest of a Malaysian prison).
Murray asked about the Allah issue.
Nazri turned to the Malaysiakini reporter in the room and told him, “Don't you dare report what I am going to say.”
Nazri looked alive and gave a 20-minute history and language lesson, repeating the usual government line. As Nazri finished his long-winded answer, JJ leaned over to whisper to Ernest Bower, who suddenly jumped up and brought the seminar to a halt.
It was still only 11:30am and the seminar was supposed to go until noon.
JJ probably thought an early halt would be wise before they put their foot deeper into the mouth. Or maybe he was really getting bored and just couldn't take it anymore. Or maybe he was hungry.
So JJ led Nazri out of the room and the audience followed.
So much for the so-called ‘dialogue’.
-Raja Petra Kamarudin
First-hand account from a reader , Malaysian Student @The Elliot School of International Affairs on the CSIS Seminar in Washington DC, who attended the Seminar
Read here for more in Din Merican's Blog
"....The Malaysian Taxpayers have a right to know what happened at the recent CSIS seminar. I feel it is my duty to share with you my report on the proceedings. I hope, Mr. Merican, you will publish my piece on your blog, which I follow closely in DC.
I apologise to Mr. Martin Jalleh for borrowing the word circus (I read his piece “Malaysian Circus Goes to Washington” on http://www.dinmerican.wordpress.com )
Actually what happened in Washington is not only a waste of taxpayers’ money (about rm 4million was spent on this, that is the story I heard here, but I have no means of verifying this) but also a disgrace to all of us who are Malaysians here in this politically vibrant city.
The performance was as Mr. Jalleh had predicted. It was dominated by spins and fell well short of the worst expectations.
The Team of Minister Nazri, MACC Chairman Abdul Hamid and AG Gani Patail (The NAG Team) was not there in full force.
Nazri took the podium and monopolized it for the most part – some 1 hour plus.
Gani Patail, we were was told by our “pengcubit punggung” Ambassador JJ, was busy at the State Department in discussions concerning “re-exports” and “transshipments.” Crudely put, it was the issue of breach of sanctions and rules concerning export licenses. The AG was presumably being asked to account for jet engines that flew off on their own to Uruguay, and the lucrative business of shipping sensitive equipment to Iran and other hot ports via Dubai.
The scheduled speaker, Chairman of MACC Hamid who turned up late suddenly appeared to have lost his voice, speaking on briefly and the audience was entertained instead by the lacklustre Dato Abu Kassim, the recently minted Commissioner of MACC.
The NAG Team included a number of hangers-on who could not be identified.
However, three MPS were introduced – a UMNO-Barisan Nasional Tajuddin, Wee Chee Keong (PKR MP for Wangsa Maju) and Penang MP for Bayan Baru, a certain Dato Seri Zahrain Hashim, who recently quit PKR.
The opening act was by the nervous Master of Ceremonies for the event – Ernie Bower of the CSIS. Mr. Bower who was severely criticised for arranging this seminar was groveling, asking the audience to be gentle and polite with questions and to show respect to the VIP guests from Malaysia.
He went on to make the point that the session was a closed one and that all statements were off the record. He broke the CSIS’s covenant for an open dialogue.
Thus there were no media representatives. The rest of the audience were students including myself, odd US Government Departmental representatives, academics, a handful of the Malaysian diaspora, and retirees from the US Foreign service.
This event did NOT attract the capital’s movers and shakers or opinion makers that the NAG team was dispatched to win over or seduce. It would appear that APCO, the lobbying firm, did not deliver after having collected their fat fees.
Minister Nazri began by referring to Mr Martin Jalleh’s article on the Malaysian Circus, which was posted in Raja Petra’s web-paper and carried on your blog. He said that his trip had been planned nine months ago and was part of the new Prime Minister Najib’s wish to cultivate closer relationships with the US.
Nazri elaborated that other Ministers and high officials would all be making visits to Washington in the future. He stressed that Najib was deeply committed to better relations with the Obama Administration. (Or was this an indication to all and sundry that they could count on Rosmah Mansor’s patronage of the Washington Area Shopping Malls which are still feeling the effects of the recession?).
Nazri assured that Washington would be close to the heart of the Malaysian Government.
The haughty Nazri was totally boring and spinning hard and made little or no impression on the audience. His responses to questions were rambling and evasive.
Kumar, the Amnesty International representative, was scathing — compared Malaysia to Myanmar in terms of adherence to the Rule of Law.
Nazri went off at a tangent and gave long definitions about the Rule of Law and good governance. His bull carried on weight.He was no better when questioned by Hibert Murray, formerly of the Far Eastern Economic Review who was in jail as guest of the Malaysian King, on the Allah issue – putting the blame on Roman Catholic Archbishop of Malaysia for instigating the issue. He said it was okay to use Allah in East Malaysia but it is taboo in Peninsula Malaysia. There were the usual worn out excuses for the ISA.
The cowhead –episode, in the de facto Law Minister’s view, had broken no laws and it was, therefore, difficult to prosecute. What crap is that!. I bowed my head in embarrassment at this outrageous comment. No permits from the Police are required to hold demonstrations, a fact Nazri conveniently forgot.
Dato Abu Kassim, the Commissioner of MACC, was boring sick as he described the various Committees that were created to oversee the MACC. In response to questions about the independence of MACC, he said it had freedom to investigate but not prosecute.
No mention was made of the MACC’s selective persecution of opposition. That was up to the AG but the MACC Committees had power to “review”.
On the Teoh Beng Hock issue, he was vague and evasive and said new processes for interrogations were under consideration.
A question about the Mongolian model was completely side-stepped.
Most in the audience left thoroughly disappointed.
We all deserve a refund for this dismal performance.
-Malaysian Student @The Elliot School of International Affairs - February 25, 2010