Today's three main offerings are no laughing matter, so if you find that our newsletter is a little lacking in its usual wit (if we do say so ourselves) and sarcasm, please do forgive us. The "sale" of Tabung Haji assets is our main focus, but we also cover stories on the an inquiry into the disappearance of a married couple that remind us of the "enforced disappearances" of Pastor Raymond Koh and social activist Amri Che Mat, as well as the threat to Orang Asli heritage lands and the natural habitat of countless species of flora and fauna in Selangor.

Disappearing assets, forests and people

Malaysia Mega Sale: The Tabung Haji edition

Four Tabung Haji-owned hotels are being “sold” and PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad says this is because the properties are underperforming. The four hotels are TH Hotel Kota Kinabalu, TH Hotel Bayan Lepas, TH Hotel and Convention Centre Alor Setar, and TH Hotel and Convention Centre Kuala Terengganu. They will be renamed Raia Hotel and remain syariah-compliant. 

The PM says TH is selling only assets that are underperforming. Therefore, he says, TH should “get out of it” as there are better ways of investing which would bring in better returns.

But the thing is this: these assets are being “sold” to the Ministry of Finance’s special purpose vehicle, Urusharta Jamaah Sdn Bhd (UJ).

A joint statement from TH and UJ earlier in the day said 29 assets, including the four hotels, and one company, valued at RM9.63 billion in total, were being transfered to UJ in exchange for RM19.9 billion, comprising two tranches of sukuk and RM300 million in cash. Denying a statement which had gone viral on social media that the hotels would be closed, TH and UJ said they would continue operations.

The statement also denied that employees of the hotels saying 90% of staff would be retained in their present roles, while the rest would be absorbed by TH Hotel Kelana Jaya.

Last year, the government announced it would inject RM17.8 billion into TH after it was found to have suffered losses amounting to RM10.2 billion due to irregularities and account manipulations during the BN administration of Najib Razak. De facto Islamic Affairs Minister Mujahid Rawa had said the government would allocate RM500 million in 2020 and RM1.73 billion a year from 2021.

Mujahid had claimed the BN government had adjusted Lembaga Tabung Haji’s (TH) depreciation policy to as high as 90% from the accepted norms of 20% to hide billions of investment losses. This also allowed the then gomen to announce high hibah (dividend) rates.

This, of course, was denied by former PM Najib Razak, who is obviously a true believer in the saying “the best defence is a good offence”. Jibby blamed the entire TH fiasco on the Pakatan gomen, saying Moneybags Minister Lim Guan Eng’s assertions that the country had a RM1 trillion debt and a Singapore Straits Times report quoting a senior Putrajaya official that TH was short RM4 billion had caused investors to pull out.

And he not only did it once, but twice. Just a few days after that first statement, the Jibster was at it again, this time claiming the RM17.8 billion bailout was just Pakatan’s way of hiding its mismanagement of the haj fund.

Whatever you want to believe, whether it was BN or Pakatan that’s responsible for the mess TH is in, the question remains as to why this “sale” went through. Yes, we know it’s in exchange for money in order for TH to balance its books. 

But if the assets were underperforming, then why take them on and not just sell them off even if it meant making a loss? Does this not mean that the burden of underperforming assets now falls on the gomen (meaning us poor tax-paying sods) and not a fund meant only for a certain portion (granted, a majority portion) of citizenry? Isn’t the country deeply enough in debt already? 

More importantly, if these assets were underperforming despite all the funds allocated to them, does it make sense now to throw good money after bad?

'State agents' at play again?

Most everyone in Malaysia (and some outside) know about Pastor Raymond Koh and activist Amri Che Mat, and how the duo were “disappeared” by “state agents”.

Not many, however, know about Joshua Hilmy and his Indonesian wife Ruth Sitepu (who went by Ruth Hilmy). Joshua converted to Christianity from Islam and had sought to have his MyKad changed to reflect this. A Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) inquiry is now being held to look into the couple’s disappearance in November 2016 (though it was only reported to the authorities a few months later). 

The inquiry first heard from a friend of Joshua’s by the name of Peter Pormannan, who testified that Joshua had told him the religious authorities were looking for him. However, when inquiry’s conducting officer asked if Joshua had told him of any threats, Peter disagreed, saying at that stage he was only aware it was merely an investigation (into Joshua’s conversion).

However, Peter’s daughter Grace Thangamalar, the second witness in the inquiry, said Joshua and Ruth had received threats over the phone. Grace and her brother had been staying with the Hilmys at their home in Petaling Jaya and another tenant had told her about overhearing the “heated phone conversation” during which Joshua and Ruth had been threatened.

Ruth’s family is hoping the inquiry will be able to shed answers as to her and Joshua’s whereabouts. Still holding out in hopes that the couple are hiding somewhere incommunicado, her siblings say the family is sure there are individuals who have information regarding the location and the welfare of the couple, and the circumstances of their disappearance.

Will the Suhakam inquiry lead to more evidence of government (or at least gomen agency) involvement in the disappearance? If you recall, separate inquiries into the disappearances of Pastor Koh and Amri found that both cases were “enforced disappearances” by state agents.

Subsequently, a task force was formed to look into the Suhakam findings, but nothing was forthcoming from the task force, leading to growing discontent from the wives of both men (and the general public). In November last year, Amri’s wife filed a civil suit against the government and police, and earlier this month, Koh’s wife did so too.

You can read the full report on Suhakam’s inquiry into Amri’s disappearance here and Koh’s disappearance here.

Whether or not you agree with what the Hilmys, Amri and Koh did, we need to ask ourselves just what kind of a system we’re living in, if people disappear – either by themselves or made to do so by state players – over issues of religion and belief.

Save our forests

Two environmental groups have urged the Selangor government to reconsider its plan to degazette 930ha within the Kuala Langat forest reserve, warning it would be a threat to various species of flora and fauna, as well as the lives of Orang Asli.

Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) president Ahmad Ismail said the move is “not good for wildlife” (talk about an understatement), adding that the Selangor government should ensure it’s in line with the Federal government’s aim of maintaining at least 55.3% forest cover in Malaysia.

Meanwhile, Global Environment Centre (GEC) has launched a petition to save the Kuala Langat forest reserve as it’s home to more than 2,000 Temuan Orang Asli, and also a sanctuary for critically endangered species such as the Malayan Sun Bear, Selangor Pygmy Flying Squirrel and the Langat Red Fighting Fish. Such a move, it said, could see some of these species go extinct.

GEC Forest and Coastal programme manager Nagarajan Rengasamy said the forest also serves as a water catchment and carbon storage area which reduces the impact of climate change. He said the move would see the ecology of the Langat and Klang river basins disrupted.

Several days ago, a Temuan villager raised concerns when he saw a notice in a local daily regarding the Selangor Forestry Department’s plans to degazette 930ha of land in the Kuala Langat forest reserve for development purposes. Shaq Koyok (not sure how big Shaquille O’Neal fans his family was) says the development would affect seven Orang Asli villages.

Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister Dr Xavier Jayakumar, who as it happens is also Kuala Langat MP, is dead set against the move, also citing the Federal gomen’s forest cover target. He said the Federal government, in fact, wants to increase this, pointing out that without Sabah and Sarawak, forest cover would stand at less than 50%.

We’re with Xavier on this. How do you justify disrupting the lives of 2,000 Orang Asli and the threat to the environment and various animals, including endangered species? Especially on land which has been a gazetted reserve since 1927.

Yes, state governments have autonomy from the Federal government. But come on, both are Pakatan gomens. Surely Shah Alam can listen to Putrajaya.

The saddest thing is that despite what climate change activists, scientists and even politicians say, we humans are still not giving a toss about the environment. Just two years back, we cleared forests around the world with a land area the size of England – with Malaysia one of the countries with high rates of deforestation.  

In fact, go back a few years and you’ll find that Malaysia had the world’s highest deforestation rate between 2000 and 2012. In that period, we destroyed forest area the size of Denmark. 

We need to change our attitudes fast, or the only jungles we’ll have left one day are the ones made of concrete, and the only animals there the ones that haunt our memories.

Bits and bobs

As usual, here’s our last section where we share some of the other news, in brief. Here they are:

  • PM Mahathir says he will definitely step down after the Asia Pacific Economic Council meeting in November, even if the Pakatan Presidential Council doesn’t discuss the transition of power to Anwar Ibrahim this Friday. But when lah Maddey? Immediately after? A month? A year? Two years? So cryptic and devious of you.
     
  • Mads also says the government is reviewing policies and laws pertaining to illegal drug use, including the mandatory death sentence.
     
  • Two Malaysians aboard the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess have tested positive for Covid-19. A Malaysian is also among four new cases in Singapore. However, half of the Covid-19 cases in Malaysia have already recovered.
     
  • The defence team in former “FLOM” Rosmah Mansor’s graft trial yesterday ripped into former Education Ministry secretary-general Madinah Mohamad’s testimony, accusing her of trying to make dear ol’ Jibby Razak a scapegoat. And horror of horrors, Madinah admitted that she had made inconsistent statements in court.
     
  • The findings of an investigation into the collapse of a condo under construction in Taman Desa, Kuala Lumpur, will be available in a month’s time, says Works Minister Baru Bian.
     
  • In the saddest news of the day, well-loved actor Ashraf Sinclair passed away in hospital in Indonesia. The 40-year-old died of a heart attack, his passing coming as a shock. Tributes from Malaysians of all walks of life, including celebrities, came pouring in yesterday. His death is tragic (this video of his grief-stricken family is particularly painful), but the outpouring of love is a sign that his was a life well lived. Rest in Peace, Ashraf.

“God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.”

- John Muir -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • Donald Trump did nothing to help improve impressions of “a president unbound” yesterday, issuing pardons to 11 white collar criminals, including a former governor found guilty of trying to “sell” a senate seat. Meanwhile, the sentencing of long-time Trump friend Roger Stone on seven counts of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering is set to go on despite rumours of an incoming presidential pardon.
     
  • The global Covid-19 (or coronavirus) death toll has crossed the 2,000 mark after 132 more people died in Hubei province yesterday. 
     
  • HSBC says it will cut 35,000 jobs over the next three years due to plunging profits, and issued a warning over the impact of Covid-19 in Asia. For context, the bank employs over 200,000 people around the world. 
     
  • Doctors working on a clinical trial for treatment of heart disease allegedly held back key data that suggested more patients were dying after three years of having stents inserted.

ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER

This weekday newsletter is brought to you by Trident Media, a group of Malaysian journalists with 60 years of combined media experience in four countries across TV, print and digital media.

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Trident Media · Seksyen 35 · Shah Alam, Selangor 40470 · Malaysia

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