Politics

Rocky roads and hopeful future of Malaysia

When I decided to start The Expat some 20 years ago, one of the reasons was to try and offer expats a more positive view of the country. The Prime Minister at the time was Tun Mahathir, and he was an outspoken and often controversial leader who was quite willing to launch verbal attacks on the leaders of more developed countries when he disagreed with their actions. Not surprisingly, these attacks rarely received favourable coverage in the international media.

Before moving to Malaysia, I tended to regard his views with a fair degree of cynicism, but after moving here I was better able to appreciate some of them. So apart from trying to help expats enjoy their stay in Malaysia, I also hoped that we could contribute in a small way to creating a more positive view of Malaysia by giving expats plenty of good things to communicate to their friends, relatives, and colleagues around the world.

Some readers over the years have complained that we were perhaps ignoring areas which were a problem and which expats would like to see addressed, but we decided to stay with the more positive stories as much as possible.

The 1MDB saga has resulted in a lot of negative publicity for Malaysia, including in a number of serious, well-respected international media channels. This is concerning given Malaysia’s desire to attract more multinationals to set up operations here.

The various investigations into 1MDB taking place in several countries have raised many questions, a scenario made all the more troubling given the insistence in Malaysia that it was simply a case of poor governance, not fraud.

1mdb
Photo credit: Faiz Zaki / Shutterstock.com

The recent legal action commenced by the US Department of Justice has added more fuel to the fire, not least because it appears they have done a very thorough and detailed investigation. Their 136-page legal suit provides a lot of detailed information about how money was apparently stolen from 1MDB. Earlier this year, the Swiss Attorney General stated that he believed nearly US$4 billion had been misappropriated.

Given all the ongoing investigations, it seems unlikely this negative coverage will end any time soon. This clearly has an impact on foreign investors thinking of setting up businesses in Malaysia. Expats put a high level of importance on stability, low levels of corruption, and law and order. Malaysia was scoring fairly well and showing improvement in these areas, which certainly encouraged more companies to do business here.

The 1MDB saga seems to have led, directly or indirectly, to a degree of instability, increased restriction on freedom of expression, and increased racial and religious tensions in Malaysia. There is also concern that the enormous number of police reports resulting from all this have been a factor in what seems to be a rise in crime.

The local mainstream media make little mention of any ongoing investigation into 1MDB, giving the impression that this is not an important matter. There also seems to be no serious attempt to validate or refute the claims made by overseas authorities, even the detailed investigation by the US Department of Justice.

The number of expats living in Malaysia is not as large as in some of the surrounding countries, but they do they interact with the rest of the world a lot more frequently than the average Malaysian and can often influence foreign investment decisions. Given the high level of interest in these issues and actions being taken (or not taken) to address them, we have started writing about them.

Certainly some of the stories are more negative than we would like to print. However, despite this, we continue to stay positive and hopeful about Malaysia’s future.

This article was originally published in The Expat magazine (September 2016) which is available online or in print via a free subscription.




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