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'Spot the Despot' at the 2014 DSA

Apr. 14, 2014 - 03:45AM   |  
By WENDELL MINNICK   |   Comments
Myanmar's Vice Senior General Soe Win salutes during a Dec. 11 visit to the Amar Jawan Jyoti (Tomb of the Unnamed Soldier) at the India Gate monument in New Delhi.
Myanmar's Vice Senior General Soe Win salutes during a Dec. 11 visit to the Amar Jawan Jyoti (Tomb of the Unnamed Soldier) at the India Gate monument in New Delhi. (Vijay Kumar / Ministry Of Defence via AFP)
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Members of the Western media are playing a game called 'spot the despot.' It includes a business card with one side listing 28 countries identified by Freedom House in 2012 as the worst offenders of human rights. On the other side of the card are the rules and point system. / Wendell Minnick / Staff

Kua Kia Soong

Kua is the director of Malaysia’s human rights organization, SUARAM. From 1990-1995, Kua was an opposition member of parliament for Petaling Jaya. In 1987, Kua was a political detainee under the Internal Security Act, which allows detention without trial. He received his MA in economics and a PhD in sociology from Manchester University, UK.

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KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA — There are a number of very-important-persons (VIP) attending this year’s Defence Services Asia (DSA) exhibition, being held this week in Kuala Lumpur, that normally would get the cold shoulder from anyone with an allergy to genocide, including Myanmar, Sudan and Zimbabwe. However, here in Malaysia this week they are treated not only as VIP’s but VVIPs.

The DSA’s VVIP list of 159 members includes Sudanese Lt. Gen. Mohammad Al Hassan Abdullah; Zimbabwe’s Secretary General Martin Rushwaya and the chief of the army’s Vice Senior General Soe Win; Myanmar’s Minister of Defense, Lt. Gen. Wai Lwin, and Deputy Minister of Defense, Major Gen. Kyaw Nyunt. All told, there are 10 Myanmar members, one Sudanese, three Zimbabweans, and three Chinese. Though there are no North Koreans or Iranians on the VVIP list, they have been known to make appearances at past DSA events.

Armed with the VVIP list, members of the Western media are playing a game called “spot the despot.” It includes a business card with one side listing 28 countries identified by Freedom House in 2012 as the worst offenders of human rights. On the other side of the card are the rules and point system:

■ 1 point for a verifiable encounter.

■ 2 points for a photograph.

■ 3 points for a photograph with you in it.

■ 4 points for a photograph in which you are all laughing together.

It is unclear what the winner takes home after racking up the highest number of points.

No one in Malaysia knows more about the dark side of politics and arms deals than Kua Kia Soong whose 2010 book serves as an uncomfortable exposé of Malaysia’s defense industry. “Questioning Arms Spending In Malaysia” details corruption, official ineptitude, murder and racism in the arms industry in Malaysia.

Q: Your 2010 book laid bare uncomfortable facts about rampant corruption. When the book came out what was the reaction from the military and defense industry?

A: I don’t think there was any response from the defense industry. Some government members asked for my arrest and detention under the Internal Security Act, others called me a traitor for also launching the book in London.

Q: You quoted George Orwell at the beginning of the book: “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” Do you see yourself as an “Orwell” in Malaysia? Is it dangerous to tell the truth about the military-industrial complex in Malaysia?

A: I wish I could write like Orwell. No, I believe in telling the truth and exposing corruption and deceit.

Q: At one point in your book, you stated: “Very often, contracts are given to companies which have links to political leaders. Approving officers, for obvious reasons, then approve projects forwarded by relatives or friends of political leaders.” How serious is this problem today, four years after your book was published? Can you give me some examples?

A: The Scorpene scandal is still the worst example as reported in my book. The bigger scandal is that the judiciary has let off all the suspects in the murder of Altantuya.

Q: You are referring to the gruesome 2006 murder of Altantuya Shaaribuu, a Mongolian translator, who was accused of blackmailing a government official involved in a corruption conspiracy with the procurement of three Scorpene submarines. Should Western companies be concerned about the manner in which she was murdered?

A: If they believe in truth and justice, they certainly should be. There are other examples, including the 2002 Karachi Affair involving the same French company Direction des Constructions Navales that resulted in the deaths of 11 French engineers killed in a bomb blast; the “Lafayette Frigate Scandal” in Taiwan involved the procurement of six frigates from the French company, Thomson-CSF, in which eight people died under suspicious circumstances and billions of dollars remain missing. Should Western arms companies be concerned? Do they have morals?

Q: What can be done to reform Malaysia’s arms industry procurement practices? Or is it impossible?

A: Not under the present regime.

Q: You said in your book that the military is dominated by one ethnic group, the Malays. According to demographic data, Malays make up 50 percent of Malaysia’s population, with Indians at 7.1 percent, Chinese at 24.6 percent, and Others at 18.8 percent. What is the makeup of the military by percentage by officers and enlisted amongst Malays, Chinese and Indians?

A: The Malaysian military is dominated by Malays at well over 90 percent, and the officer rank shows an even greater domination by Malays at over 95 percent. As with the civil service, this is the result of blatant racial discrimination after the 1971 New Economic Policy, especially with regard to promotions in the services, including in the education sector.

Q: In 1987 Kua was a political detainee under the Internal Security Act, which allows detention without trial. Why were you imprisoned?

A: I was one of the 106 Malaysians arrested and detained without trial or charges for being a “threat to national security” under “Operation Lalang” in 1987 when Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was trying to create a climate of fear in order for his assault on the judiciary when the Lord President and three Supreme Court judges were sacked. The Federal Court was about to decide on the case brought by Team B led by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah of the United Malays National Organization. If Mahathir had lost, he would have lost the prime ministership. Besides me, those detained included the Leader of the Opposition, union leaders, environmentalists, educationists, Christians, as well as the Opposition Islamic Party leaders. I was an educationist and my writings in the 1980s must have made Mahathir very unhappy.

Q: What does your organization, SUARAM, do exactly?

A: SUARAM exists to defend and uphold human rights which includes civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights. Through the years, we have campaigned against war, militarism, corruption, dams and fought for the rights of the indigenous peoples, workers, farmers, urban settlers and all the marginalized and poor communities.

Q: What is your position on arms deals?

A: I belong to the Global Day of Action against military spending (April 14). We don’t encourage militarism and demand for spending to be directed instead to social spending.

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