1MDB asset recovery – think big, small steps, move quickly

Malaysia can flush him out easily if we simply apply pressure on the nerve that rattles him -- his money.

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Published by The Star & The Malay Mail, image from The Star.

“Think Big, Small Steps, Move Quickly” were the summary findings of the Industry 4.0 Roundtable arranged by A.T. Kearney, Ekuiti Nasional Bhd (Ekuinas) and Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC).

It struck me that the Pakatan Harapan government would be well-served to take up this mantra in pursuing its political and economic initiatives.

For instance, how can we apply this to the tragicomedy of Jho Taek Low (or Jho Low), the story of which has hardly gone according to script from the soapbox days of promises on the GE14 campaign trail.

Where’s the rapid-fire justice, the public reckoning and the return of the pilfered billions promised to the rakyat?

Instead, what we have broadcast to the local and foreign public is that we, Malaysians, cannot accomplish this objective without the United States’ Department of Justice (DOJ) or some other external assistance.

Lesson #1: The opportunity we have is enormous: We have aggrandised Jho Taek Low, a key figure in the 1Malaysia Development Bhd scandal, to the point of near invincibility. But what’s his reality? Scurrying in the backwaters like a rat with third-rate country passports.

The truth is that Malaysia can flush him out easily if we simply apply pressure on the nerve that rattles him, namely, his money.

Remember what happened when Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed seized Equanimity from her berth in Indonesia? Jho Low immediately cried foul via his lawyers and PR mouthpieces. Or when his family assets in Penang were frozen? Again he squealed out loud that he was being “politically persecuted”.

Lesson #2. Think global once in a while: Good old Jho Low would have gladly given up former premier Datuk Seri Najib Razak, his wife Datin Rosmah Mansor and her son Riza Shahriz Abdul Aziz, the Arabs and the Chinese on a sizzling hot plate if we had just kept the pressure up.

We should have gone after the Park Lane Hotel in New York, or his Basquiat art collection at the Geneva Freeport. More than anything else, he hates losing his toys! He comes running to the megaphone every time anyone presses one of those buttons.

Lesson #3: Take small steps towards big goals: When the DOJ cut their deal with Jho Low a few days back, he triumphantly said that he had resolved the matter amicably and with no admission of guilt.

He can’t help himself. It’s a tell, like Trump’s “People are saying” catchphrase every time he delivers another whopper.

Lesson #4: Keep learning from the process: So far we have made ourselves look like an inconsequential and powerless vassal who can only get their way if the Americans let us. If you look at how we have handled the 1MDB asset recovery, this is a clear pattern. We talk big at home, and do nothing outside.

Tactically, we have shown ourselves to be rank amateurs. Instead of fighting Goldman Sachs in New York where it would hurt them, we filed criminal charges against their top executives in Malaysian courts.

They didn’t even bother with a reaction. All we ended up doing was close our capital markets to the big foreign banks.

Lesson #5: Co-create the desired result: In short, what the Jho Low saga shows is Malaysia’s insecurity in asserting itself on the global stage, and its lack of sophistication in fighting fire with fire.

We pitted our civil servants against the world’s top lawyers, bankers, and press executives. Jho Low hired Chris Christie to cut his DOJ deal, and America’s top litigator David Boies was also retained by him.

We desperately need an international team with the relevant expertise. What we have to understand is that taking legal action in Malaysia won’t work since the stolen assets are not here but overseas.

Some might think it’s the job of foreign governments to get back Malaysia’s money for us, but it is not. Malaysia needs to vigorously pursue its rights in foreign courts. There’s no shame in using the best minds on the planet to realise our goals when we need to.

Lesson #6: Let’s stop underestimating ourselves: Jho Low is simply an illustration of the larger problem. Malaysia has been showing the same insecurity against prosecuting previous administration officials and in managing the economy, foreign investment, political reforms, etc, for far too long.

It’s time for a change.

Pakatan has been given the once-in-a-lifetime chance to transform itself from opposition politicians banging on the table into grown-ups wearing the pants and getting things done.

I think this is the main reason the average voter is upset. Jho Low – still at large and traveling freely with multiple passports – is a symptom of a big underlying problem which needs to be addressed.

The good news is that Pakatan still has about three and half years to turn the ship of state around. Our Captain has achieved the almost impossible by getting us through the storm of the previous kleptocratic government, and for that, the nation will always be grateful.

Now, we must move quickly to recognise that there are first mates, engineers and deckhands who can help us reach the destination quickly for the benefit of all Malaysians in the New Malaysia.

Dr. Rais Hussin is President & CEO of EMIR Research, a think tank focused on data-driven policy research, centered around principles of Engagement, Moderation, Innovation, and Rigour.

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