Time to focus as Malaysia goes off the edge

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(July 25): Before you think of another catchy hashtag, decide to wear black tomorrow or buy a candle for a vigil to protest against the three-month suspension order for The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily, consider extending your outrage to the original issue – the RM42 billion debt racked up by 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) and the unexplained RM2.67 billion that found its way to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's private bank accounts.

Reports on this two issues have cropped up and were also exposed elsewhere – The Sarawak Report blog, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), The New York Times and even Singapore's Straits Times.

So why ban The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily for three months, on the excuse that both publications' reporting of 1MDB were "prejudicial or likely to be prejudicial to public order, security or likely to alarm public opinion or is likely to be prejudicial to public and national interests".

How can a business weekly with a circulation of 25,000 or a business daily with a circulation of not more than 15,000 be "prejudicial or likely to be prejudicial to public order, security or likely alarm to public opinion or is likely to be prejudicial to public and national interests?"

Why is Putrajaya resorting to such an illogical ban when those named have not begun to clear their names through the legal process? The WSJ has yet to be sued. Neither has The Edge Weekly, The Edge Financial Daily or Sarawak Report been sued.

The only thing that has happened is to ban the two publications and to block Sarawak Report, which has not quite worked as well as the authorities would like Malaysians to believe.

A friendly reminder that the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 and a host of other laws governing online publications in respect of publishing misinformation have backfired when the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) basically admitted it has yet to verify if the Sarawak Report articles are actually false.

Which leaves us with the fact that the authorities are just bolting the stable doors after the horses have run off. The news is out there, still not denied, not refuted, except to stick to the playbook that it is all part of a political conspiracy to unseat the government of the day.

A conspiracy that involves – depending on who you listen to or to what some social political bloggers dream of – a former prime minister, politicians, media barons, foreign newspapers and bloggers.

But none of those who think up of such conspiracy theories has an answer to how 1MDB spent RM42 billion or the origin and destination of monies which found their way into the prime minister's bank accounts in 2013.

All we know is what the government tells us. That 1MDB has some RM51 billion in assets – land, power and water plants – to cover its debts and that the prime minister did not gain personally from the private bank accounts.

Right. So why the need to restructure 1MDB? Why the need for others to pay off its bonds? Why can't 1MDB redeem its "units" in Singapore?

Why doesn't the prime minister explain if it is true nearly US$700 million, including RM42 million purportedly from the government-owned SRC International Sdn Bhd, went into his accounts? Where was most of the money from? Why is government money in an account under his name? Where did the money go?

How is it that Bank Negara Malaysia or the bank did not spot such a huge sum of money flowing into the accounts? Why are our graft-busters arresting a random set of people? Why are some people barred from leaving the country?

All this should be the major part of our outrage, not just The Edge Weekly or The Edge Financial Daily getting suspended for three months. That is just the symptom of a larger issue.

The issue of trust. Or the lack of it.

The government can ban newspapers and block websites. But it cannot ban thinking, it cannot ban the sharing of information and news reports about the issues of the day.

That is what we Malaysians must do now. To think it through, to discuss the issues that matter and share it as widely as possible among friends and foes.

Until the government explains and answers all the questions posed by The Edge Weekly, The Edge Financial Daily, journalists the world over, local politicians and the investigating authorities.

We need to focus on issues which ail our nation, or just like the powers that be, we will go off the edge. – July 26, 2015.

* Jahabar Sadiq runs The Malaysian Insider.