Uncommon Sense with Wong Chin Huat: The threat of foreign funding

George Soros (© Harald Dettenborn | Wiki Commons)

George Soros (© Harald Dettenborn | Wiki Commons)

Now, between foreign bodies funding Malaysian NGOs, and the Malaysian government funding foreign corporations, which should we worry more about?

Wong Chin Huat, The Nut Graph

WHY don’t civil society organisations register as societies in Malaysia, resorting instead to being listed as companies? And don’t Malaysians deserve to be suspicious of groups which are highly critical of the government and which are propped up by foreign funding?

According to both the state and the national media, Malaysians should be wary. A 21 Sept 2012 New Straits Times front-page story said it all — there is a “Plot to destabilise govt”. And those behind this plot are human rights groups — with Suaram in the forefront — , civil society organisations, and news portal Malaysiakini by virtue of the fact, it seems, that they receive foreign funding, among others, from no less than George Soros.

Don’t the government and the media have every right to hold these groups accountable in the same way that these groups often hold the state accountable? The Nut Graph speaks to political scientist Wong Chin Huat on the still-unfolding issue of Malaysian groups and their foreign funding, and the threats they potentially pose to the nation.

TNG: Why shouldn’t Suaram be investigated? If it’s registered as a company, shouldn’t it be treated under company law like any other company? Just because it works on human rights issues, should it be given special treatment? 

Suaram logo (source: Wiki Commons)

Suaram logo (source: Wiki Commons)

The question we should first ask is: why did an NGO register as a company? A company may avoid tax if it is registered as an NGO. But what can an NGO gain by registering as a company? Nothing except for being registered!

The fact is registering an NGO under the Societies Act is made difficult and nearly impossible for civil society groups. Why? Because, to me, the Registrar of Societies (ROS) is loyal not to the country, its citizenry and the federal constitution which guarantees us freedom of association, but to the ruling parties. Groups — whether NGOs or political parties — deemed unfriendly to the federal ruling parties are often denied registration. For example, Parti Sosialis Malaysia was denied registration for years but the Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP)’s registration was approved in days.

If Suaram should be on trial for using a roundabout way to register itself with the state, then the ROS and their political master, the home minister, should be in the dock for insulting the Federal Constitution and betraying citizens.

Yes, Suaram should certainly not enjoy any special discrimination. At the same time, if we want to talk about fair treatment all around, NGOs promoting human rights should enjoy as much freedom of association as those groups opposing human rights. Is that too much to ask of our prime minister, Najib the Moderate?

We often complain about government inefficiency. In the case of the ongoing investigation into Suaram, shouldn’t we applaud the government’s multi-agency efficiency?

I beg to differ about this allegation of general government inefficiency in Malaysia. This is slander by people who are jealous of our country’s achievement! I apologise if I, too, have unwittingly contributed to this misperception in the past.

Our government is certainly quite efficient when it wants to be. For example, in compromising justice; inciting hatred; acquiring lands; destroying forests; serving foreign interests; enriching cronies; violating human rights and finally; covering up all these acts through censoring the media and witch-hunting whistle-blowers. They are really very good in these core competencies.

Why can’t groups like Suaram, the Centre for Independent Journalism, and LoyarBurok, and movements like Bersih 2.0 source for funds locally? Why do they need to get foreign funding?

If you are deemed as friendly to the government, then you get easy donations from big businesses and of course, the government itself.

If you are deemed as anti-establishment, you may get donations from some other Malaysians but only if you grow big enough to be seen as a threat to the government. In that sense, large opposition parties and vocal ethno-religious NGOs generally have no big problems securing funding.

Funding problems are also solved when one is the target of a government witch-hunt. For example, Bersih 2.0 raised the money needed to organise the Bersih 2.0 and 3.0 rallies completely through public donations from Malaysians at home and abroad.

So, what kind of NGO work needs foreign funding? Those deemed threatening to the regime but which are not “sexy” enough to draw in pro-change public donations. For example, the funds Bersih 2.0 received from the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and Open Society Institute (OSI) was for a study on constituency re-delineation. At that time, Bersih 2.0 was still in its infancy and received little public attention.

(source: suaram.net)

Annual human rights reports: not as sexy as seeing Najib in a French courtroom (source: suaram.net)

Another good example of important NGO work that is not so appealing in the public’s eyes is Suaram’s annual human rights report, arguably one of the most important documentations of political development in Malaysia. How many of those who donated to Suaram for the Scorpene suit just to see Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak being dragged to a French court, forked out the same amount of money for the NGO’s annual publication?

Read more at: http://www.thenutgraph.com/uncommon-sense-with-wong-chin-huat-the-threat-of-foreign-funding/