After 1MDB, Malaysia launches anti-graft plan to clean stables

There has been widespread public disgust over allegations that about $4.5 billion was stolen from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, a state fund set up by former prime minister Najib Razak. (AFP)
Updated 29 January 2019

After 1MDB, Malaysia launches anti-graft plan to clean stables

  • Voters rejected Mahathir Mohamad’s predecessor Najib Razak in an election in May last year
  • Malaysia was ranked 62 out of 180 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index published by Transparency International last year

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia on Tuesday unveiled an ambitious five-year plan to clamp down on corruption in government, months after a multi-billion-dollar graft scandal brought down the previous administration.
The plan, launched by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, would involve sweeping changes to the appointment process for key posts, require lawmakers and ministers to publicly declare their assets, and introduce new laws to regulate political funding and lobbying.
Voters rejected Mahathir’s predecessor Najib Razak in an election in May last year, amid widespread public disgust over allegations that about $4.5 billion was stolen from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state fund set up by Najib.
The former premier, his wife, and several high-ranking officials of his former administration have since been hit with dozens of criminal charges related to losses at 1MDB and other government entities. All of them have pled not guilty.
Mahathir said Malaysia needs “all kinds of strategies, laws and restrictions” to curb corruption.
“This plan is a strong statement from the current government that we will track down and prosecute past offenders, while current and future offenders will be facing harsher action,” Mahathir said in a speech to launch the new approach to fighting graft.
The plan’s measures would target the government’s procurement process, law enforcement, judiciary, politics and business, he said.
New rules on political funding could affect opposition parties, particularly the United Malays National Organization, the party once led by Mahathir and subsequently led by Najib for close to a decade before his fall last year.
Having led every multi-ethnic coalition since independence six decades ago until its defeat in 2018, UMNO had established a system of patronage to bind Malay support for the party.
UMNO and PAS, a Malay Islamist party also in opposition, had reportedly received funds from 1MDB.
Malaysia was ranked 62 out of 180 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index published by Transparency International last year.
Malaysian and US authorities allege that Jho Low, a financier with ties to Najib’s family, diverted funds from 1MDB and that about $1 billion of it made their way into Najib’s personal bank accounts.
Both Najib and Low, whose whereabouts are unknown, have consistently denied wrongdoing.
Officials studied the 1MDB case closely to design the new anti-corruption plan, said Abu Kassim Mohamed, the director-general of the Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption Center, which drafted the anti-graft measures.
“When you have a top leader of the country allegedly involved in misconduct on such a mega scale, that has an impact on the public,” Abu Kassim said on Monday.
The plan addresses high-risk practices such as the selling of government contracts to third parties, and the appointment of political operatives to the board of state-linked companies, he said.
It also aims to strengthen the independence of investigating bodies such as the audit department and the anti-corruption commission, he said.

Where’s the beef? Argentine cattle ranchers hope it’s heading to China

Updated 18 September 2019

Where’s the beef? Argentine cattle ranchers hope it’s heading to China

  • Surging sales to Beijing shake up global meat trade and deliver tasty windfall for Latin American giant

BUENOS AIRES: Cattle ranchers in Argentina, which recently edged out neighbor Brazil as the top exporter of beef to China, are hoping to build on that status by getting more local meatpacking plants approved by Beijing, industry officials and other sources told Reuters.

An Argentine industry group is currently in China looking to promote the South American country’s famed T-bone steaks and sirloins, while Chinese teams have recently inspected Argentine local meat plants, the sources said.

The push, after a massive spike in Argentine beef exports to the world’s No. 2 economy this year, underscores how China is looking to diversify its protein supply, shaking up the global meat trade as African swine fever hammers its domestic hog herd.

It is also an important windfall for Latin America’s third-biggest economy, which is battling to get out of a deep recession and facing a swirling debt crisis ahead of elections in October that will likely usher in a new government.

Argentina, which traditionally exports cheaper cuts to China, saw its beef sales to the country more than double to $870 million in the first seven months of the year, data from its official INDEC statistics agency shows.

Chinese customs data show that amounted to around 185,604 tons of Argentine beef, giving it the top share of the Chinese import market with 21.7 percent, slightly ahead of Brazil’s 21.03 percent. That volume was a jump of 129 percent against the year before.

Santiago del Solar, chief of staff to Argentina’s agriculture minister, told Reuters there were many slaughterhouses up for approval and that China was working closely with Argentine food safety body Senasa.

“We will have news in the coming months about more pork, poultry and beef slaughterhouses being approved for China,” he said, adding Senasa was doing some inspections on behalf of China using an “honor system.”

Argentina’s ranchers are now looking for more. A trade delegation is currently in China meeting with potential buyers of the country’s meat, an industry official with knowledge of the meetings said.

The person added that a Chinese team had also recently traveled to Argentina to visit local meat plants.

“The Chinese were there last week in Buenos Aires, they were doing inspections and made good progress. The plants issue is pretty good, but with China they make approvals when they want to do it,” he said.

“We are optimistic with the results. It seems they didn’t find anomalies, but yes, it depends on the time frame of the Chinese.”

The progress comes after China granted export licenses to 25 Brazilian meatpacking plants earlier this month. Brazil has also seen a surge in meat demand from China.

China’s General Administration of Customs, which approves new imports, also recently gave the green light to imports of soymeal from Argentina, following decades of talks between the two countries.

The customs body did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment from Reuters asking about new Chinese approvals for Argentine meat plants.

A second person, a manager at a state-owned Chinese trading house, said he had met with an Argentine firm last week during the delegation’s visit. He declined to name the firm, which had met with China customs officials, but said it had already been approved for exports and was seeking further plant approvals.

Miguel Schiariti, president of the CICCRA meat industry chamber, said a Chinese team had also recently done a video-conference inspection of an Argentine plant alongside Senasa, with the aim of approving the facility for export.

“There are 11 meat plants ready to be approved and (the Chinese) are doing it one by one. But approval is taking a long time,” he said.

“These places would meet the criteria for approval, but the Chinese have always been very cautious, despite the problems they have with pork. It seems to me that plants won’t get approved before November.”