NEWS ANALYSIS

Look to the myth of the many-headed Hydra to explain Malaysia's political turmoil

KUALA LUMPUR - In Greek and Roman mythology, the Hydra is a multi-headed serpentine monster. If one of its heads is cut off, two heads will grow to replace it.

It was finally killed by Hercules.

For anyone looking for ancient metaphors to explain the political turmoil in Malaysia, look no further.

The RM2.6 billion (S$860 million) donation found in Prime Minister Najib Razak’s bank accounts and the troubles of state investor 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) are akin to two Hydras that must be slayed in order for the country to move on.

The only problem is, no one is sure yet whether Datuk Seri Najib is the mythical hero. Try as he might, the twin Hydras kept growing new heads to snap at his heels.

In the donation issue, he thought he had chopped off one key problem using his keris by admitting that he did receive the money and that the central bank was aware of the inflow.

But two new questions were quickly raised by his critics, including ex-premier Tun Dr Mahathir and opposition leaders.

Who in the world would give such huge sums away? And surely he or they wanted something in return?

The Prime Minister has said that the donors do not wish to be identified and did not ask for anything in return.

Other Hydra heads have grown, including questions on whether a public office holder can accept a “gift” let alone such a massive one, and why Mr Najib didn’t tell his deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin or the Umno supreme council about the money.

MONEY FROM MULTI-BILLIONAIRE/S 

But first, let’s digress into who could be the donor or donors.

There has been much speculation about the identity of the Arab multi-billionaire/s who could give away US$680 million, the equivalent of RM2.6 billion. 

The person or persons cannot be a mere multi-millionaire, so it can be surmised that there is but a small handful of such persons or families with such vast sums of money. And they should be from the ruling families in the Arab Gulf states enriched by giant petroleum reserves.

Eliminating such families from, say, Oman, Dubai or Bahrain because they generally shun regional and international politics, there are even fewer Gulf families left who could have gifted Mr Najib the money.

1MDB TROUBLES

Now back to the Hydra. In the 1MDB issue, the government first denied there were any problems with the Finance Ministry-owned company carrying debts of RM42 billion.

Now it has admitted that the loans must be pared down substantially and that there could be financial improprieties that should be investigated further.

The Hydra heads grew: Who were responsible for approving such a huge loans book in 1MDB, whose board of advisers is headed by Mr Najib? Also, who decided to issue bonds at such scandalous interest rates?

Now that 1MDB has managed to cut RM17 billion of its debts by selling its power plant unit to a Chinese company, other uncomfortable questions have surfaced.

Questions are being asked on how strategic energy assets - Edra owns five Malaysian power plants - could be sold off to foreign interests.

The Edra Global Energy unit appeared to have been sold at a loss, so how is the government planning to cover this hole?

When Mr Najib said the value of 1MDB’s assets and landbanks are higher than its liabilities, Dr Mahathir pointed to something odd.

1MDB was sold some government land at the edge of the Bukit Bintang shopping district by the Finance Ministry for RM60 per sq ft. Commercial deals there were done at RM7,000 psf.

So how do public coffers gain from this sale? Why is public money being sacrificed to help off 1MDB pay off its loans?

And so on and so forth.

Wanted: A Malaysian Hercules with a sharper keris.

reme@sph.com.sg