Asian Insider Sept 3: Carrie Lam, 1MDB, Manila’s trolley boys

Asian Insider brings you insights into a fast-changing region from our network of correspondents.

In today’s bulletin: Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam denies she is being forced by Beijing to stay in the job; a key witness takes the stand in Najib Razak’s 1MDB corruption trial; Britain’s parliamentary chaos raises eyebrows and more.

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The start of the school term in Hong Kong has clearly failed to dampen protests but the bulk of the attention today is on embattled chief executive Carrie Lam’s latest crisis. An audio recording taken of her speaking at a private lunch was leaked and it includes an excerpt where she says she would quit if she had a choice - an apparent admission she is being forced by Beijing to stay in the job. Mrs Lam denied the remarks, saying they were taken out of context. She stressed she had never resigned and have never even contemplated discussing her resignation with Beijing.

Read excerpts from the leaked remarks

Listen to all 4.48 seconds of the recording


In the second week of the trial of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak over alleged corruption, the prosecution introduced a key witness: his former special officer Datuk Amhari Efendi Nazaruddin. On the stand, he said Najib and fugitive financier Jho Low worked closely together with Low having “extraordinary powers”. The prosecution narrative appears to be that the two men used their power to embezzle billions out of the state fund. It remains early days in a trial meant to run for months.

What you need to know about the 1MDB trial so far:

Jho Low had 'extraordinary powers', says Najib's former special officer

Najib abused his powers to enrich himself, says prosecution


Brexit is not normally in the purview of this newsletter but we are making an exception today given the extraordinary events that have led to an anticipated showdown in UK Parliament today. The use of prorogation as a political weapon has been of particular interest to commonwealth countries in Asia, as many legislatures here have the same process - inherited from the British. Today, the first time Parliament will sit since the shock announcement last week is being watched to see if/how the legislature can serve as a check on the executive.

What's next for Brexit? Six possible outcomes


The competition to attract the best talent in tech from around the world became a talking point in Singapore’s parliament yesterday as Trade and Industry Ministry Chan Chun Sing was asked about a new programme that eases some of the foreign labour restrictions faced by employers for those in tech. The minister highlighted the current stiff competition globally for the best technology talents - with countries like Thailand and France, similarly putting in place programmes to woo such experts. The thinking here is that there will be only a few global tech hubs, and to become one requires a critical mass of high-end professionals. However, the idea of wooing foreigners to work in a country is a complicated political issue for governments everywhere.

Singapore’s efforts: Singapore chases tech 'Jedi Masters' to groom budding talent


Our Philippines correspondent Raul Dancel todays brings us the story of an high-risk makeshift public transport solution that hundreds depend on in Manila as they struggled with gridlock and roads and an insufficiently built out train station network. They are called trolley boys - literally boys who push passengers on makeshift trolleys on rail tracks. The big problem: the tracks often also have commuter trains on them.

Read the report here: Manila rail lines' trolley boys


Hurricane Dorian: Hurricane Dorian unleashed massive flooding across the Bahamas on Monday (Sept 2), pummelling the islands with so much wind and water that authorities urged people to find floatation devices and grab hammers to break out of their attics if necessary. At least five deaths were blamed on the storm.

Swearing-in controversy in Thailand: Thailand's Parliament will debate the incomplete oath of office taken by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the Cabinet, a controversy some critics say could render the less than two-month-old government illegitimate.

Lost in translation: A small German corporate management company has become an online sensation in Indonesia for its phallic name. The Facebook page of Kontool has been flooded with cheeky comments from Indonesians who find the name funny.

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading and see you tomorrow.