In the run-up to Malaysia’s 14th General Elections, 2018, Machiavellian maestro Mahathir Mohamad deployed the slogan Cash is King! to devastating effect against then incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak, imbricating him in a narrative of shameless corruption. While the matter of Najib’s corruption is yet to be heard in law, it has been decided in public opinion, as Mahathir has now, at 92 years of age, returned as the oldest serving Prime Minister in the world. Mahathir’s meme imprinted in popular Malaysian consciousness the sense (regardless of veracity) that Najib’s corruption was qualitatively worse that anything that had transpired before, much of which had happened under Mahathir’s own watch.
The question of corruption is also currently under the spotlight in Canada by way the ongoing SNC Lavalin affair, in which it is alleged that the Prime Minister’s Office’s (PMO) put pressure upon the Attorney General of Canada to act in the interest of the said corporation in a criminal matter. (Please see my previous post for a Key to the SNC Lavalin Affair) The question at hand is whether this pressure was exerted on the Attorney General, in an improper manner, vis-a-vis the ‘Rule of Law.’ The stakes, for the time being, appear to be ‘merely’ political. Whether or not this pressure broke federal obstruction-of-justice laws is not as yet in question. It appears, however, that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has been urged to begin criminal investigations by five former Federal and Provincial Attorney’s General. Equally it appears that, it could be argued that in terms of the rules and values of our system there is no illegality, not even a scandal, just another Wilson-Raybould storm in another Trudeau teacup. This seems to be what seasoned commentator B suggests in her article, “Look Away. There’s no scandal here with SNC-Lavalin.” Yes, it’s just business as usual in accord with the norms of Canadian governance.
The point is that corruption is not confined to its legal definition. It arises within and operates through legitimate transactions of all kinds. In writing about bribery, law and morality, John Thomas Noonan has said that “the common good of any society consists not only in its material possessions but in its shared ideals. When these ideals are betrayed, … the common good, … suffers injury.” I suggest, with reference to Marx and Hugo, that it is the unbridled annexation of common material possessions as private property that constitutes the betrayal of the shared ideals and injures the common good. This is the corruption that is enshrined in the laws that uphold neoliberalism. Indeed, regardless of illegality, the effect of the unmitigated monetization of common possessions is degrading to our humanity.
The legality or propriety of a particular exertion of pressure or proffering of inducement, critical though it is in terms of the workings of a given society, is trivial in the face of the bending of governance, the making of laws included, to the will of a powerful section of actors. What good is the adherence to the Rule of Law, if the laws, whose rule is upheld, engender a stilted and degenerate social order … Here in Canada and throughout the world, this seems to be the default operating mode of the neoliberal political economy – wherein, by fair means or foul, the monetization of common possessions reigns over the common good … but there are exceptions … There are indeed, some striking instances of resistance to the all enticing ‘Cash.’ … In 2015 Malaysian Oil and Gas giant PETRONAS offered the tiny Lax Kw’alaams community $1.15 billion in exchange for their support for the building of an LNG terminal on Lelu Island in the Skeena watershed, but the community categorically declined the offer. They refused to convert the common possessions into ‘Cash,’ showing British Columbians and Malaysians alike, that there are, indeed, alternative values and alternative ways.
The image above, titled 7 Cash is King!, is a visualization for a photograph that will be a part of the Berhijrah (Migration) Series of my Koboi Project. This image is being developed as a remix of Mahathir’s political slogan, Zig Zag’s powerful political cartoon and my own apolitical ‘black hat’ Cowboy.