A Total Lie

Some time ago, you must have read in the Barisan Nasional (BN) controlled press that Aliran and its former president Chandra Muzaffar had received RM5 million from Anwar Ibrahim sometime during the period between 1992 and 1997. I am sure you must have been as shocked as we in the Aliran executive committee have been. It is a TOTAL LIE and FABRICATION by Abdul Murad, a former assistant governor of Bank Negara Malaysia. Aliran is suing him for defamation.

I am one of the seven founder members of Aliran and have been the Treasurer of the organisation in many of the years since its establishment in 1977. From the beginning our policy has been one of financial self-reliance. It is in line with my own personal beliefs, which have been influenced heavily by the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi. His philosophy of self-reliance, openness, genuine understanding of and empathy for other cultures, non-violence or ahimsa, and public accountability are also my guiding principles.

When we started in 1977, there were very few non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Malaysia that participated actively in public policy issues such as democracy, corruption, public accountability, human rights, freedom of information, etc. We knew that to maintain our independence, we should not become financially dependent on any one source; this thinking was an important motivation for our over-cautious prudence and conservatism when it came to financial matters. Aliran is a movement of ideas and we have to transmit our ideas through publications. In the beginning we published books and sold them. Once we obtained the KDN permit for publishing this magazine, it became our main source of revenue. Our position has been that if Malaysians do not support us by buying our publications and helping us in other ways, then we obviously are not satisfying a need and we do not deserve to be around.

This is why, from the beginning, we have had a policy of not receiving funds from any foreign organisation for our operational expenditure. Even locally, we have depended on the sale of publications and small donations from our loyal readers of Aliran Monthly rather than soliciting funds from corporate figures or, worse still, the government. We are very proud to say that we have not received a single cent from any Barisan Nasional government organisation, let alone from Anwar Ibrahim, in the form of an operating or development grant. Today, 22 years later, we have no regrets in following this policy of strict self-reliance. It is our impenetrable shield against unfounded allegations that the powers-that-be may hurl against us from time to time.

Let us now come to Murad’s allegation that Aliran has received RM5 million from Anwar Ibrahim. He has not produced one iota of evidence to back his statement. He just states that this is his belief. Anybody can claim anything but for it to be true it has to be backed by irrefutable evidence. Unlike his dastardly behaviour, we have decided to publish our financial statement of the past 8 years beginning November 1991 so that you can see for yourselves how we financed ourselves over this period; you can also see your contribution to the relative success and well-being of Aliran.

By the way, these accounts are no secret to the government. Every year, after the accounts are approved by our members at our annual general meeting, we have sent the financial statements together with other detailed information to the Registrar of Society as required by the law without fail. So it is not as if the Barisan Nasional government does not know the state of our financial affairs!

Table 1 shows the revenue and expenditure of Aliran over the eight years beginning November 1991 while table 2 presents the balance at the end of each of our financial year for the same period. Except for FY1998 and FY1999, we have incurred operating deficits. However, the donations from the members and the public have more than compensated the operating deficit. The bulk of our revenue comes from the sale of our publications and it has increased substantially in the past 2 years. No doubt, this is partly due to the Anwar episode. We are sure this is not what Murad meant when he alleged that Anwar helped Aliran! In line with the increasing circulation of the Monthly, our printing and production cost has almost doubled over the 8-year period.

From our expenditures, you can see that we run a very low cost administrative set-up. The writers of the articles in the Aliran Monthly do not get paid for their pieces. The staff cost covers the three3 full-time persons and one part-time person who are employed currently in our office. You will note that our travel expenses are low. This is because firstly we do not travel much and secondly, many of the Aliran exco members pay out of their own pockets and do not make claims. One noteworthy expenditure is the legal costs that we incurred which totalled RM20, 100 in 1997 and 1998. These were the costs that were awarded to the government side in a court suit involving our application for a KDN permit to publish in Bahasa Malaysia.


There are three sources for our donations. First, many of our own members make donations to our cause. This has averaged about RM11, 000 per year over this period. Most of these donations have been in tens of ringgit. There have been a few donations in the hundreds. No single donation has exceeded RM2, 500 per year.

Our second source is the warm and generous Malaysian public. Over these 8 years, their donations have averaged over RM16, 500 per year. It was very high in 1992 and from 1996 to 1998 because of the special building fund drive carried out during those periods. (Readers may remember the appeal letters that we sent out with the signatures of the former Auditor-General, Tan Sri Ahmad Noordin, the former leader of the opposition, the late Tan Sri Dr Tan Chee Khoon and former MMA president Datuk Dr T P Devaraj). We literally received thousands of donations in amounts of RM10, RM20, RM50 and even RM100. There was hardly any donation exceeding RM500. Even now when subscribers to the magazine send in their renewals, many of them send in more than the RM25 subscription rate requesting that the extra be treated as a donation. As a treasurer of Aliran, I am very grateful to these small and meaningful gestures of generosity.

This is why I find Murad’s false accusations an insult to these thousands of right thinking Malaysians who have supported our cause with their donations. This is why our President was angry enough to label Murad a "scum of the earth".

These donations were used for our building, which is finally completed. From the beginning, we were not keen to take a mortgage loan to finance our building; too many NGOs and unions get into trouble because of the ballooning interest. Your help was a major factor in our success in achieving this objective.

Our third source of funding is from the MISEREOR foundation. When we launched our building fund campaign in the early 1990s, given the state of our own limited financial resources, we reluctantly decided that we would seek help from various foundations for a capital grant. We approached numerous European and Asian foundations. MISEREOR, a Catholic foundation in Germany agreed to give us a DM100, 000 grant with the condition that more than 50 per cent of the funds for the building project must come from Malaysians. MISEREOR is one of a handful of foundations officially recognised by the German government. They obtain their fund from taxes contributed by German taxpayers. In Germany, a small portion of the taxes are set aside for these foundations and taxpayers can specify which foundation they want their own share to go to. Perhaps this is an idea that we should emulate. The board of these foundations usually decides to allocate these funds to social and charitable causes in Germany and abroad without interference from the government.

As you can see, MISEREOR’s donations spread over 4 years totalled RM 182, 447.96 which makes up less than 42 per cent of the total cost of RM 438,263.10 of our building project. The rest came from you the readers of the Monthly and our own members.

Careful readers would have noticed that we have stopped our donation campaign during this year since we have raised enough funds for completing the new office building that we occupy now. This is also the reason for the sharp fall in donations in 1999 as can be seen in the last column of Table 1.

From the tables and the above explanation, you can see that we do not need RM5 million from Anwar or anybody else to keep operating. All we need is for you to continue buying and reading our magazine and get your friends to do the same.

Aliran had never hesitated to criticise Anwar

Aliran and Anwar

Murad has alleged that during the years 1992 to 1997 Anwar was making use of Aliran to further his influence. If that is true, it must be a really strange method for Aliran had never hesitated to criticise him in many of its articles and press statements. Even as recently as October 1997, I wrote an article strongly criticising his budget policies.

After his dismissal from UMNO and his subsequent arrest in September 1998, Aliran has published a number of articles from various sources analysing the reformasi movement that has emerged since then. Here we have played our usual role of providing social commentary which is analytical and which probes behind the headlines. Whatever his political beliefs, we, like all right thinking Malaysians, were revolted at the beating that he received from the former IGP. Later we expressed outrage at the subsequent attempts to protect the perpetrator of this cowardly crime. We also find it manifestly unjust that he is not being released on bail while awaiting his appeal against his conviction. We are doing this because such actions by the authorities are unjust regardless of the victim. It is not right to beat a person who is detained; more so when it is done by the senior most police officer!

Aliran has always tried to steadfastly maintain our independence throughout our 22 years of existence. If we adopt a certain position, we give our reasons. It does not mean, we give a blank cheque to the proposer of that position. In the past we have supported some of Dr Mahathir’s views, especially on foreign affairs, just as we have been critical of Lim Kit Siang, Chandra Muzaffar and PAS from time to time on certain specific issues. For example, in this issue of the magazine, we urge a vote for change. That does not mean we are part of the opposition camp. We have given our reasons and it is for you to judge. But you can be rest assured that we will continue to maintain our independence whatever the outcome. If by some fluke, the Barisan Alternatif wins power in this election, we will continue to act as a watchdog against any sort of abuse of power.

Deepavali and its Meaning

Finally, I have to reflect on why I spent my Deepavali weekend writing the original draft of this article and preparing all these accounts that you see in Tables 1 and 2. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the Festival of Lights is the celebration of the triumph of good over evil. The most meaningful way to celebrate Deepavali may be, at least for me, is to do little battles against the forces of evil who want to engulf us with lies and slander. Fellow Malaysians, in a few days’ time when the elections are held you will be given a chance to do your little bit to help fight the perpetrators of injustice. I urge you to use our ballot wisely to bring about long overdue reforms and changes in this country of ours.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely

Dr Subramaniam S Pillay
(Hon. Treasurer)