I REFER to news reports in the media, including in The Star, about certain Malaysian organisations receiving funds from the Open Society Foundations belonging to the multi billionaire Jewish American philanthropist George Soros.
The allegation is that George Soros, as a currency trader, launched the attack on the ringgit which sparked the East Asian financial crisis of 1997/98 with intention to bring down our currency and economy as he had a personal agenda against the Malaysian Prime Minister’s pro-Islamic foreign policy which was hostile to the US, Israel and the Jews.
The allegation goes on to say that Malaysian civil society organisations which accept his donations are being unpatriotic to the country.
It’s important to explain that currency trading is a legitimate business activity and Soros’ firm is only one of the many currency traders that exist in the financial market, although his firm is one of the biggest and most successful.
Before the attack on the ringgit, Soros and others had speculated on the pound sterling during the 1970s when they saw that Britain’s economic fundamentals were weakening and not strong enough to support the currency’s value in the foreign exchange market. There is nothing secret about his successful business in currency trading.
Currency traders who operate on an international scale with billions of dollars at their disposal to bet on vulnerable currencies are like hawks hovering in the sky, waiting for the right moment to swoop down on their prey.
To Soros, countries that manage their economies badly have only themselves to blame for exposing their currency to the speculators.
He has advised countries to maintain sound macro-economic and financial policies to ensure stability of their currency.
Malaysia was wise enough to react with pragmatism after the 1997/98 East Asian financial crisis, not to dwell on the morality of currency trading or on the conspiracy theories about Soros but instead to face the reality that the currency speculation which brought down the Thai Bhat, ringgit and the Indonesian rupiah was the result of several weaknesses in our economic policies and the financial sector.
The Government took the brave decisions to introduce the necessary reforms which served us well to withstand the Wall Street banking crisis in 2007 and the 1MDB nightmare. Our resilience to external shocks is much better today after the reforms and transformation programmes covering both the public and private sectors.
It is also worth explaining that the Open Society Foundations founded by Soros is transparent about its funding of democracy and humanitarian movements across the world, as its activities are well known especially in the former communist countries of Eastern Europe which became independent after the collapse of the Soviet regime in Moscow.
Soros, who escaped from his native Hungary to America when the Soviets occupied his country after the Second World War, has spoken publicly on his passion for democracy.
He started the foundation because, as an American, he was determined to see that the newly-free countries strengthen their democracy to prevent a return to dictatorship as he knew how his family suffered during the Nazi occupation, followed by the communist government after the war. He also believes that good democratic practices are the best way for countries to develop their economy and their society.
His foundation has also helped with funding for the Bosnians in their need for humanitarian assistance after the civil war in Yugoslavia.
He also provided charitable assistance to the Palestinians for which the Israelis accused him of being anti-Israel.
All private foundations that promote democracy around the world, whether it’s Open Society Foundations or others such as the German Peace Foundation or the Commonwealth Foundation for Democracy, have strict guidelines on how their funds should be utilised by the civil society organisations that they help.
The utilisation is usually specified for conferences, seminars, training and sourcing of experts to speak on subjects such as the role of parliamentary select committees in providing oversight on the functions of the government, the financing of political parties and elections, and developing governance systems for clean and responsible government as well as human rights and women’s freedom.
These are the building blocks of democracy that the foreign donors would like to promote around the world as such donations are in line with United Nations resolutions calling for co-operative efforts in assisting civil society organisations to play their role as agents for peaceful change in their countries.
Those who spin cloak-and-dagger conspiracy theories about Soros and his private foundation are not being truthful in painting him as an evil man or as a dangerous plotter for regime change. Nor is it fair for them to single out one or two organisations for receiving foreign donations. They will sound more credible if they call for transparency of the donations received by all civil society organisations and all political parties, without fear of discriminatory action by the authorities.
As the law stands, it’s not illegal to receive foreign donations unless they are related to corruption, money laundering, human trafficking or drug smuggling.