Trouble is brewing for Jacinda Ardern’s New Zealand government and it’s all because of a Malaysian, Edmund Santhara Kumar Ramanaidu.
No one can stop Santhara from becoming a citizen or permanent resident of New Zealand, if he intends to become one; but it is a different matter altogether when he wants to be a Malaysian politician funded by Malaysian taxpayers.
A Malaysian minister, albeit a deputy, must look after his constituents and not manage his constituency from 9,000km away. His wages, expenses and pension are paid by Malaysian taxpayers.
New Zealanders would be livid if a Malaysian were to dictate laws and policies which would affect their lives. In a similar fashion, why should a Kiwi citizen or PR pretend that his allegiance is to Malaysia, attend Parliament and debate laws and policies which will affect Malaysians, and most importantly, be paid a salary and a lifelong pension by the rakyat?
Santhara is the deputy federal territories minister, but he has not been seen in Malaysia for months nor, as was alleged by Sarawak Report, has he addressed the complaints of members of his constituency.
Instead, his Facebook page is full of pictures of Team Parlimen Santhara (TPS), presumably aides from his office, handing over goodie bags or cheques to various needy people. Anyone receiving aid is not going to question the man behind the mask handing out the cheque or food parcel, and ask, “Are you Santhara?”
When the truth about Santhara’s absence was exposed, he claimed that he was in New Zealand for family reasons, but how he got into the country with its strict coronavirus isolation rules is not clear.
New Zealanders with family members who are dying or are seriously ill, married couples who were separated when the country went into lockdown and children who have not seen their parents for over a year, are some of those on the long list of people wishing to return to New Zealand. How did Santhara bypass the queue?
We know that the Malaysian government practises double standards, but the manner in which the New Zealand government has failed to answer the questions raised about Santhara’s entry into New Zealand is quite shocking.
National Party’s Covid-19 response spokesman Chris Bishop wants confirmation that there has been no special treatment for Santhara, but New Zealand government officials have cited privacy laws and refused to divulge details about him.
Like Bishop, Malaysians are interested to learn about Santhara’s immigration status, whether he is a permanent resident or a citizen, and how he was able to obtain a place in the managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) system. We are curious only because he is a public official. None of this would matter if he was just an ordinary Joe Bloggs.
Bishop refused to accept privacy as an excuse because the same privacy laws did not prevent the authorities from divulging details about another New Zealand MP, Ricardo Menendez March, who returned to New Zealand.
So who is Santhara? Eight years ago, when he was 42 years old, the former head of Masterskill Education Group was said to have told friends that he had set his sights on becoming a politician. As an independent, he only managed to get 999 votes when he stood for election in 2013 in Hulu Selangor.
In 2018, he canvassed as a Pakatan Harapan candidate under PKR in Segamat, and won 24,060 votes, which was 52 percent of the electorate.
The MACC asset declaration list said that Santhara was the richest MP, as he and his wife had cumulative assets worth RM132 million. He displaced Beruas MP Ngeh Koo Ham (RM77 million) and Dr Mahathir Mohamad (RM32 million).
Last year, Santhara swopped his allegiance and joined Muhyiddin Yassin’s Bersatu-PN coalition. He claimed that he was sacked by PKR, but PKR’s communications director Fahmi Fadzil said that Santhara had left voluntarily to join Azmin Ali’s Sheraton Move on Feb 24, 2020.
It was only when the Malaysian public found out and reacted with outrage that Santhara was not in Malaysia, that the Segamat MP admitted he was on leave, which had been approved by Prime Minister Muhyiddin. His request for 55 days of leave, on Dec 18, was to join his family in New Zealand and care for his ill wife and nine-year-old child whom he had not seen for a year.
Santhara’s sob story does not work with us. Hundreds of thousands of other Malaysians did not have the privilege of evading the emergency laws and the movement control order (MCO). More importantly, they did not have the means to push the right buttons in Parliament, or with foreign administrations, to travel and easily enter other countries.
Today, Santhara has denied allegations that he acted irresponsibly during the coronavirus pandemic, and has threatened to sue for slander Batu MP P Prabakaran, who claimed that he was avoiding his responsibilities as MP.
Most of us agree with Prabakaran.
Santhara should just resign and live peacefully in New Zealand if that is what he wants.