Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Soaring Again


After years of loss making, the national airline is soaring again. Malaysian Airline System Bhd (MAS) said its fourth quarter net profit beat expectations and could herald a record this year, a year ahead of schedule. It now aims to make as much as RM700 million in net profit in the year to Dec 31, 2007. This is 14 times higher than its RM50 million initial target.

MAS Managing Director Idris Jala said the stronger performance last year was driven by an increase in passenger revenue and significant cost reduction. For the period under review, the airline also improved its cash position to RM1.8 billion from RM1.5 billion last year."We are not out of the woods (yet). And yes, there is more to do.

I LIKE HIS SPIRIT. He did not blow his trumpet too early and is looking for more achievements. This is the way forward.

Idris yesterday confirmed a Business Times report that MAS was looking to making Penang its secondary hub to cater to the premium travel market. Welcome Mr Jala!

We await more good news from you.

Our Pride



Malaysian Chinese singers and composers took the world's chinese music by storm. I was at the weekend's 50th Anniversary concert performed by some of our very best. The opening act by Lin Yu Chong was a class act. Later, he performed a duet with Sheila Majid of their latest song, 'Melodi', which is climbing the MyFm popular chart. Sheila is one of my favourite singers as well. I remembered singing her song, 'Sinaran', at various performances.

By the way, the compilation CDs are out too. You can get the compilation (RM24.90) in any record shop. The CDs featured popular singers such as Michael Wong, Victor Wong, Lin Yu Chong, Daniel, Fish Leong, Penny Tai, Zhang Tong Liang, Baby, Gary Chow and many others.

These singers and composers have took on the world's best and prevailed. I had a good time at the concert. Happy 50th Birthday! Malaysia!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Integrity of Statistics

A reader asked if I am able to accept the official figures given out by the government? Here is a reason why I am being very careful in accepting wholesale what I read.

A report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) has cast doubt over the actual amount of foreign direct investment (FDI) into Malaysia in 2006. In a statement published Jan 9, Unctad estimates that Malaysia’s 2006 FDI was around US$3.9 billion (approximately RM13.8 billion), or 1.6 percent less than the US$4 billion recorded the year before.

The report contrasts International Trade and Industry Minister Rafidah Aziz’s announcement that FDI had surged to a record high in 2006. Last Wednesday, Rafidah announced that ‘approved FDI’ for the manufacturing sector was at a record RM20.2 billion, a 1.13 percent improvement over 2005.

Even if the reported figure is correct, an increase of 1.13 percent over 2005 is not really impressive. According to the Unctad report, global foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows grew in 2006 for the third consecutive year to reach US$1.2 trillion, according to it´s first estimate for the year. The total is a 34% increase from 2005, although still short of the record of US$1.4 trillion set in 2000.

The report says one of the most significant developments in FDI over the past two or three years has involved natural resources and related industries. Despite some unfavourable developments for foreign investors in such industries, high demand for natural resources and, as a result, the opening up of new potentially profitable opportunities in the primary sector, such as gas and oil development in Algeria are likely to attract further FDI to the extractive industries. FDI in this sector will be examined in greater detail in UNCTAD´s World Investment Report 2007. This trend is felt in Malaysia too. In 2006, more than RM15 billion has been invested in the oil and gas industry mainly in oil refinery facilities.

The report warns that economic growth in 2007 is projected to slow moderately. Continuing global external imbalances, sharp exchange rate fluctuations, rising interest rates, and increasing inflationary pressures, as well as high and volatile commodity prices, pose risks that may also hinder global FDI flows and could lead to a slowdown in the fast growth in global FDI registered over the past few years.

MITI should consider responding to the Unctad report if the ministry feels that the FDI figures are bias or inaccurate.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Yes, Stop Whining And Compete

In Penang, the public bus service needs more competition and to be more customer focused. For years, the four operators dished out lousy services and cranky buses. I recounted my experience taking a bus from Komtar back to my house in Tanjung Bungah. It took me more than 2 hours to get home.

Why? Unpredictability and lack of professionalism. The buses do not follow a specific time schedule and would not move until the whole bus is filled up. During peak hours, the buses get filled up almost immediately but during non-peak hours, one has to wait endlessly for the bus driver to eventually move.

Hence, I echo Finance Ministry parliamentary secretary Hilmi Yahaya that Penang public bus companies should stop whining and improve their performance if they want to remain in business once RapidPenang starts its service. He said the companies would be allowed to run and it was a matter of survival of the fittest. We hope RapidPenang will keep its part of promise to deliver a good service.

The four operators should not depend on the state government for funding. If they are serious, they should get their own loans from the banks. I heard that most of the operators are not in a good financial position. This is the way if you want to be in business, do not expect bailout.

Mr Prime Minister, Get Rid of The NEP Now!

The Iskandar Develoment Region is a signature project of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. The project is expected to require an initial investment of RM70 billion in the initial 5 years. Initial projections showed that IDR is expected to attract a total of US$105bil (RM370bil) in 20 years. In the short term, it is supposed to attract some RM50bil in investments within five years.

Prime Minister Abdullah is correct to note that the IDR must be competitive if it hopes to compete with other global growth centres e.g. Pearl Delta Development Region, Nanning Development Region, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and India.

He added that we must take advantage of our low cost and ample space. Unfortunately, these both low cost and ample space will not propel us above the development zones mentioned. All of the zones are able to provide similar advantages.

In fact, it is advisable for the government to remove its discriminatory race-based NEP policy which was found to create unnecessary red-tape, breed corruption and other market distortions with a more inclusive and balanced socio-economic policy which encourages competitiveness, transparency, innovation, creativity and fairness.

To ensure the success of the IRD, which can become a successful regional growth centre, it is time for the government to reinvent its economy policy. A global success requires a world-class strategy and solution.

IRDA is the statutory body responsible for determining the direction, policies and strategies in relation to development within the IDR. It will be jointly headed by co-chairmen Abdullah and Johor Mentri Besar Abdul Ghani Othman, the IRDA consists of five other members.

The advisory council will include five of the state’s most prominent figures – Tan Sri Robert Kuok Hock Nien, Datuk Seri Andrew Sheng, Tun Musa Hitam, Tan Sri Samsudin Osman and Tan Sri Kishu Tirathrai. On the appointment of the five, Abdullah said that he was happy to get their frank views and did not impose any restrictions or barriers to what they could bring up.

I am happy to note the inclusion of a reclusive tycoon, Tan Sri Robert Kuok. At last the government has taken a right move to tap into his vast experience and connections all over the world, especially in Greater China. Kuok was voted as one of the most influential individuals in China by a regional magazine.

However, Abdul Ghani should exercise restraint with his gab. His previous statement on Bangsa Malaysia and the Malay supremacism was not well received. The prime minister rightly noted, “There is no way to expect sympathy from anybody". Definitely not the Singaporean investors that we have offended.

This is What I Mean By Integrity

Nasioncom Holdings Bhd has been publicly reprimanded by the Securities Commission (SC) for submitting false information in its 2005 financial statements, with respect to revenue on sales that were not transacted.

In a statement on Feb 15, the SC said Nasioncom had been given one month to rectify and re-issue its financial statements for the financial year ended Dec 31, 2005.The SC said Nasioncom had breached section 122B(a)(bb) of the Securities Industry Act 1983. The SC's investigation revealed that Nasioncom's group revenue of RM194.98million as reflected in its 2005 financial statements contained a total ofRM143.11 million sales that were not transacted.

The company is partly controlled by Alfian Mohamed Basir, 33-year-old son of cabinet minister Rafidah Aziz - for submitting inflated revenue figures in its 2005 financial statements.

It is good that the government has announced several initiatives including the Iskandar Economic Development Region to attract investments into the country. However, one measure the government should focus on is to enhance integrity, transparency and accountability in the country.

I hope the PEMUDAH task force will focus on the barriers and policies which inhibit economic growth and competitiveness.

For Good Luck


I was having my lunch at the D'Kayu nasi kandar in IOI Mall, Puchong. Suddenly, our lunch was interrupted by loud chinese drum beats. Presto, the owner of D'Kayu invited a lion dance troupe to perform at his restaurant for good luck.

This is a fine example on how a festival in Malaysia is ushered in a true Bangsa Malaysia way.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Economic Sentiment

In today's NST, the prime minister said that the impressive economic performance of late is not artificial. Abdullah said the government did not artificially push up the Kuala Lumpur Composite Index and that the increase was gradual and not sudden. However, the prime minister did not mention why he was so sure that the KLCI will hit 1350 soon. Bearing that his statement is likely to fuel retail investors' interest in the stock market, the prime minister should take note that his statement is akin to an 'artificial' intervention of the KLCI.

On the total investment, he said both foreign and domestic investments had increased to give a combined figure of more than RM42 billion, the highest ever recorded. I checked with several financial consultants and got their feedback on the figures. They told me that the SKS refinery (owned by Syed Mokhtar - and his controversial Iranian connection) and two other petrochemical plants to be set up by Petronas accounted to almost RM15 billion of the RM42 billion (the earlier reported figure was RM46 billion).

According to them, it is safe to conclude that about 70 percent of the total approved investments will be invested. Hence, the projected total investment is RM29.4 billion. Minus the total investment with RM15 billion, we are seeing a net investment of RM14.4 billion. The RM15 billion investment in the oil and gas sector in 2006 is an exceptional one. Of the RM14.4 billion, about 60 percent comes from the E&E sector. This sector has posted an impressive RM281 billion out of the RM588 billion of total exports. Hence, RM5.76 billion of investment comes from other industries.

Another financial consultant told me that there has been a large inflow of money from the Middle East countries into our property market. From my conversation with them, a number of commercial complexes have been bought up by these funds. Although I do not have a precise figure of the inflow, it is obvious that when we start to itemise the total investments approved and actually invested the outlook may be completely different.

Yesterday, it was reported in both the Sun and NST that car sales for the corresponding period of January 2007 has dropped by 15 percent. Massive drop is recorded at the commercial vehicle sector. MAA attributed the drop to sluggish consumer sentiment.

The prime minister said that the strengthening ringgit is a good news. Two factors contributed to the rise in RM. First, RM is still considered undervalued and its appreciation would have been much earlier if not for the intervention of BNM for fear that an expensive RM may hurt exports. Second, foreign funds coming into the Bursa Malaysia obviously would need to convert their currency into RM. Alan Greespan called the euphoria of some stock markets an 'irrational exuberance' (thanks to Elanor who corrected me) which are seldom supported by real fundamentals.

A prominent retired civil servant I spoke to told me that the economy structure still remains the same. He wondered what the government has done in the short span of less than 3 months to merit a call that the economy has turned around.

Another ex-CEO and now a corporate coach told me that his team of CEOs especially those from the public listed companies are not focusing on the local economy. Most of them are shifting their resources overseas, which is natural, and looking for better yield and prospects outside the country.

Give it another 6 months and by the second half of 2007, the verdict will be out if the economy has really turned around.

If yes, the government should encourage employers to increase the salary of their workers as a gesture of their appreciation.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Quote of the Day


MCA vice-president and deputy minister of higher education Datuk Ong Tee Keat said:

Political leaders should not worry about being accused of “politicising” an issue if they voice it out in the people's interest.

MCA vice-president Datuk Ong Tee Keat, who made the call, said leaders should be proactive and articulate the views, aspirations and grouses of the people.

Perception? Its All About Perception in Business

Deputy Minister of MITI, YB Ng Lip Yong reacted (today) to my interview in the Oriental Daily yesterday. He said that the MITI statistics are accurate. I did not say that the numbers are not accurate but it depends on how one interprets them.

When asked about the good news reported by the government, chiefly through MITI, on our state of economy, I commented that the government might want to be careful when painting such a rosy picture if the goodies do not trickle down to the ground. Earlier the government has announced that MITI has approved RM46 billion in investment last year. Perhaps it will be helpful for MITI to disclose the actually amount of money which has been invested. On paper, the investment figures looked extremely good.

Granted that some major investments in the oil and gas and plantation industries have started to trickle down but largely small medium enterprises, employees in the private sector and even civil servants are not experiencing a higher level of living standards. Inflationary pressure is higher in the urban areas compared to rural and so far no study has been conducted to find out how the urbanites are coping with the rising costs.

Hence, it is too early for the government to shout that we have turned around and there is a feel good feeling all round.

According the survey by the Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ACCCIM), the economy had "remained relatively stable" during the second half of 2006. The bi-annual survey, in its 15th year, was conducted last December evaluated questionnaires of some 257 ACCCIM members which included those from wholesale and retail, manufacturing, professionals and service industry.

Fifty six percent of respondents felt that for second half of 2006 there were "no change" in economic conditions while 32 percent felt that the economy was "deteriorating". In a nutshell, only 12 percent of the respondents agreed with the government that the economic condition is upbeat. In the same report, 55 percent of respondents said they were ‘somewhat optimistic’ about the Malaysian economy over the next two to three years while 19 percent claim they were ‘optimistic’.

It is fair to say that although the economic condition is improving, we are not out of the rut yet. The deputy minister said that my views on the economy is based solely on my own perception and not back-up by statistics. Perception is key in business and many investors make their investment decision based on the consumer perception index. What are the statistics which suggest that consumer power is expanding and that our GDP per capita is growing above the inflation rates?

I argue that despite an impressive 25 per cent rise in the Malaysian stock market since last November, it is not a good yardstick of our real economic performance. In a Business Times report, retail investors are said to have shown little interest in joining in. Exchange data indicates only 10-15 per cent of the more than 2 million accounts in the central depository system are active although the Kuala Lumpur bourse's market cap is moving towards the RM1 trillion mark.

Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has speculated that the KLCI would break its record on a number of impressive statistics announced, thanks to the MITI, e.g. foreign reserves, lower deficit, approved total investment of RM46 billion by local and foreign investors, national trade volume of RM1,069 billion in 2006 and others. The bull run, according to Ng, benefits less than 1 percent of the total population of 28 million.

Since the prime minister's prediction that the KLCI will hit 1350 points soon, some second line and smaller capitalisation counters have seen some movement, indicating the participation of more retail investors. It should be noted that the prime minister's prediction is purely his own judgement and highly speculative in nature.

The deputy minister told the press that he had warned me not to be too presumptuous in my analysis and that it is my own business if I refused to accept the government's statistics. At the moment, I remained unconvinced that the economic fundamentals have strengthened and that we have managed to turn around. Moreover, I am very concerned with the excessive speculation in the economy especially the stock market.

If everything is so buoyant, why do we need the PEMUDAH and the 3P special task forces to help improve the efficiency of government's implementation system and to help cut excessive bureaucratic red-tape. In the ACCCIM survey, 43 percent of respondents claim that government policies were ‘adversely affecting’ their business performance. It has recommended that the government improve its delivery system and be more transparent and liberal in its policies.

Finally, retail investors should not be lead ashtray over some speculation on the KLCI. Most of them are the last to get into the market and the last to come out too. Unfortunately, many researchers I have spoken to thought that the government is building up for the next general elections. This kind of perception does not help the government either if it is not telling the truth.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Toll Agreements to be Made Public

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has given the nod for agreements on tolled roads between the concessionaires and the Government to be made public. The prime minister must be congratulated for listening to the wishes of the people. These agreements are signed during the Mahathir's administration. The ex-premier had acknowledged that the agreements are lopsided.

Works Minister S. Samy Vellu said he had consulted the Attorney-General on the matter and was “now writing to the highway concessionaires,” to comply with a clause that their consent is required before publicising the documents. Earlier, he had asked the AG office to prosecute the four opposition politicians under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) for disclosing the Litrak agreement.

The four opposition officials being investigated under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) over the disclosure of a toll concession agreement were questioned for three hours at Bukit Aman on 7th February. The four are PAS treasurer Dr Hatta Ramli, Parti Keadilan Rakyat treasurer Khalid Ibrahim and information chief Tian Chua, and the DAP’s Ronnie Liu, who heads the party’s bureau on non-governmental organisations.

Since, the agreements will soon be declassified as public documents, the government should advice the AG office to drop all charges against the four politicians.

We hope that the other promises will be fulfilled too: to reveal the methodology used to calculate the basis of bumiputera equity ownership, to establish an IPCMC, to combat corruption and to cultivate a first world mentality.

Meanwhile, the people must be congratulated for making their wishes heard and responded to positively by the government.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Rapid KL Solution for Penang Bus Woes - The Star


Rapid KL will take over the management of the bus system in Penang, putting an end to the island’s long standing public transportation woes. Rangkaian Pengangkutan Integrasi Deras Sdn Bhd (RAPID KL) is the company tasked with providing an integrated public transport system in the Klang Valley incorporating rail and bus services. It is a 100% government-owned company under the Ministry of Finance.

So bad is public transport that hundreds of thousands of Malaysians opt for their own motorcycles and cars. In Penang alone, there are some 1.5 million registered motor vehicles for a population of 1.5 million, with the registration rate increasing by 9.5 percent annually.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said it was the Government’s Chinese New Year gift to Penang commuters. Abdullah said this in an immediate response to Dr Koh’s plea to the Federal Government to allow Rapid KL to operate in Penang and integrate the bus system with the upcoming monorail network.

Dr Koh admitted that the state government did not have the expertise to ensure a smooth public transportation system. He added that the state government was not keen to take up the loan offered because it did not want to be weighed down financially.

Earlier, a company set up by the local council to apply for a license to run the public bus service has been rejected by the CVLB because it did not meet the minimum capitalisation requirement of RM500k. It was set up as a RM2 company. Several individuals who were part of the public bus system planning team have expressed their disappointment over the decision.

There are pros and cons in the decision to allow Rapid KL to run the bus system in Penang. The company has a huge commitment to enhance the bus system in Klang Valley. More resources are needed to ensure that the bus system runs smoothly in Klang Valley and the new federal capital, Putrajaya. In Putrajaya alone, an estimated 600 more buses are needed to ensure a smooth bus system.

With Penang inlcuded, the company may be spreading its resources too thin. Although, comparatively Rapid KL has done a better job in Klang Valley than all current operators in Penang.

However, it is unfortunate that the state government gave up too soon. If the state government does not have the expertise to ensure a smooth public transport system, can it be entrusted to run other bigger and more complex agendas or projects? As a Penangite, my confidence is shaken.

Chastity Belt versus Mat Skoding

The sandiwara continues with now the 'Mat Skoding'. In a Star's news report, to avert soaring cases of close proximity and vice, the Terengganu Government has initiated an ingenious (outrageous) plan where “Mat Skoding” or spies will be recruited to tip-off the state religious department of immoral activities.

State Islam Hadhari and Welfare Committee chairman Datuk Rosol Wahid said: “Some of these ‘spies’ could be waitresses or even janitors at hotels acting as auxiliary undercover agents for our religious department.” The “Mat Skoding” would be rewarded for their tip-offs, he told The Star here yesterday.

He must be a protege of UMNO Putera's head Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim who announced that 'Mat Rempits' will be recruited to catch snatch thiefs in Baling. Putera Umno will reward Mat Rempit here with motorcycles for helping police detain snatch thieves. Mat Rempits could take home the motorcycle, they would have to catch at least 30 snatch thieves and be rewarded RM50 per head.

You need a thief to catch a thief? And we are rewarding them with a motorcycle so that they can continue with their 'rempit' activities. Ingenious, we easily have more than 100,000 mat rempits all over the country. With them around, who needs the police? We will soon become a banana republic.

Earlier, a Muslim cleric, Abu Hassan Din Al-Hafiz, who sparked a furor over suggestions women wear chastity belts to thwart "sex maniacs" who commit crimes has dismissed his comments as a joke. He said on Friday cases of rape and incest were rampant and that chastity belts would help reduce sex-related crimes.

Reported in Malaysiakini, he retorted "Joke only. It was not seriously meant," according to the New Straits Times. "It's not practical to wear a chastity belt in this day and age. It can't be done," added the cleric who has served as a religious advisor to Malaysia's king and written books on Islamic studies.

He joked but the Trengganu government has taken it very seriously by upping the ante to create a 'Mat Skoding' squad to spy on immoral activities. Who are going to 'spy' on these spies if they abuse their 'special position' to commit immoral activities themselves by becoming peeping toms?

When comes to spying on corruption, abuse of power, shoddy implementation of public projects and other, the government did not perform up to expectation. Why waste more public resources on this?

Another Islamisation 'cat and mouse' game?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Happy Holiday and Happy Reunion!

Woke up this morning. Was very happy and excited. Did not get to offer a prayer to my late dad for a while now since cheng beng. Offered him a prayer this morning. Then had a nice lunch with my family.

I am sure many of you will be having a nice reunion as well. Hope you have a good time. I am going to have a fantastic time with my friends. So, will be back to record my blog only after the weekend break.

Weehooooo!

Comments

I have said it and I will repeat here again that this is my digital home. I have been very tolerant to posts from a particular reader who has gone very personal in nature. Below is an example:

Hi This message just to wish you family and friends is good to conclude that a selfish egoistic persons. What about the READERS? Hei..Bungkus lah.... (appeared on my CNY greeting to family and friends)

I do not want to moderate comments here. But if you get too personal and hit below the belt, I might be motivated to do it in the future. Decency and respect are good human virtues. Whatever you may criticise about another fellow man but if you cannot practice both decency and respect in your comments, then you are no better off than the subject you criticized.

Akujanji

Malay businessmen and contractors will have to sign declarations vowing not to pass contracts for projects obtained from thegovernment on to other races, a report has said.

The finance ministry's secretary general, Izzuddin Dali, said Malay contractors who flout the new ruling will have their contracts and registration terminated."Contractors that have obtained projects must sign an official declaration that they will not 'sell' the contract or break them up into smaller contracts and distribute them to other parties," Izzudin was quoted as saying in the Malay-language daily Berita Harian.

The move is a bid to curb the abuse of government projects awarded to the economically disadvantaged bumiputra - ethnic Malays and indigenous groups.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi complained on Tuesday that 85 percent of projects won by bumiputra contractors were passed on to other races in the country.

There are two important points to note from this announcement. First, inter-ethnic collaborations will be further curbed. Years of 'ali baba' dealings did not help to prepare the Malay contractors to implement the projects awarded by themselves.

While the declaration forbids Malays from passing contracts to other races, it did not specifically mention about contracts passed to other bumiputera companies. Parties that are not able to implement the projects might sell them to other bumiputera companies. Ended up, majority of projects may fall in hands of a few.

85 percent of all contracts awarded were passed on to other communities, meaning that 85 percent of the contracts could have been implemented cheaper if a competitive bidding is implemented.

To ensure that the RM46 billion allocated in the 9MP are fully and optimally optimized, the government has to ensure that the fat is trimmed. Curb rent-seeking and allow at least 50 percent of the contracts to be openly tendered by all communities.

Friday, February 16, 2007

GONG XI FA CAI

WISHING MY FAMILY AND FRIENDS A HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR
May all your wishes come true. May you be blessed with wealth, joy and health.

A Transition?

I am facing a transition in life and yet I am surprised by the level of calmness. Thanks to those who abused me here. You called me cunning, dangerous and untrustworthy but I am convinced that I am walking on the right path. The point is you missed the real poisonous snake amidst your own kind. In time, you will know who is the real cunning one. If you still don't, please do not tell me that I am not smart - I am your mirror image.

I am naive and idealistic, yes. I thought that I should be allowed to just do my job. And if I can do it in the most impartial way, give my balanced views and provide a honest analysis, I will be allowed to do my job uninterrupted. Alas, not here, not in Malaysia.

We aspire to become a first world nation but we react like a third world people. You probably send your kids to be educated in one of the developed Western countries. In these countries, undergraduates are taught to be opinionated. Being descriptive will not get you good grades. Critical analysis is what gets you good grades. Their societies will not be where they are today if not for this important emphasis on critical thinking.

You pushed me to choose this path. You will have to be equally responsible for what I have expressed here. Do you still expect me to be nice, docile and meek when you are so intolerant, vicious and self-centered? Do you sincerely believe that all things are well today?

How many parents you meet who wished that their children do not come back if they are already overseas? How many more wanting to migrate? How often do you see abuses, corruption and crime go unpunished? Are you happy to become a second-class citizen after 50 years of independence? You know what, some migrants who came after you and I were born were treated better because of the right skin colour and religious belief. How long more racial politics will go on before we can dismantle it?

With people like you who is willing to kiss the hands that feed you so that these hands can continue to tolerate all of the above and help to perpetuate a racialist regime, we do not see any light at the end of the tunnel. I am in the organisation because I truly believe in what it stands for.

Damn you! I am pissed off by this kind of attitude. Over the last 8 years I have heard all types of reasoning on why we should support this regime. Only one is real - self-interest. Show me that you are a real proponent of non-racialism and that you are willing to sacrifice for your principles.

Sorry, I am not a dog or a beggar. In the end, I do not have to take your shit!

HP Service

I was fuming mad then I was happy and glad. I bought my IPAQ PDA phone in 2005. Barely using it for 3 months, I had to send it to the service centre. It was the first generation PDA phone with a huge black antenna.

That unit was so unstable. At first I was told that it was the software installation problem and was promptly upgraded. Not long after that I had to send it in again and paid RM400 to replace the motherboard.

The worst thing is after replacing the motherboard, it went berserk again. So, out of desperation I launched an online complaint on the HP website. A few days later a customer service personnel called up.

She told me that she will propose to the company to replace my unit and upgrade it to a latest model as a goodwill gesture. But weeks later I did not hear from her again. Then, I was asked to fill up a service feedback form via email. Naturally, I gave them my piece of mind.

A day before Valentine's day, she called up and told me the good news that my unit is ready to be picked up. I was elated. It is a nice and sophisticated RW model. Compact and slick. I have to pay RM217 for the upgrade but it is still worth it.

This is professionalism. They made a mistake of selling me a faulty unit and they owned up to it. How many of us are willing to do the same?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Quite A Response

My recent blog on "Fair Comment? Nope You Have to Be Partisan" has generated quite a number responses from readers of my personal blog. It has probably caused some irreversible damage as well. I have several matters to put it straight.

Here is a posting that I would like to respond to:

"KKP the way your write and commented yourself stright forward sound like that you must be a nincompoop of the first order, on one hand you are on the take and on the other hand you said that guy must be a sucker. what did Shakespear say bite the hand that feed you? Wake -up young man you have admitted you are a untrusworthy guy, with cunning ideas and dangerous. Its not too late to learn I don't think you are smart, if you are smart than you are brainless. The commenter defintely not a politician".

I would like to thank the person for leaving this comment. You can call me anything you like, nincompoop or whatsoever, which suits you. There are probably many things that you do not know about a person's personal limit which must not be crossed. There is a minimum level of human dignity which must not be overstepped. What have your parents teached you about dignity and principles?

I am especially shocked at what you have written here 'on one hand you are on the take and on the other hand you said that guy must be a sucker'. This is a dangerous kind of thinking. A fact that you are hired by an organisation does not mean that you should close your eyes to all the wrongdoings around you. What made you think that anyone working for an organisation linked to the government is on the take?

My organisation has rules and principles which are noble. As a person, I sincerely believe that the only way for my organisation to stay relevant is for its leaders to take it back to its original ideological roots. Its ideology stands for fairness, equality and justice. Thinking of what its founding fathers had done makes me feel really proud to be associated with it.

If the hands that feed me are trying to fool around with the ideology and the principles, what is there left? The organisation I am in is still the best hope for all Malaysians. Only a non-racial way will take us forward. If I am 'destroyed' by the forces of communalism, it is a worthy sacrifice. But not by forces that are supposed to strengthen the opposite.

A smart and brainy person like you will have no qualms of squandering what is available so that you and 'the hand that feeds you' can continue doing all the wrongs. I rather be a fool than being a hypocrite. By the way, the job I do should require a high level of honesty and integrity. I am a fool who happened to take my job scope very seriously.

You and many others live in a world consists of only two shades - black or white. Either you comply fully or you don't. And that your leaders can do no wrong. If these are the hands that feed me, whose hands are feeding them? Similarly, aren't they biting those hands as well when everything is conducted in such secrecy? And why are they are so sensitive to criticism?

Reading from what you wrote, you are probably someone who comes from the upper middle-class. It is an elitist syndrome which tells you that you should not bite the hand that feeds you. In all corporations, this is the rule of thumb. But not when you are dealing with matters which are of public interest and when you are supposed to be the people's guardian. This is a public office. That is why you don't need an IPCMC for a listed company but the police.

By the way, thanks for your advice. Similarly, you can still change. And my advice is please stay away from politics. Politics is supposed to be a serious business. We have too many clowns in this field who screwed us enough.

I know what is coming my way since 2005. My views since 2001 till now have been very consistent. In the end, I choose my dignity. I may be stupid but all mega crooks are very smart people like you.

We fools are dreamers. We dream of a better tomorrow. We dream of a day when all Malaysians can be considered and treated equally and fairly. We dream of a life which does not consists of only two shades.

I view life in various other shades. With the brevity of life, you should consider fighting a good fight. God's willing, I will be able to earn my keep in a honest and sincere way. Then again, people of your kind will definitely find me cunning and dangerous. This is the way you look at life - nothing is done without benefiting your own interest.

Tell you what, I am alreading finding my peace. I sleep well and with God's grace I can sense that there are still good souls around. Before you go to sleep, ask yourself if you one of these good souls?

Additional Note:

By the way, this is my digital home. This is the place I vent my anger, my frustration and my disappointment. If some of you want to pop over, read my thoughts and distribute them, please do not blame me if you are offended. If you can't stomach it, you should stay away.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Education Excellence - A Dialogue With Our Neighbour Downsouth


Last night, I attended a private dinner hosted by several prominent Malaysians to welcome the vist of Dr Tony Tan, a retired politician and an ex-Minister of Education of Singapore. He visited Kuala Lumpur in his capacity as the chairman of Singapore Press Holdings.

At the dinner, we consciously stayed clear of getting into any discussion which touched on the Chinese community in Malaysia. However, we did share to a great extent on Singapore's development as an education hub.

Dr Tan told us that he is amazed that we have so many public universities in Malaysia, almost one in every state. In Singapore, he told us that there are 3 universities and 6 polytechnics. The emphasis is not so much on paper chase and general education but these institutions are encouraged to teach specialised courses e.g. early childcare programme, technical certification and others. He told us that this is the direction of Singapore.

On the contrary, he told us that the more qualified and knowledgable graduates a country can produce, the more job opportunities can be created. In today's investment climate, many MNCs are looking for accessibility to qualified people when deciding where to locate their capital investment.

In Malaysia, many colleges and polytechnics are rushing to be recognised as a full-fledged university. We are too preoccupied with creating more graduates with paper qualifications but forgot about the quality part. As a result, our productivity growth lags behind that of Singapore's. It is not enough to just build universities but we must ensure that these universities are staffed with the best as well.

In his recent article, Dr Azly Rahman asks 'What will RM23 billion buy for our education system under the proposed reforms? What is the relationship between education and economic development in the context of globalisation and international cut-throat competition and predatory capitalism?'

He commented that most often, policy makers in the education ministry fail to understand the ‘big idea’ of change and the philosophical paths required to be taken based on political-economic considerations.

We should by now learn that throwing money into programmes and blueprints alone will not generate the desired results. We must know what we want to create out of our education system. Thus far, what we have done to our education system is often targetted at appeasing several ethnic communities.
To move forward, as being said many times before, we have to depoliticize and deracialised the education system and rid it off the old baggage if we want to succeed.

Chinese Dilemma and A Polarised Nation


The Merdeka Centre report indicated that 2 out of 3 Chinese voters are likely to vote for the Opposition in the next general elections. While 18 percent of them do not know their preference yet. These are fence-sitters who will cast their vote based on several other considerations e.g. quality of candidate, campaign strategy, constituency service and others. The poll - which involved 1,025 respondents aged 16 and above - attempted to examine the voting trend in the next general election, due by April 2009.

Most of the respondents who noted that they will vote for the opposition are discontented with the 'directionless' economy. Although the government, through its controlled media, has reported bullish economic indices many Malaysians cannot find a connection between the indices and their livelihood. I have heard many people said that the CNY 'feel' is not there. My friends running retail shops and food outlets have registered marginal increase in sales. They told me that they are lucky to be surviving.

What has gone wrong? For example, the trade indices showed that we are now a RM1 trillion economy but looking deeper into the figures is bound to suggest otherwise. On our exports, a total of RM281 billion out of the RM588 billion came from the electrical and electronics industry. Similarly for our imports, a large portion of it are intermediary goods and components used in the E&E sector.

The real Malaysian economy is a lot smaller than RM1 trillion. What is the point of painting a rosy picture of the economy when the people are not feeling better off? It is amazing that the government is able to hide beneath the OSA on some of its privatisation agreements which are utterly unfair to the people. Samy Vellu said "why go after my blood, the cabinet is the one making the decision". He is part of the cabinet. The arrogant minister revealed that the government may have to pay RM580 billion to buy back the highway concessions. This is a highway robbery!

Nevertheless, the Malay community’s support for the BN is rock solid at 64 percent of the total respondents. Only 28 percent disagreed and only four percent answered ‘maybe’. Explaining the Malay preference to keep the status quo, Ibrahim Suffian said the community has been “shielded and protected” by the government in terms of income. The majority of the Malay voters (in rural areas) are earning a decent income, especially with rising commodity prices. Rural folks are less affected by the rising cost of living and other rates hike.

The Indian community responded less warm to the BN, with 47 percent said that the ruling coliation earned their vote. This community can be considered one of the most marginalised communities in the country. Their share of the economic pie shed from 1.5 percent to 1.3 percent in the 9MP. Ananda Krishnan is the second richest man in Malaysia, holds probably more than half of the wealth attributed to the Indian Malaysians.

Overall those in the private sector or doing their own business are most prone to vote against the government even for the Malays. Businessmen (63 percent) and those in the private sector (46 percent) have the highest likelihood of voting for the opposition. This is a good indicator on whether the economy is really performing that well.

Malaysians, watch out! We could be facing one of the most polarised general elections since 1990.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fair Comment? Nope You Have to Be Partisan!

At a function in Penang, a top politician offered to drive me to the hotel. In his car, he voiced out his displeasure with my recent articles which were published on my blogsite and the Malaysiakini website.

He was most displeased with the article I wrote on Prime Minister Abdullah's performance. In the article, I have argued that the prime minister had to abandon his reform agenda due to resistance from the old system. To consolidate his political power, he had to undertake some populist policies e.g. the Malay Agenda and the revival of the old NEP. I said that these decisions, including his failure to create the IPCMC, have caused some analysts to paint Abdullah as a flip-flop prime minister. Earlier in 2004, he had promised sweeping reforms and the creation of a first world mentality.

The top politician told me that my article has lost its scholastic value because I callled the prime minister a flip-flop. He said that my criticism of the present administration especially the prime minister will jeopardize his party's good relations with UMNO. On this note, I agree because as a party which has ruled the country over the last 50 years, UMNO is not very open and tolerant to criticism. However, let the readers judge for themselves if my articles are of any scholastic value or not.

I told him that only through valid and relevant criticism that we can learn and grow as a society. My published views are open to scrutiny and criticism like the government policies. A prime minister is elected and as an elected representative, he should be willing to listen to the people even if they may not have something very nice to say.

I told him that his party is supposed to be the conscience of BN. What has happened to the tag?

He said that I am a paid staff of the party and as such I do not have my right to criticize the government and I am not supposed to be impartial with my views. Even comments that are fair and balanced are not allowed. I told him that many others got more from the party than I did but did nothing to contribute to the goodwill of the party. Some of even tarnished the party's image through their unscrupulous actions including embezzlement and corruption. I did not commit a crime. The only thing he thought I did wrong was to accept an allowance from the party and speaking up for the people at the same time.

I would have failed in my duty if I did not speak the voices of the people. I have a heart and I care for the voiceless and the less privileged. I told him that he and his people don't have to 'attack' me personally and all he has to do is to call me up and tell me that I am no longer needed in the party. Otherwise, I will still uphold the party's ideology of fairness, equality and non-racialism.

I know who is the main culprit feeding him with the negative feedback. He has done the same to others. This man claimed to have contributed significantly to the party. We want to know what he has done? He made his political stride by villifying others. I can assure him that he is digging his own grave.

This top politician should ask himself these questions: who put you up there? The people or UMNO? why are you here if serving the people is not your main priority? is winning elections and to be appointed into fat and juicy positions that important?

The Real Bohsia (Voiceless in Hokkien)

I went back to Penang, my homestate, over the weekend to attend an official function. I grew up in Penang, it was a good feeling to be back. We stayed at the newly opened G Hotel which is adjacent to the Gurney Plaza. The owners of the hotel are Singaporeans who also owned the Gurney Plaza. G Hotel is a signature hotel of the group.

Hawker stalls at the open air gurney drive hawker centre are back albeit better and cleaner. The state government should be credited for doing a fine job here. I had my customary bowl of laksa before leaving for a dinner meeting later. It tasted delicious.

I left Penang the next Monday. Earlier, my mom helped me to book for a taxi to take me to the airport. This older gentleman has been driving my mom to places she wanted to go for a while now. Mr Ng has three school going children. One is graduating this year from USM and he is worried that his son may not be able to find a good stable job.

Mr Ng has been in this line for the last 27 years. Usually, he goes out in the morning and comes home only past midnight. He is definitely working very hard to put food on the table and roof over the heads of his family. His tanned skin shows that life is not easy as a taxi driver.

Mr Ng told me that the state government has promised to sort out the meter rate they could charge passengers for a while now. The current approved rate is 67 cents per km. He lamented that cost of living has gone up tremendously. A plate of char koay teow in some places costs more than RM3.50.

The drivers are asking for RM1 per km which will help them to defray higher fuel price and cost of living. Mr Ng told me that unlike toll rates, the meter rate is not entitled to adjustment every 2-3 years.

In a disappointed voice, he said if the government cannot even help to solve such a small issue how can it be trusted with bigger agendas and issues?

He told me that there are only less than a hundred taxi drivers like himself who are self-employed. Their votes are not important to the government. But if the main purpose of the politicians is to serve, then they should listen to the plights of the people especially those at the lower strata of the society. These people are the real bohsia (voiceless).

Friday, February 09, 2007

Pemudah task force: PM wants results in six months

In the NST today, the Prime Minister gave PEMUDAH six months to perform. The prime minister said yesterday in no uncertain terms that he wanted the body to be action-oriented and not bogged down by dialogues. Abdullah expects the body to give its views on new measures and steps to be taken to enhance efficiency in the delivery system.

At the same time, Abdullah also announced the creation of an implementation arm to complement the task force which is called 3P (penyelarasaan, penyampaian, perkhidmatan or co-ordination, delivery, services). 3P is to be chaired by Sidek and will comprise senior officers from selected government departments.

"It will look into internal problems arising in the public sector. They will have to meet, at least once a fortnight, or even better if they can have two or three meetings."Through this committee, weaknesses in the public sector can be identified and addressed."

If the task force is required to meet once a forthnight, they will have only 12 meetings to make a difference i.e. to significantly enhance the efficiency of public delivery system and to improve implementation of public projects.

I am not a cynic. I am even willing to assume that the task force will meet once a week, which is already very taxing on some of the high profile members who have their own business to mind at the same time. Assuming that they meet once a week, the total number of meetings is 24.

If the task force is able to make a difference within 24 meetings, I would like to propose to the Prime Minister to seriously consider revamping his cabinet. It is evident that after having met more than 156 times (every wednesday of the week) since March 2004, the cabinet is still not able to make a significant improvement to the delivery system. What's worse, every cabinet minister is backed by a full ministry machinery and millions in allocation.

Therefore, I would like to propose all 23 members of the special task force to be made ministers if they are successful in their tasks.

But my fear is the government may be passing on the responsibility and the blame to them as well should they failed.

To the members (or chosen ones): Good luck! I do not envy your appoinment to the task force.

Book Launch


Mahathir vs. Abdullah: Covert Wars and Challenged Legacies

The book is a compilation of articles and letters from Malaysiakini readers - representing a truly wide spectrum of opinion, critical thought, and passionate support for both parties.

The book features a number of high-profile contributors, including Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Guan Eng, P. Gunasegaram, Tian Chua, Collin Abraham, M Bakri Musa, Steven Gan, P Ramasamy, James Wong, Kim Quek, Charles Hector, Khoo Kay Peng, and many more. (from Jelas Info)

The book is priced at RM26. Get your copy now!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

PEMUDAH - Lets Hope This is Not Another Talk Shop

In his interview with Bangkok Post, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi told the press that his predecessor Tun Dr Mahathir was not too happy with current slow pace of implementation to boost economic growth. On his end, the prime minister has named a high-powered 23-member task force to promote faster reform in the delivery system. The news is reported in the NST.

The task force, which reports directly to him, is tasked with the responsibility to facilitate business and overhaul archaic and unnecessary licensing and bureaucratic procedures.

The task force will be jointly headed by chief secretary to the government Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan and, from the private sector, by Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers president, Datuk Yong Poh Kon.

Other members include:

PUBLIC SECTOR:

  • Public Service Department director-general Tan Sri Ismail Adam;
  • Treasury secretary-general Tan Sri Izzuddin Dali;
  • PM’s Department Implementation Co-ordination Unit director- general Tan Sri Khalid Ramli;
  • International Trade and Industry secretary-general Datuk Abdul Rahman Mamat;
  • Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (Mampu) director-general Datuk Yaacob Hussin;
  • Natural Resources and Environment Ministry secretary-general Datuk Suboh Mohd Yasin;
  • Housing and Local Government Ministry secretary-general Datuk Ahmad Fuad Ismail;
  • Human Resources Ministry secretary-general Datuk Thomas George M.S. George; Federal Territories Ministry secretary-general Datuk Ahmad Pheisal Talib;
  • Malaysian Industrial Development Authority (Mida) director- general Datuk R. Karunakaran;
  • Small-Medium Industries Development Corporation (Smidec) chief executive Hafsah Hashim;
  • Local Government Department director-general Datin Arpah Abdul Razak.

PRIVATE SECTOR:
  • American Malaysian Chamber of Commerce past president Datuk Nicholas S. Zeffreys;
  • Malaysian Employers Federation president Datuk Azman Shah Harun;
  • Malaysian International Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Mike Krishnan;
  • National Council of Commerce and Industry deputy president Pardip Kumar Kukreja;
  • Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers board member Dr Andy Seo;
  • Symphony House Group Bhd chief executive Datuk Azman Yahya;
  • Ahmad Zaki Resources Bhd deputy executive chairman Datuk Seri Wan Zaki Wan Muda;
  • Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce Economic Research Unit head Chua Tia Guan;
  • Tan Sri G. Gnanalingam, executive chairman of the Kelang Multi Terminal Sdn Bhd
The prime minister wants to focus on implementation in 2007. He wants this to be the year where projects are implemented effectively, unnecessary licensing requirements are eliminated, bureaucratic processes are reduced or removed altogether, minimise leakages and wastage to ensure projects under the Ninth Malaysia Plan bring about the benefits that we need to achieve our vision of becoming a developed nation by 2020.

The task force has been mandated to identify and recommend necessary steps to change procedures, rules and laws which will make conducting business much easier.The first job of the task force is to review issues affecting delivery systems in local governments to make them more efficient, responsive and business-friendly.

While the creation of the task force should be lauded, there are several issues which must be clarified:
  • First, what is the time frame given to the task force to come out with their recommendations? 6 months, 1 year or 2 years?
  • The structure of the task force is not much different from the past National Economic Action Councils - very high level. But if the problem is with the implementation, who can the task force ensure that the 1.2 million civil servants will follow their recommendations to the zee?
  • It is obvious that the task force role is merely advisory. They do not have an executive power to hear cases involving failed implementations which can be caused by negligence, ineffectiveness or lack of skills, corruption and others.
  • Once the recommendations are made, how long does the government expect the weaknesses can be corrected? Looking at the present condition, the task force set-up and the tasks at hand, the government should not expect any changes within the next 24 months at least.

Finally, the government must take into cognisance that it should not promise what it cannot deliver e.g. the IPCMC. Otherwise, the reverse impact of this initiative may backfire on the government's true intention and be branded as a mere PR campaign. The last few days of NST headlines have suffered from the same perception.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

State of the Economy, Better Days But For Whom?

At 10.30am this morning, I received a call from a NST journalist, Sharmini, who wanted to interview me on the NST's front page story today. She wanted to know my views on the rising ringgit against the USD. Apparently, the ringgit broke the 3.50 barrier against the US dollar yesterday, its highest level in nine years.

In its ed-op piece, the editorial argues that this is a "further sign of the strengthening economy". Quoting a survey company, ECA International, which surveys salary trends in 45 countries, saying that Malaysia has moved up nine spots to 8th place in relation to salary increases. It did not mention the average percentage of salary increase. From my own survey with several local CEOs, the average salary increase hovers around 5-10 percent. Most of the companies are paying between 1.5-2 months bonus this year.

But NST has trumpetted the return of good times. What an irony. If the people are really better off because the ringgit hit RM3.496 against USD1 yesterday, then we obviously do not need the NST to tell us so.

Lets look at the logic. How many of us buy goods and services denominated in USD or imported from the US. What is the percentage of our household goods which are imported from the US? Many of these products and services come from countries whose currencies have appreciated against the USD as well, cancelling out our gains against USD.

Prices at the food courts, retail outlets and service outlets have gone up including our toll rates, water tariffs, electricity tariffs et cetera. Are we expecting these prices to come down soon because the RM has strengthened against the USD? Higher rates and tariffs have a snowballing effect on our real inflation rates.

The higher RM does not even benefit the exporters because their labour cost is now going up. I wonder where the editors at NST learn their economics.

It can't be UM because I was from the esteemed university.

OSA Bulls**t!

I echo the Sun's call for the government to rethink using the OSA to keep secret activities which are NOT detrimental to the security of the country. The police are pursuing a case where an agreement said to be between the government and a toll-road operator hasbeen made public. Four opposition politicians are now being investigated for a possible offence under the OSA for making public the toll agreement.

The toll concession agreement like other agreements which involved the interest of the public and public funds cannot be kept hidden under the act. We have the right to know if the government has made a fair representation for the people.

In its 2004 election manifesto, the BN government had pledged for transparency and accountability. It must now walk its talk.

Similarly with many others (and the Sun), I call for a Freedom of Information Act to be implemented, much like in countries such as India, Canada, Australia and other most transparent ones, which would guarantee the public the right to information about the government in all aspects except those which must bekept secret for the sake of the security of the country.

Our aspiration to become a first world country must be reflected in our action. Otherwise, Malaysia will become nothing more than a has-been and a butt of joke. Politicians, especially the ruling elites, do your job and stop acting like feudal lords!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Partisan Concern

After a brief meeting with a TV producer, I rushed to the Nikko Hotel to meet up with a prominent politician whom I respected greatly, Datuk Ong Tee Keat. We adjourned to the lobby restaurant for a quick meal.

We discussed about the political developments in the country. Ong told me that he is very concerned with the growing partisanship in the country. In reality, many issues are not presented in merely black or white. There are many grey issues that we must help to address as the responsible people of Malaysia.

He told me that he was criticised in his party for making public how he allocated his constituency funds. A woman leader in his party even made a complaint against him to his party president that apparently the prime minister was not happy with Ong's action.

The funny thing is our administration and politicians are forever harping about transparency, accountability and integrity. When challenged by a noble act, they showed their true colours. They should emulate Ong by making public their constituency expenditure. This is an act of integrity.

Some forces amongst the corrupt elites might be plotting for Ong's downfall. He is worried but like any doting father of three daughters, he is more worried about his children well-being and education.

We should support good people. He told me before we parted that he would like to see more good people in politics either in the government or the opposition. I nodded with agreement.

IOI Toll Hike Protest





At 3.50 pm, I arrived at IOI Puchong. A small crowd had gathered outside the main entrance of IOI Mall just in front of my favourite joint, Starbucks. I was greeted by Khai Loon, the president of Y4C and saw Ronnie Liu lingering at the area.

We chatted for a while and the coordinator started to introduce the Protes leaders who were there including Tian Chua, Ronnie, Ezam, Dr Hatta and others. After a short speech, the crowd was trying to move towards a small area between IOI car park and a pedestrian bridge. Before the crowd was able to move there, the riot police had stopped them on their path. Not wanting to clash with the police, the crowd led by the Protes leaders took another way and was allowed to get to the area.

At the area, I could observed that there was no obstruction to shoppers or traffic. The protesters consisted of both young and old, of all races and both gender. Some of them were members of several NGOs.

The moment the speeches started, the police gave their warning to the protesters to 'bersurai' or disperse. In that instance, the Protes asked the crowd if they could send two representatives to speak to the police to 'negotiate' for a few minutes for them to finish their speeches. I could hear Tian Chua and Badrul negotiating with the police but was given 15 minutes to disperse.

At the same time, Ronnie and Dr Hatta were busy making speeches. They shouted 'naik, naik rakyat' and 'turun, turun tol'. The crowd followed suit. But when the negotiation with the police failed and when Tian Chua was about to make his speech, the police armed with baton and shield charged at the crowd.

I am sad to say that the crowd was not unruly. In fact, the demonstrators were more afraid of the police than the opposite. The presence of the police personnel simply outnumbered the protestors. They covered both sides of the road. A helicopter could be seen circling the area. Police dogs, water canons and FRU trucks could be seen everywhere.

The irony was there was no riot! Only a peaceful demonstration and many like myself, who were affected by the toll hike of 60% were there to lend our support as non-partisan members and citizens who wanted to know why we were made to pay so much. We wanted to know why the government insisted to cover up the toll concession agreements using the OSA when the public money is involved. It will become the biggest cover up in the history of privatisation in Malaysia.

Several arrests were made and some of them arrested included young women who did nothing but protested against the police roughness. Some policemen in plain clothes were obviously acting unruly and rude. A number of the organisers were arrested as well. DAP assemblyman Teng Chang Khim then tried to negotiate with the police to release all who were detained if the demonstration were to break up. When Teng was making an announcement that the police has agreed to release the detained, some of those arrested were brought to the police truck. It was obvious that the police had changed their mind.

I brought Teng to the police station at Puchong in my car which was parked on the other side of the road. While there, we received another message that the crowd was making their way to police station. Wong Chin Huat, myself and several others made our way there and we could see the crowd making their way from the Proton showroom to the police station followed by the FRU. When they reached the HSBC Bank, suddenly the FRU personnel were seen charging at the crowd from behind as though they were chasing a pack of stray dogs.

Fearing getting hurt, I did not run but stood there to take some pictures in case the police decided to beat any of the unarmed and non-violent demonstrators.

The crowd then gathered outside of the police station unfettered by the presence of the police and heavily armoured trucks, police dogs and tear gas (not fired). The police treated the demonstration as a riot which is not necessary.

I am humbled by the experience and as a person equally affected by the toll hike, I can understand the predicament of the people. Many of them are low wage earners. The government should show more empathy towards the people.

The police may be chasing them like a pack of stray dogs but when come general elections some selfish politicians will come kissing their hands for votes.

I truly hope we could strive for a non-partisan understanding and support for the matter.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Rising Crime Rates

Rising crime index is giving sleepless nights to many Malaysian families. The crime index rose 15.74% last year, prompting Minister inthe Prime Minister's Department Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili to express concern.

He said the number of cases, which included commercial crime, increased from171,604 to 198,622 cases."Property crime made up almost 70% of the crime cases last year, while commercial crime contributed less than 10%. Violent crime made up the rest,"he said.

States such as Selangor (including KL), Penang and Johor reported the most number of cases. Recent spate of gruesome murder cum robbery cases have caused deep concerns amongst Malaysians.

Meanwhile, the IGP had also announced the recruitment of 60,000 new personnel, the biggest recruitment drive to enhance the strength of the force. In addition to that, some 2,000 new police cars are ready for use to increase patrols.

The IGP should focus on the quality of recruits instead on quantity alone. Shoddy investigations and prosecutions have resulted in many acquitals. Security remains one of the top concerns in our society today.

The worsening crime index, with an average of 6.7 women raped and 1.65 persons murdered daily last year compared with 4 women raped and 1.5 persons murdered daily in 2003 is a gross concern. If the security concern in left unchecked, it may affect our economy and investor's confidence in our social environment.

Another Battle Royale?

The political temperature in Penang went up by a few notches since the announcement made by DAP that the party intends to make the state its frontline battle ground in the next general elections. The presence of several top personalities such as Umno president and prime minister Abdullah Badawi, incoming Gerakan president and chief minister Dr Koh Tsu Koon, DAP secretary general Lim Guan Eng and possibly Keadilan’s advisor Anwar Ibrahim (eligible to contest after April 2008) would ensure an explosive contestations in Penang.

The opposition parties are buoyed by a number of national issues facing the Barisan Nasional (BN) e.g. rising cost of living, higher petrol price, unfair privatisation concession agreements, perceived racism in public policies, unscrupulous racist politicking and some controversies which implicated a few of its top leaders.

The opposition parties hope that these national issues combined with several local issues will translate into better support for them in Penang. Are the voters in Penang affected by these issues?

Voting Pattern

The actual situation may turn out to be more complicated than the oppositions had expected. Penang voters are a sophisticated lot. They have shown their pragmatism in the last few general elections. Generally, the voting pattern in Penang is quite similar with the pattern nationally. Most of them had voted for stability, reliability and economic development in the past.

When the economy is performing well, it is highly likely that the voters will vote overwhelmingly in support of the BN. However, they were pragmatic enough to keep a reasonable representation of opposition members in the parliament. DAP had won at least three parliamentary seats in the past. Split voting is a hallmark of the voters here. This way, they can be assured of a strong state government which can fulfil their socio-economic needs and a reasonable check-and-balance in the parliament. At the height of the BN support in 2004, the oppositions still won a respectable five parliament seats.

The voters’ perception of stability is very crucial to the oppositions. In the 1995, 1999 and 2004 general elections, the oppositions barely won a token number of seats in the state assembly. DAP, in particular, was a spent force after three gruelling Tanjong projects which failed to wrest the state power from BN.

In 1998, the Anwar factor was largely seen as a Malay political struggle. The ‘reformasi’ fever failed to reverse the oppositions’ fortune in the 1999 general elections. Instead, two of DAP top guns – Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh - were defeated in the parliamentary contests for the party’s association with the pan-Islamic party, PAS. DAP’s hope of coat tailing the ‘reformasi’ wave backfired because voters were wary of PAS Islamic state ambition and a possible political instability should the oppositions managed to come into power. It is obvious that the oppositions cannot depend on issues alone to win them the state.

It was proven previously that the voters can be affected by other equally important factors such as their fear of overt Islamism and racism, and the quality of leadership. In the 1990 general elections, the voters’ sentiment were badly affected by the aftermath of the 1987 ‘Operasi Lalang’ which saw the detention of several political leaders, civil rights activists, Chinese academicians and Chinese community leaders over the Chinese vernacular school issue. DAP was the biggest beneficiary. In contrast, all MCA candidates were defeated due to the perceived inability of the party to defend the rights of the Chinese community. Gerakan, largely seen as a counter balance to MCA in BN, retained eight of their seats.

The abatement of negative racist sentiment towards the Chinese community and a better economic condition helped BN to win back most of its support at the 1995 general elections. Nevertheless, there are several events which hinted at a possible re-enactment of the negative racist sentiment felt in 1990.

At a UMNO division meeting, deputy youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin warned that the non-Malays, while making a subtle reference to Suqiu, may take advantage of UMNO’s weakness to demand for more rights. Subsequently, he said that the Malays in Penang are marginalised and neglected by the non-UMNO led government. Khairy was alleged as the master mind behind the motions passed at several UMNO divisions calling for the post of chief minister to be rotated and a banner protest against Penang chief minister Dr Koh Tsu Koon when the latter attended a UMNO event.

The revival of the NEP as a policy instrument to promote UMNO’s Malay agenda has created a discontent amongst the Chinese groups and associations in Penang. They have met up with politicians from both the MCA and Gerakan to voice out their concern that the NEP may drive away fresh foreign investment to other destinations and further erode the confidence of domestic investors in Penang. Although the state recorded a high total capital investment in 2005, its domestic investment has recorded a sharp decrease of almost 26 percent from 2004.

Furthermore, the Asli CPPS report suggested that the Bumiputera corporate equity had reached 45 percent and surpassed the NEP target of 30 percent. Several governmental ministries have since came out with different set of statistics to quash the suggestion. While the government’s credibility may be affected due to its own inconsistency, the main concern of the business community is Penang’s standing as an investment and industrial hub in the region. Without the NEP, the state is already facing fierce competition from China, Vietnam and Thailand.

The 2006 UMNO general assembly marked the climax of racist rhetoric and remarks made by several of its second echelon leaders. Its youth chief Hishammudin Hussein’s insistence to unsheathe his ‘keris’ at the party’s general assemblies has become a symbol of communalism and political aggression. The manner in which these UMNO leaders were left off the hook after making several seditious remarks may have a negative electoral impact on its coalition partners, especially MCA and Gerakan. Both parties are being perceived as meek and unequal partners to UMNO.

Since independence, Penang is seen as an icon of BN power sharing model in Malaysia. Some emerging trends suggested that there maybe some pressure on this position. Lately, its non-Malay state leadership is perceived as weak and ineffectual largely due to its inability to control the Malay dominated civil service and the state departments. Although both MCA and Gerakan have better numerical advantage over UMNO in the state assembly, the tight federal control over its finances and economic direction has made it virtually impossible for the state to chart its own path without the supervision of UMNO.

Second, the changing demographics in Penang will make it harder for a minority ethnic group to lead the state government. Malay community made up of 41 percent of the total population while the Chinese community is still the largest at 43 percent. The number is expected to reverse in the next 3-5 years, with the Malay community forming the majority. The heat is already being felt especially in the last few years with several UMNO divisions in the state calling for a rotation of the top position.

Several crucial state departments, local authorities and state controlled companies are already seeing a major involvement of the Malays. The proponents of Malay agenda in UMNO will not stop short of having all states in Malaysia eventually coming under the control of the Malay leadership. Although Kelantan is controlled by PAS since 1990, it is still seen as a Muslim-Malay government.

Political Strategy

DAP is expected to use these two issues as their main campaign focus. First, the party may capitalise on the perceived weak state leadership lead by Gerakan to promote a stronger state government which is capable of charting its own socio-economic direction. Its ability to stand up to UMNO would be the main selling point.

Since economy is the main issue in Penang, the party would have to convince the voters that it is able to reenergise and accelerate the state economy to its previous pole position in the country. Today, Penang’s income per capita and its ability to attract investment lagged behind both Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.

On this note, the DAP faces several internal challenges. First, the party cannot focus on problems and issues alone if it aspires to become a ruling party. It must be able to present viable and fresh strategy and action plans to solidify its intention. To do so, the party must demonstrate its knowledge of the state economy, its challenges and issues and its ability to propose a way forward.

Second, voters in the state gravitate towards a strong and reliable leadership. Its previous chief minister, Dr Lim Chong Eu, had provided a firm leadership to lead Penang out of its economic slump into an industrial powerhouse in less than two decades. Under Dr Koh Tsu Koon, Penang’s economic growth has consistently outperformed the national average. Under his stewardship, Penang is progressing but perhaps not as fast as other competitors within the country and overseas which are striding at break neck speed.

Despite announcing its aspiration for state power, DAP is not yet firm on who will lead its campaign in Penang. Several observers remarked that anything short of its top leader, DAP secretary general Lim Guan Eng, its intention will not be taken seriously. Even then, Lim would need some time to cultivate his support base and to build up the party’s machinery in the state.

Another dilemma DAP faces is an apparent lack of good home grown candidates in Penang. In the past, the ‘outsider’ label used against several personalities had proven to be effective especially when it comes to holding the top position in Penang. Since 1999, after the devastating defeat of Lim Kit Siang in the general elections, DAP Penang is a spent force. It survives merely on the pragmatism of the voters and the individual popularity of some of its leaders.

Third, its collaboration with Keadilan is limited only to Anwar Ibrahim. Since his release from prison, Anwar’s contribution to domestic politics especially Penang is limited to his few political statements most notably his stand on the NEP. Apart from that, it is not certain how Anwar can contribute positively towards DAP’s campaign in Penang. He is not even certain of making a return to Permatang Pauh. Moreover, several Chinese leaders in Keadilan are not on good terms with the party over seat negotiations in the 1999 and 2004 general elections.

In reality, both DAP and Keadilan need their partnership to work. But is Anwar comfortable of playing second fiddle in Penang? Out of the 40 state seats, 14 seats have a clear Chinese majority and 10 seats with a clear Malay majority. In 9 other seats, the Chinese forms a simple majority and the Malay holds a slight majority in 5 other seats. There are two mixed seats. Indian voters feature prominently in all seats ranging from 4.2 percent to 22.8 percent of the total voters.

In the last few general elections, the Indian voters were the staunchest BN supporters. It is not known if the recent spate of cases involving demolition of Indian temples and the worsening socio-economic condition of the community do have any impact on their support towards BN. To win, a party or a coalition must win at least 21 seats and has a broad appeal to all races in the state.

Another battle cry for the DAP is the possibility of Penang coming under the leadership of UMNO within the next two general elections and the party’s intention to avert this possibility. This is a double edged sword. While the battle cry may rally more Chinese voters to support the party, its campaign tagline may draw away Malay support from the party and its alliance. This is where its liaison with Anwar Ibrahim can be crucial. Can Anwar persuade the Malay voters to shed their Malay supremacist mind set for a Malaysian first one? This will be an arduous task especially in a pro-UMNO state and the home base of the current prime minister.

Tension Building

While the opposition parties are still far from getting their act together, tensions are brewing within the BN component parties in Penang. Both MCA and Gerakan would need to convince the Chinese voters that they are not submissive to UMNO and when a need arises they would be able to stand up against any unreasonable demands from UMNO leaders. The next important challenge would be to deliver adequate economic and job opportunities to the people.

Several local issues such as the frustrating public transport system, the inefficient and fallible local authorities, increase inter-ethnic frictions, higher income disparity and dislocation of the poor from the expensive island housing areas would have to be addressed before the next general elections. Over the last decade, the mushrooming of expensive and high-end condominiums on premium lands has created a sense of unhappiness amongst the lower income groups. As a result, many of them can ill afford to live on the island and many have moved out of the city centre and economic zones. Poor intra-state connectivity due to a fractious public bus transport system has made it extremely difficult for the lower income groups to commute to work at the city centre and economic zones.

At the party level, the MCA has been playing second fiddle since 1990 when comes to addressing the Chinese community affairs in the state. After its last chairman, Dr Sak Cheng Lum, the state leadership has endured endless factional power struggle. At present, the state leadership is headed temporarily by its national deputy president Chan Kong Choy. Most of its incumbents have held their seats since 1995 and will be facing their fourth term if most of them were retained. Similarly, the party is affected by a number of national issues discussed. A significant issue faced by the party is the sale of Nanyang Siang Pau to Tiong Hiew King which may reopen the team A and team B friction.

At the national level, Gerakan’s leadership transition appeared to be smooth sailing but its transition in Penang does have some heavy undercurrents. While the party has identified several notable replacements for Dr Koh Tsu Koon should he moves to the federal level, most Penangites are left in the dark on his probable successor. This has led to many unhealthy speculations and a deep uncertainty. Moreover, Koh will be leading the party into the next general elections as an acting president since his party would probably postpone its party election until after the general elections.

The imminent retirement of Gerakan’s iconic leaders such as current president Dr Lim Keng Yaik and Penang state exco Dr Toh Kin Woon is another blow to the party. Both of them may aid in the campaign but Dr Koh should be given the full confidence to lead his party into the next general elections. It will be an opportunity for Dr Koh to stamp his leadership control over the party as its new president and to mark his grand return to federal politics since 1986. As such, whoever the party and Dr Koh nominate to replace him in Penang would be a crucial decision in view of the sure fire contestations in the next general elections.

Summary

From this analysis, it is obvious that despite several nail biting issues confronting the state none of the opposing political parties have a clear advantage over the other. While the BN parties have an advantage in incumbency and the experience to govern the state, it will go into the next election with perhaps the most hostile sentiment since 1990. It is near impossible for BN to repeat its level of support in 2004.

For the oppositions, they should be realistic with their own chances. A strong political support base cannot be build overnight or even within a year. Their best chance would be to depend on the charisma of several leaders and an opportunity to introduce capable, young and energetic new faces in the next general elections.

Whatever the outcome, the winners must be the people of Penang. The next state government must be able to address several teething problems faced by the people and to ensure that socio-economic equality and justice prevails. Whether Penang can reclaim its past glory, the decision ultimately resides in the hands of the people.

Companies Seeking Listing Elsewhere

Business Times reported that BURSA Malaysia Bhd is "concerned" over how more companies are considering anoverseas listing. This is the same concern expressed by CIMB CEO Nazir Razak when interviewed by the Edge weekly. Nazir spoke on the negative expect of the affirmative action which requires companies seeking for listing to allocate 30 percent of their shares to Bumiputera.

Its chief executive officer Datuk Yusli Mohamed Yusoff said."Typically, it'd be the larger-sized companies that would have more options to look elsewhere. In cases like that, we'd then work with the broker or merchant bank to convince that company to list in our market," said Yusli.

This is, however, less of an issue with small and medium enterprises. "There are a few that will go to markets like London because they can get a better valuation, because obviously investors there are more sophisticated and willing to take more risk.

Yusli should submit a comprehensive report to the government on the pros and cons of reintroducing the 'old' NEP as a socio-economic framework in the 9MP and IMP3. Otherwise, Bursa Malaysia can expect more local and foreign companies to bypass its bourses.