Monday, April 30, 2007

Ijok: All's Well Ends Well?

Ijok by-election was a massive battle between the opposition and BN. It was an election the BN wanted to use to boost the morale of their members before the upcoming general elections.

It also marked the first attempt at political comeback for Anwar Ibrahim, the PKR advisor and icon. That is why, days after the outcome of the by-election, Zam's RTM 1 and 2 are still going ballistic against the opposition figure.

The BN leaders claimed that they have buried Anwar in Ijok. Not realising that their partners, both MCA and Gerakan, are sinking deeper into the soft sand too.

Is it really a political fullstop for both PKR and Anwar?

What is obvious is that the Malay support in rural and semi-rural areas are strongly behind the BN. Most of them are working in the plantation industry which is well supported by the government through subsidies and grants. Higher commodity prices have brought enough joy and good life to the planters and farmers.

Here, Anwar and PKR's campaign on national issues e.g. corruption, good governance and others are not that effective. Only PAS was able to hold on to its hardland in Kampung Ijok although the opposition's majority was slashed more than 50%.

PKR should realise now that PAS is an important ally they should count on to penetrate the Malay hardland. Here, PKR is no match to both UMNO and PAS.

If this contest is about development, then UMNO has managed to convince the Malay voters that it is able to deliver on its development promises. From Jaya Setia, Bukit Badong and Simpang Ijok, it has managed to reverse the Malay support for its candidate (an Indian). This is a harsh blow to Anwar, whose support in the rural Malay hardland is not growing.

However, the situation in both Batang Berjuntai and Pekan Ijok is different. These areas have sizeable Chinese voters of between 31% to 67%. A bigger gain was recorded by the opposition in areas with a higher the Chinese voters' composition. These voters are more responsive to the national issues. It marked an important psychological breakthrough for PKR. Previously, the Chinese voters are not too keen to vote for a PKR candidate. But more of them are voting for the party now.

An opposition leader said that there was almost 6.5% swing in Chinese votes to the opposition despite the millions of development funds poured in by the BN.

This should be the main concern for both MCA and Gerakan.

Where Are the Tourists?

I went back to Penang last weekend for a short visit. At the airport, I took a local taxi to my friend's shot at Bukit Jambul complex. In the car, I asked the driver about tourist arrivals in Penang.

He told me that tourist arrivals are not very encouraging although it is a Visit Malaysia Year 2007. Curious, I asked him what was the reason.

He said there wasn't enough done to attract tourists to Penang. The state government should organise more events and create more tourist attractions if they want to boost up the arrival number.

Another taxi driver who took me back to the airport the next few days told me that there are not many returning tourists these days because there is nothing new in Penang. Most prefer to go to other destinations.

The taxi drivers are the first to know if tourist arrivals are encouraging or not.

Half way gone. It is time to buck up!

Friday, April 27, 2007

An Answer Begets More Questions

The Defence Ministry came out to deny an allegation that a huge commission was paid for the purchase of Sukhoi SU30MKM fighter aircraft and Scorpene submarines. A statement by the ministry said that the negotiations had been carried out according to the national defence equipment contract acquirement procedures outlined by the Government.

Read this:

On the submarine purchase, the ministry said the allegations insinuating that the Government had paid a commission of RM450mil to Abdul Razak Baginda were baseless.

It added that no commission was paid to Perimekar Sdn Bhd as stated in the allegations. “The submarine acquisition was made through direct negotiations – as per the Government acquisition procedures stated earlier – with French manufacturer Armaris and Navantia of Spain after prior approvals had been obtained from the two governments.

“Perimekar, which was alleged to have received commissions, had actually been awarded the contract to prepare support and coordination services for six years.

“The contract value was 114.96mil euros (RM534.8mil), which was paid in stages according to the progress level of the project,” it added. It also stated that Perimekar is jointly owned by Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera, Boustead Holdings Bhd and KS Ombak Laut Sdn Bhd.

Our questions:
  • Would a company given a commission list it as a 'commission income'?
  • What are the support and coordination services rendered since it costs the government almost RM90 million a year?
  • Is the ministry willing to reveal the contractual agreement between the ministry and Perimekar?

In the interest of the public, the government should reveal details of its agreement with Perimekar soonest. Otherwise, the allegation or 'rumour' will not simply die off.

Ijok: Animosity

Dr Mahathir has done it again. This time two days before the Ijok by-election on Saturday. Dr Mahathir Mohamad has urged voters to send a signal to the ruling coalition and refuse to let a "rotten government" buy their support, an online newspaper said onThursday.

Earlier, the ex-premier revealed that prime minister Abdullah Badawi was to serve for a term before passing the leadership baton to his deputy Najib Razak. Abdullah has hinted that he wanted to serve for two more terms. Many observers believed his decision has irked the former premier.

Dr M said, "If you vote because you get a lot of money or because you get a lot ofprojects, you may get a rotten government which uses money in order to buy your vote." He stopped short of calling on voters to choose the candidate from the opposition.

However, Dr M's statement is seen as having crossed the point of no return. I am sure the heat is on and the former premier will become more vocal leading to the general elections.

I watched the late news on TV3 yesterday. It showed a clip on a slip of tougue by the Keadilan candidate Khalid Ibrahim. He was caught on camera urging his supporters to vote for a "BN candidate" when rounding up his speech. I thought it was a cheap potshot.

Ijok by-election results will be closely watched by both the opposition and BN as an indicator to the coming GE.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sing My Woes Away

If only these famous singers, "Kamalhasan" and "Rajinikanth", who have been singing and dancing their way into the hearts of locals preparing for the by-election on April 28 in Ijok can sing their poverty, worries, hardship and woes away too.


Get real!
Picture courtesy of NST.

No Talk, Just Listen

In NST today, the government will not allow sensitive racial and religious issues to be discussed in public forums.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Dr Abdullah Md Zin told Chong Hon Min (Independent-Sandakan) the National Unity and Integration Department has set up a National Unity Advisory Panel to discuss these issues and find ways to reach a consensus. Panel members consist of representatives from the various religions.

My take on this: the government continues to treat Malaysians like small kids. The decision of the government is embarassing especially when we are faced with numerous cases on religious status and apostasy.

Satellite news station Al Jazeera has highlighted the plight of a Malaysian woman who has been forcibly separated from her Hindu husband and 15-month-old baby girl on the grounds of her religion. Islamic authorities and the woman’s parents claim that she is a Muslim named Siti Fatimah.

Her husband Suresh Veerapan said she is not a practising Muslim, but a Hindu born to Muslim parents and that her name is Revathi Masoosai.

The government cannot gag the public from discussing issues which concerned them. Most of the discussions seek to understand and to resolve current disputes through a constitutional and civil recourse.

It is obvious that the government does not have the political will to resolve these issues. The lack of public space for debate and discussion can be attributed to the reluctance of politicians to end racial and religious politics in the country.


Friday, April 20, 2007

The Mother of All Battles

Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud is on the offensive. But he may be choosing the wrong target. What is he trying to prove by taking on Malaysiakini instead of Japan Times?

He has demanded malaysiakini to remove several articles concerning accusations of corruption allegedly linked to him and his family.

These articles - published between April 6 and 14 - alleged that Taib has been implicated in a kickbacks scandal involving RM32 million in kickbacks paid by Japanese shipping companies for timber from the resource-rich state.

The eight articles cited by Taib were follow ups to the Japan Times news report on March 29 entitled ‘Wood carriers allegedly hid 1.1 billion yen income’.

According to the report, the multi-million ringgit ‘commission’ - made over a period of seven years - was paid to a Hong Kong company said to be linked to Taib - who is the country’s longest serving chief minister - and his family.

But the online news website editor, Steven Gan, is not perturbed by the law suit and vowed to fight it in court.

“If by filing the law suit, Taib hopes to intimidate us, he is dead wrong. When we go to court, we have a long list of witnesses whom we plan to call - starting with the ACA and Japan’s tax authorities,” he said. “This could turn out to be the mother of all court battles.”

It is interesting to note that the ACA has yet to start investigating the Japan Times claim although police reports were made against the chief minister.

Picture and story courtesy of Malaysiakini.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Aftermath of Machap

Machap – it was still a convincing win for Barisan Nasional (BN). It was a gallant battle by the Dap despite being overwhelmed by the sheer size of BN’s election machinery. But, it signified a cruel death of true democracy and morality. It was an election where winning is everything. However, a victory that costs us our morality is not something that we should celebrate if we are pro-Malaysia.

The aftermath of Machap by-election serves us with several key observations. It is important that we take serious note of its implications before the society descended deeper into moral decay.

First, it was clear that some of the politicians involved in the by-election campaign sought to equate technicalities to rights. In Machap, the announcements and pledges of new projects and development funds are considered technically acceptable because they are apparently made by politicians who acted in their capacity as ministers.

Technically, they acted within the ambit of a responsible and caring government. But a technically correct decision does not make it morally right. More so when these politicians are representing a coalition party whose candidate was directly seeking to be elected by the voters. What we have witnessed was an effect of valueless and amoral materialism rearing its ugly head through developmental politics. In this regard, winning is more important than morality and good values.

Another dilemma faced by concerned public is the lack of mechanism to check on abuses of our democratic processes especially the conduct of a free and fair election. The Election Commission is seen as a mere administrator and a tool of the ruling elites to run elections in order to legitimize their hold on power.

It is neither a watchdog nor a guardian of democracy in the country. Its lack of moral compass is evident when the commission chairman Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman said that development promises by ministers to voters during an election could not be construed as vote-buying. The promises made are not wrong but the timing they were made is wrong. It is hard to understand why Abdul Rashid failed to see a conflict of interest existed here. The ‘uselessness’ of the EC is cemented when he had also said vote-buying was not the EC's problem, and that it was for the ACA to investigate.

However, the blame should not be shouldered by the politicians only. Members of a society who are willing to tolerate, preserve and coexist with a bunch of moral deficit politicians and are willing to be bribed are equally guilty. It is a hard and bumpy road ahead in our efforts to press for more transparency and accountability. The fight against corruption is a lonely battle especially when a large segment of the society is growing fonder of the act of developmental politics or to put it more crudely ‘vote-buying’.

We can expect a similar trend being repeated at the Ijok by-election. Already the state government has announced a windfall of RM36 million for various development projects in the area. History is set to be repeated and the opposition will again go howling at the Election Commission and demand for action to be taken against the BN. It will be an act in futility.

Since the opposition is not our answer to solve this issue of a lack of morality because they are equally entrapped in the cat-and-mouse game, surely there must be something we can do to correct the current situation.

The responsibility has to rest on the shoulder of our nascent civil society. The civil society has to do more talk and more action. Civil society organizations, backed by civic conscious media groups, have to organize more awareness campaigns on the ills of corruption and abuse of power. This should start at the grassroots level and start them as young as possible. Sad to say, with limited resources we may have to give up on the ones who are already entrenched in their mindset with the kickbacks of the current system.

We do need more Haris Ibrahims, Malik Imtiazs, Marina Mahathirs, Farish Noors, Azly Rahmans, James Wongs, Jeff Oois and others. We do not need to agree with all their individual views but nonetheless the efforts put in by these activists have contributed to the diversity of views and the opening up of our civil space to dissent and criticize.

For the rest of us who do not have the energy and passion of these activists, we can do something for our own family members and children. To inculcate good moral values in our children, we should not leave it to the schools alone. The lesson should start at home. Parents who are concerned about their children education e.g. how to enroll them into the best schools should be equally concerned about the kind of society they want their children to grow up in later.

Hence, we should stop being myopic and self-centered. As good citizens of this country, it is timely that we should take more serious interest in its affairs. Politicians who are keen to rule must ensure that they do not misrule and misplace the people’s trust in them. We must make sure these politicians keep their pledges.

One immediate challenge for them is to reject racial compartmentalization currently existed in our race centric political model. Racial politics created race affirmative policies which are prone to abuse and corruption. Hence, both the opposition and non-UMNO component parties must start to rethink their political model and take the first step to end racial politics by making themselves multiracial.

It is a tall order to hope for a dominant racial party such as UMNO to start the ball rolling. However, the party will be forced to change its perspective and behaviour if it finds itself no longer dealing with race-based political parties within the BN or outside the coalition.

Would anyone dare pick up the gauntlet?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Severe Backache

Gosh! I have been having a severe backache for the last 3 weeks. It started when I went back to my hometown and slept on an old mattress which my mom was too reluctant to throw away.

When I told her about my back problem, she insisted that it was a 'new' mattress. She bought the mattress 10 years ago. This is not so new to me. So I went out and bought a new one to replace the old.

But my backache still would not go away after 4 'urut' (massage) sessions at a traditional Chinese medical centre. Maybe I should try other options.


Ijok Importance to Opposition

The Ijok by-election will be watched carefully by most political pundits. Ijok is far more indicative of the urban sentiment compared to Machap. Moreover, Selangor, under the leadership of chief minister Mohd. Khir Toyo, received the more (negative) publicity and coverage from the media especially TV3 compared to Malacca.

There are two significant indicators in this by-election. First, it is a barometer of the opposition's strength and the popularity of resurgence PKR advisor Anwar Ibrahim. If PKR were to do well in this by-election, the results will boost the party image and confidence to mount a challenge to capture the state government. UMNO may be forced to take Anwar seriously in the next GE and may opt to call for an early election before April 2008.

PKR's candidate and party treasurer, Khalid Ibrahim, is seen as a chief minister material. It is fair to say that his credentials and experience are more impressive compared to the MIC candidate, K Parthiban, who is the Tanjung Karang Division secretary.

Both are locals of Kuala Selangor. However, the latter is backed by an enormous election machinery and resources of the BN. The by-election is set to become a proxy fight between UMNO and PKR.

Second, a PKR defeat will sorely affect the morale of the opposition in the upcoming GE. Anwar, if still keen to make a political comeback, may have to reconsider his options or to significantly overhaul the strategy of PKR.

It will also be a test for the opposition triangle partnership similar to the one formed in the 1990 GE.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Rising Crime

Earlier this week, a top cop is engaged in a spat with his boss, Deputy Minister of Internal Security Mohd Johari Baharum. Johari is being investigated by the ACA over the RM5.5 million corruption claim that he received as kickbacks to order the release of several high profile criminals.

What is the recent spat about? We have two sets of very diverging crime statistics - one from the police and another from Mohd Johari.

Johari had earlier revealed that the crime index in Kuala Lumpur’s Sentul district in the first three months of the year had soared by 90 percent, with snatch thefts going up by a whopping 693.5 per cent.

However, Federal CID director Christopher Wan had contradicted him, saying that the crime index for the first quarter in Sentul had increased by only 10.1 percent, while snatch thefts dropping by 36.6 percent.

Of course, the deputy minister was fuming mad and ordered the top cop to meet him at his Putrajaya office.

Meanwhile, an opposition leader PKR information chief Tian Chua said that during a dialogue last year with Sentul residents, the police acknowledged their lack of human resources. There are only 57 police officers in an area of 500,000 people. He added that Sentul registered 5,809 of crime cases last year and the situation had deteriorated to the extend that some residents in the area resorted to hiring private security for protection.

On the contradiction between the top cop and the deputy minister, I am sure both of them agreed that some serious action has to be taken to ensure that our fellow citizens, investors, foreign visitors and students feel safe living and working in this country.
Before the increase in cost of living and economic slowdown since 2003, public security ranked at the top in several surveys conducted by independent consultants on the main issues faced by the general public. It is still one of the top concerns.

Machap By-Election 2

BN candidate Lai Meng Chong defeated DAP candidate Liou Chen Kuang by a 4,081-vote majority. While the majority was reduced by 481 votes, the opposition candidate improved his tally by only 167 votes. There were a rather high number of spoilt votes - 166.

My observation of the outcome:
  • BN's influence remained strong in rural and semi-rural constituencies. A BN assemblyman is often allocated a yearly development allocation of RM100-200k if he represents a rural or a semi-rural constituency. The allocation is helpful to the villagers.
  • Living condition in these areas is comfortable if most of the villagers are involved in the plantation sector. Most of them are shielded from higher cost of living in urban areas.
  • Villagers understanding of high level issues such as democracy, good governance and others are not that deep. These issues did not impact them as much compared to the urban folks.
  • However, the little gains made by Dap in the Chinese majority areas are quite significant to the party. It shows that there are pockets of dissatisfaction of the BN.
  • Anwar and PKR leaders' presence did not have an impact on the Malay electorates. Many of them did not believe that both Dap and PKR have formed a genuine partnership. PKR, like the Dap, is still an urban party.

It is too early for the BN to rejoice that their support is still hovering at the 2004 level. If any, the Machap by-election has proven that ethnicity is not an issue. Majority of the Chinese voters still voted for the BN.

However, in the next GE, especially in the urban areas affected by higher cost of living, the outcome may be completely unpredictable.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

VW Having Cold Feet?

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said yesterday that he could not be “waiting forever” for the Volkswagen chairman to meet him to discuss the possible partnership with Proton.

Abdullah recently said the Government was considering allowing the German carmaker gain a controlling stake in the national carmaker.

A March 31 deadline by the Government to decide on a strategic partner for Proton was not met.
It is not known why the German car maker is holding back their decision to acquire a controlling stake of the national car maker.

Meanwhile, the company continues to bleed losses. Its new model, Savvy, was outsold by Myvi of Perodua. In 2005, it sold 6172 Savvy cars. Myvi recorded probably 10 folds more. The company provides its financial quarterly reports up till March 2006. Four recent quarters were auspiciously missing.

Proton's poor performance can be attributed to its poor quality assurance, lack of new models and poor marketing strategy. Recently, the company slashed its Iswara model price to RM26,999 and will do similarly for its Wira model.

Can Proton survive? The verdict is yours.

Monday, April 09, 2007

A Colourful Personality

Retired Gerakan President Dr Lim Keng Yaik could have stayed on indefinitely if he wished to do so. After 26 years at the helm of the party, Lim stepped down at the peak of his popularity.

However, his popular appeal within and without the party is not going to fade anytime soon. The veteran politician vowed to continue serving the society and the party through other channels, namely, the Wawasan Open University and a soon to-be-set-up National Dialogue Initiatives. He was appointed as the National Advisor of Gerakan, a mentoring role.

I felt privileged to have worked with him on numerous occasions in the last few years. The public would have seen his more 'playful' and humorous persona but in private, the ex-president is philosophical and thoughtful.
He was lauded by his party colleagues as a leader who had expanded the physical presence of the party, who was able to manage the contradictions and frictions within the party and who had allowed and tolerated many diverse views and opinions.

I wish him all the very best in his post retirement endeavours. As imperfect as he claimed to be, Dr Lim is definitely one of the most colourful and important Chinese Malaysian politicians in the last 3 decades.
P/S: Fish Leong sang at the birthday dinner for Dr Lim

Saturday, April 07, 2007

PAS - Not PASS for Non-Muslims

Gerakan FT chairperson Dr Tan Kee Kwong had asked for the removal of the Perak mufti, Harussani Zakaria, at the division's meeting.

His call was made following an incident over the spread of a SMS several months ago regarding rumours of a mas baptism of Malay youths in a church, purportedly to be conducted by Azhar Mansor.

PAS Youth is seeing red over the call by the Federal Territory Gerakan for the Perak Sultan to sack his mufti Harussani Zakaria.

Leaders of the Islamic-based opposition party feel that the party has gone too far and encroached on the religious sensitivities of Muslims. The reactions ranged from calling for police action against Gerakan to invitations for a dialogue over the issue.

PAS’ alleged that the non-racial based Gerakan FT had interfered with Muslim matters.

Again, PAS has proven that its call for the respect and promotion of human rights is masked by its sense of religious supremacism. It is without a doubt that the party finds it more convenient to drum up the religious sentiment to fish support than to let common sense prevail.

First, what the Perak mufti did was more than a personal error which could have sparked off an unnecessary religious stand-off. He had encroached into the realm of others through mere rumours. As a religious head, he had shown his incompetence and a lack of understanding of the true tenet of Islam, a peaceful and beautiful religion, to foster social harmony.

PAS should demand an immediate apology from Harussani and reminded him to be extra careful in the future.

Second, the PAS Youth argument that the call made by Dr Tan is an encroachment of Muslim matters is odd and hypocritical. The party has made a similar stand in the parliament to ask for non-Muslims to seek judicial recourse from the syariah courts. Why should non-muslims do so?

If the action of a muslim affects the interest and well-being of other non-muslims, it is no longer solely a muslim matter.

PAS has shown their true colours. The gimmick of fielding non-muslim candidates in the next general elections will have no bearing on the public perception of the party. It will still be viewed as a chauvinistic party.

There should not be double standards in PAS' clarion for the respect of human rights.

Friday, April 06, 2007

You Have Nothing Better To Do Ah?

Deputy Minister of Energy, Water and Communications Shaziman Abu Mansor said the government's plan to register all bloggers using locally hosted websites is merely to collect a data rather then to censor the contents.

He said the plan to register bloggers is merely to assess the situation and keep track on how many bloggers there are in the country and on the information provided by them.

This is an interesting U-turn lah. I thought his colleague, Zainuddin Maidin, found all bloggers are liars. We lied, we sensationalised and we criticized.

So, why is the government planning to waste so much valuable time and good resources to collect data from bloggers? The resources should be used to find out how many mat rempits are terrorising the public, how many policemen are on the take, how many politicians are buddy-buddy with the triad tai kors, how many trees have been illegally chopped etc.

Damn, you should not waste our money and your time on us, bloggers.

Another Flip-Flop

The proposal for a free access zone (FAZ) at the Iskandar Development Region (Iskandar) has been scrapped, Johor Chief Minister Abdul Ghani Othman said. His announcement was made following concern that the zone would impose dual immigration procedures for entry into the country.

However, many observers felt that the reversal was made after a stinging criticism from Dr Mahathir on the decision. The decision might irk some Singaporean investors who felt that the decision is a politically motivated and focused primarily on them.

Ghani, who is also the joint chairman of the Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA), said accessibility to southern Johor still required documents but it would be facilitated with the use of a smart card.

On the relaxation of FIC rules, he said Bumiputeras would not be marginalised although Abdullah had announced an exemption of the 30 per cent Bumiputera equity requirement in several areas under Iskandar."This is because the area where the equity exemption applies only covers 1,760 hectares, which is less than one per cent of the total area of Iskandar.

Malaysia's dream of turning the IDR into a humming commercial hub to rival cities such as Hong Kong, Shenzen and others may be threatened if the government continues to flip-flop on its decision.

Policy inconsistency has been the biggest drawback which erodes the competitiveness and attractiveness of Malaysia as an investment hub.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Blocking the Bloggers

This is a classic case of when you can't beat them, get them to shut up!

Bloggers using locally hosted websites may be asked to register with the authorities, Deputy Energy, Water and Communications Minister Shaziman Abu Mansor said. He said registration was one of the measures the Government was considering to prevent the spread of negative or malicious content on the Internet.

If the contents are malicious or inaccurate, the bloggers will lose their credibility. Unless the government is worried that the contents are negative but ACCURATE?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Say No to Racism!

When Tricia Yeoh of CPPS spoke to me about the forum on national unity and development, I told her that we have to move beyond talk and spring into action if we want to initiate a change. I was invited but did not attend the forum.

It is not that I am not being supportive of the initiative as it has been almost my daily mantra calling for the dismantling of racial politics. But I was afraid of being disappointed again by all talk but no action type of event.

Reported here, Young Malaysians at the roundtable discussion on national unity and development have called for “ethnic-based politics and racist ideologies in any form” to be rejected.

Perak Regent Raja Nazrin Shah, a prominent scholar, said the Federal Constitution is the key document to promote and defend in the nation-building process. He said that Malaysia belongs to all Malaysians equally, and all have an equal right and responsibility to take ownership of their country and its future. He rightly identified a sense of belonging and a common destiny, binding Malaysians of all races, religions and origins together in a common purpose as key pillars of national unity.

To enhance ethnic relations in the country, the idea of a pivotal race or religion must be erased and corrected. No one should think that he is a more deserving Malaysian than others. Hence, the nation's psyche must focus on the spirit of equality and the rights embedded in citizenship regardless of ethnicity or creed.

I read the discussions concluded that constructive dialogue is a crucial tool for building bridges between Malaysia’s various communities, towards achieving national unity. Participants at the forum should seriously ask themselves if the problem (of lack of interethnic understanding) is attributed to a lack of constructive dialogue or a lack of willingness to dialogue? Could it also be due to our communitarian tendency of allowing community leaders to speak on behalf of their respective community when they do not necessarily represent the views of all individual members?

As I have stressed earlier, for this initiative to become a real catalyst in imparting change i.e. dump racialist policies and politics, we must act more than we talk.

AFP: Moves to Drop Ethnic Policies May Draw Backlash

From AFP (republished in Malaysiakini):

Malaysia is carefully easing back decades-old policies favouring its ethnic majority Malays to draw foreign investment but may face political dissent over the move, analysts say.

Malaysia since the 1970s has retained affirmative action policies for Malays and indigenous groups known as "bumiputeras" in order to close a wealth gap with the minority Chinese community.

But in a dramatic change, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi last month lifted some of the policies as the country aggressively seeks to attract much-needed foreign investment.

Under the rules, bumiputeras must hold at least 30 percent of equity in any company, and they should be the majority of workers.

But Abdullah dropped the rules to lure foreign firms in healthcare, tourism and four other service sectors in the Iskandar Development Region (IDR), a massive development in southern Johor state that Malaysia aims to turn into a gleaming commercial hub across from booming Singapore.

In a further relaxation last week, he agreed to allow 100-percent foreign equity ownership in Islamic financial institutions conducting business in foreign currencies.

Analysts say Abdullah and his government are treading softly for fear of a political backlash from the ruling Umno which has built a rock-solid support base as a champion of Malay rights.

"They are trying to tone down the reality that they need to find ways to basically go around 30 years of affirmative action," said Wan Suhaimi Saidi, an economist with Kenanga Investment Bank.

Fast track incentives

The government had already exempted some companies, including those in manufacturing and in a high-tech hub south of the capital.

But in terms of stock market capitalisation and as an investment destination, Malaysia remains a "pale shadow of itself compared to 10 years ago," Citigroup said in October, citing the slow pace of economic liberalisation.

Malaysia is Southeast Asia's third-largest economy but in 2005 foreign direct investment fell to RM15 billion from RM17.6 billion in 2004.

The country faces strong competition from regional economies including China and Vietnam in the hunt for foreign funds, analysts say. "Malaysia realised that it needed to fast track on giving more incentives to investors," said Wan Suhaimi.

"They have to do this or else they're going to lose out to other countries like Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam," he said.

Jeff Hurst, executive director of the American Malaysian Chamber of Commerce, said Malaysia's equity controls were disincentives to investors. "Control is key," said Hurst.

"If companies have more control, they are more apt to make larger-sized investments and are more apt to put in higher-value operations like research and development."

Despite concerns the affirmative action policies have bred an over-reliance on concessions and favoured an elite, they have been fiercely guarded by the government and Umno, which has ruled Malaysia since independence in 1957. "Politically, it requires Malaysians to accept competition as a fact of life," Shahrir Abdul Samad, a prominent lawmaker, said of the changes.

Party backlash

Head of research for CLSA Securities Malaysia, Niklas Olausson, said the government knew it had to start liberalising.

"They are taking a big-picture view of this, and whatever political ramifications there are will be limited, because these are measured efforts," Olausson said.

"Umno leaders themselves can understand it's the start of the transformation of the Malaysian economy," from one based on manufacturing exports, to a more service-based economy, Shahrir said.

He denied there would be any party backlash, although the IDR project has already reportedly attracted criticism from ex-prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who said last week Malays would not be able to compete with foreigners.

As a measure of the sensitivities involved, differences over the affirmative action policies helped bog down free-trade talks between Malaysia and the United States this year.

Malaysia repeatedly stated that the policies were "no-go" areas.

On one hand, the government knows the right policy is to dismantle the affirmative action rules, said independent political analyst Khoo Kay Peng.

"On the other hand, they cannot do it because they have to play to their constituents," Khoo said. "That is a problem."


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Attracting foreign investments into Johor's Iskandar Development Region

Listen or read my interview with Radio Singapore International here.

Not So Rapid RapidKL

I took an express bus back from Penang after my trip back for Qing Ming. I reached Puduraya at 6.15pm, amidst heavy rain and peak hours. Upon reaching the Plaza Rakyat LRT station, I noticed a long line of commuters lining up to buy their ticket.

Some of them, like myself, checked out the ticket vending machines but found out that all of them were out of order. What is the point of putting these machines at the LRT station when none of them works? I noticed that a number of machines at all other LRT stations are not functioning as well.

It is time for RapidKL to be more RAPID in its service.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Change From the Top

Kuli is right here. He said that Malay leaders and their supporters must change their mindset and attitude to compete in a globalised world.

The Kelantan based leader and Gua Musang MP said globalisation would bring a new set of problems, such as competitiveness. The grassroots will not change if the top is not willing to change.

Many of my Malay friends who understood the challenges and opportunities that come with globalisation and have chosen to embrace them have achieved tremendous successes. It is time for a mindset change...Chinese Malaysians included.