Thursday, May 31, 2007

Amazing Thailand

When I was in Bangkok last Friday, the people went about with their business as usual. At the backdrop, the Thai judiciary was about to rule on the case which involved two major political parties in Thailand - Thai Rak Thai and the Democratic Party.

The verdict is out - Thai Rak Thai was found guilty of election fraud and risked being disbanded. The Thais did not go on riot. It is a sign of maturity and sensibility coming back to Thai politics.

This is my third visit to Bangkok, the last trip was in 2003. I can see the different on this trip. There are many new developments in the city centre. Many new condominiums, shopping malls and offices have sprouted out in the city.

My hotel was situated directly opposite the biggest shopping, Centre World, and it was such a sight. Many local stalls selling food, drinks and souvenirs can be found along the busy street outside the mall. It was a blend of modernity and local life.

However, the traffic jam in Bangkok is the most notorious I have ever encountered. It is obviously a threat to Bangkok's development and many productive hours are wasted on the roads daily.

Nevertheless, it is a city with a lot of charm. If the Thais can pull up their socks, get their house in order, resolve the conflict in Southern Thailand, conduct fair and peaceful general elections soon and elect in a new democratic government, the country will continue to flourish again.

The iconic King Bhumipol Adulyadej is the glue which help to bind his people together. I am sure His Majesty will be able to wave his magic wand once again to help the Thais get over the troubled waters.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Seeking Shelter in Thailand

I went out with a friend and his wife for dinner yesterday in Penang. My friend works for a multinational company in Bayan Lepas. He related to me the plight of his ex-colleague, a Punjabi, who married a Muslim Malay wife.

Since, conversion to Islam is not his choice he had to move to Thailand together with his wife. With the verdict out on Lina Joy, the couple may not set their feet on Malaysia again fearing prosecution by the Muslim religious bodies.

Thailand, a Buddhist majority country, in a way is providing a safe haven for a Muslim and non-Muslim couple. How many more couples are facing similar fate?

No Joy to Religious Freedom

The Lina Joy verdict has a vast spreading implication on matters related to apostasy and religious rights in Malaysia and may lead many other similar cases to jeopardy.

Lina Joy’s long wait for her conversion to Christianity to be recognised by law is over - the Federal Court ruled today in a majority decision that she remains a Muslim and her religious status will not be removed from her identity card (against her will).

Delivering the judgment to a packed gallery this morning in Putrajaya, Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim ruled that jurisdiction remains with the Syariah court.

The chief justice stated that he concurred with the majority decision - Justice Alauddin Mohd Sheriff who was the last to read his judgment agreed with Ahmad Fairuz's findings.

Justice Richard Malanjum gave a dissenting judgment.

Two of the three judges are Muslim and the other (dissenting one) is a Christian.

The case hinged on a decision by the National Registration Department not to remove the word ‘Islam’ from Lina’s MyKad. The department said it needed a syariah court order certifying her renouncement from Islam before it could make the change.

It has been a legal controversy that the civil courts are reluctant to pass judgement on cases involving apostasy or cases between a Muslim and a non-Muslim (marriage and custody).

The outcome of this case is watched closely by many civil rights groups.
Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) president Meera Samanther said that the court’s decision “denied Lina Joy of her right to choose her religion, her right to choose her partner and her reproductive rights (in terms of bearing a legitimate child)”.
Meera also felt that the decision also denied Lina’s right of living in this country as Lina’s only option now in pursuing her rights to profess the religion of her choice was to leave the country. “Malaysia is not honouring the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women treaty which was ratified in 5th July 1995,” she said.
Some other reactions here.
What will be its impact on multicultural and secular democratic Malaysia?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Oxford versus Oxford?

Tony Pua versus Khairy Jamaluddin? Will it happen?

Here are the details:


“The Government must hence take the painful but very important step of trimming the civil service sector into a leaner and more efficient “machine”. The increase in pay will be a waste of public funds, if the move is not accompanied by a corresponding increase in civil service productivity.” Tony Pua

“Pergerakan Pemuda UMNO mendesak Pua dan DAP mengambil langkah memperbetulkan kata-kata mereka yang langsung tidak bertimbang rasa dan begitu menghina sekali.”

“Pua’s negative comments about the civil service can cause considerable damage to the morale and image of the public sector.” Khairy Jamaluddin

Panel of Distinguished Speakers

Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader
Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, PKR Sec-Gen
A. H. Ponniah, former Secretary of Public Service International (Asia-Pacific Region)
Nurul Izzah Anwar, Special Assistant to Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim
Tony Pua, Economic Advisor to DAP Secretary-General

* Open invitation to Khairy Jamaluddin, UMNO Deputy Youth Chief*

Venue: KL & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall
Date: 30th May 2007 (Wednesday)
Time: 8.00 pm

It will be a one-way street if Khairy does not turn up and most likely he will not.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A New Breed of Politicians Should Respect Rules and Legal Institutions

On PKR Advisor Anwar Ibrahim contesting in his party election, I told Radio Singapore Internation's Michael Tan my views on Anwar's decision.

While away, I heard that Anwar Ibrahim pulled out from the contest in order not to jeopardize his party's legality.

Earlier today, I was interviewed by AFP on Anwar's decision to pull out from the presidential contest. My views in AFP, found in

Not reported, I mentioned that Anwar knew right from the start that he will not be allowed to contest in his party's election or to make an early political comeback. His application to the Registrar of Society is purely symbolic - to score a political point that the BN government deterred him from making an early comeback.

At this point, his corruption conviction still stands. Hence, Anwar will be able to make a full political comeback only in April 2008.

That is why the race for PKR's presidency was a 3 cornered one, which included his wife and incumbent president Wan Azizah. He made a political stunt but how much support and sympathy has he garnered?

A New Breed of Politicians

I was interviewed by Joceline Tan of The Star just before I left for Bangkok last friday. I told her that a new breed of politicians must adopt a worldview, realise that Malaysia in not the only island on planet earth and think progressively.

Reading some of the comments made by various policy makers in both parliament and state assembly was not able to convince me that we are anywhere near in finding these new breed of politicians.

Over the next few days, I will share with readers my trip to Bangkok. While there, Tony Pua smsed and asked if I am coming out to defend him from Khairy Jamaluddin's attack.

As a new breed politician, Tony is doing the right thing - stand up for himself if he thinks that he is right. I hope Khairy accepts Tony's challenge to debate him on the civil service issue. I will be in the audience.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Penang's Among the Best Cities in Asia

Penang has been voted as one of Asia’s top 10 places to live in by expatriates.

Chief Minister Dr Koh Tsu Koon said Penang was placed ninth, one spot ahead of Kuala Lumpur, in an international survey of 254 places. This marks a climb of three spots from the same survey five years ago.

The yearly survey by Employment Conditions Abroad Ltd, a human resource consultant agency, is based on weather, air quality, infrastructure, health services, housing, security and politics.

Singapore placed first, followed by Kobe, with Tokyo and Osaka tied in third spot. The other cities are Hong Kong (fifth), Macau (sixth), Taipei (seventh) and Bangkok (eighth).

The placing is admirable but I hope that the state government will strive to make Penang conducive and liveable for the locals too.

The state can still improve on its cleanliness, urban revitalisation, public security, conditions of infrastructure and amenities and housing.

I just blogged on a crime committed against my family. The police promised to visit our house but has yet to do so until now. Swift action of the police is needed not only to make the expatriates feel safe but the locals too.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Crime Rates

Yesterday, I had a chat with the Taiwan Trade Center Director Mr Jeffry Chu at his office in Kuala Lumpur. He told me that the taiwanese business community is quite excited about the Iskandar Development Region project but wondered if the government is doing anything concrete to ensure the safety of foreign investors there.

Obviously, he and other taiwanese businessmen have heard enough horror stories emanated from Johor. I told him that I was positive the government will look into the crime rates and take necessary steps to reduce crime.

Little did I expect my mom and a visiting uncle from Taiwan were robbed in my Penang home yesterday. Four robbers of Chinese descent followed them back from the bus stop to our house. They must have trailed them from Prangin Mall.

My uncle put up a struggle and both of them suffered minor injuries as a result. Both of them could have suffered serious injuries.

I hope the government will take more concrete steps now to act on the high crime rates. This is a CALL for action.

Until you or your family members suffered from the actions of the criminals, you will not stand up and take a strong action against crime.

It is time we stand united against crime. Many of us have spoken against crimes committed against the likes of Canny Ong and others but rarely do more than talk.

The Buck Stops

Works Minister Samy Vellu once again tried to distract attention away from the leaky dilemma of the parliament house. Two days ago, the fiesty minister gave a 150 years warranty to the building.

He tried to justify the RM90 million spent only on the interior cosmetics but did not fix the roof and the electrical wiring which are almost 40 years old.

It is quite obvious that the minister is more concerned with the superficial interior works than fixing the real problems which have resulted in the leaks in the parliament house.

Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi did the right thing by telling the minister to stop blaming others and to correct his failures.

RM90 million gone and the parliament house is now in need of a massive repair work. It makes me wonder if Dr Mahathir was right that Samy Vellu is untouchable.
Samy Vellu is known for his loud, unreasonable and 'I am right and you are wrong' responses in parliament when asked about his ministry shoddy performance and deliveries.

Pasar Malam (Night Market) Retail Culture

Another retail complex is following the foot step of Komtar, the Berjaya One-Stop Complex located at Jalan Burmah. The former was an icon of Penang's economic stature but today a rundown eyesore.

Once, one of the tallest buildings in Malaysia and the pride of Penang the complex is reduced to an eyesore. Many retail outlets have moved out of the complex to an adjacent complex, the Prangin Mall which is slowly showing a sign of poor maintenance.

The Berjaya One-Stop Complex was my one of my favourite shopping complexes. I went back to the complex yesterday with my mom and a visiting guest from Taiwan. It is turning into another pasar malam filled with traders lining up their products around the main concourse.

Meanwhile, many shops have since closed down due to poor maintenance and poor crowd.

This is yet another sad story for Penang's retail sector.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

B.U.M 2007

Close to 50 bloggers and non-bloggers met at a dinner organised by two fellow bloggers at the Lake View Club on 19th May.

Some of the bloggers who spoke at the forum include Jeff Ooi, Rocky Bru, Tony Pua, Marina Mahathir, Citizen Nades, Tian Chua and others.

I managed to catch up with a few old friends who turned up for the dinner. The May 13th book by Dr Kua Kia Soong was selling like hot cakes. I managed to buy my copies.

Read Dr Hsu's comment that the National Alliance of Bloggers should stay apolitical and neutral. I think he is in for a big disappointment. Firstly, most of us are not apolitical but politically aware.
Secondly, no one is neutral. You can be objective and fair but never neutral especially when you are asked to take a stand.
I am not neutral either but I support the cause against racism.

Pay Hike For Civil Servants

Yesterday and today, I was interviewed by several news agencies on the pay hike. The Prime Minister has announced the pay hike of between 7.5% to 42% for all civil servants. The police and the armed forces enjoyed the biggest pay rise.

The cost of living allowance, or Cola, will also be increased by 100%. The announcement will cost Malaysia RM8 billion annually.

I was asked by both AFP and Radio Mediacorp Singapura if the pay hike has anything to do with the upcoming general elections. I replied:

"It does contribute a feel-good factor. Civil servants will welcome any form of increment," independent political analyst Khoo Kay Peng told AFP. "But at the end of the day, there will still be some people who can barely make ends meet given their low salary base," he added.

I felt that the pay hike is necessary because many civil servants who are doing supporting duties are at a very low salary base. The quantum of increase may help to alleviate some of their burden but not necessary bringing them a comfortable life. Cost of living in the cities had increased significantly since the last major hike in 1993.

I told the radio station that the salary hike is not enough to discourage corruption if those corrupt practices are caused by human greed. Hence, the government must persevere to battle corruption and to improve productivity and service quality of the civil sector to commensurate with the pay hike.

Jeff Ooi's blog has an interesting story (Corrupt customs officers at Johore-Singapore Second Link) to tell on corruption. Many of us who had visited our northern and southern neighbours are quite familiar with the story.

At the end of the day, the public, as consumers, should pay for better service quality.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Exorcise the Ghost of May 13th

The government is reviewing the book 'May13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969' authored by Dr Kua Kia Soong to provide an alternative account of the tragic event.

Although several academics interviewed voiced varied concerns surrounding the nature of the book, it should be considered an academic contribution to enhance our understanding of the tragic event.

Prof Shamsul Amri Baharuddin of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and the head the Ethnic Relations Module drafting committee said there was no need to jump to conclusions on the book. “They should read the book first and make judgement later. It’s a bad habit among Malaysians,” he said.

Similarly, former World Bank analyst Dr Lim Teck Ghee said the government reaction towards the book was counterproductive and that a ban would eventually be circumvented by electronic communication. “It will further reinforce the public perception that the government has much to hide or cover up in this watershed event of Malaysian history.:

Reknowned historian Prof Khoo Kay Khim however expressed caution over the book and questions the validity of the sources cited. “I don’t think he got very much. If he had access to (police) Special Branch files he might probably get more accurate information,” said Khoo.

Differing academic views should be encouraged and eye-witnesses should be coaxed to come forward to narrate what actually happened during the bloody riots.

Our understanding of the event will help the nation to exorcise the ghost of the May 13th and move forward more confidently as a nation united. The event should not no longer be politicised.

Speaking against the potential ban, Dr Toh Kin Woon said:

Of course, one can disagree with his analysis and viewpoints. If so, one should then engage in a debate with him. But at no time must his book be confiscated and the public denied access to his book.

Unfortunately, this is what is being done. As a result, the freedom to write and speak is once again being curtailed. It looks like the fear of many is coming true in that the government only wants its official version and views on various issues such as the struggle for independence and May 13 disseminated. But this clearly cannot be accepted.

I echo his opinion and urge the government to allow the sale of the book. Individuals and academicians with deferring views should be welcomed to counter Dr Kua's findings.

If Professor Khoo has special access to the Special Branch files, Malaysians would welcome his disclosure.


The two sexist MPs Mohd Said Yusof and Bung Mokthar Radin apologised over their sexist remarks made in the Parliament last week but remained defiant of their remarks.

The apology came about after a 45-minute meeting with the Women, Family and Community Development Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil this morning.

However they defended their words used in the Dewan as necessary to defend the government during debates. An act of defending the government cannot be used as a justification of the 'bocor' or 'leak' remarks.

Neither should the top government leaders tolerate such remarks. Unfortunately, several top BN leaders including the prime minister and deputy prime minister told reporters that the remarks should be taken as a joke. Men, regardless of their position, must learn to be more sensitive to the fairer sex.

They also did not issue a personal apology to Batu Gajah MP Fong Po Kuan, against whom the sexist remarks were aimed at last week.

MP Fong, the youngest woman MP, is a beacon and an example to many women who are seeking to become political leaders. The remarks and the two MPs' behaviour after the incident are detrimental to the image of BN.

Picture courtesy of Malaysiakini.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Be Pragmatic to Develop IDR

In my last post on IDR, I argued that "The republic’s economic planning, since the last two decades, did not include Johor as its key overseas platforms. For the first eight months of 2006, Singapore’s investment in the state stood at a paltry RM209 million. In 2000, the republic cumulative investment in PRD was more than USD5 billion. Unless Singapore is consulted and involved in the planning of the IDR, it will be difficult to see a quantum jump in the investment from the republic."

I would like to commend both Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for agreeing to set up a special ministerial committee to discuss areas of cooperation in the IDR, including the use of smartcards for easier travel between IDR and Singapore and the promotion of tourism.

Similarly, policy makers and politicians from both sides of the causeway must provide similar support for the initiative. Foreign Ministry Parliamentary Secretary Ahmad Shabery rejected Senator Mohd Puad Zarkashi's assumption that the formation of such a committee would cause Malaysia to be dependent on Singapore to develop the IDR and giving the island republic a lot of avenue to raise several issues that would eventually put Malaysia in a difficult situation, such as on the development of a theme park in the IDR and the proposed Malaysia-Singapore bullet train service.

In the same article, I opined that "It means that IDR must find a complementary synergy and a win-win partnership with Singapore. It must be given the autonomy to dictate its own relationship with the republic without the unnecessary political interference which is often filled with racial nuances and blinded ethno-nationalism. It must repair its image amongst Singaporean investors and policy makers. A credible action must go beyond the usual rhetoric of cooperation and mutual dependence."

IDR is a project the current administration cannot afford to fail. In an interview with a German radio station yesterday, I told the host that Singapore is a pragmatic nation. It will support the IDR if the project benefits Singaporean investors. Its close proximity to the republic is an added advantage. Moreover, Singapore is very familiar with the business and investment environment in Malaysia. IDR is four times the size of Singapore and provides a natural production base to the republic.

Similarly, Malaysia must adopt a pragmatic approach when dealing with Singapore and must not let its race-based politics get in the way of cultivating a new era of Malaysia-Singapore economic cooperation.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Brain Washed or Completely Racist?

Yes, this is my blog and I encourage civil debates and discussions here. But a fellow contributor here caught my attention with his responses to my post topic on "IDR and Real Reform".

I would like to draw your attention to his recent post and to show you that he is not ignorant of the truth but he is just blatantly selfish and racially mischievous. I will still give him the benefit of doubt: either he was brain-washed by the usual propaganda or he is a complete racist. My response to him is interspersed in bold.

His post (Melayu Raya):

I am am shocked that a person with such educational background can be so manipulative in the quotation of statistics simply to justify the ends - 75% land are owned by malays, so what ? Whats the valuaation like? Lets take Kedah, the padi lands are probably owned by Malays but the rice mills and sundry shops are mainly by the non Malays and the value is disproportionately higher.

This is precisely our argument against the use of par value to measure Bumiputera share equity. By par value, you owned just 19% but in market value it could be more than 45%. You cannot justify a method of calculation just when it worked to your advantage. In the case for land, any good thinking businessmen will exchange the 25% they have now for your 75%. Are you willing to make a recommendation to your Umno leaders to support such swap? What say you? We give you the 'higher value' 25% for the 75%? That is why I say that you are racially mischievous.

Likewise the massive houses in Puchong has muuch higher valuation thnn the kampung lands in Ulu Langat. Likewise the civil service sector staffings are mainly the clericals. But then even the graduate level officers are paid much lower than in the private sectors. Just ask around.

The higher valuation of Puchong houses - refer to my first response. On civil sector employment, you said that Malays are mostly working at the low clerical levels. Which era are you living in? Are you still living in the 40's? Malays presence at the top levels is so evident. Name me a non-Malay DG and name me Malay DGs? How huge is the civil sector? 1.2 million of the 11 million workforce. Can the government afford to pay higher wages if it does not streamline the civil sector? Who is controlling the wages of the civil servants? Umno leaders. Why don't you ask for a raise from your leaders? How high is a starting salary at the private sector today? RM1,300 onwards, which is terribly low as well. Here is a second reason why I say that you are racially mischievous.

On the race religion issue pl read again what I have said. The chinese babas can be budhist or christian, and it is a non issue to me. He remains a chinese. No, I am not a racist here, but merely stating facts.

By way of logic you seem to agree with the 70% share but due to administrative issue it could be 80%. So the contention here is implementation so that 70@ does not overrun to 80% due to inefficiency. Now to solve the poor chinses sector will be the distribution of the 20% cake. The indian will share the other 10%. Aah, the orang asli, the champion say? The Malays will share the 70% with them.

I did not agree to a 70% share. Here is a third reason why you are racially mischievous and intellectually corrupted. You don't put words into another person's mouth. I do not agree with the distribution of wealth according to race. I would agree to affirmative action to help the poor regardless of race e.g. lowest 40% of the society who owned less than 13% of total wealth. I would agree affirmative action to help them although majority of them are Malays, Orang Asli and Indians.

So we know have worked out broadky or in principle the distribution of wealth amongst the diverse races. There is no need to create the Malaysian race pretext now, because it 's just a political ruse by some has been politicians and those with real racist intent.

I disagree with you here again. No first world nation is adopting a racist political model. In the globalised era, you cannot afford to be xenophobic and countries should compete for human resources and brains. There is not need of a Malaysian race according to your interpretation - assimilation. My version of Bangsa Malaysia is on equal citizenship rights. It takes a legal definition of equality and fairness.

Therefor I cannot be a racist because I have actually suggested a proportinate sharing of wealth amonsgt all races. No need to create another race malaysian of malaysia which is just a political recognition of citizenship.This is of course very conditional as it is a total package deal. You can't just take away something from any one race and not compensate it with another - a sort of new social contract. If we can convince our respective race on this it looks like we don't have a fight after all.... peace be upon you

I disagree with you here again. Looks like I totally disagree with your views. First, political recognition of citizenship rights is very important. Second, I do not agree with propotionate distribution of wealth according to race if you cannot resolve the income inequality within your race - the gini co-efficient which measures the income gap amongst the Malay is the worst. Sorry, I do not wish to convince my community because I am a Malaysian first. I do not subscribe to your communitarian approach here. I am a proponent of fairness, equality and justice. Help the poor regardless of race. The social contract is a BN social contract. Many of us, Malaysians, believe that the NEP is outdated and outmoded. It is time to break the social contract through another political movement. We need a new formula for a New Malaysia.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Monkey Business

I would give the orang utan my vote anytime and not to both Bung Mokhtar Radin and Mohd Said Yusof.

The orang utan is at least more decent and respectful to women than Bung Mokhtar Radin and the one-eyed bandit Mohd Said Yusof.

I am showing my solidarity here for MP Fong Poh Kuan who suffered the sexist remark from both the unscrupulous politicians.
Picture courtesy of NST.

The Dilemma

According to a post in Rocky Bru's blog, key Umno leaders now want Malayan Banking Bhd, lynched early last week for a ruling on a 50 per cent Bumiputera ownership for legal firms that want to get on its panel, to be allowed to retain the controversial ruling.

The leaders are: vice-president Ali Rustam, who is also the Chief Minister of Melaka; former Melaka Chief Minister and now chairman of Gagasan Badan Ekonomi Melayu (Gabem) Rahim Thamby Chik; Umno liaison boss Muhammad Muhammad Taib; Minister of Rural and Regional Development Aziz Shamsuddin; Puteri chief Noraini Ahmad; and youth leaders Subahan Kamal and Rizal Merican Neena Merican.

I am amazed that these Umno leaders are totally oblivious to the real objectives of NEP. The main objective of the NEP was to eradicate poverty regardless of race. In spirit, those who had been alleviated from poverty, and given access to education opportunities, are expected to compete like everyone else.

The ruling on 50% bumiputera equity ownership of legal firms is definitely not consistent with the objective of the NEP. Bumiputera legal assistants are trained similarly like all lawyers. As professionals, they are expected to compete and to deliver the best quality service to their clients.

If they practice true professionalism, why would they need the protection of the ruling? High profile lawyers such as Mohd Shafie, Raja Aziz, Zaid Ibrahim and others do not need the ruling to get clients.

What the seven Umno leaders are supporting is an abuse of the NEP to protect and favour some incompetent legal assistants who are not working hard enough to compete in a competitive business environment.

I have spoken to many non-Malay leaders in BN who are in a dilemma. They are not sure if they should continue to support a regime which promotes blinded racism and racist policies.

I do not face such a dilemma. I urge you to SAY NO TO RACISM!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Iskandar Development Region and Real Reform

In his speech in Johor Baharu, Dap Secretary-General Lim Guan Eng outlined five challenges facing the newly launched Iskandar Development Region (IDR) in Johor. The challenges are the low investment inflow from Singapore, high crime rates and public safety, lack of emphasis on human capital development, the continuation of New Economic Policy and a differential treatment for local and foreign investors which discriminates against the former.

This article intends to examine his claims and to look at the real synergy which made the Pearl River Delta (PRD) region of Guangdong province the most dynamic region in the People’s Republic of China since the start of China’s reform initiative in 1979. Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi claimed that the IDR was modeled after the PRD. However, the success story of both the special economic zones may differ due to several inherent attributes which are peculiar to the regions.

What was clear is that the PRD was established as a testbed for reform and to serve as a model for other jurisdictions in China. Before 1979, economic development in Guangdong paled in comparison with the eastern coastal development zones. Moreover, Guangdong was chosen as a special economic zone due to its proximity to both Hong Kong and Macau.

The PRC government saw several real advantages in this move. First, the PDR will tap both Hong Kong and Macau for the much needed investment funds. Second, PDR will allow Hong Kong to play a significant role in helping to modernize the region’s economy and the rest of China. Third, the PRC government wanted to tap into Hong Kong, which has a matured jurisdiction, an efficient logistics hub and an advanced professional services sector, as an export and investment gateway of mainland China.

It is history that the decision wielded significant success to PRD. Since 1979, both Hong Kong and Macau accounted for 70 percent of the cumulative FDI in the region. Hong Kong manages almost 70 percent of both seaborne and airborne exports from the region to overseas. More than 90 percent of Hong Kong imports from the PRD were re-exported.

The integration between the two economies is significant and important. A study from the Hong Kong Centre for Economic Research showed that in 2000, the city state companies employed 11 million workers in PRD. By 2002, more than 52 percent of all manufacturing and import-export firms in Hong Kong had manufacturing operations in the mainland China. As an investment gateway to PRD, more than 82 percent of both Japanese and Taiwanese investors operated out of Hong Kong.

The success of PRD economic integration with Hong Kong is evident. From 1980 to 1999, the GDP of the PRD and Hong Kong grew by 15 times and 5 times respectively. PRD’s economic success created spillover opportunities in the property, tourism and consumer sectors. Over 90 percent of the foreign tourists to PRD were from Hong Kong and in return 41 percent of tourists to Hong Kong were from the region.

An important question would be; “What are the contributory factors to the PRD?”

The most important contributor was a flexible and non-restrictive economic policies adopted by the PRC government for the region. The special economic zone was created single-mindedly to integrate and tap into the vibrancy and dynamism of Hong Kong’s economy. Hence, a generous corporate tax of 15 percent and tax holidays of up to 5 years was given to all investors.

Apart from that other incentives included the ability to repatriate corporate profits and capital investments after a contract period, duty-free imports of raw materials and intermediate goods used for exported products, exemption of export taxes and a limited access to the domestic market were implemented.

PRD was given greater autonomy to decide on its finance and fiscal matters, FDI rules and guidelines, commerce and distribution, allocation of resources, labour system and other market decisions.

Back to Lim’s argument, his assertion of a lack of investment interest from Singapore can be analysed from a few angles.

First, the statement of purpose and intent to integrate IDR to Singapore is not as solid as the PRD and Hong Kong’s integration. Moreover, it was launched at the time when the Singapore’s investors are spoilt for choices to locate their manufacturing operations unlike the PRD. Hence, it is difficult to establish the IDR as the hinterland to Singapore’s economic development.

The republic’s economic planning, since the last two decades, did not include Johor as its key overseas platforms. For the first eight months of 2006, Singapore’s investment in the state stood at a paltry RM209 million. In 2000, the republic cumulative investment in PRD was more than USD5 billion. Unless Singapore is consulted and involved in the planning of the IDR, it will be difficult to see a quantum jump in the investment from the republic.

Second, whilst PRD was created with the intent to serve as a testbed for reform, the IDR’s investment relaxation and waiver of the controversial NEP was limited and subjected to only foreign investors operating within a small area of 1,780 hectares. In addition, the decision to exclude the FIC rules from the small area is seen as shaky and unsure.

The is also a burden of history in some of the politically overcharged corporate acquisitions made by Singapore’s investors of some Malaysian firms for example the Pantai shares by Parkway Holdings Ltd. It is undoubtedly that political interference is seen as a business risk to foreign investors. The Shincorp saga will deter more Singaporean acquisitions in economies which demonstrated intense nationalism.

PRD’s success can be largely attributed to its ability to foster a relationship of dependence and mutual support with Hong Kong. Hong Kong provided investors who are interested to invest in PRD with a reliable and efficient financial services, logistics support, information gateway, legal system and management expertise and knowledge on doing business in the region.

As a result, many enterprises from other countries employed a large number of Hong Kong professionals to help manage their PRD operations. Some economists argued that the transfer and exchange of management experience is even more important than technology transfer. Given the knowledge transfer from Hong Kong, the region was able to cultivate, groom and attract better local skilled workers to work in PRD.

It means that IDR must find a complementary synergy and a win-win partnership with Singapore. It must be given the autonomy to dictate its own relationship with the republic without the unnecessary political interference which is often filled with racial nuances and blinded ethno-nationalism. It must repair its image amongst Singaporean investors and policy makers. A credible action must go beyond the usual rhetoric of cooperation and mutual dependence.

I agree with Lim’s third and fourth points on the need to balance ‘software’ (human capital development) and to exert policy consistency. Presently, we are not benefiting from the management expertise of Singaporeans but instead suffered a massive brain drain to the republic. It is estimated that there are close to 300 thousands Malaysians working in the republic in various knowledge based industries.

Malaysia must not only think of a way to stop bleeding more brains but to attract top brains to work in the IDR. Hence, the retraction of a Free Access Area originally pledged in IDR is a step backward. In PRD, a large number of people commute daily between Hong Kong and the region for work and meeting purposes. An easier access to IDR will facilitate other nationals who are based in Singapore to seek out opportunities in the region.

Given that the IDR initiative is a signature project under the present administration, the government should initiate serious policy discussions with relevant parties including foreign investment groups chiefly with the Singaporean investors and administration. A lingering uneasiness would still be the controversial NEP which is a bulwark of the 9th Malaysia Plan. Malaysia’s past habit of fiddling with its policies had caused uneasiness with many foreign investors.

To rewrite our past records of failures and half successes, the government should emulate the PRC government’s decision to use the PRD as a testbed for reform which has provided numerous lessons to other economic regions in China. A half hearted attempt at reform will ensure more failures. Moreover, the IDR is 30 years behind PRD and it should never be seen as a lesser attempt at reform compared to the latter.

On crime and safety, the threat of criminal activities is real but yet not as significant as the impact of bad policy direction and implementation to the IDR. Investors who have made forays into the PRD do have some horrible stories to relate as well. However, efforts must be taken to ensure that IDR is a safe haven for investors, workers and dwellers. What Johor need is an image clean-up and a stronger commitment to rebuild its credibility as a serious economic player in the region.

In a nutshell, the success of the IDR rested on several key decisions which may contradict the current administration’s stand. A thorn in the flesh which invites uncertainty and uneasiness amongst foreign and local investors is the NEP. The government has called for a revival of the NEP target last year before the release of the 9th Malaysia Plan.

With the economy going through a real bottleneck soon and competition for FDI getting tougher, the government must decide between its race affirmative agenda or a more inclusive socio-economic policy which is acceptable to both foreign and local investors.

It is without a doubt that the race affirmative policy is more a hindrance than a catalyst for social engineering and economic development in the country.

(My interview with Reuters here.)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Where is the GLCs' Reform Going?

The recent episode of a major bank's, a government-linked company, requirement that law firms must have a bumiputra partner with at least a 50% stake before they could do any business with the bank is a fine reflection of GLCs' mindset and modus operandi.

Last year, when Dr Lim Teck Ghee released his report on the Bumiputera equity ownership by including 70% of the GLCs' equity into his calculation the administration called his formula as baseless because the GLCs are owned by the people of Malaysia.

The Cabinet has ordered Maybank to withdraw its requirement that law firms must have a bumiputra partner with at least a 50% stake before they could do any business with the bank.

A number of non-bumiputera politicians have criticised the move and called it discriminatory. It was reported that the Cabinet took the stand because it felt it was not a government policy and that the Finance Ministry had also not issued any such directive to banks.

Most of us who have had contacts within several GLCs such as TNB, Petronas and Telekom have heard instances of discrimination against non-bumiputera companies. It is a known fact that companies that wished to supply to the GLCs must register with the Ministry of Finance. To qualify, these companies must have bumiputera partnership.

It is time we end this senseless racist policy if Malaysia were to progress. These policies must be reviewed so that Malaysian companies can learn to compete and to provide good services. The defects which affected several buildings should be taken as a good lesson by the government and its preferential policy.

No sensible Malaysian can support a racist regime.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Why Pay More?

In our common consumer culture, we pay more for better quality or better service.

This morning, on my way to meet up with my former colleague and friend Ong Kian Ming, I did not get either of that - good value or better service - and I was made to pay more.

At the LDP toll, I was made to wait for almost 30 minutes to just get through the toll booth and another 30 minutes to get to SS2.

This is a daily nightmare we have to face especially for those who are living in the Puchong area.

In this case, we pay 60% more for nothing. For the same shit. This cannot be smart consumerism.

Coming this November, I will know what to do. Do you?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Ijok Spirit Continues to Haunt

Last Friday I attended the launch of 'Semangat Ijok' or the Ijok Spirit campaign by the losing party, PKR. The launch was held at the PAS headquarters at Gombak.

Among those who spoke at the launch were PKR Vice President Azmin Ali, Treasurer and Ijok candidate Khalid Ibrahim, PAS Deputy President Nazaruddin and the main guest PKR advisor Anwar Ibrahim.

Azmin who spoke before the rest took the 2000 audience in the hall through the facts and figures on Ijok. Some 3000 more PAS and PKR supporters were camped outside the hall to listen to the speech via loud speaker and life feed to a big screen.

Azmin mocked and criticised the BN for buying their way into the election. He alleged that more than RM100 million was spent on Ijok. Following similar trend, BN might have to spend RM57 billion to wrest all state seats in the country.

As Azmin spoke, many jaws dropped when they were told of the extent of money politics involved.

Both Anwar and Nazaruddin hailed Khalid as the legitimate YB of Ijok. Sounds good but PKR would still have to accept the reality that they have lost the by-election.

Nonetheless, the spirit of Ijok continues to haunt both PKR and BN. PKR has to face a stark reality that they have lost marginally their Malay support base to BN.

BN, especially the non-UMNO parties, will have to take stock that they have lost the support of the urban support base. Almost 12% more voters voted for the opposition in urban areas of Ijok. A large portion of them are Chinese voters.

If Ijok is seen as a precursor to the next GE, both BN and the opposition will have a lot of work cut out for them.

Both parties have claimed moral victory in Ijok. The verdict is still out there.

Another Telling Sign that The Election is Near

At a political workshop last weekend, a senior minister told us that salary increment for the civil servants is imminent. The decision was probably influenced by civil servants discontent over higher cost of living and the looming general elections.

In The Star today, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi said all government servants will get a pay rise “because they deserve it.” Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak told the civil servants to buck up if they wanted a pay rise. He said that their compensation must be tied to performance and urged them to help improve the public service delivery system. The prime minister statement must be soothing to their ear.

On how much the decision will cost the government, Abdullah said the numbers would be known only after a decision had been made on the size of the pay package. There are 1.2 million civil servants. In the last 3 years, the current administration has increased more than 10% of the civil workforce.

In 1997, when the MSC was launched, one of the main objectives of the government was to create an E-Government in order to streamline the civil sector and to create a paperless administration. A leaner and technology driven civil sector was believed to be more effective and efficient.

However, a decade later we have not heard much about its progress. The civil sector is ever burgeoning and is expected to grow by 3% annually.

In order to pay better salary without draining the government coffer, there is a need to right size the civil sector. A higher salary can be justified if better qualified people can be retained and attracted to join the service.

Meanwhile, Malaysians must get value for their money.

No more political decision, please.
Picture courtesy of The Star.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Zam Zam Alakazam!

If Minister of Information Zainuddin Maidin could have his way, he would like to read a magic mantra "Zam Zam Alakazam..." and wished all the bloggers to disappear. He suggested that bloggers be officially categorised as ‘professionals’ and ‘non-professionals’ as a ‘mechanism of control’.

He said certain individuals and groups were misusing blogs for personal agendas, such as questioning constitutional religious matters and causing public uneasiness.

To his own ignorance and lack of understanding of our constitutional rights, probing or questioning dubious actions taken which are detrimental to our rights of religious freedom, enshrined in the federal constitution, is a right thing to do.

The ministry of information is planning a 'counter attack' on bloggers. I would like to encourage him to implement this idea and participate in the blogsphere. This way, his team of bloggers will be able to respond to any alleged slander or lies.

On his idea of 'professionalism', Zainuddin said they were more responsible in publishing ‘truthful’ content and were not rumour-mongers. Zainuddin said such classifications would allow readers to determine whether the blog contents were truthful.

The suggestion made by him sounded so superficial and desperate. I say this on two accounts: first, who are supposed to do the classification? Zam and his team in the ministry or the 'old boys' in the mass media? Second, if these are the people who will be involved how can he expect the readers to take them (and their ratings) seriously?

He echoed Nice-Matin Press Group chief executive Michel Camboul who mentioned that the French government needs to classify bloggers. According to Zainuddin, Camboul also expressed concern over blogs having an impact on newspaper circulation and advertising there. Camboul is a perfect example of a media dinosaur.

Zainuddin also asserted that should blog sites be recognised as an ‘alternative press’, it would force newspapers out of business and that rural people who depended on newspaper be denied their right to information.

The Star's Wong Chun Wai in his Sunday column asked the government to acknowledge the emergence of the new media or citizen journalists. He urged the government to allow more openness to the media to engage the public and the government on pertinent issues. His call is timely.

However, some media organisations, especially those controlled by political parties, more than often gave a wrong perception to their readers. They are seen to be pulling their punches when comes to reporting on poor governance and policies. Most of them are conducting excessive self-censorship.

In the last decade, we have seen unhealthy corporate culture creeping into the newsrooms. Most of the media organisations are more concerned about their bottomline than their social obligation to the public. No wonder most of them are concerned about dwindling circulation and advertising revenue in the advent of the new media.

Zainuddin should not resort to intimidation and fear tactics to rattle the bloggers or citizen journalists because simply this is not going to work. He and his colleagues might as well try to change their own mindset and embrace the new media while it is still not too late.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Broken Family...Cannot Be God's Intention

We often heard that marriages are made in heaven. Through the grace of God, married couples are destined for one another. P.Marimuthu and Raimah Bibi Noordin were one such couple. Their union was made almost 20 years ago which resulted in 7 children. It was a complete family.

Due to a religious deparment intervention, the family was broken and separated albeit unwillingly. The family's problem started when seven Jais officers visited their house in Kampung Baru Tambahan Ulu Yam on April 2.

The officials then told Marimuthu that his wife of 21 years, Raimah Bibi, was a Muslim and that she and their children - aged between four and 12 - must be placed in a rehabilitation centre.

It was a sad sad day for all of us when compassion, true love and humanity no longer reign supreme. It wasn't God's intention to separate a loving family whose union He had initiated. It was a man-made madness.

Read the Sun today:

Raimah agreed to live apart from her non-Muslim husband and gave him custody of their seven children after choosing to continue practising Islam.

She is, however, given unlimited access to her children aged four to 14, the product of their 20-year marriage which was not formally registered.

It was a touching scene at the High Court here when Raimah Bibi Noordin, 40, told Justice Datuk Su Geok Yiam she had agreed to hand over her children to 44-year-old P. Marimuthu whom she had married according to Hindu rites.

Raimah will now live apart from Marimuthu, who will bring up the children, comprising four boys and three girls, according to Hindu tradition.

She will have to fend for herself, with some aid from the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS).

Is this a society we want to live in? What went wrong?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Chinese Community Voting Against BN?

I was asked by two journalists today on the Chinese voting trends in Ijok. They wanted to know what was the real reason behind the swing of Chinese voters to the opposition.

BN fared poorer in Batang Berjuntai Selatan where there are 46% Chinese voters. The BN votes in the area dropped from 548 to 461 from 2004. While the opposition garnered 338 votes compared to 219 votes in 2004.

In another Chinese majority (67%) area, Pekan Ijok, the BN's votes dropped from 761 votes to 605 votes. PKR's votes increased from 306 to 584 votes.

I do not call the results a swing of Chinese votes to opposition.

However, there are several possible reasons. First, a number of Chinese voters who voted in the areas may be staying and working in urban areas and are bringing their frustration home to Ijok. The frustration was translated into protest votes against the BN.

There are obviously several teething problems in urban areas e.g. higher cost of living, unplanned development, poor governance, public security, employment and economic opportunities and others. However, in my opinion the frustration may cut across all races. It is not merely a Chinese problem.

Second, despite some BN leaders argued that the NEP is a non-issue. Surprisingly, many Chinese urban voters may think otherwise. Some are blaming their current problems e.g. economics, education, cost of living, interethnic relations, religious tension are contributed via the UMNO racist politics and policy.

I would like to point out that a possible swing may be more obvious in the urban constitiencies compared to ethnic group. We will be able to witness the different of voting trends in rural versus urban areas in the coming general elections.

You should be able to read my views in both Oriental Daily tomorrow and the Star this weekend.

More Action, Less Talk

On Wednesday morning, my friend, Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, send me a text message to read The Star newspaper page N10.

In his press statement, he said that "The recent collapse at three new government buildings is symptomatic of the state of deterioration in standards, quality, productivity and efficiency in the country."

Three weeks ago, a burst pipe at the new Immigration Department Headquarters in Putrajaya brought its operations to a halt.

Then on Saturday, chunks of the plaster ceiling at the multi-purpose hall at the Entrepreneurial Development and Co-operative Ministry collapsed.

The third incident was at the new Jalan Duta Court Complex, where two parts of a ceiling collapsed.

Like Ramon, I suspect that there are many more unreported cases in the country which involved many public projects funded by the state or federal governments.

We must stop these wastages. Funds for development are limited and these funds should be used appropriately and optimally. Not wasting them on shoddy works churned by some unscrupulous contractors who are out to make quick bucks.

I agree with Ramon that we should start to change our mindset and approach towards quality and efficiency.

As a fellow Malaysian - who has just paid his taxes on time - I do not wish to see incidents like these being repeated.

Why waste millions? I rather the money goes to help those who are really displaced by development and are living in poverty.