Monday, June 30, 2008

Changes in BN

Both the RPK's statutory declaration and sodomy allegations against Anwar Ibrahim have captured headlines leaving very little coverage for MCA Ong Ka Ting's decision not to seek re-election and former MIC Youth Chief S.A Vigneswaran's resignation from MIC.

Ka Ting in a statement said, "I am mentally prepared and firm about my decision. There are many talented and younger leaders in the party. No one is indispensable and we should not rely on a person. Teamwork is crucial”.

Deputy President Chan Kong Choy will not offer himself for re-election too. Ka Ting's brother Ka Chuan has announced that he will not be contesting for the top two posts.

MCA's top two posts will see keen contests between those who wanted to preserve communal politics and those who wanted to promote a multiracial and more open politics. MCA Vice President Ong Tee Keat is widely tipped to contest the top post. Tee Keat had officially announced earlier that he was interested in the number two position.

With Ka Ting's announcement, Tee Keat is expected to review his decision. Afterall, he is the most senior and credible amongst the VPs to take over more responsibility. Anyone taking over the party leadership will have an unenviable task of restructuring and reviving the party's fortunes. Tee Keat has called for a more multiracial approach. He is expected to be challenged by either Jimmy Chua or Chua Soi Lek.

Vigneswaran's resignation from MIC will see the party bleed away young blood. Many youth members are expected to quit the party the coming future. MIC's problem is not being able to transform itself and its biggest stumbling block is its President, Samy Vellu. Samy had announced his intention to seek re-election and he is expected to win without a contest.

Samy was the focal point of Indian community's disappointment and rejection of MIC. The extension of his leadership for another 3 years will end the party's life expectancy abruptly.

Will Ka Ting's decision force leaders of other component parties to review their own stand? Maybe its time they allow younger leaders to take over the mantle and end communal politics in the country.

My advice to Tee Keat and his multiracial dream - It is now or never, YB.

Political High Stakes

First, it was Raja Petra's statutory declaration against the DPM's wife Rosmah and now another allegation has unveiled. PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim is accused by Saiful Bukhari Azlan, an aide in his office, for sodomizing him.

Din Merican, an aide of Anwar, posted this on his website:

"My colleagues and I knew that he was planted by the other side. So we kept him under surveillance since the day he turned up in our office just before the March 2008 elections. It was a matter of time and we would have exposed him as someone with links to the office of the Deputy Prime Minister. He knew that the noose was tightening around his neck."

Previously, Anwar was accused of the same offence and was booted out of the cabinet by Dr Mahathir, then Prime Minister of Malaysia. It appears that a continuation of this saga is about to begin. However, do those involved know that the stakes are higher this time?

In the first trial, enough doubt was casted on the prosecution case which resulted in Anwar's aquittal. Human rights lawyer Malik Imtiaz observes:

"The need for transparency and accountability is made even more crucial by the allegation by Anwar Ibrahim that he has evidence in hand implicating the Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General. The IGP figured in Anwar Round 1 (he was then SAC Musa Hassan)."

I told Singapore TODAY that these two high profile cases are out of the ordinary and require the highest level of investigation and adjudication. These cases implicated two top leaders of the country and will put the credibility of this country and its institutions e.g. police, AG chamber, judiciary and executive at stake.

Hence, those who are investigating the cases, especially the police, must be transparent to the public. Last night, Police CID Chief Bakri Zinin has promised to be apolitical when conducting his work and we will hold him to his promise.

It is very unfortunate that public opinion has been formed on these cases and we have helped to politicize them. Regardless of the outcome of prosecution, divisions are obvious and the impact on our society will be great - both politically and economically.

I have a reason to worry. First, we cannot allow a precedent of using fabrication to bring down any personality or for the purpose of political assassination. Second, if these allegations were found to be true then this society must be proactive enough to change our political landscape and to totally overhaul the political system.

Individuals found guilty of lies or ill malice must be severely punished by the law. I hope those involved know the gravity of these allegations.

We must get to the bottom of the cases. Malaysians deserved better!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

BN Federal Government MUST Improve Public Bus System

PM Abdullah Badawi in his mid-term review speech told us that two major projects for Penang have been shelved - PORR and monorail. He said this is part of the rationisation process done to ensure limited funds are used for critical projects.

A non-governmental organisation is putting the responsibility to improve public transport on the shoulder of the federal government.

The Federal Government is duty bound to make available funds to improve the public transport system in Penang now that the Penang Outer Ring Road (PORR) and monorail projects have been deferred, said a non-governmental organisation based here.

The Citizens Group for Sustainable Transport (Cepat) spokesman Dr Choong Sim Poey said the government should tell the people what alternate plans it had in store for Penang.The NGO felt that the money saved on the two projects, which would have cost RM3.4 billion, was substantial and should be channelled back here.

"They should give a fraction of the money saved from the two projects to improve the bus system."

I support fully Dr Choong's call to improve the public bus system. Part of what the federal government saved from the cancellations can be channelled back to improve the public bus system in the state.

Failure to do so will be deemed a punishment meted out by the BN government against the people for voting out the coalition in the last general election.

Abdullah must make an announcement quickly on this genuine request to improve the public bus system. The government should aim to provide an additional 2000 buses for both the island and mainland.

Any reluctance to allocate a special fund for the improvement of the public bus system will not be taken lightly by Penangites. We will make sure a repeat rejection of all BN component parties in the state.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Sparkling Korea

Most of my friends thought I have forgotten totally about having fun. Not yet, not quite yet. My hosts, the Korea National Tourism Organisation and Malaysian Airlines, had taken us to Korea to experience the sparkles of Korea.

Since my last trip in 1998, the country has transformed. Seoul is clean and dynamic. Korean culture, food and entertainment are colourful and splendid.

If you are thinking of taking your loved ones for a holiday, do consider Korea. Never mind the oil subsidy cuts or spiralling cost of living.

We do need to chill out amidst all the bad news in Malaysia.

Visit my FUN site for more. Click here for nice places, here for food and here for culture.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

PR Teething Weakness

Kedah Chief Minister Azizan Abdul Razak’s insistent on going ahead with logging at the state’s catchment areas has exposed a teething weakness of the Pakatan Rakyat.

Concerned environmental groups have said that the move could see the cutting down of 1 million trees. A possible lack of enforcement may threaten these areas and cause an irreparable damage to the environment and ecosystem. At present, Perlis and Penang source more than 80 percent of their water supply from Kedah.

Earlier, Azizan has justified his move over the failure of the federal government to compensate the state a total of RM100 million to disallow logging in the areas. The chief minister has made an about turn when he announced his intention to go ahead regardless being paid or not.
Despite a strong opposition from Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, his fellow PR colleague, who called the move ‘a disaster’, there is very little he can do to prevent Azizan from going ahead with the plan.

It is obvious that the newly minted coalition does not have a federal structure to address and mitigate disputes arising from differences such as this one which affects the interest of its neighbours. Disputes and disagreements if left unmitigated may threaten unity in PR.

A formalised working committee at the national level akin to Barisan Nasional’s supreme council would have helped to mediate the problems. It is natural for PR leaders to avoid forming such a council since there are a lot of misgivings and weaknesses in the BN supreme council. The formation of a council is not wrong but the process of decision making in the council must reflect parity and mutual respect amongst its members.

Calls for the PR to form a shadow federal cabinet were distracted and diverted away by speculations of PR seizing power through defections. These speculations came mainly from PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim, also touted as the ‘prime minister in-waiting’. Unfortunately, the defiant shown by the Sabah Progressive Party against PM Abdullah Badawi will strengthen the speculations and continue to distract PR from putting its own house in order.

Anwar should realize by now that having an ambition alone is not enough. The truth is his hardly 3-month old coalition is still fragile and uncertain. There is a lack of mutual understanding and a framework for cooperation within his coalition. Piecemeal approach to problem solving and decision making will expose yet another weakness of his coalition – the lack of a consensus on the way forward.

Inevitably, both Guan Eng and Azizan may have to go back to Anwar to mediate their dispute. Both leaders are driven by conflicting needs to stake a stronger claim of their respective leadership. Guan Eng has to ensure that water supply from Kedah to Penang is not disrupted or threatened and Azizan wanted more funds to develop his state. Both have to be convinced that there is a middle path out of their deadlock. Can Anwar pull it off?

For the longevity of PR, it is best that the coalition starts to operate and cooperate beyond one personality. No doubt Anwar is the ‘glue’ who put parties of extreme differences together but a coalition which does not see itself functioning beyond the leadership of Anwar has no future.
BN, for its own political expediency, will not jump in to soothe the situation and offer Kedah its RM100 million. Kedah UMNO Youth has already started to criticize the move. Earlier, Azizan had announced that Kedah will be charging for its water supply. Perhaps, this is a better move for the state. Obviously, both Penang and Perlis cannot expect get their water supply for free. Both states will have to work out a fair compensation to Kedah for the water supplied to them.

Similarly in other states controlled by PR, the BN federal government needs the cooperation of the state governments to help implement its national socio-economic development plans. For the cooperation, the state governments could demand or negotiate for a fair compensation or monetary allocation from the federal government.

Its recent move to cut oil subsidies will trigger higher inflation throughout the country. Minister of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Shahrir Samad had tabled a motion of support for the cuts and argued that the country’s deficit could balloon to 5 percent if subsidies are continued at the previous level. As expected, the parliamentary support he got came entirely from BN members. He should not rejoice at the outcome. If he is serious is getting support, the cooperation from PR members is crucial.

Food prices have increased by 7 percent on average and any further increase may cause social disorder. If social protests erupted, most of the anger will be channelled towards BN and it will blamed for its failure to govern. Already, protesters have planned to organise a mammoth demonstration on 5th July to protest against the oil subsidy cuts.

States such as Perak, Kelantan and Kedah can offer to become the basin for food production in the country. By helping to reduce our import bill on food, it will lower inflation and ensure that ample food stocks are made available to the people. For the efforts, these state governments should be compensated.

Hence, echoing the call of Perak Monarch Sultan Azlan Shah, both BN and PR should not continue to outdo each other but to work together to put this country on a better ground so that socio-economic progress can continue.

Azizan’s stubbornness may be a good indicator and a warning bell for PR. Can the coalition stem its desire and lust of power and focus on putting its house in order or risk its own undoing?

Read this article in The Star. Here for the version.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Recalcitrant Kedah CM Azizan Abdul Razak

Last week when I posted a message criticizing Kedah's decision to allow logging at the state's water catchment areas, a few readers criticized my stand. Since then, a few PR leaders including CMs Lim Guang Eng and Nik Aziz have voiced out their concern over the decision. Lim said the action will be catastrophic to the environment and threaten the state's source of drinking water.

At the prime news yesterday, Menteri Besar Azizan Abdul Razak is defiant about cutting trees in the Ulu Muda forest reserve.

He told NST, "Now, even if the Federal Government gives us the RM100 million compensation, we will still cut down the trees," he said. First, he justified by saying that it was because of the RM100 million. Now he said regardless of the payment the state will go ahead to cut trees.

Azizan told his critics that they should not be too obsessed with caring for the environment "like parents who are extremely obsessed with their offspring".

"The child is so pampered that he does not need to go to school. The child does not want to leave home."This is like our forest. We are too obsessed with preserving the trees that we don't cut them. We leave the trees till they get old and rot. The trees die and fall and affect the growth of others."

First, the analogy was done in a bad taste. It is not about being obsessed over our children. Human beings committed mistakes and we can still send them for corrective courses. Not the environment.

The most important thing here is about enforcement. Many states, including Perak, Selangor and Pahang, despite tough laws are not able to ward off illegal logging activities at their forest reserves.

Can Kedah ensure that these companies given license to log will abide by strict rules and regulations? Can the government ensure that no damage will be done to the environment and the catchment areas?

Roads will have to be built to bring out the logs. This will entail clearing of forest. Destruction to young trees is inevitable.

Azizan is a recalcitrant. State PR leaders who are against the move should consider calling a no-confidence vote against Azizan for risking our environment and important sources of fresh water to millions.

For those critics who are sentimental towards the move, I urge to use your head and not let your heart rule your judgement.

Sabah Gerakan Against SAPP's Move

I just spoke to a journalist friend about Gerakan's rather muted response to SAPP's move to sponsor a no-confidence vote against PM Abdullah Badawi. Today, its Sabah State chairman Robin Loh came out strongly against Yong Teck Lee and his party's action.

Loh said SAPP's action did not have the support of the majority, whether in Sabah or in the peninsula. Here, I am sure he is referring to internal support within BN. The fact that Gerakan did not respond immediately showed that the party was taking stock of possible support for the motion.

Sabah Gerakan's stand is predictably the common stand expected out of all component parties wishing to remain in the coalition.

Loh said Sabah Gerakan also questioned the SAPP move of raising issues such as the oil royalty, illegal immigrants and fuel price increases through the media when there were better and more effective forums for the party to raise them.

Loh should have learned from the 2008 general election that talking behind closed doors is no longer fashionable. It could well mean that UMNO is still calling the shots. Otherwise, why after a few cabinet committees the state problems remained unresolved? If the peninsula centric BN had been sensitive to the state's needs and perils, Sabah would not have regressed to where it is today.

My recent trip to Sabah explained and exposed the frustrations of Sabahans towards the central government. It is unfathomable that a resource rich state such as Sabah can be the poorest in the country. Sabah's poverty rate stood at 23%. If an adjustment is made to the income level (RM629 to RM2000) used as a poverty line, the rate could yet reach 45-50%.

Loh, a CEO of a high class resort, should 'turun padang' (reach out to the grassroots) to better gauge the situation. I am surprised if, as a Sabahan, Loh is not aware of the extent of poverty in his own backyard.

Loh added, "We wish to remind SAPP leaders they owe their existence to the BN, especially the two MPs Datuk Eric Enchin Majimbun and Datuk Dr Chua Soon Bui, who were elected on the BN platform."

In the next general election, Loh will be made aware that these two MPs owe their existence to the voters or Sabahans - not to BN or PM Abdullah. These two MPs may still be returned/elected as MPs but BN may not be in power by then.

Gerakan is lost of direction.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Both BN and PR Are Not Up to Expectations

In the NST today, I was quoted on PR performance thus far:

...political analyst Khoo Kay Peng, who said it was high time PR got serious and start providing real solutions for real problems.

"I think it is about time they move out from making populist policies and tackle serious issues like inflation, unemployment and local council efficiency," he said, adding that many of the populist policies were not sustainable in the long run.

"Until now, they do not have a comprehensive plan to control inflation.

"Take, for example, the recent announcement by Abdul Khalid (Khalid Ibrahim) that Selangor had attracted about US$10 billion (RM32 billion) worth of foreign investments. However, no details were given." Khoo argued that foreign investments were not one-off events, they were vital for creating job opportunities and there must be a long-term plan to sustain and expand the investments.

"US$10 billion is a big investment and yet Abdul Khalid still hasn't given any details. They must have a proper plan."

He added that cleanliness, sustainable development, public safety and proper city planning were all issues that fell under the responsibility of the opposition state governments.

"If they argued that the previous state governments did things badly, PR must contribute to its improvement. Currently, it seems that things are still the same," he said.

Some of BN reform plans might be derailed if not followed up with comprehensive and effective policies. I spoke to Merdeka Review today on my views that Abdullah might have rode through the first challenge at the parliament yesterday but the worse is far from over.

Since the oil subsidy cuts, the BN government is still unable to come out with effective and comprehensive policies to deal with rising inflation, sluggish real income growth since post-97, job creation and growing the economy pie. Several retailers have indicated that sales are badly affected since the subsidy cuts.

Flip-flops in policy announcements have dented people's confidence in the coalition's ability to manage the economy.

On the judicial reforms, several UMNO cabinet members did not support Zaid's proposal on the establishment of Judicial Commission, fearing that the PM may lose his power to appoint judges. UMNO leaders have not changed their hegemonic mindset.

Intra-party squabbles will deflect their focus away from governance and addressing big issues. If UMNO failed to reform within the next 6 months, chances of BN breaking apart will magnify and worsen. At present, the party is facing severe leadership crisis.

How long more can other component parties afford to wait for UMNO to put their house in order while risking their own political survival?

Dewan Rakyat (Parliament) Not Accessible to the Rakyat

I must say that I felt very disappointed this morning when I was stopped from entering the Parliament. I was there to hand over my latest book to a friend and a fellow MP from the DAP.

Before me there was a person who was allowed entry when he wanted to see a fellow MP from Rembau. On my way out, another Malay gentleman was allowed in because he was there to see a fellow leader from BN. Again, I took the officers to task.I asked the security officers manning the counter why there was double standards.

Regardless of how crowded the parliament is, the place should not be restricted to the public. In London, visitors are allowed to make a beeline to pay a visit to the parliament. I was told this is a directive from the top. I assume it is from Nazri Aziz, the Minister in-charge of Parliamentary Affairs.

I want to say this to Nazri, the parliament does not belong to UMNO or BN alone. This is a public area. I will visit the place again soon to find out if the restriction is still in place. I want to know why some VIPs are allowed in and not others.

BN still does not know what "People's Power" means. Mesra rakyat? My foot!

On my way out of the corridor, Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon - a commoner - was allowed into the parliament. Because he is an acting president of a BN component party? BN's elitist attitude will ensure worse defeat for the coalition.

I was told DAP Lim Guan Eng brought this matter up in the parliament. Thanks, Guan Eng. At least you are sensitive to the people.

Friday, June 20, 2008

RPK's Bombshell

Raja Petra has dropped a bombshell on Rosmah's (Deputy PM Najib Razak's wife) involvement in the Altantuya murder case.

In his latest bombshell, Raja Petra accused Rosmah as among three individuals who were present when Altantuya was murdered on October 19, 2006.

"I have been reliably informed that between about 10pm on October 19, 2006 and early hours of the following day, the night Altantuya Shaariibuu was murdered, three other people were also present at the scene of crime," he said, according to his two-page statutory declaration.

His new allegation will hurt Najib's already fragile credibility amongst common folk especially his own Malay community. Najib is expected to take over from PM Abdullah Badawi in a leadership transition deal agreed by the two.

However, the deal will not see an automatic ascension for Najib to the top position. Dr Mahathir had warned Najib to take on Abdullah in the coming party's election. He said the window of opportunity for Najib is closing if the latter refused to do so.

Najib had pledged his support for PM Abdullah.

On the ground, Najib's succession of UMNO's leadership may not be able to reverse the party's decline if he is plagued with this serious accusation against his wife, Rosmah. Not long ago, a taxi driver taking me home told me it is cruel (kejam) in Islam to 'blow up' someone.

Najib should know by now that he needs to justify his innocence if he wants to provide a strong leadership to UMNO. Anwar Ibrahim, in the previous general election, had manipulated this issue to great success in the Malay majority constituencies.

Najib is wobble.

Non-Sectarian Politics in Malaysia

Details of launches in Penang and Kuala Lumpur will be posted here later.
Foreword by: Dato' Dr Toh Kin Woon
Reviewed by: Dr Ooi Kee Beng and Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam
Out in the bookstores nationwide by 30th June 2008. Retail Price: RM28 per copy

Penang NO to Kedah's Intention

Penang CM Lim Guan Eng has spoken up against Kedah's intention to allow logging at the state's water catchment areas.

"There would be a catastrophic impact on the Northern Corridor Economic Region," Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng told reporters today at his office.

The Kedah water catchment areas supply the bulk of irrigation water to rice fields across the three northern states of Penang, Kedah and Perlis besides water supply for industrial parks and townships.

Penang derives 80 percent of its 865 million litres of daily water consumption from Sungai Muda, which flows from the eastern part of Kedah to the Straits of Malacca.

The logging activities would earn Kedah a whopping RM16 billion in revenue which Lim described as a ‘highly disproportionate’ move to compensate for RM100 million which Kedah say was not delivered as promised by the federal government.

Lim said logging was not the answer to Kedah’s financial woes, arguing that the catastrophic impact would be far eclipse any monetary gain. Preserving the water catchment areas would be more beneficial in the long run, he said.

"The Kedah government has failed to conduct an in-depth study before approving logging in the catchment areas. It should not have forsaken long-term public interests,’ he said.

I applaud Lim for his strong stance against Kedah CM Azizan's intention to allow logging in these areas. Water is an important source of life, more important than even oil. Governments do not own the environment and the protection of our environment is a basic requirement for good governance.

Kedah government must not be allowed to go ahead with its intention.

Gerakan Wanted Out too in 1990

The revelation made by Choo Sing Chye on Gerakan is quite interesting. He posted his comment in on SAPP's vote of no confidence against the PM.

"After the 1990 general elections, Tengku Razaleigh came to Ipoh and we, the late P Patto, Ngoi Thiam Woh and I met Razaleigh at the Ipoh Casuarina Hotel for an informal meeting. The revelation that Tengku Razaleigh made, surprised us all.

During the 1990 elections, Razaleigh and Lim Kit Siang flew to Sabah to receive Pairin into the Gagasan Rakyat fold..The PBS under Pairin had agreed to leave BN and join Gagasan Rakyat bringing along the state of Sabah. This defection was kept in secrecy, nobody knew about it, not even the BN.

After this, Razaleigh was supposed to fly to Johor to meet up with leaders of another major party from the Peninsular Malaysia who had shown interest in defecting to the Gagasan Rakyat. That party was Gerakan.

All things were running smoothly until Pairin made public the PBS’s defection and everything fell apart with the meeting with the Gerakan was called off. If Pairin had withheld the announcement, Gagasan Rakyat would have two states in its pouch before the polling day.

The strategy was that Razaleigh would announce the defections on polling day and hoped to catch the BN with its pants down. But the early announcement gave the BN ample time to muster its propaganda machine to attack Razaleigh with fraudulent claims that Gagasan was Christian-ising the Malays.

In the end, the Malays left Gagasan in droves."

I am one of the authors of Dr Lim Keng Yaik's political biography which is supposed to be published soon. During one of our many interviews, Dr Lim did mention this intention briefly. The book will be an interesting read if he decided to publish it soonest.

Keng Yaik, in his book, spoke positively about a two party system. He opined that for this to happen, BN must break into two factions - non-communal and communal. But he did not anticipate the outcome of the 12th general election which almost wiped out Gerakan and causing a possible split in the BN coalition.

A number of component parties, Gerakan included, had a love-hate relationship with UMNO. They despised UMNO's hegemony but had to depend largely on their dependency on UMNO in BN to survive. Many continue to look to UMNO for a hint on how to resurrect their political fortune. Such an action is catastrophic.

Dr Neil Khor and I have authored a book on "Non-Sectarian Politics in Malaysia: The Case of Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia" and it is expected to hit the bookstores by the end of June. Watch this space for more information.

No Expulsion Yet

The Barisan Nasional (BN) Supreme Council has decided not to expel the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) as it believes the statement by its president, Yong Teck Lee, today was not the stand of the party, said BN Chairman Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

This is a calculated move made by the BN chairman. An immediate expulsion would have triggered negative reactions against Abdullah.

SAPP's central committee meeting tomorrow (Friday) is expected to be explosive and will be closely watched by many pundits. SAPP's Deputy President Raymond Tan has criticized Yong's move.

However, any fresh development from the party's meeting tomorrow could trigger two possibilities. First, any fresh attack on the BN chairman may cause the party's expulsion from the front. Second, it is quite obvious that the party is heading for a split. Yong is expected to take strong control of the party.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Kedah's Ultimatum

According to The Star, the Kedah Government has approved logging activities at the Pedu, Muda and Ahning dam catchment areas, a move that is expected to generate about RM16bil in revenue for the state.

Mentri Besar Azizan Abdul Razak said the move was necessary to cover the high expenditure incurred by the state following the petrol price increase. The move was a reaction to the Federal Government's failure to pay an annual compensation of RM100mil since 2003 following the state’s decision to cancel its proposed heli-harvesting project to log timber in catchment areas.

A reader of my blog reacted:

Dear Editor,

The March 8 Elections results showed that all Malaysians want a change, they want a Government who is willing to serve, who will put aside all differences for the common good, and to act responsibly to its citizens and to the country in general.

The report that the Kedah government will allow logging in the Catchment areas Kedah approves logging activities show a total lack of this responsibility, and that it is utterly uncaring for the future of the State.

Has the State Government conducted an EIA study of the impact of such felling, on whether the felling will affect the water sufficiency of the State, and whether the removal of the limited resource will permanently damage the forest reserve surrounding the catchment areas.

I feel that the State in doing this, is "cutting off the nose to spite the face". Remember, logging is a 'destructive' industry, and what is done cannot be undone.

Please reconsider. If we just look around us, we already can observe that Cameron Highlands is fast approaching the state of being irreversibly damaged through wanton development.

Tam Yeng Siang (his letter is forwarded to environmental NGOs, The Star and TV3)

I personally agree with Tam's observation. We have had enough problem with maintaining our source of drinking water and now the state government wants to allow logging at the water catchment areas in Kedah.

Since neighbouring Penang and Perlis obtain their water supply from Kedah, the states should react to the Kedah MB Azizan's decision.

There should be a reason why the federal government had wanted to compensate the state to stop its logging activities and why it has failed to keep its promise.

Our natural resources and environment should not be exploited by any politicians for their own political interest.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

SAPP and The Third Block

Way back in December 2006, I had written a post on BN component parties not happy with UMNO's bullying tactics to form the third block.

Today, SAPP President Yong Teck Lee is on the verge of doing precisely what I had suggested. Yong has shown that he is a master tactician in politics.

SAPP is taking the lead in championing Sabah's rights and this political move will likely help to reverse its fortune in the next general election.

With an apparent lack of attention and political will to address issues plaguing both Sabah and BN, Yong has played his last card. Abdullah and UMNO is now pushed to the brink. If it does not address the demands made by Yong and his colleagues they will react by jumping out of BN to create a third block.

In Penang, both Dr Koh Tsu Koon and Chia Kwang Chye should at least learn from Yong. Penang, despite its relatively more developed economy, has been marginalised by the UMNO led federal government.

By criticizing the present government alone will not bring back support for the Penang-based party. Dr Koh should have heeded my call to review his party's relationship with UMNO instead of reacted negatively to my criticism and comments against UMNO's policies.

Both Dr Koh and Chia can criticize Lim Guan Eng's administration until they turned blue it will not help to bring back Gerakan's past glory.

Another missed chance. Too bad.

Another Full Disclosure Needed - UMNO

Dr Mahathir Mohamad made a disclosure on his website:

"UMNO can make a statement about the money I gave to Dato Abdullah when I stepped down. Better still Dato Abdullah can explain how much of the 1.4 billion Ringgit in cash, shares and property that my staff and one of his Ministers handed over to him is still with him."

Over the last 22 years of Dr Mahathir's rule, UMNO had accumulated RM1.4 billion of wealth. This is an astronomical amount for a political party. We, the people of Malaysia, have the right to know how UMNO had managed to accumulate such a huge sum of wealth.

Apart from calling for a full disclosure of Petronas, UMNO has to make a full disclosure of its financial position too.

We want to know how it was able to accumulate so much cash, shares and properties. Since the country is facing a serious economic challenge, perhaps some of UMNO's cash can be used for the people if it is proven that it had taken from the people.

PM Abdullah must make the disclosure soonest. Any support from Khairy?

SAPP Vote of No-Confidence

SAPP, a component party from Sabah, has announced its vote of no-confidence against PM Abdullah Badawi. The party will decide if it should continue to remain in the BN by end of next week. This is the most serious challenge to BN's viability as a coalition since the last general election.

For sure, next week's parliament will be an exciting session. For now, it hard to see SAPP's motion of no-confidence receiving enough support from its 222 members and eventually push for Abdullah's resignation. SAPP’s two MPs are Datuk Eric Enchin Majimbun (P171 Sepanggar) and Datuk Dr Chua Soon Bui (P190 Tawau).

Parliament's Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia will find it hard to juggle between his loyalty to BN or Sabahans.

The statement listed four areas of dissatisfaction with Abdullah's premiership:

1) That no concrete action had been taken on the issue of illegal immigrants, despite repeated requests by SAPP and other Barisan component parties;
2) That the government had offered no holistic economic solutions to cushion the blow of the sudden hike in fuel prices, which had greatly burdened the people and threatened further hardcore poverty;
3) That not enough attention had been paid to issues raised by the people of Sabah -- poor delivery systems, corruption, wastage, lack of transparency and accountability -- and that SAPP would have failed in its duty as elected representatives if these issues continued to be ignored; and
4) That the people have lost confidence in Abdullah, and that if he can't perform, he should step aside and make way for another leader to take over.

However, it is fair to note that Sabah's woes did not start during Abdullah's tenure. The controversial Project IC was allegedly started by Dr Mahathir Mohamad which gave Malaysian ICs to hundreds of thousands illegal immigrants in Sabah. Despite being one of the resource endowed states in Malaysia, Sabah's poverty rates hovered around 23 percent.

Sabahans' woes now came back to haunt BN under the leadership of Abdullah Badawi.

It is also pertinent for SAPP, which was established in 1994, to do its own soul searching. It is part of the administration which led to the decline of Sabah. It must shoulder some responsibility for allowing Sabah to deteriorate to its present state.

Is Yong Teck Lee acting for his own interest or Sabahans? Earlier, Yong was disappointed for not being nominated to stand in a parliamentary seat.

BN's Win in Sanglang Declared Null and Void reports, Justice Zainal Adzam Abdul Ghani today ruled that Barisan Nasional's victory in Sanglang in the March 8 general election was invalid.

Umno's candidate Abdullah Hassan won the seat with a majority of 149 votes, bagging 3,384 votes as opposed to Hashim Jasin's 3,235. Hashim, who is Perlis PAS commissioner, claimed that he should have won Sanglang based on initial Election Commission records.

He said that he should be declared the winner as the vote tallied from all counting centres showed that he had polled 3,333 votes against Abdullah's 3,286 and had thus won by a 47-vote majority.

This decision may pave way to a by-election. If it happens, the by-election will be a test of Abdullah's popularity and BN's ability to restore its battered pride. Today, the coalition is threatened by possible defections which may not necessary strengthening the PR but surely to weaken BN.

If BN performs badly in the Sanglang by-election, Abdullah's days in office may be further shortened.
Picture courtesy of

Be More Transparent, Petronas

Last night, I watched the live interview of Petronas Chairman Hassan Marican on TV9. I was not very impressed with his answers. He said that the corporation’s account had been published and made public for the past 18 years. However, only a summary of its financial position is available on the corporation's website.

A number of politicians including DAP National Advisor Lim Kit Siang, Lim Guan Eng and now Khairy Jamaluddin have demanded that Petronas reveal more than just basic information.

Khairy said Petronas had been tasked with safeguarding the nation’s most important natural resource and should be held to a higher level of scrutiny than what the annual report provided.

“I would suggest that Petronas commits itself to greater transparency and accountability by agreeing to give a special briefing to all MPs on the company’s corporate activities and financial position, and open the briefing to questions from the floor,” he said.

Executives in the corporation must take note that they are entrusted with a huge responsibility to manage the country's most important and valuable natural resources and this responsibility comes with a greater commitment to transparency and accountability.

During the Mahathir's era, the corporation's account and financial position was shrouded with secrecy. Now, I would like to call for the corporation to release full details of its financial position including investments, operations costs and earnings.

Any thing short will not help to abate people's anger of the cuts in subsidy. We deserve to know where the RM320 billion or more have been spent.

Going Singapore

An upset Sultan of Selangor has threatened to call off future Sultan of Selangor Cup matches between his state and Singapore if the protest by the state PAS Youth against two artistes performing for the event went ahead.

State PAS Youth chief Sallehen Mokhyi said the movement felt that performances by the singers were inappropriate as it would be attended by many youngsters. This shows how outdated Sallehen has become. If Mas Idayu and Ella are not appropriate, he should not expect youngsters to turn up in big numbers to watch nasyid groups too. Sallehen should turn on the TV to watch Akademi Fantasia when he has the time to better understand youth's psyche.

Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah described the protest over rock queen Ella and dangdut singer Mas Idayu as “hypocritical” and “trivial”. He said there were more important issues that the party could focus on.

Rightly said, the party has since called for an introduction of Islamic law and governance in all PR led states. Penang CM Lim Guan Eng said there was no memorandum from PAS on the Islamic state request.

Sallehen’s call came on the heels of a statement by national PAS Youth vice-chief Azman Shapawi that the party wanted all the Pakatan Rakyat states to implement Syariah laws.

DAP, usually vocal on such announcements, is quite muted this time. The party may not want to antagonize its PR partner. However, the party should take cognisance of its poor electoral performance in 1999 as a lesson.

The Sultan has threatened to bring the cup to Singapore instead.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

MAS' Folly

I want to know what is so special about budget carrier AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes. He had been enjoying discounts up to 75 percent when flying on Malaysia Airlines (MAS), its bitter business rival.

According to the letter, which was addressed to Fernandes, the AirAsia chief executive officer had been enjoying steep discounts when flying MAS over the past two years.

Idris nevertheless brought bad news for the AirAsia boss in the letter - his travel privileges had been withdrawn beginning this month.The reason for the termination, said the MAS CEO, was the many salvos Fernandes has been firing at the national carrier which had angered its staff members.

Idris stated in the letter that his company had tried to fend off the complaints from its staff through their powerful unions on why Fernandes, who had criticised MAS on numerous occasions, was granted such a privilege.

This is solely MAS' folly. First, why give preferential treatment to an individual, worse your main competitor and critic? What about us, Malaysians? This is a case of bad subsidy. Tony is one of the richest Malaysians.

Second, the retraction of the preferential treatment is hilarious and childish. If I criticize MAS, will it cancel my booking?

Classic stupidity at work.

100 days gone, are we satisfied?

We have reached the first 100 days of the political tsunami spawned by Election 2008 on March 8. Over the course of the week The Malaysian Insider will run a series of reports to give an overview of what has happened and to help make sense of the new Malaysia that has evolved. We kick off with Khoo Kay Peng's observations on politics not-as-usual in the country.

JUNE 16 — Although it was the second time the ruling coalition lost its two-third parliamentary majority, it was the first time the results were received peacefully and calmly. Voters, regardless of race and creed, wanted more or less the same thing – good governance.

However, post-elections Malaysia offers more unpredictability than assurance. Since then, several Opposition parties have formalised their working relationship by forming a new coalition. The newly-minted Pakatan Rakyat heads the state governments of Kelantan, Penang, Kedah, Perak and Selangor.

Its de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has repeated his claims that there will be a change of power at the federal level, through defections, before the Sept 16 deadline. This has resulted in an uncertain political environment and put doubts in the Malaysian democratic process. Despite Anwar’s argument that the crossovers are permissible, any attempt to tinker with the election outcome is still undemocratic. Moreover public resources, e.g. oil royalty, have been used as the biggest inducement.

Sept 16 or Malaysia Day is a symbolic date to the elected policy makers in Sabah and Sarawak Anwar is trying to lure over to his coalition. Both Sabah and Sarawak joined the federation on that day in 1963. Ironically, this date is not officially celebrated as a public holiday in Malaysia.

Anwar’s claims have since fueled intense political negotiations between the peninsula-centric BN and their colleagues in both Sabah and Sarawak. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi met up with BN parliamentarians in Sabah and announced a number of special development allocations for the state. Some of them were not impressed and wanted the federal government to do more to address the illegal immigrants’ issue and the marginalisation of Sabah from mainstream politics.

In the last 100 days, the political situation in Sabah and Sarawak has kept many guessing and the tension is expected to persist if their immediate requests and demands are not met. At present, both Sabah and Sarawak are the bulwarks of BN’s hold on federal power.

In an immediate reaction to the hefty loss of popular votes in peninsular Malaysia, Abdullah recalled a few credible Umno leaders into his Cabinet notably Datuk Zaid Ibrahim and Datuk Shahrir Samad. De facto Law Minister Zaid has announced his commitment to restore judicial credibility by promising key Constitutional amendments to restore its original position in the Constitution.

Through his recommendation, the government restored full gratuity payments to all judges sacked in the 1988 judicial crisis, but fell short of an outright apology. The government is widely expected to act according to the recommendations made by the Royal Commission which investigated the V.K. Lingam video clip.

The premier has vowed to strengthen the Anti-Corruption Agency. He is expected to approve a higher allocation to the agency to recruit more manpower to tackle a backload of cases and strengthen its enforcement.

During the first Parliament sitting, he announced that all MPs, including the Opposition, will be given an annual development allocation of RM500,000. This move is yet to be duplicated by state governments ruled by the Pakatan Rakyat.

Unfortunately, Abdullah’s reform initiatives are seen as attempts to try to resurrect his fading leadership. Just like his recent decision to scale down fuel subsidies, the move was severely criticised by several BN leaders and the Opposition. A top Opposition leader called this move his Waterloo and suggested that it will speed up the downfall of Abdullah.

There is nothing wrong in Abdullah’s efforts to reverse his administrative fortune. However, he should realise by now that he ought to muster enough support from his BN colleagues to strengthen his efforts. In the last 100 days, Abdullah did not focus enough attention on regrouping his component partners in BN.

Challenges from within Umno, especially from his chief critic Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, are sapping away his energy and ability to focus on other more pertinent issues such as rising inflation, potential global economic slowdown and most pertinently the consolidation of the BN.

Abdullah is learning the hard way that any of his moves will be met with strong opposition if he does not reach out to include leaders of other component parties to support his reform initiatives. For the first time, top leaders of his senior component members are not sitting in his cabinet. He cannot afford to project BN as simply Umno-run and dominated at a time when the coalition is finding it hard to lure support from other minorities in the PR-led states.

Without the support and participation from other component parties, his political opponents will wait to pounce on him at any available opportunity with the aim of wresting power from his government.

From the first 100 days of his new term, Abdullah should realise that any half-hearted initiative is better left on the back burner. Any reform initiative which requires a change of personal habit or mindset must come with a proper implementation plan. A top BN leader said his coalition is facing a credibility gap. This is an accurate observation. As such, a proper plan and a thoroughly thought through implementation process will go a long way to help bridge such a credibility gap.

For example, the government should refrain from making populist moves to curb public sector expenses when the cuts announced, such as a 10 percent reduction in the personal allowance to ministers and deputy ministers, were so insignificant. He must show enough grit and political will to tackle the big issues such as curbing corruption, ending preferential policies which can be easily manipulated, streamlining his bureaucracy by focusing on efficiency and review all non-productive projects.

If the premier does not pull up his socks now, chances are his reform initiatives may even backfire on him. Announcing his leadership transition plan in the first 100 days may help to take some political pressure off his back but he must not lose sight of the larger picture in making the reforms work and in ensuring that these reforms will continue to progress even after the leadership transition.

A leadership transition alone cannot assure that the Barisan Nasional, since its inception in 1974, can ward off a possibility of disintegrating if members of the coalition were to lose faith in its viability.

It is obvious that BN is at a crossroads. Its mandate to rule is also its burden. BN has been very inconsistent in its attempts to reach out to its supporters in the PR-led states. Political contestations between the state and federal governments will end up with BN at the losing end.

The federal government’s decision not to channel funds needed for state tourism promotion and entrepreneur development directly to the PR-led States was a myopic one. In the end, it might provide a good justification for these state governments to blame the federal government for their failure to develop and manage their states well.

Over the last 100 days, these state governments have been doing precisely that by highlighting and harping on past abuses and mismanagement. The governments of Penang and Selangor are in the process of building up cases against several ex-administrators and policy makers for their involvement in land scams. If these cases are proven in court, BN’s chances to wrest back power in these states at the next general elections will be severely dented.

For a start, some PR states have announced the granting of permanent land titles to individual farmers. This is a good move to ensure that lands meant for agriculture use are not converted for housing and commercial developments. Penang has decided to gazette its more than 12,000 acres of padi fields to promote food security.

These state governments have made several social contributions and handouts to the poor in order to offset rising inflation and food prices. Selangor has gone a step further by announcing free water up to 20 cubic metres for all households. PKR and PAS, both members of the tripartite Pakatan Rakyat coalition, share a similar vision of creating a welfare state.

PR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has pledged to restore the fuel subsidies and bring down retail fuel prices if his coalition is able to wrest power from BN. His promise, although economically not viable in the long run, is very popular among common folk especially those from the lower income strata. Earlier, Anwar had promised to share up to 20 percent of oil royalty with oil-producing Sabah.

However, these equally populist moves are viewed with great suspicion by several pundits who are growingly uncomfortable with politicians using public resources as their political pawn. By providing free water or subsidised oil, it is impossible to promote prudence and appreciation of our shared finite resources. Instead, PR should help to promote a more viable, efficient and effective way of managing our scarce resources.

So far, some PR leaders may have scored a few brownie points from their actions e.g. refusing to buy new cars, furniture and computers or to fly business class. However, they must remember that this goodwill will eventually wear off and the real business of governing their states will start sooner than they thought.

Like the BN federal government, the PR-led state governments will have to grapple with rising inflation, slowing down of global economy, attracting new investments and facing up to serious socio-economic bottlenecks.

At the end of the 100-day honeymoon period, the PR should tone down its political rhetoric and start acting like a serious government responsible for the well-being of five states including four of the most developed ones in Malaysia.

The previous 100 days have given them a head start over the sluggish and battered BN but to survive and thrive over the next four years, the PR cannot count on the failure and mistakes of the BN alone to take them through.

Like I have said previously, all Malaysian voters want the same thing – good governance. Until and unless this is delivered, both BN and PR cannot rest on their laurels and take the mandate given for granted.

Khoo Kay Peng is a corporate consultant and an independent political analyst. He can be contacted at

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Subsidy cut the better option


The recent restructuring of fuel subsidies shocked the nation. It seems like a drastic move but it is better than spending RM40bil a year on oil subsidies when there are other pressing socio-economic needs.

LAST Wednesday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi shocked the country by announcing subsidy cuts for both petrol and diesel. His main critics slammed the decision as a move to spike whoever would take over from him.

A Pakatan Rakyat leader surprised at the decision reckoned that Abdullah had forfeited his option to call for snap polls should there be crossovers.

From this observation, it is clear that Abdullah did not put politics above the interest of the nation.

It simply does not make economic sense to spend RM40bil a year on oil subsidies when there are other pressing socio-economic needs. Every year, almost half of the fuel subsidies go to private cars, more than 75% of which are single occupant.

If the Government can deliver on its promise to improve and enhance the current sloppy public transport system, this money can be used to fund other more pressing needs such as essential food items, education, affordable housing and healthcare.

Again, the decision made was correct and timely, but the manner in which it was done robbed it of the full credits it deserved. Only weeks ago, Abdullah and his deputy Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had given assurances that subsidy cuts would be deferred at least until August.

Flip-flop in the decision making process did not help to consolidate people’s confidence in the government’s management of rising oil prices and inflation.

Considering our current socio-economic condition, a gradual cut of subsidy is a better option. The people and industries need time to adjust to the new environment. These industries have operated in an artificial cost structure supported by subsidies since 1982.

However, I agree with some economists who observed that it would be better for Malaysia in the long run to adjust its subsidy structure now, before we reverse our position to become a net importer by 2014. Moreover, we cannot continue to subsidise the rich and foreigners.

With the subsidies significantly reduced, the Government must now deliver on its promises to reduce wastage and streamline the bureaucracy.

All government expenditures must be made accountable and transparent to the public. Abuses of public funds reported in the Auditor General’s report must be curbed. The Government must show more teeth in fighting corruption.

Ironically, the question is no longer whether the Government can or cannot deliver on its promises. For its own political survival, Barisan Nasional has no other choice but to perform.
Inevitably, the manner in which the cuts were made courted severe criticism from several Pakatan Rakyat (PR) top leaders.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim described the retail petrol price increase as “wanton in size and callous in effect”. He charged at the way the profits of Petronas were disbursed, and criticised the “wanton waste in government expenditure”.

Touted by the foreign press as the “prime minister in-waiting”, Anwar pledged, “I will resign immediately” if a PR government was unable to roll back the subsidy cuts.

DAP secretary-general and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng criticised the move as “economically insufficient and socially unjust”. He claimed that the new structure “does not deal with ensuring that fuel subsidies fulfil the intended objective of helping the poor instead of benefiting the rich”.

But surely the Government, including a PR-led one, cannot continue to support a subsidy structure which is unsustainable once the country becomes a net petroleum importer.
The promise to reverse the subsidy cuts is an attractive one. But for how long can the subsidies be maintained before our limited resources are eaten away?

Anwar has to justify why we should continue to pay through our nose so that six million drivers can continue to enjoy the subsidies.

If the increase of 78 sen is too drastic now, can Malaysians accept a RM2 rise by 2014 should the fuel price continue to climb?

By using the money saved from the subsidy cuts on other pressing needs, the Government is addressing the basic needs of the poor. On the contrary, the continuation of the fuel subsidies is detrimental to the interest of the poor, and benefits only the upper echelons.

On this part, the enforcement bodies must work tirelessly to contain unnecessary price increases triggered by the higher retail fuel price, and not merely pay lip service to its intention to manage inflation.

If Anwar wants to position himself as a strong candidate for the premiership, he must prove that he has a plan to do better than merely proposing to reverse the cuts.

It is more productive for his coalition to propose an alternative strategy on how to control retail fuel prices, to prepare for the reverse of position to being a net importer, to improving quality of life, to ensuring finite resources are channelled to food security and public transport rather than to organise and support street protests.

Can the PR do better? We are listening.

Khoo Kay Peng is a corporate consultant and an independent political analyst.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Tsu Koon's Mind(Less) Game

In, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng has again ticked off his predecessor, Dr Koh Tsu Koon - this time for waging a psychological warfare over the issue of foreign investments in the state.

According to the report, Tsu Koon had apparently confirmed at a business seminar last Thursday that Samsung, Naza and several other companies would be investing in Penang. He suggested rather cynically that Penang would be on the "right on track" to attract RM10 billlion investments this year since it has already secured RM4.7 billion in the first three months as a result of solid groundwork laid down by the previous government.

Tsu Koon is right about Penang's ability to attract investments even under the Pakatan Rakyat government. Hence, Penangites should be assured that the new government under the leadership of Guan Eng will do its best to deliver maximum results to the people, minus the arm-twisting of UMNO and its cronies.

In fact, if Gerakan led BN is returned to power the total investment figure will become even more impressive. Remember the RM25 billion investment 'secured' by Tsu Koon's administration through the able partnership of Equine Capital and its partners in Abad Naluri Sdn Bhd.?

Interestingly, I was told by a developer friend that 49% of Abad Naluri's shares was offered to MRCB at nearly RM526 million. Of the sum, RM300 million will be used to build the Penang Turf Club race course in Batu Kawan. Again, through the auspicious of Tsu Koon's leadership Abad Naluri was able to acquire a parcel of land measuring 1000 acres at a meagre RM46 million.

The remaining sum of RM226 million was supposed to be shared amongst several individual shareholders and Penang Turf Club members who would have enjoyed an early harvest of the project before even a single foundation is being laid. Equine's share of 21% in Abad Naluri will remain the same. Luckily, the deal was rejected by EPF which is the main shareholder of MRCB.

Tsu Koon should criticize the 'recklessness' of the present government for rejecting the RM25 billion investment by refusing to approve the project. Otherwise, Penang will enjoy a windfall of RM35 billion total investment in 2008!

If Tsu Koon is mindless, Guan Eng should just ignore him. By responding to these antics and statements the state government's focus on real issues will be distracted. Afterall, Tsu Koon did the same by refusing to answer to several queries about land scams in Penang.

It is time for Guan Eng to find his own balance and spend a bit of his busy time on strategizing the next direction for the state. What he should avoid is energy sapping political game played by his opponents.

Bukit Bendera MP Liew Chin Tong called Tsu Koon and Gerakan a 'headless chicken' during the last campaign. DAP must avoid at all cost of becoming one, hopefully with the wisdom of Liew.

Less Corridors Please!

In the last 12 months, the PM has announced the creation of 5 regional corridors for economic development. These corridors cost a combined sum of RM1.1 trillion over the next 18 years. I cannot fathom the PM's preoccupation with corridors or huge industrial parks.

I have warned in a number of my articles, commentaries and talks about over investment in real estate. Most of the corridors are mainly real estate driven. Investments into Iskandar Development Region (IDR) are mainly real estate related. IDR has failed to attract any significant high tech investment because there is no supporting industries (OEM) available there.

PM Abdullah has just announced some cost cutting measures which will be implemented by the government. He expected some cost savings of RM2 billion. Cutting down on unnecessary conferences, festivals and events are step in the right direction. Most importantly, the government must curb CORRUPTION in the administration.

Karim Singh has uncovered a few illegal logging incidents at several forest reserve areas in Cameron Highlands dated back from 2002. It is amazing how the Cameron Highlands Forest Reserve enforcement team can miss what happened right in front of their nose. Either they must have slept on their job or something else. This is just one example of inefficiency which cost us greatly.

Hence, the government should scale down the corridors. Investors are not merely attracted to new industrial parks. They are looking for vibrancy in an economy. We need entrepreneurial, skillful and knowledgeable work force. Archaic socio-economic policies which favour a particular race must be dismantled and replaced by those based on needs.

If Malaysia wants to learn how to compete effectively again, some liberalisation and change of mindset must take place.

Forget the corridors, just fix the policies and governance standards and things will take care of themselves.

Be Damned if You Do or Don't

Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi's dilemma has thickened. Previously criticized for being lacklustre, his new measures of reform have courted serious criticism. His recent decision to scale down subsidy for fuel was received with mixed reactions.

Many Malaysians, including myself, were taken aback by the decision. Most of us expected the subsidy structure to be reviewed only in August. Only weeks ago, both PM and his deputy Najib Razak had ensured us that the subsidy will stay at least until September this year.

Next, the government announced a ban on selling petrol to foreign cars at the both the north and south borders. That move was quickly reversed too. Then, it was replaced with a uniform increase of 78 sen for petrol and RM1 for diesel respectively.

Flip-flop decisions made the government looked bad and ill prepared to implement the decision. If not properly managed, the government might find negative sentiments building up on the ground. This could turn into a massive anti-government movement if properly stroked by politicians.

Now, the PM has announced new measures to ensure prudence. He announced a cut of Ministerial allowance by 10%. Ministers are expected to travel less abroad too.

These are populist move. How much cost saving can we make from the cuts? Malaysian ministers are not paid top salary like their counterparts down south. In fact, we have argued for a long time they should be paid a higher salary so that good brains can be enticed to join the administration.

What PM Abdullah should do is to restructure the burgeoning public sector. At 1.3 million, the sector is huge and cumbersome. The government is promoting e-Government and self-service and yet require a huge manpower. This is ridiculous.

Second, the government should review all projects implemented especially those not meeting requirements, delayed or failed. By eliminating these projects, sack and sue these contractors and restructure some of these projects, the government can save up to billions of ringgit. It is a common knowledge that almost 20% of our 5-year Malaysia Plan budget is wasted on these projects. This is money down the drain.

Come on, Abdullah should not follow Anwar's populist stance by announcing such menial measures. Anwar had offered to reverse the subsidy cuts if "elected" as the next prime minister. I wish him well but I reckon he must show us more than just the promise to reverse the cuts.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Time For Pakatan Rakyat to Prove Its Worth

A spate of PR leaders have criticized the oil subsidy cut. PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim described the 78-sen rise in petrol pump prices as “wanton in size and callous in effect”. He added the increase - the largest in four rounds of price hikes in the last 18 months - was the “compounded legacy of the now unsustainable secrecy in the way the profits of Petronas are disbursed and was also the cumulative effect of wanton waste in government expenditure”.

DAP Secretary-General and Penang Chief Minister criticized the move as "economically insufficient and socially unjust". "It also does not deal with ensuring that fuel subsidies fulfill the intended objectives of the poor instead of benefitting the rich," he added.

Interestingly, Dr M has added to the chorus. He said a gradual subsidy reduction would have been a better option considering the burden of the increase that people have to cope with. I agree with Dr M's suggestion.

Considering our current socio-economic condition, a gradual cut of subsidy is a better option. The people and industries need to adjust to the new environment. I also agree with some economists who observed that it will be better off for Malaysia in the long run to adjust its subsidy structure now, before we reverse our position to become a net importer by 2014.

Dr M should be credited for the explosion of private car ownership when he introduced the local car making industry in the mid-80's. Private cars guzzle almost half of our petrol consumption and government's subsidy.

Earlier, Minister Shahrir Samad announced that the government will allow the fuel price to fluctuate according to the market sentiment. However, the government is committed to subsidize up to 30 cents per litre.

He also announced cash rebates for private cars and motorcycles. Shahrir's announcement marked the end of subsidy per use.

Instead of supporting and participating in protests, it is time for the PR coalition to propose an alternative strategy on how to control petrol price, reducing subsidy (especially on per consumption basis), prepare for the reverse of position to being a net importer, improve productivity, ensure finite resources are channeled to food security, public transportation and improving social well-being of all Malaysians.

I have said in my interviews with the press that although the subsidy must eventually be cut off the manner in which it was done is not correct and clumsy. The government, since the first subsidy cut in 2004, did not work on a gradual plan/milestones to help the people and industries to face the eventuality. But surely, we cannot continue to subsidize the rich and foreigners.

Can the PR do better?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

D-Day on 6/6

Today, PM Abdullah Badawi announced a cut in oil subsidy for both diesel and petrol. Retail petrol price is up by 78 cents to RM2.70 (almost 40%) and diesel is up by almost a Ringgit to RM2.38. On the 8 0'clock news, Minister of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Shahrir Samad said that the move was to curb foreigners from enjoying our subsidy.

Hence, he said the government will reimburse private car owners through cash voucher (RM625 per annum of cars below 2000cc and RM150 for motorcycles) which can be obtained at the local post offices.

This is a gallant move made by the Abdullah administration. Logically, the subsidy must be dismantled so that good money can be channeled towards other critical areas e.g. food, skill development etc. However, the increase in petrol price may be seen as too drastic to many.

Since 2003, during the first subsidy cut, the government should have worked on a schedule to slowly dismantle the subsidy structure. Only weeks ago, after the general election, Abdullah had promised not to increase petrol price before the next budget. His deputy Najib Razak pledged the same. Why the about turn?

From now, the government has no choice but to improve the public transport system and provide it with the necessary subsidy if required to ensure that the public is given an alternative mean to move around. Public buses need to be improved in condition, quality of service and reliability. Taxi licenses should be given direct to drivers instead of some Ali Baba middlemen.

Second, policies which inhibited businesses must be dismantled and abolished e.g. rules and regulations pertaining to ICA 74 and distributive trade, race quota system etc. Businesses grown accustomed to the subsidy structure will find it hard to accept a higher cost structure if the environment does not help them to invest in technology and improve productivity.

Third, it is time for the government to consider moving up the industrial value chain. It is time to focus on value and not cost competitiveness. We need to legislate a minimum wage policy. Otherwise, lower income Malaysians will be the biggest casulties in rising inflation caused by the higher oil price.

Fourth, the government, in collaboration between all Ministries and Bank Negara, must contain and control inflation. It is easier said than done. Shahrir said this move should not trigger inflation. Can he guarantee this will not happen?

It is logical to remove the subsidy structure but the government could have been more prudent and careful in the way they did it.

I support the move but I am not impressed with the manner it was done.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Unite For Malaysia

With petrol price increase looming, Malaysians should work together to help the country overcome some tough and nerve wrecking economic challenges ahead. Yesterday, the Central Bank has indicated that it is prepared to introduce some measures to check inflation if the petrol subsidy cut is impending.

Shahrir Samad announced that only the poor will be subsidized. This is a pragmatic decision. It is true we cannot continue to sustain such a high subsidy structure.

Hence, I am bringing home a point about the need for Malaysians to collaborate and work together to help us overcome any forthcoming challenges.

Recent unnecessary political competition between the BN Federal Government and PR State Governments is detrimental to our economy and ability to withstand the global economic challenges.

I was told by a top PR leader that it was PM Abdullah Badawi who instructed the Tourism Ministry not to work with the state tourism councils of the five PR led states. If this is true, then PM Abdullah may want to revisit his decision. It is time to build another bridge, after 'taking down' the crooked one, between BN and PR for the sole national cause to uplift Malaysians out of the current socio-economic environment.

If not, then it either PM Abdullah or Tourism Minister Azalina Othman who is lying about the real person behind the fiasco.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

D-Day in August

Minister of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Shahrir Samad has announced that the current oil subsidy structure will be fully replaced in August.

Shahrir said any change in the subsidy scheme might result in a rise in petrol and diesel prices.
He said the scheme might be changed in August as stated earlier by Second Finance Minister Nor Mohamed Yakcop.

“It will happen. Petrol price will increase,” he said at the lobby of Dewan Negara yesterday.
However, he said Malaysians would still enjoy subsidies, but it would be given based on need.

The day of reckoning is coming this August. Many private car owners including myself will have to face higher petrol price, possibly 100% more.

We ask the government to consider two things:

1) Use the money saved from subsidy to improve the public transport system, as promised earlier.
2) Come out with a workable and effective strategy to improve productivity and income of fellow Malaysians. Malaysia cannot continue to be a low cost economy. We need to put our resources where the mouth is.

Immediate implications from the subsidy cut are drastic and painful. The government will have to readjust its own spending pattern - stop wastage and focus on meaningful assistance to the people.

Coming August, a lot of us will be tested if we can survive and grow without subsidy. Subsidy cannot go on forever. When subsidy goes out, good governance must come in.

Know When to Quit

In, DAP Chairman Karpal Singh has an advice for Gerakan Acting President Dr Koh Tsu Koon: "Koh should not continue to claim credit for “the few good things” done during his 18-year tenure as Penang chief minister but accept the reality that the days of his “pomp and splendour have come and gone”."

“Koh should cease and desist from interfering in state political governance. It’s the prerogative of Penangites, given to Lim to govern the state towards its own destiny,” he said.

Karpal was commenting on recent criticism of the state government by Koh’s former political secretary Mark Ooi Swee Hing. Ooi accused Lim’s government of riding on a success story fashioned by Koh by claiming credit over the two high-profile investments - the RM1.2 billion investment by Japanese printed circuit board manufacturer Ibiden Co Ltd and RM115 million by American Honeywell, a global leader in the aerospace industry.

As an observer, I find the verbal exchanges unnecessary. Neither DAP nor Gerakan should claim full credit for the two investments. Penang, a natural high-tech testbed since the mid 70's, has accumulated enough goodwill, trust and soft infrastructure to lure investment into the state.

However, the state government should strive to do more. Years of unplanned and uncoordinated development has put a strain on its infrastructure and public amenities. In fact, Penang can do more than just the two investments which are not really that significant.

Both parties should take note that mere investment and trade promotions or trips alone will not help Penang to do better than presently. Immediate attention has to be given to find solid ways to solve our cleanliness and public safety problems.

Pre and post 2008 GE, Penang is still a filth. Town planning and traffic management are still pretty much the same. Most Penangites lamented the fact that a concrete strategy is not in place. We want to know where Penang is heading in the next 3, 5 and 10 years.

Instead of political bickering, I would like to advice politicians from both sides to stay humble and focus on the tasks at hand and not to allow their ego to balloon.

Similarly, Karpal should reflect on his profound advice to Tsu Koon.