Thursday, October 30, 2008

McCain Closing the Gap

Today, we had a few more interesting sessions before tomorrow's trip to the first battleground, Missouri. Mark Penn, an advisor and polling analyst to major corporations, heads of state and several presidential candidates including Al Gore and Tony Blair.

On the presidential campaign strategy, what did "The Guru of Small Things" said? Same like other earlier speakers, Penn thought the US financial crisis has tilted the advantage towards Barack Obama. Current predictions of Obama leading with huge margins are damning for McCain.

What made economy McCain's Achilles heel? George W. Bush! Most of the people who said they are voting on the economy do not regard Bush's ability highly. As a result, he is one of the least popular president since Truman in the midst of the Korean War.

To the younger generation of Americans who grew up during the Clinton era have only Bush as the other president to do a comparison. Naturally, Clinton's economic record was far better than Bush. According to Obama, under Clinton household income has increase by USD7k a year but has contracted during Bush administration.

McCain is affected by Bush. In a recent CNN interview, McCain admitted he was hurt by Obama camp attempts to link McCain to Bush especially on the economy and tax. However, McCain's new buzzword, "Joe the Plumber", is resonating quite well with white blue collar voters. McCain has closed the gap to 5.9%.

According to Penn, Obama has successfully projected himself as a face for the new generation and a knowledgeable 21st century leader. Obama has managed to collect over 500 million email addresses and courted over 3 million internet voters.

Obama's ability to engage the voters through the internet and generate tremendous amount of funds over the net is set to create a benchmark and a case study for future candidates and political parties on internet funding.

What is the weightage of three key issues? Economy = 50%, Values = 25% and Security = 25% but the economy may have grown in weightage in the last few days. Both McCain and Palin provide strong credentials on security and values.

Unfortunate for McCain, the main issue in the US presidential election is the big E.

Penn opines that Americans need a highly communicate leadership and this is Obama's key strength.

Looking at their key support base;
  • Obama - African Americans, upper income, upper education, liberals, democrats and young voters.
  • McCain - whites, conservatives, traditional Rep., national security and values voters and most religious voters
  • Key swing voters - independents, senior citizens and white women.

Can McCain overturn the 6%?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Obama or McCain? What the Pundits Say...

Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr. who is the president and CEO of the American Gaming Association and co-chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, predicts Obama's overwhelming victory. Yes, this is the commission which organises the presidential and vice-presidential debates. He has conducted 22 of them ever since.
Another prominent personality, Governor James Blanchard (pic) who is a former chairman of the Democratic Governors Association and a decorated diplomat predicted a big win for Obama too.

According to Governor Blanchard, economy is the biggest single issue in this election. Not national security. Not Iraq. National security is a key strength of McCain. Average Americans are worried about jobs, lay-offs and keeping their homes. Hence, most of them are looking for who can best manage their economy.

Clearly, the financial meltdown in Wall Street is not favouring McCain. Naturally, most Americans are blaming Bush for lack of urgency to arrest the problem when Lehman Brothers went under.

What went wrong for McCain? According to Governor Blanchard, there are several:
  • Running mate; the selection of Sarah Palin has electrified the republicans. Many thought she is a reckless choice.
  • Obama's performance in debates has helped to ease uncomfortable feeling over his lack of experience. He is identifies with change and a new dawn for many Americans.
  • McCain pulling out of Michigan and many pundits thought this is sign of giving up and lack of fighting spirit
  • Lack of response on Lehman Brothers collapsed
  • National security is no longer a big issue.
  • Young voters will remake US politics. Many of them are rallying behind Obama's campaign
On the CNN, it appears that both McCain and Palin camps are fighting each other openly. It gives a perception that the team is not cohesive compared to a compact Obama campaign.

Many of the pundits and analysts are bedazzled with Obama's charisma and presence. They called him a unique politician. An orator and not just a speaker.
According to Bill Nichols of Politico, in nearly 30 years every variables seem to favour the Democratic Party. He said Obama should win but is cautious anything can happen.

A reader wants to know why the business community is supporting Obama. He has collected more money from the business community compared to any candidates. I managed to ask the speakers. They said the business community tends to support a likely winner.

Obamania is really sweeping US like a wild fire. Can he be stopped? According to the speakers, yes. If there is an incident which threatens national security it may force American voters to rethink their choice. Apparently, the terrorists would prefer a hawkish president such as Bush to help keep them in business.

Can Obama make it? Or will McCain pip him from behind? Stay tuned!

Gallup Up-to-date

I was at the Gallup head office at Washington DC today. We were presented with some latest statistics on the presidential election. I thought some of these figures might interest you:
  • George Bush approval rating is at a low of 25%, the second lowest in the history of Gallup poll. The lowest was Harry Truman at 22% (1951) during the Korean war. Ironically, Bush scored the highest rating of 90% when Americans rallied around him right after the 911 incident. Bush's low rating is going to hurt McCain's chances.

  • Since 13 Oct, only 7% of Americans are satisfied with things are going on in US

  • 80% have negative views of the US economy and many do blame it on the president and the Republican party for their misery
How are some of the voters going to vote?
  • Those age 18-29 - 65% supporting Barrack Obama, 31% for John McCain

  • Male - 49% for Obama, 44% for McCain

  • Female - 53% for Obama, 39% for McCain

  • White - 44% for Obama, 48% for McCain

  • Black - 91% for Obama, 3% for McCain (17% of total voters are African Americans)

  • Hispanic - 60% for Obama, 31% for McCain

  • Highly religious Americans (going to church weekly) - 28% for Obama, 64% for McCain (traditional Republican supporters)

  • Jews - 71% for Obama (2% of total voters)
Obama needs to encourage a large turnout of young and African American voters to come out to vote. At the moment, 18% of total voters have casted their ballot.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Side Effect of UMNO's Racist Rule

Incoming Prime Minister Najib Razak has promised to relax the FIC guidelines and dismantle the New Economy Policy. The relaxation of the guidelines mean very little if the mindset of policy makers, civil servants and some segment of the community remains the same.

The appointment of Low Siew Moi as acting GM of PKNS by Selangor Chief Minister Khalid Ibrahim is a prime example.

Six staff bodies of state agency Selangor Development Corporation (PKNS) have objected to the appointment of a senior official as acting general manager on grounds that she is Chinese.

In their joint memorandum dated Oct 25 to Khalid, the staff associations said: “PKNS was established for Malays and to fulfill the Malay agenda. Because of this, the organisation needs to be led by a Malay.”

The document was signed by the respective heads of associations of senior officers, executive officers and workers; the sports and recreation club; Islamic association, and staff welfare body.

“The associations, unions and welfare bodies do not deny the capabilities of Low Siew Moi (left) in the management of finance,” they said.“However, leading PKNS would need certain leadership criteria, among them, rapport with all staff and associations and ability to communicate with different levels of personnel.”

The memorandum stated that, as PKNS conducts activities that are spiritual in nature, its leader must understand and practice Islamic values. “In other words, the one who will become the general manager will be the ‘imam’ for all the staff,” the signatories said.

The reasons given by the six staff bodies of PKNS are ridiculous. First, they acknowledged Low's capabilities but still insist on race selection as the prime criterion. If these representatives are truly concern about development and socio-economic well-being of their own community they should support the most qualified person to do the job.

If Low acts partial towards her own community then it is legitimate to fault her appointment on the basis of race.

Selangor is a racially mixed state and a hallmark of cooperation amongst all races. As a resident of Selangor, I cannot accept the suggestion that PKNS has a rigid Malay agenda.

If these representatives need an imam, get a real one for goodness sake. Go to the mosque. Stop turning PKNS into another mosque. This is a state development body for all Selangor residents regardless of race or creed.

It is time of the society to regain our sense and sensibility over issues like this. Selangor Chief Minister Khalid Ibrahim deserves our support for walking his talk on meritocracy.

Briefing at US State Department

Yesterday, we had another excellent briefing at the US State Department in Washington DC. This department is the largest in the US with almost 10,000 officers. We were briefed by Mr Brad Minnick, Director of Office of International Visitors and Ambassador Kenton Keith who has served as the spokesperson on Coalition activity in Afghanistan and various different key diplomatic positions.

Two key speakers were Mr Akram Elias, CEO of Capital Communications Group and Professor David King of John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

Some interesting facts were provided and I am sure you will be interested to know a bit more about the American electoral process. Here are some interesting facts about this historical Presidential election:

  • Since 1928, there is no incumbent President/VP running in this election;
  • Since 1952, all candidates are first timers (an open race);
  • Since 1960, a sitting senator will be the next president;
  • This election costs more than US1 billion;
  • Obama collected more than US650 million compared to McCain's US84 million (McCain is a proponent of Fed matching grant and a cap on election expenditure);
  • By Nov 4th, more than 40% voters would have voted in 34 of 50 states;
  • Elections are run by local/state governments because there is no Election Commission at the federal level;
  • There are 100 senators, 435 house of representatives and 510,000 elected office bearers throughout US. In some counties, Sheriffs and Judges are elected;
  • Ohio - all winner have won here;
  • Missouri - voted for winners except once in 100 years;
  • There are 126 million voters and the new president will be inaugurated on 20th January
A reader here wanted to know about the management of postal voters in US. It is interesting to note that almost 1/3 of voters here voted by post. Another interesting fact is there is no standardised postal vote system because elections are run and managed at the local and state levels. Method may differ from county to county.

Under the unique American democratic process and federalism, the federal government has very little say in the electoral process. Hence, it is very important to be able to guarantee ballot integrity and follow the ballot trail.

Can a voter voted twice in US? The answer is yes although it may not necessarily be legal. There is no centralised list of voters in many states and there is definitely no national list. A voter who voted in Florida during winter can still return to vote in Alaska during summer.
According to Prof. King, the electoral system may be up for another revamp in the next 10-12 years. He acknowledged the weaknesses in the system.

Is the presidential election very important in the US? Although it has received the most airtime and publicity, the reality is the federal government controls defence, foreign affairs and broad economic policy.

The most important consideration in the electoral system is finance. All states have their own financial autonomy and manage their own financial requirement through state, property and sales taxes. 91% of funds are generated locally. The federal government provides 9% supplementary funds. In education, the federal government provides 6% of total funds. This is why there is no national education policy. Yet, American universities are some of the best in world.

There is no Ministry of Information because freedom of expression is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights and government cannot interfere with media.

There is no 5-year plan or central planning because the government's role in the economy should be minimal. The government is expected to provide a regulatory framework to preserve free market against monopoly and protect individuals as consumers, workers etc. Hence, the current decision of the government to regulate the financial sector, although necessary, is not taken comfortably by the market.

There is an interesting observation of the Gallup poll. The fact is only 9% of samples responded to the telephone survey. According to the latest poll, Obama is supposed to win landslide. Professor David King opines the same. However, will Obama suffer the "Bradley's Effect"?

The Bradley effect is named after former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American who ran for California governor in 1982. Exit polls showed Bradley leading by a wide margin, and the Democrat thought it would be an early election night.

But Bradley and the polls were wrong. He lost to Republican George Deukmejian. The theory was that polling was wrong because some voters, who did not want to appear bigoted, said they voted for Bradley even though they did not.

Taken into consideration of the effect, Obama's lead may be slashed to just over 3-4%. There is a week to go before election closes on 4th Nov.

We lunched at the Benjamin Franklin State Dining room. The 18th century style Diplomatic Dining Room has entertained world leaders as well as foreign and American dignitaries.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Washington DC Preparation for Battleground

Yesterday, I was taken on a short city tour by our host and the guide was Dr Charles Spencer. Clarles was attached to the US foreign office and worked many years in South America. This lanky American gentleman is also a political scientist who had lectured in several American universities.

Outside the White House, I asked Charles who would win the election. He said Obama but the margin would be slim. Obama is leading by 8% point on the national poll but Clarles is more cautious about polls. He said we should minus at least 3-5% from Obama's lead because of race issue.

At another CNN poll, almost 70% of respondents said that race is not an issue in their candidate choice. Only a tiny 3% said it is the single most important issue. Behind these figures, what is the real mood of the American people. Change is definitely in the air but the voters be able to vote across racial lines?

Obama is expected to win almost 70% of African American votes. But he is facing a tough fight in several battleground states such as Missouri (John McCain and Barrack Obama are tied at 47% each), Colorado (Obama is leading by nearly 7%), Ohio, Florida and others.

Yesterday, the two candidates touched on the economy. It is obvious that these two candidates are determined to keep jobs in America. With unemployment hovering around 8%, job security and job creation become the two most important issues among the average Joes.

Next, Obama sees education as the most important contribution to the youths. He told a huge gathering in Colorado that the government will invest in the youths if they invest in America. Youths who are involved in NGOs, public services and community services will be given financial assistance to finish their education. He rallied parents to be responsible for their children upbringing.

McCain wants to lower corporate taxes for companies which operate in the country. He said if these companies are contributing to the American economy and provide employment for the average Joes they should be given tax incentive to stay in the country.

Both are expected to give China a tough time when elected.

In the next hour, I am heading off to the US State Department at Washington DC to talk to several election experts. Some of the people we are meeting include Mr Brad Minnick, Director at Office of International Visitors and Mr James K. Glassman, Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

I am looking forward to meet Mr Mark Penn on Wednesday. He is best known for serving as President Bill Clinton's political adviser in 1996 re-election campaign and has worked with Al Gore, Tony Blair and Hillary Clinton as her chief strategist.

Just found out that I will be going to Colorado for the election day campaign.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

More Bad News

Just arrived at the Washington DC and checked into the Marriott hotel. En route here, there are more corporate bad news. Both Sony and Samsung have lost more than 15% stock value. The second biggest electronics giant, Sony, expects sales growth to slow down by almost half from next year 2009.

In the US, some automotive companies are badly hit too with car sales staggering lower. A number of companies including GM are expected to announce job cuts in the coming month or two. This is sending US unemployment rates up to more than 7.5% to 8.5% for the first time in more than a decade.

Malaysia should take cognisance of these news. The government should reconsider using the RM5 billion from EPF to prop up the stock market. Despite the announcement, the CPI continues to slid to below 860 points. Counters such as IOI Corporation, Maybank, Genting, Commmerce and other substantial blue chips have lost more than 40 percent of their stock value since 13th October 2008.

The government should instead work out measures to protect small-medium businesses and jobs. SMEs provide 56% of total employment in the country. These companies will be facing severe credit crunch and lower sales in the coming 3 months. Close to 25% of these 560,000 registered companies face a possibility of closure. If this scenario materialises, Malaysia's unemployment rates will go up to more than 4.5% since 1997 financial crisis.

Consumer demand is expected to remain cautious and most consumers will focus on essentials, mortgage and loans. Another aspect which requires immediate attention is the dramatic growth of credit care usage. In the last two years, it has registered almost 500% growth and credit card loans stood at RM250 billion in the country. This does not augur well for the country. Bank Negara should impose on banks tighter regulations on consumer credit especially credit cards.

Only two days ago, the ex-US financial supremo Alan Greenspan admitted his oversight on the ability of banks to self regulate. Malaysia and the rest of Asia may be facing similar tendency too. Loans to car buyers have been quite lax too in the last two years with buyers obtaining up to 100% loan.

Next, it is pertinent for the government to use this opportunity to look at ways and means to help strengthen our economy and skills base. The most important thing for the government to do is to review the education system to ensure it helps to create a more competitive workforce.

Unfortunately, our focus on inculcating the 'social contract' as a subject of study at the schools and tertiary institutions may turn out to be totally counter productive if those writing the syllabus are more interested to impose race superiority and special rights on others.

I have helped to review the Race Relations Module to be used at the universities and was shocked at the extend of facts manipulation and misinterpretation of history.

Until and unless our policy makers wake up to the urgency of being more professional, competent and transparent to face the global economic crisis, we are not so sure if this country is going to survive unscathed. History has shown us that no single country is immune from an economic crisis of this magnitude.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

US Presidential Election 2008

I have been invited by US Ambassador James R. Keith to visit the US to take part in the US Government IVLP on I-Vote 2008.

I will start my journey tomorrow night to Washington DC. While there, I will also visit both Missouri and Boston to observe election campaigns in the two states.

Hence, this blog will take a rest for 2 to 3 days while I am traveling. However, I will blog live on what is happening in the US and will share my views on the global financial crisis and the presidential candidates' response to the crisis.

Stay tuned!

Mindset Change

I read with great amusement the story on the controversy over the renaming of Jalan Alor to Jalan Kejora by Kuala Lumpur City Hall. The reason given by Datuk Bandar Ab Hakim Borhan is equally amusing. He wants to change the image of Jalan Alor. The road opposite the Bukit Bintang Plaza is a famous tourist spot for both local and foreign tourists.

Jalan Alor’s name was changed at the request of the National Economic Action Council following decisions made in its exco meeting. With regard to that, DBKL’s Road Naming Committee concluded in its meeting that the name of Jalan Alor be changed to Jalan Kejora to go with other roads in the vicinity named after the stars. The change is also to meet requirements under the road naming guidelines.

I find it odd for the NEAC to focus on such menial work as renaming street names. I wonder if by doing so the council can help to double the revenue of traders and hawkers doing business there. Moreover, if the DBKL can afford time and resources to set up a Road Naming Committee I am sure more can be done to clean up the city, ensure better safety, reduce traffic jam through better enforcement on illegal parking and others.

By renaming the famous road after a star, the local authority is killing its star attraction. I am surprised the mayor is more superstitious than many Chinese parents. My parents did alter my last name. I still have to slough for my bowl of rice.

If a change of name can do wonders, we should rename UMNO as Parti Bersih Cekap Amanah. What about Dewan Pakai Otak for DBKL?

We need a mindset change. Otherwise, this country will remain all about forms and not substance.

What's worse, some of these government bodies are spending millions of ringgit on study trips abroad each but none of these trips made them any wiser. Similarly, many politicians have travelled abroad on investment missions but how much have they managed to attract into the country?

To attract investment, we must first put our own house in order. Petty squabbles over race, rights and religion make us an international laughing stock. These low class antics have defeated any serious efforts overseas to sell Malaysia as an international investment and business hub.

Malaysia's Economic Dilemma

Dr Mahathir has every right to doubt DPM cum Finance Minister Najib Razak's economic soundness. The fiesty ex-premier threw a caution on his blog.

Both Najib and Nor Mohd Yakcob have reassured Malaysians that our economy will be spared from the global financial crisis. Both leaders are confident Malaysia's economy will not face a recession next year.

Dr Mahathir has every reason to be skeptical. He said; " I am glad to hear that Malaysia will be spared from the fallout of the systemic collapse of the whole world's financial system. This ability to isolate Malaysia and Malaysian banks from the effect of the bankruptcies of all the biggest banks in the world must be regarded as a miracle. Our ability to manage our financial system better than others must earn us the admiration of the world."

"I hope we are right in forecasting the effect on us of the collapse of the world's financial system. But I have a sneaking feeling that all is not well."

Indeed, all is not well. A senior contact from an international logistics company told me that trade volumes especially exports have slowed down considerably - by almost 30 percent. Even the MIER has predicted a probability of 40% Malaysia may face a technical recession next year.

What is making both Najib and Nor Yakcob so confident? This is actually an old dilemma of governance without transparency. Instead of sheltering the public from the actual situation, it is better for the government to keep them well informed.

Malaysian public and businesses will have to learn to adjust quickly to the global financial crisis. The crisis will inevitably dampen consumer demand in Europe and America - two biggest markets for our local producers.

Hence, Mahathir's observation is valid:

"Now the common practise is for importers to open Letters of Credit (LCs) with banks to ensure that when they receive the goods the corresponding banks will release the money. However, if the importers' banks go bankrupt they would not be able to transmit the payment.

They may be bailed out by the US Government. But they may not consider paying Malaysian exporters as a priority. In which case we will not be paid. Worse still we can no longer entertain orders coming from this market. Our trade must shrink.

We are not talking about one company. We are talking about hundreds of companies trading with America and Europe and other countries not getting paid for their exports. We are talking about tens of millions, even hundreds of millions of Ringgit worth of goods not being paid for."

Capital injection of RM5 billion (EPF loan) into Value Cap to buy up stakes in undervalued stocks may count very little compared to more than RM125 billion capital flight since the last few months. KLSE's response to the announcement was lacklustre. The Composite Index lost almost 14 points to close at 904.28.

It is pertinent for the government to improve its policy reflexes to address teething economic issues including the oil prices. If the retail oil prices are linked to the market, adjustment should be made as soon as possible to reflect the current market prices. Crude oil has dropped to USD68.07. Retail petrol price remains at RM2.30 per liter.

Next, with Singapore signalling massive retrenchment and a looming recession tens of thousands of Malaysians are expected to be out of job soon. It is very important for the government to strategize how to cope with higher unemployment rates.

Reductions of retail petrol price from RM2.70 to RM2.40 did not help to ease off inflation. Traders and retailers are not lowering the prices for fear the cuts may be temporary. Fluctuations of retail oil prices have created more market uncertainty.

Government enforcement appeared lost and unable to control the situation. Prime Minister Abdullah has called for joint consumers' effort to bring down prices. So far, no consumer group has responded positively to his call.

Malaysia is still taking a stroll on the beach. Other countries have pressed the panic button and start strategizing to face the implications of global financial crisis. Some analysts predicted the slump to stretch over to 2011.

Most people still believe Abdullah alone is the mother of all problems in Malaysia. Replace him and you get instant solution to our socio-economic woes. Fat chance. It is best we lose our fixation with personalities and focus on the real issues and challenges.

In a way, a postponed UMNO general assembly and party election is a bad thing for the country. For now, to the newspapers UMNO party election is more important our bread and butter.

Can we survive the crisis?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Lonely Tan Lian Hoe

Gerakan Women's Chief Tan Lian Hoe cuts a lonely figure in parliament. She was humiliated today by the rowdy Sri Gading MP Mohamad Aziz who told her that the episode of her speech touching on Malays as immigrants from Nusantara is not yet over.

A police report against the Deputy Information Minister was lodged at the Cheras district police headquarters by Young Malay Graduates Pro-tem Committee president Mohd Khairul Azam Abdul Aziz on her statement.

Tan had mentioned that the three main races in Malaysia had come from the Malay Archipelago, China and India.

"Although the statement is historically correct, the general conclusion makes it seem that the Malays should be equally treated as the Chinese and Indians and there is no need for the Malays to have any special privileges."

"It is not right of Tan to make such a statement in her speech, and her remarks can stir up religious tension."

Khairul is showing us a prime example why some graduates are unemployable. Being a Malay nationalist and probably a UMNO sympathizer, I can understand Khairul's sentiment and anger.

But I cannot fathom his logic. If Tan is historically correct, she cannot be intellectually wrong. As a graduate, Khairul cannot accept and respect history but he expected others to accept the social contract as a historical fact.

A few months ago, at the Malaysian Youth Leaders Forum, I shared the same podium with the eminent Royal Professor Ungku Aziz who said there was no social contract. It was merely politicians mind game. Did Khairul or any UMNO members lodge a report against the academician?

Finally, I cannot understand how Tan's speech can stroke religious sentiment? Khairul's mumbling and bumbling suggests that he might have to go back to school again.

Sadly, Tan is a lonely voice. Helpless and overawed by her racist siblings in parliament. Where are big brother Koh Tsu Koon, new youth chief Lim Si Pin and others?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

UMNO is a Bully, Other Component Parties Are Fools!

MCA Ong Ka Ting said UMNO is too dominant that it might be perceived as a bully. UMNO Abdullah Badawi said it does not know how to bully others. Both are outgoing presidents of their respective party. Ong's tenure ended today.

Yes, there are many cases to prove that UMNO is indeed a big bully. But there are many more examples to suggest that some component parties are fools for hanging on to a bully.

Funny, some of these leaders who had endured the bullying tactics of UMNO would not hesitate to jump on their own party members for criticising UMNO leaders in the past. It is still pretty much the same now. UMNO leaders are still quick to take to task other BN leaders who dare criticise them.

Did you see any 'prominent' lawyers from these component parties suing UMNO leaders over worse remarks made on their ancestors, community and race? Nope. But they will not hesitate to do the same on others.

Fools should not complain.

Some even changed their mind too often and pour generous praises on UMNO leaders calling them father of this-and-that. The worse being the Father of Democracy title for Abdullah Badawi and he just passed the buck to his minister for another ISA arrest.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A New Era for MCA?

Before the 8th March general election, no one will put their money on Ong Tee Keat to make it to the top position of his party. He was widely known as a 'lone ranger'. At a private meeting, I asked him about the nickname.

It was obvious that he was not alone in his political struggle. Ong had won both the MCA Youth Chief and Vice-President posts. Later, he shared that it was due to his reluctance to join some youth leaders for some 'fun'. His decision was not taken very well by some leaders who later called him a 'lone ranger'. This 'lone ranger' will not be alone anymore after being elected as the new MCA president.

The official announcement confirms the new president as Ong Tee Keat (1,429 votes), defeating Chua Jui Meng (917 votes). Ong received more than 60% of popular votes. Chua did not lose badly.

During the campaign period, Ong was criticised for his unwillingness to participate in an open debate with Chua. Apart from not wanting to allow his opponent more visibility, Ong said in a text message that he 'is willing to debate any opposition members but not his own comrade'. Chua did get his publicity.

Some even thought the vocal MCA former youth chief has toned down his approach and they fear he might take a more mainstream approach of not being so confrontational or vocal. Many who supported him want the leader to represent a new MCA which is more assertive and vocal.

Hence, Dr Chua Soi Lek's election does not surprise many pundits. Dr Chua Soi Lek (1,115 votes) defeated Ong Ka Chuan (1,000 votes) narrowly. Without a sex scandal, Soi Lek would have been a formidable opponent for Ong. Ong's initial decision was to contest the deputy president position. Hence, the two would have swapped position if there was no scandal.

Apart from being Ka Ting's brother, Ka Chuan is not a remarkable leader. His mainstream approach of being a loyal BN man did not serve him well. Ka Chuan has repeatedly said that MCA will not abandon BN, regardless. If elected, members cannot depend on Ka Chuan to provide a more assertive leadership to MCA.

On the contrary, Soi Lek has been more vocal and outspoken on many issues since his rehabilitation process. In the end, MCA delegates are willing to let what is personal remains personal.

In my friendly chats with a number of male friends, I was often told "which cat does not eat fish?" - a subtle reminder to men who think that they are on a moral high ground.

Now, what is next for MCA?

Outgoing President Ong Ka Ting delivered a hard hitting speech, “It shouldn’t look like as though Umno (is the sole) decider in important policies while other parties are (merely) asked to defend (the policies) to uphold the BN spirit."

"The power sharing slogan is often used and (but) it is deemed lip service,” he added.

Can MCA reclaim their political influence? The party should find a place for Chua Jui Meng.

Najib Must Prove He is Serious

The Opposition has been urged to work together with the Government to develop a common ground in facing the global financial crisis.

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak said this could “perhaps be the one positive result of the global economic crisis and a struggling economy.”

Najib said the list of challenges faced by the Government was made even more daunting with the Opposition, which is a critical voice to any productive democracy, still adamant in claiming the majority voice in Parliament through the back door.

Najib's call to close ranks should be lauded. First, is Najib willing to consider the financial and development needs of states under the PR? BN started to show its unwillingness to cooperate when funds for development and tourism promotion were pulled back from these states.

Without the required funds, the PR state governments started the offensive against BN. Kedah has threatened to allow logging at the Kuala Muda catchment area. Penang CM Lim Guan Eng has made repeated plea and request for special funds and loans from the federal government to help mitigate serious flood problems in his state.

It is pertinent for the federal government to decentralise power to the states. Over centralisation of power and command makes the states inefficient and turns them into lame ducks when faced with socio-economic challenges.

If Najib, also the Finance Minister, is serious about his call, he should request for a bi-partisan talk with the top leadership of PR. It is not necessary for him to sound cynical and sarcastic by suggesting that the Opposition wants to grab power through back door. This is not the main point.

Najib should also take cognisance of his own leadership credibility and the public perception of his image as an important yardstick of his administration. He must work very hard, exceptionally hard and smart to ensure he succeed as the next prime minister of Malaysia.

His government cannot condone abuse of democratic values through the use of ISA and other draconian measures.

Another Abuse of ISA

Suaram activist Cheng Lee Whee was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) last night, has been released after spending 19 hours in a police lockup.

When contacted by Malaysiakini today, Cheng said, "I did nothing wrong," adding that she will continue fighting for justice.

Cheng believes she was arrested over a complaint she posted on a police website. When contacted, Johor police chief Mokhtar Shariff stressed that Cheng was issued a remand order early this morning and had the right to hire a lawyer for her defence.

Cheng was detained under Section 28 of the ISA for ‘dissemination of false reports’ following a police report she made accusing the police of abuse of power in Thursday’s controversial demolition of a squatter colony in Johor.

Here is another example of a blatant misuse of the Internal Security Act. Why can Cheng be first issued a remand order instead of being detained under the ISA. Misuse of power by police is the single most convincing reason to call for the immediate creation of the IPCMC.

I guess it is pointless trying to reason with the police and the authorities. The only way forward is to continue to demand the abolishment of the ISA and we must do this through the ballot box.

The 'Father of Democracy' Abdullah Badawi said today the controversial Internal Security Act (ISA) would not be subjected to any review. On the detention of Cheng, he has passed the buck to once again to the trigger happy Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar. No wonder Abdullah's leadership is perceived as weak and lost. He is clearly not in control of any decisions made by his ministers. It will be worse from now till March 2009.

Both Abdullah and Syed Hamid Albar should be declared enemies of democracy.

Zaid Ibrahim is right afterall, UMNO is not capable of reforming itself.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Why I Do Not Write About Gerakan?

My reply to some of my blog readers:

In my several press interviews I have outlined three things Gerakan must do in order to reverse its fortunes.

First, what is the party's stand on racial politics? If the party leadership wants to go back to basic, it must choose the right path. It cannot embrace racial partners such as UMNO, MIC and MCA. Otherwise, it must be prepared to suggest the formation of a single multiracial BN party, which it did, as the single most important requirement for it to stay in the coalition.

Is Tsu Koon prepared to make this stand?

Second, the party must address the important issue of using draconian laws to shut up and persecute political opponents. Gerakan cannot shout its opposition against ISA but continue to stay in the coalition which passes the use of ISA. If the party continues to make noises but show no action, how many people can be convinced that Gerakan is the right party to support?

Third, the party's stand on the NEP and Malay supremacy is very crucial. Just like its opposition of ISA, the party cannot just shout review but continue to be part of a government which practices unfair affirmative policy. Worse, this policy is abused for personal interests. Recent incidents including organised 'attacks' against both MP Teresa Kok and Deputy Minister MP Tan Lian Hoe by a particular newspaper reflect the unsavoury state of politics in this country.

Can Gerakan be trusted to defend the rights of all Malaysians, fight against racism and all kinds of bigotry, promote its non-racial ideology and protect the democratic process in the country if it cannot even stand up for its top leader?

Just give an example, can you continue to work, eat, sleep and have fun with a dangerous armed gang and yet claim that you are against their activities?

If you are really serious, you would call the police.

The fact that I am not writing about the party is because I do not see any new hope with its new leadership.There are many more important things to focus on.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lack of Solid Policy Response Worrying

Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER) cut its 2009 economic growth forecast for the country to 3.4 per cent and warned of a possible recession if the US economy deteriorates.

Executive Director Mohamad Ariff warned that growth in 2009 may slump further if the US, one of Malaysia's top trading partners, goes into recession.

'There is a 40 per cent chance that Malaysia will enter technical recession in 2009, meaning two quarters of negative growth and a 30 per cent chance it could be a real recession lasting more than two quarters depending on what happens in the US,' he said.

It said consumer and business confidence in Malaysia has dipped and warned conditions would worsen if the credit squeeze dries up funds for investment and household spending.

Ariff said there are heightened concerns that the current global economic slump could drag on until the end of 2010 or 2011.

Given the economic pressure and declining oil prices, he warned Malaysia's budget deficit may exceed 5 per cent of gross domestic product this year and more than 4 per cent in 2009.

Government's response thus far has been disappointing. A few cabinet ministers have came out with sweeping that the economic fundamentals are strong and the economy will be shielded from adverse global economic conditions.

There are several legitimate concerns:

1) Inflation and cost of living. Despite three cuts of retail oil prices, the prices of processed food, raw food items, services and others have not shown similar reduction in price. PM Abdullah has asked for coordinated consumer action to bring down prices. This call only proves that the government is helpless in containing inflation. Abdullah's decision to cut subsidies and allow retail oil prices to go up more than 40% has irreversible negative impact on the economy. It should have adopted the same gradual approach to cut retail oil prices.

2) Job security and job creation. In the coming months, job security will become an issue when businesses already facing higher cost of doing business begin to feel the impact of recession. Already, domestic consumer sentiment is poor and many are anticipating tough times next. A natural reaction would be to hold back on leisure spending and pay only for essentials. Sales of cars and properties are expected to slow down too. At the same time, new batches of young graduates are going to join a tough job market.

3) The current financial crisis is drying funds for investment very quickly. A top leader who recently came back from an investment promotion tour to Taiwan told me that money is drying up there. Bank liquidity will be an issue for investors/businesses. The government has announced a review of all mega projects chiefly the corridors. This is a prudent move because building industrial estates alone will not help to attract investments into the country. Instead of focusing on investment trips abroad, both federal and state governments should focus on strengthening Malaysia's competitive advantage over other competing destinations.

Apart from these concerns, several events in the past few days have demonstrated that our politicians and policy makers are still off their mark and very few are actually focusing on the real economic challenges.

The parliament should focus on a bilateral effort to workout viable solutions to help prepare the country for the worse. Sadly, debates in the august house remained low quality and petty. Politicians are still squabbling over petty racial issues and crossovers.

Instead, several bills which will be tabled at the current sitting will further divide the parliament e.g. the DNA Bill.

A government worthy of the people's support should provide us with accurate information regarding our economic health vis-a-vis the global financial crisis, work on policy response to mitigate these socio-economic challenges, help to calm business and consumer anxieties and strengthen relevant public institutions in the country.

We cannot afford a lack of confidence and credibility of the leadership. Malaysia is at a crossroads. We will either sink or swim against the tide.

Hindraf Declared Illegal

The Hindu Rights Actions Force (Hindraf) has been declared an illegal organisation from today by Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar.

In a statement issued here, Syed Hamid said the decision to declare Hindraf as an illegal organisation was made following the ministry being satisfied with facts and evidence that showed Hindraf had and was being used for unlawful purposes and posed a threat to public order and morality.

Syed Hamid said if left unchecked, Hindraf would continue to pose a threat to public order, the security and sovereignty of the country as well as the prevailing racial harmony.

Syed Hamid should pick his words carefully. These allegations against Hindraf are very serious. Is it immoral calling for more attention and assistance for the Indian community? Is it immoral to register protests against the destruction of places of worship?

The decision to declare Hindraf as illegal has once again shows that the UMNO led government is practicing selective persecution. Its other component members especially the MIC remained irrelevant, ineffective and emasculated in BN.

What's worse, looks like Gerakan Women's Chief Tan Lian Hoe will haul up again for speaking up against racist practices. Perhaps the party chief Koh Tsu Koon may be too quick to honour Abdullah Badawi as the 'Father of Democracy'.

Hindraf, like other movements of change, represents the spirit of the Indian community especially those who felt deprived from main stream development and access to equal opportunities.

Can Syed Hamid exorcise the Hindraf spirit?

By the way, Syed Hamid is the clear Winner of the Dumbscar Award 2008! Here, he has proven his consistency. He is a deserving winner.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

SMS Controversy

I have said in my last article that if Mahathir was Abdullah's watergate, the Altantuya's murder case could be Najib's. As the incoming Prime Minister, it is very important for Najib to do something concrete to reassure Malaysians that he is worthy of his position.

He ought to be reminded that it will be UMNO's 2000 delegates who may vote him in as the next President of UMNO. By virtue of his party position, Najib will be made the next Prime Minister.

Najib did not deny the existence of SMSes between him and lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah.

When reporters kept pressing him to elaborate, Najib said: “Why should there be a major concern? If it is of public interest, read it very carefully, there is no abuse of power. Period.”

It is not for either Abdullah or Najib himself to claim there is no abuse of power. As a top leader of the country, he should take extra effort to subject himself to a thorough investigation to ensure he is credible to lead the country.

For his own political good, Najib must not ignore the power of perception. Abdullah may not necessary be a bad leader or a complete failure but he was perceived that way by most Malaysians especially his detractors.

For the good of Malaysia, Najib needs to help us to help him become a respected Prime Minister. He needs to explain his involvement in this case.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Arguing Over Wifi But The Real Killers Are Lurking

Penang is a small state. It has a small closely knitted community. It can count the existence of an active NGO community as one of its blessings. The community should be credited for bringing up several key issues in the state including the PGCC and others.

Lately, there are calls for the state government to reconsider allowing the implementation of wireless internet broadband infrastructure in the state due to health fear. The state government recently officiated the launch of a Wifi and Wimax project by a local provider. This project, according to the state government, is not exclusive.

The use of Wifi is free but it is expected to be slow because many users would probably jump on the bandwagon. However, the service of Wimax is expected to cost users RM88 per month.

As a Wifi user, I can understand the fear of health risk associated with the microwave transmitted from the signal. However, after weeks of going through relevant information on the internet I believe experts have not found conclusive evidence to pin a health related risk to the use of Wifi or Wimax.

Internet connectivity and backbone is very important to the state's socio-economic development. Granted, technically Wifi may not be able to support critical business systems which require 100% reliable and fast network. However, a free Wifi service can go a long way to assist students and others to gain access to the internet and narrow the gap of information accessibility.

At present there are many other real/substantiated health risks and 'killers' lurking around our society.

The NGOs and people of Penang should focus on cleanliness as an important health agenda. I have been back regularly to the state but I still notice old dirty habits die hard. Many still use the drain as a rubbish bin. The wet markets still stink! Our public toilets will put some of the Chinese to shame. They have cleaned up for the Olympics but we haven't.

Penang needs to usher in a new culture of cleanliness. Take Hong Kong as a good example. After SARS, many Hongkies have participated in the movement to upgrade HK's hygiene level. We should do the same to make it more bearable to locals and tourists.

Take a look at the surrounding of KOMTAR. My friend who visited Penang recently told me about the ugly, dodgy and uncomfortable feeling he had about the area which is supposed to be our town centre. What has happened?

Our beaches used to be the envy of many visitors. A number of them used to make a yearly pilgrim to Penang. Not anymore. Now, you can even commit suicide by swimming in the seas. There are hell lot of jelly fishes around. If you are not stunk by one of them, you may probably die of arsenic waste in the water.

My advice is; lets focus on cleanliness. This should be our no.1 priority.

Next, what about smoking in public places? A number of cities in Europe have banned smoking in open public areas. Not in Penang. It will not be a public area if you do not find smokers puffing away happily. Why can't we impose the same restriction on public places? You would probably agree with me that smoking is more dangerous than surfing your internet on a wireless network.

If smoking is bad for health, I am sure the carbon dioxide which emits from cars, vehicles, airconds etc. are equally bad for health. We should really do something about private car ownership in Penang. At present, it is better for you to walk back home than to wait for a bus after 10.30pm.

The public bus transport system is so unreliable that many have to resort to cars. I feel lost if I do not have a car in Penang. Hence, I am also a culprit who is helping a 'killer'(pollution) harming your health. More cars mean more fatal accidents too. This is one of the biggest killers in Malaysia.

We need NGOs to focus on this too. Yes, I know you have been doing your job. But we need to be more vocal in getting ourselves a decent public bus system.

Next, we have the real killers (robbers, rapists, murderers) on the streets. Recently, a wife of a politician was murdered. Gory. Probably many more petty crimes went unreported. A number of observers have warned of higher crime rates.

What can we do? We should work together to keep our neighbourhood and our society safe.

See? There are many real killers lurking around the state. Can we just let the Wifi issue ease off a bit and focus on the real threats?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

'Flip-Flop' Abdullah the Father of Democracy?: Malaysiakini

Newly minted Gerakan President Dr Koh Tsu Koon shows his indecisiveness again. Earlier in his speech, he has urged Barisan Nasional and the federal government to expedite reforms in order to regain public support.

Chief among the needed reforms was the establishment of the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) which was crucial in restoring judicial independence, he stressed. Koh said other areas of reforms should cover the Internal Security Act (ISA), Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) and the University and University Colleges Act (UUCA).

Koh said since then voters had become unhappy with poor delivery systems, impatient with delay in reforms and critical towards abuse and arrogance of power, corruption and various forms of extremism.

Abdullah has promised to establish the Independent Police Complaint and Misconduct Commission suggested by the Royal Commission of Police report. Nothing happened and he is still calling for the implementation of the watered down Special Compliant Commission. It is obvious that the IPCMC will not see the light because the ruling regime still need the service of the police as errand boys.

During his administration, Abdullah has taken stern action against the press, used the ISA against political dissidents and even a reporter. He has allowed his UMNO boys to utter racist statements and threats and get away lightly. The recent bigotry showed by Ahmad Ismail is a classic example of Abdullah's one-sided 'tolerance'.

Yet, Dr Koh paid tribute to outgoing Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. He said that Pak Lah had initiated reforms and was an advocate for democracy and greater space for open discussions.

“He can be rightly called the ‘Father of Democracy’ for Malaysia,” he said.

Dr Koh should be rightly called the "Father of Indecisiveness". He should really make up his mind. He calls for effort to expedite reforms and yet praise Abdullah for the reforms he had initiated - all in the same speech!

I am not too sure if Abdullah is the father of democracy but more an accidental agent of change.

But surely, we should hail both Dr Koh and Abdullah as fathers of flip-flop.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Astro Awani 501

TARIKH : 10 Oktober, 2008; Jumaat
MASA : 5.00 – 5.30 petang (Siaran Langsung) Astro 501


YB Datuk Wee Ka Siong, Timb. Menteri Kementerian Pendidikan Malaysia / Setiausaha Agung Pemuda MCA

Khoo Kay Peng, Penganalisis Sosio Politik

Abdullah May Yet Have The Last Laugh

Abdullah's administration may not have much to show off. No big legacy, except for some potentially very big white elephants if the regional corridors economic development were allowed to go on. Ironically, Abdullah may yet have the last laugh as the accidental agent for change.

Abdullah's leadership was perceived as weak for his unwillingness to deploy heavy handed tactics on his political opponents. The use of ISA on Hindraf leaders and several socio-political activists such as Raja Petra Kamaruddin was not done at his sole instruction. When he was probed on its use, Abdullah had appeared blur and unsure.

Yet, he was helpless to stop any unscrupulous and undemocratic actions from further deteriorating his support. Abdullah, who wants to be a leader for all Malaysians, fell prey to his own party culture. The long spell of Mahathirism has made UMNO untenable for moderate leaders such as Abdullah Badawi. A leader who can tame the party must be someone who is willing to fulfill the desire of the party leadership to strengthen Malay supremacy and meet the personal interests of party warlords whose cooperation he needs to control the party.

Abdullah squandered his strong mandate in 2004 trying to fulfil these desires when he was forced to consolidate his power base in UMNO. On this note, Mahathir had cleverly turned the table against Abdullah when the latter was trying to deconstruct some of Mahathir's legacies including the crooked bridge.

Abdullah could have stayed his course and continues to implement his reform pledges. The outcome of his commitment would have been different from today. His leadership would have been more enduring and his legacy more profound. Yet, Mahathir was his Watergate.

The only comforting news for Abdullah is Mahathir did not come out smelling like a rose for his role in bringing down his successor. In fact, the feisty ex-premier actions, at times dramatic and overboard, have made his less revered and respected. Mahathir should learn from an old Buddhist proverb; "you reap what you have sown".

However, Abdullah should still be celebrated as an accidental agent for change. Under his leadership, the civil society movement flourishes. Malaysians were forced out of their comfort zone to take an active part in their politics. Opposition parties suddenly enjoy a larger pool of talents to pick from.

These activists were not inspired by Abdullah's leadership but were cautious of what this country may turn out to be if destructive forces were given a free hand to govern like before. Hence, Barisan Nasional was stripped off its 2/3 parliamentary majority and leadership in five states.

Najib Razak is taking over the helm at turbulent times. Since March 8, the movement for change has gained some momentum. Dissenting voices have grown louder amidst unpopular and undemocratic decisions made by the government chiefly the use of ISA against a reporter, a member of parliament and a social activist.

In his outgoing speech, Abdullah has made a promise to carry out his reform pledges. Some of the proposed initiatives such as the Judicial Appointment Commission, the Special Complaint Commission and the strengthening of the Anti-Corruption Agency will not be popular with his party leaders. Najib will be put under tremendous pressure to continue and complete these reforms since it is obvious that Abdullah may not be able to do it given the time constraint.

Najib will face a growing public pressure to abolish the ISA and allow all detainees a chance to legal defence. He will also be tasked with the responsibility to carry out reforms in key public institutions such as the police force and the judiciary in order to restore public confidence in his administration.

After March 2009, his partners in BN will surely expect Najib to carry out a serious revamp of the partnership formula. Most of the component parties which lost badly are dependent on non-Malay support. Najib is inheriting a weak and wounded coalition. Previously, Abdullah was accused of not protecting the Malay interest. Can Najib restore BN to its past glory as a successful multiracial political platform without antagonising his own party members who want a strong UMNO? His component partners are expected to be more vocal and assertive with their approach towards UMNO.

Abdullah exit is timely before more damage is done to his short and thin legacy. Finally, the US financial crisis is becoming contagious. With more Americans defaulting their mortgage repayment, the fear of losing their home will seriously affect consumer demand. Many economies including Malaysia's were unable to decouple fast enough to lower their dependence on the American market.

Almost 50% of Malaysia's E&E and industrial exports are headed for US and Europe. Export will start to slow down by year end. Consumer demand will not recover until at least end of 2009. Competition for foreign direct investment will even get tougher as more investors are adopting a wait-and-see attitude. Asia's good run may be disrupted if big economies such as China and Japan are affected by the US financial contagion.

Now, Abdullah's exit may not be a forced one but is actually a calculated move to avoid the crunch. The buck is now passed on to Najib. He is not only inheriting the crown but the risks, responsibilities and blame which come with it.

The impatience of Najib's supporters to see him quickly taking over the leadership may yet be their biggest folly. A mid-2010 succession plan would have been better for Najib. By that time, the world economy would have been more predictable, the US economy on the mend and he would have been more prepared to take over the helm.

Meanwhile, Najib is also facing his own Watergate - the Altantuya's murder case - which has had an irreversible impact on his image. He can be assured of a roller coaster ride ahead. Nothing less than exceptional is enough to make Najib the saviour of this country.

Will Najib be a saviour or a victim?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Same Problem, Different Tune

US and Malaysia are facing the serious problem - but of different magnitude - with their domestic economy. It is probably much worse in the US than here. But there is a stark difference in the way politicians from both sides responded to the problem.

US politicians are calling for stern measures to rescue the financial sector from collapsing. Although the Congress has approved an initial USD 700 billion rescue package, it was not done until agreement is reached on measures needed to ensure weaknesses are corrected (hopefully!) and plans are laid to strengthen the financial system and consumer demand.

Jitters, especially home buyers who defaulted on their mortgages, are hoping for some assistance to help keep their home. This is psychologically very important to ensure consumer confidence of the economy does not crumble to a level where an economic meltdown is irreversible.

Malaysia's export is dependent on the US market. Almost 50% of our export heads to the States. Friends at the logistics companies told me than there is a marked decrease in export volume since last month.

On the ground, inflation is extraordinarily high. Prices have double in the last ten years but not salary growth. Graduate entry level pay has lost at least 20% premium.

In the US, presidential candidate Barrack Obama is keen to put the economic problem at the forefront of his campaign. John McCain made a costly move of halting his campaign to rush back to Washington to help deal with the problem.

We need politicians to show leadership during difficult times.

Here in Malaysia, politicians busy jostling for positions.

Can you seriously believe that a change of prime minister or deputy prime minister is going to change the situation for the better overnight?

So far, we have not heard anything smart from any politicians on how to handle the growing socio-economic dilemma.

Actions taken so far are either inadequate (lowing retail oil prices, increasing deficit spending) or wrong (ISA, Race Relations Act, DNA Bill, PPA).

To take the first step, we should stop the blame game. Perhaps Ku Li is right about the need to establish a unity government.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

National Service = National Folly

Jane Lim, whose brother Ricky died after National Service (NS) training, cannot be exempted from the programme as requested by her parents, said National Service Training Council chairman Dr Tiki Lafe.

Ricky died on Sept 15, eight days after ending his training at the Asahan Melaka NS camp. Following his death, his parents requested that their sole surviving child be exempted from NS training. Ricky's death was not the first. Since the inception of the NS programme, 14 trainees have died due to several causes.

The cause of Ricky’s death is not known. The fact that his death is still unknown merits an immediate suspension of the NS programme until all issues and complaints are mitigated. Hygiene and camp safety are two major problems in many camps around the country.

It is time an evaluation is conducted on the programme to measure its positive impact on race-relations. If there is no evidence of equitable values contributed by the programme compared to the expenses and lives lost, then it is time the government abolish the programme.

Policy makers should deracialise their respective party first before attempting to introduce any ethnic relations programme. Like the new proposed Race Relations Act, it's full of hot air but lack the necessary substance.

Can the proposer, Liow Tiong Lai, help to enlighten us? Else, save us from another stupid policy. Goodness sake, disband your race based party first.

8pm news @ NTV 7, 73 percent agreed BN should become a single multiracial party. Liow, get cracking now if you are serious about better inter-ethnic relations.

Coming back to Jane's case, the government is still not willing to do the right thing. Her parents are still mourning the lost of their only son, why must the government cause the family further mental anguish? She is not your daughter, Tiki. You are a parent too. Just try putting yourself in her dad's shoe.

Mesra rakyat, my foot! You can bend the law for Ahmad Ismail and Azhar Ibrahim but not for Jane Lim?

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Stakeholders' Responsibility

I am back! I would like to thank friends and readers who have contributed to my last post on remedy for our economic woes. Over the past few days, apart from attending to official business I spend my time talking to a number of people about the current socio-economic condition.

There are several critical problems which must be addressed soon. First, real inflation is rearing its ugly head and this is probably the same throughout the country. Unless and until a solution is found, consumer sentiment is not about to recover soon. I have spoken to a number of retailers and restaurant operators on the worsening inflationary pressure on consumption. A growing number of people have cut down on dining out.

Specifically, what can be done to counter inflation? Hiking interest rates does not appear as a simple and effective solution. Recent government effort to lower retail oil prices does not help the situation much. Uncertainty over government policy change does not drive down retail prices of food, services and other consumer items. The damage is done. How?

Second, I find it difficult to change mindset when talking to some stakeholders. For years, the government has been helping the industry by handing out easy and lucrative contracts. Malaysian economy is still heavily dependent on subsidy. High dependency on government handouts is a barrier to having a more competitive economy.

In fact, it tends to breed cronyism and corruption in the system. Contracts are handed out not always based on merit but political connection. A member of parliament shared with me that a repair and maintenance contract was initially tendered out for twice the price by the previous state government.

To end this, we must lose our dependency on the government. This means we should also stop to expect the government to do everything for us. Private sector and the society should take initiative to make this country vibrant again. Government should govern responsibly, fairly and with accountability. It should not resort to the use of draconian laws or unjust actions. Government should respect the rule of law and not rule by law.

However, we must be fair to the government too. We cannot blame them for everything. For example, heavy downpour which causes flash floods all over the country are often man made. At a housing area, residents often dump their rubbish into the drain. Heavy rain causes overflow of water to their housing area because the drainage system is clogged with rubbish. Such unscrupulous behaviour must end.

Do not always blame or depend on the government for everything. We have to take major responsibility of our own well-being.

Hence, I would like to hear your feedback on how to improve public safety and cleanliness around us. By feeling safe and clean, our minds will be better conditioned for more challenging tasks ahead.

What say you?