Saturday, January 31, 2009

Time to Revisit the Human Resource Policy

It is not wrong to say that Malaysia's economic development is very dependent on foreign/migrant workers. In the 19th and early 20th century, the British colonial government brought in many labourers predominantly from China and India to work in tin mines and plantations.

Since the early 1970's, Malaysia's economic development is largely dependent on migrant workers. Three of the main sectors i.e. plantations, construction and manufacturing rely on cheap foreign labour to remain competitive. Most of our migrant workers are either low or medium skilled.

Today, there are at least 1.5 million documented contract workers and 1-3 million undocumented migrant workers. The latter category is often associated with crime and other social ills. The living condition of these workers are often not well looked into. Many of these workers suffer serious neglect during economic downturn. Many have pawned their properties, borrowed money or paid up huge amount of cash to come to work. There were many cases of foreign workers being duped to come here with promises of lucrative jobs but were abandoned to fend for themselves when they arrived.

Malaysia has adopted an implicit policy of firing Malaysians last. However,we must remember that these foreign workers have contributed significantly to the local economy when times were good. They have helped our local factories to remain competitive during the 1997 financial crisis. Our export sector has done remarkably well until recently.

But it is time for us to review our human resource policy. We can no longer afford to become a net importer of migrant workers. Malaysia is an exporter of skilled labour to other countries. Most of them left permanently.

It is time to sit down with the industry players to change the rule of the game. Plantation, construction and manufacturing companies should be encouraged and urged to adopt higher technology, explore upstream and downstream activities and engage more innovation and R&D to reduce our dependency on low skilled foreign contract labour.

Without cooperation from the industry, the implementation of Ops Nyah 1,2,3 etc will not be effective. When these illegal workers return home on amnesty, we will again face shortage in the three key industries. There is a need for a permanent solution. Going higher up the value chain could be an answer.

Companies given the license to bring foreign labour should be warned not to abuse the privilege. Many of these agents have acted unscrupulously against unsuspected foreign workers who paid through their noses to get here and get cheated.

Moreover, we need to retain our skilled labour. If need be, attract highly skilled labour to Malaysia.

MDEC can offer RM150k for a good IT proposal or business plan but without good people it will not be able to create the next Microsoft.

It is time we revisit our human resource policy.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Input for DPM Najib

Since the finance minister and deputy prime minister Najib is asking for more feedback, I would like to urge him to consider giving direct stimulus to the people. Let them decide their own consumption pattern.

Already, governments in Australia, Taiwan and Singapore are doing the same. Give cash coupons to the people to enhance domestic demand. If the government is serious in promoting buy Malaysian products, these cash coupons could help to raise domestic demand. Different people have different consumption needs. Hence, the direct stimulus will help to cushion against a sudden drop in consumption after the Chinese New Year period.

I have spoken to several senior executives in Penang and they informed me there is still job but mainly from last year's order book. They have not received any solid order yet this year. Hence, many of these manufacturers are likely to close down once the order backlog is cleared.

Second, the government should consider using the financial stimulus to create new jobs, new industries and new markets. There are a few areas we can do well e.g. food production, new agriculture products, services and hospitality, public transportation and light manufacturing.

Malaysia's food import bill is still very high, RM30 billion a year. It is time we focus on promoting local production and at the same time lower our import bill. Afterall, Malaysia is known as a food haven.

There are approximately 600,000 new job seekers every year. Unfortunately, less than 20 percent of companies are still hiring. Adding this figure to the unemployment numbers, we could be seeing jobless rates climbing to a record high by the second Q of 2009. Focusing on reskilling and retooling is not going to take these workers anywhere. The government could create new jobs and new industries for them to seek employment. It is time to create agriculture entrepreneurs.

Malaysia's hospitality and tourism industry has a huge untap potential. Imagine Penang, there is hardly any inbound tour specialists to help and assist tourists. Simply, we are not branding our tourism right. We can shore up our hospitality industry by creating more supporting jobs. Get these people to help enhance our infrastructures, amenities and become tour consultants. What is the point of being blessed with the best geographical wonders but doing nothing to promote and preserve them?

The lack of public transport is a sore point for the country. Since we do not need to protect the national car, Proton, anymore, the government should use the stimulus to build more public transport for the people e.g. buses, taxis, special inner city automobile (tuk tuk in Thailand) and others. The logistics and public transport sector should be able to create more job opportunities. There are many more social benefits - we get to reduce traffic jam, pollution and enhance mobility.

Najib should seriously reconsider giving the allocation to the ministries to build all types of nonsense e.g. Dewan Serbaguna, parks and more lamp posts. Half the allocation will be lost somewhere. A quarter more goes into the pockets of foreign workers. Infrastructure building will take a longer time to ensure money trickles down to the people.

It is time for the finance minister, both of them, to wake up from their slumber!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Public Safety Crisis in Malaysia

The custodial death of Kugan Ananthan reflects a serious public safety crisis in Malaysia. I applaud Malaysian Indian Youth Development Foundation (MIYDF) chairperson SA Vigneswaran's call for a permanent solution to the problem.

He is right to point out that blaming the federal government alone is not a solution. It will not get us anywhere.

Vigneswaran also pointed out that Kugan's death was not an indication of the gulf between the government and the Indian community because it’s not just the Indians who were outraged by the incident.

"The whole country, Malays, Indians and Chinese were stunned that this sort of thing could still happen. We have laws and standards that have been regulated to safeguard the welfare of detainees."

It is not necessary to racialize this issue. But we do need a sweeping reinvention and revamp of the police force. Efforts to run the police down do not help alleviate the problem either. There are still good cops in the force.

The police need to change their public perception. This can only be achieved if they remain independent and committed to combating crime. Not being used as a political tool by the politicians.

It is normal for the public to be outraged by mammoth display of force by the police during peaceful demonstrations. The police sole responsibility is to safeguard public safety and not being used a pawn in any political confrontation.

We must take cognisance of the fact that it is not easy being a police officer. Those committed police officers who have put their safety in line to go after hardcore criminals and keep us safe should be applauded for their commitment.

To change the image of police force, they need the public's help as well as their own commitment to professionalism.

Another advice for DPM Najib, maybe it is time to change the home affairs minister.

More Bad News Ushering in 2009

Ox signifies tenacity and hard work. We need a lot of both in 2009. On the economic front, there are more bad news. The latest: Intel closing down two of its 13 plants in Penang. More than 2300 workers will be affected. Although there will be no clear cut retrenchment but there will be workers sacrificed.

How many workers can be relocated and accommodated at the other manufacturing hub in Kulim?

Next, Panasonic Corp. said Wednesday it will cut 560 jobs in Asia due to the closure of two plants in the region. The move will affect around 500 workers at the Malaysian electronics parts plant in Malacca.

Several senior executives from a few multinationals have confirmed that a number of Malaysian SMEs supplying to the multinationals are in deep cash crisis. A number of them may close shop or cease operations temporarily after the CNY holiday.
These events suggest a swift action from the government. But our Finance Minister does not think so. He is still calling for more feedback. FM and Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, in his blog www.1malaysia.com.my is welcoming Malaysians to tell him what they think the Government should include in the Second Stimulus Package.

By now, the government should already know what to do. Najib would have failed his probation if he still need more feedback from the public when the unemployment numbers are fast adding up.

I have just one thing to tell the government. ACT FAST! ACT DECISIVELY!

There is still too much red tap in the bureaucracy. The first stimulus package of RM7bil was announced last November, and is still being rolled out in stages in the first quarter of this year to alleviate the threat of recession.

The fact is the economy cannot wait for the government to drag its feet. This is the first sign of failure for the newly minted finance minister.

Najib should stay focus on the economy not politics and more campaigns. Leave Pensiangan to someone else. It is meaningless to win the by-election if the economy is going down the drain.

Gong Xi Fa Cai...Happy "Niu" Year 2009

Better late than never, I am back to hometown. There is no internet at home and I enjoy being away from my laptop to spend some quality time with family.

I hope you are doing the same too. Have a safe drive back to those who are going back to work in a few days time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Lessons from Obama


President Barack Obama, the man of hope, admits the hope he is promoting is clouded by the looming political and economic crisis in the US and globally. His inaugural speech is full of cautions. He fully understood what lies ahead of him - emerging new challenges and old ones turning worse.

As the most powerful leader in the world, Obama is fully aware of the limitation of one man. In his speech, he rallied the people with him:

"America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."

At this moment, Malaysia faces the same daunting challenges of an economic meltdown, a difficult race relations and a broken politics. This is the moment we ask for politicians to show us leadership, not just patronage. Show us a solution, not just spewing rhetoric.

We should not merely focus on competitive and electoral politics. What is the point if elections create winners but the people remain losers? Fixation over electoral politics alone create division and conflict. Our politicians should know when the campaign must stop and the work must begin.

Our understanding of race relations, unity and nation building should undergo some serious refining.

Our lack of mutual understanding was exposed in the recent discourse on religion. Muslims in this country should take cognisance of the need to reach out and share their thoughts with others. Years of seeking exclusivity, through some irresponsible religious politicking, has created a gap between muslims and non-muslims in this country. The image of Islam is battered because it was not kept away from politics. It is still not too late to do so.

We remain disintegrated because of our growing misunderstanding and not due to our mutual dislike or hatred. Religious overzealots who hijacked our religion and turning it into a propaganda tool to serve their own interests want to keep the right to interpret scriptures solely in their domain. Religious studies should liberate our mind and soul and not seek to entrap it.

How many who reacted against hudud or Islam truly understand the religion? How many who wanted temples and kuils to be demolished truly understand their significance? How many who wanted to seek exclusivity of their belief truly understand the role played by other beliefs which promoted the same kind of goodness?

The sluggishness of our economy is not solely the doing of global economic crisis. It is partly our of our own doing. It is hard to imagine which government in the world would create so many barriers to promote its own domestic economy. The government insistence of continuing with the blemished and tainted New Economy Policy does not help the situation. It is illogical to hold back someone to allow another to prosper. With an interconnected world, an investment or talent not welcomed in a country will lure with a red carpet by another.

This type of myopic policy must end. On this end, the government must do more to correct Malaysia's perception among ex-Malaysians and those currently living abroad. If not, when the global economic crisis settles, more will make a beeline to seek their fortune elsewhere. Without the right local talents, Malaysia will continue its dependence on cheap and low skilled foreign labour, still compete on cost and depend on its diminishing natural resources.

The blame game on education must stop. Those who claimed that vernacular schools were the main cause of national disunity do not read the right history books. Parents who choose the right school for the children are practical. They seek quality education and a conducive environment. Drastic policy change in the education system was the main contributing factor to the rise of vernacular schools in the country.

Before 1970, English medium schools dominated students' enrolment. Perceived lack of competitive environment, inept teachers and other socio-religious factors, over the years, have pushed parents (even non-Chinese educated ones) to enrol their children in the Chinese vernacular schools.

Education is regulated by the federal government. The inability of this country to create a universal, competent and quality national education system is a failure of the federal government. After 1970, the focus on the education system is on the language of instruction and not the content quality of its curriculum. Today, we are still debating over the use of English to teach both mathematics and science subjects in all primary schools.

Until some senses are knocked into the heads of the policy makers, our economy development will not be sustainable. Our ambition to create a knowledge economy will remain a pipe dream. Malaysia will remain a feudal society where good education opportunities - mainly abroad - are open to only the rich and aristocrats.

Obama's inauguration as the first black US president is inspiring and hopeful. But how can we be inspired by his election? Imagine 60 years ago, his Kenyan dad would not have been served in a regular restaurant. More than 5o years later, Malaysia is still divided by a race barrier erected by our political masters. We are still carrying the burden of our race relations. Race based political parties are still firmly in power.

Ironically, as these politicians mouthed the sugar-coated slogans of Bangsa Malaysia and national unity we are being told to respect and accept the flimsy notion of race superiority. Yet, these politicians were quick to come to the defence of other oppressed minorities elsewhere. Obama's caution is time, he told these leaders to be mindful that they will be judged by their people for what they can build and not destroy.

If there is anything we can take away from the US presidential election is that a society which is quick to embrace its minorities will be bestowed with the talents, cultural richness and diversity which can only make it more successful.

If 60 years ago, the American leaders decided to preserve and protect their status quo they would have missed a chance to elect an inspiring leader such as Barack Hussein Obama. The world will not have the chance to be inspired by his politics of hope.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hamas Sickos

I was shocked listening to Buletin Utama on TV3 about the ceasefire news in Gaza. Hamas leaders are taunting the Israelis for their failure to extinguish their group.

The reaction of Hamas leaders should make us wonder if they are fit to govern Gaza or they have taken over the territory by force and terror.

Imagine the sheer magnitude of destruction and death. Yet these bunch of Hamas fighters shed no tears, feel no remorse for the death of their own people.

Muted criticism and condemnation against Hamas and their reaction only reinforces the hypocrisy of this world.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Prime News - Rising Unemployment

Move over Gaza, move over KT and instead focus on the rising unemployment in the country.

Human Resources Minister Dr S. Subramaniam said some 45,000 workers in the manufacturing sector may be temporarily out of a job soon as most factories will cease operations during the Chinese New Year celebrations.

While it is good the government is beginning to come clean on the current situation, it is still trying to convince us that the situation is under control. Dr S. Subramaniam said that, as of Jan 12, 14,000 workers from various sectors lost their jobs because of the world economic slowdown, but there were some 15,000 job vacancies in various sectors registered with the ministry.

Earlier, I had warned the government that something concrete has to be done before the Chinese New Year. It wrong to give an impression that demand is slowing down only after the CNY period. Exports have slowed down since August 2008.

While the government, including UMNO, is busy collecting funds for Palestinians in Gaza it should really consider setting up funds for those retrenched and local companies facing the brunt of economic slowdown.

Two very important socio-economic interests which must be protected:
1) Retrenchments - loss of jobs
2) Loss of homes through loan defaults

It is admirable for the government to launch a "Buy Malaysian Products" campaign. But it is necessary for the government to show that it really cares for the people by beginning to provide direct financial support to the people. The Taiwanese, Chinese and Australian governments have done similar thing. Singapore is likely to follow suit and looking to dip into its national reserves.

Rising unemployment should be our main focus for now. The government, under false impression that things are under control, should immediate work out viable and relevant economic stimulus to help the country's economy and not react last minute to a severe downturn.

Economic decentralisation remains a viable option to allow state governments more resources and freedom to work on their respective state economy.

KT By-Election – What Does It Mean For Pakatan Rakyat?

Despite chalking up an emphatic win over BN it still too early for PR to expect a smooth ride to Putrajaya. Hence, PAS spiritual leader Nik Aziz was quick to urge his members to be gracious after victory. Nik Aziz is a veteran leader who fully understood the ups and downs in politics.

His advice is apt and timely. Ironically, this newly minted coalition was literally put together by the voters whom decided they have tolerated enough of power arrogance after handing over easy mandate to BN for decades. Before the 12th general election, these parties merely collaborated for their own expediency and to enable a straight contest with BN. Due to lack of time, seats negotiations in both Sabah and Sarawak went awry and resulted in the opposition dismal performance.

For a fact that the coalition was only recently established to share governing power in several states, its electoral performance in the last two by-elections is impressive. However, it is still work-in-progress on many fronts. With the decisive victory in KT, component parties in PR should fully appreciate their intertwined destiny. The coalition need not look far. The ongoing problems plaguing BN should serve as a good lesson on the need for sincere collaboration, mutual respect and inclusiveness.

Moving forward, it is pertinent for PR to transition from being an opposition front into a real alternative. It should position itself as a government in-waiting. It is easy for both Lim Kit Siang and Anwar Ibrahim to continue harping on UMNO weaknesses and arrogance. But is time for the two influential leaders to lead the formation of alternative policies and development strategy for Malaysia.

During this challenging economic situation, these alternative policies will be able to allow Malaysians to gauge their ability to govern if given a mandate at the federal level. Like the old Chinese belief, there are opportunities in any crisis. With unemployment numbers going up, PR state governments should work together on an immediate plan to avoid an economic hard landing.

The formation of a chief ministers’ council is a move in the right direction. Next, the council must immediately arrange to meet up with the federal cabinet members for a dialogue on how to mitigate the current economic slowdown and growing unemployment. The council is encouraged to report any unwillingness on the federal government part to spike any initiative to help the economy. Over time, BN should be made aware that it is only entrusted with public funds and resources to govern the country and not the owners of these resources.

PR is a Work-In-Progress coalition, unlike BN. The latter is facing an expiry date that it must be bold enough to embark on an internal change to buy more time. However, unlike BN, the former does not have a long experience and a goodwill reservoir to boast.Despite all the weaknesses shown by the ruling coalition, BN still captures the people's nostalgia about its past achievements. This includes its contribution in getting the nation’s independence from British and the 50 years of leadership which had contributed significantly to the country’s development.

Until Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the few former prime ministers were huge respected and remembered for their contributions and both public and private demeanour. These leaders, in their words and writings, had often reminded us that this country must continue to cherish its racial and cultural diversity to be successful. Many of us who have been around the region fully acknowledged that we could have been better but we are not really as bad as we have imagined.

It would be good for PR leaders to conduct a comprehensive analysis on the weaknesses and strengths of the BN. The Sun Tzu Chinese ancient art of war posits, “to know thyself and to know thy enemy, a hundred battles and a hundred victories...” Instead of mocking its opponent, if PR desires to wrest power at the national level it should turn this victory into an opportunity to learn more about its enemy and its victory. Again the PR cannot continue to depend on the wisdom of its leaders such as PAS’ Nik Aziz to remind its leaders to be gracious. It is pertinent to institutionalise this habit.

For the moment, PR still represents change and a new hope for the people. Malaysians, like other societies, need a solid, trustworthy and responsible leadership. While it is hard for BN to accept change, PR has to embrace change as its main competitive advantage. Embracing change is not an easy thing if it is done half-heartedly. Anything done half-heartedly cannot be sustained.

Any new partnership is easy to sustain when it is on a winning streak. It is easy to become a winner but can the coalition pass a test of being a loser? The memories of the 1999 general election still haunt many observers. When the DAP was routed in the elections, it reacted by pulling out of the coalition, Barisan Alternatif. In the KT by-election, many observers had suggested that a defeat may force PAS to reconsider its association with PR. If this happened, it will expose the lack of sincerity of PR partners. Come the next general election, PAS will find its progress curtailed and its political influence shored back to the Malay heartland. Both PKR and DAP will be back to square one.

Hence, it is important for the coalition to work on the rough edges of their partnership. Like the BN, some component parties in PR have been in existence for a long time. It time for these parties to look into their own leadership succession plans and to ensure the next batch of upcoming leaders are able to defend and uphold the same political aspirations.

Dr Mahathir said one of the main reasons of UMNO defeat in KT is due to its corrupt and arrogant leaders. PR component parties should be mindful of their own “little Napoleans” and ensure the adoption of a healthy political system within their parties.

Next, PR and especially Anwar must strike a delicate balance between power and governance. The whole of 2008 after the 8th March, it was all about power through the backdoor, frontdoor and whichever way imaginable. Many Malaysians eager for a change especially those who have long endured the irresponsible rule of BN, went out of the way trying to justify possible crossovers. Never mind the intention as long as BN goes down.

It is time for PR to snap out of its own delusion and be grateful of the gains it has made from the last general election. While many want it to be successful, it must show that the coalition is in for a long haul and will not abandon ship if it loses a general election. Malaysians want political commitment and sincerity. We have entered an era of communicative politics with an advent of Internet.

Both coalitions must be prepared for talk back and greater scrutiny from the public.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Denial! Denial! Denial!

After the stunning defeat in Kuala Trengganu, Deputy Prime Minister and in-coming premier Najib Razak has shown the way for the continuation of BN denial syndrome.

He told the press, "Barisan Nasional’s loss in the by-election is only a setback and has no impact on the national political landscape."

He said the coalition was still relevant and was confident of regaining the support of the people very quickly. Najib felt the mood of the people would be different in the next general election.

The problem is UMNO's coalition partner MCA is blowing its own trumpet. "I was told that Chinese support for Barisan actually increased" - Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat. “In fact, I was told that Chinese support for Barisan Nasional actually increased, compared with the last general election.

In Petaling Jaya, MCA political analyst Chua Goh Tong said the swing of Chinese votes towards Barisan was a reflection of the service they enjoyed under the Barisan state and federal government.

“We have 8,735 Chinese voters in Kuala Terengganu, and 63% to 65% of them voted for Barisan compared to 58% to 63% in March 2008,” he said.

He said the increase in Chinese support could be attributed to concern over PAS’ proposal to introduce hudud laws, and their experience under PAS rule from 1999 to 2004.

“Unfortunately, the Malay votes swung the other way. Even with a full turnout of the Chinese community, I don’t think we could have turned the result around because of the large majority this time,” he said.

Like Najib, MCA strategist Chua is inflicted by the same sense of denial. The Chinese support did not return to MCA. Being a smaller community in KT, coupled with numerous threats from MB Ahmad Said and the looming economic gloom, they were more intimidated with the lose of TOL (some renewable annually) and being targetted if seen to have voted for the opposition.

Thousands of youths are working outside of KT and may find it difficult to return twice to vote in a short period of a week. Most had probably made plans to return next week to usher in the Chinese New Year.

What did MCA do to ensure the return of Chinese support nationally?

Has the issue of NEP being resolved? Is MCA still a second class party? Has the issue of teaching of maths and science in English being resolved? Is UMNO finally admitting that all Malaysians are equal and drop their "ketuanan Melayu" tagline? Has Ahmad Ismail, Mukhriz Mahathir, Khairy Jamaluddin and a host of other racist leaders apologized for their remarks?

None of the above.

This sense of denial will ensure many other stunning defeats by the coalition. Najib has shown that he is not a renaissance leader who will soon bring a change of fortune to the front.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

PAS Wins KT by 2631 Majority


All's not well with BN. The slilde continues. BN should count its blessings for not losing by a bigger majority. A number of KT folks who are working outstation may find it a chore to come back twice in a week.

Most are probably looking forward to a long weekend when CNY holiday starts next week.

It should have been a bigger majority for PAS.

KT - What Does it Mean For Malaysia?

The outcome of KT by-election, either way, can be considered a win-win situation for Malaysians. It does not have to be a win-lose scenario.

If BN wins, the outcome should be taken as a firm reminder to PR to put their own house in order first. Strategy is important but using the same strategy in all battles may not be wise. It was possible during the last general election to stroke voters' sentiment and dissatisfaction against UMNO to win but this method is expected to lose its lustre in the next GE.

It is pertinent for PR to transition from being an opposition front into a real alternative. It should position itself as a government in-waiting. It is easy for both Lim Kit Siang and Anwar Ibrahim to continue harping on UMNO weaknesses and arrogance. But is time for the two influential leaders to lead the formation of alternative policies and development strategy for Malaysia. During this challenging economic situation, these alternative policies will be able to allow Malaysians to gauge their ability to govern if given a mandate at the federal level.

PR is a WIP coalition, unlike BN. The latter is facing an expiry that it must be bold enough to embark on an internal change. However, unlike BN, the former does not have a long experience and a goodwill reservoir to boast.

Despite all the weaknesses shown by the ruling coalition, BN still captures the people's nostalgia about its past achievements - got the nation its independence from British and provided more than 50 years of leadership which has taken us thus far. Many of us who have been around the region fully acknowledged that we could be better but not really as bad as we imagined.

But BN is facing a serious threat of being both legthargic and outdated. BN's biggest threat is not the opposition consists of PAS, DAP and PKR. These parties were around during the 1999 and 2004 general elections but were squarely defeated by the BN juggernauts. BN's biggest threat is its own follies.

Not limited to UMNO, most component parties in the coalition had practiced feudal and parochial politics. Many smaller parties have turned into ruling dynasties which choose to put family lineage higher than individual ability and leadership. When self-interest precedes political objection, the struggle becomes internalised and not people driven.

BN leadership is suffering from this serious disconnection with the public. In the last 10 years, Malaysia has been going through the toughest and challenging times since independence. Malaysians are largely grateful and respectful of the ruling elites. This respect has been received wrongly by the ruling elites. Many have grown to become arrogant, elitist and disengaged from the society thinking that the support is perpetual and a birth right.

Hence, up till today, many component parties' leaders still refused to accept that finally the people have lost their patience. Their goodwill reservoir is quickly drying up. These governing dynasties should have learned a lesson from other ancient dynasties. Powerful dynasties were defeated into oblivion when they started to ignore the people.

PR represents change and a new hope for the people. Malaysians, like other societies, need a solid, trustworthy and responsible leadership. While it is hard for BN to accept change, PR has to embrace change as its main competitive advantage. Embracing change is not an easy thing if it is done half-heartedly. Anything done half-heartedly cannot be sustained.

Hence, if BN wins this election and we should not be overly surprised if it does happen, PR will be forced to go back to its drawing board to find out what went wrong. Many have suggested that a defeat may force PAS to reconsider its association with PR. If this happens, it will expose the lack of sincerity of PR partners. Come the next general election, PAS will find its progress curtailed and its political influence shored back to the Malay heartland. Both PKR and DAP will be back to square one.

It is easy to become a winner but can PR be a good loser too?

Next, PR and especially Anwar must strike a delicate balance between power and governance. The whole of 2008 after the 8th March, it was all about power through the backdoor, frontdoor and whichever way imaginable. Many Malaysians eager for a change especially those who have long endured the irresponsible rule of BN, went out of the way trying to justify possible crossovers. Never mind the intention as long as BN goes down.

It is time for PR to snap out of its own delusion and be grateful of the gains it has made from the last general election. While many want it to be successful, it must show that the coalition is in for a long haul and not to abandon ship if it loses a by-election and not successful in courting defectors. Malaysians want political commitment and sincerity.

If PR wins, the BN should really push the panic button and snap out of their own delusion that the outcome of 8th March is both temporary and a technical setback. BN's biggest problem is the lack of discipline and political vision.

UMNO only wants to be the dominant party. It will try to dominate using whatever ways including both racism and religious politicking to achieve its agenda. UMNO thinks as a party and not as a leader of a coalition which is problematic for its ever obliging component parties.

If BN loses, other component parties and including the more enlightened faction in UMNO (if any) should push for a major reform within the ruling coalition. Given the mandate to rule for the last 50 years, it is odd that the coalition did not do much to facilitate nation building beyond the current race silos. Odd enough, its main survival depends on its ability to transform itself as a racist coalition into a truly multiracial coalition.

If BN can use this by-election as an indication and a self measurement, it can still provide a strong and reliable leadership to Malaysians. In a shifting political milieu, BN is still a powerful coalition with key advantages which may take PR another 3-4 terms to emulate.

However, if this by-election goes its way and the outcome is taken as everything is back to business as usual then KT may yet be a double edged sword for BN. Whatever the outcome, if the results is taken rightly by both coalition, Malaysians are bound to benefit from a positive change.

Meanwhile, PR must not let this win to go its head and start to think act princely. The outcome of such action is clear. It just has to look at BN.

We have entered a communicative era of leadership with the advent of Internet. Both coalitions must be prepared for talk back and greater scrutiny from the public.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

BN Should Expect a Double Tsunami in 13th GE

I was asked by Gabrille of Malaysiakini.com to comment on the recently released Merdeka Center poll results on Kuala Trengganu by-election. My reaction:

"The Chinese in Kuala Terengganu, unlike those in the west coast, are not intimidated by any plans to implement hudud law.

They interact with Malays on a daily basis and are well-versed with the Islamic way of life.

The way the survey has been constructed gives a false impression that Malays are not concerned with the rights of non-Malays.

Since the survey merely asked respondents to name the single most important issue, it is understandable that the Malays will name the upholding of Islam.

However, if they had been asked whether equal treatment of non-Malays would be important as well, I am sure a huge number would have said 'yes'."

This political contest is not a contest between races. It is not a showdown between Chinese rights and Ketuanan Melayu. It is strictly a political contest between a UMNO/BN candidate versus a PAS/PR candidate. The KT Chinese voters, like other voters, will cast their ballot for the candidate they feel best protect their interest. This is a right embedded in the constitution for all Malaysians.

Hence, I find it odd for the campaign to focus so much attention on merely 11 percent of voters. Whatever the outcome, it will be unfortunate if this small group of voters will be blamed for either dumping the hands that feed them or turning against the forces of change.

Embracing change is a personal choice. Not all Chinese voters will vote the same way. Not all even speak the same dialect, eat the same food or prefer the same type of government.

However, the sentiment is definitely not on BN's side. It is unbelievable that the coalition, especially its backbone UMNO, still chooses to sail against the wind.

It is unbelievable that some of its leaders still believe Hudud is feared by the people. Yes, it was effective in 1999 against some opposition parties. But it was 10 years ago.

It is foolish to continue harping on development and being a caring government when physical evidences which suggest the contrary are aplenty.

BN should recontruct their political model to survive. The only way forward is the formation of a truly multiracial party. Resistance to change is going to make the component parties pay dearly.

If the trend continues, BN should expect a double tsunami in the next general election. Not only their opponents will have better coordination, better manpower and resources but also more qualified and exciting new candidates in their ranks.

One good example is Zaid Ibrahim. He has obviously laid down his card for the next general election. The message is clear - NO TO RACISM!

Zaid has made a clear choice in 2009. Other Malaysians should do the same. Lets defeat racism once and for all!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hudud Hypocrisy

The whole debate about the implementation of hudud, the Islamic criminal law and punishment, has taken us to a new level of hypocrisy. The reaction to the discourse on hudud shows that we continue to allow silly politicking to distort our common sense.

The problem of hudud does not lie in its intention. Like other secular civil laws, it wants to deter crime and punish criminals. We abhor crime. Then, what is the real problem with hudud? Perhaps our humanistic values urge us to be nice and soft with criminals. Chopping off hands for those who steal is gory and disgusting.

We need to be reminded that our civil law does have a provision for death penalty too. If the civil law is meant to be compassionate, why is death penalty allowed? Long before, a number of developed countries had done away with death penalty.

The problem with hudud is really our fear of Islamisation. The fear is acceptable and understandable for a society which consists of almost 40% non-muslims. Hence, if we are angry with PAS for its intention to implement the hudud law we should be equally mad when Dr Mahathir declared that Malaysia is an Islamic country when he was a premier and president of UMNO.

Over the years, the government led by UMNO has implemented a number of overt programmes to Islamize the country although the effort fell short of calling for the implementation of hudud. Non-muslim parents have avoided sending their children to the national schools for fear of Islamisation. News of recalcitrant headmasters taking the Islamization agenda into their own hands are no longer new.

There are many other examples; from the ban of yoga to transsexuals and the use of "Allah" by a Christian bulletin.

Both PAS and UMNO will continue to use Islam as a political tool. We can never take Islam out of PAS. It is a party which explicitly makes Islam its purpose of political existence and relevance. It will not hide its intention to rule based on God's laws and words.

UMNO is more subtle. It will continue to compete with PAS for the support of the majority muslim Malays support. Hence, UMNO will continue to implement its Islamization agenda to satisfy its support base. UMNO's rhetoric has turned more religious in the last 20 years. The same thing cannot be said about its conduct and intention.

As non-muslims, we have live with the fact that this will be a Muslim majority country and Islam takes the centre stage in all aspects of life. We have to learn to deal with this reality.

However, between two parties which are bend on doing the same - Islamization - we do have a choice. This choice is to support a party which can incorporate the true teaching and values of Islam.

Any party which can rule based on fairness, compassion, accountability and equality, the basic tenets of Islam, deserves our support.

In the end, these parties should understand not to push their own youths to the brink of rebellion. Even in the Middle East, the youths are beginning to question the lack of freedom and the stringent religious rules and regulations which impede their human freedom. Essentially, they are still human first and muslim second.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Global Economic Crisis and Shifting Political Competitive Landscape

Klang MP Charles Santiago and Pandamaran Assemblyman Ronnie Liu were kind enough to invite to me to speak at a forum on the impact of global economic crisis on Malaysia. It was held at a Chinese school in Klang.

I was there to experience first hand the notorious Klang traffic jam. It took me nearly 1.5 hour to get to the place from Petaling Jaya. Later, Charles told me that the road widening project was planned in 2002, still under construction in 2009 and may not be able to meet the traffic volume once completed in 2010. This is Malaysia Boleh!

I would like to share with you a brief note of my speech. I would like to hear feedback on what we can do to mitigate the slowdown.

Key Observations:

1. United Nations report “World Economic Situation and Prospects 2009 — Global Outlook 2009” dated Dec 1, the world will witness world gross product (WGP) “slow to a meagre 1.0 per cent in 2009 — a sharp deceleration from the 2.5 per cent growth estimated for 2008. Such insignificant growth may not augur well for the growing world's population. Hundreds of millions of new workers are joining the work force each year and many may find themselves jobless. Jobless rates in the US, UK, EU and China are growing. More than 4.6 million are already claiming unemployment benefits in US.

2. A total paralysis of the global banking and monetary system and many global banks are on the verge of collapse. Nationalisation of banks in developed world. Significant retrenchment from the financial sector – may hit Malaysians working abroad with these banks. Financial executives and bankers working in foreign banks in Singapore and Hong Kong are already facing retrenchment.

3. Manufacturing orders drop by as much as 20 to 30 per cent. The manufacturing sector accounts for 75 per cent of the country’s exports and 30 per cent of GDP and employment. By Q1 2009, more than 70 percent of manufacturing companies in the semiconductor and E&E sector are expected to cut production and reduce working hours – impacting take home salary. Charles made a good point to urge the Federal government to set up a RM3 bil SME fund to help ensure retrenchment does not affect SMEs. Job losses contribute to lower consumer demand and lost of family income. This is much better than spending RM5 billion to allow Value Cap to prop up the stock market, which is temporary and insignificant.

4. Jobs creation will be slow and less. A number of companies have frozen intake and cut contract workers. There will be increasing unemployment from Q2 2009. Unemployment may hit 5% or more.

5. Major industries such as tourism, retail, automotive, F&B and construction are expected to record negative growth.

6. Political competitive landscape is slowly shifting from governance to the economy. However, we need to emphasize that good governance is needed to bring back our economic dynamism. People will be less worried about ISA or Hudud compared to staying employed and socio-economic well-being.

Myth:

Malaysia’s economy is not affected by the global economic crisis. This is a myth!

1. The global economic situation is made worse by conflicts in the Middle East, Nigeria and around the world.

2. Asian countries, including Malaysia, cannot export out of its trouble this time. Many Asian countries have seen their stock markets suffer and currency values going on a downward trend. Asian products and services are also global, and a slowdown in wealthy countries means increased chances of a slowdown in Asia and the risk of job losses and associated problems such as social unrest.

3. Malaysia’s other main markets including China, Japan, South Korea and India are facing similar slowdown. The only market still holding is ASEAN. Malaysia-ASEAN trade amounts to 25% of our total exports.

Challenges:

1. Keep domestic demand high enough to offset slowdown in export. Consumer and business sentiments have suffered tremendously. More companies are feeling negative (+38% to +2%). Consumers fearing job security and economic uncertainties will cut down consumption. Consumption and investment are perception driven.

2. Continue to encourage domestic investment. If the review of NEP remains a lip service under Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s leadership, nothing much will change. Many other related legislations should be reviewed too e.g. ICA 76, FIC, procurement process, etc.

3. Create jobs and encourage more entrepreneurship.

4. Create new economic niches, sectors, industries and skills.

5. Market liberalisation and decentralisation – less government competition and participation in the market. Government’s role is to facilitate policy direction and not participating directly in the economy.

6. Prudent public spending should go into high value projects. Otherwise, the government should just give out money directly to the people – the most effective way to enhance consumption.

7. The government should adopt direct income tax cut instead of reducing EPF saving by 3%. Taxable income should be increased to RM5k a month.

Political Challenges:

Barisan Nasional:

1. By controlling the Federal Government, it has a great advantage to partake positive policy direction to impact the economy. However, the coalition must not continue to play divisive politics and hoping to punish state governments it does not control. Malaysia will do better if state governments are given more resources and freedom to manage their own economy.

2. Due to its structure, it will be difficult for the coalition to review and restructure its own political framework to enable real liberalisation and decentralisation to take place.

3. Difficult to review old policies which are detrimental to economic rejuvenation – e.g. NEP, FIC, ICA and other old economic practices.

4. Lack of imagination in its response to the current crisis – gave unreal assurances to the people. Lack of consensus amongst its partners on the best way forward – continuity of NEP or meritocracy? The federal government is seen as dragging its feet to ensure there is no free fall of the economy. PM Abdullah has repeatedly said there will be no recession. Can he guarantee this?

Pakatan Rakyat:

1. The newly minted coalition is overly focus on politicking and to snatch power prematurely from the BN. Its Economy Policy is still Work In Progress. There is no clear person (a senior leader) who can be trusted as a de facto economic/finance minister.

2. Too dependent on one person or a spokesperson (Anwar Ibrahim) on almost all issues. The coalition must become a real governing coalition instead of a platform seen to advance the political ambition of a person.

3. There is almost no coordination amongst the 5 state governments under PR. Some of these states are the most industrialised in the country. Lack of proper coordination does not augur well for PR to demonstrate that it is able to govern as a block. Are the most advanced Selangor and Penang ready to help Kelantan or Kedah during downturn?

The most significant political impact of the global financial crisis is the shifting of the political competitive landscape from human rights or democracy issues to the economy.

The people will soon tell the politicians “Show me the money, not just Change!”

Friday, January 09, 2009

Piratisation of Highway Contracts - BN Must Answer, Not Merely Asking

I support MCA Youth Legal Affairs & Parliamentary Legislation Research Bureau Chairman Wong Nai Chee's call to those in the prime minister's department economic planning unit responsible for negotiations on the highway privatisation contracts back then had the obligation to explain to the public.

He said the various highway privatisation contracts signed by the government since late 1980s had been contrary to the privatisation spirit.

Wong said that the legal affairs bureau discovered after conducting initial inspection on the five highway contracts Tuesday that:

1. The government was to bear the risks of highway concessionaires' loans. In the case of LDP, the highway concessionaire applied for the loans but the government had to bear the risks.

2. To some extent, the government was to ensure that highway concessionaires were making profits. The government had to compensate the highway concessionaires if they were not allowed to increase toll rates.

He said the two points above had clearly shown that our highway contracts had gone against the original spirit of privatisation, i.e. the private sector did not have to bear the risks of loans, but the government.

He added that if the highway concessionaires were cash-rich, experienced, capable and financially sound, they did not even need the government to bear the risks or make profit assurances.

Perhaps ex-President of MCA and former Transport Minister Dr Ling Liong Sik should be one of the first persons to help provide some details on the contracts. He was first appointed a Transport Minister in 1986.

During the late 80's, MCA was represented by 4 cabinet ministers and yet the party did not find it necessary to help scrutinize the contracts. The party, like other component parties in BN, should be held responsible for the one-sided contracts which have become a burden to motorists and the government.

What is MCA going to do if the BN federal government refuses to budge or review these contracts? Why classified these contracts as Official Secrets in the first place? Were there or elements of nepotism or corruption?

BN and MCA should do the answering, not merely asking. Wong must not forget that the party was and is very much part of the coalition which approved and negotiated these contracts.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Battle for Kuala Trengganu

MCA should forget about setting up a platform for feedback gathering and info dissemination. It should have received enough feedback from the last general election. So far, the political equation remains the same. UMNO is still the big brother. It is still adamant to perpetuate the ISA, NEP and other outdated and draconian legislations.

Old habits die hard. Until and unless, UMNO demonstrates its ability to govern fairly it will be difficult for the coalition to function. After the 8th March general election, BN suffers from a bad perception. It has a poor brand image.

So far, what transformation has taken place to right the wrong? Nothing much, nothing to shout about.

MCA wants to help the candidate from UMNO to secure the 11% Chinese votes (8000 voters) and this will be a tall order.

The political landscape has shifted and the voters will no longer be cowed by any fear tactic such as using the hudud law to scare them off.

Kuala Trengganu is still a place close to limbo despite it being the city of an oil rich state. Interestingly, the previous state government can invest hundreds of millions on the Monsoon Cup and a crystal mosque but not proper low cost houses for its people.

MCA vice-president Liow Tiong Lai said the Chinese voters here should give their votes to Barisan to ensure better service and continuous development in the area. What service? What development?

I have a niggling feeling that BN may have to pay for its past follies this time.

This by-election again shows that BN component parties such as MCA, Gerakan and MIC will still run to UMNO's defence regardless of the rot in the coalition. These parties have lost precious time in putting their house in order before the next storm.

With the economy reeling under pressure from global crisis, it will be a testing time politically for the politicians to prove that they can govern well.

The problem is it may be too difficult to tease a new trick out from an old dog.

This by-election may not be a significant one but it will be a yardstick of BN's revival.

So far, I don't see anything being done positively to restore the coalition's flagging fortune. Maybe they might just prove me wrong.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Arrogance of Power


The ongoing crisis in Middle East is a classic case of power arrogance. Despite serious global condemnation of the Israel military action against Gaza and its 1.5 million residents, the atrocities continue. Death toll is increasing.

Israel's demand for a permanent solution to stop pounding the densely populated area is mind boggling. How can the helpless 1.5 million residents of Gaza give them what they wanted?

Hamas militants numbered no more than thousands in the area and most of their top leaders have fled the area to take shelter before the pounding began. The ones suffering are normal citizens who have had enough of bloodshed and war.

We need to implore the arrogance of power shown by both Israel and Hamas. If Hamas truly cared the Palestinians, it should not act before thinking. What is truly needed is a permanent peace between the two neighbours. Both Israel and Palestine do not have to like each other but they must learn to coexist. Peace provides a better platform and condition for favourable human qualities to blossom than war and conflict.

It is also sad to see the disunity shown by the international community especially the UNSC on this matter. US should ask why it must continue to support a military response to this conflict. It should know better than to demand a permanent solution from the helpless Palestinians.

Hamas is partly responsible for the lost of lives. It has acted irresponsibly. I doubt majority of Palestinians support the stance taken by Hamas - which thrives on conflict. Hamas should stop its constant taunts of making Gaza a graveyard of Israelis.

Meanwhile, the international community must intervene and work together to bring a peaceful, well-informed and logical choice to the table for the Palestinians. Most, I believe, will support peace over war, responsible government over power arrogance and friendship over hatred.

Israel's disproportionate reaction to this crisis will not help achieve anything positive.

Do they truly desire peace?
Picture courtesy of Time.com

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Malaysians Must Make a Firm Choice in 2009

2008 was an eventful year. New milestones were set. We saw the unthinkable happened - a shift in the political spectrum. Malaysiakini proudly declares that its Newsmaker of the Year is the rakyat (people).

I hope this is a fundamental change. Not a change clouded by temporary disappointment and delusion. But a change that comes from the conscience of the people wanting a better society, nation and future for themselves and their children.

Looking at the situation after the historical 12th general election, I am cautious enough not to rejoice the coming of a new era. Malaysia is still in transition. This year, 2009, we have to make a firm choice to move forward or to retreat backward to embrace back the same old.

Politically, the race based model is still not completely dismantled. Race based political parties are still in power. Communal politics, where skin colour precedes over reason, is still alive and kicking. Nothing has changed. BN component parties which suffered huge electoral losses in the last general election are still doing business as usual. Forgotten are the reactionary rhetorics of supporting multiracialism as the new way forward.

This year, Malaysians must make a decisive choice. We must decide if the continuation race based politics is healthy for us. We must decide if it is time to put reason and logic before race.

Entering 2009, we are still confronted with a hard fact that it is difficult to employ reason and logic in decision making. Try imagine getting street hawker stalls, wet market operators and retail shops to help clean up their vicinity and practice better hygiene quality. Many will push this responsibility to the government.

The recent Klang bus station fiasco is another example of inept governance. It is a pity that the PR state government has allowed the issue to affect into its own unity. Why can't both bus stations be allowed to run through load sharing - each catering for specific routes?

Remember the closure of SJKC Damansara? It has been reopened. It should not have been closed down in the first place if the BN government has employed reason and logic in their decision making.

Similarly, Malaysians must make a firm decision on the economy, education and others. We can continue to choose mediocrity or opt for excellence. It is still not too late. It is time to make a firm choice.

We cannot allow this country to go through a perpetual transition.

Happy New Year!!