Tuesday, March 31, 2009

No Altantuya? No Perak Power Grab? What About IPCMC?

Syed Hamid Albar is at it again. He is the law himself. Whatever he said or directed must be followed. Syed Hamid strikes again. He has issued a ban on what can or can't be said during the by-elections. This man also directed a ban against the use of 'Allah' in Christian publications.

Why being so paranoid? Or is this minister a nut case?

The ban on bringing up Altantuya case and Perak Sultan decision in campaigning was issued by the Home Ministry and covers all 3 by-elections. This is his recent idiotic act.

So, can we mention the submarine commission? Can we speak about the Kugan murder case? Can we talk about corruption and abuse of power by public institutions? Can we bitch about Judicial Commissioner Ridzwan's ridiculous decisions and the waste of taxpayers' money to extend his contract for another 2 years?

All the talk about equality cannot be taken seriously if UMNO continues to act opposite of what it preaches.

I Have a Request for 'Obama' Ganesan

BN candidate for Bukit Selambau, S. Ganesan said "I want to be Malaysia's Obama to safeguard the welfare of all the races and become an idol for the community, because despite being born in a very poor family, I have managed to succeed in life through education."

Later, he handed over RM210,000 for the SJK Tamil School in Sungai Getah, provided for under the second stimulus package.

I applaud Ganesan's personal dream. However, I hope he is not another naive and star strucked politician trying to become the world's most popular politician, President Barack Obama.

Can Ganesan fulfill my request?

1) Can Ganesan abandon racial politics? Become an idol of all Malaysians and not just his own community. The real Obama did not run for the presidency as an African-American candidate. He had broad appeal.

2) Can Ganesan stand up for justice, transparency and accountability? Is Ganesan willing to stand up against his party boss and correct some of his misgivings?

3) Is Ganesan willing to stand up against the excesses and abuses of UMNO? During his campaign, Obama had spoken up against the old politics of Washington.

If Ganesan wants to become a Malaysian Obama, he should be able to respond to my request quite easily.


Independence Fighters & Nation Builders

Outgoing PM Abdullah Badawi said "it is historically true that nationalism and the struggle for independence was first started by the Malays." He added that "the country gained independence after the Malays, Chinese and Indian communities united to fight to free the country from British rule."

There are two factual points which need to be elaborated and explained. After the world war two, it was clear that the British empire had lost its invincibility. Due to the devastation of war against the Nazis in Europe, the empire had to focus on reconstruction in Europe. Many of their colonies were set free. There was a plan in London to eventually grant independence to Malaya.

However, it was the people's alliance which had successfully got together social movements from all races which pushed the British to speed up independence for Malaya. The HARTAL was a demonstration of people's power. The movement led by several social activists had called for nationalisation of all British assets and companies in Malaya.

The treat was so real that the British had to use a dirty tactic to brand them as Communist conspirators and sympathizers. Most of the movement's leaders were detained under the Internal Security Act. Their detention was able to slow the movement's momentum. At the same time, the British began to look out "friendly" parties to hand the reign of government to.

Hence, the British administration began to court the leaders of UMNO, MCA and MIC. UMNO led by Tunku Abdul Rahman was given the task to lead a delegation to London to negotiate for a peaceful handover of power with a few important caveats. The most important is the protection of colonial interests in the country. Before leaving, the British sold land and other properties in the straits states to private owners.

Hence, we got our freedom not through a nationalistic struggle but through mutual agreement to safeguard the British concessions in the country. Most of the Alliance leaders were Western educated, bourgeois and pro-British.

Second, while the fight for independence was noble it is equally important for the nation to recognise those who had helped and contributed to build the nation. Nation builders belonged to Malaysians of all ethnicity and creed. A great number of them had helped to transform this nation from an under developed agricultural nation to a successful manufacturing nation. Many of them who worked in the plantations had helped to earn hard cash for this country and put food on the table for thousands of families.

It was the Chinese community leaders and members who started the urbanisation of Malaya. They had poured in their wealth to build town centres and cities which are still visible today e.g. Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ipoh, Taiping and others.

For UMNO, especially Abdullah, Najib and Hishammudin, to learn how to appreciate the other races they must recognise the role and contributions of these nation builders. Not just their 'keris' waving members and leaders.

UMNO leaders were not the only true independent fighters or national heroes. Normal, silent and low profile Malaysians, our forefathers, who had contributed significantly to this nation - building roads, schools, towns, economy etc. - were heroes too.

Economic Flashpoint

In the US, President Obama has given both General Motors and Chrysler 60 days to come out with better restructuring and turnaround proposals. The new proposals are expected to address the significant debt level and social welfare plans in the companies. The two companies are given stern directive from the Obama administration to fix up and come back to convince them that they deserve additional public money to stay afloat.

Dow Jones is currently down more than 280 points and is expected to stay below the 7400 points level when market closes. Auto mobile related stocks are down. Some financial counters are experiencing profit taking activities too. Chrysler has been asked to find a strategic partner.

In Malaysia, CIMB has directed its 36,000 staff to take 6 months no-pay leave. I am left speechless by the lack of governmental control and surveillance over such practices. The government should require companies to go through a financial diagnostic test to ensure that they do not take advantage of employees during the tough economic times.

Our attention should be directed to helping companies staying alive and workers keeping their jobs. However, companies should not be encouraged to drop the whole burden on employees. I would like to urge the governance to be more sensitive and focused in finding viable solutions to help strategic companies to reinvent and restructure to stay competitive.

We are still awaiting more details from the government on how to combat the decline in the manufacturing, construction, automobile, financial and retail sectors.

The three by-elections are set to drag the inaction beyond 7th April 2009. We are losing some valuable time. If Malaysia fails to use this crisis to improve its competitiveness and industrial performance, we might find ourselves lagging behind many more countries in the next few years.

The Ministry of Finance, especially in-coming PM Najib, must immediately investigate CIMB's no-pay directive. For many of its staff, no-pay for six months can bring unnecessary hardship. Worse, we do not have any retrenchment or unemployment benefits.

By-Elections & Mickey Mouse

Elections and by-elections are able to tease the mickey out of many so-called "leaders". There is an ugly example in Bukit Selambau. Ex-Jerai PKR chief B. Kalaivanar said he dissolved the division, adding he and 356 other members "will not support the PKR candidate or any of the Independents."

He claimed that PKR had deceived the Indian community by making false promises. It is funny that Kalaivanar is making this allegation only when he was not selected to stand in the by-election.

Kalainavar should display some guts by admitting that he is angry of Anwar and PKR because he was not made a candidate, dashing his ambition to become the next state exco if he wins the contest.

It appears like a death sentence to PKR. There are too many suitors but only one can be chosen to represent the party. Some may think that they are more qualified than others.

I have three advice to these politicians:
1) Stop using the community as a flash board to promote one's own interest
2) A politician such as Kalainavar should ask what he can do for the nation and not what the nation can do for him. He is in the wrong party. I am worried about the existence race colonies in multiracial political parties.
3) Politicians should focus on governance, leadership, service and sacrifice. Not just competitive politics. If not, you win and we lose.

I hope Malaysians will do the right thing. Vote in those who want to and can really serve.


I would like to thank Romerz, See Chyn, Quek, Hock Keat, Chung and many more anonymous contributors who had joined my FIGHT against RACISM and POLITICAL BULLIES!

This is not just my battle. This is a battle to make Malaysia a better place. Our future is in our own hands.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Words of Encouragement

Thanks to all readers and supporters for your kind contribution. One kind soul wrote:

Dear Mr Khoo,

I am sorry I would not be able to contribute to your fund as it is abit of struggle for me as a single parent. However I will keep you in our prayers and hope GOd showers you with many blessings from those who can afford. Best of luck


Thank you so much, Justina. Your prayers worth more than any amount. God bless you and family too!

This fight is not just about my survival. This is a case we have to fight to defend our reputation and integrity. Politicians who have access to tremendous legal resources should not be allowed to use the courts to bully us, writers and bloggers, with the intention to silence us. The courts are not a venue for bullies.

I respect the role of the BAR Council but I would like to suggest a reform of the legal fee structure. At present, the structure is arbitrary. Legal cost should not be the main consideration for a person who wants to seek justice in courts.

I would like to thank Eugene, Ng, Chiu, Lee Sam and other anonymous contributors. Your support is overwhelming. The contributors came from multiracial Malaysia. This is an endorsement of my views as non-racial.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Penang Needs An Economic Plan, Not Tigers

I am amused by the tiger talk in Penang. In actual fact, we need a forwarding looking and well thought out economic plan and not tigers. The premise of having a tiger park is to attract more tourists. Tourism is touted as the next big thing in Penang. Hence, it is clear that the state government was not really that fond of tigers but wanted to use the strong appeal of the animal to enhance tourism.

If this is the case, do we really need the tigers to rake in more tourism dollar? So far, the socio-economic development plans announced by the state are piecemeal at best. It has started a fund to eliminate hardcore poverty. This is a good initiative. But the fund is bound to run out in the near future if the money collected is only used to supplement the income of hardcore poor.

The government should use the money to start a small cottage industry which can employ some of members of these families and help make some of them financially independent. Give them a fish, they may eat for a day. We should teach them how to fish. Rope in the Penang Heritage Trust, SMEs, local craftsmen and others to provide them with the necessary training and skills.

The top two most important things to improve in Penang are cleanliness and public safety. For a start, the state government can organise a voluntary monthly George Town clean up programme. Hotels, restaurants, pubs and shops are encouraged to send a few workers to participate in the clean-up exercise together with the local authorities and state assemblymen. Cleanliness is not purely a state matter. Penangites should take pride in their environment and backyard. This initiative is not something new. Hong Kong did it through large public participation when SARS hit.

A clean George Town will go a long way to make tourists feel comfortable. Tigers? You may have to clean up after them.

Next, the government had announced several initiatives to enhance public safety but none was ever implemented. It had wanted to install CCTV and security cameras around the island. There are better ways to start here. What about a better road lighting system? The government should work with the state police headquarters to create a security grid to identify high crime areas, high risk period and most vulnerable groups in order to assist the latter to better allocate scarce police resources. Again, this is not something new. It has been done in most vibrant cities around the world including many cities in China and US.

A better public safety will allow tourists to roam our streets and city freely and fearlessly. Many of them were victims of snatch theft and robbery.

As a tourism destination, Penang has had several key strengths and differentiated products. George Town was accorded a UNESCO World Heritage status last July. Surely this status can be expanded and explored to revive and rejuvenate performing arts, cultural performances, food, and a whole gamut of other cultural activities in Penang. Other countries are able to create interesting fusion of food, entertainment, culture and fun to attract tourists. Many did not realise that Penang used to have the largest pool of artists in the country. Even Cambodians can stage a successful theatre on the Angkor empire and turn it into a tourism must-see. What is Penang's unique identity and key selling points? Surely can't be just tigers.

Several areas such as China Town, Batu Ferringhi, Komtar, Queensbay, Autocity, Gurney Drive, Harmony Street Little India and others have a lot of potential to be developed into exciting tourism hubs focusing on food, retail, local handicrafts and products, entertainment and fun, high-end boutique, cultural performance and religious festivals. These places used to be buzzing with activities. They have a good base for the state government to focus some attention to revive and rejuvenate them again as tourism attractions. Today, tourists do not have much choices in Penang apart from sunbathing and hawker food.

The government can provide incentive to traders and retailers in China Town to extend their business hour to at least 10pm. If they can be given a subsidy for a year to offset some of their labour cost to stay open beyond 5pm, some of these shops might give it a try. The state government can work with the hoteliers' association, local newspapers, tour agents, tourism exco and others to promote these places. Tour agents are encouraged to bring their guests to these places. Once there are customers and patrons, these business hubs will prosper on their own.

The most important thing needed by the state government now is innovation, creativity and patience to see through the implementation. There is a danger in 'instant noodle' plans and projects. Tigers can't sing or dance to attract visitors. These hundreds of shops, food stalls, local lifestyle and cultural activities can help to do that. They are profit centres too and not meat gobbling beasts which need tens of thousand ringgit to upkeep. Local shops selling local products and services can bring down inflation and lessen our dependent on imports e.g. food.

The state government must start thinking now and help to address some of the most challenging questions:

1) What's Penang next economic model?
2) What are the new industries which can create more new jobs?
3) How to improve basic amenities, cleanliness and public safety?
4) How to mitigate the loss of jobs in the manufacturing hub?
5) Can Penang continue to depend on its manufacturing sector?
6) How to develop heritage and eco-tourism in the state?

It is obvious that we need a solid economic plan, not tigers.

UMNO New Lineup - Does It Matter?

It does not matter if it is Muhyiddin or Muhammad Taib, Khairy or Khir Toyo, Zahid Hamidi or someone else. The thing which must change is the mindset of UMNO's leadership. Of course, Najib did emphasize on change. Mukhriz made 'change' his election platform.

But the 'change' they called for is not a change which is sorely needed by the nation. We need a change in the way this nation is governed. Not a change which will only seek to deepen and strengthen ethno-religious politics. Not the kind of change which will make UMNO more hegemonic, make the police force or any public institutions the tools of politicians or alter the democratic system of this country which may curtail individual rights.

If the change UMNO seeks is to seek more control over government apparatus, more positions in the government linked companies and full access of public resources, then the party will transform fully into an autocratic regime.

Recently, it has taken some harsh decisions against detractors. Bar Council has been warned against the use of 'Allah' in its online poll. Judiciary reform undertaken by Abdullah has faltered when Ipoh High Court's Judicial Commissioner Ridzwan's tenure was controversially renewed for 2 more years after he has made controversial decisions against the Perak state assembly speaker. Even the chief judge was implicated in a recorded statement that he had bribed the judiciary when he was in legal practice. No police statement was ever taken from him.

More abuses have been unveiled and they have become a common feature in the Malaysian way of life. To a number of Malaysians, politics in UMNO is synonymous with everything negative. This is a huge perception hurdle for the party.

Abdullah was right that the party cannot bully its way to power. Regardless of the new leadership lineup, UMNO needs to change its political approach and mindset. It is does not drop its old game plan, there is very little hope the party to turn around.

Is the new leadership truly free of those tainted by power corruption? The answer is quite obvious.

But the component parties will hail the leadership as a new dawn. Predictable.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

GLOOMY Malaysia's Economic Outlook

Malaysia's gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate was forecasted to drop to zero percent as the global financial crisis evolved into a deepening sub-regional industrial crisis in Southeast Asia, according to the United Nations' regional arm, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap).

Escap observed that the crisis has moved rapidly from its first stage of a financial crisis emanating from developed countries and causing contagion in Asia and the Pacific, to a second stage of crisis for the real economy in the region based on plummeting exports and curtailed domestic demand.

The organisation believed that Southeast Asia could be among the most affected by the crisis, given its integrated industrial production base and linkages to the global supply chain, thus deepening unemployment. It expected an overall economic growth rate of 1.2 percent for Southeast Asia this year, the lowest among the developing Asia Pacific sub-regions.

This situation does not augur well for the country. Based on several observations, the unemployment rate is expected to climb to more than 5% by the end of this year. The economy is heavily dependent on FDIs and exports to support growth. Both of them have plummeted this year. A number of companies I have spoken too are taking precautions by averting financial and investment risks. Most of them will not make any new investment this year.

This will result in further reduction in jobs creation. The main problem for the country is how to generate enough jobs for the society if the economy is projected at zero growth. It will be difficult for Malaysia to create enough jobs at 3-4 percent growth, worse if it is at zero percent. Another 600,000 are expected to join the job market this year. The government has offered grants to those who are interested to pursue postgraduate degrees. However, this offer is not expected to reduce the number of new entrants significantly.

Another worry is policy flip-flops from the government. It has imposed a double levy on foreign workers but was told to review its decision by several BN leaders. The ministry of human resource has postponed the levy hike by another month. It will have to decide on it soon. I have argued that the issue of foreign workers will have to be analysed in a long term perspective. Sending back low skilled and cheap foreign workers will not create immediate jobs for the locals. Most of them are not willing to work in the same environment as the foreign workers.

The government needs a firm review on these areas:
  • Address immediate economic bottlenecks e.g. technology and production gaps, skills gap, industrial development process, archaic labour, investment and trade rules and regulations etc.;
  • Create new industries and new jobs;
  • Address important issues on market reforms to strengthen private sector governance, rationalize the role of GLCs;
  • Promote transparency in GLCs such as EPF, Khazanah and SOCSO;
  • Enhance key performance indicators on public projects and announce the members of the technical monitoring committee on the second stimulus publicly;
  • Pursue real process improvements in the public sector to cut and reduce wastage and inefficiency;
  • Regain public confidence on the economy; and
  • Rebuild the administration confidence
The main problem remains the lack of political discipline within the ruling coalition. We want more serious, non-partisan and non-rhetorical discourse and discussion on the economy. So far, the government has provided us with neither direction nor leadership.

The work is cut out for Najib but the nation's focus will be drifted again to the by-elections. After 7th April, expect Penanti and Bukit Lanjan to follow up. When can we start to focus on the economy despite the gloom?

Kay Peng's Legal Defence Fund

Dear readers,

Since 2001, I have been a regular political commentator and analyst who has made himself available to journalists, reporters, politicians and NGOs to discuss important political and socio-economic issues in the country. I hope to be able to continue to provide this free-of-charge service to the society if you continue to support my contribution.

It was unfortunate that I was sued as a co-author of a book for allegedly defamed a Gerakan politician. I have denied the charge and the case is pending in court. Until now, I have paid all the legal fees with my own fund.

However, due to a miscommunication with a previous legal firm, which was supposed to have taken up the case on a 'pro-bono' basis, it has billed me with a substantial amount for its representation to overturn the injunction filed against me. It was arranged by a member of parliament who had misinformed me about the charges.

The Gerakan leader (who used his own legal firm to represent him) also sent legal notices to warn all major bookstores not to sell the book. As a result, a number of big book stores which had ordered hundreds of copies returned the books.

I do not blame the lawyers to want to earn their fee. However, we should not allow this act of intimidation to silence our voices too. Many of you may not agree with everything I wrote but I am sure you can appreciate my strive to be an independent observer.

All donations will be greatly appreciated. Please buy me a cuppa! Thanks.

Khoo Kay Peng
Maybank Account: 512231084814


Thanks to readers who have responded within minutes of this post.

Controversial Gerakan book launched
Beh Lih Yi Jul 31, 08 (Malaysiakini)

The launch of a new book on Gerakan proceeded as scheduled today after the Kuala Lumpur High Court dismissed a Gerakan leader's application for an injunction to stop the event. The book, ‘Non-sectarian politics in Malaysia: The case of Parti Gerakan Rakyat' which was penned by Khoo Kay Peng and Dr Neil Khor ran into controversy after Gerakan's Chia Loong Thye claimed it contained defamatory words against him.

Loong Thye, who is also Gerakan secretary-general Kwang Chye's younger brother, had alleged that a line from the 186-page book was "false and defamatory" and caused serious damage to his reputation. The sentence, said to have cast aspersions on the brothers' characters, was set against the background of Loong Thye's electoral debut during the March 8 polls. He argued that the harm he allegedly suffered was "irreparable" especially as he was a lawyer, and thus warranted the need for an injunction to be granted.

Loong Thye is a partner of leading law firm Lee Hishamuddin Allen & Gledhill. He then sought an injunction to stop today's launch from taking place and to prevent the book from hitting the shelves. Different matters Justice Abdul Wahab Patail, however, denied Loong Thye's bid. The judge ruled that the politician could not rely on his legal qualifications as grounds for his applications as they were separate from his voluntary involvement in politics, according to Khor's lawyer Daphne Choy when contacted.

The decision was made after oral submissions from lawyers representing all parties during a brief session this morning. The two authors, the book's printer and publishing firm were named as the respondents in the application for the injunction. Contacted later, Khoo - who is the former head of Gerakan think-tank Sedar - was happy with the court's decision and said he was ready to face the politician should the latter decide to proceed with further court action.

The authors refused to comply with the requests set by Loong Thye in a letter of demand sent last Friday, which sought a full retraction of the wordings, an apology, withdrawal of the book from circulation or recall of copies already distributed. It also demanded the cancellation of the book's launch and asked for an unspecified sum in compensation.

‘It's a legitimate discussion'

Meanwhile, Loong Thye in a statement to Malaysiakini today said he agreed that the issue of non-sectarian politics in Malaysia was an "important issue and is very relevant to our present Malaysian politics". "It is also legitimate to discuss the role of Gerakan in the context of non-sectarian politics, but why is it not possible to discuss this issue without the need to (allegedly) slander another person?"

"My complaint against the authors is just that," he said in the statement. The book, which provided insights into Gerakan's operations, was launched by party leader Dr Toh Kin Woon, academician and author Dr Ooi Kee Beng and social activist Anwar Fazal at a hotel in Penang this afternoon.

In the March 8 polls, Loong Thye who made his election debut , lost to DAP candidate Teh Yee Cheu by 1,935 votes. Tanjong Bungah is one of the four state seats under the Bukit Bendera parliamentary constituency, where Kwang Chye contested and was defeated by DAP newcomer Liew Chin Tong with a whopping 16,112-vote majority. Previously, both these seats were Gerakan strongholds.

Khairy's Implication on Najib

A number of reporters asked about the possible impact of Khairy's successful election as the new UMNO Youth chief on Najib's administration.

Personally, I do not think that Khairy will play a check-and-balance role against the new boss. The hasty exit of his father-in-law has left Khairy without a shield (he once claimed that he was protected by the PM). Nevertheless, his election could be a sounding board for both Najib and Dr Mahathir. Less than 40 percent of the youth delegates are not comfortable with a growing axis of Najib-Dr M.

Dr M's outspokenness and criticism against Khairy and Abdullah may have worked for the party veterans but not the youth. It is also a signal that Najib may not have a free hand afterall to run the party in any way he likes. Ong Kian Ming suggested that Ali Rustam's disqualification may have gotten Khairy some additional votes. If this is true, then the same will be enjoyed by Muhammad Taib in his straight fight against Muyhiddin.

However, I expect Khairy to lean towards Najib if he is accommodated in the new cabinet. By convention, the UMNO Youth chief is given a junior cabinet position. MCA's Dr Wee Ka Siong is strongly expected to be made a minister too.

If Khairy is accommodated despite Dr M's criticism, then he will try to win the support of the top leadership to pacify and consolidate his unconvincing win and support from the youth movement. Just like Hishammudin, he has to be the president's man.

It is interesting to watch how both Mukhriz and Khir Toyo will react. At 42, it is the end of the road for Khir Toyo. He needs to play his card right to make a comeback at the main body. Mukhriz is riding on the Dr M's wave and he will have to find his own wind soon. They are not going to bow to Khairy's leadership. How will Khairy accommodate the two?

What's Dr M reaction to Khairy's appointment as a minister? He had warned Najib to keep away dubious characters (also read his 'detractors') from being appointed into his cabinet or he will stage another coup to get rid of Najib.

Najib's motivation to reform UMNO is very low. He is more keen to consolidate his power and focus on UMNO vis-a-vis Malay unity. He needs to consolidate his position and he is willing to use coercive powers on his opponents. This is acceptable within UMNO and BN as long as he does not go against his own people. There is a different set of rules for UMNO boys. We all know this well. Then again, Dr M is not very much interested in real reform either. He is more interested to keep Najib on his leash. Looks like he may not get his way to sideline Khairy.

The Prospect of UMNO Under Najib

Najib Razak, Sharizat Jalil and Khairy Jamaluddin are going to form the leadership backbone for UMNO. Can their leadership provide a new impetus for the party's revival? Can UMNO help to rejuvenate other BN component parties?

There are several issues which the new leadership must address quickly:
  1. The party is suffering from a serious perception deficit. It is known for being a bully, a rule bender, rowdy, autocratic and feudalistic. The party does not mind manipulating religion, race and recently the monarchy to satisfy its political agenda. One of the biggest challenges for the party under the new leadership is to prove to us that it is ready and capable of governing a multiracial society. An UMNO which caters for only the Malay community may help to extend the lifeline of the party but not the coalition's. Can Najib convincingly rebrand his leadership to appeal to all Malaysians? Can his leadership be current and flexible enough to win over the waning support of young Malaysians?
  2. UMNO new leadership is the most controversial in the party's history. Najib is entangled with several allegations. Two veteran leaders, Dr Mahathir and Tengku Razaleigh, had urged the new president to come clean on the matter. Ku Li told the Malaysian Insider, "(He) should take the witness stand to clear his name or take legal action against the growing number of foreign publications linking him with the murder of Altantuya Shariibuu and the purchase of submarines. He “should finally face these suspicions and implied charges, submit himself to legal scrutiny, and come clean on them.’’ Meanwhile, Khairy was implicated in the last general election as one of the main causes of BN's stunning defeats. A number of BN leaders had quietly singled him out for arousing the anger of non-Malays. The two leaders have a lot of work to do to repair their public image.
  3. Under Najib leadership, will his reforms plan suffer the same fate like Abdullah's? Several actions taken by the UMNO led government do not augur well for his leadership e.g. arbitrary use of ISA against civilians, Perak power grab, dubious decisions taken by public institutions against the oppositions, action taken against bloggers, police interference in politics and others. His leadership has given us a perception that UMNO is not committed to promote and defend the rule of law, the federal constitution and the democracy system. What is Najib's focus and priority? The interest of this nation or his own political dominance? Malaysians do not like to be kicked around anymore. My sense is that many Malaysians despise unfairness and arrogance.
  4. Is UMNO willing to share more power with other component parties? These political parties can no longer hide that they are not consulted in policy formulation and decision making within the government. Most of these parties are reduced to making statements in the media. If the trend continues, expect very little to change in BN. The progress of this country must involve more than just UMNO leaders. The party does not the capacity to single handily pull this nation out of the current economic dilemma. The talent pool needs to be enlarged. Is the party willing to consider meritocracy over ethnicity?
  5. The current perception today is the party is outdated and does not understand the needs and wants of a multiracial nation. Does the party understand what are the key success factors of a society increasing threatened by complex global challenges?

The plate is full for the new UMNO leadership. It takes a superhuman performance of the leaders to rebuild and regain the confidence of Malaysians towards the party. We are at the twilight of race-based political model.

Monday, March 23, 2009

PR Has Taken the Fight to BN

PR has nominated ousted chief minister Nizar Jamaluddin as the PAS candidate for the Bukit Gantang by-election on April 7. Nizar is a heavy weight and the right choice for the coalition.

According to Malaysiakini, in naming Nizar as the candidate, the opposition is turning the Bukit Gantang by-election into a referendum on the messy takeover of the Perak state government by Barisan Nasional last month.

This is a contest BN is set to become the under dog.

Earlier, PKR named the former member of parliament for Lubok Antu Jawah Gerang as its candidate for the Batang Ai by-election which is to be held on April 7.

Bukit Selambau is as good as a walkover for PKR. MIC is not expected to cause an upset in the by-election, largely due to its president Samy Vellu who was returned unopposed.

BN can expect tough contests in the three seats. Anwar has shown that he is serious in the candidate selection process.

Racist Ibrahim Ali the Next Katak

Folks, do not be surprised. There is potentially another defector from PAS to UMNO. This man has shown his last card. Using the platform of a racist organisation, Ibrahim Ali is shadow boxing. If there is justice and fairness, Ibrahim should have been hauled up for stirring up racial sentiments.

The Perkasa President Ibrahim Ali said that for the sake of "the country, race and religion, I am willing to be detained under the Internal Security Act" should Malay rights be challenged.

He warned non-Malays to behave, if not then Malays would repay in kind. "If they are polite, we will be polite. But if they are not, neither will we. If they are kurang ajar (ill-mannered), we too can be kurang ajar."

This recalcitrant politician has submitted a list of demands to pressure incoming Umno president Najib Razak to adopt a more active stance in promoting Malay rights and privileges. What a show! Bravo, Ibrahim Ali. The stage is now set for his return to UMNO.

PAS should review its candidate selection process in the next general election. A candidate such as Ibrahim Ali is a time bomb for the PR coalition.

Take him on in Pasir Mas. This man should lose his deposit. A racist is a racist. He can never change his spots.

Remember this face. SAY NO TO RACISM!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lim is Answerable to the Penang Fiasco

First, the chief minister of Penang said he was not aware why his deputy chief minister did not turn up to work. Then, he told us he had approved Fairus' leave at the request of Anwar Ibrahim. Lim has declined to state the latter’s reasons for stepping down.

Holding the highest public office in Penang, Lim should have handled this matter professionally. Until his resignation, Fairus was the second highest officer in the state government. As Lim's deputy, he is expected to act as the chief minister in Lim's absence. Fairus was not his private secretary whose position does not need public clarity. It is only fair for Lim to provide the public with an explanation.

Second, it is odd for Anwar to request a leave for Fairus. Fairus was answerable to Lim. He should have applied for his own leave. This has made the situation murkier. Can Lim expect us to believe that Fairus has resigned to further his studies? As one of the youngest deputy chief ministers in the history of Malaysian politics, it is odd for Fairus to choose to further his studies at this moment. He is set to lose all his perks and status in the state government.

Lim was given an opportunity to show us some leadership in managing this crisis but he has chosen to push the buck elsewhere. This is not a PKR internal problem. It has a deep negative impact on his administration. He should not do what he had previously criticized what the Gerakan leadership did - avoid responsibility over UMNO leaders. He is responsible for the performance of his deputy. He is duty bound to appoint the right people to hold important positions.

Lim's administration needs a better PR strategy. Lim is too big for NST's Saranjit Singh. There is very little for him to gain by boycotting NST from his official functions. Instead, he should have asked for a right to respond to the paper's allegations about his administration. If this request is denied, then he has every right to ban NST from covering any of his functions.

I hope Lim will learn from this lesson and improve his own management and PR skills. At the start of the year, Lim had promised to be less combative. I hope he will walk his talk.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Najib: Efficiency is Key

The Deputy Prime Minister said it was not a matter of “doing too much” but rather the efficient implementation of the stimulus package.

Najib said a technical committee had been set up to regularly meet and monitor the implementation. This committee would then report to a steering committee chaired by him.

I agree with Najib that implementation is key. So far, the last stimulus package was hampered by implementation. While I applaud his effort to measure implementation, there are several issues which must be addressed very quickly. There are additional steps which must be taken by his administration and ministry.

  1. Make public details of the first stimulus and its results;
  2. Provide details of the second stimulus package and explain how it will be able to create jobs, enhance domestic demand and ensure the domestic economy does not shrink drastically;
  3. Give us a weekly job creation data and other details on the real economy;
  4. Make public public on GLCs' transformation and how the government intends to deal with unprofitable ones;
  5. Details on how to improve the implementation system;
  6. Who are in the technical committee and how it intends to function;
  7. Make the findings of the technical committee public during a weekly ministerial press conference on the economy;
  8. Details on how the government intends to combat corruption;

It is pertinent for the Finance Minister not to just show us the shadow of his plan. We need concrete details. The government owes it to the people to be accountable fully on the economy and the stimulus plan. Afterall, it is public's money.

Is UMNO's Displinary Action Credible?

I would like to applaud the UMNO disciplinary committee for acting against errant members who are corrupted. One of the biggest casualties is Umno vice-president Mohd Ali Rustam. Tourism Minister Azalina Othman was hauled up by the MACC last week.

However, there is an inconsistency between the two cases. In the case of Ali Rustam, he was only disqualified to contest the deputy president position but get to keep his ministerial position. He was not even referred to the MACC. Both Ali and Azalina might have committed the same offence but the treatment was different. This is going to set the tongue wagging.

If UMNO is serious in weeding out corruption, it must be willing to act without fear or favour against all offenders.

Since Ali Rustam has been found guilty the right thing for the party to do is to ask him to step down as the Chief Minister of Malacca. Malaysians deserved good and clean leaders and not just UMNO members.

Azalina should be temporarily asked to go on leave until her case is resolved and investigated. She was investigated on the possibility of awarding her ministry's contracts to her supporters.

UMNO should understand the real deal of perception in politics. If the party is interested to redeem itself it must apply consistent standards on good governance and accountability.

There is another problem. Brash, arrogant, unruly and physically intimidating are hallmarks of UMNO members. Disciplinary action should be taken against members who acted in such manner too. There are far too many cases and the behaviour of these members have irked the public, to the detriment of the party.

This is a generous and sincere advice to the party.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dr M: Najid Did Not Shine

Dr Mahathir said the obvious, "Najib did not shine.". Najib will take power at the end of March and will have to deal with the worst economic downturn since the Asian financial crisis of 1998 as well as rebuilding a party tainted with corruption and still bruised by last year’s big election losses.

“A lot of people are uncertain. Having watched Najib’s performance as deputy (prime minister), he did not shine,” Mahathir said.

I have a clear example to show why he did not shine. Instead of responding to the critics of his second stimulus plan, Najib chose to hit out at them. So far, the second stimulus has failed to raise both the market and consumer confidence.

There are a few problems with the stimulus. First, it lacked details. I have said earlier in my article that it is not just the size that matters. It is important for the stimulus package to address important hot spots in the economy. Two are very key; reducing job lost and improving domestic demand. Only a paltry RM2 billion is allocated for job creation. However, the government has failed to show us how it is going to create these new jobs.

The civil service is expected to employ 61,000 more people. This is not a permanent way forward. By ratio, the Malaysian civil service is already the biggest in Asia surpassing Japan. Almost 2 out of 10 workers are civil servants.

It is more important for the government to identify ways to jolt the economy in the short run to produce growth in the mid and long term. Sustaining economic growth and creating jobs should be the focus of private sector. But this sector must be given enough assistance to tide through the downturn.

The government is also muted on how it intends to continue with GLCs reform. Some GLCs are money losing and some did not perform up to expectations e.g. EPF. There must a clear cut strategy to ensure the second stimulus also address restructuring of the economy.

So far, a good number of Malaysians cannot see how the stimulus is benefiting them. There is no tax cut, no direct stimulus, no new jobs, no new industries created but merely promises.

I concur with Dr M that Najib has failed to inspire and shine as a Finance Minister. Until and unless the incoming premier address and answer some of these tough questions regarding his stimulus package and his (lack of) direction to guide the economy, his popularity rating will be low. Malaysians are just not inspired by his leadership. Not yet.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Stalling of Gerakan

Gerakan President Koh Tsu Koon has pleaded with the voters to give BN a chance to reform and change.

“The people can assist and encourage the BN to change by giving BN support in the (upcoming) by-elections. This will give those of us in BN more support and strength to continue the process of reform from within."

Koh's statement has exposed a reality within BN and Gerakan. Both Koh and Gerakan have yet to understand the real meaning of change. If BN leaders, especially UMNO, are serious about change they do not need external support to do so. Change must come internally.

The coalition has ruled the country for more than 50 years. It still enjoy a huge parliamentary majority. In fact, leaders of the coalition are boasting about their power grab in Perak. What more support needed by the coalition? It has all the support and electoral advantage to do whatever necessary. Alas, the coalition has decided to reciprocate differently by using coercive forces, public institutions and archaic security legislation to pounce on their political opponents and civilians.

I am surprised that time and time again the Gerakan president has displayed his naivete and lack of political finesse. To push the BN to change, voters must be willing to punish the coalition for not respecting their constitutional rights. UMNO is still playing the same old political game of using both religion and race to pump up communal support. Now the party is toying with feudalism to defend the monarchy. No one is above the law, not even a monarch or a UMNO president.

Gerakan president and its leaders are barking up the wrong tree. It should ask UMNO to give the coalition a chance. If UMNO keeps its old habits, it will be detrimental to its partners like Gerakan.

Even Koh is not so confident of a change despite being given additional support in the by-elections. He was quick to say “However, it will take some time and effort to bring about real reform in a big coalition of diverse parties representing various communities and interests.”

If Koh is not even convinced himself, can he hope to convince the voters to give BN a blank cheque? Voters have done this for the past 12 general elections.

Why still no change? If Gerakan really clamour for a change, it should start with its own leadership. Its leaders in Penang are busy nosing around with Lim Guan Eng's safety and his press ban of NST. It should start to address its own priorities and stop making such stupid statements like this one.

Scrutinize EPF's Performance

Reported here:

Despite earning a record RM20 billion in gross income in 2008, a cautious Employees’ Provident Fund has declared a 4.5 per cent dividend for its members and blamed the lower rate of returns on the global financial crisis.

The state pension fund had declared 5.8 per cent in 2007 when it just earned RM18.29 billion. In 2008, its gross income jumped 9.36 per cent for EPF to record its highest ever earnings of RM20 billion.

EPF was previously used to "bail out" companies which were not performing that well e.g. Time Telekom. It loaned RM5 billion to Valuecap Sdn Bhd for its activities to buy Malaysian stocks much to the consternation of the general public.

I believe it is time for account holders to demand a full disclosure of EPF's performance and portfolios of investment. Despite being a government linked company, EPF is accountable to account holders like myself. We should be empowered to demand a change of its management board if the company does not help to protect our saving and investment.

It is time a mechanism is proposed to scrutinize the performance of EPF.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sedition Joke

Speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia is not yet the biggest joker. This one is good. DAP chairman Karpal Singh is expected to be charged under the Sedition Act on Tuesday for allegedly insulting the Sultan of Perak.

Karpal will be charged for his alleged threat to sue the Sultan of Perak, Sultan Azlan Shah for acting beyond his powers and consenting to the appointment of Datuk Dr Zambry Kadir as the new Perak Mentri Besar.

Wow...I thought April Fool is still a few weeks away. Insulting? Threatening to sue? When did Malaysia become a feudal monarchy?

Who said the monarch, the government, the Speaker, the Prime Minister or the DPM cannot be challenged in the courts?

If the authorities insisted on charging Mr Singh under the Sedition Act, they might as well rip off the federal constitution.

This is not funny.

Third World Parliament, Third Rate Speaker

By rushing through a motion to suspend Puchong MP Gobind Singh for a year, the speaker, Pandikar Amin Mulia, said "it (the motion) should be debated now since ‘Parliament is no longer like a first-world Parliament anymore’. I would like to agree with the speaker.

First, there were many other more important motions tabled at the parliament but were rejected by this third world parliament speaker. Some of the motions included the use of ISA against civilians, the power grab in Perak and Kugan's murder case.

But this third rate speaker has decided to allow a motion which involved Gobind's so-called unparliamentary conduct last Thursday when he implicated Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak in the murder of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu.

The speaker's decision to suspend Gobind for a year is an abuse of his power. Gobind did not do the wisest thing trying to implicate the deputy prime minister without a clear and solid evidence. As a legal practitioner, he should know better not to allege a person of murder without a solid evidence.

But the speaker should exercise his own constraint and professionalism in meting out a punishment. Perhaps he is trying to curry flavour and earn some brownie points from the in-coming PM himself. The suspension is too harsh and unfair to the voters of Puchong.

Yes, Mr Speaker, the parliament is worse than some in the third world countries. Made worse by your decision.

Friday, March 13, 2009

UMNO is a Bad Role Model

The fall of PR government in Perak has boosted the ego of UMNO. The loud call for change which we heard right after the last general election has turned into the same old voice of racism, extremism and arrogance again. The only UMNO leaders who are persistent with their call for change are Tengku Razaleigh and Zaid Ibrahim. The latter had resigned from the party with disgust and formed his own organisation to promote non-racialism.

Tengku Razaleigh is still reminiscing the old UMNO which was to him a great and generous party. In an interview with Astro Awani, which I was a guest caller panelist, he claimed the party was very generous to the other races. The party had given "memberi" the other races freedom to practice their religion, to receive their mother tongue education, to earn a living etc.

I support Kuli in his call to reform UMNO but I am disappointed with his old mindset. UMNO as a political party has been entrusted to rule this country for the last 52 years. Like any other political parties, it is responsible to govern fairly, efficiently and transparently. Our rights and freedom were NOT given by UMNO but are guaranteed under the federal constitution. This is the highest law of this land. Like other Malaysians, I am not indebted to the party. UMNO leaders should be indebted to all Malaysians for trusting them with the power to rule this country for more than five decades.

The earlier Tengku understands this fact the better he will be able to speak for us. This is a fact which has not been fully accepted by UMNO. Until and unless this party starts to accept the minorities as equals it will be difficult to see how the BN coalition can do well in the next general election. UMNO is not capable to rule by itself. This is a hard lesson it should have learned from the last general election. The BN which claimed to represent multiracial Malaysia has lost its lustre and its diversity.

It looks like the reform we are seeking is not forthcoming. Najib said he will not embrace radical reforms to the country's race-based economic system that critics charge has stunted development and fostered corruption. He said that Malaysia could embrace some reforms such as liberalising the services sector but was not able to dismantle policies favouring ethnic Malays.

The lack of political will to change an archaic policy which has obviously outlived its relevance showed that the NEP is no longer simply a poverty eradication and wealth redistribution mechanism. It is highly politicized and linked to the party's race supremacy agenda. The policy had contributed to uplift a large segment of the Malay community out of poverty but its implementation was twisted beyond its original intention during the Mahathir regime. Instead of focusing on the poor, the policy's focus had shifted to equity ownership of the community. The fact that wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few is no longer an issue as long as these cronies continue to obtain handouts.

This is not going to be the only disappointment for multiracial Malaysia. The party has gone back on its words to lift the ban on "Allah" being used by Malay publications on Christianity. UMNO's divisive policy continues into the realm of religion and language. The party has often reminded Malaysians to be sensitive towards Islam but is not able to practice what it preached. The fear of conversions among Muslims to Christianity if the word "Allah" is allowed in Christian publications showed how little faith the party has on Muslims in Malaysia.

How can UMNO help to make the Malay community more confident of its own capability and identity if it is behaving this way? The paradoxes of UMNO are mind boggling. Apart from its insecurity, the party has used huge amount of resources to create and run programmes to project the greatness and paramount of Islamic civilisation and creed.

It is precisely the fact that Islam is a great religion that the party should be confident enough to allow the use of "Allah" in Christian publications. The party's reaction to the use of the word "Allah" reflected very little of its commitment as a defender of Islam but exposes its lack of faith as believers. UMNO should look at how Muslims who are confident of their faith are able to co-exist and prosper in any systems even in Western democracies.

Not enough toying with both race and religion, the party is now trying to manipulate the monarchy in Malaysia for their own political leverage, if there is any. However, the monarchy must be a willing party in order to be taken advantage by a political entity. It is rare for the monarchy to take side although some members of the royal families had entered or are still in politics. Tengku Razaleigh is one of the more popular members.

They have turned the Perak power grab as an attempt to challenge the position of monarch in the country. Between defending the constitution and the monarchy, UMNO's preference and commitment is clear. This party has no qualm to ignore the rights of minorities, indigenous people, freedom of expression et cetera but it is now taking action on those who had criticized the Sultan of Perak's decision to sack the elected state leader and questioned his constitutional right to do so. Ironically, UMNO has turned a blind eye on its members who had insulted the other races. Its coup leader, Zambry, has turned into a monarch by accusing his political opponent, Nizar, of treason (Derhaka) for putting a plague to commemorate the "tree-assembly". I have a problem with Nizar not for his treachery but for reminding us of the dark hour of Malaysian democracy.

UMNO should not be over confident of its own immortality. It can be defeated regardless of the resources it has. The party must make correct choices; between democracy and autocracy, between rule of law and rule by law, between right and wrong, between rationality and arrogance, between racism and humanity, between isolation and co-existence and between Malaysia and self-interest.

Ultimately, UMNO must be ready to halt the election process. Otherwise, it must choose between winning and losing as a political party.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Unity Government Remains a Dream

Tengku Razaleigh and several others have proposed a unity government to allow both coalitions to focus on the economy. Ironically, the proponent of this idea stopped short at proposing a mechanism to allow it to materialize. In reality, it is easier said than done.

Even Najib's tone when he spoke about putting aside political differences at his mini-budget speech sounded more sarcastic than sincere. However, this idea is not without its merit. I am sure many of us would rather to have both coalitions focusing on governance and implementation rather than unending political contestation.

However, it is will be a tall order for the coalitions to call a truce if they continue to go for each other's throat.

Can PR stop accusing Najib of being involved in the Altantuya's murder case? The coalition is not going to let Najib off the hook easily. Even if the incoming PM is safe from prosecution unless a solid evidence can be submitted there is no real need of an evidence to inflict political damage on him. Can BN and PR call a truce to focus on a unity government? No. I doubt some NGOs and individual activists will allow this to happen in the name of justice.

Can BN stop accusing Anwar of sodomizing his ex-aide? The same condition applies here. Unless the alleged crime can be proven beyond reasonable doubt, Anwar should be allowed to play his role as the Opposition Leader and a partner to the unity government. Seen as UMNO's No. 1 enemy, it is highly unlikely that Najib's men will trust his presence and involvement in running the government.

Can a fair, just and legal solution be brought to Perak? Can BN share power with PR by reinstating Nizar as the MB and Zambry as his assistant? I doubt this solution can be reached.

Can the federal government allocate more resources to all states including PR states to help stimulate the economy? Its Minister of Tourism Azalina Othman is more keen to allocate resources elsewhere than to these states to promote tourism. She has even directed the closure of a federal funded tourism action council in Penang. It will speak volume of Najib's administration if Azalina is retained in her cabinet position. Her performance as a tourism minister is lacklustre.

Federal-state power play is reaching its peak in some PR controlled states. I have heard how civil servants in these states have refused to work with the new state governments. There is a real challenge on the ground. The losers are the people. Perhaps, we should be the ones determining the kind of government we wanted.

Some of the proponents of this idea are seasoned politicians. They should know better not to propose for the sake of doing so. Can Tengku Razaleigh lead the way? Everyone can understand Anas Zubedy's frustration. Perhaps Anas should bring up his frustration with the Gerakan leaders, a party he was associated with, and get them to do something positive about a unity government. Gerakan is not even consulted on the latest stimulus package.

I attended a Penang government state briefing at Esplanade. I was disappointed with the performance of several excos including both deputy chief ministers who went up the stage and gave very little hint of what they have done in the government. Most of them wasted the opportunity to brief the people on what they have planned for the people and the strategy to mitigate the slowdown.

I was there in anticipation of a new vision and socio-economic development plan which may be announced by the government. I left half-way because I was tired and bored listening to political talks about Perak, Sarawak and more BN bashing.

The only exco who gave a short briefing of his portfolio happened to be the person who was recently criticized for his lack of English proficiency. I applaud Danny Law for doing his job and I could comprehend his speech in English although it was definitely not Queen's English.

The bottom line is there is no need for a unity government if both coalitions can respect the verdict of the people. They should exercise the mandate given by the people to rule for the next 5 years. They should respect the rule of law. I was tempted to be very critical of the Penang state government but I fully understand the limitations faced by the newly minted state government.

It is not easy to function under the current system where there is heavy centralisation. This system is designed to ensure the dominance of a coalition which has federal control. With the exception of Kelantan, this system will ensure a short tenure of any other opposition state governments.

Can you expect the people to feel confident of the economy if the government legitimacy is itself in doubt?

BN and PR should pull up their socks quickly!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

RM60 Billion Stimulus - Is it Adequate?

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Najib Razak has announced an unprecedented RM60 billion economic stimulus to counter the economic downturn. The sum is impressive but the devil is in the details.

Firstly, it is very important for the economic stimulus to return the people's confidence to continue spending and investing in the local economy. The source of funding the stimulus package should be made clear and transparent. The big Q is how is the government going to fund the stimulus.

Second, there is a need to create a solid mechanism to provide a reliable check-and-balance system to ensure that projects earmarked under the new mini-budget are economically viable and useful. The government should be careful not to spend on projects which are wasteful. It needs to ensure that leakages and wastages are kept at minimum level. Corruption is still a problem in the system. Another equally important concern is poor execution of contractors. Abandoned projects or those not completed on time equal to almost 20-30% of total project value.

Third, it is unfortunate that the government does not touch on special allocation to improve public transport system e.g. public bus, LRT and taxis. These services should be expanded and improved. More than 50% of our petrol consumption is taken up by private vehicles. The consumption is not productive and wasteful. Instead, the government is providing subsidy of RM5,000 for the scrapping of cars more than 10 years old to Proton and Perodua buyers. While there is a need to support the local automobile industry, the assistance should be made broader to include public transport system.

Allocation for cottage industry was a paltry RM50 million. This industry should be given more emphasis. The period of economic downturn is the best to encourage entrepreneurship amongst Malaysians. Some of the local industries which can be helped include local products such as handicrafts, food manufacturing, F&B, retailing, services and others.

A direct tax cut should be given to both companies and individuals. Companies which hire 100 percent local workers should be given additional tax rebate.

However, the government's willingness to change its PR rule to allow those with high net worth (USD2 million) and special skills to be given the status should be lauded. Malaysia needs to attract more talents into the country. With more talents, new knowledge centric industries can be founded.

Overall, there is nothing unorthodox about the stimulus despite the deputy PM's intention to keep it otherwise. A lot of money is still being poured into construction and infrastructure building. What about maintenance?

Is the stimulus enough to rescue us from recession? Technically, we should be heading for one by the next quarter. Let me hear from you.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Right Economic Stimulus Not Just the Size

The government tabled yesterday a RM10 billion allocation as part of the proposed second economic stimulus package. It was read out by Deputy Finance Minister Kong Cho Ha.

The RM10 billion allocation is evenly split, with RM5 billion going towards operational expenditure and the rest allocated for development expenditure.

On the outset, the amount allocated for the mini-Budget is going to be hotly debated in the next few weeks. Another more important aspect of the budget which needs scrutiny is its uses. It is not suffice for the government to merely state its intention to spend the money on operational and development without going into the details.

Of late we have heard some very unscrupulous suggestions which include reducing employers' EPF contribution from 12% to 8% or lower. More than 70% of EPF contributors have agreed to accept a reduction of their EPF savings from 11% to 8%. This suggestion does not augur well for the country. Malaysians do not save enough and many do have a retirement to last them in their old age. More than 12% of all Malaysians do not make any personal saving from their monthly income. About half save less than 10% of their monthly income in addition to the EPF contribution. This shows the importance of keeping the EPF saving rates untouched.

Then again, there is a double whammy for the economy if Malaysians start to save up more now at a time when there is a need to prop up local demand and consumption. Hence, the economic stimulus package must be precise and accurate in helping to address the consumption dilemma. At the moment, some figures from the industry are pointing to a dramatic slowdown in consumption. A check with certain retailers in KL and Penang showed a contraction of more than 40% after the Chinese New Year festival.

Correspondingly, exports in January 2009 were valued at RM38.3 billion, registered a drop of 27.8 per cent from January 2008, the Statistics Department said in a statement today. Total imports fell by 32 per cent to RM29.47 billion from a year ago. This is a clear measurement of domestic demand in the country.

In the next quarter, the export figures may even fall lower. About 36% of the exports are electronics and electrical products. This sector is experiencing serious contraction in the next few months. The export figures were registered from last year's end orders and new orders from the Q1 are expected to slowdown between 30 to 40%.

Malaysia's problem remains acute. We need to achieve a higher level of domestic consumption but the economic structure is export-led. Hence, the salary scale is kept low and the industries continue to depend on low-skilled and cheap foreign labour. With deteriorating exports to our main markets such as Singapore, US, Japan, Europe, China and South Korea, our domestic market cannot be depended on to support the local economy. Our economic structure is not geared towards meeting the needs of local consumers.

Next, the government is again drumming up its intention to deport foreign labour. Like previously, this action is a short termist policy to address the current economic dilemma. Deporting these low cost labour is a good thing but it is useless if the government does not help to fix the economic structure. Jobs vacated by these foreign workers cannot be immediately filled up by our local workforce. These jobs are dirty, dangerous and demeaning. Many of the foreign workers are paid paltry salary, live in inhumane condition and are not covered by any medical insurance. Not many local workers are willing to accept similar terms.

If fact, local companies using predominantly foreign workers would prefer to close shop than to be made to hire local workers. These businesses just cannot survive paying higher salary cost without a proper restructuring to their operational process and management capacity.

Here is where the government should intervene in the new stimulus package. It should try to make some of these jobs in the construction and agricultural sectors better paid and allow for an adjustment of businesses to move up the industrial value chain. Construction and agricultural methods can be made more high-tech, efficient and flexible.

The use of high-technology e.g. pre-fab construction method can allow companies to train and utilize better skilled local workers. Construction can focus on design and quality rather only on cost. The implication of using low-skilled workers in the construction industry is quite evident. Many of the buildings and infrastructure were found defective barely a few years and sometimes months into their completion.

The dependence on low-skilled labour is a disincentive for companies to invest in better technology, training and work process. Since 1991, the country has envisioned to become a fully developed country by 2020. The country's bold and broad knowledge-based development blueprint is not going to be fully realised if this trend continues.

Hence, it is not just the size that matters. The second stimulus must be targeted at changing the economic structure for the better. A number of local analysts have called for a comprehensive strategy to manage the economic crisis. This strategy should drive the country to improve its inventiveness, human resource development and reinvent its industrial development.

We do not have that many RM10 billion to throw around. It is time for the government to put in some serious thoughts into ensuring that this country will ride out of this economic storm better and more competitive. Otherwise, we would be staring at the back of more competitors running ahead of us.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Hold Fresh Snap Elections in Perak

When the drama first started with the removal of Nizar as the MB, a number of analysts have warned the nation and the Perak monarchy of political instability in the state. I opined that the new BN government will be even more unstable compared to the previous one.

It is very important for BN to ensure that procedures are followed and the democratic process is respected. But what we have seen is a growing disregard of fundamental rules of democracy including heavy handed executive involvement, disrespect for the doctrine of separation of power, usurping of Speaker's power by his chief clerk and the arbitrary involvement of the police force.

The police force cannot hope to swing its support for the ruling coalition and hope to hide its own problems and controversies. The recent autopsy on Kugan's death is very revealing. It is time that the force is subjected to a check-and-balance mechanism. It is time for the implementation of the IPCMC.

Yesterday, the police said they wanted to track down those who spoke rudely at the Perak state assembly fiasco. I would like to advice the Perak police chief to spend his time (paid by the people) elsewhere such as combating crime and ensuring public safety. At this point, the police public image is at it's rock bottom.

Anymore action from the police including parroting what the politicians said about the legality of the emergency state assembly session will only make the situation worse. Politics is not the business of the police unless the men in dark blue want to take side. There is a limit to police power.

When there is a stalemate, it is very important to go back to the people. This is true democracy. Democracy is about the people, never about the politicians who are merely elected to run the government for a period of five years.

Like Joceline of The Star, I would like to urge the Sultan of Perak to play his role as a constitutional monarchy and a people's guardian to act wisely. She said, "But it cannot be denied that regardless of whether people support Pakatan, Barisan or are undecided, there is widespread sentiment that the medium-term solution lies in a state election. Otherwise, the political drama will continue with no real winners and the losers will be the rakyat. The people are looking to the Perak palace for a wise solution."

I defer from Joceline slightly. Snap elections should be held immediately. All parties must give their agreement to respect the people's verdict regardless of the majority. A new government should be allowed to finish its term and conduct its business without interference.

Why must BN be afraid of going back to the people if it is confident of their support? It would have been to the coalition advantage if they can defeat the PR at the polls and put this whole drama behind them.

More statements from Perak BN leaders will only create more damage for the coalition:

Hamidah Osman said the action was also “a slap” to the assembly, the law and the Pakatan assemblymen who were present. “As elected representatives, they should behave as such,” she said yesterday, adding that their actions proved that they were not interested in serving the people. “If they are not interested in serving the people, they should tender their resignation letters and allow for fresh polls in their constituencies,” she added, noting that they should let Barisan serve their constituents.

Hamidah should take this advice back to her BN leadership. Yes, hold snap elections and allow the BN to win in all seats. By calling the emergency sitting a disgrace because it was held under a tree is hilarious and stupid. Who disallowed them to hold it in the state assembly? Then again, what can we expect from Hamidah and her infamous "keling" racist statement.

Dr Mah Hang Soon said the incident should be an eye-opener to the people. “It shows how power-crazy Pakatan is,” he said, adding that the Opposition went to the extent of interpreting the law themselves.

MCA should advice Dr Mah to hold his tongue. His action is doing more damage to his party than he realised. Who is interpreting the law themselves? It was BN who said the assembly requires a consent from the Sultan of Perak when it was merely an adjournment. Who disallowed legal representation of the Speaker? Did BN allow a fair trial to take place?

Ramly Zahari said Pakatan’s move had made the Perak Assembly a laughing stock of the world.

Yes, Ramly, the world is laughing at the police, the state assembly secretary, the judicial commissioner, the democracy system, the politicians and us for allowing this to happen. In other countries, most governments would not survive behaving this way.

Other BN component parties should heed this advice. You may have won a battle but losing the war. Do you expect to win back support by acting irrationally? You lost the last general election because of UMNO and you will lose again because of the same party. You did not lose to your competitors but due to the follies of your partner.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Democracy is Dead in Malaysia

Folks, there is no democracy in Malaysia. It has been confirmed in the case of Perak. I am on the side of the law, not any political party. What happened in Perak is a blatant example of culprits using coercive power to pervert real democracy.

What we have is a collusion of the executives, police and other state apparatus to rule with an iron fist.

It is sad that only Speakers from BN have real power and not others. If this is the case, our dream of having a two-party system is dead.

I would like to suggest to the BN leadership not to hold any more general elections. Just declare your party as the winner and rule forever. It is embarrassing for us claiming to be a beacon of hope and an example for other Muslim nations. Democracy is dead here. Just look at Indonesia if you want to see a working democracy.

Malaysians, what say you?

Reported in Malaysiakini:

At an emergency assembly meeting held under a tree in a car park next to the state secretariat, the Pakatan representatives passed motions to support Nizar as the menteri besar as well as to dissolve the state assembly.

Meanwhile at the Ipoh High Court, a new twist developed when judge Ridwan Ibrahim told Speaker Sivakumar's lawyers that they had no legal standing to represent the speaker, who should be represented by the state legal advisor.

This is a shame and a scam. You do not have to be a legal expert to judge for yourself whether democracy and rule of law is still alive and kicking.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Costly Perak Fiasco

The leadership of UMNO should realise what it has done to democracy in Perak. It has dragged into the fiasco too many parties e.g. the Perak monarchy, police, MACC and the state secretariat and the impact is disastrous and long lasting.

A report here shows that the situation is cronic in Perak:

"The Perak state secretary’s office has issued a directive to lock the gates tomorrow to the building where the state legislature is located ahead of an emergency sitting of the state assembly called by Speaker V Sivakumar.

The directive appears to suggest civil service and executive interference in the legislature in what some lawyers say is a clear violation of the constitution and the doctrine of separation of powers.

The Perak police chief also issued a statement this afternoon in which he said the emergency sitting is “invalid” and advised members of the public not to gather at the state assembly.

These various directives appear to suggest the state Barisan Nasional (BN) government is trying to stretch to the limits its advantage of incumbency to prevent a vote in the assembly tomorrow, which it may lose."

In a clear separation of power, it is illegal and illogical for both the state secretariat and the police to make such arbitrary announcement. The police does not have a legitimate reason to be involved in the situation in Perak. The Perak police chief must retract his statement and withdraw his force from the state assembly immediately. Else, an action must be taken against the police chief in accordance to the law.

The powers of the assembly speaker are clear and clarified in the constitution. It is not for Zambry, UMNO, the police or the state secretary to decide if his decision is illegal or not.

The action taken by the executive, the police and the state secretariat is illegal and undemocratic. Any parties failing to respect our democratic process is an act of contempt and must be severely punished.

Once again, the police has proven to be a political tool of the ruling regime. Malaysians must act sternly against politicians who think they are above the law.

Zambry should stop and retract his threat immediately. He said, "If anyone is involved in tomorrow's assembly, the state government would not compromise with anyone or any group which threatens national security, particularly in Perak."

He should heed his boss Najib's advice that the legality and legitimacy of the state government has yet to be decided. Hence, his state government is NOT legal at the moment. Stop using state power to threaten the public.

The silence of other BN component parties on this serious breach of the democracy system speaks volume of their pledge to change and reinvent themselves.

In Malaysia, Apa-Apa Pun Boleh!

A Perak government circular announces that the state secretariat will be closed tomorrow. It informs visitors that all appointments scheduled for tomorrow have been cancelled.

The circular is unsigned but carried the state government logo.

In an immediate reaction to the closure of the state secretariat tomorrow, senior DAP exco member Ngeh Koo Ham says all Pakatan state representatives will still attend the assembly.
"The House operates independently from the state secretariat," Ngeh tells reporters at the Ipoh High Court.

He also claims that the keys to the state assembly building had been forcibly taken away from the assembly secretary, saying this is tantamount to an act of contempt of the state assembly.

This is the joke of the day. This can only happen in Malaysia. Welcome to Boleh Land.

What is rule of law to these people? They follow the rule only when it benefits them. Come this 10 March, we can go lock up the Ministry of Finance and put up a circular to cancel all its meetings if we are not pleased with the stimulus package.
Can we do the same to MACC? Bukit Aman? Deputy Prime Minister office?

Use the ballot box, folks. It is clear that some politicians are stubborn and arrogant.

Malaysia's Economic Dilemma & Responses

Andrew Sheng said; "Malaysia must move away from the old export and foreign direct investment model of growth. Malaysia must be open to talent and ideas if it wants to become more innovative society. Malaysia must view the crisis as an opportunity for reform. Otherwise, China, India and other economies will emerge leaner and stronger and Malaysia will fall even further behind."

Many analysts like myself have said this many times before that the country cannot continue to depend on FDI to grow the economy. Our economy is highly dependent on FDI as a factor of growth. Since the Asian financial crisis, the country is facing a net outflow of investment.

Local businesses have taken their investment out of the country to new destinations such as China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and elsewhere. Many of the local companies find it difficult to do business in the country because they were crowded out by GLCs and large local corporations.

Many of these big companies have established smaller subsidiaries to compete with the local SMEs. The patronage system has made it very difficult for businesses without the right connection to get contracts. Hence, a number of them who want to obtain government contracts have to incur higher business cost build up connections or 'know-who'.

This is the prime reason to argue for an end in the patronage system disguised as the NEP. Using this policy, many contracts were given out to cronies without truly considering the economic value of projects. As a result, the government spends without getting the right kind of economic benefits. In a short meeting yesterday, Selangor MB Khalid Ibrahim informed us that the value of abandoned privatised development projects in the state is RM5 billion. The state government is expected to rescue these projects. This is only the tip of an iceberg. I reckon that more than RM30 billion is wasted on redundant and low economic value projects yearly.

Hence, we are waiting for the details of 2nd stimulus soon to be announced by the government. If the stimulus is not targeted at supporting local demand and jobs, the country can expect a long and protracted downturn and close to a million Malaysians will lose their jobs.

Sheng's pointed out Malaysia can only become more successful if we are open to talents and innovative ideas. Before this can happen, the country needs to drop or end racial politics. Racial politics is the biggest consideration on labour intake. How can we explain the large intake of Indonesian Muslim workers if it is not due to ethno-religious politics?

In the end, Malaysia becomes a xenophobic country. As a Malaysian, I am sad to note that I am a victim of racism too. For those who are familiar with this blog would probably see many racist comments targeted at this writer. We should recognise talents and ideas and not merely the colour of skin or creed. Malaysians, racial politics must end if we are going to prosper.

Sheng echoed what many analysts had warned Malaysia; our addiction to cheap imported labour has kept wages low. The result: companies have no incentives to improve productivity and Malaysia’s best talent goes abroad in search of better wages. Brain drain is not a new phenomenon in the country. We import low-skilled labour but export highly skilled labour. Our highly skilled labour often leave the country for good. Even China is going all out wooing their best to come back.

He also suggested that the government go out in a big way and attract talented Malaysians or foreigners who have been retrenched from their jobs in the US, UK and other developed economies. In this way, Malaysia can bolster the pool of engineers, doctors, managers and tap into the rise of the Middle East, China and India, he noted.

I agree with Sheng's observation. Many developed economies e.g. US, UK. Singapore, HK and others are competing for human resources instead of just FDI. Talents will attract FDI and not the other way round.

This government must show that it is capable to manage the 21st century economy. The politicians can only do so if they were to drop their 60's mindset. Otherwise, we should boot them out.