Friday, July 30, 2010

PKFZ: Catching a Big Fish

Former transport minister Ling Liong Sik was charged in the Putrajaya Sessions Court over his involvement in the multi-billion ringgit Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) scandal.

He is charged under Section 418 of the Penal Code with misleading the cabinet between Sept 25 and Nov 6, 2002, into agreeing to purchase 999.5 acres of land on Pulau Indah for a project, now known as PKFZ, at a price of RM25psf on a deferred payment basis for a 15-year period, at a 7.5 percent interest rate.

The cumulative interest paid would total RM720 million at the end of the repayment period.

He was also offered an alternative charge, under Section 417 of the Penal Code, for the same offence.

According to the charge sheet, the Finance Ministry had already valued the land at RM25psf - inclusive of compounded interest - and this fact was withheld from the cabinet by the accused.

The relevant authority should be applauded for taking the necessary action on an important personality implicated in the financial scandal. However, this is only the beginning. It is now up to the prosecutors to ensure that they stitch up a solid piece of evidence to charge Ling.

Like many other cases before this one e.g. Perwaja etc. Ling may still get away with a full acquittal if the investigation is clumsy and shoddy.

At the end of the day, this scandal cannot be swept under the carpet. It is important to find out if Ling acted alone or with the inducement of others. Those who are connected or participated in the financial scandal must be brought to the court of justice and the money squandered from the project must be returned to the people.

We should take a serious interest in the case. Hopefully, the PKFZ will start a thorough scrutiny of all public projects which are suspected to involve any element of fraud.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

PKFZ Ghost Continues to Haunt the Nation

PKA claims that PKFZ has been in operation for the last few years and it is obligated to repay its bondholders.

The ministry said the government had taken all relevant factors including the government's commitment to bondholders and PKA's obligations under the agreements signed.

PKA had also given an undertaking to make payment to the special purpose vehicles, said the ministry.

It was learnt that the PKA had reservations over making the payment in view of its on-going RM1.4 billion suit against KDSB.

A source from the port authority said they are considering withholding the payment as the board would be held liable for monies that cannot be recovered from KDSB in the event that the PKA wins the suit.

Nearly RM3 billion is also owed to three other SPVs – Transshipment Megahub Bhd, Valid Ventures Bhd and Special Port Vehicle Bhd.

A sum of RM1.3 billion is scheduled to be paid to Valid Ventures next year, while a RM1.4 billion payout is due to Transshipment Megahub in 2012 and RM150 million is owed to Special Port Vehicle Bhd.

PKFZ will continue to churn out more bad news, more financial commitments and more losses in the following months and years. What has PKFZ achieved in real economic terms?

Who is accountable for this silly project which was started with a bad intention in the first place?

PKFZ is a mirror of the current economic structure. It was a wrong strategy and a bad call. How many developed economies are still doing what we have done? Building industrial parks or logistics hub and hoping for them to be filled up is a wrong move. We should have focused on promoting and catalysing real industrial development and not seeking rentals.

In the PKFZ case, one size does not fit all. Most companies prefer to build facilities based on their own business needs and not taking up some ready made facilities.

Is the government going to be accountable to ensure that this project can become viable in the near future and not continue to drain public funds?

The government needs to do some serious thinking here. It has to be decisive enough to decide what to do with the PKFZ. Money wasted on this project can be used to create jobs elsewhere.

I heard that some real culprits are still left to enjoy their spoils. Why the inaction?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Miti Justifies FDI Dip, Where are the Details?

Miti Minister Mustapa Mohamed tries to justify the over 80% FDI dip in 2009 by saying that this is mostly because Malaysia is at a different development stage from its neighbours.

The United Nation Conference on Trade and Development's World Investment Report released last Friday showed that Malaysia performed poorly last year, trailing behind countries like the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia in attracting foreign investment.

Malaysia's severe FDI contraction was even larger compared to the dip of 37 percent in global FDI flows due to the global crisis.

"The other (Southeast Asian) countries attract infrastructure investments like for roads and power supply.

"Malaysia has excess power supply, so we are investing in these areas instead," International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed (right) told reporters after an industry dialogue today.

He also said that it was more a case of quality over quantity, as the country is attracting better-value investments.

"We are attracting quality investments which generate benefits. There is a company which invested only RM200 million but created 1,500 jobs for our graduates," he said.

Being at a different level of the development scale also makes us uncompetitive in attracting investments in certain sectors.

"We cannot compete on textiles, apparel, low-end furniture production and other labour-intensive low-end manufacturing areas," he said.

Mustapa's explanation is very interesting. He argues that Malaysia is at a different development stage compared to other Asean countries which made it difficult to attract low end investments. This may be true but it also means that the country's economy structure is so narrow that we have not been able to attract high end investments compared to our southern neighbour.

Mustapa should enlighten us on this new development level we have reached and what the opportunities available to investors. Interestingly, we are still investing in infrastruture too. Recently, the government has earmarked a new LRT project amounting to almost RM40 billion in investment.

Ironically, Singapore being the most developed country in Asean was able to attract USD16 billion in 2009. Singapore is home/work base to mostly 300k knowledge workers from Malaysia.

If Malaysia is attracting higher end investments, where are the high level jobs?

Miti needs to be more specific with its justification.

Moreover, this is not the time for justification but solution. We need a solution and this government should stop being in denial.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Parliament Should Discuss FDI Slide

Politicians from both sides of divide should sit back and take note of the of gloomy economic signs. Both sides should cease all unwarranted, wasteful and senseless political bickering and focus their attention on what they were elected to do - govern and come out with policy responses to address the current economic malaise.

The significant FDI slide and negative net flow should be discussed thoroughly in the parliament. We demand these policy makers to take this matter seriously before this country continues with the perpetual slide.

According to this report:

A nosedive in foreign direct investments in Malaysia in 2009 follows a continued downward trend in FDI, increasingly overshadowed by regional players, noted a United Nations report.

According to the World Investment Report 2010, FDI plunged 81 percent from US$7.32 billion (RM23.47 billion*) in 2008 to just US$1.38 billion (RM4.43 billion) in 2009.
(*Calculated based on exchange rate of US$1 = RM3.20650)

The 2009 FDI is less than half of the annual average FDI inflow between 1995 to 2005, which encompasses the long recovery period following the 1997 economic crisis.

Malaysia's performance also pales in comparison with neighbouring economies like Thailand and Indonesia whose FDI figures did not contract as severely, despite the global financial crisis.

Thailand suffered a decline of US$4.44 billion (RM14.24 billion) while Indonesia saw a more modest drop of US$2.60 billion (RM8.32 billion) in foreign investments in 2009.

The severe dip also places Malaysia in the red for the first time in the last 15 years, with figures for cumulative FDI (see chart right) surpassing incoming investments by about US$1 billion (RM3.21 billion).

The FDI outflow has a serious repercussion on jobs creation, domestic industrial development and broad economic development. If not enough investments are committed domestically, the industrial sectors are going to remain narrow and limited.

Inevitably, the economic structure itself is going to push out brains to find jobs elsewhere, especially in other more developed economies, if they cannot get their desired employment with the right compensation in the country.

The government's effort to attract 70k brains to come back to the country by 2015 will be an effort in futility if this economic bottleneck is not solved.

It is time for policy makers to leave negative, counter productive and superficial politics behind. Instead of spending a great deal of time and resources to promote parochial politics, racist propositions and other self-centred interests, they should put similar efforts to help take this country out of its economic doldrums.

Malaysians of all races should wake up and demand the best out of our politicians or replace them.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

UMNO's Priority During a Political Crisis: Malay Unity Over 1Malaysia?

PM Najib's 1Malaysia is an attractive concept that most Malaysians will be able to accept if his leadership shows some seriousness in implementing it. However, it is quite clear that his party and his leadership prefer Malay unity over 1Malaysia during a political crisis.

UMNO is facing one of the most daunting political challenges since the leadership tussle in 1986-7 between two of its top leaders. It could be facing a permanent lost of support from non-Malay voters in the next few general elections unless its leadership starts to accept its wider responsibility of governing a multiracial society.

It is unfortunate for UMNO to read the lost of support from non-Malay voters as a sign of threat from the communities. Some of the party leaders had accused the non-Malays for making excessive demands and questioning the Malay special rights.

Hence, the party warlords have been urging the party to court PAS, the second most influential Malay Muslim party, to initiate a Malay unity.

Sadly, this unity is not a solution to remedy the community's backwardness. A Malay unity cannot be formed on the basis of revenge or hate against other communities. It will not become a potent force which can help to transform the community's fortune. It must be formed on the basis of grit, determination, awareness and a strong will to enhance the capacity of the community.

However UMNO may perceive of the community's mindset, there has been a monumental change in the last few years. Some Malay leaders have openly debated and argued against the kind of protectionist and racial politics played by UMNO and its supporters. Many of them have done it in a commendably intellectual manner - through creativity (cartoons) and in writing. They have inspired a great number of Malay youths to think beyond the racial dogma created by UMNO. Some UMNO leaders, the enlightened ones, have urged the party to change its way or risks being buried politically.

Organizations like Perkasa was not able to mobilize the Malay masses. Most of its members came UMNO members which explains the symbiotic relationship between the two and sometimes the desperation of UMNO in trying to get the Malays to back its effort to intimidate the non-Malays to support them without condition. Dr M had used the May 13 incident in most of the general elections he had participated to intimidate the non-Malays.

Unfortunately, the world around us has changed. The political climate within the country has changed too. Ultimately, some of the Malays may ask the main purpose of Malay unity. Poverty and backwardness still felt by a large portion of the Bumiputera community was not inflicted by the non-Malays. In fact, a great number of non-Malay Bumiputeras were neglected by the system created by the ruling regime. A number of Malays were victims of corruption and nepotism enabled by the NEP.

It is easy for the ruling party, UMNO, to call for a Malay unity. It is harder for the party leadership to explain the need of Malay unity or what it can do to help address the multifarious problems faced by the community. It cannot help to curb corruption, nepotism, wastage and abuse of power.

To the other non-Malay component parties in BN, they should be wondering why the lead party is making such a parochial call instead of addressing a larger issue of BN is no longer seen as representing all Malaysians. 1Malaysia is facing a great threat every time UMNO is calling for Malay unity.

It will come a time when members of these component parties will ask their leadership the purpose of sticking around a coalition that exists only in name and not in spirit.

PM Najib will have to be decisive in his choice. He must choose between Malay unity and 1Malaysia. He must do it now.

His administration should focus on real issues and challenges and not on the non-Malays. It is a fact that the country's economic model is failing. Our education system is fast becoming a sick 'institution' in Asia. We are not able to create more jobs, attract more investments and stop the slide. He cannot just speak reform but he must actually implement his talk.

This is a time when we need workable solutions and not more empty talks, crazy propositions and lofty unity ideas.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Why the Subsidy Cut Will Become a Political Burden for BN?

The government may be trying to justify the subsidy cut for oil, gas and sugar as something essential and crucial to fuel economic growth. However, a lack of well thought out implementation plan is not going to convince many that the subsidy cut is going to help us become a high income economy in the near future.

There are several things which the federal government had overlooked and does not show any sign of willingness to address them:

1) Wastage & a lack of financial accountability. The government cannot rationalize its subsidy cut without first addressing its own financial prudence.

A member of parliament, Liew Chin Tong, argued that the Prime Minister’s Department’s allocation for 2010 is a whopping RM12 billion, not RM4 billion as reported in the media. He said that the parliamentary reply to his colleague Taiping MP, Nga Kor Ming, revealed that RM3.9 billion was allocated to the PMD for its “operations” in 2010. But he seemed to be withholding another piece of information already in the public domain. Under a separate category of “development”, the PMD received RM 8.238 billion. Thus, the total budgetary outlay for the PMD in 2010 is RM12.1 billion, as revealed by the Federal Budget Estimates.

This is a very shocking number. Why would a PM's department be hoarding so much public allocation? How does he intend to use the allocation? What are the KPIs? Is there any financial/allocation guidelines spelled out by the Treasury to ensure that there is no misused and abuse of public funds?

Without observing a strict financial prudence in his government, the PM's decision to cut subsidy will not be met with a good reception. It will lose him votes among the Malay voters too.

2) Another BN MP, Ong Tee Keat, wrote in his Facebook while it is necessary to reduce subsidy there is a greater need for the government to go after those who misappropriated public funds e.g. PKFZ. There are other similar projects which are causing a huge financial headache for the government. The unscrupulous action of approving dodgy projects especially those awarded to cronies or companies linked to politicians is not going to be well received by the public. A lack of action from the government to tackle these issues and to bring the culprits to book is giving it a bad reputation of trying to protect its cronies.

3) The government continues to take the people for granted by announcing an abrupt increase of petrol, gas and sugar prices. The Malaysian public abhor such tactic. The government is accountable to public opinion and it should have given us a timetable for a gradual subsidy reduction.

4) Recently, the Ministry of Human Resource launched a training scheme for unemployed graduates and touted the programme as a move to realise the NEM's aim to make Malaysia a high income country by the end of the decade. It hopes to increase the per capita income from USD7k to USD15k by then.

This statement shows that the government does not have a clue or a plan on how to help enhance the income of Malaysians. The training programme, if any, is a short-term plan to help rectify a flaw in our local tertiary education system. We have persistently produce low quality graduates which cannot fill the skills gap in the economy. The higher education ministry and the government should sit down and plan out a comprehensive review and revamp of the entire education system.

It is laughable for minister, Dr. S. Subramaniam, to claim that this programme can help to create higher paying jobs for the graduates. What can a 3-6 months training programme achieve what a 3-4 years university education cannot do?

5) What Najib need is good solution providers and implementers and not spin doctors. It does not matter how the price increase is depicted on local newspapers or how local editors are willing to put a twist on the issue by calling it a brave decision. It is brave indeed for a lack of plan for the PM to go ahead with the subsidy reduction.

At the end of the day, the call for Malay unity can only help UMNO this much in order to reverse the coalition's fortune.

The beat of an empty stomach regardless of race sounds the same. Soon, more Malaysians will realise that it does not matter which race based party is ruling the country. What is more important is who can help lift this country out of its doldrums.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

RM4 Billion for PM's Department & the Government is Talking about Subsidy Cut?

The Najib administration revealed today that it had allocated a whopping RM3.956 billion this year to finance operations in the Prime Minister’s Department.

The number of civil servants in the PM’s Department has also increased from 21,045 in 2003 to 43,544 in 2010. This is more than a whopping 100% increase despite the government pledge to streamline its administration through e-government.

Some of the agencies created include Pemandu (Implementation and Coordination Unit), and the National Economic Advisory Council (NEAC). Six existing agencies which include the National Security Council (MKN) and Islamic Development Department (JAKIM) experienced an increase in manpower. Even ex-premier Abdullah Badawi's office is being maintained by the PM's Dept. What is the rational?

Yet, the government is adamant that this country cannot continue to subsidy some of the essential items and it had called on the people to 'adjust their lifestyle'.

At the rate we are going, the sand raiders will be the people and not any illegal smugglers. People soon be making a beeline to make mud pies using sand and mud.

Honestly, why must the PM's Dept. need a whopping 43k plus employees? What are the KPIs? On top of this, the number of ministries keep growing.

We are in a fix. The civil service is a fixed deposit of the ruling coalition. How can we expect the government to restructure it?

Perhaps Idris Jala can offer us some solutions.

Now, the PM must answer why he needs so many manpower for his department. It is supposed to be just a department. But its annual allocation is 10 times more than Penang's annual allocation from the federal government. Something is very very wrong here.

FOI & PAC Appointment: A Good Start for Reform

The Selangor state assembly today tabled the much-awaited motion to appoint a member of the opposition bench to chair the powerful Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The motion to appoint Mohd Shamsudin Lias (BN-Sungai Burong) as the committee's new chairperson will result in the setting of a healthy national precedent towards greater accountability of an elected government.

It is the norm in many developed democracies to appoint an opposition legislator to head similar bodies but it was never practiced by BN-controlled Parliament or state assemblies.

This is the second major precedent set by the Pakatan Rakyat-ruled Selangor administration in as many days, following the tabling of the Freedom of Information Bill yesterday.

MB Khalid Ibrahim may have been put under tremendous pressure by his party colleagues and opposition members but he has displayed a great sense of responsibility and political will to bring in a new political culture of transparency and accountability to Selangor. It will be a difficult precedent to follow.

Malaysians must take note of this good move. Now, we hope that Khalid and his team will focus on the delivery system.

MP Zahrain Hashim is Anwar's Problem

Zahrain Hashim was the head of UMNO Jelutong and he was heading to the list of rejects before his political career was resurrected by Anwar Ibrahim in the 12th general election.

His victory in the last general election made him big headed and he was alleged to have demanded perks from the state government including a management contract of a golf course through a company allegedly linked to him.

When all his demands were denied, although he was made a head of a PDC linked company, Zahrain turned against his allies and party leaders, Anwar Ibrahim and Lim Guan Eng.

Recently, Zahrain handed over written evidence of Raja Petra’s stay in London to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Aziz. His voters would have expected Zahrain to hand in evidence which might help to curb or expose corruption and other serious wrongdoings. Alas, Zahrain is only interested in his own battle.

PKR can castigate Zahrain all they want but the party de facto leader cannot run away from shouldering some responsibility for bringing people like Zahrain into the party and make him head its state organization.

Anwar should spare some of his valuable time to help restore PKR's battered public image. Ten defections of his elected policy makers would have floored any political party. Yet PKR is not in an emergency mode. It should take heed of this problem and work out strategy to strengthen its party before the next general election.

Otherwise, PKR will suffer a similar fate like Semangat 46 when most of his members including its president went back to UMNO.

Pakatan still have several good MPs for other members to emulate. They should tap on these MPs to help lift the morale of the coalition and component parties.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

When Defending a Politician Risks Becoming Idolizing Him

A political commentator wrote an emotionally charged article to defend the integrity, passion and honesty of a "non-political cabinet appointee", Idris Jala, for his stand on the on the necessity for limiting the significance and influence of recommendation issued by ministers and members of parliament.

Earlier, Idris had warned that Malaysia might become a bankrupt nation if it does not review its national expenses.

I applaud Idris for his honesty and professionalism in performing his duty as the CEO of Pemandu and KPI minister. Anything less would have rendered him useless and a waste of public fund.

It is important to note that since Idris was no politician, he is "employed" as a civil servant who holds a cabinet minister position to assist the PM to implement and manage his list of initiatives. Idris is paid the perks and salary of a full minister which is not menial. As a professional, Idris knows fully well that he has to perform or risks being replaced by someone else.

His appointment is already a major disappointment and it speaks volume of the calibre and quality we can find in the batch of parliamentarians in the ruling coalition. PM Najib should revamp his team and bring in those who are good and knowledgeable to stand as parliamentary candidates. Not those who are good at playing racial politics, corrupt or seeking extramarital gratification.

It is okay to defend Idris' stand on the two issues e.g. recommendation letters and national financial position but we should be careful not to overdo it. Malaysians should not put our expectation bar too low for politicians and those serving in various offices. They are accountable to us and they should perform no less than what has being done by Idris.

Since when has Idris guitar playing prowess become a public admiration too? We admire his grit and tenacity especially his rag-to-riches story. But Idris must still deliver what he was brought in to do. There is not need to idolize Idris for trying to do his job. On the recommendation letters, he must now clean up the mess in PKFZ and bring the culprits who issued the recommendation letters to book.

It is heartening to know that Idris has a stand and a noble one too. But he should have the bite which matches his bark.

Can Idris Jala deliver us a better and more accountable government?

The mess is piling up and someone must clean it up sooner or else Idris' statement on bankruptcy will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Idris should know his own strength and ability to make changes within Najib's administration. He should not stick around for too long if his talk cannot match his walk. Otherwise, he is not just a waste of public fund but he would also be seen as a PR tool of the regime for just saying the right thing but do nothing.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Permanent Resident for Foreign Students?

The idea of granting permanent resident status to foreign students is good but something is lacking in the whole idea.

Higher Education Minister Mohamed Khaled Nordin said all quarters should view the proposal positively as many developed countries like the United States were practising it.

“Only students at PhD level will be accepted and they have to be researchers or lecturers with local universities.

“We are not giving it to foreign workers but foreign students with high knowledge. Other countries are also chasing after them,” he said.

Errr...Khaled is correct to point out that many countries are practising it. In fact, most developed countries are no longer focusing solely on attracting FDI but brains.

But why only PhD students in local universities? Does it mean that the government is going to reject an application from a PhD holder from Harvard University or Princeton University or Oxford University?

If the government is serious enough in attracting brains especially those who can contribute towards Malaysia's aspiration to become a knowledge economy by 2020 why can't PR status be given to gifted, skilled and innovative foreign talents/workers?

It is odd to just give PR status to PhD holders studying in local universities. We know how good our universities are.

Malaysia should strive to attract the best if it is serious in its new PR proposal.

The government should also think how it intends to keep/cut brain drain and attract our local brains to come back from overseas.

One of the things the government must do is stop practising its race affirmative policy.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Right to Express Views & Double Standards & Chinese Perkasa

Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said it was the right of a non-governmental organisation like Perkasa to express its views on certain issues to protect its interests.

“The same principle applies to other political parties which also have the right to make known its views. I don’t think the Govern­ment can direct either party to comply or toe the line."

It is heartening to hear what the DPM has said about the right of expression. Unfortunately, there are double standards in the actual practice and application of law in Malaysia.

A group such as Perkasa and other "independent" but BN linked politicians are able to get away with some of the most seditious and antagonizing statements but not the others.

Opposition newspapers and bloggers were harassed, detained or had their publication permit revoked for doing precisely what Perkasa did - expressing their political views.

It is very important for the BN government to be more consistent with their position. Otherwise, they should not blame observers for reading between the lines that this government is covertly and at times openly supporting organisations and individuals such as Perkasa, Ibrahim Ali, Zulkifli Nordin and others.

It is a shame for MCA trying to dump its responsibility on someone else. MCA vice president Donald Lim has mooted the establishment of a Chinese Perkasa. This is probably one of the biggest insults to the Chinese community.

Donald Lim Siang Chai, who suggested the idea, also gave a strong hint that the proper body to take the role would be the vocal Kuala Lumpur Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH).

The MCA was not suited to take on such a responsibility as political parties and NGOs operate at different levels, he pointed out.

MCA's inability to win back support from the Chinese community is precisely due to its lack of understanding of the Chinese psyche.

By suggesting a Chinese Perkasa, the vice president thinks that Chinese activists are as racist as those in Perkasa. Most Chinese activists would not fight for special status for the community. Most of them are fighting for a fair deal and an equitable citizenship. It is just a plain no to double standards and racism.

It is unfortunate to note that MCA's remedy to fight an organisation like Perkasa is to dump its political responsibility on someone else and worse the VP has insulted the KLSCAH in the process of making his silly suggestion.

MCA can continue to run away from its responsibility and hope to win more than 50% of Chinese support in the next general election.

For being outright silly, Donald should just resign from his positions as a deputy minister and a vice president of MCA.

MCA should push more greater liberalisation and the actualization of 1Malaysia in the BN and not trying to instigate the formation of another Perkasa, a Chinese centric one.

BN doublespeak and silly suggestions will continue to put off informed voters like myself.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Making Use of Non-Malays, the Perkasa & Dr M Way

Dr Mahathir Mohamad tonight jumped into the debate over Kampung Baru’s proposed redevelopment, saying it must also involve the non-Malays.

The former prime minister pointed out that the inclusion of non-Malays will make Kampung Baru more attractive to not only foreigners but also local visitors.

“If not then the Malays won’t come because some of them think that Malays can’t do business. So we want to use the non-Malays as bait to lure more visitors,” said Dr M.

Ibrahim Ali said that the Malay rights group has always believed the involvement of non-Malays is important in bringing capital for investment.

“We have our stand that component projects such as hospital and hotel as we cannot rely on taxpayers money. We need investors so I don’t think it’s wrong if certain projects where non-Malays own 60 per cent. If not, then the redevelopment of Kampung Baru won’t be a reality because of the construction and value of the property. So who will buy? So we have to take [this into] account.

I read the statement from both politicians with a tinge of sadness. First, they want the non-Malays to be involved in the Kampung Baru redevelopment as a bait to lure more visitors. Second, these two are the same people who had viewed the non-Malays especially the Chinese Malaysians as a threat to the Malays.

Both Dr M and Ibrahim should accept and recognize the fact that non-Malays had contributed significantly to the development of this country. Their involvement had made KLCC, Bangsar, Mont' Kiara and other high valued developments successful and attractive.

Second, both Dr M and Ibrahim should help to answer why an area like Kampung Baru cannot be successful if it were to remain exclusively for Malays only. This is a multiracial country and any geographical area which does not reflect this reality will not be successful.

Non-Malays should not only be viewed as a bait in the redevelopment of Kampung Baru but equal partners. It is time for leaders to look at win-win partnership amongst all Malaysians.

How can this country prosper if the government does not embrace the best from other races? It should learn to appreciate its own diversity before preaching to others to do so.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Major Projects to Stimulate Economy, Not Another Round of Wastage

Major development projects by the Government and private sectors, and government-linked companies will be the key projects that will stimulate the economy, PM Najib Razak said.

The Prime Minister said these projects would have key multiplier effects and would leave a high impact on the economy.

“These will be the key projects to provide stimulus and enhance development to the domestic economy."

“In the face of a possible economic slowdown in the second half (of the year) we must make sure that domestic demand re-mains high and robust,” he said, stressing that he was not sure whether there would be a slowdown.

There are several issues with the PM's statement:

1) He was not sure if there would be a slowdown in the domestic economy in the next two quarters and possibly leading up to 2011. This is not a good sign for the rest of us. What is the government economic monitoring unit, EPU, doing if they are not working round the clock to measure the economic vital signs? Talk to some of the major retailers and they will be able to tell the government that sales of other non-essential goods especially luxury goods are falling. Demand power is being suppressed. The government has announced its plan to enhance earning per capita. Where are the details?

2) This government is again talking about major projects to stimulate the economy. How many major projects had been undertaken but failed to stimulate the economy? Worse, these projects are now causing major financial headache to the government. How much more public funds will be wasted on the regional corridors projects which hardly bring any productive added value to the economy? What have happened to the PKFZ, Cyberjaya, Bakun dam and a host of other mega projects? Malaysia needs to invest on soft skills e.g. training, education, IT infrastructure, amenities, public transport system and its people. It needs to review and revamp its public policies and change the current "tidak apa" mindset. It should strive to motivate its people to be more innovative and hard working. None of the public-private initiatives are showing any glimmer of hope for the country thus far.

3) It is scary for the PM to talk about major projects without being able to provide any details. He said that GLCs will be used to spearhead these projects. We would like to take a peek into the balance sheet of these GLCs to ensure that the case of Sime Darby is not being repeated in other GLCs. How many of them are hiding their losses through some smart accounting? Can the GLCs be used by the government to continue financing public projects?

This government must not lose its head during the trying times. The nation cannot afford another round of wastage through failed and carelessly implemented projects.

The government must put the limited resource where the mouth is. Otherwise, it is not remotely possible to imagine a 'bankrupt' society in the next 5-10 years. Idris Jala may yet enjoy the last laugh.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Election or Governance?

I saw a number of missed calls on my mobile phone when I was still in Seoul yesterday. I am sure a number of my reporter friends were eager to ask my view on the battle call for a snap general election soon.

My reaction would have been a negative one. Politicians and political parties should focus on fulfilling their election promises and serve a complete term after a mandate is given by the people.

Technically, the ruling government is allowed to dissolve the parliament and call for an election anytime after receiving a consent from the YDPA. Morally, it is wrong for any political party to focus on winning power and not governance. Since Mahathir era, most of us had been led to believe that this government cannot function without a 2/3 parliamentary majority. This is probably the most misleading and undemocratic statement of all.

Malaysia needs politicians who put governance and service above everything else. Here, politicians seemed to know very little else about everything except for vicious politicking.

If political parties do not change the foundation of their existence and intention, we should not be surprise if Malaysians will once again lose interest in the democratic process. The process is not only about a change of power but it is about a real change for a better future.

What has the ruling coalition achieved in the last 2 years? What is the next economic model for Malaysia facing its most serious socio-economic challenge since the mid-80's?

How can Malaysia compete with the rest of the world if we are not sure of our own direction - continuing with affirmative action or promote meritocracy and real empowerment?

Can Malaysia survive the next global competition and growing competitiveness of our neighbours?

These are questions which must be answered and not if the Malays will lose their political rights or not. Malays are the majority community in the country. As a member of the Malaysian society, the Malays will prosper like everyone else if this country is well governed. Anything else will impoverish all of us regardless of race or creed.

So, election or governance? We have to make a conscious choice.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Malay Dilemma & Mahathir

Dr Mahathir Mohamad suggested today that future government leaders could open the immigration floodgates to dilute the number of Malays in the country. The fixation about being a majority race is a necessity for Malaysia's racial politics.

Mahathir should take note of brain drain too which has helped to maintain the proportion. It is a fact that Malaysia needs both: retaining brains and attracting talents from abroad. Nations and societies are opening up to good quality people.

Malaysia's inability to move up the economic value chain is directly contributed by our inability to train good people (weak education system) and losing brains. How can the government help to raise income per capita if most of our workers cannot command higher salary due to a lack of skills and expertise?

Dr Mahathir expressed concern that the majority of Malays were not prepared to compete and would end up as labourers and chauffeurs. He should partly shoulder the blame for not being able to help the Malays to build capacity and enhance their knowledge.

Mahathir was too preoccupied with creating a crony class of super rich Malays. These artificial businessmen were not taught how to compete and to hold on to their instant wealth and share equity. Most of them used their newly found riches on luxuries including celebrity wives and expensive cars.

It is an irony for Mahathir to continue thumping his chest now and claim that the Malays are not ready to compete. With the likes of Perkasa and Mahathir, the Malays will not learn how to compete and will continue to rely falsely on perpetual 'protection' from the government.

The question is how long can the government continue to protect the Malays?

Can the Malays depend on the government which has failed them for more than 40 years?