Monday, February 27, 2012

Anti-Lynas in Penang: Penang CPO is Arrogant!

State police chief officer Ayub Yaacob has described the organisers of the solidarity gathering Himpunan Hijau 2.0 in Kuantan as 'arrogant' for not informing the police about the event, which ended up with two journalists hurt.

Ayub said as the organisers did not notify the police of the event held at 6pm at the Penang Esplanade yesterday, the force did not send a team to monitor the situation.

Ayub said that when a group expresses its support for an issue, others may oppose it.

"We want freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, are we prepared for it?" he queried.

When asked why the police did not take any action when the situation turned chaotic when they were there, he said his staff "must look and see first what is happening".

"We can't simply take action," he quipped.

Police only finally intervened in the fracas during the event at about 7pm, where they later sounded their siren and warned the crowd to disperse.

Ayub should not lecture us on freedom and rights if he cannot differentiate between hooliganism and democracy. 

Yes, pro-Lynas groups can voice out their support but it does not mean that they can go around to disrupt peace and physically assault journalists. 

Should we invite Ayub and his force to help monitor theft, robbery, snatch theft and public peace too?

Ayub is again sounding like a broken horn when he asked if we are prepared for freedom of speech and assembly. Freedom of speech and assembly can be successfully conducted if there's peace and mutual respect. 

Is Ayub going to allow the thugs from pariah organizations such as Perkasa and Penang UMNO Youth to resort to violence to disrupt future events? 

For Ayub to say that they 'cannot simply take action' is the biggest joke in the century. I remembered what the police did to us during Bersih 2.0.

Yes, I was a victim at the Tung Shin Hospital. Did we provoke the policy and did the police practice restrain then?

Ayub is the one being very arrogant here! I hope he will assume full responsibility if the people retaliate against these thugs and gangsters in the future.

MCA and Gerakan cannot keep their silence on this issue. It is a shame for these parties to claim representing the people but are not willing to stand up against injustices and bad governance. Lynas is one of them and the thuggish behavior of Penang Perkasa and UMNO leaders is the other. 

Both parties should stop trying to sell us something which is not acceptable - that there's a sense of justice and goodness in Barisan Nasional if they cannot stand up against injustices!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Solidarity with Save Malaysia & Anti-Lynas

This Federal Government claimed that it is willing to listen to the people. But listening cannot be a selective work. In the case of Lynas, the people have spoken and they would like a project with such huge risk and low benefit to the people to ship out of the country. 

The Bukit Merah tragedy is still fresh in our mind. It is unbecoming and unfathomable why the government would like to court another tragedy in the making with Lynas. Moreover, the producer has been given generous tax haven. Even if Lynas is willing to contribute 10% of its profit to the people of Pahang, it should still be rejected.

How many times we have seen or heard promises and guarantees from the industrialists and businesses which ended up as smoke screens? 

The way the government welcomes and fought for the Lynas plant to be operational in Gebeng is a monumental shame to our inability to attract better quality investment.

If the present crop cannot do the job to sell Malaysia to the foreign investors and bring in value added and beneficial technology and knowledge into the country, perhaps someone else should be entrusted to the job.

I shall march with the people of Anti-Lynas and Save Malaysia this Sunday in Penang. Would have been in Kuantan if my health permits.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Fool is a Fool, Selangor MCA

The Selangor MCA deputy head of public and services complaint bureau, Allan Liew Sin Kim, lodged a police report against the Penang chief minister, accompanied by five complainants at the Kajang police station.

According to the police report, Liew noted that Lim had uttered “PAS never killed a Chinese” during the wrap-up session of the head-to-head debate which was telecast live.

Liew said that the Chinese community did not understand the true meaning of this remark and felt worried and afraid as Lim was playing on a racial issue.

Thus, he wants the police to investigate Lim on whether he had violated “any racial issue laws”.

Allan Liew must be suffering from the same intellectually challenging illness like Jessie Ooi. Taking the CM's remark literally, it means PAS did not commit any serious offence against the Chinese. How can such a remark be deemed racist or dangerous?

This is the main problem with MCA. The party is acting and behaving in a weird and inconsistent manner. While it has a problem with Dap's partnership with Pas, it does not have any problem supporting Perkasa activities or UMNO's efforts to court Pas for a merger.

The party has a problem with corrupt allegations against Pakatan but it has tolerated corruption within its own coalition. 

If Allan is so keen to lodge a police report against Lim Guan Eng, he should lodge a report against the organizers of the event for allowing Lim to use the stage to commit his 'crime'. He should lodge a police report against those unscrupulous politicians who had bashed up Islam, Hudud and shown grievous disrespect towards Muslims. 

What about Hasan Ali and his wild imagination and allegations against the Christians? Or Ibrahim Ali's insult of the Chinese by handing out white envelopes (pak kam) during Chinese New Year? 

These actions far outweigh Lim's assertion on "Pas never killed a Chinese". I hope Alan will not issue an explanation that we have heard him wrongly again, ala Jessie Ooi, which he had mistaken Lim for saying " Pas did killed a Chinese!".

If MCA wants to claw back support, it has to do it through credible, responsible, clever and productive ways. 

What would the middle group think of a party whose leaders are acting like dumb-asses?

Services Industry, the Right Focus for Penang

Kudos to Penang CM Lim Guan Eng and his team for doing something very positive for the state. It has topped Malaysia's manufacturing investment chart for second year in a row. It is not something menial or trivial. Manufacturing is the bedrock of Penang's economy and has consistently providing employment to hundreds of thousands of workers from the northern region.

I know first hand that those who are running PDC, Invest Penang and several other state agencies are very proactive and responsive to the needs and inquiries from various investors and businesses.

The state has taken a few good steps such as the conservation and uplift of the Penang Chowrasta market. I have an affectionate memory of Penang's oldest wet market. My late dad used to take me there to sample some of the best nasi kandar and to buy local delicacies for our friends and visitors. I hope this would be a first step towards the revival of Chinatown which was vibrant and busy during the late 70's and 80's.

I could also sense an inevitable revival of the heritage enclave which has been attracting individual investors all over the world.

Credit should be given where it is due. I hope the Penang government would continue to do a good job and make Penang a model state in Malaysia. Its cultural charm is sticky and seductive. I can never get enough of it and look forward to my trips back home.

The focus on services is the right move and focus. Penang's services industry has a huge potential. We should envisage to attract the best brains, high worth MM2H residents who can bring with them not only investment but experience and skills and become a hub for intercultural exchange and innovation.

Penang has to become a beacon of hope and a model of how good governance, zero tolerance for corruption and a land of opportunity.

I would like the government to focus on job creation and economic diversification as its immediate plan.

Of course, we must not discount the contribution of the Federal government, Khazanah Nasional (especially its Penang chapter), civil society and others who had contributed to the reemergence of Penang as a commendable success story. This is only the beginning. I hope the success will continue.

More Debates? Mind Your Language

A number of parties and individuals have called for more political debates to be held to allow politicians to state their political stand and debate on policy direction. From our last week's experience, it is okay to encourage more openness but participants and role players must mind their language.

Last week's forum on "Malaysian Chinese at the political crossroads" was conceived in a context which was not only racist but simplistic and dangerous. It was a malicious and devious forum trying to put the blame and burden of racism in politics on the shoulders of Malaysian Chinese. We should not take the bait and we hope that our Malay friends and fellow voters shall follow our footsteps in supporting good governance, democracy and responsible politics.

Malaysian Chinese are never at the political crossroads. I believe most of them would accept the reality of  a Malay led government but they reserve the choice of selecting the best Malay leadership which they can depend upon to lead this country towards greater heights and accountability.

Some unscrupulous parties are trying to pit the two most dominant races - Malay and Chinese - against each other. A few NGOs, led by holier than thou politicians, are trying to incite religious misunderstanding between Christians and Muslims through irresponsible allegations and lies. Again, we must be vigilant enough not to allow such gimmick to blind our conscience, word and action.

Politicians who cannot or refuse to acknowledge their own weaknesses and shortcomings deserved to be rejected by the people.

I sincerely hope participants of the next debates would mind their language and focus on facts and substance. The last forum had brought enough shame to our country. How can the world take Malaysia seriously if we continue to abuse and bastardize our own democracy?

Open debate is a democratic right but the right must not be abused in such manner the last forum did. I hope participants, audience and role players would act maturely and responsibly in future debates.

I look forward to debates on serious national issues such as economic challenges, institutional weaknesses, a level of expectation for public governance, non-racialism in politics and other serious topics which could give us a better insight into the policy direction of each coalition.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Malaysian Chinese at The Political Crossroads Forum & Debate: Our Real Dilemma!

I had criticized the debate topic for its racial slant and a lack of intellectualism. “Chinese at a Crossroads: Is the Two-Party System Becoming a Two-Race System?” is not only inaccurate and intellectually inept. It is also irresponsible and illogical.

The forum suggested that the Malaysian Chinese are at the political crossroads for a fact that they have to choose between a stronger government or a stronger opposition. It hinted that a stronger government should be a natural choice to protect a multiracial government and to avoid a creation of two-race system. 

This suggestion is not only illogical but an insult to the political maturity and wisdom of the community. In fact, the last general election reflected a shift of urban voters support away from the government for its inability to solve multifarious issues confronting the urbanites. It is unfortunate that most Chinese reside in urban areas. 

I attended the forum in its entirety hoping to be proven wrong of my initial observation. However, most of the panel discussions had failed to convince me that I was wrong. 

Why?  The panelists and proposers had failed to explain why Malaysian Chinese are at the political crossroads. It is not convincing to merely suggest a dilemma when political parties are clueless to the voting trends, preference, issues and concerns of the community. 

The organizers had responded that the forum was not racist but they had failed to explain why only Chinese panelists and moderators were invited to discuss the political crossroads. They had failed to convince observers that the forum was conducted NOT to appease and fulfill the political agenda of political party hoping to use ethnic and religious fear to draw support from the Chinese community.

I attended the forum overwhelmed by not enthusiasm but fear and concern that what the forum might ended up creating misunderstanding that Chinese are Hudud-Islam haters. Most Muslim would agree that it is impossible to take Hudud out of Islam and Islam out of a Muslim. It would be more progressive for the parties to discuss methods and ways to help enhance the understanding of Hudud before going on and on about how dangerous, brutal and archaic the Islamic penal law. 

The perpetrators of anti-Hudud sentiment should take cognizance that Malaysia is a Muslim majority country and not all Muslims (including larger Muslim countries such as Indonesia and Turkey) agree with the full implementation of Hudud in its archaic and outdated form which symbolizes gory methods of punishment. 

MCA should take extra care to ensure that in their fervour to relive the magic of Hudud to win big against the Dap candidates in 1999 would not turn Hudud bashing into Muslim punching bag. There's a limit and respect which must be observed for our Muslim friends and fellow citizens.

I have a problem with the forum's generalization of Malaysian Chinese. No, not all of us voted on colour of the skin. There were many Chinese voters who had voted for Pas candidates against those non-Malay candidates from Barisan Nasional. 

A number of us voted for good governance, more potent opposition to ensure better check-and-balance, less political arrogance et cetera. Ironically, most of us - especially younger voters - had voted against the perpetuation of institutional racism and politics of despotism in the country.

I find it uneasy for the organizers and role players to put the responsibility of a potential creation of a two-race system on the Malaysian Chinese voters. Using a broad brush to paint the voting trends of Malaysian Chinese as generic and predictable is both too simplistic and ignorant. Political parties such as MCA, Gerakan, SUPP, LDP and DAP have a role and a responsibility to the voters to ensure that their respective coalition does not turn into a racist monster. 

Instead of telling us how they could contribute towards better ethnic relations and to ensure the success of truly multiracial, just and democratic society, some of the political parties and politicians continue to engage in dangerous race and religious politicking. Such political parties and politicians must be totally rejected by all Malaysians who love their peace and harmony.

It is precisely the frustration of inaction against corruption, abuse of power, political arrogance, leadership ineptness and mediocrity that most voters would rather support any candidates who can give them better accountability.

It is due to a lack of understanding of the voters' sentiment and an obvious act of political arrogance and ignorance that the organizers, which are linked to a political party, had chosen such ridiculous topics for discussion. The outcome of the forum is now obvious. 

It has brought zero enlightenment to the society. Now, we are seriously in a dilemma. Our dilemma is we may have to endure for a few more terms an inept, clueless and irresponsible regime. 

My assessment: I would give the forum a 3-C verdict - Contradictory, Confusing and Chaotic!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Bayan Mutiara - A Thorn in Dap's Flesh

Several Penang based analysts and leaders of Barisan Nasional have questioned the Penang government for selling 41.5ha plot of prime state land to a private developer (Ivory Properties Group Berhad) for RM1.07bil. 

A few of their concerns:

1) The land may be sold below the market value. Apparently, Ivory has been given 5 years to settle the full payment.
2) No transparent open tender was carried out and the sale was done via direct negotiation between the state government and Ivory. 
3) Would the sale benefit the people. Why can't the development project be taken up by PDC?

A number of Dap leaders including its publicity chief Tony Pua also joined in the fray to defend Lim. Tony tweeted; “It (the sale of land) was via open tender, sold 20% above reserve price, which was higher than the land office evaluation, apa lagi u nak (what more do you want)?’’ Pua asked Khairy.

According to Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, has banked in an initial payment of RM20 million to PDC, with the balance to be settled in five years.

Based on this income, Lim recently handed over a cheque for RM500 million to PDC to carry out the development of affordable housing in Batu Kawan, where a ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of 12,000 houses was held today. Bulk of the payment came from the state's coffer and not from the sale proceed of Bayan Mutiara land parcel.

Teng Hock Nan, who is state Gerakan chief, said the state owned many parcels of land and could provide a "check-and-balance" in cases where the cost of private land and property escalated.

"The PDC should take up the responsibility to develop the piece of land in Bayan Mutiara," he said.

Despite the explanation given by both Lim and Pua, the controversial sale of Bayan Mutiara land parcel is set to become a thorn in Dap's flesh.


1) Why was Ivory Properties Group Berhad been given a 5-year repayment period? It gives an impression that the company may not have secured full financial backing to pay for the purchase. Is the state going to be benefit from any interest rate revenue during the duration? It was rightly pointed out by Teng that the land value is set to increase during the period. Land bank is scarce on the island. Is the state government entitled to the share of the higher valuation over the next five years?

It is fair to say that Ivory's financial position and its ability to raise enough funds for the purchase is a point of contention and worry. 

2) Ivory is set to bring another partner into the project, Dijaya Berhad. Ivory, like other developers, may also divide up the land and sell the lots to other developers at a higher premium. Lim has noted that the size of land does determine its market value. The smaller the size the more expensive per sq ft. By selling parts and parcels of the land is expected to rake in good profit for the private developer and further driving up property prices in Penang. Is there any arrangement between the government and Ivory to disallow any sub-sales?

3) The state government appears to be in a hurry. The government had wanted to use the sale proceed from Bayan Mutiara land parcel to finance its low cost housing scheme in Batu Kawan. The low cost housing project is much appreciated and welcomed. However, the financing method and the manner Bayan Mutiara land is being sold to finance the housing project is still subject to a rigorous debate.

MP Tony Pua should take note that it is not about selling above the current market value. The state government is expected to select the best option which protects the interest of the people.

4) Teng is not wrong to suggest that PDC could have taken up the development project on its own. I have told a few Dap leaders that it would have given the state more control over the development of the land if such control has been maintained at the PDC level. Afterall, the agency was instrumental in many housing and industrial projects in Penang. It has the necessary experience and ability to raise funds to ensure the smooth running of the project.

What guarantee does the state have to ensure the disposal of the land to Ivory is not going to inflate prices at the Bayan Mutiara area? How is it going to balance between commercial interest and public interest?

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng has described allegations of wrongdoing over the tender award for the Bayan Mutiara mixed development project by the Penang Development Corporation (PDC) as “a pack of lies”.

Some of the criticisms are valid. There are no pack of lies in the feedback from Anil Netto, Teng Hock Nan and others questioning the mechanism and purpose behind the sale.

What stops the state from raising RM500 million to fund the low cost housing scheme since Lim had responded by saying that the state coffer has enough fund?

Shouldn't more thoughts be given prior to the sale of Bayan Mutiara land to Ivory?

Ownership of land is very crucial to the state government to drive the state's economy. We do not want a repeat of the past where high premium reclaimed land parcels were sold to private developers who raked in billions in profit. 

Dap should not merely depend on its popularity to rough through the tide and discontent over the Bayan Mutiara sale. It should provide a legitimate and detailed explanation over the decision. It is  a government elected by the people, for the people.

Lim Guan Eng-Chua Soi Lek's Debate: My Take

Debate topic gives MCA the upper hand

Some commentators, however, say the debate may not move the Chinese ground back to the ruling coalition, as Chua wants.

Khoo Kay Peng, who was formerly with a Gerakan think-tank, denounced the title of the debate, "Chinese at a Crossroads: Is the Two-Party System Becoming a Two-Race System?" as "racist" and "stupid".

malaysiakini discussion 050208 khoo kay peng"It is crafted out because of a political motive. It is slumping towards MCA.

"They are just implying that if we vote for Pakatan Rakyat, the Chinese will be in the opposition while Malays will be in the government. This is ridiculous," Khoo (right) said.

Whatever the situation, he said, there were still some Chinese who would vote for the BN and some Malays would vote for Pakatan, so it is wrong to suggest there will be a two-race system.

The debate should instead focus on national issues such as corruption and reform.

"We should talk about the country. Malaysia is now at the crossroad... This shows the quality of organiser."

Khoo also believes that the MCA needs to do more to win the support of the Chinese community.

"Chua's party should push BN to a becoming a trully multiracial party, no more race-based parties."

For more, read here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Kashgari Case: A Blot on Malaysia's Human Rights Record

Malaysia violated the human rights of Saudi Arabian columnist Hamza Kashgari by deporting him back to his country, where he will almost certainly be persecuted.

The Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) in a statement said today that in deporting Kashgari, the government has violated international human rights law, especially Articles 3, 10 and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), of which Malaysia is a signatory.

NONEThis treaty makes it incumbent for governments to guarantee the right to life, liberty and security; that everyone is entitled to a fair trial and presumed innocent until proven guilty.

“Kashgari, whose case has attracted international media headlines, has been denied these rights,” said Suhakam vice-chairperson Khaw Lake Tee, adding that the action would result in severe negative impact on the country.

It is a shame Minister Hishammuddin Hussein had denied there was a court order obtained to stop the extradition of Hamza Kashgari.

Now his government wants to challenge the habeas corpus application filed by Saudi Arabian columnist, Hamza Kashgari Mohamad Najeeb, who is alleged to have insulted Islam and Prophet Muhammad.

It is a shame the home minister had decided to give a false statement especially its denial over the existence of a court order to stop the deportation of Kashgari. If the government is serious about improving Malaysia's democratic credentials, it should have acted fairly and reasonably and handle the Kashgari case responsibly by respecting his democratic and individual rights. 

Now, Malaysia has to live with a very unfavourable worldwide reviews of its unscrupulous action. If there's any credibility left, Minister Hishammuddin should apologize to Kashgari's family and tender his resignation over his insensitivity and unprofessionalism.

However, this is what we do not expect him to do. We have to live with the outcome of having mediocre people running this country.

Friday, February 10, 2012

NFCorp is Telling a 'Cock & Bull' Story

NFCorp Chief Executive Wan Shahinur Izmir said the corporation has the right to use the government's RM250 million soft loan as it sees fit, based on its 2007 deal with Putrajaya. He made the statement on the back of new allegations of the fund being used to purchase two luxury condominiums in Singapore.

Izmir said NFCorp has been given a free hand to manage its business as long as it repaid the 2% interest in full. There can only be two possibilities: first, NFCorp top executives (Sharizat's family members) truly did not understand the purpose of the low interest soft loan given to them by the government or second, the government is using public's money to provide cheap personal loan to family and kin of top politicians with the aim of enriching themselves.

Izmir's statement can confirmed our worst fear that the NFCorp is bound to fail right from the start. The company cannot use the lack of abattoir as a reason to utilize the fund for non-related purposes like buying properties.

Inevitably, his statement is also putting Putrajaya in a spot. The administration must answer to Izmir's allegations that NFCorp has a free hand to utilize and manage the fund as long as it repaid the 2% interest in full. What about the capital repayment?

If the allegation is true, the government should stop the hypocrisy of launching the affordable home scheme which is providing loan to low cost home buyers at 7% interest rate. Normal home buyers are only paying 4.0-4.2% at most for the purchase by taking a loan from commercial banks.

Why is the government helping the elite like Minister Sharizat with cheap soft loan so that they can keep the profit by investing in luxury properties and charge an inappropriate and exorbitant interest on the poor?

Is this a caring 1Malaysia government?

Izmir has put the entire Cabinet on the spot! The government must come clean on this controversy.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Najib For Moderates

Penang State Barisan Nasional jumped on the bandwagon to launch ‘Najib for Moderates’ as their CNY theme this year, saying the idea came following the success of the recent forum in Kuala Lumpur.

Its state working committee chief Teng Hock Nan, who is state Gerakan chief, said the coalition applauded Najib’s initiatives and his bold proposal for moderation at the 65th United Nations meeting in New York in 2010. During a forum recently, Prime Minister Najib unveiled the formation of an institute of Wasatiyyah (Moderation) under the Prime Minister’s Office to pursue moderation in “democracy, rule of law, education, human dignity and social justice”.

While the slogan is attractive, I believe we should not miss the opportunity to discuss what is 'moderation' to Barisan Nasional? 

It is a waste of time and unproductive if politicians are too preoccupied with the polemics but not the content and substance of  a slogan. 

On democracy: Is Penang Barisan willing to support the sanctity of Malaysia citizenship vis-a-vis the dual socio-political status created by the politicization of the New Economic Policy? I remember Ambiga was severely criticized by some Perkasa and UMNO members for suggesting that citizenship should the centrality of democracy. I would like to hear a respond from Penang Barisan and Teng. What is their moderate viewpoint?

Rule of law: It is the bulwark of a functioning democracy. Rule of law means the enforcement of law must be done impartially, justly and without fear or favour. It is worrying if some individuals are treated differently from the rest. If stern action is being taken against certain individuals or publications for spreading racially or religiously sensitive rumours or allegations, it must be enforced fairly and democratically to protect the interest of all. If the powerful and rich can dodge the long arms of law, then the rule of law is not longer seen as fair or just. What's Penang Barisan view on rule of law? 

What's Teng response towards those who are playing with fire and trying to revive feudalism through the role of the royalty? In Malaysia, the role of constitutional monarchy is symbolic and a reminder of Malaysia's feudal past but it does not mean that we are disrespectful for putting the constitution above the royalty. 

What's Penang Barisan definition of moderation on education, human dignity and social justice? Are these values being applied with moderation at all times?

Why isn't Hasan Ali, Ibrahim Ali and some other provocative individuals being brought to justice for their action and words?

Why isn't 'Najib for Moderation' being practiced by Barisan Nasional nationally? 

Nonetheless, I am proud that Penang continues to lead. We hope to take the lead again in promoting moderation, true moderation. 

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Lynas: A Reflection of Malaysia's Economic Direction


Finally, the Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board has granted a temporary licence to the Australian rare earths plant in Gebeng, Kuantan. The Stop Lynas Coalition, through their spokesperson MP Fuziah Salleh, has swiftly announced that they will file a judicial review over the decision.

Lynas is building the plant, one of the few sites outside China, to process rare earth-metals used in high tech equipment ranging from missiles to mobile phones. 

It had insisted that the facility, which will process rare earths imported from Australia, will be safe, but critics say radioactive waste could leak out, threatening the public and environment.

The AELB might as well grant a permanent license to the Australian company rather than trying to mislead the people with a politically correct term of 'temporary' license which aims to make the public think that it can still be revoked if necessary. 

The license may be revoked but can the environment be returned to its original state before the radioactive waste being planted deep within its soil? 

Lynas is another reflection of the failure of government's lack of economic direction. While the investment from Lynas sounds attractive, the government should have evaluate a long term net benefit for the country. 

At present, it is obvious its effect on the environment but worse the mental anguish the plant inflicted on the people of Gebeng and its surrounding neighbourhood outweighs its economic benefit.

Why can't Malaysia attract world class R&D researchers and facilities to be stationed in the country? Why are we good at only attracting hazardous industries into the country?

Is this the kind of economic direction the nation wants to take?

Lynas should be a lesson to all Malaysians especially those who are too  mystified with race and religion as the sole basis of their electoral decision and political preference. More than often we tend to miss the core issues over some petty issues. 

Malaysians have to seat back and take a serious note of a serious issue like Lynas. The fact that the authorities have given a nod to Lynas to begin production without examining allegations such as the one made by the New York Times shows that politicians are not afraid of the people.

Malaysia can only be a better place to live in if we can inflict fear in the politicians. Ultimately, voters are largely responsible for the kind of government that we get.

Malaysian Economy: The Real Fix

Wonder why the attempt to implement a knowledge economy via the Cyberjaya initiative fizzles out barely half a decade when the multi-billion test bed was launched? Wonder where Malaysia ended up with all the Look East or Look Everywhere policies? We ended up not looking very far ahead.

The government has continue to act myopic when comes to actual and real economic reform. It should start by answering what are the key elements/ingredients to institute real economic reforms.

Malaysia must look into its education system if it wants to catch up with the leaders of the pack e.g. South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong. Economic transformation in Malaysia has been hampered by an education system unable to train and produce skilled workers required by the industry. Today's speed of innovation has left behind the production capability of our tertiary education.

Policy makers have to answer to the people why these institutions are producing graduates who are unemployable and have to be immediately send for another round of retraining?

The foundation of a good education should start early. However, constant unprofessional and knee-jerk changes made to the teaching policy at primary and secondary levels have stalled progress, used up scarce resources and time which can be channeled meaningfully to improve and enhance the curriculum and caused much anxiety to parents.

Our education system has created a new social divide. The rich or higher middle class have opted to send their children to private schools and colleges. But the poor and lower income groups have to depend on a mediocre and highly politicized public education. A decade ago, when I was a head of a policy think tank, we had joked that education policy in Malaysia was all about language or medium of instruction. This is going to remain true for decades from now if some bright minds in the ruling regime do not intervene.

Skills development has been identified by up-and-coming economies such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar as the most important cornerstone of their economic success. Alas, we do not feel the same in Malaysia. How many parents can really afford the expensive and often overly commercialized private education?

Unsurprisingly, Myanmar has signed a technical collaboration agreement with Singapore to assist the country's economic reforms and development.

The next most important issue is our labour policy. Malaysia does not have a policy which supports and encourages local knowledge workers to remain in the local economy. Entry pay level for undergraduates has remained stagnant over the last 15 years. Graduates with a degree or a diploma will immediate join a growing segment of urban poor after stepping into the working world. How many people can survive in Klang Valley barely earning RM2k a month? Many of our graduates also have to pay up their PTPTN loan upon graduation.

Escalating cost of living through higher service cost (telco & internet), poor transport system, food cost and accommodation cost are chipping off the real disposable income of our skilled workers. Hence, do not be surprised if more than 60 percent of our skilled workers are working abroad.

Malaysia's lack of foresight on the use of cheap migrant workers is only a temporary relief to the local employers and businesses. Service quality suffers when unskilled and uneducated workforce are being used to do front line work or services. How long more can we depend on cheap foreign workers? As their own economies start to pick up, the higher quality ones are going to stay back and not going abroad to work on more or less the same level of salary. Hence, the quality of cheap foreign labour we are getting is getting poorer. In the long run, it will hurt our cost conscious industries and businesses more than they ever expected.

The government needs to do a quick adjustment and bite the bullet if it is really serious about its ETP and economic reforms. Otherwise, we are going to continue bleeding talents and lose to out to emerging economies which are more serious and disciplined in their reforms.

Politicians, media and thinkers should spend quality time to debate on what's next for Malaysia. How can we reduce the gap between us and leaders of the pack and not bending backward and see who is catching up.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Economy: Malaysia's Lost a Generation

CIMB chief Datuk Seri Nazir Razak has blamed the impending election fever for distracting economic reforms. He is only marginally correct. Malaysia has been dragging its feet on real economic reforms since the Asian financial crisis in 1997. In fact, disagreement over the right measures to be taken had resulted in a major leadership fallout between Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim.

Malaysia's economic is akin a slow motion train heading towards a wreckage if the right reforms are not being administered. The country is dependent largely on its natural resources e.g. oil and gas, rubber, timber and palm oil. Malaysia has been running a budget deficit (at least 5%) since 1997 despite posting impressive trade figures.

Why is there a lack of real economic reform?  The prime reason being politicians are not able to adapt and embrace change themselves. Political parties are still functioning through a narrow and highly bias political model and mindset. Parochialism and nepotism still run deep within the political power bases. If politicians are not able to change, how can we expect them to lead real reforms?

To these politicians, the words 'democracy' and 'empowerment' have no real meaning. Policies are introduced as mere slogans. Fancy on the outside but empty on the inside. Hence, the New Economic Model, 1Malaysia, ETP. KRA, GTP et cetera are mere sloganeering. The opposition are not much better too. They are peddling change but what is really their definition of change? Both coalitions have made promises to the voters which will eventually turn Malaysia into a welfare state. Handouts after handouts were promised to the voters. These handouts are coming out from the pockets of the next generations.

Alas, Malaysians are left directionless. Governments around us have embarked on real reforms, providing real and visible direction to their peoples. Even our own people are inspired. As a result, we have been registering a negative flow of investment - more are going out than being invested locally.

Malaysia's failure at real economic reforms can be attributed to selfish politicians who wanted to hold to power perpetually by playing up race and religious sentiments. Until and unless the majority wake up, this strategy, regardless of its pariah status, is going to prove very effective in mobilizing the masses to vote based on race and religion.

Hence, the political discourse in this country is centered on issues which are often categorized as tabloid news in other countries e.g. sexual scandals, mass design to convert Muslims, petty racial squabbles, personalities and dramas.

The death of the third estate is making the situation a lot worse. Where is the platform to discuss local and regional economic issues, challenges and opportunities?

Malaysia's economy looks good on the outside e.g. low unemployment, high car sales, good property growth but is the real income improving? Is average Malaysian feeling richer and can better afford a higher quality living? With entry level salary staying stagnant over the last 15 years and cost of living more than tripled, there is very little to suggest that Malaysians today are richer and enjoying a better quality life compared to a decade ago.

Like Nazir, a lot of us are talking about economic reforms. The Prime Minister has been fiddling with his own reforms plan, the New Economic Model, since the start of his premiership and 2-3 years before the next general election but nothing has came out of it. He could not even conclusively tell us if there is going to be a total revamp and discontinuation of the flawed NEP policy. Why blame the election fever entirely?

Does the current leadership even know where to start the reforms?

Sadly, political parties and politicians are only concerned about winning power, gaining two-thirds majority but not on where Malaysian should be heading in the next 3-5 years as more regional economies are beginning to steer and implement reforms at lighting speed to attract scarce global resources and investments.

Let's talk about reforms in the next post.