Sunday, April 29, 2012

Winners & Losers in Bersih 3.0

  1. The people: Malaysians are the winners because they have shown a political awakening which must be reckoned with by all political parties in the country. The people are beginning to embrace a new dawn of proactive democracy. People must be at the forefront of reforms and not any partisans. They have shown their ability to participate peacefully. Largely, the participants are peace loving and non-violent. Many are eager to lend a helping to fellow participants regardless of race or creed. There is hope still for Bangsa Malaysia.
  2. Malaysia's democracy: Bersih 3.0 has put participatory democracy at the forefront. A large number of participants are youths below the age of 30. It means that this group of apolitical and indifferent Malaysians are finally awakened and embracing their responsibility to participate in the democratic process of the country. More youths are expected to register themselves as voters in the coming months and it may pave a way for a record participation in the next GE. Less than 50% of eligible voters had participated in previous elections.
  3. The movement of Bersih: This movement has become synonymous to free and fair elections. Bersih shall become an important platform to those who want a free, fair and clean electoral process. It is not a small feat to be able to muster more than 250,000 people in over 40 cities to participate in simultaneous demonstration against electoral biases in Malaysia. The movement must convince more overseas Malaysians to come back to vote in the next GE.
  1. The Prime Minister, Home Minister, KL Mayor & IGP: History has repeated itself. The authorities have acted in the silliest way ever. They are repeating the violent, aggressive and authoritarian images from Bersih 2.0 all over again. A number of cases involving police violent were well documented by amateur videos and photographs. It is almost impossible and ridiculous to blame the violence on the unarmed protesters against an armed security force who came prepared to strike.
  2. Najib's Reforms: PM Najib need to convince people of his sincerity in pushing through key reforms in the electoral system if he wants to win back the urban votes. After Bersih 3.0, it will become harder for him to do so. If the Peaceful Assembly Act was passed and came into effect, the government must respect the rights of Malaysians to assemble peacefully. It is ridiculous to suggest that Dataran Merdeka is so sacred and it is out of bound. It is only in Malaysia that the authorities are suggesting that demonstrations must be conducted in stadiums. Stadiums are for sporting events and not demonstrations. Dataran Merdeka would have been a perfect place for Bersih 3.0. The government would have looked very good if the KL Mayor did not act in the most irresponsible manner to disallow Bersih 3.0 at Dataran Merdeka and summoned the police to clamp down the city. He should shoulder the blame for the inconvenience and unnecessary tension built up through his action.
  3. Bersih committee: This is perhaps one of my most controversial observations but the Bersih committee must accept their weakness and poor organization skills. The committee consists of generals but zero foot soldiers. Bersih 3.0 committee members had depended largely on Pakatan Rakyat to help them organize logistically. This is a big mistake. Any demonstration led by opposition members and leaders may get emotional and tricky. Politicians want to score political points against their rivals. Hence, provocations to secure certain responses from the police/authorities may have triggered some of the clashes. Bersih committee must be better prepared to organize such a mammoth event. They must be responsible to reduce and contain untoward and potentially fatal incidents. 
  4. Pakatan leaders: Leaders such as PKR Azmin Ali, Anwar Ibrahim, Tian Chua and others who were accused of starting the provocations must be held responsible and possibly barred from attending future Bersih events. Their presence may jeopardize the credibility of the non-partisan movement. They must focus on helping Ambiga and her committee and not hijacking her initiatives for their own political benefits.
Bersih is a good and noble platform but it must stay non-partisan and it must be prepared to speak up against the political process without fear or favour. Ambiga has provided a good leadership but she must focus on building a good and reliable team to help organize the movement better. She cannot depend entirely on the Pakatan Rakyat if she does not want to be blamed for helping some parties to achieve their political agenda.

Bersih must be about electoral reforms. It must continue to stand on its ground to push for real reforms in the electoral system and process.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Can Bersih 3.0 in 70 Cities Translate into Flyback for 13th GE?

I would like to congratulate Malaysians who had participated in Bersih 3.0 from in over 70 major cities around the world. Finally, we have chosen to stand up for our rights and send a clear signal to all politicians to respect and safeguard our federal constitutional and value our democracy. If not, we have a choice to keep or dispose them.

However, can the same commitment be translated into a FLYBACK for the 13th GE. Since they are not going to implement overseas voting, we can still be part of the CHANGE we need by being part of it. It takes a small sacrifice but are you willing to do it?

We must take the final step in the 13th GE which will be called within the next few months. You need to make our commitment now so that this country can have a better future.

We, in Malaysia, need you to come back to vote if you are a registered voter!

Support FLY-BACK!

PM Najib, Where's the Mineral Water and Food? Why Only Tear Gas and Water Cannon?

In Sarawak today, PM Najib said the government is willing to provide mineral water and food to those who participated in the Bersih 3.0. He said those who participated should not cause any ruckus and discomfort to the public.

Honestly, we did not cause any damage or ruckus. It was a peaceful, carnival like and tame affair until the police started to act unruly. Instead of offering us mineral water and food, we ended up being severely affected by tear gas and water cannon fired on more than tens of thousands of crowd packed along Masjid Jamek.

As an elected government, the use of tear gas, which is vicious and terrible, should not even be considered as an option. Malaysian voters should not be treated like criminals. Ironically, this government is treating foreign migrants better than its own citizens. It was alleged that thousands of foreign migrants, especially those from Indonesia and Philippines, have been given instant citizenship so that they could vote for the regime.

There is no issue where the peaceful demonstration should be held. The focal point is not the venue but the right to organize a free and peaceful assembly. The government must walk its talk to guarantee a peaceful assembly and not doing all it can to frustrate and curtail it.

As a voter and a participant of Bersih 3.0, I find it extremely offending that tear gas, water cannon and brute force have been used against us.

If the KL mayor cannot handle and accommodate a peaceful demonstration in KL, he should allow others who are more flexible to sit on his chair. Peaceful demonstrations are very common in all top cities. When I was in Amsterdam, the authorities had cooperated and helped to coordinate a mammoth demonstration led by the Muslims to bring public attention to their issues and social status.

The detention of several newspaper photographers who have photographed alleged police brutality is another example of abuse of power and an unwarranted intimidation by the police against free press in Malaysia.

PM Najib, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, KL Mayor Ahmad Fuad and IGP should be held jointly responsible for the chaos, damage and injuries inflicted on Bersih participants.

Note: I have received some feedback there is a possibility that some RELA members may have been dressed up as policemen. They do not have an official code number on their uniform. These RELA members may have been responsible for turning violent against protesters.

Barisan Nasional should view the clarion call for real electoral reforms as something progressive and good for our country's democracy. UMNO may need these reforms one day. A political party cannot continue to rule indefinitely. They may need a free and fair electoral system when Umno becomes an opposition party in the future. The party should think of its future.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Oversight or Not? Election Commission Chairman and Deputy Chairman Must Step Down

Election Commission (EC) is under a lot of pressure lately by Bersih and other stakeholders. In politics, perception is key. EC which is tasked to run and and manage the electoral process in Malaysia must not only be be independent and impartial but it must be SEEN to be independent and fair too.

The problem is EC Chairman Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof and his deputy Wan Ahmad Wan Omar are not seen to be independent and non-partisan after the duo have admitted that they could have been UMNO members "a long time ago". 

It does not really matter if Abdul Aziz and Wan Ahmad are active members or not, it is a fact that they are members of the ruling regime. Part of the problem lies with UMNO too. Since the EC is lies under the purview of the Office of Prime Minister it often considered as a government body. EC is not part of the government. It is supposed to be an independent commission which bears a huge responsibility in ensuring free and fair elections.

Since the admittance, it is no longer tenable for both Abdul Aziz and Wan Ahmad to remain as the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of EC. Replacements must be done immediately to stop the credibility pillars of the commission from crumbling completely.

Evidently both Abdul Aziz and Wan Ahmad have not acted in the most transparent and progressive manner when comes to electoral reforms. By being members of UMNO is not going to help at all but make the matter worse.

Bersih 3.0 has another legitimate reason to demonstrate this Saturday. 

It is for Umno's own good too if both Abdul Aziz and Wan Ahmad step down. Do it NOW!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Barisan Nasional's Wrong Priorities, Bring Out Your Yellow Shirt This Saturday!


The National Feedlot Corporation scandal continues to rage on. Last month, Prime Minister Najib Razak expressed his gratitude and appreciation to his women and family affairs minister Sharizat Jalil, who is the Umno women's chief, for 'stepping down' graciously to protect the image of his party.

Lavish praises were showered on Sharizat from a few top Umno leaders too after they had failed to defend her and her family's terrible management of the NFC's grant. The purpose of NFC was to hel develop the poultry industry and to increase the supply of local beef for local consumption. Instead, the company headed by Sharizat's husband and son had used the grant to purchase high end properties in Malaysia, Singapore and Khazakstan. 

Today, PKR leaders revealed that two office units used by NFC belong to executive chairperson Mohamad Salleh Ismail and his son and director Wan Shahinur Izran Salleh.

Based on  NFC's financial accounts made public by Rafizi, the units located at Solaris Mont Kiara were rented from the duo at RM28,000 and RM8,240 a month respectively. The search further established that Izran owns the premises of the Meatworks Restaurant, also in Solaris Mont Kiara. 
Meatworks is operated by the Real Food Company, an NFC associate company.

They argued that NFC has been paying a premium to rent these units. It is not so difficult to understand why a conflict of interest had taken place. It is obvious that someone are misusing the grant and goodwill of the government to enrich themselves. Worse, Umno is seen as condoning such actions. 

Umno-led Barisan government has been involved in a string of financial irregularities which could have cost the country more than a hundred billion ringgit in the last 3 decades. New controversies continue to surface, thanks to the Internet, e.g. MEX highway, Tajuddin Ramli's MAS scandal, PKFZ, Scorpene submarine commission & possible hundreds of other similar deals, Perwaja et cetera. The list is too long for this blog post.

Unfortunately, Najib administration continues to pick the wrong priorities. He continues to pick on students who participated in the Occupy Dataran. A number of student leaders have been arrested and charged in court. 

He has repealed the ISA and replaced it with an equally ambiguous Security Offences Act which was rushed through in last weeks parliament together with 12 other Bills. 

Najib has failed to implement sweeping reforms to enhance Malaysia's democratic system when the PSC on electoral reforms went from hero to zero when both camps had failed to reach a consensus on important reforms. 

The overtly partisan Election Commission has been both recalcitrant and tricky when it has successfully got the parliament, which is dominated by Barisan Nasional, to pass through amendments to the electoral laws which could worsen instead of helping to make the electoral process fairer and transparent.

Barisan's wrong priorities only show that it is not able to reform or change for the better. It takes an electoral beating to wake up this complacent and big bully. 

Najib's record so far has been pompous but lacked any serious reform credentials. He has yet to provide any believable closure to any of the scandals listed above.

Considering the events in the last few days, especially the arrest of students and peaceful demonstrators and condoning off of Dataran Merdeka, Straight Talk has decided to endorse Bersih 3.0. This blog is not about partisan politics. It wants to make a positive and enduring change in the country. It is about standing up against oppression, bad governance and oppressive regime. 

I was there at the Bersih 2.0, marching together with thousands of peaceful demonstrators and I do not wish to see any violence coming from the enforcement officers again. PM Najib must walk his talk on safeguarding Malaysia's democracy. Democracy means freedom of expression. 

Malaysians must seize the day and tell this government unequivocally that WE WANT CHANGE...AND WE WANT IT NOW!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Election Commission & Peril of Reforms

Malaysia's Election Commission is created and empowered by Article 114 of the Federal Constitution. It was set up with the purpose to regulate and conduct elections in Malaysia. The Commission has the power to delimit constituencies, revise the electoral roll of registered voters, and regulate the manner in which elections are conducted. 

Since it is under the purview of the Prime Minister's Department, the commission is not considered to be an independent body. Arguably, this is going to be the main contention of the reform promises announced by the Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Bersih accused the EC of failing to investigate 3.1 million voters whose personal details are different from the electoral roll. Opposition parties have submitted their own complaints on the electoral roll as well. Electoral roll is the most essential basis for a clean and fair election process. 

Other complaints included the presence of foreigners, duplicate voters, phantom voters and other irregularities on the voters list. However, the EC has reacted in the most predictable manner. It has decided to give itself a top mark for transparency and efficiency. Its Chairman Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof claimed that Malaysia's electoral roll was the cleanest in the world. He said only 42,000 of 12.6 million voters are considered unverifiable. 

It is predictable too for Abdul Aziz to react this way since the EC has not been doing much to improve the electoral system on its own. It does not display any initiative nor sincerity to ensure that there's a level playing field. This is why putting the EC under the purview of the PM's department is going to further complicate the situation. Abdul Aziz and his men may not find it a duty and an obligation to be accountable to the parliament and ultimately the voters. 

I would like to see Abdul Aziz address the issue of even 42,000 dubious voters. This number is enough to tilt the outcome of the next general election and which may even help to determine who's the next leader of this country. Instead of blowing his own trumpet, he should immediately instruct his people to address the discrepancy. 

It is unproductive to go through the denial game again and again. We need to believe Abdul Aziz's words and promise to keep the electoral process fair and transparent. 

If the EC does not address the discrepancy in the electoral roll immediately and swiftly before the general election, the commission cannot avoid mounting pressure for the chairman and his committee to step down. 

Its negative reaction so far gives credibility and relevance to Bersih 3.0. The authorities, especially the DBKL, should not try to frame the peaceful protest as a political campaign. It is a demonstration of people's frustration with the pace of reforms and a lack of sincerity from the ruling regime and its appointees. 

EC has less than 48 hours to announce its plans to clean up the electoral roll or face a major protest against its impotency and irrelevance. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Dataran Attack: Barisan Nasional Has Lost the Young Voters

I do not agree with the abolishment of PTPTN and its mounting unpaid loans to students but I defend the rights of the students to conduct a peaceful demonstration.

PTPTN has two major issues. The government has a duty to ensure that it implements an effective mechanism to collect back the loans. Some borrowers are not happy with some administrative charges. Their grouses have to be sorted out but repayment must still be enforced.

I am appalled by the use of thugs to cause physical harm to the protesting students at Dataran Merdeka. It is frivolous for Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein to suggest the safety of anyone at Dataran Merdeka is in the hands of the DBKL.

The role of police is to ensure safety of all Malaysians regardless of where they are. It appears to a lot of people that the same group of thugs had participated in similar attacks in the past.

If no action is taken against them, Hishammuddin cannot blame us for thinking that these thugs are enjoying the protection of the state. If the ruling regime is not involved, I would like to urge Hishammuddin to instruct the police to make arrests in the next 24 hours.

It appears to me that Barisan Nasional does not want to win the general election. It has just given the youth votes to the Opposition on a silver platter.

PAS is very clever to capitalize on the situation. It has instructed its members to provide protection to the students round the clock.

If the police and DBKL continue to be unwilling to do the right thing, the situation may descend into a free for all. By then, it is inevitable for Minister Hishammuddin to step down because he has been behaving very strangely lately. He should have resigned during the Bersih 2.0 fiasco.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Is Dap a Pragmatic Reformist Party? A Respond to Zairil Khir Johari

I did not immediately respond to Zairil Khir Johari's 'tit for a tat' article (as he puts it) on my last piece on a possibility of Dap's becoming a New Labour because I have a business to run.

Zairil is the CEO of Penang Institute (formerly known as SERI) and his institute is funded directly by the state government. This makes Zairil a state civil servant. On the other hand, I am a registered voter of Penang. Dap had criticized a Sarawak state minister for acting like a 'towkay' but shockingly Zairil is behaving exactly the same like James Masing from the land of the hornbills.

It is his full time duty to respond to a voter's concern and queries about the Bayan Mutiara deal. He should engage me in the same manner I had engaged the Dap-led state government.

In his response to my article, he did not even have a courtesy and an intellectual respect to make a reference to me. He preferred to call me "one particular political commentator". Instead of addressing the points I had raised on the Bayan Mutiara controversy, he had chosen to label me as obsessive and myopic.

First, let me address the part of being obsessive. Zairil is partly correct, yes, I am obsessive about everything Penang but not the Dap. Political parties come and go. Both MCA and Gerakan are the best examples. The former led Penang from 1957 to 1969 and the latter from 1969 to 2008.

MCA took away Penang's free port status but Gerakan gave us the free trade zone. Subsequently, the leadership of Koh Tsu Koon gave up Penang to Umno and their cronies to run freely. Koh's Gerakan had left us with bad urban development, potentially dangerous hilltop development, bad traffic management and a host of other issues which had contributed to his party's demise.

However, when a political party is shown the door the social and economic destruction they created do not go with them. This is a sad reality and Penangites are the ones who have to suffer the consequences. Hence, we do not want the same history repeating itself.

Is it wrong for me to ask and probe the Dap on the Bayan Mutiara deal and a seemingly lack of vision on how to develop the last piece of a sizable prime land on the island? Did his political bosses show any initiative to provide us with enough information to help convince us that the best way to help fund low cost housing is to sell off the Bayan Mutiara land to a private developer?

Speaking of pragmatic reformism and curbing injustices emanating from capitalist system, I am baffled how the Dap-led state government can endorse the sale of Bayan Mutiara land to a private developer and yet claiming to have served its purpose.

How pragmatic can the party be if it is selling it to a single buyer and yet claiming that no single company is capable of paying the sum of RM1.07 billion upfront in order to justify offering a 5-year payment period? How can it curb injustices if only a single company is given the privilege to participate in the development of the huge prime land?

Without a proper master plan, the state is trying to convince us through Tropicana Ivory Sdn. Bhd. that they are going to build us a world class city. There is little we know about this world class city apart from being told that the property prices on Penang World City are going to be very expensive! The only track record we can refer to is the Penang Times Square. Shouldn't Penang Institute be providing the state government with proper feedback on the master plan?

On the accusation that I am myopic, I had asked these questions which the state government had chosen to stay mum and which Zairil had conveniently avoided:

  1. Can the state government guarantee that the new mega city, Penang World City (PWC), would be able to meet the aspirations of the average Penangites and fulfil the requirements of a sustainable development which is inclusive and value added to the state’s socio-economic transformation?
  2. What is Dap’s vision for the PWC? How can the PWCT create jobs and opportunities for the average people?
  3. Will the average people be one day pushed out from the island due to unreasonable escalation of property prices and inflation?
  4. The development of PWC is not without its risks which are associated to the highly fragile global economy. Most of the developed economies, which are Malaysia’s most important trading partners, such as US, Europe, Middle East and Japan are facing unprecedented political and economic challenges since post World War II. It is believed that Tropicana Ivory Sdn. Bhd. (TISB) will be taking over the Bayan Mutiara land in phases in accordance to the payment schedule. Since the project will be dependent on foreigners to purchase a big chunk of the development, it is not insulated from the impact of a global economic slowdown.What will happen should TISB fails to complete the project? Did the state government conduct any scenario planning to avoid and prevent the project from being abandoned half way? Does the state government have a back-up plan if the project is being abandoned?
The questions I had listed above are similar to the ones I had asked in my last article. I believe any reasonable and fair minded readers would be able to help answer Zairil's accusation of me for being myopic. 

Since Zairil is a friend, I might give him an Oxford dictionary as a birthday present.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Maju Express Sale & Approved Permit are Part of Mahathir's Ugly Legacy

Ex-premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad likened the sale of RM1.7 billion Maju Expressway to the selling of approved permits. He said that the sale of MEX appears to be an exercise of making profit at the expense of government's assistance. The highway was built using almost RM976 million of government grant. 

EP Manufacturing Bhd (EPMB), an automotive parts maker, had entered into an acquisition agreement with Maju Holdings to acquire MEX for RM1.15 billion and assume debts totaling RM550 million, which will value the deal at RM1.7 billion. Maju's boss Abu Sahid Mohamed is expected to make a cool RM600 million++.

Mahathir is upset with the deal. However, the ex-strongman should be reminded that he was the creator of these problems. Mahathir had created a generation of leaders, businessmen and followers who are dependent on government's largess and handouts. However, these handouts are getting bigger by the year. 

The total amount of grants and subsidies given out to cronies and businessmen linked to the government, often in the the name of NEP and national interest, should have exceeded billions. How much more can the government afford? How much more before this country is going to hit its financial limit and risk of becoming insolvent?

As a result, this government is helping to create a very unhealthy culture. It has created a generation of Malaysians who are unappreciative of government's help and assistance. Abu Said Mohamed should be made to pay back the grant amounting to almost a billion ringgit. This money belongs to the people.

It is pertinent for Barisan Nasional to not only fix this culture of ungratefulness and free loading, it should fix its broken political and governance system. Barisan Nasional is not only a broken coalition but it is also unable to reverse its slide into a slippery political oblivion. 

Without fixing its political culture which promotes and uses patronage, grants, money and titles it will reach a point of total breakdown. When this happens, the coalition will be consumed and destroyed by its own follies. 

The sale of Maju expressway is yet another proof that Umno has changed very little. Public accountability is still not in the party's vocabulary. 

The inability or unwillingness of other component parties to help persuade Umno to change is going to sign their own death warrant in the next general election. 

If Mahathir says MEX sale is bad, it should stink sky high!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

PM Najib, People's Support Alone is Not Enough

PM Najib Razak says he needs the support of all Malaysians, including the Chinese community, to make his transformation agenda a success.
“It is important for all Malaysians to support this journey towards transforming Malaysia and not have an attitude of let us stay on the sidelines' or being on the fence'.
“Reforms take time. As they say, Rome was not built in a day. However, we have achieved much these past three years and if we are given the mandate (to govern the country) again, we will make the reforms and the country will see transformation,” he said on an NTV7 talk show, Chat Time with Najib, which was aired at 8.30pm yesterday.
Unfortunately, the reality is he needs more than the people's support. In Malaysia, the average people are helpless and voiceless in determining how this country should be run. When did the government consult the people, via referendum or town house meeting, on any important policy decision.
In turn, the average people have to take their grouses to the streets such as the Anti-Lynas group, Anti-ISA, Anti-Bakun, Anti-PPSMI, vernacular educationists, Bersih and others. 
If Najib is serious about his reforms and transformation programmes, he should plead for the support from his warlords, civil servants and party members to support and not sabotage his administration. 
Najib has no moral capital to ask for a clear mandate if his administration cannot call for closure on a host of issues, scandals and controversies created by his administration and party. 
Did Teoh Beng Hock get justice? Was action taken against the culprits of PKFZ? Did the government act to recover back the NFCorp loan? Did his government do enough to protect and promote justice and equality for all regardless of race or creed? Are the public institutions fair, independent and depoliticized? 
He should transform and deliver first before asking for a mandate. The same rule applies to the Pakatan.
As we are debating what should the PM do to get a mandate, obituaries are already being prepared for his lack of imagination, lethargic and sloppy partners e.g. MCA, Gerakan, SUPP and MIC. 
Without a major revamp of Barisan component parties and the coalition, it is possible that the coalition may implode post 13th GE.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Is Dap the New Labour?

Dap is a member of the Socialist International (SI) which is an association of political parties and associations seeking to establish democratic socialism. Democratic socialism seeks to become a counter weight to corporate capitalism with the aim to ensure that no one is marginalized or excluded from the process of societal transformation and development.

It recognizes the impact of social and economic structural transformation on the society.  According to SI, the social cost of these transformations - unemployment, regional decline, destruction of communities - has affected not only the very poor but also working people in general.

The process of development in the name of modernisation has brought additional challenges to the society. It has often benefited the haves but marginalized the haves-not. Some of the side effects are profound e.g. rising inflation, escalating property prices through speculation and the creation of a new class of urban poor. These side effects are man-made.
Some of these signs are evident in Malaysia. Refsa, a research arm linked to Dap, revealed that more than 74% of the total Malaysian workforce received up to only Form 5 education (11 years). More than 86% of our total workforce earn less than RM3,000 a month. Some observers even called for it to be made an urban poverty line.

It means corporate capitalism, if not managed and controlled, will exacerbate the situation. The rich will become richer and the poor will end up poorer. This is where good public policy and responsible governance comes in. A good government has to ensure that our human resources who are being tapped and utilized by the capitalists to achieve their profit targets and business objectives are aptly rewarded and not being marginalized by the contribution they brought to development.

Hence, the debate on Bayan Mutiara should not be subjected to merely the issue of transparency or price. It questions the policy direction and ideological orientation of the Dap and its continuous commitment to democratic socialism.

At the Malay Mail debate on Bayan Mutiara, the party’s publicity chief Tony Pua rebutted an allegation on the sale of Bayan Mutiara land that it was below market valuation. He said the state government, led by his party, had helped to unlock the value of the land by selling it at RM240 per sqft which was supposedly RM40 above market rate.

Who is the state government helping to unlock the value for? Is it for the state, the capitalist or the average people? Average Penangites are facing tremendous pressure to own or keep a home due to escalating property prices pushed up by corporate capitalism and unhealthy speculation. By unlocking the land value means pushing the land price to follow the unreasonable speculation induced level. Is this a fair deal to average Penangites?

An important tenet of democratic socialism is the promotion of justice and equality. It strives for the end of all discrimination against individuals, and the equality of rights and opportunities. It demands compensation for physical, mental and social inequalities, and freedom from dependence on either the owners of the means of production or the holders of political power.

However, in the Bayan Mutiara case the Dap-led state government has acted precisely in ‘the government’s knows best’ mode. It has decided arbitrarily on the sale of Bayan Mutiara land to fund the affordable housing scheme on the mainland.

How can this be consistent with the promotion of justice and equality if average Penangites are not being able to own, share and enjoy the homes and facilities to be built on the Bayan Mutiara land?

Can the state government guarantee that the new mega city, Penang World City (PWC), would be able to meet the aspirations of the average Penangites and fulfil the requirements of a sustainable development which is inclusive and value added to the state’s socio-economic transformation?

What is Dap’s vision for the PWC? How can the PWCT create jobs and opportunities for the average people?

Will the average people be one day pushed out from the island due to unreasonable escalation of property prices and inflation?

The development of PWC is not without its risks which are associated to the highly fragile global economy. Most of the developed economies, which are Malaysia’s most important trading partners, such as US, Europe, Middle East and Japan are facing unprecedented political and economic challenges since post World War II.

It is believed that Tropicana Ivory Sdn. Bhd. (TISB) will be taking over the Bayan Mutiara land in phases in accordance to the payment schedule. Since the project will be dependent on foreigners to purchase a big chunk of the development, it is not insulated from the impact of a global economic slowdown.

What will happen should TISB fails to complete the project? Did the state government conduct any scenario planning to avoid and prevent the project from being abandoned half way? Does the state government have a back-up plan if the project is being abandoned?

In the face of criticism, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng had announced it is mandatory for TISB to ensure 30 percent of residential property built must be low-medium cost (LMC) valued at between RM72,500 to RM220,000. TISB had earlier announced its intention to build 15 percent of residential property valued at between RM300,000 to RM500,000 at every phase.

It is pertinent for TISB to identify precisely where it is going to build the 30 percent LMC residential property at every phase before being given all necessary approvals to start construction.

Even if the 30 percent quota for LMC has been honoured, does the state government have any plan(s) to help ensure that those who cannot afford the down payment or qualify for a bank loan can own a place too?

So far, the Dap’s policy direction has been both contradictory and populist. At the federal level, it has been vocal against Barisan Nasional’s record on poverty, inequality and elitism. Its leaders have been vocal in promoting good public transport system, minimum wage, free education and other issues related to the lower-average income classes.

Apart from giving out social grants ranging from RM100 to RM1000 in Penang, the chief minister had promised to give out RM1000 to all Malaysians should Pakatan win federal power.

On the other hand, when it comes to protecting the interest of the larger society especially the poor the party has made pro-corporate decisions which may drive up inflation and property prices in the state.

Critics have accused the state government of sugar coating its decision to sell state owned prime land by announcing that proceed from the sale would be used to build low cost residential property. They had pointed out the chief minister had said there is enough surplus in the state’s coffer to fund the low cost housing scheme when the latter presented a RM500 million cheque to Penang Development Corporation.

Its publicity chief Tony Pua had said in the debate that the state government would not mind selling the land to any Barisan Nasional crony who can afford to pay the highest bid for the land. 

Furthermore, the state government had announced its plan to fund the building of four mega infrastructure projects totalling almost RM8 billion through land swap. There is little the party can do to justify its democratic socialism credentials if such massive amount of funds is going to be used to help private vehicle owners.

How is the transport policy going to help those who have to rely on public transport for mobility and help to eradicate inequality?

Dap leaders must not be seen as willing to castigate and penalise the poor and disadvantaged, while at the same time promoting policies which increase their misery and hardship.

Dap's desire to embrace the market and to promote commercialism in the state, without being inclusive, may create unprecedented levels of affluence for the rich and big business but will do nothing to help the most needy and vulnerable.

Dap must stop being the New Labour and embolden the growing division between the social classes; the rich and powerful on one side (island) and the poor and disadvantaged on other (mainland).

Instead, the party should be focusing on propositions to make wealth distribution more equitable and the poor getting better access to services and assistance which can help to alleviate their living standard. 

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Election Commission May Contribute to the Lost of Middle Ground for Barisan Nasional

It is very unfortunate for the Election Commission to be headed by a partial, conservative and inefficient leadership which has been not receptive to feedback and proposals from the civil society and stakeholders to correct weaknesses in the electoral process and system.

It has not done anything to ensure that the electoral roll is accurate, current and devoid of discrepancies which may compromise the credibility of the electoral process. Analysts linked to Pakatan have pointed out several discrepancies such as dubious number of voters registered at the same address, voters who had passed away are still found on the roll and other legitimate and worrisome duplicity and mistakes.

Unfortunately, the Electoral Commission has not taken any positive action to clean up the electoral roll or reach out to ensure the contesting parties and voters that adequate actions are to be taken to ensure that the electoral roll will be accurate, credible and transparent.

It is not surprising for the Bersih 2.0 committee to call for a a sit-down rally on Apr 28, dubbed Bersih 3.0, in protest of the EC and the PSC audit on the electoral roll.

It claims the EC's job has been incomplete, and it has not addressed issues relating to postal voting, election offences and measures to end dirty politics.

Ambiga Sreenevasan said Bersih could not agree more that the constitution must be respected by all, but pointed out that the EC should do more as the constitution stipulates that it must enjoy public confidence.

She said the situation was further aggravated by the lack of initiatives or the failure to act in relation to the other demands of Bersih 2.0.

“In fact they (the EC) often behave like a government agency. Further, just because they are appointed under the federal constitution does not mean they are above the law and are not accountable,” she said.

It would be impossible for the EC to hold and adjudicate a free and fair general election if the electoral roll is not being cleaned up. No elections should be held if the EC cannot guarantee a clean and accurate electoral roll.

Straight Talk supports Ambiga call for the EC leaders to step down if they cannot perform their duty. They should not only clean up the electoral roll but the commission has to work out a mechanism to ensure overseas voters are allowed to vote and to create a level playing ground for all parties contesting the next GE.

If not, the EC may contribute to a lost of more support for the Barisan Nasional. Both coalitions must swing as many middle ground voters to their side to win the next GE.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Singapore Dance Theatre & Puspal's Magic Show

Information, Communication and Culture Minister Seri Rais Yatim told reporters this morning that Puspal, or the Central Agency for the Application for Filming and Performance by Foreign Artists, had not received an application for the set of shows originally slated for this weekend. 

This is so weird. To be honest, based on my own experience in handling so many international shows, the first thing on our 'To-do list' is submitting an application to Puspal for a performance permit. I expect all organizers to do the same unless they use the service of runners to submit the application for them. 

Has the application gone missing? Some magician must be at work!

It is still odd. Why would the organizer claim that their application has been rejected if they did not even apply for a permit? I hope Rais was given the right information.

As a proponent of performing arts, I sincerely hope the organizer, Puspal and the ministry can work out an amiable solution to facilitate the group to perform in Malaysia.

Please do not repeat another illogical decision to ban any legitimate artistes and performers from contributing to the performing arts scene in Malaysia.

The Erykah Badu's case may be a win for hardcore Islamists but it is a dent to Malaysia's hope to become a hub for performers.

It is time to get it right, Mr Minister Rais.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Bersih 3.0: PM Najib Should Avoid the Bersih 2.0 Mistake

PM Najib should not commit the same mistake he made when confronting the Bersih 2.0 peaceful demonstration.

He should be wary of his advisers who wanted him to take a strong stand against the organizers of Bersih 3.0 just like his administration did in Bersih 2.0. If Hishammuddin sends in the senseless, rowdy and rude batch of guards again, Najib should know that the former is more a threat than an ally.

Bersih 3.0 is going to be different and bigger. Different because it is probably going to be the last mega demonstration before the general elections and a latest disappointment with the PSC report on electoral reforms. It shows that none is coming, the real reforms and not minor cosmetic.

It is going to be bigger because other groups such as Save Malaysia, Himpunan Hijau, Anti-PPSMI, Anti-Lynas, 325 Rally and others are going to join hands and use this mega platform to push the government for reforms.

If Najib and his bunch of adviser do not handle this well, it may well be a total wipe out in urban areas. Sentiments in Sabah and Sarawak are unpredictable and fragile. He may well perform worse than Abdullah Badawi and this may spell the end of his premiership.

Najib should seek out the Bersih committee members and other NGOs to work out a schedule for real reforms on the electoral process. For anything to work, he must be seen to be committed to full and meaningful reforms.

Might is not always right.

PSC on Electoral Reforms Another Black Eye for Barisan Nasional

I was asked to comment on the PSC report and I mentioned that it is another insincere attempt by the ruling regime to address the issue of gross abuses in the electoral system.

The fact that the parliament needs to establish a PSC for electoral reforms is a testimony of a compliant and timid Election Commission. Most of the PSC recommendations can be taken up by the EC. The body, empowered by the constitution, should have made the necessary proposals and recommendations to the parliament to ensure that the electoral process is not only fair but seen to be fair.

The parliamentary speaker's decision to disallow a minority report is a disgrace to the august house. If any, Pandikar Amin's attitude shows little respect to the PSC report and the parliamentary process. PSC on electoral reforms should not be another venue for partisan politics.

All political parties are responsible to play their part in the PSC and should not bastardize the process through their childish antics.

At the end, the public and voters were robbed of their rights to listen to a meaning and lively debate on the PSC report.

It is sad that in Malaysia there is little regard for the people and voters. Political parties are acting as they know best. Yes, do not 'fight the boss' attitude is prevalent in Malaysian politics.

I hope the outcome of PSC on electoral reforms is another eye opener for the people. The biggest loser is Najib administration. It is another dent to his reforms credentials. The way his parliamentarians rushed through the voting to pass the report is a setback and not a victory for Barisan Nasional.

Najib should take a leaf from Myanmar's reforms, however nascent it is, and should commit fully to his own efforts.

Since the politicians cannot decide, we the voters shall do the job for them!