Monday, June 11, 2012

We Need Jobs Not BR1M!

Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has mooted to the government to hand out more cash via the BR1M programme as low-income Malaysians are facing the brunt of global economic slowdown. Is giving out more cash the answer?

The last round the government had forked out almost RM3 billion in direct cash payouts. Did the payouts help the economy? If yes, the government would not have mooted a second one. Ironically, a large number of those who received the RM500 had used the cash aid to clear their household debts. History is bound to happen again and it is scary trying to imagine the seriousness of our household debt situation.

The government should consider longer term solutions such as helping to improve our domestic economic health and to help to stimulate jobs.

Instead of giving out more cash, the government should consider continuing with the New Economic Model reforms mooted by PM Najib when he first succeeded Abdullah Badawi. There's not much being heard about the economic model which proposes reforms of the New Economic Policy which was blamed as a major hindrance to economic growth.

Through the NEM, the administration had liberalised several sub-sectors which do not have significant Bumiputera participation. However, his reform pledges under the NEM came to an abrupt halt when the politics of race took firm hold of his administration.

Next, he should restructure the public sector mindset to become more competent and efficient in supporting the private sector. Government linked companies should be scaled down and allow free up competition in the economy. At the moment, it is very difficult for SMEs to flourish in the local economy which is being overwhelmingly controlled by GLCs and huge local conglomerates.

This is not a healthy trend. It other countries, the SMEs are important employers and often employ up to 60% of the total work force. The SME sector has been long neglected by the government. It clearly does not have good and effective policy and programmes to help these businesses.

There should be a review of the foreign labour policy. The difference between Singapore and Malaysia is stark and serious. The former is good at attracting high net worth individuals and employers but the latter is a hub for low skilled manual workers of over 2 million. Malaysia's over dependence on low cost labour is a huge contributor to its economic malaise and middle income trap.

A lot more can be done with the RM3 billion direct cash handouts. The government should use our limited financial resources wisely. BR1M should become a political tool. It should not be used to help the ruling regime to buy support at the coming GE.

It is time for the ruling to embark on history making and significant reforms instead of depending on populist policy to help them stay in government.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Khaled Nordin Should Stop Playing Politics With Education

Higher Education Minister Mohamed Khaled Nordin has confirmed that the decision of National Higher Education Fund (PTPTN) to halt giving loans to Universiti Selangor (Unisel) students is to challenge the Selangor government's ability to provide free tertiary education.

There are two words which can sum up Khaled's decision: 'Arrogant' and 'Dangerous'. By halting the loans to Unisel students, he is going against his government's own policy. What Khaled is doing is no different from war criminals using human shields to protect their own position and safety. 

These students are mere collaterals of Khaled's reckless political game. By any account, Khaled is behaving like a senseless and arrogant politician who should not be entrusted with power.  

By using the PTPTN education loan as a political pawn and weapon against the Opposition, it proves that he is a dangerous politician. What's next after this abuse of power? 

We need to ask whether the Cabinet members have been consulted and approved his decision?

Pakatan's pledge to provide free education may be part of their election manifesto. It is up to the people to choose to believe or not if this proposal can ever be implement at all. Believers may vote for the newly minted coalition and non-believers may want to stick to the incumbent. 

However, it is not proper and acceptable for Khaled to punish 1000 new students by dragging them into his silly political contestation with Pakatan Rakyat, especially the PKR-led Selangor government.

Khaled's recalcitrant behavior cannot be taken lightly by the Prime Minister unless Najib supports his decision to halt giving loans to new Unisel students.

His action is a complete mockery of Najib's 1Malaysia "People First" agenda. He has brought hardship, anxiety and frustration to 1000 Malaysian families.

Straight Talk is asking all concerned Malaysians to stand up against the Higher Education Minister and demand that he stops playing politics with education. 


Nothing is Free, Liow Tiong Lai

MCA's Deputy President and Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai said that he got his favourite number plate "WWW 15" for free from the Road Transport Department. 

This, however, contradicted a report by China Press today, which quoted the Federal Territory RTD spokesperson as saying that everyone who bids for the plate numbers needs to pay for them.

He said that ministers can request for number plates for free from the Transport Ministry, but this does not apply for ‘hot numbers’ like the one for which Liow had made a bid.

There is no free lunch in this world. When Liow refused to pay, the government via RTD has to pay through a lost of revenue through another successful bidder. This is what we called an opportunity cost.

The fact is Liow has failed in his capacity to set a good example as a leader to discourage elitism and a waste of public resource on something as useless as an expensive car plate number. Liow should be grateful enough for being assigned an official car for his official use.

To make the matter worse, it is now crucial for Liow and the RTD Director General to explain why the minister is exempted from having to pay for a bid using his personal name? His supporters may say that it is a matter of taking from the right pocket and putting it into the left. It is a question about integrity, consistency and transparency.

Ironically the police was quick to launch an investigation against another politician, standing on the opposite side of the fence, for tweeting to say that it was a waste of public funds to pay RM520k for a number plate. He is now being investigated under the Sedition Act.

If the police continue to act inconsistently, the public may perceive them of harassing a politician not from their preferred camp.

It is best for Liow to stand up and own up to his inconsistency, correct his mistake and move on into the next battle. This is not the time for any members of the ruling regime to be unscrupulous with spending when the majority are suffering from the impending global economic crunch.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Can both Azmin Ali & Anwar Ibrahim Walk Their Talk on Transparency?

I support the call from lawyer-activist Haris Ibrahim who demanded that Azmin come clean and explain the corruption allegation to the public as his voters deserved the truth.

On Tuesday, blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin published classified investigation papers that Azmin was investigated by the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) for graft in 1995.
Azmin was at that time a private secretary to then deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim and he was probed on claims that he was receiving RM15,000 monthly from tycoon Vincent Tan.
He also accused of living beyond his means, owning houses and cars worth about RM1.5 million and almost RM10 million in cash, while drawing a salary of RM2,400 monthly.
Raja Petra alleged that while the ACA had enough evidence to prosecute Azmin for corruption, the-then ACA director-general Shafee Yahaya decided not to act on it, at the behest of Anwar.
It is important for both Azmin and Anwar to come clean and clear up the matter if they want to lead Pakatan's team into the GE battle. Both of them are the top leaders in Pakatan Rakyat. 
If the newly minted coalition is successful in its bid for federal power, Anwar is expected to be named a new prime minister and Azmin's his senior cabinet minister or deputy.
Anwar and Azmin have demanded the Najib administration to come clean on the Scorpene corruption scandal and the latter has decided to stay silence. 
This is opportune time for Azmin to declare his family assets to clear his name and to create a good precedent for all top politicians to do the same if faced with a similar allegation. All politicians aspiring for public office must be transparent and accountable for their action.  
Without an appropriate response this allegation will weight down on the leadership of both Azmin and Anwar. Unfortunately, none among the Pakatan top leadership has commented on the issue or asked Azmin to do the necessary. 
There should not be an exception when comes to curbing and combating corruption. Both Azmin and Anwar should be judged using the same yardstick like the one used against Barisan Nasional leaders. 
It takes an exemplary leadership and sincerity for Azmin and Anwar to prove to us that they are an asset and not a liability to Pakatan Rakyat. 

Evidence (Amendment) (No 2) Act 2012: A Regression in Reforms

As a blogger and an independent Net publisher, I see the amendment (No.2) to the Evidence Act as a real threat to freedom of expression. The amendment which puts the burden of proof on the accused is at every sense against the law of natural justice. 

In today's reality, it is so easy for any person/computer expert to hack into a website and use the access to post seditious and libelous information on the website/blog/email. The long arms of law should help to prevent such an abuse and to protect the privacy of Internet users.

If the law is being revamped and amended to protect the state against criticism and allegations, this amendment is definitely a step in the wrong direction. Any democratically elected government must be able to withstand the heat. 

It other words, any politicians who cannot stand the heat should get out of the kitchen (politics). It is better for the ruling regime to engage, respond and reply to allegations than to use draconian and undemocratic legislations to stifle dissent and opposition.

It is a fact that no popular government can win the support of everyone. There are bound to be opposition and dissenting voices, mainly due to the competitive nature of electoral politics. 

If the Najib administration is serious about its reforms agenda, it should immediately pull out this amendment. It is not fair to those who are serious, objective and independent in their views and opinions.

Any government that wishes to stay in power must win the confidence of the people by being transparent and by promoting freedom and healthy engagement.

It is time for politics to make way for real liberty in the country. We have seen too much politicking and those in power must not take it for granted that they can hold to power forever through devious means. Even the most hardcore and repressive governments had been defeated and brought down on their knees.

For those aspiring for power, please remember that it comes with big responsibility too. 

Friday, June 01, 2012

Scorpene Scandal: Too Much for the Najib Administration to Stay Silence & Too Obvious for MACC to Act Ignorant

A bombshell was dropped at the Suaram's press conference in Bangkok on the Scorpene case which is on trial in Paris, France.

French lawyer Joseph Breham, who is acting on behalf of human rights NGO Suaram, revealed that the company paid 36 million euro (RM142 million) to Terasasi (Hong Kong) Ltd, ostensibly for "commercial engineering" works. However, the company was paid for selling top secret military intelligence on the Scorpene submarines to the French company.

Breham, who based his expose on the French prosecution papers, said the act of "selling" top secret papers to a foreign country such as this is considered treason.

In France, he stressed, it would be absolutely illegal to sell such reports as it could either be considered a breach of defence secrets or high treason.

"It's treason because you are selling to a competitor or a foreign country what you think about a specific weapon, and your plan on how to use this specific weapon," replied Breham, when asked by a journalist if it was legal for an individual to sell such reports.

"In France, if you release them (secret documents), you can be punished with up to 10 years in jail," said Breham

Hong Kong-based Terasasi had been accused of funneling money through its accounts to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak as "commissions" for the sale of the submarines.

Two Terasasi directors are Najib's close ally Abdul Razak Baginda and his father Abdul Malim Baginda.

If the report from Malaysiakini is true, it is going to shatter Najib's reforms credentials which have been weakened by several questionable decisions and lack of action to curb abuse of power, corrupt practices, growing politics related violence and poor governance.

These allegations, that Najib and his party had profited from the corrupt proceeds, pose serious challenge to his leadership and personal credibility.

Silence is not a good choice for the embattled premier. He must stand up and speak up to clear the doubts. 

His ex-advisor, Abdul Razak Baginda, must be summoned back to answer to these allegations. Otherwise, it would appear to be very difficult for Najib to continue to claim the moral high ground with his 1Malaysia: People First, Performance Now agenda.

It is unprecedented that a serving Malaysian premier is caught in such quagmire and controversy rising from an abuse of direct public procurement. The government has ignored repeated calls for more transparency in its procurement system and to stop using direct negotiations. 

Now, the premier must answer why we should pay more than RM500 million on commission to a middleman?

Where does the money ended up? 

Why aren't our MACC spring into action and investigate those personalities mentioned in the Paris trial?

Why is the so-called independent anti-corruption commission choose to ignore such huge controversy and allegations against some of the biggest personalities in Malaysia?

Malaysia's image is surely going to take a harsh beating if the ones connected to the investigation do not cooperate and come clean on the allegations.