Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The monkeys strike back

The monkeys strike back
30 April, 2008

These are signs that Umno’s factionalism will deepen and intensify as contending forces align and realign themselves for the party election, now scheduled for December.

Khoo Boo Teik, ALIRAN

Khoo Boo Teik looks back at how the people came together to collectively crack the BN’s supposedly shatter-proof hegemony. Analysing the transformed political landscape, he discusses some of the fresh challenges that lie ahead.

If you’ve read or heard the tales from the Chinese classic, Xi You Ji (Journey to the West), you’d recall that the amazing cudgel-wielding 72-morph Sun Wukong, a.k.a. ‘Monkey’, first became famous for ‘creating havoc in Heaven’.

Long loved as an icon of recalcitrance, Monkey swung as he pleased, shaking the established order and shaming the hirelings sent to suppress him.

In the 12th General Election of 8 March 2008, 49 per cent of the voters morphed, as it were, into one gigantic electoral Monkey and cracked the Barisan Nasional’s supposedly shatter-proof hegemony.

No more two thirds

Long-suffering voters spurned the ruling politicians and stunned their hacks and flunkeys by handing 82 seats to the alliance of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, Democratic Action Party and Parti Islam SeMalaysia, thus breaking the BN’s two-thirds stranglehold on Parliament.

Collectively, Pas, PKR and DAP took control of five states – Kedah, Kelantan, Penang, Perak, and Selangor – besides winning ten out of eleven parliamentary seats in the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur.

Overnight, PKR stopped being the one-seat party that the United Malays National Organisation had threatened to send into oblivion. Instead, PKR added 30 more to the sole parliamentary seat held by Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail in 2004.

Nor was Pas beleaguered any longer with a precarious one-seat majority in Kelantan. It won 38 out of 45 state seats in Kelantan and now governed Kedah, too.

For the first time ever, DAP took power in Penang by completely defeating both Gerakan Raykat Malaysia and the Malaysian Chinese Association.

In Perak and Selangor, the three parties formed coalition governments, however untidy their power-sharing process was (and however much they still need to formalise it to avoid being the playthings of non-electoral forces).

Caution v. confidence

The opposition’s unprecedented advance brought on a euphoric daze after virtually all the expert pre-election assessments were proven wrong, no less with the big picture than with the local scenes.

Take the magnificent Malaysia-kini. Its offer of ten-day free access caused countless surfers to jam its site on the evening of 8 March. Yet, even the redoubtable Steven Gan had cautioned that 40 seats would be a realistic advance for the combined opposition, a figure, Gan later said, that was ‘not even close’.

Or take Anwar Ibrahim, seemingly the most foolhardy of the opposition leaders for urging BN’s replacement while others only targeted its two-thirds majority. Anwar thought that PKR would do well to win 25 seats. In fact, PKR became the largest opposition party with 31 seats.

In Penang, an ill-concealed intra-party dispute over who should succeed Koh Tsu Koon as Chief Minister showed that Gerakan expected to retain power. But the four named and un-named pretenders to that position needn’t have troubled themselves. The DAP deleted Gerakan from Penang’s political terrain (and Tsu Koon became the third of all three chief ministers, after Tan Sri Wong Pow Nee in 1969 and Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu in 1990, to depart office in defeat).

Whose fear?

Beyond seats and states, there was a popular disdain for scare-mongering.

The mainstream media issued its usual anti-opposition warnings of instability, erosion of investor confidence, Islamic state, and ‘May 13’. Some editors must have so believed their own propaganda that they were paralysed by the Chinese swing, the Hindraf factor, and the late Malay swing. Why else, for instance, did The Star Online, late on 8 March, show no result except BN’s ’10 out of 10’ parliamentary victories?

Outgoing Selangor Mentri Besar Khir Toyo threatened ‘zero opposition’ only to be ejected from power. Melaka’s Mohd Ali Rustam intimidatingly boasted that Umno could rule on its own – forever. Now he and his ilk must rue Umno’s insecure dependence on the goodwill of the unlikely power-brokers of Sabah and Sarawak.

The arrogance of power

When the Malay voters revolted in 1999, in response to Anwar Ibrahim’s persecution, many non-Malay voters rejected the Barisan Alternatif’s call for Reformasi. Instead, they helped to save Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Umno and continued to support Abdullah Badawi in 2004. Abdullah also recovered the support of Malay voters who badly wanted a closure of the Anwar affair.

But four ‘work with me’ years under Abdullah did not reward Malay and non-Malay voters with promised reforms, but with an ‘arrogance of power’, as Tsu Koon, after some soul-searching, has belatedly admitted.

Of course, it was Umno’s power, and, of course, it was arrogant.

In ethnic terms, Umno soon reasserted its power. Ketuanan Melayu was not to be questioned; the New Economic Policy’s restructuring would be extended; the so-called Malay Agenda was timeless.

Hishamuddin Hussein, with his keris-kissing antics, warned even Umno’s non-Malay partners, ‘Do not challenge us!’ Khairy Jamaluddin flashed his ‘My bangsa, right or wrong’ rhetoric and Umno Youth organised a protest of convenience against a pliant Gerakan in Penang.

In class terms, the power was flaunted by displays of the increasingly unaccountable corruption of the Umno-related oligarchs and the greed of new corporate groups with strong political cables. On the other hand, mass protesters against fuel price increases and rising inflation were met by tear gas, water cannons and Red Helmets.

In cultural terms, the regime’s claim to moderation, via Islam Hadhari, rang hollow. It seemed indifferent to religious disputes that blurred the jurisdictional boundaries between the civil and the Syariah courts, to the invasive body-snatching actions of religious bureaucrats, and to the insensitivity of Umno-dominated local governments towards incidents of temple demolition.

Reformasi's retribution

Within that context, the election result was retribution with a flavour of Reformasi, albeit appearing late and not quite following the Barisan Alternatif’s 1999 script.

Once, many non-Malay voters could be persuaded that ‘A vote for DAP is a vote for PAS’.

This time, many, many more decided that ‘A vote against MCA and Gerakan and MIC is a vote against Umno’.

In short, the non-Malay voters snapped the BN chain at its weaker links. They showed their contempt for the timidity of MCA, Gerakan and MIC, gagged and impotent Chinese-based and Indian-based component parties.

It was unlikely that Malay voters significantly swung to parties such as DAP or even PKR. But in certain ethnically mixed constituencies, a late Malay swing or an appreciable Malay absenteeism at the polls compounded BN’s losses. In Malay-majority constituencies, the old Umno-Pas division was still evident, leaving the non-Malay swing to exert its impact.

The PKR’s present position is an ironic, almost un-Malaysian, outcome of the ethnic voting patterns. A party some had written off emerged as a symbol of multi-ethnic politics. Whatever its future, PKR’s leadership of a balanced Malay-non-Malay opposition has dragged Parliament from its old self of being dominated by BN and opposed by an entirely Malay Pas and an entirely non-Malay DAP.

New landscape

Many observers have likened this transformation of the political landscape to a tsunami, a perfect storm, or a surge of Makkal Sakthi (People Power) that outdid the Bersih and Hindraf rallies of late 2007.

The metaphors may be excessive. A true tsunami, say, would have swept BN out of office. A perfect storm would not have bypassed Sabah and Sarawak.

Yet, obviously, the transformation raises some urgent questions for an opposition that has begun to contemplate national power.

Breaking the two-thirds barrier was both a symbolic and real achievement. For some time now, the ability to amend the Constitution was not the crux of the two-thirds issue. Power was, and especially Umno’s unassailable power within BN.

Without the buffer of a two-thirds majority, however, BN’s ethnic power-sharing formula may be in jeopardy. If Umno insists on taking so many seats, to be able to rule on its own, it won’t be able to satisfy the demands of its 13 non-Malay adjuncts.

Actually, MCA and Gerakan had paid for Umno’s arrogance of power before, in 1986 and 1990. As they lick their wounds, MCA, Gerakan and MIC might stumble upon a simple truth: Stop playing ‘Kapitan China’ and ‘Kapitan Keling’ (no insult intended) to Umno’s ‘Tuan Melayu’, or be irrelevant – as Gerakan, shorn of its Penang base, seems already to be so.

Watch out for old politics

Partly for that reason, Umno will strive to impose its old ethnic politics upon the PKR-DAP-Pas experiments in new multi-ethnic politics. We have already seen the knee-jerk attacks on DAP for allegedly marginalising the Malays in Penang, on the Perak government for not having enough Malays in its Exco, and so on.

We’ve seen before these unscrupulous tactics of ethnic assaults from quarters that claim to be the champions of national unity.

When Parti Bersatu Sabah, the original, not the current ersatz one, ruled Sabah, Umno sanctimoniously questioned if the Muslims there could be properly accommodated under ‘Christian rule’. When Pas ruled Kelantan and Terengganu, MCA, Gerakan and MIC would ask if the non-Muslims would be denied their rights.

Hence, a host of newly formed ‘Malay action fronts’, sore and vengeful losers, will waste little time organising demonstrations, orchestrating media disinforma-tion and fomenting ‘Malay anxieties’. This manner of interpreting policies and practices in chauvinistic terms can only be defeated by a united opposition that can come to the rescue of all five opposition state governments.

The worst scenario, if the alliance fails, is for Pas to join Umno in condemning the DAP-led government in Penang, and for DAP to join MCA, Gerakan and MIC in criticising the PAS-led governments of Kedah and Kelantan. In Perak and Selangor, the coalition governments can only escape such externally created problems by commitment to cooperation and collective responsibility.

Parliament and responsibility

Some encouragement may be derived from the sentiments of the opposition’s supporters. It’s one thing to vote ethnic in an ethnicised political system. It’s another thing altogether to regard all things in the stark light of inter-ethnic competition.

At least in the alternative cyberspace, voters, bloggers and commentators have admirably urged PKR, DAP and Pas to keep their differences to themselves, but, above all, to keep their alliance intact. Not to do so, the voters know, just as the leaders of these parties must know, would hand back to BN what was painfully gained at the election.

The presence of the largest ever opposition in Parliament has amplified popular hopes of reforming the political system. To this end, the opposition representatives must set out to raise the quality of law-making, monitor the Executive and discipline state institutions. To do so, they must themselves be competent in diverse areas, capable of informed debate and committed to representing their constituents’ (and not merely their parties’) interests.

The opposition representatives, no less than the backbenchers, should realise that the public sickens at name-calling, trading of insults and histrionics that debase parliamentary proceeding. They should learn, from Lim Kit Siang at his best, and the outstanding opposition figures of the 1960s, that dedicated parliamentary work requires a mix of investigative research, thoughtful arguments and courageous demands.

Economic management

The new opposition state governments should appreciate that they’ve taken power at a difficult juncture. They don’t know yet how the deepening troubles of the United States economy will affect each state’s economy. They should know that their scope for economic management will be limited by national policies and global market forces.

Even so, the opposition alliance must plan for employment creation, reasonable rates of growth, the alleviation of economic difficulties, and so on. Never mind, for example, that short-term, limited-impact measures are dismissed as ‘petty populism’ by the New Straits Times editors. That’s only the response of hacks who have fawningly publicised all of BN’s petty handouts.

For the medium-term, however, honest administration, competent planning and effective implementation must be the order of the day for PKR, DAP and Pas, just as it was for the original Gerakan when it captured Penang in 1969.

Renegotiating federalism

It’s well known that PBS in Sabah, and Pas in Kelantan and Terengganu had previously had to weather Umno’s wrath and the Federal government’s might.

Today, however, only the insane would risk impoverishing the national economy by strangling five opposition states and Kuala Lumpur which include the rice bowl, the manufacturing centres, and the seat of administration of the nation. Even they would not thereby alienate the influential chambers of commerce and industry and sensitive foreign investors.

The most hostile might conspire to inflict on the five states the wang ehsan punishment that Pas-ruled Terengganu endured. But it’s politically infeasible to re-enact what has been discredited and what people despise, especially in urban centres that aren’t so dependent on direct federal expenditures.

Foes though they are, the Federal government and the state governments are compelled to talk to each other. High on the agenda of such talks should be a review of federalism itself, not by any means an unwelcome prospect.

Planning and action

On their part, the new and inexperienced state governments must realise this much. While resources are necessary, resourcefulness is indispensable. It’s reasonable to ask for learning time; it’s imperative to learn fast. It was fair politics to promise alternatives but it’d be suicidal politics not to act quickly, symbolically and meaningfully.

There is enthusiastic talk about engagement with civil society, participatory democracy and the restoration of local government elections. All this may help to distinguish the old administrations from the new, and, where necessary, expose past malpractices in order to cleanse the administrative machinery.

Above all, PKR and DAP, whose grassroots structures are underdeveloped, must find ways to root themselves in society, as Pas managed to in Kelantan during its years of isolation.

The new governments should consult a spectrum of social and economic interests. Yet, they should not yield to vested interests that reinvent themselves as the spokespeople of ‘civil society’ now that their links to BN have been severed. For that matter, there are NGOs and NGOs, and the new governments should not pander to the ‘upper middle class’ character of many visible NGOs.

Unifying ethos

The true measure of good government will be its attitudes towards the ‘little folks’ of our society, including the lower working classes, the poor and the disadvantaged, small retailers, hawkers, petty traders, the smallest of the SMEs, and so on.

In Penang, for example, there’s no reason to keep beautifying the charming Western Road-Macalister Road-Residential Road areas. It’d be better economics and urban management to clean up the inner city, rehabilitate decrepit former rent-controlled houses, and attend to the special needs of deprived neighbourhoods, whether these are Malay, Chinese, Indian or ‘Other’.

No one expects PKR, DAP and Pas to resolve overnight the differences in their visions of a better society. From where, then, might come common ideological planks that they can use to build a workable raft of shared policies?

In principle, the broad answer has to be a non-sectarian social democracy. That can creatively fuse Anwar’s concept of a caring civil society, the Parti Rakyat Malaysia’s plebian concerns, the DAP’s old socialist claims, and Pas’s Islamic welfarism.

Guided by such social democracy – rather than, say, a neoliberal meritocracy – PKR, DAP and Pas can formulate and implement policies that would most benefit the non-rich. After all these have been the staunchest opposition supporters and these would be constantly targeted by BN’s petty blandishments.

Turmoil in Umno

There is nothing destabilising about any of these. Potentially destabilising, though, is the turmoil that defeat has visited upon Umno.

The Umno leadership’s new spin is that BN hasn’t lost the election despite Abdullah’s initial response, ‘We’ve lost, we’ve lost.’ To Abdullah and his allies, BN holds a ‘strong majority only eight seats short of a two-thirds majority’. That is in fact so.

Nonetheless, the loss of the two-thirds majority; the fall in BN’s popular vote to 51 per cent; the failure to capture Kelantan; the defeat in four more states and Kuala Lumpur; the departure of several ministers; and the painful dependence on Sabah and Sarawak have intensified Umno’s chronic factionalism.

Much of that factionalism is tied to the loss of resources, projects and patronage, a grievous loss since Umno’s unreformed structures habitually mixed business with politics.

Another implosion

For now Umno’s turmoil can move in uncoordinated ways.

Political forces once pushed aside have re-surfaced to challenge Abdullah whose position is weaker than in 2006, the year of his big spat with Mahathir.

Mahathir has called for Abdullah’s resignation. As if trying to be his father’s son, Mukhriz Mahathir has sent a letter to Abdullah in a farcical replay of Mahathir’s 1969 letter to Tunku Abdul Rahman.

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, who had twice failed to secure the leadership of Umno, has offered to challenge Abdullah for the party presidency.

The Malay Rulers have intervened in the appointment of Menteris Besar in Perlis and Terengganu. It will certainly be regarded as a defeat for Abdullah that both his nominees for Perlis and Terengganu were rejected and replaced by others more acceptable to the respective rulers.

The formation of the new Cabinet was fraught with disgruntlement. The ambitious Khairy Jama-luddin simply had to be excluded. But the excluded Mohd Radzi Sheikh Ahmad resigned as Umno Secretary-General while Rafidah Aziz’s departure led to public disagreement with Azalina Othman Said.

These are signs that Umno’s factionalism will deepen and intensify as contending forces align and realign themselves for the party election, now scheduled for December.

If the past is a good indication, however, Umno could be heading towards implosion for a third time – after the 1987 battle between Team A and Team B fight, and the 1998 Anwar affair. If that happens, it’d be the sort of political disorder that arises just as one system’s dying while another is struggling to be born.

Whatever happens, those who helped to create this situation – necessary but insufficient for lasting transformation – were the wise and brave voters. No more risk averse, they decided that change was better than stasis.

Like it or not, love us or hate us, we’re all monkeys now. (Aliran Monthly)

Tee Keat probes ERL deal

Tee Keat probes ERL deal
30 April, 2008

Terence Fernandez, The Sun

PETALING JAYA (April 29, 2008): The new administration of the Transport Ministry is probing the events leading to the contract which requires airline passengers from KL International Airport to subsidise the operations of the Express Rail Link (ERL).

Its minister Datuk Ong Tee Keat has requested information from Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) on monies remitted from airport tax to Express Rail Link Sdn Bhd (ERLSB) which operates the service, following an expose by theSun last week.

The front-page report quoted sources as saying that airport tax of RM45 (international) and RM6 (domestic) at the KLIA and RM35 (international) and RM6 (domestic) at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) in Sepang could be cheaper but for a deal between ERLSB and the government.

Under the concession agreement signed in 1997, a portion of airport tax, RM2 from domestic travellers and RM6 from international travellers, goes towards financing the ERL’s construction and operations.

The service began operations in 2002, and air travellers have been unwittingly subsiding the ERL irrespective of whether they used the service or not.

“I am taking a special interest on this issue and I want to get to the bottom of this agreement,” Ong told theSun. “I have asked my officers to get me the documents.”

He said he has asked MAHB to furnish him with details, while ERLSB has also submitted a brief report on the deal.

“As Transport Minister, I am duty-bound to ensure that all agreements which concern public transport are in the best interest of the public,” he said, when told of ERLSB’s refusal to reveal details of the agreement and how much it has received from the taxing of airline passengers over the last six years.

Conservative figures put it at RM80 million a year, a figure which ERLSB has refuted. It has declined to reveal what the real numbers are, saying it’s a private company.

Ong said it was too early to reveal what he had learnt so far but assured the public that he will do so once his investigations were complete.

“I need time to pore over the documents and the fine print. I will get legal and expert opinions on the agreement before taking the matter up to the cabinet,” he said.

ERLSB operates under a 30-year concession, including the option to extend for another 30 years to own and operate the ERL.

YTL Corporation holds a 50% stake in ERLSB, while Tabung Haji Technologies Sdn Bhd owns 40% and the balance held by NadiCorp Holdings Sdn Bhd.

Crossovers causing anxiety

Crossovers causing anxiety
30 April, 2008

Regina Lee, NST

DAP, PKR and Pas have agreed on many issues, including forming Pakatan Rakyat, but political crossovers are still very much a bone of contention among them.

While PKR big guns have been boasting of a hijrah or exodus of elected representatives from Barisan Nasional to Pakatan, DAP has been less receptive about the entire notion.

DAP chairman Karpal Singh has gone on record as saying that he was dead set against it, even asserting that he would break ranks with the opposition coalition and side with BN a motion for an anti-hopping law.

DAP has traditionally been against what it calls "political kangaroos".

Back in 1978, party adviser Lim Kit Siang delivered a stirring speech when moving a motion to introduce a private member's Bill for the prevention of defection.

But this is no surprise considering that this party had been battered by office bearers who quit the DAP for either MCA or Gerakan over the years.

Yap Pian Hon (now Datuk) was among the most prominent DAP stalwarts who crossed to the MCA.

In 1969, he won a seat in Parliament on a DAP ticket, but moved to the MCA five years later and he retained the seat continuously until the last election when he was dropped -- an extremely long wait for DAP to see "justice".

It was particularly painful for DAP to bear, since Yap quickly rose up the MCA ranks to become arguably one of the most popular chiefs of the Youth wing for championing the communal cause and moved on to the vice presidency.

Another former stalwart, the late Datuk Richard Ho, defected in 1972 and had a meteoric rise in MCA rising to become deputy president and a federal minister a few short years later.

From then on, various DAP leaders have deserted the party throughout the decades.

The more recent high profile crossovers included that of Lee Yuen Fong (more popularly known as Tiger Lee), and state vice-chairman Lim Fui Ming last year which triggered a media war between himself and DAP leaders.

But with PKR's de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim buoyant about having at least 30 Barisan MPs in the bag ready to cross over, most likely to PKR, to form the federal government, will DAP be squeezed into a minor role?

Political analyst Khoo Kay Peng believes so and that DAP's main concern is of being marginalised if PKR does end up being the giant in the tripartite grouping.

"Their fear is that they may turn into the next Gerakan, a party which had no clout within BN, with governing power only in Penang," he said.

With Anwar setting his sights on Bumiputera MPs in Sabah and Sarawak including current Umno leaders, Khoo said it may decrease DAP's ability to reach out to the non-Chinese.

"In that worst-case scenario, with PKR becoming another Umno, exerting its power and dominance over other parties, DAP could possibly leave the coalition and strike out on its own as an opposition," said Khoo.

While DAP leaders have not gone to the extent of voicing this possibility, the party seems to be in a split between idealism and politics.

Karpal did not mince his words when he said he would be sticking to his guns on the issue, even if Pakatan Rakyat did form the federal government.

"In fact, I do not want any part in this Pakatan Rakyat Government this way.

"Parties who form Government through crossovers will be looked upon negatively. The party would be full of traitors."

This view is also shared by several other young party leaders, perhaps being idealists who don't want the DAP to be "corrupted" by party-hoppers who want to bet on a winning horse.

However, party supremo Lim Kit Siang has been curiously coy over the issue.

When contacted, he refused to comment, and asked that the views of other party leaders be sought instead.

Is the DAP head honcho, the anti-hopping firebrand that he was 30 years ago, finally having a change of heart?

A well-versed party insider, who declined to be named, said he just might sing a different tune, what with the possibility of the DAP having a part in forming the Government within its grasp.

Change in Malay political psyche

Change in Malay political psyche
30 April, 2008

By : Zainul Arifin, NST

MUCH has been said about the recent transformation in Malaysian politics, namely the rejection of race-based politics, and the adoption, presumably, of one that is based on ideology and ideals.

This came about following the strong showing of the Opposition, which is made up, at least constitutionally, of multiracial political parties, namely PKR, DAP and Pas.

It may just be a case of exuberance, but many who heralded this new age in Malaysian politics may have forgotten that BN is a multiracial party, too, made up of a coalition of mainly race-based parties.

Perhaps when people talk about non-race based politics, or racist politics, they were just referring to BN components. That would be rather naïve, of course, since non-BN parties can be as racist, too.

I believe a summary of the past election is that it was a contest of two groups claiming to represent multi-racial Malaysia, and both won. The BN won the majority, with the PKR-DAP-Pas coalition winning an unprecedented number of seats.
But I would hasten to add that having two winners in a head-to-head battle, which is an impossibility outside the realms of politics, is not even the most interesting outcome of the elections. To me, at least, it is the evolution of the Malay political psyche. That some Malays could vote for DAP candidates suggest that some of them have managed to heave their prejudices aside to support the cause of non-race-based politics.

Pas is an almost entirely Malay party driven by its religious agenda, while DAP is a multi-racial party that is essentially non-Malay. PKR, on the other hand, has fashioned itself as a multi-racial party, made up mainly of former Umno members and others not too keen on race-based or religious-based parties.

While support for Pas in the last elections transcended racial groups, the Malays’ support for DAP is unique since the party has made it clear that it is seeking to dismantle some of the privileges, enshrined or otherwise, accorded to the Malays. (This may be slightly different from non-Malays voting for Pas since it is almost impossible constitutionally for an Islamic state to be set up in Malaysia.)

The election results also indicated that Malays are comfortable with Parti Keadilan Rakyat, which is rather iffy as far as their special privileges and rights are concerned.

Another interesting feature of the election is that the shift in some Malay support, from Umno-led BN to the belatedly-formed Pakatan Rakyat (PR), came from the very Malays who benefited from the special privileges accorded to them.

Can we assume that these Malays have indeed lived up to the basic principle of affirmative action, which is that once he has been given a leg up and is able to ride on his own, he should then refuse any more aid?
Have the Malays disavowed their narrow political agenda and agreed to look into diminishing their special privileges? Have the Malays surrendered the will of their majority to that of the minority?

If this is so, then the Malay majority is taking its second leap of faith. The first, of course, was when they sacrificed their majority by agreeing to accord citizenship for other races ahead of Merdeka.

I believe that there must be a substantial number of Malays who are now fairly comfortable with their position in society to lend support to DAP and its Malaysian Malaysia ideal. There are, after all, some Malays who continue to be apologetic about the fact that they are beneficiaries of policies that favour them.

To them, I suppose, DAP or Pas or PKR or BN are political parties to be judged purely on their promises, and not much else, and certainly not by their Malay agenda.

But I also tend to believe that there were many Malays who might have acted out of anger at the incumbent — marahkan nyamuk kelambu dibakar or throwing the baby with the bath water — and punished those whose raison d’etre is to champion their cause.

Many Malays it seems are also now comfortable with the idea of diminishing of the Ketuanan Melayu or Malay dominance concept. The PR is promoting Ketuanan Rakyat or the people’s dominance. In fact, one PR leader even lodged a police report against the Crown Prince of Kelantan, alleging that the latter’s remark on Malay dominance was seditious.

Such an act, which would have had the Malays up in arms, drew only muted response. Enter the new age republican Malays?

Thus the evolution of the Malay political psyche, or is it just a passing fancy, a convenience embraced in the rough and tumble of Malaysian politics? Is the heralding of non-race-based politics 50 years too late, or too early for comfort?

GIC may invest in more banks

GIC may invest in more banks
Wed, Apr 30, 2008

THE Government of Singapore Investment Corp may invest in more banks in Europe and the United States if it gets the chance, adding to its stakes in beleaguered bank UBS and Citigroup, its chairman told Bloomberg TV.

'If there are other banks of the quality of the two that we bought into, with the promise and the capabilities and inherent capabilities to recover, we have got the liquidity to meet it, to make such an investment,' GIC Chairman Lee Kuan Yew told Bloomberg TV in an interview broadcast on Wednesday.

'We are buying something that we intend to keep for the next two to three decades and grow with them,' he said, adding that GIC was a long-term investor.

GIC, one of the world's largest sovereign funds, invested about US$11 billion (S$15 billion) in UBS and Citigroup after they wrote off billions of dollars in the wake of the credit crisis in the United States.

Its sister fund, Temasek Holdings, which is run by Mr Lee's daughter-in-law, pumped US$5 billion into Merrill Lynch. The two Singapore funds have since seen the value of their investments shrink with UBS shares falling about 35 per cent since GIC first announced its plan to inject funds into the Swiss bank by buying mandatory convertible notes.

Mr Lee, 84, defended the investments saying Singapore had bought very good franchises and brand names that would recover in time.

GIC measured its performance over five to 10 years, he said.

'Will there be another Swiss bank like UBS for wealth management? I doubt it, we doubt it, that is why we invested in it.'

Citigroup, he added, had 'an enormous spread worldwide as a retail bank'.

GIC says on its website that it manages well above US$100 billion but many analysts estimate the figure is closer to US$300 billion.

Morgan Stanley said in February that GIC was the world's third-largest state fund with US$330 billion in assets under management, behind the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority with US$875 billion and Norway's Government Pension Fund with US$380 billion.

Temasek manages US$159 billion and is the world's seventh-largest sovereign fund, according to Morgan Stanley. -- REUTERS

(Singapore) Malay middle class, not the poor, must buck up

Malay middle class, not the poor, must buck up
30 April, 2008
YAYASAN Mendaki, the self-help group for the Malay/Muslim community, recently conducted a seminar on ways to curb the growing income gap between the Malays and the other races.

According to news reports, the participants lamented over how the Malays are not taking advantage of retraining and upgrading programmes by Mendaki and other bodies which target mostly the lower income groups and the lesser-skilled.

But is the growing income gap between races explained by the lower income group - The statistics question current wisdom.

The income gap between races is widening at a much faster rate for average income than for median income whether by households or by individuals.

The latest Population Census of 2000 data confirms this.

The proportion of Malay households earning less than S$1,000 per month has declined by 4.7 percentage points from 1990 to 2000. This is greater than the national drop of 3.4 percentage points.

But the rise in proportion of Malay households in the higher income brackets, that is, those earning S$4,000 or more monthly, lags behind the national rise (16.6 percentage points versus 21.7). This disparity in upward mobility across races gets even wider as one goes up the income ladder.

The implication is clear: Poor Malays are closing the gap but the middle- and the upper-income Malays are not competitive and mobile enough to close the gap with the other races.

This, of course, does not mean we should now provide financial subsidies for the middle- and upper-class to get richer.

What it does mean, however, is that while we should still be helping the poor, the Malay community should stop identifying poor Malays as the source of the ethnic income gap and blaming them for not upgrading themselves.

Middle-class guilt and comfort have convinced the more educated Malays that the poor Malays should be the target group.

In fact, what is contributing to the income gap among the races is the lack of upward mobility among the comfortable and complacent Malay middle-class.

Future discussions should highlight this fact.

The middle-class should explore ways to help lift themselves and the community. For example, although more Malays are receiving a university education, disproportionately fewer are in growth areas of the economy such as life sciences research and finance.

For a start, we should motivate the Malay middle-class to upgrade themselves and explore new and exciting growth areas.

Farhan Ali

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

It's All a State of The Mind

written by Nice n Simple, April 30, 2008 | 00:53:53

It's All a State of The Mind; a top-of-mind Recall, a Posititioning, a Brand. And it all depends on where and how you were brought up.

When you say: JIHAD
Globalians say: BIN LADEN
Malaysians say: HISHAMMUDDIN

When you say: MUSLIM
Globalians say: TERRORIST
Malaysians say: MELAYU

When you say: ISLAM
Malaysians say: PAS

When you say: BUDDHIST
Globalians say: FREE TIBET
Malaysians say: CINA

When you say: HINDU
Globalians say: OLDEST RELIGION
Malaysians say: HINDRAF

When you say: CHRISTIAN
Globalians say: THE POPE
Malaysians say: DONT USE ALLAH

When you say: ECONOMY
Malaysians say: MAKAN DUIT LAGI

When you say: SCIENCE

When you say: MONEY
Globalians say: WORLD BANK

When you say: EDUCATION
Globalians say: UNICEF

When you say: HEALTHCARE
Malaysians say: TIGER CHUA

Globalians say: RED CROSS
Malaysians say: UMNO

When you say: USA
Globalians say: GEORGE BUSH
Malaysians say: ER.. JESSICA ALBA?

When you say: ENGLAND
Globalians say: THE QUEEN
Malaysians say: MAN U

When you say: CHINA

When you say: MALAYSIA
Globalians say: WHO??
Malaysians say: BOLEH!

My reply to Datuk Tengku Sariffuddin Tengku Ahmad

My reply to Datuk Tengku Sariffuddin Tengku Ahmad
30 April, 2008

One very respected retired Chief Justice, who is known as an extremely straight and no-nonsense chap, remarked, if he had to be tried in court, he would not like it to be in a Malaysian court. He further remarked that the windscreens of the cars of judges are blacked-out not for security reasons but because the judges are ashamed to be seen by the public.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Dear Datuk Tengku Sariffuddin Tengku Ahmad,

First of all, thank you for writing to Malaysia Today. (Read Letter below). As promised, I have published your letter in toto without any amendments, additions, deletions, or ‘touch up’, though I felt some improvement to the language may have been necessary. Nevertheless, I was very careful in not ‘doctoring’ any parts of your letter lest I open myself to accusations of any sort.

I must admit I am pleased and honoured that the Press Secretary of the Deputy Prime Minister and likely future Prime Minister would take the trouble to write to Malaysia Today. As I have said so many times in the past, the only way to deal with the independent media is to engage it, not ignore it, for you ignore it at your own peril. And note that I have used the term ‘independent’ media and not ‘alternative’ media or ‘opposition’ media -- because that is exactly what we are. In fact, what you call the ‘mainstream’ media, today, could actually be called the alternative media.

Now, on the points in your letter. A ‘trial’ by court of public opinion has been what we, the Rakyat, have had to rely on since 1998. Some say that the judiciary has in fact been compromised since 1988 after the sacking of Tan Salleh Abbas and his fellow judges. The fact that these half a dozen or so judges were recently honoured in a dinner graced by the Prime Minister where Abdullah Ahmad Badawi announced that the government will spend millions of the taxpayers’ money to pay these judges their 20 years back-pay confirms that the Abdullah government, in which Dato Sri Mohd Najib Tun Razak is part of, agrees with the court of public opinion’s view of events that happened 20 years ago.

This opinion is of course strengthened by your very own de facto Law Minister’s statement, barely a few days after taking office, that the government should apologise to Tun Salleh and his fellow judges. This was of course shot down by the Cabinet, and instead of an apology, they are being paid millions of Ringgit, which Najib said should not be interpreted as an apology. Maybe Najib is right when he says that if the government pays out millions of Ringgit of the taxpayers’ money this should be only taken as 20 years back-pay and not be taken as an apology. Nevertheless, this still tantamount to an admission that the judges had been wrongfully dismissed, apology or no apology.

We must also not forget the statement by Justice Kamil when he delivered his judgement in the Likas election petition case. Yang Arif admitted that he always receives instructions from the top before he delivers his judgement on important or crucial cases. Justice Kamli also said that he is not the only judge to receive such instructions but that many other judges are also subjected to interference and instructions from the top and that they are told how they should rule. When asked who this person from the top is, he replied that we should know whom it is he means and he left it at that. No one had any misgivings as to whom Justice Kamil meant.

One very respected retired Chief Justice, who is known as an extremely straight and no-nonsense chap, remarked, if he had to be tried in court, he would not like it to be in a Malaysian court. He further remarked that the windscreens of the cars of judges are blacked-out not for security reasons but because the judges are ashamed to be seen by the public. This is coming from someone who is placed above normal men and when someone of that calibre makes such statements how can the public not feel that the Malaysian judiciary can no longer be trusted? As they say, let you be judged by your peers, and the judiciary’s peers have made their ruling.

Dear Datuk Tengku Sariffuddin Tengku Ahmad,

To argue that we should leave this matter to the courts to decide is just not on. It can never be on until we see genuine and real reforms in the judiciary. And when the talk amongst legal circles is that, in September, the President of the Court of Appeal will take over as the new Chief Justice, this just erodes our confidence in the judiciary even further. Putting Umno’s lawyer in charge of the judiciary is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse or, as the Malays would say, putting the kambing in charge of the sireh. And you want us to leave it to the courts to decide? When you have highly-respected judges and retired Chief Justices openly condemning the Malaysian judiciary what do you expect the lesser-learned Rakyat like us to do?

Of course, you will say that one is innocent until proven guilty. That is a beautiful concept. However, if you believe such a thing is possible in Malaysia, then you probably believe in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus as well. Do you remember Anwar Ibrahim’s trial ten years ago? Anwar was tried in a court of public opinion when they paraded that mattress in court every day. What happened to that mattress? It was never part of the evidence and eventually just quietly disappeared out of sight. Was that not grandstanding for the media and TV cameras?

In Anwar’s case, he was not innocent until proven guilty. Though the Malaysian judicial system, which follows the British and not the French system, stipulates that a man is innocent until proven guilty, Anwar was assumed guilty and he was made to prove his innocence. The onus should be on the court to prove guilt but in Anwar’s case he was considered guilty and he had to prove his innocence. And the judge sent Anwar to jail because, according to the judge, Anwar had failed to prove his innocence.

We are therefore using the same ‘burden of proof’ on the present Deputy Prime Minister just like what the previous Deputy Prime Minister was subjected to. If this system of ‘prove you are innocent or else we have to assume you are guilty’ was good enough for Anwar then it is certainly good enough for Najib. Why should there be different standards between one Deputy Prime Minister and another? Should there not be one standard for all?

Note that Malaysia has a law called the Internal Security Act. When you are detained under this law, you are assumed guilty until you can prove you are innocent. And if you fail to prove your innocence then you are detained without trial indefinitely. Some Malaysians have spent more than 20 years under detention because the hapless person was not able to prove his innocence. Ahmad Boestaman, the famous Malay nationalist and independence fighter, was detained for 14 years or so. You may remember him. His son, Rustam Sani, died recently.

Dear Datuk Tengku Sariffuddin Tengku Ahmad,

I must remind you that I too was arrested on Hari Raya Haji Day in 2001 after I walked into the police station to be with my wife who had earlier been arrested. Her ‘crime’ was for trying to help an old woman who had a knee injury and who was struggling to walk up a hill. The police arrested both my wife and the poor old woman and her daughter.

When I walked into the police station, Bakri Zinin, the current CID Director, assaulted me when I attempted to step outside to make a phone call. I was trying to step outside because a policeman shouted at me that I am not allowed to make a phone call inside the police station. But when I tried to step outside as instructed, Bakri assaulted me. He then instructed his officers to arrest me.

When I asked what my crime was and as to the reason I was being arrested, they told me they will think of something later. In the meantime they will arrest me first. I then insisted I be allowed to make a police report against Bakri but they refused to take my report. When I refused to accept no for an answer, they reluctantly took my report but nothing further was done after that. That police report made on Hari Haji Day of 2001 is probably no longer in the file.

Dear Datuk Tengku Sariffuddin Tengku Ahmad,

I am glad you talk about respect for the law. I just wish you and Najib had said the same thing when they beat me up, handcuffed me, and threw me into the lockup without a charge back in 2001. Will I be accorded justice as well just like how you and Najib want to see justice done? Will Bakri Zinin be taken to task for beating me and for arresting me without any charge? Thus far, the only action taken against him is that he has been promoted from OCPD Dang Wangi to Director CID. Let us talk about justice when I see justice done to me as well. Until then we shall rule by law of public opinion, as that appears to be the only ‘system’ available to us.

I understand the concept of subjudice when commenting on an ongoing trial. So allow me to comment only on what the mainstream newspapers have already covered. The mainstream newspapers reported about a green Suzuki Vitara. The registration plate of the car was also mentioned in that newspaper report. Malaysia Today traced the owner of this car to an address in Ijok. On further checking with the SPR registration, it was confirmed that this person exists and his name, address and IC number tally with that in the JPP registration.

The house exists and the neighbours confirm that the person concerned does live there and that the green Suzuki Vitara has been seen in front of the house. This, according to the newspapers, is the car that took Altantuya away after she was arrested in front of Razak Baginda’s house and taken to Bukit Aman.

Has this man been picked up? And, if not, then why since Altantuya was last seen alive driving off with him? Malaysia Today has revealed his name, address and IC number. And this man’s neighbours in Ijok confirm his existence and that of the car. Note that this was raised in the trial and was reported by the mainstream newspapers. So this is not mere insinuations and innuendoes.

In an interview in 2002 or 2003, Razak Baginda confirmed that his company brokered the submarine deal. He even mentioned the commission he had earned. This matter was confirmed by Razak himself and is documented in that interview. So this is also no insinuation or innuendo. And have we forgotten Razak’s wife’s outburst when she said that her husband is innocent and that it is not he who wants to become the next Prime Minister? Was Razak’s wife talking about Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Anwar Ibrahim or Khairy Jamaluddin? And was not Razak’s wife once a magistrate who would therefore know the law and know what constitutes subjudice?

Dear Datuk Tengku Sariffuddin Tengku Ahmad,

I can go on but let the above suffice for the meantime. The issue of the changing of the judge after the filing of the Affidavit during the bail hearing (which was raised by Karpal Singh), the defence lawyers resigning because of threats from certain people (which Zulkifli Nordin confirmed), the changing of the entire prosecuting team the morning of the trial (which the prosecutor admitted when he asked for a one-month postponement), and much more are all documented and are on public record. Let the court of public opinion decide whether Malaysia Today is merely raising what is already well-documented or whether Malaysia Today is dabbling in insinuations and innuendoes.

Again, I thank you for your letter and really appreciate you taking the time to write to us. Let us together, in the spirit of Islam, the religion we profess, seek the truth and oppose transgressions -- as made mandatory by Islam under the concept of amar maaruf, nahi munkar. From God we come and to God we shall return. And we shall be made accountable for all that we have done on this earth. And, in the eyes of God, those defending kemunkaran will be as guilty as those committing it. Let us not fear man for man proposes but God disposes. And nothing will befall us that God has not planned will befall us. Subjudice and contempt of court are creations of man that will not carry any weight in God’s court. So fear God because man even as powerful as Prime Ministers and Deputy Prime Ministers will be powerless to help you in God’s court where we shall all ultimately be judged.

Yours truly,

Raja Petra Bin Raja Kamarudin

Press Statement from Deputy Prime Minister Dato Sri Mohd Najib Tun Razak
30 April, 2008

I would like to refer to an article posted on your website under the heading “Let’s Send the Altantuya Murderers to Hell ” on April 25. For the benefits for your readers, I would to like to put the record straight since there were insinuations and unjustified comments made against the Deputy Prime Minister Dato Sri Mohd Najib Tun Razak and his wife Datin Sri Rosmah Mansor in respect of the murder case.

2. The article alleged that the DPM and his wife were implicated in the murder of the Mongolian girl, the Deputy Prime Minister supported her visas application, her immigration record had been erased and there were pictures taken with her. These are hearsays which you have deemed alright to published as reflected by your position “we too have conducted our own trial by court of public opinion and we have already arrived at our verdict”.

3. The article also gave the impression that police investigation was flawed and the legal proceeding was being compromise (show trial in the kangaroo court) and designed to hide the real perpetrators. While it is up to the judiciary and police to deal with these allegations, Dato Sri Mohd Najib reserved the right in this “public opinion” court to reiterate his earlier comments that he did not know and has never met the deceased. As such all these allegations are unfounded and designed to tarnish his standing within the Malaysian public.

4. A witness claimed that Altantuya had dinner with Razak and Najib was never collaborated. No picture was produced in court except that of PKR Information Chief Tian Chua who posted a concocted ‘picture’ on the web. Strangely, no legal attempt had been made to produce this picture as evidence in court to date by PKR as it appears it is only admissible in the public opinion court.

5. The case is a private matter involving Encik Razak Baginda and how the policemen were involved will come out in the open during the court proceedings. I would like to also point out that the claims that Altantuya murder was linked to the country’s purchase of the submarine as baseless and unfounded, it was done to make a good and believable story in the public opinion court.

6. Dato Sri Mohd Najib has been very restrained and guarded in making any public statement on the matter since people known to him have been implicated and have been charged in court. It could be misinterpreted or seen interfering in the case since the court proceedings is on going. In fact, a former Deputy Prime Minister was convicted for abuse of power when trying to suppress a sexual misconduct investigations against him.

7. As pointed out in the article there is an issue of subjudice or contempt of court and Dato Sri Mohd Najib, Malaysians and foreigners here must respect the laws and system that all of us are subject too. As such it is unfair that unfounded and wild allegations in such a serious matter had been made which will tarnish the Deputy Prime Minister’s standing in public.

8. As stated in your article “But this is not about politics and should not be dealt as such”, the DPM also shared this sentiment that this case should seek out the truth and justice should be served. However, it is clear that there are those who are not interested in finding justice for Altantuya. It is the politics of Altantuya they are concerned with and it is my sincere hope that your readers will be able to differentiate between truth, half-truth, falsehood and lies since politicians are judge in the public opinion court.

9. Since the allegations are serious and damaging in nature, the DPM will not hesitate to seek legal redress on the matter.

Thank you.

Datuk Tengku Sariffuddin Tengku Ahmad
Press Secretary to the Deputy Prime Minister

Equitable Distribution of Wealth - The Challenge

Equitable Distribution of Wealth - The Challenge
30 April, 2008

So will the end of the NEP lead to radical changes towards a people-led economy? Not necessarily, warns political scientist John Hilley, author of the book 'Mahathirism, Hegemony and the New Opposition'.

By Anil Netto, IPS

With Malaysia's opposition pact in the ascendancy after stunning gains in a general election last month, some are wondering how different their economic policies are likely to be if they do wrest power, as many expect them to do, eventually.

The Pakatan Rakyat (People's Alliance or PR), made up of the multi-ethnic People's Justice Party (PKR), the Islamic Party (Pas), and Democratic Action Party, now has 82 seats in the 222-seat Parliament. It is now promoting a new needs-based Malaysian Economic Agenda to replace race-based affirmative action principles inherited from the New Economic Policy.

The alliance has control of five states in the peninsula which account for about 56 per cent of the country's Gross Domestic Product. They include three of the most industrialised states in the country -- Selangor, Penang and Perak -- and two among the poorest, Kelantan and Kedah.

The ruling coalition, meanwhile, is mired in factionalism and internal rivalry with the most attention focused on its dominant party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

In the months before the general election Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi had announced a string of regional economic growth corridors to be spurred by multi-billion dollar infrastructure and other projects. Critics say it is a top-down model designed with little public consultation, its prime beneficiaries likely to be major well-connected corporations.

The government has traditionally worked on the premise of affirmative action principles outlined in the NEP, which favours the ethnic Malays and other indigenous groups. The NEP initially lifted broad segments of the majority ethnic Malays into the middle-class after it was first introduced in 1971. But critics say its race-based policies were later abused by ruling coalition politicians to award contracts and licences and allocate corporate equity to cronies and well-connected firms.

This, along with neo-liberal policies that cut taxes for the rich and slashed subsidies for essential services, contributed to a widening of income inequalities -- one of the highest disparities in Asia.

There's now a broad recognition that the NEP has run its course. "The NEP is good but its benefits are only enjoyed by some, as many Malays in the country, including those in Penang, are still poor," said Lim Guan Eng, the chief minister of the DAP-led Penang state government. "The implementation of NEP has only made the rich richer and the poor poorer due to malpractices."

The MEA, advocated by opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim, is aimed at replacing the NEP with a policy that provides assistance to poor and marginalised Malaysians of any ethnic group who are in need. "We always stress that under out leadership, the interests of the Malays will be maintained, and we are always committed to building a new system that is fairer, more just and we will ensure that no one will be left behind without regard to their race or religion." said Anwar in his blog.

But to assure Malays, he added that there are plans to introduce new mechanisms to channel economic aid to large groups of small traders within the Malay community and to ensure that educational opportunities, micro-credit schemes, social and welfare services and other forms of economic aid are available to the community. Civil society activist and economist Charles Santiago, just elected to Parliament on a DAP ticket, says Anwar's PKR -- and the DAP to a lesser extent -- is committed to reducing the cost of living especially for the poor in the five states. Pas, for its part, is downplaying its Islamist agenda and is instead promoting the concept of a welfare state.

In PKR-led Selangor, for instance, the state government announced it would provide free water for the first 20 cubic metres to all residents in the state. The state's chief minister also said he would be looking to raise the job skills among the youth.

''Transparency in contracts and open tenders are a big change (compared to previously),'' Santiago told IPS. Another key goal is a fairer distribution of wealth. Others are hoping for a constructive dialogue on how to bring together progressive forms of 'secular' and Islamic community economics. They would like to see the political and intellectual resources of the opposition alliance harnessed and shared rather than used in an adversarial manner.

Santiago said he would like to see more public-public partnerships among the five PR-controlled states. There has been a start in this direction with the Selangor government hoping to learn from the experience of the publicly owned Penang Water Authority, regarded as one of the most efficient in the region in terms of low tariffs and low non-revenue water or leakages. Both states are also exploring how they can get their state agencies to cooperate and complement each other in human resources, education, physical development, and manufacturing.

Santiago will also propose that the five states under PR rule raise their food production. State governments, he said, could play a big role in investing in food production to mitigate the rising cost of living. The state governments could work on increasing yields, providing more subsidies to farmers, and strengthening farms managed by smallholders, including family-run farms, he told IPS.

So will the end of the NEP lead to radical changes towards a people-led economy? Not necessarily, warns political scientist John Hilley, author of the book 'Mahathirism, Hegemony and the New Opposition'.

For one thing, the international private sector would view the removal of the racially-divisive NEP as another 'necessary step' on the road to a more open free-market, deregulated economy, he said. ''And this begs the bigger question, and problem, for the opposition (PR) of how to advance policy ideas that don't just abandon 'outdated' social instruments for more market 'solutions'.''

This he said was a serious dilemma for any socially ambitious 'government-in-waiting', fearful of anxious marketeers and capital flight. ''The blackmail threats and constraints of the global neoliberal (dis)order cannot be easily dismissed,'' he told IPS in e-mailed comments. ''Yet, until there are imaginative efforts to craft and pursue people-led economics, the same social divisions, inequalities and business-first agenda will prevail.''

Support for a new social economics was clearly evident in the run-up to the general election in polls. Many Malaysians especially from the working class appeared drawn to election campaign pledges to increase subsidies for fuel and education, to do something about the rising cost of living and to reduce income inequalities between the privileged elite and the toiling masses. There has also been widespread public disenchantment over disastrous privatisation policies that have only enhanced corporate profits and elite salaries while undermining once cared-for public services.

Policies that would promote social investment and poverty-focused spending would thus probably be welcomed by the public. What is lacking though is the political will and radical creativity to realise such policies, pointed out Hilley, adding that the post-election phase ought to be used to explore and build credible alternatives to those proclaimed by corporate interests and the 'market evangelists'.

He stressed that the key impetus for meaningful economic change would have to come from civil society itself -- active NGOs, reformist lobbies, community groups, academic activists and others -- rather than ''a hopeful reliance on politicians whose idea of 'economic delivery' becomes mediated by political office and tamed by the 'realistic' demands of big business''.

Wives of BN officials caught up in scandal

Wives of BN officials caught up in scandal
30 April, 2008

They took title deeds and funds from welfare group after election loss

The murky goings-on at Balkis, which are being replicated in other states such as Penang and Perak which also fell to the opposition in the elections, have since turned into a major scandal over the alleged abuse of public funds by organisations associated with the BN.


BY THE BOOK: Datin Seri Zahrah holding a two-page statement which says that the transfer of funds out of the Balkis accounts was done in line with the organisation's Constitution. -- PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

SOON after winning the Selangor state legislature last month, the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) ordered that the state administration buildings and the offices of key state agencies be sealed and nothing be removed.

But they overlooked the premises of a state-funded welfare organisation, Balkis, operated by the wives of the Barisan Nasional (BN) politicians who lost in last month's general election.

Two days after the March 8 polls, key Balkis officials arrived at its office in the Selangor capital of Shah Alam and carted away documents and title deeds of properties it owned.

Another RM9.9 million (S$4 million) in cash deposits were transferred out of the organisation's bank accounts by Balkis officials led by Datin Seri Zahrah Kecik, the wife of former Selangor chief minister Khir Toyo.

The murky goings-on at Balkis, which are being replicated in other states such as Penang and Perak which also fell to the opposition in the elections, have since turned into a major scandal over the alleged abuse of public funds by organisations associated with the BN.

'The whole situation is very disturbing, and there is certainly the possibility of criminal breach of trust in the entire affair,' said Bar Council vice-president Ragunath Kesavan.

The following account is based on interviews with key Selangor state government officials and documents made available to The Straits Times.

Balkis was set up in May 1985 as a non-political welfare organisation which opened its membership to the wives of the elected representatives of the state.

It was primarily a BN vehicle, although its charter did not discriminate between government and opposition elected representatives.

But opposition politicians saw Balkis as one of many similar groupings that made up a nationwide political patronage network built on public funds to finance the political activities of the ruling coalition led by Umno.

Balkis, as the main welfare organisation in Selangor, received strong financial support.

According to state government documents, Balkis was awarded a choice piece of property from the Selangor State Development Corp at a concessionary price of RM250,000 in 2000.

The documents also showed that between early 2006 and September last year, Balkis received donations amounting to RM600,000 from the Selangor State Development Corp to finance various activities, including its annual dinner, the opening ceremony of its administrative office and political activities of the wives of elected representatives.

The welfare organisation often turned to other state agencies to fund other activities, including overseas trips for its key office bearers, state government officials say.

The halcyon days enjoyed by Balkis came to an abrupt halt in the late hours of March 8, when Selangor, together with four other states, fell into the control of Malaysia's opposition headed by former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim.

As the Balkis charter stipulated that the organisation must be headed by the wife of the sitting chief minister, Datin Seri Zahrah faced the immediate prospect of having to relinquish her position as head of the organisation in favour of the wife of the incoming chief minister from the PKR-led opposition.

To sidestep any handover, Datin Seri Zahrah and her committee members comprising the wives of other BN candidates moved to dissolve Balkis.

According to state government officials, Datin Seri Zahrah and her colleagues turned up at the Balkis administrative office on March 10 and told employees that they intended to alter the welfare organisation's charter to avoid relinquishing control.

They carted away documents, including title deeds and bank statements, officials say.

A day later, the Balkis committee led by Datin Seri Zahrah held an emergency meeting to dissolve the organisation and withdrew RM9.9 million in cash deposits held by the organisation.

They planned to establish a new organisation that would limit membership to wives of BN leaders.

In the interim, Datin Seri Zahrah and her colleagues sought refuge with Bakti, a welfare organisation headed by the wife of the Prime Minister and senior Cabinet ministers.

According to the minutes of a Bakti meeting obtained by The Straits Times, Balkis and another BN-sponsored welfare society from Penang, called Bunga Tanjung, approached the national-level organisation to help them to 'receive and manage their funds for their welfare activities in the interim period'.

Bunga Tanjung transferred RM350,000 to Bakti, while Balkis placed RM9.9 million for safekeeping, the minutes showed.

The Bakti minutes showed that Datuk Heliliah Yusof, its legal adviser who is also a judge in Malaysia's Court of Appeal, endorsed the plan.

In the meantime, the PKR-led Selangor state government has asked the National Registration Department to reject the dissolution of Balkis and is demanding that the transferred funds be returned to the organisation.

But Balkis and its former patron, Datuk Seri Khir, maintained that they did nothing wrong, and that all actions by the committee led by his wife were legal.

'Don't talk rubbish and refer to our lawyer,' the former chief minister told reporters this week.

Dr M, Kah Choon and Pakatan

Dr M's vision for Pakatan government

Dr M has good vision, like he always had, which was why he was our PM for so long. He is a leader, who can lead, who is convincing and who can sway the majority's thinking. He could now see the impact of Kah Choon's move and the impact of a good government, even if it is of the opposition. However he probably intentionally missed the important point and that is it doesn't matter whether it is the Barisan or the Pakatan who is doing the good job of working for the betterment of all Malaysians.

He should be more broad minded in his view as to whoever can do the best job for the country should therefore lead. If Pakatan can do a better job in terms of being less corrupt, more efficient, better longer vision economically, politically, they should be given a chance to perform. However, in the end if we think that another party or leader can do better than that, the old party should be voted out. In this way there will be check and balance, and there will always be someone else who will try to be better than the government of the day.
Dr M has done his fair bit for the country, good and bad. Let the people decide for themselves whether they still want the old guard to govern them or do they now want change. The government in waiting is trying very hard to do their best for the country and I think the people can accept that very well. They will be most welcome in the next election.
And thank you Dr M for pointing out that appointing Kah Choon is a good move for the country and that the move is not politically motivated. Syabas to the new Penang government.

Wednesday April 30, 2008

Don’t take Kah Choon’s move lightly, says Dr M

KUALA LUMPUR: The decision by former Gerakan deputy secretary-general Datuk Lee Kah Choon to accept a job under the Penang DAP Government should not be taken lightly by Barisan Nasional if it wishes to survive and regain the people’s support, says Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The former prime minister said in a letter that Lee might be motivated by a genuine desire to work for the good of Penang and Malaysia but, “it may also be because loyalty to Barisan is now based on personal gains or fear of punishment of some kind.”

He said this was especially so among the leaders and there was no genuine love for the objectives said to be the raison d’etre for the coalition’s existence.

Dr Mahathir added that if the Opposition were able to provide a good government, look after the interests of ordinary people, and lead a Spartan lifestyle, those who voted for them out of anger against Barisan would transfer their loyalty permanently to them.

When that happens, he said Umno and the other component parties could forget about recapturing the states they lost to the Opposition and their turncoat members would remain turncoats who would actively work against Barisan in the next elections.

“To lose once is bad but to lose a second time is an unmitigated disaster,” he said.

Dr Mahathir said unless drastic action was taken now there would not be enough time to rehabilitate Umno and all the other component parties for the next general election.

Muslim clergy opposes Badawi's proposal on conversion

Muslim clergy opposes Badawi's proposal on conversion
Malaysia Sun
Tuesday 29th April, 2008

Senior Islamic leaders of Malaysia have rejected a proposal by Prime Minister Abdullah Amad Badawi that requires non-Muslims wishing to convert to Islam to inform their family before doing so.

Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) director-general Wan Mohamad Sheikh Abdul Aziz said it was decided at a recent conference that met to streamline Syariah, the Islamic laws and civil laws.

'Based on Syariah laws, there is no 'nas' (quotations from the Quran to prove or settle a point) compelling a person wishing to convert to Islam to inform the family before doing so,' Wan Mohamad said in a statement Monday.

The conference also decided that the need to inform loved ones should be left to the discretion of the person wishing to convert.

Wan Mohamad said present Syariah laws on conversion and related matters were sufficient and the present practices should be continued.

'Nevertheless, provisions for registration, custody and the education of converts need to be formulated in a more effective manner,' The Daily Star quoted him as saying Tuesday.

Wan Mohamad added under the Syariah laws, the duties and responsibility of the convert towards his non-Muslim parents did not stop after the conversion.

Badawi had said the government would introduce a regulation requiring non-Muslims wishing to convert to Islam to inform their family before doing so.

He said this would prevent problems of families disputing the conversion of their loved ones when they die.

Conversion by non-Muslims to Islam and the jurisdiction of courts while settling disputes that arise out of the conversion has been an issue in Malaysia.

Enunciating Badawi's views, minister in the Prime Minister's department Zaid Ibrahim has stressed all laws should be able to address 'the dissatisfaction and problems of various races in the country'.

He pointed out that in a multiracial country, the government should seek the views of the people, instead of acting unilaterally.

'For example, in formulating the Federal Territories Islamic Family Law, the government must make sure that it also takes care of the interest of the non-Muslim community.

'Any party which proposes to charge a non-Muslim with zinah for committing adultery with a Muslim should state clearly under which law and section can this be done,' the newspaper quoted him as saying.

Quotes By Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett
  • I put heavy weight on certainty. It's not risky to buy securities at a fraction of what they're worth.
  • Occasional outbreaks of those two super-contagious diseases, fear and greed, will forever occur in the investment community. The timing of these epidemics is equally unpredictable, both as to duration and degree. Therefore we never try to anticipate the arrival or departure of either. We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful.
  • With enough inside information and a million dollars you can go broke in a year.
  • The first rule is not to lose. The second rule is not to forget the first rule.
  • When you combine ignorance with leverage you get some pretty interesting results.
  • The market, like the Lord, helps those who help themselves. But, unlike the Lord, the market does not forgive those who know not what they do.
  • You could be somewhere where the mail was delayed three weeks and do just fine investing.
  • Never ask the barber if you need a haircut.
  • You don't need to be a rocket scientist. Investing is not a game where the guy with the 160 IQ beats the guy with the 130 IQ.
  • You should invest in a business that even a fool can run, because someday a fool will.
  • You go to bed feeling very comfortable just thinking about two and a half billion males with hair growing while you sleep. No one at Gillette has trouble sleeping.
  • If you gave me $100 billion and said take away the soft drink leadership of Coca-Cola in the world, I'd give it back to you and say it can't be done.
  • Most people get interested in stocks when everyone else is. The time to get interested is when no one else is. You can't buy what is popular and do well.
  • For some reason people take their cues from price action rather than from values. Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.
  • For society, the internet's a wonderful thing. But for capitalists it's probably a net negative.
  • Diversification may preserve wealth, but concentration builds wealth.
  • I'd be a bum on the street with a tin cup if the markets were efficient.
  • In the short run, the market is a voting machine. In the long run, it's a weighing machine.
  • The new issue market is ruled by controlling stockholders and corporations who can usually select the timing of offerings. Understandably these sellers are not going to offer any bargains. It's rare you'll find X being sold for half-X. Indeed, in the case of common-stock offerings, selling shareholders are often motivated to unload only when they feel the market is overpaying.
  • As far as I am concerned, the stock market doesn't exist. It is only there as a reference to see if anybody is offering to do anything foolish.
  • To be successful, you should concentrate on the world of companies, not arcane accounting mathematics.
  • With each investment you make, you should have the courage and the conviction to place at least ten per cent of your net worth in that stock.
  • We like to buy businesses. We don't like to sell and we expect the relationship to last a lifetime.
  • There's very little money to be made recommending our strategy [buy-and-hold].Your broker would starve to death. Recommending something to be held for 30 years is a level of self-sacrifice you'll rarely see in a monastery, let alone a brokerage house.
  • When a chief executive officer is encouraged by his advisors to make deals, he responds much as would a teenager boy who is encouraged by his father to have a normal sex life. It's not a push he needs.
  • It's easier to create money than to spend it.
  • I wouldn't mind going to jail if I had three cellmates who played bridge.
  • I don't try to jump over 7-foot bars. I look around for 1-foot bars that I can step over.
  • Money, to some extent, sometimes lets you be in more interesting environments. But it can't change how many people love you or how healthy you are.
  • I've often felt there might be more to be gained by studying business failures than business successes.
  • It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.
  • Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.
  • I wouldn't have been the most popular guy in the class, but I wouldn't have been the most unpopular either. I was just sort of nothing.
  • Ben made his customary calculation of value to price and said no.
  • If Bill had started a hot dog stand, he would have become the hot dog king of the world. He will win in any game. He would be very good at my business, but I wouldn't at his.
  • I'd just bet on him. Nobody has lost money doing that yet.
  • Charlie and I can handle a four page memo over the phone with three grunts.
  • Ben Graham wasn't about brilliant investments and he wasn't about fads of fashion. He was about sound investing, and I think sound investing can make you very wealthy if you're not in too big of a hurry. And it never makes you poor, which is even better.
  • Investing in a market where people believe in efficiency is like playing bridge with someone who has been told it doesn't do any good to look at the cards.
  • John Maynard Keynes essentially said, don't try and figure out what the market is doing. Figure out a business you understand, and concentrate.
  • If the business does well, the stock eventually follows.
  • My idea of a group decision is to look in the mirror.
  • When managers want to get across the facts of a business to you, it can be done within the rules of accounting. Unfortunately, when they want to play games, at least in some industries, it can also be done within the rules of accounting. If you can't recognize the differences, you shouldn't be in the equity-picking business.
  • Full-time professionals in other fields, let's say dentists, bring a lot to the layman. But in aggregate, people get nothing for their money from professional money managers.
  • Draw a circle around the businesses you understand and then eliminate those that fail to qualify on the basis of value, good management and limited exposure to hard times.
  • I read annual reports of the company I'm looking at and I read the annual reports of the competitors - that is the main source of material.
  • All there is to investing is picking good stocks at good times and staying with them as long as they remain good companies.
  • I'd rather have a $10 million business making 15 per cent than a $100 million business making 5 per cent.
  • Read Ben Graham and Phil Fisher, read annual reports, but don't do equations with Greek letters in them.
  • Whenever I read about some company undertaking a cost-cutting program, I know it's not a company that really knows what costs are about. The really good manager does not wake up in the morning and say 'This is the day I'm going to cut costs,' any more than he wakes up and decides to practice breathing.
  • Owning Snow White is like owning an oil field. You pump it out and sell it, and then it seeps back in again.
  • When management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for poor fundamentals, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact.
  • Diversification is a protection against ignorance. It makes very little sense for those who know what they're doing.
  • My favorite time frame for holding a stock is forever.
  • Our prototype for occupational fervour is the Catholic tailor who used his small savings of many years to finance a pilgrimage to the Vatican. When he returned, his parish held a special meeting to get his first-hand account of the Pope. "Tell us," said the eager faithful, "just what sort of fellow is he?" Our hero wasted no words. "He's a forty-four medium."
  • A good managerial record (measured by economic returns) is far more a function of what business boat you get into than it is of how effectively you row. Should you find yourself in a chronically-leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.
  • Many corporate managers deplore governmental allocation of the taxpayer's dollar but embrace enthusiastically their own allocation of the shareholder's dollar [to charities of their own choosing]. We've yet to find a CEO who believes he should personally fund the charities favored by his shareholders. Why, then should they foot the bill for his picks?
  • It has become fashionable at public companies to describe almost every compensation plan as aligning the interests of management with those of shareholders. In our book, alignment means being a partner in both directions, not just on the upside. Many 'alignment' plans flunk this basic test, being artful forms of 'heads I win, tails you lose.'
  • The professors who taught Efficient Market Theory said that someone throwing darts at the stock tables could select stock portfolio having prospects just as good as one selected by the brightest, most hard-working securities analyst. Observing correctly that the market was frequently efficient, they went on to conclude incorrectly that it was always efficient.
  • The strategy we've adopted precludes us from following standard diversification dogma. Many pundits would therefore say our strategy must be riskier than that employed by more conventional investors. We disagree. We believe that a policy of portfolio concentration may well decrease risk if it raises, as it should, both the intensity with which an investor thinks about a business and the comfort-level he must feel with its economic characteristics before buying into it.
  • We believe that according the name 'investors' to institutions that trade actively is like calling someone who repeatedly engages in one-night stands a romantic.
  • Our reaction to a fermenting industry is much like our attitude toward space exploration: we applaud the endeavour but prefer to skip the ride. Obviously many companies in high-tech businesses or embryonic industries will grow much faster than will The Inevitables [like Coca-Cola and Gillette]. But we would rather be certain of a good result than hopeful of a great one.
  • Loss of focus is what most worries Charlie [Munger] and me when we contemplate investing in a business that looks outstanding. All too often, we've seen value stagnate in the presence of hubris or boredom that caused the attention span of managers to wander. Would you believe that not a few decades back they were growing shrimp at Coke and exploring for oil at Gillette?
  • Your goal as an investor should be to purchase, at a rational price, a part interest in an easily-understandable business whose earnings are virtually certain to be materially higher five, ten and twenty years from now. Over time, you will find only a few companies that meet these standards - so when you see one that qualifies, you should buy a meaningful amount of stock. You must also resist temptation to stray from your guidelines: If you aren't willing to own a stock for ten years, don't even think about owning it for ten minutes.
  • It's far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price, than a fair company at a wonderful price. Now, when buying companies or common stocks, we look for first-class businesses accompanies by first-class managements.
  • After 25 years of buying and supervising a great variety of businesses, Charlie [Munger] and I have not learned how to solve difficult business problems. What we have learned is to avoid them. To the extent we have been successful, it is because we have concentrated on identifying one-foot hurdles that we could step over rather than because we acquired any ability to clear seven-footers.
  • The most common cause of low prices is pessimism - sometimes pervasive, sometimes specific to a company or industry. We want to do business in such an environment, not because we like pessimism but because we like the prices it produces. It's optimism that is the enemy of the rational buyer.
  • Stocks can't outperform businesses indefinitely. Indeed, because of the heavy transaction and investment management costs they bear, stockholders as a whole and over the long term must inevitably underperform the companies they own. If American business, in aggregate, earns about 12% on equity annually, investors must end up earning significantly less. Bull markets can obscure mathematical laws, but they cannot repeal them.
  • Earnings should only be retained [as opposed to being paid out as dividends] when there is a reasonable prospect that for ever dollar retained by the corporation, at least one dollar of market value will be created for owners. This will happen only if the capital retained produces incremental earnings equal to, or above, those generally available to investors.
  • One of the ironies of the stock market is the emphasis on activity. Brokers, using terms such as 'marketability' and 'liquidity', sing the praises of companies with high share turnover. But investors should understand that what is good for the croupier is not good for the customer. A hyperactive stock market is the pickpocket of enterprise.
  • In the search for companies to acquire, we adopt the same attitude one might find appropriate in looking for a spouse: it pays to be active, interested, and open-minded, but it does not pay to be in a hurry.
  • A company that wants to use its own stock as currency for an acquisition has no problems if the stock is selling in the market at full intrinsic value. But suppose it is selling at only half intrinsic value. In that case it is faced with the unhappy prospect of using a substantially undervalued currency to pay for a fully valued property [the negotiated price of the target company]. In effect the acquirer must give up $2 of value to receive $1 of value. Under such circumstances, a marvellous business purchased at a fair sales price becomes a terrible buy. For gold valued as gold cannot be purchased intelligently through the utilization of gold valued as lead.
  • If Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan were to whisper to me what his monetary policy was going to be over the next two years, it wouldn't change one thing I do.
  • A pin lies in wait for every bubble and when the two eventually meet, a new wave of investors learns some very old lessons.
  • We have embraced the 21st century by entering such cutting-edge industries as brick, carpet, insulation and paint. Try to control your excitement.
  • Buy stocks like you buy your groceries, not like you buy your perfume.
  • If you are a know-something investor, able to understand business economics and to find five to ten sensibily priced companies that possess important long-term competitive advantages, conventional diversification (broadly based active portfolios) makes no sense to you.
  • When the whorehouse burns down, even the pretty girsl have to run out.
  • If, after half an hour, you haven't figured out who the patsy is, then you're the patsy.
  • I never attempt to make money on the stock market. I buy on the assumption that they could close the market the next day and not reopen it for five years.
  • Either they're trying to con you or they're trying to con themselves.
  • In a difficult business, no sooner is one problem solved than another surfaces - never is there just one cockroach in the kitchen.
  • I look for businesses in which I think I can predict what they're going to look like in ten to fifteen years time. Take Wrigley's chewing gum. I don't think the internet is going to change how people chew gum.