Sunday, August 31, 2008

Spilling the beans on soya

Spilling the beans on soya
Mon, Sep 01, 2008
The Straits Times

So far soya's good. Millions of Asians have grown up slurping down the milky goodness of the humble yellow bean, be it in the form of tofu or tempeh or soya bean milk.

Ms Pauline Chan, senior nutrition consultant at Food and Nutrition Specialists, said: 'Soya beans and the products derived from them play an important role in the lives and diets of Asians, providing a nutritious option high in protein and low in saturated fat.'

However, in recent months, the ubiquitous legume has been caught in a storm of controversy.

Last month, researchers in the United States found that eating half a serving of soya-based foods a day could significantly lower a man's sperm count.

In June, a Canadian study published in The Journal Of Nutrition on the health benefits of soya in humans concluded that consumption of soya protein appears to consistently lower blood LDL (or bad) cholesterol but the effects of soya protein and isoflavones in relieving menopause symptoms and prevention of breast cancer are not evident.

Isoflavones are a type of plant oestrogen found mainly in soya beans which are purported to possess preventive health benefits.

In contrast, a study by the National University of Singapore (NUS) and two American universities, which tracked more than 34,000 Chinese women for a decade, found that eating a serving of soya beancurd or drinking a glass of the milk every day reduced the risk of breast cancer in those women.

For sure, the soya bean usually gets good press. It contains all three macro-nutrients essential for health: protein, carbohydrate and fat.

Ms Breda Gavin, senior nutrition consultant at Food and Nutrition Specialists, said: 'Soya is the only plant food considered to be a complete protein in that it contains all the essential amino acids needed by the human body.'

Soya beans are also low in fat and a good source of fibre, iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium and B vitamins.

While fibre is necessary for healthy bowel function, B vitamins are important for releasing and metabolising energy from the food we eat. Minerals like zinc and magnesium are critical aids in coping with enzymatic reactions.

In 1999, the US Food and Drug Administration approved a health claim for soya beans which stated that 25g of soya protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Since then, countries like Britain, South Korea and Malaysia have also approved health claims which say that soya protein helps reduce cholesterol levels.

Ms Grace Quek, dietitian at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, said that soya has no cholesterol and is low in saturated fat. Therefore using it to replace animal protein foods such as red meats, which have high saturated fat content, will benefit those who are following a heart-healthy diet.

Ms Lim Su Lin, chief dietitian and manager of the dietetics department at National University Hospital, added that this could be related to the fact that soya contains phytoestrogens that could help lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

Phytoestrogens are compounds found in plants which are similar to oestrogen in humans.

As more countries adopt such health claims and endorse its health benefits, more people everywhere have become soya converts.

Ms Lynn Pang, business development manager of Jollibean Foods, said: 'Singaporeans have been consuming soya products in recent years as they are more informed about the goodness of soya.'

Asked if one can consume too much of the yellow bean, Raffles Hospital dietitian Nehal Kamdar said that over-consumption of soya products could be dangerous for women with or at risk of oestrogen-sensitive cancers.

'Soya isoflavones can interfere with thyroid function in susceptible individuals, and naturally occurring phytates in soya can inhibit the absorption of calcium and other minerals,' she said.

Madam Koay Saw Lan, head of dietetics and nutrition services at Singapore General Hospital, summed it up: 'The golden rule to keep in mind is still a well-balanced diet.'

Indeed, while doubt has been cast of late on the potential health benefits of soya, dietitians Mind Your Body spoke to said that most people derive health benefits from eating soya as it provides many important nutrients.

Ms Chan said: 'It is fair to say that based on its nutritional profile alone, soya fits in well with current healthy eating guidelines.'

Good govt meets people's needs

Good govt meets people's needs
Sep 01, 2008
my paper

I agree that while Singapore is a democracy, it is very different from other countries which adopt a similar mode of governance.

Compared to older democracies in Europe, for example, we are a young nation with different needs and aspirations. What is right for others might not be right for Singapore.

Should a country fully adopt the democratic model or adapt it - which is what the Government is trying to do - in the process leaving itself open to accusations of being undemocratic?

In Australia, the parliament runs along the Westminster model with a state-funded shadow government.

The leader of the shadow government acts like an opposition prime minister. There is also a shadow treasurer and shadow education minister.

Their main role is to oppose the elected government, thus making the job of the prime minister a difficult one.

MPs do not need to vote according to the party line as there is no Whip. They vote on motions according to their conscience and free will.

Needless to say, the ruling party has a hard time getting motions approved. Many worthwhile proposals are bogged down by debate and unnecessary dialogue.

I feel that while this form of democracy works for Australia, it may not serve Singapore's interests well. Imagine the Government needing to go through a few months of debate before implementing a policy which could benefit the people.

In Singapore, some feel that the restrictions on public demonstrations - an expression of free speech - are fundamental to democracy, thereby making Singapore a limited democracy.

However, does the current system serve us well?

We measure our democracy by the fact that we have regular elections, and that people can vote in another government if they are not in favour of the current one. That, perhaps, is the most fundamental measure of a democratic society - having a say in who rules the country.

Some might argue against group representative constituencies, or complain that there are constituencies which go uncontested.

Even should every constituency be contested, the results would not be much different from the status quo. The People's Action Party has a good track record, and Singaporeans are no fools.

Whether the Government works according to a fully democratic system or adopts a unique version of democracy is immaterial.

More importantly, the Government needs to show that it cares for the needs of the people.

There is no point in having a true-blue democratic government if it fails to meet the needs of the people who voted for it.

How the people voted all these years is a testimony of their faith and trust in our Government.

Mr Gilbert Goh Keow Wah
New South Wales, Australia

M'sian's $500,000 stuck in S'pore banks

M'sian's $500,000 stuck in S'pore banks
Mon, Sep 01, 2008
The New Paper

By Crystal Chan

A MALAYSIAN businessman has not been able to touch a cent of nearly $500,000 in his Singapore bank accounts for almost two years.

His accounts were frozen by the authorities here after he was drawn into the protracted saga involving ex-Citiraya boss Ng Teck Lee, who has skipped town with US$51 million ($72m).

The fugitive had promised to pay Mr Ung Yoke Hooi, 44, who owns a business dealing in scrap metal and industrial waste, $4m for Mr Ung's 29 per cent stake in a Citiraya subsidiary.

And the frozen money was part of the $4m that was to have been paid in 10 instalments.

Believing that Ng had used ill-gotten proceeds to pay Mr Ung, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) froze the latter's accounts in November 2006.

Unhappy by the delay in the probe, Mr Ung went to the High Court to seek an order for the CPIB to unlock two accounts in Standard Chartered Bank and one in DBS Bank.

The accounts held a total of $485,000.

But he has to wait longer as Justice Tay Yong Kwang turned down the request.

His lawyer, Mr Singa Retnam, has filed an appeal.

Mr Ung realised that he had been drawn into the scandal only when DBS told him in December 2006 that his account had been frozen by the CPIB.


As he was neither charged nor investigated, he felt it was unreasonable of the CPIB to hold on to his money and wanted the court to rectify this.

In its defence, the CPIB, represented by the Attorney-General's Chambers, insisted that Mr Ung's frozen money was connected to Ng's misdeeds.

The A-G Chambers argued that it was reasonable to expect that the accounts would be frozen for some time as the case was complex and involved foreign banks and companies.

Investigations showed that the money that Ng paid to Mr Ung had come from Pan Asset International, a company registered in the British Virgin Islands.

It is the CPIB's case that Ng owns Pan Asset International and that it was used to receive the proceeds from his scam.

The A-G also argued that once Ng is brought back to Singapore, Mr Ung's accounts would no longer be frozen.

In his written judgment, Justice Tay pointed out that the Criminal Procedure Code allows the authorities to seize any property that is suspected to be stolen.

He wrote: 'Nothing in the code requires Mr Ung to be charged with any offence, be the subject of any investigation or to have knowledge that the property was stolen.

'On the contrary, all that is required is that the property is suspected to be stolen...'

While Mr Ung's lawyer argued that the CPIB had not proven that the money in the frozen accounts came from Pan Asset International, Justice Tay said the onus was on Mr Ung to show that the monies were not ill-gotten gains.

He also felt that there was no unnecessary delay in the release of the accounts as Ng's disappearance meant that the CPIB had to investigate the scam without his assistance.

While Mr Ung had claimed that the frozen accounts had inconvenienced him and his family, Justice Tay noted he had not produced any supporting evidence.

This story was first published in The New Paper on Aug 30, 2008.

Malaysia belongs to all races, says Anwar

Monday September 1, 2008

Malaysia belongs to all races, says Anwar

BUTTERWORTH: While protecting the rights of the Malays, the Chinese and Indians must also be given an assurance on their citizenship and position in the country, said Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

The Permatang Pauh Member of Parliament said the country belonged to all races and not to just one community.

“With such an assurance, it does not mean that you will be sacrificing the rights of another community,” he said during a breakfast gathering with Permatang Pauh PKR Wanita members in Yayasan Aman in Penanti yesterday.

Anwar said when Independence was declared on Aug 31, 1957, the Malays, Chinese and Indians were assured the freedom of speech and freedom to form associations.

“Now, when you say you disagree (with your political leader) you get threatened. The true spirit of Merdeka is no longer present.

“What is the meaning of Merdeka when we are still ruled by our own community?” he asked.

The newly elected Opposition Leader also said Malays should support leaders who abhorred corruption and those who were fair to all communities.

He said political leaders should also refrain from making racist remarks that would make other races feel threatened, adding that it was unfair to blame one community for the economic slowdown.

Anwar said Merdeka also meant giving an assurance towards the nation’s security, which he noted was “sadly not addressed in Budget 2009.”

The Star

Malaysians reiterate need for change, reforms

Malaysians reiterate need for change, reforms


AUG 31 — The surprising thing about the Permatang Pauh by-election result was this: that some Malaysians were actually stunned and shocked that the Barisan Nasional could be defeated so soundly.

Let’s get real. Nothing much has changed from March 8 2008, that watershed day when Malaysians threw off the yoke of fear and conservatism and voted for the opposition in great numbers.

Five-and-a-half months on, this is the scenario on the ground. The Chinese and Indians still believe that the Umno-led government treats them as tenants and that the power-sharing concept of the Barisan Nasional does not protect minority interests.

The young voters still believe that Umno politicians are corrupt, arrogant and consumed by power and position.

Non-Muslims still believe that the country is sliding down the slippery slope towards intolerance and narrow-mindedness. Many Malaysians still believe that Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is the prime minister of grand sounding rhetoric, but rhetoric none the same.

Here are just a few examples of what has happened since March 8 to confirm that nothing much has changed.

The Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) is still anti-government despite several overtures by BN officials to a few leaders of the movement. When Abdullah visited the Karu Mariamman temple in Butterworth he was booed by a segment of Hindraf followers. Others upset at the presence of the PM refused to take part in the gathering.

Abdullah, protected by a phalanx of Special Branch and Unit Tindak Khas officials, stayed on for a while but there was little doubt that he was an unwelcome guest.

Several Hindraf officials who were informed of the PM’s visit were dismissed as lackeys of the government. The tone of the protest against the PM showed that the movement still has not forgiven the government for jailing P. Uthayakumar and others under the Internal Security Act and for addressing the marginalisation of Indians seriously.

MIC and IPF members who canvassed for votes in Permatang Pauh conceded that they faced a tough time convincing the 3.300 Indian voters to support BN’s Arif Shah.

In some households, they were simply not welcome, much like during the general election campaign period.

End result: Vast majority of Indians voted for Pakatan Rakyat, just like they did on March 8.

Christians and other non-Muslims groups. Anecdotal evidence suggest that non-Muslims, upset their religious rights were trampled upon in the years since Abdullah became prime minister, deserted the BN in numbers in March.

They have grown weary of the arrogance of Umno politicians, the impotence of MCA, Gerakan and MIC politicians to stand up for the rights of non-Malays. They have become cynical with Abdullah’s pledge of being the leader of all Malaysians.

Their vote in March was not a protest vote but a vote for change. In their opinion, their best hope for a more equitable country lies with Anwar Ibrahim. In the run-up to the Permatang Pauh by-election, all they heard Umno politicians talk about was Malay unity and the need to ensure the rights of Malays enshrined in the Constitution were always protected.

Indeed, Malay unity and not Malaysian unity has been the number one concern of Umno since March 8. On Aug 25, a day before the by-election, Umno division chief Ahmad Ismail spoke at a ceramah and called Chinese pendatang (immigrants) and added that “as the Chinese were only immigrants it was impossible to achieve equal rights amongst races”.

His comments were carried in all the Chinese language newspapers. Predictably, more Chinese voted for the opposition in Permatang Pauh on Aug 26 than they did on March 8.

Since then, MCA and Gerakan officials have demanded strong action against Ahmad Ismail.

Abdullah has promised to remind Ahmad Ismail to be more careful with his words.

His meek response will only serve to drive home the point that nothing has changed since Election 2008. Umno is arrogant and incapable of change.

Young voters. There has been no attempt to draw up a plan for Umno/BN to win over young voters.

An analysis of Election 2008 results shows that many newly-registered voters and those in the 21 and 30 age-group supported DAP, PAS or PKR candidates.

Their reasons were varied — they viewed BN as corrupt; they believed that the New Economic Policy was only benefiting a select group of Malays; they did not believe that the future of a better Malaysia was dependent on BN running the country.

Since March 8, many BN politicians have been talking about getting closer to young voters. What they don’t realise is that younger Malaysians will only support a political party which shares their aspirations, not one that continues to lecture them.

At Permatang Pauh, some 90 per cent of the young voters supported Anwar Ibrahim.

Malay voters. In July, the Islamic International University polled 1,500 Malays from across the country to find out their political values.

They discovered that 70 per cent of those polled said that even though the government could guarantee strong economic growth and stability, it was necessary to hold elections and ensure that democracy was alive.

Some 90 per cent of them wanted the special rights of the Malays to be maintained but they also wanted other races to be treated fairly. Nearly 70 per cent said that they did not agree with detention without trial.

Taken together, their views seemed to be closer to what Anwar Ibrahim spoke about in the run-up to the by-election than what Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak and other BN leaders promised.

Anwar assured the Malays that their rights were protected under the Constitution but added that needy Chinese and Indians also needed help from the government.

He said that the Internal Security Act must be abolished and more must be done to ensure that the political system was not corrupt.

So like Election 2008, he was speaking a language which found resonance on the ground. In contrast, Umno politicians still are stuck in a time warp, believing that appealing to Malay insecurity is the only way to keep political power.

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. How can a leader squander an approval rating of 91 per cent in March 2004 and watch it plummet to 43 per cent in July 2008?

By not fulfilling a raft of promises including the pledge to be a leader of all Malaysians; to fight corruption; to bring about reform in the police, judiciary and the political system.

By the time March 8 came around, many Malaysians had become disillusioned with Abdullah, believing that he was indecisive and could not execute policies.

In the days after Election 2008, he came out strong, saying that he had heard the voices of dissent and was committed to repairing the country’s institutions and tackling the rising cost of living.

After the initial burst of enthusiasm, his unwillingness to upset Umno during the party’s election season has seen him go slow on reforming the judiciary.

His Cabinet does not inspire confidence nor does his stewardship of the Malaysian economy. Cynicism and skepticism accompanies every promise and pledge that he makes today.

So really no one should be surprised that Anwar won by a yawning gap over BN’s Arif Shah on Aug 26.

Malaysians voted for change on March 8. It was not a protest vote, it was a vote for change.

Abdullah, Umno and the BN still don’t get it. So the electorate sent them another message on Aug 26.

Only this time it was more emphatic.

This Merdeka, Forget About Unity!

This Merdeka, Forget About Unity!

By Khoo Kay Peng

AUG 31 — After nearly 51 years of independence, we are still talking about national unity. National unity is an often repeated mantra of the only government we know but action speaks louder than words. Unfortunately, there is very little of our multi-racial harmony that we can credit to the politics of race and religion.

Multi-racial co-existence is a lot older than our nation. This land was inhabited by different races longer than what's recorded in our history textbooks.

The fact that our multi-racial society is still living in peace and harmony proves that we have accepted our shared destiny.

But why are politicians so eager to play up instead of celebrate our diversity? Only days ago during the Permatang Pauh by-election campaign, the Umno Bukit Bendera division chairman Ahmad Ismail called Chinese Malaysians ungrateful "squatters" in this country.

His statement received harsh responses from both friends and foes. His friends in the coalition even launched a signature campaign against him and others have challenged him to a debate on the subject. If the debate does happen, it will probably attract an audience looking for free entertainment rather than a serious intellectual discourse. The melodrama continues until the next Ahmad Ismail emerges.

This scenario is representative of a serious problem in our society. Talking about unity alone shows a lack of vocabulary in our socio-political language. Why can't we talk about how to make Malaysia a great sporting nation in the 21st century? Surely, we would like to think that we can eventually win a gold medal at the next Olympic Games?

Or what about aspiring to being an international cultural hub since both our cities, Malacca and George Town, were recently accorded World Living Heritage status by Unesco? We should start taking our tourism tagline "Malaysia, Truly Asia" seriously.

As the world becomes more competitive and advanced, we need to correct our socio-political language and bad habits if we want to catch up with the rest. Malaysians need to get over the issue of getting along with one another. We get along fine with each other.

It is time now to think about our rightful place or position in this highly competitive world. How do we want other societies to perceive us? What is Brand Malaysia? What are our unique selling propositions?

Politicians who refuse to accept the realities of the 21st century should be ushered to their rightful place – a small corner in our museum. It is odd to want to be racially or socially exclusive at a time when the world is so inter-connected. We stand to benefit so much more from inter-cultural exchanges than to stay inside our communal shell. Unfortunately, we have been forced to consume such divisive socio-political rhetoric for far too long until we have grown accustomed to it. Our political system needs a purge.

So the next time you meet another Ahmad Ismail, hit him with the biggest trout you can find so that you will wake him up from his slumber. Yes, communal and all kinds of divisive politics must go.
There is really nothing to divide us. Not colour of the skin. There are as many fair Indians and Malays as there are fair Chinese. Not even religion. There are more Chinese Muslims and Indian Muslims than there are Malay Muslims.

For our 51st Merdeka, we should get over our fixation with national unity. Move out of this country if you feel you cannot get along with the various cultures here.
Otherwise, stay and be proud of our diversity. Many Malaysians are culturally sensitive and multi-lingual because of this advantage we enjoy in our own social environment. If many are envious of our linguistic prowess and cultural breadth and depth, why must we be jealous of this special divine gift?

We should take this time to reflect on how we can strengthen our partnership to make Malaysia economically viable and successful. With a population size of less than 28 million, we are a small fish swimming in a big ocean. The globalisation wave will sweep us aside if we do not develop strong arms to ensure that we can keep up with the rest. At the moment, countries such as Vietnam are breathing down our necks and soon Cambodia will be tapping us on our shoulder.

We have lost sight of South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore.

Already some of our businesses are feeling pessimistic about our domestic economic prospect. High inflationary pressure and lower consumer demands are holding up domestic investment. If we cannot even keep our own locals from leaving, how can we hope to attract others to invest in our country?

The lack of confidence in our economy should be the main concern of the government. Not the controversial DNA Bill. It will be highly admirable if the government can help tackle some economic issues and challenges as fast as the way they pushed through that Bill in parliament.

The government should act responsibly to take political contestation out of public policy formulation instead of bringing it into the process.

Malaysians must look at the broader picture. We must not allow narrow minded and self centred politicians to hinder our reaching a consensus on what we expect this country to become in the near future. Malaysia has only one choice and that choice must be to make this country a better one than it was the previous year.
Our march towards greater success should start with a tiny first step – kick out racism and corruption!

Malaysian Insider

Khoo Kay Peng is a corporate consultant, an independent political analyst and the co-author of "Non-Sectarian Politics in Malaysia: The Case of Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia".

NS deals led to RM110m loss

NS deals led to RM110m loss
1 Sept, 2008

(The Star) - National Service shirkers and a very “rigid” contract have caused the Government losses of up to RM110.1mil from 2004 to last year, the 2007 Auditor-General’s report said.

Over the four years, the audit found that 63,417 people failed to attend the programme for various reasons, which led to the Government having to fork out the money to camp operators due to the way the contract was set out.

The contract spelt out that the Government would pay rent for the use of equipment and facilities for between 690 and 890 trainees for 2004 and between 300 and 400 trainees for 2005 and beyond.

The fee, per trainee, worked out to RM30 in the peninsula and RM41 in Sabah and Sarawak for 2004. In 2005, it cost RM25 in peninsula and RM34.30 in Sabah and Sarawak.

This meant that the Government had to pay for the stated number of trainees in the contract even if the number of trainees turning up was less or more than the figure stipulated in the agreement.

“Every year, between 16% and 23% of those called up to join the programme did not turn up. The ministry must review the contract conditions regarding how many trainees are allocated to each camp,” the report said.

It added that the ministry should also have a backup name list as there had to be a stop to the losses due to people not turning up for training.

“The NS Training Department also has to double-check its name list with the relevant authorities before putting out the roll call,” it said.

Among the reasons those called up did not attend were: a change in address, still studying, sole bread-winners, disabled, did not receive notices, died, overseas, in the army, health problems or have attended NS before.

In its reply, the ministry said it was in the midst of reviewing the contracts, adding that the department would be increasing the number of trainees next year to 140,000 to make up for any shortfall.

The audit also found that RM57mil in arrears had yet to be collected from camp operators for advances they had taken to construct the camps.

The audit also checked on certain camps from various angles such as the suitability of its location, cleanliness, food quality and quality of equipment supplied.

It found that the Beringin Beach camp in Langkawi was unsuitable because high tides often flooded dormitories and left a classroom unusable.

For the Wawasan camp in Sabah, camp operators told the audit team that it was difficult to obtain fresh fish to cook for the trainees but the audit team found it otherwise at the Kota Kinabalu market.

The audit also found that T-shirts, track pants, baseball caps and sports shoes supplied under contracts worth RM41.12mil were of low quality.

For country or for ego?

For country or for ego?
1 Sept, 2008


What the West does in order to expose scandals, we think we can do better. And indeed, we have.

IT is distressing to read our local news to find that age-old customs and manners are no longer adhered to. Instead, we seem to relish the “no holds barred” and mud-slinging tactics which, once upon a time, we considered too crass and so un-Asian.

As I read news items, opinions and arguments, it became apparent that not only do we quite enjoy the mud-slinging, we now no longer make the effort to “save face” or be more sympathetic towards the wives and children of men who have been involved in scandals.

We do not care about showing respect for those in position of authority either. What the West does in order to expose scandals, we think we can do better. And indeed, we have.

Rather confused,I decided to turn to books on spirituality – opting to find answers in books by pre-21st century philosophers and religious authorities.

My journey began with Wonders of the Heart by Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (a Muslim scholar, jurist and philosopher who lived during the 11th century); this book is a small part of his huge, 40-book work called Ihya Ulum al-Din (The Revival of Religious Sciences).

In his preface, Al-Ghazali had written: “I found everyone hankering after material gains ... These people have led everyone to suppose that knowledge consists simply in the debates and arguments by which they spread their fame; or else ornate sermons, by which they held the people spell-bound ...”

Muslims believe that Satan will set temptations in our way throughout our lives. Iman Al-Ghazali is of the opinion that: “Satan ... portrays evil in the form of good. Thus he will say to the man who is learned in the art of preaching, ‘Allah has blessed you with a perspicacious heart, an eloquent tongue, and an acceptable manner of speaking ...’”

But while Satan continues to convince the orator of his eloquence and that his voice can mesmerise thousands, at the same time he endows the man with the “stains of hypocrisy, popularity with the crowd, delight in high rank, pride in the power given by many followers and much learning, and a contemptuous attitude towards mankind”.

In other words, does the man use his oratory skills for the good of his people or for his own ego?

Iman Ghazali had predicted that men many centuries later could be great orators and yet may not have noble intentions.

Orators who were charismatic and attracted the attention of thousands included Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy, and before them, in Europe, Karl Marx, Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill.

Were these men mere egoists who were highly ambitious? We have at present more than an adequate knowledge about their sincerity towards their fellowmen.

Mahatma Gandhi said: “There is nothing on earth that I would not give up for the sake of the country excepting of course two things and two only, namely, truth and non-violence. I would not sacrifice these two for all the world. For to me Truth is God and there is no way to find Truth except the way of non-violence ... I know that a man who forsakes Truth can forsake his country, and his nearest and dearest ones.” (speech, Dec 20, 1926)

Martin Luther King also considers peace and non-violence as important elements for the sake of all: “Sooner or later, all people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace ... Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation ... I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and non-violent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land.”

Both these great men spoke of the need for truth and that we find a way to live together in peace.

Do we the citizens of Malaysia know what is the truth behind the political scandals that we have been exposed to but of which we have not been given absolute and conclusive proof?

Which of our present and future leaders can we trust?

I agree with Gandhi that a leader must be one who is a truthful person and not one who lies.

I agree with Martin Luther King that we must reject those who seek revenge and retaliation, or who are obviously over-ambitious: Islam rejects all of these.

What say you?

The writer is Royal Fellow, School of Language Studies & Linguistics, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, and holds an M.A. (Oxon) in Chinese Studies, University of Oxford

Malaysia PM plans record budget

Malaysia PM plans record budget
1 Sept, 2008
By John Burton, Financial Times

Abdullah Badawi, Malaysia’s embattled prime minister, plans to increase government spending by nearly 6 per cent next year as he seeks to regain popularity and fend off an opposition challenge to topple his administration.

But there are worries that the increased spending may pose economic risks, including stoking inflation, which is already at a 27-year high.

Mr Abdullah, who is also finance minister, has proposed a record M$208bn ($61.3bn, €41.7bn, £33.7bn) budget for 2009, including benefits for lower income groups and tax cuts for the middle class, in an effort to keep growth above 5 per cent.

Infrastructure spending will rise sharply in Sabah and Sarawak in an effort to persuade disgruntled government members of parliament from the Borneo states not to support an opposition no-confidence motion against Mr Abdullah.

The opposition, led by Anwar Ibrahim, criticises the spending proposals as “populist” and says the government is depending on oil revenues to finance the spending increase even though the country’s energy reserves are set to decline.

The extra spending is expected to make it impossible for Mr Abdullah to fulfil an earlier promise to cut Malaysia’s budget deficit from 4.8 per cent in 2008 to 3 per cent of gross domestic product by 2010. He estimated a 3.6 per cent budget deficit for 2009.

Mr Abdullah last month partly reversed a 40 per cent rise in retail fuel prices ordered in June to curb the budget deficit.

The price rise was unpopular and contributed to Malaysia’s 8.5 per cent inflation rate in July. “It is unlikely that energy subsidies will be cut further in coming months,” said Nikhilesh Bhattacharyya at Moody’s

Some commentators said that Mr Abdullah may be using the budget to set the stage for a snap election to counter a no-confidence motion. “I will not permit the mandate given by the people to be seized from the [government], which won the last elections . . . based on democratic principles,” he warned.

But an inflation rate fuelled by an expansionary budget could backfire on the government, with opinion polls saying price rises are seen as the most important issue facing the country.

The central bank is being criticised for not raising interest rates to curb inflation, provoking questions about its independence. Morgan Stanley, the investment bank, describes it as “one of the least hawkish central banks” in south-east Asia.

The central bank last week decided to let the benchmark rate remain at 3.5 per cent, where it has been since April 2006. Zeti Akhtar Aziz, the central bank governor, said the economy was slowing and would limit future inflationary pressures.

The governor said she was not under political pressure to keep rates on hold and the central bank earlier denied market rumours that Ms Zeti was threatening to quit.

But the cloudy economic situation is undermining investor confidence, with the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange share index falling by nearly 30 per cent this year, making it one of south-east Asia’s worst performers.

PM Abdullah issues defiant message on M’sia’s national day

PM Abdullah issues defiant message on M’sia’s national day
1 Sept, 2008

Malaysia’s embattled Prime Minister appealed for the nation’s support as the country celebrated 51 years of independence yesterday in the face of economic woes and opposition plans to topple the government within weeks.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who has faced calls to quit from within his own party after failing to check the rise of the opposition, led by Mr Anwar Ibrahim of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat, urged the country to remain united as it faced high inflation and a global slowdown.

“I am confident and believe that all the trials we are facing today can be overcome if we remain united and work together with firm determination,” Mr Abdullah said in a National Day (Merdeka Day) message yesterday.

“The world ... is impressed with Malaysia because not many countries with a multi-racial population exist with tolerance, peace and harmony.”

Mr Abdullah also referred indirectly to the threat by Mr Anwar’s plans to topple the government with parliamentary defections.

“A united people is a strong national bulwark against any threat, whether from within or outside the country,” he said in his speech.

Mr Abdullah’s Barisan Nasional (BN) Coalition has been in power since independence from Britain 51 years ago.

BN was dealt its worst ever setback in March general elections that handed the opposition five states and a third of parliamentary seats.

In June, a stunned nation heard of an accusation by a young male aide who claimed he was sodomised by Mr Anwar, who was convicted and jailed on the same charge about a decade ago. His conviction was overturned later. Mr Anwar says he was a victim of a political conspiracy both times.

Mr Anwar returned to Parliament last week after winning a by-election, and has said he would oust the BN government by the middle of this month. He has accused the government of corruption and poor management of the economy.

“Now, 51 years after independence, we are once again at a junction. We see ... democracy trampled on and the institution of the state made into a tool for power,” Mr Anwar said in a statement.

“It is time Malaysians made that choice to return the meaning of independence to this country.”

As part of the Merdeka celebrations, a colourful parade with dances by Malaysia’s three main ethnic groups — majority Malays and minority Chinese and Indians — passed through the historic Dataran Merdeka, or Independence Square.

Mr Abdullah last Friday offered tax cuts and perks in a 2009 budget designed to restore support for the beleaguered coalition and spur growth.

On Saturday, a gathering of religious leaders representing various faiths was held on Merdeka Day for the first time, The Star newspaper reported. Mr Abdullah said he wanted such a gathering to be held annually as part of the country’s National Day celebrations.

“This is a historic moment for all of us,” he told the gathering of some 300 religious leaders and representatives of various faith groups.

“We will see if there are opportunities for discussions to be held among the religious leaders.” Agencies

Nothing but a Red Herring

Nothing but a Red Herring
31 Aug, 2008

What I am doing -- amar maaruf, nahi munkar; which means to uphold truth and oppose evil -- is mandatory in Islam. What I am doing is what Islam stipulates. I am more Islamic than that Arab pretending to be a descendant of the Prophet.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Kolonel Norhayati is not my ADC, explained Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s wife. She just handles my appointments. Well, I suppose this is akin to someone saying she is not my typist. She just types my letters. And now Syed Hamid Albar says that they are not censoring Malaysia Today. They are just blocking access to Malaysia Today.

Would you expect any less from people who argue that Umno is not a racist party? We just think that Malays are the Lords of this land and the non-Malays are all immigrants who can’t be allowed the same rights and privileges as the Lords of this land. But this is not racism. This is the Merdeka ‘social contract’ being honoured.

Yes, Happy Merdeka, Malaysians. And may the Merdeka ‘social contract’ be given the ‘honour’ it deserves and be placed as supreme.

Syed Hamid says they have sent Malaysia Today many warning letters but all these letters have been ignored. That is why Malaysia Today was not censored but the government only blocked access to it. However, Syed Hamid could not offer any details of how many letters were sent, when they were sent, and what were the contents of these letters. And this is because no such letters exist. The government, at no time at all, has ever sent Malaysia Today any warning letters.

Syed Hamid also did not offer any examples to support the allegation that Malaysia Today has insulted either Islam or Prophet Muhammad. Malaysia Today has insulted Prophet Muhammad and Islam, he said. And that is good enough. It is not necessary to explain in what way Islam and Prophet Muhammad were insulted or to support the allegation with examples or specific incidences.

Anwar Ibrahim has been chided for refusing to swear on the Quran that he is innocent of the allegation of sodomy. The government-owned media went to town in the run-up to the Permatang Pauh by-election to run Anwar down on his refusal to swear on the Quran.

Do I take it that if I too swear on the Quran that I have never insulted Islam or Prophet Muhammad then the matter is resolved? Would the government then unblock Malaysia Today since I have proven my innocence by swearing on the Quran? A hint from Syed Hamid, Pusat Islam or the Religious Department would be most welcome.

I will give the Malaysian government one week to come back with a response. I, Raja Petra Bin Raja Kamarudin, am now offering to swear on the Quran that I have never insulted Islam and/or Prophet Muhammad. I, Raja Petra Bin Raja Kamarudin, take up the challenge they have thrown to Anwar Ibrahim and which they chide Anwar Ibrahim for because he has refused to take up the challenge. Come back to me within one week and indicate that you are prepared to witness my oath on the Quran or forever hold your peace and never mention this matter again.

Want to make a small wager, however un-Islamic that may be? I bet they will not be able to offer any examples or evidence of incidences where I have insulted Islam and/or Prophet Muhammad and they will never accept my challenge that I swear on the Quran. The one-week will come and go and nothing will happen. They will ignore my challenge and will not respond. And this is because there are no incidences where I have ever insulted Islam or Prophet Muhammad.

This is nothing but a Red Herring. They are using an excuse that works well with most Muslims. If Muslims think you are insulting Islam or Prophet Muhammad they will go berserk. So what better excuse to offer than you are insulting Islam and Prophet Muhammad. And since it is the government that is saying so, then this must be true, because would the government ever lie to the people?

Yes, they demand that Anwar Ibrahim swear on the Quran that he has never sodomised Saiful. And when Anwar refuses to do so they go to town with the issue and say that this proves Anwar’s guilt. Well, I too challenge them to demand that I swear on the Quran that I have never insulted Islam or Prophet Muhammad. And if they refuse to demand that I do so, then I too will go to town with the issue and declare them guilty of lying just like how they have declared Anwar guilty.

I remember back in April 2001 when the government detained ten of us under the Internal Security Act. Except for Tian Chua and Gobalakrishnan, the rest of us were put through a three-day Islamic rehabilitation program. For three days an ustaz was asked to sit with us from morning till evening to discuss Islam so that we could be ‘guided’ and ‘led back to the right path’ from which we have strayed.

It was a three-day rehabilitation program. But the ustaz did not give me my three days. On the second day he did not turn up. The excuse they gave me was that the ustaz ‘had something to do’. After we were released from detention, I checked with the others and they all confirmed that they had to go through the full three days, even Ustaz Badrulamin, an ex-UIA lecturer, and Saari Sungib, the ex-President of JIM, an Islamic movement.

Why did they ‘abandon’ me after the first day? Why were all the others subjected to the full three days except for me? Did they discover me beyond rehabilitation and thought that it was therefore futile to continue to try to rehabilitate me? Or did they give up on me, not because I was a lost cause, but because I out-debated the ustaz and they felt, instead of the ustaz rehabilitating me, I might end up rehabilitating him?

If they are still not satisfied and still feel I need to be rehabilitated, then I will throw an open challenge to any ustaz in Malaysia to sit down with me and prove that I am wrong or that I am a deviant. Come on, surely there is at least one ustaz, Tok Guru, Mufti, etc., who dares take me on. Come debate with me. Show me I am wrong. Then I will stop writing about Islam for the rest of my life. Surely this offer is too good to refuse.

Allow me to reveal some points of the ten-hour or so non-stop debate that I had with the ustaz during my Internal Security Act detention back in 2001. Ten hours is a long debate so I will certainly not be able to reproduce the entire thing. But some of these points will probably demonstrate why the ustaz ‘abandoned’ me after the first day and never came back the following day.


Pak Engku, today there will be no interrogation. For the next three days this ustaz will sit with you and talk about Islam.

He is supposed to rehabilitate me is it?

No, not rehabilitate. Just to talk to you about Islam so that we can get a better understanding of your thoughts on Islam.

The Special Branch officer walks out of the room and leaves me alone with the ustaz.

Before the ustaz can open his mouth I kick off the debate with my ‘opening speech’.

Ustaz, I am not as well versed in Islam as you are. I went to an English school and do not speak Arabic. I have also not memorised the Quran like you have. So my knowledge on Islam is very shallow. Forgive me, therefore, if what I say might not be right because I am speaking as a jahil (ignorant person) and not as a learned person.

The ustaz just nods without saying a word and I continue.

Tell me, ustaz, is amar maaruf, nahi munkar compulsory (wajib) or optional (sunat)?

He opens his mouth but before anything can come out of it I quickly continue.

Let me answer that myself. It is wajlb right? Amar maaruf, nahi munkar is as wajib as praying, fasting, performing the Haj and so on. It is an obligation. It is compulsory for all Muslims to perform amar maaruf, nahi munkar. It is not something you can choose whether to do or not. It is something you must do. It is mandatory in Islam.

The ustaz nods but says nothing.

So tell me, ustaz. Tell me I am wrong in performing amar maaruf, nahi munkar. Tell me it is not wajib, just like praying, fasting and so on. Tell me I should not perform amar maaruf, nahi munkar. Then I shall stop performing amar maaruf, nahi munkar.

The ustaz no longer even nods.

I challenge you, ustaz. (I point to the ceiling). Before Allah and with Allah as our Witness, tell me I have erred in performing amar maaruf, nahi munkar. Tell me amar maaruf, nahi munkar is not an obligation and compulsory in Islam. Tell me it is not wajib. Then let us all stop performing amar maaruf, nahi munkar. And let us also stop praying and fasting plus all those other rituals that are equally wajib and as much an obligation just like amar maaruf, nahi munkar.

The ustaz shuffles uncomfortably in his seat but before he can respond I charge in again.

I am doing only what is wajib in Islam. If you can before Allah and with Allah as our Witness tell me that amar maaruf, nahi munkar is wrong and that I should not be performing it, then let us now, before Allah and with Allah as our Witness, also declare all those others which are equally wajib as wrong.

I do not expect any response from the ustaz and do not wait for one.

I am prepared to stop performing amar maaruf, nahi munkar if you, ustaz, before Allah and with Allah as our Witness, declare it wrong. If you dare do that, then I will also stop performing all those others such as praying and fasting, which, therefore, should be declared equally wrong since they share the same wajib status as amar maaruf, nahi munkar.

This time I want him to respond so I stop to force a response out of him.

Yes, you are right, of course it is wajib.

That is all I wanted him to say.

Then what am I doing here, ustaz? Why am I under Internal Security Act detention? If I am only performing what Islam makes mandatory, what crime have I committed? Amar maaruf, nahi munkar is compulsory. All Muslims are obligated to perform it. I am being detained for doing what Islam forces us to do. I am being detained for obeying Allah. If obeying Allah is a crime then should I also be performing my prayers and fast? Are these also crimes in the eyes of the Malaysian government? What difference is praying and fasting compared to amar maaruf, nahi munkar? All are mandatory in Islam. If one is wrong then all should be wrong. If amar maaruf, nahi munkar is a crime then praying and fasting are also crimes. If I must stop performing amar maruf, nahi munkar then I must also stop praying, fasting, and all those others. Tell me, ustaz. Tell me that amar maaruf, nahi munkar is wrong. Tell me what Islam makes mandatory is a crime. Tell me the government is right in detaining me for performing amar maaruf, nahi munkar. Then, today, now, I will stop performing amar maaruf, nahi munkar, plus all those others that Islam makes mandatory as well. And, from today, now, you and I shall stop performing all those other obligations such as praying and fasting which, just like amar maaruf, nahi munkar, should also be classified as wrong.


This debate continues till the end of the day. But it is not really a debate as much as it is a monologue. I barrage the ustaz with him nodding and hardly opening his mouth. The following day he does not turn up, either because he has given up on me and realises he can’t guide me back to the right path, or because the Special Branch is worried that I would instead ‘lead him astray’.

Syeds are supposed to be descendants of the Prophet. I take it that Syed Hamid is, therefore, also a descendant of the Prophet. But he does not exhibit the proper Islamic qualities.

Syed Hamid is a lawyer who also built up a career as a merchant banker. I take it, therefore, that his English is better than the average Malay. Why can’t he then see that I am insulting Muslims? And this does not translate to insulting Islam or the Prophet.

If I were to call someone a pig, does that mean I am insulting that person or am I insulting pigs? Going by Syed Hamid’s logic, by calling someone a pig, I am insulting pigs.

No, Syed Hamid is not stupid. He does not even have a poor command of English. This is all a Red Herring. They want to block, not censor, Malaysia Today. So they are using the insulting Islam issue as the excuse. That is all.

In fact, what I am doing -- amar maaruf, nahi munkar; which means to uphold truth and oppose evil -- is mandatory in Islam. What I am doing is what Islam stipulates. I am more Islamic than that Arab pretending to be a descendant of the Prophet. And it is they, not me, who are insulting Islam. They use Islam as the camouflage to perpetuate racism and persecution. They perpetuate injustice. And they say this is what Islam is all about.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Chopping the Cherry Tree

A bit of humor.......from an email:

Chopping the Cherry Tree

> Legend has it that George Washington, America's first president, chopped down a cherry tree in his youth. George gives the tree a good swing and chops it down with an axe. His father sees the damaged tree and asks his son if he knows who did the deed. George is quoted bravely admitting the truth :- "I can't tell a lie, Pa; you know I can't tell a lie. I did cut it with my axe."

This is a satire of how some Malaysian politicians circa 2008 may have reacted to the question :-

> PM Badawi - I did not cut down the tree, I was just taking a nap underneath it.

> Najib - I swear that I have never MET that tree.

> Hishamuddin- ... but I only own a keris, not axe, how to cut down the tree.

> Dr.M - Apa nama cherry tree, I chopped it down because, I don't like the idea of Pak lah sleeping under it.

> Chua Soi Lek - Yes it was me, I resign as caretaker of this orchard.

> VK Lingam - It could be me, it might have been me but I don't think it's me.

> Anwar Ibrahim - I DID NOT do it, and I am not giving any DNA samples for you to plant on the axe handle.

> Khir Toyo - the new state government should just trim the grass and not waste time asking who cut the tree.

> Ahmad Said (Terengganu MB)- I chopped it because cherry trees are more expensive to maintain than durian trees.

> Azalina Othman - The cherry tree is not included under my tourism MOU so I cut it down. Besides there were unauthorized signboards put up around the tree.

> Shabery Cheek - I challenge you to a debate on tree cutting.

> Samy Velu - I chopped it because HINDRAF members were using it as a meeting point

> Wira Ali Rustam - We have planted durian trees for 50 years and we will plant them for another 50 years, we do not need cherry trees, apple trees, pear trees and all these other foreign trees.

> Rais Yatim - you must see the bigger picture, Ahmad said cherry trees are expensive to maintain, Ali Rustan said that they are against our national identity and I needed to test my new axe, so you see- it's a WIN-WIN situation all around.

> Shahrir Samad - I cut the tree because we could no longer afford to subsidize it.

> Karpal Singh - The bigfoot creature did it.

> Bung Mokhtar - The big monkey did it

> Pandikar Amin Mulia - There is nothing in the standing orders against chopping cherry trees, Kinabatangan duduk, Bukit Gelugor duduk.sit down.

> Khairy Jamaluddin - I did not do it, neither did the mat rempits. By the way, what's a cherry tree ?

> Lim Kit Siang - In response to Khairy - cherry tree also you don't know, you are an insult to Oxford.

> Nazri Aziz - racist, racist, racist, when we cut down durian trees nobody made a fuss.

> Malaysian Citizens - oh for heavens sake! Somebody plant something before we all starve to death.

Should we start all over again?

Should we start all over again?
30 Aug, 2008

By Aloysious Mowe, SJ, The Nut Graph

That there should be no room in our universities for non-Muslim students to explore and deepen their faith is just one indication, 51 years after its attaining independence, of how far Malaysia is from being a nation at peace with itself.

I WAS pleasantly surprised to discover that Georgetown University has a full-time Muslim chaplain among its campus ministry staff. Imam Yahya Hendi heads a chaplaincy programme that provides religious services and support to Muslim members of the university, while also serving as the spokesperson of the Islamic Jurisprudence Council of North America.

There is a Muslim prayer room in Copley Hall, where the five daily obligatory prayers are held, while on Fridays Salatul Jum’ah is held in the main students’ building, the Leavey Center.

That the faith life of Muslim students and faculty members should be as much a concern of the university as that of Christian, Jewish or Hindu members of the academic community in Georgetown is seen by its administration as obvious and unremarkable. Georgetown University seems to be a community at peace with itself, able to accommodate within its Catholic origins what it describes as a “centred pluralism” that respects and engages the various religious and humanist perspectives and traditions of members of the university community.

Should we start all over again?
Although Catholic in origin, Georgetown University provides ample worshipping spaces for its multi-religious body, including the Muslim prayer room in Copley Hall (Pic by Aloysious Mowe)

Halfway across the world, in the land of Islam Hadhari, the Catholic Students’ Society at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia has been refused permission by the university’s administration to hold meetings of Catholic students on the campus of UKM Bangi during the 2008/2009 academic year.

The students were told in a letter dated 21 July 2008 that programmes and activities of only the “official religion” may be held within the campus of the university. The letter was signed by Shahruddin Ahmad, the director of UKM’s Pusat Perkembangan Pelajar, the Centre for Students’ Advancement. The irony, we can be certain, is entirely unintended.

That there should be no room in our universities for non-Muslim students to explore and deepen their faith is just one indication, 51 years after its attaining independence, of how far Malaysia is from being a nation at peace with itself.

Facism — a word too far?

National day would be a relatively uncomplicated occasion for celebration if it were simply the commemoration of a past event, the achievement of nationhood after a long period of colonial rule. Nationhood, however, is no simple matter: it is not so much a goal accomplished as it is a work in progress.

When all the soul-searching by the bien-pensants that traditionally occurs whenever August 31 comes around is said and done, we are left with the question: what kind of nation do we Malaysians want to build? Even this question becomes moot when we realise there are some who would say not all Malaysians are created equal, and that the final determination of what this nation should be must lie in the hands of only one ethnic and religious group.

When talk of some fabled “social contract” comes up, as it has tended to in recent times, the implication is always that the non-Malay sectors of the population are citizens not by right but by grant and under sufferance.

Should we start all over again?
Scene outside the Bar Council forum on 9 Aug 2008, which featured unwarranted calls for some to “balik Cina” (Pic by Seira Sacha)

It is because such talk has passed into the currency of political rhetoric and what passes for historical research in Malaysia that some communities are regularly treated to taunts of “balik Cina” or “balik India”. I doubt if the proud descendants of the great immigrant families from the Hadramawt and the Bugis homeland have ever had to endure the cries “balik Yemen” or “balik Sulawesi”. Who would dare?

There are loud voices in our country that wield with impunity the rhetoric of fascism. Is this a word too far? No, it is entirely accurate to label as fascists those who tell Malaysians of Chinese descent to “go back” to China, or who bandy about notions of racial supremacy.

The voices of those who espouse moderation and pluralism are, thanks to the alternative media, not entirely drowned out, but the aspirations of the moderate camp seem to me often to be naïve, and their conceptual underpinnings not entirely secure.

What social contract?

National Day is often an occasion for people to wax misty-eyed about the 1957 Federal Constitution, and to bemoan the way that it has been amended willy-nilly to suit the agenda of successive Umno-led governments. It takes the undoing of deeply ingrained habits of thought to see that the 1957 Constitution is not a magical document that will solve all our problems, just as we need to make a conceptual leap to ask certain hard questions of those who speak glibly of a social contract.

If in 1957 the framers of the Constitution could speak only in terms of ethnic grouping, and decided also to enshrine certain institutions and notions that, for want of a better term, were essentially feudal in nature, are we today to be bound by those notions? The world was a much more racist place in 1957. Are we in Malaysia destined to be the last racist nation on earth, by dint of our constitution?

What are the terms of the social contract? Who signed it, and on whose behalf?
What right did someone have to make such a contract for succeeding generations? By what law am I bound through this contract?

If we ask enough of these questions, relentlessly and pointedly, we will come, by Socratic method, to realise that the social contract is nothing more than a metaphor, perhaps constructed to suit one version of Malaysian history rather than rooted in any kind of reality.

Metaphors are malleable things, and therefore perilous to the unwary. Elizabeth II of England may be an anointed Queen, but surely no Briton today believes that she, or her government, rules by divine right… and yet the Westminster government continues to exercise certain powers by “royal prerogative” that bypass the legitimate and democratic legislative process.

Justice William J Brennan, Jr wrote of the Constitution of the United States that its genius rests “not in any static meaning it might have had in a world that is dead and gone, but in the adaptability of its great principles to cope with current problems.”

The great fault lines of our nation are those of ethnicity and religion. It is tempting to think that the only way to correct those fault lines is to have a constitution that erases such notions as a basis for nationhood, and whose great principles are those of liberty, equality, fraternity and justice for all, with no exceptions. End of Article

Anwar: Budget 2009 not good enough to attract FDI

Anwar: Budget 2009 not good enough to attract FDI
30 Aug, 2008

(The Sun) - Parliamentary Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim today said the 2009 Budget is not good enough to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) which is important to propel the country's economy.

"Nothing new. We reiterated that in the last four, five years when there was global pressure and slow economy, (but) the Prime Minister and Barisan Nasional were not able to give new incentives.

"The problem is that we have lost the competitive edge. There are no new FDI, slow management and corruption. These were not dealt with," he said to reporters after the prime minister had tabled the budget in the parliament.

Describing it as a deficit budget, Anwar said for an oil-producing country, it is exceptional that Malaysia continues to register deficit.
"It is understandable for a country that has no resources," he added.

Anwar said the issue is not about giving sweeteners to Sabah and Sarawak and the poor because it does not commensurate with the big increase in inflation and cost of living.

"What is given does not alleviate the problems and sufferings of the poor. Abdullah did not address the issue of competitiveness. We continue to be in a state of denial," he said, adding the government was not able to shift from its obsolete economic policy where corruption is rampant.

"The failure to be more competitive is because we are stuck with old policies. I see no way where we can attract FDI. Without FDI, Malaysia cannot propel its economy. It is unfortunate this was not addressed.

"The endemic corruption, tenders awarded to cronies and family members, failure to cut cost and be more efficient. All these are not addressed."

Anwar commented that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi looked nervous when delivering the speech, saying that it was probably "because of the unrest in the people."

He was also disappointed with Abdullah for not dealing with major issues like the inefficient police force, the increase of crime rate and judicial corruption.

Malaysia Puts Ratings at Risk on Politics, Ballooning Deficit

Malaysia Puts Ratings at Risk on Politics, Ballooning Deficit
30 Aug, 2008

By Stephanie Phang and Soraya Permatasari

(Bloomberg) -- Malaysia's government said it will post its biggest deficit since 2003 as it cuts taxes and boosts spending to stymie an opposition challenge, putting its credit ratings and currency at risk.

The budget gap will widen to 4.8 percent of gross domestic product this year from 3.2 percent in 2007, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi told parliament yesterday. The top income tax rate will be cut to 27 percent from 28 percent and 1.1 million households will benefit from free electricity, he added.

Abdullah is fighting off opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who returned to parliament in a by-election this week and has pledged to topple the government by mid-September. The wider deficit may prompt a downgrade in Malaysia's credit rating, reducing investment coming into the country and making it more expensive for local companies to borrow.

``It's a fairly political budget and very much focused on alleviating the hits to incomes from inflation,'' said Robert Prior-Wandesforde, senior Asia economist at HSBC Holdings Plc in Singapore. The size of the deficit may ``lead the rating agencies to have a closer look at their ratings'' for Malaysia.

Malaysia's credit rating outlook was changed to ``stable'' from ``positive'' by Standard & Poor's in May after Abdullah's ruling coalition lost ground in March elections. S&P said the country's credit standing was ``constrained by its fiscal position.''

`Some Pressure'

S&P rates Malaysia's foreign currency debt A-, the fourth- lowest investment grade, and hasn't changed that stance since 2003. Moody's Investors Service has kept Malaysia's foreign currency debt rating at A3, the same investment level as S&P, since 2004.

``There could be some pressure on the currency,'' said Aninda Mitra, a sovereign analyst at Moody's Investors Service in Singapore. ``You have a much higher fiscal deficit than expected. Higher borrowing needs and unexpected inflation may not be very good for fixed income holdings of foreign residents, so that could put some pressure on the currency.''

The ringgit has lost 2.6 percent against the U.S. dollar this year. The Malaysian currency today completed its biggest monthly loss since the end of a peg against the dollar in 2005.

Announcing a 5.1 percent increase in next year's spending, Abdullah yesterday pledged bonuses to civil servants, promised free electricity for the poor, lowered duty on home purchases and doubled the number of households on state welfare. Higher spending in 2008 will reverse five years of shrinking budget deficits.

Leadership Challenge

Abdullah, 68, is facing renewed calls from his own ruling National Front coalition to resign after leading the government in March to its worst election performance in half a century. The handouts may soften the impact of the fastest inflation in 26 years and stall a campaign by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to oust the government.

``These are populist measures,'' said Singapore-based Kelvin Miranda, an investment strategist at Blufire Asset Management Sdn., which manages $110 million in assets. ``He's trying to buy time.''

Abdullah increased by 20 percent the tax on cigarettes sold by companies including British American Tobacco (Malaysia) Bhd. to help offset the widening gap between spending and revenue.

Voter anger over rising prices contributed to opposition gains in the March vote that deprived Abdullah's coalition of its two-thirds majority in parliament. Malaysia's inflation accelerated to 8.5 percent last month after the government raised fuel prices to lower subsidies as crude surged.

Shares Advance

Malaysian stocks jumped the most in more than five months yesterday on speculation that the first cut to the personal income tax rate in seven years will spur consumer spending. Abdullah proposed a range of tax exemptions for employers, from medical costs to maternity expenses.

Abdullah needs Malaysians to spend more as exports slow to the U.S., Malaysia's largest trading partner. The Asian nation's economy expanded at the slowest pace in a year in the second quarter as manufacturing eased amid a global slowdown and faster inflation hurt consumer spending.

Southeast Asia's third-largest economy grew 6.3 percent in the three months ended June from a year earlier, down from a 7.1 percent gain in the first quarter, the central bank said yesterday. Economic growth is forecast to ease to 5.7 percent this year and 5.4 percent in 2009, the weakest pace since 2005.

`Seize Power'

Anwar, who won a parliamentary by-election this week, has said he plans to lure enough lawmakers from the ruling coalition to form a new government next month. The former deputy premier has promised to reduce fuel prices should he seize power.

``The government is responsive to the concerns of the people and has taken measures to lighten the burden of all Malaysians,'' Abdullah said in his speech. ``Efforts by certain parties to destabilize the country by attempting to seize power through illegitimate means, and without the mandate of the people, must be rejected.''

Governments across Asia are spending more on subsidies to help the poor cope with higher oil and food costs. Inflation that the Asian Development Bank estimates may reach the highest in a decade in 2008 has stoked voter unrest in the region.

Malaysia's government subsidies on bread, cooking oil, fuel and programs to enhance food security will jump to 34.1 billion ringgit this year and total 33.8 billion ringgit in 2009, according to the finance ministry. Still, the ministry expects the budget deficit to narrow to 3.6 percent of GDP next year.

Dari PP ke Parlimen ke PJ

Dari PP ke Parlimen ke PJ

30 Aug, 2008

If I were asked to write this year’s MCKK Old Boys Association dinner-concert script, it would, again, be a musical. And the musical would of course satire the latest political scenario.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

The last time I ever got involved in writing a stage-play script for a MCOBA (Malay College Old Boys Association) dinner-concert was in 1996. That year we did a musical, a satire of the political scenario then. The musical opened with the late Pak Din, who played the role of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, ‘crying’ to the song of ‘It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to’. That was of course the year Mahathir cried during the Umno Assembly.

The musical was about Mahathir crying and lamenting about the rot and money politics in Umno (Money, money, money, it’s a rich man’s world), the stupidity of the Umno leaders (I don’t know much, but I know I love you), Anwar kicking out Ghafar Baba and taking over as Number Two, Tengku Razaleigh falling out with Nik Aziz and returning to Umno (Reunited and it feels so good), Rafidah and Siti Zaharah engaged in a duel, and finally Anwar getting kicked out of Umno.

Some say it was almost like a prediction and a prediction it certainly was. Everything in that musical actually happened.

If I were asked to write this year’s MCKK Old Boys Association dinner-concert script, it would, again, be a musical. And the musical would of course satire the latest political scenario. Lat Shariman would, as usual, play the role of Anwar Ibrahim, as no one can mimic Anwar better than Lat can. Rehman Rashid would probably direct the entire thing, as only he is despotic enough to control the most unruly MCOBA crowd who never turn up for concert practice on time. And who else but Dato’ Salahuddin Hashim should produce the concert.

And this would probably be what the musical would look like.

Anwar Ibrahim comes on stage to the song ‘The long and winding road’.

The long and winding road
That leads to PJ
Will never disappear
I've seen that road before
It always leads me here
Lead me to PJ

The wild and windy night
That the rain washed away
Has left a pool of tears crying for the day
Why leave me standing here
Let me know the way

Many times I've been alone
And many times I've cried
Anyway you've always know
The many ways I've tried

But still they lead me back
To the long and winding road
You left me waiting here
A long, long time ago
Don't leave me standing here
Lead me to PJ
Da, da, da, da

Then Abdullah Ahmad Badawi would make his appearance to the song ‘Yesterday’.

All my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay
Oh I believe in yesterday

I’m not half the man I used to be
There is Anwar hanging over me
Oh yesterday came suddenly

Why I have to go I don’t know
He wouldn’t say
I said something wrong
Now I long for yesterday

It was such an easy game to play
Now I need a place to hide away
Oh I believe in yesterday

Why I have to go I don't know
He wouldn't say
I said something wrong
Now I long for yesterday

It was such an easy game to play
Now I need a place to hide away
Oh, I believe in yesterday
Mm mm mm mm mm mm mm............

Then Khairy Jamaluddin would come on stage to the song ‘I’m a loser’.

I'm a loser
I'm a loser
And I'm not what I appear to be
Of all the fights I have won or have lost
There is one man I should never have crossed
Anwar’s a man in a million, my friend
I should have known he would win in the end

I'm a loser
And I lost something that's near to me
I'm a loser
And I'm not what I appear to be

Although I laugh and I act like a clown
Beneath this mask I am wearing a frown
My tears are falling like rain from the sky
Is it for him or myself that I cry

I'm a loser
And I lost something that's near to me
I'm a loser
And I'm not what I appear to be

What have I done to deserve such a fate?
I realise I have left it too late
And so it's true, pride comes before a fall
I'm telling you so that you won't lose all

I'm a loser
And I lost something that's near to me
I'm a loser
And I'm not what I appear to be

And this will be the song, ‘Get Back’, that will accompany Najib when he comes on stage.

Anwar was a man I thought would be a loser
Never knew it couldn't last
Anwar left his home in PP, Pulau Pinang
Now he’s headed for PJ

Get back, get back
Get back to where you once belonged
Get back, get back
Get back to where you once belonged
Get back Anwar

Go home
Get back, get back
Back to where you once belonged
Get back, get back
Back to where you once belonged
Get back Nwar

Datin Rosmah Mansor thought she was a woman
But she was another man
All the boys around her say she's got it coming
But she gets it while she can

Get back, get back
Get back to where you once belonged
Get back, get back
Get back to where you once belonged
Get back Anwar

Ah, get back
Yeah, get back
Get back to where you once belonged
Yeah get back
Get back to where you once belonged
Get back, Ooo

And what would a musical be without Mahathir appearing on stage to the song ‘Nowhere man’?

He's a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody

Doesn't have a point of view
Knows not where he's going to
Isn't he a bit like you and me?

Nowhere man, please listen
You don't know what you're talking
Nowhere man, the world’s not at your command

He's a blind as he can be
Just sees what he wants to see
Nowhere man can you see me at all?

Nowhere man, don't worry
Take your time, don't hurry
Leave it all till somebody else lends you a hand

Doesn't have a point of view
Knows not where he's going to
Isn't he a bit like you and me?

Nowhere man, please listen
You don't know what you're talking
Nowhere man, the world’s not at your command

He's a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody

Friday, August 29, 2008

Budget 2009: Bitter Sweet

Budget 2009: Bitter Sweet

By Tony Pua for The Malaysian Insider

The newly announced budget needs to be looked upon from two perspectives – macro and micro. From a micro perspective, the government must at least be given some credit for shifting its emphasis to what concerns rakyat the most today – that is the impact of record levels of inflation on the people's livelihood.

The prime minister spoke of a social safety net, encapsulated by the commendable measure to increase the threshold for welfare eligibility from the current RM400 per household to RM720, which is the poverty line for peninsular Malaysia. This will cost the government RM500 million.

At the same time, he also attempted to address the need for an efficient and convenient public transportation system. In this aspect, the government's effort is lukewarm at best.

Despite an impressive headline figure of RM35 billion allocated for public transportation, it actually only works out to RM5.8 billion a year over the next six years. In fact, if one looks carefully at the budget for the transportation sector, it has declined by RM1 billion to RM11.5 billion.

The education and training sectors are among those which benefited the most, with overall allocation increasing to RM48.8 billion from RM44 billion previously. This makes up a healthy 23.5% of the total budget.

However, while there were quite a few other sweets which were distributed fairly generously in this budget, I'm deeply concerned over certain macro developments on our budget which in the longer term may place our economy in jeopardy.

Firstly, I'm taken aback by the size of the increase in budget expenditure for this year, 2008 as compared to what was actually budgeted last year.

Last year we heard the government announcing a record budget of RM176.9 billion, but based on the latest figures, we will grossly exceed our budget by RM20.3 billion to RM197.2 billion.

This basically means that despite record revenue and a record budget, our government couldn't prudently control its expenditure (well, either that, or they couldn't do a proper budget).

What makes the issue more glaring is the fact that it is the operational expenditure i.e. rental, maintenance, stationery supplies, civil service wages etc, despite being at record levels in the budget announced last year, that busted the original allocation by 17.2%, increasing to RM151 billion.

Next year, the budgeted operational expenditure is another record RM154.2 billion. This figure is both shocking and scary as operational expenditure for the government when Abdullah Badawi first became prime minister in 2004 was only RM80.5 billion.

In just a short period of four to five years, government operational expenditure has increased by 91.5% or RM73.7 billion. This raises the question as to what the government is spending its money on which requires such substantial increase in operational expenses?

Even more worrying is the fact that most of the government's revenue is sourced from the petroleum sector. Last year, the estimated contribution of the sector to our government's coffers was 37%, but for 2009, this is estimated to increase to 46.4%.

Given that the bulk of our revenue is coming from a non-renewal resource, which may last us for only another two to three decades, it would have been better advised for the government to allocate part of this oil "lottery" revenue to future use for coming generations. Or at the very least, these funds should have been placed under development expenditure.

Instead, while development expenditure did increase in this budget, its proportion of the budget continues to drop and from 27.2% in 2008 it will amount to just 25.9% in 2009.

What's more, while the government trumpeted a drop in deficit from 4.8% in 2008 to a budgeted 3.6% in 2009, it fails to state that the initial budget for last year had a target of only 3.1%.

This means that the government has clearly overspent last year and it almost means that the government's budget cannot be relied upon as an accurate measure of government expenditure for the variation was so huge despite the finance ministers having earlier this year defended the target of 3.1%.

Even more importantly, it shows that our government is unable to contain the budget deficit, despite massive inflow of revenue, from RM139.9 billion in 2006 to RM176.2 billion expected in 2009.

Hence, the potent combination of our increasing reliance on oil and gas revenues, together with the government's seeming recklessness in spending it all (and more), I'm very worried about the financial health of the country in the future, especially in the light of greater economic competition coupled with a potential global economic slowdown in the next few years.

(Tony Pua is the MP for PJ Utara and DAP publicity secretary and former CEO of an IT company)