Getting Corruption Right

December 31, 2010

Friends and Fellow Malaysians, I wish to end this year (2010) with Jagdish Bhagwati’s article on “Getting Corruption Right”. It is my New Year fervent hope that our Government deals firmly with the corrupt in our country. In 2011, we will see two senior politicians, Tun Ling Leong Sik, and Khir Toyo in our courts. More can be expected given  the fact that the new year is likely to be an Election Year  (both National and Sarawak state elections).

2011 will be a challenging year for MACC's Chief. Good Luck, Abu Kassim

Political temperatures will rise, but I am confident that as a nation of mature and intelligent Malaysians, we will be able to stay sensible, rational, and responsible as we debate issues and discuss the future of our wonderful country, warts and all. –Din Merican

Getting Corruption Right

by Jagdish Bhagwati (December 29, 2010)

NEW YORK – I just returned from India, where I was lecturing to the Indian Parliament in the same hall where US President Barack Obama had recently spoken. The country was racked by scandal. A gigantic, ministerial-level scam in the mobile-telephone sector had siphoned off many billions of dollars to a corrupt politician.

But several of the MPs had also been taken aback on discovering that when Obama spoke to them, he read from an “invisible” teleprompter. This had misled his audience into thinking that he was speaking extemporaneously, a skill that is highly regarded in India.

Both episodes were seen as a form of corruption: one involved money, the other deception. The two transgressions are obviously not equal in moral turpitude. But the Obama episode illustrates an important cross-cultural difference in assessing how corrupt a society is.

Transparency International and occasionally the World Bank like to rank countries by their degree of corruption, with the media then ceaselessly citing where each country stands. But cultural differences between countries undermine the legitimacy of such rankings – which are, after all, based on surveys of the public. What Obama was doing was a common enough practice in the United States (though one might expect better from an orator of his ability); it was not so in India, where such a technique is, indeed, regarded as reprehensible.

India certainly has corruption, like almost every other country. But India also has a culture in which people commonly assume that everyone in public life is corrupt unless they prove otherwise. Even a blind man will tell Transparency International: “I saw him take a bribe with my own eyes.” Indeed, a distinguished Indian bureaucrat, a man of unimpeachable character, once told me that his mother had told him: “I believe you are not corrupt only because you are my son!”

So, if you ask Indians whether their governance is marked by widespread corruption, they will answer with gusto: yes! But their exuberance biases India’s global ranking relative to more empirically minded countries.

A similar bias arises from the occasional tendency to view political patronage elsewhere as being more corrupt than the same practices at home. For example, when the East Asian financial crisis broke out, there followed a systematic attempt to pin the blame on the affected countries: “crony capitalism” allegedly had somehow crippled their economies! In other words, the acquaintances and benefactors of the East Asian leaders were “cronies,” whereas those of US leaders were “friends”?

In fact, it was clear that the culprits were the International Monetary Fund and the US Treasury, which had encouraged a shift to capital-account convertibility without understanding that the case for free capital flows was not symmetrical with the case for free trade.

But where substantial corruption can unambiguously be found, as it often can, one must recognize that it is not a cultural given. On the contrary, often it is the result of policies that have fed it.

India in the 1950’s had a civil service, and a political class, that were the envy of the world. If that seems shocking today, the loss of virtue must be traced to the all-pervasive “permit raj,” with its licensing requirements to import, produce, and invest, which grew to gargantuan proportions. High-level bureaucrats quickly discovered that licenses could be bartered for favors, while politicians saw in the system the means to help important financial backers.

Once the system had taken root, corruption percolated downward, from senior bureaucrats and politicians, who could be bribed do what they were not supposed to do, to lower-level bureaucrats, who would not do what there were supposed to do unless bribed. Clerks would not bring out files, or get you your birth certificate or land title, unless you greased their palms.

But if policies can create corruption, it is equally true that the cost of corruption will vary with the specific policies. The cost of corruption has been particularly high in India and Indonesia, where policies created monopolies that earned scarcity rents, which were then allocated to officials’ family members.

Such “rent-creating” corruption is quite expensive and corrosive of growth. By contrast, in China, the corruption has largely been of the “profit-sharing” variety, whereby family members are given a stake in the enterprise so that their earnings increase as profits increase – a type of corruption that promotes growth.

In the long run, of course, both types of corruption are corrosive of the respect and trust that good governance requires, which can undermine economic performance in its own right. But that does not absolve us of the responsibility to define corruption properly – and to acknowledge obvious and important cultural differences in how it is understood.

Jagdish Bhagwati, Professor of Economics and Law at Columbia University and Senior Fellow in International Economics at the Council on Foreign Relations, is the author of Termites in the Trading System: How Preferential Trade Agreements Undermine Free Trade.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2010.

Selangor’s 1-Despair Scenario

December 31, 2010

1-Despair Scenario

by Tunku Abdul Aziz @ Sin Chew Daily

The banning of the 1Malaysia logo is an act of mindlessness. It is an exercise in absurdity of the kind becoming all too common in Malaysian politics.

The real Idiot is in the Red

The decision to proscribe the display of the 1Malaysia logo within the jurisdiction of the state of Selangor is childish to say the least, and that is putting it as charitably as I can. It reflects particularly badly on the maturity of the Pakatan Rakyat state government of Selangor.

It was clearly a decision made without reference to the top Pakatan Rakyat national leadership whom I know would not have countenanced such action.

This one rash, potentially suicidal, political decision is bound to reinforce, and lend credence to, the growing conviction among many Malaysians that some Pakatan Rakyat politicians are totally incapable of shaking off their doctrinaire attitudes, including that of opposing anything and everything for its own sake. Even as they now don the mantle of the ruling elite in the Pakatan Rakyat governed states, they continue to behave in much the same way as they used to under less favourable circumstances.

The logical question to ask is whether the Pakatan Rakyat, with its politically imbecilic camp followers in tow, could really be trusted to do a proper job of taking on a bigger and more demanding show – that of administering the Government of Malaysia.

On current showing, I should be less than honest if I did not say that they would have to be more savvy and sensible before they would get my vote of confidence. I should be careless in the extreme if I did not consider hedging my bets. The Pakatan Rakyat leaders have their job cut out for them – like knocking a modicum of common sense into some of their colleagues in the Selangor state executive council.

There is, to me, nothing fundamentally wrong with the express aim of 1Malaysia. Surely it is not a bad thing to want to unite all Malaysians. My quarrel with 1Malaysia, as articulated by Najib, with or without APCO’s hidden hand, is in its shallow, barely scratching the surface superficiality. It lacks focus, with the result that its true potential for serving the public good has been severely crimped, making 1Malaysia sound like one gigantic con job.

Najib would do well to remember, before throwing more good millions after bad, that the first syllable of the word “consultant” including APCO, is CON. But I digress. I am on record as being a fierce critic of 1Malaysia but I have not allowed my personal distaste for Najib’s cheap, hollow slogan to turn me into a foaming at the mouth, saliva dripping, bulging eyed, raving demagogue.

There are surely more important issues that the Pakatan Rakyat politicians can think of doing for the benefit of the people of Selangor. Instead they chose to fall over themselves to indulge in petty, immature grandstanding. The timing could not have been worse.

Their supporters and sympathisers, who had hoped for more sober and responsible behaviour after the very ugly public exhibition of unremitting internal squabbles in the recent PKR leadership elections, were, in the event, enormously disappointed.

While the crusade against the display of the 1Malaysia logo in Selangor is being justified on the ground that it is all part of the BN political propaganda, a message has arrived, via my mobile, as if on cue, as follows: “DAP cannot have double standards. The bylaws should apply to ALL.”

The sender alludes to the fact that DAP has used its party logo to publicise its Rocket Cafe in Petaling Jaya. Why, asks the gentleman, was no action taken by the local council? A fair point that requires an official response in the interest of transparency and accountability.

Pakatan Rakyat politicians have no business to claim the moral high ground and portray themselves as ethically and morally superior if they do not renounce hypocrisy and act strictly in accordance with the high ethical standards of behaviour expected of them by their supporters.

Putrajaya is many things to many people, but it is more than a shiny political trophy to be won by hook or by crook.

On balance, I daresay BN has made a reasonable go of it given the internal weaknesses inherent in a system of patronage with its infernal attendant preoccupation with rent seeking and cronyism. That system is set in a solid bed of unbridled corruption.

I understand the Pakatan Rakyat has its demolition team in the wings ready to smash the very foundation of corruption in our society. The Pakatan Rakyat has every right to set its sights on that glittering prize, but it first has to review and change, as appropriate, its whole range of attitudes before it can change Malaysia for the better. Otherwise Putrajaya will be a destination too far. It will merely be aspirational, a gleam in the eye, and a forlorn dream.

Lim Kit Siang’s “one-term wonder” should be taken to heart and reflected upon. It is a sobering thought and the best advice there is for the Pakatan Rakyat to act on.

Concerns over Growing Debt Load of the Al-Bukhary Group

December 30, 2010

Concerns over Growing Debt Load of the Al-Bukhary Group

Concerns are rising over the growing debt load in Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary’s companies now that the tycoon is expected to snap up the multi-billion ringgit tunnelling contract for the city’s RM36 billion train service and the Penang Port.

Former rice trader gets bulk of fortune from Malaysia Mining Corp. (MMC), through which he holds concessions to operate a port and an airport in Johor; owns stake in power producer Malakoff. Through listed Tradewinds, recently took over national rice supplier Padiberas Nasional. Owns Harrods in Malaysia.

Singapore’s Straits Times reported today that the Kedah-born businessman’s debts could be as high as RM25 billion, with RM21 billion itself incurred by his flagship MMC Corp although his officials claimed most of it is due to project financing.

“There are a host of corporate governance issues that plague his group and the chief among them is the rising debt load,” said one chief executive of a boutique financial consultancy.

“The fear is that his group could be the Renong of this decade,” said a senior politician from UMNO, referring to the politically well-connected conglomerate headed by businessman Tan Sri Halim Saad.

Renong feasted on infrastructure projects dished out by former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s government. But when the regional crisis hit in mid-1997, it was crippled by huge debts and was eventually bailed out with public funds.

The Singapore daily reported that in the past year Syed Mokhtar had emerged as “the single biggest beneficiary of state contracts and concessions worth billions of ringgit, making him Malaysia’s most favoured corporate son and the government’s partner of choice.”

But close associates of the lanky and reserved tycoon insist the debt concerns are misplaced and he is not biting off more than he can chew. The newspaper said they acknowledged that the debt load of Syed Mokhtar’s corporate flagship, publicly-listed MMC Corp, which stands at just over RM21 billion, may appear high. But the lion’s share of the debt is project finance, a complex form of financing reserved for large-scale infrastructure projects where the debt is typically repaid from funds generated from the businesses.

“The debt load is manageable and is high because of the nature of the businesses the group is involved in,” said a senior corporate lieutenant of Syed Mokhtar, who insisted it can easily raise funds to finance future projects.

But some Kuala Lumpur-based bankers are not so sanguine, noting that the financial returns from many of the group’s assets — such as its power plants — are poor yielding, and that its ports, which are not performing well, could suffer should the global economy enter a slump.

The newspaper also said the shares of the listed companies in Syed Mokhtar’s corporate empire “do not seem to appeal to conservative foreign and domestic fund managers”.

Born to a family of traders with roots in Bokhara, in present-day Uzbekistan, Syed Mokhtar began his business career peddling Thai rice to the state governments in northern Malaysia before riding the boom on the stock market in the 1990s.

The capital from trading in stocks provided him with financial heft for his first major venture: the purchase of a port in Johor which today is the Port of Tanjung Pelepas.

The Straits Times said by leveraging on his strong ties with politicians such as Dr Mahathir and current Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who at the time was the mentri besar of Johor, Syed Mokhtar moved into other areas.

Admirers and close associates told Straits Times that Syed Mokhtar is often favoured because of his lavish donations to Islamic causes and political contributions. His companies contributed around RM350 million last year to his own foundation, which focuses on education and religious causes, the newspaper reported.

However, it said critics argue that the businessman’s clout illustrates how the old patronage system where business and politics intertwine in Malaysia remains in force. “He is a master at the political game first and only then a businessman,” said a financial consultant who has done work for Syed Mokhtar’s group.

On Recovering Sime’s RM2.1 billion Loss

December 30, 2010

SakmongkolAK47 on Sime Darby’s RM2.1 billion Loss: Recovering only RM430 million

For a brief moment, most of us were probably reassured at the solemnness by which Sime Darby attempted to seek retribution. They lost RM 2.1 billion; they seek to recover a total of RM 430 million.

This amount must be what the forensic auditors recommended. RM 430 is a pure loss through breach of duty and management negligence.

The balance of the loss is operational loss and can happen through the ordinary course of business operations. The balance of the loss is therefore justifiable and not subject to recovery.

I don’t know what to say — you lose this amount of money, all you can come up with, is a civil suit? How dumb can that be? Why no criminal charges proffered? Sime doesn’t know the meaning of corruption?

How will Sime seek to prove management negligence and breach of duty? Is there some golden rule, you depart from which constitutes a breach of duty? Breach of duty means what? Negligent? Then when Idris Jala lost many millions of money through his negligent hedging should be asked to pay back the money MAS lost?

Nor Yaakob who has gone crying to see Tun Mahathir, horrified at the thought that he may be shown the exit from cabinet this time, should also be asked to pay back the money he lost when speculating on our currency. There are so many examples which will readily suggest that the move by Sime to recover money through civil suits is a stupid move.

How do you define breach of duty and negligence in business matters? Some people in Sime Darby who were before that, were probably touted as exemplary managers and excellent talent, were found to have caused Sime Darby to lose RM2.1 billion.

Sime is now seeking recovery for RM338 million from 4 people. It is further seeking recovery of another RM92 million. This means the total amount intended to be recovered is RM 430million. This will also mean that out of the RM2.1 billion lost, if only RM430 billion is the recoverable amount, then the loss of RM1.6 billion is considered loss from business operations. That is acceptable?

Clever, man (left). You come forward to pull wool over public eye by stating with the suitable and accompanying somber tone to say — we shall recover this RM430 million because of principle. People will laugh at this — because you have not fully explained how the RM1.6 billion is a loss that is justifiable and so, there is no need to recover. Sime people think it’s their father’s bloody money which they can lose.

We find it laughable amidst this gargantuan loss; some people in the Board of Directors have no iota of shame not to resign. I have written a long time ago, the entire board of directors should have resigned at the every moment the financial scandal came to light. If they had, they would still be around to be called in as witnesses to help us discover the truth.

So despite Sime’s at first sight, laudable move, there are so many questions unanswered. We shall have to do a bit of sleuthing.


PKR’s Only Policy is “MAD”(Mutually Assured Destruction)

December 29, 2010

PKR’s Only Policy is “MAD”

by Manjit Bhatia*

COMMENT: Perhaps combusting is the wrong word to describe the ongoing fracas within PKR. And maybe fracas is the wrong word to describe what clearly is amounting to a little more than a mêlée within the party that promised so much and has given little, if anything at all.

PKR’s disarray certainly must be disconcerting to its supporters, many of whom have been deserting it in droves, to those voters who took to the sidelines after the last general election, and to those who would become eligible to vote for the first time by the next poll, in 2012.

For all that, Anwar Ibrahim, the so-called spiritual leader of PKR, who is faced with his own set of personal legal woes, even if these have been politically concocted by his enemies, the ruling UMNO-BN coalition, of which he was once a high-profile member, has been quite curiously mum.

And maybe just as well – so far as UMNO-BN is concerned. Not that the ruling coalition would be worried otherwise, anyway. The fragmentation of PKR, having fallen under the spell of self-inflicted madness, has been deepening over the last 12 months.

And you can bet that UMNO-BN would be enormously gleeful about the growing prospects of regaining its two-thirds majority at the next election.

This is not to say that the 2012 poll will be a sitter for BN. But the more the accusations fly to and back, the more the dissent, suspensions, expulsions, recriminations and flight of leading politicians, the less it will take rocket-science calculations to suggest that UMNO boss and Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak will be sufficiently emboldened to call a snap poll in the first half of next year.

And he will likely take Sarawak to the polls with him, if only to protect that state’s chief minister, Abdul Taib Mahmud, and his ill-gotten wealth, just as Golkar did in protecting the Indonesian dictator and murderer, Suharto, his family and their ill-gotten wealth.

As ugly as PKR’s internal strife has looked, increasingly, it is has been extremely self-destructive. In fact PKR looks headed for calamity of the worst kind of self-annihilation.

The first round of the reformasi movement in the late 1990s had helped galvanise the regime’s opponents across the national political spectrum. It helped to forge PKR as a ‘viable’ political alternative to UMNO-BN. It had the ruling party on the run, seen glaringly by the 2008 poll result.

PKR should have been capitalising more on its popularity by hammering the ruling coalition for its embedded corruption, cronyism, nepotism and incompetence. It could have gone further to expose the out-and-out stupidity of most, if not all of its politicians, the regime’s policy bungles and its unrepentant, barefaced racism.

Instead it left these jobs to just two or three of its key and competent political hands, like Tian Chua and Pakatan Rakyat coalition partner DAP’s Charles Santiago especially, and perhaps Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh.

BN regains political momentum

The rest seem rather useless. For the rest have been too busy trying to cement their political positions by way of horse-trading, bitching, bellyaching, sitting on their hands and thinking that, like the UMNO-BN politicians, they too were entitled to equal measures of fame and fortune.

This, meanwhile, has allowed UMNO-BN to regain the political momentum through its usual, nefarious monkeyshines that are born of its long-renowned cowardice.

There’s no second coming now for PKR. The morphing of Reformasi I into its second, more vociferous and effectual reincarnation looks terribly impossible, even if Anwar were to be found guilty – again – for sodomy, and jailed.

Knowing the corruption that is inherent up and down in Malaysia’s ‘justice’ system, as indeed in its armed forces, the police and government, including most likely the cabinet, Anwar’s conviction and imprisonment will neither surprise his supporters nor him.

To that extent it is understandable that Anwar has been massively distracted from strictly running PKR and inspiring the party and its theologians for what it had promised Malaysians, or at least those whose souls the UMNO-BN had not bought like Satan.

Yet Anwar’s political debilitation also speaks volumes of his other serious weaknesses. The indictment he faces today is serious enough. It will almost certainly kill off his political career and ambition permanently.

He has become a lousy political strategist and an ineffectual leader. He has allowed other political leaders within PKR to develop tribalistic motivations and purely selfish intentions that stem, clearly, from the hunger for power and the material spoils of political office. This has now begun to seal PKR’s fate.

It matters still less if the likes of Zaid Ibrahim, either out of despair or desperation, tear themselves away from PKR to form their own opposition political parties. PKR is in tatters, but Zaid’s party , if he forms one, won’t last.

It’ll seriously lack the following required to make a 5 percent dent in the polls to be remotely relevant. And Zaid barely has the charisma that Anwar used to wield.

Fence sitting for disenchanted voters

Moreover, disenchanted supporters and general voters will return to sitting on the fence or, worse, vote for the devil they know than the devils that new parties spawn or the ones that PKR seems to have heralded.

They will vote for the BN coalition despite all the rot the regime has nurtured and protected that goes against the spirit of Negaraku and all other ludicrous, parochialistic tripe, so long as the economy plods on and their jobs are safe.

Therein lies another monumentally serious problem for Anwar and PKR: the sheer absence of any credible, alternative policies – real ones, in a real world, that seriously pursue the national interest, that will seriously challenge the regime at the next poll.

Since its formation, PKR has offered nothing. Rather, it has, at each turn, merely appealed to the basic political instincts and primordial sensibilities of the people. Its politicians, including aspiring ones, have employed parochialism and communalism wherever necessary.

pkr congress 281110 nurul izzah anwarAnd, ironically, it has promised that PKR is more just than the regime could ever be or has ever been.

PKR’s many failures require immediate redress. Its only policy has been MAD – mutually assured destruction. It looks too late for Anwar and PKR. The PKR ship is listing, badly. Salvage crews are deserting the ship.

More and more rank-and-file members are less willing to listen. They’re bailing out, even if Anwar’s eldest daughter, Nurul Izzah, positions herself to take over the party that has lost its way and shredded its promise.


*MANJIT BHATIA is an Australian academic, writer and journalist. He is also research director of AsiaRisk, a risk analysis consultancy. He now divides his life and work between Australia, Britain and the US.

The Erudite Professor Scott Thompson looks back at 2010

December 29, 2010

The Year of Living Learningly

W. Scott Thompson*

LOOKING back over this past year and what I wrote about at these weekly intervals, I’m struck by one principal thing. It hasn’t been a year of dramatic developments but one in which a great deal was done about big problems. I would start by saying that the single most important current is the new centrality of the “20”, whose meeting in South Korea was no doubt the prompting of North Korea‘s shelling of one of Seoul’s islands. For decades, the rich countries have given lip service and crumbs from the table to poor countries, but now the successful of the latter are at the table itself, and one can literally feel a consciousness-shifting throughout the diplomatic and economic worlds. 

And while we’re on the economic front, consider that what seemed so disquieting at the time — mobs in Greece, Spain, even London — have faded from noise to grunts of losers, who have had to accept that there is no free lunch. That some of the French may have to work until 62 rather than 60 is not something garnering any sympathy in this part of the world. The fact is that the French government just went ahead and implemented the new policy. There will be more cost-cutting to come.

I’m personally struck how systematic and perceptible have been the American implementation of new financial regulations. And the recovery has been astonishing, if you remember how dire the predictions of doom in late 2008 were. I personally endured a 65 per cent drop in equity-based pensions, and now the “loss” is down to 15 per cent. But that’s against a high-water mark that, as we saw, couldn’t be sustained. But it remains to be seen if Professor-President Barack Obama can get deficit reduction really going next year, in the face of his re-election plans.

And while we are on Obama, recall I wrote that it might be unwise to write him off when everything seemed to be crashing for him. We Americans got a Christmas bonus of the new Start treaty with Moscow, and an end to gay discrimination in the military. Both of these have much more symbolic import than procedural, but that’s what’s so important. Obama delivered on his pledge. He can’t work with the Congress? Show me.

If you want proof of real progress in the world, look at what’s going on right now in Cote d’Ivoire. The leading regional organisation, ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), has determined to use force if necessary to push the pretender president, Laurent Gbagbo, to step down in favour of election winner Alassane Ouatarra, a former IMF economist.

And today, a delegation of leaders is in Abidjan to demand that he vacate the palace. The thought that a sitting president would let a few percentage points against himself drive him from power was almost non-existent a few years ago. This will have bearing on the imminent transfer of power in Sudan, when the southern region votes next week to — inevitably — secede.

The paradigm in Ivory Coast is something the whole continent has to work against. An Ivorian physician named Houphouet Boigny was a minister in the French cabinet in the early 1950s, became the obvious president at independence in 1960, made his country an economic bulwark for 20 years, rigged every election and then engaged in such massive follies of self-indulgence that the economy cracked and with it the ethnic balancing that prosperity made possible.

Elections had almost always been a joke across the continent. A French professor observed that these results were “extremely predictable”. Gbagbo would never have permitted the elections if he had the slightest doubt that he’d lose his lush presidential palace. Well, the French know about African elections. They rigged them for several decades in the francophone area, and that’s part of the heritage to be unlearned as well.

I know I’ve sounded like a Luddite this past year railing against the Internet, gadgets and everything else that seems to absorb us in the IT world. Yet we are just beginning to feel the real benefits of a hooked-up world. Think not of iPhones but medicine. Most hospitals don’t even have a complete database on individual patients that can go from doctor to doctor — much less anywhere in the world.

Patients are notoriously forgetful of significant details in their medical history that would bear on future diagnoses. But we need every hospital in the world — and every patient — hooked up. It matters less now that computers can multiply their power every 18 months. It matters that they are hooked up together. We can’t even standardise power pins for cell phones. We have a long way to go.

As we approach New Year we begin to make our resolutions. I decided better to make these positive, in new things to do, learn, enjoy, rather than on the usually futile attempt to give up bad habits. Queen Elizabeth gave her Christmas message on sports. I’ve decided after a lifetime of avoiding sports (other than running marathons) to start enjoying them.

Watching Malaysia whack Indonesia on Sunday night was just great for a start. There was some bad feeling here on the losing side. But look how much such games do to bring people together. That’s overall — despite al-Qaeda, Robert Mugabe, suicide bombers and North Korea — what 2010 was about. Getting peoples and states together to make things better.

Finally, can I nominate a worst-book-of-the-year? George W. Bush’s memoirs. I laughed at the observation in a brilliant London review: Bush was “outraged” by the suggestion somewhere that he didn’t “care about black people”. He’d had Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice in his cabinet. The reviewer said, well, he got it half right. He didn’t care about people.

We’re doing a lot better now.

*W. Scott Thompson is emeritus professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University in the United States

The Ugly and Unsportsmanlike side of Malaysians

December 29, 2010

Suzuki Cup 2010 Finals: The Ugly and Unsportsmanlike side of Malaysians

by Syed Nadzri

IT almost turned into a night of shame at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil on Sunday, when sharp rays of light shot from laser pointers in the spectator stands disrupted play and almost caused the first leg of the Suzuki Cup football final between Malaysia and Indonesia to be abandoned.

And this is something those dim-witted fans responsible for that dumb act should know — they were not doing the Malaysian team any favours by trying to blind Indonesian goalkeeper Markus Harison with the laser pointers each time he was up against a set piece.

The offence, plus the discharge of firecrackers at one stage, seemed to have been forgotten and eclipsed by the euphoria of Malaysia’s 3-0 win. But it cannot be denied that the consequences of the fans’ misbehaviour could have been fatal to the team.

In fact, the match was on the brink of being abandoned when referee Toma Masaaki of Japan stopped play not long into the second half following repeated protests from the Indonesian bench over the laser nuisance.

And if the match had been abandoned then, Malaysia and FAM, its governing football association, would have landed in a lot of trouble, risking a ban and a hefty fine on top of having to concede the match to Indonesia.

To the fans who flashed the laser pointers, it was a stupid thing to do and you should have just stayed at home. Not only did it show the ugly and unsportsmanlike side of Malaysians, it could have turned the emphatic victory, which I thought the young Malaysian side fully deserved, into a hollow one. The Indonesians, I’m quite sure, will be quick to claim that the six-and-a-half-minute stoppage by the referee following the disruption had affected their concentration, thereupon causing them to concede the three goals which incidentally came not long after.

True enough, an Indonesian fan from Jakarta was on Twitter immediately after the final whistle, declaring that Malaysia had won the match through dirty tactics.

It must also be remembered that the Suzuki Cup Southeast Asian Nations final is, quite uncommonly, over two legs with the return leg due in Jakarta tomorrow (December  29, 2010). Malaysia is, therefore, still not the conclusive winner despite having a three-goal advantage.

So, we can definitely expect a hot and intimidating reception in Jakarta with the anticipated capacity crowd at Gelora Bung Karno Stadium. They await the Malaysian team’s arrival and, at this stage, have not ruled out Indonesia overturning the deficit. After all, the team beat Malaysia 5-1 in the preliminary stage last month.

In sports, Jakarta has given Malaysia hostile reception on many occasions before. Remember the 1967 Thomas Cup final at the Senayan Indoor Stadium?

There was almost a riot when Malaysia took the lead. Play was halted on so many occasions when the crowd heckled the Malaysian team led by Teh Kew San and started flashing their camera bulbs when Malaysian players were about to receive a serve. In the end, the match was abandoned and Malaysia was declared winner with a 6-3 scoreline.

Sunday’s gaffe in Bukit Jalil almost came to that. But we all hope it will not happen again in Jakarta tomorrow in the spirit of sportsmanship. Still, the big questions remain about Sunday night: Why was security so lax? Why was no one hauled up when Indonesia first protested as early as in the first half?

The worst part was that firecrackers were also ignited and thrown towards the pitch in the heat of the incident.  We saw it happen in some of the Malaysia Cup matches earlier and though Sunday’s disturbance was not as bad as the one that erupted in the Selangor-Kelantan match recently, it should have been menacing enough to make FAM sit up and do something.

Maybe it was too difficult, if not logistically impossible, to frisk all 85,000 people at the turnstiles. But, at least, the presence of security men in all sections of the stands could have minimised the risk.

But in the final analysis, the ball is at the fans’ feet. If they come to see a good game, they should know better. Shout Malaysia Boleh by all means, but keep the firecrackers for the Merdeka celebrations and the laser pointer for your power-point presentations in the office.

“The Simpsons” in real life

December 29, 2010

Nuclear Power Plants in Malaysia: “The Simpsons” in real life

by Mariam Mokhtar@

If ‘1Malaysia’ were a TV series, it would be ‘The Simpsons‘. Reading about Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s desire to have nuclear power plants in Malaysia is like watching a replay of ‘The Simpsons‘, the series in real life.

In both – the country and the cartoon, government and large corporations are portrayed as callous entities that take advantage of the common worker and authority figures are seen in an unflattering light. Politicians are corrupt and the local police force is incompetent.

Religion is a recurring theme and in times of crisis, the family in ‘The Simpsons‘ turns to God, whilst in real-life Malaysia, politicians are not averse to using religion as a manipulative tool.

In Malaysia’s own version of ‘The Simpsons‘, Najib can only be Mr Burns, the evil owner of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant who is attended to at all times by Waylon Smithers, his obedient and sycophantic aide, confidant and secret admirer.

Smithers has homosexual tendencies and enjoys an intimacy with power that most people will never experience. As I am not privy to the Najib administration or his household, I do not know who, in real-life could assume Smithers’ rôle.

Mr Burns cuts corners and endangers people’s lives. Najib is about to do that with his mad scheme of wanting two nuclear power plants for Malaysia even though he is aware of Malaysia’s poor track record of maintenance.

Our costly mistakes in the Defence Ministry (where a high level of technical expertise is critical) have shown that scant attention has been paid to contracts. Purchases of faulty or obsolete equipment, or non-existent items and the use of low-grade materials in construction and short-cuts in maintenance have resulted in wastage and death.

Just like Najib, Mr Burns is a stereotype of Corporate America. He has an unquenchable desire to increase his own wealth and power, coupled with a lack of concern for his workers, or for the safety and well-being of citizens of Springfield.

Springfield’s richest man built his atomic energy fortune from the ground up after inheriting his father’s atom-splitting factory. Najib built his career by piggy-backing on the reputation of his father, Malaysia’s second prime minister. Like Mr Burns, Najib has been able to control local elections and possess unparalleled power in the country.

Out of step with public opinion

Mr Burns’ state of mind is the subject of frequent jokes on the show. At times, he appears to be completely removed from reality. Looking at the NEM and various BN policies, it is obvious that Najib is also out of step with public opinion. Burns is unaware of the townspeople’s general dislike of him. Najib believes that his 69 percent popularity rating is a good sign.

Mr Burns is Springfield’s richest and most powerful citizen and he uses his power and wealth to do whatever he wants, usually without regard for the consequences and without interference from the authorities. Many will argue that the similarities between Najib and Mr Burns, are uncanny. Towns which have seen by-elections, like Sibu, can testify to Najib’s vote-buying.

Mr Burns spends his time in his office at the nuclear plant. Najib spends his time, when he is not on overseas trips, in Putrajaya. In Springfield, workers are monitored by closed circuit cameras. In Putrajaya, this is no different, where every corner spouts two, possibly more closed circuit cameras and is known to be Malaysia’s most ‘watched’ place.

President Truman thought Mr Burns to be the nation’s most trustworthy person and asked him to transport a specially-printed trillion-dollar bill to Europe as the USA’s contribution to the reconstruction of Europe. Similarly, Malaysians thought that its prime minister was the most trusted person and could only watch in vain as Najib frittered away the nation’s wealth with mega-projects, like the 100-storey Warisan Merdeka.

Burns resides in Burns Manor, a vast, ornate mansion on an immense estate. It is protected by a high wall, an electrified fence, and a pack of vicious attack dogs known as “The Hounds”. Najib lives in his official residence, the ostentatious Seri Perdana which is undergoing a RM65million refurbishment and is similarly well-protected.

Mr Burns routinely subjects Springfield and its residents to his abuse and, as a result, there is a general dislike of him throughout the town. On paper, we will be shown to have acquired the best and most expensive nuclear know-how. But the whole-world knows we are suckers.

What if we thought we were building a nuclear power that was built to specifications but because of Malaysia’s massive sub-contracting and Ali Baba schemes, we ended up with a nuclear facility that was inferior?

Shoddy quick-fix

What if the contract was not properly scrutinised and we found that we were liable for extra costs or maintenance? What if nuclear material went missing? What if terrorist organisations exploited our weakness? What if we invited the friendship of rogue nations because of their nuclear ambitions?

Those in government hardly care if the project fails or not. Those involved will have made their cut of the deal. We may think we are paying for the best when in fact, we are only paying for a shoddy quick-fix job engineered by Ali Baba companies. The disappearance of two jet engines is relatively minor when compared with a problem of nuclear proportions.

In ‘The Simpsons‘, Mr Burns has blackmailed and bribed various officials in Springfield, including the mayor and the nuclear safety inspectors.That is the scary bit. Will Najib or his administration also attempt to bribe the nuclear safety inspectors and thus endanger Malaysia?

Sadly, we do not have a loveable bungling Homer Simpson who will always manage to save the situation with his strokes of good luck.

No Substitute for the Truth

December 28, 2010

No Substitute for the Truth

by Citizen-Nades (R. Nadeswaran)

TO the scores of journalists and wannabe investigative journalists, London’s City University is the place to hone their skills. It has the best facilities and academics to help one transform oneself from a good journalist to a great one where you meet some of the biggest names in journalism on campus. For those not so privileged to seek a basic degree or a post-graduate title, there is always the Summer School where the luminaries of writing skills, investigative processes, masters of undercover operations, overt and covert information gathering, get an overview at its annual sojourn over three days.

While the cameraman displaying his dummy water-bottle with a hidden camera may create the oohs and aahs at demonstrations and while IT experts show how easy it is to hack into an email account, nothing beats hearing from the men who have done it all.

Having been two of the few Malaysians (the other being Terence Fernandez) who have had the honour of attending two such courses, it’s always a pleasure remembering the words from the people who had mastered journalism to an art. Who could forget the forceful words of award-winning journalist, GV producer and director, John Pilger, who has held a candle for journalism in our part of the world.

“It is too easy for Western journalists to see humanity in terms of its usefulness to ‘our’ interests and to follow government agendas that ordain good and bad tyrants, worthy and unworthy victims and present ‘our’ policies as always benign when the opposite is usually true. It’s the journalist’s job, first of all, to look in the mirror of his own society,” he says adding that a journalist must be a guardian of the public memory

Who can ever forget Andrew Jennings, the award-winning journalist whose work on football corruption had compelled FIFA head honcho Sepp Blatter to ban him from all official functions? But Jennings has been chasing bad and crooked sports officials for three decades and his four books justify his claim that football is crooked from top to bottom. The passion keeps him continuing his pursuit for truth and in the process, a few scalps.

But Gavin MacFadyen, the visiting professor at the university encouraged all us scribes, despite the restrictions and the obstacles paved before us, to continue to persevere. When asked what skills and qualities were needed in aspiring reporters, he said: “It’s not so much (about) skills, it’s mania. If you’re a maniac and really suspicious and compulsive – you’re going to do well, you’ll get the skills.”

That was last year but MacFadyen has since made significant progress and made headlines and his images have made the TC clips worldwide as a great supporter of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks which made headlines over the past weeks and threatened to bring diplomacy to its knees.

MacFadyen was the man who sat with us foreign journalists, talking about passion, the need to push the envelope, the requirement that investigative journalism takes you to the edge and that there’s no substitute for the truth.

These days, he is unreachable, perhaps a choice which he opted for. He seems over-indulged and immersed with the Assange affair on which he makes no secret that he is committed to. His name may not appear on the front pages like socialite Jemima Khan whose ex-husband was Pakistani cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan, but his whole-hearted commitment to free speech is something that should be admired.

Like Jennings, he makes no bones about addressing issues that affect society as whole, especially when it comes to something that they believe in. MacFadyen may now be impossible to reach for an interview, but as he taught us, perseverance always pays. As our search for the illusive interview continues, be assured that the readers of theSun will be the first to read about him, WikiLeaks and Assange. Wish me luck as I try and track him down while he may be having a quiet turkey dinner somewhere in the British Isles. In the meantime, Merry Christmas to all our readers.

R. Nadeswaran hopes to touch base with his former guru who has much more to tell the world which yearns for the unadulterated truth. Comments:

Pakatan Selangor State Government: Don’t Act in an insecure manner

December 28, 2010

Message to Pakatan Selangor Government: Don’t Act in such an insecure manner

by Khoo Kay Peng

Academician and social activist, Wong Chin Huat, put this up on his Facebook:

1Malaysia is indeed political and unlawful to appear on billboard under current by-laws. Selangor should not back down on this but the solution should be to lift the ban on all political logos. Pakatan Rakyat should stand for more freedom rather than less. What’s wrong with political billboard? Selangor should have put up anti-ISA and water right billboards instead.

I totally agree with Wong’s observation. The Selangor government does not have to act in such an insecure manner. Conceptually, there is nothing wrong with the 1Malaysia slogan or logo. If it can be realised, it is actually good for the country.

However, it is a fact that slogan does not unite people, policies do. Until and unless the Barisan government amends/abolishes the race supremacy concept and race affirmative policy, there can never be real unity in the country.

It is simply asking the government to respect and accept the equal rights of all citizens regardless of race or creed. These rights are enshrined in the  Federal Constitution. Granted, the Federal Constitution did make exclusive provision for the special privileges for the Bumiputras but it was made in the context of their socio-economic status at the time when the constitution was drafted.

Even the NEP was a good policy. It had helped to alleviate many people out of poverty and create a larger pool of Malay-Bumi professionals and middle class.

Politics is the biggest evil. Race politics and self-interest had manipulated the policy and the special privileges into an imaginary “supreme” social status.

KPI Minister Koh Tsu Koon was wrong to say that 1Malaysia helps to unite people. It does not because slogan is just another slogan. What helps to unite people is enshrined in Koh’s party constitution – the promotion of non-racialism and non-racial politics. As much as Koh is working very hard to promote the 1Malaysia slogan, he did not show as much enthusiasm and conviction in helping to promote the non-racialism spirit which was the bulwark of Parti Gerakan.

Similarly, the Pakatan state government should not ban the use of 1Malaysia logo on business related billboards. Two wrongs do not make a right. When the Barisan government bans any mention of Rosmah, Altantuya, Najib or any sensitive public issues on the national media, cartoon books, online etc., the opposition front had accused the Barisan government of being undemocratic. Strangely, it is now behaving like the opposite side.

Several activists and observers had criticized the Pakatan coalition and leaders for being too cosy operating in the same political mould created by Barisan. Pakatan state governments did not implement anything drastic, different or attempt to change the governance model left behind by the Barisan government.

Cut away layers of populist policies implemented by these state governments reveal nothing but the old way of doing things. There is a serious lack of innovation, creativity and enthusiasm shown by these new state governments.

The way forward is to be more open, flexible and accommodate differing political views and opinions.

Pakatan should focus on creating the same or even bigger momentum compared to pre-2008 general elections if it hopes to topple the Barisan. To date, the coalition is facing too many conflicting forces within its own ranks. Even the civil society does not appear to give their full backing to the newly minted coalition unlike during the 2008 GE.

It is time for Pakatan leaders to perform a thorough health check. They should lose their arrogance, ignorance, complacency and lack of common sense.

Lessons from WikiLeaks

December 27, 2010

Lessons from WikiLeaks for Us in Malaysia

by AB Sulaiman*@

COMMENT: In the last few weeks, WikiLeaks has been the focus of the world’s attention. Founder Julian Assange has followed the principle that a government might have secrets but these are not to be used to cover abuses. Bad government is bad for the country; that seems to be his credo.

So he leaked out inter-governmental documents despite the ‘secret’ or other similar labels stamped on them. It looks like human rights, open democracy and light-speed push button communication offered by the Internet has combined in a new version of the perfect storm, wreaking havoc to secretive cross-border communications.

Thanks to WikiLeaks we are now able to taste not only more of the spice of the hot curry of international politics but also to know the ‘off the record so please do not quote me’ other people’s views of us.

Is WikiLeaks good or bad; is it morally sound, is it legally tenable? And should we embrace this new communication ‘medium’ with all gusto and enthusiasm? I am no expert on the question of the morality and legality of this issue. But I am of the view that WikiLeaks is decidedly good for the country.

My reasons are basic. I am in favour of the good old fashioned way of running a country, especially one like ours whose buzzword is ‘nation-building’.

First, there should be open democracy. This means that the government is run on the rule of law, on the check and balance between the executive, legislature and judiciary; on power belonging to the people; on the people enjoying their human rights; on the government managed on the platform of transparency, responsibility and accountability to us the people.

Second, the country must develop economic sustainability. The national resources should be managed properly so as to generate good and continuous returns; that markets must be developed.

Thirdly, the human resource must also be developed. The people must be educated, be knowledgeable; that they must be taught or acquire some skills, and that they be professional whenever they perform their economic roles.

Transparency all but gone

In the first two decades after Independence the country has seen a lot of these principles. But at present I see very little of them. So many things have been done behind the cloak of national interest and security. Transparency is all but gone.

Consider the following:

First, the government has this penchant for secrecy in conducting state affairs. To begin with when our ministers are sworn to office they have to take the oath to protect government secrets; not truth, the constitution, or the people’s interest like most other ministers in other democracies do.

Also, many government business transactions like the purchase of military equipment (remember the French Scorpene submarine purchase?) are done on a negotiated basis, citing ‘national security’ for it.

Even civilian affairs would be labeled as such, like the contract terms and conditions given to highway concessionaires. I say that if a harmless highway concessions contract is deemed secret then many thousands of other lesser cases would easily be labelled as one too.

Furthermore, other national transactions like the sale of MAS shares to Tajuddin Ramli that caused the national carrier RM8 billion loss, has been declared as done in the name of ‘national interest’.

What more, even the construction of Putrajaya costing horrible billions was a state secret, with the people not knowing anything about it until the project was well under way.

Invariably these closed-door negotiations, projects and developments were done in the name of ‘national security’ and ‘national interest’. This in turn suggests jacked up prices, deliveries below specifications, huge kickbacks, wastages and total disregard of any economic principles; of corruption at the highest levels and involving obscene amounts.

Second, I’d say that our government has this easy tendency to label its affairs and their supporting and recording documents as secret, thereby beyond the people’s reach for discussion.

Third, the government has this practice of dealing harshly with lawbreakers or whistleblowers. Once a case is classified as secret then there are numerous laws to ensure for it to remains so, like the Official Secrets Act and the Internal Security Act.

These Acts are specially designed to protect government secrets (but more ‘abuse’ to me) from being leaked to the people. They are there waiting to pounce on ‘lawbreakers’.

Over-using ‘secret’ label

With this government penchant, it does appear that our government has been over-using the ‘secret’ label, so as to make its activities beyond the reach of citizens: how can a citizen say anything at all without falling prey into the ISA/OSA net?

With all these in mind it is obvious that the elements of transparency, responsibility, accountability are heavily compromised, and hardly visible to the people. They receive sugar-coated information, half-truths, if not downright deceits and lies.

This is where WikiLeaks comes in handy.

The good news is we have enjoyed a fair version of it through the works of people like Raja Petra Kamarudin, the doyen of Malaysian blogosphere (exposing many subjects including the selling of state honours), Barry Wain with his book on Mahathir Mohamad ‘Malaysian Maverick’ and of late Kua Kia Soong’s series of articles (Malaysiakini dated Dec ember 11, 12, and 13, in turn excerpts from his book ‘Questioning Arms Spending in Malaysia: From Altantuya to Zikorsky’) on defence spending.

There are of course many others too numerous to mention. They have one common message: expose government lies and deception, go for truth.

Put together, I agree totally with Assange that a bad government is bad for our country. So, yes, we need a WikiLeaks exposure.

Another form of WikiLeaks Malaysian-style has also been with us in the recent past. This time they are in the form of official comments and behavior patterns. Malaysian politicians and officials are prone to saying things that are crude, racist and anti-national in nature. I’d quote just some of the familiar ones:

1. Hishammuddin Hussein wielding a kris in an UMNO General Assembly.

2. Najib Abdul Razak saying ‘1Malaysia’, but his deputy saying ‘I am Malay first, Malaysian second’.

3. A Malay government or official will say to a Malay crowd: we are dependent on government help so help the government to stay in power.

4. To a Malay leader e.g Najib speaking during a Barisan Nasional convention non-Malays are equals. In Parliament recently he said the NEP is still required.

5. Ibrahim Ali is more specific: he claims the non-Malays are there to rob Malays of their special ‘rights as enshrined in the constitution’.

6. Malay leaders have variously made the trite remarks that non-Malays are pendatang (immigrants), children of prostitutes, si sepet (the slit-eyed), si kaki botol (the boozer), the one wearing a dog leash. The connotation is that non-Malays are here not as full-pledged citizens but as guests – if you don’t like this country or how it is governed, then just take the next Air Asia flight back to the country of your origin.


With all these Orwellian Double-speak and shenanigans, I reiterate, yes WikiLeaks is a Godsend to the country. The following are a few lessons we can learn from it:

1. On the part of the government, keeping things secret from the people is not the best way of running a country. The government would miss a lot of good and solid inputs from the people. The people will get to know them anyway.

2. In a democracy the power they enjoy has been entrusted to them by the people. The first thing that they should do is to have a lot transparency when performing their duties as public servants. In other words, they must do their work with professionalism and integrity, with moral courage.

3. When the people get to know the government’s secrets through leaks, their trust in the government will shrink. The government must learn to respect the very people they govern. After all, political leaders are the people’s nominees in the seat of government, and civil servants are just that – the people’s servants.

4. On the part of the officials, yes, they too have to bear in mind that power is not a one-way principle. It carries with it the element of responsibility.

5. With transparency and responsibility they have to be accountable to the people who put them up there and pay their salaries.

6. On both their parts they have to be aware of the reality that government secrets are all too easy to expose. People are more aware of nasty goings on and can share information at the press of a button.

7. They therefore should develop a fear for such exposures, fear of his integrity and honour (call that ‘mertabat’), plus that of his ethnic origin (‘Malay’) being severely compromised.

In short, nation building is best done with an open democracy, a well-managed economy, and a people committed to contribute their best in the wealth creation of the country. This in turn reflects the need for the government to treat the people as equals. And do away with secrets.

At the present time public opinion says that we are terribly short of these three items. WikiLeaks should therefore be treated as an alarm bell by our leaders.

Should our present crop of political leaders and officials pay heed to their responsibilities as public servants, and perform their duties with transparency, professionalism and moral courage, they need not worry about WikiLeaks, or any leak at all. They will not be accused and be guilty of running a bad government.

They stand tall with an intact mertabat. And, I dare say the present frustrating rate of nation building might then get a catalytic push forward.

*AB SULAIMAN is an observer of human traits and foibles, especially within the context of religion and culture. As a liberal, he marvels at the way orthodoxy fights to maintain its credibility in a devilishly fast-changing world. He hopes to provide some understanding to the issues at hand and wherever possible, suggest some solutions. He holds a Bachelor in Social Sciences (Leicester, UK) and a Diploma in Public Administration, Universiti Malaya.

1Malaysia Concept and Selangor State Ban

December 27, 2010

Selangor Government is not afraid of 1Malaysia concept, says Faekah Husin

by Shazwan Mustafa Kamal@

The Selangor government is not afraid of the 1Malaysia concept as it is nothing but a propaganda tool by UMNO-Barisan Nasional (BN), Faekah Husin said today.

Faekah, who is political secretary to Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim defended the state’s recent decision in banning 1 Malaysia billboards, insisting that the slogan was just a political gimmick aimed at snaring voter support.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has, however ,defended himself over the issue, saying that 1 Malaysia was meant to foster unity, and had nothing to do with politics.

“This slogan in any form does not mean anything to us, let alone scare us. The state government’s resources will be aimed at instilling proper values, combating corruption and ensuring justice for all,” Faekah said in a statement today.

The political secretary questioned Najib’s claims, saying that if 1 Malaysia was apolitical, why was it not debated during the last Parliamentary session.

“If it is true that it (1 Malaysia ) is a unifying factor and not an UMNO-BN propaganda, why has this never been debated or brought up in Parliament? Why is it not included in Budget 2011 seeing as the costs for this ‘lovely’ slogan has gone above RM100 million?” she said.

Faekah claimed that the 1 Malaysia concept was only discussed in Parliament after Pakatan Rakyat (PR) de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahm alleged that APCO Worldwide that helped Najib coin the term.

“Even when it was finally brought up, what was it for? To punish the Opposition leader for speaking the truth. What’s evident is that the entire process of 1 Malaysia’s creation has been covered up, that’s why four Opposition MPs were suspended without a right to defend themselves,” said Faekah.

PKR had earlier linked 1 Malaysia to former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak’s One Israel campaign, saying both shared the same public relations consultants, APCO Worldwide. Najib had also denied that charge, saying it was his own idea.

Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was suspended for six months from Parliament last week for claiming the link which is politically sensitive as Malaysia does not have ties with Israel due to the Palestinian issue.

Anwar has now changed tack, saying his claims was not about One Israel but concerns over accountability and the contract with APCO, whom he claimed had worked with disreputable regimes across the world.

Faekah accused Najib’s 1 Malaysia of being meaningless as long as double standards still existed between UMNO-BN cronies and ordinary citizens.

“What is the meaning of 1 Malaysia if the Syabas CEO Tan Sri Rozali Ismail can earn RM425,000 a month but the company itself is in RM2.9 billion worth of debt?

“What about leaders who get RM534 million in commission for the acquisition of submarines? Or the RM12 billion loss in the PKFZ scandal?” added Faekah.

The Selangor government said earlier today that its state-wide ban on 1 Malaysia billboards was legitimate, but said that it only applied to business advertisements/billboards and not buntings for political functions.

State executive councillor Elizabeth Wong told The Malaysian Insider that the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) government fully backed Selangor housing and local government committee chief Ronnie Liu’s move in banning 1 Malaysia billboards.

According to her, the local by-laws on the ban had already been in place since 2007, stressing that it was “nothing new”. A few days ago, English daily The Star reported Liu remarking that 1 Malaysia billboards were a political message from the BN federal government and were not allowed under local by-laws.

DAP Advisor Lim Kit Siang has urged Selangor to rethink its 1 Malaysia billboards ban, to disprove BN’s claims that PR was afraid of the concept.

Penang Port goes to Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary

December 26, 2010

Penang Port goes to Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary

Tycoon Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary has won the race to take over the Ministry of Finance’s (MoF) Penang Port Sdn Bhd (PPSB), adding the northern port operator to his maritime logistics operations.

The Malaysian Insider understands that the Cabinet approved the sale at its meeting this week despite competitive bids from other top businessmen and also the Penang government, which owns the port land.

“The Cabinet has decided in favour of Syed Mokhtar,” a source told The Malaysian Insider, saying the tycoon’s company will buy into the port operator and the ferry service between Penang and Butterworth. It is not known what price the government had agreed on but sources said it will be finalised soon.

The influential businessman already owns Port of Tanjung Pelepas and Johor Port via MMC Corp Bhd, whose joint venture with Gamuda Bhd were also named Project Delivery Partner (PDP) for the RM36 billion Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) project in Kuala Lumpur.

Sources said Syed Mokhtar was the preferred contender as he already owned ports and airports although another Putrajaya-friendly tycoon Datuk Siew Ka Wei was keen to purchase PPSB through Ancom Logistics Bhd, whose chairman Datuk Abdul Latif Abdullah used to be PPSB chairman.

PPSB is a wholly-owned subsidiary of MoF Inc while the regulator, Penang Port Commission (PPC), also reports to Putrajaya through the Transport Ministry. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak recently named MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek to head the PPC.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng wrote to Najib in early December to put in a bid to run the port, which has declined since the MoF took over in 1994. The port lost its free port status in 1974.

It is learnt that cargo volumes have failed to match Port Klang and Tanjung Pelepas, growing only 5.8 per cent a year between 1995 and 2009, against Klang which grew 14.2 per cent annually.

Syed Mokhtar’s Tanjung Pelepas port began in 1999 but now handles more than six million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) a year, six times more than the one million TEUs in Penang.

Penang has complained that federal ownership of the port operator has worsened its financial position, with net debt rising from RM148 million in 2004 to RM832 million in 2009 — a 462 per cent increase in five years.

Apart from the debt, any company taking over PPSB will also have to find nearly RM400 million to dredge the port channel and attract larger vessels there.

PPSB is already carrying out dredging in the North Channel to ensure it goes from 11.5m to between 13.5m and 14.5m in the coming year.

PPSB has been planning to privatise and float its shares on Bursa Malaysia since 1996, but it was not able to do so because of the loss-making ferry service. A plan to hive off the ferry operation to Syarikat Prasarana Negara Bhd last year also fell through at the last minute.

The ferry service has been a major hindrance to state-owned PPSB’s listing plans in the past due to the losses incurred, running into some RM13 million to RM15 million a year.

PPSB made RM77.74 million in after-tax profit in 2009, up from RM22.70 million the previous year despite revenues falling to RM268.54 million in 2009 against RM277.04 million in 2008.

State government sources said Lim could bring in enough businessmen and experts to run PPSB, which needed funds to deepen the port’s channel and also modernise its wharfs and berths.

“Lim has a few ideas to turn around the port and make it perform better,” a source said, pointing out that Penang owns the port’s land and waters and would have a say over who eventually owns PPSB.

Lim’s DAP colleagues had told Parliament on November 24 that Putrajaya should come clean on whether Syed Mokhtar had bought into the management of PPSB, which is led by Penang Umno leaders such as PPSB chairman Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahya and its managing director, Datuk Ahmad Ibnuhajar.

A unit of Syed Mokhtar’s diverse infrastructure and logistics conglomerate was awarded a 4G network provider licence recently while another subsidiary is interested in acquiring the North-South Expressway (NSE).–

Deals and Last Minute Sting Jobs

December 25, 2010

Deals and Last Minute Sting Jobs

by SakmongkolAK47

I am not going to listen to the usual flippant answer- you don’t know? Why it’s all designed to fatten the war chest of UMNO and BN- that’s why we have all these deals. That is like saying every chicken road-killed is because UMNO is in power and every road-killed chicken in the kampong is the fault of the local assemblyman.

Buying Over Sunrise Bhd

Get a hold of yourself, people. So let’s go behind the reasons why for example these people in decision making positions decide to buy over Sunrise Bhd. What they will do perhaps is to create instant billionaires who will invest in China and Singapore. UEM which has its HQ in a very tall building at KL Sentral does not know how to build high rise condominiums? Those people in UEM land must be dullards or what.

With RM 1.4 billion they can go get all the kwailos out there to come work in Malaysia and build all the tall buildings they desire that reach into the clouds. With the same amount of money, they can entice the whole property team at Sime Darby Properties to work for UEM. No, let’s go behind and ask more awkward questions.

RM43 billion, no longer RM36 billion MRT Deal: Why the rush?

Let’s go behind, why there is a rush to award the RM43 billion job or part thereof to Gamuda-MMC. Obviously some people are getting fabulously wealthy by orchestrating this deal. Why is Putrajaya forming a SPV to finance this project when it was announced the last time, this was to be private sector project financed by private sector? Here is why. Make public the liability, make private the profitability.

UEM and EPF and Jelas Ulung: What’s that?

Or why now, UEM and EPF who together control almost 70% of the PLUS highways appear to balk at an 11th hour offer by a little kichimayung Jelas Ulung. Maybe there is some collusion and conspiracy to defraud. Or why people in MAS are buying a large number of airplanes without justifying the purchases to the volume of passengers? Because maybe, large amount of commissions exchange hands.

Does the money go to UMNO and BN? Come on, they go to the finders-keepers  people. UMNO, BN and the government can always be the bogey-man. In that spirit, let’s play around with the most recent drama unfolded at Khazanah’s doors with a little nudge from Jelas Ulung.

When the CEO of Khazanah pompously declared that PLUS highways are a critical national asset and the same sentiment was echoed by the choir boys at EPF and UEM, the issue should have come to an end. But when Jelas Ulung comes forward and offers more meat in the form of explicitly saying they now have firm source of financing and now they won’t ask for tax waivers and now they will also reduce or maintain the toll rates- all these sound and appear to be done as if in response to instructions from above.

It suggests, for example, people in Khazanah telling some people out there- hey you go back to the drawing board- come back to us with a new proposal at the last minute, with some novel adjustments to pluck the holes in the entire previous proposals.

That would allow those people in Khazanah and EPF and UEM to say in unison, this is a polished deal worth deliberating. We shall now recommend to the shareholders and to impute a disinterested sense of fair play on the whole thing, we shall abstain from voting.

Suddenly, those boys who previously pompously declared that PLUS highways must be retained at all cost because they are a critical national asset are passing the buck to other shareholders. Why the sudden pious retreat? It’s money, money always sunny in a rich man’s world.

Thinking of Aretha Franklin

December 25, 2010

Thinking of Aretha Franklin

By Bob Herbert

Nineteen sixty-seven was a tough year in many respects — riots, protests, an unwinnable war — but I can’t think of it without thinking of the glory of Aretha Franklin, a woman in her mid-20s, introverted and somewhat shy, who sang soul and rock ’n’ roll with the power and beauty of a heavenly choir.

Newark and Detroit went up in flames in 1967, and neither city was ever to recover. Muhammad Ali, a perfect physical specimen in his absolute athletic prime, was convicted of dodging the draft and stripped of his world heavyweight championship. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. endured a hurricane of criticism when he came out publicly against the war in Vietnam and called the United States government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

If you were lucky, you could close the door on the din, at least for a little while, and reach for the record album with the head and shoulder shot of Aretha positioned at a precarious angle on the cover. The album was called “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You,” and if you listened closely, if you paid attention, it would just thrill you, take you to a place of exquisite human feeling. A region of laughter and tears. Of love and joyous possibilities.

I would turn the volume up and up and up, and just ride the music: “You’re no good, heartbreaker …” “Don’t let me lose this dream …” “R-e-s-p-e-c-t …” You could hear the gospel influence, and the blues, as you allowed that voice of hers, the most gifted of the era, to carry you beyond the ordinary.

Aretha, now 68, recently had surgery and is very ill, reportedly with pancreatic cancer. I spoke a few days ago with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who is very close to the Franklin family. He was reluctant to speak in detail, saying only that Aretha is home from the hospital, that the surgery was “successful” and she is “recovering nicely.”

For someone with such an abundance of talent and fame and riches, Aretha has had an extremely difficult life. Tragedy seemed to stalk her. Her mother, Barbara, an accomplished gospel singer, left the family when Aretha was just 6 and died a few years later. Aretha and her siblings, including an older sister, Erma, and a younger sister, Carolyn, both talented musicians, were raised by the formidable C.L. Franklin, a renowned preacher and close friend of some of the biggest names in black music. (Frequent household guests included the gospel singers Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward, and the remarkable Sam Cooke.)

Reverend Franklin was shot in the head by someone who broke into his home in 1979 and remained in a coma for five years until his death. Carolyn Franklin, who wrote the transcendentally beautiful “Ain’t No Way” for Aretha, died of cancer in 1988 at the age of 43. Erma Franklin, a singer who had a hit with the song “Piece of My Heart” (later recorded by Janis Joplin), died in 2002.

Aretha suffered through rough relationships with men, chronic weight problems and bouts of despondency. But always there was the music, the splendor and artistry and grace of Aretha when she was at her best, which was often. As the author Peter Guralnick has put it: “Aretha staked out a claim for the ecstatic transcendence of the imagination.”

Rolling Stone magazine ranked her No. 1 on its list of the 100 greatest singers of the rock era, calling her “a gift from God.”

My sister Sandy’s 18th birthday and high school prom happened to fall on the same day in 1967, so there was a big party at our house after the prom. One song after another from “I Never Loved a Man” was played loudly, again and again, and all these beautiful teenagers, their lives about to get going in earnest, were doing intricate dance routines to the music. Aretha was an ecstatic presence in the house as surely as if she’d been there in person. She was like a sister to every one of the kids.

Aretha has had a lifetime of musical success, but it’s difficult to overstate both the greatness and the stunning impact of that one album. Guralnick described it as Aretha virtually exploding on the soul scene. In a telephone interview this week, he recalled hearing the title song from the album on a speaker outside a record shop in the Roxbury section of Boston. It was a cold day, and strangers, moved by this exciting new record, were dancing on the sidewalk with one another. They were thrilled, like so many others, by the music of this great American artist.

So a toast or a prayer for Aretha this holiday season would be terrific — just a moment of appreciation and a wish that she continue recovering nicely.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on December 25, 2010, on page A29 of the New York edition.

Doing Things Malaysian Style

December 25, 2010

After all, this is Christmas Day. How about a little fun at our own expense. This is  a peak into  doing things Malaysian style. I am sure Mongkut Bean, Frank, Tok Cik, Thai Mayor of Changlun Tean Rean, Danildaud, Menyalak-er, Kathy and others will enjoy this parody of sorts. I must admit these actors are really creative. –Din Merican

Nurul Izzah: PKR’s Rising Star

December 25, 2010

Nurul Izzah : The Rising Star of People’s Justice Party (PKR)


When Nurul Izzah Anwar was elected last month to one of the senior leadership posts in the People’s Justice Party  (PKR) at the age of 30, she became the youngest person to hold such a position in the Malaysian party’s history.

Her success in contesting one of the four vice president positions came just two years after she was elected to Parliament, but her public image has been more than a decade in the making and is inextricably tied to one of Malaysia’s most recognizable politicians.

The eldest daughter of Anwar Ibrahim, Ms. Nurul Izzah traces her political birth back more than a decade, to when Mr. Anwar, a former deputy prime minister, was jailed on charges of sodomy and abuse of power.

The jailing of Mr. Anwar, who was released in 2004 after the sodomy charges were overturned, was a pivotal event in his transformation into the leader of Malaysia’s opposition. It also propelled Ms. Nurul Izzah, just 18 at the time of her father’s arrest, into public life, beginning with an impassioned plea for her father’s freedom before the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

Now, as her father, who was re-elected to Parliament in 2008, faces a second sodomy trial that he denounces as a government conspiracy to thwart his political return, Ms. Nurul Izzah’s own political star is rising. Her recent victory has cemented her position as a key player in the People’s Justice Party, which her father founded and of which her mother, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, is president.

“I don’t think after going through 1998 it would be possible to retreat back to a non-political life,” Ms. Nurul Izzah said, referring to her father’s first arrest.

While some analysts view her election to one of the party’s top posts as an important step toward emerging from her father’s shadow, others take it as a sign that Mr. Anwar’s family is engaging in dynastic politics.

In an interview in the opposition offices of the Malaysian Parliament, Ms. Nurul Izzah, the only one of Mr. Anwar’s six children to follow their parents into political life, insisted on her independence.

“Of course I love my father dearly, but at the end of the day, I am a legislator in my own right,” she said. “I have to fight my own wars, and I have my community and constituents to serve. I am answerable to them.”

She emphasized that she was not appointed but rather elected by the party’s members after campaigning against 17 contenders for the four vice-presidential posts.

“I am proud of the fact that we had to fight,” she said of the internal party contest. “I believe the fact that we have implemented direct elections as a way to choose our leaders was the best way to celebrate democracy in the party and to prove that no one particular individual can hold sway in terms of affecting the decisions or the outcomes.”

She also said that campaigning for her father’s freedom had been her own decision, and not the result of family pressure. “It was the right thing to do,” she said.

It was her work with human rights organizations as well as her father’s arrest, she said, that gave her an understanding of “the things that matter in Malaysia — the state of our judiciary, the state of our civil and political liberties,” and convinced her that politics offered an opportunity to effect change.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in engineering in Malaysia, Ms. Nurul Izzah completed a master’s in international relations at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

She returned to Malaysia in 2007 and was coordinating the People’s Justice Party’s activities in Lembai Pantai, a suburban Kuala Lumpur constituency, when the party asked her to run for Parliament in the 2008 election.

“I had just had a baby then, but in a sense, that was an important move, I felt, in trying to garner support from our young voters,” said Ms. Nurul Izzah, who has two children with her husband, Raja Ahmad Shahrir, who works for the management consulting firm, Accenture.

She defeated the three-term incumbent Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, who is now the minister for women, family and community development, contributing to impressive gains by the opposition and, for the first time in nearly four decades, the governing party’s loss of the two-thirds parliamentary majority needed to amend the Constitution.

Her father’s most recent tribulations inevitably give rise to the question of whether Ms. Nurul Izzah could eventually step into his shoes as leader of the opposition.

As his second sodomy trial proceeds, the People’s Justice Party has said that there is a succession plan in the event that Mr. Anwar is jailed again. It has been a turbulent season for him. Last week, he was suspended from Parliament for six months for linking the government’s “1 Malaysia” national unity program with a similar campaign in Israel.

While Ms. Nurul Izzah said the party must “prepare for the worst,” she sidestepped the question of whether she could be a possible successor to her father. “It’s not about me or what role I would play, but what’s our strategy moving forward,” she said.

Ong Kian Ming, a political analyst and lecturer at UCSI University in Kuala Lumpur, believes that Mr. Anwar would continue to be the party’s de facto leader even if he returns to prison, and that the next step for Ms. Nurul Izzah would probably be the deputy presidency. If her mother stepped down from the presidency, the current deputy, Azmin Ali, would normally be next in line, but Ms. Nurul Izzah could always challenge him for the top job, Mr. Ong said.

“She’s at the forefront of a small group of leaders who can and will replace Anwar eventually,” he said.

Bridget Welsh, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Singapore Management University who taught Ms. Nurul Izzah at Johns Hopkins, said her leadership potential was evident early on. But despite the “small steps” Ms. Nurul Izzah has taken to distance herself from her father, Ms. Welsh said she was still “perceived rightly or wrongly as her father’s daughter” and must blaze her own political path.

Mr. Ong said that any critics within the party had so far kept any resentments about her rapid rise to themselves, and that the young politician had yet to be vigorously tested by internal or external opponents.

“She’s not really been put through the fire,” Mr. Ong said. “It will be interesting to see how she responds when that moment of political crisis comes about, and it will come.”

Ms. Nurul Izzah has repeatedly stressed the need to overcome ethnic and religious divisions in Malaysia, where tensions periodically flare, like the firebombing of places of worship early this year.

She has warned that Malaysia is at risk of becoming a “failed state” if it does not address such tensions and take on issues like the quality of the country’s universities, corruption and laws that prevent free speech.

While her rise through the party’s ranks has been rapid, overcoming such challenges is likely to require a sustained effort. But Ms. Nurul Izzah emphasizes that she is in for the long haul.

“In terms of promoting and advocating reform,” she said, “I think it should be a lifelong struggle.”