Utusan Malaysia to Malaysiakini: Apologise


September 30, 2012

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Utusan Malaysia to Malaysiakini: Apologise

Utusan Malaysia has called on Malaysiakini to “apologise” to all Malaysians over allegation that the news portal is financed by currency speculator George Soros. In Mingguan Malaysia – the weekend edition of Utusan Malaysia – today, Awang Selamat, a pseudonym for the paper’s editors, also asked if Malaysiakini intends to cease being “a tool of foreigners”.

“With all the proof, do not claim to be an independent news portal. It is akin to shooting yourself in the foot. There is  still time for (the portal) to return back to the right path as this involves the sovereignty of the nation,” wrote the unidentified columnist.

He blamed the alleged foreign funders for the “anti-government” stories that he claimed were supportive of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. Utusan had been on a campaign running various allegations against Malaysiakini that include reports of a former Malaysiakini editor YL Chong alleging the Soros link by suggesting that one of the portal’s directors, Harlan M Mandel is a “Soros man”.

However, the pro-government daily has not carried any reports on Malaysiakini chief executive officer Premesh Chandran’s clarifications and rebuttals of the allegations.

It has also not reported that former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad had made amends with Soros and had even once asked the billionaire to support his anti-war programme Global Peace Forum.

Premesh noted that the accusations made now are a rerun of the campaign 11 years’ ago that had been amply rebutted, and questioned the mainstream media for linking Mandel with Soros.

Perkasa: Mandel financed Bala meet

Meanwhile, expanding on the Jewish conspiracy theory, Malay rights pressure group Perkasa has demanded Subang Jaya MP Sivarasa Rasiah and also lawyer M Puravalen to explain whether their meeting on July 2, 2008 with former private investigator P Balasubramaniam and blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin was financed by Mandel.

Mingguan Malaysia also reported Perkasa’s information chief Ruslan Kassim alleging that Mandel and Soros were financing the “slander” of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

“Malaysians have the right to know who financed this agenda to smear the country, government and its leaders,” said Ruslan, also questioning who had financed the cost of the alleged fake photograph of murdered Mongolian interpreter Altantuya Shaariibuu with Najib.

It was reported that Puravalen has denied reports made in the New Straits Times and also Utusan Malaysia and has sent legal letters to the two pro-government dailies to demand an apology or face a lawsuit.

Previously, Malaysiakini has disclosed that Mandel only joined the portal as a director last year after he took helm as the Media Development Loan Fund, one of Malaysiakini’s investors.

The Ryder Cup 2012: The US Team takes a Comfortable Lead


September 30, 2012

The Ryder Cup 2012: The US Team takes a Comfortable Leader

by CNN Sports

Two Ian Poulter-inspired victories offered Europe a glimmer of hope in their quest to retain the Ryder Cup after another day dominated by brilliance from the United States.

Despite Poulter’s heroics, David Love III’s team took a commanding 10-6 lead with only the 12 singles match to come on Sunday.

The last time a team came back from such a large deficit was at the infamous clash at Brookline in 1999 when Justin Leonard capped a superb fightback for the United States.

But after taking five points from a possible eight on offer, Love’s side are firmly in the driving seat and on course to record their first victory since 2008.

Day Two of the Ryder Cup as it happened

Sunday would have been a procession had it not been for England’s Poulter, who revels in the matchplay format in the Ryder Cup and kept European captain Jose Maria Olazabal’s dream alive.

He made five straight birdies on the final five holes as he and world No. 1 Rory McIlroy wrestled a point from Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner.

And his ten foot putt on the final hole to secure victory was greeted with wild scenes of celebration from a European team that had looked down and out at one stage on Saturday.

“It comes from within,” Poulter said of yet another strong performance in the Ryder Cup. “If we can do anything to get our hands on this trophy, with Seve (Ballesteros, who died in 2011) looking down on us, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

“We’ve got a chance and that’s all we could’ve done. We’ve got to take it to them tomorrow – it’s that simple. I want to go out early tomorrow.”

McIlroy said of his afternoon partner: “We needed something to happen, some sort of spark, and after 13, Ian took over from there.All the credit needs to be put on this man. We can feed off his positivity, for sure. We clawed it back thanks to some incredible golf from Ian.”

Shortly before Poulter and McIlroy’s victory, Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia held on for a narrow victory over Steve Stricker and 14-time major winner Tiger Woods, who has now lost all three matches he has played in Chicago.

But in the afternoon’s other two matches Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson trounced Justin Rose and Francesco Molinari 5&4 while Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson defeated Paul Lawrie and Nicolas Colsaerts one up.

Earlier, Poulter and Justin Rose spared Europe a humiliating whitewash in the morning foursomes. The English pairing edged past Watson and Simpson, grabbing a precious point on the 18th green.

“It was absolutely key. Jose put us out number one for a reason and that was to get a point,” Poulter said.

Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley

But it was the high point on an otherwise miserable morning for the European team.Lee Westwood and Luke Donald were hammered 7 and 6 by Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson with Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson heaping on further misery with a 2 and 1 win over Nicolas Colsaerts and Sergio Garcia.

Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell were also unable to stem the U.S. tide conceding defeat to Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker on the final green.

Despite their two dramatic victories on the 18th green, Europe still have a mountain to climb on Sunday, needing eight points from the 12 on offer to retain the trophy.

No to International Mediator Role, says Dr. Mahathir


September 30, 2012

No to International Mediator  Role, says Dr. Mahathir

by Bernama

NEW YORK: Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has ruled out taking up the role of an international mediator similar to the ones performed by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair or United States (US) President Jimmy Carter.

He said this during an informal meeting with Malaysian students on Saturday at the Malaysian United Nations (UN) mission in New York.

After the conferring of the Rafik Hariri United Nations Habitat Memorial Award on Mahathir Friday night, some guests were privately asking if he would not make a good mediator for resolving international disputes, given his wide-ranging international experience and his elder statesman status.

“No, I don’t think I am qualified for such a role,” he told Bernama, adding in a lighter vein that the “world will not listen to me and people will do what they like…so, I would discount such a role.”

Mahathir looked relaxed as he fielded questions from the students on issues ranging from the political situation in Malaysia and Malaysia’s transition to a developed nation, to the China-Japan conflict.

“You need a strong government to manage a multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious country like Malaysia,” Mahathir noted.

Return home, students told

He also advised the students not to forget the culture and values they brought from home when studying in the West.

“We begin to change in terms of our values and culture after staying in developed countries. Some may even say that we (in Malaysia) are not as progressive as in the countries where you have studied.When you compare something good with something better, then your own country doesn’t look so good. But when you compare your country with something not so good, then even the bad things begin to look good,” he told the students.

He also urged Malaysian students to return home after completing their studies and offer their expertise for nation-building.

“Help Malaysia realise its goal of becoming a developed country by 2020,” Mahathir said, pointing out that Malaysia, despite the global downturn, was still growing and “defying gravity”, as the Financial Times recently put it.

Looking mentally sharp and alert for his age, 87-year-old Mahathir recalled that at the time of Independence from British colonial rule, Malaysia seemed to have been written off, with critics saying that the country would not survive because of its multi-ethnic and multi-racial composition.

“We decided to share our wealth between our communities –- Malay, Chinese and Indian. It’s better to have a smaller slice of the cake than the full cake.

“By sharing the cake, we offered opportunities to the other communities as well,” he said, explaining that Malaysia had thus ensured economic growth and prosperity.

Striking a balance

He said that Malaysia was blessed by nature and, unlike some of its neighbours, had not been at the receiving end of natural disasters.Mahathir also spoke against corruption, saying that the person giving bribe was as guilty as the person taking it.

On the recent riots in several Muslim countries over an anti-Islam film made by an individual in the US, he said that he favoured freedom of expression but there were limitations to it, particularly when it hurt the feelings of others.

On the escalating China-Japan tensions and the US role in the conflict, he said: “…You have to be willing to compromise and strike a balance.”

He cited Malaysia’s examples in reaching deals with its neighbours by taking a ‘reasonable stand’ when conflicts or issues arose.

Mahathir and his wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali were welcomed at the mission by Malaysian Ambassador in Washington, Othman Hashim.

Muhammad Afiq Hassan, a student at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, read out a welcome address on behalf of the students.

- Bernama

Slow Death of Damascus


September 30, 2012

Slow Death of Damascus

by Bunn Nagara@http://www.thestar.com.my

When no solution or resolution is allowed to work for Syria, it could just bleed to death.

THE Syrian conflict has morphed into a painful and dangerous war of attrition for five reasons, none of them the official one of scale.

The purported reason so frequently cited by international media and diplomats, that of 30,000 dead and counting, and 1.5 million refugees, is a result of the spiralling conflict and not a cause of it.

The first of the actual reasons is the continually escalating conflict with no apparent or conceivable limits. If a country can be said to bleed to death, Syria tragically is at gravest risk of doing so.

The second reason is that all the parties to the conflict are actively engaged in the escalation, with none of them having any interest in stopping or even mitigating it.

The third is that external parties with an interest in Syria continue to fuel the flames. Iraq and Iran are said to be contributing in different ways to the Syrian government’s armed might, while Saudi Arabia and Qatar are known to be providing material or logistical aid to the rebels.

This already has the makings of a Shi’ite-Sunni conflict on the verge of spreading well beyond Syria. The regional rivalry between Shi’ite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia is poised to multiply exponentially.

Fourth, whereas a stronger Syrian military can swiftly dispatch a weak opposition and end the agony of war, the situation is muddied and muddled with inputs from abroad. The opposition is well-armed with a Free Syrian Army supported by Egypt, Turkey, the Arab League and the odd combination of Islamist militant groups and Western powers.

The result is a nation teetering on the brink of destruction while being torn apart from within and abroad. The conflict is simply not allowed to resolve itself forthwith either militarily or diplomatically, while the life of the nation is steadily drained away.

Among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Russia and China refused to add to the conflict by approving military intervention. The US, Britain and France as the other three condemn this inaction without considering how their own support for forcible intervention can bring peace.

The fifth reason for Syria becoming a potential time bomb in the region is a deepening split between even the self-proclaimed champions of peace. Where it is already difficult enough to resolve the conflict through inclusive talks, the rift between different sets of exclusive dialogues can only make things worse.

The US-led Friends of Syria group that comprises the US, the EU and the Arab League specifically excludes Iran, despite Teheran’s prominent role in Syria. Western officials baulk at any thought of including Iran without realising that talks have to be more open and less restricted and partisan.

And as might be expected, the Friends of Syria has failed to show any promise in resolving or even limiting the conflict. Despite Egypt not sharing Iran’s perspective of Syria, it has invited Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to join a contact group to work for peace.

At the same time, Iran is working with an even broader focus in proposing a 12-nation group to end the conflict. In contrast, the Friends of Syria looks dated and inadequate.

Much the same can be said of the UN role, or what remains of it. UN and Arab League Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi (picture right with Kofi Annan and UN Sec-Gen Ban Ki Moon) can only go through the motions of diplomacy, saying little and doing even less.

In political science, a protracted stalemate is a condition frozen into inconsequential irrelevance. In the messier world of government, it is a painful and unsustainable paralysis deriving from mutual destruction between fellow citizens.

Such a situation like Syria’s is not static but dynamic in the most chaotic way possible. It actively grinds, wears down and pulverizes both sides without offering any hope of better days ahead.

Brahimi sees it differently, of course, but then he is an interested party. He conceded that the Syrian situation was “extremely bad and getting worse,” yet added that things would get better later.

That supposed light at the end of the tunnel could be a fully loaded oncoming freight train. Actually, the deadly chaos which is the Syrian nightmare, is a lot worse because it continues to worsen.

Brahimi gave no basis for predicting a better future for Syria and Syrians. That means the deliverance he purports to foresee is what must follow the destruction of the country: when nothing can possibly get worse, anything that happens next is bound to be better.

That may seem like cynicism, but the seasoned diplomat did not mean to be cynical. The implication, therefore, is that through all the muck in the mire, there is not going to be any “awakening” from the Syrian nightmare.

Syria’s current realities say it plainly enough. Rag-tag bands of violent militants with questionable ideologies, armed by dubious foreign sources, are battling the state with deadly force under cover of a presumed moral legitimacy.

The battle cry is against authoritarianism, but Syrians have lived with that for some 40 years of Assad family rule without requiring a violent uprising to save anyone. But in the current regime-change mentality, past gains are easily forgotten.

After coming into office first as Prime Minister and then elected as President, Hafez al-Assad (Assad senior) provided Syria with political stability and development.

He steered clear of religious extremism by separating religion from politics, ensured women enjoyed equal rights, and even amended the Constitution to allow non-Muslims to become President.

Far from being anti-Western, he tried to make peace with Israel and even joined the US-led alliance against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1990.

Among the enemies the elder Assad made was the Muslim Brotherhood, which forced him to retreat from the Constitutional change. Then when the Brother­hood staged an armed revolt in 1982, he hit them hard by killing thousands.

His son and successor Bashar al-Assad lacks his political pedigree and policy adaptability, and that has proven to be a policy setback. Promised liberal reforms largely remained undelivered, the few moves towards change were slow, and eventually Damascus was overtaken and overwhelmed by events.

The resulting irregularities have produced singular anomalies. Brahimi, for example, is simultaneously supposed to represent a neutral UN and a partisan Arab League.

He substituted for Kofi Annan, who quit after a ceasefire call went unheeded, Western powers withheld support, and a plan to involve Iran was opposed.

For Syria, Damascus had implemented all six of Annan’s recommendations which were not honoured by the rebel side. Western news agencies lately reported intensified fighting in Aleppo and Homs, but the situation has so deteriorated that violence has actually escalated throughout the country.

Meanwhile, Qatar has signaled the likely introduction of no-fly zones, the strategy against Libya that also meant direct military intervention from abroad. That again could be making matters worse in the guise of making them better.

If moral legitimacy derives from honesty and consistency rather than hypocrisy and double standards, Qatar and Saudi Arabia would also be supporting the rebels in Bahrain.

But that would be a slippery slope for them, since the regime-change mindset could extend further afield to other Gulf kingdoms like themselves. Awakenings can be contagious.

Aliran:Bemused by Criticism of Malaysiakini


September 30, 2012

Bemused by criticism of Malaysiakini

By Aliran Executive C0mmittee
An Emerging Force in Malaysia

Aliran is bemused again. Last week, the focus of attacks was on Suaram. This week, they have turned their attention to Malaysiakini.

In our statement in response last week, we mentioned how foreign interests are affecting the minds and lives of Malaysians, virtually on an everyday basis. We made references to the influence of the English Premier League, BBC and CNN telecasts into millions of households in the region.

More seriously we highlighted how we measure economic growth in terms of, among others, the quantum of FDI. Why, we even want to draw in foreign investors that may be environmentally harmful e.g. Lynas’ rare earth refinery, RAPID in Pengerang, Johor and aluminium smelters in Sarawak!

We also highlighted US support for military exercises involving the Malaysian military via the Office of Defence Cooperation in support of the US Embassy in Malaysia and the US Pacific Command. (We should have also mentioned the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition, now in its 12th edition.)

None of the critics of Suaram bothered to respond to these points. Neither did they show us HOW Suaram is undermining democracy by receiving foreign funds.

Now we are told that it is not proper for foreigners to hold directorships or other stakes in local media outfits!But then, we note that a leading “integrated consumer media entertainment group in Malaysia and Southeast Asia with operations in four key areas of business, namely Pay-TV, Radio, Publications and Digital Media” has a non-independent, non-executive director who appears to be a foreigner.

If we are talking about moulding public opinion, why only talk about the media? Why not talk about foreign public relations groups and spin doctors such as APCO which are in the business of shaping public opinion to promote certain leaders and political parties as paragons of virtue especially as elections approach? Is this not trying to influence public perception falsely as certain quarters are now accusing Malaysiakini of?

Since we are talking about moulding minds, what about education? We now have foreign universities invited to establish branch campuses in Malaysia. Often the curriculum is adapted from abroad and taught by foreign lecturers – and in the English Language too!

Then there are the international schools in Malaysia. Quotas or restrictions on Malaysians attending such schools have now been relaxed. Increasingly, these schools now have free access in shaping young and impressionable local minds – an exposure which could be equally dangerous!

If we want to stretch this ridiculous argument, what about the tens of thousands of Malaysian youths who have been sent abroad by the government and their parents to further their studies in Europe, America, South and East Asia, and the Middle East? Wouldn’t they too have imbibed foreign values and ideologies?

The Malaysiakini Pioneers

Much ado has also been made about an Opposition politician’s small stake in Malaysiakini as if that would affect its editorial independence. In that case, what about UMNO’s ownership of Utusan and MCA’s ownership of The Star, Nanyang and China Press? Doesn’t that compromise their independence? Doesn’t that have an even greater impact in undermining media independence?

Instead of making vague insinuations and innuendos, critics of Malaysiakini should give us clear examples of how the foreign presence on its board or foreign funding has resulted in a diabolical foreign agenda creeping into Malaysiakini’s reporting that threatens to undermine democracy.

By the way, Aliran does not receive any foreign funding for any ongoing programmes nor do we have a foreigner sitting on our board of directors. Why, we don’t even have a board of directors! But we won’t make any insinuations against others just because they might have a foreigner on their board. After all, we live in an era of globalisation.

Aliran Executive Committee
29 September 2012

 

Time for some Entertainment


September 30, 2012

Time for some Entertainment

The Budget 2013 Speech was delivered by the Prime Minister Najib last Friday. The debate continues in Parliament while both the mainstream and alternative media have given their take on the budget proposals and we ourselves have expressed our opinion on it. Now let us have some entertainment.

Dr Kamsiah and I thought that we should bring you music from contemporary singers in Indonesia for this weekend. We think they are talented and outstanding because they have passion for music. So, let us start with some slow romantic songs by Melly Goeslow, Ari Lasso, Roosa and the dynamic Ruth Sahanaya.

We then bring in Harvey Malaiholo, a favorite of Din’s, who ends our entertainment with four of his popular tunes. Harvey has a great voice and it does not surprise us that he is popular in his country but also in Malaysia. We hope you like our choices. Have a great weekend.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

Melly Goeslow

Ari Lasso

Ruth Sahanaya

Rossa

Harvey Malaiholo

Budget 2012: Fulfilling Promise to the People


September 29, 2012

http://www.nst.com.my

Fulfilling Promise to the People

2013 BUDGET: Full text of the Budget speech by Prime Minister and Finance Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday

MR Speaker Sir, I beg to move the bill entitled “An act to apply a sum from the Consolidated Fund for the service of the year 2013 and to appropriate that sum for the service of that year” be read a second time.

I begin the 2013 Budget speech by reciting the holy kalimah Bismillahirrahmanirrahim and by reciting a verse from Surah Al-Baqarah, which was revealed in Madinah:

“And everyone has a direction to which he should turn, therefore hasten to (do) good works; wherever you are, Allah will bring you all together (for judgment); surely Allah has power over all things.”

I am here in this august house on a Friday evening to table the government’s budget, the fifth since holding office of the minister of finance Malaysia in 2008. Praise be on Allah SWT, for with His blessings and through the collective efforts of my colleagues in the administration and the support of the members of parliament, civil servants and all Malaysians, our beloved country has been successfully shielded from the adverse effects of the global financial crisis. In fact, the economy is on a sustainable growth trajectory towards transforming into a high-income and developed economy, while the well-being of the rakyat continues to be improved.

Indeed, the 2013 Budget continues the excellent tradition of the Barisan Nasional in prospering the country and improving the well-being of the rakyat. This is a manifestation of a promise fulfilled. Since the last 55 years, Malaysians have placed their trust in the same government at every stage of the nation’s development. We thank you for your trust. We have never betrayed the people. Instead, we have repaid the trust given to us manifold.

This government has never promised the moon, the stars or the galaxy. We have never painted a pretty picture based on wishful thinking. As a responsible government, we continue to speak the truth even though it may be unpleasant. We have never misled the rakyat with tall tales. On the other hand, we have always offered solutions and provided good leadership to every problem faced by the rakyat.

It is proven beyond doubt that the Malaysian economy is centred on the rakyat. It is the outcome of the vision and aspiration of the rakyat. It is a testimony of the hard work of the rakyat. The economy is the contribution of the rakyat in urban and rural areas, professionals as well as blue-collar workers, farmers, labourers, farmers, smallholders, fishermen, teachers, lecturers and artistes. The economy is supported by civil servants and entrepreneurs. Above all, the economy is managed carefully and prudently by a government which places the well-being of the rakyat as its ultimate objective. This is the formula for the success of Malaysia.

Managing a complex multiracial country like Malaysia is not easy. It requires sincerity and intelligence because Malaysians are a discerning lot. In fact, the rakyat has given the mandate to the same government 12 times since 1959, indicating that this government has done the right things.

The trust that exists between the rakyat and the government cannot be broken no matter how strong the lies. In this regard, the Budget that I am tabling is in appreciation of all Malaysians who have placed their trust in us all this while.

2012 Economic Performance and 2013 Prospects

The government remains committed to ensuring the nation’s economic growth continues to flourish despite uncertainties and challenges in the global economy. The nation’s strong economic fundamentals, supported by an accommodative monetary policy, have placed the economy on the right path. In the first half of 2012, the economy expanded 5.1 per cent mainly supported by robust private investment and consumption. In tandem with improved investor confidence in Malaysia as a major investment destination, net inflows of foreign direct investment (FDI) amounted to RM13.6 billion.

For 2012, despite moderate global economic growth and trade, the Malaysian economy is estimated to expand strongly between 4.5 per cent and five per cent. Growth will be driven by private investment at 11.7 per cent to RM127.9 billion. The performance far exceeds the total investment in 2009 at RM81 billion. The trend reflects the growing vibrancy in domestic investment, particularly with the implementation of projects under the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP). This will support the construction sector to surge 15.5 per cent in 2012 from 4.6 per cent in 2011.

The strong domestic economic environment also boosted the encouraging performance of the stock market. This was reflected in the increase of the FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI to reach a record high of 1,654.11 points on September 4, 2012.

Market capitalisation increased 44 per cent from RM999 billion as at end-2009 to RM1.43 trillion on September 4, 2012. Per capita income increased to almost RM31,000 in 2012 compared with RM25,000 in 2009. The international reserves position remains strong at RM432.2 billion on September 14, 2012, sufficient to finance 9.5 months of retained imports and is 3.9 times the short-term external debt.

In 2013, based on the prospects of an improved global economy, the Malaysian economy is forecast to expand strongly between 4.5 per cent and 5.5 per cent. For the first time, the nation’s nominal gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to exceed RM1 trillion. The higher growth is supported by private investment and consumption at 13.3 per cent and 5.7 per cent, respectively. The construction sector is expected to increase 11.2 per cent followed by the services sector at 5.6 per cent.

2013 Budget Allocation

The 2013 Budget will allocate RM251.6 billion for the implementation of development projects, programmes and measures, with focus on the well-being of the rakyat and national development. Of this amount, RM201.9 billion is for Operating Expenditure while RM49.7 billion, for Development Expenditure.

Under Operating Expenditure, RM58.6 billion is allocated for Emoluments and RM33.7 billion is allocated for Supplies and Services. Meanwhile, RM107.3 billion is allocated for Fixed Charges and Grants, while RM1.1 billion is provided for the Purchase of Assets. The remaining RM1.2 billion is for Other Expenditures.

As for Development Expenditure, RM30 billion is allocated to the economic sector for infrastructure, industrial, agriculture and rural development. A total of RM11.1 billion is allocated to the social sector, including education and training, health, welfare, housing and community development. In addition, RM4.6 billion is allocated for the development of the Security Sector, RM2 billion for General Administration and RM2 billion for Contingencies.

In 2013, the Federal Government revenue collection is estimated at RM208.6 billion compared with RM207.2 billion in 2012. Taking into account the estimated revenue and expenditure, the Federal Government fiscal deficit will further decline to four per cent of GDP in 2013 from 4.5 per cent in 2012. This reflects the government’s commitment to continue reducing the fiscal deficit to a lower level.

2013 Budget Focus

The 2013 Budget will focus on improving the quality of life of the rakyat, ensuring sustainable economic growth, spending prudently and reducing the fiscal deficit with the overall objective of prioritising the well-being of the rakyat. The government will ensure that the rakyat enjoys excellent services and obtains maximum benefits from the implementation of development projects and programmes. The 2013 Budget is, therefore, designed based on the theme “Prospering The Nation, Enhancing Well-being Of The Rakyat: A Promise Fulfilled”, with focus on five key areas.

Read On: NST: Najib’s Budget Speech on September 28, 2012

Dr. Mahathir wins the Rafik Hariri Award


September 29, 2012

Dr. Mahathir wins the Rafik Hariri Award for Leadership, Statesmanship, and Good Governance

by Bernama@http://www.nst.com.my

NEW YORK: Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad received the 2012 Rafik Hariri United Nations (UN) – Habitat Memorial Award at a ceremony held at the New York Public Library here last night.

The award was presented by Hariri’s widow, Nazek Rafk Hariri, who is also Rafik Hariri Foundation President.  Dr Mahathir 87, was named winner of the award in June, by the award’s steering committee in recognition of his leadership, statesmanship and good governance.

The award, named after the now-deceased Prime Minister of Lebanon, Rafik Hariri, was established by the Hariri family, jointly with the UN-Habitat through the Rafik Hariri Foundation since March 2009.

Leadership, Statesmanship and Good Governance

It is given to individuals, organisations or institutions worldwide for significant accomplishments in the areas of leadership, statesmanship and good governance, construction and reconstruction of settlements and communities, human resource development, and benevolent activities in fighting urban poverty and the implementation of the Habitat Agenda.

Dr Mahathir is the second recipient after Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Dr Mahathir thanked the Foundation and the UN Habitat for conferring him the prestigious award, believing the award was for Malaysia, more than it was for him.

“I deem it a great honour, especially as this award is named after a remarkable man whose leadership qualities and contribution towards the rehabilitation of the war-ravaged city of Beirut and Lebanon is incomparable.

“Without the culture of sharing among the multi-racial, multi-religious people of Malaysia, without their love for peace and stability, Malaysia would not have been able to grow as it has done”

“I knew Rafik Hariri when he first visited Malaysia. We immediately became close friends and I visited Lebanon at his invitation to see the damage wrought by the fratricidal war. Rafik promised he would rebuild Beirut as it was before the war. And, he delivered on his promise.

“I visited Beirut after the restoration and I felt sure that a great future awaits Lebanon under his leadership. In many ways, I was like him. I wanted to develop Malaysia just as he wished to develop Lebanon. But he was less fortunate because he did not have the stability of Malaysia. Nor, was he given the time,” he noted.

Meanwhile, Nazek in her opening speech, said Dr Mahathir was a role model, an inspiration to all and his resolve and vision proved that dreams could be turned into reality and nations could earn, with faith and hard work, a bright future.

“Under your wise leadership, Malaysia has earned a central role on the world map and The UN-Habitat and Rafik Hariri Foundation proudly recognise Malaysia’s former Prime Minister and the Malaysian outstanding experience.

“The award ceremony is held this year at a very critical time for our country and for our region. As we sadly witness, in some part of the Arab world, innocent blood is shed. This is a moment of great responsibility indeed. The UN and the free world are responsible more than any other time, for ending all acts of war and violence,” she said.

Meanwhile, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN-Habitat Dr Joan Clos said, Dr Mahathir presided over an economic development period that was remarkable for urban social and technological innovations.

“Dr Mahathir’s life and work show tremendous forward-looking policies. By explicitly investing in physical, technological and knowledge infrastructure, he was also in many ways, ahead of his time,” he said.

Clos said Dr Mahathir’s efforts resulted in the rapid planned development of key Malaysian cities and transformed the country from an agriculture-reliant economy to an urban industry-focused one.

Courting Extremism: Playing with Fire


September 29, 2012

Middle East Online: Playing with Fire

Courting Extremism: Playing with Fire

by Prof. Abbas J. Ali (first published on 09-18-12)

The killing of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens (left) and three other Americans, though tragic, is only the beginning of a gathering storm where unprecedented bloodshed will be the dominate scene in the region,predicts Abbas J. Ali.

In her comments on the most recent violence engulfing the Arab World, Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, declared (September, 14) that the people in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Tunisia “did not trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob.” While this statement may appeal to various quarters in the West, for Middle East experts and the progressive forces in the region the violent eruption is a predictable outcome of misguided foreign policies that stress short term gains at the expense of world stability and the future of the Arab people.

For decades, US Middle East foreign policy has been driven by two primary considerations: preserving Israeli regional supremacy and ensuring the security and survivability of the Arab authoritarian regimes. While the first goal has been aggressively sought, the vitality of the second has been occasionally, though reluctantly, questioned.

George W. Bush, in a speech in 2003, at the 20th Anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy, declared that “60 years of western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe.” In the same speech, he praised Arab dictators as champions of democracy stating that Egypt under Hosni Mubarak showed “the way toward peace . . . and now should show the way toward democracy in the Middle East.”

The popular uprisings, which took place first in Tunisia and which rapidly energized the masses across the Arab World, at first caught policy makers in Washington off guard. Indeed, the uprisings could have shifted the balance of power against authoritarian regimes and toward empowering the youth and the patriotic progressive forces. This would have profoundly changed the political landscape and eventually would have been a major setback to Washington’s design for the region.

It was for this very reason that President Barack Obama (November 30, 2011) declared that the popular protests in the Arab World presented a formidable challenge that must be managed in a way that allowed Washington to “be very firm with respect to the security of our allies. And obviously, no ally is more important than the state of Israel.”

He went on to say that “we do have enormous challenges in making sure that the changes that are taking place in Egypt, the changes that are taking place throughout the region do not end up manifesting themselves in anti-Western or anti-Israel policies.”

Initially, policymakers in Washington entertained two options for containing the popular uprisings: closely working with the Arab dictators to co-opt popular uprisings by introducing half-baked reforms, and capitalizing on well trusted ethnic, tribal, secular, and religious groups to hijack the uprisings and marginalize the patriotic progressive elements. However, the rapid crumbling of Hosni Mubarak’s regime made the first alternative irrelevant.

Policymakers, therefore, had to revisit their options and determined to rescue other Arab dictatorial regimes facing immediate threat (e.g., Yemen, Morocco, Jordan, Bahrain, etc.) while coordinating activities with wealthy Arab states. Coordinating activities focused on means of effectively unleashing religious groups and altering the directional goal of the uprisings. While policymakers in Washington have an understanding of the efficiency of religious groups in derailing the popular uprisings, they differed on whether all or select religious groups should receive support. Two camps emerged with sharply different approaches.

Top Pentagon brass, including General Martin Dempsey (left), the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, opted not to provide weapons to any religious group without knowing their aims and outlooks. The experience in Afghanistan in the 1980s and the rise of Al-Qaeda were on the minds of the leading figures of this camp.

The second camp, including the CIA and those in the administration who espouse the neoconservatives’ scheme for the region, argued that religious groups, especially the Salafis, can swiftly deliver goals and are easily manipulated and managed by friendly Arab governments. Furthermore, this camp made a powerful argument that monitoring these groups in the battlefields and communicating with them could enable Washington to infiltrate or dictate their agenda.

Facing unfamiliar circumstances and a rapidly shifting regional balance of power to the advantage of the regional resistance forces and Iran, the Obama Administration espoused the second camp’s vision. Thus, Washington deliberately acted to channel resources to groups that thought to ease the rapid removal from power of the unfriendly regimes in Libya and Syria.

In the meantime, Washington discovered that the presence of Salafis in the battlefields not only accelerated the demise of the unfriendly regimes but was also instrumental in deepening the reliance of the Muslim Brotherhood on Washington and keeping it within Washington’s orbit of influence and away from its arch enemy, Iran.

Courting unruly and uncontrollable religious zealots, however, is a dangerous game. The New York Times (September 1, 2011) reported that religious groups in Libya who were “Once considered enemies in the war on terror, they suddenly have been thrust into positions of authority — with American and NATO blessing.” In recent months, many zealots and militants from various parts of the world have been lured to fight in Syria. These groups have openly established training camps in Turkey and Lebanon and are financed, according to news reports, by friendly authoritarian governments.

Indeed, it is in Syria that the religious groups have been the most effective in turning the balance of power, energizing and inciting vocal resentment to the regime, and greatly weakening its ability to govern. The New York Times (July 24, 2012) reported that the “evidence is mounting that Syria has become a magnet for . . . extremists, including those operating under the banner of Al Qaeda. An important border crossing with Turkey that fell into Syrian rebels’ hands last week, Bab al-Hawa, has quickly become a jihadist congregating point.”

The killing of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, though tragic, is only the beginning of a gathering storm where unprecedented bloodshed will be the dominate scene in the region. Unlike Reagan’s mujahedeen in Afghanistan who were motivated to fight the communists and were largely trained by Washington and displayed obedience to friendly governments, the new religious extremists are driven by uncompromising ideology and seek to polarize the Middle East by changing the social fabric and maintaining chaos and instability.

In an interview with the Economist (August 4, 2012) a representative of one group stated, “The killing will not stop when Assad falls. . . . We will kill all those who stood by the regime –and not only Syrians.”

Policymakers in Washington are neither able nor willing to learn from history. Facing the rise of leftist ideology and Arab nationalism in the late 1940s and after, Washington mobilized authoritarian governments and religious groups to counter Arab liberalism and progressive patriotism. The outcome was misery and widespread destruction.

Today, Washington is confronting a different challenge. Instead of heeding the history lesson, it blindly pursues destructive policies. Some policymakers may get satisfaction from seeing the Middle East destabilized. However, the ascendancy of religious extremists will not only corner the moderate religious forces in the region, it will initiate an era of unmanageable conflicts. Deepening bloodshed and instability in the Middle East is a fatal mistake. It demonstrates lack of moral clarity and an absence of responsible leadership.

Abbas J. Ali is Professor and Director, School of International Management, Eberly College of Business and IT, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Federal Government Spending Exceeds Budget but Fiscal Deficit lower


September 29, 2012

Federal Government Spending Exceeds Budget but Fiscal Deficit lower, says Treasury Report 2012-2013

http://www.malaysiakini.com

The Federal government spending in 2012 is estimated to be RM252.4 billion, again exceeding the initial budget of RM232.8 billion tabled last year by RM19.6 billion.

However, the government managed to control the deficit of 2012 which is estimated to be 4.5 percent of the GDP, slightly below the initial forecast of 4.7 percent.

Prime Minister cum Finance Minister Najib Abdul Razak has been able to meet the deficit since he took over the office in 2009. This is due to higher estimated revenue this year at RM207.2 billion, an increase of 11.8 percent compared to 2011.

According to the Economic Report 2012/2013, the overspending in 2012 only occurred in the operating expenditure, but not the development expenditure. The operating expenditure is estimated to exceed the initial budget allocation of RM181.6 billion by 11.6 percent to RM2.026 billion, but the development expenditure is estimated to be RM400 million less than the amount in the initial budget of RM51.2 billion, to bring the amount to RM49.8 billion.

According to the report, the largest chunk of operating expenditure is emoluments, which is the salaries for civil servants. It is estimated to increase by 18 percent from RM50.1 billion in 2011 to RM59.2 billion, taking up 29.2 percent of the total operating expenditure.

Less collected from Petronas

The increase is attributed to provisions for improvements in the salary scheme of civil servants of between 7 to 13 percent effective from January 1 this year (RM3.3 billion), adjustments to cost of living allowances ranging between RM150 to RM300 (RM379 million), and a revision in annual increment between RM80 to RM320 according to grade.

In addition, a half month bonus with a minimum payment of RM500 was given to 1.27 million civil servants amounting to RM1.9 billion, and a new promotion scheme implemented for the teachers effective from May 2012 exercise is expected to cost RM1.1 billion in 2012.

Other operating expenditures are subsidies (RM42.4 billion, 20.9 percent of total operating expenditure), supplies and service (RM32 billion, 15.8 percent) and debt service charge (RM20.5 billion, 10.1 percent).

In term of revenue, boosted by an increase in production volume and firm crude oil price, receipts from petroleum income tax (Pita) will be markedly higher at RM32 billion.

To gradually reduce dependence on oil-related revenues, said the report, a lower dividend of RM28 billion was imputed for 2012 from Petronas, compared to RM30 billion in 2011.

“However, due to the fuel cost-sharing mechanism between the government, Petronas and Tenaga Nasional Berhad, dividend for 2012 will decline to RM26.3 billion.”

azlan

Najib’s 2013 Budget of Candies won’t bite


September 29, 2012

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com

More on Najib’s 2013 Budget of Candies

Candied Budget unlikely to sweeten GE13  for BN, say Analysts

by Amin Iskandar, Hafidz Baharom, Md Izwan and Nomy Nozwir

Voters have grown more discerning and are unlikely to be swayed by cash incentives and other one-off perks into casting their ballot for the Barisan Nasional (BN) government at national polls due soon, pundits said in weighing in on the impact of Budget 2013.

Political observers interviewed by The Malaysian Insider wholly agreed that the RM251.6 billion announced yesterday, which promised a slew of cash handouts and tax cuts spread across the board, was trained to appeal to key demographic groups in the run-up to the 13th general election, but said voters had become increasingly shrewd and capable of weighing the short-term personal gains against the long-term fiscal impact on the national economy.

“There are only two words to describe it — election budget,” said Monash University’s Political Science lecturer James Chin.

He noted that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has “pulled out all the stops and given the voters their sentiments, to let them think twice about voting for the opposition” in elections that must be held by next April when BN’s five-year mandate won in March 2008 runs out.

“People will compare the budget to Pakatan Rakyat’s and will also see how the second round of Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M) will fuel inflation,” Chin added.

The fledging Pakatan Rakyat (PR) Opposition pact, formed just four years ago in the wake of landmark wins in Election 2008, has promised to raise the disposable income of Malaysians in an alternative set of Budget proposals just two days before the Najib administration unveiled its official proposals for spending and taxes.

Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had said disposable income would rise through fiscal reform measures such as cutting the triple import taxes on foreign-made cars, abolishment of tolls and waiver of student loans, as PR sought to pre-empt Najib’s Budget announcement.

Anwar said a PR government would be able to pay for the proposed measures not through raising taxes but by plugging leakages that arise as a result of inefficiencies and corruption.

Arnold Puyok, a Political scientist from Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) in Sabah, said the goodies announced for the young and singles “is an indication that the ruling party is set to win the hearts and minds of first-time voters in the upcoming election”. He said it was still too early to tell if such sweeteners will tilt the hotly-contested elections in BN’s favour.

“Young people are not easily attracted to monetary incentives especially when they are related to electoral politics. They may consider the goodies as a form of government assistance. But whether this is translated into votes remain to be seen,” Arnold said.

But another analyst, Faisal Hazis, believes voters have wised up since Election 2008. “Voters today are smarter, not so easy for them to fall for sweet deals as before,” said the Head of Political Science and International Relations at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas).

“Cash handouts like BR1M do not promise permanent support as shown in the Merdeka Center’s earlier survey some months back where support for Najib rose several percentage points after the first round of BR1M, but dropped not long after it was handed out,” Faisal said.

According to independent pollster Merdeka Center, the PM’s personal approval score dipped four percentage points in the last survey in May from 69 per cent to 65 per cent in February, following a repeat in April of last year’s violent clashes between police and civil society demonstrators lobbying for the electoral roll to be cleaned up.

Herizal Hazri, Deputy Country representative for Asia Foundation, a US-based NGO working to improve governance, law and civil society issues through policy, said the people-friendly budget geared towards low-income earners was a positive move to raise the disposable income and spur domestic growth, but highlighted the lack of controls to monitor government spending.

Faisal said voters today are smarter and will not so easily fall for sweet deals as before. “What’s worrisome in this budget is that there is no discussion of methods to monitor the implementation of the Budget, whether it will truly be carried out in a transparent manner or otherwise,” he said.

Professor Jayum A. Jawan, who lectures on politics and government in Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), shared a similar view with Kuching-based Faisal, describing the “one-off handouts” as a populist stunt to fish for votes among the less politically-aware groups who are usually based in rural areas, notably the interior of Malaysia’s two easternmost states across the South China Sea which are still largely forested.

“The allocation for transport, public infrastructure, fishermen, farmers and those in Sabah and Sarawak are very welcome. The one worrisome thing is how will all these be delivered? Will all the proposals reach the man in the interior there?” asked the Deputy Dean of post-graduate studies in UPM’s Faculty of Human Ecology.

“The ‘one-off’ handouts are only temporary and will have a limited impact on some people,” he added.

Jayum said he was concerned that the budget was too heavily concentrated on operational costs and cautioned that the government needed to ensure increased productivity levels among the civil service force to balance out the high operating costs.

Like Jayum, Monash University’s Chin was also hesitant to say that the people-friendly proposals to cut rocketing costs of living that Najib put forward in Budget 2013 would result in voters paying back the favour to BN at the ballot box where it most matters.

“The ultimate test of the budget will be the stock market reaction on Monday; it will surely go up and will also affect the Astro initial public offering (IPO). It all fits in. If he (Najib) does not call for an election now, he’s crazy,” Chin said.

AT A GLANCE

Total Budget: RM251.6 billion

Operational Expenditure: RM201.9 bil
Development Expenditure: RM49.7 bil

GDP growth 2012: 4.5% – 5.0%
GDP growth 2013: 4.5% – 5.5%(Forecast)

Revenue 2012: RM206.2 bil
Revenue 2013: RM208.6 bil

Deficit 2012: 4.5% (?)
Deficit 2013: 4.0% (?)

Source: Malaysiakini.com

Budget 2013: It is an Election Budget


September 29, 2012

Budget 2013:  It is an Election Budget

by Aidila Razak (09-28-2012)@http://www.malaysiakini.com

BUDGET 2013: The array of goodies dished out in Budget 2013 is seen as a clear move of the BN government in reaching out to its vote banks in different sectors in the run-up to the 13th general election.

However, analysts feel that the Najib administration has, yet again, left out the middle class, despite a slight one percent cut in the income tax, which is seen as little relief. Here are some of their observations:

Ibrahim Suffian, Director of Merdeka Centre:

It’s an election budget, mainly due to the sheer size of dash payments to different sections of the population, including the focus on agriculture, where the BN has its support base.

NONEIt might make some people unhappy, especially the tax-paying middle class who are not getting much from the budget. The tax reduction does not cover many people, who will continue to pay tax without getting much relief.

However, the government did address key issues such as transportation in major cities. But it’s surprising that Johor Baru was not mentioned for this, given its size. Maybe the BN feels it’s a safe area (in terms of votes) – or it is a strategy to make people vote for them.

No doubt the focus on crime reduction and the expansion of the home owner scheme is a positive development, but it will take time for the policy to have a political impact. It’s also spotty, for there are only a few places earmarked for this programme.

I am also not sure if providing grants to residents’ associations for crime prevention is the way to go. It is admitting that the crime rate is up and the Police are not able to handle it.

Dr (h.c) Ramon Navaratnam, Economist:

The projected growth rate of 4.5 to five percent is too optimistic, given the world economic situation, and so the projection of revenue is also optimistic. I am concerned that the target on deficit and debt cannot be met.

In terms of revenue, there are no new taxes, such as the GST, so there is nothing to raise the tax base. We are also not cutting subsidies, except for sugar, so it is almost like business as usual, with a greater spread of goodies.

If the world economy slows down further, we will be hopeful in getting the growth projected. Our exports will be down, forex will be down and earnings will go down.

We have to really monitor the budget to make sure that it hits the estimates, or else we have to be prepared for a mini budget after the election to adjust for shortages.

Dr. Yeah Kim Leng, Chief Economist, Ratings Agency Malaysia:

We were initially concerned that the budget will be expansionary, given the impending election, but our fears were allayed as the spending has been kept at about the same rate.

NONEHowever, there is uncertainty on the fiscal deficit side because it will depend on world demand and oil prices, which will affect GDP growth.

Overall, it’s a responsible, responsive and realistic budget, but the middle class has been left out, just as in the previous budgets.

The cash handouts are targeted at consumers, but importantly, there is a need to ensure business is well supported because this is (the government’s) main source of revenue. The spending on small and medium enterprises is well targeted.

Dr.Lim Teck Ghee, CEO, Centre for Policy Initiatives:

I am dismayed by the budget. The BN government is scraping the bottom of the barrel. It tries to use cash handouts to influence the voters, but I feel it might backfire as people will realise that it was given purely for the elections and this may even make people more anti-establishment.

The government missed an opportunity to show the people that it is a prudent, responsible and reformist government. By my calculations, the government can cut operating expenditure by 20 to 25 percent without harming efficiency.

There is no clear policy direction, except that each ministry is wanting to spend as much as possible. It’s the same old story, leaving little left for subsidies. Subsidies should not go without proper analyses.

There is also greater spending on crime prevention, but what actually needs to happen is for the police to be better managed and focus less on political matters. They are throwing money in the wrong direction.

Reckless Government Spending no longer affordable


September 28, 2012

BUDGET DAY: Reckless Government Spending no longer affordable

by Koh Jun Lin(00-27-12)@www.malaysiakini.com

The country’s growth has been driven by “goodies” and infrastructure projects, both of which are bad news for Malaysians because it increases government debt, said Kuala Selangor MP Dr. Dzulkefly Ahmad.

NONEHe said last night that on top of the government debt of RM477 billion (or 53 percent of the gross domestic product, out of the statutory limit of 55 percent), the government has also assumed RM116 billion in liabilities from statutory bodies and government-linked corporations.

This, combined with widening income disparities and over-dependence on oil and gas revenues would not allow for reckless spending, said Dzulkefly, who is also PAS Research Centre Head.

“Even when it is close to the elections, it would not allow them to be recklessly giving goodies and handouts, as free as they would like to. But of course, it goes both ways and Pakatan Rakyat should not also do that,” he said, before detailing the coalition’s alternative budget, which aims to achieve 5.2 percent growth while also slashing the budget deficit by 3.5 percent.

Dzulkefly was speaking as a panellist during a pre-budget forum organised by Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) at the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall.

He also told the 50-odd members of the audience that an economic boom-and-bust cycle normally last about ten years, but Malaysia has been having budget deficits for 14 consecutive years, which he described as “strange”.

“We have seen the boom and the bust times, while others – even Indonesia, Thailand and Australia – are having good times and enjoying not just a balanced, but a surplus budget…That tells a lot about how reckless and unscrupulous (we are) in terms of fiscal discipline in the development that we all choose,” he said.

Issues of competitiveness, sustainability and the poor

NONEEarlier in the forum, political scientist Dr. Ong Kian Ming (right) gave the audience a run-down of the statistics to paint a grave picture of the economy.

This included a relatively high income inequalities, “pockets” of poverty especially in rural areas, a drop in the Global Competitiveness Report rankings and the Corruption Index and poor achievements in education.

All these take place while the government debt increases from RM267 billion (47 percent of the GDP) to the current RM477 billion, as well as increasing pollution.

“From these three issue of uplifting the poor, competitiveness and sustainability, they are actually very serious concerns. It has to be addressed not just by the budget, but also by larger government policies,” said the academician, who had recently joined DAP as an election strategist.

NONEMeanwhile, Sungai Siput MP Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj (left) told the audience not to expect a good budget from the government because “the ruling elite in the BN (Barisan National) has not got clue there is a problem,” he said.

He said this could be seen from the government’s talk of liberalisation, privatisation, and lowering corporate taxes to draw investors, and questioned whether such measures are still viable.

The PSM politician said measures to protect workers rather than capitalist, such as a retrenchment fund, are needed instead in order to fuel domestic consumption.

This would in turn encourage investors and entrepreneurs to produce goods and services to meet demand, rather than investing excess funds in financial speculation.

No plans to deal with depletion of oil and gas reserves

The last speaker, Malaysiakini chief executive officer Premesh Chandran, said that Pakatan Rakyat’s policies thus “had done well, but could do better”. Some areas of improvement include coming up with concrete plans for improving public transportation, making the spending of constituency allocations transparent and address healthcare issues, particularly in Pakatan Rakyat-led states.

Premesh also warned that a “perfect storm” is forming, because Malaysia’s population is ageing and does not have the wealth (mainly oil and gas) to support them, and there are no plans to deal with the eventual depletion of oil and gas reserves.

Prior to the start of the forum, a 30-minute candlelight vigil was also held outside the venue in solidarity with Suaram. The human rights NGO is the subject of several ongoing investigations, which it claims to be politically motivated.

Remembering the Remarkable Tun Dr. Ismail


September 28, 2012

Remembering the Remarkable Tun Dr. Ismail

by Dr. Ooi Kee Beng

There is an anecdote told among close acquaintances of the late Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s feared and respected Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister in the early 1970s, that he once in confidence said that he felt he was at heart a greater racist than in his actions, unlike most of his politician colleagues, who were more opportunistic and were racists in words and deeds, but not at heart.

And yet, he was the Malay leader that Chinese Malaysian leaders of his day trusted. In fact, even Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore has often reiterated that Tun Dr Ismail was the only Malaysian leader he had faith in.

Multiracial upbringing

As a reflection of the Malaysian culture prevalent during his time perhaps, many of his best friends throughout his life were non-Malays. When Tun Dr Ismail was growing up in Johor Bahru, among his family’s closest friends were the Cheahs, the Kuoks and the Puthuchearys.

Dr Cheah Tiang Eam was a medical doctor who was very close to Ismail’s father, Abdul Rahman Yassin. Ismail’s elder brother, Suleiman, later a member of Malaya’s first Cabinet, was sent to the Cheah home to learn English manners from Mrs Cheah, who was an English lady.

Ismail was especially fond of the youngest Cheah daughters, who later married the Kuok brothers, Philip and Robert (right). The Kuoks would be among Ismail’s closest friends in adult life.

The painful process of securing independence and negotiating a workable path of nation building in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s seared the ever-present issue of race onto the political foreground, where it has stayed until today. Racial issues submerged consciousness of the inter-ethnic exchanges and cultural hybridisation, which continued nevertheless. Understandably, in many Malaysians, strong ethnocentric emotions were stimulated for a time, something that the ensuing politicking would not allow to dissipate.

What went wrong, of course, when we look back over the last few decades, was that they allowed themselves to be manipulated into seeing themselves exhaustively in racial terms and not in citizenship terms. The political establishment grew to depend on this discourse, and turned it into a chronic pathological state.

 

The golf handicap

Where policy making was concerned, Tun Dr Ismail saw racialism as a technical issue, and not a matter of rights. An unhappy and unacceptable historically given socio-economic condition had to be rectified for the country to move on—and that condition happened to have an extremely strong ethnic element to it. That was the reason why Malaysian politics had to have such a strong racial slant. It was a historical contingence.

One of his more memorable ideas was his famous use of the golf handicap metaphor to explain affirmative action for the Malays —the NEP.Having the handicap system is meant, firstly, to allow those weaker in the sport to participate, and secondly to provide these newcomers with opportunities to improve their game and to lessen their handicap successively. The aim is for as many players as possible to have as low a handicap as possible.

Realising the danger that the NEP could devolve into an exercise in Malay entitlement if not properly handled, he pushed for a twenty-year limit to be put on it.

The poignant point in Tun Dr Ismail’s admission about his feelings—and it is one that forces all of us to be sincere at least to ourselves—is that what makes a man good and a leader great is not what his innermost feelings are but how he rises above them.

As the celebrated scholar Prof Wang Gungwu (right) once told me: “We are all racially biased in our feelings at some level; but what is essential is how we rise above them in our actions”.

This attempt at rising above his feelings was what enabled Tun Dr Ismail to reach across ethnic divides. It was also well-known that he strongly disliked the term “Bumiputera” and feared that it would disunite Malaysians. He felt it best not to confuse the issue by lumping Malays with other groups.

Tun Dr Ismail enjoyed widespread respect from all who knew him and instilled awe in his subordinates because he could not stand fools. That trait is more important than one might think. If one takes the duties of leadership as seriously as he did, then subordinates or peers who did not feel a sense of urgency in what they did actually undermined his labours.

In fact, he was feared as a medical doctor as well, never tolerating patients who showed signs of self-pity and who were psychosomatic. As his Johor Bahru neighbour Robert Kuok would later say, “Doc would not have fared well running a medical clinic”.

Malaysian Dream

Politics became Ismail’s calling instead, and self-discipline, practical wisdom, and a strong ethical sense would mark his career. He could not stand corruption either, as was seen in how he with a shouted threat of prosecution sent away a Chinese vendor who had delivered vegetables and other goods to his home as gifts for his family.

Despite being Home Affairs Minister, it was nevertheless Tun Dr Ismail’s vision of a neutral Southeast Asia which came to define the country’s foreign policy that has remained so successful and consistent till this day.

As Tun Abdul Razak’s main confidante, he exerted a greater influence over the early years of Razak’s premiership than is normally assumed. When news of his demise in September 1973 reached Razak in Ottawa where the Prime Minister was attending a Commonwealth meeting, the latter practically collapsed and had to be medicated. Tun Razak later lamented: “Whom shall I trust now?”

Tun Dr Ismail has been dead for 40 years now, and Malaysia has changed greatly. But his legacy of inclusion and moderation, and honest and honourable leadership, is unforgettable and can yet inspire new generations of Malaysians from both sides of the political divide to lead with wisdom.

Perhaps we will yet see a Malaysia that strives to unite its people; that spontaneously celebrates its diversity; and that acts on universal human principles instead of demeaning opportunism.I would venture that that was the Malaysian Dream from the very start.

Ooi Kee Beng is the author of the award-winning bestseller The Reluctant Politician: Tun Dr Ismail and His Time (ISEAS 2007). He is the Deputy Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore.–www.themalaysianinsider.com

 

Granting MACC Chief security of tenure is not enough


September 28, 2012

Granting MACC Chief security of tenure is not enough

by Gobind Singh Deo@http://www.themalaysianinsider.com

The bipartisan committee on corruption has called for a constitutional amendment to provide the MACC chief security of tenure. This, according to them, will make him “like a judge, then he can’t be dismissed at whims and fancies”.

The committee also seems to suggest that the current arrangement isn’t good enough. According to them, “at the moment, the appointment of the chief (is as such that) he can be dismissed by anybody, so if he is trying to investigate people, and I am a head of somewhere, I propose to change him, he can be changed just like that.”

Whilst such a move may help the MACC, it will not to my mind make any significant inroads if the ultimate goal is to strengthen the independence of the MACC.

First, the MACC head doesn’t personally investigate cases. Cases are investigated by the investigating officers assigned to a particular file after a report is lodged.

As such, the argument that he can be transferred to stifle an ongoing investigation is somewhat misplaced.

Second, the MACC head does not have prosecutorial powers like the Attorney-General (A-G). The A-G is given such powers under the Federal Constitution. It is because of this presumably that he is put into the same category as a judge which means he can only be removed from office by a tribunal specifically constituted for that purpose.

From the above, it will be seen that elevating the MACC chief to a similar position would really serve no useful purpose.The committee is therefore picking on the wrong end of the stick.

If the committee wants to see real effect in affording the MACC chief such security of tenure, it should first propose that he be given the power to prosecute as well. He should have powers independent of the A-G and he should have full control over all investigations in the MACC without interference from anyone, be it the Police, the A-G, political or otherwise.

If this were the case, then the need for his security of tenure becomes all the more compelling. The laws should then be amended to make sure he is beholden to nobody except the Constitution which would demand that he carry out his duties without fear or favour and with independence.

But to do this alone would not be enough. There are always risks in giving absolute powers to one single person who cannot be removed unless tribunalised.

Experience has shown that the safeguard which such security of tenure seeks to provide could well be used not just as a sword alone but also as a shield.

It is because of this that the committee should go one step further to set up a system where the discretion to prosecute given to the MACC chief is made subject to review.

This can take place in numerous ways. It may be by way of an advisory commission consisting of persons experienced such as retired judges who may, upon a complaint which meets a set criteria, review a decision either to prosecute or not to prosecute or for laws making this discretion subject to judicial review.

The committee should also be commended for recognising that there indeed exists interference in investigations today and the need for it to stop. There can really be nothing more heinous than interfering in lawful investigations as prescribed by law.

Such has been and still is one reason why the criminal justice system in our country is failing and corruption thriving of late.

If we are going to move Parliament for a constitutional amendment, let’s make sure it is in respect of something worth our while, something with great impact which would yield real results.

In this regard, giving the MACC chief security of tenure alone would certainly not be enough.

* Gobind Singh Deo is the MP for Puchong.

Freedom on the NET Status: Malaysia maintains ‘”Partly Free” status


September 28, 2012

Freedom on the NET Status: Malaysia maintains “Partly Free” status

http://www.malaysiakini.com (09-27-12)

Malaysia has fallen eight places in the Washington-based think tank Freedom House’s latest Freedom on the Net report, which measures Internet freedom in 47 countries.

This places Malaysia on the 23rd spot, in the same league as Libya and Jordon, and maintains its “partly free” label in the think tank’s “Freedom on the Net Status”.

The ranking employed a demerit system (i.e. Zero being no obstacles to Internet freedom) to construct the rankings. This year, Malaysia picked up an additional two point and is now 43 of 100.

In the region, Malaysia (23rd) ranks behind the Philippines (7th place) and Indonesia (21st) but is ahead of Thailand (35th), Vietnam (40th) and Burma (41st).

One of the chief Freedom House complaints is the amendments to Section 114A of the Evidence Act 1950 which make intermediaries liable for content posted by anonymous users.

“(This raises) concerns that it would damper free expression online and open the doors to selective, politically motivated prosecutions,” read the report. Freedom House noted that the amendments were hurriedly rushed through passage and now allowed the presumption of guilt, shifting the burden of proof to the accused.

Evolving tactics of harassment

The report said although there were fewer defamation cases against bloggers and several earlier prosecutions had been discontinued, defamation cases against bloggers involving disproportionate request for damages threatened to chill online expression.

“In 2011, a number of bloggers faced legal harassment, intimidation, fine and brief periods of detention. No bloggers were imprisoned at year’s end, though several had charges pending against them,” read the report.

Freedom House said only one blogger – Mohd Nur Hanief Abdul Jalil – was arrested for referencing an alleged sex scandal involving a VVIP on his blog.

The penchant of ruling party figures using Facebook and other social media tools was also noted by Freedom House, but remarked that the use of “cybertroopers” to manipulate online discourse is on the rise.

The report also detailed attempts to cripple websites at crucial political moments, such as the April 2011 denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on Malaysiakini and again in July 2011.

“Although the attacks have not been conclusively traced to the government, some observers believe they were either sponsored or condoned by Malaysian security agencies,” read the report.The full report can be downloaded here.

Attacks on Malaysiakini Never End


September 27, 2012

Attacks on Malaysiakini Never End

by Premesh Chandran@http://www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT: The attacks against Malaysiakini signal that the government is getting desperate.

For the past week, the mainstream media – TV3, Utusan Malaysia, New Straits Times and The Star – have launched an attack on Malaysiakini and civil society organisations for receiving grants from international foundations in what they claimed is a plot to destabilise the government.

Malaysiakini has been further attacked for having a foreign investor which is allegedly linked to billionaire financier George Soros. Further aspersions have been cast on Malaysiakini that some of our shareholders have political links.

I understand the reason for the attacks. After all, elections are around the corner, and by all accounts, the results could go either way.  Hence, the mainstream media have been ordered by their political owners – UMNO and MCA – to attack and discredit voices that are calling for free and fair elections, for investigations into various corruption scandals and for democratic principles to be observed and upheld.

It is no surprise that they repeatedly report accusations, insinuations and half-truths, along with an ugly dose of racism – a strategy perfected by none other than Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels.

Let’s look into these accusations one by one and put them to bed:

1. Same accusation 11 years ago

Former Malaysiakini news editor YL Chong’s repeated accusations that in 2001 we hid a RM188,000 grant from Media Development Loan Fund (MDLF) and that he resigned after taking a stand on the matter.

This accusation is not new. It was paraded in the mainstream media 11 years ago – back in 2001 – as “proof” of our links to Soros. We have published our rebuttal shortly after those accusations were made.

In a nutshell, Malaysiakini was open with its staff about a contract to build a software application for the Centre for Advanced Media Prague (Camp), which is MDLF’s technology division.

Chong went to the media with the accusation that the deal was a grant and we’re hiding the deal. In fact, Malaysiakini had already made an announcement of the software deal on the site.

The question is, why would Malaysiakini be so open with its staff on the deal. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to keep Malaysiakini staff in the dark?

2. ‘Soros man on Malaysiakini Board’

On the back of successfully completing the technology development and successfully launching a subscription model in January 2002, MDLF decided to invest in Malaysiakini - their first in an online medium, breaking away from their traditional investment in newspapers, television and radio stations.

Malaysiakini received RM1.3 million for 29 percent of equity and MDLF agreed to sign an editorial non-intervention agreement. Following that, Malaysiakini held a press conference and made an announcement about the matter.

At the time of the investment, MDLF was led by its co-founder Sasa Vucinic, a journalist whose independent radio station B92 in Belgrade fought a long and hard battle to help bring down Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Milosevic was subsequently charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.

Sasa went on to set up MDLF with the strategy of helping independent media in Eastern Europe grow following the fall of communism. Soros, a Hungarian with a track record of supporting press freedom, was among the many major donors of MDLF. Do watch Sasa’s fantastic TED Talk (below) to know more about MDLF’s philosophy.

To date, MDLF is involved in 269 projects for 85 independent media companies in 27 countries. Not only does MDLF have a right to be on Malaysiakini’s Board given its stake in the company, it is hardly business sense for us to pass on the opportunity to have such distinguished individuals to serve on our board.

The advice and guidance from MDLF and their current CEO, Harlan Mandel, have been a tremendous boost to Malaysiakini’s business strategy. How is Mandel a Soros’ man? Indeed, using the tenuous link between MDLF and Soros to argue that somehow MDLF is doing Soros’s bidding is definitely straight out of the Goebbels handbook.

3. But why attack Soros?

The entire attack by the mainstream media is premised on a link between Malaysiakini and Soros. But why the hatred of Soros?

The Malaysian Central Bank chose to gamble our hard-earned reserves on defending the pound. When the pound collapsed in 1992, Malaysia was left with a major hole in the Treasury, and Soros made a name for himself for breaking the Bank of England.

Instead of asking why was our central bank engaged in highly speculative and risky action, Malaysia attacked Soros. Despite a heated exchange of words in the wake of the Asian financial crisis, former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad later conceded that Soros was not responsible for the damage to Malaysia.

Mahathir subsequently met Soros in Kuala Lumpur and asked for his support for his global campaign to outlaw war.

During his visit to Malaysia, Soros met with a host of government and business leaders.  We have even heard of there were subsequent private meetings between Soros and top UMNO leaders, which to date have gone unreported but will come to light soon.

4. Malaysiakini gets grants from foreign donors

The mainstream media have portrayed that Malaysiakini has been hiding the fact that we receive grants from international donors and we now “admit” to this long-hidden fact. The truth is that Malaysiakini has always declared the grants it receives.

Malaysiakini funds its core activities from subscription and advertising revenues. Grants are used to fund projects that are of social benefit but are not likely to be revenue generating or profitable.  So while Malaysiakini as a whole is a for-profit organisation, we do solicit funds to support our “non-profit” projects.

For example, Malaysiakini trained over 300 citizen journalists around Malaysia and established a website called www.cj.my. Malaysiakini also established Komunitikini.com to encourage local news coverage.  Malaysiakini built Undi.info to provide electoral information and Digitalibrary.my as an online archive of important documents.

5. Malaysiakini has Opposition figures as shareholders

In order to start up Malaysiakini, the founders invested their own funds and appealed to friends in civil society for investment in 1999. R. Sivarasa (left), then a prominent human rights activist had yet to join any political party; Sivarasa’s sister-in-law, Mary Agnes, who is a banker; Bruno Pereira, a prominent trade unionist; and Joseph Paul, also a human rights activist, took the risk to make the initial investment in Malaysiakini. Their contribution was converted to shares and they represent not more than a couple of percent of the company.

Up to this date, unfortunately, they and other shareholders have not received any dividends but we hope their investments have been worthwhile. In no way do any of the shareholders have an influence in Malaysiakini.

The Selangor MB’s press secretary, Arfa’eza Aziz, is a former Malaysiakini journalist, a fact conveniently omitted by The Star’s report. She, along with 50 other Malaysiakini staff, hold shares amounting to about 12 percent of the company.

6. Malaysiakini is controlled by outside forces

Nothing can be further from the truth. Despite many offers to buy Malaysiakini, the founders continue to hold on to their majority stake.

Malaysiakini asks our readers to pay a subscription fee so that Malaysiakini remains financially independent and does not have to seek funding for its core operations. Who would know best about how editorial decisions are made but our editors and journalists?

Malaysiakini Co-Founders: A Tale of True Grit

Over 13 years, hundreds have worked on our editorial floor. If asked, I believe they will tell a tale of hard work and toil and long hours, but never a tale of stories being spiked, censored or twisted to suite external powers, something so prevalent in the newsrooms of politically-owned media.

Editorial decisions rest with the editorial desk and the editor-in-chief, and that is the way it should be.  We do not believe the accusations against Malaysiakini will stop. After all, desperate times require desperate measures. Nevertheless, for those who are really interested to know more about Malaysiakini, we are more than happy to talk to them.

Besides that, we need to get on with our job of reporting the news that matters, without fear or favour.


PREMESH CHANDRAN is Chief Executive Officer of Malaysiakini. His co-founder is Steven Gan, Editor -in-Chief of Malaysiakini.