Horrendous Devastation of Cameron Highlands due to Plainly Ugly Greed


November 23, 2014

Horrendous Devastation of Cameron Highlands due to Plainly Ugly Greed

by Tunku A  Aziz@www.nst.com.my

Sultan of PahangIF a picture, as the saying goes, is worth a thousand words, then the New Straits Times’ startlingly brutal depiction of the horrendous devastation of Cameron Highlands merits at least ten thousand drops of tears of anger, frustration and despair because those entrusted to protect our precious natural heritage have betrayed our trust.

 The wanton destruction of the environment and the disregard for human life all bear the hallmarks of human greed; we were jolted out of our complacency and forced to see corruption in all its ugliness.

No longer do we think that corruption is none of our business; no longer do we dare say, “Why all the fuss when only two parties are involved, the giver and the taker?” And no longer will we be able to dismiss the fact that there are victims whenever corruption rears its head.

The Cameron Highlands tragedy, both in human and environmental terms, has turned corruption on its head. The pristine hill station of the 1960s and 1970s is now a distant memory. My annual Christmas break was usually spent with my family in Cameron Highlands, with its promise of bracing mountain air and country walks in quiet, salubrious surroundings. This yearly ritual, sadly, started to lose its appeal with uncontrolled development that rapidly changed the character of the place.

Overnight, Cameron Highlands, the country’s premier Little England that once had trout in its mountain streams and rose bushes in every garden, took on an ominously grotesque aspect. It was transformed into a noisy, gaudy and boisterous bazaar that could give Petaling Street a good run for its money. I have not been back there for more than thirty years, preferring to treasure in the deep recesses of my memory the Cameron Highlands that I once knew and loved.

The recent tragedy has, as expected, produced a slew of responses, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. In my long and eventful existence, I have heard a few ideas that are clearly beyond the pale, but nothing has quite prepared me for the proposal, that I suppose, could only have been conceived in the cluttered mind of a politician: to plant a million trees over a three-year period as part of a programme to rehabilitate Cameron Highlands that many believe to have been damaged beyond redemption.

I say with all due deference to the Natural Resources and Environment Minister, Datuk Seri G.palanivel Palanivel, that we are not talking about transplanting hair on a vain politician’s head — a painful enough process as some who have resorted to this treatment will tell you.

A million trees? The mind boggles at the very idea. Audacious and out of the box, yes. But is it doable and at what cost? All this leads me to ask why, with all the empirical evidence staring them in the face, didn’t our enforcement officers do what they were employed to do — enforce the law, plain and simple?

There were quietly whispered hints of “interference from above”, which puzzles me quite a bit because the “Yellow Letters”, according to the sultan of Pahang himself, did not come from the palace because, for one thing, they were not written on the official palace note paper and did not bear his signature. Who is it then that enforcement officers were pointing the finger at?

Whoever the exalted personage might be, he must be exposed because it is vitally important to show our people that there is one law for all. The Sultan’s standing and reputation, no less, must be protected and not to be trifled with.

The drama that unfolded on the slippery slopes and the silted valleys of Cameron Highlands has brought us face to face with the debilitating effects of corruption on society.

The reality on the ground is not a pretty sight. It is corruption writ large: if that does not turn our stomachs, then I suggest we deserve more of the same. The time for whinging is over. It is about time we took ownership of the fight against corruption and its attendant problems. I do not think it would be wise to leave such an important matter as fighting corruption especially to politicians. There is no need for elaboration.

Pahang, of course, is not alone of the Malaysian states that can claim a long history of illegal logging and land clearing. Stories, both anecdotal and factual, of corruption in forestry and land offices up and down the country are legion. Sabah and Sarawak occupy top spots in the forestry corruption league table. But, that is a story for another time. It is refreshing to hear the new chief minister of Sarawak, Tan Sri Adenan Satem, warning illegal loggers that stern action would be taken against them and that he would not tolerate corruption in his administration. I am not, in a manner of speaking, about to put the champagne on ice, and neither am I holding my breath. I do not know of any head of government anywhere in the world singing his heart out in praise of corruption. All politicians would have us believe that they are part of the solution. I should like to see the colour of their money first.

Returning to Pahang, I wonder why enforcement agencies who are paid to prevent these breaches of the law have allowed the situation to get so wildly out of control? The short answer, on the evidence that has long been in the public domain, is that the State of Pahang has been ‘captured’ by influential, almost always, titled crooks with loads of money, howsoever acquired, to seduce greedy and corrupt public officers. If they had only carried out their duties honesty, a great deal of the damage could have been prevented, and the good minister of one million trees would have saved himself a few blushes, and the treasury a lot of money.

 Royal Commission should be set up now to inquire into the state of corruption in the country as a whole. It is in the country’s interest to gauge accurately the true reading of the nation’s corruption barometer, so that we would not be wasting time and money treating symptoms because we have no clear idea of the root causes of corruption in national life.

With Bad Economic News, Abe’s Magic Seems to Evaporate


November 21, 2014

Japan: Between Monetary Stimulus and Fiscal Austerity

Chairman Lodin, come clean on 1MDB, figures don’t lie


November 19, 2014

Chairman Lodin, come clean on 1MDB, figures don’t lie

by Kharie Hishyam @www.kinibiz.com

Like a toddler learning to walk, controversial state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd is slowly coming out to refute its critics. But proper explanations are yet to come and its latest public statement only spawns more questions.

Amid the burning fire of controversy over its questionable dealings, state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) has come out and “assured” Malaysians that its investments were carefully made and professionally managed. Alas, the same characteristic of being professionally managed can also probably be said about many of the 23 public-listed companies in Bursa Malaysia’s PN17 list. But what’s in labels anyway?

In the corporate world results, not reputation, is what delivers and one wonders why 1MDB, with all the professionalism within its managerial ranks, has bled losses year after year with only paper gains papering over the red ink.

lodin-wok-kamaruddinA corporate figure once said that numbers tell a thousand stories and it is in 1MDB’s numbers that the story contradicts what its chairman, Lodin Wok Kamaruddin, said about 1MDB’s investments.

So what had 1MDB so prudently invested in? According to its audited accounts, 1MDB invested a total of RM13.4 billion for the financial year ended March 2014 (FY14) in various places globally. This figure includes the RM7.7 billion parked in a structured investment company called a Segregated Portfolio Company (SPC) based in the Cayman Islands, managed by Hong Kong-based Bridge Partners.

And for these investments, 1MDB gained dividend income of RM437 million, which represents a paltry return of 3.26% on its investments. Considering the point that 1MDB could have parked the money in fixed deposit or government bonds and still get similar return — with an added bonus of less foreign exchange risk — it begs the question of why 1MDB bothered to go overseas in the first place.

Of course there is an even uglier side to the investment story: 1MDB’s audited accounts reveal that the investment fund is earning a mere 0.68% interest on its cash pile of nearly RM4 billion.

On the other side of the coin is that 1MDB’s finance costs or interest rates range from roughly 5% up to as high as 18% per annum.In effect, 1MDB is earning much less with its money compared to how much it is paying to have that money in its coffers. Worse, a big chunk of its money is left idle after paying so much to borrow the money in the first place, earning next to nothing in interest.

Why? Simple logic dictates that to make profit, capital must be put to work such that it earns more money than it costs to acquire the capital in the first place. That’s how you earn profit.

1MDBLeaving the capital idle definitely does not qualify as “investing”, unless having idle cash qualifies as investment (a poor one if you have loan repayments to meet). Why incur borrowing costs for nothing?

No wonder 1MDB is finding it difficult to service its loan commitments. Speaking of which Lodin stated that the investment fund believes it can meet its financial commitments.

“Some of the loans are long-term in nature but we believe this financial commitment can be met,” Lodin was reported as saying by Bernama, adding that 1MDB is looking to restructure its short-term loans to match its longer-term investments. “We are also in the process of adding and unlocking value to the assets that we have acquired.”

Najib and 1MDB

Recall that 1MDB already extended its RM5.5 billion bridging loan, originally part of a RM6.2 billion loan from Maybank Investment Bank in 2012, multiple times, even delaying its power assets listing due to negotiations on its debt obligations.

Now this begs yet another question: why borrow on such short horizons if the capital is intended for long-term investments? Would it not make more sense to match the repayment timeline with when the returns on investment are expected to flow in?

And unlocking value to the assets 1MDB had acquired, of course, would not be too difficult. Its properties were acquired cheap from the government, after all, and from there it is simply a matter of bringing valuations up to market benchmarks.

As for its power assets, KiniBiz had previously examined why 1MDB grossly overpaid for them, even borrowing money to do so despite having much cash lying around. Now is this prudent investing as 1MDB Chairman Lodin so generously claimed? Hardly. Numbers don’t lie and in 1MDB’s case, red ink remains red however you call it otherwise.

Perhaps 1MDB is revolutionising investment before our very eyes. Maybe there is a deeper wisdom to its strange madness of borrowing at high cost and making low-return investments.

Or maybe, just maybe, 1MDB simply made poor investment choices and consequently lost some RM5 billion over the past few financial years bar paper gains from revaluing its properties.

In which case what 1MDB seems to be saying right now fits right into the first part of the Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief: denial. And we have not even talked about its losses of up to RM4 billion from its bond mispricing yet…

 

 

Do You Know this Guy?


November 19, 2014

Do You Know this Guy?

Malay Ngo President--Mr KulupAbdul Rani Kulup Abdullah and his look alikes

Do you know this Guy? What does he do for a living? I am told that he is President of Martabat Jalinan Muhibbah Malaysia (MJMM), a self proclaimed champion of Malay rights. His name is Abdul Rani Kulup Abdullah. He specialises in making Police reports and can in my view be considered the foremost specialist in making Police reports, and that qualifies him to be in the Guinness Book Records. What a way to make a living.–Din Merican

READ: http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/280914

Love Flows, President to President


November 19, 2014

Love Flows, President to President

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/12/books/41-george-w-bushs-portrait-of-george-h-w-bush.html?ref=books&_r=0

’41,’ George W. Bush’s Portrait of George H. W. Bush

Review by Michiko Kakutani@www.nytimes.com

Bush-Senior-and-JuniorThe relationship between George W. Bush and his father, George H. W. Bush, might just be the most dissected filial relationship in modern history — compared, variously, to Shakespearean history, Greek tragedy and opéra bouffe. In his new book, the 43rd president draws an affectionate portrait of the 41st president that’s short on factual revelations and long on emotion.

In “41,” Mr. Bush sheds little new light on his fateful decision to invade Iraq in 2003 or on other pivotal moments of his presidency, nor does he tell us much about his father’s tenure in the White House that we didn’t already know. Instead, he’s written what he calls a “love story” about his dad. At its best, the book has the qualities of the younger Mr. Bush’s recent and much-talked-about paintings: It’s folksy, sharply observed and surprisingly affecting, especially for someone not exactly known for introspection. At its worst, the book reads like a banquet-dinner-type testimonial about his father, with transparent efforts to spin or sidestep important questions about his own time in office.

Since George W. Bush stepped onto the national stage, journalists, other politicians and even family members have been comparing and contrasting father and son. Whereas Bush senior was famous for his self-effacing New England manners and quiet diplomacy, Bush junior became known as a proud, outspoken gut player, with Texas swagger. Whereas Bush senior’s policies were grounded in foreign policy realism and old-school Republican moderation, Bush junior’s tilted toward neoconservatism and a drive to export democracy and remake the world. Bush senior was not crazy about “the vision thing,” whereas Bush junior was big on big ideas.

“On everything from taxes to Iraq,” the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote in 2002, “the son has tried to use his father’s failures in the eyes of conservatives as a reverse playbook.” When Bush 41 went to war against Saddam Hussein in 1991 (after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait), he made a decision not to go on to Baghdad and topple Iraq’s dictator, later explaining that if we had gone in and created “more instability in Iraq, I think it would have been very bad for the neighborhood.”

The younger Mr. Bush writes, somewhat defensively here, that in ordering the invasion of Iraq in 2003, he “was not trying ‘to finish what my father had begun,’ as some have suggested. My motivation was to protect the United States of America, as I had sworn an oath to do.”

He also elaborates on a surprising statement he once made to Bob Woodward — that he couldn’t remember consulting his father about his decision to go to war. In “41,” he says: “I never asked Dad what I should do. We both knew that this was a decision that only the president can make. We did talk about the issue, however. Over Christmas 2002, at Camp David, I gave Dad an update on our strategy.”

His father, he says, replied: “You know how tough war is, son, and you’ve got to try everything you can to avoid war. But if the man won’t comply, you don’t have any other choice.”

The oddly dysfunctional inability of father and son to discuss policyGeorge Bush Sr. and politics — out of fear, it seems, of meddling or stepping on each other’s toes — is a recurrent theme in this book. The younger Mr. Bush says his father did not directly caution him against running for Congress in the late ’70s, but instead sent him to talk with a friend who told him he couldn’t win. (He didn’t.)

For many concerned about the war drums beating within the younger Bush’s White House in 2002, something similar occurred when the elder Bush’s former national security adviser and close friend, Brent Scowcroft, wrote an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal warning that another attack on Saddam could “seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken.”

George W. Bush also writes that his father had little to say, in 1993, about his decision to run for governor of Texas, and that he didn’t ask his father whether he should run for president in the 2000 election, adding, “I knew he would support whatever choice I made.”

Biographers and journalists have often observed that the young George W. Bush (whose hard-drinking, irresponsible youth had made him a black sheep in the family next to Jeb, the golden boy) frequently felt overshadowed by his father. And they have speculated that, as President, he was driven to outdo his dad by taking Saddam Hussein down for good, and by winning a second term — arguments the Bush family has dismissed as psychobabble.

In “41,” the younger Mr. Bush talks at length about his dad’s early success. (“Few could claim the trifecta of war hero, Phi Beta Kappa and captain of the baseball team” at Yale, he writes.) And there is certainly fodder for readers searching for clues to an Oedipal rivalry. Mr. Bush says that his father’s college dreams of a baseball career were foiled because “he didn’t have a big enough bat to make the major leagues,” and also frets about his well-mannered father looking “weak” in a debate against Ronald Reagan, recalling a press account that said he showed “the backbone of a jellyfish.”

He writes, however, that his dad gave him “unconditional love,” and that he and his siblings felt “there was no point in competing with our father — no point in rebelling against him — because he would love us no matter what.” He celebrates his father’s well-known generosity, his talent for friendship and his willingness to take risks (from enlisting at the age of 18, not long after Pearl Harbor, to moving to Texas after college, to diving into politics after a stint in the oil business).

Like many, 43 hails 41 for his diplomatic handling of the end of the Cold War, reaching out to the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev and wisely refusing to gloat over the fall of the Berlin Wall. In some ways, the younger Mr. Bush says, his father was “like Winston Churchill, who had been tossed out of office in 1945 just months after prevailing in World War II.”

The most persuasive sections of this book deal not with the political, but with the personal. Mr. Bush’s writing doesn’t have the earnest charm of his father’s letters (“All the Best, George Bush“) or the literary gifts displayed by his wife, Laura, in her memoir, “Spoken From the Heart.” But unlike his earlier books (his perfunctory 1999 campaign memoir, “A Charge to Keep,” and his dogged 2010 autobiography, “Decision Points”), this volume comes close to capturing Mr. Bush’s distinctive voice — by turns jokey and sentimental, irreverent and sincere.

There is very little here about his other siblings (his brother Jeb, the potential presidential candidate, is mentioned only in brief asides), but the passages devoted to his younger sister Robin’s death from leukemia in 1953 are heartfelt and moving.

“In one of her final moments with my father,” Mr. Bush writes, “Robin looked up at him with her beautiful blue eyes and said, ‘I love you more than tongue can tell.’ Dad would repeat those words for the rest of his life.”

As for Mr. Bush’s descriptions of the West Texas world that greeted him and his parents in the 1950s, they are evocative in a way that attests to his painterly eye. “We lived briefly at a hotel and then moved into a new 847-square-foot house on the outskirts of town,” he recalls. “The neighborhood was called Easter Egg Row, because the developers had chosen vibrant paint colors to help residents tell the houses apart. Our Easter egg at 405 East Maple was bright blue.”

Although George senior’s failure to win a second term in the White House led to a sense of despondency, his son writes, he would find “something positive about his defeat in 1992 — it had given rise to the political careers of two people” (that is, the author and Jeb) “whom he had raised and loves.” Had his dad been re-elected that year, the younger Mr. Bush says, “I would not have run for governor” of Texas in 1994 — nor, presumably, run for president and ascended to the White House in the too-close-to-call election of 2000 that went to the Supreme Court. History works in strange ways.

A Template for the Crafting of Indonesian Foreign Policy


November 18, 2014

Jamil Maidan Flores: A Template for the Crafting of Indonesian Foreign Policy

http://thejakartaglobe.beritasatu.com/opinion/jamil-maidan-flores-template-crafting-foreign-policy/

Retno MarsudiMy impression is that even during the New Order era, there was never a lack of debate on foreign policy. In seminars, media and think tank people often expressed views that didn’t support those of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the ministry, diplomats brought competing ideas to the attention of their superiors.

The debate eventually rose to the level of the directors-general vying for the approval of the Foreign Mminister.

Worth a revisit is the crafting of a policy on Timor-Leste, when it was Indonesia’s 27th province. At a late stage of the process, there was a three-way debate on the issue of East Timor involving Nugroho Wisnumurti, who at the time was the country’s permanent representative to the UN in New York; Hassan Wirajuda, Indonesia’s then permanent representative to the UN in Geneva; and then foreign minister Alatas.

Each had an “intellectual constituency.” Nugroho spoke for all who took a legalistic approach to the issue of East Timor; Hassan advocated a more pragmatic approach, which he would later call the “policy approach”; while Alatas took the middle ground. After much discussion, Alatas assigned Hassan to draft the policy paper on East Timor.

Hassan then wrote a policy paper following a format he learned in graduate school. The first part consisted of the history of the issue — not a detailed one but certainly a comprehensive history that includes a consideration of the various sub-issues (human rights in East Timor, for example).

This was followed by an analysis of the current situation, the challenges and the opportunities and “trends” emanating from it. A trend is a series of probable events from the current situation to a future one, considering the impact of the regional and global environments. Out of this analysis and consideration of the trends, five policy options were developed.

The first option was essentially for the status quo. Had this been chosen, Indonesia would have simply insisted that East Timor remained as Indonesia’s 27th province, and that was it. The second option was for the early holding of a referendum on the political destiny of East Timor, and if through this referendum the people of East Timor chose to separate from Indonesia, the separation would be carried out in orderly fashion.

The third option was for wide-ranging autonomy to be granted to East Timor and after seven years, a referendum would be held in which the people of East Timor would decide whether to remain or to separate from Indonesia. Meanwhile, the Indonesian government would try to win the hearts and minds of the East Timorese so they’d vote to stay with Indonesia.

The fourth and fifth options were variations of the third. The option recommended was the third. The rest of the paper dwelled on how this option could be carried out successfully.

The third option, although initially adopted by the Indonesian government, was not fully carried out. In the midst of the Asian Crisis of the late 1990s, Suharto stepped down and his successor, B.J. Habibie, took the second option.

The point is that if a debate on foreign policy could take place under authoritarian rule, there should be more of it in a democratic Indonesia. During the transition to democracy, Hassan Wirajuda, who had become foreign minister, could finally expand the debate to include other stakeholders — members of the House of Representatives, the media, the academe, the youth, etc. — through “foreign policy breakfasts” and other forms of consultation.

The practice has since been discontinued, but I understand that the new foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, intends to revive it. That’s good news to foreign policy buffs in Indonesia. The more views brought into the debate, the greater will be the public support for the resulting policy. It will then be a people-driven foreign policy.

Jamil Maidan Flores is a Jakarta-based literary writer whose interests include philosophy and foreign policy. The views expressed here are his own.