Credible leadership?

Watch and decide:

I got this via email from a friend in Washington DC today. His reaction after the video on my blog is:

“He sounds like George Bush, lying all the way. His body language gives him away. At least, George learned to lie convincingly, maybe because he is educated at Yale and Harvard Business School, albeit using the reputation of his grandfather Prescott Bush and the wealth of his father,George Herbert Walker Bush. Din,where did your man go to school? In one of the madrasahs in your state? Sorry man, Mr. Badawi strikes me as someone who is totally incompetent to lead Malaysia forward.

I am sorry, old buddy, I dread the thought of his managing the economy which is likely to be affected severely by the looming global banking crisis. I am worried for America and I hope you are not as laid back and complacent as Mr. Badawi.

Right now, no one knows how bad the banking crisis really is. There is mounting uncertainty. I am of the view is that since the banking system is impaired, globally we will not be able to finance economic development. It will be severe this time because it affects public confidence. But be ready for tough times ahead. Regards, David” .

My reaction to Badawi’s comments at Davos World Economic Forum is as follows:

I suppose we should not worry since we have the father of “Borianomics”, Badawi, in charge of our nation’s Treasury, ably assisted by Noh Mohamed as Minister of Finance No 2 and Deputy Finance Minister Dato Dr. Awang Adek. Our economy has strong fundamentals and our foreign exchange reserve position is healthy, said the Prime Minister in Swizerland.

Remember, we said the same thing when currency speculators attacked the Thai Bhat in July, 1998. We were assured that we would be fine when the East Asian economic contagion hit our shores. But that turned out to be wishful thinking. We have yet to fully recover from its after effects. But fortunately, we had a strong economic leadership team then with Mahathir, Anwar Ibrahim and Daim.

I, therefore, find it hard to accept the comments of Boriaeconomist Badawi at Davos, Switzerland (as reported by Lokman Mansor of the New Straits Times). He said, and I quote:

“Yes, at one time we were very dependent on the US, but following our diversification efforts, Malaysia has started to export to other countries and is not as dependent on the US as before…Our economy is also showing signs of resilience. Total trade is more than RM 1 trillion, we have large reserves of USD101 billion(RM 327 billion) and some 86 per cent is our GDP (gross domestic product) is from the strength of the domestic economy.”

The Prime Minister forgets that the rest of ASEAN, China, India, Japan and South Korea, which he claims to be our new markets, are dependent on the health of the US economy. If these countries are affected, then our total trade will decline too. In fact, the entire global economy and the international financial system resolve around the US and the US dollar.

The world trading and financial system after WW2 was designed by American genius to create and maintain US hegemony. That is why everything in trade and finance is done through the US dollar as international currency. The American banking system,in turn, serves as the mechanism for trade and investment flows. If both the US dollar and American banks are weak, the rest of the world will catch an economic flu. So let us not “cakap besar”.

How competent is the UMNO-BN government in economic management? Please see Tan Sri Khalid’s press statement which I posted on my blog earlier. I get shudders when I think of how we have been managing our economy since Badawi became Prime Minister in 2003. Nothing is happen except all the big announcements about corridors and other mega projects.

It may also be recalled that Noh Mohamed was the foreign exchange man at Bank Negara Malaysia in the 1990s and he helped Malaysia to lose nearly rm30 billion of forex reserves speculating on the British pound. He had a spectacular corporate career in Mun Loong!! Is he really credible? While I may be very critical of Rafidah Aziz, I believe she will make an interesting Minister of Finance, that is, if she is not defeated in Kuala Kangsar in the coming 2008 Elections!!

So let us throw out at the bulls… and face reality. We must prepare for the worst and get real—Din Merican

Feeding the Rot: The Royal Commission of Inquiry

Report on William Leong’s speech at Sungai Lallang, Kedah
(reported by Din Merican)

In an earlier presentation at Sungai Lallang, Sdr. William Leong briefed the audience on the progress of the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on the VK Lingam “Correct, Correct, Correct” video clip. He said that the system of rule of law should be the concern of every citizen in this country. This is because it affects our lives and property and other rights and in many ways. Right now, there is no confidence in our sistem perhakiman and keadilan. Our Judiciary’s independence was severely compromised and our rule by law severely impaired. We must, therefore, make sure that we all have equal consideration before the courts and for this to happen our courts are totally independent and can deliver justice without political interference. Our judges too must be men and women of impeccable character and outstanding intellect and who can understand the intracacies of law.

The Lingam video clip provides clear proof that our justice system had been tampered with to favour the rich and powerful. Sdr William said, “sistem perhakiman kita sudah rosak; terok betul, para hadirin sekalian dan saya bimbang bahawa ini akan menjadi ternat”. If this is not urgently fixed, no one will invest in this country. The integrity of our judicial system and the dignity of our judges(“maruah para hakim kita mesti dipulih semula”) must, therefore, be restored, the sooner the better. It gives us no comfort to note that a powerful and strong willed Prime Minister had been manipulated (“Tun Dr. Mahathir telah dimanipulasikan”) by a “peguam India dan tauke judi Cina” to fix judicial appointments, and court decisions.

The progress of the RCI has so far been rather slow, perhaps deliberately and the public is increasingly frustrated with the politics of its public hearings. Now there is a move to keep its proceedings away from public knowledge. The Commissioners are apparently trying to change the rules of public inquiry which has been traditionally been open, transparent and participatory. William added that there must a genuine effort by the RCI to balance the need to protect the privacy of those who could be implicated in this case and the need to serve the public interest. As this is a Royal Commission, the public interest should take precedence. Sdr. William acknowledged that there is a need for greater discipline in the conduct of its business. Closed door sessions have limited value if the intention of the RCI is get at the truth and make appropriate recommendations to protect judicial integrity and dignity.

He said that he and his colleagues with PKR and the legal profession are hopeful that Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim who was solely responsible for the release of the Lingam video clip to the nation on September 19, 2007 would be allowed to appear before the RCI in a open rather a closed session.

Finally, he added that we should not be diverted from our present economic and social problems—inflation, unemployment and business slowdown, poverty, corruption and abuse of power, and mismanagement in our civil service—which have been ignored by Badawi since he took office in 2003. Let us not allow him and his UMNO-BN colleagues to blame the previous Prime Minister, who was a definitely a superior and smart leader, for what is happening to our country over the last four years.

Despite his faults—and he had lots of strengths too—Tun Dr. Mahathir understood how our economy functioned and was very action-driven and decisive  when it came to solving the nation’s problems. With regard to management of the economy , the Tun had able ministers like Anwar Ibrahim and Daim Zainuddin to assist him. During his premiership, Malaysia enjoyed robust growth with strong foreign direct investment flows, and our stock market was booming in stead of languishing and lagging behind other regional stock exchanges. People had jobs and business was doing well.

John Keats:La Belle Dame Sans Merci

Here is another of my favorites by John Keats, La Belle Dame Sans Merci. It is dedicated to my young Filipino friends, Anna and Charlene I met when I was part of the discourse team at the Asian Renaissance Leadership Programme at Lembah Impian Resort, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah in early December, 2007. This programme was jointly organised by Japan’s Sosokawa Peace Foundation and Institut Kajian Dasar of Malaysia. The participants came from Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Like Wee Loon, Dhamina, Amin, and Najwan, they made a favorable impression on me with their outgoing and confident persona—Din Merican


La Belle Dame Sans Merci.

Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight,
Alone and palely loitering;
The sedge is wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever dew;
And on thy cheek a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads
Full beautiful, a faery’s child;
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long;
For sideways would she lean, and sing
A faery’s song.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She look’d at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew;
And sure in language strange she said,
I love thee true.

She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she gaz’d and sighed deep,
And there I shut her wild sad eyes–
So kiss’d to sleep.

And there we slumber’d on the moss,
And there I dream’d, ah woe betide,
The latest dream I ever dream’d
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings, and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
Who cry’d–“La belle Dame sans merci
Hath thee in thrall!”

I saw their starv’d lips in the gloam
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke, and found me here
On the cold hill side.

And this is why I sojourn here
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Dr Mnesia, Lingamnesia and Samnesia

By Dean Johns
January 23, 2008

You won’t remember this, as it was so long ago and you’ve had far more pressing matters on your mind, but back in November 2006 I wrote a column for Malaysiakini titled An aide memoire on amnesia.

I’d almost forgotten about this myself until recent events in Malaysia jogged my memory of it. Looking it up, I’m reminded that I mentioned as many versions of amnesia as I could think of at the time. Including ‘cramnesia’ (forgetting all the facts we all crammed to get through school or university); ‘jamnesia’ (forgetting our vows to never again venture out in the traffic on festive-season weekends); and ‘RAMnesia’, the total memory-loss we suffer when our computers crash or die.

But these were all incidental in leading to the point I was attempting to make, which is that the most dangerous form of amnesia is ‘scamnesia’, the tendency to forget the tricks played on us by those we unwisely trust to act in our best interests, like elected representatives, the police and other so-called civil servants and institutions including the judiciary and the press.

And, re-reading that old piece as I did just now, I’m reminded that I also referred to ‘Saddamnesia’, an extreme form of amnesia that causes some of us to forget that we may someday pay the ultimate price for our crimes; and ‘Umnesia’, a tendency for some people to forget that they’re neither superior to nor more privileged than Malaysians of other parties, races or religions.

I recall feeling pretty well satisfied at the time that I’d exhausted the topic of amnesia and its multifarious mutations. But recent events have prompted me to re-think the topic, and revisit if not revise it.

One current form of amnesia that I suppose I can be forgiven for failing to foresee, as Anwar Ibrahim had yet to release the video which an investigation is now evoking examples of it, is ‘Examnesia’. The inability of the focal figure and at least one key witness in the ongoing judge- fixing inquiry to remember anything much under cross-examination.

Examnesia evidently takes two forms. The first, ‘Dr Mnesia’, in which the witness clearly considers himself too important and confident of his immunity from blame to be bothered even trying to remember.

Blissful ignorance

And then there’s ‘Lingamnesia’, a species of forgetting formerly known in legal circles as ‘The I dunno, Your Honour, I was drunk at the time’ defence. Neither Dr Mnesia nor Lingamnesia would stand up in court, of course, let alone a royal commission. Which explains why the government has chosen to set up a panel without any powers to improve a system whose faults it would prefer to preserve.

Another form of amnesia that’s causing a lot of talk right now is what I suppose by right should be called ‘Samynesia’ but which for the sake of euphony I’ll take the liberty of shortening to ‘Samnesia’. Depending who you are, you can define this syndrome either of two ways.

If you take the Hindraf point of view, Samnesia is the condition from which Mr Samy Vellu has chronically suffered for decades, causing him to forget the welfare of his constituents in favour of cashing-in on his position and mis-managing their investment funds.

But on the contrary, if you’re a member or supporter of the Barisan Nasional or the MIC, or both, Samnesia signifies the sad failure on some peoples’ part to remember what wonders Works Minister Samy Vellu has wrought for their benefit.

In a desperate attempt to push the latter interpretation, Prime Minister Abdullah recently declared a public holiday in KL and Putrajaya for Thaipusam. But whether this will prove powerful enough sop to overcome disaffected Indians’ Samnesia, only the forthcoming general election will tell.

Of course, in preparation for the general election, as big a proportion as possible of the Malaysian population is being lulled, as usual, into a state of blissful ignorance and forgetfulness that, in recognition of the tireless manipulation of the ‘mainstream’ media by (mis)information minister Zainuddin Maidin, could well be termed ‘Zamnesia’.

And it’s timely to remind ourselves that any of us with family, friends or colleagues suffering from Zamnesia would do well to get involved with Ops Bawa Berita Balik Kampung, see , or the Newspaper Hatal campaign being waged by Helen Ang and Haris Ibrahim of The People’s Parliament.

Perpetual domination

However powerfully the government promotes Zamnesia, however, there’s one event it never lets the voters forget: May 13. In fact Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak was hard at work plugging it again just the other day, claiming that official crack-downs on Hindraf and other recent rallies had averted a serious risk of racial violence.

‘If the Malays of Kampung Baru come out then we have the spectre of a serious possibility of a racial clash in this country,” he reportedly said in an interview with AFP, adding that, “There were signs that they were preparing to come out so we had to tell them, ‘look, don’t make the situation any worse’,’

Despite having such a clear recollection of May 13 1969, however, and being so determined to remind the opposition of the possibility of a repeat performance, Najib and many of his colleagues seem otherwise to have a very poor memories indeed.

In fact, they appear to suffer badly from ‘haramnesia’, a tendency to forget that just as threats of bloodshed against the innocent are not ‘halal’, neither are deceit, corruption or many of the other techniques routinely employed by Barisan Nasional in its pursuit of perpetual domination.

As a foreigner, of course I can’t participate in the elections in Malaysia. But at least I can urge anyone who’ll listen to have an attack of amnesia when it comes time to remember to vote for BN.

Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim: “Merakyatkan Ekonomi Malaysia”

by Din Merican
Sungai Lallang, Kedah
January 26, 2008

At Ceramah Umum in Sungai Lallang, not far from Sungei Patani, yesterday night (January 25, 2008), Parti KeADILan Rakyat’s Secretary-General, Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim told a gathering of 1200 people from all walks of life who braved the heavy drizzle that PKR and its partners PAS and Democratic Action Party (DAP) will be return the economy to the Malaysian people under the concept of “Merakyatkan Ekonomi”.

A strong team of PKR stalwarts from Kuala Lumpur led by Tan Sri Khalid comprising Sdr. Zambri Yusof, PKR Kedah Liaison Chief, Sdr. Johari Abdul, PKR Supreme Council member, Puan Fuziah Salleh, Deputy Director (Elections), prominent lawyer and Party Treasurer, Willam Leong, and yours truly from the Office of Dato Anwar Ibrahim descended on the Merbok Parliamentary constituency and stronghold of Minister of Information Dato Zainuddin Mydin (ZAM). We were given a rousing welcome and garlanded by members of the Indian community and Tan Sri Khalid also accepted some 200 new Indian members under the watchful eye of a few members of the famed Special Branch with two of them manning their video camera.

According to Sdr. Zambri, the local Police authorities gave PKR the permit to hold this gathering and we were indeed most grateful to them for this gesture. I wondered aloud whether Bukit Aman headed by their IGP Tan Sri Musa Hassan at Bukit Aman would have allowed us to meet in Sungai Lallang if Sdr. Zambri had applied for permit in Kuala Lumpur. The granting of the permit did reflect that Police personnel on the ground were more reasonable and understanding than their bosses who are close to the seat of power in Putrajaya.

It was a peaceful gathering of concerned Malaysians.They wanted a different take on the political and economic situation in their country, compared to what the mainstream media have putting out each day and night. They want to be part of the moments of truth. Let say me this with a degree of pride that my colleagues and I did not fail them. We were hard hitting and critical of what is happening in Boleh Land under Abdullah Badawi.

More importantly, we were able to articulate an alternative vision and offer concrete solutions to our present malaise. In this sense, the UMNO-BN regime is bankrupt of ideas and could only rehash and rebrand failed schemes, spending millions of ringgits relaunching them throughout the country amidst pomp and ceremony with “gendang bertalu talu” (with repeated beating of the drum).

“Merakayatkan Ekonomi”

“Merakayatkan Ekonomi, apa maknanya?” asked Tan Sri Khalid. He went on to explain this concept in a commonsensical and non-technical way. It means that economic choices made by the people which are considered and dealt with the Government in preparing the annual national budget exercise, and ensuing programmes. The collective decision is invariably a very rational one and that is, it is a choice which on the aggregate provides social and economic benefits to the maximum number of people, not to a single person or crony or some vested interest group. For example, a decision made by the Prime Minister to buy a rm230 million Airbus Executive Jet for his own use and that made by the Deputy Prime Minister to purchase of two French made submarines and a fleet of Russian fighter aircrafts in exchange for commissions to the tune of nearly rm1,000 million cannot be tolerated in such a system. Both are cases of abuse of power.

The role of the government then is that of a custodian of natural resources, taxes, royalties and other incomes and proceeds from the disposal of public assets should be kept in a special fund, as in the Islamic Bait al-maal concept. The custodian acts in trust for,and in the interest of, the entire nation.

Funds will be used for education, healthcare, and social services and public infrastructure. In such a custodial role, the government is expected to be thoroughly professional, competent, responsible and accountable to its citizens. If the government is inept, or corrupt, or acts against the interest of the nation, it can removed by the people and its officials can replaced or charged in our courts and appropriately punished. The government must be fully accountable to the people who, in turn, have the right to know.

He told the audience that in order to make the right decisions about their choices, the public should be provided with complete information. It is for this reason, when an alternative government is elected in office, the Prime Minister designate in consultation with PAS and DAP as partners will abolish the Official Secrets Act (OSA), a relic of the British colonial system, which has enabled the UMNO-BN government to conduct its affairs without public oversight. India has done way with their OSA. If India could introduce right to information legislation,Tan Sri Khalid could not see any valid reason why Malaysia cannot do so. The alternative government would also seek to reform and strengthen the Judiciary and protect the rule of law.

The rule of law is important if we are to attract foreign and domestic investors to create much needed economic growth. Right now, our economic growth rate reflects that our economy is performing below its potential. We need to put in place policies that can create jobs and opportunities and we need, said Tan Sri Khalid, to invest in the training and retraining of our workers so that they earn higher income. We need to improve our education and healthcare system. At the same time, we need social policies that can reduce the widening gap between the rich and the poor. There must be justice for all Malaysians—Malays, Indians and Chinese alike. Growth and national productiity will precede, of course, distributive justice.

There should a root and branch reform of the civil service and there is an urgent need to provide adequate facilities and resources to take care of policemen and soldiers. We must deal with the high and rising crime rate and protect our sovereignty and territorial integrity. The audience applauded when Tan Sri Khalid remarked that,” kita mesti memberi kemudahan and gaji yang lebih baik kepada anggota polis dan perajurit perajurit kita yang sudah banyak mengkorban tenaga dan nyawa mereka demi keselamatan and keamanan negara kita”.

In closing his remarks, he pledged amidst applause that as soon as the new alternative government is formed, Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim will announce that “harga minyak akan turun” at the pumps. Unlike what Najib said, Malaysia will not go bankrupt. It will be bankrupt, if and when the present government does not how manage the country’s wealth prudently. We need to eliminate wasteful and unproductive public spending.

There will be free education for all Malaysians up to university level. He said that the new government would also study the national health service in the United Kingdom with a view to introducing a similar system in our country so that those young and old alike do not have seek public donations for serious illnesses. It is the responsibility of a good and caring government to ensure that no one is denied the right to proper medical care. Malaysia is a rich and blessed country, and we can certainly afford a better deal for all Malaysians.

All the speakers from the PKR team made impassioned appeals to the audience that “inilah masanya untuk kita membawa perubahan dalam bumi kita yang bertuah ini”(Johari Abdul). My 25 minute speech was a personal reflection of a Kedah boy who was born during Second World War in Guar Chempedak, Yan, not far from Sungai Lallang. I told my audience that I owed it to their grandparents, parents and others for taking such great care of me and supporting me through school and university. I said, “saya ni terhutang budi kepada rakyat negeri Kedah yang menjaga saya dengan baik. Sebab itu saya kembali berjuang bersama Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim dan kawan kawan lain dalam PKR demi masa depan yang lebih baik dan aman bagi rakyat. Negara kita sakit sekarang”. I also urged my audience to work hard ahead of difficult times, and live in peace with each other, not to allow UMNO politicians to play the Malays against the Indians and the Chinese.

After the ceramah—it was already ten minutes past midnight by that time— many among the audience came up to the platform to thank us and shake our hands. The warmth and sincerity as reflected in their sad eyes made me say to myself that “there is no way my colleagues and I and our esteemed leader, Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim, will ever let them down, inshaAllah”.

It is always a learning and humbling experience for me to meet my fellow Malaysians who are doing the best they can with their sparse resources at their disposal from dawn to dusk—kais pagi makan pagi, kais petang makan petang—to eke a living, educate and give their families and dependents a decent life.The fight against poverty and lack of opportunity is never more urgent.

On a trip to Sungai Petani and Alor Star, Kedah


Dear Friends and Bloggers,

I shall be leaving for Sungai Petani and Alor Setar by car shortly with my colleague and PKR Treasurer, William Leong to participate in a forum on the state of the Malaysian economy. This will be my second trip is less than two months. We will join Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, our Secretary-General, who will lead the discussions.He is expected to present Anwar Ibrahim’s Malaysian Economic Agenda, and his views of the impact of the US sub-prime mortgage on our economy and the rest of the world.

I will talk about the impact of culture on economic development in clear and easily understood language (Bahasa Malaysia ala Kedah). William Leong will discuss inflation and its effects of the welfare of ordinary Malaysians. PKR has a clear economic agenda for our country. Unfortunately, the government controlled media is not giving us any space or air time to explain our vision for Malaysia.

This vision based on vigorous economic growth is built around a straightforward idea of “justice for all”, and good governance (transparency, openness and accountability) and the rule of law. We need a government that will listen to its people and respond efficiently to their needs, not one which buries its head in the sand by not being in touch with reality. Let us together bring an end to Borianomics (Boria-Economics) and start an era founded on positive economics.

Forums of this nature are invaluable as a way to keep our fellow Malaysians fully informed of the real economic and political situation in our country. Malaysians must be prepared for a difficult period in the coming months and no amount of “feel good” spinning will help us. What will make us survive yet another potential economic meltdown is plain hard work and discipline with the government setting the example by managing the economy with wisdom and prudence.

I will have a full report on this forum for you when I return to Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, January 26, 2008. I shall also write a piece on the ongoing sandiwara at the Haidar Royal Commission of Inquiry. Please have a nice day and keep working hard and stay focused.—-Din Merican