Malaysia’s Top Economist and Mr.Transformer speaks

June 24, 2014

Malaysia’s Top Economist and Mr. Transformer speaks

I missed this one dated June 20, 2014, posted in Malaysiakini because Dr. Kamsiah and I were away in Taipei. Reading it, I thought the authorities in Taiwan should have appointed Dato Seri Idris Jala as their chief propagandist.  So here it is:

idris guitarSenator Dato’ Seri Idris Jala is a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and CEO of Malaysia’s Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU), an organization tasked with ensuring Malaysia meets the goals set forth under the National Transformation Programme (NTP).

He spoke with The Prospect Group about the Economic Transformation Programme’s (ETP) goals for 2014, which includes Gross National Income (GNI), investment, and job creation, and ensuring Malaysia’s economy is resilient in the face of global uncertainty.

Q: What are the ETP’s main focal points for 2014?


Our focal point for 2014 is to make sure we implement. We have to implement what we promised under the ETP as well as the GTP. The public wants results and the way in which we have to fulfill those results is to execute the initiatives within the 12 National Key Economic Areas (NKEAs) that will achieve big results fast.

Q: What are your 2020 GNI, investment, and job creation goals?

By the year 2020, we would like to have become a high-income economy that fulfills the GNI targets of $15,000 per capita. That is our long-term goal. To do that will require a lot of investment; something like $444bn is needed to propel the Malaysian economy to grow. We also need to create 3.3m jobs; you have to create a lot more high-paying jobs so that the citizens can benefit. So those are the three true-North targets: gross national income per capita, private investments that will drive it, and jobs that are created. The good news today is that, from when we first began, in four years, we have been able to grow our total GNI per capita by 50%. We are at the halfway mark today. So we are very pleased with the progress made on the GNI target. With regard to job creation, we are supposed to create 3.3m jobs, and we have created 1.3m jobs in the four-year period. So that is really very good.

We have met more than 60% of the investment targets, signifying we are well on the way to achieving this as well. My view today is that we would like this coming year to continue in the same way as we have experienced over the last three years. That means that everything is on the right trajectory. If things continue the way that they are, we will fulfill our targets before 2020.


Q: In terms of time frame and the trajectory you are on today, when do you anticipate these goals will be achieved?

I think we should reach our targets by the year 2018. But, as you know, the world is not linear. If you look back over the last four years, it has been a good run for us, but we are subject to what happens in the global economy. We have to build in a lot more resilience within the Malaysian economy to face any global crisis or any global slowdown to ensure we can weather storms that happen between now and the year 2020. It has been a very good run for the last four years.
Q: In a world of constantly changing economic realities, how can Malaysia’s Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) and National Key Economic Areas (NKEAs) adapt?

Adaptation is a very important requirement moving forward for Malaysia. So what we want to do in Malaysia moving forward is to ensure we build enough resilience in our economy.Let me begin by saying we must implement proper fiscal reforms. Public debt in our case should not exceed 55% of our GDP. Now there are many countries that have gone to 80%, 90%, 100%, and even 190% public debt to GDP. So if you make sure that you grow the economy and make sure the government debt is below the 55% threshold, we believe that is the way to go. You cannot and should not over leverage, so we are really focusing on that.The second thing about being resilient as an economy and being able to face any un-foretold difficulties with the global economy is to make sure we do not have a fiscal deficit that exceeds 6%. We have been steadily reducing our fiscal deficit. When we first started, our fiscal deficit was 6.6%. We have since cut that down to 5.8%, and then to 4.8%, and last year we reached 3.9%.

The other aspect of making sure we can adapt is obviously to make sure we have the right competent talent. A competent talent pool means that whatever structural changes take place in the economy, people are able to be mobile and will do what is needed to produce products and services that can compete in the world outside.

The other is that we made changes in the way the civil service operates. We have become a lot more efficient and the good news today is that we have been able to improve the ease of doing business. It is very easy to do business in Malaysia. The World Bank assessed Malaysia in 2009 at number 23. We then moved to number 18, and then to 12, and last year, for the first time, we moved to number 6 overall in the world in terms of the ease of doing business. So if it is easy for investors to put money and investment in Malaysia, and at the same time the government is fiscally prudent and we bring in all the fiscal reforms, and we have a talent pool in the country, then we can adapt very quickly to changes that are happening.

Q: How does this philosophy play into the ideology that Malaysia should move away from being a primary resource based economy and into a higher value added service based economy?

If you look at the history of Malaysia, we were an agrarian economy during independence in 1957 and then we moved into a more commodities play. So what we are now doing is making sure that our manufacturing arm grows a lot bigger and we have started doing that. In fact, when it gets down to palm oil, we are now telling the industry it is fine and good for us to do a lot more primary products and selling that as crude, but it is much more important for us to start producing downstream products such as oleo chemicals and we gave a lot of incentives to allow this to happen as evidenced by the establishment of more refineries. That is happening as we speak today, the downstream component has to come in. At the same time, between now and 2020, we wanted to see that we increase the services sector of the GDP to become more than 60% and we have been growing that rapidly. You can see today that tourism is big for us, financial services are big, the health sector as a part of the economy is also growing, and the education sector. So all of these all together, they will become, by the year 2020, at least 60% of our GDP. So I think for the first time doing this, we will have to diversify the economy so that we do not rely entirely on the commodities play, but we get into the downstream part of the same sectors and at the same time we grow the services sector. I think if you add the two together, the Malaysian economy becomes more resilient.

Radio Free Malaysia s01e01

The inaugural broadcast of Radio Free Malaysia.

By the way – in what can only be described as predictable, the RFM website was hacked/attacked on the day that the station launched.

March 25, 2013
Radio Free Malaysia launched tonight on MW 1359 kHz, however its online site, which was already under enormous pressure owing to widespread interest, came under immediate cyber-attack.
The Destributed Denial of Service attacks began at around the time the programme went on air and were presumably aiming at preventing people from downloading the online podcasts of the show.  The effect was to slow down the operation of the site for would-be users.
Investigations show that the attacks originated from KL in Malaysia and bore a striking resemblance to similar attacks on the website Sarawak Report last week, which suffered attempts to bring the site down in the wake of the Global Witness film expose of Taib Mahmud, Inside Malaysia’s Shadow State.
The attacks on Sarawak Report originated in Kuching and KL.
Founder of the new radio station Clare Rewcastle Brown said “BN politicians spend a lot of time talking about cyber-warfare and cyber-warriors as if they were a positive thing to be proud of.  In fact cyber-warfare is all about cheating, deception and illegal activities such as hacking and DDS attacks.  I struggle to understand why BN politicians think it is positive to associate themselves with such behaviour, but note that they seem to regard such cheating and misbehaviour as necessary”
The Station has nevertheless maintained its website and is able to report a reasonable broadcast quality for its new programme.

The Man from Alor Star, Kedah Darul Aman

December 8, 2012

The Man from Alor Setar, Kedah Darul Aman

“A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear.” ― Marcus Tullius Cicero

Mahathir MohamadLike him or not, Tun Dr. Mahathir will not just go away. He evokes admiration as well as damnation in almost equal measure. To the majority of Malays he is a hero and an unapologetic defender of their rights. My generation of Kedahans regard him our role model.

Tun Dr. Mahathir (known as Dr.UMNO)is handsome, smart and well educated with a beautiful doctor wife, Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah binti Mohamed Ali. That was part of what I remember him growing up in Alor Star in the 1950s. It was my late mother’s privilege to serve Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah at Alor Setar General Hospital as it was mine to serve Bank Negara Governor Tun Ismail Bin Mohamed Ali and Tun Dr. Mahathir when he was Chairman, Kumpulan FIMA Berhad.

I disagree strongly with his politics, but I acknowledge his contributions to the development of our country. 22 years under his administration, Malaysia has been transformed from an agricultural backwater to a modern industrialized nation, deformities aside.–Din Merican

Here’s to a Good Weekend

March 3, 2012

Here’s to a Good Weekend


We have come to another weekend, the first for March 2012. And we are already in the third month of this year and are reminded of the Ides of March (Bill Shakespeare makes an immortal play of this in his Julius Caesar). Don’t worry. It has significance to those who are superstitious but to ordinary folks like us, it is just another time in our lives.

Dr. Kamsiah suggested that we should bring back some teenage idols of the 1950s who sang to the rhythm of Rock N Roll. It was a time of Elvis Presley, Connie Francis, Connie Stevens, Joni James, Bill Haley and His Comets, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Buddy Holly.

We also had James Dean. Talking about Dean, I remember Hang Mongkut Bean walking by the Great World Park, Alor Setar to see the movie, Rebel without a Cause at Rex Theatre. He was in Blue Jeans, with a White Tee-Shirt and a red wind cheater like Jim in the movie. He must have purchased these items in Padang Besar, the town on the border between then Malaya and Thailand. He became a wannabe James Dean with a swagger. I can’t imagine how he looks now, but he was rather dashing in his youth.

We are pleased to feature Tommy Sands, Tab Hunter, Pat Boone ( the nice looking, clean cut American student at Columbia University, New York), Britain’s Cliff Richard and Canadian born teenage sensation and young composer, Paul Anka who immortalised sex bomb shell, Britain’s Diana Dors with a hit titled Diana. May these songs bring back all the memories of those happy and carefree days of our teens.

Din thought we should play Anka’s tribute to the late Sammy Davies Jr titled I am not Anyone. The song should in his view inspire our rather timid young Malaysians to speak up and make a difference. He is also reminded of Frank Sinatra who will sing for us an Anka composition, Let me try again.

Both Sammy and Frank were of the generation before Din’s, and should not be forgotten for they entertained millions around the world. To Sammy and Frank, we say thank you for your contributions to the American Bandstand. You both and Dean Martin are gone but you will never be forgotten. Have a great weekend.Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

Tommy Sands–Teenage Crush

You’re Adorable

Tab Hunter–Cherry Apple Blossom Time

Young Love

Pat Boone–April Love

I almost lost my mind

Remember You’re Mine

Cliff Richard–Living Doll

Long Ago and Faraway


In a Matter of Moments

Paul Anka–Diana

I am not Anyone

Times of My Life

Frank Sinatra-Let Me try again

The Lynas Project is now a Political Hot Potato

March 2, 2012


The Lynas Project is now a Political Hot Potato

by  Maclean Patrick, Wong Choon Mei, Malaysia Chronicle

The Lynas rare-earth refinery has become a hotbed of controversy. Prime Minister Najib Razak has gone to great lengths to justify the need to have the RM700 million refinery operate at a small town in his home-state.

According to Najib, the government has already reviewed Lynas Corp’s operations and the firm has been given strict guidelines to follow. “We would not give an operating license unless we are satisfied that the local community can accept that this project is safe,” he told the press in the wake of the 20,000-strong Himpunan Jijau 2.0 protest held last weekend.

The PM also noted that one of the conditions attached to Lynas Corp’s Temporary Operating Licence is that the disposal of toxic waste materials must be done at a remote location away from the local community. But this does not in any way appease or help to assure Malaysians especially the residents in Gebeng, Pahang, where the plant is sited.

“If the rare earth processed by Lynas is not toxic, it would require a different method of disposal. But toxicity is a subjective matter and should not be taken lightly,” Robert Phang, an executive council member of the Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation and a former member of the MACC Consultation and Corruption Prevention Panel, said  in a statement.

“Australia is many time larger than Malaysia but how come it does not allow such a facility on its land? The reason is very obvious. As such Malaysia should not and cannot allow itself to be used by Australia as a toxic rare earth dumping ground. If the government approves the Lynas facility at all risks, it will inevitably arouse suspicion of corruption in the project.”

Corruption most foul

Indeed, cries of corruption – ever present in the Malaysian scenario – are beginning to grow louder given the lengths that the Najib administration is going through to ensure the project is not scrapped.

Meanwhile, minister in the PM’s department, Koh Tsu Koon, insists the hunt for a suitable storage site for waste material from the Lynas operation will involve as many as four ministries. But even if it involved a hundred ministries, it will not reduce the risks of contamination by a single decimal place.

So far, the ongoing discussions have included the Science, Technology and Innovation; Health; International Trade and Industry; and Natural Resources and Environment ministries. “I have also spoken up on this issue within the Cabinet, and my colleagues in the Cabinet have already made a statement to ask Lynas to move their waste material away,” Koh said.

Critics of the Lynas refinery want the government to halt its construction and direct the Atomic Energy Licensing Board’s (AELB) to reverse a decision to grant Lynas a temporary operating licence (TOL), which will allow it to embark on a two-year trial run. They allege that the Australian miner has not given enough assurances on how it will handle the low-level radioactive waste that will be produced at the refinery. They further assert that plans for an off-site storage location for the refinery’s waste material “is totally senseless” and reflected “a shallow understanding of the ecological system and blatant disrespect of natural environment.”

Things done in reverse – why?

Indeed, the Najib administration seems to be doing things in reverse. Facilities have been built before a TOL was issued and even though Najib assured that the local community must be satisfied the project was safe before giving the green light. A sign that the discontent is not only strong but rising is the overwhelming show of support from across the nation at last weekend’s anti-Lynas campaign in Kuantan. Thousands turned up at the Himpunan Hijau 2.0 rally organized by Gebeng residents, activists and PKR MP Fuziah Salleh to protest the Lynas plant.

Without doubt, there is fear something is seriously wrong with Lynas and it is not just about the environmental impact the radioactive waste material may leave,but there is also deep concern at why the Najib administration could allow such a “dirty” industry to come into Malaysia.

Firstly, by allowing a rare-earth refinery on local shores, does this open the door for Malaysia to take in other “dirty” industries unwanted by the more prudent nations in the world? Is Malaysia that far sunk in its economic deterioration that it has no choice but to literally be the “toilet” of the world so to speak in order to avert recession?

Remember, Aussie-based Lynas could not get a permit from its own home government to set up its refinery plant and Australia is a continent with vast tracts of remote and un-peopled interiors. While the Australian government shuns the headache of having to potentially deal with radioactive waste, a gullible Najib not only accepts the offer hook, line and sinker but event plants the refinery in his home state.

There are also plans for an aluminium smelting plant to be built in Bintulu, Sarawak. Again a sign that Malaysia is positioning itself as a safe-haven for “dirty” industries with hazardous waste products that no-one else wants to harbor.

Now only looking for dumping ground? How can that be?

Secondly, why is the Najib government, only now looking for a means of disposing the Lynas waste products? This need to search for a safe dumping ground comes after issuance of a TOL. Should not the dumping site be identified first before issuing any TOL? Should not due notice be given to residents living nearby to the dumping site? Why are things being done in such an incompetent and unprofessional manner that clearly suggest a plan to hide and to deceive the residents and the Malaysian public?

Again, a sign that things are being done in reverse by the Najib administration and deliberately so. But is this not the modus-operandi of the Najib administration and how it to-date has gone about its business. Whether Najib realizes it or not, it is like he is conjuring up a project, dumping it onto the community and forcing the residents to accept the plans. And when mishaps happen – like in the Bukit Merah rare earth refinery where radioactive contamination had killed several people and injured dozens – the BN government acts as if no such negative occurrence had ever taken place before.

Determined to reprise the Bukit Merah tragedy

The Bukit Merah case is little known even in Malaysia, and virtually unknown in the West because the plant-operator, Mitsubishi Chemical, quietly agreed to fix the problem without any legal order to do so. Local protesters had contacted Japanese environmentalists and politicians, who in turn helped persuade the image-conscious company to close the refinery in 1992 and subsequently spend an estimated USD100 million to clean up the site.

Workers in protective gear have already removed over 11,000 truckloads of radioactively contaminated material, hauling away every trace of the old refinery and even tainted soil from beneath it, down to the bedrock as much as 25 feet below, To dispose off the radioactive material, engineers had to cut off the top of a hill located three miles deep in a forest reserve, bury the material inside the hill’s core and then entombed it under more than 20 feet of clay and granite. So far, Bukit Merah residents – 11,000 in number, have suffered eight leukemia cases within a five year period. Seven of the leukemia victims have since died.

The people must rise before such an uncaring government

The pressure to close the Bukit Merah refinery came from local and Japanese protesters and not due to the BN government, then led by former premier Mahathir Mohamad, which had approved the project.

Fast forward to 2012. Instead of learning the bitter lessons of past decades, the BN government now headed by Najib seems to be determined to reprise history. For sure, once the 13th general election is over and if the BN retains the federal government, the Lynas project will be bulldozed through.

Once again, it is up to the people of Malaysia to rise up before it is too late to put a stop to an act destined to harm this generation and those that come after it.

Malaysia Chronicle

Let us go Country and Western

January 7, 2012

Let us go Country and Western for this Weekend’s Entertainment

Our Friends and Associates,

Dr. Kamsiah and I think it  is appropriate, after going jazz, pop, R&B, Latin and Southeast Asian (ASEAN) tunes last year, we should open our weekend entertainment for 2012 with Country & Western.

What a better way than to start with a tribute to Glen Campbell followed by two tunes by Glen himself. Given what is likely to be sad day for freedom and justice in Malaysia, we have chosen to feature Johnny Cash’s songs from  San Quentin  and Folsom Prisons. We then bring in both Patsy Cline, Anne Murray and Dolly Parton (we missed her concert at The Hollywood Bowl, Hollywood when we were in Los Angeles last July visiting Semper Fi and his lovely wife, Aini), and end with the legendary John Denver (Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr.) who died on October 12, 1997 in a plane crash while leaving on a Jet plane. 

To those brave Malaysians who will be at the Jalan Duta High Court, Kuala Lumpur to hear the Sodomy 2 case verdict on Monday, January 9, 2012, please play by the rules and resist all efforts by agent provocateurs who will do their utmost to provoke and taunt you. Good luck and God Bless.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

Tribute to Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell- True Grit

Gentle on My Mind

Wichita Lineman

Johnny Cash-San Quentin

Folsom Prison Blues 

Patsy Cline–Crazy

Anne Murray–Snowbird

Dolly “Busty” Parton–Save the Last Dance for Me

John Denver- Anne’s Song

Perhaps Love

Country Road, Take Me Home

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Fly Away