Taming Malaysia’s GLC ‘monsters’


June 24, 2018

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1MDB Top Honcho–Arul Kanda Kandasamy

“…recent revelations show Malaysia’s debt position may be more precarious than first thought. The new government has correctly highlighted the need to include certain off-balance-sheet items and contingent liabilities such as government guarantees and public–private partnership lease payments in any complete assessment of debt outstanding, as the use of offshoot companies and special purpose vehicles in the deliberate reconfiguration of certain obligations mean that traditional debt calculations underestimate Malaysia’s actual debt.”–Jayant Menon

About a month before Malaysia’s parliamentary election in May, then-opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad raised concerns over the role that government-linked companies (GLCs) were playing in the economy, being ‘huge and rich’ enough to be considered ‘monsters’.Data support his description — GLCs account for about half of the benchmark Kuala Lumpur Composite Index, and they constitute seven out of the top-10 listed firms in 2018. They are present in almost every sector, sometimes in a towering way. Globally, Malaysia ranks fifth-highest in terms of GLC influence on the economy.

Calls to do something about GLCs have increased since the election following the release of more damning information, although most of it relates to the GLCs’ investment arm: government-linked investment companies (GLICs). Recent reports confirm that the former government had been using Malaysia’s central bank and Khazanah (a sovereign wealth fund) to service the debt obligations of the scandal-laden 1 Malaysia Development Berhad government fund. The central bank governor has since resigned.

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The GLCs have not been immune from scandals either. The most recent relates to a massive land scandal involving Felda Global Ventures, which is the world’s largest plantation operator. There have also been a series of massive bailouts of GLCs over the years, the cumulative value of which is disputed but could be as high as RM85 billion (US$21 billion). All of this led one prominent critic to proclaim that ‘GLCs are a nest for plunderers’ and that the government should ‘sell them all’. Although this may be extreme, it does raise a critical question — what, if anything, should the government do?

Some experts have proposed the formation of an independent body with operational oversight for GLICs after institutional autonomy is established and internal managerial reforms are introduced. Unlike most GLCs, GLICs are not publicly listed and face little scrutiny. The same applies to the various funds at the constituent state level.

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For GLCs, the answer is less straightforward. Mahathir claims that GLCs have lost track of their original function. Before the Malaysian government decides on what to do, it needs to examine the role GLCs should play — as opposed to the role they currently play — and to examine their impact on the economy.

In Malaysia, GLCs were uniquely tasked to assist in the government’s affirmative action program to improve the absolute and relative position of ethnic Malays and other indigenous people (Bumiputera). The intention was to help create a new class of Bumiputera entrepreneurs — first through the GLCs themselves and then through a process of divestment.

Given the amounts of money involved and the cost of the distortions introduced, the benefits to Bumiputera were unjustifiably small and unequally distributed. The approach of using GLCs as instruments of affirmative action failed because it led to a rise in crony capitalism, state dependence, regulatory capture and grand corruption. There is also empirical evidence that GLCs have been crowding out private investment, a concern raised in the New Economic Model as early as 2011.

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Malaysia’s National Debt is said to be around 65 percent of current GDP

Additionally, recent revelations show Malaysia’s debt position may be more precarious than first thought. The new government has correctly highlighted the need to include certain off-balance-sheet items and contingent liabilities such as government guarantees and public–private partnership lease payments in any complete assessment of debt outstanding, as the use of offshoot companies and special purpose vehicles in the deliberate reconfiguration of certain obligations mean that traditional debt calculations underestimate Malaysia’s actual debt.

All these factors combine to place new impetus on reconsidering the extent of government involvement in business. Divestment will not solve Malaysia’s debt problem, but it can help if there are good reasons to pursue it. So how should the government proceed?

It is important to recognise at the outset that there is a legitimate role for government in business — providing public goods, addressing market failures or promoting social advancement. And like in most other countries, there are good and bad GLCs in Malaysia. If a GLC is not crowding out private enterprise, operates efficiently and performs a social function effectively, then there is no reason to consider divestment. But a GLC that crowds out private enterprise in a sector with no public or social function or one that is inefficiently run should be a candidate for divestment.

In assessing performance, one needs to separate results that arise from true efficiency versus preferential treatment that generates artificial rents for the GLC. The latter is a drain on public resources and a tax on consumers. Divestment in this case will likely provide more than a one-off financial injection to government coffers — it will provide ongoing benefits through fiscal savings or better allocation of public resources.

The divestment process should be carefully managed to ensure that public assets are disposed at fair market value and that the divestment process does not concentrate market power or wealth in the hands of a few. This has apparently happened before.

The new government has committed itself to addressing corruption and improving the management of public resources. As part of this process, one must re-examine just how much government is involved in business. This is one of the many tasks that the Council of Eminent Persons is undertaking in the first 100 days of the new government. If done correctly, this should rejuvenate the private sector while enabling good GLCs to thrive, and it should fortify Malaysia’s fiscal position in the process. This is what Malaysians should expect — and indeed demand — of the ‘new Malaysia’.

Jayant Menon is Lead Economist in the Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Department at the Asian Development Bank and Adjunct Fellow of the Arndt–Corden Department of Economics, The Australian National University.

DAIM: We need to cleanse the system


June 4, 2018

DAIM: We need to cleanse the system

https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2018/06/04/daim-we-need-to-cleanse-the-system-the-only-way-forward-is-to-get-rid-of-the-corruption-in-the-natio/

IN an hour-long interview, Tun Daim Zainuddin shared his views on politics, besides giving an insight into his relationship with some Malaysian leaders. Excerpts of the interview:

The Star: What are the biggest challenges for the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP)? Are you confident Malaysia can overcome the challenges, particularly corruption?

Daim: Malaysia has no choice. Corruption has permeated all levels in the government. We are now at a crossroad. Our only way forward is to cleanse the system and get rid of this malady that is afflicting this nation. In order to do that, political willpower will be the main criterion for success. And I am confident that this new Pakatan Harapan Government has the gumption to do just that.

People are watching. The biggest challenge for the council is the time frame. We are working hard to develop the best recommendations for the Government to chew upon, based on the 100-day promises laid out in the Pakatan manifesto during the election campaign. Can we overcome major challenges? We have faced two major economic crises before (in 1987 and 1998), and we overcame them.

Can Malaysia get back the stolen money and funds linked to 1MDB soon?

We know that there are monies frozen in a few locations around the world. We are talking in terms of billions. For a start, Singapore has agreed to repatriate whatever amount that is stuck there. I believe efforts are being made by the authorities to get back our money, which was originally stolen.

With the appointment of Lim Guan Eng as the Finance Minister, what can we conclude? Was it a political decision?

The fact that Pakatan won the popular vote and proceeded to appoint Lim of the DAP as Finance Minister says a lot about this new government. Obviously, the decision was also political, but it has a positive impact on the psyche of the nation. Now the people know that we mean business. There is no more room for tomfoolery or abuse.

That appointment has de-politicised the post, which is a good thing given that the Finance Ministry had often been used to reward UMNO loyalists in the past. Now the gravy train has stopped.

Lim is not the first Chinese to hold the post of Finance Minister. The appointment was made based on consultation with the various parties. Malaysians in general should accept his appointment based on his vast experience and knowledge, and not his race.

How can we ensure there is no more prized land sold by the Government to selected developers privately at very low prices?

The role of the mainstream media will become more important. For far too long the mainstream media in Malaysia had been timid and irrelevant. By exposing such scandals, it will certainly provide a check and balance in the administration.

During Najib’s time, mainstream media had failed miserably to protect the interest of the nation and the rakyat. The fourth estate is important. We must always keep an eye on any wrongdoing.

Will Barisan play an effective role as Opposition? Do you think UMNO has the capability to retake the Government?

For an Opposition to become effective, they need to have credibility. Right now what kind of credibility has Barisan got? If you don’t have it, people will find it hard to trust you. Up till today, there is no apology from any of the leaders in UMNO. They are still unrepentant. The stealers of 1MDB money are still in denial, claiming they had done nothing wrong.

Can UMNO rely on its youth wing to speed up the reformation process? It will be difficult, due to the fact that all of its youth wing, including its chief, defended 1MDB back then.

If they had read the US Department of Justice report, the Public Accounts Committee report and the Auditor-General’s report and yet still have the audacity to support the crimes committed, then they should not be the role models for the youths in Malaysia. They have shown no remorse. I doubt they can retake the Government with the current crop of leaders.

In order to have a vibrant and lively democracy, we need a strong Opposition. If UMNO realises this and makes the necessary changes, that will be their role.

Do you think Dr Mahathir will stay beyond two years?

In his interview with Financial Times last Monday, he stated it would be difficult for him to stay on as Prime Minister beyond the age of 95. But for now, I think everyone knows that he is committed to fulfilling the promises in Pakatan’s manifesto.

After all, he is the chairman of Pakatan. Above all, his greatest achievement is that the rakyat put their trust in him and have given him their support to get rid of (Datuk Seri) Najib (Tun Razak) and his kleptocracy government.

We have the Finance Minister and Economic Affairs Minister. Will their roles overlap?

The Economic Affairs Minister takes the place of the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of the Economic Planning Unit (EPU). The Economic Minister does the planning and makes sure the project is implemented properly. He will monitor and supervise. The Finance Minister will look for money lah.

Meeting of minds: Daim (third from left) chairing a CEP meeting in Kuala Lumpur. Also present are Kuok (second from left) and (from right) economist Prof Dr Jomo Kwame Sundaram, former Petronas president Tan Sri Hassan Marican and former Bank Negara Governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz. — Bernama

How is your relationship with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim? Both of you were critical of each other in the past. Do you think he can be a good prime minister?

We have always been friends but politics is different. Anwar and I have known each other for a long time. I just want to mention I met him in prison numerous times. We discussed how to topple the previous government and with the support of the rakyat, we succeeded. We must stay united and deliver our promises to them.

Anwar had served in various ministries and his last post was Deputy Prime Minister. Nobody can run a government alone. A PM needs a Cabinet that supports him and honest civil servants with integrity. He also needs good, honest advisers and must never forget the rakyat. Anwar is aware of all these.

The reunion photos of you and billionaire Robert Kuok holding hands and hugging each other melted the hearts of many Malaysians. What can Mr Kuok contribute to the new Malaysia?

Robert Kuok is a dear family friend. I have known him since the early 1970s. My second son is working for him. Malaysians should be proud to have this distinguished man who answered the call of the nation to serve. He has many ideas and insight as to how Malaysia can move forward. I value his opinions given to the CEP.

You have said you will leave the council after 100 days of work. What have you set out to do and will you stay longer?

It is very tough to complete within the time given but we will try our best to achieve it. We are volunteers. We are not given a cent. There is no office given. We requested for some staff from EPU, Bank Negara, Attorney General’s Chambers, PNB, Sime Darby and Khazanah. We thank them for their support.

We know the rakyat’s expectations are very high. We are trying to meet the timeline so we work on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays too. It is very important that all give their support to this Government. Don’t put obstacles in the way.

I plead to all to give their sincere support. But by all means, criticise if you feel the Government is not on the right track.

My role is just to help. I am not interested in anything else. After we deliver our report, I will play no more of a role. I want to write on the last general election but to do that I have to go away somewhere quiet.

When Pakatan won, it was the rakyats victory. We proved Malaysia boleh. If Malaysia can, the world too can get rid of corrupt, repressive and kleptocracy governments. We have shown the world how to do it.

The stock market seems to be volatile after Pakatan won. What is your advice to the investors in the stock market?

They did not expect Pakatan to win; the foreigners and the rating agencies.

Basically, in a capitalist society, they don’t mind corruption, as long as they make money. Of course, now they say they want a clean government, but before that they didn’t mind corruption because that’s the way to make money – easier and faster. The more money you have, the easier for you, because you have the money to bribe. As far as the capitalist society is concerned, that kind of government is good. They underestimated the will of the rakyat. The rakyat cannot accept this. They don’t want a corrupt government.

During your time in the Government, corruption was also quite rampant. You all didn’t take any action?

It happened, but not rampant. There was corruption, but now it is blatant.

Why are you close to the Prime Minister?

He is 12 years older than me. We went to the same school in the same village in Kedah. Our parents know each other. I always like to joke: from Kedah we have the same Yang di-Pertuan Agong serving twice, Prime Minister serving twice, Finance Minister serving twice. It must be the water we drink.

Will the report by the council be disclosed to the public?

Up to the Government. I have no right. I am only playing an advisory role. I will pass the report to the Government, the Prime Minister. The PM will brief the Cabinet. If the Cabinet decides to publish, then publish it.

I would prefer it to be published so that the rakyat know the actual situation when the Pakatan Harapan Government took over, the state of the country, in particular the economy and the financial position.

How much has been the nation’s total loss due to scandals and corruption?

I won’t mention figures. I don’t want to shock everybody, but it is depressing. Every (government) agency that we called, we will go through the account. We find shocking news. We are doing what we can to stop the bleeding immediately.

Do they listen to you?

You think they won’t listen to me? (laughs)

You are not the boss. How do you know that they will take your advice?

It doesn’t matter. As far as I am concerned, I will inform the minister in charge. I stop the bleeding first, if not they will bleed till death. You lose a lot of blood, you will die.

Are the economic fundamentals of the country still intact?

The Central Bank said fundamentals are still intact, everything is intact. If fundamentals are intact, what has gone wrong?

People don’t trust the Government. So there is trust deficit. The new Government has tried to restore confidence. You can do it very quickly but the depressing news is coming out.

Why is the Government not instituting charges against Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak?

I don’t want to disclose all these things. We are going to complete our investigation very soon. When the investigation is not completed yet, you cannot charge people. The people’s expectations on us are high, but cannot disclose. Let the authorities complete the investigation.

Western investors used to shun Malaysia because of the 1MDB scandal. Is there any indication they are coming back?

The US-Asean Business Council came to see me. They want us to go to America. I have not told Tun Mahathir.

They are very excited with the news that we are going to have a clean government and there will be reforms in the institutions. They said they are coming back. It is better for us to go and see them and explain to them.

Tun Mahathir is going to Japan. Japan is very excited too.

In China, in spite of everything, the Ambassador said since the new Government took over, their businessmen have invested RM1.2bil.

What we want is genuine investment bringing in new technologies, creating employment. It will help the country and the investors can make money.

Singapore has shown interest. That will instil confidence. Singapore companies have been talking about joint ventures with EPF. They came and met me. I said go ahead. I am busy. They should go and ask the Government. They came to see me because I know them.

PM of India dropped in. There is tremendous interest. But we are busy for the time being. When the Cabinet is fully formed, the trade minister can handle it.

You didn’t tell them you are retired?

I told them I am retired. But I can open doors, facilitate meetings between them and MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry).

A Better Deal for Teachers–More than Appreciation


May 21, 2018

A Better Deal for Teachers–More than Appreciation

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2018/5/17/teachers-need-a-lot-more-than-appreciation

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John Steinbeck writes, “In the country the repository of art and science was the school, and the schoolteacher shielded and carried the torch of learning and of beauty. . . . The teacher was not only an intellectual paragon and a social leader, but also the matrimonial catch of the countryside. A family could indeed walk proudly if a son married the schoolteacher.”–In East of Eden

Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week, and I intended to write on the subject, but a more newsy topic intervened. That’s an apt metaphor for the plight of teachers in America today. We live in a media environment in which the urgent often crowds out the important. But this week, I will stick to my plans.

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Novelist John Steinbeck and his companion

In “East of Eden,” a sprawling, magisterial novel about the great American West, John Steinbeck writes, “In the country the repository of art and science was the school, and the schoolteacher shielded and carried the torch of learning and of beauty. . . . The teacher was not only an intellectual paragon and a social leader, but also the matrimonial catch of the countryside. A family could indeed walk proudly if a son married the schoolteacher.”

The picture Steinbeck paints (set in the early 20th century) is almost unrecognizable in today’s America, where schoolteachers are so poorly paid that they are about five times as likely as the average full-time worker to have a second job, according to Vox. We have all heard about stagnant middle-class wages. But the average pay for a teacher in the United States, adjusted for inflation, has actually declined over the past 15 years, while their health-care costs have risen substantially. The Economist reports that teachers earn 60 percent of what a professional with comparable education does.

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The average salary for a teacher in many states is under $50,000. Teachers in West Virginia went on strike a few months ago to demand higher wages, and the government agreed to a 5 percent pay raise, which means the average salary will rise to only $48,000. Like many other states, West Virginia failed to restore education spending after slashing it in the wake of the financial crisis a decade ago. As of last year, per-pupil state funding (adjusted for inflation) was still down between 8 and 28 percent in five of the six states where teachers have now gone on strike, according to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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“…the countries that do best at public education — Singapore, Finland, South Korea — can recruit top college graduates into the teaching ranks because they pay reasonably well, they invest in professional development and their societies show deep respect for the profession.”–Fareed Zakaria

With low wages and stretched resources, American educators burn out and quit the profession at twice the rate of some of the highest-achieving countries, as Linda Darling-Hammond of the Learning Policy Institute points out. Since 35 percent fewer Americans have studied to become teachers in recent years, she notes, there are massive teacher shortages, forcing schools nationwide to hire more than 100,000 people who lack the proper qualifications. In fact, the New York Times reports, it is so hard for public schools to find qualified Americans that many districts are starting to recruit instructors from low-wage countries such as the Philippines.

It’s not all about salaries. One veteran educator I spoke with, who began working in California in the 1960s, reminisced about that “golden age” when she had ample resources to use in the classroom, went to seminars to develop her skills and felt fulfilled. Today, teachers have little time or money for any of this. A recent survey of public school teachers found that 94 percent pay for classroom supplies out of their own pockets, without reimbursement, at an average of $479 a year.

It’s not even all about money. Leading a classroom was never a pathway to riches, but teachers once did command the respect and status that Steinbeck’s quote reflects. Andreas Schleicher, who heads the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s education division and has spent years doing careful international comparisons on education, has often observed that the countries that do best at public education — Singapore, Finland, South Korea — can recruit top college graduates into the teaching ranks because they pay reasonably well, they invest in professional development and their societies show deep respect for the profession. In the United States, when we encounter a member of the armed services, many of us make a point to thank them for their service. When was the last time you did the same for a public school teacher?

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Yes, education is a very complicated subject. Simply spending more money does not guarantee results — although there are studies that indicate a significant correlation between teacher pay and student achievement. Yes, the education bureaucracy is rigid and often corrupt. But all of this masks the central problem: Over the past 30 years, as part of the assault on government, bureaucrats and the public sector in general, being a teacher in America has become a thankless job. And yet, teaching is the one profession that makes all other professions possible.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Rebuilding Malaysia: Titanic Task


May 15, 2018

By John Berthelsen@ http://www.asiasentinel.com

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The defeat of the national ruling coalition (UMNO-led Barisan Nasional) in Malaysia was a remarkable political event.  But now seriously difficult work has to begin if the country is to regain its onetime position as one of Southeast Asia’s most attractive economies and indeed rebuild parliamentary democracy itself.

Virtually all of the country’s institutions have been debased, lots of them by Mahathir Mohamad, the 92-year-old former Prime Minister who has been greeted as Malaysia’s savior. In the atmosphere of relief and triumph that has swept Kuala Lumpur since the May 9 election, it is worth a look at how far the country has to go.  As Germany learned after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, rebuilding is a daunting job.

It was Mahathir, for instance,  who, prior to the 2013 national election, made his first break with the now deposed Prime Minister Najib Razak because he felt Najib wasn’t favoring ethnic Malays enough and was too easy on the ethnic Chinese.  Mahathir led his own nationwide tour built on Ketuanan Melayu, or Malays first, with a firebrand named Ibrahim Ali who stopped just short of threatening violence if the opposition prevailed in that election.  He hasn’t instilled a lot of confidence by saying he would restore press freedom — which he largely destroyed in his previous prime ministerial stint — but expects to retain the “fake news” bill put into effect right before the May 9 election.

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Home Affairs Minister Muhyiddin Yassin

Mahathir’s new political party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, translates literally as Malaysian Indigenous United. Its officers include Muhyiddin Yassin, one of the country’s most dedicated Malays-first figures and one with a background that includes considerable unexplained wealth. The newly re-minted Prime Minister Mahathir has named Muhyiddin Home Affairs Minister.

Other party leaders are former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin, former Information, Communication and Culture Minister Rais Yatim, and Rafidah Aziz, the former Trade and Industry Minister. Its newest members are renegades who quit UMNO .  They have vowed to give up Malays-first politics and Rafidah herself in May made a speech saying she had “always hated racial politics.”

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All of them may have changed their ethnically-oriented political spots, as Mahathir says he has. If they have, it is an extraordinary turnaround. It remains to be seen, for instance, how they, so recently in Malays-first mode, will interact with the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party. Rafizi Ramli, the Secretary-General of the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat, headed by the jailed Anwar Ibrahim, has already complained that Mahathir is making decisions without consulting the three other parties in the Pakatan Harapan coalition.  Rafizi was immediately told to shut up by his colleagues.  But Rafizi may be remembering Mahathir as the autocrat he was as Prime Minister.

The country’s judges, all the way up to the Federal Court, the country’s highest tribunal, presumably will now have to relearn jurisprudence from top to bottom, or almost the entire judiciary is going to have to be sacked. For example the prosecution of Anwar Ibrahim on bogus charges of homosexual activity that were clearly flawed. The complaining witness appeared to have been coached by Najib and his wife. Two hospitals found no evidence his anus had been penetrated. A full 50 hours elapsed before he found a hospital that would agree he had had sexual contact. DNA evidence that was supposedly Anwar’s was ruled by a lower court to be flawed.  Anwar had a convincing alibi.

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Nonetheless, the high court convicted Anwar in a case roundly condemned by international human rights organizations. That is only one of 30 years of skewed judicial decisions that began after Mahathir sacked Tun Salleh Abbas, the Chief Justice,  in 1988.  Presumably it is up to Mahathir, who has been on the receiving end of warped judicial decisions when his Parti Pribumi Bersatu was outlawed on a dubious technicality shortly before the election, to put the Judiciary right again.

The same goes for its Police Force, which showed little zeal in investigating a long string of crimes including the death of Kevin Morais, a deputy public prosecutor connected to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, whose body was found in a cement-filled oil drum in a river. Morais is believed to have been a major source for Clare Rewcastle Brown, whose Sarawak Report has excoriated Najib for the 1MDB affair with deeply researched and sourced allegations of corruption.

A report on corruption, apparently largely written by Morais, disappeared in 2016 – along with the previous Attorney General, Abdul Gani Patail – who was replaced by Mohamed Apandi Ali, an UMNO lawyer, and promptly said there was no wrongdoing connected to 1MDB.

The Malay business community has largely depended for its success on having its snout in the public trough. Some of the country’s biggest companies are linked directly to the political parties. Presumably, if good government is to prevail, many of these contracts will have to be unwound, particularly for infrastructure spending. Will the companies now have to learn to compete on a level playing field, or will they seek out sympathetic figures in the new administration?

Other institutions that face wrenching change are all of the mainstream media including the two leading English-language newspapers, The Star and The New Straits Times, which are still owned by the Malaysian Chinese Association and the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) respectively and the superstructures of the newspaper remain in the hands of those two political parties. Utusan Malaysia, also owned by UMNO and which was virulently racist against ethnic Chinese and Indians still has the same editorial structure, as do all the other major television, radio and other media.  All have been bitterly opposed to the opposition for decades, with their slanted reporting increasing as the May 9 election approached.

The education system, again a creature that came into being under Mahathir, not only largely excludes minorities, forcing them to go overseas for higher education, but has resulted in what amounts to a free pass and graduation for ethnic Malays, a system in which striving is unnecessary. It has resulted in a largely uneducated population. The system, with all of its vested interests, is going to be extremely difficult to reform. But for the country to regain its competitiveness, it will have to be rebuilt.

Perhaps most difficult to fix is its religious institutions, particularly Islam, which have been bent to serve political ends, first by Mahathir and then by Najib as they exploited the delicate ethnic balance in the country to keep UMNO  in power. Through the newspapers and other media, they cast the Chinese as grasping and ready to take political power. Christians – which make up a sizable portion of the Chinese population as well as indigenous tribes in East Malaysia – have been demonized.

In 2017, a popular Chinese pastor, Raymond Koh, was kidnapped. He has never been found, nor has Joshua Hilmy, a convert from Islam, who was reported missing along with his wife, Ruth, who were reported missing in March.  Koh’s wife has questioned whether people in power were involved in his disappearance. Police investigations into the kidnappings have been described as lackadaisical.

Najib was on the edge of pushing through a law in Parliament that would have allowed Parti-Islam se-Malaysia, or PAS, to implement Shariah law, including prescriptions for seventh-century punishments, in the state of Kelantan, which it then controlled. PAS has now expanded its political hold to Terengganu as well.

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Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Wan Azizah Ismail

In a country where distrust of ethnic minorities has been ingrained for decades, particularly in the most recent one, rebuilding trust is going to be difficult. Learning to compete may be even more difficult. The Chinese are largely more dynamic than the Malays, especially since the Malays’ education system, their political system, their social institutions as exemplified in the affirmative action program known as the New Economic Policy,  have all conspired to give them a free ride.

Tun Daim Zainuddin and his Colleagues get down to business


May 13, 2018

Tun Daim Zainuddin and his Colleagues get down to business

KUALA LUMPUR: The newly set up Team of Eminent Persons meant business and wasted no time as they convened their first meeting soon after the announcement of its formation by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed.

Chaired by former Finance Minister Tun Daim Zainuddin (left), the meeting, which went late into the night, was also attended by three other members of the team, namely (from right) former Bank Negara Malaysia Governor Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz, former Petronas President and Chief Executive Officer Tan Sri Mohd Hassan Marican and economist Prof Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Billionaire tycoon Tan Sri Robert Kuok was not present as he is currently overseas. Bernama Photo

No honeymoon period and prolonged post-election euphoria as the government is determined to restore the confidence of the people and investors after Pakatan Harapan’s unprecedented win in the 14th general election on May 9.

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The Prime Minister with Tun Daim Zainuddin and Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz

Chaired by former Finance Minister Tun Daim Zainuddin, the meeting, which went late into the night, was also attended by three other members of the team, namely former Bank Negara Malaysia Governor Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz, former Petronas President and Chief Executive Officer Tan Sri Mohd Hassan Marican and economist Prof Jomo Kwame Sundaram.

Billionaire tycoon Tan Sri Robert Kuok was not present as he is currently overseas.

Speaking to Bernama after the meeting, Daim said the five-member team was briefed and deliberated on current economic situation, the national debt, the ringgit, Goods and Services Tax (GST) and fuel subsidies, amongst others.

“These are the major things. We are making the recommendations to the government. At the end they will decide,” he said.

Daim said the council would be calling the Public Private Partnership Unit (under the Prime Minister’s Department), related ministries and government-linked companies (GLCs) to brief them on various mega projects and the governance of GLCs, including Lembaga Tabung Haji, Majlis Amanah Rakyat and the Federal Land Development Authority.

“As for 1MDB, there will a special task force, I have identify those who can assist the probe into 1MDB. It would be under the purview of the Team which will submit the report to the government,” Daim said.

He said another pertinent issue that needed to be addressed quickly was the oversupply of office space and housing.

“Another example is the cost of security for schools. It cost more than the assets they’re guarding,” he pointed out.

Meanwhile, Daim said the team would hold meetings daily for 100 days, and in fact on some days, it would be a few times a day.

“I want this to finish this within 100 days. After that I want to sleep,” he quipped. –Bernama

 

The Reagan revolution is officially over


April 18, 2018

The Reagan revolution is officially over

by Fareed Zakaria

Image result for fareed zakaria and Henry Kissinger

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s decision to retire from Congress is being interpreted as a sign by many that Republicans will do poorly in the midterm elections. That may be true, but the exit of the Wisconsin Republican also symbolizes a broad shift that has taken place within the party. It marks the end of the Reagan revolution.

Image result for Paul Ryan and Ronald Reagan

The GOP of the 1950s and ’60s was the party of American business, drawing broad support from white-collar professionals and country-club businessmen. It had a straightforward chamber of commerce orientation, arguing for low taxes, few regulations and fiscal responsibility. But it was a minority party, willing to go along with the basic contours of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

To understand the extent of Roosevelt’s imprint on American politics in the mid-20th century, consider this fact: From 1933 to 1969, the only men who occupied the Oval Office were FDR, fervent disciples of FDR or, in the case of Dwight D. Eisenhower, a general handpicked and promoted by FDR. It is said that when Richard Nixon entered the White House in 1969, his already healthy paranoia grew, because he believed, not without reason, that he was a lonely Republican in a federal government that had been stacked with liberals for almost half a century.

In foreign affairs, the Republican Party in the 1950s had only recently shrugged off its isolationist posture but was still cautious about international engagement. On civil rights, the party was progressive and activist. Chief Justice Earl Warren, a former Republican governor, issued the Supreme Court’s landmark decision outlawing school segregation, and Eisenhower dispatched federal troops to Arkansas to enforce the ruling.

Nixon ushered in the beginnings of the party’s first transformation. It had long had a nationalist and nativist side, but Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson’s embrace of the civil rights movement created the circumstances for one of the great flips of U.S. history. The Democrats, heretofore the party of the Jim Crow South, became the party of civil rights, while the Republicans, the party of Lincoln, began to mirror the resentments of Southern whites against the federal government and civil rights legislation. But in other areas of domestic policy, Nixon governed as a liberal. He created the Environmental Protection Agency and managed the economy much like any Democrat would have. “We are all Keynesians now,” he is famously quoted as saying.

President Ronald Reagan finished what Nixon started, turning the GOP into an ideologically oriented party, staunchly advocating free markets, free trade, limited government and an enthusiastic internationalism that promoted democracy abroad. The old country-club Republicans were never true believers, but they accepted Reagan’s redefinition after its electoral success, as demonstrated by the alliance between the Gipper and his vice president, George H.W. Bush.

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The Reagan redefinition of the party, as a quasi-libertarian organization, persisted through the Clinton years, though the GOP continued to bring along its socially conservative base. The party leaders and its official ideology were Reaganite.

Then came Donald Trump. Early on, Trump seemed to recognize that the Republican Party had changed and that the core ideological appeal was no longer about economics but nationalism, race and religion. His first major political cause was birtherism, the noxious and false claim that President Barack Obama was secretly a Muslim born in Kenya.

When Trump ran for the Republican nomination in 2016, he was virtually alone on the podium in rejecting the Reagan formula. He dismissed any prospect of entitlement reform, while criticizing foreign interventions and democracy promotion. Even on free-market economics, he flirted with all kinds of liberal ideas, including big infrastructure spending and universal health care.

But he was consistently hard line on a few core issues — immigration, trade, race and religion. On all these, he stuck to a tough nationalist, protectionist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and pro-police line. And, as a rank outsider, he defeated 16 talented Republicans. Libertarianism, it turned out, was an ideology with many leaders — Republican senators, governors, think-tankers — but very few followers.

A month before the November 2016 election, when everyone expected Trump to lose, Ryan got on a call with other Republican congressmen and told them to feel free to distance themselves from Trump. After the call, the speaker’s approval rating among Republican voters dropped almost 20 points. The base of the party — now older, whiter, and less educated — was with Trump, not Ryan.

Ryan had his faults. He embodied the hypocrisy of Reaganism, advocating fiscal probity while exploding the deficit. He was a bad legislative strategist, unable to repeal Obamacare after years to prepare for it. But he was a genuine and ardent Reaganite. His successors will not be. The second transformation of the Republican Party is now complete.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group