Malaysia: Corruption is a Way of Life under Najib Razak


July 7, 2017

Malaysia: Corruption is a Way of Life under Najib Razak

by Rais Hussin@www.malaysiakini.com

Thank You, Mr Prime Minister for making Corruption a Way of Life–We are all corrupt today. Integrity is Arabic. Your political buddy Hadi Awang understands since he is Fake Arab.

Just half a year ago, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak urged those who were out of a job to resort to becoming a driver with ride-sharing app Uber. He further cited the example of an industrious female graduate who put bread and butter on the table by selling “nasi lemak” (coconut milk rice).

Fast forward to the eve of Hari Raya, and almost dramatically, the Malaysian economy was said to be growing at more than 5.6 percent, and rated the best Asian country to invest in, according to BAV Consulting and the University of Pennsylvania.

Now, something is obviously not right here. When the Prime Minister is experiencing a litany of alleged corruption and malfeasance scandals, exposed by the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post not least, his spinners in Putrajaya and UMNO – including the equally tarnished Hadi Awang – claimed that there was an “American plot” to bring down the Malaysian government and its ostensible “Muslim or Islamic” leadership.

Image result for jho low 1mdbPenang born Financial Whiz –Not even his own can trust him

 

Two issues arise here: If the Malaysian government and party mouthpieces, including PAS and UMNO, ask the people to distrust the American media, why then cite American indices to showcase the growth of the country?

Now, if the reverse is true, that the statistics and revelations from America are indeed valid, why then ask Malaysians to reject them only when the issue revolves around 1MDB?

Obviously, the Malaysian Prime Minister and his spinners cannot get the facts right, and are nitpicking their way through a heap of ludicrous propaganda materials as they see fit. If there was anything related to corruption or malfeasance, out they went. When the numbers seemed to reflect their own spin, in they came, into the prime minister’s speech.

With a prime-minister-cum-finance-minister who cannot get the narrative right, why does Putrajaya even care what the people think?

But then they do. The election is coming. Come hell or high water, the 14th general election has to be called by the middle of 2018. The government can only enjoy a certain margin of advantage, if at all, only by lying through its teeth – the same way it has lied about 1MDB, Felda Global Ventures Holdings Berhad (FGV), incoming Chinese investments and even the infamous Saudi donation.

Barring a repeated narrative of falsehoods and deceptions through coordinated fake news dissemination, the prime minister and his cabinet cannot survive.

But what did the Prime Minister name in his Aidilfitri speech as the “five risks” facing Malaysia?

On geopolitics, Malaysia has clearly lost the plot. Instead of being fair and good to all great powers, Malaysia has become entrenched in China’s corner, at a time when China is behaving aggressively and assertively in the South China Sea.

When the US and members of ASEAN cannot trust Malaysia on our foreign policy – granted our tilt to the axis of Beijing – why does the government even want to mention geopolitics as a national risk to begin with?

Well, Najib had to. If not, he would have risked looking more irrelevant than ever. Despite claiming to be a golfing buddy of President Donald Trump, has Trump made any phone calls or extended any visits to Malaysia yet? No.

In fact, during the ASEAN Summit in April this year, Trump invited the Thai Prime Minister, the Singaporean Prime Minister and the Philippine President to visit the White House. But there was no invitation to Najib. In fact, when Trump spoke to President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, he asked Duterte if China could be “trusted” to handle North Korea.

Najib himself must have assumed that such a question could have been posed to him, as he has been trying to position himself as an insider on China. But, wait, something is not right here. If Najib is an insider on China, as he likes to claim, how did he invite Wanda Group to invest in Bandar Malaysia, only to see Wanda Group being investigated for financial irregularities?

And, if Najib is such a savvy insider on China, why are there illegal Chinese trawlers and fishing vessels still operating in the waters off Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Johor, Sabah, and Sarawak?

It would have been better if Najib did not place geopolitics at the top of the risks Malaysia currently faces. After all, Najib’s impotence in issues ranging from 1MDB to Malaysian fishing rights has been as clear as night and day since 2009.

As for the threat of Islamic State, Najib affirmed that Malaysia is one of the safest countries in the world, ranked well within the first fifty. But with more than 160 Malaysians fighting in Iraq and Syria, and several others already fighting in Marawi in the Philippines,  how safe can Malaysia be when the shores of Sabah and Sarawak could be easily breached?

In fact, there have been numerous cases of kidnappings off the coast of Sabah and Sarawak, all of which have hit families without the means of paying the ransom. Several families have had to go down on their knees in opposition rallies – not government rallies – to beg for donations to rescue their loved ones who have been kidnapped.

Additionally, when a recent ransom was paid for four Sarawakian hostages, Inspector-General of police Khalid Abu Bakar claimed ignorance about the money collected for the ransom.

When Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, Najib’s own cousin, could not resolve any of the issues above, he was appointed as a special functions minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Islamic State.

When the shares of FGV went under, former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Idris Jala was brought in to look into the issue. Instead of resolving it, Idris Jala took to declaring that he only needed six days to find a solution. Six days came, and went, and again no solution was presented. But did the Prime Minister hold him accountable? No.

If this is a normal country, it is only “normal” by Najib’s own “Jho Low” standards. This is how Jho Low went missing with a vessel named “The Equanimity”.

Does the Prime Minister even know what “equanimity” means? Well, it means mental calmness and composure.

With a prime minister who allegedly allowed someone who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business to steal billions from Malaysia, it is no wonder that he still looks up to Wharton’s rankings. In other words, one can borrow heavily, and steal from Malaysian coffers, and not be punished at all. With a prime minister like Najib, who needs enemies?

The real challenges the nation is facing now are corruption, malfeasance, abuse of power, the destruction of democratic institutions, and the complete eclipse of integrity. Corruption used to be a fact of life in Malaysia. Now it is a way of life.

 

Malaysia Practises KorekEconomics


June 12, 2017

Malaysia Practises KorekEconomics (Dig-Economics)

by Rais Hussin Mohamed Ariff

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for najib razak

Finance Minister Najib Razak–The Proponent of KorekEconomics

COMMENT | The history of taxation is synonymous with the rise of the state. When kings and warlords could not go on plundering and pillaging the people, they switched to taxation to prevent the farmers and settlers from avoiding the punitive measures.

By soft pedalling on the extraction, the state was born. Mancur Olson, an economist, referred to the state as the evolution from the “stationary bandit”. Paul Collier, at Oxford University, spoke of the logic of using the state to collect rents systematically, rather than to steal sporadically and in a spurious manner too.

In Malaysia, under the current administration, the two concepts that separate stealing from collecting taxes have been collapsed into one. Both are two sides of the same coin.

By introducing the tourism tax, for example, it seems to be aimed at foreign tourists. Yet, does anyone remember “Cuti-Cuti Malaysia?” This is an ongoing campaign that encourages Malaysians of all ages to travel within the country.

Yet, the moment you do, any five-, four- or three-star hotels you stay in means you would incur an additional cost that will go to the current administration. This ranges from RM 20 per night in a five-star hotel to RM 5 per night in a three-star hotel.

Thus, it doesn’t matter if you are a high-end traveller or a low-end traveller. The administration of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak is there to extract a portion of your hard earned income that you have set aside for a family holiday.

Digging deep for ‘korek economics’

Image result for najib razak

In other words, in addition to the goods and services tax (GST), your income tax and potentially the service tax too, the government wants to put its hands into your pockets. And they will dig deep to get what they want, in what can only be known as “korek economics”.

“Korek economics” is not based on collection. It is driven by the degree to which the Malaysian economy has become ruined, or “koyak” in Malay, the lingua franca of Malaysia.

In 1MDB, Malaysians are now saddled with, allegedly, a debt in excess of RM44 billion. When the debt of other government-owned companies are taken into account, the debt is easily more than 80 percent of the GDP.

Not forgetting the on-budget and off-budget debts. Off budget debts are debts created through bond issuance by an entity wholly owned by the government, with guarantees by the government.

Debts like the astronomical ECRL project, which is priced at an inflated price of RM55 billion and funded through debts from China. With an estimated three percent interest rate, seven years deferred payment and 240 months of repayment instalment, it will cost the government or the taxpayers a whopping sum of RM99.6 billion!

If we use the East Coast passenger load to find the breakeven ticket price one way from KL to Kota Bahru, it will cost a whopping RM3,586 one way, the same price for a return economy class air ticket to Siberia, Russia. Get the point?

Not happy with the revenue drawn from GST, the Malaysian government has offered a mere 15 percent discount to more than half a million graduates who remain unable to pay back their PTPTN loan. This harms the ability of the graduates to live an ordinary life. Given the youth unemployment is three times the national average, they seem to resign to the fact that they are in hopeless zone.

Thus, the process to “korek” Malaysia has not merely happened in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, where a hole is dug deep, without any structures on it, but it is proliferating across the whole country. Welcome to Curi-curi Malaysia.


RAIS HUSSIN MOHAMED ARIFF is a supreme council member of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu). He also chairs the Bersatu Policy and Strategy Bureau.

 

Fareed Zakaria GPS–Trump’s First Overseas Trip as 45th POTUS


May 30, 2017

Fareed Zakaria GPS–Trump’s First Overseas Trip as 45th POTUS

 

Book Review: Dr Shankaran Nambiar –Malaysia in Troubled Times


May 11, 2017

Book Review: Dr Shankaran Nambiar –Malaysia in Troubled Times

by Tricia Teoh

“THE absence of good institutions and transparency in public undertakings, government procurement, and … the design of public policy has the potential to shake investor confidence” is how economist Shankaran Nambiar sums up the macroeconomic conditions of Malaysia.

In his latest book, Malaysia in Troubled Times, which compiles Nambiar’s articles in newspapers between 2014 and 2016, he deftly articulates his positions on issues. He grapples mainly with the question of “where is the economy headed towards”, which he asks numerous times across his pieces, an evident sign of his deep concern over the trends taking place in the country.

Nambiar articulates what many observers of Malaysian issues have struggled with: despite our economy not hitting negative growth, not being in danger of defaulting on sovereign debt and the fact that the central bank having adequate reserves to cover shortfalls, he states clearly that yes, indeed, we should still exercise great caution with respect to the Malaysian economy.

And why so? Various pieces indicate why observers should be worried – an outflow of foreign funds, the sharp decline of oil prices, which has in turn led to a growing federal fiscal deficit, and … “doubts on the efficacy of government linked companies”.

Image result for  Idris Jala

When Malaysia is in trouble, follow Idris Jala and play the Guitar

The challenges facing Malaysia stretch beyond our borders, and here Nambiar wades through regional waters to help readers understand the dynamics behind the now-dead Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, the Regional Cooperation Economic Partnership, and the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, which he highlights is indicative of China flexing its muscles in the region.

Malaysia, he says, “has a special, valuable relationship with China, which places it in an excellent position to help establish a stable security landscape in the region”. Of course, the “special relationship” we have with China would now be interpreted in a very different light today, given the many bilateral deals Malaysia has now signed with China. Apart from arguing for how ASEAN can build itself up as a stronger regional pact, it is also refreshing that he brings in Asean-India economic ties and goes on to push for greater Malaysia-India improvements in trade and investment, which apparently our neighbours Singapore and South Korea have put a lot more effort in than we have.

Above all, Nambiar is a faithful believer of Keynes, whom he quotes several times in the book, saying that “positive expectations and ‘animal spirits’ spur aggregate demand and economic growth”, and that “at the moment it seems that the animal within the economy is wounded”. He cleverly works his critique of the economy through metaphors such as these, but stops short of blatantly dismissing any efforts being made by policymakers to improve the economic conditions of the country. He could also have done more in providing solutions to what he considers to be ailing our economy.

Despite the nuanced tone of his writings, it is clear that he harbours silent frustration with public policies and their implementation in Malaysia. Although the book focuses mainly on technical economic matters, Nambiar also ventures into “getting the big picture right”. He questions Malaysia’s dismal performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). He emphasises the importance of good public transport, education, human resource development and healthcare. And perhaps most importantly, he questions whether our politicians and policymakers are truly connected with the economy “as experienced by traders, technicians, taxi driver and executives”.

It is now almost two years after one of Nambiar’s pieces titled “Do we need to create scenarios for a future Malaysia?” and yet it seems even more imperative to do so today. With the elections near, this is what policymakers ought to do. And if they are not, then citizens ought to instead, and demand that their representatives pave the way for the right future to actuate.

An imagined future has to be one that, Nambiar argues, goes beyond motherhood statements like “being united in diversity and sharing a common set of values and aspirations” that he considers merely “dreamy visions of the future”. One has to concretely build scenarios based on concrete issues such as income distribution, incorporating input from a “constraint approach” (what are the stumbling blocks?) as well as a “global basis approach” (how does Malaysia fit into this matrix based on global trends?).
It is on this note that the book hits the nail hard on its head. Nambiar’s voice that constantly urges and pushes for the creation of the “spirit of this big picture” reminds us that simply, there is none of this presently that so inspires. His is a thoughtful, objective and incisive perspective of a nation that could be much more – and his desires for a better, more productive, wealthy Malaysia are evident.

Policymakers and politicians serious about addressing challenges to the Malaysian economy would benefit from a thorough reading of Nambiar’s book. They should also take heed of his advice that in thinking of the long-term, they must be “realistic about the present state of affairs”. This would be a good first starting point.

Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

The Education of Donald J. Trump (and US)


April 30, 2017

The Education of Donald J. Trump (and US)

by Fareed Zakaria@www.washingtonpost.com

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-education-of-president-trump-and-us/2017/04/27/2da36c02-2b89-11e7-b605-33413c691853_story.html?utm_term=.944f5c4df8a7

Image result for The Education of Donald Trump

 

There are so many unusual, unprecedented aspects of President Trump’s first 100 days in office that it’s hard to know where to begin. By his own yardstick, the number of promises unfulfilled is staggering. During the campaign, Trump said he would ask for a bill repealing Obamacare “my first day in office.” He said he would deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, starting with 2 million “criminal aliens” within his “first hour in office.” The liberal blog ThinkProgress counted 36 policies that Trump promised to roll out “on Day One.” He did just two on his first day.

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But more striking than the policies unfulfilled — some of which might still be proposed or implemented — have been those reversed entirely. Never in the annals of the presidency have there been so many flip-flops so quickly, and with so little explanation. Trump had called NAFTA “the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere, but certainly ever signed in this country.” He promised to label China — “the greatest abuser in the history of this country” — a currency manipulator on, yes, “Day One.” He described NATO as “obsolete,” suggested that he might eliminate the Export-Import Bank and implied that he might support Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

Within days of becoming president, Trump’s flip-flops began. He said that he had discovered, perhaps through secret intelligence briefings, that China was not actually manipulating its currency, that NATO was engaged in lots of crucial operations, that the Ex-Im Bank helped lots of small U.S. businesses and that Assad had been committing war crimes. He announced these reversals cavalierly, as if he surely could not have been expected to know these facts previously, when he was running for president. As he said in February, “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

Image result for The Education of Donald Trump

I suspect that his next education will be in tax policy. Trump’s proposals, outlined this week, are breathtakingly irresponsible. They would add trillions of dollars to the debt and are not even designed for maximum stimulative impact. (Abolishing the estate tax, which is paid by 0.002 percent of Americans each year, would not cause a rush to the stores, but would cost $20 billion a year.) Tax negotiations will be an interesting test for Republicans. A party that claims it has deep concerns over the national debt is considering enacting what might be the biggest expansion of debt in U.S. history (in absolute dollars).

The larger education of Trump and, one would hope, his supporters, is surely that government isn’t easy. His appeal for so many was that he was an outsider, a businessman who would bring his commercial skills and management acumen to the White House and get things done. Washington’s corrupt politicians and feckless bureaucrats would see how a successful man from “the real world” cuts through the fog.

Image result for The Wisdom of Donald J Trump
Donald J. Trump is hard to read and predict–A Combination of Negative Dick Nixon and Conservative Reagan

Instead, we have watched the sheer incompetence of Trump’s first 100 days — orders that can’t get through courts, bills that collapse in Congress, agencies that remain understaffed, ceaseless infighting within the White House and the constant flip-flops. It turns out that running a family-owned real estate franchising operation is not really the same as presiding over the executive branch of the U.S. government. It turns out that government is hard, “complicated” stuff.

While there are plenty of problems with Washington, the real reason so little gets done there is that the American people have wildly contradictory desires. They want unlimited amounts of health care, don’t want to be denied such care because they are sick (have “preexisting conditions”) and yet expect that costs should plummet. They want government out of their lives but revolt at the prospect of any slight cuts to its largest programs (Medicare, Social Security) or the removal of tax benefits for health care and home mortgages.

This condition has been building for years. In a 1995 book, Michael Kinsley explained what he saw as the roots of the then-raging populist anger at Washington that Newt Gingrich had exploited with his “Contract with America.” Kinsley wrote, “[American voters] make flagrantly incompatible demands — cut my taxes, preserve my benefits, balance the budget — then explode in self-righteous outrage when the politicians fail to deliver.”

He titled the book “Big Babies” in honor of the American people, and he opened it by quoting Alexis de Tocqueville: “The French under the old monarchy held it for a maxim that the king could do no wrong; and if he did do wrong, the blame was imputed to his advisers. . . . The Americans entertain the same opinion with respect to the majority.” Let’s hope that the greatest education of the Trump presidency will be that Americans come to realize that Washington is dysfunctional not because of the venality of the politicians but rather because of the appetites of the people they represent.