Thank You, Prime Minister Najib Razak for more 1MDB Financial Mess


May 4, 2017

Thank You, Prime Minister Najib Razak for  more 1MDB Financial Mess

By Stephen Ng@www.malaysiakini.com

The collapse of a RM7.41 billion deal to develop Bandar Malaysia is a clear sign of bigger problems ahead for Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and the state investment fund, 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

Even Moody’s said that 1MDB’s agreement to resolve a debt dispute with Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Co (IPIC) may not be the end of the tunnel, as market sentiment depends largely on how 1MDB will settle bond payments in the future.

Now, with the latest development on Bandar Malaysia, we know we are in deeper mess as the debts would have to be paid by Malaysian taxpayers.

According to the Wall Street Journal, despite 12 extensions were given to the consortium, the Chinese government had refused to authorise the investment by the China Railway Engineering Corporation to acquire 60 percent stake in Bandar Malaysia on the basis that “the 1MDB fund hasn’t published financial statements for 2015 or 2016, so its current financial situation is unclear”.

This is seen as a slap in the face of Najib, who had recently visited China and took home what he calls “big investments”.

The initial announcements included a RM55 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project which was revealed later as nothing but a 20-year low-interest soft loan by the Export-Import Bank of China (Exim) and the main contractor would be China Communications Construction Co.

While China may see it as taking money from the left pocket to put into the right pocket (at least in my opinion), Najib has incurred another major debt of RM55 billion.

The noose is tightening

Najib, who has been in the middle of the storm since the US Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a civil suit against several individuals to seize assets worth more than US$1 billion last year, may find it hard to hold his head up after the deal did not materialise.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the US authorities intend to file criminal charges against son of a Malaysian tycoon, Jho Low, who is a prominent figure in one of the biggest civil lawsuits filed by the DOJ. We will be hearing more of this in the near future.

The US DOJ claimed that a sum of RM2.6 billion, which had allegedly gone into Najib’s personal accounts, originated from the 1MDB fund. Based on the DOJ’s investigations, there is no Arab prince in Najib’s fairy tale story.

In the suit, he was dubbed the Malaysian Official No 1 (MO1), which later Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Abdul Rahman Dahlan (photo), announced to the whole world that MO1 referred to Najib.

At the moment, PKR lawmaker Rafizi Ramli is exposing alleged leaked documents that have since been blocked by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), which are said to be related to the money trail of SRC International. This could further implicate Najib in the court of public opinion.

Although Attorney-General Mohd Apandi Ali claimed that Najib was unaware of the amount of RM41 million banked into his private bank accounts, the evidence unearthed by international investigators who are on the money trail will put Najib in a tight spot, especially since the 1MDB scandal has reached international notoriety.

According to the latest Financial Times report, Italy is joining the fray as the 10th nation currently investigating the allegations of insider trading linked to the 1MDB scandal. The other nations include the US, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Luxembourg, UAE, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore and Australia.

The failed TRX City deal would have been Najib’s final major milestone in the 1MDB rationalisation plan. Things are certainly not working out well for Najib, as it is obvious that not even the Chinese government thinks the investment was worth the consideration.

Bigger headache for 1MDB

Now that the deal has been called off, Najib and 1MDB are left in the lurch on how to explain to all Malaysians about the final settlement of the debts owing to the IPIC.

Finance Minister II, Johari Abdul Ghani has gone on record citing a letter dated August 11, 2016, from the Registrar of Corporate Affairs, which he claimed stated that Aabar Investment registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) belongs to IPIC.

However, it is strange that the letter was not used to defend 1MDB’s case filed by IPIC in the London Court of Arbitration. Despite calls by several people, including Rafizi, to publish the said letter, neither Johari nor Najib had attempted to clear the air. The truth, after all, could not be told.

Even if the letter is published, it does not absolve either 1MDB or Najib, as the Minister of Finance, of any wrongdoing, since the money had been transferred to some dubious company registered in the British Virgin Islands.

The fact that 1MDB will have to pay the Abu Dhabi state investment firm US$1.205 billion in two equal payments on July 31 and Dec 31 clearly shows that the RM3.51 billion paid to the dubious company registered in BVI had gone unaccounted for. Yet, the Malaysian government has done nothing to recover the money from the Aabar Investment (BVI).

For this reason, most Malaysians no longer have confidence in the Najib administration, since he has never been able to provide any concrete explanations since the 1MDB scandal came out into the open. In the arbitration, IPIC had, in fact, said that it has no links to Aabar BVI.

1MDB claimed that it will pay the debts by selling off its investment units in Brazen Sky Ltd, but even on that, former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin has asked, “Who is the buyer of these investments and for how much? Does this investment unit actually exist?”

It is because too many lies have been told that Malaysians are becoming very sceptical about everything said by Najib or his ministers.

It is also interesting that both the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the Auditor-General’s Department have not started looking into the allegations made by Rafizi, even after fresh evidence surfaced regarding the mentmoney from SRC.

Whatever it is, we are really in deep mess and you, Najib, are fully responsible for it. The problem could have been solved much earlier.

STEPHEN NG is an ordinary citizen with an avid interest in following political developments in the country since 2008.

Najib Razak’s Baloney Economics


April 22, 2017

Najib  Razak’s Baloney  Economics

by TK Chua

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Since when is inflation not due to bad policies, poor macroeconomics management, inefficiency, massive corruption and loss of confidence? Sorry, are there new economic theories emerging?

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A Political Baloney

Why single out some external factors igniting inflation when these factors are also applicable and affecting other economies?

Malaysia is a net oil exporting country, but global oil prices have now become a major factor accounting for our high inflation. Can we not see the baloney and the irony here? What about countries with no oil to begin with? Would they not be affected by high or low prices of oil as well?

The “Trump phenomenon” is a uniform factor likely to affect most countries. Why should Malaysia suffer more than others if indeed Trump has caused reverse capital flows and currency realignments globally?

The ringgit has depreciated not just against the US dollar, but also against the Singapore dollar, Chinese Renminbi and Thai baht, just to name a few.Malaysia’s inflation is unprecedented in recent months. When global oil prices were more than US$100 per barrel, did Malaysia’s inflation reach 8%?

I hope some of us have heard of this statement before, “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.” The primary cause is always too much money chasing after too few goods.

The Shrinking Ringgit

We can argue and debate whatever we want, but inflation is invariably caused by the following factors:

First, high taxes and unproductive use of tax money. I have lived in this country long enough to know that the GST is a major culprit of inflation, causing prices to escalate higher than the GST rate due to our half-baked implementation.

 Second, when there is too much fat or unproductivity in the economy. When there are sectors that get the bulk of the income/subsidies/wages for doing nothing, they cause inflation.

Third, when we have too many over-priced projects and contracts. When contractors and promoters get too much profit, the people must pay for it through higher prices. There are no free lunches in this world.

Fourth, when government borrows and spends too much. Fiscal deficit is a given in Malaysia, regardless of the state of the economy. Borrowing to finance deficit from inflationary sources could make the situation worse.

Fifth, when policies favour the cronies. When we have massive distortions and profiteering due to collusion and complicity, prices will escalate. Prices of homes are high because developers have always got what they wanted at the expense of the buyers.

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Najib Razak’s Non-Bumiputra Crony

Sixth, when foreign monies are allowed to pour in indiscriminately. When we have too much foreign money going into our real estate and property sector, it is almost certain the locals, including the middle class, would not be able to compete. Probably, the purchasing power of 5% of rich Chinese is bigger than the whole middle class of this country.

Seventh, we have too much “bad news”. It is almost a daily affair for us, hearing of mega deals going wrong. I must say Malaysia is a strong young man but has subjected himself to constant drugging, drinking and smoking. Sooner than later, something must give.

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International Rogues Gallery

This is the essence of lack of confidence being manifested in our country today. I believe the ringgit is suffering not just because foreigners are pulling out. I think many high net worth Malaysians too are hedging to protect themselves.

We owe ourselves the responsibility to look at issues confronting us honestly and objectively. Even if there are external factors affecting inflation, we must still avail ourselves macroeconomic tools to mitigate them.

Have we resolved issues that are likely to restore confidence? Have we reduced the distortions and inefficiency prevailing in the economy? Some have argued that Pakatan Harapan-controlled states, namely Penang and Selangor, are also suffering from high inflation and hence, it is something to be accepted.

I think this is a “political” argument devoid of economic logic and reality. Penang and Selangor are subjected to the same economic and political environment as the rest of the federation. They are not exempted from the effects of bad policies or the erosion of confidence arising from bad policies.

TK Chua is an FMT reader.

 

Najib’s Criminal State of Mind


March 8, 2017

Najib’s Criminal State of Mind

by Manjit Bhatia

http://www.newmandala.org

Image result for Najib Razak the ciminalThe Face of a Troubled Prime Minister of Malaysia

The Jong-nam case is serious — on legal paper. His killing hasn’t caused Beijing’s eunuchs a twitch. But Najib is using the assassination to his own political ends. It’s what dastardly regimes or political leaders in trouble or on the people’s noses would do — exploit an awful criminal matter to cement their illegitimate and immoral positions.    

Malaysian PM Najib Razak is using the assassination of Kim Jong-nam to deflect heat from ongoing scandal and economic slowdown ahead of scheduled elections, writes Manjit Bhatia.

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The Man from Pornorogo now Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister

It’s comical when Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi demands that criminals backed by North Korea, China’s client rogue state, respect the “sovereignty” of his country’s laws. As Home Minister , in 2013, Zahid had lavished praise on Tiga Line, the outlawed Malay gangsters. He also called on police to “shoot first” if non-Malay thugs threaten or kill his fellow Malays.

Meanwhile, Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar requested the same abominable Pyongyang “authorities” to extradite suspects in Kim Jong-nam’s assassination at Kuala Lumpur’s budget carrier airport on 13 February. Khalid’s lightning-fast move here isn’t surprising, seeking fame and kudos. Yet, when it comes to netting official corruption’s big fish, including corporate leaders, and independently investigating Prime Minister Najib Razak, he disinclines at every turn.

Strictly speaking, Malaysia has not a single independent institution. Instead, patron-client relations rule. Others call it patronage. Simple example: Khalid is subservient to Zahid who is subservient to Najib who holds Malaysia’s purse-strings as finance minister. This buys him allegiance and serious protection in a country racked by state-ordained corruption, cronyism and some of the worst forms of racism. What has this to do with the Jong-nam case? Everything. And just as well — Malaysia-North Korea diplomatic ties are flexing for bust-up.    

As baffling as the assassination was, it couldn’t have happened sooner. Malaysian elections are due mid-2018. Zahid and Khalid, like Najib, are hoping the matter of the half-brother of North Korea’s insane leader Kim Jong-un will grip Malaysians like a John Le Carre thriller. The state-controlled media is acting to orders of ensuring the case is lead news, 24/7. After all, Malaysians need distractions. Being a Muslim country — not an Islamic state,at least not yet — the visit of the King of Saudi Arabia this week has somewhat displaced the Jong-nam as the lead story, albeit temporarily.   

Interestingly, the North Korean Ambassador has had unprecedented scope in being seen to attempt to interfere in police investigations. Also curiously, Malaysian officials didn’t refute the Ambassador’s claim that South Korea and Malaysia were in cahoots, ostensibly to bring down the Jong-un dynastic regime. But when news outlets ran stories of a North Korean spy network operating in Malaysia, the episode moved from the bizarre to the whacky. Still, that’s exactly what Najib needs.

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Najib Razak–The Corruption Delivery Man

Problem is, the Jong-nam murder hasn’t absorbed Malaysians. They’re far more worried about their jobs future. Some factories have closed down; some others are moving offshore, to Vietnam, Burma and Bangladesh. The old ways of enticing foreign firms, via tax and other incentives, no longer work. These days China demands 99-year leases among its preconditions of investing in Malaysia. Like Singapore, Malaysia is struggling to establish anew its global competitiveness. For over a decade the international division of labor has shifted away from Asia’s first and second-tier ‘miracle economies’. 

Nonetheless, Najib boasts a high economic growth rate for the country. At 4.2 per cent GDP for 2016, it is significantly lower than 5 per cent in 2015. Between 2000 to 2016, average GDP has been 4.73 per cent. The jobs outlook is even bleaker. Official statistics put unemployment averaging 3 per cent; last year it climbed to 3.6 per cent, with 3.5 per cent in 2015. Most credible economists, even the market type,  know Malaysia’s official numbers are as rubbery as North Korea’s or China’s.

There’s no data for job participation rate in Malaysia. Yet it makes a better unemployment indicator, regardless or perhaps especially given the Najib regime’s propensity to embellish everything, including statistics. There’s sufficient anecdotal evidence to suggest joblessness is far higher among Malays and Indians, the groups increasingly engaged in crime. There’s also extensive under-employment among Malays, Chinese and Indians. And Malaysians are struggling on a single income, where the ‘minimum’ monthly wage of MYR900 ($US200) is scarcely enforced.

Exacerbating Malaysians’ worries is inflation. At 3.2 per cent, it spiked after the introduction of a consumption tax. In Kuala Lumpur alone, credible estimates put inflation at least twice the “official” number. At 6 per cent GST, Malaysia was never ready for it, in the structural sense. Add the measly value of the Malaysian ringgit, inflation hits close to double-digits, in real terms, according to some investment banks’ research. Meanwhile, Najib will maintain taxpayer-funded personal income subsidies, mostly for the Malays, and he’ll boost ‘free money’ ahead of next year’s polls.

If Bank Negara, the central bank, isn’t manipulating the low currency, then it’s a ‘market godsend’ for this heavily export-dependent, natural resource-based economy. Yet after two years of the collapsing ringgit, Malaysia’s competitiveness hasn’t improved. Its budget deficit and national debt are ballooning. Najib is banking on a commodities boom as the manufacturing base is routed by global forces. Take the long-failed local auto industry: Proton is effectively sold off to cheap China money. Selling the farm is the last resort of a scoundrel. But don’t expect Najib to sell the family jewels.

Blockbusting official corruption remains front and centre in Malaysian minds. Najib’s sudden great wealth humiliates Malays and irks the others. Nobody believe a rich Saudi or the Saudi state had “donated” $US1.4 billion to Najib; almost everyone, including the Malays, believe it was siphoned from bankrupt state firm 1MDB – brainchild of its chairman, Najib. And those proceeds miraculously wound up in Najib’s personal bank accounts.

The 2018 polls should humiliate Najib but it won’t defeat him or the ruling UMNO party. Many Malays feel especially aggrieved at how easily the ruling class has enriched itself while Malay villagers eke out a meagre living from plots of land Najib has ‘given’ them. No similar generosity has been extended to non-Malays. Some Malays agree this is unfair; most, however, subscribe to Machiavellian politics. But it’s Malaysia’s banal inter-racial harmony that’ll suffer the more as a consequence.

The Jong-nam case is serious — on legal paper. His killing hasn’t caused Beijing’s eunuchs a twitch. But Najib is using the assassination to his own political ends. It’s what dastardly regimes or political leaders in trouble or on the people’s noses would do — exploit an awful criminal matter to cement their illegitimate and immoral positions.    

 

 

Malaysia: Impact of defunding Public Universities


January 24, 2017

Malaysia: Impact of defunding Public Universities

by Dr. Lee Hwok Aun
Published in The Edge, January  16, 2017

Malaysia’s public universities are headed for troubled waters and it is unclear whether our policy makers and executers are even on the lookout. The university rankings business is a debatable one, but I bring it up here because it is the government’s ultimate performance benchmark, and recent developments underscore the detachment of officialdom from the institutions’ woes.–Dr. Lee Hwok-Aun

Image result for Defunding Malaysian Public UniversitiesMalaysia’s Finance Minister Najib Razak–Presiding over a soon to be financially insolvent nation

Malaysia’s public universities are headed for troubled waters and it is unclear whether our policy makers and executers are even on the lookout. The university rankings business is a debatable one, but I bring it up here because it is the government’s ultimate performance benchmark, and recent developments underscore the detachment of officialdom from the institutions’ woes.

The University of Malaya’s rise to #133 on the QS World Universities score sheet in 2016, its best position ever on this rankings scheme, was greeted on campus with surprise, nonchalance, and a dash of despair. The sentiments are distinct from previous years. When UM inched up the rankings, from #156 in 2012 to #146 in 2015, these small and steady gains brought relief, and a bigger hop from #167 in 2011 to #156 in 2012 infused a sense of accomplishment. Research grants were quite abundant, there was support for internationalization, for recruiting and retaining talent. Universities were basically supported, we seemed to be doing things better; improvement in the rankings made sense.

Then came the funding cuts. Federal budget allocations for universities were slashed by 12% in 2015, 15% in 2016, and 19% in 2017. UM took the biggest hit in 2016, when it suffered a 27% shortfall from the previous year. And here lies the trigger of despair. This defunding spree, coinciding with a major leap in the rankings, might be taken as vindication, and perhaps embolden further budgetary constriction.

The government will be perilously mistaken to do so. Continual aggressive defunding brings three significant deficits on Malaysia’s public universities.

First, a personnel deficit. Severe fund-slashing compels severe cost-cutting, shock therapy induces desperate measures. Contract staff are one of the first on the chopping block because the funds for this specific category of employees have dried up. Many contracts have not been renewed, and they are not substituted with allocations for part-time instructors or new recruits. Financial dispensability, however, does not equate with importance to core activity and service. Numerous academic departments count on contract academic staff to teach core courses and produce research and publications.

As contract staff are ushered out, the same workload gets distributed among the remaining staff, increasing their burden and contributing to the second deficit, in morale. Academics will likely see burdens increased, while concerns toward the funding cuts are typically dismissed by invoking the seemingly non-negotiable policy of reducing public subsidization of university expenditure. The Higher Education Blueprint 2015-2025 outlined new funding formulae, with performance-based allocations and per student funding as appealing new features. This formulae is to be rolled out on a “gradual”, “gate-staged” basis.

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ISEAS-Yusuf Ishak Institute Senior Fellow, Dr Lee Hwok-Aun

“Performance funding” is especially contentious. If fixated on numbers and not adequately anchored to the public interest and long-term objectives, as seems to be the case, there is every potential for the system to be gamed, for example, by lowering academic rigour to boost completion rates and student satisfaction, or pursuing quantity over quality of research. Given these complexities, one would expect the policy to be agonizingly deliberated, and gradual and systematic if implemented.

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But Universiti Malaya and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia have already, for 2016 and 2017 respectively, been administered huge funding cuts of 27% and 31%. Why? Enrolments have not fallen precipitously, nor have the universities massively scaled down operations. Have they performed so badly? The lack of coherence and transparency in the targeting of funding cuts, compounded by drained research grant reservoirs, are disconcerting, and cannot be good for morale in the academic community.

Some initiatives with good potential risk derailment. At the University of Malaya, to allow for academics to play to their relative interests and strengths, different career tracks – focused on research or teaching – are also being rolled out. But in the hasty pursuit of extracting more output from less resources, research track targets have been made frighteningly difficult to hit. Few select that option, and some – the more diligent, productive, conscientious ones – have been forced to take it against their wishes, to the detriment of their morale.

What of the next generation of academics? Policy brims with rhetoric of talent development, and reference to the Higher Education Talent Roadmap, but the Malaysian approach diverges from the practices in recognized institutions. Globally leading universities excel by attracting talent, then trusting them, through their dynamism, creativity and self-motivation, to research, teach and contribute to public knowledge with light monitoring. Malaysian universities are increasingly inclined to do the opposite – micromanaging rewards for formulaic outcomes, distrusting the industry and capability of staff, monitoring for compliance and resisting change, which seriously risk repelling and losing talents that are drawn to institutions that safeguard trust, autonomy and freedom.

Which brings us to a third deficit that can grow as public financing shrinks: our international profile. Malaysia’s public universities, having made inroads in internationalization, could see these gains reversed. The public universities are subject to the public services employment scheme, including the rule that a non-citizen cannot be hired on a permanent basis. All non-Malaysian academics are on contract, predominantly short term. The more contracts are not renewed, the less international our profile. Will Malaysia’s public higher learning institutions, especially the research universities, become more domestic, less global? That might happen, and if so, our presence on the world academic stage will fade. A specific recruitment scheme for public universities, promoting secure employment of international academic staff, is worth considering.

The presumption that rebalancing of university funding sources and reducing of government subsidy necessitates budget cuts also warrants scrutiny. These can be achieved by maintaining the federal allocations, while facilitating growth in other sources. There is currently a baffling downward spiral and multiple moving targets. Both the share of government subsidies and the overall expenditure of universities are falling – why?

Suppose a university currently spends RM100 million and receives RM90 million from government, in line with the current 90% subsidization rate. Expenditure of RM120 million in ten years would be a reasonable projection. If the government share declines to 70%, then in ten years – a “gradual” rollout as the Blueprint stipulates – the government’s contribution would amount to RM84 million, or basically holding steady, not dropping steeply.

Will the government assess the impact of the funding cuts and reconsider the policy – at least its pace and severity? This will take courage, since reducing public funding has been high on the higher education agenda for a decade, and the government defends the deep cuts apparently as a mark of its resolve.

But at the rate we are cutting funds, it will be impossible to avoid deficits in personnel, morale, and international profile.

Dr. Lee Hwok Aun is Senior Fellow at ISEAS-Yusuf Ishak Institute.

 

Malaysians are concerned with the Economy


January 19, 2017

Donald Trump aside, Malaysians are concerned with the Economy

by Martin Khor@www.thestar.com.my

As the new year gets underway, ordinary citizens are concerned about the rising cost of living, the ringgit’s low level and the outflow of capital.

Image result for Felda Global Ventures a messMaking Malaysia messy is his forte

WHILE Donald Trump’s inauguration as the new United States President will hog the headlines this week, it is the bread-and-butter issues that preoccupy the man and woman in the street as the new year gets into stride.

In Malaysia, a major talking point is the state of the economy. Three issues are worrying the ordinary Malaysian – rising prices, the fall of the ringgit and the outflow of capital. Each is an issue in its own right, but they are also all interlinked.

Inflation has become a hot issue because it is accelerating and will continue to do so. There are one-off factors influencing retail prices, such as the removal of the cooking oil subsidy, the weather affecting vegetable output or the slight recovery of the world oil price.

 But prices across the board are affected by the weakening of the ringgit since this increases the prices of imports.

Malaysia is very dependent on imports for a wide range of products, from food and household utensils to machinery and components for making cars, computers and all kinds of other goods.

As the most recent ringgit plunge started in mid November, prices of products that have high import content may not have fully risen yet because the shops are still clearing stocks bought earlier. But you can expect the new prices to kick in more and more.

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Irwan Siregar —  Fox in the  Malaysian Financial Hen House

The second issue is the ringgit decline itself, which has bad and good effects, with some sectors and people losing and others benefiting. The negative effects include:

  • Consumers having to pay higher prices for imported goods and services.
  • Traders and retail shops getting less business as the demand for the dearer imports goes down.
  •  Manufacturers and construction firms paying higher costs for parts and production inputs, which will translate into higher consumer prices and eventually higher house prices.
  • Parents with children studying abroad must fork out more ringgit even if the fees and hostel rent remain the same.
  • The Government and its enterprises and private companies that took loans in foreign currencies lose significantly as they have to spend more ringgit to service their loans.

Among the good effects:

  • Smallholders and companies exporting palm oil, rubber, petroleum and other commodities will receive more revenue in ringgit terms.
  • Local manufacturers exporting goods such as rubber gloves and furniture become more competitive as they can reduce their prices in foreign currency, or else they receive more in ringgit if they retain their international prices.
  • The tourism and hotel business should thrive since it’s cheaper for foreigners to visit Malaysia. Locals who now can’t afford to travel abroad may also spend their holidays in the country.

On balance, will the gains outweigh the losses? From a public perspective, this is unlikely as the higher cost of living will affect all Malaysians, especially the poor and middle classes, and the higher external debt repayment will affect the public and the economy overall.

The prospect of further depreciation of the ringgit also has a bearing on capital flows, the third issue. Malaysia is one of the countries most vulnerable to the shocks of foreign funds moving out, because so much capital was allowed to move in.

In recent years, a new type of vulnerability emerged when foreign funds were welcomed to invest in government bonds denominated in ringgit.

It was originally thought that foreign loans in ringgit would be safe as the borrower would avoid the foreign exchange risk, as contrasted with loans denominated in US dollars.

This is true but the sheer volume of bonds now owned by foreigners makes the economy vulnerable to large outflows in a short period.

Comparison is usually made between potential capital outflows and the level of foreign reserves. The reserves as at December 30, 2016 were US$94.6bil (RM424bil).

The total foreign debt outstanding was RM865bil at the end of September 2016.

Of this, offshore borrowing (in foreign currency) was RM472bil, and ringgit-denominated government bonds held by non-residents were worth RM211bil, according to Bank Negara data.

Some of the investors have a long-term commitment and not everyone will move in the same direction at the same time, but in recent weeks external conditions such as a rise in US interest rates (and anticipation of more rises in 2017) have prompted capital outflows from emerging economies, including Malaysia.

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The country also has high foreign participation in the stock market (22.6% in November 2016), and in recent months there has also been a net withdrawal of equities by foreigners.

November 2016 was a bad month, as foreigners withdrew from the country RM19.9bil of government securities, and RM4.2bil of equities, according to a report in The Star (January 7, 2017). The potential and probability of more capital outflows in 2017 is a factor weighing on the perception of the ringgit’s prospects.

A high trade surplus has previously acted as a strong buffer against potential large capital outflows. The trade and current account balances are still positive, but the surpluses have been declining.

Government measures could help, such as the requirement that exporters convert 75% of their ex­­port proceeds from foreign currencies to ringgit.

Other measures can be considered if the situation does not improve. For example, companies and funds, starting with government-linked ones, can be discouraged from investing abroad – for the time being at least.

Malaysia has ruled out more drastic measures such as capital controls and pegging of the ringgit.

Developments in these three economic issues will be closely watched, not least by the public whose pockets are affected, as the year progresses.

External events could improve the situation, such as if prices of Malaysia’s export commodities increase, or could worsen it, especially if the US raises its interest rates further and if Trump really pursues protectionist policies.

However, domestic policies to respond to the problems are crucial and there should be a comprehensive plan to tackle these issues, since they may persist as 2017 progresses.

Martin Khor (director@southcentre.org) is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

Najib Razak: Own Up to Reality and Resign


December 8, 2016

Najib Razak: Own Up to Reality and Resign

by Stephen Ng@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT Now that the cat is finally let out of the bag, what else does Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak have to say about China’s involvement in bailing out 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) from the US$6.5 billion sought for by the International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC)?

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Most Malaysians were already half-expecting this piece of news to emerge, despite the assurances that the government would not bail out 1MDB.

One can only cross one’s fingers to hear what cabinet ministers would say in another alleged big cover-up the way we have seen with the 1MDB scam and the RM2.6 billion donation into Najib’s private accounts?

At least Finance Minister II Johari Abdul Ghani has come forward to claim that he knew nothing about the arrangement with China, as alleged by the United Kingdom’s Financial Times (FT), but is he doing anything about it? Johari was the one who promised that 1MDB would not be bailed out by the government.

If Johari did not know, and 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda Kandasamy is unable to articulate anything intelligent about the arrangement with China, who else would know about it? Arul was not with the contingent that visited China recently.

I also wonder if Paul Low would continue to blow the trumpet about integrity of the man himself, now that more truths have been told about the infamous Malaysian Official No 1 (MO1).

Malaysia’s international reserves are now at an eight-month low in November, and investors are fleeing the equity market.

If it is not a serious thing, why does Jho Low’s family now try to battle the US Department of Justice’s (DOJ) civil suit in court? Why, instead of the family, doesn’t Low and Najib’s own stepson, Riza Aziz, pick up the case themselves to claim the money back?

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They should be bold enough to appear before the American court; after all, Najib is a golfing buddy of the president-elect, Donald Trump, and both Low and Riza should be safe.

I believe that even when Trump takes over, he will not interfere with the civil suit; and if he did, against the world’s expectations, he may face impeachment. The suit would have to proceed and the money recovered back on behalf of the Malaysian people. The DOJ can certainly not be wrong when it made a strong remark about the kleptocrats and within the context of the suit, pinpointed the role played by MO1.

Ask Rahman Dahlan who MO1 is.

Digging a bigger hole

Just like the loan from IPIC, which was used as a bailout deal, now the money from China is not going to come for free. In fact, it has already made Malaysia, and Najib for the matter, to become a beggar of sorts, going around looking for money to cover one loan after another.

This cannot keep going on the way it appears to be going without the greater consequences of Malaysia becoming another rogue nation.

Image result for bank negara governor muhammad ibrahim

The Bank Negara Malaysia Governor and his Master

I want to know if Bank Negara, Finance Ministry or the cabinet are even aware of the arrangement that was made with China. More information has to be released to the public, since it will further impact the country’s economy and investors’ confidence.

The arrangement with China, which I believe to be yet another loan which has to be paid back, will surely attract a higher interest. If the allegations by FT are not true, Najib should take the news agency to task, but till today, Najib has shunned any idea of suing either Sarawak Report or the Wall Street Journal.

If we continue going on a merry-go-round to borrow money from one source to cover the loan from another, we will end up being an impoverished nation in no time. Eventually, we will have a much bigger hole to deal with.

By then, Najib may be gone, but the problem will continue to plague the nation. No amount of lies can cover up all the lies already told. Just look at the way how the lies have been concocted – and published in the Malaysian media, yet the truth eventually surfaces.

God is great! It is time for Najib to come forward to tell the whole story, now or never! Malaysians are not stupid people, although some of us may appear reticent or inhibited, but I think enough is enough. How long can Malaysians be lied to?

Straighten up

In Malaysia, we have the tendency to glorify illegal moneylenders and gangsters as ‘businessmen’, with some being given the Datukship or as Malaysiakini’s commentator, Mariam Mokhtar, put it, ‘Latukship’.

Although short of a Tan Sri title, Paul Phua may be an illegal gambling kingpin to the rest of the world, arrested and charged by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, but in Malaysia, he is being glorified by the Home Affairs Minister for his contribution towards national security which even the Police knew nothing about.

Recently, we saw how red-shirts leader and UMNO Sungai Besar division chief Jamal Md Yunos allegedly behaved like a gangster, yet he is allowed to go scot-free despite the numerous threats that he allegedly made against BERSIH chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah.

Another man on the police’s wanted list for murder cases in the past, Ong Teik Kwong, was shot dead by his own bodyguard; he, too, was a celebrity when his funeral was held recently.

Both are said to have received datukships, although their behavour and allegedly dubious backgrounds may have been raised in the media.

Instead of arresting the people who created ruckus at Zunar’s exhibition, I wonder why the political cartoonist was being arrested, when the exhibition was a peaceful one and held within an enclosed premises for people who want to view his artwork.

And while the Police are now looking for BERSIH activists, I wonder if they are also looking for the people behind the controversial solidarity gathering with the Rohingyas, especially when the speech by Najib has not only soured the relationship between Myanmar and Malaysia, but the criticism of a Nobel peace prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi is anything but diplomatic.

And certainly not befitting the head of a government. If he cared enough for the Rohingyas, he should be brave enough to confront Au San Suu Kyi herself instead of sending the chief of the Malaysian Armed Forces, General Zulkifeli Mohd Zin. After all, Aung San Suu Kyi is only a woman, but a woman of substance.

If we do not straighten up, things can only get worse and everyone will suffer as a result. Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has said this in an interview recently with the international media: “He (Najib) is destroying this country… he is bringing in racism… very, very serious crime has been committed.”

My humble plea to Najib at this stage is, for the sake of the nation, he should resign, and allow someone else to take over. If he cannot trust his current deputy, he can always lift up his own cousin, Hishammuddin Hussein, as the next deputy prime minister.

Whatever it is, Malaysians are saying, “Enough is enough!” We want punishment to be meted out against those who were responsible for the 1MDB scandal.Who knows, with Hishammuddin, the people may return to Barisan Nasional?


STEPHEN NG is an ordinary citizen with an avid interest in following political developments in the country since 2008.