Whither MAS (Malaysia Airlines) in a Political Blame Game


July 18, 2017

Whither MAS (Malaysia Airlines) in a Political Blame Game

by P. Gunasegaram@www.malaysiakini.com

But the way it is going, it may be that Malaysia Airlines may eventually become somewhere between a low-cost and full-service airline, neither here nor there, floundering between small profits and losses – an inconsequential airline in other words. What a comedown for a once proud brand!–P. Gunasegaram

During electioneering, it is common to make political capital out of everything. Malaysia Airlines Bhd was not spared when Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak blamed one of his “predecessors” at a Hari Raya open house earlier this month for “horrendous decisions”.

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Malaysia Airlines (MAS)An Inconsequential  National Carrier

He was very obviously referring to former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, although he did not name him. But to be fair, Mahathir was not responsible for the latest disaster at Malaysia Airlines. Paradoxically this happened largely during Najib’s time.

This latest disaster which resulted in losses of billions of ringgit and required a RM6 billion injection of capital and privatisation in 2014 by Khazanah Nasional Bhd, the previous major shareholder and now sole shareholder, resulted after Malaysia Airlines was turned around in 2007.

What Najib was referring to was the previous disastrous privatisation of Malaysia Airlines, to a Mahathir-Daim crony Tajudin Ramli who bought a controlling near 30% stake in the airline in 1994 for RM1.8 billion. After mismanaging the airline into the ground, he sold back his stake in the airline to the government – at the same price – in 2000. The market price was less than half that.

Turned around in 2007

Najib’s immediate predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi brought in Idris Jala from Shell to turn around Malaysia Airlines in 2005, the same Idris who would head the Performance Management and Delivery Unit or Pemandu at the PM’s Department in 2009 and join the cabinet.

Two years later, in 2007, Malaysia Airlines had turned around. In Idris’ first year on the job, he reduced the losses to RM133 million and turned the company back into the black with a record profit of RM853 million in 2007, according to this letter written by a former investor relations manager at Malaysia Airlines, Song Eu Jin, to Malaysiakini.

“The profit in 2007 was the highest in MAS’ corporate history and was earned through a massive operational cost reduction of RM745 million as well as on the back of record revenues of RM9.4 billion. The profit numbers were real as reflected in the cash balance at that time of RM5.3 billion which had grown from RM1.5 billion at the end of 2005, when Idris joined MAS (Malaysia Airline’s forerunner),” the letter said.

But in 2009, Idris left Malaysia Airlines to join Najib’s cabinet and head Pemandu. A succession of CEOs after him proved to be incapable and sent the airline down back into losses of billions of ringgit yet again. And no mistake about it, this happened during Najib’s time.

Horrendous decisions but by whom?

This is what Najib said at the open house: “The history of MAS was fraught with, I would say, horrendous decisions in the past. I’m not going down that road but that was a nightmare that was inflicted upon MAS that was done by one of my predecessors.

“But I will put it right. I will make sure MAS recovers and becomes one of the leading airlines in the world,” said Najib to applause from thousands in the audience present at the event. How ironic that is when the latest problems occurred during his time entirely.

I have followed the Malaysia Airlines saga over the years – from the 80s onwards and read up its history before that. Idris did turn the airline around solidly although it incurred a huge hedging loss of RM557 million in 2009 on fuel when fuel prices fell. The contracts had to be marked to market.

The way he did this was to focus on two things – yield and load factor. Yield represents the unit amount that the airline got from selling tickets and load factor is a measure of how much aircraft are filled. The right pricing of seats results in the best combination in terms of unit revenues from seats sold and load factor to maximise revenue.

In practice, this revenue management system is extremely complicated and uses sophisticated computer modelling which critically requires right inputs. That focus helped Malaysia Airlines increase revenues, helped along by an important fact – the airlines’ services were among the best in the world, as measured by Skytrax, the industry standard by which airlines are measured. Skytrax gave five-star status to Malaysia Airlines, with less than two handfuls among hundreds of airlines in the world qualifying.

Meantime, on the cost side, Malaysia Airlines’ was among the lowest in the world for full-service carriers but still advances were made here as well. The combined reduction in costs with an accompanying increase in revenues was what turned Malaysia Airlines around under Idris.

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AirAsia–The Award Winning Low Cost Carrier 9x in a row and Global Brand

Subsequent CEOs lost focus. They thought budget carrier AirAsia was the competition when Malaysia Airlines was a full-service, five-star airline. Yield dropped, load factors went up too much but still revenues were not enough. Fuel prices continued to climb, exerting further pressure. Revenue management deteriorated. And then came the two unfortunate crashes of 2014 (MH 370 and MH 17) which depressed revenues even further.

When Khazanah Nasional came in with their recovery programme during and post privatisation in 2014, I was flummoxed – nothing about revenue management, it was about cutting costs. But with unit costs for Malaysia Airlines still among the lowest in the full-service industry, revenue management was the key.

Enter Mueller

Khazanah Nasional went on a worldwide search for a CEO and found Christoph Mueller, a German, who reputedly turned around Ireland’s Aer Lingus. He joined in May 2015. He continued with extreme cost-cutting, shrunk the airline to a regional one, maintaining one flight to Europe, London. He made a deal with Emirates (the airline) for code sharing, all but killing Malaysia Airlines’ more international routes.

I was not impressed with him – turnaround means making unprofitable routes profitable, not cutting them and keeping only profitable ones – any fool can do that and show a profit, albeit a shrunken one which will never recover to the levels seen before. It meant that Malaysia Airlines’ main competitors would be the low-cost airlines – yes, AirAsia again.

Mueller’s cost-cutting would lose Malaysia Airlines five-star rating, one of its main assets. Because of the drop in level of service as a result of severe cutbacks, Malaysia Airlines asked not to be rated anymore. Insiders maintain to me that he was scathing about that rating, saying that many airlines had better service than Malaysia Airlines.

That and the frequent reference to Malaysia Airlines’ previous two crashes – both of which could not be pinned on the airline itself – made me wonder whether he was the best person to be running Malaysia Airlines. On the one hand, he runs down highly-rated services, on the other he makes frequent references to crashes to show his difficult position, both not in the interests of the airline itself.

Barely a year into his three-year tenure, Mueller announced his intention to resign “for personal reasons” but six months later in September 2016, he joined Emirates as chief digital officer, the same airline with which he negotiated the code-share agreement as CEO of Malaysia Airlines. What a conflict of interest!

On balance, my opinion is that Mueller was bad for Malaysia Airlines and I find it difficult to understand why his hiring did not have stringent conditions attached about joining competitor airlines.

His successor Irishman Peter Bellew, who took over in July 2016, was then chief operations officer at Malaysia Airlines. He was hired from low-cost airline Ryanair and had no experience in a full-service airline before that. However, he has said that Malaysia Airlines is trying to regain its 5-star status.

Recently I travelled to and fro London on Malaysia Airlines and the service and quality of food have indeed improved, a good sign. But it will take more than that to successfully turn around Malaysia Airlines.

An inconsequential airline

A targeted profit only in 2018 is rather late in the day given that most airlines made good profits recently because of the sharp drop in fuel prices. Despite all that cost-cutting and low fuel prices, Malaysia Airlines is bleeding. Why?

The answer lies in revenue management – how come Malaysia Airlines fares can be lower than AirAsia’s which is a low-cost airline. Surely that is indication that prices have been too low, especially since load factors remain high? Malaysia Airlines has got revenue management wrong and it still remains suspect.

And then strategy – how can you expect to succeed regionally as a full-service airline when there are so many low-cost airlines in the space? Surely you must try the longer international routes and make them profitable instead.

The times I have flown to London on the airline, the flights were full on the A380s. Yet Malaysia Airlines has plans to downgrade this route using lower capacity, smaller A350s. This will substantially reduce its competitiveness in terms of comfort relative to other major full-service carriers.

One more thing, since privatisation nobody knows how much money Malaysia Airlines is losing and what are its yields and load factors. Its performance has become rather opaque because the quarterly reports are not anything like what it was before when it was publicly listed. That makes it more difficult to make conclusions.

But the way it is going, it may be that Malaysia Airlines may eventually become somewhere between a low-cost and full-service airline, neither here nor there, floundering between small profits and losses – an inconsequential airline in other words.

What a comedown for a once proud brand!


P GUNASEGARAM says that Malaysia Airlines has been repeatedly grounded by poor management, not by the alleged inefficiency of its staff. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com.

 

Prime Minister Najib Razak makes a mockery of 1Malaysia


July 16, 2017

Prime Minister Najib Razak makes a mockery of 1Malaysia

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for Biro Tata Negara

Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto.

It would be hypocritical for Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to champion moderation while at the same time endorsing the National Civics Bureau (BTN) which is perceived to be promoting racism, said Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto.

“While he advocates the idea of 1Malaysia, particularly during the 2013 general election, being the founding father of the Global Moderate Movement, a self-praising defender of the concept of ‘wasatiyah‘ or moderation, the Prime Minister continues to fan the flames of separatism and discrimination by feeding the monster of racism under his very own nose, disguised as the BTN in the Prime Minister’s Office,” she said in a statement today.

Patto was responding to Najib who yesterday praised BTN and said the agency was relevant to ensure victories in future general elections. He had said that BTN had specific objectives of moulding Malaysians to ensure the continuity of the government’s leadership and hold on power.

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UMNO Racists

Encik  Mohd Hasan Mohamed (Dua dari kiri) YBhg. Datuk Seri Zainal Abidin Osmandan YB Senator Prof Tan Sri Dr Ibrahim Shah Bin Abu Shah –BTN, Jabatan Perdana Menteri

“This statement of using (or misusing) the BTN for political continuity is a reflection of the arrogance and high-handedness of UMNO-BN to abuse government machinery to cling on to power. Has Najib misplaced his moral compass or is he bankrupt of ideas, ways and means to win the next general elections legitimately that he has to dip his nib into the potent pot of racism, bigotry and hatred to draw up a malignant plan that will further keep alive ‘divide and rule’ racial politics that will cement UMNO-BN as a government for decades to come,” said Patto.

She added that BTN, despite being publicly assigned the task of nation-building, had done the opposite. “It is an open secret that the BTN has done nothing to promote tolerance, professionalism, fairness and patriotism and instead has been dancing to the tune of UMNO-BN in propagating the likes of supremacy, racism, divisive policies and all that contribute to the destruction of a cohesive, just, fair society in Malaysia.

“After 36 years, it is without a doubt that the BTN has failed in nation-building, which ironically falls in line with exactly what UMNO and their leaders have been fighting for,” she said.

Patto urged Najib to disband BTN if his 1Malaysia slogan is genuine. If Najib does not, she added, Harapan will do so if it captures Putrajaya.

“There is no place amongst peace loving Malaysians in a Malaysian Malaysia for BTN to continue to exist,” she said.

All Roads led to Jared Kushner


July 13, 2017

by Nicholas Kristof@www.nytimes.com

For a year, the refrain from the Trump camp has been a defiant mix of “Lock her up,” “but the emails” and “fake news.”

Now it turns out that what was fake wasn’t the news but the Trump denials, that the truly scandalous emails were in the Trumps’ own servers and that the person who may have committed a felony is actually Donald J. Trump Jr.

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Two of a Kind–The Holy Father and Son

 

The writer Stephen King put it this way: “The news is real. The President is fake.”

The question is where this goes next. I suggest two directions.  First, look beyond Donald Trump Jr. to Jared Kushner and to President Trump himself. Second, explore how Trump Jr.’s attempt at collusion with Russians may relate to the bizarre effort by Kushner to set up a secret communication channel with the Kremlin.

To back up, just in case you’ve been stuck on a desert island, here’s what you missed this week. Donald J. Trump Jr. received an email in June 2016, eight days after his father clinched the Republican nomination for President, that said the Kremlin had “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary. … This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.

In 1960, the Kremlin made a similar offer to support the candidacy of John F. Kennedy against Richard Nixon, but the Kennedy campaign rebuffed it. Likewise, when the Al Gore campaign in 2000 received confidential materials relating to the George W. Bush campaign, it called the F.B.I.

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Paul Manafort–Ops Research Heck

Trump Jr. didn’t call the F.B.I.; instead, he responded, “I love it.” He apparently arranged a phone call to discuss the material (we don’t know that the call happened or, if it did, its content), and then set up a meeting for him, Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort to meet with a person described in the emails as a “Russian government attorney.”

In other words, informed of a secret Kremlin effort to use highly sensitive information about a former secretary of state (presumably obtained by espionage, for how else?) to manipulate an American election, Trump Jr. signaled, “We’re in!”

“This was an attempt at collusion,” noted Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. It may or may not have amounted to a felony, for soliciting a foreigner to contribute something “of value” in connection with an American election. The Predict-It betting website now lists gambling odds about whether Trump Jr. will be indicted.

The Trumps’ defense is that the meeting was a “nothingburger” with no follow-up. That would be more compelling if the Trumps hadn’t previously denied at least 20 times that such a meeting had ever taken place. Their credibility is in tatters. Crucially, this is bigger than Donald Trump Jr.

The Trumps insist that the President himself was unaware of the Russian offer. Yet the day after Trump Jr. received the first email and presumably had his phone conversation about the supposedly incriminating material, his father promised to give “a major speech” in which “we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”

That speech targeting Hillary Clinton didn’t take place. But on June 15, the first leak of stolen Democratic materials did.

Then there’s Kushner. Trump Jr. forwarded the emails to Kushner, whose response was to attend the meeting, although he apparently left within 10 minutes. Kushner later neglected to report the meeting and others with Russians on his SF-86 forms to receive national security clearance (intentional omission is a felony).

The meeting gave the Kremlin potential blackmail material against the Trumps, and thus possibly leverage over them.

In addition, McClatchy reports that investigators in Congress and the Justice Department are exploring whether the Trump campaign digital operation — supervised by Kushner — helped guide Russia’s remarkably sophisticated efforts to use internet bots to target voters with fake news attacking Hillary Clinton.

Then there was the extraordinary initiative by Kushner in the transition period to set up the secret communications channel. There’s no indication that the channel was actually established, and the assumption has been that the communications would have required visits to Russian consulates — which would be bizarre.

But Barton Gellman, a careful national security writer, has another theory. He notes that James Comey, the ousted F.B.I. Director, in testimony to Congress referred to the risk that this channel could “capture all of your conversations.” Gellman suggests that this may mean that Kushner sought mobile Russian scrambling equipment to take to Trump Tower.

Look, this is a murky, complicated issue. But this much we know: Kushner attended a secret meeting whose stated purpose was to advance a Kremlin effort to interfere in the U.S. election, he then failed to report it, and finally he sought a secret channel to communicate with the Kremlin.

One next step is clear: Take away Jared Kushner’s security clearance immediately.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on July 13, 2017, on Page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: All Roads Now Lead To Kushner.

Muzzling Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad


July 12, 2017

Muzzling Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

“The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.”

– John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton

COMMENT | So now we have proof that UMNO members “cover” for their president. We have proof that the corruption of UMNO Presidents are covered up by UMNO members. We have proof that UMNO members will overlook any kind of malfeasances to keep their leader in power.

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All UMNO Leaders are filthy rich

We have this proof because UMNO Vice-President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is now acting Deputy President of the party, admitted as much when he told former Prime Minister and de facto opposition leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad to shut up or recite Quranic verses to Allah, whichever comes more easily.

This is what Zahid said: “He unveils the flaws of the present leaders, don’t forget we also used to cover his flaws. Don’t let it be our turn to show his shame and ‘scabs’. There is so much that we can reveal.”

Let us unpack this statement. We can discern three important facts from it.

1) Zahid does not dispute that the current UMNO leader and Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak has “flaws” and in this case, the only flaws that the current de facto opposition leader Mahathir is unveiling are the numerous corruption scandals that are plaguing this regime. You would note that the UMNO acting Deputy President is not disputing those flaws, indeed he acknowledges them as human “weakness” that every UMNO politician (leader) has.

2) He acknowledges that UMNO members “cover” the flaws of their leaders. So, as an UMNO member, he is admitting that over the years Umno has engaged in acts to cover the possibly criminal or unconstitutional acts of their leaders to safeguard the position of Umno and the position of the President of UMNO and the office of Prime Minister of this country.

3) That by claiming “there is so much we can reveal”, Zahid is admitting that UMNO members have evidence of wrongdoing and have purposely concealed these alleged criminal acts from the state security apparatus, the Judiciary, the Press but more importantly, the public.

So, let me be clear. What Zahid’s statements reveal is that (1) UMNO members know that their leaders are corrupt (flaws); (2) that UMNO members cover for their leaders; and (3) UMNO members have evidence of the wrongdoings of their leaders.

How do UMNO members cover for their leaders? Now, I am just spitballing here, but they would have to ensure that their leaders are insulated from the banalities of accountability. This would mean that independent institutions that are meant to investigate and prosecute the “flaws” of politicians would have to be accountable to members of UMNO, whose primary goal is to cover for their leaders.

This would mean that the security apparatus, the judiciary and the press would have to answer to UMNO because these would be the institutions that the UMNO leader and Prime Minister would need “covering” from.

In other words, UMNO members, like Zahid and every other UMNO member who are covering for their dear leader, are collaborators and/or accomplices to the crimes committed by their President. I am merely clarifying what the acting UMNO Deputy President said.

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Partners in Power or Rivals for Power?

So, when UMNO members defend the indefensible, when they claim that their leaders have done no wrong, when every state apparatus clears UMNO leaders of wrongdoing, what we are left with is the knowledge, articulated by the UMNO deputy president, that all this was done because UMNO members cover for their leaders.

So, this means that the so-called Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on the foreign exchange market (forex) issue of the past is merely an attempt by UMNO members to “reveal” the wrongdoings of Mahathir? This would also mean that this RCI is indeed politically motivated in defence of the current UMNO President and Malaysian Prime Minster because Zahid publicly threatened to “reveal” the “shame” and “scabs” of the former Prime Minister.

And why was Salleh shocked?

So, let’s take this issue of the “appointments as additional judges to the Federal Court”, which has received a fair amount of justified criticism from members of the Bar and former judges. Former Chief Justice (CJ) Abdul Hamid Mohamad had warned that “an extension of a CJ’s tenure beyond the 66 years and six months may compromise the independence of the Judiciary”.

In other words, what the Najib regime is doing may affect the independence of the Judiciary. This brings us to Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak’s shocking revelation that Mahathir, in his interview with The Guardian implied that jailed political prisoner Anwar Ibrahim “was fixed up by a corrupt Judiciary and the Judges were dishonest”.

Here is the problem. If UMNO members cover for their leaders and the only way they can do this is if they control the apparatus of the state, then why is it shocking that a former Prime Minister implies that the state, through the Judiciary, covered up a political problem for an UMNO President?

If UMNO members cover for their leaders, and the only way they can cover for their leaders is by controlling the apparatus of the state and concealing evidence (as articulated by Zahid), then why is it a surprise to the Communications and Multimedia Minister that the former Prime Minister implies a conspiracy by the state (during his tenure) to imprison a political opponent?

If by stacking the Judiciary in favour of UMNO politicians means that it would be easier to “cover” the flaws of UMNO Presidents, then why should we be surprised by the fears and warnings that this would lead to an unnatural relationship between the executive and the Judiciary as articulated by former CJ Abdul Hamid?

With this in mind, how can we not believe that this move by the Registrar of Societies (ROS) to compel the DAP to hold a further round of its central executive committee (CEC) elections is anything but a political gambit by the UMNO state to neutralise a political opponent of a compromised UMNO President before the upcoming general election?

Concerning this crippling of the DAP, this quote from Lim Kit Siang’s blog needs to be addressed.

“In fact, it has led even independent observers to swallow hook, line and sinker to believe in these fake news and false information. For instance, one independent commentator described the whole ROS fiasco as ‘a ticking time bomb of DAP’s own design’ that should have been addressed a long time ago in a transparent manner. How is the ROS fiasco ‘DAP’s own design’?”

Which is the more plausible proposition?

1) That I have swallowed hook, line and sinker the fake news and false information of this regime and its propagandists.

Or

2) That I was sincerely questioning the strategies (as it were) of an opposition political party that is in the cross hairs of this regime, the state apparatus that they control and the propagandists who serve them.

I will leave rational readers to decide which they think is more plausible. Ultimately, muzzling Mahathir says more of the collective guilt and complicity of UMNO members, rather than the agenda of the former Prime Minister turned de facto opposition leader.

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.

 

Can Mahathir’s return save Malaysia?


July 6, 2017

Can Mahathir’s return save Malaysia?

by William Pesek*

http://asia.nikkei.com/

Bold change is needed to restore Malaysia’s competitiveness

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Malaysians, Keep your cool. Dr.Mahathir is around to save you from Najib Razak

Malaysians could be excused for wondering if they are stuck in a time warp as Mahathir Mohamad rails against a sinister force wrecking an economy he spent two decades building.

But times have changed. The last time 31 million Malaysians witnessed this spectacle was 1997, and the target was billionaire investor George Soros. Today, the former prime minister is denouncing the current one, Najib Razak. And in a delicious twist of irony, even Soros shares Mahathir’s misgivings about Najib’s willingness to burn down one of Southeast Asia’s most promising economies just to stay in power.

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Malaysia’s 92 Year Old Comeback kid

Might this headline-grabbing tussle change policies that are undermining Malaysia’s living standards? Unfortunately, the probable answer is “no.”

Mahathir, 91, says he “may be forced to consider” abandoning retirement to rescue Malaysia from corruption scandals and neglect. Among the problems: since 2009, Najib has broadened affirmative action policies that benefit the ethnic Malay majority at the expense of productivity, deterring foreign investment. The state fund Najib created, 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), is the subject of money-laundering investigations from Singapore to Zurich to Washington.

Image result for Najib Razak

Malaysia’s Infamous Prime Minister Najib Razak is feeling the political heat

The 1MDB fiasco accelerated Najib’s slide from Mahathir prodigy to nemesis. Mahathir rarely misses a chance to demand Najib step down over disclosures that some $700 million found its way into the prime minister’s pockets (Najib denies any wrongdoing and claims “personal donations” from Saudi Arabia, whatever that means). Soros, a U.S. citizen, appears equally aghast. According to emails released by WikiLeaks, Soros lobbied the U.S to disassociate itself from Najib even as Washington engaged with Malaysia to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

But would a return to Mahathir’s firebrand ways really help? He deserves considerable credit for transforming a tropical backwater into an Asian tiger with some of the region’s most impressive skylines. But Mahathir’s 22-year tenure that ended in 2003 was marred by authoritarian leanings, media intolerance and insular industrial policies like building national car brand Proton. His impolitic tirades found a global audience in 1997 and 1998 when he, bizarrely, blamed Jews — Soros, especially — for a plunge in Malaysia’s currency. His capital controls and jailing of his pro-capitalism deputy prime minister drew admonitions from around the globe.

There is also what Mahathir’s return says about today’s Malaysia. For one thing, it speaks to the dearth of young leaders to replace the old warlords. For another, the opposition is too feckless to provide Mahathir a plausible route back to the premiership. His old party, United Malays National Organisation, is also Najib’s, and it has held power for more than six decades. Barring a critical mass of party elders tossing Najib to the curb, which is highly unlikely, Mahathir would have to find another way in.

The wild card here is that Mahathir`s battles with Najib prod the government to do its job, not just dole out patronage. The main task is increasing competitiveness. When Mahathir left office, Malaysia ranked 37th on Transparency International’s corruption index. By 2016, it had slumped to 55th place. Since Najib took over in 2009, Malaysia has also lost ground in the productivity and efficiency scales — ranking 21th in competitiveness by the World Economic Forum then and 25th now. Najib’s team is big on splashy conferences to tout success in raising Malaysia’s game, even though the facts belie the claims.

The battle-scarred Mahathir is just as charismatic as Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew in his post-leadership incarnation. Some pundits argue Mahathir could act as a Trojan horse, attacking Najib’s stranglehold from inside. Yet even if Mahathir outmaneuvered Najib and reclaimed the crown, there is no guarantee things would change course significantly. To do so would be to water down the policies and laws that kept Mahathir in power — ones Najib is now using to cling on.

Only bold change will ensure Malaysia thrives in this Asian century. Its neglect of Chinese and Indian minorities, for example, is self-defeating economic apartheid. It encourages many of Malaysia’s best and brightest to flee to Singapore or Hong Kong and increases the relative attractiveness of Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam for foreign executives.Bold change is needed to restore Malaysia’s competitiveness.

The 1MDB scandal continues to do considerable damage to the Malaysian brand. And while 1MDB replaced Malaysia Airlines losing a Boeing 777 in the global headlines, the two incidents are not completely unrelated. The bungled search for flight MH370 — and the opacity and cluelessness of the official response in the weeks following the disappearance in 2014 — exposed a political system unaccustomed to basic accountability. Malaysia’s clumsy response to 1MDB followed a similar pattern, offering insights into how a resource-rich nation with reasonable growth rates could be ensnared in the middle-income trap.

Instead of scrapping antiquated race-based quotas for hiring and business contracts and getting the state out of the private sector, Najib doubled down on 1971 — the year his prime minister father introduced this “New Economic Policy.” In 1991, Mahathir tried to augment it with a “National Development Strategy,” but Malaysia has done much more strategy-spinning than ensuring development keeps pace with Asian peers now pulling away from Najib’s economy.

Asia-based journalists long missed Mahathir’s fiery rhetoric and mercurial style. I was in that Hong Kong ballroom 20 years ago when he complained bitterly about the “rape” of Malaysian markets by Soros and his ilk. And let us face it, Najib brought this wrath on himself. Entertaining as he is, though, Dr. M is a wildly imperfect messenger for what ails the economy. The time warp Malaysians should fear as Mahathir and Najib exchange blows is one that takes living standards backwards.

*William Pesek is a Tokyo-based journalist and author of “Japanization: what the world can learn from Japan`s lost decades”. He is a former columnist for Bloomberg.