Anwar Ibrahim, stop the PKR Contest


August 18, 2018

Anwar Ibrahim, stop the PKR Contest and get down to the serious business of promised reforms

Image result for Anwar Ibrahim and PKR

The pre-election scuffles within PKR are threatening to tear apart the party as well as the hopes of all who see it as the way forward for the new Malaysia.

COMMENT

 

By Watson Peters

Most Malaysians would agree that while Dr Mahathir Mohamad was the catalyst that caused the change of the Barisan Nasional (BN) government, that result was not the fortuitous consequence of some fortuitous social process. It did not appear out of thin air. It was the natural and inevitable consequence of a government that could not continue to base itself on arbitrary applications of power that sought to eliminate all forms of dissent and non-conformity.

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Azmin Ali –The Man who stood with Anwar Ibrahim and PKR through the years

The sole unwavering sentinel at the PKR guardhouse from day one has been Azmin. His loyalty to the Reform Malaysia cause cannot and should not be doubted.–Watson Peters

The process of change began with the cruel, baseless and repeated incarcerations of Anwar Ibrahim and was sustained by the momentum of the Reformasi movement and PKR which has continued carrying the “Reform Malaysia” torch since 1998. People who were not particularly fond of Anwar became Anwar supporters overnight.

The Anwar family became the best-loved family in the hearts of most Malaysians. While PKR may have fewer than one million members, it has millions more supporters and sympathisers across the whole spectrum of our nation

The current PKR election has denigrated into an internecine warfare that threatens to tear apart not only the fabric of PKR, but also the hopes of millions who see PKR as the hope and way forward for the new Malaysia.

The public utterances by some PKR leaders are rather discouraging and indeed disheartening. This looks like a classic case of talking the party and the government into trouble.

Given that the new government has not properly warmed its seat yet, the issue really is whether it is necessary to have the contests at this time.

Could not the many good leaders in PKR work together for the common good rather than for well-disguised personal objectives?Could not the contending forces lay down their armoury and allow the Pakatan Harapan government settle down in its business of running our country and leading us to a better future?

It is a tragedy to see how the contest for the post of Deputy President between Rafizi Ramli and Mohamed Azmin Ali is turning out. To compound matters, the contest has filtered down to the other echelons of leadership.

Admittedly, both Rafizi and Azmin are great leaders to have within the ranks. They may have different modus operandi but that need not be at cross-purposes.

It is particularly painful to hear accusations of disloyalty aimed at Azmin. Malaysians remember how, in the aftermath of Anwar’s incarceration and while Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, or Kak Wan, as the figure head of the Reformasi movement and PKR had to deal not only with an absent husband but also a young family, it was “Anwar’s boys” (as they were popularly known) who were on the ground – marshalling supporters, organising branches and giving flesh to the bare bones of PKR.

Sadly though, over the years most of “Anwar’s boys” have either “run for the hills” or “crossed over to the other side”.

The sole unwavering sentinel at the PKR guardhouse from day one has been Azmin. His loyalty to the Reform Malaysia cause cannot and should not be doubted.

As Selangor menteri besar, he had shown remarkable leadership, maturity and fortitude in the face of numerous challenges, especially in the early days. The scurrilous attacks on Azmin’s loyalty and integrity must be viewed with the contempt they deserve while his elegant non-confrontational reaction must be applauded.

That said, Rafizi is also an irreplaceable component of the PKR engine. His sacrifices for the Malaysian people have not been forgotten. His frequent exposes at great personal risk are still fresh in our hearts and minds.

Given this scenario, it lies upon the shoulders of Anwar as President of PKR and the Bapak Reformasi to intervene immediately and impose peace upon the party.

Democratic rights aside, Anwar can and must convince the contestants to allow the new government to settle down and dig us out of the quagmire we are in. Anwar is the only one who can impose an acceptable modus vivendi and he should not abdicate this responsibility.

It may be good for all the contestants to remind themselves that there is always the next party election, in a couple of years’ time, to re-ignite this contest.

Stop the implosion of PKR and the explosion of the hopes of millions of Malaysians.

Watson Peters has been a practising lawyer for more than 30 years.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

Dr. Bridget Welsh on 100 days of Pakatan Administration: Glass half full or half empty?


August 16, 2018

Dr. Bridget Welsh on 100 days of Pakatan Administration: Glass half full or half empty?

by Dr. Bridget Welsh@www.malaysiakini.com

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“Harapan continues to be hampered by a trust deficit. Many of its own members are attacking one another. Conspiracies about alliances, intensive politicking and reports of infighting (often played out in the press) are taking away from what Harapan should be focused on – governing. After 100 days, these sorts of things should be declining, not increasing in prominence.”–Dr. Bridget Welsh

COMMENT | Today, Pakatan Harapan faces its 100-day report card. The idea of ‘100 days’ is somewhat arbitrary and any assessment in the early days of any administration should also be treated with caution – including this one.

This is especially the case given the difficult conditions Harapan has inherited, not only the financial liabilities caused by reckless spending and serious graft, but decades of erosion in institutional competence and good governance.

The problems lie not only with the political system but extend into society where social relations are deeply coloured by race and resentment as well as uneven education and entitlements which reinforced inequalities.

Let’s start with the positive

Let’s start with the positive, however. First of all, Harapan has shown that it can work together as a new coalition, and it has found its footing. While there have been moments of frustration – immature behaviour from those coveting position they somehow think they are entitled to – the five parties (with Warisan) have worked out many of their key differences and put in place a cabinet that while may lack in experience, is arguably the most talented and clean government in decades.

Over the past three months, these officials on the whole have worked hard to learn the ropes in environments that have been at times hostile and unwelcoming. They have been under the microscope and faced intense public pressure.

While there have been mistakes in (mis)handling questions on issues such as the United Examination Certificate (UEC), lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights and foreign workers (and these speak to broader needs for greater reflection and engagement on these controversies), to date these mistakes have not fundamentally damaged the goodwill Harapan has from the majority of the electorate. One hundred days on, surveys show that the majority of Malaysians continue to support the bringing about a stronger ‘new’ Malaysia.

Second, there have been some important reforms introduced. Most of these have been internal and off the radar. The first has been granting more power to Parliament, an important strengthening of the checks and balances. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), the Electoral Commission (EC), Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam), The National Audit Commission, Public Service Commission, Education Service Commission and Judicial Appointments Commission all report directly to Parliament rather than the prime minister.

Decentralisation of power

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These initiatives have been led by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who is now engaging in a meaningful decentralisation of executive power. Comparatively, Mahathir has also allowed ministers greater autonomy than in the past.

Third, there has been considerable restructuring of departments with the bureaucracy, with different agencies and units now coming under different jurisdictions. Some of these initiatives streamline governance and decision making, although not all of the restructuring has been clearly explained, leaving the impression (and in some cases, the reality) that turf wars are about politicking and positioning rather than governance. A good example is the divisions of the Ministry of Finance.

 

Fourth, there have been important reversals in entrenched exclusionary practices of the previous BN government. This week, the announcement of the end of propaganda outfits of the Biro Tatanegara (BTN) and National Service programme was made. Over the past three months, there have been scores of questionable contracts cancelled as part a broad review of spending and graft. Most of these have been done on an “ad hoc” basis but taken collectively, there have been important reviews in largely an inward-oriented process of assessment.

Fifth, there has been greater attention to corruption and abuses of power, particularly surrounding 1MDB. While many bemoan the slow handling of the serious corruption violations, including those associated with former Prime Minister Najib Razak, there has been a stream of reports of assets captured, investigations opened, scores of bank accounts frozen and, in some cases, charges filed. The MACC has been working overtime in carrying out investigations with greater independence than before.

Finally, there has been greater inclusion of Malaysia’s diversity in government and political life. From the composition of the cabinet to patterns of public engagement, more groups have had access, and with the greater press freedom, more issues have been raised in public, including many sensitive ones.

Despite continued reliance on race and religion on the part of the opposition parties (UMNO and PAS), there has also been considerable debate on a range of issues that speaks to underlying aspirations for different narratives and political participation. Even in Parliament, the focus has increasingly been on policy issues. In the spirit of the post-GE14 ‘durian runtuh’, the bitter and the sweet have offered more to the public to taste.

These changes speak to the new political environment as Malaysia’s ongoing transformation is unfolding. On the whole, the focus has been on the past, cleaning up the situation inherited and, in many cases, reversing unpopular policies. The guiding framework for changes has been the Harapan manifesto, which has proven to be both a basis for action and burden in that many of the proposals are financially untenable.

As Harapan has been in government, they have differed on whether some of the policies are politically viable, such as the UEC, and this shows that coalition dynamics are still evolving.

Legitimate criticisms

There are, however, quite different interpretations of the changes taking place, not only across the political divide but among different stakeholders. Legitimate criticisms can be made, as there is inadequate attention to addressing problems being currently experienced and indications of future trajectories.

The Economy

Foremost are percolating concerns about the economy. Harapan did a good job in managing the initial transition, instilling confidence. As time has progressed, this confidence has waned. While there has been a retail boom and a boost in some sectors from the end of the Goods and Service Tax (GST), many Malaysians have not witnessed a significant drop in prices.

Many businesses used the opportunity to rake in profits at the expense of consumers, a development that contributed to the negative impact of the GST originally. Many of the deep vulnerabilities with cost of living are still present, and deeply felt by vulnerable populations. There are worries that the return of the SST will lead to a similar negative impact on consumers.

Investors who have been waiting for approvals have been put on hold, now for most of 2018 as decisions were put off earlier in preparation for GE14. Impatience is growing. At the same time, the contract-driven domestic businesses are being dislodged from their hold on government largesse, and with these displacements, there is resentment.

In the climate of greater austerity, public spending is less of a driver for the economy. Collectively, there is a perceived slowdown in some quarters, which has been exacerbated by a lack of clear policy direction for the economy. To date, attention has focused on ending projects, not the experience of ordinary people. Harapan needs to be reminded that the main concern that brought them into power involved bread-and-butter issues.

 

This was closely followed by calls for reform. There are many visions of what the reforms should be and how they should be prioritised. The Institutional Reform Committee has made its recommendations and the public is looking for more substantive initiatives than those implemented to date.

Keep in mind, no draconian laws have been removed although a repeal of the anti-fake news bill has been tabled. No meaningful anti-corruption measures have been introduced, especially to prevent corruption in the Harapan government. The investigation of Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu’s aide for “crowdfunding” speaks to the problem of the urgent need for anti-corruption checks.

Programmes to prevent Police abuse and reduce trafficking have yet to be brought in, despite their inclusion in the manifesto. The need for Independent Police Complaint and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) and investigation into human trafficking crimes in Wang Kelian is long overdue. The same lack of attention to improving electoral administration is also evident. Even in the area of child marriage – preventing the young from abuse – has been mired in a muck of unprincipled platitudes.

Along with the economy, Harapan based its legitimacy in GE-14 on bringing about change, and further delays in bringing about substantive reforms promised in the manifesto will undermine its support among its political base.

Malay votes

A problem that Harapan has experienced in the first three months is a fixation with those that did not vote for them. Harapan itself has focused on the “half empty” glass with high levels of sensitivity to what the rural/semi-rural Malay base may think of the new government.

My estimates of the results show that Harapan won 23.5% of the Malay vote nationally (compared to 44.5% won by UMNO and 31.9% won by PAS). There is indeed a Malay minority of support for Harapan.

Insecurity about a Malay deficit has been driving defensive responses and contributed to overcautious and doubletalk on many issues of race and religion. Harapan has unfortunately continued to use a simplistic ethnic lens to understand Malaysia’s diverse and complex society. This is hampering the evolution of a different narrative, a different Malaysian future.

Anwar Ibrahim

It has not helped that not all of Harapan seems to be on the same page about working collaboratively. While the coalition has come together, the splits that undercut support for Pakatan Rakyat are still present.

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In the last three months, questions have been asked about PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim’s commitment to political reform, and whether his personal ambitions are colouring his actions, including an unsettling interview in Utusan Malaysia and an UMNO-like ‘defend the royalty’ narrative. At the same time, grouses are being made about the appointment of former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin and perceptions of persistent patronage, with resentments growing and accusations being hurled. Despite taking on the task of governing, suspicion of Mahathir also persists.

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Rafizi’s Ambition knows no limits

Harapan continues to be hampered by a trust deficit. Many of its own members are attacking one another. Conspiracies about alliances, intensive politicking and reports of infighting (often played out in the press) are taking away from what Harapan should be focused on – governing. After 100 days, these sorts of things should be declining, not increasing in prominence.

Practices do not change overnight, and arguably they realistically cannot be expected to do so. The trajectory overall has been positive. This does not mean that attention should not be drawn to areas where there is dirt in the glass, and a possibility for a brighter future.

 


BRIDGET WELSH is an associate professor of political science at John Cabot University in Rome. She also continues to be a senior associate research fellow at the National Taiwan University’s Center for East Asia Democratic Studies and The Habibie Center, as well as a university fellow of Charles Darwin University. Her latest book (with co-author Greg Lopez) is titled Regime Resilience in Malaysia and Singapore. She can be reached at bridgetwelsh1@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Dr.Bakri Musa’s Advice to Education Minister Maszlee


August 7, 2018

Dr.Bakri Musa’s Advice to Education Minister Maszlee Malik : Be More An Executive, Less A Professor

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan Hill, California

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New Education Minister Maszlee Malik should be more an executive and less a professor. He leads an organization with a budget in excess of RM280B and a staff of over half a million to lead. That ministry, like all others, is not known for its crispness.

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Forget about grand plans and overarching policies. All would be for naught if your staff and organization cannot execute them, or if they are consumed with such trivia as campus newspaper subscriptions and pupils’ shoe color. If Maszlee is still obsessed with policies, delegate a committee to work on them.

Maszlee should first focus on shaping up that flabby organization. Enlist someone with a solid MBA or credible business experience to help him be an effective and efficient executive. There is a universe of difference in being a professor and an executive. Likewise, business meetings are unlike academic seminars. You want results and decisions, not endless intellectual musings and more research.

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Dr. Maszlee Malik–Malaysia’s New Education Minister

Maszlee should assess the capabilities and weaknesses of his staff . Forget about wacanas, town hall meetings, or press conferences. To his credit, he has already made many personal visits for first-hand assessments.

The challenges facing Malaysian education are as overwhelming as they are obvious, the consequence of long neglect, incompetent leadership, and political meddling. The difficulty is not in identifying them but to pick three or four of the more pressing ones and tackle those.

Maszlee has articulated some of those–greater university autonomy, making our students at least bilingual, enhancing English and STEM, as well as fixing our dilapidated schools. Those four would occupy and challenge him for some time. There is little need and would serve little purpose to go beyond as with recognizing UEC, sending a team to Finland, or issuing edicts on students’ shoe color.

Maszlee’s first and continuing public task, as with all the other ministers, is to “walk the talk.” He cannot profess to champion university autonomy and then order the dismantling of campus gates and make the campuses have speakers’ corners! The universities should do those things on their own initiative. By issuing that directive Maszlee missed out on a splendid opportunity to assess his Vice-Chancellors’ (VCs) responsiveness to the rising expectation for greater openness.

Maszlee should elicit from them their three or four most immediate challenges and ask how he as minister could help. They, not him, know best (or should) as they are closest to the problems. If they cannot articulate them or are more concerned with a welcoming ceremony for him, fire them.

Firing university leaders should be done only if they are found wanting or fail to gain the confidence of the greater campus community, and not because they were appointed by the previous administration. Doing so would only perpetuate the blight of political interference that is the bane of local institutions.

Likewise with stressing the importance of English. Maszlee would best demonstrate that not through endless speeches but with an executive decision to make MUET mandatory for universities and teachers’ colleges. Likewise if he were to give extra allowances and preferential choice for quarters to teachers of English (as well as STEM). He could also direct schools to increase their hours of instruction in English and have another subject be taught in that language.

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Former MITI Minister Rafidah Aziz–An Excellent Dare to Do  and dynamic executive

 

Another would be to have his staff communicate in English and make its proficiency a requirement for promotions and entry into the permanent establishment. Emulate what Rafidah Aziz did at MITI. She was an “excellent dare to do” dynamic executive.

Make 12 years of schooling the norm. Bring back Form VI and reduce it to one year and start it in January together with the rest of the school. Make the transition from Form V to VI as seamless as going from Form IV to V. That would bring order to the current chaos for school-leavers.

For those academically inclined, the current seven-month hiatus following Form V is a colossal waste of time and precious loss of learning opportunity. The rich enroll their children in private colleges. Most Malays idle their time away. Much attrition of good study habits occurs. Beyond that, idle time is the devil’s workshop.

Get rid of matrikulasi and universities’ foundation courses. Both are a waste of scarce and expensive resources. Universities should focus on undergraduate, graduate, and professional education, not high school work.

As for fixing schools, Maszlee has demonstrated the dire need for that by his many photo-ops showing him sitting at pupils’ broken desks. At the macro level the best solution would be to prevail upon Treasury to have MOE’s tenders be open to competitive bidding. That would achieve more with less.

At the micro level, the Minister would achieve even more and much faster while at the same time streamline the process if he were to give the money directly to the headmasters. Let them prioritize the repairs and choose the local contractors. If you entrust them with the nation’s most precious assets–the brains of our young–then you could also trust them with a few million ringgit.

Back to the teachers, Maszlee should not get bogged down with administrative trivia as with requests for their transfers and maternity leave. Let your human resources people deal with those. Stay out of it by letting the teachers deal with the schools directly.

Execute these well and Maszlee would earn the heartfelt gratitude of millions of Malaysians, quite apart from making a significant contribution to the betterment of the nation. Get off the public lectern and buckle down at your desk.

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Note: I have explored these and other ideas in greater depth in my book, An Education System Worthy of Malaysia (2003,  ISBN 983 2535 06-9 (Malaysian edition), 0-595-26590-1 (US Edition).

PROTON, Khazanah, Malaysia Incorporated and Harapan Prime Minister


July 24, 2018

PROTON, Khazanah, Malaysia Incorporated and Harapan Prime Minister

by P Gunasegaram@www.malaysiakini.com

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Old Schemes and Concepts with new labels?

QUESTION TIME | Some of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s economic policy pronouncements are not just puzzling but also downright alarming such as having another national car project a la Proton, steering Khazanah Nasional back to its so-called original objectives and reviving the concept of Malaysia Inc. Let’s look at each in turn and the problems that they can cause.

As I have explained in this article, another national car project would be a colossal mistake. It would distort the car market further because such a car cannot be economically produced and will result in even higher taxes on other cars.

Proton was one of Mahathir’s huge failures when he was Prime Minister from 1981 to 2003 costing taxpayers an additional RM360 billion at least in taxes since the first Proton rolled out in 1985.

As a matter of urgency, one of the new policies of the Pakatan Harapan government should be to forge ahead with a phased rationalisation of the car industry so that there will be no taxes on cars.  This article explains it in more detail.

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Despite a public outpouring of resistance against a third national car project, Mahathir is recalcitrant and still seems set on his pet project and reviving this failed, outdated policy of his yet again. He said he had discussed with the Indonesian President the concept of an ASEAN car on his recent visit to Jakarta.

Considering the abysmal state of cooperation within ASEAN and all the difficulties of the car industry, this will be a road to perdition if implemented. We are already suffering for 33 years already.

On to Malaysia Incorporated. Mahathir recently announced his intention to revive the Malaysia Inc concept to foster closer cooperation between the government and the private sector.

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Old Cronies and New Opportunities?

What exactly is this Malaysia Inc? Let’s quote from the Economic Planning Unit, the division within the Prime Minister’s Department:

“The Malaysia Incorporated concept was first announced by the Prime Minister in 1983 and it represents a new way of approaching the task of national development. Both the public and private sectors adopt the idea that the nation is a corporate or business entity, jointly owned by both sectors and working together in pursuit of a common mission of the nation.”

Instant billionaires

If Malaysia Inc. had been done properly and executed completely above board, things might have been alright. But Malaysia Inc. and the attendant privatisation of core government assets to crony companies and individuals saw the largest exercise of government patronage and a prerogative to manufacture instant billionaires in some instances and countless smaller deals in many others.

In fact, it would not be far wrong to say that Mahathir oversaw the unprecedented transfer of wealth from government to the private sector with plum projects given to those closely associated with Mahathir and his Finance Minister then Daim Zainuddin, who is now ironically the head of the Council of Eminent Persons, as well as companies related to subsequent Finance Minister, Anwar Ibrahim.

This period saw the blossoming of the first generation independent power producers – or IPPs – with awards for massive power generation contracts to the YTL Group (Francis Yeoh), Segari (MRCB, and subsequently Syed Mokhtar Albukhary, a close Mahathir associate to this day, under Malakoff), Genting Sanyen (the Genting casino group) and to PD Power (Ananda Krishnan) amongst others.

Profits were ensured by ironclad power purchase agreements (PPAs) with the sole national power company, Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) which had either “take or pay” contracts (YTL) and/or capacity charge payments where a fixed amount is paid based on fixed asset investment whether the energy is taken up or not.

Well, if you and I had got these contracts, we would have become billionaires too. None of those successful had previous power generation experience.

Not just IPPs but a whole slew of privatisation and related arrangements came up. Toll roads were pioneered via Halim Saad’s Plus Expressway in the mid-80s, a known crony of Daim who had many other cronies. Another, Tajuddin Ramli, bought over cellular operations, now Celcom, from Telekom Malaysia and was given a period to get it up and going before others were allowed in.

The Sapura Group, owned by Mahathir’s close friend Shamsuddin Abdul Kadir, got a cellular licence as well as Ananda Krishnan, tycoon Vincent Tan and the MRCB group associated with Anwar.

Other instances of awards included to Malaysia Mining Corp (Syed Mokhtar), Gamuda (Lin Yun Ling), Samsuddin Abu Hassan (a Daim crony) of Peremba and Wan Azmi Wan Hamzah (a close Daim associate). Apart from IPPs and telecommunications, other lucrative areas included water and numerous state and federal operations.

In almost all cases, there were no open bids and many of these licences were awarded for free with no payment whatsoever to the government. The government was basically giving away assets. In many cases, the awards of these contracts were blatantly and highly questionable.

Ani Arope’s tale of woe

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Former TNB chairperson the late Ani Arope (known also as the man who refused Mahathir) had a tale of woe to tell regarding the award of power purchase agreements to the first generation IPPs.

He talks of delays to TNB projects which caused a massive blackout in 1992, lopsided contracts which gave sweetheart deals to privileged people at the expense of TNB and 30 percent bumiputera stakes to companies and individuals who were not clearly identified.

In an interview with The Star in 2006, after Mahathir had stepped down as Prime Minister in 2003, he described how TNB got a rather raw deal and he was asked to resign after he refused to sign the PPAs.

He said, “There was no negotiation. Absolutely none. Instead of talking directly with the IPPs, TNB was sitting down with the EPU. And we were harassed, humiliated and talked down every time we went there. After that, my team was disappointed. The EPU just gave us the terms and asked us to agree. I said no way I would.

“It was all fixed up. (They said) this is the price, this is the capacity charge and this is the number of years. They said you just take it and I refused to sign the contracts. And then, I was put out to pasture.It was grossly unfair. At 16 sen per unit (kWh) and with the take or pay situation, actually it was 23 sen per unit. With 23 sen, plus transmission and distribution costs, TNB would have had to charge the consumer no less than 30 sen per unit. If mixed with TNB’s cost, the cost would come down but that was at our expense because we were producing electricity at 8 sen a unit. We can deliver electricity at 17 sen per unit.”

Why was this done?  In a 2014 interview with KiniBiz, six months before his death, Ani had this to say: “The crux of the whole thing was who got the 30 percent. The first PPA with YTL, there was a 30 percent shares (requirement) for the bumiputera. That explains the whole thing.” Subsequent PPAs also had this same clause.

If Mahathir, and Pakatan Harapan, want the return of Malaysia Inc, they should do it differently. No more cronies. Have open tenders. Have a properly constituted tender board with members whose credentials are impeccable.

Consider everyone’s bids regardless of political and other affiliations but cut out middlemen. Bids must be from those who provide the service. Pick the best one from there. Be true to the manifesto – open tenders, fairness, transparency, accountability.

Holding bumi shares

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Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar–Khazanah Nasional’s Chief Executive

On to Khazanah Nasional Bhd and Mahathir’s statement about the government-owned company deviating from the role of helping the bumiputera, a rather strange statement to make when Khazanah had actually done quite a lot in terms of its transformation programme under former Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in 2004.

“But along the way, Khazanah decided it should take all the shares for itself and if they are good shares, well, why not acquire the shares at the time of listing when the price of shares was very low, and so they forget entirely about holding the shares for the bumiputera. They decided that they should be holding the shares forever as a part of the government companies owned by the government,” said Mahathir.

And what’s wrong with that? Imagine what would have happened to government revenues if Petronas, the national oil corporation, had been privatised many years ago. It would have gone bankrupt without the oil revenue. And what would have happened to the previous government without the GST?

Don’t sell everything. Keep some for the future benefit of the country and the people.

Note: This is the fourth part in a series of six on Malaysia post G-E14. Next: What should the government do with Khazanah Nasional? The others are:

Part 1: Mahathir’s patently unfair cabinet

Part 2: Did Mahathir win the general election?

Part 3: Do we really need a council of elders?

 


P GUNASEGARAM says keep the good and sell the bad. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Complete Overhaul of Bank Negara is required


June 12, 2018

Complete Overhaul of Bank Negara is required

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Reform is not just about the legal framework in which the Bank operates, it is a wider matter of how the Bank is managed. It should be independent and apolitical since it is the custodian of our reserves.

COMMENT

By Geoffrey Williams@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

The recently announced Cabinet decision to accept Muhammad bin Ibrahim’s offer to step down as the Governor of Bank Negara Malaysia offers the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government an early opportunity to review and reform Malaysia’s monetary system and restore confidence which has been dented by recent events. Personnel turnover like this is often seen as an indicator that a central bank is not independent and that the Governor and senior managers are hired and fired at the whim of the government.

Reform is not just about the legal framework in which the Bank operates, it is a wider matter of how the Bank is managed. This requires a review of the structure, conduct and performance of the Bank to manage perceptions amongst stakeholders outside of the Bank and particularly outside of Malaysia in the international financial community.

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One of the first reforms necessary is to end the Bank’s involvement in non-core activities. The Financial Education Hub (FEH), for example, which involved the purchase of 56 acres of land from the Government is a prime example. The Bank’s involvement in this project is at the core of the controversy surrounding the Governor’s resignation.

Both the Governor and the Bank in its statement of 24 May 2018 have made clear that the transaction complied with all the governance requirements and relevant laws that govern the Bank but questions remain as to whether these regulations are sufficient to govern such transactions in the wider circumstances of the financial system and whether a central bank should be doing this sort of thing at all.

The specific functions of a central bank are to issue currency, manage the monetary system and national reserves, set monetary policy and act as the government’s banker and “lender of last resort,” anything else is non-essential. Bank Negara has enough on its hands with these core functions and to involve itself in property development, financial education and estate management has proved a step too far. Apart from distracting the Bank’s managers from core functions, activities of this type create the perception that the Bank’s decisions in financial regulation and supervision might be influenced by its own real estate investments and worse, that its independence might be compromised if these investments are related, directly or indirectly, to the financing of other government projects, such as 1MDB. There is an urgent need to end this perception by placing activities such as the FEH into a separate independent organisation and to change governance systems to avoid such issues in the future.

A second and related reform is to separate financial supervision and regulation from the Bank. In Malaysia, financial regulation is carried out by Bank Negara under the Financial Services Act 2013 (FSA) and the Islamic Financial Services Act 2013 (IFSA). These consolidate the supervision and regulation of the structure, conduct and performance of banks, insurance companies and other financial services providers into one authority. This is an onerous job and current international best practice suggests that it may be better to separate these functions into independent specialist authorities accountable to parliament not to the Cabinet or Prime Minister.

The FSA also gives the Bank wide powers which allow the Bank to assume control over the whole or part of the business, affairs or property of financial institutions under its supervision. This includes the power to manage such businesses or appoint any person to manage them on behalf of the Bank. These are wide powers which are arguably necessary in extreme circumstances but the exercise of such powers must be conducted with transparency, independence and accountability to parliament rather than to the government as is currently the case. This aspect must be reviewed in any reform of the FSA.

A third area of reform relates to the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) which is responsible for setting interest rates. Although in principle the MPC is independent, which is considered essential to avoid manipulation of interest rates for political purposes, the current MPC has six internal officers of the Bank appointed by the Bank itself and two external members appointed by the Finance Minister. The balance of internal and external members should be reviewed and greater transparency in the appointment of members, as well as the terms of their membership, should be introduced including scrutiny by parliament.

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There also needs to be greater clarity on how the MPC decides on monetary policy and particularly how the forecasts are made so that the process and underlying assumptions of these forecasts, on which many government and private sector decisions rely, can be assessed independently. We also need to see the publication of detailed MPC minutes, as is routine for the MPC at the Bank of England, to take us beyond the current monthly Bank Negara Monetary Statement which amounts to little more than a press release with little or no substantive analysis.

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Recent events at Bank Negara have caused concern in many quarters and raise issues of the independence of Malaysia’s central bank at an operational level. Confidence, independence and credibility are essential to underpin the integrity of any financial system and when questions arise, such as those currently affecting Bank Negara, they are not solved simply by replacing the leaders and putting the, “right people,” at the helm. A thorough review and reform of monetary policy institutions and how they operate is needed and it is timely for the new government to begin this process.

Professor Geoffrey Williams is a Professor at ELM Graduate School at HELP University. He was also a member of the Bank of England Commission of HM Opposition (1999-2000) in the United Kingdom.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

Man of the Moment: Meet Attorney-General Tommy Thomas


June 5, 2018

Man of the Moment: Meet  Attorney-General Tommy Thomas

by Hafiz Yatim

Born in 1952 in Kuala Lumpur, the father of three received his early education at Victoria Institution. He then pursued his law degree at the University of Manchester in England and subsequently received an MSc from the London School of Economics. He then became a barrister at Middle Temple, London.–Hafiz Yatim

Malaysians woke up this morning to the news that Tommy Thomas has been appointed as the new attorney-general by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V, replacing Mohamed Apandi Ali.

Born in 1952 in Kuala Lumpur, the father of three received his early education at Victoria Institution. He then pursued his law degree at the University of Manchester in England and subsequently received an MSc from the London School of Economics. He then became a barrister at Middle Temple, London.

He is a founder and partner at Tommy Thomas, a litigation firm with an office in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. According to the firm’s website, Thomas specialises in administrative law and judicial review; intellectual property; arbitration; land; banking and finance; oil and gas; commercial property; company law; securities law; constitutional law; and insolvency and wills.

He was involved in numerous landmark cases and appeared before the Privy Council, which was Malaysia’s highest court in London, until 1985.

Thomas has published two books titled “Anything But the Law: Essays on Politics and Economics” and “Abuse of Power: Selected Works on the Law and Constitution”.

Besides being a well-known lawyer, he also participated in several Bersih rallies in the past.

An active member of the Malaysian Bar, he held the post of secretary of the Bar Council from 1995 to 1997.

Among his well-known cases were Metramac vs Fawziah Holdings, and as noted by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, he appeared for BN in several cases concerning election petitions.

Thomas has also appeared for the PAS Kelantan and Terengganu oil royalty case against Petronas and the federal government, and also represented Selangor government lawyer Fahda Nur Ahmad Kamar against Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor (Syabas) in the latter’s bid to cite the former for contempt of court.

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Thomas also represented Malayan Communist Party Secretary-General Chin Peng in his application to return to Malaysia, and former Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng in contempt proceedings filed against him by Apandi.

Meanwhile, Thomas’ law firm greeted his appointment with pride.

“He successfully led our team in two of the best-known bond recovery cases in the courts of Malaysia: Pesaka Astana and Aldwich Berhad. And as corporate asset recovery is topical, with the government focused on recovering the assets of 1MDB, there is no doubt in our mind that they have appointed Malaysia’s finest barrister in that field, with the knowledge, experience and industry to lead the 1MDB litigation, whether civil or criminal,” said the firm in a statement.

The firm noted that Thomas was an established corporate and commercial barrister, having acted successfully in some of the landmark cases on corporate debt and asset recoveries, such as Amos William Dawe and Mosbert; Lian Keow v Overseas Credit Finance; and Bank Bumiputra v Lorrain Osman.

More recently, he acted for the Securities Commission against Swisscash, the worldwide Ponzi scheme hatched in Malaysia – tracing the funds in the Ponzi scheme to banks in Hong Kong, and the Jersey and British Virgin Islands; obtaining worldwide Mareva injunctions, and what the firm claimed to be the largest reparation of funds for the victims of the Ponzi scheme.

According to the firm, Thomas had handled some of Malaysia’s largest and most complex cases, and in addition to his outstanding track record on commercial cases, he had a strong public law practice, having acted on major judicial reviews and constitutional cases.

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“A significant percentage of his practice has been pro bono work, for the less privileged and oppressed.While we shall obviously miss him, we are delighted for our country, as Thomas’ combined talent, integrity, legal knowledge and experience, gives Malaysia one of its best and brightest barristers as its next Attorney-General. We wish him every success as Attorney-General of Malaysia,” it said.

Thomas met Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the Prime Minister’s Department at 8.30am today.