The Californization of America


June 4, 2018

SOQUEL, Calif. — Across the country, Democrats are winning primaries by promoting policies like universal health insurance and guaranteed income — ideas once laughed off as things that work only on the “Left Coast.”

At the same time, national politicians from both sides are finally putting front and center issues that California has been grappling with for years: immigration, clean energy, police reform, suburban sprawl. And the state is home to a crop of politicians to watch, from Kevin McCarthy on the right to Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris on the left, part of a wave that is likely to dominate American politics for the next generation.

California, which holds its primaries on Tuesday, has long set the national agenda on the economy, culture and technology. So maybe it was just a matter of time before it got back to driving the political agenda, as it did when Ronald Reagan launched his political career in the 1960s. But other things are happening as well. The state is a hub for immigrants, a testing site for solutions to environmental crises and a front line in America’s competition with China. On all sorts of big issues that matter now and will in the future, California is already in the game.

In a way, California even gave us Donald Trump. So much of his “training” to be president came while he was an entertainment celebrity, on a show that, for a stretch of its existence, was produced in Los Angeles. And of course the means of his ascent — the smartphone, social media — came out of Silicon Valley. That’s a lot to have on a state’s conscience.

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Governor Jerry Brown of California

California is a deep-blue state — only 26 percent of its residents approve of Mr. Trump, and Democrats dominate the Legislature, statewide offices and most large city governments. But the state’s leaders are also aware that setting the political agenda for the country means making a stark break with naked partisanship. Getting that right will determine whether California, in its newly dominant role, perpetuates the political divide or moves America past it.

For decades, California, even as it grew in size and wealth, was seen as an outlier, unintimidating, superficial and flaky. We were no threat. We were surfer dudes and California girls who got high and turned on, tuned in and dropped out. We spawned Apple and Google, but we also spawned hippies and Hollywood. For a time, our governor was nicknamed Moonbeam.

As recently as the 2000s, with California at the center of the subprime-mortgage crisis, it was fair to wonder whether we had a future; a popular parlor game was to imagine how the state might be divided up into more manageable statelets.That was the old California.

The new California, back from years of financial trouble, has the fifth-largest economy in the world, ahead of Britain and France. Since 2010, California has accounted for an incredible one-fifth of America’s economic growth. Silicon Valley is the default center of the world, home to three of the 10 largest companies in the world by market capitalization.

California’s raw economic power is old news. What’s different, just in the past few years, is the combination of its money, population and politics. In the Trump era, the state is reinventing itself as the moral and cultural center of a new America.

Jerry Brown — Governor Moonbeam — is back, and during his second stint in office has been a pragmatic, results-focused technocrat who will leave behind a multibillion-dollar budget surplus when his term ends in January. But he has also been a smart and dogged opponent of the Trump agenda, from his high-profile visits to climate-change negotiations in Europe to substantive talks in Beijing with President Xi Jinping.

California is hardly monolithic. The region around Bakersfield provides the power base for Mr. McCarthy, the House majority leader and an indefatigable defender of President Trump, who calls him “my Kevin.” Other sizable pockets of Trump supporters live along the inland spine of the state, especially in the north near the Oregon border.

Still, there’s no doubt California runs blue — so blue, people say, that its anti-Trump stance is inevitable. But that’s not right; in fact, California defies Mr. Trump — and is turning even more Democratic — not for partisan reasons but because his rhetoric and actions are at odds with contemporary American values on issue after issue, as people here see it, and because he seems intent on ignoring the nation’s present and future in favor of pushing back the clock.

California doesn’t just oppose Mr. Trump; it offers a better alternative to the America he promises. While Mr. Trump makes hollow promises to states ravaged by the decline of the coal industry, California has been a leader in creating new jobs through renewable energy.

While Mr. Trump plays the racism card, California pulls in immigrants from all over the world. For California, immigration is not an issue to be exploited to inflame hate and assuage the economic insecurities of those who feel displaced by the 21st-century economy, it’s what keeps the state economy churning.

For us, immigration is not a “Latino” issue. The state’s white population arrived so recently that all of us retain a sense of our immigrant status. My great-great-grandfather Gerhard Kettmann left Germany in 1849 and made his way to California during the Gold Rush. That’s why everyone is able to unite, even in our diversity.

And the draw of California is more powerful than ever. People come not only from countries around the globe to work in Silicon Valley — more than seven in 10 of those employed in tech jobs in San Jose were born outside the United States, according to census data analyzed by The Seattle Times — they come from all over the country.

It seems as if every other idealistic young person who worked in the Obama White House or on the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign later moved to California. All these new arrivals create major problems, from housing shortages to insane Los Angeles-style traffic in Silicon Valley. They also create a critical mass of innovation.

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Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom

 

Many Californians see the next decade as a pivot point, when decisions about the environment and the economy will shape America’s future for generations to come. “It’s ‘Mad Max’ or ‘Star Trek,’” said Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor and leading candidate to succeed Governor Brown. It’s no mystery which movie he thinks Mr. Trump is directing.

Nationally, Mr. Newsom is known mostly as a cultural pioneer, having allowed same-sex marriage as the mayor of San Francisco in 2004 — among the first big-city mayors to do so. But he sees himself in more pragmatic terms, more like a latter-day Robert Kennedy, a believer in the idea that government can do more for the people if it’s smarter about trying new ideas and updating old assumptions.

Mr. Newsom doesn’t mind making bold claims, and he and his main Democratic challenger, the former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, are both vowing to build 500,000 homes in California every year for seven years. He also wants to provide single-payer health care to everyone in the state and commit the state to 100 percent renewable energy for its electricity needs. Sure, these are campaign promises — but in California, they suddenly seem like practical, feasible ideas.

California for years was divided between its main population centers. Northern California, birthplace of Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement in 1964 and the Summer of Love in San Francisco later that decade, was often at odds with large sections of Southern California, particularly Orange County, a bastion of suburban Republicans.

That divide is eroding. Orange County even went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. California remains diverse culturally, but politically, it is increasingly unified. That can be a potent engine for social and economic progress; it can also be an excuse for insularity and political grandstanding.

The key, many of the state’s politicians say, is to promote the former without falling into the trap of the latter — no easy task at a time when many Californians see their state as the base of the anti-Trump resistance.

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Vivek Viswanathan running for state treasurer of California

Take Vivek Viswanathan. Raised on Long Island by parents who immigrated from India, he did policy work for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and Governor Brown and is now running for state treasurer.

It would be easy for him to run far to the left, mixing anti-Trump rhetoric with unrealistic policy promises. Instead, he wants America to see a different California — a state that mixes pragmatism and progressivism.

“I’m one of those people that think the threats that we face from Washington are very real, and not just to the resources we need, but the values that make us who we are,” he said. “California is really a model for what the country can be if we make the right choices.”

The first test of a unified California’s newfound political heft could come this fall. Democrats need to pick up 24 seats in the House of Representatives to win control of it, and they have their eye on seven California districts carried by Mrs. Clinton in 2016 that have Republican incumbents, including four that are wholly or in part in Orange County.

Further north, in the Central Valley, a deputy district attorney for Fresno County named Andrew Janz is running a surprisingly competitive race against Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Mr. Nunes has used his position to defend the president, while providing little congressional oversight — something that doesn’t sit well with even moderate California Republicans.

“The momentum is definitely on our side,” Mr. Janz told me. “My opponent is more concerned about blaming Democrats than getting the job done. The people here honestly want Nunes to focus less on creating these fake controversies and more on doing the work that’s required to move us along into the 21st century here in the Central Valley.”

Again and again, this is the message coming from the state’s rising politicians — anger with the president and his allies not out of an ideological commitment, but because the president seems more interested in personal gain than national progress.

The more visionary among California’s leaders, including Mr. Newsom, recognize that their state has the highest poverty rate in the country, by some measures, and that addressing the problem — through affordable housing, job programs and early education — has to be a priority. To the extent these are national problems, too, other states may soon be looking to Sacramento, not Washington, for leadership.

It’s also a given that one or more Californians could figure prominently in the 2020 presidential race, including Ms. Harris, a first-term senator who has gained a reputation for her withering examinations of the president’s cabinet nominees. Mr. Newsom, particularly if he wins the governor’s race this year by a convincing margin, could also make the jump to the national stage, following Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown.

Image result for Tom Steyer.

Billionaire Tom Steyer is the “Impeachment Guy” who has spent millions of dollars on television ads in which he speaks to the camera directly and makes a case for the urgent need to impeach President Trump.

To see how different the stereotype of California is from the reality, consider another of the state’s rising political figures, the billionaire Tom Steyer.

To most people in Washington or New York, Mr. Steyer is the “Impeachment Guy” who has spent millions of dollars on television ads in which he speaks to the camera directly and makes a case for the urgent need to impeach President Trump. Impeachment is a widely popular idea among Democrats, but political realists say it’s unlikely to happen absent a Democratic surge in the midterm elections — in other words, that’s California for you.

But at home, Mr. Steyer is anything but a dreamer. His organization NextGen America focuses on developing solutions to climate change and economic inequality, issues that resonate here, especially among the young. The goal is to show the way not through talk, not through TV ads, but through action.

“I think California has this great advantage, which is we have a functioning democracy,” Mr. Steyer said in a recent interview. “With all our problems — and we have a lot of them, the biggest one being economic inequality — we have a spirit in business and in politics that says, sure, there are big problems, but we can address them. That spirit is a great advantage and it’s not true in Washington, D.C., right now.”

Steyer’s bet — and that of millions of others in my state — is that soon, California will pick up the slack.

Steve Kettmann, a columnist for The Santa Cruz Sentinel, is a co-director of the Wellstone Center in the Redwoods.

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A version of this article appears in print on , on Page SR1 of the New York edition with the headline: The Californization Of American Politics. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper

Appointment of Maszlee Malik as Education Minister raises concern among Malaysians


May 20, 2018

Appointment of Maszlee Malik as  Education Minister raises concern among Malaysians

by FMT Reporters

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

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Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa questions double standards by those who defend Zakir Naik’s freedom of speech but oppose the right of Muslims to practise their preferred school of thought.

PETALING JAYA: Prominent Muslim activist Dr. Ahmad Farouk Musa said he was not surprised by the storm of protests that greeted the appointment of Maszlee Malik as the Education Minister, but said a bigger worry was whether the Perlis fatwa committee member has the courage to press ahead with the concept of Bangsa Malaysia and resist pressures from extremists on Malaysia’s schooling system.

“The main issue here is whether he has the same courage as Dr Mahathir in facing the two extreme camps in this country, the Chinese educationist extremist and the conservative Malay educationist groups,” Farouk, who heads the outspoken Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), told FMT.

A debate has been raging over Maszlee’s suitability for the post since he was named by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad on Friday. Critics point to Maszlee’s defence of controversial preacher Dr Zakir Naik, who is wanted in India over allegations of extremism and money laundering.

They are also concerned with Maszlee’s leaning towards Salafist Islam, and his close association with Perlis Mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, who was recently summoned to a panel hearing on missing activist Amri Che Mat, who Asri had slammed for practising Shia Islam, which local Muslim bureaucrats label as “deviant”.

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Dr. Maszlee Malik–Minister of Education

Maszlee’s supporters have alluded to his academic background and social activities, with others saying his defence of Naik was based on his belief in free speech.

Farouk said the criticism was expected, and questioned Maszlee’s openness as claimed by his supporters.

“If one were to argue that his defense of Zakir Naik was based on freedom of expression, then this freedom also requires him to grant the same to the Shias,” said Farouk, adding that it was only natural to link Maszlee’s opposition to the second largest Muslim denomination to his “Salafist” leaning.

“There cannot be a double standard in preaching for freedom of expression.”

Salafist Islam refers to a movement within Sunni Islam, with roots going back to Wahhabism, the supposedly puritan form of Islam that is officially adopted in Saudi Arabia.

Opposition to PPSMI

Farouk, a medical lecturer at Monash University Malaysia, who was once active with the Muslim Professionals Forum that Maszlee is also part of, said the calls for Mahathir to hold the education portfolio was based on the public’s confidence that he could initiate radical reforms in the sector.

This, he said, included the call by the Chinese education group Dong Zong to recognise the Unified Examination Certificate, and the pressure from Malay groups seeking to abolish the study of Science and Mathematics in English.

“Only he (Mahathir) has the strength and determination in facing this highly debatable issue,” said Farouk, who has supported past government initiatives under Mahathir to emphasise the use of English in schools.

“How do we compete at the International arena when we forego the most important language of science and technology in the 21st century?” he asked.

A policy championed by Mahathir, the Teaching and Learning of Science and Mathematics in English, or PPSMI, was aborted in 2011 by then education minister Muhyiddin Yassin, following protests from Malay groups.

The move was welcomed by Ikram, an umbrella organisation of Muslim groups, of which Maszlee is a committee member.

“We oppose any attempts to revive PPSMI because we are convinced that the decision by the education ministry is based on its internal findings,” the group had then said in a statement.

Maszlee, 44, who joined PPBM last March, won the Simpang Renggam parliamentary seat in Johor in the May 9 polls.

The former lecturer who taught subjects related to Islamic Jurisprudence at the International Islamic University was named as education minister after Mahathir changed his mind about holding the post himself.

Mahathir said he would abide by a Pakatan Harapan promise that the Prime Minister would not hold any other portfolio.

But within 24 hours of the announcement, over 60,000 signed an online petition urging Mahathir to return to the post, saying he “will bring much needed reforms to the education system in this country”.

Malaysia : Everything You Need to Know About Malaysia’s Upcoming Election


April 7, 2018

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-12-12/your-guide-to-malaysia-s-coming-general-election-quicktake-q-a

Everything You Need to Know About Malaysia’s Upcoming Election

By Anisah Shukry

‎December‎ ‎12‎, ‎2017‎ ‎4‎:‎00‎ ‎PM‎ ‎EST Updated on ‎April‎ ‎6‎, ‎2018‎ ‎12‎:‎45‎ ‎AM‎ ‎EDT

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Prime Minister Najib Razak with his supporters in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Malaysia is preparing for a general election, and the outlook is promising for Prime Minister Najib Razak — despite an uncomfortable past few years. Rising living costs that have squeezed Malaysians have been blamed in part on a goods and services tax introduced in 2015. And the scandal over the finances of the state-owned investment fund 1MDB, which was created under Najib, included allegations that hundreds of millions of dollars flowed through and around the fund and into personal accounts, including those of Najib and his family. (He denies wrongdoing.) Still, Najib is arguably in his strongest position since his narrow victory in the 2013 ballot, with economic growth at a three-year high and a divided opposition turning to the 92-year-old former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, for leadership.

  1. When will the election take place?

There’s still no exact date, but it must be held within 60 days of April 7 — the day parliament is dissolved. Najib, 64, announced the dissolution of the legislature April 6.

  1. How long has Najib been in charge?

Najib leads the party called United Malays National Organization, or UMNO, which has held power since independence in 1957 and is the most important member of the coalition that has ruled the country for 44 years. He became Prime Minister in 2009 and led the coalition — known as Barisan Nasional — to victory in 2013. However, Barisan Nasional secured its lowest number of parliamentary seats and experienced its first-ever loss of the popular vote, stoking optimism among opposition parties for the next election.

  1. What happened to that optimism?
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Without the charismatic Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition has lost its lustre, giving UMNO-BN led by Prime Minister Najib Razak the edge in GE-14.

It’s fizzled since Anwar Ibrahim, Najib’s fiercest critic and principal challenger, was jailed for sodomy in 2014. Anwar, 70, has denied the charges, saying they are politically motivated. He continues to wield influence on his People’s Justice Party from behind bars, but his imprisonment hastened the implosion of the opposition coalition which he had almost single-handedly held together. His supporters are pushing for Anwar to be prime minister once he’s freed, should the opposition win. He is scheduled to be released June 8, though he’s unable to contest elections because of a five-year ban from politics.

  1. Who leads the opposition in Anwar’s absence?

Mahathir, Malaysia’s longest-serving Premier and the one-time mentor of Najib, has been on a campaign to topple the prime minister. Once so dominant in Malaysian politics that he was referred to as “Dr. M,” Mahathir has struggled to gain traction for his new party — Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, or the Malaysian United Indigenous Party — which is trying to win over UMNO’s base of ethnic Malays. Anwar was a sworn enemy of Mahathir, who first put him in prison almost two decades ago, but the two have allied in a bid to oust Najib. The opposition coalition — known as Pakatan Harapan, or Pact of Hope — has put forward Mahathir to serve as Prime Minister until Anwar is eligible, which is by no means a formality: Anwar would first need to receive a royal pardon and to win a parliamentary seat.

  1. What other obstacles does the opposition face?
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A desolate Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

On April 5, Mahathir’s party received a 30-day ban from campaigning from a Ministry of Home Affairs department for failing to meet a deadline to submit documents. Mahathir plans to appeal the ban. Malaysia also just passed a law to fight fake news with prison sentences, a move that human rights organizations and opposition parties say may be used to stifle free speech ahead of the election. Najib says fake news damaged the ruling party’s campaign in the 2013 poll.

  1. Has the 1MDB scandal hurt Najib’s chances?

Probably not. A Malaysian inquiry cleared Najib of wrongdoing. And, while multiple probes continue, he hasn’t been identified as a target in any of them. Just six percent of young Malaysian adults said 1MDB was a top concern for them, according to a survey by the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research last year. Five percent said Najib’s integrity was a concern.

  1. Why has UMNO’s popularity held up for so long?

 

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A Confident UMNO President and Prime Minister Najib Razak

The party deployed populist policies years before Europe and the U.S. caught on, including spending billions annually on cash handouts and other aid for lower-income Malaysians. Race also plays a part: UMNO was set up to champion the needs of the ethnic Malays that make up about 69 percent of the population. (Chinese are 23 percent and Indians 7 percent). And a Merdeka Center for Opinion Research survey last year showed that Malay rights still top the list of important issues for Malay voters. Najib in December repeated his 2016 warning that Malays would be “beggars” in their own lands and that Islamic institutions would fall should the opposition take over. That said, ethnic and political discord trail far behind economic concerns as priorities for voters, according to the Merdeka Center.

  1. What are the main economic concerns?

Rising costs. Inflation reached an eight-year high in 2017 and voters are worried that the ringgit is not stretching as far as it used to. There also remains widespread unhappiness over the new consumption tax implemented, which the opposition has promised to repeal. The government is focusing on tackling the issues of affordable housing and youth unemployment. And in his most recent budget, Najib ordered up tax cuts for 2018. The opposition has pushed for greater freedom of speech and checks on abuses of power following a government crackdown on dissent that has seen media executives, activists and even a cartoonist detained under sedition laws.

Gathering Steam

Malaysian GDP growth gets timely boost for Najib

* Bloomberg economist consensus forecasts

Source for data through 2017: Ministry of Finance, Malaysia

  1. Are voters getting behind Najib?

The dissatisfaction that stoked unfavorable opinion polls in 2015 and street protests over 1MDB in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, seems to have dimmed. And Najib heads into the general election with a trump card up his sleeve: rising wages. Meantime, the opposition has struggled to make a serious dent in Barisan Nasional’s rural support bases to which Najib has pledged billions of dollars for infrastructure. Strongholds include the oil-rich Sabah and Sarawak states that delivered about a third of parliamentary seats in 2013 and without whose support Najib might have lost power. Ominously for his critics, the opposition coalition is at risk of losing its hold on Selangor, the most populous state, because it won’t cooperate with the country’s largest Islamic party. The government’s proposal to redraw electoral boundaries in Selangor could also damage the opposition’s chances in the state.

The Reference Shelf

 

Mahathir Changes Malaysia’s Political Equation


January 10, 2018

Mahathir Changes Malaysia’s Political Equation

by Mariam Mokhtar

https://www.asiasentinel.com

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The battle lines for Malaysia’s 14th General Election have been laid, with the 92-year-old former Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, teaming up with Malaysian opposition parties in a bid to oust the current premier, Najib Abdul Razak, and wrest power away from the United Malays National Organization, which has led the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition since independence in 1963.

According to UMNO insiders, Najib is extremely confident. He believes the Barisan, which also includes the Malaysian Chinese Association and the Malaysian Indian Congress, could – with the help of almost-brutal gerrymandering – win as 140 seats in the 222-member parliament and, if things break their way, even take back 148-vote two-thirds majority that the coalition had held for decades

Mahathir’s selection as potential premier, opposition leaders say, could dramatically change that equation and bring down a party and coalition rife with corruption and cronyism. Individuals close to Najib have been charged in the biggest kleptocracy case ever brought by the United States Justice Department, which has confiscated a vast array of Malaysian-owned assets in the United States.

At the center of Malaysia’s politics is a racial calculus in which Malays fear that the Chinese, who dominate the country’s business world, would come to dominate the political one as well.

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Prime Minister Najib Razak needs PAS and the moronic Hadi Awang to secure rural Malay voters who have been conditioned to think that Islam is under threat.

With Mahathir at the helm, analysts say, Najib – picked as a protégé decades ago by Mahathir – can’t blame the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party for being the driving force for the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition. During his years as Prime Minister, Mahathir was a Malay supremacist even though he is only half-Malay. His father came from the Indian subcontinent (Kerala).

Nor could Najib use the argument that the Chinese will take over the nation, which has been a hobgoblin to frighten the rural Malay electorate for decades. Mahathir, who dominated UMNO and Malaysian politics as head of UMNO for 23 years from 1981 to 2003, is legally a Malay Muslim.

Mahathir is the undisputed come-back kid. The party he founded, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), has managed to unite the leaders of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the Democratic Action Party (DAP), and Aminah, a splinter that split away from the rural-based, fundamentalist Parti Islam se-Malaysia, or PAS.

The much-awaited GE-14 is expected to be a viciously contested general election. It will also be Najib’s toughest. On January 8, Pakatan Harapan announced that Mahathir would be their interim Prime Minister until Anwar Ibrahim, the charismatic opposition figure who has been imprisoned on what many consider to be spurious charges since 2015, would be freed. This was not the news that Najib wanted.

Social media has been abuzz with views about Mahathir’s nomination, including a report that Najib’s adviser, Habibur Rahman, had approached both DAP leader Lim Guan Eng and Anwar’s daughter Nurul separately to offer them “attractive incentives” to try and broker a deal. His request was simple. He did not want DAP or PKR to withdraw from the election, or to support BN in GE-14. He merely wanted them to reject the nomination of Mahathir as the interim candidate for the opposition coalition. The request was reportedly rejected outright.

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The Malay Dilemma–Mahathir’s Malay Supremacy (Ketuanan Melayu)

Anti-Mahathir critics have issued stark warnings amid signs that they are ganging-up on the former premier, an authoritarian figure who ruled the country with an iron fist, at one point triggering a roundup called Operation Lalang (1987) that swept up journalists, civil libertarians and the opposition figures with whom he is now making common cause without habeas corpus and jailing them for months under the country’s colonial-era Internal Security Act.

It is unknown if Mahathir has belatedly discovered, now that he is on the other side, the value of a free press and an independent parliament and judiciary and the other institutions that he neutered as the country’s leader.

One Perak based-political observer called Mahathir “damaged goods. His gambles and ego projects, such as attempting to corner the tin market, huge forex losses, (the Proton national car project) and the Petronas Twin Tower, have cost the nation too much.

“He caused irreparable damage to our judiciary; entrenched institutional racism in the country and started the slide in our educational standards. He cannot be trusted to run the country again – even for a day.”

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Dr Kua  Kia Soong and Dr Anne Munro-Kua–Civil Society’s Intellectual Couple.

Kua Kia Soong, the Director of Suaram, a Human Rights NGO, who was jailed Operation Lalang, has continued to demand that Mahathir enumerate the sins he has committed and apologize for each of them.

Kua has been slammed for his intransigence and his refusal to see the bigger picture, which is to get rid of Najib and win GE-14. One person said, “Can he not see that Mahathir can win over more Malay voters? Does he think that the opposition will allow themselves to be under Mahathir’s yoke, if they win GE-14?”

Another political observer from Singapore said, “Dr M can shift 5 percent of Malay votes, which no other leader could. That can be critical.”

Last December, when it was first mooted that Mahathir would become the interim PM, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Abdul Rahman Dahlan, described it as a “sad day” for the opposition, and said, “…they have been in the political arena for so long, but they couldn’t find a younger candidate or fresh blood to become the leader of Malaysia. It’s sad and actually surprising, and I do not think it will go down well with the people.”

Khairy Jamaluddin, the Sports and Youth Minister, has waded into the debate about Mahathir’s nomination and said that the country will be plunged into chaos and political instability.

When Mahathir wrote his controversial book “The Malay Dilemma,” he was not afraid to list the Malays’ shortcomings, but he gave them a new sense of identity. The Ketuanan (Malays first) myth.

One political analyst said, “Although Ketuanan Melayu was detrimental to the young democracy, it provided the desired momentum to drive the Malays from their feudal mentality. With Mahathir’s affirmative action policies, the Malay middle class grew, but so did their ego and greed. They cast aside their moral values. For many, there was no going back.”

The upcoming general election will undisputedly be one of many firsts and ironies.

Image result for The greedy and Corrupt Rosmah MansorPower hungry, corrupt, greedy,  and ambitious Rosmah Mansor is believed to be the driving force behind the hen-pecked Prime Minister Najib Razak.

In GE-14, the PM and his former mentor will face one another from opposite sides of the political divide. Mahathir didn’t figure the “self-styled First Lady of Malaysia” (FLOM) into the mentoring equation. The equally power hungry, corrupt, greedy,  and ambitious Rosmah Mansor is believed to be the driving force behind Najib, who redrew the political script.

The other irony is that Mahathir was rescued from the political wilderness by Razak Hussein, Najib’s father, when he was banned from UMNO in 1969 for insubordination towards Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s first Prime Minister. Today, Mahathir seeks to destroy the political future of his savior’s son.

The problems such as cronyism and Malay nationalism that plague Malaysia today had their roots during Mahathir’s tenure. The controls that the nation’s founding fathers formulated, such as the independence of the judiciary, were dismantled by Mahathir.

Mahathir clipped the wings of the country’s nine sultans, whom he felt were abusing their power, especially when it was alleged that he had to rescue at least one sultan from gambling debts and placate an angry public when another sultan was accused of inflicting grievous bodily harm on a subject.

If he were to win GE-14, would he continue to follow this path? Some members of the rakyat would like to think that he would.Today, despite criticizing Mahathir for his past policies, Najib has honed them.

Najib has until August 2018 to call the elections, but he is aware that timing is everything. The indications are that he will call GE-14 after the Chinese New Year, which falls on 16 February. He will not wait till after June, because that is when Anwar Ibrahim is due to be released. With his release, a newly energized rakyat would demand that Anwar be pardoned and be made the PM. Najib cannot afford to have this happen.

Najib cannot hold GE-14 now, because the Selangor state’s redistricting exercise will not be complete until March. Selangor is the jewel in the economic crown. If he could wrest Selangor from the opposition, it would be a political coup.

Najib had hoped to put Pakatan Harapan on the spot, and to capitalize on the fact that the opposition coalition is currently leaderless. But the announcement of Mahathir’s opposition leadership put paid to that. Mahathir as interim PM does not auger well for Najib.

In the past, Najib and his political machinery focused their attacks on Anwar, then shifted the focus onto the DAP. Observers will have noticed the drip-drip effect of perceived “manufactured” threats against Islam, such as a baseless claim by a pro-UMNO lecturer that Selangor State Assembly speaker Hannah Yeoh, in her book, “Becoming Hannah” was advocating converting Malays to Christianity.

In recent months, the party apparatchiks have increased their attacks against Mahathir, tell-tale signs that they see him as a serious threat. That will explain the increasing criticisms of Mahathir, his past policies and his closest aides.

The internal revenue department has scrutinized both his business friends’ and sons’ income tax returns. Even family members have not been spared. Mukhriz, Mahathir’s son, was horrified to discover that his daughter’s jet-set lifestyle was exposed.

Mahathir as the interim PM is disastrous for Najib. This will stymie UMNO’s attempt to denounce a PH PM such as Lim Kit Siang or Lim Guan Eng, because he is Chinese. Najib cannot then say that the DAP or the Chinese are dictating the charge of the Opposition.

With Mahathir at the helm, the Malays, both urban and rural, are more confident to support the Opposition. Indoctrination is strongest amongst the Malays, unlike the non-Malay community. Malays are still fearful and wary of being dominated by the Chinese. Issues like 1MDB have little traction amongst them, but the rising cost of living, and the scandals surrounding FELDA, have hurt them most.

GE-14 means different things, to different people. The rakyat sees GE-14 as a means to remove an oppressive government and put Malaysia on the right track.

Najib and UMNO see GE-14 as a struggle for political survival and physical freedom. And while a few may see the election as a clash between a mentor and his pupil, or a clash between two warlords Mahathir himself sees it as a means to restore his tarnished reputation after the decline in the moral values of the Malays, that his policies have created.

Mariam Mokhtar is a regular correspondent for Asia Sentinel

A Rogue Currency Trader’s Confession–Bursting Bank Negara Malaysia


September 7, 2017

A Rogue Currency Trader’s Confession–Bursting Bank Negara Malaysia

 

Text of Statement by Khazanah Nasional Berhad’s Deputy Chairman Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop before Royal Commission on Bank Negara Forex Fiasco

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The Rogue Currency Trader–No Excuses for Recklessness

The forex losses happened. There is no denying it. There is also no denying my accountability for the forex losses. I accepted my fair share of the accountability for the forex losses and resigned from BNM. At that time, it appeared to me to be a sad end to my 25 years of service to the nation, through Bank Negara Malaysia.–Nor Mohamed Yakcop

Introduction

I joined Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) in September 1968. I was promoted to the post of Manager, Banking Department in 1986.

The Banking Department was responsible for external reserves management, regulation of the domestic money market, including the discount houses, development of Islamic banking, approval of domestic bond issues, managing the Export Credit Refinance Facility (ECR), development of new financial institutions and promoting trade by way of Bilateral Payment Arrangement (BPA) with other central banks in developing countries. When I resigned from BNM in April 1994, I held the post of Advisor. I re-joined BNM again, as an Advisor, in September 1998, after the implementation of the Unorthodox Measures, which I will describe later in my statement. I served in BNM in that capacity until April 2000. In May 2000, I was appointed as the Economic Advisor to the Prime Minister, and subsequently, in January 2004, I was appointed as the Minister of Finance II. In April 2009, I was appointed as Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department responsible for the Economic Planning Unit (EPU). I retired in May 2013, and joined Khazanah Nasional Berhad as Deputy Chairman in June 2013.

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Policy imperatives of active external reserves management by BNM

Prior to 1985, BNM was not active in external reserves management, including forex trading, given the relative stability in the international foreign exchange market.

The situation changed in 1985. On 22 September 1985, five OECD countries, met in private at the Plaza Hotel in New York and decided among themselves, without consulting other countries, that the Yen and the German Deutsche Mark should be strengthened significantly against the US dollar by way of market intervention. This is known as the Plaza Accord. The Plaza Accord was historic because it was the first time central bankers agreed to intervene in the currency market in such a big way and the first time in history when governments set target foreign exchange rates to be achieved through active intervention.

One important outcome of the Plaza Accord was that the exchange rate of the Yen versus the US dollar strengthened sharply. (The Yen strengthened from 240 Yen to the dollar in 1985 to 120 Yen to the dollar by early 1988).

The strengthening of the Yen resulted in many developing countries suffering huge losses, since a significant portion of their external borrowings was denominated in Yen. The Malaysian Government, Government agencies, including GLCs, as well as the Malaysian private sector suffered significant forex losses on repayment of Yen loans and foreign exchange revaluation of Yen loans, following the sharp appreciation in the value of Yen arising from the Plaza Accord.

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Malaysia’s borrowings in Yen during the early 1980s were mainly for infrastructure building. At that time, the Malaysian bond and sukuk markets were not yet developed to enable large amounts of borrowings for long periods to be obtained domestically in Ringgit. Given that infrastructure projects required long gestation period, the Malaysian government and its agencies chose to borrow in Yen, since, at that time, long term yen loans were available with low interest rates. The borrowings also coincided with the building of major infrastructure projects in the country.

Since the Plaza Accord of September 1985, the international forex market also became much more volatile, with sharp and sometimes erratic movements in the daily forex rates. While the Plaza Accord of September 1985 was intended to strengthen the Yen and the Deutsche Mark, another agreement, the Louvre Accord was signed on 22 February 1987 in Paris by six OECD countries, again without consulting other countries, to halt the over-appreciation of the Yen and the Deutsche Mark, and this created another round of turmoil in the foreign exchange market.

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Dr. Lin See Yan–Deputy Governor, Bank Negara Malaysia

This was the background that led to the decision by BNM to begin active external reserves management. I understand that the Commissions attention has been drawn to Allahyarham Tan Sri Jaffar Hussein address in New Delhi, India on 5 December 1988. In that speech the Governor had publicly set out BNM’s rationale for the active external reserves management policy. Let me quote, extracts from that speech by Allahyarham Tan Sri Jaffar Hussein:

“Why are we so active in the market now, compared to before? There are a number of reasons. First, until recently, our external reserves were not large, being only US$4 billion at the end of 1984. This has now increased to US$7.8 billion, thus justifying a more active management of reserves.

Secondly, the exchange rate volatility since the Plaza Agreement of September 1985, had changed the stakes of the game. Whereas in the past an active management of reserves might have made a difference on yield of twenty basis points; it now makes a difference of maybe 500 basis points. So it is worth the trouble. Thirdly, forex trading is today a 24-hour business and there are opportunities throughout the day to deal…

I recall one occasion when some bankers made an attempt to speculate against the ringgit in off-shore centres on one of our national holidays, when they thought we would be closed for the day. To their surprise and cost, we opened up our dealing room during that national holiday and intervened in the off-shore centres to stabilize the ringgit and in the process taught those bear speculators a lesson they are not likely to forget…

…When I joined the Central Bank in 1985 from the private sector, I was informed that the main thrust of reserves management in Bank Negara was to preserve the value of what we have and the main considerations were safety and liquidity. To that, I have added a third and fourth dimension: profit optimization and market expertise.

I basically took the stance that risk-taking in reserves management included not only the risk of losses, but also the risk of falling behind inflation, of not earning as much with our scarce resources as we could. The primary motivation is still to preserve and conserve the value of what we have…

To me, in the last analysis, an active reserves management policy goes beyond the additional return and risks. A key advantage is that the active involvement has given us a greater feel of what is really going on in the foreign exchange and capital markets…

Central banking by decree and fiat can no longer budge markets, but market skills and influence of market psychology can do the trick…

I might also add that in a developing country, where foreign exchange trading skills are scarce, it is the duty of the Central Bank to be the provider of skilled manpower in the market, to be an educator of such technical skills and to be in the forefront of banking and computer technology…….I notice even the Bank of England is now actively adopting this policy”

The Governor’s main point was that the primary motive for the active external reserves management was the mitigation of the downside impact of major changes in foreign exchange rates on Malaysia’s foreign currency assets and liabilities. Let me repeat what the Governor said in New Delhi: “the primary motivation is still to preserve and conserve the value of what we have.” We sought to acquire the skills to manage the external reserves better and also, in a broader context, to assist the nation when required. The larger deals, beyond the limits given to the forex traders, were to protect the external reserves and the value of the Ringgit, by way of diversification. At that time, BNM had no specific limit for such diversification deals.

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To understand further the role of external reserves management in achieving the objectives of a central bank, please allow me to elaborate on the link between the stability of the Ringgit exchange rate, monetary policy and external reserves management.

Maintaining a stable Ringgit in the late 1980s to early 1990s

In the Malaysian domestic market, since the late 1980s, there was a continuous large inflow of US dollars by investors, including some short-term inflows or “hot money”. If BNM did nothing, the inflows would have resulted in the Ringgit strengthening significantly from the BNM policy range of between 2.50 and 2.80 against the US dollar. That would have created major implications for the economy, particularly since it would have reduced the competitiveness of Malaysian export sector.

This was an important consideration for a country which is one of the largest trading nations in the world.

14. In order to maintain the stability of the Ringgit, BNM had to buy the excess US dollars from the banks in Malaysia, in its role as the buyer of last resort for foreign currencies in the domestic market. This activity is termed as BNM’s foreign exchange intervention operations. The US dollars were then used by BNM mainly to purchase US Treasury Notes. The yield on the US Treasury Notes in the early 1990s was on average about 4.5 per cent p.a.

If BNM did nothing after mopping up the US dollars, there would be the issue of a large overhang of excess Ringgit in the system, since BNM would have paid Ringgit for its purchase of the US dollars. This large overhang of excess Ringgit in the system would adversely affect BNM’s monetary policy. It would cause the Ringgit interest rates to fall sharply (based on supply and demand), and create inflationary pressures. Therefore, BNM had to borrow back the Ringgit funds that it had provided to the banking system in its intervention operations. The purpose of BNM borrowing back the Ringgit funds from the banks is to neutralize the effect of the original forex intervention in the domestic money market. This is known as the sterilization operation. The borrowing rate that BNM had to incur (during the early 1990s) for the sterilization operation was about 7.5 % p.a.

Therefore, the combination of the BNM intervention and sterilization operations would cost about 3 % p.a. This is because the cost of borrowing back the Ringgit was higher than the yield of US Treasury Notes. This negative margin would be recorded as a loss in BNM’s books. In BNM’s active external reserves management, one consideration was to mitigate this loss.

The issue of moving into an active mode of external reserves management must also be seen in the context of Allahyarham Tan Sri Jaffar Hussein’s philosophy regarding Bank Negara’s role in national development. I need to elaborate on this point because Allahyarham Tan Sri Jaffar Hussein is no more with us, and it is important that we recognize the wisdom of this great man. The Governor believed that by active management of the external reserves, we will be able to acquire the skills, knowledge and experience required to serve the nation, when required, both in developmental activities as well as to overcome any financial crisis that the nation may face in the future. He termed this as “market expertise”.

Lessons for the 1997/1998 Asian Financial Crisis

Indeed, Allahyarham Tan Sri Jaffar Hussein’s foresight regarding market expertise saved the nation during the 1997/1998 financial crisis. In a strange twist of history, the skills, knowledge and experience acquired in BNM enabled the nation to implement the Unorthodox Measures of September 1998. It provided the nation with the ability to frustrate the foreign currency manipulators, whose intention was to destabilize Malaysia and cause chaos in the socio-economic fabric of the nation.

Unlike Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea, Malaysia was able to overcome the financial crisis of 1997/1998, without borrowing a single cent from the IMF or the World Bank or anyone else. We reset the Nation back on the growth trajectory without outside help. The Unorthodox Measures of September 1998 saved Malaysia from dire consequences, following the worst financial crisis in our history, and restored the sovereignty and dignity of our beloved nation.

In economic terms, the result of the Unorthodox Measures of September 1998 is substantial. Just to illustrate using one of many measures of economic gain, the Unorthodox Measures resulted in the market capitalization of the Malaysian stock market recovering from a low of RM 181.5 billion on September 1, 1998 to RM 579.2 billion on March 24, 1999, a gain of RM397.7 billion. The Stock Market Index jumped from 262.7 (September 1, 1998) to 851.7 (March 24, 1999), a multiple of 3.24 times.

Let me briefly illustrate how the skills, knowledge and experience that we acquired from the forex activities in Bank Negara became critical in formulating the Unorthodox Measures of September 1998:

(i) There was great deal of confusion, during the early days of financial crisis of 1997/1998, on the concept of “Offshore Ringgit”. The initial view was that bags full of cash in Ringgit were taken out to Singapore and Malaysian customs officials at the border were instructed to check thoroughly the bags of Malaysians departing to Singapore. Obviously no big amount of cash was found.

I explained to the Prime Minister in 1997 and 1998 that the term “Offshore Ringgit” does not refer to Ringgit physically located outside Malaysia. The bulk of Ringgit will always remain in Malaysia. The term “Offshore Ringgit” refers to Ringgit (in Malaysia) which is owned by foreigners. The currency manipulators borrow the Ringgit, both local Ringgit owned by Malaysians or “Offshore Ringgit” owned by foreigners, to sell the Ringgit for US dollars. This is called short-selling. We knew from our forex trading days that on Black Wednesday (16 September 1992) when Pound Sterling crashed, Soros had borrowed £ 10 billion to short-sell the pound sterling. Therefore, an important aspect of Malaysia’s Unorthodox Measures of September 1998 was to disallow foreigners from borrowing Ringgit to speculate. The concept of “Offshore Ringgit” is very complicated and it took me a few attempts to ensure that the Prime Minister fully understood the term, as you can read from the book.

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Notes to the Prime Minister by Wong Sulong published in 2011. I wrote 5 notes on this subject, namely Note 2 (October 13, 1997), Note 13 (December 12, 1997), Note 25 (May 19, 1998), Note 31 and Note 32 (both on June 29, 1998). Without the knowledge acquired at BNM’s forex desk, we would not have fully understood the concept of “Offshore Ringgit”, which was key to the implementation of the Unorthodox Measures;

(ii). Malaysia initial response during the financial crisis was to increase the interest rate level to stabilize the Ringgit. This created chaos for the many business entities, pushing them to the verge of bankruptcy. We knew from experience that this does not work. During the Black Wednesday incident in United Kingdom, the British Government increased the interest rate from 10% p.a to 12 % p.a. in its desperate attempt to stabilize the pound. But this move was completely ineffective.

Therefore, our Unorthodox Measures involved, among others, bringing the interest rate down, rather than increasing the interest rates, after fixing the exchange rate at RM 3.80 to the dollar, and disallowing foreigners from borrowing the Ringgit for speculative purposes. This significant lowering of the interest rates, as well as our measures of implementing an expansionary monetary and fiscal policy, as part of the Unorthodox Measures, saved many corporations from becoming bankrupt and some banks from becoming insolvent; and

(iii). When we pegged the Ringgit on 2 September 1998, we pegged it at RM 3.80 to the US dollar.

The 3.80 rate was on the weaker side since, based on fundamentals, we could have fixed the rate at 3.50. But we knew that it was better to fix the Ringgit at a slightly weaker rate, anticipating that the market players would feel that, at 3.80, the Ringgit was undervalued and they would therefore buy the Ringgit. We expected that this move would result in large inflow of funds into the country. This is exactly what happened. There were substantial inflows following the peg.

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There were no outflows, as the market players expected the Ringgit to subsequently strengthen, not weaken. This was something we learned at the forex desk in Bank Negara Malaysia.

In fact, the 45 notes that I wrote to the Prime Minister between October 1997 and August 1998 analysing in detail the 1997/1998 financial crisis and proposing the solution would not have been possible without the market expertise acquired at Bank Negara’s forex desk, thanks to Allahyarham Tan Sri Jaafar Hussein.

I should add that even after Allahyarham Tan Sri Jaafar Hussein and I left BNM, we kept closely in touch meeting regularly for long chats. The last time I met him was in July 1998, a month before he died. We spent two hours discussing about the financial crisis of 1997/1998. I informed Allahyarham that I was working with the Prime Minister to find a solution to the financial crisis, based on the knowledge the he made possible for me to acquire in Bank Negara. He was happy that he had made the right decision on the importance of market expertise and he was confident that we can overcome the crisis. I wrote about this meeting with Allahyarham on 21 August 1998 and it appears as Note 43 in the book “Notes to the Prime Minister” by Wong Sulong. Allahyarham Tan Sri Jaafar Hussein’s contribution to the nation is undoubtedly significant.

My role at BNM in external reserves management in the late 1980s and early 1990s

I was tasked with implementing the external reserves management policy as determined by the BNM’s Board having regard to the considerations I have mentioned above. In so doing, I reported both to the Governor and the External Reserves Committee (ERC). I spoke to the Governor on external reserves management regularly, and certainly whenever there was a large movement in the exchange rates. I also reported to the ERC whenever it met. The membership of the ERC comprised, amongst others, the Governor, Deputy Governor, and the Advisors. Further, there were weekly Senior Officers Meeting, where the external reserves matters were sometimes discussed.

These Senior Officers Meetings were chaired by the Governor, and were also attended by the Deputy Governor, Advisors and all Managers. I did not report to either the Finance Minister or the Prime Minister on any issues regarding external reserves management, as that was not my reporting line.

I was not involved in deciding on the accounting treatment of the losses. In fact, I have no knowledge whatsoever of the accounting treatment.

I was also very careful not to execute any trade by myself, although I had the authority to do so. It was always, without any exception, done by the staff. I did this for the purpose of transparency, so that there would always be more than one person aware of every trade.

BNM made significant gains from its trading activities in the 1980s. The loss does not include the gains made in the 1980s. Based on the period of 1985 to 1993, I believe that the total forex losses will be lower. The significant losses that were incurred in 1992 arose from two unexpected events:

(i) The unexpected rejection in the Danish Referendum of 1992 of the Maastricht Treaty; and

(ii). “Black Wednesday” on 16 September 1992, when the pound sterling was forced out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.

In the early 1990s, the European currencies started to gather strength on the basis of the then conventional wisdom that, given the potential for European integration, Europe was going to overtake the United States as the strongest economic power in the World. We subscribed to this view and bought the European currencies and the Pound Sterling.

Unfortunately, following the non-ratification of the Maastricht Treaty by Denmark in February 1992, the value of the European currencies crashed. This was compounded in September 1992 when both the Pound Sterling (and Italian Lira which we did not trade) were forced out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism despite the best efforts of the far more powerful and wealthy European central banks.

As we were ‘long’ in the European currencies, including the Pound Sterling, we suffered significant losses. We were not the only central bank to have suffered significant forex losses as a result of these events.

Whenever we received information of large inflows of US Dollars from investors, both long-term and short-term, we would decide on whether or not to diversify these inflows into other currencies, depending on the anticipated exchange rate movements. If we expected the US Dollar to weaken, we would purchase European currencies forward based on the expected US Dollar inflows. The size of the purchases would correspond to the anticipated size of the US Dollar inflows.

All the external reserves activities, including forex activities, were based on strategic considerations. Admittedly we misread the turn of the market. As staff of a central bank we naturally believed that the Bank of England would win in its fight against Soros. We had confidence in our fellow central banker and bought Pound Sterling. Unfortunately, the Bank of England lost.

Similarly, our best intelligence was that the Maastricht Treaty would be ratified in the referendum in Denmark in 1992, but unfortunately it was rejected.

We learnt a bitter lesson from these incidents. That lesson proved crucial in helping us formulate policies to defend the country against the currency attacks in the 1997/1998 Asian Financial Crisis, saving the nation hundreds of billions of Ringgit that would otherwise have been lost.

Conclusion

The forex losses happened. There is no denying it. There is also no denying my accountability for the forex losses. I accepted my fair share of the accountability for the forex losses and resigned from BNM. At that time, it appeared to me to be a sad end to my 25 years of service to the nation, through Bank Negara Malaysia.

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Nor Mohamed Yakcop, Deputy Chairman, Khazanah Nasional Berhad: Rewarded by a grateful national leadership (from Mahathir Mohamad, Abdullah Badawi, and Najib Razak) for distinguished services rendered to Malaysia

However, with the Grace of Allah SWT, I was given the opportunity in 1997/1998 to contribute to King and Country during the financial crisis of 1997/1998. The important point is that the experience in the forex unit during those years proved extremely useful later in saving Malaysia from the devastating effects of the financial crisis of 1997/1998, which otherwise would have caused losses worth hundreds of billions of Ringgit for Malaysia and could have resulted in many Malaysian companies becoming bankrupt, with large scale unemployment and poverty spreading throughout the country. The political stability and the socio-economic framework of the nation would have been destroyed. It was an accident waiting to happen. It did not happen because of the Unorthodox Measures of September 1998, which in turn was conceived and implemented based on the knowledge, skills and experience acquired at the forex desk in Bank Negara Malaysia.

I also contributed to the nation during my second tour of duty in Bank Negara (September 1998 to April 2000) as well in my role as the Economic adviser to the Prime Minister (May 2000 to December 2003) and as a Federal Minister (January 2004 to May 2013). The record speaks for itself.

TAN SRI NOR MOHAMED YAKCOP
Wednesday, September 6, 2017

http://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/tan-sri-nors-full-written-statement-rci-hearing-today

No Reason to celebrate 60th Merdeka Day


August 18, 2017

No Reason to celebrate 60th Merdeka Day

by Stephen Ng@www.malaysiakini.com

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COMMENT | As we approach Merdeka Day, one thing is too obvious not to be noticed.

This observation that I make will answer the question I pose: “How can BN gain back people’s confidence after 2008?”

Sixty years have passed and BN has ruled the nation. This year is crucial as it may be the coming general election that will decide whether Malaysia will return to BN or see a change of government at the federal level.

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On August 31, 2017–In stead of rejoicing, we Malaysians  mourn the state of our country. After 60 years of Merdeka, we are being colonised by corrupt and racist UMNO kleptocrats and their partners in MCA, MIC, Gerakan.–Din Merican

My observation is based on the mood of the people as we approach Merdeka Day. It is obvious that the flags are not flying. By now, most shops would be carrying the Malaysian flag and cars would be adorned with the Jalur Gemilang.

But, unless some arm-twisting tactics are used, by now the flags would be all over the place. Patriotism is not something that can be forced. It has to come from the people’s own sentiments.

Although patriotism has nothing to do with giving support to the government of the day, its absence can indicate the people’s sentiments and confidence towards those in the powers of corridor.

This year is the 60th anniversary since Malaysia achieved its independence from the British colonial government in 1957, yet Malaysians are generally lukewarm about the celebration this year.

Why are Malaysians not showing their patriotism?

It does not cost more than RM10 to purchase a Malaysian flag, but could it be that Malaysians are unwilling to fork out even that amount of money, not forgetting the additional 60 sen for the Goods and Services Tax (GST)?

After three years, by now, most Malaysians would have felt the burden of the GST on their rising cost of living.

Only a total reversal of the GST, which unfortunately Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak said is impossible to implement, is the only way BN can gain the people’s confidence.

Pakatan Harapan said the moment they win the general election, they would remove the GST. So, why is BN saying it cannot be abolished?

Is it because the country has reached such a financial state that despite the oil money, the government would not be able to meet financial obligations without the income from GST collection?

All the “positive” reports aside, one needs to only read Tricia Yeoh’s open letter to Najib to realise how much of Najib’s speech at Invest Malaysia last month can be swallowed.

The truth is most people have a very negative economic outlook, with most saying that the country appears to be going nowhere. Malaysians are beginning to see the doom ahead of them with the latest report that in 2016, the country’s debt has hit RM908.7 billion or 74 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP).

This is one of the highest since the country achieved independence. To say it is no problem is something hard for even ordinary Malaysians to believe. Imagine you are earning RM10,000, but you have to service your loan for the RM7,000 that you have borrowed.

You may be living a lifestyle of someone earning RM17,000 a month, but how many people even earn RM5,000 a month? This is called “over gearing”.

If people smell that something is not right, they will panic to think that the country’s total foreign debts may show that we are in real danger of bankruptcy.

One explanation after another has been given. For example, everyone knows that it is the weaker ringgit that is contributing to the higher cost of foreign debts, but what is the BN government doing about controlling external debts?

What we are hearing about are the mega projects being carried out using borrowed funds. The East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) for example is to be built using money from a soft loan provided by China’s Exim Bank at 3 percent over a period of 20 years.

Anyone borrowing from the bank for a housing loan for that period of time will realise that it is not that rosy after all. The moment someone defaults on a loan, there will be penalties. The bank may even force the property to be auctioned off.

Would the RM55 billion soft loan place Malaysia under the control of a Chinese bank, hence, indirectly the Chinese government? No banks would loan any amount of money if it does not have the assurance that it is able to get back the money.

Besides, we all know that Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) is not making any profit despite running the North-South corridor. What makes us think that the ECRL would be able to pay back the loan?

Political violence

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UMNO-Malay Unity, not National Unity

It is not only the financial aspect that people are worried about. No thanks to its past record, and people like Jamal Mohd Yunos and his Red Shirts, people seem to have the impression that UMNO is given the right to use violence.

Peace-loving Malaysians are no longer easily intimidated. The silent majority may not do much, but the sentiments are definitely not with UMNO when more political violence unfolds, whether linked to the party, its members, or otherwise.

They may not be outspoken, but they are waiting for the right moment to strike with another tsunami. This is my observation especially after Mahathir and his men abandoned UMNO.

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Jamal Ikan Bakar Yunos and his Red Shirts on a rampage?

The answer to my question, “How BN can gain back people’s confidence?” therefore requires more soul-searching on the part of BN leaders, including those from Sabah and Sarawak.

If flying of the Jalur Gemilang is any indication of the people’s sentiments, it is time for some serious discussions at the higher level.

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