Tuesday, August 23, 2011

BN pushing the panic button

What a flurry in government giving we are seeing these days! Bonuses, dividends, loans, grants and scholarships and now doled out like candy by UMNO, MCA and the like to the masses and their constituents. Acting more like NGOs or charities, the Barisan Nasional component parties have engaged on a charm offensive by handing out our money back to us, and trying to discredit the Opposition.

It really got going when our Prime Minister announced that the government is handing out half month Hari Raya bonuses for all civil servants, which would cost in excess of RM1 billion to taxpayers, despite reduced subsidies and mounting budget deficits.

When austerity is the name of the game, does not look particularly good when billions are handed out at the drop of a hat. Furthermore, the announcement that the first Volkswagen cars to be produced in Malaysia would be out of Pekan, the Prime Minister's constituency, it certainly looks like an attempt to protect his interests.

The second big announcement was from the Finance Ministry, with their intention to provide assistance to urban poor earning below RM3,000 a month while keeping mum on how exactly this fund is going to be distributed and how they are going to afford the assistance, when subsidies are going to be reduced left, right and centre for the fact that they say they cannot afford it! Is this rational or is it just to pander to a certain section of society to buy them over?

On the political scene, Barisan Nasional is pulling out the stops through the Main Stream Media to give the impression that they are making substantive gains throughout the country. A report appearing on The Malaysian Insider mentioned that BN is confident of taking back Penang, a Malaysiakini report had UMNO Kedah saying that the people were tired of the PAS government, and an independent report from the Mederka Centre saying that rural folk would be more likely to vote for BN than otherwise.

The issues do not stop there. The Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to review Electoral law is now seen as mere lip service to the Rakyat as our Prime Minister saw it fit to declare that the timing of Elections was the UMNO/BN government's prerogative. This is irrespective of whether reforms can be made on time. Obviously, when Najib Razak tells us not to question his sincerity to pursue, we can do nothing but.

Nazri is probably the best known Minister in the Prime Minister's Department in the history of the office, who is not helping his own public perception by completely dismissing the views of Opposition parties in the PSC as only the minority view, which therefore means that they are in the wrong. Hardly fair and equitable for the de facto Law Minister.

The continuing trial on Anwar Ibrahim once again places the opposition leader in the spotlight, and obviously BN are taking every opportunity to discredit him as a potential future Prime Minister. However, by now they should realise that the further they try to prolong this charade and mockery of both the justice system as well as intelligence, Anwar's popularity is now on the rise as once again he has become the victim of the system, rather than his own merits.

With BN machinery in overdrive across the country, the signs are actually ominous for UMNO/BN. They know that they are likely going to lose Terengganu, Perak and Negri Sembilan to Pakatan Raykat. They know that their chances of winning back Penang, Kedah, Selangor and Kelatan are slim to impossible. They know that there is now a considerable body of opinion which would swing several seats in Sabah and Sarawak. There has also been no let up in the grassroots work from Pakatan Rakyat component parties.

This is no reason at all for Pakatan Rakyat to celebrate though. In fact, PR component parties must work harder for the greater good of the Rakyat, so that they are able to genuinely earn their votes, rather than throw goodies at them. The "Lu Tolong Gua, Gua Tolong Lu" campaigns no longer works as proven in Sibu.

308 was a significant milestone in the history of our nation. The major difference going into GE-13 is that the youth have woken up, we have the highest number of registered voters in history, there is more information available than ever, and our daily conversations are awash with politics. The fact that people are now actually being outspoken about political issues is a big step forward from the days when we just kept quiet.

Despite fears of foreigners allegedly being given citizenships and swearing to vote for BN, gerrymandering, phantom voters, if the Rakyat indeed rises up in the polls to oust UMNO/BN from office, this would herald a time of change and healing when our nation finally throws off the shackles, and the power to decide our own fate is indeed returned to the people.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

The waste of it all

Malaysia has squandered an estimated RM100 billion on financial scandals under the 22-year rule of Dr Mahathir Mohamad, according to a new book about the former prime minister.

According to Barry Wain, author of the soon-to-be launched ‘Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times’, direct financial losses amounted to about RM50 billion.

This doubled once the invisible costs, such as unrecorded write-offs, were taken into account. The RM100 billion total loss was equivalent to US$40 billion at then prevailing exchange rates.

Barry, who is a former editor of the Asian Wall Street Journal, says most of the scams, which included a government attempt to manipulate the international tin price and gambling by Bank Negara on global currency markets, occurred in the 1980s.

‘Malaysian Maverick’ is the first independent, full-length study of Mahathir, who retired in 2003 after more than two decades as premier. The book will be published globally next week by Palgrave Macmillan.

Wain writes that the Mahathir administration, which took office in 1981 with the slogan, “clean, efficient, trustworthy”, was almost immediately embroiled in financial scandals that “exploded with startling regularity”.
By the early 1990s, he says, cynics remarked that it had been “a good decade for bad behaviour, or a bad decade for good behaviour”.

Secret military deal with US

The book also reveals that:

Mahathir, despite his nationalistic rants, signed a secret security agreement with the United States in 1984 that gave the Americans access to a jungle warfare training school in Johor and allowed them to set up a small-ship repair facility at Lumut and a plant in Kuala Lumpur to repair C-130 Hercules transport aircraft.
Mahathir used a secret fund of his ruling Umno to turn the party into a vast conglomerate with investments that spanned almost the entire economy.

Mahathir’s Umno financed its new Putra World Trade Centre headquarters in Kuala Lumpur partly with taxpayers money, by forcing state-owned banks to write off at least RM140 million in interest on Umno loans.

Wain, who is now a writer-in-residence at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, however credits Mahathir with engineering the country’s economic transformation, deepening industrialisation and expanding Malaysia’s middle class.
But Mahathir had undermined state institutions, permitted the spread of corruption and failed to provide for Malaysia’s future leadership, he says.

Related Article:

Do you know that:

Last year, Petronas gained a total pre-tax profit of RM86.8 billion and so far, it has earned about RM600 billion. As the surge of international oil prices, it’s profits will as well substantially grow. But the government has reduced fuel subsidies by a wide margin, turning Malaysia into one of the world’s most expensive oil price oil-producing countries. It makes the people wonder where the huge profit of Petronas has gone?

Former Work Minister Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu said in the Parliament last year that the government has compensated a total of RM38.5 billion to 20 highway companies. Also, as the government has stopped building the Scenic Bridge in Johor, it has to compensate RM300 million construction cost to the bridge contractor. Isn’t the spending of such huge amount a waste?

Former Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim revealed that the Central Bank has lost RM30 billion in foreign exchange trading in the 1990s. Who was the manipulator behind it? (Second Finance Minister was in charge of Bank Negara’s Forex trading at that time)

Malaysia Airlines was said to have suffered losses every year. But why to spend RM1.55 million to buy three paintings to decorate its chairman’s office? And why to spend RM7,525 per day to recruit a foreign senior general manager?
Proton Holdings bought a 57.75% stake in MV Agusta for €70 million but sold it at €1 (RM4.50) a year later, causing Proton to lose €75.99 million (RM 348 million)?
Other excesses and wastages:

1. The Bank Bumiputra twin scandals in the early 1980s saw US$1 billion (RM3.2 billion in 2008 ringgit)

2. The Maminco attempt to corner the world tin market in the 1980s is believed to have cost some US$500 million. (RM1.6 billion)

3. Betting in foreign exchange futures cost Bank Negara Malaysia RM30 billion in the 1990s.

4. Perwaja Steel resulted in losses of US$800 million (RM2.56 billion). Eric Chia, was charged with corruption for allegedly steering US$20 million (RM64 million) to a Hong Kong-based company

5. Use of RM10 billion public funds in the Valuecap Sdn. Bhd. operation to shore up the stock market

6. Banking scandal of RM700 million losses in Bank Islam

7. The sale of M.V. Agusta by Proton for one Euro making a loss of €75.99 million (RM 348 million)

8. Wang Ehsan from oil royalty on Terengganu RM7.4 billion from 2004 – 2007

9. For the past 10 years since Philharmonic Orchestra was established, this orchestra has swallowed a total of RM500 million

10. In Advisors Fees, Mahathir was paid RM180,000, Shahrizat Abdul Jalil (women and social development affairs) RM404,726 and Abdul Hamid Othman (religious) RM549,675 per annum

11. The government has spent a total of RM3.2 billion in teaching Maths and Science in English over the past five years. Out of the amount, the government paid a whopping RM2.21 billion for the purchase of information and computer technology (ICT) equipments which it is unable to give a breakdown.

12. The commission paid for purchase of jets and submarines to two private companies Perimeker Sdn Bhd and IMT Defence Sdn Bhd amounted to RM910 million.
13. RM300 million to compensate Gerbang Perdana for the RM1.1 billion “Crooked Scenic Half-Bridge”

14. RM1.3 billion have been wasted building the white elephant Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) facilities on cancellation of the Malaysia-Singapore scenic bridge

15. RM 100 million on renovation of Parliament building and leaks

16. National Astronaut Programme – RM 40 million

17. National Service Training Programme – yearly an estimate of RM 500 million

18. Eye on Malaysia – RM 30 million and another RM5.7 million of free ticket

19. RM 4.63 billion, ’soft-loan’ to PKFZ

20. RM 2.4 million on indelible ink

21. Samy announced in September 2006 that the government paid compensation amounting to RM 38.5 billion to the highway companies. RM 380 million windfalls for 9 toll concessionaires earned solely from the toll hike in 2008 alone.

22. RM32 million timber export kickbacks involving companies connected to Sarawak Chief Minister and his family.

Bailouts -
23. Two bailouts of Malaysia Airline System RM7.9 billion

24. Putra transport system, which cost RM4.486 billion

25. STAR-LRT bailout costing RM3.256 billion

26. National Sewerage System costing RM192.54 million

27. Seremban-Port Dickson Highway costing RM142 million

28. Kuching Prison costing RM135 million

29. Kajian Makanan dan Gunaan Orang Islam costing RM8.3 million.

30. Le Tour de Langkawi costing RM 3.5 Million

31. Wholesale distribution of tens of millions of shares in Bursa Malaysia under guise of NEP to cronies, children and relatives of BN leaders and Ministers worth billions of ringgits.

32. APs scandal had been going on year-after-year going back for more than three decades, involving a total mind-boggling sum of tens of billions of ringgits

33. Alienation of tens of thousands of hectares of commercial lands and forestry concessions to children and relatives of BN leaders and Ministers worth tens of billions of ringgits

34. Travel around Malaysia and see for yourself how many white elephants like majestic arches, roads paved with fanciful bricks, designer lamp posts, clock towers, Municipal Council buildings that looks more like Istanas, extravagant places of worship, refurbishment of residences of VIPs, abandoned or under-utilised government sports complexes and buildings, etc! Combined they could easily amount to the hundreds of billions of ringgits!
35. Wastages and forward trading of Petronas oil in the 1990s based on the low price of oil then. Since the accounts of Petronas are for the eyes of Prime Minister only, we have absolutely no idea of the amount. Whatever amount, you bet it is COLLOSSAL!

In Time Asia magazine issue on March 15 2004, South East Asian economist at Morgan Stanley in Singapore Daniel Lian, figures “that the country may have lost as much as U$$100 billion (RM320 billion) since the early 1980s to corruption.” Mind you, this is only corruption and it does not include wastages!
All the rakyat’s hard earned money down the drain and they have the audacity to raise fuel prices and asking the people to change their lifestyles.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Shocking racial ‘imbalance’ in civil service

Joseph Tawie | August 20, 2011

KUCHING: Change, like charity should begin at home. Likewise Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak should have begun implementing his 1Malaysia concept within the civil service first before attempting to ‘teach the world’.

Alas this has not happened and Najib, according to Sarawak DAP has failed miserably in improving the racial composition of the civil service.
The situation is a poor reflection of his seriousness in implementing the 1Malaysia concept.

“He (Najib) has been shouting about the concept for the past two years, and yet the racial composition between the Malays and Chinese in government departments has not improved,” said Sarawak DAP secretary Chong Chieng Jen.

According to Chong, he had asked the PM, during the recent sitting of Parliament, to disclose the total number of civil servants in all the ministries and the racial breakdown of Malays, Chinese, Iban and Bidayuh staff.

He said he had asked for the update on number of civil service staff in the government’s employ up to 31 March 2011.

The revert, he received was shocking.

“In the Prime Minister Department, there are about 31,297 Malays to 797 Chinese. This is about two percent.

“And it is no better in majority of the other ministeries.

“Based on the reply given to my question in Parliament there is a big discrepancy between the Malays and Chinese civil servants.
“The worst is in the Rural Development and the Federal Territory Ministry where there are 2,442 Malays to 18 Chinese or less than one percent of the Chinese,” said Chong, who is also Bandar Kuching MP.

Listing out the detailed breakdown of Malay and Chinese civil servants, Chong said there was a clear ‘imbalance’ in racial compositions in all government departments, agencies and ministeries.

“It also clearly shows Najib’s 1Malaysia slogan is a mere slogan.

“There is no concrete policy to implement the 1Malaysia concept.

“There has been no improvement in the racial composition even after he announced the concept…even his department is worse than average.

He said: “There is no improvement in the racial composition based on the racial breakdown in the

“It shows that Najib is not the PM for all, but the prime minister for one single race,” Chong said after releasing the Malay to Chinese staff breakdown in the various ministries.

He listed out the reply from the PM’s department as below:

Ministry of Youth and Sports 2,980 Malays,32 Chinese,

Ministry of Home Affairs 40,263 Malays to 614 Chinese;

Ministry of Works 6,221 Malays to 156 Chinese,

Ministry of Health 130,106 Malays to 9,500 Chinese,

Ministry of Finance 15,835 Malays to 508 Chinese,

Ministry of Foreign Affairs 1,215 Malays to 53 Chinese

Ministry of Education 273,791 Malays to 43,669 Chinese

Ministry of Tourism 455 Malays to 19 Chinese

Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development 5,461 Malays to 75 Chinese

Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture 8,839 Malays to 402 Chinese

Ministry of Higher Education 15,012 Malays to 334 Chinese

Ministry of Transport 9,028 Malays to 205 Chinese

Ministry of Defence 12,078 Malays to 113 Chinese

Ministry of Housing and Local Government 11,363 Malays to 173 Chinese

Sourced from freemalaysiatoday.com

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Rural Battelfield

Over the past couple of days, the Merdeka Center appears to be publishing a lot of their findings, dampening optimism that Pakatan Rakyat could potentially win enough parliamentary seats in the 13th General Election to form a new government for the first time in our nation's history. The study released by political scientist Wong Chin Huat presented on August 9th, would put Opposition gains to 100 federal seats up from 75, but short of the 112 seats needed to form the government. Looking deeper into the study, one can see that the biggest hurdle for the opposition to overcome, is the rural folk, where Barisan Nasional continues to have a strong foothold.

One of the studies publish mentioned that urban areas are more likely to vote for PR candidates, but rural areas would favour BN candidates. This is especially true for areas with low or no Internet penetration. Even in rural areas which do have Internet connection, those who use the Internet may not necessarily be interested in political news or access alternative media.

In a country in which the printed media has been monopolised by BN since independence, to tell those who have been relying on this medium for donkey years would find it very difficult to accept that they are publishing anything other than the truth.

For many, it is important to maintain status quo, as many worry with a change of government, there may be potential repercussions on their daily lives. Rural folk may not even care what is happening down in the cities because it would not affect them.

There is also the element of apathy, especially when the Merdeka Center came out to say that the effect of Bersih 2.0 in the rural areas were minimal at best. This is predominantly as a result of the government controlled media portraying the demonstrators as hooligans, but also due to the fact that it is engrained in our culture to accept the status quo ie. accepting what we are told without question.

The fight for electoral reform, civil liberties and fundamental freedoms appear to only gather lukewarm responses at best from the rural folk. There are those who perpetuate the view that we should not even get ourselves into trouble in the first place by questioning the authorities. If we keep our heads down, and mind our own business, we shall continue to live in peace.

However, I do not believe for a moment that these people do not care about their nation. For 54 years, they have believed that their government always has their best interests at heart, whereas rampant corruption and misuse of government funds continue to go unreported.

The BN government know that the best way to win and retain seats in these rural areas, is to keep them in the dark as much as possible, and throw some occasional goodies at them to keep them happy and content.

Now comes the time for awakening. Pakatan Rakyat need to get their machinery out to these areas to talk to the people, make the people understand, and show them that PR can be a capable and competent government. The grass-roots support in these areas cannot be underestimated. BN strongholds can fall, as seen during the Sarawak elections, and the hard work and faith must be maintained.

For all the screaming, shouting and finger pointing which is done in the cities, we must not forget the real battle must be fought in rural heartland, where they are the true king-makers in the coming elections. Only when they are on board with the rest of us, can we see begin change for our beloved nation.

Everyone must do their part during the 'balik kampung' period over Hari Raya to spread the word and the truth to their kampungs, and urge the need for change in our nation. We are all responsible for future and progress of our country, and God willing we shall see change happen for the better.

Salam Berpuasa.

Published in Malaysia Today, The Malaysian Insider and The Malaysia Chronicle:

Monday, August 8, 2011

Biometrics a practical solution?

Over the weekend, I attended a Polling and Counting Agents (PACA) briefing, and one of the questions raised was how to verify if someone was indeed a "Lee Ah Chong" if he looked like a "Mustafa"? I realised that the NRD and Immigration ensure the avoidance of mistaken identity by implementing a biometric system. Whenever I come home from overseas or when I go to the bank to open my account, the biometric reader is produced to get my thumbprint.

Actually it seems like a pretty good idea for the Electoral Commission (EC) to implement a biometric system at the next election to prevent voter fraud, double voting and phantom voters.The system would be able to identify the person immediately and it would be able to automatically update itself to ensure that the due process is followed.

However, if we think about the complexity of the proposed system, there are a coupling of glaring fundamental flaws. Placing allegations of vote and system rigging aside, let us look logically as to the challenges that it would face during it's implementation.

1. Not everyone has a new IC.
It is well known that registered voters need not necessarily present their IC in order to vote. They can produce their passport, drivers license or any other approved documentation with their full name and IC number on it. However, in order for the biometric system to work, we need to have a new IC with a chip, or a passport in order for your thumbprint to be processed. In urban areas, let alone rural areas, there are many registered voters without new ICs which would then find it difficult to vote on polling day.

2. Biometrics in rural areas.
The logistics of setting up biometric systems in schools across the country is a task in itself. What more for long houses in the depths of Sarawak? How is the EC going to overcome this problem? It is well known that most don't have an Internet connection which is essential for the system to operate. Are we going to have one policy for the kampungs and another for the cities?

3. Server overload.
Yes, biometrics are used on a daily basis. The way it works is that the sensor is connected to a computer, which in turn is connected to a centralised server containing a database with all the identity information stored in it. The question is whether the system would be able to cope with a huge increase in traffic, especially when 11 million voters converge in a single day to cast their votes? Surely the system would experience overloads.

4. Computer Bugs and System failure.
Anyone who works in a company with a central server knows that problems will be experienced from time to time and any breakdown in the system could potentially paralyse the entire organisation. Similarly, what if such a problem were to occur on polling day? The consequences would be disastrous for the nation and our democracy.

What is the point of spending millions on a system which would only be used once every five years and subject the people and the EC to so many potential headaches? I look forward to a reply from the EC regarding these issues so we can derive an informed opinion on whether the system is justified in the interests of protecting our democracy.

When all is said and done, I believe that you cannot go wrong with good old, cheap indelible ink.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

End of the Rope for Najib

Over the past few months, we have all seen the steep decline of our Prime Minister. From calling on youth to "defend Putrajaya" as though the nation is expecting an invasion to being unable to back up his own 1Malaysia policy when asked by a student at a recent Malaysian Student Leader's Summit.

It truly seems that Najib is unable to do anything right at the moment. First he outright attacks the Opposition parties claiming that they would destroy this nation and that Barisan Nasional is the shining light to guide the nation forward. To ask the youth to help defend Putrajaya against the Opposition is nothing short of pretentious, as though UMNO/BN has the divine right to govern this country ad infinitum.

This was quickly followed by Bersih 2.0, where he exposed himself as a lame duck leader. Instead of assuming a non-partisan role and showing true leadership, he aligned himself more as UMNO president than the Prime Minister of Malaysia by demonising the coalition as an "illegal organisation" and stooping so low to the extent of roping in mosque ceramahs to spread their propaganda of the so-called"perhimpunan haram".

His handling of Bersih 2.0 in itself was nothing short of despicable. If he truly recognised the event to be a national crisis, he himself should have been in Kuala Lumpur that day to defuse the situation. Instead, he found himself in Terengganu, with his tail between his legs, smiling at the co-op event, as though he found the hyped-up illegal rally in Kuala Lumpur to be a mere inconvenience to his schedule.

In the lack of true leadership, he "tai-chied" all of the responsibility onto his cousin's shoulders. Hishammudin didn't fair much better, especially with his justification of the clampdown on civil liberties, to the extent that those who knew him declared him as sounding "mentally impaired"!

As though this was not bad enough, the cover up of Tung Shin Hospital, the police violence and the subsequent spread of lies through the media had caused a self-inflicted international black eye. Ignoring all of this, he proceeded to meet the Queen of England in a stunning yellow dress, just in case he failed to get the message.

Although he had managed to establish ties with the Vatican, his subsequent comments to the Christian community did little to them to endear him, especially when he implied that Christians were intolerant, when that is clearly not the case.

His wife's extravagance would distance him further from the grassroots as allegations that she purchased a US$24 million ring had sent shock waves through the community, especially at a time that the Rakyat are told to tighten our belts in the midst of reduced subsidies and rising prices. Compound this with the Scorpene scandal and the announcement of the intent to purchase billions of Ringgit worth of fighter planes we do not need hardly resonates with his motto of "Rakyat Didahulukan, Pencapaian Diutamakan" (People First, Performance Now).

The Teoh Beng Hock RCI report, the detention of the EO6 and finally his inability to back up his own 1Malaysia concept as he does not want to be seen in conflict with his deputy, has earn him the title of "The Lamest Premier" by DAP national publicity secretary Tony Pua. I am inclined to agree with Tony, as I doubt I have ever seen a less decisive head of state, who fails to get even his own cabinet to sing the same tune.

With impending polls ahead, UMNO and Najib have good reason to sweat. The blantant inability to handle the affairs of the nation has stirred up the sentiments a generally politically-apathetic population.

As for all the hype with his Economic Transformation Plan and PEMANDU, National Key Result Areas and what-not, all the Rakyat know is that the government is spending our hard earned money into the proverbial black hole. Our cost of living is on the rise, civil liberties are being trounced on, and corruption, deceit and lies are rampant in this government.

For those who have driven around Kuala Lumpur at night, you would be able to see the UMNO building lit up by billions of LEDs proclaiming the achievements of the UMNO-led government. One of them called Najib as "Bapa Transformasi". As much as this may be a colossal joke to some, there may be a silver lining as he may inadvertently be responsible for the biggest transformation in the history of our beloved nation.

If Najib continues to delude himself that it is the minority that is vocal in their dissent, and that he has the support of a "silent majority", he is in for a nasty shock come the next polls.