Friday, April 24, 2015

Eyeing the Malaysian Sour Grapes

In an old fable by Aesop, a hungry fox noticed a bunch of juicy grapes hanging from a vine. After several failed attempts to reach the grapes, the fox gave up and insisted that he didn't want them anyway because they were probably sour.

Nowadays when somebody expresses sour grapes, it means that they put down something simply because they can't have it.

Merriam-Webster -  unfair criticism that comes from someone who is disappointed about not getting something.  

The phrase is often used incorrectly as another way to express bitterness or resentment.

My friend once told me that in his country there was a powerful politician who ruled the country for many years, more than two decades. He introduced the heavy industry policy which is not a success story. Others are successful but the company that he is now the Chairman of the Board is not doing so well. He complains of other companies that is in the same activity that is doing very well serving the people including holders of approved permits. He is very bitter and full of resentment.

My friend’s friend told me that he grooms one young dynamic activist into his party and his government. This guy looks religious, brings Islamic values it seems. But did not practice what he preached. Trust him to look after education portfolio and screwed up. Trusted him to look after the economy and nearly sold out the country. The Bursa plummeted and plunges to diminishing values. He allowed this guy to climb the ladders of power and until his own position was at stake, he had to uproot the seed he planted, he is still bitter and full of resentment.

Another friend told me that he got a close friend who in good times do business and in bad times receives salary from the government and look after money. There are a lot of private tied business going on. Lucrative projects gone into private hands. Utility services palmed out to friends. National assets becomes privately owned. And some are stripped. The majority suffered in the hands of the few. When these is being reversed, where the people comes first instead of the few. When a special purpose government vehicle bought over these activities to benefit the people in the long run, he is very bitter and full of resentment.

A colleague told me that once he had a friend who he appointed as the Secretary General of his party. During that guy’s tenure, he allowed his party to be deregistered and forms a new party. This is actually the result of wanting to maintain political influence when a majority of the party members are against him. There is an occasion when he offered himself to be voted as a delegate to the General Assembly but was not chosen by the division. And blaming others for his debacle. He is still bitter and full of resentment about it.

Another friend told me that people die of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), his political career and government dominance ended because of AIDS. Nobody asks him to resign, that country is heading the Non Aligned Movement and also chairing the Organization of Islamic Conference, a powerful and influential period. But GOD almighty is great, he is not GOD. In no particular reference to Ai or D or S. the power succumbs to the acquired immune deficiency syndrome. And he is still bitter and full of resentment.


Another friend told me that because of all these bitterness and resentment, he is deaf to logic, blind to political realities and not so dumb to be criticizing and criticizing and criticizing his predecessors and successors.  Sour Grapes.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Eyeing Azmy Kelana Jaya's comment on previous call for the resiganation of Mahathir Mohamad

TAHUKAH anda? pada zaman pentadbiran bekas Perdana Menteri Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, ada lapan individu pernah mendesak beliau meletakkan jawatan sekitar tahun 1987, kira-kira enam tahun selepas beliau menjadi Perdana Menteri.
Pada ketika itu pun, Dr Mahathir tidak  mempedulikan desakan tersebut dan terus menjadi Perdana Menteri selama 22 tahun sebelum meletakkan jawatan pada 2003.
Terdapat lapan individu yang pernah mendesak beliau meletakkan jawatan sebagai Perdana Menteri yang pernah diperkatakan iaitu Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Bekas Timbalan Perdana Menteri Tun Musa Hitam, Bekas Perdana Menteri Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Tan Sri Dr Rais Yatim dan Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar.
Baki mereka yang mahu Dr Mahathir meletakkan jawatan ialah Bekas Menteri Penerangan Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir dan Datuk Seri Shahrir Abdul Samad dan bekas Menteri Perusahaan Awam Datuk Abdul Manan Othman.
Kebanyakan daripada individu itu merupakan anggota awal Parti Semangat 46 dipimpin Tengku Razaleigh. Parti itu ditubuhkan selepas Dr Mahathir enggan meletakkan jawatan biarpun didesak.
Daripada beberapa laman blog, ada mengatakan bahawa Dr Mahathir merupakan Perdana Menteri yang paling banyak menerima desakan untuk melepaskan jawatan.
Tetapi beliau berkata “Saya tidak pernah didesak letak jawatan sepanjang jadi Perdana Menteri,” kenyataan yang dipetik The Edge baru-baru ini.
Antara kejadian yang menyebabkan timbul desakan itu ialah peristiwa Memali, pemilihan Presiden UMNO 1987, pengharaman UMNO pada 1988, kerugian Bank Negara, kes Perwaja Steel dan isu berkaitan pemecatan Bekas Timbalan Perdana Menteri Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
Beliau juga pernah didesak letak jawatan kerana skandal pembelian 88 buah pesawat pejuang jenis Skyhawk pada awal 80-an.
Ia menjadi satu kontroversi kerana dari 88 buah yang dibeli, hanya separuh sahaja boleh digunakan itupun dengan pelbagai masalah teknikal sehingga dikatakan ramai juruterban Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia (TUDM) hilang atau terbunuh dalam nahas.
Sebenarnya, ia merupakan sesuatu yang biasa bagi seseorang Perdana Menteri itu didesak meletakkan jawatan tetapi adakah desakan itu sesuai atau tidak untuk disuarakan.
Dr Mahathir pada ketika itu tidak langsung mengendahkan desakan itu dan terus kekal sebagai Perdana Menteri jadi tidak ada salahnya Perdana Menteri kini Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak untuk mentadbir negara secara tersendiri dan terus kekal.
Tambahan lagi, Najib memperolehi sokongan demi sokongan dari para pemimpin parti komponen Barisan Nasional (BN) dan juga sokongan dari sayap parti dalam UMNO di belakang beliau.
Ia bagi menunjukkan kepimpinan Najib disokong oleh mereka biarpun dikritik secara bertalu-talu oleh Dr Mahathir melalui media, blog dan video ke atas kepimpinan beliau.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Eyeing Najib's positive intervention on current issues

TV3 interviewed me tonight. Here are some key points I wanted to make:
ON THE PASSING OF TAN SRI JAMALUDDIN JARJIS AND DATO’ AZLIN ALIAS
I had the privilege of working with both of these fine public servants and I can tell you that their contribution to the government, to UMNO, and to our country was immeasurable.
They were committed to a strong and prosperous Malaysia, a regional powerhouse that serves as an example for other countries. Whilst we have made significant progress towards this, there is still work to be done.
Within their loss, I am more determined than ever to lead our country towards realising this goal. That is what they would have wanted.

CRITICISM FROM TUN MAHATHIR
I respect Tun Mahathir as I respect every other citizen of this country. It is the rakyat’s right to ask questions of me, to question my performance as Prime Minister, and the performance of the Government I lead.
However, at the end of the day, we are a democracy. I was elected by my party, and by the people of this country, to lead them. As such, I am answerable only to the people – not to any one individual. And if at the next general election, the people want change, they will let us know through the ballot box.

GST
I understand that there is some concern around the introduction of the GST. However, for the long term good of the economy, it is important that we broaden our tax base.
As Prime Minister, it is my responsibility to make the right decisions for all Malaysians, even if it can seem difficult at the time. I believe the introduction of the GST is an important reform that will help us build a stronger, more sustainable and transparent economy.
I have been made aware that some unscrupulous businesses, both big and small, are trying to take advantage of the introduction of GST to increase prices above the 6% rate. This is completely unacceptable.
I have instructed the relevant ministry to step up their enforcement efforts to ensure that any increases introduced by shopkeepers and business owners are in line with the 6% GST rate, and that any abuses of this system which negatively harm the consumer are brought to a halt.

STATE OF ECONOMY
Despite criticism from certain quarters, which damages investor confidence and harms our economy, our economy continues to develop fast and our economic fundamentals remain strong.
However, no country is isolated from global events, and we have already had a taste of the challenges with the falling oil price affecting everything from the ringgit to rubber.
Our economy’s growth and success did not come out of thin air. It came because we made the right decisions for Malaysia. I have always maintained that in politics you have to make the right decisions, not just the easy and populist ones.

1MDB
At the start of the year, 1MDB came under new leadership, and a strategic review of the business was carried out.
Following its completion, a decision was made to restructure the business, and this process is currently underway.
However, it is important to remember that 1MDB’s assets are greater than its liabilities. So, in very simplistic terms, if 1MDB were to be wound down tomorrow, the company would still have some assets and money left even after paying off all its debt.
At the same time, I recognise that there are a number of questions swirling around 1MDB. Some of these questions are valid, but there are others that appear to be directed at the company solely with the intention of creating controversy.
That is precisely why I have instructed the Auditor General to undertake a comprehensive audit of the company and independently verify its accounts. This report will then be passed on to the Public Accounts Committee, which as you know is a fully bipartisan body for scrutiny.
This should ensure that the process is open and transparent, and all questions that have been asked of the company should be sufficiently and independently answered. Now, we must let the process run its due course.
However, there are certain elements who continue to repeat the same old allegations about 1MDB, more often than not without full knowledge of 1MDB’s affairs.
The people behind these attacks know that they have the potential to damage investor confidence in the country, which in turn would have a negative impact on the economy, but continue to do this. That is irresponsible and putting politics before the national interest.

NEXT GENERAL ELECTION
The result of the next general election will be decided by the people.
What we know is that, as long as BN and UMNO remain united, we will win the election. And that is certainly the case as leaders from Sarawak and Sabah, from the Peninsula, from many different parties in BN have made clear in recent days.
The only way we would lose the election is if there is internal sabotage and bickering, but I am confident that the party would not tolerate any acts of betrayal within it, and will stay united.

SEDITION ACT
You have to bear in mind that circumstances change. From time to time, we need to re-evaluate things, and leaders can change their mind when it comes to doing what is best for the rakyat.
In order to realize our goal of building a stable, peaceful and harmonious state, the Sedition Act has been maintained.
The Sedition Act is not just for Muslims; it is for the protection of all Malaysians. It is aimed at preventing any person who promotes feelings of hostility between persons or groups on the grounds of religion - whether the religion attacked is Christianity, Hinduism, Islam or any of the other faiths Malaysia is proud to be home to.
We will not and cannot stand for the incitement of racial or inter-ethnic conflict. We have come too far to harm the progress that we have made. And that is why the government decided to keep the Sedition Act and amend it to make it a better and more suitable law.

NEW ANTI-TERROR LAWS
I have no greater priority than the safety and security of Malaysians. I take the threat of terrorism very seriously. The new anti-terror laws will help us address the threat that radical and extreme ideologies pose to Malaysia and how we are to stop it.
Contrary to what some are suggesting, these laws will not be used against critics of the government; rather, they will be an extra tool for dealing with the militant threat that all countries face.
We will do whatever necessary to prevent this sort of extremist ideology, which opposes Islamic teachings, democratic practices and humanitarian values.

Eyeing Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak's take on Mahathir Mohamad

Tindakan mantan Perdana Menteri, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (Tun M) mengkritik Perdana Menteri, Datuk Seri Najib Razak bukanlah taktik baru yang pernah diguna pakainya.
Menurut tulisan blog Speaker Dewan Undangan Negeri (DUN) Sabah, Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak, taktik yang dilakukan Tun M itu pernah melakukan perkara sama untuk menyingkirkan bekas Perdana Menteri kelima, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (Pak Lah).
"Tun M telah memperlekehkan pentadbiran Pak Lah dengan mengatakan kerajaan kita diuruskan oleh 4K iaitu Kak Endon (isteri Pak Lah), Kalimullah (orang kuat Pak Lah), Khairy (menantu Pak Lah) dan Kamal (anak Pak Lah)," katanya.
"Kali ini Tun M menggunakan cara yang sama iaitu membabitkan isteri Najib iaitu Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor demi menyingkirkan Najib.
"Gelaran 'first lady' bukan pertama kali diguna pakai, bahkan pernah juga digunakan oleh isteri Tun M, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah," katanya.
Tambahnya, cara kritikan Tun M itu telah memberi gambaran dasyat mengenai keperibadian Rosmah sehingga menimbulkan kemarahan rakyat.
Tulis Salleh lagi, keistimewaan yang diberikan kepada Rosmah adalah hak kerajaan kerana beliau juga adalah 'First Lady' yang memainkan peranan secara formal.
"Saya harap siapa pun pilihan Tun M selepas ini, orang itu dapat meneruskan projek Jambatan Bengkok dan landasan berkembar keretapi ke Singapura pada tahun pertama Tun M menjadi Perdana Menteri.
"Kalau tidak orang itu bakal berdepan untuk dikritik oleh Tun M di masa hadapan."

Eyeing Nawawi Mohamad's Ten Mistakes of Tun Mahathir Mohamad

Former premier Mahathir Mohamad has criticized every prime minister of Malaysia from the late Tunku Abdul Rahman to the current leader Najib Razak, sparing no one except of course, himself. Mahathir has also criticized other world leaders including UK’s Tony Blair and of course George W Bush, the 43rd president of the United States.

So far none of his local peers have swung back at him, which is not surprising considering that several are already dead and only Najib and 5th prime minister Abdullah Badawi are alive. As for the international leaders, they have largely ignored Mahathir’s existence, which only adds to his frustration, but there is nothing he can do to them. However, he can make life miserable for his successors here, and this he is already doing.

When Mahathir retired in 2003, after 22 years as PM, there was talk about his ‘great’ legacy and he was even called Bapa Pemodenan or Father of Modernization. Some 9 years after his retirement, the excesses and sheer ill-judgement of his economic, social and political decisions have come back to wallop the nation with a backlash stronger than the ferocious tsunami of 2006 that devastated much of South Asia.

At 86, Mahathir is now reviled by most Malaysians, blamed for the massive corruption that may soon bankrupt the country if no remedial economic action is taken, and for the apartheid-scale racial fissures amongst the various ethnic groups in the country.

NEP

Just pick the New Economic Policy, which was the brainchild of the policymakers of the 1960s but which he abused to the maximum. This abuse alone is enough to ensure that he will stay in the Malaysian Hall of Villains rather than in the Hall of Fame which he still thinks he belongs in.
His peers with better memories including former Finance minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah said last week that the NEP was never meant to create or to be used to incubate a class of Malay capitalists, but to address poverty and to raise the level of Malay participation in the economy. It was never meant to be abused by the government of the day to handpick a select group of Malay entrepreneurs, load them with sharply-discounted government deals and then expect them to prosper and create enough economic ripples to help lift the rest of the community.
This was Mahathir’s first and major mistake. But was it really a mistake? Doubters and critics point to the enormous wealth he accumulated for his cronies and proxies through the money-making schemes hatched under the guise of the NEP, and by privatizing government assets to favored Malay entrepreneurs, one of whom is the disgraced former MAS chairman Tajudin Ramli. Not able to deal with the ‘instant success’ or the stress of big time business, many succumbed to debt during the 1998 Asian financial crisis. Tajudin and friends like Halim Saad fell from hero to zero, losing enormous amounts of money and requiring massive government bailouts.

Cronies but the masses get nothing

The second mistake Mahathir, in his foolishness, made was to pool the major part of the nation’s wealth in the hands of a few. This time he included non-Malays millionaires such as Vincent Tan, Robert Kuok and Ananda Krishnan. Tan has just announced his retirement, Kuok unhappy with the worsening racial system in the country has chosen to stay Hong Kong, while Ananda is wanted by the Indian authorities for allegedly having corruptly wangled a telecoms licence to buy into Aircel.
This pooling of wealth in the hands of a few inevitably left the ordinary Malays and Malaysians with just a few crumbs to share amongst themselves, a slow-boil situation that has blown up to today’s red-hot disputes about social and economic fairness. Not only is there not enough money for scholarships, education, healthcare, employment and welfare for everyone, even the Malays who have been repeatedly told by Mahathir’s Umno party that they will get priority, have left in the lurch.

Malays now form 96% of the poorest 40% lowest income earners in the country. As for the non-Malays, of course, they have felt the pinch more. Many have been forced to go overseas to work and to study. That’s right, educational and employment opportunities are scarce for the non-Malays in the country. Again, the only group that benefited were the elite in the Umno party, their families and cronies. So Mahathir – despite his self-praise – was in fact rather shortsighted. Money was far more important to him than he cared to admit.

Trusting the wrong people

The third mistake that Mahathir made was choosing the wrong people for the wrong jobs. He also trusted the wrong people. All of the Malays tycoons that he picked had no real business savvy but were merely the trusted aides of former Finance minister Daim Zainuddin. That is why guys like Tajuddin, Halim, Rashid Husein of RHB Bank, Mohd Noor Mutalib and Abdul Rahman Maidin of MRCB fared poorly in the end. Some have even been hauled to court to settle debts.
Only Daim Zainudin remains ‘filthy’ rich. His nominees ended up owning all the various banks and business enterprises meant to be transferred into Umno Baru. Somehow, as the Umno legend goes, Daim managed to secure these for himself. This was obviously a huge letdown for Mahathir. Instead of ‘tricking’ people over to his point of view, for once, he had been had!

Set Malaysia off on the borrowing habit

Mahathir did not foresee that the National Debt could be as high as it is today, having ballooned to over RM450 billion. Despite several ‘begging’ trips to Singapore and Brunei, he was politely rebuffed. In the end, he borrowed from overseas by issuing bonds and ‘stealing’ every spare sen from Petronas and the other Government-Linked-Companies to fund his mega projects. Throughout his 22-year rule, Mahathir never saved a sen for Malaysia for a rainy day. And this was his fourth mistake.

Weak grasp of economic principles

Mahathir is just an ordinary doctor; a general practitioner and not a specialist. His understanding of economics is as rudimentary as the average Malaysian. His idea of increasing the equity of the Malays is so simplistic – use the GLCs. Mahathir’s vision of doing business is by profiteering through controlling shares in as many companies as possible without considering the possibility of losing money. Sad to say, real life businesses involves losses, not just profits.
Mahathir’s economic policy was not based on any solid foundation and had never been tested in any country before. It was based on his opinions and viewpoints. If these had been any good or worked, many countries would have already implemented similar ideas centuries ago. Even established capitalist and communist economic systems have come under fire and economic collapse is a norm these days, part of a man-made boom and bust cycle. Several economists have even urged nations to revert back to gold-based currencies, an ancient and established type of monetary system, so what are Mahathir’s child-like economic concepts by comparison? His fifth mistake is therefore his skewed understanding of the economy. It led to the controversial de-pegging of the ringgit from the US dollar and the overnight closure of the CLOB share market trading in 1998 – two events that investors have still not forgiven Malaysia and Mahathir for.

Dictator syndrome

Mahathir’s ego and unconscious desire to be a dictator is his sixth mistake. He amended the constitution to weaken the Agong and the Sultans and then made sure that the law and enforcement bodies obeyed him. He sacked the Chief Justice Tun Salleh Abbas and closed both eyes when judges were openly bought by those who had money. It would be tough for Malaysians and their investors to fully trust the judiciary system again. This is why the Umno-BN has lost its integrity and the people their faith in the coalition. Malaysians will always distrust whatever Umno-BN does even if it may be well-intentioned.

Racist policies

To prevent the disintegration of his policies and his misdeeds from being exposed, Mahathir had to resort to his favorite racial politics. He had to convince the Malays that what he had done was necessary and in their interests. He kept for himself the great jewels and gave out the small chips so as to convince the Malays that the war against the other races was real. The non-Malays had to be kept back. Thus the budget allocations for places like BTN or the National Civics Bureau where Malay graduates and civil servants were openly taught to be suspicious of the other races.

But not all the Malays bought it. Such teachings were against Islam and also against universal values. The Malays were left confused, while the non-Malays totally sidelined. So being racist is Mahathir’s seventh mistake.

Corruption

If Mahathir and Umno have been successful in making sure Malaysia achieves developed nation status by 2020, why does the record show so many serious faults to date. There are only eight years to go but the economy is still in a shambles with the national debt soaring, racial and religious harmony in disarray, and the political situation worsening with Umno-BN now openly resorting to physical violence to stop the opposition from holding their rallies.

The education system is also leading nowhere, healthcare is getting worse and more expensive, the much-touted and corrupt 1Care already rejected before it can even come on-stream, law and order is still questionable, mismanagement and graft more entrenched than before in the Umno-BN government. Instant of all cylinders kicking in, and culminating into the realization of Vision 2020, Malaysia may go bankrupt instead. Not fighting corruption, but perpetuating it is Mahathir’s eighth mistake.

Meddling with the running of the country

The majority of the Malays are poor and still need government help despite 55 years of Umno “successes“ (read failures). The non-Malays have been patient enough and have given Umno enough chances. They have waited until the third generation after the nation’s independence in 1957 and they are now fed-up with Umno-BN. The same too is happening with the Malays. Those not in the direct line of the Umno gravy train, and this would be the great majority, are getting fed-up too. More have voted for the opposition and will continue to do so.

When Mahathir realized that things were turning sour, he handed over the baton to Abdullah Badawi, thinking that he could still control the running of the government by ‘remote control’. But when things were not carried out as he had wished, Mahathir forced an ouster and replaced Badawi with Najib. Granted, the disorganized Badawi was in no capacity to lead Malaysia but Najib is just as incapable too. All through, instead of giving a helping hand, Mahathir continued to meddle with the running of the country. Interfering with the running of the country and disallowing the current leaders to put in solutions that suit the era is Mahathir’s ninth mistake.

Causing trouble in Umno and pushing Mukhriz up the ladder

Yet Mahathir stubbornly refuses to accept or to admit to his mistakes. This is one man who refuses to face up to reality. He is not really interested in the welfare of Malaysians at all, not even the Malays or Umno. He only wants to save his face and to make sure that his son Mukhriz will become prime minister no matter what deals he has to execute with the current batch of Umno warlords to effect this.

Ruthless and completely selfish, Mahathir would think nothing of creating chaos just to fulfill that ambition. After all, he could de-register Umno just to stay in power. Imagine what he won’t dare to do to get Mukhriz in as Umno president. But it is this incessant interfering and trouble-making in Umno that will be his tenth and last mistake.

Mahathir will doom Umno, and in imploding, Umno will very likely take Mahathir down for the count.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Eyeing Najib's dilema with the author of Malay Dilema

Najib’s Political Battles Pose a Challenge to his Foreign Policy Agenda

By Murray Hiebert, (@MurrayHiebert1), Senior Fellow and Deputy Director, and Nigel Cory, Researcher, Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies (@SoutheastAsiaDC), CSIS
Challenges at home suggest Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak could face an uphill battle in pursuing his foreign policy goals in the year ahead. The long-simmering battle between Najib and former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has erupted into a public spat that must have Najib looking over his shoulder given Mahathir’s role in ousting his predecessor, Abdullah Badawi.
As a result Najib finds himself flanked on the right by Perkasa, the equivalent of the Tea Party within his ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO), and on the left by the opposition coalition led by former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. No move Najib makes will please all Malaysians, and perhaps not even many, in this constrained environment.
The public mudslinging between Najib and Mahathir could weaken and distract the prime minister even as 2015 presents opportunities for Malaysia to make its mark on the international stage. Malaysia’s ruling party generally hides internal conflict from public view. But the escalation in political maneuvering between two of the party’s key leaders has changed this dynamic.
Old corruption charges have been rehashed against Daim Zainuddin, an outspoken critic of Najib. Daim is an UMNO insider, financial powerbroker, and two-time finance minister under Mahathir. He is seen as a proxy for the former prime minister and, to real insiders, may even be the one pulling the strings on his former boss. The government-controlled media took the unusual step of covering the case against Daim in detail, which some interpreted as a coordinated political attack and which prompted proxies on both sides to take the fight to the Internet.
The split between Najib and Mahathir burst into the open when the latter, now 89, publicly withdrew his support for Najib in an August 2014 blog. Mahathir blamed Najib for the ruling coalition’s poor showing in the 2013 national elections, attacked him for his efforts in 2011 to abolish the draconian Internal Security Act, and criticized his earlier plans to scale back the affirmative action program that provides special privileges for the country’s Malay majority. On all these issues, Mahathir has strong support from UMNO’s most conservative wing.
The bitter dispute between the two men and their respective camps appears to have picked up in earnest after a dinner between them in December did not go well. A thorny issue reportedly discussed at the meeting was the sovereign fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd., which has been plagued by charges of mismanagement and corruption and is reportedly suffering from billions of ringgit in nonperforming loans. Najib is chair of the fund’s advisory board.
Mahathir retains significant public and political influence in Malaysia as an elder statesman, particularly among conservative Malays. His profile stems from enduring public popularity, especially among older members of society who are nostalgic about his 22 years in power. Mahathir’s political influence within UMNO has loomed large over his successors since he stepped down in 2003. He leveraged this influence to undermine and ultimately remove his anointed successor, Abdullah, in 2009. Then-deputy prime minister Najib stepped up to become prime minister. He most certainly sees the possibility of history repeating itself.
And Malaysia’s economy is not going to provide any respite for Najib. The sharp drop in oil prices has created some stiff headwinds for Malaysia’s economy. Oil and gas exports account for a fifth of the country’s exports and a third of government revenue. It was therefore little surprise that Najib on January 20 announced $1.5 billion in spending cuts and said Malaysia’s economic growth has been revised down from 6 percent to between 4.5 and 5.5 percent for 2015.
Under withering attacks from Mahathir and party conservatives, Najib has backed off many of his earlier political and economic reform plans. In recent months, his government has been criticized by the United States and human rights organizations for repeatedly using the colonial-era Sedition Act against critics. Anwar Ibrahim is awaiting a court verdict on another round of sodomy charges that could once again see him sent to prison. The verdict, expected in the next few weeks, would undoubtedly lead to further criticism from the international community.
Najib’s domestic challenges could pose risks for his foreign policy goals in 2015. This year is shaping up as an important one for Malaysia given its chairmanship of ASEAN and its non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. As ASEAN chair, Malaysia can be expected to play a key role in pressing the grouping to take steps to complete regional economic integration, keep tensions in the disputed South China Sea under control, and explore ways to bolster the role of the East Asia Summit.
Negotiators of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which Malaysia joined in 2010, are scrambling to complete the trade agreement by March. But for Malaysia to get to the finish line will require some tough decisions by Najib and his cabinet in such areas as state-owned enterprises, pharmaceuticals, and investor dispute mechanisms. Even before his latest broadsides against Najib, Mahathir, who oversaw Malaysia’s earlier transformation into an industrial powerhouse, had sharply criticized the TPP as an attempt by foreign powers to colonize Malaysia. Anwar and the opposition have also sought to foil Najib’s reform efforts.
The coming months could provide an opportunity for Malaysia and the United States to put more substance into the comprehensive partnership they announced last April when President Barack Obama visited Malaysia. But the visit marked only the beginning of the process, which requires more work by both sides to achieve deeper ties, including such things as stepped up cabinet-level exchanges, more military cooperation and intelligence sharing, and closer economic ties.
Najib’s golf outing with Obama in early January showed the depth of personal comradery between the two leaders, which could help them achieve greater depth to the comprehensive partnership before Obama visits again in November. However, the sharp criticism Najib received for golfing in Hawaii while parts of Malaysia faced terrible flooding highlights some of the challenges he could face in the months ahead as he seeks to deepen the country’s regional and global foreign policy opportunities.
The United States will need to make some tough decisions in the coming months about how to engage Najib and Malaysia. The country is a vital partner and a key to strengthening ASEAN. The White House will face pressure from various advocacy groups to limit or curtail engagement and there will be congressional pressure during the TPP approval process. The administration will have to step carefully but be guided by the strategic need to support political and economic reform in Malaysia. For his part, Najib will need to harden his resolve to pursue that reform.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Eyeing Liberalism - The Forgotten Spectrum Of Extremism In Islam by Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal Monday, December 22, 2014

Lately the mainstream media is awash with a campaign for Malaysians to be moderate. Led by the English-language media, the campaign received ‘a huge boost’ via a letter of support signed by the '25 eminent Malays', consisting largely of former high-ranking civil servants and diplomats.
On top of demanding a public debate on Shariah law vis-à-vis Federal Constitution, the 25 also aired anxiety on the rising 'bigotry' and 'extremism' which the English-based media tend to associate with, and blame,Malay and Islamic-based groups, such as UMNO, PAS, PERKASA and ISMA.
In the eyes of many self-professed 'Moderate Muslims' who proudly claim to uphold 'liberal' and 'democratic' values, such Malay and Islamic groups are regarded by them to be ‘right-wingers’ – an euphemism for extremists.
"Moderate, Liberal, Democratic, Bigot, Extremist," - these are all loaded terms that need to be unpacked with proper intellectual tools in order to adjudicate their claims justly.
To what extent the claims made by these eminent Malays valid; firstly, by professing themselves to be 'moderate Muslims' and secondly, their views on extremism which they contrasted themselves against?
Since the central focus here is about the religion of Islam, it is best for us to examine the sources from within Islam itself notably the Holy Quran and Prophetic tradition (hadith) to understand how Islam views moderation contra extremism.
Extremism as defined by Prophet Muhammad
Much has been spoken about the meaning of Wasatiyyah, an Arabo-Islamic technical term which often insufficiently rendered into English as 'moderation’.
Moderation as understood in English fails to do justice to the word Wasatiyyah which generally means "avoiding the excesses" in the English worldview.
Wasatiyyah is not only moderation but primarily it means 'to be just'. The proper definition of Wasatiyyah would be: “the middle point between the two extremities of excesses as well as deficiencies which reflects justice and wisdom based on the conditions stipulated in the Holy Quran and Prophetic traditions (hadith)” where justice is defined in Islam as "to put things in its proper places".
More often than not, the uninformed public regard extremism to be an act that go beyond the limit of an established norm of the majority or religious and moral truth. But this understanding is incomplete in Islamic viewpoint as it only explained the first half of extremism spectrum in Islam, which is the 'excesses' (tafrit/ghuluw). The often missing and forgotten dimension in today’s discourse on the spectrum of extremism in Islam is the part on 'deficiency' (ifrat/naqis).
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had stated very clearly in one of his hadith the kinds of extremism that will appear within Muslim communities:
"This Knowledge (i.e. Shariah) will be transmitted from every just successor (i.e. scholars of Islam) who will negate the distortions of the deviated, the plagiarism of the people on falsehood and the false interpretations of the ignoramuses”
Scholars of Islam – those who mastered the sources of Islam – have not limit the meaning of extremism to those whom Prophet stated above solely referring to the extremist Muslim militant groups like ISIS, Taliban and suicide bombers.
On the other hand Muslim who placed rationality above and beyond the limit stipulated by the scripture, or regards 'man as measure of all things' are deemed to be part of this ‘deficient’ extremist group within the fold of Islam.
The former has gained international fame due to their violent nature and anti-modern. Islam for them must be understood in rigid, literal and ossified manner. Muslim scholars have no qualm to label them as extremists on the ground of their excesses in fulfilling what they claimed to be God's command which in actual fact they distorted the commands with their own whims and desires.
But the latter form of Muslim extremism is not so easily distinguishable from the normal Muslims and rarely being scrutinized by the mainstream media because the values and principles they uphold are pretty much in tandem with the spirit of this era where secularism and liberal democratic values are regarded to be the apex of modern civilizations, bequeathed by Western colonial masters that once ruled the Muslim polities.
Call a spade, a spade
The mistake made by this group of ‘Moderate Muslim’ is that their proposal, either intentionally and unintentionally – will alter and retrofit Islam according to the mould of
Western modernity; not the other way round as how it usually transpired in the history of Islamic civilizations.
In the past, Muslims appropriated the best values and cultures from other non-Islamic civilisations like Greek and Persian into the fold of Islam without harming its conceptual integrity and cardinal principles.
By adopting everything from the West in toto and uncritical manner, it reflects an extremism of a deficiency-kind because such thinking will definitely dilute the cores of Islam that are already and firmly established within Muslim communities.
It is impossible for Islam to undergo changes or reform just for the sake to be accepted within the fold of modern contemporary zeitgeist like how Christianity has evolved in the West.
The letter penned by the ‘Moderate Muslims’ suggested that Syariah (Islamic life-system) must be scrutinized based on the principles of liberal democracy by further subsuming it under the common law that many Muslims scholars totally disagreed as Syariah must be sovereign as it claims to reflect divine justice, far exalted than man-made positive law.
Such letter drew many criticisms from many Muslim scholars and religious authorities as they regarded the content of the letter that embodies a reformation spirit that has gone off tangent. Instead of strengthening and upholding Syariah, the letter is replete with unsubstantiated claims, laced with skepticism, and prejudice on the status of Syariah law in Malaysia.
In actual truth, this whole discourse of being moderate is very much skewed and champion by marginal, urban Malay figures and personalities who derived their supports from the urban constituencies and ill-informed non-Muslims. They generally cherished Western culture and values and have lost touch with their own intellectual Islamic tradition.
This is a common tragedy in Muslim world today. The failure of the excessive, rigid and ossified Muslims in negotiating their way through the current of modernity is no better than Muslims who are so liberal, and deficient in their understandings of Islam.
Both have compromised the conceptual integrities of Islam and experienced confusion and error in knowledge. They both misunderstood and reduced Islam merely as a collection of injunctions and law that is devoid of moral, intellectual and spiritual cores.
Learned Muslims who understand the centrality and primacy of Syariah know very well such debate and discussions are not meant for laity. As stated in the Holy Qur'an, "only those who are deeply rooted in knowledge (i.e. Syariah)" are able to deal with the intricacies of the subject at hand and they are the Muslim scholars, specifically the Islamic legal philosophers and thinkers (fuqaha').
It is not the proposition of the letter that has invited great suspicions from Malay and Muslims at larger rather the brazen and callous manner it was argued against Syariah that many perceived them to be a clandestine extremism of liberal and deficient kind hidden within the moderation garb.
Make no mistake on the seriousness of Muslims at large in demanding Syariah to be reinstated back to the center of the political system in Muslim-majority countries. In 2013 Pew Research Center survey found out 86% of Muslims in Malaysia favoured in making Syariah as the country’s official law, no longer restricted to family and marital matters.
This undying request still echoes the spirit that was vividly captured by a British educationist, R.J Wilkinson during the colonial period: “There can be no doubt the Muslim Law would have ended by becoming the law of Malaya had not British law stepped in to check it.”
Muslims at large must know that such deficiency is a form of religious liberalism that is condemned in Islam. Like it distant opposite of excesses, it too fails to strike the sweet spot of justice as demanded by the word Wasatiyyah.
*The author is a fellow at Putra Business School, Universiti Putra Malaysia

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Eyeing YBM Tengku Razaleigh's letter to the members of Parliament


Letter to Members of Parliament

Y.B. Member of Parliament.
Y.B. Tuan,

With the utmost respect to you as responsible Members of Parliament duty-bound to serve the interest of our beloved Malaysian people, I am writing to you about some critical economic issues besetting our country today, affecting the rakyat and impacting on our future generations. Avoiding the “business-as-usual” debate on the 2015 Budget tabled by the Government now on-going in the august House, I choose this route in order to underline the seriousness of the matters involved. The negative impact of the current Budget proposals, I believe, will most immediately be felt by our middle-class, recent graduates, first time employees and the poorer income groups.  While endorsing the “people economy”, the Budget 2015 does not seem to give them priority over the “capital economy”.

2. From the current perspective, we can only see that the nation is moving headlong in the wrong direction, that current economic trends are not sustainable, which, if not corrected, will lead to a crisis, which we can ill afford, sooner than we can safely anticipate, nor can we get out of it without much hardship to our ordinary citizens. Such a crisis will threaten the future peace, prosperity and security of our nation.

3. The 2015 Budget projects that GDP growth rate next year will likely be around five to six per cent, which is thought  to be sufficient as envisaged in the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) to push the country forward to achieve developed status by 2020. This forecast may be overly optimistic given the current global economic threats and our own model of growth that depends so much on our external markets and the optimism of foreign interests in our economy. As noted in the 2015 Economic Report, the downside risks are at higher odds that may impel an economic shock through our body politic.  More importantly, these figures conceal some forewarnings that are not highlighted.  I think the Government has been ignoring these signals towards a global economic reset, begun with the 2008 subprime crisis in the US and sovereign debt issues in the Eurozone, which is now shifting its focus to Asia with the slowing down of the Chinese economy and the Modi government’s recharging of the Indian economy. While rocking all boats, only those prepared with anticipatory reforms will be able to weather the incoming storm.

4. In terms of government fiscal management, the tipping point, induced by an external economic collapse such as a crash of the US Dollar or a debt default by 1MDB, would throw our financial sustainability into a spin. The rule of thumb for sustainability (whether it can be funded by current output together with net foreign inflow) for any given year is that the sum of government debt (in 2014 around RM41billion) plus outstanding loans of commercial banks and households (now totaling RM1,273 billion) - making up to RM1,314 billion - must NOT be more than five times the sum of government revenues (that is, 5xRM225b=RM1,125 billion).  Clearly this rule of thumb has been breached!

5. A good part of this deficit and the national debt overhang arises on the operating budget side from tax expenditures to support consumption to achieve growth, for example through the BRIM awards, and to finance the public wage, subsidies and pension obligations. This consumption-based expenditure, together with the high energy and food subsidies given to industry and the public to sustain aggregate demand, is itself not sustainable. This type of expenditure to boost the economy does not add to the capacity building through investment that is necessary to enhance future economic growth.  But the Government still persists over the last five years in driving a consumption-based pump-priming to compensate for the weakening growth fundamentals on the revenue side, including exports. I believe it is more fruitful to provide allocations for the growth of the agricultural sector to enhance food security and stop foreign exchange outflow through the import of food. This is more beneficial in the effort to support the cost of living of the masses in times of economic emergencies.

6. The problem with our public finance is not so much on the revenue side, but on the expenditure side. The increase in public sector fixed overhead costs cannot for instance be at the expense of development expenditure, especially when so much more is needed to bring up the economic status of Sabah and Sarawak in terms of social infrastructure and basic amenities compared to the Peninsular states. The share of the latter expenditure has been decreasing as the operating budget increases, from in excess of 30 per cent a decade ago to about 15 per cent of the total budget proposed for 2015. With the Auditor-General exposing wastage, profligate spending, unaccountable losses, and sheer incompetence and intransigent corruption, both petty and in high places, we are excused from any restraint to express our anger and intolerance as taxpayers and ordinary citizens at the current state of affairs.  There are efficiencies that can be had to enable cutting back on the secularly rising operating budget over the years.  I would have recommended that an Auditor-General office be established in every ministry and government agency to ensure necessary compliance and accountability in public spending. An Office of Ombudsman answerable to Parliament should also be established on the executive side besides the Public Accounts Committee of parliament. At the same time, we need to control and eliminate corruption by strengthening the Financial Procedure Act through its revision and amendment.

7. The rising cost of living is the most urgent issue in the economy.  The raft of knock-on price increases subsequently in transport, electricity and food items etc. act to increase the build-up of pressure on the cost of living now facing the people. The issue of the rising cost of living affects everybody, but impacts the middle and lower income classes more than others. The main causes of rising prices are insufficient supplies to meet rising demands. Hence more could be done to liberalize the economy. We must monitor the cost of electricity to ensure its affordability among the people. The same goes for road toll charges. It must be reviewed to ensure that unavoidable cost increases must be reasonable. If a road toll cannot be avoided, then the government must finds ways not to burden the people. More licenses, less quotas, a greater ease of doing business especially for small and medium businesses and traders, should be considered.

8. The cost of housing has been rising in major urban centres, and house prices have been accelerating due to demands engendered by foreign and local investors, not just for higher-end properties but also the lower cost categories.  Affordable housing, even with the 1Malaysia Prima Homes Plan, is currently beyond the reach of fresh graduates and the lower middle class who are facing the spectre of unemployment or low wage employment and heavy debt. In this regard, I would like to see the government, through Bank Negara, reviewing the private housing loan programme of commercial banks for houses below RM250,000 which should be based on service charge rather than on compound interest.

9. Next year’s implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), although having a one-time impact and is then dissipated through the rest of the economy, is bound to add to this pressure on living costs.  In order to ease the rising burden on the rakyat, I would like to propose that the implementation of the GST be postponed until the economy is consolidated and strengthened. It is hoped that our economy would enjoy a rapid and a long-term high growth. Should there still be a need to implement the GST, it is hoped that the rates will be recalculated.

10. Beyond that macro-picture, I am seriously concerned about the high personal and household debts that are reaching critical levels, now in excess of 87 per cent of GDP, due to housing mortgages and car loans, study loans, credit card and personal (through Ar-Rahnu or Ah-Long) consumption charges that are pushing debt repayment ratios close to 30 – 40 per cent of household incomes. This situation has led to the acceleration of personal bankruptcies and mental pressures on families, and is not sustainable in the best of times, what more in an economic crisis. Yet, while it is most needed now, along with unemployment insurance, the government has been tardy in amending the bankruptcy laws and provisions, and the enhancement of other safety nets such as for medical expenses.

11. In as far as bankruptcies are concerned, it is worthwhile for the government to limit the bankruptcy period to, say, 12 months. This will ease the pressure against the bankrupt apart from sparing him the embarrassment of his situation. In striving for equity, the loan providing institution should provide a breather through moratoriums meant to postpone the application of the provision of the bankruptcy law while the borrower makes the effort to repay the loan. This would certainly be helpful to families with limited excess savings when they face unexpected emergencies. It should be noted that many government pensioners and private sector retirees are hard put in making ends meet now in the effort to face the ever-rising cost of living on their limited pensions and EPF savings.

12. Corruption itself adds to the cost of living and is a burden to all. When development projects, big or small, have a political mark-up imposed on contract awards and taken up front, little much is left to contractor profit margins that can only be charged to end-users, that is the taxpayers and consumers. To quote a columnist recently, the insufficient checks and balances continue to dog the country’s economy, thus leading to increasing concentration of power within the executive branch and persistence in rent-seeking behaviour, patronage politics, opaque governance practices and pervasive corruption.  Is it any wonder then that Malaysia is perceived as among the world’s worst countries on integrity?

13. Besides corruption, we also need to be vigilant against the occurrence of any and all forms of economic sabotage to the detriment of our national resources and wealth to benefit our future generations. It is for this reason of instituting checks and balance that reforms of the Official Secrets Act and the Universities and University Colleges Act, a freer press, and a freedom of information legislation are required. The restoration of the reputation of the courts and the enforcement agencies, including independence and enhanced power of the anti-corruption agency, SPRM, must be set in train if we are serious about tackling this cancer in our political system, bureaucracy and society in general.  Even the Standing Orders of Parliament and the structure of the Senate may have to be reformed in order to respectively allow for private members bills and greater independent representation of the states in our system of fiscal federalism.

14. Worse, whether it is a consequence of government policies or not, the distribution of wealth in the country, as expected, is extremely skewed. The wealth of Malaysia’s top 10 per cent exceeds those of the bottom 70per cent, and about 12 per cent of Malaysian households have no wealth at all. In fact, the wealth of the top one per cent, in 2012, is much higher than the whole of the bottom 40 per cent combined.

15. The government’s position as reflected in the Budget address is to divide the country into two economies: the capital economy and the people economy.  The latter refers to the world of capital, enterprise and big investment, while the latter consistent with the New Economic Model refers to the bottom 40% of households in terms of income distribution.  This is an unfortunate even dangerous classification.  To solve the issue of inequality and achieve social justice in a rich and favoured nation such as ours requires treatment of all classes of stakeholders in the nation.  Economic growth must involve and benefit all, not through distinctions of capital and work.

16. The status of inequality and imbalance, and the issue of fairness in economic benefit remain the main faultline in our society.  These economic cleavages tend and can lead to dissatisfactions among the communities and the breakdown of social cohesion built over the decades of our now maturing nation.  They take on emotional overtones and extremism, and have led to racial envy and biases and prejudice that undermine the underlying and potentially unifying values of our ethnic diversity. In view of the issue being closely linked to economic activities, I would like to suggest that the government and relevant agencies draw up policies favouring local contractors and suppliers, including those from Sabah and Sarawak, in the awards of contracts, both major and minor.

17. Going forward, the challenge of achieving a high-income economy is our ability to create quality and high-paying jobs, especially for new entrants into the labour force who have higher post-secondary and tertiary qualifications; not the low paying jobs that are now being filled by foreign workers in plantations, construction business and assembly-based manufacturing. Shifting to a service-oriented economy may be part of the answer to this economic restructuring, but we cannot abandon higher-valued manufacturing altogether while maintaining our industrial competitiveness by importing such foreign labour to keep our unit labour costs down. Longer term sustainability of economic growth requires the enhancement of the knowledge content of our manufacturing and service industries, which require innovation, technology and new entrepreneurship. This will increase productivity which, in turn, will raise wages and salaries. This involves not just the up-skilling of our labour force, but also the provision of correct incentives and institutions to support such value-added growth. I wonder whether the New Economic Model is sufficiently geared towards the above tasks.

18. Achieving social justice and fairness is where the work of economic reform is most important and most urgent.  These involve reform of the tax system in its separate treatment of capital and labour, the handling of labour market discrimination in the public and private sector, policies that improve the wage share of gross national income, and practices that achieve equality of opportunities and outcomes. Moving to a higher wage regime and away from a cheap labour policy involving guest workers in order to maintain our competitiveness is not an insurmountable task. This is so because data show that productivity, especially in the manufacturing sector, has been rising steadily over the years, but the wage-productivity gap has also been widening. As an immediate remedy, on top of the minimum wage law, I would suggest that a productivity-indexed bonus system be implemented by both the government and private sector employers. This is one of the more critical issues if the goal of inclusive development for Malaysia is to be achieved.

19. In spite of criticisms in the House, civil society and the media, especially social media, the Government leadership has continued to ride over these critical faultlines in our economy in the proverbial “three-monkeys” fashion, pushing through a “roll-over” budget that routinely moves the tough questions that need to be addressed immediately further down the road to the next budget and five-year plan.  The critical issues involved are of a structural nature not easily tackled via routine annual provisions.

20. I would submit that the national task to address the economic faultlines above will require new and bold ideas. These ideas need to be implemented over the next five to 10 years with supporting institutional reforms to reset the nation on the right path as promised by our founding fathers. These reforms require considerable political will to put them into effect; they cannot be undertaken piecemeal.

21. I am afraid for our economic situation. In truth we urgently need comprehensive economic reforms and institutional adjustment for resetting the economy in order to put our people out of harm’s way.

22. The people expect bold changes and even bolder leadership. We certainly cannot deny them the answers to their concerns and aspirations. Leaders should be more sensitive to the demands and feeling of grass roots. We must always be concerned about their worries and aspirations. The reality is that there is a need for change now; otherwise, as a nation, we are doomed to the status of a failed state.  This is what we have to answer for to our future generations.

23. You may think that I am a pessimist. No, I am not. I am a passionate believer in the capacity and capability of our people and especially of our youth who are going to inherit this beloved country, lead it to the global stage and sit hand in glove with countries of the first world. This, then, is the challenge before us and I know we can rise to it tackle it with our collective wisdom.

Thank you.

Yours truly,

(Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah)
Member of Parliament Gua Musang