Sunday, November 3, 2013

Eyeing Shamsul Akmar's thoughts on UMNO and the way forward

Naim speaking at the General Assembly (archive photo)

REASON TO FIGHT: The party has to find its commonality

AN easy way for anti-Malay and Bumiputera elements  to couch their racist intent is by directing their vitriol at Umno.
In doing so, they insist that their hatred and anger are not against Malays or Bumiputeras but the supporters, members and leaders of the political party.
Never mind the fact that Umno's raison d'etre is based on a Malay and Bumiputera agenda and that its struggle is defined as such.
This is something that cannot be said of its rival Pas, which insists that a struggle based on race is un-Islamic.
And that Umno -- based on the general election results, dominated more than half of the Malay seats contested and votes cast -- reaffirmed the fact that it represented the Malay and Bumiputera majority.
This fact is affirmed when it is widely accepted that the majority of Chinese voted for the opposition, meaning whatever Umno and its coalition partners secured in the polls were courtesy of Malay and Bumiputera support.
Umno's predicament is compounded when its partners, such as MCA and Gerakan, instead of being grateful that it was the Umno grassroots that had carried their candidates through, had chosen to blame Umno for their existence.
Then there are Malays and Bumiputeras who are opposed to anything associated with Umno and they became the poster boys of the racist elements.
These elements are, however, not new. These elements have been there since Umno's existence, and their presence moves with the ebb and flow of Umno's political fortunes.
What is more pressing for Umno is the elements within the party. The elements that want Umno to be redefined believe it is the only way for the party to remain relevant and to move forward.
Terms such as new politics, liberal and progressive agenda, bandied alongside the "sanctioned" transformation intent, have added new dimensions to the debate on where Umno is headed.
The advocate of this new politics, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, was doubly vanquished, first in the general election when he failed to defend his Temerloh seat and then losing in the contest for an Umno supreme council seat.
Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin associated his victory in defending his post as an endorsement of the liberal and progressive movement.
Khairy's pronouncement received a rebuke from a commentator of a blog, who goes by the pseudonym Ramayana, who questioned what the Youth chief meant by "liberal and progressive".
To the commentator, going by the popular notion of the term, a "liberal and progressive" agenda was something associated with PKR, and if that was what voters wanted, they would have voted for PKR and not Umno.
Another issue he raised was the fact that Umno was a centrist party. Extremism and hardliners have always been the realm of Pas and DAP.
The points shared by the commentator are interesting, regardless of whether they were used to debunk Khairy's contentions or otherwise, as they brought up the issue of Umno's current identity, or the lack of one.
While it is not an exercise to pigeonhole any of the Malay or Bumiputera political parties, the general perception is that Pas, despite its attempt to redefine itself, is viewed as a conservative religious-centric party with a tendency towards extremist outbursts.
PKR, though styling itself as a multiracial entity, is still viewed by Malay or Bumiputeras as too liberal for their taste.
Hence, Umno's centrist and pragmatic agenda continued to appeal to the community, as shown during the recent election.
This affirms another popular notion, that the reason many Malays and Bumiputeras voted for Umno was not because of the love for the party, but for their fear of DAP and PKR taking Umno's place as the nation's government.
The fear they felt towards these two parties stemmed from the perception that the former was opposed to the Malay or Bumiputera agenda while the latter's liberal ways would diminish the Malay or Bumiputera value system.
This notion is not complimentary to Umno, as its victory becomes one by default.
However, if given a different take on the matter, no matter how useless Umno has become, it is, to the majority of Bumiputeras, still better than the alternatives.
But surely winning by default is living dangerously, hence, the need to define itself becomes more pressing for Umno.
It has to ask itself whether it truly wants to struggle for the Malay or Bumiputera agenda, as it is currently understood by a specific cross-section of the populace.
It is not an uncompromising stance, but an affirmation of its struggles, and its pragmatism balances with this pursuit.
Or it can take the populist route, regurgitating oft-repeated political phrases that sound progressive, and be hip and turn into a Malay or Bumiputera apologist when unable to articulate what its agenda is because its heart is not in it.
The bottom line is, would the recently elected or re-elected Umno leadership believe in the Malay or Bumiputera agenda, and that they are in it to fight for their agama, bangsa dan tanahair (religion, race and nation), apart from whatever else that may have distracted them?
It has been Umno's raison d'etre, and its electorate expects it to continue living it. It may not sound too hip, but it does make Umno the real McCoy

Read more: Centrist Umno central to party strength - Columnist - New Straits Times

Eyeing Datuk Ahmad A Talib's thoughts on his friends during Deepavali

DOWN MEMORY LANE: Back in the day, our ethnic background and class in society had no effect on our relationships

IT'S Deepavali again. Yesterday, Hindus celebrated this festival with much merriment and joy, not to mention the usual fare of mutton, chicken curry and muruku.
Belated greetings to all Hindu friends, old and new, near and far. I hope all of you had a meaningful day yesterday. Deepavali is a time for friendship and devotion, for family togetherness.
I remember Deepavali as a time when friends would gather and visit each other from early morning. My childhood in the late 1950s and early 1960s was spent in Bangsar with Indian friends whose fathers either worked for Keretapi Tanah Melayu or the Central Electricity Board.
Those were carefree days, open and innocent. Maniam, a driver with the CEB, now Tenaga Nasional, would switch on his radio at full blast from as early as 5am to set the tone for the day.
Being my next-door neighbour at the CEB "down" quarters, Maniam would send his son Apu to my house with muruku and other goodies well before sunrise. This went on for years until his tragic death in the 1960s.
Another friend, Muthukaruppan, would gather other friends and we would then raid house after house searching for Green Spot, a bottled carbonated drink. Green Spot was a popular brand in those days, the other being F&N's ice-cream soda.
The name "down" quarters was derived from the fact that most of the people there worked as labourers. Just across Jalan Pantai, where the TNB headquarters is, was called the "up" quarters. It was where technicians, clerks and office workers stayed.
Class distinction was quite obvious in those days, but as children, none of us took notice of this. Children from the "down" quarters played better football than the "up" quarters boys. But the "up" quarters always won at hockey while those from the "down" quarters learned how to play cricket. Of course, they always won at hockey because they practised with actual hockey sticks. My teammates practised using makeshift hockey sticks and most couldn't play in actual games using borrowed sticks.
But there were no barriers between us. Our parents never discouraged us from mixing with each other, despite the distinction in class. Neither were we discouraged from spending nights in each other's houses, given the racial mix then.
My Hindu friends were always welcome to spend the night in my quarters and vice-versa. I remember being fed warm milk when it was my turn to sleep in one of my Hindu friend's quarters.
Unlike today, where racial difference is upon us from every corner. There seems to be growing racial polarisation now and they seem to start at an early age, too. Is it politics? Religion? The neighbourhood?
In the early 1970s, my friends and I never made an issue of each other's ethnic background. Sunderaj, a dear friend who has since departed, would bring his motorbike from Brickfields to fetch me in Jalan Lornie (now Jalan Syed Putra) to go to his house for Deepavali breakfast. Waiting there would be Puvi, who, by then, had sold his motorbike and bought a Mini Clubman, the iconic British two-door car. It was in Puvi's car that the three of us would drive to Puchong to Mr Singam's house for mutton curry and fried chicken.
For Tony and other like-minded guests, Mr Singam would serve his potent toddy, an annual offering without which Deepavali would be deemed incomplete.
We had our differences, of course. But they were openly discussed and always ended with handshakes and a race to the Dungeon, a famous pub located where the Sogo shopping complex is now. The more adventurous among us would make a beeline for Kowloon Hotel, for some serious night clubbing. We called each other names, too, then. But never with malice and always with fun and mutual respect. It was only when Anchor beer took control of their senses did we end up with a black eye. Sometimes, that is.
If we are not careful, racial polarisation among us will get worse and threaten the nation. Back then, we were able to differentiate between politics and friendship. Politics seldom got in the way of friendship in those days.
Happy Deepavali Puvi, Kamal, Apu, Tony, Dash, Vani, Ragu, Ravi and all those dear friends whom I can't possibly list here. If we all can teach our children the value of true friendship, regardless of race, creed, colour and faiths, we should be able to stem the tide of racial polarisation in our country.

Read more: Deepavali brings friends together - Columnist - New Straits Times

Eyeing Tan Sri Sulaiman Mahbod's take on the GST

BETTER ALTERNATIVE: In hindsight, Malaysia should have implemented GST earlier

SOME say  the 2014 Budget is one that is in keeping with the 13th General Election promises made in May this year. Some had issue with the proposed goods and services tax (GST), saying it would lead to inflation, while others questioned the rationale of increasing the Real Property Gains Tax (RPGT).
As they say, "uneasy lies the head that wears the crown". Whatever you do, someone will find a reason or reasons to criticise it. It's like saying hell if you do and hell if you don't.
The pressure for the government to seek new sources of revenue is understandable. The nation has moved away from taxing trade towards taxing income. Taxing income is a tax on effort and work. Nations in the region have reduced their tax rates on income to attract investments and talents. The alternative is, naturally, to tax consumption, which constitutes a bigger share (50-60 per cent) of the aggregate demand. A broad-based consumption tax, such as GST, has an inherent advantage. If a resident consumes, he is taxed. If he does not and saves, the nation can tap the savings for development purposes.
Malaysia will do away with its sales tax at a rate of 10 per cent on introducing the GST at a rate of six per cent in 2015. This is a logical move. Sales tax is based on the price of goods, irrespective of value addition and is therefore arbitrary. With our practice on giving exemptions, the government will have to entertain lots of applications for exemption and this is inefficient. Furthermore, sales tax is levied at every level of transaction and therefore, has a cascading effect and will result in higher prices.
GST is levied on value addition, which is a smaller component of the product price. The tax, therefore, is a smaller component of the final price. It does not cascade with other transactions.
People may want to know whether GST will lead to a price increase. By itself, it will. If it does, then it will only be at the point of introduction and no more. If the price increase persists in the second year and thereafter, this is caused by reasons other than GST, such as unfair trade practices and market imperfections.
The net effect on price initially will be between the impact of introducing GST and the withdrawal of sales tax. If we have a fair trade enactment, such unfair trade practices can be addressed through such law.
The government will collect more revenue from GST because of its broad base, notwithstanding the exemptions or zero-rating on goods such as fresh food, rice, cooking oil, coffee and sugar, as well as public transport, education and health.
We do not put GST on exports to ensure our exports remain competitive. Others do not practice this either.
On looking back, we should have implemented this tax earlier. Previous administrations did not do it to avoid possible backlash on the party in power. To be fair, it did in some other countries. The Malaysian voting pattern in the last two general elections, which resulted in some erosion of control by the party in power, were not at all associated with the suggestion of new taxes. It is because of other reasons, politically motivated reasons. Thus, this move for GST is right. It is also timely to mount GST now as inflation is under control.
A slight increase in consumer prices arising from GST is tolerable. Malaysians have seen significant increases in prices before, such as oil price and food price hikes, rice to be exact, in 2008.
The action of the government to introduce GST is not peculiar. Others have done so earlier. Our neighbours, Thailand and Singapore, and even Cambodia, have GST. Of course, developed countries have implemented it much earlier, such as in the United Kingdom and Australia.
Mounting the tax with other measures, namely, to do away with sales tax which is arbitrary and inefficient, and reducing income tax by one and three per cent, as well as terminating the sugar subsidy, is a strategic move aimed at improving our fiscal system amidst a stubborn deficit situation and pressing demand to raise revenue to finance social development projects.
Hence, this particular budget and its proposals are a step in efforts to strengthen government finances in the long run while putting in place initiatives that send a serious message that rationalising subsidies may be another option in the years to come.
We hope the budget, after equally giving support for the low-income citizens (BRIM, for one), will be well received by the majority of the population.
The 2014 budget, on balance, is well conceived. It, however, needs its philosophy and objectives need to be explained to the public better to get a buy-in from our society.

Read more: Less taxing to tax consumption - Columnist - New Straits Times

GST to result in poor paying less sales tax:

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysians need to understand that the Goods and Services Tax (GST) that is likely to be implemented in 2015 is a modified version, with the inclusion of a zero rate and exempt items, as well as a sales threshold, as found in most countries.

Former professor of Applied Economics and Dean of Faculty of Economics and Administration, Universiti of Malaya Tan Sri Dr Fong Chan Onn explained, the modified GST that is to be adopted by Malaysia will allow for some 40 basic food necessities to be listed as zero tax items, including rice, sugar, milk powder and flour, while essential services, such as healthcare, may be classified as tax-exempt.     
"At a personal level, through the modified GST the public can decide for themselves whether to pay consumption taxes when dining out or avoid tax payments by preparing their own meals with essential items that are exempt from the GST," he told Bernama here.
The GST will replace the 16 per cent sales and services tax (SST) now levied on certain goods and services, such as food and beverages in restaurants and hotel services.     Presently, much of the public does not realise that even those who are not required to pay income tax still pay sales taxes and service taxes on goods and services they consume through the SST. 
This is because most consumers are not aware that the tax has been embedded in the price of goods and services sold by retailers.
That is why some economists point out that since most items are already being taxed under SST, the transition from SST to GST will ease the burden on the poor, as some items they purchase would become zero tax items.
In principle, GST is supposedly a regressive tax, since it is imposed on all goods and services produced in the country, including imports.
However, as explained by Deputy Head of the School of Business, Monash University of Malaysia Prof Jeyapalan Kasipillai, there are ways to mitigate the tax burden faced by middle and lower income groups, as well as small businesses.    
"Essential supplies of over 40 items would be either zero-rated or exempted, and such a move would be favourable to the broader community, particularly the lower income groups," he wrote in an article published in a local newspaper on Oct 19.     Zero-rated goods and services are those items that have no tax charged to consumers, which means the consumer will pay GST at the rate of zero per cent.     He said based on the data compiled from the Household Expenditure survey (HES), which collates information on levels and trends of consumption expenditures by households on a wide range of goods and services, the finding suggest that GST can be fairly progressive.
Some analysts have predicted that the new tax is likely to start at four per cent, and may later rise to six per cent.     
Malaysia is among the last ASEAN countries, together with Myanmar and Brunei, that has not implemented the GST. Indonesia introduced the GST in 1985, Thailand in 1992 and Singapore in 1994.     Dr Fong also explained that GST, a broad-based consumption tax or value added tax, is part of the fiscal reforms undertaken by the government to reduce deficits and achieve a balanced budget by 2020.     This would serve as more broad-based revenue collection system that will greatly expand the number of taxpayers as the fairest method of taxing the general public. 
Currently, only 1.7 million of the country's 29 million citizens pay income tax.     With GST in place, there is no doubt that there will be differences in how Malaysians spend. First, they will be calculating the tax, then evaluating it as to whether a purchase is worthwhile. 
Then, if consumers do not feel the purchase is needed at the price asked, they will either seek a less expensive alternative or choose not to continue with the purchase.    -- BERNAMA

Read more: 2014 Budget :GST to result in poor paying less sales tax: Expert - Latest - New Straits Times

Eyeing Dato A Jalil Hamid's take on Mukhriz and the Sungai Limau By Election

BY-ELECTION: The battle for Sungai Limau can be won by solving bread-and-butter issues

DATUK Mukhriz Mahathir once told this paper that his vision as Kedah menteri besar was to bring down the poverty rate in the state to zero from three per cent currently.
"This has compelled me to work hard to develop Kedah," he said matter-of-factly.
Even before he came into office in May, the youngest child of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has had his plate full, from the general election to the Umno election, and now, the Sungai Limau by-election.
Tomorrow's by-election is yet another test, some say even a referendum, on Mukhriz and his new team, in running the country's rice bowl.
The 49-year-old has helped steer Barisan Nasional into winning back Kedah from Pakatan Rakyat, came close to winning an Umno vice-president's seat and is now engaged in the tough battle for the Sungai Limau seat, held since 1995 by his predecessor, the late Tan Sri Azizan Abdul Razak of Pas.
This is not to mention other pressing issues which he has to deal with. These include managing the RM3 billion Federal Government loans that were raised by the previous Pas administration and the touchy issue involving Kolej Universiti Insaniah (KUIN), another of Pas' legacies.
These days, the new menteri besar sleeps just four hours a night, according to one account.
Eradicating poverty in the state is something close to his heart. He is drawing up a comprehensive plan to transform Kedah by boosting economic growth and raising the people's incomes.
Last month, he conducted a laboratory comprising experts on how to move the transformation agenda forward. The release of the full conclusion of the lab has been delayed until after the by-election.
Eliminating hard-core poverty will be an uphill task for Mukhriz and his administration. Most people, including those in Sungai Limau, rely on padi farming or fishing for their livelihoods.
The battle for Sungai Limau is dominated by bread-and-butter issues. The constituency is predominantly a rice-farming community. There are hardly any factories to provide jobs for school-leavers. Some houses are still dilapidated and some are without basic water supply or sanitation.
Many blamed Pas (the seat was held by Tan Sri Azizan for five terms) for the plight of the poor because much Federal Government assistance was constrained by Pas' brand of politics.
Apparently, Pas supporters were discouraged from seeking Federal Government assistance. Those who sought help were ridiculed by their grassroots leaders.
Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and other BN leaders have promised to bring in much needed development to Sungai Limau to help address the prolonged state of neglect of the area by Pas.
During one of his campaign rounds in Sungai Limau on Friday, Mukhriz witnessed the supply of piped water to the home of Embun Man, a 78-year-old senior citizen who lives in a small house in Sungai Dedap.
Basic needs such as water, electricity, medical care, roads, food, shelter and education should be high on Mukhriz's agenda to transform Kedah's rural society.
Rural folk formed the foundation of BN's strength in the last general election. Efforts should be made to ensure that the rural heartland is not sidelined or marginalised at the expense of the urban electorate.
As far as Kedah's development is concerned, it should accelerate efforts to modernise farming, introduce high-yielding rice varieties, boost oil palm cultivation and downstream activities, encourage better fishing methods, including deep-sea fishing, and promote value-added agro-based industries.
The state should work on its economic model that complements its inherent strengths rather than try to emulate other states.
Kedah is already a major player in tourism through Langkawi. But other than job opportunities, there is not much revenue coming into the state coffers through it.
One industry that Mukhriz and his predecessors have been toying with is the crude oil-refining industry, which is earmarked for the district of Yan on the coast of Kedah. The project, which is supposed to be driven by private investors, has yet to materialise.
The outcome of the Sungai Limau by-election should inspire Mukhriz and his team to work harder to win the hearts and minds, not just of rural voters, but of Kedahans in general.
Expectations are running high that the BN government will be able to make a big difference in their lives.

Read more: Mukhriz bowls over Kedah with tenacity - Columnist - New Straits Times

Eyeing Christiane Amanpour's interview with PM Dato Sri Najib Tun Razak

COMMITTED: It's all about having a long-term vision for the country, Najib tells CNN

KUALA LUMPUR:   DESPITE receiving criticism from  conservative groups, Malaysia's efforts to promote moderation and reforms will not be derailed, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
The government, he said, was committed to moderation and his priority was to ensure peace and harmony in the country.
"It's all about having a long-term vision for the country and we are committed to that," he said in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour on the programme Amanpour aired on Friday.
However, to achieve the country's long-term goals, Najib said there would be "some growing pains along the way".
"And if you want long-term stability, you must make sure that the majority of the people are not marginalised.
"Having said that, we do cater as well, in a very inclusive way, for minorities.
"For example, in my budget speech, I addressed the concerns of Indian Malaysians. We are not racist at all," he said when asked about pressures that he faced in the country, apparently forcing him to make U-turns on reforms that he had introduced.
Amanpour had asked Najib on the government's efforts to reform and to drive moderation in Malaysia, under pressure from conservatives who were trying to undo them.
Najib said with the mandate he had secured from the people in the 13th General Election and in the Umno party election, he was optimistic of being able to continue the reforms and deliver Malaysia as an advanced economy by 2020.
"I believe we will achieve our goals. In every country, there will be people representing the whole breadth of the political spectrum," he said, citing the conservative Tea Party movement wreaking havoc on the political process in the United States.
"But, fortunately, we don't have to go to that extent in Malaysia. We have people who are more conservative in their views and some who are more concerned about the ethnic balance in Malaysia."
Najib rebutted allegations from critics that Barisan Nasional was involved in fraud and vote-rigging during the last general election, saying he had made fundamental changes to the country since he took office in 2009.
"By and large, the allegations were unfounded. They've not been able to prove anything.
"For example, they alleged that we brought in 40,000 from Bangladesh to vote in the last election. And since the last election, they've not been able to produce any evidence of that."
He said Malaysia had climbed to sixth place in the world in the World Bank 2014 Doing Business Report, a leap from 12th last year.
"That speaks volumes of the reforms that we are doing in Malaysia."
On the cancellation of United States President Barack Obama's trip to Malaysia last month because of the US government shutdown, Najib said it was a missed opportunity for Obama to assert his leadership, particularly in the context of his policy pivot towards Asia.
"I know he regrets it. When he called me he said, 'By hook or by crook, I will visit Malaysia next year'. So we're looking forward to receiving (him)."
He spoke on the crisis in Egypt, to which he said national reconciliation was needed to solve the crisis.
"I know what I would have done. I would have waited until the next election, because they (the Muslim Brotherhood) were elected and deserve a chance to perform and to show their worth.
"It's very alarming this conflict between the Sunni and the Shia. It's tearing apart the Muslim world. And it's about time we come to our senses, and realise that moderation is the only path that will ensure peace and stability for the Muslim world and also for the wider world."
He was echoing his statement at the United Nations General Assembly in New York last month where he said the greatest threat to Muslims "comes from within and not the outside world".

Read more: PM: Moderation is key - General - New Straits Times