Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Of Malay Rights and Golf Handicaps

Some would argue that former deputy Prime Minister, Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman was an architect of the much maligned New Economic Policy for Malaysia post 1969 racial riots. However, as I've quoted from the recently published book on Tun Dr Ismail by Dr Ooi Kee Beng, the former had possibly erred when he thought that "as more and more Malays became educated and gained self-confidence, they themselves would do away with this ‘special position’."

Underlining his beliefs that this "special position" will be removed in due course was when presenting his views on Malay special privileges, Ismail had a propensity to use a golf metaphor.
He told Philip Kuok that "this handicap will enable them to be good players, as in golf, and in time the handicap will be removed. The Malays must not think of these privileges as permanent: for then, they will not put their effort to the tasks. In fact it is an insult for Malays to be getting these privileges" (Kuok 1991, p.217).
Ismail used the same metaphor in his broadcast on 2nd August, Siaran Akhbar PEN. 8/69/22:
The special privilege or position accorded to the Malays under the Constitution is mainly intended to enable them - to borrow an expression from the game of golf - "to have a handicap" which would place them in a position for a fair competition with better players. Therefore, like a golfer, it should not be the aim of the Malays to perpetuate this handicap but to strive to improve their game, and thereby reducing, and finally removing, their handicap completely.
Now, those of us fortunate enough to know the game of golf, players who over-declare their handicaps to unfairly gain an advantage over the other players are known as "buayas", or worse, derided as dishonest cheats. Would Tun Dr Ismail be having the same view of those who have clearly achieved par golf competency but still insist on their "rights" to have an 18-handicap?

It should also be noted that Tun Dr Ismail never enshrined the Malay affirmative action as a "right", but instead the 'special position' granted was defined as a "privilege". Which UMNO or government leader today will have the necessary moral courage like Tun Dr Ismail to stand up and make a public proclaimation that it is an "insult for Malays" for getting these privileges?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Ong Ka Ting Kena Hentam?

Whoa! Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting, the President of MCA, as well as the Minister of Housing and Local Government, got a rare front page public dressing down from the Prime Minister himself, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. In simple terms, Pak Lah was just telling his senior cabinet minister that he's not doing his job.
People used to complain that the issuance of certificates of fitness (CF) was always delayed. The house is ready but it’s a hassle to get the CF. I promised to get this improved. For close to two years, people were still grumbling. I asked Ka Ting (Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting): "What happened? What is the progress?"

I told him: "This is an important matter. Find a workable solution, do not look for cumbersome solutions." I fail to understand why they (the relevant approving agencies) are still reluctant to do this.

I told Ka Ting again that I want these processes to be expedited. Why is it so difficult?
First, it was the fault of the civil serivce. After that argument proving ineffective, it's now the fault of his ministers. And the president of his largest coalition partner, no less.

A RM10 salary cut motion for the Minister of Housing and Local Government proposed by Sdr Tan Kok Wai, the MP for Cheras in the last parliamentary session received an angry reception from Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting and his henchmen for apparently "distorting facts". Well, it looks like Datuk Seri deserved the pay cut after all. Given the public reprimand given by his big boss, Datuk Seri Ong should just volunteer the RM10 pay cut instead of suffering another embarrassing motion to do so.

What is interesting is that, of the many other inefficient and ineffective ministries to cite his example of poor leadership and weak implementation, the Prime Minister picked on his closest "ally".

Poor policy implementation is a hallmark of the Ministry of Education, but no, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein didn't get picked. Tender awards are still as opaque, but the Ministry of Finance didn't get highlighted. (Oh, sorry, Pak Lah's also the Minister of Finance). Even the incompetent Minister of Works who negotiated away the rakyat's weath doesn't get a mention.

If you ask me, I'll say that it's not as simple as the Prime Minister pointing out the defects in his government. Pak Lah is sending a stern message to Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting. The question then is, what is that message?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Something to Hide

There's no other ways to describe it. The government and administration of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, contrary to his promises and rhetoric, has no political will or even intent on becoming even mildly transparent.

One would have expected something as simple as a toll concession agreement between the Government and the toll concessionaire, which will contain no state secrets detrimental to the national security of Malaysia to be made available publicly to demonstrate a responsible and conscientious leadership.

But no, because the agreement which has been leaked to the public earlier will demonstrate the Government's poor governance, negligence and incompetence or worse, possibly strengthening the perception of corruption, the Cabinet has decided that all toll concession agreements are state secrets. Despite claims to the contrary, the leaked document essentially revealed that the Government is obligated to guarantee lucrative profits for the toll concessionaire!

Now, what type of Government will do that? There's only one answer. It's a government that does not work or perform its duty in the interest of the rakyat. Instead of securing the best services for the rakyat at the best possible prices, the Government is instead working towards taxing the rakyat the maximum amount tolerable to ensure huge profits for large, often politically connected corporations.

Despite the routine excuses given by the hapless Minister of Works, Datuk Seri Samy Vellu, it is clear that the current Pak Lah's administration has something to hide and cover up. It is not a transparent administration, and such types of opaque government will only encourage and breed mediocrity, incompetence or worse, embezzlement and corruption.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Naked Emperor

Amazing. In the midst of damning data highlighting the decline of Malaysia as an attractive destination for foreign direct investments, our Minister of International Trade and Industry, Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz had the cheek to claim that "Malaysia has managed to build a competitive edge over other countries to win foreign direct investment (FDI)".
She said while there was intense competition from China, India, Latin America and other Asean countries, Malaysia had managed to build a competitive edge against those countries. “We depend on FDIs to spur growth in key sectors. The manufacturing sector continues to lead the way,” she said.

Rafidah said Malaysia was on track to becoming a developed nation and industrialised country and meeting the Vision 2020 objectives.
If my 3-part posts on "Malaysia Gets Marginalised" using data from the World Investment Report produced by the United Nations Conference of Trade & Development (UNCTAD) in 2005 isn't damning enough, the 2006 data released earlier this month showed further decline.

FDI into Malaysia declined further from US$4.0 billion to US$3.9 billion. Thailand replaced Indonesia as the country which attracted the 2nd highest level of FDI in Southeast Asia after Singapore. Singapore, on the other hand, despite already being the top FDI desitination in the region with US$20 billion in 2005, increased it by another US$10 billion to in excess of US$30 billion.

These latest data from UNCTAD were recently published in the Singapore's Straits Times (obviously gloating on its achievement) on 11th January, were however not given any space at all in the Malaysian media.

So, Datuk Seri Rafidah, is our Government now like the naked emperor, who insists, despite what is obvious to the public that "Malaysia has managed to build a competitive edge over other countries to win foreign direct investment"?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Let's Make It Legal

Did Pak Lah just endorsed the New Straits Times (NST) suit against the two bloggers? Did he argue that the NST was justified in its case? "They cannot hope to cover themselves or hide from the laws," he said. Was that a hint that they are guilty?

As argued earlier, it's not my place to determine the merits of the suit against the bloggers. I do however think that by making the suit, instead of seeking alternative means of settlement first, is a clear attempt to muzzle parties who raise issues or facts unreported by the media, from an angle which proved uncomfortable for the Government and its mouthpieces.

For those who are very curious about the contents of the writ of summons to our fellow bloggers, Politikus has kindly made the necessary legal exposures on what NSTP and co believe the alleged defamatory posts infers, and what NSTP and co have suffered.

In fact she has done a little more for the legal illiterates like me, by giving a fairly thorough explanation of the law on libel and defamation in words and sentences a lay person can understand. ;)

So let's not get sued, let's make ourselves legal. ;)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Malaysia Gets Marginalised (III)

In the earlier 2 parts of this article with regards to Malaysia's foreign direct investment and economy, I provided damning statistics on Malaysia as an attractive investment destination as well as cited the various issues which caused the decline. This concluding part highlights the Government's response to date and the immediate actions which need to be taken to arrest the decline of our ecomy.

The Government's Response?

Despite the severity of the poor economic performance as depicted by the statistics provided by the World Investment Report, and the bleak outlook provided by economic experts from top financial institutions around the world, there has barely been any response from the Barisan Nasional Members of Parliament (MPs) as well as Government officials. No Minister nor MP seem interested in the fact that the trend, if left unchecked, will severely impact Malaysia's future growth potential.

The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, had brushed aside the criticisms by claiming that Malaysia “can increase the FDI figures many times over at the stroke of a pen, but it will mean some loss of control.” Hence he believes “in selective mergers and acquisitions, and maintain control of strategic assets because of the national interest.”

The Government's incredibly meek response fails to take into account two major factors. Firstly, maintaining control of supposed uncompetitive and loss-making “strategic assets” are not only not in the “national interest”, it is actually detrimental to our national interest. Through unjustified and unmitigated protection provided to weak and uncompetitive industries and corporations, it has resulted in unproductive and inefficient utilisation of our hard-earned tax payers funds. In addition, such protection have resulted in the burdening the rakyat through substantially higher consumer prices and lower quality products and services.

Secondly, it is ignorant and irresponsible of the government to attribute the low FDI flowing into Malaysia purely to “selective mergers and acquisitions (M&A)”. Such M&A investments will bring limited value through merely a change of ownership.

The key in FDI has to be in bringing in foreign funds for new investments such as new factories, businesses and services into Malaysia. These type of investments will have a higher multiplier effect on the economy by generating new employment and higher value-added activities. The fact that many existing multinational corporations (MNCs) have not added substantial new investment, and the lack of new investments from other MNCs such as Solectron and Advanced Interconnect Technologies indicates that the problem is far bigger than “selective mergers and acquisitions”.

Instead, it demonstrated Malaysia's alarming lack of attractiveness as an investment destination.

What We Need To Do?

Asian Strategy Leadership Institute director Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam said Malaysia cannot be too protective in the world of rapid globalisation. "The world does not owe us a living and we have to struggle to improve at a faster pace or be left behind."

Tan Sri Ramon's view is echoed by Citigroup's Mr Chua. He put forward that “it is not that Malaysia is moving backward, it is simply not moving forward quickly enough.”

The international panel of economic analysts and experts all agreed that among the measures required to arrest the slide, Malaysia's “New Economic Policy (NEP)” needs to be abandoned or radically revamped. Citigroup argued that a 'shelf-life' timetable should be introduced to ensure that the "outdated legacy policy" is eventually dismantled.

The Citigroup report also suggested direct government subsidies and preferential treatment in social services, such as education and healthcare as being more preferable compared to the NEP requirements which "distort the property, labour and stock markets... Protecting local champions such as autos and airlines has hurt consumers and raised business costs. It has also hurt relations with neighbouring countries and scaled back reciprocal gains.”

The NEP imposes limits on foreign ownership in business and dictates that ethnic Malays must be given stakes in new and established companies.

The NEP also requires all new stock market listings of Malaysian companies be required to dilute at least 30% of its equity to bumiputeras has also vastly reduced the attractiveness of Bursa Malaysia to local companies. With increased globalisation and the eradication of cross border financial barriers have resulted in more Malaysian companies aborting local listing plans. Instead, they seek to raise equity financing in foreign markets, which do not possess such demanding dilutive policies. Such capital flight not only result in diluted local ownership but also reduces the vibrancy of the local bourse.

While our neighbours are busy successfully attracting dozens of large Chinese and Indian companies to list in their markets annually, particularly in Singapore, Malaysia has no foreign firms listing on Bursa Malaysia in the past decade which clearly marks the dismal failure of the Government's ambition to turn Kuala Lumpur into a global financial destination.

What is of much greater concern, is not the distortionary impact of inefficient allocation of resources but the fact that the policy has mutated into a potent tool to dispense political patronage by Barisan Nasional politicians. Such abuse which contradicts the spirit of the NEP, whatever its shortcomings, greatly accentuates the weaknesses of the policy which in turn serves as a major detriment to both local and foreign investors.

The Government must no longer blatantly ignore the various warning signs staring directly at us, in the form of the ignominious decline of local and foreign investment in Malaysia. It does not help with the Minister of Trade and Industry, Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz herself proudly pronounced that foreign investors unhappy with the terms of the NEP should go invest elsewhere.

Further delays in reforming and restructuing our economy to be more productive and efficient will only lead to further marginalisation of the Malaysian economy in the era of inevitable globalisation.

4th National Congress on Integrity

The National Congress on Integrity is an initiative of the Graduates Christian Fellowship (GCF) and the Oriental Hearts and Mind Study Institute (OHMSI). The following is a letter seeking your participation from Dr KJ John of OHMSI, who also writes a column for Malaysiakini after retiring from MIMOS.
Dear Friends,

This is an appeal for your HELP. We need true-blooded Malaysians who feel for issues “corrupting our nation” to attend this Dialogue as ordinary citizens. You are one of them and can you mobilize others.

With YB Shahrir and Dato Dr Cyrus Das as Keynote Speakers and moderated by Dato Dr Tan Kee Kwong, you will get more than your money’s worth of education on related issues. Moreover, with Citizen Nades, PJ Citizens’ Advocate Edward Lee, Prof Shad Saleem Faruqi and Lawyer Andrew Khoo and their views on the matter, you cannot go too far wrong to hear all sides on the matter. Your views also matter as we will table the findings to the Parliamentary Special Committee on Integrity.

So, please pass the word around and get people to come. It is only 30 ringgit per person and RM25 per person for a group of ten with pre-registration and payment. For a half day event of total education, I am sure you will do your self a favour by coming. Just sign up electronically and pay on the spot.

For more details, please click here to visit the website.

KJ John,
I might see you guys there ;)

Monday, January 22, 2007

Pak Lah's Losing It?

All within a week, the normally resilient Pak Lah is showing major signs of weakness. Despite his statements having undergone the sanitisation process in the local media, they are clearly reflecting his weak leadership as well as his inability to maintain a grip on his party, government and the country. Unconvincing responses given by Pak Lah on two separate issues over the past week painted a stumbling and fumbling Prime Minister.

1. US$50 billion fund-raising exercise

Copies of official documents have been circulated on the Internet with regards to a purported US$50 billion foreign fund-raising exercise by the Government. Check out Sdr Lim Kit Siang's post and Malaysiakini here. These documents implicated both the Pak Lah and Bank Negara conducting this exercise via dubious local and fraud-implicated foreign agents. The question then is, has the Malaysian Government been duped?

Instead of answering the question, Pak Lah's response was a incredibly weak “"I don't remember taking any (such US$50bil) loan. And I am the Minister of Finance.”

What type of answer is that? You either approved of such an exercise, or you didn't. You don't “don't remember” a US$50 billion fund raising exercise!

2. New Straits Times Publications (NSTP) – Utusan Malaysia Merger exercise

It was clear from earlier media statements since December that the Prime Minster and his deputy were pretty much behind the move to merge the two UMNO owned media entities in Malaysia. After much “deliberation” and sniping behind the scenes by UMNO Supreme Council members as well as Ministers themselves who objected to the move, the merger exercise has finally been called off.

This was after it has been reported in the media that the Supreme Council voted overwhelmingly in favour of aborting the exercise (43-8), despite the Prime Minister and his deputy voting in favour. It is probably the closest one can get to a rebellion within UMNO.

And what was the Prime Minister's public response?

He claimed that the decision to abort the proposed New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd (NSTP) and Utusan Melayu (M) Bhd merger is the “best decision”. The Prime Minister said he had had reservations when the proposal was first mooted. “But I thought it was best to give those who proposed it some time to consider it carefully.”

Again, what type of lame response is that? After supporting the proposal at the outset, he now says that it's the “best decision” and that he “had reservations”

It doesn't at all inspire confidence that the Prime Minister of the country don't remember if he had approved a US$50 billion whatever. How do you take a Prime Minister seriously, when he gives lame excuses when backtracking from his own proposals, claiming that he had doubts about them in the first place! Take the above with the very personal “old man breaking Khairy's rice bowl” comment in international press much earlier, it is no longer a question of tolerating a mediocre prime minister, but one that's fumbling badly and clumsily.

A prime minister who does not inspire any confidence will become a lame duck, just waiting to be hunted. The only question then, will be when?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Corruption & Politicians

I've managed to obtain for myself a copy of Tun Dr Ismail's autobiography "The Reluctant Politician" by Dr Ooi Kee Beng. Unfortunately, and ironically, it's only available in Singapore at the moment. I've been reading it with interest, whenever I could squeeze some time in between work and everything else. ;)

I would certainly encourage all Malaysians who have an interest in the history of Malaysia to secure a copy of the book, for it has provided great insights previously unavailable in our historical academic texts. Unfortunately, while the New Straits Times have been serialising and promoting the book for the past weeks, they have carefully edited (or self-censored?) parts of it. There was an extract on "special rights of Malays" which I blogged on earlier. As I read the book, I'll blog in bits and pieces several interesting anecdotes I find in it.

Here's a section where he thought that Malaysians of all races, going to the government "is one of the easiest ways to make money; and they know very well that some [may be] thrown out in five-yearly elections [...] so they accept bribes and become corrupt".

He is certainly right in that many do join the government or the governing political parties for it is indeed one of the easiest ways to make money. Unfortunately, he was wrong in that political developments in the country over the past 30 years have seen these politicians entrench their positions, with little possibility of being dumped in elections.

He discussed the matter with Philip Kuok (Robert Kuok's brother, and Tun Dr Ismail's "closest friend"):
I only wish that people will one day establish themselves in the professions and the business world, and then enter politics like the British politicians. [...] My message to the youth [...] is that they should not go into politics until they are financially or professionally secure (Kuok 1981, pp.217-18)
Hmm... some lessons to be learnt here? ;)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Malaysia Gets Marginalised (II)

Yesterday was the 1st instalment of my little piece with regards to foreign direct investment (FDI) in Malaysia. The statistics cited were both damning and alarming, and its no surprise that the issue was pretty much ignored in the local media. However, foreign investments aren't the only ones which are falling in recent years. Private investments as well as reinvestments by foreign multinational corporations have been on significant decline as well.

Declining Private Investment

UBS was equally severe in a November report. It estimated that private investment as a function of gross domestic product (GDP) in Malaysia dropped to a 25-year low last year. Local and foreign private investment in the 1990s was routinely above 32 per cent of GDP. Today however, it is around 7-8% which is regression of a particularly brutal kind.

“Unless it tackles the many issues head on, the Malaysian economy could slip into a period of low-quality growth,” notes senior economist Sanjay Mathur of UBS Investment Research.

Worrying Examples...

As highlighted by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Lim Kit Siang in Dewan Rakyat, “Intel announced plans to boost its investment in Vietnam to USD$1 billion from USD$300 million a mere nine months earlier. The reason provided by Intel was Vietnam had “a very vibrant population, an increasingly strengthened education system, a strong workforce and a very forward-looking government.”

While Intel have not “moved” from Penang, it has shredded its workforce in the country and has not increased its level of investment significantly in Malaysia relative to our neighbours in the past 5 years. This is despite Intel being one of the earliest hi-tech investors in Malaysia which led the process of industrialisation in our northern state.

According to The Edge published on the November 14th, Malaysia has also been “passed over in recent years by electronics firm Solectron Corp, Dutch energy company SHV Holdings and semiconductor firm Advanced Interconnect Technologies.”


It appears that these foreign investors' lack of interest has more to do with a litany of more esoteric issues such as mountains of red tape, opaque decision-making, affirmative-action policies, a lack of skilled workers and hints of religious tension.

When interviewed by The Edge for the issue dated November 14th, Thierry Rommel, the ambassador of the EU Commission to Malaysia himself highlighted that "[t]here is really an increasingly widespread perception that conditions of doing business here in Malaysia are not that attractive anymore.”

CLSA Deputy Chief Economist Eric Fishwick said in the same issue that “[t]he relatively small amount of FDI reflects the broader growth environment which is still over-protectionist, uncompetitive... Going forward, Malaysia is going to under-perform its potential. It needs to allow competition in its economy and part of competition is that non-viable businesses be allowed to go out of business.”

An example of the red tape, foreign investors claim that it can take half a year to get a work permit, compared with less than a week in Singapore. As put forward by Vince Leusner, the president of the American Malaysian Chamber of Commerce, "the Malaysian government can do a better job in making regulations less imposing to businesses.”

In the past last eight weeks, the Government has unveiled the South Johor Economic Region (SJER) mega-development project. This project aims to boost trade, industrialisation, employment and ultimately the economy in Peninsula Malaysia's souther corridor.

Dr Boo Cheng Hao, the state chairman of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) believes that “the concept of the SJER as a economic free-trade zone is very good.” However, given the size of the mega-project, it will not succeed without a major injection of foreign investment. Dr Boo added that “government policies -- especially the 30 pct bumiputera ownership requirement -- must be dropped if we really want to attract
foreign investment.”

S Jayasankaran of the Singapore Business Times also rightly argued that “harping on protectionist policies is a turnoff for investors spoilt for global choices. Xenophobic statements about rejecting, say, Singapore's participation in the South Johor Economic Region is the economic equivalent of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.”

Given the litany of issues, backed by numerical evidence of weakness and failure, what has been the Government response to date? This, in addition to what we should do to revive our economy, will be covered in Part III of this series.

The Silence of the Bloggers

I wrote on bloggers getting sued by the local media a few days back.

The news is now out in the open. Top Malaysian blogger, Jeff Ooi and former editor of the Malay Mail, Ahiruddin Attan (Rocky's Bru)have been served writ of summons for libel and defamation by the New Straits Times (NST) and other related individuals.

The NST, being substantially owned by UMNO, the party of the Prime Minister, is unlikely to have taken this 'momentous' decision to sue local bloggers without at least the tacit approval of the latter. In fact the grapevine has it that the plaintiff's counsel took some two months reviewing and researching the two blogs prior to the issuance of the suit. The suit hence came hot on the heels of warnings to local bloggers by deputy ministers.

I have stated on many occasions that Jeff served as my inspiration to blog almost 2 years ago. However, that doesn't mean that I agreed with all his views all the time. Differences in opinion is however, no excuse for the restriction on freedom of expression. Hence, without going into the merits of the case, the Governments overt attempts to threaten Malaysia bloggers with punitive punishments instead of reasoned arguments are abhorrent.

Of course, there's the other question of whether NST's attempt in silencing the bloggers will backfire on both the NST as well as the Government themselves? As it stands, the international news agencies are already giving prominence to the story.

In addition, within the 13 and 40 blog posts cited by the plaintiffs as defamatory in Jeff and Rocky's blogs respectively, contains statement of which their factual nature need to be contested in the courts. Hence, when these points of facts are raised and challenged in the courts, would it embarrass the plaintiffs and the Government further in such a high profile case?

More interestingly, now that the ruling party-owned NST has shown its hands in attempting to silence Jeff, will he, a self-professed card-carry Gerakan member, be willing stand as an opposition candidate for a Parliamentary seat in the next general elections?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Malaysia Gets Marginalised

Is Our Economic Future Being Jeopardised to Protect the Interest of a Few?

The following is an analytical report on the Malaysian economy, with specific reference to Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) into Malaysia which I wrote for a local publication. As it's rather long, I'll break it up into 3 postings over the next couple of days.

Economist Chua Hak Bin of Citigroup Global Markets in Singapore declared that “The country is running the risk of being marginalised.”
“Malaysia is quickly dropping off the radar screens of global investors. Whether measured in terms of FDI (foreign direct investment) draw, stock market capitalisation or trading volumes, Malaysia is slipping down the ladder... [the Malaysian economy today is] a pale shadow of itself compared to 10 years ago.”
So how bad is the state of the economy?

FDI into Malaysia fell some 14% to US$3.97 billion (RM14.4 billion) in 2005 based on data in the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) World Investment Report 2006.

While FDI into Malaysia fell 14%, overall FDI into Southeast Asia increased substantially by 45%. Like the performance of Malaysian football which is in a state of perpetual decline, the country's ability to attract foreign investment hit rock bottom when Indonesia attracted 32.6% more FDI. It marked the first time that Malaysia fell behind our less-developed neighbour Indonesia.

In fact, we won the embarrassing accolade of being the only country amongst eleven Southeast Asian countries which FDI declined in 2005.

FDI inflows into Malaysia have been almost stagnant since 1990. From 1990 to 2000, the country drew an average US$4.7 billion in foreign investment each year, roughly the same as the figure in 2004. China, in contrast, sucked in US$72.4 billion in foreign investment last year, more than double the average yearly amount it absorbed between 1990 and 2000.

In 1995, Malaysia was placed sixth in a United Nations ranking in terms of global FDI destinations, with its stock market capitalisation the second largest in Asia (excluding Japan) after Hong Kong. However, our position on the FDI ranking plunged to 62nd last year, while our stock market capitalisation slipped to sixth largest in Asia (excluding Japan). The dramatic decline of fortunes was achieved all within a short period of 10 years.

What it could have been...

In 1996 when our FDI into the country peaked at US$7.3 billion, we were only US$2.4 billion or 33% behind Singapore, who attracted US$9.68 billion. Citibank said that
“The tall ambitions of becoming a regional financial hub, an IT hub (the Multimedia Super Corridor) and even an aviation and shipping hub looked achievable then and even threatened neighbouring states.”
Then, Malaysia was widely considered as a serious and credible economic threat to Singapore. However, within a short span of a decade, Singapore now attracts an enormous 400% more FDI or US$20.1 billion last yaer. Malaysia, which once competed with Singapore for foreign investments, is now under threat from traditional economic laggards such as Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. The Citibank report also added that
"Singapore's GDP, with less than one-fifth of Malaysia's population, is now almost the same size. Grand ambitions have been scaled back, with government policies now being more guarded and reactive."
The next post will cover the other concern of sharply declining private investment in the country, worrying examples of Malaysia being passed over by high-tech investors as well as some of the problems which are turning away investors from this country.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Cocky Khairy

Wah, Umno Youth deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin today launched a "scathing attack on opposition leaders."

"Opposition leaders Lim Kit Siang, Abdul Hadi Awang, Anwar and Nasharuddin Mat Isa are cowards who are afraid to face the voters."

That's big talk for someone who hides behind a communal party who hides under a skirt of repressive laws such as the printing and publications as well as the internal security act. This has yet to include all the other unjust laws and regulations which places purportedly independent organisations under the purview of the Government such as the judiciary, the anti-corruption agency and the election commission.

When one intends to contest a duel armed to the teeth with the latest weaponry against a helpless and unarmed party, can you blame the latter for forfeiting the contest? Who's the real coward in the picture?

I certainly look forward to "lively" debates with Khairy in the future, and hopefully he won't be too much of a coward to turn down the invites. ;)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Zaid Ibrahim Marginalised

Via the live telecast of the recently concluded UMNO General Assembly, and the resultant furore, one can tell that the voice of reason is pretty much limited within the communal party. However, over the past few years, there are possibly 2-3 voices within the party which I pretty much enjoy hearing for their reasoned arguments as well as their frank sincerity.

One of them is the Kota Baru Member of Parliament (MP), Datuk Zaid Ibrahim. He has been known to be outspoken with his views, particularly on the need for reforms in government, in the New Economic Policy (NEP), in reversing brain drain and even on the need to eliminate racially-denominated parties.

He joined politics in the year 2000 and was at some stage early in Pak Lah's administration touted as a possible Minister to bolster a cabinet capable of achieving his promised vision. Much to the disappointment of many, including myself, he was instead sidelined and even found guilty of "money politics" in UMNO (for hosting dinners).

He has served his 18 months suspension from the party as punishment (which ironically did not affect his seat or place in Parliament), and yet he has to endure the humiliation of not being reinstated as the Kota Baru UMNO division head. He believes that "the Umno supreme council made other considerations" and denied him justice. In all probability, he is being punished for promoting progressive and equitable policies in the interest of the rakyat.

Now, I've never preached that affirmative action policies should not be granted to the deserving. The question has always been when such policies should be ended, and the tongkat removed. Datuk Zaid Ibrahim obviously finds that he doesn't deserve the tongkat anymore and is now preaching the need for affirmative action policies to be based on need rather than race.

However, obviously, his political masters in UMNO think otherwise and they felt the need to marginalise right-thinking politicians such as Datuk Zaid Ibrahim. The UMNO Supreme Council led by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi obviously believe that it is in UMNOputras interest to profit themselves even further by retaining the status quo, at the expense of the deserving poor Malays, Chinese and Indian rakyat.

Bloggers Clampdown?

Late last week, several very prominent bloggers in Malaysia were served with writ of summons from a local media organisation seeking an injunction towards the publication of several blog posts as well as damages for defamation.

We all know that many of our local media organisations act on the whims and fancies of the Malaysian Government. Now, is this a direct result from the recent warnings served by our Ministers who sought to frighten bloggers into self-censorship?

Will hitting the socio-political bloggers' community right at the top scare the rest of the foot soldiers into submission and anonymity? It is a sad start to the year indeed for the Internet and the civic-minded blogging community in Malaysia.

Pak Lah, is this your claim of greater press freedom in Malaysia?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Petaling Jaya Utara in Jeopardy?

Ah... all the toll hike protests must have taken its toll on the MCA president. Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting admitted that there was growing disgruntlement among voters in the Klang valley which threaten MCA constituencies during the next general elections.

More interestingly, he mentioned that the specific constituencies expected to be affected are the Petaling Jaya Utara (PJU) parliamentary seat and two state assembly seats in the area - Kampung Tunku and Damansara Utama. These are seats which were won with overwhelming majorities by MCA in the last general election. Now, if these seats are "affected", then what about other seats won with much smaller majorities?

The PJU parliamentary seat has some 76,000 registered voters as of the last elections, with 76.7% Chinese, 15.4% Malay and 7.4% Indian voters. MCA won this seat with an overwhelming majority of more than 13,000 votes in the last general elections - a record majority won by MCA for this parliamentary seat.

Both Kampung Tunku and Damansara Utama (DU) are state seats located within the PJU parliamentary seat with registered voters numbering some 31,000 (68% Chinese) and 45,000 (83% Chinese) respectively. These seats were won by MCA with large majorities of 3,600 and 6,800.

Essentially, in political terms, it was a thrashing for the opposition. And yet, the President of MCA is worried about these seats. An enormous wind of change is needed for MCA to lose the seats. The opposition might nominate party bigwigs to contest the seats to strengthen the pendulum swing.

Is Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting just needlessly paranoid? Or is he deservedly losing sleep? ;-)

Update: Sorry guys, I must have been the one losing sleep 'cos I've been corrected via email that the person who highlighted the vulnerability of PJU was an anonymous MCA division leader and not Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting himself.

I Not Stupid

Most politicians, particularly some of our Barisan Nasional Ministers like Datuk Seri Samy Vellu, Datuk Mohd Johari Baharum or Datuk Zainuddin Maidin would like to tell you that they are the smart ones and you are the stupid ones.

Well, it looks like the former Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad himself has gotten round to admitting that politicians can be quite stupid fairly often, with the specific reference to the toll concession agreements.

Mahathir admitted that toll concession agreements were not well-conceived during his tenure as prime minister and added that he "suspected the highway operators were now reaping huge profits from the toll hikes."
“The cabinet is not made up of experts. They are made up by politicians and some politicians like myself can be very stupid. What happens when you have an agreement is that the officers make the agreement and the agreement is sent to the cabinet and usually the small print is not there. Cabinet merely passes on the basis of principle. They do not really study the implication of some passages in the agreement,” he said.
I'm not sure if Tun Dr M was trying to excuse his Cabinet and his own role in the entire exercise by placing the blame on incompetent officers who fails to highlight the small prints. If he was, then certainly that's no better than then Pak Lah's Ministers who blamed the civil service for poor delivery of "first class" policies.

The rakyat placed their trust in the Government and its leadership to protect and promote our interest. The fact that unbelievably lopsided toll concession agreements were signed by our government on our behalf, and without our knowledge or consultation, is clearly evidence of negligence and dereliction of duty.

Tun Dr M, while honest enough to admit that he had a cabinet full of stupid politicians which Pak Lah inherited, must accept the bulk of the blame without attempting to shift some of that responsibility to the civil service, however incompetent they may be.

The rot certainly starts at the top. The rakyat and I not stupid, you know.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Kudos to Police

No, it's not a sarcastic remark.Credit must be given where credit is due.

There were thousands protesting against the recent toll hike of 5 highways in the Klang Valley at the Sunway Pyramid today. And make no mistake, the police, represented largely by the Anti-Riot Unit came out in full force.

But to their credit, unlike the past peaceful demonstrations against fuel and toll hikes where the police used excessive and unjustified force to disperse the crowd, today they were polite and maintained their discipline.

As reported by Malaysiakini:
Subang district police chief ACP Muhd Fuad Talib said that the police will investigate the protest as an illegal demonstration. However, he said it was unlikely that anyone would be arrested over the matter.

“This is because they followed our instructions [...] and was quite orderly. They never threatened life and property, which is our priority (to protect),” said Muhd Fuad when met after the demonstrators dispersed.
Let us hope this is a positive change from the Malaysian police force and we expect such attitude and discipline to continue in the future.

Also, the Star deserves a "thank you" in this case for highlighting the venue of the protest. ;)

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Blame it on the Civil Service

It's not the leadership's fault. It's the civil service delivery system. And this is headline news for the New Straits Times (NST).

Home Affairs Minister Datuk Mohd Radzi Sheikh Ahmad said that the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's plans were “first class”. However, there were weaknesses in the implementation of the government’s plans by the civil service and added that “this had been the case for a long time.”
"The weakness in the delivery has been happening even before Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s time. There are weaknesses in government institutions. Those who are in charge of executing the plans sometimes misunderstand the decisions made by the policymakers. They fail to see the reason behind the policies, and this leads to a lot of confusion and misdirection," Radzi said.
Apparently this view was supported at a seminar entitled "National Seminar on Abdullah Ahmad Badawi: Three Years in Putrajaya: Tracking the Country’s Future", by certain academics and political analysts.

Lecturer Dr Sivamurugan Pandian of the School of Social Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, claims that the policymakers and the executioners of the policies are “distinct bodies”, hence the point of failure.

Social Institute of Malaysia director Professor Dr Mohamed Fadzil Che Din said "there are parties who try to take advantage of the prime minister’s soft and accommodative administration.”
"They interfere with the time-frame of the implementation of the policies by making their own claims on the government, slowing down or even putting a stop to the implementation."
The simple question I have then is, is our Home Affairs Minister telling us that the leadership of this country is not responsible for the civil service? Is the civil service an independent branch of the Government which the “first class” leadership has no control over? In fact, the simple admission the weak delivery system has been a problem for the longest time by the Home Affairs Minister, only proves the incompetence of the leadership.

“First class” plans without a “first class” delivery system will only prove to be a “first class” failure of governance. Nobody could be more responsible for the quagmire than the “first class” leadership of the Prime Minister.

Are You Registered?

There are 4.5 million unregistered eligible voters in Malaysia. On the other hand, there are some 10.2 million registered voters. The unregistered pool forms a whopping 30.6% of the potential electorate. This 30.6% can certainly form a powerful political force in changing the political landscape of this country.

What's more important, this 30.6% of unregistered voters is comprised largely of our Malaysian youth aged between 21-35.

It's really easy to get registered as a voter. Just go to the nearest post office and provide them with your identity card at the registration counter. The entire form filling process will take not more than 5 – 10 minutes. And you'd be eligible to vote for the rest of your life as a responsible Malaysian.

Similarly, if you need to change your voting district, you could also do it at the post office. Your new address however, needs to be reflected in your MyKad.

Every vote makes a difference. If you are 21 years of age, you can be registered to vote. Let your voice be heard. Lets rock the vote!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Crime City

You know that crime in the city is at worrying levels in the city (and country) when you hear news of it first hand, instead of from friends who heard from friends who heard from... all within a few months.

A friend and ex-colleague was robbed in front of her house in Petaling Jaya by a "friendly-looking man" waiting with a parang in a car.

An existing staff experienced violent snatch theft twice within a period of 3 years. The first one landed her in hospital. She isn't the only victim in the office.

Another managerial staff had his notebook stolen from his boot within 10 minutes of leaving his car. Sdr Lim Kit Siang himself, suffered the same fate last month.

My sister-in-law's working in a foreign trade mission office which was robbed of its computer equipment in broad daylight.

An ex-staff had her SUV carjacked early last year. And a General Manager of IBM Malaysia who is a close business partner, had his carjacked late last year. This doesn't take into account stories of people who had lost their cars within minutes of collecting their new car keys!

And over the Hari Raya Puasa period, my house was broken into. After plenty of hardwork by the burglar(s) rummaging the house, I lost an old handphone and two bottles of Jack Daniels (which was won in lucky draws).

Its scary if you really think about it, is it not? Is it because the country is now run by idiotic frontbenchers like Deputy Internal Security Minister, Mohd Johari Baharum who believes its the rakyat's fault? Or is it a lack of commitment from our country's police force? Or is it a symtom of deteriorating economy where the rich gets richer and the poor gets poorer?

When someone as lackadaisical and nonchalant about security as me gets paranoid about it, it is indeed worrying (or is it age? ;)). Are we on the slippery slope to become Gotham City? Batman?

Groundhog Day

After 4 years of implementing the National Service programme for our young Malaysians, our authorities still display the same incompetence. Same old, same old. From illegal buses, the nightmare logistical flight arrangements to the chaos at registration centres, the conclusion is straightforwardly simple - the National Service Department screwed up for the umpteenth time, despite supposed years of experience in dealing with the "teething problems".

The longer term question is, will our national leaders have the political courage to do the right thing?

The Deputy Prime Minister has asked the Department to conduct the necessary "investigations".

The Department has been quick to issue statements denying responsibility for some of the chaos - "Flight delays beyond our control". (In other words, we didn't have any contingency plans.)

At the end of the day, when the dust settles, which thankfully, it'll settle, what are we going to do about it to prevent a recurrence? Should incompetent staff be demoted, if not sacked altogether? Shouldn't we have a culture which promotes excellence instead of incompetence and irresponsibility? With no stern action taken, it'll only send the signal that the government isn't at all concerned with a poorly performing civil service and are happy that the same jokers continue to make a mockery of our delivery system.

Are we waking up to another Groundhog Day?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

MCA, Our Hero

"MCA the voice of the Chinese."

So says the President of the Malaysia Chinese Association (MCA), Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting as reported by The Star, which MCA owns.
“We do not run away from or avoid any issues. We believe in results and actual consequences rather than in making superficial statements and leaving problems unresolved,” he said.
Do you see the "results and the actual consequences"? Or do we just hear "superficial statements and problems unresolved" by MCA? It's quite unbelievable that Datuk Seri Ong could actually state the above with a straight face.

I won't attempt to rebutt the MCA president point by point, that'll be writing a book but just touch on some of the key issues raised.

Non-Malays and GLCs
MCA thinks that as the GLCs belong to the Government, they should be open to every Malaysian. MCA has proposed several times to the Cabinet to have more non-Malays recruited into GLCs. This is to ensure that they will have an opportunity to contribute to the country.
After nearly 50 years of independence, are there more non-Malays in GLCs (which have become increasingly powerful and dominant over the economy) or are there less? Former Deputy Prime Minister, Tun Musa Hitam himself admitted as much that GLCs seeks only to recruit Malays.

The fact that MCA has admitted to proposing "several times" to the Cabinet to have more non-Malays recruited", and yet failing to achieve the desired results, doesn't it prove its incompetence, or worse irrelevance?

Chinese Education & Schools
Through the MCA's efforts in the past six years, a number of Chinese primary schools were approved to be built or relocated to new areas especially in new townships with high Chinese density. This has eased problems of the lack of Chinese schools in certain areas.

How many new Chinese primary schools were built over the past 10 years? None!

And how many Chinese primary schools were relocated in that period? Less than 5!

And how many new Chinese primary schools are expected to be built in the next 5 years? Again, none! There is only expected to be 1 new Sekolah Wawasan (Vision School) in Putra Heights, Puchong and a relocated school in Kulai, Johor (which, by the way, was "promised" way back during the 1999 elections).

How many new Chinese schools does the country actually need to build or relocate based on current needs?

The statistics illustrated above speaks for itself. The number of Chinese primary schools have declined from 1,333 in 1957 to 1,288 today, despite the enrolment numbers more than doubling from 310,000 to 636,000!

And the MCA President was eternally grateful to the Minister of Education, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein for 1 Vision School, and 1 relocated school.

Scholarhips for Non-bumiputeras

This issue has been discussed extensively at my other blog, Education in Malaysia. The failure of Barisan Nasional component parties "representing" the interest of non-bumiputeras is clear as day, and yet the President of MCA blames it on "wrong public perception – on why some applicants were rejected".

We, the rakyat of Malaysia, would like to state unequivocally to the President of MCA, that we "believe in results and actual consequences rather than in making superficial statements and leaving problems unresolved."