Monday, April 30, 2007

Human Capital

Hurray, my first article is published in the New Straits Times ;) For those who hasn't read it, the article entitled "Human capital the key to growth" was printed yesterday (Sunday). They were also kind enough to credit me as the Economic Advisor to DAP Secretary General. ;)

AS an economics enthusiast, I’ve often been asked, "What determines the size of an economy?" Is it dependent on rubber and high oil palm prices? Or the size of our oil and gas resources? Or instead, is it dependent on land area and population?

Malaysia is extremely well endowed with fertile land, large tracts of tin mines as well as some of the highest quality petroleum reserves in the world. Singapore, our neighbour down south, however, is not as fortunate.

To put it bluntly, it is a tiny island, 480 times smaller than us, completely unsuitable for commercial plantation and lacking any natural resources. Even its population today of some four million, excluding migrant workers, is one-sixth of Malaysia’s population.

If the size of an economy is dependent on the factors highlighted above, such as arable land and natural resources, Malaysia’s economy should be many times the size of Singapore’s. However, reality paints a very different picture.
While Malaysia’s economy of US$130 billion (RM444 billion) is still larger than Singapore’s US$117 billion, the latter is only smaller by some 11 per cent. And if the rate of growth currently experienced in both countries persists for the next decade, then our tiny neighbour could soon boast a larger economy than Malaysia.

How is it even possible for a country with a sheer lack of resources and land mass to do so well? How did a country that was barely half our economic size in the early 1980s catch up within such a short period of time?

Through a simple exercise of elimination, it all boils down to a simple single factor — human capital.

Singapore’s near compulsive obsession with human capital, both in terms of enhancing its local citizenry as well as attracting the best foreign talent, has probably resulted in the highest concentration of top brains per square foot in the region, if not the world.

Every year, for example, Singapore provides financial incentives in the guise of the Asean Scholarship to hundreds of Malaysian students at all levels — post-UPSR, post-PMR, post-SPM and post-STPM — to study in some of the best schools on the island.

I was a fortunate beneficiary of such a scholarship after completing my primary school education in Batu Pahat. Unlike me, however, and unfortunately for Malaysia, most of my peers have chosen to work or even settle permanently in the island nation.

My best friend in primary school, who received the same scholarship after Form Three, went on to pursue his degree at Oxford University on a Neptune Orient Lines (NOL) scholarship. He now works for them, one of the largest shipping companies in the world, as an expatriate country manager in Vietnam.

Another fellow scholar graduated from London School of Economics (LSE) on a scholarship from Singapore Airlines (SIA). Most impressively, at the young age of 36, he has been appointed the chief executive officer of SIA’s subsidiary airline, SilkAir, as of March this year.

And when I had my annual Chinese New Year reunion with my home town classmates this year, I was heartbroken to hear that one of them, who is an academic with one of Singapore’s institutions of higher learning, had just renounced his Malaysian citizenship to become a Singaporean.

These are not my only examples, and you can be assured that I do not have a monopoly on talented friends. A local senior law lecturer recently commented that the Universiti Malaya (UM) law faculty was depleted of quality academics because Malaysians make up some 40 per cent of law lecturers at the National University of Singapore.

While Malaysia Airlines (MAS) struggled over the past decade with cumulative losses in excess of RM1 billion, SIA, which split from MAS in 1972, shone brightly as one of the most profitable airlines in the world. Ironically, it was an outstanding Malaysian and a former academic with UM, Dr Cheong Choong Kong, who led SIA to an unbroken 31-year record of profitability through turbulent economic times before his retirement in 2003.

Hence, when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi rolled out the Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP) with an emphasis on human capital, I was pleased to a certain extent. The 9MP had an entire chapter dealing with human capital.

The human capital policy thrusts called for the creation of "universities of international standing and ensuring that tertiary institutions meet the needs of employers" and "nurturing an innovative society with strong science and technology capabilities and the ability to acquire and apply knowledge", among other things.

However, as part of the thrust, there was only a cursory mention of a "National Brain Gain Programme" to be spearheaded by a focal point at the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry.

There was no discussion on the issue of attracting and retaining local and foreign talents, a critical element in developing Malaysia’s human capital. It is extremely important for the government to recognise the fact that the development of human capital in Malaysia is intrinsically and inexplicably linked to the issue of brain gain and reversing brain drain.

An effective human capital development policy is not just limited to building more schools and universities, or hiring more teachers and lecturers.

Singapore, for example, has only half our ratio of universities to the population. Yet, two out of their three universities are recognised as among the Top 50 in the world.

The government must give thorough consideration to the all-important qualitative element of uncompromising search for the best-qualified educators and an education policy which rewards academic rigour, critical thinking and analytical intelligence.

Without such a policy structure and ingrained culture in place, it is unsurprising that many young and particularly talented Malaysians will seek out the "borderless" global academic environment in which their potential can be fully harnessed.

Concurrently, the country’s education policy must be complemented with an equally competitive economic environment which provides these talents with fair and equal opportunities to grow in their careers, contribute economically and be compensated accordingly — in order to retain these talents.

Our competitors’ ability to attract young Malaysians, provide undisputed world-class quality education and offer a conducive economic environment has clearly resulted in our loss.

It is hard to imagine that my friends, who have done extremely well for themselves overseas, would have had the same opportunities in equivalent entities in Malaysia.

The government must be commended for highlighting the importance of human capital in the economic growth and development of the country. However, if the government is serious about raising the quality of human capital, much more needs to be done to create a holistic and integrated plan that will honestly appraise and critically examine the quality of Malaysia’s educational institutions.

We must also identify the underlying factors, perceived or otherwise, of the lack of equal opportunities and glass ceilings as well as limited career advancement based on merit in many of our "commercial" organisations.

Should our ample pool of potential talent be fully harnessed, attracted and retained, coupled with our rich and God-given natural resources, then surely we can stay well ahead of our competitors, eliminate poverty sooner and become a truly developed nation by 2020.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

DAP Damansara Branch

Hurray, after waiting for some four months or so, the new DAP Damansara Branch has now been officially approved by the Registrar of Societies. The DAP Damansara is now branch "1006" in the party. I was actually hoping for 999, 1000 or 1008! ;)

For those who would like to join my branch, in which I'm currently the pro-tem committee chairman, please feel free to email me @ tonypua(at) ;) Alternatively, you are also most welcome to turn up at our branch meeting next Thursday evening.

Date: 3rd May 2007 (Thursday)
Time: 7.00 pm
Venue: DAP Damansara Community & Service Centre @ Uptown (55M Jalan SS21/1A, Damansara Utama 47400 Petaling Jaya)

We plan for DAP Damansara to be an active branch with plenty of activities to be conducted, both political and non-political ones. Non-political functions will include charity events, games and competitions, while semi-political events will include forums, voter registration exercises as well as grassroot activities.

So if you are interested in any of these at all, come join us, who are a group of relatively young professionals hoping to play our little roles in making a better Malaysia.

(DAP members from other branches are most welcome to join us for our activities as well ;))

Monday, April 23, 2007

The People's Parliament

Haris Ibrahim, if you don't know him by now, is current defending Jeff Ooi in the case where the latter was sued by the New Straits Times. Well, he has now started another commendable civil society effort to improve the performance of our parliamentarians.

He wrote on his maiden post in his blog 'The People's Parliament":
The average voter casts his vote at the general election without really knowing much about his candidate of choice. The short campaign period after nomination day simply does not allow time to investigate the stand of the candidate on issues that may be important to voters.

I am involved in a civil society project that is being initiated to enable voters to know better the stand of their present MPs on several pressing issues that confront our country. The idea is to get a group of voters from a particular constituency to approach their sitting MP for clarification as to his personal stand on those issues. The MP concerned will be pressed to make his stand publicly known and will be informed that his failure to do so will be taken to mean that his views do not conform to the views of his constituents.

If the MP in question does not respond or responds unfavourably, his constituents involved in this exercise will then make a decision if they wish to retain him or her in the next parliament. If they decide that he or she is not representative of their wishes, that decision will be reflected in this blog by an announcement under ’Situations Vacant’ that a candidate is required for that constituency for the next election and inviting applicants from civil society for consideration.
In his subsequent elaboration of his plans, he added that "we put into Parliament people we do not know and who in turn do not know what we want."
In the time that we have betwen now and the next elections, I want to try to put in place an initiative by which we get to know something of our MP and in the process get across to him or her what our concerns are and what our expectations are of him or her. If we emerge from this exercise with a sense that the present MP does not stand with us on these numerous issues, we must make it known to Barisan and the usual opposition parties that they must not assume that we are condemned in our choice of representatives to the usual fare. And if Barisan and the opposition will not pay heed to our cries, then we must have the courage and the will to find that candidate of choice from amongst our own ranks.
Want to know more about what he is doing? Please visit his blog for more details. His actions are definitely commendable. Unfortunately, now being an 'interested party' in the electoral process, I won't be able join the movement ;).

He is specifically targetting voters in the following constituencies for the civil action:
  1. Bandar Tun Razak
  2. Batu
  3. Setiawangsa
  4. Lembah Pantai
  5. Segambut
  6. Petaling Jaya Selatan
  7. Petaling Jaya Utara
  8. Subang
  9. Kelana Jaya
As Haris put it, "can we quit griping and start acting, please?"

Friday, April 20, 2007


An angry young man @ Ijok?
Photo courtesy of Nathaniel Tan

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

I may be a lousy politician if I can't rouse and agitate the crowd like he does. But I'll definitely rather be a lousy politician than be transmorgified into what you see on the left. And if I do for whatever reason become like him, then I'll deserve the heaps of criticism which will be piled heavily on my shoulders.

Nathaniel and Nik Nazmi both had their say on the issue. Suddenly I feel as if I took the wrong course, and picked the wrong university. Okay, that was overly dramatic, but it certainly gave our alma mater a bad name in this country. ;)

Read the full report on the Ijok nomination day fracas in Malaysiakini. Sigh.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Official Complaint to Elections Commission

Delegation led by DAP candidate for Machap By-Elections,
Liou Chen Kuang and political secretary to Lim Guan Eng,
Ng Wei Aik submitting our letter of complaint to the Election Commission

On Tuesday morning, the DAP team submitted a letter of complaint to the Election Commission with regards abuses as well as illegal conduct by the Barisan Nasional machinery. This was reported by the Sun here.

On the other hand, Election Commission (EC) chairman Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman claimed that development promises by ministers to voters during an election cannot be construed as vote-buying. Apparently, neither can allocations, given out in kind by ministers during elections, be deemed as bribing voters.

MCA President Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting similarly brushed aside our complaint by claiming that "it was not something new but a common tactic by the Opposition to accuse the Barisan Nasional of abuse vote-buying during every election". (Umm... that's probably because, it actually happens every elections? No?) At the same time, he claimed that "the development projects for Machap had been planned and decided much earlier before the by-election was called".

Similarly for Ijok, is the whopping RM36 million allocated by the Selangor Menteri Besar for immediate execution "planned and decided much earlier" as well? Are these leaders even credible? If so, then where are the millions being "planned" for other constituencies getting rolled out? When the next BN assemblyman or MP meets with unfortunate demise?

Anyway, the official letter submitted is as follows:

Tan Sri Datuk Seri Panglima Haji Ab. Rashid bin Ab. Rahman,
Suruhanjaya Pilihan Raya Malaysia (SPR),
Aras 4 & 5, Blok C7, Kompleks C,
Pusat Pentadbiran Kerajaan Persekutuan,
62690 Putrajaya.

17 APRIL 2007

Yang Berbahagia Tan Sri,

Aduan terhadap Salahlaku Calon dan Petugas-petugas Barisan Nasional (BN) Semasa Pilihan Raya Kecil Machap

Saya ingin menarik perhatian pihak tuan terhadap salahlaku-salahlaku calon dan petugas-petugas Barisan Nasional (BN) semasa berlangsungnya pilihan raya kecil Machap dari 3hb sehingga 12hb April 2007.

2. Salahlaku-salahlaku tersebut adalah serius dan menyalahi undang-undang serta perlu diambil tindakan tegas baik oleh pihak polis mahupun pihak tuan demi kelicinan, keadilan dan kebersihan proses pilihan raya yang demokratik, seperti:

(1)Penyogokan melalui cara pembelian wang kepada pengundi-pengundi selepas membuang undi

Pada 12 April 2007 iaitu hari pengundian kira-kira jam 12.30 tengahari, saya menerima laporan bahawa banyak pengundi-pengundi yang telah membuang undi berkumpul di luar sebuah rumah kosong berhadapan dengan SJK (C) Khiak Yew, Tebong. Disyaki bahawa pengundi-pengundi tersebut telah diberikan sejumlah wang sogokan oleh orang yang berada dalam rumah itu, iaitu di antara RM50 hingga RM200 kepada setiap pengundi mengikut jarak rumah mereka ke tempat mengundi.

Repot polis 000115/07 telah dibuat di Balai Polis Tebong pada jam 1.00 petang. Foto-foto dan video yang kita ambil telah diserahkan ke IPK Melaka pada 13 April 2007 dan disertakan untuk tindakan pihak tuan yang selanjutnya. Kesalahan tersebut merupakan kesalahan jenayah serius yang menyalahi Seksyen 10 Akta Kesalahan Pilihan Raya 1954 dan boleh dihadapkan ke mahkamah serta dijatuhkan hukuman penjara tidak lebih dua tahun dan denda tidak kurang RM1,000 dan tidak lebih daripada RM5,000.

(2)Penyogokan melalui cara pembelian wang RM20 kepada setiap peserta sesi karaoke anjuran MCA

Mengikut laporan yang disiarkan dalam akhbar The Sun pada 11 April 2007, didapati setiap penduduk yang menyertai sesi karaoke anjuran MCA di kawasan rumah pangsa Machap Baru telah diberikan wang sebanyak RM20. Lebih kurang 40 penduduk di sekitarnya telah menyertai aktiviti tersebut. Keadaan ini juga berunsurkan penyogokan dan bertujuan untuk mempengaruhi pilihan mereka pada hari mengundi kelak.

(3)Merayu atau memujuk pengundi-pengundi supaya mengundi atau mengundi mana-mana calon pilihan raya dalam jarak 50 meter dari sempadan tempat mengundi

Mengikut Seksyen 26(1) Akta Kesalahan Pilihan Raya 1954, tiada seorang pun pada hari mengundi boleh merayu-rayu atau memujuk atau cuba memujuk mana-mana orang supaya mengundi atau tidak mengundi mana-mana calon dalam pilihan raya tersebut, dan juga dilarang berbuat demikian dalam jarak 50 meter dari sempadan mana-mana tempat mengundi.

Didapati pemimpin-pemimpin BN/MCA yang berpangkat Menteri juga terlibat dalam aktiviti-aktiviti tersebut. Foto-foto tersebut disertakan untuk membantu tindakan yang diambil oleh pihak tuan kelak. Mana-mana orang yang didapati bersalah boleh dipenjarakan tidak melebihi satu tahun atau didenda lebih RM1,000 dan tidak melebihi RM5,000 atau kedua-duanya sekali.

(4)Perbelanjaan pihak BN bagi pilihan raya kecil kali ini secara jelas telah melebihi RM100,000.

Jelasnya, perbelanjaan pihak BN bagi pilihan raya kecil kali ini telah melebihi RM100,000 jika hanya dihitung poster, banner dan bunting yang digantung, risalah dan CD yang diagihkan, serta makanan dan minuman yang telah dibelanjakan dalam tempoh pilihan raya tersebut.

Mengikut Seksyen 19(1) Akta Kesalahan Pilihan Raya 1954, tiada wang yang boleh dibayar dan tiada belanja boleh dilakukan oleh seseorang calon atau oleh ejennya semasa atau selepas sesuatu pilihan raya melebihi RM100,000 dalam hal sesuatu pilihan raya bagi kerusi Dewan Undangan Negeri dan adalah bersalah atas sesuatu perbuatan yang menyalahi undang-undang.

(5)Kes pergaduhan berdarah yang berlaku pada hari penamaan calon yang mencederakan dua orang ahli DAP dan layanan kasar serta ugutan terhadap wartawan-wartawan yang sedang bertugas

Insiden berunsur keganasan yang berlaku pada hari penamaan tersebut merupakan taktik kotor pihak BN untuk menakutkan para pengundi serta mendisplinkan para wartawan yang bertugas dalam pilihan raya kecil kali ini. Dalam kejadian tersebut, dua orang ahli DAP iaitu K. Kannis A/L Kanniah dan Vijayan A/L Arumugam telah dicederakan, seorang jurukamera bagi Harian Makkal Osai iaitu Malayandi A/L Pidaran dan seorang wartawan wanita bagi Harian Malaysian Nanban iaitu Malini A/P Rangasamy telah diugut.

Bendera parti MIC dan batu-bata telah digunakan sebagai senjata dalam kejadian tersebut. Mereka yang dipercayai merancang serta terlibat dalam insiden kali ini termasuklah Setiausaha Parlimen bagi Kementerian Belia dan Sukan Datuk S.A. Vigneswaran serta ahli-ahli Briged Pemuda MIC. Kelakuan tersebut adalah menyalahi Seksyen 4A Akta Kesalahan Pilihan Raya 1954 dan boleh dijatuhkan penjara tidak melebihi 5 tahun dan denda tidak melebihi RM10,000 atau kedua-duanya sekali. Repot-repot polis telah dibuat di Pondok Polis Machap Umboo pada 3 April 2007. Sehingga hari ini, tiada mana-mana orang dihadapkan ke mahkamah untuk diadili.

(6)Peruntukan kewangan yang diumumkan oleh calon BN secara tidak langsung boleh disifatkan sebagai bersalah atas kesalahan menyogok

Lawatan turun padang calon BN iaitu Lai Meng Chong ke Machap Baru pada 4 April 2007 dan menjanjikan peruntukan kewangan kerajaan negeri Melaka di antara RM6,000 sehingga RM13,000 bagi 5 unit rumah kediaman yang terlibat telah menyalahi Seksyen 10 Akta Kesalahan Pilihan Raya 1954 dan boleh dijatuhkan hukuman penjara tidak lebih dua tahun dan denda tidak kurang RM1,000 dan tidak lebih daripada RM5,000. Sebagai seorang calon, beliau memang tidak berkuasa untuk menjanjikan peruntukan kewangan kerajaan persekutuan atau negeri secara langsung atau tidak langsung.

Walaupun beliau menafi dirinya telah menjanjikan peruntukan kewangan tersebut dan hanya setakat membantu tuan-tuan rumah yang terlibat untuk mengemukakan borang permohonan mereka, namun ini bertentangan dengan apa yang telah dilaporkan dalam akhbar Sin Chew Daily pada 5 April 2007, dan menunjukkan bahawa peruntukan kewangan berjumlah lebih kurang RM50,000 telah diluluskan untuk tujuan pembinaan rumah atau memperbaiki bahagian-bahagian rumah yang telah rosak.

3. Walaupun perkara-perkara tersebut hanyalah merupakan sebahagian kecil perbuatan rasuah atau yang menyalahi undang-undang telah dilakukan oleh calon atau petugas-petugas, namun DAP mendesak pihak tuan supaya mengambil tindakan tegas dengan serta-merta untuk menyiasat serta menghadapkan mereka yang terlibat ke mahkamah.

4. Pihak tuan perlulah bertindak adil dalam membanteras segala perbuatan rasuah demi menegakkan keadilan serta menjamin keadilan, kebersihan dan kesaksamaan proses pilihan raya dalam negara kita. Segala tindakan tegas pihak tuan adalah dihargai.

Sekian, terima kasih.

Yang Benar,


Setiausaha Politik kepada
Setiausaha Agung DAP

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Wee Ka Siong Sued

This is quite funny.

Outspoken MCA Youth Secretary, Dr Wee Ka Siong must be regretting his crass attempts at poking fun at Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's sodomy trial (in which he has been acquitted). Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim must be having the last laugh now, leaving Dr Wee with sleepless nights rueing his tasteless comments at a Machap ceramah.

Wee, the Ayer Hitam MP, addressed several hundred supporters in a mixture of Mandarin and Hakka, labelling Anwar as someone who “can say one thing then and something else now. For him, front is okay, back is also okay”.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has since demanded a public apology and RM10 million in damages from MCA Youth secretary Dr Wee Ka Siong for a remark deemed to insinuate that the former is homosexual. So it's now a real RM10 million pain in the a** for Dr Wee.

Not only does Wee make tasteless remarks, he's also a pretty good cover up artist. In the recent challenge issued by DAP Socialist Youth (DAPSY) to MCA Youth to a debate in Machap, the latter did not possess the courage to turn up at the stage prepared for them in Machap Baru. This was despite the fact that MCA Youth has put all sorts of conditions for a debate to happen in the media, particularly in the Chinese press.

At the end of the day, despite meeting their conditions to debate, they failed to show after promising to turn up. To save face, this very same Dr Wee, told his ceramah crowd that we didn't prepare a stage for the debate and that their target Sdr Anthony Loke, DAPSY Secretary, wasn't present. Blatant lies? You decide.

Sdr Anthony Loke kicking off the debate after the audience
got tired of waiting for the gutless MCA Youth

Let's just say that the TV cameras, and the picture above showed that we had a stage, with a separate rostrum and functioning microphone patiently awaiting their arrival. And as you can see, unlike the MCA counterparts, Sdr Anthony Loke, was present and ever ready for the challenge. But Dr Wee clearly did have what it takes to meet the DAPSY's frontal challenge, but instead could only meekly attempt to stab us from the back.

Well, he certainly deserved the suit from Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. And as usual, like typical BN members who shoots without thinking, he is now in total denial. "It was taken out of context. There was no (such) connotation."

To be fair to Dr Wee, we have him to thank, for finally raising the issue of our universities' obsession with coloured medals at trade exhibitions, which the Star had graciously given him frontpage coverage. After all, this issue has been raised many times since nearly 2 years ago by Sdr Lim Kit Siang and myself. Dr Wee may be late, but it's certainly better late then never. ;)

Oh, and I know the MCA publicity department reads my blog too. Thanks for visiting ;)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Machap: A Reflection (II)

I wrote on my reflections on Machap on Friday, and it has certainly attracted a fair bit of attention. In the previous post, I discussed how many of the young party members viewed the by-elections, the effort put in, as well as both the positive and negative incidences which occurred during the campaign.

Here, however, I'll ask the simple question as to why we didn't do any better, or even the question whether we could even have done better.

Machap is a rural state constituency in Malaysia. It is the very type of constituency which Barisan Nasional (BN) component parties perform extremely well in. These are also the seats in which BN comfortably secures their two-third majorities. Hence with the context in mind, a significant reduction in the huge majority obtained by BN was the only realistic target for the opposition.

The single biggest factor behind BN success is their ability to abuse government (as opposed to party) machinery to bring "development" to these contested constituencies. Almost overnight, some 900 street lamps were put up. A hawker in Melaka town joked that its now so bright, he can see the ants on the road in the evenings! Roads were resurfaced, even when they are not particularly worn. A RM1.2 million recreational park was created all within a two-week period! Millions more were spent by the Government to ensure BN victory all within the space of less than a month.

Then, there is the clear-cut factor of vote-buying by BN. While resurfacing roads and building parks can be classified as community projects, BN was blatant in its attempt to sway voters preferences. BN's candidate, Lai Meng Chong was "caught" red-handed by the press in the early days of campaigning for offering RM8,000 to RM13,000 to renovate individual villager's houses. A complaint was filed with the Election Commission, but expectedly, nothing was done.

Later in the campaign, he was also "caught" on film giving out free food to constituents to entice support for BN. Again, this represents an offence under Malaysian laws. "A person is guilty under this offence known as 'treating' if he gives or provides any food, drink, refreshment or provision for the purpose of corruptly influencing others to give their vote during elections." Again, a police report was lodged with the necessary hard evidence, and we have seen no action taken to date.

These aren't the only freebies. Two days before the campaign ended, BN "donated" 400 brand new bicycles to a local school. Students were seen brandishing brand new mountain bicycles home that very day. Our DAP leaders joked during the nightly ceramah that if the constituents had asked for new motorbikes or even cars, they would probably have gotten it during this period.

At the karaoke entertainment centres organised by BN, not only do the participants get "free" entertainment, they will each receive RM20 as a "token of appreciation" for every song they belt out.

And the ugliest of it all? Outright cash in exchange for votes. See Malaysiakini report here with all the photos. Our party worker, Thing Siew Shuen captured the utter lack of morals and integrity of MCA and Barisan Nasional on film. These voters collected RM100-200 each.

Even the scale of the campaign in lobsided, for a constituency of less than 10,000 voters. We had all the MCA cabinet ministers down in Machap every day for walkabouts (on our tax payers' expense, by the way), skipping the Parliament which was in session. At least our parliamentarians turn up after the Parliament adjourns. The Deputy Prime Minister himself was in the villages for at least half the campaign period. The Melaka Chief Minister, Datuk Seri Ali Rustam was sitting in the local coffee shops til nearly midnight almost on a daily basis even before nomination day.

Hence, looking at it objectively, despite the hardwork that the DAP team put up throughout the campaign, it is unsurprising that the dent we managed to strike on BN's previous majority was limited. Look at it reversely, the fact that we even managed to strike a 481-vote dent inspite of the odds is certainly an achievement in itself.

Could we have done better in Machap? On hindsight, probably not much in the short term, under the current circumstances.

There is a total lack of support for us in the Malay and Indian polling districts, as shown by the results. The two largest Malay majority polling districts - Felda Hutan Percha (1,159 voters, 72% Malay) and Melaka Pindah (1388, 73%), our votes increased by a meagre total of 8, while BN's total increased by 63.

Hence despite probably DAP's best effort to date in Malay publicity materials (professionally designed and reader friendly Utusan Roket), our candidate walking the Malay ground extensively as well as a fair few ceramahs held in these areas, we achieved literally nought. The above hasn't even taken into account the extensive participation by PKR in these areas canvassing for votes on our behalf. Both Datin Seri Wan Azizah and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim came on the last 2 days to campaign on our behalf as well. Yes, we achieved literally nought.

Similarly, despite our Tamil team campaigning hard door-to-door at Tebong, which had 738 Indian voters with the assistance of PKR, our vote count increased by 33 to 165. BN however, managed to increase theirs by 45 from 992.

The only possibly positive outcome from the results is the fact that we managed to reduce the majority in the Chinese majority polling districts of Machap Baru (2,161 voters, 92% Chinese) and Machap Umboo (1,647, 90%). For the former, which was a MCA stronghold, we have managed to reduce the majority from 914 votes to a more respectable 387, a 58% reduction. For the latter, the impact was less significant reducing by only 11 votes to 279.

It should also be noted that contrary to the Malay and mixed constituencies where turnout increased, the total voter turnout declined by some 302 votes in the 2 new Chinese villages, believed to be due to younger voters working outstation. The strategy by the Election Commission to set the election date on a working day clearly worked to discourage these voters who are more exposed to national and urban issues from returning to vote. Could we have managed to increase our vote pool otherwise? Possibly.

Therefore, based on the analysis, should we possibly give up on the Malay and Indian votes, particularly in the rural districts? Certainly not! As many readers have pointed out, for DAP to have a future, we must extend our reach beyond the Chinese and urban Indian voters. However, realistically, this isn't going to happen overnight, and supporters should certainly not expect it before the next general elections. After that however, it must be all systems go.

With the Ijok by-elections nomination day set in 2 days time, it is hoped that PKR will do even better. With a slightly more urban outlook, swinging the voters over with our messages (as opposed to 'hard cash') should hopefully have a better chance. DAP will certainly make our presence felt in this by-elections, especially if welcomed by PKR members.

Enough of reflections. ;) It's time to move forward. Don't forget, help is still needed to get my machinery started ;).

And for a more thorough analysis of the Machap by-elections, read Ong Kian Ming & Bridget Welsh commentary on Malaysiakini. ;)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Machap: A Reflection (I)

The Machap by election result has been announced. Was it within expectations? Yes, it definitely was. We participated in the by-election with the full knowledge that Machap was a Barisan Nasional "fortress" that will be very difficult to penetrate. Was the results disappointing nevertheless? Yes, it certainly was as well.

The Party workers worked tirelessly full-time for some 2 weeks. Compared to the General Elections period whereby only 1 ceramah was held, this time round, we must have had organised nearly 20 such sessions, on a nightly basis. Party leaders all over the country travelled extensively to Machap to deliver their messages to a seemingly receptive constituents. Even our state assemblywomen from Sarawak came over to lend their support. Extensive house-to-house call were made, leaving many pretty much dehydrated and sun-burnt.

In addition, our DAPSY team assisted in ensuring the publicity machinery of the candidate ran like clockwork, squeezing as much mileage as possible to overcome the tremendous disadvantages posed by the local mainstream media.

And yet, for all the non-stop hardwork, our candidate, Sdr Liou Chen Kuang, also a DAPSY committee member, secured only 167 votes more than the previous campaign, or a slightly more respectable reduction of 480 votes in terms of losing majority.

During the campaign, were there elements which give rise to optimism in performing better? There was. One of the reasons why that many ceramahs were held, was really because of its popularity. The final day ceramah perdana at Machap Baru attracted some 1,000 people, albeit with many outsiders. Even the one held in Melaka Pindah targetting Malay voters attracted some 600 or so audience.

As noted by many journalists, the audience was there not only listening, but forking out a fair bit of cash as well in terms of donations to the party. The very encouraging nightly collections, which YB Teresa Kok says she doesn't even receive in her constituency Seputeh, gave confidence to the young party compatriots like myself. Clearly, another party leader with plenty of experience was a lot more reserved, and rightly so. He said that many of these villages will support you financially, but will give their votes to BN because that's where they expect their next bowl of rice to come from.

Incidents during the campaign were pretty much in our favour as well.
  • Nomination day was marred by MIC Youths, who were pretty much gangsters, assaulting our members as well as 2 members of the press.

  • Earlier in the week, a 22-year old Machap resident met a fatal road accident. Despite the clinic being less than a kilometre away, the ambulance never arrived - because the driver could not be found (!). And this wasn't the first time as well.

  • Oddly, enough, even Melaka Pindah was flooded that day. This was a rare occurence because Machap is practically as high as you can get in Melaka, for this is where the Durian Tunggal dam and water catchment area is located. The flood occurred apparently due to a poorly maintained and clogged drainage system.
There was only 1 notable incident whereby our campaign was "marred", although the extent of its impact was hopefully limited. On the first day of campaigning, we were gracious enough to invite the young media co-ordinator of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, Ginie Lim to speak at our ceramah in Machap Umboo, which proved to be a clear mistake on hindsight. Unbelievably, incomprehensibly and most naively, she proceeded to tell the audience that "supporting DAP is supporting the opposition, supporting the opposition is supporting PKR and PAS."

She basically handed ammunition on a silver platter to MCA, who wasted no time making thousands of copies of the ceramah VCD together with a leaflet alleging the existence a secret pact between DAP and PAS, and alluded our support for a Islamic State. They were distributed house to house earlier this week. (Apparently, she still think its a non-issue.)

DAP has gone at great lengths to disassociate ourselves from any political party which seeks to establish an Islamic state, whether UMNO or PAS over the past few years, having learnt painful lessons in 1999. All these efforts could have been undone purely through some careless and ill-thought remarks, which thankfully in this case, didn't come from a DAP member.

So, why did we not do better? Could we have done better? I'll try cover these factors in my next post. ;)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Starting the Machinery

With the Machap electoral campaign winding to a close, I've certainly learnt a great deal in terms of running an election campaign. And with the next general elections expected within the next 12 months, the experience could not have come at a better time.

Don't ask me where I'll be standing in the next elections because nothing has yet been finalised, and in politics, always expected the last minute changes. However, that shouldn't stop me from preparing all the other stuff which can be done over the next few months, before the mad scramble during the election period.

But I certainly can't do it alone. I'm looking for dedicated and competent people to help with my campaign. People of all talents are required, from technology, to writing (all languages), to design, to statistics, and in particular, meticulous organisation capabilities given the complexity and intensity of Malaysian electoral campaigns. Some may also be assigned roles in the national election programmes, not just my own.

I'm looking for people interested in working full-time, whether short-term for the period until the general elections, or even longer term after that. I certainly can't hire everyone, hence I would certainly welcome dedicated individuals who are willing to contribute their expertise to the campaign on a part-time basis as well. Or if you have friends who may be interested, let them know.

It is certainly exciting times ahead, but the work starts now. I need people who are strong with team work, and who are happy to put aside individual egos, for hopefully the better good. A lot of people of contributed fantastic ideas, and I'd certainly look to putting them to practise. But without a strong, competent and dedicated team, I will be but 1-man, and 1-man certain isn't enough.

This is certainly a good time to get exposed to actual campaign machinery during an election which recurs only every 4-5 years, and is probably a good experience for many with some hint of political (or related) ambitions. Most importantly, win or lose, it is most important to know that we have run the campaign to the best of our abilities, and we enjoyed ourselves doing so.

Email me @ tonypua(at)! ;)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

DAP NextGen

OK, by young and nextgen, I meant those below the age of 35. ;) I would not have covered everybody here (these are just those Machap pictures I could get my hands on), but these are some of the faces to look out for in the future of the Party. In no particular order, we have:

Anthony Loke, already the existing state assemblyman for Lobak, Negeri Sembilan.
Wanted to wear DAP colours since Standard 3.

Fong Po Kuan, younger than me, but already a 2-term MP for Batu Gajah, Perak.
Our very own red-hot chilli-pepper.

Lau Weng San, currently political secretary to DAP Secretary-General, and assistant to
Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Sdr Lim Kit Siang. A chemical engineer by training.

Violet Yong, newly elected state assemblywoman for Pending (Kuching), Sarawak.

Ng Wei Aik, political secretary to DAP Secretary General.
Won infamy (headlines) for challenging Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon to a game of golf.

Nga Kor Ming, currently the state assemblyman for Pantai Remis, Perak and DAPSY Chief.
He's one eloquent and fiery speaker in Mandarin.

Wong May Ing, senior editor of the Chinese Rocket, playing the role of
an accomplished and eloquent MC for all our ceramahs.

Liew Chin-Tong, recently appointed elections strategy advisor to DAP Secretary-General.
Wrote his ANU Masters thesis on PAS politics. Wanted to join politics since Standard 4.

Foo Yu Keong, seconded by Sdr Fong Kui Lun to be
Liou Chen Kuang's campaign assistant for the by-elections

Is there future for the DAP? Oh yes, there certainly is. ;)

Monday, April 09, 2007

Ceramah Practice

Yup. I'm getting plenty of practice, particularly in giving ceramah speeches in Mandarin at our Machap campaign. I must say, practice certainly gives one a lot more confidence. I've been giving presentations, speaking at forums all my adult life, so what's the difference when speaking at the election rallies?

I can think of 3 key differences.

Firstly, when speaking forums or giving business presentations, the audience is often targetted and content is often specialised and more detailed. The challenge hence is to bring well-supported and reasoned arguments to the masses without boring them to death. There are usually some 10 speakers speaking at each ceramah (sometimes more), hence you will certainly have to be really sharp to drive home your points.

Secondly, politics at ceramahs is really the art of tugging the hearts. Or to put it bluntly, the ability of stirring emotions. People often vote with their hearts. Hence while forums tend to be a little more calm and collected, rallies needs to be emotionally convincing and inspiring.

Machap Umboo, 8th March (Sunday)

Thirdly, politics is business, it's not personal. Ironically, that means one must not shy away from hitting hard at the opponents, both the person and the party, when it's justifiable. In forums, we are often more polite and give a little more face to the opponents. But certainly, that won't cut it for ceramahs. I had a good time having a go at the MCA hero, and I definitely got better at it the 2nd time round (you can tell from the response of the audience) ;).

Certainly, by listening to the other leaders speak, I have learnt a great deal over the past week or so. It's great that I get this chance to learn the ropes (and better understand my weaknesses), to go into the coming elections fully prepared ;). Of course, hopefully by telling my little stories, I get to help Sdr Liou Chen Kuang garner a few extra votes!

Machap Umboo villages lighting a candle to a brighter future (6/4/07)

I'll probably be speaking in Machap for the last round tomorrow (Tuesday). We have a record 5 ceramahs running concurrently tomorrow, one in each of the Chinese new villages (Machap Baru and Machap Umboo), one in Tebong (concentrated Indian community), one in Melaka Pindah as well as one in Hutan Percha (Felda scheme). The last two are essentially UMNO bastions. I should be popping by at least one of the Malay villages tomorrow, if not to speak and practise my rusty Malay, then at least to see the reception we get.

On Wednesday, there'll be two mega ceramahs, one in Machap Baru, while the other is at Melaka Pindah. All the big shots will be speaking (so obviously there won't be room for me ;)), and Anwar is coming to town. So it should be fun!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Machap By-Election Blog Launched

DAP Secretary General, Lim Guan Eng, myself and Liew Chin-Tong
launching Machap By-Elections Blog

Well the multi-lingual Machap By-Election blog has been active for more than a week now, but it's officially launched this morning in Machap Umboo.

And to answer questions from readers at my other education blog, as well as here, yes, I'm actively helping out in the party's campaign in Machap. ;) Did my very first political rally style speech last night in Mandarin as well - it was good to get it out of the way ;) Will try to get some more pictures up for the readers ;)

Back to the blog, it's set up by a DAPSY (well, DAP Socialist Youth, if you are not familiar) team to meet the following objectives...
  1. Despite the rural settings of the Machap constituency, Internet literacy cannot be underestimated. We have visited many households with Streamyx access, particularly if they have children or young adults in the house. Hence with an element of media censorship as well as the pure lack of space in the print media, the voters will get full access to our events, statements and pictures (more coming up!) on the website. In a small constituency like Machap, with less than 10,000 voters (and when we won less than 1,300 the last time round), every vote counts!

  2. It must not be forgotten that there are many voters who are currently working outside of the constituency, as near as Melaka city itself or as far as Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Singapore. It is estimated that nearly 25% of the voters are not living within the city. Hence our access to this block of voters who are likely to be Internet savvy, will be through the Internet.

  3. And finally, this by-election is a fight at two levels. Firstly, it's a fight for votes in Machap itself. But equally important, due to the national attention being paid on the by-elections, it is an excellent opportunity for the Party to express its views to all Malaysians throughout the country. A blog is certainly an excellent way for our views to be propagated.

Deputy Secretary General Ahmad Ton, Candidate Liou Chen Kuang,
Lim Guan Eng, myself and Liew Chin-Tong
the special multi-lingual editions of the DAP Rockets.

In addition to the blog, the DAP machinery also launched probably it's most professional election 4-page newsletter campaign to date in 3 key languages - Bahasa Malaysia (Utusan Roket), Chinese (火箭快讯) and Tamil Rocket. Will it make a difference in rural Machap? We'll see.

Enjoy! for the next couple of days, we will continue to "upgrade" the contents of the blog to make things even more interesting for readers. Remember to advertise and promote the blog to all Malaysians, in particular, those voting in Melaka. ;)

Monday, April 02, 2007

Real Property Gains Tax Abolishment (II)

Sigh... I completed the entire article and clicked "publish" only to find it completely disappeared! I've got no clue what happened! As there appears to be no way I can recover what I wrote earlier, this is my second time writing this post.

Yesterday, I wrote on the effectiveness (or potentially the lack of it) on the Governments announced intent to scrap the real property gains tax, specifically on the property sector, as well as the economy in general. This post however, will raise additional concerns of such a policy on the risk posed to the economy as well as the potential socio-economic impact of such a decision.

But before I get into the above issues, let me discuss another point which will question the effectiveness of scrapping the real property gains tax. The Prime Minister himself believes that "potential that has gone unrealized or under-optimized will be turned into new industries and businesses, new value creation and new jobs." This in other words, is the verbalisation of the much touted "multiplier effect" from such a move.

The "multiplier effect" result stems from the assumption that the bulk of the untaxed earnings will be consumed or re-invested resulting in a more vibrant economy. However, given that the biggest benefiaries of scrapping the tax will be property companies as well as the wealthy who can afford multiple properties, the impact of the "multiplier effect" may be muted.

The reason is straightforward. Economic surveys have led to the general conclusion that the wealthy has a much lower propensity to consume additional income, as opposed to the poorer segments of society. For e.g., if you were to give RM10,000 to the poor, it is likely to be spent on their "needs", while if it were to be given to the rich, it is more often than not "saved", as their "needs" are already well taken cared off. Hence, the anticipated multiplier effect, which depends on further consumption and investment (which are the key drivers of the economy), may be overrated given that the beneficaries of the new policy are largely the well-to-do.

This bring me to my next point which is the socio-economic impact of the policy on Malaysians. Malaysia adopts a progressive taxation system to promote equity amongst Malaysians. This means that Malaysians of a higher income bracket pays proportionately higher income taxes, when compared to the poor or lower middle income, who are often not taxable. Hence, the wealthy are expected to finance government expenditure which are meant for all Malaysians.

Real property gains tax is one of the key tools in the Government's armoury which will improve the progressivity of our income tax system. However, as discussed earlier, by scrapping the tax, the biggest beneficiaries will be the wealthy who will be contributing less to our national coffers.

As it stands, income inequality in Malaysia currently ranks the worst amongst Southeast Asian nations. Yes, it means that our income distribution is worse than Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia. Between 1999 - 2004, our income inequality as measured by the Gini-coefficient has also increased most rapidly, particularly within the bumiputera community. Hence, will scrapping the real property gains tax worsen the already dire state of income inequality amongst Malaysians?

Finally, I'd like to throw into question the wisdom of permanently abolishing the real property gains tax. The tax act was set up in 1976 to curb speculative activities. Does the Government believe that such speculative threats are no longer relevant in our world today? Certainly, if anything, such threats are becoming increasing real as the world is flushed with excess liquidity waiting to create the next big bubble.

During the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997/8, the Government introduced a interim measure to waive the real property gains tax, in order to stimulate the property industry. Could the Government do the same currently instead of a permanent abolition? Alternatively, could the government have instead reduce the taxable period for property gains from six years to maybe two or three?

Speculative pressures are usually well absorbed by the economy in a state of overall economic growth. However, in the event of a global downturn of the economy, such pressures will unnecessarily place disproportionate amount of pressures on our property sector, and correspondingly the financial sector which supports its development. The housing recession in the United States (US) has bankrupted many sub-prime mortgage lenders, and is threatening the entire financial system. While the overall financial system in the US may be mature enough to withstand the impact, can our limited and protect financial system hold up?

Instead, if the Government decides to do a "U-turn" on its policy later (which we are quite famous for doing), it will then form another black mark for the consistency of the Government's policies, a key barometer used by foreign investors to judge a country.

Hence, I hope that the Government will take these factors raised here into serious consideration when amending the Real Property Gains Tax Act. In particular, if the amendments were to be passed as proposed, I hope that the Government will enact the necessary compensatory measures to address the impact of worsening income inequality amongst Malaysians.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Real Property Gains Tax Abolishment (I)

Well... looks like age has caught up with me. I must remind myself that I'm no longer 18 years old with unlimited energiser batteries. I missed the trip to Penang this evening after catching a bad flu leaving me aching all over... thankfully, I'm not a key speaker for the dinner at Komtar, there are at least 6 other Yang Berhormats present ;).

But that leaves me with a bit of time to put together the presentation I did in Seremban on Friday on "Real Property Gains Tax Abolishment: Its Impact on Malaysian Economy" in text form for your reading pleasure here.

The Real Property Gains Tax Act was enacted in 1976, primarily to curb speculative activities in property market. It is a tax on gains derived from the disposal of property assets by both individuals and companies. The tax structure is tiered, with the highest rate being 30% for disposal within 2 years. Gains from disposals after six years of ownership are exempted.

It was announced by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi a week ago that Malaysia will scrap the Real Property Gains Tax effective today. He argued that the move "will inject more excitement and dynamism into both the property and the financial sectors."

Industry responses, largely from the local property and construction sector was brimming with praise, and given major prominence by the local media for a few days. Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin, SP Setia Bhd chief executive officer said that "it would spur more property purchases in a market which has in the past three years, had been dominated by those buying for own use." In the first half of 2006, home property sales in Malaysia fell 3.4% to 85,153 units.

Many were hopeful that Malaysian property which is worth only some 30% of their counterparts in Singapore and Hong Kong will begin attracting more foreign investments. Choong Khuat Hock, who manages a RM400 million ringgit at Kumpulan Sentiasa Cemerlang argued that it is "very good for the property industry, Malaysia's properties are one of the cheapest in Asia and they needed an impetus to crystalize the value. It shows the government is flexible and welcomes foreign investment."

The Prime Minister also added that "Potential that has gone unrealized or under-optimized will be turned into new industries and businesses, new value creation and new jobs." Datuk Alan Tung of Bukit Kiara Properties, was excited about the multiplier effects of an expanded property development sector on some 140 property-related industries. Hence, there's a great deal of hope placed on the abolishment of the real property gains tax to reinvigorate our property sector, as well as the Malaysian economy in general.

Is the picture really that rosy?

The ability to attract foreign investment with abolishment of real property gains tax is open to debate. Peter Churchouse who runs a US$110 million Lim Asia Property Fund in Hong Kong argued that the "abolition of the tax was unlikely to cause much excitement among foreigners."
Foreign investors still face heavy legal restrictions on land ownership in Malaysia. At the margin it's positive, but foreigners have problems investing in Malaysia anyway.
In comparison, like Malaysia, Singapore has a real property gains tax system for properties sold within a 3-year period, but it clearly does not have major problems in attracting local and foreign investors to its properties. Both the United States and United Kingdom have property capital gains tax (not just for a 3-6 years period), and yet, both until fairly recently have enjoyed a housing boom.

Hence, clearly, the issue of reviving the Malaysian property sector has to do with more than just the real property gains tax. To quote Mr Tan Teng Boo, who manages a US$110m fund at Capital Dynamics Asset Management, “the incentives are very good on paper. Still, it will be crucial to ensure that the follow-through and implementation of the project is efficient.”

Other restrictive controls which deters investors are like our land ownership laws which are often complicated due to racial quotas. Our weak delivery system is epitomised by our local governments - the local councils headed by "little napoleons". With a majority of condominiums in Selangor not having received their strata titles, it is not surprising that even the Prime Minister himself has given the Minister of Housing & Local Government a public dressing down.

In addition, the performance of the local property developers play a key role in attracting the relevant investments. The system currently has plenty of loopholes which allows for property developers to get away practically scot free with half-built properties, and leaving property buyers with a 90% loan drawn-down to service. With plenty of Malaysian and foreign (especially Singaporean) buyers finding their investment locked into abandoned property projects throughout the country, it is unsurprising that foreign investors view Malaysian properties with great apprehension.

At the end of the day, the performance of the property sector is also a function of the performance of the overall economy. If the overall economy of the country is well managed like Singapore or Hong Kong, or perceived as holding vast potential, like China, then the property sectors will naturally boom. A sluggish or moderately performing economy will on the other hand, attract only meagre investment, even if there are no capital gains tax. (Or to put it bluntly, even if Iraq pays me money, I won't invest in a property there.)

More importantly however, as to why I'm skeptical as to how much the abolishment of the real property gains tax can re-energise our property sector, is the fact that most wealthy owners of such taxable properties are able to avoid having to pay such taxes anyway! Our tax regime is such that capital gains (e.g., buying and sale of both listed and unlisted shares) are not taxable.

Hence, putting it very simply, a way to avoid paying real property gains tax, you park your property under a company. And when you want to sell the property, you sell the shares of company instead to the new buyer. This way, no tax needs to be paid, or at least, not directly. What more, this mechanism is a lot faster than a real estate porperty transaction as well!

So the question is, given that many who are interested in investing in properties in Malaysia would have had the necessary expert tax-planning advice, would abolishing the real property gains tax make any significant difference to the key investment public (as opposed to the small time house-buyers like us)?

Therefore, while intuition tells us that abolishing the real property gains tax might just be the catalyst to spur additional transactions in the Malaysian property market, further analysis will throw plenty of doubt as to why the "spark" might just not be sufficient. I hope it works, but I'm just not sure it will.

In my second part to the same topic (if you are not already bored to death on the subject!), I'll discuss the potential socio-economic impact of such a move in abolishing such a tax, as well as whether a permanent abolishment of the tax is necessary. ;)