Monday, March 30, 2009

Balik Mengundi

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Journalistic Courage & Integrity

DAP Parliamentary Leader, Lim Kit Siang was kicked out of the Dewan this morning after a ruckus erupted during his speech in the debate of a new Act to amend the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999.

As rightly reported by Malaysiakini and The Malaysian Insider, Kit Siang was kicked out for "refusing to retract his accusation that Umno was ‘gila kuasa’ or ‘power crazy’ while debating amendments to the Human Rights Commission Bill."

However, go read the news flash in The Star, it says:
Ipoh Timur MP Lim Kit Siang was ejected by the Speaker from the House till 1pm Wednesday for refusing to apologise after calling Barisan Nasional politicians power crazy.
Notice the difference?

Malaysiakini and The Malaysian Insider reported accurately exactly what Kit Siang said, and it's really not too difficult to do so. Kit Siang accused UMNO of being power crazy. But The Star, owned by MCA, and enslaved by their big brother UMNO, especially during the UMNO General Assembly when ketuanan Melayu sentiments run high, reworded Kit Siang's statement to say "Barisan Nasional politicians" are power crazy.

A very subtle change, a very minor one even, some might argue. But it's change which only goes to demonstrate and prove the mainstream media's fear of a power crazy UMNO.

Unless of course, The Star actually believes that power craziness isn't limited to UMNO, but also include the other Barisan Nasional component parties like MCA, MIC, Gerakan et al. They might be reporting the truth after all.

(Update - The story in the Star has been updated, since I wrote this blog post to now correctly say "UMNO politicans")

Monday, March 23, 2009

PLUS Buy-back: Minister's Reply

I asked in one of my oral questions for the current parliamentary session with regards to the proposal which DAP has forwarded to the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Works with regards to the buy-back of PLUS Expressways Berhad.
...adakah ia lebih wajar untuk Khazanah Nasional yang memiliki 63.9% syarikat PLUS, untuk membuat tawaran am untuk membeli ekuiti daripada pemilik minoriti supaya perjanjian PLUS dapat dirombak untuk mencapai persetujuan harga tol yang lebih munasabah dengan kos pembinaan dan penyelenggaraan.
The answer is as follows:
...Kerajaan pada masa ini sedang menjalankan kajian berhubung daya maju cadangan tersebut memandangkan ianya dijangka akan melibatkan kos yang besar. Sehubungan itu, hasil kajian tersebut akan dimaklumkan setelah ianya dimuktamadkan kelak.
The good point, if the above reply is to be taken at face value, is that they are actually carrying out the study! Before March 8th, the idea would have been dismissed outright, but at least now it's being "considered".

The bad is, what's there left to consider or study? The later we conduct the exercise, the more compensation the Government will have to pay! The earlier we do the buy-back, the more tax-payers save.

(Note that this question was submitted before the details of the DAP buy-back plan was finalised, in which we worked out that we can make PLUS toll-free within 6 years.)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Public Transport Commission Stillborn?

The Prime Minister announced with great fanfare, a specially set up "Public Transport Commission" or "Suruhanjaya Pengangkutan Awam" on the 26th June 2008, nearly 9 months ago. This was in response to the steep increase in fuel prices. But after repeated chest thumping by Barisan Nasional minister over how the commission will act and transform Malaysia's public transport system, we really have yet to see anything. The Star even headlined "Government all out to improve public transportation system". In fact as late as November, the Minister in PM's office insisted that the commission will be set up by March this year.

I asked the Prime Minister's office, which subsequently redirected the question to the Minister of Finance on: 
kedudukan penubuhan Suruhanjaya Pengangkutan Awam dan dana pengangkutan awam sebanyak RM35 bilion yang telah diumumkan sejak Jun tahun lalu. Senaraikan jumlah perbelanjaan daripada dana ini yang akan dibelanjakan mengikut projek pembangunan perkhidmatan pengangkutan awam pada tahun 2009 dan 2010.
The response was brief, and probably more illuminating in terms of the devoid of content, than the content itself.
Untuk maklumam yang Berhormat, bagi meningkatkan kecekapan pengangkutan awam, sejumlah RM35 bilion telah diperuntukan dalam tempoh 2009 hingga 2014 bagi meningkatkan kapasiti perkhidmatan rel sedia ada, membina laluan rel baru, menambah bilangan bas serta menyediakan kemudahan infrastruktur berkaitan. Daripada jumlah tersebut sebanyak RM22.2 bilion diperuntukkan kepada Syarikat Prasarana Negara Berhad (Prasarana) bagi pelaksanaan projek lanjutan Aliran Kelana Jaya dan juga Ampang, penambahan gerabak LRT Kelana Jaya, Aliran bary Kota Damansara, 200 unit bas Rapid Penang dan Terminal Pengangkutan Bersepadu.

Di samping itu, Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB) diperuntukan sebanyak RM800 uta bagi pembaikpulihan Electric Multiple Unit (EMU), pembelian EMU baru dan projek landasan berkembar Sentul - Batu Caves. Selain itu, sejumlah RM12 bilion adalah bagi projek landasan berkembar Sentul - Batu Caves. Selain itu, sejumlah RM12 bilion adalah bagi projek landasan berkembar Ipoh - Padang Besar.
I had 2 parts to my question:
  1. What happened to the Public Transport Commission? No mention at all.

  2. What will be spent in 2009 and 2010? No mention at all.
Instead I get all sorts of listing of projects which the Government "intends" to undertake with no timelines attached.

Hence I can only assume, that the Public Transport Commission is dead. And no money or very little of it will be spent on these major public transportation initiatives in the next 2 years.

Wait til the next oil crisis with price shoots up again, and you'll then find the BN government giving all sorts of promises on public transport again. It happened in 2006, it happened in 2008, and I'm sure it'll be the same in 2010 again.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Minister Sleeping at Home?

Remember on December 4th last year, when the Home Minister, Datuk Syed Hamid Albar announced that he is appointing "an expert in criminal studies from a local university to do research on crime rate in the country in an effort to convince the people that the crime rate in Malaysia is lower than that in several other countries" such as Japan and Hong Kong.

Hence I took the opportunity to ask the Minister in one of my oral questions on the status of the above "study". The reply was as follows:
Untuk makluman Ahli-ahli Yang Berhormat dan Dewan Yang Mulia ini, perkara ini masih lagi dalam peringkat awal perbincangan di antara Polis Diraja Malaysia dengan Universiti Sains Malaysia. Memorandum persefahaman akan ditandatangani dengan pihak universiti berkenaan sebelum sebarang tindakan susulan diambil.
Sigh... despite the fact that the study is obviously contrived, the above really shows how much importance the Ministry is attaching to fighting crime in this country. Even a "study" announced since early December, has after more than 3 months, not even started!

It was after all, the Government who harped that crime in Malaysia is "all perception", when in "fact" we are much safer than many of these countries. The statistics provided were all debunked by the DAP MPs.

What is so complicated with such a study that it takes more than 3 months to come up with a "memorandum persefahaman"?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Forum: Surving The Malaysian Economy


Speakers :
  • YB Tony Pua – MP PJ Utara
  • YB Tian Chua- MP Batu
  • YB Nik Nazmi – ADUN Seri Setia
  • Ms. Tricia Yeoh- Research Officer to MB Selangor
Date : 20th March 2009
Time: 8.30pm
Venue: SS15 Dewan Serbaguna MPSJ, Subang Jaya
Admission is Free

See you all there! ;-)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

London Bridge is Falling Down...

I promised my daughter I'd bring back the London Bridge for her... hmmm...

Anyways, I'm flying tomorrow morning to London and will be taking the Sunday midnight flight back, i.e., arriving back in KL on Monday night, 16th March. For those who needs to reach me, send me an SMS or email.

And for those in southern England who'd like to meet up but hasn't already emailed me, do so soon and I'll see how the schedule can still fit. ;-)

Pussy cat, pussy cat,
Where have you been?
I've been to London
To visit the Queen

Pussy cat, pussy cat,
What did you there?
I frightened the little mouse
Under the (her?) chair

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mini-Budget Stimulus?

Is the RM60 billion mini-budget sufficiently stimulating?

Unfortunately the budget only gets a C or C- rating from me. You'll read about all the positive points in tomorrow's headlines, so I won't repeat it here, unless it's really good. So I'll focus specifically on the shortcomings on this post.
  1. 1. The announced package is RM60 billion. However, the actual additional expenditure by the Government is only RM15 billion, and even then, it's actually split between 2009 and 2010.

  2. Longer term measures are aplenty in the mini-budget. There's RM25 billion "allocated" as "Guarantee Funds" for corporations to secure loans from financial institutions (no actual money is spent by the Government unless a borrower defaults). There's also some funds allocated for major infrastructure projects. But short-term stimulus measures which are absolutely critical in stimulating our economy under duress are shockingly missing. The loans packages, construction of infrastructure etc., will take months, if not years to take off (i.e., for the effect to be truly felt by the economy).

  3. RM10 billion is allocated to equity investments! Well, that can only refer to ValueCap, and that certainly doesn't add any value at all to the real economy! It keeps some shareholders (probably preferred companies) happy, but it does zilch for the underlying economy. No stimulus impact from this RM10b at all! (Might as well add the total transaction value of Bursa Malaysia to the total "stimulus package" value!)

  4. The RM3 billion tax incentives package looks contrived at best. While I applaud the innovative double taxation relief to companies who employ retrenched workers based on their pay package, there's hardly anything else worth mentioning. Retrenched workers, for example, gets the tax-exempt threshold lifted from RM6,000 to RM10,000 for each year's retrenchment compensation - certainly not worth shouting about.

  5. There's a slew of Private Finance Initiative projects, and so-called off-budget measures which amounts to RM7 billion. This is largely funded by private parties on large infrastructure projects and can't be dictated or driven by the Government. Hence they can hardly be included into the "mini-budget". It's a little like since my actual expenditure is going to be so small (RM10b for 2009), let's find ways to boost the figure so that it'll look good on tomorrow's headlines! (As an example, 2009 Budget was RM209 billion expenditure by Government, it does not include any PFI-type project values, so why should a mini-budget include it?). Just to add, despite obvious short and longer term benefits, there's also no specific allocations for public transport infrastructure projects.

  6. To expand on the short term stimulus measures mentioned in (2) above - we are in a crisis mode. Measures implemented must have immediate impact to relieve the burden of the rakyat, or stimulate immediate domestic demand or investment. These measures may include short-term unemployment benefits for retrenched workers, traditional food-stamps, direct grants to the poor and deserving (who are unlikely to "save" this amount). You need to put money into the pockets of the ordinary Malaysians so that they could spend! But there's none of it at all here.
Therefore, while there are some decent medium to longer term measures committed in this mini-budget, I fail to see the urgency factor within the budget which seeks to immediately stall the continued economic decline, stimulate demand and raise business activities. And that is the most critical component when judging a crisis-driven "stimulus budget", which based on what was announced the DPM, was clearly and disappointingly absent.

It's just not stimulating enough in the immediate term when we are being hit worst, and we are set to be in recession.


Finance and Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak finally admits the possibility of recession by announcing that the GDP growth, subject to a successful implementation of the stimulus packages will range between -1% at its worst to 1% growth at its best.

This was after repeated denials in the past, some just a month ago, that Malaysia's economy is sound and fundamentally strong and will continue to grow at a moderate pace of 3.5%.

10 November Date

I went to court this morning at 9am together with 19 others who were being charged for the anti-ISA and commemoration of BERSIH rally candlelight vigil for the mention of the hearing dates (for the full trial).

After a long long wait, our turn came up finally at noon, when it was agreed that the trial will be set to start on the 10th November later this year. It didn't hit me then, but in the car, while driving back to Parliament, I sort of realised that it was a familiar date...

And then... ta da! It's the anniversary of both our arrest, as well as the 2nd anniversary of the BERSIH rally! How appropriately symbolic! ;-)

Monday, March 09, 2009

Happy Tsunami Day!

An exclusive interview with Malaysiakini where I spoke on politics 1 year on,
as well as the ongoing Perak crisis.

Ok, I'm one day late but nevertheless, a very happy Tsunami Day! Yes, there's "turmoil" in Malaysia like it has never seen before. But we must be steadfast for "after the storme cometh a calme". The past one year, and possibly the next few will prove to be a momentous short period for the country, when looking back in history 50 years from now. By then, our children or even grandchildren (for some) will be growing up in a very different Malaysia.

And yes, without a little bit of being a perpetual optimist, it's kinda tough being an opposition politician in this country ;-)

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Shaziman Admits Bailout Intent

The Minister for Energy, Water & Communications has confirmed that not only will the Federal Government acquire the assets from the privatised companies at a higher price than what is offered by the Selangor Government, they will also be likely over the RM6.4 billion debt of these companies!

In an interview with Berita Harian two days ago, he said that:
...Syarikat konsesi juga ada pinjaman daripada bon dan sebagainya, dan jika mereka tidak mampu bayar pinjaman atau bon, ia akan beri kesan kepada syarikat serta menjejaskan imej industri pada masa akan datang.
I had wanted to raise the above point during the debate in Parliament today when the Minister was responding to the Selangor Water Restructuring issue. But he cut short his overall response (despite having plenty of time to spare) and refused to allow me to ask a single question. My colleagues, Charles Santiago (Klang) and Dr Dzulkifli Ahmad (Kuala Selangor) did manage to ask 1 question each where the Minister responded with evasive answers. But that was about it.

These privatised water companies in Selangor, Puncak Niaga Sdn Bhd, Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor (SYABAS) etc., have obviously mismanaged themselves to a state whereby they are unable to repay the excessive amount of bonds which they have sold to the market.

Now they hold the state and government to ransom, by saying that water service quality will deteriorate if the Governments do not bail them out to the tune of billions, while at the same time, compensating them for future "loss of profits"!

And all the Minister wants to do? Protect the "image of the industry"!  At the same time, he tells us not to "politicise" the water issue so that they can bailout their UMNO cronies in peace.  He wish!

Times Must Be Really Tough

The picture I think speaks for itself ;-)
(I got it via email)

SPAN Promises Performance Review for Water Firms

As reported by The Sun today, Water Services Commission (SPAN) CEO Datuk Teo Yen Hua promised that
...water concessionaires that have migrated to the licensing regime will have to adhere to the licensing requirement which will be reviewed every 3 years and any violation of the Water Services Industries Act 2006 (WSIA) will cost them the license.

... these companies will have to justify their earnings and if there is any violation, SPAN will recommend to the minister not to renew their license. This is for the protection of the consumers.
Sweet sounding words indeed! Are you confident now that your interests are protected? Can you believe him? Am I asking rhetorical questions?

It's now public knowledge that SYABAS has already breached many many terms of their concession agreement including:
...more than 72% of contracts worth a total of RM600 million were awarded to selected companies via direct negotiations and only 25% via competitive open tender, which clearly violates the agreement.

...the audit also found more than RM325 million in discrepancy between the summary of contracts awarded in 2005, 2006 and 2007 and Syabas’s review document (referring to general accounts).

...Syabas had breached the water privatisation concession by using imported pipes from Indonesia for its RM375 million pipe replacement project in the Klang Valley instead of sourcing them locally.

...questions are also being raised over the RM51.2 million spent to renovate the Syabas office when the Selangor Water Regulatory Department (JKAS) only approved RM23.2 million for this in 2005.
The Selangor Government itself has called for the concession agreements to be terminated based on the above breaches which were found by the National Audit Department since November last year.

Both SPAN and the Minister are dilly-dallying over the "breach", claiming that they needed the advice from the attorney-general's office which isn't forthcoming. Yah, right.

It certainly raises the question if we have a regulator who practices the concept of "pagar makan padi", who claims to protect the interest of consumers, but who in reality favours the exploitative concessionaires.

So I hope, Dato Teo, before you promise that tomorrow will be better, act on what's on your plate today. If you can't even take action on the breaches happening under your noses today, then how do you expect the rakyat to trust you on your promises for the future?

Please don't kid us, Dato. We are not as stupid as you think we are. Read also the editorial by Terence Fernandez in The Sun yesterday.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Barisan Nasional Plays Ultimate Dirty

What we are witnessing in Perak today is a total and complete mockery and contempt for our democratic institutions.

We are watching a minor league football game whereby the referee, linesmen, officials, physio and even the ushers in the stadium are breaking all rules and conventions to prevent a fair game from taking place. The referee and officials are not only biased, they are actually taking part in the game itself, as the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th (or more) players!

All in the mean time, the crowd watched in horror what is happening before their very eyes, that has widespread ramifications for all football games to be held throughout the country.

It is just shocking. Even diplomatic officials whom I've met shook their heads in absolute amazement, what is actually happening in our beloved country. The civil service, the police, the judiciary and even arguably the royalty, are supposed to be institutions which protect the rakyat and fair play. Instead, they have shown their true colours in becoming institutions to protect the interest of Barisan Nasional.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Selangor Water Restructuring Briefing

The State Assemblyman for Kg Tunku, Lau Weng San will be organizing a Public Briefing on:
"The Restructuring Process of Selangor Water Industry"
Date: 4th March 2009 (Wed)
Time: 7.30 pm
Venue: Crystal Crown Hotel, Petaling Jaya.
The briefing is to provide detailed explanations to the public about the restructuring effort of the water services industry in Selangor. Of late, four major water concessionaires, namely Syabas, Slash, Puncak Niaga and Abass have decided to turn to the Federal Government to negotiate for a better deal which could result in higher water tariff (as high as 37% according to agreement) for the people of Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.

The public briefing will be conducted in Bahasa Malaysia and English. Please forward this notice to other interested parties. Our panelists from the Water Review Panel appointed by the Selangor State Government will be present to brief the public.  Speakers will include Tony Pua and Charles Santiago, MPs for Petaling Jaya Utara and Klang.

London Trip

I'll be making a trip to London, UK for a conference in about 2 weeks for a few days. For those Malaysians in UK who'd like to catch up (if time and venue permits), please email me directly at tonypua(at)yahoo(dot)com.


The Selangor State Government has promised that if we were to take over the operations and maintenance of the water concessions in Selangor, we will be able to immediately offer a 10% reduction in water tariffs, while longer term improvements in efficiency will easily bring about a 25% reduction in tariffs within 5 years. Instead a bailout is now in progress for these private water concessionaires.

Here's a clear illustration of why it can easily be done by comparing what the people of Selangor pays for water today, relative to our friends in Penang.

The above shows clearly that at the people of Selangor are being fleeced for its water for at every stage, Syabas charges more than double the rates charged by Perbadanan Bekalan Air (PBA) Pulau Pinang! 

In fact, if you use only 38m³ of water a month, in Penang you'd be paying the rate of RM0.42, while in Selangor, you'd be paying a whopping rate of RM2.00, or nearly 5 times the price!  Or in absolute terms, you'll be paying RM11.96 in Penang, but it's an incredible RM32.85 in Selangor and KL!
What's more, PBA is very profitable (check the accounts) despite the lower water rates. It made RM31.3 million last year on revenues of RM187.8 million, or a very decent net profit margin (after tax) of 16.7%.  Therefore Syabas which supplies much more water than Penang, should have the economies of scale to offer even lower prices than Penang!

Hence for the Selangor state to promise that we can cut the fat in Syabas to reduce rates by 25% within 5 years is "chicken feet"!

However, when asked by The Star, the Minister immediately dismissed our pledge:
How can the state reduce the tariffs? To avoid the hike, it would have to compensate the concessionaires and this could amount to RM38 million a month. If we take over the assets, it would be much lower than the 31% [scheduled] tariff hike.
The Minister misses the point, whether intentionally or otherwise.

The whole idea about asking the Federal Government to support Selangor's takeover offer is so that we can get out of the crony contract signed by the previous Minister, which allowed Syabas to increase rates in 2009 by up to 37%, or a monthly RM38 million compensation in exchange.

If Selangor government takes over the assets and concession, we will then be able to offer not just a token "lower tariff hike" but actually be able to cut rates by 10% immediately, and more after working off the fats in the system.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Puncak Niaga Executive Chairman's Pay Package

Puncak Niaga Holdings Bhd (PNHB) Executive Chairman, Tan Sri Rozali Ismail gets paid RM5.1 million in director's fee/salary as per the 2007 Puncak Niaga Holdings Berhad annual report.  It's well within the Top 10 highest paid directors in Malaysia.

According to Malaysian Business, he's also the 33rd richest man in Malaysia, after successfully securing the water privatisation deals in Selangor, under its subsidiaries, Puncak Niaga Sdn Bhd and SYABAS Sdn Bhd.

When asked by reporters about his pay package, he had only this to say, "...If they want professionals to run the company, they will have to pay." Ooooh....ouch!

Now he wants the Federal Government to pay much more for "his" water concession which was granted to PNHB for a song (he rejected Selangor Government's offer), while at the same time, also asking the Government to take over all the companies' bond and loan obligations amounting to RM4.1 billion in total due to ever increasing cashflow problems. (Note: PNHB incurred a quarterly loss (for the first time?) for its most recent Oct-Dec 2008 results.)

Well, looks like in Malaysia, even if you get monkeys to run companies, you will still have to pay.

RM64 Billion Toll Compensation For PLUS

RM63.83 billion.

That's the approximate amount which needs to be paid in terms of compensation PLUS Expressways Bhd between 2008 to 2038 (when the concession ends), should the Government for one reason or other decide to maintain the tariffs at the current rate. That works out to an shocking average of RM2.1 billion a year, and an incredible strain on taxpayers and the Government's finances.

For 2008, the Government has agreed to pay (or have paid) PLUS more than RM731 million in toll compensation (compared to RM698 million in 2007) . With toll rate hikes of 10% scheduled every 3 years, this amount will just keep increasing over the next 30 years.

For example, a Kuala Lumpur - Penang return trip costing RM86.60 today will cost an exhorbitant RM247 by 2038, if the tariff structure is fully complied with. And based on existing compensation terms in the agreement, the Government will have to pay for all loss of revenue from actual traffic volume, which is estimated to increase by 5% annually.

Of course, in between, the Government may just decide to raise the toll rates or alternatively, perpetually extend the toll concession with PLUS. But given the highly charged political scenario where the Barisan Nasional government has little political capital or credibility, the frozen rates may just be extended ad infinitum. Rates will never be raised in the 2 years before general elections, they will also not be raised when there is a change of prime ministers, or even before critical by-elections or for any other reasons.

Of course the compensation figure has yet to take into account the RM112 billion in actual toll which will be collected from the road users over the next 30 years based purely on current toll rates, and an annual 3% increase in traffic volume. The type of returns guaranteed for PLUS, relative to its RM5.9 billion cost of construction is just absolutely mind-boggling. Worse, PLUS isn't even the only highway concession in the country enjoying such lucrative returns (or compensations)!

The BN government has obviously dug a deep deep hole for themselves, and are now stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea, with their past excesses fast catching up on them.

But for PLUS at least, there's an "easy" way out. DAP has proposed that the Government "privatises" PLUS Expressways from Bursa Malaysia with RM13.75 billion which will be more than paid for within 6 years of operations. This means that the Government and hence tax-payers do not have to fork out a single additional cent.

Come on BN, for the sake of the people, let go of your ego and pride and do something right for once! ;-)