Monday, December 27, 2010

Pakatan 100-Day Reforms

For Pakatan, ‘100 day’ reforms weapon to counter Najib’s popularity
By Shazwan Mustafa Kamal December 26, 2010

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 26 — Pakatan Rakyat (PR) is hoping to counter Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s high approval ratings by touting the merits of its “100 day” reform agenda which promise more money for civil servants and repealing repressive laws.

They also intend to utilise the successes of two PR states, Penang and Selangor, as fodder for the counter-offensive campaign against the prime minister’s approval ratings which stood at 69 per cent this month among voters in peninsular Malaysia, slipping slightly from 72 per cent in May.

The Merdeka Centre poll showed that 74 per cent of Malays, 54 per cent of Chinese and 85 per cent of Indians were satisfied with the prime minister’s performance, in a major boost for Najib as he mulls the possibility of snap polls.

“It is important for us to be able to demonstrate to voters that we are able to function as an effective coalition. The only way to do that is for the voters to see substance in our policies,” said DAP National Publicity Secretary Tony Pua, citing the need to highlight successes in Penang and Selangor as an example.

Pua told The Malaysian Insider that Najib’s high ratings as an individual could be “challenged” if PR could convince voters that it could deliver results as a cohesive unit, and just through the actions of a single individual.

“We need to push our reform policies inked out during last week’s convention, and we need to back it up with our successes in the state administration. Penang is doing well, it’s getting investments, corruption-free, people are getting bonuses, its these sort of ideas that need to be carried across the board.

“We also have to continue to chip at the programmes that are being implemented by BN — we have to show voters that Najib’s programmes are not really that different from the BN of the past,” he added, referring to the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

PR’s policy framework, titled the “Pakatan agenda”, is seen as an answer and solution to questions surrounding the opposition’s administrative plans in comparison to BN.

Speculation is rife that a general election will be held as early as next year although BN’s mandate does not expire until May 2013

Among the instant reforms promised by the PR coalition, within the first 100 days of taking over Putrajaya, is acknowledging the role and sacrifices of civil servants by studying the current pay schemes and increasing the incentives for teachers by RM500 a month.

PR leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has claimed that a PR federal government could afford to pay for a proposed allowance for teachers — projected to be RM3.2 billion annually — by eliminating the “wastages” of the BN administration.

Other “instant” reforms include the repeal of the Internal Security Act (ISA), abolishing the toll system by instructing Khazanah Berhad, Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) and other government bodies to take over highway assets from the concessionaires, as well as offering free wireless Internet access to those in urban and semi-urban areas.

“We have already shown that we can govern better than BN on a state level. We just need to make voters aware of the changes that we can bring on a federal level. When PR takes over federal power, there will be differences in terms of financial management of federal funds and the governance of all states,” said DAP Youth Chief (Dapsy) Anthony Loke.

Loke claimed that the most effective way to counter Najib’s popularity was to work with “tangible issues.”

“We have to work with tangle issues, what people are looking forward to. ISA, reform of legislative laws is important but people want change to issues which affect them on a daily basis.

“For urban folks, the political will to restructure the toll system is the best way to go. If we can reduce the toll rate, we can eventually abolish the toll system. That way, we will be able to increase people’s disposable income, and this will sway votes our way,” Loke told The Malaysian Insider.

For the full article, click here

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tenang - Majority Counts

In Tenang, size of win indicates faith in Najib
By Shazwan Mustafa Kamal December 26, 2010

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 26 – The upcoming Tenang by-election is shaping up to be a test for voter confidence in Datuk Seri Najib Razak as Prime Minister, and whether he can lead the country under the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, says his political foes.

Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders have admitted that winning the state seat in the BN stronghold Johor would be “realistically” tough, but they claimed that reducing BN’s majority will affect Najib’s (picture) popularity as PM.

A recent survey by Merdeka Center showed Najib’s approval rating remains high among voters in peninsular Malaysia, dipping only slightly from 72 per cent in May to 69 per cent this month.

The poll showed that 74 per cent of Malays, 54 per cent of Chinese and 85 per cent of Indians were satisfied with the prime minister’s performance, in a major boost for Najib as he mulls an early general election next year.

“To be perfectly honest, winning this seat will tough. Realistically speaking, if we can function as a coalition and make enough inroads in Tenang to deny BN a majority win by say 1,000 votes, it would reflect on Najib’s leadership.

“You have to bear in mind that this is a BN stronghold, so if Najib does not win big here he is in trouble,” said Tony Pua, the DAP’s national publicity secretary.

Pua told The Malaysian Insider that the Tenang seat was “crucial” in ensuring that PR made inroads in Johor, a tradionally Umno area.

Another DAP MP, Anthony Loke said that PR should not be entirely focused on winning Tenang, as the “bigger picture” should be about getting across to voters there.

“If we can win, yes it will be an upset. But what we need to achieve there is to shake the confidence of BN, as well as Najib. Johor remains the only fixed deposit for BN in Peninsular Malaysia,” the party’s Youth Chief (Dapsy) told The Malaysian Insider.

For the full article, click here.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pemandu says Teh Tarik Price Up by 1 sen

The proposed 20 sen increase in beverage prices by the Kuala Lumpur & Selangor Coffee Shop Association in 2011 debunks the Prime Minister's claim that the Government's cut in subsidies will have “minimal impact” on households in Malaysia

In July, the Government launched a surprise “5-in-1” price hike programme, raising the prices of RON95 and RON97 petrol, diesel, white sugar and liquified petroluem gas (LPG) including cooking gas cyclinders by at least 2.8% and as much as 15.2%.

Then on 3 December 2010, less than 5 months later, another series of hikes is announced - the price of RON95 will increase by five sen to RM1.90 per litre, diesel by five sen per litre to RM1.80 and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) by five sen to RM1.90 per kg. Sugar will also cost 20 sen more at RM2.10 per kg.

In fact for white sugar prices, inclusive of a 20 sen hike in January on top of the 25 sen and 20 sen hike in July and December, prices have increased by more than 55% this year alone.

The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak had in July claimed that the price increases will have “minimal impact” on households in Malaysia. This is further reiterated by the Minister in Prime Minister's Department and CEO of Pemandu, Datuk Seri Idris Jala more recently on 4 December via its Subsidy Rationalisation Factsheet that the 2nd round of price hikes “will result in minimal impact to consumers”.

In July, Pemandu “demonstrated” that the new teh tarik price taking into the impact of subsidy reduction of fuel and upward price adjustment would be around RM1.0155, or an increase of less than 2 sen in full page advertisements across all major mainstream newspapers.

After the December hikes, the new Subsidy Rationalisation Factsheet rationalised that a glass of “teh tarik” and “kopi susu” costing RM1.20 is expected to increase in price by 0.8 sen and hence will not cost more than RM1.21 or a tiny 0.83% hike in prices. (The fact sheet actually says 0.6% increase for “teh tarik” and 0.5% for “kopi susu” – somebody in Pemandu failed their mathematics).

Firstly, there is a clear contradiction in “teh tarik” prices between the fact sheet issued in July which was only RM1.00 as compared to the new base price of RM1.20 in the December fact sheet. The 20% “mysterious” 20% increase in the base price between July and December remains unexplained.

Secondly, and more importantly, Barisan Nasional and Pemandu lives in a parallel imaginary universe of price hikes involving increases of 1.55 sen or even 1 sen. I had issued a statement in July arguing that Pemandu should be “commended” for the audacity to publish such numbers which are at best applicable only in a fictitious and theoretical universe, and at worse, showing the complete lack of understanding of real world market dynamics on the price of goods and services.

And to prove my point, it was reported yesterday in all major Chinese newspapers that the Kuala Lumpur & Selangor Coffee Shop Association has announced the proposal to increase all beverage prices by 20 sen starting 1st January 2011. “Kopi susu” and “teh susu” prices will be increased from RM1.20 to RM1.40 translating to a massive 16.7% increase in prices!

Even the price of everyone's coffee shop favourite “herbal tea” will be increased from RM1.10 to RM1.30 or a hike of more than 18%. And Pemandu had the audacity to claim that “herbal tea” prices will only increase from RM1.00 to RM1.012 or just a 1.2% increase!

In fact, out of the 70 everyday food and drink items listed on the Subsidy Rationalisation fact sheet, no item is expected to increase by more than 1.9% after the most recent round of price hikes!

The Star has also reported on 20th December that evaporated milk and sweetened creamer is also expected to increase by 30 sen next year, after a 5 sen and 10 sen increase in April and October this year, marking an overall increase of up to 20% within a year.

What is perhaps most embarrassing is for the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Deputy Minister, Datuk Tan Lian Hoe to argue that a 10 sen increase in beverage prices “will be more reasonable”. A 10 sen increase will still result in a 8.3% increase for the price of “teh tarik” and “kopi susu”, 10 times higher than the 0.83% increase claimed by Pemandu. If the BN government even believes in its own policies, Datuk Tan Lian Hoe should openly insist that only a 1 sen increase is justifiable.

The government should instead stop spewing these ridiculous and out-of-these-world hypothetical data which demonstrate at best its sheer incompetence and irrelevance, or worst, its blatant attempts at misleading the rakyat with preposterous falsehoods in order to justify the continued price increases. We are disappointed that the BN government has prioritise its “subsidy rationalisation” efforts on items which will worsen the living conditions for the man-on-the-street, but has not lifted a finger to “rationalise” the more substantial RM8 – 10 billion of subsidies given to independent power producers who are already making billions of ringgit in profits annually despite repeated promises to do so.

The above makes a complete mockery of the Prime Minister's slogan of “people first”, for it demonstrates that the people's interest don't come first under the BN government, but instead the people's subsidies get cut first.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Utusan Loses the Plot

Umno-owned Utusan Malaysia has completely lost the plot with its daily extensive attacks against DAP and is the single largest hindrance to national unity

Never before in history has the DAP, a party Utusan Malaysia has previously regarded as irrelevant, become the object of obsession to the Umno-owned newspaper. In the last 3 of 4 days, the DAP made the front page of Utusan Malaysia with headlines like “Muslihat DAP”, “Guan Eng dikecam” and “Umat Islam perlu tolak DAP” on the 18, 20 and 21 December respectively.

Not only did the DAP and its leaders consistently make the frontpage, Utusan dedicated dozens of columns to DAP with titles such as “DAP perkudakan Anwar”, “DAP alat politik negara asing”, “DAP salur matlumat kepada Kuan Yew?”, “DAP gentar dengan 1Malaysia”, “DAP tiru strategi PAP”, “DAP yang sebenarnya memperalatkan 3R”, “DAP amal politik ala aparteid”, “Kebiadapan Guan Eng”, “Guan Eng semakin bersikap perkauman”, “Guan Eng perlu cermin diri” and more.

The above hasn't taken into account the fact that for the past year, Utusan has often granted DAP leaders exclusive frontpage coverage to Karpal Singh, Teo Nie Ching and even myself, for daring to suggest that the housing discount for the wealthy bumiputeras be channelled towards helping the bumiputera poor.

In fact, if one were to conduct a search of “DAP” in Utusan on Google based on the year of publication, 2007 will return 291 results, 2008 - 876 results, 2009 - 12,400 results and 2010 will give a record 29,800 results to date.

It is most laughable when Utusan had to plead to its readers not to boycott the paper due to “political sentiments” (“Pembaca akhbar tidak boleh terikut-ikut tindakan memboikot Utusan Malaysia kerana sentimen politik...”) and blame Pakatan Rakyat for its affected business. Circulation for Utusan has plummeted drastically in recent years from 256,247 in 2004 to 213,445 in 2006 and 169,548 in 2009 or a 33.8% drop in 5 years. Profit before tax for the newspaper group has also plunged from RM21 million to RM7 million over the past 4 years.

It appears that Utusan is attempting to rationalise its loss of readership due to external factors instead of looking inwards at their incessant racial posturing, outright lies and inflammatory headlines such as “Bangkitlah Melayu” as being the main causes. In fact, based on the statistics above, there is a correlation between the rapidly increasing attacks against the DAP and the rapidly declining circulation of the newspaper.

National Union of Journalists (NUJ) president Hata Wahari, who himself is a Utusan journalist had demanded that Utusan Malaysia abolish editorial policies which go against “journalistic ethics” in order to tackle a severe drop in its readership circulation. He claimed that the Malay daily’s reporting was “biased” in nature, saying that positive coverage revolved around Barisan Nasional (BN) while negative reports were specifically reserved for Pakatan Rakyat (PR). He added that Utusan also does not give an opportunity for an accused to answer certain allegations by choosing not to publish it.

Even the Minister in the Prime Minister’s department, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz had accused Utusan of becoming “racist” in its reporting in September this year.

In fact, Utusan is a proven liar with leading opposition figures, MP for Pokok Sena, Mahfuz Omar and Tenaganita Director, Irene Fernandez, awarded RM120,000 and RM200,000 in damages respectively in defamation suits against the paper. Dozens of other defamation suits are still waiting to be disposed in the courts.

The relentless attacks on the DAP only serves to prove that DAP and Pakatan Rakyat are making major inroads in proving to the people that we are not only competent in governance, we have proven that despite having a DAP chief minister in Penang, Malays and Muslims enjoy greater rights and benefits than under a BN administration. This is due to a more caring government, which is able to fund its welfare policies through more effective and efficient administration, as well as reducing wastage and corruption through open tenders for all government projects.

I had on 1 November 2010 challenged Utusan Malaysia to an open debate on its many allegations against the “racist” DAP. Unfortunately, the editors chose not to defend their allegations with facts and figures in the open but continued to throw baseless, wild and wicked accusations against the DAP. This proves that Utusan's cowardly agenda is to flood its readers with lies and half-truths against the DAP and Pakatan Rakyat for it has no ability or courage to withstand impartial public scrutiny.

The Prime Minister, despite his call for “moderation” in reporting, has failed to reign in his party's newspaper and his 1Malaysia policy will only fail as a result of Utusan's extremist and racist reporting.

Monday, December 20, 2010

How will the MRT be funded?

Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak must disclose how the MRT will be financed and why the project is expected to commence before even the urban public transportation plan is ready

We welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement on Saturday which announced that Malaysia’s largest ever infrastructure project, the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system, will be tendered openly via 9 project parcels. This is after strong criticisms against the Prime Minister’s initial proposals and admission in October that “there are some contracts that you just cannot tender out”.

The announcement also indicated that the Government will own and finance the project in its entirety. However this raises further questions on how the Government, via Syarikat Prasarana Negara Bhd will be able to bear the entire cost of the project, estimated at RM36 billion before taking into account land costs of an additional RM10 billion.

As of today, Prasarana is already heavily indebted with RM8.5 billion in bonds which it is unable even to service its interest. This has been heavily criticised by the Auditor-General’s report in 2009 for making accumulated losses of RM840 million as of December 2007, in part due to suspicious activities and mismanagement. In the 2011 budget, the Government had to allocate RM2.5 billion of funds to bailout Prasarana-issued bonds which are due in November 2011.

The Prime Minister must come clean with the entire funding process as it will not only affect the Government’s financial position, it will also affect finally the fees to be charged for the MRT commuters when it is ready for use. While Malaysians, particularly those who reside in the Klang Valley look forward to better public transport facilities, they must be made available at an affordable basis without at the same time, become an unsustainable burden for the tax-payers.

For example, last year’s audit report on Prasarana showed that the current average LRT fare of RM1.60 has to be increased to nearly RM9 for the LRT infrastructural costs to be fully recouped within the next 20 years despite the LRTs costing the Federal Government less than RM8 billion, nearly 5 times less than the proposed MRT system.

What is perhaps most worrying is the fact that the Government is rushing headlong into the project without the newly minted Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) first coming out with the 20-year urban public transport plan for Klang Valley, which is only expected in September next year. The Cabinet has however decided to award the relevant contracts and commence construction works for the MRT in July 2011, even before the holistic public transport plan, which will include buses and other rail systems is finalised!

In fact, SPAD is still unable to declare, as of today, backed by a thorough and professional study that the MRT is the best option for the Klang Valley in the near future, as opposed to cheaper alternatives like buses or even trams based on travel patterns and population statistics.

It is highly misleading for the Prime Minister to espouse the viability of the project by claiming that it will generate gross national income of up to RM4 billion per annum when the interest servicing cost for the project at completion may in itself come up to more than RM2 billion each year.

We call upon the Government to be completely transparent with the entire plan, design and financial impact of the MRT project to convince the rakyat that the MRT routes are optimised based on maximum public benefit, but also that it will not become an unsustainable project which will leave our future tax-payers with billions in debt.