Wednesday, September 28, 2011

An Internship Experience: Sara Lau

Sara Lau is a lawyer who has recently graduated from Reading and will be completing her bar in London. She interned with me in August and below are her thoughts.

“You are young, talented, hardworking and determined – where do you want to go after you graduate?”

I have always thought myself optimistic about my country. When people asked me whether I wanted to stay or leave after my studies, I always answered that I wanted to be a lawyer in Malaysia – to work for my community and my country. When my peers told me that their parents told them to run, I was judgmental of them. To me, they were quitters. Maybe Malaysia was not in a good economic place at the moment, but I was so sure in my heart that this will come to pass. On closer inspection, I realised it was not just because of the returns and low wages in Malaysia that was making them run...

I called myself an optimist, but maybe I was just ignorant. Like so many of us, maybe I wanted to close my eyes to the bigotry and pretend that everything was as it should be. But there came a point when I could not answer my friends’ retort on why there was a withholding and vandalism of bibles; why the Government was so pressed against a campaign calling for free and fair elections; why Valentine’s Day cannot be a joyous ocassion back home! I was cornered when they asked – Why should we put up with this partiality? They were hurt. They were discontented and they were just tired of fighting back. I called myself an optimist, but maybe I was just in denial.

I was jaded by the time I came back because suddenly I didn't know the answer. I knew of all these political instabilities, racial insecurities, economic urgencies.... Yet the government remained idle at the height of needing to prove itself. I never called myself a Party supporter because what was logic in my mind was that it did not matter what the government did, and why it did. What mattered was that the people were well taken care of, not taken advantage of, had its civil liberties and were happy. But second chances prove futile when the Government kept letting me down. I remember asking my friend Jian Wei, why didn't they take a stand and do something? He jolted me when he said... "Don't you see? They have already taken their stand."

And then, I needed to find the alternative. Were there people as perplexed as I was? Most want to save themselves before they can't, but this land is mine to inherit! I needed to find people who were geared up as I, who could remind me why I wanted to fight when I am giving up. I needed to find out if I was alone, wanting to return and work because I was needed, because I know I still counted as a number at the very least. I still wanted to be that number for Malaysia.

We hear of our counterparts and peers, tired, wearied, disheartened saying that hope is lost. That while they were young and had alternatives, had to find a place to build themselves, their homes, their families away from injustice, unfairness and discrimination. This was logical - why return to a lover who doesn't love you back? But Malaysia wasn't just a lover, this wasn't just a two person relationship - it was a cause bigger than myself and while I have one life to give, I wanted to make it count. So, likewise disheartened, but contrariwise eager, I wanted to see if the Opposition proved any better than the Government.

My stint with DAP was only a month long. The reason I came into it was because I thought it was not enough to know alternative policies. I wanted to see if their actions corresponded with the news. I wanted to be a judge in my own right and to find out if the Opposition was a risk worth taking. I have always been one to play safe, but these were desperate times to me.

One mistake I had made coming into it was my expectation: unwittingly I had thought my internship would be likened to a classroom where information I wanted came almost automatically. I was wrong. Tony was not the kind to spoon feed - when I wanted information on something, he only provided it if I had done my homework. He wasn't the kind who sat you down, event after event, asking you "Did you understand?", "Do you know what's happening?", "What conclusions can we draw from this?" like a teacher would; instead he allowed you in on the face of conflict there and then, expected you to draw your own inferences and naturally allowed you to draw personal stands and opinions. Looking back, I realise that when I was frustrated about not satisfying my deep hunger for knowledge, I had gotten it all wrong. This stint was about instigating mature observations, not manipulating naivete. And in that sense, he gave me what I asked for in the beginning - a platform to ponder.

Only a 4 week internship, my tasks were varied. Needless to say the high points of the internship revolved around press conferences because it was exciting and in the face of current political happenings, but also because it satisfied a curiosity. Coming from these events to reading mainstream media and then comparing it to online media revealed me to disparities, and unwittingly, the truth (or lies) of Government action. Perhaps the most memorable press conference was at Jalan Sultan where the Opposition pledged support to protecting the area from the MRT land grab fiasco. As a layperson exposed to interactions between politician and politician, public and politician, I saw how the once untouchable arena of politics became unbelievably humanised before my eyes.

Another event that had been incredibly eye-opening was the various voter registration campaigns held almost every week and weekend. Together with Ee May, who is Tony's new assistant, I went to as many drives as I could to volunteer my service. Again, being revealed to the process of voter registration and some conflicts that are embedded in it (such as people being registered as other voters, citizens being denied voting rights because of a lack of religion, disparities in the system regarding voters' information) showed me that there were fundamental flaws within the system that needed to be addressed. More frustrating was also the fact that many young people did not bother to get registered as voters at all, even with our team cajoling and persuading them to! However, seeing Ee May who was relentless in her quest to recruit new voters, I realised that I was not alone: that there were many Malaysians, young and old, fighting for a better Malaysia while they could and before they tired.

This was again proven to me in the focal point of my internship - organising the DAP Selangor English Speaking Fundraising Dinner. The dinner saw an 1000 strong audience, but behind the scenes, I knew that there had been a long waiting list of Malaysians who were very keen to support the dinner and to donate as much funds as they could afford. As I personally managed the bookings, I had multiple conversations with multiple people of all backgrounds, echoing the same sentiments: that they all wanted a better Malaysia. That they had not given up. That they were willing to run the race. That they all loved their home and want to be counted in the numbers. But most importantly – they all spoke with a sense of belonging for Malaysia. As a young Malaysian, jaded by unimpressive returns in her home country, this was enough to remind me, my country was worth my investment, my time, my effort.

I do not know what I had expected to gain from this DAP internship, but what I got was incredibly personal. It was not about politicking or support. It was about self-discovery about my Malaysian identity, about what I can do for my country and about how this will always, always be where my heart belongs. Everyone is looking for a better Malaysia in their lifetime, but now I know it is equally important to run the relay race and pass the baton until that better Malaysia comes to pass.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

An Internship Experience: Jason Chow

Jason Chow a 2nd year Psychology student in London interned with me in July/August this year. Below are his thoughts.

Sometimes I wonder if ‘home’ is really worth coming back to.

I’m one of the few lucky enough to be studying abroad. I’m one of the few unlucky enough to have an interest in politics. I’m also part of the growing community realizing that there is something seriously wrong with our country.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t one of those pieces that goes on and on about how good being abroad is. This is a piece that deals with how bad the current situation is, and whether or not we have something to move forward to.

Bear with me while I wade through the more depressing bits.

Our local landscape can hardly be described as positive. Anaemic growth is touted as an economic success, while the core problems of corruption and overdependence on government funding remain unaddressed. Note how well the rest of the region is doing. It’s like cheering at a bag of peanuts while everyone else is getting ready to play for real money.

Crucial issues like education and race are both politicized and sidelined – institutions play up the hype but never sustain any meaningful reform. Our leaders aren’t much help. They deliver crude, patronizing statements that condescend the intelligence of our citizens and play up the public’s ignorance.

Most members of the public aren’t even ignorant by choice. Force-fed extracts from biased media sources, they are led to know what they know from misrepresentative facts.
Don’t even get me started on the state of our civil liberties.

But far from being an authoritarian dystopia, Malaysia is a country with incredible potential. And it is changing. More precisely, it is teetering on the edge of change, waiting for something to tip it over. And this possibility is exactly why I haven’t given up yet.

I’ve always been a skeptic. This doesn’t mean I have no ideals; I just find it very difficult to believe in the ones I have. So even though I found some hope in the notion that our country was changing, I had to justify that.

Was change a realistic assumption? Were we headed for a better time and place? Did we have good alternatives, not just in terms of leadership, but also in terms of policy?

I took my questions with me to the Opposition, via the DAP’s internship programme.

I applied under YB Tony Pua.

The decision had been an easy one. He was one of the more vocal Opposition MPs. His forte was economics, my extra-curricular interest. He had a penchant for explaining complicated things in a relatively simple way, so he seemed like a good sort of mentor.

My one-month stint worked out pretty well. Attending a wide range of events gave me a powerful sense of political exposure – I encountered people as far up the ladder as Pakatan Rakyat’s own leadership, all the way down to some of Tony’s own grassroots communities.

The pieces came together quite easily. I was able to see how individual politicians handle their daily routine, and how political organizations attempt to function from the inside out – all on a first hand basis. Everything about the whole process was quite enlightening.
While my time with them was short, I managed to learn a few key things, particularly about the attitudes of our potential leaders.

There is a refreshing, genuine quality to their actions, particularly amongst the younger MPs, that has been absent from our political system for a long time. To put it bluntly, they seem to genuinely care about the needs of the people. Whether out of political necessity, or for more heartfelt reasons, their purpose, at the moment, seems strong: Undo unfairness and prevent future injustice to the electorate.

Maybe I’m being too charitable. We still see hiccups – the issue in Kedah, for example, a strong example of how worryingly new this alliance is. Decisions made were reconsidered, and the media plays it up as evidence of over-compromise and factionalism.

But the willingness of leaders to make necessary changes isn’t a sign of weak governance; on the contrary, it demonstrates the requisite humility needed to admit mistakes and make tough choices, something that we haven’t seen in a while. If anything, it highlights the strength of the between-party relationship, built on mutual respect and some level of consideration for the people.

I know I’m slightly biased. They say the youth tend to support the Opposition, and I think we have a good reason for that – we’re more invested in the country’s future.

There’s a principle in private portfolio management. Young people can afford to take more risk, because they have the rest of their lives to make up for whatever loss incurred. Older people aren’t so lucky. So the young are advised to go for broke on high profit, high-risk assets (I am not liable for any losses you make on this investment advice).

The parallel is simple – we stand to lose more if things turn out terrible. The current situation is pretty bad, and most of us don’t see it getting worse. So we place our bets on change. We want it to change for the better, and the only way to do that is by getting the future to change at all.

Move from race-based politics to a system based on more meaningful policies and philosophies. Become a more mature democracy. Free up the media channels, giving everyone access to the same facts. Fairly represent the electorate. Properly unite the people under a single banner – sloganeering and logo-mongering don’t help when the spirit of a message is consistently violated.

Then we can start tackling the bigger problem of economic reform. Kudos to Penang for getting a headstart on this one.

It isn’t impossible; all we need to do is start making the right decisions. While it may be a lot tougher than it sounds, I think we’re already on the right track.

Change isn’t far off. We just need to make it happen.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Drop "Illegal Assembly" Charges

A total of 21 people, including Tony Pua, Member of Parliament for Petaling Jaya Utara, two state assemblymen – Lau Weng San and Ronnie Liu, MBPJ Councillor Tiew Way Keng and a Catholic priest from Church of Divine Mercy – Father Paulino Miranda, were charged in the Sessions Court on 23 January 2009.

They were arrested on Nov 9 last year under Section 27 of the Police Act for allegedly taking part in an illegal assembly. The gathering was a candlelight vigil held at the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) park in front of the Civic Centre to commemorate the first anniversary of the Bersih march in 2007 and to protest the Internal Security Act (ISA).

In the light of the Malaysia Day pronouncements by the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak last week, we call upon the Attorney-General to heed to spirit of the speech and drop all “illegal assembly” charges against the above individuals.

The Prime Minister said the government will review Section 27 of the Police Act 1967, taking into account the provision in Article 10 of the Federal Constitutions concerning freedom of assembly. He has also announced that the ISA will be repealed.
Hence the participants of the candlelight vigil held peacefully and briefly in an open park – who posed no security threat or inconvenience to the public – should similarly be protected by the spirit of Article 10 of the Federal Constitution, which states that
(a) every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression;
(b) all citizens have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms;
(c) all citizens have the right to form associations.
We believe that the decision to drop all charges under Societies Act and Internal Security Act recently against the 30 Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) should be lauded, and the same should apply to all other similar cases, including those arrested for holding candlelight vigils.

The case has taken exactly 33 months to date and is a drain in time and finances for not only the accused, but also for the prosecution and judiciary.

Our lawyers will be writing to the Attorney-General’s Chambers to make an official appeal for the charges to be dropped.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Tiger That Lost Its Roar: Order Here!

By popular request, you can now order an autographed copy of my book - The Tiger That Lost Its Roar - here and make payment with your Paypal account or credit cards.

To purchase a RM30 PAPERBACK copy, select your shippping destination below and click "Buy Now":

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For those who wants to know more about the book, you can read the Foreword here.

And for those who prefers to pay via Maybank2U or other internet banking channels, cash deposit, special requests, bulk quantities etc., feel free to email me at Please include your shipping address and contact number.

Forum: MRT - Are Malaysians Taken For A Ride?

Forum: MRT – Are Malaysians Taken for a Ride?

Visit the Facebook Event Page here.

Given the controversies arising from construction and implementation of Malaysia’s largest infrastructure project, the Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit (KVMRT) system, DAP will be organizing an English forum entitled “MRT: Are Malaysians Taken for a Ride” to discuss the project.

The controversies arising from the project would include, but are not limited to the disputed land acquisition exercise in Chinatown and Bukit Bintang, the planning and implementation process as well as the transparency and governance relating to the award of projects.

The details are as follows:
Date: 26 September 2011
Time: 7.30 pm
Venue: KL Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, Jalan Maharajalela, Kuala Lumpur
The panel of speakers will include:
  • Nurul Izzah Anwar, MP Lembah Pantai
  • Fong Kui Lun, MP Bukit Bintang
  • Tony Pua, MP Petaling Jaya Utara
  • Rajiv Rishyakaran, Association For The Improvement of Mass Transit (TRANSIT)
  • Goh Bok Yen, Land Use & Transportation Planning Consultant
We have also sent an invite to the Chairman of Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD), Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar or its representative to be a panelist for the forum. We look forward to SPAD’s participation to explain the various positions taken by the Government on the project to date.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Telco Collusion: Multimedia & Communications Act 1998

I had issued a statement on 13th September that the mobile telecommunication companies should be warned by the Government for attempted collusion and price-fixing which is in breach of the Competition Act 2010. However concrete actions could not be taken as the Act has an 18-month grace period, and will take effect only from February 2012.

However, it has been pointed out to me that the telecommunication companies could be prosecuted for the same offence, which is provided under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.

Under Part IV (Economic Regulations), Chapter 2 (General Competition Practices) Clause 133, telecommunications operators are prohibited from “entering into collusive agreements”. It says that
A licensee shall not enter into any understanding, agreement or arrangement, whether legally enforceable or not, which provides for —
(a) rate fixing;
(b) market sharing;
(c) boycott of a supplier of apparatus; or
(d) boycott of another competitor.
The Act also specifies the penalty whereby a person who contravenes any prohibition under this Chapter commits an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding five hundred thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to both and shall also be liable to a further fine of one thousand ringgit for every day or part of a day during which the offence is continued after conviction.

Last week these companies had said in a joint statement that purchases of prepaid reloads and prepaid starter/SIM packs the 6% service tax which has been absorbed by the companies since 1998 will be passed on to the consumers effective September 15th.

While the telecommunication providers had every right to decide as to whether to absorb or pass on the service tax to consumers, the fact that the statement was issued jointly meant these companies – Maxis, Digi, Celcom and U-Mobile were colluding to increasing the prices of their services concurrently, to increase the profits for all parties, without fear of any of the companies keeping lower prices to eat into the customer base of the others.

There is no question that the joint statement and attempt by the four telecommunication companies to raise prices by the same percentage concurrently is illegal because they are colluding to form a cartel for the purposes of price-fixing. If the companies are not allowed to collude, due to the competitive nature of the industry, it will be highly likely that the prices will not be increased by any of these companies, for fear of losing market share to the other companies.

Hence it is clear that while the Competition Act 2010 may not yet be in force, the Government can enforce the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 and throw the book at relevant telecommunication licensees. The regulator Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commissionn (MCMC) must act to demonstrate that it acts in the interest of Malaysian consumers and is not sleeping with the enemy.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Telco Collusion: Competition Act 2010

Recently the local telecommunications companies incurred the wrath of Malaysians by attempting to pass on the services tax to the prepaid users. The service tax which was increased by the Government from 5% to 6% this year was absorbed by these companies since 1998.

While the backlash from the public, and pressure from political parties have resulted in a temporary reprieve for the prepaid users, pending further consultations with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), the real issue at hand is the blatant and coordinated attempt by the telecommunication companies to raise prices concurrently, contemptuous of the competitive spirit.

Last Thursday, the companies said in a joint statement that purchases of prepaid reloads and prepaid starter/SIM packs would be charged a six percent service tax, effective Sept 15.

While the telecommunication providers had every right to decide as to whether to absorb or pass on the service tax to consumers, the fact that the statement was issued jointly meant these companies – Maxis, Digi, Celcom and U-Mobile were colluding to increasing the prices of their services concurrently, to increase the profits for all parties, without fear of any of the companies keeping lower prices to eat into the customer base of the others.

Monday, September 12, 2011

MRT: SPAD Concedes Underground Land Acquisition Possible

The Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) has finally admitted land underground can be acquired under the National Land Code without affecting existing landowners in the cases affected by the MRT tunneling project.

The Chief Executive Officer of SPAD, Mohd Nur Kamal has conceded as much in its letter to the press where “all affected individual land owners [can] apply for stratum titles to be issued to the Government”.

This is because as highlighted many times during the controversy, the National Land Code 1965 had been specifically amended in 1990 to allow for the acquisition of underground land without affecting surface property by inserting Part Five (A) (section 92A to 92G) under Clause 3. The amendment enables the disposal of “underground land”, which can then either be alienated or leased for the use to construct tunnels, car parks and to lay pipes.

SPAD then claimed in its letter that in the interest of expediency - “criticality of the project timetable, the benefit of the Government instead of each individual owner handling the process” – the Government has chosen to acquire all land first, and decide whether to return the surface land later. SPAD emphasized specifically that the government “is in no position to make guarantees of the return of these properties”, the properties referring to those being acquired in Chinatown.

Hence it is clear from the above admission and convoluted explanation that the Government’s actions stink of bad faith and ill-intent. When the law clearly enables the Government to acquire the stratum or underground land without affecting the surface, it still chooses to acquire all land – surface and underground – at one go. Expediency is not a valid reason to abuse the law, especially when the rights of the property owners are significantly jeopardized.

On top of that, on the one hand, SPAD argued that the acquisition process is just a matter of convenience. But on the other it says that it may not want to return the land after acquiring it – how more hypocritical can one get?

The reasoning provided that what was most important was that the government had “listened” to feedback from the affected parties and had agreed to a mutually acceptable outcome rang completely hollow in the light of the above, as it showed that the “listening” was just merely a public relations exercise.

All the various untenable excuses being raised leads only to a single possible conclusion – the land acquisition exercises proposed in Chinatown, Bukit Bintang and other prime locations are nothing but poorly masked attempts at profiteering and land grab.

They are in breach of the spirit of the Land Acquisition Act 1960 where the Government is only to acquire private land, and only that which is necessary for public use and benefit, and not for profit.

SPAD should stop tunneling a deeper hole for itself and stick to its role of independently regulating and ensuring an efficient and effective public transport system. It should not become a partner-in-crime for the Government to justify its “land grab” exercises, which is completely irrelevant to the planning and design of the MRT system.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Automatic Registration Must be Top of Poll Reform Agenda

DAP wants automatic registration to be top of poll reform agenda
By Shannon Teoh September 08, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 8 — The DAP has called for automatic voter registration to be implemented before a general election expected as soon as November after dismissing the Election Commission’s (EC) excuses for discrepancies in the electoral roll as “data entry errors.”

Lawmakers from the opposition party dismissed today deputy EC chief Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar’s explanation for 22 cases of “same-sex marriages” in an army camp in Rasah as isolated cases which were accidentally “overlooked.”

“The parliamentary select committee into electoral reforms must make automatic voter registration its number one priority,” DAP publicity chief Tony Pua said after claiming over 117 cases of old identity card (IC) holders that have spawned two new IC numbers on the electoral roll.

The Petaling Jaya Utara MP added that “we are talking about thousands of such data entry errors. There is a simple way to eliminate all this and that is to automatically register all voters” when they reach the voting age of 21.

Rasah MP Anthony Loke had also claimed today a dozen more cases where spouses of army personnel in Rembau, Gemas and his own constituency held ICs whose numbers indicated the wrong gender.

He had said on Tuesday that as the IC numbers clearly did not belong to the spouses, their “own IC numbers can still be registered elsewhere and someone can vote twice. It doesn’t matter who. The issue is an extra vote can be made.”

DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng also said that “they already have the database at the National Registration Department (NRD) and with computers everything can be done very quickly.”

“Why doesn’t the EC want to implement automatic registration? In the next election Barisan Nasional (BN) will cheat bigger than in the previous one and do anything and everything, including resorting to phantom voters,” the Penang chief minister added.

Pua also said that under the Election Act, the EC had the power to decide how the electoral roll was constituted but as it has so far refused to make any changes, Parliament had to amend the law to implement automatic voter registration.

Pakatan Rakyat (PR) has continued to highlight discrepancies in the electoral roll since the July 9 Bersih rally which saw tens of thousands pouring into the capital calling for free and fair elections.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced last month a parliamentary select committee to improve the electoral system but the federal opposition has insisted that the prime minister guarantee that the panel’s findings be implemented before a general election expected within the year.

PR had previously claimed that over 1,600 foreigners had been given ICs and inserted into the electoral roll before Loke on Tuesday raised the issue of spouses of army officers being given postal voting rights despite irregularities in their IC numbers and birthdates.

He claimed that the 30-odd examples he had produced so far were registered using the IC of the military personnel as nearly all shared the same birth date as their husband or wife.

“We do not even know whether the spouses really exist,” the DAP Youth chief said.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

BN Must End Politics by Race

Pakatan dares BN to end race formula
By Clara Chooi September 07, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 7 — Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders have challenged Datuk Seri Najib Razak to abolish Barisan Nasional’s (BN) race-based formula by turning the coalition into a multiracial party, saying this would resolve the quandary over maintaining Chinese representation in government.

DAP national publicity secretary Tony Pua pointed out to The Malaysian Insider that it was BN’s race-based system that is now causing it to gripe over MCA’s decision to reject Cabinet posts if it were to fare worse in future general elections than it did in Election 2008.

If BN should turn into a multi-racial party, he said, MCA’s threat would not cause any headache to the party’s coalition partners, especially Umno.

“The squabble between Umno and MCA is simple ... the root cause to the dispute is the fact that the BN formula for one party to represent each race does not work for this country.

“The only way for BN to resolve this problem of marginalising a particular community in government is by transforming themselves from a race-based coalition to a multiracial one, banning all race-based parties,” he said when contacted here.

Pua was responding to a statement by senior Umno minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz carried by The Malaysian Insider yesterday, in which the latter said it would be unfair to “punish” the Chinese if they chose not to vote for BN Chinese-centric parties like MCA or Gerakan.

For the full article, read it on The Malaysian Insider here