Monday, October 31, 2011

Let Schools Decide over PPSMI

The DAP wishes to state our position in support of the teaching of Mathematics and Science in English (PPSMI) in schools where a determined majority of parents have expressed a preference for it. This is especially in urban schools where the level of competency in English is substantially higher than the rural districts.

DAP Parliamentary Leader Lim Kit Siang had 2 years ago called upon the Cabinet to endorse "the call of Parents Action Group for Education (Page) that schools should be given the option to teach science and mathematics in Bahasa Malaysia or English or in one’s mother tongue" and maintain "the use of English as medium of instruction for mathematics and science in secondary schools".

The key reasons why the PPSMI policy was withdrawn by the Government are the inadequacy of the teachers as well as the inability of students, particularly from rural background to cope with the use of English at such a young age.

Therefore the reversal of the 10 year old PPSMI policy should not be a complete one - one that throws out the baby with the bath water - but one which takes into account the advantages and disadvantages learnt over the past 2 decades. The new policy must incorporate the flexibility where PPSMI remains an option for schools in the country where parents express support for it.

We reject the excuse given by Deputy Prime Minister who argued that giving the option to schools will create havoc "kacau-bilau" to our education system. Firstly, these schools have already been conducting their lessons for Mathematics and Science in English over the past 10 years, hence there will be no extra effort incurred to retain PPSMI in these schools. Instead more effort will be required to withdraw PPSMI.

Secondly, and more importantly, every effort should be made to ensure that our schools are able to produce the best human capital for Malaysia as we seek to be part of the knowledge economy, to become a high income nation.

The important principle that the Ministry of Education must adopt is that advanced students should not be held back because of students who lagged behind academically. If parents prefer English as the medium of instruction and the students are more than able to cope, then every effort should be made to allow such schools to continue with PPSMI.

Therefore the argument of administrative hassle as a result of providing the option to parents and students is completely unacceptable as the quality of education our students receive is of paramount importance.

We call upon the Ministry of Education to review its decision to withdraw its decision to withdraw PPSMI completely and to allow room for certain schools to proceed subject to meeting certain requirements such as parental approval and students' performance.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Rahim Noor and Perkasa Starts Facism Movement

It comes as a complete shock that one of the country’s former Inspector General of Police (IGP) had the nerve to “liken the rise of the human rights movement in Malaysia to communism”.

Disgraced Tan Sri Rahim Noor who gave Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim the infamous “black eye”, had referred to the human rights movement as a new “religion”. He warned that civil liberties activists saw the US and UK as their spiritual home and drew parallels to how the Comintern had engineered the global spread of communism from its Moscow base.

If human rights can be akin to communism, then surely what Tan Sri Rahim Noor is attempting to do during his speech at the 2nd Perkasa General Assembly is to seed and grow the fascism movement in Malaysia. “Fascism” is described in the Oxford English dictionary to include “a belief in the supremacy of one national or ethnic group, a contempt for democracy, an insistence on obedience to a powerful leader, and a strong demagogic approach”.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 had emphasized among other things, the fact that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, that “all are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law”, that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile” and that “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage”.

Tan Sri Rahim Noor’s speech and reception at the right-wing Perkasa assembly marks the second time the movement is attempting to derail “reforms” put forth by the Prime Minister, since the latter’s inauguration in 2009.

In the first instance, Perkasa was able to force the Prime Minister to reverse his landmark “New Economic Model” (NEM) which sought to reform the country’s race-based affirmative action system. The NEM when launched in March 2010, had called for an “affirmative action approach based on “transparent and market-friendly affirmative action programmes”, which “will mean greater support for the Bumiputera, a greater support based on needs, not race”. It is as opposed to the previous New Economic Policy (NEP) of “imposing conditions to meet specific quotas or targets”.

However, within 3 months from the launch of the NEP, the affirmative action policy reform was reversed when the 10th Malaysia Plan re-incorporated the race-based agenda and quota system. Even at the earlier Malay Consultative Council (MPM) lead by Perkasa in May 2010, the Prime Minister had already referred to the NEM as a only a “trial balloon”, a clear reversal from the bold reforms announced.

The latest attacks against the human rights movement deemed as subversive is clearly an attempt to reverse Najib’s capitulation to civil society movements such as Bersih. Such movements have recently led to the setup of a Parliamentary Select Committee for Electoral Reforms as well as the proposed abolishment and amendment of several draconian such as the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the Printing, Presses and Publications Act (PPPA). These measures are opposed by Perkasa, comprising of many hardliners within UMNO.

Datuk Seri Najib Razak must immediately put a stop to this fascism movement and openly condemn the former IGP and Perkasa’s attempt to allude the human rights movement to communism. He must also openly declare his full support for the human rights objectives, as enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, if he is sincere about his “political transformation programme”.

Otherwise, the latest hype surrounding the “political transformation programme” will just become a “trial balloon” like the NEM, where the promised reforms will be severely curtailed or worse, equally draconian laws will be adopted to replace existing ones such as the ISA.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Set Up Financial Accountability Commission

Every year Malaysians are treated to a series of "tall tales" in the Auditor-General Report, which are unfortunately true stories. This year, despite an "upgrade" in ratings for the overall financial management by Government departments and agencies, the tales of financial abuse and degrees of incompetence is no less fantastic than previous years.

In previous years, we had screw drivers worth RM32 was purchased at RM224 or a car jack worth RM50 purchased at RM5,700 making a complete mockery of the Government’s procurement process. Last year, Kolej Kemahiran Tinggi Mara in Balik Pulau purchased a whole list of products for its computer laboratory at prices well above that of the market, including 2 Acer computer laptops at RM84,640 when it is worth only be a tenth of the price paid.

This year is no different with the Marine Parks Department taking the leading role by purchasing binoculars worth not more than RM1,940 was purchased at RM56,350, more than 28 times the market price. It was of course not the only offending item – the Department purchased RM192,694 worth of products including common items such as laptops, printers, LCD TV, DVD Player when their total value should not exceed RM20,193.

There were many repeat offenders as well in the current year’s report. Of note is the construction of computer laboratories by the Ministry of Education throughout the country. In Sabah, a RM160.7 million project was awarded to equip 300 schools by 2008. However, as at the end of 2010, only 2 computer laboratories were completed.

Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara), an agency tasked to uplift the welfare of bumiputeras is again chastised for making high-priced purchases such as an oven worth RM419 for RM1,200, folding beds worth RM100 for RM500 among other things.

What is perhaps more illuminating is the fact that everyone the Auditor-General only has the necessary resources to audit a small sample of Government procurement and projects. And despite that, such tales of incompetence and abuse are in abundance.

The logical conclusion from the Auditor-General’s report is that heads must roll, but it rarely or never happens. The Government’s Chief Secretary Tan Sri Sidek Hassan has the all-important role to take the necessary disciplinary actions against the relevant offenders, including the supervising officers who failed in exercising their responsibility in a diligent fashion. However, as informed by the Auditor-General during our Public Accounts Committee briefing yesterday, most of these offending officers are only given a letter of reprimand “surat teguran” before the cases were closed.

The natural outcome is, there is little disincentive for government officers to increase its level of competence or reduce the amount of waste, mismanagement and abuse since the “rewards” far outweigh the potential punishment, even if their deeds are hung out to dry in the Auditor-General’s Report.

While the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has the powers to call upon the relevant Ministries and officers to explain their actions and conduct, the PAC has no powers whatsoever to mete out punishment except to make “recommendations” to the Government. This has proven to be completely ineffective, made worse by the fact that the PAC is only able to focus on a handful of the misdeeds highlighted in the Auditor-General’s report.

Therefore, given the inability of the Chief Secretary of the Government, the absence of powers endowed upon the PAC as well as the lack of political will from the Prime Minister and his Cabinet to mete out effective punishment and deterrence to offending civil servants, we would like to call for a independent Financial Accountability Commission (FAC) set up via an Act of Parliament to be created.

The FAC should not be staffed with any civil servant to avoid conflicts of interest, but instead by headed by leading professionals in the field of audit and integrity such as the Malaysian Institute of Certified Public Accountants (MICPA) and Transparency International (TI) Malaysia. The proposed Commission should be made answerable only to the Parliament and granted the powers to take punitive and disciplinary actions against officers guilty of misconduct, negligence and sheer incompetence highlighted in the Auditor-General’s Report.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

MinDef must explain the RM6 billion difference

Pua demands MinDef explain extra RM6b for APCs
By Yow Hong Chieh October 24, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 24 — The Defence Ministry must explain why it paid RM7.6 billion for armoured personnel carriers (APC) procured by DRB-Hicom Bhd for only US$559 million (RM1.7 billion), Tony Pua said today.

Defence Minister Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi told Parliament last Tuesday his ministry did not have any information about the deal between DRB-Hicom unit Defence Technologies Sdn Bhd (Deftech) and Turkish firm FMC-Nurol Defense System (FNSS) for 257 units of Pars 8x8 APCs.

But Pua said today it was unacceptable for Zahid to say he knew nothing about the deal as the minister had witnessed its signing in February, according to the Turkish press.

“How can he claim to know nothing about the difference in price when he was there (in Turkey) witnessing the signing between the two parties?”

“And the difference in price is so big, surely a responsible government must ask... what are the differences that make up the gap?” the DAP publicity chief told reporters in the Parliament lobby here.

Pua stressed that any government that wanted to rein in its expenditure must be able to account for the RM6 billion difference in pricing.

He added that Zahid should give a proper response in Parliament and not just brush off the question while “acting stupid”.

“I don’t know whether he’s pretending to be stupid or really the ministry doesn’t know anything,” Pua said.

Deftech chief executive Abdul Harith Abdullah said last year the cost of the FNSS contract includes manufacturing and other costs associated with the production of a new combat vehicle.

The Malaysian-developed APC is built from the Pars APC produced by FNSS of Turkey, in co-operation with US company, General Purpose Vehicle.

Deftech is to build 12 variants from the base vehicle, including personnel carriers, anti-tank weapon carriers, command and control as well as anti-aircraft weapon vehicles.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Muhyiddin's Support for UMNO Bloggers Must Receive Reprimand

Datuk Seri Najib Razak must reprimand his Deputy, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin for giving implicit support to the UMNO bloggers to defame and destroy an innocent 16 year old child

We are shocked and appalled by by the Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who reportedly said that if the Penang chief minister “thinks it is important to correct the information, then he has to come up with a strong statement. Mere denial is not enough.”

Tan Sri Muhyiddin was commenting on the case where Penang Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng’s 16 year old son was accused of sexual harassment by a plethora of UMNO bloggers which resulted in him being transferred to another school this year.

The Deputy Prime Minister needs to have his head seriously inspected – not only did Lim strongly denied the above incident in the strongest possible terms by calling the allegations by the UMNO bloggers “barbaric lies”, we have proven that the case is entirely fictitious when the alleged victim is a 21 year old university student in the United States from Hong Kong who never went to school in Penang.

The alleged victim has even sent a statement to all press, stating clearly that she has not been to Malaysia for the past 7 years, and “the only way in which my ‘modesty was outraged’ has been the publication of my picture in connection with these scurrilous and unfounded rumours.”

The principal of SMK Heng Ee, where Lim’s son was studying until the end of last year, Mr Goh Boon Poh has also come out to state that he was shocked by the allegations that Lim Guan Eng’s son had sexually harassed a female student of the school, and it is “completely untrue.”

Despite Lim having nothing else to prove, Tan Sri Muhyiddin has chosen to lend credence to the despicable rumours and give support implicit to the UMNO bloggers by stating that “mere denial is not enough”.

Instead of taking stern action against those perpetrating the evil lies to humiliate the Penang Chief Minister’s family, especially since they are all UMNO leaders and members, Tan Sri Muhyiddin has chosen to defend the indefensible. The onus to prove the scurrilous allegations are on the accusers, and not those unjustly maligned.

To protect the image of the Government, the Prime Minister and UMNO President, Datuk Seri Najib Razak must immediately put a stop to this madness by sternly reprimanding his Deputy and all his members from making further unfounded claims against an innocent 16 year old boy. Otherwise, it’ll prove to all Malaysians that UMNO has become morally bankrupt in its pursuit to hold on power at all cost, including attacking innocent children.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Stop Intimidation of Malaysian Academics

The Government and University authorities must stop the intimidation of academics who expresses views and opinions differing from the ruling establishment

It is extremely disturbing that academic Professor Dr Aziz Bari has been subjected to rapid fire intimidation by the Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), followed by the Royal Malaysian Police and now asked to show cause by the Universiti Islam Antarabangsa (UIA). All the above over-the-top action was a result of Dr Aziz having expressed his learned opinion of the Malaysian Constitution and its laws, which is his area of expertise.

We are not in agreement with the opinions expressed by Dr Aziz all of the time, but we believe that everyone, what more academics in the relevant fields of study, must have the right to voice their views on all matters relating to the Constitution. After all, Malaysia is a country founded on the rule of law, and not one which is enslaved to an absolute authority.

The actions by the Government and University authorities will only prove that there is little room for academic freedom in our tertiary institutions, and that the University and University Colleges Act (UUCA) is used as the tool to ensure rigid conformity among the academics and the students.

The recent release of the Times Higher Education (THE) 400 Top World University Ranking 2011/12, where not a single Malaysian university is included has shown the dire circumstances of our local universities.

On the other hand, only 1 university, Universiti Malaya out of more than 50 universities in Malaysia made it into the QS 200 World University Rankings 2011/12, and that is because the “high impact research and citations” criteria is much lower than that of THE methodology.

In contrast, 60 Asian Universities made it into the THE 400 Top World University Ranking, with 16 from Japan, 10 from China, eight from Taiwan, seven from South Korea, six from Hong Kong, two from Singapore, and one each from India and Thailand.

The poor quality of our universities is a clear outcome from the fact that top Malaysian academics are turned off by the way Malaysian universities are managed, and often prefer to migrate to top universities in the region and the world to pursue their academic career. As a result, our Malaysian students face the double whammy of not only having weaker academics as their lecturers and tutors, they are prevented from exercising their critical thinking and analytical faculties as a result of the restrictive UUCA.

In the interest of arresting the decline in standards of our universities, we call upon the authorities to stop applying undue pressure on Malaysian academics from speaking their minds. The MCMC and police should immediately withdraw their attempt to harass Dr Aziz Bari for merely providing his opinions of the law. At the same time, UIA must withdraw their show cause letter which has added credence to the common perception that university authorities in Malaysia lacks independence and serves merely as a cat’s paw for the ruling party to suppress dissenting opinions.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

UMNO Must Apologise to Guan Eng's Son

Khairy Jamaluddin must apologise and UMNO must take stern actions against its members
The UMNO bloggers are individuals with absolutely no scruples or morals. They are willing to sink to despicable depths to achieve their political goals. They are the bottom feeders of the society, and are a complete disgrace to their race, religion and country.

They have attempted to defame the 16 year old son of Penang Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng and humiliate his family with a completely fictitious sexual harassment story. These bloggers even attempted to lend credibility to the concoction by putting up the picture of a young girl.
Nobody from the school of Lim’s son knew who she was, including the principal and teachers. It is not surprising, especially since, the girl never studied in Penang, and “better” still, is not even a Malaysian resident!

With some quick sleuthing work by Goh Kheng Teong, our IT Manager at the DAP Headquarters, we soon discovered that the girl in question is not only a foreigner, but also a high achiever. Anya Corke has been Hong Kong’s national champion of chess for many years as a teenager, and is now a 21 year old 3rd year student at a top liberal arts college in the United States.

The above proves beyond doubt that all the accusations by these UMNO cybertroopers are nothing by barbaric lies. They are willing to destroy the life of an innocent 16 year old and bring the country into disrepute by defaming a foreign top achiever for political ends.

UMNO Youth Chief Khairy Jamaluddin must immediately withdraw his tweet yesterday which said “Mungkin dia roboh Kampung Buah Pala sebab nak ganti dengan Kampung Buah Dada”. His snide remark was not only crass, he was perpetuating the vicious lies to his 64,000 followers on Twitter.

As an UMNO Youth Chief who is a role-model for many Malaysian youths, and who claim to be an example of “new politics”, he must take responsibility for his callous action and publicly apologise, especially to the victimised 16-year-old son of Lim Guan Eng. The failure to do so will only further taint his character in the eyes of Malaysians.

We would also like to call upon all UMNO cybertroopers who have concocted the lies and making Malaysia a centre for gutter politics to repent for their actions.

The UMNO disciplinary committee must also take harsh and stern actions against the UMNO members and leaders who perpetrators of the above slander to prove that UMNO is not beyond redemption. The failure to take actions against these rogue and vulgar members such as Dr Novandri Hassan Basri and “Papagomo” will only lead to the conclusion that UMNO is the real culprits behind these concerted efforts to slander and libel Pakatan Rakyat leaders, even if young innocent boys and girls become collateral damage in the process.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Why No Open Tenders for IPPs?

I raised the question in Parliament to the Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water to explain the reason why the latest 1,000MW coal-fired power plant project was awarded in June 2011 without any open tender. I also asked for the key terms and conditions of the Independent Power Producer (IPP) concession agreement, such as the price of electricity, capacity charges etc., to be disclosed in Parliament.

In the Minister’s reply to me yesterday, it was disclosed that a closed tender was called for the award of the project because the project needs to be completed within a short period of time. Hence only 2 companies were called to take part in the “closed tender” – Jimah Energy Ventures and Tanjung Bin Power, a subsidiary of Malakoff Bhd. The new power plant is required to commence operations in 2016.

I fail to understand how a project which is only expected to commence operations in 2016, 5 years from now is so “urgent” that only 2 companies were called in a limited tender exercise. Having had more than a decade of experience with IPPs, as well as more than half-a-dozen of qualified IPPs in the country, there is little excuse for the Ministry to avoid an open and competitive tender.

What is perhaps more shocking was the Minister’s reply that the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) has not been finalized and hence, the expected tariff rate for electricity generated to be sold to Tenaga Nasional Bhd as well as the period of concession have not been finalized. He added that the terms will only be finalized at the end of the year.

It defies belief that the Government has taken the decision to award an IPP concession without even first finalizing key terms such as tariff rates and the length of concession.

It is hence not surprising that Malaysian electricity prices remains relatively high despite the amount of subsidies the Government has allocated to the industry. The subsidies have obviously not reached the man-on-the-street, but have instead been siphoned off as super-profits for these IPPs.

For example, despite the subsidies for natural gas supplied to IPPs being much higher in Malaysia compared to Thailand, consumers and businesses in the latter pay a lower electricity tariff than in Malaysia. Natural gas is supplied to Malaysian IPPs at RM13.70 mmBtu while it is 68.6% higher in Thailand at RM23.10 mmBtu. Despite that, a consumer using 500kW of electricity a month in Thailand pays only RM129.50, or 21.4% cheaper than Malaysians at RM157.20.

The underlying reason for the lower tariff rates in Thailand is because Thailand runs an extremely competitive IPP market where the Government awards IPP concessions after a prequalification exercise, based strictly on price.

If the Government is sincere about prices low in Malaysia to relieve the burdens of the rakyat, then the manner in which privatization projects and concessions are awarded in such an opaque and anti-competitive manner must be immediately “transformed”, or the rakyat will continue to suffer from unreasonably higher cost of living.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

KLIFD: Another Real Estate Play

The Budget 2012 delivered an enormous set of incentives to “kickstart” the 1MDB flagship Kuala Lumpur International Financial District (KLIFD) project. The project is to be built of a 75 acres piece of government prime land which has been transferred to 1MDB.

The incentives for “KLIFD status” companies announced by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak include:

  • Income tax exemption of 100% for a period of 10 years
  • Stamp duty exemption on loan and service agreements
  • Industrial Building Allowance and Accelerated Capital Allowance
  • Income tax exemption of 70% for a period of 5 years for property developers

The incentives are generous to say the least and replicate the models utilized for earlier mega-projects which were unmitigated disasters such as the Bio-Valley and the E-Village, or the fluttering Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC).

The Government has described the role of KLIFD is to turn Kuala Lumpur into a “new icon for the financial world”, “the global financial city of choice” and “bring together world-class names to operate closely in a physical location.” Similarly, the Bio-Valley, E-Village and MSC were all sold to Malaysians as transformative projects in their respective sectors and launched with much fanfare.

In the 2001 budget speech, Tun Daim Zainuddin said the 1,200 acres E-Village was to “offer state-of-the-art facilities” to “attract international film producers to Malaysia”. The project was launched in the September 2000 in the presence of Jackie Chan. Dr Mahathir had said then that we “will witness a growth of opportunities” and “the transforming of society”. Today, the site of E-Village looks like an abandoned ghost town.

The 1,200 acres BioValley project sited at Dengkil on the other hand, was primed as the transformative project in the 2003 Budget to drive Malaysia’s “knowledge economy”. Despite receiving generous incentives like all the other projects cited, the Bio-Valley was unceremoniously buried two years later. The authoritative Nature scientific journal had labelled the project “the valley of ghosts”.

While the MSC had fared better than the rest, it is a far cry from the lofty goals that the project had sought to achieve. The MSC had kicked off with luminaries such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Acer’s Stan Shih constituting its International Advisory Panel, but their names have since been replaced with lower ranking corporate managers. In fact, the name of the panelists could not even be found on the MSC website today.

The failure of these projects lies in the common factor that these projects were schemed as property development projects and real estate plays, with the Government providing financial incentives for companies to be sited at a particular venue for the purported objective of boosting the industry. There is in reality no practical need for these companies to be sited physically next to one another for the industry to succeed.

We fear that the KLIFD will suffer a similar fate as there is no physical need for financial institutions and related professional services to be sited a stone’s throw away from one another. There will be little synergy generated as telecommunications technology, video-conferencing facilities as well as secure and instantaneous electronic transactions obliterates the need for physical proximity. There is little or no added business advantage for example, for the Maybank headquarters to be shifted to the KLIFD compared to its current venue, with the exception of potential tax benefits.

Hence, instead of actually promoting the financial services industry in the country directly, the Government, having already provided the prime land to 1MDB without any open bidding, is further providing unfair crutches for the latter to succeed in the KLIFD real estate play. Such incentives however, given the experience with the MSC, Bio-Valley and E-Village however, may not be sufficient to ensure its success.

The Government must learn from its failures of the past. The decision of global financial institutions to site their offices in Malaysia will not be based on short term benefits as a result of the choice of real estate. It will instead be based on the demand for its services and funds, the sophistication of the market instruments and the openness of the economy.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

MRT: Government Concession Proves Strength of Civil Society

Despite being peppered with snide remarks against the protesting parties, we welcome the statement by Dato’ Azhar Abdul Hamid, the Chief Executive Officer of the newly established MRT Corporation to finally end the 10-week old MRT land acquisition controversy. Dato’ Azhar has pledged that Jalan Sultan properties will not be acquired for the Klang Valley MRT project, as long as businesses and landowners vacate their premises temporarily during tunnel construction.

This was in direct contrast to the reply provided in Parliament earlier in the morning when the Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Dato’ Ahmad Maslan had responded on behalf of the Government that there will be no guarantee of “returning” of the surface land rights to the respective owners.

It also makes a mockery of the initial claim by Syarikat Prasarana Bhd, the previous owner of the MRT project, that they’ve had months of discussion with the Attorney-General’s Chambers before concluding that there is no provision on how the tunnel could be constructed without affecting the ownership of the surface properties.

The Government has effectively conceded that it is entirely possible for underground stratum land to be acquired for tunneling purposes under the National Land Code without affecting the ownership and the surface land use. 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.

This concession also renders the re-alignment of the tunnel and its entry point at Jalan Damansara, off Jalan Duta to save a VIP residence an unnecessary and costly exercise, since the land underground could be acquired without affecting the ownership of the surface land and property.

To remove any lingering doubts, the MRT Co. should declare an official position that no surface land above tunneling works for the MRT project will be forcibly acquired and that land will be acquired strictly on the basis of the construction of MRT stations or its ancillary facilities such as air vents and access points. No parcel of land should be compulsorily acquired for the purposes of profit generation by the Government.

Finally, the U-turn by the Barisan Nasional Government proves time and again that the rakyat needs to mobilise and speak up for their rights to ensure that they are not be victimized and the powers of the Government abused. The Bersih rally, for example has forced the Government to set up the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reforms. While this does not yet guarantee actual reforms, especially if elections are held before the reforms are exercised, it is a step forward for the country’s political system. Outrage from the civil society has also led to the recent announcement by the Prime Minister to lift “the state of emergency” and promise to abolish several draconian laws such as the Internal Security Act.

The above actions also prove that civil and political pressure works to correct the wrongs and abuses, and hence more Malaysians must speak up and take part in activities to defend their basic rights and entitlements.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Budget 2012: Where Are The Highways?

Highway projects in the last Budget has yet to kick off and the Prime Minister has announced 6 new highway projects in the new Budget 2012

In the recently announced budget for 2012, the Prime Minister has announced 5 new “high impact” highway and major road projects. They are:

  1. Lebuhraya Pantai Timur Jabor – Kuala Terengganu
  2. Lebuhraya Pantai Barat Banting – Taiping
  3. Lebuhraya Segamat – Tangkak
  4. Lebuhraya Central Spine
  5. Kota Marudu – Ranau Road

While we welcome the provision for new infrastructure projects, the credibility of these announcements are in doubt because even the 6 “high impact” highway projects which were announced in last year’s Budget 2011 speech, none had taken off the ground.

The highway projects announced last year are:

  1. Lebuhraya Bertingkat Ampang – Pandan – Cheras
  2. Lebuhraya Guthrie – Damansara
  3. Lebuhraya Damansara – Petaling Jaya
  4. Lebuhraya Pantai Barat (Banting – Taiping)
  5. Lebuhraya Sungai Dua – Juru
  6. Lebuhraya Senawwang - KLIA

In the Prime Minister’s lengthy written reply to my oral question yesterday – which asked on the status of the highway projects he announced in the previous budget, it was stated that the projects are still being evaluated and only some had received in-principle approval. The projects which have received in-principle approval by the Cabinet are still being studied by the various government agencies, and none of these projects have been awarded.

Besides the fact that a project – Lebuhraya Pantai Barat – was re-announced in the current Budget, it appears that the announcement by the Prime Minister has no tangible substance because the likelihood of the projects being implemented is actually questionable. If not even a single one of the “high-impact’ highway projects announced for 2011 is close to kicking off by October today, then surely the highway project announced in the current budget will see the light any time in the near future, if they ever kick off.

In fact it is completely irresponsible for the Prime Minister to be making announcement for projects where their viability are yet to be ascertained in the country’s financial budget. The Prime Minister’s reply to me on last year’s announcement did not even include an expected date for the projects to commence.

Datuk Seri Najib Razak must explain in parliament the reasons why the projects which have been announced last year have not even reached finalization stages, and whether these “high impact” highway projects announced this year are just part of a “wish list”, and not projects which have been thoroughly evaluated for commencement next year.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

MAS Must Sell Firefly To Protect Competition

Under the share swap signed on August 9 2011, AirAsia’s main shareholder Tune Air Sdn Bhd will swap 10 per cent stake in the budget carrier for 20.5 per cent share of the ailing flag carrier in the agreement called a “Comprehensive Collaboration Framework.”

The situation in MAS was so bleak that the Finance Ministry had in Parliament last week argued that the government had no choice but to go ahead with the share swap between AirAsia and Malaysia Airlines (MAS) to allow the national carrier to move forward, especially since the latter made losses of RM770 million for the first half of this year.

There were many critics, especially from the Barisan Nasional backbenchers had argued that the deal is against national interest. The Member of Parliament for Kinabatangan and BN Backbenchers deputy chairman had for example likened the deal to “ikan bilis makan ikan jerung”, where “small fry” Air Asia should not be allowed to swallow up “big fish” MAS.

The critics seem to have forgotten the fact that Air Asia has overtaken MAS in terms of stock market capitalization on Bursa Malaysia since October 2010. The gap has since widened to the extent that Air Asia is now worth RM8.8 billion practically double the size of MAS at only RM4.5 billion.

The key issue in the exercise is not the fact that our national interest in MAS has been compromised. The real concern for the rakyat is the fact that the public interest will not be protected with the share swap between the 2 key domestic airlines in the country.

Over the past 10 years since Tune Air took over the management of Air Asia from DRB Hicom, Malaysians in nearly all major cities have enjoyed spectacular benefits from the competition created with MAS. The prices for domestic and regional flights were reduced by more than 50% allowing travel for millions of Malaysians resulting in exponential increase in domestic tourism as well as hundreds of millions of ringgit in travel expenses.

The competitive scene however, changed drastically when the share swap took place resulting in the creation of a collusive duopoly which will naturally seek to protect the interest (profits) of each other, instead of being dictated by market forces to lower prices.

Since the swap is now a fait accompli, there is little or no likelihood of reversal. Hence what is more important will be the actions of the Government moving forward to ensure that competition is protected in the Malaysian airline industry.

Pakatan Rakyat has in its Alternative Budget for 2012 called for the break up monopolies and block cartels so as to ensure lowest possible market prices for ordinary Malaysians. In line with the Pakatan Rakyat agenda, I have called for the Government to compel MAS to sell its budget air service, Firefly Sdn Bhd to the highest available bidder in my speech to debate the Budget for 2012 yesterday in Parliament.

This will ensure that competition and real alternatives are available to ordinary Malaysians when seeking to travel domestically and regionally especially in the budget sector, which allows more people to fly. Competition in the airline industry had benefited Malaysians and our economy immensely over the past decade. Therefore competition must be preserved, cartels and collusions crushed to ensure that all Malaysians and our economy continue to benefit.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

MRT: SPAD Must Stop The Half-Truths

SPAD must stop trying to deceive the public with half-truths and start acting in the interest of ordinary Malaysians instead of the politically-connected elite

SPAD CEO Mohd Nur Kamal has responded to our press conference held on Wednesday last week exposing the fact that the Klang Valley MRT tunnel has been realigned to save the bungalow residence of a VIP late on Thursday evening.

In a long-winded reply that tried hard to steer away from the subject at hand, SPAD has essentially confirmed that the tunnel has indeed been realigned at the site which we had pointed out. In the statement, SPAD said that:
“Following the feedback from the land owners given before the final approval of the alignment by the government, SPAD evaluated the alternatives and accepted the option of moving the original alignment further to the edge of the plot of land.

The re-alignment was possible because firstly there was suitable alternative land available. However, more importantly, the realignment reduced the amount of land acquisition by over 1,000 square metres… Indeed there was a cost to this realignment but it is lower than the potential compensation payout.”
One almost needs to shake his or her head with incredulity that SPAD has decided that the tunnel realignment was necessary as it could reduce land acquisition by some 1,000 square meters. At prime residential land prices, the land could be worth just above RM5,000 per square meter, meaning a “saving” of just about only RM5 million ringgit. We call upon SPAD to disclose in full the total cost incurred for the realignment especially since tunnelling works have already commenced on the initial alignment by the relevant contractors.

SPAD even had the cheek to be sneaky by claiming that the original alignment did not affect the bungalow residence and that our “allegation is totally false and the item marked on the map as the “VIP House” is totally incorrect.”

I have attached once again the original alignment plan for the tunnel, this time the plan issued directly by SPAD and Syarikat Prasarana Bhd above. It is beyond the doubt of anyone with reasonable eyesight that the tunnel had cut through underneath the swimming pool and an ancillary building at the bungalow residence. Is the SPAD CEO trying to wriggle out of the issue by claiming that the swimming pool is not strictly speaking the bungalow?

SPAD should stop giving incongruous, unbelievable and contradictory excuses in the entire land acquisition exercise. SPAD claims close consultation with all affected parties before decisions on the alignment was finalised, including we assume, the above VIP bungalow-owner. However, that is completely untrue in the case of the Bukit Bintang and Jalan Sultan shop-owners where the notices for land acquisition caught them by complete surprise.

SPAD CEO has also admitted in an earlier statement that the underground stratum can be acquired without affecting the land use and ownership of the surface land 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.

Hence even the rationale for realignment of the tunnel below the bungalow residence is based on a false premise, that the Government will “save” from the acquisition of 1,000 square metres of land (or 32m x 32m) as the acquisition of surface land is completely unnecessary.

The flimsy reply provided by SPAD is completely unacceptable and only serves to confirm the fears of ordinary Malaysians that special privileges are accorded only to the very privileged few, while the rights of the honest man trying to make a living on the street are trampled upon indiscriminately.

Budget 2012: BN vs PR

It is difficult not to “feel good” after a record-breaking pre-election budget where goodies big and small, were liberally handed out to practically all segments of society. The question is, beneath the sweeteners, are there substantive reforms proposed in the Budget 2012 to make “transformative” changes to our economy to achieve the goal of becoming a “high-income nation” by 2020.

The answer, when compared side by side with Pakatan Rakyat (PR) Alternative Budget is obvious. There is little in the Barisan Nasional (BN) federal government’s budget that indicates a determination to slaughter sacred cows and take the Malaysian economy to the next level.

Both the PR and BN’s budgets had proposed cash grants to various deserving segments of society in order to help alleviate their increasingly heavy burdens. However, PR matched its welfare benefits with policies to rectify the distortions created by the current government to reduce inflationary pressures and the cost of living over the longer term.

PR has called for the abolition of artificial monopolies licensed by the Government such as Bernas which monopolises the sale and distribution of local and imported rice. In addition, predatory market strategies by Telekom Malaysia to stifle competition will be made illegal while the monopoly of satellite and cable television will be abolished.

On top of that we will dismantle cartels in the telecommunication, media, airline, oil and gas as well as other industries to ensure a genuine competitive market which will benefit the man on the street with lower prices.

What’s more, we have promised drastic changes to the current privatisation policies which are opaque, uncompetitive and clearly benefit the concessionaires at the expense of the Government and the rakyat. The 2-prong strategy demands the renegotiation or expropriation of current concession assets such as independent power producers, highway and water companies, while putting in place an open, transparent and competitive framework to ensure only the parties with the best services at the lowest price will be awarded the relevant contracts in the future.

Under PR for example, all Approved Permits to import cars will be auctioned not only to increase government revenue, but also to ensure only genuine businessmen and not rent-seeking middle-men secure the rights.

PR has also committed to transform our labour market in the interest those who are paid suppressed wages by instituting a minimum wage of RM1,100 per month. This will ensure that all workers will receive a humane subsistence wage. The measure will not only stimulate domestic demand in our economy, it will also increase the attractiveness of hiring local workers as opposed to foreign workers while phasing out low value-added industries.

It is only with these institutional and structural changes, can we be assured of lower cost of living in the middle and longer term. The budget announced by the Prime Minister has instead chosen to prescribe pain-killers which will ease the rakyat’s suffering in the short term, without the medication to cure the actual illness.

In fact when comparing the two budgets, had PR used the more optimistic BN revenue assumptions of RM186.9 billion and our planned expenditure of RM220 billion, the projected deficit of PR’s budget would further decline to 3.8%, significantly lower and healthier than BN’s 4.7%. This proves that PR can provide not just the “pain-killers” with welfare grants and “cure” the economy by removing artificial barriers to lower cost of living; we can do it all by spending less, and incurring lower debts than BN.

The above also shows that with good governance and the necessary political will to reform and restructure our economy, there will be no need for the Government to further tax the rakyat via BN’s proposed Goods and Services Tax (GST). Therein lies the fundamental difference between BN and PR’s budget – the former prescribes a sugar-coated placebo that makes you feel good in the short term only to tax you more later, while the latter seek to ease the pain and cure the illness at the lowest possible cost.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Budget 2012: Najib Fails Reform Credentials

Budget 2012 fails to live up to the Prime Minister’s reform pledges in NEM, GTP and ETP

The expectations were high for a pre-election budget where Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak will stamp his “reformist” credentials. It is for the Prime Minister to put into action the various reform pledges made in his cornerstone policy blueprints – the New Economic Model (NEM), Government Transformation Programme (GTP) and the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP).

However, the announcement of the budget left much to be desired as little has changed beyond tweaking the budget of the previous financial year. Instead what is perhaps the most worrying is that Malaysians are like the proverbial frog in the hot soup – where the frog does not realise the soup is slowly but surely reaching the boiling point.

We may not yet be facing the crisis of Greek proportions, but Budget 2012 is doing very little to avert such eventuality, leaving the Malaysian economy nakedly exposed to the inevitability.

Federal Government Debt

Our Federal Government debt has increased rapidly from RM242 billion in 2004 to RM363 billion in 2009 and RM456 billion in 2011. That represents a marked 88.4% increase in debt over the past 7 years. It is also an increase of 25.6% or nearly RM100 billion over 2 years.

The increase in debt has increased the pressure on reigning in our budget deficit as our annual debt service commitments have increased to RM20.5 billion next year from only half the amount 5 years ago in 2007.

While our federal government debt to GDP ratio is still at a moderate 53.8%, a far cry from Greece's 117%, we are not far from Spain's 64% or Ireland's 67%, both of whom are facing economic turbulence of their own.

Our debt levels will only worsen in the next few years as we embark on record levels of infrastructure spending such as the RM53 billion Klang Valley MRT project which is expected to be funded entirely on debt.

Wages and Pensions

At the same time, our public sector expenditure is increasingly mirroring that of the European countries with ballooning civil service obligations. The budgeted expenditure for wages and pensions for 2012 is a whopping RM64.1 billion, an increase of RM6.2 billion or 10.8% budgeted for 2011. The increase is even more worrying when contrasted against the budgeted RM36.9 billion 2007, a 73.7% increase in just 5 years.

The GTP had promised a more efficient and cost effective government and civil service. What we are seeing from the Budget is only on which is indebting our children, entrenching our structural problems and very weak expenditure controls.

Economic Growth

Despite the Governments efforts in the ETP, our manufacturing and export statistics paint a starkly different picture.

Our export sector grew a miserly 2.7% in 2011 against 13.2% in 2010. However, we should be further alarmed by the fact that the growth was a result of increased contributions from exports of rubber, paper, textiles, clothes and shoes which grew in excess of 15%, and the petroleum products by 9.3%. Our electrical and electronics sector, which constitutes 26.4% of our total exports industry shrunk by 4.9% in 2011.

From the above indicators, there appears to be a shift away from higher value-added export sectors to the primary products industry such as rubber, wood, textiles and crude oil. This is the exact reverse of what we are trying to achieve via the ETP.

Budget deficit

Based on the Economic Report, we are expected to meet our deficit target of 5.4% for this year only because our revenues had grown beyond the expected in the 2010 budget due to very strong commodity prices. The Government has managed to collect RM21.1 billion of extra revenue on top of the originally budget RM165.8 billion. If not for the unexpected increase in government revenue, our budget deficit would have been a shocking 7.9%.

The Government is planning a 4.7% deficit for 2012, a figure which doesn't give hope that the 2.5% deficit target promised by Najib can be met by 2015. Even then, based on poor expenditure controls and the habitual ad hoc expenditure patterns of past BN governments, even meeting the 4.7% target will be a challenge, especially if commodity prices were to fall below expectations next year.

Optimistic projections

Finally, despite having achieved on 4.2% growth in the first half of 2011, and a slowing global economy in the face of another potential economic crisis, the Government has retained its unrealistic growth assumptions of 5.0 to 5.5%. To meet the target, Malaysia's economy will have to grow by at least 5.7% in the 2nd half of the year, which is highly optimistic to say the least.

The Federal Government's unrealistic expectations coupled with a budget which failed to demonstrate substantive reforms and political will for change makes the 2012 budget a highly disappointing and puts in serious doubt our ability to become a high income nation as aspired in Najib's New Economic Model.

Friday, October 07, 2011

IWK Should Be Returned To Local Councils

We welcome the reply by Finance Ministry to my question in parliament today as to whether the Indah Water Konsortium will be privatised to 1MDB together with other private entities such as Puncak Niaga Holdings Bhd.

When asked to confirm if the IWK will be privatised in whatever form to 1MDB, the Deputy Finance Minister, Datuk Donald Lim has responded that it will not. He has further added that IWK will instead be restructured and placed under the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water.

However, we would like to call upon the Government to take a further step of decentralising the IWK sewerage treatment and management business, and returning it to their respective local councils. The IWK was formed in 1994 as part of Dr Mahathir’s privatisation initiative and took over all the relevant functions from the local government authorities. To ensure increased effectiveness and greater responsiveness to issues faced by the people, it is crucial that the local councils are empowered to manage its services.

The centralisation of IWK services has resulted in a costly privatisation exercise where the Government was bailed out IWK from its concessionaire with RM192 million in 2000. The exercise has since resulted in further cost to the government amounting to RM1.2 billion to make up IWK’s operational deficits since then.

We would warn the Government against reversing the decision to reject 1MDB’s privatisation proposal, especially when attempting to privatise to parties which are facing financial difficulties such as Puncak Niaga Holdings Bhd. The latter had recently announced that its shareholder’s funds have plunged to RM36 million breaching the Practice Note 17 guidelines of a minimum of RM40 million of Bursa Malaysia before receiving reprieve from Bursa to regularise its position by June 2012.

Should the Government decide at any point of time to revive the privatisation exercise, such exercise must be conducted in an open, competitive and transparent manner to ensure that the interest of the rakyat is prioritised, and the cost to the Government minimised.

Government Must Not Pay RM0.50 To Send Bills Via Email

We view with concern the announcement made by Tricubes Bhd that 4 government agencies have been approached to adopt the MyEmail system and 2 agencies are commencing pilot projects with the company. The agencies which have been approached are the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM), Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL), Road Transport Department (JPJ) and the Employees Provident Fund (EPF).

We have no objection to government agencies negotiating with any commercial companies to provide better and more efficient services to the public.

However, we are duly worried when the Government starts to use tax-payers’ monies to pay for services which are either unnecessary or excessive.

Tricubes CEO, Khairun Zainal Mokhtar has reiterated that He added that “each bill sent via myemail be charged 50 sen to the agency” while normal emails will not be charged.

We would like to reiterate our position in the strongest possible terms our objections to Government agencies paying a single sen for any bills delivered via email. If our local and foreign banks, as well as other utility operators in the country can send my statements and bills to me via normal Yahoo or Gmail accounts, there is absolutely no reason at all for Government agencies to be delivering emails via service providers that charge anything for its use.

We would like to warn that any agency signing agreements to make payments for emails delivered borne by the tax-payers will be referred to the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee to answer for its decision and provide full details on the terms and conditions agreed to in the service contract.

This objection is not aimed against private innovative enterprises but to prevent parties from manipulating exclusive positions and restrictive government concessions from profiting either via rent-seeking or the sheer ignorance of our agencies.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

MRT: Tunnel Realignment for Luxury Bungalow?

The Land Public Transport Authority (SPAD), Pemandu and Syarikat Prasarana (or its new owner MRT Co.) must answer to the public for the double standards which have been shown in its treatment of a VIP bungalow in Jalan Damansara, off Jalan Duta.

In the original plan, the tunnel was clearly shown to pass through underneath the VIP bungalow, which based on the arguments put forth by SPAD and Pemandu so far, necessitates the acquisition of the land. The original plan is attached in Diagram A. The contract for the tunnel “portal” has already been awarded and works commenced near the site.

Diagram A: Original Alignment

Diagram B: New Alignment

However, for reasons best known to the authorities, the works on the original site has now been stopped, the tunnel portal relocated and a variation order has been issued to the contractor. The last minute tunnel realignment can be seen in the updated plan shown in Diagram B, where the tunnel no longer passes underneath the VIP house.

The costly and last minute change flies in the face of SPAD and Pemandu’s arguments that the tunnel route has already been optimised and finalised and is no longer subject to change. The tunnel route, passing through Chinatown and Bukit Bintang has sparked protests from landowners in the areas because of the authorities’ intent to acquire all land above the tunnel.

This is despite the fact that we have argued that the Government is able to, under the amended Land Acquisition Act, acquire the underground land without having to affect the land and its use on the surface. Alternatively, the land owners have suggested that the tunnel routes can be realigned to prevent the costly and inconvenient acquisitions. However, the Government has to date, refused acquiesce to the requests from the landowners.

Now with the fact that SPAD did indeed make a realignment concession to “save” a VIP’s bungalow house from being affected by the tunnel route, the Government must explain its hypocrisy and double-standards in dealing with the above issues. On the one hand, the Government remains stubborn in refusing to hear out the pleas of the landowners and traders in Jalan Sultan and Bukit Bintang, many of whom have been earning a living there for decades, while on the other hand, the Government goes out of its way to save a luxury bungalow, despite its cost to the taxpayers.