Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Second Finance Minister should stop crying wolf and start addressing the ultimate cause of the loss of confidence in the Malaysian economy

Two days ago, the Second Finance Minister, Datuk Johari Abdul Ghani told Malaysians there is no need to panic about the weakening ringgit, stating that the nation has in place an ecosystem that encourages investment and an open economy.

“Don’t panic, we shouldn’t panic,” Johari said.  The ringgit, which has weakened along with other emerging market currencies against the US dollar, has all the strength to bounce back, he added.

"We have the ecosystem to make it right, ensure political stability is intact and (continuously) apply the right policies to facilitate investors," he said when asked on the ringgit's decline to 4.4805 per US dollar.

The Second Finance Minister’s attempt to assure the Malaysian public has zero credibility and if that’s his only answer to the depreciated ringgit, then 2017 will only see further pains for our currency and economy.

Perhaps, Datuk Johari has forgotten that this is the first year we have hit bottom. In fact, even I myself was a little surprised to discover that his is not the second, but the third consecutive year where the ringgit has become the worst performing currency in Asia.

In 2014, the ringgit slumped 6.3% from 3.281 on 1 January to 3.502 a dollar on 31 December.

Last year in 2015, the ringgit collapsed 18.5% in 2015 from 3.505 on 1 January to 4.303 a dollar on 31 December.

Despite repeated assurances from the Government and Bank Negara that our currency was undervalued and unjustifiably depreciated for the past 2 years, the ringgit tanked a further 9.6% this year.

As the saying goes, once is an accident, twice a coincidence and three times a pattern.  Hence the Second Finance Minister sounds exactly like the boy who has cried wolf too many times.  No Malaysian with any sense left believes or is assured by what he is saying.  In fact, his open call “not to panic” is likely to have had the opposite effect as it showed that the Government is completely clueless and incapable of stemming the disastrous decline of the ringgit.

Worse, even the oft-repeated excuse that the ringgit’s ignominy as Asia’s worst performing major currency was a result of the drastic decline in global crude oil prices is no longer tenable.  Malaysia is a major oil producer in Asia (excluding the Middle East).

The Brent Crude price per barrel has indeed declined from US$102.10 in January 2014 to US$60.70 (Dec 2014) to US$36.57 (Dec 2015).  However, for the month of December 2016, the Brent Crude has been trading 50% higher at around US$55 per barrel compared to a year earlier.

If the global oil price drop had been the reason why we were the worst performing currency in 2014 and 2015, there is certainly no reason why we should remain the worst performing currency in 2016 with the substantially higher oil prices.

It appears that everyone knows the real cause of the ringgit’s terrible performance except our clueless or pretend-to-be-clueless Ministers. The fundamental cause is because of the complete collapse in confidence in our currency and economy ever since we have been outed as a major global kleptocracy and the failure of the Malaysian authorities and Government to take any action against those responsible.

In a country where the Prime Minister, Dato’ Seri Najib Razak who has been referred to as the Malaysian Official One by the US Department of Justice as having misappropriated US$731 million into his personal bank account in Malaysia can get away scot-free while all attempts to bring him to justice, including cartoonists, are met with oppression and intimidation by the police, there can be little surprise that Malaysia has lost the confidence of both local and foreign businesses and investors.

Unless and until there exist Ministers and a Government in Malaysia who is willing to call a spade a spade, and is willing to take concrete actions to redeem ourselves from the kleptocratic bottom, Malaysia’s economy will only continue to struggle to stay afloat and its currency continuing to significantly under-perform relative to its peers.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Ministry of Education officials who attempted to cheat in the PISA assessments must be sacked

The Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA) conducted by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is a triennial international survey which aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students.

In 2015 over half a million students, representing 28 million 15-year-old's in 72 countries and economies, took the internationally agreed two-hour test. Students were assessed in science, mathematics, reading, collaborative problem solving and financial literacy.

When the PISA 2015 results were released on Dec 6, officials from the Education Ministry (MOE) were quoted in a news report as taking pride that Malaysia’s PISA’s scores for Mathematics, Reading and Science had improved from 421, 398 and 420 respectively in 2012 to 446, 431 and 443 respectively in 2015.

However, Malaysians have been stunned to discover the next day that Malaysia is one of 2 countries who took part in PISA 2015 which were left out of the overall rankings entirely.

The official reason given was “in Malaysia, the Pisa assessment was conducted in accordance with the operational standards and guidelines of the OECD. However, the weighted response rate among the initially sample Malaysian schools (51 percent) falls well short of the standard Pisa response rate of 85 percent. Therefore, the results may not be comparable to those of other countries or to results for Malaysia from previous years.”

In simple terms, this means that the MOE officials had attempted to manipulate the results of the Malaysian students by using a biased sample of schools which will not present a fair and accurate reflection of students’ performance in Malaysia.

My colleague, Dr Ong Kian Ming has already shown in his statement on 8 December that the MOE over-represents data from High Performing Schools (HPS) and Fully Residential Schools.  For example, even though the number of Fully Residential School students comprise only less than 3% of all students in Malaysia, they were over-represented for the PISA tests at a whopping 30%.

There cannot be a bigger irony when our own Ministry of Education tries to cheat in its examinations, and actually expects to get away with it.

The disgraceful attempt to cheat the system underlies a bigger problem in the administration of our education system.  It shows that those in-charge of the education of our children are more interested in form over substance.  They are only interested in meeting statistical benchmarks – by hook or by crook so that they could crow about it, and are not interested in the real substantive quality and performance of our students.

This is consistent with the fact that the MOE (and its counterpart Higher Education Ministry) have been attempting to manipulate the rankings of our Malaysians universities by adjusting foreign student intakes to meet the criteria for the more dubious global university ranking matrix by QS World University Rankings.  Other university ranking systems by the Times Higher Education and Shanghai Jiao Tong clearly require more qualitative academic performance input from our universities which were harder to manipulate.

Similarly, it has been an open secret that the annual increases in the number of “As” obtained by our students in examinations such as the SPM were a result of reducing marks required to achieve the relevant grades, and not a result of improving student quality.

Without a real transformation in the mindset of our officials in-charge of our education system, the quality of our schools will continue continue to deteriorate and we can only expect our students to be even worse off over time.  As long as these officials who are only interested in artificial forms to pat themselves on the back and suck up to their superiors, no amount of beautifully crafted transformation blueprints will be able to “transform” the system for the better.

We call upon the Minister of Education, Dato' Seri Mahdzir Khalid to take stern action against all senior officials who were complicit in the attempts to cheat PISA.  This will send a strong message to the entire Ministry that the Government is only interested in substantive quality of our students and not fake performance outcomes.  The continued failure to let substance precede form is a certain formula to ensure a worsened outcome for our future Malaysian students.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

The Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar should stick to catching criminals who rob the country instead of telling artists what they should and should not draw

Yesterday, Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar has advised political cartoonist Zunar to channel his creative juices towards drawing "nice cartoons" if he wanted to exhibit his work.

"He can draw McDonald's or Donald Duck, " he quipped when asked if Zunar would be allowed to showcase his cartoons in a public exhibition.

Perhaps Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar has failed to read and/or understand that we have a Federal Constitution which guarantees “Fundamental Liberties” including the “Freedom of speech, assembly and association”. 

While such liberties are not absolute, we are supposed to be far from a totalitarian or police state to the extent where the IGP tells an artist to draw “nice cartoons”.

Certainly, just because Zunar’s criticism of the ruling kleptocratic elite who are mired with rampant corruption, abuse of power and incitement of racial flames are portray in a manner which is unpalatable for those who are in power, that certainly do not mean that they are illegal in anyway. 

In fact, Tan Sri IGP, you are not required to like Zunar’s art!

Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar tried to justify his repeated arrest of Zunar by claiming that the artist had “insulted the country’s leaders”.

He asked what if the tables were turned when someone draws cartoons which insulted opposition leaders?  "If tomorrow such cartoons targeted Penang Chief Minister (Lim Guan Eng), would he like it if we just ignored them?”

Firstly, a hopefully not too profound question for our Inspector-General of Police:

If a thief were to be insulted by a caricature him or her as a “despicable thief”, would you arrest the thief or the artist?  Is the alleged “insult” which has hurt the feelings of the thief wrong in the eyes of the law, or is should the thief who have stolen billions of dollars from the people of Malaysia be arrested, investigated and charged instead?

After all, as far as we are aware, no leader of this country is legislated to be above the law.

Secondly, Tan Sri Khalid raised the most ironic of examples – with regards to purported insults against opposition leaders like the Penang Chief Minister.

In fact, DAP and other opposition leaders have been regularly demonised via caricatures appearing in Utusan Malaysia for the past decades, their posters and pictures torn and burnt by UMNO demonstrators – what exactly has the Police done against these parties?

We are not asking for the Police to take action against these people.  However, the fact that the IGP only takes action against those who criticise UMNO leaders and close one eye to those who viciously attacked those in the Opposition clearly demonstrates his bias and hypocrisy in the reasons provided for the persecution of Zunar.

We call upon Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar to stop making Malaysia and its police force the butt of international jokes by stopping all actions against artists, civil society members and political dissidents.  Instead, he should regain the respectability of the force by initiating urgent arrests and investigations against all parties cited by the United States, Switzerland and Singapore investigators who have stolen and misappropriated billions of dollars from 1MDB and SRC International, including but not limited to Jho Low and his father, Riza Aziz, Eric Tan Kim Loong, 1MDB and SRC officials as well as the shameless “Malaysian Official 1”.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Presiden UMNO Dato’ Seri Najib Razak telah mengeluarkan fitnah berbau perkauman yang melampau terhadap DAP untuk menakutkan orang Melayu dan mengalihkan kemarahan rakyat terhadap skandal 1MDB, SRC International dan MO1

Presiden UMNO, Dato’ Seri Najib Razak telah melontarkan pelbagai fitnah dan dusta terhadap parti DAP dan pemimpin-pemimpinnya dalam ucaptama Perhimpunan Agung UMNO semalam.

Beliau berkata bahawa “sekiranya negara ini jatuh ke tangan DAP yang memperjuangkan liberalisme melampau dan fahaman sekular berbahaya, pastinya, hak dan keistimewaan yang diperjuang serta dipertahankan oleh UMNO selama ini, termasuk Institusi-institusi Bumiputera antaranya MARA, FELDA, RISDA, FELCRA dan TERAJU akan pupus dan lenyap.”

Tambahan lagi, Dato’ Seri Najib juga menuduh bahawa “Perlembagaan parti DAP, tiada langsung menyebut Islam sebagai agama Persekutuan, tidak dinyatakan untuk menjunjung institusi Raja-Raja Melayu dan tidak tertulis satu ayat pun, tentang usaha untuk melindungi hak dan keistimewaan Orang-Orang Melayu serta Bumiputera.”

Kami ingin bertanya kepada Dato’ Seri Najib Razak -  parti yang mana yang meletakkan keseluruhan Perlembagaan Persekutuan ke dalam Perlembagaan Parti?  Adakah MCA, MIC, Gerakan, parti-parti Barisan Nasional di Sabah dan Sarawak menyenaraikan setiap fasal perlembagaan persekutuan ke dalam perlembagaan parti mereka?

Jelasnya tidak. Hakikatnya, Presiden UMNO hanya ingin menipu dan mengelirukan orang ramai terhadap perlembagaan parti DAP.

Adalah tertulis dalam perlembagaan DAP bahawa maksud dan semangat Perlembagaan Persekutuan seperti yang dihasratkan oleh pengasas penubuhan dan kemerdekaan Malaysia merupakan perjuangan DAP.  Setahu kami, fasal-fasal yang disebut oleh Dato’ Seri Najib Razak – Islam sebagai agama Persekutuan, institusi Raja-Raja Melayu dan hak keistimewaan bumiputera adalah terkandung di dalam Perlembagaan Persekutuan yang sama dipertahankan oleh DAP.

Apatah lagi, untuk menafikan pembohongan-pembohongan UMNO selama ini, semasa Persidangan Parti DAP di Shah Alam pada 8 Jan 2012[1], DAP telah mengeluarkan dan meluluskan Deklarasi Shah Alam yang antaranya menegaskan bahawa:
Kita menghasratkan Impian Bangsa Malaysia, dan dalam usaha untuk mengecapi impian ini, kita mengulangi komitmen untuk:

Mempertahankan sistem Demokrasi Berparlimen dan Raja Berperlembagaan dengan Seri Paduka Baginda Yang di-Pertuan Agong sebagai Ketua Negara. DAP komited untuk menjunjung Perlembagaan Persekutuan Malaysia sebagai undang-undang yang paling agung negara dan meluhurkannya dalam semangat Merdeka 1957 dan Perjanjian Malaysia 1963.

Memelihara kedudukan istimewa orang Melayu dan Bumiputra serta hak-hak kaum-kaum lain, seperti yang termaktub dalam Artikel 153 Perlembagaan Persekutuan.

Memastikan kedudukan Islam sebagai agama Persekutuan serta kebebasan untuk mengamalkan agama-agama lain dengan aman dan damai, seperti yang termaktub dalam Artikel 3 dan 11 Perlembagaan Persekutuan.

Memartabatkan Bahasa Melayu sebagai Bahasa Kebangsaan seperti yang termaktub dalam Artikel 152 Perlembagaan Persekutuan, serta menggalakkan penggunaan dan pengajian bahasa-bahasa ibunda lain untuk membentukkan masyarakat yang cemerlang dan berbilang bahasa.

Memperjuangkan kebebasan rakyat yang terjamin dalam Artikel 10 Perlembagaan Persekutuan, iaitu kebebasan untuk bersuara, berhimpun dan menubuh persatuan.

Menghormati Perjanjian Malaysia 1963 serta hak-hak yang dimiliki oleh rakyat Sabah dan Sarawak.

Adakah Dato’ Seri Najib Razak buta huruf sehingga sehingga beliau tidak faham apa yang tertulis dan diterbitkan oleh DAP sebelum ini?

Atau Dato’ Seri Najib Razak sengaja berfitnah untuk mengapi-apikan kebencian perkauman di kalangan orang Melayu supaya segala skandal-skandal pimpinan beliau, termasuk penyelewengan berbilion-bilion dolar daripada syarikat kerajaan 1MDB dan SRC International ke dalam akaun peribadi beliau, akan dilupakan?

Timbalan Perdana Menteri, Dato’ Seri Zahid Hamidi dalam ucapan beliau dua hari dahulu menuduh pihak pembangkang mempergunakan strategi Nazi, iaitu “jika anda ingin berbohong, biarlah ia besar dan jika kamu katakannya berulang kali, orang akan mula mempercayainya.”

Apa yang dikemukakan oleh pihak pembangkang, terutamanya mengenai penyelewengan kewangan 1MDB dan SRC oleh Presiden UMNO, yang juga merupakan Perdana Menteri dan Menteri Kewangan telah terbukti benar dan tidak dinafikan oleh Dato’ Seri Najib Razak.  Walhal, yang benar-benar mempergunakan strategi pembohong besar Nazi adalah Dato’ Seri Najib Razak sendiri, seperti yang telah dibuktikan di atas.