Saturday, February 24, 2018

Najib’s ‘new’ plan to abolish tolls is another repeated election promise that will be broken again

During a forum on Budget 2018 earlier this week, Najib said that tolls should be abolished, adding that wherever possible he would look into unraveling the legacy problems caused by toll concession agreements.

Malaysians shouldn’t fall the empty promises of the Prime Minister whose track record has proven that he has zero commitment in abolishing these tolls.

It isn’t the first time Dato’ Seri Najib Razak promised to abolish tolls or lower toll rates. In Barisan Nasional’s manifesto for the 13th General Election, Najib promised the gradual reduction of intracity tolls within 5 years. Yet, 5 years on, not only has this promise failed to be delivered, he delivered the exact opposite.

In October 2015, 18 tolls operated by 11 concessionaires were allowed to increase their fares with some even going up RM2.30 overnight. These included toll routes such as the LDP, SMART Tunnel, MEX, AKLEH and NPE in the Klang Valley as well as the Senai-Desaru Highway in Johor and the Butterworth Outer Ring Road (BORR) in Penang.

In response to this, Najib turned around and said the the government had no choice but to allow the toll fares to increase because preventing it would require massive compensation payments. The Prime Minister went on to threaten Malaysians that taxes would have to be increased if the government were to abolish tolls.

The Prime Minister’s threats have proven true because when the government did remove certain tolls, they paid exhorbitant compensation equivalent to the amount of toll these concessionaires would have collected anyway!

When the Batu Tiga, Sg Rasau, Bukit Kayu Hitam and Eastern Dispersal Link (EDL) tolls were removed last year, the government will be paying RM2.2 billion for the first 3 tolls. For the EDL, the government will reportedly be paying a yearly compensation of RM70 million.

The above means, Najib “abolish tolls” or not, the BN government would always profit the concessionaires.  Malaysians would either have to pay for the tolls directly, or pay for them via taxes paid to the Government.

Most hypocritically, the Prime Minister had only recent on 3rd December criticised Pakatan Harapan’s plan to eliminate highway tolls and reintroduce petrol subsidies will increase air pollution in the country. So did Najib temporarily change his mind to fish for votes in the impending General Election, just as he did in 2013?

Pakatan Harapan believes in the rule of law and the sanctity of the contract signed between the Government and the toll concessionaires.  The provisions of the contracts allow for the Government to expropriate or buy back the concessions at cost, subject to a minimum return for the concessionaires for the past years of operations.

Barring exceptions, the agreements do not at any point in time require the Government to compensate these concessionaires for future profits.  Why is the BN Government so adamant in ensuring these toll concessionaires are paid their future profits at the expense of Malaysian tax-payers?

All this is proof that Najib’s ‘promise’ to abolish tolls is just another empty promise by a Prime Minister and government desperate to hold on to power. Malaysians should not fall for these empty promises and should not forget the government’s own inability to deliver on the same pledge that it had made 5 years ago.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Rahman Dahlan’s dismissive attitude towards Malaysian’s inability to afford even daily groceries shows his blatant disregard for the issues of the average Malaysian.

Earlier this week, Mydin owner Datuk Ameer Ali Mydin had said that though the Goverment’s published GDP figures showed strong growth, consumers seemed to be spending less and less on grocery shopping. He suggested that Malaysians just did not seem to have the same amount of money to spend as before, even though the economy has been growing.

Mydin’s comments quickly drew responses from members of the Government, including Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Dato’ Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan who was quick to defend the Government’s economic measures. He said that hypermarket sales only made up 8% of total retail sales, which had seen overall growth both in terms of volume and value. He further added that Malaysians did indeed have more money to spend as highlighted by increases in domestic tourist expenditures as well as tourist spending abroad.

Dato’ Seri Rahman Dahlan’s dismissive attitude towards Mydin’s claim shows just how out of touch the BN Government is from the daily struggles faced by average Malaysians. If even low-priced hypermarkets like Mydin are facing weakened consumer demand, where does the Minister expect Malaysians to be buying their everyday groceries? Does he think Malaysians are going abroad to do their groceries?

Last November, 5 Giant hypermarkets were shuttered by owners GCH Retail (Malaysia).The 2017 Malaysia Retail Industry Report, also noted that consumers were less likely to spend money in the past year owing to the increasing cost of living. The same report noted that hypermarket sales in general had shrunk 3.1% in the first 3 quarters of 2017.

Accordingly, Malaysian consumers were found to be more frugal and judicious with their spending opting to make smaller purchases at different stores to make the most out of the various discount and offers provided by different stores.

All the above information is consistent with the Government’s own statistics. Inflation last year was the highest we’ve seen in years, averaging 3.7%. In particular, food and non-alcoholic beverages saw an increase of 4% over the past year. Regardless of whether someone is shopping in a hypermarket or a pasar tani, these price increases are present everywhere.

The Government should not be flaunting the spending statistics of Malaysians who can afford to travel abroad as proof that all Malaysians are better. Worse, they should not be dismissing the very real and loud complains of average Malaysians who struggle to even afford their daily groceries.

If the BN Government has no sympathy or empathy for the ordinary men on the street, it is time for them to get the boot.  Malaysians deserves a government that looks out for the interest of all Malaysians and does not dismiss the real issues being faced everyday.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Will Dato’ Seri Azalina Othman take action against Berita Harian for publishing fake news on falling car prices?

This Sunday’s cover story in UMNO-owned newspaper Berita Harian (BH) proudly declared, “harga kereta turun” (car prices decrease), reporting that car prices had dropped 13.1% as a result of the government’s automotive policies as well as the strengthening ringgit.

To further drive home the point, the accompanying full-page reports in the paper carried the headline “Menepati Janji Manifesto BN” (fulfilling the promises of the BN Manifesto. It was accompanied by an infographic comparing prices between 2013 and 2018 for different models of cars owned by Malaysians. The graphic suggested that prices for the various local, Japanese and European cars had decreased significantly between 2.25% and 20.77% since 2013.

However, a lengthy report on specialist automotive blog showed just how misleading the report by Berita Harian was. They noted that the comparisons made by Berita Harian compared different variants for the same model and used inaccurate pricing information.

For example, the BH article had compared the 2013 Perodua Alza’s 1.6 SE Manual model with the 2018 Standard model to show a 14.18% reduction in price.

For the Proton Exora, the newspaper had even used an inflated price for its 2013 comparison to further exaggerate the decrease. Instead of using the original price at 2013, it used the 2016 price, which came after price increase across the range. Worse, the report even included insurance for its ‘2013’ price whereas the current price stated does not include insurance.

The comparisons provided were at best between apples and oranges, and at worst, comparing fake apples with real oranges.

In the last elections, one of Barisan Nasional’s key manifesto points was that car prices would decrease 20-30%. The Berita Harian report was unabashly singing praises of the BN Government’s purportedly successful delivery of this promise.

However, the findings by proved the complete opposite.

Here’s a simple question for the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Azalina Othman who has been given the responsibility to table an anti-fake news bill in the next parliamentary sitting – will she instruct MCMC or even the Home Ministry to take action against BH for publishing the outrageous fake news?  If she doesn’t, then it is clear that she is not sincere in ensuring an anti-fake news bill which is fair, and which will not be abused by the BN government to punish opposition critics and whistleblowers.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

The Bank Negara Governor fools no one claiming the RM2 billion land acquisition from the Federal Government was an arms length transaction.

Yesterday, Bank Negara (BNM) Governor Tan Sri Muhamad Ibrahim tried to provide a justification for the central bank’s outrageous purchase of 55.79 acres of land for approximately RM2 billion from the Federal Government. On the 4th of January, BNM announced that is had acquired the land for the development of a new financial education hub.

Tan Sri Muhamad Ibrahim said that the Bank wasn’t forced to buy the land by the government and instead it was BNM that requested the government to sell the land to them. Tan Sri Muhamad said that the deal between BNM and government was an “arm’s length agreement”, which is to say that both parties were acting in their own interest without any pressure by the other party.

As reported by the Edge Weekly in January, following Bank Negara’s announcement of the deal, many industry observers had found the purchase puzzling because it was rare for a government agency to buy land from the government more so at a market price. This is especially so when the land is intended to be used for the development of an education hub, rather than a commercial property. Land acquired for public universities are usually transferred at a nominal rate, while the land purchased by BNM works out to approximately RM823 psf.

The question must hence be asked?  Why did the Governor not apply for the land at nominal rate?  This is especially since the education hub is not a commercial venture?  Even 1MDB for example, secured more than 500 acres of land at nominal or heavily discounted value from the Federal Government for commercial purposes.

Hence Malaysians cannot be blamed for suspecting that the entire transaction is a blatant attempt by the Federal Government to raid the Bank Negara coffers.

It also does not escape notice that the timing of the transaction and payment coincided with time 1MDB had to make it US$600 million second instalment payment to IPIC at the end of last year.

Despite questions being asked by the media, analysts, critics and even Members of Parliament, both 1MDB and the Ministry of Finance (MoF) have refused to clarify the source of funds for the above payments by 1MDB.  The question is very important because we all know that 1MDB is effectively insolvent and Malaysians have the right to know if the MoF utilised tax-payers’ funds to further bail out 1MDB.

Hence, the Bank Negara Governor Muhamad Ibrahim “keep an arms length” nonsense is completely not credible and fools no one.  Why should it be arms length in the first place when the land was not intended for Bank Negara to make a profit?  Until these questions are properly answered, Malaysians certainly cannot be blamed for believing that Bank Negara allowed itself to be raided by the MoF in order to bail out 1MDB.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

The first person who should be investigated for spreading the most outrageous ‘fake news’ in the country is none other than the Prime Minister himself, who claimed that the 1MDB’s monster RM42 billion debt is “not missing”

Earlier this week, Dato’ Seri Najib Razak announced that the government is looking into introducing laws to curb fake news which is a threat to political stability and public order.  The Prime Minister said the move was necessary because the people could be instigated to hate the government or commit something like uprisings due to the influence of fake news.

However, it could not have been more ironical that the biggest purveyor of fake news today is none other than the Prime Minister himself.

Yesterday, Dato’ Seri Najib defended the 1Malaysia Development Bhd’s (1MDB) RM42 billion debt, saying the money never disappeared, unlike the RM31 billion losses incurred in Bank Negara’s (BNM) foreign exchange scandal.

However, in the BNM scandal, no one was accused of pocketing the money.

However, in the case of 1MDB, the whereabouts of the RM42 billion, or a substantial portion of it is unknown and/or unverified.  In fact, if indeed Dato’ Seri Najib Razak was telling the truth, the question must be asked, why did the Cabinet classify the Auditor-General’s Report on 1MDB under the Official Secrets Act?

Or can Dato’ Seri Najib tell us where US$940 million worth of “units” is currently parked after the original custodial bank, BSI Bank was shut down?

If all monies are indeed properly accounted for in 1MDB, why is it that 1MDB has failed to produce a single audited financial statements since March 2014?  In fact, it was the missing funds highlighted by none other than the United States Department of Justice (US DOJ) which led Deloitte Malaysia to withdraw their endorsement for 1MDB’s March 2013 and 2014 accounts.  This means that 1MDB doesn’t have any properly audited financial statements for the past 6 years!

It could not be further ironical that Dato’ Seri Najib was lying through his teeth about 1MDB’s RM42 billion debt in front of 1,200 Muslim religious and village leaders who were about to depart for their holy pilgramage in Mecca.

Since the US DOJ exposed the money trail originating from 1MDB into the personal bank account of Dato’ Seri Najib, the Prime Minister has refused to confirm or deny the allegations.  The US DOJ showed how approximately US$732 million was laundered into his account with Ambank between 2011 and 2014.

The US DOJ further showed how some of these funds have been subsequently used to acquire a US$27.3 million pink diamond pendant for his wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor as well as a US$250 million luxury yacht by Jho Low.

In addition, there was also the sum of US$238 million from 1MDB which found its way to Datin Seri Rosmah’s son, Riza Aziz’s company in the United States, Red Granite Capital.

The above does not yet include billions of dollars of other assets, including private jets, luxury properties all around the world and rare expensive masterpieces, which were in the process of being seized by the United States government.  These assets were deemed assets acquired via illegally laundered funds which originated from 1MDB.

Worst of all, all our questions relating to all of the above have been rejected by the Parliament Speaker so that Dato Seri Najib Razak need not be accountable to Malaysians.  It cannot be more obvious that the Prime Minister has plenty to hide.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Did 1MDB resort to carefully leaked fake news to The Singapore Straits Times to cover up the fact that the Ministry of Finance forked out another RM2.4 billion to foot the bill for 1MDB’s debt to IPIC?

1MDB proudly announced that they had made their final US$602.7 million or RM2.4 billion settlement payment to Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Company (IPIC) on 27 December, four days ahead of their deadline.

The problem is, we all know 1MDB is completely insolvent.  So Malaysians are rightly concerned as to how 1MDB paid its latest instalment of their debt.  All that is stated in the official 1MDB statement is that the payment is funded through its “on-going rationalisation programme”.

No one of course, has a clue as to what the “rationalisation programme” entails.

What is more interesting is the carefully planted leaks to The Singapore Straits Times (SST) to reveal that the funds to repay IPIC came from the sale of investments in financial instruments and stakes held in two 1MDB-related entities that own tracts of land in Penang and Pulau Indah, Selangor. The report merely identified the anonymous buyers as “concerns ultimately controlled by Chinese state-owned enterprises”.

This is not the first time SST had carried out a hatchet stories which helped cover up some of the 1MDB’s financial shenanigans.  When the Bandar Malaysia sale to an Iskandar Waterfront-led consortium was terminated out-of-the-blue by the Ministry of Finance, it was SST which created a media maelstorm by reporting on 9 May 2017 that “Government officials and financial executives close to the situation told The Straits Times that negotiations with the Dalian Wanda Group to take a central role as master developer have reached an advanced stage…”

“Malaysian government officials noted that the new deal would be substantially higher than the previous RM12.3 billion valuation tag for the entire project.  According to financial executives familiar with ongoing talks, Wanda has proposed to use half of the development for tourism and entertainment-related ventures valued at roughly US$8 billion,” the Singapore paper added.

The above proved to be a hoax of course, because when Dato’ Seri Najib Razak met Wanda a week later, he came home empty-handed – without even a face-saving “Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)” signed.

The current SST report is similarly couched in the same language. SST claimed that “Malaysian government officials declined to identify the buyers in the real estate transactions but one financial executive close to the situation said that the equity interests in the 1MDB real estate entities were acquired by "concerns ultimately controlled by Chinese state-owned enterprises". The executive declined to elaborate.”

The SST report was inevitably picked up by nearly all local media outfits.  This clearly served the interest of 1MDB which would want to avoid prickly questions on how they found the funds to  repay IPIC.

The question really is, if 1MDB has really succeeded in disposing of its controversial properties in Pulau Indah and Penang to China-owned state enterprises, why is there absolute silence from official sources?  Dato’ Seri Najib Razak and 1MDB would have been carrying out victory parades for proving their critics wrong, as they did in the past.

Surely if the companies owning these parcels of land were sold for billions of ringgit to foreign investors, from China or otherwise, official transactions would have taken place and the information would be publicly available.

More curiously, these parcels of land in Selangor and Penang were purchased by 1MDB for RM294 million and RM1.1 billion respectively.  Critics were aplenty in citing that both parcels were purchased at inflated prices.  However, even so, the combined purchase amounted to less than RM1.4 billion.

Hence if the SST report were to be true, then it begs the question as to which Chinese state-owned enterprises would pay an outrageous RM2.4 billion for these parcels, which in-turn allowed 1MDB to repay its second loan instalment to IPIC?  Or is it more likely that it is another hoax to evade disclosing the fact that it was really the Ministry of Finance, which directly or indirectly, repaid both instalments amounting to US$1.24 billion to IPIC?

Monday, January 08, 2018

Ministry of Finance Bailout of 1MDB continues unabated with its latest acquisition of 106 Exchange Tower to be built in Tun Razak Exchange

The Edge reported yesterday of the Ministry of Finance’s takeover of the 106-storey 106 Exchange Tower through the company MKD Signature.  The 3.42 acres of land for the project was previously acquired by Indonesian conglomerate, Mulia Group for the sum of RM665 million.

The 106-storey Exchange Tower was initially proof of 1MDB’s success with the TRX project as it was a wholly-owned foreign investment by Indonesia’s Mulia Group. However, news of the transfer of a majority stake ‘back’ to the Malaysian Government goes to prove that there is something extremely fishy going on.

Why is it even necessary for the Government to use tax-payers’ funds to get involved in another mega-property project?  Didn’t the Second Finance Minister, Dato’ Seri Johari Abdul Ghani announced a Cabinet decision to freeze all high-end commercial and residential projects?  Why is the Ministry of Finance participating in the aggravation of the property glut in the country?

More importantly, if Mulia Group had paid RM665 million for the land, the question is how much did the Ministry of Finance pay to acquire the 51% stake in the project?
The complete lack of transparency over the deal which would involve hundreds of millions of ringgit, possibly to the tune of billions, raises suspicions that it is really another one of the series of continued bailout of the debt-stricken 1MDB.

Was there for example, a secret ‘put option’ in the sale and purchase agreement between the Mulia Group and 1MDB, where the latter is obliged to buy back a majority stake from Mulia Group with a higher price at a later date?  And because 1MDB obviously has no money to buy back the stake from Melia Group, was the Ministry of Finance was forced to step in to bailout 1MDB?

It should also be noted that this would be the second tract of 1MDB's TRX land that has been bought by MOF companies. It was previously disclosed in Parliament that MOF-owned company Aroma Teraju had purchased another tract of land at the Tun Razak Exchange (TRX) development in 2015.

Last year, I had asked several times in Parliament for the land area and purchase price of the land by Aroma Teraju.  However my question was repeatly shot down because of the purported confidentiality clause in the purchase agreement was with two companies wholly-owned by MOF.

Why hide behind the veil of secrecy when the parties involved are entirely owned by the Government?  Is it because the Ministry of Finance will look utterly stupid for buying back tiny parcels of land back from 1MDB at sums astronomically higher than the RM230 million paid by 1MDB to acquire the 70 acres from the Government?

We call on MOF and 1MDB to confirm and disclose the details of the purchases of the land in TRX above. As wholly-owned companies under the Government, the public deserves to know what is being done with their own money.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Mark Twain’s quote, “there are lies, damned lies and statistics” best describes Information and Communications Minister Dato’ Seri Salleh Keruak boasting of Malaysia having the lowest poverty rates in Southeast Asia

Writing on his blog on Wednesday, 28 December, Dato’ Seri Salleh Keruak boasted that the Malaysian economy was in fact very doing very well because our GDP per capita, according to the CIA World Factbook stood at US$27,2000, which was much better than those of neighbouring Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos.

More importantly, he claimed that our poverty rate was the “lowest in South East Asia” at 3.8%. He further added that he was grateful because our poverty rates are “drastically lower” than the poorest countries namely Syria, Madagascar and Zimbabwe with poverty rates above 70%.

Have we really gone so low today that we now need to compare ourselves with the poorest countries in the world today to make ourselves feel good for the new year?  What has happened to the times when we pride ourselves to be among the Asian Tigers, being quoted in the same breath as South Korea, Taiwan and sometimes even Singapore and Hong Kong?

What’s more, the Information and Communications Minister can’t even gets his fact right, intentionally or otherwise.  It appears that he has conveniently erased both Singapore and Brunei, with substantially higher GDPs per capita at USD77,500 and USD87,800 respectively off the map of Southeast Asia.

And even when he did get his “facts” right when compared to Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, the Philippines and Myanmar, he also conveniently forgets to convey the fact that our neighbours have been enjoying significantly higher growth rates in the recent years.

Curiously however, Dato’ Seri Salleh Keruak chose to quote the CIA Handbook statistics, instead of the more authoritative World Bank.  If Salleh Keruak were to believe the CIA Handbook statistics, Malaysia should already immediately declare itself a “developed nation”, ahead of the Vision 2020 target.  Does the Minister actually believes that the average monthly income of Malaysians today is in excess of RM9,000?

A check with the World Bank Report – which is consistent with Malaysia’s own Department of Statistics, our GDP per capita is only US$9,500, barely a-third of the Minister’s boast!  So why did the Minister decide to quote an unbelievable source and not that of our own Department of Statistics or the World Bank?

Instead of trying to glorify Malaysia’s superiority to countries like war-torn Syria and Zimbabwe, or even the Southeast Asian backwaters of Laos and Cambodia, Dato’ Seri Salleh Keruak should instead explain why Malaysia has fallen so far behind countries like South Korea and Taiwan?

In 1966, 10 years after achieving independence, Malaysia’s GDP per capita was triple that of South Korea?  The latter overtook us in 1990 and today, based on World Bank figures, South Korea has a GDP per capita of US$27,500 (2016) which is more than triple that of Malaysia today.

Why have we lost competitiveness to our Asian Tiger peers in the 1980s and are now threading water above countries which are rapidly catching up like Vietnam and Indonesia?  This is the real question which Dato’ Seri Sallleh Keruak and the BN administration must answer, and not continuing to pull the wool over the rakyat’s eyes.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Only a totalitarian communist-like regime would ban books and art without requiring the authorities to provide any rhyme or reason.

On December 19, Datuk Zaid Ibrahim’s book ‘Assalamualaikum: Observations on the Islamisation of Malaysia’ was banned under the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPA). As usual, only official reason given for this ban is that the book is "likely to be prejudicial to public order as well as public interest and is likely to alarm public opinion".

The addition of ‘Assalamualaikum’ to the growing list of books banned by the Malaysian government is proof of the government’s outright disregard for freedom of expression and ideas in Malaysia.

According to Zaid, the Home Ministry did not explain or consult him before banning his book nor was he even informed that the book would be banned. It goes to show the immense and arbitrary power that the PPA accords the Home Ministry to ban these without any clear reasoning.

Such curt excuses to ban books certainly harks back to the Stalinist or Maoist regimes where any forms of expression, whether in writing or in art, which are deemed prejudicial to the interest of the ruling elites are banned.

In 2017 alone, 44 gazettes have been issued to ban publications in Malaysia. Among the political titles banned are civil society group G25’s new book Breaking The Silence: Voices of Moderation; Islam in a Constitutional Democracy and reknowed academic Professor Farish A. Noor’s From Majapahit to Putrajaya, which was published in 2005.

The banning of these titles without any clear justification shows that the government exercising totalitarian control over what ideas can be discussed by Malaysians. This goes completely against the values of democracy that our country holds so dear.

In a democratic state, the authors and publishers would be hauled to the Courts to be charged for any criminal offences which may have taken place.  Even if there were no criminal elements involved, the Government must at the very least provide facts and justifications to prove the contents of these books to be wrong.

However, the BN regime will not even pretend to rebut the arguments carried in the book, however feeble the rebuttals might have been.

Just last month I had questioned the government’s censorship of arts following the confiscation of works at the KL Biennale for purportedly containing ‘elements of communism’. It seems that the thought policing of our government will continue with the banning of these books and the continued censorship of our media.

We call upon the Home Affairs Minister to prove that Malaysia is not taking great leaps to undermine democratic principles enshrined in our Federal Constitution, in remaking Malaysia into a communist state.