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.