Saturday, December 11, 2010

Elect the Select

The public is wondering if the general election might be around the corner. This is understandable as some of the actions and manoeuvres of major political parties are indeed indicative of mobilisation, gearing up and the closing of rank.But still, even as they gear up for the election, whenever that maybe, all the parties or their coalition seem to faced many problems within and without. Some of these 'domestic' problems have been the center of public focus, in great part due to the action of parties denouncing and undermining each other in the political contest. In short, whatever the public gained by way of information is not so much due to democratic competition of ideas as the desire of parties to politically discredit or denounce their rival.  Hence where the public gain by way of some information, they lose out in terms of depth of ideas or political philosophy offered by many of the political parties. It would seem that our political parties are primarily dictated by two tendencies. either to politically denounce or discredit rival parties or garner public support by appealing to emotion or populistic tendencies.

While politicians and political parties serve their interests, however they may define that to be, still the public reserve their democratic right to determine their leaders and future policies. This inalienable right assumed however some vigilance and alertness, some power of discrimination on their part to distinguish between genuine and propagandistic ideas, between the sensational and the realistic, between the democratic and the populistic. The public should discriminate between leaders and demagogues, or those aspiring to be such. The public should be true to themselves in distinguishing between leaders with constructive ideas for the national good and those who merely represent and confirm popular prejudices or selfishness.

I have been observing some of our recent political development. Definitely the sense of political gearing is unmistakable, regardless of the date of the next general election, be it on the part of the national ruling coalition or the opposition coalition. I would like to share some of my own impressions and 'perplexities' with readers.

The presidential speech at the last UMNO general assembly was clearly aimed at mobilisation and the closing of rank, obviously with the coming election in mind. Before this many of the speeches and action of the present party leadership tended to dissociate from the past. In a departure,  the presidential speech for 2010 more than generously acknowledged the contribution and achievement of former premiers. In fact more than just acknowledging their contribution, in his speech the president sees his leadership more as a continuity of the past and building upon the foundation laid by his illustrious predecessors. Another sure sign of mobilisation and the closing of rank is the image entertained of the Malays. Instead of the usual slur and condescending attitude, the speech idealised the image and cultural identity of the Malays formally or 'nationalistically',in a manner clearly meant to be a crowd-pleaser. The usual derogatory reference to 'subsidy mentality', 'crutch dependence', 'free-loader syndrome' or 'lackadaisical mindset'  is conspicuously absent.  This raised the question might it not be an attempt to appease the mounting criticism against the leadership alleged  'insensitivity' of Malay feelings and sentiments in some of the newly inaugurated policies?

This idealisation of Malay image and cultural identity however  was to some extent 'unravelled' when the speech urged the Malays not to 'squander' their rights and interests by their negative attitudes, complacency and attitudes of the past. Hence the image of the 'squandering' Malays' is still there albeit latently (whereas the issue really is who and which Malays had been squandering or abusing and how? )

Another sign of mobilisation and the closing of rank is of course the direct reference to the question of Malay rights. Putting the speech in a wider political context, it raises the question whether it wast meant to pacify Malay grouses and 'disillusionment' towards the party leadership for seemingly disregarding Malay interests in formulating new policies? This interpretation is plausible given the speech's assurance that Malay rights is safe and secure under the Constitution. The question remains though would a formal assurance by way of constitutional argument be enough to appease Malay concerns over actual policies and their consequences in the concrete texture of real politics?

BN partners are quarrelling among themselves. In whatever ways component party leaders try to minimize the    damages of bickering in public, from the public point of view they still conjure a general  picture of disunity and disarray. Component parties are still arguing on fundamental issues of bumiputra participation in the economy. We cannot go into the actual issue as such, given the present constraint. I merely wish to highlight the point of basic differences or tension within the coalition, marring a picture of unity and common political platform. Recently there are bickering on the procedural propriety or the political wisdom of individual parties  announcing policies of national implications through party channels, in disregard of other coalition partners. Gerakan president spoke of the undesirability of 'big brother', 'small brother' attitude within the coalition. Regardless of his thinking or  intention,  in raising the issue the Gerakan president had implanted the image of disunity, conflict and strained relations within the BN rank in the mind of the public.

The opposition coalition is not faring any better either. It had been inflicted by droves of resignation and party defection. To make matters worse, each defection was usually accompanied by  sensational disclosures of 'inner happenings', recounting internal weaknesses of the parties. A usual grouse tantamounts to disillusionment with party leadership and party policies. Many defectors question the moral integrity and right of leaders or the party to national leadership. I suppose the conflicts in the opposition coalition bears out one political reality, that once in power a former opposition party or coalition would be exposed as any other group to the corrupting effects of power and position of influence in various forms. A keen political observer would see that in some respects the PR coalition is sharing the same experience and challenges as the BN in matters of ruling and wielding power.

At the last party convention, the PKR president said something of a curiosity in her presidential speech. According to her Anwar Ibrahim is 'god-sent' and 'born' to lead the people. As evidence, she offered the political career of Anwar Ibrahim in being able to resist all 'political threats'. She contented that had he been ' an ordinary person like us' he would have succumbed. Now I cannot help wondering. Was it a personal opinion or reflective of party party thinking? Was it approved by Anwar Ibrahim,who is the party adviser? Did he approve of the assessment on himself? What prompted the president to say it? What motivated her? Was it a wife's  loyalty to her husband? Was it an instinct of dynastic ambition, be it for her husband or daughter's long term political career? Or is it the feeling of PKR that Nik Aziz and PAS should not hold the monopoly of divine sanction? PKR should also avail itself of sacral political endorsement. Was it the resurfacing of the old ABIM credo with its inclination towards 'Islamic' symbolism and theocratic elements ? Was it a desperate attempt to ease over serious internal problems, serious enough to merit 'divine interference'? As strong as the problems were (Zaid's challenge towards leadership for example as one), the antidote had to be just as strong.

Nevertheless it raises the question: is the party now embarking  towards personality cult as a formal ideological platform for the next general election, where 'divinely sanctioned' leaders are offered to voters? What might be confusing to the electorate is how would the party reconcile this platform with its other image of liberalism, pragmatism, neutral pluralism, or populistic democracy? The question is perplexing enough if it is a question of choice between theocratic inclinations  or democracy as commonly understood: it is even more confusing if we have the liberal, secularist, pluralist and the sacral, all rolled in one supreme leader!

Like I said earlier, politicians will do what they are wont to do in the name of winning power and influence. Nevertheless the public have their inalienable right to choose their leaders and influence somewhat their future or destiny. It is up to them though to exercise this right wisely and discriminatingly, settling for nothing less than  what's best for their future. They should see to it that by means of  election, only those with genuine ideas, integrity and political will, invariably constituting the select few, should be entrusted with positions of leadership.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Words: wordy and worthy ones!

During the last one or two years, the BN had launched many new policies, public campaigns,programmes, such as New Economic Model, 1Malaysia, Malaysian Plan 10, GTP, KPI and many more. I notice from its various discourses, much publicised through the mass media, the discourse is a mixed bag of modern day management jargon and catchphrases, as well as familiar socio-philosophical-political concepts from history of social movements, even revolution, including Marxism or Communism. Of course all parties and organisations are perfectly entitled to avail themselves of such use, if the words or concepts express or represent best their ideas or visions.

There are occasions, however, in the discourse of BN, I feel it is just a matter of words, more for sound effects or political-dramatic impact (I hesitate to say 'rhetoric', for that is not even what it is), I suppose we can say that some words are preferred for its 'ummph..' factor, to borrow from a popular lingo. For clarity, I think it is best that I furnish some simple illustrations.

Some words are expressed emphatically by leaders obviously with a relish and a reverence commonly reserved for high ideals, worthy cause, noble striving. Such words are normally expressed more  deliberately,  with some emotion or sentiment.One such word is 'transformation'. This has become a keyword in the arsenal of BN leaders of late, and of course it has percolated into the discourse of party supporters and bureaucrats as well. Yes, our national leaders and their supporters are indeed in  love with this word Transformation..

I wonder what has happened to the world 'change' which used to be in vogue in the past decades. We would remember former usages like ' social economic political change', 'agent of change', 'attitudinal change', 'leadership change', and so forth. If we think about it, 'transformation'  merely means 'change', albeit 'transformation' being a more total, complete and radical difference or form as the end product.In other words 'change' brings with it the connotation of a partial difference and not wholesome, not total. It also connotes a much slower and gradual process than 'transformation', which has the connotation of being more speedy, instantaneous,  total. radical and hence desirable.

This prompts us to raise the question. which is being envisioned by the BN leaders, as concepts or philosophy, 'change' or 'transformation'? If they mean 'transformation' by way of concept and philosophy, that is heartening indeed. If they simply mean 'change' but  like to use the world 'transformation' for it, then it is just a case of the promise and the word getting bigger, whereas the  vision and operative targets remain the humbler or modest 'change'. I assure readers this is by no means a mere question of semantics. It is of practical import. Let me illustrate.

Once the PM went on a walkabout, a  'turun padang', inspecting our public transport system in Kuala Lumpur. There followed a media blitz how our public transport system is going to be 'transformed', as announced by the PM. Shortly after that it was announced that six new coaches had been purchased towards that end. The acquisition was again much publicised with the PM himself testing the new coaches. Now the question is: is the purchase of six new train coaches a 'change' or 'transformation' of the public transport system? I would say it is not a development accurately represented by 'tranformation' which demands much much more. I would hesitate to grant even a 'change' of the transport system, admitting probably a good administrative bureaucratic decision to add more coaches. Even this was later marred by news that there was a scandal in the purchasing of the six new coaches, which greatly appreciated the cost of such 'change'. Again I ponder, where and what is there to constitute a 'transformation'?

A few days ago, we sadly read of the bus accident in Genting Highland, with much casualties, both fatal and severe. Now we had learned that the bus driver concerned did not have a valid driving licence. In addition the bus was in a poor condition,including poor brakes, in part causing the accident. The reality that struck me upon reading the news is that: we are having great difficulties ensuring the competency of bus drivers, licensing, vehicle inspection and regulation, minimising road accidents and fatalism. Aren't we therefore still very much straggling with 'change', meaningful ones, with 'tranformation ' being too far fetched in terms of actual accomplishment and performance. If this is accurate, then we are merely using big words, conveying big promises, which do not in anyway commensurate with commitment and will.

There is another word that has of late been politically favoured, that is 'innovation'. In the past , we hear leaders and bureaucrats speaking of 'technological change',  'technological acquisiton', ' technological transfer', but now these had been replaced by 'innovation'. Now the term 'innovation' carries with it the components or elements like creativity, imaginativeness, effectiveness, to a limited level a certain inventiveness or inspiredness in doing things Again this raises the question: do the leaders concerned mean innovation, which the nation is certainly in dire need, or simply some bureaucratic decisions or simple acquisition of the latest technology and its routine application?

Again this is by no means simply a matter of inconsequential semantics. Here's one illustration. The DPM was the guest at  a sort of the first Islamic innovation award ceremony. The DPM gave an inspiring speech on the need to cultivate the spirit of innovation, which had been pioneered by the Islamci civilisation in history, and of course enjoined by the religion of Islam. Then the recipients of the innovation awards were announced. Among the recipients were, according to the citation: a mosques committee for introducing modern management in the running of the mosque, including the use of computers; an organisation for offering online  financial instruments conforming to Islamic guidelines or teaching;  an academic who designed a device for identifying non-halal elements in foodstuff.  Now I wonder which aspect of these citations did the judges deem as  'innovation', worthy of its true import and essence? I would submit that the mere use of technology in a routine manner and application certainly does not merit the accolade of 'innovation'.

There is yet another word, fast becoming the favourite of leaders and public figures , that is 'integrity'. An institute of integrity had been set up, which had been charged with educating the public on what is 'integrity'. The leadership of the institute had made public pronouncement to the effect that it's immediate challenge is to overcome public 'ignorance' of what integrity is! I suspect again here we have a problem engendered by the love of new and 'impressive' word, jettisoning old more familiar ones. I think the common man in the street knows the concept, which had been around since the beginning of time. He knows 'honesty', 'principle', 'morals', 'honour', 'self-respect', 'sin', 'virtue' and many many more, all of which connote 'integrity'. The problem is created by this love of new usage of words for political campaigns and maneuvering. But jettisoning all older words for the same thing, and using new ones in their place, such leaders derive a false sense self-righteousness in having 'introduced' a new moral phase in national life.In my opinion, the common man knows what a moral, honest, principled, incorruptible leader is, and he has no real need to be 'educated' on the meaning of  'integrity' as a political fad!

What is my point? Simply this: words convey meanings and concepts. Man has always struggle to express his concepts and meaning through words. But there are times when use big words, far too big words  to convey much less than the usual import of words. They may do this for reasons. Sometimes to convey big promises and not real meanings ( which may really be much much less), and sometimes simply for the love of the dramatic effects the sounds of words may have!

Friday, September 10, 2010

9-11: Who's Burning What in Whose Memory?

Well I am just sitting around having a quiet weekend, half listening to the news. President Obama had just made some statements pertaining to the intention of some Americans to burn copies of  the Al_Quran in memory of  the 9/11 Tragedy.

He is right in saying that such course of action would violate against 'the best in us', which I presume to mean not only as referring to Americans but 'us' as human beings. I am heartened to hear him isolate those concerned as a small group, not in any way representing the majority of Americans. Of course in line of duty, he had to add some utilitarian or pragmatic rational in so opposing such a plan. He pointed out how the act would put 'our boys in the armed forces in the harm's way', which is just another way of saying how the act would simply backfire to advance the cause of violence and terrorism in various ways.

As a  consequence, the plan for this dangerous 'fire play' had been cancelled. Nevertheless, I think the affair is a very serious one, worthy of our serious reflection in a befitting memory of the tragedy of 9/11.

In history, the ascent of any form of bigotry  had always been accompanied by book burning.  Some notorious examples woud be the rise of Hitler and Nazism, the Cultural Revolution of Communist China, and the sacking of Baghdad by the Mongols. Consequently we had always considered the Ritual of Book Burning as uncivilised or anti-civilisational. This is even more so when it comes to the burning of Sacred Books, which had been a major force in civilising humanity. We all know, to a point of banality, that much wrong had been inflicted on mankind in the name of Religion and Sacred Books, but we know too that Religion and Sacred Books had been our civilising force, to which majority of us owe 'the best in us' and our civilisation. Some of us are inclined to blame Religion and Sacred Books for all the violence and inhumanity in the world. But just imagine the kind of world it would be without Religion and the Sacred Books!

Since it is the Al-Quran we are discussing, let me illustrate how erroneous our thinking would be in blaming the Al-Quran for the violent action of some who evoke its name in self-justification. Those who plan to burn the Al-Quran in protest of 9/11 would be blaming it for the 3,000 innocent lives lost to violence, while 'forgetting' that according to the Al-Quran to take one innocent life unjustly is to kill the whole of humanity. Imagine how the teachings of the Al-Quran condemn violence and senseless killing.Now whose cause would we be advancing by the Ritual of Book Burning, particularly of the Sacred Texts,that of  the terrorists or that of peace and the innocent victims? The Al-Quran too teaches that to violate any House of Worship is to prevent the name of Allah being invoked. In addition, the Quran enjoins mankind to tolerance, understanding and peace by reminding us that different Tribes and Nations had been created by God that they may learn and understand each other.

Now within our present quest for a peaceful world, do we want to promote such teachings or weed them out from our humanity or civilisational memory? Our answer would influence our action, to distribute free copies of the Al-Quran or propagate the Ritual of Book Burning!

According to the news, there is plan to build a mosque, a House of Worship at Ground Zero, amids some protest. One argument advanced by the protesters is that such move would 'offend against the memory of the victims'. In my personal opinion, such a move, far from 'offending'  against the memory of the victims, would truly serve their memory. It reminds all of us, Muslims in particular,that all Sacred Texts condemns violence and cruelty and how sacred Human LIfe is! Being at Ground Zero, such a House of Worship would be an eternal symbol of Man's Quest for Peace! As such, logically speaking, only terrorists and Prophets of Violence and discord would 'have reasons' in objecting.

If for every form of violence, bigotry, and inhumanity in the world we resort to the Ritual of Book Burning, to weeding out the Sacred Texts, the world world would be set ablaze and raging. If we were to resort to the maxim of 'an eye for an eye' the whole world would surely go blind!  


Saturday, August 21, 2010

DEB: 'Dasar Ekonomi Bastard'?

It is a trend among Malay leaders and elite to denounce the DEB or NEP in its present form as ‘the bastardization of the original spirit of the DEB’. A recent example of this proclivity is a speech by Nazir Abdul Razak of CIMB at the bank’s function. According to press report, he also made the following points. The original spirit of the DEB was the eradication of poverty. The DEB is out of date, being decades old, and need to be revised since it is causing problems, ‘being everywhere’. He extolled the virtue of diversity and multi-racialism, being an important factor for economic growth. To give it emphasis, he quipped that after all CIMB has often been alluded to as ‘Chinese, Malay, Indian Bank’, bringing laughter to the audience. Such views had been aired before by national leaders, and I am sure Nazir Razak would not be the last, since such thinking had been ‘blessed’ by the national elite who are now preoccupied with ushering in the New Economic Model, to jettison the DEB unceremoniously.

Before I respond to the above, let me enter some caveat, lest I am misunderstood, deliberately or otherwise. I am not against multiracialism, nor against cultural diversity. Neither am I making an issue of the merit or demerit of the DEB or the NEM. This should require a separate treatment to do justice to the question. The subject of my present posting is a certain attitude of the elite concerning issues, which can only be described as flippant, superficial, and cannot be said responsible or accountable in a democratic sense.

Now what is wrong with such views as articulated by Nazir Razak? Firstly, it caricatures the DEB and misrepresented it. They speak of abuses and distortion of the DEB, dubbed as ‘bastardisation’, and championed the jettisoning of it on that score. Yet they do not acknowledge the real concerns and principles of the DEB that was ‘bastardised’. The DEB originally concerned with the eradication of rural poverty and the bridging of the rural-urban divide in the economy. The DEB was also concern about the restructuring of the economy to avoid the identification of economic activities along ethnic or racial lines. This has to be properly represented and discussed. Are these objectives still a national concern or has we as a nation adequately addressed this question. Our stand may differ on ways of addressing these problems, but we cannot afford to ignore the issues, ‘sweeping them under the carpet’. If we choose to ignore them, bury our head in the sand, confusing between avoidance of issues and resolving them, I am sure the problems would only revisit us one day, and with a vengeance.

By caricaturing the DEB, and oversimplifying it, they usually misrepresent it, in order to justify their new found policies or models. Let us move on with an understanding of our past. The DEB has been an integral part of our lives for so long. Should we move on, let it be based on understanding and not self-delusion, supported by the rhetoric and cliché of ‘pluralism’, ‘democracy’ or ‘equality’. I am not against these as ideals, but certainly as uninformed bravado and dilletantism. Before we move on, surely and maturely, we need to make peace with our past, ‘an accounting of our previous position’, for good or bad, and on the basis of that self-introspection, move on wisely.

When we caricature the DEB, thereby misrepresenting it, simply because we wish to justify our new path, we may be subverting the very cause of pluralism and democracy that we claim to champion. When we conveniently suppress the fact that the original concern of the DEB was to ensure racial harmony by ensuring social justice, alleviating rural poverty and restructuring the economy, we contribute to racial prejudice. By willfully suppressing this aspect, merely highlighting its abuses, we demonized the DEB, demonizing too the Malays on the whole, on account of the greed of a small group of their own kind. The impact of this ‘distortive perspective’ on ethnic relations had been disastrous and ever deepening.

From the looks of things, we may not have to wait long for the problems to revisit us. Even as the NEM or the RMK 10 is being ushered in, and undergoing much vacillation and revision, we see many signs of the ‘ghost’ of the DEB revisiting, with little indication of ever leaving. Allow me to furnish some recent examples. The president of MCA, Chua Soi Lek , as mouthpiece of his party, had demanded that the quota of 30% Malay equity be decreased and phased out eventually. Cabinet Minister Koh Tsu Koon has attacked Perkasa’s president for his ‘obsession with bumiputra quota’ and ‘telling other races to do this and that’. He suggested Perkasa to focus instead on the implementation of the DEB and upgrading Malay skills and know-how, which can be read as a snipe at Malay economic and technological lag. Minister Koh Tsu Koon makes no mention, however, of non-Malays ‘telling the Malays to do this and that’.

Other very senior UMNO politician had jumped into the fray, no less than the Deputy Prime Minister Mukhyuddin himself. Cabinet Minister Nazri had reacted rather strongly, characterizing MCA’s president comment on Malay quota as violating the spirit of 1Malaysia and Barisan Nasional solidarity. I am sure there are many non-Malays, probably Soi Lek himself, who beg to differ, seeing the phasing of Malay equity quota to be in keeping with the spirit of 1Malaysia. Cabinet Minister Rais Yatim reacted rather strongly against the MCA president for his criticism of Malay 30% equity, categorizing it as ‘challenging the constitution and Malay rulers’. There are many other examples of the ‘ghost revisiting’.

An important aspect of our ‘reconciling’ and ‘accounting’ with the DEB is understanding, giving full account of the following questions. What were the principles of the DEB and abuses of them, clearly distinguishing between the two? Are there positive aspects of it which need to be incorporated in 'new vision' or 'model'?What were the causes of the DEB being ‘bastardised’? Who were responsible for ‘bastardising’ it or should be held accountable for it? All this is important. Without such understanding, we may end up in the ridiculous situation where those responsible for ‘bastardising’ the DEB, now cry foul of it. Having ‘bastardised’ the DEB they now choose ‘to dump the baby’. Without understanding the DEB and ‘accounting’ for it, we may see the same cycle afflicting other new policies and models. They would all be ‘bastardized’ in time, and subjected to ‘baby dumping’, in vicious cycles! It is the psychology of having soiled one spot,  move on to another place, soiling it in turn and so on and so forth. Should not they be taking responsibility, cleaning the mess at least, before moving on? To make it worse, they blame and scape goat on others for the mess they leave behind.This is certainly not the way to give leadership to a nation!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Corruption Creeps!

I am moved to comment on recent news on incidents of corruption in our nation, with some reservation though. A blogger friend perceptively,no doubt moulded by experience, that a blog posting on corruption is always a 'turn-off' for readers.Although I know my friend is right to a great extent,from the point of view of readers approval or hits, I cannot let this consideration be the sole determinant of my blogging concerns.

This antipathy towards the issue of corruption itself is worth thinking about. I wonder why? Allow me to hazard some possible explanations. I think for a great many they are simply weary not so much of the 'issue' but of the persistence of corruption  itself in their daily lives. This is reflected in their attitudes of being 'fed up', 'tired of it', 'weary', 'disillusioned', 'pissed off', 'revolted', 'disgusted','don't care anymore', and various other emotions or shades of them. In short it has hardened into public cynicism,scepticism and a demoralised sense, which we can perhaps be summed up as 'what's the use', 'what can we do about it', 'no point', 'why get worked up about it', 'its reality' and so forth. What is worrying about these responses is that they do suggest the 'normalisation' of corruption, a kind of reluctant acceptance of the inevitable. It is a kind of moral and psychological defeatism against the scourge of corruption.It is such fatalism or resignation which caused many to avoid the issue of corruption.

There can be other explanations why people are uncomfortable with the issue of corruption. It could be that corruption is really an integral part of their lives, not necessarily as perpetrator but as victims. I am sure readers can themselves think of examples from real life. For example stall operators who have to pay high rent to 'contractors' who managed to obtain cheap leases from town councils directly because of 'contacts', 'strings' etc. For such victims of corruption, they are not interested in the issue of corruption simply because it is a bitter and painful reminder of their lives.Such a response to corruption suggests the deepening dan widening spread of corruption, which had weaved itself into the fabric of our daily lives, assuming the status of 'reality'.

On the more sinister side, there are many others who 'shy' from the issue of corruption because they profit and gain from it operationally, either as 'taker'or 'giver'. Out of guilt conscience,, they avoid corruption as 'issue' but not as active participants.. To them corrup practices are merely part of daily business practices or modus operandi,expressed or manifested in normal practices like 'gift
making', 'entertaining','socialising', 'networking','recreational','courtesy', 'political support', and many other expressions.

Another unfortunate explanation can be a kind of 'sympathising', 'emphatising', even 'vicarious thrill' of some pertaining to corruption. This emotional or psychological state can be summed up as 'its normal', 'its human', 'I would too', 'who wouldn't'. 'you would too ,given half tthe chance', 'its everywhere', 'it can never be eradicated'. For this group,they do entertain perhaps the idea that their day may come, when they get their 'big break'. For some others, they know they may not have such chance, sufficing in mere sharing  vicarious thrills with  some corrupt ones waxing riches, leading the fabulous life of the rich and famous as idolised by the media.

One thing has to be said about the development of corruption in our nation today. Once it used to be thought that corruption is merely the affliction of the BN, but it is no longer so. Corruption is very much a question of power and the opportunity for it. It is easier for the opposition to point a finger at the establishment when it is in the oppositon with not much opportunity or tempatation  for corruption. But once a former opposition is thrusted into positon of power, authority and influence, events suggest it is just as adapt to the affliction of corruption, as recent events and news indicated.. I refer readers to the phenomena of sand stealing,business or contract 'brokering' by means of misrepresenting councillor's  letterhead, or the usual mundane direct acceptance of bribery in the granting of contracts etc. The reverse of this principle of 'power corrupts' while 'non-power limits ' is that corruption gets exposed and scandalised with the loss of power and position of authority. We note many examples of this in the news, an outstanding one  being the PKFZ case with a former cabinet minister being charged in court.

To give readers some materials to cross-refer the above observation with, take the recent reports on corruption cases brought to public attention. Last week we learned that the purchase of six new coaches for Malayan Railway Ltd had been inflated by more than half a billion. Those responsible are being investigated. This case suggests that there will always be some officials or executive ever  alert to  'opportunities'. The sad thing about our situation or condition is that whenever there is any big deal or mega project available, it never fails to attract the corrupt. This does not auger well for our future and well being. A simple direct consequence of this case would be Malayan Railway would have to make up for the 'extra cost' by passing it on to consumers, who would thus suffer, paying higher  for the same service, or settle for shoddy services, to make up for the inflated cost of providing them.

Another interesting development is the General Manager of Sime Darby is being charged for accepting briberies for favouring some  contractors. For the granting of one project, he accepted a bribe of $100,000, while for another he accepted $200,000. Going beyond the newspaper report, it is interesting for us to infer the impplications and mangnitude of the phenomenon. It reflects the decline of our corporate life. Sime Darby used to be a household name in the past, being a favourite of investors, a true blue chip. Recently Sime Darby annouced a loss of more than a billion ringgit. Is it a wonder how this could have happened? Now it is reasonable to infer that the case of the GM may not be the only one, neither is his 'collection' confined to just the two bribes that came to light. Interestingly as a footnote, he used the bribes as downpayment for luxury cars. Wow? He has  fine expensive taste, except he wanted it for free at public expense! I am reminded of a previous case of an assistant district  officer who took bribe related to sand stealing, who also used the money for a new car . Doesn't that suggest a pattern or a certain corrupt way of life? Based on my observation, I can say that for some, opportunity for corruption may also be an integral part of their career planning, prefering jobs or career lines with great opportunities for corruption.

Yesterday we read of the corruption related to the 'sale' of titles or datukships in Johor. A distant member of the royal family had been arrested and charged for attempting to 'broker' a tille for a doctor. The case came to light  when problems and complication developed.Putting this particular case aside, the talk of titles being 'marketed' and 'commercialised' had been going on for decades really.There was this much publicised case in Perak involving a close membeer of the royal family. We note that such cases get publicised only when 'complications' developed. I wonder if there are many cases or transactions that 'went smoothly' with the deals being closed? One thing I can say is that the public is somewhat cynical and sceptical about the titles of some being based on merit or meaningful  contribution to state and nation.

What can be done to curb or at least minimise corruption ?  A pertinent question indeed, but one that is too big to address in this posting. Perhaps in future posting I might venture to etxplore the matter. For now my intention is merely to jot down some personal reaction as I read the news. What's brewing certainly gives me the creep! It is plain to see that we are not going anywhere in terms of improving our lives as long as our progress is persistenly pulled  back by this scourge of corruption. Whatever little we gain by way of advancement in the quality of life is soon erased or squandered by the greed of some, leaving our citizens high and dry

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The PKR Packer and Pecker

It is interesting to observe a phenomenon unfolding in our politics. More specifically it afflicts PKR, which bills itselfs as a ‘multiracial’ party. Quite a number of its leaders and prominent members had left the party, in great disillusionment going by their public statements. A significant feature in this abandonment of the party is that they had made it a mission to denounce and discredit PKR totally. Some of their statements pertain to the integrity of PKR’s leadership, while others impinged really on the question of the viability of multiracial politics in our nation. Of course here I am not talking of the desirabilty or the virtue of multiracial politics, but whether as a nation we are ready for it. For a fact, Malayan or Malaysian politics had always been inter-communal, where ethnic based parties negotiate their interests with other parties representing other ethnic groups. It is as if we still much prefer to articulate and negotiate our interests as good neighbours, nevertheless as separate and autonomous entities. We are not ready ye to live under one roof where we negotiate and articluate issues openly.

Within Malaysian political history, a multiracial tag always evokes a sense of novelty, adventurism, foolhardiness or boldness, an approach out of temper from an otherwise ethnically determined political tradition. This is not to say there is a lack of political parties putting on the badge of ‘multiracial party’, when in truth, in terms of membership and ideology, they are no exempt to the dictates and political exigency of enthnicity. There had been few historically noteworthy attempts at multiracial party, which however failed, eventually succumbing to the realism of ethnicity. I could mention the attempt of Dato Onn Jaafar, who after failing to open up the membership of UMNO to multiracialism, left UMNO to form the multi-racial IMP. The IMP experiment failed to the dismay of Dato Onn, who was deserted by the non-Malay leaders and their supporters, upon whom Dato Onn was counting upon. They chose to develop MCA, in coaliton with UMNO, forming a basis for the formation of the Alliance, running on the principle of inter-communl co-operation and articulation. Realising the reality of etnicity in Malayan or Malaysian politics, Dato Onn did a round-about turn and ended his political career in Parti Negara, essentially a Malay based party. Another multiracial experiment that quickly succumbed to etnicity was the original Gerakan. Born on multiracial platform and ideology, Gerakan very quickly mutated into an ethnic based political party, a far cry from its early days.

Ideologically, PKR cannot be said to have a strong foundation in multiracialism. The party was formed essentially around the personality, some will say ‘cult’, of Anwar Ibrahim and related issues. Anwar Ibrahim himself was a late bloomer in terms of multiracial politics. All his politics prior to his dismissal as DPM can only be described as ‘ethnic’, going back a long way to his campus days, ABIM movement, as well UMNO. At the point of its formation, the party could not boast of well known public figures or personalities noted collectively for their multiracial ideals or political ideology. The supporters of Parti Sosialis Rakyat and Anwar’s supporters of ABIM mould who swelled the ranks of PKR were likewise quite relatively new comers to multiracial politics or philosophies. There are grounds to suspect that the non-Malay component of PKR ‘s membership were also relatively lacking in multiracial tradition and experience, which is really the norm in Malaysian history and political tradition. The party organ too can be said to be sadly lacking in its pronouncement and propagation of its multiracial credo, beyond whipping discontent over ethnic or religiously sensitive issues. In sum, PKR cannot be said to have a credible multiracial ideology or profile.

Despite its lack of multiracial tradition or preparation, PKR gives itself the ominous task of balancing or neutralising political parties which have a long tradition of ethnic or communal politics, namely DAP and PAS. This is by no means an easy task when PKR itself lacks the power of conviction in terms of multiracial tradition and credo. This is akin to a weak pole balancing two weights beyond its capability, or an antidote being weaker than the counter venom. In the end the strain may prove too much and something has to give.

We know several prominent leaders and members of PKR had packed off and then pecked hard at their former party. It is as if the thinking had reverted to ethnic consideration as an imperative of Malaysian politics. It is as water finding its natural level. The interview given by MP Zainuddin Nordin several months ago was most illustrative. Pointedly he blamed the DAP for all the strains and frictions faced by Pakatan Rakyat. He accused the DAP of sabotaging by-election by withdrawing support whenever needed most. Openly he said that the PKR doesn’t need the DAP and its support. Neither do the support of non-Malay MP’s crucial. He rationalised that Muslim MP’s constitute the majority in parliament . They can rule the country if only they could unite, instead of being disunited. He underscored his differences with the party over the issue of the use of ‘Allah’ by non-Muslims. MP Zainuddin had also recounted his differences with PKR over its vaccilation in championing Islam as part of the party's official programme. When subjected to the disciplinary machinary of the party, he insisted to be judged only by an all Muslims disciplinary committee

Since leaving PKR, the packers and peckers have been accorded much publicity and airtime. As foes of PKR and Pakatan, collectively they are more formidable than even some BN cabinet members. Being insiders once and privy to many going-ons, their attacks on PKR are scathing and credible. One packer a least has turned main witness for the prosecution in the on going sodomy trial of Anwar Ibrahim. MP Zainuddin had been most vocal,while others like MP Zahrain had been no less lethal. At one point MP Zainuddin denounced the PKR and Pakatan leaders rather dismissively ‘ adakan orang macam ini yang kita hendak menubuh kerajaan!’( How can we expect such people to form the goverment!) . He had also dismissed Anwar's interview with international press, attacking the Malaysian judiciary, as unprincipled and conradictory, using the Malaysian judiaciary when it suits him fine to sue people, but denouncing the judiciary when he is on trial. He had criticised DAP’s and Pakatan’s tendency to regard all internal critics as ‘turncoats’ and ‘ bought overs by UMNO’ .

Several days ago I read in the press, a Selangor BN division is organising a lecture series for the PKR packers and peckers in Selangor, to convince the public why PKR is wrong for the state. Tacitly this is a recognition of sort of their effectiveness compared to some cabinet members or BN leaders in debunking or handling the opposition. Quite often it can be said that some statements of cabinet members are definite turn- off when marshalling support for the BN. Perhaps they should leave the campaingning to the packers and peckers?On my part. I find the phenomenon interesting.I wonder would there be more PKR packer-peckers in the future?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Kg Baru, Jangan Terburu-Buru!

We all know the history of Kg Baru, how it was designated as Malay reserve land for agricultural purposes. We know too how in its century old history, urbanization and the so-called 'development' had enveloped Kg Baru, making it indeed a very valuable piece of real estate, I understand 222 hectares of it with individual owners, while about 80 hectares more owned by the goverment. There's a move now to 'develop' Kg Baru, part of which is to convert its agricultural status to 'commercial' one. The goverment, through the Federal Territory and Urban Well Being Ministry has broached its ideas and suggestions to We know of the history and background of Kg Baru. It was originally designated as spearhead this process.

I find some of the ideas thrown up by the goverment, mainly through the minister concerned, Raja Nong Chik, puzzling and not very assuring it terms of the future of Kg Baru, be it in economic or 'developmental' sense, as well in preserving its valuable historical heritage and tradition. Allow me to jot down some of my reservations. Initially in the earlier phase of the move, the Minister seemed bent upon the following plan,its main aspects being: the magic formula was to be a division of Malay and non-Malay ownership on the basis of 60%-40% respectively. The reasons given for the arrangement were that it is necessary to make it possible for non-Malays to own properties in Kg Baru. This is to assure the ‘viability’ of the idea of developing and commercialising Kg Baru. It was also emphasised that the involvement of the non-Malays and the private sector is important since the government ‘does not have the expertise’or to this effect. The minister also opined that without non-Malay ownership and involvement, the development of Kg Baru would not be feasible. The minister underscored that the value of Kg Baru would not be high if ownership is confined only to the Malays.

In my opinion, the governments thinking and approach to the ‘development’ of Kg Baru is erroneous on the following grounds. Firstly, the government has overlooked the fact that Kg Baru has become valuable today despite its agricultural and Malay reservation status precisely because the spontaneous and ‘natural’ course of development had enveloped it. What had protected and insulated it from becoming part and parcel of ‘main stream’ capitalism or laissez affair sector sector is its agricultural and reservation status. Hence, it is clear that Kg Baru can be ‘developed’ and ‘commercialised’ without tampering with Malay ownership or reservation status. What is required is simply some imagination and creativity. There is really no magic in non-Malay ownership, or vice-versa there is no jinx or natural curse to be stigmatised on Malay ownership. The prospects and escalating value of Kg Baru derived from the spontaneous and natural dynamics of development and commercialisation of the surrounding area, and not to some immature ‘intervention’ or ill-conceived machination of government agencies arrogating itself the role ‘reformer’, ‘transformer’ or ‘developer’, ‘moderniser’, what have you.

In this respect, the development status of Kg Baru should not be conceived as a kind of ‘ghetto’, a pocket of ‘underdevelopment’, a resistant spot to development and commercialisation due to the ‘curse’ of Malay ownership. Instead of being credulous to this old obsolete idea which is tinted with racial stereotyping, the government should use its imagination to realise the great prospects of Kg Baru and its owners, conferred by a century of the nation’s ‘development’ and ‘commercialisation. In short focus on its prospects and strategic location, rather than entertain its grossly distorted image of a ‘ghetto’ to be ‘rescued’ or ‘salvaged’.

The least acceptable reason given by the minister of Federal Territory for its formula of 60%-40% is that ‘we don’t have the expertise’! Now to me this is something we should not hear from government leaders within the context of the issue. We are not talking of highly sophisticated technology like nuclear power or mega world class projects, but simply developing Kg Baru. To me it sounds like a pathetic admission of impotency. Of course we don’t expect our leaders or the public sector to know everything, but they have all the resources and expertise at their command. It is only leadership that is required of them to avail of these massive resources at their disposal and harness them well, managing and overseeing them rationall of course This is the path taken by all other progressive nations, instead of abrogating their role of leadership by simply pledging ‘we don’t have the expertise’. I am commenting on this because I sense that the motifs of ‘60%-40%’ and ‘we don’t have the expertise’ is becoming stock in the thinking of leaders, as evident in the Railway Land Deal with Singapore, and other projects.

Several days ago, there is another phase to the Kg Baru puzzle. Amid protests from land owners, Malay interests groups, NGO’s, meeting leaders apology of ‘nothing is cast in stone’, the Ministry concerned had made some statements. Now the formula 60%-40% formula is to be applied only by the government in handling its 80 hectares of land in Kg Baru. In this connection, all my comments in the above should apply. As for the land with individual owners, the Ministry said it is entirely up to them. There is also the ambivalent and unclear statement that the ‘tradition and heritage’ of Kg Baru would be maintained by the Ministry and those concerned. I think this can be problematic in the long run as we know once ‘development’ and ‘commercialisation’ has made inroads, it is a pledge that could prove to be elusive.

Has there been some back-pedalling or rethinking on its ideas as far as the Ministry is concerned? In the case of which, I hope the government would think through its ideas well before embarking on controversial pronouncements and campaign. It will save the nation much unnecessary conflicts and agitations, as we know issues of ethnic significance will invariably generate much ill will and misunderstanding. I might add too, I hope the whole idea of ‘commercialising’ or ‘developing’ Kg Baru has not been motivated or inspired by the vested interests of Malay corporate sector, oblivious to the wider interests of the Malay community. I must admit there is a familiar ring to the ‘60%-40%’ quota centric formula, as well as the pledge of ‘we don’t have the expertise’. It is reminiscence of the old Ali-Baba ethos of ill fated NEP, except the magic chant of ‘30%-70%’has now evolved into ’60%-40%’. I really hope it is not the old syndrome of taking the easy way out of passing the work to others, in the hope of making quick easy money, on the ground of being ‘owners but alas with no expertise’.

Concerning Kg Baru, considering its rich history and cultural heritage, we should move creatively and rationally. There is no need to tamper with variables unconnected with developmental pre-requisites, such as ownership etc Many of the problems being raised by leaders and planners seemed to be only their head.Focus on its prospects and great promises, rather than misconceived ‘problems’. Never give in to the short term interests of individuals, while sacrificing long term interests of the Malays at large and that of the nation. The pioneers and early settlers had steadfastly resisted the temptations and allurements of 'development', and maintained their rich heritage.It would be sad indeed to see the their later descendants succumbing,'selling out' for great, albeit short term gains.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Parrot, Barisan Nasional and Sibu by-election

The contest for Sibu has been decided in favour of the DAP prevailing over the BN.The response of the BN leaders as represented by the PM and the DPM was that of acceptance and self-introspection. Both the PM and the DPM in their capacity as Barisan's leaders had instructed the coalition to undertake a study of its defeat and probable causes, amid insinuation that the wrong choice of candidate could be an important factor, while criticisms are also levelled at the 'racial' and 'seditious' campaigning of the DAP.There is mounting unhappiness on the Malay ground against alleged communalism or even racism in the voting pattern at the by-election.

In its postmortem of the Sibu defeat, the BN would have to be very objective in identifying the problems for what they are. Self-denial and ideological blinkers should be set aside. A wrong diagnosis could set them astray in terms of strategising for future by-elections or even the next General Election.The distortive effects of self-denial and apology could obscure even the most glaring and obvious problems staring right in the eyes.The way politicians delude themselves sometimes remind me of a most instructive parable by Jalaluddin Rumi,the great Muslim mystic.

This is the story of the oil trader who had a parrot in his shop,where he stored many rare,exquisite and expensive oil. One day a stray cat wandered into the shop and broke many jars of very fine and valuable oil. On seeing the calamity, the oil trader was furious and besides himself.Thinking that the parrot was responsible, the oil trader gave the parrot such a pounding that it shed its feathers and became bald.One day a bald man came to the shop looking for some fine oil.On seeing the bald man, the parrot could not contain its curiousity. The parrot asked the man emphatically, 'pray tell me whose oil did you spill?'

Some statements by BN leaders in relation to the BN defeat in Sibu would impair the effectiveness of their proposed by-election postmortem.Take for instance how they had formulated the inquiry.The discussion seemed to have been framed whether the by-election was decided on 'local' or ' national' issues.It would appear to many objective observers and analists that we cannot dichotomise electoral issues in contemporary Malaysia in those terms.What seems to be more accurate is that both the national and local issues have had their impact on the poll.The nature of politic is more complex than a simple 'local' versus 'national'category. For instance the 'Allah' controversy raised by the DAP would be more correctly defined as a national issue albeit with local manifestation and dimension.The same thing goes for the hotly debated issue of national type Chinese schools.The many issues concerning development would similary reflect the concern of Malaysians at the national level.In addition to these, we have the whole gamut of issues like corruption,inaptitude in leadership, and of course that of pluralism, multiracialism and nation building.

And yet I have heard it said several times that the Sibu by-election was mainly decided by 'local' issues and not 'national', and therefore does not reflect on the PM's leadership or other national leaders.In my opinion such a stance is indeed a serious error, and a dangerous one for the BN. While it is erroneous in the sense of sidestepping and trivialising the issues in Sibu, it would appear to be contradictory too. While the BN's leadership seems eager to define the decisive issues in Sibu as 'local politics',it also faulted the DAP for bringing 'national' or 'national style' issues to Sibu.So in the BN perspective, what is the case in Sibu, , 'national' or ' local'? The view that the Sibu by-election was determined mainly by local politics is also contradicted by the DPM's statement that there is similarity or common pattern between the Sibu outcome with 'urban politics' or 'politik bandar' elsewhere in Malaysia.

Responding like Jalaluddin Rumi's parrot, confusing between cause and effect,seeing only form but not essence, would certainly cloud BN's understanding of its threats and challenges,and consequentially its political calculations and strategies.I hope the Barisan's study on the Sibu outcome would yield clear diagnosis, and hence more effective strategies for the future.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Of great man and liliputan

It has been weeks since I last update my blog.I remember my last posting was on the New Economic Model. I must confess I felt the announcement of the NEM was somewhat an anti climax. After much posturing and hype, the announcement came finally as a non-descript statement of economic philosophy and planning. Frankly speaking I don’t think it can be considered as a significant turning point in our economic or developmental approach. I base my evaluation mainly on substance and creativity of development principles and approach, as well as innovativeness in tackling the nation’s basic problems and needs. We may have other more opportune times to go into this in greater details.

Since the promulgation of the NEM sometime at the end of March, I had contented myself with just watching events, trends and styles in our national life. In doing so, I am reminded of the Malay saying ‘hujan emas di negeri orang, hujan batu di negeri sendiri, baik lagi negeri sendiri’. For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the Malay language, roughly translated it would be something like ‘it may rain gold in foreign lands, it may rain stone in your own homeland, still your homeland is better’. I am sure this is the sentiment of all patriotic Malaysians. No matter how envious we are of the more progressive nations, east or west, we still love our homeland the greater. But at the same time, I am sure too many patriotic Malaysians would sigh, must it be ‘raining stone’ in our nation ? Must our patriotism be eternally put to the test? Are citizens of the more progressive nations less patriotic than we are, on account of their more developed status? Are we being less patriotic, loving our nation less, if we acknowledge the progress of other nations, while acknowledging our weaknesses and wrongs? Is out patriotism the greater if we deny the progress of other nations and exaggerate their defects, while exaggerating our accomplishments, simultaneously indulging in self-denial over our numerous problems?

Now back to our own backyard. There had been disturbing revelations in the last few weeks. While we laud the action taken to curb the wrongdoings, the facts of the cases are most disturbing. The police had cracked down a major car syndicate which had operated for more than a decade, with the complicity of corrupt officials in the transport departments of several states in the country. Basically the syndicate operated thus: steal luxury cars, have them ‘sanatized’( say wiping or changing the serial number of relevant parts of the car), re-register them ‘officially’ with the ‘help’ of corrupt officials, and put them back in the car market, raking millions. The massive network of corrupt government officials spreading over several states, and the fact that it had been going on for more than a decade,clearly suggests the depth, extent and resilience (perhaps ‘normalization’?) of corruption in our nation.

And then we have this exposure of illegal export of sand, which had been most damaging from the security point of view, as well as environmentally. This scam too had been going on for many years. I understand the export of sand had been done under the pretext of exporting silica and not sand. Doesn’t such scheme border on mockery, flying right in the face of the law? We learn to our dismay that such operation had raked in billions, while inflicting irreversible damage on our environment. Again, this evokes a grim picture of massive, resilient and blatant corruption. I am sure we still remember previous exposure on illegal logging going on for decades in the country. Couple this with the various court cases involving corrupt officials, with some being indicted while others acquitted. The overall picture conjured is not very reassuring of our national integrity, and therefore of leadership in general.

The saga of senseless loss of life continues among us. I note these two rather tragic or sad cases. One fifteen year old girl died when she failed to free her computer bag snagged to the bus door. She was dragged under and run over by the bus. I find the response of both the public and the authority rather regrettable. Although the tragedy was greeted with some public expression of sadness, there was also a sense of ‘normalcy’ though tinge with regret, about it. As if the response was ‘well that's part and parcel of KL and its transport system’. I admit there is a certain crudity or coarseness( kasar) in the services of the public transport system in our cities, but we don’t have to accept it as a ‘given’, normal or in the nature of things. I think her death was absolutely unnecessary and most regrettable, and similar cases should be avoided in the future. More stringent rules and procedures could and should be instituted by transport companies and the authorities. The tragedy certainly suggests we need more gracious and caring public services. At a more general level, we are certainly in need of leadership in developing a more gracious and caring Malaysian nation and society. It was rather ironic that news of her computer bag and her death was carried in the same radio broadcast on the distribution of 100 free computers to students in Selangor by the Barisan National.

In another case, a fifteen year boy was shot by the police. In a most contrasting picture, this case attracted much public attention and heated discussion. Leaders and police chiefs had been vocal in their comments or responses. A high profile board of inquiry had been commissioned to investigate and inquire into the case. Official media had been commenting actively too, understandably a certain bias in defense of the police can be detected. Much play had been made of the circumstances of the tragedy, linking the tragedy with the general issue of ‘delinquent youths’ of today, posing ‘what’s the victim doing out at 3 am, driving his sister's car and without a valid driving license at that?’, or ‘why did the sister allow the illegal use of her car?’ and so forth. Another line is ‘the police has the right to self-defense’ or ‘the police can't be too cautious these days with heavily armed criminals of today about’ and so forth. While all these views have their validity to an extent, the fact remains that it was a rather tragic ‘accident’ which ought to be avoided in the future. Better procedures, safeguards, or even training should be instituted towards this end. Again leadership is much needws here.

On a different note, there is the case of Limbang settlement with Brunei, costing Malaysia a rich oil field with a capacity of billion barrels. Apparently it was deemed a fair exchange during the premiership of Datuk Abdullah Badawi. Under the settlement, Malaysia handed over its ownership of the oil field. In return Brunei agreed to relinquish its claim to Limbang. Now, without going into the ‘fair value’ of the exchange or otherwise, it seems that the Malaysian decision and assent could have been an ill-informed one, without proper consultation and advice, neither with proper disclosure to Parliament or the public. I think the very idea that part of our Malaysian nation can be signed over to other nations without proper consultation, advice and public disclosure or accountability is most shocking and frightening.

Our nation is in dire need of leadership,that is leadership of great man. By ‘great man’ we mean statesman with vision and compassion , enough to identify his personal mission with the interests of our nation. By ‘great man’ of course we do not mean small man, a liliputan, occupying a big post. Too often we confuse between great man and high position. We are prone to think that the two are necessarily the same. In reality,a great man is great even without high position, while a small man remains such even with a big post. . A great leader has the interests of his nation and people at heart,is capable of looking above his narrow self-interests, while a liliputan of a leader can only think of how to use his high position for personal aggrandizement. As often emphasized in Chinese philosophy, a great man emphasized lofty ideals and mission as part of his self-esteem, while the small man cannot see beyond his self-interests and baser desires. Needless to say, this is one observation of all the major religions and great philosophies of mankind.

Friday, April 2, 2010

New Economic Model, Meddle, or Muddle?

So the New Economic Model or Model Ekonomi Baru had been announced in installment by the PM Datuk Seri Najib Tun Abdul Razak. It was announced at an investment seminar held in a hotel organized by the private sector. The PM promised more details on the NEM would be forthcoming. I am given to understand a copy of the plan, 200 pages thick had been released to the public. I have not had the good fortune of laying my hand on a copy, so the privilege of digging through this document eludes me for the moment. In the following, I thought I would respond to the PM's speech in announcing and outlining the MEP.

The NEM seems to be more of a statement of good intentions, almost bordering on a wish list of what could be nice to have for our economy. Take for instance the reference to the 6 key transformation index, coupled with the goals of high income, sustainability, and inclusiveness with no groups being left out in partaking the fruits of development. There is not much to discuss, to disagree on all these tempting prospects. All sound minded citizens would like to have a higher income, what more doubling it in say ten years. All of us would love a good public transport system, the check of corruption, more vibrant private and public sector, better education system, work force training and upgrading, fair competition and equal opportunities for all, a better balance between good economy and good life for all, In short, the NEM promises everything to everybody.

Another notable feature of the NEM, at least as expounded by the PM in his speech, is the profusion of generalities, precepts and rather vague pronouncements, at least in the context of an economic model which ought to be clear, rational and pragmatic in terms of means and ends. I admit there are parts of the speech which are clear, but where the speech is clear, it merely touches on basic precepts or fundamentals of nation building which should be part and parcel of the nation's build up, regardless of ‘model’. Some examples should include higher income, better education, better quality workforce, national resilience and less ‘dependence’ on foreigners, transparency in economic development, people’s involvement in development process, equal opportunity for all, the need to be bold and courageous in adjusting to the contemporary challenges, and many more really! Again, of course we agree to all these, and yet we are left wondering as to the real import of these pronouncements, what are their contextual operational meaning, how would they be implemented and what form would it take when finally translated into reality.

Apart from the mere statement of good intention and generalities in many places, there are few aspects of the NEM I should like to highlight and comment on. Obviously the NEM sets a high priority on attracting foreign investments into the Malaysian economy. Many of the main features of the NEM had been put in place precisely to appease the demands of foreign capital. The liquid and free nature of foreign capital is of course part of the reality of the global economy. Foreign capital can be one of the major factor is spurring the economy of a developing nation. However, we need to be mindful that it is not the panacea to all economic ills, and history had shown that clearly.

There are nations and economies in which foreign capital had been a major contributor to development, while there are just as many where foreign capital merely led to parasitic relationships that simply drains and sapped the host nations or economies dry. There are many examples from the experience of South American nations and other parts of the world, constituting the developing nations. Ultimately, it is not the presence or absence of foreign capital that is crucial but the management of the relationship and the dynamics between host nation and foreign capitals. This would be the final determinant. Study the cases of successful Southeast Asian and Asian nations in this regards.

The NEM also places much faith and reliance on the private sector in spurring the Malaysian economy. I take it that the NEM proposed to corporatize MIDA in line with this spirit. Again it is a fact that in all capitalistic or liberal economy, it is the private sector which functions as one of the main engines of economic development and growth. Again it must be said that corporatizing public institutions is not by itself a panacea to all our problems. What is crucial in public agencies or corporations is good leadership and good management. Without this, all institutions, public or corporate, cannot function as effectively or dynamically as we hope. More importantly, public or corporate, all institutions would be crippled and paralyzed by corruption and vested interests. This is where the government should be more mindful of in overseeing its institutions and agencies, public and private. If at all, without this all important pre-requisite, corruption would even be more rampant in corporatized institutions, where there are greater opportunities for corruption and abuses with less public scrutiny and control.

Under the NEM, the EPF would be allowed to invest abroad or globally. I admit that many opportunities abroad beckon our investment, but so are the great risks associated with them. What with all the memories of the mega scandals that had sparked the present financial crisis globally. Are our fund managers and captain of industries, capable enough to overcome the hazards of a global player? Please don't misconstrue my point as lacking confidence in our financial experts and captain of industries. But we know how many Gulf States economies are in hot soup today due to inexperience and uninformed ‘ aggression’ in investment. I have not even discussed the scruple factor in ensuring good and profitable investment of our hard earned workers fund. Aren't there enough opportunities for local investment, ensuring save returns for our EPF? Are the current investments of the EPF proving to be profitable in all areas that we need to expand abroad and not consolidate locally? I would urge caution here because this idea does not involve just any fund but the hard-earned money of our workers and citizens.If the limitation is a question of law and enactment, these can be amended on good grounds.

Listening to the speech, there is the nagging feeling of irreconcilable principles and precepts. In the PMs speech inaugurating the NEM, there is the pledge of affirmative action, of ‘welfarism’ , in the same vein as meritocracy and corporate adventurism. There is admission on the part of the PM that the NEP had served the nation well, but he feels the need now to give it a new context. What could the new contextualisation of the NEP within the NEM? There are not many specifics and explanation. I tend to deduce the following from the whole spirit and tenor of the text of the speech. Can it be that the NEM is opting for something we might term as ‘ selective affirmative action’? In the past the NEP was inaugurated with objectives of eradicating poverty and restructuring the economy, but ended in the end as the ideology of Malay capitalists or corporate interests. Patronage of Malay businesses was a deviant and a departure from the original intent and goals of the NEP then. Has the NEM decided to legitimize and ‘formalise’ these departures and deviance of the NEP and make them integral part of its vision and mission? Putting it differently, the ‘contextualization’ of the NEP enunciated by the NEM could be the withdrawal of affirmative action for Malays in general and reaffirming it only for Malay capitalism and corporate interests. We got a hint of this scenario when it had been said in earlier speeches and announcements on 'liberalisation'of the economy that government help and fund would be available only for ‘capable Malays’, which would invariably mean Malays who had made it ‘big’ in the Malaysian corporate scene. Is this a fair assumption and inference on my part?

In the end, what matters for our economic growth is good leadership, good intention, good plan to realize it; honest management and implementation, the indomitable will to translate vision into reality, lots of scruples and compassion for national interests, of all citizens regardless of race and religion. Without these vital ingredients, any plan whatsoever is doomed to failure, in the end accumulating a host of bitter baggage, far from achieving better economy and better life for all.Without clear vision and principles, backed by resolve and scruples to see them through,any 'plan' would degenerate into just a question of medling and tinkering around with existing institutions, and mudling through under the guise of 'consulting and listening' to the people. It is clear goal,solid planning, political will and moral integrity that determine in the end whether the NEM is a good model, meddle or muddle. Shortcomings notwithstanding, I wish the NEM every success in realizing its various noble intentions enunciated therein.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Fool's guide to political economy and economic model-(post 2)

In the previous posting, we had seen how an otherwise historically sound and necessary policy degenerated into a racial policy, which in turn generated great racial or communal tension in the nation. Malay elite with vested interests justified them in the name of all Malays along communal line, while non-Malay elite with vested interests denounced all legitimate Malay interests in the name of their community along communal line too. The sum total of it all is that the DEB or NEP emerged as one of the most contentious single issue in Malaysian history. It became so contentious that we Malaysians forgot some basic truths or our nation, namely: a) there are many fair and broadminded Malays arguing for legitimate Malay interests, b) there are many fair and broadminded non-Malays arguing for legitimate non-Malay interests, c) there are many Malay chauvinists seeing everything in racial terms, d) there are many non-Malay chauvinists seeing everything in racial terms. The sad thing is that we had closed our mind to category a) and b), while surrendering it to the conditioning and manipulation of category c) and d), with the dire consequence of surrendering our civic life to chauvinism.

We would soon witness the dawning of another ‘era’, the much anticipated and speculated New Economic Model or NEM. I should like to jot down some comments and response to the idea, as mental notes more for my own understanding.

The timing and circumstances of its introduction is unfortunate. It comes in the aftermath of an electoral debacle and with a strange ‘airing’. There was an announcement of a ‘ big thing ‘ coming, with scanty details, and definitely with little or no public involvement in its genesis. The general public mood created can be reasonably summed up as cynical and skeptical ‘what now?’

The choice of the name ‘New Economic Model’ too invites some reflection. I know many might justifiably argue what’s in a name. On my part I wonder. Is it a reflection of how it sees itself in relation to its predecessor the NEP? It merely changes a word, from ‘policy’ to ‘model’. Is it a case of mere dislike of the word ‘policy’ because of its bureaucratic tenor, while the word ‘model’ is more ‘management-like’, ‘academic’ or ‘sophisticated’?. In other words, is it simply a case of sophistries or an indication of commitment and continuities with the past in the NEP? Is it an indication of ambivalence or ‘dualism’ for the future, for easy and convenient maneuver between the ethos of the NEP and the NEM, depending on occasions and audiences?

The choice of name apart, there is the more substantive issue of principles and development philosophy. To begin with, the New Economic Model should indicate clearly how it sees itself in relation to the New Economic Policy. In some aspects, indeed not wholly, the New Economic Model seems antagonistic to its past. Its closely associated concept of ‘liberal’ and ‘liberalism’ connote this. Liberalism suggests a freeing of from past constraints or ‘shackle’. Does this mean that the NEM does not feel a commitment to the issues and concerns of the NEP? If indeed, the NEM dissociates itself completely from past issues and principles, what would these be? ‘Eradication of poverty’ and ‘restructuring the economy, these being the main objectives of the NEP? The new slogan of ‘meritocracy’, interlaced with condescending rhetoric on the Malay lack of competitive spirit, certainly doesn’t help in projecting the NEM as a multiracial policy. It is the old argument of Malay elite with vested interests under the NEP, as well as the all time favourite of non-Malay chauvinists.

The simple truth is that, while there is a self-serving elite that waxed riches from corruption and cronyism, most Malaysians of all races, Malays and non-Malays, have to and do ‘compete’ to earn a decent leaving. Sloganeering under ‘liberalisation’ and ‘meritocracy’ without genuine understanding and commitment to the principles will merely lends itself readily the wild swinging of the pendulum between ‘ pro-Malay’ NEP and the ‘pro-non-Malay NEM’. Before we know it, we are back to the basic discourse of chauvinism that continually haunts our nation.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The fool's guide to our political economy and economic model-(post 1)

Today we are earnestly searching for an economic model. I presume then the existing model is deemed unsuitable and unacceptable by the people, or simply no longer relevant to our nation’s needs (depending on who define what these needs are).I have to presume this because the desire to change economic models can be due to many other considerations, such as political expedience, both internally (electoral votes?) and externally (foreign investments?), which does not necessarily mean the economic wellbeing of the citizens at large.

Before we discuss the new model, let us understand the old hag of an economic model, ordinarily referred to as the NEP( New Economic Policy). The best way to achieve this is to see the background and the rationale of it.  

Once upon a time, before the dawning of the NEP, the economic model was ironically more ‘liberal’ in the sense ‘the market’ was given a free reign, without much state intervention in the present sense. The catch phrase or principle then was ‘Malay political power, Chinese economic power’. Check all the major writings and documents of the era and you will see the great influence of this formula on the thinking of the time.  This principle of course had its origins in colonial times, when it was assumed that Malays are inherently rural folks, peasants, country bumpkins, who could not be otherwise. They are at best suitable as fishermen, padi planters, as food producers for the city, while the better off aspired only to be civil servants or penghulus. The pre-NEP era after independence continued this planning principle of ‘Malay political power, Chinese economic power’. Racial stereotypes reinforced this principle and vice-versa the principle engendered and reinforced the stereotypes that Malays ‘cannot compete’, while the Chinese are ‘money grabbers’ who are natural businessmen as fish in water, on whom the destiny of the nation’s economy should and must depend.

 The inevitable consequence of this principle was an economic pattern and development along ethnic lines, which conformed to the lopsidedness that attends the gap between rural peasant economy and modern industrial, capitalistic sector, a notable feature of which is the glaring gap in income and economic standing, with all its social and political implications.

The 1969 General Election shocked the nation into realization that the social, political and economic gap among ethnic groups was unhealthy for nation building. The naivety of the principle ‘Malay political power, Chinese economic power’ was generally felt and understood. The reality was that the Malays wanted to be rich and have a piece of the pie in the industrial corporate sector, while the Chinese and non-Malays did not content themselves only with economic power. As citizens they had political power and understandably wanted a say in the running of the nation.  There was introspection among Malaysians, Malay and non-Malays, that an imbalance economic development along racial or ethnic lines was a serious obstacle to nation building . The gap had to be corrected or redressed. Hence we had the declared objectives of the NEP, namely to eradicate poverty and restructure the economy so as to prevent the identification of economic activities along ethnic lines.

Few important points need to be highlighted here. The NEP then was really meant to be a plan for  social and economic reconstruction to redress specific problems. It set out to correct colonial legacy and the economic imbalance it bequeathed. Some would correctly see it as a plan of social justice, to redress economic and social imbalance. In this respect the NEP did not have a racial or ethnic basis, its main concern being social justice and economic reform. It had racial or ethnic reference only by virtue of the nature of the problems it set out to redress, since economic disparity was in fact closely along ethnic lines. In spirit and principle, however, the NEP should and could have been implemented to eradicate poverty and stimulate economic growth regardless of race or ethnicity by a principled, enlightened and just elite.

The evolution of the NEP however took a sad turn. In the hand of an opportunistic and greedy elite, it quickly turned into a racket of sort, camouflaging and justifying itself in the name of the Malay masses. I do not have to dwell too much on this episode in this fool’s guide, for it is by now a common knowledge, even for a fool. It suffices for me to say that in the end, the 'metamorphosis' of NEP led to the following situations: a) The aim of eradicating poverty had been marginalised and not been significantly achieved, b) the target of restructuring the economy likewise had not been realised in a meaningful way, c) the Malay masses had not benefited much by the policy, while being stigmatized as being over dependent and ‘spoilt’ ( in countless versions and renderings like ‘subsidy mentality’, ‘ crutch mentality’, etc), d) due to the abuses in its name, the NEP developed a negative image and assumed a racial character, with its own unique ethos, in the name of which influential, rich and middle-class Malays justify their vested interests,  e) the NEP engendered much resentment among the non-Malays, and understandably, as they see only the exploitative and acquisitive side of the NEP, most remote from its original aims and spirit, f) far from improving ethnic relations, the racketing image of NEP in fact deepened it.  

The 2008 General Election, the result of which almost mirrored the results of 1969, spurred another bout of this ‘electoral conscience’ and  introspection amongst our elite, just as it did in 1969. Once again the elite undertake a frantic hasty search for a new economic model purportedly to redress some ‘imbalance’.  

This raises many pertinent questions. I should like to touch on these in my next posting as I think my posting shouldn’t be too long and imposing on reader’s time or attention. I leave you with one question for now: Shouldn’t we distinguish the NEP, the policy and its spirit, from the abuses of it? In this respect, do we change the policy or check the abuses of it and the vested interests therein? Is the goal of alleviating poverty, rural and urban, no longer relevant? Has the problem of economic imbalance along racial or ethnic line been resolved and no longer a concern? More importantly we should be mindful that with or without a new model, the same opportunism and greed that hijacked and derailed the NEP could only promise failure and disaster for the future. There is no model capable of weathering the rot and decline inflicted by corruption and vested interests. If I may put it in a different way, had the NEP been implemented in a scrupulous, just and enlightened way, regardless of race or ethnicity, we could be in a better stead today, be it economically or as a nation.

The fool’s guide is to be continued…            

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I never cease to wonder ...

There had been many noteworthy news and events over the last one month or so in our public life. My own personal circumstances however do not permit me to respond to each of them separately, yet I feel compelled to respond in one form or another. So I figure some brief notes may suffice, lest these news and events pass me by without recording some response in my blog

Of course the public is following the case of Anwar Ibrahim on the sodomy charge with much interest, only to have their enthusiasm dampened somewhat by the technicalities raised by the defense over the judge’s impartiality or the lack of it. When the judge refused to cite Utusan Malaysia for contempt of court over its reporting of the case, the defense contended that was a measure of bias against the defense, rendering the judge unsuitable to preside over the case. The defense filed that the judge concerned should recuse himself. This stratagem seems to be very much favored by the defense, who had extended its application to the RM100m defamation suit brought by Anwar Ibrahim against Dr Mahathir Muhammad.

For my own mental note, I call this stratagem ‘judging the judge’. Law students and aspiring lawyers should note some of the possible effects of ‘judging the judge’. It is very effective as delaying tactics as it compels the court to sidetrack to other issues besides the main case. As a stratagem, ‘judging the judge’ is very effective also in bridging the gap between the legal and the political. Where political groups had alleged that a particular case is politically motivated, ‘judging the judge’ serves to reinforce the aspersions cast against the authority and the judiciary outside the court, within the framework of legality and the trial process itself. Another possible advantage of ‘judging the judge’ would be to exercise some degree of influence in the selection of a judge more favorable to its advocate.

Which reminds me of another issue generating much news and responses. 50 members of the Australian parliament had demanded that the sodomy case against Anwar Ibrahim be dropped. There are many other news in the opposition run media that certain groups and personalities the world over had made similar demands. While opposition affiliated groups are hyper sensitive to alleged interferences of the government in the case, they seemed to invite and welcome such ‘intervention’ by foreigners. Such intervention of foreigners had been publicized by them as being loft y and concern for justice. Clearly this is all orchestrated and is part of the move to politicize the sodomy case against Anwar. On my part, I see the contradiction on the part of the opposition. While ever picky on alleged government interferences, they don’t seem to feel the indignity of being patronized by foreigners in our own internal affairs. In fact such foreign meddling has gone much well beyond ‘interfering ‘to the point of demanding the case be dropped altogether!

Lately the management and administrative tool of ranking had been utilized in a rather bizarre way in politics. Opposition news work was in euphoria over a ranking which placed Nik Aziz of PAS in the top 500 Muslim thinkers in the world, while Anwar Ibrahim even higher up within the top 40. The opposition had been careful to point out, obviously tongue in cheek, that no BN leaders had been placed anywhere worthy of note. I think we should know better than to fall for this, hook and sinker. We know ranking is often abused as a tool to influence or condition public evaluation in a manipulative way. Just fix the questionnaires or the basis of evaluation in a way that gets you the result you want. Having achieved this, use the result itself to condition (or con) the public towards your own evaluation or conclusion. The term or appellate ‘thinker’ is by convention best reserved for great scholars or intellectuals who had bequeathed some great tradition or heritage to their society or humanity. Their works are generally acknowledged for their great depth or wisdom, capable standing the test of time. Normally the ‘greatness’of such thinkers are not amenable to ‘ranking’ in a mechanical and superficial manner, as in the case referred to above. The naivety of such ranking makes one wonder, is it a case of ‘thinker’ or ‘tinker’ that is being dished out to the public!

About a week ago, the Sun dated 23 February 2010 published an interesting case in the headline. This involved the case of Mr Lye Piang Yin, 71, a retiree who had been given back the title to his land in Hulu Langat, which was stolen from him in the words of the Sun ‘ through the hidden hands of government officers and individuals’. Here, I am not so much concerned with the legal aspects and the details of the case. For these, I refer readers to the copy of the Sun. But in other respects, the case should send shivers down our spine. Judging by this case, all property owners could very easily lose their properties.

This is how, in parallel to the shocking case of Mr Lye Piang Yin. Without your knowledge, some crooks register you as the director of Company X. Then by forgery of documents and signature, the fictitious director transfer the land to the company in exchange for the company shares. After that the fictitious director is ‘arranged’ to resign from the company ( of course leaving all his stakes and land in the company) , being replaced by some dishonest element as director. The new replacement director then sells the land to another party outside the Company X. The buyer or the new owner of the land is then quickly appointed as director in Company X. Hence, to cut a long story short, in this manner you can simply wake up one morning to discover that you are simply no longer the owner of your property! Mr. Lye Piang Yin was fortunate there had been a recent court decision which made the return of his land possible. Can you believe that until recently the position of the law actually favored the frauds. Before the legal loophole was plugged, had the buyer bought the land in good faith from the frauds with no inkling of the illegality, good title would have passed on to the buyer, depriving the original owner of his title. In this respect, to a certain extent, it can be said that a ‘good’ fraud who can convince his client that ‘ all is well’ would have been rewarded by the law and stood to gain by his crooked ways.

This reminds me of an interesting posting by Che Det. I read it as ‘how to pilfer a government linked company’. The details run as follows. Proton bought a motorcycle company for more than RM500m. Then somehow the company ‘became’ unprofitable and a huge liability. In response Proton sold it to a mysterious Italian for US1. The new owner sold the company to Harley Davidson for about RM628m. Hence from Proton’s point of view, theRM500m, the initial cost of buying the motorcycle company , simply vanished, evaporated, but somehow reappeared in somebody else’s coffer, with a further RM128m profit to boot! I am at a loss for words…

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Grave matters and a sinking feeling

Over the last few months, we had read news of corruption in the nation. I don’t mean only the mega scandals like the one involving PKFZ, but spate of it at a more modest and spectacular scale. Though definitely less sensational in terms of the losses and amount involved over a single saga compared to the mega-scandals, usually to the tune of billions, the humbler offenders are nevertheless equally damaging , if not more. In terms of dollars and cents, each case does not boast of staggering amount, but in total the ‘lesser’ corruption may even be more staggering.

But then, we are more than aware, this is not simply a matter of dollars and cents. For example, I remember reading cases involving police officers, immigration officials, port authority staff, custom officers, district administrators, education administrators, armed forces personnel and more. I am sure my list is far from being exhaustive.A complete list of all the cases of corruption in our courts across the range would certainly conjure a picture that corruption is all pervasive in our national administration, and more disturbingly in vital areas affecting our national or public interests. On second thought, this has to be the case. It is only the vital areas of national administration that are ‘marketable’ or of value to corrupt offers and dealings.

A closer look at some of the cases would make clearer the harm they inflict and the extent of the damage to our national interests. The cases involving policemen usually involved a few hundreds or thousands ringgit, and the favors sought are either to overlook offences or to influence the outcome of investigation. Obviously the damage inflicted on the nation is disastrous as this is tantamount to nullifying the law and breeding lawlessness. The cases involving immigration officials disclosed how for a few thousand dollars corrupt officials would be willing to ‘facilitate’ illegal entry permits or other instruments of access into the country, usually for dubious purposes. Just imagine the harm to the nation. Isn’t this analogous to leaving the house door ajar to dubious characters in the night, or opening wide the city gate to questionable elements?

There is this case concerning a young official of the port authority. He faced several charges of corruption, involving a few thousand dollars on each account. In return for the bribes, he overlooked the smugglings going on through the port of his charge. Just imagine how damaging this can be to the nation. If those charged with minding its interests instead enter the pay rolls of smugglers, the nation would certainly be at the mercy of undesirable and dangerous elements. Just about anything can be imported or exported from the country. The entire range of the multiplier effects on the nation economy and security is inconceivable.

We hear of a young assistant district officer charged with accepting about $10,000 as down payment for a new car. A developer’s company bribed her to overlook their stealing of sand in her administrative district. We know how influential the district officials are. Virtually all aspects of living would come into contact with the local administration at one point or another. If they are susceptible to corruption and bribery, we can be sure there is a great deal more than sand being offered for corrupt deals.

The last auditors report revealed that a laptop had cost a staggering $42,000 in the budget of an established educational institution. Though we have not heard of any action being taken for possible abuse, the staggering price tag certainly raise many questions. Could the laptop be a rare proto-type that comes in gold parts or trimmings?

Few of us would have missed the news on our missing jet-plane engines and how investigations is being conducted. The authority had declared that there is no involvement of high officials in this saga. But still the facts remain that some groups had been very resourceful and entrepreneurial in moving and marketing the engines in the international black market. Imagine the significance or implications of it all. It happened in the armed forces, an institution which is supposedly to be one of the most secured places in our nation, an institution charged with the very security of our nation. Though many statements had been made on the actual value of the engines, their status as items ‘condemned’ or designated for ‘repairs’,in part to ameliorate the issue, the fact remains they went missing and ended up in the international back-door market. This suggests either a gross neglect of duty or breach of trust.Besides there is still the lingering question, what else besides jet-plane engines could be for ‘sale’ in this manner?

A few days ago we learned from the Sun of the saga involving RapidKL and its ‘bus grave’. Of course Che Det and Rocky Bru had raised the issue months ago prior to The Sun. It seems that RapidKL operator bought 1,294 used buses for RM93m in 2003, only to consign most of them to the scrap yard two years later in 2005. Presently only RM6m had been recovered in terms of sales value of scrap parts. The Sun covered the visit of the Public Accounts Committee ( PAC) to one of the so-called bus ‘graveyard’ in Sungai Buaya, Rawang.We learn there is another ‘graveyard’ in Serendah.

Many revealing facts had been disclosed by Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid, chairman of the PAC. The buses were registered from 1992-1998, and yet were professionally evaluated only in 2007, In the evaluation, only ten buses were categorized as in good condition. On the whole, each of the buses was valued at RM60,000, requiring RM200,000 worth of repairs. To the question whether an evaluation was done prior to the purchase, Datuk Seri Azmi said yes but ‘we did not know the rational’ for the purchase. It was reported that Prasarana Negara, the company behind the purchase of the buses, incurred a loss of RM839.81million between 2005-2007, due to ‘poor management’.

I can only add the following comments. Well, to date no action had been taken officially suggesting any manner of improprieties. The facts as they stand definitely suggest at the very least gross-mismanagement of epic proportion. The magnitude of the problem is symbolized by the sad and surreal sight of the bus ‘graveyard’. The concept of ‘graveyard’ is indeed appropriate. The row and row of buses had been consigned there to rest in peace for good. Bought for RM93m, they are worth a pittance of that now. As we know, however, nature does not waste anything. The bulk of the purchase price of RM93 would have gone to someone or some accounts somewhere. The instant, rather than gradual, filling of the ‘graveyard’ suggests ‘mass-grave’ might be a more appropriate term. The term ‘mass-grave’ is suitable for another reason. Usually it is mass-graves that are meant to cover some unsavory details from public knowledge.

I am still reeling from the Malay Mail news of a few days ago, that our sole and brand new submarine, KD Tunku Abdul Rahman, costing RM1billion,is experiencing a technical fault. If I am of the superstitious type, I swear we are jinxed as a nation, at least when it comes to acquiring a submarine. Our quest for a submarine had been beset by ominous signs right from the beginning. There had been allegations of massive commissions and kickbacks. It had been linked to a murder case. But then I am not superstitious, so I will confine myself to the facts.

Right after its homecoming in September,2009, a technical fault was discovered in October, the following month. This is a bit too soon for me, considering that it is a brand new submarine. I hope proper and professional evaluation was done in the acquisition of the submarine, uncompromised by any extraneous considerations or vested interests.

The nature of the technical fault is most interesting. Our brand new submarine cannot submerge. A submarine that cannot submerge is akin to a duck that cannot swim. This is serious as it changes the nature of the thing, Although the warranty period had been extended from the end of January to May, I wonder if the repair would incur further huge cost? It is very worrying too to read in the Malay Mail that although the fault had been repaired, it may still be unsafe for the submarine to undergo submerging trials.

I certainly hope that our submarine would not follow the fate of the RapidKL buses, doomed for scrapping because of inhibitive and uneconomic repair cost. Being the sole submarine, however, we cannot speak or conceive of a submarine graveyard. A submarine mausoleum perhaps? Although KD Tunku Abdul Rahman is unable to submerge, the whole saga certainly gives me a sinking feeling!