Monday, May 21, 2018

Separation of Powers

The first point Dr M made in his first official address to PMO departments this morning, was the need to keep the 3 branches of government separate and distinct so that they can each provide a check and balance against the other.

Thank goodness, sanity is returning to Malaysia. This is very good.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The New Opposition's key imperatives

UMNO, MCA and MIC needs to deconstruct and reconstruct. By his initial public pronouncements, Khairy Jamaludin seems to be one of the UMNO stalwarts who has a finger on the pulse of the changed Malaysian electorate. But, KJ's utterance that UMNO may need to consider transforming into a multiracial party may not be shared by other party members. It is likely that there will be significant numbers in UMNO who actually believe that it was all Najib's fault and, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the Ketuanan Melayu and, the apa lagi Cina mahu narrative. The call by Ali Rustam for members not to contest the top positions is a reminder that the lessons of GE14 will take quite some time for UMNO to learn.

Meanwhile, MCA's leaders say that they will consider transforming into a multiracial party. The MIC appears to be licking its wounds without any significant pronouncements.

Before going further on this, let us be reminded that these Barisan Nasional component parties are very wealthy, with shareholdings in various corporations. And, these component parties have a very wide network of branches. With proper leadership and a new brand positioning they are more than capable of becoming a credible and formidable Opposition.

But, so far, there is no evidence of any transformation. These are early days.

If UMNO sticks with its Ketuanan Melayu and, the apa lagi Cina mahu narrative, UMNO will decline further. 

If the MCA quickly transforms into a multiracial party, it has a good chance to come back to life.

Generally, the BN component parties must go beyond nitpicking. They have to be mindful of the rich ironies of their public pronouncements since May 9, 2018. So far, all their statements have been cringeworthy.

For example, when you hear UMNO leaders speak about the need for the Rule of Law you cannot help cringeing and recalling the following-
  1. 3 members of the 1MDB investigative team of the MACC Chief (Abdul Kassim), Bank Negara Governor (Zeti) and, Attorney-General (Gani Patail) were "neutralised";
  2. Gani Patail, in particular, was summarily removed;
  3. The Public Affairs Committee of the Parliament's report on 1MDB was declared an Official Secret, not available to the public;
  4. Jamal and the Red Shirts could do things with impunity while the Yellow-shirted Bersih was yanked on a super-short leash;
  5. And, the list goes on and on and on.
A senior colleague of mine made the observation 2 years ago, about how amazing it was that, in the Malay community there was hardly any moral outrage at the goings on in UMNO and its government. Well, it took a combination of Mahathir, Anwar, Lim Kit Siang, Wan Azizah and their team to spark the moral outrage that straddled all Malaysian communities at all levels.

That said, we should also temper our thoughts with the acknowledgment that even if 60% of the voters went with Pakatan Harapan and PAS, 40% stayed with UMNO-BN. And, 30% of the Malay vote went to PAS.

Inasmuch as Pakatan Harapan is figuring out what went right, UMNO-BN needs to take a brutally honest post-mortem on what went wrong. I know everyone who is anyone has a long litany of categorical bile to list out to UMNO-BN on what went wrong for them. 

The problem is that within UMNO-BN there are still many, many who hold on to the belief that Ketuanan Melayu and, the apa lagi Cina mahu is still relevant.

MCA is attempting a new narrative. I don't see anything coherent yet. But it may come.

UMNO is the interesting one to watch. At the moment, it is highly doubtful that the current crop of UMNO leaders will abandon the Ketuanan Melayu and, the apa lagi Cina mahu narrative.

But, it's early days yet. And, let us remember that Malaysians now, well and truly, live in the era of Hope.

His Majesty's Loyal Opposition

Isn't it a strange expression? His Majesty's Loyal Opposition. It is a reminder of the constitutional system that Malaysia adopted seamlessly and, it would seem, obviously from the British Westminster parliamentary system. It was an exported version, of course. 

The original model in the UK is different from Malaysia's version in many ways. Most significant is that Malaysia has a written constitution and, the UK doesn't. In the UK, their Parliament is supreme. In Malaysia, the Federal Constitution is supreme. What this means is that in Malaysia, all decisions of the government and all laws enacted can, and must, be tested against the Federal Constitution. If the decisions and laws are found to be against any principle or provision of the Federal Constitution, the decision and law will be invalidated and struck down.

As with everything in Life, these structures operate properly only when all humans involved in the process share a common belief in the rules. If we get a leader who wants to transcend the rules and, has the power to flout the rules, then, the system has failed.

In the UK, none of the current players ever question the fundamental rules of their Parliamentary system. That is why their system works well.

Just to digress a little, in the United States of America today, we can see how fragile systems of laws can be. The US found themselves with a President who parachuted in as a rank outsider to their representative democratic processes. He isn't a career politician and legislator. He is a businessman.

To digress further, all businessmen have one core purpose in their business goal. It is to take full and maximum advantage of the system, be it legal or economic, to maximise profits. In our current era, a businessman is, at core, a profiteer. He or she will test the rules and boundaries of the laws of the land and push, and pull, cajole, compromise, lubricate and do whatever that needs to be done, to maximise profits. Equally important is to understand that within the organisation he created, a businessman is a dictator or, at the very least, a benevolent despot. Don't be fooled by the conventional wisdom of corporate and business literature when they extol ethics and social responsibility; that's just propanganda. Make no profit and incur losses, you fail and you're out. That is the Damoclean Sword that a businessman lives by. And, the US elected someone with that background and experience. The diplomatic phrase for such a person who now acts as the US President is that he is a transactional leader

So, in a Third World, polyglot and multi-racial community like Malaysia and, with an imported system of laws, people who are used to feudal values and imperial dictates still cannot understand what a Constitutional, Monarchical, Parliamentary system means. Many Malaysian of voting age still believe that voting is a superficial act. What is important to them is that there is a feudal lord who will provide them with beneficence in exchange for with they must offer their gratitude.

You can imagine how fertile that ground is for abuse of power, whatever the system of laws.

To lesser minds operating within Malaysia's constitutional system as politicians or political operatives, due to lack of credible opposition and, a bullying Juggernaut approach to democracy, these lesser minds chose to ignore the basis of the Federal Constitution. They chose to retain the old habits feudalism.

With such an attitude, any attempts to audit the decisions of government was portrayed as treasonous, seditious and, generally "unlawful". So, he who inhabits the position of power may not be opposed. Any opposition was an act of lawlessness.

Between 1981 and 2003, Dr M led UMNO and, by dint of habit, therefore, assumed the position of Prime Minister of Malaysia. During those 22 years, he behaved as an iconoclast. By his actions, he initiated a mindset within UMNO that laws could be bent and moulded to strengthen powers and reduce opposition. During those 22 years, the Executive branch of government grew manifold times. To be fair, in the modern age, the Executive branch of government has grown throughout the world in response to the increasing complexity of modern societies. But, in Malaysia, such Executive growth had ominous undertones.

Opposition political leaders and civil society leaders were incarcerated. This was the habit of the Malaysian government as it was in many Third World countries.

When he relinquished power in 2003, there was a brief spring under Abdullah Badawi. That spirit was initially retained by Najib. But, the atmosphere quickly descended into a defensive mindset.

That defensive mindset led to a quick stocktake of the powers vested in the Executive branch of government. Very quickly UMNO found a motherload of precedents and powers initiated during the Mahathir era.

3 major examples of Mahathir-era authoritarian behaviour comes to mind. Firstly, the double confrontation with the monarchy. Second, was the sacking of the head of the Judiciary and 5 senior judges. Third, was Operation Lallang that placed numerous Opposition political leaders and civil society leaders under preventive detention.

By this thread, the summary dismissal of Gani Patail as the Attorney-General of Malaysia points to a Mahathir-era Executive Juggernaut approach to dealing with recalcitrants.

This raises a question. Was Mahathir one of the lesser minds aluded to earlier in this blog entry? The answer would be in the affirmative. It was often said, that Dr M, being a non-lawyer (and, therefore, unlike his 3 predescessors, Tunku, Tun Razak and Tun Hussein Onn) did not, or refused to, understand the principles of the Westminster system enshrined in the Federal Constitution.

The Banyan tree metaphor used to describe Lee Kuan Yew's leadership in Singapore could equally apply to Dr M. The point was that nothing grew under the large and dark shadow of a Banyan tree. In Malaysia, the consequence of 22 years of Mahathir led to a large and growing coterie of sycophants and even lesser minds who believed that their positions in government was a feudal right and privilege. It was an entitlement and, a brith right.

This mindset was supported by a voting population that could be moulded like putty. Invoke the Yellow Peril of the dastardly Chinaman who will rob you blind and fear was instilled.

We also cannot and, should not, ignore the fact that during the Najib era, it was Dr M who wrote the narrative of the Yellow Peril through the machinations of Perkasa. Even after Dr M fell out with Najib, the narrative of the Yellow Peril proved to be an effective weapon used by UMNO.

Is Dr M a different person today? I don't think so. I believe most Malaysians know this to be the case. But, horses for causes, Malaysians chose well. The motley crew created by the charisma of Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang and Wan Azizah with the spirited support of many, many intelligent, dynamic and youthful leaders combined with Dr M and his strong credibility within the Malay community proved to be a tipping point to cause an incredible outcome; the destruction of the UMNO Juggernaut.

This is a long preamble and I haven't dealt with the original point, the possible routes to reconstruction of the component parties of Barisan Nasional. They, together with PAS, are now His Majesty's Loyal Opposition. Let's deal with it later. Now, Life beckons.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Time to restore Internet freedom in Malaysia

I presume this will be done in due course, but, a little more haste would be good. Let's restore Malaysia's internet access to where it was before Salleh Said Keruak screwed it up with this stupid image-


GST removal and the Malaysian economy

There has been a large amount of reportage by so-called analysts who have expressed concern over the Pakatan Harapan election promise to dismantle the Goods and Services Tax regime. To my mind this so-called concern is borne of laziness on the part of the analysts. Worse still, the so-called concern reflects a marked lack of understanding of Malaysia's National Budget in the recent 5 years.

Anyone with sufficient focus and industry would not have missed the ballooning Operating Expense portion of Malaysia's National Budget. With some effort, one can find enough items that can be pared down. I would hazard a guess that much of the National Budget was leaked due to corrupt practices.

Other parts of the National Budget involved massive (mis-)allocations to ministries and agencies for use in different types of disbursements and grants that lacked accountability.

Plug these items earnestly and the massive fiscal deficit spending will be pared down significantly. Malaysia may not see a budget surplus immediately. But, my hunch is that future fiscal deficits will be due to growth imperatives in sectors such as education, tourism and agriculture where targeted fiscal spending will boost knowledge, skills and relevant infrastructure that will multiply Malaysia's economic growth instead of useless monetary handouts that feed Malaysians for a short spell of weeks without any lasting benefits.

This is where I completely agree that the new economic team that is being put in place by the Pakatan Harapan federal government will not be so stupid as to dismantle the GST without a plan.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

A new era starts for Malaysia

Malaysians are entering into a new era with the victiory of the Pakatan Harapan coalition. This is a good thing.

Congratulations to all of us, Malaysians, for wanting a common better future.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Humpty Dumpty on the false coverage of anti-fake news law

I'm not sure why, but I just cracked up when I read an article in FMT that reported on the minister responsible for communications and multimedia's denunciation of allegedly false coverage of the anti fake news law that is due to become a new law of the land in Malaysia. The circuity of the logic and word play is just too delicious to bear. The irony of the situation will surely be lost on the people concerned. 

Anyway, must we really legislate on everything?

Surely the originator of the expression "fake news", Donald Trump, has shown how easy it is to classify all inconvenient truths as fake news. The way Trump dealt with adverse news coverage is to repeat his assertion of fake news as many times as possible. 

Eventually the point is reached where the people who believe in him and support him finds reassurance that if their Dear Leader has angrily asserted that any particular news on any event or matter that is unfavourable or inconvenient to him was fake, then, it was indeed fake. It's as simple as that.

Trump has shown how effective that strategy is. No need for legislation. Just in his speech and his tweets, he has been able to deal with adverse news. No need for legislation. Just have a thick skin. Isn't a thick skin one of the main criteria for being a political leader?

It's all so silly, so much so that the Humpty Dumptys who want to legislate everything should really fall off the wall if only to get some good sense knocked into their heads.

pix sourced from here

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

- Lewis Carroll; Through the Looking Glass-

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Kurang ajar - The loss of collective memory

The origin and purpose of ancient structures such as the Pyramids, Stonehenge, Nazca Lines, Easter Island and so on is lost in time. We have no idea why the old human communities used so much resources and expended so much time to build these monuments. There has been a loss of collective memory.

Sometimes we get lucky. Someone presciently decided that etchings carved into stones might preserve the written thoughts and observations of the time. Thus, from the confluence of Tigris and Euphrates we learnt from the etchings on the stone tablets of Gilgamesh and his epic saga. 

What of humankind in the 21st century? Imagine a dystopian scenario where a plague took out most of humanity. The infrastructure is intact. But with no one left to maintain them, all machines and means of production will become useless and non-functioning.

How would humankind keep its collective memory and knowledge?

In such a scenario it is likely that the collective memory and knowledge will be mostly lost in two generations. The third generation will have very little memory and knowledge to acquire.

One generation averages between twenty to twenty-five years. 
 
Malaysians born today will be the third generation.

How much of the collective memory has been lost already?

I was in a business meeting a few days ago. One of my business partners who is in his mid-thirties expressed incredulity that Sabah and Sarawak would require work permits. "Aren't they part of Malaysia?", he asked. Bewildered.

In a non-derogatory context, one might say (or, think) in an avuncular tone, that after the first generation, Malaysians in the following generations are increasingly, kurang ajar.

There is much ignorance borne of indolent minds that has very little curiosity about anything except that which Facebook, Twitter and Instagram fobs into the smart device in hand.

And, it isn't just about the formation of Malaysia. It's about how our Founding Generation wanted to work together and live together in happy harmony; Asiatics who are independent from colonial rule.

How quickly we forget.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

You mustn't enthrone ignorance just because there is so much of it

Democracy is the most difficult of all forms of government, since it requires widespread intelligence, and we forgot to make ourselves intelligent when we made ourselves sovereign. Education has spread, but intelligence is perpetually retarded by the fertility of the simple. A cynic remarked that, "you mustn't enthrone ignorance just because there is so much of it." However, ignorance is not long enthroned, for it lends itself to manipulation by forces that mold public opinion. It may be true, as Lincoln supposed, that "you can't fool all the people all the time," but you can fool enough of them to rule a country. 
 
- Will and Ariel Durant-
Lessons of History (1968)

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Malaysian Politics circa 2017

One of the things I realised in recent times is why the geriatrics who were my superiors when I started work were so cynical. Time, age and experience teaches you the difficulty of being effective. And, it also teaches you how ineffective you really are if you cling on to certain ideals ... like "work-life balance". 

Anyways, that's just that. 

Malaysian politics has reached its nadir.

What is a nadir you may ask. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary claims that "nadir" Has Arabic Roots - Nadir is part of the galaxy of scientific words that have come to us from Arabic, a language that has made important contributions in the vocabulary of mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and chemistry. Nadir derives from an Arabic word meaning "opposite"—the opposite, that is, of the zenith, or the highest point of the celestial sphere, the one vertically above the observer. (The word zenith itself is a modification of another Arabic word that means "the way over one's head.") The English poet John Donne is first on record as having used nadir in the figurative sense of "lowest point" in a sermon he wrote in 1627.

In the context of Malaysia, much of the blame of where we're at can be directed straight at Dr M.

He did this. And, he cannnot undo it. 

This prospect haunts him. I suspect this haunting is why he's going about doing what he's doing now. All that he's doing at his nonagenarian stage is to attempt to exorcise the demons that he had unleashed.

In may ways, Dr M made Malaysia a retarded community.

What is a retard you may ask? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines retard as a verb to-
  1. 1.

    delay or hold back in terms of progress or development.

    "his progress was retarded by his limp"

    synonyms:delay, slow down, slow up, hold back, set back, keep back, hold up, postpone, put back, detaindecelerate, put a brake on

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Copy. Paste. Forward.

The problem with social media is that there is no filter. In the era of print and licensed broadcasting content had to undergo natural filters in the form of editorial evaluation. Social media allows anyone to publish.

Content that was worthy only of kedai kopi chatter now screams for attention in social media chat groups. The awful realisation is that when shit is dispensed by a friend or someone we know, we toss away our normal discerning nature and just click on the message; often will bad outcomes.

I recently made the mistake of clicking on a message sent to a social media group that I am a part of. The video had no accompanying message or warning. Immediately I was exposed to a horrible running imagery of a young man with a serious facial injury. With indignation I blasted a message to inquire about the point of posting such a horrible video. Hours later the contrite contributor apologetically explained that he "inadvertently" left out an accompanying written warning about using a mobile device while charging the battery.

The idiom, with friends like these who needs enemies comes to mind.

Copy. Paste. Forward. This mindless automechanical act when using social media must be stopped by general and widespread public oppobrium. Alas! I fantasise.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The wet dreams of a chain letter writer

On February 8, 1996, at the U.S. Library of Congress, Bill Clinton, as the U.S. President, signed the telecommunications law that pretty much formally kicked off the "information superhighway" that acknowledged the growing importance of the internet. Watching on was his deputy, Al Gore Jr. Access to information for all was the Utopian goal.

Nearly a decade after that, the New York Times journalist, Thomas Friedman wrote a bestselling book on how the world had, as it were, become flat. He highlighted the phenomenon of companies leveraging on the internet to improve productivity and delivery of goods and services to everyone.

About the same time as when Friedman was busily jotting down the material for his book, young Mark Zuckerberg and his friends were putting together the greatest disruptive internet application of all, Facebook. Thus, came the dawn of the awesome and awful social media. Eventually, Twitter was also birthed as social media for the word-challenged individual.

Put in that very brief context, we can observe the many parallel timelines of the evolution of the information superhighway that Clinton and Gore extolled. Many, many good things have come from the information highway since 1996.

I am arguing that the jury is still out on the value of social media.

Two decades on from 1996, the greatest democracy on earth, with a population numbering just under 300 million citizens and, having one of the wealthiest societies ever imagined, the United States of America elected Donald Trump, an outsider of sorts from the mainstream of political leadership in the U.S.

The observation I am offering and, this applies to all current affairs and political matters throughout the world today, is that when Friedman wrote about the world being flat, he wasn't thinking about the Flat World thinkers. But in his use of the the phrase, "The world is flat", Friedman had actually inadvertently put the finger on a basal feature of the information highway; social media.

Democratising the information superhighway has led to the creation of social media that has begat people receiving fake news and forwarding it to family and friends and, thus, has created a global culture of indolence. Nobody cares if news or information is fake. If you forward it to your friend, your friend will forward it on. 

This era of social media is the mischievious writer of chain letter's greatest and wettest of all wet dreams.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Living in a world with a surfeit of religiosity

I was really and truly minding my own business when, in my late teens, I suddenly found myself surrounded by sisters who had embraced monotheism. In my blinkered teenage view of the world, this had happened overnight. One moment they were siblings I could amuse with my boyish antics and slapstick behavior. In the next, they were "people of the Book" whose chief interest was the discussion of Hell for people like me, who had not seen the light and, therefore the "error" of my ways.

They became boring to me.

Whereas, in the past, they engaged me with questions about my experiences, usually bad ones, during the day when my father dragged me in the hot afternoons to walkabouts in rubber and oil palm estates that I really had no interest in; unless it was to look for the odd tiger barbs that inhabited the pristine streams that meandered through the estates. I would regale my sisters with my misadventures and astute observations about the rustic personages that my father would meet in kopi tiams in the hamlets that existed before we reached the end of the world where the plantations were located.

I would tell them funny stories about how a flaying seat belt slapped my father numerous times while he was driving. How I almost choked while stifling my body's urgent need to bellow out a hearty laugh at my father; for, that was not the done thing back in the day, when your father was a distant and giant of a man; a banyan tree that sheltered us from all that was bad in the world. It was not only poor form to laugh at your father under any circumstance; well, not in front of him any way. Or, my perplexed feeling when my father bellowed with laughter at a pig's plight when a small lorry carrying pigs wrapped in rattan netting had, somehow lost one of its porcine cargo that rolled off the little lorry into a ditch in a single lane laterite road.

These things I could no longer amuse my sisters with because their agenda was the urgent need to persuade me to embrace their monotheism in order to save my soul.

I found them terribly boring.

They couldn't even articulate an answer to my show-stopping question. That question to them was, how a truly blameless and pure soul as our mother, who could never embrace their monotheism, could ever be consigned to Hell merely for being a non-believer.

I think they found me boring and, unamusing after those failed proselytizing sessions.

That was one of the indicators that I had achieved adolescence.

For many years, I lost my sisters to monotheism. In many ways, I have never found them again.

If you haven't already realized by now, I will say this; I am polytheistic in my beliefs and, happily so. I am part of a belief system that is self-empowering and absolutely benign.

I am not asked to get points for the Afterlife by chasing around for other souls to join the club. I am told to behave myself in accordance with accepted social norms and, to commit no intentional harm on any other soul; sentient or not. I am not to impinge on the peaceful existence of others. And, that is how I am living my life.

... damn! Got interrupted by the missus ...

    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    Not with a bang but a whimper.
    - TS Eliot: The Hollow Men (1925)-

Monday, March 6, 2017

Fake News and Indolence

Now, more so than ever, the wisdom and insight of Viscount James Bryce quietly screams to us. Bryce wrote in 1901, thus-

"To most people, nothing is more troublesome than the effort of thinking. They are pleased to be saved the effort. They willingly accept what is given them because they have nothing to do further than to receive it. They take opinions presented to them, and assume rules or institutions which they are told to admire to be right and necessary, because it is easier to do thus than to form an independent judgement. The man who delivers opinions to others may be inferior to us in physical strength, or in age, or in knowledge, or in rank. We may think ourselves quite as wise as he is. But he is clear and positive, we are lazy or wavering; and therefore we follow him."


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Moderates must speak up — Mohd Sheriff bin Mohd Kassim

Malaysia has non-leaders leading it nowadays. That is the root of the problem.

Whatever said and done, race relations and religion must be heavily policed in Malaysia. This is because it is so easy for incendiary talk to ignite misunderstanding.

This is where we are after decades of poor leadership, especially since 1981.

G25 is endemic of the current sick reality. It comprises Muslim Malaysians that hold sensible views. It is exclusive in its moderation. Read the report here.

It appears that if any such groupings have mixed ethnicity, their voice will be diluted.

Beggars cannot be choosers, I guess.

So, here I am. A non-Muslim Malaysian who finds peculiar and perplexed but positive ambivalence about being drawn to the category of "moderate". I guess it means that I am not "extreme" or "indifferent". But, who knows what the other categories are?

How the hell did we arrive here?

When did being "Malaysian" transform into the necessity of being a "Moderate Malaysian"?

It appears more so than ever that 1981 was a very bad year for Malaysia.

The only problem is that we didn't know it at the time.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Umno has ‘option’ to work with foes, but chose BN parties, Nazri tells MIC chief

Nazri Aziz is calling it as he sees it. Unvarnished. Brutal. What he said are facts. This is the current reality.

Other than UMNO none of the other BN components can get votes anymore. There is no ballast for the non-UMNO BN components.

UMNO is very confident that most of the Malay voters will vote UMNO regardless of all the news and information on 1MDB etc. UMNO is confident that most of the Malay voters are very clear that without UMNO the Malay race will perish from the face of this earth.

Therefore, UMNO's strategy benefits only UMNO.

The bovine motley crew of MCA, MIC, Gerakan, etc. is dead in the water. They are headed to the waterfall of ignominy without a paddle.

This is the time for timorous leaders to step aside and for leaders of courage and vision to stand up....if there are any.

A long time ago, UMNO was weak. The Independence of Malaya Party was strong under Dato' Onn Jaafar. The MCA was wealthy under Tan Cheng Lock. And, Cheng Lock and Dato' Onn had very good rapport.

But it was Ong Yoke Ling and Yahya bin Abdul Razak who decided that MCA and UMNO could work together for the first real elections in 1951. Thus, the precursor to BN, the Alliance, was born.

But, that was then. 

Times change. Circumstances change. Players change.

It is time for the non-UMNO parties to re-attach their balls of courage and set a new non-BN course.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Undermining Bank Negara's policies - Allowing developers to become moneylenders is a HUGE mistake

The move by the Malaysian Government to allow property developers to obtain moneylending licences is a HUGE mistake. There is no way to sugar coat this.

Many of us are aware of the long, long time it took for Bank Negara Malaysia to bring the non-bank financial institutions such as Bank Rakyat and the Malaysia Building Society Berhad (MBSB) into its regulatory purview. This effort was to allow the monetary authority to more efficiently manage the monetary aspects of Malaysia's economy.

The likes of Bank Rakyat and MBSB were able to implement fairly liberal and generous financial products below the radar of Bank Negara previously. 

With the onset of the Financial Services Act 2013, Bank Negara's reach over Malaysian financial-type institutions was almost complete.

This new move by the Urban Well-being, Housing and Local Government Ministry to issue moneylending licences to property developers threatens to undermine Bank Negara's monetary management.

We thought it was clear as the light of day that Bank Negara instituted measures over the recent 2 years to cool down the overheated property market and prevent property bubbles from forming. Property bubbles that burst can have very serious implications for the country's economy.

And, moneylending, being a financial transaction has a direct causal link to the overall monetary health of the Malaysian economy. A fragmented moneylending market that is outside Bank Negara supervision is a bad thing. Worse, this fragmented moneylending market will have ZERO SUPERVISION because the Urban Well-being, Housing and Local Government Ministry does not have any competency in understanding the impact of possible aggressive lending methods by desperate property developers.

This is where the nightmare scenario may happen and property bubbles start to form.

I am already so terribly annoyed with the fragmented property development sector. That is largely under the purview of local councils and state governments.

Judging from the volatility of the property sector, it is clear that there really is no national property development policy. 

Property developers appear to be no different from farmers. The supply and demand of the property market exhibits all the bad traits warned by the Cobweb Theory in economics. One basic definition can be found here and I reproduce it for you-

The cobweb theorem is an economic model used to explain how small economic shocks can become amplified by the behaviour of producers. The amplification is, essentially, the result of information failure, where producers base their current output on the average price they obtain in the market during the previous year. This is, to some extent, a non-rational decision, given that a supply side shock between planting and harvesting (such as an unexpectedly good or bad harvest) can lead to an unexpectedly lower or higher price. This results in either a higher output or a lower output in subsequent years, and moves the market into a long-term disequilibrium position.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Flying the flag

Malaysians should always raise the national flag, the Jalur Gemilang, at every opportunity. More so during the season that straddles 31st August and 16th September in every year.

Although there will be times when the mood is sombre due to political or economic challenges, raising the flag should be a matter of routine. It just shows our love of Malaysia, the country that we were born in; the country we live in; the country that we will die in.

We shouldn't NOT fly the flag just because we are angry of any transient politicians. That would be giving these people who are temporarily in the limelight too much recognition.

These nasty personalities are transitory. They will fade away and disappear. 

But, Malaysia will be around beyond our lifetime. 

We should fly the flag because of our love for Malaysia. We should fly the flag because we believe that things will turn around for the better.

I debated whether to hoist the flag this year as I have done for many, many years now. In the end, I decided to hoist the flag and see it flutter in full glory in the windy compound of my home.

I am glad I flew the flag.

It will continue to fly through to 16th September.

And, it flutters in my home compound not because I support the current crop of politicians who are in power; it flutters not because I don't support these politicians - for these people are irrelevant to my flying the flag; it flutters in my home compound because I am Malaysian.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Iconoclasm - Malaysia's Constitution, Institutions and Procedures

Just so you know, it's mostly Dr Mahathir's fault that Malaysia's constitutional system of checks and balances has gone askew. I'm being bland and circumspect. This civility is not in deference to Dr M. It is out of respect of the subject matter of discussion here.

The Federal Constitution of Malaysia must be respected by everyone. It is the supreme law of Malaysia. It has a higher place even than DYMM Yang Di Pertuan Agong. In fact, the Federal Constitution begat the position of the Agong.

The Federal Constitution created the legislative branch of the Dewan Rakyat and the Dewan Negara and the paraphernalia of membership in those august chambers.

It also created the Judiciary which is intended to be the fount from which springs justice and fairness to all; Malaysian and non-Malaysian for so long as you are stepping on Malaysian soil.

And, unfortunately, it also created the Executive branch of government.

In a corporate context, the legislature is like the meeting place for shareholders representatives; all citizens being the shareholders.

The judiciary is like the statutory auditors that all corporate entities are required to engage.

The executive branch is the management.

This triangulation is the modern idea that carries the presumption so famously summed up by Lord Acton, that power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.

By a miracle, one might say, Malaysia managed to maintain the tension of constitutional audit during its many years of nationhood and, thus avoided Lord Acton's axiom.

Once, in Tun Razak's era, the precipice of tyranny was avoided when Emergency Rule of 1969 was retired and the constitutional triumvirate restored in 1971.

Then, after Tun Hussein Onn's era, came Dr M.

This fella pretty much screwed the Federal Constitution and all its institutions.

He took down the monarchy's constitutional position in the legislative process in 1983.

He screwed the Judiciary in 1987.

Throughout his interregnum, 1981 to 2003, he emasculated the Legislature by disrespecting the importance of Parliamentary Debates and Question Time. 

He enlarged the the writ and power of the Executive by stacking the Judiciary, appointing sycophantic personalities in all key positions; be it the monetary authority, the attorney-general's post and the law enforcement agencies.

From the point of view of economic development and national pride, he did reasonably well and presided over two decades of reasonable significance. I am glossing over a helluva lot of flotsam and jetsam, I know, but, let's stick to the agenda, shall we?

It is generally accepted that when one refers to a generation, it means a period of anywhere between 20 to 25 years.

So, going by that wisdom, Dr M's interregnum spanned a whole generation.

Think about it. 

An entire generation of Malaysians grew up and grew old under a regime and regimen where everything is fair game ... for the greater good ... which "greater good" is seen from the perspective of Dr M.

This generation grew up accepting that if someone stands in your way, and if you are the Prime Minister, you just neutralise and neuter that person and his personage.

And, so, a potentially difficult monarch is in process of being elevated in 1983. Poof! Emasculate the legislative procedure.

And, so, a Lord President seemed to be getting in the way in 1987. Poof! Remove him. He's gone.

And, so, a restive Legislature and Opposition is coalescing in 1987. Poof! Preventively detain them.

And, so, a conscientious Fourth Estate of print media provides firmer reportage than before in 1987. Poof! Suspend their printing privileges.

This is what a whole generation of Malaysians were entreated to.

This form of constitutional iconoclasm has now embedded itself into the value system of Dr M's successors in title.

What we witness today is the embodiment and practises that Lord Acton's axiom warned against when people in power has the ability to amass and concentrate power.

When Arthur Schlesinger wrote The Imperial Presidency he fretted over the U.S. President's self-aggrandising process of giving the office of the U.S. President increasing power to authorise military action in Vietnam and Laos in the 1970s.

In Malaysia, we have been witnessing the growth of the Imperial Prime Minister's position since 1981.

This constitutional iconoclasm will be Dr M's greatest legacy.

When Dr M's hands were at the wheel, he was an able Nakhoda. Within his own psyche he bore his own peculiar set of values which in its own peculiar way held him back from doing certain things that he had the power to do but resisted doing.

He had a set of values. It could be upbringing. It could be education. It could be the fear of the audit in his Afterlife. Whether it was Nurture or Nature, Dr M had his own internal system of checks and balances.

The same can be said with much greater strength for Pak Lah. History will look kindly on Pak Lah. I look very kindly on Pak Lah's time at the helm of Malaysia.

The question that Tun Razak failed to ask and, the same question that Dr M failed to ask was, "What if this power that I have amassed in the Office of the Prime Minister is embodied in someone with less values and scruples than I?"

But, in the absence of any constitutional checks and balances, the Ship of State that is the current constitutional ethos is moving in any which way without any restraint. There are no longer any checks and balances.

Mind you, to an untrained eye and mind, the Federal Constitution is still here. The constitutional institutions are still here. Even the constitutional procedures are still writ.

But, with persons who grew up and were fed with Mahathirist authoritarianism and his constitutional iconoclasm, can Malaysia depend on an individual leaders sense of personal values, upbringing and innate fear of the Afterlife? What if a leader has no such values or filter?

"So", asks the Minister in Malaysia's 2016 Federal Cabinet who grew up and was fed on Mahathirism, "what's the problem?"

This is why some of us are crying out for the restoration of the spirit and soul of the Federal Constitution, constitutional institutions and constitutional processes.

And, what is Dr M doing now?

Well, I can tell you that whatever it is that he is doing, he ain't hectoring for the restoration of the spirit and soul of the Federal Constitution, constitutional institutions and constitutional processes.

He's just asking for a change of personnel.

Go figure......

Friday, April 22, 2016

Foreign Workers Permits, Triple-D jobs and Market-based System

I don't really want to get into the semantics and polemics of the Triple-D jobs in Malaysia that the people in power insists, Malaysians do not want to do. The 3 "D"s in Triple-D are DIRTY, DANGEROUS and DULL.

This blog has 2 parts.

Here's Part 1. This widely held view that Malaysians eschew Triple-D jobs is too simplistic. Those of us who have traveled to more advanced economies in the Western world and East Asia will testify to have seen Caucasians, Japanese and South Koreans do Triple-D jobs in their own countries. And, you can watch a popular show hosted by Mike Rowe called Dirty Jobs to see for yourself that people in advanced economies are quite happy to do Triple-D jobs.

So, the more appropriate question would be to ask why is it that Malaysians appear not to want to do Triple-D jobs? 

When I wanted to earn some extra cash during my university student days I applied for a Triple-D job in a woodyard. This was in a Western country. Dirty jobs are dirty jobs wherever you are! I was quite happy to do the jobs for a few reasons-
  • Yes, ok, I needed the cash-la.
  • There were lots of safety equipment given. Ear plugs to protect your hearing. Safety glasses to protect your eyes. Breathing mask to protect your nose and lungs. Safety boots to protect your feet. Safety harness to protect yourself from falling. The list goes on. AND .... the boss briefed me on the do's and don't's of the work.
  • The pay was very decent.
Malaysians are not bodoh. We look at the people doing Triple-D jobs all over our country and we have all been exposed to all sorts of information and images of what people who do Triple-D jobs do in advanced economies. More often than not, we don't see similar equipment being used by people doing Triple-D jobs in Malaysia.

Even with the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), many Malaysian employers involved in Triple-D enterprises are lax and stingy. 

And the pay is usually too crappy.

These are structural issues that the people in power should be addressing in order to engender a virtuous cycle for Triple-D jobs that will attract Malaysians. 

There is no need for people in power to talk about institutionalising the importation of 1.5 million foreign workers and, then, to childishly do a volte-face when there is some push back from various segments of the Malaysian polity. People in power within a purported democratic framework should be mindful that Malaysia is an open, international and competitive economy. Arbitrariness in policies is one of the greatest sins in global competitiveness.

People in power must be big hearted and mature enough to go beyond the complacent assurance that their rural and Sabah and Sarawak vote bank will keep them in power and, that, therefore whoever is unhappy with the policies can just go and choke on their nasi lemak.

Now for Part 2.

There is a swirl of earnest discussion in the United States for the past 5 years or so, on the issue of migrant workers with low skills and those with high skills. This blog post, of course, focuses on the low-skills aspect of the matter.

The discussion focuses on the need for the U.S. to introduce a market-based system that operates like an auction system. Employers who need low-skilled foreign workers will each put in price bids based on their respective budgets. The highest bidder will secure their quota of foreign workers.

You can find one scenario for the proposed market-based system here.

Here's Adam Minter of Bloomberg's observation- A better system for Malaysia -- and other immigrant-dependent economies -- is to replace quotas altogether in favor of a market-based system in which employers in specific industries bid on permits to hire foreign workers. Permits would naturally flow to employers who need workers most, and the government could adjust the number made available based on economic circumstances. Done right, such a system would ultimately help local workers and boost wages, while demonstrating why economic immigration is so important. For now, Malaysia looks unlikely to take this path. But if its officials hope to justify their foreign-labor policies, they'd best consider letting the market do the talking for them.

Yes, the people in power should do the right thing and implement a foreign worker programme that lets the market do the talking!

As for the matter of looking into the structural issues involving getting more Malaysian involvement in the Triple-D jobs, can the people in power, especially those responsible for Human Resources, look into this a bit more.

I would like to do more studies into this matter but my day job obligations beckon and, so I have to leave it here.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

"First they came ..."

"First they came ..." is a famous statement and provocative poem written by Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) about the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazi's rise to power and the subsequent purging of their chosen targets, group after group. Sourced from here.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
 -Martin Niemöller-

Friday, February 26, 2016

Singapore introduces daily cleaning duties for students

It appears that Singapore has decided to adopt the methodology similar to the Japanese educationists that will require students to be empowered with responsibilities to look after their own school environment.

I had felt that this would have been a good thing for the Khidmat Negara programme when my son was involved in it. The toilet and showers in their barracks were in a poor state and the canteen was in shambles after meal times. Each time, it was left to the contractors or administrators to deal with the matter. I felt that it would have been excellent if Khidmat Negara had modules similar to the Kemahiran Hidup or Living Skills subject taught in Malaysian schools but, this time, involving basic and useful matters such as plumbing, painting of walls, doors and windows and assorted cleaning and maintenance skills. This will foster civic mindedness and good citizenship.

Here's the BBC report for your edification.

Friday, February 12, 2016

We can do it too, if we try

Visitors to Japan are almost always amazed at the civic mindedness of the Japanese. This video documentary gives us a glimpse of how that mindset might be created.

It is not rocket science. I very much believe that it can be done in Malaysia too. We just need to try and try harder to create better citizens. We have to believe that we can do it.

So, how about it, Malaysia's educators?

Thursday, December 31, 2015

When the great Truth is abandoned


When the great Truth is abandoned, the teachings of benevolence and righteousness become fashionable.

When wit and cunning are highly esteemed, the adepts in hypocrisy become fashionable.

When discord reigns in the family, the teachings of filial piety and fraternal love become fashionable. 

When chaos prevails in the country, the loyal ministers become fashionable. 

-Tao Te Ching Chapter 18, Cheng Lin translation (1995)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Crowdfunding - Some thoughts

Crowdfunding has morphed into many forms. Many crowdfunding initiatives have charitable or socio-political objectives. Such types of crowdfunding are not the focus here. It is the "investment-based crowdfunding" exercises that I wish to examine.

Malaysia is one of the jurisdictions that has established investment guidelines on crowdfunding. As such, the current swirls of discussion on the matter of crowdfunding is highly relevant.

On 21.12.2015 the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) published a survey update on crowdfunding some key observations that I set out further down in this post.

Disclosure-Based Regulations (DBR) versus Merit-Based Regulations (MBR)

I have always maintained that Malaysia still needs a large degree of Merit-Based Regulations (MBR) largely due to the rustic mindset of many investors. The retail investor is still indolent and very susceptible to market noise. That is why Malaysia's regulators need to maintain guidelines and regulations that require regulatory scrutiny and some degree of regulatory prescription.

HKex has an excellent paper that critically examines DBR versus MBR and there is, therefore, no need for me to delve too much into it. Read the paper here if you are interested to understand these policy principles in greater detail. 


In the past decade we have witnessed the Securities Commission (SC) make attempts to institute the Disclosure-Based Regime (DBR). Officially, the SC has shifted from the MBR to the DBR as stated in a guidance note here.

But, with everything said and done, we have IOSCO reminding regulators and investors alike that while DBR still holds as the prevailing principle, I would submit that there is clearly a need for some degree of MBR-type prescription especially when the IOSCO has flagged the ever-present issue of "information asymmetry" which may be loosely defined as-

A situation in which one party in a transaction has more or superior information compared to another. This often happens in transactions where the seller knows more than the buyer, although the reverse can happen as well. Sourced here.

IOSCO's timely survey findings on Crowdfunding
  
Here are excerpts of what IOSCO's report says-

The goal (of the report) is to achieve a balance between promoting crowdfunding and ensuring investor protection and market integrity.  Some of the regulatory measures described in the Crowdfunding Report include-
  • Customizing entry, registration, or licensing requirements;
  • Setting disclosure requirements for issuers and funding portals;
  • Limiting the services  that may be provided  by  crowdfunding platforms;
  • Requiring the appointment of a third party custodian to hold investor assets;
  • Imposing measures to favour the channeling of resources into local businesses;
  • Addressing crossborder issues.
The report also seeks to raise investors’ understanding of crowdfunding, e.g., that crowdfunding may differ from investing in more traditional securities products. In addition to take note of risks common in traditional finance such as conflicts of risks, data protection and fraud, it suggests that investors pay attention to certain key aspects, including:
  •  Information asymmetry: Risk of default or high failures is often associated with start-up businesses. The risk of fraud may be high in case of internet offers. Investors should review disclosure and education materials to further their understanding of the essential features and main risks of the crowdfunding offer and see if third party custodians are being used.
  • Platform failure: There is risk of platform failure for crowdfunding portals. Portals should be evaluated based on their credibility and soundness, including if it has the proper IT systems, back-up facilities and procedures to ensure continued service.
  • Investing limits: Investors should consider if the investment amount is appropriate for their net worth.
  • Rescission, cancellation: Investors should be informed of and understand the investment terms including cancellation or rescission rights.
  • Illiquidity: As restrictions could be put on the resale of crowdfunding securities, investors should pay attention on warnings and information regarding liquidity and the availability of secondary market.
  • Suitability: Investors should consider that a crowdfunding offer may not be suitable and consistent with their investment objectives and risk profile.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Crowdtasking: Disrupting conventional ways of earning a livelihood

Here's a great new business model that leverages on the principle of crowdtasking along the lines of Uber. The Age Melbourne carries the report here and here's a snippet-

Is your mouth watering at the thought of gelato? Just realised it's your mother's birthday?  One Sydney company will take care of that for you. With just the click of a button you'll have ice cream in your hands, and flowers in your mum's. 

Get acquainted with ASAP, the service that will deliver anything from food to forgotten wallets.  The premise is simple. Text your (legal) request to 0437 825 625, they will reply with a quote, then it's up to you to accept their offer. The wait is usually about half an hour per task. 

It's fascinating and highly encouraging to see another step in conventional concepts of earning a living. People no longer need to resign themselves to a career that requires them to be an employee and be enslaved to an employer. Or, for those who wish to run their own business, they no longer need massive capital to start-up or, incur huge franchise fees.

Crowdtasking business models are leveraging on the incredible pervasiveness of smartphones and apps. This connectedness, it turns out, has unlimited commercial possibilities.

The thing that really makes me happy for the our current generation is the great flattening of untethered income earning opportunities. What I mean is the great democratisation of opportunities to earn a living.

You could be a retiree, a university student, a stewardess, waiter, shop assistant or, executive who can just sign up to offer your time, your effort and, your motor vehicle. Immediately you are part of the network that offers a solution. And, you get paid for it.

An enlightened economist once told me that being employed is a modern form of slavery. My corollary to that insight would be that crowdtasking is a form of emancipation.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The structural regression of Malaysian manufacturing

The economists at the ADB has given a cogent analysis of the structural economic challenge now being faced by Malaysia. This has been bothering me for the longest possible time. Perhaps the part of the analysis set out below that annoys me the most is the view that the present structural deformities could have been avoided if Malaysia's economic planning had been more objective and less dogmatic. This may be one of the matters haunting the likes of Dr M and, if it isn't, it should. Not the least reason being the fact that he had a good 22 years of dominance to get it right. Structural economic deformities are not things that happened overnight. It is a slow and debilitating accretive process that could have been treated.

Malaysia’s manufacturing sector is reversing to a state reminiscent of its post-colonial stage of development. Regrettably this situation was avoidable.

When the Federation of Malaya gained independence from Britain in 1957, economic conditions were ripe for rapid and sustained growth. Its primary export sector was showing immense potential for expansion. Primary commodities — particularly tin ore and natural rubber — accounted for a third of Malaysia’s GDP and over 75 per cent of exports by 1970, a legacy of its colonial past.

But manufactured exports accounted for less than 10 per cent, raising concerns that heavy reliance on a few commodities left Malaysia vulnerable to terms-of-trade shocks from swings in commodity prices. There was little economic diversification up to the 1980s, with already undersized manufacturing focused on little more than processing agricultural and mining output.

Several terms-of-trade shocks in the early 1980s — followed by global recession a few years later — did ultimately balloon fiscal and current account deficits, setting the stage for radical reform. A new National Development Policy was introduced in 1990, easing the affirmative action strictures of the pro-ethnic Malay New Economic Policy (NEP) and placing wealth creation ahead of wealth redistribution. The Promotion of Investment Act of 1986 extended generous incentives for private investors and relaxed regulations on foreign direct investment (FDI), allowing for full foreign ownership of export-oriented companies. Massive FDI inflows ensued.

These reforms opened Malaysia’s gates to the global production network and it succeeded in developing a vibrant and competitive electronics sector. Manufacturing grew sharply from about 12 per cent of GDP in 1970 to over 30 per cent by the mid-1990s. The share of electronics in manufactured exports soared from below 50 per cent in 1980 to peak at more than 70 per cent in 2000. But its share has fallen to below 50 per cent again in 2015.

While Malaysia had an early start in electronics, it could not build on this technological advantage. As wages started to rise, skills remained weak. After the Asian financial crisis (AFC) struck in 1997, FDI in Malaysia never recovered and domestic investment slumped as well. Since 2006, Malaysia has been a net exporter of capital, a process many suspect is driven more by capital flight than outward FDI.

Although a net labour importer, Malaysia remains a net skills exporter, with growing numbers of professionals migrating to Singapore and other welcoming industrialised countries. With these developments, Malaysia’s good fortunes have reversed in recent years, both in manufacturing and across the economy.

Like its early post-colonial phase, Malaysia is moving back to processing its agricultural and mineral resources. The only difference now is that the commodities themselves have changed. Rubber and tin have shifted to palm oil and petroleum. Petroleum refining and palm oil processing accounted for almost 19 and 12 per cent of manufacturing output in 2012, respectively — with both of these industries now bigger than electronics.

While developing countries are often encouraged to process agricultural or mineral outputs before exporting to increase their value, Malaysia appears a rare example of an upper-middle-income country — aspiring to high-income status — that is stunting or even reversing its previous successes in manufacturing.

This manufacturing retrenchment has been demonstrated by the overall contraction of this sector’s share of GDP, which fell gradually to 24 per cent in 2008 to remain roughly at that level ever since.
Why should we care about Malaysia’s manufacturing contraction? The main concern about petroleum refining and palm oil processing is that they are capital-intensive and generate few jobs. Despite their importance in overall output, just 14,400 workers are employed in petroleum refining, compared to the nearly 200,000 workers employed in electronics. Furthermore, agro- and petrol-processing industries generate relatively low-productive, low-skilled jobs and so wages are also low. The largest share of manufacturing workers are plant and machine operators who have an average annual salary of around US$4000 when per capita incomes average US$11,000.

Malaysia may be experiencing ‘premature deindustrialisation’, having transitioned to a service led economy before it has fully reaped the benefits of industrialisation. But unlike many other countries with similar experience, Malaysia’s case appears to be driven more by policy than technological disruption, trade or globalisation. There is growing recognition that many of the country’s problems — including the slump in private investment — are rooted in the distortions resulting from the design and implementation of the NEP and its subsequent incarnations. The government-linked corporations spawned to serve racial economic redistribution now crowd-out private investment in most sectors of the economy, including manufacturing.

If Malaysia is to realise its aspirations and enjoy living standards associated with high-income countries, it must arrest this structural regression and revive private investment in manufacturing. But regenerating manufacturing is unlikely without an overhaul of current policies. And while Malaysia may still reach the technical threshold of high-income status in a few years — assuming an economic crisis can be averted till then — this will still mean little to the welfare of workers in manufacturing if it continues its journey backwards.