Thursday, April 30, 2009

617 words until the 1,000,000th English Word?

The Global Language Monitor tracks neologisms; new words in the English language.

Says Forbes:

It’s difficult to track the number of words in the English language, since neologisms–new words–are coined every day. The Global Language Monitor claims our lexicon will welcome its millionth word by the end of this month; other experts disagree.Whenever it does occur, will the millionth word be something from the business world, like “carpocalypse,” describing the state of the automotive industry? Or from Hollywood, like “momager,” the mother of a celebrity who also serves as business manager?

I'm not too sure about all this. As I used to tell my children, If it ain't in Oxford, it ain't a word. And, there's only about 300,000 words in the Oxford Dictionary.

And, The Global Language Monitor is an American company. That's why there's scepticism about the claim. Watch the BBC's video on this claim, When does a word become a word. Only if you have nothing better to do.

Only the Americans can take lexicography to a razzmatazz-y state of ecstasy.

The original effort to lexicograph English words into the Oxford English Dictionary by Professor James Murray and his team in 1857 is colourfully and wonderfully woven into a highly readable narrative by the intrepid traveller-writer, Simon Winchester, in an improbably titled book, The Surgeon of Crawthorne (U.K.) or, The Professor and the Madman (U.S.).

See Inside!
Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester: Book Cover

Surely the process of lexicography needs to be more painstaking than to write an algorithm to track the electronic media for neologisms on an indiscriminate basis. For example, if I write neughherb, would the great machine at The Global Language Monitor capture it as a neologism?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

PKFZ report out in 1 week's time

I must congratulate the Minister of Transport for knuckling down on the process of releasing the PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) report on PKFZ. In his OngTeeKeat blog he has written as follows:

I have decided to extend the services of Dato' Lee Hwa Beng as Port Klang Authority chairman, after his term of office expired on March 31, 2009. One of his key priorities now is to ensure the release of the PwC report on the Port Klang Free Zone and I have given him one week from today to do so.

I am made to understand that the PwC report is ready, and in keeping with my promise earlier, it should be made public in its entirety. I have pledged to ensure transparency on this issue and I intend to keep to my words.

Last year, I directed the Port Klang Authority to commission an independent and credible firm to look into PKFZ. The delay in completing the report is due to several technical issues, including the declassification of key Government documents related to the investigations.

Now that the report is ready, it is only natural that PKA, which commissioned the report, release the findings. After which, I contemplate submitting the report to the MACC and the Public Accounts Committee.

Well done, YB.

I pray for the success of Tuanku's heart surgery

It is reported that Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah will undergo open heart surgery to replace a mitral valve in San Francisco on May 2 but will not appoint a regent as he will only be away for three weeks.

The Selangor ruler has urged the public not to worry but to pray for the success of the surgery, which is scheduled to take up to six hours at the Stanford University Medical Centre, and his recovery. from here.

State Secretary Datuk Ramli Mahmud said the Sultan left for Singapore yesterday before taking a flight to San Francisco this morning.

He was accompanied to Singapore by Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, who will visit the sultan after the surgery. The sultan is expected to be away for three weeks.

The Sultan’s private secretary Datuk Mohamad Munir Bani said the ruler will be treated by Professor Dr Alan Yeung and mitral valve specialist Professor Dr Craig Miller at Stanford.

The Sultan is accompanied to America by family, members of the royal court, two close friends and Datuk Dr Anuar Masduki, a specialist from the Subang Jaya Medical Centre.

All mosques and suraus will be informed to hold prayers for his safe return during the three weeks.

As a Selangorian, I pray for the success of Tuanku's heart surgery.

From the State Anthem:
Duli Yang Maha Mulia
Selamat di atas takhta
Allah lanjutkan usia Tuanku
Rakyat mohon restu bawah Duli Tuanku
Bahagia selama-lamanya
Aman dan sentosa
Duli Yang Maha Mulia.

Organic vs Inorganic

Kudos to DBKL for making a solid move towards environmental awareness and responsibility by KL residents. This is a positive approach that encourages environmental awareness. The KL residents have no excuse to behave in a environmentally irresponsible manner once the programme commences:

STARTING June 1, each household in Kuala Lumpur will be provided with two rubbish bins — one for organic waste and the other for inorganic stuff.

Waste collection concessionaire Alam Flora will provide each household the two bins for them to throw the two categories of waste separately.

It will be compulsory for the people to throw their rubbish correctly into the properly designated bins. Failure to do show will result in their rubbish being left uncollected.

A must: KL households are now required to display two garbage bins. One is for organic and the other for inorganic waste.

The new ruling is part of the steps taken by the federal government to have a more orderly and effective management of waste and to encourage people to recycle.

With the passing of the Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Management Act 2007, the local by-laws on garbage collection are being streamlined.

While the by-laws are apparently silent regarding the penalty aspect, it is still mandatory for the people to sort out their rubbish into the two categories.

“We have the right not to pick up the garbage when people don’t separate their waste, but we are not out to punish but to educate them,’’ Alam Flora chief executive officer Zahri Abdul Ghani said.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

That uncomfortable feeling that won't go away

There is an item of news today, a part of which reads like this:

Bumiputra and Indian investors have been asked to take up the remaining two billion Amanah Saham Malaysia (ASM) units as the Chinese have already snapped up their quota of 999mil units.

“I hope the bumiputras and Indians will not let this opportunity go,” Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said in his speech yes­­terday when closing the Malaysia Unit Trust Week organised by Permodalan Nasional Bhd, which began on April 18.

“This clearly shows the level of understanding among the Chinese when it comes to in­­vestment and financial planning for the future.”

I cannot help this very, very uncomfortable feeling after having read the news report and, in particular, the verbatim quote of the DPM.

I can't explain it.

I know the DPM isn't trying to make me uncomfortable. But, unfortunately I do feel uncomfortable.

I was looking at how attractive the Bond yields were.

But, after reading this news report I had this strange feeling that the only reason why I could appreciate the attractiveness of the Bond yields was because of my ethnicity.

Is it because of my ethnicity that I can appreciate Bond yields?

That inference screams violently against all the skills that I picked up during the course of my being educated and taught - at primary school, at secondary school, at the undergraduate level and, at the post-graduate level.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Death by Committee

Way back in July last year, I had called for the formation of a Shadow Cabinet by the Opposition if they wished to lay claim to be a government-in-waiting.

Not surprisingly it didn't materialise due in large part to the motley nature of the Pakatan which was not able to formalise its coalition status.

Now Pakatan is attempting to cobble together sets of Shadow Cabinet Committees.

Death by Committee pix from here.

I thought I had come up with a unique title to this post. But, it looks as though Carole B. Shmurak beat me to it with her novel. To quote one reviewer of the book, "Is there a worse torture than being stuck on a committee? Being forced to smile politely as fools blather away and sententious nonsense is expounded ad nauseam?"

This is what I fear that Pakatan is in the process of creating.

It threatens to be a pure quantitative exercise of inclusiveness; a series of appeasements of unallayed political egos, when what voters of March 8, 2008 wanted to see was a qualitative construction of a viable government-in-waiting.

I really am not sure that this inspires confidence that Pakatan is going to be ready to be a government-in-waiting any time soon.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Even the government can innovate

This may be hard to imagine in Malaysia at this point. But, we can hope...

Vivek Kundra, the first-ever federal Chief information Officer in the U.S., is serious about bringing the latest Net technologies to the federal government. In his first one-on-one interview since being named to his post, the 34-year-old native of India told BusinessWeek he hopes to transform the way the government uses technology.

He plans on making it more efficient by getting agencies to share information and computers. And he'll use social networking Web sites to open a conversation between the government and citizens. He also believes government should no longer build all of its computing systems and Web sites from scratch, the way it has in the past. "I want to make sure we're leveraging innovations from throughout the world," he says.

Some U.S. business leaders also praise Kundra's affection for so-called cloud computing. Rather than each department of government having its own data centers, he wants departments to share large clusters of computers (known in the industry as "clouds") so they can squeeze more efficiency out of them. He also recognises the potential of Crowdsourcing, a phenomenon that I have blogged about on a few occasions.

Can Malaysia take advantage of the evolution and leapfrog into the future at a faster click?

By the way, Vivek Kundra is literally a pendatang to the U.S. It doesn't seem to bother them.

Read his brief biography here. He's quite a guy.

PKFZ saga continues

Ong Tee Keat, Minister of Transport isn't too pleased with The Edge which has done a cover feature on the PKFZ saga in its latest publication.

The important thing is to get the PriceWaterhouseCoopers report out as soon as possible.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Unshackling the competitive spirit

The government's decision to liberalise 27 services sub-sectors by removing the 30 per cent Bumiputera quota on equity ownership in health and social services, tourism services, transport, business and computer industry and related services has been widely lauded.

One context of the decision is that the 27 services sub-sectors form part of the 160 sub-sectors for trade liberalisation under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) which enables Malaysia, through its trade policy, to enjoy market access.

Another context is that the decision will catalyse more investments into these services sub-sectors. This is a good thing since the salutary effect is greater economic activity and, employment opportunities.

Just to underline the significance and, potential positive impact of the decision, let us all understand that the services sector contributes to a whopping 47.6% to the Malaysian GDP. The services sector attracted RM47.8 billion investments in 2008 when compared to RM66.4 billion in 2007.

Clearly, this decision is a rational one.

This move and, impending moves to liberalise equity ownership in the financial services sector, will have the effect of unshackling the competitive spirit.

Malaysians cannot hide under the tempurung forever.

It won't be just the Malay community that has to compete in the wake of the liberalisation process. Every other Malaysian community will have to compete.

Just take the logistics sector as one example. Whether a Malaysian logistics company is owned by a Malay Malaysian, Chinese Malaysian, Indian Malaysian or any Malaysian, that company like all other Malaysian company will have to face the global juggernauts that will set up shop in Malaysia. The foreign logistics companies will be offering a one-stop logistics solution. For many years now, it is the international courier companies that have given Malaysians a glimpse of this liberalised and globalised future. The time has come to face the competitive reality.

This is a good thing. Certainly, there will be adjustment pains. But, in the end, we will all be better off for it. from here.

If you don't believe me, just watch The Biggest Loser on tv. As the cliched phrase goes, No pain, no gain!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Some aspects of the role of the Ruler

  Sultan Azlan Shah, Tuanku Bainun,  Raja Dr Nazrin Shah and Tuanku Zara Salim at  Istana Iskandariah yesterday. — Bernama picture
Sultan Azlan Shah, Tuanku Bainun, Raja Dr Nazrin Shah and Tuanku Zara Salim at Istana Iskandariah yesterday. — Bernama picture.

Sultan Azlan Shah has spoken on the need to correct what he described as the misconception that the constitutional monarchy was just a symbol devoid of power.

He is quoted as having said that the rulers were neither blind, deaf nor mute. and, that the rulers were fully aware of what was going on in the country.

"It should be stressed that the constitutional monarchy has three rights -- the right to give views and counsel, the right to encourage and motivate, and the right to remind and reprimand."

Sultan Azlan Shah said although the constitutional monarchy acted based on the power vested in it under the Constitution, it would be erroneous to think that the role of a ruler was similar to that of a president whose functions had been pre-defined in the Constitution.

"The role of the constitutional monarchy goes beyond what is stipulated in the Constitution.

"The rulers have a far wider responsibility in ensuring that the spirit of the Constitution, the philosophy behind the written law, and the interests of the country and people are safeguarded at all times."

He said based on the spirit behind the formation of the Federation of the Malay States, the rulers were responsible for protecting the privileges and position of the rulers' institution, Islam, the Malay language and the legitimate interests of other races.

"These are the basis of understanding and the ingredients which resulted in the formation of an independent and sovereign nation, enabling its people to live in peace and harmony."

Walter Bagehot had offered an observation of the role of the Ruler in constitutional affairs during the reign of Queen Victoria which is oft quoted since. We must remember that in the English ethos constitutional monarchy had evolved after much trauma and bloodshed in the period before and, after, the beheading of King Charles I by Oliver Cromwell on 30th January 1649 that led to the creation of constitutional monarchy in England.

Bagehot wrote, thus:-

To state the matter shortly, the sovereign has, under a constitutional monarchy such as ours, three rights – the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn. And a king of great sense and sagacity would want no others. He would find that his having no others would enable him to use these with singular effect. He would say to his minister, “The responsibility of these measures is upon you. Whatever you think best must be done. Whatever you think best shall have my full and effectual support. But you will observe that for this reason and that reason what you propose to do is bad; for this reason and that reason what you do not propose is better. I do not oppose, it is my duty not to oppose; but observe that I warn.” Supporting the king to be right, and to have what kings often have, the gift of effectual expression, he could not help moving his minister. He might not always turn the course, but he would always trouble his mind."

To Bagehot’s observations we should also add the notations made by Sir Ivor Jennings on England’s constitutional history. In particular, a long memorandum made by Sir Herbert Asquith in 1913 in response to the English sovereign’s strong views on the government policy on Home Rule for Northern Ireland:-

We have now a well-established tradition of two hundred years, that, in the last resort, the occupant of the Throne accepts and acts on the advice of his ministers … He is entitled and bound to give his ministers all relevant information which comes to him; to point out objections which seem to him valid against the course which they advise; to suggest (if he thinks fit) an alternative policy. Such intimations are always received by ministers with the utmost respect and considered with more respect and deference than if they proceeded from any other quarter."

Sir Ivor Jennings also cited another memorandum, this one from Lord Esher, who wrote inter alia as follows:-

"If the Sovereign believes advice to him may be wrong, he may refuse to take it, and, if his minister yields the Sovereign is justified. If the minister persists, feeling that he has behind him a majority of the people’s representatives, a constitutional Sovereign must give way."

Further into his memorandum Lord Esher made this point:-

Even if it is true that the King has no power to act upon his private judgment and to override the will of the ministers, he has, however, the unquestioned right of remonstrance. This right should be used for the double purpose of safeguarding the King’s conscience and of placing beyond all risk of misconception the whole responsibility for the advice they tender upon the shoulders of the ministry..."

The Ruler, whether standing alone or, collectively, as in the Conference of Rulers, has a constitutional sentience and, a conscience, that must be allowed some form of expression. This is particularly reflected in matters that requires a discretionary exercise of its advise on constitutional appointments by Article 38(6)(b) of the Federal Constitution.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Fundamental Liberties: How it came to be in the Federal Constitution

Friday afternoon turned out to be quite interesting. I was invited by regular commentator flyer168 to attend a talk organised by Arkib Negara at the Tun Hussein Onn Memorial.

I hadn't realised that the Tun Hussein Onn Memorial is situated at the old PM's Department Building adjacent to the Tunku Abdul Rahman Memorial (which used to be called the Residency). This was the old seat of power, so difficult to gain access to in times past. But, here I was stomping on the old corridors of power. Will wonders never cease! from here.

The talk was given by Professor Emeritus Tan Sri Dato Dr. Khoo Kay Kim. The topic was Tun Tan Cheng Lock and the pre-Merdeka ethos. Prof Khoo took the attendees on a broad conspectus of the aspirations of the Chinese community in the Straits Settlements, the Malay states and the historical concepts of kerajaan, negeri, jajahan and bangsa, the British administration, the context of the Malayan Union proposal and related matters to lend us a flavour and a context with which to examine Tun Tan Cheng Lock's place in our nation's history. Needless to say, the Prof's excursus was done extemporaneously, lucidly and seamlessly. It was masterful, as one would expect of Malaysia's eminent historian. (Update 7.30 a.m.: NST has reported on the talk in a piece entitled, Put history back in expert hands. Do read the piece. The Prof's views are relevant and pertinent especially when there is so much misinformation about the ethnic debate in nation-building.

Read also the NST interview with the Prof on the teaching of History in Malaysia.

By the way, that piece has a very important observation made by Professor Dr Mansor Mohd Noor of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia who has been researching inter-ethnic relations for years. His findings suggest that this erroneous presumption is widespread in Malaysian society.

"The Chinese are usually blamed for not being patriotic, but in reality the feelings of patriotism among them are just as high as the Malays," he says.

"Patriotism is not based on ethnicity."

The teaching of history, Mansor says, must be inclusive and move beyond ethnic calculations and toxic assumptions, such as whether one community is more "patriotic" than another).

The talk and, the post-talk tete-a-tete with the Prof, flyer168, Tan Siok Choo and other attendees left me with a revived thirst for Malaysian history.

To flyer168, may I say that it gave me the greatest pleasure to have finally met you in person. And, I look forward to many more meetings with you and, to your continuing tutelage.

And, all the preambles having been laid out, I am re-posting an earlier piece of research I did on Malaysia's constitutional history. This involves an interesting exchange during the Alliance submission to the Reid Commission as part of the process of fact-finding in 1956 before the Reid Commission retreated to Rome to prepare the Reid Report. This exchange is poignant for several reasons:

First, it explains how the Fundamental Liberties provisions came to be included in the Federal Constitution. These provisions on the right to life, liberty, property, equality, education, speech, assembly and religion are still being defined even now and, certainly will continue into the future. In this sense, Malaysia's evolving constitutional ethos puts us in good company with even the likes of the U.S., U.K. and every other nation on earth.

Second, it reveals as a matter of historical fact, the significant contribution made by the Indian community to Malaya and, later, Malaysia's evolving nationhood. This is the greatness of the Malayan Indian Congress's early leaders like KL Devaser who bud-grafted the Indian independence and constitutional experience into the Malayan independence and constitutional process. All Malaysians owe a debt of gratitude to these lesser-known founding fathers.

Third, it reminds us all that in the current swirl of nonsense about ethnic differences, those Malaysians who spew forth hate-filled and divisive opinions are ignorant of our own history and ungrateful to the multi-racial group of leaders who banded together to achieve Merdeka.

So, here's the post:

I present an extract of the transcript of the hearing by the Reid Commission of submissions by the Alliance wherein Tunku Abdul Rahman was questioned by Lord Reid regarding the Alliance memorandum on fundamental rights.

In reply, the Tunku admitted that it was the Malayan Indian Congress (not UMNO or MCA) who insisted on the fundamental rights provisions. The wisdom of the Indian community in Malaya was, no doubt, derived from the Indian constitutional experience.

This is an interesting and strange piece of constitutional history that shows starkly how remarkable events take place in seemingly mundane settings. Our Fundamental Liberties - such as freedom of speech, equality, rights to education, property and religion - are contained in Part II of the Federal Constitution. Read the following transcript that reveals the pivotal role played by MIC's early leaders, especially K.L. Devaser, in insisting on inserting Fundamental Liberties provisions into the Federal Constitution:-

The Reid Commission

Lord Reid (left) Sir Ivor Jennings (right). Pix from here.

Fundamental Rights

Chairman (Lord Reid): There are two kinds of Fundamental Rights - those that are enforceable by the Court, as set out in page 10, and those which are extremely varied and cannot be enforceable by the Court, but merely guides (sic) the future political parties as to what they should do. Now, you put in here quite a lot of the second class of Fundamental Rights which you really cannot guarantee. I am wondering whether you want them to be put in such great detail or not at all?

What do they do? They simply tie your hands and your successors? So far as they have any political effect; they have no legal right and, speaking entirely for myself, it seems to me to deflect the argument whether that is a good Bill or a bad Bill, it is a question of words whether it fits in with Article C of the Fundamental Rights in the Constitution which has become a matter of words, because every political party that ever was would say that they are trying to promote a sound social order and the welfare of the people.

Whether it is democratic, totalitarian, right wing or left wing, they all say they are doing right. I wonder whether that gets you anywhere. from Nutgraph.

Tunku Abdul Rahman: All these can be taken out. The main thing is the Fundamental Rights. It was a suggestion from the MIC, and that is why it was put in.

Mr.Ramanathan: Whatever is not constitutionally enforceable, they could probably be taken out. Whatever rights should be protected by the Courts would appear in the Constitution.

Chairman: Anything for the Court should be made sufficiently definitive for the Court to enforce. As regards Freedom From Fear, I very much fear that no Court or Government could do that.

Dato Abdul Razak: That is true. We have given an Appendix.

Sir Ivor Jennings: All those listed on page 10, or do you really mean the list that is worked out in the Appendix?

Tunku Abdul Rahman: It was really put in at the suggestion of the Indian community as represented by the MIC. As far as UMNO and MCA are concerned, it is immaterial whether it is in or not - if we have to mention other rights, then there are a million rights.

And, there you have it! The real heroes of the Malayan community that insisted on the Fundamental Liberties provision in the Federal Constitution were the MIC leaders of the time. The extract can found at: Stockwell, AJ [Editor]; Malaya : Part III : The Alliance Route to Independence 1953-1957; HMSO [London] [1995]; at pp. 317-318; Paper 427 [CO 889/6, ff 281-290].

2 things stood out in the above transcript:-
  1. The Reid Commission was, as Professor Andrew Harding has noted, very legalistic. The eventual Federal Constitution is a very legalistic document, as opposed to aspirational. The Indian Constitution, for example, has aspirations contained in their State Directive Principles which is a guide for Courts. The Indonesian Constitution is aspirational.
  2. The Indian community in Malaya had been exposed to the Constituent Assembly debates that led to Indian independence in 1947. As a community they were the most aware of the importance of enshrining Fundamental Liberties in the Constitution.
The present-day MIC is, of course, a completely different entity. But since its roots can be traced to the halcyon days when Merdeka was an unfolding possibility, present-day MIC members should be proud of and, be guided by the high ideals exhibited by early leaders such as K.L Devaser.

A good description of the ethos and mindfulness of the framers of the Indian Constitution with regard to fundamental rights can be obtained from Saharay, HK; The Constitution of India : An Analytical Approach; Eastern Law House; [Reprint-1998] [Calcutta]; at pp. 32-33.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Selangor Retrenchment Helpline

Selangor has a state retrenchment task force set up to aid those who have lost jobs and, the task force is expanding its scope to also tackle unemployed graduates.

The state’s career and resume clinics are being held at local government offices throughout the state.

At these clinics, retrenched workers can register themselves and obtain aid or advice.


Apparently, there are officers from the state's Lembaga Zakat and Welfare Department present to help retrenched workers get assistance while consultants from are also in attendance to help find new jobs for them.

Tricia Yeoh, speaking as the Selangor state research officer is quoted as saying that the consultants will have a list of available jobs and can help workers apply for them.

“This includes cleaning up their resumes and preparing them to go for interviews.”

Applicants can also obtain information on retraining programmes which are available under the Human Resources Ministry at these clinics.

It appears that to-date most seeking help are blue-collar workers with only secondary education but these training programmes are an opportunity for them to upgrade their skills.

And, to-date 3,264 retrenched workers in the state have registered themselves either online or at municipalities and district councils.

These are good moves to deal with unemployment.

Apart from Selangor, other states should highlight their job placement, re-training and social safety net schemes.

For those who are in need do click on the Selangor Retrenchment Helpline link that I have embedded. And, good luck in your job placement!

Kudos to the Selangor State Government for this socio-economic programme.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Root causes of racial politics in Malaysia

The Malaysian Insider's op-ed piece on Najib's inaugural Cabinet meeting ended with this paragraph:

After chairing the Cabinet meeting, Najib met senior editors of the mainstream media. He was expected to tell them to focus on bringing Malaysians of different races together, instead of highlighting differences.

The best way to ensure that the media focuses on uniting Malaysians instead of dividing them on ethnic differences is to stop all politicians from speaking about one race or another.

If a journalist asks a politician about the impact that one ethnic group has over the outcome of a by-election, that politician should be circumspect and judicious about giving a holistic appraisal of the issues that influenced the electorate.

On the other hand, if that politician dives into ethnic issues and wallow in frustration over perceived levels of gratitude or, the lack of it, then it is obvious that it is the politician who is harping on the ethnic divide when the rest of Malaysia is quite ready to move on.

So, to all politicians, be you in BN or Pakatan or any other party or Independent, to paraphrase JFK: Ask not what the media can do to stop ethnic talk, ask what you can do to stop the ethnic talk yourself.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, The fault, dear politicians, is not in the media stars, but in yourselves if you are prone to raise ethnic issues.

My proposition is that politicians are the root of all racial evil in Malaysia.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Malaysia’s Economy May Contract More Than Expected

This is just a quick post to draw your attention to the Bloomberg report on MIER's latest statement. I haven't the time to comment or analyse yet:

Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy will probably contract 2.2 percent in 2009, the institute said in a report released in Kuala Lumpur today, cutting its forecast from 1.3 percent growth. Exports may fall 24 percent, MIER said.

“The crisis has not hit the bottom,” Mohamed Ariff Kareem, MIER’s executive director, said in a speech. “It is almost certain that Malaysia will slide into a technical recession in the first half. If exports shrink severely, the downturn could be more harmful,” MIER said.

The government, which expects the economy to shrink as much as 1 percent or grow that amount at best this year, has unveiled two stimulus plans worth a combined 67 billion ringgit ($19 billion) to shield the nation from the worldwide slump. The benefits from those measures may only be felt at the end of this year and more may be needed, the institute said today.

“If the economy turns gloomier in coming months, another stimulus may be called for,” MIER said in the report. The “moderate” impact from the second stimulus will only partially cushion the economy, it said.

‘Worst Case’

In the worst-case scenario, Malaysia’s economy may shrink 3.8 percent this year if the stimulus packages fail, MIER said in its report. The partially government-funded research institute also cut its forecast for Malaysia’s growth next year to 3.3 percent from 3.8 percent.

There may be no global recovery until the U.S. dollar weakens, MIER said. The strength of the U.S. currency, which MIER says is overvalued, caps demand for U.S. exports, makes foreign goods cheaper, and risks fueling a rise in protectionism, Ariff said.

...unemployment is a bigger worry for MIER. The jobless rate may reach 4.8 percent in 2009 from 3.7 percent in 2008, Ariff said.

Malaysian employers may cut 200,000 jobs in this slump, more than double the number lost in the Asian financial crisis more than a decade ago, according to Ariff. There’s no sign that domestic retrenchments are abating, he said.

Governments worldwide may also be setting up the next economic crisis by racking up budget deficits with domestic stimulus plans, Ariff said. Wider budget gaps lead to greater debt, the origin of the current crisis, which may in turn curb consumer spending and threaten future economic growth, he said.

“They may be inadvertently sowing the seeds of the next crisis,” he said.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dear Minister of Education, Please focus on the "software"

Over the weekend, there was the unfortunate interview Muhyiddin gave to Mingguan Malaysia which has generated negative excitement.

The interview has given rise to my concern that the new Education Minister may be obssessing with several matters that, I believe, will not serve the longer term strategy that Malaysia needs to undertake:

First, Muhyiddin's views reveals a frustration with the increasingly ineffective tactic of buying voter sympathies by throwing money at Chinese and Tamil schools. When money can't buy love there is much pouting and sulking.

Second, those views also reveal that Muhyiddin's appointment to the Education portfolio appears to have a deeper political agenda that may be counter-productive to Malaysia in the longer term. If the agenda is to create curriculum and, to get teachers to teach a curriculum designed to create blind loyalty to specific political parties, then, I'm sorry to say, Malaysia runs the risk of creating another lost generation.

Third, (which flows from the second point) the views will channel scarce resources away from the education of skills and techniques that will form the core foundation of a pool of human capital needed to augment Malaysia's shift from low-cost labour to high-skills human capital.

Granted that at primary and secondary school levels values must be taught. These values must be based on the broad aspirations contained in the Rukunegara.

But, due to the pressure of wanting to win the Thirteenth General Elections and, the self-imposed two-year time-frame to win the hearts and minds of Malaysians, I fear that Muhyiddin's focus as Education Minister will be misdirected to short-term goals at the expense of long term goals.

So, I may yet have to eat my own words and, review my earlier view of Muhyiddin's appointment as being an "inspired" one.

I had thought that he would be tackling bread-and-butter issues like the quality of education, quality of teachers, usefulness of the current curriculum, the medium of instruction and so on. But, if the focus is to regain lost political ground, then, these issues will be dealt with in a cursory and superficial fashion.

And, I say again, we risk creating yet another lost generation of Malaysians who do not have the skill sets to compete against Thailand and Vietnam and, certainly, cannot compete with China or Singapore. No need even to mention the Western economies.

In the past two decades, so much resources have been used to build schools (at very poor quality) and equipment (poorly maintained now) which may broadly be classified as "hardware".

Hardly any attention was paid to improving the "software" of better skilled and better motivated teachers. The end-product of Malaysian students were of below-average quality (below average when measured against students of the same age in other countries).

My call to Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, Deputy Prime Minister merangkap Minister of Education is to please focus on the "software" of the quality of teachers and the creation of high-quality human capital from our Malaysian schools.

We need better "software" in the forthcoming years when Malaysia's economic competitiveness or, the lack thereof, becomes even more glaring.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Not quite a beginning

The blinkers are slowly coming off, at least in terms of public statements.

Now we have Nor Mohamed Yakcop, new Minister in the PM's Department in charge of the EPU, saying, as reported by the Malaysian Insider, that the export-driven economic model which saved Malaysia from the Asian financial crisis would not work this time.

“The model that we have been using... will no longer be relevant in the coming 50 years because it is a model based on low wages, based on exports to the US, which can no longer be used in today’s times,” Nor Mohamed told a press conference.

“We need to find a new economic model, a new supply chain, to reduce dependence on exports (and) increase dependence on domestic consumption. We have to look into this in the medium to long term,” Nor Mohamed said.

Okay, that is just describing the water when people are beginning to drown.

Malaysia's economy needs structural changes, that's for sure.

But, before anything else, it's the education system that needs to be fixed. Just to be sure, by education system, I mean the whole thing; primary, secondary and tertiary education.

What disturbs me is that there is still a Ministry of Education and, a Ministry of Higher Education. There should only be a single Ministry of Education. That way the entire pipeline can be holistically revamped. Two Ministries only means dysfunction, discord and a hell of a lot of red tape. It's the education pipeline that suffers. It's the human capital that is affected.

Just by this alone, one gets a sense that the restructuring process is going to take far, far longer than hoped for.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ku Li: New Cabinet given 6 months probation

Umno veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah has given the new cabinet line-up six months to prove themselves to see whether they are ‘performance-oriented’ or not.

Denying that he had described the cabinet as ‘neat’ in a Bernama report yesterday, the Gua Musang MP clarified that “he never hailed the new cabinet as neat and capable”.

“After all, it has yet to be seen. They said it is going to be performance-oriented, that’s good. But let’s see after six months whether the ministers have performed. It's not fair to judge them after a day or two,” he told a media conference at his residence this afternoon.

tengku razaleigh ku li interview 190309 02Besides, Tengku Razaleigh added that the people could only “evaluate after they have been given the chance to perform”.

“(It's) not fair for me to comment at this stage, let’s just wait until they have gone to their offices,” he said, adding that some of the cabinet members “have been rejected in the general election but have been brought back”.

“Some of my friends said that they are recycled members of the cabinet. I don’t know about that, but they are not new to the scene,” he said.

The Kelantan prince has been a critic of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak. Today, his message to Najib is that “reforms” must be undertaken by the government immediately in order to regain the people's confidence.

Defeats in by-elections a ‘disgrace’

With the continuous defeats in four by-elections since the March 8 general election last year, Tengku Razaleigh said the BN must win the next one, if any, at all costs.

"Failing to do so would further erode the people’s support from Umno and BN. This could spell disaster for the federal government three or four years down the road."

Describing himself as a “very strong Umno chap”, Razaleigh expressed sadness that Umno has not won a single seat in a by-election held so far after the last general election.

najib announce new cabinet lineup 090409 05“It is a disgrace actually. Unlike before, we named a candidate, and as sure as a daylight they would win.

"But now we have to pray, we have to work hard, go back and forth, and throw a lot of money and still we do not win. So something is wrong,” he said.

Razaleigh asserted that Umno cannot afford to lose more support from the people because “we have lost so much already” and this will affect badly on Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s new administration.

“We have lost five states in the last general election and these states are not small states... this is not just a disgrace, but malu lah (shameful),” he said.

He suggested that in order to continue in power, Umno and BN must use all its resources and marshal all its members to go all out to get support from the people.

“Otherwise, in three to four years time, you will be gone. I don’t think they want to be kicked out of office (just yet),” he said.

The Umno veteran said it was clear from the recent by-elections that many Malays had voted PAS and DAP and not Umno, adding that something must have gone very wrong in BN.

“If they are still blind to this, they should hang up their political hats, retire and go away. Am I too harsh? But I'm desperate also, because I'm in a party that’s losing support,” he said.

Mukhriz in, KJ out: It confuses me

Commenting on the appointment of Mukhriz Mahathir as a deputy minister while Khairy Jamaluddin was overlooked, Razaleigh said "this may make some people unhappy”.

khairy jamaluddin and mukhriz mahathir putrajaya“But I'm sure Dr Mahathir (Mohamad) is happy. Apart from Mukhriz himself, it may not make others happy,” he said.

Razaleigh said although it was the prime minister's prerogative to appoint his cabinet members, Najib should “still hang on to certain principles and cannot just abandon it”.

Explaining this, Razaleigh recalled that former vice-president Mohd Ali Rustam was barred from contesting for the Umno's deputy presidency for involvement in money politics but was allowed to keep his post as Malacca chief minister.

“But Khairy was also found guilty and let off with a warning, but then he was allowed to contest.

“Isa Samad (former vice-president and Negeri Sembilan menteri besar), was found guilty of money politics but he was suspended for six years and asked to vacate his ministerial appointment,” he recalled.

“I myself am confused, but I stand corrected. How do you follow this, what principles you uphold when you do this?” he said.

malaysia najib new cabinet sworn in 100409 04Razaleigh further said that (Wanita Umno chief) Shahrizat Abdul Jalil had lost in the last general election but because of her post in the party, she was appointed a minister in the new cabinet.

“But the Youth chief was not appointed and somebody below him who lost (Mukhriz) was appointed.

"How do we go with this? On one hand, it is the prerogative of the PM, On the other, if I don’t like someone, I will not appoint him - this is a bit hard,” he said.

The Umno veteran also brushed aside rumours that he had plans to join PKR or other opposition party.

“I do not think that I am going to leave Umno for now. But one can never tell about the future,” Razaleigh said.

I hope Malaysiakini will not take umbrage at me for having reproduced this scintillating piece written by Rahmah Ghazali. It augments my earlier post which was updated in light of Tengku Razaleigh's annoyance at having been misquoted by the MSM (mainstream media). This Malaysiakini report balances the purported misreporting by the MSM.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Ku Li should chair Council of Economic Advisors

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah has graciously hailed the new cabinet, describing it as "neat" and capable of restoring the people's confidence in the Barisan Nasional (BN).

He is quoted as saying that changes were inevitable if the BN was to win the hearts and minds of the people.

"The previous cabinet is not that neat. We shall see how the new cabinet performs... I truly hope that the new leadership will be able to change things for the better," he said.

Update 6.20 a.m. 11/04.09: Oops! It looks as though Tengku Razaleigh was misquoted by Bernama. I just read his latest blog post which reads thus:

Bernama quoted me today as hailing the new cabinet and saying it “could solve the country’s economic problems.” This is a laughable misrepresentation of what I said, and a poor indication of the more open and truthful information order we are told we can look forward to.

I am calling a press conference at my office today, Saturday 11 April, at 3.15pm to discuss my actual view of the cabinet, the economy, and what the recent bye-elections tell us.

This blogger makes a humble call for the Prime Minister to appoint Tengku Razaleigh as the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers with ministerial rank.

Tengku Razaleigh's track record of economic management is widely respected. His recent statements and blog entries on economics and the state of the economy shows a leader who has his finger on the pulse of economic trends and, more importantly, policy options that will have a salutary effect on the structural economic adjustments that Malaysia needs to make in the next few years.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Three inspired Cabinet appointments

First of all, thank goodness the rumour of a Chinese Affairs ministry was just flatulence. That would have been disastrous.

There are three particular Cabinet appointments that, I think, are inspired.

Education portfolio
Muhiyiddin's appointment to the Education portfolio has puzzled many. Superficial observers has said that given that this portfolio was handled by erstwhile UMNO Youth leader, Hishamuddin, and, given that, this portfolio was previously seen as a stepping stone to Deputy Prime Ministership, Muhiyiddin is, at best, moving horizontally.

I beg to differ. I think the appointment is a clear signal that Najib is serious about developing the most important resource that Malaysia has, it's human capital. The task is monumental by any means. It needs firm leadership, something that the previous guy was found wanting in.

Primary and Secondary education is the pipeline that supplies the tertiary pool of Malaysian talent.

Moreover, government schools have been losing tremendous "market share" in non-Malay enrolments. If Muhiyiddin can take this bull by the horns and truly institute changes such as improving the teaching skills and, building a more mutli-racial mix of teachers, the government schools will regain lost "market share". To me, this is the surest way to reduce the size of the Chinese and Tamil schools. Create quality education and, parents will enrol their children in government schools by the droves.

Tourism portfolio
The choice of Dr Ng Yen Yen for the Tourism portfolio to replace Azalina is inspired. Some may recall that during her stint as Deputy Minister in the Tourism portfolio, Yen Yen was very effective, particularly, in drawing the Chinese tourism arrivals. Tourism revenues are significant to Malaysia. Given her limitless energy, Yen Yen will be an asset to the Cabinet.

Foreign affairs
Most people would've raised their eyebrows at having Anifah Aman catapult into a very high-profile ministry. He will be the face of Malaysia in international diplomatic circles.

Some may say that Anifah is there by virtue of the leverage that UMNO Sabah now asserts at the UMNO Supreme Council. That may be true from a realpolitik standpoint. But, Anifah's appointment shouldn't be trivialised. He is an urbane and charming man, a trait necessary for this portfolio. He is also a quick thinker and a quick study. This will help him hold his own as Malaysia seeks to re-assert its international eminence.

Besides, he's definitely more interesting than the academic lecturing style of his predecessor which inspires *yawns*.

I think Anifah will make Malaysia look good internationally.

PKFZ buck passes from Ong Tee Keat to PKA

The Transport Minister Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat is now said to have pointed out that the release of details of an independent audit probe into the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) fiasco now lies with the Port Klang Authority (PKA).

That sounds like a solid tai chi move of responsibility transference. Ip Man would be proud of such deft touches even if that is a most un-Wing Chun move. from here.

Ong is quoted, probably a defensive justification of his responsibility transference, as saying that there is a need to seek the declassification of documents relevant to the investigation into the ballooned cost of the shipping area, which went from RM1.85 billion to RM4.6 billion.

Probably with a deadpan expression (I wasn't there, so I'm guessing), Ong is quoted as saying, “It is my duty to keep (the public) informed that we are serious and we (have) sought declassification of certain documents".

When journalists asked whether he would press for the report findings to be released earlier, Ong said the right party to ask would be the PKA. “You have to ask them,” he said, declining to take any more questions on the matter.

See what I mean?

The Edge Daily reported thus: Ong has been reluctant to release the report findings by auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) since late last year. Several politicians and public figures have been implicated in this scandal, including former MCA President Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik and his predecessor Tan Sri Chan Kong Choy.

The PKFZ’s debts stem from the bonds issued by Kuala Dimensi, a government-linked company that the PKA awarded the rights to develop the free-trade zone. The company had been given letters of guarantee from the Transport Ministry to obtain funding for the project.

Questions linger over why the Transport Ministry had issued these letters allowing Kuala Dimensi to issue RM4.6 billion in bonds to cover its cost overruns, when the letters are normally authorized only by the Finance Ministry.

PKFZ is a 1,000-acre Free Commercial and Industrial Zone providing facilities for international cargo distribution and consolidation centre. It was modelled after the successful Jebel Ali Free Zone (Jafza) in Dubai.

The government and all its related entities must not only be transparent. Such transparency must be timely. This, with the greatest of respect, is snail's pace.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Wipe out illegal advertising and "poster politicians"

It's about time that serious action is taken on illegal advertising. They are an annoying eyesore that seriously make Malaysian urban centres, not just KL, look like slums.

I have always wondered why the local council enforcement people don't just look up the contact numbers and, once the facts are clear, just whack them with a hefty fine for creating the mess.

So, this is timely news:

KUALA Lumpur mayor Datuk Ahmad Fuad Ismail feels that enough is enough and has decided to launch a war against the widespread illegal advertisement nuisance in the federal capital.

Fuad said he would go all out to catch the perpetrators of the abuse by calling up the contact numbers on the illegal advertisements and then book them for vandalism.

He said that the only way to stop the mushrooming of illegal advertisement posters, banners and buntings put up by the ah longs (loan sharks), tuition centres and those offering various services, was to go after the persons sponsoring them.

“Removing the adverts and stickers is no longer a viable solution as the perpetrators keep coming back. Drastic action must be taken to teach the culprits a lesson,” Fuad said.

He said that the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) enforcement team would be instructed to call up the number directly and find out where they were operating from.

Not right: An advert stuck on a phone booth along Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur.

“I am declaring war on these people as they are giving the city a bad name. They are placing stickers, posters and buntings on road signs, street lights, poles and even on the trees. It is an eyesore,” Fuad said.

Read the rest of the report here.

I am also very amused by the curling and piercing remarks in Zainul Ariffin's op-ed column where he iconoclastically knocks the trend of politicians putting billboards of themselves photographed with the Prime Minister. Writes Zainul:

How did this sudden billboard mania come about, I cannot really put my finger on, but I am certain of their effect on me -- I dislike them for their vacuity, if not much more than the shallowness that they presume the public has that they can be easily impressed and affected by such displays.

In the business of public one-upmanship, many politicians have been putting up such displays with themselves pictured alongside the prime minister, albeit in smaller size. As if perception could be massaged visually, the displays are meant to imply that they, standing in the shadow of the prime minister, are powerful, too.

Some are trying to ride on the popularity, prestige and power of the prime minister. Their message seems to be: "Look at me. I am the prime minister's man (or woman). You better believe that I am powerful!"

Now that Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is no longer prime minister, there must be thousands of such billboards and posters of him and politicians that need removing if only to make sure that our public displays are kept abreast with our political developments.

This is additional work that the local councils need not have to be saddled with.

This practice in the past few years caused someone to remark to me that it was akin to "governing via billboards". These politicians hope that their larger-than-life-in-living-colour mugs could make us give them more love.

Incidentally, this love affair with giant billboards is not exclusive to politicians of the ruling party; opposition politicians, though on a lesser scale, are not immune either.

Be they cabinet members or menteris besar, they should not be putting up pictures of themselves with the prime minister on billboards or posters, or in newspaper advertisements. It is just not right, in my opinion.

I am quite certain that many, if not most, Malaysians share Zainul's view on these "poster politicians".

Special Minister for Chinese Affairs?

Malaysiakini has a report that there are plans to create a Cabinet portfolio for a Special Minister for Chinese Affairs. Blogger Raison D'etre has also alluded to this possibility.

What the heck?

For the life of me, I cannot see the rationale for this special ministry.

speculates that Ng Yen Yen will be this special minister.

Why have a Chinese Affairs ministry?

What about the Malays, Indians, Kadazans, Iban, Bidayuh, Kelabit, Kedayan, Orang Sungai, Bajau, Senoi, Negrito, Jakun and all other suku kaum?

What about the golongan kurang upaya?

What about the warga tua?

There will be no end to the requests for special ministers.

The clarion call for One Malaysia must mean exactly that; a colour blind, non-discriminatory, fair, unbiased, equal scheme of things.

Having a Special Minister of Chinese Affairs is so way out of alignment with the idea of One Malaysia that it screams out all the wrong signals.

But, as always, what do I know?

I have, however, read what was reported; that, The "One Malaysia" concept emphasises mutual respect and trust among all the ethnic groups in the country, which Najib describes as the pillar for the process of national solidarity.

Najib said the effort must be carried out with the full awareness of the government and the people in all the programmes implemented.

"This concept must be translated into action, government programmes ... for example, the allocations for Chinese and Tamil schools be given directly to the school boards.

"No ethnic group should feel marginalised in terms of government policies and programmes," he said.

He said the Bumiputeras should also be given assistance because they still lagged behind ... but the effort should be carried out fairly, both for the Bumiputeras and the non-Bumiputeras.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Young Malaysians relying on Internet for info

To someone reading this blog in the Internet, this survey finding may seem obvious. But, there are some troglodytes out there, possibly in a position of power, who may not be imbued with this level of awareness:

Young Malaysians are increasingly relying on the Internet for information and to keep themselves up-to-date, according to a recent survey by market research company Synovate.

About 45% of the Malaysian youth interviewed in the survey said they planned to use the Internet more than other media, Synovate said in a statement today.

"Young Malaysians are definitely turning to the Internet more for their information and entertainment needs and it’s not surprising that the Internet is slowly becoming the medium of choice," said managing director of Synovate in Malaysia, Steve Murphy.

"Malaysians in general have embraced blogging and bloggers alike as a way of expressing themselves and this virtual form of communications has certainly had an effect on the nation's youth," Murphy said.

"A total of 21% of Malaysian youngsters create and update their blogs regularly and this figure is expected to rise," he said.

The survey also found that young Malaysians aged eight to 24 spend an average of 1.2 hours a day on email, one hour and thirty-six minutes a day as part of online communities, two hours and 48 minutes on instant messaging and two hours and 36 minutes on other Internet activities.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Ignore this at your own peril.

Two Bukits and One Batang

There are many perspectives that one can take in relation to by-elections.

Some take the view that the by-elections are mini referendums on the state of governance.

The by-elections may also be regarded as indicators of the continued ascendancy of the challengers.

Where the status quo ante prevails, possibly in the one Batang, it may be inferred that the incumbent coalition remains dominant. But, the nature of such dominance is the key to future elections. The Beatles lyric, Money can't buy you love is apposite and, it is a sentiment that may prevail in future elections if not this current one.

In the run-up campaign, Sakmongkol AK-47's astute observation is that there is an alarming decadence in the level of commitment of the campaign workers for the BN.

Jebat Must Die has wearily noted the crass phenomenon during the campaign of seeing bodyguards of Umno leaders leaping out from cars before it even come to a full stop will not bring about more votes. Blaring sirens around kampungs just to signal the arrival of ‘para pembesar Umno’ will definitely be a turn off to the constituents. One should be more discerning to the feelings of the locals rather than to show the party’s strength and power.

These are debilitating features for the BN.

But, is the trend inexorable?

Obviously not. It can be remedied. But, the remedy will have to be drastic.

Anyone who has had dealings with any component parties of the BN who are in official government positions will have anecdotes about instances of boorish behaviour and arrogance. This is the challenge.

When people like Samy Vellu speaks of re-branding and, yet, remain in absolute draconian control of the party, the message to Malaysians is that nothing will change...yet.

So, it should be clear to all and sundry in the BN, particularly the apex leadership, that whatever the outcome of two Bukits and one Batang, genuine reform must take place within the apparatus of all BN component parties.

Arrogance is out. Humility is in.

Turn down the TALK volume. Turn up the LISTENING feature.

And, for goodness sakes, don't be stodgy. The Malaysian voters in Saluran 3, 4 and 5 have TUNED OUT.

How do you get in synch with them?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Rebooting Malaysia

Abd Ghani Hamat wrote an excellent op-ed piece in The Edge Daily entitled Rebooting Malaysia:

Najib Razak marked his ascent to the top in style.

Nobody outside his inner circle could have guessed that the ISA issue would be given such prominence in his maiden speech as Malaysia's sixth premier.

"It must be a government with new approaches for new times" was how Najib captured the intent of his incoming administration.

Indeed, new approaches couldn't come soon enough to repair public perception of the government.

Prior to the official handover of power, Najib visited the head office of a Chinese daily newspaper and, the next day, graced an award presentation ceremony at a Tamil school.

Najib's intent to effect a new approach in the way the government engages the public could not be much clearer than that.

But while new approaches could come handy in gauging governance standard, what counts more eventually are real policy and rule changes. While accepting the need for new approaches is an excellent start, instituting real changes is imperative.

Because, the times they are a-changin', as Dylan put it in his 1963 composition.

Najib's very ascent reminds us that a full generation has lapsed since the country gained independence. Society, the country and the world have moved on since the days his father ruled the roost.

Malaysia is now in need of a "reboot" to remove all the time-induced disconnects and generational gaps to face the challenges of the "new times".

A reboot also is necessary if we are to have any chance of realising the country's potential to become a vibrant democracy with its rich human and natural resources.

It should be appreciated that the challenges facing Najib come in many layers. They include reforming Umno and reshaping the BN coalition and restoring public trust institutions, which are arduous tasks in their own right.

But rebooting Malaysia would not be complete without finding a place for our economy in a globalised world.

For regardless of what we do in nation-building, ultimately our prosperity is inextricably linked to how well our economy performs, in particular with regard to external trade.

Read the rest of the piece here.

10 possible Cabinet dropouts

Malaysiakini reports that 10 current Cabinet ministers may be dropped. The list are as follows:

1. Tourism Minister Azalina Othman
2. Rural and Regional Development Minister Muhammad Muhd Taib
3. Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar
4. Second Finance Minister Nor Mohamed Yakcop
5. Energy, Water and Communications Minister Shaziman Abu Mansor
6. Federal Territories Minister Zulhasnan Rafique
7. Foreign Affairs Minister Rais Yatim
8. Information Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek
9. Higher Education Minister Khaled Nordin
10. Housing and Local Government Minister Ong Ka Chuan

The Minister of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Shahrir Samad has already tendered his resignation.

Who will be added? Well, someone other than the PM should be Minister of Finance for the reasons I mentioned in the preceding post.

Najib should not keep Finance portfolio

I am rather disappointed, although not surprised, that Najib plans to keep the Ministry of Finance portfolio despite having a substantial portfolio in being the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

The rationale given, if reports are to be believed, is that Najib wants to oversee the delivery of a 60 billion ringgit ($16.77 billion) economic boost... “as he would need to oversee the economy which is going through a challenging period”.

The Ministry of Finance portfolio is a heavy responsibility and, it should be headed by an out-and-out economics specialist. The MOF is about the implementation of the scarce financial resources contained in the Treasury's coffers and, the types of borrowings that the government needs to obtain to finance a fiscal deficit.

The Prime Minister has an even more major responsibility for the overall welfare of the nation in every conceivable aspect.

The thing that inevitably happens with dual portfolios is the dilution effect on strategy, operations and management responsibilities. I'm sorry to say that the perception is that the Second Finance Minister is like a Deputy Minister. There's no way that he can have carte blanche the way a sole Minister of a portfolio has.

If the Prime Minister of contemporary Malaysia feels the need to take concurrent charge of the Finance portfolio, what message does it send out?

One possible signal is that there is no one else that is capable.

The second possible signal is that the Prime Minister does not trust anyone else to do the job properly.

The third possible signal is that the Finance portfolio is the vehicle for political patronage. With this portfolio goes the base of political power just like the Ministry of Education was said to be a base of political power until the 1980s.

The fourth possible signal is that the government will still practice the dishing out of rent-seeking policies whenever and, wherever, possible.

Of course, it may also be said that only a Prime Minister merangkap Minister of Finance can effectively implement transparency in dealings with the stimulus packages and normal Treasury contract awards.

But, all that leaves us with scepticism about how one mere mortal who happens to Prime Minister of Malaysia, can, within a 24-hours and 365-day cycle, also deal effectively with a demanding portfolio like the Ministry of Finance and, yet, do both satisfactorily.

Besides, given the difficult economic climate, why handle the Finance portfolio where almost no one is going to be happy? Better to leave it to someone else who's head will be on the chopping block.