Tuesday, June 30, 2009

FIC no longer exists

The Prime Minister has said that, “You can say that the FIC no longer exists and a new unit created by (minister in the prime minister’s department) Tan Sri Nor Yackop will be created to replace it in the EPU".

This is another step in the liberalisation process.

The barriers are coming down.

The key word in the PM's speech is competitiveness. Of that, Malaysia needs to work very hard to reach anywhere near the level that is required.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Redux: A future without oil money

As a change of guard takes place in Petronas, we need to take a holistic view of the prospect of Malaysia's future without oil money. Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah has written something about the key principles and values of and, some transitional issues involving Petronas here. Anyway, this is what I wrote on October 29, 2008:

A future without oil money

Today, oil money, courtesy of Petronas, constitutes 44 per cent of Federal government revenue. Oil revenues is the single largest contributor to the GDP of Malaysia.

We are all aware that world oil prices have declined to less than half of its high-point of USD145 per barrel. We are also aware that the Malaysian government used US$125 per barrel of oil as its benchmark price for the 2009 Budget to estimate the revenue it assumed it would earn.

Clearly, Malaysia's economic managers are now forced to recalculate the 2009 Budget assumptions. The deferment of the Eurocopter deal is the most high-profile response to the expected decline in Federal government revenue. We can expect more of such measures come November 4, when Najib as MOF1, takes to the floor of the Parliament.

But, this is the immediate future. We should be even more concerned about the near-distant future.

In the not-too-distant future of, say, 2012 or 2014, Malaysia's oil spigots are expected to run dry. What does this mean for a Malaysian nation that has enjoyed the oil largesse since 1974? If oil revenues constitute 44% of the Federal government revenues in 2008, wouldn't that mean that Federal government revenues will decline significantly, even if Petronas has oil revenues from non-Malaysian sources?

This is a real spectre that all Malaysians need to accept in the next four to six years.
Strategies to deal with an oil-less future
I believe that when Najib spoke of liberalising elements of the NEP, he has been adequately briefed to be fully aware of an oil-less future for Malaysia. In a sense, looking at ways to liberalise elements of the NEP is the pragmatic and, highly necessary, strategic and tactical view.

I believe that the effect of the mooted NEP liberalisation is directed at foreign direct investment (FDIs). The Malaysian government needs to highlight the highly liberal and decentralised FDI strategies of competitor countries like China. The autonomous economic zones stretching from the Pearl River delta to Shanghai did not become the factory of the world by accident. In the 1990s, Beijing empowered provincial governments with very wide discretion even on equity structures and land ownership for FDIs. This strategy was highlighted by Kenichi Ohmae to be one of the key success factors for coastal China's economic leap. Our economic managers may have this in mind.

Key elements of the Malaysian economy
In a future where oil revenues as a contributor to the Federal government has declined, Malaysia's economic growth drivers will, more so than ever, have to come from:

1. Industrial-manufacturing base.

2. Primary industries such as palm oil and rubber.

3. Tourism.

4. Services sector, encompassing banking and finance, especially Islamic finance will become even more prominent since Kuala Lumpur is already recognised as a centre for Islamic banking. But, do not, for one moment, forget that Singapore is already equally recognised as a center for Islamic banking. That's competition for you.

One of the key routes that all nations take to foster economic growth, Malaysia being no exception, is the search for good quality FDIs. That was the idea that drove the numerous Economic Corridors under the Badawi Administration. But, as I have previously stated in earlier blog posts, at Malaysia's present stage of development, such Corridors are no more than mere venue-providing and construction opportunities for a select few. Underlining such an approach is the ready supply of cheap labour for low-skill assembly, soldering and packaging.

Industrial-manufacturing activity
Let's face it. Most of Malaysia's E&E (electrical and electronics) exports are generated by FDIs. While the Ministry of International Trade and Industry has crowed about this sector for years and years, the truth is that Malaysia is only a venue provider and a supplier of cheap labour. The FDIs can uproot themselves at any time. I saw with my own eyes how, despite having spent ten years in Malaysia, the giant US toy manufacturer, Mattel, uprooted itself from the North Port, Port Klang area within months to relocate in Indonesia. It paid all severance and retrenchment benefits and left. We are a mere budgetary item for the multinational companies (MNCs).
That leaves us with surgical gloves and furniture. In the case of furniture, Malaysia suffers from poor industrial design or, even the lack of it. As I said in a previous post, industrial design is a key value chain element. But, we are short of it. It is a skill that can be learnt. But is our education system churning out the correct type of skill sets?

Primary industries
Let's look at rubber. Natural rubber, as far as I'm aware, has certain unique properties that makes it the only shock absorption material for heavy loads such as bridge spans. Natural rubber has properties that maintain its quality in high-performance tyres that are put in punishing conditions such as Formula One racing cars, aircraft and, even the Moon Rover. Synthetic rubber falls apart under extreme conditions.
But, what happened to Dunlop tyres owned by Sime Darby once upon a time? Non-rubber producing countries have global brands like Michelin, Goodyear, Silverstone and, even the Korean Kookmin. What happened? Dunno. We only tap rubber, smoke them into SMRs and sell them semi-processed.
Let's look at palm oil. Extract the palm oil and it becomes crude palm oil (CPO). Add additional processes and it becomes oleochemicals. Then it can be processed into margarine, soap and cooking oil. Wonderful.

The only problem is, all the world wants is palm oil in CPO form. The oleochemical part is usually done in the importer countries. It is a prime candidate for import substitution industries in the importer countries.

By the way, most of Malaysia's palm oil based soap brands are non-Malaysian. Owned by the Japanese-owned Kao or, the US-owned Procter & Gamble or, the European-owned Unilever.

This is one possible bright, shining star. But we need to clean the public toilets and, get the taxi drivers not to overcharge.

Education is a key factor
Seriously, Malaysia needs to move up the value chain. Dr M mystically describes this as making Malaysia a high cost centre. By high cost, Dr M means moving up the value chain.

There seems to be a disconnect in the minds of the Minister of Education(MOE), the Minister of International Trade and Industry(MITI) and the Minister of Finance(MOF). Let me help to connect the dots.

To move up the value chain, we must start with Primary and Secondary education. Two key elements are needed:

1. English language proficiency is crucial. Teaching Mathematics and Science in the English language is crucial. This will allow Malaysians to be assimilated into the modern world of knowledge and, into the modern economy.

2. More resources must be put into training teachers to become more proficient in English. The current crop of teachers come from a 100% Bahasa Malaysia medium. Forget about investing in ICT, computer labs and all that nonsense. We need software NOT hardware.

After the Secondary education level, Malaysians must have the option of going to vocational schools to learn mid-level technical skills or, pursue tertiary or high-level skills at the universities. Here, a sound command of the English language will be a significant advantage.

Why is it so difficult for MOE, MITI and MOF to take this holistic view and jointly tell the Malay, Chinese and Indian tribes that teaching English in Mathematics and Science secures the future of their children and, advances the economy of Malaysia by ensuring that their children will get higher pay due to higher skills?

Employment and entrepreneuring
With higher skills, Malaysia will move up the value chain to become the high cost centre that Dr M spoke of. This means higher incomes and more high-level jobs for Malaysians.

It can be jobs from the FDIs. It can be jobs from Malaysian SMEs that produce components such as solar cells and, possibly, nanobots.

In a future without oil money, money can only come from our brains. And, if Malaysian brains are not properly prepared, the shock of becoming poor or, less rich can be a dangerous threat to social stability and national security.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The sultan's role in Perak

This item is from the Edge Daily. It is written by an eminent constitutional scholar. His analysis is very sound and instructive. It is worth reading several times.

Dr Kevin YL Tan has taught constitutional law for over 20 years. He currently holds Adjunct Professorships at the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore and the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at the Nanyang Technological University. He holds a doctorate in law from Yale University. He is the author of Constitutional Law in Malaysia & Singapore (with Thio Li-ann); Introduction to Singapore’s Constitution and numerous articles on constitutional law in Singapore, Malaysia and the region.

Sultan Azlan Shah's appointment of Datuk Dr Zambry bin Abdul Kadir as Perak’s Menteri Besar on 17 March precipitated a constitutional crisis that culminated in the case now before the courts. The facts of the case are by now, fairly well-known and merit only a brief recount.

Following nation-wide general elections in March 2008, the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) won 31 seats in the 59-member Legislative Assembly and Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar bin Jamaludin was appointed Menteri Besar of Perak. The Barisan Nasional (BN) held the remaining 28 seats. In February 2009, three PR members -- DAP’s Hee Yit Foong, and PKR’s Jamaluddin Mohd Radzi and Mohd Osman Mohd Jailu -- announced their resignations from the legislative assembly, leaving each party in control of 28 seats each.

On 4 February, Nizar approached Sultan Azlan Shah to dissolve the assembly to "resolve the deadlock". The next day, the sultan met with 31 members of the assembly, and was satisfied that they supported Zambry as MB, and then informed Nizar that his request for dissolution of the state legislative assembly had been rejected. Among the 31 members present at this meeting were the three PR members who had earlier resigned. They had apparently withdrawn their resignations and transferred their support to Zambry. The sultan then informed Nizar that he no longer commanded the confidence of the state assembly and asked him to resign as MB. Zambry did not comply, and the sultan’s office issued a press statement declaring the office of MB vacant and that Zambry had been appointed the new MB since he commanded the confidence of the majority of state assembly members.

On 11 May 2009, the Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled that as there had been no vote of confidence on the floor of the state legislative assembly, Nizar remained the rightful MB of Perak. Zambry appealed against this decision and on 22 May, the Court of Appeal overturned the High Court decision and declared that Zambry had been rightfully appointed as MB.

At the time of writing, the Court of Appeal has yet to deliver the grounds for that decision. Even so, Nizar’s lawyers filed an application for leave to appeal against the Court of Appeal decision on 19 June 2009. This application is scheduled for hearing on 9 to 10 July.

Issues raised by the High Court's decision

As the High Court’s decision is the only one available, this commentary relates to this judgment. The key issues in this case are whether Sultan Azlan Shah:

a. could dismiss the Executive Council when Nizar refused to tender the Council’s resignation after the Sultan refused to his request to dissolve the Legislative Assembly;

b. was constitutionally empowered to appoint Zambry the new MB when Nizar refused to tender the resignation of the Executive Council; and

c. had a discretion to determine if Nizar had lost the confidence of the majority of members of the Legislative Assembly in any other way than by a vote on the floor of the Assembly.

Ambit of Article XXVI(6)

The key to answering these questions is Article XXVI(6) of the Perak Constitution which provides:

If the Menteri Besar ceases to command the confidence of the majority of the members of the Legislative Assembly, then, unless at his request His Royal Highness dissolves the Legislative Assembly, he shall tender the resignation of the Executive Council.

The High Court Judge, Datuk Abdul Aziz J, adopted the "golden rule of interpretation" requiring a court to give the words of the Constitution a plain and ordinary reading if the words are unambiguous. Finding that Article XVI(6) of the Perak Constitution ‘contains no ambiguity whatsoever’, Abdul Aziz J held that the sultan had no power to dismiss Nizar; neither was he allowed to deem the office of Menteri Besar vacant when Nizar refused to resign. To do so, he added, would be to do ‘violence to the language’ of Article XVI(6).

The judge held that when Nizar requested the sultan to dissolve the state legislative assembly, he had not done so with "any reference to any provision in the Perak’s State Constitution" and in the absence of reference to any specific provision in the Constitution, Nizar was thus requesting the sultan to exercise his royal prerogative under Article XXXVI(2), which gave the sultan a general power to "prorogue or dissolve the Legislative Assembly."

The textual argument

A textual reading of Article XVI(6) supports the High Court’s interpretation of this key provision. Article XVI comes under the heading "The Executive Council" and the relevant provision is the sixth of its eight sub-clauses. Though headings, sub-headings and marginal notes do not technically form part of the constitutional text, they help us understand the structure and organisation of the Constitution. On the face of it, Article XVI is clearly intended to deal specifically with matters relating to the Executive Council and not generalities.

A general request for the dissolution of the state legislative assembly and the sultan’s discretion thereof is governed by Article XXXVI(2) read with Article XVIII(2)(b). That means that the sultan has a general power to dissolve the state legislative assembly and may act in his discretion in withholding a request for dissolution. It is clear that such a general request for dissolution does not fall under Article XVI(6), which is to be deployed in a very specific instance.

This is immediately discernible when we read it sequentially: A MB who has already ceased to command the confidence of the majority of the members of the Legislative Assembly must tender the resignation of the Executive Council, but only if the sultan exercises his discretion to refuse to dissolve the Legislative Assembly upon that MB’s request for dissolution.

Following from this reading, it is clear that the determination as to whether and when the MB has lost the confidence of the majority of the members of the state legislative assembly – as opposed to whether the MB was likely to command the confidence of the majority of LA members under Article XVI(2 – is a matter for the state legislative assembly itself. It is not an executive decision.

The argument from history

Does history support the High Court’s reading of Article XVI(6)? Back in 1956, various representations were made to the Reid Commission on the status and powers of the sultan and on his power to act. Back then, debates still raged over what necessary constitutional amendments needed to be made to make the Sultans "constitutional rulers" and whether the MB should hold office at the sultan’s pleasure.

What is clear from the resulting deliberations is that the Commission was determined to ensure that (a) the organisation of government in the states mirrored that of the Federation; and (b) the Malay Rulers should no longer preside over their state executive councils and involve themselves in executive decision-making save in very limited instances. These concerns led the Commission to set out the meaning of ‘constitutional ruler’ in paragraph 177 of their Report:

… a constitu­tional Ruler is a Ruler with limited powers, and the essential limitations are that the Ruler should be bound to accept and act on the advice of the Menteri Besar or Executive Council, and that the Menteri Besar or Executive Council should not hold office at the pleasure of the Ruler or be ulti­mately responsible to him but should be responsi­ble to a parliamentary assembly and should cease to hold office on ceasing to have the confidence of that assembly. (emphasis added)

By the Commission’s reckoning, there was no intention to give the constitutional ruler a power to dismiss the MB or the Executive Council at will. Further support can be gleaned from a memorandum on ‘The State Constitutions’ prepared by Sir Ivor Jennings (CO 889/2 p. 156 dated 31 Aug 1956) – certainly the most important and influential member of the Commission – when he noted:

The Rulers will become constitutional monarchs and executive government must be placed under the control, direct or indirect, of the State Councils. It is assumed that the Ruler … would appoint a Menteri Besar … who would have, or hope to obtain, a majority in the State Council. … It is assumed that the Ruler would have power, on the advice of the Menteri Besar, to dissolve the State Council, but that, like the Queen, he need not accept the advice. The Ruler would not be empowered to dissolve without advice, though, of course, he could always appoint a new Menteri Besar who was likely so to advise because he had no majority.

Historical precedent is consonant with the High Court’s reading of Article XVI(6). The sultan was entitled to refuse a request to dissolve the state legislative assembly, be it a general request – for example when early elections are to be called or where the state legislative assembly is sharply divided over a key policy or the budget – or a specific request under Article XVI(6) after the MB has already lost the confidence of the majority of the state legislative assembly.

Dismissal of the Executive Council

Both the textual and historical arguments support the High Court’s reading of Article XVI(6). However, this does not resolve the question as to whether the sultan was empowered to (a) declare the office of the MB and Executive Council vacant; and (b) following from that declaration, proceed to appoint a new MB.

The Perak Constitution is not explicit on this point. What is clear is that the Executive Council is appointed by the sultan on the advice of the MB. Although Article XVI(7) states that members of the Executive Council hold their office at the sultan's pleasure, Article XVIII makes it clear that the sultan may not dismiss them at a whim, but only upon the advice of the MB. This reading is borne out by the Reid Commission Report that stated (at paragraph 181):

As the Executive Council is to be collectively responsible to the Legislative Assembly the appointment of its members must lie in the hands of the Mentri Besar and a new Mentri Besar must be free to appoint a new Exec­utive Council in the same way as the Prime Min­ister appoints his Ministers. This result follows from our recommendation that members of the Executive Council should hold office at the plea­sure of the Ruler because in appointing or termi­nating the appointment of a member of the Exec­utive Council the Ruler must act on the advice of the Mentri Besar.

What happens if an MB, who has lost the confidence of the majority of the state legislative assembly, refuses to resign his position and that of the Executive Council after the sultan rejects that MB’s request for a dissolution of the state legislative assembly? This happened in Kelantan in 1977 when its MB, Datuk Mohamed Nasir refused to resign even though he had lost a vote of confidence motion in the Kelantan state legislative assembly, been sacked by his own party, and had his request for dissolution of the assembly refused by the Sultan of Kelantan. The impasse led to the declaration of a state of emergency by the Federal Government that lasted three months, after which the state legislative assembly was dissolved for fresh elections.

Alas, this single precedent is not particularly instructive. No legal solution was possible and the situation was resolved politically by the sultan dissolving the assembly and allowing fresh elections to be called. Perhaps, all rulers and governors should, as a matter of course, accede to requests by their respective MBs to dissolve the legislative assembly for fresh elections to be called unless the ruler has a premonition that a calamity might befall the state if he so acceded.

That way, new mandates are quickly determined and the business of government can proceed once a new leadership is established. Indeed, the Sultan of Perak supported this view of a ruler’s powers when he was Lord President. In his 1982 essay, ‘The Role of Constitutional Rulers’, he opined:

… under normal circumstances, it is taken for granted that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong would not withhold his consent to a request for dissolution of Parliament. His role under such a situation is purely formal.

This point was picked up by counsel for Nizar and cited with approval by the High Court.

The sultan has no explicit power to dismiss an MB under the Perak Constitution. Indeed, neither is the Yang di-Pertuan Agong empowered to dismiss a Prime Minister under the Federal Constitution. Originally, the Reid Commission had prepared a draft Article 36(2) which, among other things, gave the Yang di-Pertuan Besar power to remove the Prime Minister from office. However, as the High Court duly noted, the words were changed when the present Article 43(4) was promulgated. This provision is almost word-for-word the same as Article XVI(6) of the Perak Constitution save for the nomenclature used.


We return to the three questions posed at the start of this article. If, as the High Court rightly held, Nizar’s request for to dissolve the state legislative assembly was made under general provisions rather than under Article XVI(6), then the sultan had no power either to declare the office of MB vacant nor to dismiss the members of the Executive Council. And since the sultan had no power to declare the office of MB vacant, he was correspondingly prevented from exercising his discretion under Article XVI(2) to appoint Zambry as MB and to act on Zambry’s advice to appoint members to the Executive Council.

The third question posed – whether the sultan had a discretion to determine if Nizar had lost the confidence of the majority of state legislative assembly members – does not arise for consideration on the facts of this case. The question as to whether or not a show of confidence or support can be demonstrated in any way other than by a formal vote on the floor of the House is moot since the sultan is not being asked to exercise his discretion under Article XVI(2) to determine support or confidence for the purposes of appointing a new MB.

Even if the sultan was called upon to exercise his discretion on this matter, I would argue that the best way to determine confidence (or otherwise) in any individual as MB is to have a formal vote on the floor of the state legislative assembly. This is especially crucial in a political system that is not constrained by anti-hopping laws, and which allows assemblymen and assemblywomen to transfer loyalties at a drop of a hat. A formal vote will require formalities to be met, membership of political parties to be ascertained, and resignations or change of affiliations registered. Most importantly, it will provide for certainty.

One possible way to avoid future confusion over the sultan’s discretionary powers with respect to requests for a dissolution, might be to require the MB to state clearly in his request for dissolution, whether his doing so under the general provisions to which Article XXXVI(2) applied or because he has lost the confidence of the majority of the state assembly members under Article XVI(6). That way, there can be no issue of how the sultan is to deploy his discretion. This can be done as a matter of constitutional practice and will not require a constitutional amendment.

In the meantime, the problem remains. Two men claim to be the rightful MB of Perak and two groups claim to be members of the Executive Council. As scholars of constitutional law and keen observers of Malaysian politics, we anxiously await the Court of Appeal’s written judgment as we eagerly await the wisdom of the Federal Court to find a legal solution to an essentially political issue.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Maids vs Work-life balance

There is another aspect to the maids issue that we tend to overlook. It may be ignored because at the micro-level there is nothing any individual can do about it. But a collective will may bring about a gradual shift.

Most families need dual-income or even quadruple income to finance their aspirations. Both parents need to go out to earn a living.

It is no longer appropriate to expect parents or in-laws to look after our children. Besides, they are ageing and, it is not fair on them. The extended family system of care that many older Malaysians used to witness and enjoy when we were children ourselves is a bygone thing. Another victim of "modernisation".

So, here we are. Housing loans to pay. Car loans to pay. Dining out. Inflation. Lifestyle. Tuition for the children. Saving for the university fees that our children will need.

The causes are manifold, of course.

So, domestic chores such as basic housekeeping, gardening, laundry, ironing and, cooking needs to be outsourced.

But, on a shoe-string budget most Malaysian families are prepared only to pay, say, RM600-00 for domestic help. And, the agents who intermediate on this, are more than happy make arrangements with their overseas counterparts, particularly in Indonesia, to liberally recruit all and sundry in the most remote villages of Java. There is hardly any quality control because screening and training is costly.

In the competitive stakes for domestic help Malaysians cannot afford to pay what the people in Dubai, Hong Kong or Singapore can pay. So, Malaysians are scraping the bottom of the barrel.

So, Malaysians have a problem. We cannot afford to have only one spouse work. We cannot afford good quality domestic help.

Is this due to a cheap and weak Ringgit?

Is this due to low wages and salaries relative to other countries?

Is this due to poor quality primary and secondary education that requires us to pay tuition for almost every subject to augment what teachers don't teach in class?

These are social and economic issues that requires a seriously holistic appraisal. The process has started albeit hesitantly. But, it will be a long and arduous path.

Where does that leave any aspiration for work-life balance?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pua's mighty 'Pen'

No this not about Tony Pua. This is a story filed by S. Indramalar of The Star on Pua Khein Seng whose originated from Malaysia and, who found his way to Taiwan and developed the world's first USB flash removable disk, more popularly known as the Pen Drive.

Pua Khein Seng is another inspirational story. One should not read any sort of political, educational or any angle into his story. It's about a Malaysian who made good. His is another story that should inspire all Malaysians to do better and to be the best that we each can be.

I must thank profusely regular commentator flyer168 for forwarding this story to me.

Name: Pua Khein Seng
Age: 31
Hometown: Sekinchan, Selangor
Education: SJKC Yeok Kuan, Sekinchan; Pin Hwa Independent school, Klang; Chiao Tung University, Taiwan
Occupation: Engineer/ president of Phison Electonics Corp
Current base: Taipei, Taiwan
Years abroad: 12

WHEN he set off for Taiwan in 1993, Pua Khein Seng's only aim was to complete his degree in Electrical Control Engineering at the renowned Chiao Tung University and return home to work in Malaysia.

Never did he envision himself heading a multi-million dollar Taiwanese company that developed the world's first USB flash removable disk, which they called Pen Drive.

Pua Khein Seng went to Taiwan to get his engineering degree but ended up staying on, starting his own company and inventing the pen drive.

"I went to Taiwan to pursue my undergraduate degree. I chose Taiwan only because it was too expensive to study either in the United States or Singapore.

"However, I did well in my undergraduate programme and was offered a place to do my masters," explained Pua, who was back in Kuala Lumpur recently for a holiday.

After completing his Masters in July 1999, Pua worked for about six months in a local company before deciding to set up his own venture company with four fellow engineers who had studied with him at Chiao Tung.

"We were confident that we had the know-how and ability to start our own business, which is focused on USB technology. The company is called Phison because there are five of us - two Malaysians and three Taiwanese engineers," said Pua, 31, who hails from Sekinchan, Selangor.

Phison Electronics Corporation was set up in November 2000 and within six months the young entrepreneurs came up with their first invention - a USB storage device called Pen Drive.

"We were the first company in the world to develop the USB Drive SoC (System On Chip) and we were very confident that the market for USB will be huge. At the time, no one believed in us so we had to do everything ourselves - from developing the technology, the chips to the product itself.

"We were only 27 at the time and inexperienced. But we were confident that we could design good systems and chips but we didn't know anything about selling. So, we sought partners or traders who could help sell our products for us," Pua added.

Through smart partnerships and shrewd strategies, Phison soon made its way into European, American and Japanese markets. One quick move was securing Japanese tech giant Toshiba as Phison's largest shareholder and customer.

"We launched Pen Drive in June 2001 and by August the same year, we broke even! From September 2001, we were reaping monthly profits from our invention and there has been no turning back since."

Having established himself in Taiwan, Pua is in the midst of setting up Phison's branch in Malaysia, due to begin operations this

"I am starting a branch in Malaysia because this is my country. I would like to do contribute to its development.

"We have about 100 engineers at Phison in Taiwan, 20 of whom are Malaysians. Though they studied in Taiwan, I had to re-train all the engineers I hire because, like most fresh graduates (in this field), they are not industry-ready upon graduation.

"Unfortunately, some of the Malaysian engineers want to return home after a couple of years because they are homesick, about to start a family and so on. Some prefer to work in Singapore, as it is closer to home. Instead of losing them to competitors, I decided to set up an office in Malaysia where they can still work for me," said Pua.

Another problem faced by returning computer engineers from Taiwan, Pua added, was the lack of job opportunities for hardware engineers in Malaysia.

"There is no environment or support for design engineers here in Malaysia. One of my Malaysian engineers from Phison returned home and ended up as a teacher in a Chinese school! I was shocked and thought, 'After all that training and re-training, he is going to just teach?' I told him to hold on till I open up the Phison branch in Malaysia."

Though he has been in Taiwan for the past 12 years and married to a Taiwanese, Pua is not sure how much longer he will remain there.

"I have really no idea where I will be in 20 years. Maybe Taiwan, maybe Malaysia, maybe somewhere else ... it all depends on my business. The industry is moving so fast that I cannot predict what or where I will be," he said.

For the moment though, Taiwan is home for Pua, his wife and two children even though he misses the Malaysian way of life.

"I come home once a year for Chinese New Year and will usually stay for about two weeks. There are several things I really miss about Malaysia. One is the food! For the past 12 years I have been craving for Malaysian food ... I miss laksa, curry noodles, chee cheong fun and all the other delicious dishes we have here.

"I also miss the lifestyle and quality of life here. When I come back, I am always amazed to see people hanging out and relaxing at mamak shops at night. In Taiwan, most people would still be at work at that time of the night!

"Before I got married, I used to work for 15 to 17 hours a day, everyday. Now that I have children, my wife has forbidden me to stay so late. Now, I go to work at 9am and come home by 11pm. These hours are quite normal for the Taiwanese."

The man who invented USB pen-drive is a young modest Malaysian who can't even get into a local University but invented the most versatile, indispensable computer peripheral today. And helped his adopted country, Taiwan made $31bil in the process. The rest is history....

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Air Asia battles "swine"

YB Wee Choo Keong's question to the Prime Minister/First Minister of Finance on the RM65 million debt due and owing by Air Asia to Malaysian Airports Holdings Berhad and, whether any special privileges were accorded Air Asia met with a reply that MAHB did not take any drastic action to claim the arrears in airport tax owed by AirAsia because it will only affect the operation of the low-cost carrier terminal (LCCT).

The response does seem to confirm that Air Asia is not without some leverage borne from its commercial impact on air passenger transportation in Malaysia despite suffering widespread opprobrium over the Sime Darby Labu LCCT proposal a few months ago.

But, perhaps Air Asia's greatest challenge is the threat of implosion from the debt edifice that it has had to create in its aggressive and, almost Icarian (i.e. from the Greek myth of Icarus) obssession to gain dominance over large parts of the Malaysian skies and niche parts of the international skies.

I should state that, like many Malaysians, I am an admirer of Air Asia and the entrepreneurial prowess of Tony Fernandes and his team. Air Asia is an excellent example for all Malaysians to emulate. Having said that there are some perturbation over the the manner in which airline operators, admirable as they are, deal with the matter of debt financing. Often, it appears as if the airline operators are racing just one pace ahead of the debt tsunami that they create to support their business model. Of particular concern is the size of the debt and, the risk prospects of public investors who subscribe to their airline adventure. I do wish Air Asia well. But, at the same time, like many, I do not choose to be blinkered and submit to blind adulation.

Read Bloomberg columnist William Pesek's recent sympathetic opinion on Air Asia's continuing travails below. Pesek's piece uses Air Asia as a focal point. But, his central thesis is clear. It is a harsh critique on the unwieldy global banking and finance practices that have come into stark relief over the past year. I have taken the liberty to emphasise in bold the apects of the opinion that is worth reflecting on:

Journalists strive to be objective, while opinion writers try to give their side of the story without being too biased.

Where Tony Fernandes is concerned, it’s a difficult balancing act. The truth is, I’m rooting for the founder of Kuala-Lumpur-based AirAsia Bhd. This region needs more entrepreneurs like him if it’s going to thrive, and I want Fernandes to succeed.

So it was with a tinge of sadness that I read his recent comments about how difficult it still is to borrow money. His words explain, perhaps better than anything, why the global recession may have a long way to go.

The worst of the financial crisis may be past, as hedge- fund manager George Soros argues, yet that’s different from the recession. Even if markets stop reeling, the fallout from the loss of wealth is still filtering through to broader economies - - and it will for some time.

Just ask Fernandes, an executive who is as much on the front lines of today’s uncertainties as anyone.

“We’ve been through SARS, bird flu, the tsunami, you name it,” the chief executive officer of Southeast Asia’s biggest discount airline said at the Paris Air Show on June. 19. “The only swine now are bankers.”

Fernandes, 45, says he made that comment in jest. Yet there’s as much truth as hyperbole to it.

Stingy Financiers

For all the hysteria about swine flu -- the mask-wearing passengers, the long queues at customs, even the risks of death -- the biggest threat to global industries is stingy financiers. In AirAsia’s case, the challenge is to find banks willing to finance aircraft purchases.

Liquidity trap, anyone? That’s the imminent threat right now. If companies can’t grow during economic hardship, more jobs may be lost. That dynamic, more than any, will ensure that healthy growth remains elusive.

Granted, AirAsia is a contrarian outfit. As most industries hunker down, it is expanding apace, adding new planes and routes to prepare for an eventual rebound. Here, it’s possible that bankers have a point that Fernandes’s ambitions may be running ahead of demand.

When I rang Fernandes yesterday, he was as bullish as ever: “For seven years now, people have been saying we are overstretched, and we have proved them wrong. We’ve been very aggressive, but we haven’t been silly about it.”

McDonald’s Dynamic

Fernandes launched the budget carrier in December 2001. Starting the airline just after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. seemed like commercial suicide. AirAsia was soon turning profits. In the first quarter of 2009, earnings climbed 26 percent as Singapore Airlines Ltd. and Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. reported mounting losses. It’s not unlike how McDonald’s Corp. thrives in recessions; no-frills beats the rest.

It’s also impressive that Ferdandes did it in Asia’s 10th- biggest economy. Malaysia has long picked national champions and protected its flagship airline. Getting the go-ahead to compete directly with Malaysian Airline System Bhd. was no small feat.

Risks abound. A surge in oil prices would be problematic, as would the global economy experiencing a Japan-like lost decade. That could make the 175 Airbus SAS planes that Fernandes has on order rather hard to pay for.

AirAsia also may suffer from a bit of a Steve Jobs-like problem. The company is built largely around Fernandes’s charisma, as Apple Inc. is around Jobs. Investors were reminded of that on June 1, when Fernandes fainted in Kuala Lumpur, reportedly from exhaustion.

Swine Flu

Should the swine-flu pandemic unfold, AirAsia’s long-haul affiliate, AirAsia X, could be in for a rough ride. AirAsia owns about 15 percent of closely held AirAsia X. Other investors include Richard Branson, the Virgin Group billionaire.

It’s not surprising that Fernandes would be down on bankers. Politicians watching bailed-out banks refuse to extend credit also have reason to be annoyed. An even bigger concern may be how the global credit system is malfunctioning.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was right when he said on June 13 that “it is too early to shift toward policy restraint.” His appeal was to Group of Eight finance ministers looking to roll back budget deficits and bank bailouts as economies show signs of recovery.

The real issue is devising a new financial system that makes sense. The current one, decades in the making, was all about rich nations being at the center and financing poor ones. The emerging one features poorer nations financing the richest. Research into how that shift is affecting credit channels and monetary-policy links is in its infancy.

In the meantime, the walls of money that central banks are pouring into markets aren’t likely to have the intended effect. Inflation, for example, is less of a threat in a liquidity trap. The multiplier effects that make monetary policy so potent aren’t working as they once did.

Bankers are an obvious target. Another is how little is going on to fix the problems that grounded markets in the first place. Getting them aloft again will help innovators such as Fernandes improve Asia’s economies.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Services sector as growth driver?

The Prime Minister/First Minister of Finance says that the target is to have the services sector grow to 70% of Malaysia's annual GDP from 54% currently: Govt to emphasise on services sector. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Services sub-sectors
The major services sub-sectors are in banking and finance, tourism and transportation.

Malaysia's also has superlative strengths or efficiencies or capacity linked to traditional activities such as plantation management services, professional scientific services for rubber production and for downstream rubber goods production, engineering services for modern oil palm and rubber estates, support services for selected manufacturing such as engineering services for electronics industries, infrastructure and property planning and development services, and construction related services.

With respect to tourism, there are opportunities for further development of resort services.

A need to identify market niches
The niche markets will depend on the following factors:

First, the service products need to be identified. This includes higher education conducted in English for domestic and export markets (currently Malaysia has more than 20,000 foreign students drawn from about 100 countries enrolled in private colleges and universities), Islamic banking services, trading agencies for Malaysia's rubber, palm oil and oil and gas-related products.

Second, the services need to match demand. Using tertiary education services as an example, this is a matter of pricing of fees and quality of higher education. Another example is specialist medical and health services targeted at new segments, such as patients from neighbouring countries with less advanced services, who are motivated by Malaysia's relatively low price for similar services offered.

Third, the identification of where the demand can be tapped. For example there are tourists from the Asia Pacific and Middle East who prefer Malaysia's geographic location for any number of reasons such as language or cultural familiarity between buyers and providers of the services. There are specific demands for eco-tourism for rain forest tours or deep sea scuba diving packages or golfing trips. Such niches are sustainable only if service providers continuously maintain and improve their facilities to ensure safety, hygiene and quality standards that meet expectations of the niche markets.

Fourth, there is a perception of value - how much bang for the buck, so to speak. For example, highlighting that tertiary education and training in the English language at a competitive level of quality and cost. The centrality of Malaysia as a launching board for visiting other Southeast Asian countries is another example.

The imperatives in developing services
Within Malaysia's domestic economy, the development of the services could be ordered along the following lines:
  • Accelerate import substitution in areas such as education and training services and, freight and transport services.
  • Enhancing and deepening the consumption of existing services such as telecommunication, multimedia and information service products. This is where content is important.
  • Developing new consumers through new business strategies, new ways of promotion and new approaches towards the delivery of services.
  • Developing new service products or new modes of delivery for existing market niches. For example, in domestic tourism, the creation of strategic alliances between the core service provider with the providers of other products or services especially for foreign in-bound tourist.
The many steps required
Many believe that despite the overwhelming economic dominance of China and India, Malaysia still has a role to play and, remain relevant. That is true, of course.

The path towards services contributing 70% of Malaysia's annual GDP will be a tricky one. Economists may become exasperated with the manner in which the value of services are collated, computed or imputed.

Players may not have the skill sets in spite of the sincerest efforts of the government of the day. This may be due to declining standards of education and a decline in English proficiency.

The aspirational focus on services over other traditional sectors such as primary industries and manufacturing is obviously due to the clear realisation that Malaysia cannot compete strongly in these sectors.

It is believed that economic growth must come from the development of services. Greater value-added can be achieved. It is believed that these are the ingredients for shifting Malaysia's workforce from the low-cost, low-pay regime today to the high-cost, high-pay regime of tomorrow.

I want to jot some thoughts that I have explored in previous posts:

Is the economic growth paradigm the only model that Malaysia can subscribe to?

Will the declining education standards and level of English proficiency in Malaysia affect our competitive ability to shift from the low-cost, low-pay regime to the high-cost, high-pay regime?

If so much of Malaysia's scarce financial resources are to be allocated in favour of the services sector, what becomes of the brick-and-mortar primary resources and manufacturing sectors?

I am a big fan of the brick-and-mortar economic sectors. Although I am personally involved in the services sector, I am more comfortable with the thought that Malaysia has strengths in the primary industries and manufacturing because I have always felt that no matter what Malaysia does, these are the two sectors that will keep Malaysia close to some form of self-sufficiency.

This may not seem important in a globalised world. But we should give pause to consider the security aspects. Just remember how vulnerable the feeling was just less than 10 months ago when crude oil prices were at stratospheric heights and food prices were skyrocketing. We even feared where our rice supplies were going to come from. What happened to all that?

So, I hope that in allocating Malaysia's scarce economic resources, the economic planners maintain a balance. 70% of Malaysia's annual GDP coming from services is a good aspiration. But let us remain focused on things like food security which is derived from agricultural productivity.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ronnie Liu do something about the street lights along Jalan Pelabuhan Utara

The last time I checked, Ronnie Liu is the ADUN for Selat Klang which pretty much covers that part of Port Klang that I'm complaining about. Yes, this is a complaint. And, I believe I am expressing what everyone who has the misfortune to drive along Jalan Pelabuhan Utara at night has to put up with.

This is only a representation. Pix from here.

I believe Ronnie Liu is also the Selangor State Exco in charge of local councils. So, he certainly has the power.

I believe that Jalan Pelabuhan Utara falls under the jurisdiction of the State and the Majlis Perbandaran Klang.

Why are key sections of Jalan Pelabuhan Utara between the Northport and West Port not properly lit at night? The street lamps don't work.

To be fair they weren't working when Khir Toyo was Mentri Besar. But, the point is that they still don't work.

All the offices and warehouses in Port Klang pay quit rent to the Selangor State Government and, they pay assessment to the Majlis Perbandaran Klang.

Container trucks race along Jalan Pelabuhan Utara alongside motorcycles. It is a matter of time before many more road fatalities happen along this road at night.

The poor condition of Jalan Pelabuhan Utara makes Malaysia's premier port as great an embarassment as the PKFZ issue.

Unity Talks: The elephant in the room

All the piruoetting and tip-toeing about the true intention of that section of PAS that wishes to pursue unity talks with UMNO is just puerile spin.

I share Dr Mahathir's view that PAS must come in clean with the true intention of the unity talks.

The elephant in the room in this entire episode that the so-called "unity camp" in PAS has experienced a culture shock of sorts in experiencing Pakatan Rakyat state governments in Perak and Selangor where the front bench and back bench are, to put it circumspectly, too rainbow-like in pigmentation.

That is why this PAS faction wants to crawl back into a comfort zone of monotone.

What does that say about their claim to a deeper faith and belief?

Many who supported Pakatan Rakyat in the 12th General Elections are perturbed by this purported "unity talk". It is a stern reminder that PAS is, at the end of the day, a Malay political party. More Malay than Islamic. More about politics than faith. More about ethnicity and less about principles.

These concerned Malaysian voters may soon opt for a lesser evil, a dalliance with the known Devil, so to speak. And, that would be Barisan Nasional. In their view, at least BN calls a spade a spade.

At the rate this PAS "unity talk" fiasco is going, will Malaysian voters be prepared to regard a hypocritical PAS as being worse than a corrupt UMNO-BN?

Where does all this lead? This leaves Malaysian voters between a rock and a hard place. What is needed is sensible political leadership. If the UMNO leaders lean towards unity talks, the non-Malays will not feel at home with UMNO-BN. Neither will they feel comfortable with Pakatan Rakyat either.

It is Hobson's Choice. It is a choice between the Devil and the deep blue sea.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Strategic aspects of the Malaysian steel policy review

This may sound like a boring topic best left to excite the people in the Chambers or Commerce and Industry. It probably is, though it shouldn't be.

There are strategic issues that underlie the steel policy review which is said to have surprised analysts. Unlike the analysts I am not surprised. And, I'll tell you why.

The PM's trip to China
It is a follow through from the Prime Minister's successful trip to China recently. While the spin in the media was mostly about the living link between Tun Razak's historic breakthrough trip to Mao's China in 1974 Najib's recent visit was clearly about notifying China that Malaysia is a strategic Southeast Asian trading partner that China can tap into.

China has been made to feel unwelcome in the Anglo-Saxon countries like the U.S. (e.g. CNOOC's rebuff last year) and Australia (Chinalco's rebuff in recent months). Malaysia is in a good position to tell China that it is very welcome in Malaysia.

Malaysia's foreign investment policies are being liberalised. The liberalisation is clearly targeted at countries like China.

China as a solid foreign investor and trade partner to offset the weakening U.S. trade demand
In time, with hard work and bridge-building (couldn't resist the pun for Penang and Johor scenarios), China will start pouring in its large surplus into Malaysia. This will offset the lowering trade with the U.S. and Europe in the forthcoming 12 months.

The U.S. and Europe can expect green shoots to turn into yellowing weed (to borrow an expression from Nouriel Roubini). Unemployment is still mounting in the U.S. and Europe. The economic implosion will take some time to run its course.

So, China will be an excellent entity to offset the lower trade.

China will also be a good source of foreign investment into Malaysia.

Malaysia will be an excellent gateway for China into Southeast Asia. Apart from Singapore, Malaysia has a population that will make Chinese investors feel at home just as we have made Taiwanese investors feel at home for so many years.

Steel policy liberalisation in context
Given the above excursus, the steel liberalisation makes eminent sense since it will be a clear gesture to China that its export of steel to Malaysia will be welcomed.

While the response from China remains to be seen in the coming months, it is clear that in certain respects the Malaysian economic strategies remain sound despite political challenges.

A solid and positive response from China to Malaysia's overtures will put the Najib Administration in a good position as positive trade with China and Chinese foreign investment pouring into Malaysia may significantly cushion the economic blow from the reduced trade with the U.S. and Europe.

I know that in previous posts months ago I have expressed scepticism about the long term benefits of an aggressive foreign investment policy since this policy has created a false comfort zone that kept Malaysia as a low labour cost jurisdiction. This policy is in the process of being rectified, I hope. I still maintain the view.

In the short term, however, given the prospects of negative GDP growth, Najib's overtures to China is an astute and necessary strategy. I believe that the prioritisation of policies is sound and appropriate.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

1,000,000 words!

On 10th June 2009 at 10.22 a.m. GMT, the Global Language Monitor determined that Web 2.0 became the 1,000,000th word in the English language.

I had written about the run-up towards the 1,000,000th English word in a post on 30th April 2009. But here's Simon Winchester (to whom and whose book on the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, The Surgeon of Crawthorne I had referred to in that post) writing in the Daily Telegraph on 6th June 2009 on the impending arrival of the 1,000,000th word. Naturally he does a much better job of writing than I do.

Here's why you should click on the link to read Winchester's piece in toto:

The doctor (i.e. the Surgeon of Crawthorne) was a clever man, with a vast library in his cell, and in an effort to rehabilitate himself he had volunteered, anonymously, to help make contributions to the Oxford English Dictionary, then under construction in a tin shed in the back garden of James Murray's house on Banbury Road.

But his madness, which ebbed and flowed during his 40-year incarceration, became exceptionally florid one day in 1902, and in a sudden spasm of self-loathing he sliced off his penis with a knife, and flung it into the prison fire.

My discovery of this remarkable event answered a small but singular question: just why the man's work for the OED had suddenly faded away. Delighted with the find, I went promptly up to the OED offices in Oxford to tell everyone and then I walked over to Oxford station.

At the ticket window were two elderly women lexicographers, off to London for the theatre. As we boarded the train, I warned them: have I ever got a story to tell you.

And so, in every gruesome detail, and in an open-plan Thameslink carriage, I related the saga: the sharpening of the blade, the tying of the ligature, the gritted teeth, the fatal slice – and, as I said this, so every whey-faced businessman in the carriage crossed his legs reflexively. There was a sudden corporate gasp.

But not from the two old ladies. They remained quite impassive, thinking. I could see the lexicographical gears grinding in their minds. Then suddenly, and in unison I swear, they spoke: "Autopeotomy!" they cried. Then one to the other: "Yes, Mildred – peotomy is the amputation of the penis. But doing it yourself – that must be autopeotomy. A neologism, I am sure. And Mr Winchester, if you can include this new word in an illustrative sentence in the book you are writing, then we will include it in the next edition of the OED, and you'll be a small part of history."

And so I did, and it duly was and I duly am, and there autopeotomy lies for ever, part of the glittering marvels that make up the English language and which, on Wednesday, is set to celebrate the creation of its one millionth word, according to the Global Language Monitor, a Texas-based association of academics that tracks the use of new words.

I love his typically droll English humour that tells a good yarn with a deadpan tone and timbre.

You may be interested to know that the also-rans for the 1,000,000th word were as follows:

* Chengguan Urban management officers, a cross between mayors, sheriffs and city managers.

* Jai Ho! From the Hindi, “It is accomplished”; achieved English-language popularity through the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire.

* Mobama Relating to the fashion sense of the US First Lady, as in “that is quite mobama-ish”.

* Noob From the gamer community; a neophyte in playing a particular game; used as a disparaging term.

* Phelpsian The accomplishments of Michael Phelps at the Beijing Olympics.

* Quendy-Trendy British youth-speak for hip or up-to-date.

* Wonderstar As in Susan Boyle, an overnight sensation, exceeding all reasonable expectations.

* Zombie Banks Banks that would be dead if not for government intervention.

Source: The Global Language Monitor

Personally, I would have been more thrilled if the more inspiring and emotive Jai Ho! had entered into the English lexicographical respectability as the 1,000,000th word than the completely inorganic and emotionless Web 2.0.

Jai Ho! still has a chance to resonate and inspire just as Nike's now immortal tagline, Just Do It! The only damnable thing is that it isn't the 1,000,000th word, it had been recorded as the 999,999th word! This is one time when being "second" to Web 2.0 would have been better!

The Myth Of the Rational Market

Justin Fox, who has just published a book (positively reviewed by The Economist here) with a similar title, has written a piece that describes the travails of the efficient capital market hypothesis and the rational market postulation. It is written in his usual high standards and, of course, well analysed and highly readable. The piece is in Time and you can access it here.

http://www.harpercollins.com/harperimages/isbn/large/0/9780060598990.jpgpix from here.

It's certainly a better read than what I wrote when touching upon similar matters recently.

Fox ends his piece thus:

The issue isn't whether financial markets are useful--they are--or whether the prices of stocks or bonds or collateralized debt obligations convey information--they do. There's also much to be said for the insight at the heart of efficient-market theory: markets are hard to outsmart. But when we give up second-guessing the market, we suspend our judgment. And without participants' exercising judgment--applying research, heeding a broker's opinion--markets stand no chance of ever getting prices right.

This summation is essentially a reminder that anyone that invests needs to put on his thinking cap and attempt to analyse the stock objectively.

I'm sceptical about Fox's suggestion that heeding a broker's opinion is a good idea without proper consideration since many people I know deal with brokers (read remisiers, which is a French word that means intermediary and, has a unique application to France, Malaysia and Singapore. How a French word found its way into the local stockmarket lexicon is, itself, an intriguing piece of research. There's an unsatisfactory description here) who merely utter the infamous words, Well, it's up to you.

It is, indeed, up to you as to where to put your hard-earned savings astutely or, to bovine-like, merely accept a "buy" recommendation without processing the "advice".

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Govt has no plans to implement GST

The Malaysian government's confirmation that it has no plans to implement the Goods and Services Tax is a sensible decision.

The GST is a consumption tax. It is effectively a value-added tax. From a theoretical standpoint consumption taxes are intended to be broad-based and indiscriminate. It is an efficient source of revenue to governments.

The reality is that consumption taxes like GST are effective only when certain elements are in place. What are these elements?

First, you need to have a large middle-class base. This base provides the foundation upon which a large group of taxpayers with a significant disposable income provides the source of GST revenue. It is the consumption from this large middle-class base that drives a GST scheme.

Second, you need an economy that is in growth mode to gain acceptance.

The key is, of course, the first point. Malaysia has a narrow middle-class base. Only a small segment of income earners actually pay income tax.

Third, which is a corollary of the first point, the income disparity in Malaysia is still great.

The most widely accepted measure of income disparity is the Gini Coefficient. To amplify this point, I can do no better than to extract a recent post by my blogger friend, Sakmongkol AK47 here, where he displayed the following:

<Gini Coefficients by countries:



























Source: UNDP Human Development Report

A commonly-used measure of development is the Human Development Index (HDI) devised and calculated annually by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The HDI is preferable to a simple measure of per capita income because it takes into account other factors as well, including life expectancy and other measures of general 'well-being'. In the UNDP's 2004 Human Development Report, Malaysia ranked 59 out of 177 countries. With an HDI score of 0.793, Malaysia is just on the threshold of the UNDP's own definition of a 'Highly Developed Country', which is a score of 0.800 or above.

DBKL and a Serpentine tale

I don't normally do personal narratives. But this has to be written and posted.

I've got a leafy compound. Very shady. Keeps the place relatively cool in our tropical heat and humidity.

I've got canine companions. Three of them, in fact. But, to keep them in line I've created zones for them.

There is one zone that is free of my canine pets. That zone is probably the most leafy and shady part of the compound. And, that is the zone where squirrels, tree shrews, a variety of birds and butterflies like to occupy. The tropical live-bearing fish (assorted guppies, swordtails, mollies) and, tilapia and sepat are kept in this zone.

There is the occasionally pesky biawak that disdainfully plod across this zone.
http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2380/1601849915_c34ee3950b.jpgpix from here.
But, today was different. Today, a baby reticulated python measuring nearly 4-feet successfully caught an unfortunate baby tree shrew. It coiled itself around the tree shrew and proceeded to ingest the poor bugger. That's Nature, right?
http://media-2.web.britannica.com/eb-media/47/4747-004-5F1B9A72.jpgpix from here
http://www.scserp.com/SCSPhotoGalleryPythonsFullSizeImages/ReticulatedPythonBaby001.JPGpix from here.
But, because this event took place in the shady part of the driveway it disturbed my "quiet enjoyment" of the compound. This is a figure of speech, of course. I was actually on the way to the office.

DBKL has an interesting unit that deals with rodents, serpents and any organic, non-human moving thing. Upon being notified, a SWAT-like team of five DBKL men from this unit showed up in about twenty minutes. Great response time.

But, the serpent was nowhere to be found. After scouring the driveway, they discovered the slippery thing behind the umbrella palm where the dastardly ingestion had occurred. It was going from ingestion to digestion!

Needless to say, the men from DBKL caught the baby python. Before they left I gave them a generous tip.

Oddly enough, they left me with a different kind of tip. Firstly, rock salt is a better reptilian deterrent than sulphur. Second, a python can lay up to twenty eggs.

As I write this, I have arranged for Mr Raja to drop by for a spot of major pruning this weekend. I hope he and his crew won't meet the other nineteen siblings of the baby python!

And, I have had a change of heart. I have decided to make the compound zone-free after dusk so that my canine companions may mark their territory all over the compound. That should send a clear message to all unwelcome would-be reptilian visitors.
http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_wofXviBq5d8/Rml6gdwGyYI/AAAAAAAAAKU/xmf_yIc28Kw/s320/dog_peeing.jpgpix from here (a good picture at several levels).

Did I mention that I have OPHIDIOPHOBIA?

And, may I say another sincere and relieved TERIMA KASIH to the DBKL men who must have one of the most interesting jobs in Kuala Lumpur.