Monday, November 25, 2013

Incriminating crime

If the people in charge of national security and economic planning were to trouble themselves to think harder and clearer on the ecosystem of Malaysia based on putting Malaysia's national interest first and foremost they ought to come to a realisation that they have much to expiate.

First, on what basis was the decision made to open the spigots to allow cheap foreign labour to enter Malaysia?

If it was due to intense lobbying by the property development and plantation sectors, then, the basis may be wrong if the decision makers failed to take into account the socio-economic impact of the usage of cheap foreign labour.

Did anyone bother to prepare econometric models to consider the displacement effect that cheap foreign labour will have on Malaysia's own indigent labour class? Where would this class of Malaysians go when they are displaced by cheap foreign labour? Where will they get their income? With low skills, poor education it is not a stretch to forecast that these Malaysians will be pushed to the fringes of society.

And, "fringes of society" clearly means crime, lawlessness and unsavoury activities.

Second, what is so wrong about raising the income levels for the labouring class?

Yes, the cost of everything will rise commensurately. What is the big deal with that if it lifts up the entire substratum of Malaysian society?

Plantation sector
In the case of the plantation sector, no access to cheap foreign labour would have resulted in higher wages for Malaysian labour AND it would have forced 2 things to happen-
  1. Increase the incentive and urgency to innovate the plantation sector. This may manifest itself in the form of more intense downstream activities and discovery of new applications for rubber and palm oil products.
  2. Increase the incentive and urgency for Malaysian companies to search for cheaper and lower cost countries to establish plantation activities.
Instead, due to molly-coddling by the Malaysian government, the silly and myopic arguments used by Malaysian plantation owners resulted in an inefficient plantation sector that is now at risk of losing Malaysia's edge to countries like Indonesia and those in the African and South American continents.

The sad reality is that Malaysia was bound to lose its dominance in the plantation sector anyway. But Malaysian companies should still be the dominant players in the rubber and palm oil sectors IF they now work at double-speed to conquer the emerging upstream plantation jurisdictions.

Don't just be the kings of our own backyard! That should be the message that the Malaysian policy makers should be exhorting the plantation sector to do.

Property development sector
As for the property developers the self-same critique also holds true.

No access to cheap foreign labour would have resulted in higher wages for Malaysian labour AND it would have forced 2 things to happen-
  1. Cost of construction would have gone up. Prices of properties would have gone up. The property market would have been cooler and less speculative. Property developers would have faced profit margin compression but, still be profitable.
  2. Increase the incentive and urgency to innovate the property and construction sector by using different construction materials and using better equipment.
Better paid Malaysian workers
Better paid Malaysian labour with a commensurate higher cost of living has the salutary effect of improving the quality of life in Malaysia. 

Malaysian labourers will have a chance to get their children a better education. This type of mindfulness, about the need to have a better education, usually comes with having better income.

With less cheap foreign labour and a Malaysian labour class that has better wages we will experience a higher cost of living. This higher cost will be tempered by higher income all around for Malaysians. The resulting effect is less crime.

Another resulting effect is that Malaysia and its citizens will have to greater incentive to move up the value chain of skills.

My visceral and indelible impression of reasonably high wage income in the labour class was a mature age classmate in Melbourne Australia in the 1980s. Robert D. was already in his late 30s when he enrolled in Law School. He chose to be a bricklayer for some years. It was a decent enough job, income-wise. Constructions sites in Australia have always been safe and clean environments, unlike the cesspools and dengue-breeding places we have here.

My other impression is that of a Greek Australian family who still manifested a strong Greek-accented Ozzified English when spoken in a reasonable posh suburb in Melbourne. The guy owned just one heavy duty lorry which he drove himself. His neighbours were bank managers and white-collar management level. Is that cool, or, what?

I'm not saying that we have to be at that kind of stratospheric level. I'm just saying that for the benefit of all Malaysians, super-rich, rich, well-off, breakeven and poor, our economic system must put Malaysians first.

Not just the rich. Not just the owners of plantation and property development sectors.

Just let the common wealth of our country percolate down more than it does now.

This can be done, in direct fashion, via enlightened economic and labour management policies.

There are a trillion reasons as to why the scenario that I have sketched will be argued to be impractical, idealistic and, even Utopian.

But, as with all right-thinking Malaysians, I wish for a better society and a better country for my family, my friends and my colleagues.

Is this challenge too much to ask or, to expect?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering JFK

Does everyone love a dead hero? I'm not sure about that. In any case, JFK was never a hero to me.

So, why do I habitually make reference to him? Why do I have close to 100 books on him, his parents and his siblings?

It was in 1979 that I "discovered" JFK. It was through his Inaugural Address, in fact.

I was struggling to prepare for the district English-language school debates. My team and I had reached the district finals. The topic was a dramatic oxymoronic phrase, "War is necessary for peace". We were the proposers.

I chanced upon a selection of speeches by U.S. Presidents. One of my sisters must have bought it from the Logos, a ship that acted as a floating book store in the 1970s, when it berthed at Port Klang.

One would imagine that there might have been more apposite phrases in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, in the way, he, with a spartan 44 words, could consecrate the dead soldiers of the Union after a bloody battle. It would have seemed more inspirational and elegant when used in support the the proposition that I had to make in the district debating finals.

Somehow, Kennedy's Inaugural Address lent a stronger resonance to me. And, I used it.

Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans -- born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

So let us begin anew -- remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.

We won the district finals and I was adjudged to be the best debater in the final round. I owed that accolade, in part, to the soaring words of Kennedy and Ted Sorensen.

As I write this blog entry, many parts of the world are preparing to honour JFK on 50th anniversary of the day he died.

There are a myriad of reasons as to why JFK and the Kennedy mystique continues to enthral people. Some are drawn to his martyrdom (not caring what he stood for or, whether he stood for anything in particular). Others are drawn to the 1960s-ness of his epoch. He was cooler than Don Draper; hell, he may have been one of the inspirations for the Don Draper character. He, with James Dean, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Marilyn Monroe and many others represented the iconic deaths that so horrified and transmogrified our memories of the 1960s.

My fascination with JFK is about his love and respect of the written word, the spoken word and History. 

It is also about his ability to, in turn, fascinate and inspire so many biographers to write about him.

In the American presidential pantheon JFK achieved so little in legislative affairs and governance when compared with presidents such as James Monroe, Woodrow Wilson, Ted Roosevelt or Franklin Roosevelt. Yet, his memory endures and thrives.

This is the stuff that is fodder for academics and biographers.

I just wanted to tip my hat, on this day, to someone who helped inspire my love and respect of the written word, the spoken word and History. 

That is all.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

DBKL and the proposed rates hike

Like every other property owner in the great metropolis of Kuala Lumpur I, too, have received the dreaded Notice for revision of the Valuation List for the City of Kuala Lumpur.

I believe it is very important to write the objection and send it to DBKL. You should not leave it to the politicians and media to do the work for you.

The reason is that underlying this rate hike exercise is a formal legal and bureaucratic procedure that is likely to be used as a basis for selective exemptions or partial exemptions from the general rate hike, i.e. where a property owner has stated specific and relevant reasons in the objection.

Please note that to ensure that you get a fair review, the objection in writing/bantahan secara bertulis must be underpinned by reasons that fall within any of the 5 categories below.

Local Government Act 1976
142. (1) Any person aggrieved on any of the following grounds:

(a) that any holding for which he is rateable is valued beyond
      its rateable value;
(b) that any holding valued is not rateable;
(c) that any person who, or any holding which, ought to be
      included in the Valuation List is omitted therefrom;
(d) that any holding is valued below its rateable value; or
(e) that any holding or holdings which have been jointly or
     separately valued ought to be valued otherwise,

may make objection in writing to the local authority at any time
not less than fourteen days before the time fixed for the revision
of the Valuation List.

Since neither the Datuk Bandar nor any of his cohorts hold an elective office, property owners do not have much hope against the juggernaut of DBKL.

Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Seri Ahmad Phesal Talib has confirmed that from January 1, property owners in the city will have to fork out higher property assessment fees.

In this era of feudalism in Malaysia, all we can do is to prostrate ourselves to the gods of government and appeal for benevolence and beseech these gods to rein in on their abuse of power and corrupt excesses...all in the name of controlling costs so that DBKL will not see the need for any further rate increases in the near future.

Here is's highly relevant analysis and debunking of the purported reasons for the rate hike.

KUALA LUMPUR (Nov 21): So is Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s (DBKL) proposed hike in assessment rates justified? has taken a closer look at DBKL’s accounts from the last five years and find that the city is loaded with reserves, tax income, federal and private funding.
Skimming through past reports, speeches and accounts, it seems that the current proposal to raise assessment by up to 300% is unjustified, as the authority has enough avenues of income generation.
DBKL’s main source of income is assessment which typically makes up 40-60% of its total income. And since 2009, DBKL’s tax revenue steadily increased by 2-4%.
However, last year, when Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Ahmad Phesal Talib, announced the city’s 2013 budget, he said income from assessment alone was expected to double to RM880.5mil -- an 8.6% jump from 2012. 
In his speech, he said the hike was due to many upcoming property developments, which would translate into more assessment.
Hence it does not gel with the recent proposed tax hike of 100-300% which sent shock waves to KL folks as rates have remained the same for the past 21 years.
The most damning evidence that DBKL is merely taking the easy way out by taxing ratepayers, come from Ahmad Phesal himself. His 2013 budget speech boasts of its prosperous accounts in 2012:
“Even though there is no increase in assessment tax and rates have not been revised since 1992, tax revenue continues to rise because the number of properties that are taxable has increased as well. Rapid property development has also improved revenue from development charges. Rate hikes of those charges and the change of calculation method had also increase tax revenue.
“On top of that, DBKL managed to recover assessment arrears, raking in another RM100mil into their accounts,” he said.
From 2009 to 2013, DBKL has received plenty of funding federal government to carry out projects under the 9th and 10th Malaysia Plan and also from private sector and sometimes from Petronas.
DBKL hardly ever spends every single cent allocated to the financial year. For instance, development cost in 2011 was budgeted at RM1.017mil, but only RM789.6bil were spent. Hence RM227.4mil was carried forward to the next year.
By merely looking at general accounts of DBKL, cost cutting effort by former mayor Tan Sri Ahmad Fuad Ismail has made the city rather well-off.
In 2010, Ahmad Fuad, who was mayor from 2008 to July 2012, had indicated that while assessment that had not been revised for so long, he would not push for a rate hike. 
In fact, due to DBKL’s financial standing, it could even afford to reduce assessment tax by 2% for service apartments and apartments in commercial buildings, sustaining a shortfall of RM4 mil in revenue. 
To maintain the city’s revenue, there were special task forces established to collect arrears, amounting to RM4 million especially by low cost apartment dwellers.
Read more:

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Car killing idiots

On the matter of the mooted policy of the Road Transport Department (RTD) to make it mandatory to scrap cars that exceed 12 years, I wish to tell whoever came up with this idea to take a flying leap to Hell.

I hesitate to make that wish come true because I am prepared to make a small assumption that the people who regulate things in Malaysia cannot be so stupid and corrupted by self-interest that they will intentionally make the rakyat suffer unnecessarily...but, I may be wrong to make that assumption.


I have 2 cars that are over 12 years old. I send both cars to my regular workshop twice a year. Each time, the invoiced amount for work done runs into a few thousand Ringgit. The cars, needless to say, are in top condition with original parts or OEM parts.

Why should I scrap those cars?

The RTD and the people who make policy must use their brains more.

What is so wrong with having a biennial Roadworthiness Test for private motor vehicles that exceed 12 years of age?

What is the rationale for a Communist-Imperial style of a policy to make mandatory for the scrapping of all motor vehicles over 12 years of age?

Is Malaysia run by idiots?

Can't these people just Google for examples used in other jurisdictions?

Or, are they waiting for a junket trip overseas, lawatan sambil belajar?


Postscript: The Deputy Minister has come out with a rectal-fication statement.