Sunday, December 30, 2018

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others

The Malaysian political narrative is so badly twisted that we will not see it changed for many decades to come. For the foreseeable future it will be about the Malay race and, Islam.

First of all, there are good reasons why religion and politics should never mix. If religion teaches us not to question anything that comes from the apex of the religion, then, how does one question any injustice or unfairness? How does one question irrationality? How does one question abuse of discretionary power? These were questions that lead to the Reformation in Europe several centuries ago. This was the horrid challenge of that Age that led to a healthy skepticism that required the separation of religion from politics. And, it did not happen overnight. It took many, many more centuries of separating the chaff of superstition and ignorance and indolence from the wheat that is Knowledge. 

This, is the singular challenge that will dog the Malaysian political narrative for a long, long time. And, with the meagre and paltry level of intellect in Malaysia's academic circles, the job of creating a new generation of academics that can rival the generation that came of age in the 1970s, especially in Universiti Malaya, is a tall one. But, we must keep trying and keep going.

Second, the ghosts of memories of Onn Jaafar and Tan Cheng Lock should always haunt Malaysians. In their infinite wisdom these gentlemen saw the necessity of political collaboration that transcends factionalism based on the colour of the skin. I am old enough to be allowed to fantasise and postulate a what-might-have-been scenario. 

Had the leadership of the Independence of Malaya Party and the Malayan Chinese Association been allowed to coalesce in 1951 it would have gone on to win the municipal elections and the nascent pre-Merdeka Legislative Assembly. How would the political narrative have evolved if Onn Jaafar, who courageously walked away from an adoring Malay base and the UMNO that he helped to form, had become the Chief Minister of the pre-Merdeka Malaya? This is a question that should haunt us.

But *sigh*, here we are.

Let's not kid ourselves la. Parti Pribumi wants to be the new UMNO.

Malaysians can only hope that we live in a land free from corruption.

But, for the foreseeable future, we will have a political narrative that is reminiscent of George Orwell's Animal Farm (1945), we will always be confronted with this one Commandment (even after getting rid of the enemy)-


Saturday, December 29, 2018

How to avoid mollycoddling the free riders

The wise leader does not make a show of holiness or pass out grades for good performance. That would create a climate of success and failure.

Competition and jealousy follow.

Emphasizing material success is the same: those who have a lot become greedy, and those who have little become thieves.

When you reinforce appearances, people scramble to please. The wise leader pays respectful attention to all behaviour.

Thus the group becomes open to more and more possibilities of behaviour. People learn a great deal when they are open to everything and not just figuring out what pleases the teacher.

The leader shows that style is no substitute for substance, that knowing certain facts is not more powerful than simple wisdom, that creating an impression is not more potent than acting from one's center.

The students learn that effective action arises out of silence and a clear sense of being. In this they find a source of peace.

They discover that the person who is down-to-earth can do what needs doing more effectively than the person who is merely busy.

Chapter 3 Tao Te-ching; John Heider (1985)

Monday, December 17, 2018

An outlandish banking merger idea - a comment

Risen Jayaseelan's piece in The Star today raised my ire. Maybe it's because I haven't had breakfast yet. Maybe it's because I have been nursing an obstinate viral thing that seems to have inhabited my stomach for some days now. 

The piece is an attempt to float the idea of a super merger of the already large banks in Malaysia, principally Maybank, CIMB, RHB, Ambank and Affin Bank so that some superlative achievement is attained by a banking institution originating from Malaysia. It's like an infantile need to show strength.

If I, as a bank customer in Malaysia, have had a wonderful experience with banks in the past 2 decades, I would not have any opinion on Jayaseelan's super merger  proposition.

I really do wonder if the journalist has been living in a cloistered, cocooned, cloud cuckoo land in not having had any real and meaningful transactions with any of the banks in Malaysia over the past 2 decades.

Video may have killed the radio star in the 1980s. In Malaysia, rampant bank mergers induced by a very unwise central bank policy of favouring size over quality for purportedly competitive reasons, killed the friendly neighbourhood bank.

And in the new millenia, the dreaded techfin bullshit is killing the banking experience even further.

If you care to take a helicopter up above the arboreal tree line of the phallic thrusts of buildings housing the head offices of Malaysian banks you may acquire some perspective of what the true purpose of banking and finance should be.

And, what do I mean by the cryptic sentence?

Example 1 - if you walked into a housing developer's showroom and commit to buying a property you are ushered to meet with a conveniently placed bank officer who will immediately print out your EPF record and make an initial determination of your creditworthiness. The transactional experience leading to the obtaining of a bank loan to buy the property is an orgasmic joy of ease of use (except for the bit where you have to wait in a dank and claustrophobic signing room at the solicitor's office).

But, the Heavens help you if you subsequently stumble and need to consult the bank on any aspect of your loan. You bought a property in Bukit Raja Klang. You find that the branch that handles your loan is in the nether regions of Serdang. You call and call and get voice recordings instructing you to press different parts of your navel.

If you are slightly smarter, you send an email or, better still, live chat. And, presto, you get an intelligent officer who is utterly responsive. But, alas, being Malaysian and, Malaysian educated, your mouth moves better than your fingers and start to rue the days when your mind meandered away as the English and Bahasa Malaysia lessons were on. You find that your ability to articulate is not good. You find that you need to use key words that are not in your lexicon. You try, without being aware, using similes, synonyms, metaphors and even parables. 

Not a good experience.

Example 2 - You mind your own business as a good taxpaying, salaryman. You have put in your hard earned savings in the bank. You carefully watch out for good term deposit deals, watching out for the smallest 9-month FD offers. 3.3% per annum, 4.2% per annum. Happy days.

Then, out of the blue you receive a printed letter by post. The letter says that the bank will be closing your savings, current and FD accounts within the next 30 days. Please advice on where you want your money to be transferred.

You go to your bank branch and show them to letter to ask what the meaning and intent was to close all your accounts. The clerk shrugs her shoulder and passes you to the officer. The officer shrugs his shoulder and passes you to the branch manager. The branch manager shrugs her shoulders and tells you that it is a head office decision. You try contacting the head office but get the usual heave ho.

Then, you contact the central bank. You get instructed to email them. You email them and receive a prompt response that copies in the bank. You are elated. Hopeful. The bank responds via email saying they are not at liberty to disclose. You press them. They deflect. The central bank is copied in at all times. You appeal to the central bank. The central bank emails the bank. The bank responds via email saying they are not at liberty to disclose. You press them. They deflect. The central bank is copied in at all times. No, the repeat passages are not typos. They are a chronological and categorical log of what happened to someone close to me.

In the end, the customer trudges back to the local bank branch and asks for a cheque to close all accounts as requested by the bank. Takes the cheque and deposits it in another bank. Makes you pine for the days when your ancestors kept money under the mattress.

And, here is the postscript. A month later, a letter arrives from the local bank branch inviting you to deposit money under a wonderful 9-month FD scheme!

I could go on and on.

My message to the central bank, the Malaysian banks and journalists who support super bank mergers is to please have a new perspective and look at things from the standpoint of the average bank customer and, the average SME borrower.

It is terribly ironic to read all the inane and insincere comments about how the largest employers in Malaysia are SMEs and, the system must and, will do all it can to nurture SMEs. SMEs are the backbone of the Malaysian economy.... la di da.

Well, I live in the real world. I actually have SME clientele. I know their plight and frustrations. And, unlike super dicky techfin sandboxed Malaysian banks, I actually do find financing solutions for SMEs with a deeply personal service that is professional and proper; just like how I imagine the old neighbourhood bank branch manager used to be.

Actually, while we are at it I would like to say that the central bank should start giving out more licences to create smaller banks that cater to the real needs of the average Malaysian.

The Ghost of Mahathirism Past is Nigh

Okay, Mahathir is truly an old man. He is a sprightly 94 going 110. But, to fixate on his age would be a major mistake when trying to analyse his second tenure as Prime Minister of Malaysia. So, let us just put his age out there and just leave it as a statement of fact. Let us not even try to be witty and say that he is an old man in a hurry.

What causes disquiet is the earnestness in which his Parti Pribumi Bersatu is courting UMNO MPs. 

In this respect Dr M and his would-be successor, Anwar Ibrahim exhibits a  common vulpine desire to induce MPs from one party to betray their party and hop over. Let us leave Anwar Ibrahim aside for now and focus on Dr M.

Pribumi is an overtly race-based party. It is a party for Malays. It has a superficial marketing tag line that covers other indigenous Malaysians to justify the Pribumi label in its name.

The realpolitik of the Malaysian political landscape in the wake of GE14 is that the Malay voters are divided 40:30:30. 40% UMNO, 30% PAS and 30% Pakatan Harapan coalition.

But, pause for a moment here. Context is important. In the run up to the May 9 General Elections, UMNO was a powerful juggernaut that was using the full might of its resources to reach into the Malay heartland to create strong imagery about how UMNO was the Protector of the Malays. Billions of Ringgit were poured in every possible media and outreach channel to create that sentiment.

And, with all those efforts, UMNO could only reach a paltry 40% of the Malay voters.

As for PAS, its ability to garner 30% of the Malay votes is very highly skewed to the East Coast, particularly its traditional strongholds of Kelantan and Terengganu. No magic charisma there.

So, what is my point? 

My point is that just by working hard, learning on the job quickly and staying corrupt-free, it is very, very certain that Pakatan Harapan's Malay voter base of support can only increase. I dare say, by GE15, 55% to 60% of the Malay voter base will shift to Pakatan Harapan's component parties.

So, my question is, why is Dr M in such a hurry to induce UMNO MPs to jump ship and betray the Malay voters who supported UMNO in GE14?

Ever the crafty vulpine fellow that he is, Dr M has lamented that many structural reforms cannot take place without the Holy Grail of the 2/3 majority in the Malaysian Parliament.

My answer to the 2/3 majority argument is, I am sorry to say, BULLSHIT.

Even as we speak, live and breathe today, since May 9, reforms are taking place. Not very visible, not high drama, but real reforms. 

The reduction of corruption at all levels of government is already one form of reform. 

The opening of tenders, with some necessary weightage given to Bumiputra contractors, is reform.

The Pakatan Harapan government is not perfect. Of course, it isn't. But, it has its collective heart and intent of corruption-free and efficient governance in the correct place. The Malaysian voters and Malay voters are not stupid. They will see and feel the advantages of reform. 

So, why is Dr M trying to gather the souls of MPs of the dying UMNO?

That is something that we need to ponder over.

In the meantime, I will just say this; Mahathir and Pribumi's inducements for UMNO MPs to betray UMNO and the Malay voters who voted for UMNO is very, very bad for Malaysian democracy.

And, in the wee hours that I am blogging this, in a moment of insane nano second flickering flash of insight, I may have had a delusionary thought that maybe, just maybe, but, I cannot be sure, Mahathir is wielding his secret keris to subvert the multiracial Parti Keadilan's position of having 50 MPs and the Pakatan Harapan coalition's equation of elected MPs so that Pribumi will dominate as the new UMNO. Nakhoda lama jadi nakhoda kapal baru. Nadi lama tak ubah langsung. Inilah sandiwara yang paling tinggi tahapnya. 

What is that old saw about a leopard being unable to change its spots?

But, no, it cannot be true-la. Mahathir has experienced a second Lazarus Effect. He is a manusia bertaubat. Surely, the old Mahafiraun, authoritarian Mahathir is gone and, now we have a brand spanking new grandpatriarchal Mahathir. Didn't he shed tears in the video ad when hugging the 2 innocent children saying that Atuk needed to correct past mistakes?

Ya-la. I am delusionary aren't I?

As a postscript, here is a piece of JFK wisdom imparted during his Inaugural Address on the freezing morning of January 20, 1961-

... remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

ICERD Absurd

The words are plain and easy to understand. Article 1(1) of ICERD sets the tone and it is a general proposition. Read it-

1. In this Convention, the term "racial discrimination" shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life. 

The general proposition in Article 1(1) of ICERD and the rest of the ICERD document is qualified by Article 1(4). Read it-

4. Special measures taken for the sole purpose of securing adequate advancement of certain racial or ethnic groups or individuals requiring such protection as may be necessary in order to ensure such groups or individuals equal enjoyment or exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms shall not be deemed racial discrimination, provided, however, that such measures do not, as a consequence, lead to the maintenance of separate rights for different racial groups and that they shall not be continued after the objectives for which they were taken have been achieved.

Anyone with a reasonable mind will see that ICERD's Article 1(4) accepts the existence of a provision such as Article 153 in the Federal Constitution of Malaysia.

But, where are the reasonable minds in Malaysia?

Tuesday, December 11, 2018


A part of me has always been intrigued and in bewildered awe of the United Kingdom; England, in particular. How a small, nondescript island in the Northern reaches of the European continent could turn around years of pillage by the Vikings and dominance of the Romans and, then, transform into a feisty island of recalcitrants that embraced Protestantism in the wake of the much more powerful Catholics in Rome and Spain... it goes on and on because it is so well documented... the subsequent pushing of the frontiers of mathematics, astronomy, poetry, music and... the dominant dark side of Imperialism... all this history and all these achievements... leading to the moribund state of the sad display of how the political leaders of Britain has behaved in the past 2 years in the wake of the Brexit decision. I almost feel like I am a witness to how the Egyptians went from builders of the Sphinx and the pyramids to what exists today. Past glories don't count for anything when all the cards are on the table for the game that is on right now... this bit comes from a memory of a footnote in an undergraduate economics text written by Richard Lipsey.

So, here and now, we have a situation where the European Court of Justice comprising some 20-odd justices (how such a large number of legal personages can ever come to any decision is a high level art form) has ruled that the UK can unilaterally revoke its original invocation of Article 50. 

In one swift move, the UK has a chance to press on a button to stop the countdown. After that the UK can go for a fresh referendum to vote again on whether to exit the European Union. Here's a chance. Right here.

But mired in the miasma of the quicksand of ego and misguided myopia, Theresa May and her lemmings in Cabinet and some in the Backbenches, have confined themselves to playing the role of Alec Guinness's character in The Bridge Over The River Kwai, where having built the wooden bridge that would be of strategic logistical importance to the Japanese Army and, at great cost to the lives and limbs of his fellow Prisoners of War, he blows the whistle to the Japanese when he discovers evidence of a plan to blow up the bridge. The moral here, if it is lost in my crazy words, is if Theresa May and her coterie believes that the amount of time they have invested in a multitude of scenarios for Brexit justifies their refusal to consider the revocation of the original Article 50 invocation, then, they are on the wrong side of history.

The reason why the older Britons voted in the majority for Brexit was due to the threat of open borders in the summer of 2016 when droves of illegals traipsed freely through Europe in the Northerly direction. 

But, equally compelling is that the majority of the younger Britons, though not enough of them went to vote, wanted to remain in Europe.

The UK can and, should, engage the EU on the silliness of the open border policy. It is a naive policy as everyone can see by now. That is something that can be placed on the agenda. But remaining in the EU is the economically sensible thing to do.

Mrs May has the chance to correct an egregious error of judgment by the British public. The mood of a buyers remorse is now very clear. In any scenario, the UK economy without Europe is destined to shrink. That is a horrid legacy that Theresa May can avoid, if she has a sufficient sense of history and context.