Sunday, 31 May 2009

Thinking about our Economy

I received an e- mail from an office bearer of MCOBA. His name is Zin Dahari bin Zainal Abidin. He is the assistant Hon.sec of MCOBA( special functions). I have been writing recently about an old boy of MCKK. That gives us a chance to communicate.

Mr Zin Dahari said the vexing issue which he and his colleagues are debating now, is whether our economic fundamentals are that strong. On a small scale, here are my thoughts about the matter.

What started as an American problem, the explosion of the subprime lending scam, eventually became a worldwide economic slump. Malaysia which at one time said everything is OK is now saying different things. Recently, we were told that our economy contracted by 6%. This will make the prediction of our growth of negative 1% a gross understatement. It was meant more as a political palliative.

Maybe the economy will contract by 4%. If that is so, then our leaders have not been telling us the truth and not honest to us. It means our fundamentals are not healthy. The manufacturing sector which depends on worldwide demand is not alright. The much hyped resurgence in biotech and all that stuff have not produced the desired rescuing effects. The prices of our traditional commodities are not good.

In the meantime, our energies are being sapped by endless political feuds. By playing to the game of opposition parties, we the holder of overall power are contributing to the political mess. In Perak for example, our insistence of matching brinkmanship has further eroded our credibility and with it, our pledge to manage the economy. We should be cutting our losses there.

Our leaders don't seem to know which policies can fix the problem. We know we cannot depend entirely on external demand because our trading partners are also reeling from economic slumps. So, we think, strengthening domestic effective demand is the answer. We promised to pump in RM60 billion on top of the earlier 6-7 billion. So far, the desired effects in the form of domestic demand haven't materialised.

We should be asking this question? Was the stimulus package a shot in the arm or was it designed as a long term sustaining economic tool? By long term sustaining tool I mean, was it designed to build our capacities- efficiency, skills, competitiveness and so forth. If they have not, it is clear that the stimulus package was just a short cut solution meant more for political consumption. It means also, it was essentially political gimmickry.

It may actually mean, that the business- as- usual ways we have been practising are no more compatible with the new economic realities. Marxists will say, the superstructure or oberbau is no longer compatible with the changes that are occurring in the substructure or underbau. That being so, the superstructure will be blown away or most of it, anyway.

The Austrian economist, Joseph Alois Schumpeter recognised this principle too; he called it creative disruption. Old economic relations, institutions, practices, are no longer compatible with emerging realities. For example, competiveness requires removing impediments that hinder it. The current Prime Minister appears to have understood this phenomenon. He has for example liberalised some not that politically damaging economic sub sectors- i.e. those economic subsectors not already participated deeply by Malay economic interests.

He has also liberated some financial sub sectors- again, areas not heavily participated by Malays. In doing so, he has also recognised that 'revolutionary' changes in the superstructure need to be handled gingerly for fear of upsetting political realities. The biggest reality is that his political survival depends on Malay political support. Unfortunately, most of his appointed Malay ministers are not supporting him on this or have not understood the gravity of the problem as he has. That of course means, those he selected have no quality- most of them anyway.

If the PM understood Schumpeter, he must not stand in the way of collateral damages- inefficient and silly businesses will roll over. Skills-mismatched workers will have to re adjust and perhaps lose their jobs, economic institutions may halve to be revamped, leaders need to be despatched and replaced. He must do all these and he must be supported. His deputy must be in sync rather than seen to be plotting all the time. When changes take place, resources have to be reallocated.

There is also another dimension to this problem, at least here in Malaysia which seems to be unwilling to be said openly. One aspect of the superstructure that needed to be removed on account of having to accommodate with changes in the substructure, is Malay economic obstinacy. Sadly this Malay economic obstinacy is in the form of political insistence that the Malay-ness aspects of the NEP must be preserved at all costs. I say 'political', because in reality, by and large, the Malay at large is as hardworking and can be as efficient as any other economic actor, with the right leadership attitude. Malay economic responses are made to look bad because politicians actually want it to remain that way.

Recently Tun Dr Mahathir spoke about this pyramid scheme, mentioning the Maddof scam and so on,. The fact of the matter is, politicians have been using the NEP as their own giant Ponzi scheme, milking the benefits which were supposed to have liberated the Malay at large way back in 1970 and perhaps a few years extra. It is in the interests of the half past six Malay politicians to make vehement noises about Malay interests being threatened and what not, so that they can continue milking the economic advantages. The original NEP thought of by the great Tun Razak was hijacked and turned into a giant Ponzi scheme by UMNO political warlords.

Perhaps, the current PM is already sending his opposition to this continuance. He is in fact, returning to the roots his father established. He is doing it in his own understated and noiseless ways.

The dismantling of the MECD is one indication of showing publicly his intention to force the Malay mindset into accepting that the business as usual ways of doing things must be abandoned. We need to look the dismantling of MECD from this perspective. The only economic interests threatened are those of the political warlords.

How do we face the future? We know that old forms of doing things must give in to new realities. History can offer us only limited lessons to deal with emerging realities. At each successive wave of change, we add new elements on top of what history can offer us. We don't have any predetermined module and this is why, the quality of leadership is important.

The phases of economic changes that we have gone through, are really phases of partial equilibrium. We shall move from one phase to the next phase continually. That is the natural progression of society. We have seen this- we moved from an economy relying on commodities such as tin and rubber. We moved from that to manufacturing. From there we moved to industrialisation and then proceeded to higher quality manufacturing and high value added industrialisation. We continually adapt ourselves to new realities. We also recover previous economic fields as our skills and knowledge of doing things improved greatly. Oil fields that we thought have completely dried up can be re-milked using new skills and technology and improved knowledge.

Movement from previous phases of economic module represent in reality, discontinuance from earlier phases. At each successive phases, we re arrange our resources- financing, manpower, knowledge and skills. We re-shape our own capabilities and reworked our capacity building skills.

At the same time, readjustments here and there, means of course, we offer ourselves a wide array of possibilities. Again, the array of possibilities depends on quality leadership at all levels. The array of possibilities in turn has wide and far ranging implications.

We have to make changes in our economy. Maybe we have overpriced ourselves. The sub prime lending scam in USA showed that property prices are inflated artificially so as to lend to unqualified buyers. Protecting the financial institutions who perpetrated the scams will only lengthened the time to correct the mistakes.

If financial institutions are the ones that caused the lending scams, helping them by re capitalisation will only extend their miserable and lying lives. They will continue doing the same thing. Extending them capital may not be the right way. Better to allow the market to correct itself. One way is to allow collateral damage to occur to these mischief causing lending institutions, let them go bust.

End of part 1.

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Saturday, 30 May 2009

Pre-war College Days- The Life and Times of Dato Mokhtar bin Dato Sir Mahmud

Pre-war MCKK days.


One senior Dato Mokhtar remembered very well is the late Tengku Abdullah ibn Tuanku Abdul Rahman. He would later become an MP and became a close friend to the 4th PM of Malaysia, Dr Mahathir Mohamed. He would also become a prominent businessman and a renowned socialite.

Tengku Abdullah was a good footballer too. He was a fifth former and was put in charge as some sort of mentor/protector to the younger boys.

Boys would be playing football and other sporting activities in the evenings. I suspect it was cooler and also, it was common practice of pupils staying in hostels to play in the evenings. The English masters were fastidious people when enforcing study and play. They certainly believed in the saying- all work and no play makes jack a dull boy.

At a certain fixed time and the end of play time, boys had to go back to their dormitories. They will bathe to clean themselves and make their beds. The hostel master or warden will dutifully inspect the dormitories to check whether this rule was followed. Those found violating this rule would receive appropriate punishment.

Now, Tengku Abdullah had this habit of playing football until the end of regulation time. He would then rush back to the dorm to take a bath before proceeding to take his meal. We may remember, the rule was, before you go down for dinner, you must make your bed. It must be prim and proper. The hostel master would go on his rounds and inspect each and every bed. Those who flouted this rule and left their beds in a mess would be punished.

Tengku Abdullah found a way to overcome this. If he comes back and take his bath and then had to make his bed, he would not be in time for dinner. To overcome this, Tengku Abdullah elevated Dato Mokhtar to a special role- that of making sure his (T Abdullah's) bed is made every day. In return, being the hostel senior in charge of football, Tengku Abdullah always gave Dato Mokhtar the first choice to select his football team. In that way, Dato Mokhtar would ensure his team always had the better players thus ensuring wins against Tengku Ahmad Shah's( as he then was) team.

Being a sports man himself, the future king of Pahang wouldn't take this unsporting behaviour lightly. Often HRH Tuanku Sultan Pahang would inveigh to the seniors with protests. But of course, Dato Mokhtar had already secured the advantage and Tengku Ahmad Shah's protestations would be heard but never acted on.

Dato Mokhtar was a form one student in 1941. The Japs landed in Kota Bharu in December 1941. The headmaster H Carey had given the boys a one month's holiday.

On the day, when they were about to leave, Dato Mokhtar saw the headmaster and some teachers talking to a happy looking future Sultan of Selangor. Dato Mokhtar remembered the future Sultan Abdul Aziz was talking to one Cikgu Salleh Ahmad. There was also another Cikgu Salleh- Salleh Hussin.

They were laughing and making merry over some conversational subjects in the passageway adjoining the Assembly Hall. In those days, the Hall doubled up as the School Library. Books were lined up against the wall and students did their studying there.

We must take a few moments to say a few words about this Cikgu Salleh. He had a peculiar way of punishing errant students. He would call a student up, pinched some strategic portion of the stomach and will do a twisting motion. While doing that Cikgu Salleh will be grinning and of course, with each twist, the pain becomes more excruciating. Many an errant boy will quickly own up to whatever indiscretions and infractions he had committed to escape the 'Salleh twister'.

Many teachers were a creative lot when it comes to dishing out their versions of punishment. Some teachers would pull pupil's side-whiskers or side-burns as they are also known. Some would also grab both sides of your cheeks and pull them outwards. Some would make you into 'Scottish Folds'- they would grab both your ears and wring them. Whatever the teachers did would ensure copious tears and occasionally saliva wetting shirts.

Cikgu Salleh had married a lady who came from a very wealthy family. Dato Mokhtar couldn't remember her exact name- maybe it was Cik Teh Berlian. The lady got this title as her front teeth were studded with diamonds. Hence she was given the name Cik Teh Berlian. Cikgu Salleh was also among the very rare who had cars at that time. Cikgu Salleh drove to school.

Its funny, but almost always as a rule, students remember the 'vicious' teachers most later on. Indeed they developed intense friendship and admiration. Years later in 1975, when Cikgu Salleh Ahmad visited Kuantan and stayed at the Merlin Hotel, Dato Mokhtar and another of his MCKK senior Dato Wan Salaidin( then SS for Negeri Sembilan) entertained the proprietor of the Salleh twister.

The future Sultan of Selangor on that day, wore a dashing shark skin suit. He must have looked resplendent in the light purple coloured suit. Dato Mokhtar remembered this especially as he admired the suit. At this young age, he had developed an expert eye on impeccable clothing.

The future Sultan had by then become a more or less a 'resident' student, having been promoted to higher forms and demoted to lower forms on several occasions. This must have occurred several times, as Dato Mokhtar remembered the Sultan was older than most of the other students.

MCKK during the pre-war years excelled in football. Dato Mokhtar was in charge of selecting boys and assigning them into teams. He would always pick his good friend Jamil Jan who was an exceedingly good player. Jamil Jan enjoyed a reputation as a winnable player, i.e. if he is in your team, you are likely to win. We can say that Jamil Jan then was an MVP- Most Valuable Player. And so Dato Mokhtar wanting to win all the time would include Jamil Jan in his team.

And where would he place the sporting Tengku Ahmad Shah? Dato Mokhtar would mischievously place the current Sultan of Pahang- Tengku Ahmad Shah as he was then, on the other team. Tengku Ahmad's team would lose every time they played against Jamil Jan's team. This must have irked Tengku Ahmad somewhat for he went up to complain to the college senior about Dato Mokhtar creating unfair advantage.

Dato Mokhtar remembered the senior boy as Shamsuddin Yaakob.Shamsudin would later become Dato Mokhtar's brother in law. What would Tengku Ahmad Shah's chances be when complaining to a senior who must have spotted a daughter of Dato Sir Mahmud?

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Friday, 29 May 2009

All the Buzz about PETRONAS appointments- initial thoughts

I am very sure the reading public must have read some stiff opposition over some possible appointments of high office with PETRONAS. PETRONAS of course as everyone knows and will come to know, came into being sometime in 1974. The principal protagonists of the creation were the PM then, Tun Abdul Razak, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah who went on to become the 1st Chairman, Tan Sri Ananda Krishnan who was then active as an oil trader. Tun Salleh Abbas was responsible for drafting the PDA- Petroleum Development Act which ushered the creation of PETRONAS and the various regulations that control the oil and gas industry in Malaysia.

It confers, by LAW, sole monopoly to the government through PETRONAS, over the oil and gas business in Malaysia. So before we go on singing over-exuberant praises to PETRONAS, let us take stock of the fact that it is a near monopoly. Unless you are an imbecile and flounders at the management of this august institution- the mother lode of Malaysia's revenue source, PETRONAS remains a sustainable entity.

Of course it is to the credit of the PETRONAS Management in particular to Tan Sri Hassan Merican to ensure PETRONAS is managed on an even keel. We have seen many near monopolies of the government go under, capsize, or gone adrift as a result of poor, incompetent and even corrupt management. We must also be mindful that before Hassan Merican went over to PETRONAS, this MCKK chap did not have any inkling of the oil and gas industry.

I am moving ahead here- all this reservations about one Omar Ong not knowing anything about oil and gas is all balderdash. What's so mysterious and insurmountably difficult of knowing the oil and gas that prevents any one of calibre from understanding it? Unless of course you are a graduate of sekolah atap or you are just a ketua kampong somewhere, then maybe you will find it difficult to differentiate what's RON 98, what's regular (RON 85) and premium grade petroleum. Unless you are really thick, that you would be thinking, these oil majors are selling different products whereas in fact, they are all the same. Will all those cars using Shell petroleum in Sandakan break down if they switch over to use PETRONAS or Esso's or Mobil etc? No sir and marm- they are all the same.

I will tell you a secret. Whenever any one of the oil majors in Malaysia run out of any oil grade, they will borrow from each other. Hence car owners who think they are using oil from Shell may in fact be using that from PETRONAS. I know, because I was doing this 'borrow and loan' for Shell with the others in the late 80s.

What it means, that it can be anyone with the calibre of this Omar Ong who can be appointed if this does materialise, to the PETRONAS board. Omar Ong is luckier than most others because he knows the PM and maybe some others. His association with the 4th Floor Oxbridge Mafia is irrelevant. This guilty or tainted by association should be stopped. Everyone in the cabinet is tainted because most of them have been associated with the flaccid Pak Lah and also tainted, according to not a small number of people with Tun Dr Mahathir.

And of course if you were to ask or allow any PETRONAS employee, they will say the entire world about PETRONAS. This is a highly specialised industry. You require engineers, technicians trained in the various fields to operate and make PETRONAS thrive. You can't have an apam balek maker to work as an offshore engineer. Yes, you do require specialised knowledge obtained through rigorous college and university training to be a PETRONAS executive. I am sure, these gentlemen and women are all dedicated workers and are damn good at what they are doing.

But to use their personalised testimony to support our arguments that the appointment of such persons exemplified by this bloke Omar Ong as being a misfit or even worse, bearer of ominous signs, is a different matter. That would be an insult to the thousand other PTERONAS employees who are in fact desirous of quality management changes. Have you ever asked those outside PETRONAS who are dealing with them- the production sharing contractors, transporters, oil dealers, about how and what they think of PETRONAS employees. I mean no disrespect, but if you were to hear actual testimony of those who interact with PETRONAS employees, you will get the impression that technical proficiency does not automatically translate into profitability for PETRONAS. You will need the manager and executive who fine-tune all the various capabilities.

It's the PM's call.

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Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The Blackest of (leadership) Treachery

This statement may not be palatable to many. Many say politics is about perception and here's one to ponder. What this concept means is, it is excusable to be deceitful and self assuring to be deceived.

We don't have to actually be the qualities that we say, but it's sufficient that others believe that we have those qualities. We do not have to be actually religious, but sufficient if others believe us to be so. So we adorn skullcaps, run our fingers over prayer beads, wrap our bodies with robes, utter religious verses, hey presto, we are what we make believe ourselves to be.

It is similar about leadership. We don't need to have substance. We need only the form by which to project our make believe selves. We let out noises which we want people to use as excuses to believe we are leaders of substance. Hence we offer people a slew of liberalising measures unclogging certain areas of the economy. The untrained and eager beavers say Malays are ready to compete. Of course we do- we compete in selling goreng pisang and, apam balek. We compete and indeed over compete in those low-value added economic activities. But the high value added economic pie is still exclusively shared by the well connected and powerful.

We want the people to believe that we are actually doing something by carrying some cosmetic reforms over the financial sectors when we are actually skirting around the issues. Once again, because perception is everything, it is alright to be deceitful and excusable to be deceived. This falsity around which we wrap ourselves has enabled form to triumph over substance.

We have this Munchausen's Syndrome and sadly, Malays are advanced than others in this department. We actually believe that economic sufferings cleanse the soul. Will that mean, that because, by and large, and this is accepted as a cardinal maximising postulate of the Malay, it should be all right if they remain poor? To complete this process of economic immolation, we shall let loose the minister in charge of religious affairs to instruct those well meaning religious proselytisers to dish out appropriate comforting religious sermons.

Our leaders continue to assail us with inexhaustible menu of mental and attitudinal defects, thus clearly displaying their politically masochistic tendencies.

I hope by now, many more people will realise the farce surrounding this statement- that the age of leaders know best and better is over is but a huge mollycoddling sleight of hand and a twist of tongue. Not a single day passes without those who have just ascended the leadership ladder continue berating us and continue making fools out of us. The application of draconian measures and carrying out of repressive actions on disagreeable but lawful political dissent has completely and utterly discredited the goodwill announced by the present administration. This administration is slowly going into credibility deficit.

By what standards do we now measure the current leadership with?

I have recently written about the legacy of Tun Razak. More will be forthcoming. That particular article was supposed to be the preamble on the discussion on leadership. I am also ambitious in wanting acceptance of Tun Razak's leadership standards be used as the yardstick.

Assuming Tun Razak's leadership standards are accepted, one is immediately led to measure the current PM to his father. In extracting the leadership principles of Tun Razak, I have chosen to rely more on anecdotal assessments. These are at once recognised as merely perceptions and are likely to be discounted by the rigorous analysts. But, didn't the majority say, perception is everything in politics?

A contemporary of Tun Razak is Tun Ghazali Shafie. He is still alive but in the poorest of health. Ghazali Shafie was nicknamed King Ghaz. He was also perceived as a pugnacious SOB. That perception is second religion to his detractors of course. Abdullah Ahmad (of Machang infamy) would certainly be on top in the list of Ghazali Shafie's haters.

King Ghaz was a very intelligent individual whose razor sharp analytical mind but overbearing personality was off putting most of the time. But Tun Razak valued these qualities in Ghazali Shafie. Because Tun Razak knew he could milk Ghazali Shafie's talents and networking. Ghazali Shafie's usefulness and his talents overrode personal defects and these were valued more by Tun Razak.

Compare the two buddies and you will hear the following assessment. Everyone knows Ghazali Shafie is a clever chap. But in his presence, he brings out the adversarial alter ego in everyone. He makes everyone wants to challenge him and dispute him. But Ghazali Shafie thrives on adversarial relations.

But with Tun Razak, you have this feeling of wanting to serve him. In his presence, even those sharper witted than him feel like submitting to him. Possibly that's a gift from God. Razak was a quiet and contemplative man. He stood in direct opposite to the boisterous and rambunctious King Ghaz.

Tun Razak was by any measure a refined and subtle thinker. Always able to cut through the chaff he was mindful of what constitute pragmatism. Political expediencies are not pragmatism to Tun Razak. To Tun Razak pragmatism means taking a decision that leads to capacity building. For example, building on the concept of PERIKATAN to morph it into a more inclusive BARISAN NASIONAL was pragmatism. Will this action bring benefits? Will it be politically profitable? If they do, how will things work out in the long run? Pragmatism to Tun Razak is always tied up with longer term interests. Expediencies are for short tem gains.

So when Malaysian Insider stated that:-

Pragmatism, and not bending to the will of former prime ministers, has emerged as the dominant principle behind decision-making in the early days of the Najib administration, as Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak seeks to reconnect the Barisan Nasional government with the elusive non-Malay and younger vote bank. And there are two factors which are driving Najib to look at matters in a practical way rather than through party lenses: fear of leading BN into defeat at the next general elections and knowledge that time is not on his side.

I find myself unable to agree to that statement. If pragmatism means preference for longer term interests, lets look at a few of the PM's recent decision making.

Take for instance the recent decision to stay away from Penanti in Penang. That decision was funded on the pragmatic principles of not wanting to waste precious time and money. That reasoning was quickly proven hollow when these two elements were obviously disregarded when UMNO now wants to go to Manek Urai. Differentiating the two on the basis of the former being the product of political ploy and the later as having a valid reason to participate hasn't gone down well with the Malay rakyat.

The longer term principle that sustains UMNO and keeps it relevant is self respect. The second thing is the foundation upon which UMNO builds its relevance- that of fighting for, preserving and expanding Malay interests. The decision to stay away from Penanti actually means, the UMNO president is favoring political expediency (short term interests) over pragmatism (longer term interests).

That, Tun Razak would not have approved.

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Capital Punishment- The Life and Times of Dato Mokhtar Sir Mahmud

Towards the end of 1941, the boys at MCKK were probably preparing for end of year exams. Mokhtar bin Mahmud was in Form One then. He recalled clearly that he was housed in prep school. It was a building meant for students of the lower forms. His older brother Mustafa was in form two.

As I pry open and instigate his memory, many more facts are revealed. He now remembers more of his classmates. Tan Sri Jamil Jan, once head of MIDA was his classmate. Jamil Jan hailed fromTaiping. There was another boy, whose acquaintance we shall become more familiar shortly. His name was Meor Mohd Ali whose nickname was 'Arab'. That was earned it seemed by his uncharacteristic sharp nose. Jamil Jan was known as Jamil Cina, no doubt deriving that moniker from mixed parentage. Salim Osman was also his classmate. Salim is the son a former Malacca chief minister- Osman bin Talib. Salim became a wealthy man by buying Malay Reserve land with rich tin deposits. He was able to buy his sons houses in Kenny Hill, Kuala Lumpur.

The world of schoolboys then was one that wasn't impaled by the worries of the world. It was a carefree world, free from worries. The Second World War which began sometime in 1939 was worlds apart and was seen as merely a European affair. This carefree world, unflustered by the troubles of adults was soon to be shattered. Unbeknownst to Mokhtar and his classmates, things were different in Kota Bharu:-

Shortly after midnight on 7th/8th December, a group of Indian guards at Kota Bharu spotted three large shadows, the IJN transport ships: the Awagisan Maru, the Ayatosan Maru and the Sakura Maru, dropping anchor approximately 3 km's off the coast of Kota Bharu. The ships were carrying approximately 5,200 troops of the Takumi Detachment, commanded by Major-General Hiroshi Takumi, who was on board IJN transport Awajisan Maru. The majority of them were already the war veterans, with several months of harsh jungle training and battles in China. The force consisted of the 56th Infantry Regiment (Colonel Yoshio Nasu, on board IJN transport Sakura Maru), one mountain artillery battery of the 18th Mountain Artillery Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Katsutoshi Takasu), the 12th Engineer Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Ichie Fujii), the 18th Division Signal Unit, one company of the 12th Transport Regiment, one company of the 18th Division Medical Unit and No. 2 Field Hospital of the 18th Division Medical Unit. They were escorted by a powerful escort fleet (Kota Bharu Invasion Force) under the command of Rear-Admiral Shintaro Hashimoto, consisting of a light cruiser Sendai, destroyers Ayanami, Isonami, Shikinami and Uranami, minesweepers No. 2 and No. 3, and subchaser No. 9.

Seconds later the guards heard shells passing over their heads. World War II in Pacific had begun, while the Japanese planes from Nagumo's carriers were still flying towards Pearl Harbor. The loading of landing craft began almost as soon as the transports dropped anchor. The first wave of landing craft carrying troops under the command of Colonel Masu were heading for the beach in four lines.

British artillery immediately began firing along the shore line and out to sea once it became clear the Japanese were coming ashore. Despite local counter attacks, the Indian sepoys position became untenable and the defenders began to fall back.

…..Also by morning it became clear the Japanese had successfully landed their invasion force. At 10:30 hours the Japanese forces finally reached Kota Bahru.

The Japanese, now backed by freshly landed troops, forced the British-Indian troops to retreat to the Kuala Lipis area and advanced south to capture Kota Bahru (township) by 2 p.m. on the 9th.


The head Master, Mr Carey must have been aware that invasion had started. He was careful not to alarm the boys especially the younger ones.

A few days after the Japanese landing in Kota Bharu, Carey assembled the students in the Hall. He announced that he was giving the boys a one month's holiday. Mokhtar did notice however, that Carey did not specify the date as to when they must report back at the College.

The announcement was greeted with jubilant shouts of joy as were expected from boys who were oblivious to the darkening clouds over the horizon.

Mokhtar talked with his brother Mustafa and they agreed that it would be better not to bring back all their belongings. And so they bundled their belongings and placed the bundles on their bunks. Once the chores were completed, they proceeded to the train station to go back to Tapah.

On the way to the station they were joined by Jamil 'Cina' Jan. Jamil Jan and Mokhtar were close friends. Often they would walk, hands over each other's shoulders. Only the closest of friends do that. Dato Mokhtar recalled the many happy memories he had with Jamil Jan.

Jamil Jan was to feature prominently in the episode involving this venerable gentlemen around which the story I am writing with the boy whom I have mentioned in passing above. The boy was Meor Mohd Ali aka Arab.

Meor Mohd Ali was the terror of the form one fraternity. He made good what he lacked in physical size by an overarching bravado. He would pick fights with the bigger boys. He would always taunt the others which often ended in fisticuffs. He just had this proclivity to annoy others.

One day, Mokhtar confided in Jamil Jan about the annoying behaviour of Meor Ali. "You are the class prefect, Ta. You must do something. You are bigger than him. Your reach is longer. I am sure you can have him licked.

Jamil is right, thought Mokhtar. I am the class prefect and this bloke Meor is much smaller in size than I am.

It was the practice at MCKK then, to have desserts after meals or just something to have as after dinner snacks. Peanuts were often served as after meal snacks. Meor Mohd Ali put the peanuts to good use other than eating them. He would often use the peanuts as pellets and throw them as projectiles at the other boys. Meor Mohd Ali must have had a reputation as a tough nut as most often his shenanigans were silently tolerated.

Tonight- said Jamil Jan, I will sit at dinner with you. We must teach this Meor a lesson. True to form, Meor Mohd Ali was at his usual mischief- pelting others with nuts without provocation.

On seeing this, Mokhtar at the instigation of Jamil Jan, decided to take action. The plan was to trap Meor into doing something to Mokhtar so that Mokhtar can have a justification to get into a fight. So, it was on purpose that Mokhtar decided to walk across Meor Ali's firing line. And in doing that, some of the pellet shots rained on Mokhtar. This was the opportunity that Mokhtar was looking for. He turned with a menacing look on Meor and asked- who did that?

Living up to his reputation, Meor shot back- what? Want to fight? Mokhtar was of course waiting for that answer and promptly answered – any time.

The two antagonists, at the cheering of the others who were obviously hoping to do unto Meor what they themselves were unable to, then proceeded to walk from the dining hall along the passageway to the prep building.

Reaching a spot, they traded punches and blows on each other. It was not a choreographed fight. The boys gave all what they could. Arms flailing, kicks abounded. It was soon apparent that Mokhtar, being the taller of the two with longer reach, was gaining the upper hand. Meor Ali was forced to retreat and was cornered dangerously towards the edge of the steep drains at the sides of the passage. As if in submission he stopped punching back by which time Mokhtar realised if he continued the boy would fall into the drain.

Playing the good guy, and just in time too, Jamil Jan intercepted and exclaimed- enough, why are you people fighting? Enough enough.

Hence the scuffle ended as quickly as it began. Meor Ali got the worse from this fight but nothing was more damaged than his pride and reputation. As they made their way back to the dorms, Jamil Jan put his hands over the shoulders of his friend Mokhtar, and congratulated Mokhtar on a job well done.

From that day onwards, Meor Ali was on his best behaviour. But after the war, Meor Ali did not resume his studies at MCKK. Dato Mokhtar is wondering what happened to Meor Ali.

The headmaster, Carey was captured by the Japanese and sent to Burma as a prisoner of war. He was beaten and abused by his Japanese captors. One day, a Japanese soldier smacked him on the nose with a wooden container where he kept his forks and spoons. Carey suffered a broken nose and was to live the remainder of his life with a deformed nose. After the war, amazingly Carey came back to MCKK and served a while longer as Headmaster. When asked why his nose is crooked, he narrated the story of Japanese atrocity.

Next: Money and Food from home, how the MCKK boys behaved.


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Sunday, 24 May 2009

The Midnight Scuffle!

MCKK

Here is another instalment from my forthcoming The Life And Times Of Dato Mokhtar Bin Sir Mahmud.

Dato Mokhtar was back in MCKK in 1946. It was just after the war. At the end of 1941, his schooling days were abruptly interupted by the war. He was a member of the Ahmad House. The Perak boys would usually be in Idris House. There were only 4 houses. The Headmaster then was Mr Carey. He was succeeded by KD Luke who was to become the headmaster during the event which I am about to tell you shortly.

After term break or school holidays, he made it a point to come back a day earlier. At that time, his father Dato Mahmud was DO of Tapah. It is not far away from Kuala Kangsar.

As to the reason for coming back a day earlier, there was a method to this absurdity. Why would anyone want to cut short his holidays? For Mokhtar it was all the more incredulous given the fact that his home was probably a 2 or 3 hour train ride?

You see, this is a trick that he discovered. If you come back earlier, you can secure yourself the best bed and location in the hostel. It was a first come first served thing and finders' keepers. Invariably he would choose a bed near the door where it was airy. It also permitted easy egress and ingress. The boys who came back late would have to make do with less desirable choices.

Whenever the MCKK boys come back from holidays or term breaks, the mood would be sombre. Now I have never set foot in MCKK- but from the recollection of Dato Mokhtar, the mood of the students coming back from their kampongs or hometown would immediately turn forlorn once Gunung Berapit came within sights. It was as though, their hearts were saying in unison- boys we are back in prison.

Dinner on the first night after holidays reinforced the boys' homesickness. The dining hall would be exceedingly quiet. One could almost hear a pin drop. The same could be told of the mood at the High Table. Once the boys got over the initial pangs of homesickness, the dining hall would resume its normal voluble din carrying the sounds of fork and spoons and the endless chatter of spirited boys.

Just after the war, Dato Mahmud entered MCKK as a form three student. His classmates counted HRH Tuanku Sultan of Pahang, the late Tan Sri Azmi Kamarudin, Y.M Engku Tan Sri Dato' Sri Ibrahim Engku Ngah( keeper of the Royal seal), Dato Wan Nik a former chairman of Ketengah( Terengganu) and one Tengku Yaakob bin Tengku Salleh(deceased).

It is the story involving the late Tengku Yaakob ( a scion of the Kelantan Royal Family) and this Dato Wan Nik who hailed from Terengganu that we now feel worth retelling. It was an event that earned the late Tengku Yaakob (God Bless his soul) the notoriety of the moniker 'MU JAHAK'( pronounced in Kelantan slang). From then on,Tengku Yaakob would always be called MU JAHAK and never Ku Yaakob anymore. The event which I am about to narrate happened sometime in 1949 or 1950.

Tengku Yaakob came from Kelantan. Dato Mokhtar recalled that he married one of the princesses of the then Sultan of Kelantan. (He stands corrected on this). Dato Wan Nik came from Terengganu. Since time immemorial, relations between Kelantanese and Terengganuans were never cordial. Indeed they often degenerated into open hostilities.

Naturally, the antipathy must be carried through by boys claiming to be true blooded sons of their states. During this particular occasion, none carried the burden of this irrational ill feeling more than Wan Nik of Terengganu and Tengku Yaakob of Kelantan.

At the hostel, 9 pm would be lights out for everyone. Except for seniors such as Dato Mokhtar. Seniors were allowed to stay up beyond 9pm.

One particular night, Mokhtar was still up when he heard a commotion coming out from downstairs of the hostel. Fearing that a burglar or burglars have entered their hostel he went out to investigate.

He came upon a group of bare-chested boys who were excited about something that had happened. All these boys were members of Tengku Yaakob of Kelantan's band of brothers. Mokhtar asked the boys what had happened to which the boys answered nothing.

Not satisfied, Mokhtar set out to discover what had taken place.

Wan Nik of Terengganu was a prefect. Tengku Yaakob of Kelantan seemed to bear the brunt of the simmering hostilities between Kelantanese and Terengganuans. He would always be made to suffer a multitude of punishable offences. And guess who was the prefect who would pounce him? It was none other than Wan Nik of Terengganu.

The Tengku from Kelantan must have suffered immeasurably and thus set out to mete out a punishment of his own to this Wan Nik. One night, when lights were out and deciding that Nik must have gone to sleep, Tengku Yaakob went out to dispense with his version of justice.

He went into Nik's dormitory, lifted up the mosquito net, pulled away the blanket over Nik and gave him a walloping!

The horrified recipient of the punches yelped out cries and seeing that the perpetrator of this invasion at this ungodly hour was Tengku Yaakob- cried out; Yaakob !Gapo mu buat aku gini ?

Tengku Yaakob gave only this answer...MU JAHAK!

Apparently as insurance Tengku Yaakob had rallied a group of his followers to stand guard just in case. If Wan Nik of Terengganu was foolish to fight back, his gang would be upon the hapless Terengganu boy in two shakes of a lion's whiskers. Prudence was the better part of valour- Wan Nik to his credit did not put up any fight.

From that day onwards- whenever the MCKK boys walked past Tengku Yaakob, the name ' Mu Jahak' would be called out.

This Wan Nik turned out to a sort of rebel without a cause. One day, the principal (KD Luke) and MCKK became the object of a scandal which became a hot topic among the local community. Someone from the College wrote to the vernacular newspaper complaining of the lousy food of the hostel. The College immediately carried out an investigation as to the author of the letter. It turned out that Wan Nik was the author. His cover was blown away because he had entrusted the sending of the letter to a junior boy. The boy had admitted to the principal the identity of the author.

Wan Nik was hauled up by the principal and received his befitting punishment. He was striped of the prefect's post. Upon receiving his punishment, Wan Nik poignantly said- Sir I feel like committing suicide. The headmaster(KD Luke) retorted- young man, you have done enough trouble for me. Please do not add to my headaches.

I hope Dato Wan Nik would not find this narration of something from the past offensive. My humblest apologies in advance to Dato Wan Nik. They don't make boys of sterner stuff anymore Dato.

Note: I have updated some facts regarding this story when I reviewed it together with Dato Mokhtar himself.

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Relieving Toothache with Imodium

We are applying the wrong medicine!

People who suffer tooth ache use an ointment called Orajel. Sometimes they use Clove Oil or even ice cubes to numb the nerves. When we have stomach cramps associated with diarrhoea, people consume Emitrol or Imodium. Lesson: each ailment has its appropriate relief.

When Justice Abdul Aziz gave judgement in favour to DS Nizar, he cited article 36(2) of the Perak Constitution as the governing provision. Lawyers for DS Zambri believed the appropriate provision is article 16(6) of the Perak constitution.

Justice Abdul Aziz sees a motion of no confidence carried out in Assembly as the test to ascertain no confidence. Without such test, loss of majority cannot be determined. As there was no such motion moved at the DUN,Nizar was deemed never to cease being the MB. In arriving at his judgment, Justice Abdul Aziz considered the personal opinion of HRH Sultan of Perak as irrelevant.

The 3 judges said no. It is not necessary to pass this test. Loss of majority can be ascertained by extraneous means. One such means, is allowing the ruler to ascertain the issue. That was HRH Sultan of Perak did. He interviewed each and every one of the 31 ADUNs who presented themselves at the Istana. Satisfied that all of them supported Zambry, he ascertained that Zambry enjoyed majority support.

Do we see what is essentially a political problem, when subjected to legal solutions lead us to? The 3 JCA overturned the judgment of the court of appeal and declared that Zambri is the rightful MB. It is leading us to a legal circus.

The case is now on appeal to the Federal courts. What if the appeal takes a long time? What if after that, the Federal Court reaffirmed the findings of the Court of Appeal? That would make the current appeal counter productive in the sense it will subject the people of Perak and along with it, the entire nation to endless rounds of recriminations.

It will no longer be an issue who started what first. That we can argue until we are blue in the face but all the while unmindful and insensitive to the fact that the people of Perak are growing disillusioned day by day.

If the judgement had been in favour of Nizar, I would have maintained my position. I would urge the UMNO leadership in Perak to observe a stand down. I would have written to suggest they concede defeat, go back to the drawing board and prepare for war in the 13th general elections. The people of Perak are tired of the never ending political problems made worse by the intervention of the law.

Now that Zambry has won, I would make the same suggestion to the PR leadership. The suggestion is to stand down and prepare to unseat the BN in the next general elections. Spare the people of Perak the ordeal of having to endure a torturous game of political brinkmanship.

See what this political problem has turned into? Once the law is applied, the problem takes a different course. I am sure some really bright lawyers will find some clauses here and there( read I am smarter than you), lacuna here and there( read the law is an ass), this one distinguished on these facts ( SM Salim's dulu lain, sekarang lain), judges have misdirected themselves here and there ( read some judges are more stupid than others) ad nauseam.

A political problem could have been solved through political means. What we have here is not a problem in law but a political problem. We have a severe tooth ache but as relief we are given something to clear severe indigestion.

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Saturday, 23 May 2009

Penanti=No; Manek Urai=Yes?

Providence has its own ways to allow true judgement. Or to reveal hypocrisy.

We have been given reasons as to why UMNO does not want to contest in Penanti. Even though in Penanti, the electorate consists of 70% Malay voters.

UMNO's political struggle was founded on one all consuming principle. That it existed to protect, fight for and expand Malay interests. It goes without saying, since this principle is all consuming, UMNO's refusal to go into battle in Penanti, is dubious and perplexing. The ramifications are profoundly impactful.

We are told this decision not to contest is grounded on pragmatism. Why waste money and effort, if you know you are going to loose anyway. Ye lah- why spend money and time, if we are going to lose?

We should have asked the many aspirants to the recent concluded UMNO elections, why should many of the vice presidential candidates decide to continue fighting, since they knew there were fighting a losing battle? The answer seemed simple. It was necessary for the preservation of their amour-propre.

This French term simply means self esteem. It is not self conceit. The weaker VP candidates continued to fight because of an acute sense of amour-propre. Failing to do so would have demoralise their supporters including those whom they have paid to secure nominations. Retreating would only contribute to their irrelevance and any UMNO leader will fight tooth and nail, just to retain relevance in the party.

Pray tell us then, is it logical to say that in Penanti, among the 70% Malay voters, there are no UMNO supporters? And if UMNO, by choosing to stay away from Penanti, creates this perception that it is abandoning its amour propre, why should it expect the Malays in Penanti and Malays elsewhere to humour UMNO by insisting, UMNO still has the principle of its very raison detre for existence still burning? It is as though, UMNO is abandoning its own legitimacy.

And because of that UMNO still expects Malays to rally behind the party when it is shooting itself in the foot?

On this reason alone, people will steer away from UMNO because it has lost its own self respect. Or even worse, it has lost its will to live.

UMNO says it will NOT go into by elections unless such vacancy is caused by either death or disqualification of the candidate therein. This is fine and acceptable proposition. It shall not go into battle for other than these two reasons because to do so, as the pragmatists say, is costly and foolhardy. To do so is not for reason of amour propre but for reason of self conceit. UMNO does not want to be known as a party made up of conceited sons of bitches.

By all reckoning, UMNO has a rat's ass of a chance of winning in the coming by election in Kelantan. The by election is caused by the death of the incumbent wakil rakyat. That is cause for UMNO to go in. It has two chances- slim and none of winning there. Since these are the only chances, if UMNO decides to go in there, it will be very costly and just foolhardy.

Where do these reasons lead us? They lead us to judge, that there are more and stronger reasons not to mix it up in Kelantan even though, the death of the wakil rakyat there, makes it mandatory for UMNO to go in. UMNO is caught out by its own defining qualifications for participating in by elections.

The Malays of Penanti will wait and want to know, why UMNO,if it decides to go to Manek Urai, does so, even when it knows, it will lose, it will be costly and it is foolhardy.

A strong sense of amour propre would have mandated UMNO to go into battle anywhere, any place and any time, as long as there is substantial number of Malay voters. This is necessary to send strong signals, UMNO is not abandoning the Malays on and for whose interests, it owes its raison detre for existence

If that is a powerful impetus to participate in Manek Urai, that same principle is expected by Malays in Penanti. In Penanti, the opposition is playing politics. In Manek Urai, is God doing the same thing?

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Friday, 22 May 2009

Whispers from the Past.

The Life and Times of Dato Mokhtar Sir Mahmood.

Travelling down the memory lane




Travelling down the memory lane
is not all black 'n white.
Travelling down the memory lane
is not all lacking light.

Travelling down the memory lane
is not eye filled with tears.
Travelling down the memory lane
brings fresh and soothing air.

Travelling down the memory lane
is college, fun and friend.
Travelling down the memory lane
is full of curves and bends.

Travelling down the memory lane
is a test of time and mind
Travelling down the memory lane
is a joy of it's kind.


Poet: Spandan Bhattacharyya


A grand old man remembers.

Today, I am paying a tribute to a friend. Perhaps a peep into his life can bring back those almost forgotten stories that may have flavoured our own lives. As soon as I can get some photographs of those fading years, I shall upload them.

Over the past 2 years, my wife and I became close friends with a distinguished Malay gentleman. His name is Dato Mokhtar. He is the youngest son of Dato Sir Mahmud bin Mat- the first chief minister of Pahang. He is now 79 years old. He was born in January 1930 in Sitiawan when his father was the ADO in Sitiawan. As I said, his father was Dato Sir Mahmud bin Mat (1894-1971), the first Chief Minister of Pahang. The story of Dato Sir Mahmud bin Mat has been written as a book by one of his sons.

Dato Mokhtar, qualified as an accountant. He studied in Australia thereby being among the few Pahang Malays (in the 50's) to study abroad. Like most sons of Pahang aristocrats or prominent families, he studied in MCKK- the English school for Malays, aka The Eton of Malaya.

During university holidays he took up driving cabs to get around Australia. He still goes there regularly, retracing his footsteps. They say, certain phases in our lives are indelibly etched in our memory.

Sitiawan in those days, was a sub district under the charge of the English DO residing in Grik. At the time, a district was divided up into sub districts and each sub district was put under the charge of an ADO. The ADO was therefore, a de facto DO in his sub district.

Mokhtar carries the bearings of a regal person. With each white hair combed in place, it reinforces the rimrod-ness and very proper bearings of the man. Always immaculately attired with a watchful eye over what he eats.

In his younger days, he was a bon vivant living life to the fullest. He enjoyed the good things in life. Good food and good company. He could play the guitar and had an above average skill in palmistry which he employed to good use in reading the palms of the fairer sex. Indeed, his exploits at palmistry got a mention in the University's publication alerting students to keep a look out for him.

Over our many, tête-à-tête I have been fortunate to travel back into time. We are brought back to the times when 1 sen could buy you 4 eggs and a salary of 900 Malayan Dollars in the 1930s was a princely sum. It was a time when a chicken cost 15 sen.

You travel back into time when he was carried or dukung over to the mosque in Kangar Perlis. He was maybe 4 or 5 years old but liked to go over and pray at the nearby mosque. He would either be dukung by his minder or his older brother.

You listen in amazement at the tale of the English DO of Grik- one Barkley wearing a sarong and donning a head dress or semutar ( like the Kelantanese do) riding on the back of a water buffalo to office. That must have been quite a sight. An English John Wayne riding a water buffalo.

The same Barkley was lord over the DO's mansion covering 13 acres with scores of dormitories/barracks where he housed young Malay girls. Or dare I say- gave refuge to poor Malay girls? Curiously the Malays of Perak thought nothing of this. We can only speculate what this Barkley did to his young charges. He gave them proper care and places to stay and would marry them off one by one to salaried staff of the district office. By doing that, he ensured those young Malay girls obtained a secured future. Probably he was moved by purely humanitarian motives.

When the father became the DO in Grik succeeding Barkley, an older boy of around 12/13 came with his grandfather and stayed a few days at his house. He would recall this elder young boy wasn't his brother. The older boy appeared a quiet person.

He remembered the boy was en route to MCKK and had a plain baju Melayu. The proper attire of any Malay boy going to MCKK then was a full baju Melayu complete with kain samping. He recalls his own mother would order clothing material and other personal items from Messrs Laidlaw or Robinsons and then proceeded to dress up the older boy. The older boy who stayed a few days en route to MCKK was Abdul Razak bin Hussein. He would later become Malaysia's second prime Minister and the father to the current prime minister.

We are brought back into time to Pekan where the well to do and aristocrats had slaves to do their biddings. We are not sure whether debt slavery reached such a level as it did in Perak.

I am equally amazed at his exploits in his younger days. Being the youngest son of a distinguished family, he was able to live out his adventure days. Often he would travel alone all the way to Pekan to Peramu. Peramu used to be the landing point of those who traveled by bus or motorised vehicles from where they would take ferries or water boats to continue to go to Pekan proper. From Peramu he would waddle his way through kamunting trees where tigers still roamed at that time and huge snakes still slither among the opaque bushes.

The only warning from his liberal minded parents was not to bathe in the rivers. But that certainly did not stop him from going fishing in dug out canoes and employing what ever tricks he could master to catch as many fishes he could. For example, grated coconut would be fried and mixed with belacan to serve as bait for Udang Galah.

We are brought back into time, when Sungai Pahang in Pekan was full of Ikan Kelabau and a type of river Mullet known as Ikan Jumpoi. Sadly, we can never see these fishes any more.

He is old by Malay standards. For a Malay, to reach 63 years of age is an achievement. God grants the person a bonus. The average age of the followers of Muhammad is 63 years. He is almost 80. Alhamdulillah. Praise be to Allah.

Except for his slowed steps, Dato Mokhtar remains sprightly. He has a superb memory. He is able to regal you with tales of old Kuantan, MCKK and of the many personal adventures he has had abroad. He is a trained chartered accountant. He studied in Australia. Among his friends were the late Dato Jaafar Hussin and, Hanafiah Raslan.

He still drives to KL alone. Most of the times he makes a day trip. Stopping at one or two places for prayers and to ease himself. He has a penchant for the good things in life. He drives a Honda Prelude.

He has proven to be a very shrewd business person, invested his money in buying property when they were cheap. He has land in almost all the notable islands in Malaysia. In Pulau Perhentian, Tioman, Langkawi and so forth. He owns land along the finest beaches in Kuantan. The hotel, Swiss Garden sits on land he sold the hotel operators a long time ago. The land just beside Swiss Garden is still his.

Walk over to this property, one immediately realises that Dato Mokhtar has been practising ecological conservation long before the term going green became fashionable. He is fastidious when it comes to preserving trees and on his land, woe betide anyone who inadvertently cut down any trees there.

I consider it my singular fortune to be able to share with my readers about the life of this extraordinary man.

I shall begin with some stories he shared with me recently.

The man.

In appearance, Dato Mokhtar is a tall man. Slim and very particular over his dietary habits. Earlier photographs showed his flowing white mane which served as a regal crown. That must have made many a female heart flutter. He speaks very good English and displays the mannerisms of English country gentleman. In his younger days, he led a colourful life. He has travelled around the world. He is also an accomplished musician.

He undertook a serious study of palmistry. At his Australian university, this speciality got him into trouble with the university authorities. You see, his gift at palmistry, he says with a twinkle in his eyes, allowed his to caress the palms of the fairer sex. It was no fault of his, he maintains. Female students would come up to him and ask him to decipher the lines on their palms. Ever the gentleman and of course not wanting to waste the opportunity, he would dutifully read the lines of his female counterparts. He spent many hours doing that.

His reputation as reader of palm soon reached the ears of university officials. He was called up to give explanation as to his true intentions. The authorities were not convinced and thereafter, labelled him a Casanova plying his trade on unsuspecting female students.

To be continued..

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Thursday, 21 May 2009

Tun Razak’s Legacy

Tun Abdul Razak bin Dato Hussein

A leader's greatness can be measured by the longevity of his legacies. Many of Tun Razak's legacies are relevant even until now. No doubt they will endure long into the future.

The list of his enduring legacies is indeed impressive. PERNAS, MARA, PNB, PETRONAS and of course FELDA, BANK BUMIPUTERA, FAMA, FELCRA, UDA,MAS, LPP, UKM, the state SEDCs, BERNAMA, PUSAT ISLAM and many others. . These were undoubtedly the product of Tun Razak's attuned thinking about what were needed by Malays and Malaysia. Unless the issues of income disparities and poverty are solved, there will never be unity in Malaysia. Nothing more threatens the unity of the various races than widening income disparities.

I am sure; the various disabilities that constrained Malay society were uppermost in Tun Razak's mind. Certainly he wasn't oblivious to the differing maximising postulates of Malays. These postulates hold that the Malay has in him the same desire for success as other races such as the Chinese. The difference lies in the belief that the meaning of success to the Malays is different as that held by the Chinese. The Malay values graceful living more than making money as the prime motive. To the Malay, there is this trade-off between graceful living and making more money. The more money you make means you have to give up the opportunity to live out life gracefully.

In my mind, whether these postulates turned out as predicted or actually governed the economic behaviour of the Malay, is secondary. To Tun Razak the trade-off is a luxury of choice issue and because it is choice grounded on luxury, it is usually exercised as a matter of personal matter.

In other words, Tun Razak did not fully subscribe to the finitely predictive and confining properties of the maximising postulates. The maximising postulates would also hold as true, that Malays shun changes and innovation simply because they are more intent to preserve the old ways of their forebears. To Tun Razak, they do not.

More important to Tun Razak, was how to ensure, Malays get to the position of being able to exercise such a luxury of choice in the first place. And to arrive at that position, the more important issue to Tun Razak, was to increase the capacity of Malays to earn more. Herein, to my mind, lies the genius of Tun Razak. In particular, it lies in his stubborn refusal to cave in to constraining values. The crucial mission for Tun Razak, was to emancipate the Malays from mental servitude. It must begin with the Malay man himself.

Although I am not a FELDA settler not the product of FELDA parents, I would place the creation of FELDA settlements as the most important of the Tun Razak legacies. Even those pioneers who were given the opportunities to own land and work on them were not able to envisage the significance of FELDA. Indeed when Tun Razak went around enlisting volunteers to join FELDA, he encountered opposition. There were Malays opposing the idea, saying it was a communist inspired land resettlement. Or even worse, there were also accusations that FELDA was a modern version of enslavement.

FELDA encapsulates the singularly most important element in Tun Razak's thinking- that man is master over his self and environment. That within permissible limits, man sets out to accomplish what he sets out to do and in doing so, he must by necessity, unbound himself from his surroundings. His surroundings then represent surmountable limits and not limiting walls. To Tun Razak, if the man is incapable of becoming aware that he can overcome his constraints, he must be cultivated to do so.

That's the beauty of the idea behind FELDA. You transplant thousands of Malays from their traditional settings of idyllic villages and comforting limitations to new surroundings. You provide them with challenges that can only elicit the necessary responses. These came in the form of individualised attempts to overcome the new challenges. Whether its mastery over his physical surroundings or adjusting to new inter-personal relations. Malays from diverse backgrounds and social settings were forced to live together and therefore induced to make the necessary adjustments.

But the most important aspect of the idea behind FELDA was the liberating effects of the uprooting. For not only it disentangle Malays from traditions, but it also liberated them from the bitter world of myths and incapacitating legends. That to my mind was the most important element behind the idea of FELDA.

I can only speculate that Tun Razak was not unaware of Arnold Toynbee's A Study of History. He would have understood the idea behind mimesis or imitation. In particular, he would be aware by the direction taken by mimesis in differentiating a forward looking and backward looking society. In backward looking society, taken to be synonymous with less advanced society, mimesis or imitation takes the form of replicating what tradition decreed. Generally speaking, in societies where customs are overbearing, those societies remain static.

In forward looking society/progressive society, mimesis or imitation is directed towards creative personalities who embody the pioneering spirit. In such a society, as Walter Bagehot observed, the 'cake of custom' is always being broken and society is thus placed in dynamic motion along a course of change and growth. Since Tun Razak spent a number of years in England, he would have also been familiar with the thinking of Bagehot.

That is the other most important idea behind FELDA- imbibing the Malay with a pioneering spirit.

To Tun Razak, economic development of society is determined by at least three influences.

  1. The constraining effects of his environment on him and how that impinges or liberates him
  2. His willingness and ability to master and transform his environment.
  3. The attitudinal values bequeathed upon him by his forebears.

The idea of FELDA seeks out to minimise the limiting effects of physical surroundings. In their stead, the idea reinforces Tun Razak's belief that to change and progress was a doable thing by the Malays.

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Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Betrayals Masquerading as Progress


Our Tunnel Vision?






The Majesty of the caves.
Good Morning Gunung Senyum!


One writer-activist that I like to read is the irrepressible Arundhati Roy. She is of course the writer behind the bestseller The God of Small things. I am reading her book The Cost of Living.

I noted the advance praise from Salman Rushdie: Arundhati Roy's polemic is necessary and important. She combines brilliant reportage with a passionate, no-holds-barred commentary on.....betrayals masquerading as progress.

Many of us can never hope to achieve Roy's prominence as a writer. But perhaps the new media can provide us the medium through which we can emulate Roy. We can also passionately comment bravely on betrayals masquerading as progress.

For example, I recently wrote an article about the very possible destruction of two beautiful limestone mountains known as Guning Senyum and Gunung Jebak Puyuh. I hear disturbing news that the state government may be forced by yet another attempt by a leading conglomerate to construct a cement plant there.

This renewed attempt to take our mountains comes in the wake of perceived weakened position of the Pahang MB. He lost in the recent MKT elections. While he remains as Ketua Perhubungan, he is not an MKT member. He is categorised as a 'turut hadhir'. His future as MB is therefore, justifiably seen as precarious. So, if there is enough political support for the plan to take the mountains, another business proposal might just work.

What can save the MB and the state from giving in to such concerted attempts is support from the general public. If the attempt to submit yet again a business proposal to turn the sites mentioned is met with popular public sanction, the MB will find a more solid voice to refuse attempts to bulldoze through with the project. I used the term 'concerted' to suggest a collusion of public officials/politicians and big capital in wanting to see this project through.

We are suffocated with the usual reasoning that if the state government does not do it with a moneyed partner, this plant which can generate income will not take off. We are also put off track by the naive remark- of the process of getting approval takes a long time. What if I tell you, land titles can be gotten within a week or even a few days?

But these are not the issues which are of interest here. It's the idea that all these developments including destruction of ecological landmarks is done in the name of progress. Hence we are possibly facing what S.Rushdie said when fore-wording Roy's book- betrayals masquerading as progress.

We see rivers being dammed up, hills and mountains being flattened, all in the name of progress. Voices of dissent are few or if they are any, remain unorganised and isolated. Hence the relevant authorities march on with impunity. Along the way, we hear the stock-in-trade voices, if we don't do it; we don't have the capital and knowhow.

Then we might as well abandon our officious positions and let big capital take over completely. I suspect this kind of officious remarks come from government officials or heads of GLCs who want to justify their collusion. We often forget that most of the time, our own relevance in such a business venture, is made possible only because the law says, as the authority, we have ownership of the asset in question. How did we come to 'own' the asset in the first place? Not by earning or creating it, but because the law empowers us to own it.

I have used the possible re attempt to snatch these gunungs from us, to illustrate a bigger issue. This debate about developing Gunung Senyum and Jebak will no doubt capture popular imagination. This will raise the stakes and complexion of the polemic. From being a fight over the fate of two mountains, it will raise doubts over the entire political system.

The issue touches the very nature of our democracy. Who owns this land? Our rivers? Our forests (of particular importance to Pahang), and of course our mountains? When we touch any thing related to this basic question relating to the nature of our political system, we are met up with rebukes as answers. They are answered ambiguously in bitter and foul language.

How so? You will soon see the usual official response.

Suppose the project actually takes off. There will be destruction of habitat (animals and humans). These will be followed up with occasional but disconnected account of how the government authorities, ever mindful and sympathetic to animals and humans, are doing everything possible to minimise difficulties. These isolated gestures will be politicised as emblems of our caring attitude. We listen to the people, we feel for them etc, ad nauseam.

If that fail, the persistence by such disparate groups like MNS and other NGOs will be labelled as how a handful of subversive activists is holding the nation to ransom and preventing progress, employment and raising incomes.

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Monday, 18 May 2009

Gunung Senyum: Monopoly Capital comes to Pahang?



Gunung Senyum on the left.

25 caves in Gunung Senyum will be gone



Taman yang indah dalam Gua


keindahan semula jadi


will there be a ray of light?


In 1966, the Harvard Economist Paul Baran together with Paul Sweezy wrote a seminal book titled Monopoly Capital. It became a popular book and a must read for leftist leaning students in the 70s and beyond.

The central thesis of the book is that big capital (capitalists plus pliant states/governments) is constantly driven by a rapacious unquenchable thirst and insatiable appetite to acquire more and more physical assets. In Baran's analysis, Big Capital will acquire physical assets in the form of territories and captive markets where they can charge high prices. They are driven to become the sole supplier of any commodity or service.

How do they do this? The surplus capital they have acquired has turned them into business behemoths which can dictate terms to weak states. Most often states are at their mercy and will often end up as sheepish pro-business supporting casts at ceremonies ululating the triumph of partnerships.

In Malaysia, our local big capital works hand in hand with pliant state governments who sometimes have no choice but to surrender their physical assets. YTL Corporation is starting to behave like big capital in a surreal replay of what Paul Baran wrote. Driven by a rapacious appetite in order to commit the surplus capital it has acquired (read a large war chest) it is now embarking on physically ravaging a particular physical asset that belongs to Pahang. The physical asset which I am referring to is Gunung Senyum, probably a mountain dating back to Neolithic times.

Let us see some background information.

In 2003, the PSKP ( Perbadanan Setiausaha Kerajaan Pahang) or more popularly known as PSK and Pasdec Corporation, signed their remaining 50% equity in Pahang Cement. To those sensitive about Pahang's economic future, whenever mention is made of Pasedc/PKNP and any of the other state owned agencies (SOEs), a reference to them, will of course raise red flags. These are the usual suspects in any business transactions involving sale for a song state owned assets. People of Pahang have by now become accustomed to the business modus operandi of SOEs. In return for the sale, the Pahang government got 36.8 million shares valued at RM3.75 each.

For the business acumen challenged SS at that time and the others involved, this was a tremendous achievement. It was hailed as a new chapter in the cooperation between private and public sector or sometimes euphemistically called 'smart partnership'. Readers must now be alert about all things that are preceded by the term 'smart'. For example the only thing 'smart' about 'smart' buildings is their costs and prices. In reality, it was a triumph in Monopoly Capital.

The immediate effect of this celebrated sale was that YTL Cement which then owned 50% of the issued and paid-up share capital of Pahang Cement, becomes the complete owner of Pahang Cement. We haven't been told yet of the dividends from our equity which we got out of the 38.8 million shares.

In 1995, Pasdec which is nothing but the recipient of state largesse and conferment together with PSK as the bridesmaid entered into a 50:50 JV with YTL Corporation. The JV vehicle was Pahang Cement which was given a piece of limestone mountain at a place called Bukit Sagu. The purpose of this uneven marriage was to build an integrated cement plant touted as a first of its kind in the East Coast state. YTL has already owned a cement plant in Perak.

In the name of business, an integral part of bumi Pahang was given up in order to allow YTL corporation to develop and operate an integrated cement plant. The other effect of the sale of Pahang's equity was to convert the Pahang government into a complete rent seeker. It became, at the stroke of the pen, the most celebrated Ali Baba.

The Pahang MB was reported to have said:-

"Today's signing will mark another milestone for the State Government and Pasdec. Upon completion of the sale of the 50% equity in Pahang Cement to YTL Cement, both the State Government, through PSKP and Pasdec, will have a an equity interest of approximately 20% in YTL Cement. We see this as a strategic investment in a larger listed company with diverse business activities in the manufacture and supply of ordinary Portland cement, ready-mixed concrete and slag cement."

"This investment will also allow the State Government to convert its unlisted securities in Pahang Cement into listed securities in YTL Cement and has the added benefit of providing future dividend streams. The sale of the State Government's investment in Pahang Cement will, upon completion, also provide an immediate realisation of profit on sale of investment."

In other words, the purpose of any JV for that matter was to earn passive returns in the form of dividends and (b) hoping for a windfall, the government, just like any Ahmad and Abu wants to sell its shares to realise immediate profit.

I don't mean to be rude, but if these are the aims, then, the mighty business arm of the government is not distinguishable from any class F contractor.

Tan Sri Francis Yeoh Sock Ping, Managing Director of YTL Cement, poignantly said that Pahang Cement is a testament to the success of public and private sector co-operation, where each party's strengths have been harnessed through intelligent partnership. Ha ha, a variation perhaps, of 'smart' partnership?

He continued: The fruitful collaboration between the Pahang State Government and YTL Cement is now geared to continue into the future as PSKP and Pasdec become substantial shareholders in our Company. We anticipate that our partnership will continue to yield mutual benefits. For our part, YTL Cement remains committed to its long-standing policy of enhancing shareholder value in order to reward shareholders for their investment in our Company."

We of course have another term for this kind of business deal, a term made famous by Paul Baran and Sweezy- Monopoly Capital.

Now, imagine YTL with the state as accomplice, becomes Big Business and Big Capital. Indeed YTL is the epitome of big business. Over the years it has been able to venture into a multitude of businesses leveraging on its own merits and strengths but almost always benefiting from political patronage.

The effect of Pahang government selling its equity to towkay YTL will be to allow YTL aka Big Business and Big Capital sell at high prices while able to compete by cutting costs, advertisement and marketing. From this vantage point, they get economic surpluses which however cannot be absorbed through consumers spending more.

The concentration of the surplus in the hands of the business elite must therefore be geared towards imperialistic and militaristic government tendencies, which is the easiest and surest way to utilise surplus productive capacity. The only difference now, what we then know as imperialistic or even militaristic tendencies are now known as respectable business rationalisation. The only way for big business now to utilise surplus productive capacity is to extend its tentacles to acquire more physical assets.

Hence the next target is GUNUNG SENYUM- harta pusaka dari tok nenek orang Pahang.

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