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Sakmongkol ak 47

Sunday 31 October 2010

The battle for Galas-2

As soon as we get into the Kelantan border beyond kampung Merapoh in Kuala Lipis, our sights are assaulted by waves of PAS banners and flags. The Kampung nearest the Pahang border here is Kampung Mentara is obviously a PAS stronghold. We immediately feel, judging from the volume of flags and banners, that this is PAS territory.
I had to calm my friends who are travelling with me. They are accustomed to the UMNO/BN way of handling by elections. This means, they are more at ease with the usual overwhelming firepower kick-ass approach. They prefer to see waves of party workers all over the country converging on a small town like Gua Musang. Then you would be assaulted by the sight of UMNO workers in vests, with walky-talkies and other state of the art communications gadgetry, crisscrossing the terrain with 4-wheel vehicles, the puteri UMNO troopers doing their rounds. It would be a boisterous affair and intimidating at times.
People in UMNO are more used to the big guy approach- declaring something in some official functions attended by busloads of people all over the country (including more people who will not vote in that area) ministers coming in and going out of managed functions, etc. so when you get into an area, where the UMNO approach is rather subdued, you get jittery. Can we win without firepower? These, you say are so unUMNO.
So, when you get a feeling that UMNO approach this time is rather subdued, you get thrown off balance. Perhaps this different approach taken by UMNO Gua Musang this time is an object lesson on a different approach.
UMNO Gua Musang in particular, has many things to prove. If this rather muted style is effective, will it be the new approach UMNO takes in future? To some, there's no money in this soft and muted approach. We can't get to use those Ninja Turtles (Toyota Land cruisers) anymore, we can't squeeze money from UMNO Perhubungan Negeri, and we can't demand to be treated as prima donnas.
Ada betul ke ini cara?
UMNO  Gua Musang and in particular its head Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah have the opportunity to educate UMNO on a new style of campaigning and winning the hearts and minds of the people.
This different approach is unnerving.
The new approach that is also a reflection of a government committed to engaging its citizens as real people seeks to honor its citizens as thinking people. We address people with real needs instead of digits. They are no longer 11,500 voters but 11,500 real people. So, we now disengage ourselves from the crass and crude methods of imposing our ideas on people. We refrain from using abusive language that vilifies our opponents.
For here, in Gua Musang, where issues are practically non eventful, victory goes to the party that makes lessor mistakes in public relations. Hence when I hear, the opposition parties have started going on the personal attacks offensive, I am thinking, they will lose.
Furthermore, we also know, sometimes that approach does not always work. In some places that highhanded methods creates antagonism and resentment among the locals. Just as in Galas for example. The majority have already made up their minds. If we overdo things, especially if we try to be smart-alecs, we can only create negative impacts.
I don't think we can do much in a Pas stronghold like Sungai Terah. Here the majority will not budge from placing their temporal and spiritual stakes with PAS. I went to the Chinese village of Kampung Pulai. Previously you will not see the presence of PAS flags and banners here. Now, you see them. PAS appears to have made inroads there. A group of party activists probably DAP volunteers were seen distributing leaflets. I asked for some to read which they readily gave. The issues are about the death of Teoh Beng Hock and the police shooting of the young Amirul.
But I am not unduly worried. If the overwhelming firepower kick-ass approach is not suitable to be employed by the BN and UMNO, it will also work the same way on the opposition parties. They may be able to secure some Chinese votes. But for most, it's about local issues.
We can't win people over with the usual barrage of vicious and spiteful personal attacks and using vile language. Even PAS has disowned this approach. So when its people resumed this attack mode, it will cost them votes. People will compare theirs with the civil approach taken by Tengku Razaleigh.
IN Kampung Sungai Terah for example, PAS and UMNO people get along very well each other refusing to allow political differences to divide them. A person's political preference should be respected.
DUN Galas does not require the heavy artillery approach and the aggressive techniques which can be intimidating. Here, a different style of political campaigning and hitting the stumps, which is now becoming apparent in Gua Musang and Galas. It's the patio or porch campaigning style. A house is selected and small groups gather to listen to reasoned arguments. They are done in a more sedate and civil manner.
I think because of these reasons, the BN and UMNO top leadership has delegated the primary responsibility of winning this Galas election to Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.
How does Tengku Razaleigh deal with Galas? I get a sense that he is going about employing psywar techniques rather than open warfare scorch earth take no prisoners method. The real battle is in the minds of people.
He has been servicing Gua Musang for 40 years. We just can't dismiss the impact of the man. Gua Musang is not an easy place to cover. Some places are easier reached by helicopters. Razaleigh Hamzah travelled by car to remote places.
Galas is bigger than the state of Selangor and DUN Galas stretches from the border at Kampung Merapuh right into the center of Gua Musang town. For first timers, coming to a new political terrain can be physically taxing. I hear a female DAP lawmaker vomited while making her way to Gua MUsang.
This different style is tiring because it involves a lot of legwork and grunt work. You engage people often in small groups extolling the virtues of your party. There are real and meaningful dialogues. And leg and grunt work is hard and consistent work that is not compatible with the lightning blitzkrieg methods the UMNO election juggernaut is more accustomed to. I hear some Perhubungan Negeri cancelled hotel bookings as Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah said it isn't necessary to send overwhelming cavalry troops.
To win this election in Galas, requires a lot of legwork and the stamina of a long distance runner. That is why I think, the strategy employed by Ku LI appears to make effective headway.

It's also unnerving to the other side too. I asked a few people; they came back with similar answers. It's rather quiet they say. It's slow. This means, UMNO Gua Musang and Ku Li has been able to control the pace. You slow down your opponents too who are also accustomed to our version of scorched earth war tactics- demonize and vilify your enemy. PAS started that initially by disputing the academic credentials of UMNO's candidate. We mustn't forget that the majority of voters in Galas and Gua Musang are only Sekolah Atap qualified.
Banner and flag counts are poor indicators of influence and acceptance. Flags and banners are put up by people who get paid for doing that. It wouldn't surprise us that perhaps the same groups of workers are paid by both sides to put up banners and flags.
So I tell my travelling companions not to be unduly worried. Maybe this approach is in line with the desire of this election director, Tengku Razaliegh Hamzah to make it a low key affair. We mustn't also forget that this by elections is for the people of Galas to elect a representative who will serve perhaps, at the most for another 2 years before the next General elections.
Let's win this election in a way our opponents are unaccustomed with. Control the tempo and we control the outcome.


Saturday 30 October 2010

Bagaimana perang di Galas di jalankan-1?

Galas- a PAS territory?

the Razaleigh Factor?


Bila kita menyeberang sahaja kedalam sempadan Kelantan melalui kampong Merapoh dalam daerah Kuala Lipis Pahang, penglihatan kita di hujani dengan deretan panji panji bendera PAS. Maka dari segi pemasangan dan bilangan bendera, kita merasakan ini daerah PAS.

Hati kita gabra dan menggelabah jika kita sudah accustomed dan biasa kepada pendekatan heavy artillery BN/UMNO. Kita tahu cara biasa UMNO/BN dalam PRK- seluruh jentera datang berkampung dengan membawa budaya mereka. Dengan vest dan walkie talkie, dengan fleet pacuan 4 roda dan sebagainya, anak muda dengan motosikal, puteri UMNO dengan cara meraka. Pendekatan tersebut adalah untuk overwhelm the enemy.
Tapi, cara yang demikian tidak selalu nya berjaya. Di setengah tempat cara yang demikian menimbulkan kemarahan pengundi tempatan. Seperti di DUN Galas. Tidak ada banyak benda yang kita boleh lakukan kerana, majority pengundi sudah pun set their minds. Kalau kita terlalu berlebih, apatakah lagi kita orang luar, ianya mungkin mendatangkan kesan negative.
Kemudian, kita mesti faham enemy kita. Ini mountain yang tidak bergerak. Mereka bukan macam parti PKR yang mempunyai budaya politik lebih kurang UMNO dan BN.
Kita hanya akan mendatangkan kesan negative jika kita menyerang orang dengan cara maki dan hamun dan memberi gelaran jijik kepada pihak lawan. PAS sendiri sudah tidak menaungi cara yang sebegini.
DUN Galas tidak memerlukan pendekatan heavy artillery dan cara aggressive. Itu sebab nya, pimpinan tertinggi UMNO dan BN merasakan lebih bijak untuk menyerahkan strateji menawan Galas kepada Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.
Bagaimana Ku Li mendekati PRK Galas? Saya hanya boleh menyatakan bahawa dia menggunakan cara gerak saraf berbanding dengan open warfare. Dia telah melakukan khidmat keatas kawasan ini selama 40 tahun. Daerah Gua Musang hampir besar dengan negeri Selangor. Perjalanan ke sini bukan lah mudah. Saya mendapat tahu ada seorang ahli parlimen DAP, muntah dek jauh nya perjalanan ke Gua Musang.
Bagaimana kita handle situasi seperti di Galas? Cara nya ialah dengan melakukan banyak leg work. Leg work memerlukan kerja yang konsisten dan kerja kuat. Ianya tidak sesuai dengan kaedah blitzkrieg jentera UMNO/BN yang konvensional. Untuk menang DUN ini memerlukan khidmat leg work yang extensive dan stamina pelari jarak jauh. Itu sebab nya, strateji yang di jalankan oleh Ku Li nampak nya mendatangkan kesan yang lebih berfaedah.
Dan kepada mereka yang ada pengalaman, bilangan bendera bukan ukuran pengaruh dan penguasaan. Bendera boleh saja di pasang oleh anak anak muda yang di beri upah. PAS bukan lah parti yang tidak terdedah kepada amalan membayar upah kepada anak muda memasang bendera bendera mereka.
Saya menyatakan kepada rakan rakan saya, jangan terlalu rungsingkan fikiran dalam hal ini. Mungkin ini ada kaitan dengan pendekatan pengarah pilihanraya BN DUN Galas- Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah. Dia mahukan PRK Galas di jalankan sebagai suatu peristiwa low key atau low key affair. Ini pilihan raya kecil untuk memiih ADUN untuk paling lama, 2 tahun sahaja sebelum kita berdepan dengan PRU.

Jumlah pengundi berdaftar dalam DUN Galas ialah 11,553 termasuk 127 undi pos)

Komposisi pengundi seperti berikut: Melayu (7,125 atau 61.7 %), China (2,317 atau 20.06 %), India (185), Orang Asli (1,889) and orang Siam seramai (10).

Terdapat 25 saluaran mengundi di 13 pusat mengundi. Undian akan di lakukan pada Polling: Nov 4, 2010

Pusat kiraan undi akan di lakukan di Dewan Pusat Sivik Gua Musang, Jalan Pesiaran Raya, Gua Musang. Tempat ini berada di hadapan hotel kecil yang saya tumpang.
Bagaimana kah kesudahan scenario PRK Galas?


Friday 29 October 2010

PRK Batu Sapi

Pilihan Raya DUN Galas dan Batu Sapi akan di jalankan serentak. Saya tidak berapa tahu mengenai Batu Sapi. Orang Sabah mungkin lebih pandai dalam politik mereka.
Saya hanya mahu komen sikap akhbar akhbar utama kita. Rata rata nya akhbar kita mengentengkan peluang calun yang menentang calun BN di Batu Sapi. Calun itu ialah Yong Teck Lee. Dia wakil parti SAPP. Dia tidak PR. Dia tidak BN. He can swing both ways apabila dia menang kelak. Orang Cina kata- orang bukan orang, hantu bukan hantu.
Jika YTL menang, besar kemungkinan dia masuk BN. Oleh kerana itu, the odds are in BN's fabour.
Adakah peluang YTL tinggi? Saya rasa ya. Calun BN ialah balu kepada ahli parleimen dahulu. Dia kempen sana sini di iringi oleh Musa Aman. Mungkin faktor Musa Aman yang akan membawa padah kepada Datin ini.
YTL bukan seorang political lightweight. Dia bekas Ketua Menteri Sabah. Sedikit sebanyak tentu dia mempunyai pengikut yang ramai dan juga sudah berbudi kepada masyarakat di Sabah. Saya dengar YTL mempunyai sokongan yang padu dari masyarakat Cina dan Bumiputera Sabah yang bukan Melayu. Dan di kalangan Melayu Sabah pun, pengaruh YTL ada.
Mungkin YTL menjadi ejen penyatu kepada orang orang yang sefikiran dalam membenci ketua Menteri Sabah hari ini iaitu Musa Aman. Ada banyak isiu yang menaikkan kemarahan orang Sabah dan semua ini akan di ekspolitasi oleh YTL.
Orang Sabah hanya perlu membandingkan diri mereka dengan apa yang berlaku di jiran sebelah, Sarawak. Di Sarawak, bisnes besar di bolot dan boleh di perolehi oleh rakyat tempatan. Di Sabah bisnes2 besar di sapu oleh orang Semenanjung dengan kerjasama Musa Aman.
Peniaga cina marah kerana tidak dapat peluang dalam bidang bidang perniagaan besar.
Kemudian, Musa Aman juga merupakan isiu yang besar. Orang Sabah menggelarkan Musa Aman, Mr Vacuum cleaner sebagai membayangkan sikap pelahap Musa Aman dan geng nya membaham segala macam jenis bisness di Sabah.
Jadi kita ada beberapa factor yang menentang peluang BN. Sentiment masyarakat Cina. Sentiment masyarakat Bumiputera Sabah. Sentiment anti pembolotan peluang perniagaan oleh orang Semenanjung. Sentiment anti Musa Aman.
Musa Aman dan BN mempunyai pengaruh keatas suatu bilangan masyarakat di Batu Sapi dan Sabah am nya. Peluang BN menang bergantung kepada jumlah yang akan keluar mengundi.
Massalah nya ialah, selalu nya yang mempunyai sentiment diatas adalah golongan yang sudah mual dengan politik. Bila mereka mual, mereka tidak keluar mengndi. Sikap indifference mereka lah yang akan menentukan outcome PRK Batu Sapi.
Jika golongan mereka keluar untuk melakukan perubahan dan menterjemahkan rasa tidak puas mereka, BN mungkin akan kalah. Jika peratusan yang keluar mengundi melebihi 70%, peluang untuk SAPP menang kian meningkat.
YTL akan berusaha sekeras keras nya untuk menggalakkan orang ramai keluar mengundi. Ini bergantung kepada jentera pilihanraya YTL dan dana kewangan nya. Dan saya mendapat perkhabaran YTL sudah mengumpul dana yang besar untuk masuk mana mana pilihanraya.




Thursday 28 October 2010

The cost of Malay Pride

I wrote a short article on the proposed 100 storey tower. It drew more than 40 comments thus far. Some of the comments I didn't put up. One comment that represents the comments  that I rejected, said that I wrote this article out of vengeful sentiments.
I am happy to say, that's not true. Vengeance alone cannot explain the consistency with which I criticize the issues that I do battle with. The language of a vengeful person is spiteful. Vengeful writers can't offer reasoned arguments.
The proposed construction of a 100 storey building on account of it being a symbol of Malay prominence is one built on a gravely mistaken notion. I stand by this statement. Because I think the construction of that kind of building borders on ridiculousness. It's built using money PNB makes capitalizing on funds meant and intended for Bumiputeras. It isn't built of government money is true, but still it's made on money earned by PNB on the funds it gets from the government to buy stocks on behalf of Malays. In that process it makes money.
Take the argument a step further. We built the PETRONAS twin towers at a cost of RM 1.3 billion. Ananda made a killing selling the land to PETRONAS at that time. Now, who owns the land on which this WARISAN MERDEKA tower is coming up? Somebody is making a killing there. It can't be cheaper than the KLCC land feet for feet.
Meanwhile, the rental of space at the food court goes at RM 130 per square foot. At the rate, not many Malays can afford to open up a food stalls.
A building that costs almost 5 times that cannot charge less than RM 130 psf for space as food court. We can't even speak yet of retail space for upscale items. The tower may be built by PNB but it shall never be occupied by Bumiputera operators.
The construction is shrouded in mystery too. We ask the government to secure the minutes that deliberated on the construction of the tower. We ask also for the publication of feasibility studies on the project.
I have proposed the construction of 5 units of 20 story tower. Maybe at a ceiling cost of RM 300 million each. Even at RM 500 million, 5 blocks will cost PNB only 2.5 billion. We can still save money there. Plus, we can have a spatial flexibility. We can place the 5 towers at various areas thereby acting as catalysts for further development.
I have also mentioned of rumors from the corporate world that 2 more of such towers are in the offing. One will be proposed by Jho Low and the other by the Naza group. The point here is, the WARISAN MEDEKA tower will serve as benchmark; future 100 storey towers can't be less that RM 5 billion. Imagine the margin the developers make, if the actual cost of any of the towers is less than RM 2 billion.


Tuesday 26 October 2010

How many Warisan merdekas?

This piece of news has been puzzling me. It is about the construction of the 100 Storey Warisan Merdeka tower. Just recently, Dato Najib said it wasn't his idea. Yet he announced it in the 2011 Budget recently. That means, he has agreed to the idea. The ultimate decision maker is of course the PM. unless he gives the green light, Hamad Kama Piah will not move.
The PM says it was PNB's idea. It's easy to verify this. Let's publish minutes preceding the decision to go ahead with this project. Discussions and deliberations must have taken place prior the announcement was made. These must have been minuted down. Let's see them.
There must also be an exhaustive technical study and financial evaluation of the project. A project such as this can't be thought overnight. Engineers and architects must have worked on the commission. We should see all these.
There is the issue of cost. The building will cost M 5 billion. That's RM 5, 000,000,000. Kama Piah says the funding is internally generated. Internally or borrowed, the money represents Malay money. Wasn't PNB created to harness Malay financial capital?
PNB manages investments portfolio on behalf of Malays and earn dividends on their behalf. It has also branched out to handle investments portfolio for Malaysians.
Let see an orang kampong assessment of this outlay. Suppose the RM 5 billion in invested somewhere earning a return of say 6%. That would bring PNB a return of RN 300 million a year.
So instead of building I unit of 100 story building, why not build a 20 story building costing around RM 300 million a year. So that in 5 years, we shall have started building 5 blocks of 20 stoirey buildings giving us an equivalent of 100 story single building. If each cost 300 million, 5 blocks will cost us only 1.5 billion saving us RM 3.5 billion.
With 5 you can place them at will. Spread it around in Kuala Lumpur. Have 2 in Kampung Baru so that the value of the land in Kg Baru escalates. That will make owners earn high income.
I asked an engineer friend. It's not that straight forward issue doing this 100 story building. Because beyond a certain level, the cost of construction escalates. As we go higher, the degree of inefficiency of the building increases that require lots more money being pumped in. In the end, the cost of a single 100 story building may be more than RM 5 billion.
But the more interesting news coming out from the bowels of corporatedom- is that, there will be 2 more similar towers going to be built. This means, we shall be having not one 100 story behemoth, but 3 of them. This will mean Najib will have out-Mahathir Dr Mahathir.
Who are going to propose the other two towers? The voices from deep in the corporate bowels mention the name of Jho Low and Naza. If the real cost of construction is RM 1.5 billion, these people will be making Croesus-like profits.
When PNB completes the 100 story tower, how much rental will they charge per square foot? The PETRONAS Twin Towers cost is RM 1.3 billion. Go ask the rental for the space at the food court. It is RM 130 per square foot. Will the rental rate at the warisan merdeka cost RM 500 per square foot?


Monday 25 October 2010

A critical look at Najib’s Presidential speech-1

Let us take a more critical look at Najib's speech. He outlined his thinking in Amanat President. 'Amanat' is no light term. It's like Amanat HJ Hadi.
It's a set of directives, direction from the leader of the party. It's like a blueprint for the future. They are like commandments from the Mount Sinai of UMNO's seat of power.
The Future.
What kind of future? UMNO/BN must keep Putrajaya at all costs. Don't mind the colorful descriptions, -crushed bodies, bloodied noses or whatever. Najib must sound belligerent if he wants to capture the aggression of the delegates. He can't speak in flaccid and uninspiring notes. He must shout and shriek and ignore frothing at the sides.
But it can also be seen as a fearful speech. It's a doomsday commandment speech. Najib is fearful of the unknown future. For the 1st time, he and UMNO cannot determine the outcome of elections. The politics of announcing development is in their final leg. He also knows the euphoria in PWTC cannot guarantee UMNO's victory. He knows too the chances of Putrajaya falling are a very possible reality. Najib spoke like a man cornered and besieged.
The opposition parties should not be overly rattled at the manner by which the speech was made. It doesn't matter too, if some people actually described Najib as a medicine peddler selling some snake oil solutions under the trees at the Kuantan Padang.
The effects on opposition parties are not Najib's and UMNO's concern. His speech and the contents therein are for the UMNO soldiers. The message is abundantly clear- BN will do whatever is necessary to retain Putrajaya. Otherwise its curtains down and an end of the Tattler lifestyle.
Maybe Najib spoke on high notes because he has the ultimate weapon of mass destruction- that everyone has his price. UMNO and BN are ready with a war chest. 11 Bumi companies are going for listing. There may be huge amount of promissory notes from the big corporate boys whom Idris Jala and Pemandu have identified.
Let us see beyond the rhetoric and the forced smiles. What happened to the big ideas of Najib? 1 Malaysia, NEM, NKRA, New Political Model? These are the things that we need to analyze. See whether they have taken any hold among the delegates.
The elation and the euphoria that accompanies Najib's Presidential speech are no measures of success. Sharizat Jalil can say she feels re-born and others can say this is the best speech so far. Shahrizat didn't say she feels re-born as what and how she wants to be reborn?
Let us not forget, these are the same sentiments that followed every UMNO President's speech before Najib. Najib is getting the same fawning responses previous UMNO presidents got. When Mahathir spoke, some people pee in the pants. The point is UMNO delegates' response to presidential speech is likely to be ephemeral and brief.
They have little bearing on the shaping opinions on those that matter- the voters outside. Let us also not forget- that Najib is speaking to his same kind in a controlled environment. You are not talking to the outside. You are talking to division heads and committee members most of whom came to PWTC in big flashy cars designed to make Puteri UMNO members and young vixens salivate and some designs of their own.
You think the UMNO delegates would later break out into smaller groups and debate what the President spoke in workshop sessions? As soon as the day's session end, many would eagerly patronize the dangdut bars nearby or go shopping in the city. Najib's speech was good only while it lasted. It lasted as long as delegates' attention span. Which is very short.
Consider this. Today we read UMNO delegates reaffirmed their commitment to have affirmative policies ala NEP. There you are.
To me, this very public refutation is a slap at Najib's face. He is the author for NEM, GTP, ETP, NKRA, NKEA, PPP etc. these are concepts not compatible with the wishes of the majority. He has paid those bloody Mckinsey boys a lot of money. Damn Omar Ong. Damn the consultants- Najib must be cursing them.
At this assembly they spoke. But they spoke in direct contrast with what Najib wanted.
In other words, what Najib wanted really- his big ideas of market driven affirmative policies and accommodative social relations were rejected by the delegates. That forced him to capitulate. None of the speakers came out defending and promoting the ideas of 1 Malaysia, GTP, ETP and all the NKRA's. These were mentioned as cue from Najib. Hardly any speaker spoke on these.
On the contrary who spoke on the President's debate wanted more Malayness be infused in government policies. Some wanted equity to be raised to 60% to reflect the ethnic composition. Nobody wanted to have access to privileges, shortcuts, and all that to be abolished. That's what UMNO has fought for, say the majority of them.
This also confirmed my earlier impression. The delegates were more taken in by the rhetoric and high drama. The substance? Lost in the crowd.
Najib wanted New Economic Model. It would eschew all those elements associated with NEP. Big government will be replaced eventually by market solutions. That guy from Melaka, denounced the NEM as a policy that would lead to re-colonization of Malays. Najib wanted some feedbacks from the crowd in the Hall to tell him about the ETP, NKRA and all that. No one spoke in support on the matter.
It is now confirmed that there is a great divide between the big ideas of Najib and the understanding by the UMNO masses. The big idea of 1 Malaysia hasn't sunk in. meanwhile billboard makers, advertising companies are making 1 Malaysia profit.
In the end, he had to do the PERKASA thing- unable to push through his big ideas into general acceptance, he had to fall back to one indisputable fact- to stress that as son of TUn Razak he won't abandon the latter's legacy.
So, to me this speech is of the same standard of the speech he made at the Kongess Ekonomi Perjasa. Don't believe me? Ask Ibrahim Ali as soon as he comes out from hospital. How so we can anyone come out with the conclusion that this speech is the best so far.


Saturday 23 October 2010

Amanat Presiden 2010- whats new pussycat, whoa, whoa,whoa

The UMNO general Assembly is almost over. This Saturday, it will be winding up session. I think it was after the 1st day session, I received a call from someone representing Astro Awani. They wanted me to be one of the panelists discussing the speech by the UMNO President. It is to take place shortly before or during the winding up debate.
I said I am game. But I must warn you, I told the caller, that my views are not exactly mainstream. I will speak as I see it. On that note, the caller, said, ok, we shall call back to confirm. The caller never called back and I am not meant to become a panelist.
If not, I would have my 10 minutes fame.
It is alright. I can still be the only panelist on my blog. I can do a better thing- write my impression on the President's Speech.
So today, I will write my impression on that speech. It shall be followed by my take on the various issues spoken by the delegates.
Just a little on the assembly. It is another round of an orgy of self congratulatory and pat on the back performances. It's a contest to come up with the most banal, the most stupid and the most outrageous thinking. One such banality was the call to end the advertisement of ladies sanitary pad because such advertisements lead people astray. Malay or non Malay, missy?
Then there is this joker from Melaka, who within a short space of 10 minutes pronounced the evils of the free market. So, he called for bigger government and bigger intervention. He wants bigger penetration. Hello, towkay, it's this sort of strategy that led to the highest GINI indices within the Malay community.
Why should Malay economic well-being depend or not depend on the help of non Malays. Malay economic wellbeing MUST be the outcome of own doing and the doing of a Malay led government.
But I am slightly ahead of myself. more of the not exactly mainstream thinking will come later. For now it is Najib's 95 point speech.

What was I expecting?
I thought this would be the best opportunity for Najib to close the disconnect between his ideas and bring his ideas directly to the UMNO warlords and leaders. They would then disseminate his ideas down the line, making his ideas, shared ideals.
Sadly, his ideas are the making of consulting firms, fabricated in the several labs overseen by Pemandu. He didn't bring his ideas to the people that matter most- the UMNO foot generals. There were only brief remarks about GTP, ETP , 1 Malaysia, NEM and NPM. New Political Model.
I was expecting Najib to elaborate on his NPM. Instead he talked in terms of generalities hoping UMNO people will fill in the blanks. They can't, if their heads are blank too.
So while his speech was good in the manner it was presented, in terms of its efficacy to get the desired objectives, to paraphrase the infamous words of Mukhriz son of Mahathir- there's nothing new.
Why nothing new? Talk about the history of UMNO struggles. Been there, done that. Talk about the Monarchy? Been there, done that. Talk about UMNO working hard? Been there and done that too. We have heard the themes repeated over and over again, varying only in the manner of presenting them. PAS bashing, Anwar Bashing, non Malays bashing?- same old stories. Nonsensical speeches, open display of idiocy? It's a permanent feature of UMNO GA.
so, what's new pussycat? Whoa, whoa, whoa…
Let's see what's new.
When listening to speeches, I prefer not to see the faces of those who speak. I want to avoid making subjective judgments.
Because if we do see, we are more often than not, likely to be influenced by the nuances, the condiments to the speech- flailing of arms, grimacing of the face to stress a point, the shouting and shrieking. Sometimes artful rendition of a speech hides the substance by which we must judge the speech.
But if we are not concerned about the substance, we must judge the speech by another measure. Efficacy of the speech. Did the Najib speech of 2010, achieve its objective? Rallying the troops, burning the spirit etc?
Najib has an history of shouting when making agitated speeches. The shouting may elevate any of the speeches to a stature more than it justly deserves.
And judging from the response from the worked up crowd, Najib's speech was successful in its efficacy. Even the speaker who is supposed to be neutral and officious joins in hallelujah-ing the speech.
Watch out people,- as we near the end of the UMNO General Assembly, expect a few bawdy and sexist jokes from the permanent chairman. Sample….ok pembentang ucapan, biak renkas ucapan hang ya…kaum ibu dah tungu 4 hari ni dah..alahai… aduih….
I prefer to read the text of the speech. To avoid being emotional. That's why we saw many who wept listening to the UMNO president's speech. The were there and witnessed Najib's performance on the speech.
A few of my friends who were on the golf course, stopped for some good few minutes to cry. They cried when hearing people cried.
But I want to say at the onset, it was a fairly good speech. The comments by the former PR MB of Perak on Najib's speech are irrelevant. First the speech has no bearing on what the PR wants to do. They want to capture Putrajaya and Najib is rallying his troops to defend Putrajaya. PR is stupid if they expect UMNO to hand it over on a silver plate.
That is expected. Second, the speech is made by an UMNO president designed to first, capture the imagination of UMNO faithfuls and hopefully, embraced by the majority of Malaysians.
This time his researches have done an above average job. It was a speech tailor-made for the audience. These are UMNO delegates. People who are easily agitated if there is a maverick or a firebrand amongst them.
It was also a personal victory for Najib. His image has taken a beating as someone who is easily compromisable. He has seen as too accommodative and his Maleness Malayness has somewhat been dissipated. Much of his thunder was stolen by Perkasa's Ibrahim Ali. The NGO led by Ibrahim Ali has been vocal on the articles of the Constitution which Najib now is strangely playing up. Articles 152 ND 153.
What is new, is the explicit acknowledgement of the role of Malay rulers. As the ultimate protector of Malay privileges and Malay rights. They are the final adjudicator notwithstanding articles 152 and 153.
Najib has now elevated the stature of the Malay Rulers. Now, this is very surprising. In the past attacks on the Malay rulers hadn't come from opposition parties what more from non Malay parties. The attacks and assault came from UMNO itself.
Now the UMNO president is extolling and saying in so many words, the Royal Institution is a Godsend. It's the final bulwark against the erosion of Malay rights and privileges. Hence Najib was saying, even if the government and constitution is changed, any attempt to dislodge Malay rights and privileges will have to get past the consent of Malay Rulers.
But I am saying, our kings are kings of also non UMNO subjects. That means if other non UMNO people get to Putrajaya, they are still bound by the Malay Rulers proviso. If the Malay Rulers represent the final authority on Malay interest and Malay special privileges, it is also, by way of Najib's admission, an acceptance that even UMNO is not relevant. That would also mean, UMNO is dispensable and the Malays, because Malay rulers are there, will be none the worse off. Furthermore, Najib of course assumes that Malay rulers are all UMNO members.
The BN non Malay member parties have nothing to fear..Chua Soi Lek said many things can be discussed further behind closed doors. No worries, we yam seng together maa- everything boleh kautim.
He was expressing disagreement on certain points raised by Najib. Rest assured, he will be assured by Najib, the speech was targeted at essentially a Malay audience.
It wasn't a call to arms. It wasn't an incendiary speech asking Malays to brandish kerises and kill of enemies. The whole speech contained 95 points. The few last points included a demand for a pledge to defend Putrajaya at all costs. It was dramatically worded to have the desire effect of galvanizing the UMNO faithfuls.
I am not going to deny in saying, on the whole this was a good speech- provided of course the UMNO people, not just the 2300 of them gathered in the main hall of PTWC, but the whole 3.5 million understood. More important, whether the 3.5 million UMNO members under the correct leadership of the leaders , understood what is being asked of them.
Akan bersambung….


Thursday 21 October 2010

A closer look at the 2011 Budget.

Yes, I know the hot topic at the moment is the UMNO General Assembly. I will write on that later. Have no fear.
But at the moment, I am not quite finished talking about our recent budget. It's an important financial road-map for our country. We can't trivialize it and so, laborious as it is, we have to discuss about it. It's about the use and application of our money.
Let us begin by telling something about spending taxpayers money. Let's start by analyzing the Pemandu outfit. Yes sir, the unit headed by Mr. Scrooge, cut subsidies Idris Jala.
It is distressing. Here is why.
Idris Jala who warned the government can go bankrupt if subsidies are not reduced gets over RM 12 billion to run his outfit. Most of it will go to paying consultants like Mckinsey who were the people who actually prepared the ETP and the various KPIs and other acronymitis infected outfits. NKRAs, NKEAs, GTP, PPP, so on and so forth.
Contrary to widespread belief- writing of Idris Jala is not my favorite subject. Writing of the myth about his extraordinary talent is. for example, I thought his presentation of the ETP was just pyrotechnics accompanying the entrance of professional wrestlers.
The one who says lets curb spending is spending like a wild man out of the jungles of Sarawak. When I wrote that the ETP was possibly crafted by McKinsey quite a number of people said that I underestimated Idris Jala.
Well, actually he wasn't the one who prepared the whole show. He was just a presenter of the show and if you have people who pronounced tertiary as ter-tia-ri, then we wouldn't be surprised they will ogle at him showing off the PowerPoint slides.
Unfortunate description, but I have to say it. So the next time, a minister comes to you and say lets conserve and be prudent, you tell him to FO!.
And I say this for reasons I am backing up. Idris Jala failed to curb the continuous rise in government expenditure. Idris' various outfits are themselves now big spenders,. Its all there in Budget 2011.
This makes people angry. You preach to us about curtailing spending but you don't bat an eyelid asking for the sky is the limit allocation of taxpayers' money on yourself. Officially, PEMANDU is given an allocation of RM 20.67 million in 2011 An additional item of RM 897,800 under "Dasar Baru" or new policy is also given to PEMANDU. There is also a "one-off payment" of RM18.43 million for PEMANDU. On top of that , the PM has allocated RM136.87 million for contract worker's emoluments is utilised by Idris' outfits.

Idris Jala seems to have a free hand to spend our money.
Only in Malaysia, under NTR-Najib Tun Razak, are alphabets pricey items. NKRA for crime fighting was allocated RM9.1 million, education, RM 22 million, and 1Malaysia, RM 38.42 million.
In addition to that, the delivery task force of NKRA for Low Income Household costs RM 265 million how will this scheme work? Najib's style is to go around to Kampungs , identify some houses to be repaired and then allocate RM 8000 per house to rectify.
Consider next , the operation cost of NKEA. It is even costlier than NKRA. It's going to get RM355.9 million.
That is the cost of operating it. Under the development budget, NKEA will be allocated a total of RM 11.86 billion in 2011-2012 in which the estimate for 2011 is RM5.4 billion – more than 10 percent of the entire development budget for 2011.
The man who sent shivers to many by claiming that we can go bankrupt is now spending like nobody's business. Where is the essence of frugality usually associated with a budget?
A budget means you accept that your financial outlay is limited and you therefore allocate your limited resources judiciously.
Most of the time, I suspect people in power fail to appreciate the gravity of having deficit budgets. It's never an excuse to justify you failure to contain spending. The usual suspects for justifying spending includes such banalities like having to spend to help the poor and the aged, we need to spend ir order to develop and so forth. Most of the time, I thinks these excuses are overworked. Deficit budget may actually mean financial indiscipline and profligate ways.
It is a fallacy to assume that OUR money will be rightly applied by other people. They won't. They will spend it in the name of the will of the people. Most of the times its nonsensical.
I remembered reading what Milton Friedman once wrote: (1) wasting public money is not as painful as wasting one's own, thus why there is little incentive to learn from past mistakes, (2) that government policy may be plagued with vested interest and hence not represent people's will.
What do we get from surrendering our assets? For the Sungai Buloh project, what's in for the government? The Sungai Besi project. Yes, that one wheeled by our Jho Low with people from Malton chipping in.
One time in New York, Najib was huddled with his team of advisors. Enter young Jho which had Najib's mostly mentally-challenged advisers taken aback. later Najib walked out of the room talking privately with Jho Low. That's how close the PM is with Jho Low.
Everyone MUST interest themselves on the nation's budget. It's our money. And remember those people spending it are doing whatever they want to do with our money. Like appropriating over 100 million for a program to nurture exceptionally intelligent children. How many of them? Did the Malaysian Chinese who got to become top student at Cantab go to a permata-like school in Ipoh? Compare that amount with that allocated to Sekolah Agama Rakyat.
Spending our resources on unproven hunch about exceptional clever children. Hello brother, some children are more precocious at younger ages. That money is better spent on upgrading students accommodations so they they can study in better environs.
Let's take a look at sources of revenue.
The main sources of our revenue are:-
  • Income tax            38%
  • Non tax income        26%
  • Indirect taxes            13%
  • Import duty            1%
  • Export duty            1%
    Now you may point out rightly, that's only about 79%. Not quite enough. For the shortfall, the government borrows from the public. They issue bonds for example. Institutional IOUs. To make them more palatable, issue Islamic bonds- sukuk( plural), sakk(singular). That way, god fearing Malays and non Malays are keen to buy some equity in preparation for after life.
This is hardly glossed over. Instead we are taken on a road trip to an imagined glory days- an MRT which is super-fast landing in Singapore on a Singapore-owned facilities since we have given up over 400 acres of KTM owned land of 999 year tenure. We exchanged that for some pieces of land belonging to Singapore of 99 year tenure. On top of that, we are going to pay 60% of the SD1.8 billion development charges.
We gave up a property of 999 years for that of 99 years. If that happens in another country, the government of day would have fallen. Instead we called it a success. No wonder Singapore leaders are looking at our leaders as all form, but no substance variety.
By the way, where will get the money to pay the development charges? Will it come from government coffers? Now, that will be part of the budget probably hidden as debt servicing charges?
Debt servicing charges. These are costs for money borrowed by the government. The keen eye will notice that charges on borrowings( caj perkhidmaan hutanf) is 8.7% of 212 billion. That's about RM 18 billion.
Has the government performance in this aspect been prudent? It is, if we can show, the amount of borrowing from the public has gone down. How can measure that? We measure the portion as part of the GDP for example. If the debt servicing portion is becoming an increasingly larger part of the GDP, then we can infer faulty financial management. How come? Because it implies that we , the present generation is careless in bequeathing increasingly larger amounts of debt on future generation. Not the permata generation. The sekolah atap or the Chung Hwa Type or Batu Talam Tamil school types. They will suffer and be angry. They are not going to support BN.
The fact of the matter is, the charges on debt servicing is increasing signaling the government is borrowing more. This will in turn mean, the charges on debt servicing and the burden of shouldering larger debts will be borne by the next generation. Our children will inherit a debt ridden economy caused possibly by our government's profligate ways.
What is the portion of public debt as of GDP for example? In 2009, public debt as a portion of GDP was almost 55%.
Debt is good just as Gordon Gekko proclaimed Greed is good.


Tuesday 19 October 2010

Najib and his Budget

The PM and his Budget.
Everyone was interested at listening to the Finance Minister delivering his budget speech. It was a Friday. So he was dressed in a resplendent baju Melayu. The kain samping he wore costs probably RM 40,000. I know. I was his Information Chief.
They had different reasons going for them. The big corporate boys were happy because they were probably lined up as recipients of big government contracts. The rest? They are indifferent really. If Najib as the finance minister goes around or his people go around, he and they would have a different picture.
Government servants were just waiting whether he will announce a month's bonus. Forget about whether they are 1.3 million strong. They are not a homogeneous lot. They don't give a damn about Aseh Che Mat. They don't even know that their number is 1.3 million people. Civil servants are saying during Pak Lah's time, despite being derisively referred to as sleepyhead, he managed to pay 1 month's bonus. To civil servants, Pak Lah was a good FM. When the current PM fails to do so, they regard him simply as a failure at managing the economy.
The kampong people are not interested whether toll rates will not be raised for the next 5 years. So what? They are not heavy users of the highways anyway. Also they know, the government pays toll operators compensation. PLUS for example will get billions. The going rate is RM 800 million per year. So they get RM 4 billion for not raising the toll rates. This is economic racketeering. The government pays protection money to induce toll operators not to raise rates.
Kampong people are interested only to see whether the price of rice and other essential food items go down. Cigarettes which they consumed in large quantities are wished sold, at cheaper prices. The government doesn't addressed these issues.
In general, this year's budget is received in a lukewarm manner almost nonchalant. The only people saying this is a good budget are first of all the sycophantic ministers and people who are lazy to go through the budget proposals. That includes sitting MPs.
The cynicism, Mr. PM, is pervasive.
What has the construction of a 100 storey tower got to do with the government budget? Or for that matter the construction of the RM 43 billion MRT, the RM10 billion mixed development of Sungai Buluh, the RM 26 billion construction of the KLIF hub, RM 10 billion worth of highways got to do with government budget?
These are elements of long term economic planning more suited to be incorporated in the 10th or 11th Malaysia Plan. But the budget? Hence the nagging feel that they are mentioned to spice things up even though they are not going to be financed by public money.
Year in and year out we have MPs listening to budget speeches yet no one pointed out these are components of a Malaysia Plan. Not a budget. So how could we blame Dr Mahathir when he said, the government is full of half past six people.
Maybe they are mentioned to point out that we have an ecosystem amenable to rapid economic development. The last time we had the smart partnership idea and that term was repeated countless number of times across the country. Now, we have another acronym- PPP= Public Private Partnership.
The term 'ecosystem' has since been fashionable when it was used by the PM. Accordingly, we should not be too harsh in our judgment.
Ok, let's not, but let's take a look at what other people's ecosystems have done to their economy.
The world economy is growing at an average rate of 11% but Malaysia is doing so at a rate of 6%. Why are we below average? Is our ecosystem not compatible to the world's ecosystem? This issue is not addressed.
Why is Malaysia growing slower than the world? Have we applied our revenues the sub optimal way? Will this way be repeated in 2011?
Certainly it reflects our lower level of productivity caused by various factors. Certainly that reflects our competitiveness. Singapore is growing at a rate of over 13%, China at 11 %, Thailand with its red shirt problem is growing at a rate comparable to ours.
Yet our country which is relatively free from social turbulence save perhaps from Rais Yatim's war against bloggers in general and one blogger in particular can only grow at around 6-7% for 2011. Even that , is out from an economy with negative growth. .
That is certainly a reflection of our collective management- the political leadership and the civil service. Yet the PM is rewarding the civil service with financial goodies.
Why are we in terms of managing the economy, lagging behind the other Asean countries? ( minus Timor Leste, Brunei, Laos).
A budget should be straight to the point. It addresses the sources of government revenue- taxes, dividends, royalties, interests payments, non tax revenues etc. then the various allocation to the ministries. Inflow-outflow. If there is a deficit in government revenue, the finance minister proposes how to raise the money. Then you can talk all you want about bonds, sukuk etc etc. yes, the public sector borrows money.
Gone are the days, when a Budget is presented as a strictly business affair. As in during the time when Daim Zainudin or Tengku Razaleigh presented their budgets. They did as a matter of business, not much panache but businesslike.
Of course the most outlandish presentation of a budget was during Anwar Ibrahim's time- with all those Indonesianised terms and coinage of philosophy that prompted a giggly someone now at Media Prima to proclaim Anwar was the best finance minister. Najib doesn't have to imitate Anwar with those fuzzy thinking and taking us in circles.
But to his credit, Anwar as opposition leader is better at dissecting the 2011 budget. He did so mercilessly and the BN [people were reduced to a pitiful lot saying , the opposition will  and can only say bad things. The opposition is always envious- says Utusan Malaysia. I hope the PM kick these people out from being candidates the next round.
Reading the text of his take on the 2011 budget, I have to say, he has redeemed himself and revealed a very analytical side of him. He did learn something afterall during his stint as FM while playing tennis(sometimes) with Nala Karuppan.
Repeat: what is a budget? A budget addresses the issue of sources of government revenue and allocation to the various ministries. Who wrote this budget for Najib? This is why in my previous article, I wrote the budget is as good as the people writing it, and because it wasn't written by Nobel laureates of economists, someone like I who pretend to be an economist, can debate them.
For the 2011 budget, we are incurring a another deficit for the 13th year. That's 13 consecutive years. We are spending more than we earned. Spending is of course not necessarily bad if its directed at building capacity, enhancing competitiveness and so forth. But it will be a cause of concern if much of that spending is absorbed into activities that sapped our competitiveness or that does not add to our capacity building.
Suppose you want to build the 100 storey building. The government wants to do it. Then it lays down how it's going to raise the finance. In this case, PNB is going to do it. That's a private affair. How does that figure in a government budget?
Then there is the RM 43 billion MRT. It's going to be built using private finance. How does it figure in this government budget? Does the government get money from this project? The land on long lease provide revenues for the government? Then of course that will a source of revenue for Mr. G. does government has equity in the project? Mr. G is Mr Government nor G Palanivel. That's the chap who wants to be minister.
It then has a stream of dividends from it. That is revenue. Unless these elements are there, it's part of the budget.
Because it's going to be built by Gamuda and MMC- that's their affair. Nothing to do with this budget. The development of the Sungai Besi? What does the government get in return? Proceeds from the sale of the land? Dividends from its equity? The government invests through 1MDB which has no experience in developing a piece of real estate. It ropes in Desmond Lim who built the Pavilion. Its bringing in the Mudabala Group, another private sector initiative.
Similarly with the development of the Sungai Buloh area. What does the government get? If they get anything, whatever they get is part of government budget. Otherwise all these things Najib mentioned are all part of a long term business plan for Malaysia. a business Plan is not the government budget.
It makes many think- why does PM Najib list down all these business plans which have nothing to do with the government budget? These are elements of long term business plan, not elements of a budget. The answer I suspect is to invoke a sense of feel good or even worse, as red herring to conceal the real subject matter of the 2011 budget.
What's the deal?
We are taking out from the consolidated fund some 212 billion Ringgit. How is it applied?
The government is spending around 77% on OPEX. The bulk of the rising OPEX to cater mainly for 1.3 million civil servants and handouts to the party supporters in the form of JKKK members and RELA recruits. That leaves some 23% for development expenditure and the building of capacity.
How is the spending financed? The government will borrow around 22% and the rest is financed by tax and non tax revenues.
This is the second year he has prepared a budget. This year he has launched a series of ,let's say, "ideas" about long term planning. The New Economic Model. I asked him once- what is it essentially? It's a model to launch Malaysia into a high income economy. How do you reconcile that with demands by groups like Perkasa, I asked? There will still be emphasis on Malay economic interests he said. But it has to be based on merits- market driven affirmative actions.
In case you are wondering- I get to ask the PM when I get a chance to see him. I was his ADUN before and served as his division's information chief for 4 years. So despite my open criticisms, I do get to see him off and on.
Then we have heard all the acronyms. GTP, NKRA, NKEA, PPP, and finally ETP. The list seems to go on and on. Never-ending. Never muktamad. No finality. Here is I what I think. It's true that too much of a thing, will land us into trouble.
You see, all these are elements of long term planning. If I were a professor and student Najib prepares me a budget like this, he will barely passed.
He is suffering from Acronymitis. It's a new disease I suppose which has become fashionable since Najib took over from Pak Lah. And we are seeing its deleterious effects when the PM/Finance Minister prepared the 2011 budget recently. He is suffering from an economics heatstroke I think.
Can you back up your claim? What is a budget if I may asked you. a budget is essentially an address on government revenues and application of that revenue. How much is allocated to government ministries. It's about the finances of the government. Hence all those things about the construction of the 100 storey tall building for example is nor relevant. It's not the government's money. The money does not come from government revenue.
Najib must not confuse a Budget with long term economic plans.


Monday 18 October 2010

A more spirited look at the 2011 Budget

I promised my friends I will try not be a trenchant critic of the budget. Really I do. Why are you so critical, they asked. You were his ADUN before and he is your MP.
Unfortunately I can't guarantee it. Because so early in the speech, the PM contradicts his promise to make this budget a people's budget. He lays out a red carpet for the big players. Probably they are identified before hand.
You remember some of the things PM said when talking about revising some aspects of NEPish policies and referring to some vague notions of a NEM? About NEPNEMing our economy?
Something of needs based? The 2011 budget have many things that flout this lofty claim. Many things will be done not in accordance to needs based. Do we need for example a 100 storey tower of Babel? Do we need a maddening increase in real property sector of the economy?
If you were a stock picker, you will see things in a different light. You would be recommending buyers about the stocks of those companies rumored to be getting those mega deals. You will be interested only on 'positive' economics issues. Remember your courses in positive and normative economics?
That is not a wrong thing. But busybodies of the world, don't see things that way. They see things in the 'normative' economics way- how things should and ought to be instead of how things are. This I believe is in line with our desire to change things. I am sure many have heard the famous phrase: " The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways—the point however is to change it"
If the PM can invite anyone who cares to submit suggestions over the internet and have his people at the MOF incorporate these into a coherent and relevant part of the budget, it only proves by inference, that the big players have a bigger access in putting their views across.
So we won't begrudge those good and god fearing people who get wet dreams imagining their humble views make their way to some shadowy webmasters manning the PM's blog. We will not ridicule them for thinking their views matter in this budget.
Therefore we are intrigued for example, when the PM says 3 stock-broking licenses will be given to locals, foreigners or JVs. I am pretty sure, this idea was forwarded or even intimated to the PM by some well placed Mr. fix it. Maybe some people Jholowed them to him.
This is becoming the usual suspect under the PM's way of managing the economy. Basically therefore, the business ideas in the budget are representations of the ideas of some businessmen behind the scenes.
So how can I restraint myself from being a trenchant critic? Certainly I take comfort that luckily, this budget was prepared by those hardworking people at MOF and others. Since the budget is as good as those people working on it, I stand a good chance in debating with them. I mean, they are not Nobel prize winners in economics or something to that effect. If they are, I would have to be more circumspect and avoid being made to look an idiot.
Since they are just people like us, we can engage them freely and without fear of intellectual censure. So here goes.
Transparency is the basic building block.
Transparency will continue to remain a sine qua non to underline the government's resolve to promote economic growth. I hope the MOF which is supervising the venture capital fund will not be selective or pre-selective. Have clear guidelines published so as to give as wide access to businesses as possible. Otherwise the strategy will the same as before- picking winners among the stable.
Likewise, we want to know details of the BPTF- where will be the funds be channel through? This is the Bumiputera Property Trust Fund- a fund set up to help Bumiputeras own strategic properties in the cities. Again, lets wish the Fund is administered and operated with transparency in mind. Let's have the fund accessible by as many who can provide sound proposals.
One question that has been nagging me is this. So many times we hear the government wants to take us out of the middle income trap. We are not poor enough to qualify as a poor country but not yet rich enough to qualify as a developed country.
Metaphorically speaking, we are like the man wearing a short sarong. Roll it up, you expose the extremities. Roll it down, you expose your torso.
Intuitively the main cause for that entrapment is the inability of our economy to break through. That is caused perhaps by low productivity. Low productivity is dependent on knowledge internalized and technology applied. It is also caused by management. The country is not properly managed such that we don't have that elusive ecosystem that promotes rapid transition. Witness the slide in competitiveness that our country suffers.
We lack also perceptive leadership that does not know how to get us there.
At a more fundamental level, I have often asked, if we want to get out from the middle income trap, shouldn't we devote the bulk of our resources to the middle income players? This means the SMEs- which formed 75 % of the country's production machine.
Let's look at the 2011 budget. The PM says it's a people's budget. He is correct if he means by people, those big players who are already awarded plum projects. He uses the fashionable term- PPP- not the decrepit political party but Public-Private Partnership. The PM has shown a proclivity of acronyms and high sounding terms of late.
Experience has shown us, big sounding names usually don't have the substance. But we hope they do.
This 2011 budget begins by laying out a red carpet for the big boys. It contradicts its own commitment to give priority in building the middle income sector.
The construction of the RM 5,000,000,000 Warisan Merdeka tower, the 43 billion MRT, the RM 10 billion development of the Sungai Buloh land, the so many billions beatification programs etc etc. these are all non SME projects.
So the PM is banking on the big boys to push his agenda to make our country a high income economy.
How will the PM increase the liquidity market? By asking the GLCs to divest its business interests. This is basically a good move to liberalize the market. The GLCs have long crowded out genuine private investments and discriminate against many. I hope this idea of divesting will be applied across the country. This will break up unnatural monopolies that came into existence because of non market legislations. This move will free the market for increased participation.
Not all investments and businesses in which GLCs are involved are done efficiently and competitively. In the plantations sector for example, those GLCs operating under the protection of policies are often operated less efficiently than do private companies. And in certain sectors, private participation is closed altogether. In that sense, the GLCs operate under a closed system where it is often impossible to measure their competitive.
But again, the divestiture should be done transparently. Thus far, we only hear of things after they happened. The Plus highways which are cash cows are all of a sudden bought over by EPF and Khazanah. Hence Khazanah and EPF play the role of sellers and buyers at the same time. What happened to the proposals by Syed Mokhtar AlBukhary and that of Asas Serba? How do we reconcile the price of RM 23 billion which the Khazanah-EPF partnership is buying with the RM15 billion and RM 50 billion offered by competitors?
The money that the budget wants to spend is ours. Its procured by moving a motion in parliament to appropriate a certain amount from the consolidated fund for the purposes outlined by the mover of the motion.
Let us speak out because that is the people's money that is going to be applied for the purposes outlined.


Sunday 17 October 2010

The Tower of Babel.

The story about man's vanity to build tall towers is well known in the Bible. It is also told in the Quran. Quite aside from the issue of man's technical ingenuity and quest to break frontiers, is another story.
It is one about the symbolism in building such towers.
Before the tower was built, according to biblical records, mankind shared one language. I suppose, it's something like 1 Malaysia that we are now having. It was 1 this and 1 that.
In the bible the mythical tower was the tower of Babel. It symbolises man's arrogance in challenging the power of god. It wasn't just a tower to unite the efforts of mankind, or about making the tower as the focal point of cities. It was also a symbolism of a structure to subjugate the minds of mankind under the rule of one.
We know where it ended. It ended in breaking up of the one language. Its breakup was intended so that mankind could not come together in conspiracy. From here we learn, there is much merit in maintaining diversity as there are much disadvantages in uniformity.
One tower can also be a symbol of dictatorial powers and arrogance.
In Islam, Muslims are also well aware of stores about building towers. The Pharaoh ordered Haman to build up a tower to the skies. So that he can confront the God of Moses. It was his arrogance to build the tower so that he can prove Moses to be a liar.
It's also a symbolism of big government. That our bounties are determined and cared for by the overseeing and paternalistic government. That we derive the good life here as a result of the rule of one man.
But we must also be mindful of the ending.
When God saw that they acted so madly, he did not resolve to destroy them utterly, since they were not grown wiser by the destruction of the former sinners [in the Flood]; but he caused a tumult among them, by producing in them diverse languages, and causing that, through the multitude of those languages, they should not be able to understand one another.


Saturday 16 October 2010

Bringing back respectability to UMNO

There are so many things which the UMNO president can achieve having Tengku Razaleigh helming the Galas by elections. Politically Ku Li is the borrowed knife with which Najib can kill his political enemies. Ku Li is the Plum tree with which Najib can get the peach tree. But only if Najib is smart enough.

One, he can now start the process of national reconciliation. That's what Ku Li stood for all this time. Let's hope his coterie of self serving advisors don't tell him that giving Tengku Razaleigh this role is giving TRH a second lease of political life. And also lets hope Ku Li's supporters are not over enthusiastic and read this appointment beyond the significance its due.

The biggest problem with Najib is he is gullible. He does listen to bitchy tales, embellished stores of small conspiracies, etc. Plus, Najib is not known for his resolve. He is not ruthless in execution. Didn't I say he has acquired the moniker TPM?- Tak Pernah Muktamad?

It is of course prudent to have a little bit of suspiciousness for reason of self preservation. The bad thing here is that people will constantly feed him with bits and pieces of misinformation. And Najib does succumb to these kind of stories.

We shall see what he does when Ku Lin wins Galas for UMNO. I hope Najib is mindful of the fact that Ku Li is already 73 years old. He is well placed to play the role of an elder statesman and if I can get ahead of myself, it would be profitable for Najib to formalize this role by giving TRH a post as senior minister.

Put him in charge of the ETP. This is a supremely important program for the country that requires helmsmanship by a widely respectable leader. To ensure ETP's success, Najib must placed it under the command of a person with the caliber of Tengku Razaleigh. If TRH can't deliver that, he is out forever. If he succeeds, the ETP succeeds and much credit will go to Najib as being insightful enough to leverage on an almost forgotten talent.

On the contrary, his choice of Razaleigh can win him allegiance and political longevity. Provided the PM is ready to abandon his firefighting political ways and adopt a strategic longer term approach. That's the sacrificing the Plum Tree part.

Used properly, Tengku Razaleigh can be a boost to him. Abused, he will be finished. Whether anyone likes it or not, Razaleigh is a symbol of what is politically so right in politics. He stands for the rule of law and the proper separation of powers. Especially that of separation of powers between the executive and legislative. The executive derives his power from the legislature and he carries out what is decided by the legislator. Disputes are resolved through the judiciary.

He stands for the values of old UMNO where agreements to disagree do not lead to political hostilities. Within a democratic process, members are free to contest against each other but then their rivalries do not degenerate into open political hostilities.

Our country has been beset with divisive and partisan politics. Our country has been ravaged by the politics of racism. All these sap the energy from the one thing that matters to everyone of us. That is managing this country to prosperity which shall be shared by everyone of us.

The significance of choosing Tengku Razaleigh goes beyond Galas. The choice of Razaleigh has national ramifications. Here is a man who stood for loyalty to a cause. That explained his readiness and willingness to cross swords with mainstream UMNO leadership. He has disagreed with many of the party's policies- the question of oil royalty, the manner in which UMNO leadership is elected, the scourge of corruption, how the economy is managed. Yet inspite of all these, the party leadership hasn't got a choice but to agree to Razaleigh being the chief campaign manager for Galas. And we believe he will win Galas easily for UMNO.

And by doing that, he will show and educate other UMNO people, why it can win. It can win not by using coercive powers, not by paying their way through, not through employing hand handed methods. I am delighted to note that Razaleigh has decided to carry out campaigning in Galas using primarily local resources. Party workers, voluntary workers, local speakers. He brings back the ABC of political campaigning methods. Reaching out to people doesn't have to assume loud and aggressive methods.


Friday 15 October 2010

Budget 2011: Spend baby spend!


I haven't read the full text of the budget. But I can already see what Idris Jala spoke about this country going bankrupt is all hot air. The government is spending more.

I managed to speak about this impending budget with the Oracle of Syed Putra. I asked him, over the next 10 years, the government will spend around plus or minus RM1.44 trillion. Roughly about 140 billion per year for the next 10 years. Minus 30% through institutionalized leakages, probably we will spend 100 billion. These, said the Oracle, will mainly be on big mega projects.

How prescient. Today, the PM has announced his big government budget. We are going to see the role of bigger government. What I have said turns out to be true. Anything the PM says now are not muktamad yet. He said, the age of big government is over. This budget is a complete reversal of the declaration. It's the age of bigger government.

He is going to go ahead with the construction of the MRT- RM 43 billion. When I said this was the figure, many people commented it was wrong. The figure is lower they claimed. Today, its confirmed. Its RM 43,000,000,000. Nine zeroes there. 43,000 billion. Its looks like Najib's erection of another behemoth building outsizes Dr Mahathir's. He is building a 100 storey high building. Build baby build.

Where is the government commitment to instill financial discipline and prudence? Year after year, government departments overspend. The government is still spending a huge amount on OPEX. RM 162 billion on OPex with much going to the bloated civil service of 1.2 million under trained workers. At the same time, its scaling down development expenditure.

When we are going to scale down politicking? I note that he is proposing to pay more for JKKK allowances. This is the source of excessive politicking. All the ex jagas, village loafers and bullies are fighting to become village headmen. Each year, state governments face countless problems in appointing village heads.

Scale down the structure. Abolish all these politically charged village headmen posts. If we have to pay higher salaries, let's have permanent government servants do the job of village headmen. Lets appoint for example Village development officers out of graduates. Each graduate headman can look after 5 villages and they manage these villages thorough committees anyway. The rakyat still have a say in managing their kampungs. Let's have qualified people managing villages.

We will write in more detail about this obviously made for elections budget. In the meantime, please spare us the nauseating commendations that this budget is a people's budget, a pro development budget, whatever. It may actually be a rich man's budget. It's always sunny in a rich man's world.


Khazanah pakat with EPF?

It's now public knowledge. Khazanah and EPF which already own Plus and its highways are buying it back. In other words, they are taking it private.
This immediately contradicts what Azman Mokhtar has been saying recently. That Plus highways belong to the rakyat and the decision on what to do with Plus, isn't Khazanah's alone. Meaning it's also the government's call.
So make that call. Do it transparently.
I am sure we are going to be told- Khazanah and EPF will keep Plus on our behalf. We will manage it properly, rakyat have no fear.
If that is the case, then we the rakyat order you to lower the toll rates. Since Plus is making a revenue of around RM 2.1 billion a year and a hefty profit margin, please return some of the profit to the rakyat in the form of lower rates. It's not that you will suffer losses. It's just that you make lower profits.
In any case, you have guarantees of compensation from the government. You receive around RM 800 million a year. Maybe, we will now use the Jala caveat- reduce the compensation as it can contribute to making this country go bankrupt.
In buying Plus out, Khazanah and EPF must still explain the rationale and justification for this purchase. The price is of course better than Syed Mokhtars RM 15 billion but only about half what Asas Serba offers. Which part of Asas Serba's offer are not good to Khazanah? Is it because the people behind Asas Serba is led by Halim Saad who has close relations with the man Nor Mohamad hates- Daim Zainudin?
Can the owners of Plus now offer a moratorium on toll rates as suggested by Asas Serba or even reduced toll rates by so much percentage as proposed by Asas Serba?
Were there political pressures rejecting all the other offers? Didn't Nor Mohamad Yaakob said that it cost the government more than RM 200 billion to build and operate Pus. Why is he silent now that the government is only getting about RM 23 billion?


Monaco is Islamic Fashion Capital of the world.

When news that a by-election is going to be held, the UMNO president wasn't around in Malaysia. He was possibly in Brussels. Or probably in Monaco partaking in glitz of the IFF- Islamic Fashion Festival. It was a 3 day event.
Reza Shah and Tom Abang Saufi would be parading young and nubile models showcasing what is interpreted as Islamic fashion. Maybe later that night, Reza Shah would be organizing the pocho pocho dance. To Monaco-ise a Malaysian event is now defined as a value added move. It's like getting the seal of HRH the Queen.
Now we know, because of this event- Prince Albert is a friend to the Muslims, so is Evelyn Genta. Even Michelle Yeoh and lover Jean Todt are supporters of Islam. Curiously, we didn't see any Muslim Clerics asked to come along to fatwa-ise the event.
We, the common people are of course bemused why an Islamic event has to be held in Monaco of all places. Certainly Monaco isn't Islamic by any measure. It's a gambling haven. It's that source of place where people like Tony Fernandez, Francis Yeoh and the people who get a kick appearing in Prestige Magazine feel more at home.
Maybe we have a new 1Malaysia-ised definition of what is Islam or isn't. Questionable source of money given by opposition parties is haram. If given by BN or UMNO is halal. So, if the PM says Monaco is Islamic, who are we to dispute his definition?
But please, we the people are not stupid anymore . we too can doa each morning- wa haramun kalau makan sorang, wa halalun kalau konsi berdua.
Finance for the Malaysian participation was provided by the Sarawak government. Tok Uban was there on hand to lend support to a Sarawakian fashionista.
The Sarawak government probably paid all the participating fee of €1000 per head. Maybe more if additional appearance fees for Datin Sri Rosmah who sang was included. Perhaps if you count all those starlets, singers, girlfriends, mistresses and toyboys, the cost would have been more than one million € . It's not every day, a Malaysian 1st lady gets to sing with Prince Albert of Monaco on stage. It isn't every day, one gets to participate singing 'we are the world' with Prince Albert.
This is another one of those ridiculous ideas of building a bridge that leads to nowhere. How does having a fashion show in Monaco further Malaysia's interests? Why should the Sarawak government finance the €1000 per head event? Maybe the most important outcome of that event was Taib Mahmud getting endorsement from the PM to have another go at leading Sarawak.
One shouldn't expect any decision of serious significance being made amidst the pomp and glitz of such occasion. Yet, no one wanted to spoil the brief respite from political havoc, the PM and his entourage enjoyed there.


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