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“The Importance of Being Earnest” by Dr. Awang Puteh

Just like the great masterpiece of Oscar Wilde, this article which was published in The New Straits Times today and written by one who calls himself Dr. Awang Bin Puteh revealed how comical double standards, ‘lupa daratan’, vanity, arrogance and hypocrisy thrive in the corporate world and among billionaires. And we thought these people living in the upper echelons of society could at least be humble, reciprocal and more reflective about their social standing and how they came to be.

A recommended read indeed.

The Importance of Being Earnest

CRONY CAPITALISM? It’s time for YTL boss to walk the talk and show ethical leadership by example

APPARENTLY, the negative trait of Melayu mudah lupa is not only confined to the Malays, but also to other ethnic groups in Malaysia. This is evident from the statement by YTL Corporation Bhd managing director Tan Sri Francis Yeoh when he commented  on crony capitalism a few days ago.

Yeoh’s claims that he is successful because he is not a crony and doesn’t depend on government contracts.

He also went further, which seems tantamount to fanning the flame of racial provocation, by stating that non-Bumiputera small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs) “absolutely have no chance” to even fight “for the crumbs” as they are already at the low end of the food chain.

He delighted in lecturing us, delivered with a straight face and an affectation of pious conviction, that Malaysians are not taking advantage of our ethnic diversity, and we must introduce more open competition and encourage greater transparency in business.

Not unexpectedly, his statement evoked negative reaction from the public, and many reacted in disbelief to Yeoh’s hypocrisy given his companies’ close links with the government in the past as well as in the present.

Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam summed it up aptly when he said that “people who live in glass houses, should not throw stones”. He further correctly stressed that Yeoh’s talking about getting rid of cronyism doesn’t sound right while his companies bagged lucrative government contracts through direct negotiations rather than open tender exercises.

Why the repetitive mantra by Yeoh despite YTL receiving all the government’s love and special attention all these times? We know that great wealth buys great political influence, but to insult the people’s intelligence with his sermon borders on brazen arrogance.

Maybe these kinds of people live in a bubble, and not surpassingly, those inside the bubble sometimes think that they can pull the wool over our eyes.

Nonetheless, let us address Yeoh’s arguments specifically.

Yeoh is adamant that YTL is successful because he is not a crony and doesn’t depend on government contracts. That is a bold statement.

Without government contracts, YTL would still be a small-time contractor. In fact, it is continuously the beneficiary of government assistance. For instance, in 1990, YTL was awarded an almost RM1 billion contract to build public hospitals.

Unless Yeoh suffers from amnesia, he could not possibly forget his big break in 1992 when the government awarded him the first licence to build, operate and manage power plants.

Without this lucrative concession, his company would probably be stuck as Syarikat Pembinaan YTL Sdn Bhd, a relatively small construction and property development company. This foray into the power sector vaulted YTL into the big league, where its pre-tax profit last year alone amounted to RM2.5 billion, versus RM30 million in 1991 before contributions from power operations began flowing in.

Importantly, most of the projects given to YTL were and still are heavily subsidised by the rakyat. His power agreement with Tenaga Nasional Bhd was so lopsided and utterly unjust that Tan Sri Ani Arope, the then TNB chief executive officer, submitted his resignation after refusing to accept YTL’s terms.

His “take or pay” agreement with TNB obligated it to take up YTL’s power output — priced much higher than what TNB could easily produce — whether the utility needed it or not, for 21 years.

Maybe that’s what Yeoh meant when he stated that YTL became successful via “innovation”, which ripped off billions in taxpayers’ money.

Has he also conveniently forgotten how he was recently awarded a RM10 billion contract by the Education Ministry to provide, among others, laptops to schools, despite YTL not being a computer maker, nor expert in education services? The contract irked member of parliament Zaril Khir Johari, who raised questions on this issue in Parliament. His 1BestariNet programme, which is to install 4G high-speed broadband to all schools, indirectly means that the rakyat are actually funding the commercial expansion of YTL’s YES 4G network. So much for innovation.

Yeoh was also borderline malicious when he said the non-Bumiputera SMEs had been discriminated by the government.

Well, I wonder where he got his statistics from. Analyses done by the Economic Planning Unit show that non-Bumiputera businesses, especially Chinese companies, took 80 sen for every RM1 in government contracts.

Even funding for SMEs benefited non-Bumiputeras the most, as data shows that Bumiputera companies accounted for about 30 per cent of the entire funding for SMEs last year.

To put things in perspective, the value of the contract YTL secured from the Education Ministry alone, for providing only laptops to students, exceeds the entire funding for all Bumiputera SMEs for the entire period of last year!

It is heart-warming to learn that YTL supports national unity. Let us, for a second meditate upon and closely scrutinise these nationalistic statements from Yeoh: “We should leverage on our different ethnic races in the nation and should start working together. We have been working for a long time like we’re in a tunnel. We have not learnt to work together. We have been separated and not looked at each other’s strengths. We do not celebrate our diversity.”

Such enlightened view should indeed be emulated by other companies! However, in the name of transparency, would YTL be willing to make public the ethnic diversity figures in YTL workforce, its board of directors, exco, senior management, mid-management and low-level positions?

YTL should also make public how much was sub-contracted to Bumiputera and Indian companies, compared to Chinese-owned companies.

Similarly, in the name of transparency, would YTL also make public its power agreements, which had enabled YTL to make astronomical returns at the expense of the people? Please allow public scrutiny of the agreements, as suggested by MP Tony Pua from DAP not too long ago.

Yeoh also argued that he is a true patriot, for he has “defended the present government’s concerted efforts to introduce more open competition and encourage greater transparency in business”.

This is commendable, but flies in the face of facts. How does YTL explain its willing participation in direct negotiations with the government on some of the most lucrative contracts? It was only last week that a YTL Corp wholly-owned subsidiary was awarded a power plant project by the Energy Commission via direct tender!

Maybe YTL can make a declaration to the public that it will no longer participate in direct-negotiations and cease altogether from seeking contracts from the government.

There is still time for redemption for a devout man like Yeoh to walk the talk. I am sure he would like to show ethical leadership by example.

Moving forward, we have to help Yeoh from backsliding from his recent epiphany, and to become the born-again corporate leader that he aspires to be.

I would urge the government to be kind to him by avoiding any dealings with YTL group, either in providing contracts, or using its products and services. The government should also exclude YTL from participating in any way whatsoever in the KL-Singapore High Speed Rail project, if the project is yet to be awarded to him. He sorely needs help from the government to wean him away from his old habits.

As for me, I will also do my little part. I will stop patronising YTL hotels, shopping malls and Internet service provider, among others. I am boycotting YTL and I suggest the rest of Malaysia follow suit.

After all, Yeoh proudly claimed that his company gets 85 per cent of revenue from overseas operations.

Oh, by the way, the deafening silence from some of the most vocal critics of crony capitalism in Malaysia is really puzzling.

Imagine if the same statement was made by a Malay tycoon, I am sure the deafening silence will become a raging tropical thunderstorm.

Maybe when a Bumiputera businessman gets a contract, it’s cronyism and unfair privileges. But when people like Yeoh gets it, it is innovation, market forces and meritocracy.

 

Impact of Pakatan Rakyat’s mindset onto the people’s intelligence

On Labour Day last Thursday, a demonstration organised by Pakatan Rakyat to protest the implementation of GST (Goods and Services Tax) were held in Dataran Merdeka.

And as we all know, most people who take part in demonstrations do not actually know what they are protesting. Some even got their information backwards while others don’t even know why they are there in the first place.

Kudos to Pakatan Rakyat leaders who had successfully stupefied some of the rakyat.

As per the video below, we can now see the extend of stupidity Pakatan Rakyat leaders like Rafizi Ramli, Ong Kian Ming, Nizar Jamaluddin etc had done onto the average people on the street.

Enjoy.

Kicking people when they are down – the NUFAM way

MH370 is a tragedy that had happened without anyone could have imagined. The mystery and the repercussion that surround it has called the entire nation to unite in the face of a national disaster. We must stand strong and pray that the family members can receive some closure so that the grieving process can start as soon as possible.

So that the nation can heal, so that the people can look forward for a brighter future ahead.

But some quarters, even before the plane is found; even before investigations have been concluded, had scoffed at the people who are tasked to find the plane. We do not need this kind of insensitive people and their vile derision to weigh us down further. To our surprise, we have our very own Malaysian citizens that are leading the way in ‘kicking people when they are down’.

After Anwar Ibrahim rode CNN’s back in criticising the Search and Rescue efforts by the government in the recent article which can be read here, a similar unsavoury voice is heard today in the form of NUFAM:

Malaysian Airlines CEO’s head must roll, says union

The National Union of Flight Attendants Malaysia (Nufam) has called for the resignation of Malaysia Airlines chief executive officer Ahmad Jauhari Yahya following the prolonged MH370 disaster.

Nufam, which has long been at loggerheads with Ahmad Jauhari over workers’ issues, said that the latter’s resignation could restore public confidence in the airline.

“(Nufam) believes it is the right thing to do now as this even has brought tremendous impact on the aviation industry in this country…

“Since the Flight 370 tragedy (happened) under his watch, it is rightful for him to step aside and allow someone else to take over his position,” Nufam said in a statement.

It said that Ahmad Jauhari must also step down following two other incidents involving MAS flights – the incident in Kathmandu, where a flight was hit by flying ducks and in Hong Kong, where a flight en route Seoul had to divert to due to generator failure. (Really NUFAM? Flying ducks and generator failure? If it weren’t for the MH370 story, these two incidences wouldn’t make any headlines. Does the CEO of BMW have to resign because people who drove it went into accidents?)

It added that airline staff has also “lost confidence” in the way Ahmad Jauhari has handled the crisis which entered its 19th day today.

Following the Hong Kong incident, Nufam also released a statement urging MAS to ensure stringent safety checks on its aircraft, citing cabin crew concerns.

The union has been at odds with the management prior to the crisis, with its president and several office bearers sacked or suspended following criticisms against MAS.

In the first place, it is an open secret that NUFAM had tried to wrest control of MAS union from the original employees union of MAS – the MASEU.

MASEU has the biggest membership of flight attendants in MAS, and NUFAM the newcomer is believed to just trying to make itself relevant. This statement by them came as no surprise at all given the fact that their modus operandi in usurping MASEU’s voice in the past has been less than pleasant.

Fact is, NUFAM does not have any credibility to talk on behalf of MAS’ employees. Which made the above statement as a whole, rife with ulterior motives. Just like Anwar Ibrahim’s behaviour, the nation does not need people with hidden agenda to bog us down further with unnecessary politicking. Everyone is coping to the best they can.

We must give support in order to see this through.

Support  and words of encouragement for the those involved in SAR. Prayers and well wishes to the family members.

Thank you.

How Pakatan Rakyat aspire to finance itself

Most people think that Pakatan Rakyat politicians are human beings with excellent moral values and integrity. They portray themselves as the people’s saviour against Barisan Nasional politicians which they accuse as the corrupt devils greedy for riches.

In actual truth, the politicians in Pakatan Rakyat are as greedy and as corrupt as the ones they are accusing. And since they always arrogate themselves as the epitome of goodness, this hypocrisy renders them even worse than their Barisan Nasional nemesis.

Take for instance Rafizi Ramli’s overzealousness in trying to create the perception that the LRT extension project, which had been awarded to George Kent – Lionpac consortium, was dubious and it should have been awarded to Balfour Beatty consortium instead.

And it was later discovered and exposed by this blog that Balfour Beatty’s main partner is Ingress Corporation Bhd whereby the main player in the latter is a close crony of Anwar Ibrahim.  Luckily, the motive of Rafizi Ramli’s incessant accusations were uncovered and since then, he has been quiet about this issue.

Another example is how Tony Pua is belittling 1MDB and backed YTL over the tender of a power project. The blatant  support for a corporation to win a multi billion was so unashamedly done, eyebrows were raised as to why a senior DAP politician would do that. Ironically, DAP which is very much known for its principles on socialism is now seem to be capitalist in nature. Are they shifting their raison d’etre when big money is involved?

Hypocrites rule the roost and Pakatan Rakyat’s lust for money and opulence can be seen openly. Otherwise, why would DAP politicians in Selangor who should be a socialist in nature, demand near 300% hike in their salaries?

The latest incident involve water crisis in Selangor will raise more eyebrows. For a start, this is the chronology of the whole fiasco:

BheD-z-CAAAD6PC.jpg-large

PKR politics as we all know is very much a carbon copy of Umno’s but in one huge difference – they do everything much worse.

On Wednesday, the Federal and Selangor governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding that will facilitate the implementation of the Langat 2 water treatment plant project and the takeover of water assets in the state.

The MoU breaks a five-year impasse that has stalled the implementation of water projects in the country’s most industrialised state. - Source

However, PKR strategy director Rafizi Ramli had claimed the party was in the dark about the MoU, and said the state executive councillors would be asked to explain.

PKR deputy president Azmin Ali said the Mentri Besar would be summoned to brief Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim once he returns from Japan.

“We want to hear Khalid’s side of the story as many are still in the dark about the details. We are concerned over whether there would be an increase in water tariff prices and whether there would still be free water for Selangor,” he said yesterday.

Anwar’s official Facebook page showed that the Permatang Pauh MP is currently in Japan.

It has been reported that several PKR leaders were not informed before the state signed the memorandum on the water restructuring exercise while it is unclear if Khalid has the backing of the top Pakatan Rakyat leaders over the deal. - Source

Zaid Ibrahim had a different take on why top PKR politicians was in the dark about the deal:

Kajang by-election contestant Datuk Zaid Ibrahim said that PKR adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim got “checkmated” by Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim on the water deal.

Zaid said it was too late for Anwar – who is apparently setting his sights on the office of mentri besar – to influence the deal that has just been struck between the Federal and state governments.

“It is too late. It is a checkmate for Anwar,” he told a packed press conference at his residence here yesterday.

However, PKR strategy director Rafizi Ramli had claimed the party was in the dark about the MoU, and said the state executive councillors would be asked to explain.

But Zaid believed Anwar knew the MoU would be signed.

“I am sure Anwar knew about the deal …in the event a new mentri besar takes over from Khalid, he cannot do anything to ruin the deal.

“I think what Khalid did was right and I agree with him.

“At least the future of the Selangor people would be more secure with the end of the privatisation of water supplies,” he said. - Source

Zaid Ibrahim’s press conference can be seen as below. There are many sneak peaks on what Anwar Ibrahim intend to do once he will become Menteri Besar of Selangor inside the video.

And today Khalid Ibrahim told the public on why the water deal was made in such clandestine manner. Basically, he did not want the trio of vultures – Anwar Ibrahim, Rafizi Ramli and Azmin Ali to take over the water deal for their own benefit. This triad of political schemers had been working against Khalid Ibrahim since day one of the Kajang plot.

Some PKR top brass wanted to set price of water assets, says Khalid

SHAH ALAM: Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim disclosed that there were party leaders from PKR who were trying to influence the valuation of the water assets in the state.

He said some party leaders had introduced him to a few people who were trying to make their case as to why the pricing of the water assets should be higher.

“I have been an investment banker for so long that I look at the principle of valuation before determining the price (of the assets). I stood by my principle of valuation and set the price at RM9.65bil.

“These people wanted to set the price and wanted the valuation to justify their price,” he said in an interview with The Star yesterday.

Khalid also explained why the mechanics of the deal could not have been revealed to all and sundry in and outside of the party before the agreement with the Federal Government was signed on Wednesday.

He pointed out that the information, if revealed, would have an impact on the price of the stocks related to the water assets.

“I was also concerned about possible abuse of information and insider dealing. These are reasons why PKR leaders were not informed ahead of the signing on the water deal between the Selangor state government and the Federal government,” he said.

Khalid said he did not inform his party leaders due to those reasons to ensure that the implementation of the transaction was right and adhered to proper corporate governance.

Like George Orwell’s Animal Farm – the ones who think could be the saviour, will eventually become worse than the alleged oppressors once they have tasted power.

Is MIC blocking the PM’s transformation agenda?

This blog has always been keen and passionate about public transportation for the longest time.

From the first article – “The Public Transportation Issue” written in November 2008, about 9 articles have been written. All of it can be read here.

What Malaysia needs is a world class public transportation system which can connect people efficiently, more so in the Klang Valley. The acute problem in traffic, compounded by increasing number of cars have made public transportation one of the key NKRA of Najib’s administration.

As such, the effort to upgrade the public transportation (buses, LRT, MRT, monorail etc) is paramount to alleviate the choking problem faced by the people in the capital city. Time lost by the people stuck in traffic jams costs money and opportunity loss.

Therefore, we find it vital that the public transportation especially the LRT and MRT must be the impetus in attracting the people to use public transportation.

But the news we heard today is both disappointing and alarming. It seems the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) is up in arms against the government in providing a better service for the general public.

Prasarana denied entry to Puchong Tamil school

PETALING JAYA: A LRT extension construction company is unhappy that its contractors were prevented from carrying out their work, by a group of MIC members and parents from Castlefield Tamil School.

Prasarana Negara Berhad (Prasarana) said it is extremely disappointed that efforts to build an LRT Line Extension Project (LEP) have been hindered by reckless actions of these individuals.

They also claimed that the individuals, who had formed a blockade in front of the school yesterday, scuffled with auxiliary policemen from the company, resulting in a senior officer being injured.

This is despite Prasarana obtaining an injunction to enter part of the school compound and informing the school authorities of the planned work to be undertaken.

“This is the third time that we have made effort to enter the site. We have stated repeatedly that we will ensure minimum interruption to the children’s studies while construction of the LEP is underway,” said Prasarana’s group director of the project development division, Zulkifli Md Yusoff.

“We are dedicated to ensuring that the well-being of the schoolchildren and their teachers are not compromised during this period. Apart from enhancing the school’s facilities, we would also ensure the safety of the children and public,” he added.

Yesterday, around 60 MIC Youth members and the parents led by former MIC Youth Chief T Mohan prevented Prasarana’s constructors from entering the school. They also urged Prasarana to sign an agreement before starting the extension work.

No need for school to be relocated

It is learnt the school administration had passed a memorandum to Prasarana for a mutual agreement where it wants the company to provide RM20 million to build a new school on six-acre plot given by Selangor state government.

However, Prasarana stressed that it is going to occupy only 0.47 acres of 2.8 acres of the school compound and upon completion of the project, the five LRT piers will only occupy 20 metres of space.

“It is important for the public to understand that LEP can coexist with the school harmoniously and there is no need for the school to be relocated for this project to commence,” said Zulkifly.

“Moreover, the Education ministry has set a requirement that 100% approval from all parents must be obtained for the relocation. But, a group of 80 parents came out to voice their disagreement,” he added.

“Prasarana will build sound-proof barriers, improve the school’s facilities, including installing air-con units in classrooms and improve the landscape by planting trees and foliage as a gesture of goodwill.

“There are many benefits to consider, the key of which is improved transport convenience for the students and surrounding residents to the greater LRT network in Klang Valley,” he said.

The 17.7km LRT extension of the Ampang line under the National Key Result Area (NKRA) would directly benefit residents in Petaling, Bandar Kinrara, Puchong and Putra Heights.

It is learnt that a 180-metre stretch passes the edge of the Castlefield school, running parallel to the Puchong Damansara Higway (LDP) and the construction of the five pillars.

MIC should be held responsible for this transgression as its unruly members are working against the government’s effort to vitalise the LRT service. Furthermore, it seems the school board of Castlefield are getting more and more greedy when all effort was given by the government to ease any hardship which may be borne by the school (giving airconds, building a hall and school facilities etc) and even throwing away RM20 million of taxpayers money just to build another school!

RM20 million of our money to be used just because of a 0.47 acres of space? The school board must be out of their mind!

God forbid if they would also want to control that RM20 million and pick their own contractors themselves!

On top of that, MIC and the school board are knowingly defying a court order. In a civilised country such as Malaysia, defying a court order will have severe repercussions. Will the leadership of MIC take responsibility over the action of their members?

All this stupidity by working against the public’s wellbeing should stop.

Castlefield Tamil School is not the first school to have a train line adjacent to it and nor will it be the last. In Malaysia, they are many schools which have similar scenario and they pose no problems for the students.

As a matter of fact, according to this report, there are several LRT lines which has been built near schools, such as:

  1. Sekolah Methodist Wesley, Sentul, KL
  2. SRJK (T) Appar, Jalan Merpati, KL
  3. SRJK (C) Chong Kwok, Jalan Merpati, KL
  4. SK (L) Jalan Batu, KL

The ball is in MIC’s court. Please get a clearer picture from both sides of the affected party. Do not be swayed by petty politics to the detriment of greater good.

As for the greedy school board, enough is enough.

The snapshot on global economy and the local economy

If anyone of the readers here haven’t read the Confessions of an Economic Hitman book, here is a Youtube video where the author summarily describes the content of the book in about 11 minutes.

Locally, our own economy is floundering.

None of the great economic consultants employed by the Prime Minister are able to find the right formula to revitalise the local economy yet. Today, the blogger Darah Tuah wrote a snapshot on the economic position of this country right now particularly the economic relationship between the bumiputera and the non-bumiputera. The blogger gave recommendations as well.

Maybe PEMANDU and other advisers can learn a little bit of something about it too.

Please have a read HERE.

Thank you.

Compare cost of living around the world

Something not so heavy this time around – comparing costs of living between cities around the world.

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Just go to http://www.expatistan.com/cost-of-living and key in the cities and they will tabulate the costs which are adjusted with the exchange rates and compiled with the real costs from each city. As the website stated:

Expatistan is a cost of living calculator that allows you to compare the cost of living between cities around the world. The comparisons allow you to get a better understanding of the cost of living of any city before you move there.

What makes us unique is that we collect the prices that we use to calculate our cost of living index from visitors like you. Naturally, the more data entered, the more accurate the index and the calculations will be.

We have compared the cost of living between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore as below:

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Comparison between neighbouring cities

So if you are trying to migrate or go for a holiday in another city, give this website a try and make your decisions wisely. At least it can give you a rough idea on what sort of budget you might encounter.

Thank you.

Paintings and credit cards of Khazanah Nasional

The Prime Minister’s pride and joy, the invulnerable Khazanah Nasional was under the microscope of Auditor General as well.

Thank you to a commentator by the name Wanita Bukit Tinggi who highlighted the Auditor General’s findings on this company where Dato Sri Najib Tun Razak is also the Chairman

AG’s Report: Contractor failed to deliver RM46m component of shrimp project

PETALING JAYA (Oct 1): The Auditor-General Report 2012 has revealed that the contractor for the Integrated Shrimp Aquaculture Park (iSHARP) in Setiu, Terengganu, has failed to deliver the sea water intake system which cost RM46 million.
 
The contract was awarded to Ranhill Engineers and Constructors Sdn Bhd by Khazanah Nasional Bhd’s subsidiary Blue Archipelago Bhd, which manages iSHARP, to construct its biggest component for the shrimp aquaculture park.
The audit revealed that the project was not completed by Ranhill and the termination notice was issued on Aug 16, 2012. The contract termination notice was issued to Ranhill on Dec 3 last year with immediate effect.
On Nov 15, 2011 Ranhill claimed that work progress was at 97.5% although Blue Archipelago stated that the work progress by Dec 3, 2012 was only at 92.1%. Up till Dec 3, Ranhill has received RM42.21 million in interim payment.
Blue Archipelago’s explanation to the auditor-general was that the contractor lacked equipment, had financial difficulties, the main contractor did not pay the sub-contractors and the scope of work required specialist sub-contractors.
To make matters worse, on Sept 8, 2011, a functional test found that an underwater pipe had burst and Blue Archipelago had to install a temporary structure for sea water intake in order for the shrimp aqua culture farms to operate.
“Since the date of the audit, they are still using the temporary structure. The audit has also uncovered that due to the delay in completing the project, the project site was left without adequate security which has led to cables being stolen at the pump house and is a danger to the public,” the report stated.
Khazanah’s reply to the auditor-general stated that it had utilised its performance bond against Ranhill on Dec 2012 for the sum of RM2.3 million.
Legal action has also been taken against Ranhill for breach of contract and liquidated ascertained damages claim was due to be completed by June 30 this year.
Strangely, Blue Archipelago continued to hire Ranhill as a subcontractor to complete the security fencing surrounding the project site and the nearshore manhole. This section of the project was expected to be completed by Aug 30 this year.
Physical examination at the sea water intake system pump house also revealed that there were several items in the Bill of Quantity worth RM83,966 that were not completed by the contractor.
The consultant claimed that it was a variation order (VO) omission, but further investigation by the auditors revealed that there was no such VO issued to Ranhill.
Khazanah has informed the auditor-general that Blue Archipelago and Ranhill had begun discussing the final accounts which was expected to be completed by June 30, 2013.

If Khazanah Nasional cannot even complete a shrimping project, do we honestly think they can make money in other ventures? Remember the Air Asia – MAS share swap? That apparently was the pinnacle of their intelligence.

The point is, although Khazanah Nasional was given the thumbs up by Auditor General for achieving profits every year, they gain most of their income from dividends of their shareholding in 86 companies. This business model does not need much brain power. How to increase our profit this year? Just sell Proton!

But we believe getting profits every year will be the main lullaby for the Khazanah Nasional to lull the easily impressed Prime Minister into his slumber.

But what the Prime Minister doesn’t know that there are a pile of stench under his nose which had escaped his attention but unfortunately didn’t escape the people’s notice.

Too bad because he was supposed to be the Chairman and ultimately responsible for the propriety Khazanah Nasional’s management staff.

RM1.26mil in charge card use by Khazanah staff

Certain individuals in the government’s financial arm, Khazanah Nasional Bhd, are still allowed to use its corporate charge card despite Khazanah failing to declare its expenses from the earlier months.

As a result, unrecognised expenses on charge cards issued to Khazanah Nasional accumulated to RM1.26 million last year alone, the highest amount in four years.

This comprises unpaid balance in excess of one month at RM487,317; a sum of RM291,400 for two months and RM485,187 over a period of two to six months.

In 2009, the amount of unpaid dues was RM610,902; while in 2010 it dropped to RM270,330 and it hiked to RM726,462 in 2011.

The audit report states that based on a financial communication note dated June 1, 2006, American Express charge cards were issued to directors and the chief executive of Khazanah Nasional. As of Dec 4, 2012, there were 106 such charge cards issued by Khazanah, with no limit on the usage.

The report also says that the charge card users have been reminded to prepare an analysis of their monthly expenditures, verify the expenditures with the receipts attached and to get approval from their heads of department.

“If the expenditures are not approved, the payment will be obtained from the card holders by cutting their salaries. Failure to provide an analysis and verification for three times would result in such privileges being revoked,” the report says.

The auditor-general also found there were some Khazanah staff who failed to send or declare their monthly expenses, resulting in the unpaid RM1.26 million in card charges.

According to explanations from the Khazanah officer responsible, the balance has been settled by Khazanah despite the staff not declaring their expenses.

Khazanah further explained that it had conducted an internal audit on the expenditure claims between 2011 and 2013, and the failure by those responsible to send in their lists of expenses was also discussed.

The staff may use the corporate credit card even though they failed to declare the expenses for the month before. There is minimum risk in this, since Khazanah can cut the salary of the individual concerned to recover the expenditure.

Khazanah added that it would take action to stop the use of the corporate charge card of staff who keep failing to declare his or her expenses.

However, the auditor-general said failure to file the monthly expenses declaration was improper.

Artworks not properly kept.

The report also found that Khazanah had purchased 93 artworks worth RM6.4 million.

Of the amount, 55 works of art costing RM3.05 million that were purchased since 2005, have not been properly displayed or kept in a proper manner and there are concerns that these could be damaged.

Khazanah in its reply in May and June this year said it was planning to place the artworks at a proper room on the 32nd floor of its office block and also in its new offices overseas.

It also plans to change the location of the existing paintings and for all the artworks to be placed after renovations to the interior decoration of its office, which was approved this year.

The renovations should be completed by the end of the year.

The auditor-general also said all the Khazanah assets needed to be fully utilised to justify their purchase.

On a positive note, the auditor-general commended Khazanah for making profit for the fourth consecutive year.

The bosses in Khazanah Nasional thinks the people’s money that we pay every month as income tax are something which they just can burn in a blink of an eye. RM64 million for 93 paintings?!

That is averaging about RM69K per painting! On whose God given right was it that they can just buy expensive paintings and waste it by not keeping it properly?

If that doesn’t make your blood boil, then the fact that 106 credit cards with unlimited ceiling are issued with impunity must take the cake.

This is a disgrace. Apparently, dishonourable men with no qualms in burning money can be held in high esteem by our Prime Minister.

So what are they going to do with the credit cards and the paintings? Business as usual? Issue more bonuses to the credit card users, painting buyer and the Board of Directors of Blue Archipelago Bhd?

That was precisely what they did. After all, they achieved profitability every year.

Thank you.

The US should learn the lessons from Malaysia

Following up with the previous article regarding the government’s ill-conceived idea of repealing ISA and Emergency Ordinance Act, below is an article regarding a similar issue happening in California at this very moment (my comment after the article)

Supreme Court orders California to release 10,000 inmates, despite governor’s protest

SAN FRANCISCO — The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday paved the way for the early release of nearly 10,000 California inmates by year’s end despite warnings by Gov. Jerry Brown and other state officials that a public safety crisis looms if they’re forced to open the prison gates.

A majority of justices refused an emergency request by the governor to halt a lower court’s directive for the early release of the prisoners to ease severe overcrowding at California’s 33 adult prisons.

The decision was met with concern by law enforcement officials in the state.

Covina Police Chief Kim Raney, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, said the justices ignored efforts already underway to reduce prison populations and “chose instead to allow for the release of more felons into already overburdened communities.”

Brown’s office referred a request for comment to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, where Secretary Jeff Beard vowed that the state would press on with a still-pending appeal in hope of preventing the releases.

A panel of three federal judges had previously ordered the state to cut its prison population by nearly 8 percent to roughly 110,000 inmates by Dec. 31 to avoid conditions amounting to cruel and unusual punishment. That panel, responding to decades of lawsuits filed by inmates, repeatedly ordered early releases after finding inmates were needlessly dying and suffering because of inadequate medical and mental health care caused by overcrowding.

Court-appointed experts found that the prison system had a suicide rate that worsened last year to 24 per 100,000 inmates, far exceeding the national average of 16 suicides per 100,000 inmates in state prisons.

Brown had appealed the latest decision of the panel and, separately, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to cancel the early release order while considering his arguments that the state is making significant progress in improving conditions. The high court refused Friday to stop the release but did not rule on the appeal itself. Corrections Secretary Beard said the state would press on with that, so the “merits of the case can be considered without delay.”

Lawyers representing Brown had argued to the high court that releasing 10,000 more inmates would mean letting violent criminals out on the streets and overwhelm the abilities of law enforcement and social services to monitor them.

“No data suggests that a sudden release of inmates with these characteristics can be done safely,” the state said in its filing. “No state has ever done it.” (Malaysia has)

The panel of federal judges has consistently rejected that argument. The judges, prisoners’ lawyers and others say other states have marginally reduced inmate sentences without sparking an increase in crime.

The governor said the state has already transferred thousands of low-level and nonviolent offenders to county jails, but that local officials in turn have been forced into releasing some inmates early to ease their own overcrowding issues.

The Supreme Court’s ruling rejected Brown’s plea over the objections of Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who all said they would have granted the state’s request.

Scalia, in a dissent joined by Thomas, wrote that the previous order by the three-judge panel was a “terrible injunction” that threatens public safety. Scalia said the state’s evidence shows it has made meaningful progress and that such reductions in the inmate population are no longer necessary.

In recent years, the special panel of federal judges accused Brown of attempting to delay and circumvent their orders. They previously threatened to cite the governor for contempt if he did not comply.

The judges waived all state laws in June as they ordered Brown to expand good-time credits leading to early release. They also directed the governor to take other steps, including sending more inmates to firefighting camps, paroling elderly felons, leasing cells at county jails and slowing the return of thousands of inmates now housed in private prisons in other states.

If those steps fail, the judges ordered the state to release by year’s end enough inmates from a list of lower-risk offenders until it reaches the maximum allowed population.

In its latest filing with the Supreme Court, the state argued that no governor has the unilateral authority to take the steps ordered by the three-judge panel. That would require approval by the Legislature or judicial pre-emption of California’s core police powers, the administration argued.

Brown has said the state is spending $2 billion on new or expanded facilities for inmate medical and mental health treatment. That includes seven new centers for mental health treatment and the opening last June of an $839 million prison hospital in Stockton that will treat 1,722 inmates requiring long-term care. The state also has boosted hiring and salaries for all types of medical and mental health professionals.

The state has already reduced the population by 46,000 inmates since 2006.

More than half of the decrease that has occurred so far is due to a two-year-old state law – known as realignment – that is sentencing offenders convicted of crimes considered nonviolent, non-serious and non-sexual to county jails instead of state prisons.

The USA shouldn’t go far to learn about the repercussions of releasing criminals into the streets. They can see the terrible effects Malaysia is currently going through after the 2,600 criminals detained under the Emergency Ordinance Act were released at the end of 2011.

For the months since April 2013 to 3rd August 2013 alone, there were  33 shooting incidents happening across the country already. Imagine if 10,000 inmates running loose in the west coast of USA.

There is a gross lack of empathy from the supreme court judges overseeing the case above. There is a phrase, ‘the law is an ass’; it means, an application of the law that is contrary to common sense.

Here, the judges were more worried about the rights of the criminals in the prisons in California. Their well being, their basic rights as human beings eventhough most of them had committed grievous and heinous crime imaginable. These fools, who were unelected by the people and all of whom are living in secured manors with bodyguards etc couldn’t care less about the  consequences of their actions or directives. On the other hand, Governor Jerry Brown, who were elected into office by the people to safeguard the people’s interests and safety is more than correct in saying that “releasing 10,000 more inmates would mean letting violent criminals out on the streets and overwhelm the abilities of law enforcement and social services to monitor them”.

Even his police chief do not agree with the decisions made by the judges. The solution was simple – build more prisons and improve on the living conditions and reduce the abuses in prisons. Perhaps only then the lawsuits from inmates can be minimised.

The naiveté of these law practitioners are beyond comprehension. Do they really believe that should one of those 10,000 criminals went on and killing an innocent victim months after he was released, it wouldn’t be their fault? Is the life of one innocent human being less valuable than the cost to build more prisons?

Read what the Suaram had to say when they urged the government back in 2011 to repeal the Emergency Ordinance Act:

Repeal Emergency Ordinance: Report

KUALA LUMPUR: The Emergency (Public Order and Crime Prevention) Ordinance (EO) should be repealed and the country should just rely on criminal laws to prosecute criminals, the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.

“The EO was enacted in 1969 as a temporary measure to respond to the May 13 riots. But for nearly four decades, the government has used the law to detain criminal suspects without trial for lengthy periods as a shortcut when there is insufficient evidence,” said HRW Asia division researcher Sahr Muhammed Ally today.

She was speaking to reporters after launching a 35-page report “Convicted Before Trial: Indefinite Detention Under Malaysia’s Emergency Ordinance”, a result of a one-year research project she conducted.

The report documents how the Malaysian government has detained criminal suspects indefinitely without charge or trial, and subjected them to ill-treatment while in detention at the Simpang Renggam Behavioural Rehabilitation Centre.

It also highlights how detainees are re-arrested upon court-ordered release.

Sahr pointed out that the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysia Police had also recommended for the EO to be abolished because it had outlived its purpose and violates civil liberties.

The Royal Commission had also said the EO was a “lazy way” for the police to lock up suspects without conducting proper investigation.

“However, nothing has been done about it (since then),” she said.

Sahr also called for an investigation into Simpang Renggam’s inhumane and degrading conditions where cells are overcrowded and unhygienic, and food inedible.

Suaram secretariat member S. Arutchelvan said the EO has been abused more than the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the Dangerous Drugs Act (DDA).

He said while there were more than 100 detainees under the ISA as of last year and more than 100 under the DDA as of end of 2004, there were 712 EO detainees as of last year (2005).

Arutchelvan said there were EO detainees who were juveniles, and detainees who have been held for almost eight years.

The EO allows for detention without trial that can be renewed indefinitely every two years, after the first 60 days of detention.

Arutchelvan said the EO can be used against anyone.

“Many who are detained are left wondering why they were detained in the first place,” he said.

He noted that other groups have also called for the EO to be repealed, including Suhakam, the Bar Council and the Parliamentary Caucus on Human Rights.

Also present at the launch was former EO detainee Mohd Samsudin Mohd Ibrahim, who was remanded for a total of 143 days in several lockups in Kedah, Penang and Perak before being re-arrested and detained under the EO for 60 days.

He was later ordered to be in restricted residence for two years in Jerantut for robbery.

“I lost my business and I was cut off from my family,” Mohd Samsudin said.

Sahr and Suaram will be submitting the HRW report to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz on Monday (Aug 28, 2006) at Parliament.

Was that biased report from Suaram used by the government in deciding how the EO to be repealed? We can easily imagine how that report got its way into the hands of PM Najib’s many consultants and idiotic advisors and then after a couple of hours of discussing among themselves over coffee, they decided to advise the PM that the EO and ISA should indeed be repealed. That would certainly bring more votes for Barisan Nasional in General Elections 2013!

No nationwide research was done BY the government, no in-depth review was consulted from the police, no study were made to analyse the after effects. The only thing they did was – how to write a magnificent speech on the eve of Malaysia Day 2011 to wow the rakyat.

The rakyat was indeed shocked at that time. The opposition were smiling. And fast forward to present time, the rakyat is still shocked by the shortsightedness and by all the blundering mistakes made by this administration. Meanwhile the opposition is laughing so hard, they should not even say anything. The government of Barisan Nasional is tying its own noose without anyone’e help.

‘When the enemy is making a mistake, do not interrupt them’, we would imagine that is what Anwar Ibrahim is currently thinking.

To the clueless consultants and advisors in Prime Minister’s Department, Sri Perdana as well as in Pemandu, the Bar Council and lawyers are not the ones responsible for the safety and security of the rakyat. They are not the stakeholders. If we must tell you who are the real stakeholders for this, then this article is too intelligent for you to comprehend.

Recently, taking a swipe at the EO, they was a lawyer who said (can’t remember which one, or perhaps maybe a junior minister who said it) – ‘the laws in this country is already adequate to capture a criminal. There is no need for a preventive law.’

That person must be high on drugs or maybe just plain imbecilic when he said it. It is not about capturing or punishing a criminal that we are worried about. It is about preventing and reducing crime.

There is no point capturing and putting a criminal in jail AFTER he had committed a crime or worse, he killed someone. Will 20 years jail term bring back the life of someone he has killed?

What if during a robbery, his family member was murdered by that criminal. Will his words – ‘the laws in this country is already adequate to capture a criminal. There is no need for a preventive law,’ bring back his loved ones from the dead?

Prevention of Crime Act won’t solve anything too. First, it caters for crime suspects only in Peninsular Malaysia, and it only provides 28 days remand (not detention) for investigations and conducting an enquiry. After that, if there are no concrete evidence accepted by the magistrate, the criminal will be released to plot and conceive his crime another day. And sometimes, it’s not just the law that acts like an ass, the magistrate and the below par prosecutors can be asses too.

Some people with high position may look smart, but deep inside, they are nothing more than a shady nincompoop, disguising themselves with impeccable English and surrounded by equally idiotic yes-men.

Whatever it may be, prevention is always better when lives are at stake. If there are abuses in the preventive law, you correct them and reinforce it with better check and balance within that law. We do not abandon it just because Suaram said so. Whose interests is this Prime Minister is serving?

In the effort to outdo and hijack the label ‘reformer’ from Anwar Ibrahim, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak wanted to be a Reformer too. What he had successfully done was unbuckling the rakyat’s safety mechanism just to please a few segments of a larger population.

No wonder the street criminals have much to thank him for.

Since we the people know that the cabinet is running around like a headless chicken, what the PM should do is this – just follow what Seinfeld had advised his friend George Constanza; “if every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”

If your advisor and consultants are telling you one thing, just do the complete opposite. That should do the trick. You then will be fine.

Albert Einstein said something to the effect – ‘A problem cannot be solved with the same kind of brains that was used when the problem was first created’. We are paraphrasing of course. But the point we are making is the same…

Since the consultants and advisors gave the wrong advice to create this problem, it’s time to dump all them and get better ones.

Thank you.

Stiglitz : The US is committed to a lack of transparency

Just read what the Nobel laureate, Professor Joseph Stiglitz has to say about the TPPA:

Though nothing has come of the World Trade Organization’s Doha Development Round of global trade negotiations since they were launched almost a dozen years ago, another round of talks is in the works. But this time the negotiations will not be held on a global, multilateral basis; rather, two huge regional agreements – one transpacific, and the other transatlantic – are to be negotiated. Are the coming talks likely to be more successful?

The Doha Round was torpedoed by the United States’ refusal to eliminate agricultural subsidies – a sine qua non for any true development round, given that 70% of those in the developing world depend on agriculture directly or indirectly. The US position was truly breathtaking, given that the WTO had already judged that America’s cotton subsidies – paid to fewer than 25,000 rich farmers – were illegal. America’s response was to bribe Brazil, which had brought the complaint, not to pursue the matter further, leaving in the lurch millions of poor cotton farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and India, who suffer from depressed prices because of America’s largesse to its wealthy farmers.

Given this recent history, it now seems clear that the negotiations to create a free-trade area between the US and Europe, and another between the US and much of the Pacific (except for China), are not about establishing a true free-trade system. Instead, the goal is a managed trade regime – managed, that is, to serve the special interests that have long dominated trade policy in the West.

There are a few basic principles that those entering the discussions will, one hopes, take to heart. First, any trade agreement has to be symmetrical. If, as part of the “Trans-Pacific Partnership” (TPP), the US demands that Japan eliminate its rice subsidies, the US should, in turn, offer to eliminate its production (and water) subsidies, not just on rice (which is relatively unimportant in the US) but on other agricultural commodities as well.

Second, no trade agreement should put commercial interests ahead of broader national interests, especially when non-trade-related issues like financial regulation and intellectual property are at stake. America’s trade agreement with Chile, for example, impedes Chile’s use of capital controls – even though the International Monetary Fund now recognizes that capital controls can be an important instrument of macro-prudential policy.

Other trade agreements have insisted on financial liberalization and deregulation as well, even though the 2008 crisis should have taught us that the absence of good regulation can jeopardize economic prosperity. America’s pharmaceutical industry, which wields considerable clout with the office of the US Trade Representative (USTR), has succeeded in foisting on other countries an unbalanced intellectual-property regime, which, designed to fight generic drugs, puts profit ahead of saving lives. Even the US Supreme Court has now said that the US Patent Office went too far in granting patents on genes.

Finally, there must be a commitment to transparency. But those engaging in these trade negotiations should be forewarned: the US is committed to a lack of transparency. The USTR’s office has been reluctant to reveal its negotiating position even to members of the US Congress; on the basis of what has been leaked, one can understand why. The USTR’s office is backtracking on principles – for example, access to generic medicines – that Congress had inserted into earlier trade agreements, like that with Peru.

In the case of the TPP, there is a further concern. Asia has developed an efficient supply chain, with goods flowing easily from one country to another in the process of producing finished goods. But the TPP could interfere with that if China remains outside of it.

With formal tariffs already so low, negotiators will focus largely on non-tariff barriers – such as regulatory barriers. But the USTR’s office, representing corporate interests, will almost surely push for the lowest common standard, leveling downward rather than upward. For example, many countries have tax and regulatory provisions that discourage large automobiles – not because they are trying to discriminate against US goods, but because they worry about pollution and energy efficiency.

The more general point, alluded to earlier, is that trade agreements typically put commercial interests ahead of other values – the right to a healthy life and protection of the environment, to name just two. France, for example, wants a “cultural exception” in trade agreements that would allow it to continue to support its films – from which the whole world benefits. This and other broader values should be non-negotiable.

Indeed, the irony is that the social benefits of such subsidies are enormous, while the costs are negligible. Does anyone really believe that a French art film represents a serious threat to a Hollywood summer blockbuster? Yet Hollywood’s greed knows no limit, and America’s trade negotiators take no prisoners. And that’s precisely why such items should be taken off the table before negotiations begin. Otherwise, arms will be twisted, and there is a real risk that an agreement will sacrifice basic values to commercial interests.

If negotiators created a genuine free-trade regime that put the public interest first, with the views of ordinary citizens given at least as much weight as those of corporate lobbyists, I might be optimistic that what would emerge would strengthen the economy and improve social well-being. The reality, however, is that we have a managed trade regime that puts corporate interests first, and a process of negotiations that is undemocratic and non-transparent.

The likelihood that what emerges from the coming talks will serve ordinary Americans’ interests is low; the outlook for ordinary citizens in other countries is even bleaker.

Malaysia Airlines cuts down its Q1 2013 loss

Now this is a piece of news that might slightly appease former YB Wee Choo Keong. This ardent scrutineer of Malaysia Airlines have been slightly pacified by the fact that the misadvised share-swap between Air Asia and MAS (in substance, it was actually a takeover of MAS by Tony Fernandes and his cronies) had been reversed exactly a year ago.

Today, MAS announced its Quarter One 2013 financial results:

Malaysia Airlines Halves Operating Loss in Q1 2013 with 17% Traffic, 14% Revenue Improvement & Positive Cash Balance

Wednesday, 29 May 2013, Kuala Lumpur – National carrier Malaysia Airlines registered a significant improvement in its operations by reducing operating loss by 46% to RM165 million for the first three months ended 31 March 2013 compared with RM307 million in the same quarter in 2012.

The improved performance was delivered in the face of poor economic conditions in which the airline delivered 17% increase in passenger traffic, 14% increase in revenue, and a higher seat load factor of 76.6%. This performance demonstrates that the continued focus to improve revenue and passenger loads is working. For the first quarter of 2013, the Group increased available seat capacity by 11% and increased flight frequencies by 9%.

Malaysia Airlines registered a RM147 million positive cash balance from its operating activities in the first three months of 2013, compared to a negative cash position of RM202 million in the previous corresponding period. This is the third consecutive quarter of positive cash contribution from operating activities.

“Our operating statistics are strong and recording encouraging traction to build up our passenger numbers and growth. These have enabled our Group to generate positive cash balance, and essentially stop the bleeding. However we still have a lot of work to do to align costs to revenue, to increase productivity and efficiency, and improve yields”, said Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, Malaysia Airlines Group Chief Executive Officer.

“The conclusion of the Rights Issue is a milestone for Malaysia Airlines. With the cash injection and capital restructuring, our balance sheet is now on a very strong footing. This gives us wider options to implement a growth strategy for this challenging business environment”, added Ahmad Jauhari.

Malaysia Airlines’ recent Rights Issue exercise to raise RM3.1 billion from shareholders received an over-subscription of 41% valid acceptance and excess applications for the 13.36 billion new shares on offer. The Rights Issue is part of efforts to ‘reset, reboot and rebuild’ Malaysia Airlines which includes redefining business strategies, rebuilding its balance sheet strength to regain and build up its market position.

Traditionally the first half of the year sees weaker performance for airlines. Coupled with increased pressure on yields from intensifying competition and higher costs, Malaysia Airlines group registered a Net Loss after Tax was RM279 million for the first quarter of 2013 compared to a loss of RM172 million previously. This was mainly attributed to an unrealized forex loss of RM21 million in Q1 2013 compared to a forex gain of RM200 million in the previous year. Higher financing costs for its fleet renewal programme also contributed to the overall net loss.

“The continued high jet fuel prices, added capacity in the market and increased competition, put pressure on our yields. The business environment is tough, but Malaysia Airlines is now able to respond faster to changes in the market”, added Ahmad Jauhari.

Malaysia Airlines group revenue for Q1 2013 rose 14% to RM3.55 billion from RM3.11 billion previously. Expenditure for Q1 2013 was RM3.71 billion, 8% higher than the previous corresponding period, mainly attributed to high jet fuel costs, handling and landing costs, flight-related and leasing expenses. Depreciation also rose with the arrival of 6 A380s, 7 A330s and 8 B738s into its fleet over the last 12 months.

Jet fuel prices remained high at an average USD135 per barrel in the first quarter of 2013 compared to USD130 per barrel in the corresponding period last year. The Group’s fuel bill was 37% of total expenditure.

The Group carried 3.6 million passengers in Q1 2013, an improvement of 16% quarter-on-quarter (q-o-q). For the airline itself, passenger revenue was up 11% to RM2.47 billion, however yield decreased 5% to 24.2 sen per RPK.

Externally, the aviation environment saw strong growth in the first quarter of 2013 with both the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) reporting improvements in monthly passenger traffic in tandem with better business conditions.

The Asia Pacific region is expected to be the future growth centre of aviation demand, and Malaysia Airlines is well-positioned to tap this future growth. In addition to strengthening its footprint in Asia Pacific with increased frequencies to more business and leisure regional destinations, Malaysia Airlines now offers a wider international network with its membership of oneworld which it joined on 1 February 2013.

Whilst it is still early days to quantify the benefits, the carrier saw interline revenue jump 40% in the period February to March. “We expect interline revenue to increase further as more guests get to know about Malaysia Airlines through oneworld. Joining the alliance is a good platform to widen our reach and brand”, added Ahmad Jauhari.

In other operational matters, On Time Performance (OTP) was maintained at 85.1% for the first quarter of 2013.

Its fleet renewal programme is on-going. By end March 2013, all 6 A380s ordered had been delivered. By flying twice daily Kuala Lumpur-London, and once daily Kuala Lumpur-Paris and Kuala Lumpur-Hong Kong, Malaysia Airlines is optimizing aircraft utilization to average 17 hours daily. This is the said to be the highest, if not one of the highest in the world, A380 aircraft utilization.

It is quite a relief to see our national carrier is showing signs of improvement. Although they are not out of the woods yet, the exponential increase in revenue sees greater hope in cutting down their net loss after tax for the whole 2013. In 2012, they suffered RM433 million in losses while back in 2011, the loss was even higher at RM2.52 billion.

But what is troubling is the non-operating expenditure MAS is incurring such as depreciation, forex losses and financing costs. Stating the obvious, if these items are not managed and streamlined properly, it will eat up the revenue gained in each and every quarter. The only silver lining is the positive cash balance. And even that was helped by the rights issue.

However, this is much better than all the ‘turnaround exercises’ done by previous managements of MAS to window dress its financial statements. Asset unbundling, asset flipping, forex gains, fuel hedge initiative and all other short cuts conjured by the consultants etc.

What MAS needs is a more organic growth. And hopefully its top management can perform their duties that we all can be proud of.

By the way, kudos to MAS for bringing back a stranded mother and her sick child from Vietnam last week. Now that is a humane effort that will be remembered for a long time.

In other news, Felda Global Ventures Holdings Berhad posted a remarkable revenue in Q1 2013.

KUALA LUMPUR: Felda Global Ventures Holdings Berhad (FGV), the world’s third largest oil palm plantation operator, posted a 55.9 per cent increase in revenue to RM2.68 billion for its first quarter ended March 31, 2013.

But its profit before zakat and taxation for the quarter declined by 22.2 per cent to RM218.51 million, from RM280.81 million in the corresponding quarter last year.

Net profit dropped by 25.2 per cent to RM167.06 million from RM223.21 million in the same period previously, FGV said in a statement Wednesday.

The company said the decline in profit primarily reflected the effects of lower average crude palm oil (CPO) price realised by the group of RM2,264 per tonne compared with RM3,205 per tonne in 2012.

Malaysian CPO prices have been trading at around RM2,315 per tonne since December 2012 compared with last year’s average of RM3,190 per tonne, which was aggravated by reduced palm products purchases as well as high inventory holdings in the edible oil consuming countries such as India and China, it added.

FGV Group President Datuk Sabri Ahmad said that in line with other plantation companies, FGV’s plantation division had also been adversely impacted.

“However, as an integrated organisation, FGV has the flexibility to utilise cheaper feedstock in the refineries to offset the effect of reduced pricing and at the same time compete with other edible oil producers,” he said.

He added that the palm oil industry was expecting a price correction by the middle of the year, especially during the upcoming fasting month as demand rises.

Sabri said the decline in profit was also attributed to other factors, including higher fair value changes in the land lease agreement liability of RM54.60 million and provision for impairment which amounted to RM13.66 million related to a joint controlled entity.

Sabri said that the government’s decision to launch the B10 biodiesel programme in its effort to stabilise the CPO price was also timely.

“Taking on this opportunity, FGV had entered into an agreement to acquire a biodiesel refinery located in Kuantan, Pahang and expects the plant to be fully operational by mid-2013,” he added.

“With our resilient integrated business model and new businesses developed in the recent years as well as strong asset base, we are reasonably confident that we will overcome the difficult environment, and barring any unforeseen circumstances, we are optimistic of the prospects for the rest of the year,” added Sabri.

There’s nothing much that can be said about FGVH since that industry is at the mercy of global prices. Even Genting Plantations is suffering a dip of their quarterly profits.

PETALING JAYA: Genting Plantations Bhd’s net profit for the first quarter 2013 (1Q13) fell 44% to RM44mil from RM78.7mil a year ago, due to lower palm product selling prices and a RM31mil contribution for charity purposes.

However, its revenue for the quarter has increased 26% to RM343mil from RM272.6mil a year ago, notably due to stronger sales in its property segment. Earnings per share were lower at 5.8 sen versus 10.38 sen a year ago.

“In 1Q13, the group achieved average crude palm oil and palm kernel selling prices of RM2,293mt and RM1,165mt, down 28% and 40% respectively from the corresponding period of 2012,” it said.

Genting said its softer palm product selling prices outweighed the impact of higher crop yields during the quarter, adding that its fresh fruit bunches output had increased 32% year-on-year (yoy) mainly from its Sabah estates, which had recovered from favourable weather and additional planted areas are moving into higher yielding brackets.

On the other note, the firm noted its property division earnings had quadrupled, posting an increase of profit to RM25mil from RM5.9mil a year ago backed by strong demand for properties in Genting Indahpura.

Genting said it would continue to leverage its presence in Johor, particularly in the burgeoning Iskandar Malaysia region.

Interview with Taib Mahmud

Some may choose to forget that Taib Mahmud will not be a candidate in this upcoming general election at all. That is a reality that will have an impact in the voters’ psyche in Sarawak. He has relinquished his parliamentary seat since 2008 as part of his succession plan and he had stated that the last state election in 2011 was his last foray in politics. The same can’t be said to other old guards who are still clinging to power without any hint of retiring.

Anyway I picked this interview from The Mole’s website which had an exclusive one on one with the Chief Minister of Sarawak a few days ago. It touched on various issues ranging from the video political campaign by Global Witness to the political realities of Sarawak’s geopolitics. The interview ran into three parts but I took the liberty to combine all three into one article. Please read all the lines. There are valuable information about Sarawak which we in the peninsular do not know about.

____________________________________________

mole-Taib-Mahmud-SARAWAK-BNSarawak Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud who was implicated in a ‘sting’ video which was released last month by a non-governmental organisation Global Witness described the allegation as a smear campaign against Sarawak leadership and society.

The video which was released last month alleged that there is a systematic corruption and  illegitimate practices committed by Taib’s family on land matters including Sarawak’s deforestations.

Setting the records straight with The Mole and several online media practitioners in a recent interview in Kuching, Taib offered his insights on the allegations and the misrepresentation of facts about Sarawak in the new media.

Q: Recently there was a video by Global Witness on alleged corruption in Sarawak. Can you comment on that?

A: Yes, sure. I have watched it and was quite shocked. The issue they are creating is not happening at all. There is no truth at all. Before this I’ve seen a lot of propaganda and I normally tolerate it. But today it becomes clear that they are trying to manufacture evidence (on this issue). For people who are expert on evidence matters, they know it is not evidence… it is a campaign.

In the first place, the people they trust as their “middlemen” are not people who are close with me. I am good with them because of blood ties. Tun Rahman (Yakub) is my uncle and I don’t like to quarrel for the sake of unity among our community.

But I also noticed these people also do not know why such questions were posed to them by someone who claimed to be a land buyer, who wanted to find out on business requirements.

To use a business talk as an evidence to allege someone else it is a bit far-fetched. Any businessmen will try to promote himself with all the glorious connection he’s made, isn’t it?

This is a normal business practice. I know this, all people in Malaysia know this. I don’t think we can trust this talk unless they can show us their proof that there are money that will be given to me or my bank account on how much I have received it. However this has not been shown at all. These are simply claims by “middlemen” which I don’t even know, except for Tun Rahman’s family. That’s why my first response is, well they want to promote themselves, I have no objection to it but I have nothing to do with it.

Q: What is your comment when the NGO which produced the video is one of the fund recipients from Soros?

A: I call it manufacturing of evidence. First you can see the way they approach it, which I’ve explained just now. Number two, why now? During the election time? It’s very obvious. They sneaked in and timed it very carefully. If they want to come in and want to smear Sarawak’s leadership and society, I can tell you we have done much better than what the British has done before (when Sarawak was a British colony).

Q: In the video it stated that there are only five per cent of forests left in the state. What is the actual status from the state’s record?

A: As of today, we have approximately 60 per cent of forest cover.

We have reserved one million hectare of our forests for national park. Almost five million hectares have been reserved for long-term forests. It (forest plantations) will be harvested for timber but it will have to comply with very strict rules. By strict rules we mean that for every hectare, only seven trees will be allowed to be cut down for timber for every 25 years. There are no such strict rules like this even in the European countries for logging activity.

This 25-year cycle sustainable forest management has been certified by ITTO. I am puzzled why people who criticise Sarawak did not look at the satellite pictures of our forest cover. You will see nothing is bold in Sarawak, you can see it straight away. But they refused to see. It is their propaganda and they completely turn their blind eyes to the realities. To me it is not fair. These critics and NGOs are not looking after the interest of the world environment but what they are just interested in smear campaigns.

Q: Do you know Bruno Manser (Fund) and do you know George Soros personally?

A: George Soros was known to us… and the former Prime Minister (Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad) isn’t impressed with his international performance. I understand he’s backing some of the NGOs (non-governmental organisations) against Sarawak because Sarawak happens to be a part of Malaysia which he (Soros) doesn’t like. Nevermind, it’s okay.

I wish that if he only knows what we try to do for the people of Sarawak to bring them from poverty, to a developed nation status by the year 2020. I think any feeling of fairness in him (Soros) would prompt him to support us rather than supporting any NGOs’ action against Sarawak.

A lot of the things are based on lies. For example anybody can see the forest in Sarawak is still there. We have nearly 60 per cent of the surface of Sarawak covered by trees. We have a very rigorous strict silviculture programme, very rigidly controlled harvesting policies for our timber. Therefore some of our timber today are being harvested at the third time (from sustainable forest plantations).

This just shows that the rules were laid out for more than 50 years ago. It proved to be quite a sustainable practice and I think people like George Soros should learn the fact independently from international bodies like ITTO (International Timber Trade Organisation) and from the studies by the FAO undertaken in end of 1960s and 1970s which we have accepted as the basis for our timber policies in Sarawak.

So organisation like Bruno Manser Foundation…they are just blind to any facts. They just want to make themselves popular as the savior of Sarawak’s forest.

I did not take his antics very seriously before. BMF…Bruno’s foundation that follows his policies is not fighting any real cause, more of an imaginary cause rather than a realistic one.

Q: Maybe because George Soros has never been to Sarawak…

A: I don’t know. If he wants he can come and see with his own eyes. I can tell him he can travel all the way from Limbang or Lawas to Kuching and he will see nothing else but trees and trees. Most of them are our natural trees, some are palm oil which I think is as healthy a producer of oxygen for the environment as our natural trees.

Q: For the past 15 months there were three different documentaries by BBC on the issue of deforestation of Sarawak, and that it was affecting certain tribes. There’s one which focused on the Penan community. Can you comment on that?

A: There are two misrepresentations in connection with that. In the first place there are barely 5,000 Penans in all of Sarawak. Most of them have been resettled, they enjoy better standard of health and life and make greater penetration into modern education than they ever had during the time when we were a British colony. Sorry as I had to mention it. Five thousand people, a lot of them have settled down and one of them who had settled down in Niah and has now become a millionaire by organising his tribe to open up land to become oil palm plantations. That man is called Datuk Hassan Sui.

So all this imagination in the part of BBC is based on inaccurate reports probably by Bruno Manser before. My advice, why can’t BBC treat us fairly like it treats any other countries that have been relying on their good will?

Come to Sarawak and take independent view and see what you’ll find. You will find Sarawak still have 60 per cent of its surface covered by trees. You’ll find that the Penans are slowly getting better way of life as result of government’s development help and particularly those people who have been resettled due to the building of dams.

Their houses are three times better than the nomadic life they used to live. A lot of their children do not want nomadic life anymore. It’s an archaic concept by outsider that try to preserve the people in pristine condition. I can’t do that. I am a Chief Minister, I can tell you that my people here, the electorate that I serve will in fact accuse me of discriminating against the Penan. I need to look after them (Penan) and see what needs to be done to upgrade their standard of living.

They will get the same settlement, housing and other amenities through our resettlement programme like any other people we help.

I don’t think we should yield to some misperception from outside in order to say “we are very nice to the Penans” by preserving their culture of wandering about in the jungle.

What they (BBC) failed to mention is on the cases of childhood deaths, miscarriages among the Penan communities and deaths in the jungle due to their life.

Things like these to me are regarded as sufferings which we need to elevate the Penans from. I don’t think anyone in Malaysia will accept that I should leave the Penan to live like how they used to a 100 years ago.

Q: How are you going to address the misrepresentation of facts about Sarawak in the new media?

A: People like me coming from a small state like Sarawak, I can’t afford to spend hundred of millions of dollars to have bloggers and all sort of those things.

During the election a lot of political parties can spend money on bloggers, I know one party can get 200 bloggers to work for them for the purpose of election. For me, I got to maintain a kind of system of information that is enough to get my people first, to be able to follow the trend of development and to allow them to participate and to accept development through various stages…it’s part of growing up. That’s my main aim in communication. Still we are using the radio and other means.

Engaging bloggers to me is still relatively a luxurious thing. I could (create a team of bloggers) if I’m politically over sensitive about, but I’m not that over sensitive because I know that even during the last state election the same kind of smearing campaign was launched from outside.

Some people told me not to reply. They said: “Please don’t reply. We know you for the last 50 years”. “We know you for the past 20 years, if you are as bad as they say we don’t see all the progress in Sarawak and good services from public offices, district office at divisional levels and such.”

A lot of people got a lot of common sense in this country. Leave them alone, let them find out. Of course younger people are a bit mad about it but they can fight it back, I have no objection to that. I say thank you to them-lah but I am not in the position to be able to maintain a team of a few hundred bloggers…it’s not a justifiable expenditure for me to run for a state government with the size of budget I have.

Q: There is an online portal, Sarawak Report which had been attacking you for many years now. Will there be any effort to respond to their allegations against you?

A: If we were to reply, there will be too many of it. It’s too much to do. Secondly, a lot of people do not trust it. So, just leave it alone. Everyone knows who is behind Sarawak Report. Those behind it can’t hide anymore.

In the second part of an interview with Sarawak Chief Minister Pehin Seri Abdul Taib Mahmud he shared his views on the setting up of Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate Lahad Datu intrusion in Sabah and believes that it is a good move.

He said it is important to find out the truth about what happened to avoid the government from being accused of creating the conflict.

Taib said Sarawak supports all the efforts to clean up Lahad Datu and it is against any form of intrusions into the country.

Q: What is your comment on the Lahad Datu intrusion?

A: It is very sad because we know Sabah is a very peaceful state. Although there were several claims by others on the state many years ago, it has never resulted in violence.

When it happened in Lahad Datu, this is nothing like the behaviour of Filipinos who lived in the area for a long time. I feel this incident will not simply happen due to strong sentiment to reclaim Sabah. Maybe there was instigation, or an order for this incident to happen…I don’t know, but from what I see this will not happen without any form of instigation.

Q: The Prime Minister and the Home Minister have proposed to set up an RCI (Royal Commission of Inquiry) to investigate the mastermind behind the Lahad Datu intrusion. Can you comment on the suggestion?

A: It’s good because we want to know the truth on what actually happened. If not, there will be people who will accuse us of creating this conflict.

Q: Do you think the incident in Lahad Datu will bring an impact on voters in Sarawak, especially from Chinese voters?

A: I don’t know about Chinese voters but a lot of people are angry on the intrusion. I find it weird that a politician from the Peninsular could describe the whole incident as a drama. Nobody in Malaysia had ever created a drama by killing other people. It has never happened before.

Among the Bumiputeras in Sarawak, they are quite angry with what had happened as Sabah is known for its peace. Sabah has shown a great hospitality by accepting refugees from the southern Philippines. Sabah doesn’t deserve to be treated that way after all the kindness it had offered to them (refugees).

Q: What happened in Lahad Datu has brought upon a realisation on the importance of peace and stability which has been taken for granted all these while. How do you see it?

A: Sarawakians had experienced a lot of issues that threatened our security before. But today Sarawak has gained its independence, with growing developments for the people. We’ve had our fair share of communist threats before but we have successfully eliminated it through our progress and it made them (communist) realise they were duped by their own propaganda.

Q: How do Sarawakians feel on the death of policeman ASP Michael Padel who was killed by the Kiram terrorists in Semporna?

A: We have had similar security threat before. We feel whenever there is an element of threat to our security, we should fight it as hard as we can. Thus we support all security efforts to clean up Lahad Datu and any nearby areas from any element of intrusion.

Q: There is a court injunction by some people in Ba’kelalan against the construction of a road from Bakalalan to Bario. The Armed Forces was building the road.

A: Well people who put the court injunction, do they represent the whole community? I don’t think so.

People are very happy to have the road. They have no means of transportations in that area. In the old days it took them two weeks to reach Lawas from Ba’kelalan by foot.

I can’t allow my people to do that at present.

The Prime Minister is very concerned about them. He emphasised that they must be able to upgrade their standard of living that’s why he approced the road. It is not a perfect road but there are barely 15,000 people there. We have to develop by stages. The first thing is to have a road that would enable 4WD vehicles. This will open up the country side. Not only for the people in Ba’kelalan, even the people in the other side of the border (Kalimantan) have been taking advantage of this new road.

If it’s not a good development, I’m sure outsiders will not try to take advantage of it. People who are taking this injunction are trying to create an issue. If international people want to take a look, come and ask the people not the politician, to see whether they appreciate the existence of the road.

Q: This 75km is not built by the JKR (Public Works Department), contractors, it’s built by the armed forces. How do the people in the area see that the army comes to their area and build the road?

A: Well that is the spirit of what we call “Jiwa Murni” (noble intention). We cannot mobilise JKR to do it having JKR’s standard of road. If they (community) want it, they may have to wait for another 20 years due to the small size of the population. The idea is to open up the country so that the agriculture and other produce from Ba’kelalan could find good market and good price outside. This will improve their standard of living. They have a practical road, that’s how we started in Sarawak before. We do not have everything straight away. Until the economics of developments have justified us to spend more money, we develop phase by phase. I’m sure people in Bakalalan are happier to have a road and not like their old days.

In the last instalment of a candid interview with Sarawak Chief Minister Pehin Seri Abdul Taib Mahmud, he spoke about the political reality in the state and its direction in the future.

“Sarawak is undergoing a very aggressive economic policy. We need a Federal Government that understands our process of development,” Taib said. He also expressed his doubts whether any opposition leaders will have the expertise in bringing the development in Sarawak especially in regards to its economic and social development.

Q: How many parliamentary seats do you think Barisan Nasional can manage to win in the next election?

A: I think the lowest would be 23 and the highest would be 27. We are estimating this based on the political reality today. Maybe in the urban areas it looks like as if the opposition is getting some support but it (support) is not for PKR (Parti Keadilan Rakyat). PKR is not welcome here. DAP is quite aggressive and they are also trying to make inroads into the Iban community. (Editor’s Note: Sarawak has a total of 31 parliamentary seats)

Q: In the Peninsular, the issue of word “Allah” is a hot issue among Muslims. The impact is quite heavy on Pas. However there are people in the Peninsular who think that this issue will bring negative impact to BN as DAP is trying to make this a religious issue in Sarawak. Is it really happening here?

A: DAP will be wasting their time. There will be no support on this. The Sarawakians have accepted this issue for the past 50 years. There are a lot of Christians in Sarawak who bought bibles from Indonesia and they have used the translation of the word “God” to “Allah” as part of their faith. Muslims in Sarawak do not feel affected by it. I don’t see why anyone would want to create an issue out of this.

If DAP wants to create an issue about it here, I feel DAP is a group of people who simply want to incite hatred among Sarawakians to fight among themselves. To me, this is verging on racial politics. I look upon this kind of politics very, very severely.

Q: In the Sibu by-election there were problems to address the issue of NCR (Native Customary Land) land? What is the update on the NCR land?

A: It is indeed a hot topic before the state election. However it is not a popular issue anymore. This is because we asked for proof of any NCR lands which had been taken away by the government. When we took some of the lands, it was gazzetted for the purpose of building schools, roads and other government projects.

What actually happened was several NGOs had given inaccurate information to the people. This is done to support certain parties who wanted to claim bigger lands than theirs. To me, I can’t make my own decision. It needed to be settled in courts. Most of them today are quite angry when the court decided that their claims were baseless.

Q: In one of (opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim) Anwar’s promises if he wins in the next general election, he said 15 per cent oil royalty will be given to the people of Sarawak. What is your take on that?

A: When he was a Cabinet minister in the government, he was singing a different tune.

Anwar’s record with Sarawak is very clear. It tells us on how much regards he had on us. We were given funds by the Federal Government, under his purview (as Finance Minister), to build a university, Unimas. We had to set up a temporary building for more than 10 years because Anwar took the funds and chanelled it elsewhere. To me, I don’t trust a person like this.

Secondly there were a lot of projects which he promised to the people in Kuching but none of it has materialised.

Thirdly, outside Sarawak…on the international scene, he said he disagreed with having oil palm plantations along our coastal swampy areas. If the Malays in Sarawak were to find out that Anwar objected to this, they will be upset with him. This is due to the fact that the coastal populace enjoyed better living due to the existence of oil palm plantations in their area.

If Pakatan wins, together with their promises, this state will be bankrupt. The oil royalty promise is just a sweet promise that doesn’t come from the heart.

Q: Anwar is selling himself as the saviour of the country. Does he have the qualities to provide the leadership?

A: The greatest test for Anwar was during the 1997 financial crisis. We look at his reaction in following standard developing countries’ reaction when we had economic crisis. He called the International Monetary Fund, and the IMF will straight away say: “You pay your debts or the money go to New York or wherever.” If we were to do that, as some of the countries in the region did, we would have lost a lot of employments and our economy would have gone bust.

But as we know, we passed through 1997 without being hurt too much as opposed to some other countries. You ask why? The reason is very simple, the then Prime Minister said, “I don’t want Anwar’s solution. I don’t want IMF to come. I have a Malaysian solution.”

We didn’t want to impoverish our country. What we need to do was to manage our supply of money and our capital flow and that’s what Tun Dr Mahathir did. I think this approach is even endorsed by developed countries. Even in the European crisis today some of them think Tun Dr Mahathir was right.

Anwar never thought what would happen to Malaysia. He’s got good relationships with his friends outside (IMF, World Bank and the rest). His focus was to please them first and not what he can do for the country.

To me a person like this is not immersed in fighting for his own people.

When asked how do we remember Anwar in Sarawak for his tenure as Federal Minister, as Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister? We would reply, “do not ask anything on what he has left for us, I think what we have now will be gone too.” Just use the case of funds meant for Unimas as an example. As far as Sarawak is concerned, Anwar did not look after Sarawak. I hope he does not become the Prime Minister.

Q: What is the progress of Score (Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy) now, after almost five years?

A: Score started its operations only about two years. Almost 30 big companies have applied to build factories in Samalaju. Five factories have been built and the rest are at different stages including planning and so on.

Based on these applications, it is beyond my expectation. We thought of having only 1000ha of land for these purposes but it is not enough. I have to allocate 6000ha in Samalaju for this. Currently a port has been built and there is one operating factory in the area.

We will see a lot of positive developments and responses for the upcoming years. I was quite worried at first with the global financial crisis but so far everything moving well.

Q: Recently Malaysian Airlines bought a substantial number of aircrafts for Mas Wings service. It shows that demand for rural domestic flight is growing. Having said that, in 2015, Asean open-sky policy will come in. How will Sarawak government react or respond to this policy and new airlines like Malindo Air in the region?

A: Probably the open-sky policy will be a challenge. But liberalising airline policy has its good and bad, but in the end the airlines know how to survive.

In the case of Sarawak, we are looking for more entry from outsiders to Sarawak and it will give greater accessibility to the state. I don’t know what the new policy is…whether we will handle it or Mas will take over, it doesn’t matter to me. What is more important is we take advantage of getting linked with the outside world.

Q: When are you expected to finalise the list of candidates?

A: All of these things are in the PM’s hands. As far as PBB (Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu) is concerned, it’s okay… we have decided since last year. In SDPD (Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party) there’s a lot of movement so PM has got to decide. PRS (Parti Rakyat Sarawak), I think there’s only one problem. SUPP (Sarawak United People’s Party), the list of their candidates is about to be finalised.

Q: Any specific message to the people in Sarawak for the upcoming election?

A: The Opposition tries to sell the idea that there should be change. That they (Opposition) are able to take over the government. It’s a normal line. But the people of Sarawak have got to be convinced whether the change is for the better or not. As far as I’m concerned we cannot afford to have a Federal Government that is led by people who have less than proven ability.

To us, Datuk Pattinggi Najib (Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak) is the best candidate for PM at the moment. I don’t think we should look beyond that.

If we think he’s the best person to become the Prime Minister, as far as Sarawak is concerned, we’ve got to go give all the best votes for him. He has proved to be much more sympathetic to the problems of Sarawak.

In fact by giving Sarawak and Sabah RM 5 billion to catch up with the demand for rural roads, electricity and water supply, we have more or less covered all the areas in rural Sarawak.

Because of that I think the PM will get a great deal of support among the rural people of Sarawak. He’s very sympathetic to Baram which was an area that suffered some difficulties because of its infrastructure which led to migration of a lot of educated people to Miri.

I think it’s quite natural while we are taking steps to have long-term big development in Baram area, we have to do something within the next 20 years.

By having to develop Baram as one of the areas to produce electricity for Score, we have a big project that can allow us to plan for much bolder steps to change the character of development in Baram.

Today Baram is still dependent on timber and lately palm oil but there’s sufficient development in Baram area to support good employment opportunities. We have identified the area where the first dam will be sited and around the dam I see there’s enough development to support about 3,000 to 4,000 employment opportunities.

If we can build the township (in Baram), instead of tackling Baram’s resettlement problem we build a township like what we did for Bakun. It will be a healthy development.

While we can’t stop the migration of well-educated people completely from Baram like most rural areas, it will create opportunities for the educated people to come back. That to me is very important and that can only be done by having a development that is focused on the creation of the new town.

That’s why in Sarawak, the state government has decided to build a town near the dam. It’s an approach that’s been regarded as exciting by community leaders in Baram itself and they are welcoming it very much. I think this will be a good way to show that BN is always ahead to see what can be done to enhance the development potential of Sarawak itself. With the support of the Federal Government, this will bring about restructuring of basic problems in Sarawak, namely the distribution of the population.

I think the same approach is welcomed in Kapit because we also feel that border areas cannot afford to lose the population too much as we need a secure border for the future.

When we face this election we are going to see more forward thinking in the context of Sarawak because we have a good Prime Minister who can understand this kind of thing. I doubt whether someone in Pakatan Pembangkang will be able to produce that level of vision, expertise in economic and social development.

We know most of the leaders in Opposition, we cannot see anybody from them who can see this level of development for Sarawak even if we can get along with them. That’s the outlook that we have from the Sarawak perspective.

Q: What is your message to the people of Sarawak and the people of Malaysia in general? What are your plans for the state?

A: To the people of Sarawak, Sarawak is undergoing very aggressive economic policy. Score will require a lot of infrastructures. We need quite a lot of development that it will be heavier for Sarawak to shoulder alone. We need a Federal Government that understands our process of development.

I would say let’s elect experienced leaders. At least they have been brought up in the surrounding of development planning and execution as it has been imbued in our system.

It has been adopted by our various leaders and refined from time to time by our Prime Ministers. The best people are the people in Barisan Nasional to do this. I don’t think anybody from the Opposition has that kind of long-term views and practical experience. 

This concludes of interview with Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, the Chief Minister of Sarawak.

Assessment by Financial Times

From the Financial Times today:

Malaysian PM faces big test as tight poll looms

By Jeremy Grant in Putrajaya

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak looks out through the window in his spacious office in the administrative capital of Putrajaya, and points to the foreign ministry on a nearby hill.

“They cheated the prime minister and occupied the highest spot,” he jokes, in a reference to the 1990s when Malaysia moved its government from Kuala Lumpur.

Now, as election fever rises, in the multi-ethnic southeast Asian country of 28m, Mr Najib and his long-dominant United Malays National Organisation (Umno) could be upstaged by a far bigger force: the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition, which hopes to seize power in the most contested poll in the nation’s history.

Since the era of Mahathir Mohamad, who led the country as prime minister from 1981 to 2003, Malaysia has been governed by Umno. The party and its coalition partners have enjoyed thumping parliamentary majorities that have ensured a firm grip on power since independence from Britain in 1957.

Mr Najib is expected to call an election within days after keeping the country guessing about timing. Meanwhile, the opposition, led by Mr Mahathir’s former deputy Anwar Ibrahim, believes it has its best ever chance of victory.

At the last election in 2008, Pakatan Rakyat robbed Umno and its partners in the governing Barisan Nasional coalition of a two-thirds majority in parliament.

The shock result prompted Umno to replace the incumbent prime minister with Mr Najib, a 59-year-old economist and son of a former Malaysian premier.

Such is the uncertainty over the outcome of this election, that even the prospect of a slim win by the ruling Barisan Nasional is unnerving investors. Malaysia’s stock market has been one of the worst performers in Asia this year. [not true, there is a steady increase in the KLSE for the past 3 months (8.88%) as compared to other volatile markets]

At stake is the future of a moderate Muslim country and US ally, which has been a linchpin of political unity in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as China’s regional clout has grown.

Most political analysts agree that Barisan Nasional stands little chance of regaining its two-thirds majority in parliament, but Mr Najib dismisses that in an interview, delayed by a few minutes as he completes afternoon prayers.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll have a good victory. Two thirds is achievable, but I also realise that in an election anything can happen so that’s why I say I am cautiously optimistic,” he says. “Investors are looking for a strong mandate for the current government. If we should, or rather when we get a good result, you will see an unprecedented boom in the stock market. I’m quite confident of that.”

Judging by the economic numbers, Mr Najib – a former finance minister [not true, he is still the finance minister] and avuncular technocrat – has the advantage of incumbency. He has presided over an economic performance last year that the International Monetary Fund said “surpassed expectations”. The economy grew by 5.6 per cent, driven by domestic demand and buoyant exports of commodities such as gas and palm oil.

The country has also been aided by an economic programme that the government launched in 2010 to double per capita income to $15,000 by 2020. That has seen billions of dollars pumped into projects in oil and gas and infrastructure, including in Iskandar, a vast industrial zone the size of Luxembourg across the strait from Singapore.

External confidence in Mr Najib’s reforms has seen foreign holdings of Malaysian government bonds jump by 550 per cent to M$215bn (US$69bn) since 2009, according to HSBC.

Mr Najib is also likely to get a small bounce from nationalist-minded voters after a military campaign to root out Filipino insurgents who recently invaded Sabah, on the Malaysian portion of the island of Borneo.

Yet there are concerns over the pace of reform, should Barisan Nasional lose, or scrape a win as most analysts see as more likely. Malaysia has a debt to GDP ratio of 51 per cent – one of the highest in Asia – and government revenues are weak. [not true, Singapore and Japan are considerably higher, twice and four times higher respectively, and many other countries have higher ratio]

Economists have urged the introduction of a general sales tax. Asked if he would do so, Mr Najib says: “I will look at the tax structure, definitely, because we need to enhance the revenue base . . . The government revenue base has to be predicated on a much stronger footing.”

The prime minister takes issue with the Pakatan Rakyat coalition’s economic proposals, which include raising the minimum wage, abolishing monopolies in telecommunications and rice, and removing excise duty on vehicles.

“I think it is too risky to put faith in a coalition that does not have a clear sense of direction that they want to take the country in. They have also presented a manifesto that is not credible,” he says.

Mr Najib argues that the opposition’s manifesto would send Malaysia’s current account into deficit within a year.

Yet Umno is vulnerable on corruption – a key weapon in the opposition’s campaign. Allegations of bribes to secure government contracts are rife, while Transparency International’s country rankings for last year revealed no significant fall in corruption levels for Malaysia. The non-governmental organisation ranked Malaysia 54th out of 176 countries in its 2012 corruption perceptions index.

The issue was thrown into sharp relief this month after allegations by Global Witness, a campaign group, of kickbacks in land deals in the state of Sarawak, involving the chief minister, who has dismissed the allegations.

Mr Najib declines to address the case, pointing out that the corruption commission is investigating. He insists the government is “equally concerned about corruption” as its critics.

“Prostitution and corruption are two things that mankind has had to live with for so long. But we are determined to tackle it. It is a scourge. But it is something that will not go away overnight,” he says.

Should the coalition eke out only a narrow win, Mr Najib – who routinely polls more favourably than Barisan – could be vulnerable to a leadership challenge. That could see him replaced by his deputy, Muhyiddin Yassin, a conservative Malay whose reformist credentials are untested. Mr Najib took a calculated risk last year by extending his reformist zeal to his own party, changing Umno’s constitution to make it easier to challenge the leadership.

“I’ve made Umno more democratic, more inclusive. Of course by doing that I’m putting myself at risk. But I believe that what were doing is good for the country and good for the party.”

Summarily, the article is quite fair. Although it is unfortunate that all the negative slant is based on something which is not true (as in the parentheses above). There is a strong message in the last paragraph above. Which clearly shows that apart from the economical reforms, there are reforms made from within the party; as opposed to the very autocratic and non transparent parties of DAP and PKR in recent years.

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