Archive for January, 2009

Unity in Diversity & Agreeing to disagree paying off for Pakatan ~ Malaysiakini

Posted in Pakatan Rakyat with tags , on January 31, 2009 by ckchew
By Shannon Teoh MI

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 30 — In the weeks following Pas’s win in the Kuala Terengganu by-elections, there has hardly been a whisper about hudud or the supposed split among Indians within Pakatan Rakyat.

It appears that the gamble taken by Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to bite his tongue and sidestep those issues during the campaign has paid off.

The PKR de facto leader did not have to isolate any group of supporters by making a definite stand despite calls for him to do so.

In the end, the euphoria of victory has allowed the last embers of dissent on these matters to die out.

This has perplexed Barisan Nasional leaders, who believed that the ‘infighting’ would have caused votes to leak from the opposition.

The governing coalition ended up losing the seat by a majority four times that which it had itself won by in the March 2008 general election.

Analysts believe that PR made gains by allowing each party the freedom to speak on issues.

‘By allowing DAP and Pas to continue to beat their drums on hudud, they are given a cause to champion to their political constituents,’ says political consultant Khoo Kay Peng.

By conventional wisdom, such issues, when left to fester, can result in deep cracks in a coalition.

But the only conventional wisdom that Malaysian politics has had has been from BN.

PR appears to have a different idea about dealing with consensus building within a coalition.

When BN’s Ketuanan Melayu or Malay supremacy achilles’ heel starts to blight it, its supreme council, the highest decision-making body in the coalition, stops the rot by virtually issuing an edict on such matters.

When then Bukit Bendera Umno division chief Datuk Ahmad Ismail referred to Chinese Malaysians as ‘immigrants,’ the fierce spat between component leaders and Umno ultras saw grassroots members from both Umno and Gerakan asking for Gerakan to leave BN.

The supreme council had to step in with the final word on the matter and allowed Umno to suspend Ahmad for three years.

But while PR has an informal leadership council made up of Anwar, Pas president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang and DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang, the body has existed in most part only to sign off on agreements designed to pledge allegiance to the coalition or on principles such as Malay rights.

Under the proposed PR charter, a presidential council made up of the top leadership of each party will be established as its highest decision-making body.

But leaders from the tripartite coalition told The Malaysian Insider that it will not operate in the same way as BN’s supreme council as PR prefers to recognise different ideological stands and allow an open debate on issues to reach a consensus before implementing any policy.

‘The idea to establish it is there but only to deal with major issues and not on ideals and political differences,’ said DAP Socialist Youth chief Anthony Loke, who is a member of the coalition’s joint secretariat.

Anwar, when pressed on hudud during the Kuala Terengganu campaign trail, had maintained this line by saying: ‘We abide by our Constitution, but we should allow Muslims to articulate their views. I have no objections discussing it within PR.’

Meanwhile, several Pas and DAP leaders such as the former’s spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat and the latter’s chairman Karpal Singh had voiced their opinions on the matter loudly, leading to dissent within PR supporters.

But the opposition does not see it necessary to muzzle such public disagreements.

‘It takes time to reach a consensus, so we should be prepared to engage in discussion,’ said Khalid Samad, Pas’s Shah Alam MP.

Yusmadi Yusoff, MP for Balik Pulau, added that for PKR, it was interested in real harmony not an artificial one imposed by BN.

‘BN is about homogenising any dialogue and creating taboos. But in the PR setup, when Karpal or Hadi make a stand, it is based on principles and democratic convictions,’ he said.

In short, while both Khalid and Yusmadi agree that a BN supreme council-based mechanism would be politically expedient, it would not achieve ‘real reform.’

Advertisements

Zaid: Umno so corrupt that even disciplinary board has to practise selective investigation ~ Malaysiakini

Posted in corruption with tags , , on January 31, 2009 by ckchew

Members who did “not belong to the right camp” risked investigation, while those who moved in the right circles could breathe easy, knowing that they could “escape with impunity” …

By Wong Choon Mei

Former de-facto law minister Zaid Ibrahim, sacked from Umno for attending Pakatan Rakyat functions, said today that corruption in his former party was so bad that even its disciplinary board had to bow to certain top leaders and investigate on a selective basis.

“What makes it so difficult for the tribunal to effectively carry out its functions is the selective prosecution it must practice in the discharge of its duties. Actions can only be taken if required or useful to certain top leaders,” Zaid said.

The well-respected lawyer said members who did “not belong to the right camp” risked investigation, while those who moved in the right circles could breathe easy, knowing that they could “escape with impunity”.

Zaid also said that fair and equal treatment was “wishful thinking, as there are rules in Umno that apply to some but not to others”.

Setting the cat among the pigeons

The Umno disciplinary board has come under the spotlight this week, announcing the suspension of several junior leaders and issuing warning letters to several others.

It also revealed it had received 976 complaints from 2007 to Jan 28 this year.

In particular, disciplinary chairman Tengku Ahmad Rithauddeen has drawn fire for advising the dissolution of main wings – Youth, Wanita, Putera and Puteri – and consolidation into a flat, singular party.

The suggestion has since been rejected by both Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his deputy Najib Abdul Razak as being impractical and unworkable.

But according to Zaid, it only showed how frustrated Rithauddeen was with the deep-seated corruption in Umno and that he did not believe reform would be possible under the current structure and “under the present crop of leaders”.

“He is exasperated with the extent of the corruption permeating the party at all levels,” said Zaid.

No mandate given

Zaid also dropped another bombshell.

He said the Umno disciplinary board does not have any clear mandate from the party leadership to deal with money politics.

“When I was suspended for allegedly being involved in money politics, I knew that Tengku Rithauddeen, although chairman, was not involved in making the decision.

“Someone else in the management wanted me out,” said Zaid, referring to his suspension when he was Kota Baru chief.

Entry ban: MP files for review

Posted in Pakatan Rakyat, PKR with tags , on January 30, 2009 by ckchew

Malaysiakini

PKR Member of Parliament for Padang Serai N Gobalakrishnan has applied for leave for a judicial review on his entry ban into Sarawak last Christmas Eve.

MCPX

The leave application or notice for the judicial review will be heard in the Kuching High Court on Friday, Feb 6, according to lawyer Dominique Ng, who is also the party’s sole state assemblyperson and a member of the panel of lawyers handling the case.

hindraf batu caves selayang court 281107 gobalakrishnanThe leave application was filed today.

Ng told Malaysiakini today that the application for judicial review in the Gobalakrishnan v state director of immigration and two others to challenge the MP’s entry ban from Sarawak was filed this morning.

Sealed copies were obtained in the afternoon.

“The leave application is scheduled to be heard in High Court I in Kuching at 9 am on Feb 6 2009,” he said, adding that the attorney-general, state attorney-general and the state secretary are being served with the sealed copies of the application for notice for judicial review of the matter.Politically motivated

Ng added that ‘a multi-racial dream team’ of PKR lawyers, including Orang Ulu lawyers Baru Bian and Harrison Ngau, Shankar Ram and himself will handle the case. “More  lawyers  are being sought to join the panel,” he said.

Gobalakrishnan was denied entry on Dec 24 at 5.30 pm when he flew into Kuching from Kuala Lumpur on a social visit. He told Malaysiakini that it was politically motivated and intended to take legal action against the authorities concerned.

He related then that the moment he reached the airport, immigration officers told him that he was not allowed to enter due to instructions from the state government.

“The immigration officer gave me a notice which reads ‘Tuan bukan rakyat Sarawak, tidak berhak untuk masuk ke Sarawak tanpa permit atau pas Akta Imigresen 1959-1963′ (You are not a citizen of Sarawak and are not eligible to enter Sarawak without a permit or immigration pass),’ he was quoted as saying.

He finally agreed to take a late night flight back to Kuala Lumpur in the same evening.

Pakatan leaders concerned over ‘abuse’ of Umno man

Posted in corruption with tags , on January 30, 2009 by ckchew

Malaysiakini

An Umno leader who was allegedly abused by Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) officers have found an unusual ally in the form of two Pakatan Rakyat figures.

Klang MP Charles Santiago (DAP) described the alleged physical and psychological abuse of Umno Maran division committee member Halimi Kamaruzzaman by MACC personel as an abuse of power.

“The commission officials cannot use a high-profile investigation of money politics involving an Umno politician aspiring to be elected to the party’s supreme council in March to justify inflicting torture on Halimi,” he said in a statement today.

Santiago suggests that the establishment of the long-delayed Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to curb abuse of power during investigation process.

Following this, Santiago said the government should also ensure that the rights of a detainee must be clearly stipulated and incorporated into the Criminal Procedure Code.

Such provisions should include the duration of interrogation, methods of interrogation, the right to food, water and other necessities.

“Failure to do so will only provide the opportunity for more cases of custodial violence and death to keep occurring in the country,” he said, adding that Parliament statistics shows that there were 1,535 cases of custodial death from 2003 to 2007.

‘MACC should be heroes’

Meanwhile, Federal Territories PAS Youth condemned the alleged abuse by MACC officers and urged the government to establish a special body to review investigation methods by enforcement authorities.

“We respect the duties of the enforcers but in many situations, they have to think before acting and not resort to shortcuts by torturing their detainees for information.

“Enforcement officials are not criminals. They are supposed to be the heroes of the rakyat and protect the country. But if they behave like criminals, where can the rakyat pin their hopes on?” asked FT PAS Youth information chief Herman Samsudeen in a statement.

Herman stressed that though Halimi was from Umno, FT PAS Youth is taking a position on his plight on humanitarian and religious grounds.

On Wednesday, Halimi, 46, reported the alleged abuse to the Damansara police station, whe he claimed to be assaulted during his four-day remand in Kuantan.

According to him, three MACC officers had punched him in the head, stomach and shoulder. He also claimed that he was kicked in the ribs and knee.

“I was also forced to strip naked, lie and roll on the floor. An officer choked me against the wall. They threatened me that my wife would also be arrested and be asked to strip if I did not agree to make a confession that I handed money to Umno members,” said Halimi in the report.

Worse-than-expected economic slowdown: Expecting 660,000 unemployed ~ Malaysiakini

Posted in economy with tags on January 30, 2009 by ckchew

The global crisis has magnified and shown up how vulnerable the country is for not pursuing greater financial prudence in the past.

It makes transparency and anti-graft measures all the more imperative in current times, as the government prepares to spend record sums in the name of economic recovery …

By Wong Choon Mei

More gloomy news on the economic front for Malaysia as a member of the government’s National Economic Council predicts that unemployement could hit as high as 6.0 percent this year, the highest in two decades.

Citing worse-than-expected economic slowdown, Zainal Aznam Yusof expects GDP growth to be around 2.0 percent, lower than the official forecast of 3.5 percent.

“It is a shock to the system and the brunt is on employment,” Zainal was quoted as saying. “Malaysia has a working population of 11 million. A six per cent rate translates into 660,000 unemployed people.

“We should brace for a large overhang of unemployed, especially when the graduates enter the job market.”

Zainal expects retrenchment to take place across all sectors of the economy, with export industries likely to be worst-hit..

In the construction and plantation sectors, most of those laid off will be foreigner workers. However, locals will suffer more in the services and manufacturing sectors.

“So far, the monthly retrenchment is not huge yet, but it is going up,” he said.

Najib concedes budget deficit will rise again

Meanwhile, Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Najib Abdul Razak said the country’s budget deficit will be pushed up higher than the 4.8 percent of GDP level that he forecast in November.

His reason being that the government plans to launch a second economic stimulus package soon.

Najib admitted the RM7 billion package introduced in November, in addition to the RM207.9 billion 2009 budget package unveiled in August, would not be sufficient to arrest the economic decline.

“We are mindful of the fiscal deficit and do not want to see it too high,” he said.

But he declined to say if the budget deficit could hit 6.0 percent as speculated.

“It all depends on the fiscal pump-priming that we are going to do,” he said. “I am working on it. I will let you know when we present the second stimulus package.”

The Finance Minister also said more than 70 per cent of the RM7 billion plan has been implemented up to now.

However, just less than two weeks ago, he had drawn flak for admitting that none of the initiatives outlined in the package had been carried out yet.

“Procedures are being streamlined for speedy implementation of the projects, which have high impact and high multiplier effect to stimulate the economic growth and resilience,” said Najib.

Borrowing rose even in good economic times

Malaysia has drawn sharp rebuke for its financial indiscipline. While economists recognise that the government will have little choice but to spend its way out of trouble, they point out that the current pace of taking on debt posed great risks for the future.

Money market analysts expect the government’s net issuance of debt securities to shoot past the RM60 billion mark and hit a fresh record high in 2009.

For comparison, in 1997 net debt issuance was just RM 3.8 billion, pushed up to RM17.7 billion in 1998 by the Asian financial crisis.

But despite the government’s promise to balance the budget, it has steadily ballooned from then on, crossing the RM50 billion ringgit mark for the first time to end 2007 at RM53.7 billion. In 2006, the figure was RM38.33 billion, RM34.7 billion in 2005.

“If you look at the trend, you will see Malaysia borrowing whether in good times or bad times. There has been little discipline, and when you look at the economic structures in place, you wonder where the money went,” said an economist at a large bank.

“Other governments, like Singapore, can afford to really bring out their reserves now because they were prudent in the past. We are already in record negative territory and this is despite the past few years, which were wonderful economically.

“What happened then, why didn’t we balance the budget then? More importantly, will this time be any different or will the same happen to all the proposed, new spending. Will we be able to see it or feel its effects better this time around?”

Syabas breaches contract: Pakatan state want concession agreement terminated ~ Malaysiakini.

Posted in Pakatan Rakyat with tags on January 30, 2009 by ckchew

The Sun

PETALING JAYA (Jan 30, 2009): An audit of Selangor’s water concessionaire operations has revealed that the company had breached several important terms of the 30-year concession agreement, and the state government is using this to press for the lucrative contract to be terminated.

It is learnt Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor (Syabas) – owned by Puncak Niaga (70% share) and state investment arm Kumpulan Darul Ehsan Bhd (30%) – had failed to comply fully with the requirement for contracts to be awarded on an open tender basis.

Sources said the audit showed that more than 72% of contracts worth a total of RM600 million were awarded to selected companies via direct negotiations and only 25% via competitive open tender, which clearly violates the agreement.

In addition, the audit also found more than RM325 million in discrepancy between the summary of contracts awarded in 2005, 2006 and 2007 and Syabas’s review document (referring to general accounts).

The audit was a requirement before the company could be allowed to implement a tariff hike scheduled for Jan 1 this year. That has since been deferred as the Pakatan Rakyat state government is still in negotiations with the federal government on management of water assets and related issues.

Syabas’s concession agreement was signed between the federal and state governments and Puncak Niaga.

theSun learnt the state has written a letter to the ministry asking for the concession agreement to be terminated.

This is not the first time the question of breaches in the contract was brought up.

In June 2005, then energy, water and communications minister Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik announced that Syabas had breached the water privatisation concession by using imported pipes from Indonesia for its RM375 million pipe replacement project in the Klang Valley instead of sourcing them locally.

He had produced several photographs as proof that Syabas had used pipes manufactured by an Indonesian company, PT Growth.

Lim himself had then demanded for transparency.

“This breach of contract is grounds for termination,” a state official pointed out.

Lim had at that time questioned Syabas’s move in appointing a local company to procure the pipes when a special committee comprising officials from his ministry and the Finance Ministry had yet to approve the tender. It is not known what came out of Lim’s public statement.

Aside from the breach of contract issue, questions are also being raised over the RM51.2 million spent to renovate the Syabas office when the Selangor Water Regulatory Department (JKAS) only approved RM23.2 million for this in 2005. The audit review found that Syabas had failed to comply with the requirement as approved by JKAS.

At the heart of this tussle over the water contract is the state government’s desire to see water tariff kept low to benefit the people of Selangor. When it came to power, among the first things the new administration did was to give free water up to 20 cubic metres a month.

In December last year, Energy, Water and Communications Minister Datuk Shaziman Abu Mansor had said that according to the concession agreement, water tariff in Putrajaya, Selangor and Kuala Lumpur was to be increased by 31% by January this year but the hike has been deferred to March 31 to allow the state government to restructure the water industry in Selangor.

Shaziman said the 30-year concession agreement (from Jan 1, 2005 to Dec 31, 2034) could be revoked and the water tariff could be restructured after the assets had been handed over to Pengurusan Aset Air Bhd (PAAB) which is under the Finance Ministry.

Selangor, however, wants PAAB to allow the state to manage its own resources to ensure consumers pay a fair price without having to put up with scheduled hikes as per the agreement.

Under the agreement, consumers face more water tariff hikes until 2034. The next hike of 25% is scheduled for 2012, followed by a 20% hike in 2015, a 10% hike in 2019 and a 5% hike on 2021, 2024, 2027 and 2030.

Negotiations between Puncak Niaga and the Selangor government are still under way with the state looking for a deal which will benefit the public in the long run whereas Puncak Niaga as a public-listed company is looking for the best value for its shareholders.

Speculation is that the concessionaire is looking at beyond RM6 billion, based on capital expenditure and exit value. The matter will also be discussed at the Selangor state economic council (MTES) meeting today.

Sarawak the Key to a Mood for Change

Posted in Malaysia news with tags , , on January 30, 2009 by ckchew

From Australian Financial Review
by Angus Grigg

Abdul Taib Mahmud drives a cream Rolls-Royce, wears a gem the size of a walnut on his ring finger and is said to have once paid $US2 million for a piano owned by Liberace.

The Chief Minister of Sarawak, like the late American entertainer, is certainly flamboyant and he’s been well rewarded for his 28-year rule of the resource-rich province. But his time at the top is coming to an end.

Having celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary last week, the man known as the “White Haired Raja” has begun talking about succession. The likely departure of the 72-year-old is sure to shake up local politics on the island of Borneo, but it could also have a profound impact at the national level.

The theory is that if Abdul Taib were to step down, fresh elections could be required in the East Malaysian state, as any successor would lack the influence to hold the local legislature together. This is an opportunity for national Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim and his three-party coalition, which has been working hard for some time to woo voters outside peninsula Malaysia.

If Anwar’s People’s Justice Party and its allies were to control the Sarawak parliament, analysts believe it would be only a matter of time before members of the national parliament from Sarawak tapped the public mood and crossed the floor in Kuala Lumpur. This would hand the government to Anwar and bring about the biggest political change in Malaysia since independence in 1957.

Such a scenario is some way off, but it’s the one confronting prime minister-in-waiting Najib Razak.

That’s why his government pulled out all stops to win a byelection in the state of Terengganu on January 17. It failed, handing another seat to the opposition, but the contest in the country’s north-east is a case study of what to expect when the battle for Sarawak begins.

Even by Malaysia’s lofty standards of political patronage, the Kuala Terengganu byelection was expensive. Najib and his ruling National Front coalition, desperate to arrest its electoral
fortunes, tried to spend its way to victory. The numbers are both appalling and beguiling.

All told, Najib, who is expected to take over from Abdullah Badawi in March, handed out $4.4 billion to voters. That works out at nearly $55,000 for each voter in the seaside electorate. The big-ticket items were the establishment of a $4.2 billion trust to manage the state’s oil revenue and the well-timed
handover of $169 million in petroleum royalties.

But this was not the headline act. In a ceremony the local press described as “controversial”, Najib Razak handed out $25 million in government contracts to 600 local firms at a party rally. Even more cynically, the government gave $21 million to Chinese schools in the district, just as it looked like the parents of these students would determine the election.

In the end, they didn’t and the government lost because Malay voters deserted it, while the ever-cautious Chinese either sat out the election or voted for the opposition. And while a 2.5
per cent swing against the government is hardly a landslide, the byelection loss would be very worrying for Najib given the amount of money thrown at the problem.

“The government’s traditional strategy of just buying votes failed,” said political analyst Wong Chin Huat, who lecturers at Monash University’s campus in Kuala Lumpur. “The win by the opposition showed the mood for change still exists in Malaysia.”

This mood for change is also breaking down traditional rivalries in a country long divided by race and religion. The opposition coalition won in Terengganu despite fielding a candidate from the deeply conservative Pan Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS). Not only did PAS gain more secular Malay voters, thanks to a moderating of its language, but it also did not scare off the Chinese.

This was despite Najib and the government doing their best to stoke racial and religious tension.

The victory is also a direct result of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim being able to hold together a coalition containing PAS, the Chinese moderates of the Democratic Action Party and his own
multiracial People’s Justice Party. It is, to say the least, a diverse coalition, united in many ways only by its hatred of a government that has ruled Malaysia since independence.

Finding common ground will be the challenge if the opposition ever comes to power, but for now it’s still focused on how to get there. Sarawak holds the key, and while patronage failed the government in Terengganu, it has long held sway in Borneo.