Wednesday, May 30, 2012

TMI: Sun setting on Penang’s factories? ..... by Zairil Khir Johari

Sun setting on Penang’s factories?

Having recently assumed the hot seat, newly-minted state BN chairman Teng Chang Yeow has been eagerly peddling the coalition’s “alternative blueprint” for Penang, an election manifesto that includes a plan to restore free port status to the island while turning it into an international tourism hub, along with plans for an international financial centre, innovation park and aquaculture hub in mainland Seberang Perai.
And then, as if to prove that his fancy labelling actually carries some philosophical substance, he goes to great lengths to explain his vision of a post-industrial future for Penang, where he promises to transform the services sector into an engine of growth as a replacement to the manufacturing industry.
This is needed because, in his words, “the manufacturing sector has reached its peak in Penang. We have to look into other engines of growth.” He further adds that the state can no longer be dependent on manufacturing as there is a shortage of land, while acknowledging that the sector had helped build a strong foundation for Penang’s economy in the 1960s and 70s.
Other state BN leaders have echoed similar views, with Penang MCA adviser Datuk Koay Kar Huah opining that Penang is “oversaturated with manufacturing activities and it is time to consider other industries to stimulate its economy.”
I find this notion that manufacturing has reached a sunset stage, and thus should be replaced by service-based industries, an extremely flawed one.
The fact is that it is impossible to divorce production from knowledge because the best way to learn how to make something is to actually make it, as the Japanese, Koreans and Taiwanese have proven. Once we are able to make it, we can then move on to innovating, adding value to the product, financing it, marketing it and finally consuming it. In other words, services spanning research, design, engineering, legal, financial and sales are in fact complementary offshoots of manufacturing, and should not be seen as its putative replacement.
As leading Cambridge economist Ha-Joo Chang points out, high-income knowledge economies that appear to be services-based are in fact highly industrialised economies. Citing Switzerland and Singapore as prime examples, he notes that the two countries rank second and third in the world in terms of manufacturing value-add per capita, behind only the industrial machine known as Japan.
At the end of the day, no other industry is capable of generating the same multiplier effect, both in terms of jobs and support services, as manufacturing. It is precisely for this reason that the Obama administration is now on a huge manufacturing drive in a bid to reinvigorate the sputtering American domestic economy. As former General Motors vice chairman Bob Lutz says, “Making things makes money.”
What Teng and company are in fact trying to articulate is the concept of de-industrialisation in the context of a knowledge-based, post-industrial economy. The proposition they are putting forward is that the good old days of industry are gone and that future jobs will require working with our brains and not with our hands.
Taken at face value, such a premise may appear to make sense. However, further examination exposes a shallow and superficial logic. Firstly, would not better brains make our hands more efficient and result in better quality products?
Secondly, as the world progresses, would it not also be natural that consumption of technological goods will increase exponentially? As a result, more rather than less manufacturing will be needed to keep up with growing demand.
The key, therefore, is not in ditching manufacturing in favour of services but actually in seeking ways to create depth and specialisation, as well as to encourage higher productivity and use of technology in manufacturing.
Penang, with an established manufacturing base, must now seek not so much to broaden its range of products but to deepen its value chain. In other words, it is more about how we produce rather than what we produce.
 It is naïve to argue that manufacturing has peaked. One only has to look at how the once-mighty British economy has declined to see how de-industrialisation has resulted in post-industrial decay, loss of productivity, high unemployment, rising inequality and the displacement of an entire generation.
The truth is, manufacturing holds even more potential than it did a few decades ago. Far from putting it on the backburner, efforts should be invested into enhancing the use of technology and automation, increasing production capacity and training the required human talent. Value-added growth in manufacturing will eventually result in value-added services and correspondingly, higher-paying jobs.
So, is the manufacturing industry in Penang headed for a sunset? To the contrary, I think a new dawn has just arrived.

fmt: Are we ready for dissenting views? .... by G Vinod

Are we ready for dissenting views?

G Vinod
 | May 30, 2012
Former DAP vice-chairman Tunku Aziz Tunku Ibrahim must realise that the good old days of when the government cared for its people is long gone.
PETALING JAYA: Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim, the former vice chairman of DAP, would have probably realised by now that it is not easy being in politics.
Revered by many when he joined DAP, he is now treated as a traitor, who sold out on his party colleagues, and demonised by other opposition supporters for opposing Bersih 3.0′s decision to march to Dataran Merdeka.
For Tunku Aziz, the act of defying the police’s directive was act of defying the law. And he was right. The rally was illegal under the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012.
And that prompted him to speak out against Bersih 3.0′s decision to march.
Not only has he lost his senatorship for voicing his opinion, Tunku Aziz had to resign from DAP in the midst of public anger. So much for freedom of expression!
Let us be clear about one thing, Tunku Aziz never opposed the Bersih 3.0′s calls for free and fair elections. He was only opposed to the NGO’s means of achieving its objectives.
Many readers failed to understand the difference.
It comes as no surprise why popular blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin spoke in defence of Tunku Aziz when die-hard opposition supporters started demonising the old gentleman.
Remember what former US president George W Bush said during the height of the war on terror, “Either you are with me or against me”.
The Tunku Aziz saga showed just how “ready” we are in accepting dissenting views.
All due processes failed
Tunku Aziz is no sell-out. Educated and nurtured during the colonial era, he is fine Malay gentleman who would not tolerate unruly behaviour from anyone, including his own party members.
He is also a man who speaks his mind.
Being a founder member of Transparency International, he is a symbol of what Malaysia used to be in the past, where the rule of law was respected by both the ruling elite and the masses.
Being of royal lineage, Tunku Aziz could have easily joined Umno in his younger days and became richer. But he chose the path to combat corruption and uphold integrity instead.
Now let us talk about Tunku Aziz’s opposition to Bersih’s insistence on holding a mass rally.
With all due respect to the gentleman, Tunku Aziz should have asked himself why Bersih 3.0 was taking to the streets to call for free and fair election instead of talking to the Election Commission.
The answer is simple, all due process engagement had failed to accomplish the necessary reforms needed to ensure our electoral system is free and fair.
Despite the complaints lodged on the many dubious names existing in the electoral roll, the Election Commission had only removed about 42,000 of the names from the list.
Let us also talk about the Parliamentary Select Committee of Electoral Reforms.
Does Tunku Aziz think that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak would have established the committee if not for Bersih 2.0 march last year which was also declared illegal at the time?
Does the Tunku Aziz honestly think that the government would have established the PSC by just having tea-time meetings and receiving countless memos at the expense of chopping more trees?
Country now ruled-by-law
Tunku Aziz must understand that the good old days of post-colonial era Malaysia, in the 1960s and the 1970s, where rule of law were respected by the government and the people is long gone!
Since the 80s, the rule of law has been replaced with rule by law.
Laws are being created to subjugate dissent. The ruling elite is seen to have little regard to the people’s aspirations for better civil liberties.
The government of the day no longer think of themselves as public servants, rather they would like to think of themselves as being ordained by God to rule the masses.
In one Umno meeting, Najib had even told his members that Putrajaya must be defended “by all costs”. Does that statement stand in tandem with the rule of law?
Most Malaysians would love to avoid rallies. Our people are known to treasure their leisure time and would rather spend time with their family in malls or some other recreational area.
But when the masses start taking the streets for a cause, Tunku Aziz must start to think about what triggered these peace-loving Malaysias to forsake their own pleasure and safety to march in the city capital.
The answer is simple. The people are worried about the nation’s future.
Unlike Tunku Aziz who may be nostalgic of the Malaysia of the past, the current generation knows that the era of Tunku Abdul Rahman is long gone and we are governed by self-serving politicians.
As far as breaking the law is concerned, yes, thousands of Malaysian were guilty of breaking the law on April 28 but one question must be asked, are they all criminals?
I beg to differ.

malaysiakini: Cry, my beloved country..... by Bob Teoh

Cry, my beloved country
  • Bob Teoh
  • 11:13AM May 30, 2012


COMMENT On Monday, my daughter posted on her Facebook: ‘Feeling a little sad for my girl... she just told me she doesn't like celebrating Grandparents’ Day at school and wishes she had grandparents to watch her perform in the band on Thursday. I guess this is one of the few negatives about migration.’

My wife Kim and I were feeling more than a little sad as it was to be our eight-year-old grand-daughter’s big day to show off to her grandparents and we couldn’t be there.

So I posted on my daughter’s wall: ‘Cry, my beloved country. All because of a corrupt and incompetent government.’

As a family, we are now an ocean and a few seas apart from one another. Our three grandchildren have not been back for five years now. As unwaged senior citizens, we can afford to visit them only once a year.

This year we had to change our plans to December to take advantage of a promo fare by AirAsia, not realising how much it meant to our little princess for us to be present at the Grandparents’ Day for her first musical performance. For us.

My daughter is an Australian-trained physiotherapist and her husband an American-trained accountant. Both had returned to work in Malaysia but subsequently decided to join the Malaysian diaspora just like many young professionals. This continuing brain drain has been haemorrhaging the economy to the brink of bankruptcy.

Even Malays are emigrating, not just the Chinese, Indians and just about anybody else, largely due to Umno’s sheer incompetence in running the country. Malay professionals have also gone to work in significant numbers just about anywhere in the developed economies: Melbourne, London, New York, Tokyo, and even next door in Singapore.

Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad (left), PKR’s Seri Setia state assemblyperson in Selangor, hit the nail on the head when he blogged recently, Apabila orang Melayu turut berhijrah … (When Malays migrate as well ...).

 “The issue of non-Malays leaving Malaysia because they are disappointed with the government's economic policy has been repeatedly brought up. But when there are Malays who are supposedly the main beneficiaries of the policy take steps to get out - this sends a really strong message to the government," he pointed out.

Nazmi, who is the country’s youngest lawmaker, related an incident where a young Malay banker would rather stay put in Singapore than return to Malaysia.

The young professional had confided: “I am not interested in going home. They will not appreciate my skills, hard work and sweat that I have put into achieving this success. I’d rather stay here where people know I have worked hard to arrive at where I am today."

Too good for Malaysia
The most high-profile Malay brain to leave the country in recent years was Hassan Marican, when his contract as Petronas president and CEO was not renewed in early 2010 because of friction with Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

He was widely credited with turning Petronas into the only other successful state-run oil corporation apart from Norway’s Statoil.

Hassan, then 58, had led the Petronas board in rejecting twice Najib’s nomination of his close confidante, Mohd Omar Mustapha Ong, as a non-executive director.

Among other things, Omar had reneged on his scholarship bond with Petronas. Najib (left) put his foot down and in came Omar.

Hassan was immediately offered appointments to the board of Singapore government-linked companies like SembCorp Industries Limited, SembCorp Marine Limited and Singapore Power Group.

In Malaysia, he sits on the board of Sarawak Energy Bhd and, in the US, on the board of oil and gas giant ConocoPhillips.

Hassan now sits on the boards of such sterling corporations not because he is a Malay but because he’s good. Too good for Malaysia.

Cry, my beloved country.

It is not as though the government does not know the extent of the rot. The World Bank in its economic monitor on Malaysia in April 2011 pointed out: ‘The migration of talent across borders touches the core of Malaysia’s aspiration to become a high-income nation. Malaysia needs talent, but talent seems to be leaving.

‘The Malaysian diaspora is large and expanding. Our conservative estimate puts the worldwide diaspora at one million people in 2010. The brain drain is estimated at a third of the total diaspora. The actual number could be significantly larger. The diaspora has grown rapidly: it almost quadrupled over the last three decades.’

The World Bank report on Malaysia’s brain drain said the diaspora is geographically concentrated and ethnically skewed. Singapore alone absorbs 57 percent of the entire diaspora. Chinese Malaysians account for almost 90 percent of the diaspora in Singapore.
One out of 10 Malaysians with a tertiary degree migrated in 2000 to an OECD country - this is twice the world average and including Singapore would make this two out of 10, the report pointed out.

Don’t expect Malaysian brains to return home when public policies continue to be driven by the severely brain-damaged. Cry, my beloved country.

BOB TEOH is a retired business journalist.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

malaysiakini: Stop growing aggression, thuggery, and violence........ by Lim Kit Siang

Stop growing aggression, thuggery, and violence
  • Lim Kit Siang
  • 3:21PM May 29, 2012
MP SPEAKS The Prime Minister, Najib Abdul Razak is at it again - making sweet-sounding high-falutin' speeches at international forums but doing the very opposite in the country.

Addressing the 26th Asia Pacific roundtable in Kuala Lumpur last night, Najib called on Asian countries to reject the use of force and violence in resolving conflicts.

What struck Malaysians is not his call on Asian countries to reject the use of force and violence in resolving conflicts, but his conspicuous silence and his government's failure in the past month to stand up and be counted to condemn and dissociate themselves from a new political culture of aggression, thuggery and violence disrupting Pakatan functions and activities.

As a result, Malaysians are reminded of his other sweet-sounding highfalutin' speeches at international forums calling for a Global Movement of Moderates to unite against extremists, but inside the country, his three-year premiership has seen the unprecedented manifestation of extremism not only officially sanctioned but carried out with impunity and immunity when laws of the land are violated.

NONEThe latest incident of growing political culture of aggression, thuggery and violence was the disruption of the Pakatan ceramah in Lembah Pantai last Thursday, and other recent incidents include the vandalism and thuggery at the PAS ceramah in Kampung Sayong Lembah, Kuala Kangsar; the high-tea event in Merlimau, Malacca, the campaign of intimidation to violate the privacy of Bersih co-chair Ambiga Sreenevasan outside her house at Bukit Damansara, Kuala Lumpur and the Perkasa ‘funeral rite' in front of Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng's house in Penang.

All Malaysians are struck by Najib's glaring and prolonged silence on the escalation of incidents of aggression, thuggery and violence particularly at Pakatan events and functions which made his call last night to Asian countries to reject the use of force and violence in resolving conflicts sounds so hollow.

The question Malaysians are asking is whether Najib is prepared to walk the talk and renounce the use of force and violence in resolving conflicts in the country, and in particular, to retract his "crushed bodies, lives lost" declaration in his speech at the 2010 Umno General Assembly to defend Umno power at all costs in Putrajaya as well as a pledge to accept the verdict of the Malaysian voters in the next general election including a peaceful transition of federal power from BN to Pakatan?
Opportunity for Najib
The Cabinet meeting tomorrow will provide Najib with the opportunity to prove that he is not making sweet-sounding highfalutin' speeches at international forums but doing the very opposite in the country by specifically speaking out clearly against the political culture of aggression, thuggery and violence.

An independent, impartial and credible Election Commission should be convening a roundtable conference of political parties to check the political culture of aggression, thuggery and violence as such incidents will undermine the holding of any free, fair and clean election in the forthcoming 13th general election.

This, unfortunately, is not a feasible proposition as the Election Commission has lost public confidence and credibility as an independent and impartial body which could be trusted to carry out its constitutional mandate to conduct free, fair and clean elections, and this is why the sixth of the eight demands of Bersih 2.0 is "Strengthen Public Institutions".

Recently, the Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (right) claimed that the government already agreed to implement seven out of Bersih's eight demands, but this was immediately rebutted by Bersih which said that the govermment was only acting on one of its eight demands.

On its sixth demand regarding "Strenthening Public Institutions", this was Bersih 2.0's response in its statement dated 24th May 2012:

Strengthening Public Institutions

"The situation with respect to this has in fact deteriorated, with the controversy surrounding the membership of Umno by both the chairperson and deputy chairperson of the EC still unresolved.
"In addition, there are comments by the deputy chairperson of the EC to the effect that he still considers himself a ‘government servant', which implies he is still obedient to the will and instructions by government.
"This is contrary to his position as a member of the EC, which should be independent of government.

"This begs the question: If the EC has failed to perform its most basic duty of managing and protecting the integrity of the electoral roll, how can the EC still be entrusted to implement major and crucial reforms for the electoral system?

"The EC has proven that it is not independent and no longer commands public confidence. The EC must resign immediately and be replaced by new members who command public confidence."
"In these circumstances where the Election Commission cannot be expected to be the independent and impartial body entrusted with the duty to conduct free, fair and clean elections, the Cabinet tomorrow should take the decision to convene an all-party roundtable conference to nip in the bud the rise in the political culture of aggression, thuggery and violence which if left unchecked, will mar the holding of free, fair and clean elections."

DAP and Pakatan are prepared to fully play our role to eliminate the political culture of aggression, thuggery and violence.

The question is whether Umno and BN parties are equally committed to the peaceful democratic and constitutional process as to make an all-party roundtable conference to end the politics of aggression, thuggery and violence a success.

malaysiakini: 'No impact on investment due to Bersih rallies' ..... by Aidila Razak

'No impact on investment due to Bersih rallies'
  • Aidila Razak
  • 3:32PM May 29, 2012
The American Chamber of Commerce has not observed any impact on investor sentiment among its members, following the three Bersih rallies to date.
 In fact, Amcham governor for the Malaysian American Electronics Industry (MEAI) Wong Siew Hai, said a survey conducted on MEAI members found that investments have grown last year.
 "As far as the survey results show, I don't think there is impact. If you look at the data presented, most companies have expanded," he told the media at the Invest Malaysia 2012 conference in Kuala Lumpur.

As far as the most recent rally is concerned, investors are "watching from the sidelines" but are unlikely to scale back investments.

"Some have even set up regional headquarters here," he said.

The MEAI annual survey results for 2011 released today saw a significant 34.1 percent growth in design and development expenditure by the 29 members.

This is on the back of a 9.1 percent export sales growth at RM56.5 billion in 2011.

MEAI forecasts a further 3 percent growth this year.

Situation not extreme

Speaking to Malaysiakini on the sidelines, Wong said  investors would only likely pull back investments if "the situation leads to airports being shut down, etc" and that Malaysia is far from such a situation.

He, however, noted that this would refer to existing investors and that the situation may not be the same for new investors.

Federal Territories and Urban Well-being Minister Raja Nong Chik Zainal Abidin(right) had reportedly said that the Kuala Lumpur lost out on RM20 million worth of investments when a South Korean company held off investment following the Bersih 3.0 rally on April 28.

International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Muhamad, after a recent post-Bersih 3.0 dialogue with industry players, however said that investment has not let up since the demonstration.

But he cautioned that investors may consider their positions if the demonstrations persist.

Amcham Singapore chapter representative James Andrade said, meanwhile, that the chamber is encouraged by greater deregulation and focus on human capital in Malaysia.
The delegation from Amcham Singapore is here for a two-day visit, and has met with International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Muhamad. It will speak to Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Idris Jala tomorrow.
Also at the press conference was US Ambassador to Malaysia Paul Jones and US Ambassador to Singapore David Adelman, who both noted the importance of Southeast Asian markets to the US. 

Jones said the US is Malaysia's largest investor and its fourth biggest trading partner. 

TMI: Najib’s sweeping reforms: Winds of change or hot air? — by Justina Chen

Najib’s sweeping reforms: Winds of change or hot air? — Justina Chen

May 29, 2012
MAY 29 — Since Malaysia Day last September, the administration of Prime Minister Najib Razak has undertaken a whirlwind of legislative and policy reforms, making Mr Najib arguably the most reformist Malaysian prime minister ever.
Political pundits remark that the rushed reforms which were undertaken without consultation with key stakeholders are a sign that a general election is imminent, perhaps to be held in less than two months.
Over the course of the last six months there have been a record number of legislative reforms including: repeal of the infamous Internal Security Act; amendments to the University and University Colleges Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act; announcement of a minimum wage policy as well as the passing of the Security Offences Bill and Peaceful Assembly Act.
Despite the current air of optimism, the sincerity of the government to effectively implement lasting reform has repeatedly been called into question. Government critics cite the lack of consultation and the short time frame within which legislative reform has taken place as evidence that the reforms are merely political ploys designed solely to gain traction with voters.
Whatever the agenda, the many legislative and policy revisions have only occurred at the surface level, yet to be backed up by structural changes reinforced by increased transparency, scrutiny and other monitoring mechanisms. The second and most important component of political reform will involve reorganisation of Malaysia’s enforcement agencies and institutions, namely the police, judiciary and bureaucracy. If this second stage fails, political reforms will remain only as idle rhetoric.
The government’s conduct at the recent Bersih 3.0 rally for free and fair elections indicates that this second stage of reform is far from completion. Although the Peaceful Assembly Act came into force just days prior to the rally, there was little adherence to its provisions.
Before the rally, police rejected organisers’ notification of a peaceful sit-in and obtained a court order to stop it taking place. This ruling was blatantly in breach of Section 14 of the newly enacted Peaceful Assembly Act, which declares police can only impose conditions but not ban a planned peaceful public assembly from taking place. The police could have imposed restrictions or conditions on the date, time and duration of assembly; the place or manner of the assembly. Failure to comply with such restrictions is an offence under the act, punishable with a fine up to RM10,000.
In the absence of the police imposing lawful conditions upon public demonstrations, any public assembly can proceed as planned.
Instead of utilising the new law, police employed heavy-handed measures including the unrestricted use of tear gas, unlawfully destroying video-recording devices, and in some cases the unwarranted use of excessive violence against individual demonstrators.
One hope for a viable sustainable democracy in Malaysia will involve a systemic overhaul of government institutions resulting in greater transparency and accountability. The prospects of this happening under the current Najib administration are questionable due to the deep-rooted culture of corruption and rent-seeking in the upper echelons of government.
The recent National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) scandal sheds light on a 2007 government allocation of RM250 million for a cattle rearing project which lost millions of ringgit every year. Beyond the monetary wastage, the scandal became yet another symbol of the nepotism that runs rife in the tender for government projects: the NFC was chaired by Mohamed Salleh, the husband of Women, Family and Community Development Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil.
Common practices such as awarding government contracts without open tenders, limited access to information and a close connection between businesses and politics have only further developed an ethos of corruption.
The sad truth is that key institutions, big corporations and the civil service are all embedded with supporters of the ruling government, whose interests are too deeply entrenched to allow for reform from the inside-out.
It has also been an uphill battle for the Pakatan Rakyat opposition party to gain a foothold on the political scene. Despite the “political tsunami” in the 2008 general elections which saw, for the first time, the demise of the ruling Barisan Nasional’s two-third majority in parliament, politics in Malaysia are stunted by ethnic and religious divisions — evidenced by the lack of a clear manifesto of any political party. In the absence of a two-party system, democracy is doomed to be a pipe dream.
However, this pessimism need not set the tone for Malaysia’s democratic future. There are signs of an emergent political maturity evidenced by inaugural debates between members of opposing political parties. A widely televised political debate on the issues faced by Malaysian Chinese was held in February between the president of the Malaysian Chinese Association — the main Chinese party in the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition — and the secretary-general of the opposition Democratic Action Party.
While state-controlled media remain hesitant to report the true sentiments of a large proportion of the electorate, the internet has had no such qualms. Alternative news sites such as Malaysiakini and The Malaysian Insider have done much to equalise the flow of information. There has also been an awakening from political apathy, predominantly among younger, urban voters. This new generation of voters, increasingly disillusioned with economic and social disparities caused by government policies, is expressing its concern via the aforementioned alternative news and political blogs. It was this demographic that turned out in full force during the Bersih 3.0 rally.
In the past, Malaysians have been reticent about their political views. The more than 100,000-strong crowd at the rally suggests that this reticence is falling away.
The manner in which the 13th general election is conducted will set the stage for Malaysia’s democratic future. This will be the final test for the Najib administration’s sincerity in providing true reforms for Malaysia and leading the country into a more democratic future. Many Malaysians fear that the next election will be the dirtiest yet, with the ruling government using all possible tricks and manipulation at its disposal to gain a favourable outcome including the use of “phantom” votes and blatant gerrymandering.
These fears will prove unfounded if the government ensures that the elections are conducted fairly by ensuring electoral transparency, inviting international observers to monitor the polling and results, and by scrubbing the electoral roll of nonexistent voters. Whether the slew of recent reforms is due to a genuine concern for Malaysia’s democratic future or from fear of losing the forthcoming election, it is clear that the public pressure exerted by ordinary Malaysians is slowly changing the political landscape of Malaysia. — The Bangkok Post
* Justina Chen is a research and policy analyst at the Centre for Public Policy Studies, Malaysia. This article was originally published by the East-West Centre in Asia Pacific Bulletin Number 165, on May 24, 2012.

TMI: Gap between rich and poor — by Lim Sue Goan

Gap between rich and poor — Lim Sue Goan

May 29, 2012
MAY 29 — The government might have more good news for low-income families. MCA president Datuk Sri Dr Chua Soi Lek said he will propose another round of Bantuan Rakyat 1 Malaysia (BR1M) aid at a meeting of the National Economic Council.
The first round of the aid had benefited 4.3 million families and although the response was positive, the effect has faded. And now, as the general election is approaching, another round of aid distribution could earn some votes for the BN, particularly in Selangor.
However, I doubt whether the government has the ability to distribute the aid every year. The government has spent RM2.15 billion in the previous round, not including the manpower and other resources spent. The government’s fiscal deficit is high and it should spend within its means. Moreover, instead of keep giving them fish, it is better to teach them how to catch fish.
Personally, I think that the low-income problem should be resolved through economic reform and restructuring to increase the income of blue-collar wage earners and clerks. Subsidies and aid are not a long-term solution.
Moreover, it is not easy to increase salaries. It must be linked to productivity and efficiency. If the minimum wage policy turns business unprofitable for businessmen, it will encounter resistance. For example, nine trade organisations in Terengganu have asked to be exempted from the planned minimum wage ruling.
Salaries are unable to keep up with the standard of living because of the rising food prices and many people are unable to repay housing and car loans. As of April this year, 241,740 people fell into the poor category and one-quarter of them was because they were unable to repay car loans. Cuepacs also pointed out that 60 per cent of civil servants earning less than RM3,000 per month could not afford to buy a house.
If the government does not restrain housing prices and reduce car taxes, low-income earners can never escape the nightmare.
There are many poor people in the country, but there are many rich people, too. Many foreign artists have come here to hold concerts, proving that the spending power of the middle class is not low at all.
The enthusiastic bidding for the WWW vehicle number plates is also a reflection that there are many rich people in Malaysia. A total of 18,243 applications for WWW plates with bidding value worth RM64,225,838.51 were received during the 15-day bidding period, bringing the authority a total revenue of RM11.3 million. Bid prices for some popular numbers were even high enough to buy a house.
When the rich are enjoying a quality life, the poor are suffering. This is what we called disparity between the rich and the poor. According to the latest ICAEW regional financial report, Malaysia was ranked the country with the second-worst wealth disparity among ASEAN countries, after Thailand. The situation here is even worse than China, India and other powerful countries.
The disparity between the rich and the poor will lead to social instability, particularly during an economic downturn. No one can predict what impact the Europe debt crisis will bring. If the unemployment rate increases, it is possible there will be a wealth disparity problem.
The Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) of the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU) has focused on major development and investment projects. It is now the time for them to work towards the elimination of poverty to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor.
To become a high-income country, Malaysia must first cross the low-income threshold. —

Monday, May 28, 2012

TMI: How to pair wines with Chinese food

How to pair wines with Chinese food

At Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurant Shang Palace in Paris, dim sum dishes like this red-rice flour roll with shrimp are paired with Riesling from Alsace
PARIS, May 27 — Unlike Western meals, which are served in prescribed order and arrive in multiple courses, the challenge of pairing wines with Asian meals is that food comes all at once, they mix seafoods with beef and chicken, and they run the gamut from sweet and sour to kicky, spicy heat. 
But in advance of Vinexpo, a major wine trade fair set to open in Hong Kong this week, wine experts and sommeliers offer a few tips on how to heighten a Chinese meal with the right glass of vino. 
After testing out recipes and wine pairings for a month before the grand opening of Shang Palace restaurant in Paris, sommelier Cédric Maupoint created a wine list that includes Rieslings from the Alsace region of France, white wines from Burgundy and red wines from Bordeaux, he told Relaxnews. 
Shang Palace earned its first Michelin star this year and is helmed by Cantonese chef Frank Xu in the luxurious Shangri-La Hotel. 
With dim sum as a specialty, Maupoint recommends pairing dishes with a dry white Riesling or a Chablis from Vincent Dauvissat. For kickier dishes from the Szechuan region where liberal amounts of garlic, ginger, and Szechuan peppercorns are used, Maupoint suggests a young Burgundy like Vosne Romanée from David Duband, or a Châteauneuf du Pape from Clos Du Caillou. 
Meanwhile, Singapore-based Decanter wine columnist Poh Tiong, author of 108 Great Chinese Dishes Paired, suggests staying with dry to off-dry Rieslings, dry to demi-sec Chenin blancs, or Hunger Valley Semillons if dishes are heavy on aromatics like chili pepper, lemongrass, cilantro and garlic. 
And Jeannie Cho Lee, author of Mastering Wine for the Asian Palate, offers a few general guidelines on her website which suggests pairing sour flavours like tamarind and green mangoes with crisp, white or medium-bodied red wines with high acidity, for example. 
Salty dishes dominated by soy, oyster or bean paste, meanwhile, go well with either white or red wines with soft tannins, while dishes made with fermented beans, mushrooms or dried, cured meats that impart umami are best paired with mature wines with ‘well-knit’ tannins and restrained fruit character. Lee is the first person of Asian descent to be awarded the Master of Wine title and writes — Afp-Relaxnews

fmt: Hungry for hegemony...... by Raymond Tombung

Hungry for hegemony

Raymond Tombung
 | May 27, 2012
Politics, race, religion, economics, education and national integration are today very much linked to the battle for national hegemony and the lack of ethics in Malaysia.
Chandra Muzaffar’s book, ‘Global Ethic or Global Hegemony: Reflection on Religion, Human Dignity and Civilisational Interaction (London: Asian Academic Press, 2005), presents an excellent analysis of the root causes of problems in the current world disorder.
Muzaffar’s premise for the whole book is quite simple – The Parliament of World Religions (yes, there is such a thing) adopted a declaration of a Global Ethic on Sept 4, 1993 at Grand Park, Chicago, Illinois.
Another book on the issue makes the following vague definition: “By global ethic we do not mean a global ideology or a single unified religion beyond all existing religions, and certainly not the domination of one religion over all others.
“By a global ethic we mean a fundamental consensus on binding values, irrevocable standards, and personal attitudes.”
To clarify, what global ethic really means in this discussion is the moral behaviour by which all nations would obey the golden rule: “Do unto others as you’d want others do unto you,” or “Don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you.” The rule that does not apply here is – “those who have the gold makes the rule”).
Islam-centric Muzaffar has long argued in previous books and papers that the root problem of the world today is the uncontrolled hunger for world dominance by the West (led by the world’s last superpower, the United States of America) which imposes its will on the rest of the world by using its military, economic and technological powers to full advantage.
Muzaffar writes: “…we regard (America’s) imperial ambition as a major cause of war and violence in today’s world. Its massive military expenditure – US$400 billion a year – is a manifestation of its imperial power. So are the American military bases in no less than 60 countries” (pp 16).
This is what Muzaffar means by global hegemony, or global control.
“Hegemony – the very human desire to control and dominate – is indisputably one of the root causes for our failure to move forward a global ethic…. It is hegemony in the global politics which more than anything else subverts the emergence of a just, humane world…. Dominant power exercised by a few will always remain a major hurdle in the way of a global ethic committed to treating every human being with dignity” (pp 22).
Hungry for hegemony
But my purpose here is not to present an argument against Muzaffar; his analysis and rationale for global ethic are solid.
But with his proposed solution, which is for the world’s nations to abide by the golden rule, he is standing on shaky ground because he is pursuing a solution to world problems with moral and religious idealism, something which is decidedly impossible to achieve, given the global political realities.
What I find really puzzling is that Muzaffar has failed to use the same model of ethic and hegemony as a basis for analysing our problems in Malaysia.
But his idea on the issue of ethic and hegemony immediately directed my attention to what is happening in the country, and I realised that a smaller version of the problem exists in Malaysia.
We can see that most of the problems in Malaysia are caused by the violation of the golden rule and by the hunger for national hegemony by Malays!
By blaming the United States for the world’s (and Islam’s) problems and ignoring that the Malays must be blamed for problems in Malaysia, Muzaffar must admit to being an intellectual hypocrite.
If we look at our biggest problems in the areas of politics, race, religion, economics, commerce and industry, education, and national integration, we would realise that these are very much linked to the battle for national hegemony and the lack of national ethic.
We are a people deeply divided politically due to the culture of cronyism and patronage politics, with top leaders seeking hegemony or power to control and dominate, and this unavoidably involves race and religions because these two highly emotive elements have their way of provoking people into supporting or opposing certain struggles.
Game of deception
Politics, besides being a game of numbers (the one with the highest votes gets power), it is also a game of deception, lies, half truths, threats, fear mongering, false hopes, and grand promises.
Aristotle said, “politics is a game of who gets what and how” in which the ends justify the means.
This violation of moral and ethics alone causes social disorder, which spills over into governance and economics in the forms of interracial suspicion and discrimination as well as inter-religious loathing.
Policies which promote discrimination were enacted to give the Malays higher privileges in business and education, causing resentment in other groups.
Certain Malaysians have to compete in business and seek education on an uneven playing field, dashing their hope for true national integration for a so-called Bangsa Malaysia.
The fight for national hegemony has showed up a prevailing breach in ethics.
Good manners, solemn ceremonies and fine languages are used, of course, giving a strong veneer of civility and elegance for public display, but the daggers are always in easy reach under the cloak.
As a result we have problems between sexes, political parties, races, religions, classes of society and sub-ethnic groups. All because of greed for superiority and control.
Malays-Chinese tango
The Malays fight to keep the national hegemony they believe was theirs in the first place, while the Chinese play out their natural skills at gaining national economic hegemony.
Both groups have long entered into a refined choreography of political and diplomatic game for mutual benefit with one group having the power to approve or reject, and the other the power to turn even rubbish into cash.
While the two elephants dance their half-a-century silat and kungfu, deftly scratching each other’s backs, the other groups – the natives of Sabah and Sarawak – have tried to fit into the power plays and convince themselves and others of their politico-economic relevance.
Meanwhile the true natives of Malaya, the Negritos Orang Asli community have been living beyond the fringes of national life as the totally irrelevant and powerless national irritants or dependents.
Muzaffar writes that the US conquered Iraq under the guise of eradicating a dictator who had developed and hoarded weapons of mass destruction (WMD) but the real and ultimate motive was for the control of the country’s oil, the second largest reserve in the world.
“Needless to say, control over the vital resources of the nation that one has conquered has always been the agenda of empires in history. The American Empire is no exception” (pp 16).
At our national scale of politics, the same thing is happening. Although Sabah is definitely not a territory conquered through an act of war, we are certainly subjugated, politically and economically, with our resources being taken away by those holding the national hegemony.
New breed of Malays
But today, Umno, which has for more than half a century held the political hegemony on behalf of the Malays, is in serious danger of losing it. This is happening because of the emergence of a new breed of young Malay bloods who have different ideas of what Malay politics should be. And they are in the game, prepared for self-sacrifice, to change the status quo.
The most serious cause of this revolution is the new Malays’ aversion to the corruption that had brought the rot in Umno, which they see as acts for self-interest of the few. The consequences have been serious and worrying to the party stalwarts who are now so confused they even rely on the extremist rabble rousing acts of NGOs like Perkasa and Jati to revive the old Malay spirit.
But the strategy is not working. Perkasa, Jati and backhand players like Dr Mahathir Mohamad are not convincing the new Malays to abandon their silent revolution.
The Malays’ biggest problem is their loss in the economic game despite them having showered themselves with all sorts of privileges such as scholarships, subsidies, loans, free shares, lands, education, and other preferential treatments in numerous areas.
The NEP, which was started in 1972 to solve the nation’s interracial and socio-economic problems, had failed miserably. The decades of spoon-feeding had weakened the Malays into becoming incapable dependants, a people who, most likely, wouldn’t survive if they were let loose into the merciless global jungle.
On the other hand, the Chinese have mastered all the tricks of the trades. Without them Malaysia’s business sector would disappear overnight. The national power grids would stall and the fuels and lubricants of the engines of economy would instantly dry up. This, strangely, has twisted the shape of national hegemony into a new meaning.
Are Chinese the real masters?
Who really is holding real hegemony, or power, in Malaysia today? If the Chinese are paying more than 80% of our income tax, and are the real masters of commerce and industry – and science and technology as well – doesn’t that put the Malays and the rest of Malaysians under their indirect de facto control, and that the Malays are in the seat power only as proxies or puppets of sort? And for how long?
Indeed, the current realities of national hegemony and national ethic should propel the new Malays and the natives of the Borneo states into changing the game plan. They should overhaul the old political and economic formats, and exert their will on the system to contribute through authentic meritocracy, and master the knowledge and skills in all the areas of endeavours.
This way hegemony is achieved by way of true abilities and not through some historical rights or flimsy ‘social contracts.’ Rights and social contracts, or even great military powers, hold no guarantee for a people’s future. Just remember that Babylon, ancient Egypt, the glory of Rome, all the great empires are no more.
Wealth, success and power are also not products of agreements and laws but are all products of knowledge, skills and godly wisdom.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

TMI: Malaysia after regime change — by Prof. Greg Felker

Malaysia after regime change — Prof. Greg Felker

May 27, 2012
MAY 27 — In comparative politics the word “regime” refers to the formal and informal institutions by which political power is acquired and exercised. In political economy, a regime refers to an enduring combination of “socio-economic alliances, political-economic institutions, and a public-policy profile” (Pempel 1998: 20). In the case of Malaysia, the Barisan Nasional (BN) regime’s durability in the former, political sense has been closely associated with a particular sort political economy, or regime in the second sense. 
Despite significant changes over the years, Malaysia’s hegemonic-party political system, centred on United Malays National Organisation’s (Umno) dominance, has since the early 1970s practised a form of developmentalism that has shaped Malaysian society in profound ways. As the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) understands, its challenge to the BN’s national political monopoly is inescapably a contest about Malaysia’s economic development model, as well. To what extent, and in what ways, does the prospect of change in Malaysia’s political regime imply a change in the country’s pattern of development?
Contemporary debates make clear the close connection between political contestation and economic policy choices. Indeed, one of the Umno-led government’s vulnerabilities is a sense, growing in recent years, that the Malaysian development miracle has wavered and, for large segments of the population, inadequately fulfilled its promise of a steadily improving quality of life. The notion of the “middle-income trap”, first popularised in a global context by Geoffrey Garret in 2004, quickly became a frame for discussions of possible policy reform within Malaysia and among foreign observers. 
Two themes have been prominent in these discussions. One is the issue of the quality of governance as this affects broader economic efficiency and productivity. Second is the mooted necessity of a broad liberalisation of restrictions and regulations to enable greater flexibility and entrepreneurial dynamism. In both areas, the opposition and pro-reform civil society organisations have made telling critiques of the incumbent leadership. For its part, Najib Razak’s administration has launched a series of reform initiatives under the New Economic Model (NEM) that speak to the same concerns about governance and the structural challenges to Malaysia’s continued economic development. This dimension of the new competitiveness in Malaysia’s politics adds programmatic substance to a political tableau in which mass protest, scandal, and cultural controversies have comprised much of the drama.
PR has sought to highlight evidence of deterioration in the quality of Malaysian governance. Within that broad rubric, PR officials have pointed to figures on budgetary ‘leakage’, capital outflows, and investor perception surveys as evidence of substantial corruption. For its part, the Najib administration has pledged to implement a Government Transformation Program (GTP) to foster a more responsive, decentralised, and efficient system. A major focus of the liberalisation debate concerns the impact of preferential policies (still widely referred to as the New Economic Policy/NEP) for Malaysia’s Bumiputera majority. 
A range of academic and policy studies have argued that the NEP has hindered a shift towards knowledge- or innovation-based development by restricting the development and availability of relevant, highly-skilled workforce talent (Henderson & Philips 1997; Woo 2009; World Bank 2011). The PR’s agenda, as laid out in its 2010 Buku Jingga (Orange Book), pledges to replace NEP-style preferences with a set of income-focused welfare policies, noting that their disproportionate representation among the poor means that Malays would be the primary beneficiaries. The government’s Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) makes more qualified pledges to reform the administration of preferential policies, including a parallel emphasis on assisting lower-income Malaysians through a revamped safety net.
Given that both the opposition and government have recognised these issues and advanced proposals for change, the credibility of reformist pledges becomes politically important. The government’s influence over the mainstream media enables it to tout its progress, as when it has highlighted declines in certain crime statistics, or as when the World Bank’s 2012 Ease of Doing Business Report ranked Malaysia’s regulatory environment as significantly improved. 
The degree to which these claims of change are felt at the grass roots level, or credited by key segments of the electorate, is another matter. Such assurances have been a recurrent theme at the advent of each new UMNO administration (think of Mahathir Mohamad’s pledge upon assuming the Premiership to make government bersih/clean, cekap/efficient, amanah/trustworthy). The PR’s record of economic management in the states that it governs is a potentially significant source of credibility, though state governments’ control over key factors in the cost of living is limited (the Buku Jingga pledges that a PR Federal government would renationalise or heavily regulate privatised utilities.)
One arena in which credibility plays a particularly crucial role concerns Malaysia’s large diaspora, which consists of anywhere from half a million to a million persons, many of whom are educated or highly-skilled. According to the World Bank (2011), the stream of Malaysians going abroad quasi-permanently constitutes a serious “brain drain” for an economy whose chief constraint is the supply of skilled human capital. At the same time, the diaspora is a potential resource for development if it could be tapped by inducing Malaysians to return from abroad, or simply to invest some of their accumulated capital, knowledge, or business connections in their homeland. 
The ETP acknowledged the problem’s seriousness, and the government established a TalentCorps to cultivate interest among the diaspora in contributing to Malaysia’s development. Senior government ministers have been highly visible in this thrust, making frank comments and pledging basic change. As for the opposition, during a recent visit to Australia, DAP chief Lim Guan Eng argued that the PR government he leads in Penang represents the prospect of a genuine shift in terms of the freedom for upward mobility that reverse migrants might enjoy in within Malaysia. These efforts’ high public profile underscores the political premium that attaches to the credibility of vows to make a break with the established pattern of extensive government influence over professional opportunities in Malaysia’s state-led development model.
If credible claims to liberalise government influence in business and professional life were the sole point of contention, the opposition would seem to have a natural advantage. However, other important concerns shadow public discussion about the reforms needed to escape the middle-income trap and attain developed-economy status. The prospect of growing inequality is one such concern, and a crucial one. Indeed, much evidence from around the world suggests that the shift to a knowledge-based economy tends to exacerbate economic, social, and regional inequalities quite significantly. This reality creates tensions between distributional and growth goals in any growth-oriented economic reform agenda. 
Thus, the opposition’s focus on corruption and mal-governance as a source of Malaysia’s economic weakness, however much traction it might or might not gain in the face of the government’s own bid to claim reformist credit, can only be a part of a viable platform. Cleaner and more responsive government, and more competitive conditions for big business, especially in infrastructure and public services, are important focal points of debate, and are generally unifying themes for a diverse opposition. Yet, alone they are unlikely to prove sufficient to persuade key elements of the electorate that the opposition has a compelling alternative growth model. 
Likewise with proposals to revamp the safety net in order to better protect the vulnerable segments of society. As the welfare components of both the government and opposition platforms testify, such promises are important to reassure key potential swing constituencies, those who are more rural and/or economically downscale, that reform will not come at their expense. Even many middle class Malaysians, however, evince mixed sentiments about the prospect of far-reaching liberalisation of the system of subsidies and preferential policies that have girded the Malaysian political economy under BN rule. It is notable that the PR government in Kedah, led by PAS, has stated that its agenda will not be bound by the Buku Jingga, presumably because its perceived liberalism might make it controversial amongst that government’s supporters.
Themes of improved governance and liberalisation of heavy-handed regulation must ultimately be woven into a broader vision of an alternative development regime, one in which initiatives to regain the economy’s upward growth momentum simultaneously generate widely distributed opportunity. Human capital, and the education and training system, are obviously central to such a program (Ritchie 2010). 
The Buku Jingga proposes liberalising and depoliticising higher education, and pledges to expand access with lower cost. Even more important is the harder, more complex task of reforming primary and secondary education system. Here the Buku Jingga offers aspirational goals related to teacher pay and assessment, yet the complexities and costs of raising the quality of instruction will inevitably be high. In particular, such changes must be carefully related to curriculum reform, to shift from rote learning to encourage creative and independent thinking skills. Making deep reforms quickly will be difficult in a context where primary education has been integral to the socio-cultural identity and dignity of Malaysia’s various communities. In this area, too, the government has also bid to claim a reformist mantle.
In the shorter term, fostering return-migration has been identified, by the government, opposition, and many academic observers, as a key means of addressing the human capital needs of a reinvigorated development push. This also will require careful management in both policy and political terms. At present, the focus is on the challenge of inducing the Malaysian diaspora to return or otherwise contribute to the nation’s economic advance. Should such efforts succeed, however, new questions of fairness and equity among professional ranks are likely to emerge, as Singapore’s experience with popular criticism of its program to recruit “global talent” illustrates. This potential was evident in the opposition’s response to the government’s offer to the skilled Malaysian diaspora of a reduced income tax rate as an incentive for repatriation; DAP chief Lim called for the lower rate to apply to all experts in relevant high-technology fields, including those who have pursued careers at home.
Finally, other types of policy intervention will continue to be important to a politically compelling development agenda. Prominent among these are programs to build workforce skills, enhance investment in pre-commercial but economically relevant research and development, diffuse information technology through infrastructure upgrading, training, and small and medium scale enterprises (SME) extension services, and the fostering of local entrepreneurship in high growth sectors. The government’s efforts in these areas have often been criticised as bureaucratic and disconnected from private business priorities. Yet, rapid regulatory liberalisation, and a much-reduced government role, alone are unlikely to result in an accelerated transition to a knowledge-based economy. 
South Korea’s rise as a leader in broadband infrastructure and IT-enabled business is a case in point. Notwithstanding the 1990s reforms that sought to limit collusion between government and the big-business chaebol, the new phase of IT-based development involved strong state policy leadership in building infrastructure, investing in human capital, and subsidising technology development and adoption (Lee 2007). In general, then, the rubric for reform in Malaysia will be as much about how to utilise the government’s economic and technology agencies more effectively, and in ways seen as accessible and relevant to the public, as about how to lighten the heavy hand of state intervention.
The challenges facing Malaysia, and any parties seeking to govern it, thus go beyond needs for liberalisation and greater government transparency and efficiency, as crucial as those reform goals might be. Rather, they involve articulating an alternative form of a developmental agenda, one that integrates distributional concerns with the sort of productivity-enhancing measures advocated by those focused on the putative middle-income trap. 
The challenges involved in formulating and communicating this sort of agenda are not small. Without such a vision and credible claims to be able to implement it, though, laudable reform goals related to transparency and accountability may not be enough to mobilise and retain the support of important segments of the Malaysian electorate. Malaysia’s modern history includes a powerful, ongoing legacy of developmentalism. For all the critiques of the pathologies of excessive government meddling, it’s a mode of politics whose relevance is reinforced by contemporary exigencies of globalisation and technological change, and their impacts on key social constituencies. If the new space for political contestation is to yield regime transition of one kind or another, a key element will be the competition to “do development” better. — New Mandala
Greg Felker is Associate Professor of Politics at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, US. He previously served on the faculty of the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, and has been a visitor at the University of Maryland and Chulalongkorn University. He received his M.P.A. and Ph.D from Princeton University.