Archive for September, 2012

by Lim Guan Eng

Even though many goodies where announced during yesterday’s Budget 2013 speech by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, this budget has failed the Malaysian people by not addressing three crucial areas which are necessary to guarantee the long term well-being of our country and its people – namely fiscal prudence, economic sustainability and cost of living increases.

Firstly, even though the budget deficit is projected to come down from 4.5% in 2012 to a ‘mere’ 4.0% in 2013, this figure masks the poor track record of the BN government in sticking to its spending plans. For example, total expenditure for Budget 2012 was announced at RM232.8b in last’s year’s budget speech. But in this year’s Economic Report 2012 / 2013, total expenditure for 2012 is projected to total up to RM252.4b. This is almost RM20b more than the projected expenditure announced last year.

We were fortunate that projected revenue is expected to be RM207b for 2012, RM20b more than the RM186.9b projected revenue announced last year. Without this tax ‘windfall’, our budget deficit would have ballooned up to 6.7% of GDP rather than the projected 4.5% for 2012. But we cannot expect that actual revenue will continue to exceed projected revenue especially given the slowing global economy. Furthermore revenue from oil related tax revenue is likely to decrease given the change in the dividend policy of Petronas as well as political uncertainty in Southern Sudan which could decrease Petronas’s bottom line by as much as US1 billion.

While we do not object to giving financial assistance to the truly deserving, there is nothing to indicate that the government has stopped leakages in the BR1M program which went to people like an MCA Datuk in Pahang. The initial RM1.8b that was allocated to BR1M for 3.4m households in the 2012 budget ballooned to over RM2b for over 4m households. A country whose GDP is projected to expand by 5% in 2012 should see fewer households earning less than 3000RM. And yet, BR1M recipients are projected to increase to 4.3m households with another 2.7m individuals earning less than 2000RM joining them. Without proper checks and balances, the RM3b that has been allocated to BR1M 2.0 for Budget 2013 can easily increase to more than RM4b, if not more.
The same lack of fiscal prudence could be seen in the expenditure on subsidies. An allocation of RM32.8b was given for subsidies in Budget 2012 but the actual expenditure on subsidies is projected to be at RM42.4b, an increase of RM9.6b or 29.3% over the original budget! If the same kind of trajectory is followed, the RM37.6b which is allocated for subsidies in Budget 2013 could easily increase to almost RM50b!

Given the BN’s poor record for fiscal prudence and especially if elections are held next year, it is likely that BN will break the bank to funnel out as much taxpayer’s money as possible in a blatant attempt to buy votes by giving handouts irresponsibly. I would not be surprised if our total expenditure will be RM30b over budget and our budget deficit for 2013 would end up well in excess of 5.0%!

Secondly, this budget provides incentives and handouts which favors certain projects and parties rather than providing the basis for longer term sustainable economic growth that will benefit all. In fact, many of these incentives will skew the system against hardworking Malaysian entrepreneurs who are not in the position to receive and benefit from these incentives.

For example, Budget 2013 continues to give preferred incentives and tax treatments for companies who want to locate to and developers who want to build in the Tun Razak Exchange formerly known as the Kuala Lumpur International Financial District (KLIFD) including tax exemptions for property developers, income tax exemption for 10 years for TRX-status companies, stamp duty exemptions, industrial building allowance and accelerated capital allowances for TRX Marquee-status companies.

The aggressive promotion of TRX not only increases the problem of a property glut in commercial office space in Kuala Lumpur, it also unfairly disadvantages developers who own and are in the process of developing commercial property which TRX is directly competing against. These developers would lose out if existing or future tenants decide to relocate to TRX and at the same time, the taxpayer would also lose out since these companies would be given income tax exemption for 10 years. As part of this initiative, 1MDB will be allocated an additional RM400m from the Prime Minister’s Department in Budget 2013, an unnecessary expenditure for what is essentially a property development project.

Similarly, under the guise of lowering prices of goods in Sabah and Sarawak, the government is introducing 57 Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia or KR1M stores at the cost of RM386m. Just like in Peninsular Malaysia, the ones who will be hurt by this move are the owners of the kedai runcit stores who cannot compete against the government subsidized KR1M stores. It would make more sense for the government to abolish the cabotage policy and to improve the transportation network in Sabah and Sarawak to reduce prices of goods in Sabah and Sarawak, which is what Pakatan is proposing, rather than to subsidize KR1M stores that are run by one private company which would drive out many existing kedai runcit owners out of business.

These kinds of initiatives contradict PM Najib’s statement that the era of ‘government knows best is over’. Indeed, according to the Economic Report 2012 / 2013, the public sector is expected to expand by 13.3% in 2012 to account for 25.2% of GDP (up from 23.3% in 2011), meaning that the government will play a larger role in the economy, rather than to reduce its footprint and to allow the private sector to thrive and drive the economy forward. By promoting and undertaking these initiatives, Najib is contradicting one of the major thrust of the New Economic Model (NEM) and also the impetus behind the Economic Transformation Program (ETP).
Thirdly, this budget fails to bring to the table long term solutions for the problem of rising cost of living, especially in the urban areas.

Crime is one of the main drivers of cost of living increases. Businesses which have to spend more on security pass the costs to consumers. Residents who have to pay for private security have less disposable income. Sadly, the measures which are in Budget 2013 to reduce crime leave much to be desired.

There are no recommendations to re-organize the police force by re-allocating Special Branch officers, which have twice as many investigating officers / detectives as the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), or by re-allocating some of the 14,000 General Operations Force (GOF) police personnel, an organizational legacy from the Communist fighting days, to the CID and the frontlines of fighting crime.

Instead, what was provided was the allocation of RM20m to buy 1000 motorcycles at a cost of RM20,000 per motorcycle to set up a Motorcycle Patrolling Unit.

In addition, there were hardly any efforts proposed to involve the state and local authorities to fight crime. All that was mentioned as the allocation to buy 496 units of CCTVs for 25 local authorities to prevent street crimes in urban areas. This works out to 20 units of CCTVs for every local authority which is not even sufficient to cover one neighborhood, much less the area in one state authority.

Similarly, the ambitious program to build more than 100,000 affordable and low cost houses will come to naught if these housing projects are not integrated with public transportation. The MRT project and the LRT extension cannot possibly cover all the areas which have or will have low cost and affordable homes, assuming that they even get built. Allowing the state and local authorities to provide bus services would be one possible solution to this problem. But instead of this, the federal government is expanding the federally owned RAPID bus services to other places, this time to Kuantan.

With car prices still at very unaffordable levels, especially for the lower middle income groups, the issue of affordable and low cost housing cannot be seen in isolation from the issue of public transportation. Unfortunately, PM Najib does not seem to have realized this as seen by his Budget 2013.

Pakatan Rakyat’s budget, on the other hand, exercises much more fiscal prudence. Not only is our projected deficit lower at 3.5% of GDP or approximately RM37b, our revenue and expenditure projections are also much more conservative, at RM197b and RM234b respectively. A more conservative budget would give us more room to maneuver if Pakatan does take over power at the federal level and puts its budget in place.

PR’s budget is also more economically sustainable in that we do not attempt to favor one sector or project over another. Instead we will set out to abolish monopolies, abolish unfair practices and increase competition in all sectors of the economy.

Our budget also gives more focus on long term solutions to address cost of living issues including a proper redeployment and reallocation of police personnel to fight crime, more involvement of local authorities to reduce crime and provide public transportation alternatives, reduce and abolish toll rates to put money back into the pockets of the people and to find new ways of providing affordable public housing.

The choice for Malaysians is very clear. Najib’s 2013 budget is full of one shot goodies and handouts which do not adequately address the long term concerns of the country namely fiscal prudence, economic sustainability and cost of living increases. Pakatan, through its Alternative Budget, and through the state governments in Penang and Selangor, have shown that it can govern with fiscal responsibility in mind, with sustainable policies which encourage fair competition and with measures that puts money in the pockets of the people in the long term. Let the people of Malaysia choose wisely.

Lim Guan Eng

Read the rest in Mandarin here

by Premesh Chandran

COMMENT: The attacks against Malaysiakini signal that the government is getting desperate.

For the past week, the mainstream media – TV3, Utusan Malaysia, New Straits Times and The Star – have launched an attack on Malaysiakini and civil society organisations for receiving grants from international foundations in what they claimed is a plot to destabilise the government.

Malaysiakini has been further attacked for having a foreign investor which is allegedly linked to billionaire financier George Soros. Further aspersions have been cast on Malaysiakini that some of our shareholders have political links.

I understand the reason for the attacks. After all, elections are around the corner, and by all accounts, the results could go either way. Hence, the mainstream media have been ordered by their political owners – UMNO and MCA – to attack and discredit voices that are calling for free and fair elections, for investigations into various corruption scandals and for democratic principles to be observed and upheld.

It is no surprise that they repeatedly report accusations, insinuations and half-truths, along with an ugly dose of racism – a strategy perfected by none other than Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels.

Let’s look into these accusations one by one and put them to bed:

1. Same accusation 11 years ago

Former Malaysiakini news editor YL Chong’s repeated accusations that in 2001 we hid a RM188,000 grant from Media Development Loan Fund (MDLF) and that he resigned after taking a stand on the matter.

This accusation is not new. It was paraded in the mainstream media 11 years ago – back in 2001 – as “proof” of our links to Soros. We have published our rebuttal shortly after those accusations were made.

In a nutshell, Malaysiakini was open with its staff about a contract to build a software application for the Centre for Advanced Media Prague (Camp), which is MDLF’s technology division.

Chong went to the media with the accusation that the deal was a grant and we’re hiding the deal. In fact, Malaysiakini had already made an announcement of the software deal on the site.

The question is, why would Malaysiakini be so open with its staff on the deal. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to keep Malaysiakini staff in the dark?

2. ‘Soros man on Malaysiakini Board’

On the back of successfully completing the technology development and successfully launching a subscription model in January 2002, MDLF decided to invest in Malaysiakini – their first in an online medium, breaking away from their traditional investment in newspapers, television and radio stations.

Malaysiakini received RM1.3 million for 29 percent of equity and MDLF agreed to sign an editorial non-intervention agreement. Following that, Malaysiakini held a press conference and made an announcement about the matter.

At the time of the investment, MDLF was led by its co-founder Sasa Vucinic, a journalist whose independent radio station B92 in Belgrade fought a long and hard battle to help bring down Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Milosevic was subsequently charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.

Sasa went on to set up MDLF with the strategy of helping independent media in Eastern Europe grow following the fall of communism. Soros, a Hungarian with a track record of supporting press freedom, was among the many major donors of MDLF. Do watch Sasa’s fantastic TED talk to know more about MDLF’s philosophy.

To date, MDLF is involved in 269 projects for 85 independent media companies in 27 countries. Not only does MDLF have a right to be on Malaysiakini’s Board given its stake in the company, it is hardly business sense for us to pass on the opportunity to have such distinguished individuals to serve on our board.

The advice and guidance from MDLF and their current CEO, Harlan Mandel, have been a tremendous boost to Malaysiakini’s business strategy. How is Mandel a Soros’ man? Indeed, using the tenuous link between MDLF and Soros to argue that somehow MDLF is doing Soros’s bidding is definitely straight out of the Goebbels handbook.

3. But why attack Soros?

The entire attack by the mainstream media is premised on a link between Malaysiakini and Soros. But why the hatred of Soros?

The Malaysian Central Bank chose to gamble our hard-earned reserves on defending the pound. When the pound collapsed in 1992, Malaysia was left with a major hole in the Treasury, and Soros made a name for himself for breaking the Bank of England.

Instead of asking why was our central bank engaged in highly speculative and risky action, Malaysia attacked Soros.

Despite a heated exchange of words in the wake of the Asian financial crisis, former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad later conceded that Soros was not responsible for the damage to Malaysia. Mahathir subsequently met Soros in Kuala Lumpur and asked for his support for his global campaign to outlaw war.

During his visit to Malaysia, Soros met with a host of government and business leaders. We have even heard of there were subsequent private meetings between Soros and top UMNO leaders, which to date have gone unreported but will come to light soon.

4. Malaysiakini gets grants from foreign donors

The mainstream media have portrayed that Malaysiakini has been hiding the fact that we receive grants from international donors and we now “admit” to this long-hidden fact. The truth is that Malaysiakini has always declared the grants it receives.

Malaysiakini funds its core activities from subscription and advertising revenues. Grants are used to fund projects that are of social benefit but are not likely to be revenue generating or profitable. So while Malaysiakini as a whole is a for-profit organisation, we do solicit funds to support our “non-profit” projects.

For example, Malaysiakini trained over 300 citizen journalists around Malaysia and established a website called Malaysiakini also established to encourage local news coverage. Malaysiakini built to provide electoral information and as an online archive of important documents.

5. Malaysiakini has opposition figures as shareholders

In order to start up Malaysiakini, the founders invested their own funds and appealed to friends in civil society for investment in 1999.

R. Sivarasa (left), then a prominent human rights activist had yet to join any political party; Sivarasa’s sister-in-law, Mary Agnes, who is a banker; Bruno Pereira, a prominent trade unionist; and Joseph Paul, also a human rights activist, took the risk to make the initial investment in Malaysiakini. Their contribution was converted to shares and they represent not more than a couple of percent of the company.

Up to this date, unfortunately, they and other shareholders have not received any dividends but we hope their investments have been worthwhile. In no way do any of the shareholders have an influence in Malaysiakini.

The Selangor MB’s press secretary, Arfa’eza Aziz, is a former Malaysiakini journalist, a fact conveniently omitted by The Star’s report. She, along with 50 other Malaysiakini staff, hold shares amounting to about 12 percent of the company.

6. Malaysiakini is controlled by outside forces

Nothing can be further from the truth. Despite many offers to buy Malaysiakini, the founders continue to hold on to their majority stake.

Malaysiakini asks our readers to pay a subscription fee so that Malaysiakini remains financially independent and does not have to seek funding for its core operations. Who would know best about how editorial decisions are made but our editors and journalists?

Over 13 years, hundreds have worked on our editorial floor. If asked, I believe they will tell a tale of hard work and toil and long hours, but never a tale of stories being spiked, censored or twisted to suite external powers, something so prevalent in the newsrooms of politically-owned media.

Editorial decisions rest with the editorial desk and the editor-in-chief, and that is the way it should be. We do not believe the accusations against Malaysiakini will stop. After all, desperate times require desperate measures. Nevertheless, for those who are really interested to know more about Malaysiakini, we are more than happy to talk to them.

Besides that, we need to get on with our job of reporting the news that matters, without fear or favour.

PREMESH CHANDRAN is Chief Executive Officer of Malaysiakini.

Malaysia comprises of 13 states and 3 federal territories but only 4 states have chief ministers.

Elections to 3 state assemblies in Penang, Malacca and Sabah will be turned into a sort of referendum on the performance of the chief ministers. Whereas Sarawak had its state assembly elections in 2011, meaning Taib Mahmud would still be around past GE13 despite Premier Najib Tun Razak having told the people of Sarawak that he would ensureTaib steps down after the 2011 state election. Taib is unlikely to retire anytime soon as his Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) won all the 35 seats it contested in 2011. Besides, Sarawak has 31 parliamentary seats and Taib controls at least 25 of them.

In all these states, the incumbent chief ministers are very popular and, as a result, the election campaigns will be strongly focused on their performance. As a result, national leaders of both the Barisan National and the Pakatan Rakyat have begun to realize that they actually have little role to play in these elections. Penang’s one-term chief minister Lim Guan Eng​, Sabah’s two-termed chief minister Musa Aman and Sarawak’s four-termed chief minister Taib Mahmud alongside relatively the low-profile three-termed chief minister of Malacca Mohd ​Ali Rustam, respectively, have all acquired a larger-than-life image in their states, making it difficult for opposition parties to easily dislodge them.

This has then given respective ruling parties in all these states an incumbency advantage. Whether all these chief ministers will succeed in their re-election bid will depend on whether they can overcome issues at the constituency level, especially in terms of candidates who don’t have strong track records. But it is increasingly clear to me that the chief ministers have put their parties in a strong position.

Many Malaysian voters have begun choosing governments not on the basis of party ideology and long-prevailing preferences but on specific party leaders. This trend has become more obvious with an increasing number of young people emerging as a major voting bloc. That’s because, in general, party loyalty and party identification among the youth is weaker compared with older Malaysian voters. Perhaps the youth have realized that it is better to focus on leaders rather than parties as there are good and bad leaders in all parties.

People are craving for leaders who are honest, easily accessible and have a strong, pro-rural and pro-people orientation. Incumbent chief ministers of the latest poll-bound states don’t necessarily have all these qualities. Yet, overall, they have performed remarkably well on these attributes; this is what makes it difficult for their challengers. I am not suggesting that these leaders could win without the backing and cadre of their parties. But they have added an extra element of strength and give an edge to their parties. Elections in Malaysia are increasingly focused on a specific leader is clear from recent electoral victories of Taib Mahmud in Sarawak, contributed hugely to his party’s victory.

In the case of Malacca, Mohd Ali Rustam, was barred from contesting in the UMNO elections, the UMNO Disclipinary Board found Mohd Ali guilty of violating party ethics for indulging in money politics and hence was prohibited from contesting the post of UMNO deputy president. But he still remains as the Malacca Chief Minister. In the past, it was only national leaders such as Dr Mahathir​ and Anwar Ibrahim​, and some regional icons such as Musa Aman, Pairin Kitingan and Taib Mahmud​, who had the magnetism to win on their sheer personal strength. Today, a number of chief ministers, such as Musa Aman and Lim Guan Eng, in these poll-bound states, have acquired this larger-than-party persona.

What is interesting is that all these chief ministers have emerged mainly due to their pro-development agenda. Most of them have implemented welfare-oriented and populist programmes to woo the electorate. Financial assistance schemes targeting the poor as well as rapid strides in basic infrastructure such as roads and bridges especially in Sabah have all been priorities for the respective chief ministers. These smart chief ministers have found a way of potentially overcoming the dreaded anti-incumbency factor so prevalent in Malaysian elections.

What this suggests is that parties ought to announce leaders in every state, especially those in the opposition, and let these leaders build up a profile. UMNO is benefiting in Sabah due to the image of Musa Aman as an urbane, decent and efficient chief minister. The recent visit to Sabah by Wu Bangguo, member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and even the visit by Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and his wife Cathrine, all confirms that Musa has done a fantastic job in Sabah. Its a fact Sabah is the most successful state in Malaysia in attracting private investments. For the first quarter of 2012, Sabah under Musa Aman managed to attract private investments in the amount of RM10 billion, way ahead of other states. Among the reasons is having a stable, business friendly and a prudent government besides the environment in Sabah is well protected because of Sabah’s stringent forestry laws and strong conservation programme. Yet, the party’s’ dogged refusal to announce its chief ministerial candidates in other states, even where popular leaders are available and willing, is going against the voters’ tendency to choose leaders over parties.

Given the voter fixation with state issues and chief ministers, national issues have become rather irrelevant in these elections. Altantuya, Scorpene submarines, Sharizat’s 250million “Lembu” episode and price rise on food items, which the Pakatan hoped to raise in these elections in a big way, appear to have failed to take off as these elections have become virtual referenda on the performance of the chief ministers. If the UMNO/Barisan National fares poorly in Penang in this coming GE13, it will be mainly due to its inability to challenge the DAP’s popular chief minister Lim Guan Eng and not necessarily to the Barisan National government’s failures in managing the economy or maintaining internal security. So, even if it fails to win in the Pakatan-ruled states, this is a message that may bring solace to the Barisan National leadership and hopes in national elections to the Parliament that are due in March/April 2013.

(A fourth century fragment of papyrus that divinity professor Karen L. King says is the only existing ancient text that quotes Jesus explicitly referring to having a wife)

A historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School has identified a scrap of papyrus that she says was written in Coptic in the fourth century and contains a phrase never seen in any piece of Scripture: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’” The faded papyrus fragment is smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side — in black ink legible under a magnifying glass. Just below the line about Jesus having a wife, the papyrus includes a second provocative clause that purportedly says, “she will be able to be my disciple”.

The finding was made public in Rome at an international meeting of Coptic scholars by the historian Karen L. King, who has published several books about new Gospel discoveries and is the first woman to hold the nation’s oldest endowed chair, the Hollis professor of divinity.

The provenance of the papyrus fragment is a mystery, and its owner has asked to remain anonymous. Until Tuesday, Ms. King had shown the fragment to only a small circle of experts in papyrology and Coptic linguistics, who concluded that it is most likely not a forgery. But she and her collaborators say they are eager for more scholars to weigh in and perhaps upend their conclusions.

Ms. King gave an interview and showed the papyrus fragment, encased in glass, to reporters from The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Harvard Magazine in her garret office in the tower at Harvard Divinity School last Thursday.

She repeatedly cautioned that this fragment should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married. The text was probably written centuries after Jesus lived, and all other early, historically reliable Christian literature is silent on the question, she said.

But the discovery is exciting, said Ms. King, because it is the first known statement from antiquity that refers to Jesus speaking of a wife. It provides further evidence that there was an active discussion among early Christians about whether Jesus was celibate or married, and which path his followers should choose.

“This fragment suggests that some early Christians had a tradition that Jesus was married,” Ms. King said. “There was, we already know, a controversy in the second century over whether Jesus was married, caught up with a debate about whether Christians should marry and have sex.”

Ms. King first learnt about what she calls “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” when she received an email in 2010 from a private collector who asked her to translate it. Ms. King (58) specialises in Coptic literature, and has written books on “the Gospel of Judas”, “the Gospel of Mary of Magdala”, “Gnosticism and women in antiquity”.

The owner took the fragment to the Divinity School in December 2011 and left it with Ms. King. In March, she carried the fragment in her red handbag to New York to show it to two colleagues, both papyrologists: Roger Bagnall, director of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, at New York University, and AnneMarie Luijendijk, an associate professor of religion at Princeton University.

They examined the scrap under sharp magnification. It was very small — only four by eight centimetres. The lettering was splotchy and uneven, the hand of an amateur, but not unusual for the time period, when many Christians were poor and persecuted.

It was written in Coptic — an Egyptian language that uses Greek characters — and more precisely, in Sahidic Coptic — a dialect from southern Egypt, Ms. Luijendijk said in an interview.

What convinced them it was probably genuine was the fading of the ink on the papyrus fibres, and traces of ink adhered to the bent fibres at the torn edges. The back side is so faint that only five words are visible, one only partly: “my moth [[er]]”, “three”, “forth which”.

“It would be impossible to forge,” said Ms. Luijendijk, who contributed to Ms. King’s paper. Mr. Bagnall reasoned that a forger would have had to be expert in Coptic grammar, handwriting and ideas. — New York Times News Service

Print ads and films, campaigns on Twitter, Facebook and maybe a special deal with YouTube… Premier Najib Tun Razk is leaving little — including expenses — to chance. No wonder the Pakatan Rakyat is worried!

Anwar Ibrahim, is having sleepless nights NOT because he will be taking on popular Najib Tun Razak in the coming 13th General Elections but because he will have to counter Najib’s huge power of communication.

Leaders of the Pakatan Rakyat think that Najib will use his government’s budget for various ministries in the coming six months to propagate himself and his government’s achievements. It can be done legally and, Pakatan Rakyat know, it will also be done smartly. Besides the budget for 2013 which will be tabled in Parliament this September 28, the government is going to be playing Santa Claus promising benefits to current voters at the expense of future generations. The government will borrow massively; that create debt, which future families must pay back with interest.

The Pakatan’s estimate is that before the elections, Najib will unleash material for his publicity and propaganda like never before. A senior Pakatan leader told me,  “Our estimate says it will be anything in the range of 1 billion Ringgit.”

But a DAP leader from Penang puts the figure much higher. He says, “Najib will use various budgets in the range of 2 billion Ringgit to gear up for the elections. Only if there is a model code of conduct then only he will he use party funds.

According to a senior Pakatan leader, who is a member of the party’s counter-strategy team, it is very difficult to segregate the government’s publicity and Najib’s personal and political publicity.

It is believed that Najib has massive plans to publicise his achievements both before and during the elections.

The entire publicity of the Malaysian government which ALWAYS means Prime Minister Najib’s publicity — is being supervised by his most trusted bureaucrat and principal secretary.

It has been found that Najib’s office has smart plans, in this election year, to promote Najib on YouTube.

The online video channel MAY sign an agreement to insert a 10-second video clip of Najib in millions of videos listed on its site. If this agreement is signed, it will be a never-before-done kind of political campaign on an international platform by a Malaysian leader.

Unconfirmed reports claim that the agreement may cost upward of 5 million ringgit a day and it will run for weeks till the election. It is well-known that Najib has accounts on Facebook, Twitter and many other sites, and that he is one of the most popular political leaders on social media sites. His account is believed to be run by trusted techies from the United States of America.

Najib’s office in Putrajaya is one of the most smartly operated offices as far as news, information and reference material collection is concerned, where he takes the help of most trusted techies. Najib also has studios and supportive technology to make publicity material both in Putrajaya and in Pekan, Pahang and at his home in KL.

The prime minister has a full-time expert to make his films, videos and documentaries. Najib’s office is also in negotiation to award a massive order for a 1Malaysia booklet showcasing his achievements.

Not well known, or appreciated, is the fact that Najib is a first-rate copywriter with a folksy and populist style. He loves writing slogans and prose for posters and political graffiti etc.

The Najib government has even special plans for a publicity blitz in the Orang Asli villages. There are 147,412 orang asli in Malaysia and the majority of them reside in 869 villages in Peninsular Malaysia, comprising around 0.6 per cent of the Malaysian population. Most of them are divided into three major ethnic groups – Negrito, Senoi and Proto-Malays –and Pahang tops the list of having the most number of Orang Asli 54,293. Huge LCD screens and mobile vans have been ordered, with huge budget for travel to orang asli villages to publicise the government’s achievements. Just this March Najib had announced an additional allocation of RM750mil, of which RM151mil has been earmarked for water supply projects to be spread out over the 869 orang asli villages.

Some Pakatan Rakyat leaders allege that the Najib government spends money even to get ‘Likes’ for Najib on social media sites. One of the DAP leaders involved in his party’s publicity and planning complains, “For every click on ‘Like’ 1 Ringgit is spent.

It is already known that APCO Worldwide, the US-based multinational, has been engaged to do publicity work for Najib.

Cynicism often creates blind spots which distort vision. Of late Sabah political scenario seems to be hugely afflicted by this malady which is going undiagnosed. Heart-warming developments emerging from various parts of Sabah are being clouded by the dust of allegations of corruption and malfeasance of gargantuan proportions in governance.

It was reported widely that Switzerland’s Attorney General has opened a criminal investigation into the country’s largest bank, UBS AG, over suspected money laundering of about S$38 trillion which includes US90 million of timber corruption proceeds from Sabah. The case against UBS was opened on August 29, following a criminal complaint by the Bruno Manser Fund over the bank’s close ties with Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman. The existence of the investigation was confirmed on August 29 by the Office of the Attorney General in the Swiss capital, Bern.

The Bruno Manser Fund accuses “Musa Aman and his nominees” of laundering more than US$90 million of corruption proceeds from the tropical timber business in Sabah, Borneo, through a number of UBS bank accounts in Hong Kong. The Bruno Manser Fund alleges that Musa Aman “has personally benefited from the large-scale logging” of these rainforests near the Danum Valley. The Swiss government reportedly said that it was ready to freeze Musa’s accounts in Switzerland if the Malaysian authority made a request for legal assistance.

These allegations however sounds very Dan Brown, singling in on the conspiracy theories.

One such positive development comes from this whole accusation. Sabah Forestry Department director Sam Manan is an internationally celebrated forest scientist. In his current assignment as adviser on forestry to Sabah chief minister Musa Aman, Sam has been focusing on good forest practices in the state. And he has an interesting story to tell. Despite being hit by accusations of rampant illegal logging of its forest, the state is all set to post an increase of about 20 percent of Sabah’s total land area under the totally protected area (TPAS) reserves reaching 1.3 million hectares exceeding even the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) standard of 10%. By all yardsticks, this is not only unprecedented but phenomenal too.

How has this miracle become possible? Sam explains it very succinctly, “Perseverance and desire at the top.” Musa Aman has been consistent in his approach to reduce the dependence on timber revenue soon than later, ever since taking over the state as chief minister in 2003 and this was his agenda. The forest revenue is about RM150 million a year today as opposed to RM500 million to RM1 billion in the past. His objective is simple: to ensure that the forests are given a chance to recover.

And according to Sam, the money Bruno Manser Fund is alleging about is a US$90 million “nest egg” purportedly derived from widescale illegal logging activities in Sabah. This amount of US$90 million , if indeed true, would mean that not less that one million m3 of timber have been illegally felled. That represents plundering of at least 20,000 hectres (50,000 acres) of well-stocked forest. This scale of logging would then represent 50% of the timber produced from natural forest in 2011 or about 30% of Sabah’s timber production in 2010.

Sounds rather ridiculous and far fetched this whole US90 million story.

If anything, a badly logged well-stocked forest of 20,000ha would have been easily detected by satellites and attracted the attention of NGOs, environmentalists and the communities living nearby. Besides, the enormity of the alleged extent of illegal felling [1 million m3] could not have escaped the attention of the world. So, no way could such acts be committed and passed without notice. Also, if 50% of the annual production of timber from Sabah was alleged to be illegal, world markets especially sensitive ones like Europe, North America and Japan would have long ago stopped buying timber from Sabah. This enormous economic and financial implication would have been so harmful to the state as a whole and the state budget could have gone topsy-turvy.

Musa Aman worked overtime with the forestry to improve on good forest practices and continue to attract the attention of certifying bodies and NGOs, who want to be partners and to assist Sabah in obtaining veritable and certifiable good governance. Under his leadership, SFM [sustainable forest management] had improved by leaps and bounds. Short-term licences that caused tremendous damage to the environment were being drastically phased out and Sabah’s forest management credibility is now at its highest.Sabah now has an open-book philosophy whereby, logging and forest management areas are all open to third party and NGO scrutiny. Currently at least 800,000ha of Sabah’s forests are partially or fully certified under various internationally recognised system such as FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), MTCS (Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme) and PEFC (Pan European Forest Scheme). This included the 250,000ha of fully certified and 150,000ha of partially certified forest areas under the Sabah Foundation.

In fact, many more forest areas are being earmarked for certification as Sabah has set 2014 as the year for all long-term licensed areas to be fully certified.The process of certification means independent third party is on the ground auditing to assess credibility. Musa has created model forest centre and ensured that the forest in Sabah will never be “raped” like in the past by unscrupulous people. At the same time, there has been a consistent effort to educate everyone involve in the timber industry about good forest practices without disturbing the forest.This endeavor, carried out silently, is about to bear fruits now, an indication that Sabah’s forest are well run. And the spill-over effect is evident by the wildlife corridor linking Maliau Basin, Imbak Canyon to Danum/Ulu Segama and the re-classification of Ulu Segama (130,000ha) to total protected status.

As The Duke of Cambridge Prince William and Lady Catherine Middleton prepares for a visit to Danum Valley on the 15th of September, a testament to their longstanding interest in conservation, we should perhaps see this as an indication that the rumours of deforestation and illegal logging is not true. Why would Musa allow the Royal couple into Sabah if the home to some of the last remaining areas of tropical rainforest in South East Asia were indeed in dire straits?

In fact, Sabah has been uniquely placed in Malaysia’s context. Given its good forest practices, pressure on forest is intense. Timber revenue was a major source of livelihood in absence of industrialisation. Perhaps Sabah stands out as a paradox in the Malaysia Shining story. Still the state has been consistently growing at the rate of over 8 percent, one of the highest in the country. There is no doubt that much of this growth comes from the state spending on social welfare schemes and building up of infrastructure.

By economic standards, Sabah virtually offers an inverted model of growth inconsistent with the overall growth narrative. Musa aman has been making all-out efforts to inject buoyancy in rural market by improving agriculture and tourism. Perhaps he seems to be aware of his handicap that the timber from the forest is getting too scarce and priced to be given for industrial growth. That is why he has been insisting on reducing the dependence on timber to save the forest for future generations. Similarly he turns to be an environmentalist when it comes to allotment of mining rights in and around Maliau Basin. Sabah is firm that no mining activities should take place in first class forest reserves and protected areas such as the Maliau Basin in the south central part of the state. “No mining can be allowed in Maliau Basin,” he told Datuk Lim Keng Yaik when requested him to open coal mining to give fillip to growth. And then the Sabah government’s decision to bar any development on the seafront totalling 1,555ha from Tanjung Aru to Likas Bay through the Land Ordinance (Amendment) 2012 Bill, approved by the state assembly in July 2012, was a significant and bold move, and motivated by the need to protect the marine ecosystem.

On the face of it, Sabah appears to be posting a growth which is not sustainable if one believes in prescriptions of neoliberal economists. But there are enough straws in the wind to suggest that Sabah is on the cusp of defying this theory and evolve a new model which may be far more inclusive and environment-friendly than the existing models. If Musa Aman’s growth story proves to be true, this innovative model is bound to fuel an intense political and economic debate in the country.

So the allegations are therefore baseless and made with bad intention to discredit the sacrifices made by Musa Aman’s state government to achieve good forest governance and SFM [sustainable forest management] in the shortest time possible, despite the economic financial and social challenges.

Could not resist posting this article by Raja Petra. He talks quite a fair bit about “WEED” aka ganja during baby-boomer days, a favorite subject of mine. I was even taken a back by one of the commentators who even suggested that Pakatan Rakyat should legalise marijuana if it forms the next Federal Government, so funny!

In this piece “They are messing with our minds“, Raja Petra puts it so bluntly, “In our days, grass was not considered a drug and hence was not illegal. Even policeman would join us for a smoke,” and this is true, even “nasi kandar” tasted better then because of the ganja in it, ask any Penangite and they will vouch for this. But that was the good old days.

Anyway, Raja Petra should be back in Malaysia anytime soon, looking forward to spent some interesting times with him as Malaysia moves closer to GE13. Expect some real political fireworks to begin, on his arrival, to our shores.


Here goes Raja Petra’s piece….They are messing with our minds

One million people a year or one person every 40 seconds commits suicide all over the world. “Although suicide continues to remain a serious problem in high-income countries, it is the low- and middle-income countries that bear the larger part of the global suicide burden,” said the report.

“Globally, suicide is meanwhile the second cause of death worldwide among 15-19 year-olds, with at least 100,000 adolescents killing themselves each year, according to the study,” said the news report above, which represents 10% of those who commit suicide

So there you have it. These people are too young to have sex (they are not matured enough to make the decision whether to have sex of not) but they are not too young to commit suicide.

But why do people commit suicide, especially teenagers who have not even started their life yet? I suppose it is because they are not happy. And since they are not happy they no longer want to live.

Isn’t 15 or 16 a bit too young to not be happy? When I was that age I was happy like hell. Every day was party day, as far as I was concerned. And we lived for today. We did not care a damn about tomorrow. Why are the kids of today not like how we were when we were their age?

I suppose, in our days, we did not have any pressure. Everyone was a friend, not like today where you have Malay friends, Chinese friends, Indian friends, etc. You were just a friend, period, so there was not much pressure placed on us to compartmentalise ourselves into racial, religious or social blocks.

Then we never worried about our future. Every day is today. Tomorrow also becomes today when the sun rises the following morning. Hence who cares about tomorrow? Tomorrow never comes. Nowadays, there is no today. Everything is about tomorrow. We don’t live for today. We plan and prepare for tomorrow.

I suppose grass helped a lot as well. In our days, grass was not considered a drug and hence was not illegal. Even policeman would join us for a smoke. And sometimes the policemen would dip into their own pocket and pull out some grass for us to ‘roll’.

Man, in those days we kids did not have any problems with the policemen like the kids of nowadays. The policemen were our friends and our smoking ‘kakis’. Some of them even came around with their squad cars to join us in Benteng for Teh Tarik and a smoke.

Committing suicide was the last thing on our minds back then. Our minds were not messed up like the minds of today’s kids. Okay, maybe we were a bit messed up because we could not decide in what order of priority it was supposed to be — bikes, booze and broads or bikes, broads and booze. But we did not allow details to stand in the way of fun.

So what happened? What changed in those 45 years since we were kids who lived for today and did not care a damn about tomorrow? Why do kids today commit suicide when in our days a good ‘watermelon’ was to die for but only in a figure of speech sort of way?

(By the way, for those of you who do not know what ‘watermelon’ means, too bad. For those who do, maybe you can take a trip down memory lane with the video below).


He called himself Joseph Anton, a combination of the first names of two of his favourite writers Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov; masqueraded as a publisher who, for inexplicable reasons, needed to live in a house with bullet-proof doors and windows; and constantly lived in fear of a potential assassin lurking within shooting distance.

That is how Salman Rushdie spent 10 long years on the run in the wake of the Iranian fatwa ordering his death following the publication of The Satanic Verses in 1988. A full account of those nightmarish years is revealed in his new book, Joseph Anton, due out later this month. In a literary conceit, he refers to himself throughout the book in the third person as Mr. Anton.

Describing how overnight “Mr Anton’s” life changed into a horror story, he writes: “He realised in that foot-stepped silence that he no longer understood his life or what it might become.”

In BBC documentary “Imagine,” to be telecast ahead of the book launch on September 18, Rushdie reportedly talks of “being 41 and thinking it pretty unlikely I would see my 42nd birthday”. He recalls what it felt being suddenly deprived of his freedom and shut out from the outside world.

“You are zooming around in armoured Jaguars and people are jumping to open doors. But it didn’t feel grand. It felt like jail. It was also up to me find the houses, places the police would approve of. It was just very cooped up. When I wanted a walk, they would have to take me,” he reportedly says in the documentary.

According to snatches from the book published in The Sunday Times, Rushdie says the police accompanied him everywhere, even to the lavatory, but he declined to wear a wig as a disguise.

Rushdie, who lived in 20 different “safe houses,” spent the first weekend of the fatwa locked inside a bedroom in a hotel.

“One of the other guests was a journalist from the Daily Mirror, who had taken a neighbouring room with a lady who was not his wife,” he writes.

Rushdie’s protection team always worried that “they” would get him in the end. In the end, though, “Mr. Anton” survived to tell the tale.

Indian guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has drawn a huge crowd in Argentina’s capital to meditate against violence and stress.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s organisation estimates on Sunday’s crowd at a park swelled to more than 100,000 people.

They chanted and moved rhythmically as the guru urged them to focus their collective energy on ending violence and creating a world free of stress.

Smaller crowds were urged to meditate together around the world as Ravi Shankar’s image was transmitted on television screens.

Ravi Shankar’s The Art of Living foundation is particularly popular in Argentina.