Archive for January, 2013

Development without corruption is an ideal situation in Malaysian politics. Corruption and development is, at a stretch, somewhat acceptable. But corruption without development is completely unacceptable. Sadly, the Malaysian political scene has somehow have found ourselves in the second scenario and moving rapidly towards the last scenario. And it is within this such formula that incumbent Chief Minister, Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, the undisputed leader of Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) and Chairman of the ruling coalition in Sarawak’s victory in the recent 10th Sarawak state elections 2011, needs to be seen.

The issue whether or not Taib Mahmud is a clean politician was never the key. It was whether Taib Mahmud had delivered, and on that count he scored. Perhaps not in the most raring of percentages but but he was adequately high on a scale of one to ten. In the Malaysian context, irrespective of corruption, development scores. If a politician at the helm of affairs demonstrates his intent and will to deliver as well as takes positive steps in that direction, similar to that of the Taib Mahmud Sarawakian government, then the electorate reposes its faith in him. This more often than not overlooks the incumbency factor. Taib Mahmud was voted in as chief minister for eight terms: the last one going beyond anyone’s expectations. The grapevine has it that Taib himself was not sure of winning but the people voted him in on three counts; the first being that only he can keep UMNO from coming into Sarawak, the second being that he had done for Sarawak what no other Chief Minister had and third being that development was high on the agenda.

There were stories about several family members benefiting billions during his regime but those allegations waned in the face of the work he had done. A great deal still remains undone but his intention and will to work benefited the people who voted him in and this alone is enough reason for the electorate to back him and ensure his return to office which he held for eight terms. In the case of Dr Mahathir, the issue also worked in his favour was the perception that his heart beats for the Malays although he is half-Indian and that even while the party or his confidantes made money left, right and center, he had electoral support till of course he made the fatal mistake of sacking Anwar Ibrahim for corruption and sodomy charges.

In Malaysia, race, religion or corruption comes into play when development takes a backseat. In situations like this, non-performing politicians have a field day in exploiting race and religion blocks to their advantage and they often succeed. Koh Tsu Koon was able to rule Penang and later managed to name chairman Datuk Dr Teng Hock Nan as his successor primarily because he helped UMNO and had the support of the Feds in the center, get electoral power and in turn had a role in decision making. But what dented Koh Tsu Koon’s unassailable position were his non-performance and confining his tenure solely to UMNO politics. That worked initially but later Penangites wanted results of governance where of course he failed miserably. The consequence: a total rout from which recovery seems a near impossibility as the recent 2008 election-results have demonstrated.

This is in great contrast with Lim Guan Eng’s human development agenda in which the situation is crystal-clear. Koh Tsu Koon’s UMNO discrepant policies brought Lim Guan Eng center-stage: His initial victory had little to do with him and more with being the protégé of then Penang Chief Minister Lim Chong Eu and UMNO. Koh Tsu Koon’s Parti Gerakan who vouched for him throughout the years deserted him on the grounds that his UMNO sucking up politics were limited to his family and an inner circle comprising his relatives and maybe a handful of supporters. At the macro level Koh Tsu Koon had failed to deliver or do anything for the state, they argued. Worse still, he had put the clock back.

Lim Guan Eng reign checked these: corruption, accountability and transparency and followed this up with development. Not only did he bring back the dignity of Penangites but also stressed on the state’s CAT (competency, accountability and transparency) principles. It is after many years in Penang that the state is finally transparent in its governance. In the face of all this, whether Lim Guan Eng and his minions are corrupted or not were non issues when it comes to voting him and his boys back to power. This can be said about Taib Mahmud or Musa Aman for that matter. Upon a better look, the way Musa Aman went about getting The Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on illegal immigrants in Sabah to investigate the Mother of ALL Problems, “Project IC”, the alleged systematic granting of citizenship to foreigners, was a brilliant move in spite of so much objections and even sabotage by Shafie Apdal and some UMNO Sabah chaps. Despite the drama he still managed to get it thru and convince Premier Najib against all odds, that this is the true meaning of development!

I stand corrected on my theory that people accept corruption only if it rides piggyback on development and never the former without the latter. Lim Guan Eng substantiates the first and Koh Tsu Koon the second. And although the the third option of development without corruption is an ideal situation, it is sadly rarely found in Malaysian politics. Even honest politicians, Musa Aman, who was voted in on grounds of his honesty and integrity, rued the fact that political parties need money to survive.

So with the way things are, it is less about corruption and more about being found out. Or even getting caught. Hence, solo development or clean governance in Malaysian politics is an ideal situation. In lieu with this, I have to single out Former Prime Ministers Tengku Abdul Rahman and Tun Hussein Onn whose integrity is beyond doubt, despite the various scams their Government had been besmeared with. But ask the man on the street or even Tengku or Tun Hussein Onn’s former political rivals and they will charge them with inaction but not dishonesty. In this case the clean image scores over governance.

Sabah’s turnaround in recent years has been one big feel-good story for the entire nation, which had virtually written off the state as a laggard in the post-liberalisation race for development. But the advent of Musa Aman as the chief minister started to bring about a gradual change in the people’s perception. For a change, Sabah began to hit the headlines with positive stories. From a remarkable fall in the crime graph to women empowerment ,and from deportation of hundreds of thousands of illegals sneaking in from the east-coast to drastic action against timber thieves, the state has started to shed its woeful image. Its growth rate also jumped to a phenomenal 7 per cent. Still, Sabah could not afford to count itself among the developed states of the nation, primarily because of the dearth of industries in the state. Industrialists remained wary, often due to the power scenario, giving Musa Aman’s rivals a reason to mock his claims on the development front.

Over time, the chief minister has worked to make the state significantly industry friendly, by inviting Petronas to seriously implement downstream industries and private companies to invest in thermal power projects across the state, despite Putrajaya’s prolonged reluctance to improve performance of Sabah Elecrticity Sdn Bhd (SESB), 80% owned and managed by Tenaga National Berhad (TNB) a Federal GLC. And obviously all that work seems to be paying off. Last Sunday, Musa Aman inaugurated a vehicle assembly plant in Kota Kinabalu Industrial Park (KKIP) in Sepanggar. KKIP now hosts over 200 factories in various stages of development and construction. They form one of the biggest clusters of small and medium enterprises (SME) in the country that are currently providing more than 6200 job opportunities to Sabahans. Musa Aman said that the new establishments set up by private investors were an answer to those who used to say that his government had not been able to set up even a factory of needles in the state.

The chief minister believes the state is capable of having a chain of industrial clusters, namely automotive, steel, halal food, wood, rubber, logistics and warehousing clusters. He is also confident that KKIP will be able to fulfill the RM1 billion investment target it set for this year apart from planning to have gas supply sourced from Sabah Oil and Gas Terminal in Kimanis to meet with gas demands in KKIP. To date, the state government has set up SEDIA (Sabah Economic Development and Investment Authority) a One-Stop Authority to drive Sabah Development Corridor (SDC), a project expected to take 18 years with a total investment of up to RM 105 billion. Begining in 2009, RM5.83 billion has been allocated each year for development, in which 900,000 jobs are expected to be created from this project along with a waterfront city, tourism sub project and a Sabah Railway terminal. The project kick-started with Pak Lah announcing that the government has allocated an extra RM 5 billion under the Ninth Malaysia Plan to improve infrastructure and lower the cost of doing business in the state.

Musa also has an Investment Advisory Council comprising of industrialists, economists and management experts of national repute. He has also decided to post an investment commissioner in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to lure private investors from the financial capital. Sabah had lost much of its industries like Sabah Methanol Plant, Sabah Hot-briquetted iron plant (HBI), Sabah Steel Mill, Sabah Flour and Feed Mill, Sabah Shipyard, Asean Supply Base and many more which were all in Labuan after the creation of the Federal Territory of Labuan. Sabah lost all the big industries when Labuan was taken away from Sabah. Sabah now desperately needs to set up big industries here. The government must continue to create a conducive atmosphere to encourage more investment, if it really wants to sustain growth. Sabah cannot hope to match the developed states unless it is able to attract big industrialists. All the efforts of the chief minister to make Sabah a prosperous state will come to a naught if bigtime investors remain reluctant to spend here.

President of Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) Taiko Yong Teck Lee’s romancing of the Barisan National may end his love affair with the Sabah opposition front soon. But this new love story bring up the moot question as to why he is so desperate when the Barisan National has hardly given any indication to warmly accommodate him under its fold. Sources in the Barisan National say Yong Teck Lee can’t be trusted. How can they depend on a leader who was willing to ditch the Barisan National—his decade-old senior partner — when he felt the relations between both were strained because of one man Pak Lah? Earlier too, Yong Teck Lee parted ways with Pairin Kitingan and formed the SAPP. The gainer of this triangular game being played in the state may be Shafie Apdal a good friend of Yong Teck Lee who is waiting and watching in the wings to take over as chief minister from Musa Aman.

Remember when Yong Teck Lee was chief minister he together with Shafie Apdal milked Yayasan Sabah until it nearly when dry? However, thanks to Musa Aman,he saved the day for Yayasan Sabah. Even Lajim Ukin, Sabah’s famous party hopper and old buddy of Yong Teck Lee from the Party Bersatu Sabah (PBS) days where both began their political career and where both plotted to destroy PBS are seen regularly together nowadays. If recent gathering in the meetings of SAPP is any indication, then Yong Teck Lee being adamant to go for a majority of the state seats (60 in Sabah) this coming looming 13th general election on what he termed as “the principle of Sabah autonomy” is all about splitting the opposition votes and helping Barisan National win big.

The political signal coming from Yong Teck Lee in the last few months indicate that he is trying to sail on two boats — Barisan National and Pakatan Rakyat — at the same time. His shifting statements to keep both the major political parties in good humour may end with a backlash. At the same time, Pakatan Rakyat camp specially The Democratic Action Party (DAP) feels that Yong Teck Lee is not dependable and his track record for the last couple of years shows that he is more committed to divide and split the opposition votes. It is a known fact that despite poor governance Yong Teck Lee ruled this politically vibrant state for 2 years but a lot say he worked 4 long years (pun added because he worked day and night 24hours a day making hay while there is sunshine with his partner in crime Joseph Ambrose Lee).

Yong Teck Lee’s new political strategy to oppose Pakatan Rakyat and hinting he would also ditch Dr Jeffrey’s State Reform Party (STAR) anytime is also meant to hijack Dr Jeffery’s old battle cry of ” Sabah For Sabahans” , “Sabah Rights” and now “Ini Kali Lah”, and keep his minority flock in his pocket. In the meantime, Yong Teck Lee is trying his best to sweep the issues of malgovernance and corruption during his time as chief minister under the carpet with the help of captive media. Being a shrewd seasoned politician, Yong Teck Lee knows his limitations; he also knows the art of handling the levers of the power equations. He has hardly missed any occasion to profess his loyalty to the Party Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), and Anwar Ibrahim in particular. Recently, he took the opportunity to welcome Anwar Ibrahim in the Kota Kinabalu International Airport and this says a lot. Though he is not a part of the Pakatan Rakyat but only supports it from the outside, he also denounced DAP Sabah strongly. Is Yong Teck Lee driving a wedge between Anwar Ibrahim and DAP Sabah?

In a given political situation, Yong Teck Lee doesn’t have any other alternative but to support the PKR in Sabah after his bad outing in the Batu Sapi Parliamentary by-election where even Ansari of PKR did better then him. He can’t think of joining Pakatan Rakyat because of DAP Sabah whereas Dr Jeffrey Kitingan can move in any direction. The challenge for the opposition is how to strike an agreement among themselves so that there will be only one-to-one fights with the Barisan. It will not be easy because SAPP and DAP are eyeing the same seats while Jeffrey is unlikely to give way to PKR on choice seats. Besides, there is no love lost between Dr Jeffrey and Anwar Ibrahim.

Now, as political churning is going on in Sabah, the situation is that the two political stalwarts Yong Teck Lee and Dr Jeffrey Kitingan are being used as pawns in a game played by the Barisan National and Pakatan Rakyat, both “Party Party Malaya” as they say here in Sabah.

No Prime Minister in Malaysia’s history has ever expressed helplessness in facing challenges that have come up during his tenure. No Prime Minister has ever sought refuge in compulsions in dealing with crucial national matters. No Prime Minister has admitted to the failings of his Cabinet colleagues while trying to absolve himself. No Prime Minister has ever tried to correct his image at the expense of his party or his coalition partners. The reason is simple: the buck stops at the Prime Minister’s office.

Over the weekend, rumors were rife that Najib had fallen ill with mild stroke. According to friends from Putrajaya, doctors have been on standby in Pekan where Najib is said to be recuperating. Najib and his wife Rosmah has been under tremendous pressure because of his corruption scandals expecially in connection to the Scorpene submarines and the Altantuya Shaariibuu C4 murder. To make matters worst his Deputy Muhyideen has ganged-up with former Premier Mahathir to oust him as UMNO President and Prime Minister before the 13th GE is held and this is an open secret.

What is his helplessness all about even if he considers it is due to Mahathir’s interference? If Najib is the Prime Minister today is because Najib took over as UMNO President and the country’s 6th Prime Minister after helping Mahathir and Muhyiddin to oust Abdullah Badawi who was blamed for the UMNO-BN’s weak performance in the 2008 elections. Had the Barisan National got a two-third majority in 2008, he would not have been the chosen one. But being Prime Minister is not a license for corruption or inefficiency. If anyone feels as strongly about the evils of interference by the “puppet master”, there is no compulsion of being associated with such politics or the offices it brings along with it.

When the Prime Minister shows he is helpless, is he not letting down the rakyat? Is he showing that he is helpless in serving the poor, who elected his government and have great expectations? The poor would have wanted prices to be in check, corruption within his ministers curbed and the influence of corporate giants contained.

Najib must realize that he is occupying a seat that was once occupied by a great visionary and statesman: Tun Abdul Razak his father, the man who faced many challenges in his life. But he never said he was helpless. The same office was held by humble but strong willed Tun Hussein Onn, acclaimed for his discipline and against all corruption. He was never helpless.

Neither was Tengku Abdul Rahman, a leader whose mass base was astounding and who came to power after getting independence. He was faced with confrontation with Sukarno’s Indonesia, he was faced with political crisis with Lee Kuan Yew and even within Umno he had to face people like Mahathir who was undermining him from inside,including racial riots and the separation of Singapore but did not yield to the pressure of the syndicate. He dug his heels and abolished privy purses. He was never helpless when he even fought the Singapore leaders with all chips down.

Even Abdulah Badawi never displayed helplessness. When his time was up, he just went but did not blame political situations, colleagues and circumstances. But perhaps all these leaders were from the political class and were not there after their tenures in other fields had ended. Perhaps they were made of sterner stuff. But they all realized and respected the fact that Prime Ministers can never show helplessness. If they were then what would happen to the country? If they lose relevance, they go.

Before going public with his limitations, Najib should have stated his piece before Malaysians, who elected Barisan National as its leader and subsequently the Yang Dipertuan Agong endorsed his elevation to the position of the Prime Minister. He must learn from his predecessors and dig in his heels to fight corruption and inefficiency. He must always remember that the buck stops at his doorstep.

The astounding results of the one-sided Sabah elections in March 2008 has established that if someone governs, stokes hopes and improves the socio-politico-economic quotient, he and the party he leads gets a massive dividend. However, it needs to be noted that the victory of Musa Aman was not based on majoritiranism, fundamentalism or extreme populism. The election revolved around an iconic image and the mandate was an acceptance that he was rebuilding Sabah, socially and economically, and people wanted him to continue.

This is what Musa Aman has achieved for the State, which since taking over the helm in 2003, symbolised the worst developmental paradigm. Importantly, the dividend is just not for his political alliance Barisan National, but for the people of the State, whose aspirations certainly has grown manifold as the State has achieved the highest — higher than the national — GDP growth of over 5 to 6 per cent during the last two years.

The 2008 Sabah elections proves that political forces are extremely crucial to economic growth. This governance syndrome certainly does not require an economist to suggest what the people want. The politician rooted to the ground has only to give vent to the aspirations. Musa Aman started giving a turn to the affairs after a state of morass began in the 1990’s. Hence the question being, is Sabah setting a new development benchmark? Musa may just have set the tone for national aspirations and might change the dynamics of national politics. The “Mahathirised” social engineering was based on exclusion of many social groups. It also led to vengeance, vandalisation, poverty and poor law and order situation.

Musa Aman reversed this by an inclusive system and taking care of the most deprived, the less empowered among the Natives.

The people’s aspirations brought the Sabahan pride back. Many Sabahan workers have left their work places outside the State and come back. Peace and aspiration are seen as the greatest gift. Women have voiced that. More women turned out to vote. Symbolising the functioning of the State structure, which benefits women even more than men. This ensures better security and also better facilities for health and school enrollment.

Significantly, the women were religion neutral. Is the authority of the man dwindling? Particularly, as a large number of women turned out to vote in districts with high indigenous concentrations. The highest turn out of women at the hustings were 55.66 per cent in 1985 and 54.49 per cent in 2004. It touched 64.85 per cent in 2008, much more than the men’s 60.77 per cent.

This has not happened just like that. The State has given opportunities to grow with a larger road network, it has 17,000 kilometers of road now but only 35% or 5,000 kilometers have been sealed till today from 1415 kilometers in 2005 to 2417 kilometers in 2010, to tar the remaining 12,000 gravel roads in order to attain the national average of 80 per cent sealed roads and 20 per cent gravel roads, Sabah needs RM10 billion and in the new budget for 2013 Sabah is getting 2.2 billion ringgit of road projects from the Federal government. In 2011, The mortality rate for children under five years of age in Sabah was 8.6 per 1,000 live births, or 425 deaths last year. 1% lower than 2010.This is still higher than the national average of 6.2 per cent per 1,000 live births in 2008 but there is an improvement in reduced infant mortality rate from 61 per 1000 to 56, maternal mortality from 371 to 312 per 1000. Sabah will be more self-sufficient in rice production following a boost in funding of RM5.8bil for the agricultural sector in Budget 2013.

To add to this, the State has also seen a phenomenal rise in Plan expenditure from a mere RM 2 billion in 2005-06 to RM 4 billion plus in 2012-13. In crude economic terms many of these in-State expenditures would be considered as subsidies though in real terms these are investments without which no society can grow. What Sabah is doing is symbolised by UN’s Development Programme concepts rather than the World Bank-IMF corporate economics. Whereby, the State’s dynamics have increased corporate confidence. Industries which have been moving out of the State for decades now see a gleam of hope for revival.

The Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Bumiputra Chambers of Commerce say that they are expecting closer ties with the Musa Government. The Joint Chambers in Peninsular avers that so far only 2.5 per cent of corporate investment has gone to Sabah. It might increase if Musa’s Government improves power generation and so the Kimanis RM1.5bil, 300MW gas-powered plant would take care of at least short term electricity demands in Sabah. Investments in hotels and restaurants have grown by 80 to 85 per cent in 2008-12. This is an indicator that investors have at least started visiting and exploring Sabah. The Musa Government has many challenges and has to meet higher expectations, hence the next five years would be very crucial for many sectors — agriculture, power, ensuring food to the deprived, building a chain of cold storages are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of areas up for improvement.

The Government would have to build heavily on agriculture given that the State has fertile land. It has the capacity to produce and become Malaysia’s rice bowl and Malaysia’s Number 1 state in all agricultural produces. Sabah requires an agricultural policy that could break away from the feudal set up that has consolidated since the British introduced the Sabah Land Ordinance which was legislated on Dec 13, 1930. It is not an easy task. It would hurt interests and the social pride of many groups. It would require treading cautiously.Top priority must be given in tackling the right of ownership on Native Customary Rights (NCR) land and to find the best solutions to problems to protect the interest of the natives. As Musa says every NCR claim received by the government would be studied as deeply as possible to confirm its legitimacy.

In the State Assembly recently Musa said “I will ensure priority will be given to looking after, preserving and protecting the interest of the natives.”
In fact 890,626.47 hectares or 45 per cent of the total government land has been given ownership in Sabah through five methods, including Native Title (NT), equity and gazetting. The state government is also planning to issue communal grants in Kota Marudu (17,000 acres), Pitas (10,000 acres), Tongod (15,000 acres) and Semporna (5,117.12 acres). Undoubtedly, the Chief Minister’s efforts would be seen more critically now and the NCR issues would be manipulated because it touched on the interest on the natives. In his coming third term, the State structure has to be strengthened further. From having become functional, it has to become more pro-active. Social sector development along-with economic and industrial growth has to be woven into the State policy.

With growing activities he also has to keep a check on the unscrupulous corrupt elements. The benchmark of the State has to be increased. Musa needs to take steps towards continuing at least 10 per cent growth annually to meet the people’s aspirations. It is truly a daunting task. That is the expectation of the enhanced political capital the people have bestowed on Musa Aman. Undeniably, the progress of Sabah might tell on some other States which thrived on cheap Sabah labour. Be it Selangor, Johore, Penang or even national Capital Kuala Lumpur, Sabah’s changing social dynamics is certain to help the labour force getting better treatment and wages elsewhere. Thus, the coming GE13 election results need to re-focus on labour policies at the Central level particularly by those who are demanding relaxation in labour laws. The Sabah syndrome might call for stringent implementation of whatever rudimentary labour welfare laws there are.