Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Death of detainee - Syed Hamid says it all again

-A commentary-

Amidst the lunar new year celebrations, the week has been marred with controversies involving two deputy ministers, a Home Minister, the police and a death of a suspected car thief. The public, including friends and family of Kugan Ananthan were outraged to learn about the death of the 22 year-old while he was in police custody. Two deputy ministers of the Prime Minister's Department, Datuk K. Devamany and Senator T. Murugiah were also alleged to have 'raided' the morgue with the crowd where Kugan's body laid.

Our beloved Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar (image above) on January 25 issued a stern warning to the two deputy ministers, saying both of them are likely to face action for 'breaking the law' by accompanying the crowd.

“No minister or member of the administration is above the law and if you have committed an offence then you have to face the consequences,” Syed Hamid said. [25/1/09]
Being there with a crowd who so happened tried to enter the mortuary to see the body of their loved one is a crime?

The initial autopsy revealed that Kugan had died of fluids in his lungs but his family sought for a second autopsy, insisting that he had died of injuries. Lo and behold, the second one found external injuries caused by blunt brute force trauma on Kugan's body and it was suggested that he could have died of cardiac arrest following the injuries. That was pretty amazing - It took two autopsies for the authorities to actually 'discover' external injuries.

The police have promised a full investigation into the matter with all 11 police officers from the Subang USJ Taipan police station being suspended from duty.

No one is above the law but the Home Minister?

The Home Minister once again points his holier-than-thou finger at the two deputy ministers for their alleged 'accomplice' in the mortuary invasion. Indeed, 'no minister or member of the administration is above the law' , to quote the ever wise minister but how many times we Malaysians have seen the police and most importantly the Home Ministry act as if they are 50,000-feet above the law?

Malaysians are all too familiar with how the authorities handled peaceful marches like the BERSIH rally in 2007 and the arrests of participants of candlelight vigils and anti-war gatherings with riot police and water cannons. And not to mention the unholy trinity of ISA arrests of a blogger, an Opposition MP and a reporter of whom Syed Hamid gave the excuse of 'protecting her from death threats'.

If such indiscretion and the blatant abuse of preventive laws by the Home Ministry and the police are not acts far above the law, then what is? Syed Hamid must realize that for every finger he points at others, three are pointing back. It is true that the Home Minister is the man who calls the shots on who should be arrested and which assembly should be halted. But then again, every educated Malaysian knows adjectives like 'seditious', 'dangerous' or 'unruly' for an assembly or a person are subjected to the Home Minister's interpretation of events. The truth is, he is a lousy interpreter.

The police- abuse of power or sheer incompetence?

We should be warned not to turn Kugan's death into a racial issue, pitting the Malays against the Indians. I believe many Malays are just as disgusted and angered with the police force which just so happen to be a Malay-majority institution. Remember, we are all Malaysians and thus, this is a Malaysian issue at heart. The Selangor police chief Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar, on the other hand, pleaded with the public not exploit Kugan's funeral as a political protest. Yes, it should be a protest against the victim of its own declining credibility - the Royal Malaysian Police!

The force have been lambasted for their lackadaisical approach when dealing with a death of a detainee. The family of Kugan also revealed of ignorance to basic protocols by the police when they were not even informed of Kugan's arrest prior to his sudden death on January 14.

“The police never informed us that he was arrested and we only heard about it from an anonymous caller...All they (the police) said was that he had died and his body was at the University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC)... Look what they have put us through," Kugan’s uncle V.Raviroy told reporters. [The Malaysian Insider, 26/1/09]

I could only imagine what Kugan's family had gone through when Raviroy said that while Kugan had died at 11am on January 20, his family members were only informed of his death at 9pm by several plain-clothed detectives who came to their home. Police incompetency again? It's nothing new.

If Kugan's death was indeed natural and was not caused by police brutality, the authorities still have answer for the other 80 deaths in police custody from 2000 to 2004, a sum according to The Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysian Police.

Out of the 80 cases, only 39 cases had been referred to the Magistrate for inquiry. And of the 39 cases, only in 6 cases did the Magistrate conduct inquest. The Royal Commission also found that in some 22 cases which had been referred to the Magistrate, decisions had been made to not hold inquests. This is a strict violation of The Criminal Procedure Code which states that when a person dies while in the custody of the police, the officer who had custody of that person shall immediately give intimation of such death to the nearest Magistrate and that the Magistrate shall hold an inquiry into the cause of the death.

It is also understood that no closed-circuit-television-cameras (CCTV) were placed in the lockup where Kugan was detained despite a governmental directive years ago for such devices to be installed to prevent police abuse.

Nevertheless, the Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail have asked the police to classify Kugan's death as 'murder' after personally studying investigation papers and photographs of the deceased.

Kugan's death signifies an unfortunate fact that some things do not change in Malaysia. How many times have we seen real measures are only taken when there is death? It took several lives to be lost the last time to prompt the government to review the safety of hillside projects and take preventive measures to prevent another landslide. Just how many more lives must be lost before any serious affirmative actions are taken to address the dire incompetency of our police force?
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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sore MCA man gets bitter over KT defeat?

KUALA LUMPUR: The DAP owes non-Muslims an apology for campaigning for PAS in the Kuala Terengganu by-election as it was tantamount to helping the Islamist party establish theocratic rule, said MCA political education bureau chairman Gan Ping Siew. [20/1/09]

The March 8 spirit lives on in Kuala Terengganu and ballot-casters have shown that their passion for positive change did not wither. While Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said the Barisan Nasional gracefully accepts the defeat, another component party of the coalition, the MCA apparently hasn't gotten over the bitter by-election result.

The Pakatan Rakyat's victory was probably credited to the relentless co-operation shown by PKR and DAP despite the candidate, Abdul Wahid Endut not belonging to either of their ranks. The PAS man defeated BN's Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid Salleh by a 2,631-vote majority.

On January 20, the MCA, through its political education bureau chairman released a statement saying the DAP 'owes an apology to the non-Muslim community in Kuala Terengganu' for supporting PAS in their by-election campaign. MCA political education bureau chairman Gan Ping Siew said that PAS' victory in the east coast city is en route to the establishment of Islamic theocratic rule in the country as aspired by the Islamist party. Gan also accused the DAP of assisting PAS just because it wanted to gain power.

“The bureau is deeply consoled that the Chinese voters in Kuala Terengganu made a rational choice to support the Barisan Nasional. This indicates the Chinese there had not been blinded by DAP and had utterly rejected the ideology of theocratic rule in the country,” he said in a statement. [The Star, 20/1/09]
Now, does MCA have a point here or are they simply being sore over the defeat?

It's worth noting that the MCA political education bureau chairman's statements were already dubious to begin with. But first thing's first: Who is Gan Ping Siew to speak on behalf of the Chinese community in Kuala Terengganu?

The MCA itself does not speak for all Malaysian Chinese, let alone a political education bureau chairman. Such statements made by Gan is political arrogance personified as the he tries to rationalised Barisan Nasional's defeat by taking cheap shots at the Opposition. He also said that the Chinese voters made the right choice of supporting Barisan Nasional in the by-election.

Unless Gan is telepathic, there is no way for him to know who voted for who at the polling stations. As far as Malaysian elections are concerned, voters cast their ballots in private, without revealing their candidate of their choice. Once again, who is Gan to say that Barisan Nasional had an overwhelming support from the Chinese community in Kuala Lumpur?

Being a political education bureau chairman himself, Gan failed to even understand the basics of democracy, that is when he claimed that PAS' victory in Kuala Terengganu moves the country a step closer to theocratic rule. The reality is that PAS will never establish theocratic rule in this country without any form of consensus from the DAP and PKR. Likewise, component parties of the Pakatan Rakyat can never act on its own without prior dialogue with the other member parties. That is what we call democracy, Gan! The Pakatan Rakyat is a partnership and not a master-slave relationship these parties are currently flourishing under. So it seemed that a certain political education bureau chairman has failed to understand such fundamentals.

Perhaps, this is the typical fear-mongering so routinely employed by Barisan Nasional leaders to ensure people do not vote for the Opposition. It is a simple but cheap method of garnering public support in the wake of elections. Nevertheless, the March 8 General Elections and both the Permatang Pauh and Kuala Terengganu by-elections have proven that old habits do die hard for certain people.

Hence, MCA should heed Najib's advice and learn from this defeat and not cry trying to figure out who split the milk.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Are we really anti-war or simply just anti-Israel?

-A commentary-

Disclaimer: Due to some unfortunate assumptions by certain parties, this is an anti-war article. It neither supports Hamas nor Israel but is against all kinds of violence i.e war - this is the theme the author is attempting to present.

On 27 December, 2008, Israel launched massive air raids over the skies of Gaza in response to Hamas rocket fires into Israeli territory. The six-month ceasefire treaty expired only a week before and the Israel-Palestine conflict took off to ignite mass protests around the world. Malaysia have since had her fair share of protests condemning Israel's mega-militaristic approach to the issue.

As of today, the current death toll in Gaza resulted by the clashes between Hamas and Israeli forces have peaked over 1,000 - many of whom are innocent civilians who are literally held hostage in their own land. While we hold our banners and flags up high in protest, we need to stop and ask ourselves: What are we protesting for? Are we protesting against violence or are we simply protesting just because it is Israel?

The 2008/09 Gaza conflict

There is a thin line that separates politics and human rights in the latest Gaza conflict. I must say that while we take to the streets to condemn Israel's attack on Gaza, we are evermore at risk of crossing that line.

On January 2, UMNO Youth led a rally to protest against Israel and marched to the Palestinian embassy in Kuala Lumpur to show their solidarity towards the Palestinian people. The 200-strong group, which included Palestinian students studying here in Malaysia. The rally was headed by Umno Youth deputy chief and the Prime Minister's son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin.

Their show of support for the Palestinian war victims soon turned into an argument when the Palestinian ambassador to Malaysia , Abdel Aziz Abu Ghoush told several protesters to put away large portraits of slained Hamas leaders. He wanted the portraits removed from the crowd as he "did not want to show divisions in the internal affairs of Palestine”. [link]

“There should be no individual photos. We should show our support to all the Palestinians regardless of who they are. We should show our unity against Israel,” screamed Abdel Aziz from the balcony of the embassy building. [Malaysiakini, 2/1/09]
There were reports saying that it was the Palestinian students who were responsible for carrying those portraits of dead Hamas militant leaders. But the fact that the organisers of the rally did not even 'realise' that their event was on the brink of turning into a political support rally is enough to support my point. Their actions would imply that there are many who are clueless to the complex socio-politics of Palestine and its even more complex relation with Israel.

By jostling their way around with portraits of political leaders, the protesters have thread into supporting a political party-Hamas instead of really showing support for the Palestinian people. Many may not know this but Hamas is not Palestine and Palestine is not Hamas. The Palestinian state itself is divided into 'two seats of power' where Fatah (another political party) has control in the West Bank while Hamas asserts its authority firmly in Gaza.

The 2008/09 Gaza conflict is a conflict between Hamas and Israel. Malaysians should therefore stand behind the people of Palestine who are the real victims of the war.

The risk of us turning into 'activists' for political parties is not confined only to our country. On January 3, Palestinian police have banned pro-Hamas protests in the streets [link]. This clearly indicates that even the Palestinian themselves are aware that the current predicament is a human issue and it should not be politicised by any party.

Are we being selective in our protests?

There is also the risk of us jumping onto the bandwagon when we make our stand against the conflict in Gaza. Are we protesting against violence or are we really protesting simply because it is Israel?

The police have indeed acted inconsiderately when they dispersed an anti-war vigil organised by the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) at Dataran Merdeka; claiming it was an 'illegal' assembly. It was understood that the group was protesting against war, including the Sri Lankan government's attack on the separatist Tamil Tigers recently [link]

I am disappointed to see the indiscretion shown by the police when such gatherings are for the right cause -peace. It was reported that 21 people, including DAP Klang MP Charles Santiago were arrested in that incident.

On January 12, Home Minister Datuk
Seri Syed Hamid Albar issued a statement to defend the arrests made by the police, claiming that the Sri Lankan government's attack on the rebels should not be included in PSM's anti-war protest.

"If you want to demonstrate in respect of the Palestinian cause, then don't mix it up with the Sri Lanka cause. The PSM protests were more for Sri Lanka which is a different cause. We cannot have protests in support of separatists movements...They had many placards in support of separatists in Sri Lanka," Syed Hamid told The Malaysian Insider. [The Malaysian Insider, 12/1/09]
If this is not a display of selective protest then I don't know what is. Syed Hamid did no one any favours by implying that civil war in Sri Lanka is less important than the Israel-Palestine crisis. In fact, are the lives of Tamils or Sri Lankans less precious than of those in Palestine? Therefore, I would say the government and the general public are being biased in this matter, ranking one crisis above the other. Are these people only so hyped-up simply because it is Israel?

If in all honesty these streets protest were meant to denounce violence and war, then the Palestinian conflict would be no different than any other war or genocide currently taking place somewhere across the globe.

So, why aren't there any similar protests against the corrupt Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe or the eternal civil war in Somalia? Or what about the time when Hamas and Fatah members were senselessly killing each other to control Gaza a few years ago? Where were the appropriate 'protests for peace' back then?

Racial and religious extremism?

Our protests can and will slowly turn into a platform for extremism like anti-Semitic sentiments witnessed across the world recently. Many were calling for the extermination of the entire Jewish population with banners that carry derogatory statements against the Jewish community. Some demonstrations in Europe have even expanded into an almost pro-Nazi rally to call for the death of every Jew; thus reviving one of Europe's darkest history to potentially repeat itself. That sounds like racism to me.

Apart from racism, we should also prevent our protests from escalating into a religious cause. The crisis grappling the people of Gaza currently should be viewed from a humanitarian perspective. Umno Youth deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin was quoted earlier saying the Gaza conflict is a 'humanitarian issue which transcends religion' . And I believe he is right. However, that does not mean religious groups may not come forward to condemn Israel's actions. The Gaza conflict cannot simply be a religious war as people in Gaza are getting killed for the politics of their government, not because of their faith.

The United Kingdom is currently on high alert as they fear that the Gaza conflict may fan religious extremist thoughts among the general public [link]. France and Sweden are also monitoring the situation as violence due to racial and religious extremism are currently on the rise [link].

(Images from an anti-Jewish rally in London)

It's not about religion or politics, it's about the innocent people of Palestine

If we do take to the streets again, it is only right to ensure that the rallies organised are in support of the Palestinian people. Recent events have already shown that there are many who are oblivious to the harsh reality of Palestinian politics while there are also some who protest simply because it is against Israel. Thus, we must also not allow religious and racial extremism to take root in our society while we protest against the Israeli aggression.

The Socialist Party of Malaysia has done the right thing by organising an anti-war rally to protest against violence and war. But it is a shame to see the double standards currently employed by our government and the Home Minister as we occupy ourselves to condemn Israel. War is war. Gaza is no different from any other war where innocent lives are lost over conflicting ideologies.

Only the Palestinian people deserve our support and deepest sympathy - not Hamas, Fatah or Israel. The world must understand that innocent civilians in Gaza are paying the price of war- not with money but with their lives.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

End the war first, argue anti-Jewish sentiments later!

-A commentary-

Israel has confirmed sending thousands of army reservists into Gaza, raising concerns that a deadly "third stage" of its offensive - targeting urban centres - could soon begin.[,12/1/09]

he United Nations, a body supposedly mandated to maintain world peace continues to remain indecisive under Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and we could well expect the usual reluctance of the United States to put a stop to the bloodshed.

While many argue over the justification of Israel's aggression, there are some who say that Israel has the right to retaliate, given the fact that it was Hamas who not only refused to renew the 6-month truce but drew the first blood when they launch Qassam rockets into Israeli territory a week after the peace agreement had ended. What came after that soon escalated into what we see today in the news.

The reality is this: Israel say that they are acting in defence of its territories against terrorism. But that cannot justify the magnitude of military force it is unleashing over Gaza; punishing the civilians for the crimes of a political cum militant party they are targeting. Quite recently, international watchdogs reported that Israel are using white phosphorus in their artillery shells (image). White phosphorus is a controversial chemical which sticks to human flesh and burns it to the bones. International law permits the use of white phosphorus in order to cover troop movements and prevent enemies from using certain guided weapons - not over the skies of civilian homes. Israel is literally trying to kill ants with cannons. [link]

On the other hand, Hamas said in an interview with Al-Jazeera that they want Israel to stop the onslaught immediately but they cannot guarantee they will stop firing rockets into Israel in the future. This kind of statement is absurd! How do they expect a peace agreement to be brokered when the root cause of this latest Israeli incursion was sparked by Qassam rocket fires? What chance is there for peace when both sides refuse to back down?

Nonetheless, I must say that while Israel and Hamas have their own perceived reasons to champion their causes, at the end of the day it takes two hands to clap. Israel should be held accountable for the literal slaughter of innocent civilians. But the world must also do its part to pressure Hamas to drop its arms and stop future rocket fires; ensuring Israel has no other reason to launch another invasion.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has called for the United Nations to establish an international tribunal to prosecute Israel for war crimes against Gaza. But is it also fair to include Hamas on the list too?

Our government is doing all it can to call for an end to the war. And for that, the Malaysian public should stand behind our leaders if we truly love peace, regardless of whether we believe Israel is right or wrong. We must stand up against any form of violence i.e war.

And yes, some devoutly argue that the state of Israel is illegal and some protesters are even seen carrying banners written 'Israel does not exist.' Whether we agree to that or not, their guns and bombs are real enough to the people who lost their loved ones in this conflict. The lives and the safety of the people of Gaza should take top priority - not who out-argues who over religion or anti-Semitic sentiments.

So let us, the world, focus on ending this conflict first and save the debate of the legitimacy of Israel for another time for the longer we occupy ourselves with rhetorical religious and racial debates, more innocent lives are lost by the day, if not the hour.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Have Dr Mahathir and his protestors gone too far?

At least 5,000 people protested outside the US embassy in Malaysia on Friday, and around 300 held a noisy protest outside the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur to urge Arab countries to cut off oil supplies to the US and boycott Coca-Cola, Colgate and Starbucks. [, 9/1/09]

Qatar-based news agency, Al-Jazeera reported that at least 5,000 people gathered outside the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur and about 500 outside the National Mosque to protest against the Israel's aggression in Gaza.

Speaking to the crowd gathered at the National Mosque was none other than former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (image) whose vigour still draws public attention despite his age. The 83 year old who publically denounced Israel's latest invasion into Gaza, recently called for a boycott of US products and its currency for being Israel's 'partner in crime'.

Mahathir, while addressing the 500-strong crowd, said Malaysians 'will not die if they do not use US products' and urged employees of American companies like McDonald's to quit their jobs.

"I hope Starbucks and McDonald's employees will stop working there," he said. [, 9/1/08]
He has got to be kidding us...

Sure, it's easy for him to tell Malaysians working in American companies to quit because he does not need to worry about earning a living. Try telling that to a wage-earner in McDonald's who has a family of five to feed and could barely make ends meet.

Mahathir has really got to be kidding us. Where, then, are they going to get their money? Can their idealist approach pay their bills and put food on the table? Who would hire them? Are Malaysian companies going to hire these people when giant firms are currently laying off their workforce due to global recession?

Well, as a side note, our economy is not even big enough to sustain itself and that is why we need foreign investors here. Do these people really think our economy is so mighty that we can survive on our own?

The crowd also rallied by shouting
"Long live Islam, long live Palestine, destroy Israel!" and urged Arab countries to cut off oil supplies to the US.

Now, why would the Arabs do that when they are earning millions of dollars from the sale of their crude oil? The people who make such ludicrous statements fail to understand or rather, fail to realise that the Arabs need the Dollars and the Americans need their oil. It's a love-hate relationship.

The Malaysian Islamic Consumers Association, and the Muslim Restaurant Operators Association, on the other hand, is spearheading the boycott of US products by removing Coca-cola from the menu of more than 2,000 Muslim restaurants. They, along with Mahathir, suggest that Malaysians should also boycott American brands like Starbucks, Maybelline and Colgate to further their cause.

In response, Coca-Cola Malaysia spoke out against the boycott of its drinks and other US labels, saying such a move would only hurt the local economy and the local citizens.

"As everybody else, we are deeply touched by the human side of the situation in the Middle East," Kadri Taib, Coca-Cola Malaysia public affairs and communications director, said in a statement. [BBC News, 9/1/08]
Coca-Cola Malaysia, who has a plant in Shah Alam, currently employs 1,700 Malaysians and interestingly enough, 60% of whom are Muslims.

Enough said.

This article is preceded by Boycotting US products a really dumb move for Malaysia dated (5/1/09). Images are courtesy of Malaysiakini.

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Monday, January 5, 2009

Boycotting US products a really dumb move for Malaysia

-A commentary-

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Dr Zahid Hamidi concured with the proposal by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad that Muslim countries boycott US-made goods in protest against the attacks on Palestinians. [The Star, 5/1/09]

The recent Israeli aggression in retaliation towards Hamas' rocket attacks caused ripples of anger across the Muslim world. Malaysia, being a Muslim-majority nation was also caught in the wave where recently street protests were held in support of the Palestinian people. While many are outraged towards the United States and Israel, there has been a suggestion calling Muslim countries to boycott U.S.-made products and companies with Israeli connections.

Even former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad surprised everyone when he proposed that Malaysia should do the same as a sign of protest against Israel's aggression and the indecisiveness of the Americans in resolving the matter. His view was shared by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Dr Zahid Hamidi (image) who said he would present the proposal to the Cabinet soon.

I will not get into a debate on Israel's right to invade Gaza or whether Hamas are the actual perpetrators of this mess. But we all agree that innocent Palestinians; women and children are the real victims of war. While everyone has their own views on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, I will not comment on this rather sensitive issue. However, what has come to my attention is the suggestion by certain parties to boycott U.S. products - a move, in my opinion is naive in many aspects.

First, let me stress that this is not a religious issue as there are also non-Muslim organisations who have supported this proposal.

But to those who are calling for the boycott of U.S. goods, do you think that by doing so, it is an effective way to protest against Israel or America? I mean, come on...seriously? Do you actually think that the entire American economy will collapse when we refuse to buy their goods so that in time, they would not be able to fund their war efforts?

In fact, boycotting U.S.-made goods would do us more damage than good. Consider the following, before any judgement is passed on me as a pro-American, anti-East or whatever you may call it (source: Bernama):

  • In 2006, Malaysia was the 10th largest trading partner of the U.S. with a trade balance of RM158.1 billion which represents 16 percent of Malaysia's trade activity, with exports to the U.S. of RM102.3 billion or 18.8 percent of Malaysia's total trade.
  • According to government statistics, the U.S. was the fourth largest foreign investor in 2006, with RM8.5 billion in FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) approvals, and is the largest foreign investor on a cumulative basis, with over RM105.4 billion of capital invested in the Malaysian economy.
  • The biggest contributor to the growth in trade between Malaysian and the U.S would be the semiconductor industry. In 2006, the Malaysian American Electronics Industry (MAEI) employed more than 54,000 workers here.

So here is my two cents worth. Whether we like it or not, the U.S. is a major player in our economy and will likely still be in the coming decades. Hence, to simply suggest that we boycott U.S. goods is easier said than done.

Also, the people who are calling for a boycott of U.S. goods are simply clueless, if not blinded by shear unrealistic idealism. There have been brochures and images circulating around the internet through local blogs, urging the masses to reject U.S. brands and companies such as McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, Coca-Cola and etc.

But do they not know that these companies are franchises and hire Malaysians by the thousands in their workforce? I'd like to advise them to walk into any American fast food outlet mentioned in the above and see how many Americans are there behind the cashiers and in the kitchens. Or try visiting the Intel plant in Penang and count how many Malaysians are currently employed there.

Click here for the list of American companies and brands with Israeli connections (?).

One blogger even suggests that by boycotting U.S. products, the rural industries would be given the opportunity to expand [link]. Apparently, rural researchers have come up with a way to replicate Microsoft's Windows with bamboo frames.

That being said, the fact that they are rallying support through blogs hosted on American servers like Wordpress or Blogger already spells hypocrisy. Are not Intel chips American? Or the internet, was it not initially American? Google? Yet, they appear to be selective in their boycotting spree.

The very same people who are urging for a boycott repeatedly say that Israel should not punish the Palestinian people for the politics of Hamas. And yet, they are attempting to 'punish' American companies for the politics of their government. Why the double standards? Is that not a form of hypocrisy too?

There is a reason why both the Prime Minister and the International Trade and Industry Minister are keeping mum on this issue. The act of boycotting Malaysia's largest cumulative foreign investor would have dire consequences on our economy and they both know it.

We may protest all we want but let us all be realistic when making our stand towards the U.S. Boycotting U.S. products will not stop Israeli tanks from entering Gaza neither will it persuade Hamas to drop its arms. As a matter of fact, such a move will only see ourselves kissing our hard-built economy goodbye. Is our economy the price to pay for unrealistic idealism?
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Friday, January 2, 2009

Melaka wants RM37 billion bridge to Indonesia

MELAKA -- The government will take into consideration all aspects, including suitability and economic factors, on the proposal by the Melaka government to build a bridge across the Melaka Straits to link Malaysia and Indonesia. [Bernama, 23/12/08]

The Melaka state government is planning to revive a long forgotten proposal to construct the world's longest bridge; linking the ancient state to Indonesia's Sumatra island. Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak was responding to Melaka Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam (image) who urged the federal government to build the bridge during the opening of the 9th Malay World Islamic World Convention in Melaka.

Mohd Ali was adamant that such an undertaking could spur economic development on both sides of the bridge and also improve bilateral ties between Malaysia and Indonesia. Najib, however, did not dismiss the possibility of the proposed causeway being built over one of the world's busiest straits - a prospect which could leave Mohd Ali drooling in excitement.

If and when it is constructed, the proposed bridge would span 52km across the Strait of Malacca (Melaka); knocking off America's Lake Pontchartrain Causeway to second place as the world's longest bridge. The project has an estimated cost of RM37 billion but the Chief Minister did not mention whether our Indonesian neighbour would be willing to split the bill.

"I am suggesting that the Economic Planning Unit study the request for the bridge which could be funded through the Private Finance Initiative," he said in his speech at the convention. [Bernama, 23/12/08]
The idea of linking the tiny state of Melaka and Sumatra, Indonesia was first proposed in the early 1990's but was shelved following the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis which saw many Asian economies at the brink of total collapse.

Nonetheless, the 'brilliant' prospect of connecting the Malayan Peninsula and Sumatra may seem far-fetched. Najib was right to suggest that an in-depth study was required before any consideration is given to construct the bridge.

Due to its strategic location, one quarter of the world's traded goods pass through the Strait of Malacca every year. It is estimated that over 50,000 ships sail through the strait annually. Hence, a causeway cutting across the strait would inevitably disrupt shipping traffic and inflict adverse effect on trading activities. Sure, they may suggest a bascule bridge like London's Tower Bridge (image) that swings upwards to allow ships to pass through. But across 52km of water? No way.

The Strait of Malacca is also an international waterway; meaning no country, not Malaysia nor Indonesia has legal jurisdiction over it. Thus, building a bridge adjoining the two countries over international waters would require the bridge builder's to deal with both regional and international maritime policies.

However, the biggest concern lies not in the engineering or legal obstacles in the construction of Mohd's Ali dream bridge but his justifications for Melaka's need to have a bridge of that scale. Does Melaka really need the world's longest bridge across the world's busiest shipping lane?

Mohd Ali may not realise but Malaysia, along with the rest of the world are heading, if not already are in an economic slump. The proposed bridge would cost RM37 billion - an amount anyone with caveman mathematical skills could argue a better use for it. How about better schools and health care for the poor?

The Melaka Chief Minister suggested that the project could be funded by the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). There is reason to be cautious over that statement. The PFI is a controversial method of borrowing money, in which government projects are funded by private investors. The banks who fund PFI projects are repaid, including interests, from the money received from the government over a period of time. Therefore, one of the biggest setbacks of a PFI project is that it is in fact more expensive than a public financed project. The government would also see an increase in its spending liability in the coming years for paying out over PFI contracts.

A PFI project also lacks transparency and in Malaysia's case, the project to link Malaysia and Indonesia could well pose an excellent environment for corruption. This is because contracts issued under the PFI are off-balance sheet and does not show up as part of the national debt statistics.

A bridge across the Strait of Malacca may be a monumental feat of engineering and could, in theory, bring about economical benefits in the long term. But from what has been brought up so far, it seems unwise and impractical to spend all that kind of money just to make one man's dream come true.

One has to brace for the ultimate worst case scenario: Could Mohd Ali's super bridge eventually turn out to be a strait-crossing white elephant built to greet ships caught in a massive maritime traffic jam? You bet it could!
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