Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Same old UMNO will never take us far.

Nowhere, actually...

The UMNO General Assembly concluded on March 28 with much buzz as Datuk Seri Najib Razak officially takes over as party president from Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. The former promised reforms within UMNO and also the country to undo the much damage being done as racial tensions in Malaysia is currently being pulled to a thread.

Whilst many observers a.k.a non-UMNO members are being pessimistic with the promises of Najib, the new party president and future Prime Minister has urged the public to 'judge him by his actions' [source]. One might already attribute the recent Perak constitutional saga as the basis for such judgement but the biggest concern for the future of Malaysia, I believe, lies not only on one man but the whole lot he would be leading into the future.

Double Standards

Melaka Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam was barred from contesting in the party polls when three of his "agents" were found guilty of being involved in vote-buying. Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin was handed a 'warning letter' by the party disciplinary board for money politics. If vote-buying is a form of corruption and thus a crime, the question mark hangs over the MACC's indecisiveness in taking the appropriate action against the two. [source]

The double standards were obvious. Ali Rustam was not allowed to contest for the vice-presidency but was able to retain his position as Chief Minister. And Khairy who eventually won the seat of Youth Chief was only 'cautioned' despite being found guilty of money politics. Corruption is corruption. There is no such thing as 'a little bit of corruption'.

Left: Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam.
Right: Khairy Jamaluddin

Same old racial rhetorics

Fear-mongering was once again the common theme. During the debate of the UMNO Youth assembly, some pointed out that the rights of the Malays, the position of Islam and the Malay culture, enshrined in the Constitution, had been questioned by certain parties [source].

The fear is unfounded as the only the thing that these 'certain parties' are disputing is the racial supremacy philosophy enshrined in the UMNO psyche and not the position of the Malays guaranteed in the Constitution, the position of Islam and the Malay culture. The problem balloons when some fail to distinguish the disparity in meanings.

Many also called for the party supreme council to restore the membership of Bukit Bendera UMNO chief Ahmad Ismail who was suspended for a racial slur in a by-election campaign speech. Perlis delegate Jafri Othman suggested that Ahmad Ismail did no wrong in defending the Malay rights and should not be punished so severely. He went on to say UMNO members must not stay quiet while watching the Malay rights being questioned.

Is undermining Malaysians of a different ethnic group part and parcel of the Malay rights? My understanding of the Federal Constitution says not.
"When we Malays speak about other races, we get suspended. But when others question our rights and hurt our feelings, they get away with it," Penang delegate Mohd Zaidi Mohd Said who said Malay supremacy should be safeguarded at any cost. [The NST Online, 26/3/09]
Mohd Zaidi believes both Penang deputy chief minister Mohamad Fairus Khairuddin and former Perak Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin was being used by DAP for its own political agenda.

Hypocritical loyalty

UMNO Youth delegate from Kelantan Mohd Affendi Yusof took the opportunity to criticise ousted Perak Chief Minister Mohd Nizar Jamaluddin during a debate session for his famous quote: "Mohon maaf tuanku, patik mohon derhaka.” (Your highness, forgive me for I plead to commit treason.). [source]

He also said UMNO has been very lenient and patient towards Pakatan’s antics (in relation to the Perak constitutional crisis).

In English, that phrase would probably mean Nizar is defying the monarchy i.e treason. But an UMNO member like Mohd Affendi fails to understand that in his native language (which happens to be the national language) and Malay culture, "Mohon maaf tuanku, patik mohon derhaka" is a royal language or bahasa istana which a commoner like Nizar is compelled to use when speaking to a monarch. The former Perak Chief Minister was begging to differ with the Sultan of Perak's opinion. Does that amount to treason?

Going by that premise, UMNO is also guilty of defying the role of the monarchy. In 1983 and 1993, then Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad removed the royal veto and royal immunity by amending the law. With effect of this amendment, royal opinion and consent became irrelevant in the passing of bills by the Parliament.

In fact, the wise idea of having a democratic country could also be considered as treason to the monarchy. After all, having a written constitution limits the powers and role of the monarch. So why not just restore the feudal system and abolish democracy?
“In Islam, there is no forgiveness for those who commit treason against the sultan. We cannot be soft anymore. We must use force. And we will use it immediately after the annual general assembly ends,” Kelantan delegate Mohd Affendi Yusof said. [Malaysiakini, 25/3/09]
Use force ? Now where is the Internal Security Act when there is an open call for civil unrest ?

The future of a Malaysia for all Malaysians?

UMNO may preach they reflect the views of the entire Malay community in this country. However, I beg to differ as UMNO is not a race and therefore is not the sole voice of a particular community. Unfortunately for us, being the country's biggest political country would mean an ounce of err by UMNO is a pound of failure for all Malaysia. UMNO's words and actions now dictates where Malaysia would be heading in the next 50 years (whether we like it or not).

Despite the rhetorics of racial supremacy and fear-mongering arguments, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi still manages to remind UMNO that it must never adopt racist positions to undermine the other races. [source]
"Umno must never practise discrimination to the extent that non-Malays view it as a racist party. The rights of every citizen must always be protected, guaranteed and respected, as provided by the Constitution and as encapsulated in the Rukun Negara.The loyalty of every Malaysian citizen irrespective of race must always be appreciated in the spirit of power sharing and friendship. We must be conscious to the fact that we have already reached agreement that we would together bear the responsibilities of building our nation; that we would sink or swim together. Let us concentrate on the commonalities that unite us, rather than the differences that can divide us," he said. [The Malaysian Insider, 26/3/09]
Too late for him and rather unfortunate for us, the sweet preaching words of a united and equal Malaysia will continue to fall on deaf ears as the Malay saying goes "bagai mencurah air ke daun keladi" - unless UMNO loyalists from every fabric of society realise that we, irregardless of race, are together in this boat we call Malaysia. Sink or sail, that is entirely up to us.
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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Playing the race card: Old habits die hard

KUALA LUMPUR, March 22 - Malay right-wing group Pertubuhan Pribumi Perkasa today threatened that it would react to the actions of those who chose to question Malay supremacy. [The Malaysian Insider]

They say old habits die hard. And in Malaysia, die hard they do. On March 22, a Malay right-wing group known as Perkasa threatened it would react to those who constantly challenge the supremacy of the Malays. The latter is one notion Malaysians are familiar with, though it sounds awfully similar to UMNO's mantra.

Its president, Datuk Ibrahim Ali (image) who is also an independent MP of Pasir Mas, said he was willing to risk being detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for the sake of "country, race and religion." He further reiterates to suggest that those questioning the supremacy of the Malays do not act in the name of justice. I sure hope he does not mean having another May 13 would be one.

"If they are polite, we will be polite. But if they are not, neither will we. If they are kurang ajar (ill-mannered), we too can be kurang ajar. The truth is that justice has not yet come to Bumiputeras who have spent centuries being oppressed by colonial masters. We will not tolerate Bumiputeras losing face or our honour. Especially Malays and Islam, do not ever try to play around with these," he said. [The Malaysian Insider, 22/3/09]
Speaking at the group's function was former Prime Minister Tun Dr, Mahathir Mohamad who believes the Malay community was under threat by 'various parties' and suggest it was unfair to label Malay nationalists as racists as they are merely fighting to protect the rights of their community.

The trend of rising racial tensions in Malaysia has been at its peak as more non-Malay Malaysians are beginning to voice their concerns after decades of pro-Malay policies. But the main worry lies when politicians cry wolf of threats that may not exist after all. In the case of Perkasa, its president is urging the Malay masses to fight a threat that is non-existent. What he fails to prove is this so-called 'threat to Malay supremacy' of his.

There is a distinction between the term 'special position of the Malays' and 'the supremacy of the Malays'. The latter is a philosophy engineered by UMNO, like Ibrahim Ali, to elevate one race above the others; i.e racial supremacy. The term 'special position of the Malays', however, is a Constitutional provision to guarantee the position of the Malays as the natives of the land. I believe many non-Malays have no problem agreeing to this. But the problem starts when politicians begin to equate the constitutional provision with the UMNO-designed racist belief.

But who is denying the constitutional provision of the Malay community? Just who is calling for the Malays to leave the country? If none, then what 'threat' is Ibrahim Ali to claiming about?

(To read why racial supremacy of any kind is dangerous to the country's future, click here)

Ibrahim Ali had last year also called on other races to adapt to the local culture of Malays as they have already been given many rights and freedoms in this country. But would that solve the problem? There is no guarantee that the elusive 'threat' of Ibrahim Ali's would dissipate if all non-Malays adopt the Malay culture. No surprise if terminologies are invented to differentiate the 'native Malays' with the 'adopted Malays'. After all, they already had no problems separating Malaysians into Bumiputeras and non-Bumiputeras despite having the term "Malaysian" stamped on every national identity card.

Unless fear-mongering politicians stop playing the racial card, the future of a Malaysian Malaysia seems bleaker than ever before. People who heed the call of one race's supremacy over the others do not realise that as Malaysians, all races are in this together albeit a tough act to pull. We can no longer afford to just be selfishly concerned with our individual community-be it Malay, Chinese or Indian if we truly believe in the concept of Bangsa Malaysia.

In truth, the real danger is the prospect of a disunited, racist Malaysia.
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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

City Council serves notice to a tree

IPOH, March 14 2009— The Ipoh City Council has now taken its turn to fuss over Perak’s democracy plaque, claiming that the structure was an obstruction in a public area. [The Malaysian Insider]

Idiocy knows no boundaries. That was the case for the Ipoh City Council when they issued a notice to a 'tree' for illegally erecting a plaque which the council claimed was causing public obstruction. This bizarre incident marks history's first as tree was issued a municipal notice. In Malaysia, notices from city councils are usually addressed to humans.

The tree was dubbed the "Democracy Tree" for its role in history when 28 Perak state assemblymen held the country's first emergency state assembly under a tree after being denied entry into the State Secretariat by the police on March 3. A plaque was then constructed under the tree to commemorate the historic event but was recently damaged by vandals.

Despite being locked out of the State Assembly building, the emergency sitting managed to pass three votes – expressing their confidence in Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin as mentri besar; calling on Nizar to seek a dissolution of the state assembly; and endorsing Sivakumar’s suspension of Zambry and the de facto BN executive council.

All 28 assemblymen, including Pakatan Rakyat's ousted menteri besar Mohd Nizar Jamaluddin and Speaker V Sivakumar, are currently being probed by the police for their 'illegal assembly' under the tree. For all that it's worth, an assembly may be held under a tree because there is no no law against it as long as it was the Speaker's decision to convene an emergency sitting. How could the police view a gathering of state assemblymen as an 'illegal assembly' was baffling. In fact, barring state representatives from their duties by sealing the entire state secretariat would poise the greater crime in this case, would it not?

However, the biggest joke was with the Ipoh City Council who pinned a notice on the “Democracy Tree” , informing the 'owner' of the plaque to remove the monument within 24 hours before it gets destroyed. The 'owner', of course, was the 'tree'.

According the to council, the structure posed an obstruction to the public and hence contravened Section 46(1)(a) of the Road, Drainage and Building Ordinance 1974. The plaque was finally removed on March 16.

Next: Stray dogs to get eviction notices.

Before and after: The vandalised plaque under the foliage of the green offender. (images from http://blog.limkitsiang.com)

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pro-Malay policies are damaging the country. And they know it

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 24 – Malaysia will relax some of its pro-Malay economic policies as part of a major stimulus package to keep the economy from faltering further, Minister of International Trade and Industry Muhyiddin Yassin said yesterday. [The Malaysian Insider]

Pro-Malay policies are damaging the country. And they know it. But nothing seems to be going around the tables of the policy makers to address the issue of inequalities enshrined in the New Economic Policy (NEP) that has been the subject of controversy since its inception in the 1960's.

The proponents of the NEP argue that the policy was intended to give a boost to the less economically-fortunate ethnic Malays, as compared to the other ethnic groups in the country. It had noble intentions, yes I agree. But the question was how long does Malaysia need for an unequal playing field to exist between the ethnic groups before the policy becomes discriminative? 20 -30 years?

(Click here for my previous article on the NEP.)

No one knows because the NEP has not been discontinued despite the lack of convincing results after 40-odd years - with some quarters claiming the 'economic inequalities' given to the ethnic Malays were divine rights. But speak to a rational Malaysian and he/she would tell you that such discriminative policies should either be done away or re-amended to encompass all members of every ethnic group who are less fortunate. There are also poor ethnic non-Malays out there as there are poor ethnic Malays in this country.

The fact that the government was willing to go easy on pro-Malay policies now during the economic slowdown has shown that such policies that favour one ethnic group over another is detrimental to the country's economic future. Pro-Malay policies are in the way of healthy economic growth and is keeping foreign investors away from investing within our shores. By going easy on them, it does go a long way to help steer the nation out of the current global turmoil; thus making Malaysia competitive again!

To say Malaysia is not affected by the global economic crisis would be a public lie. Malaysia's exports have fallen 14.9% from December last year given the export demand for local goods have declined.

It was reported that the government would scrap the guidelines for the retail sector in order to keep the economy from worsening. Under the guidelines, retailers and restaurants in Malaysia were required to have 30% bumiputera equity participation if they had more than 15% foreign shareholding. They were also required to have boards, management and staff reflecting the demographics of Malaysia - meaning a certain number of bumiputera workers had to be employed regardless of their qualification or competitiveness.

So when is the time for Malaysia to move beyond racial lines in our economic policies? On March 2, PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat (image) said the NEP had neglected the rights of the non-Malays and even labelled the "bumiputera'' terminology as racist. DAP’s Dr Boo Cheng Hau, the opposition leader in Johor was reported to have even compared “bumiputeraism” with apartheid. Too strong of a comparison from the DAP man? Maybe. Just maybe.

UMNO Youth's Khairy Jamaludin took a swipe at the PAS veteran, Nik Aziz for saying the NEP was discriminative to the non-Malays. According to Khairy, the NEP had never discriminated against the non-Malays in the disbursement of aid and the approach taken by the Barisan Nasional government.

“I feel Nik Aziz’s remark was not accurate. May be he had been wrongly informed by his officers.We have never suppressed or oppressed other races and previously at the initial stages, we gave priority to the Bumiputera because they were the poorest at that time," he said. [The Malaysian Insider, 2/3/2009]
That 'time' has long gone by, Khairy...
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Monday, March 2, 2009

Toll rates should correlate with traffic volume!

- A commentary -

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 26, 2009 — Toll rates will go up at five major highways from March 1, the government said in an announcement today which has already drawn sharp criticism from the Pakatan Rakyat. [The Malaysian Insider]

This is absurd. It is not as if the toll rates for the five major highways (North-South Expressway, Sprint/Kerinchi/Damansara Link Highways, Ampang Elevated Highway, Sungai Besi Highway and the New Pantai Expressway) are not high enough to be burn holes in our pockets.

Works Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Zin Mohamed said the federal government had no choice but to allow the increase in toll rates as stated in toll concession agreements. The government has shown little or no consideration whatsoever to the plight of the people given the current current economic situation of the nation. The minister said the government would have to pay concession holders compensation if the increase was not allowed.

And one day later after announcing the hike in toll rates, the federal government said it would defer the hike till end of the year following mass protests from MPs and members of the public. At the mean time, taxpayers would still need to pay RM287 million in compensation to toll concession holders. Regardless of whether the toll rate hike is in effect now or later at the end of the year, the people of Malaysia is still at the losing end - pay higher toll rates or risk losing public funds to compensate concession holders.

As I understand, toll rates are collected from road users to pay off the cost of construction of highways. But the main question is how long does the public need to pay to cover the cost? Instead, highways have been money-making machines for concession holders that include high profile, well-linked businessmen and companies. The trick up their sleeves is wipe off any code of transparency in toll concession agreements from the public under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) - meaning such agreements are filed as state secrets. One can only imagine how agreements on highway construction could be a threat to national security. It's not like the North Koreans or the Israelis are interested in our tolls.

The five major highways bound to have its rates raised enjoy stupendous traffic volume everyday. And yet, toll rates are reviewed and raised every few years without bearing in mind its effect on the pockets of the middle-class. Toll concession holders may argue rising maintenance costs to justify toll rate hikes but let's look at it this way. The tarmac on the highways remains the same. So really, how expensive could maintaining tarmac be. Streetlights along the highways are not exactly lighthouses too. Unless there are gargantuan holographic road signs or ion-powered chrome streetlights to justify the toll rate hike, I do not see why road users have to dig deeper into their pockets every now and then.

To give a glimpse of what is to come unless Malaysians reclaim their highways, a return KL-Penang journey (currently at RM86.60) will balloon to RM115.30 in 2015 and RM168.80 by 2030.

Highways should not be 24 hours-a-day-7-days-a-week wealth machines, serving to fill the pockets of wealthy concession holders and well-connected companies. On February 25, the DAP proposed for a toll-free North-South Expressway by 2016 that the party said will save taxpayers RM14 billion (Click here for a detailed summary of the proposal).

And I personally welcome that notion.

To conclude, I believe toll rates should be proportionate to traffic volume. It makes no sense to raise the toll rates to 'cover costs' when traffic volume increases exponentially every year. If logic permits, the toll rates should be reduced as more motorists are sharing the 'costs'. Hence, I believe that toll rates should correlate with traffic volume and not at the mercy of highway concessiors. That way, it makes more sense for every cent spent on toll rates.

Toll rates of 2007 and 2008. Note the increase. (Image courtesy of: http://www.jeffooi.com)

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