Thursday, December 8, 2016

Are we ready for a hung parliament?

This article has earlier appeared in on 21/7/2016

Are you all surprised or shocked when we say a hung parliament will be good for our nation today?

Yes, we suppose so. Some politicians will also condemn such an idea as crazy because it would not benefit them, their political parties, or help in their quest for power. They would reason that such a situation would only bring chaos to our nation.

Correctly said, because these politicians have been in power for decades and yet they are yet to show any maturity in matters of governing this nation.

A hung parliament is a situation where no political party or coalition of political parties from both ruling and opposition blocs obtain any absolute majority in number of seats in the parliament after a general election.

The ruling party or coalition may gain just a sufficient number of seats, or it may be called simple or narrow majority, while the opposition party or coalition may have increased its parliamentary seats but is unable to form a government because it lacks the simple majority required.

In simple definition, the ruling party or coalition does not have overall control of the parliament while the opposition would regard such a situation as a balanced parliament, thus benefiting it in terms of higher bargaining power when it comes to debating any issues, bills or tabling of motions.

Because of the current political situation in Malaysia, we are of the opinion that a hung parliament would be the best solution to stir our nation’s political parties in parliament to act with maturity and work harder for our people and the nation.

A hung parliament will pressure both sides of the political divide to come up with policies and alternative policies that are beneficial instead of politicking intensely and unnecessarily.

The lack of majority in parliament means the ruling party or coalition will have to be prepared to make greater concessions on policymaking, spending and control of the agenda with the opposition bench.

In this case, in order to be more convincing, the ruling party or coalition must strive harder to promote efficiency and openness in its governance by emphasising competence, transparency and accountability in its day-to-day administration to satisfy the public.

This will also stop the government from denying the various weaknesses and stirring up racial and religious issues to divert attention from the real issues.

A hung parliament would also force the ruling party or coalition to be more serious about tackling corruption, power abuse and mismanagement in the government in order to regain public confidence.

It will stop them from using laws to cover up such wrongdoings when they are exposed.

Apart from this, in a hung parliament, elected representatives from the ruling party would have to set their party and personal interests aside to work harder in the interest of the people, and also learn to work closely and professionally with their opposition counterparts to advance common goals and objectives for the betterment of our nation’s growth.

If politicians from the ruling party or coalition are mature enough in this situation, they could achieve good governance that will increase their reputation.

Opposition must act responsibly

In a hung parliament, the opposition elected representatives' responsibilities will increase. Instead of trying hard to bring down the minority government, the opposition must strive hard to ensure efficient checks and balances on the government of the day.

In this situation, the opposition could also push for a broader parliamentary reform, seek recognition for the institution of a shadow cabinet, to establish parliamentary oversight committees to scrutinise every aspect of every government ministry and to regain their rights to receive the annual constituency allocations.

Besides that, the opposition will also work harder to promote and present their alternative policies, provide checks on the government framework and spending, and debating various issues in order to pressure the ruling party to change or amend their framework for the benefit our people and the nation.

The absence of an overwhelming ruling party or coalition majority in the parliament does not imply an opposition majority as well. The opposition parties, currently working in a loose coalition framework, may also find it a bit difficult to unite against the government.

They may have policy or ideological differences and therefore, they too are more likely to strike bilateral deals.

A stronger parliament

Without a majority ruling party or coalition in the government seat, the parliament becomes the most important institution and thus powerful. The legislative process becomes more uncertain, but it is more inclusive.

In a hung parliament, bills may take longer to be passed as a stronger parliament will see active debates and heavy amendments to bills before they could be put to voting.

In today’s scenario, the ruling party or coalition with an absolute majority in the parliament will normally bulldoze all its bills through via simple hand-raise-vote with limited reviews, debates and no amendments.

A hung parliament will also pressure the Speaker to ensure all procedural aspects are adhered to, such as the importance of having votes via secret ballots, allowing longer time for scrutiny and debates over bills, motions, instituting inner reforms and to provide more democratic avenues in the legislative process.

In this situation the prospects of parliamentary reforms too are brighter, given the fact that the stronger opposition presence and a weaker ruling party or coalition could see both parties coming to a consensual mode more often in order to put things to order.

Lastly, how a hung parliament is dealt with depends on the maturity of our elected representatives.

Only political parties, politicians or elected representatives who are immature and self-centred would exaggerate the perils of a hung parliament by creating fear and worry among our people. This is because they are simply afraid of losing power and are acting out of personal interests.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Manufacturing slows in Europe and Japan

By WSWS Correspondent

Just days after reported second-quarter growth figures pointed to a marked slowdown in the US and Europe, new manufacturing data released yesterday provided further evidence of global economic stagnation. The continued slump in the real economy is in marked contrast to the ongoing and ultimately unsustainable speculative frenzy on international share markets.

The IHS Markit purchasing managers’ index (PMI) for manufacturing for the euro zone in July showed a marked fall from 52.8 in June to 52.0 in July. Germany, with a PMI of 53.8, was the main factor keeping the overall index above 50, the dividing line between growth and contraction.

IHS Markit chief economist Chris William commented: “Expansions in output and employment are clearly being driven to a large extent by surging growth in Germany, while growth has almost stalled in both Italy and Spain, and contractions are being seen in France and Greece.” France’s PMI hit 48.6. Italy’s was the lowest in 18 months, and Spain’s was the lowest in 31 months.

In the wake of the British vote to leave the European Union, the Markit/CIPS PMI in the UK plunged to its lowest level since February 2013, falling from 52.4 in June to 48.2 in July. Capital Economics analyst Scott Bowman told Reuters: “Markit said that the deterioration was widespread across sectors and firm sizes, suggesting Brexit uncertainty was weighing on many firms.”

The Brexit vote also contributed to growing uncertainty in Europe, as a lower British pound promises to slow European exports to the UK. “We expect the UK leave vote to dampen confidence in the months ahead, leaving bleak prospects for a stronger momentum in the manufacturing sector,” Barclays economist Apolline Menut told the Wall Street Journal.

The economic picture was just as bleak elsewhere. Following last week’s growth figure of just 1.2 percent, well below expectations, the PMI figures for the United States released yesterday were mixed. While the Markit PMI for manufacturing was up, the ISM manufacturing activity index fell from 53.2 in June to 52.6 in July.

According to a Financial Times survey published last weekend, the US election campaign and uncertainly about policy direction were contributing to slower economic activity. The newspaper explained that more than two-thirds of the economists surveyed “said the contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton would act as a headwind to growth in the US, blunting large-scale investments until businesses have a better view of the regulatory, tax and government spending climate.”

In Asia, the Japanese manufacturing sector contracted for the fifth consecutive month, with the Markit/Nikkei PMI up from 48.1 in June to 49.3 in July—still below the cut-off point of 50. The sub-index for new export orders was 44.5, indicating that overseas demand fell at the fastest rate since December 2012 amid a strong yen and global slump.

China’s PMI for manufacturing showed mixed results. The official figure fell to 49.9 in July, while the private Caixin manufacturing activity index, which covers a greater share of smaller firms, increased from 48.6 in June to 50.6 in July. Economic growth for the second quarter was 6.7 percent, the slowest since the global financial crisis of 2008/09.

RHB Group economist Zhang Fan told the Wall Street Journal: “Business confidence remains weak. Investment has been sliding. The only efficient tool for the government to spur growth is pumping more money into infrastructure.” Far from boosting the economy, however, the stimulus measures are simply preventing a further marked slowdown.

Another significant indicator of global economic slump was the fall in US crude oil prices below $40 a barrel for the first time since April. The price fall, which is part of the broader collapse of commodity prices, reflected not only increased production by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), but also stagnant demand and large inventories worldwide.

A comment by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s business editor Ian Verrender on Monday highlighted the growing signs of “a global economy in serious trouble,” even as “Wall Street finished the month on a tear, close to an all time record.”

After pointing to the low growth rates in the US and Europe, Verrender noted: “Stress tests of European banks again revealed massive problems in Italy’s banking system, while two major UK banks, Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays, performed poorly. The world’s oldest bank, Italy’s Bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena, was the worst performer, and was bailed out over the weekend … As Italy’s third biggest deposit taker, it’s a too-big-to-fail operation.”

He turned to the decision by Japan’s central bank last Friday to pull back from a desperate measure to stimulate the economy through “a new round of radical policy known as Helicopter Money … a process where the government rains cash down on the country with direct deposits into citizens’ and company accounts.”

Verrender commented: “The fact that it was a close call tells you that not only is it being considered, but that the global economy is in serious trouble. After decades of poor performance, Japan has embraced the most radical monetary policies the world has ever witnessed and on a scale that could never be imagined.”

Japan’s quantitative easing, however, is simply a more extreme version of the policy of pumping cheap credit into the economy that has been adopted by central banks around the world. Far from flowing into the real economy and stimulating business investment, the flood of money has simply led to an orgy of speculation on share and property markets.

Seven years after the global financial crisis, the breakdown of the capitalist system is worsening. The measures used to try to overcome the crisis are only setting the stage for a meltdown on an even larger scale, and at the same time fuelling rising geo-political tensions and a universal drive by governments to impose new burdens on the working class.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Turkish coup, US militarism and the collapse of democracy

by Bill Van Auken

One week after the abortive military coup to overthrow Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, there remains no doubt that Washington had a major hand in the bloody events that shook Istanbul and Ankara.

Turkish military commanders with the closest ties to the Pentagon have been directly implicated in the attempted overthrow, including the commander of the Incirlik air base, where the US stores its largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in Europe and from which it carries out its bombing campaign against Iraq and Syria. Multiple aircraft supporting the coup flew out of Incirlik under the eyes of the US military. After it became apparent that the coup would fail, the Turkish base commander asked the US for asylum.

It emerged Wednesday that a warning of the impending coup had come from Russia, which relayed intercepted radio communications between the coup plotters to Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, known as the MIT. The warning was shared with the Turkish president in time for him to flee barely a half an hour in advance of a special operations squad sent to the seaside resort where Erdoğan was vacationing with the mission of either killing or capturing him.

Is it plausible that the CIA and the US military, with their massive deployment in the region and the world’s most extensive electronic surveillance network at their disposal, would not have been aware of the same communications?

If they weren’t relayed to the Turkish government by the American military and intelligence apparatus, the reason is clear. They were in on the coup plot. Obama didn’t want Erdoğan warned; he wanted him dead.

Then there was Washington’s original reaction to the coup, which came from Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in Moscow. Kerry limited himself to expressing American hopes for “stability and peace and continuity within Turkey.” There was no mention of defending a democratically elected government against military overthrow, not to mention any expression of concern for the fate of the country’s president, Erdoğan.

What precisely Kerry was referring to in voicing support for “continuity within Turkey” can only be understood in the context of the last 70 years of US-Turkish relations. In 1947, at the outset of the Cold War, the US promulgated the Truman Doctrine, committing itself to the defense of both Greece and Turkey against what it alleged was Soviet aggression.

US aid, military advisors and an aircraft carrier group were rushed to Turkey to assist it in rebuffing Moscow’s demand for free passage through the Turkish Straits, the strategic passage connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. In 1952, Turkey was brought into NATO and, over the course of four decades, remained a pivotal country in the US military drive against the Soviet Union.

In the interests of maintaining this “continuity,” Washington supported a series of military coups in Turkey, the first in 1960 against Turkey’s prime minister, Adnan Menderes, whose fate (he was hung) was sealed after he turned to Moscow for economic aid.

Erdoğan, first as prime minister from 2003 to 2014, and then as president, has posed similar problems. In the interests of securing the grip of his right-wing Islamist party, the AKP, he has pursued a nationalist policy that has repeatedly antagonized Washington. In 2003, Turkey refused to allow the US to use its soil to attack Iraq. In 2010, it failed to back the US drive for UN sanctions against Iran. And in 2013, it shocked Washington and NATO by announcing plans to purchase a Chinese anti-missile system.

Relations have further deteriorated over the war for regime change in Syria, where Turkey is the principal backer of Islamist militias tied to Al Qaeda, while Washington has increasingly solidified ties with Syria’s Kurdish militia, which is in turn aligned with the PKK, the Turkish Kurdish movement with which Ankara is at war.

Most recently, there is Erdoğan’s apology to Moscow over the deliberate shoot-down of a Russian warplane in November 2015 and a move toward rapprochement with the government of Vladimir Putin.

In the wake of the coup, Erdoğan spoke with Putin well before a phone call with Obama. And, in a conversation Tuesday with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Erdoğan declared, “We are determined to resolve regional issues by joining hands with Iran and Russia, and with our efforts to return peace and stability to the region.”

US imperialism has no intention of brooking such a strategic realignment in the region. Resort to an attempted military coup was no doubt a criminally reckless policy. If it had succeeded, the likely result would have been a civil war and a death toll that would have made the bloody US-backed coup in Egypt pale by comparison.

US imperialism has already wrecked Iraq, Libya and Syria, killing and maiming millions in pursuit of its geo-strategic interests, so why not Turkey as well?

The tensions with Turkey have emerged in the context of a global eruption of American militarism. The coup took place barely one week after a NATO summit in Warsaw outlined plans to execute a massive escalation of military deployments on Russia’s western border and preparations for a direct, i.e., nuclear, confrontation with Moscow.

In Asia, US imperialism has made it clear it intends to use a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration against Chinese claims in the South China Sea as the pretext for a major military escalation against Beijing.

To that end, the Obama administration dispatched Vice President Joe Biden to Australia to deliver bellicose speeches threatening China with US military might and, more pointedly, to instruct the Australians that, whether they liked it or not, they would be dragged into the US war preparations. “It’s never a good bet to bet against the United States,” he threatened.

The US is moving toward a military confrontation on a scale not seen since the end of the Second World War. It is determined to crush all obstacles in the path of its war plans. Great shocks are coming in the wake of the American November elections, if not even before.

The growth of militarism and preparations for world war are incompatible with the maintenance of democratic forms of rule anywhere on the planet. The drive to war is intensifying and accelerating a turn toward dictatorial methods in country after country, a turn that is rooted in the profound crisis of world capitalism and the unchecked growth of social inequality and class tensions in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown.

In Turkey itself, the defeat of the imperialist-backed coup has spelled not some flowering of democracy, but the consolidation of a right-wing dictatorship in which Erdoğan has arrogated to himself the power to rule by decree, while carrying out the arrest and firing of tens of thousands of people thought to oppose him and moving to restore the death penalty.

In answer to moralizing capitalist critics in the West, the Turkish president has retorted that he is only doing the same thing as French President Francois Hollande, who is now ruling under what is becoming a permanent state of emergency, imposed on the pretext of combating terrorism but directed against mounting social tensions and working class unrest.

Whether the abortive coup of July 15 marks the end of the attempts by the Turkish military to seize power is itself an open question. With fully one-third of its general staff under arrest, the country’s armed forces are in a state of turmoil. Moreover, Washington is not about to passively permit Turkey to drift out of its strategic orbit.

The Turkish events have provided a stark lesson for the working class. It is impossible to defend basic social and democratic rights outside of a unified international struggle against imperialist war and militarism and the capitalist system in which they are rooted.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Where is Pakatan’s direction?

This article has earlier appeared in on 6/7/2016

The results of the Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar parliamentary by-elections clearly indicated the people’s choice and dissatisfaction.

In disarray, Pakatan Harapan has taken the people’s views for granted. Have Pakatan leaders learned from the outcome? Yes, blame BN over some cash inflows and vote buying, but what about themselves?

As the two by-elections had given confidence to the once-bitten Umno-led BN coalition, the prospects of a snap general election being called either at the end of this year or in early of 2017 seems to be coming into reality as BN leaders have been doing the ground work and dispatching their goodies since.

The major problem here is that the people are very disappointed with the way BN is running this nation because of its corrupt and swindling nature which cause billions of ringgit loss from our nation’s coffers almost every year.

Asides, afraid of its unpopularity and increasing criticism against its administration, BN is moving towards dictatorship to consolidate its power by strengthening of several security related laws, awarding more political security powers to the security forces, in order to purge voices of dissent, freedom of speech and to stem out the influence of opposition figures in order to rid-off support for opposition parties.

The people wanted a change for their nation and voted for the opposition parties to send their representatives into the parliament and state assemblies in the last two general elections in the hope they could place a foundation towards Putrajaya in future.

Unfortunately, Pakatan Harapan has not shown any progress in regards to its common policy, political framework and ideology.

Coalition or just working together?

Pakatan seems like a coalition only for elections, where its component parties, PKR, DAP and Amanah would gather during elections and they would later disperse after the occasion was over.

Is such an opposition coalition an effective machinery to garner support? The parties are still going by what they are used to be called - PKR, DAP and Amanah.

From Pakatan Rakyat to Pakatan Harapan. The initial Pakatan was dissolved following the departure of PAS due to its insistence of hudud implementation. The moderates in PAS who wanted to remain in the Pakatan coalition later quit and formed a splinter party, Amanah in order to continue their stance.

While leading the opposition coalition, PKR was also reluctant to completely dump PAS due to its partnership with the Islamist party in the Selangor state government. Both PKR and PAS have factions who are for and against the current loose formation in the state.

At the same time, a powerful faction within PAS had also handed an olive branch to its once arch rival Umno in order to seek its help to pave way for the hudud bill to be presented in the parliament.

All such moves had in fact thrown our people into deeper dilemma and more confusion over the actual directions of these political parties and what are their leaders’ actual stand on many issues.

PKR-DAP-Amanah or PKR-PAS or PAS-Umno? Our people now seems to be overly confused over the intention of these kind of political cooperations and the parties that they had voted for in 2008 and 2013 respectively.

Umno unleashing its kill

In this situation, Umno had seized every opportunity to put the opposition coalition and its component parties into disarray by first hitting PAS’ head against the wall over its hudud ambition. Umno is indeed successful.

Umno then dispatched PAS to disrupt the current framework in Pakatan by confusing some PKR leaders into supporting their cause, instigating the latter to pull out from the newly-born opposition coalition, force-dissolution of the Selangor state assembly to pave way for a state election.

The attempt was never successful but it had then done a lot of damage in Pakatan and the Selangor state government. As a reward for the “successful sabotage”, the Selangor Umno liaison chief was given a ministerial position in the recently cabinet reshuffle.

No wanting to give up, Umno then initiated yet another attempt to destabilise the Penang state government by implicating Chief Minister and DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng in corrupt practices over the purchase of a secondhand bungalow and for allegedly the land rezoning.

Citizens’ Declaration and Sarawak clash

Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has been critical of the Umno-led government under Najib Razak since RM2.6 billion was found in his personal account and the RM42 billion 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.

In pursuing for his call for Najib’s resignation, Mahathir had initiated a nationwide Citizens’ Declaration in order to gather support for his cause. To achieve such, he even resigned from Umno and joined forces with many opposition parties and civil societies.

Surprisingly, Pakatan leaders were quick to embrace Mahathir’s pursuit as one of theirs, thus accidentally putting the former prime minister into the position of a “de facto opposition leader” or should we call “effective opposition leader” of our nation.

It seems like the Pakatan leaders had forgotten their de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim and the parliamentary Opposition Leader Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

This situation had irked many opposition supporters because it has been too awkward and confused. Has Pakatan run out of effective leaders of their own until they have to depend on Mahathir?

The recently Sarawak state election saw PKR-DAP clash over several seats had also disappointed voters and opposition supporters who had hoped that the opposition parties could make some changes in the state. It is a clear picture that the state Pakatan was in disarray as it could not agree over some seat allocations.

The people were asking if similar clashes would repeat come next general election? The people are matured to realise that disorganised opposition parties would never take on Umno and BN effectively.

In the end of the day, BN will still be the government of the day.

Pakatan is unable to stand together as one, with one common goal to change our nation for a better, be accommodating to embrace other opposition parties outside their coalition into their fold.

We are all asking ourselves again, to vote or not to vote? Are we able to change our nation for the better come the 14th General Election?

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Lessons for the opposition from Sarawak polls

This article has earlier appeared in on 30/5/2016

The recent Sarawak state election on May 7 has exposed the true colours of the opposition. They can only expect worse come the 14th General Election if the bickering parties do not buck up and patch things up.

The Sarawak Barisan Nasional won handsomely, getting 72 out of 82 seats in the enlarged state legislative assembly.

The opposition Pakatan Harapan suffered a major setback, winning only 10 seats with DAP getting seven, down from 12 in 2011, PKR retaining its three seats, and Amanah finishing empty-handed.

Opposition parties outside of Pakatan such as PAS were also wiped out.

So, was it because of the Adenan factor? Some say it worked, but it certainly was not the only reason for the swing back to BN.

The fact is that BN won with a landslide because the field was gravely uneven, where the ruling state coalition enjoyed all the advantages in terms of finance, logistics, mainstream media, communication channels and of course the immigration control.

We also have to acknowledge the fact Sarawak BN has been in power for decades and has tightened its grip over every single corner of the state.

The return of the urban votes to BN was also partly due to Sarawak Chief Minister and state BN chairman Adenan Satem’s hint that a Chinese would be appointed as one of three deputy chief ministers if candidates from the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) were voted back into the state legislative assembly. (In the end, no Chinese was made a deputy chief minister.)

Besides that, the state BN had also used its administrative powers to forbid the entry of opposition campaigners into many villages, longhouses and other rural areas, on grounds of “security and unity preservation”.

Another significant factor was the lower voter turnout, including fence-sitters who stayed away, which worked to the advantage of Adenan.

According to the Election Commission (EC), the voter turnout was only 70% of the 1,109,795 registered voters. This was sharply lower than that in the 2011 state elections which saw a turnout of more than 80%.

One reason for the low turnout could be that some BN supporters, especially those in the rural areas, skipped polling in the belief that BN would form the government anyway.

But the more pertinent scenario seemed to be a boycott by many opposition supporters who were unhappy with the way opposition parties were flexing their muscles against each other.

The continuous bickering between DAP and PKR had led to many unnecessary multi-cornered contests in the state polls. Such bickering had in fact killed the chance of Pakatan Harapan even before nomination day.

A costly affair for the opposition

When the opposition parties won big in the last state elections in 2011, DAP and PKR knew very well it was because the electorate had given them the mandate in the hope that they would build on the momentum to defeat the state BN in the next round.

Instead of being motivated to strengthen their unity, the opposition parties became more fragmented and self-centred. The results of the recent polls spoke volumes.

DAP was overly ambitious, trying to venture forcefully into areas and cultures which it was unfamiliar with, while PKR was too impatient by wanting to go all out, claiming it was in the right position to represent the natives in the state.

PAS was thrashed by voters for being religiously extreme while Amanah made its debut in an unconvincing manner.

Apart from that, until today Pakatan Harapan has not demonstrated any goodwill towards local opposition parties in the land of the hornbills by allowing them to join the opposition coalition at the state level.

Given BN’s firm grip on the state, it is an uphill task for the opposition to penetrate the Sarawak heartland.

Pakatan Harapan parties should reach out to local opposition parties such as Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak-Baru (PBDS Baru), Parti Reformasi Negeri (Star), Parti Ekonomi Rakyat Sarawak Bersatu (PERSB), Sarawak Workers’ Party (SWP), Parti Bumi Kenyalang (PBK) and remnants of the once powerful Sarawak National Party (SNAP).

If Pakatan Harapan had worked in unity with these local opposition parties, costly multi-cornered contests could have been avoided and these opposition parties could have made some inroads.

In other words, the opposition paid the price for being impatient, greedy and arrogant.

Another thing that the opposition parties should have learned and analysed is the fact that Sarawak BN has long kept many parts of the heartland away from development, education, technology and many basic facilities.

We can attribute BN’s continuous victory in the state to the lack of understanding and concern among the majority of Sarawak natives on issues of governance.

The rural majority are generally not interested in any political rhetoric. They are only concerned with basic amenities like water and electricity supply, roads and other infrastructure.

Win the hearts of these people first before you walk into their areas with your loud speakers and banners.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Mission accomplished for PAC report?

This article has earlier appeared in on 14/5/2016

The multi-billion ringgit scandal of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) is far from over. The prime minister was hoping that the people would slowly forget about the whole episode and “move forward”. Just what kind of “move forward” is he expecting from us?

The 1MDB report released by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) consists of many kinds of twists and turns which have left many readers and observers gravely confused and wondering if the sole purpose of this report was to absolve the prime minister of any blame or wrongdoings in the scandal.

Well, from the eyes of a lay person, it is clear the report is implying that Prime Minister Najib Razak was in no way responsible for the scandal, even if he had signed many of those documents, blindly or whatsoever. The prime minister has nothing to do with decision-making in 1MDB. The prime minister is merely the chairman of the advisory board and he has no direct discretion over its financial and operational matters.

The PAC report was tabled in Parliament and made public but a related report by the Auditor-General remains classified under the Official Secrets Act.

The grave disappointment over the PAC report is that it ignored many parts of its own inquiry into the 1MDB controversy and failed to include details that had either directly or indirectly mentioned the involvement of the prime minister. The question on whether PAC has deliberately omitted certain parts or modified the report is left unanswered.

The first thing the PAC report has concluded is that former 1MDB chief executive officer Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi is solely responsible for the entire mess in 1MDB, followed by the failure of the board of directors to scrutinise the management activities and its financial flows.

What the PAC failed to report

In its report, the PAC mentioned that the 1MDB management had on several occasions failed to adhere to the instructions given by the board of directors and had even commenced business transactions prior to specific approval from the board itself.

The PAC has reportedly failed to reveal that the 1MDB management had bypassed the board by reporting directly to the prime minister to seek his approval and instructions on several business transactions.

Former PAC chairman Nur Jazlan Mohammed reportedly mentioned that 1MDB has its own source of authority, not from the finance ministry but directly from the prime minister who is also the first finance minister, in this case bypassing the government’s due process framework.

So, why did the PAC and its current chairman not go deeper into this issue given claims that it was the prime minister who was pulling the strings in many of 1MDB’s most important business decisions?

Was the PAC’s sole mission to save the prime minister from any possible exposure, disgrace or later impeachment? Is the ex-CEO fully responsible?

The PAC report has insisted that Shahrol be held fully responsible over the billion ringgit mess and that he should be further investigated by the relevant authorities.

The PAC has also urged the authorities to act against Shahrol immediately over the mismanagement and losses of 1MDB.

The question here is why the seeming rush and insistence on picking on Shahrol? Is he being made the scapegoat?

If it is true that Shahrol is solely responsible for the fiasco, why was no action taken against him in the initial stage? Is PAC aware that although Shahrol was no longer the CEO, he retained his directorship in 1MDB and was even transferred to the Prime Minister’s Department to become a director of Pemandu agency, instead of being suspended or sacked from the establishment?

And yet, after the report was released, he was still directing and issuing policy instructions in the government as if nothing happened at all.

Defied, misled, misinformed

The PAC also said Shahrol had effectively defied, misled and withheld critical information from the 1MDB board of directors in matters concerning various business proposals and decisions.

In this case too, the PAC also failed to check the source of authority that Shahrol had obtained from and depended on.

While Shahrol may be brave enough to defy or mislead the board of directors, it is unthinkable that he would dare to act without the prime minister’s approval given the fact that such an approval channel does exist informally as mentioned earlier. Otherwise, he would have been fired from his position and disgraced a long time ago.

Furthermore, in the memorandum and articles of association (M&A) of 1MDB, Section 117 clearly states that all businesses of 1MDB must be approved by the chairman of the advisory board, who is Najib.

This situation allows the management of 1MDB to bypass the board of directors and the finance ministry, and it is possible that the management team led by Shahrol was instructed to bypass the other approving channels by going straight to the prime minister’s office.

That is why the board of directors and the advisory board have never met because the prime minister himself could make most of the decisions.

Come on, it is not difficult to fathom who actually pulled the strings at 1MDB. So, please stop hiding under the sand, pretending that the people would forget about this sooner or later.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Can ‘Save Malaysia’ really save Malaysia?

This article has earlier appeared in on 26/3/2016

Our nation is now in terrible darkness, both socially and economically. A lot of things happening in Putrajaya have undermined the confidence of the people and the international community. The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) and its dominant party Umno are becoming like a tumour growing in the heart of our nation.

Why? It is all because of the alleged RM2.6 billion scandal of Prime Minister Najib Razak and the RM42 billion debt chalked up by 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), where Najib chairs its advisory board. The Najib government has given a new twist to the definition of “donation” based on the RM2.6 billion channelled into Najib’s personal account.

Amid this brouhaha and political acrimony, here comes the Citizens’ Declaration initiated by former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. On March 4, Mahathir, who is Najib’s chief critic, joined hands with political leaders from both sides of the divide and civil society figures to sign the declaration aimed at pressuring Najib to resign as prime minister so as to save Malaysia from its current crisis.

Certainly, the unprecedented gathering of political friends and foes took the people by surprise. But many also wonder if this movement will ever last or succeed in driving the prime minister from his seat.

Some opposition leaders and civil society champions were seen rushing to support the move, for a variety of reasons. Some were taking advantage of what they believe is an opportunity to effect real change, and yet others were simply riding on the momentum to take advantage of one another.

Umno splitting?

Many observers are of the view that Umno is being torn apart following the sacking of Muhyiddin Yassin as deputy prime minister and his suspension as Umno deputy president, and also the ousting of Mukhriz Mahathir as Kedah menteri besar and Umno vice-president Shafie Apdal from the Cabinet.

Former Batu Kawan Umno division vice-chairman Khairuddin Abu Hassan has also been sacked from the party and prosecuted for his relentless pursuit of the RM2.6 billion donation scandal.

These Umno rebels have found support among a group of Umno branch chairmen, who teamed up as Gabungan Ketua Cawangan Malaysia (GKCM) to mount pressure on Najib, who is Umno president, to quit. GKCM is now on a nationwide drive to explain to Umno members its anti-Najib stand and the current political crisis.

On the other hand, plans were reportedly being hatched by Umno supreme council members who are strongly behind Najib to have the rebellious faction, including Muhyiddin, sacked from the party in order to curb the resistance from within.

If the sackings happen as predicted, there will be a massive split within Umno in some of the major states, particularly Kedah, Johor, Perak and Sabah. However, the top Umno leaders aligned to the party president are adamant that any impact to such cleansing will be minimal.

So, what does this Save Malaysia mean to these Umno rebels? Save Umno, Save BN?

Role of opposition and civil groups

Leaders of the opposition parties and civil societies who embraced Mahathir in the Citizens’ Declaration initiative have been criticised by some for allegedly abandoning their struggle for real institutional reforms.

Let’s not rush into labelling them with such words. The majority of the opposing front stepped forward in the belief that differences should be temporarily set aside to focus on removing a corrupt leader from power to prevent further power abuse that would jeopardise the entire nation.

Bersih 2.0 chairperson Maria Chin reasoned that the electoral reform group decided to lend support because the declaration also demanded some institutional reforms that the group is currently pursuing.

Others had decided to support as they had seen other options as ineffective, insecure or risky while some opposition leaders had also acknowledged their weakness in such coordination.

Veterans and leaders from PKR, DAP and Amanah were present at the launch of Citizens’ Declaration. So too were Muhyiddin and Mukhriz. But the presidents of PKR and PAS, and secretary-general of DAP were conspicuously absent.

What next?

The concern over this Citizens’ Declaration is whether there exists a plan on how to manage the nation in a post-Najib era. Will there be a grand coalition to govern or a caretaker administration will take over this nation until a general election is called?

Even if this Save Malaysia campaign succeeds in driving out Najib, what next and who will succeed him? Same batch of old guards within Umno? If this is the case what is the purpose of Save Malaysia when in actual fact Umno’s old guards are still in charge?

Can this Save Malaysia guarantee us a snap election to let the people determine what is best for the entire nation if Najib’s departure takes place?

Malaysia deserves better; we Malaysians deserve better. If there is no real change, we would only be running round and round and round, coming back to the same old problem at the end of the day.

So, can these politicians give us some clear picture on what kind of a better Malaysia they are fighting for? Is this for our people or only among themselves?

Monday, March 21, 2016

Pakatan should stop political appointments in GLCs

This article has earlier appeared in on 18/3/2016

The Pakatan Harapan government in Penang was recently embroiled in a controversy over the sacking of two PKR assemblymen from the boards of state government-linked-companies, InvestPenang and Penang Hill Corporation (PHC).

The termination of the services of Ong Chin Wen (Bukit Tengah) and Cheah Kah Peng (Kebun Bunga) was announced by Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, in retaliation for their decision not to vote against an Umno motion to halt land reclamation projects in Penang.

PKR, however, defended its two state assemblymen, saying its elected representatives are allowed to vote according to their conscience and the people’s interests.

To add salt to the wound, the DAP-led state government appointed Seremban MP Anthony Loke to the board of PHC to replace Cheah.

The state government has reasoned that Loke’s appointment was based on his capacity as the party’s shadow minister for tourism and culture at the federal level while PKR leaders have argued that Loke was unfit for the position because he is not a Penangite.

Politicians and GLC

First of all, why should the Penang state government appoint politicians to sit in the board of directors of state GLCs?

Do these politicians really serve well and contribute their knowledge and expertise to the GLC concerned? I don’t subscribe to claims that these politicians could help the GLCs.

Why should the directorship of GLCs be a political appointment? These positions should be filled by those who are really qualified so that they can motivate these GLCs towards quality service and excellence.

If the GLC boards are filled by political appointees just to satisfy the lust of political parties to gain support, it would defeat the purpose as these politicians would be merely sitting there getting 'gaji buta' without contributing anything at all.

Furthermore, such appointments are also open to power abuse and corruption if they are not checked.

So, where is Pakatan Harapan’s pledge for Competency, Accountability and Transparency (CAT) which they have been fighting for all this while?

Such political appointments are certainly a Barisan Nasional legacy, and we wonder why Pakatan should continue with the practice.

Okay, it may be a coincidence that Loke happens to be DAP’s shadow minister for tourism and culture and might be able to help and advise the Penang state government on federal policies related to state tourism, but what about other politicians who are now sitting on the boards of the state GLCs? Do they really contribute to the GLCs they are attached to?

As far as we know, these political appointees are in the GLCs just because of their affiliation with PKR, DAP or Amanah. The same goes for their counterparts in the Selangor state government.

Advisory or oversight panels for GLCs

To be fair to the people who elected them, these elected representatives, whether state assemblymen or members of parliament, should not hold any positions in business- and profit-oriented GLCs.

The reason is that elected representatives are chosen by the people and they should serve the people’s interests by becoming the eyes and ears of the public.

Instead of sitting in the boards of GLCs, elected representatives should take on the role of members of advisory or oversight panels in the GLCs to ensure these state-owned entities discharge their roles and responsibilities in accordance with the people’s will and expectations.

This is the real kind of CAT that the Pakatan Harapan state governments should aspire to achieve instead of continuing the BN legacy of awarding supporters with GLC directorships.

If left unchecked, such appointments can certainly open the door to power abuse and corruption. We have witnessed massive losses of billions of ringgit not only in federal departments, agencies and GLCs but also government offices, agencies and state GLCs of BN-controlled states.

Therefore, if Pakatan Harapan wants to demonstrate to the people the competency, accountability and transparency in its governance, then start the ball rolling in a different way instead of doing it the BN way.

If you appoint politicians to the boards of GLCs, it will be politicised. And if you decide to fire these directors, it will again be politicised. Does all this kind of politics benefit our people?

None at all.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

It's our right to question the govt

This article has earlier appeared in on 14/3/2016

The government has decided that the outcome of the 1MDB probe will be kept under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) to prevent leakages, at least until it is tabled in parliament.

So, why is the government hiding 1MDB under the OSA?

In the course of the investigation, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had promised a thorough probe into every single detail in the 1MDB controversy to determine what went wrong in its asset acquisition activities which had resulted in debts of RM42 billion.

When 1MDB’s RM42 billion scandal was first exposed, there were lots of speculations and guessing game as the government refused to reveal what had actually gone wrong in these deals.

The government also took months to initiate its internal investigation, and the PAC’s probe too was abruptly put to a standstill on various occasions.

In between, we saw the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) being raided, followed by the detention of several MACC officials, along with the confiscation of investigation papers on the grounds of assisting a police investigation into possible leaks.

All such actions initiated by the government not only created a bad impression on its image but also caused more speculations. The government's actions reflected as though it was attempting to cover up something.

Soon, Malaysia became an international laughing stock. The government's response? It started a crackdown on the people and media who were critical of the 1MDB scandal.

The government is now blaming these critics for damaging its image in the eyes of the public and the international community.

Some BN leaders had also tried to make things worse by claiming that these critics have been expounding false allegations in the public which they said could undermine the nation’s stability, cause public unrest, and threaten national security and public order.

Such allegations are totally senseless.

To stop all public speculations, criticisms and condemnations over the 1MDB scandal, the government must make public all of 1MDB’s asset acquisitions, the list of all interested parties in these transactions, those involved in the decision making and all the financial transactions leading to all such deals.

Likewise, the PAC too should initiate a public inquiry on 1MDB, its top executives, former senior officials and all those who were involved directly and indirectly in its businesses, instead of keeping the inquiry closed door.

To prove its innocence, and that no wrongdoing was committed, documents should not be classified under the OSA. Why fear public scrutiny? Why be afraid of public criticisms? Why so sensitive to public dissent?

If the government had been transparent from the beginning, public criticisms, condemnations, speculations or guessing game would not have happened after all.

So, why blame the public for all these negative reflections? Why cause fear by labelling critics as those disrupting and threatening national security and public order?

The people as taxpayers have their citizenry duty to question the government over the use of public funds. And the government has the duty to answer truthfully.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The old divide and rule strategy to cover up issues

This article has earlier appeared in on 3/3/2016

Since 2008 when the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition first lost its two-thirds majority in the general election and again failed to regain the much needed numbers in the 2013 polls, BN leaders, particularly from its dominant party Umno, have frequently resorted to divide and rule tactics in an attempt to regain lost ground.

These leaders would stir up racial and religious problems and put the blame on various opposition parties and their leaders, leading civil society and human rights groups claiming that these people are threatening the special rights of the Malays and insulting Islam.

The intention of these leaders is crystal clear, to divert the people’s attention from the ugly scenes in the corridors of power: corruption, power abuse and mismanagement which have cost the nation billions of ringgit every year.

Umno leaders have somehow realised that the people are now watching their every move and they have to come up with something big very fast to distract them from the real issues.

Almost every year, various scandals were uncovered, and billions of ringgit went into the drain without a single effective remedy. These scandals have made thousands of headlines, both locally and internationally, and drawn public criticism and condemnation of the BN government.

The displeasure with the BN government, especially Umno leaders, cuts across racial lines and the general population is particularly disappointed with Putrajaya’s handling of these controversies and managing of the nation’s coffers.

Umno leaders know that Malaysians from all walks of life are scrutinisng their every move and the government has indeed been cornered.

Creating disunity to divert attention

Unable to overcome the onslaught of criticism and condemnation from the people, these leaders resorted to stirring up racial and religious fears and suspicions, in the hope that in the midst of disunity the real issues confronting the nation will be overlooked.

Furthermore, Umno has also sub-contracted its task of creating racial and religious conflicts to their various right wing NGOs and extremist groups in order not to be seen as the real culprits.

While hiding its hands in the divide and rule strategy, Umno is trying to play the moderate card, claiming that the ruling coalition is the best-suited formula in this multiracial nation compared to the opposition parties out there.

So, while the BN and Umno are theoretically moderate or secular, in Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur and even in the international arena, their representatives are behaving otherwise in their deeds and actions.

In this case, these so-called moderate Umno and BN leaders merely exist in fancy suits over the grand offices in Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur.

The sectarian division has created confusion and conflicts over the years, with no concrete solutions to the problems on the nation’s state of economy, government’s incompetence, rising cost of living, spiralling inflation and the drop in confidence among foreign investors.

And yet the leaders in BN are still talking based on race and religion, with some even trying to behave like God to give others some “religious lessons”.

Some from Umno even had the audacity to claim that the prime minister was appointed by God.

The people must therefore understand that the nation’s direction must not be decided based on race and religion but on Malaysians’ popular view. The problem with Putrajaya today lies in its incompetent administration, rampant corruption and power abuse and mismanagement.

This is not about Malays and Islam being threatened, but that the entire Malaysian population is being threatened and the nation risks plunging into bankruptcy. All Malaysians are being undermined by a corrupt regime.

In order to overcome such threats, the people must therefore identify themselves first and foremost as Malaysians, not as Malays, Chinese, Indians, Ibans, Orang Asli, Kadazans, Muslims, Christians, Shias or Sunnis.

Let us all rise as Malaysians to democratically prevent our nation from heading towards collapse and chaos.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

BN must learn to handle criticisms

This article has earlier appeared in on 26/2/2016

Barisan Nasional leaders, particularly those from Umno, should wake up and accept the fact that arresting and imprisoning people will not stop criticisms from being levelled against the ruling party and the government.

Instead, it will certainly increase public suspicion over what these government leaders are actually up to.

Apart from that, such actions will also give the impression that the BN government is trying to cover up weaknesses in its administration.

In politics, public perception, whether negative or positive, exists in every form, be it criticism, commentaries, discussions, condemnations, debates, exchange of ideas or just simply a chat in a coffee shop.

Whatever the BN government is doing or if any of its top leaders is linked to controversies or scandals, it will inevitably attract public attention and generate public perceptions based on the information obtained.

Perception is prevalent and unless the BN leaders come forward to explain what has actually transpired, it will not help its cause. Bare denials of controversies or scandals will not help.

These BN leaders must also realise that they are in fact holding public office and not positions in their personal capacities. These leaders are elected to serve the people and the nation, and owe it to them to be forthcoming with information.

They should be reminded that they are servants of the public who pay their taxes diligently every year to the government in order for the administration to serve and develop the nation, and to provide the best for the people’s livelihood.

Let us take for instance the 1Malaysia Development Berhad’s (1MDB) RM42 billion debt and the prime minister’s RM2.6 billion donation controversy.

When the 1MDB issue was first exposed, many people were shocked by the losses allegedly suffered, and demanded to know who were responsible for these.

Immediately, the public perception on 1MDB was that the scandal was a result of corruption, power abuse and mismanagement. However, reactions from the BN government were slow and its leaders did not adequately address public concerns on the scandal.

As such, it drew widespread criticisms and condemnations from the public for months due to the BN government’s inaction to resolve this issue. Speculations further intensified and it went on until 1MDB’s reputation was almost damaged to zero credibility.

As speculations and criticisms against 1MDB began running out of control, the BN government decided to act by purging the social media space, revoking the publishing permit of a financial magazine, detaining some prominent opposition leaders, critics and civil society leaders under the Sedition Act, Security Offences and Special Measures Act (Sosma), Communications and Multimedia Act and Section 500 of the Penal Code by accusing them of undermining the national security and public order.

The worst part of this episode was the suspension of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) following the appointment of its chairman and several key members to the cabinet.

At the same time the action by the police to confiscate investigation papers from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) headquarters, and the arrest of several MACC officials drew even more suspicion from the public.

The people cannot be blamed simply because speculations began to spread nationwide, and such speculations will never create public disorder or threaten national security as claimed by certain powerful figures.

When there are criticisms and condemnations, the BN government ought to have themselves blamed for the backlash caused by their secretive nature of handling such issues.

If the BN government had come clean on these scandals at the beginning, making themselves accountable, calling for a public hearing to deal with the matter, or declassifying all the documents and deals for public scrutiny, things would not have blown up to this extent.

These problems are all BN’s own making.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Invoking the 3Rs to justify wrongdoings

This article has earlier appeared in on 19/2/2016

If a leading politician or senior official from the Barisan Nasional (BN) government was caught or exposed for his corrupt practices, the people would make hell of a noise demanding that the person resign, be probed and charged for the crimes committed.

However, today, the leading BN politician or senior official will fire back by claiming that those calling for action to be taken against him are threatening the existence of the Malay race in this nation. He will add that without Umno, there will be no more Malays in this land.

Again, when people saw a leading figure from the BN government abusing his powers to award government contracts to members of his family, close relatives or cronies, calls for the person to be probed and demanding his resignation will be met with his response that it is un-Islamic to do so or it is not the way of Islam to call for action to be taken against the leader or official.

In short, where punitive action and remorse were expected by the people, the culprits would instead respond with arrogance, claiming that the whistleblowers were committing treason or “derhaka” against the Malay rulers who appointed them to the position of authority.

It seems when any wrongs or crimes were committed by BN leaders or any senior officials in the government, these crooks would certainly use Race, Religion and the Rulers, popularly known as the 3Rs, to shield themselves from criticisms, condemnations and legal actions.

So, the 3Rs has become BN’s ultimate weapon against the people who are watching the government’s every move. Apart from the 3Rs, the BN government is also using oppressive laws such as the Sedition Act and Security Offences and Special Measures Act (Sosma) to rein in critics, civil society activists and opposition leaders by charging them in court for exposing corruption, power abuse and mismanagement in the administration.

Recently, the Attorney-General has also pledged to come up with some harsh measures to strengthen the Official Secrets Act (OSA) to deter people from exposing or leaking any government documents related to corrupt activities or transactions.

It will certainly make it more difficult for civil servants and members of the public who are in possession of such information to expose the wrongdoings. The BN government may also take the opportunity to classify as many documents as possible under the OSA in order to shield themselves from public scrutiny.

1MDB and Tabung Haji

It is clear how critics of the debt-ridden 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) were probed, arrested and charged in court when they were just doing their civic duty. Instead of going after the culprits who misused public or company funds for personal gain, the authorities systematically punished those who exposed and criticised 1MDB over the mismanagement of funds.

And when news broke of Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) issuing a warning notice to Tabung Haji over its fund mismanagement, the pilgrimage fund’s chairman was quick to respond that the news reports and various calls for an investigation to be initiated had insulted the religion. He even called on the authorities to investigate those who leaked the information on BNM’s warning.

Where is the investigative authorities’ focus in tackling crimes or wrongdoings. Do not tell us that the source of the information will be probed, arrested and charged. They should be going after the elements of the crime to single out the real culprits.

The government’s action in going after complainants of crimes is sending out the wrong message to the people. The victim of the crime has become the victim of the authorities? This is utterly senseless.

BN is flexing its muscle by using oppressive laws to kill the principle of checks and balances and to cover up its dirt.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Is BN government trying to cover-up its misdeeds?

Public & Press Statement

Recently, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has decided to block two influential websites which has been critical to the BN government.

The blockade took place after these two websites published a kind of “warning” letter from the Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) to Tabung Haji over some kind of “fund mismanagement” in the said organization.

The MCMC reasoned that the blockade to these two websites were because of the words and statements published are against the law and order.

We would like to ask the BN government, is reporting or exposing a crime against the law? Why are the authorities apprehending the person who reported or exposed criminal elements within an organization or the government and not going after the culprits who abused their powers and took the public funds for their personal interests?

Is the BN government giving an impression to the public that any persons reporting a misdeed, corruption or any criminal element will also be arrested or apprehended because of their civic-consciousness? Is the BN government also giving an impression to the public that they are trying to cover-up whatever misdeeds, mismanagement, power abuse and corruption within their administration?

We also noticed that the BN government has been very sensitive over reports of misdeeds, mismanagement, power abuse and corruption which has been made public. In many of these occasions, some BN leaders had even vowed to get authorities to go after those who had reported these criminal elements instead of acknowledging it and apprehending the culprits who had drained away the public funds.

Such monstrous tactics are not recent. Previously, the Heat, The Edge, The Malaysian Insider, Malaysiakini, Sarawak Report and some other news portals too experienced various pressures and harassments from the authorities over their reports and exposures on the misuse of public funds by certain leaders or public figures within the administration.

We wish to remind the many security apparatus under this BN government that the real crimes does not come from all these websites. The real crimes and criminals are out there in the streets and within the government trying to amass their fortunes by swindling the public funds under your nose.

Stop wasting time and public resources over these civic-conscious sites and go after all those real criminals instead.

WH Cheng
Director, IRAS

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Why the cloak-and-dagger routine?

This article has earlier appeared in the on 21/1/2016

First of all, why must members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) be gagged and not allowed to issue any statements pertaining to the committee's ongoing investigations or hearings on the government’s financial irregularities?

Is PAC functioning in secrecy or is it some sort of a secret society? Why all inquiries carried out by the PAC should not be made public and the people are being prevented from knowing its proceedings?

If the leaders of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition keep on insisting that PAC’s probes into the financial irregularities in the public service as well as government-linked-companies (GLCs) should not be disclosed to the people, then can only assume that they want to cover-up the misdeeds and wrongdoings within the government.

No wonder the BN government’s budget deficit is increasing every year and they keep on losing billions of ringgit of public funds to power abuse, mismanagement and corruptions.

Let us talk facts! We, the people, most of us are taxpayers, contribute much of our hard-earned income to the government every year in the form of income tax and GST.

The monies that we all remit to the government are for development and the benefit of our people. It is considered public funds and does not belong to anyone in power.

The government is merely entrusted to manage these funds in accordance to the will of the people.

Therefore, if the public funds were to be mismanaged or abused by corrupted politicians, public officials and their cronies, the investigations into such irregularities should be out in the open because these matters are of public interest.

PAC is a parliamentary committee

The PAC is not a cabinet committee where all its proceedings are kept secret. The PAC is established among members of parliament from both sides of the political divide and is a parliamentary committee.

All MPs be it from the government or opposition are elected by the people, as such, any task, responsibilities or investigations undertaken by the PAC should be made public.

In fact, when an irregularity within the government is reported, the PAC should summon the minister concerned, public officials of the said department, agency and the CEO of the GLC involved to an open and public hearing instead of a close-door meeting.

Keeping all its proceedings a secret is not a parliamentary way to investigate any mismanagement or abuse of public funds. Unless the ruling BN really got something to hide from the public.

The other issue here, is the PAC really independent in its functions, responsibilities and decision-making? Are they really acting based on parliamentary sense of honour?

What we know today is that BN MPs in the PAC are merely followers who are just following the instructions of their party leaders.

Now, when it comes to investigating the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). PAC should also focus to see if there are any criminal nature of the debts accrued. on why such a scandal had taken place, what were the procedures that were not followed, who did the wrong thing, who should be reprimanded, actions to be taken, and what are the preventive measures to be regulated as well as what should be implemented after all these mess.

The PAC should discharge its roles and responsibilities to the best of the people's interest.

If the PAC continues to function in secrecy, its members gagged and warned against any public disclosures, having all its information and proceedings conceived from the public, PAC can just close shop and let a cabinet committee handle all its roles.

At the end of the day, there is no point in having this PAC in the first place.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Loyalty should not be blind, deaf, or dumb

This article has earlier appeared in the on 13/1/2016

Loyalty to the nation means persons or citizens who demonstrate their loyalty first and utmost to the nation, its foundation and the Federal Constitution.

The nation means everything to the person or citizen as his or her place of birth, where growth and development of oneself has taken place, where one has been residing and working, as well as the place where one is depending on in every aspect.

To demonstrate one’s loyalty to the nation means to ensure its foundation and Federal Constitution is preserved, and preventing the nation from destruction.

Loyalty to the leaders refers to one’s loyalty towards a person with a leadership position or someone who possesses power or rule over the nation.

In many circumstances, the leader or the person who is in power can be good and bad, can be caring to the people and the leader can also be selfish and self-interested without any regard for the people and the entire nation.

In many circumstances, many people are confused or are being confused by certain self-interest parties who stress that both loyalty to the leader and loyalty to the nation are the same, and having short of either one means a kind of treason or betrayal as a whole.

Actually, both definition of loyalty are totally different. In many occasions, a leader could lead to the destruction of the whole nation due to his incompetence, selfishness, self-interest, abuses while in power.

The people, out of loyalty to the nation, should rise by all democratic means to oppose and “overthrow” such corrupt leaders who are destructive to the nation.

The people’s loyalty to the nation is demonstrated in the way of opposition against a corrupted and abusive leader, his policies, draconian laws and actions against the people.

A leader and the nation

In times of political and economic turmoil, when racial and religious tensions are on the rise, the people must carefully observe and analyse the situation to differentiate between the right and the wrong, the truth and the false, the leader and the nation.

They should not be so emotional over racial and religious politics being stirred up in order to see the difference between loyalty to the nation and loyalty to the leader.

As you all can observe today, certain quarters are trying to confuse the entire population by claiming that disloyalty to the leader could be subjected as treason and betrayal to the nation. This is totally wrong.

Just because you do not agree with what the leader of the nation does, his policies, actions and laws does not mean that you are being disloyal to or had committed treason to the nation. It just simply does not make any sense at all.

We all must remember, the nation, the government and the leaders are not one entity. These entities are not a three-in-one coffee mix.

If to an extent of your loyalty to the nation that you need to go against the government and the corrupt leader, then it is your utmost responsibility to do so in order to safeguard the nation, its foundation and the Federal Constitution.

The leader of the nation and his government are elected by the people and he is charged with responsibilities to govern our nation and lead our people in accordance to the Federal Constitution and the will of our people.

The nation’s Federal Constitution is the bedrock, the solid foundation upon which this nation is built.

The lesson that can be learned by all Malaysians can be found in the words of wisdom from Mark Twain:

“Loyalty to the nation always, loyalty to the leader or government, when it deserves it”.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Pray tell us, what can TPPA offer our people?

This article has earlier appeared in on 6/1/2016

The negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, or better known by its acronym, TPPA, which includes Malaysia has taken place for about eight years.

Prime Minister Najib Razak also announced in his Budget 2016 speech that Malaysia had agreed in principal to join the US-sponsored trade agreement because of its benefits to our people.

The TPPA is expected to be tabled in parliament on Jan 26, following which a vote will take place in order to set the course for the government to officially endorse the trade agreement which is due to be officially sealed in February 2016.

Much has been said by the government on the goodness of the TPPA but if there are so many goodies in this trade agreement, why hasn’t the government revealed details of them? Why weren't any of the details outlined to the general public if this pact could serve the interest of our people-at-large?

Najib and his government has insisted that there was no reason for Malaysia to walk away from the TPPA right now. He has even outlined in brief some of the benefits of the TPPA in the recently concluded Umno general assembly but did not elaborate on the detailed trade benefits that would really serve the interest of our entire population.

As the endorsement and signing ceremony of the TPPA is approaching, the government has been rushing its effort to convince all parties by outlining the major benefits of the trade agreement.

Uncertainties in government’s efforts

However, the government’s efforts seem to be blurred and uncertain. After so many years of negotiations, this government and its officials are still clueless on how to carry out all the necessary explanations, such as what should be outlined, the impact of TPPA on our people, which segments to focus on, priorities and their real targeted audience.

Until today, there has been still no real public briefings taking place but a more business-structured and corporate kind of briefings have been organised so far, where businesses and corporate leaders have been called upon to participate.

So, are these real public briefings? Can the ordinary people out there really understand the various corporate and trade jargons presented to be only actually understood by business and corporate figures?

The government is busy outlining the benefits that will only serve a small segment of our population, in particular small group of businesses and industries. What the government failed to outline is the impacts of the TPPA that could possibly harm our nation’s sovereignty and the livelihood our people in general.

And if the impacts are potentially negative, such as rising inflation, certain effects on SMEs, labour rights and sanctions of imports from non-TPPA nations, and on what necessary remedies that this government could offer to ease the burden of our people.

Increasing socio-economic concerns

Right now, the political and economic uncertainties have become increasingly worrisome and the majority of our people are mostly concerned about what would become of their livelihood in the near future.

The big question here is, can the TPPA benefit every single man, woman and child as what the government has been claiming?

Then what are these benefits for these people? Can this government go down to the ground to talk to the people, ask them if they have prospered or otherwise, and let them know how this TPPA could help them?

We doubt that! It could be a grave disappointment in the end of the day.

If the people couldn’t get on with existing income, well, as a minister said, just take up two or three jobs.

MITI knows best?

The other question here, is the Ministry of International Trade and Industries (MITI) the only government agency in this nation that has been undertaking the TPPA negotiations?

As far as we know, apart from MITI, there were more that 15 other government ministries, departments, agencies and government-linked companies (GLCs) who had participated in the TPPA negotiations.

So, why only MITI alone has been tasked to brief the entire nation on this trade agreement? Why the other ministries, departments, agencies and GLCs in regards to their respective sectors and fields are not given the same responsibilities to outline the TPPA details to the respective segments of industries?

It is very unfortunate and disappointing that this government has been so disorganised in providing adequate explanations on these issues, and only resorts to condemning and ignoring those who oppose the TPPA by labelling them as “noise makers”.

By the way, will opposing TPPA become a seditious offence in future?

Friday, December 11, 2015

We don't need a military junta

This article has earlier appeared in on 9/12/2015

WH Cheng

The National Security Council (NSC) Bill was recently bulldozed to be passed in Dewan Rakyat with a simple majority after the Barisan Nasional (BN) made a mad rush to push the bill through by limiting the time for review and debates were shortened.

It was a grave disappointment as elected representatives were disallowed a longer period to study and review the bill in detail before it was put to vote. What was the intention behind the BN government in making such a rush to push through this controversial bill?

The passed NSC Bill will now have to go through the Dewan Negara (Senate) for another vote and later on, if voted in, will be forwarded to the King for His Majesty’s endorsement.

There is no need for us to further elaborate on the details of the NSC Bill as many commentaries and opinions have been offered recently.

The conclusion of the bill has been made known to all, simple as that, the prime minister has been empowered by the bill and it is feared that to such powers will be used to deal with the increasing dissent and dissatisfaction levelled against him and his administration.

No matter what excuse the BN government is giving, it would be useless because our people are still unconvinced on the sole purpose of this new security entity.

The prime minister promised to repeal the Sedition Act, but he retracted his promise and strengthen the Act with more dreaded provisions. He promised that Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) is to deal with terrorists and potential terrorists, but he used this law to silence others unrelated to terrorism.

Besides, the Multimedia and Communications Act, Printing Presses and Publications Act and provisions of Penal Code are also been frequently used against those who come forward calling for the resignation of the prime minister and his government.

So, how are we to believe this BN government that this new security entity will not be used against opposition leaders, critics, dissidents and human rights activists?

Empowering the powerful

The various provisions in the NSC Bill have been clearly spelled. There is no other words that could pacify the upcoming National Security Council (NSC) because of its extensive powers and immunity it would enjoy.

This NSC is in fact a “military junta” in making. It has all the powers of police, military, judge and executioner. It definitely has all the powers to “seek, detain and destroy”. It has all the immunity to protect the security entity from being sued or called upon by a judiciary inquest.

It cannot be investigated for any possible misdeeds, mismanagement, misjudgment or atrocities that may cause any harm to lives or death. It is also empowered to carry out any security operations in declared “security area” which will result to collateral damage. These are the most frightening parts of the NSC Bill.

Furthermore, the various definitions of “national security”, “intended national security”, “stability”, “for the purpose of national security”, “threats” and many other points in its provisions remain unclear and confusing, only to open more rooms for potential abuse by the powers-to-be.

Zero transparency and accountability

The framework of this security entity seems to be like a “Supreme High Command” that will be above the legislation, the cabinet and even the judiciary system. Besides that, we also cannot see any part of the bill that would put this NSC under the King or whoever who is bipartisan.

In this case, the NSC need not be transparent or to be accountable to at all, but to the prime minister himself.

The creation of NSC had shown signs of a dictatorship, again, we would say a form of “military junta”. It remind us of Myanmar’s State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and Thailand’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

Both SPDC and NCPO are the ruling security entity above the cabinet or any other executive arm of the two nations. These two juntas have also used draconian laws to crush their political opponents and critics, sending many of these people into prisons.

Political parties and dissenting civil societies were systematically banned, thus forcing the entire population into submitting to their rule.

It is very clear that the BN government is showing initial signs of moving toward to such kind of rule. BN leaders are continuously denying this fact but their actions have deliberately spoken for itself. They are moving towards an authoritarian regime phase by phase.

So, it is up to the Dewan Negara and the Rulers’ wisdom now to stop this NSC Bill from being passed. Do not allow a “Great Leader” or “Dear Leader” to come into existence in our nation.

We will not bow or kneel to such a figure.

WH Cheng is director of Inter-Research And Studies (IRAS)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Where is the PAC heading?

This article has earlier appeared in on 4/12/2015

WH Cheng

When the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was in the midst of investigating the controversial and debt-ridden 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), its efforts and hard work were suddenly halted when the then committee chairman Nur Jazlan Mohamed and some other members who are mostly BN parliamentarians were abruptly removed and 'promoted' to positions in the government administration in a reshuffle by the prime minister.

During the transition, Dewan Rakyat Speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia had also disallowed PAC deputy chairman Dr Tan Seng Giaw from taking over the inquiry and had the entire committee suspended indefinitely.

The suspension of PAC by the Speaker was justified by the explanation that the committee has been rendered ineffective following the departure of Nur Jazlan as chair and almost half of its membership.

The truth is, the move by the BN government has made the PAC a lame duck, thus delaying its entire proceedings and various investigations into the government’s financial irregularities, apart from probing the 1MDB scandal.

It is very clear that the BN government has openly attempted to stop the investigations into 1MDB at all costs in order to save the state-owned investment arm from any litigation proceedings that may tarnish its advisory board chairman Najib Razak, who is also the prime minister and Umno president.

Back to square one

And it is now back to square one when the new chairman of PAC was appointed along with some new members to replace those who were removed. Initially, intense politicking was seen as new chairman Hasan Arifin was twisting his way through when making statements on several issues.

Meetings to review many of those reported financial irregularities and the 1MDB scandal were started all over again.

Various probes into the 2013 Auditor-General’s Report have yet to be completed, but were compounded by the later 2014 Report.

Billions of ringgit have gone down the drain almost yearly and it may still be happening today. How many of these culprits have been punished so far?

A senior ministry official who approved more than RM2 million of funds to buy thousands of racks which cost only about RM1,900 per unit is enjoying his life, continuing to draw his pension in retirement and perhaps, has already taken up a directorship in a private company.

A department head allegedly approved the purchase of screw drivers costing about RM80 per unit for his maintenance section. Has he been apprehended so far? No one knows. Perhaps, he too has by now enjoyed yet another promotion to a position with more authority.

The education ministry’s community college in four different states was reported to have ordered the same CCTV model with a vast price difference ranging from RM35,350 to RM281,250. A ministry senior official who travelled to Switzerland for a study trip has been reported to have claimed about RM300,000 when the actual overall expenditure was only about RM45,000 or below.

These are only some notable examples of how our nation’s public coffers have been swindled. Instead of being distributed to the poor and needy people, these funds amounting to billions of ringgit went into the pockets of the elites and made them even wealthier. If we were to list down the entire misdeeds of this government, its leaders, officials and their cronies, we would probably pen a few books on such.

Can this PAC really cope?

Our major concern here is whether the PAC is aware of its direction, purpose and priorities, and if it is really effective in checking on the government’s financial activities to prevent further damage.

What are their capabilities, resources and strength to ensure their objectives and priorities are fulfilled to flush out corruption, power abuse and mismanagement?

Until today, we have not seen any of these values in the PAC. Instead the PAC is still politicking and bickering over public comments and criticisms which were levelled against it. Till today, the PAC is still flipping over the Auditor-General’s Reports dating back to as far as 2012, 2013. It is randomly picking some from 2014 with many more still pending investigation, even as 2015 is coming to an end.

And these reports of misdeeds will definitely pile up further once the Auditor-General unveils the 2015 Report by the middle of next year.

Can the PAC clear these backlogs in a timely manner to ensure those involved in all these wrongdoings are hauled up and punished accordingly? Or would it be a case of the PAC opening one case after another only after these corrupt officials have retired from the civil service and are enjoying their perks by then?

So, can this PAC really protect the interests of our nation?

WH Cheng is director of Inter-Research And Studies (IRAS)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Where's the Westminster system in Malaysia?

This article has earlier appeared in on 17/11/2015

WH Cheng

Until today, we are still hearing many allegations made by politicians especially from the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition saying that Malaysia has been practicing the Westminster system in our nation’s parliamentary and governance structures.

In many occasions, these BN leaders had also accused the opposition bloc in the parliament over the later’s failure to establish a shadow cabinet, by all means labelling them as non-compliance of the so-called Westminster system when opposition leaders spoke of the same against the BN government.

Well, we have some questions here for the BN leaders who loudly claim the Westminster system has been long established herein Malaysia. However, we are uncertain if they are brave enough to face the facts that the Westminster system has never been in existence in our nation’s parliamentary and governance framework.

Let us look at the parliamentary system of electoral, structuring and its organisational framework.

Elected but not recognised

First, when an opposition member was elected to the parliament, the opposition member of parliament should be provided with all the necessary allocations and funds annually for his constituency work and programmes like what his counterparts from the BN has been enjoying.

But in Malaysia, all opposition members of parliament are systematically being denied such allocations and funds as well as research facilities. The opposition MPs here has to resort to solicit public donations and contributions from their supporters to fund their work and programs. Such move has been seen as undemocratic and clearly against the Westminster system.

Secondly, in our parliamentary framework, there are no oversight committees to oversee government ministries and portfolios at all other than the weak and ineffective Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which only has limited powers to summon any ministers nor other public officials for hearings to answer any reports of irregularities. Until today, we have seen many ministers and senior officials who dare to ignore summons from the PAC to testify on certain issues on mismanagements and power abuse of public funds.

The facts that is, the PAC could not even cope with tons of reports under its care nor to complete all their investigations within a year. Again, not having parliamentary oversight committees to provide check and balance on the government is also not being part of the Westminster system.

Furthermore, in the Westminster system, the shadow cabinet or official opposition frontbench is fully recognized as an institution equal to the government’s cabinet ministers under the constitutions of most Commonwealth nations like the United Kingdom, Canada,

Australia, New Zealand, to name a few. In the case of Malaysia, the shadow cabinet was not recognised and nothing has been written in our nation’s Federal Constitution pertaining to the needs and importance of such institution to oversee the government’s performance and policies. So, is the BN government aware of such?

If any of the BN leaders were to question the opposition bloc again on why a shadow cabinet has not been realised until today. Let us all question those BN leaders with the same, where is their official recognition of the said institution, annual allocations and other facilities in order to see a fully functioning shadow cabinet? Have they ever treat their opposition counterparts as equal partners in order to ensure our nation is being well-administered?

Rubber-stamp parliament

Is our nation’s parliament being run as it was supposed to be? How effective and fair is our parliament Speaker to members of parliaments especially to those from the opposition bloc?

During the parliamentary sitting sessions, we saw no fruitful debates, discussion and exchange of ideas and facts. Instead we saw MPs from the governing bench very often being given more opportunities to attack the opposition bench from every corner and in return opposition MPs were only allowed limited time to respond and debate on issues of importance.

In many occasion, we also saw the Speaker deliberately rejected motions forwarded by opposition MPs citing those were unimportant, top secret or pending investigation from the authorities.

The worst ever part of our parliamentary system today, is even our nation’s prime minister can be exempted by the Speaker to answer any critical questions brought up by MPs. On many occasions too, many questions were forwarded, and majority were left unattended and at times unsatisfactory or unclear responds were given.

The irresponsible nature of the prime minister and his cabinet ministers in responding to the MPs has render the entire parliamentary system to be ineffective. Because of frequent absence of cabinet ministers in parliamentary sittings, MPs too, have decided to skip the sessions as they also think that the sitting has been ineffective due to the continuous absence of these ministers.

So, if the prime minister and his cabinet ministers can be excused and allowed not to present themselves in the parliamentary sittings, how effective will all these sessions be?

Has the Speaker been fair and equal to all MPs, to ensure full attendance of each session and to make certain that all parliamentary business are being attended to by both side of the political divide?

It is so clear that both our nation’s parliamentary and governance system are so fractured until we could not even see a single Westminster qualtiy in it. A reminder to the BN leaders, we are not fools to be fooled by you. The Westminster system has never exist in our nation at all.

WH Cheng is director of Inter-Research And Studies (IRAS)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Is Budget 2016 for the people?

This article has earlier appeared in on 9/11/2015

WH Cheng

We all have seen and heard of the Budget 2016 tabled by Prime Minister and Umno president Najib Razak recently. On the surface, it looks so attractive that some people may get overly excited until they look deeper into the content.

Our major concern here is, does this budget really serve its purpose? Our nation’s economy has been battered by the continuous depreciation of the ringgit. Inflation has been rising right to the top, and our people could no longer bear the rising cost of living these days.

Economically, most of us are in quite a defensive mode because we need to fight for our survival, work even harder to earn more money just so we could put some food on the table for our family.

Is this what the BN government has planned all this while? Making sure we are all tied up, frustrated and feeling helpless, so we have no more time to look at the way BN runs this nation of ours to ruins?

Let us look at what Najib and his bully boys have put in the budget for themselves, subtly taking away some while giving away a little to us.

As expected every year, the Prime Minister’s Department (PMD) took up the largest share of the budget by having RM20 billion in its mouth. If we were to look into its staffing, the PMD is the largest government ministry in the world, surpassing even those of developed nations such as Japan, South Korea, the United States, Canada, Germany and bigger nations like Russia, China and India.

After enjoying the largest ever allocations annually, have they ever provided the best ever service to the general public? To the entire population in every corner of our nation. Until today, this government’s service level to the people is still far from efficient.

The number of civil servants has also doubled over the years, giving the Malaysian government yet another dubious distinction of being the largest employer in the world.

Every year, large sums of payouts, bonuses, rewards and annual increments were made to civil servants, and now their minimum wage was increased to RM1,200. But have all these led to better levels of service to the people? Until today, it is still a 'No.'

Instead, we are treated to a spectacle of misdeeds as reported by the Auditor-General annually, like corruption, mismanagement and power abuse.

Worse still this government is already in a defensive and denial mode over a number of scandals that ripped our nation of billions of ringgit which was supposed to be channelled to meet the people’s needs.

The worst of the lot is the 1MDB fiasco, where there is a lack of sincerity to resolve the scandal but every effort is made to curb criticism of the 1MDB issue.

The BN government may say the budget has been doing something for the people by building more affordable houses. But so what?

Does every segment of the population really benefit from it? Will all the people be entitled to so-called 'affordable' units? Can all these units be built in strategic locations, in every state, every city, every township.

More importantly, would these houses be built near the workplace, schools, townships and public transport facilities to make life easier for the people?

Rising cost of living

Incidentally, what about the current property price which has been skyrocketing recently? And it is going to rise continuously because this government has no plans or measures to control the escalating property prices in the market.

Again, are all these benefiting the entire population? Even the middle-income groups could not afford a decent home for themselves and their families nowadays.

There are also no provisions in the budget for offering immediate relief to the people to cope with the rising cost of living.

Inflation has increased dramatically after the GST was imposed. People are now paying more but their incomes remain stagnant.

Despite losing control over inflation, the government has refused calls to increase the number of zero-rated consumer items, reasoning that the GST is badly needed to finance the growing civil service sector and to reduce its deficit.

To make things worse the government has even withdrawn the relief rates for taxpayers who are servicing their loans and other financial commitments, particularly the housing loans, hire purchase and insurance premiums, as well as the RM100 schooling assistance for parents with schoolgoing children on the excuse that it was only a small amount.

To the prime minister and cabinet ministers, this kind of relief could be too small for them given the fact that they are super rich, but for the middle and lower-income groups, this small amount could mean a lot especially in this time of economic uncertainties and growing inflation.

As for the disabled community, this government was also seen as still treating the disabled on a charitable basis instead of looking at their basic rights. Why only provide allowances to them when there should be allocations for infrastructure and education designed for this group?

This budget has also failed to spell out any improvement to the critical services such as public transportation to allow the people to enjoy better service and travel economically. Cheaper transport would go a long way to ease the burden of people who travel for work and business daily.

If you observe the roads and highways today, you will see almost everyone in this land owning a vehicle to travel daily.Traffic congestions have become the norm and so does environmental pollution as a result of too many vehicles on the road.

So, at the end of the day, the livelihood and well-being of our people remain stagnant; the budget does not really help anyone to ease their financial burden. The current economic uncertainties and inflation continue to haunt the population with higher costs.

WH Cheng is director of Inter-Research And Studies (IRAS)