7 June 2014

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

Speech by Anwar Ibrahim, at the Royal Institute of International Affairs Chatham House, 10 St James’s Square, London on June 5th 2014

Introduction
When one mentions Asia, the refrain ‘freedom and democracy’ doesn’t naturally come to mind. It is true that Asia does have the world’s two largest democracies. There is India which in sheer numbers dwarves the entire European and American democracies put together. And we also have Indonesia, touted as the world’s largest Muslim democracy. But we know that the test of democracy is not in quantity but in quality.

And while we’re in the numbers game, let us not forget that Asia also has the world’s largest non-democracy. The dragon has awakened. It is now the fastest growing, and soon to be the largest economy in the world.

In his poem “The Statues”, William Butler Yeats was concerned with more than just calculations and numbers when he wrote about “All Asiatic vague immensities.” He appreciated the importance of the cultural and civilizational aspects of what we call soft power.

For in terms of size, there is still the trinity of the Orient: namely Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. They are quality democracies and they seem established enough to remain so. They have vibrant civil societies, some like Japan’s Sasakawa Peace Foundation, actively promoting freedom and democracy across the region. But, as nations, they seem to adopt a policy of political abstinence, eschewing any aspiration of being drivers of democracy for the rest of Asia.

The fact remains that autocratic regimes still litter the geopolitical landscape of Asia. They may be absolute monarchies, or dictatorships from a dynastic line, or autocracies that have monopolised power for years. They may also be so-called emerging economies with veneer of all the trappings of democracy but which, in truth, are mere sham democracies governed by political elites bent on retaining power.

A classic statement on democracy, almost a cliché, is attributed to Winston Churchill which I think is worth repeating. He said: “Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect… Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government – except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Democracy, freedom and justice in the Asian Century
As for the so-called “Asian Century”, there is no consensus on what the criteria are. Many would agree that impressive growth for the last three decades should count as a major indicator. In spite of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Asia’s economic performance has been on the ascent and if it continues for another two decades, may well become a force that could bring about a power shift. And this seems to be sufficient precedent for establishing the Asian Century.

Of power shifts and Soft power
But when it comes to soft power, the jury is still out. For three decades, China had many opportunities to take a lead role in geopolitical affairs but it did not measure up to the challenge. Its priority has always remained economic growth. Who is to say that this is a right or wrong move? But in terms of its potential to garner soft power, this is counts as under achievement.

Nevertheless, some say that China is incapacitated from leading even Asia in geopolitical matters because of foundational issues of governance. In spite of a more open market and foreign direct investment growing by leaps and bounds, there should be no mistaking that it remains the world’s largest and most powerful autocracy. Well, Vladimir Putin may dispute that but that doesn’t change China’s track record as far as human rights and other fundamental liberties are concerned. This is quite apart from the border disputes that China is embroiled in that are now serious flashpoints of conflict in the East.

In the context of our discussion today on the Asian Century, this is indeed an intractable problem. As well as economic power, China may also be able to deliver on culture as one aspect of soft power but I doubt that will be enough to cloak China with moral authority.

So what about India? Given its track record in the political arena, India, with its vibrant democracy, seems a more obvious choice. Rule of law, independence of the judiciary, separation of powers, free and fair elections. These are all the plus points for India. But India’s economic infrastructure is still weak. And just like China, it is very protectionist.

Having said that, a small caveat is in order: in the Western media, when it comes to Asia, it is called “increasing protectionism” but when it’s the USA or Europe similar measures are called “economic patriotism”. The great Chinese Sage, Confucius or Master Kung, was absolutely spot-on in advocating the rectification of names. The proper designation of things ensures social harmony not just in domestic affairs but in international relations as well.

Still, while Asian countries can look at India respectfully for its economic performance, the greater focus should be on its democratic values and the principles of pluralism and inclusiveness. But as Amartya Sen has pointed out India has a glaring contradiction: the continuing grinding poverty of its masses contrasts sharply with its alleged economic success. After all, it was a poor economy coupled of course with recurrent corruption scandals that propelled the BJP to such a grand victory in the elections. Nevertheless, with the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, and growing demands for social justice, India’s prospects of being emulated by others will be dim until some major progress is made in this area.

Inequities of wealth distribution
To talk of democracy divorced from the social context would be pointless. We have seen Occupy movement that spread around the world. It is an example of the cracking of social cohesion and stability even in established democracies when wealth and economic opportunities are monopolized by the rich and powerful. The signs are already there in various parts of Asia. In another decades, one can imagine, how much deeper and wider this gap will be, unless some major redistribution is made to assure social justice.

It is true that issues about evolution of inequality and wealth concentration in the hands of a few are easier asked than answered. In his Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty shows that modern economic growth and the diffusion of knowledge may not have led to inequalities of the scale warned of by Karl Marx, but the main driver of inequality is unbridled free market economics. This tends to generate returns on capital that exceed the rate of economic growth. Today, this threatens to generate extreme inequalities that stir discontent and undermine democratic values.

The problem of governance
Aside from the threat posed by extreme inequalities, I believe the problem of governance is the greatest impediment as Asian nations get richer and the reins of power continue to be concentrated in the hands of the upper echelons.

Though there is no correlation between corruption and geography, the scourge of corruption happens to be most rampant in Asia, Latin America and Africa. China and India have been hit by high profile corruption cases and many argue that one of the biggest factors that brought down the Indian National Congress party was corruption.

Southeast Asia, needless to say is riddled with corruption. This is an area Indonesia also must seriously examine. However, unlike its neighbours, Indonesia has taken many strides towards full democracy. Complaints of some localised incidents of vote buying notwithstanding, their elections are by far superior to others in the region in terms of being free and fair. In the last elections, there was no widespread systemic fraud and if challenged in the Constitutional court, unlike her neighbours, there is no question of a judiciary being subservient to the ruling party.

Corruption, however, remains a key issue. Yet, equally, we can see the earnestness and independence of the anti-corruption agency in discharging its duties without fear or favour.

Middle East, Turkey
As for Turkey, I believe that politically, the system is in place with the institutionalizing of democracy, the rule of law and proper governance. Economically, its growth trajectories are far better than its European counter parts, and in certain respects are as impressive as that of the Asian tigers and dragons. And with an increasingly more sophisticated middleclass, its potential in this regard cannot be underestimated.

It is true that recent events appear to have cast a negative light on the state of its democracy. But Turkey is facing exceptional circumstances caused in no small part by elements within the state bent on destabilize what is essentially a viable democracy under a progressive Muslim government.

Egypt, however, tells a different story. In the aftermath of the 3rd July 2013 military coup which toppled the democratically elected government of Morsi and the missteps in Libya and Bahrain, many have cynically dismissed the “Arab Spring” as an “Arab Winter”.

Indeed, now that the illegitimate government of Field Marshal al-Sisi is going into overdrive to ‘legitimize’ itself with the latest sham elections, all eyes are on America and the EU – how will they respond to this phase of what is essentially a protracted military coup. Will America and the EU repeat the errors they made for decades with Mubarak? That is a question begging for answer.

Speaking of military coups, let us not leave out Thailand which has fashionably slouched back to its old habits. In many ways, the people of Thailand are caught between Scylla and Charybdis. But as a firm believer in freedom and democracy, under whatever circumstances, the military has no business to be in government.

Tunisia, on the other hand, has managed to come out of the storm, walking tall as a new nation liberated from decades of virtual dictatorship. But the Arab spring not only brought down oppressive regimes. It shattered the misconceptions about Islam and democracy. The general view was that it would take some time before we could see a convergence of Islam and democracy in the Middle East. There was the history, the cultural conditioning and the prejudices on both sides of the proverbial divide that contributed to this general scepticism.

Turkey and Indonesia had already settled this issue, nevertheless, the Arab states were always seen as the exception. So, the case of Tunisia should put the matter to rest. It has crossed its first major hurdle with the ratification of its new constitution on 27 January 2014 and we await the general elections due by the end of 2014.

Conclusion
If an Asian century draws nigh, a power shift from the West to the East would appear to be on the horizon. But these are suppositions conditioned by many eventualities. To be worthy of the name such a century should be about more than exercising the fruits of growing economic power. It has to mean more than them or us calculations – calculations driven by insistence on a false dichotomy of West and East. An Asian Century should be built on the solid sustainable foundations of enhancing civil society, delivering good governance and increasingly liberties and freedoms to the people of Asia along with rising living standards. If it becomes a zero sum game of they win therefore we lose – everyone is the poorer. Invest in and support the quality and forget the width. Therein lies our best hope. Thank you.

7 June 2014

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

Foreign Policy

The latest military coup in Thailand won’t ensure real stability unless the country’s new rulers address the deeper causes of political conflict.

The Kingdom of Thailand is a constitutional graveyard: In just over 80 years, it’s gone through 18 failed constitutions in a carousel of military coups and corrupt civilian governments. And, in recent years, the civilians have likewise been fighting among themselves, pitting the so-called Red Shirt movement, strong in the North and rural areas, against the Yellow Shirts of Bangkok and the South, in an increasingly violent conflict that has destabilized the country. Now, as the smoke clears over mid-May’s dramatic coup, Thailand’s new military government has suspended the constitution once again. Though the military has been vague regarding specifics, they will put forth atemporary constitution, which will eventually to be followed by something more permanent: Lucky #19.

With the coup itself now behind us we can still hope that the military government may be able to break the vicious cycle once and for all. To make sure the next government sticks, however, the military will have to make a radical departure from tradition. It must resist the urge to implement a military mindset over the drafting of a new constitution. A top-down approach will be likely to poison the process — and process is everything in constitution writing.

During the decades of constitutional upheaval, Thailand’s civilian political parties remained relatively weak. This changed when billionaire populist Thaksin Shinawatra arrived on the scene about 15 years ago. Shinawatra and his allies played into the rural sense of exclusion from government, allowing them to win elections time and again — six since 2001. But lacking a deep tradition of democracy, Thaksin’s opponents, including the middle-class, urban Yellow Shirts, have been unwilling to accept the results. In fact, the Yellow Shirts’ refusal to accept the 2013 election victory of Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is precisely what sparked the conflict leading to last month’s coup.

Thaksin’s opponents, for their part, are highly influential among Thailand’s strongest institutions — the bureaucracy, the military, the Buddhist sangha, and, of course, the monarchy. These groups exist and function separately from any constitutional government, and tend to be distrustful of electoral democracy. The result has been a series of weak civilian governments, incapable of preserving themselves when the gulf between majoritarian sentiment and elite interest has become too wide.

Thai constitutions have historically been written rather hastily so as to recover a semblance of normalcy in the wake of a military coup or popular uprising. The 1997 constitution made an admirable attempt to break from that trend. The drafing process involved mass participation and created a new set of institutions aimed at ensuring that elected officials did not abuse their power, including a constitutional court and commissions to fight corruption and protect human rights. But by 2006, many within the Thai elite had come to see that system as ineffective, not least because Thaksin’s electoral strength allowed him to wield great influence over these institutions. Following a coup in September 2006, Thaksin fled the country, and the military oversaw the drafting of the 2007 constitution, which watered down some of the perceived excesses of the previous version. They hoped it would serve as happy medium.

One of their revisions, for example, changed the architecture of Thailand’s senate, the gatekeeper to high-level government promotions. Military-dominated constitutions tend to have appointed senates, while democratic ones use popular elections to fill those seats. In an attempt to compromise, the military-backed drafters of the 2007 constitution split the difference, establishing a system in which half the senators would be appointed and half elected. Such “compromises” were defined unilaterally, however, based upon the military’s own notion of a “fair deal,” without having undergone bipartisan dialogue beforehand.

And bipartisan dialogue is exactly Thailand needs to break the vicious cycle. The failure of the 2007 “compromise constitution,” clearly illustrates the futility of any attempt to form a viable system merely by tweaking constitutional text. The polarized factions within the country must come together to create a constitution that will be widely seen as representing the whole country. That way, down the line, no party can say that the constitution was drafted according to an enemy’s design.

Establishing a productive dialogue will not be an easy task. There are no institutions credible and neutral enough to mediate the deep class and regional divides that cause the country’s current political crisis. King Bhumibol has been the supreme arbiter of political conflict for decades, but as his physical power wanes, so too does his ability to step in. The looming monarchical succession also adds a sense of urgency to the current crisis.

The military junta should call together all the major players, including leaders of both the Red and Yellow factions, for a genuine discussion about the principles and institutions that should guide the country going forward. Cases in which the military has successfully played the role of neutral arbiter anywhere are exceedingly rare. That said, the three-month “reconciliation” period recently announced by coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha represents good start. (In the photo above, a poster depicts the general as Big Brother from George Orwell’s 1984.) But it is not yet clear exactly who will be invited to the table, or how the reconciliation will proceed.

For a resolution to be viable in the long term it will require frank dialogue, leading to a bargain that is palatable to both factions. For the discussion to be successful, the negotiators will have to settle on two key issues: 1) how to ensure that both factions respect the democratic process in the future, and 2) how to come to terms as a nation with the political violence of the past few years.

The broad outlines of such a grand bargain are not inconceivable, even now, even if getting both sides to agree may be challenging. It should include a commitment on the part of the reactionary Yellow Shirt partisans to respect electoral results; a constitutional provision prohibiting political amnesties (although the military will almost certainly get a pass); a reconstituted set of accountability institutions; and a strong recommitment to the monarchy. Such a deal would leave Thaksin Shinawatra out of the country, but still allow room for democracy to be respected.

Given the geographic nature of the Red-Yellow divide, Thailand might also benefit from greater decentralization. This would reduce the stakes of controlling the national government, but could also encourage economic development within the poorer regions of the country, ameliorating some of the inequality that has to date fueled the conflict.

And yet, getting to a constitutional agreement will require patience and no small modicum of trust, and trust can be slow in coming. Outside pressures — including U.S. insistence that the country return to constitutional norms so that bi-national relations can resume — might incentivize the military to rush the process. Even under the best of circumstances, establishing rapport between foes can take time, and these are hardly the best of circumstances.

7 June 2014

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

Publishers Weekly

In her new biography, Influencing Hemingway: The People and Places That Shaped His Life and Work, Nancy W. Sindelar introduces the reader to the individuals who played significant roles in Hemingway’s development as both a man and as an artist. Sindelar ranks the fiction works of Hemingway.

Ernest Hemingway created memorable characters in his short stories and novels by drawing on real people—parents, friends, and fellow writers, among others. He also drew on real places and events to create settings and engaging plots. Whether revisiting the Italian front in A Farewell to Arms, recounting a Pamplona bull run in The Sun Also Rises, or depicting a Cuban fishing village in The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway relied on his personal experiences, friendships and observations for the content of his work.

Since Hemingway’s works reflect interests and adventures at different stages of his life, creating a ranking for his fiction is difficult. However, the following ranks his most broadly acclaimed works and comments on their contribution to the Hemingway legacy.

1. The Sun Also Rises - Hemingway’s first novel is at the top of my list because it reflects his reliance on his traditional Midwestern values as he encountered new experiences and values in post-World War I Europe. Using friends and acquaintances that populated the cafes along Boulevard Montparnasse in Paris, he reveals his concern about the valueless life of these Lost Generation characters and begins his personal and literary search for meaning in what appears to be a godless world. In the midst of their heavy drinking and meaningless revelry during a fiesta in Spain, Pedro Romero, the matador, becomes a hero. He conducts himself with honor and courage, and it is here we see the beginnings of what will become the Hemingway Code.

The book also tops my list because it reveals Hemingway’s courageous attempt to write in a new and different way by portraying the bad and the ugly as well as the beautiful. Though The Sun Also Rises was well received by the critics, it was not well received by Hemingway’s acquaintances who saw themselves portrayed as self-indulgent, alcoholic and sexually promiscuous in his unflattering, but honest, characterizations. Nor was it well received by his mother, who said he had produced “one of the filthiest books of the year.”

2. A Farewell to Arms - Hemingway’s second novel is a high on my list because it is the fictional account of events that changed and informed his world view. When Hemingway left the security of the Midwest and went to Italy looking for adventure as an ambulance driver in World War I, he got more than he had bargained for. The idealistic Midwesterner joined the war to end all wars, ready to display honor and courage, but was blown up in a trench. Then he fell in love, contemplated marriage and was rejected by the woman he loved. His confrontation with death, his subsequent wound, and his first experience with love all became catalysts for developing a code of behavior for facing life’s challenges.

A Farewell to Arms was the fictional result of Hemingway’s experiences in Italy and initiates what would become one of the most dominant themes in his novels, the confrontation of death. Though Catherine Barkley’s character seems dated to contemporary female readers, the book still demonstrates that Hemingway used what he learned in Italy to show that war brings out the best and worst in men and women.

3. The Old Man and the Sea - After the unsuccessful reception to Across the River and into the Trees, Hemingway wrote his Pulitzer Prize winning novel to defend his reputation as a writer. Based on his experiences in Cuba, he created a character of an old fisherman. Alone in a skiff, the old man catches a great marlin, only to have it destroyed by sharks. The old man, who had been a champion arm-wrestler and a successful fisherman, was, like Hemingway, trying for a comeback.

The old man embraces the code for living that Hemingway first developed based on his experiences in World War I—the experiences in which a man confronts an unconquerable element. In fighting the sharks, the old man exhibits courage and grace under pressure, believing “a man can be destroyed, but not defeated.”

The reviews and success of the book were nothing less than phenomenal. Appropriately, Hemingway was aboard his boat and out on the Gulf Stream when he heard via the ship’s radio that the book had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

4. To Have and Have Not - Hemingway’s growing awareness of financial and social strata are reflected in To Have and Have Not. The characters are based on people the now famous author met in Key West—the working class he encountered on the docks and at Sloppy Joe’s, the rich who moored their boats in Key West harbor, and the illegal Chinese immigrants who were being smuggled from Cuba to Key West to promote tourism in newly formed Chinatowns.

In this Depression-era novel Hemingway comes close to arguing for social and political changes needed to help the working man. However, Hemingway does not see the New Deal remedies as the solution. As a result, the fate of the novel’s main character, Harry Morgan, outlines the limits of personal freedom, self-reliance and the absence of grace under pressure, and the closest Hemingway comes to a solution is for Harry to say, “No matter how a man alone ain’t got no f—— chance.”

5. The Nick Adams Stories - This collection of short stories is a favorite because it provides insight into the life of the young Hemingway. As a child Ernest would accompany his father, Dr. Clarence Hemingway, as he provided pro bono medical services and attended to injured Indians, women in child-birth, and individuals in a variety of life-threatening situations in the Indian camps of northern Michigan. The memory of one of these trips appears in “Indian Camp.” Young Nick is with his father on a medical mission to deliver a baby. A Native American woman’s been in labor for two days, and Nick observes his father perform a Caesarian with a jackknife sterilized in a basin of boiled water.

Similarly, the reader gains insight into the relationship of Hemingway’s parents in “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife” and understands Hemingway’s feelings of separation from his family and life in Oak Park after returning from World War I in “A Soldier’s Home.”

6. For Whom the Bell Tolls - Based on his experiences as a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War, this novel contains the classic Hemingway elements—a main character demonstrating grace under pressure and a plot that combines the interest and conflicts associated with love and war. As with his other works, Hemingway uses his friendships and personal experiences. Robert Jordan is modeled after Robert Merriman, an American professor who left his research on collective farming in Russia to become a commander in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and was killed during the final assault on Belchite. Maria is based on a young nurse of the same name who was gang raped by Nationalist soldiers early in the war. The novel’s three days of conflict takes place near the El Tajo gorge that cuts through the Andalusian town of Rondo, where a political massacre like the one led by Pablo occurred early in the Spanish Civil War.

Though some readers find the details of the battles tedious, it is one of Hemingway’s most popular novels. The book was published in October, 1940. By April, 1941 almost 500,000 copies had been sold, and in January, 1942, the movie rights were purchased by Paramount for $100,000.

7 June 2014

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

Malaysiakini

Finally, it has dawned on Najib Abdul Razak that Malaysiakinireaders are not worth winning over and he is now going for the jugular by serving the news portal a writ of summons over defamation.

This is the man who, upon assuming the highest political office in the country five years ago, conceded that “the days the government knows best are over”, and went on to introduce a host of ‘reformist’ measures. He also declared unashamedly that he would make Malaysia ‘the best democracy in the world’.

But what evolved in the years after has proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that Najib had promised Malaysians gems but delivered worse than pebbles.

Indeed, he abolished the infamous Internal Security Act, but has kept intact, rather cunningly, the Sedition Act which was supposed to be also repealed.

Had Najib been sincere in any reform agenda, his administration would have been refrained from using the Sedition Act pending its replacement. Instead, Mat Shuhaimi Shafiei, the Sri Muda assemblyperson, is still fighting his case at the Federal Court, while Teresa Kok became the latest victim over her, okay, not-so-tasteful Chinese New Year video clip.

Much as I detest the arbitrary law, it remains morally outrageous to see the Umno-friendly individuals – from Ibrahim Ali, Zulkifli Noordin, Ridhuan Tee to the Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) clowns – above it. The shameless double standard only debunks further the myth of national unity as Najib has mendaciously pledged.

Still, the mainstream newspapers praised him to the skies back in April 2009 as if Malaysia’s elevation to a full democracy was nigh. Just look at Tay Tian Yan of Sin Chew Daily who wrote unabashedly of Najib as being “confident and capable… ready to be a prime minister for all Malaysians”. Yes, go laugh your head off before reading on.

But Najib’s desperate move only exposes his vulnerability within the party. When he sought to exert his authority as party president and prime minister by removing Ahmad Said from office, the former Terengganu chief minister pulled off a last-minute coup over, amusingly, his daughter’s wedding and the s**t hit the fan.

Prior to that, Najib had come under enormous pressure from the ultras within the party and a vengeful Mahathir Mohamad from without. His inability to rein in Ahmad Said is just another indicator of his untenable position, and so livid was he that he decided to punish Malaysiakini for his own failings.

Waging war with all parties except…

Truth be told, it is Umno’s mouthpiece Utusan Malaysia that has been churning out defamatory stories and waging war with all parties except its own political masters.

For DAP, is it ‘a Christian agenda’; for PKR, it is ‘DAP’s poodle’; for PAS, it is ‘selling out the Malays’, for Nurul Izzah Anwar, it is ‘apostasy’; for Ambiga Sreenevasan, it is ‘a threat to Islam’; for Anwar Ibrahim, it is ‘sexual deviation’; for Malaysiakini, it is ‘the habit of defaming others’ and, for peace-loving Malaysians who took part in the Bersih rallies, what else but a bunch of ‘samseng’ who came with ‘knives, guns and stones with an intention to kill’!

If there is one person who should feel the righteous wrath at being insulted, humiliated and defamed on a daily basis, it should be the ordinary Malaysian who is yearning for change but is made to suffer all the innuendos and racist statements at the hands ofUtusan and other Umno-controlled media, on which Najib has been conspicuous by his silence.

And Raja Petra Kamarudin (RPK - right) has the nerve to accuse Malaysians of humbuggery in acquiescing to Anwar’s lawsuits against those who have defamed him.

I am pretty certain RPK has sold his soul to the devil and now chosen to see only what he wants to see. Anwar, or any potential rivals to Umno for that matter, is compelled to resort to court to clear his name precisely because his right of reply is persistently denied and even suppressed by the powers-that-be.

By contrast, not only that Malaysiakini has afforded Najib a right of reply, but Umno has also the entire state machinery to rebut and even distort whatever that is reported by online portals. Can RPK who is purportedly wise and discerning not see the crucial difference?

Be that as it may, the public should welcome Najib’s lawsuit, for it will once and for all shatter his image as a pseudo-democrat.

I would say: Bring it on Najib, but make sure you will not be dodging critical questions in court. After all, it is you and your government that will be put on trial for the whole world to see, your advantage of having some malleable judges on your side notwithstanding.

7 June 2014

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Telegraph

Flight MH370 has been missing for nearly three months, but a fresh ‘sighting’ and underwater noise are fuelling conspiracy theories

The failure to find wreckage from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane and the slow release of official information has left the troubled hunt mired in uncertainty and continues to spawn a growing range of sightings and conspiracy theories.

Almost three months since the Boeing 777 and its 239 passengers went missing, the search has found no debris and criminal investigators have found no evidence of terrorism or a motivation behind the apparently deliberate sabotage of the plane.

The search has focused for months on a stretch of the Indian Ocean off the coast of Australia, but the entire operation is relying on satellite data that was never intended to chart the course of the plane.

Meanwhile, distraught families across the world hold hope that their loved ones may have survived and have led a push for the release of all information about the flight.

Authorities in Australia continue to believe the plane is somewhere in the south Indian Ocean and have pledged to press ahead with the underwater operation, releasing a tender calling for companies to conduct the search.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the lack of firm evidence of the plane’s final resting point and the failure to find debris has led to a growing number of conspiracy theories and possible sightings.

In recent days, a British woman claimed to have seen the plane while on a sailing voyage from India to Thailand.

This followed various other sightings shortly after the plane disappeared, including claims the plane flew low over houses in the Maldives or near an oil rig off the coast of Vietnam.

Others have speculated that military authorities must have access to radar data which has not been disclosed; indeed, there has been surprisingly little data made available despite the plane disappearing in a part of Asia that has become increasingly tense in recent years.

Others have gone further, claiming the plane may have landed on an airfield in troubled or overlooked parts of the world, from Afghanistan to the Andaman Islands.

Meanwhile, information continues to trickle out.

In the past two weeks, authorities in Malaysia released the cargo manifest and the satellite data used to plot the apparent course of the plane after it made its unexplained turn south.

A scientist in Australia is investigating a noise detected by underwater equipment which has been traced back to a location somewhere off the tip of India.

Authorities leading the search in Australia have been forced to make the embarrassing admission that they searched the wrong area for months and that there was no debris in a zone in which apparent black box pings were heard.

But they continue to insist that the satellite data is an accurate guide to the plane’s whereabouts, even as they shift to a new uncertain phase in the search. The next phase, to begin in August, will cover more than 23,000 square miles.

It is due to take 12 months – leaving plenty of time for further claims, theories and official data.

6 June 2014

Pendapat

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Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim talks about his legal battle, opposition politics and Malaysia’s missing airliner.

6 June 2014

Pendapat

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TMI

Prior to 2004, licences were awarded to the Independent Power Producers (IPP) by the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) on a directly-negotiated basis. It is a well-known fact that only the well-connected were awarded the licences which paved the way to raking in millions if not billions, due to “sweetheart” deals of the first generation IPP’s Power Purchasing Agreement (PPA).

That the first generation IPPs enjoyed mid-teen project’s IRR (Internal Rate of Return – a yardstick used to measure financial viability of a project) is an open secret. That this rent-seeking behaviour had ultimately contributed to higher cost of electricity is synonymous with the hey-day of privatisation ala-Mahathirnomics.

Needless to say, power plants are surely “gold–mines” where concessionaires lock in their cash-flows for at least the next 20 years.

The industry players in the power sector were relieved when the Najib administration embarked on a spate of reforms which were to see, among other core reforms, a competitive tender to be undertaken for the award of future IPPs.

Moving in that direction, MyPower Corp which was established in 2010, a unit under the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry, was to spearhead the reforms so as to ensure the cheapest cost of energy delivered to the consumer.

Since 2011, the EC has conducted four competitive biddings. Tenaga Prai power plant (capacity 1.071 MW) was awarded by the EC to Tenaga (TNB) after a stiff bidding process. It was reported that 18 participants submitted their bids. Tenaga outbid the rest, with a levelised tariff of 34.7 sen/kWh and a project IRR of between 6 and 7%. This price now seems to be an industrial benchmark.

The latest competitive bid was the project 3B that was to build a 2,000 MW coal-fired power plant. The EC controversially awarded it to 1MDB despite it not being the lowest but based on technical grounds.

Much to the chagrin of the industrial players in the power sector, the reform is now perceived as being placed on the backburner and the EC is ostensibly making a U-turn, a regression of sorts.

Project 4A is a combined gas-fired turbine plant with a 1,100 MW to 1,400MW capacity. Sources said that the decision on the direct negotiation would help finalise the contract quickly and speed up the delivery of the power plant to address capacity shortage, following recent “outages” in several states.

These reasons, however, were not well received by the power players as it also defied logical thinking. The EC can’t suddenly argue that the country is in dire need of electricity after the recent outages. Planning is an ongoing process. The EC must be transparent as to the real causes of the outages.

The installed capacity is currently at 21,000MW while peak demand comes to the range of 17,000MW. This provides a clear margin of 4,000MW. So taking account of anticipated outages and unplanned ones, there is a clearly a safe margin. There is no foreseeable surge in demands for electricity in the immediate future.

Different opinions prevailed between the EC and the industry players as to the “actual operating reserve margin”. Even after taking into account all scheduled (maintenance and repair) and unscheduled outages (due to lightning and mishaps like floods), industry players insist on achieving a 10% to 21% operating reserve margin.

They argued that gradual power planting would be pertinent and would also arguably avoid excess reserve margins which would only burden consumers.

TNB moreover has made it clear that another 7,000MW of electricity has been planned for commissioning for the next four years and will be coming on-stream by 2018. There is sufficient reserve capacity so as not to allow the repeat of 1992.

Hence, why the rush for an open-tender?

Despite the opposition, going by the latest turn of events, the EC has already offered “a conditional award” for the development of Project 4A to a “consortium that is made up of three prominent bidders” of the project, namely YTL, SIPP and TNB.

Now that the three supposedly top bidders have been asked to form a consortium, one wonders why you even called for an open tender in the first place!

The rakyat would surely want the EC to be transparent as to “what are the conditional offers”. What are the formulae and rates for the power produced by this plant that will be undertaken sold to TNB? One can’t help thinking that the involvement of TNB is an eye-washer of sorts. Considering this is a direct-negotiated deal, it is expected that bigger transparency would be demanded from the Malaysian public.

Be that as it may, such political interference doesn’t augur well for Malaysia and, in fact, damages our credibility in the eyes of the international business community. We shall perhaps be their last destination for further high tech industry since investors are afraid of flip-flopping and uncertainties in policies.

To make it worse, the recent comment by Tan Sri Francis Yeoh urging an end of “capital capitalism” seems both weird and unbecoming as well as hollow. Many perceive that he has outwardly contradicted his own rise in the power sector and, more importantly, his current attempt at securing the project deal 4A deal through connections with the royalty.

YTL International Power Berhad owns the majority share in the holding company of SIPP Power Sdn Bhd while SIPP Energy Sdn Bhd owns 30% share of the SIPP Power Sdn Bhd. For transparency and best practice, Francis should come clean to explain all these rather than simply pronouncing lofty ideals of battling “crony capitalism” in Corporate Malaysia.

Searches in Suruhanjaya Syarikat Malaysia (SSM) have shown that HRH Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, Sultan Johor, is the majority (51%) shareholder of SIPP Energy while the majority (3 out of 5) of SIPP Power directors are siblings of YTL International Power Bhd managing director Tan Sri Francis Yeoh and executives within the YTL Group.

In the final analysis, it is important to register that this U-turn and flip-flop in policy is certainly not doing good to Malaysia as an investment destination. The chairman of the EC must be reminded that he is placed in the EC to undertake this reform.

Should he insist on the “direct negotiation”, will he allow for a “Swiss Challenge” from the other equally competent bidders?

It serves the new EC well to do a “Tan-Sri Ani Arope”, ie to exit graciously as a protest to the Najib’s flip-flop policy. That will go down well in history as a commitment for change and reform.

6 June 2014

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

TMI

Despite Putrajaya’s multi-million ringgit marketing blitz to promote the goods and services tax (GST), a survey by a private university still found that a majority of Malaysians are against the consumption tax due next April 1.

Among other things, the survey by UCSI of 700 respondents showed that they do not accept the consumption tax, do not think the government can implement it effectively and that they are satisfied with the present tax system.

In presenting the survey’s findings, UCSI poll research centre chief executive Dr Ngerng Miang Hong said that a significant number of respondents were also still uncertain about how the tax system would work.

The survey’s findings echo the results of a similar poll in April and could hamper Putrajaya’s efforts to get the public to buy into the new tax system, which it says is necessary to raise government revenue.

The survey’s most startling result found that 80% of respondents were not confident that the government would be able to implement GST effectively.

A huge majority of respondents also felt that the new tax system may be effective in other countries but may be abused by the Malaysian government.

A total of 41.7% strongly agreed with the assertion that GST “is more effective in other countries but may be abused by our government”, with 37.5% agreeing with that statement.

Some 66% of respondents felt that the new tax will not improve the economy, while more than 83% of them believed that it will burden low- and middle-income citizens.

And 59% did not feel that they could accept the GST, the survey showed.

At the same time, 49% wanted the current sales and service tax system to continue versus 32% who felt that it was time to switch to the GST.

To illustrate how people were still unsure about the effects of GST, Ngerng said about 45.9% said they were not sure how the tax affects their cost of living while more than 47% said they were sure.

Ngerng said the survey was conducted both online and at face-to-face meetings with both rural and urban respondents between the ages of 20 and 45.

Respondents were not identified according to ethnicity but claimed that they came from diverse backgrounds.

Ngerng announced the results at a forum titled “GST: good or bad” at UCSI in Kuala Lumpur last night.

The government plans to scrap the old sales and services tax system and replace it with a broad-based 6% GST tax that will be levied on almost everything except a list of essential goods in April next year.

Some of the goods exempted from GST include fresh food, public transport, healthcare, domestic water and education fees.

However, the tax has attracted wide public opposition with a May 1 rally against it attracting up to 15,000 people in Dataran Merdeka.

A few days later, independent pollster Merdeka Center released a survey which showed that 62% of its respondents being against the consumption tax.

The Merdeka Center survey also found that 33% of their respondents did not understand how the new system would work.

Its critics said the GST would hit disproportionately low- and middle-income earners but the Datuk Seri Najib Razak administration claimed it was necessary to trim the national deficit.

Putrajaya then announced it was spending RM250 million to explain the new tax to the public and to train businesses on how to use it.

A speaker at the UCSI forum from Barisan Nasional Youth, Neil Foo Seck Chyn, said that enforcement was key to ensuring that the new tax system did not lead to a sharp hike in prices next year.

Foo said according to the Finance Ministry, only 10% of a list of 689 common items were expected to go up in price once the GST was implemented.

“Many of the things we consume now, such as teh tarik, already have a 10% sales tax levied on it. It’s just that we don’t realise it because businesses include it in the final price they charge us,” said Foo, who is BN Youth strategist.

“But when we take away the 10% and replace it with 6%, the price should come down. But it is up to the government to enforce this so that businesses do not try to charge us 10% and add 6%.”

Another speaker, Ong Kian Ming of DAP, however, said businesses have no incentive to lower prices even if the prices of raw materials were lower because of GST.

Also, there is very little assurance that the government will be more accountable in how it uses the extra revenue earned from the system.

“If you collect more money without accountability, you will just end up wasting more,” said Ong, referring to wastage in government spending, highlighted in the yearly auditor general reports.

It was reported that in its first year, GST will earn the government an additional RM3 billion.

However, Pakatan Rakyat claimed that leakages in the BN government’s spending cost taxpayers between RM25 billion and RM40 billion a year.

5 June 2014

Pendapat

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Malaysiakini

Unhappy with the lack of coverage he was given on the MH370 incident, PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim has lashed out against local broadcasters on international radio.

He lamented that “not one minute of airtime on radio or television in Malaysia” was given to him, except over his links to MH370 Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah (left).

“The only reference made was that I happened to know the captain and therefore there is this link that he was very passionate about reforms.

“He was very supportive of the democratic transition and he was disgusted in the manner that the Court of Appeal and the judiciary were used to convict me for five years,” he told the BBC World Service in an interview released today.

Anwar was referring to one of many conspiracy theoriessurrounding the MH370 mystery, which purports that Zaharie was disgruntled with the Court of Appeal decision on Anwar’s sodomy charge, and then went on to hijack the aircraft.

PKR had confirmed that Zaharie is a party member, but dismissed the allegation as “wild speculation” without any credible source.

The Boeing 777-200ER aircraft went missing without a trace on March 8 with 237 persons on board, just hours after the court decision.

In the interview, Anwar repeated his complaints that Malaysia is not being transparent in handling the tragedy.

He added that there is a “stark contrast” between the local media coverage of Malaysia’s handling of the crisis that highlighted praises and international accolades, and the international media coverage that is largely critical.

When pointed out that even other countries could not find the plane, Anwar explained that his complaints are directed at the outset of the incident and not the subsequent search efforts.

“That was deep into the mainland of Malaysia, it is our responsibility. I cannot condone the concealing of evidence,” he said.

He pointed out that MH370 had flew across five provinces of the peninsula after its disappearance.

“Until today, the government has not explained (how did this happen). No action has been taken against any incompetent guy dealing with the issue or radar,” he said.

5 June 2014

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

Bloomberg View

From missing airplanes to jail-bound opposition leaders, Malaysia has recently made international headlines for all the wrong reasons. Will the nation’s economy be next?

That’s the thrust of new report from Sarah Fowler of U.K.-based Oxford Economics, which ranks Malaysia the “riskiest country in Asia of those we consider,” more so than India, Indonesia and even coup-happy Thailand. On the surface, she points out, all’s well: Growth is zooming along at 6.2 percent, the external balance is reasonably sound and political stability reigns. But all’s not what it seems. “Prompted by its high levels of public debt, rising external debt and shrinking current account surplus, there has been a shift in the perception of risks towards Malaysia and away from Indonesia,” Fowler explains.

Malaysia wasn’t included in Morgan Stanley’s “fragile five” list of shaky emerging economies last year, as were India and Indonesia. But Fowler scratches at a number of Malaysian vulnerabilities that deserve more attention: external debt levels that in recent years have risen to close to 40 percent of gross domestic product; a higher public debt ratio than India; the biggest short-term capital flows among the 13 major emerging markets Oxford tracks, including Indonesia; and a shrinking current-account surplus.

This last point is still somewhat of a positive. As the mini-crises in developing nations last year demonstrated, a balance-of-payments surplus is a very good thing to have. Also, Malaysia’s use of so-called macroprudential policies has succeeded in preventing huge property bubbles of the kind afflicting Singapore and Hong Kong. ButMalaysia‘s current-account surplus is dwindling, from 16 percent of GDP in 2008 to 3.7 percent last year. And household debt is, to use Fowler’s words, “worryingly high” at more than 80 percent of GDP compared to less than 60 percent in 2008.

What really concerns Oxford, and myself, is the complacency factor in Putrajaya. Malaysia is effectively a one-party state, having effectively been ruled by the same party for six decades. Its 40-year-old, pro-Malay affirmative-action program chips away at the country’s competitiveness more and more each passing year. The scheme, which disenfranchises Malaysia’s Chinese and Indian minorities, is a productivity and innovation killer. It also has a corrupting influence on the political and business culture.

“A climate of entitlement amongst the Malay community limits entrepreneurialism and vested interests within the United Malays National Organization still resist change,” Fowler argues.

The need for change is becoming acute, though, as China’s dominance grows and neighbors like the Philippines get their acts together. Indians just elected the party of reform-minded Narendra Modi and Indonesians will soon choose a successor for Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in a contest that’s all about reducing corruption and improving governmental efficiency. And Malaysia? Well, Prime Minister Najib Razak’s lackluster party is clinging to power. Meanwhile, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim may soon be in jail again on sodomy charges many see as politically motivated.

The government’s handling of Malaysian Air Flight 370 said it all. Its deer-in-the-headlights response to the plane’s disappearance was the product of an insular political culture. The trouble is, that insularity is holding back a resource-rich economy that should be among Asia’s superstars, not its weakest links.

5 June 2014

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

Malaysiakini

I can’t say I was surprised to hear the admission by US and Australian authorities that the electronic ‘pings’ they assumed were coming from the black box of missing flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean have proven to be red herrings.

The allegedly mysterious disappearance of the Boeing 777 and its 239 passengers and crew two months ago has been deeply fishy from the very start.

First and foremost, of course, because anything whatever involving Malaysia’s criminal BN regime inevitably involves corruption, deception, incompetence or a complex mix of all three of these curses, and thus stinks to high heaven.

And then there’s the fact that the government with more of its citizens aboard MH370 than any other, the so-called ‘People’s’ Republic of China (PRC), is even more on the nose, if possible, than the Malaysian regime.

It was the PRC, as we all well recall, that in 1989 notoriously employed its laughably-titled ‘People’s Liberation’ Army to slaughter countless people peacefully calling for their political liberation in Tiananmen Square.

And it is the same, utterly unrepentant ‘People’s’ Republic of China government that alone enables the atrocious Kim dynasty to keep the people of North Korea in its death-grip; and that, in concert with Vladimir Putin’s neo-Stalinist Russia, constantly vetoes and otherwise thwarts United Nations efforts to save people from the depredations of corrupt, kleptocratic and murderous despots in Syria and elsewhere.

So it seems highly suspicious to me that just as the US and Australia announce that they have been ding-a-lings to be misled by what they believed were black-box pings, and thus all the waiting, watching world is left with is the pong of the BN regime’s MH370 wrongs, the Chinese and Malaysian regimes are happily playing diplomatic ping-pong.

If China’s initial outrage at Malaysia’s slow, confused, incompetent and comprehensively lying response to the disappearance of MH370 was genuine, it seems surpassingly strange that all has been so quickly forgiven and forgotten that Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak has been welcomed on a state visit to Beijing, and China has simultaneously sent a pair of its preciousgiant pandas to Malaysia.

A conspiracy of fiendship

It’s tempting to see these moves as not so much an outbreak of unaccountably sudden China-Malaysia friendship despite the ongoing MH370 fiasco, as a conspiracy of fiendship designed to cover up something deep-dark.

Why else would the PRC deliver a pair of pandas into the care of a Malaysian regime that has not only carelessly ‘lost’ well over a hundred Chinese citizens, but also has an appalling record of deaths in its agencies’ custody, and a disgraceful history of demonising and demeaning its own citizens of Chinese descent.

And why, for its part, would Malaysia’s BN regime indulge in an exercise so rich in self-destructive symbolism as to play host to a pair of pandas?

Surely I was just one of countless government critics whose first thought the other day on seeing pictures of Najib, Hishammuddin Hussein and sundry BN accomplices on a visit to the panda enclosure was that this guilty group rather than the innocent animals should by rights have been behind bars.

Similarly, I must have been only one of many who couldn’t help wondering whether, as long as Feng Yi and Fu Wa are supposed to be in quarantine, it might be a threat to their health to allow them to be visited there by a bunch of BN government and media germs.

And of course the pandas’ cute black eyes were, and will continue to be, a vivid reminder of what happened to Anwar Ibrahim during his first term in BN custody. While the very word ‘panda’ inevitably evoked the painfully obvious punning perception that the BN regime ceaselessly contrives to cling to power by pandering to its members’ and supporters’ lowest lusts, greeds, ignorances and racial and religious prejudices.

Such typical pandering being everywhere evident in the campaign for the Teluk Intan by/buy-election, with Umno Wanita chief Shahrizat Abdul Jalil pandering to the sectarianism that the regime works tirelessly to foment through the agency of fake ‘NGOs’ like Perkasa and ‘newspapers’ like Utusan Malaysia by calling DAP candidate Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud a “traitor” to her race and religion, and Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi damning Chinese and Indians who fail to support the BN regime as “ingrates”.

This followed Ahmad Zahid’s (left) not just pandering to the already inflated sense of self-importance of Rela members by promising them new uniforms and a RM1 million ‘constituency allocation’ in the event of a regime victory, but also going so far as to threaten them with dire if unspecified consequences if they failed to help BN win Teluk Intan.

“Don’t play with me. I know who has voted and didn’t vote,” he ranted, in reference to the 2,000 of 8,000 Rela members who he claimed had failed to cast ballots in last year’s general election, “so this time make sure that BN wins this parliamentary seat. I’m watching over the Pekan Baru ballot boxes.”

EC’s customary pandering

This gross abuse of power and blatant breach of the Electoral Act predictably drew a storm of criticism from the opposition and its supporters, at which point Electoral Commission (EC) chief Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof indulged in its customary pandering to his masters in the BN regime by declaring that the home minister’s threats were “mere advice”, and that his promises of new uniforms did not constitute an offence “because Rela is already in the process of changing its uniform”.

So it is clear that, as far as the EC is concerned, BN is as free as ever to keep pandering to Teluk Intan voters with everything from promises of a gazillion-ringgit new highway to “gifts” of hampers and presumably its traditional handouts of petty cash on election day.

Meanwhile, the home minister has claimed that he had been only“joking” when he said that he knew which Rela members had failed to vote in the last general election, before proceeding to pander to the sexism of his audience with the comment that in any event the young, smart and attractive DAP candidate for Teluk Intan, Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud, is “not very pretty, merely photogenic.”

But most Malaysians can clearly see that Dyana is a symbol of Malaysia’s bright future, and that the plug-uglies of BN are the past. And that all the pandas and pandering in the world won’t save them much longer from getting pinged for the pongs surrounding MH370, Altantuya Shaariibuu, Teoh Beng Hock and literally countless other unforgivable wrongs.

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