THE JOURNAL consists of selected, most notable and newsworthy POSTINGS OF THE DAY.

Friday, October 31, 2008

> Judge to decide on Nov 7

The Sessions Court here will decide on Nov 7 the validity of the certificate to transfer to the High Court the sodomy case involving Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Sessions Court Judge S. M Komathy set the date after hearing submissions from both the prosecution and defence.

The decision on the validity of the certificate is crucial as it will determine whether the case can be transferred to the High Court for trial.

Anwar had opposed the prosecution's bid to transfer the case to the High Court by questioning the validity of the transfer certificate signed by Attorney General (AG) Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail.

Gani is still under probe by the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) following a police report lodged against him by Anwar over fabrication of evidence in the investigation of the "black-eye" incident when Anwar was arrested in 1998.

Anwar, 61, is facing trial for voluntarily committing carnal intercourse against the order of nature with a former aide, 23-year-old Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, at Unit 11-5-1, Desa Damansara Condominium, Jalan Setiakasih, Bukit Damansara between 3.01pm and 4.30pm on June 26.

If convicted, he will face imprisonment of up to 20 years under Section 377B of the Penal Code. Presently, he is on bail on a personal bond of RM20,000.

In today's proceedings, Senior Deputy Public Prosecutor Datuk Mohamed Yusof Zainal Abiden said that Gani had the power to sign the certificate as he was performing an administrative function and exercising his discretionary power conferred upon him personally by law under Section 418A of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC).

"Hence, notwithstanding any imputation of bias and in order not to stultify the efficacy of the law, the statutory provisions would have abrogated the allegation and exclude bias," he said.

Yusof contended that there was no suggestion by the counsel representing Anwar that the AG had offended against the principles governing exercise of discretionary power as there was no imputation cast upon him that he had done anything forbidden by the law in the issuance of the said certificate.

On the contention by Anwar that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in his statement which reported by the media, had guaranteed that Gani would not be involved in this case, Yusof said the authority or discretion to institute a prosecution and all other powers incidental to it, is vested with the AG by virtue of Articles 145(3) and 145(3A) of the Federal Constitution.

He said any promise with regard to the prosecution or anything incidental to it can only be made by the AG and not the prime minister.

"Surely, the prime minister could not be seen to be making promise on behalf of a competent authority which is given the exclusive discretion under the Federal Constitution with regard to prosecution or any matter incidental thereto," he said.

On the other hand, Anwar's lead counsel Sulaiman Abdullah argued that there was no reason to suggest that the Sessions Court was less competent or could not or lack jusrisdiction to hear a public interest case.

Sulaiman said the contention that the reasons why this case should be heard in the High Court, among others that it was of public interest and it involved complicated laws of DNA evidence, were spurious and should not be entertained.

"It is an affront to our justice system and would offend any right minded thinking person... Are the prosecution implying that the Sessions Court, which has heard over thousands of sexual assault cases throughout the country over the years, is suddenly by reason of the personality of the accused inept and incompetent?" he contended - Bernama.

See my comments, "Why Transfer?" - My Journal.

> RON 97 is now RM 2.15

Effective midnight, pump prices of petrol RON97 would be lowered by 15 sen to RM2.15 per litre.

RON92 will be reduced from RM2.20 to RM2.05 per litre, while diesel will also be lowered by 15 sen to RM2.05 per litre as well.

According to Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Shahrir Abdul Samad, the price change is to be made every two weeks and thus the next revision will be on Nov 15.

Met after the Umno supreme council meeting this evening, Shahrir said although crude oil prices have dropped by half to US$62 per barrel, other considerations had to be taken into account when reducing the price.

The minister said the government had stocked up crude oil a month ago when the price was still high and the reduction must be based on the price at the purchasing time.

"It takes about a month to process crude oil to petrol and when the government bought them, the price was not US$62 per barrel so we cannot say the price is this so this is how much you have to reduce it," he said - Malaysiakini.

> Zaid: Ketuanan Melayu has failed

The 'Ketuanan Melayu' model has failed, declared former de facto law minister Zaid Ibrahim in an incisive speech at the LawAsia 2008 conference in Kuala Lumpur this morning. 

"It has resulted in waste of crucial resources, energy and time and has distracted from the real issues confronting the country," said Zaid, who criticised the race-based policy despite being a member of the ruling Umno party which was set up to safeguard Malay interests.
Zaid also noted that 'deputy premier in waiting' Muhyiddin Yassin had suggested the need for a closed-door forum for leaders of the Barisan Nasional (BN) to develop a common stand, a renewed national consensus grounded on the social contract. 

"This is positive step but it should include all political leaders and be premised on the
social contract that was the foundation of independence," said the lawyer by training who was made senator and subsequently minister entrusted with the task of reforming the judiciary by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi following the March 8 general election. 

He quit last month in protest against the arrest of three individuals under the Internal Security Act (ISA) which provides for detention without trial. 

Zaid said March 8 was a clear indicator that the ruling BN coalition no longer exclusively speaks for the people.

He also underscored the importance of promoting discourse and dialogue so that Malaysians learn to talk and to listen to one another again.

"Communication and trust amongst the people must be re-established," he said.

The former minister called on the BN government to abandon its 'reworked' concept of the social contract and embrace a fresh perspective borne out of discussions and agreements made in good faith with all the communities. 

"It is time for us all to practise a more transparent and egalitarian form of democracy and to recognise and respect the rights and dignity of all the citizens of this country."

Mukhriz singled out for criticism

Singling out Mukhriz Mahathir for criticism, Zaid said the Umno Youth chief aspirant typifies what is perceived as the kind of Umno leader who appeals to the right-wing of Malay polity.

Zaid also referred to the recent remarks made by the son of former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad that there was no need for law and judicial reforms as it would not benefit the Malays. 

"That he may be right is sad as it leads to the ossification of values that will only work against the interests of the party and the nation," Zaid lamented in his 16-page speech. 

"This type of thinking may pave the way to a suggestion in the future that we may as well do away with general elections altogether as they may not be good for the Malays for, if the justice that a revitalised rule of law would allow for is not to the benefit of the Malays, what is? More inefficiency, more corruption and a more authoritarian style of government perhaps. 

"We are a deeply divided nation, adrift for our having abandoned democratic traditions and the rule of law in favour of a political ideology that serves no one save those who rule."

According to Zaid, the obsession with the Ketuanan Melayu doctrine has destroyed something precious in Malaysians.

"It makes us lose our sense of balance and fairness. When a certain Chinese lady was appointed head of a state development corporation, having served in that corporation for 33 years, there were protests from Malay groups because she is Chinese," he said referring to the controversy involving the appointment of Low Siew Moi as acting head of the Selangor Development Cooperation (PKNS).

"A new economic vision is necessary, one that is more forward looking in outlook and guided by positive values that would serve to enhance cooperation amongst the races. This will encourage change for the better, to develop new forms of behaviour and shifts of attitudes, to believe that only economic growth will serve social equity, to aspire to a higher standard of living for all regardless of race.

"We need to meaningfully acknowledge that wealth is based on insight, sophisticated human capital and attitude change. A new dynamics focused on cooperation and competition will spur innovation and creativity.

"Some might say that this is a fantasy. I disagree. How do we go about transforming the culture and values of the bumiputeras so that their ability to create new economic wealth can be sustained?

"By changing our political and legal landscapes with freedom and democracy."

On that note, Zaid said Mahathir was right to have asked the Malays to embrace modernity but the 82-year-old statesman fell short by only focusing on the physical aspects of modernity.

"He was mistaken to think all that was needed to change the Malay mindset was science and technology. He should have also promoted the values of freedom, human rights and the respect of the law.  

"If affirmative action is truly benchmarked on the equitable sharing of wealth that is sustainable, then we must confront the truth and change our political paradigm, 40 years of discrimination and subsidy have not brought us closer. There is a huge economic dimension to the rule of law and democracy that this government must learn to appreciate."

Conflicts of jurisdiction require resolution

Zaid conceded that relationship between Islam, the state, law and politics in Malaysia is complex.

"How do we manage legal pluralism in Malaysia? Can a cohesive united Bangsa Malaysia be built on a bifurcated foundation of Syariah and secular principles? Will non-Muslims have a say on the operation of Islamic law when it affects the general character and experience of the nation? This is a difficult challenge and the solution has to be found."

He quoted leading Muslim legal scholar Abdullah Ahmad an-Na'im who believed that a distinction should be made between state and politics. 

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, he noted, believes that Islam can be the mediating instrument between state and politics through the principles and institutions of constitutionalism and the protection of equal human rights of all citizens. 

"Whatever the formula, we can only devise a system that rejects absolutism and tyranny and allows for freedom and plurality if we are able to first agree that discourse and dialogue is vital. Democracy and respect for the rights and dignity of all Malaysians is the prerequisite to this approach."

Zaid stressed that the conflicts of jurisdiction in Malaysia require resolution.

The civil courts, he said, are "denuded of jurisdiction" to deal with matters that fall within the jurisdiction of the Syariah court. 

"No court has been given the jurisdiction and power to resolve issues that may arise in both the Syariah courts and the civil courts. The present separation of jurisdictions presupposes that matters will fall nicely into one jurisdiction or the other.

However, human affairs are never that neat. What happens to the children of a marriage where one party converts to Islam and the other party seeks recourse in the civil court? Or when the Syariah Court pronounces that a deceased person was a Muslim despite his family contesting the conversion?

"Or where the receiver of a company is restrained from dealing with a property by a Syariah Court order arising out of a family dispute?

Where do the aggrieved parties go? I had suggested the establishment of the constitutional court, but that plea has fallen on deaf ears."

Malays not under seige

The former minister had also touched on the use of draconian measures, which according to him have seen a marked increase in dealing with political and social tensions.

"Some people say that groups such as Hindraf (Hindu Rights Action Force) advocate violence and therefore this justifies the use of such measures. They may have overlooked the fact that violence begets violence.

"Was not the detention of Hindraf leaders under the ISA itself an act of aggression, especially to people who consider themselves marginalised and without recourse?

"It is time that the people running this country realise that we will not be able to resolve conflicts and differences peacefully if we ourselves do not value peaceful means in dealing with problems."

Zaid argued that the situation had been aggravated by the absence of an even-handed approach in dealing with organisations such as Hindraf. 

"While I applaud the prime minister for calling upon the Indian community to reject extremism, should not a similar call be made on the Malay community and (Malay daily) Utusan Malaysia?

I call on the prime minister, both the outgoing and the incoming, to deal with such issues fairly. Start by releasing the Hindraf leaders detained under the ISA. The release would create a window for constructive dialogue on underlying causes of resentment. 

"I also appeal for the release of (Malaysia Today editor) Raja Petra (Kamarudin) from ISA detention. He is a champion of free speech. His writings, no matter how offensive they may be to some, cannot by any stretch of the imagination be seen as a threat to the national security of this country."

The Malays, Zaid said, are now a clear majority in numbers and the fear of their being outnumbered is baseless.

"They are not under seige. The institutions of government are such that the Malays are effectively represented, and there is no way the interest of the Malays can be taken away other than through their own weakness and folly." - Malaysiakini.

> Baginda acquitted !

Photo: The Malaysian Insider

The Shah Alam High Court today acquitted political analyst Abdul Razak Baginda of abetting the alleged murder of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu.

The court however ordered Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri, 32 and Corporal Sirul Azha Umar, 37, who are members of the Special Action Force (UTK), to enter their defence to the charge of murder.

The prosecution is expected to file an appeal against Abdul Razak's acquittal.

Altantuya was allegedly shot before her body was blown up with explosives two years ago.

Azilah and Sirul are jointly charged with murdering Altantuya, 28, at a location between Lot 12843 and Lot 16735 in Mukim Bukit Raja, Selangor between 10am on Oct 19, 2006 and 1am the following day.

Abdul Razak Baginda, 47, was charged with abetting them. He is a known confidante of Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, having worked on government arms procurement projects while the latter was defence minister.

The prosecution closed its case against the trio on June 23 after 151 days of testimony from 84 witnesses - Malaysiakini.

> Judges panel by year's end

The country's first judicial appointment commission may be established by year's end.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said yesterday that work on legislation for the commission was progressing well.

"We aim to table the legislation soon to establish the commission by the end of the year," he said in his keynote address at the 21st Lawasia (Law Association for Asia and the Pacific) Conference yesterday.

Abdullah had announced the establishment of the commission in April. 

He said such a commission was "perhaps" a necessity as the present system of judicial appointments had given rise to questions about the judiciary's integrity and credibility.

 He said such a commission would provide a structured, transparent and merit-based appointment process which would be a step in the right direction.

Abdullah, however, cautioned that implementing the whole system would be a challenge.

"Already, there have been divergent views expressed on the functioning and composition of the commission." 

He said that once the commission was formed, it would be up to the judges themselves to make the judiciary a strong and worthy institution.

"A system is only as good as the people who operate within it." 

Abdullah said he hoped that the legal services sector would become a leader in the services sector to be on a par with the Islamic financial services sector.

This, he said, was in line with the country's aim to upgrade its services sector as an engine of growth.

Abdullah was happy that the Malaysian Bar's proposed amendments to the Legal Profession Act would open up the sector to international participation.

"A more liberalised legal services sector is a prerequisite for Malaysia's economic competitiveness," he said, adding that Malaysian lawyers could and must compete with the best in the world.

The 21st Lawasia Conference is the third to be held in the country. Malaysia was also host to the first conference in 1968 - NST.

> Perak probes RM 100M losses

The Perak government has begun investigations into a state agency subsidiary company with an accumulated loss of more than RM100M.

Perak senior executive councillor Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham said he received a complaint that the subsidiary company of the State Economic Development Corporation (SEDC) had a paid-up capital of RM50,000 but accumulated losses stood at over RM100M.

“How can a subsidiary company with a paid-up capital of RM50,000 have accumulated losses of more than RM100M?” he asked at a press conference Thursday after attending the Perak Water Board meeting here.

He also asked if there were “people using the subsidiary company to siphon money from the Government”.

Ngeh said the officers must have the interest of the state and the people at heart when negotiating contracts.

He pointed out the Government wanted to cut losses, reduce pilferage and increase productivity of state agencies, such as the SEDC and the State Agriculture Development Corporation (SADC).

For example, he said, a subsidiary company of SADC had 9,712ha of land in Indonesia but its income and productivity were far less than those achieved by other corporate companies.

When entering into an agreement to develop prime land, he said, SADC officers must ensure the returns achieved were similar to what the private sector made.

“They should be making more profits and their management, more efficient,” he added - The Star.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

> Was Altantuya murdered?

The Shah Alam High Court will decide tomorrow if three individuals have to enter their defence to a charge of murdering Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu. 

She was allegedly shot before her body was blown up with explosives two years ago.

In the dock are Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri, 32 and Corporal Sirul Azha Umar, 37, who are members of the Special Action Force (UTK), an elite police unit.

They are jointly charged with murdering Altantuya, 28, at a location between Lot 12843 and Lot 16735 in Mukim Bukit Raja, Selangor between 10am on Oct 19, 2006 and 1am the following day.

Prominent political analyst Abdul Razak Baginda, 47, is charged with abetting them. He is a known confidante to Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, having worked on government arms procurement projects while the latter was defence minister.

The prosecution closed its case against the trio on June 23 after 151 days of testimony from 84 witnesses. 

Justice Mohd Zaki Md Yasin will decide tomorrow if the prosecution has succeeded in making a prima facie case. In doing so, he will rely on some 6,000 pages of notes of proceedings and written submissions. 

Blood, jewelry and explosives

DPP Tun Majid Tun Hamzah, in his submission at the end of the prosecution case in August, argued that there was enough circumstantial evidence that Azilah and Sirul were together at the murder scene.

He further pointed towards other evidence including the deceased’s blood-stained slippers that were found in Sirul Azha’s vehicle and her jewelry that was found in his house. 

Tun Majid (right) also submitted that the explosive residue from the murder scene was similar to explosives used by the UTK.

Should Justice Mohd Zaki rule that Azilah, Sirul and Abdul Razak have to enter their defence, the trio will have the opportunity to testify. 

But if the judge rules otherwise, they are likely to be acquitted and discharged. They have been held at the Sungai Buloh prison since they were charged in November 2006 - Malaysiakini.

> Anwar: Enquiry for 3 projects

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has filed an emergency motion calling for the setting-up of a royal commission to investigate the Government’s decision to spend on three controversial projects.

The three projects are the RM11.31B High-Speed Broadband; the purchase of Bank Internasional Indonesia by Maybank worth RM4.26B; and the procurement of 12 EC725 Cougar helicopters worth RM1.7B.

Anwar said that, on Sept 16, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who is also the Finance Minister, had approved the broadband project hastily at a price deemed “too high” and without any open tender process.

On Sept 30, Najib had also approved the purchase of 56% of the shares in Bank International Indo nesia through Maybank, he said, adding that they were bought at a high price.

Two days before he moved from the Defence Ministry to the Finance Ministry, a letter of intent was issued for the purchase of 12 helicopters, a deal made in “a dubious manner”, Anwar said.

The Speaker will decide today whether the motion will be approved for debate - The Star.

> Ban race-based parties

Fong Po Kuan (DAP – Batu Gajah) was lambasted after she suggested banning race-based political parties in order to resolve racial issues.

She said the proposal to have a Race Relations Act was irrelevant and would not solve problems as long as there were political parties that raised issues pertaining to a specific race.

“If Barisan Nasional really wants to strengthen interracial ties by having the Race Relations Act, like Canada’s 1976 legislation, what needs to be done first is to ban race-based political parties,” Fong said when debating the Budget.

Fong’s remark was criticised by Datuk Seri Dr Jamaluddin Jarjis (BN – Rompin), who said: “You are accusing us of not caring for all races but we do. Actually, the MP (Fong) should look at the DAP.”

Earlier, Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar said the proposed Race Relations Bill was being drafted by his ministry, together with the Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry, to curb chaos and threats to peace in the country.

Abd Rahman Bakri (BN – Sabak Bernam) urged the Social Welfare Department to go to the ground and update the list of elderly and disabled people who needed aid - Bernama.

> MCA backs Opposition

In a surprising turn, the MCA today voiced its support for their political opponents over the use of multi-lingual signboards in the DAP-led Penang state and the appointment of Low Siew Moi as the acting General Manager of the Selangor State Development Corporation (PKNS).

The party's support for the Pakatan Rakyat governments in Penang and Selangor will certainly put it on a collision course with Umno. Party vice-president Liow Tiong Lai has already come under heavy fire for suggesting the scrapping of the 30 per cent bumiputera equity requirement.

Today, MCA Youth chief Datuk Wee Ka Siong expressed his disagreement with his Barisan Nasional (BN) colleagues, notably Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Utama Dr Rais Yatim who said that Penang only needs signboards in the national language and in English.

He also criticised a University of Malaya professor, Datuk Dr Zainal Kling, who had urged the authorities to charge the state government under the Sedition Act for daring to put up signboards in other languages.

"If we still carry on with a conservative mindset in issuing such statements, it will not help the country in attracting foreign tourists," Wee said in a press statement today, drawing parallels between Penang's multi-lingual signboards and the multi-lingual signboards posted at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

In a separate press statement, Wanita MCA chief Chew Mei Fun urged Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim to remain steadfast in appointing Low as the acting General Manager of PKNS.

"Even though I share a different political ideology with Tan Sri Khalid, I believe in the Selangor Menteri Besar's trust and confidence in women's capabilities to helm PKNS," she said.

Chew took to task the former Selangor MB Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo and state Pas commissioner Datuk Dr Hassan Mohamed Ali for disparaging Low's qualification based on her gender and ethnicity.

"The behaviour of these two leaders, who questioned and prejudiced the capabilities of women, will not increase the country's competitiveness and encourage economic growth," she said.

"In this globalised world, the appointment of top government posts should not be based on skin colour or gender. Those with capabilities and who are able to perform should be given the opportunity to serve," she emphasised.

"At the end of the day, Malaysia will experience a brain drain with more and more talented professionals leaving for other countries to seek work and pursue their ambitions." - The Malaysian Insider.

> Probe on 4.6B loan to PKFZ

International accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) has begun auditing the controversial government 'soft loan' provided to Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ), among other contentious issues.

Port Klang Authority (PKA) chairperson Lee Hwa Beng told Malaysiakini that a six-member team led by a PWC senior manager has been conducting the probe.

“Auditing started this month and is expected to be completed by year’s end. Whether or not the report will be made public will be decided by the transport minister,” he said. 

He said the audit team has been given authority to interview all current and former staff members as well as board members. Letters have been sent to all relevant parties and individuals involved in the probe. 

“We hope everyone will cooperate with the auditors,” Lee said.

He also said the appointment of an international audit firm is to build confidence that the probe is being conducted by an independent entity.

On why auditing has been delayed - when an announcement on this had been made in May - he attributed it to procedural requirements.

“PKFZ engaged the services of PWC by direct appointment instead of calling an open tender, he said. As such, approval had to be subsequently sought from the Finance Ministry.

The audit exercise was announced by Transport Minister Ong Tee Keat, following a public outcry over a RM4.6 billion ‘soft loan’ given by the government.

Ong said details of repayment would be properly audited and disclosed at the appropriate time, to avoid any misconception of a government bailout.

The project came to public attention after news reports raised issues linked to land acquisition and questioned if the project would become a 'white elephant'.

PKFZ, owned by PKA, was conceptualised as a regional hub for export and transhipment of manufactured goods costing RM1.85 billion. But the cost rose to RM4.6 billion by the time the project was completed. 

‘Business picking up’

On PKFZ’s performance, Lee claimed that business has picked up. Since May, proceeds from annual rental have doubled from RM7 million to RM15 million. 

“Besides operating the port, our job is to get more tenants to occupy the industrial buildings in PKFZ,” he said.

Lee and new general manager Lim Thean Shiang were appointed to the PKA in April. 

Ong had entrusted Lee with appointing the auditor and to assist the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) should the latter conduct a probe.

Lee, however, said there has not been any follow-up on the matter by the PAC since he took over the post- Malaysiakini.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

> Selangor approves 54 temples

The Selangor state non-Islamic affairs committee has approved 54 land applications for non-Muslim places of worship in the state this year.

State Health, Plantation Workers, Poverty and Caring Government Committee chairman Dr A. Xavier Jayakumar told the state assembly this yesterday.

Xavier was responding to questions posed by Jenice Lee Ying Ha (Pakatan-Teratai), who asked about the number of approvals for religious sites given by the state government this year and also the number of places of worship torn down by the previous state administration.

According to Xavier, of the 54 approved applications, 25 are for Hindu temples, 19 for Chinese temples, and 10 for Christian churches.

“Now that the non-Islamic affairs committee has given its approval, all these applications will be submitted to the state executive council for the final endorsement” he said.

Xavier said that between 2004 and last year, 96 Hindu and 37 Chinese temples were demolished by the then Barisan Nasional state government.

Xavier: Of the 54 approved applications, 25 are for Hindu temples, 19 for Chinese temples and 10 for Christian churches.’

On the demolition of places of worship by local councils, he said the Subang Jaya Municipal Council (MPSJ) undertook the most demolition.

The breakdown of the demolition of places of worships according to the respective local councils from 2004 to 2008 are as follows:

>Shah Alam City Council (MBSA): two Hindu temples;

>Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ): 13 Hindu temples and 12 Chinese temples;

>Klang Municipal Council (MPK): four Hindu temples;

>Ampang Jaya Municipal Council (MPAJ): two Hindu temples;

>Subang Jaya Municipal Council (MPSJ): 44 Hindu temples and 17 Chinese temples;

>Selayang Municipal Council (MPS): 27 Hindu temples and 8 Chinese temples;

>Kajang Municipal Council (MPKj): two Hindu temples;

>Sepang Municipal Council (MPSp): one Hindu temple;

>Kuala Selangor district council: one Hindu temple - The Star.

> Lingam Tapes: Judgement reserved

The High Court has reserved its decision on the leave sought by five individuals to initiate judicial review proceedings on the findings of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into a controversial video clip.

Justice Datuk Abdul Kadir Musa said today that he would deliver the judgment at a later date.

The 22-minute clip showed lawyer Datuk V.K. Lingam talking on the telephone about judicial appointments with someone whom the inquiry found was former Chief Justice Tun Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim.

The clip was recorded in 2002 when Fairuz was the chief judge of Malaya. The leave to initiate judicial review proceedings was sought by Lingam, Fairuz and three others - former Chief Justice Eusoff Chin, tycoon Tan Sri Vincent Tan and Umno secretary-general Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor - who were also implicated.

Senior Federal Counsel Azizah Nawawi told the court that leave should be denied as the findings of the inquiry were not reviewable because they were not decisions in the context of Order 53 Rule 2(4) of the Rules of High Court 1980.

Meanwhile, lawyer Razlan Hadri who held a watching brief for the Bar Council appeared at the last minute and requested to hand in a written submission on points of law relating to the Federal Constitution.

Lingam who represented himself objected to request, saying that it was unfair for a party to interfere at the very last minute.

He also questioned why the Bar did not make the application when the hearing started in July.

He said there would be further delays if the Bar was allowed to make the submission as the other counsel would also need to reply to it.

The afternoon hearing was dragged until 5.45pm when the judge allowed Razlan to make his submission orally not in open court but through Azizah. - Bernama

> Hypermarkets to lead price-crush

Major supermarkets in the country are beginning to mark down prices starting Tuesday, said Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Shahrir Abdul Samad.

For example, he said, the Giant store-chain had lowered prices by 30 per cent of 1,200 items and this move was being followed by other stores.

"We have also negotiated with all supermarkets and they have agreed to reduce prices," Shahrir said when officiating the price reduction campaign at Kinrara here.

He said monitoring by the government on prices was limited to controlled items like rice, flour and cooking oil.

Shahrir said suppliers and producers were encouraged to participate in the campaign and reduce their prices.

"We will call on consumer associations to discuss with food production associations like poultry breeders and others to get their consent to reduce prices," he said - Bernama.

It is hoped that this price-crush by hypermarkets will lead to shops following suit - My Journal.

> DAP: Eurocopter probe to go on

The investigation into the RM2.3 billion Eurocopter deal must go on even if the controversial deal is called off, opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said.

His call came in the wake of a news report over the weekend, quoting sources as saying that the deal to purchase 12 Cougar EC725 helicopters from a European firm has been called off due to the current economic situation.

The public accounts committee (PAC), a powerful parliamentary committee tasked to ensure that public funds are well spent, is scheduled to hold a two-day inquiry from tomorrow to look into the matter.

“Even if the helicopter deal is cancelled, PAC is duty-bound to investigate the highly dubious and controversial procurement process, as this runs counter to all principles of accountability, transparency, integrity and good governance,” Lim said in a statement today.

The opposition stalwart, who is also DAP’s Ipoh Timor MP, said the PAC should identify whether any irregularity or oversight exists in the deal, and to ensure that the integrity of the Defence Ministry and the Royal Malaysian Air Force is intact.

“Parliament and the nation are entitled to a searching and no-holds-barred PAC inquiry to produce a report to be tabled by the end of next month which can answer many controversial questions,” Lim noted.

This includes why the price offered by Eurocopter has ballooned from its RM1.1 billion bid price to RM2.3 billion, as well as why is the government paying over twice the price for the aircraft compared to aircraft from other countries.

Controversial letter to DPM

The Eurocopter controversy was first highlighted in a letter dated Oct 7 addressed to Najib Abdul Razak, who is deputy prime minister and finance minister.

In the five-page letter, Mentari Services Sdn Bhd chairperson Kapt (rtd) Zahar Hashim suggested that the tender process, initiated during Najib’s tenure as defence minister, could have been a “gimmick” since the ministry appeared to favour one company.

Zahar also accused Najib (left) of providing Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who took over the defence portfolio on Sept 17, with an “inaccurate” report pertaining to the contract.

The government had decided to purchase the new aircraft to replace the ageing Nuri aircraft following a series of crashes in recent years.

The opposition has lodged a complaint with the Anti-Corruption Agency calling for a probe on Najib’s alleged involvement in the deal.

PAC, which is tasked to scrutinise and monitor the utilisation of public funds, comprises 13 members from both sides of the House - five of whom are from Pakatan.

The committee is headed by former home minister Azmi Khalid (Umno-Padang Besar) with Dr Tan Seng Giaw (DAP-Kepong) as deputy chairperson.

At the same time, Lim also called for Azmi to withdraw from the PAC probe as he had been part of the cabinet only a few months ago.

"Credibility is greatly stretched for anyone to believe that a two-term minister would be prepared to be very zealous to conduct a no-holds-barred PAC investigation into any major government irregularity or impropriety..." - Malaysiakini.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Photo by The Star

My Journal wishes all Hindu readers and friends a very joyous Deepavali! 
The essential message of every Deepavali celebration is the triumph of GOOD over EVIL. 

> AirAsia flies to India

AirAsia Bhd will fly to India beginning Dec 1 with its inaugural flight to Thiruchi in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

AirAsia's group chief executive officer, Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes, said the airline expected a huge growth from Indian tourism to contribute to its new route.

"I anticipate very high load factor for this flight (probably) about 90 percent from the first week, which should probably be the strongest route we have ever done," he told a media briefing here Monday.

He said there was a huge potential for the airline as Thiruchi was the fourth largest city in Tamil Nadu with a population of 1.6 million.

Thiruchi, famous for its fusion architecture and monuments, will be the first destination for AirAsia, before it embarks on nine other locations in India within the next one-and-a-half years.

Other routes include Madras, Cochin, Madurai and Kovaibutore while for AirAsia X, they are looking at New Delhi, Mumbai and Hydrabad.

Tony said to cater to the new routes, the carrier would be spending about RM5 to RM7 million for new infrastructure including the opening of an office in Thiruchi.

Booking for the flight, which will be on a daily basis, will start on Wednesday midnight with offer price starting from RM49 while an average fare price of RM200 for one-way flight.

For India, AirAsia would be using 10 A320 planes - Bernama.

> Non-Bumi to head PKNS

Dissatisfaction over the appointment of a non-bumiputra to helm the Selangor State Development Corporation (PKNS) as acting general manager did not stop the state from giving the post to a Chinese.

Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim said the appointment of a non-bumiputra was a short-term measure for one year to ensure the effective continuation of management.

On being told that certain quarters are against the appointment of a non-bumiputra to the post, Khalid smiled and said, that “it is their view and this is mine”.

PKNS general manager Datuk Harun Salim whose annual contract expires this Thursday will not have it extended, as he is 60. Harun retired in mid-2003 and will have to leave the government entity in compliance with the Public Services Department’s age requirement.

Current Finance and Corporate deputy general manager Low Siew Moi, 57, will have her annual contract extended to replace Harun, as acting general manager.

Low, who is in Australia for a holiday, received her letter on Wednesday afternoon.

“We can’t have two top officers retire at the same time as we need an effective continuation of management. One best option is to extend Low’s service on contract basis to replace Harun,” said Khalid after he officially launched the I-City complex here.

He added that Low would work in tandem with the PKNS board of directors to steer the state government’s business arm forward until the state could source for a bumiputra person with high calibre and ethics and someone who is committed to lead the state’s business arm - The Star.

Monday, October 27, 2008

> Lim Guan Eng's Deepavali Message

The DAP urged Malaysians, particular those from the ethnic Indian community, to hold fast to the Deepavali spirit of “good over evil” despite several incidents which have marred the season’s festivities.

In his Deepavali message, its secretary-general Lim Guan Eng expressed his horror over Thursday’s arrest of several people linked to the outlawed Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) including a six-year-old child.

He noted that they were attempting to hand over a petition to the Prime Minister asking for the release of five Hindraf leaders who have been detained under the “draconian” Internal Security Act (ISA) for almost one year now.

Lim assured them that they were not alone in their struggle.

“Together we shall continue to fight on a moral and ethical ground towards achieving equal opportunities, level playing field and social justice,” he said.

He added: “We must insist that any government should show love for its people based on human dignity, compassion and a caring society.”

The Penang Chief Minister said he empathised with the families of the five Hindraf detainees over their “political persecution.”

“I too have been such a victim of the Barisan Nasional government’s prosecution and persecution,” he said, referring to his detention under the same Act during a federal government operation in 1987.

For many Malaysian Indians, particularly those of the Hindu faith, this year’s festival of lights looks set to be a dim affair.

“I hope our Hindu friends, as well as other Malaysians, persevere and continue to work towards achieving the aim of having a truly fair and non-discriminatory society. It is not easy task but may we be guided by the spirit of Deepavali,” said Lim - The Malaysian Insider.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

> Khir finally qualifies

Ex-Selangor Mentri Besar Mohd Khir Toyo has made the Umno Youth chief contest a 3-way battle after bagging his 39th nomination today.

His qualifying nomination is from Balik Pulau Umno Youth division in Penang, while he picked up his 40th nomination from his home state of Tanjung Karang.

Khir Toyo, a dark horse in the race, will be facing frontrunner Mukhriz Mahathir, son of former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Khairy Jamaluddin, son-in-law of outgoing Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Khairy, who many initially thought was the man to beat, qualified for the contest only yesterday while Mukhriz sprung a surprised by qualifying soon after the 191 Umno Youth divisions began meeting earlier this month.

About two-thirds of the Youth division have already met and decided on their nominations.

Potential candidates need at least 39 nominations to qualify for the contest for the Youth wing chief.

Proxy fight

The post has been vacated by outgoing chief Hishammuddin Hussein, who is seeking a higher post in the ruling party - he is leading in the fight for one of the three vice-president posts.

Observers has called the Mukhriz-Khairy contest a proxy fight as the current premier is at odds with his predecessor, Mahathir.

Mukhriz has 65 nominations while Khairy has 45.

Meanwhile, Reezal Merican Naina Merican is intensifying his bid in the contest for deputy Youth chief. 

Reezal, who has recently been appointed political secretary to the prime minister, has notched up 56 nominations, while frontrunner Razali Ibrahim has 73 nominations - Malaysiakini.

> Malaysia ditches Eurocopter

Malaysia will ditch the RM2.3 billion Eurocopter defence deal as it battens down to face the global economic storm, sources said today.

Prime Minister and Defence Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi decided to cut out the EC725 military helicopter contract over the weekend when the government reviewed its expenses in light of falling revenues from crude oil and palm oil and slowing economic growth for the next few years.

"The Eurocopter deal is off due to the bleak economic times ahead," a source told The Malaysian Insider.

Opposition leaders and critics had savaged the purchase of the dozen EC725 helicopters, saying its RM193 million price tag per aircraft was more than double of Brazil's contract for 50 EC725 helicopters, which came tom RM84 million per aircraft. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said it will investigate the deal.

Abdullah had earlier said he will investigates claims of irregularities over the purchase of military helicopters after company representing a rival military chopper, the Kazan MI-172, said it offered to sell a dozen helicopters at RM898 million, RM1.5 billion less than the Eurocopter deal.

But the Kazan MI-172 is expected to be phased out of production soon although it shares similarities with the current Nuri helicopter fleet, particularly its rear ramp door that is used for troop and materiel transport.

Opposition parties had also lodged reports with the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) asking for investigations as the tender was allegedly awarded before evaluations were completed and two days before Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak swapped the defence portfolio with Abdullah.

The government earlier through a Cabinet meeting on July 18, 2007 had made the decision to acquire new helicopters to replace the Nuri aircraft following a series of crashes for the ageing transport  helicopters in the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF).

The Nuri or Sikorsky S-61A-4 came into Malaysian service in 1968. The medium transport aircraft has suffered 18 crashes and killed 95 servicemen and is due to be phased out in 2012. There reportedly only 31 left in RMAF service

However, sources said the Nuris would have been pressed into service with the Army Air Wing if the EC725s arrived on time. The Eurocopter EC725 or Cougar is a medium lift helicopter that is used for combat search and rescue missions.

The Cougar, which can carry up to 29 soldiers, beat out the Sikorsky H-92, the AgustaWestland EH-101 Merlin, the Boeing CH-47F and the Russian MI-172 in an open international tender issued at the Langkawi International Maritime and Air Show in December 2007.

Sources said Eurocopter won the deal as it also proposed to invest RM250 million to upgrade Malaysia's maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) capacity in its Subang facility as part of its tender.

It has already invested about RM45 million in Malaysia and had plans to spend another
RM20 million this year to expand its Subang facility as well as MRO facilities in Kuching and Kota Kinabalu.

Apart from the Nuris, the RMAF operates the A109 light utility helicopters and Super Pumas for VIP service - The Malaysian Insider.

> Stronger regulation of financial markets

Malaysia will back international efforts for strong regulation of financial markets to curb excessive speculation, and the scrutiny of rating agencies in the wake of the global financial crisis, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said today.

He said greedy speculators were manipulating capital markets and there were rating agencies making baseless reports that were irresponsible.

“What is needed is a strong regulatory framework as well as internationally benchmarked standards of corporate governance, risk management and market conduct,” he said at the end of the two-day Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM).

 Abdullah said he supported French President Nicolas Sakorzy’s call for regulation and supervision of rating agencies and all markets.

In his speech at the Asem opening, Sarkozy had asked Asia to support a united stand by Europe at the Nov 15 summit of G20 countries in Washington to discuss the financial crisis that has caused upheavals throughout the world.

The French leader, current president of the European Union, who wants to overhaul the Bretton Woods system which dates back to the end of World War II, said: “Europe would like Asia to support that effort, so that together on Nov 15, we can tell the whole world that the causes of this unprecedented crisis will never happen again.”

Abdullah said Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso will also forward East Asia’s views on tackling the crisis at the Washington summit called by President George W. Bush as volatility continues to wreck the financial industry and stock markets despite massive bailouts and capital injections.

Asked if he was optimistic of the Washington meeting, Abdullah said he was encouraged by Sarkozy’s resolve to come out with an agreement from Washington.

“We agree with a free market but the market forces are subject to speculation, so governments have the right to intervene though not heavily,” said the Prime Minister.

Abdullah said reports by rating agencies could influence investors and  businessmen.

On the possibility that the US may resist change to protect the supremacy of the greenback as the world’s leading trading currency, he said the US too shared the same concerns about the market speculation activity.

On Friday, ASEM for the first time issued a statement to address the current financial turmoil which it said was posing severe challenges to the financial stability and economic development of Asian and European countries.

The leaders said the International Monetary Fund must play a critical role upon request by countries which were badly affected by the crisis.

Abdullah said the strong ASEM stand marked a success for the two continents and also for the Asean Plus Three process which encompasses the 10-member Asean grouping and their three East Asian dialogue partners, China, Japan and South Korea.

“Asia and Europe are now standing together and this is a big strength forward. Europe is a big global economy while East Asia is a strong growth region,” Abdullah said.

ASEM is made up of 27 EU member countries, European Commission, 10 Asean member countries, Asean Secretariat, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Pakistan and Mongolia -Bernama.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

> Just what is ValueCap?


WHAT a difference five years can make - or not.

Back in early 2003, the US economy was on the brink of a double dip in economic growth. Mounting tension between US and Iraq and the protracted military standoff between both nations were threatening to derail world economies. To cushion the impact on Malaysia and to cap the downside of the ailing stock market, the Government unveiled a string of pump priming measures. One of them enveloped the creation of fund management company ValueCap Sdn Bhd. With its originally-intended kitty of RM10bil (instead, it started out with RM5bil capital), it was hoped that the fund would add some robustness to an otherwise languishing market. The key barometer was then hovering around 635 points.

Early this week, again, against the backdrop of an even more jittery equity market and unprecedented financial crisis, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced that Valuecap will get an injection of an additional RM5bil. Its mandate - to buy undervalued stocks, of which there are aplenty in a market that has year-to-date lost a stomach-churning 40% or RM430bil in value. The CI ended the week at 859.11 points having lost 5% in value over the week.

This was part of a wider package of economic stabilising measures, the details of which will be revealed not too long from now on Nov 4.

Shrouded in secrecy

Valuecap is jointly owned by Khazanah Nasional Bhd, Permodalan Nasional Bhd and Pensions Trust Fund Council (KWAP). Its key mandate - to undertake investments in equities listed on Bursa Malaysia.

Except for the launch of a wholly-owned fund management company i-VCAP earlier this year aimed to boost the market for exchange traded funds, the fund has resolutely and unwaveringly kept a low-key posture. Its key management led by chief executive officer Sharifatu Laila Syed Ali has also visibly stayed away from the spotlight.

Very little is known of the stocks in its portfolio universe unless one is diligent enough to pore through stacks of annual reports to detect its name in the list of substantial shareholders. Understandably then, that the call for greater transparency in ValueCap and its utilitisation of the funds was renewed and in fact became much more audible this week when it was announced that it would get an additional RM5bil fund to scoop up undervalued stocks. This more so as it is owned by two state-run funds that are relatively transparent in their respective investments.

The cry has become even more vociferous as it was announced that the additional funds of RM5 bil will come from the Employees Provident Fund which currently has over RM320 bil in its coffers.

Truth is, this is not the first time the EPF will play a role in ValueCap.

EPF’s role then and now

When the idea of Valuecap was first mooted by the Government in 2002, all key pools of capital in the system were considered. Obviously by virtue of its large pot of money, EPF was one of them and hence, it was initially perceived that it would play an equity role in the fund management company. As it turned out however, it opted to stay out and some say that decision was largely premised on the fact that ValueCap did not have a track record and as such, it was then deemed a risky venture.

In fact, when certain newspaper reports had speculated in late 2002 that EPF will be part of Valuecap, the fund had shot out a terse reply denying that it had appointed ValueCap to manage its investment fund and that it was involved in the KLSE to shore up the stock market. The EPF, in the statement, ensured that the investments were safe, not exposed to high risks and gave reasonable returns to its members for their retirement.

Instead, it is believed that the EPF provided a RM3bil loan to Khazanah and PNB, which by nature of them being state investment agencies, carried a government guarantee. KWAP had managed to tap its own fund for that purpose. These funds totalling some RM5bil was used to subscribe to a bond issued by ValueCap.

“It was clear then that the fund with a readily available or deployable liquidity was in fact the EPF. Khazanah at that point didn’t have the structure that it now has in place and similarly, PNB was constrained as it had beneficial owners in its unit trust holders. As such, both Khazanah and PNB didn’t have the same access to capital as EPF,” says an industry source.

“But EPF was not willing to take the risk by forking out capital into ValueCap then and so, it instead provided a loan to the two investment agencies,” adds the source. It is not altogether clear but it is believed that the loan has since been repaid.

Devil in the details

A close examination of the ValueCap’s balance sheet obtained from a Companies Commission of Malaysia (CCM) file search reveals that it has non-current liabilities of RM5.1bil, which probably represents the debt owing to the three parties. The funds were used to invest in securities.

Valuecap, incorporated in October 2002, has a paid up capital of RM50mil.

For the year ended 2007, the company made a net profit of RM1.102bil against a revenue of RM1.325bil. It has retained earnings of some RM2.408bil and had paid out dividends of RM50mil over that period.

The Fund’s size has blossomed from RM5.1bil to RM7.7bil as at end 2007.

Over the week, Second Finance Minister Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop had said that the EPF will make a profit from the loan it will provide to ValueCap.

Industry sources however say the nitty gritty has yet to be sorted out in that it is not finalised whether EPF will provide a loan or equity to ValueCap. “A few permutations are being considered. The details will all be announced soon,” says the source.

Just what is ValueCap?

Valuecap is generally regarded as a fund management company. It is debatable if that label is indeed accurate.

A fund management company invests the pooled funds of its clients but the capital and what it earns from the investments belong to the clients. Its earnings comes from the fee it charges its clients.

Valuecap however has three owners or three clients, which makes it more akin to a closed fund or perhaps even a hedge fund, remarks an observer. But the earnings Valuecap rakes in from investing the capital (in this instance, the capital is borrowed) belongs to it and those who own it, even while it continues to service the debt.

Very few doubt that ValueCap is a value proposition. With a deeper pocket and considering the pummelling the stock market has suffered year to date, a larger pool of funds will provide the company a wider net to bargain hunt. In fact, the 100 stocks on the index, as pointed out the KFH Research are trading at 9.9x earnings and have a dividend yield of 6.5%. Based on price-to-earnings valuation, the key barometer is trading at the lowest range of its 5-year average of 14.2x earnings.

Its impact on helping to cushion a sliding market however is expected to be muted considering the additional funds of RM5bil makes up about five or six days of total trading volume in the local bourse (based on average trading volume in the stock market over last two weeks).

The key question however is how sustainable is the Valuecap structure in the long run without its own permanent capital structure? Could it morph into something much larger than its original intent? - The Star.

My Journal hopes Anita Gabriel will be able to keep tabs on the audited accounts of this set-up and convey the information to the Malaysian public on a regular basis.I have earlier vehemently opposed the use of EPF Funds for ValueCap and so have the MTUC and the Opposition.

Read the full article with tables in today's Star newspaper.

> DAP: Don't approve Eurocopter deal without PAC nod and Pakatan lodges ACA report against Najib

The DAP has called on Parliament not to approve the RM2.3 billion Eurocopter deal if it is not cleared by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

This follows the party's earlier statement that the deal should be suspended pending the investigations which begins with a two-day hearing on Oct 29 and 30.

"If the PAC and Parliament disapprove of the Eurocopter deal but the government persists in going ahead with the procurement, then Parliament should refuse to approve a single ringgit  for the RM2.3 billon Eurocopters," its parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang said today.

He issued a press statement saying that the PAC should table its report on the purchase of the 12 Cougar EC725 helicopters by the end of November.

This is to allow MPs to study and decide whether to have a full debate of the PAC report before the end of the budget meeting on Dec 18, as the Standing Orders of Parliament requires a 14-day notice for filing such a motion.

The Ipoh Timur MP, while doubtful as to whether a two-day hearing would be sufficient, insisted that the PAC must acquire independent expert advice and speak to representatives from the seven parties which tendered bids to replace the RMAF's old Nuri helicopters.

Relying on the Defence Ministry and the Royal Malaysian Air Force alone would make "nonsense of an independent, professional parliamentary scrutiny," he said.

"It is not only MPs but the entire nation which is waiting for the outcome of the PAC scrutiny, as it is playing a very important role in the final decision whether the government should go through with the RM2.3 billion Eurocopter deal," he declared.

Calling it the "most important investigation in PAC history, as for the first time since Merdeka 51 years ago, a major government contract will hinge on the report," he said it should find out if "gold plating" - the act of adding unnecessary features to raise prices - had occurred instead of acquiring more lower-end choppers to offer better availability and service coverage.

Lim also asked for the probe to reveal which local company is the middleman and the provider for maintenance and training.

Meanwhile, the Pakatan Rakyat Youth wings yesterday lodged a report at the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) headquarters here against Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak for alleged involvement in the RM2.3 billion Eurocopter helicopter deal.

"We want them to open an investigation against Najib," said PKR Youth chief Shamsul Iskandar who led the group which included DAP Youth secretary Anthony Loke and Pas Youth secretary Ahmad Sabki Yusuf.

The three representatives said they submitted several documents to assist the ACA, including a research paper over a similar purchase for the military helicopters by Brazil but for a significantly reduced sum.

Malaysia is reported to have signed a letter of intent to acquire 12 Eurocopter EC727 Cougar helicopters for a sum of RM2.3 billion while Brazil paid US$1.2 billion for 50 units of the same model.

The PR Youth want the ACA to mount an investigation over the price discrepancy in two Eurocopter deals as well as to investigate a letter of intent regarding another complaint letter purportedly sent by one Datuk Zahar Hashim, the chairman of Mentari Services Sdn Bhd which is the local representative for a Russian helicopter company.

In his letter, Zahar, a retired airforce captain, had claimed that Eurocopter had been awarded the contract to replace the ageing Nuri fleet even though it was the most expensive bid among the companies which tendered for the contract.

According to Loke, they were the first group to lodge an official complaint against the DPM over this particular matter even though the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in Parliament had spoken about the issue recently.

"PAC is only a security filter with no investigative power. The most suitable body to undertake this investigation is the ACA," said Loke, who is also the MP for Rasah.

Shamsul added that the onus is now on ACA to take action.

"We told them to be proactive. There is no reason for the ACA not to open an investigation," he said.

Shamsul also called on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi to live up to his promise to implement his promised reforms, particularly in dealing with corruption, before he leaves office in March next year - The Malaysian Insider.

It is an insult to the PAC, the Parliament and the Malaysian public if this deal was to go through without proper approvals - My Journal.

> Bar Council's Statement

The Bar Council is appalled at the high-handed and unwarranted arrest and detention of K. Shanti and 11 others, including a 6-year old child, on 23 October 2008 for attempting to see the Prime Minister to seek the release of those detained under the ISA.

The efforts of these concerned citizens constitute a legitimate exercise of their rights under the law. We are perturbed that such an expression of sympathy and concern is being treated as a violation of the law. Further we have been informed that they were brought to court this morning and 10 of them were remanded for a further three days, for investigations for alleged offences under the Societies Act. 

We view this as a clear case of harassment and intimidation. We have been reliably informed by the detainees’ lawyers that they had always made themselves available for any investigations by the police.

We see no reason why any of these persons should be detained for investigations. Their continued detention is perceived as a form of punishment rather than any legitimate attempt by the police to investigate. 

The Bar Council calls for the immediate release of those who have been detained, and a stop to the continued harassment and persecution of persons expressing dissenting views. 

Ragunath Kesavan
Malaysian Bar

> Selangor MB to meet PM

Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim today said he will meet Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to discuss the development of the state due to the impact of the establishment of Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur.

He said the establishment of Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur had a good effect on Selangor but that at the same time it led to traffic congestion as many people lived in Selangor but worked in Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.

Abdul Khalid was speaking to reporters during the recess of the state assembly sitting here today.

"We want to work with the Federal Government to ensure the efficiency and the effectiveness of the transport system in order for the state to continue its development," he said.

Beside that, Abdul Khalid said the state government will discuss with the federal government on the management of rivers as both Selangor and Kuala Lumpur shared rivers like Sungai Gombak and Sungai Klang.

He said the state government also wanted to discuss the issue of foreign worker from the security aspect.

Abdul Khalid also said as the new state government it wanted to look into the use of the RM800 million allocated by the federal government to develop the Sepang district after 4,931 hectares of the district, now known as Putrajaya, was handed over to the federal government.

The state government wanted to know if the RM800 million allocation under the Eighth Malaysia Plan had been used fully or not or had been forwarded to the Ninth Malaysia Plan, he said.

Earlier, during the question and answer session, Abdul Khalid said the state government will honour the agreement with the federal government to transfer Putrajaya to the federal government.

Dr Shafie Abu Bakar (PAS-Bangi) in his supplementary question had asked if the state government would review the agreement as he felt that the annual payment of RM7.5 million by the federal government for giving up Putrajaya in perpetuity was small.

As such, Shafie suggested that Putrajaya only be "leased" to the federal government so that payment can be made according to prevailing prices - Bernama.

Friday, October 24, 2008

> Fernandes: Growth is the way forward

Despite the challenging global financial crisis, low-cost carrier AirAsia is confident of continuing to experience robust growth, bolstered by a sustainable business model, its chief executive officer Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes said.

"We think that we are in a strong position. We will continue to invest in our brand and increase demand through quality products while expanding routes," he told reporters after a media briefing on AirAsia's latest 5-Star Enhancement here today.

He however said nothing was guaranteed as it was not known what was around the corner.

According to Tony, AirAsia was ready to face this challenging period as he had earlier predicted the eventuality.

"All I can say is that we will maintain a consistent strategy and change our products. We are a low-cost carrier and will not pretend to be something else.

"But, we are a high-quality low-cost carrier," he said.

Tony said the way out of recession for AirAsia was growth.

He said some airlines would deal with the recession by contracting. "But I am not going to waste five years of hard work by throwing away the routes and brand development.

"It is going to be a long recession. I have been predicting this for two years and we are ready for it.

"Although it is not going to be easy, we have to maintain demand by having the lowest fares and good products," he stated.

Being the largest low cost carrier in Asia, AirAsia is able to compete with other full service airlines by maintaining its low fares and adding yet another sparkle to its already 5-star service, by enhancing its On-Time Guarantee.

The On-Time performance of flights refers to the departure of flights within 15 minutes of their scheduled departure times.

AirAsia is the only airline in the world that provides its customers with an innovative protection like the On-Time Guarantee. It is an innovative protection provided by the airline for customers against flight delays.

Beginning Nov 1, 2008, the AirAsia On-Time Guarantee cut waiting time from three to two hours. Customers affected by flight delays of more than two hours are eligible to receive an e-gift voucher.

Each e-gift voucher is worth RM200 and may be used to buy a seat on another AirAsia flight or redeemed for any AirAsia product or service.

The enhanced On-Time Guarantee is a benefit passed on to AirAsia customers as a result of the airline's improved performance for flight departures across its entire network.

In just a matter of three months since the AirAsia On-Time Guarantee was launched in June this year, the number of AirAsia flights delayed by an hour or more dropped from three percent in July and four in August to just two percent in September.

As a result, AirAsia has seen its On-Time performance for flight departures improving from 89 percent in July and 85 percent in August to 90 percent in September - Bernama

Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes has said it. The only way forward is for optimism and growth now when the world is going through hard times and a recession. Alan Greenspan has admitted a flawed ideology in his US financial policies for the present mess. Let us not further make matters worse by "talking ourselves" into a deeper crisis. The way forward will be for sustained Government intervention in the economy, a positive outlook - rather than gloom and doom talk, growth at all cost and 'business as usual'. We think Malaysia's model of growth and intervention would be a suitable model to follow for developing countries and even advanced economies - My Journal.

> EPF's cash injection rejected

Malaysia's largest labour union and opposition leaders on Thursday denounced government plans to inject 5 billion ringgit (S$2.1 billion) into the stock market, saying they fear public funds could be misused to bail out ailing, well-connected companies.

The government earlier this week said it would double the size of state agency ValueCap Sdn. Bhd. to 10 billion ringgit (S$4.2 billion) to invest in stocks regarded as undervalued because many fundamentally strong companies were trading at low prices.

It has said the national pension fund would provide a 5 billion ringgit loan to Valuecap.

But the Malaysian Trades Union Congress, which represent some 500,000 workers, said the Employees Provident Fund is the custodian of people's money and 'not the ATM for the government' to bail out state-linked firms.

'This is the hard-earned money of the workers, their retirement plan. How is this bailout plan going to benefit the workers?' it said in a statement.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said the additional money was merely 1 per cent of market equity and would have no impact on the bourse which has plunged by more than 37 per cent this year.

It 'serves no logical purpose other than to prop up some companies in the stock market,' he told reporters in Parliament.

Lim Kit Siang, head of the opposition Democratic Action Party, said Valuecap has operated in secrecy since it was set up in 2003 and that its accounts have not been audited.

'This are the people's money. In order to ensure that this is not a bailout...there should be a public scrutiny' of Valuecap's accounts, he said.

The union and opposition leaders said there was no guarantee that the pension fund would profit from the loan to Valuecap given the weak market conditions.

'We want proof that this 5 billion ringgit will not go down the drain,' the MTUC said.

The move to bolster the stock market was part of government measures to help improve sentiment and boost the economy amid the global financial downturn. The government has said it may have to cut its 5.4 per cent growth forecast for 2009 - ST / AP.

See my comments here and here - My Journal.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

> Pakatan's budget changes

Pakatan Rakyat today unveiled its “recommendations for the 2009 Malaysian Budget,” which include proposals to shelve a number of mega projects such as the undersea cable and high-speed broadband, as well as to auction off Approved Permits (APs) for cars to increase revenue and lower cost.

The 20-page document is meant to address a “pressing need for a meaningful exchange of ideas by lawmakers on both sides of the political divide,” said opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in a press conference at Parliament.

However, DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang insisted it was not an “alternative Budget” but “a plan to meet the crisis of confidence on the economic front.”

Asked why it was not being brought to the Dewan Rakyat, he explained that “various proposals have already been put forward by other PR MPs, and other major proposals will be raised in the Dewan Rakyat.”

It proposes that economic growth be revised to 3.4 per cent per annum, as projected by the Malaysian Institute for Economic Research, instead of the 5.4 per cent as tabled in the government’s Budget Bill and that the Budget, which will be the country’s 12th deficit Budget in succession, targets a 3 per cent deficit rather than 3.6 per cent.

“Under the Barisan Nasional’s Budget and given the anticipated loss in commodity revenue, the government’s projection of 3.6 per cent deficit would be virtually impossible to attain,” said Anwar, the PKR de facto leader, with a slideshow presentation behind him forecasting over 5 per cent deficit.

Pas secretary-general Datuk Kamaruddin Jaafar said the reduction in commodity revenue due to the fall in the prices of crude oil (from US$125 a barrel to US$75) and crude palm oil (RM3,000 a tonne to RM1,700) was a clear problem to “everyone except BN.”

PR’s projected revenue scaled down the BN’s RM176 billion projection by 11 per cent to RM157 billion but also said that measures could be implemented to reduce government operational expenditure by 15.5 per cent from RM154 billion to RM130 billion.

“The 20 per cent increase in expenditure... is a tell-tale sign of wastage and inefficiency,” Anwar said.

He insisted that RM10 billion could be saved by weeding out corruption alone and extra income could be generated by auctioning APs for imported cars.

The Permatang Pauh MP claimed that the 75,000 APs could fetch a market value of RM25,000 each, resulting in RM1.75 billion in revenue annually.

He added that mega projects such as the RM9 billion undersea cable-tracking project and RM15.2 billion high-speed broadband project “have got to be shelved.”

However, despite the PR proposal calling for these projects to be abandoned, it promised a new operational versus development ratio of expenditure from what it claimed was currently 74.9:25.1 under the BN to 71.6:28.4.

The RM51.7 billion — up 11.7 per cent from the BN’s RM46.3 billion — it proposes for development includes added expenditure on transportation, housing and education - The Malaysian Insider.

> Kit Siang wants CJ debate

The DAP wants Parliament to debate the appointment of former Umno member Tan Sri Zaki Azmi as Chief Justice.

Its parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang said that holding an open debate in the Dewan Rakyat now was the best available option to restore the “national and international confidence in the independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary.”

Lim, who is the MP for Ipoh Timur, has been consistently critical of the appointment, calling it “the most controversial appointment as head of judiciary in the nation’s 51 years”.

He pointed out that Zaki lacks experience as he was never a High Court judge. He also contends that Zaki’s close political and business ties with Umno may lead to biased rulings in his future judgements.

He highlighted Malaysia’s poor judicial system standing in a recent Asian survey conducted by Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risks Consultancy (Perc) last month. Malaysia ranked seventh, behind even the Philippines.

Lim also highlighted another local survey conducted by Transparency International Malaysia which drew a gloomier picture of the public’s confidence in the judiciary.

The survey found 91 per cent of lawyers polled believing that the judicial appointments and process in the higher courts had been unduly influenced by the federal government or those in authority.

As many as 96 per cent of lawyers interviewed also believed judicial appointments to be subject to influence; while 94 per cent thought that judges were susceptible to accepting bribes in return for “favourable judgments”.

The DAP advisor said he was personally “inclined” to give Zaki the benefit of the doubt for now and let him prove himself in the next five years through “bold and visionary leadership for judicial reform.”

However, Lim thinks that it would be in the country’s best interest now to challenge Zaki’s appointment. This, he noted in his press statement, can be done by invoking Article 127 of the Federal Constitution.

The substantive motion only needs the support of 55 MPs to be tabled - The Malaysian Insider.

> Government not to use EPF Funds!

The government's move to inject RM5 billion into Valuecap Sdn Bhd, the government investment agency, to buy undervalued stocks in the local bourse is a viable investment, Second Finance Minister Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop told the Dewan Rakyat today.

He said this was based on Valuecap's growth and its profit between 2003 and now. Valuecap's portfolio had grown from RM5 billion initially to RM8 billion now.

"Furthermore, there is a special panel in the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) that will provide thorough inputs in terms of risk management of funds.

"Hence, I'm confident this investment is a wise and viable one," he said when replying to a supplementary question from Datuk Zahrain Mohamed Hashim (PKR-Bayan Baru) during question time.

Zahrain had queried on the mechanism used by the government to convince EPF contributors that the investment in Valuecap was guaranteed of returns.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced on Monday the government would borrow RM5 billion from the EPF to double the size of Valuecap to RM10 billion.

Established in 2003, Valuecap is a fund management firm created to invest specifically in the Malaysian equity market.

It is jointly owned by Khazanah Nasional Bhd, the government's investment arm, Permodalan Nasional Bhd and Retirement Fund (Incorporated).

Nor Mohamed said one of the reasons for the setting up of Valuecap was not to rely on indicators given by outsiders as many Malaysian companies, despite having strong fundamentals, were often in a uncertainty state.

He said domestic investors sometimes got carried away by indicators given by outsiders, thus affecting the local equities market.

“When foreign investors enter the market, they will go in and when the foreigners leave, they will also leave. The market players who make the most money are the foreigners,” he said.

Replying to Dr Puad Zakarshi (BN-Batu Pahat) on the criteria used by the EPF Investment Panel to evaluate a company, Nor Mohamed said the panel would benchmark a company’s capacity to repay loans, its project’s growth potential and the firm’s credible management to ensure the investment was safe and profitable.

“This clearly shows the EPF will approve loans or invest in only strong companies and not in weak ones,” he said.

Nor Mohamed said EPF investments were based on Strategic Asset Allocation Plan under which the quantum of investments for an asset class and regulations would be determined every year befitting the investment risk level.

The scope of investments include infrastructure projects such as telecommunications, energy, water and highways, he said.

The minister said EPF investments in equities was only 20%, which accounted for RM30 billion, while the remaining 80% are in financial market instruments, government securities, loans and in infrastructure projects.

They include telecommunications, energy, water, highways, transport and real estate," he added – The Malaysian Insider / Bernama.

The Minister of Finance is not to direct the EPF Investment Panel to lend or not to lend money to Valuecap for investment in the stock market. That decision to lend 5 billion to Valuecap should be left entirely to the EPF Investment Panel to make. Or if they wish to invest directly in the market themselves is for them to make.The Finance Minister could lend Government funds to Valuecap but not the EPF savings for Valuecap to make the money in the stock market. This is a very subtle point and it needs careful thought. My Journal strongly protests the directive and use of EPF Funds by the Minister of Finance.