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

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

> Election Commission must be autonomous

Election Commission (EC) chairman Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman said the country's election system need to be reviewed to give it autonomous power and total control over the election process, the media included.

Speaking on his last day in office after 25 years service, the retiring EC chairman said a review was necessary to stop others from making accusations against the commission.

"EC has to defend itself against accusations that it is toothless. How can we act when the rules do not allow us? The rules are there but our action cannot satisfy everyone," he told reporters at the ground breaking ceremony for the site of the new EC headquarters in Presint 2 here.

The new EC building costing RM70-80 million in the shape of a ballot box is scheduled for completion in two years.

Abdul Rashid, 66, will be replaced by Home Ministry secretary-general Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof effective tomorrow.

His service was extended by another year after Dewan Rakyat passed the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2007 to extend the retirement age for EC members from 65 to 66 years.

Abdul Rashid who had handled seven general elections said EC should be in control during the campaign period telling people what to do and what not to do, and not other authorities.

"EC should be in the position to control the total network of media during elections. It should be able to tell the media their limit and role they can play during elections."

He proposed that a body be created to review the needs of EC and the country's elections laws, although it may take two, three or ten years.

However, it was up to the government whether to accept the concept or not.

"If the government accepts the concept, then it must make appointments but if it wants to wait, then I cannot comment.

"I don't know whether the situation warrants it or not. I am just speaking as a former chairman based on his experience."

Abdul Rashid said he had forwarded the proposal to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and offered himself to be the adviser should the body be created.

He said other countries had similar setups during elections where the EC had full control over the election process, not ministries or departments.

"It existed in other developing countries. I feel we have to follow their foot steps as it is the strengthening of democratic practices."

Abdul Rashid also said he was considering taking legal action against several opposition party members for making personal attacks against him.

He declined to reveal their names but said he had adequate information and proof for his lawyer to act.

"I did not want to sue these people earlier because I did not want to drag the EC into it. Now that I have retired and a free person, I am considering a suit against those who had said so many untruthful and bad things against me," he said - Bernama.

> 14 Judicial Commissioners sworn in

Fourteen new judicial commissioners took their oath of office before Chief Justice Tan Sri Zaki Azmi at the Palace of Justice today.

Eight of them are judicial staff, namely Industrial Court president Datuk Umi Kalthum Abdul Majid, 51, Industrial Court chairman Datin Yeoh Wee Siam, 55, chief registrar of the Federal Court Datuk Halijah Abbas, 51, Appeal Court registrar Datin Zabariah Mohd Yusof, 49, registrar of the High Court of Malaya Tarmizi Abd. Rahman, 52, registrar of the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak Rhodzariah Bujang, 47, and Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu Sessions Court judges Akhtar Tahir, 49, and Ravinthran N. Paramaguru, 46.

Three are senior officers of the Attorney-General's Chambers — Solicitor-General Datuk Zaleha Yusof, parliamentary draftsman Datuk Nor Bee Ariffin, 51, and Commissioner of Law Revision and Law Reform Datuk Mary Lim Thiam Suan, 51.

The others are director-general of the Legal Aid Bureau Dr Hassan Ab. Rahman, 54, and Kamardin Hashim, 53, and Yaacob Md Sam, 50, both chairmen of the Advisory Board in the Prime Minister's Department.

The appointments take effect on Jan 5.

Present were Court of Appeal President Tan Sri Alauddin Mohd Sheriff, Chief Judge of Malaya Datuk Ariffin Zakaria and Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri Richard Malanjum.

Zaki, in his speech, reminded them to mind their conduct as judges and to be careful in their interaction with society.

"As a judge, you are entrusted with the highest responsibility and are expected to be thoroughly honest. You are expected to be whiter than white. Every individual, regardless of class, colour or creed, must be given the fairest treatment. Every party to every case heard by you will expect to leave your court feeling that his case has been properly considered.

"Be careful with whom you associate. You may continue with your friends but if you suspect that anyone of them is taking advantage of your position, you must be open with them. There are many who will try to take advantage of their association with you," he said.

Zaki said that in line with the Judges Code of Ethics and the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, which is pending in Parliament, he and the Appeal Court president and chief judges would not hesitate to take stern action against dishonest judges.

"Your future appointment as judges and how soon that would be will depend on how good you are. We will not hesitate in delaying, or even not confirming you to the position of judges if you are not up to standard," he said - Bernama.

> Opposition plans acid test for MACC

PKR is considering lodging a report with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) when it is gazetted next year on alleged corruption by one of the nation’s top police officers.

PKR Youth chief Shamsul Iskandar Mohd Akin (below) told an anti-ISA rally last night that he had received incriminating documents on alleged corruption by this senior police officer.

"PKR Youth is presently studying the documents with us. At the same time, we would like to test the effectiveness of the newly-legislated Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

"If we find a strong case against the senior police officer and also to test the effectiveness of the new MACC, we may decide to lodge a report with the commission after it is gazetted next year.

"This (report against the senior police officer) would be the first ever report to the new commission," he told the rally.

Shamsul, however, did not name this top police official.

The PKR Youth chief also questioned the government's motive in forming various commissions including the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) and the MACC.

'No independence' claim

He said although the government had formed the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) some years aback, until today it was seen as a ‘toothless tiger’ despite its condemnation of the use of the ISA by the government.

"Hence, we in PKR would also question the effectiveness of both the JAC and MACC as the commissions’ members would be appointed only on the recommendation of the prime minister.

"There is no independence per se in the functionality of the two commissions. It is just a cosmetic exercise," he said.

Both the JAC and MACC were tabled by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in Parliament two weeks ago.

The MACC bill was passed by Parliament on Dec 16 while the JAC bill was passed the next day on Dec 17.

The passage of both bills went through despite strong concerns from lawmakers over the constitutionality and independence of the two commissions - Malaysiakini.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

> A LCCT for all times

If things go according to plan — Sime Darby and AirAsia's, that is — a new low-cost carrier terminal (LCCT) will soon be constructed in Labu, Negri Sembilan.

Although it seems only yesterday that the new LCCT in Sepang was launched, it appears the facility and an extension being built there won't suffice to cater for AirAsia's rapid expansion.

Launched towards the end of March 2006, the original LCCT — which could handle 10 million passengers annually (15 million, if expanded) — is already close to bursting at its seams.

The question that the Cabinet now has to deliberate is whether to proceed to build KLIA-East@Labu, which sits on the border of Selangor and Negri Sembilan, or to go with the one planned by Malaysia Airports Holdings.

The latter option by the listed government-linked airport operator will also see a bigger, better LCCT — but in Sepang, and to be ready only some time in 2014, according to press reports.

The option proffered by Sime will be built on land owned by Sime and constructed using its own funds. Perhaps more to AirAsia's point, the LCCT is to be delivered in 2011 — a crucial difference to the airline, given it is already flying some 18 million passengers annually, and will be filling even more seats now that its long-range sister unit AirAsia X has been adding new routes in quick succession. The latest is the popular KL-London route, which starts in March.

Although details are still sketchy, Sime has estimated that — excluding land cost — it would take some RM1.6 billion to build KLIA- East@Labu. It is prepared to do it as soon as possible because building material costs have fallen dramatically. Upon completion, the plan is to transfer the operations to AirAsia, the carrier possibly leasing the facilities.

Sime is interested in the LCCT project mainly because it would tie in nicely with the conglomerate's own ambitious multi-billion-ringgit development plan for the Negri Sembilan Vision Valley — a township centre of sorts which it intends to develop with a focus on entertainment, education, technology, recreation and sports. A successful LCCT facility that could support some 30 million passengers annually would undoubtedly be a handy anchor for Vision Valley and also boost jobs and infrastructure development in the sleepy state.

On its part, AirAsia would revel in running its own airport. Decision making could be expedited, and it would likely extract more revenue from the outlets in the facility. Moreover, it maintains that operating the airport could also result in a lower levy for users.

In truth, AirAsia's passenger numbers had lent respectability to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) Sepang hub numbers, without which KLIA would have had little hope of competing with Bangkok or Changi in the regional aviation stakes.

The contrast between the two airports — KLIA's lack of passenger traffic and underusage and the LCCT's bustle, noise and cramped conditions — is not lost on travellers who have experienced both facilities. Although costing RM9 billion and launched in June 1998 with a planned capacity of 25 million annually and the ability to be upgraded to cater to 100 million, KLIA's passenger growth has been far more sedate because of its lack of regional and global connections compared to Bangkok and Singapore.

Whether AirAsia's increasing passenger volume will boost numbers through KLIA in the future — and as well as its ambitions of being the regional aviation hub of choice — remains to be seen.

Indeed, what a new LCCT in Labu would do to KLIA's previously stated aviation ambitions remain unclear. However, those looking for positives point to KLIA-East being located slightly closer to KL. Constructing a 7km express rail link to connect it to the KLIA would effectively make it an extension of KLIA, its backers maintain.

Labu is also feasible in that it proposes the use of private funds and, perhaps more importantly, will channel commercial activities to other states rather than concentrating the bulk of it in Selangor and the already overdeveloped Klang Valley. Whichever site is chosen, one can only hope it will result in an LCCT that is comfortable and efficient — and certainly one that will last for the long term - Business Times Singapore.

> Mammoth Anti-ISA rally in March

Anti-ISA activists seek to step up the pressure on the government to repeal the draconian Internal Security Act with a planned mammoth protest in March.

The mass rally, jointly organised by the Anti-ISA Movement (GMI) - a coalition of non-governmental organisations - and the opposition Pakatan Rakyat, is part of an anti-ISA campaign against the tough security law and to free the remaining 46 still under detention.

As a prelude to the March mammoth rally, organisers will tonight hold a gathering at the Bandar Baru Bangi stadium.

"Tonight’s event is to create more public awareness and to work towards abolishing the Act," said one of the organisers, PAS Youth deputy chief Nasrudin Hasan.

He expects up to 100,000 people to attend the March event, which he said would be similar to the massive Bersih rally last year in calling for free and fair elections.

Organisers consider tonight's rally as a minor victory given that a similar gathering last month was thwarted by the authorities resulting in nine being arrested.

On Nov 23, the police dispersed an anti-ISA crowd at the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council field in Pandan Indah and among those arrested was PAS vice-president Mohamad Sabu and Youth chief Salahuddin Ayub.

Anwar, Hadi to speak

Federal Territory PAS Youth chief Kamaruzaman Mohamad said the organisers have managed to secure a police permit for tonight's event.

"Police gave a permit for the gathering with the condition that the gathering be held in the stadium," said Kamaruzaman.

The two-hour event is scheduled to kick off at 9pm.

Kamaruzaman, who is also the location coordinator for the event, said the application for the event was initially rejected by the authorities.

However following an appeal, the police gave the green light to the rally last week.

Pakatan Rakyat leaders including PKR advisor Anwar Ibrahim and PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang are expected to address the crowd.

An estimated 46 people are still being incarcerated under the ISA, which allows detention without trial, at the Kamunting camp in Taiping. Four of them had been held for six years.

Among those detained are five Hindu Action Front leaders (Hindraf) and 29 alleged terrorists as well as 10 alleged document forgers. 

Earlier this month, 17 ISA detainees were released including seven former Jemaah Islamiah members and three Darul Islam members.

A representative from an ISA detainee's family, Norlaila Othman, as well as student leaders are also expected to speak at the gathering - Malaysiakini.

Monday, December 29, 2008

> Get Hudud out of the way for a flourishing Pakatan

With Pas president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang pointing out that hudud law has been passed in Kelantan and Terengganu but never enforced, the roiling debate on the set of punitive Islamic laws has reached a crescendo, with no clear resolution.

Common wisdom says that Pas and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) need to put a fullstop to this before the Kuala Terengganu by-election but Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is currently overseas and unable to make a clear stand on this.

But is hudud, which prescribes amputation, stoning and whipping as punishment for criminal offences, really the elephant in PR’s room?

Only Barisan Nasional (BN) now seems to believe so, with obvious political mileage to be gained from putting a wedge between the Islamist party and its more liberal-minded partners.

Pas in fact, does not seem to hold that hudud is a priority for the party even if PR comes into power at federal level.

In an exclusive interview with The Malaysian Insider, Pas research chief Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad said that universal principles such as justice and good governance “are our shared objectives and visions in Pakatan Rakyat.”

“While hudud is important, right now the people are not ready. The focus is on justice and good governance first and then we will revisit this subject some years down the road,” he stated.

Even Pas’s own religious scholars chief Datuk Mohamed Daud Iraqi told Utusan Malaysia that hudud is not a priority but peace and equality were and hudud could only be implemented once all parties understand and accept it.

Does this mean that hudud is simply a ticking timebomb for PR?

Dzulkefly dismisses this with a clinical and pragmatic assessment that may not go down well with party ultras.

“The question of Pas taking the Federal Government is almost academic and hypothetical, given our demographic make-up,” he said referring to the 60:40 Muslim to non-Muslim ratio.

Instead, he said that Pas’s position as the so-called champion of Islam was a political burden.

“Pas must cease to be the champion of hudud, while similarly not be burdened to sustain the backlash, every time the emotive subject is brought to the fore by its political nemesis. It must be shouldered by all Muslims from all divides. Pas should remain focused and consistent to champion more major issues of the nation together with its coalition partners in PR,” he said.

The Kuala Selangor MP believes that Pas simply needs to be more savvy in communicating this message.

“For example, the question asked was whether PR would implement hudud when they take over the Federal Government. Husam could have answered that it is for PR’s top leadership to decide, and his opinion is immaterial to the decision,” he said of vice president Datuk Husam Musa’s initial statement which reignited the hudud debate.

Hadi's comparison of hudud to “surgery” is one such statement that shows this political savvy, likening hudud to a last resort mechanism, an emergency ordinance.

Coincidentally, Professor Abdul Aziz Bari, the Islamic law expert who was also a panellist at the forum on political transformation in Malaysia where Husam had made the statement, told The Malaysian Insider that in fact, there are other laws which are of more concern than hudud.

“By comparison, I think the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 and the Firearm Increased Penalty Act 1974, which contain mandatory death sentences are much, much worse that hudud.

“Under the Internal Security Act, you may indeed be put in jail just by suspicion and association. Under this law you are guilty until otherwise is proven,” he said.

Abdul Aziz believes that the current debate on hudud could in fact turn out to be beneficial for Pas if they played their cards right.

Referring to scholars chief Mohamed Daud’s comments in Utusan Malaysia, he said that it is actually in line with Islamic principles.

“As far as I know Islam is more about justice and appropriateness and not hudud at all cost. So it looks like Pas is turning the table on Khairy Jamaluddin and Umno,” he said of the Umno Youth deputy chief who was the other speaker at the forum.

Umno has been playing the hudud card since Husam made the statement and there is clearly hope that it will weaken the opposition machinery in Kuala Terengganu.

But Dzulkefly is quick to point out that if indeed hudud is PR’s Achilles Heel, then Ketuanan Melayu or Malay Supremacy is BN’s - The Malaysian Insider.

Let's get hudud out of the way. There will be a flourishing Pakatan with so many urgent matters to attend to - My Journal.
 

Sunday, December 28, 2008

> Hadi confident Chinese will vote PAS


Abdul Hadi Awang is confident that Chinese voters will swing behind the party in next month’s Kuala Terengganu by-election as they had previously benefitted from four years of PAS rule.

"When I was menteri besar (of Terengganu), we remove the assessment rates for property owners. However, when Umno came back to power, it brought back the assessment rates," said the PAS president.

"From feedback that we got, the Chinese voters do not like this and we hope this will translate into votes for PAS in the by-election," he told reporters after launching the ‘Jom sertai PAS’ (Let's join PAS) campaign at Dataran Shah Alam this afternoon.

Also present at the event was Selangor executive councillor Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud and PAS vice-president Ahmad Awang.

Hadi also pointed out that Umno founder Onn Jaafar had contested in Kuala Terengganu after he left the ruling party.

"Do you know Onn Jaafar (left) won in Kuala Terengganu as an opposition candidate? He did not get the support from Umno and he did not contest in Johor (his home state).

"Nevertheless, the people of Kuala Terengganu elected him to represent them in Parliament. This time around, we are confident that voters in Kuala Terengganu would support us," Hadi said.

To a question on what changes PAS would it bring to the people of Kuala Terengganu if it was elected, Hadi acknowledged that the party’s resources were limited as it no longer rule Terengganu.

"But we hope the voters would send a clear message - that they reject Barisan Nasional and Umno," he said.

Yet to make final decision on candidate

The PAS president however would not budge when pressed on who the party candidate would be for the by-election.

Asked whether popular Batu Burok state assemblyperson Dr Syed Azman Syed Ahmad Nawawi would be picked, Hadi told journalists to wait until Jan 1.

"I have given my word that I would make the announcement on Jan 1 and I would not go back on my word. I will announce my decision then and all of you will have to wait for that."

Hadi however revealed that he has yet to make the final decision on the matter.

"Party members have left it up to me," the PAS president said.

To questions on whether the "hudud issue" would hamper PAS election campaign, Hadi said Malaysians had misunderstood the issue.

"It is true Kelantan had tried to enact hudud in the 1990s and when I was (Terengganu) menteri besar, we tried to implement hudud.

"However, this could not be implemented because of the constitutional issue. Furthermore, hudud law is only applicable to Muslims, and non-Muslims are not subjected to hudud if they do not want to.

"There is a misconception that it is only PAS which wanted to implement hudud as this is the aspirations of all Muslims. However, it cannot be implemented if the people are still poor and unemployment is still around," he said.

Hadi added that unless those issues are resolved, the Islamic criminal code, which imposed harsh punishment for theft and other immoral activities, could not be implemented.

According to Hadi, PAS wants a just government which provide employment to the people as well as to root out poverty.

Manikavasagam should not betray his voters

Earlier in his speech, Hadi said the party was going stronger by the day.

"Never would I dream that there are 1,000 people joining PAS every month since the March 8 general elections.

“Similarly, the Kelab Penyokong PAS (PAS Supporters Club) has a membership of thousands of non-Muslims who support our vision and mission. Never would I dream this would happen to a party which was once nearly banned by the government," the PAS president said.

He said individuals such as Abu Zahar Hashim, the former Petaling Jaya Umno division leader, had decided to join PAS because he now has an appreciation for the struggles of the Islamic party.

On the issue of S Manikavasagam's threat of leaving PKR, Hadi said the Kapar parliamentarian would be betraying those who voted for the party if he made good his threat.

“It would not be right for him to leave the party as he contested on the PKR ticket," he said.

Yesterday, Umno and Barisan Nasional candidate Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh said he too was confident of getting the Chinese support in the crucial Jan 17 by-election - Malaysiakini.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

> Najib's perception pitfalls

He may be months away from occupying the top job in Malaysia but Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is already having to answer questions about his four brothers — and their possible influence in his administration.

The cynics and the Opposition believe that his siblings will benefit from Najib’s ascension to power, drawing a bulls-eye on the back of CIMB’s Datuk Nazir Razak, one of the country’s top bankers.

In an interview with The Edge, Najib confronted this issue. He noted that Nazir joined CIMB well before he became the Deputy Prime Minister and had done well, judging by how the market viewed him.

“And yesterday, I read that he received the recognition of being the second best banker in Asia. So I think it speaks volumes for his performance in the bank… there’s no conflict of interest and most of the dealings of CIMB are with the Central Bank.

“So the Central Bank decides on a lot of matters, '' he said. Najib did not envisage a conflict of interest situation with his other brothers — Nizam, Nazim and Johari, pointing out, that “they’ve been quite scrupulous actually in terms of not wanting to put me in any embarrassing situation of potential conflict.”

But perception is everything in Malaysia and as Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi found out, the involvement of family members in business can become a political liability.

As the pain of the 1998 financial crisis hit home and the political fallout over the sacking of Anwar Ibrahim became more serious, the involvement of Dr Mahathir’s children in business was put under the microscope by his foes.

Charges of cronyism and nepotism were tossed at him and it became one of the main platforms of attack which the Opposition used in the 1999 General Election. The heat persuaded Datuk Mokhzani Mahathir to sell off some business interests and take a lower profile.

Ironically, Dr Mahathir used this tactic successfully against Abdullah, accusing him of favouring his son, Kamaluddin and his son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin. The potency and source of the attack made it necessary for Abdullah to publicly defend his son and Khairy.

In The Edge interview, Najib was asked whether he was worried of attracting the perception that Dr Mahathir and Abdullah had because of the involvement of their sons and son-in-law in business. And how he would tackle such a perception?

He replied: “I have to make sure that none of my siblings come into the path of potential conflict of interest, and that they are where they are because they deserve to be there. In any case, none of them are in government. One is a lawyer, one is an architect, one is in semi-retirement and there’s one in CIMB.

“So I don’t see any problem with that and they were where they are now before I came to the job.”

Solid answer, now he just has to manage the perception - The Malaysian Insider.

> Gobalakrishan: I know why I was kicked out

There are two key reasons why Peninsula-based parliamentarian N Gobalakrishnan was banned from entering Sarawak on Wednesday.

According to the Kedah MP, he was kicked out of the state because the opposition is increasingly becoming a threat to the Sarawak government and for his speech in Parliament attacking long-time Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud.

Having visited Sarawak many times, Gobalakrishnan said did not face any problems with the state immigration until two days ago. The authorities however did not give any reason for the ban.

Gobalakrishnan said his most recent visit to the state was last week when he was in Lubok Antu, south of Kuching, to help the locals in their Christmas preparation.

“Why is the ban imposed on me now? This is definitely political,” said Gobalakrishnan. “In the last few months, I have visited several longhouses and I have garnered support from the locals, especially from the Dayak people.”

In addition, he said the state government had invited him to attend the Gawai Day celebrations in June.

“Why the sudden U-turn?” he asked.

He vows to challenge ban in court

Gobalakrisnan vowed he would not to let the matter rest.

He intends to challenge the ban in the Kuching High Court. According to him, the state authorities have violated the Immigration Act.

“They had used article 66 (1) where the state chief minister has the right to deny entry to anybody. But under the article 66 (1)(c), any individual from a body formed under the federal constitution should not be denied entry. The Dewan Rakyat falls under the federal constitution,” he argued. 

On Wednesday afternoon, the first-time MP was refused entry into Sarawak by immigration officers at the Kuching International Airport.

Gobalakrishnan was there to attend a PKR seminar outside Kuching and visit his Iban adoptive parents in Kapit, a town in central Sarawak, for Christmas.

In recent weeks, PKR has beefed up its campaign to dislodge long-time chief minister Abdul Taib from power after 27 years. 

Party leader Anwar Ibrahim has also called on opposition parliamentarians to visit the state on a regular basis to touch base with voters ahead of a state election which must be held in two years.

Taib has however dismissed the possibility of Sarawak falling into the hands of the Anwar-led opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat. 

Punished for criticising Taib

Gobalakrishnan also believed that the entry ban against him was because he questioned the Sarawak strongman in Parliament during the debate on the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) bill last week.

At the debate, MP for Bandar Kuching Chong Chien Jeng had alleged that Taib had awarded multi-million ringgit road construction contracts to family-owned company CMS Group - whose chairman was his own son, Sulaiman Abdul Rahman Taib, now deputy tourism minister.

The main shareholder of the company also include another of Taib’s son, Abu Bakar Taib, who is the deputy chairperson and Taib’s wife, who controls a major stake in the company.

Chong took the Anti-Corruption Agency to task for failing to investigate the matter as the numerous multi-million ringgit construction contracts were awarded to the company by the state government without open tenders.

Gobalakrishnan then stood up and backed Chong in his assertion. 

The Kedah MP said he would bring up his entry ban in Parliament when sittings resume in February - Malaysiakini.
 

Friday, December 26, 2008

> Anwar, East Malaysia liaison chairman

While his allies argue over hudud laws and fret over the wobbling economy in their five states, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has taken over as liaison chairman for both Sabah and Sarawak in Parti Keadilan Rakyat's (PKR) efforts widen its base and capture the Borneo states.

The opposition leader, who made a triumphant parliamentary comeback in August, is initially eyeing Sarawak in the next state elections due by 2011 as chief minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud faces increased opposition to his 27 years in power.

Sabah is a different proposition as the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition is dominant with 57 of the 60 seats in the state assembly.

But consumed with garnering more support from both states, Anwar has been conspicuously silent about the controversy over implementing Islamic criminal Hudud laws that flared up again this week between Pas and DAP, and Pakatan Rakyat state governments’ efforts to mitigate the fallout from a growing global recession.

“Some things are out of his hand. Anwar will quietly handle Pas and DAP behind the scenes but the economy will take some work,” a Pakatan Rakyat source told The Malaysian Insider, adding the electoral pact had made suggestions in the budget debate.

The PKR supreme council met late Monday night but party president Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who is Anwar’s wife, only announcement was that Anwar has taken over as liaison chairman for Sabah and Sarawak, citing the appointment as proof of the party's focus to struggle for the people from Perlis to Sarawak.

“The agenda to bring change in Sabah and Sarawak needs the support from all levels of society. Sarawak will have its state elections soon and Datuk Seri Anwar’s appointment as state liaison chairman for both states justify our concern for problems there and is significant in Pakatan Rakyat’s power transition to Putrajaya,” she said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

The Pakatan Rakyat electoral pact, which groups PKR, Pas and DAP, has 81 out of the 222 seats in the federal parliament. BN has 137 seats while the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP), which pulled out of BN in September, has two seats and one to Independent Datuk Ibrahim Ali. The Kuala Terengganu seat is vacant with the by-election on Jan 17.

PKR’s focus for the Borneo states has been apparent when Anwar predicted he could form capture Putrajaya by Malaysia Day with help from 30 federal lawmakers after Pakatan Rakyat made a historic upset in the March 8 General Elections where BN lost its customary two-thirds parliamentary majority and four more states to the opposition.

Since then, only SAPP has pulled out of the 14-member BN coalition but has chosen to remain independent in Parliament although its president Datuk Yong Teck Lee is close to the sacked deputy prime minister, who has yet to fulfil his prediction to unseat BN from power.

Anwar, in a posting at his weblog today, called the changes routine and said the state leadership in the party are merely coordinators in an effort to dispel notions of consolidating power for himself as “experienced leaders will be act as advisors at the national level while the new leadership will get exposure apart from introducing new approaches to attract new members”.

“Personally, I am not inclined to coordinate activities in Sabah and Sarawak. In fact, even Wilayah Persekutuan asked me to help but I feel that Tan Sri Khalid as Selangor Menteri Besar, is better there,” Anwar said, adding the appointments will be reviewed regularly.

He also said his offer to help both PKR state liaison committees has been announced before and he hoped to get support from all quarters in both states.

Apart from Anwar heading both Sabah and Sarawak, and Khalid leading Selangor and Wilayah Persekutuan, the other state leaders are Datuk Fauzi Abdul Rahman (Pahang), Datuk Zahrain Mohamed Hashim (Penang), Datuk Kamarul Baharin Abbas (Negri Sembilan), Ahmad Kassim (Kedah), Abdul Aziz Abdul Kadir (Kelantan), Johari Shafie (Perlis), Khalid Jaafar (Malacca), Dr Zaliha Mustaffa (Johor), Osman Abdul Rahman (Perak) and Wan Rahim Wan Hamzah (Terengganu) - The Malaysian Insider.

> PM wants to resolve religious disputes

Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi being greeted by (from left) Bishop Ng Moon Hing, Rev Thomas Varkey,  Sri Archbishop Murphy Pakiam shaking hands with PM, Rev Thomas Philips and Rev Eu Hon Seng (behind PM) during the Christmas Day Tea Reception at Subang Jaya this afternoon - theSunpic.


Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi wants to meet religious leaders to formulate a mechanism that can effectively resolve religious disputes.

"Religious leaders in the country should also emphasise on religious tolerance to ensure a peaceful life to the people," he said in his address at a Christmas tea reception tea party hosted by the Christian Federation of Malaysia in Wisma Eagles in Subang Jaya today.

"If all of us love Malaysia, there will be something in common to all of us. If we love peace and value harmony, (we need to) ensure that whatever we say and do, we emphasise the importance of religious tolerance and freedom of worship in Malaysia. Everyone must make every effort to ensure that there is peace for the country to progress for us to share the prosperity," he added.

Abdullah said he would like to see equitable distribution of quality opportunities to all Malaysians because it was only through the strategy of fairness that Malaysians "can live in peace to savour the country's success".

Towards this end, Abdullah said he would like like to meet all religious leaders again to come out with some ways or mechanisms that can be developed to ensure that "when problems or differences arise, there are ways to resolve disputes".

"This mechanism is important and I know all of us have feelings on many things. The best for us to do now is to discuss ways to address all these feelings ... feelings of unhappiness and marginalisation which Malaysians should not be feeling.

"We must ensure that all Malaysians have equal share and access to all the good the country can offer. Thank God that we are committed together and if we have one common objective, I am sure that we can succeed in overcoming all the differences," he said.

Abdullah said the people must also teach themselves to live in peace and vow to God that they must do whatever to ensure that all Malaysians of different religions and ethnic backgrounds live in peace together.

"It is our duty to ensure that our children are raised without any sense of prejudice or ill feelings for one another. The differences in religions beliefs and faiths should not be a hindrance to develop friendship,," he added - theSun.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

> Merry Christmas !


Wishing all my Readers and Friends, a very Merry Christmas.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

> Why no constitutional amendments?

Just about everybody has been arguing that constitutional amendments are essential for Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's 'reform' bills.

Yet both the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and Judicial Appointment Commission (JAC) will now become laws without the accompanying changes to the constitution.

Why?

The answer is simple - the prime minister does not have the numbers in Parliament to push through the much-needed constitutional amendments. 

To change the constitution, Abdullah needs the support of two-thirds of the Parliament, or 148 of a total 222 MPs.

The Barisan Nasional is 10 short of that magic figure, making it necessary for the first time in the ruling coalition’s history to seek backing from the opposition.

Yes, it is likely that the opposition will vote for the constitutional amendments.

But 'likely' is not good enough for the prime minister. What Abdullah feared most is that Pakatan Rakyat would turn the exercise into a vote of no- confidence on his leadership.

Abdullah would hate to end his short stint on that note and be remembered as the leader who was unable to command the necessary numbers for a constitutional amendment. 

For that, he would not risk making amendments to the constitution to support his two bills.

Both laws 'ultra vires' of constitution

The arguments for constitutional amendments are compelling.

Sabah Justices of the Peace Council has argued strongly for constitutional amendments, or the bills could be deemed ultra vires to the constitution.

Take the JAC bill.

According to the federal constitution, a person is appointed a judge by the Agong, who acts on the advice of the prime minister and after consulting the Conference of Rulers.

Before tendering such advice, the prime minister is required to consult the head of the respective courts - either the chief judge of Malaya, the chief judge of Sabah and Sarawak or the chief justice.

The main task of JAC - which comprises a nine-member panel of top judges and eminent individuals - is to make recommendations to the PM on the candidates to be appointed as judges.

Backers of the law may argue that JAC is nevertheless chaired by the chief justice and other top judicial members.

Thus by extension, the PM is meeting his constitutional duties by consulting the "head of the respective courts" given that they are all members of JAC.

This is a disingenuous argument as one could easily point out that consulting a minister is very different from consulting the cabinet.

AG has full control over all prosecutions

The same is true with MACC, where the constitution stipulates that the attorney-general has legal control over all prosecutions.

As all prosecutions must be approved by the AG - and these include complaints of corruption - MACC will have a hard time getting the green light from the government's top legal officer.

In order to give MACC a veneer of independence without having to change the constitution, the bill states that the AG is “delegating” all powers administratively to the commission.

Understandably, this is not good enough to satisfy the bill’s critics.

Abdullah sought to put a positive spin on the issue hours after the two bills were passed by Parliament. 

"We have managed to take an approach to pass the bills without having to amend the federal constitution. This is our strength and the BN MPs have given their full support," he said.

Wrong.

It was BN’s weakness that Abdullah had to junk the idea of changing the constitution. Because of our risk-averse PM, Malaysians are now left with two imperfect laws - Malaysiakini.

> Application filed to force an appeal

Lawyer Karpal Singh, acting on behalf of Altantuya Shaariibuu's family, today filed an application at the Shah Alam High Court to compel the prosecution to appeal against the acquittal of political analyst Abdul Razak Baginda.

Karpal also filed another application for an extension of time to allow the prosecution to file the appeal.

Karpal's applications today followed the decision not to appeal against the acquittal of Abdul Razak at the end of the prosecution case.

Shah Alam High Court judge Mohd Zaki Md Yasin acquitted Abdul Razak on Oct 31 on the grounds that the prosecution had failed to prove a case against him.

He was charged with abetting two police officers with the 2006 murder of his former lover Altantuya, whose body was blown up with explosives in a jungle clearing.

He could have faced the death penalty by hanging if found guilty.

The two others - chief inspector Azilah Hadri, 32 and corporal Sirul Azhar Umar, 37 - from the elite Special Action Force (UTK) which guards the prime minister and deputy prime minister - were however asked to enter their defence to the charge of murder - Malaysiakini.

> NLC nod needed: Najib

The Perak government needs the approval of the National Land Council (NLC) to award freehold land titles to new and planned villages, says Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak.

"In terms of policy and the Constitution, it cannot be done unilaterally, it must go through the NLC. As such, the Perak government cannot implement the move until a decision is taken by the NLC," he told reporters after chairing the NLC's 64th annual general meeting in his office today.

As such, he said, the NLC would be holding a special meeting soon to deliberate Perak government's proposal to award the titles.

Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin recently announced that the state did not foresee any problems in awarding freehold land titles to some 110,000 residents of new and planned villages in the state, which would be done in stages.

He had said it would only involve about 6,000ha, amounting to just 0.01% of the land size of Perak.

Najib said the Perak government had its own reasons to award the titles but it should not contravene the NLP as determined by the NLC.

He said the NLC was formed under the Federal Constitution with the objective of streamlining land matters so that there was uniformity among the states.

Najib also said the Internet-based e-tanah land management system would be expanded to Negri Sembilan and Malacca from next year following a successful pilot run in Penang.

If the exercise proved successful, the system would be expanded to all states, he said - Bernama

> Singapore-style development for Sungai Kinta

The Perak Government is set to make Sungai Kinta an engine of growth for commercial and tourism activities to enhance  economic growth in Ipoh, in the style of the Singapore river project successfully undertaken by the Singapore Government.

Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin said the benefits from the planned RM200 million Kinta Riverfront development project will be three pronged as it will:-

> make the currently polluted Sungai Kinta environmental friendly and healthy for people to set up commercial ventures along the river banks.

> encourage locals to venture into various ventures and other activities which will enhance economic growth and the night life with people participation

>  increase the value of properties near the river banks
 Nizar said the first phase of turning Sungai Kinta into a booming tourist attraction will involve a 1.2km stretch of the river, from Jalan Raja Musa Aziz to Jalan Sultan Iskandar.

The RM200 million Kinta Riverfront development  being undertaken by the Morubina Group of Companies to transform the city into a vibrant tourist attraction covers 16ha on the banks of the river is the expected to take two years.

Tourist attractions will include six pedestrian bridges across the Sungai Kinta, a 313-room five-star hotel and serviced suites, a boardwalk of boulevard style cafes and shops, a flea market and an open-air auditorium for concerts and cultural shows. 

Deepening of the Kinta river bed which are being undertaken to ease flooding problems in the city will also facilitate river cruises and river taxis as being done in Singapore, he said.

Thus, Sungai Kinta which played a major role in the development of Ipoh town during the tin mining era in the yesteryears is once again set to enhance the city’s economic activities with the creation of more business and tourism activities for locals.

“The Singapore government with the close cooperation and participation of its citizens  took 10 years to clean up their polluted rivers for tourism related economic activities," said Nizar following a three-day study tour by the Perak Government to Singapore recently.

"The close cooperation and participation of the people and government in Singapore in maintaining their eco-friendly rivers resulted in an economic boom for the republic.” he said.

"We have to clean up our polluted river in stages with the financial assistance of the federal government.” said Nizar who called on Perakeans to involve themselves in efforts to make Sungai Kinta pollution free so that economic and tourism activities will be a success.

The banks of Sungai Kinta were once top picnicking and recreational spots with  families driving to several hotspots along the 100km river before it joins Sungai Perak for recreational activities such as swimming and fishing.

In those days, Sungai Kinta was clear and clean and enjoyed a Class II category classification, meaning its water was fit for human consumption, bathing and for the flourishing fauna and flora.

However over the years, human and industrial pollutants caused the water quality to deteriorate and the river has since been reclassified in the Class IV category which is only fit for the purpose of irrigation.

An Perak Drainage and Irrigation Department official was quoted as saying that to rehabilitate the entire length of the river will require about RM30 million in funds.

The rehabilitation of Sungai Kinta to develop the river’s eco-system so that fishing activities can be resuscitated and to encourage recreational activities like boating is being carried out under the federal agency’s “One State, One River” programme.”       

Meanwhile, on promoting state tourism among Singaporeans, Nizar said Singaporeans are stressed out with their concrete jungle city life and like to rejuvenate by visiting the various natural tourist spots like the Royal Belum State Park in Grik.

However, he said there is a need to further publicise the tourist spots with better road signs to guide tourists to such destinations, said Nizar, adding that Singapore High Commissioner T. Jasudasen, for one, had difficulty in locating the Royal Belum State Park during his recent visit to Perak - theSun.

> Swift action against Angkasa

Royal Professor Ungku Abdul Aziz Ungku Abdul Hamid showing some of the documents during the press conference here today - theSunpic.

National Cooperative Organisation of Malaysia (Angkasa) president Professor di-Raja Ungku A. Aziz today demanded swift action from Cooperative Commission of Malaysia (CCM) in the probe into alleged irregularities within Angkasa.

"I am upset with the the lack of enthusiastic response and the avoidance of any reasonable reactions on the matter by CCM. The observance of financial and administrative irregularities in the processing of loan approvals and repayment deductions in Angkasa, highlighted in an internal investigation report submitted to CCM is serious.

"About RM20 million is at stake daily," said Ungku Aziz in a press conference today.

The internal probe was carried out by Angkasa Administrative Committee on Jan 25 and its findings were presented to the CCM twice on Oct 23 and Nov 18.

However, to date, no apparent action has been taken following the submission of the findings.

Aziz attributed five events to the continuing "saga of indifference". They are:

> The secret Concorde Conspiracy (a meeting by a group of Angkasa management members);

> The unjust suspension of the general manager from his post on March 24;

> The improper restructuring of two departments in Angkasa – the finance manager had his responsibilities diminished, the Angkasa Service Bureau (ASB) chairman replaced and a new post of ASB acting manager created;

> The erosion of duties by the head of security assurance; and

> The approval of allowances amounting to between RM15,000 and RM25,000 each to core management members between March 24 and May 5 when Aziz was removed from office.

He said the Concorde Conspiracy involved the misuse of member signatures to remove Aziz as Angkasa president, later vindicated and declared the legitimate president by CCM on May 5.

The signatures were originally given in a bid to revoke the suspension pending investigations into two office bearers.

"Why was the list of signatures used for the removal of the president when it was initially stated that it was to be used for a letter of appeal to the president to revoke the suspension of the two office bearers? These questions can only be answered by a prompt and thorough investigation," said Aziz.

"The relevant authorities concerned should conduct a thorough investigation into the Concorde Conspiracy and the investigation reports dated Oct 23 and Nov 18. If offences or irregularities had taken place, then action must be taken promptly and without fear or favour.

"It is of paramount importance that the interest of Angkasa and its members be protected at all times," he added - theSun.

Monday, December 22, 2008

> Hudud Law not in Pakatan Policy

DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang today took to task PAS vice-president Husam Musa for reiterating PAS' plan to implement Islamic hudud laws if the party succeeded in taking over the federal government following a general election.

Lim said Husam must explain his statement to address the unease it would create among the non-Muslims in Kuala Terengganu, where a by-election is slated for next month.

"Hukum hudud (hudud laws) is not Pakatan Rakyat policy and it is for Husam to clarify what he actually said," said Lim in a statement.

He further noted that DAP's stand - with the party being a member of the Pakatan alliance together with PAS and PKR - on Malaysia being a secular nation based on the social contract formulated in 1957 remained "consistent and unchanged".

"If unclarified, Husam's statement would create unease, anxiety and opposition not only among the 11 percenty of the Chinese voters in the critical Kuala Terengganu by-election on Jan 17 but also among both Malay and non-Malay voters whether in Terengganu or the rest of Malaysia," he said.

During a forum-cum-debate on Saturday in Kota Baru that saw Husam being pitted against Umno Youth chief-hopeful Khairy Jamaluddin, the latter challenged Husam to state PAS' plans were it to take over the federal government.

"I give the guarantee that we will carry it (hudud) out," Husam was reported as saying in reply.

Responsibility of all 

Husam also reportedly said it was the responsibility of all Muslims - not only PAS - to implement hudud.

Directing the question back to Khairy, Husam asked: "Why must (implementation of) hudud laws be the agenda of PAS when all (Muslims) must be responsible for them?"

Also present at the debate was International Islamic University Malaysia law professor Abdul Aziz Bari, who said it was the responsibility of the federal government to implement hudud laws if the state governments did not want to implement them.

"The criminal laws come under the jurisdiction of the federal government and not under that of the state governments," he said.

Meanwhile DAP chairperson Karpal Singh said that Husam has committed a tactical blunder by playing into the hands of Barisan Nasional with the hudud law statement ahead of the Kuala Terengganu by-election.

Falling into BN trap

"In its desperation to win, BN will resort to any measure to deny a Pakatan Rakyat victory in Kuala Terengganu. Husam has made an error by falling into BN trap," said Karpal.

Taking a swipe at PAS for embarking on its own political expediency at the expenses of Pakatan unity, Karpal insisted that it was high time PAS discarded its myopic political considerations and appreciate larger political landscape.

"It's necessary for the continued existence of the Pakatan coalition and cooperation," he noted.

"I wonder whether Husam got the blessing from PAS top leadership," he said. 

DAP and PAS have been in loggerheads over their respective stand on Islam - on both the formation of Islamic state and on hudud.

They however formed an alliance in the last general election along with PKR to obtain the best ever results for the opposition - Malaysiakini.

Hudud Law is not allowed by the Federal Constitution and as such it cannot be implemented without due process. It is not even in Pakatan's policy. Hudud laws may not be necessarily  bad for certain offences but it must be allowed for by Law of the country and by ALL people in the country. Stop harping on such controversial issues when there are more important matters to be attended to by Pakatan - My Journal.

> Another police report on Sabah illegals

A restaurant owner in Sabah has lodged a third police report in as many years against the rampant abuse of Malaysian personal documents by ‘illegal' immigrants.

Kamaruddin B Omar, 49, originally from Selangor, lodged his third report yesterday that at the Karamunsing police station in Kota Kinabalu.

His main complaint was on the increase in the number of illegal workers, especially from India, who had obtained Malaysian personal documents illegally.

His first two reports on the same subject were made at the Telupid and Beluran police stations respectively, at the end of 2006.

Kamaruddin is urging the authorities to use his police report as a basis to conduct a thorough probe against those immigrants who became Malaysians illegally.

He also wants action to be taken against those who facilitate these foreigners in obtaining the illegal Malaysian documents.

In his report, Kamaruddin cited the illegal methods used - based on his personal experience and observation - for these foreigners to obtain Malaysian documents.

He said that they very often use the process of late registration of births and/or false statutory declarations and using the birth certificates of deceased Malaysians to obtain the MyKad for citizens.

He also wants the authorities to seek the assistance of the Sabah Indian Muslim Chamber of Commerce in Kota Kinabalu in the probe against illegal immigrants becoming Malaysians through blatant falsehoods.

"I lodged the police report so that the police, National Registration Department, Immigration Department and the Home Affairs Minister will conduct investigations and arrest all the Indian immigrants and other illegal immigrants who have obtained ICs illegally," said Kamaruddin.

"I was threatened with bodily harm after my first two police reports and shifted my business to Lahad Datu because there were too many illegals in Telupid."

Denied permanent resident status

Kamaruddin has been in the state since 1972, and is married to a Sabahan.

He has been "denied permanent resident status", and has to exit the state every three months and re-enter to continue his business.

Sabah has a wide network of Muslim restaurants, many operating 24 hours, and generally run by Muslims from India.

Kamaruddin was accompanied to the police station by anti-immigration activist Dr Chong Eng Leong, a former senior PBS supreme council member, who has been involved in court battles over illegal immigrants.

He had left the party after it re-joined the ruling Barisan Nasional and allegedly took a softer line on the issue of illegal immigrants in Sabah.

Also on hand to lend support was another anti-immigration activist, Abdul Mutalib B Mohamed, who runs a blog and has also previously written six books - the subject of police reports as well and court cases - on the issuance of Malaysian personal documents illegally in Sabah. He has another two books pending on the same subject.

"Kamaruddin is frustrated by the fact that despite being Malaysian and married to a Sabahan, he was unable to obtain permanent residence status in the state while he saw with his own eyes how foreigners from India were issued with MyKads," said Mutalib.

Kamaruddin's latest police report follows an incident on Dec 13 when he found the locks to his restaurant in Lahad Datu had been changed without notice by the owner of the premises and he was denied entry.

He believed the incident was linked to his renewed exposure of the illegal issuance of Malaysian personal documents in Mutalib's blogsite on Dec 11 - Malaysiakini.

> H-powered Car?

Hydro-powered car technology may soon put Malaysia on the world map for automotive innovation when a local invention is approved by Sirim Berhad for safety and commercialisation.

The H-Fuel system, featuring a Brain Chip to control engine combustion and water, has been submitted to Sirim for tests and patent registration by EGR Tech Sdn Bhd.

Should the Road Transport Department approve the system based on Sirim’s findings, the government plans to make its use mandatory for commercial vehicles such as buses and lorries to save fossil fuel and lower engine emissions.

The system breaks down water into oxygen and hydrogen in a manner controlled by an engine control unit or Brain Chip.

The hydrogen is used for internal combustion and can cut down on car exhaust emissions.

The invention, it is claimed, can save millions of ringgit on petroleum-based fuel consumption for all types of engine applications.

Explaining the system, EGR Tech CEO K.B. Woo said: “The Brain Chip safely controls the extraction rate and distribution of hydrogen during its entire operation. This means a more precise and safer feed of the volatile gas into the combustion chambers compared with conventional systems of uncontrolled feed.

“Hydrogen is then fed into the combustion chambers thereby reducing the need for pure diesel or petrol to run the internal combustion engine. This ensures not only lower fuel consumption but also much cleaner exhaust emissions without sacrificing engine performance.”

An additional advantage of the H-Fuel system is that the engine also runs cleaner with high possibilities of reduced maintenance cost and longer engine life.

“The indirect benefit would be for people who enjoy a cleaner environment, cheaper transportation costs and products, and longer use of petroleum reserves,” added Woo.

EGR Tech technology director Lee Eng Khim said: “Hydrogen is three times more powerful than gasoline while the burn rate of hydrogen is 10 times faster than gasoline. That is why in its power stroke the fast burn rate will give  maximum kinetic energy.”

He said the current combustion energy is based on the fact that burn rate is slow and is due to the 30% kinetic energy and 70% heat. “That is why the car engine is hot,” he said.

“However, with hydrogen, it is a reverse effect where there is 70% kinetic energy and 30% heat. It is much cooler,” said Lee, adding that EGR Tech’s team of engineers have been perfecting the invention for more than a year with successful trials on local buses showing impressive improvements of at least 50% savings in fuel consumption.”

Woo said Sirim is expected to issue a certificate of fitness for mass production and use in motor vehicles by next month.

“Once the certification is issued, EGR Tech will market the system not only in Malaysia but within Asean and Taiwan,” Woo said, adding that Sirim will also test and certify the other applications that include industrial burners, marine and even aviation engines.

“Our first stage after certification and RTD approval is to aggressively go into buses and trucks. 
“This is because we see the need for logistic and transportation sectors to obtain a fuel-saving system,” he stressed.

“After that, we will move to smaller vehicles like fishing boats, ferries, tugboats and eventually planes and helicopters,” said Woo.

Sirim president and chief executive Yahaya Ahmad told theSun at the signing of a memorandum of understanding with EGR Tech on Friday: “Sirim will do the tests on whatever aspects and performance claimed by EGR Tech and validate whether all the claims are accurate.

“Sirim does not set the standard for the product’s performance but it confirms whether the product’s claims are true.” - theSun.

> Tough going for Penang

Nearly nine months after being sworn in as the chief minister of Penang, Lim Guan Eng has admitted it was tough going for him in his new role but vowed he would not be cowed by anyone except by the people who put him in power.

Pakatan Rakyat, the opposition alliance in power in five states, and the Barisan Nasional are worlds apart in their politics, he told the Daily Express in an interview in Kota Kinabalu recently.

Lim, who has been under pressure by Umno in particular over various issues "without success", had not surprisingly more brickbats than bouquets for BN leaders, especially Umno, the federal government and Petronas.

Outgoing PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in particular came in for severe criticism when he castigated him for "not respecting" him (Lim) as the duly elected CM of Penang and denying the state a fair share of federal grants.

“On the other hand, I have "the utmost respect" for him (Badawi). I look forward to a better relationship with Najib Tun Razak when he takes over,” Lim said.

'Azalina is terrible'

He also hopes that Najib will abolish the Internal Security Act, Official Secrets Act and allow local elections. At present, local councils are directly appointed by the state government, and in Pakatan Rakyat-run states, appears to be the proverbial tail waving the dog.

Among other BN leaders, he singled out Tourism Minister Azalina Othman as "the worst" of the Umno leaders. "She's terrible. She plays politics to the hilt. She plays vengeance politics," said Lim without elaborating.

The Penang CM appears perplexed by Petronas which he sees as having a sapu habis (take all) mentality instead of giving something back to the people and pledges that when the Pakatan Rakyat takes over the federal government, the new administration in PutraJaya will allocate a third of the national oil corporation's huge income for distribution to the people i.e. RM500 a month or RM 6,000 a year to each family that deserves the aid.

He was keener to emphasise his administration's good relationship with the Transport, Works, Finance and Trade ministries. Minister of International Trade and Industry Muhyiddin Yassin and Second Finance Minister Nor Mohd Yakop, a Penangite, came in for particular praise from Lim. 

"They (Muhyiddin and Mohd Nor) are co-operative and quite understanding because they know that if you can get investments, the country benefits. After all, when you pay tax 20 per cent, every single sen goes to the federal government. It doesn't go to the state government," said Lim.

"They always say, 'if we can do business with other countries like Singapore which are much more difficult, you can't do business with DAP kah?'. That's why the RM4.3 billion Second Penang Bridge deal has been done and construction has commenced."

Lim also mentions that Umno is generally trying to make things as difficult as possible for him, judging by their reaction so far to his administration and this includes extreme hostility and confrontationist approaches against the new Penang state government's policies on reining in the excesses of the New Economic Policy, putting more teeth into the anti-corruption drive, extension of the poverty eradication programmes to all irrespective of politics and race and putting up road signs in Tamil, Chinese and Arabic, besides English and Malay.

Sticking to our guns

"We are overcoming these problems by sticking to our guns, by persevering and being persistent. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. We will only bow to the people. We will not bow to other forces," said Lim.

The CM cited his administration's immediate goals as the eradication of hardcore poverty by next year, make Penang a wifi state and turn it into an international city, and combat corruption. "We will use the sheer logic of arguments. We want to base policies based on facts, not falsehoods, on reason and not emotion, on principles and not prejudices."

"We will do in one year what the BN Government has not been able to do in 50 years i.e. the eradication of hardcore poverty," said Lim

The Penang CM denies that his father Kit Siang exercises an undue influence on him or that he turns to his wife, Betty Chew, who is an state assemblywoman in Malacca on matters of state.

"We seek advice from the people and also our comrades. We are an open government, we listen to the people, we believe in consultation, we believe in participation." he added - Malaysiakini.

> The PKFZ fiasco !

An employee sweeping a deserted complex at the PKFZ - TMIpic

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat, who vowed to reveal all in the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) debacle, offered instead a testimonial of his own apparent success in revitalising the scandal-ridden project that helped force his predecessor out of office.

At a much-anticipated special briefing today, the minister said the performance of the integrated commercial and industrial zone had improved since last March.

He told a press conference that lasted more than an hour that the occupancy rate, employment, investment status and cargo movement have increased since the change of management that took place in May.

He stressed that the review, which he had previously called a chronology of events, was not a financial audit but a statement of facts.

“My job is not to pass judgement but to enumerate what has been happening,” said Ong.

“This is entirely based on documents and official records that we have,” he added.

Question marks about the project arose late last year after a RM4.6 billion soft loan was proposed for the industrial zone, which has been described as a ghost town with few tenants or investors.

The PKFZ project has been criticised because its development cost of less than RM2.5 billion had ballooned amid concerns about its ability to meet its debt obligations as well as that of the soft loan.

There were also questions about the possible kickbacks after it was disclosed that several individuals acquired the piece of land where the PKFZ now sits at RM3 per sq ft in 1999. The Port Klang Authority (PKA) later acquired the land at RM25 psf.

PKFZ ran into further problems when Jebel Ali Free Zone quit the management of the property.

Former Transport Minister Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy was dropped as a Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate in the March general elections, and subsequently lost his job, largely as a result of how the debacle was handled.

The PKA decided in its board meeting in May this year to hire PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct an independent audit.

Reading from a prepared statement today, Ong said PKFZ had recorded an increase of more than RM200 million in investments from March to November.

Occupancy rate for all facilities had also increased, with the leased office block recording the most significant increase from one per cent in March to 19 per cent as of November.

For open land and light industrial unit facilities, the occupancy rate is now 18 per cent and 17 per cent respectively.

“The Jebel Ali took six years to have 40 per cent occupancy,” said Ong referring to the free zone in the United Arab Emirates.

Most importantly, said Ong, was the number of employees in the area which had increased from 972 to 1,659 within the last eight months.

“I still can remember when I first set foot in the area, people said this is a ghost town,” said Ong when elaborating on the success in increasing the number of employees in the PKFZ.

Ong however refused to blame his predecessors at the Transport Ministry.

“That is the question that only my predecessors can answer at that point of time,” said Ong.

“You are asking me to comment on my predecessor. This is, of course, his discretion at that point of time, perhaps due to whatever reasons or circumstances that he had at that material time. That is the question only my predecessor could answer at that material time,” Ong said.

“But if you were to ask me then of course I might have my own views ... I may not do it but it doesn’t mean what I say or what I choose is going to be the gospel truth.”

Ong denied that he had any knowledge of any action that would be taken against two notable politicians with regard to the PKFZ project as reported by a Chinese newspaper.

Responding to a question whether a minister could write a letter of guarantee on a loan for a mega project such as the PKFZ, Ong said that as he had said in parliament previously, the letter issued by the minister before him on the project was a letter of support and not a guarantee.

He slammed the opposition for misleading the public into thinking that the RM4.6 billion government soft loan to PKFZ had been wasted.

“The 4.6 billion is the total amount and takes into account the accumulated interest,” said Ong, adding that the money is being issued in stages.

He added that the financial aspects of the PKFZ would be presented upon the completion of the report by audit firm PriceWaterHouseCoopers - The Malaysian Insider.

> Train contractor ticked off

The electric train double-track main contractor - MMC-Gamuda Joint Venture Sdn Bhd - was ticked off for trying to ‘pass the buck’ to the Penang government to address the issue of relocating temples affected by the project.

Deputy Chief Minister Dr P Ramasamy blasted MMC-Gamuda for being unethical and irresponsible, and called on the company to initiate an amicable solution soon to resolve the outstanding contentious issue.

“Since it’s a federal project undertaken by MMC-Gamuda, the onus is on the company to show some commitment to tackle the issue,” he told press conference in George Town today.

Some 37 non-Muslim places of worship, mostly Hindu temples, are affected by the project to construct 63km double track across Penang mainland.

The contentious issue here is the compensation and a place for relocation for the temples, which MMC-Gamuda attempted to involve the unwilling state government.

During a recent meeting with its representatives, Ramasamy was particularly irked by the company’s stance that the temples were illegal structures.

“I have told the company not to classify them as illegal because the temples have existed for decades.

“How could the temples suddenly become illegal structures overnight just because of the double-track project?” he said, adding that the state government wants the company to resolve the issue soon.

Earlier at the same press meet, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng lashed out at the company for giving out inadequate compensation to private house owners and places of worship in its land acquisition process for the project.
Higher compensation, please

“The compensation rate in Perlis cannot be the same as in Penang due to the higher cost of living.

“The company should consider giving a higher quantum to compensate not only for land acquisition but also for relocation process for them.

“The house owners may not be able to buy even a bathroom with the amount the company plans to compensate according to market valuation,” he told newsmen.

The RM12.485 billion double-track project which stretches from Ipoh to Padang Besar started in January this year and expected to be ready in Janury 2013.

The alignment for the 329km Ipoh-Padang Besar double-track project cuts across the four northern states of Penang, Perak, Kedah and Perlis. It will be linked between Ipoh and Rawang by another 179km double-track.

Piling works for the electrified double-track rail project in the Seberang Perai Utara (SPU) district has started following the state government’s approval to the company to acquire 24 residential and three commercial units, and two temples.

But the project hit a snag in Seberang Perai Tengah (SPT) and Selatan (SPS) districts after the state government rued about the compensation and relocation of the Hindu and Chinese temples.

The company needs to acquire 420 residential and 40 commercial units, 26 temples and two suraus in SPT, and 45 houses, five commercial premises and nine temples in SPS.

A total 833 plots of land covering some 153.86 will also be acquired in Penang by MMC-Gamuda - Malaysiakini.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

> What's wrong with Malaysia?

by Tony Fernandes, CEO AirAsia Group

I am ever the optimist, but recently I have been a little despondent about our country. I love Malaysia and am so proud to be a Malaysian. Have always been that way and always will, but now I can't help feeling like we seem to be losing the plot. Reality is sinking in that we are not that great after all and we have lots to do.

My heart goes out to the families of the victims and the survivors of the landslide at Bukit Antarabangsa. Personally, the landslide came as devastating news to me. Coupled with an incident where a friend of mine lost his life in Plaza Damas because of an accident caused by poor building regulations and those of my friends who lost everything in the Highland Towers collapse, the Bukit Antarabangsa disaster emphasized some home truths for me.

I feel that in the year 2008, Malaysia is still behaving with a Third World mentality. With just 12 years to go, are we really serious about our goal of achieving developed nation status by 2020? Highland Towers happened in 1993 and 15 years on, we have Bukit Antarabangsa.

How can we ever achieve First World status if we do not plan, if we continue to take short cuts and allow unscrupulous behaviour for short-term profits? It made me think that if we as a nation don't change, we will be squashed just like the houses in the landslide.

What is wrong? We need leaders from all political parties to act truly as leaders. Honestly I'm despondent and tired of politics. It’s just you vs. me, me vs. you on a very personal level and let’s see who gets one up on the other all the time now. Is anyone doing anything about the problems that the common Malaysian faces? What about the education system or the health system or the impending economic recession?

We need freer markets and more inquiring minds, an independent judiciary, a first-class civil service and a great police force. And on top of that, we need first-class transportation infrastructure. Think of how much productivity is lost by just sitting in traffic jams.

How can we still argue about less freedom? We need a press that’s more free; we need a great police force that instills more confidence, and a great civil service that helps private businesses and increases productivity. How can we still be arguing about an independent judiciary? How can we be developed without it? How can we be developed without copyright protection and protection of intellectual property? It's not about Petaling Street, and the ingenuity shown by Malaysians who can produce “genuine fakes.” We are still selling ourselves cheap. What about the innovator who could be the next Bill Gates but all his work is stolen so he has to be a sales consultant? How about our next great composer?

I could go on and on for ages. There is frustration in this post. Frustration as I see a great nation sliding downhill. The world is moving at warp speed. While we fritter away our valuable time engaging in petty political squabbles and arguments about individual ethnic identity, other nations are catching up – and even passing us by on the global economic autobahn.

We cannot resolve the problems of the digital age by using an analogue mindset. We need new, visionary thinking. And we need to be brave enough to act decisively and implement policies that benefit Malaysia and Malaysians. If we do not change our ways, I fear that just like the houses in that landslide, we are in danger of watching Malaysia - the nation we all call home - being washed away into irrelevance.

> 'Mistake' to privatise IJN

The National Heart Institute (IJN) should not be privatised as it provides training to develop cardiac units in all Government hospitals by 2020, says the country’s most renowned cardio-thoracic surgeon.

Tan Sri Dr Yahya Awang said this was reason enough for the premier heart institution not to go private.

“Currently, there are four cardiac units in Penang, Johor Baru, Sarawak and Serdang hospitals. Even so, the units there are not as well-equipped and well-staffed as IJN.

“We still have a long way to go,” he added.

Dr Yahya, Malaysia’s first cardio-thoracic surgeon, wanted IJN to remain a corporatised body and controlled by the Government.

“It (IJN) was never meant to be a commercial institute. It was meant to be a centre of research, a premier academic institute,” he told The Star in an interview at his office in the Damansara Specialist Centre yesterday.

He added that, as a pioneer who was directly involved in the setting up of the hospital in 1990, he was “taken aback” by the idea of privatisation.

“I was told that even the doctors (at IJN) were not informed of the idea (to privatise),” he said.

On the Government’s deferment to conduct an in-depth study, Dr Yahya said professional opinions should be sought as they were the service providers.

“This is to ensure the academic aspects of it are not pushed aside. However, I am sure, even as you lay all the facts and figures on the table, the right decision will be not to privatise the hospital,” he said.

Dr Yahya said IJN had done well and even generated income.

“Therefore, I am rather suspicious of the privatisation idea. It is not as if the hospital is not doing well. Ideally, a health institution such as IJN should be physician-led,” he said.

In 1989, a team led by Dr Yahya performed a coronary bypass operation on then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital. This subsequently initiated the setting-up of IJN in 1990 and the hospital was established two years later - The Star.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

> The Dayak Dilemma

by Sim Kwang Yang

There is a rising tide of excitement and euphoria among many politically conscious Dayaks in Sarawak over a series of massive grand dinners held first in Sibu, then in Miri last week, and finally ending in Kuching in the immediate future, to welcome Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim.

Since the next Sarawak election is widely speculated to be held next year, the sudden surge of Anwar’s PKR in this East Malaysian state could be a prelude towards an all-out no-holds-barred assault on the Sarawak Barisan Nasional. The prize that PKR seeks will be state power in the Land of the Hornbill, to add to their Pakatan Rakyat stable of state governments, in Penang, Perak, Selangor, Kedah, and Kelantan.

In this ambitious project, the Dayak voters’ support becomes critical, for they constitute nearly half of the total population of Sarawak.

By virtue of the logic of politics of race, which is entirely based on ethnic head-counting, the Dayaks ought to be the dominant community in Sarawak. The chief minister ought to be a Dayak. 

The reality is quite a different thing. The first Sarawak CM Stephen Kalong Ningkan (1920-1997) was indeed an Iban. But he was forcibly removed in 1966 by a federally initiated Declaration of Emergency and a constitutional amendment. Since 1970, the two Sarawak CMs have been Melanau Muslims.

Since then, the Dayak communities have been mired in political marginalisation and socio-economic backwardness that can hardly be imagined by people living in affluent states of Peninsular Malaysia.

Time stood still 

Living mostly in the vast rural areas of Sarawak, many still live without basic amenities such as roads, jetties, clinics, treated drinking water, and electricity. Time for them has stood still since independence in 1963.

In most villages that I have visited, young men and women have left their community, to seek work and better prospect in large towns in Sarawak, with increasing number crossing the ocean to West Malaysia and Singapore. Only the very old and the very young are left to eke out a meagre living on their land. The massive exodus of the young has practically emptied the rural communities of the vital force for social and economic renewal in rural Sarawak.

(The think-tank people in PKR should start to think about devising a method to enable these Sarawak diasporas to go back to Sarawak to vote in the next state election.)

Meanwhile, the Dayak people have seen escalating erosion to their land tenure held under Sarawak Native Customary Rights (NCR), from first massive logging, and then giant plantations and dam building have robbed many Dayak communities of their land. Without land, the physical survival and the survival of their cultural traditions and ethnic identity are threatened.

It would be tempting to blame the socio-economic marginalisation of the Dayaks entirely on racial discrimination, but that would be too simplistic. Although many Malay/Muslim politicians and technocrats have amassed fabulous wealth under the patronage of CM Taib Mahmud, the Malay/Melanau people too live in the same kind of socio-economic quagmire that impedes progress in their community.

I have visited the coastal area of Samarahan near Kuching. The people there had been represented by Taib Mahmud in Parliament for decades, and despite some huge drainage and irrigation projects, the Malay people there are still poor. For some fishermen there, they wake up to think of how to find their next meal.

Since the political demise of Stephen Kalong Ningkan, the failure of the Dayak nationalist impulse in Sarawak in presenting a more inclusive Sarawakian narrative is one of the reasons for its failure. 

26 indigenous communities

Even so, the imagined Dayak nation – as a theoretical construct – is an anomaly within the context of the politics of race in Malaysia. 

As an important political category, the terms “Dayak” and “Dayakism” came to prominence only upon the formation of Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) in 1983 as a splinter group from the Sarawak National Party. 

The term “Dayak” is supposed to signify all non-Muslim natives of Sarawak. But by definition in the federal constitution, there are some 26 different indigenous communities in Sarawak that can be regarded as Dayaks. If you include all the sub-groups that fall within any one of these communities, then there are actually well over 40 distinct ethnic groups that could be considered as “Dayak” communities.

They are all divided by lineage, language, customs, and religion.  Many of these communities have even fought prolonged bloody wars with one another in the old days.

(I once asked a Jagoi Bidayu from the Bau area why the Bidayuhs had chosen to live mostly on high grounds up on the hillside, thus earning them the name of “Land Dayak” under the British administration, in contrast to the Ibans who were called “Sea Dayaks”.  He said that in the old days, it was easy to shoot down at the enemies during wars with the marauding Ibans.)

The Bidayuh is an interesting case in point. Though lumped together as a single ethnic group, this small community comprising some 8% of the total population of Sarawak has seven major dialects, and countless sub-dialects. Sometimes, when you travel 20 kilometres down the road, you find another group of Bidayuhs speaking another dialect. 

Such ethnic diversity may be a gold mine for cultural anthropologists, but it must be a nightmare for politicians to try to forge a Dayak nation, without recourse for appeal to a single language, a single religion, and a single history.

Fortunately for them, all the Dayaks of Sarawak are united in two things.

With the exception of some Penans, they all depend on shifting cultivation as their traditional way of life. Land is more than a piece of property. Their land is the source of their immediate sustenance, the bosom of the gods that protect them, and the burial ground of their ancestors. 

Their land, their rivers, and their forests are all alive with mysterious forces that interact with them in their daily lives. They will never harm the land which is like a mother to them. To fault shifting cultivation for deforestation is the paragon of cynicism. To deprive their land rights through legislative and administrative fiats is the apex of injustices.

Secondly, all Dayak communities have their own set of internal rules called adat, handed down from generation to generation through word of mouth and daily practice. They even have their own tiers of native courts to trial offenders and settle disputes. In the hearts of many natives, these rules and these courts have greater force than the laws of the state and the Borneo judicial system.

Limited political horizon

Unfortunately, in recent decades,the state appointed judges of these native courts, the Pengulus and the Temengongs, have often sided with the state government when it comes to disputes between Dayak villagers and timber companies.   

It is this common self-identification of all Dayak communities to their extraordinary tie with their land and their common cultural heritage of living by their adat that allows the nationalist idea of a “Dayak nation” to flourish for a while.   

Then again, Dayak nationalism could not be sustained for long because they simply do not have an alternative mass medium of communication, for them to imagine themselves as a single nation.  According to Benedict Anderson, print capitalism was one of the vehicle for nationalist sentiments to grow. 

Living in scattered far-flung and sometimes very remote jungle communities, the Dayaks depend heavily on word of mouth, personal contact, and the government controlled radio for their information. Newspaper delivery would be impossible for most long-houses situated a long way from towns. Many are poor by the standards of modern cash economy; it is unlikely that they can afford the newspaper subscription fees. Without a viable market, there is no chance for an Iban or a Bidayuh newspaper to survive. Naturally, the Internet Is a different universe for them.

Therefore, the political imagination of the rural Dayak voters seldom extends beyond their part of the river or mountain. I have all too often heard Dayak political and community leaders talk about “my people”. What they mean is their folks and kin living in the few villages surrounding their own. This limited political horizon is not conducive towards creating a state wide national consciousness, and it creates ample opportunity for opportunism for the Dayak ruling class at the highest level. 

Having been exposed to massive money politics for many decades past, voting means very different things for the Dayaks. The vote is often seen as a currency of exchange for tangible immediate benefits like cash and gifts. I have witnessed how Dayak communities that had protested vehemently against logging voting consistently for the BN during subsequent general elections. They have yet to link democracy with changing their own collective fate.

So now the Dayaks are looking to PKR as another political vehicle to regenerate and revive their political fortune. PKR is a multiracial party, and that means the Dayak leaders should aspire towards a more universal inclusive and enlightened discourse, to educate every Dayak voter on the meaning of democracy first.

Meanwhile, the PKR leaders in West Malaysia must also realise that they should take a crash course in Dayak culture, if they are to campaign effectively in Sarawak. Like Sabah, Sarawak is a cultural universe unto itself. Outsiders wishing to help the disenfranchised people of Sarawak will have a thing or two to learn from Sarawakians first - Malaysiakini.