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

Saturday, January 31, 2009

> Dayaks told to get rid of BN govt

A large group of Dayak intellectuals from the Iban, Bidayuh and Orang Ulu communities in Sarawak gathered for a one-day Dayak symposium in Sibu today to talk about the future and hopes of the Dayaks.

Organised by an independent group headed by an Iban lawyer cum politician, Augustine Liom, it was attended by some 200 people from throughout Sarawak at a local hotel.

The theme of the symposium was ‘Harapan Baru Untuk Dayak Sarawak’ (New Hope for Sarawak Dayak).

Among those present were the PKR state assemblyperson for Ngemah Gabriel Adit and well-known Orang Ulu lawyers Baru Bian and Paul Raja.

When opening the symposium, a former deputy chief minister and former president of the now defunct Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak, Daniel Tajem, told the participants that the only way for the Dayaks to remedy the injustices they have suffered is by replacing the present Sarawak Barisan Nasional government.

In a highly moving 30-minute speech, Tajem, a former Malaysian envoy to New Zealand, said the Dayaks have suffered injustices for the past 45 years, been marginalised and even sidelined in education, distribution of scholarships and business opportunities.

"Their native customary rights land have been taken from them and given away to big companies," he was quoted as saying today by well-known Iban blogger Joseph Tawie in his blog.

Pointing out another act of injustice against the Dayaks, he said a bill had been introduced to change the name of 'Sea Dayaks' to Iban, 'Land Dayaks' to 'Bidayuh' and 'Murut' to 'Lun Bawang.’

Taking away their rights

"The head of state has not signed the bill which has been passed by the state legislative assembly," Tajem said, adding that "once it becomes law, it means that Iban, Bidayuh and Lun Bawang are no longer natives and will not enjoy the rights and privileges as embodied under Article 153 of the Federal Constitution".

"Even forming a party of our own as provided for under Article 10 (1) (c) is not allowed. We are being accused of being a threat to national security, public order, peace and harmony," Tawie quoted Tajem as saying.

"During insurgency, we are made heroes and during peace time, we are considered as a threat to national security. Can you believe that?" he said.

Tajem also touched on the amendments to Section 5 (a) (2) of the land code that has eroded natives’ rights over land.

Earlier, Liom said the ultimate aim of the symposium was to expose and deliberate on the many sins of the Barisan Nasional government that have caused "misery to the Dayak communities, be they Bidayuh, Iban or Orang Ulu".

Tawie told Malaysiakini that participants will discuss a number of resolutions to be adopted by the symposium in line with the theme of the meeting.

PKR vice-president and deputy Sabah PKR chief Dr Jeffrey Kitingan was among those present - Malaysiakini.

> New LCCT flip-flop: Who's in charge here?

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng wants the government to explain its contradictory statements regarding the proposed low-cost carrier terminal (LCCT) in Labu, Negeri Sembilan.

Lim was referring to Transport Minister Ong Tee Keat's claim on Dec 19 that Cabinet had approved the construction of the new airport, only to have Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak claiming otherwise on Jan 23.

"Now we are confused. Who is actually in charge? Is the transport minister in charge of transport? We hope that when we deal with the transport minister, he would have power of authority," he said.

On Dec 20, Ong reportedly said that Cabinet had given the nod for the new RM1.6 billion airport spanning 2,800-hectares, dubbed KLIA@East, and that it would be privately financed by Sime Darby Bhd and budget airline AirAsia.

Ong was reported to have said that the new airport was necessary as the current LCCT in Sepang was unable to cope with the increased volume of passengers.

More than a month later, Najib in a sudden turn of events said that the government had not decided on the matter. Yesterday, the project appeared to have been shelved indefinitely.

'Clarify your powers'

Speaking to reporters midway through the DAP national level Chinese New Year open house event in Kuala Lumpur today, Lim said that Ong's level of authority needed to be clarified because the implications were large.

For example, Lim said that Ong had previously assured that the transport ministry would be assisting in the construction of an LCCT in Penang, which was crucial for the state's economic development.

"But if we have a transport minister who is not given the power to decide, we are all in a quandary," he said.

Lim added that the issue was important as it would impact the airline industry and tourism.

He said that the government should encourage AirAsia to expand its operations as the company had made air travel affordable to the public.

"If MAHB (Malaysian Airports Holdings Berhad) is the stumbling block, then we should make sure that MAHB facilitates the growth of the airline industry and not stunt it," he said. 

Meanwhile, about 2,000 well-wishers thronged the open house, attended by DAP top leaders. PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Ismail and PAS central political bureau member Khalid Samad were also in attendance - Malaysiakini.

> KLIA East called off

It is confirmed. The controversial KLIA East project is off, stillborn at the drawing board because it had become too costly politically for the administration.

But it was not all bad news for Air Asia, the region’s largest budget carrier and the promoter of the idea to build the RM1.6 billion airport in Labu. The carrier managed to extract some concessions from the government, namely that Malaysia Airport Holdings Berhad (MAHB) build a new terminal by 2011 and consult Air Asia on the design and other issues pertaining to the operations of the facility.

Several government officials told The Malaysian Insider that MAHB was told to lower charges for the budget carrier, complete the construction on time and make the new terminal an energy efficient complex.

Today’s meeting was chaired by Finance Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and attended by Air Asia’s Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes, officials from the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning Unit and MAHB.

When contacted, Fernandes said: “It was a positive meeting and we got a good hearing from everyone.’’ He declined to go into the specifics of the meeting.

Najib called for today’s meeting as a result of the firestorm of criticism which followed an announcement last month that the government had approved a plan by Air Asia to build a new LCCT in Labu. Critics assailed the government saying that this decision would hurt KLIA’s ambitions of becoming a regional hub. They also argued that if a new facility had to be built, it should be built within KLIA.

Air Asia countered by saying that MAHB was unable to build a new LCCT by 2011 to cater for its growth. It pointed out that MAHB was only able to build a new LCCT by 2014.

The government fearing a political backlash and unwilling to test its popularity in this more challenging political climate began sending out feelers a couple of weeks ago that it was looking for a compromise solution. 

It received a helping hand from Sime Darby Berhad, the government-linked company which informed the government that it was only willing to sell a tract of land in Labu to Air Asia and was not providing any financing for the project.

This move threw into doubt whether Air Asia could raise the financing for the RM1.6 billion terminal and the RM700 million connectivity infrastructure.

Government officials, who were briefed about today’s meeting, said that MAHB and Air Asia will have to come back in two weeks with firm plans for the new LCCT. 

“The DPM played the role of an honest broker. He did not take sides but wanted to make sure that national interest was served. This could only happen if the new LCCT was built in KLIA but Air Asia’s legitimate interests and concerns were addressed,” a government official told The Malaysian Insider.

It may have been a happy ending for all parties but this episode certainly raised some serious questions over decision-making in the government.

And begs the question on why MAHB and Air Asia could not be forced to the negotiating table earlier - The Malaysian Insider.

Friday, January 30, 2009

> Blue-eyed boy of Coporate Malaysia

He is without doubt the blue-eyed boy of corporate Malaysia, sitting atop the country’s top investment agency and lording over the vast government-linked company empire.

But Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar’s recent statements in the press have caused some unease with members of the outgoing Abdullah administration and raised some red flags with some supporters of incoming prime minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

Senior government politicians are wondering why he has been bent on embarrassing the government with comments about Valuecap and KLIA East, statements which have put the administration on the back foot.

In comments published in the New Straits Times on Saturday, he said that Valuecap has yet to get the RM5 billion capital injection from the government.

“It’s on the way,” he said.

Last October, the government said that it would help boost Valuecap’s fund by RM5 billion to buy undervalued stock and provide a boost to the market.

The government’s move to support Valuecap and obtain a loan from the Employees Provident Fund has been criticised sharply inside and outside Parliament.

As a result, the government has been particularly prickly to any statements made on Valuecap, especially in the economic slowdown climate where it wants to assure Malaysians that all funds promised by the administration to create economic activity is being disbursed in a timely fashion.

The Malaysian Insider understands that following the worsening global economic situation late last year, the Ministry of Finance decided that the RM5 billion loan from EPF to Valuecap will be drawn down in tranches and not as a lump sum.

The reason: the government believes that it may need to seek further help from EPF during this drawn out economic crisis to stimulate domestic demand and create a multiplier effect across the Malaysian economy.

While boosting Valuecap funds is important to creating movement on Bursa Malaysia, it is not likely to have as strong an impact on the economy as pump-priming.

So a decision was taken by the government to allow Valuecap to drawn down the RM5 billion in tranches. A sum of RM1 billion was released by EPF in December and more money will be given to Valuecap as and when necessary.

“The last thing the government needs now is for confusing statements to be made in public. The public and stakeholders expect the government to follow up each plan or policy statement with concrete plans. Only then will there be confidence,” said a government official, adding that

Najib may have to clarify the funding situation with Valuecap.

Valuecap is jointly owned by Khazanah, Permodalan Nasional Berhad and the

Retirement Fund Inc.

Earlier this month, Azman went public with his views on the RM1.6 billion new low-cost carrier terminal in Labu. He said that there was no need to build a new LCCT away from KLIA.

Khazanah is a shareholder in Malaysia Airport Holdings Berhad and would naturally be opposed to any move by Air Asia to move away from KLIA and operate its own LCCT.

But government officials felt that Azman should have made known his objections about the LCCT project to the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Second Finance Minister privately, given that all three members of the Cabinet are also members of the Khazanah Nasional board of directors.

They charge that Azman has access to the top decision makers in government and he could have made persuasive arguments to the PM, DPM or anybody else in Cabinet.

Was there a need to exert pressure on government by going public, they wondered.

Supporters of Azman, Khazanah Nasional and MAHB say that he had little choice but to go public given the firestorm of protests the new LCCT project provoked. Staying silent as the biggest shareholder of  MAHB was not an option.

Also, they point out that Air Asia had many powerful supporters in government in its corner and Azman’s statement helped to shift the balance of power a bit, at least in the public arena.

Or, at least, it set the stage for more public debate on this project, which has an impact beyond Air Asia, Khazanah and MAHB.

The Edge which has been critical of the plan to build a new LCCT away from KLIA, noted in its editorial this week that Khazanah Nasional has a vested interest in making sure that KLIA East does not happen, not only because it is the substantial shareholder of MAHB but also a controlling shareholder of Malaysia Airlines.

“The idea of an aggressive Air Asia, now Air Asia X with full control of its own airport must worry Khazanah, MAHB and MAS… Here is a case of a tenant (Air Asia) that wants to get out of its tenancy because its landlord (MAHB) has a close relative (MAS) who competes in the same business and thus would not make things easy for it. But will it be allowed to?

“And what’s wrong with the idea of a privately-owned managed LCCT competing with MAHB? Isn’t it true that competition leads to improved services and lower cost for customers?, ‘’ said the Edge.

The impasse over KLIA East is likely to be settled this Friday with odds on the government reversing an earlier decision to allow Air Asia to finance and build its own LCCT.

It will be a victory of sorts for Azman and may vindicate his tactic of going public with his opposition to the airport project - The Malaysian Insider.

Read also this article.

> Blagojevich Ousted

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was removed from office on Thursday after the state Senate unanimously convicted him on impeachment charges, including an accusation he tried to sell the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama.

The Illinois Senate, acting as a jury, voted 59-0 to oust the second-term Democrat immediately. The lawmakers also voted by the same margin to bar him from ever holding public office again in America's fifth most populous state.

Before the vote, members of the Senate, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 37-22, called Blagojevich "devious," "cynical," "crass," "corrupt," "inept," "a liar," "a hypocrite" and "irresponsible."

Blagojevich had pleaded with the body hours earlier, asking, "How can you throw a governor out of office who is clamoring and begging and pleading with you to give him a chance to bring witnesses in to prove his innocence? ... A crime has not been proven here."

He later told reporters outside his Chicago home he was "saddened and disappointed but not at all surprised" by what happened. "It was a fixed deal from the beginning."

He skipped the chance to make a formal defense during the proceedings because, he said, the rules restricted him from calling the witnesses he needed or playing in full the federal government wiretapped conversations that led to charges involving Obama's Senate seat.

Democratic Lieutenant Governor Patrick Quinn was sworn in almost immediately, saying, "The ordeal is over" and urging people to "to make the sacrifices necessary to address the serious challenges we have before us: The integrity challenge, the challenge of our economy, the challenge of making sure that we pay our bills."

Quinn has expressed concerns about the state's budget ills, about which he says he has been told little, and a 7.6 percent unemployment rate that is above the national average.

Blagojevich has not been indicted on criminal charges. The security detail assigned to him as governor left his Chicago home immediately after he became an ex-governor.


Blagojevich's arrest drew attention to a pattern of political corruption in Illinois, becoming a distraction for the incoming Obama administration, which operated its presidential transition office in Obama's home state.

The governor's impeachment was unprecedented in Illinois and he joined only seven other state chief executives to be convicted after impeachment. Arizona's Evan Mecham in 1988 became the first governor impeached since the 1920s and, like Blagojevich, the Republican said his accusers were politically motivated.

Blagojevich was among four of Illinois' past eight governors hit by criminal charges. His immediate predecessor. Republican George Ryan, is in prison after being convicted of corruption charges.

Illinois' senior U.S. senator, Democrat Dick Durbin, said the state needed a fresh start after Blagojevich, by not resigning, put Illinois through "weeks of turmoil at a time when many Illinoisans wanted to share in the joy of having just elected one of our own to the Presidency. Today, the Illinois Senate came to the only reasonable conclusion: Blagojevich can not continue to serve as our governor."

"Clearing this up may give the state some room to focus on its pressing financial and economic challenges," said Ted Hampton, a Moody's Investors Service analyst.

Those challenges included underfunded pensions, a large employee benefit burden, cash-flow troubles and an ailing economy, he said.

"Whoever is governor needs to get together with the Legislature to fix the budget," said John Kenward, an analyst at Standard & Poor's Ratings Services, which has the state's "AA" rating on a watch list for a possible downgrade.

On Monday, a spokesman for the governor's budget office said the state's current deficit was $2.5 billion. But the state comptroller's office said the situation was likely worse as Illinois' unpaid bill backlog stands at $2.1 billion - Reuters.

> Convention demands minister's head

Convention demands that Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar should immediately resign for the actions of those under his direct authority, said senior lawyer Gopal RajKumar.

Gopal, who is currently based in Australia, was responding to the case of 22-year-old car theft suspect Kugan Ananthan who died in police custody last week.   

"It's becoming more and more apparent that there exists within the Malaysian society, a culture of abject and unmitigated fear and ignorance of what is esoterically termed the law," he said in an email to Malaysiakini.

"The many varied responses, excuses and attempts at justifying Kugan's death, while in police custody, are a manifestation of the breakdown of law and order at the very highest level of the state. 

"The injuries resulted in his death. Even if it did not, it points to something more sinister than merely attempting to elicit information under interrogation," he added. 

According to Gopal, the minister's culpability in the 'sordid affair' is implied by his and the police department’s own ‘misconduct’ and where it cannot be immediately proven, he must accept inference as punishment based on 'his own standards and that of his charges'.

The police, he said, had applied their own collective ideas of what constitutes guilt and punishment outside of the Federal Constitution and legislative directions. 

"Further, he (Syed Hamid) should quit because of the enormity of the crime perpetrated against Kugan, the ultimate sanction against a life without lawful authority. Kugan is not merely an individual but each and everyone of us who identifies with being human," he added.

Not an isolated case

Gopal also pointed out that the youth's death, which has been classified as murder, was not an isolated case. 

The lawyer cited estimates from undisclosed sources to show that the authority of the home minister has been tainted with the deaths of more than 1,000 people in custody over a period of time 'with no plausible excuse or reason available'. 

He asked if ministers are "competent, capable or civilised enough to hold office when they demonstrably lack any quality for human values, respect or dignity by their deafening silence in the face of murder." 

"There has to be also a changing of the guard from the incumbent prime minister - who suffers from the arrogance of ignorance in the highest office, to one who is more pragmatic and deft in dealing with such issues with less equanimity. 

"What could otherwise have been an administrative wrong-doing has, by default, now taken on racial, international and illegal dimensions of such a magnitude for which all Malaysians will eventually pay heavily for failing to act on time," he added. 

Gopal expressed hope that Malaysians would stand together for the preservation of a principle and the maintenance of their laws.

"If even one precedent is allowed to depart from the Federal Constitution and the laws, then no one is safe," he said - Malaysiakini.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

> Different results from two autopsies

Initial results of the second autopsy on Kugan Ananthan, who died mysteriously in police custody on Jan 20, is contrary to the one undertaken by government pathologists, and goes beyond “water in the lungs” as the cause of death, Kapar MP S. Manickavasagam said today.

“Kugan’s family and lawyers already know the results of the post-mortem but have been urged by the forensic pathologist, who carried out post mortem, not to disclose it until his report is completed,” Manickavasagam said today after attending Kugan’s funeral.

He disclosed that tissue samples taken by the pathologist attached to the University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) will be sent to Singapore for analysis. The first autopsy was done in the Serdang Hospital.

The politician said contrary to press reports, Kugan’s family had asked for the second post-mortem to be done and the cost was paid by Puchong MP Gobind Singh Deo.

“Therefore the results will be given to the family and lawyers first and not the government as reported,” he added

Meanwhile, Manikavasagam said he will lodge a police report against Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar at  the Brickfields police station tomorrow, claiming the Selangor police chief had lied about a mob barging into the Serdang Hospital mortuary and tampered with Kugan’s remains.

“I have an hour long recording that will show that there was no mob, only grieving family and friends who were let in by an attendant, at the mortuary,” he added.

Meanwhile several Pakatan Rakyat politicians and lawyers lashed out at police for their excessive force while the family members went to claim his body for the UMMC mortuary and extensive police presence during the entire funeral.

Lawyer N.Surendren said family members initially had to “negotiate with police” to let them through a police cordon at UMMC to claim the body.

“This was totally unnecessary as they knew we were coming to claim the body for the funeral, today.”

Subang MP Sivarasa Rasiah said there was an excessive police presence at every stage of the funeral.

“Why was there a need for such a big police presence when all we wanted to do was claim the body and have the funeral.” he asked.

Meanwhile Penang deputy Chief Minister and Perai state assemblyman Dr P Ramasamy, who was also at the funeral, urged the government to implement the proposed Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPMC) without further delay.

“Let Kugan be the last death in custody and not wait for another case.” he said - The Malaysian Insider.

> Obama argues for stimulus plan

Looking beyond expected House approval of an $819 billion economic stimulus plan, President Barack Obama said Wednesday the nation is at a "perilous moment" requiring swift and decisive action.

"We don't have a moment to spare," Obama said in the East Room of the White House, just hours before a crucial House roll call vote. The measure intended to steady the ailing economy was expected to pass, but probably with little of the bipartisan support that Obama wanted. It then goes to the Senate where the new president hopes to draw more GOP backing.

Obama tempered the sense of urgency in his voice with an observation that he and corporate leaders "left our meeting confident that we can still turn our economy around."

His brief remarks were designed to put his stamp on the debate while the action was taking place at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Obama, who met at the White House with the business CEOs, said the people running the companies that are the engine of the American economy are behind him. Asked at one point if he was confident of getting Republican support, he replied only: "I'm confident we're going to get it passed."

Obama has spent his first days in office trying to drum up bipartisan support for his expensive and expansive plan to help pull the country out of the year-old recession. It's the first major test of his presidency; how he handles the volatile situation, and the effect of his stimulus package on the economy, could well set the tone for his entire term.

The House measure had been estimated to cost $825 billion, but the Congressional Budget Office updated the bill's price tag to $816 billion after accountants recalculated the cost. 
That total rose by $3 billion when the House approved on a voice vote a Democratic amendment for mass transit.

The legislation includes about $544 billion in spending and roughly $275 billion in tax cuts in hopes of spurring the economy and helping recession victims. Much of the spending would be for items such as health care, jobless benefits, food stamps and other such programs.

On Capitol Hill, most Democrats pressed for passage and trumpeted the measure as the elixir for what ails their jobless constituents; Republicans generally griped about "insane" programs that would be funded in the plan and "minuscule" tax relief for small businesses.

"Some say we're moving too quickly to pass this legislation. I say this legislation is long overdue," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. "We simply cannot wait."

"Another week that we delay is another 100,000 or more people unemployed. I don't think we want that on our consciences," added David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

His Republican counterpart, Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, suggested that Democrats were putting politics over progress. "It's not too late to make this a better bill, a bipartisan bill," Lewis said.

Earlier, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, wouldn't say how he thought the vote would turn out. He promoted a GOP alternative and said the Democratic plan "won't create many jobs, but it will create plenty of programs and projects through slow-moving government spending."

Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said "where we have differences with the House Democrats is that the package just doesn't seem to reflect our priorities, nor the president's."

Congressional leaders have promised Obama they would send him the measure by mid-February.

In his remarks, Obama called on everyone to abandon a "sense of irresponsibility that prevailed from Wall Street to Washington."

And he said his administration would make certain the money would be spent in full view of the public, with ways to check where it goes and how it will be used — a nod to skepticism about the "size and scale" of the plan.

He left no doubt that he means to see it signed into law, and quickly — and that he thinks those who stand in the way will suffer the wrath of angry voters.

"All we can do, those of us in Washington, is help create a favorable climate in which workers can prosper, businesses can thrive, and our economy can grow," Obama said. "And that's exactly what I intend to achieve - soon." - AP.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

> Obama: Mideast Peace

U.S. President Barack Obama said the time was ripe for Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace negotiations and that America was prepared to extend a hand of peace to Iran if it "unclenched its fist."

In his first interview with Arab television since taking office, Obama told Al Arabiya Monday his administration would adopt a more comprehensive approach in its ties with Muslims.

"It is impossible for us to think only in terms of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and not think in terms of what's happening with Syria or Iran or Lebanon or Afghanistan and Pakistan," Obama told the Dubai-based satellite channel.

"It is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but (also) where there are potential avenues for progress," Obama said.

"If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us."

The administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush was pushing for a new round of U.N. sanctions against Iran for refusing to suspend a uranium enrichment program.

The United States, European Union and Western powers suspect Tehran is amassing the capability to produce nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear ambitions are limited to the peaceful generation of electricity and refuses to freeze a program that it says is its sovereign right to have.

Obama, who took office Tuesday, said he had begun to meet his campaign promises by naming former Senator George Mitchell as Middle East envoy. Mitchell was scheduled to arrive in Egypt Monday night on the first leg of a regional visit.

"Sending George Mitchell to the Middle East is fulfilling my campaign promise that we're not going to wait until the end of my administration to deal with Palestinian and Israeli peace. We're going to start now," Obama said.

He said his administration wanted to begin by listening and talking to those involved without prejudging their concerns.

"We cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what is best for them," he said.

"But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. And that instead, it's time to return to the negotiating table."

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday he was "optimistic" because Obama had assured him that he intended to maintain Washington's "traditional commitment" to Israel, a commitment the U.S. president reiterated in his interview.

"I know that when he sends his emissary to ... Israel this is not in order to argue with us but to look together... and find a way that will help both sides, together with the Palestinians, to come to terms that will allow us to ultimately agree on a comprehensive settlement," Olmert said in English.


Obama also praised Saudi King Abdullah for the Saudi-sponsored peace initiative, which offers Arab peace to Israel in exchange for its withdrawal from Arab land occupied since 1967 and a just solution for Palestinian refugees.

"I might not agree with every aspect of the proposal, but it took great courage to put forward something that is as significant as that," Obama said. "I think that there are ideas across the region of how we might pursue peace."

Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal warned Obama in an article published this month that U.S.-Saudi ties were at risk unless Washington changed tack on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Obama acknowledged that the United States had made mistakes but, noting that he had lived in Muslim countries and had Muslim relatives, said he would try to restore that relationship.

"My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy. We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect," he said.

"But ... America was not born as a colonial power, and ... the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there's no reason why we can't restore that."

He urged Muslims to judge him by his actions, pointing to the decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center, where detainees in the U.S. war on terror are held. He said he also would begin to implement his pledge to draw down troops in Iraq.

But while Arabs have high hopes that Obama will change U.S. policies, analysts said he had yet to spell out how he would achieve a two-state solution and manage the Iraq withdrawal.

"We have to lower our expectations that he has a magic wand to solve all our problems," said analyst Mustafa Alani.

"The Arab attitude is basically optimistic that Obama will turn a new page and his inaugural speech reached out to Muslims but the devil is in the detail."

Asked about the sharp verbal attacks on him by al Qaeda leaders behind the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Obama said it showed "that their ideas are bankrupt."

"In my inauguration speech, I spoke about: You will be judged on what you've built, not what you've destroyed. And what they've been doing is destroying things," he said. "I think the Muslim world has recognized that that path is leading no place, except more death and destruction." - Reuters.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

> Probe paper on Kugan's death

The investigation papers on the death of lock-up detainee Kugan Ananthan will be completed tomorrow and submitted to the Attorney-General's Chambers on Wednesday.

Selangor police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said the police will need to interview several more witnesses, which could be done by tomorrow.

"Yesterday we have taken statements from 11 police officers who were on duty at the time of Kugan's death.

"We have also called in several witnesses who were there when Kugan was arrested and during his death.

"The witnesses' accounts are crucial to our investigations," he said today, as reported by Bernama.

Khalid also said that the investigations were carried out in a professional and fair manner by a special team from Bukit Aman.

He added that the police had also taken statements from individuals who saw police arrested Kugan on Jan 15.

At the same time, Khalid also urged the public not to speculate on the second post-mortem carried out on Kugan's body yesterday.

"The post-mortem was carried out independently," he said.

Kugan, who was arrested on suspicion of being involved in luxury car theft in Sungai Chua, Kajang, died while in detention at the Taipan police station in Subang Jaya on Jan 20 - Malaysiakini.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Happy Chinese New Year !

Wishing all My Journal readers and friends, A Very Happy Chinese New Year !

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

> Will the KT electorate vote for change?

In the most daring act to 'bribe' the electorate of Kuala Terengganu (KT) to date, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak dished out 583 government contracts in a “lucky draw” fashion to each and every Class F contractor present at the Wisma Darul Iman in Kuala Terengganu on Jan 10, the fifth day of the KT by-election campaign.

These contracts (valued between RM30,000 to RM200,000 each), which were claimed to be for infrastructure works in the local township, were distributed in random by having the contractors come on stage to click on the computer.

And upon pressing the button, a contract would be awarded to the contractor, details of which - nature of works and contract price - would instantly appear in a big screen in the hall.  Thus the contractor would walk home with his “prize” (a contract with a pre-determined price), with no question asked on his track record or suitability for the works assigned.

Najib, who launched these innovative awards, proudly claimed this as “a world record”, saying that: “In this lucky draw, everyone wins. Everyone gets a contract.”

He further added that if Barisan Nasional wins in the coming Kuala Terengganu by-election, there would be more and bigger such contracts, so that the Class F contractors (confined to Malays, for small contracts) would “continue to make money and the country’s economy would continue to grow”.

While Najib may be entitled to claim he has scored “the world’s first” for having satisfied every one of the hundreds of contractors present, few can share his pride over such bizarre method of disposing government infrastructure projects.

For a start, contracts for infrastructure works are usually awarded gradually over a period of time, as and when the needs for such works arise, as determined and initiated by the engineers and the local authorities.

These contracts are never awarded in a torrent of hundreds within a single day anywhere in the world.  Granted that this may be part of the stimulus package announced earlier to counter current economic hardship, there is no possible justification to cram such a staggering number of projects in one go, especially when these are confined to a small township like Kuala Terengganu.

Needless to say, massive wastages and redundancies will be the inevitable consequences.

'Irresponsible act of public squandering'

Then, what about the track records and skill compatibility of the contractors with respect to the projects at hand?  Without proper interview and scrutiny of the awardees, how can the government be certain that the projects are awarded to the right contractors?

Next, there is the question of price.  Without tenders or negotiation, how can the government ensure fair pricing?

In fact, over-generous pricing is expected, or else Najib would not have said: “I see everyone present here is jubilant and clapping his hands, every one has got a government contract, how can they be not grateful to the government and not strongly support Barisan Nasional?” (Sin Chew Daily, Jan 11)

It is clear that this “lucky draw” award of contracts is an irresponsible act of public squandering aimed at inducing voters to support BN. 

For this move, BN was promptly condemned by the National Institute of Electoral Integrity as abusing government machinery to dish out financial benefits during election campaign.

Deplorable as the act is, this is but one of an endless series of similar monetary inducement amounting to tens of millions of ringgit in the form of cash payments and allocations handed out by BN in the KT constituency since the run-up to polling which will be held on Jan 17.

Goodies for Chinese community

In fact, on the same day (Jan 10) as Najib handed out the “lucky draw” contracts, he also handed out RM8 million to 20 religious schools, which are mainly located in Terengganu state.

Recognising the minority 8,787 Chinese votes (11% of total) as pivotal in this election, the Chinese community has been bombarded almost daily with allocations and cash payments totalling no less than RM 12 million, such as:

(1) RM3.3 million for construction of a new community hall.

(2) RM2.8 million for furbishing a completed hall in a Chinese school.

(3) RM3 million for 10 Chinese schools.

(4) RM2.7 million cash distribution to 9,000 Chinese for the coming Chinese New year (this annual payment was brought forward to reap the goodwill of Chinese electorate for the coming poll), and;

(5) Miscellaneous payments to temples, guilds and other community bodies.

All these financial bonanzas, handed out within the few days sincenominations on Jan 5, are clearly intended to induce voters to vote in favour of the BN candidate. It therefore constitute “bribery” as defined in paragraph 10 of the Election Offences Act 1954, for which the culprits are punishable as prescribed in paragraph 11 of the same Act.

Regrettably, the election commission under the new chairman Abdul Aziz Yusof, who vowed to ensure clean and fair election, has remained silent over these BN offences.

Neither has the newly-formed Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), which prides itself as a replica of the famed Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) of Hong Kong, been stirred by such glaring corrupt practices.

Complete mockery of our election

Such monetary assault on the electorate, combined with the daily brainwashing by BN’s propaganda machines, also known as the mainstream media (local newspapers and TV channels), has once again made a complete mockery of our election as a cornerstone of a democratic system of government.

With all the institutions tasked to uphold the rule of law either unwilling or incapable of fulfilling their constitutional roles, it is now left to the 80,000 electorate of Kuala Terengganu to play as guardians to uphold justice and democracy by disciplining the wayward ruling party with a negative vote.

In this connection, it is heartening to take note of how the neighbouring Kelantan state has valiantly fought off similar corrupt assault by Umno/BN for the past two decades.

Under the corruption-free administration of PAS, the people of Kelantan, who are almost completely Malay Muslims, have proven themselves to be people of high moral fibre.  

They have successfully overcome the persistent coercion and temptation presented by the Umno/BN federal government through abuse of federal authority and improper monetary inducement.

No doubt, their devotion to Islam, which abhors corruption as a grave sin, must have been an important factor that contributes to their moral courage.

Will the Terengganu Muslim constituents, who form 88 percent of the KT electorate, prove to have the same moral strength as their Kelantan brothers by rejecting the decadent values of Umno/BN?

And will the minority Chinese constituents gaze beyond the immediate monetary gains to vote for change – a change that would mean the rejection of a defunct political power and one step closer to turning a new leaf for the nation?

Coming at a time of power transition following the political tsunami of the Mar 8, 2008 elections, the outcome of this KT by-election will have significant impact on the future direction of country’s political development.  

It is therefore earnestly hoped that the people of KT will rise to the occasion to make the right choice for the nation - Malaysiakini.

KIM QUEK is a retired accountant and a member of opposition party PKR.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

> PAS wants full disclosure of KT oil royalty

Sensing a Barisan Nasional (BN) campaign in the Kuala Terengganu by-election on the backfoot, Pas now wants details of Terengganu's oil royalty payments to be made public.

When Pas was in government in the state from 1999-2004, the party had filed a suit against the BN federal government after it withdrew the 5 per cent royalty and instead converted it at a lower quantum into Wang Ehsan (compassionate fund) for Terengganu citizens in 2000.

In June last year, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi announced that the government would revert back to the 5 per cent royalty and allow the state administration to manage the funds.

"Why the inconsistency? Tell us the truth of the matter. First there was no oil royalty but now there is," Pas president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang told reporters in Parliament today.

He added that BN must disclose all details of the amount payable to the state as this was a core issue for voters in Kuala Terengganu.

The current by-election, said to be too close to call when campaigning began, now appears to be shifting towards Pakatan Rakyat (PR) and Pas appears keen to press home on the issue of oil royalty in light of uncertainty with regards to the economy.

The party's research chief Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad added that there was a discrepancy between the RM7.364 billion that Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Senator Datuk Amirsham Aziz said had been paid to the state from March 2004 to March 2007 and the amount that the party has been keeping track of.

"Menteri Besar Datuk Ahmad Said says there is still a shortfall of RM1.5 billion not yet paid but the actual amount is at least RM2.5 billion," he insisted.

The Kuala Selangor MP added that Ahmad said that the "issue is closed" so as to sidestep the issue.

Abdul Hadi further called for a special committee to be set up in the state assembly to study details of the RM7.364 billion claimed by the federal government - The Malaysian Insider.

Monday, January 12, 2009

> Ramasamy slams Indian PM over Sri Lankan War

A Malaysian Tamil politician came down heavily on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for not condemning the killing of Tamils in Sri Lanka in the ongoing ethnic war and, instead, referring to Gaza and sympathising with Palestinians.

Penang Deputy Chief Minister P. Ramasamy, who was the guest of honour at the session on media and entertainment at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas here, said: “Hundreds of Tamils are being killed in Sri Lanka. Yet, the Prime Minister did not make a single statement about it. We Tamils in Malaysia are concerned about our brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka.”

He pointed out that Singh talked about the Gaza killings.

On the situation in Malaysia, he said Tamils there would want “India to take a look at the situation.”

The session turned out to be one where speakers from the Indian diaspora aired views ranging from criticising their governments to inviting investments to their cities.

Loganathan Naidoo, Deputy Mayor of eThekwini (Durban), said his city was inviting Indian producers to film their movies there.

A public-private partnership studio was being set up in Durban along the coast. Naidoo said his city wanted a sister city partnership with Chennai so that both could “help build bridges across the Indian Ocean.” He was awaiting a response from Chennai.

N. Ravi, editor of The Hindu, chaired the session. Responding to a question on how India should be projected abroad, Ravi said it should be open and transparent.

“We should be vigorous in our debates. Let the outside world see us as we are. We have nothing to hide in a democracy.”

He disagreed with the view that good news alone should be projected abroad.

Shan Chandrasekar, chief executive officer, Asian Television Network International, Canada, detailed his network’s presence and how they operated in a niche market.

He was “emotionally touched” with the observations of the Malaysian deputy chief minister, and said if a migrant population did not absorb the local culture, it ran the risk of ending up at the receiving end as in Fiji or Uganda - The Hindu.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

> 21 held after anti-war protest

Police rounded up 21 people including eight women and a 12-year-old boy at Dataran Merdeka tonight after they did not heed the order to disperse.

Among those held were Kota Damansara Assemblyman Dr Mohd Nasir Hashim, Klang Member of Parliament Charles Santiago and Jerit coordinator Arutchelvan Subramaniamrit, said Kuala Lumpur police chief Datuk Mohammad Sabtu Osman.

"They were arrested while gathering at the Dataran and taken to the Tun HS Lee police station for questioning," he added.

The gathering was organised by Parti Sosialis Malaysia to protest the conflict in Gaza and Sri Lanka.

The group was seen marching from the compound of the Bar Council building to Dataran Merdeka at about 8pm and police moved in half an hour later after they refused to disperse - Bernama.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

> Illinois House impeaches Blagojevich

The Illinois House voted overwhelmingly Friday to impeach Gov. Rod Blagojevich, an unprecedented action that sets up a Senate trial on whether he should be thrown out for abuse of power, including allegations that he tried to sell President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat.

Impeachment required just 60 votes. The final result was 114-1.

Legislators accused the second-term Democratic governor of letting down the people of Illinois by letting ego and ambition drive his decisions.

"It's our duty to clean up the mess and stop the freak show that's become Illinois government," said Rep. Jack D. Franks, a Democrat.

Blagojevich was out jogging in his Chicago neighborhood when the vote came down. His office declined to comment, but said he would issue a statement Friday afternoon.

During the House's 90-minute debate on impeachment, no one spoke up to defend the governor. But Rep. Milton Patterson, a Chicago Democrat, made the sole vote against impeaching Blagojevich.

Patterson said he read the impeachment committee's report and wasn't comfortable voting against the governor. "I have no firsthand knowledge of any of the evidence," he said.

"I went by my own gut feeling, it's as simple as that," he said. "I read the report. If the government is going to indict him, let them go ahead and do that. That's their job and I'm doing my job."

Rep. Elga Jefferies, another Chicago Democrat, voted "present."

Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on federal charges that include allegations he schemed to profit from his power to name Obama's replacement in the Senate. The criminal complaint included an FBI agent's sworn affidavit describing wiretaps that caught Blagojevich allegedly talking about what he could get for the seat, how to pressure people into making campaign contributions and more.

That arrest triggered impeachment hearings by a special House committee.

The committee on Thursday unanimously recommended impeachment based on the criminal charges but other allegations as well — that Blagojevich expanded a health care program without proper authority, that he circumvented hiring laws to give jobs to political allies, that he spent millions of dollars on foreign flu vaccine that he knew wasn't needed and couldn't be brought into the country.

"The citizens of this state must have confidence that their governor will faithfully serve the people and put their interests before his own," the committee's report said. "It is with profound regret that the committee finds that our current governor has not done so."

Blagojevich has denied the criminal charges. He criticized the House impeachment process as biased and said a Senate trial would produce a different result.

But he didn't testify before the House impeachment committee and hasn't offered an explanation for the federal charges.

"His silence in this great matter is deafening," said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat - AP.

> Anwar says it again: We'll capture S'wak

Anwar Ibrahim has reiterated his confidence that opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat will form the Sarawak government due to the disenchantment of the locals with the Barisan Nasional state administration.

With his trademark oratory skills, the opposition leader told an elated crowd of more than 5,000 at a 'Friends of PKR' dinner in Kuching this evening that opposition parties will work together to unseat BN and long serving chief minister, Abdul Taib Mahmud. 

On the same note, the PKR de facto leader assured that a Pakatan Rakyat state government will work to safeguard and protect the people's land and rights.

According to him, if Pakatan Rakyat forms government, it will introduce the necessary legislation within six months to return to the people what rightly belongs to them such as land. 

He said BN had claimed prior to the March 8, 2008 general election that the opposition will not be able understand the mechanics of running a government.

This has been proven to be incorrect following the opposition alliance gaining control of four states, apart from retaining Kelantan, he added.

"Yes, we do not understand the economics of stealing people's lands," he quipped.

Takes a swipe at Alfred Jabu

During his speech, the opposition leader also took a swipe at one of his chief critics in Sarawak, Deputy Chief Minister Alfred Jabu.

Anwar, who received a standing ovation at the end of his 25-minute speech, said Jabu should find ways to help the Dayak community instead of wasting time criticising him.

Later, Anwar received 3,000 membership application forms from former PRS member of parliament for Sri Aman Jimmy Donald from 20 PRS divisions.

He also received a memorandum from representatives of 32 Bidayuh families (left) from the Bejoi and Pain Bojong villages in the Bengoh area which is affected by the construction of the RM320 million Bengoh Dam.

The villagers have refused to be resettled to a site proposed by the state government and urged Anwar to raise their plight in Parliament.

Also present at the dinner were Selangor Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim, PKR secretary-general Sallehuddin Hashim and several PKR MPs and state representatives.

Anwar arrived in Kuching from Kuala Lumpur by AirAsia and contrary to earlier reports suggesting he might be banned from entering, he got through without any hindrance. Khalid arrived earlier in a MAS flight.

Following a late night meeting with state PKR leaders, Anwar and Khalid will leave for Kuala Lumpur tomorrow morning - Malaysiakini.

Friday, January 9, 2009

> Fire at LCCT

A fire has broken out at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal, forcing the evacuation of all passengers and staff, a senior official with its main tenant AirAsia said today.

"It started 40 minutes ago, there's a lot of smoke. The airport has been evacuated, operations are at a standstill," the official told AFP.

The AirAsia representative said that the fire broke out at a new section of the Low Cost Carrier Terminal which is currently under construction and due to be opened shortly.

A fire has broken out at Malaysia's budget airport terminal, forcing the evacuation of all passengers and staff, a senior official with its main tenant AirAsia said Friday.

"It started 40 minutes ago (about 11.3am), there's a lot of smoke. The airport has been evacuated, operations are at a standstill," the official told AFP.

The AirAsia representative said the fire broke out at a new section of the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) which is currently under construction and due to be opened in the next few months.

"Everybody is standing outside the airport," he said, noting that there had been no fire alarm despite people having to be evacuated.

The fire broke out just a day after Air Asia announced its plans to shift its operations to its own airport nearby.

‘I saw smoke'

An eyewitness at the scene, 31-year-old businessman Cham Ze Hoe, said that at least two fire engines had arrived at the budget terminal.

He said he joined a large crowd of people standing outside the building when he arrived to catch his flight but was prevented from going inside.

"I was stuck in a bus outside the LCCT and I thought it was a traffic jam... I got down from the bus and walked towards the terminal," he told AFP.

"I could see smoke coming from the LCCT building. There were hundreds of people standing outside."

The LCCT which opened in 2006 is located 20 kilometres from the capital's main facility, the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. It is used by AirAsia as well as Cebu Pacific and Tiger Airways.

AirAsia on Thursday unveiled plans to shift to its own 460 million dollar airport outside Kuala Lumpur and abandon the overcrowded LCCT which it has rapidly outgrown.

The warehouse-style terminal, built at a cost of 29.2 million dollars, was designed to handle 10 million passengers a year - AFP.

> By God, the Herald will continue to use "Allah"

Catholic newspaper The Herald will mark the return of its Bahasa Malaysia edition with a bumper issue next Jan 18 and defy the authorities by using "Allah" to describe God.

Herald editor Rev Father Lawrence Andrew said today it will use the word "Allah" as its suit on the word is still in the courts while the bumper issue is to make up for lost time. Government officials said the newspaper can have a Bahasa Malaysia edition as long as it does not describe God as "Allah" which is reserved only for Muslims.

"We will continue using it as the case is still going on in court," Fr Lawrence told The Malaysian Insider today, adding the Kuala Lumpur High Court had allowed The Herald to continue using the disputed word pending its judgment in the case.

He explained that the Catholic Church had been using the word in the manner prescribed because it was contained in the Bahasa Malaysia version of the Scriptures, which had been approved by the church's authorities "a long time ago".

"I can't change the Scriptures. If the word 'Allah' is in there, we will use it," he said.

"The government cannot tell us we cannot use it if it is in the Scriptures. This is against the Federal Constitution," he added.

The Herald's insistence is almost certain to shake the already fragile religious ties in Malaysia.

But Fr Lawrence begs to differ.

"We are not terrorists. We are not enemies. We're all brothers and sisters who worship God," he said soothingly, adding he did not know why the word is controversial.

The government had banned the weekly from putting out stories in the national language after its publishing permit expired on Dec 31 last year.

The reason, allegedly, was that the Malay news content which used the word "Allah" to describe God in a non-Muslim context would confuse followers of Islam in Malaysia.

A few days later, the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur who is the publisher of The Herald, wrote a letter asking the Home Ministry to lift the ban.

He warned that the Church would take legal action against the government if it did not reply

Today, the Associated Press reported the Home Ministry had lifted the ban, but refused to allow The Herald to use the word "Allah" - The Malaysian Insider.

> KLIA East: AirAsia's boss explains why

The facilities provided by Malaysian Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) and the services offered by AirAsia simply do not add up.

According to the budget airlines' chief executive officer Tony Fernandes, this is the reason why the company will be shifting its operations from the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) in Sepang.

The airline's new airport, dubbed KLIA East, will be located in Labu, Negeri Sembilan and will feature all the facilities of a full scale airport. The RM1.6 billion joint venture project with Sime Darby Bhd is slated to commence in 2011.

"We believe in lowering our business costs, it is the key to our success," Fernandes told a press conference at the Sepang LCCT conference room this morning

"The new airport will provide more capacity for aircraft and passengers, and enable us to bring down fares," he said, adding that costs could be lowered by 30 percent.

Fernandes also rejected criticism that KLIA has more than enough capacity to handle AirAsia's growth plans, and that the sprawling city has no need for what would be its fourth airport.

"I think we know what we need, we are not silly," he said. "There is nothing here (at the old terminal) to add value to our passengers. Allow us to take our destiny in our own hands."

Once expansion work is completed on the Sepang LCCT, it will have a passenger capacity of 15,000,000 but Air Asia projects that by 2011, it will fly 19,416,000 passengers to Kuala Lumpur, resulting in an overflow of 4,416,000 passengers. 

"We know what we need (for our business). You could put 100 staff to operate the baggage system but when you only have two baggage carousels…," said Fernandes. 

He added that the airline does not need "high facilities" like "marble floors" and does not wish to pay for them either.

"We are put in the middle of nowhere, we are surrounded by cargo…there is nothing here to add value to our airport…nothing here to create economic growth," he lamented. 

Given two alternatives

Fernandes also revealed that MAHB had presented two alternatives to Air Asia to construct the facilities needed for its expanding operations.

One proposal was an area located north of the current LCCT. However, the area does not contain a runway and would have taken four years to construct the required facilities.

According to Fernandes, this idea was scraped without any explanation.

Furthermore, he explained that the Express Railway Lane (ERL) track in the vicinity had also posed a problem.

"The track is too high. In order to get from the parking lot to the highway, we would have had to build a bridge. It is impossible for a plane to fly (close to) over a bridge the last I checked," he added. 

The other spot offered to Air Asia was located in the west, opposite the control tower. But Fernandes claimed that poor soil condition in the area would make it too costly and time consuming to develop.

Commenting on the potential expansion of the KLIA terminal, Fernandes said when the KLIA master plan was drawn, it had not taken the Sepang F1 circuit into account. As a result, he said that much space in the surrounding area has been taken up.

Labu is located just south of Nilai and is 22 km east of the KLIA main terminal. The site is currently a palm oil plantation owned by Sime Darby Bhd.

The terminal will be connected to the existing Kuala Lumpur-Seremban highway and railway line. An express train journey from Kuala Lumpur to KLIA East will take 35 minutes. 

KLIA East will be privately financed, either by Air Asia Bhd, Sime Darby Bhd, a third party or a combination of these parties. The airport will initially be built with enough capacity for 30 million passengers per year. There is enough land to expand KLIA East to accommodate 50 million passengers        

"We have a fantastic partner, it will enhance tourism. We will also have a theme park, it will be like Orlando airport where Disneyland is located," Fernandes said.
MAHB posted a press statement on their website on Jan 5. MAHB had stated that it realised the importance of low fare travel and the role Air Asia had played in its development.

The current LCCT has just undergone a RM170 million renovation. This brings the total amount spent on the LCCT to 278 million financed by the government. 

Contacted yesterday, MAHB's senior general manager for finance services Faizal Mansor said that the LCCT, which is undergoing a RM170 million renovation, will be converted into an area to accommodate cargo and other services such as hangars - Malaysiakini.

> T'ganu to withdraw oil royalty suit

Terengganu Menteri Besar Ahmad Said said the nine-year-old suit against the federal government for withholding oil royalties will be withdrawn in March.  

At a press conference in Kuala Terengganu today, Ahmad (right) said that the state government was still ironing out several legal technicalities before the suit can be withdrawn.  

“Under our arrangement with Petronas, they are suppose to pay us twice a year - in March and in September,” he said in reference to the five percent royalty which the company is to pay to the oil-rich state. 

Our legal advisor is in the process of withdrawing the suit but there are one or two technical issues which needs to be resolved first.”

If all goes to plan, the Terengganu government should assume full control of the oil royalties, estimated at about RM1 billion annually, by March. 

The federal government had in 2000 withdrew payment of oil royalties months after PAS took control of the state in the 1999 general elections.

Subsequently, the then-PAS government filed a suit against the federal government for denying oil royalties, which it argued was meant to be a punishment to the opposition-controlled state. 

Instead the oil royalty payments - now renamed ‘wang eshan’ (goodwill payment) - were channeled directly to BN-controlled agencies for disbursements to the state.  

However, even after BN had recaptured Terengganu in 2004, the federal government did not restore oil royalty payments to the state government.

It was only after Ahmad took over the menteri besar post in March last year, with the backing of the Terengganu sultan, that the payments were restored.   

However, Ahmad denied allegations that Terengganu had yet to drop the law suit in order to threaten Putrajaya into returning the oil royalty to the state coffers.  

“There are no threats. We (federal and state government) are like father and son,” he said.  

No infighting within state Umno

On the on-going Barisan campaign, Ahmad denied that the party machinery was being hampered by infighting among party factions.  

“We don’t have a problem with the candidate. We only nominated one. I did not nominate anyone else. .. He (Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh) was endorse unanimously at the division and later at the state level,” he said. 

Instead he said it was PAS which was split with the party Terengganu chief, Mustafa Ali, seeking to offer himself as the by-election candidate.  

“We’re not like PAS. Everyone knows there was a struggle (over the PAS candidate),” said Ahmad, adding that Mustafa wanted to contest as it would be his ‘last chance’ due to his age.  

Asked on his evaluation of Wan Ahmad Farid (left), the BN’s candidate in the by-election, Ahmad was non-committal.  

“If I want to say I’m satisfied, that would be difficult. If we have weaknesses, we should improve ourselves,” he said, adding that Wan Ahmad Farid, who was a senator, has no experience in contesting for either the state or parliamentary constituency.

Wan Ahmad Farid is squaring off against five-term Wakaf Mempelam assemblyperson and PAS candidate Abdul Wahid Endut and independent candidate Azharuddin Mamad in the crucial Jan 17 by-election - Malaysiakini.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

> Penang withdraws stop work order

The state government has allowed MMC-Gamuda Joint Venture Sdn Bhd to resume work on its electrified double-track project through mainland Penang.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said today the government made the decision after receiving assurance from the company that it will settle pending payments worth RM 7.4 million owing to the state.

He explained that the company has made partial payment of RM4 million and undertaken to finalise the remaining amount by Chinese New Year.

Of the amount, RM 3.2 million was owed as drainage contribution to the state government, while some RM 4.2 million was mainly fines to the Seberang Perai Municipal Council (MPSP) for conducting work without planning permission, he said.

The state government issued a stop-work order on the project last month after the company failed to submit planning permission application to the MPSP, Lim explained at a press conference at his office in Komtar today.

He also dismissed reported criticism by state Opposition leader and state Umno secretary Datuk Azhar Ibrahim that the Pakatan Rakyat administration’s initial decision to stop the project was political motivated.

"The state government wants the project to go smoothly," Lim said.

"Even though we have not collected the full amount, we are willing to allow work to continue. So what Azhar said has no basis."

Azhar was reported by a Malay-language daily today (7 Jan) as saying that the state’s stop-work order on the double track project which stretches from Ipoh to Padang Besar was related to the federal government’s refusal to approve some of the state’s requests.

"We are not like the state opposition which thinks that everything is political," Lim said.

"If we wanted to stop this project, we would have stopped it earlier."

On the issue of compensation for squatters and residents living on land that is needed for the rail project, Lim said the state was waiting for the company to respond on the amount it was willing to give.

Gamuda group managing director Datuk Lin Yun Ling had reportedly said last month that the the project was delayed in Penang because of land acquisition problems related to the squatters.

Lim responded on Dec 19 by shooting a warning to Gamuda not to blame the state for the delay - theSun.

> Suhakam: Cops guilty of excessive force

A Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) inquiry panel has found that the police used excessive force during the Bandar Mahkota Cheras (BMC) fracas on May 27 last year.

The panel held the unanimous opinion that there was excessive use of force by the police and the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) personnel on 23-year-old mechanic Chang Jiun Haur (left) and his employer, Chan Siew Meng.

Chang had claimed that the FRU and police had stopped his car and assaulted him and his three passengers when they unwittingly arrived at the scene of a protest by BMC residents.

Agreeing with Chang, Suhakam commissioner and head panel-member Zaitoon Othman told a press conference that excessive use of force by the police and FRU “had violated the safety and security” of Jiun Haur and Siew Meng.

While no excessive force was used on the other two passengers - Jiun Haur’s sister Jiun Mein and his friend Chok Kem Hoo - Zaitoon said “nevertheless, their safety and security were threatened by the aggressive actions of the law enforcement personnel”.

In the report, the panel said it acknowledges that police officers may use force and firearms in the discharge of their duty to maintain law and order.
This particular incident, however, did not warrant the use of excessive force by the FRU and police involved, it said.

While the panel found that law enforcement personnel were responsible for the violation of the victims’ human rights, it was unable to identify who in particular was responsible for the violation.

This is due to the "contradicting and unclear evidence" obtained from witnesses, explained Zaitoon.

Two witnesses had identified FRU personnel Lance Corporal Shahrizan Abdul Rashid as being among the alleged assaulters of Jiun Haur and Siew Meng.

Zaitoon, however, said this finding could not be used as “conclusive” as the witnesses had also identified Shahrizan as having been at Bandar Mahkota Cheras prior to May 27, 2008.

Shahrizan’s testimony - that he was on duty at Bandar Mahkota Cheras only on that night and had not been there on any other date - was corroborated by evidence given by several other police personnel.

On claims that Jiun Haur’s was driving recklessly and had refused to get out of his car when ordered to do - therefore leading to the assault - Zaitoon said the panel could not deliberate or comment on this, because the allegations have become the subject of a court case. 

Section 12(3) of the Suhakam Act 1999 prohibits the commission from enquiring into any matter that has become the subject of proceedings in any court of law.

Recommendations for police

The panel recommended that the FRU and police urgently implement international standards, among other measures, to restrain use of force and to apply force only gradually in accordance with the situation.

Any injury resulting from use of force by police personnel should be reported promptly to their superior officers and steps must be taken to treat those injured, said Zaitoon (centre in photo).

It was revealed during the inquiry that 15 minutes had elapsed between the time Jiun Haur and Siew Meng were taken to the police station after the assault, and when they were taken to the hospital for medical treatment. 

Upon receipt of such reports, Zaitoon said, there should be “an effective review process available with the exercise of jurisdiction of independent administrative or prosecutorial authorities and the report shall be subjected to administrative review and judicial control”.

To a question, panel member Chiam Heng Keng (left) said this recommendation was in reference to the creation of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission.

Panel-member Khalid Ibrahim, meanwhile, called on the police and FRU to require their personnel to display their names and badge numbers visibly during field operations.

This would not only facilitate identification of the personnel but also remind them of their duty to uphold people’s human rights, said Khalid.

The panel’s concluding recommendation was for the police to conduct their own investigation to ascertain those responsible for the violations and to recommend to the public prosecutor that action be taken against them.

The report, said Zaitoon, will be submitted immediately to the police, Home Ministry, attorney- general’s chambers, and the complainants.

To questions as to whether the report would have any effect, Zaitoon said: “We can only present our recommendations. We are not in a position to know what the authorities are going to do. But as long as we continue making our observations... and recommendations, we hope they will be taken up.”

On the same point, Khalid (left) said there have been gradual improvements in the police force, as evidenced by the increased restraint in the use of force, compared to past incidents.

“It’s not that easy to make them comply all the time, but I hope that they will minimise their mistakes (over time),” he added. 

The panel, which began its inquiry last July, was set three terms of reference:

a) To inquire whether or not any law enforcement personnel, in performance of their duty to maintain law and order, had used excessive force during the incident;

b) If there was excessive use of force, whether there was any violation of human rights of any person(s) and if so, who was responsible for this; and

c) To recommend what action should be taken against those responsible for violation of human rights - Malaysiakini.

> KT victory will reinvigorate takeover plans

Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim has renewed his vow to seize power from the ruling coalition, as the two sides lock horns for a key by-election.

Anwar has laid low since failing to meet a self-imposed September 2008 deadline to unseat the Barisan Nasional government, after general elections that saw the coalition handed its worst results in half a century.

The opposition alliance is now hoping to reinvigorate itself with a win in the Jan 17 by-election in Kuala Terengganu, which is seen as a referendum on the political mood since the March 2008 national polls.

"I want to say that we in the (Pakatan Rakyat) alliance are determined to topple the Barisan Nasional coalition," Anwar said at an opposition rally here late yesterday that drew some 10,000 supporters.

"For a start, I will help our alliance candidate from PAS obtain a big victory," he said on the seafront of the state capital Kuala Terengganu.

Top figures in the alliance - Anwar's PKR as well as the Islamic party PAS and the predominantly Chinese DAP - stood shoulder-to-shoulder to dispel signs the partnership is under strain.

They included PAS leaders Nik Aziz Nik Mat, Abdul Hadi Awang and DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang. 

The partnership of three ideologically divided parties is intent on putting its differences aside for the by-election, which will be contested by PAS candidate Mohamad Abdul Wahid, 52.

The ruling party Umno is fielding Deputy Home Minister Wan Ahmad Farid, 46, for the vote, which will indicate whether it has lured back support since the general elections.

Momentum stalled in October

Anwar had said he would topple the government by mid-September with the help of defecting lawmakers, after elections that saw the opposition gain five states and a third of parliamentary seats in unprecedented results.

But that deadline came and went and the promised mass defections from BN never materialised.

Anwar's momentum completely stalled in October when Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi agreed to stand down next March, defusing public anger at the government's handling of the economy and failure to introduce promised reforms.

The government is now exploiting bickering within the opposition, but Anwar said the alliance was united despite disagreements over issues such as a PAS call for the introduction of Islamic "hudud" law including the stoning of adulterers.

Snap polls possible end of this year

And he said that Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is slated to take over from Abdullah in March and is spearheading the by-election campaign, would suffer if the government loses.

"Najib is heading the Barisan Nasional machinery and if Barisan loses, it will hurt his credibility. The loss to the government will be a big blow to Najib," he said.

"It is a barometer for the future direction of politics in Malaysia," he said. "As I see it, the winds of change from the March 8 electoral tsunami are still blowing strong."

DAP chairman Lim Kit Siang said Najib may be forced to call elections much earlier than the end of the government's five-year term which expires in 2013.

"We hope a victory here will be a yardstick for us to win the next general election and take over the country. It is possible that a snap election would be held at year end," he said - Malaysiakini.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

> PAS: We stand for all races

PAS national integration chairperson Mujahid Yusof Rawa said the party’s success in administering Kelantan and Terengganu should convince Kuala Terengganu voters that it caters to the interests of all races.

"The candidates for the by-election are all Malays but Barisan Nasional is out to create the misconception that we only represent Malays and Muslims,” he said when contacted.

“PAS and I would stress that we do not only represent Muslims, but all races. We have strong support from non-Malays with the formation of the Kelab Penyokong PAS (PAS supporters’ club).

He said the club, which has close to 20,000 members, is proof that PAS has managed to win the support of non-Malays.

"PAS is not a racial party. We are one that is willing to fight for equal rights regardless of race and this is proven by Kelantan Chinese who have supported the party since 1990," he said.

Mujahid, who is Parit Buntar MP, attended the nomination proceedings in Kuala Terengganu this morning. He said 1,000 club members had accompanied PAS candidate Mohd Abdul Wahid Endut to the nomination centre.

Yesterday, more than 500 non-Malay voters had attended a get-together organised by the club and party. Kelantan's entrepreneur development, commerce and unity executive councillor Anuar Tan Abdullah was at the event to explain issues.

For instance, said Mujahid, BN has been exploiting the hudud issue and creating confusion among Chinese voters. During the talk, however, he and Anuar were able to clarify misconceptions. 

"I would like to emphasise that if hudud law is implemented, it would be only on Muslims. Non-Muslims will not be affected. In Islam, we are taught to respect the rights of not only Muslims but also non-Muslims.”

‘Hudud ploy will fail’

PAS Supporters’ Club chairperson Hu Pang Chaw, when contacted, said feedback he had gathered in Kuala Terengganu indicates that hudud law is likely to be a non-issue in the by-election campaign.

"Unlike Chinese in other parts of the country, those in Kelantan and Terengganu understand Islam better. We know hudud only applies to Muslims,” Hu said.

"It is a national issue created by BN but I believe that non-Malay voters in Kuala Terengganu understand and will not be duped. Furthermore, Terengganu was under PAS rule for one term and they know the real deal.”

He urged non-Malays in Kuala Terengganu to vote for a stronger opposition, since the by-election outcome will not lead to a change of federal or state government.

"A stronger opposition will safeguard their interests in Parliament," said Hu, who was originally from Kedah but has lived in Kelantan for more than 30 years.

He said he has instructed club members to show a strong presence in Kuala Terengganu.

"More than 100 members will be divided into five groups to woo non-Malay voters in the Bandar state seat and also in Wakaf Mempelam. They will work hard to correct any misconceptions about PAS and its candidate," he said.

Hu described the selection of Mohd Abdul Wahid (centre in photo) as molek (appropriate).

"He is very friendly, affable and easily approachable. He is open-minded and well-liked among the locals and he is certainly the right choice," he said.

While Mujahid hopes that PAS will capture an additional 20 percent of the non-Malay vote in relation to the last general election results, Hu was more confident as he estimated that 50 percent of non-Malays will vote for the opposition.

"I feel that many non-Malays in Kuala Terengganu understand the national issues that affect them, and they will want a stronger opposition," Hu said.

The by-election will see a three-cornered fight between Mohd Abdul Wahid, BN's Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh, and businessman Azharudin Mamat alias Adam, who is contesting as an Independent.

Some 80,229 voters are registered for the by-election to be held on Jan 17 - Malaysiakini.

> An LCCT too many

Malaysia must be a poor rich country.

Only in Malaysia can two government-linked entities - Sime Darby Berhad and Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad - propose to build low cost carrier terminals (LCCT) miles apart to tap the fast-growing budget airlines market.

Sime Darby's RM1.6 billion facility, diplomatically called a LCCT despite having its own runway and air traffic control tower, has already been approved and is slated to open in March 2011. Malaysia Airports yesterday said it has a similar plan and could open the first phase with better connectivity and inside the KLIA at the end of 2011, pending government approval.

What it actually means is a transport plan gone awry.

KLIA was meant to be a hub with state-of-the-art facilities way before budget carriers and Tony Fernandes became the byword in air travel that just needed low-cost operations. Hence the temporary LCCT that became too small for a fast expanding Air Asia and sister Air Asia X.

Can Air Asia and Air Asia X wait for Malaysia Airports instead of going to KLIA East@Labu? Apart from the time and space, it's a question of money for the budget carrier.

It can save costs with its own airport but Malaysian taxpayers will have to pick the tab for custom, immigration and quarantine facilities apart from air traffic control and security services there.

Add to that the headache of managing flights in two airports just miles of each other.

But Malaysia Airports and the government have not done any favours to make KLIA a hub or ensure only one airport operator in the country.

The Senai International Airport was sold off in 2003 while Firefly is operating out of Subang Airport which only allows turbo-prop aircraft flights. All other carriers including Air Asia operate jet aircraft.

Coupled with only two European carriers operating out of KLIA, Air Asia has argued that KLIA is not a hub due to the lack of connectivity or airlines operating there apart from the fact its passengers fly point-to-point and don't need interlining facilities.

And if Malaysia Airports is right, Air Asia has quietly used government incentives to grow quickly and now feels it can fly alone without assistance or return the favour to turn KLIA into a major regional hub catering to all kinds of air travel.

With all these recent developments, the KLIA hub plan is only fit for the rubbish bin. The only way for the government to make sense of it or consumers to benefit is to allow more budget carriers to use the proposed permanent LCCT in KLIA Sepang or use turbo-prop aircraft out of Subang.

Only then, everyone can fly - The Malaysian Insider.