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

Monday, August 31, 2009

> Some lessons Malaysia can learn from Tony Fernandes

The weaker growth wrought by the global financial crisis means that Malaysia's economy will need to expand at a frenetic 8 per cent per year over the next decade if the country is to achieve its vision of being a developed nation by 2020, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak revealed last week.

Given that in the past decade only twice has gross domestic product (GDP) growth breached 6 per cent, this is going to be well-nigh impossible.

Although committed to the vision mooted by former premier Tun D Mahathir Mohamad in the early 1990s, Najib has observed a need to “redefine, recalibrate the timeline” of how to “get there”.

Malaysia's gross national income per capita is about US$7,000 (RM24,500) — some US$5,000 short of an advanced economy — and US$10,000 less than the projected growth of US$17,000 per capita these economies would enjoy by 2020. With rival developing economies already proving to be tougher and hungrier competitors, “getting there” will be challenging — a fact Najib acknowledged in a keynote address at the inaugural meeting of the National Economic Advisory Council (NEAC) last week.

“Economically, Malaysia is under pressure on all fronts. Our rules remain overly cumbersome and, in certain sectors, restrictive.” It was not Malaysia's choice to change, he said, but it had “no choice but to change”.

NEAC is the latest think-tank comprising foreign and local personalities to advise the government on how to effect Malaysia's transition into a high-income economy.

Najib has, of course, made some brave changes, earlier this year liberalising 27 sub-sectors and instituting more market-friendly measures.

Even so, bolder out-of-the box reforms are needed to convince investors that its domestic economy warrants a second look when neighbouring ones are so much larger and more vibrant.

As many have observed, better integrating the local economy with Asean as well as China and India would provide stronger growth, given the combined 3.5-billion-strong market for Malaysian goods and services. Why else would Australia and New Zealand want into the regional trading bloc?

Locally and perhaps regionally, no one has better latched on to the integration concept or capitalised on it as craftily as Datuk Tony Fernandes. In seven short years, Asia's budget travel pioneer has transformed AirAsia into arguably the country's best- known brand. Given its increasing brand recognition in the region, it could conceivably be true of Asean as well. Even in the emerging super-economies of China and India, the brand is not an unknown entity.

In expanding his company, Fernandes leveraged on two inherent strengths to great advantage: Malaysia's geographical position on the global map, and a multi-racial and relatively cosmopolitan workforce, which helped when it came to getting a toehold in new markets.

The country hasn't availed itself of these distinct advantages as adroitly. Culturally, Malaysia's three main races — Malays, Chinese and Indians — have a distinct advantage when it comes to dealing with their counterparts in the Middle East, China and India.

In Asia, where relationships are prized, this could spell the difference between success and failure.

By phasing itself out of the markets so as not to crowd out the private sector and small businesses, the government would afford savvy businessmen and entrepreneurs more room to manoeuvre. Undoubtedly, some of these entrepreneurs could teach it a thing or two about economic integration.

They might also be able to offer pointers on racial integration. AirAsia's crew, for example, are as diverse as they come, comprising Asean citizens, Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Iranians, Iraqis, South Americans and Europeans.

Their differences notwithstanding, the company has managed to instil in them a sense of pride, unity and commitment.

Still grappling with unnecessary racial and religious tensions more than half a century after independence, Malaysia could do worse than to listen to some of its corporate chieftains on how to extract the best out of their workforce and to forge a consensus so that everyone wins - Business Times Singapore / The Malaysian Insider.

Friday, August 28, 2009

> The political costs of caning Kartika

by Farish A. Noor

Malaysia has long tried to cultivate the image of being a moderate Muslim state that can serve as a model for others. Particularly in the wake of the attacks on the United States in September 2001, successive prime ministers have worked hard to ensure that Malaysia would remain on the list of moderate Muslim states that could serve as the bridge between the Western and Muslim worlds.

Today, that image stands to take a significant pounding, thanks to a relatively isolated incident that has managed to grab headlines worldwide: A Malay-Muslim woman by the name of Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno is set to be caned for the offence of drinking alcohol in public. Kartika's case has bedevilled lawmakers of Malaysia for the simple reason that nobody seems to know what to do about it.

Kartika was found guilty of drinking beer in Pahang. The religious authorities in the state found her guilty of committing a syariah offence, and she was fined and sentenced to six strokes of the cane. Kartika herself pleaded guilty to the charges. But what baffles many observers is that the former model said she was prepared to be caned, and what is more, to be caned in public.

Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has asked if Malaysia would celebrate its independence day (on Aug 31) with the caning of a Muslim woman. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has himself asked Kartika to appeal against her sentence. Needless to say, the case has brought Malaysia to the world's attention for all the wrong reasons.

The problem that this case poses for Malaysia is complex. For a start, Kartika's case was handled by the Syariah Court of Pahang, raising the question of whether the federal government can intervene to save her.

Adding to the confusion is the problematic and complicated relationship between religion and politics in the country. The borderline between Islam and politics has grown increasingly blurred after three decades of state-driven Islamisation. The enfeebled ruling Umno is now trying its best to defend its own Islamic credentials in the face of the opposition PAS. At the same time, Umno would not like to gain the same reputation as the Taliban of Afghanistan.

PAS in turn is likewise split in its conscience, between moderates who wish to push the democratisation agenda and conservatives who want more Islamisation. Already in Selangor, where PAS came into power as part of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition, moral policing has been introduced by the conservative PAS leader Datuk Hasan Ali, who has called for religious functionaries to arrest Muslims who go against Islamic law.

PAS conservatives may feel that their electoral gains have given them the green light to further Islamise the country. They have thus called for a ban on the sale of alcohol and music concerts. But in the wider context of international politics, Malaysia is looking more and more like a parochial state where books are banned and people are whipped for doing things that would be regarded as perfectly normal elsewhere.

Malaysia's conservative Islamists, their religious convictions notwithstanding, do not seem to understand why the international community is upset with the idea of a woman being caned for drinking a pint. Perak Mufti Harussani Zakaria, for instance, has wondered why a fuss should be made over a woman receiving six lashes when, in his opinion, she should be receiving 80 lashes.

It is this sense of disconnect that adds a surreal air to the goings-on in Malaysia today. The government is concerned that failure to enact Islamic law will compromise its standing in the eyes of conservative Muslims in the country. But to have Kartika caned would jeopardise the country's image internationally. Like it or not, Malaysia still depends on trade with the developed Western world, not Afghanistan.

This, then, is the dilemma that Malaysia faces at the moment, and there seems little consensus on how to proceed. Kartika's caning has been postponed for now. One thing, however, is certain: The costs of caning Kartika are simply too high. Should Malaysia cane her, it would have jumped one rung up the Islamisation ladder. After that, there may be no turning back - Straits Times / The Malaysian Insider.

Friday, August 21, 2009

> MACC under arson attack

The Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission came under attack from unknown persons when a vehicle belonging to the commission was torched early today.

Six Molotov cocktails were thrown at the two-month old Klang MACC office early this morning, destroying a four-wheel-drive vehicle belonging to the Selangor MACC.

The attack was confirmed by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Nazri Aziz when he mentioned it in his speech while presenting the Excellence Awards to MACC officers at Putrajaya today

Eye-witnesses said that MACC officers only realised the damage to the vehicle when they reported to work this morning.

The vehicle, a gold coloured Nissan X-Trail, is usually used by the MACC officers while on duty.

A police report has been lodged over the arson attack and Klang police chief ACP Mohamad Mat Yusop said the incident happened at about 2 to 3am but there were no witnesses.

"Police believe the assailants had scaled down the slope behind the building and thrown the Molotov cocktails from outside the fence. The impact of the attack damaged a portion of the vehicle," he was quoted by Bernama.

He added that the attack was the first of its kind at the office and believed the incident was linked to political aide Teoh Beng Hock's death at the Selangor MACC headquarters in Shah Alam on July 16.

The Klang MACC office started operations two months ago but has not been officially opened due to bad publicity received by the commission after Teoh's death.

Underworld connections obvious

Attending a press conference in Putrajaya later, Nazri did not rule out "underworld connection" to the arson attack.

He said that it was well known that the Selangor MACC was investigating claims that some state exco members had links with the underworld, as alleged by Wangsa Maju PKR MP Wee Choo Keong.

"If there was no investigation on the underworld links, this would never have happened. This goes to show what Wee had suggested exists," said Nazri.

"Such attacks are usually done by cowards...and samseng (gangsters) only," he added.

Meanwhile, MACC chief Ahmad Said Hamdan who was also present in the press conference confirmed that four Molotov cocktails have been thrown at the branch office and it "was enough to burn the whole building".

He said only one official vehicle was damaged badly.

The attack was a threat to scare off his officers, he added.

"But this will not deter us from performing our duty," he said.
MACC Advisory Panel member Robert Phang has condemned the attack and asked for patience from everyone for the commission to put its house in order.

"This is not our culture. Let's not take that path. This is what differentiates Malaysia from so many other countries. Agree to disagree," he told Malaysiakini in Kota Kinabalu - Malaysiakini.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

> Peat fires add to haze over Sabah, Sarawak

Air quality in six areas continues to be 'unhealthy' in Sabah and Sarawak as the haze from local and external sources takes its toll.

As at 5pm yesterday, the Air Pollution Index (API) readings remained among the worst in Sri Aman (108), Sibu (175), Samarahan (148), Sarikei (133), Miri (140) and Kuching (105).

Smog from Kalimantan continues to plague Sabah and Sarawak as satellite imagery from Asean Secretariat's HazeOnline monitoring site reveals.

However, rain in recent days appears to have cleared much of the haze over Peninsular Malaysia, with 20 areas recorded in the 'good' category of the API.

Most areas in the peninsula registered readings in the low 60s and 50s, especially in the north where Universiti Sains Malaysia had the lowest at 23.

Kuala Selangor and Muar had a 'moderate' reading of 88 and 94 respectively.

Air quality is deemed 'unhealthy' at readings of 101-200, 'very unhealthy' from 201-300 and 'hazardous' if above 300. A reading of 0-50 is deemed 'good' and from 51-100 as 'moderate'.

Battling peat fires

Local Government Minister Kong Cho Ha told Star that some 600 fire officers have been deployed to Sarawak to help control peat fires over an area of 566ha.

“Main towns like Sibu, Miri and Kuching are experiencing 'unhealthy' air quality due to fires mainly in a neighbouring country, but there are also fires in Sarawak that are worsening the problem,” he was quoted as saying.

The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, meanwhile, said burning is a common practice in land clearing activities, and that the ministry needs time to come up with an appropriate solution.

Deputy Minister Joseph Kurup told Bernama that the ministry will impose a fine on those involved in open burning, which contributes to unhealthy air quality and haze in the region.

Recently, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Douglas Uggah Embas was unable to do an aerial survey of hotspots in Sarawak as his flight was grounded due to poor visibility.

Status quo on haze

Earlier in the day, as of the 11am reading, the Air Pollution Index (API) maintained its steady downward trend in continuing to ease things for Malaysians both in the peninsular and Sabah and Sarawak.

The recent rainy spells have helped to clear up the worst of the haze.

The number of 'unhealthy' areas went down from six to two, the worst API today recorded in Miri and Sibu, with a reading of 184 and 113 respectively.

However, Miri actually showed an increase from yesterday's reading of 140, idling dangerously close to 'very unhealthy.'

'Good' classified areas went up to 23 from yesterday's 20. The north of the peninsula still leads with better air quality with Universiti Sains Malaysia having the lowest API of 27.

The 5 pm API readings also remained status quo with Miri (185) and Sibu (104) remaining the two 'unhealthy' areas - Malaysiakini.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

> Alcohol ban: Where's the logic, PAS?

by Yip Ai Tsin

Dismay was the immediate reaction to Selangor PAS' proposed blanket ban on the sale of alcohol in Muslim-majority areas in the state, as stakeholders questioned the need for such a drastic measure.

Consumers Association of Subang and Shah Alam, Selangor president Jacob George stressed that the state government should not “legalise people's culture, drinking habits and lifestyle”.

"There is a larger, deeper, sinister and more clandestine agenda surrounding this whole issue. This is the beginning of a long line of drastic measures that will wreak havoc," he claimed when contacted today.

"It is beer today. Soon they might disallow food that is not halal and restrict the sale of houses in non-Malay areas," he said.

He also questioned PAS' definition of "Muslim-majority areas" and the rationale of targeting outlets like 7-11, a franchise of convenience stores.

"I challenge PAS to pick on big hotels (in) Shah Alam as they serve liquor and alcoholic beverages there.”

Yesterday, Selangor PAS commissioner Hassan Ali had urged Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim to finalise the guidelines regulating the sale of beer in Muslim-majority areas as soon as possible.

'Lawful right to trade'

Guinness Anchor Bhd managing director Charles Ireland said that any kind of ban or restriction is not the right solution to the predicament.

"We believe that self-regulation and education is the best way forward. A blanket or partial ban, or having restricted hours is not the right way to address the issue at hand," he said in a statement.

"Actions like the recent beer raid in Shah Alam, which impact on businesses' lawful right to trade, make an already difficult business environment even more difficult.

"We think that the rights of the alcohol producers, retailers and consumers to go about their own business should also be respected.” - Malaysiakini.

> Human shield confronts sledgehammers

by Low Chia Ming

A human chain stood in the way of about 50 members of a demolition team who were supposed to tear down Kampung Buah Pala today.

Both sides stood down after the demolition exercise was subsequently called off following discussions between villagers and developer Nusmetro Ventures (P) Sdn Bhd.

At about 11am, the situation became tensed after a demolition team arrived, armed with hardhats, crowbars and sledgehammers.

Upon noticing their presence, some 300 male villagers formed the human shield and began chanting slogans.

More than 100 police personnel stood watch. The police later brought representatives from the developers and villagers into a police van for discussions.

After a brief negotiation, the workers left and villagers breathed a sigh a relief.

Court hearing

The workers had come despite Deputy Chief Minister P Ramasamy visiting the village earlier this morning and reassuring residents that no demolition would take place.

According to the agreement reached in the police van, developer Nusmetro would not proceed with the destruction of the 23 houses until after a Federal Court hearing on the status of the land.

The villagers have filed an appeal against the Court of Appeal's decision which ruled in favour of the developer.

In the decision, the appellate court overturned an earlier High Court decision, which favoured the villagers, and issued an eviction order effective June 11.

But the state government has since negotiated with the developer to hold off the demolition.

The Federal Court will hear the appeal on Aug 18.

Balik Pulau MP Yusmadi Yusof said since the villagers have obtained a date from the court, the developers have agreed to wait for the hearing to conclude.

"All parties have agreed to respect the court process. The villagers have always used legal and peaceful means," he said.

He said the developer's workers might not have known about this and were about to perform the demolition today.

Villagers in tears

As early as 8.30am today, scores of women and children formed a second human barricade at the main entrance to the village.

Ramasamy's appearance at about 9am did not seem to relieve the villagers of their anxiety.

He had told them that the developers would not be taking any action today and the state government would hold a meeting with villagers at 7pm tonight.

Despite this, the villagers, many of whom were in tears, pleaded with Ramasamy to persuade Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng to purchase the land from the developers.

At one point, an elderly villager was so overcome by despair that he knelt in front of Ramasamy, who quickly lifted the man up.

Other than the disgruntled villagers, Ramasamy also had to face several MIC Youth members at the scene who jeered at him - Malaysiakini.

Monday, August 3, 2009

> Landowner to tear down Kg Buah Pala tomorrow

The Penang Government Officers Cooperative, the sole owner of the land in Kampung Buah Pala in Bukit Gelugor here, remains firm in its decision to demolish houses in the village tomorrow.

Its chairman, Abdul Razak Mansor, said they would instruct developer Nusmetro Ventures (P) Sdn Bhd (Nusmetro) to obey the Federal Court decision, which has granted ownership of the land to the cooperative.

“We are not cruel, but our decision to demolish the village still stands because the court has decided the land is ours,” he said when contacted by Bernama here today.

He said any talks regarding relocating residents within the area as suggested by Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng would only be done after the houses were demolished.

“The cooperative will not entertain any requests from the state government to negotiate on the matter until the houses are torn down.

“Discussions on whether residents can stay in part of the land will also be carried out once the area is vacated,” he said.

Abdul Razak stressed that the cooperative would not sell or hand over the land to any other party, adding that they would not hesitate to take legal action against the state government if it tried to prevent the developer from carrying out work in the area.

“Whatever happens, our decision is final and we will not give this land to anyone in the interest of the cooperative’s members,” he said.

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 individuals from various NGOs nationwide are expected to congregate in Kampung Buah Pala tomorrow to defend the village from being demolished.

The village’s residents association chairman M.Sugumaran said half of them had arrived in Penang yesterday to offer support to the residents.

He said an agreement was reached during a meeting between Chief Minister Lim Guang and residents yesterday that they would continue to stay there until discussions with the developer ended.

In the meeting, he said, Lim had promised to talk with the developer to find a solution, among others allowing the residents to share the area with the developers.

Meanwhile, Penang police chief Datuk Ayub Yaakob said police were monitoring the situation and advised the public and the villagers not to create chaos in the area - Bernama.