Monday, April 25, 2016

Politicus Minimis

When No Politics is Good Politics

I've always believed that in life politics is inevitable. Like Bernie Sanders, one needs to get into politics so as to steer life clear of its ugliest excesses. However, i also believe that too much politics is bad in any given situation. Our country has been embroiled in endless politics for what seems like forever. From the Perak state government ouster to the stripping of titles of the incumbent Terengganu Menteri Besar, the casual observer can be forgiven to feel an overwhelming sense of nausea at the direction that this country is spinning towards. Instead of a sleeves-up and let's-get-down-to-work attitude, our people seem to favour indulging more and more in political play mostly of the petty and egregious type. I admit, politics cannot be avoided. But surely it can be moved away from always hogging the limelight? We have more important work to be done. Our educational system is still stuck in limbo, our system of checks and balances have mostly given way to a system of governance under the thumb of the executive branch of government, our judiciary appear trepidatious and afraid to stand its ground on matters of Principal. Granted that this country is still peaceful at least, we can count our lucky stars for that. But as Shakespeare's Julius Caesar co-conspirator Cassius said, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars But in ourselves, that we are underlings".   

Friday, February 5, 2016

Book Review: "The Chinese Dilemma" by Ye Lin-Sheng

I'm about 12 years late to review this book which was first printed in Feb 2004. I had seen its title and my initial reaction was: "Oh no, not another Dilemma book." And so i didn't give it a second glance back then. But having just finished all 197 pages of it, I can say that Malaysian Chinese businessman Ye Lin-Sheng has done an admirable job of summarising the concerns and common grouses of the Malaysian Chinese and non-Malays especially in regards to the New Economic Policy (NEP) and its 1990 successor the National Development Policy (NDP) or the Affirmative Action program of the Malaysian Government. From its inception to implementation and the public reception and the mainly (according to Ye) positive results through all these years. Ye who grew up in a rural environment with Malay neighbours and friends and has worked in the civil service during the colonial era, struck a conciliatory tone with the merits of such government policies. He lays out the pros and cons of affirmative action policies in Malaysia, compares it with American experiences, lists the Malaysian Chinese' largely lukewarm reception to it, its social and economic impact, the nett effect on outwards migration of the Malaysian Chinese and whether it truly is as bad as it is made out to seem. 
He ends the book on a positive note with this piece of advice: "Make it work or lose it all here". 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

No Glue for Unity and yet...

I went for Tun Dr M's speech during the recent world international peace day open forum organized by the Malacca Bar. He said something interesting. Speaking on the topic of unity, Tun said that there is no "glue" holding Malaysians of different races and religion together and yet somehow we have managed to get along peacefully without any major incidents for the past 58 years except for the May 13 tragedy which happened 46 years ago. How was this possible? That we are thrown into this land whether or not we like each other but for the sake of making a good life we sacrifice certain wishes so that we can get along with each other? Tun remarked that in Malaysia, perhaps it was not such a bad thing that everyone is dissatisfied for not being able to get their way 100% of the time but if this was the price to pay for peace and relative harmony, then it is a sacrifice well worth the price. Let's hope that the next 58 years will draw us closer and not further apart. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015


"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose..."

I'm not a theist so i have left out the last part "...under heaven" because i don't believe in a theist heaven anymore. But what i do believe is there is a time and a place for everything. A time to live, a time to rejoice, a time to love, a time to weep, and a time even for death. The time for our incumbent Prime Minister now isn't death literally, but time overdue for him to resign. Please please please, letak jawatan before the office of prime minister becomes a hollow shell echoing only the eerie sounds of your hired sycophants. You do not want to be remembered as a tyrant, you do not want to besmirch the memory of your father our second prime minister. If you truly love Malaysia, quit now.   

Friday, July 24, 2015

Oh Najib, remorse repent resign retire reflect

Events of the last year or so have culminated in the suspension of TheEdge Daily and The Edge weekly papers today, arguably the last bastion of what's left of Malaysia's formerly free press. There are of course opposition-based publications and perhaps The Sun newspaper, but the night is now darkest before the breaking dawn, as the saying goes. 

I'll not mince words. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has lost the confidence of the majority of Malaysians and he must resign immediately. 

He is unable to answer the various allegations leveled against him, he is evasive, he has kept silent in the face of serious questions posed on the moral and legal legitimacy of his premiership and he has shown time and time again that he is morally intellectually politically and legally unfit to be our prime minister. 

Whatever coercive actions being taken by his morally-challenged administration to perpetuate its grip on power cannot whitewash his shortcomings, indeed they amplify it all the more. If Parliament is unable to move a motion of no confidence because of the party whip that is in force, then it is incumbent on us the rakyat to keep pushing until he does sign his letter of resignation. The judiciary, the press, the legislative branch, the police, the PAC, the MACC, all the organs of government are under the powerful sway of the executive office and they are unable to discharge their duties effectively nor do as  they are mandated to do by law. Rule of law has degenerated into rule by law. All our institutions have become emasculated and they are scarce able to safeguard the constitution, let alone the rights of the rakyat. Whistle blowers are being persecuted while the well-connected elites continue with their abusive rule unscathed, unafraid, disrespectful of the true objects of the law.  

But i am optimistic even in these dark times. I believe in the light at the end of the tunnel. And i believe with a passion that we are witnessing the dying throes of a hopelessly corrupt regime ensnared in its own trap. We will prevail and we will have a brighter future.

Long Live Malaysia. Long Live Freedom. Power to the People. Hidup Rakyat Malaysia!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad on "The Malaysian Dilemma"

The following are a very rough transcript of the Center for a Better Tomorrow's talk by Tun Dr Mahathir entitled, "The Malaysian Dilemma" held on 12 Feb 2015 from 10.10am till 12.30pm at the Connexion@ Nexus, Bangsar South City, Jalan Kerinchi, Kuala Lumpur. I could not transcript the entire 2 hour talk so i can only publish the more notable bits which i found relevant and amusing in Tun's own light-hearted manner.

(Tun flanked by Lim Chee Wee standing to the left and Gan Ping Sieu seated to the right)

I was the first to get at the venue this morning after an hour and a half of driving during the early pre-dawn hours up to KL to meet The Man. And boy, Tun didn't disappoint me in the least. Let's just say that this was a most memorable and fruitful trip in recent memory for Yours Truly.

Tun: "Dilemma means if you do you are damned, if you don't you will also be damned. So, if you are going to be damned anyway, let's do something about it (referring to the government's efforts to decrease the disparity between the rich and the poor in Malaysia and the disparity between the races which was why the New Economic Policy was introduced). "It resolved the disparity during that time and the country grew by 12% almost every year but now we grow by about 5% annually so it is still OK. When you are poorer the rate of growth is much higher. If you look at the Developed countries, if they achieve 1-2% growth that is fantastic because they already have a high base but for us we still need about 5% growth which is still good."

Tun: "So we have a dilemma. Do we continue with the formula which has served us well or do we discard it now that we have done well? That is the Dilemma. It is a Tongkat. Some people think that it is a Status Symbol but we have to disabuse them of this thinking. The process is one of changing their culture, their values system. I find that whether they (the Malays) succeed or not is a function of their culture/values system. The hardworking men, the hardworking nation will succeed. A nation that is postponing everything till tomorrow will not succeed. That is why we promoted the "Look East" Policy. You know, today Europe is in Big Trouble. Japan is also in trouble. But China and Korea (South) are doing well. Samsung is doing well, they manufacture all sorts of gadgets tvs handphones and consumer items, etc So we have to look east because we see people who have succeeded there while in the west people have failed. It is the culture needed by the Malay community. They HAVE to CHANGE if they want to succeed. They do not have to go to Japan, they have a role model from the Chinese in this country."

 During the Q & A session which lasted for about an hour after the hour-long talk by Tun (remarkably, this almost 90-year old man stood for over 2 hours speaking on the rostrum!), a teenage student posed a question about the difficulties faced by students under the new education system.

Tun replied that he personally never liked the Malaysian education system even when he was still the Prime Minister and that he wished to emphasize the importance of mastering the English language so as students can better grasp maths and science subjects where daily advancements and tremendous changes are all written in the English medium. That is why he insisted on having maths and science to be taught in English. He added that it was impossible to translate all technical advancements from English to the Malay language and the quickest way to acquire such knowledge and know-how was to be competent in English.

Tun's personal advice to Students in particular and Malaysians in general?
"Read as widely as you can, acquire knowledge and skills through reading as many books as you can. Nowadays people do not do much reading, kids play with their hand-held gadgets or computers etc, adults do the same. But reading books is so very important."

Asked about his comments on the perception that Malaysian society had become more polarised and divided in recent times, Tun remarked that there will always be extremists from all sides of the political divide and of all races and one had to have the courage as a moderate to speak up and not remain quiet although the tendency of a moderate is usually to be quiet and maintain a low profile. Tun said: "They (the extremists) will always be a minority but sometimes when we speak up we are accused ourselves of being an extremist (to much laughter from the floor). But if you do not speak up as a moderate, then you will be deemed to have accepted the extremists' views and so their views will set the agenda." He added that the perception of increased polarisation and division in Malaysian society was also a minority view as whenever he personally went out shopping to places like Pavillion in Kuala Lumpur as he liked to do, ordinary malaysians from all walks of life and ethnicity would come up to him and tell their children to shake his hands and greet him which would not happen if there truly was such polarisation and division in Malaysian society.

On communal politiics and whether the Barisan Nasional ethnic-based parties were themselves a cause of the perceived polarisation, Tun continued: "By and large we have gotten well together through the years after independence, despite the occasional bickering and quarrels. We have not become like Iraq, Syria or Libya for example. What is so important is the concept of "KONGSI" or Sharing in Malaysia. The Malays being the majority with the political power shared their political power while the Chinese with their dominant economic clout in Malaysia shared their economic power. We are not depriving anyone of their slice of the cake but we seek to enlarge the cake so that everyone can have a bigger slice of it respectively."
Tun stressed that only by continuing and being willing to Share can the  peace and stability enjoyed by all Malaysians and the nation's continued prosperity be assured and Wawasan 2020 or Vision 2020 (the year when the Malaysia government has set its target to become  a developed nation) is achieveable.

He said that someday a time may come when there was no need to have communal-based parties but for now as people still generally identified themselves by race first rather than as Malaysians, they were a part of life in Malaysia. He described how once during an overseas trip to Japan he overheard some young people walking behind him speaking in perfect Malay amongst themselves. "When i turned around i found that they were Indonesian ethnic Chinese", he said. So it is this issue of race and language which must first be overcome before a Bangsa Malaysia can be achieved.

To a question from the audience about 1MDB, Tun said that he would never have such a body in his time as it was not necessary. "They have only loans and you must pay back loans", he added, saying that loans were not assets as such. He likened 1MDB's loans to the Malays in the kampungs owing monies and loans to their local chettiars and once when his own father had passed away, his late father's chettiar appeared at his doorstep to ask for repayment of his late father's loan. When told that Tun's father had died, the chettiar simply replied that although tun's father had died, the loan had not died (to much roars of laughter from the floor).

Tun said that at the end of the day, a leader was only a leader when he had followers. "A leader does what he does to serve the interests of his followers. If he is there just to enjoy himself, then well..." (again to much applause and laughter).

 (Tun accepts a token of appreciation from Cenbet moderator Gan Ping Sieu)

While the above transcript is faithfully reproduced from memory and personal handwritten notes and Yours Truly was seated about 5 rows away from Tun, apologies are in order for any unintended mistakes errors omissions or misheard/misreported comments. No malice is intended and this transcript is intended to be for public consumption in honour of our former Prime Minster. Tun was also good enough to autograph my copy of his memoirs (see below, but alas to rotate anti-clockwise once).

Thursday, December 25, 2014

1MDB - no more the elephant in the room (article extracted and re-reproduced from TheEdge Malaysia, Dec 22, 2014)

1MDB - no more the elephant in the room (pages 27 & 30, TheEdge Malaysia, Dec 22, 2014)

By Ben Shane Lim

For most Malaysians, 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) has been a complex engima - just one of the many plots and subplots that form the political background noise to everyday life. But the troubling story of the state-owned fund that is Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib's brainchild finally came to the fore in 2014, with potentially far-reaching implications for the nation's finance and politics.
Opposition politicians and former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad may have their own agendas for criticising 1MDB, but the man in the street has many reasons to be worried as well - about 42 billion and counting.
Even one of Najib's own from Umno broke ranks earlier this month, with Batu Kawan deputy cheif Datuk Seri Khairuddin Abu Hassan lodging a police report against 1MDB, whose advisory board is chaired by Najib himself. Penang Umno members were quick to step in and pacify the party president, stressing that Khairuddin had been acting alone.
Political motives aside, there are justifiable reasons for Malaysians to be concerned as well.
In a nutshell, 1MDB appears to have borrowed a huge amount of money at too high a price to purchase overpriced assets that cannot cover the debts. Why this has happened is open to speculation.
The net effect is that 1MDB has been relying on massive land revaluation gains to book accounting profits, but auffers from negative cashflows as whatever cash it has is used to service the debts. In the financial year ended March 31, 2014 (FY2014), it suffered a negative cash flow of RM2.25 billion.
Ultimately, this business model doesn't appear sustainable, a fact that became more apparent when 1MDB posted a loss of RM665.3 million for FY2014, weighed down by RM2.4 billion in financing costs.
This isn't particularly surpirsing, since 1MDB had relied on over RM2.74 billion in land revaluation to turn a profit in FY2013. But the losses have been a wake-up call for Najib's administration.
There are two linchpins that are supposed to turn 1MDB around - the development of the 70-acre Tun Razak Exchange (TRX) land in the heart of KL and the listing of 1MDB's power assets.
While the development of TRX saw little progress this year, it has been an eventful year for 1MDB's energy unit that aims to list next year and raise over RM9 billion.  The listing is crucial to raise money for 1MDB to pay off some of its debts, evidenced by the fact (that) 1MDB is willing to retain 20% stake in the listed company.
So what happended?
1MDB started the year on a sour note, having to change auditors for a second time in four years to Deloitte from KPMG. This in part resulted in 1MDB delaying the lodging of its FY2013 financial results with the Companies Commission of Malaysia (CCM) by over six months.
The 2013 financials revealed that 1MDB had channelled over RM7.18 billion to the Cayman islands. 1MDB claims that the funds were professionally managed by Hong Kong-based Bridge Partners, but little is known about the obscure firm and 1MDB largely kept mum about the funds.
The financials also showed that 1MDB overpaid for the acquisition of its power assets by some RM3.3 billion in the form of goodwill. Recall that 1MDB acquired Genting Sanyen power assets from the Genting group for RM2.3 billion, and the Tanjong Power assets from tycoon Ananda Krishnan for RM8.5 billion.
By March 2013, slightly over a year after the acquisitions, 1MDB would write off RM1.9 billion of that goodwill.
While this was a poor start to 1MDB's planned listing of its power assets, the group has had a wi ndfall year when it comes to securing new projects.
It began when it was awarded Project 3B, a 2,000MW coal-fired power plant project worth RM11 billion, after a close fight with a consortium consisting of YTL Power International Bhd and the Sultan of Johor's SIPP Energy Sdn Bhd.
1MDB would go on to win two more projects on a direct-award basis - a 50MW solar project as well as a 2,000MW combined cycle gas turbine plant in Melaka due in 2021.
Including a few more undisclosed hydroelectric projects in and outside the country as well as a joint venture with Tenaga Nasional Bhd to undertake new projects in Bangladesh, 1MDB went ahead with its plans for list its power assets, aiming to go public in the first quarter next year.
However, this would prove to be extremely challenging for the group, which came under yet another round of scrutiny when its FY2014 financials were filed, revealing losses and negative cahs flow amounting to RM2.25 billion. At this point, the fund's borrowings also expanded to RM42 billion.
1MDB would come under even more pressure when documents revealed that it had paid very expensive fees, around 10%, for US$4.75 billion (RM15.2 billion) worth of borrowings it had raised via Goldman Sachs. This is on top of expensive coupon rates as high as 5.99%, compared with government guaranteed bonds which are typically issued at less than 4%.
Goldman Sachs came out to defend the deal, pointing out that the fees reflected the risk that it had undertaken in raising the money for 1MDB.
Unsurprisingly, opposition politicians took the opportunity to grill Najib about 1MDB in Parliament. After all, he is the minister of finance and his ministry owns 1MDB.
Questions were raised in the media as well as in Parliament over the exposure of the government should 1MDB fail to meet its debt obligations, which in FY2014 totalled a whopping RM2.5 billion. After an initial denial to Parliament, Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Ahmad Maslan would backtrack and finally admit that the government issued a letter of support for 1MDB's debts of around RM5.8 billion.
Of more concern was the fact that 1MDB has had to extend and restructure some RM5 billion worth of borrowings in the form of a bridging loan with Malayan Banking Bhd.
On a more positive note, 1MDB claims that it would be redeeming RM4.26 billion of its funds invested in the Cayman Islands.
The negative publicity was enough to draw out 1MDB's chairman, Tan Sri Lodin Wok Kamaruddin, to address the questions. However, only select media organisations that were controlled by the government were invited to the "press conference" in mid-November.
With all the negative news flow, it isn't surpirsing that 1MDB's soon-to-be-listed energy unit has distanced itself from its parent, changing its name to Edra Global Energy Bhd from 1MDB Energy Group Bhd.
Edra Global has already lodged its draft prospectus with the Securities Commission Malaysia, but it is taking longer than usual for the SC to expose the prospectus as it is constantly being tweaked.
That said, it will still be an uphill battle for Edra Global, which is expected to offer yields of between 2.5% and 3.5% - which are hardly attractive. On top of that, given the size of the issuance in excess of RM9 billion, it may not be tenable to list in the first quarter of next year due to weak market sentiment.
Furthermore, the group even had to delay the issuance of RM8.4 billion worth of sukuk to finance the construction of Jimah East, which is also expected to be delayed.
Nonetheless, the fact remains that 1MDB sorely needs Edra Global to be listed as soon as possible to pare down the group's borrowings - and time is running out.
The recent depreciation in the Ringgit against the US dollar is putting more pressure on the fund, given that it has an estimated US7.4 billion in dollar-denominated debts. As at March 2014, that amounted to RM22.048 billion but has since increased to an estimated RM25.7 billion at the current exchange rate of 3.48 against the dollar.
It remains to be seen how 1MDB will support its ever-growing debts, but a default is certainly in nobody's interest, which would be catastrophic - not only for the many banks that are exposed but also the country's balance sheet and indirectly, every Malaysian's pocket.
Silent and ominous, 1MDB has been much more than a four-letter word that has defined 2014. It could well be the legacy that Najib is remembered for, perhaps not in a way he would have hoped for, unless something quick is done to fix its fundamental problem - debt and asset heavy but lacking in cash flow. 

(All rights proprietary and intellectual belong to the abovenamed author and to TheEdge Malaysia, this article was extracted from and re-produced by this blogger without prior written permission on the grounds of public interest and in the interests of academic discussion only and is not to be sold or used in any form or manner for commercial purpose whatsoever).