Wednesday, January 25, 2012

First Month of 2012 has Gone.

With the passing of the CNY, the first month of 2012 bids us adieu. In the few days left let's reflect on some of the highlights of the month if they could mean anything at all for what's coming in the months ahead. Remember we're just months away from 12.12.12, a very auspicious date according to many.

Aside from the CNY festivities the month has been dominated by public acclaimation and appreciation of the RM500 government handout to families earning less than RM3000 a month. Payment it seems started from 15th January issued to the heads of Chinese families which qualified for the handout, in view of the approaching festival. Many happy and grateful faces were shown in the papers and TV. Previous to that we saw the jubilant faces of young schoolchildren receiving a RM100 gift from Uncle Najib. What we didn't see on the papers and TV as much was the faces of students in secondary schools and institutions of higher learning receiving a RM200 gift vouchers to buy books and other requirements for their studies.

Previous to that there were announcement on the launching of several Funds involving hundreds of million for specific purposes like helping the small scale business entrepreneurs, retirees from the Armed Forces, Teachers, Single Parents, etc. I really lost track of the Funds established but I don't remember any specific Funds allocated to the orphanages and drug habilitation centers in this country. i hope that it's only an oversight on my psrt.

But the biggest announcement was about the New Remuneration Scheme for the Civil Service ( SPBPA). The public civil servants in this country numbering more than a million, had been clamoring for a salary revision for years and now it's coming in a big way. While everyone, it is understood, will get a hefty rise in pay, the remuneration of officers in the Primier Service of the goverment will, it seems, get a pay package comparable to the executives in the private sector. That could mean an unprecedented rise by 300% or more. The retired senior civil servants of the past who are still living, I am sure, will just lick their fingers in awe. Yes, they will also be rewarded with a 2% increse in their pension while inflation has crept up to 4% or more in real term.

Though the Public Services Department is the prime author of all salary revisios, Cuepacs is undeniably the main force behind any revision and request for bonus. The latter has now raused a number of issues against JPA's recommendation and the Prime Minister has given the two authorities three months to revise the JPA's deal. Whatever the basis of the salary revision is, Malaysia has never undertaken a proper job evaluation exercise for all the civil service jobs. As far as I know only pay comparison between jobs with similar designation or categorization in the public and private sectors had been done. No professional analysis of job content has ever been undertaken on a comparative basis.

On the whole January had been a busy month. On the economic and political front, nothing seems to be very clear, like the weather conditions in the country. Economic growth seems to be satisfactory but insufficient according to some people, to bring us to the objective of becoming a high income nation in the next eight years, unless some new impetus for growth is found. While pump priming by the government is necessary for the private sector to grow, the failures of some government related enerprises is most worrisome especially when they absorb too much of government fund. It amounts to the public subsidizing the enterprises rather than the enterprises helping the public.

On the political scene UMNO and its associates in Barisan, still seem to have difficulties in carrying through its trasformation program. The smell of corruption had invaded too much into the chambers of authority that the MACC with its some 400 or more staff cannot undertake a thorough cleansing program. Meanwhile the opposition had raised a number of integrity questions which have not been satisfactorily answered. Within its own ranks the opposition ( Keadilan, DAP and PAS ) has generated a lot of conflict and tension that can reduce its acceptibility as an alternative to Barisan. So, where does that leave us?

Truly, much depends now on the decision of the public in the nexf general election. The date is yet unknown but more and more the public seems to be growing stronger and more critical in its judgement of what is happening today, especially in regard to the misdemeanors of its political leaders.

Friday, January 20, 2012

CNY : Enter the Dragon.

It's the year of the Dragon and Chinese New Year. Gong Xi Fa Cai. May all our Chines friends have a happy and prospefous New tear.

Wny do the Chinese offer a lot of sumptuous food on the eve of new year snd like to hsve red lanterns, dresses and caligraphic writings to adorn their homes come the New Year. Legend has it that a dragon used to come around on the eve of New Year to eat their harvest and also take away some children. Hence a lot of food was offered on New Year eve so that the dragon or demon would not destroy their farms. Someone also found out that the dragon or demon would not take away children wearing red dresses. Hence they wear red dresses and put up a lot of red decoration when preparing for the NY celebration. Hope our Chinese friends will correct me if I am wrong here. Fire crackers are also lighted up to scare away the same demon.

Over in Malaysia we see the towns and cities going red. ( NO, not going red in the political sense). The red lanterns are hung up everywhere along the streets and around the homes with caligraphic writings wishing everyone health, happiness and prosperity and the effigy of the dragon flying up high in the air. Malacca it seems will display a colossal dragon that will loop up the city, costing a few hundred thousand ringgit. My, my, what a celrbration. Hundreds of thousand will also go up in smoke for a lot of loud bangs. The fire crackers and rockets are now so omnipresent during festive occasions that the police ban on them seems absurd - a mockery of the law.

Two or three days from today the festive cry of " Yammmm Senggg" will be heard from many bars, restaurants and night clubs. All revelers will be red in the face and feel light in the head. The bottle will do the talking. Hopefully it will not do the driving. Every festive occasion the Police will mount an Op Sikap but hundreds will die on the road and thousands will be injured. Millions of summons will be issued. But the tragedy will continue. Maybe some nuts have taken it as part of the celebration with the Police taking the opportunity to expand its workforce to patrol all the roads in Malaysia.

Malaysians will all participate in the celebration or be affected by it. There will be open houses to go to, to eat and drink to ones's heart content. There will be ang paus passing around. Meanwhile food items will take a hike in their prices despite being in the list of controlled items, for the choice is always to buy at a higher price or go wthout them. If the enforcement of controlled prices gets tough the items may just disappear from the shelves. That''s a perennial issue and the government does not seem to have found a solution to it yet. Supply of the items is often limited because all Chinese shops are closed for the holidays. Only the Malay and Indian shops are opem, and their profit making strategy is often different from the Chinese. They often go for short term profits when customers have no choice but to buy from them. Hopefully this attitude will change.

Well, the dragon has already emerged and the mood for CNY celebration has set in. So, a happy and prosperous New Year to all our Chinese friends. Gong Xi Fa Cai.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Spring Cleaning - A new habit in Malaysia.

The term 'Spring Cleaning' is a familiar one in Europe and the US. That's when people throw out old furniture and household items that they no longer use or want to be replaced with new ones. One might find many useful old items like broken sofa and chairs, worn out rugs, side table, and seven outdated cooking utensils, dump on the roadside. Students and people who have fallen on hard times often collect these items to be reused.

I have begun to notice some of these old items being dumped on the roadside in our residential areas. I don't know who collect them since some of them look quite good and can still be used. But I doubt very much that the less prosperous residents in the same area will take them. They're most probably taken away by the refuse trucks of the Municipal Council or of the company contracted to do the rubbish collection work.

It's really amazing how fast we all amassed some of these old stuff in our living room, kitchen and store. All of a sudden you realize that the living space in your house is shrinking because you keep on adding new furniture and household items every year without throwing some away. We tend to keep them all for sentimental reason. Dad, mother and all the children have their favorites which cannot be thrown away without causing sour faces or even the shedding of tears. The old books and magazines are some of the most difficult things to part away with although they keep overfilling the bookcases, the book racks, places under the coffee-tables and any place else where they can be lodged. The same with old toys although the kids have now become full-grown (and sometimes overgrown) adults. Houses in Malaysia do not normally have attics and storerooms are often refurbished for the use of the maid. Hence overcrowding with furniture and other odds and ends is a very common phenomenon.

My home is the same until "Abang", my grown-up kid who has married and moved to his own residence, told my wife, " You're going to be ousted out of the house by your own furniture, Ma." Only then did she start clearing away some of the old things. Even now a wardrobe and an almira bought when we moved in cannot be removed from the bedroom because of their sentimental and antique value as asserted by my wife. (Very good. I don't have to buy new ones). Only the presence of my books, clothes and musical instruments bothered her to no end. She could not throw those things out without doing the same to me. With JoeNed and Mimi as our live-in feline clowns, there is now hardly much room for moving around.

A few days ago my wife( with her brother sister-in-law and me) went to her parents' home to do some clearing-up job to improve their living space and health environment. Her youngest sister was just too happy to get the assistance. But the next younger sister blared up in anger for many of her valuable possessions were either thrown out or dislocated. She refused to greet us all, locked herself in her room, and told me, "Why don't they clean up their own houses. This is my house." I've never seen such antipathy against house cleaning. You could hardly move in the kitchen and dining room before the clean-up.

Well, now that house clearing or spring cleaning has become a necessity for Malaysians in order not to be ousted out of our homes by the furniture and "rubbish" we hoarded over the years, the question is where to dump the superfluous, outdated or broken
items. Just leave them on the roadside? The rubbish collection trucks don't seem to be too interested in taking them away nor the
lorries which come around blasting away, " Surat kabar lama (old newspaper), tilam lama, battery lama," etc. If only they can be left at specific centers where some charity organizations can collect them, I'm sure many items can be utilized by old people's home or orphanages to improve their furnishing. If repaired some of them can be as good as new. That will also encourage Malaysians to do a lot of spring cleaning when the mega sales season come around.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Famous Judgement....

The legal literature is full of famous judgements. In fact legal arguments invariably involve the citation of past cases and judgments. The judgment made in regard to the Sodomy II case of Datuk Seri Anwar has all the qualities of becoming a famous reference and citation in the future since it went against many predictions and the hope of the accused political opponents. It portrays a judgment not in any way influenced by public sentiments or the political climate of the day - a very independent judgement based on the facts of the case.

It has been received with great relief and joy by many and has restored public faith on the independence of the Judiciary amidst the political equivocation of the day. It has even won international acclamation. If DSAI's political opponents and enemies in government had been disappointed by the judgement, they should be most happy to hear that it has returned public confidence in the Judiciary system and, ipso facto, the government itself in as far as it's supposed to uphold the principles of democracy and the separation of the executive and judiciary.

A landmark in legal history should be based on a lot of legal arguments and elucidations. Hence the basis of the judgement should be published in full to serve as a guide and reference for future cases as well as to clear any doubts that now exist on the legal points involved. The lawyers will need it for future citation while the public will need it in order to appreciate some of the basic considerations to differentiate between "acceptable" and "non acceptable" allegations, if not between admissible and not admissible evidence. This is important since today the papers are full of allegations by opposing political parties based on rumors spread out at the grassroots level. As such it is difficult to ascertain what can be believed, what must be taken with a pinch of salt, and what can be summarily dismissed as "unacceptable".

In other words the public must learn to sieve what is possibly true and what is not in reading today's news, We are not lawyers but at least we must be equipped with the basic knowledge in regard to the rules of being skeptical about things and not swallow everything as the gospel truth. This applies more to the less educated, to whom the newspapers are the primary means of getting information together with the radio and TV. Talk about becoming a high income nation, we must also have an informed society. Such a society must be able to differentiate between rumors and possible happenings, fictions and facts, lies and verifiable truths.
Otherwise we end up with a highly gullible society which can be easily swayed by a smooth talker, a conman and of course, the irresponsible politicians who would do anything to become popular and get elected.

Arguments in courts on points of law if properly reported can become a very effective means of education in logic and critical analysis. They can make the public more legal minded and capable of analyzing for themselves the tangled web of social and political happenings as reported in the papers. They can make people more fact-oriented and less susceptible to the influence of rumors and half truths, if not outright lies.

To move in this direction the publication of deliberations in court and basis of judgement if properly reported in the newspapers, can be a great help. Such reporting by journalista trained in covering legal proceedings will not only make people understand the legal arguments involved but also clear any doubt with regard to the final decision of the court, especially where political interference is suspected. Rumors say that Saiful's father is urging the Attorney General to appeal against the Sodomy II judgement. That might start a Sodomy III proceeding which will cost the nation more money and time. The public should be able to participate in evaluating whether that is necessary at all or not in the name of upholding justice in this country by understanding fully the basis of the High Court decision as it is now.

Otherwise the aggrieved party will continue to appeal with the support of DSAI's enemies causing a revival of all the agitations and mistrusts in this country, all because of one man's allegation that he has (willingly) been sodomized.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Media With Teeth....

It used to be TV3 exposing a number of unlawful and camouflaged criminal activities in Malaysia like illegal logging, dredging sand from the river, polluting the river with toxic waste, the viciousness of the Alongs ( illegal money lenders), cheating by Housing Development companies etc.

Now the New Straits Times has joined the rank of whistleblowers with a big exposure of corruption at the borders. Enforcement Officers earning as much as RM50,000 a day on the take and a senior forestry department officer stashing away some RM720,000 in cold cash like dumping paper or plastic bags from the supermarkets.

Amazing. It was not the Police or the MACC per se which smelled out the rotten eggs but the Media, enabling the MACC and the police to swing into action. TV3 used to (and is still doing it, I hope) expose such wrongdoings and cases of poverty which the government officers fail to detect. It makes one wonder what the disciplinary personnel of the law enforcement agencies are doing? MACC has only about 400 officers to smell out and nab the bad eggs while the Police, Custom and Immigration have thousands of them. Yet heavily subsidized goods and foodstuff are smuggled across the border for huge profits.

No wonder why we can see some very rich and wealthy officers responsible for law enforcement flaunting off their fortune around us. While contractors and entrepreneurs risk their neck in trying to curry favors from some of the officers in order to remain in business against tough competition, the border enforcement officers make their pile in complete safety (with their superiors' connivance it seems).

Is "living beyond ones' means" still a valid reason to investigate the finances of a public official nowadays? Yes, an officer can still keep a low profile although he has piles of cash hidden away. But some indiscreet members or the family can still let the cat out of the bag. The question is whether the thief catcher is not himself a thief.
That, I think, can be said for all levels of public servants, including those elected by the public.

And here we are in 2012, trying to become a high-income nation with the government trying to go all out against corruption. Even some of the big sharks have been nabbed. Yet some pegs in the machinery of government itself are collecting the grease. What are the central agencies in government doing?

Shouldn't we have some kind of interdepartmental scouting (if spying is too strong word) and non law enforcement officials encouraged to keep an eye on their uniformed colleagues. The toothless officers can certainly help nab wrongdoers like the Media if given the trust.

Meanwhile we certainly need more public and private media with teeth, not just silver tongue and fat lips to elucidate and eulogize government policies. The public knows the good things government and public officials have done. It's the hidden foul play and syphoning of government revenues that need tracking and exposure so that MACC can take follow-up action, even on the law enforcement officers themselves.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Here We Are 2012.

According to the Mayan Great Cycle calender, 2012 marks the end of the Great.Cycle of 13th B'ak'tun and will bring the Armageddon, an apocalyptic phenomenon that will end the world. That will hsppen on 21.12.20012. Malaysians don't subscribe to this belief, especially the Muslims. We believe that doomsday can come any time and many signs of its impending arrival are already noticeable.

Be that as it may, life goes on. The fightings and the killings in many Middle East and west African countries go on despite the fact that the US OF A's war machine had left Iraq. Severe cold and flash floods keep many other countries in constant fear. The global economic situation looks bad and some of the giant business compamies including banks and airlines in Europe and the US are facing the threat of bankruptcy. We don't know how bad the situation really is, of course,since rich people and countries don't spell out their economic woes. Poverty only exists in the poor third world.

Well, Malaysia on the other hand is talking about becoming a high-income nation, a fully developed country and a tourist hub in South East-Asia. All the economic transformation strategies, the social integration framework and the infrastructural requirement seem to in place. What we don't want is to become a modern and developed nation at the expense of those who remain poor and depend on government subsidies to survive. Countries like the US and UK have social securities and welfare schemes to take care of the unemployed and the poor, ensuring that they have a minimum income top live on. We don't, nothing to ensure that the unemployed, the disabled and the very poor will get some money every month to keep them going. To become a high income nation would be a mockery if the streets become full of vagabonds and beggars or full of modern-day Robin-hoods who will rob the rich to help the poor (or just themselves). The poor in a rich nation will suffer more than the not-so-rich in a poor nation. Put in a more negative way which we, of course, don't like, poverty doesn't matter if everybody is poor.

What is most worrisome about becoming a rich nation is that the price of things begin to skyrocket even before people's income take a hike. Look at the price of things in the country now. While the inflation rate is said to remain at less than 4% food prices have good up by anything between 50 to 100% over the last five years. Bread used to be about a ringgit a loaf. Now it's reaching two ringgit. The 80 sen nasi lemak has now gone up to RM1.50 sen or more while the RM1 package will not satisfy a hungry person nor is it accompanied by some palatable "sambal tunis" and a wholesome half of an egg. "Teh tarik" and coffee has passed the RM1.50 sen mark while it was just some 50-80 sen before.

There's no standard price fixed, of course, for cooked food since the same stuff can be cooked in different ways with different accompaniments. But what is important is that you cannot any longer have a wholesome and satisfying lunch with less than RM5. Of course, who cares about this when government has raised the remuneration of all public servants while the income of workers in the private sector has always been better than in the government? The question is , what happens to the self-employed people who have no steady income and live from hand to mouth? Will they just disappear after we become a high income nation? Whereto and how? Do we have a welfare scheme to take of them as they do in the developed country especially in the welfare states?

We are in the year 2012 now. As far as Malaysia is concerned we are also at the brink of a General Election. The NST has just disclosed that there is a lot of illegal activities going on at the border states. Heavily subsidized goods are taken across the border and sold at market price with a huge profit, with some border enforcement officers probably helping rather than taking them into custody. More importantly they are also causing shortages in Malaysia itself. Are there enough anti-corruption officers to deal with this matter? The police has increased it strength substantially but are they being deployed mote to fight crimes such as house-breaking and handbag-snathching than issuing summons to drivers who overspeed by a few km/hour? Holding a gathering of people for public lectures and other peaceful purpose will soon be allowed without a need for a permit but why interfere with university students holding a rally on campus ground? Will 2012 bring more academic freedom and freedom of speech or not?

These are some of the worries that greet us with the entrance of 2012. Otherwise we seem to be doing all right. As for the political struggle that we see between parties and within them, where in the world is politics a peaceful and quiet affair?