Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Give an Inch, Ask for a Yard.

I'm not sure whether that's a genuine English saying but the Malays have many versions of that saying. Give the Calf and (they) ask for the Thigh,is one version. Give a spoon and (they) ask for a bowl, is another.

The saying is used to describe a greedy person. To just ask for more is one thing. But to undertake various shady, underhand and even malicious action to get more of what one has been given a little of, is another thing. It's called cheating, threatening or outright backstabbing. It's like what is described in the story of the Arab and the camel. Give the camel a little space in the tent out of sheer kindness and the camel finally kicked the Arab out of the tent. There's also the story of the Foreigner who asked for a piece of land only as large as the area covered by the skin of a buffalo. When agreed to in writing, the skin of a buffalo is cut into a thin strip which can be stretched for miles.

That's greed, cunning and treachery. Today's world seemed to be replete with such instances. A teenager asks the parents to use a car for a short spin or for an emergency situation and the parents allowed it. The teenager asked them again and again. Later he or she just takes the car out without asking for permission. When the parents get angry the car will suddenly suffer many mechanical faults which the teenager could repair or send for repair at the nearest workshop. He or she soon gets to use the car anytime at all or even be given ownership of the car.

Can you think of examples at the national and international level? You're rather a naive person if you can't for it's happening all round us. A protest group makes some demand on the government to expand certain rights which had earlier be given to the group. Soon more demands will come and finally the protest group will form a political party to oust the government out. A certain minority group will make small request to the government which represents the people. Out of kindness the request is granted and more requests will come which soon turned into a series of demand. Meanwhile the minority group has increased in size making the demands look more justifiable. Turn them down and the government will loose the group's support which it badly needed. Soon the majority will be alarmed and the government will have to face the majority's displeasure...

Where will it all end? At the international level, a displaced people can seek the right to have palace in the world. The international community agrees to give them a place. The displaced people grew larger in number, needs more area to accommodate their need and begin to go into new territory. When confronted they will fight. A win means they can legally take over the lost territory. And the process goes on. When will the international community say stop and don't be too greedy?

As one wise man said once, there's enough in the world to serve everyones need. But there won't be enough to serve everyones's greed. Is the people of the world to stupid to understand that? Or is everyone so haughty and presumptuous to believe that he or she can have whatever he or she wants if you or your people are strong enough to fight for it? Do we forget the saying that whoever lives by the sword will one day die by it. Or have we become so dumb as not to understand that as well.

Given an inch ask for a yard by all means. But don't cheat or threaten people at the point of a sword or a gun. The point can turn to you one day. Let's attend to our need but do not promote greed. That greed in one person can swallow a nation one day. In the end all of us will be dead. Are we so dumb as not to understand that as well?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Is Malaysia Running into Serious Economic Problem?

Every time we hear the PM dishing out hundreds and thousands of ringgit to millions of people and creating million ringgit funds for this and that almost every other day, the question: Does Malaysia have the money?, comes to mind. People know that Malaysia had been borrowing a lot of money from oversea sources, but the government had always said that our economy is strong and is getting stronger all the time. It also denies that the cash payments to families with income below RM3k and the creation of many special funds are done through borrowing.

All countries have debts and borrow lots of money from many sources to finance their development. . The US for instance had national debts running into trillions. So does Japan and the debts of other EU countries keep rising. The situation of the debt is often stated as a percentage of the national debt to the GDP of the country. In this regard the percentages as estimated by one source for many countries in 2010 are as follows: USA 62%, Japan 198%, Italy 198%, India 52%, China 19%,France 82%, UK 76%, Brazil 59%,Canada 84%, Spain 64%, Mexico 37%, Greece 143%,Eqypt 80%, Singapore 106%, and Taiwan 51%.

How does Malaysia stand in this regard? A bank Negara Financial report in 2012 stated that the Gross External Debt for Malaysia was RM295,908 million (i.e..295 billion) while the GDP stood at RM216,864 ( or 216 billion). As a simple minded person and not an economist, i can already see that we already record an above 90% debt to GDP percentage. But that's no where near the Japanese or the Singapore level. Or the level in Greece for that matter. But another report puts it at just 54.2% The level reached 79.5% in 1990 but fell to 31.8% in 1997. Has it already risen up to above 90% in 2012? I wish some of our economic experts can answer that question, truthfully.

But what does such a level of debt to GDP ratio imply? An European Central Bank study in 2010 stated that a debt level of above 90-100% can have a negative effect on economic growth and the trust of outside countries on the ability of a country to pay up its debt. That's bad, right? And Malaysia could be approaching that point. BUT THERE ARE OTHER FACTORS which can offset the negative impact. They include the level of private savings, public investment, total factor productivity, and foreign investment. Let's not get to muddled up in thinking about those factors.

The main thing we should be concerned with is the productivity level of the country. If the increase in productivity does not exceed the increase in expenditure and consumption, we could be living beyond our means and heading for trouble like most of the European countries. What say the economists?

(basic Data)
Public Debt Top 20, 2010 estimate (CIA World Factbook 2011)[6]
USA $ 9,133 62% $ 29,158 ($ 5,415, 38%)
Japan $ 8,512 198% $ 67,303 ($ 7,469, 172%)
Germany $ 2,446 83% $ 30,024 ($ 1,931, 66%)
Italy $ 2,113 119% $ 34,627 ($ 1,933, 106%)
India $ 2,107 52% $ 1,772 ($ 1,863, 56%)
China $ 1,907 19% $ 1,427 ($ 1,247, 16%)
France $ 1,767 82% $ 27,062 ($ 1,453, 68%)
UK $ 1,654 76% $ 26,375 ($ 1,158, 52%)
Brazil $ 1,281 59% $ 6,299 ($ 775, 39%)
Canada $ 1,117 84% $ 32,829 ($ 831, 64%)
Spain $ 823 60% $ 17,598 ($ 571, 41%)
Mexico $ 577 37% $ 5,071 ($ 561, 36%)
Greece $ 454 143% $ 42,216 ($ 335, 97%)
Netherlands $ 424 63% $ 25,152 ($ 392, 58%)
Turkey $ 411 43% $ 5,218 ($ 362, 40%)
Belgium $ 398 101% $ 38,139 ($ 350, 90%)
Egypt $ 398 80% $ 4,846 ($ 385, 87%)
Poland $ 381 53% $ 9,907 ($ 303, 45%)
South Korea $ 331 23% $ 6,793 ($ 326, 24%)
Singapore $ 309 106% $ 65,144
Taiwan $ 279 34% $ 12,075
Public Debt is total of all government borrowings less repayments that are denominated in a country's home currency.
* CIA's World Factbook list only percentage of GDP, the debt amount and per capita is calculated with GDP (PPP) and population figures of same report.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Where Are the Beautiful Public Beaches?

Malysia has some 4675km of shoreline and beaches. How much of that has been developed and promoted as beach resorts by the Federal government, the various State govermnents and Local Authorities, and by private companies which had acquired the land facing the shore. Do the companies which bought such land  also own the beach and become resposible for its development?

I raised these questions because there are many once beautiful beaches which have been damaged or which have lost their beauty due to neglect or misuse. On the other hand there are beautiful beaches with white sand and swaying palm trees once open to the public but now fenced in and only accessable to the guests of beach resort operators and hotels. The public beaches soon become overused, overcrowded and very dirty as compared to the privately owned ones but inaccessable to the public.

Beautiful beaches like the once famous Pantai Cinta Berahi ( Beach of Passionate Love), Telok Chempedak, Morib, and Telok Kemang have either bocome less attractive compared to the privately owned beaches run by five star hotels and resort operators, or have shrunk in size due to the acquisition of these private companies. On the other hand there are also beaches taken over by resort operators who not only failed to develop them but also ruined them with uncompleted or abandoned projects. If all these slow  'desecration' or 'vandalism' of our beaches are not effectively stopped by the authorities concerned, only those owned by the successful hotels and resort operators will retain their prestine or altered beauty as resort areas. Further acqisitions by the wealthy beach resort operators if left uncontrolled, will shrink futher the beach area open to the public until one day they are left with the murky and muddy areas of the beach which the beach resort operators don't want.

 Other than the problem of soil erosion threatening some parts of our beaches, the right of the public to have wide open beaches with good facilities for swimming, picnicking and lazing around, must be given serious consideration by both the Federal and State governments. Otherwise only those who can afford the luxuries of expensive hotels and exclusive beach resorts will enjoy or beaches in the future. The average citizens who couldn't afford or who don't want to squander hard-earned money on cut-throat hotels' and beach resorts' rates will have to swim in the brackish water of the sea-shore.         

Monday, February 13, 2012

The more people have the more unhappy they seem to be.

I have been keeping this observation to myself for a long, long time. Having gone through life under six PMs from Tengku Abdul Rahman Putra to Datuk Najib Tun Razak, I was able to observe the various changes in the life style of Malaysians from pre Merdeka days to this age of nanotechnology. I've of course experienced the change myself. But being a nobody your experience means nothing to others.

Let's not bother ourselves with the trivialities of growing from rags to riches. The young people take that for granted although we old ones know how we growled and grimaced to reach where we are today. Those who hailed from the kampungs as I do will never forget the hard days when we went to school with ten or twenty cents in our pocket, with no proper breakfast,have only a par of bata shoes, and walked or cycled to school.
But, and this is what people seldom emphasized, we were happy. Yes, there was some bad experience with the teachers, but otherwise life outside the school was a romance with nature. Fishing in the padi field, swimming in the river, trapping birds, gallivanting in the dusun with a lot of fruit tress, playing tricks on the girls etc. etc.

We had nothing much but we were very happy. No bullies in school, no cigarettes or drugs, no fear of being robbed since we don't carry any money, no naughty calls over the phone, no cars and motorcycles crowding the school area both before and after school, no hassle no traffic jams. Now, the school children have everything they need, all the facilities, and the constant pampering, Yet are they happy? We hear cases of schoolboys being bullied, girls being kidnapped and raped, truancy, delinquency, blackmailing, gang-fight etc. etc. Look at them tugging along their bulging schoolbags, rushing to get into the cars, and the serious ones working their little head out to get as many As in the exam as possible. Can they be happy?

Look at the adults, the men and women of the modern age. They are so busy with work they don't have much time "to sit and stare". Life is a rush, to get through the traffic jams, to meet datelines, to pay bills, to wait for important people, attend endless meetings, keep up with appointments, run around too fetch the wife or kids, pay homage or play host to senior relatives and bosses, etc. Home is comfortable and all the facilities and amenities required for modern living are there, but are you really happy? Do you smile more than you grimace and sigh ( I won't say swear and curse).

Now look at the nations in the world. Are the richest and most modern nations home to the happiest and most peaceful people? They have almost everything yet the number of psychos and people with psychological problems, or the unhappy people are more than what one should expect. The Muslims nations in general are much richer today than they were years ago but are they happier and more satisfied with life than their seniors who have returned to the Creator. Are the younger people today happier than the older forks?

What appears so obvious to me is that the more people have of in terms of the requirements of a good life,the more unhappy and depressed they seemed to be. When people meet at socials or by chance you'll hear more of complaints and dissatisfaction than praise and gratitude to the powers that be for a much better life than that experienced by their seniors and ancestors. Much less heard are "praises to the Lord" or "Allah" for the bounties He had bestowed on them, even when they are at a party with so such sumptuous food to eat while some others are starving and dying. People in both rich and poor nations talk more about wars and fightings,
power-monghuls and power-struggles, ruthless killings of civilian, women and children, economic sanctions and boycott, corruptions and exploitations, murders and crimes taking places at all levels of society, etc. There is precious little heard about being happy with what God has given us, living in peace with our neighbors, and helping our neighbors to live a happier and more satisfying life.

I sometimes think that the world has lost its trust in God. More people seem to think that Men (and women) decide what is going to happen tomorrow, especially people in the rich and powerful nation. The more we search (and fight?) for happiness the more unhappy we become with disenchantment and dissatisfaction. The more the world has the more unhappy and disgruntled people are. I sometimes think that God is laughing in our face at our vanity and foolishness, More education has not made the human race wiser perhaps.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Big Spender -thrifts gone with the wind.

Must we become a big spender before becoming a high income nation? Can thrift be thrown to the wind when you want to become a high income nation? Are we not spending more than our current productivity allows us? Are we not living beyond our means like some western countries and heading for a financial crisis?

I asked those questions to a friend who had just abandoned his thrifty way of life and joined the big spenders' league. He made the change after getting a hefty contract from the government.
"Who cares about being thrifty when money abounds," he replied with a huge smile. "i used to spend peanuts and got monkeys. Now I splash out and the big fishes came into my net."
"Where do you get the money to splash around?"
"Our banks are flush with money. You must know the right people to back you up and there's no limit to the loan you can get. Big names earn big money. But of course you must give them a big share. That's how wealth is created."
" I thought wealth is created through productivity and shrewd investment.."
" Yes, shrewd investment in the right people..."
" Doesn't productivity count?"
" How do you measure productivity in the provision of services? It's not like running a factory or doing construction work where physical output can be measured or counted. In providing services if the power that be is happy with what they get, you're good. Since the services are essential, if you run into financial problem the government will come to rescue you. So what's the problem?"

The NKRA people all say that our national productivity level is good and increasing. The planners say that our GDP is growing at a healthy rate and those who say that the country will go backrupt by 2019 or 2020 are talking through their rear end. But Che Det is his latest blog entry sounds a cold warning that our productivity is not increasing to support a high income nation style of life. We could be living beyond our means and may end up like the wealthy nations with debts running into trillions. The US and UK resorted to printing more money to pay for the loans but if we do that people will say we are bankrupt.

So, what say our big operators in the service sector, especially the government linked companies (GLCs) where productivity is not easily measured and the costs of operations are not strictly controlled by the government or fund providers. Is thrift just a matter of keeping the share of the fund providers at a happy level and the old principles of being thrifty can be thrown to the wind? Is big spending the only way to get big returns. To whom? The public or the operators and the fund managers who seem to be doing very very well and who can laugh all the way to the banks?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Respect for the Academicians

When I was small over half a century ago, the teacher was the most respected person around. Even royalties respect their teacher, the most learned person around at that time, whether he (or she) was an ordinary school teacher or a religious teacher. At the university level the teachers became known as lecturers and professors, enjoying the same respect which I had for the teacher in my village school. Other public officials in the government were more feared than respected, especially the law enforcement officers and the "tuans" who determined many aspects of your life.

With the rise of nationalism in the 1950s, politics became the burning topic of the day. The political agitators and leaders became the heroes of the time. There were many teachers involved in the political struggle for Independence. Many of our earliest Ministers were fondly called "Cikgu" (teacher) like Cikgu Khir Johari, Cikgu Senu Abd Rahman, Cikgu Ghaffar Baba, Cikgu Fatimah etc. Many were respected more for being teachers at the initial stage rather than politicians.

But today, the political leaders, the successful entrepreneurs, the professionals and the high government officials are respected (or
just given more attention) than the teachers, the tok gurus (religious teachers) lecturers or professors. Except for those who have been pulled into politics or given an official posting or some consultancy status by government, these teachers, lecturers, associate professors and professors remain almost unknown. Until they say or publish something controversial. If the government like what they say, they get praises and become wellknown. (I don't know whether they are rewarded at all!). If the government doesn't like it, watch out. You'll be pushed to oblivion and if you had been honored with any awards or honorifics before your name, they might be taken off. You're lucky if you're not dismissed from your job and are just stripped off your honorifics.

It doesn't matter whether you've said or published something entirely true and you can prove your point or not. It doesn't matter whether your standing as a respected teacher, tok guru, lecturer, or professor had all these years been unblemished in any way way at all. No one is interested in checking or investigating further whether what you said or published is based on facts and unadulterated truth or not. The government or some big guns don't like it, you pay for it. But if your've your own big cables to exonerate you from blame, the matter might just be swept under the carpet and be forgotten.

What is worrisome here is that knowledgeable and learned people will begin to avoid saying what is true if the truth is not palatable. And critical truth unfortunately has that tendency of being unpalatable like everything else that is critical. Only praises and niceties are sweet and delicious, even when they are said with a tongue in cheek or with a naughty smirk. We don't get changes and improvements if there are no critical evaluation of things around us, things that affect our life. If certain critiques are not justifiable or not based on facts, why not call on the authorities to correct them. After all teachers, tok gurus, lecturers and professors are not always infallible and need to be corrected to at times. If they can misunderstand a certain situation the likelihood of others falling into the same boat will certainly be very great. So explain the situation rather than punish those who misunderstood it. If the untruth or false thing said is done with an unacceptable or dangerous motive, then prove it before punishing the initiator of the falsehood.

What is at issue is the freedom to seek and to know the truth. If unpleasant truth cannot be revealed when do we begin to examine ourselves in order to improve? If we start punishing people with academic knowledge and experience who question certain accepted beliefs that appeared to them unfounded, then we'll never correct the untruths that threaten our lives.