How should we judge a government?

In Malaysia, if you don't watch television or read newspapers, you are uninformed; but if you do, you are misinformed!

"If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing." - Malcolm X

Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience - Mark Twain

Why we should be against censorship in a court of law: Publicity is the very soul of justice … it keeps the judge himself, while trying, under trial. - Jeremy Bentham

"Our government is like a baby's alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and no
responsibility at the other. " - Ronald Reagan

Government fed by the people

Government fed by the people

Career options

Career options
I suggest government... because nobody has ever been caught.

Corruption so prevalent it affects English language?

Corruption so prevalent it affects English language?
Corruption is so prevalent it affects English language?

When there's too much dirt...

When there's too much dirt...
We need better tools... to cover up mega corruptions.

Prevent bullying now!

Prevent bullying now!
If you're not going to speak up, how is the world supposed to know you exist? “Orang boleh pandai setinggi langit, tapi selama ia tidak menulis, ia akan hilang di dalam masyarakat dan dari sejarah.” - Ananta Prameodya Toer (Your intellect may soar to the sky but if you do not write, you will be lost from society and to history.)

Monday, March 31, 2008

Ronald and sons at Little Penang

Ronald De Leon and his two talented sons

Instead of a picture of Andrea singing at Little Penang, this picture taken at the Jazz club?

If only I am in the habit of carrying a camera. My handphone does not have camera facility and I could have used Cheng's Nikon which had been repaired. I did not even think of SP's handphone which can take pictures!

I am not the only one, as in her blog, Andrea said she carried a camera with her but did not use it as she was not really happy to feel connected. Ironic that a person can actually feel lonely among many people.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Discovering by chance, Andrea Mann...

a British jazz vocalist presently performing at G Spot (she finds the name embarrassing but the spot easy to find), which is in G Hotel in Penang.

According to Ronald Vic’s blog, today’s event at Little Penang was to have a surprise guest singer and I found out about Andrea, after listening to her performance and when I got back to Batu Gajah, did a few Googling searches for G Spot! A catchy name, no doubt.

After Little Penang, I was starving since I did not get to buy snacks, having got distracted by a pretty lady singing the blues. In fact, with the strong breeze blowing through the street (closed for the Sunday event), I thought ‘Blue Bayou’ would be nice.

We decided to walk to the coffee shop opposite the Police station at Jalan Penang where we had our Hokien mee, Assam Laksa, and probably the best cendol in town. Having tasted the best Assam Laksa in Balik Pulau and Siamese Laksa in Pulau Tikus, SP found the assam laksa in the shop lacking in taste.

As we were walking back to the car, we passed the junction of Jalan Chulia, SP’s favourite for antique finds. We decided to drive the car there and passed a shop where she had eyed some nyonya jewellery before. As I was about to enter the shop, she told me there is a planter’s chair going cheap (ie. before restoration). After some haggling, she bought it for Rm400. For something she enjoys, she would not mind taking it back to BG to get the factor workers to strip the old paint, shellac or stained it before transporting it back to Penang to have it re-woven with rattan and back!

I reproduce Andrea’s interesting take on jazz, to the people in Penang:

Can a British jazz vocalist turn a Malaysian hotel lounge act into a credible jazz trio in two months? Clue: probably not. Read on…

“Ledeezengennelmen, plizwelcome… mizandramaaaaan!”

Cue faint ripple of applause.

And so I walk on stage for another performance at the G Spot (yes, that’s its real name) – the jazz club in Penang, Malaysia where I’ve been booked to sing six nights a week, for two months. Like some sort of Celine Dion-esque Vegas residency, only without the dancers. Or the hydraulic platforms. Or the hydraulic dancers on platforms.

It wasn’t until after I arrived at the end of January, and had my first rehearsal with the band – three local, 50-something Muslim men – that I realised quite what my assignment was out here.

I wasn’t brought out here just to sing. Oh, no. It appears that I was also brought out here to bring jazz to The Malaysian Masses – or at least, the ones living in Penang – and that includes its musicians.

I’m coming to the final two weeks of my residency now, and along the way there have been tears, inner tantrums (not outer ones – I’m British, remember) and many, many duff notes. There have also been accolades, delightful moments, and the successful climbing of a steep learning curve. By both me, and three 50-something Muslim men.

You can follow my journey here – but to save you the trouble of working through the daily posts categorised The Actual Music Stuff, I’ll list the top five the lessons I’ve learned:

1. Michael Bublé is very, very popular in Malaysia

This may seem a relatively unimportant lesson to be number one, but in fact, not a day has gone past that I haven’t heard this young man’s name mentioned and/or had one of his songs requested of me and/or heard him singing over the speakers of a department store. People here know ‘Sway’ as ‘a Michael Bublé song’ (not even ‘a Dean Martin song’ or heaven forbid ‘a Ruiz/Gimbel song’). He may be a lovely fella, but through no fault of his own – well, except perhaps his records - Mr. Bublé has become my jazz nemesis.

2. Malaysians don’t really ‘get jazz’

A phrase which has been said to me a number of times. Jazz in Malaysia – like many places in the West, in fact – is loved by a passionate, underground few. Or to put it another way: Malaysians like their pop. There’s live music a-plenty on the small island of Penang – but it takes the form of a pop covers band playing in a bar, or a cocktail pianist playing Every Song Known To Man in a hotel lobby. By going on stage every night and performing jazz, in a jazz club, I feel not unlike the hero of Footloose. Only with slightly fewer moves.

3. Malaysians have a tradition of making song requests

…and of having them fulfilled, as per the recording they know. Over the course of each night, I’ve been handed between one and twenty song request cards by the waiters in the bar, passing them on to me from members of the audience. This has a) helped me to quickly learn which standards are well-known and loved over here; and b) helped me to quickly educate the audience about what jazz is/isn’t. Mainly by saying over the microphone: “I’m very sorry, but I can’t do ‘Memory’/’My Heart Will Go On/Vincent’, because I’m not a pop singer”. My favourite song request so far has been “Diana Ross”. Just that: “Diana Ross”. I said: “Erm… could you be more specific? Or do you just want a giant Diana Ross medley?” (And then sang ‘Killing Me Softly’ with an invisible gun to my head.)

4. They think that ‘sitting in’ is ‘karaoke’

The bar manager took me to one side on one of my first nights, after I’d allowed a local, elderly jazz singer to do one number, and a local tenor sax player to join us for the final set. It turns out that in Malaysia there isn’t really the concept of ‘sitting in’ (probably because there isn’t really the concept of ‘jazz’). What there is, however, is the concept of karaoke – which is hugely popular over here and almost as popular as Michael Bublé, in fact. So the manager had confused what I’d done with allowing any old hotel guest to take to the stage. Apparently it’s very hard to wrestle the microphone away from a Malaysian once they’ve got it, and some clubs even have a ‘No Guest Singers’ sign next to the bandstand to prevent such an event from occurring.

5. It’s quite difficult to turn a piano player into a jazz piano player when he’s never heard of Sarah Vaughan

Quickly, at least. All of the above points about Malaysian music tastes and knowledge go for the trio I’m working with, too. They know ‘Sway’ as ‘a Michael Bublé song’, and ‘Route 66’ as ‘a Nat King Cole song’, and have learned their arrangements accordingly. It goes without saying that the bassist plays the electric, rather than double, bass; and that the pianist is heavily influenced by those two greats: Richard Clayderman, and the Mantovani Strings.

And yet, and yet… Yet despite all of the above, through blood, sweat and rehearsals, I have created something resembling a jazz quartet - and my three musicians have been surprisingly gracious in accepting the directions of someone who’s a) foreign, b) female and c) younger than them. And d) slightly bossy (I’m British, remember).

They may play pop songs and use all manner of naff keyboard sounds during their instrumental set. But as soon as I’m up there on stage with them, they now take solos (gasp!), trade fours (double gasp!), do slightly more interesting arrangements (voice and bass start, anyone?), play and improvise on jazz standards and songs which two months ago they’d never heard of. And what’s more, they now know who wrote these tunes –not just who recorded them in the past five years.

And all of the above may be very beginner-like. But beginners’ jazz is better than no jazz; and as long I’ve helped to bring this music – and this approach to performing it - to a new audience of both musicians and non-musicians, then, well, I guess I’ve achieved something.

Even without the Footloose moves.

This blog entry contributed by Andrea Mann. To follow Andrea’s day-to-day experiences as a jazz singer in Malaysia, visit her blog Lost In Transposition.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Shadow Prime Minister...

or Prime Minister in waiting.

Before the General Election 2008, most people, including Pak Lah, thought Anwar was irrelevant.

I had problems arguing with my coffee shop ‘kakis’, who like many Chinese, had bad impressions of him, citing the period when he was Minister of Education.

I always have sympathy for people like Lim Guan Eng and Anwar, who were imprisoned because of politically motivated trials.

In the case of Anwar, he was whacked by the then IGP, a black-belt holder, until he nearly died. Just imagine if an ex-DPM could be bullied within the Police complex, ironically named ‘Peace Hill’, what chance does an ordinary person has? He suffered during his arrest, as well as when in prison, with a bad back which nearly paralysed him.

I would imagine him, at a time when he was really tested, making a vow that he would help all the needy and helpless if only he could get through it. I would like to think of him as destined to be given this task of making our country a better place to live in. For someone who could have taken the easy way out, I would readily give him the benefit of doubt.

For the benefit of Cheng, who told me she relied on my blog for a quick update (which explains why I have been posting articles which I thought suited her), here is The Sun’s interview with Anwar:

One foot in the doors

R. Nadeswaran and Terence Fernandez

PETALING JAYA (March 26, 2008): Despite a bad back and fatigue from two weeks of criss-crossing the nation, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) de-facto leader and former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is all smiles, following the alternative front’s unprecedented performance in the recent general election and his impending return to active politics.

He tells theSun of the challenges in going into the polls and the even bigger tests ahead.

Nades: One of your biggest challenges was (prior to the elections) getting a cohesive team. You had three different parties with three different ideologies. How did you manage to unite and convince them on having straight fights?

Anwar: What’s so different about Umno, MCA and MIC? Or PBB or PBS or PBDS. One talks about "ketuanan Melayu", one talks about Chinese survival, one wants Indian affairs resolved. It does not seem to be contentious as in practice they were able to show a cohesive stance.

Similarly within Keadilan, PAS and DAP. Other than what’s perceived from outside … look at the manner they conducted the election campaign, they were together and worked well. We have Chinese voting for PAS, Malays voting for DAP. The people have spoken. They said: “Look, we want a cohesive Opposition, so today, so-called contentious issues of the past, like the Islamic State and Hudud have been resolved. It’s neither their (PAS’) manifesto nor their agenda anymore.”

Nades: How did you manage to get PAS to drop the Islamic State agenda which they have been so vociferous on in previous elections?

Anwar: I’ve convinced them and they also know my position ... if you want me to be involved, this is my position. Similarly with Keadilan and DAP. They must be seen to be multiracial and not questioning the position of Bahasa or the Malay position. You can adjust but the paramount interest of justice, catering to those who are poor and marginalised, covering all races must be realised. I think what was achieved last night (a meeting between PKR, DAP and PAS) is a very important beginning. We sat down and discussed for hours and looked at the issues and it was agreed that we must unite and make politically expedient decisions.

Terence: It seems that when you go into elections it is easy to have a common front. But like what happened in Perak shows that once you gain power, it is a different story altogether.

Anwar: What happened in Perak is less problematic (than those) in Perlis and Terengganu (laughs). Because the media is controlled by them; that is why the focus is on Perak and Selangor.

But I don’t deny that there are problems. Even within Keadilan, we have contending candidates, the DAP and PAS also have issues. But in the case of Perak, I understand the problem. PAS had the least number of seats so naturally, for DAP to take a tougher stance is quite understandable.

(But) Why does the media play up this huge issue? We took a position that was quite tough too – we support the MB; we support the administration but we refused to participate in the administration unless the spirit of cooperation is there.

I have enough problems in Penang with having eight non-Malays and two Malays. To have a similar arrangement in Perak would not be wise. It does not mean the Opposition is cracking up and to be fair to DAP, they made adjustments. And I have to record my appreciation.

That’s in the past, now contrary to popular perception that the collaboration is merely prior to elections or prior to forming a government ... as of last night (March 18), we have now entered into this new arrangement. It will be a much more cohesive force as it will not be like the BN or PAS or DAP… here is the agenda, about constitutional guarantees, what about the Malaysian Economic Agenda, basic tolerance and the perceived dominance of one race against the others.

Terence: You needed this new resolution because you were ill-prepared for the aftermath of the elections where Barisan Rakyat took five states and Kuala Lumpur? You never expected the results.

Anwar: I was very confident that we will take over the whole government. We crossed the one-third mark a long time ago.

Nades: Reading your comments in a Singapore interview, we said maybe Anwar is overconfident? Anwar is sounding cocky that he can form the government.

Anwar: The interview in Singapore was given after they cancelled the indelible ink and the reason they cancelled the ink was because we were edging towards that (winning the election). We had passed 48% of the popular vote. Edging about 2% a day of the shift; and they knew that. That’s why they cancelled the indelible ink. Which means they had 3-4% votes to cheat. So imagine if they had used the ink? And the postal votes? We would have won easily.

Nades: Should the postal votes be abolished as we are not at war or in emergency. It was (mostly) meant for our servicemen in the jungles during the Emergency and the war against the communists.

Anwar: No. Postal voting can be conducted in a transparent and fair manner. These people … they virtually have robbed the people of their votes.Like in Setiawangsa (which was won by Datuk Seri Zulhasnan Rafique) … we won. Then came 14,000 postal votes.

Terence: We cannot prove this but is there any truth that in Lembah Pantai, where your daughter Nurul Izzah was contesting (and won against Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil), there were similar attempts?

Anwar: Yes. But there was not enough to go around. In Teluk Kemang 7,000 postal votes were brought in, still our guys managed to win.Which means the number supporting us is big. That’s why I said, we will win if we get 55%. Even during the campaign I said you want to win with 50%, forget it!

Nades: How are you going to put your economic plan into action while dealing with the sensitive topic of the NEP?

Anwar: I drafted the MEA (Malaysian Economic Agenda) a year ago and gave a detailed explanation to civil servants about what we have planned for the poor and marginalised Malays, Chinese and Indians. We should start with regaining our competitiveness which we have lost, and attract more foreign direct investment. We have to build the economy upwards. With that in mind, then we can talk about distributive justice and equity.

Terence: It seems that only Umno is opposing the MEA while the other BN component parties are keeping mum.

Anwar: You see, even in Umno there is disconnect between the thinking of the leaders and the grassroots. I will be meeting division leaders to explain this. I was portrayed negatively by Utusan Malaysia. They were demonising us, saying that we are traitors to the Malays.

That’s interesting. “I am a traitor to the Malays”. I have not taken one share, no taxi permit, no contract in the name of bumiputra and all those so-called champions of Malays have taken hundreds of taxi permits, APs and contracts by the hundreds of millions of ringgit.

So I said don’t enter into this (argument) otherwise I will smash them hard. Don’t use the racial card. If you say you are concerned about the NEP, it’s okay we can argue, we can discuss this but don’t start condemning us. I’ve appealed to them to stop this.

Reviewing the NEP is not just (DAP secretary-general and Penang Chief Minister) Lim Guan Eng’s view; of course in my mind we should craft the words properly.Coming from a Chinese they would immediately play the racial card.It is unfair to Guan Eng, although I would have advised him not to touch on the NEP, but it was unfair to him because his words were taken out of context. He did say it was for the poor of all races.

Nades: Closer to Selangor, what changes can we expect from the new government?

Anwar: Firstly, it’s governance. There was so much of wastage, corruption, leakages and alienation of land. According to the reports I have, hundreds of millions of ringgit are literally down the drain. But we have to be careful. We cannot create the impression that we are going to dismantle everything, because we will lose investor confidence. People want stability and continuity. The only major issue we accept is the mentri besar’s recommendation to review the water agreement. The water agreement is virtually scandalous! And it is a burden to consumers.

Nades: What about land alienation to cronies? You cannot take the land back because the deal is done.

Anwar: There are many ways to deal with this. If the land is given, we can go through the plans; we want to know why this is done in such a way.

Terence: But you are not going on a witchhunt, are you?

Anwar: I think it will be a problem for us, because it is endless. Then we will spend the next two years just doing this instead of running the states that we won. Immediately our plans are to move on by ensuring a vibrant economy. Drawing foreign investment, but problems affecting the poor are top on our list.

Yesterday we went to Kampung Jawa (in Klang) to visit the Malay and Indian squatters. A contention was the demolished temple. So I told (Mentri Besar Tan Sri Abdul) Khalid (Ibrahim), you better deal with this immediately. In two weeks get it done; give them their land and pay compensation to rebuild their temple. Of course they will demand for this and that. That’s normal, but we draw the line.

Then it’s their housing status. Khalid was concerned with Ijok where some areas have no water supply. It cost just RM200,000 to supply the water, so Khalid has announced that water will be supplied. These things must happen whether it’s a Malay area, Chinese area or Indian area, it must happen. There are huge problems in Selangor and he (former Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Khir Toyo) has the audacity to talk about governance!

Nades: What are your plans after April 13 when you are eligible to contest for political office? Your wife is Opposition Leader - a position which is being warmed for you.

Anwar: Yes, but it is still early. Parliament only convenes in May. We still have time. I have to travel overseas for some engagements and I have to resign from my positions (in several foreign think tanks and academic boards) … meetings and lectures in Harvard and at Kennedy School … we’ll see. But now the focus is on having a cohesive Opposition and make sure the state governments are on track.

Terence: Are you ready to take over?

Anwar: This is for the MPs and the people to decide. We just want to make sure that the states are running well, and that we are prepared for Parliament. We have time to come to that.

Terence: If you asked me two weeks ago, one would dismiss Anwar Ibrahim being prime minister. But today, there is such likelihood, with the dawn of the two-party system.

Anwar: Yes, well, like I said, we actually won the election.

Terence: While Anwar can become PM, there seems to be a dearth of individuals who would be able to govern and this brings me to the formation of the shadow cabinet.

Anwar: Yes, when all these fellows took over … (former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir (Mohamad) … they had no administrative experience. Myself too … so was the first generation of civil servants. As long as we have a clear programme and agenda, and more importantly here and now, clearer ground rules we will be all right. No way are we going to tolerate alienation of land to your son, daughter, son-in-law. No way! I think we have to work as a team.As far as qualified people are concerned, you look at (DAP stalwart Lim) Kit Siang, he is still there. We were discussing some election laws last night and he brought up some laws which I don’t remember. (laughs) He says, “Anwar you were finance minister, how can you not know this?” I said: “Yalah Kit, I don’t remember.” Then he reminds me.I think he is certainly qualified to serve. You have (PAS president) Hadi (Awang) who has four years experience of being mentri besar of Terengganu … and many others.

Nades: Come to think of it, you have some experts on your side like Charles Santiago on water and R. Sivarasa on human rights.

Anwar:There you are! Some of them of course are not as well-known as I am but Siva is a Rhodes scholar … very articulate. Syed Husin Ali is one of the more renowned scholars.

Nades: How did you manage 13 days of campaigning with a bad back?

Anwar: It was not easy. We were using my Dad’s car a Mercedes since it was bigger. I had to duduk bersila like in yoga. (laughs)Also, we had (PKR deputy president) Dr Syed Husin Ali. He didn’t want to stand in this election, but he was here manning the fort, while I was travelling all over the country. I was wondering who would be doing this as (former PKR Youth chief) Ezam (Mohd Noor) is gone, Nik Nazmi (Nik Ahmad) who won the Seri Setia state seat in Selangor ) is gone; (Sim) Tze Tzin (who won the Pantai Jerejak state seat in Penang) is gone … then I realised I was handicapped. My staff was making all the arrangements.

Terence: Do you think the media has been fair with the new state governments under Barisan Rakyat?

Anwar: They have not been fair to them. What with these loaded questions and their own agenda. Give them a chance to do something like how I suggested to Guan Eng that he should go to the Malay villages, no one highlighted it when he went to Tanjung Tokong.

That’s why I was very rough with the Utusan guy. It’s not their fault though, I know that when they start pushing, they have their instructions but repercussions can be great.

Terence: Can we touch a little on some of the media organisations that used to blacklist you but now want to put you on Page One? Also associates who once had no time for you, but now are queuing up to see you?

Anwar: (Laughs) I have no malice. You know, sometimes I laugh at these people. This is the quality of people and they think they are great.I have no personal agenda. They have. Some of them are scared. Dead scared! They came to see me saying we are sorry, but were forced to do this and do that. In a way it is good - not that it is fair for them to put me in prison and treat me that way … but it is a good experience. And if people make mistakes and are remorseful, we should give them a chance. I always believe that.

Nades: But what was your problem with (former PKR vice president) Chandra Muzaffar? He came out very scathing against you.

Anwar: I was in prison when he first decided to attack and smash me to pieces prior to the 2004 elections. He had problems within the party, initially with the Youth Wing … Ezam, later (former PKR vice-president) Marina Yusof. I was still backing him but he came out very strong against me. I still wonder why.

Terence: After Chandra was released from the ISA, he seemed to be more pro-establishment.

Anwar: Well, he went through a lot. I can’t deny that and I do appreciate his initial contributions to Keadilan. I did not want to pursue litigation (over his statements against Anwar during the election), but my lawyers advised me (to proceed) and the letter (of demand) was already sent.

Terence: Do you want to retort against Chandra’s allegations about the words you uttered when you visited the Hindu temple in Penang? (Background: In March 27, 1998, a group of Muslims marched from the Kampung Rawa mosque to the nearby Sri Raja Raja Madurai Veeran temple, angered by the loud ringing of the temple’s prayer bells. The resulting clash between 500 Muslims and Hindus resulted in several people being injured. The dispute was settled when the state government provided an alternative site for the temple.)

Anwar: These accusations are excessive. Did he ask me what happened at the mosque? I was DPM at that time and nobody wanted to go down there. I went to the mosque and then the temple. (Then) IGP (Inspector General of Police Tan Sri) Rahim Noor called up the Penang CPO (chief police officer) and told him: “Tell Anwar not to go down to the mosque as the police cannot guarantee his safety.” (Incidentally it was Rahim Noor who gave Anwar his black eye that has since become the PKR symbol).

I told the CPO: “You call back the IGP and tell him, I cannot be a Penang leader if I can’t settle this problem.”Nobody wanted to go! Koh Tsu Koon, Shariff Omar, all the excos semua tak nak pergi! So I went.

You know the problem? I told the mosque people, azan five times a day is ok but there were some announcements, touching on Melayu and Islam, some hints ... so I told them: “Lima kali. Lebih daripada itu, I have a problem. I kena rampas you punya mike.” (Five times. Anything more, I will have to seize your microphone.)

So they said: “Jangan Datuk.” So I said: “You know I’m with you, don’t overdo it.”I also told Koh Tsu Koon to give them the land for the (relocation of the) temple.So, I told the (Muslim) people, you pukul budak Hindu umur 12 tahun, (hit a 12-year-old Hindu boy) is not right. So they settled and shook hands. Done.

I only brought my plainclothes guards. Even the police were not allowed in the temple because people were already angry as they tear-gased the neighbourhood.

I said the same thing to the temple committee: “I know your prayer times.” I was studying in Malay College Kuala Kangsar where there was a temple next door.

You don’t have to look at your watch. Teng! Teng! Teng! Teng! 6am. Teng! Teng! Teng! Teng! 6pm.

So I told them don’t provoke because during the Muslim prayer times they were ringing the bells even louder.

So I told them that I warned the mosque committee that I will seize the microphone. So, to the temple committee, I said if you do the same thing, I will also rampas your bells.

And what did Chandra say? That I threatened to silence all bells in Hindu temples across the nation?! It’s not true. Of course I had to sound very tough also. How do you solve the problem when they are fighting like that?

It is totally wrong what they are trying to portray me as. I am very indebted to the Indian community. They have helped me a lot. You see the Bukit Selambau fellow (Independent candidate V. Arumugan)? He said he will join PKR if I come there and hold his hand. So I did. And he won, and now he has joined Keadilan!

Terence: What is your take on the new cabinet? Some say that it is very Umno-centric.

Anwar: Ya! First I can see that there are attempts to respond to the electorate but overall it is a disappointing line-up. It is not catered for the expectations of people. There seem to be some shift in policies but then some characters tainted with corruption continue to be in office… well, these are exciting times!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Music for the soul

I can play basic bass on the guitar. Dr. Lim asked if I would like to play for his church on Resurrection night over the Easter weekend. Having shied away from many activities, I decided that I should take it as a challenge, and at the same time, shore up my confidence as I had only played in public once (on drums) some 38 years ago!

I was given 9 song sheets (lyrics with chords) and I borrowed a hand-phone to record intro, verse and chorus of the hymns. Problem with this was that just as I was familiar with a tune, I had to listen to the next. There was also the problem of the right order eg. some hymns start with verse, some with chorus; while other variations made it confusing too. I tried my best to familiarize with the tunes and even drew tabs next to lyrics for just in case I need to refer.

We were supposed to be half an hour early at 8.30pm to get the equipment ready. For my first time luck, the lady who was holding the key to the cabinet where the bass amplifier was kept, was late, unusual it seemed. She came just before the service started.

Dr. Lim confirmed the order of the hymns and I waited and waited as there were the usual sermons and other rituals. A projector was used to project the lyrics on to a large screen for the convenience of the parishioners. As soon as the first hymn was up, the Indian singer standing next to me gestured that it was not among my lot! What a start to my debut. Dr. Lim was too embarrassed to face me. He played rhythm guitar regularly for the church and he had no problem because he had with him all the hymns. Soon I was just guessing and played along. The second hymn, again, was not on my list. Fortunately, the rest were and I gained confidence as I played along.

It was quite interesting in that apart from the usual sermons, we had Tamil hymns sung by Indians, accompanied by their organist, and there were Mandarin hymns sung by Chinese, accompanied by their organist too.

At the end of the service, we started to pack up. I had the long bass guitar slung over my shoulder while doing so. I did not notice another rhythmist’s guitar resting on a bench. My guitar neck just swung the other guitar down and its neck bounced thrice on the floor! It was because of the rounded back of the guitar, which made it bounced and I could see the hurt expression on the owner’s face. When I apologised he put on a brave front and said it was ok as otherwise there won’t be any new guitar. It was a really embarrassing end to my debut as a church bassist.

It was actually an eventful day as I had a practice session earlier in the afternoon, playing drums with another group at Clearwater Sanctuary Golf Club, again, for the first time. The former Liaison Committee Chairman, a keen musician, was trying to convince Kenny Yap to start a resident band. Truth be told, a few years ago, I tried to convince them to have facilities for jam sessions. I am still for jam sessions as I could not stand practising over and over again just to get it right. To me, it takes the fun out of playing music.

For the practice session, I had to dismantle my drums kit and carried them from first floor of our adjoining house to the car. Before that, I had to get the two dogs to the other side before I could drive the car out. At the club, I had to carry the drums to the stage at the end of the hall and set them up. Similarly, Leong had to transport 3 amplifiers (of different sizes) from his house, using his jeep which he uses for hunting. Honestly, I don’t think I like the idea of doing it again. So it could be the first and last time for me, unless the club provides the equipment and I am there for jamming only, not as part of a resident band. It has to do with my limitation as a musician as well. I must admit I enjoyed and cherished the experience.

We actually had TK Ong who played a Hawaiian instrument. He came all the way from Taiping and went back by the 4.00pm bus, another point which is less than encouraging for the purpose of forming a resident band.

Our first astronaut helped DAP win big?

I remember having read Raja Petra’s version that the reason the use of indelible ink was cancelled just before the General Elections was because some people had imported the ink illegally with the intention of misleading the kampung folks into thinking that a voter’s finger had to be inked before election which would prevent them from voting.

If the rural folks can be so easily misled in spite of the mainstream media at BN’s disposal, then I cannot help thinking that they were duped into voting for DAP because its symbol, the Rocket, was associated with sending our first astronaut into space! Therefore, marking a ‘X’ against the rocket means supporting our national astronaut, Dr. Sheikh Muzzaphar Shukor!

I know the idea is far-fetched, of all reasons. Yet, someone even thought the use of Dr. Sheikh misfired, according to this letter published in Malaysia Today:

The USD25 million Caper that failed


Many people ask why UMNO was so blind that it did not see that they had lost contact with the electorate? The finger was not on the pulse, neither was the ear close to the ground.

Mahathir's thin margin and waning popularity was not lost upon him. They knew that the new voters were against him. So before they could register for voting, he resigned and allowed Badawi to take over as PM. Badawi's soft, non-confrontational approach enthralled the Malaysians, sweeping him into a landslide victory. It was not so much a vote for him as a reaction to see the end of the oppressive approach of Mahathir. The question of how well Badawi exploited this overwhelming mandate is now a moot point. He did not realize his romance with the crowd was quickly fading away with all the scandals that came his way. The internet was exposing all that the mainstream newspapers covered.

UMNO was very confident that the Malays would give them the mandate they sought. So confident were they that they even openly stated that they did not need the Chinese and Indians votes to win the election. What many do not know is that UMNO had a USD25 million weapon in their hands to win the hearts of the Malays. They had negotiated with the Russians to put a Malay astronaut in space for a sum of USD25 million and another USD800 million to buy 18 Russian fighter jets. I am not asking who makes how much.

We all knew that having non-Malays in the selection team was just a charade. In the end, they would select a Malay. And so it was that Dr. Sheikh Muzzaphar Shukor went up to space, with the initial noble intention of serving teh tarik to all the other astronauts. On his return, he was given a hero's welcome by Najib. What the public did not know that this was a political PR exercise to parade him to all the Malay kumpongs as the stereotype of the New Malay in the space age. So poor Shukor was overworked like a circus curiosity, going from kampung to kampung, without much rest. UMNO was so sure that this would bring the Malay voters back to the fold. They could not think of a more brilliant idea to galvanise the Malays in one fell swoop. This was second only to making teh tarik in space. It was UMNO's great effort to get the world to recognise Malays as a new scientific force in the world.

What happened is history but I am letting you know: a USD25 million gamble that failed catastrophically.


Bearing the unbearable

If my memory serves me right, Dr. Tan Chee Khoon left Gerakan because it joined the Barisan Nasional after winning Penang.

To the general public, especially opposition supporters, the general feeling then was, “what’s the use of winning when at the end of the day, it becomes a part of the ruling party?”

The opposition can win all they want, but ultimately, the positions and $money counted more than any principle. From a multi-racial party, it morphed into almost a Chinese party at the last elections, more because of the need to maintain the one and only Chinese Chief Minister position available, than anything else. Yet, the people took it to task for being subservient to Umno in the so-called “equal partnership”, a joke that is not funny, but tragic for the party – annihilated in its own stronghold.

The post-mortem for its dismal failure could only point to its irrelevance within BN, the saving grace being its role as ‘the conscience of BN’ for speaking out, but rebuked, even by Umno Youth leaders, which was the main cause of their election defeat.

Joining the opposition was definitely an option, among others, discussed among the Gerakan leaders as this report in The Malaysian Insider suggests:

A Gerakan elder makes case for party joining opposition

KUALA LUMPUR, March 27 – Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia faces a watershed period in the near future that might be its most significant since joining Barisan Nasional in 1974.

Based on recent statements in the press, the party that was formed to espouse a multiracial and social democratic philosophy to government has floated so far from its founding ideals that it is now no more than a second-rate MCA that was tasked with securing Penang for the ruling coalition.

Now that it has failed, and failed utterly, to maintain the support of Penangites, what does the future hold in store for the beleaguered party?

There are many who believe that the future is bleak and that if the Keng Yaik-Tsu Koon axis is not done away with, the party will drift into oblivion.

In an article in the New Straits Times, political analyst Khoo Kay Peng (formerly with Gerakan think tank Sedar) believes that it must forge ahead with reforms and a new leadership while Tricia Yeoh (Centre of Public Policy Studies) believes that if Gerakan does not carve out a niche for itself, it may soon die a natural death.

Not much later, veteran Gerakan member Datuk Dr Toh Kin Woon, formerly a state exco member, published his personal views, saying that it must go back to basics, in its effort to move forward. He even suggested that it should leave BN if reforms cannot be pushed through as “more of the same” was simply not an option if Gerakan wants to survive.

Adding fuel to the fire, Dr Choong Sim Poey, a former central committee member and state assemblyman for what was known as Sungai Nibong (now Batu Uban) replied to Toh's statement in the NST by saying that the idea of leaving BN was hardly radical and had been mooted repeatedly in closed door meetings since the party joined BN in 1974.

“There were heated discussions even in the '70s as to whether to join BN due to the differing views between us and Umno,” Dr Choong told The Malaysian Insider in a follow-up interview.

“When we joined we felt that there had to be mutual respect for each other's points of view as we recognised a lot of weaknesses in Umno. Even then we coined the phrase of being 'the conscience of BN'. Over the years, there was dissent within the party, there were voices saying that we have to put our foot down, even if we did not leave the coalition we had to speak up against some of the positions taken by Umno,” he said.

The personal revelations of these veterans in the party reveal a stark contrast from what goes on in the heads of its senior membership and the idea that finally goes out to the public. Many say the face of Gerakan that the public knows is that it continuously bows to pressure from Umno.

Toh also told The Malaysian Insider that Gerakan had lost its identity as a multiracial party with all its candidates in the recent elections being Chinese, when actually it was founded by leaders of all races.

“Gerakan has been assigned a mono-ethnic role within BN, which stresses on an ethnic approach. BN's neo-liberal policies has caused Gerakan to deviate from its proposed social democratic platform.”

Neither Toh nor Dr Choong suggests that Gerakan should leave BN immediately. Dr Choong stated that both Umno and Gerakan are in a state of review and will have to decide on a concrete direction before realising whether their future lies together.
Toh feels that because Gerakan leadership had not been more vocal on issues, it lost the moral authority to demand reforms but it would be to the coalition's benefit if “all component parties sat down and mulled over whether to dissolve into one multiracial party”.

“I'm not sure if they'll look at it positively, but by doing so, the issue of disparity between the races won't arise. The reason people didn't vote MCA, MIC or Gerakan was because we were seen to be subservient to the all-powerful, domineering and monopolistic control of Umno,” he said, although he admitted that it would take “a big step forward” for such a merger to happen.

Closer to reality, observers feel that Malaysians are finally beginning to accept multiracialism and that while DAP and PKR capitalised on this, Gerakan was not seen as a viable option towards pushing towards this agenda.

“This is where Gerakan could've played a useful role but unfortunately, it didn't lead that movement in its restricted position in BN. We are seen as condoning a racially-based and corrupt administration,” said Toh adding that it was fair that people decided to opt for DAP and PKR since Gerakan had ceded its role as a non-ethnic, social democratic party.

“When I joined Gerakan initially, the positions that were held in early 70s were very similar to the position held by DAP today,” observed Dr Choong. “We compromised that position over the years, feeling that it was more important to stay within BN but it is very clear that the public thinks that we've sold out our principles and ideology.”

For Toh, the tough decisions that Gerakan must make now are actually fairly straightforward.

If it cannot be part of a reformed BN, then it must look elsewhere for other parties that are like-minded.

Herein lies the crux of the matter. It would seem that the case for leaving BN is simple. Multiracial reforms, or else... but if it were to leave, then where would it go?

Toh believes that, ideologically speaking, it may find that the best course of action would be to throw in its lot with the opposition coalition.

“This is potentially the beginning of a competitive 2-party system. Whether it will be realised, only time will tell depending on how the opposition behaves and performs. The potential is there and it's what people want. They don't want to see concentration of power in one party,” observed Toh.

“Unless Gerakan can bring reforms in BN, then what PKR, DAP and even to some extent what PAS advocates, seems to be closer to Gerakan's constitution.”

Defending the indefensible

Barisan Nasional needs to re-invent itself before it self-destructs in the next General Elections. It is up to the leaders of Umno in particular, and the other coalition partners in general, whether to accept the new mindset of the voters which seemed to reject the current race-based political parties and going for universal values regardless of race.

I came across this article in The Malaysian Insider, "Character of Umno explains a few things…" which is self-explanatory:

KUALA LUMPUR, March 21 – Behind closed doors the one question that MCA, Gerakan and MIC are mulling after their mauling at Election 2008 is this: Can Umno adapt to the new Malaysian political landscape and make reform its mantra?

They are wondering if the post-March 8 Umno can appreciate that its choice of leaders and policies will have an impact on how Malaysians view the Barisan Nasional. Choose or defend leaders with baggage and the coalition partners too could be dragged down by the draft of disapproval.

The coalition partners got a partial answer this week with the return of Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib to the cabinet as the Rural Development Minister and Tengku Adnan Mansor’s appointment as the secretary-general of Umno and the Barisan Nasional.

A senior MCA politician told the The Malaysian Insider: “The party has nothing against Muhammad Taib but Umno has to realise that it is no longer sufficient to think about what Umno members feel about their leaders. We have to win over younger voters who have a different value system.’’

True, but easier said than done, noted Dr Mansor Mohd Noor, a political analyst. “Umno has always had its own value system. It is something that is not always hinged on character and integrity but on the patronage system and the person’s utility to the party. The party still has a feudal mentality.’’

This different set of values allowed the party to embrace the late Zakaria Deros, the warlord in Klang who attracted derision outside the party for building a palatial mansion in the midst of a squatter colony without any approvals.

When he was let off without even a token fine, Umno members did not bat an eyelid. They pointed out that he was a loyal party worker – the type who rented an ambulance to ferry the disabled to vote for BN in the Ijok by-election last year and the type who could bring out 10,000 party faithfuls to the street. Never mind that many Malaysians viewed the man as the typical Umno politician they detested – arrogant and seemingly above the law.

The MCA believed that the Chinese electorate would punish them for the actions of Umno politicians like Zakaria Deros. They were right. Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang, Lim Guan Eng and others made Zakaria a staple of their stump speeches. Still, Umno did not reject him.

When he died a few days after the elections, some 5,000 people visited his home to pay their respects. Among them, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his deputy, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak. Zakaria was held up as a solid party man, a role model of sorts.

Non-party members could only shake their heads in amazement and wonder how someone who did not pay land assessment for 12 years could be held up as a role model. Many of them revisited this question this week when former Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib was appointed Rural Development Minister.

How can a politician who was caught for not declaring several million ringgit in cash by Australian authorities in 1996 find himself back in the cabinet? Abdullah and others in Umno say that the former school teacher has paid his dues – he gave up his positions in the government and party, kept clear of any controversy and stayed loyal to the party.

Those familiar with the thinking in government circles say the Umno rank-and-file would not have allowed Abdullah to make the sweeping changes to the cabinet that he wanted – such as not naming any parliamentary secretaries, dropping Rafidah Aziz and appointing Amirsham Aziz and Zaid Ibrahim as senators – if they sensed their interests were being marginalised.

A government official said: “Mat Taib is very popular with the party grassroots. His appointment has gone down well with them. Changes will only be possible if the party flank feels a certain comfort level.’’

Abdullah is hopeful that the party’s 210 divisions will find a high comfort level with Tengku Adnan Mansor as the party-secretary-general. In Umno, he is respected as a warlord, someone who can get things done. The division chiefs say that if he were the secretary-general in the run-up to the polls, funds, banners and flags would have reached the ground faster than they did.

But party members also believe that Abdullah gave him the senior role of rebuilding the party to keep him happy.
With rumblings of a revolt by some party leaders like Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and Tun Mahathir Mohamad, the party president needs all the strongest men and women at his side. After dropping Tengku Adnan from the Cabinet, he needed to placate the former Tourism Minister.

But outside the party and in organisations like the Bar Council, this choice borders on the surreal. After all there is more than a good chance that Ku Nan, as he is known in party circles, will be censured by the Royal Commission on the Judiciary for his role in the V K Lingam judge-fixing scandal. He may be chastised for being a less than reliable witness during the proceedings. The findings of the commission will tar him for life with many Malaysians.

But in Umno, he will be revered as the secretary-general. Why? Because the party respects raw power and the ability to use it. Ku Nan has both.

The problem is that he will also be the secretary-general of the BN. And the MCA, Gerakan and even some component parties in Sarawak will have a tough time talking about reforms and changes, if people with baggage are still in positions of power.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Win-win vs Lose-lose

Oppositionists are born losers. They fight against the ruling party’s corruption, among other things, working hard in digging up evidence to support their accusations while the accused were enjoying their ill-gotten gains, literally thumbing their noses at them.

When opposition becomes the ruling party in certain states, they are bound by their own self-imposed ethics like transparency, accountability, frugality and so on. This means they have to be whiter than white in their work. For example, Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng in Penang has just introduced a party directive that state assemblymen are not allowed to apply for land.

Opposition fought for local government elections. Now that they have become state government, they have to introduce it, subject to the current law and if need be, amend it to enable its introduction. Fair enough.

But the new Minister in Local Government, Ong Ka Chuan, had the cheek to state that he supports the introduction of local elections! His own brother, Ka Ting had been the minister for a number of years - where was he when the opposition clamoured for it? Another BN joker even suggested that their representatives should be appointed in the local councils! Did the BN government ever considered appointing opposition party leaders to be councillors? A case of ‘heads I win, tail you lose’!

Seriously, if appointment of councillors is still the order of the day, I would suggest the appointment of some non-partisan local professionals who are keen on keeping an eye on local affairs - nothing like the genuine interest and passion for the job.

In the long term, I sincerely hope that the culture of frugality in spending taxpayers’ money, transparency in awarding contracts and accountability in financial management will encourage a new breed of clean politicians. Only those who can get going when the going gets tough, need apply.

Instead of the clamour to become politicians in order to make tons of money, it will be like national service where self-interest takes a back seat. What a wonderful world it would be.

At the national level, BN turned a blind eye when party hopping worked to their benefit. Now that the opposition is getting nearer to taking over, short of 30 MPs, all of a sudden, anti-hopping laws are suggested and likely to be seriously looked into!

I am not complaining about the suggestion at all (in fact, all for it) but the timing of it really sucks big time.

It goes to show that a strong opposition is definitely good for us.

As reported in The Sun recently, there are loopholes in the law which can enable local elections without federal approval:

Local govt elections without federal approval

THE SUN) - There are loopholes in the law which can enable state governments to introduce local government elections without the approval of the federal government.

Planning lawyer Derek Fernandez said state governments may invoke Section 1(4) of the Local Government Act 1976, which states: "The State Authority may … by notification in the Gazette exempt any area within any local authority area from all or any of the provisions of the Act or from any by-law."

Fernandez said publishing a notification in a state gazette therefore exempts the state government from applying Section 15 (1) of the Local Government Act (provision which enabled the state to bring an end to local government elections) to the area of the local authority.

"After this is done, the state government can then invoke Article 113(4) of the Federal Constitution which states that federal or state law may authorise the Election Commission to conduct elections other than those referred to in Clause (1) {House of Representatives and the Legislative Assemblies of the States}, and pass a state law for local government elections," he said.
Alternatively Section 5 (1) of the Local Government Elections Act 1960 may be invoked, Fernandez said.

The section states that "notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in any written law which relates to Town Boards or Rural Boards in force in any State, the State Authority may, after consultation with the Election Commission in respect of the boundaries of the local area and the number of Councillors to be elected … by order published in the Gazette of the State, direct that the whole or a majority of the members of a Town Council, Town Board or Rural Board established in the State under any such written law shall be elected instead of appoint-ed or nominated by the State Authority …"

Fernandez said one has to choose between the two methods available to avoid a clash between the laws, adding that the introduction of local government should be handled in two stages. "Stage one should be to appoint new councillors without political affiliations under the criteria in Section 10 of the 1976 Act, while the mayor or president should be retained so as not to disrupt the transition process, unless he is really unfit.

"Stage two should involve holding elections to select the councillors, while the mayor or president can be appointed from a competent administrator."

The issue has become a hot topic of debate after many opposition party candidates promised to resurrect local government elections, in the interest of transparency and accountability in public spending by local authorities, if they came into power.
To realise this objective however, the federal government would have to endorse the amendment of Section 15 of the 1976 Act.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Malaysia Think Tank London's perspective on GE 2008

Parliament, Federation most important winners

'Abidin Muhriz Mar 13, 08 1:53pm

It is easy to succumb to hyperbole after what might initially seem to be seismic shifts. But I do not hesitate to add my falsetto to the growing chorus declaring a political tsunami.

The first thing to do is to congratulate all new and returning members of the Dewan Rakyat and state assemblies. Every one of them should now be fully aware that what the rakyat giveth, they can taketh away. Over the next few days there will be page upon page dwelling on what went so dreadfully wrong, or screen upon screen dwelling upon what went so fantastically right. There will be ink splashed on how BN will adjust with the drubbing of the MCA and MIC, and there will be pixels dancing to how the DAP, PKR and PAS will form a long-term working relationship with one another.

But I want to talk about something else.Liberty.

This word did not feature in a single 2008 election manifesto. But when Tunku Abdul Rahman proclaimed independence he declared Malaya "for ever a sovereign democratic and independent State founded upon the principles of liberty and justice". Whatever the intentions of Malaysians on polling day, they have undoubtedly strengthened the primary institution discharged with the duty of protecting their liberty: Parliament. Our Federal Constitution has been amended nearly seven hundred times by some accounts: a small sample includes amendments to automate Royal Assent to bills, expel Singapore and most recently, raise the retirement age of the Elections Commission Chairman.

The government party have 64% of the seats in the Dewan Rakyat from the 52% they obtained in the national vote, for which they have First Past The Post to thank (I hasten to add however that I am no supporter of proportional representation for the lower house). BN will now have to rely much more on argument and persuasion if it hopes to amend the Constitution, and even legislation once seen as routine will be subject to much more scrutiny than before.

A proper mechanism for whipping may evolve as empowered backbenchers weigh the pros and cons of defying the diktat of their party machinery. In short, Parliament will have to be listened to, and so it will want the independence and resources to run its own affairs. A well-stocked library. Access to researchers. Parliamentary-issued BlackBerries. Roofs which don’t leak.

By contrast, the USA has amended its Constitution 27 times. They have another layer of protection preventing their Constitution being tampered willy-nilly: the requirement that three-fourths of the states approve it. This is just one of the features of the USA’s federal structure.

Face people's wrath

Despite evidence that Kedah has existed as a separate sultanate since 1136, never mind the founding of Malacca, states’ individual flavours and identities have been ever more diminished by the growth of federal power. But federalism is another word barely mentioned by any of the political parties. Nonetheless the collective victories of DAP, PKR and PAS – it is fallacious to refer to them as "the opposition" in the five states where they are forming government – may herald a new era in the relationship between the federal and state administrations.

It is, of course, entirely possible for state governments to hamper federal initiatives; and for federal government to slow the flow of cash. But such measures are limited by the Constitution – and the culprits will also have to face the eventual wrath of the rakyat. State government (and the local councils it appoints, or enables the election of) is by definition closer to the people than federal government – closer to street lighting, rubbish collection and tree cutting. Not very glamorous, but vital to the freedom of citizens to live in secure, comfortable and pleasant neighbourhoods. This devolution enables the townsfolk of Seremban to demand different things to the city dwellers of Kuala Terengganu; the new political balance will require Mentris Besar and Chief Ministers to be alert to appraising and responding to these desires.

I started with our first Prime Minister, and I end with our first Yang di Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Rahman, whose commitment to federal parliamentary democracy never floundered. He vociferously denounced the MacMichael treaties which had formed the Malayan Union, campaigning strongly for the Federation of Malaya, and during his federal reign he flatly refused to sack the prime minister, arguing that would interfere with the sovereignty of Parliament.

This time, it is the rakyat who have called for the strengthening of these checks and balances. There are many others, of course, and the Malaysia Think Tank London will be exploring them throughout the remainder of the year in a series of seminars which will be announced after the post-election hullabaloo dies down.

‘ABDIN MUHRIZ is Director of the Malaysia Think Tank London and was formerly a Parliamentary Researcher in the UK House of Commons.

Wan Azizah seems set to be the first Madam Opposition

Wan Azizah, by virtue of her being President of PKR, which has the largest number of seats (31) among the opposition parties (DAP 28 and PAS 23), will be the first ever Madam Opposition in Malaysian Parliament. Sorry, Cheng!

When my daughter (at 12) naively said that she wanted to be the first Madam Opposition, 13 years ago, it was then so unlikely that people did not give a second thought to it. There were so few women politicians and political parties tend to be led by men.
The recent Mr. Opposition, Lim Kit Siang seems synonymous with the title, having held the position for so long except for the period when Hadi Awang held it under PAS.

When DAP was the largest opposition party, Teresa Kok came to mind but still I could not imagine her being its supreme leader, at least not yet (to avoid being labelled an MCP).

While on this topic, I wish to post an excerpt of a comment by Semua Sama in The People’s Parliament, which I think is relevant in certain aspects:

"At parliamentary level, PKR is set to assume the position of opposition leader via Dr. Wan Azizah. Fair enough, in view that they hold the most number of seats among the opposition parties. The lingering question is, do they believe in democracy more than meritocracy? Wan Azizah has been in Parliament since 1999, a total of 9 years – which is a long time. She has had enough time to prove her salt but does anyone actually remember any moments where she created waves in parliamentary debates?

As far as I can remember, it was always the 12 DAP parliamentarians that received the worst from the rude and arrogant UMNO Mps when the DAP bench raised issues that were pertinent to the people of Malaysia. I have not read much of Wan Azizah raising any eyebrow or waking any sleepy eyes in all her years in parliament. If verbal abuses and insulting taunts were a measure of how active an MP was in parliament, Kit Siang, Karpal Singh, Kulasegaran and Fong Po Kuan are way ahead at the forefront. They have been outnumber 10:1 in Parliament and insulted beyond belief – all because they tried to stand up for stupid Malaysian voters. On the contrary, Wan Azizah has not ruffled any UMNO/BN feathers, at least none that ever made it to the press. If PKR truly believed in meritocracy, then there are many DAP parliamentarians that are more suited and qualified to lead the opposition bench compared to Wan Azizah. At the same time, if they truly believed in the principles of democracy, then they would have lobbied for DAP to lead the Perak state government in view that DAP held the most number of seats. Either way, there is the element of cakap tak serupa bikin coming from the PKR camp.

Would you as an employer hire someone who tells you he/she is not interested in the job? Surely not, I say. However, that is exactly what we’ve done. Wan Azizah was never interested the job of being an MP. She was thrust into it after the downfall of her husband. She held it for eight years and has recently announced that she just might step aside after being elected to allow Anwar Ibrahim to contest in a Penampang Pauh by-election. Do you really think a person who is not interested to be an MP is the best person for the task of being opposition leader? Or maybe you think that Wan Azizah will eventually pass the baton of being opposition leader to Anwar Ibrahim later?

Well, Anwar Ibrahim will indeed make a great opposition leader. Just one problem though, like his wife, he too is not interested to be opposition leader. He wants to be Prime Minister …”

Friday, March 21, 2008

Wishful letter from Pak Lah after the General Elections

Before the General Elections, all 3 registered voters in our family (and I think all voters as well) received a letter from Pak Lah. After the GE, this is what Oon Yeoh (in his letter to Malaysiakini) wishes to receive from him:

You've got mail - from Pak Lah

Oon Yeoh | Mar 19, 08 4:08pm

This is an e-mail I wish Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi would send to every Malaysian.

To: Malaysian voters

From: Abdullah Ahmad Badawi

Dear fellow Malaysians,

Thank you for voting Barisan Nasional back into power. It is with great honour that I will serve you for another term. I want to share with you what I plan to do in the next four or five years to fulfill your aspirations for the country.

You used your votes to send me a message – a message that I didn't hear earlier, but which I hear now, loud and clear. Yes, it was a wake up call for me and a rude awakening for all of us at BN. We must never take the Malaysian public for granted.

One of the loudest things I hear from you is "No more arrogant, inflammatory and racist rhetoric". I admit several of my outspoken ministers and yes, even my own son-in-law, have said things that hurt the feelings of many segments of our society, especially the non-Malays. I should have rebuked them immediately but I didn't.

I didn't share their views, I'm sure you know that, but I was complacent in thinking such comments would eventually blow over. Little did I realize that many of you had actually taken them to heart. As a prime minister for all Malaysians, I should have been more sensitive. The next time any Umno leaders say things that are out of line, I guarantee you I will slap them down straight away. And if they don't apologise for the hurt they cause, I will ask them to resign whatever posts they hold in the party or the government. That is how seriously I take the matter.

I was mistaken in thinking that Malaysians would be content and grateful just to have peace and security in this country. But after 50 years, Malaysia has grown up. We are becoming a developed nation. Peace and security is not enough. Economic development is not enough. The people want and deserve civil liberties.

As such, I am going to take steps to honour not just the law but also the spirit of the Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. That means getting rid of the Printing Presses and Publications Act. In addition, all government parties will be required to divest itself of ownership in news media companies. I know this means opening myself and my government to critical articles by journalists but that's what free speech is all about. And I accept that.

People will no longer need to apply for a permit from the police to peacefully assemble and even to protest. Of course if they make a nuisance of themselves or become rowdy, law enforcement officers will have to do their job to ensure public safety. But your right to peacefully assemble will be respected.

I am going to get rid of the dreaded Internal Security Act and the Kamunting detention facility will be torn down and converted into some new commercial development. To be honest with you, I didn't want to detain those five Hindraf guys without trial. It's against my nature to do such things. But alas, I listened to advisors who been giving me wrong advice. They will be freed, as will other ISA detainees, but if there is evidence against any of them, they will be charged and have their day in court.

Speaking of courts, I will be asking the King to set up a new Royal Commission of Inquiry and this time, the terms of reference will extend all the way back to the controversial sacking of Salleh Abbas. Many learned lawyers have highlighted that it was that incident which started the rot in our judiciary. I know we might be opening a can of worms but let the law take its course. I am determined to repair our judiciary.

The Official Secrets Act will also be removed and replaced by the Freedom of Information Act. People rightly view the OSA as an impediment to catching crooks within the government. In contrast, a Freedom of Information Act will help us catch those crooks. When you first elected me, I was known as Mr Clean. Nobody calls me that now but by the time my second term ends, that's what you'll be calling me again. Just wait and see.

Last but not least – and I've really saved the best for last – I am going to initiate something that will end communal politics once and for all. Umno will soon stand for the United Malaysian National Organisation and all component parties in the BN will be invited to merge with the old Umno that we can become one big multiracial party. Also, the NEP will stand for Newest Economic Policy that will help all Malaysians regardless of race. Take that, Anwar!

None of the things I've mentioned is going to be easy to implement. There will be resistance like you wouldn't believe. But if I am going to regain the trust you first gave to me four years ago, I will have to earn it the hard way – by not just talking the talk but walking the walk. Last time around I asked you to work with me. This time, watch me work for you, to build a better Malaysia that you deserve.


Pak Lah

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Some of the reasons why The Star is still a good buy...

good columnists like Azmi Sharom and the ever popular Mary Schneider, Amy Beh's recipes, funny comics and some really good medical articles. The news reports just could not be taken seriously. Anyway, Azmi's latest article is good enough for me to keep it for future reference:

Time to act as statesmen


It's a whole new type of politics out there and the new state governments and the country too need time to adjust to this change.

After the excitement of the election results (yes, I'm still writing about the election, apologies to those of you with insatiable appetites for the new and the "now"), certain unease seems to be creeping into the collective consciousness.

Headlines scream about cracks in the loose coalition of the Opposition, constitutional crises hang over the horizon of at least two states. Are things going to go tumbling down?

Well, a week is a long time in politics as they say, and by the time this article comes out five days would have passed since I wrote it, so I could end up with egg on my face.

However, I just want to say; cool it, chill out, relax, it's early days and the poor little politicians have no idea what hit them.

Some of them have never been out of power and some of them have never tasted it.

They are still stuck in their old mindsets. We, the people seem to have leaped forward but they are still trying to wrap their heads around this new world; poor dears.

For example, the Opposition leader in Selangor; after days of petulant silence he comes out with this grand plan to watch the new state government with beady eagle eyes.

They are going to register the old folks and the young ones and make sure they all get what the ex-Opposition promised them (healthcare and child care respectively). Well, good on you Khir!

I always said a strong opposition is what we need.

But, a word of advice to the handsome ex-Mentri Besar.

Accusing the new state government of being likely to be racially insensitive is rather rich coming from you.

If I am not mistaken, and I am not, some of the most publicised temple destruction that caused such anger and uproar in the Hindu community, and which was one of the impetuses to the heavy setback suffered by the Barisan, happened in Selangor; when you were in charge.

Besides, Khalid and co have not even managed to settle in their new offices. It's going to take some time to clean up all those shredded documents.

Give them a while to settle in before you threaten to "take action."

Meanwhile in Penang, Lim Guan Eng had barely sat down when he had to jump up again and put out a fire that is the NEP.

I watched the interview he gave on the NEP and he said that he wanted to weed out the corrupt, inefficient and wasteful aspects of the policy.

Nothing was said about marginalising the poor, of whatever race. Surely this is a good thing. Surely the NEP was meant to help the poor and not meant to be corrupt, inefficient and wasteful.

The NEP's time is over. For the Malay professional classes, they should be able to stand on their own feet, and if they can't, then they should not be in that position in the first place.

For the Malay poor, and there are many of them, making up as they do the vast majority of low income families, it would appear that a new approach is needed.

If a policy has been implemented for nearly 40 years and the main group it is aiming to help is still in the same position, it is high time to look at new policies.

The trouble with the NEP and the way it has been enforced is that it promotes Malay interest over national interest. Let's take a look at public institutions for example; Malay people staff them overwhelmingly.

This is because non-Malays feel they don't have a fair shot at promotions in the civil service. A worry that is quite valid.

We are too small a nation to shut out talent based on race. The country has to be run by the best people or we will all suffer and the Malay supremacists will then be the supreme masters of rubble.

Obviously not all Malays feel like me. Some were so angry at Guan Eng's misquoted statement that they have taken to the streets of Penang and Shah Alam. I think this is super.

A democracy needs dissent as long as it is peaceful. The sight of Umno members thronging around Komtar warmed the cockles of my heart.

Umno members have shown the Barisan government that protesting really is part of our culture.

They made a mistake condemning the Bersih and Hindraf rallies. Malaysians do take to the streets when they want to express their feelings.

The country is on the cusp of a new type of politics. It is perhaps no accident that amongst the Opposition in Parliament, the one with the largest number of seats is a multi-racial party that calls for a non-racial method of affirmative action.

And the other two Opposition parties, although more mono racial in their make up are also making similar overtures.

It is odd therefore that the response to the election results by the Barisan component parties has been to reinforce the racial based policies and politics that a very large proportion of the citizens appear to have rejected.

It is also odd to see the old warhorses of the Opposition act like they are still in the Opposition. People, you are in charge of five states now. This is the time to act like statesmen and not like rabble-rousers.

Yes, there is a degree of uncertainty in our country after the elections, but at the end of the day we are going to need to give it some time before we press the panic button; time to see how the new state governments work; time to see how the Barisan reacts; and time most of all to let the old dinosaurs rant and rave using the language of race until they come to the realisation that for the future to be bright, outdated and outmoded politics must be discarded.

The country needs time to settle, let's just hope the politicians do not take too long in doing so.

Dr Azmi Sharom is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

DIY Cabinet - rejections, objections, dissatisfaction, sulks and disapprovals

One can imagine the difficulties of choosing cabinet members to please more people, yet trying to prevent or lessen dissatisfaction among those to be dropped.

Dissatisfaction was obvious from those who declined their appointments immediately, namely, Datuk Seri Tengku Azlan Abu Bakar, (appointed Deputy Foreign Minister), and Datuk Anifah Aman, (appointed Deputy Transport Minister).

Heavyweights dropped included Rafidah Aziz, the long-serving Minister of International Trade and Industry (pun intended) and Radzi Sheik Ahmad, the former intends to hold on to her Wanita Chief position while the latter resigned from being Secretary General of Umno.

Generally most people approve of the following appointments:
Shahrir, who will takeover the Consumer and Domestic Affairs portfolio;
Zaid, the new minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, who is given the task of reforming the country’s judiciary; and
Amirsham, the ex-supremo of Maybank who is not a politician, who will head the Economic Planning Unit in the PM's ministry;
despite the last two having to go via senatorial appointments ie. the backdoor. Compare them with similar appointment for Muhammad Muhammad Taib:

His name stands out among those in the new cabinet as the most objected appointee. Obviously, Pak Lah’s hands are tied with his own shaky support within the party that he had to ignore the objections from the public, unless he wasn’t even aware of his history!

He got away from his trial in Australia, claiming he didn’t understand English. But for those who know him, especially his ex-teachers, he was obviously lying. Having caught red-handed with a bag full of cash, when modern banking offered convenient transfers, what sort of impression did he give us?

"Perhaps the only question mark in the new line-up is Rural Development Minister Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib, the Selangor politician who forever will have an asterisk next to his name for trying to take $4 million out of Australia." - The Malaysian Insider.

“The appointment of Umno Information chief Muhammad Muhammad Taib as Minister for Rural and Regional Development however signifies a return to the old politics of patronage, completely at variance with Abdullah’s pledge 42 months ago to lead a clean, incorruptible and trustworthy government.”
“It is no exaggeration to say that the appointment of Umno Information chief Muhammad Muhammad Taib as Minister for Rural and Regional Development has stained the second Abdullah Cabinet right from the start and raised questions about Abdullah’s commitment and political will to the new politics of accountability, transparency, integrity and good governance.” - Lim Kit Siang.

"Interestingly, geo-political representation from Selangor Umno are notorious rejects, namely Noh Omar of the 'nude squat' infamy and the excessive cash-carrying former MB (yes again, RPK's favourite Mohamad)." – Screenshots

"Rural and Regional Development Minister - Senator Muhammad Muhammad Taib (Umno)
(Need I say anything?)" - Marina Mahathir. Her lack of comments was telling indeed.

Seems more like there is indeed a shortage of candidates with integrity!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Some people still prefers the ostrich way...

Spotted this in Malaysia Today:

Posted by kasee
Tuesday, 18 March 2008

KUALA LUMPUR: The time is not right for a single party system in Barisan Nasional as suggested by Gerakan, MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu said here.

He said in today’s political situation, such a move would dilute the rights of the Indian community.

Samy Vellu said a smaller community like the Indians have to fight for their rights and that could only be done through MIC.

He was commenting on Perak Gerakan chief Datuk Chang Ko Youn’s call to all Barisan Nasional component parties to consider amending their constitutions to accept members from all races in line with the voting trend shifting away from racial politics.

He said the results of the recent general election showed that the electorate did not vote according to the racial background of the candidates.

Chang, who is also Gerakan national vice-president, said it was time for Barisan to study the composition of its coalition and the ideologies of the respective political parties.

Chang, the former Jalong assemblyman, lost his bid for the Beruas parliamentary seat against DAP’s Ngeh Koo Ham, the Perak DAP chief. - STAR

The following open letter seems to answer Samy's apprehension in today's sentiments:

An Open Letter to Chandra Muzaffar from someone who voted Opposition
Listen to the youth of today, we didn’t vote out of racial dissatisfaction like you said; we want a new order

Dear Dr Chandra Muzaffar,

I remember the first time I saw you speaking.

I was in my sixth form and you were in a public forum at the Komtar Dome in Penang. I was in awe of your intellectual courage. You spoke the language of justice and equality in an environment where equality seemed a dirty word.

Fast forward two decades later, reading your analysis on BN's dismal showing at the polls (The Polls - and the BN debacle, The Star, March 17), I must say, I was disappointed. You seemed to have regressed. And your words belie a lack of understanding and sympathy for fellow Malaysians who long to be counted as equal citizens of this country.

I have no problems when you criticised Anwar Ibrahim although it was clear you took advantage of the platform readily offered to you by the pro-BN media. You are entitled to your opinions and I believed that you had your reasons to warn us against Anwar.

Although your choice of platform dents your integrity, I am all too willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. After all, I too, do not trust Anwar Ibrahim entirely, just as I distrust any DAP, PKR, PAS or BN leaders.

I would rather invest my time not in bolstering support for any political parties or leaders, but in strengthening the democratic structures of this country - the media, the judicial system, the electoral process, the right to information. For only these structures can guarantee a nation free from the corruption of power and the tyrannies of all too powerful governments.

Back to your article in The Star, I thought your analysis on the Opposition's sterling performance was myopic. You suggest that the Opposition managed to attract votes because they harnessed ethnic discontentment "to the hilt" - from the Hindraf debacle, the Malay response towards it, to the keris-waving incident and the non-Malay reaction against it.

You seem to see everything through a racial lens.

And instead of moving beyond it, you are imprisoned by it.

Your analysis of why non-Malays voted heavily for the Opposition is one of protest and racial dissatisfaction. But I think you fail to realise that many of us voted for a new politics, one that is non-racial based, non-discriminatory and inclusive.

Referring to Anwar as being a successful personality in harnessing this racial dissatisfaction, you said: "...whenever a prominent Malay leader articulates non-Malay grievances, the Chinese and Indian anti-establishment vote shoots up significantly. It is as if they are encouraged, even emboldened, by the stance of the Malay leader."

I am one of the many, many who voted for the Opposition and I did so NOT because I am encouraged, even emboldened by a Malay leader. To suggest that is offensive, and it shows your ignorance and condescension to non-Malay voters.

I voted the Opposition because I am sick of BN racialised politics and corruption. I want a party that reflects my vision of a Malaysia for all Malaysians. Not one that tells me that I need an MCA or an MIC to fight for my rights.

As a citizen of this country, why aren't my rights already protected? Why do I need a party to fight for my rights based on my ethnicity? I also do not agree with you assessment that racial discontentment is the reason why voters deserted the BN. Many international media portrayed the elections like this: "Malaysians go to the polls amidst racial tension." That's misleading. This election is not one of interracial discontentment.

Malaysian-Malays, Chinese and Indians are NOT fighting among themselves or hating each other. What they are doing is throwing out the old order that divides us and continually tell us that some of us are above others, and others should just be thankful for being allowed to exist on this land. That is why we see so many first time voters, and non-Malays voting heavily against the BN, but voting not just for the DAP but for PAS and PKR.

In Titiwangsa, a mixed constituency where Dr Lo Lo of PAS was contesting, I saw many lower-income Chinese in their 40s and 50s wearing PAS caps and campaigning for the party. At many constituencies where PKR was contesting, I saw Indian youths carrying PKR flags, zig zagging on their motorbikes. At Lembah Pantai, when Raja Petra with Anwar Ibrahim declared that Indians and Chinese would be defended with Malay bodies, the largely Malay audience erupted into cheers.

All this clearly shows that many, many of us have transcended the racial allegiance that the BN expects us to hang on to.

I believe we are seeing the dawn of a new nationalism.

Malaysians are asking - what does it mean to be a Malaysian? In fact, we are not only asking, we are answering it with our votes. It's a search for a new Identity. We want a Malaysia where all Malaysians are equal.

I think the role of public intellectuals like you should be to articulate that hunger and move the nation away from the harmful ideology and practices that may have served us before, but no longer now.

In doing so, we need to be aware of our language. Quit drawing on that same old racialised language because it won't work anymore. And listen to the youth of today. It is their vision that will make the country from now on. -- Jules Ong, Kuala Lumpur

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Elections, other than political

School House Captain - where an elected candidate was not the best, but most popular?

When I was in Form 5, my classmate suggested that we should nominate each other for the post of House Captain. I went along, not knowing that I would end up being the House Captain! I was the most unlikely one, being the reserved type and especially not a sportsman. I must have been the first non-participating House Captain!

Another classmate, one of those bright ones (among the top 5 in our A class) who must have thought that he could have sailed through the elections, actually was shocked at my victory and complained to our house master that it was unfair as the majority of those who voted for me were from Forms 1 and 2, who did not know who they were voting for!

In fact, our House came close to winning the championship and would have capped my so-called leadership (actually, the lack of), because of good sportsmen and able committee members.

The moral of the story is that in the case of political elections, there are those who are charismatic and able to draw crowds and if the majority of them are actual voters showing their support, then such candidates are likely to be successful in the elections. Whether he is really able or not as a politician, does not matter to the public.

Each eligible person is entitled to one vote, and it does not matter who he is, who voted for a certain candidate. They might be fans of famous personalities, say women or young girls, attracted to actors or singers. In America, personality counts and we have seen former actor, Ronald Regan being elected President, and Arnold Scharzeneger as Governor.

There are those who are good political analysts but would rather be behind the scenes and they are likely to work for those who prefer publicity. Just like in business, there are good managers who cannot be good businessmen themselves.

Election of Liaison Committee for a Golf Club

As far as this is concerned, the candidate for President is likely to canvass among relatives and friends for proxy votes, which would make a big difference to his advantage at the Annual General Meeting.

The perks as President would normally include free food and drinks for himself and friends that he is entertaining. He is likely to represent the Club at competitions in other clubs within the country as well as in foreign countries, expenses paid. Besides, he is likely to be well known among the local community and gets to rub shoulders with VIPs and even royalties. The competition can be stiff if there are other candidates who have strong support. The incumbent is likely to try his level best to keep his position.

I had been approached, through a third party, to give my proxy vote to somebody but somehow, I found the system unfair as it would encourage cliques and cronyism whereby the President would reward his supporters by inviting them where there are occasions which could not be opened to all members. Sounds familiar?

Election of committee members of a Joint Management Body for apartments

My wife happened to own an apartment in a seaside (almost) resort in Perak. It guaranteed a return of 7% net for the first 3 years. Then, the developer proposed a ‘profit-sharing’ arrangement for 3 years with an option for extension for another 3.

It was share of losses for the first 4 years or so and the latest accounts showed a small profit for a change. Last Sunday, we attended a meeting to elect office bearers for a Joint Management Body, which is a new requirement.

The developer’s representative who chaired the meeting was earlier friendly towards us when he introduced himself. Somehow, I couldn’t resist voicing out my unhappiness that from the outset, I had reservations over such profit-sharing scheme as we would be left at the mercy of the management.

Owners had to check their names against the register and a tag given for the purpose of voting. This was to differentiate from those who tagged along like myself.

It was held in the company’s hotel premises in KL and I told my wife that it was a bit odd that the day chosen was a Sunday and the time 9.30am. We parked our car at a public car park across the road, not knowing they had arrangement for free parking within their premises.

Light snacks and beverages were available and the staff were exceptionally polite.

After the Chairman of the meeting and a lawyer in attendance briefed us on the details of the JMB, we were told to vote for the size of the committee ranging from 5 to 12. Then names were proposed and seconded. It was a good job that my wife asked that the candidates introduce themselves and describe their background before we actually voted.

After the introductions, we discovered that except one who is a private owner (intentionally proposed by my wife), the rest were in one way or other, connected with the management! As a result, the exception was outvoted easily and the whole committee consisted of people from the group of companies.

During the meeting, I innocently asked for the breakdown of private owners and those under ‘profit-sharing scheme’. The Chairman was quick to point out that it was not in the agenda, perhaps later when they move on to the other matters.

I could sense the coolness and the reluctance to reveal what I asked for. As soon as the agenda was covered, the Chairman adjourned the meeting without asking me if I wish to continue on the subject I raised earlier.

At the end of the meeting, my wife was discussing with a couple of owners in the same boat who were generally dissatisfied with the return (if any) and the buy-back price offered, which was a huge discount from the original. At least, we were offered the original price but on condition that we buy from one of their projects in KL!

Anyway, SP was glad that she had attended the meeting which helped her in making up her mind to manage the apartment on her own which if properly managed, is likely to generate a better return or at least it would provide us with the convenience of deciding when to offer to any of our relatives or close friends. The present arrangement allows us only 7 free nights a year, subject to availability.

When we were having our refreshments and chat with some owners, the management’s staff who were friendly earlier on, pretended not to know us!

Credit cards cause high blood pressure and waste precious time

I think the credit card companies of banks are making people lose respect for them.
While the aggressive sales personnel are at popular shopping malls approaching all and sundry, offering easy approvals, the bank’s computerised systems, out-sourced telephonists (if you are lucky to wade through the buttons) who have no idea of the operations create really frustrating conversations. In other words, one cannot deal with anybody who can act with authority. We are always advised to write in, whether it is for cancellation or submitting written queries.

I had bad experience dealing with HSBC over the almost impossible cancellation, be it in person, by mail or by phone. Therefore, I sounded, unfortunately for the innocent lady who answered my call at Citiphone, rather rude, almost cursing. I told her that as far as I know, my son had cancelled all credit cards issued in Malaysia before he went to work in UK about 2 years ago. I asked if she was sure that the bank did not re-activate already cancelled card based on their existing record and she answered positively. I had my doubts as to how a telephonist would know the crafty world of business.

Sure enough, when it was waking time in UK, I messaged my son asking for confirmation that he had cancelled his Citibank credit card. He replied, “I cancelled ages ago. Don’t pay anything.”

Again, I knew it is not a solution by just not paying anything when the bank’s computer generated a bill for Rm90.00 for annual membership fee on March 5. I could foresee the consequences of not paying: come due date, penalty and/or interest will be charged according to their computer system. To add to the problem, the address was PJ and any subsequent letters are likely to be ignored unless I happen to be there.

Having known the way the system works, I can see why the credit card companies are trying their level best in getting people to sign up. The more members they get, the more they can create charges on unsuspecting customers.

1. People tend to ignore frequent standard letters. The danger lies in not knowing that a credit card which one thought was cancelled had been re-activated without consent.
2. Even proper cancellation had to be followed up as subsequent letters could show an active account! This follow-up procedure is necessary not only for the first few weeks but as detailed in my son’s case, after one or two years!
3. It is very lucrative because of the large pool of credit card members for the bank to charge minimum penalty of say Rm5.00 for non-payment of a few cents outstanding which most people either ignore or unaware. Soon, the accumulated amount will be sufficient to warrant a demand letter and subsequent legal notices.

I think it is worth re-visiting my post last year:

How Silly Bank Charges...
What I posted in Lim Kit Siang's blogsite:-

K S Ong Says: March 8th, 2007 at 12:31 am
It is a strange coincidence that I was about to write about How Silly Bank Charges, in connection with HSBC Mastercard and Visa credit cards.

My son went over to UK to look for a job. He did not cancel his credit cards with HSBC and Standard Chartered. The latter account was left with a few ringgit in credit which did not pose any problem.

When I received the HSBC card statements with small balances and knowing the bank charges a minimum of Rm5.00, I had actually called up their call centre to confirm what would be the following month’s charges so that my cheque would be in time as well as sufficient to cover any outstanding amounts.

My son came back on holiday and went to the bank to cancel the cards and I was furious when he showed me the following details:-
Mastercard /Visa
Credit used as of last payment 12.51/11.38
Payment – thank you 10.95/11.34Cr
Late payment charge 5.00/ 5.00
Total credit used 6.56/ 5.04
Your statement balance 6.56/ 5.04

Because of the initial outstanding 1.56 and 0.04, by the time he settled, he was slapped with another 5.00 late payment charge each which totalled 11.56 and 10.04 respectively.

In the first place, it was futile of my initial effort to call up and make payments thinking it would settle the accounts, leaving only the formality of his cancellation of the cards.

Secondly, it showed the inflexibility of using computers and the inability of human intervention in the form of using discretion which in the good old days, a bank officer or manager could effect to maintain goodwill.

K S Ong Says: March 9th, 2007 at 12:01 pm

Sorry to bore readers with story on pennies instead of big bucks.
I am continuing with the saga of HSBC credit cards. My son just received his statement and to his horror, there were still balances of 0.04 and 0.01 outstanding in his Mastercard and Visa respectively.

Just imagine, having personally visited the office to sign cancellation docs and paid outstanding amounts on Feb 27 could not effect it, what else is required?

I bet HSBC’s computer is programmed to leave behind balances so that they can continue with their senseless late payment charges.

What happen to the humans in charge in the silly bank?

I am glad he is still around to give them a piece of his mind.

I was told he was kept waiting for half an hour and they finally agreed that he should pay the 5 sen to settle it.

Imagine the waste of time, petrol and parking charges over a such an insignificant amount. Whatever goodwill the bank enjoyed in the past was gone forever.