Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2009 - The Year of Uncertainties

It's just hours away to the New Year countdown. 2008 has been an eventful year. To be more precise, it has been a year of many changes. But hours from now, it would be the beginning of many uncertainties. I would say it's time to fasten the safety belt and to get ready for the roller coaster ride. We don't need to be a Lillian Too to predict that the impact of the global economic crisis would hit Malaysians soon. There would be many, especially in the electronics sector, that would lose their jobs. In the travel sector, there would be less travelling as people tighten their budget. For the ordinary workers, we can expect to have less increments, if none at all, this year. For the employers, it would mean less revenue and to keep the operating costs down to keep businesses afloat. Against this backdrop of pessimism, we wish our leaders would focus their attention on economic issues. Please make putting food on our tables the priority. Let's brace ourselves for the ride!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Political fireworks before the New Year

One week is a long time in politics, the saying goes, but in Malaysia, even 24 hours can be a long time. It has been only about four days since I took a break from blogging but the political scenario has been getting hot. Even the holiday season has not taken away the heat. Pakatan Rakyat leaders in Selangor seem to be in a fighting mood - against each other, that is.

The Kapar MP S. Manikavasagam has threatened to quit from the party. He is scheduled to call a press conference on New Year's Eve. Within the DAP, Charles Santiago and Teng Chang Khim are at each other's throats. Meanwhile, I am told that another senior leader from Pakatan Rakyat has quit.

But the surprise of the day is in Ipoh where MB Mohd Nizar Jamaluddin has fired two salvoes at two defiant PKR assemblymen. The MB is upset that the two state assemblymen are going ahead with elections for village heads although the state has decided that they would be appointed. It appears that the fireworks have been fired even before the New Year party begins. What ever happen to the promise of elections at local government level? Looks like even at village level, it's still no elections.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

What a year it has been. From the political tsunami of March 8 to the Bukit Antarabangsa tragedy, 2008 has been a roller coaster ride for all of us. It has been an exhaustive year for us in the media. For bloggers, there was no shortage of comments to make and certainly, many news breaks were also made through bloggers. If 2008 has been a year of change, 2009 may well be the year of uncertainties. It would not be an easy year as Malaysians would begin to feel the effect of the global financial crisis. But as we wait for the new year to usher, we should also put politics aside and just spend time with our families. This blogger is taking the family to Bangkok for a short break. Allow me to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lock them up, they're HIV positive!

Lock them up, that seems to be the idea of Perak Mentri Besar Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin. It is an outrageous suggestion and a reflection of his ignorance. AIDS is not spread through normal contacts nor is it a contagious disease, so what quarantine is he talking about? HIV carriers should not be treated like the lepers of the old days, where they were kept isolated on some deserted islands like Pulau Jerejak. Some HIV carriers have out lived ordinary people eg basketball player Magic Johnson who reportedly can do 200 push ups a day. He lives a healthy and normal life. Nizar, I am sure, means well but he must remember that he is a Mentri Besar and he cannot simply shoot off his mouth. People, especially his followers and admirers, take him seriously. Where's the compassion, tolerance and understanding that one can expect from a leader? What happens if it involves a family member, a friend or a colleague? Would he want to quarantine them too? But for the rest of us, his statement would probably be one of the most laughable jokes for the holiday season.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Hudud laws - PAS is always consistent

Let's be frank about it. PAS has always been consistent when it comes to Islamic state and hudud laws. PAS vice-president Datuk Husam Musa has now reiterated that the Pakatan Rakyat would introduce hudud laws if it forms the next federal government. The DAP has quickly disassociated itself from the statement, according to Mstar.

Even in Penang, where PAS is a member of the ruling state government, its members have staged protest against the street dance event. In Kuala Lumpur, the party has protested outside stadiums against concerts. By keeping a stoic silence, its leaders have given support to these grassroots protest. For political expediency, there is now lesser objections from DAP and PKR over such intolerance.

PAS must be reminded that if non-Muslims voted for PAS in the March 8 polls, they did so because they were angry with BN and wanted to teach the BN a lesson. It had nothing to do with liking PAS and its policies. But non-Muslims need to keep their eyes wide open. By backing PAS, they are endorsing its policies. The Iranians threw out the Shah of Iran and embraced the Ayatollah. Decades later, they still cannot get rid of the theologians and Iran has the reputation of having the worst human rights record today. The Iranians were angry with the corrupt Shah but they are now stuck with what they chose as an alternative.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Chinese educationist quits after sex complaints

Chinese educationist Loot Ting Yee has quit his positions in various education groups following allegations of sexual harassment against him by a Sin Chew reporter. The said reporter had blogged about her complaints which have since become a controversy. The Sin Chew Daily and China Press, in their evening editions tonight, front-paged the story. The reporter has since taken her posting down from her blog, according to her colleagues. See The Star for more.

Loot, in his 80, has reportedly made a public apology and resigned from all posts. The allegations against the veteran leader of Dong Jiao Zong has shocked the Chinese community. Popularly known as Cikgu Loot, he was arrested under the ISA in 1987 but more recently, he has been vocal against the use of English to teach Maths and Science in vernacular primary schools.

PS Dec 23: It has been pointed out to me that Loot Ting Yee has never been detained under the ISA. My apologies for the error.

Friday, December 19, 2008

IJN: Of bypass and by-election

It's the sort of thing that seldom happens in Malaysia. But today, the 35 medical consultants at Institut Jantung Negara signed a petition to protest against the planned takeover by Sime Darby. It's a rare show of solidarity. Obviously, the Cabinet has also taken notice and heard the grumbling on the ground. It has asked for the takeover to be deferred. Many Cabinet members, I am told, spoke up strongly against the takeover proposal.

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has said that the decision has nothing to do with the coming Kuala Terengganu by-election, when questioned by reporters. But certainly the government can do with one issue less in the coming battle ahead with PAS.

Sime Darby, which has taken over the Subang Jaya Medical Centre, has taken pains to assure that IJN's fee structure and services would remain the same for the poor, with assurances that they would continue its social responsibilities. But the concern from the poor is understandable as medical treatment is expensive. When a private company runs a hospital, it is obvious that the bottom line is profit. It has to answer to its shareholders. Sime Darby has to convince, if it eventually gets to take over, how it intends to fulfill its social obligations as a private concern.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rihanna to perform in KL?

The word in town is that Grammy Award winner Rihanna will be performing in KL on Valentine's Day or on the eve of it. The venue is said to be the Putra Indoor Stadium in Bukit Jalil; and the organisers have obtained the necessary papers for the concert. Part of the show's proceeds are expected to go to charity.

If the concert takes place, that would be good for Malaysia. KL needs top class concerts and the only spoiler all this while has been the PAS leaders. We can expect to have more of the same from the party. The same crappy protests would be made and we hope City Hall will have the guts to tell these guys to go fly kite. There are many of us who want to watch such concerts and we can do without the negative coverage on Malaysia everytime there is a protest against these concerts.

In Penang, PAS tried to stop the Penang state government from going ahead with a street dance event. The Islamist party eventually gave in. In the Utusan Malaysia, the Penang Umno in its desperate attempt to win back the Malay votes have also strangely questioned the need for the I-Dance event.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What about SXI, CLS and PFS?

Four premier schools have been honoured with special sets of stamps and first day covers by Pos Malaysia Berhad, The Star reported. The schools are SMK Victoria, SMK Convent Bukit Nanas (KL), SMK St Thomas (Kuching) and SMK All Saints (Kota Kinabalu). These schools certainly deserve the honours. Congratulations are in order but Pos Malaysia should come out with further sets of stamps to honour other schools that have been left out.

Surely, the St Xavier's Institution, Convent Light Street and Penang Free School should be included. For that matter, in the first instalment. The SXI is more than 100 years old and has produced many prominent personalities. So has its rival, the PFS. Penangites would surely want to include the Chung Ling High School which has its alumni worldwide. That's how big these schools are. Former students of these premier schools are proud of their association with their alma mater. Schools then were named after personalities and not street names. Can we imagine cheering after "SMK SS2" for example in a sports event?

I am told that Pos Malaysia has no say on what should be featured on our stamps. There is a committee comprising the stamp council, philately council and even the multi-media commission. I hope I am wrong. The panel has done a marvellous job so far and we hope they would put things right by including more schools. For the record, the panel has acted professionally by selecting these schools which were founded by Christian missionaries. In short, they looked at merit and history.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Cabinet to stop Damansara Project 21?

Update: Cabinet has put a freeze on Project 21.

The word in Putrajaya is that the Cabinet would be ordering the developer of the controversial Damansara Project 21 to scrap the project. Not stop work but cancel the entire hillside project which has caused the residents in the area plenty of sleepless nights.

The developer, Selangor Dredging Bhd, has claimed spending about RM30mil to stabilise the slope to ensure the houses around the area.

But the residents of Medan Damansara are unconvinced. They staged a protest on Tuesday following the Bukit Antarabangsa tragedy. Another protest is also supposed to be held tomorrow and today, The Star quoted Medan Damansara Residents Association secretary Peter Raiappan as saying that they were not convinced that stability of the hill would not be affected. He questioned the rationale of the developer in wanting to build 21 massive five-storey bungalows, each with its own swimming pool, on a slope just over five acres (20,234 sq metres).

Federal Territories Minister Zulhasnan Rafique, who has made a few quiet trips there without the presence of the press, is scheduled to call a press conference in the afternoon. The likelihood is that he would have some good news for the residents. The only question is would the Cabinet be prepared to go all the way - that is, to scrap the project - or just issue a stop work order.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bring back the English medium schools!

Aren't we all getting tired of these racist groups, claiming to represent education, culture and religious interests? First, we have these Malay groups fighting narrow, communal interests and making imaginary fears of the community losing its position. Now we have the Chinese educationist group Dong Jiao Zong threatening a nationwide protest if Maths and Science are not taught in Chinese or Bahasa Malaysia.

They have their reasons, some of which are convincing, such as the effectiveness of the teaching methods in schools. Certainly, Chinese schools are tops in Maths and Science. But there has to be a consensus at some point. The Chinese and Malay groups which want to revert to the previous system have claimed that using English has not helped the children improve their language skills. They are right - there should be longer English lessons in school but we should retain using English to teach the two subjects.

In fact, the government should have the political will to bring back the English medium schools. We already have the national and vernacular schools, so why not bring back the English schools that helped forged so many friendships and relationships between people of all races? The English medium schools now exist in the form of private and international schools but why can't the rest of the country enjoy this right? Why should only the children of the rich, including politicians, have the privilege of studying in these schools, where English is the medium of instruction?

The threat by Dong Jiao Zong will certainly strike a chord among sections of the Chinese community, including even the Chinese media, just like the Malay groups. Where would all these protests and threats lead to? And all these groups would claim to represent their respective communities but the fact is that many of us do not share the strong arm tactics of these groups. The political climate is hardly right for such protests. Look, the majority of students who sat for the recent exams preferred to use English to answer the questions, so doesn't that speak volumes of their choices?

The standard of English has gone to the dogs, from schools to the universities, so please stop the rot. Our professors in local universities are using broken English in their writings and lectures. Our diplomats are struggling with their English and it is so bad that Malaysia is no longer asked to help draft statements and communiques. Our teachers are equally bad in English, where many do not know have any idea of grammar.

If there should be any protests, it should be Malaysians protesting against the deteriorating standard of English in schools and universities. Please stop using Japan and South Korea to justify the use of Bahasa Malaysia or Chinese to teach the two subjects. Even in China, there is a great rush to study English. The English medium schools, especially those run by the Christian missionaries, were regarded as "neutral groups" and certainly, many top civil servants and leaders are products of these English medium schools. They were not mono-ethnic for sure. Even though the Christian brothers run these schools, they were never regarded as religious, as many national schools are now. It has turned off many parents for sure, even Muslims.

English is the language of Science, Maths and the Internet. We can talk about heritage, culture and whatever tills the cows come home but as we drag on with our debate and are reluctant to act, our children - whether they are Malay, Chinese or Indian - are wasting their best years away.

There are some politicians who want to project themselves as heroes of their community but check their background. Some have never even studied a single day in a local primary school! They were packed off to England or Australia while we were all in schools. And their children? It's the same privilege. Pack them off to a private or international school.

When will we have the guts to say no to racist groups? When will the moderates speak up louder than them?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Meeting Bill Clinton again in KL

I had the privilege of catching up with Bill Clinton when he was in KL for 24 hours to give a lecture at the KL Convention Centre on Friday. If previously, I had only about 30 minutes for the interview in New York, this time I had the honour of talking with the former US president for at least two hours. This time, there were no over-protective aides.

Together with others in the group, which included US Ambassador James Keith, Clinton shared with us his impression and views on a broad range of issues. From state funerals he had attended to corrupt leaders, he had plenty to talk about.

Luck was with us as he was in a talkative mood. He spoke about the leaders he had high regards for and they included people like Jiang Zemin, Yasser Arafat and Nelson Mandela. He spoke well of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, particularly his handling of the 1997 financial crisis. The decision to peg the ringgit, he told the listeners, was a right one. While it may not work elsewhere, certainly it worked for Malaysia. Interestingly, Clinton said he used to talk about the Malaysian experience at the White House with his aides. When I spoke to Clinton in September, he talked about Malaysia's consecutive economic growth during the Mahathir years. He could even recall the figures.

I remember talking to Dr Mahathir immediately after he stepped down as PM. He told me that the 1997 crisis was the most difficult moment in his 22 years as PM and certainly, he had sleepless nights when he decided to go ahead with the unconventional decision. The early telephone calls that came in after he made that move included one from Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka Shing who assured him it was a good decision.

The global economic crisis was a popular talking point with Clinton on Friday night at the home of his host, businessman Vinod Sekhar. All of us were eager to find out how Obama intend to lead the country through the recession. For Clinton, the president elect is "a smart and sensible man," who wanted to prove himself. For Malaysians, the question was whether Obama, with his close links to the powerful trade unions, would be protectionist in his trade policies. His campaign reportedly received US$200mil in funds from the unions.

After all, previous Democrat governments had used various issues like human rights, child labour and the environment to impose new rules on trade in developing countries. Asian countries were often the target. But Clinton said he believed Obama would not be protectionist, saying he had tried hard to reach out to the world. That question, according to Clinton, was posed to him when he met the PM and DPM. Clinton promised to convey to Obama the concerns of Asians on this issue and their perception of the new president.

But more importantly, it was good to see Malaysian leaders from the BN and PR turning up to listen to Clinton at his lecture. The man was given a standing ovation, at least three times, and as we listened to the man, many of us must have wished that our Malaysian politicians could be like him. We surely like to see and hear more substance.

Obama on trying to give up smoking: No, I Can't!

Reggie Lee's take on Obama as published in The Star on Dec 10 2008

Finally, the cat's out of the bag. President elect Barack Obama has admitted it has not been easy in his attempt to give up smoking. In an interview, he has sheepishly admitted that he had "fallen off the wagon" a few times. But promised that he would not violate the no smoking regulations in the White House. He has so far failed to give a straight answer, during press interviews, on his smoking habit which he has promised to kick. But it seems to be pretty hard for Obama so far. Still, he said he has done a "terrific job" of making himself healthy under the present circumstances. See Yahoo for more.

The speculations is that Obama would also be bringing his wine to the White House. Under George Bush, he didn't drink nor smoke. Obama has also said it would be tough giving up on his Blackberry, another addiction of his. The Secret Service has told him they would have stopped him from using the gadget because of security risk.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Of politicians and politicking - the same story

Some things just don't change even if there is a change of government. Politicians may say that they want to be elected to serve the people but at the end of the day, they just want to serve themselves. Politicking is what they do best. So it comes as no surprise for Malaysians to read from Malaysiakini that two Penang PKR leaders have been at each other's throat.

Penang Deputy Chief Minister I Mohd Fairus Kamaruddin has earned a reputation in Penang for being incompetent and inefficient. We are now told that Anwar Ibrahim has warned him to buck up or risk losing his job. He has been reportedly late for work and absent from functions. His Penanti constituents have long complained about his under performance to the PKR supremo, saying he has been evading field work. And what is Fairus' defence? The standard "they are jealous" of me. Sounds familiar, isn't it? Almost a leaf from a BN elected representative's standard operating procedure manual. He has denied that he would be replaced, according to Malaysian Insider.

That's not all. Another state exco member from PKR, Abdul Malik Abul Kassim, is now accused of plotting Fairus' downfall by feeding information to bloggers. He has denied that he was given a dressing down by Anwar but the talk continues that the state PKR secretary is eyeing the Deputy CM's job, according to Malaysiakini.

The March 8 political tsunami saw voters supporting many Pakatan Rakyat candidates regardless of their education background and experience. The opposition coalition itself had little time or little choices over candidates. Some dubious characters, projecting themselves as people's champions, are of course now facing charges in courts for various offences. It would be easy to just dismiss these charges as "politically motivated" but in a big organisation, there would be all sorts. Just because they are in opposition, it doesn't make them saints.

In the next round, the PR would certainly be working on this problem as they would have a bigger pool of proven talent to choose from. The New Straits Times recently quoted Kedah PKR exco member Tan Wei Shu as saying that he almost wanted to give up after his third day in office. For the Chinese sinseh-masseur turned politician, a state exco member's job was just too much.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Bukit Antarabangsa Tragedy

Click on image for more dramatic pictures from Star Online
Click here for all the stories

Sometimes it has to take a tragedy to jolt us out of our senses. The landslide that hit us today did not choose the race of their victims. The tragedy has already claimed three lives - a Malay, a Chinese and an Indian - and injured 15 people. The rescuers did not look at the skin colour of the victims. The soldiers, the police, the Red Crescent and the Rela personnels put their entire hearts and minds into helping the people.

Racing against time, some rescuers had to use their bare hands at time, worried that any use of heavy machines at this time would worsen the soil conditions. The police have been extra careful by advising the media from hiring helicopters to take aerial shots. In turn, they have supplied very dramatic pictures, some showing the best of Malaysians at work in times of tragedy. An NGO even sent its team to rescue 50 cats out from a house. No one was forgotten. The skies have turned dark, the rescue work would be more difficult and at this point, the priority of everyone is to make sure no one is forgotten. Please pray for everyone in Bukit Antarabangsa, they need it. God bless Malaysia.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Quality education should be the priority

My parents sent me to study in an English medium school for a few simple reasons - the St Xavier's Institution was a premier school and they realised the importance of English. Both my parents were Chinese-educated and Taoists. It did not matter to them that SXI was a missionary school. That was in the 1970s.

Today, it doesn't matter whether our children are studying in a national school or a vernacular school, the fact is that the standard of English has dropped. It is so bad that many of our politicians, who talk so passionately of our local education system, are sending their kids to private or international schools. So, if they are so convinced that our schools are producing the best, then they should tell us why are they sending their kids to these elitist schools? Why aren't their children spending time with ordinary Malaysian kids? For that matter, we should also ask how many of these politicians study in a local university or did they get their education overseas too.

Why have our schools become mono-ethnic? In fact, why do our authorities even allow some colleges to remain almost mono-ethnic? Have our schools become more religious, as Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has said so many times.

The real issue is not about the kind of schools we have. Our priority should be to provide the best education to our kids. Let's provide our teachers with better salaries and allowances. Let's attract the best talent to teach our children. Let's keep politics out of schools.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Anger management course for Tajuddin needed

Pasir Salak MP Tajuddin Rahman has lost his temper again. Which is, of course, no longer news to Malaysians. If he uses crude and foul language, again, that's not news either. The man needs help. He needs to see a shrink to help him to deal with his foul (oops, pardon the pun) temper, that means he needs to take an anger management course.

Speaking at the Dewan Rakyat, he does not understand why he has been a target of criticism, saying he did not mind being punished if he had done something wrong. In short, he does not realised what he has done. Or he is pretending. He has also fired The Star for what he claimed to be unfair reporting against him by contributor K.Baradan.

The Sultan of Selangor speaks his mind

Not many people are aware that when the Sultan of Selangor travels, he enjoy waiting for his flights at the normal lounge, like other ordinary passengers. Whether it is the KLIA or anyone else, he prefers to be treated like everyone else. Malaysian tourists in London have been stunned to bump into his Royal Highness watching a play or a musical by himself, without the presence of bodyguards. He does not believe in travelling with an entourage or bodyguards, believing taxpayers money should not be wasted. Not many are also aware that he often drives himself except when he performs official functions. That's the Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah for Malaysians.

He has certainly demonstrated himself to be more progressive and reform minded than many Malaysian politicians, who still thrive on trivial issues and to project themselves as communal champions to win votes. In an interview with his Royal Highness last week, the Tuanku made known that he was unhappy with politicians who harp on trivial issues, play up racial issues and more important this is his message - Malaysia belongs to all and this country is built on the contribution of all races. It must be acknowledged, the Tuanku said. He is also concerned with the "quality of our politicians." That's not all, he is not awarding any Datukship to politicians this year, The Star reported. The Tuanku has certainly said it all, on behalf of Malaysians. Daulat Tuanku! Read The Star for full questions and answers. The Malaysian Insider also has a report here.