Did he step on some toes?

 

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Our national airline, MAS (MAB now), used to be the pride of the nation.

It was without doubt one of the top airlines, with services comparable to the best in the industry, and with seats and comfort level second to none. It was up there together with industry leaders like SIA and CathayPacific. It was in my opinion way ahead of US and European airlines. But not anymore.

Like everything else in our country, it has gone down the hill. Excellence has been lost, like in some many other fields; in sports, in education, in morality.

It no longer serviced US route, and has cut back on Australian and European routes in a rationalization exercise.

For the past five or six years, I had to take either EVA air or Cathay Pacific in my annual travel to the States ( sometimes twice yearly) if I wanted to go  with the most direct routes.

It no longer flies to Brisbane, where two of my children are working. So to go there, I have to make a stop somewhere. It is an added inconvenience, but I still stick to MAS, even if it means stopping in Darwin or Singapore to catch the connecting flights with partner airlines like Qantas.

Service wise, with the cut back in staff, it has gone down too.

I have high hope when Christoph Mueller was sourced to become its CEO, for this person has a reputation as an airline turn-around guru.

Now, a little more than a year later, he is resigning. The reason given is ‘changing personal circumstances’,  which is usually an euphemism for ‘I can’t tolerate anymore’. What are the things that he can’t tolerate? Our sweltering heat? Our spicy food? Our stop-go traffic? These things have been there before he came, and so are unlikely the things that he can’t tolerate. More likely it is the human aspect that he can’t tolerate.

Did he  have  a total free hand to run things? Is there any interference or rather, any resistance to his rationalization plan?

What is his actual reason for quitting? Is it, like what is being speculated by no less an insider body of Nufam (National Union of Flight Attendants Malaysia), due to heavy politics in the airline?

If so, heavy politics can only mean one thing– pressure to unplug the plugs that he put in place to stop the leakages that were plaguing the airline.

In my humble opinion, in drastically trying to stop the leakages, he may have stepped on some toes of some very influential politicians. And in Malaysia, that would be the end of the road.

What is next? Who is to take over? Will the leakages come back again as suggested by Nufam?

As Malaysians , we are entitled to be given a true picture of what is happening to one of the most important symbols and corporations of our country.

 

 

 

 

Don’t be the pot calling kettle black

Thomas Jefferson enunciated the basic principle of public service: “When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property.” This sentiment has been expressed by others, too, and over time it has become the familiar principle of  “Public service is a public trust”.

US ethics rule allows a public servant to accept gifts of $20 or less on a single occasion, and not more than $50 per year per source.

A public servant needs to be seen not to be practicing favouritism in his discharge of duties, and receiving gifts may create a perception that he or she may be more inclined to the gift bearers.

A Gift can be a physical item, a special discount not given to others, a free meal, a paid holiday.

As an example, under NASA’s ethics rules on gifts, it is stated that:

The public servant may pay the donor market value for the gift if he or she wants to keep it. If not, he or she may return it. If the gift is perishable, such as food or flowers, it may be shared within his office, donated to charity or destroyed, as long as an ethics official or his supervisor grants approval.

Market value is the retail price or face value that he or she would have to pay to purchase the gift. If he cannot readily determine the retail value of a gift, he may estimate its value by comparing the retail cost of like items of similar quality.

In August 2015, Australian Speaker of the House of Representatives ,  Bronwyn Bishop, resigned  following sustained pressure over her travel expenses following revelation that she had spent more than $5,000 government money in chartering a helicopter from Melbourne to Geelong in November to attend a Liberal Party fundraiser.

in 2002, a German politician, Gregor Gysi, the economics minister in the city-state of Berlin resigned because he was using frequent flyer points accrued from his official travels for a private holiday trip.  Critics argued that frequent flier points earned during official travel should be used only for official trip.

These examples show that in a true democracy practicing CAT (competency, accountability and transparency), leaders and public officials must really be above board.

Malaysians are generally fed up of the corruptions and abuses in BN led government. It is one of the main reasons that many of them voted for the opposition coalition, hoping that the opposition can bring changes in government. So all eyes are actually on those states that are currently run by opposition coalition. These states must show that they are different. Elected  public officials in these states have heavy responsibilities. They must show that they are honest, humble, listen to the ground, and practice what they have preached on CAT. They must show that they are really of a different breed. They should not betray public trust.

Otherwise, it would only give the people an impression that they are just hypocrites, a pot calling the kettle black!

imageCourtesy of pumabydesign01.com

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Gist of the bungalow matter

Recently, there is this news that a CM of a state bought a bungalow house for RM2.8 million. The house has a land area of 10000 sq ft.

This person, when questioned, replied that the house is 30 years old and that it has no swimming pool.

In my opinion, this reply is really unwise, and can be considered a monstrous gaffe for a seasoned politician. Bear in mind that most Malaysians, even some professionals, cannot even afford a linked house, let alone a bungalow. So to say the house has no swimming pool is like the case of Queen Marie Antoinette, who  famously asked starving peasants why they didn’t eat cake.

Then the father of the person came to his defence and contrast  this house with the case of Toyo,  former chief of another state who was found guilty of corruption.

The gist of the matter is not whether this bungalow is a palatial one like Toyo’s . It does not matter whether this house has no swimming pool.

The fact is this is a house with land area of 10000 sq feet in land-scarce Penang, which is beyond the dream of most ordinary people. The fact is the purchaser is a person holding a powerful public position answerable to the people who elected him.

We need to establish a few more facts:

1. What is the market rate of the house? How much is the going rate per sq feet at the time of purchase , and how much per sq ft  he paid for it ?

2. If the house is sold cheaper than the market rate as alleged, why is the seller selling it cheaper?

3. Is there extensive renovation of the house prior to selling/ renting it out? If so, then it does not matter whether the house is 30 years old or 5 years old. An old house that is extensively renovated is as good as a new house.

4. If the selling price is below market rate, then we cannot simply attribute it to ‘willing buyer’ willing seller. Just like the 2.6 billion donation, we cannot just conclude that it is a case of willing donor willing receiver.  We need to know whether the seller has benefited in any deals , just like we are asking the motive of the donation of 2.6 billion.

Bear in mind that it is not the sum that matters. A crime is a crime.  A billion dollar crime is a crime. A one dollar crime is also a crime. It does not matter.

If any political party wants to do well, its leaders must show examples that they are totally accountable and practice transparency, to distinguish themselves from the Big Brother. Otherwise, it would just be a case of a pot calling the kettle black.

 

also published as ‘why the bungalow matter matters’, here.

 

Inflation damper

 

 

The revised budget just announced has many salient points and is a better budget than the original one in dealing with the present gloomy economic situation.

The special tax relief of RM 2000 must be welcomed as it will put some much needed Ringgit  in the pockets of the middle class. As with the free 20 kg of rice to be given to hardcore poor every month.

The 3 % cut in EPF contribution by employees is more controversial, but since there is a choice for employees to opt for, it is really up to the individual wage earner to choose.

But a better way to save more money for the Rakyat is perhaps reducing GST from 6% to 4%. From April till December, the government has collected 51 billions from GST alone. That was for a period of 9 months. This is equivalent to RM 68 billion a year. Cutting 2% will probably Save the people 12 billions, which would be a much needed relief. Even with a cut of 2%, GST collected should be more than enough to cover the reduction of contribution from Petronas due to lower crude prices.

Another way is reducing further the pump price of petrol. As I have mentioned in my article Dark Clouds over the Horizon, when crude oil price was at US$60 a barrel in June last year, pump price in US was around US3.00 per gallon and in Malaysia, around RM 2.00 a liter. When crude prices fell to US$30 last month, US pump price dropped to 1.97. Going by the same rate, our pump price should be much lower around RM1.33 perhaps. Since most middle class Malaysians spend on the average a few hundred ringgit on petrol, it would go a long way to provide some relief for the cash trapped rakyat.

imageOil prices are tumbling, petrol should be much cheaper! ( photo courtesy of vox.com) 

Yet another is the energy tariff. When oil or gas prices go up, our electricity tariff increases ( subjecting to government approval). So it is only logical that when crude prices have fallen so much, our electricity tariff should come down. This would provide relief not just to the working class, but to the industries and retail businesses  too.  Reduction in electric tariff will be an inflation damper; it would reduce the overhead and thus cheaper goods and services.

Another budget saver would be gradual reduction of our civil service. But I will save that to another post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No time for serious work ( whack a mole 2)

 

MB of the rice bowl state  will be changed. It’s a foregone conclusion. In our country, it is not how good you are that matters, it is how supportive you are towards the top that is most important, and of course the bigger cable you have, the better pull you get.

That is true in  the Big Brother. It is also true in lesser parties such as MCA or Gerakan. It is even true in some corporate bodies. Opposition parties are no different, from what I have observed.

Anyway, the incumbent became MB probably because he is the scion of the Old Horse. The Top wanted to appease the Old Horse, what better gesture than putting his son to head that state?

The scenario changes after the Old Horse and what RPK termed as ANC targeted their  guns on the Top. On the surface, ANC is going all out to topple  the Top because of alleged wrong doings of the latter. In actual fact, no one is on  moral high ground; it is self interest that has prompted the vicious fight between the two Big Gajah crocs.

Big brother always practices the politics of back scratching ( besides back stabbing, that goes without say):  You scratch my back, I scratch yours. You hit my back, I will kick back with all my Wing Choon skill.

If you support me, I will give a cable to pull your son up. If you don’t support me but not actively opposing me,  I may not dump your son, even though I will no longer pull the cable as hard as before. Maybe I change the cable to a string.

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But if you openly attack me, like what is happening now, then there is no other choice but to cut the cable and let the son fall.  That is the politics of ‘scratch my back’ in this country.

This is exactly what is happening. With that, another head has been hit back into the hole in this high stake ‘whack-a-mole’game I mentioned yesterday. ( refer my post yesterday). Unless The old horse can produce more objects to come out of the holes in the game, the Top may even be able to continue play this whack a mole game till the next election. The Swiss head that is emerging from one of the holes may be troublesfome, but since this is not extradictable, the Top has just to grow a thicker skin when meeting foreign dignitaries, or playing golf with you know who.

But being constantly on guard to hammer deal with objects on their emergence, there will hardly be time for serious work, and that is what really worries me, especially when the whole world is entering a period of great uncertainties!

 

 

 

Whack a mole!

Have you played or at least seen someone play before a hammer arcade game called ‘whack a mole’ ? I am sure you have at least seen it play either in real life or on television.

Here is how the game is played: on a board or table, there are many holes . You will be given a hammer-like object. The aim of the game is to hit emerging heads or objects coming out from the holes. Each  time an object emerges and you hit it, you gain a point. The objects will emerge from the holes randomly, and will go faster and faster until you can no longer keep up , in which case the game ends.

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Someone at the very top is currently playing a sort of this game in real life. The only difference is the objects emerging are news that is detrimental to his hold in power.

So far, it has been quite fun. He has managed to hit everything that comes out and make them disappear inside the holes.

The game may be fun for a short while but to constantly play it for many months, it becomes taxing and tedious. It is easy to be on guard for a day or two, but for months? we have to admire his resilience.

What more one of the newly emerged object is Swiss and may not be as easy to hit back as those made at home!

I  really don’t envy this player’s position, nor the game of whack-a-mole that he is playing!

How much more stamina he has? How much more objects are going to emerge from these holes? How fast they are emerging? All these factors may determine how the game may end!

 

 

Dark clouds over the horizon

 

Coming home after a prolonged stay of many months in the States and Australia, where my children are working, I was shocked by how much Ringgit’s buying power has shrunk.. Prices of almost everything, including food, have skyrocketed. Even street food like prawn mee or fried Kwai teow have gone up so much, it’s scary. Items in groceries and supermarkets are selling much more expensive than before, on top of the 6% GST.

Petrol pump price however remains at RM 1.95 per liter. This despite global oil prices falling to US30 per barrel yesterday.  I remember that in July last year, when I was driving across US with my wife, oil price was around US60, and US pump prices was around US3.00 per gallon. At that time, our pump prices was about the present level too.
Now US pump prices have come down to US 1.97,  giving American consumers a big savings on energy cost and putting more money in their pockets to use. Although US oil companies are suffering, the ordinary people have more disposable income due to cheaper petrol and energy bills.

Malaysians, on the other hand, have to content with rising food and consumption prices, while cheap oil in the world doesn’t seem to translate to any real savings in their energy usage. If we follow US trend, our pump prices should be much lower than it is now, thus at least save us some money on petrol and energy usage to counter the skyrocketing cost of living, and give us some reprieve to fight inflation. Maybe our authority should take another look on this, and pass the benefits of cheaper oil to ordinary people by lowering pump prices. That will in a way be deflationary, and helps to counter the high inflation that we are experiencing now.

Oil prices are going to be low for a long time. While demand for oil has slowed, supply has been increasing, largely due to the shale oil production in US. US is now producing enough oil for its own consumption,, and does not need to import from its traditional suppliers in Middle East. Middle East countries have to look to Asian markets to sell its oil, but unfortunately, China is slowing down and need less oil energy than before, and thus there is a glut in global oil supply.

More and more electric cars and hybrid cars are being produced, and even for petrol-powered cars, new technological advances are making them more energy efficient. Wind and solar energy are being tapped increasingly, even in US, the country that consumes the most oil. As we were driving along the Columbia Scenic Drive, we saw so many wind turbines on the hills we passed. Then in cities like Portland, electric stations can be seen in the cities for electric cars to recharge.

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Electric Cars charging stations in Portland that we passed

 

 

As a oil producing country, we have not foreseen nor anticipated  this scenario. We didn’t plan for the rainy days during the sunny period. Oil has given us prosperity for many years, but it has also given us a false sense of security. In hindsight, we should have used oil money more efficiently to diversify and lessen our dependence on oil income. Instead, oil money has made us complacent, and the many handouts from the government has made us much less competitive. GST may have helped the government with alternate source of revenue, but the drop in oil prices has resulted in massive depreciation of our currency, and as a result, cost of living has skyrocketed, and even working 2 jobs, as advised by a ‘wise’ leader, may not be enough to make ends meet.

Is 2016 going to be better? I don’t think so. It may get worse before we can get better. But we must start learning to be competitive by slowly replacing the ‘crutches’ that we have given out all these years. We must influence our people’s mindset to be more proactive, more enterprising, more hardworking and prepare ourselves for the next phase in the world’s industrial revolution. With the advent of 3 d printing, we are entering a new era of digital manufacturing as opposed to the old ‘mechanical’ manufacturing.
If we are not well prepared, we may never get back to the stage where we were before!

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