Gerakan, go back to the people !

Barisan Nasional is coalition of many independent parties. Some are raced based , like UMNO, MCA, and MIC. SOme are supposed to be multiracial, like Gerakan, PPP and most of the parties in Sarawak and Sabah,

It is in fact a loose  coalition. There is no BN party constitution or a common ideology governing the coalition. Each component party has its own constitution which lays out how each party is to be run, disciplinary matters regarding each party, membership, party election and so on. Each party also has its own ideology. For example, Gerakan’s ideology is to fight for a fair and equal society in a nonracial manner, whereas the race based parties stress on the protection of the rights of the race the party represents–UMNo will fight for the rights of the Malays and MCA that of the Chinese and MIC that of the Indians.

The membership and structure of each party is also very different. So it is quite correct to say that BN is a loose coalition and is not a single party.

Because of this, disciplinary matters are left to the individual party. Gerakan has its own disciplinary Board. MCA has its own and UMNO has its own. UMNO’s disciplinary board cannot interfere with the disciplinary matters of Gerakan, and Gerakan’s cannot interfere with disciplinary matters of MCA.

The rules are supposed to be clear cut, so that theoretically there should be  no interference of one party into the affairs of another party.

However, in practice, one party is above all others, and that is UMNO. UMNO extends  hegemony over all the others, so much so a former President of Gerakan , in a recent interview , said that all the component parties are like beggars. Coming from the mouth of a former president of a component party and a former minister for over 2 decades, this cannot be wrong, even though the grassroots of the component parties were never told of this before.

What was often told to the grassroots by leaders of these parties was that the leaders of these parties are fighting very hard inside the BN council meetings or the cabinet, but nothing was said of the begging inside BN council or the cabinet. Grassroots were also often told that all component parties are basically equal.

Last month, I have blogged and written a few posts on Lee Kah Choon who was roped in by the new Penang Government to help bring investments to Penang people. Please refer to this post: The Ball is at Gerakan’s foot. (which received a hits of over 5000 on the first 2 days of postings, besides being listed in Malaysia-today and published as a letter in Malaysiakini). This is a position like that of a civil service, and Lee’s acceptance had in no way of hurting Parti Gerakan.

A politician’s first loyalty should be to the people. If by taking up the directorship of PDC (which is not a political appointment), Lee is able to contribute to the developemnt of Penang, then no one should stop him from doing so. Sometimes, politicians must be prepared to go above partisan politics. This is especially true now that the country is facing so much of problems. The politicians should do more serious work and play less politics.

He was, however, forced to resign because after his acceptance  of the positions, Najib  asked what Gerakan was going to do in Lee’s case, and Gerakan subsequently issued a show cause letter. The rest is of course history.

Now, a similar case has arisen. This time it involves  Dr Tan Kee Kwong, who is the Gerakan Kuala Lumpur Chairman. He was invited to be the Co Chairman of a Task force to oversee Land matters in Selangor. This is an administrative position, again like that of a civil service. This position would have enabled him to tackle the problems faced by land owners in Selangor and increase the efficiency of the Land offices, which will translate to a saving of time and money for the land owning Raykat. There will be thousands and thousands of beneficiaries, if Land offices can be made more efficient .

So, who will benefit? The people will benefit. Even the non Land owners will benefit, because whatever cost that can be saved can be channeled to development of the State.

Political parties exist because of the people. Without the people , there is no party. This is the most basic fact. So, in helping to chair a task force which can help thousands of people solve their headaches and nightmares regarding land matters, why should  disciplinary action be taken against him? Why can’t leaders of political parties be less partisan and work more for the people?

Parti Gerakan leaders have publicly stated that they would go back to basic and go back to the people. Well, this is the best opportunity in fact to prove to the people that it is in fact going back to the people, by allowing its members to hold non political administrative position to help the people. To do otherwise will give a perception that the promise to go back to the people is only lip service..

The first person to ask that action be taken against Dr Tan is not from Gerakan, but a party outside Gerakan and he is Dato Seri  Najib, the deputy President of UMNO.. If you have understood the setup of BN, then you will know that all parties are supposed to be equal and that each party is supposed to take care of its own members.

What has UMNO got to do with Gerakan? This is an internal affairs of Gerakan. Gerakan has its own set of leaders, its own set of rules and regulations, its own constitution , and its own disciplinary board. The party is big enough to take care of its own problems and its members. Why should UMNO once again show its hegemonic streak in asking a non UMNO member to resign from his own party, when it is none of UMNO’s business?

The last election saw the trend of  the people abandoning Gerakan  and voting for Pakatan Rakyat, mainly because of the perception that a vote for Gerakan or MCA is a vote for UMNO.

Is this perception really true? Gerakan leaders often tell their grassroots about how hard they fight inside BN council and cabinet for the people’s interest, and that a vote for Gerakan does not translate into a vote for UMNO. However, by immediately issuing a show cause letters in both Lee’s and Dr Tan’s case after Najib commented, they have inadvertently confirmed the perception that a vote for Gerakan is indeed a vote for UMNO and that UMNO is still dictating the terms for Gerakan. This is one of the main reasons the party lost so badly in the recent General Election.

The party wants to reform, but reform starts with action and not from the lips.

 No amount of brain storming or playing lip service to reform will endear the party to the people again, if this perception that Gerakan is doing UMNo’s bidding is not gotten rid of.

How to get rid of this perception?

I have mentioned many times to the party leaders that one way is to leave BN and be an own independent third force, where the party can support good policies of either Pakatan or BN, and criticise bad policies of either coalition.

The party leadership apparently is not ready to make this jump. OK. That will leave the second option. Stand up to UMNO and tell them to mind their own business. Stand up to them and say Gerakan is truly for the people and supports whatever is good for the people. Do not take action against members working for the benefits of the people.

Only by standing up to UMNO and show the people that Gerakan is made of tough materials, the perception of a vote for Gerakan is a vote for UMNO can be changed. What is the risk? I don’t see any risk at all… BN cannot afford to kick Gerakan out, because that would mean losing critical support when Anwar is threatening to entice 30 MPs to cross over.

 In fact , by standing up to UMNO and exert its own right as a rightful and equal partner to UMNO, and by shielding its members from criticism from UMNO, it can endear itself to the people once again and prove to the people that this party is indeed keen to go back to the people, to go back to its ideology and go back to its grassroots.

A salutation

China’s recent Earthquake has killed tens of thousands of people. Many more thousands lost their homes and dear ones. But the bravery of many of the people lives on. The fast response of the top leadership should be an example for the whole world.

I  received a powerpoint from a friend highlighting the bravery of the people, and I will post 2 photos taken from the powerpoint here together with the captions.

 

Wen Jiabao, 66, Chinese Prime Minister, boarded on a plane 30 minutes after the earthquake, and arrived in disaster area in 2 hours.  He has been the chief of the rescue operation since then, working almost around clock at the frontline with rescue workers.
                       
                             
This sort of selfless leadership should be an example for all.Our leadership, in particular , has a lot to learn from this. Remember the great flood of Johore 2006? It was only after many days that top ministers and officials started visiting the areas. It shows that Wen Jiabao has really the people’s interest in his heart, and hence the fast response.
  …………………………………………………………………………………
 Yuan Wentin, 26, first grade teacher.  When the earthquake struck, she rushed to carry her stunned students from classroom on the 3rd floor to the ground.  She managed to pull out most of her students, but the building collapsed when she was trying to pull out the last few.  At the last moment of her life, she was trying to use her body to shield the students from falling concrete.

 

There were many people like the above teacher. They died but not in vain. In sacrificing their own , they managed to save many many more lives, many children and other people…. I salute them, this is what makes human being a human being.. 

 

 

Change of lifestyle – please lead by example

A few days ago, the Prime Minister gave an advice on how to deal with the rising prices of goods and services. He mentioned that all of us need to change our lifestyle to cope with inflation.

I think that is good advice. We all need to cut unnecessary expenses, saving more money for essential items such as food, energy, water and children education. A simple thing like planning the trip and cut down unnecessary use of cars will help a long way to cut petrol expenses.

I hope the PM will lead by example and direct all civil servants to be more stringent in their spendings,

Firstly, a lot can be saved by cutting down overseas trips for ministers , deputy ministers , Parliamentarians, Assemblymen and senior civil servants. Cut down the so-called learning trips unless it is really necessary. If possible, civil servants can try using Air Asia for destination around the country.

Secondly, cut down on the elaborate preparation for the so-called VIP visits. In the old days, during Tunku and Tun Razak’s time, I understand they travelled extensively around the country but most visits were working no-frills visits. It is suffice to have a simple welcoming ceremony; a tent or even just under the sun is okay for the VIPs working visits ( remember Razak, he always wore a hat during his rural visits) , and no elaborate meals or expensive decorations should be prepared. 

 At the moment, there are too many meetings for a civil servant. Sometimes, a senior civil servant spends more time in meetings than on his or her jobs.  For practically all of these meetings, there will be food either before or after the meeting. Some times the food can be quite lavish especially for those at the top. I think just tea/water or some biscuits should suffice for all these meetings.

Ministers and his entourage normally claims lot of expenses over stay, mileage or food. SOme time the minister or deputy minister may claim many times  more than his basic pay… this was told to me by  former MPs and senior government officers. There were also rumours, ( remember no smoke without fire), that some of their private functions and entertainments expenses were also claimed from government coffers.

Of late, senior officers are given laptops, palm tops, handphones (often the latest top of the line models). This should be reviewed. Sometimes a model just a few months down the line work as well, but will be much cheaper. Anyway, there should be a constant check on these types of expenses. Very often, the expenses are marked-up, and very often, government are paying much much more for the same model that you and I can buy outside….. remember the few hundred dollar screw driver? or the million-dollar cutlery set when one of the former KL mayors was in office?…

With all these cost cuttings , I am sure there will be millions and millions of saving which can be used for development or assistance to the poorer group of people.

I have not included the billions of dollars that can be saved from corruption or abuses. PKFZ saving alone could have given us a second Penang Bridge with plenty of  change left to improve the transport system in the island.

In a nutshell, by having  a austerity and anti corruption drive, we can save billions…………..which can be used for building more schools, more hospitals, more colleges and giving more scholarship for the needy…….

Do our leaders care enough to do this ?

According to a Malaysiakini report,

“Deputy Health Minister Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad sparked an uproar in the Dewan Rakyat when he described medical doctors as having a “licence to kill”.

Replying to Alexander Nanta Linggi (BN-Kapit) on the shortage of doctors in remote areas of Sarawak, he explained that local universities are not producing sufficiently skilled doctors.

As a result, he said, the ministry is unable to approve their employment, adding: “As you all know, doctors have a licence to kill and a licence to cure.”
                                                                                               

 Although it is wrong to say that doctors are licensed to kill,  I think what he meant was that the standard of the medical graduates are now so low that they might have inadvertently, though not intentionally, caused deaths of patients who might otherwise be able to be saved by a more competently trained doctor.

It is a known fact among medical fraternity that the standard of our medical faculties is not as good as before. Many medical graduates are so poor in their skill  that they often miss diagnosis. How are you going to treat when you are not even able to diagnose properly?

Many of us in the private sector had the experience of referring urgent (emergency) cases to government hospitals, only to have these patients given cursory attention and outpatient treatment and sent home. Many of these were acute cases and they had to seek treatment in private hospitals where emergency procedures were done . There were of course instances where because of this delay,  death might have been caused. These are not uncommon, just ask doctors in private practice.

I had just a few weeks back talked about the deteriorating standard of MAs and nurses in hospitals ( refer to my post ” honest answers needed” ). Some of the MAs(medical assistants) are not able to stitch a simple wound.  I had asked in that earlier post-about the NS death- whether the death of the NS trainee could have been due to  the incompetency and failure of diagnosis of the paramedical personnel in that particular NS camp? Senior doctors in the Ministry had been telling me that the standards of nurses and MAs are dropping. They are the front line personnel in a hospital ward and their incompetency would have caused unnecessary death and suffering.

All these are part of the bigger syndrome of Loss of Excellence.

It is really a pity. University of Malaya medical faculty used to be the pride of our country. It ranked among the top three medical schools in Asia in the late sixties to seventies, along with University of Singapore and University of Hong Kong. While the latter 2 are still among the best in the world, our medical schools are no longer recognised by BMC, meaning by the international medical fraternity.

Our soccer team then, a team with amateurs like Mokhtar Dahari , Santokh Singh, Arumugam, Soh Chin An used to beat South Korea regularly, and gave us soccer-loving Malaysians so much of pride and happiness. Look at it now, with ranks of over 100 and dropping, it is now counted among countries like Laos and Cambodia.

Not too long ago, a judge was quoted as saying that the standard among the young lawyers has declined.

My late father used to tell me: to build something takes years, but to destroy something takes only a few seconds. The excellence that we have had in the sixties and seventies, in practically all fields, took many years to achieve, in a large part due to the British system of meritocracy and  fairness . The decline in standard of almost everything started with the “Cekap. Amanah , Bersih” administration in the early eighties. It had since becoming worse, affecting our police force, our judiciary, our civil service, and so on. Are we more “cekap” now? Are we more “amanah” now? Are we more “bersih” now? I leave you to answer these.

 To reverse this loss of excellence will take at least a generation or 2. There are not many good teachers left in all sectors, in schools, in universities, in hospitals, in public service and so on. Many have passed away, some have left the country, many have retired. Mediocre teachers cannot produce good quality students. So we need at least a few decades to bring back excellence, if we start now.

The solution is simple, but to carry it out needs determination and a steel-like resolve.  We just need to bring back meritocracy and fairness in all fields. This is a simple answer, but are our leaders  strong enough to do this?

Do our leaders have what it takes to do this? Do our leaders care enough to do this?

Related posts:

Excellence – have we lost the urge ?

Race politics and brain drain

Bring back the glory

Elitish universities – will they remain as a dream ?

Will BN win again in a snap poll ?

In April this year, a friend told me that some people within UMNO wanted to call for a fresh poll. (Pls see my post: Another Barisan and Pakatan fight? ). When I told this to my friends, a lot of them are quite skeptical. However, we must remember that there is normally no smoke without fire.

Today even the Star reported that (who else) the Election Commission chairman is asking his staff to be prepared for a snap poll (“Be prepared for a snap poll, officers told”, The Star).

I think a snap poll is certainly an option that cannot be ruled out, amidst all the political uncertainties. This is especially so after Dr Mahathir quit UMNO, putting more pressure on Pak Lah to resign. Coupled with the unhappiness of certain Sabah politicians and the confidence shown by Anwar that Pakatan can form the government, the chances of another election cannot be ruled out.

If you are UMNO and you know that you are going to lose the ‘power to rule’ to Pakatan , what will you do? You may think that you have  nothing to lose to call another election. If you win bigger, that will be a bonus and you stay as government, if you lose another round, so be it…..Since even if you do not call for another election, you are going to lose the governing power anyway. (You may think that there is nothing to lose but there is actually something to lose… read the last paragraph).

 A lot of UMNO people ( and many in other BN component parties too ) are still in a self denial mode and think that perhaps in another poll they will win back some of the lost seats. This is not unlike a gambler, who has lost many rounds, but who still believes that in the next round he can win back what he loses. This is human psychology and difficult to change. Most of this type of gamblers will have nothing left at the end of the day night, except perhaps the loan agreement papers with loan sharks.

The million dollar question is– perhaps I should say the billion dollar question since so much is at stake to the UMNO politicians– will they win more than the last election if a snap poll is called now??

In urban and suburban areas, they might lose more. With the pressure of inflation worse than even 3 months before, urbanites will not vote for BN again. This is what I gather from the ground as well as from the comments in the blogs. The Chinese and Indians are still angry over the perceived unfair treatment. The urban Malays are still fed up of UMNO’s excesses and corrupt practices. Granted that there are some snail-pace reforms being announced, eg MCAC and the Judiciary Commission, majority of urban people are still sceptical.

What UMNO will probably do in a snap poll is to harp on race and play up racial sentiments, just like Mahathir does nowadays. But playing racial cards may backfire. some of the other component parties like MCA or SUPP may be forced to quit and join Pakatan if increasing racial rhetoric is used… and that means unless UMNO win big, (more than half of total seats by itself) it will still lose the government to Pakatan. Bearing in mind that many Malays now  agree with Anwar that race based politics and policies benefit only a selected few. Bear in mind also that in the last election, many Malays voted for Pakatan and even DAP.

To think that people will change their minds and perception within a short period of 2 -3 months is not realistic. To think that UMNO will win by itself more than half of the total seats is not realistic. So in another General election, UMNO might keep its present number of seats, it may even win a few more by its racial rhetoric, but the component parties might lose even more, and Sabahan and Sarawakian  might follow the trend of West Malaysian and choose more opposition members, and that would be big trouble for BN .Overall, I think BN will lose more and not win in a snap election now.

The risk is : if UMNO loses the ‘power to rule’ in a snap poll, then it will face even more problems than now. It will even lose its relevance and the party might implode……

Malaysia 51, Uganda 52…..year 2008

In april last year, I have posted the index for econmic freedom 2007, tracked by The Wall Street Journal and The Heritage Foundation, Washington’s preeminent think tank. Malaysia was ranked NO. 48 in economic freedom in 2007.

How about this year. Well, an optimist will say it is almost the same, whereas a pessimist will say it has become worse.

In actual terms, we are ranked NO. 51 in economic freedom this year. In the company of Uganda (No. 52), Costa Rica (No.49). So do not laugh at countries of Africa and Central America. We are already in their company, and if we dont buck up, we may be like the African and Central AMerican countries in no time. NO joking matter!!

The top 8 places are occupied by : Hong Kong (No.1), Singapore, Ireland, Australia, USA, New Zealand, Canada, Chile . (ask yourself why are these countries always ranked top? ).The full list can be viewed here .

The Heritahe Foundation, in its FAQ, explained why economic freedom is important: ”

“Studies in previous editions of the Index confirm the tangible benefits of living in freer societies. Not only is a higher level of economic freedom clearly associated with a higher level of per capita gross domestic product (GDP), but GDP growth rates also increase as a country’s economic freedom score improves. ”   

Suppose you are a foreign investor with billion to invest. What is your priority for investing? You want to earn money, but you want to earn money in an environment that gives you the most freedom with your money. You must be able to have a say in how your company is going to be run, the cost of labour must not be too high, the people in the country of your investment must be efficient and have good productivity so that the best returns can be earned. You want to have a impartial  judiciary to guard your rights..meaning your money. You want to have a clean government so that you do not pay extra under the table, as corruption adds costs and time to doing business.

This index of economic freedom, which measures 10 factors, takes all these into account. For the full report on Malaysia, read here.

Malaysia fails miserably under the category : Investment freedom. We get only 40% mark for this category (40% is Fail in most countries, but according to Malaysian marking system, 40% is considered pass, any wonder why we are low down now?).

This is what the report said about this category:

Investment Freedom – 40%

Rules have been eased, but foreign investors still face such restrictions as limited voting shares, prior approval, and mandatory hiring of ethnic Malays. Investment is banned in the news media, lotteries, or security paper. Foreigners may own 100 percent of certain kinds of new companies, but most existing corporate equity requires that a 30 percent stake be Malay-owned, and foreign ownership is capped in most sectors. Certain kinds of investment are screened, though commercial operations can begin before approval. Residents and non-residents may hold foreign exchange accounts, subject in many cases to government approval. Nearly all capital transactions are prohibited, are subject to restrictions, or require government approval.

If you read the report carefully, it is because of the restriction placed… everything needs government approval, and that means red tapes, and possible avenue for corruption.

We get 50% for corruption. This is what the report said:

Freedom from Corruption – 50%

Corruption is perceived as present. Malaysia ranks 44th out of 163 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2006. Bribery is a criminal act, but perceptions of widespread corruption and “crony capitalism” persist.

 

Any wonder why the economy is half dead, progressing miserably at 5 % growth , which, if you take into account the actual inflation rate ( maybe as high as 4-5% while the official figure is only 3%), means that the economy is not growing at all.

The report also measures the net inflow of FDI.  Malaysia’s FDI is stated as $996 million whereas, the same report put Singapore net FDI as $14.6 billion. Even Thailand, has $3.4 billion of net FDI. Even Indonesia has 2.2 billion worth of FDI. What happened , MITI?

If we do not buck up fast, we will be overtaken by Thailand, that is for sure. But do not be surprised that African countries may overtake us… Uganda is just one rank below us.

 

Crazy increment of tariff

There is a report in NST today that water tariff will be increased on January 1st next year, which is just 7 months away. I quote:

WATER tariffs in the Klang Valley will rise by 37 per cent next year.

With the increase, water will cost RM1.90 per cubic metre, up from RM1.39. The rise will take effect on Jan 1.

This news was revealed in the state assembly yesterday by Ng Suee Lim (DAP-Sekinchan), who said the increase was allowed in the concessionaire agreement between Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor (Syabas) and the state government.

He said assemblymen only knew about this when they were given a briefing by Syabas officials several weeks ago.

Ng said, according to the agreement, the state would have to pay compensation to Syabas if  it did not approve the price hike………………………..

When met outside the assembly, Teng Chang Khim (DAP-Sungai Pinang) said the agreement that had been signed by the Barisan Nasional government allowed a tariff increase every three years.

“It’s just like a toll agreement.” 

  

An increase of 37%? Even if we can tolerate an one-off increase, how about the increase in every three years?

Water is an essential item, how on earth can a state government sign such a lopsided agreement? Perhaps the former Selangor MB care to enlighten us on this. 

This is exactly why people had voted the oppostion in the last election…. Those walking in the corridor of power and those assisting these people have all forgotten the very basic in politics…Good government takes care of its people and not exploit them.

If the hike is about this amount every 3 years, in no time, water will become one of our biggest expense item in most household budget. Don’t be surprised if you spend more on water every month than on petrol, a decade down the road.

 

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