Pray very hard

Few months ago, when our leaders were still saying that Malaysia would not be affected by the world’s economic woes, I have figured that Malaysai would go into negative growth. As an amateur in economy,  I feel vindicated that a notable agency, Asian Development Bank,  in the latest report , predicted the same thing that Malaysian economy is going to shrink this year.

The first waves of the economic tsunami had not affected us much.. That  one was about the failure of financial institution and the derivatives market, simply because we did not have much money to invest in these, unlike SIngapore which suffered as a result of failure of financial instituitons in which Tamasek has invested lots of money.

But the second wave will hit us hard. The second wave is the failure of businesses overseas, and as a result, the demand for commodities as well as goods from exporting nations like ours will decrease steeply.

We are a trading nation. Our trade is much more than our GDP. Logic will tell us that there is no way that we can escape the crunch given that our exports will not find any markets. If our goods and commodities cannot find any markets, then our manufacturing industry will be affected.

The bulk of our export,besides petroleum,  is in electronics. We are not the ‘original’ manufacturers , but rather we are just a centre of off-shoring for those multinational trying to find a cheaper labour market. When these mother companies fail, they are not in the charity business and they will just simply wind up or pack up. 

Our domestic market is simply too small to support a strong industrial base.

Our car industry is not efficient.. Our heavy industry( like iron and steel)  is not efficient . We depend on commodities such as petroleum , palm oils etc which have seen prices getting a beating for the past few months. The cost for sourcing petroleum from the sea is now higher than the market prices, how are we not to be affected?

The best indicator to see whether recession has set in is to see the medical or dental clinics. If the crowd in government clinic is increasing and the crowd in the private clinics is decreasing, recession is invariably here, even if the leaders say otherwise,  and even if the figures might show positiove growth..This is because  medical profession, supposedly  recession-proof,  is one of the few professions that would be last hit in a slow down. And this is the case now.

Retrenchment and unemployment is going to go up.  Expanding civil service to take in these unemployed people is not a good solution. It will lead to lower productivity as more people will be doing the same amount of work. Rather, what should be done is to try to  provide skill training for the unemployed.

What can we ordinary folks do? Hope for the best; tighten the belts; cut overhead… Meantime, pray very hard , whatever faith you may be following…

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English language and vision 2020

One of my nurses is on maternity leave.  I took in a temporary staff, who has just completed STPM, and is waiting to go to college in June/July. So temporarily she worked as a stand in.

She is quite intelligent and learn things fast. However, I was horrified that she could not understand very simple English conversation. Things like “please take the temperature”, ‘check the weight and the height of the patient” seem to be incomprehensible to her. SO I have to speak to her in the dialect and Bahasa, since she is from National school and does not even comprehend Mandarin, despite being a Chinatown Chinese Malaysian.

My other nurses have all worked for me for many years- I think all over ten years.(one of them about 20 years now).. They are also of StPM and SPm standard, and all from the National Secondary schools but one of them was educated in a CHinese primary school. Despite that, I remember when they joined my clinic more than 10 yearsa go , they could at least understand my English, which is not the high powered type , but rather , simple and down-to-earth English.. Even though they do not speak well.

So from this we can see what a difference in the standard of English from the National secondary school graduates , in the span of about 10- 20 years.

I am comparing the product of the same system, not with those coming out from Independent chinese Secondary schools or private International schools.

This girl has passed her STPM and had a fairly good grade and is going into one of the government universities.. I asked her what she wants to be. She told me that she wants to be a teacher , if given the choice. Imagine if she becomes a teacher, and she is so poor in english, how is she going to source for latest information through either english journals or the net?

If the products of our secondary schools (preuniversity satndard) are in such a shamble, how would we expect our productivity to go up?

To raise productivity, we must raise our technological as well as knowledge level. Without the increase in productivity, our economy cannot be expected to grow fast or move up the techonlogical ladder…  How are we going to achieve our dream of becoming a developed nation if our students are so poor of English? Bearing in mind that English, more than any time in the history of mankind, is the main medium to acquire skills and knowledge. We cannot be a nation of small traders and hawkers and yet aspire to be a developed state.

Even if we go back to agriculture, we need knowledge to use technology to help us to modernise our farms. Without understanding English,  we will always lag behind others. While the Thais and the Indons and the Chinese are speaking better and better English, we seem to be going backward.

This poor command of the english language must be rectified, through engaging foreign teachers , increasing the time for english lessons, and making English a compulsory pass subject at major Examinations such as SPM and STPM. The present batch of English teachers cannot even write a proper English paper, and it would be just like the blind leading the  blind…..

If the majority of our next generation cannot have a passable comprehension of the English language, then I think we can say ‘bye-bye’ to our ambitions of becoming one of those in the front rank of the world ‘s nations.

(instead of vision 20/20, (or 6/6 vision),we might end up as 20/60…)

The green Hour

Today, WWF is asking all people to switch off all electrical appliances for one hour between 8.30pmand 9.30pm.

This is  a laudable effort. IT is symbolic. By switching off one hour, we may not achieve much saving of electricity, but it is a reminder to all of us, the inhabitants of this planet, that we cannot keep on doing what we have been doing.

Homosapiens , especially the North Americans, have been adopting a very wasteful lifestyle. It is time that we take stock of the depleting resources of Mother Earth and be more responsible in our utilisation of commodities and other goods.

Once it was said that planet Earth could only sustain the lives of 6 billion people. We have already hit that target. Thanks to modern technology, we have been able to produce higher yielding crops ;  modern farming technique have helped us produce enough proteins to feed the growing population. The demand on food especially on meat will be disproportionally high in the coming decades, as reater proportion of  people become more affluent, especially in CHina and INdia , and these people would adopt a lifestyle that consumes more protein than before.

Water shortage will be a big problem if conservation is not practised. Clean water, perhaps more than modern medical treatment,  is said to be the single most important factor to raise the average life expectancy of the people. In the early 1800s, life expectancy was around  38. My favourite pianist, Chopin died before 40, otherwise we would have more etudes , preludes and nocturnes from him.

In the early 1900s, life expectancy was around the late 40s. Now in Japan, it is around 80. In Malaysia, it is around the high 70s, and rising.

Ultimately, there will come a day when the Earth’s support system simply cannot support the number of people. What will happen then? Famine, wars, epidemics will occur .

All of us have a duty to remind ourselves and our next generation that we must change our lifestyle.

This switching off for an hour is  good to impart on the younger mindsets the importance of conservation and preservation.

It will be good for those with young children at home to drive the message across why it is important to conserve energy, water and all things around our house including toys, gadgets, furnitures, papers and so on. . Teach them not to be wasteful. Teach them to treasure things at home.

When the nation plunges into darkness tonight, it will be the best time to imprint on the young minds the importance of ” reduce, re-use, recycle”. On top of  these 3 Rs , i will  add a 4th R “regenerate”- we should perhaps start to plant some fruits and vegetables in our garden for those of us living in landed property. All these will help to buy us time, perhaps with more time, we can move up to higher technological levels and delay the onset of the time when Earth can no longer support the increasing population.

Prudence and rainy days

2 days ago, I attended to an injury case, a foreign worker from Myanmar.  On unwinding and lifting the piece of cloth wrapped around  his arm, blood spurted out and sprayed my shirt. I have to immediately cover the wound again , put a tourniquet and stitched up the wound.

After that, I have to drive home to change my shirt. Luckily, that was the day when it rained the whole morning, and I was relatively free  but even so, I have to inconvenience a few patients who had to wait for my return.

Why I brought up this point is that I used to keep a few shirts in a  cupboard in my restroom just for this purpose. But because over the years, I have never encountered this thing happening, I have taken  the shirts home for washing and never brought them back again. This is the first time in over 20 years that I got sprayed by blood again; normally I would be very careful and would not get my shirt dirty.

The moral of the story is that we must always be prepared for things like this to happen. During sunny days, we cannot afford to just throw away the umbrella.  We must keep the umbrella even if if there is no rain for a long time.

Similarly with our finances. We must always try to spend less than we earn ad keep certain amount in the bank for the ‘rainy’ days.

The same thing goes for the government. Government must be prudent in its spending, even when revenues are high, even when commodities’ prices are good, even when petroleum is fetching good income for the nation. It is important to build up the country’s coffer, so that this money can be used during a downturn like the present one.

It is now said that Norwegian Krone is the safest currency in the world. (click Time Magazine article here).  I quote from Time:

 Currently at its strongest against the dollar and euro since last fall, the krone is set for a “sustained appreciation” over the next year and a half, according to HSBC. The main reason: Norway’s budget and current-account surpluses are the biggest among nations with the 10 most traded currencies. Factor in the country’s $350 billion sovereign wealth fund pumped full of the country’s oil revenues, and the cost of insuring against government default in Norway — a key measure of a currency’s safety — is the lowest of those countries. With Norway’s output expected to shrink by a modest 1.2% this year, far less than in most of the world’s leading economies, the krone, HSBC said, represents “the ultimate safe haven.”

 

untitled2Krone, the safest ?

However, please do not rush to change RM into Krone. My purpose of pointing this out is not to ask all of you to rush to money changers to change Krone. My purpose is to remind those  minding our finances to be prudent , especially during the good time. If we have built up our surpluses during the good time,  we would have no problem now facing this recession. But if our coffer is empty during good time, we would be in big trouble during the bad.

We can afford to take some risk with our own money in investment, always leaving some in the bank for the rainy days. But for those manning the public finances, they could not afford to and should not take risk with other people’s money. The key word perhaps is prudence. Ask ourselves, over the past few decades, did we practise financial prudence?

………………….

As for the political scene, there is just a phrase to describe it , and that is ” Mou Gan tai”, Cantonese phrase literally  meaning ” no eye see”.

Do not break the mirror on the wall

One of the common things about all human beings is that all of us make mistake one time or another.  To err is human, but what distinguishes a clever human and a dumb one is that the former will learn from his mistakes whereas the latter will keep on committing the same.

Leaders are human and therefore leaders too will make mistakes. But clever leaders will learn from mistakes and be even cleverer. The dumb ones will will keep on shooting himself on the foot without realising it.

I have said before that the litmus test of a good leadership is not that it will not make mistakes but rather it realises its mistakes and takes corrective steps to correct the shortcomings, as well as not to commit the same mistakes again.

When democracy was at is infancy in the West, politicians realised that sometimes, a mistake had to be pointed out before those who committed it became aware of the mistake.

So they realised that the best way to get feedback on whether they had committed mistakes was to have a free media.

A 18th century British Statesman,  Edmund Burke, once professed:

“Three Estates in Parliament; but in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth estate more important far than they all”.

The 3 estates that he referred to are the 3 pillars of democracy, namely the Executive Branch, the legislative and the judiciary. The Fourth estate is the press. To the westerner, the press plays an important role of a watchdog, and the press gives valuable feedback to the government.

A free press is like a mirror, the reflection in it will tell those who stand before the mirror whether they have button their shirts properly, whether they have zipped their pants, whether there are blemishes on their faces, and so on.

All of us depend on mirror on the wall to give us an idea whether our countenance is presentable.

Like wise, a government needs a mirror to see whether it is doing alright or whether it has committed errors that might affect adversely the livelihood of the people.

To a government, a  free press is the mirror that it needs to see its reflection. In his book : age of turbulence, Alan Greenspan mentioned that from what he has gathered , not a single nation which allows a free press suffer from starvation. Not in the past, and not likely in the future.

It is because with a free press, a government can immediately sense a mistake before it is too late. The press will give the necessary feedback like an early warning system.

So a free press is not only the fourth pillar of democracy, it is a friend of those governing, even if the press publishes writings that maybe critical of certain policies or the decisions of these governing figures. A good friend is one that gives you counsel when you have done wrong; not one that praises you even if you have made a mistake.

If it is a friend, then it should not be stifled. It should be allow to publish what is on the ground…

A free press in this modern era encompasses  not just the printed media, but the electronic press as well as the blogs.

I do not know about the reasons of the recent banning of the 2 political papers, but i hope that this is not the beginning of a clampdown on the blogs, the newspapers as well as on the freedom of speech.

No one would be stupid enough to break the mirror on his wall just because he or she does not wish to see his or her ugly countenance.  It will not help to remedy an ugly countenance to a presentable one. We must realise that even without the mirror, an ugly countenance will still be an ugly countenance, except that without the mirror, there is really no hope to take remedial steps to address the ugliness and turn it to a more pleasant looking one.

A clever leader therefore should not clamp down on the media and the blogs. Instead he should take steps to nurture press freedom.

By doing so, he would have taken important steps to prevent  shooting himself in the foot .

Deja Vu ?

The Star reported that DPM in an TV1 interview mentioned that after he takes over, he would make changes in the implementation of NEP — that is to go back to the original objectives of eradicating poverty irrespective of ethnicity.

He also mentioned that he would change the UMNO election rules in order to reform the party, and that he wants his cabinet ministers to have ability and credibility.

Since the change in Premiership is inevitable and DPM looks set to become the next PM, I really hope that what he promises can be carried out, for the benefit of the people, even though deep inside my heart , I am really in doubt how much of these will be carried out.

I hope that this is not empty talk again.

To be honest, I have a feeling of deja vu..

In 1982 when Dr M took over, he promised to have a government which was “bersih, cekap, amanah’ and implemented clocking in for civil servants, look east policy, etc. When he left after 22 years in power, corruption was worse, little napoleans were everywhere, and abuses of power were much severe than before he took over. So he did not deliver what was promised. Even though economy had advanced and the general standard of living has been raised, it was much lower than its peers such as South Korea, Hong Kong and SIngapore. Even China and Vietnam have grown faster, even though their growth started relatively late.

When the present PM took over in 2003, again there were so much of expectations. His rhetoric of ” work with me and not for me” and promises of reforms for judiciary and police were slow to come; to borrow a phrase from Chinese idioms, we keep hearing the steps in the stairs but never see anyone coming down…

To be fair to Pak Lah, he has opened up the country quite a bit and there is now more space for a person to express his opinion. Again to be fair to Pak Lah, most of his problems were inherited.

The fact that he is more of a bureaucrat means that most of the inherited problems were not solved and people blame the lack of solution to these problems on the inertness of his leadership. IN fact, his greatest problems were perhaps the presence of the warlords in his own party and these warlords have underminded his credibility time and again… One example was the arrest of a female reporter under ISA for ‘her protection”. Apparently, from reliable sources, the PM did not know before hand about this arrest… So much for the inertness.

Because of his inability to solve the inherited problems, he was blamed for the 308 tsunami that resulted in BN losing 5 states and the majority vote in Peninsular Malaysia.

Now that a new leader is about to take over, new sets of rhetoric will most probably be heard. The million dollar question on most people’s minds is that will these rhetoric be carried out?

I have written a few days ago (what do you make out of these?) that despite my hope (against hope) for a more liberal and progressive leadership emerging, my take is that a more autocratic and suppressive style will emerge. I hope for the sake of Malaysians, I will be proven wrong.

I also hope that for the sake of Malaysians, what was promised by the DPM in his interview can be carried out….

Otherwise, the writing is very clear, the 13GE is going to see a change of government.

Gerakan, being the small lifeboat on the deck of the Titanic which is BN, faces the choice of either to get the lifeboat onto the sea before the Titanic hit the iceburg, or remain in the same deck and sinks together with the Titanic.. The former course would at least give the lifeboat a chance to survive. The next few months would probably be crucial but “Time is running out”.

Accountability and the rule of law

UMNO Disciplinary Board Chairman, Tengku Ahmad Rithauddeen, in meting out the punishment to bar a candidate to vie for the NO 2 position, said that the board decision is based on hard EVIDENCE.

If this is based on hard evidence, then the logical thing to do is to make a report with the MACC to investigate further and pass on all materials to the investigating team.

For the country in general (and UMNO in particular) to remain credible, there must not be the perception that there are 2 sets of laws in the country. Any wrong doings must be investigated, and any wrong doers punished , using the existing law in the country.

In the meantime, while the investigation is going on, the person involved (apa nama dia..Oh.. UMNO-will-govern-for-another-50-years-alone) must resign from all party and government positions, since money politics is considered a criminal offence, a type of corruption..

Similarly, the other person who received a warning should be investigated as well.

That is the logical and honourable thing to do…

Let us look at these photos:

japanses-finance-ministershoichi-nakagawa Feb.09:

Shoichi Nagakawa, Japanese Finance minister resigned because he was drunk at a press conference while in Rome

iceland-minister-of-commerce-bjorgvin-sigurdssonJan 2009:

Iceland’s minister of commerce, Bjorgvin Sigurdsson, resigned because of ‘poor’management of its economy

indian-home-minister-shivraj-patilNov. 2008:

Indian Home Minister Shivraj Patil resigned because of the Mumbai bombing…

These 3 resigned not because of criminal offence but because of certain mistakes they made..There were many many other such examples. This is what accountability is about.

In our country, nothing of this sort happens… No one resigns over his or her mistakes.

However, even if no one resigns over his or her mistakes (since this has already been the culture),, surely criminal offences should not be let off easily, if we still claim to be a country practising the rule of law..

If there is to be ‘rule of law’, then what is deemed an offence by the Disciplinary Board of the party must be investigated by the relevant authority constituted under the law and action must be taken if there is proof beyond doubt.

There cannot be 2 sets of law, one for the common people and one for the ruling elites…If we want people to respect us, and if we bother about self respect..

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