Devil versus the deep blue sea

BN’s victory in the two just concluded by elections was not unexpected. Despite the allegations and scandals that would have toppled most governments in the world,BN still won as Malaysian politics are played on a different dimension.

The most brilliant strategy by the ruling coalition since the 2013 GE is  playing PAS against DAP, thereby not  only breaking up the rudimentary two-party system, but also causing the opposition parties to backstab each other. Without Anwar at the  helm, PAS and DAP, the two ‘sworn-enemies-turned-friends-turned-sworn-enemies are back at each other’s throat again.  Amanah, the off shoot from PAS, was not an effective replacement for obtaining suburban and rural Malay votes.

The general perception is that UMNO and PAS  must have probably come to some undisclosed  agreement to work hand in hand, (or just help each other). The clearest evidence is the private member’s bill by PAS president which was expediated in Parliament. Isn’t it strange that the ruling party would expediate a bill put forward by a major opposition party? Well, this is the politics of the Land of the Wayang Kulit; expect lots of shadow plays. Who is the best in shadow play? You know better than me.

PAS’s role in the two by elections is to split opposition votes, something of a spoiler. The results showed just that. But even without PAS, Amanah would not have won anyway, as the total of votes for opposition fell short of the votes obtained by UMNO candidates. So actually PAS is just the fallback insurance. Even without it, BN would have won even in a one-against-one contest,

Why?

Many of those who have voted for the opposition in the last GE  were disappointed with the opposition parties, which have not lived up to expectations. The disarray, the power struggles, the backstabbing were not what the supporters have hoped for. The Kajang move, the PAS-DAP rows, the infightings in PKR, the DAP-PKR three cornered fights in Sarawak, all these give a perception that all  the  opposition parties care about is getting power for themselves. Not to mention some questionable deals in opposition held states which have been highlighted in media.

For the next GE, a lot of these supporters-turned-disillusioned-fence-sitters will probably abstain. Some Chinese votes are expected to go back to BN, too, because of disappointment with the opposition. Between the Devils and the deep blue sea, if  the deep blue sea is not any better, so why not go back to the Devils? At least the Devils are more familiar.

Many of those I have spoken to have indicated that they would probably take a overseas vacation during the next GE, and not cast any votes. These are the urban educated people, the so called intelligentsia. Contrast this with the last GE when many of these same people were asking their friends and children overseas to come back to vote against BN.

What this means is that BN will probably do better in the next GE, as in the case of the recently Sarawak election.

Following the momentum of the by election victories and from a renewed position of strength,PM will probably call the next GE soon, since at this stage, with one-against-one contests unlikely as in the last GE, BN should win back many seats due to expected three cornered fights in many areas. Opposition can only expected to win in hardcore anti-BN areas, but that will not be enough to topple BN.

The opposition parties should by now realize that the biggest hurdle on the road to Putajaya is themselves; they have scored too many own goals that even a scandal tainted  and weakened BN team can beat them easily.

In all probabilities, BN may even win more than two-third of federal seats, and it would be back to square one for everybody!

 

 

 

 

 

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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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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 contend 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!

GST and consumer power

Updated.

Almost one month has passed since the implementation of GST, has the cost of living gone up?

GST was successfully implemented in many countries and is perceived to be a useful tax to raise revenue for the government.  Protagonists will label it as a fair tax; you pay when you spend; the more you consume, the more you pay.  But if you are one of those living and working in the cities in Malaysia and earning a salary slightly higher than the minimal wage, you probably will be the one worst hit by this so called consumption tax and you will not welcome this.

Even though essential items are exempted from this tax, working persons will have no choice but to eat at least one meal outside. And if you eat a meal outside, you will definitely feel the effects of this tax on your pocket.

So far, I have come across three categories of businesses on how they deal with GST.

1. Many merchants have put out notices that they absorb GST. One prominent example is multinational company IKEA. There are notices in Ikea stating that prices remain as before. They must have a very comfortable profit margin to be able to absorb six percent of taxation. Anyway, as consumers, most of us would be happy to patronize these.

2. Many are charging more than six percent even though  on their receipt, it is programmed to read 6 percent. One example is those curry puff chain stores.  One of them  was selling curry puff for RM 2 per piece just before CNY.  After CNY, it was raised to RM 2.20, reasons being that the impending implementation of GST has raised cost and thus a 10 percent adjustment in price.  But then, come April first, the curry puff price went up to 2.40 , an increase of another 20 cents. Six percent GST on 2.20 would be 13 cents, so why increase it by another 20 cents? Why can’t they just sell it at 2.35 or even 2.30 , since they have already increase their puff by ten percent just a couple of months earlier? On the receipt, of course, GST reads exactly six percent of a puff which are now priced higher at 2.26.

A fried YaoCharKway (fried chinese doughnut or flour sticks) in uptown used to charge 40 sen per stick (the small variety type, not the normal long one available elsewhere). Now he is charging 50 sen per stick, an hefty increase of 25%. The reason is that as a small business, he can’t charge GST but have to buy raw materials which may be subjected to GST. So he has to pass on the increase. An increase of 25% no less, even though GST is only 6%.  It doesn’t matter that not all his raw materials are subjected to GST; flour and sugar are certainly GST exempted.

One of my favorite cafe at uptown Damansara raised its white coffee from RM 3 to RM 3.30 a cup, an increase of 10  percent, starting this month.  On top of that, GST is charged on the 3.30. Which means an increase of more than 16 %  on that cup of coffee. The reason given is again increase of cost of living due to the new tax. By their logic, the six percent GST  is causing the cost of living to go up 10 percent? These merchants must be either out of their minds or they are such good predictors of future that they could predict that there is a rise of cost of living of 10% due to the six percent of GST.  More likely, they are shrewd businessmen trying to make more profits using GST as a pretext.

3. This category did not use GST as an excuse to raise their prices, yet! They charge GST as GST should be charged– prices of goods purchased plus 6 %.  They did not have to absorb any cost, but they also did not go all out to profit from the pretext of an increase in cost of living due to GST implementation. Examples are plenty: many restaurants, most hypermarkets and supermarkets.

There are many other examples of category 2 merchants. Precisely because of these unscrupulous merchants , cost of living may go up higher than what it should be purely on GST taxation per se. Precisely because of there are so many category 2 businesses,  that we should have perhaps postponed the implementation of GST until people’s mentality changes to that of first world countries, or until such time when enforcement improves and profiteering can be cut down to a minimum.

In the meantime, what can we consumers do? individual Consumers are powerless, but together we can teach these cat2 merchants a lesson. If they raise their prices in addition to charging GST, like the examples I quoted above,  we should  all stop patronizing them. If we can do that, we will be sending a strong signal to these people that profiteering will not be tolerated.

Afterall, what are they without the consumers?

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P.S. There are of course the  rare ones that have lowered their prices. These outlets are so rare that I won’t even categorise them. One of them is this :

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Please note that although this outlet has reduced its prices, they are still not cheap and would still be out of reach for the ordinary wage earners. Anyway, this act of reducing price is commendable and hopefully more outlets should take after this.

Hopelessness and Helplessness

Many people are unhappy.

These people don’t care much about politics. They don’t care much about religious issues. They don’t care about the ‘agreement’ between Liow And Chua in the election of MCA (if posts can be agreed upon, why the need for election?). They don’t care about why no action is taken on the case of a deputy minister being hit by a third tier leader of the Big Brother. They have gone immune to these happenings in the Bolehland.

They are unhappy because they feel helpless and hopeless.

After the last General Election, I can feel a prevailing sense of helplessness and hopelessness especially among  those who live in the urban areas.

While they go about their daily activities, most things have become more and more expensive. It is no longer a case of tightening belts. It is now about survival.. This is especially true for those with young children.Many of the young parents with young children are finding it hard to make ends meet. A tin of infant formulae now is more than RM100. And that is considered essential item for a growing infant. A family income of 4000 is no longer enough to live in the cities.

This is no longer about not being able to afford a house. There is now despair that soon, many of them who are renting houses will not be able to afford to have a roof over their heads; they may not have enough to pay for the rentals.  Many of them who work and who used to eating lunch outside is now eating bread and water for their lunch.

They are feeling helpless because they see no light at the end of the tunnel. Even when most of them voted for change, there is no change for the better; there are changes but all these changes make things more and more expensive and there is now less and less money in the pockets.

They are feeling hopeless because apparently these changes are just the beginning. When GSt is implemented next year, things will become worse.

They see ministers and top civil servants travel and move in luxury while they have to cut back on everything.  But they cannot hope for any changes in the short terms since another GE will be 4 years away.

They look at opposition run states and there is not much to shout about too. So even if next election comes and they vote for change, will change be around? They have lost hope. A opposition CM has just bought a new Merz. What difference is he from other politicians? In another state, internal politics are so intense and there might be a change in MB..

Is there any solution to this? Sorry, I don’t not actually see any. Not with the current batch of ‘managers’. There is no more leadership around. The so-called leaders up there  have really lost touch with the common people and the needs of the rakyat.

My advice is only this: Live from day to day!

Something is seriously wrong!

In Malaysia, we don’t have the 4 seasons. However, certain happenings in Malaysia are as predictable as the 4 seasons in temperate countries.

Yearly we have the Auditor General’s report outlining the abuses and wastage in government spending. Yearly, there is  a big ‘hoohaa’  after the release of the AG annual report ,  with calls for reform from  NGOs and civil society and promises from the authority to tackle the problems. Two or three weeks after the release, everybody is deemed to have done their duty and everything is forgotten till the next round.

Then we have the perennial Haze problems, and the usual predictable responses from politicians across both divides asking something to be done to solve the problem permanently.  Yearly, the Indonesian authority blames the Malaysian companies. The Malaysian companies will then issue a denial, and after a few days, wind changes direction, sky becomes clear again, and everyone forgets about the issue.

Around this time of the year, another perennial problem will surface, and it does surface this week.

Many of the straight  A’s students are denied places to study the courses of their choice and these poor students have nowhere to turn to, except to the media and the politicians.

Every year, the politicians will play the role of firemen, and individual cases sometimes do get a reprieve, and after an appeal, some of these students may  get the places they wish.

What is needed is a more systematic way of tackling this problem. Why there is no comprehensive policy to solve the problem really buffers me.

To deny these creme dela creme places to study will cost the country dearly in the long run. Logic will tell us that if the best is not given the chance to develop their potentials, how are we going to face the increasingly  competitive world?

Looking at many of the advanced countries, they not only allow their best to develop their full potentials, they are also trying to do the shortcut by attracting the best brains from other countries to emigrate to their countries, so as to tap on the brains of these potentially world beaters. That is the only way to allow the country to be world class.

I suspect some  little napoleons are at play in this yearly fiasco of refusing the best their choice of study. These little napoleons use the excuse that these students did not do well in their interviews or are poor in English.

We all know that interviews are very subjective. These ‘subjectiveness’ can sometimes be manipulated into reasons to reject a student from pursuing his or her dream. But if most of the best (more than 50 straight As students) are deemed to have failed in the interviews or in their English proficiency,  then what about those who are not so good but are still given places to study in the  preferred courses in the universities? Logic will tell us that if the best don’t have good command of English, then how can the second best be better than the best?

We can understand if one or two do not perform well in the interview or stutter in their English, but if most of the cream fail to get entry because they are said to  perform poorly  in interviews, and then there must be something wrong with the methodology of the interviews or the people conducting the interviews. As simple as that!

The law of average will tell you that if the average Best is not as good as the average Second Best, then there is something wrong with the system or the people manning the system.

I strongly suggest that all future interviews be recorded. With the technology now, this can easily be done. If there is any dispute, or if there is any need to audit the interview, then the authority can go through these recordings and see for themselves whether a student fails because of poor performances at interviews, or whether he or she fails because of the subjectiveness  prejudices of the people conducting the interviews.

We can no longer afford to allow some little napoleons to deny our best a chance to develop their potentials.

Our future competitiveness is at stake.

The nation’s future is at stake.

(An edited version is published in my column in TheMalaymailonline.com )

We are the sitting ducks

One restaurant in middle class Damansara Kim area has resorted to an extreme measure.

The staff actually closes the main door during peak evening hours, and there are armed guards patrolling outside. The staff only opens the door when there are customers going in or out.

This is not paranoia. I was told that the restaurant was actually robbed many times  before.They are left with no choice but to adopt this extreme measure.

similarly, many eateries around KL and Pj have suffered similar fate and many now employ guards for security reasons.

A convenient store chain has been repeatedly robbed too.  They are now thinking of employing Gurkhas to provide security.

All these will add cost to doing business, and from the business angle, this cost will definitely be passed on to customers. Goods are going to be more costly at these places which provide security, and this will add on to the ever-rising cost of living in the Klang Valley.

Crime is now the number one worry among city dwellers.  No matter how reassuring the crime statistics may say, people’s perception is that the crime situation is out of hand.

The rich has their own bodyguards. The well connected has been given license to carry arms, but to the ordinary people, the middle and lower classes, we are like sitting ducks.

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