Saturday, October 24, 2009


We have a bloated civil service. More than a million civil servants (including the diplomatic service, security agencies, etc.) against a working population of 10 million people is just too much. That comes to about 13% or so.

Then there is the ‘evaporation rate’, which is again very high. From the Auditor-General’s report every year we know that there is a very high ‘evaporation rate’. So, from the RM200 billion we spend we only get about RM150 billion worth in return. RM50 billion just ‘evaporates’ into thin air.

This is the crux of the whole issue. RM200 billion means nothing if only RM30 billion goes to the people because of the high running cost and evaporation rate.


23 October 2009

[Cartoon by Antares from THE BUDGET ~ How the Government is Spending OUR Money by Teh Chi-Chang, published by REFSA (Research for Social Advancement)]

Friday, October 23, 2009

You've blown the budget. Now read the book (only RM20 mah!)

BUDGET 2010 will be released today, or so I'm told (yawn). Well, for someone like me who has never paid any attention to economics, it's just a load of dead boring gobbledygook. At this juncture a stale joke comes to mind...

How can you tell when the prime minister is lying?" That's right... when you see his pink lips moving.

But I'm really excited to hear that Teh Chi-Chang's new book on the Malaysian Budget will be out sometime this week. I've read parts of the draft and I think Teh has brilliantly achieved his objective of demystifying the subject for the layman.

The book is titled: The Budget - How the Government is spending OUR money.

I think we ought to make it our business to find out exactly how Barisan Nasional has been squandering the nation's wealth.

Another reason I'm promoting Teh's book is that I provided the illustrations, and it's always pleasurable to see one's work in print.

Priced at only RM20, Teh's book will soon be on the shelves of your favorite bookshop. Or you can order it online here. If that doesn't work for you, or you would like to negotiate a bulk purchase, please contact Teh via - and I'm sure you'll get a really good deal!

Here are some advance notices from folks in the know:

“An excellent guide … so intelligently put together” - Tunku Abdul Aziz (before he quit DAP in a petulant huff and turned toxic)

"Simple language backed with solid statistics" = Prof. Rajah Rasiah of Universiti Malaya

"A straightforward, incisive approach to this normally dry subject" - Yeo Yang Poh, past president of the Malaysian Bar Council

Chi-Chang has given me the green light to publish a sneak preview of a few juicy excerpts from his book...
“Budget Day” is a very special day in our parliamentary calendar. It is the one day in a year that Parliament sits on a Friday. The eyes of the nation are focused on the Finance Minister as he delivers his Budget speech that Friday afternoon, which is broadcast ‘live’ by the major television and radio stations.

That speech is more theatre than substance. It is an opportunity to highlight government successes and provides populist sound-bites which government backbenchers can thump the tables in support of. There is often something for nearly everybody, and newspapers the next day tend to be full of complimentary comments along the lines of: “goodies for the rakyat”... “it’s a people’s budget”... “it’s people-friendly”... “it’s a growth budget”....

Income disparity among the bumiputras is the highest among the three major ethnic groups. Government policy has been focused on reducing the bumiputra income gap with the other ethnic groups. Hence, we have quotas and various bumiputra-only or bumiputra-preferred practices. The above data suggests the government should also be looking at how it implements its policies among bumiputras. It would appear that already-rich bumiputras are reaping the greatest benefits from the pro-bumiputra policies. This runs counter to the intention of raising the lot of disadvantaged bumiputras.

Should the CEO also be the CFO?

The two most powerful positions in corporate management are of chief executive officer (CEO) and chief financial officer (CFO). The CEO is the boss and sets overall direction. The CFO controls the purse-strings. Quite often good CEOs and CFOs will disagree. CEOs by nature and expectation have to seek new growth opportunities to expand corporate profits. They would tend to emphasise the rewards over the risks. CFOs are entrusted with financial stewardship. And when it comes to stewardship, being conservative and risk-averse are the preferred traits.

So, that’s how it works in the corporate world. No reasonable board of directors would countenance the CEO also holding the CFO position. There is just too much at stake to have one person holding the two most senior positions.

That’s also how it’s supposed to work in government. The prime minister leads and the finance minister tells him what the government can afford. Perhaps the most celebrated such pair in recent history was telegenic British prime minister Tony Blair and dour Chancellor Gordon Brown. Over here in Malaysia though, no eyebrows are raised that the prime minister is also the finance minister. This practice began during prime minister Mahathir’s tenure, was continued by Abdullah Badawi, and now Najib has continued the practice.

This might explain the deteriorating state of government finances. By 2009, we would have run 12 consecutive years of budget deficits.Subsidies – literally burning cash

RM34bn was spent on subsidies in 2008. Subsidies are meant to help the poor. And yet, nearly 400,000 Malaysian households or about 2 million Malaysians still live in poverty.

RM34bn is equal to RM85,000 for each poor Malaysian household – sufficient to lift them well above the poverty line. In fact, it is sufficient to propel them to the middle-class!

So where did the money go? Mostly to fuel. Quite literally burnt to little effect.

Government must help the most disadvantaged and poorest in society. Subsidies are one method. However, something is clearly wrong given that there are still so many poor Malaysians in our midst despite the tens of billions being spent on subsidies.

Our subsidy policies actually benefit the rich more than the poor. For example, cheap petrol benefits the rich man driving a fuel-guzzling Porsche Cayenne far more than the average Malaysian in his Perodua Myvi. Similarly, cheap electricity helps the ex-Menteri Besar living in his multi-million ringgit beautifully-lit mansion far more than the poor family in a squatter home.
Cartoons by Antares © 2009

Teh Chi-Chang, 38, holds a first-class honours Bachelors’ degree from the University of Warwick, a Masters from the University of Cambridge and the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation. He spent 14 years in the rat-race and was looking forward to spending more time with family and personal interests - until Tony Pua of the Democratic Action Party persuaded him to enlist in public service.

Chi-Chang looks forward to good, clean government in Malaysia which will enable him to then focus on his real ambitions, which are to produce a definitive English-language text on the art of tai-chi and to play the guitar like Julian Mokhtar.
His corporate sector experience includes management, investment appraisal and corporate finance. He has headed Malaysia equity investment research teams as well as contributed to top-rated teams covering utilities and media companies regionally. Chi-Chang can be contacted via his blog, Analyst at Large.

Just received word that The Budget - How the Government is Spending OUR Money will be officially launched at the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, Jalan Maharajalela, Kuala Lumpur at 8:00PM on 26 October 2009 - in conjunction with a public forum on Budget 2010. Panelists for the forum will include:

* Lim Guan Eng, Penang Chief Minister
* Tony Pua, MP for Petaling Jaya Utara
* Charles Santiago, MP for Klang
* Liew Chin Tong, MP for Bukit Bendera
* Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, MP for Kuala Selangor
* William Leong, MP for Selayang

All are welcome and attendance is free. Another book titled BUDGET STRATEGIES FOR ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATION (published by the DAP Economic Bureau) will also be launched at this forum. Both books will be available at a special discount!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dean Johns is 1 Helluva Funny Guy!

1 picture tells the story

By Dean Johns | Malaysiakini Oct 21, 09 | 10:35am

If ever there was a picture worth 1,000 or 10,000 or any other number of words, it was the humongous number 1 on the stage at last week's Umno general assembly.

The party's leaders, supporters and propagandists clearly intended and perceived it as a towering symbol of pride in their sense of unity and supremacy.

But to those of us who inhabit the real world, that monumental illuminated numeral was a glowing declaration of Umno's megalomanic determination to dominate Malaysia by means of Barisan Nasional.

And the tilted BN 'balance' or 'scales' logo was a reminder, as if we needed one, of how heavily and one-sidedly the nation's institutions are weighted in Umno/BN's favour.

The speeches that I've read spoke volumes too.

Not in their actual words, which were as platitudinous, self-serving, conflicted, confused and confusing as we've come to expect from Umno orators, but in what they omitted to say about issues that everybody knows cry out to be addressed.

PM and Umno President Najib Abdul Razak, for example, proclaimed that the party aimed to reform itself into a "progressive, dynamic and responsive" party, whatever such mush might mean, and later urged its members to "move away from the negative culture of money politics so we could become a clean and respected party."

No mention of the fact that BN won the recent Bagan Pinang by election with a candidate mired in money politics, and that presumably other Umno office-holders, including himself, are beneficiaries of the party's traditional money-politics culture that he claims to so eager to reform.

Later in his 70-minute speech, "Uphold tradition, and fostering change", Najib attempted to push his patently false 1Malaysia proposition by portraying Umno as a a party for all. "Umno must not be seen as representing certain people, the party must be seen as an inclusive party which puts the people's interests at the forefront, and not oneself," he said.

Hang together or hang separately

This flies in the face of the self-evident fact that, as Najib said elsewhere in his speech, Umno is "the Malay nationalist party", forever ferociously advocating and defending Malay rights to special privileges and advantages over Malaysians of other races.

Nevertheless, he pressed on with his myth of inclusiveness, claiming that Umno is and will remain "centrist", and is "neither a leftist nor a right-wing party".

I must confess I've never thought about Umno in terms of what political "wing" it seems to be on.

But now that Najib's raised the issue, I realise that, given my perception that Umno has seldom, if ever, shown signs of running the country right, I'd categorise it as not so much left-wing or right-wing as wrong-wing.

But Najib, apparently undaunted by such criticism and opposition, and even by setbacks like the 1969 general election, the Coalition's near loss of which provoked the May 13 riots, and BN's wake-up call in the 2008 electoral 'tsunami', remains supremely confident.

"If we remain united, work towards our common goal and put in the effort, we will climb the highest mountain and go down the deepest ravine and swim the deepest ocean. We shall overcome the odds," he said.

Calls by Najib and other Umno figures for unity always put me in mind of Benjamin Franklin's warning to his co-signatories of America's Declaration of Independence that their British rulers saw as treasonous: "Gentlemen, we must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."

Doing whatever to maintain power

Because Umno/BN is arguably fast running out of rope and living in fear of retribution too.

Not for offences against some foreign power, like America's founding fathers were party to, but for 52 years of crimes and injustices committed against the Malaysian people.

Mongolian people too, recalling the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu, but let's keep it to locals for now.

What Najib and his ilk are terrified of is the fact that, just as any sign of good governanace over the past 52 years is to the credit of Umno/BN, every bad administrative decision or act is also by definition their fault.

And they're haunted by half a century of crimes and misdemeanours that they have committed or condoned, from rampant corruption, the mismanagement and embezzlement of public funds and the perversion of public institutions like the press, judiciary and electoral commission, to the susected murder by the police and MACC of 'suspects' in their custody.

And there's mounting evidence that the people, Malay and non-Malay alike, are increasingly at one in their disgust at this disgraceful record, and in their eagerness to see the guilty thrown out of office and brought to justice.

Hence the calls to the forces of Umno/BN to "remain united" towards the "common goal" of saving their necks, be it by daring feats involving mountains, ravines and oceans or less athletic activities like bending the judiciary to their bidding and employing the police as their enforcers.

For all Najib's talk about the "reform" since he succeeded the somnolent Badawi as prime minister, he's yet to put so much as a sen of his money where his mouth is. Quite the opposite, in fact.

As human rights watchdog Suaram has reported on his 200th day in office (and, coincidentally, the 3rd anniversary of the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu), he's shown a "blatant disgregard" for human rights, and permitted "serious violations" including continued use of emergency laws, racial and religious intolerance, crackdowns on peaceful assemblies and protests, continued curbs on media freedom, attacks on alternative media, and abuses by law-enforcement agencies.

I could go on and on giving instances of Umno/BN's clear determination to do business as usual despite all its rhetoric about reform.

But that's enough words for me for now, and in any case you get the picture.

The big, blue 1 with Malaysia down below and the crooked BN scales in the middle on stage at the general assembly didn't, as we were supposed to believe, mean one Malaysia for all Malaysians.

It meant that Umno/BN stands united, as always, to say and do whatever it takes to retain enough popular support to continue the only activity for which its leaders, members and cronies have ever shown any appetite or aptitude: looking after number 1.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

3 Years Since Tuya Was Cruelly Murdered...


Altantuya Shaariibuu (6 May 1978 - 20 October 2006)


Monday, October 19, 2009

The Pakistani Spectator Interview 25/6/08

I chanced upon this post dated 26 June 2008 and was tickled by how quickly one forgets all the little events that happen in the course of a year. Indeed, I keep telling people time has become so compressed every month now seems like a year, and each year feels like a whole decade. Upon re-reading this interview with The Pakistani Spectator from 16 months ago, I decided it was still interesting and deserves to be revisited...

Photo by Suzanne Lee

The Pakistani Spectator • June 25th, 2008

Would you please tell us something about you and your site?

I was born to a middle-class family in a small town called Batu Pahat. Began working at age 20 in advertising, became a Creative Director at 23, quit at 27 to become a freelance audiovisual producer and creative consultant, and soon devoted my energies entirely to theatre, music and writing. I was introduced to the Internet at 48 and immediately embraced the delightful possibilities of digital tech. Relocated from Kuala Lumpur to a forest reserve in 1992 to found an alternative community called Magick River. Soon became involved with an Orang Asli (aboriginal) community and environmental issues. Launched the Magick River website. A dam was built in the area in 2002 and the village went on the power grid - but it took another four years to get broadband access. One of the first things I did was to start the Magick River blog in December 2006.

Do you feel that you continue to grow in your writing the longer you write? Why is that important to you?

Like any other craft, writing improves with experience and regular practice. However, mastering the technical aspects of writing is hardly the most important issue. What’s truly meaningful to me is the process of developing clarity of thought - and simplicity and elegance of expression.

I’m wondering what some of your memorable experiences are with blogging?

Soon after I initiated the Magick River blog I realized the importance of building a readership. There were so many new things to learn: getting listed with Technorati and other blog directories, promoting the blog among friends, adding widgets and generally tweaking the blog template so that it would reflect my personality. For the first year I was happy to get approximately 300 hits a day but after the March 8th 2008 elections I began to focus more on Malaysian politics and that boosted traffic to nearly 12,000 hits a day for certain blogposts. That was a real thrill for me - like somebody earning thousands suddenly receiving a cheque for millions!

What do you do in order to keep up your communication with other bloggers?

I make it a point to read other blogposts pinged on Petaling Street (Malaysia’s blog aggregator) and often leave comments here and there. This encourages random visitors to my own blog who then leave comments and this is how the blog network grows. Once in a while there is sufficient resonance to begin emailing other bloggers and befriending them beyond the blogosphere.

What do you think is the most exciting or most innovative use of technology in politics right now?

The phenomenal growth of digital and microchip tech has made notebooks, palmtops, Blackberries, camera and video cellphones commonplace. At any given moment at any given place there will be somebody equipped to record an image or video footage or transmit a text message almost instantly. In effect, this is the era of citizen reporters whose enthusiasm for spreading info and news within overlapping networks makes it impossible for totalitarian control and suppression of information. For the first time since the Athenian experiment in democracy nearly 30 centuries ago, decentralized power is beginning to supersede the outgoing patriarchal, feudal, top-down forms of political power. I relish the fact that I am now able to live far from the madding crowd and yet - with affordable equipment like a laptop and digital videocam - I can become an autonomous multimedia production unit with satellite access to the rest of the planet. The proverbial Voice in the Wilderness can now be heard in the traditional centers of economic and cultural power, regardless of latitude or longitude. From my idyllic village in the Malaysian rainforest, I can broadcast my thoughts to people in London, Paris, New York, Moscow, Beijing, Ulan Bator... and, of course, Rawalpindi!

Do you think that these new technologies are effective in making people more responsive?

Certainly, and increasingly so. In the early days of the Internet, there was a greater divide between Actual and Virtual Reality. People would spend hours at their computers conversing with absent beings - and then take a break and connect with friends “in real life.” However, the line between actual and virtual appears to be blurring as we switch comfortably from chatting face-to-face to facebook chat or an SMS exchange. Indeed, the new digital interconnectivity makes it possible for an enterprising individual to organize a real-time street event using only a social networking tool like facebook.

What do you think sets Your site apart from others?

I go for substance, not style - and generally offer well-crafted blogposts with strong visual appeal. The subject matter I blog about is eclectic and ranges from musical and literary topics to hardcore politics and metaphysics, with a generous dose of humor and whimsicality.

If you could choose one characteristic you have that brought you success in life, what would it be?

My ability to empathize with, understand and love whatever and whoever I encounter. This has the effect of generating an attractive, rather than a repulsive, energy field - which helps in everything one does.

What was the happiest and gloomiest moment of your life?

It would take too much time and effort to scour my memory banks for interesting anecdotes - and in the end such experiences tend to be intensely personal and not something to be discussed out of context.

If you could pick a travel destination, anywhere in the world, with no worries about how it’s paid for - what would your top 3 choices be?

Machu Picchu, Egypt, and Central America.

What is your favorite book and why?

No particular favorite as such but I was profoundly inspired by The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology by José Argüelles (Bear & Co, 1986). The galactic scope of the book’s vision was a great relief to somebody like me who tends to feel claustrophobic when confronting petty and mundane issues.

What’s the first thing you notice about a person (whether you know them or not)?

Their energy field - whether it’s dormant or radiant.

Is there anyone from your past that once told you you couldn’t write?

Fortunately, no.

How can bloggers benefit from blogs financially?

I know bloggers who earn heaps by managing a dozen blogs all targeted at attracting traffic and generating income from advertising. But this isn’t my reason for blogging and my flirtation with Google Adsense has been shortlived. Nevertheless, the friendship and goodwill my blog has earned occasionally translates into financial support from those who have found inspiration from researching my blog archives (there are quite a few who spend as many as 9-12 hours browsing my blog on a single visit!)

Is it true that whoever has a successful blog has an awful lot of time on their hands?

Time is our most precious resource and it’s up to each of us how we utilize it. The majority of humans are still trapped in the old paradigm of trading their time for wages. I happen to be among the privileged who enjoys the freedom to use my time as I please. Since I resigned from my last full-time job in 1977, I have somehow managed to sustain myself and my family fairly comfortably without having to take on tasks that are unpleasant or ethically dubious.

What are your thoughts on corporate blogs and what do you think the biggest advantages and disadvantages are?

I avoid corporate blogs like the plague! Only individuals have something worthwhile to say. Corporations only have an image to sell.

What role can bloggers of the world play to make this world friendlier and less hostile?

When you’ve been blogging for a while you get exposed to a wide spectrum of opinions and temperaments - from the most refined to the coarsest of the coarse. This has the effect of acclimatizing you to shocking rudeness and even the most bizarre and grotesque prejudices. After a few heated exchanges on forums or via blog comments, you learn not to take things too personally - not to get wound up by a bunch of pixels on the screen. I’m sure this greatly helps in making bloggers more accepting and tolerant of different viewpoints. Bloggers learn to insult each other in a playful manner - without wanting to translate the aggro into violent behavior “in real life.” The only way to a peaceful world may be to allow humans to slug it out virtually with their conflicting opinions ;-)

Who are your top five favourite bloggers?

Crankster of Crankshaft; Lulu of What A Lulu; Walski of MyAsylum; Art Harun of ARTiculations ; and myself, of course :-)

Is there one observation or column or post that has gotten the most powerful reaction from people?

The most vociferous discussion and feedback I ever got with any blogpost was on the burning topic of Malay Supremacy. Blogposts on the Altantuya murder case also tend to attract lots of attention.

What is your perception about Pakistan and its people?

The Pakistani people are beautiful, intelligent and capable - but, unfortunately, the masses appear to have been kept ignorant and easily misled through the exploitation of religious fervor by a succession of power-hungry politicians, mullahs and warlords. Sounds just like America, no? :-)

Have you ever become stunned by the uniqueness of any blogger?

Indeed I have. Raja Petra Kamarudin (popularly known as RPK) happens to be among the best informed when it comes to local politics. His access to the “corridors of power” (by virtue, perhaps, of his being a prince of the Selangor royal household), combined with his rebellious spirit and sharp intellect, makes his political blogposts pure dynamite. That’s why his newsblog, Malaysia Today, occasionally records 1.7 million hits a day.

What is the most striking difference between a developed country and a developing country?

Bread-and-butter issues tend to be less pronounced in a “developed” country where the majority are sufficiently comfortable to focus their attention on larger and broader ideas, particularly pertaining to questions of ethics and aesthetics. In so-called “developing countries” the emphasis tends to be on making money and building more visible infrastructure - therefore, abstract notions of justice, human rights, civil liberties, and cultural maturity become secondary… at least, until a sizeable educated middle class exists.

What is the future of blogging?

Personally, I’ll keep doing it till it gets boring. Then I’ll stop. Blogging has become such a global phenomenon because it gives the individual a sense of validity and value in a perplexingly complex world where traditional forms of socializing have become almost obsolete (in a congested city like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, for example, it takes so much effort to travel across town just to have coffee with a friend, so the answer is facebook chat and sending each other virtual drinks!)

You have also got a blogging life, how has it directly affected both your personal and professional life?

Once I began blogging the activity seemed to gradually take over most of my waking hours in that even when not actually writing a blogpost, I’m gathering data and thinking of ways to repackage it for my blog! In other words, I am now a 58-year-old nerd. But, absent any more stimulating diversion, I’m quite happy to be exactly that. My “professional” life is fluid as I tend to venture into an assortment of activities, ranging from producing low-budget documentaries to giving talks on esoteric subjects and trying to get old manuscripts published!

What are your future plans?

I have never taken the future - or anything else - seriously. One step at a time, I take each day as it comes - and goes. In short, I prefer to live in the NOW. Of course, there are endless “projects” waiting to be actualized - for instance, releasing my musical output digitally (hours of music were recently rescued from analog oblivion) and clearing a space in my study for a digital recording studio. Man does not live on blogs alone!

Any Message you want to give to the readers of The Pakistani Spectator?

When your head begins to ache with confusion, just follow your heart - that’s the road to joy and freedom!