Share |

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Will Obama be another 'Comeback Kid?'

President Obama celebrates with staff on the Truman Balcony of the  White House after the health care vote.
President Obama celebrates with staff on the Truman Balcony of the White House after the health care vote.

Washington (CNN) -- When President Obama went before the television cameras in the East Room late Sunday night after the House's historic passage of health reform, he was careful not to gloat, insisting that it was a "victory for the American people" instead of a win for Democrats.

But what the TV cameras did not capture was the scene a few minutes later, in the wee hours of Monday morning.

Obama quietly invited some of his staff up to the famed Truman Balcony, with its stunning view of the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial. Team Obama toasted a triumph that top advisers at least privately acknowledge could turn out to also be a dramatic win for a president who desperately needed one.

"The fact that we could navigate through these rocky shoals," one of those senior advisers told me the bruising health care battle, "is heartening for the future" as the president now tries to push forward on other tough battles like regulatory reform of Wall Street and immigration reform.

This adviser explained that the president thought it was important to keep fighting for health care reform, even when it appeared all hope was lost, "to show we have a capacity as a country to tackle big challenges" at times of great uncertainty like now.

It's Obama's way to cast these battles as high-minded, long-term struggles rather than mere political short-term, hand-to-hand combat. He did so Friday in a rousing speech at George Mason University, in which he mocked the constant media commentary on his standing by comparing it to "Sportscenter" on ESPN.

"What's it going to mean for Obama? Will his presidency be crippled?" the president jibed. "Or will he be the 'Comeback Kid?' "

But even that joking reference to the "Comeback Kid" -- Bill Clinton's nickname after he rose from the dead in the 1992 New Hampshire primary -- is a reminder that Obama is still a political figure who is staring at very challenging midterm elections in just a few months and a likely battle for re-election in only a couple of years.

There's no doubt that White House aides like Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel -- former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and architect of their 2006 takeover of Congress -- have been weighing the political impact of all the health care machinations.

The bad news for Obama heading into the midterms is that the 2,000-plus page health reform bill, coupled with last year's $787 billion stimulus package, gives Republicans something to run on in November: At a time of deep distrust of government after all the bailouts, Obama is growing it big time.

But the good news for Obama is that the comeback health care victory casts him as a fighter who stood up for the middle class and proved that while it may have been messy, his party can govern.

Coupled with the stimulus, the health reform package also gives Democrats an agenda to run on that includes popular provisions like preventing insurance companies from refusing to cover children because of pre-existing conditions.

"I know this is a tough vote," Obama told House Democrats on Saturday, a rare occasion where he slipped into the role of political adviser. "And I am actually confident -- I've talked to some of you individually -- that it will end up being the smart thing to do politically because I believe that good policy is good politics.

"I am convinced that when you go out there and you are standing tall and you are saying I believe that this is the right thing to do for my constituents and the right thing to do for America, that ultimately the truth will win out."

Obama will begin testing that message for real on Thursday, when he starts hitting the road to aggressively sell the health bill to give nervous Democrats some political cover in the months leading up to November.

And where is the first state that Obama will begin selling that message? Not New Hampshire, home of the first presidential primary, and site of Clinton's dramatic comeback nearly two decades ago. Instead, the president is heading to Iowa for a substantive reasons: It's where he began his crusade for health reform with a big speech in 2007.

But in case you've already forgotten, that state also has the first presidential caucuses in the nation every four years.

A certain guy from Chicago shocked the world there in 2008 by winning against the odds, and he's hoping to deliver the same for his party later this year.

EC can’t restore third vote, says chief

By Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani - The Malaysian Insider

PUTRAJAYA, March 24 — The Election Commission has claimed there is no “enabling law” allowing it to restore local government elections despite requests from the Penang and Selangor governments.

EC chairman Tan Sri Datuk Seri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof said today local elections, or the third vote, had been annulled under section 15 (1) of Act 171 in the Local Government Act 1976 which states that “all provisions in any law relating to local government elections cease to have force or effect.”

The EC has formally informed Selangor and Penang that it cannot restore the third vote. It can only hold state and federal elections.

According to the EC, provisions or aspects of law governing local elections under the Local Government Election Act 1976 had been abolished and neither the commission nor the state have the authority to restore the third vote.

Local government elections were suspended in 1965 but Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim said early this month he would write to the EC on the possibility of holding them again in the state.

Selangor was following in the lead of fellow Pakatan Rakyat-ruled state Penang, which made a formal request to the EC on March 4 for local elections to be held for both the Penang and Seberang Prai municipal councils.

The Penang government maintains under Article 113(4) of the Federal Constitution, federal or state law may authorise the EC to conduct elections other than parliamentary or state elections.

Restoring local government elections was a campaign promise of PR parties, which comprise PKR, DAP and PAS, during Election 2008.

The Barisan Nasional (BN) federal government had already indicated it was not interested in restoring local council elections as it argues that they will not necessarily improve public services.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had said that since local government elections were abolished long ago and need not be restore as it will only create more politicking at the local level.

Local government elections were first held in 1951 before Merdeka but abolished during the Confrontation with Indonesia which objected to the 1963 formation of Malaysia.

The then-Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman promised they would be restored after the situation improved.

The federal government under Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had in 2007 turned down a demand by the DAP to restore local elections.

Since the suspension of local elections, council seats have become a political reward to loyalists of the ruling party.

Pakatan leaders slam third vote rebuff

By Syed Jaymal Zahiid and Shazwan Mustafa Kamal - The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, March 24 — Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders today slammed the Election Commission’s (EC) rebuff to their demands to restore local government elections, saying it hindered democracy.

Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim said the rejection was a hindrance to democracy though the rejection may have been based on legal constraints.

“It is best for the EC to start considering reinstating local council elections in the urban areas where the population can forge a relationship with the local authorities to govern their own affairs,” he told The Malaysian Insider in Parliament here.

“This is one of the efforts to [make] democracy in the country more mature,” he added.

Khalid, who is also MP for Bandar Tun Razak, said his team of executive councillors will be briefed on the reasons given by the EC as well as discuss the next course of action.

Officials from the state told The Malaysian Insider yesterday they had received an 11-page reply from the EC to their earlier inquiry on whether local council elections can be held.

According to the EC, provisions or aspects of law governing local elections under the Local Government Election Act 1960 had been abolished and neither the commission nor the state had the authority to restore the third vote.

Penang DAP Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, the first PR leader to engage the EC for the third vote be revived in his state, said he is not surprised by the rejection.

He said this was expected when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak stated his disapproval with the proposal.

“We should not be surprised at this decision, since the PM has himself expressed his disagreement on local council elections.

“If tauke gave his opinion, then who’s going to say anything against it? EC should be independent. This shows the EC is not free,” Lim told a press conference in Parliament here.

Lim argued that Under Article 113 (4) of the Federal Constitution, powers can be accorded to the EC to have other elections other than those stated in the clause.

The state govt has the power under the Local Government Act as well as Local Government Elections Act 1960. The act still exists and is enforceable added the Bagan MP.

“EC did not at all discuss with the state government before making the decision. The failure of EC to discuss the decision shows that they are unable to carry out the responsibility given to them. They cannot be free, no principle of freedom,” he said.

The Penang CM then said his government will study the rejection letter for future action but will not change their position on the matter.

“Am not ruling out anything at the moment, although the contents of letter stressed in legal language, effects still the same,” he said.

No taxation without representation, said the Penang CM to further make his case for the third vote.

HRP takes Anwar to task over ‘racist Hindraf’ remark

By Athi Shankar

GEORGE TOWN: They were electoral buddies in the last general election. Orange-clad foot soldiers of the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) were permanent features of the 12th general election, campaigning tirelessly across the country to canvass votes for PKR, DAP and PAS.

Two years on, however, PKR supremo Anwar Ibrahim and Hindraf are now drifting apart with their political approaches and ideologies, although both shared the same common goal.

Both aimed to knock Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) off their perch in the next general election but both are now accusing each other of advocating “racist agenda”.

Anwar fired the first salvo by reportedly stating in London recently that “Hindraf uses a racist agenda”.

The statement has irked his political friends from Hindraf and its political wing, Human Rights Party (HRP).

Political rhetoric

Hindraf is chaired by London-based P Waytha Moorthy (photo: centre) while his outspoken elder brother Uthayakumar (photo:left) is the founder of HRP, which is in the process of registration. The latter is also HRP pro-tem secretary-general and Hindraf legal adviser.

Offended Uthayakumar took Anwar to task, pointing out that the “racist agenda” definition was heard only in quota-ridden Malaysia, not anywhere else.

However, he is not surprised to hear Anwar echoing Umno’s 53-year-old political rhetoric and gimmick to sweep things under the carpet.

“Being an ex-Umno stalwart of 17 years standing, it was not a shock for Anwar to use the definition of racist agenda to neutralise Hindraf and HRP.

“It’s to divert public attention from critical Indian issues.

“These issues have already been neglected by PKR, DAP and PAS governments in their two-year rule in Selangor, Penang and Kedah,” he added.

Uthayakumar claimed that Umno’s gimmick of using “racist agenda” definition had led to the current critical Indian problems.

He said that going by Anwar’s “racist agenda ala-Umno” definition, South Africa would not have achieved her independence from the white apartheid rule.

Neither, he said, would Barack Obama be in the White House today.

However, he pointed out that no Malaysians of Chinese or Indian origins were ever appointed as president or secretary-general of PKR and PAS.

Similarly, DAP had never appointed an Indian or a Malay as secretary-general.

“Isn’t that a racist agenda of PKR, DAP and PAS?” asked Uthayakumar.

He said the state governments of PKR (Selangor), PAS (Kedah) and DAP (Penang) have full powers by virtue of Section 76 of the National Land Code to grant land to all Tamil schools in their states. Selangor has 98 Tamil schools, Kedah (58) and Penang (28).

Emulating Umno politics

Uthayakumar said Anwar must know these menteris besar and Penang chief minister “can do it (grant land) at one go by a mere stroke of their pens.”

But the Pakatan governments, he said, have failed to do so due to fear of agitating the Malays.

Moreover, he argued these governments view Tamil schools as “profitable and lucrative” landbanks to be exploited as and when necessary for their political party coffers.

“Since Pakatan governments would not address scores of critical Indian problems, what difference will it make to Malaysian Indians if the coalition gets to Putrajaya?” asked Uthayakumar.

He accused Anwar and company of emulating Umno politics to divert attention by claiming that Hindraf and HRP are championing racist issues.

He chided Anwar and other Pakatan leaders, especially heads of state governments, and 77 opposition MPs for declining to meet Hindraf and HRP leaders until today to address the critical Indian problems.

“Hence, we have ended up championing Indian cause because Anwar, Pakatan and Umno have specifically excluded Indians from their national agendas,” he alleged.

Since Anwar only wanted to be “engaged with issues”, Uthayakumar challenged the Pakatan leader to personally deal with outstanding Indian issues.

“Anwar should not address those issues through his Indian ‘mandores’. Neither should he promote mandorism ala Umno in Pakatan,” said Uthayakumar.

He said that by not fighting against Umno racism, Pakatan itself was committing racism, if not aiding and abetting Umno.

He said that Hindraf and HRP would long have been “out of a job” if PKR, DAP and PAS were truly multi-racial entities championing Malaysian Indians.

Uthayakumar added that HRP’s Indian political empowerment strategy was the best way forward to encourage Indians to vote for themselves.

“Neither Umno-dominated BN nor Pakatan will champion or represent the Indian cause. Indians will have to represent themselves accordingly at the highest political decision-making levels,” he said.

Court postpones Uthaya's sedition trial to Apr 21

By S Rutra

KUALA LUMPUR: The much anticipated disclosure pertaining to the number of suspected criminals killed in shootouts with the police did not materialise today after the Sessions Court postponed lawyer P Uthayakumar's sedition trial to April 21.

Trial judge Sabariah Othman fixed the date after Uthayakumar's counsel N Surenthiran informed the court that the trial should be postponed due to appeals related to the case pending at the higher courts.

As case law, Surenthiran referred to Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim's sodomy trial, where the defendant had filed an application to recuse the judge, leading to the hearing being postponed.

The counsel also told the court that if Uthayakumar suceeded in his appeal to recuse the judge, then the proceedings thus far would be expunged.

Following this, Surenthiran said if a new trial judge hears the case, the entire process would be a waste of time and resources.

Racial breakdown

Bukit Aman CID deputy director Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani was scheduled to reveal the figures of those killed in shooutouts from the year 2000 to November 2007.

He was supposed to provide a breakdown according to race as well.

Uthayakumar has consistently accused the police of carrying out summary executions of suspected criminals, especially Indian Malaysians.

The Hindraf leader was hauled to court over a letter, dated Nov 15, 2007, published in the 'Police Watch Malaysia' website.

The letter, addressed to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, claimed that Indian Malaysians were being marginalised in this country and blamed Britain for bringing their ancestors here.

Uthayakumar was charged under Section 4(1)(c) of the Sedition Act 1948, which carries a fine not exceeding RM5,000 or imprisonment of up to three years, or both, upon conviction.

Govt's 'rubbish' ploy will backfire, says Zaid

By Stephanie Sta Maria - Free Malaysia Today

KUALA LUMPUR: Pakatan Rakyat troubleshooter Zaid Ibrahim is vexed that the government is using Parliament as a platform to attack Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim and the coalition he leads.

In an exclusive interview with FMT, the former law minister said that the time could be better spent on debating more important issues.

“It's most unfortunate that hours of airtime are devoted to people like (former PKR MP for Bayan Baru) Zahrain (Mohamed) Hashim and (Pasir Mas MP) Ibrahim Ali instead of debating real issues.

“This only shows that the government is not interested in serving the people,” he added.

The lawyer-turned-politician accused the government of harping on these trivial issues in order to create a smokescreen to conceal the bigger problems.

“The government is hiding the real problems. It doesn't want the people to know why the ISA (Internal Security Act) has not been repealed, why the GST (tabling of the Goods and Services Tax Bill) was postponed and what is the true state of the economy. So it uses rubbish as a diversion,” he said.

Using the same old tactics

In desperation, Zaid said the government resorts to using familiar strategies to quash the opposition, including ridiculing Anwar and attempting to “put him away”.

“This is how stupid the government is,” he said. “But let them continue believing it will work. Pakatan will get more support and we will win the next election. I am confident of that.”

Meanwhile, Zaid said he is not perturbed by Zahrain's statement that more PKR elected reps would quit the party in the future.

The PKR supreme council member encouraged those who are not interested in the party's struggle to resign rather than being a burden to the party.

Dropped Perlis exco man denies quitting

(NST) KANGAR: Perlis state leaders, who are intent on avoiding a by-election, have managed to persuade Yip Sun Onn to reconsider his decision to step down as Titi Tinggi state assemblyman.

In an SMS which he sent to several reporters, Yip said he was still the Titi Tinggi state assemblyman and apologised for the inconvenience he had caused.

He said he needed some time to think but that he was still a Barisan Nasional assemblyman and fully supported Datuk Seri Dr Md Isa Sabu as the menteri besar of Perlis.

He also said that he would continue to support the state government in developing Perlis.

Yip had tendered his resignation letter to Isa on Monday and had also given a copy to Speaker Datuk Yazid Mat.

He was dropped as state Housing and Local Government and New Township Development Committee chairman last Friday. He was replaced by Dr Por Choo Chor (BN-Indera Kayangan).

Isa believed that Yip was unhappy that he had been replaced, and explained that the decision had nothing to do with Yip's performance.

"We've used this rotating system since a few terms ago and this had been agreed on by MCA.

"Now it is the time for the Indera Kayangan assemblyman to hold the post."

Isa said state leaders were "very sure that there will not be a by-election in Titi Tinggi".

"Yip has not submitted his resignation letter to the Election Committee and we are in talks with him to reconsider his decision. This could negatively affect MCA and Barisan Nasional."

MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat confirmed that the change in the executive councillor line-up was based on the agreement made by his party and the state government.

"I took over as party president in October 2008 and was only carrying out what had been agreed on," hesaid after a meeting with Perlis MCA delegates here.

Ong said under the agreement, MCA would have one of its two representatives as an exco member, and this person would be replaced by the other after two years.

In the 2008 general election, Yip won the Titi Tinggi state seat against Keria Senawi of Parti Keadilan Rakyat and Mohammad Radzi Mustaffa (independent) with a majority of 1,841 votes.

Titi Tinggi has 7,830 voters with 73.52 per cent being Malay, 23.2 per cent Chinese and 2.8 per cent Indian.


The Election Commission announced today that the States of Penang and Selangor cannot hold local government elections in their respective States since the local government polls have effectively been abolished.

By Kamal-Talks

Both these States are subjected to Local Government Act (Act 171), which states that the municipal councillors are to be appointed and NOT elected any longer.

The opportunity for the deserving local residents to be elected to serve the township or locality have been deprived by our ruling BN government in their quest to appoint their loyal officials.

Class divisions in access to healthcare -- what about Malaysia?

Is there also a class system in our healthcare system? Do the poor get the same treatment as the wealthy members of parliament or those in the list of billionaires?


Azly Rahman

on facebook:
on blog:

'Why can't all Americans have the same access to healthcare to those enjoyed by members of Congress?' is a popular question on the ObamaCare debate.

At the time of writing I am following the debate over universal healthcare for all Americans. If the US$1 trillion Bill passes, it will help insure 32 million Americans that do not have access to healthcare.

This is another controversial issue in the tradition of Democrats and Republicans. This is a good case study of one of the enduring issues of an advanced capitalist state.

I know friends who do not have health insurance and who question the human rights dimension of it - right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, endowed by the Creator who insist that 'all men are created equal' and cautioned by the Enlightenment thinker Jean Jacques Rousseau that “… everything is good in the hands of the Author of Things and everything degenerates in the hands of Man”.

From the point of view of the Democrats, the health insurance system is broken and in deep crisis. Millions cannot get proper medical health. The insurance system is predatory. Expanding health coverage and lowering prescription drug prices, and giving insurance rebates to companies are the main features of this proposal.

From the Republicans' point of view, Americans need health reform but not to the point of bankrupting the country. A Bill which covers the cost of abortion is the controversial part of it; that Americans must not pay for those who do not have the respect for life. The Bill is said to be a wrong approach that will make winners and losers in the system. Essentially it will open up other complications in virtually all aspects of the system.

Whatever the outcome of it, Americans will still be divided ideologically on this issue. The argument is emblematic of the American political philosophy: what is the role of the government vis-a-viz the social contract between the 'ruler and the ruled'?

It is a classic Jeffersonian-Franklinian debate. America has evolved into a country envisioned by Benjamin Franklin - America which is more of the big business and less on the man on the street.

Americans are taught to not trust governments; its history is that of a revolt against British colonialism famed by the slogan 'taxation without representation' and therefore 'give me liberty … or give me death', as the revolutionary leader Patrick Henry said.

Americans went to war and bankrupted the nation. It was a Republican war. That drained trillions of dollars, perhaps contribution to the near-collapse of the American Empire, as many a Complexity theorist would propose. The Butterfly that flapped its wings in Baghdad, near Saddam Hussein's mansion has contributed to the turmoil in the Obama Office.

Rights of all Malaysians

But what is the situation in Malaysia, as we have evolved as a modern state enculturalised by happenings in other advanced countries such as the US?

How do we care for the sick? Essentially is there also a class system in our healthcare system? Do the poor get the same treatment as the wealthy members of parliament or those in the list of billionaires?

With the proliferation of private hospitals, are we creating the foundations of a class system that will inherit the problems the Americans are trying to resolve?

Or is this merely a natural progression of an economic system that is also predatory in culture - that the rich will be richer and the poor growing in numbers?

With the urge for Malaysian private hospitals to venture into 'medical tourism', will our good doctors abandon their Hippocratic Oath in favour of professional hypocrisy?

Marx would say that we are defined by the economic condition we are in - we are homo economicus. I suppose how we live and how we die and how we are taken care of in-between this period of 'borrowed time', depends on how the state defines what human rights mean vis-a-viz our ability to pay for healthcare and how we lived our lives as a economic beings.

We must consider that each human being is a cog in the wheel of Capital. Those who own the machines of production oftentimes influence policies through political-economic arrangements.

A wealthy country such as Malaysia that prides itself on tall buildings and a growing number of billionaires ought to start reflecting on the need to ensure that each citizen will have affordable healthcare.

One wonders what the limit of wealth creation is and where the moral dimension is in capitalism, when the rich control the lives of the poor.

By shaping ideology and creating installations to change the social relations of production - and by doing this through the control of mind, media, machinery, and materials - we expect that wealth is to be shared. Socialism for the rich must be replaced with capitalism for the poor.

It's 11pm here in New York. The historic Bill has just been passed, 219 to 212 in the House. God bless the life of 32 million more Americans. Let Malaysia learn from this victory!

No Cowardly Past

By Tengku Razaleigh,

James Puthucheary lived what is by any measure an extraordinary and eventful life. He was, among other things, a scholar, anti-colonial activist, poet, political economist and lawyer. The thread running through these roles was his struggle for progressive politics in a multiracial society. His actions were informed by an acute sense of history and by a commitment to a more equitable and just Malaysia. James was concerned about economic development in a way that was Malaysian in the best sense. His thinking was motivated by a concerned for socioeconomic equity and for the banishment of communalism and ethnic chauvinism from our politics.

The launch of the Second Edition of this collection of James Puthucheary’s writings, No Cowardly Past, invites us to think and speak about our country with intellectual honesty and courage.

Let me put down some propositions, as plainly as I can, about where I think we stand. We

1) Our political system has broken down in a way that cannot be salvaged by piecemeal reform.

2) Our public institutions are compromised by politics (most disturbingly by racial politics) and by money. This is to say they have become biased, inefficient and corrupt.

3) Our economy has stagnated. Our growth is based on the export of natural resources. Productivity remains low. We now lag our regional competitors in the quality of our people, when we were once leaders in the developing world.

4) Points 1) -3), regardless of official denials and mainstream media spin, is common knowledge. As a result, confidence is at an all time low. We are suffering debilitating levels of brain and capital drain.

Today I wanted to share some suggestions on how we might move the economy forward, but our economic stagnation is clearly not something we can tackle or even discuss in isolation from the problem of a broken political system and a compromised set of public institutions.

This country is enormously blessed with talent and natural resources. We are shielded from natural calamities and enjoy warm weather all year round. We are blessed to be located at the crossroads of India and China and the Indonesian archipelago. We are blessed to have cultural kinship with China, India, the Middle East and Indonesia. We attained independence with an enviable institutional framework. We were a federation with a Constitution that is the supreme law of the land, a parliamentary democracy, an independent judiciary, a common law system and an independent civil service. We had political parties with a strong base of support that produced talented political leadership.

We have no excuse for our present state of economic and social stagnation. It is because we have allowed that last set of features, our institutional and political framework, to be dismantled, that all our advantages are not better realized.

So it makes little sense to talk glibly about selecting growth drivers, fine-tuning our industrial or trade policy, and so on, without acknowledging that our economy is in bad shape because our political system is in bad shape.

A case in point is the so called New Economic Model. The government promised the world it would be announced by the end of last year. It was put off to the end of this month. Now we are told we will be getting just the first part of it, and that we will be getting merely a proposal for the New Economic Model from the NEAC. Clearly, politics has intruded. The NEM has been opposed by groups that are concerned that the NEM might replace the NEP. The New Economic Model might not turn out to be so new after all.


The irony in all this is that there is nothing to replace. The NEP is the opposite of New. It is defunct and is no longer an official government policy because it was replaced by the New Development Policy (another old “new” policy) in 1991. The “NEP” was brought back in its afterlife as a slogan by the leadership of UMNO Youth in 2004. It was and remains the most low-cost way to portray oneself as a Malay champion.

Thus, at a time when we are genuinely need of bold new economic measures, we are hamstrung by by the ghost of dead policies with the word New in them. What happens when good policy outlives its time and survives as a slogan?

The NEP was a twenty year programme. It has become, in the imaginations of some, the centre of a permanently racialized socio-economic framework.

Tun Ismail and Tun Razak, in the age of the fixed telephone (you had to call through an operator), thought twenty years would be enough. Its champions in the age of instant messaging talk about 100 or 450 years of Malay dependency.

It had a national agenda to eradicate poverty and address structural inequalities between the races for the sake of equity and unity. The Malays were unfairly concentrated in low income sectors such as agriculture. The aim was to remove colonial era silos of economic roles in our economy. It has been trivialized into a concern with obtaining equity and contracts by racial quotas. The NEP was to diversify the Malay economy beyond certain stereotyped occupations. It is now about feeding a class of party- linked people whose main economic function is to obtain and re-sell government contracts and concessions.

The NEP saw poverty as a national, Malaysian problem that engaged the interest and idealism of all Malaysians. People like James Puthucheary were at the forefront of articulating this concern. Its present-day proponents portray poverty as a communal problem.

The NEP was a unity policy. Nowhere in its terms was any race specified. It has been reinvented as an inalienable platform of a Malay Agenda that at one and the same time asserts Malay supremacy and perpetuates the myth of Malay dependency.

It was meant to unite our citizens by making economic arrangements fairer, and de-racializing our economy. In its implementation it became a project to enrich a selection of Malay capitalists. James Puthucheary had warned, back in 1959, that this was bound to fail. “The presence of Chinese capitalists has not noticeably helped solve the poverty of Chinese households.. Those who think that the economic position of the Malays can be improved by creating a few Malay capitalists, thus making a few Malays well-to-do, will have to think again. “

The NEP’s aim to restructure society and to ensure a more equitable distribution of economic growth was justified on principles of social justice, not claims of racial privilege. This is an important point. The NEP was acceptable to all Malaysians because its justification was universal rather than racial, ethical rather than opportunistic. It appealed to Malaysians’ sense of social justice and not to any notion of racial supremacy.

We were a policy with a 20 year horizon, in pursuit of a set of measurable outcomes. We were not devising a doctrine for a permanent socio-economic arrangement. We did not make the damaging assumption of the permanently dependent Malay.

Today we are in a foundational crisis both of our politics and of our economy. Politically and economically, we have come to the end of the road for an old way of managing things. It is said you can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all the time. Well these days the time you have in which to fool people is measured in minutes, not years.

The world is greatly changed. The next move we must make is not a step but a leap that changes the very ground we play on.

The NEP is over. I ask the government to have the courage to face up to this. The people already know. The real issue is not whether the NEP is to be continued or not, but whether we have the imagination and courage to come up with something which better addresses the real challenges of growth, equity and unity of our time.

At its working best the NEP secured national unity and provided a stable foundation for economic growth. Taken out of its policy context (a context that James helped frame) and turned into a political programme for the extension of special privilege, it has been distorted into something that its formulators, people such as the late Tun Razak and Tun Ismail, would have absolutely abhorred: it is now the primary justification and cover for corruption, crony capitalism and money politics, and it is corruption, cronyism and money politics that rob us and destroy our future.

No one who really cares about our country can approve of the role the NEP now plays in distorting the way we think about the economy, of our people, of our future, and retarded our ability to formulate forward-looking economic strategy.

The need for a wholistic approach to development based on the restoration and building of confidence.

We need a wholistic approach to development that takes account of the full potential of our society and of our people as individuals. We need an approach to development that begins with the nurturing and empowerment of the human spirit. Both personally and as a society, this means we look for the restoration of confidence in ourselves, who we are, what we are capable of, and the future before us.

I return to the question of the Middle Income Trap that I alluded to some time ago. I am glad that notion has since been taken up by the Government.

The middle income trap is a condition determined by the quality of our people and of the institutions that bind them. It is not something overcome simply by growing more oil palm or extracting more oil and gas. Our economic challenge is to improve the quality of our people and institutions. Making the break from the middle-income trap is in the first place a social, cultural, educational and institutional challenge. Let me just list what needs to be done. Before we can pursue meaningful economic strategy we need to get our house in order. We need to:

1) undertake bold reforms to restore the independence of the police, the anti-corruption commission and the judiciary. Confidence in the rule of law is a basic condition of economic growth.

2) reform the civil service

3) wage all out war on corruption

4) thoroughly revamp our education system

5) repeal the Printing Presses Act, the Universities and Colleges Act, the ISA and the OSA. These repressive laws only serve to create a climate of timidity and fear which is the opposite of the flourishing of talent and ideas that we say we want.

6) Replace the NEP with an equity and unity policy (a kind of “New Deal”) to bring everyone, regardless of race, gender, or what state they live in and who they voted for, into the economic mainstream.

These reforms are the necessary foundation for any particular economic strategies. Many of these reforms will take time. Educational reform is the work of many years. But that is no excuse not to start, confidence will return immediately if that start is bold. As for particular economic strategies, there are many we can pursue:

· We need to tap our advantage in having a high savings rate. Thanks to a lot of forced savings, our savings rate is about 38%. We need more productive uses for the massive funds held in EPF, LTH, LTAT and PNB than investment in a low yielding stock market in which they are already over-represented. One suggestion is to make strategic investments internationally in broad growth sectors such as minerals. Another is that we should use these funds to enable every Malaysian to own their own home. This would stimulate the construction sector with its large multiplier of activities and bring about a stakeholder society. A fine example of how this is done is Singapore’s use of savings in CPF to fund property purchases.

· The Government could make sure that the the land office and local government, developers and house-buyers are coordinated through a one-stop agency under the Ministry of Housing and and Local Government. This would get everyone active, right down to the level of local authorities. The keys to unleashing this activity are financing and a radical streamlining of local government approvals.

· We have been living off a drip of oil and cheap foreign labour. Dependence on these easy sources of revenue has dulled our competitiveness and prevented the growth of high income jobs. We need a moratorium on the hiring of low skilled foreign labour that is paired with a very aggressive effort to increase the productivity and wages of Malaysian labour. Higher wages would mean we could retain more of our skilled labour and other talent.

· Five years ago I called for a project to make Malaysia an oil and gas services and trading hub for East Asia. Oil and gas activities will bring jobs to some of our poorest states. We should not discriminate against those states on the basis of their political affiliations. No one is better placed by natural advantage to develop this hub. Meanwhile Singapore, with not a drop of oil, has moved ahead on this front.

· We should ready ourselves to tap the wealth of the emerging middle class of China, India and Indonesia in providing services such as tourism, medical care and education. That readiness can come in the form of streamlined procedures, language preparation, and targeted infrastructure development.

These are just some ideas for some of the many things we could do to ensure our prosperity. Others may have better ideas.


We are in a foundational crisis of our political system. People can no longer see what lies ahead of us, and all around us they see signs of decaying institutions. The country will continue to haemorrhage wealth and talent

To reverse that exodus we must restore confidence in the country. We do not get confidence back with piecemeal economic measures but with bold reforms to restore transparency, accountability and legitimacy to our institutions. Confidence will return if people see decisive leadership motivated by a sincere concern for the welfare of the country. The opposite occurs if they see decisions motivated by short term politics. Nevermind FDI, if Malaysians started investing in Malaysia, and stopped leaving, or started coming back, we would see a surge in growth.

In the same measure we must also break the stranglehold of communal politics and racial policy if we want to be a place where an economy driven by ideas and skills can flourish. This must be done, and it must be done now. We have a small window of time left before we fall into a spiral of political, social and economic decline from which we will not emerge for decades.

This is the leap we must make, but to make that leap we need a government capable of promoting radical reform. That is not going to happen without political change. We should not underestimate the ability of our citizens to transcend lies, distortions and myths and get behind the best interest of the country. In this they are far ahead of our present leadership, and our leadership should listen to them.

*Speech on the launch of the Second Edition of No Cowardly Past: James Puthucheary, Writings, Poems, Commentaries

PJ Civic Centre

March 22, 2010

Creating a level playing field

(Silhouettes by mzacha /

PRIME Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is all set to role out a new economic model for growth in Malaysia. The indications are that the subsidy regime and price controls will be abolished once the new economic model is in place. This would be in line with Najib's other efforts to promote competition and achieve "high-income" status. In April 2009, for example, the government abolished bumiputera quotas for 27 service sub-sectors. Two months later, it scrapped the 30% bumiputera equity ownership requirement in public listed companies.

These economic reforms, however, have rung alarm bells in certain quarters, who believe the reforms signal an end to preferential treatment for bumiputera established under the New Economic Policy. Member of Parliament Datuk Ibrahim Ali, for example, told Malaysiakini that Malay Malaysians were still "amateurs" compared to the premier-league Chinese Malaysian community. Therefore, according to Ibrahim, subsidies and government assistance for Malay Malaysians should continue until they have caught up.

But are Ibrahim's assumptions correct? Are all Malay Malaysians still lagging behind their fellow citizens economically? And is the continuing of subsidies the best way to help those who have less opportunities to improve their economic status?

With a limping worldwide economy, widening budget deficit, and increasing competition from our Asian neighbours, can Malaysia even afford to continue distorting the market economy through ethnicity-determined government handouts?

Learning to compete

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia economist Professor Dr Ragayah Mat Zin, who is with the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (Ikmas), disagrees with the assertion that Malay Malaysians are not ready to compete. "Not all Malay [Malaysians] are poor," she says. "That's the problem. Whenever we talk about subsidies for Malay [Malaysians], whether it's scholarships or affirmative action, it's not the poor Malay [Malaysians] who benefit, it's more often the rich ones.

"We should 'give fish' only to those who cannot fish. For those who can, they must be made to fish. They cannot sit back and wait for government handouts. If we don't work for it, we'll not be able to improve and become a high-income nation," she says in a phone interview.

Denison Jayasooria
"We have to learn to compete," says Datuk Dr Jenison Jayasooria, principal research fellow at UKM's Institute of Ethnic Studies. He says that opposing liberalisation would only disadvantage Malay Malaysians. "If people really want Malay [Malaysians] to benefit, they need to help them build capacity and empower them to face competition in the open market. Don't assist them by isolating them."

Competing worldwide

Denison points out that the "enemy" is not within the country. "It is outside," he says, noting that Malaysia is already finding it difficult to compete with countries like Indonesia and Thailand, more so with bigger economies like China and India.

He argues that while the government can control the distribution of resources within the country, foreign investments are not beholden in any way, and will move on if our economy is no longer competitive. "Then what do we do?" he asks. "We have to enable positive competition. If not, we're going to see negative growth."

Ratings Agency Malaysia chief economist Dr Yeah Kim Leng agrees, saying we should no longer be fixated on distributing economic wealth within the country. "Instead, we should concentrate on attracting businesses through good government policies and regulations. This would help create jobs, enhance employees' skills, and result in positive spillover effects to suppliers and service providers. Only through growth and empowerment can we have sustainable distribution.

(Pic by juliaf /
"By focusing on [internal] distribution, we may actually be missing the point and killing the goose that laid the golden egg," argues Yeah. "If the government sets the wrong rules, businesses and capital will migrate. The government must ensure we have an economy that is dynamic and continues to sustain growth and create jobs."

Benefiting the poor

Yeah adds that promoting market forces helps to bring out the best in people, so that every person's potential can be maximised. However, he says, enhancing greater market efficiency is not incompatible with assisting the poor and disadvantaged.

"Economics is not heartless. While we promote market forces and efficiency, we note that there are different inherent abilities and endowments.

"So there is a place for affirmative policies for the needy and disadvantaged. This is widely practised [worldwide], mainly to assist minorities and disadvantaged groups who do not have equal access to opportunities."

Ragayah, whose research interests include development economics and income distribution, says international statistics show that liberalisation is actually good for the poor. "When demand is stimulated, there is a multiplier effect which will benefit everyone. This will actually lift the income of the absolute poor," she says, adding that the poor would also benefit from cheaper imported goods.

Liberalisation would also lead to increased production in areas where Malaysia has a comparative advantage, she notes. This would lead to a more efficient use of resources, hence making us more attractive as an investments destination.

She says helping the poor doesn't necessarily mean implementing subsidies that distort the market, which is ultimately expensive and unsustainable. "In Malaysia, we subsidise everybody, the rich and the poor. Subsidies [for items such as toll and petrol] in fact tend to benefit the rich more than the poor, because they consume more."

Ragayah says that as the population increases, paying out huge subsidies is not sustainable and would be counter-productive. She says the government needs to target assistance at the poor, otherwise government expenditure would balloon. "We should just target the poor, regardless of ethnicity. If there is marginalisation, then affirmative action is needed."

She adds that the government should assist groups, such as poor farmers, to compete by helping them be more efficient in production and take advantage of the increased opportunities provided by liberalisation.

Indeed, liberalisation will not result in opportunities lessening, says Denison, who adds that the only people who should fear liberalisation are those who are unable to run businesses competently.

Malaysia: End ‘Charade of Justice’ at Anwar Trial

–For Immediate Release–

Malaysia: End ‘Charade of Justice’ at Anwar Trial

Proceedings Violate Basic Fair Trial Rights

(New York, March 23, 2010) – The Malaysian government should drop all charges in the politically motivated trial against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, Human Rights Watch said today. The so-called “Sodomy II” trial, which has been plagued by serious due process problems and government interference, is scheduled to resume on March 25, 2010.

The government has accused Anwar of consensual homosexual conduct with Mohammed Saiful Bukhari Azlan, a former aide, on June 26, 2008, in a private condominium. Court decisions denying Anwar’s lawyers access to critical evidence held by prosecutors, and the publication of unreleased trial evidence in a ruling party newspaper, raise serious concerns about whether Anwar will receive a fair trial.

“The government should end this charade of justice and drop the charges against Anwar,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Every step of the way, the court has blocked Anwar’s lawyers from preparing a thorough defense.”

Several of the court’s rulings subvert the discovery process, a crucial component of the right to prepare a defense, Human Rights Watch said. Anwar’s lawyers have been denied pre-trial access to DNA specimen samples, statements by the plaintiff and key prosecution witnesses, notes from doctors who examined Saiful, and original copies of CCTV surveillance system tapes from the condominium at the time of the alleged incident.

Even after the trial began, on February 2, 2010, the court ruled against providing the defendant a list of prosecution witnesses, much less witness statements.

Human Rights Watch is also deeply concerned about political interference in the trial by the ruling coalition. The court took no action in response to articles in Utusan Malaysia, a newspaper owned by UMNO, the lead party in the ruling coalition, containing information gathered during the court’s in camera fact-finding visit to the condominium.

“The publication of unreleased trial evidence in what is effectively a government newspaper is an appalling attempt by the government to interfere in the Anwar case,” Robertson said. “This is just the latest instance of the ruling coalition trying to call the shots in this trial of a major opposition leader.”

Other instances of government interference have surfaced during the 20 months since the charges were first leveled against Anwar. The most damaging episode was the involvement of Attorney General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail, who in March 2009 transferred the case from a Sessions Court to the High Court, limiting the defendant’s right to appeal should he lose the case.

At the time the attorney general issued the order, he was under investigation by the country’s anticorruption agency over allegations that he fabricated evidence in Anwar’s first sodomy case, in 1998.

Should Anwar be found guilty, the court could sentence him to a 20-year prison term and whipping. He would also be forced to relinquish his parliamentary seat. Even if Anwar is imprisoned for only one day or fined at least RM2000 (US$600), he would be barred from standing for election for five years.

Human Rights Watch also has concerns about the authorities’ investigation of the case and development of charges. Saiful was not examined until 48 hours after the alleged incident, and the first doctor from Hospital Pusrawi (Pusat Rawatan Islam) reported he found no evidence of anal penetration. Saiful then visited Hospital Kuala Lumpur, a government hospital, and a report endorsed by three specialists from that hospital also found “no conclusive clinical findings suggestive of penetration to the anus and no significant defensive wound on the body of the patient.”

Saiful originally alleged he was raped but when it was pointed out that Anwar, a then 61-yearold man with a bad back, was no physical match for a healthy 24-year-old, Saiful’s complaint was revised to indicate consensual homosexual conduct.

The charges were filed under an antiquated law, a holdover from British colonial rule, that criminalizes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” both consensual and nonconsensual.

Human Rights Watch opposes all laws used to criminalize consensual homosexual conduct between adults, and has repeatedly urged the Malaysian authorities to repeal those provisions and replace legislation on non-consensual sexual acts with a modern, gender-neutral law on rape.

“The Malaysian judiciary will only come into disrepute by holding another show trial of the country’s opposition leader,” Robertson said. “Rather than politicizing the courts and

undermining fair trial rights, the Malaysian government should cease the dirty tricks, drop the charges against Anwar, and return politics to where they belong, in the elected Parliament.”

To read the July 2009 Human Rights Watch news release, “Malaysia: Politics Drive

Upcoming Anwar Trial,” please visit:

To read the August 2008 Human Rights Watch news release, “Malaysia: Drop Political

Charges Against Opposition Leader,” please visit:

To read the July 2008 Human Rights Watch news release, “Malaysia: Political Motivations

Undermine Anwar Case,” please visit:

Najib should give Liow Tiong Lai an ultimatum to resolve the Sabah health crisis or be sacked

By Lim Kit Siang,

I am shocked and outraged by a letter I have received from a serving medical officer of Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kota Kinabalu about the deplorable conditions of the hospital complexes in Sabah particularly Kota Kinabalu which had been likened to Vietnam refugee camp.

Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai had been Health Minister for more than two years and despite repeated complaints, he had turned a complete deaf ear and blind eye to the prolonged healthcare crisis and the deplorable hospital conditions in Sabah particularly in Kota Kinabalu.

The serving doctor in QEH wrote of the horrors suffered by the sick in Kota Kinabalu where they are subjected to “a wicked game of musical chairs” shunted around various hospital centres according to their changing healthcare needs as “there is not a single centre that can address a patient as a whole”.

The medical maze, which has brought total chaos to healthcare services in Sabah, includes the state’s only referral centre, Queen Elizabeth Hosptal and nearby centres like Hospital Bukit Padang the mental institution, Hospital Likas, the makeshift hospital in Lingzhi Museum in Kepayan and Umno’s favourite Sabah Medical Centre (SMC).

This is the tale of horror as narrated by this QE doctor:

“Mr. Wong, an elderly man presented at Hospital Likas because of severe breathlessness and was found to have severe pneumonia on chest x-ray.

“He was then admitted to the High Dependency Unit of Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) 30 minutes away for treatment.

“He improved after six days and was then transferred to the normal ward for further recuperation.

“A bed was urgently needed one day later and the frail Mr. Wong was then shipped off to Hospital Bukit Padang for ‘rehabilitation’.

“Alas, he did not improve but instead deteriorated.

“As Hospital Bukit Padang was devoid of the necessary equipment and setup for managing emergencies and ill patients, Mr. Wong was then resent back to QEH for further management.

“More tests were required and old Wong was then sent to Sabah Medical Center for a CT scan.

“I’m not sure what happened to Mr. Wong thereafter.”

The QEH doctor who made these revelations of the deplorable health crisis in Sabah in the form of an Open Letter to Liow Tiong Lai, wrote:

The formation of the Queen- SMC-Likas-Lingzhi-BukitPadang medical maze has brought total chaos to healthcare services in Sabah.

The docile and unassuming Sabahan patients are constantly playing a wicked game of musical chairs, being transported around from one hospital to another according to their changing healthcare needs.

There is not one single center that can address a patient as a whole.

A lady in labor will be told that she can’t do so in QEH, while a fitting patient are whisked away from Likas to QEH.

A child with a broken limb may go to SMC but the surgery can only be done in Likas.

Elderly Mr. Wong is merely one of many such victims.

Continuity of care is virtually impossible when patients are moved about every few days.

Valuable investigations and data are lost in the process of multiple transfers resulting in costly, repeated tests.

Patients have even died due to the lack of emergency equipment and the deficient setup at the peripheral wards.

You will not hear all these because your little pharaohs in the state health department have done a great job concealing negligence, mismanagement and sheer stupidity.

Medical personnel are suffering in silence too.

Doctors from house officers to specialists are rushing around the five medical centers daily, wasting precious time, fuel and energy in the process of doing so.

Medical officers have been doing eight to fifteen on-calls every month as a result of the increased locations housing the sick.

That is fifteen days away from home and family every month, mind you.

Just in case you forgot we too have young, growing kids to care for.

Absent parents do not make for good family dynamics, won’t you agree?

We are risking our lives each working day wondering if the abandoned tower block will one day collapse upon us and send us to our Maker.

Our comrades serving in Sabah Medical Center are not having it any better.

In spite of the Barisan Nasional’s grandiose publicity buzz over the RM 245 million purchase of Sabah Medical Center, the medical personnel and patients have remained mere squatters in the premises.

The medical staffs are receiving summonses so very too often as a result of limited parking space.

Those of us in surgical disciplines are working till 9 pm on Mondays to Fridays so as to optimize the operating time of our three miserable rented surgical theatres.

In the SMC wards, 4-5 patients are cramped into rooms meant for two as the hospital was built to house a capacity of 150 beds only.

On QEH, the only tertiary referral centre in Sabah, the QEH doctor has this to say:

Increasingly, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the only tertiary referral center in Sabah is living up her grand title of being a sick house.

Partially shut down since September 2008, the ailing sick house of Sabah has turned critical recently, with worsening cracks and falling tiles and a real threat of frank collapse.

The older blocks nearby were declared unsafe and subsequently evacuated and shut down.

Ill and frail patients were shipped off in a frenzy like unwanted cargo to nearby centers like Hospital Bukit Padang the mental institution, Hospital Likas, and the makeshift hospital of Lingzhi Museum in Kepayan and of course, UMNO’s favourite Sabah Medical Center (SMC).

The QEH doctor said he and his colleagues invite Liow “to come and see the ground situation for yourself without a grand entourage of administrative boot-lickers”.

He continued:

“Patients who require hospital admission have to be turned away due to the insufficiency of places.

“The inpatients meanwhile are packed like sardines in the current wards, with hardly a metre of space between beds.

“The situation is comparable to a Vietnamese refugee camp.

“Hospital-acquired infections are the norm rather the exception.

“When a patient with tuberculosis coughs his lungs out, everyone in the ward will be inhaling the highly infectious Mycobacterium.

“After 50 years of independence, our ill patients who require close observation are still sharing monitors and other equipment between themselves.

“Is this the standard of care that Barisan Nasional is according to Najib’s self-proclaimed fixed deposit?

“Whatever happened to all the oil money that Sabah has generated for Tanah Melayu over the last 50 years?

“So you see, Mr Health Minister, we don’t need more jobless house officers, more empty promises and more tasty slogans like 1Malaysia.

“We need 1Hospital and 1HealthMinister who is attuned to the sufferings of the rakyat under his care.”

This is an utter shame for the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s 1Malaysia and his pledge of “People First, Performance Now: I will send the QEH doctor’s indictment of the healthcare system and the Health Minister ‘s failure and negligence to the Prime Minister, who should table it on Friday’s cabinet meeting as an example of failed Minister in his Cabinet.

Either Najib give Liow an ultimatum to immediately resolve the deplorable healthcare crisis in Sabah or Najib should make an example of Liow by sacking him and appoint a new Health Minister for the country.

PM To Announce Administrative Reforms To Support New Economic Model

From Mikhail Raj Abdullah ', TEXTFONT, 'Verdana, Arial, Helvetica', TEXTSIZE, '1', WIDTH, 75)" )="" onmouseout="nd()">

From Mikhail Raj Abdullah ', TEXTFONT, 'Verdana, Arial, Helvetica', TEXTSIZE, '1', WIDTH, 75)" onmouseout="nd()"> HONG KONG, March 24 (Bernama) -- Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak will announce administrative reforms when he introduces the New Economic Model (NEM), next week, to ensure its success and effectiveness on the Malaysian economy and the people.

"The emphasis will be on the execution of the NEM in order to achieve the government's objective of transforming Malaysia into a high-income economy and to spur deveopment," he told Malaysian reporters here on Wednesday before returning to Kuala Lumpur after attending the Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference.

Najib, who is also Finance Minister, said: "Although the new economic model is good but if the implementation is not planned well, with the right people in place, then we will not be able to achieve the desired target."

When asked if the administrative reforms would involve both the International Trade and Industry and Finance ministeries, he said: "Let's wait and see next week".

On his visit to Hong Kong and his meeting with foreign fund managers at the Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference, Najib said it had attained the intended objective of "explaining the direction of the new government policy in bringing about a huge transformtion of the Malaysian economy".

Attorney General, The Superman of Malaysia?

Loyar Burok
By Lai Chee Hoe

This post is reproduced from here.

Considering the implications of the Attorney General’s wide discretionary powers and why even the humblest citizenry ought to be more vigilant towards any abuse of those powers.

Recently, a few of my clients who needed criminal law advice asked me a similar question.

Question: “If there is no clear evidence, why are the police still pressing charges?”

This question is conceptually incorrect as you may already know that the police has no authority to determine whether to press charges or otherwise. Telling them the police has no power to do so, does not really clear their doubts and I took the opportunity to explain to my clients that only the Attorney General (AG) can decide who, when and where to prosecute.

My client responded, “In that case, isn’t he the superman of Malaysia?”

Answer: “Well, that is quite subjective but if someone were to look into the context of the Federal Constitution, the answer is yes.”

So who is this AG and why is his office so powerful?

The AG is an individual appointed by the government of the day to carry out legal affairs of the government. His main responsibilities are:
(a) Chief legal adviser to the Government;
(b) Guardian of the rule of law; and
(c) Superintendence of the prosecuting departments.

Article 145 of the Federal Constitution provides amongst others:

- It shall be the duty of the Attorney General to advise the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or the Cabinet or any Minister upon such legal matters, and to perform such other duties of a legal character, as may from time to time be referred or assigned to him by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or the Cabinet, and to discharge the functions conferred on him by or under this Constitution or any other written law.

- The Attorney General shall have power, exercisable at his discretion, to institute, conduct or discontinue any proceedings for an offence, other than proceedings before a Syariah court, a native court or a court-martial.

There is an existing argument that the AG should be made accountable to Parliament and his office be granted access to the members of parliament from the opposition which I do not wish to dwell into at this moment.

What I wish to elaborate is the extensive powers of the AG affecting the lay man on the street.

To have a better understanding of Article 145(3) of the Federal Constitution, I have dissected this section into 3 parts: institute, conduct and discontinue.

Power to institute

The word “institute” in this context has been judicially examined in PP v Lim Shui Wang & Ors [1979] 1 MLJ 65 where Suffian Lord President observed that “the word institute” means “to set on foot, initiate, start,” and in Public Prosecutor v Datuk Harun Bin Haji Idris [1976] MLJ 116, the judge refers it to the “commencement of proceedings and prosecutions.”

For a lay person like you and me, it simply means that the AG has a discretionary power to decide whether to charge a person or otherwise. Conversely, the police do not have the power to determine whether to charge but were only limited to investigating duties.

In practice, it is then translated to this – after a complainant made a police report, his/her matter will be referred to an investigating officer (IO). An investigating paper (IP) will be opened and upon completing investigation, the IP will then be sent to the office of the AG. The Deputy Public Prosecutor who were delegated certain powers of the AG, upon examining the IP will decide whether to charge or otherwise.

To illustrate the discretionary power to institute proceedings, it is interesting to contrast the 2 high profile cases of Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Datuk Seri Dr. Chua Soi Lek. Notwithstanding that both of them have police report made against them for committing carnal intercourse against the order of nature, one is facing a charge in the High Court while the other is claiming the throne of MCA.

Both are investigated under a similar section under the Penal Code which states:

Any person who has sexual connection with another person by the introduction of the penis into the anus or mouth of the other person is said to commit carnal intercourse against the order of nature.

But both of them obviously do not share similar fate.

Power to conduct

Power to conduct may not be as controversial as the former but remains important as it gives the AG’s office the exclusive right to prosecute and conduct proceedings. The consequence of this ruling is to deprive the prosecuting officers of other government agencies to conduct prosecutions unless authorised in writing by the AG’s office.

Power to discontinue

The most obvious manifestation of this aspect of the AG’s powers would be the outright withdrawal of charges in cases pending before the courts. If you could recall, the most recent one was after the High Court acquitted a political analyst of abetting the murder of a Mongolian woman, prosecutors from the AG’s office decided not to appeal against the verdict. This has attracted much criticisms from the society but as far as the law is concerned, the AG’s office has not contravene any of the laws in Malaysia on the contrary has complete powers to not appeal against the decision of the High Court Judge.

Unease over the AG Chambers is a widely share sentiment among many Malaysians. The Rakyat yearns to see more reforms are carried out to curtail its wide discretionary powers. The powers although granted by the FC should not be exercised arbitrarily. Many have suggested that the AG should be made accountable to Parliament and to also consider in establishing a position similar to that in other Commonwealth countries where the power to review evidence and conduct the prosecution of offences is held by a director of public prosecution.

No matter what the reforms are, I believe that it is the tax-payers’ funds that ultimately pay for all criminal prosecutions and hence we should take personal interest in getting to know more about the AG’s powers and be vigilant towards the abuse, like how most of us are drawn in to the powers of superman, a man of steel who would only use his super powers to save the world, and nothing else.

'Save Bukit Gasing' residents show the way

Bukit Gasing residents campaigning against a property development project on a steep hill-slope are showing other Malaysians how to push for greater accountability from local government.

Save Bukit Gasing
Solidarity in the rain – File photo courtesy of Save Bukit Gasing blog

Their struggle shows that local residents need not remain helpless and disempowered when confronted with unsustainable development or environmentally risky projects by private developers. Their campaign to save the area, which began in 2005, is finally seeing some light: obstacles have been cleared for the residents to now mount a full-scale legal challenge in court.

This report from The Star:

PUTRAJAYA: Some 108 residents of Bukit Gasing can now proceed to challenge a development order for a hillslope project in the area at the High Court.

The Federal Court has refused to grant leave to the Kuala Lumpur City Hall and the project’s developer Gasing Meridian Sdn Bhd (GMSB) to appeal against the Court of Appeal’s decision against them.

On Nov 20, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal by the two parties against an earlier High Court decision which granted leave to the residents to seek a judicial review to quash the mayor’s development order.

Yesterday, Chief Justice Tun Zaki Tun Azmi, who sat together with Federal Court judges Justices James Foong and Md Raus Sharif, ruled that the full merits of the case should be heard first at the High Court.

The Bench also ordered KL City Hall and GMSB to pay RM20,000 in costs to each of the residents.

R. Sivarasa, who acted for the residents, said issues to be heard would be whether residents in Kuala Lumpur had the right to be heard when a development project took place near their houses.

“This case is of public importance and raises important questions of planning policies of City Hall,” he said when contacted yesterday.

Sivarasa said the residents contended that they had the right to be heard under the Town and Country Planning Act 1976 which was now in force in Kuala Lumpur.

“The residents claimed that the City Hall’s development is violating the existing Federal guidelines on hillslope development which disallow housing development on slopes of more than 25 degrees,” he added.

Then Kuala Lumpur mayor Ruslin Hassan had issued an order dated Oct 2, 2007 to GMSB allowing the developer to carry out earthworks and subdivisions in the area.

In their application for judicial review filed on January 2008, the residents named City Hall and GMSB as defendants.

The residents claimed that the mayor had failed to take into account that they had a right under common law to be given due notice, and be given a chance to voice their opinions in the decision-making process of planning.

In a statement last year, GMSB reiterated that all approvals, including the development order, hoarding permit and earthworks permit, had been obtained and that the project had been reviewed by the sensitivity committee of the Federal Territories Ministry, which had representatives of 13 agencies.

KJ: GST won't burden consumers

Thiagu entah hilang kemana

Seorang pemuda bernama Thiagu a/l Krishnan hilang sejak 08 Mac 2010 di Kuala Lumpur.

Beliau telah pergi ke Kuala Lumput untuk mengambil sijil kelulusan beliau. Semenjak hari tersebut, tidak ada sebarang khabar mengenainya.

Keluarga Thiagu risau akan keselamatannya. Menurut ibu Thiagu, Puan Sarasa, pihak polis tidak begitu serius untuk menjejak anaknya yang hilang walaupun laporan polis sudah dilakukan.

Video oleh GS Shan, Wartawan Masyarakat


1Malaysia, One Israel: Anwar to explain next Tuesday