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Friday, February 17, 2012

I will quit Kita if I am outvoted, says Zaid

Ku Li: Corruption may see BN’s downfall

Razaleigh pointed that no 'public relations exercises' can mask corruption and 'dysfunctional democracy'.

KUALA LUMPUR: Respected Umno veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah today said no government rife with corruption can survive public anger and warned Putrajaya that it may suffer the same fate as ousted regimes in the Arab Spring.

Speaking at the Royal Selangor Club luncheon talk earlier today, the Kelantan prince spoke of Malaysia’s “dysfunctional” political economy, which he blamed on money politics as a result of the of the policies under the tenure of former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Malaysia under Mahathir is often characterised by neo-liberal policies which Razaleigh said kickstarted the politics-business relations and resulted in crony capitalism.

“As a consequence of economic policies in the past, inequalities have also widened. Today, Malaysians suffer from a very wide inequality… and the widening inequality will go into a deeper crisis of confidence among the people.

“No democratic system, no institution as envisaged by our Federal Constitution, can survive a political economy of this nature.

“There is too much money in politics and it has become inseparable from power and the electoral process,” he said.

Razaleigh, the Gua Musang MP, often described as “the country’s last statesman”, has been vociferous in his criticism against the Najib administration and his own party Umno.

He had helped set up Angkatan Amanah Merdeka (Amanah), an NGO aimed at rekindling the spirit of the Federal Constitution.

But observers say he is using it as a platform to put pressure on the ruling coalition to clean up and buck up.

Lesson from the Arab Spring

His deputy in Amanah, a former minister and a senior Umno member, Sheikh Kadir Fadzil, had also been vocal against the Najib government.

He claimed leaders from the ruling party practised widespread money politics to win votes and posts in party elections.

International observers and economists say corruption remains the biggest problem in Malaysia, denting the country’s economic edge and repelling investments.

Foreign direct investments to Malaysia have dropped significantly as investors now opt for its neighbours.

Razaleigh said that no “public relations exercises” can mask corruption and “dysfunctional democracy”, citing the bloody Arab Spring that saw voters ousting governments that had ruled for decades.

“The lesson we have to learn from the Arab Spring is that a dysfunctional democracy, however well dressed by public relations exercises or subsequently by the media, cannot withstand the realities… of the abuse of power and wanton accumulation of wealth.

“That is the most important message, I think, that the Arab Spring has conveyed and we must take cognizance of it,” he said

Thailand seeks handover of Iranian bomb suspect

The Iranian man fled to Malaysia after the bomb blasts in Bangkok.

BANGKOK: Thailand is seeking the extradition of an Iranian suspected in an alleged bomb plot against Israeli diplomats in Bangkok following his arrest in Malaysia, police said today.

“The court approved his arrest warrant so the National Police Office will refer the case to the Attorney-General’s Office to coordinate for his extradition,” national police chief Phrewphan Damapong told reporters.

“We will expedite the process.”
Malaysian police announced yesterday that the unnamed Iranian had been detained in Kuala Lumpur earlier the same day.

He was among three suspects in the bombings that rattled Bangkok on Tuesday and have piled pressure on Tehran amid accusations of a terror campaign against the Jewish state.

On Monday, bombers targeted Israeli embassy staff in India and Georgia before escaping.

In Bangkok, two Iranians were detained over three blasts that occurred on Tuesday. They were charged with causing an illegal explosion and other offences, Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said.

One of the men – named as 28-year-old Saeid Morati – had his legs blown off as he hurled an explosive device at Thai police while fleeing an apparently unintended blast at a house in the Thai capital, officials said.

The other suspect was detained trying to board a flight out of the country.

Meanwhile, Malaysia confirmed that an Iranian man was arrested yesterday over the failed bomb attack in Bangkok.

According to a Bernama report today, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the 31-year-old man was held at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal as he was about to leave for Iran after flying in from Thailand the previous night.

The National Intelligence Agency of Thailand suspects that he was involved with two others caught in Bangkok in relation to the attempted bomb attack, he said in a statement.

Hishammuddin also said Malaysia is most serious and committed in stamping out terrorist threats and subversive activities which undermine peace and security.

He said the authorities would not allow Malaysia to be used as a location, base or transit by terrorists or individuals wanted in any country.

Branch leaders must play their role, says MIC man

Madhu also wants all MIC leaders at every level to stop speculating on which seat the president would contest.

PETALING JAYA: All MIC branch chairmen nationwide must consolidate and strengthen the largest Indian based political party in the country ahead of the general election, party central working committee member Madhu Marimuthu said today.

“It is not the time to rock the boat, we are going to face a do or die elections where the relevance and survival of MIC will be tested…as grassroots leaders, it is time for us to resolve community issues,” he said.

He said this in reaction to a recent statement by the Taman Mujur MIC branch chairman VT Rajen who called on MIC president G Palanivel to stay clear of existing parliament seats held by MIC representatives.

The branch chairman had also issued an ultimatum to Palanivel, saying that if the MIC president intended to contest any of the seats won by the MIC at the 2008 general election, he would launch “Gerakan Anti Palanivel”.

MIC only won three parliamentary seats at the 2008 general election namely in Cameron Highlands, Tapah and Segamat. The party won the Hulu Selangor parliamentary seat in the subsequent by-election.

Cameron Highlands and Tapah are being held by SK Devamany and M Saravanan respectively. Both are party vice-presidents. The Segamat seat in Johor is being held by Dr S Subramaniam, the party deputy president and Human Resources Minister.

“The focus on the parliamentary seats seems to be moving by constituency by week, first Cameron Highlands, then Sungai Siput, what’s next?” asked Madhu.

Madhu also wanted all MIC leaders at every level to stop speculating on which seat the president would contest but stay unite to support the party’s chosen candidates as the MIC fate lies on the outcome of the next general election.

“MIC must field the best candidate at each constituency. The MIC leadership should be allowed to make the right choice at the right time to be endorsed by BN leadership,” he added.

On a related matter, Madhu also took a swipe at Gadong Kecil branch chairman M Karunanidhi for asking Palanivel to resign as the party’s Perak state chairman.

“What is wrong in changing state leadership as it is the president’s prerogative. Besides it is no secret that Karunanidhi is closely linked with a veteran state leader. It is so obvious and he is confusing the matter further by asking the appointment of Dr Subramaniam as the state chief,’ he added.

Pakatan should share power with ‘third force’

Some groups calling themselves the third force are reminding Pakatan that they were the instrumental force in the last general election.

GEORGE TOWN: It’s high time Pakatan Rakyat learned to share power with Hindraf and other civil rights movements and social activists who refer to themselves as the “third force”.

Hindraf Makkal Sakti said that Pakatan should learn to share seats and power with the independent third force if it wants to triumph in the next general election.

Its national coordinator W Sambulingam said Pakatan must realise that it would not have enjoyed the last electoral successes without the effective campaigning and decisive help of the third force.

“Thus, Pakatan should be willing to cooperate and share power with the third force which truly represents the people,” he told FMT.

He called on Pakatan to do some soul-searching to recognise the contributions and sacrifices made by the third force for the coalition success in the last polls.

“Pakatan cannot do it alone. It must share the power with the third force to vote out Umno and company,” said Sambulingam.

Next week, Hindraf will organise a Hindraf- ABU forum in Buntong, Ipoh, to reach out to the Indian electorate and disseminate the ultimate message “Umno Must Go.”

This was the main reason behind Hindraf choosing Buntong, a Tamil-speaking Hindu heartland in Ipoh, as the next venue for the newly formed Hindraf-ABU team.

Sambulingam, N Ganesan, PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu, NGO Solidariti Anak-Anak Muda Malaysia leader Badrul Hisham Shaharin, or better known as Chegu Bard, ABU coordinator Haris Ibrahim will be among the main speakers at the forum.

Sambulingam urged the police to provide better protection to the forum and the crowd and stop rowdy mobs from gate-crashing.

On Jan 21, a rowdy mob, believed to sponsored by a top political party, gate-crashed and attacked those attending a Hindraf-ABU forum in Klang, causing serious injury to at least one person.

Prof Dr Chandra Muzaffar responds to Anwar Ibrahim

Malaysia's Latest Proton Saga

The Doc goes for a ride in his favorite car
Questions of insider trading in national car shares remain unanswered a month after sale to a Mahathir crony
For nearly three decades, Malaysia’s national car project, Proton, has suffered through endless troubles, nearing its demise several times only to be propped up again and again by the government.

For years, the government sought foreign buyers to come in and save the project, Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional Bhd. The carmaker has cost the country’s consumers billions in lost opportunity costs from the steep tariffs levied against other carmakers in addition to the losses the company made on its own, estimated at US$2-3 billion, plus the cost of building its factories. The preferential tariffs haven’t stopped consumers from turning to other makes anyway.

In January, DRB-Hicom Bhd, controlled by billionaire Syed Mokhtar al-Bukhary, a longtime Mahathir friend and United Malays National Organization crony, agreed to take the ailing carmaker off the hands of Khazanah Nasional Bhd., the state-owned investment fund which owned 42.7 percent of the shares after taking the company over during an earlier period of distress. The subsequent events have raised many questions of insider trading, none of which have ever been addressed either by Proton, Hicom or Bursa Malaysia, the country’s stock exchange.

In the two months prior to the announcement of the sale, Proton’s shares went on a wild ride, beginning on Nov. 14, when the shares traded thinly, at only about 3,000 per day at a price of around RM2.70 (US88 cents)

According to official announcements by Bursa Malaysia, the Kuala Lumpur main board, the shares took off on Nov. 15, rising to RM3.21 on volume of 4.3 million shares traded. Over the next 12 days, daily volumes averaged 4.4 million shares. By Dec. 5, volumes increased to 20 million shares per day – 60 times the November average - with the price rocketing up by nearly 25 percent over the period to RM4.50 per share.

Proton’s Wild Ride
It wasn’t until Dec. 5, three weeks after the shares began to gyrate that Bursa Malaysia issued an Unusual Market Activity enquiry. On the next day, Proton announced: “"The Board of Directors of Proton wish to clarify that after making due enquiry with the Board of Directors and major shareholders, the company is not aware of any reason for the unusual market activity in the shares of the company recently, and further, that there is no material corporate development not previously disclosed."

Certainl not!  On Jan. 17, DRB-Hicom announced it would buy Khazanah’s stake in the carmaker for RM1.291 billion, the equivalent of RM5.50 per share. That meant that those smart enough – or informed enough -- to buy the Proton shares in November at RM2.70 had effectively doubled their money in two months.

Insider trading?
“The above chain of events makes a bad overall impression. It looks very much that certain parties were privy to inside information,” wrote M A Wind, who blogs for Asia Sentinel. “Why was Bursa Malaysia so late with its Unusual Market Activity query? The share price of Proton had increased already over three consecutive weeks by a whopping 70 percent while daily turnover had risen 20-fold when it finally took action.”

The announcement on December 6, 2011 by Proton that neither it nor Khazanah Nasional were aware of any unusual activity looks puzzling to say the least. The market was rife with rumor, but neither Proton nor Khazanah Nasional said they were aware of any activity.

More suspiciously, the share price more or less stratified at RM 5.50 several days before the final announcement on January 16, 2011 – the DRB-Hicom offer price, which seems to suggest that unknown parties might have known what it would be.

Also, both Proton and DRB-Hicom appeared remarkably passive in issuing announcements, both only responding to queries from Bursa Malaysia (most notably on Dec. 6, 8 and 13, 2011 and Jan. 9, 2012), not initiating the announcements themselves although the stock exchange’s website says: "We place significant emphasis on timeliness, adequacy and accuracy of disclosure to enable investors to make informed investment decisions."

”Let’s be clear,” said a Kuala Lumpur-based investment banker. “All of Malaysia is one big insider-trading casino. There aren’t any other kind of trades.”

The banker declined to speculate on who made the killing. However, he said the clues point to top political figures. The car company was government-owned, the new ownership is close to top United Malays National Organization figures.

One of the victims of the exercise appears to be Malaysia workers -- the Employee Provident Fund, which provides retirement benefits for 13 million private and public sector employees of about 485,000 institutions and companies in the country. The EPF acquired an additional 830,000 shares in 2007 in one of many bids to rescue the company, making Malaysia’s taxpayers owners of the company whether they wanted to be or not.

The EPF, presumably unassuming, sold off some 15 million shares for a price well below the mandatory general office price, which is estimated to have cost the fund roughly RM20 million to RM30 million on the trades.

The next question is why Mokhtar wanted to take over the car project, initiated in the early1980s by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad against the advice of his advisors, all of his critics and common sense. It has been unable to achieve economies of scale that would allow it to survive and flourish. Although local media reported that the financier was considering a possible tie-up with Volkswagen AG of Germany, as long ago as 2004 – eight years ago – it had been vainly seeking buyers that included Volkswagen, the American giant General Motors and PSA Peugeot-Citroen of France. None of the bids has ever worked out.

However, Proton Holdings Bhd registered a first-half 2010-2011 pre-tax profit of RM186 million in the first half of its 2010/11 financial year, built on improved market sentiment and a 13 percent increase in vehicle sales. From an earnings point of view, the company is described by analysts nonetheless as “quite hopeless. But the company holds some valuable assets, including land on which its old factory is sited in Petaling Jaya, and the UK-based Lotus manufacturer or sports and racing cars. The Net Asset Value is RM9.81, the company has RM1.3 billion in the bank and almost no debt.

“If in 3 months time Lotus is sold for a huge price, then we know why,” said an analyst. “ Maybe Syed Mokhtar knows already how to unlock the value.

Selling off the assets, however, would probably infuriate Mahathir, something the tycoon probably would not want to do for fear of retaliation by the still-powerful former premier. The 86-year-old Mahathir is said to be readying a return as a special advisor. On Feb. 6, he wrote an enthusiastic entry in his blog, Che Det, saying he had test driven a new model and found it to be an excellent car.

Proton was the focal point of Mahathir’s dream to turn Malaysia into an industrial powerhouse built on the country’s considerable natural wealth of rubber, palm oil and crude. The car was one of a flock of mega-projects that Mahathir forced onto Malaysia in the 1980s and 1990s, creating steel mills, the

US$475 million Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, a US$5.5 billion Putrajaya administrative capital, the US$2.4 billion Kuala Lumpur International Airport, the US$15 billion Multi-Media Super Corridor which was supposed to eclipse Silicon Valley. The Bakun Dam in Sarawak was to generate enormous amounts of electrical power to be piped through 1,500 kilometers of underwater cables to West Malaysia. A vast network of highways was flung across the country.

Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp persuaded Mahathir to retool an even-then ageing Lancer in 1985 and put an Islamic star and shield on the hood to create the first Proton Saga. Mitsubishi, however, quit in 2004 and sold its 16 percent stake back to Proton Holdings Bhd, the parent holding company.

After Mitsubishi pulled out, the absence of newer models and the inability to find a reliable and technically sound foreign partner meant that sales began to decline. Although Proton had more than 60 percent of the market in 2002, that fell to 30 percent by 2006. It has hovered around 30 percent ever since, despite the preferential government treatment. A 2007 Wall Street Journal-Asia report suggests that Proton burned up RM300-500 million ringgit annually.

14 GROs Rounded Up In Anti-Vice Operation

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 16 (Bernama) -- Police detained 14 guest relations oficers (GROs) and two local men during raids at three massage parlours at Jalan Radin Anum, Sri Petaling here starting at 9pm Thursday.

Bukit Aman Secret Societies, Gaming and Anti-Vice Unit chief ASP Shahrul Nizam Jaafar said that 13 of the women were from China and the other from Indonesia. They were aged between 21 and 35.

"Initial investigations revealed that six of the women had abused student passes, six of them did not possess work permits and the others had abused their social visit passes," he told reporters here.

He said two of the premises did not have licences and the other had misused its acupuncture licence.

"This centres offered massage services for RM80 during the first 45 minutes and the price went up to tailor customers need," he said.

However, he said no condoms were found at the parlours during the raids carried out by five officers and eight members of the unit.