Having lived here for almost two years, I can safely say Singapore is not only rich but well managed.

Despite widespread construction, its roads remain clean, green, and remarkably pothole-free. Better yet, crime is negligible, and the streets are safe at any hour.

Its public housing projects – where over 60 per cent of people reside – are attractive, landscaped, and free from the incipient grot that characterise most public housing in Malaysia or, the West.

And things work. The buses and trains run on time. And water disruptions of the frequency and magnitude witnessed in the Klang Valley the last two years, were last felt by Singaporeans in the 1960s!

Indeed, heads would have rolled had the same thing happened here in Singapore. But we continue to accept inept management because we have become inured to mediocrity. Simply put, we’re accustomed to it.

Why am I going on like this?

Well, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts, Vietnam’s GDP in 2020 was estimated to have reached US$340.6 billion, exceeding that of Singapore with US$337.5 billion and Malaysia with US$336.3 billion.

This makes Malaysia the sixth largest economy among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ahead only of Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Brunei.

How the mighty have fallen!

In the 60s, Malaysia was the largest economy in the region but by the 90s, I became used to describing the country as “Southeast Asia’s second largest economy” after Indonesia.

And what about The Philippines, perennially the region’s “sick man?” Not any more, it seems, glass houses and all that.

In fact, the IMF estimated The Philippines’ GDP to have reached US$367.4 billion, while Thailand will remain way ahead with its US$509.2 billion GDP.

The elephant in the room is undoubtedly Indonesia with the IMF predicting that it became a US$1,088.8 billion economy in 2020.

What are we to make of these trends?

The only conclusion we can reach about Malaysia is that we seem to have been in “decline mode” for some time. The pandemic merely served to hasten the process.

How else are we to explain our gradually declining economic status in the region?

To what do we ascribe the continuing deterioration of our currency, the ringgit, and the steady build-up of our national debt?

Why is there a worrying pull-out of foreign investment from Malaysia to other places like Indonesia, Singapore or Vietnam?

These are the facts and they are irrefutable. If we are to connect the dots, we have to conclude that out policy makers, our leaders, have failed us, and are continuing to do so. We simply seem to be doing something wrong.

Penalising successful companies by extra taxes simply results in seriously escalating tax avoidance methodology.

And taxing those who bring money back from abroad will inevitably result in them creating offshore accounts.

Neither is anything gained from nit-picking matters of morality, drinking, gambling, et absurdum. It irritates everyone including investors who might wonder why the same care and concern isn’t directed at, say, corruption or public waste and profligacy?

What’s needed are bold measures. Scrap fuel subsidies and impose a tax on fuel instead. That will be green and bring in money in a hurry!

The world – both governments and companies – is marching to a different drum nowadays. And future outcomes will be judged against how they stack up against environmental, social and governance yardsticks, the so-called ESG standards. Dyson’s recent booting out of a Malaysian supplier over alleged labour issues is a case in point.

We will have to measure up or risk abdicating the future.



Utility, thought Dr M, is when you barely have enough; luxury is when you have enough; opulence is when you have more than enough; and ridiculous is when you are heaped with more, despite already racking up much more than enough.

That appeared to explain the continuing good fortune of Fearless Leader. The former premier was convicted of Very Grand Theft for which the Malaysian government now appeared to want to reward him.

To paraphrase the Bard, the slings and arrows of Fearless’ continuing good fortune were, verily, outrageous.

Dr M was in Parliament to discuss this very matter and he thought it was good to be back. Actually, most people knew, at 96, it was good to be anywhere.

Life had handed the physician lemons and he thought it best to squirt them in someone’s eye. That’s what he did in Parliament last week, lambasting the government for its incredible generosity towards a man accused of looting more than RM18 billion from the country he was elected to lead.

Think about that for a minute! The sum – US$4.5 billion – is the amount the US Justice Department estimates was siphoned off from 1MDB. It’s mind-boggling, the sort of thing Bernie Madoff might have contemplated if he were on steroids; a heist that a Great Train Robber might regard with awe.

Dr M was incensed that Fearless had requested a “privilege” from the government in the form of a 2.8-acre residential property worth RM100 million in one of Kuala Lumpur’s swankiest neighbourhoods.

The government had, apparently, agreed, which was what had infuriated the old man.

It was Charlie Brown who got it right, “Somehow I never quite know what’s going on,” he reflected sadly in a strip I read years ago.

That’s what many of us want to know. Here we have a convicted person, the First Felon if you like, going around with security and a motorcycle escort, campaigning in an election to loud cheers, being allowed to travel overseas.

And now he’s asked for a RM100 million house as an “entitlement” and no one thinks it’s strange, weird, or, even remotely, grotesque?

Only a 96-year-old man and the rest of the opposition?

Even the self-confessed holier-than-thou types, the Islamic Party of Malaysia, or Pas, normally so quick to judge or condemn, has been strangely reticent on this subject. Indeed, they haven’t uttered a peep on the matter.

It’s never worried about other people’s money: it’s other people’s fun that keeps them up nights. Because, as sure as night follows day, it’s probably immoral.

I suppose that’s life. The average person strives, he tries to do what’s right, he stays on the right track and still gets hit by a train. And he answers like Norm in Cheers when Coach asks: “How’s the world treating you?”

Norm: “Like a baby treats a diaper.”

This is a world where John Lennon gets murdered, the same world that sees new Barry Manilow releasers each year.

Fearless knew the secret of life. The trick to getting ahead was to get a good lawyer, good book be damned.



How come when you’re talking to God, it’s called praying but when God’s talking to you, it’s schizophrenia. – Complaint of the anti-vaxxer.

We received our Pfizer booster shots two weeks ago. Most people awaiting vaccination at the community centre near our apartment in Singapore were young, probably taking their first doses but there were at least three who were clearly older than us.

They looked scared and we realised they had to be those who’d delayed their shots for whatever reason. The pressure probably got too much for them.

Like Malaysia, there is no law in Singapore that compels vaccination. But the city-state has made it very difficult for non-vaxxers to get by.

They can’t get into malls, restaurants cinemas, parks, even hawker centres – where most people go when they eat out.

On Thursday, Singapore lowered the boom again. Previously, people admitted to hospital for Covid-19 were treated free of charge. Now, non-vaxxers could face charges of up to S$25,000 for full treatment until discharge.

In matters of vaccination, I submit that he who hesitates is a damn fool who will get sick and worse.

Here, we have good news and bad news.
First, the good news. Global studies have indicated that only a very small proportion of anti-vaxxers are the rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth conspiracy theorists who believe that either Bill Gates, George Soros or Elvis Presley, or a combination of all three thereof, is working with Big Pharma to force vaccines into the bloodstreams of Everyman to achieve Global Dominance.

One suspects that their numbers might be higher in the United State where reason, apparently, counts for not much.

There’s very little that can be done for such folk except Prozac and a map to the nearest asylum.

Even so, most hesitaters are just that, people who procrastinate out of ignorance, habit, anxiety or, simply because of stuff they’ve read on the Internet. Through measures like those in Malaysia or Singapore, these people can generally be steered to safety.

Even so, it will take its time coming, for their numbers are legion. They range from 10-20% in the United Kingdom through to 50% in France and, most surprisingly to me at least, 60% in Japan. This is according to the BBC.

There aren’t any comparable numbers for the US but one suspects they might be higher.

Because of its computerised documentation, Singapore knows exactly how many people living on the island are unvaccinated, but it isn’t saying. It’s less clear in Malaysia. Nonetheless, their numbers are still significant. Example: it was revealed recently that 27,000 civil servants remained unvaccinated. This is unacceptable as they constitute a danger to themselves, their families, and the public at large.

The pandemic’s not going away anytime soon and that’s rapidly getting to be a problem. In Malaysia, the infectivity rate has begun reversing and has now gone back to 1. And the UK’s hospitals are now so crowded that you can only get in by accident.

I think it is time to concede that it is no longer tenable to frame the notion of vaccination as a matter of “personal choice.”

When that choice encroaches into the realm of “public health”, it cannot and will not hold.

Indeed, it should never hold.



If the authorities haven’t realised it by now, here’s the newsflash: there’s something wrong about our justice system where white collar crooks are concerned.

And I’m not talking about Fearless or Wannabe Leader, that dynamic duo of irredeemably impeachable integrity.

Remember Transmile?

In the early 2000s, it was all the rage, the darling of the equity market. Its prices kept defying gravity and institutional funds queued up to get a slice of the firm. It had gilt-edged shareholders, too, including the country’s richest man, Robert Kuok and Pos Malaysia.

But Kuok was a passive investor with no part in the firm’s management. And like America’s Enron, it turned out that Transmile’s success was fraudulent and mired in financial misstatements.

In 2007, the stock crashed when its revenue overstatements became clear. A special audit concluded that the 2005 and 2006 financial years were also overstated.

Transmile suffered losses of RM126.3 million (reported profit RM157.5 million) in 2006. In 2005, it chalked up losses of RM369.6 million instead of the RM84.4 million profit it declared.

Investors lost millions. So did Mr Kuok and the government. And employees lost sleep, self-respect and ultimately their jobs when the chartered air-freight operator was delisted in 2011.

In 2007, the Securities Commission charged the firm’s founder and CEO Gan Boon Aun for misrepresenting Transmile’s figures. Last year, he was found guilty by the Sessions Court and sentence to a day’s jail and a RM2.5 million fine.

Now, there’s deterrence for you!

Here’s how Gan’s 2007 trial went, and note that the Sessions Court is but the first prong in a four-pronged court process that stretches to the Federal Court. He was called to enter his defence in 2011 but his defence only commenced seven years later, in 2018.

Why, you will ask?

Well, Gan, now newly-anointed legal eagle, decided to mount a constitutional challenge of the law under which he was charged. Having exhausted that, it was back to the drawing board in 2018 and, finally, conviction in 2020.

His appeal against his conviction was fixed for a year later, namely now.

Not surprisingly, Gan’s decided that the way to go was to never darken the doorsteps of the Malaysian authorities anymore and so appears to have skipped town.

Truly, he was reading from the Gospel of Felonious (aka Jho Low), the less-than trusty sidekick of Fearless who, having judiciously weighed the balance of probabilities in his case, concluded that it was better to be safe than sorry.

It was better to claim innocence in the luxurious confines of Macao than sweating it out in Kuala Lumpur. Although he could now see the merits of Fearless’ strategy of paying handsome legal fees to permanently stay in trials while recouping political mileage.

An arrest warrant has since been issued against Gan but as Felonious might say “warrant, schmarrant!”

Where was Gan? Well, he still has a perfectly valid Malaysian passport so we can safely conclude that he is neither in North Korea nor Israel. Apart from that, your guess is as good as the Securities Commission’s.

It took 14 years for Gan to lose the first round of his case. So it might be no exaggeration to conclude that, with sufficient funds for a stout defence, he might have stayed out till hell froze over. But, much to the chagrin of the legal profession, he chose to skip town.

Still, when it came to the “moral misconduct” of a former deputy premier, the wheels of justice moved with uncharacteristic speed.

Miracles do occur, it seems.




The recent behaviour of the Malaysian legal authorities is reminiscent of the time when Nikita Khrushchev banged his shoe on the desk at the United Nations after a speech by US President Dwight Eisenhower. It prompted British premier Harold Macmillan to remark mildly: “Perhaps we could have a translation, I could not quite follow.”

Macmillan was feigning ignorance through irony. But you didn’t have to be a genius to know that many Malaysians are annoyed that a former premier found guilty of 1) dodging taxes of over RM1 billion, and,
2) monumental larceny that’s off the charts is, nevertheless, allowed to travel to Singapore to be with his daughter for her second child.

Lesser mortals including 1) people owing, say, RM100 to the Inland Revenue Board or, 2) graduates still owing student loans have as much chance of travelling abroad as ordinary Russians did during Khrushchev’s tenure.

It was the Court of Appeal that returned Fearless Leader’s passport, previously impounded not just by the courts but the anti-corruption agency and the IRB. Even so, the court may have been persuaded because the prosecution didn’t object. Instead, the Attorney-General’s men preferred the safely cautious route and “left it to the court.”

Fearless upped the ante Thursday, asking the court to allow a delay to his travel plans because he’d been “entrusted” by Wannabe Leader to manage Malacca’s state elections next month. Umno’s current President Wannabe is also being tried for corruption.

Like Fearless, he’d been allowed to go abroad, only this time it’s to Germany for necessary medical treatment. And since both men – birds of a feather, we are reliably told – knew that only the credible Fearless could manage Malacca, it had to be just so.

It does speak volumes about Malaysian politics when the guy adjudged to be the most capable of winning an election for a political party is also the guy standing trial for the Heist of the Century.

Isn’t that Trump Territory?

It’s going to take over a month to manage the elections. Fearless was going to Singapore to be on hand, ostensibly, for the birth of his daughter’s second child.

Like she’s going to postpone child-birth now?

It took your breath away. Here were Fearless and Wannabe, both VIPs facing crimes of spectacular magnitude and nobody cared! The fact was that their trials kept being repeatedly postponed: for Parliament, for the Sabah elections, overseas travel, medical treatment abroad and, now, the Malacca elections.

What happened to justice? I thought it not only had to be done but needed to be seen to be done.

We seem to be living in an upside-down, Alice-in-Wonderland world. We appear to be peering through a looking glass, into a John Lennon song where “your insides are out and your outsides are in,” where nobody gives a damn.

Because no one seems to think it strange, abnormal or outrageous. Not the lawyers nor the judges, not the authorities and, especially, not the politicians.

It would be a mistake to think so, however. Going by their press, other countries are beginning to lump us among The Basket Cases. And, going by the chatter out there, a great many Malaysians are asking hard questions.



Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former. – Albert Einstein

A recent report “praising” a policeman for diverting traffic to allow a man to pray in the middle of a busy highway appalled me.

We respect faith but doubt is what gets you an education. I mean, the zealot should have been arrested, and preferably committed, by the “kind” policemen. It’s all very well to wear your religion on your sleeve but not at the expense of public safety.

It brings up a topic that Malaysians seem to have an over-achiever’s share of – stupidity.

The cartoonist Scott Adams is the creator of the always-excellent Dilbert. He’s also credited with an observation especially true of places as opposite as the United States or Malaysia, namely: “You can never underestimate the stupidity of the general public.”

Take Christine O’ Donell, once a Republican member of the House of Representatives and now a trusted Fox News talking head. She said the following before a rapt audience of like-minded conspiracy theorists. “American scientific companies are cross-breeding animals with humans and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains.”

Even Ibrahim Ali, never a pushover in the IQ stakes, might have drawn the line on that one. Then again, he’s also the fellow who bragged: “If Donald Trump can become President, then I could also be Prime Minister,”

Which, if you really think about it, is true. Stranger things have happened.

Like O’Donnell, Ibrahim has also won elections. Mr Adams might claim his observation is more than justified,

It was John Stuart Mill who said “it wasn’t true” that all conservatives were stupid although “it was true” that stupid people were conservative.

Take the late Rush Limbaugh, one of America’s most listened-to talk show hosts and so conservative he veered to the right of Josef Goebbels. Here’s a sampler of his more outrageous assertions:
• “The only way to reduce the number of nuclear weapons is to use them.”

• “Feminism was established to allow unattractive women access to mainstream society.”

• “There are more acres of forest land now in the US than when Columbus discovered the continent in 1492.”

Limbaugh was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honour by Donald Trump several months before he passed away.

Is there a moral to that?

“One man alone can be dumb, but for sheer bona fide stupidity there ain’t nothing can beat teamwork,” wrote the American author and essayist, Edward Abbey. He was referring to people who dismissed climate change as a conspiracy dreamed up by the left and science.

Not many in Malaysia dispute climate change but the Islamic Party of Malaysia, or Pas, knows all about “teamwork.” Indeed, the party has a heroic number of the breed. I mean, you can set your clock by the number of times one, or the other of its faithful, comes up with the most outlandish statement.

The latest is from a Pas Senator, an Apandi, who thinks he’s no slouch in the social science department.

He’s linked a rising teen suicide rate to a fondness for watching Korean dramas. As if to buttress his hypothesis, Apandi trotted out an observation that sent social scientists scrambling for new reference material. “All Korean dramas have suicide scenes.”

You can see why his fellow Senators think he’s about as sharp as a bowling ball.



“If life were fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead.” – Talk show host, Johnny Carson

There’s a furore going on about non-Malay freight forwarding firms having to sell 51% of their equity to Malays.

It’s muted now because the government’s kicked it down the road – towards the end of next year – but, make no mistake, the ferment’s there and there’s reason for it. Do you think any Malaysian Chinese freight forwarder would happily relinquish control of a business he’s built up over a lifetime?

Even the government probably knows it’s not cricket. And it’s not. It’s the New Economic Policy, and although it’s been dolled up through two renovations – the National Development Policy in 1991 and the National Vision Policy in 2001 – it’s still very much the same old horse.

Indeed, Putrajaya didn’t even bother renaming the policy in its latest 5-year plan because, let’s face it, it’s here to stay.

The policy’s 50 years old now but it appears no nearer maturity than when it was birthed in 1971. That’s what happens when its most important prong – according to policy makers – has the grandiose aim of “restructuring” Malaysian society so that “no race can be identified with a specific economic function.” Methinks any government could compel many things under such sweeping ambition.

Unfortunately, no one remembers the policy’s second prong – the elimination of poverty, irrespective of race. And they seem to want to forget the policy’s overarching aim – national unity.

There’s a bucket of irony here. I’d submit that the policy’s implementation has been the single largest hindrance to national unity than anything else Malaysians have had to put up with.

When it was first mooted, the policy’s planners took pains to emphasise that its distributive element would always take place in a growing economy or, as they liked to say, “so long as the cake is growing.” And yet, the latest 51% bid for the freight forwarding cake was hatched during a pandemic!

The late Sanusi Junid, famously the “hatchet man” to a Dr Mahathir-run political machine, once told me it was fair because it was never about “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” In that equation, however, you could see how such a policy might always have the support of Paul.

The policy’s litmus test, its Holy Grail if you like, was for the Bumiputera to achieve a 30% share of national wealth. How the latter parameter is defined is mystifying to say the least but, over five decades, it’s now become clear that it will never be achieved. More pertinently, it was never meant to be achieved.

It was never meant to be achieved because that would mean the end of the policy. That’s anathema for Umno and the Malay right because the policy goes to the heart of Malay political dominance.

Abdullah Ahmad, another deceased Dr Mahathir confidant, spelt it out in an infamous 1986 speech he delivered in Singapore. The NEP, he declared, was “…for the protection, preservation and perpetuation” of Malay dominance.

Given that they constitute a majority, most non-Malays don’t quibble about a Malay-dominated government. But what, I ask, about Anwar Ibrahim’s excellent suggestion of a needs-based policy to replace the current one?

One doubts such a suggestion will fly. When it does not favour the Malay elite, nothing flies.

Sucker, watching a card game: “Is this a game of chance?”

W C Fields: “Not the way I play it, no.”



I suspect Malaysian voters might be collectively suffering electile dysfunction – an inability to become aroused over any of our choices for prime minister.

Our current incumbent has all the charisma of a melancholy sponge, a ranking only slightly above that achieved by his dour predecessor. Meanwhile, the most energetic contender of all promises to be as old as Methuselah by the time he assumes office.

That might be the reason why Fearless Leader, a jaunty brigand much beloved by Patek Philippe, may be plotting his Big Comeback.

Actually, Fearless had never been away. Despite having been convicted of corruption and abuse of power by Malaysia’s High Court, Fearless remains free on bail and relentlessly continues to advise, chastise, browbeat, and taunt the government without a care in the world, behaving as if he’d never left the political stage in the first place.

And that’s the rub. He intends to remain and, preferably, to stay.

In a breakfast meeting with several reporters last week, Fearless blithely revealed that he intended to defend his parliamentary seat of Pekan in the next general election.

Does he know something the rest of us don’t?

The Malaysian Constitution expressly forbids a convicted person from contesting an election. It also forbids a tax dodger from doing the same. Fearless had struck out on both counts, so what was he talking about?

From across the seas, his less-than-trusty sidekick, the flabby Felonious aka Jho the Low, felt the wellsprings of hope stir anew in his bosom.

He’d begun to feel reassured last month, first after Umno, a party after his ow heart, had retaken control of the federal government and, second, when transgender and cosmetics entrepreneur, Nur Sajat, had supplanted him on the country’s Most Wanted list.

Felonious missed the Big Game, the time when he pulled the strings from afar, the heady period when he was the Lord of Pretty Much All That He Surveyed.

He lived for today, he stole for tomorrow, and he partied tonight. And, along the way, he’d amassed art, jewellery, mansions, and a super-yacht.

It had all been confiscated of course, but what a ride he’d had, what a rush! You couldn’t take that away from him.

Now it was not much fun anymore, although there was much to be said about lolling by the pool sipping Cristal champers. He was grateful. Indeed, he was the first to concede that Macao was a far more salubrious location to be in than, say, Kuala Lumpur, even with Umno back in harness.

Still, the sticky problem of which country he might legitimately enter always loomed before him like irritating question-marks. They were elusive too, not unlike the citizenships these countries refuse to let him buy.

But perhaps Fearless’ re-entry into politics could prove his salvation.

On the latter count, Felonious’ premise could be seriously flawed. Throughout his premiership, Fearless had stoutly maintained that Felonious had nothing whatsoever to do with 1MDB. Or that it had even been looted!

After his ouster, he changed tack, claiming that Felonious was wholly responsible for Everything, and The Kitchen Sink.

If you were a chess player, you might see why that might not be such a good defence.

Let’s just hope that comedian Bill Maher wasn’t referring to us when he said, “In this country, you’re guilty until proven wealthy.”



“Self-pity becomes your oxygen. But you’ve learned to breathe it without a gasp. So, nobody even notices you’re hurting.” – Paul Monette, writer, and gay activist.

Growing up in a small town, I thought it was the non-Malays who were the most intolerant and judgmental of people, the quickest to pass opinion on anyone who might seem, say, a little effeminate.

It occurred to me the Malays were generally more accommodating, even cheerfully tolerant of the oddball, the ones that pushed it to the outer limits of camp.

Not anymore, it seems. Spare a thought for Nur Sajat.

The director of the Criminal Investigation Department of the country’s police force, Abdul Jalil Hassan, said the police, the foreign ministry and the attorney-general’s office were making efforts to extradite her from Thailand where she had fled.

Three federal departments no less! Even Jho Low hadn’t merited that kind of attention. What had Nur Sajat wrought?

By all accounts, Ms Nur is a successful cosmetics entrepreneur and, going by her photographs, a good looking one to boot.

Her sin lies in being, for the most part, a transgender or what the Malaysian religious authorities classify as a member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.

Unfortunately for her, it is a community frowned upon by the same.

“Frowned” isn’t quite the operative word in Ms Nur’s case.

Going by media reports, Ms Nur attended a religious function dressed “as a woman.” Never mind that it’s her wont as a transgender. Instead, the Selangor religious department chose to charge her for cross-dressing at a religious function – said to “bring Islam into disrepute.” It’s a serious charge which can carry a three-year jail term upon conviction.

The entrepreneur was charged in January this year. But things came to a head after she subsequently failed to turn up at a February hearing and an arrest warrant was issued. It turned out that she’d fled to Thailand from where she’s since applied for asylum in Australia.

The ball is now in Thailand’s court where she remains free on bail. But Bangkok refrained from agreeing that she would, indeed, be extradited. The matter, said a Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman, would be determined “by the law and Thailand’s humanitarian principles.”

Perhaps Bangkok was mindful of the international fallout the episode might cause.

Malaysia’s official view of the LGBT community has been hardening of late, more so with the March, 2020 entry of the hard-line Islamic Party (Pas) into the federal government.

Indeed, there have been recent calls in Parliament to subject LGBT members to “conversion therapy” to “correct” their gender orientation. Whatever it means, it does not sound like something doctors might recommend.

Why all the fuss, a sane person might reasonably ask? It’s a good question and Malaysia’s G25 Group thinks it has the answer.

“The authorities are becoming paranoid that Nur Sajat may be an inspiration for other transgenders to assert their human rights to be what they were born into,” said the group in a media statement Thursday.

In the absence of evidence, all opinion is, more or less, prejudice. That’s a good enough reason to disavow it. “That is why homophobia is such an evil,” observed Tyler Oakley in his witty Binge. “It disguises itself as concern while it is inherently hate.”