I suppose we should feel reassured.

Apparently, Ismail Sabri’s leadership was proven when the Covid-19 pandemic hit Malaysia. And “he is an expert in the fight against Covid-19.”

This is the opinion of Ahmad Maslan who, when not in the company of similarly inclined, red-shirted types chanting support for Malay- dominance, can generally be counted on for incisively untrue statements. His 2015 comment that the goods and services tax actually lowered prices is a case in point.

Even so, Mat’s description of Ismail should reassure because the latter has been nominated by 115 MPs – a majority – to be the ninth Premier of the country.

What do we know of him?

Quite apart from Mat’s extravagant tribute and a nagging feeling that Ismail’s characteristically doleful appearance might have been better suited to undertaking as a career choice, there is little we know.

His Wikipedia page only demonstrated one truth: the more things change, the more it stays the same.

Like Dr Mahathir and a host of politicians preceding him, Ismail has unabashedly played the race card to rise.

In 2015, he urged a boycott of Chinese businesses by Malay consumers to “cut prices.” In the process, he alleged that Old Town White Coffee’s halal signs had been called into question and that the Ngah family of Ipoh – a prominent member of the opposition Dap party – had an interest in the kopi-tiam chain.

Interestingly, he was witheringly called out by both the MCA’s Wee Ka Siong and Wan Saiful Wan Jan, previously of the IDEAS think tank. Messrs Wee and Wan went on to become members of the previous administration and are now, presumably, hearty cheerleaders for the Ismail-for-PM club.

For the record, the DAP’s Ngah Koo Han sued Ismail for defamation (being labelled anti-Islam) and won RM85,000 in damages and costs in 2018. It was also noted in court that his family had no interest in the Old Town chain.

In the same year, Ismail set up Low Yat 2, a digital mall along the lines of Low Yat Plaza, Kuala Lumpur’s most popular electronics mall, but one that would only house Malay traders, the better, presumably, to break the Chinese grip on the electronics business.

Interestingly, he was heavily criticised for it by Saifuddin Abdullah, then in Umno until he lost in the 2013 general election. That made him, Saifuddin, search his soul enough to defect to the PKR where he won in the 2018 elections and became Foreign Minister in the PH government.

More soul searching followed until he defected yet-again to the previous administration which resigned early this week. But we suppose he’s poised, alertly and with his usual nimble footedness, to rejoin Ismail’s government to which he will, no doubt, add his fulsome support.

For the record, Low Yat 2, and a further two other similar malls set up by Ismail, failed. It’s unclear how much money the government lost but it’s unlikely that Ismail lost any popularity in Umno in the process.

2015 seemed to be a banner year for Ismail where preposterous statements were concerned. In November, he lauded the country’s vaping industry because it was dominated by Malay entrepreneurs. Forget the health ministry warnings about vaping. In fact, Ismail hoped the unregulated industry “will expand globally.”

And there you have it, Ismail in his nutshell.

All the best folks, we might need it.



You can tell the Prime Minister is a student of history: like Napoleon, he learnt how, from the mistakes of the past, he could make new ones. 

Despite months of lockdown and reassurances from the authorities, the country has gotten no respite from the pandemic with new daily highs amid rising deaths. 

Its one success – a rapid vaccination rate – gets blighted by over-reach.  A mega vaccination centre for undocumented migrant workers, for example, can go horribly wrong when there are no clearly spelt-out protocols

A video on social media captured the chaos perfectly.  A motor cyclist stops to try and fashion order in a long waiting line with no semblance of social distancing. Indeed, they are sardine-like in their crush. 

He barks orders trying to make the line safer and there is some unenthusiastic movement. He cajoles, even begs, but they are bewildered and uncomprehending. He rants against government, screams at Minister Azmin Ali – Do something brother! – and finally breaks down, weeping, and asks why “no one in power is bothered about this.”

“People are dying,” he observes brokenly.

No explanations are needed. In truth, he should be commended for civic mindedness.

Whether the leadership cares is another matter. Truth be told, they all appear to be living different realities. 

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has clearly lost majority support but “appears confident and is willing to duke it out in Parliament.” This, from Free Malaysia Today. 

Yes, but only on September 6, which is weeks away. Why is that do you suppose? Why not now, if he is confident and prepared to duke it out? 

Everyone knows why – he does not have the numbers but needs time to, well, do so. No one, however, least of all the enforcement agencies, seems to care that getting the said numbers could be through a crime. 

At least three opposition lawmakers – all from the Democratic Action Party – have been approached through anonymous WhatsApp texts to support Muhyiddin in return for cash and ministerial appointments. 

Police reports have been made. That’s a week ago. Ho hum, thers’s SOP for you. The premier seems “unflappable”.

Maybe someone else will bite. Or, in the words of the Rolling Stones, “Time is on my side.”  

Meanwhile, you’d think former premier Jibby has a whole epoch on his side the way he’s pontificating about this, that and the other. Here is a man, to quote the Wall Street Journal, accused of the “greatest heist in history,” a man found guilty of said heist by Malaysia’s High Court. And he not only glibly dispenses advice to all and sundry, but has his own cheering squad to boot, and is considered a long shot contender for the premiership.

Now you can understand why countries like Japan consider bail a privilege and not a right. 

It is lamentable that Malaysia chooses to display its worst face to the world currently. But what is amazing is we do not appear to comprehend this stark truth. Not a bit, not at all. 

Why else would the Home Ministry suddenly quadruple the “offshore income” of participants in the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme to RM40,000 a month and insist on at least RM1 million in fixed deposits, from RM150,000 previously?

And the new rules appear to affect people already established under the old rules. 

Any number of lawyers will tell you that such retrospective effect is odious. Many of these people have been here for years and rely on offshore pensions that might have been sufficient under the old rules but not the new. 

We are doing it, apparently, to boost the economy by attracting richer, “higher quality” participants. 

The policy makers should get real. 

What do they think the rest of the world thinks of us? 



I’ve always thought Dr Hamid Pawanteh wasn’t your average Umno type. He’s not strident but reflective and quite unlike the sort of doctor who might confuse the Spanish flu for an aphrodisiac not quite from Spain.  

Now 77, the former chief minister of the tiny northern state of Perlis predicted that the country would become the world’s worst unless “its custodians change how they conduct themselves” as leaders.

Many of us know what ails the system. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realise that there is something wrong with our education system. Dr Hamid agreed. In a word, it had “failed.” To his mind, it was the cause of our bad leadership.

The problem: while everyone agrees that, yes, this is so, no one wants, or knows how, to fix it. 

When he became premier again in 2018, Dr Mahathir said the curriculum had become too Islamised and promised to repair it. 

His choice for Minister wasn’t inspiring to begin with. Nevertheless, we heard that a report was commissioned to find out exactly how much time religion featured in an average school-day. Like a damp squib, nothing came out of it and there were whispers that the report was so damning that it was classified “secret.” 

There are other whispers. It’s said that the grading system for the harder subjects like Math and Science had been relaxed: a grotesque reclassification of merit that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “Math for Dummies.” 

This particular whisper has been going on for years. 

Indeed, the cynicism is so great that when the latest SPM results showed dramatic improvements despite months of school lockdown, Sheriff Kassim, a former senior civil servant, wondered if it had to do with grade manipulation and urged an investigation.  

Nowhere is the failure of the education system more apparent than in the current problem of the contract doctor. The reason is clear – too many doctors chasing too few jobs. And its blame, crystal – the ruling politicians in Umno. 

The party seemed to think more universities meant more votes and soon most states boasted their own university. Whether there were sufficient faculty of competence seemed irrelevant. Similarly, whether the demand for those graduates were there was even less relevant.

As far back as a decade ago, people like Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj, himself a doctor from the 1970s University Malaya, warned Parliament that the sheer number of local medical faculties coupled to the increasing recognition of medical degrees from Russia and Indonesia, was leading to an oversupply of doctors. 

That the government ignored these warnings is lunacy. Pity the poor wannabe Malaysian doctor. That they might not get employed, after almost six years of study in a field that’s near Godlike, is mindboggling and only attests to the government’s negligent stupidity.

An oversupply almost always results in a certain drop in quality. Recall the furore a few years ago when a local doctor confused chicken pox for chicken chop and issued a prescription to that effect. It isn’t clear what the pharmacist thought.  

It isn’t a unique problem. Singapore, too, thinks it’s getting there, according to a local doctor friend who graduated from Ireland’s Trinity College. He told me that he’d recently read that the Singapore government would, in a couple of years, no longer recognise the medical degrees from a number of foreign institutions including Trinity, one of the leading medical schools in the world. The government was giving notice to its citizenry in what can only be deemed a friendly warning, a caveat emptor regarding future employment, if you like. 

Isn’t that what responsible governments do?