WEARING ONE’S IGNORANCE ON ONE’S SLEEVE

It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt – The Bible (Proverbs)

There is a reason why the Bible has such sayings. It’s the same reason that prompts people to cringe when they hear absolute imbecility from their leaders.

The latest salvo in a long list of jaw dropping absurdities dumped by an administration on its people comes from Zuraida Kamaruddin, Malaysia’s comely Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister.

The worthy was reported to have said at a January 5, Malaysian Palm Oil Council dialogue that the country still had many orangutans, contrary to the notion that the palm oil industry was killing off the primates.

And there, she let fly. “In Malaysia, if you see an orangutan, it will kill you first, not you kill the orangutan first, correct?”

We can only speculate over the appalled silence that followed. But she must have been made of sterner stuff for she forged on relentlessly, noting with gay abandon that the wildlife and national parks department (Perhilitan) did not “simply kill orangutans, tigers and lions,” but followed a policy of “making the animals faint” first, before taking them to the zoo.

What does she smoke, I wonder?

According to the literature, orangutans are among the most docile of all the great apes although your average orangutan in Sabah’s Sepilok sanctuary might want to snarl disapprovingly at Zuraida for her lamentable ignorance.

Indeed, among the large primates, chimpanzees and gorillas have been known to turn on humans if provoked. The worst offender, of course, is man himself. And it’s a wonder that orangutans don’t turn on him given his propensity to destroy their habitats and sell their young.

Local environmentalist Andrew Sebastian described the minister’s comments with terse outrage. “Bizarre and ignorant” were the words he chose and he was right on more than a few counts.

For one thing and as everyone, except Ms Zuraida, knows, there are no lions in Malaysia.

Malaysian orangutans are only found in Borneo, whereas Perhilitan only operates in Peninsular Malaysia.

Meanwhile, Sebastian also noted that the minister did not seem aware that orangutans were dwindling in number. He said that while there had been over 250,000 such primates in the jungles of Borneo back in 1973, it’s estimated that, by 2025, they will drop to 47,000.

For the record, Malaysia cannot be held responsible for said attrition in numbers. Borneo is the third largest island in the world and the Republic of Indonesia occupies 72% of the island. Malaysia makes up most of the rest (27%) while Brunei occupies a sliver (1%).

And what’s this about making the “animals faint” before taking them to “the zoo?” Presumably, the minister is referring to the practice of immobilising wild animals with anaesthetic darts before transporting them to a suitable location. In the case for, say, a tiger, it would probably be released deep in the National Park in Pahang.

It certainly isn’t always the zoo!

We cannot have this type of thing constantly embarrassing the country so I think there should be a basic IQ test for candidates before the next general election. Actually, I think it’s crucial given the level of inanity from the current administration after the floods recently.

It reminds you of what John Stuart Mill said. To paraphrase him, “although it is not true that all members of this administration are less than clever, it is true that most less than clever people are members of this administration.”

ENDS

GALACTIC MISTAKES ARE, APPARENTLY, UNIVERSAL

Is there intelligent life out there?
Yes, but I’m only visiting
– Graffiti spotted in Cambridge

If we contemplate the universe’s mysteries with the world in mind, we’d have to conclude the universe sold itself short. I mean, if we are the only intelligent beings out there, then the universe seriously settled for very little.

You don’t have to look far to find examples of short change.

In the US, ostensibly the Home of the Brave and the Land of the Free, the loonies threaten to take over the asylum.

And Loony-in-Chief Donald Trump continues to place his faith in Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels – “if you tell a lie big enough and repeat it often enough, people will eventually believe it” – because he’s still spouting the untruth that he won the last US election. Yet, he remains a contender for the next Presidency. Ye Gods!

Over in India, Premier Modi’s far-right, Hindu-First policies are sharply dividing a secular nation along religious lines. That’s a recipe for disaster.

And over here in Malaysia, we continue to pursue policies that, deep down in places that we don’t want to acknowledge, we realise are failed ones.
The monetary black hole that is oil and gas firm Sapura Energy is an Illustration of said policy.

In the mid-2000s, Sapura Energy was a high flying energy firm, which, not unlike Renong in the 1990s, grew rapidly through leveraged acquisitions. Like Renong before it, Sapura was also considered a Bumiputera company and so could always rely on the public sector for regular contracts although, in fairness, Sapura did splash out globally as well.

Everything remained fine as long as the oil and gas market remained bullish. But the markets got roiled starting in June 2014 and global investment in the industry’s upstream sector, which Sapura was heavily dependent on, crashed.

Caught between the pincers of steadily increasing debt commitments and declining revenue, the group began posting losses and by 2018 was in dire straits. As a Bumiputera firm with “strategic” assets, the market solution -bankruptcy – was out of the question. Thus, in September of that year, Permodalan Nasional Bhd, a government-linked trust agency set up to improve Bumi equity in the corporate sector, shelled out RM2.7 billion to take up a commanding 40% in the firm.

Even so, it didn’t stop RM84 million being paid to the firm’s CEO and founder Shahril Shamsuddin as compensation for the year. That was relatively more generous than the RM72 million he received a year earlier.

Despite a general recovery in the oil markets, Sapura continues to languish largely due to its crushing debt burden: RM10.7 billion at last count. Government contracts notwithstanding, it isn’t easy to make money when your annualised finance costs top RM550 million.

Sapura continues to bleed. For the nine months to October 2021, the group posted a loss of RM2.28 billion. Meanwhile, it’s become a penny stock trading at around 5 cents apiece – PNB’s entry was at 40 cents – from over RM2 in its heyday.

It’s having serious cash flow problems. But don’t look to its former shareholder for aid. The bathwater is all but gone and it will probably be up to PNB to save the baby.

Otherwise the knock-on effects could be serious. The firm’s four biggest lenders are Maybank, CIMB, RHB and AmBank. And the firm has over 650 vendors, many of whom are Bumiputera.

History has a knack of repeating itself. And Malaysia’s New Economic Policy’s past is littered with billion dollar bailouts. Whether any lessons have been learnt is doubtful.

What would our long suffering universe make of that?

ENDS

WHEN YOU HAVE NO LEG TO STAND ON, IT’S BEST NOT TO KICK

Growing up I took it as Gospel that the Courts would hand down decisions that were fair. It never occurred to me that a decision might be flawed, dubious, or dishonest.

It was simple: we believed in our institutions back then. If the then Anti-Corruption Agency saw fit to charge Harun Idris, then the chief minister of the richest state in Malaysia, for corruption, then it must have been the right thing to do. Indeed, Harun was found guilty and served time.

The erosion of trust in the country’s institutions can be traced back to the 1980s. When Dr Mahathir took over, it became apparent, beyond all reasonable doubt, why leaders, like a baby’s diapers, should be changed frequently. 22 years is way too long and Dr M is, by no stretch of the imagination, an Angela Merkel.

It was during his tenure when the doubts began. About the way contracts were handed down; about the way the courts behaved; about the way questionable practices were simply ignored; about things that we once held sacred like Malaysia’s secular status being suddenly called into question.

Dr M showed that even in a democracy, one man can still call the shots. During his second incarnation as premier, he couldn’t do as he liked which is always a good thing. It’s the main reason why check and balance is vital for a country such as ours.

But the PH government imploded in 2020 – again, no thanks to the old man – and nothing’s improved. If anything, it’s gotten worse.

History, wrote Israel’s Abba Eban, teaches us that men and nations only behave wisely once they have exhausted all possible alternatives. It appears that Premier Ismail seems bent on exhausting the latter option.

Indeed, his style of leadership resembles an ostrich with its head in the sand. He prefers to simply ignore problems until they go away.

Problems don’t vanish. That is the nature of the beast. During the recent floods, the premier and his Cabinet were about as useful as grave robbers in a crematorium. He might start to rectify that by acting decisively in the current controversy swirling around the anti-corruption agency.

Its chief Azam Baki ignored calls to explain his involvement in the ownership of millions of shares until public pressure got too much.

He then said that he didn’t see any reason for a reply as he’d already explained to the agency’s advisory board that he’d allowed his brother to use his trading account to trade in shares. And that he had no idea of what his brother had been doing.

Quite apart from the manifest incredulity of Azam’s explanation, what he’s ignoring is the agency’s reputation, its status as a national institution.

The Azam’s of the world come and go but the institution remains. And for it to remain, its integrity must be unscathed and unquestioned. Indeed, it has to be the public’s perception of the MACC.

That’s why the PM should order Azam to go on leave until the results of an independent inquiry into the matter be made public. The agency’s board of advisors has cleared Azam. Ergo, the agency has cleared itself. This is manifestly conflicted.

It also screams an obvious question: who watches the watchers?

ENDS

IF YOU’RE LOST, LOOK FOR THE AULD LANG SIGN

Good riddance to 2021!

As Queen E might have put it, it was certainly an “annus horribilis.” The floods alone would have been bad. Throw in an implacable pandemic, a reeling economy and less than intelligent leadership – and that’s being kind – and one is driven to despair.

But we’re more fortunate than many others: there are Malaysians whose plight is truly harrowing with ruined homes and wrecked livelihoods.

It’s been bad everywhere, even in Singapore where I’ve been living the past two years. There was, for example, a record number of suicides in the city state during the year.

Now that we’re all agreed that 2021 was the Year of Living Dangerously, let’s hope that the new year will bring a smile to our lips, a song in our hearts and cheer to our lives.

Maybe it will too.

Ironically, the hope could lie in the Omnicron variant of the coronavirus. There’s a growing body of evidence that suggests that the variant is, in itself, attenuated with few hospitalisations and a generally lower virulence. But its enormous infectivity holds the promise of displacing the deadly Delta variant and the prospect of wiping out the pandemic altogether.

Or, at the very least, it might just reduce Covid to nothing more than the common cold. It went away just like that a century ago. Why shouldn’t it happen again?

OK, fingers crossed.

I have one wish for the country as well. For one thing, I wish the level of stupidity, especially from the religious right, will be greatly reduced.

In fairness, the general level of intelligence among such people in any country isn’t exactly overflowing. Consider this inanity from Pat Robertson, an American Southern Baptist minister of such fiery piety that it would make Hadi Awang blanch. Robertson was the one who encouraged Christians to vote for Trump because “the Holy Spirit” told him.

Clearly, he didn’t think much of the movement in general or in the particular. “It (feminism) is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

And we thought Jane Fonda was merely beautiful. Who knew?

Compared to Robertson, Ustaz Nazri Karim is a mere dolt in the intelligence sweepstakes. But he wasn’t averse to displaying his ignorance for the world to see when he ascribed the cause of the floods in Selangor to its “numerous wine bars and its beer factory.”

Idris Jala, Heineken’s chairman, thought the Ustaz was grossly ignorant which was a dreadful rebuke because everyone knew that gross ignorance was 144 times worse than ordinary stupidity.

Which reminds me of the Islamic Party of Malaysia, or Pas. It seems to me that the party has only four, near-obsessive preoccupations. They are as follows:

  • Booze, its existence and sale in the country
  • Gambling, its existence and practice in the country
  • The attire of stewardesses on Malaysia Airlines’ flights, and
  • The deplorable lack of sharia law in the country

Quite apart from these pet peeves, they seem to have no ideas on corruption, the economy or anything remotely useful towards helping to govern a multiracial, multi-religious country of 32 million people. In short, they are about as useful as the G in lasagna.

Happy New Year people, and remember, the secret to life is honesty and fair dealing: if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.

ENDS

DO THEY KNOW IT’S CHRISTMAS?

What was apparent by the time a cautious dawn emerged on Sunday was that the only serious disaster buffeting the country was the one inhabiting Putrajaya.

Nowhere was this better demonstrated than in the responses by local netizens to a tweet by Apple chief executive, Tim Cook. Mr Cook had promised aid to flood victims in Malaysia and the Philippines which was nice. But even Cook must have been bemused by the Malaysian responses: they urged Cook to direct the aid to non-government groups rather than Putrajaya.

It’s a stunning indictment of a government that’s clearly perceived as not only inept but untrustworthy.

You’d think such a revelation might have given pause to the rocket scientist currently leading our country. No chance: said RS was smilingly photographed Thursday “leading” a Thanksgiving ceremony at the Tropicana Golf and Country Club to celebrate his first hundred days in office.

Given his cheer and general good humour, he thinks it’s been wildly successful. Move over delusions of adequacy, we’re talking d’s of greatness here!

Ok, I’ll phrase it gently. It’s said that women sometimes make fools of men but you had to hand it to Ismail; he was strictly a do-it-yourself type.

I mean, it’s ridiculous. At least 27 people are dead from the worst floods in the history of Selangor and Pahang, a great many Malaysians are confronting wrecked homes and lives, and the premier thinks nothing of spending more taxpayer money to pat himself on the back. Doesn’t he, or his advisors, read social media?

It’s the season of giving, a celebration of God’s love for man. But did they know it’s Christmas?

Not if you go by the carnage and misery unleashed on the people of Selangor and Pahang. And certainly not if you go by the disproportionate self-importance displayed by some of the overpaid ministers of Ismail’s bloated Cabinet.

Why does Tengku Zafrul, the Minister of Finance, find it necessary to commandeer a boat, stuff it with his officials, security and cameramen and go over to the flooded areas if he does not intend to help anyone? Did he think that having a photo-op counted as aid? Or that gawking was an expression of sympathy?

Some people are born important, some achieve self-importance and some have hubris thrust upon them. For Ahmad Faizal Azumu, the minister of youth and sport, the latter moment arrived when he saw it fit to launch his ministry’s squad of flood-relief volunteers in a glittering, expensive-looking, but wholly unnecessary photo-opportunity that was immediately seized upon by netizens as yet another example of ministerial preening.

It’s no small irony that it took a rebuke from the nation’s First Klepto, Ah Jib Gor, to awaken the minister to the absurdity of his excess.

The general self-congratulatory attitude cut across racial barriers. A video of Human Resource Minister, M Saravanan checking aid parcels emblazoned with his face would have struck any reasonable person as tasteless in the extreme.

And yet it was the season of hope and charity, peace and goodwill to all man. Did they know it’s Christmas?

Ordinary Malaysians surely did. The spirit of caring and sharing, of mutual goodwill was evident when Malaysians of all races came together in a glorious recognition of their mutual humanity to help one another without fanfare, self-glorification or reward.

The spirit of the season fairly crackled in the air over Shah Alam and Mentakab among ordinary people and for a single, transcendent moment in time, the government politician was about as extinct, and useless, as the dodo.

It renews our faith in the country and it should give all of us hope.

Merry Christmas everyone.

ENDS

IT MAY NOT BE DESIRABLE BUT IT’S NECESSARY

It was Benjamin Franklin who warned us against the “young doctor and the old barber.”

Old Ben was a kindly old codger given to pottering about in thunderstorms to fly kites so he can be forgiven for failing to remember “the very old politician” as another potential threat.

I mean, consider Dr Mahathir. I know he’s gone to hospital for a check-up but that shouldn’t make him a sacred cow immune from critical assessment. I mean, the guy is 96 and you’d think would have moved on from his bigoted rantings in, say, 1969, when, in an infamous letter to the Tunku, he stated he only had “a few drops of Pakistani blood” in his veins.

But no, his recent lament that the Chinese penchant for eating with chopsticks was yet another example of the difficulty of forging a united Malaysian nation is a case in point.

Mahathir fretted that people in the country identify themselves as ‘Chinese Malaysian’ and ‘Indian Malaysian’, saying, “Because of that (strong sense of racial identity), they cannot be assimilated.”

Imagine if the same thought had haunted Yap Ah Loy, the same way it haunts Dr M for his prejudices are long standing.

The would-be founder might have given up the ghost, returned to China and forgotten all about discovering Kuala Lumpur.

What poppycock!

My wife is a Eurasian and her roots in Malaysia are deep, I-mean-really-God-knows-how-far-back-deep but you must wonder if the former physician might find her less than patriotic because she wouldn’t dream of eating noodles without chopsticks.

Much later in our marriage, she told me that she found it strange that none of the homes of my extended family ever stocked chopsticks.

Back then, it probably never occurred to us. For the record, many do have them now.

Dr M seems to take pride in his bigotry, even when he’s being casually racist in public. I remember watching BBC where he was being interviewed after he came back as Malaysian premier in 2018.

Zainab Badawi’s obvious admiration for him began vanishing after he refused to make a distinction between Jews and Zionists.

Finally, his pettiness got the better of him when he insisted that you could tell the Jews apart because they were “hook-nosed.”

And the genteel, plum-toned Ms Badawi actually cringed!

The former premier seems to forget that race and religion define the Malaysian ethos today largely because of him and his United Malays National Organisation. For whatever reason, differentiation – perhaps to better implement affirmative action policies – was seen as the best way forward.

And so, rather than classify all Malays, Chinese, Indians, Kadazans or Ibans as simply Malaysian, successive generations have been classified, compartmentalised, branded and organised along cleavages of race, religion and, in my wife’s case, an indefinite pronoun.

For the record, she’s classified as an “other” which is remarkable as it implies that Rebecca is neither of “us” vintage nor of “them” extraction.

Much of the blame for this has to be laid at the former doctor’s door as he was premier for the longest time and he could have done something about it. Indeed, he could have done something about a lot of things – corruption, education, the civil service, racism, to name a few. But he didn’t.

And the strangest irony of all is that Dr M seriously thought, and still thinks, he is the best. Indeed, when asked once who might best be suited to succeed him, he answered only half in jest: “A clone of mine.”

It could be the ultimate Maha-paradox. He’s always believed he was the greatest thing since sliced bread…

….when we’ve known he’s actually been toast for a long time now.

ENDS

LIFE IS WHAT YOU MAKE OF IT

To expect life to treat you good is as foolish as thinking a bull won’t hit you because you’re vegetarian – Comedienne Roseanne Barr

Felonious, namely the Low Jho, heard about Fearless Leader’s failure before the appellate court and his heart bled for his erstwhile mentor.

But the word that came to him wasn’t “disappointed.” The corpulent crook thought it should have been more in keeping with that expressed by Cyrus “The Virus” Meese after he was arrested for holding 30 Texas lawmen at bay for four hours before they finally served him his speeding ticket.

When asked why he resisted so long, Mr Meese, a reprobate of no small measure, shrugged and said it was the principle of the thing: “Never settle with words what you can with a flame thrower,” he replied with all the aplomb a clear conscience can summon.

Felonious, who was renowned for his courage under no fire whatsoever, thought it was a sentiment for the ages.

Malaysia’s Court of Appeal had unanimously upheld Fearless’ conviction and 12-year sentence by the High Court last year on abuse of power, money laundering and criminal breach of trust charges.

In addition, the judgment said Fearless’ action was not in ‘the national interest” but “a national embarrassment.”

Fearless was “disappointed” by the judgment. He went on to plead his innocence in an oath he swore “in the name of Allah.”

It’s one of several times that Fearless has invoked a religious oath to profess his innocence.

It seemed to indicate a clear conscience. Either that or he had a very bad memory.

The Appellate Court ripped Fearless’ defence up, even calling his much vaunted “Arab donation” claim a “concoction bereft of reality.”

Indeed, legal experts had wondered why Fearless hadn’t simply summoned his Arab friend to testify on his behalf. If he’d donated US$700 million to Fearless, surely, he’d have no problem saying so in court.

But it did not seem to have occurred to his crack legal team. It was even whispered that the Arab donor bore an uncanny resemblance to Felonious in a kaffiyeh.

To demonstrate his solidarity with his fallen comrade, however, Felonious gallantly eschewed a festive Dom Perignon for an agreeable 1991 Pinot Noir to go with the excellent duck confit his chef had whipped up for lunch.

It was a sombre group that assembled for lunch on the Wednesday of the verdict.

Hairy Low, Felonious’ pater and occasional yachting advisor, noted hopefully that Fearless’ defence team, while professing “disappointment” (that word again!) with the verdict, felt confident that the Federal Court would “overturn” the appellate court’s rebuke.

Hairy said this with a smile that set off his roguish, Errol Flynn-like moustache against teeth so dazzling they shone like whitecaps in the Macao surf. Indeed, they were the whitest caps modern dentistry could buy and Felonious knew it for a fact.

So did the dentist who kept giggling with an unseemly delight every time he went to his bank.

Felonious knew that Fearless’ lawyers had expressed similar, chest-thumping statements prior to the two trials.

And he wondered, not a trifle uneasily, if it was merely a coincidence that Fearless’ lawyers also giggled inordinately every time they went to their banks?

Felonious was made of sterner stuff and vowed not to despair. Actually, it was difficult to despair when confronted by plump, fresh figs amid a bed of sharp Stilton cheese, an exquisite pairing which Fat Boy thought deserved the chef a raise.

He’d gotten on to Life in a Fast Lane way back but had known when to get off and stay off. In that sense, it was hard cheese for Fearless but that was how the Stilton crumbled.

He had a new adage to live by now and he intended to stick to it. With wealth everything was simple, really: you scratch my back and I’ll let you know when to stop.

He couldn’t go home but you can’t have everything, Felonious reminded himself sternly. Life was good and so, like Groucho Marx, he intended to live forever…

….or die trying.

ENDS

WAS IT REALLY THE GOOD OLD DAYS?

Why are Lat cartoons so popular?

I’ve put some thought into it, so listen up. They allow us to believe that our country is more than the sum of its parts, deserving to be seen through a mist of bittersweet nostalgia and hope, the way we think it ought to be viewed.

That was Lat’s special genius. His Malaysia had an innocent quality about it, a halcyon time when Mat, Ah Chong and Muthu were, indeed, besties; P Ramlee, cendol and Walls cones from the ice cream man’s motorcycle on a hot Sunday.

People like me, a child of the sixties, can easily relate to Lat because there really was an innocence about the time. I remember taking a bus from Rembau, really a village then, to Seremban in, I think, 1969, and there was a mother nursing her baby as if it was the most natural thing to do on a bus. No one gawked or seemed to think anything of it, so it probably was.

I wonder if Malaysian millennials can relate to Lat? I hope so but who knows? When you have parties like the Islamic Party which deems immorality as the morality of anyone having a better time, you tend to have your doubts.

Back then, there seemed to be none. My classmates used to come to my house on Deepavali when my mother would invariably cook mutton curry. No one – most were Malays – would even think of asking my mother if the meat was halal. It probably wasn’t but it would have been the height of rudeness to ask.

Not anymore. Now it’s considered positively de rigueur to ask upfront.

Certainly, we were far more innocent then. I remember holding hands with a male classmate every time we had to march back to our respective classrooms after Assembly. This went on even when we were in the Sixth Form but no one, least of all, my classmates, thought it was strange or bad form for men to behave thus.

Actually, one suspects that it would only have been derided in Western societies. Not so much in Asian ones, methinks.

But even in Western societies, a lot of things can assume darker and less innocent, connotations because of 21st Century mores amid a newly resurgent, and tiresome, political correctness.

It was the Beatles, for example, who kicked off a global hit in the 60s with these lines: “She was just seventeen/ You know what I mean.”

No, we don’t Sir Paul. What do you mean?

It might have been worse for Ringo Starr whose 70s song was also written by Sir Paul:
You come on like a dream/
Peaches and cream/ Lips like strawberry wine/
You’re sixteen/ You’re beautiful/
And you’re mine.

The song was titled You’re Sixteen and it went on to become a hit, even here in Malaysia. And no one thought it might excite your average pedophile anywhere.

I suppose the moral here is that things change and nothing’s ever written in stone. Take manners which you might think were written in stone.

We are repeatedly told you display good manners at the dining table by the noise you don’t make when eating soup.

But that would be rude in Japan, where it is both courteous and mannerly to show appreciation for the soup by slurping it.

ENDS

GOING BACKWARDS INTO THE FUTURE

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.

ENDS

HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE

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.

ENDS