PHYSICIAN, HEEL THYSELF

The older I get, the better I used to be – Leo Tolstoy

A Malaysian billionaire once told me that all entrepreneurs were optimists. “We have to be,” he said. “And I think that’s why we succeed.”

I wouldn’t say Dr Mahathir, 96, is an optimist of the rose-tinted variety. I mean, he isn’t the sort of fellow who thinks a bull wouldn’t hit him because he’s a vegetarian, but he has an amazing propensity for snatching victory out of the jaws of defeat.

The ancient physician, who counted Maharaja Lela as an old friend and had never approved of J W W Birch either, might have been a tad optimistic about his party’s recent showing in the Johor state elections.

The aged medico ascribed his party’s loss to “money politics.” If he believes that, he’ll probably believe there’s light at the end of the rainbow.

His blithe assessment is reminiscent of the fellow who, while treed by a hungry lion prefers to enjoy the scenery. Dr Mahathir pointed out that despite only having about 5,000 members in Johor, his party, Pejuang, managed to garner more than 18,000 votes, which he claimed was “proof” that the party was still capable of drawing supporters.

Here’s the math: Pejuang contested in all 42 seats which means, on average, it got 438.6 votes per seat. That’s pitiable. His party didn’t just lose, it received a drubbing, with all 42 candidates losing their deposits.

Meanwhile, the wily doctor revealed that former premier Muhyiddin Yassin had recently approached him to ask for his help to regain the PM’s post.

It’s become a problem in Malaysia: if they’re not part of the solution, they’re probably running for Prime Minister.

Muhyiddin torpedoed the PH coalition he helped form by cobbling together a coalition of Malay parties to become PM in 2020. He didn’t last two years before they turned on him and threw him out.

Politics is supposedly the second oldest profession in the world, but the events of the last three years has clearly shown its resemblance to the first.

As PM, Muhyiddin was unremarkable at best. The old man, however, was scathing in his assessment of his former Cabinet colleague. He said Pejuang was “not going to support somebody who as the prime minister was as much a failure as Najib.”

What did MY expect? Tea and sympathy?

When Dr M was a teenager, history hadn’t yet been included in the school syllabus and in his 90s, he still shows no inclination to retire. At the same press conference where he dropped the bomb on MY, he was asked – hint, hint – to comment on 70-something politician Lim Kit Siang’s retirement from all forms of politics.

The crafty medic said while he “might” – note not “would” – not contest in the next general election, he “was not leaving Pejuang yet.”

“I cannot make a decision now because I have to abide by the decision of my party. So it’s something we will decide later.”

In short, he intends to remain around forever or the next 20 years, whichever comes first.

ENDS

CRIME DOES NOT PAY, NOR SHOULD IT SEEM TO

In three words I can summarise everything I’ve learnt about life – it goes on. –Poet Robert Frost.

Najib Razak would, no doubt, agree.

Malaysia’s First Felon, affectionately known in high society criminal circlers as Fearless Leader, has been fearlessly dishing out advice left, right and centre – and people are taking heed, it seems.

Indeed, he’s morphed into a latter-day Svengali to the United Malays National Organisation, the party he once headed. Fearless is, to be sure, the Boss-Who-Needn’t-Feel-Any-Shame-at-All.

And he doesn’t, not a jot.

Even so, the shameless ex-boss continues to be deferred to as a leader. Nowhere was this more evident than in a recent video showing the party faithful celebrating its win in the recent Johor state election: it showed party president Zahid Hamidi elbowing Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob aside to bring Fearless up-front, to the head of the throng.

It’s no wonder Ismail’s been looking especially doleful of late.

As I write this, I read, with astonishment, that Fearless just concluded a keynote address to the Penang International Business and Investment Summit.

The report went on to say that during his “two-day trip” to Penang, Fearless was expected “to meet the Chinese community” and “the state Umno liaison committee.”

Ye Gods! Who invites a person found guilty of defrauding his country to launch an “international business and investment” seminar?

That’s like inviting Bernie Madoff to launch a Rotary business event in, say, Seremban. Let’s face it, on the Jho Low Scale of Mammoth Larceny, Madoff is a minnow to Fearless’ whale.

Meanwhile, why is Fearless being lauded about, and bowed and scraped to, as if he were leading his party into the next general election?

Do they know something we don’t?

The absurdity of it all is made preposterous by the testimony coming out of a Brooklyn courtroom. It stars Felonious, Fearless’ less-than-trusty sidekick and co-stars greedy bankers and everyone else who fed at the 1MDB trough. Their numbers, to quote the Bible, are “legion.”

By all accounts, Felonious was the mastermind and the biggest thief of the lot. But he could not have pulled it off without help from the top.

How did Fatboy convince everybody, even people already rich as Croesus, to participate in a grand plan to loot an entire country? The US trial in Brooklyn was told that the rotund robber siphoned US$4.5 billion (RM18.9 billion) of 1MDB’s money into his own account.

Fearless has been convicted of only one crime that involved a sum of RM42 million which is peanuts in terms of Felonious’ colossal theft. But it sets the stage. His big trials are ongoing and he has a lot to answer for.

Which is why it is sheer lunacy to continue to fete Fearless, to extol him and assure him he needn’t feel shame. To do so would be to exonerate him. Even worse, it’s a tacit nod towards corruption, even its encouragement, so long as the loot is shared.

1MDB was and remains the largest theft in the history of white-collar crime. That is an absolute fact and no amount of dissembling, artifice, advice or keynote speeches at investment seminars can diminish its magnitude.

The Appeals Court described him as “a national embarrassment.”

There is also that.

ENDS

ALL DISQUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. – Albert Einstein

I hate reality. Nevertheless, it’s still the only place to get a good steak. – Woody Allen

It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets worse.

It’s a sentiment first echoed by the madcap comedienne, Lily Tomlin. And in these circumstances, it’s apt.

Don’t you think so?

Europe is having its first war since World War Two, a fact not lost on anyone remotely aware of history. If this was a film, all sorts of ominous chords would be rumbling in the background.

The worry is best summed up by Einstein after the Americans used the atomic bomb to end WW2. “I know not what weapons will be used in World War Three but in World War 1V, it will be by way of sticks and stones.”

People like Einstein felt these things because they knew American society. It is a society that’s getting increasingly divided, ugly and violent.

It used to have people like Rush Limbaugh, a radio talk-show host who was so right of centre that Attila the Hun would have crossed the street rather than accost him.

More to the point, Limbaugh wasn’t dismissed as a kook, a weirdo or a loony as he should have been. On the contrary, he was listened to gravely, had an enormous following, and was even awarded America’s highest civilian honour by President “Weird Don” Trump.

And all this for a man who once advised his audience over the airwaves: “The best way to reduce the number of nuclear weapons is to use them.” That wasn’t thinking out of the box, it was strictly out of the straitjacket.

But few seemed to think it mad, least of all a Fox news anchor who, upon Limbaugh’s death in 2021, described him admiringly as “a force of nature.”

So are earthquakes but they are never given awards nor described admiringly.

The point is the Limbaughs of the world are legion and scattered all over, from Moscow to Madras, from Chernobyl to Cambridge. Extremism is rising and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that what starts off as a local conflict can escalate out of hand.

The way Putin is behaving is unnerving. And you get more worried when you hear, over the BBC, that Western intelligence, thinks he’s feeling “increasingly angry, frustrated and isolated.”

That’s not something you want to know about a guy with easy access to the N-button. Let’s hope “hell hath no fury like a tyrant scorned” isn’t anything more than an exaggerated literary flourish.

The conflict is already affecting us. Our finance minister expects to spend almost RM28 billion on fuel subsidies – extremely idiotic policy given it’s the Mercedes and the BMWs that’ll benefit the most.

But like-minded people will be worrying about the Johor polls where Umno has already got its Three Rules ready…

  1. Get elected (2013)
  2. Get re-elected (2022)
  3. Don’t get mad, get even

ENDS

JUST WHEN YOU THINK IT CAN’T GET ANY WORSE, IT CAN

It’s generally been a depressing week, don’t you think?

George Carlin was right all along: how, on God’s green earth, can any war be civil? And amid a still-raging pandemic?

I read, with mounting disbelief, that Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant and the largest in Europe, was on fire early Friday after an attack by Russian troops.

Are they out of their minds?

Even Vladimir “Stoneface” Putin must know there are no winners in that kind of war. In the words of Bertrand Russell, it’s either “co-existence or no existence.” In those circumstances, all men are truly cremated equal.
Against that hellish backdrop, the banality, and continuing dishonesty, of Malaysian politics comes across as almost refreshing, a bit of comic relief in an otherwise grim world.

The nation’s First Felon, the peerless, Fearless Leader once again demonstrated his prodigious ability to perplex by telling Parliament Wednesday that the government had yet to pay “a single cent” of the principal debt of 1MDB, the sovereign wealth fund that Fearless set up and, subsequently, crippled through the sheer weight of its own debt.

He was attempting to show that taxpayers hadn’t been injured in the slightest. You have to admire the man’s gift for being disingenuous.

It is true that the principal amount of 1MDB’s debt (RM32 billion) hasn’t changed but it’s only because the bonds issued by 1MDB – to buy unnecessary assets at inflated prices – aren’t due yet. Since its inception in 2009, taxpayers have repaid over RM13 billion of 1MDB’s debt with another RM38-odd billion to go.

The latter will become due starting May and will have to be serviced by the taxpayer until 2039. Malaysia’s total national debt is over RM1 trillion.

Blessed are the children for they shall inherit the national debt. The sentiment was Herbert Hoover’s and he was the US President widely credited with exacerbating the Great Depression of the 20th Century.

In a backhanded sort of way, it makes me glad that I’m over 65.

Meanwhile, the bells of judgment have begun tolling for Fearless. Having been found guilty by both the High Court and the Court of Appeal, Fearless had desperately tried to delay matters by attempting to claim “new evidence”.

The hope was extinguished Wednesday when the country’s apex court rejected any more postponements. And so Fearless’ final throw of the dice will take place March 16-18.

If he loses there, he can no longer “pass Go nor collect $200”. Instead, he will have to “proceed directly” to jail to begin serving a 12-year sentence. There, he won’t have police outriders or bodyguards. Nor is he likely to expect the adoring throngs, with their raucous cries of “Bossku” (My Boss) any time soon.

He will have to get used to new dietary conditions, new clothes, an out-of- parliament experience and grimmer accommodation than he’s accustomed to. His pensions are also likely to be axed.

On the plus side, he will still get to go out from time to time: Fearless still faces very serious charges in several remaining trials.

From somewhere deep in Macao, Jho “Felonious” Low watched the plight of his once-trusted friend and helpmate with all the sympathy a bottle of ice-cold Moet & Chandon Esprit du Siècle Brut can summon.

The sympathy was considerable but it was also tempered by relief and a sudden epiphany on Felonious’ part.
There but for the grace of Money and many passports go I.

ENDS

A FOOL AND HIS MONEY ARE SOON PARTYING

Who is rich? He that is content. Who is that? Nobody. – Benjamin Franklin

I read an item on Twitter recently, from an aggrieved bank customer in Malaysia.

Our friend thought he’d finally paid off his car loan. Close, but no cigar.

His loan balance read $0.01. And the bank insisted that he settle the “outstanding” amount before anything else, meaning, he couldn’t cancel said bank’s claims on the car.

Trivia for the day: Do you know you cannot transfer $0.01 online? It’s below the minimum transfer amount.

It stumped our worthy who proceeded to have a Eureka moment: He transferred $1 to the bank instead.

“Hee-Hee,” thought he gleefully, “now it’ll have to return $0.99 to me and Good Luck with that!”

Unfortunately, the bank was made of sterner stuff: it knew Banking Rope-A-Dope 101 as well as any Goldman Sachs and countered with the aplomb of a bureaucrat. Its answer: if said worthy wanted any change, he’d have to submit a written request together with supporting documents of proof.
It was the banking equivalent of “put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

Of course, he gave up!

Our friend didn’t name the bank which was a pity as it might have embarrassed it enough to have the grace to return his money.

“You win, bankers,” he concluded dismally, “You always f$%^&g win!”

Tim Leisner didn’t.

As an implacable banker and a hardnosed dealmaker, Leisner knew there were only two rules for success. 1) Never tell all you know.

But now he was telling all that he knew about 1MDB to a New York court and Malaysians were riveted. He was the person who enabled Jho “Felonious” Low to steal billions of dollars from 1MDB and his guilty plea probably did more to undermine former premier Najib Razak’s credibility than anything else.

The sums bandied about in Leisner’s testimony against Roger Ng, his Goldman colleague and friend, were enough to delight Donald Trump. It also made you wonder why anyone in their positions – wealthy by any measure – would take such risks to make themselves richer.

But these people aren’t normal, to begin with. Recall that the wife of the former premier thought nothing of paying over a RM1000 for getting her hair done in her home.

For his part, Felonious knew that money couldn’t buy you happiness, but it could buy you a yacht big enough to pull up alongside it.

He probably thought he would remain safe so long as his friend remained in power. Both knew the Golden Rule: he who has the Gold, Rules.

I suppose in the case of the former First Lady, if it didn’t buy you happiness, it helped you be miserable in comfort.

But how to explain Leisner and Ng?

Goldman’s exorbitant commissions were immediately noticed by the media which must have set warning bells ringing in the US and Malaysia.

Felonious’ extravagant and well publicised spending sprees in the US must have also attracted attention. The minute the DOJ released its report in 2016, Messrs Leisner and Ng must have known the jig was up.

Despite his testimony and cooperation, Leisner still faces sentencing. The former premier’s last gasp is also due.

Only Felonious remains unaccounted for.

So are 1MDB’s billions.

ENDS

OUR FRIENDS, THE FANATICS

Reason has been a part of organised religion, ever since two nudists took dietary advice from a talking snake – Political satirist, Jon Stewart

A bemused British television presenter introduced it as a Malaysian minister’s advice on “how to strike your wife.”

Was he serious or what? Methinks the statement should strike any wife as sinister, if not downright threatening.

But not, apparently, if you’re from that benighted Malaysian political party called Pas, or, in English, the Islamic Party of Malaysia. It gives religion a bad name and was probably the one that inspired Dave Allen to “thank God” he was an “atheist.”

The party is made up of individuals who think, nay, know they alone understand, and are fully committed to the ideals of Islam. Unfortunately, they think this qualification gives them the right – God-given, too – to shove their brand of conservative Islam down the throats of their fellow citizens.

Ironically, it is a trait they share with one Donald Trump who also knows that only he understands Christianity; “Nobody reads or understands the Bible better than I do.”

But I digress. We were talking about the bemused British television presenter, weren’t we? Yes, he was referring to Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff, Malaysia’s deputy minister of Women, Family and Community Development whose gratuitous advice to married men two days before Valentine’s Day provoked outrage in Malaysia, and ridicule overseas.

Zailah suggested that husbands had a “right” to use a “gentle but firm physical touch” on their “undisciplined and stubborn” wives.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realise that such unthinking comments only serve to perpetuate an already-entrenched culture of misogyny in some parts of Malaysia. As parliamentarian Nurul Izzah correctly called it, it’s a “disservice” to women at a time when over 9,000 cases of domestic violence had been reported.

And this Zailah is tasked with looking after the affairs of women and families in the country?

If her post were ever reduced to credit, for instance, Moody’s would doubtless have rated it as an “F Double Minus” with a “You-Have-Got-To-Be-Kidding-Me” outlook!

In an aside, the rating agency apologised for “using capitals” but said it felt “compelled to scream”.

To be sure, this is the inanity of a single person but, truth be told, for real bona fide stupidity there isn’t anything like teamwork of the numbers represented in Pas. Ever since some of its members became part of the Federal Government, one thing has become abundantly clear. The party is singularly unfit, ill-equipped and hopelessly unsuited to rule any country.

It is clueless about economics, finance, foreign affairs, trade, exchange rates or anything to do with the workings of a modern economy in the 21st Century. Its idea of a weighty matter of state is the attire of airline stewardesses, or the fact that sharia law still isn’t practiced in Malaysia, or the reality that a renegade group like Sisters in Islam continues to flourish in the country.

In 1999, I once asked a senior Pas leader if he seriously thought hudud law was practical in this country. “Surely, it would be difficult enough to get people to chop off hands,” I argued.

His looked me straight in the eye. “You’d be surprised,” was all he said.

ENDS

HELP. I DON’T HAVE ANY SIGNAL

History may be classified differently in the future.

That period to come may be forever changed because of the now-ubiquitous smartphone. Until then, man had been born intelligent (pre-phone). Then he got his hands on that dastardly invention and everything changed (post-phone).

The new timelines might not apply in India, however, because it might confuse its people. India’s the only place in the world where you can bring forward an event (prepone) instead of putting it off till later (postpone).

Got it?

Although IBM is credited with the invention of the first smartphone in 1984, the erosion of human intelligence only really began with the creation of the IPhone circa 2007pp.

And we Malaysians feature prominently in the intelligence stakes.

A recent global study on smartphone addiction by Canada’s McGill University had young people in China hooked the most, followed respectively, by Saudi Arabia and, well-well, Malaysia.

In China right now, it’s the news about Winter Olympics’ gold medalist Eileen Gu that’s keeping her fellow citizens riveted to their mobiles, although it might well be news about President Xi’s latest Dictum for the Day tomorrow.

Although details of the latest executions in Saudi Arabia used to be ghoulishly fashionable to SMS around, things may have changed. It appears that the recent opening of selected public beaches to mixed bathing has attracted more smartphone toting crowds than Michael Buble ever achieved in his dreams.

Malaysia’s case might be a little more complicated. The citizenry generally use their smartphones for the usual necessities like where to get the best nasi lemak (Kampung Baru) or which roads to avoid on a Friday evening (all of them).

But it’s fake news that’s mostly being created and spread over smartphones these days. Ever since Donald Trump invented the phrase circa 2016pp and became its biggest purveyor – “Wind farms cause cancer” – Malaysians have taken to the phenomenon with the enthusiasm ducks normally reserve for water.

I got one yesterday. Someone sent me a news item that claimed that the Barisan Nasional had chosen the country’s First Felon aka Najib “the Fib” Razak as its Premier-in-Waiting should it win the next general election.

Why wouldn’t I believe it?

The current premier had invited him to the office and fawned over him. So had the various BN component parties while Umno leaders who should have known better – Khairy J or Mohd Hassan, for instance – prudently maintained a deafening silence. And all this in the face of hero-worshipping crowds who insisted the Jibman was “the Boss who needn’t feel shame.”

Then I remembered he’d been found guilty of monumental fraud by four judges, fined RM210 million and had only an appeal left. And I thought: even the BN can’t be that stupid, can it?

It was a good and pertinent question. Even so, I checked, and it wasn’t anywhere else so the answer to my question had to be, no.

Still, the obsession with smartphones is becoming ridiculous. It’s so bad that it’s getting more important than many things we hold dear including, well, holding Dear herself!

Standout statistic: in a recent US/Europe survey, 61% of respondents indicated that Wifi was impossible to give up, even more than for sex (58%).

ENDS

JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE PARANOID DOESN’T MEAN THEY’RE NOT OUT TO GET YOU

We went over to my niece’s place for dinner on the eve of Chinese New Year. She’s half-Chinese anyway which must tick off some box somewhere in the city. She’s married to a large, cheerful man who not only appreciates good food but is something of a Gordon Ramsey himself. Which, in our book, makes him a very important member of the family.

Anyway, my niece was grumbling that she couldn’t find the pepper. “There’s some in the storeroom,” said almost-Gordon helpfully, then clarified. “No, not the one in the back. I mean, the shelter.”

I pricked up my ears: “The shelter?”

“Yes, we have a bomb shelter,” replied almost-Jaime, revelling in our surprise. “I think it’s like mandatory or something. Let me show you.”

He led us to the kitchen and pointed to a long, thin room on the immediate right of the kitchen’s entrance. Its door had been flung open carelessly to reveal shelves lining both sides of the walls, groaning under the weight of everything from pasta and spices to toilet paper and hardware items.

But the door alone was testament to the reinforced and blast- proof nature of the shelter, a last-gasp recourse against shockwaves and shrapnel in the event of a bombing. To put it simply, it was massive.

We were informed that there were already lights inside but there were extra points where air-conditioning, even a television, could be installed. But “no one bothers, and most people are like us, they use it as a storeroom.”

Singapore has always found paranoia to be a perfectly defensible position. In the 1960s and 70s, it felt vulnerable as “a Chinese island in a Malay Sea” and with the aid of the Israelis, rapidly set out to build a significant military capability.

While its threat perceptions have largely shifted – terrorism, for instance – the paranoia remains. The city-state is widely considered to have the most technologically savvy military in the region with an emphasis on a sophisticated air-force as its main deterrent.

Lest anyone miss the point, however, there are almost 600 large bomb-shelters scattered around the city, mostly in schools and MRT stations. And that’s on top of all homes required to have one since 1996!

Whether it’s practical is another matter. Stripped of shelves and supplies, my niece’s family of four and the maid might ride it out for a day inside, but a few days?

It seems like a recipe for instant claustrophobia. Also, unless you’re on the ground floor, it would not be sensible to use it in a high rise for obvious reasons.

For the record, our place does not have any such shelter although, having had our curiosity piqued, I’ve checked with other Singapore friends. Most said they use it for storage while some said they know of people who use it for their maids – grim! The best one I heard was a fellow who used the room to brew beer. Which is as good an antidote to anxiety as any I know.

Like Paul Simon, however, I suspect paranoia strikes deep in the heartland. Just try its hotline. You’ll just hear a terse bark: “How did you get this number?”

Meanwhile, did you hear about the Singaporean who’s paranoid, dyslexic, and an agnostic?

He’s afraid and worried all the time if there is a Dog.

ENDS

TOO MANY BIRTHDAYS CAN KILL YOU

Regular naps prevent old age, especially if you take them when driving – Advice in a Traffic Police Manual circa 1956

“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work,” replied comedian Woody Allen to the journalist, doing a profile, “I want to achieve it through not dying.”

Jonathan knows how not to die because he’s still living. Or, in his words, “so far, so good.”

No one’s quite sure how old he is exactly but most estimates place it at 190. Translation: if he orders three-minute eggs at a restaurant, it’s likely the waiters will ask for the money up-front.

I mean, you never know!

But he’s not likely to because Jonathan is a giant tortoise. Moreover, the Guinness Book of Records says it’s the oldest land animal to have ever lived.

Jonathan is estimated to have been born in 1832, the same year as Lewis Carroll but the latter only lived long enough to complete Alice in Wonderland and its sequel – Through the Looking Glass – before kicking the old b.

The year of birth, 1932, would make Jonathan 190 this year. To put that in a Malaysian context, Jonathan was born before Georgetown was made the capital of the Straits Settlements.

In the context of the United States, it was the year Andrew Jackson became US President and it was a full five years before Queen Victoria ascended the British throne and dubbed herself the Empress of India.

Like Lewis Carroll before her, Queen V also kicked the old b and her niece Elizabeth currently occupies the British throne. Much like love or Father Time, however, Jonathan continues to thrive even as Queen V’s grandson Charles, 72, remains uncrowned.

But the Bonnie Prince’s unfazed about it and remains admiring of his mother, the Queen. Indeed, he admitted as much to Jonathan recently.

“My mother was strict with me and my siblings but she tortoise well,” said Charles in his birthday wishes to Jonathan.

For reasons of privacy, Jonathan moved to the island of St Helena in the South Atlantic in 1882 when he currently resides. Even so, it only moved after it was finally convinced that its previous Famous Emigre Napoleon Bonaparte had not only left but had long kicked the old b as well. People had a habit of doing that around the old turtle.

But Jonathan’s famous and happy on the island. “He is a local icon, symbolic of persistence in the face of change,” Joe Hollins, Jonathan’s vet said. Still, the island’s Fire Department has banned any celebration of the beast’s birthday after the cake for its 150th caused a not-inconsiderable prairie fire.
In his twilight years, Jonathan is blind and can’t smell but still grazes on the grounds of the governor of the island’s residence where he lives with fellow giant tortoises David, Emma and Fred. David is happier than Fred but that, as you will discover, is another story.

He is fed by hand once a week to ensure he gets enough calories. But there’s no reason for pity though: his other main interests remain sex and sleeping – in that order.

The only problem is, well, he doesn’t seem especially picky.

“In spite of his age, Jonathan still has good libido and is seen frequently to mate with Emma and sometimes Fred.”

It isn’t clear what Fred thinks about this somewhat unorthodox arrangement: he declined comment.

ENDS

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