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

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

WE SAY GOOD-BYE, HE SAYS HELLO

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.”

ENDS

BEWARE THE CAMEL IN THE TENT

Imagine that!

CNN reported Thursday that an Australian musk-duck had been recorded saying quite clearly; “You bloody fool.” The network said it was the “first documented instance of the species mimicking human speech.”

Consider it a latter-day miracle, even some celestial advice. When ducks are given tongue, man should listen, none more so than Malaysia’s timid Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

The guy is Malaysia’s 9th premier and, by all accounts, a secure one: he’s even got a cooperation agreement with the opposition, a move that vaults him into near-political impregnability.

And what does he do, this most timorous of leaders? He tries to placate everyone, to the detriment of societal mores and the rule of law.

Last week, the government proposed Ahmad Maslan, an MP from Johor and Umno’s secretary-general, as deputy speaker for Parliament.

Never mind that Mr Ahmad could always be counted on as a reliable sounding board on policy matters: he wasn’t known as Mat “Good Idea Boss” Maslan for nothing.

No, it’s the fact that he was, and remains, charged for money laundering by the country’s corruption agency and is awaiting trial.

What kind of message does Putrajaya think it sends the Malaysian people or the world at large by such appointments? That crime pays: a deputy speaker’s salary is not to be sneezed at.

It trivialises corruption at best and, at worst, it implies a foregone conclusion on his matter.

It might get worse. Singapore’s Straits Times reported that Ismail was considering appointing former premier Najib Razak as a government Economic Advisor. It was clearly a trial balloon. And as if to provide ballast to the attempt, Umno’s Nazri Aziz said it would be a waste not to do so “given his experience.”

Najib is many times removed from Ahmad Maslan. He is a criminal convicted of the world’s biggest theft and we are now asked to believe the government “needs” his advice? Are we that bankrupt of talent?

If so…

Quick! Let’s get Jho Low back to advise the central bank how to plug money laundering holes in the banking system.

Whatever happened to shame as a concept?

And while Ismail’s insecurity is displayed for the world to see, former diplomat Dennis Ignatius warns that the country is sliding faster into Islamic-type statehood than anyone realises. This is, of course, due to Pas’ current control of the federal religious agencies like Jakim.

Pas should give thanks to the former PH government. It could never dream of making it into the federal government on its own. But by preying on Malay fears of losing political dominance – aided and abetted by the ever-reliable Dr M – it’s managed to sneak into the Malay coalition now governing Malaysia.

Never mind it’s a weak party with far less popular support than, say, the DAP or PKR, it still controls the most influential lever over the country’s majority people – Islam. Indirectly, that translates into enormous influence over the whole country – unless there is check and balance.

That’s why Pas is the most committed to ensure the permanence of the three-party Malay coalition now in power. It’s never had it so good.

If history is any judge, everyone should worry about this trend going forward.
Because the Islamic Party of Malaysia, or Pas, has never made any secret of its over-arching ambition for Malaysia.

ENDS

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, THE MORE THEY STAY THE SAME.

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.

ENDS

LIVING SEPARATE REALITIES IN BOLEHLAND

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? 

ENDS

IT’S BROKE. GO FIX IT!

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? 

ENDS

THIS TOO SHALL PASS: NOT SOON ENOUGH

Singapore’s Channel News Asia is good at detailing the rigours afflicting its neighbours, the better, presumably, to show the city state’s administrative superiority. But it’s accurate, and the other day, it showed pictures of Serdang Hospital: a large tent under which patients drowsed on lines of camp beds that stretched to the car park, a sight simultaneously sad and pitiful, like a stanza out of Dante. There are worse stories. Klang Hospital is, apparently, running out of oxygen.

God bless our medical front-liners. They are, hands-down, the heroes of this crisis. My admiration for them is unbounded and the fact that they continue to go to work every day, uncomplainingly, is a miracle.

Take L, a skin specialist, compelled to help at the Covid ward at Serdang Hospital. The work, she says is non-stop: a daily grind of pressure and heartbreak in a hazmat suit.

And clap for the generous Malaysian. An hour after a doctor at Serdang Hospital urgently called for buns and bottled water, 400 of each, for his patients, swiftly relayed WhatsApp messages resulted in its delivery, courtesy of a Rotary Club chapter near the hospital

These are the country’s unsung heroes, not those clowns in government. I mean, don’t you just hate it when old men dream up new tricks to remain in power?

This Perikatan Naasional government seems fearful of being accountable for its decisions. For some reason, they do not want their decisions scrutinised by Parliament. Why not table its resolutions to revoke the Emergency ordinances before Parliament and subject it to debate?

That’s Democracy 101. It’s also basic courtesy after months of hiding under the skirts of an ersatz Emergency. Skulking around and then trying to push through a retrospective revocation of the emergency ordinances only signals something to hide, a whiff of fire and unholy smoke.

On Thursday, in an unheard-of display of royal pique, the King singled out Law Minister Takiyuddin Hassan for “misleading” Parliament. There had, apparently, been a meeting between the King, the Minister and the Attorney General previously where the King had made clear that he wanted the revocation of the Emergency ordinances to be tabled and debated by Parliament before he consented to it.

The subsequent explanation from the PM’s office on Friday danced around the issue and never addressed the question of whether the King consented to the PN’s revocations. Did he sign off on it?

Nope. Neither did Parliament get a chance to debate anything. Takiyuddin coolly told Parliament that there was no need for debate as the Cabinet had done away with the revocations a week ago ergo there was nothing to get excited about.

Now if this was an action of the previous PH government, what do you think would have happened? Remember, also, the Law Minister then was one Liew Vui Keong from Sabah and the AG was a certain Tommy Thomas. I think we can safely assume that police reports would have piled up faster than an Usain Bolt on steroids. And the cries of treason would have reached near-hysteria.

Why is the government so fearful of scrutiny?

The simple answer is that they are loath to provide explanations: for the billions they have spent without legislative approval, for their dismal management of the pandemic.

The outbreak shows no sign of abating despite months of lockdown. The caseload now exceeds 1 million and continues to grow at an alarming pace.

Malaysia has always prided itself on its health system. Among developing countries, we were among the earliest to bring life expectancies and infant mortality rates on par with the developed world.

Now the system is breaking down. We are closing on 9,000 deaths from Covid and averaging 100-200 fatalities a day. The bodies are piling up, but the government insists that everything is “under control.”

This too shall pass. Meanwhile, you know what they say: some people are wise while some are otherwise.

ENDS