TRYING TO MAKE SENSE OUT OF NONSENSE

God is silent; if only man would shut up – Woody Allen

Jho Low would have appreciated the irony. Here was Dr Mahathir Mohamad, putting his foot into it as is his wont and there was Najib Razak, his nemesis, actually attempting to “rescue” him. 

Even so, the convicted former premier got in a gleeful jab of his own. “In the meantime, someone should take away all his (Dr Mahathir’s) social media accounts before he does any more damage.” 

Maybe someone should.   

What else would you make of a tweet like this? “Muslims have a right to be angry and to kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past.”

Does this sound like the ramblings  of a former Prime Minister of Malaysia or something else? Twitter was so disturbed it deleted Dr M’s post for “glorifying violence,”  immediately ranking the old man right up there with losers, fools and Donald Trump. 

Some terrible things had happened in France. Any sensible person would just decry the violence and the rhetoric, offer tea and sympathy, instead of leaping in with gratuitously offensive comments. We have enough problems of our own to worry about before  weighing in on the pain of others. 

Exhibiting the delicacy of an enraged bull in a China shop and offending millions of people should always be weighed against the virtues of tact. Sometimes there is an art to saying nothing when there is nothing to say. 

You would think that a former leader of more than 22 years, and 94 at that, would know better. I believe it’s called Diplomacy 101.

But Dr M has never really grasped a simple notion: if people really wanted your unsolicited advice, they’d ask for it. He still hasn’t got it. Even as premier, he believed that everyone had a right to an opinion – his. 

Maybe we should look on the bright side because it could be a lot worse: he might still be premier. 

But it was worse in the United States where Trump was still the President and he relished every moment of it because, as Art Buchwald might have said, 40 per cent of Americans worshipped the quicksand he walked on. 

President Trump felt good about himself and his chances next week as he had CoVid not only beaten, but on the run. “We’ve turned the corner on the virus,” he crowed to his supporters, many of whom had never led facts get in the way of their reality. “We’ve beaten the sucker!” 

Mr Trump believed that the US had turned the corner better than any other country on earth and it proved that he was the greatest leader since Mussolini, to whom he bore more than an unnerving  resemblance.

“You won’t find another leader who’s turned the corner more than me,” boasted the President who also knew that he was the most widely read person since Gutenberg invented the printing press. 

That was why he knew he would win. One, he had God on his side – he had that on good authority – and two, Biden’s arguments were  absurdity itself. It had to be because they directly contradicted his beliefs which his supporters knew were fact.    

We live and learn. Or as the President would have it…

…we live.

DESPERATELY SEEKING SOMEONE TO BLAME

It appears that no one in power in Malaysia has ever heard of being accountable for their actions. 

It does not seem that way across the Causeway. 

On Thursday, the chairman of Changi Airport Group, Liew Mun Leong, resigned days after Singapore’s High Court not only acquitted his former maid of stealing from him but criticised the allegations brought against her.

Liew, 74, had been the group’s founding chairman since 2009. 

In a separate statement, Liew said he had also resigned as an advisor to Temasek International and several other board positions he had been holding. He had decided to retire. 

The maid, Indonesia’s Parti Liyani was acquitted of stealing more than S$34,000 worth of items from Liew and his family. She’d worked for the family for a decade. 

In his judgment, Justice Chan Seng Onn said there was an “improper motive” for mounting the allegations against Parti. This drew the notice of the Attorney-General whose chambers then said the judge’s comments “do raise questions which warrant further investigations.”

It could be that Liew was told, even ordered, to quit but the fact remains that he did. And that might still not be sufficient to get him off the hook. 

Compare and contrast this to Malaysia where the truth varies but which is still a land of promise, especially before a general election. Here, the politicians like to make all the decisions without any of the responsibility. 

But the best proof that light travels faster than sound is the Malaysian minister or deputy minister: they all appear to be intelligent until they open their mouths. 

And no one, not a solitary soul, ever contemplates resignation as a consequence of stupidity or wrongdoing.  

The examples, to say the least, are legion. 

A full minister, with his family in tow, goes to Turkey and comes back without the mandatory two-week quarantine. When the news was leaked, he was fined RN1,000 after the fact. And this after a woman was jailed and fined RM8,000 for a similar offence. 

Neither has the minister ever apologised. 

A university student in rural Sabah climbs a tree for better Internet connectivity to take an online examination. When she posts this on her Facebook page, two deputy ministers castigate her decrying her post as fake. 

When they get lambasted online, they retreat in a hurry and another minister flies to Sabah to apologise to the family. One of the two deputies has since apologised while the other quietly deleted his offending post without apologising,  

Then there was the MP from the Islamic Party of Malaysia. During the debate on new drink driving laws, the not-very-informed lawmaker suggested that the Bible had been perverted presumably because it did not condemn the consumption of wine. 

When this prompted an uproar, the unrepentant MP advised Christians that they “had no right” to be offended as his statement had been “a fact.” 

The wannabe Bible scholar has been remarkably blasé about his thesis since. 

But why should we be surprised? 

A former premier has been found guilty of corruption, tax-dodging and gross abuse of power involving billions of dollars. Yet, as his judge noted, he has shown “no remorse” and has swaggered about since, appearing to all the world as the soul of probity. 

Is there honour among thieves? Nah!!

Here we go again! 

According to a report in the New York Times, Goldman Sachs, the US investment banker that helped birth a gigantic fraud at the 1Malaysia Development Fund (1MDB), is attempting to get US federal prosecutors to ease up on the bank’s role in the scandal. 

The report stated that lawyers for Goldman Sachs had asked US Deputy Attorney-General Jeffery Rosen to review demands by certain federal prosecutors that Goldman Sachs pay more than US$2bil (RM8.5bil) in fines and plead guilty to a charge.

The report said that the bank was also seeking to pay lower fines and to avoid a guilty plea altogether. It quoted sources as speaking on the condition of anonymity as the talks were currently ongoing.

“The request, which was made several weeks ago, is not unusual for a high-profile corporate investigation and often comes in the final stage of settlement talks,” said the paper. 

“But it has been a point of pride for Goldman that it has never had to admit guilt in a federal investigation, and the scandal has already been a black eye for the bank,” the report said.

That could be understating it considerably. For its part, Malaysia got a lot more than a black eye. 1MDB’s protagonists earned the dubious distinction of perpetrating the world’s biggest-ever fraud.

But “point of pride” and “never had to admit guilt”? Surely you jest, Goldman?

It’s not as if the investment bank had an unblemished reputation.

In 2009, for example, a Rolling Stone article by Matt Tiabbi unforgettably described Goldman Sachs as a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money”. 

So much for “point of principle.’ 

According to the US Justice Department, Goldman Sachs earned USD$600mil (RM2.56bil) in fees for raising US$6bil (RM25.6bil) for 1MDB.

Tim Leissner, the Goldman employee in Asia, had admitted that he and others at the investment firm  had conspired to circumvent the bank’s internal control to work with fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho – known as Felonious to friends and the police alike – to bribe Malaysian officials in order to secure the lucrative bond work for the bank.

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since. 

A government has collapsed under the weight of 1MDB and its leader – Fearless to all and sundry – has been tried and is awaiting a verdict in July 

Felonious is still at large and he corpulently continues to cast a sizeable shadow over the Malaysian body politic. As is his wont, he prefers to cast that shadow as far away from Malaysia as possible. 

Fearless hasn’t changed much though. He continues to try and assert himself although it’s doubtful if he will ever be taken seriously again.  

He, however, does admit 1MDB might have been a mistake. 

He has since come to the revelation that Malaysia “had been cheated.” By Felonious! Peerless also claimed that “it was clear” that Goldman had also failed.

He had clearly been thinking the matter over the last two years and seemed to have all the answers. 

And like the Oracle of Delphi of bygone days, Fearless pronounced his Truth. It was actually everyone – “the investment bank, the lawyers and the auditors” – who had all let us, all of us, the whole country, down. 

Everyone but him. 

YOU CAN EASILY MEET EXPENSES, THEY’RE EVERYWHERE

The private hospital is a servant of humanity and it has done brilliant work in isolating new and increasingly innovative fees. 

That sounds cynical but I’m beginning to wonder if it rings true in the private halls of Medical Malaysia.

Recently, it was reported that a 39-year-old man, who takes his 64-year-old mother to a private hospital in Penang for dialysis treatment thrice weekly, cried foul after being charged an extra RM5 in each bill since April.

When he inquired what the charges were for, he was blandly informed that it was for ‘sanitiser use and a body temperature check.’

Now if that’s not profiteering, I don’t know what is.

At the Accident and Emergency Department, such charges are routinely parked under a general cover-all phrase as “Outpatient Precautionary Measures”, according to that plague of porcine-pandemic-profiteers, the Consumer Association of Penang or Cap.    

“During this Covid-19 emergency period, taking temperature readings of people walking into hospitals, offices and stores is a requirement of the Ministry of Health,’ huffed Mohideen Kader, the consumer body’s head. 

It is a mandatory requirement during the current Covid-19 outbreak and can probably be expensed off taxes. In other words, Mr Mohideen is right. 

In a pandemic such as this, you can see how charges like that might add up especially if everyone – from stores and government departments to hotels and diners – decides to adopt similar charges along the grounds that “precautionary measures” don’t come cheap. 

Hospital administrators should be careful what they wish for. 

We all know that private medical care in Malaysia is one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy because it encapsulates a rather unsavoury principle of capitalism: it is what the market can bear and in the case of private healthcare, it’s a lot. 

Standout example: there is an elderly Malaysian billionaire, for example, who’s been living 24/7 in a leading Kuala Lumpur private hospital for almost four years now. He occupies a suite of rooms there where he chairs meetings without stress as medical treatment is just a click away. 

To the hospital, he is an important, and recurrent if not ever-increasing, revenue stream and is probably listed in its annual report as such. And to him, the expense is probably just a droplet in his dividend stream. 

But imagine his peace of mind if he is the kind of hypochondriac that checks into a hospital if only for everyday reassurance. 

He is truly living the hypochondriac’s dream: to be surrounded by doctors of all specialties, waiting alertly to spring into action at his first ache, twinge, cramp, spasm or grimace of pain that all but screams out to the assembled throng: “I told you I was sick!”  

But he is a billionaire who probably would not deign to examine his monthly bills nor carp over extra charges designed to squeeze blood from stones. 

But the ordinary Malaysian does, because his or her money usually has to go a long way. 

And rapaciousness of the sort exhibited by the Penang hospital is revolting and gives credence to the belief that pawn brokers and private hospitals are cut from the same cloth – fleece. 

FLIGHTLESS ON THE FEDERAL FREEWAY

Do you know why the ostrich wanted to cross the Federal Highway?

I can mow reveal – in the strictest confidence, mind – that said ostrich was of Roman descent and it was afraid that someone would Caesar!

It was the talk of Kuala Lumpur on that Thursday evening. An ostrich identified only as Chickaboo – Italian for “why am I always surrounded by turkeys?” – made a run for it after it leapt out of its truck near University Malaya and pelted down the Federal Highway at speeds of close to 35 kilometres an hour. It was, however, not charged for impeding traffic as it was travelling much faster than the traffic around it.

The fast, feathered fugitive then embarked on a hour-long, flightless frolic of its own. According to this newspaper, the fowl fiend was finally flummoxed and pinned down at around 4.15pm by two rescuers, identified only as the heroic Agus and Shunmugavael.

The bird had, apparently, belonged to an ostrich farm in Semenyih although no one can explain what it was doing driving a truck near University Malaya.

Agus and Shunmugavel should be considered for medals of valour in the face of overwhelming might. Ostriches are the largest and heaviest birds on the planet. They are between seven and nine feet tall and can weigh up to 350 pounds.

OK, the poor fellows cannot fly but, on the other hand, you don’t see them getting sucked into jet engines either. You have to put these things in perspective. The sinking of the Titanic, for example, was both a tragedy and a triumph – a tragedy for its passengers but a triumph for the lobsters awaiting the chef’s ministrations.

Listening to the radio then, I was struck by the number of people calling up to profess concern for the feathered fugitive There is no doubt about it: human beings generally do care about the creatures on this good earth especially when they are not eating or wearing them.

What, you might ask, will happen to Chickaboo of no last name, that defiant Italian chick with long legs and massive sprinting ability, now impossibly stuck miles away from Rome and in the green, bowels of Semenyih?

Nothing apparently. We have been told that it belonged to an altruistic farm peopled by brave but benign gentlemen with no last names – Agus and Shun, for instance – and the mighty Chickaboo will live out its speedy life, eschewing pasta, and getting used to Malaysian cuisine. 

In short, Chickaboo was born free and, much to the chagrin of red-meat lovers the world over, would never be a candidate for the cooking pots of Asia.

In short, like the sheep that gives us steel wool, Chickaboo had no natural enemies except for disease, old age and high cholesterol associated with an unvarying Malaysian diet.

It was free to roam the meadows of Semenyih and do whatever it was ostriches do when they are left free to roam the meadows in Semenyih.

I can almost hear you sigh, dear reader. Was that a sigh of contentment, of things ending up in their proper place and of happy endings fading into the sunset?

Or was that a sigh of vexation at bleeding-heart, animal-lover liberals who had risen to the top of the food chain only to become vegetarians?

Meanwhile, back at the farm in Semenyih……

This first appeared in June 2016

THE AUDACITY OF DOPES

Malaysian counterfeiters sat up alertly on the news, prepared to spring into action making fake donkey hides faster than you could say Hee Haw.

If they could sell fake birds’ nests to China, they could do anything.

Xinhua had reported that a shortage of donkey hides used to produce the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) “ejiao” had resulted in a deluge of imitations, with around 40% likely to be fake.

Donkey-hide gelatine is made by boiling the donkey’s skin and refining the results into a tonic routinely prescribed for women suffering from anaemia, dry coughs or dizziness.

History will record that the remedy was first invented around 240 BC during the reign of Emperor Shih Hwang Ti by his first cousin Shih Hwang Ho who, coincidentally enough, had also discovered birds’ nest soup.

The good Master Hwang was ho-ho’ing his way homewards when his eye fell idly on a particularly grotty, saliva-flecked nest of a swift on a nearby tree. A lesser man might have passed by with a dry “Harrumph”, but Master Hwang was made of sterner stuff. 

He proceeded to slowly simmer the nest together with garlic, onions, eggs, dates and a dash of ginseng, to produce a dish fit for Emperor Shih that very night.

But that was then. 

This time, Master Shih was confronted by something else. His wife had been coughing dryly and seemed dizzy and anaemic all at the same time. It was then that Shih had his Eureka moment.

He had noticed that his donkey could jump higher than a building. Most men would have put that down to just having an athletic ass. A more pious man might have even been moved enough to exclaim: “Let us bray.”

What Master Shih didn’t know, at the time, was that all donkeys could jump higher than a building for the simple reason that a building could not jump at all. 

But he didn’t know that yet, so he proceeded to cook Pancakes for almost a whole day and served it to his wife the next morning.

She wasn’t too thrilled about it as Pancakes had been her favourite donkey. But the results were amazing.

His wife’s dizziness and anaemia vanished, and she commenced coughing wetly as opposed to dryly.

She died three days later of pneumonia and grief. 

But that was neither here nor there as two out of three weren’t bad and a grateful Emperor promptly named a river after his brilliant cousin. That’s why it’s called the Hwang Ho to this day. 

The demands for Shih’s product grew so intensely that by the 21st Century 5,000 tonnes of ejiao were being produced annually in China, according to industry figures. 

It needed four million donkey hides each year. But Chinese annual supply is less than 1.8 million, so donkey hide prices rose exponentially.

That, of course, grabbed the attention of Malaysian counterfeiters whose cutting-edge technologies in the manufacture of everything from fake toothpaste to fake Viagra had roused the admiration of Somalian pirates who wondered if it was more profitable to adopt made-in-Malaysia skills like fixing international football games.

The average Malaysian counterfeiter was a deeply practical man who could cook up anything because he knew the golden rule of haute cuisine: if it looked like a duck, walked like a duck and talked like a duck, it probably needed a little more time in the microwave.

And so Malaysian counterfeiters were now in a position to supply China’s insatiable demand for Shih’s invention by shrewdly adopting it from shoes fashioned out of horse leather.  

In short, you didn’t have to be Bill Gates to make money. All you needed to have was some horse’s ass.

The column was first written in January 2016.

THE MAT MOTO’: REBELS WITHOUT A PAUSE?

Star poll six years ago asked readers if they supported a proposal to close certain Kuala Lumpur roads at night to allow Mat Rempit (loosely, “motorcycle gangs”) to race, 

92 per cent of readers said no.

The result should surprise no one. But the idea had been proposed by a former minister in a previous administration that had been led by a leader now on trial for alleged corruption. So, of course, the idea had been taken seriously enough for the said newspaper to run said survey.

I suppose it’s true. We had been living in an age where, to paraphrase columnist George Will, it was difficult enough to find common sense “without a search warrant”. 

At the time, the said minister had explained his idea away as something that the gangs might do to blow off steam as they had “no other means of entertainment.” And he was sensitive to their feelings, tactfully referring to the Rempit as “Mat Moto”.

With masterly understatement, the English press translated his tactful phraseology as “motorcycle enthusiasts”. 

No kidding!

At their worst, the wannabe Easy Riders were enthusiastically criminal. And even at their collective best, the Rempit were enthusiastic nuisances like non-stop firecrackers, political speeches or aggressively annoying neighbours.

The Rempit are Malaysia’s low-cost version of the Hell’s Angels in the U.S but with a difference: they did rove around in packs but on itsy-bitsy bikes and in the wee hours of the night. That was bad enough, but they weren’t averse to the occasional intimidation, assault and robbery of victims from Rawang to Rompin if it so presented itself.

They did it without fear or favour and it was nothing personal unless you were the victim. The received wisdom was that the police were loath to crack down on them as many were “students.” 

Actually, most had never seen the back of a classroom in years. Why waste time learning, they asked themselves earnestly, when ignorance was instantaneous? It was a good question and most aspired to be despatch riders, the better to dispatch their victims with efficiency.

Some were even, well, religious: they had prayed for bigger bikes without success, so they stole them instead and then asked for forgiveness.  “Let us prey,” they said and, verily, it was done.

In truth, you couldn’t blame the police as they had tried curbing them. As far back as 15 years ago the police in Selangor had decided to get tough with the Rempit by confiscating their motorcycles.

But some newspapers objected, pointing out that the act could harm their livelihoods. The police replied that it was precisely what they were trying to do.

But no, the newspapers refused to budge, and the police backed off ensuring that both the livelihoods and the hoods remained lively.

Academic studies have revealed that the Rempit did what they did because they were bored and depressed. In short, it was a perfect cycle that, starting at 17, took years to perfect. They did what they did because they were bored and depressed and were bored and depressed because they did what they did.

The authorities may be getting less amused. Six months ago, repeated complaints from Penang residents led to a massive late-night ambush by police that nabbed over 350 offenders who not only had to push their bikes 7 kilometres to the nearest station but were also charged for various other offences. 

The Rempit grumbled that it wasn’t cricket. And they were right, it wasn’t.

It was the law. 

LIFE IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU’RE BUSY MAKING OTHER PLANS

It isn’t a nice time for Planet Earth,

don’t you think?

Between climate change that’s getting scary and the possibility of a global pandemic courtesy of the novel coronavirus, the world seems to be quickly going to hell in a handbasket.

We are told that Jakarta is sinking and will vanish off the earth’s face in 30 years. Likewise, the ringgit – and a whole host of currencies besides –is getting that sinking feeling. So are our disposable incomes. 

It’s got a lot of people scared. I spend a lot of time in Singapore these days and people here went near berserk when the government first amped up its warnings on the infection a month ago. Stores rapidly emptied of sanitisers, face masks, rice, eggs and, especially, toilet paper. Even now, face masks are at a premium. 

Bear in mind that Singapore is one of the richest places on the planet. Now think Somalia – which is facing the same challenges – and you get a glimpse of the horrors of income inequality. 

Maybe it’s a product of my generation, people born in the 1950s and who came of age in Malaysia and Singapore in the 1970s. We did not go through the hardships of war or occupation, for example. My father did and he remembered them to the extent that he carried it around with him like a badly healed wound. When I once offered to drive him around Seremban in my wife’s new Ford Laser, for example, he declined on the grounds that it was Japanese.

So yes, while we might remember the embarrassing discomforts of bucket toilets in the 1960s, it’s a fleeting memory, not unlike a fading nightmare. I remember the genteel poverty of my family and wonder how on earth we managed to make it – all of us – to where we are now.  

Indeed, it would be true to say that my classmates and myself have largely availed ourselves of the opportunities afforded us, each in our own way. In my case, I have had an over achiever’s share of luck along the way and I’m grateful. 

In short, while there’s been a bad day here and there, it’s not been a bad life. 

That’s why we should pray that the economic, climatic and political speedbumps that are emerging to confront the world do not last. Let’s hope that man’s ingenuity carries the day. 

In Malaysia’s case, it is especially important. While the RM20 billion stimulus package will go a long way to alleviating the challenges of the pandemic, our political climate is far more ugly. 

Dr Mahathir Mohamad only returned to power through co-operation from stronger parties that was cemented through a promise. That is easily broken, it seems. Now he urges a unity government but one that will only work if he is to head it. It does not seem to occur to him, going on 95, that others might do it just as well, if not better.  

It is ironic that Muhyiddin Yassin, sacked by the former premier for daring to reveal a great wrong, now thinks it appropriate to partner people facing trial on charges of corruption. Taking the premise to its conclusion, it implies that his victory would grant them absolution. 

What would it mean for the AG’s Chambers? The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission? All that fledgling reform of which he was a part? 

It was George Santayana who predicted: “Those who forget the lessons of history are condemned to repeat it.” 

Brace up folks. It could be a rough ride. 

IN PRAISE OF CNY

I once asked a Catholic friend of mine which festivity her family took more seriously, Christmas or Chinese New Year, and her reply was unhesitating: “Chinese New Year!” 

It’s the time, apparently, that it’s almost guaranteed the whole family will get together. 

When I was growing up, however, I knew very little about the festival. All I knew was that it was almost always very hot, and we didn’t have to go to school. And on its eve, the sound of firecrackers exploding late into the night. 

It always thrilled me and my brothers although, I think it annoyed my parents no end. 

In the 1960s and early 70s, Seremban pretty much came to a stop for at least a week during Chinese New Year. My mother used to hoard provisions before the fact; a practice generally followed by most of our neighbours. 

And if you depended on your bicycle – as did all my friends – your goose was cooked if it suddenly developed a puncture during the period because the only bike-repair shop within walking distance of my house would inevitably be shut and remain so for a week.  

I grew to admire such people after a while. I mean, the bike repair guy could not have been making much, but he was always cheerful and worked like crazy throughout the year so that he could enjoy a week with his family without worry.

You’ve got to admire such stoicism. 

As I grew older, my high school classmates would occasionally invite us over. We used to go in bicycle packs: there’s courage in numbers. 

Apart from the traditional cakes, there was always cold Orange Crush which even today I cannot drink without triggering some youthful memory. 

And there were the salted melon nuts or the ubiquitous kwa chi. That stuff was positively addictive. 

I’ve been married for a long time now and my wife’s family is a truly Malaysian mishmash, so we get invited to quite a few family reunion dinners.

The only difference is that the Orange Crush has been replaced by beer or something a lot stronger.  

Which reminds me there is a lot to be said for Chinese New Year because it’s the only time you can buy beer at almost 30% discounts. I find this custom laudable and urge beer companies to extend this throughout the year because it will make for great corporate social responsibility. 

When we were living in Section 6 in Petaling Jaya in the 1990s, we struck up enduring friendships, with some single neighbours and couples, that have lasted despite many of us moving to different neighbourhoods. A curious, if quirky, tradition also evolved out of it. 

We don’t remember who started it, but we decided to adopt the festival because, among other reasons, my wife has some Chinese blood from her paternal grandmother. 

So, we decided to have reunion pot-luck dinners, too, but on the day itself, and not its eve because one of us is a Chinese guy and he always spends the eve with his mother. 

It’s been going on now for over 25 years and it’s been a lot of fun. 

Happy Chinese New Year everyone. 

We’ll drink a cup of kindness….yet

Obesity, apparently, is a growing problem in Malaysia. 

In fact, it is so problematic that a lot of people in Malaysia are overweight. Indeed, the number of overweight people in the country could very well constitute the majority, which means the overweight person now constitutes the average. 

There you go. That’s nailing your main New Year resolution right there.

A new year is dawning, and we stand poised to leave the last teen year of our lives. And what we approach – 2020 – is a bellwether because it used to represent an ideal first articulated by Dr Mahathir in 1991 when all Malaysians might “walk free and equal under the Malaysian sun.” 

Fat chance. 

We are becoming more polarised along racial and religious lines. And, alarmingly, it is almost always seen as a Malay-Non-Malay schism, a phenomenon that’s been boosted by the alliance between the primary Malay opposition parties.

Minor matters are being blown out of proportion. The return, and disposal, of Chin Peng’s ashes has stirred up such a fuss and such anger against the government, you’d think communism was alive and well in Malaysia!

Unfortunately, that’s what some people think. A Muslim preacher said that recently; while another student warned that the country could face race riots if the Chinese educationist group, Dong Zong, was not banned. 

Meanwhile, the ringgit stubbornly remains below RM4 to the greenback while the stock-market is trending near four-year lows. And this despite very reasonable economic growth for last year and this. Let’s face it, a 4-5% expansion in real gross domestic product in these economic times is very good. 

And notwithstanding the defence put up by Mr Kadir Jasin, some of that blame must rest squarely with the Prime Minister. Markets hate uncertainty and, faced with it, almost always vote with their feet. 

By adamantly refusing to set a definite date for a transfer of power, Dr Mahathir has cast a pall of uncertainty over the PH government. That is not only irresponsible – he is 94 – but downright distasteful.

It seems to suggest that he can no longer bear to be out of power after having achieved it again, and against all the odds. For a man who willingly surrendered power in 2003 when he was unchallengeable, that is not only sad but pathetic. 

To say it’s because he does not trust Mr Anwar Ibrahim is almost disingenuous. Could not that be said for all his potential and real-life successors?

Which reminds me. In early 1994, I was invited to a three-day seminar in Langkawi. Dubbed a camp to build a “Premier Nation,” its participants were all non-Malay Malaysians comprising politicians, prominent businessmen and others including journalists.

On the last day, Dr Mahathir held court and he did so candidly. At question time, I thought I would also be frank and asked him about Vision 2020, something along these lines. On hindsight, I never thought it would be ironic. 

“2020 expects equality and a blurring of race. But that will arouse opposition and it’s likely that you won’t be around. What guarantees do we, the Non-Malays, have that your successor, whoever he is, will share your allegiance to the policy.”

Dr M then ran through his potential successors – Musa Hitam and Ghafar Baba, respectively – whom he then proceeded to disparage. 

He then assured us that “if anyone can, my successor Anwar Ibrahim” will deliver 2020, adding surprisingly, “he reminds me of myself when I was that age.”

OK, that was 26 years ago. But who knows, maybe 2020 will be a good year, perhaps even better than its predecessor. Let us hope so. 

Happy New Year folks.