THE DOGS MAY BARK BUT THE CARAVAN MOVES ON

You can’t fix stupid: there’s not a pill you can take, or a class you can go to. – US comedian Ron White  

One suspects a great many politicians in Umno thought of Ismail Sabri the way mathematician Von Neuman thought about arcane math, that there’s “no sense in  being precise when you don’t even know what you’re talking about.”

But the Malaysian premier may be a great deal craftier than anyone gives him credit for. 

It is generally accepted that Brother Ismail likes the job and wants to keep it. But a segment of Umno led by Messrs Najib and Zahid, twin heroes-tuned-zeroes respectively, want an early election. The two HTZs are, apparently, convinced than a snap poll will somehow bring them political survival.

Going by Darwin, the duo’s chances aren’t great: extinction is the rule and survival is the exception. 

Even so, they remain undeterred but, to use a chess idiom, Brother Ismail has maintained a Sicilian defence of such complexity, it’s so far repelled all comers.  

Much to the chagrin of the duo, the wily premier has ignored, evaded, parried, and procrastinated with the best of them.

And, occasionally, he’s come back swinging. 

Consider his position in the ever-spreading Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) scandal.  

Last week, Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC)  revealed that the defence ministry and Boustead Naval Shipyard, the  contractor given the job,  had ignored the navy’s views on the project. 

The PAC disclosed that not a single ship had been completed although RM6 billion had been paid out by the government,  adding that the navy should have received five of the ships by August, that is to say, now. 

Surprise, surprise, the project had not been publicly tendered out but simply given to BNS through direct negotiations, a much-beloved Umno practice first created during the tenure of one Mahathir Mohamad.

In many ways, the LCS scandal has aroused a great deal of public anger. Unlike 1MDB, it didn’t involve complex money-laundering webs, global banking rules or fugitive crooks who hobnobbed  with Hollywood royalty. This was a straight forward “RM6 billion spent and nothing to show for it!”

So, the public wanted to know, where had the money gone, and into whose pocket? It was stuff that the ordinary man understood, grand theft rooted in treason.

At the material time, the premier was Najib and the defence minister, Zahid. 

Jibby has been  sarcastic about the matter but, in fairness,  he’s got far bigger problems now. For his part, Zahid denied any link to the matter. Then he changed tack and brought up “security” as possible cover. 

He advised restraint, warning that the release of the project’s details might expose state secrets and jeopardise  national security. 

According to the Star, Zahid said that the government should handle the matter “wisely” and “not be influenced by public opinion.”

But it appears that Brother Ismail was being influenced by public opinion. 

On Wednesday, the government declassified all documents regarding the LCS investigations, effectively making them public.  

On Thursday, the NST had this headline. LCS scandal: Report reveals Zahid involved in procurement process.  

It might get  worse for the guilty parties.  Putrajaya is  considering a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the matter. 

It almost always ferrets out the truth. 

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

MALAYSIA BOLEH RUN AMOK?

The recent behaviour of the Malaysian legal authorities is reminiscent of the time when Nikita Khrushchev banged his shoe on the desk at the United Nations after a speech by US President Dwight Eisenhower. It prompted British premier Harold Macmillan to remark mildly: “Perhaps we could have a translation, I could not quite follow.”

Macmillan was feigning ignorance through irony. But you didn’t have to be a genius to know that many Malaysians are annoyed that a former premier found guilty of 1) dodging taxes of over RM1 billion, and,
2) monumental larceny that’s off the charts is, nevertheless, allowed to travel to Singapore to be with his daughter for her second child.

Lesser mortals including 1) people owing, say, RM100 to the Inland Revenue Board or, 2) graduates still owing student loans have as much chance of travelling abroad as ordinary Russians did during Khrushchev’s tenure.

It was the Court of Appeal that returned Fearless Leader’s passport, previously impounded not just by the courts but the anti-corruption agency and the IRB. Even so, the court may have been persuaded because the prosecution didn’t object. Instead, the Attorney-General’s men preferred the safely cautious route and “left it to the court.”

Fearless upped the ante Thursday, asking the court to allow a delay to his travel plans because he’d been “entrusted” by Wannabe Leader to manage Malacca’s state elections next month. Umno’s current President Wannabe is also being tried for corruption.

Like Fearless, he’d been allowed to go abroad, only this time it’s to Germany for necessary medical treatment. And since both men – birds of a feather, we are reliably told – knew that only the credible Fearless could manage Malacca, it had to be just so.

It does speak volumes about Malaysian politics when the guy adjudged to be the most capable of winning an election for a political party is also the guy standing trial for the Heist of the Century.

Isn’t that Trump Territory?

It’s going to take over a month to manage the elections. Fearless was going to Singapore to be on hand, ostensibly, for the birth of his daughter’s second child.

Like she’s going to postpone child-birth now?

It took your breath away. Here were Fearless and Wannabe, both VIPs facing crimes of spectacular magnitude and nobody cared! The fact was that their trials kept being repeatedly postponed: for Parliament, for the Sabah elections, overseas travel, medical treatment abroad and, now, the Malacca elections.

What happened to justice? I thought it not only had to be done but needed to be seen to be done.

We seem to be living in an upside-down, Alice-in-Wonderland world. We appear to be peering through a looking glass, into a John Lennon song where “your insides are out and your outsides are in,” where nobody gives a damn.

Because no one seems to think it strange, abnormal or outrageous. Not the lawyers nor the judges, not the authorities and, especially, not the politicians.

It would be a mistake to think so, however. Going by their press, other countries are beginning to lump us among The Basket Cases. And, going by the chatter out there, a great many Malaysians are asking hard questions.

ENDS

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO UMNO

“If life were fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead.” – Talk show host, Johnny Carson

There’s a furore going on about non-Malay freight forwarding firms having to sell 51% of their equity to Malays.

It’s muted now because the government’s kicked it down the road – towards the end of next year – but, make no mistake, the ferment’s there and there’s reason for it. Do you think any Malaysian Chinese freight forwarder would happily relinquish control of a business he’s built up over a lifetime?

Even the government probably knows it’s not cricket. And it’s not. It’s the New Economic Policy, and although it’s been dolled up through two renovations – the National Development Policy in 1991 and the National Vision Policy in 2001 – it’s still very much the same old horse.

Indeed, Putrajaya didn’t even bother renaming the policy in its latest 5-year plan because, let’s face it, it’s here to stay.

The policy’s 50 years old now but it appears no nearer maturity than when it was birthed in 1971. That’s what happens when its most important prong – according to policy makers – has the grandiose aim of “restructuring” Malaysian society so that “no race can be identified with a specific economic function.” Methinks any government could compel many things under such sweeping ambition.

Unfortunately, no one remembers the policy’s second prong – the elimination of poverty, irrespective of race. And they seem to want to forget the policy’s overarching aim – national unity.

There’s a bucket of irony here. I’d submit that the policy’s implementation has been the single largest hindrance to national unity than anything else Malaysians have had to put up with.

When it was first mooted, the policy’s planners took pains to emphasise that its distributive element would always take place in a growing economy or, as they liked to say, “so long as the cake is growing.” And yet, the latest 51% bid for the freight forwarding cake was hatched during a pandemic!

The late Sanusi Junid, famously the “hatchet man” to a Dr Mahathir-run political machine, once told me it was fair because it was never about “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” In that equation, however, you could see how such a policy might always have the support of Paul.

The policy’s litmus test, its Holy Grail if you like, was for the Bumiputera to achieve a 30% share of national wealth. How the latter parameter is defined is mystifying to say the least but, over five decades, it’s now become clear that it will never be achieved. More pertinently, it was never meant to be achieved.

It was never meant to be achieved because that would mean the end of the policy. That’s anathema for Umno and the Malay right because the policy goes to the heart of Malay political dominance.

Abdullah Ahmad, another deceased Dr Mahathir confidant, spelt it out in an infamous 1986 speech he delivered in Singapore. The NEP, he declared, was “…for the protection, preservation and perpetuation” of Malay dominance.

Given that they constitute a majority, most non-Malays don’t quibble about a Malay-dominated government. But what, I ask, about Anwar Ibrahim’s excellent suggestion of a needs-based policy to replace the current one?

One doubts such a suggestion will fly. When it does not favour the Malay elite, nothing flies.

Sucker, watching a card game: “Is this a game of chance?”

W C Fields: “Not the way I play it, no.”

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

GOD IS GOOD BUT DON’T DANCE IN A SMALL BOAT

A fanatic is a man that does what he thinks the Lord would do if He knew the facts of the case.” Finlay Donne, 19th century American writer

Finally, a leader from the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) who makes sense.

No, it isn’t an oxymoron. You heard right. Nur Jazlan Mohamad, the party’s deputy head in Johor, has called for Umno to reconsider its ties with Islamist party Pas, in a pact first proposed in 2019. The pact was proposed after the then ruling BN coalition lost the 2018 general election to the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition. An Umno-Pas coalition was then proposed as a sure-fire winning formula.

Now the cracks are showing. “Umno has always been suspicious of PAS leaders as they now seem to be more interested in power and position and, in some cases, money, too. And in the current episode involving the Malaysian Rubber Board (MRB), there are some serious allegations,” said Mr Nur.

The latest episode involves the planned sale of prime property belonging to cash-rich MRB, currently under the jurisdiction of PAS minister Khairuddin Aman Razali. The board’s former chairman Umno MP Ahmad Nazlan Idris alleged recently that Mr Khairuddin was attempting to influence the sale’s outcome.

Pointing at the episode., Mr Nur said PAS was likely to be a liability in the next general election if the parties cooperated.

Be that as it may, the matter is now under investigation. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has reportedly called up Mr Nazlan for a statement in connection with the MRB allegations.

That is as it should be.

But back to Pas. All those who think they’re squarely to the right of Attila, raise your hands. Just ask yourself: what have they done for this country in terms of direction: in terms of sound policy, in terms of adding to the gross national good?

The party has ruled Kelantan for over three decades and what have they got to show for it? It’s a state with a lower life expectancy than other states, except Terengganu (ruled by Pas, unsurprisingly). It also reports the highest number of AIDS cases in the country and has the dubious distinction of being the most dirty.

Moreover, they assert claims that are downright stupid. Last year, Mr Khairuddin – the same MRB chap – led a three day mission to Turkey to drum up foreign investment. In his words it was very “successful.”

How successful? In the words of another bona fide rocket scientist, Abdul Azzez, the MP from Baling, it was so successful, it brought in RM82 billion in FDI!

What’s wrong with these people? They can’t even lie convincingly. Turkey isn’t doing very well at all. Its lira is half the value of the ringgit and the total amount of FDI Turkey got for the whole of 2019 was a paltry RM32 odd billion. Meanwhile, Mr Azeez is awaiting trial on corruption charges himself. #Justsaying.

From my observations of Pas over 30 years of journalism, a few consistent themes have emerged.

One is an obsessive preoccupation with the attire of Mas stewardesses. Indeed, it appears behavioural, frequently manifesting in distasteful parliamentary questions that demean women and insult the intelligence of male listeners.

Others include frowning upon anything that might, in moderation, improve the quality of the human spirit, to wit, wine, beer or tuak.

Finally, there is Pas’ long- standing desire to impose sharia law over the country, the better that we rapidly harken back to a medieval future.

But, why, oh why, don’t they denounce corruption? Better still, issue a fatwa against it.

ENDS