30 November, 2006

Malaysia's Anwar Says He Plans to Run for Parliament

Anwar Ibrahim, who was fired as finance minister and arrested in 1998, said he will run for parliament after he returns to the country next month.

The 59-year-old Anwar said he plans to push for greater democracy, more press freedom and an easing of affirmative action laws that he argues have enriched "cronies" of the government. The next national elections are scheduled for 2008.

"I'm committed to the reform agenda," Anwar, who also served as deputy prime minister, said in an interview yesterday in Washington, where he is a visiting professor at Georgetown University.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Malaysia's economy is trailing those of its neighbors, including Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore, Anwar said, advocating a "new economic agenda." Corruption and preferential treatment for ethnic Malays are making the country uncompetitive, he added.

"On that agenda would be a specific way in which you would deal with the rise of China in India, even countries like Vietnam grabbing market share," he said in a separate interview with Bloomberg Television.

Anwar was his country's second-most powerful politician when he was dismissed by then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and imprisoned for almost six years on corruption and sodomy charges. Anwar says the accusations were part of a conspiracy by Mahathir -- who had previously named Anwar as his successor -- to destroy his political career.

Malaysia's Federal Court, the highest court of appeal, quashed the sodomy conviction in 2004, although it upheld the corruption charge, which means Anwar cannot run for public office until 2008.

Attacking Cronies

Anwar reiterated his argument that Malaysia should stop discriminating in favor of its ethnic Malay majority, which he described as a "policy to enrich the few cronies and family members of the cabinet and the leaders of the ruling party."

Anwar's rise to power within that ruling party began more than two decades ago when he was elected to parliament from the state of Penang in the country's northeast. His influence grew when he became finance minister in 1991 and deputy leader of the United Malays National Organization, which has governed the country since independence from Great Britain in 1957.

Asked if he aspires to lead the country, he said: "The decision of who is going to be prime minister is going to be the decision of the party," referring to the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), currently headed by his wife.
(Source: bloomberg.com)

Meanwhile, Malaysia's trade minister is confident a free trade accord with the United States could be reached in the "very near future" if Washington continues to show flexibility, a report said Wednesday.

Negotiators from both countries have held three rounds of talks and are due to meet again in January in San Francisco, Malaysia's Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz was quoted as saying by national news agency Bernama while on a trade mission in the U.S.

She said both sides have reached a high level of understanding of each other's requirements and sensitivities.

"If the U.S. continues to show the same level of flexibility that was seen in the third round, I am confident that a mutually beneficial deal is possible in the very near future," she said in the report.

Malaysia is the United States' 10th-largest trading partner, with US$44 billion (euro35 billion) in two-way trade in 2005. Officials say that figure will double by 2010 if the pact is signed.

Malaysia has stressed it would not compromise on its policy on allocating government contracts for ethnic Malay-owned companies under a decades-old affirmative action policy.

American negotiators have said Washington wants transparency in "government procurement," or awarding of Malaysian government tenders, greater imports of foreign cars and better access to financial markets.

Malaysia, where U.S. trade negotiators have their sights set on doing away with policies that were introduced in the early 1970s after public anger over economic disparities gave rise to race-riots. Affirmative action-style policies have been used in the areas of education, employment and corporate ownership in an effort to improve the economic prospects of ethnic Malay citizens.

Under the so-called Bumiputra policies, ethnic Malays enjoy preferential status when bidding for certain government contracts; likewise, when state-owned assets are privatized, consortiums including ethnic Malays will be favoured buyers.

These policies–which could put U.S. businesses at some disadvantage–have attracted the scrutiny of U.S. trade negotiators; negotiations on a U.S.-Malaysia Free Trade Agreement are now at loggerheads over the issue.

For the time being, Malaysian officials are talking tough.

"We have our own integral policies which are based on socio-economic development premises," Trade Minister Dato Seri Rafidah Aziz recently told the Malaysia Star newspaper, and U.S. demands to unwind those policies are a "no-go."

But, the viability of a U.S.-Malaysia deal could hang in the balance. Indeed, similar tensions in free trade talks between South Africa and the United States contributed to a recent shelving of those negotiations.

U.S. businesses–abetted by U.S. trade negotiators–have objected to South Africa's Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) policies, which seek to undo some of the disparities occasioned by decades of apartheid rule in South Africa.

Among the tools used by the South African government are affirmative action policies designed to promote greater representation in the managerial ranks of the economy, as well as requirements for private businesses to sell equity stakes to black businesspeople or other "historically disadvantaged" persons.

These policies are not without their critics, and the creation of a class of "BEE millionaires" has only served to affirm the fear that affirmative action may offer the most benefits to those who are already relatively well-off (the least advantaged of the disadvantaged).

Indeed, any sort of race-based affirmative action policy can be a delicate balancing act.

Taken too far, such policies can lead to resentment, brain drain and capital flight. The contrary danger, however, is that the failure to push redistributionist policies can give rise to darker impulses.

The Sun says "Let's have only one Bolehland "


Michael Backman " Malaysia bites back and industriously trades the insults "

Malaysia is Bolehland in more ways than one. We have certainly come a long way and have achieved much. For a small country, we are well-known as a manufacturing and a trading nation and also for our stand on important international issues. We are known for our commitment to international peace and in this regard we do not hesitate when asked to send our soldiers to serve in peacekeeping forces anywhere in the world. We have sailed around the world, gone to the South Pole, swum across the English Channel and climbed Mount Everest.

For a while we were home to the highest building in the world, we have one of the tallest telecommunications towers, our own version of the Silicon Valley - trappings of the First World - and we are now embarking on something even more ambitious - a giant city cum modern development hub called the Iskandar Development Region. But beneath all these modern indicators of progress and well-being is a side of Malaysia that many have known to exist but somehow has managed to remain hidden from most people.

But those who have gained or benefited from it know that it exists and that it is something they can exploit further should they so choose. Those who have suffered from it also know that it exists, especially in the sphere known as local government, and that it is something they can do little about. It is another realm of Bolehland.

Thus buildings collapse because poor quality materials are used, buildings on hillslopes topple over because no proper study of the strength of the hillsides was conducted, land approved for landless people is suddenly found to be owned by some rich and well-connected persons, huge bunglows are built without permission, low-cost houses meant for the poor are sold to friends of powerful people and a host of other things that should not happen.

Much of these things boleh happen because those responsible for local governments choose to close one eye to the rules, the laws and the regulations that govern their operations and because of poor monitoring by those we entrust to run the country for us. What happened in Klang and Ampang demonstrate how some officials of the government are so used to disregarding the law that they have even dared to thumb their noses at the authorities above them. We pray and hope that we are seeing the last of them.


The day before, the Government announced that a new RM400 million ($A142 million) palace will be built for Malaysia's king, a position that is almost entirely ceremonial.

(Note: a police report being lodged against Lim Kit Siang for asking questions about the new RM400 million Istana Negara in Parliament last week.)

And the week before a groundbreaking ceremony was held for a second bridge between Penang and the Malaysian peninsular costing RM3 billion, a bridge that many consider unnecessary.

(Note: Lim Kit Siang wrote - (Michael Backman, whose column “While Malaysia fiddles, its opportunities are running dry” in the Melbourne Age on the eve of the Umno General Assembly in the middle of the month, has written a sequel “Malaysia bites back and industriously trades the insults”, replying to the strictures by Rafidah Aziz.

Michael is misinformed about the second Penang bridge, which is urgently needed to relieve the traffic congestion which often brings the Penang Bridge to a standstill. The issue is not whether a second Penang bridge is needed, but why it was awarded without any open tender which is supposed to be the hallmark of the premiership of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. There is also one factual error.)

Where would the money be better spent?

Education is the obvious answer. But not on school buildings, for it matters less in what children are educated than how. And how children are educated in Malaysia is a national disaster.

Learning is largely by rote. In an email to me last week, one Malaysian recalled her schooling as being in a system all about spoon-feeding, memory work and regurgitation.

Students are not encouraged to think for themselves and they become adults who swallow everything they're told.

Even the existing system fails many. It has just emerged that in Sabah state, only 46 per cent of the students who had sat the UPSR — the exam that students sit before going to secondary school — had passed. One small school actually had a 100 per cent failure rate.

But does the Malaysian Government want creative, critical thinkers? Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi said to the ruling party's recent general assembly Malaysia needed to make students creative. But that means they must be questioning and thus critical; what hope is there of that when one of Abdullah's own ministers tells Malaysians that they cannot say the things that I can and hundreds of them write to me to complain because they don't feel that they can complain to their own Government?

Malaysia needs to do something. Its oil will run out soon and it has lost much of its appeal to foreign investors — recent UN figures show that from 2004 to 2005, foreign investment in Malaysia fell by 14 per cent, when the world economy was enjoying one of its longest periods of growth. One might wonder what the Trade and Industry Minister has actually been doing.

But, while politicians from the ruling party preach about Malay nationalism, there are at least some who quietly go about the business of trying to secure the country's future. Not all of them are Chinese.

Two weeks ago, Malaysia's MMC Corporation, together with a local partner, won a $US30 billion infrastructure deal in Saudi Arabia. That's a huge undertaking for any company, let alone a Malaysian one, and just as well too — someone has to pay the bills.


Filipino refugees in Malaysia
By Alfredo G. Rosario - The Manila Times

One of the stark realities in the bilateral relations between the Philippines and Malaysia is the unresolved issue of thousands of Filipino refugees living in limbo in Malaysia, mostly in Sabah.

Tawi-Tawi Congressman Nur Jaafar brought this problem to light following the visit of a congressional goodwill mission which he headed to Kuala Lumpur early this month.

Jaafar said there are an estimated 100,000 Filipino refugees who were born through mixed marriages with Malaysians.

“They spanned at least three generations from the original refugees who fled to Sabah during the civil war between the Philippine military and the Moro National Liberation Front in the seventies,” said Jaafar.

In the congressional team’s dialogue with Malaysian authorities, Jaafar sought an appropriate status for the refugees’ children who consider Malaysia as their country for having been born and lived there all their lives.

Identity cards

More specifically, he appealed for the early issuance of their ICs (identity cards) to facilitate the legalization of their stay in Malaysia. He requested the Malaysian government to accord permanent residence to the palarians, or Filipino refugees. He recalled that during the incumbency of then Prime Minister Mohammad Mahathir, only 600 had been issued their ICs.

Jaafar called for a new agreement between the governments of the Philippines and Malaysia to address the plight of these stateless people. He said the agreement should be forged “so that these offspring of undocumented Filipinos can have a choice.”

Foreign Undersecretary Esteban Conejos said that since the problem had been identified, the Philippine government is working on a solution calling for “a rational, calibrated and humane approach.” The government, according to him, is drafting such an agreement to be submitted to Congress for its approval.

Involved in the drafting are the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation, and the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Labor and Employment and Social Welfare and Development.

Periodic deportations

Once approved by Congress, the agreement will be taken up with concerned Malaysian agencies preparatory to discussing it during the Fourth RP-Malaysia Migrant Workers’ Group meeting early next year. With the agreement, the tensions of thousands of Filipino refugees in Malaysia will decrease. Tension always goes up during every periodic deportation of Filipino illegal immigrants, mostly in Sabah.

Congressman Jaafar and members of his goodwill mission could sponsor a bill embodying the proposed RP-Malaysia agreement to hasten its early approval by Congress.

Members of the Jaafar mission to Kuala Lumpur were Reps. Munir M. Arbison, Hussin U. Amin and Mujiv Hataman of the party-list Anak Mindanao. They met Malaysian government officials led by Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Radzi Sheikh Ahmad.

They took up several issues with the Malaysian authorities concerning a more humane treatment for Filipino illegals in Malaysia and their staggered and orderly deportation to the Philippines. In one of their meetings, the Malaysian government proposed the establishment of a Malaysian consulate in Zamboanga City to facilitate the processing of Filipino workers desiring to work in Malaysia.


Education Minister Hishammuddin Hussein's KERIS in Newsweek !!

Drifting Toward Extremism

Malaysia and Indonesia are known for their gentle version of Islam. So why is the mainstream worried?

The meeting of the united Malays National Organization, the ruling pro-Muslim party in Malaysia, was a shocking display of divisiveness. Some UMNO delegates at the rally, which ended Nov. 17, gave speeches that, either explicitly or in veiled terms, were racist or called for violence as a means of settling religious or political differences.

One of them, Hasnoor Sidang Hussein, declared: "UMNO is willing to risk lives and bathe in blood in defense of race and religion."

Education Minister Hishammuddin Hussein unsheathed a keris (Malay dagger) at the meeting. Party supporters perceived the gesture as invoking Malay power and pride, but critics said the minister was pandering to racist elements in UMNO's youth wing, which Hishammuddin heads. Twenty years ago, the youth wing had displayed banners calling for the keris to be bathed in the blood of the minority Malaysian Chinese...(more)



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