Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Time for RELA to stop arresting REFUGEES!

The various Burmese ethnic minorities fleeing Burma to Malaysia are registered as refugees by the UNHCR. Most of them are waiting to be relocated to another country eventually, yet while waiting they are contributing to our economy by doing menial jobs which most Malaysians would not even think of doing. Yet, even with valid UNHCR refugee cards, RELA again choose to ignore all international laws and raided the Burmese refugees on Jun 25 around the Jalan Imbi and Jalan San Peng area in downtown KL. 228 refugees were arrested and thrown into the Semenyih detention camp, among which 5 are pregnant women, and 30 are underaged including children.

When will this idiotic frankestein-ian creation of the Emergency period start understanding the basic difference between a refugee and an illegal/irregular immigrant? These people are escaping political and military persecution back home, and recognized and registerd by the UNHCR as valid refugees. Yet because of ignorance or political reasons the Malaysian government has refused thus far to recognize the good work done by the UNHCR, even on the most simple humanitarian basis. It is even more frustating when the Malaysian government not too long ago chose to "recognize" only the Rohingya Burmese as refugees by providing them work permits, but this seems to have hit a bad patch of road as well. Already RELA is acting almost above the law (they can simply crash down your door on the basis of suspicion...heck, even the PDRM needs a warrant of arrest and entry to enter your premise), and yet this band of ignorant merry-men is clamouring for more power!

Ironically one of those arrested was recently featured in The Star as the co-ordinator of a recent Burmese cultural event held in the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall. Read here for a look into the lives of the refugees, many of whom are just children. Read Lulu's take on this unfortunate turn of events which keeps recurring. To understand the difficulties faced by such refugees, as well as their very human faces, please click here and here.

Read more!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

MTUC confrontational?

Yesterday MTUC successfully held a couple of demonstrations around the Klang Valley, demanding that the government introduce a minimum wage for the private sector. What is ironic is that Najib made the following comment after "warning" MTUC not to hold the picket:

Meanwhile Bernama quoted Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak as saying that the picket would only cause ill-feelings.

He said that MTUC should not adopt a confrontational stance in its fight for a minimum wage for private sector employees, adding that the matter should be resolved through discussions.

(for rest of article, click here)
The problem is MTUC has been calling for a minimum wage with plenty of attempts to seek negotiation with the government for more than 8 years. And nothing fruitful has come about. The picket is MTUC's last resort, and with a planned nationwide one-day strike I am not even sure if the government will even care two hoots. At best they would ignore them, at worst they would perhaps use the ISA on the leaders claiming they're endangering national security and creating ill-will among the people towards the government. Of course, on the contrary, the government could suddenly have a turn of heart and decides to sit down and negotiate fruitfully. That would be a smarter way to do things considering how near the general election is, as well as the fact that a lot of workers, especially in the plantation sector, who are still earning less than RM300 a month. Even an Indon maid would not work for that these days.

Read more!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Today I will talk a little about something which me and my family have been trying to do what little part we could in reducing the amount of waste generated per household as well as reduce CO2 (carbon dioxide) emission. CO2 emission is a big, if not the major, contributor to global warming. I am no expert in knowing all the mechanics of global warming as well as solid waste management, but I believe each one of us should at least be aware that whatever seemingly insignificant decisions we make in our daily lives we could potentially make the already bad situation worse.

The government recently announced that the Housing and Local Government will present the Solid Waste Management Bill to Cabinet, which after it gets approved will be tabled in Parliament for passing. According to Ong Ka Ting, one of the focus of the bill will be the practice of 3R - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle - which will go into reducing the overall amount of solid waste generated by each household in Malaysia. In what way would the bill enforce garbage separation, I have no idea as I am not privy to its details (readers who know better please provide us with details). The other focus of the bill seems to be on the creation of a single corporation that will oversee and manage the current solid waste concessionaires, determining KPIs as well as strategies to be followed by them. Local authorities will play the role of watchdog as well as enforce laws governing waste collection and disposal. There will be a consumer tribunal for complaints as well as a "reasonable" charge which Najib says will depends on "what we (the government) think the public can afford to pay".

First on the matter of 3R. This is where Malaysians would have the most role to play, yet the hardest to control and enforce from the point of view of the government. We have no lack of media as well as NGO campaigns regarding the importance of recycling as well as the benefits, but all of us know how pathetic the result have been. I am not sure what is the exact cause of the problem. Perhaps it's more of a combination of factors - apathy, ignorance, hassle, lack of institutional support. Apathy is one difficult animal to tackle as it is usually easier to move a mountain then to change a person's attitude. Ignorance and hassle could be removed if people are willing to listen and learn why they could and should practice 3R. With the proposed bill, perhaps institutional support and enforcement could be strengthened.

I guess most of us know the problems we are facing regarding solid waste management in this country. People have to understand that our waste problem does not end with our garbage bag collected by the trucks. The traditional method that our country has been doing is to use landfills for the disposal of these waste, and overtime bury them with soil. But landfills requires huge plots of land and usually fills up very quickly due to the evergrowing enormous amount of garbage we produce daily. We have seen our fairshare of big landfills which ultimately have been closed down due to them reaching their capacity, as well as the suitability of the locations which used to be far away from residential areas, but are not anymore due to population and township growth. Some examples are the Kelana Jaya dumpsite (now filled with condos, a stadium, and commercial development), Subang Airport road (used to stink badly whenever you use the road to the airport, but now a residential area with condos and houses), Sri Kembangan/Air Hitam (which I am not mistaken was closed end of last year), and the Selayang landfill visible from the MRR2.

Readers would remember as well that one of the alternatives to landfills decided by the government was the use of incinerators. Particularly of the gigantic type as per the still-unknown-status Broga incinerator in Semenyih which courted controversy due to questions on its location in a catchment area as well as the Japanese contractor which has questionable projects back in its home country. Nobody like to have a waste processing plant behind their backyard (remember that the incinerator was first proposed to be in Puchong but was relocated due to residents' and political pressure) but the truth of the matter is with the amount of garbage we generate, something has to be done to cope with its ultimate disposal. Remember, the problem of garbage does not end after we see our bins beeing emptied into the dumpster truck. Let's face it, we will continue to have challenges in disposing of the amount of garbage we have. The government is not lacking in trying to tackle that problem, even though the idea of smaller, more efficient and manageable incinerators would be a better idea than the biggest incinerator of its kind in the world. What each of us Malaysians could do to play our part is to reduce the amount of garbage we produce each day.

If you look around your household today, you would be surprised at the number of things which are either made from recycled materials, or are recycleable. The same goes with the usual things we discard without thinking most of the time. How many of you have dumped a whole stack of newspaper (The Sun, especially since it's free) into the garbage bin? How many of you have chucked away your can of Coke or 100PLUS once you've emptied it? And how many of you have dumped empty cartons of milk and juice into the bin without even blinking an eye? Or chucked away envelopes once we opened letters? Our culture is such that we dumped almost everything we automatically think as waste into the garbage bin, usually without even thinking or batting an eyelid. It is no wonder then why we seem to face the problem of evergrowing household garbage contributing to filling up landfills faster than ever before. If each and everyone of us would just stop and think for just 10 seconds or so before we instinctively throw things away we would be able to reduce as much as half of garbage generation.

Once you get into this habit of stopping and questioning before you open up the lid of the bin and throw things in, the battle is already half won. The next thing will be to decide if the thing you no longer want could be reused or recycled. The number of materials one could recycle is huge, and better still, these recycleable waste is worth some money! I list some of the more common items here, which, of course, you should clean before storing:-

- aluminium cans, tins, foils: soft drinks, beer, juice, chocolate wrappers, cooking foils
- tins, cans: milk powder, condensed/evaporated milk, milo, beverage, canfood
- aseptic and virgin pulp packaging: milk cartons, juice cartons, beverage
- glass: glass bottles, jars, drinking glasses, mirrors
- PET (plastic) bottles: water bottles, soft drink, beverage
- mixed plastic: toys, packaging, oil packs, toiletries packaging, etc. you could determine if the plastic could be recycled by looking for the common recycle symbol printed on most of them. However, my principle is that I lump all plastics together as most could be melted down.
- paper: newspapers, envelopes, brochures, books, magazines, printing papers, unwanted documents, shredded paper, etc
- cardboard: boxes of all shapes and sizes, cardboard fillers, food box packaging
- wood: could be collected as garden organic waste by concessionaire
- batteries: try to use rechargeable ones, but batteries could be collected and recycled as well
- metals: worth quite a lot nowadays...why do you think manhole covers are missing, water meters and gate ornaments are stolen?
- monitors, tv, electrical items: there are collection centers, sometimes in the neighbourhood, where these are either stripped down or refurbished.

One way to organize these items is to have separate bags or boxes to store and separate them - hence the idea of garbage separation. I use bags which I store in my back kitchen. I usually collect and separate for some 3 months before I bring all of them down to a Alam Flora (the solid waste concessionaire for central Malaysia) recycling center where they would be weighed and I will be paid. The amount is not much (Alam Flora's rate is available here) but what is more important is our contribution towards solid waste management by reducing the amount of garbage that has to be carried away by the dumpster. By practising this, you would start to notice that most of the waste that ends up in the garbage bin are organic in nature which would have less problem degrading in landfills, and easily incinerated. It is not rocket science, and all of us could and should play our role. It is a habit which could be cultivated easily. I am proud to say that our office also encourages recycling, especially paper which we generate huge amount daily. We have separate bins for paper, aluminium, plastics, as well as batteries. Sadly though, a lot of staff still do not practise it as I usually see soft drink cans and newspapers in their wastepaper baskets.

What about reducing CO2 emission? The obvious way is to reduce private use of vehicles, carpool as much as possible, and use the public transport. However, transportation in Malaysia presents its own set of problems which makes it almost impossible (especially in Klang Valley) to reduce private vehicle use daily. But there is one thing you could do in your household - reduce electricity use. Most of the time we have the habit of leaving electrical equipment, especially audio/visual related ones, on standby mode. By switching off the electricity supply to all these "standby" equipment you could reduce up to 10% of electricity consumption, according to some studies. Turn them on only when you need to use them. Electrical ovens in the kitchen are good candidates to not let them run on standby mode. Use energy efficient light bulbs and tubes throughout the house as they produce more light and use much less electricity compared to incandescent bulbs.

Airconditioning consumes high levels of electricity, but that is because Malaysians have this habit of lowering down the temperature to 16 degrees C (the lowest possible)! In almost all cases setting the temperature to 23-25 deg C would ensure a most comfortable and cold enough room. If you couple that with a ceiling fan switched to low speed of 1 or 2, the temperature of the room would go even lower. This simple act would have ensured the airconditioning compressor to switch on only half the time. Not only do you reduce your monthly electricity bill, but you and your household also contribute to lowering overall CO2 emission from electricity generation as new demand could be met increasingly with existing power plants.

Recycling has become a habit of sorts in European countries, and have succeeded in reducing overall amount of solid waste that is generated, thus making it easier to manage them. On the contrary, the Americans are behaving almost like us in that they would throw everything without pause. Education and information dissemination through media campaigns and government involvement is key to changing Malaysians' attitude and behaviour with regards to this. However, I believe the government could also use law and enforcement to produce the intended habit and behaviour as people are usually to set in their ways to change. This is especially so when the benefits from practising 3R are not that direct and visible to them. Thus, the other method to be employed would be a somewhat punitive one.

There has been talk by the government for some years about enforcing compulsory garbage separation. It is not an easy thing to do, and I am not sure if the newest bill has ways of tackling this. We could learn from the Taipei example where to encourage and enforce garbage separation and reduction, Taipei households could use only a special type of garbage bag, failing which the garbage would not be collected. These DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) garbage bags are expensive and is a form of taxation, or fee, for garbage collection and processing. The use of such bags produces a form of "pay as you throw" service. The idea is that you would think twice or thrice before you simply throw things into the expensive DEP bags. The DEP bags are the only non-recycleable waste garbage bags which the garbage collectors will collect. However, all other recycleable items can be separated and packed into other types of bags and they would be collected as well as long as the collectors could see that they have been separated. These separated and recycleable items are collected by special recycling trucks (not unlike the garden organic waste collection trucks we have now currently).

The Malaysian government could implement something similar here as the concept has proven itself. However, some of the challenges I see is the habit of Malaysians throwing garbage into a little corner or under a tree by the roadside. This is not only a problem in rural or urban squatter areas. In fact, in most middle class residential areas you will always have some social misfits who would insist in dumping by the roadside. I have seen similar cases in my area, and have even filed complaints with the local council. I cannot understand why these misfits and social scourge would not want to leave their garbage in their own garbage bin to be collected, but would rather walk the length of the road and dump them under a tree. But this is something which could be reduced by comprehensive enforcement, especially when the proposed bill is focusing on local authorities playing the enforcement and watchdog role in solid waste management. Residents could also play a role by always having a lookout for such misfits and report accordingly to the authorities. Trust me, the local authorities are more than happy to act on your complaints as long as it is informative and detailed enough. The Shah Alam City Council even has an online complain system which works, and acted upon effectively!

To recap, all of us can and should play our role in helping to reduce the amount of household garbage we produce daily. Pause and think before you instinctively throw things into the garbage bin. Reuse, and separate and recycle whatever that could be, and bring them to the various recycle centers run by solid waste management concessionaires. Use energy efficient bulbs, switch off completely electrical equipment not in use, and set the airconditioning temperature to no less than 22 degrees C. If possible, reduce private vehicle use for commuting to and from work. Be also a responsible Malaysian by not dumping garbage anywhere you want. Report such misfits when you encounter them to the local authorities. While we wait for the bill to be tabled in Parliament, we could do all this, and continue to do them after the passage of the bill.

Let's hope that the bill would include practical plans to ensure Malaysians would reduce and recycle as much as possible, while producing the intended habit and behaviour with respect to solid waste management through appropriate enforcement and "pay as you throw". Already the business of recycling in the private sector in this country has grown quite a bit as there is money to be made from "garbage". The remaining part of the equation is us, Malaysians. After all, we do not want our country to face a perpetual problem of opening and closing landfills, building mega incinerators instead of smaller ones which is more manageable and geographically distributed out evenly, and at the end of the day see the problem get worse because we, Malaysians, fail to play our part in reducing our garbage.


Read more!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Amnesty International Report on "Comfort Women"

Something I got from Josh Hong's article. A very thorough report by Amnesty International in which it documents the unimaginable sufferings women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army during WW2 have to endure, as well as how the Japanese government has repeatedly try to wash its hands off it by subverting history. Perhaps that will change when House Resolution 121 is finally tabled into the House of Representatives, and gets supported. It's time these women get the official apology from the Japanese government for these past atrocities, as well as reparation as per international law on war crimes. They have fought for so long just so they could bring a proper closure to this terrible chapter in their lives, and it is only right the Japanese government acts responsibly to contribute to that closure. It's time to admit to the stark truth of history, apologize unreservedly, and bring about its proper closure. But an ironic truth reading through the report is that similar modus operandi is being employed today to trick and abduct girls and women into the slave trade worldwide - by promising well paid jobs but upon arrival forced into the flesh trade. And this serious problem of human trafficking doesn't seem like it would end any time soon.

Read more!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Welcome to Kelantan!

Yeah, Tuan Guru Dato' Nik Aziz is infamous for real snafus when it comes to various statements. But actions speak louder than words. All pictures courtesy of Kickdefella Sheih. The last picture is of Husam Musa passing the money from the Skim Takaful Kifalah to help defray the funeral cost. Yes, the Kelantan PAS government has its fair share of problems. But the actions of its key leaders speak volumes compare to what we have elsewhere, especially when we have "Semuanya OK!" in "developed" Selangor.

Read more!

Petition Against Crime in Johor Bahru

There is a signature campaign for a petition to display Malaysians' anger, anxiety, displeasure, and increasing worry about the rising crime rate in the country, particularly in Johor Bahru where a spate of robbery-gang-rape incidents happened. This petition is organized by the Persekutuan Tiong-Hua Johor Bahru, and in case some of you jokers want to turn this active citizenship activity into something racial, please remember that the police fella in-charge of crime busting in Johor is a Chinese Malaysian, and he was booed off the stage during a recent dialogue organized by the same federation. Crime knows no colour, and the recently arrested gang suspected of the robbery-gang-rape crimes are Chinese. This is an issue which affects all Malaysians, regardless of your race, religion, or class. Even the previous IGP, Tun Hanif Omar, has written on this a few time, as well as pointing out how the police force should really buck up and regain the confidence of the public. But instead of being the protector of the public, the police force, ironically, chose to clamp down on the peaceful demonstration against the worrying crime rate outside the Johor Menteri Besar's residence, arresting two people for distributing flyers. It's time citizens stand up against crime, and show your support by signing the petition, as well as make your vote count in the coming elections. You could view the list of signatures here.

Read more!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

I was wrong...Kua's May 13 book will not be banned

I was so sure the authorities will ban Dr Kua's May 13 book, especially when juvenile officials from the Internal Security Ministry decided to loot MPH MidValley and stalk the doors of Kinokuniya KLCC Suria to ensure the books were not sold there. However, in yesterday's written reply parliamentary question by MP Chow Kon Yeow, the PM has assured that the book will not be banned after it has been examined by the the ministry. I applaud such a decision, and I am happy that I was wrong. May I suggest that the PM who is also the Internal Security Minister order a review of the various banned books, including those by Karen Armstrong. After all, one can hardly expect Malaysians to achieve 1st world mentality if the government continues to decide what books we can read, and what information we can access, which is why the proposed Task Force to monitor websites must be treated by all Malaysians with concern, especially with the government's history of power abuse. For all you know, all blogsites such as this insignificant one could be blocked one day. Instead of following the Indonesian path, we could end up following Thailand's path.

Read more!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

UM stays put...

...and I hope it's not only "for now". From The Star, Universiti Malaya has issued a statement to categorically deny that they are relocating, nor are they in any negotiations with any parties to discuss relocation. Higher Education Minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed also dismissed the earlier news as "absolutely not true", and claims it should be staying put due to its historic location. For now we can rest our heads better. Let's hope it stays that way always.

Read more!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Universiti Malaya land is targeted

Universiti Malaya, or UM, is synonymous with Lembah Pantai. Ever since it first started in its current location back in 1959, the place has been a haven of peace, serenity, and tranquility for the tens of thousands of students who have walked through the campus, as well as a haven for the thousands of academics to engage in their scholarly pursuits. The peace and tranquility of the campus is further enhanced by a lake right in the middle of its grounds, as well as a jungle within an urban area where wildlives still have a chance to roam freely. Development in the campus has thus far been very carefully done without changing the original landscape and terrain much, and to me it is a model campus which other new universities should emulate.

Alas, precisely because the campus land is situated right between two upscale housing and commercial development (Bangsar and Section 16, PJ), a developer has decided to entice the authorities to consider surrendering the pristine campus in return for a bigger piece of undeveloped land at Sepang. Apparently, according to a Business Times report yesterday, GuocoLand Bhd - which is owned by tycoon Tan Sri Quek Leng Chan of Hong Leong fame - has made a bid to turn the hallowed campus grounds into an upscale residential and commercial development township with an estimated gross development value of RM10 billion.

I don't know what to make out of this. Government policies thus far have seem to be favouring commercial property development over education or heritage. When so many cities in the world are synonymous with their universities which have their campuses in the cities themselves, and with pride in a rich history, we seem to think that it is better for an institution of higher learning and research to make way for more immediate profits. Nevermind the rich history and heritage of our nation's first university. Nevermind its model for campus development that leaves the natural terrain and foliage intact. Nevermind the fact that the close proximity of the UM campus to KL and PJ allows its students and academics to be more fully involved in societal activities. Maybe by moving them to a remote area the government thinks it will then be able to better control and police the students and academicians since that is what they have always aspired to do.

I hope against all hope that this would not happen, and would not be allowed to happen. But seeing past precedents on how even buildings of historical significance were torn down without so much as a fuss, I may be day dreaming. Perhaps appealing to the hearts and emotions of the countless of UM graduates to stand together and make an appeal against such an eventuality is the only way. I will end this with Dr Syed Husin Ali's appeal on this:

"The UM has developed into an institution with a strong historical and academic tradition. It has served higher education well and contributed considerably towards the process of nation building. A large number of its graduates have been and are important political and administrative leaders of the country. Universiti Malaya and Lembah Pantai are one, the same and inseparable. There should be no attempt to separate them, especially if entirely for commercial purposes that will enrich only a handful few who are already extremely rich."
Update: Rocky has a take on this as well. If this turns out to be true, very likely nothing will be safe. The national monument, lake gardens, zoo negara (there was a plan to move the zoo to Batang Kali or Sepang), muzium negara, etc will be easily swapped as well.

Read more!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Swine industry in Kelantan

Before readers, PAS members, and extremists start labeling me as anti-Islam, or trying to mock Islam, let me categorically state that I have no intention whatsoever to mock your religion, your beliefs, as well as to insult anybody. The reason why I brought this up is to propose to the Kelantan PAS government the potential to create a source of economic revenue, create jobs which are higher up the value chain, as well as re-cast the entire image of PAS not only in the eyes of Malaysians (especially non-Muslims), but also internationally. I would also like to state that this post is strictly my personal view and not my party's stand. I am not an economist, so my apologies if my take on certain things in this post is errorneous.

Pig, or swine, farming in Malaysia has traditionally been to fulfill mostly local consumption needs, with some exports to Singapore (before the Nipah virus outbreak in 1998). According to some statistics collected by the Perak Department of Veterinary Services, Negeri Sembilan used to have the largest number of pigs until 1998 when the entire industry in that state was wiped out. From then on, Perak has been consistently the largest producer of pork in the country. Total pig population in 2005 stands at 1.45 million, with Kelantan having only 450,000. What is interesting as well is that the majority (~60%) of pigs in 2006 are farmed in farms of sizes between 500-5000 pigs each, with only 18.8% farmed in >10,000 size farms. The number of farms in the 500-5000 pig population forms 73% of the total number of pig farms in the peninsula. Kelantan has no commercial-scale farms to speak of, having 95 backyard farms.

The Malaysian swine industry has always been having a less than favourable reputation. Issues such as environmental pollution, hygiene, health, disease, social, and more recently the use of banned growth enhancers, have plagued the industry for years. As far as I could remember (readers who are more informed on this issue, please correct me if I am wrong), the government has not been actively involved in monitoring and regulating the industry, let alone encouraging its growth. What has been more common, as in the case of Melaka, was in restricting the scale of the pig farms, placing very rigid conditions for continual operation, as well as closing down farms with the pretext of moving them to a special area. Perhaps the inability, or lack of incentives, to enlarge and modernize these pig farms is the main cause on why pig production levels in Malaysia is well below other pig producing countries in the region, as well as having a high production cost coupled with significantly lower quality pork.

However, if one is to look at the world's consumption pattern of meat according to a report, pork is the most consumed meat compared to any other. Although facing pressure from poultry, pork consumption is expected to rise due to improved efficieny in pork production, lower cost, as well as higher quality products. Although being the world's largest pork producer, China imports a substantial amount of pork from the EU, mainly in the form of specialized meat or byproducts. With the ascension of China into the WTO, tariffs on imported meat will fall encouraging more competitive pricing for imported pork and pork products. Moreover, with the growing affluence of China's urban population, demand for more pork products other than the traditional muscle is expected to grow. Exports of such products into China will be able to fulfill the demand since 80% of China's pork production is confined to small family operations mainly concerned with self-consumption. Even if pork imports is only about 2-3% of China's domestic consumption, when you consider a population of 1.3bil that percentage translates to some 26-39mil consumer base. This is an export potential which Malaysia could seize, especially if we take shipping distance into consideration (Malaysia is so much nearer to China compared to the EU or Americas).

Considering the potential of pork product export as well as the various production and social issues faced by pig farmers in almost all the states in Malaysia (specifically in the peninsula), the Kelantan PAS government should seriously consider bucking the trend to seize the opportunity, and set up a major pork production area which will set new standards in production cost and quality. The relatively low labour cost in the state is also a plus point towards lowering the production cost.

For a business plan to have a higher chance of success, minimizing threats is required, and it is due to this that proposing any other kind of livestocks would not be that viable. The BN state governments would easily be able to compete in the farming of other livestocks and Kelantan would be hard pressed to differentiate itself enough to attract investors. Therefore, choosing a livestock which is totally unexpected by the other competing BN states, and one which has high export potential, makes economical sense. A few key things to differentiate this area from the rest, and to ensure that current issues plaguing the industry could be resolved or prevented, will be to ensure the following:

- Large (>10,000 pigs) farms. Considering that most farms in Malaysia are small, a focus on larger farms will attract serious big players as well as reduce overall per pig production cost (economy of scale). This is also to avoid competing with the other states for farms of the size of less than 10,000 which forms the majority of farms in the peninsula.
- Farming facilities are modern and uses latest farming and veterinary technology, ensuring hygienic conditions and minimizing disease outbreak, increasing productivity level, as well as producing higher quality pork.
- Centralized, efficient, and effective waste treatment facilities for the entire area to prevent the usual problems of environmental pollution.
- Vertically integrated with dedicated feed mills, genetic selection instead of relying on imported breeding pigs, breeding units, veterinary care and research center, slaughter centers (humane processes), as well as packaging centers. This could also include other pork meat processing centers to product meat byproducts.
- Efficient and effective logistics and supply chain infrastructure to make it easy for products from the area to be distributed and exported.

Considering the amount of activities that would be required to make the above area a reality, one could see the economic potential for Kelantan. It will create jobs, create projects which could go to the local companies, attract investment, as well as carving a niche and name for Kelantan itself for an industry which the other states in Malaysia seem to want to discard. Bear in mind that when PAS came to power in Terengganu in 1999, the state government under Datuk Seri Hadi Awang actually lifted a 10 year ban on pig farming in that state. Granted that nothing much has happened since the lifting, such a suggestion to the Kelantan PAS government to seriously look into this industry with big export potential should not be seen as against the party's ideology. In fact, the one advantage I see the Kelantan PAS government gaining from adopting such a proposal will be in politics.

By creating a potentially large and profitable industry which benefits the state and its people, albeit an industry which is considered to be not inline with its religious ideology, PAS would have shown Malaysians, especially non-Muslims, and international watchers, that it is not the extremist and Talibanistic party which is usually in the mind of people. It will also show to the people that they are fully capable of implementing economic policies for the greater good of people regardless of race and religion, as well as potentially attracting foreign investments of other kinds in the longer run. The Kelantan PAS government would have a chance to prove the BN wrong that they are incapable of bringing economic progress to the state. Of course, Umno would then try to paint PAS as being "un-Islamic" in doing such a thing, but I think PAS would have no difficulty rebutting them.

PAS has been trying hard to repackage and reshape themselves to win more votes, but the most effective manner to do that would be to do something which is perceived as totally in opposite of their ideology. As they always say, actions speak louder than words. Their leaders have shown that they could walk-the-talk in their lifestyles by not living in grand official residences, which is by and large commended and respected by most people. Now they could also show that they can be practical in economic development as well. The Kelantan PAS government has an Economic Planning committee headed by Husam Musa which thus far have managed to bring in a China company in a JV to mine gold in Sokor, Tanah Merah. Perhaps they could also seek experts from China in development of modern pig farms or vertically integrated pork production facilities to kick start such a project, as well as to have good management and oversight over the entire development and running to ensure its success. With little or no help from the BN federal government, the Kelantan PAS government really have to think-out-of-the-box to bring better economic progress to the state, and that would mean serious consideration of any ideas, no matter how outrageous at first glance.

Note: The position regarding pig farming, albeit in a different manner, has been taken by Barisan Alternatif in 1999 in response to the Nipah virus tragedy that struck down the Negeri Sembilan pig farming industry. The press release concerning the tragedy specifically mentioned how PAS views the issue, as well as pig farming in general.

Read more!

PKR was right about SMART

From The Star today:

SMART toll set at RM2

KUALA LUMPUR: Users of the Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel (SMART) will be charged a RM2 toll from 11.59pm on June 14, Works Minister Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu said.

He said the toll would be increased again in three years, adding that the price was right as the tunnel concessionaire had forked out RM640mil to build it.

Noting that there was no Government subsidy involved, he said: “In any part of the world where tunnels are built, the toll is higher.

(for full article, click here)
Looks like PKR was right after all on the toll rates for SMART as well as the fact that there will be an increase from 1 Jan 2010...some two half years (or 3 according to Samy) after commencement of toll collection. So Samy was indeed "right" for fuming at PKR!

Anyway, back to the main issue at hand, excuses are starting to fly regarding the Sunday evening flash flood. This is what the Drainage and Irrigation Department Deputy Director Ahmad Fuad has to say:
...the floods around Dataran Merdeka and Masid Jamek were caused by Sungai Kelang bursting its banks at the confluence of Sungai Gombak.

"A storm which causes the river to overflow – that is exactly what the SMART flood tunnel is being built to overcome," he said at a press conference organised by Kuala Lumpur City Hall here yesterday.

(for full article, click here)
The sad truth is that while the concessionaire was eager to open the road portion of the tunnel so that they could start collecting toll earlier, the floodwater diversion function would only be operational next month! Common logic would have it that the main focus of the concessionaire would be to complete the flood diversion components as fast as possible. They are now giving reasons that they have yet to complete the some 200 dams and retention ponds that form the floodwater diversion solution, and could only be ready next month. Yet no reasons seem forthcoming on why they could have the road portion operational so quickly and start toll collection when the main function of the tunnel is not even ready!

Meanwhile, while fingers start pointing around (nothing new in bolehland), Malaysians have to suffer the indignation of yet another damaging flood which was avoidable. Offices, houses, places of worship, carparks, goods, books, cars, and shops were damaged one way or another. Click here and here for more details. With the unpredictable weather we are facing this month and for some months to come, I do hope the PM's outburst would at least kick butts and ensure that tunnel will function as it's supposed to be ASAP, and prevent another devastating round of flood.

Read more!

Monday, June 11, 2007

SMART toll while KL flooded, again!

Not too long ago Samy Vellu said PKR could go to hell when PKR Youth Leaders held a press conference revealing details about the SMART tunnel toll structure, which, among other things, include the starting toll rate of RM2 and raising it subsequently by RM1 every four years after 2009.

Source: Malaysiakini
Looks like Samy Vellu could be excused for his outburst because he was genuinely upset that PKR could be right about what was supposed to be a state secret! Today he announced that the SMART toll will begin this Friday, with an announcement on the rate in one or two days.

When pressed if the toll rate will be reasonable, he insists he can't promise that since the tunnel costs RM1.9bil to build. Hence, I would be very surprised if he pulls a rabbit out of the hat by announcing a less than RM2 toll rate. Even if that is the case, don't expect the concessionaire to tremble in fear because whatever shortfalls will be paid by the government directly from taxpayers' money (as per all the other toll road concession agreements). By the way, since we're on this, we are still waiting for the government to live up to its promise to make public all the toll road concession agreements.

However, the main rationale for the construction of the SMART tunnel was and is to mitigate the devastating impact of flash floods across Kuala Lumpur whenever the Klang River or Gombak River overflow their banks. I am not sure if the storm water diversion "feature" of the tunnel has been put into operation, but the horrible flood in various areas of Kuala Lumpur last night shouldn't have happened, theoretically, if it is.

Source: The Star
If it is not in operation, why the delay compared to opening up the tunnel to traffic? If it is, in fact, operating, then last night's flash flood is but one in the series of problems and woes facing the construction industry, especially when related to government projects. Not enough with cracks, falling ceilings, and flooded rooftops, to have a multi-billion project fail to live up to its raison d'etre will be a severe indictment on the utter incompetence and inability of the government to make right decisions and ensure the right people do the right job.

For the sake of the nation, as well as for the sake of countless of KL motorists who have to face the nightmare of congestion and damaged cars due to the recurring flash floods, the government has to come clean on this matter. Bottom line is this - the SMART tunnel was built to solve the damaging recurrence of flash floods in KL. The tolled road running through it is but a creative method to fund for the construction of the tunnel as well as earn fat profits for the concessionaire from a multi-year concession period. If the tunnel cannot do its work, then the whole reason for the tunnel's existence in the first place would fall like a deck of cards. Not only will taxpayers and motorists be burdened with yet another privatised "toll-road", we would still have to live with the economic consequences of frequent flash floods in KL.

Read more!

Friday, June 8, 2007

Public cord blood banking in Malaysia

I was doing quite a number of read-ups regarding cord blood banking when my child was about to be born, and decided that private cord blood banks are more interested in making money by appealing to the parents' misplaced sense of "biological insurance". Almost all mainstream medical professional bodies are against the idea, while promoting that a public cord blood bank would be more beneficial and make more sense. Singapore is the first in this region to have a public cord blood bank, started in 2005, and thus far has proven to be a blessing for children having to undergo stem cell transplant as they would have a higher chance of finding a match in a blood bank consisting mostly of Asian donors. The Malaysian Ministry of Health has voiced concern over the public hype over these private cord blood bank, but what I find surprising is that they did not publicise the fact that a public cord blood bank has clear benefits and should be the way to go.

What is even more surprising, and I kick myself for this, is that there is already a public cord blood bank in Malaysia, run by the National Blood Centre! An NST article on this on 14 Aug, 2006 reported that at the time of print, the cord blood bank has only 1000 units donated by parents delivering at the KL General Hospital maternity ward. Since the benefits and potential of a public cord blood bank are proven (we could look down south across the causeway as the best example), the Ministry of Health, or the National Blood Centre should really ramp up their public awareness program on why parents should seriously consider donating their newborn cord blood to the cord blood bank.

As a start, they should at least get donors from all the general hospitals in the Klang Valley and the main hospitals in all the states. Then through public awareness programs using the media, talk shows, forums, they should encourage private hospitals to get onto the program as well. Afterall, providing an informed choice to parents is the least hospitals could do. Today, too many parents are not aware of what are facts and what are hypes around cord blood. The Ministry of Health, together with the National Blood Centre and the hospitals (public and private) should come together and have a coherent and effective plan to raise awareness and educate Malaysians on this matter, and at the same time build up the cord blood units in the national cord blood bank. It would be a waste and disaster if we have a real gem in the making, but have no will to grow it bigger and make full use of its potential.

Read more!

Proton share price rises...

...but VW and Sime Darby denies the earlier report in the Edge Financial Daily. VW has this to say when asked about the report:

"This report is definitely wrong and only rumor without substance," Andreas Meurer, a Wolfsburg, Germany-based spokesman of Volkswagen, said in a phone interview today. "We will have a round of talks soon."

Source: Bloomberg
So, it seems like the flip flop has not stopped, yet. But the VW spokesperson's admission that there will be another round of talks soon confirms Azman Mokhtar's statement that no decision has been made about Proton's partner yet, and that VW is asking for more talks. This despite Pak Lah's earlier outburst. My friend has been speculating that all this wayang could have been just an attempt to shore up Proton's falling share prices, but he wasn't brave enough to bet his money on his gut feeling. Looks like he missed out on a potential killing since Proton share price has shot up as high as 21% (it closed at 10% higher than previous day). But with the "denial" of VW, Sime Darby (which didn't say anything more) and the silence of Proton and Khazanah, it would seem that the Edge's "rumour" could very well turn out to be true after all, following the step of Pak Lah's romance story. For the sake of the country and Malaysian consumers, and to give Proton a chance to survive and grow, this "rumour" better be true at the end of it all.

Read more!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

VW and Sime Darby to rescue Proton?

That is according to the Edge Financial Daily, picked up by Reuters here. VW is to take up a 51% stake in a new company, with remaining 49% owned by currently listed Proton. VW will have management control as well in the new entity which will be injected with Proton's current manufacturing, R&D, and engineering assets. Khazanah's current 43% stake in Proton will be bought by Sime Darby. So, after all the flip flop (what is new?) on making a decision on Proton, I hope this will bring final closure to the whole sorry story. Let's face it, Proton without a foreign carmaker who has proven itself to turn-around failing brands will be a dead duck some time this time next year. The estimated RM500mil in cash that they have will last them at most 1 year if they continue to see dropping sales. Already there were talks among certain quarters on a dreaded taxpayer bailout, which is not unlikely considering that to cut down on their dealer network they have been asking the government to pay RM300,000 each to dealers asked to close.

For all that misplaced talk about national pride, it is no pride to waste taxpayers' money on propping up a doomed company. A company which all the while has profited immensely from selling poor quality products to customers who are forced to have limited choices due to the government's protectionist policies. Whereas the other national car company took the initial opportunity given to build up their capabilities in churning out desirable, affordable, and good quality cars, Proton has chosen to continue selling 20-year old cars, churn out models which appeal to a very niche segment of car buyers, as well as not being able to come up with new models fast enough. Worse still, all attempts to carve a market for themselves outside of Malaysia were failures due to pricing, branding, and just lousy products. It is inevitable considering the global car market and industry today that Proton will fail as an independent car manufacturer.

Instead of complete closure of the company and factories causing a ripple effect down the supply chain, selling it off to VW with full management, engineering and production control will be a much better decision. That way at least jobs could still be kept, and good suppliers will still be around. Moreover, 49% of the new company to be created will still be in Malaysian hands and any turnaround of Proton will be beneficial to the Malaysian shareholders as well. Just as in the Skoda brand, nobody would question Proton as a Malaysian brand even if it is very likely that they will be variants based on VW platforms. At the end of the day it will be a win-win-win situation for all. Having a smaller piece of a much bigger pie will always be better than having a big piece of a tiny, or worse rotten and inedible, pie. I, for one, will be happy if Proton could survive and thrive with this new arrangement, albeit with a difference in character.

Read more!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Another "rumour" and "lie" becoming true?

Another newsbreak from Rocky's Bru who not too long ago was accused of spreading lies about the PM "collapsing" (Kickdefella Sheih insisted the PM "fell asleep" instead) in Lumut while giving a speech. Apparently the rumoured romance between Pak Lah and Jean Danker is proving to be true. According to Rocky, the Cabinet will announce after their Wednesday Cabinet meeting today that our PM and Jean Danker will wed this Saturday, 9 June 2007. Will this prove to be another "rumour" or "internet lie" becoming the truth eventually? Malaysiakini has this breaking news as well. Read Raja Petra Kamaruddin's take on this. He was the first who broke the "news" not too long ago about Pak Lah's relationship with Jean, or Jeanne, Danker. Other sources include Bernama, The Star, and the NST.

Courtesy of Malaysiakini

Read more!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Idris plays hardball with Tony, again

From The Star today:

MAS wants audit on planes


VANCOUVER: Malaysia Airlines (MAS) has asked for an independent audit on the 12 planes currently used by FAX to operate the Rural Air Services before it takes over the routes on Oct 1, its managing director Datuk Idris Jala said.

Idris said the audit was to ensure that the planes – seven Fokker F50s and five Twin Otters – were “in the same operational condition” as when MAS handed them over to FAX in August last year.

(for the rest of the article, click here)
After boasting that Air Asia will be able to run the local routes in a much more efficient and profitable manner than MAS, they did an about turn and "persuaded" the government to force MAS to take back the rural air services which was given to Air Asia in an air route rationalization exercise not too long ago. Hats off to Idris who showed he has the guts to stand up to such bullying by insisting that the planes servicing the rural routes be audited to ensure they are airworthy, as well as some taxpayers' money to be used to subsidise those loss-making routes. The subsidy in this instance would be justifiable since it is more of a social service rather than commercial service (I don't think anyone would be able to make money flying these rural routes), and MAS' turnaround success thus far is based on running it purely as a commercial entity. The independent audit, to my mind, is not only a business move (those who use them and potentially broken them must fix them), but also one which places the safety of passengers and crews at the top.

All in all, the leadership shown and decisions made by Idris are showing clear tangible results - a profitable airline again, and a Malaysian company which will make all Malaysians proud. As the plan unfolds further, let's hope that Idris and team will be able to resolve one major outstanding issue in this MAS saga - that of the ownership, purchase, and leasing of the planes themselves. These are currently financed and the losses borned by taxpayers through Penerbangan Malaysian Bhd (PMB). It is only right that when MAS is flying high again, they should have the responsibility to take the planes back, and correct whatever problems left.

Read more!

Altantuya trial bombshell

"Interference by third parties in my defence preparation and trial has put me in the position not being able to carry out my duty to defend my client to the best of my ability"
This is what Zulkifli Noordin, just-ex-defense lawyer for chief inspector Azilah Hadri, one of the accused in the murder of Altantuya Shariibuu, said to withdraw himself from representing his just-ex-client. He even added that the interference from third parties (whom he refused to reveal the names) went as far as attempting to interfere with the proposed defence of his client for the purpose of "protecting and for the benefit of certain parties". With so many sudden changes in such a high profile murder case, from the change of judge to the change of trial date to the change of lawyers and now change of prosecutors (which in turned caused a 2 weeks delay to the trial), one just cannot blame Malaysians from wagging their tongues furiously. Zulkifli, who was refused the opportunity to read his statement in the court by the judge, in fact made the situation even muddier with his allegations of interference. One can only speculate on the persons and level of interference (which I assume would not be too uncommon even in much lesser cases), but such a statement can only serve to feed further Malaysians' appetite for conspiracy theories.

Anyway, this delay has caused much frustration and shock among the defense lawyers, not to mention Altantuya's father and her 2 cousins who came here for an 8-day trip paid for by taxpayers. If not for anything else, such a series of turn of events is a blatant waste on taxpayers' money which could be better spent fixing the cracks and leakages in the newly opened Jalan Duta court complex.

Read more!

Flip flop in Bahasa...

From Bahasa Kebangsaan to Bahasa Malaysia to Bahasa Melayu, and now back to Bahasa Malaysia. Such a "groundbreaking" return to a more inclusive term for our national language, following logic, should have been trumpeted around town. But the odd thing is that it only appeared in 2 newspapers - The Star (English) and Sin Chew daily (Mandarin). Why no news about this at all in the Bahasa Malaysia or Bahasa Melayu or Bahasa Kebangsaan newspapers? Is it another blatant case of saying nice-to-hear things to targeted racial groups (as well as language groups) in order to earn some brownie points for the upcoming general election? YB Lim has more on this in his blog.

Read more!

Monday, June 4, 2007

English Forum: Malaysia after Lina Joy

Updated! The DAP will be hosting an English forum on the Lina Joy case, titled "Malaysia after Lina Joy". Details below. Please attend if you could.

Date: 7 June 2007
Time: 7.30pm
Venue: Hotel Armada, Petaling Jaya (opposite the PJ Hilton, across the Federal Highway)

Ambiga Sreenivasan - Bar Council President
Yusri Muhammad - ABIM President
Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim - PKR Secretary-General New!
Dr Azmi Sharom - Associate Professor of Law, Universiti Malaya New!
Leonard Teoh - Legal Advisor to MCCBCHS
Lim Kit Siang - Opposition Leader
Lim Guan Eng - DAP Secretary-General

Chairperson - Tony Pua

Admission is FREE. Do bring friends and concerned Malaysians. All are welcome.

Read more!

Indelible ink for elections!

Updated! A little late, but this was what was conveyed to DAP by the Election Commission chairman Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman. The use of indelible ink as per many developing countries to prevent the incidence of multiple voting by a single person will be adopted for use in the coming general election. However, Abdul Rashid gave a caveat:

- if there is a need to amend relevant legislations such as the Election (Conduct of Elections) Regulations 1981.
- the material of the ink to be used as to make it impossible to be erased quickly.

This is most encouraging considering that the EC chairperson has made plenty of nice-to-hear statements before, but when pushed by the opposition and citizen election watchdog organizations, he would made an about turn and deny the EC has any problems running elections, or that the electoral roll is full of problematic voters such as dead people. In fact, he initially dismissed the proposal to ink fingers of voters as archaic. However, considering that the general election is speculated to very likely happen by end of this year, I wonder if the EC would be fast enough to "research" the two identified issues and come up with a positive decision to enable them to implement it in the coming round. The use of indelible ink would not resolve the issue of "dead" voters coming out of the grave to vote during elections, as per the various documented cases, but at least it would resolve a big portion of the major concern regarding repeat voters.

As an aside, a DAP delegation headed by SG Lim Guan Eng met up with the EC chairperson and team on Friday presented to the EC a 10-point memorandum on reforming the electoral system to ensure clean, free, fair and impartial elections. Click here to read more.

Source: Malaysiakini
Meanwhile, PAS who welcomed the EC decision has also stated that it will meet with the EC soon to discuss two other outstanding election issues which they argue are impediments to a fair and clean election. They are calling for the abolition of postal voting which has been controversial in all elections, as well as ensuring the integrity of the electoral roll.

Update (12:49pm): Just noticed that the Sunday Star has an article on how the BN parties are rejecting the use of indelible ink in elections. Such reaction is not surprising as any advantage that they have from the current way of running elections they would like to keep. Umno's excuse of using a biometric system (because our country should be "moving forward") is not too convincing. The EC chief has said that they have looked into the use of such a system but decided against it due to the cost involved (estimated at RM30mil) as well as it being used only every 5 years or so. Considering how fast technology evolves, such a decision is more than appropriate. Also, if you've watched a recent episode of the documentary "Mythbusters", fingerprint readers are not exactly that tamper-proof as they claim to be.

MCA has an even more interesting reason on why they consider the idea "does not make sense." - they are not sure of the material used in the making of the ink. Hello? The EC has stated this is one factor which requires studying. Isn't such a concern a bit presumptuous and jumping the gun? Does it also mean if the ink material is "acceptable", MCA would change its mind? Also, rejecting it because it's a common system employed in African nations (the last I remember, India uses it too) is not good enough a reason. If our EC can only run elections in a third-worldy manner, then it is important to use third-worldly methods to ensure at least some semblance of fair and clean elections.

Read more!