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Hazy School Days

Posted: 24 Jun 2013 02:02 PM PDT 

Could someone kindly explain why would there be a decision to close down schools on Monday when the API is in the unhealthy zone of 100-150 (Sunday evening) but when the following day the API sharply increases to 190++ (Monday evening) and 229 (Monday night) entering the very unhealthy zone, they decide to reopen schools on Tuesday.  

Nirmala A. 

One wonders if the higher authorities understand the process of decision-making. If they truly do, could someone kindly explain why would there be a decision to close down schools on Monday when the API is in the unhealthy zone of 100-150 (Sunday evening) but when the following day the API sharply increases to 190++ (Monday evening) and 229 (Monday night) entering the very unhealthy zone, they decide to reopen schools on Tuesday. This is what is happening in my area, Petaling Jaya. 

To rub salt into the wound, parents are told they have the discretion to not send their kids to school if they think that the situation is too detrimental to their kids health. What more does an API reading of unhealthy- very healthy tell you? Can't they just make the simple decision of shutting down schools?

Why wait until the API reaches the hazardous zone of above 300 before shutting down schools? Are we waiting for students to fall sick before sensible action is taken? 

As the air we breathe gets more toxic, we are advised to stay indoors and if we were to go out, we should wear face masks. If that were the case, why are schools open instead of students being asked to stay home. Conflicting advise, conflicting decisions.

I would love to see one or two or more of the higher authorities come down to the school and spend 5-6 hours in the smog and polluted air "concentrating" and "studying". Let them breathe in unhealthy and very unhealthy air for 5-6 hours and then let's see what decision they make next. 

A response to Idris Jala (Part 1)

Posted: 24 Jun 2013 01:40 PM PDT

I find it very hypocritical then that Idris Jala attempts to dismiss these issues as having nothing to do with the government. Does he really think the average Malaysian is that stupid?

FMT LETTER: From Oliver Gomez

I read with faint amusement Idris Jala's article which appearead in the June 24, 2013 edition of The Star newspaper. Idris Jala in his article discusses seven issues affecting Malaysia today.

Now in a few articles over the coming days, I will attempt to dissect and expose Idris Jala's article for the rubbish that it is. I will start off now by tackling the first two issues that appear in his article.

Incidentally if you have not already read Idris Jala's article, I strongly suggest that you do. It is a shining example of how misleading statistics can be and how politicians can literally get away with murder so long as they deny it strongly enough.

In his article, Idris Jala finds himself apparently cornered and forced to engage in a heated debate with an anonymous citizen appropriately named the 'Angry Malaysian'.

The first issue: Transparency International CPI

The first statement that our poor Minister in the PM's Department is forced to reply to is in regards to the problem of corruption in Malaysia. Idris Jala puts the Angry Malaysian in his place by informing him that Malaysia's ranking on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index improved from 60th in 2011 to 54th in 2012.

All of this sounds very impressive on the surface – that is of course until you realise that Rwanda ranked 50th on the same Index. In case anyone has forgotten, Rwanda was stuck in one of the worst civil wars ever in the 1990s. No disrespect towards Rwanda, but how is it that Malaysia ranks below Rwanda when we have had far more time to get our act together?

Another country that is ranked above us is the one Malaysians loves to hate i.e. Israel, which comes in at 38.

Here now, is the real doozie – in the very same study cited by Idris Jala, Transparency International further surveyed more than 3000 businessmen across 30 different countries.

Well guess what Mr Idris Jala? Malaysia ranked dead last, whereby an astonishing 50% of those surveyed said they had lost out on business opportunities in Malaysia due to a competitor paying a bribe. We comfortably beat the likes of India, Pakistan, Egypt, and Brazil. We even edged out nations like Mexico and Indonesia – two countries historically notorious for widespread bribery and corruption.

I wonder if Idris Jala was in fact fearful for his safety, which might best explain why he kept this particular result hidden from our Angry Malaysian.

The second issue: Global Financial Integrity on Illicit Capital Outflows

Clearly not satisfied with the 'well rounded' and 'non-evasive' answers provided by Idris Jala, the mysterious Angry Malaysian goes on to to cite the infamous 2012 illicit capital outflow study, as conducted by US-based Global Financial Integrity.

This study was highlighted to the Rakyat by Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim as well as various Opposition MPs in the run up to the now concluded GE13. The report basically found that as of 2010, Malaysia had one of largest outflows of illicit monies in the world. We were only beat out by the likes of China and Mexico – truly 'honourable' company where corruption is concerned.

Yet again our embattled Idris Jala was forced to defend the honour of the BN led government, and had this to say on the matter:

"Bank Negara has refuted this claim. It has clarified that 80% of illicit capital outflow is trade mispricing or transfer pricing. This means private companies produce receipts or invoices which differ from the actual amount of money transacted, usually to pay lower taxes to the Government. This is not government corruption."

Idris Jala had just described widespread tax fraud on the part of the private sector. Again it seems that Idris Jala delivered a lesson to the Angry Malaysian and that the government cannot be faulted for these issues. Two problems arise however:

  1. If there is a widespread problem with tax evasion in the private sector in Malaysia, why then has the Internal Revenue Board (a branch of government) been completely silent on the matter?
  2. Secondly and perhaps most damning, Idris Jala fails to acknowledge what is essentially the worst kept secret in Malaysia – the largest and most profitable Malaysian companies tend to be owned by or connected to various BN politicians.

Indeed, the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange is dominated by government linked firms and companies with close ties to the BN-led government. Suddenly, point (i) does not seem quite so mysterious does it?

Note Umno proxy Syed Mukthar al-Bukhary's DRB-Hicom, MMC Corp Berhad, and Gamuda Berhad. There is also Felda Global Ventures Holdings Berhad as well as Tenaga Nasional Berhad, and Khazanah Nasional Berhad. These are all highly profitable companies with close ties to the BN government.

Dear readers, Petronas is entirely owned by the (BN) government.

Let us also not forget the recent exposé by Global Witness of Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud.

Global Witness gained prominence after it exposed the arrogance and corruption that permeated Taib Mahmud's government and family. Taib's own sisters were wrangled in to help steal Sarawak's vast wealth from right under the noses of its native inhabitants. To this end, he employed the use of shell companies as proxies in addition to storing his vast amounts of illegal wealth in foreign bank accounts.

Now as well informed and resourceful Malaysians, you the readers are undoubtedly aware of various scandals that have followed the aforementioned companies and characters in recent years.

All this is of course to say nothing of the latest financial scandal within Bank Negara itself: reports surfaced some time last year that Bank Negara had engaged in large scale financial speculation in various foreign exchange markets during the 1980s and 1990s.

Remember the financial crisis of the mid to late 1990s? This was the crisis in which billionaire speculator George Soros was made public enemy number one by the then Mahathir administration. Well, Bank Negara had speculated huge amounts of the Great British Pound against George Soros, and had come up short – roughly RM 20 billion short according to the Penang Institute.

Simply put, the credibility of Bank Negara is very much up for debate.

I find it very hypocritical then that Idris Jala attempts to dismiss these issues as having nothing to do with the government. Does he really think the average Malaysian is that stupid?

One can never tell – Idris Jala was after all published in The Star newspaper.



A hazy solution to a hazy situation

Posted: 24 Jun 2013 11:58 AM PDT 

Kuo Yong Kooi 

Let us just connect the dots here by asking some questions. Assuming there is a law enacted to prosecute the companies involved in causing the current fires in Indonesia, will the haze problem stop in the future? Another big picture question is why is there a haze problem in big cities like Beijing even though they do not have the problem of forest fires?

Yes the open burning in Indonesia is directly causing the haze problem at the moment, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many issues here that needs to be factored into the haze equation.

Fact one is that we are rampantly clearing the precious lungs of the earth which is the rainforest and substituting it with mono crop palm oil plantations. The second factor is we are obsessed with the western "capitalistic" perpetual growth industrial development model which continuously substitutes old rainforest land with new and fancy industrial or housing estates. This is a global phenomenon.

We need to shift our paradigm away from "the current development model" to be able to resolve this problem. Anything shorter than that is a band aid hazy solution. What is the point of having the latest model of whatever you want consumption goods when you are not able to go outside to enjoy the basic quality of life?

A shift of paradigm or world view happens throughout human history all the time. Take for example during the pre colonial period, many of our grandparents' generation believed that there are spirits living in the trees. You can still see remnants of that belief nowadays where people give offerings like joss sticks to please the spirits of the big tree. People would bow and even ask for protection, usually health and safety but sometimes lottery numbers from the big tree spirits. Fast forward to the post colonial period when development is slowly taking off where chainsaws and bulldozers were plentiful. People just bulldoze everything to build big housing or industrial estates. The old belief of the tree spirits has dropped off. The advent of technological advancement has shifted the paradigm so to speak.

Today a new paradigm is needed to solve the present ecological crises like air and water pollution. Soil erosion, flash floods, overuse of chemicals in our agriculture, loss of biodiversity in rainforest and oceans, hard waste/rubbish land fills, global warming and many other environmental problems that presents itself to us now cannot be solved using the old paradigm of unlimited economic growth. That shift of paradigm might not necessarily mean that we have to go back to live in caves. It would mean that we need to take the environment as our main concern in whatever we do. We keep the trees because we appreciate that it gives oxygen to us, shade and life to all other creatures that live on it. It does not mean that we have to go back to the old practice of bowing to the big trees, but probably hugging it instead.

DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng in a June 21st press statement said that DAP will be proposing an amendment to the Environmental Quality Act via an urgent motion in parliament next week.

He sees the urgent need for Malaysia to take action against any Malaysian companies and foreign companies operating in Malaysia that contributed directly or indirectly in the transboundary fires in Indonesia.

Enacting stringent environmental laws is a way to go to stamp out the current problem. Unfortunately the solutions put forth are only temporary band aid solutions. Cloud seeding is one of those technological fixes that can give us temporary relief. These are old paradigm solutions suggested to a new problem that need a new way of thinking. In fact the two solutions suggested gave the public the illusion that some companies somewhere and some politicians will come out with the solution to the problem, all we need to do is to go on as usual on highway "Wawasan 2020".

Let's go along with the "hazy" technological fixes and enactment of new stringent environmental laws at the moment as I know that if I suggest something more radical, someone might accuse me of being a communist. Mind you there are many other non communistic ideologies around like Ghandian's "Village Republic", "Deep and Social" ecology, Schumarcher's "small is beautiful", or our local Kampung version of "Kais Pagi Makan Pagi".

Most would argue that we can't possibly turn back the clock. Let's look at possible solutions to the current crises. Think with the big picture in mind. Knowing that the haze is here to stay annually and even if the problem is solved it will re-emerge as we expand our city's boundaries in the near future. Many metropolises in Asia do have a different level of haze/pollution problem. Its just that the haze from Indonesia is hazing over the haze from our locally produced one at the moment.

What about adopting the idea of sustainable development seriously from now on? Factoring the "quality of life" and environmental impact into the equation in all of our new development projects. The economic factor is the only factor considered globally at the moment for many decades and it led us to a dead end. That's why the climate change crisis and global warming is the priority on the global agenda. 

Adopting immediate measures to combat air quality issues like moratorium of all logging activities on our remaining rainforest land in the country, no more big scale development project on hills, reclaiming unused land and convert it into parklands especially in the city areas, increase use of public transport in all the capital cities, create a bicycle friendly city and a host of other sustainable development measures that are started to be adopted globally. Enact laws to include putting trees in between the parking bays of all big shopping mall car parks. A serious re greening the city project is required.

Redesigning new housing estates with "quality of life", environmental and national reconciliation concerns in mind.

Here is another cutting-three-carrots-with-one-knife type solution. Since we need to tackle the quality of life and environmental issues anyway, we might as well look at other problems that need urgent address and factor that in as well. 

State governments can enact laws to make it compulsory for new estate developers to allocate green spaces for residents in the area to have leisure activities. Draw a line on let's say in every 40 acres of a housing or industrial development project we need, to have a 10 acres of park reserve. In other words, no more clear felling of the 40 acres of proposed housing development projects as before. The previous clear felling practice has been attributed to flash flooding, land slides and soil erosion.

The gazetted 10 acres public land has got some influence on the micro climate of that housing estate. There are solid science data to proof this point. If you believe in micro and macro economics, then try to extend that to micro and macro climate and environment.

The fact that by expanding the city boundaries through industrial and housing estate developments, we are creating more micro climate hot spots in the surrounding areas. The micro climate hot spots created from clear tree felling, the pollution from transportation and industries and the haze gave us a "triple whammy" impact at the moment on our health and well being.

In redesigning our housing and industrial estates with an ecological and social conscientiousness, we are adopting a more sustainable model of development. In other words, it's ok if we do not have economic growth year in year out. Can you see how difficult it is for any government in this planet to survive in an election if there is an economic stagnation?

We might as well add in the first home buyer's race quota into the equation so that we are tackling the race relation issues as well. Create community centers in the gazetted "green zones" where community can organise their group activities including allocation of small plots of land for organic farming activities for the residents. The living in an eco friendly housing estate and sharing of a common community activity space will help facilitate the national reconciliation project. This is to counter the colonial period "new village" structure that shafted in a single race in an area.

The health and well being of our children can improve if there are green zones available for them to hang out and play especially in the city areas. At the moment, the younger generation are all trapped in their homes doing un healthy activities like playing computer games and watch TV. They have to be driven somewhere else for activities and that can contribute to more pollution.

Children are also suffering a whole heap of health issues like diabetes and obesity due to lack of activities. This "green zone" is an ideal antidote to alleviate the potential epidemic health and well being issue of our young.

We can't afford to follow the Singapore's structural development model as it is a mental health trap. Statistical fact has shown us that Singapore is one of the suicide capitals of the world. We have the space where Singapore do not have. Why do KL have to follow Singapore's style of development plans?

Since we have extra time indoors due to the haze and the planet's library in on our fingertips, start googling and look at the big picture. Look into topics like increase ocean's acidity and expanding ocean desert, expanding land desert, rainforest are lungs of the earth, coral bleaching, drift net fishing, Al Gore's inconvenience truth, development to death, chemicals in our food chain, haze in Beijing and other cities, loss of biodiversity, and it will give you a bigger picture to the haze problem.

A paradigm shift is overdue as we are in a new century. If we tackle the problem with our old paradigm, the problem will still be there. The solutions mentioned above is just a temporary stop gap solution. We are just delaying our planet's catastrophe of climate change where many scientists predicted will be in this century. In other words, the party is over, the question is are we willing to stop and change direction on highway "Wawasan 2020"?

Jonker St Market Closure

Posted: 24 Jun 2013 11:53 AM PDT 

"Now, we see most of the Malacca residents fully supporting DAP over MCA candidates, who have been serving them. Hence, we decided to cancel the night market and we hope they will be happy"  

Tony Pua  

In a shocking move involving political vengeance and retaliation against the non-Malay community, the new Chief Minister of Melaka, Datuk Idris Haron last week announced the closure of the Jonker Street weekend market, which is an extremely popular 13-year old tourist destination in an area often regarded as the Melaka Chinatown.
According to Kwong Wah Daily, Idris yesterday argued that the decision passed by the Malacca executive council on June 12 to close the night market "follows the intention of the people".
"Now, we see most of the Malacca residents fully supporting DAP over MCA candidates, who have been serving them. Hence, we decided to cancel the night market and we hope they will be happy," the daily quotes Idris as saying.
We had assumed that with the political demise of former Melaka Chief Minister, Datuk Seri Ali Rustam, you can't possibly appoint a Chief Minister more reckless, arrogant and callous than him. Datuk Idris Haron has however, immediately proven us completely wrong.
The move is clearly akin to cutting off one's nose to spite one's face. Just because Datuk Idris Haron wanted to demonstrate his politcal pettiness to inflict damage to the Chinese community, he is willing to sacrifice the interest of the people of Melaka and her economy.
More importantly, it has proven beyond doubt that Barisan Nasional is not a "1Malaysia" government as touted by the Prime Minister and UMNO President, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, but in reality a 1UMNO party which only cares about the interest of their own leaders and cronies. 
Over the past 8 weeks since the General Election, UMNO leaders and its mouthpiece, Utusan Malaysia has gone on a verbal rampage to demonise the Chinese for BN's poor performance. But this is the first physical act by which UMNO to victimise the Chinese community for the latter's perceived support for Pakatan Rakyat.
In fact, we have to assume that this major move to punish the Chinese voters is a directive coming directly from the top of the UMNO leadership itself. And if true, then this will only be the beginning of a series of actions which UMNO-led governments will take to discriminate against, sideline, punish as well as humiliate any of the minority races in the country which they deem not to have given support to UMNO-Barisan Nasional.
Perhaps, the new Tourism Minister, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz will announce a similar move to close down the historic Petaling Street. Or why stop at just closing these "Chinatowns", why not just cancel Christmas or even more impactful, ban Deepavali or Chinese New Year celebrations?
The acts by these UMNO governments runs in direct contrasts with the Pakatan Rakyat-led adminsitrations which goes out of its way to ensure that all their voters, regardless of political affiliation will enjoy the fruits of our administration. When the Selangor state government provided free water to individual households or insurance for the elderly, it was granted to all regardless or race, religion or political affiliation. This is similar in Penang, when it became the first state government to eliminate hardcore poverty in the country, despite the fact that the majority of the beneficiaries are Malays who had then supported BN.
While Pakatan Rakyat continues to serve all Malaysians regardless of whether they had voted for us, we are witnessing an increasingly vindictive Barisan Nasional where MCA threw its tantrums by shutting down all their service centres, while UMNO demonstrated their racist mindset by not only poisoning the minds of the people and destroying the people's livelihoods.
In the past, we would have ended this statement by making a call to the Prime Minister to be the voice of moderation and uphold his commitment to his "1Malaysia". Today, we know that Dato' Seri Najib Razak will just remain completely silent to the above act of closing down Jonker Street as well as other threats to the non-Malay community. He silence not only proves his tacit approval and involvement in these actions, it also confirms that "1Malaysia" is purely a propaganda rhetoric to win votes in a General Election.

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