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Things are stirring again

Posted: 02 Nov 2013 05:08 PM PDT

There have been so many false alarms about Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim being replaced as Selangor Mentri Besar that the accounts are starting to resemble a soap opera. But this time it may be for real.

Joceline Tan, The Star

DATUK Seri Anwar Ibrahim knew people had been staring at him in Parliament. He could feel dozens of pairs of eyes checking out his "new look" even when he was sitting quietly in his Opposition Leader's spot inside the House.

There is no denying it, the PKR de facto leader has not looked this young and handsome in years. His eye bags have disappeared, the lines on his face are no longer as pronounced and the pigmentation marks are gone. His once sagging cheeks look firm and plumped-up and his face is now a youthful V-shape.

Reporters have been talking non-stop about his "muka lawa" (handsome face) and some of them joked that he must have discovered the miracle of youth. Their sole complaint is what they termed his "mata sepet" - his eyes seem as though they are pulled up towards his ears.

Anwar has been quite self-conscious about the attention. But he is such a smooth operator and when he settled down for a press conference in the Parliament lobby on Budget day, he defused the curiosity by saying: "People said I am using Botox, but if that is so, surely my feet would not swell up."

He was implying he had gout but he was not limping or in pain when he got up to go after the press conference.


Press Conference Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim at Tropicana
Anwar: The most powerful man in PKR has been getting a lot of attention for his miraculously youthful looks in recent weeks.

His own party people joked - behind his back, of course - that their ketua umum now looks as young as their deputy president Azmin Ali. The cheekier ones said their president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail now looks like his older sister and their vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar looks like his younger sister.

The PKR leader had famously said that the general election would be his last if he failed to make it to Putrajaya. But all that is gone with the wind and it is clear that he is re-inventing himself - looks-wise, at least - for another stab at Putrajaya.

Anwar will be 70 by the next general election and his rival Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak will be 65. But no problem, Anwar will be the younger-looking one.

In the meantime, he has his hands full with his own party's politics in the run-up to the PKR election in March.

The latest round of politicking surrounding Selangor Mentri Besar (MB) Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim is said to be related to that. Khalid has landed in the ring of fire again.

When Anwar touched on Khalid's performance a couple of weeks ago, he was actually following up on a memorandum that Pakatan Rakyat assemblymen in Selangor had submitted to Khalid in connection to the state Budget that will be tabled next month.

Alarm bells went off when they learnt that Khalid was planning to slash the development expenditure by RM100mil. Khalid is famous for his prudent fiscal policies and takes great pride in Selangor having reserves of RM3bil.

However, the assemblymen are exasperated by his "save money" approach. They think Khalid has gone overboard and that he needs to spend more in the interest of the rakyat.

The assemblymen are under pressure to deliver because expectations are higher than ever after such a spectacular win in the general election.

Moreover, Selangor needs to implement the promises made in their Buku Jingga manifesto or else they would be accused of making promises they have no intention of keeping.

"The criticism is growing, we can't defend him anymore," said a Selangor PKR official.

The episode over the state Budget has seen Azmin move to centre stage. He chaired two meetings to draft the 10-page memo to object to the proposed Budget cut and to outline what needs to be done.

He has argued that Pakatan needs to increase spending in the areas of affordable housing, environment, scholarships and basic services.

Last Tuesday, Azmin was invited to attend the Selangor Pakatan meeting for the first time.

Azmin's supporters said that despite being the Selangor PKR chairman, he has been excluded from such meetings that were chaired by Khalid in his capacity as the MB. They are of course implying it was Khalid's way of playing politics with Azmin.

Khalid was pressured by the PAS side to include Azmin at the meeting which touched on politics, the state Budget and also administrative matters.

The PAS and DAP side have come around to the role that Azmin can play and they are starting to view him in a new light and to acknowledge his leadership.

Azmin is not perfect and he has his share of enemies after so many years in politics. His supporters say he has been a victim of perception and argue that he is organised, disciplined and can stand up to the Barisan side.

Moreover, he is one of the most watched MPs in Parliament because he speaks authoritatively and does his homework before he talks.

Khalid, on his part, is a decent, clean and hardworking politician who thinks that his way is the best way. He has his own ideas and style of doing things and has ignored requests to let the party play a bigger role in the state.

His critics like to pick on his political secretary Faekah Husin, a strong-willed lady who has stepped on too many toes in the party. How­ever, she is fiercely loyal to Khalid.

Some in the party were startled when Faekah, following the episode over the state Budget, issued a statement to defend her boss' prudent policies and to announce that the state would be building a new hospital and bridge in Klang.

Critics think she has overstepped her role and that a political secretary should not be making such an announcement.

They will be even more startled when they find out that despite their objections, Khalid has allegedly gone ahead to appoint Faekah as CEO of Mentri Besar Inc, the umbrella body for the state GLCs.

Anwar, said one of his aides, thinks Khalid is "uncontrollable" and has given up trying to get the MB to listen to the party. Since 2008, the party has pulled him up several times to give him feedback and instruction and even to reprimand him.

At these sessions, Khalid would sit nodding his head at whatever was said, looking apologetic and chastised. He would not get angry or defensive and his usual reaction would be to thank them for the feedback and that he would try to do better and to improve.

The sight of this former high-flying corporate figure being humbled usually softened their hearts. The only trouble was that Khalid would then go off and continue doing what he liked.

The most recent example was PKR's proposal that their secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution be made the chief-of-staff in the MB's office. However, Khalid watered down the proposal and Saifuddin ended up as the "rural development officer" in his office.

To add salt to injury, he told Saifuddin there was no need for him to be on the 21st floor of the MB's office because they could communicate via email and relegated him to the fifth floor.

The PKR folk did not know whether to laugh or to cry: Saifuddin is the party's secretary-general, he was the Machang MP and he is now a laughing stock.

A post-general election decision to appoint state liaison officers from the different parties to assist the MB also seems to have died a sudden death at the MB's doorstep.

Khalid has described the latest round of criticism as "asam garam dunia politik," meaning that it is part and parcel of politics.

He took to Twitter to say he was not pressured by the memo from his Pakatan colleagues because he has an "open, transparent and responsible" attitude. As for the memo from his Pakatan colleagues, he tweeted that it was normal for him to get memos and he has received 170 on land issues.

His press secretary Arfah Aziz uses Twitter to make sure everyone knows that her boss works from morning to night - chairing policy meetings, attending dinners, officiating at events, meeting the rakyat and even when going to the mosque.

When the Selangor executive council held their meeting in a hotel in Bangkok recently, Arfah tweeted that Khalid was holding a press conference at 12.30am.

As expected, speculation of a change in the MB's office has started again. Anwar has denied that Azmin was taking over from Khalid. Azmin rubbished suggestions of a crisis and also denied that Khalid would be replaced.

Strangely, Nurul Izzah was the only one to admit that there was a crisis.

But party insiders suggest otherwise. They said Anwar has reached the end of his tether with Khalid. PAS and DAP leaders apparently feel the same way and three of PAS' top leaders recently met Khalid to air their concerns.

The other significant thing is that Anwar and Azmin have reconciled. They had a falling-out over the MB appointment in May but are back on the same page.

Anwar has assured Azmin of his friendship and loyalty. He told Azmin the party has no objections to him moving up but that the decision on the MB's post is a numbers game and the numbers had favoured Khalid after May 5. Since then, Azmin is said to have secured the endorsement of the component parties.

The insiders said a change is in the cards and "the ball had started rolling" from as early as after Hari Raya Puasa. Some claimed it will take place after the PKR congress next year. Others said it could be earlier.

But Khalid has survived so many attempts to remove him that few are convinced anything will change in Selangor. Khalid still has the support of Dr Wan Azizah and her daughter Nurul Izzah, both of whom are prepared to do what it takes to block Azmin.

But the problem for this mother-and-daughter pair is that Anwar is not only the most powerful man in PKR, he is also the boss at home. And unlike his wife and daughter, he is unlikely to stand in the way of Azmin.

Anwar has a new look and Azmin is making a new bid for the MB's office. The plot can only thicken from here.


New BEE is from same old mould

Posted: 02 Nov 2013 05:06 PM PDT

There is need for a thorough evidence-based review of Malaysia's affirmative action policies that began with noble objectives 40 years ago.

Zainah Anwar, The Star

THAT the New Economic Policy has succeeded in eradicating poverty and eliminating the identification of race with economic function is not disputed. Malaysia's poverty rate has plummeted from over 50% in the 1970s to only 1.7%, according to the 2012 Household Income Survey.

Bumiputras employed in the professional and management category have outstripped Chinese and Indians, while those qualified as doctors, engineers, and architects are almost proportional to the country's racial composition.

Similarly, bumiputra corporate equity has gone up from only 2.4% in the 1970s to 23.5% in 2011, and according to other measurements, even higher.

These are all laudable achievements. No one is questioning the twin objectives of the New Economic Policy.

However, the debate today remains how best to achieve these objectives in the context of a more globally competitive environment, persistent income inequality over the past 10 years, growing intra-ethnic income inequality and other divides such as rural/urban, and peninsula Malaysia/Sabah-Sarawak.

Given these inequities and the rising intra-ethnic income inequality among the bumiputras and between Malay and non-Malay bumiputras, most of whom live in Sabah and Sarawak, isn't it time for the Federal government to start addressing the needs of poor bumiputras through a differentiated approach?

Can an affirmative action policy targeted at bumpitras continue to treat this ethnic group as one homogenous community when data show increased intra-ethnic inequality as one outcome?

Should a policy designed to build national unity from the ashes of May 13, 1969, continue on the basis of ethnicity when this has resulted in increased communal tensions and undermine social cohesion?

What should be done?

Many Malaysians believe the unexpected announcement of the Bumiputra Economic Empowerment (BEE) programme was more of the same and politically motivated to appease Umno's own Tea Party hardliners in the run-up to party elections.

It is short-term in approach and does not address weaknesses in policy-making and implementation, which has seen billions allocated to bumiputra economic empowerment and dozens of policy instruments and schemes over the decades still failing to build the resilient bumiputra commercial and industrial community and address the needs of those left behind.

What is really needed today is not more handouts to bumiputra but a serious policy review of affirmative action policies of the past 40 years, where they have worked and where they have failed, and what best long-term steps should be taken to address the various inequities in this country.

This review should be based on empirical evidence and data, not on emotions, threats and accusations.

Should the NEP continue to be race-based or needs-based to end poverty, regardless of ethnicity?

A persuasive argument can be made that even if affirmative action is based on need, the bumiputras being the majority population of this country will still be the group that will benefit the most. As reported in the New Economic Model for Malaysia, of the bottom 40% of households that earn less than RM2,000 a month, 77.2% are bumiputras.

In effect, 80% of Malaysian households earn less than RM5,000 per month.

It is no wonder that, according to the Internal Revenue Board, only one million of the 12.7 million Malaysians in the work force are eligible to pay tax, making wages and salaries contribution to Malaysia's GDP very low.

The EPF reported that 78.6% of its contributors earn less than RM3,000 monthly. The low salary can be explained by the fact that some 77% of Malaysian workers have only SPM qualifications.

These are all troubling data in a country that aims to attain developed country status, with per capita income of RM48,000 by 2020.

Even if this is achievable, without addressing the gaping income inequality, this high income country status will remain an illusion for the individuals making up 80% of Malaysian households earning less than RM5,000 a month.

Obviously, the details of the BEE still need to be worked out. A major concern is that the policy announcement made no mention of targeting the bottom 40%, to reduce the inequity gaps between the rich and poor, the urban and rural, the bumiputras in the peninsula and those in Sabah and Sarawak, where poverty rates are higher.

There is also worry that a resort to quotas yet again will further reduce bumiputra competitiveness and resilience in an increasingly interconnected, globally competitive world economy.

Much has been written and debated on the effectiveness of affirmative action policies to redress historical injustices. A new book on the New Economic Policy, The New Economic Policy in Malaysia: Affirmative Action, Horizontal Inequalities and Social Justice (National University of Singapore Press, 2013), edited by Edmund Terrence Gomez and Johan Saravanamuttu, suggests four lessons to be learnt.

> First, the duration of affirmative action. Any such policy based on horizontal inequalities (inequalities based on culturally defined groups, rather than individuals or households) must have a time limit. Research shows that the most successful period of the NEP was its social restructuring phase in the first 15 years.

Significant progress was made to eradicate poverty, increase bumiputra ownership of share capital, increase bumiputras in the professional and management category of occupations, and reduce income disparity between bumiputras and non-bumiputras. The focus on education for bumiputras paid high dividends in creating a bumiputra professional and middle-class group.

The question being asked today is whether the results of continuing affirmative action policies and instruments are worth the billions of resources poured in, and worth the impact on economic growth, efficiency and competitiveness, and bumiputra independence and resilience.

> Second is inequality of access. This has led to growing intra bumiputra income inequality. Who are those who have benefited most from IPOs allocated to bumiputras?

Even then, the government has admitted of the RM54bil worth of stocks allocated to bumiputras since 1971, only RM2bil remains in bumiputra hands.

A clear spatial divide (disparities between beneficiaries in different regions) has appeared where poverty is most severe in the Malay heartland of Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah and Perlis and among the orang asli and non-Malay bumiputras, with Sabah being the country's poorest state with a poverty rate of close to 20%.

> Third, affirmative action should focus on providing high quality primary and secondary education to better prepare bumiputras to take advantage of the tertiary educational opportunities offered to them.

The high unemployment rate among bumiputra graduates, and the high percentage of local bumiputra graduates being absorbed into Government and statutory bodies show a lack of capacity to acquire a sound education that can lead to more competitive advantage in the labour market.

A study on the impact of exclusive bumiputra admissions quotas and academic performance was revealing.

Of the 271 first semester students studying linear algebra in an engineering faculty, only 13.6% of those who scored an A in matriculation mathematics scored an A in the university course, while 61.6% of those who scored an A in STPM mathematics scored an A in university algebra.

Evidently, the STPM of the national school system prepared the students better for university than the specially set-up matriculation system to improve bumiputra performance in maths and science.

> Fourth, preferential treatment in business to produce a bumiputra commercial and industrial community has failed to propel the growth of a large robust pool of independent bumiputra businesses.

According to a study, in spite of intensive privatisation and a policy of "picking winners", no bumiputra-owned firm appears in the Top 10 lists of companies either by revenue, profit or return on revenues.

State support for development of Malay capital has fostered the expansion of a bumiputra rentier class and a corrupting intertwining of business and politics that undermine economic confidence, growth and competition.

Before more handouts are given out in the name of a presumed homogenous bumiputra community, there is need for a thorough evidence-based review of Malaysia's affirmative action policies that began with noble objectives 40 years ago, now mired in cynicism that the policy has largely benefited and enriched an elite class of hand-picked cronies the most.

Already, questions are being asked on who will benefit most from the RM10bil being pumped into ASB2, when some 75% of unit holders of ASB actually own only an average of RM611 per person.


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