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Abdullah’s third budget has neither sparked sustainable “feel good” sentiments nor set the country firmly on the path towards a Towering Malaysia by eradicating the “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” to take on the challenges of globalization
(Dewan Rakyat, Monday) : The Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had last Friday presented what commentators had described as the best of his three budgets since 2004, with goodies for many, from the rakyat to the corporations – to the extent that it has attracted the description of an election budget. Clearly, it was crafted under the haunting presence of the former Prime Minister.
But a strange thing happened to the 2007 Budget – it failed to generate sustainable “feel good” sentiments among the people.
The following comment on my blog sums up the feeling of many Malaysians:
“Budget used to excite me and my family almost every year….but i guess this is the first year that most of my family members as well as my friends couldn’t give a damn about it. Maybe its because we are just too sick with the administration and its management of our beloved country.”
For the first time, there was no build-up in the public interest to the budget, which mounted on budget day but despite all the media hypes it has quite dissipated in a matter of three days!
This was why what had been described as “investor-friendly” and “the best budget in three years” failed to lift the share prices on Bursa Malaysia, which ended on Friday with the benchmark Kuala Lumpur Composite Index (KLCI) only up by a desultory 0.27%.
One reason was the 49th National Day a day before the budget presentation. The 2007 Budget was not overshadowed by the 49th National Day, but was clouded by the sense of depression, despondency and gloom which had befallen the country in the 13 days before the National Day, which had dampened both the National Day spirit and the 2007 Budget expecations.
This was caused by a concatenation of events although it was rounded up by the irresponsible UMNO Youth race politicking, that the Chinese in Malaysia would exploit the infighting in UMNO to advance the community’s interest – such as the relentless undermining of the Merdeka “social contract” of a secular Malaysia, increasing intolerance on human rights issues such as freedom of religion and expression, the worsening problem of corruption, the alarming and unchecked rise in crime, underpinned by the failure after nearly three years to begin to deliver the Prime Minister’s promise and pledge of reform.
Some top government leaders have complained about the public lack of enthusiasm in flying the national flag on this National Day and even accused those who fail to do so as unpatriotic.
I did a random count of 100 vehicles in Petaling Jaya when driving on National Day and I found that only two out of 100 had the national flag. In the Parliament grounds on the eve of National Day, less than half of the vehicles flew the national flag – despite the initiative by the BN BackBenchers’ Club to distribute the Jalur Gemilang bunting.
It was not that Malaysians have become less patriotic but many also felt this year that there was little cause for celebration because of their disappointments with the Abdullah administration, not only for failing to deliver its election pledges but also for the general lack of leadership and sense of direction on a whole spectrum of issues – and this feeling of despondency and disgust had overspilled to public attitudes in the run-up to the 2007 Budget.
Abdullah addressed this public disappointment and disenchantment at the drift and malaise of his administration and his failure to deliver his pledges when he was Prime Minister for 18 months.
Speaking to the Harvard Club of Malaysia Dinner on 5th May 2005, Abdullah reiterated his commitment to realize the March 2004 promises of a clean, incorruptible, efficient, trustworthy and people-oriented administration to create a just, prosperous and progressive Malaysia – for which he had won an unprecedented landslide 91% parliamentary majority.
He declared that his general election promises were “not made in the heat of electioneering, but rather after careful thought about what needed to be done for Malaysia”.
He said: “I am committed to seeing through my policies, strategies and promises to fruition. I am not only a man of intentions, I am also a man of deeds.”
Another 16 months have passed since his Harvard Club speech, which had seen the 2006 Budget last September, the Ninth Malaysia Plan in April and the 2007 Budget last Friday.
However, Malaysians do not see any critical or crucial difference whether in the sense of purpose and commitment or style and direction of leadership of his administration from one which had given rise to widespread concern about the national malaise in the government and leadership which he had to address at the Harvard Club Dinner.
In less than two months it will be Abdullah’s full third anniversary as Prime Minister. What has he got to show in terms of delivering his reform pledges? He cannot continue to offer excuses for the national malaise and inertia.
This is why Abdullah’s third budget has neither sparked sustainable “feel good” sentiments nor set the country firmly on the path towards a Towering Malaysia by eradicating the “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” to take on the challenges of globalization.
Abdullah is a honest, honourable and God-fearing man.
On Saturday, he said he will apologise to the people if he had inadvertently erred when he spoke about the Scomi Group during a recent TV3 interview.
He has asked Scomi Group to submit a report of its business activities, especially those relating to government projects.
Abdullah said he had received a letter accusing him of lying about the activities of Scomi, in which his son Kamaluddin has a major share.
He had said during the TV3 interview on August 7 that Kamaluddin had never asked for and had never received business favours from the Government. He had said that his son had, in fact, been forced to seek business opportunities outside the country as he did not want to be associated with his father.
Abdullah said the letter had some ‘information’ which he did not know, since he did not manage his son’s business and he did not ask his son to report to him about his business.
While Abdullah must be applauded for his candour, humility, honesty and honour that he will apologise if he had made a mistake during the TV interview, the issues involved go well beyond the question of an apology from the Prime Minister for making an wrong statement.
The following are the relevant excerpts from the Prime Minister’s TV3 intereview with Bernama chairman Datuk Annuar Zaini on the night of Monday, 7th August 2006:
You are known as Mr Clean and Mr Nice Guy. Sometimes that intention is
disrupted because of business interests. Besides KJ (Khairy), your son
Kamaluddin is also in business and has he misused or taken advantage of his
relationship with you to excel in his business?
Information contradicting Abdullah’s statement about Scomi and Kamaluddin are easily available in the public domain, which was why there was an open letter in Malaysiakini on 15th August 2005 from one Sulaiman Rejab who asked the Prime Minister to explain the press reports about government projects which had been awarded to Scomi or which it had interest, viz:
(Scomi’s CEO Shag Hakim Zain has since confirmed Scomi’s interest and involvement in the RM1.2 billion Penang monorail project.)
I do not know whether this is the letter which the Prime Minister had referred to when he mentioned about it containing “information” which he did not know, since he did not manage his son’s business.
But many questions concerning government credibility and competence cry out for answer, including:
It does not inspire public confidence that a government which is costing taxpayers RM112.9 billion next year in operating expenditures, with a million-strong civil service, could be so incompetent, inept and irresponsible as to leave the Prime Minister so uninformed and vulnerable in a subservient TV interview!
And this was not the only inaccurate information he made in the interview, as there were others, whether in his defence of the highly controversial Khairy Jamaluddin, his son-in-law’s loan-and-acquisition of shares of ECM Libra which went on to effect a reverse take-over of a larger GLC, Assets Avenue, to form the new ECM Libra Avenue raising serious conflict-of-interest questions directly affecting the Prime Minister who is also Finance Minister or his denial that no Malaysian company was being controlled by a foreign company, although private hospital operator Pantai Holdings was controlled by Singapore-based Parkway Holdings Ltd.
Immediately after the TV interview, Khairy disposed of his ECM Libra Avenue shares under even more controversial circumstances while the Treasury had to acquire a substantial stake of Pantai Holdings through a new acquisition vehicle Pantai Irama Ventures Sdn. Bhd because of two privatization concessions, Fomema and Pantai Medivest.
The Finance Minister should give a full report to Parliament on the Fomema-Pantai Medivest concessions scandal, the total outlays of taxpayers’ funds which had been expended by the Treasury to re-acquire these two concessions, and what lessons had been learnt. – as this is another classic case where the public had been taken for a ride with great financial costs to the state coffers because of bungling, incompetent or downright negligent and irresponsible civil servants and political leaders.
With such a recent backdrop of drift and malaise whether in finance, economics, politics or nation-building, the sense of despondency and gloom had dissipated any “feel good” effect designed by the distribution of goodies in the 2007 Budget.
With every passing day, there are more and more examples of a lack of leadership and direction, of drift and malaise.
The latest example is the ongoing slanging match between the Barisan Nasional MP for Jasin, Datuk Mohd Said Yusof and the Customs and Excise Department, with the former raising the RM48 million Custons uniform scandal in Parliament last Monday, including allegations that the batons senior officers carry is RM700 a piece and is made in the United Kingdom; the overlap on their uniform is stitched in Scotland at RM600 a piece, while the buttons on their uniform is RM800 a set.
Last Thursday, New Straits Times in a report headlined “Customs Dept hits back at RM48 million allegation” sourced clearly from the Customs Department named Mariwasa Kraftangan Sdn Bhd as the company contracted to supply the Customs uniform attire in 2002 and 2003. On the specifics, the allegations that the batons senior officers carry is RM700 a piece and made in the UK were denied, claiming that they were Kuala Kangsar-made and costs RM160 to RM250 each.
The NST report said:
“When the contract was formalised, 22 items were listed as accessories.
“The accessories ranged from crowns and were donned on epaulette, lanyard, aigulette (braided cord with chrome or brass finial), pips and gorget (collar badges).
‘“A button was priced at RM2.90, while the aigulette (for senior officers) was quoted at RM950.
“’At present, a Customs officer’s uniform has eight lapel buttons and two breast pocket buttons… and with each button box quoted at RM17, this would definitely not cost RM800,’ said the official.
“The official explained that with the exception of an aigulette, all items were designed and manufactured locally.
“The official explained the aigulette was imported from Pakistan as there was no local expertise available to put together the threaded finery.”
Is there a RM48 million Customs uniform scandal or not?
The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi should back off from his ill-advised and ill-considered call for an end of the “slanging match” between the MP for Jasin and the Customs and Excise Department by imposing a gag, or the very commitment of his administration to accountability, transparency, integrity and good governance will come under question.
As Finance Minister, with direct responsibility over the Customs Department, he has personal responsibility to Parliament and the nation to reveal the whole truth about the RM48 million Customs uniform scandal.
There must be a thorough independent investigation. There should not be any cover up. Let the chips fall where they may, but the truth must be out. Or the chips will fall on Abdullah himself instead
An example of the failure of political leadership is the dithering of the Prime Minister from slapping down hard on the irresponsible race politicking by UMNO Youth leaders , in particular by the UMNO Youth deputy leader who is his son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin.
After the issue of an UMNO Penang Chief Minister, Khairy has upped the ante and temperatures over the weekend with the accusation that the Malays in Balik Pulau are being marginalized in the Penang island by the Chinese Penang Gerakan State Government, driving them to the mainland to both Butterworth and Kedah’s Sungai Petani.
When the UMNO Youth Leader and Education Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said at the opening of the Gerakan Youth and Wanita national delegates conference on Saturday that “Young leaders who make racial and religious statements to be popular with a particular community will not go far in a multiracial and multicultural Malaysia”, many asked whether it was a sign of the UMNO Youth distancing himself from his deputy’s ethnic and religious politicking.
But this perception was short-lived, as the next day at the Kampar UMNO Division, Hishammuddin went out of the way to indicate that his warning to “Young party leaders, regardlsss of race, religion” not to gamble away the country’s future for temporary gain appeared to be more directed at the MCA and Gerakan than UMNO, and in any event, he did not have Khairy in mind.
It is this lack of leadership, resulting in drift and malaise, which is having a most negative effect in the country, whether on nation-building, ethnic relations, politics or the economy.
Who would have imagined that when Abdullah should be at the height of his power and influence, having just won the biggest general election landslide victory ever achieved by any Prime Minister in March 2004, announced the RM220 billion Ninth Malaysia Plan and presented the biggest ever budget in the nation’s history on Friday totaling RM159.4 billion, there is a strong voice calling for his resignation.
Such a call has not from his political enemies – whether inside UMNO like Tun Mahathir or outside. This is from outside UMNO and it was made only yesterday, by a Malaysian surgeon in California, M. Bakri Musa, a prolific writer on Malaysian affairs on the Internet, printed media and books.
Yesterday, he emailed me his four-page call “Undur lah, Pak Lah”. I do not agree with the harsh, unkind and cutting language Bakri used against Abdullah in several places.
Bakri urged Abdullah to step down now, which he described as “the one right decision at the right timed and for all the right reasons, something that has sorely eluded him since becoming Prime Minister”.
He felt that this would be an appropriate time for Abdullah to announce his resignation to be effective following the election of a new leader at UMNO’s forthcoming annual assembly in November.
I do not intend to comment on Bakri’s call to Abdullah to step down as Prime Minister, but it must be recognized that Bakri’s underlying theme that Abdullah is not providing leadership will find considerable resonance among the people.
In fact, more and more Malaysians are asking who is the Prime Minister in Malaysia and whether there is a Prime Minister in Malaysia – in the same way that more and more are asking whether we have a Finance Minister or an Internal Security Minister in the real sense of the term, in the latter case in view of the runaway crime situation with the farce of the Royal Police Commission’s key recommendation for an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission meant to be established in May this year.
Abdullah must come to grips with the drift and malaise in his administration, assert leadership, shakeup and downsize the Cabinet, “walk the talk” and implement the election pledges for which he had won the unprecedented mandate of a 91 per cent parliamentary majority – if he is to leave behind a worthwhile legacy as the fifth Prime Minister of Malaysia.
Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic
Planning Commission Chairman
Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman