Foong Li Mei brings you another edition of REFSA Rojak – a weekly take on the goings-on in Malaysia by Research for Social Advancement (REFSA). REFSA Rojak – “trawl the newsflow, cut to the core and focus on the really pertinent. Full of flavour, lots of crunch, this is the concise snapshot to help Malaysians keep abreast of the issues of the day.”
Whoever says that talk is cheap is perhaps not speaking to the right person. Direct talks between Sarawak Coal Resources Sdn Bhd and four firms, for example, were worth millions of ringgit. According to the 2011 Auditor-General’s (AG) Report, these firms won contracts amounting to RM923 million from the wholly-owned subsidiary of Sarawak’s State Financial Secretary Incorporated, mostly through direct negotiations. The oversight of the state financial secretary was also absent in these multi-million ringgit deals. Sarawak Coal Resources conveniently said that it “did not know” that the oversight was needed for contracts worth above RM500,000. The audit further discovered that two of the firms “did not adhere to their contracts and to the environmental impact assessment report”. Open tender government projects were also no less mysterious than deals made behind closed doors.
The Finance Ministry once again tried tunneling its way out of the controversial Ampang LRT line extension project awarded to George Kent (Malaysia) Bhd. It insisted that George Kent won the contract from the start, and denied knowledge of the leaked government documents which showed that the company was poorly rated for the project. Monopoly is also apparently the name of the game in government procurements, and dominating the spread so far seems to be Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar al-Bukhary. Senior UMNO backbencher Datuk Bung Mokhtar lashed out at the federal government for favouring Syed Mokhtar in all business areas. The business tycoon is listed by Forbes as Malaysia’s seventh richest person, but there is fear that the ballooning debt of his companies will lead to a financial system collapse. Procedure-flouting direct negotiations, shady open tender processes and thriving monopoly seem to define government procurements. So, does the ordinary entrepreneur in Malaysia even stand a chance? The recent Budget 2013 allocated millions to assist young entrepreneurs, but unless the government rubs some salt on the know-who leeches, businesses in Malaysia will suck more than it pumps into the economy.
Eating into funds meant for the poor
Those tasked with feeding the underprivileged appear to be chomping into the poor’s share of the economic pie. RM 1 million meant for the poor in Kelantan was burnt in a bad investment by a statutory body, clearly violating the directive given. Only 8 percent of the money was recouped. Apparently, the investment was to make dividends to pay for management expenses. It looks like the poor in the Ladang Rakyat programme will not be receiving the monthly aid due to them.
Across the ocean, the Penans in Sarawak are not only handed the short end of the stick, but may soon see the end of a baton as well. The Sibu police chief has threatened to take criminal action against the protesting natives if they continue to block the roads to the Murum Dam project site. However, the villagers are adamant in defending their homes and customary land. Human rights NGO Suaram urged the police to refrain from interfering in the struggle, saying that the officers in blue should behave as a neutral party and not side with the oppressors.
Squabbling over secularism
Is Malaysia secular or not? This debate is raging in the public domain currently. De-facto law Minister Datuk Seri Nazri does not believe so. According to him, our country has “never been endorsed or declared as a secular country”. He says the Federal Constitution states that Islam is the religion of the federation, and this differs from India, the United States and Turkey as the Constitutions of these countries do not state an official religion and were thus secular nations.
Law experts have refuted Nazri’s interpretation, saying that it is an “oversimplistic argument”. Veteran lawyer Tommy Thomas insists that Malaysia is secular, which is what the country’s forefathers and the legal experts who helped draft the Constitution had intended. Nazri has other legal knots to untangle besides Malaysia’s secularism, and one involves his son, Mohamed Nedim. Federal opposition leaders are astounded by the Home Ministry’s decision in the assault case involving Nedim. The Home Minister stated that the case was “amicably settled” by both parties. PKR vice president N Surendran retorted that Malaysia’s legal system does not allow for amicable settlements of crimes that had been reported, and said that the Home Minister “may have connived in an illegal act”.
100 people under one roof? EC can explain
Can hundreds of voters share one address? Yes, says the Election Commission (EC). These voters are residents of former squatter colonies, who registered under a common address. These squatters may have moved but they have yet to update their new addresses with the EC. The commission also claims to have implemented a number of electoral reforms. They include allowing overseas Malaysians to use postal votes, a clean-up of 100,000 names from the electoral roll, allowing the opposition to have access to public broadcast media, and making double-voting impossible with the use of indelible ink. The EC also says that after the next general election, it will abolish the law that governs the registration of voters in Malaysia.
At sea over AES’ effectiveness
The Automated Enforcement System (AES) may be having a little trouble determining what exactly it is supposed to enforce at certain locations – for instance, in the middle of the sea, or the jungle. PAS-backed Kempen Anti-Saman Ekor (Kase) pointed out that some of the sites provided by the Road Transport Department (RTD) for the camera to catch speedsters were quite ridiculous. The group called on the government to suspend the AES system until it is more comprehensively studied. Fast drivers are not to be blamed for all road accidents, says Selayang MP William Leong. The PKR lawmaker remarks that the camera system to catch those speeding or beating the red light is not enough to ensure road safety, as other factors causing accidents are not addressed. These factors include the lack of exclusive motorcycle lanes, a flawed traffic system and vehicle defects. The effort to lower traffic risks is worthy of applause, but the government would do better listening to its own advice to slow down. Why the haste in implementing the AES? Iron out the kinks first. For example, speed limits on roads should be standardised and clearly displayed. A stretch of highway that goes inconsistently from 110kph to 90kph and back to 110kph again is not a lifesaver – it’s a trap.
Why ‘Rojak’? Disparate flavours and textures come together in a harmonious mix to make this delicious but underrated concoction. Our Rojak weekly is much like this mix, making sense of the noise of daily newsflow and politicking. It is also our ultimate dream that our multi-ethnic melange of communities can be made richer within the unique ‘sauce’ that is Malaysia. Let’s take pride in the ‘rojakness’ of our nation! [Pic credit: handshake – mikecco/sxc.hu, cancer – ANSESGOB/Creative Commons]
Click here for previous issues of REFSA Rojak.