REFSA Rojak: Crisps of the Week (26 Oct – 1 Nov)

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.”

Standing tall amidst economic low

What didn’t ‘break’ the Warisan Merdeka tower only made it taller.  Despite vehement protests from the rakyat, the government is still shooting for the stars with the RM 5 billion project by adding another 18 floors to the original 100 floors. This brings the skyscraper’s total height to 600 meters, making it the third tallest in the world, and giving the Petronas Twin Towers (452 meters) something to look up to.

Contradictions further cement the controversy. Federal Territories and Urban Wellbeing Ministry’s confirmation of the additional levels came as a shock, since the developer, Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB), had earlier insisted that the height revision to the building was “purely for the spire”.

The Ministry also revealed that the project involves the acquisition of private lands surrounding the proposed site for the construction of additional access roads. This seem at odds with PNB’s earlier claim that road widening will only be “carried out within the road reserves and using part of Menara Warisan’s land”. The government-linked fund management company was refuting heritage activist Teoh Chee Kong’s concern that the height revision would trigger the acquirement of heritage buildings in its surroundings to expand the roads connecting to the tower.

Bukit Bintang MP Fong Kui Lian wants city hall to halt the construction. He reasoned that traffic condition around the area will worsen, and that Kuala Lumpur already has enough office space. His view was shared by Selangor state assembly backbencher whip Azmin Ali. According to Azmin, the city is projected to face some 15 million square feet of empty office space, and the tower will only “worsen the glut”.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak however thinks the people’s ire will turn into national pride  – he cites the example of Petronas Twin Towers, the construction of which was once opposed to as well. REFSA is however, concerned about the government’s fixation with yet another mega project when federal debt is only one notch below the limit of 55 percent of gross domestic profit (GDP). Removing another RM 5 billion from the wobbling Jenga structure of our economy means we would be scraping the debt ceiling before we scrape the skies.

Seedy award of contracts

Can Malaysians stand as tall as KL’s glitzy new tower when subsidies meant for uplifting the rural folks are disappearing into the wrong pockets? Three padi farmers had filed a police report on the abuse of power in the awarding of government contracts for seed supplies.

The largest contracts went to Seri Merbok Sdn Bhd and Haji Md Nor bin Haji Abd Rahman (M) Sdn Bhd (HMN), which are “crony companies”, according to the farmers. The trio are concerned that seeds supplied by Seri Merbok and HMN may be below par and would affect their yield.

Selangor state assemblyman Ng Suee Lin  claimed that HMN is owned by an Umno leader’s father while Seri Merbok’s director is reportedly a former Negeri Sembilan state executive councilor. Each of these companies won a contract to supply about 20,000 tonnes of seeds, and suppliers are expected to rake in RM1,035 per tonne in government subsidy.

Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Noh Omar insisted there was an open tender system which “ensures quality of seeds”, but a letter allegedly leaked from the Finance Ministry reveals that deals were awarded to suppliers who had failed to meet the tender criteria. HMN conceded that it was one of the companies that fell short, but claimed that others are in the same boat too.

Poor padi yields do not just affect farmers, but the rest of us rice-lovers too. Domestic production of rice is already unable to keep up with Malaysians’ appetite for nasi lemak and other staple rice dishes, thus forcing us to import it from neighbouring countries. Unfortunately, the global food shortage may render us vulnerable to soaring food prices. Fomca cautions that if we don’t plug our dependency on food imports, we may soon be unable to afford to eat. How long more will our leaders continue to fatten undeserving and underperforming cronies at the expense of the people?

Pakatan Rakyat’s performance questioned

Did Pakatan Rakyat dabble in creative accounting to look good in the Auditor-General’s (A-G) report? BN backbenchers club (BNBBC) thinks so. BN is convinced there was artful meddling in the Pakatan state government funds – by transferring funds from the states’ trust accounts into their consolidated accounts and passing the money off as revenue.

To show that Pakatan’s administration is “not as good as they like to make it out to be”, BNBBC further pointed out the various weaknesses of Pakatan-led states mentioned in the A-G’s report. One of them is Kedah’s failed project to import cows from Australia that had cost RM 1 million, which is a substantial amount because “in the context of a small state like Kedah, it is 0.1 percent of their budget”.

Meanwhile, Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim had refuted BN’s insinuation. He pointed out that Selangor’s financial statements were prepared according to approved standards and recognised by the A-G, hence the state’s financial position is accurately given.

Pakatan Rakyat’s administration requires checks and balances like everyone else, and time will tell if BN is right. There really is nothing wrong in a pot calling the kettle black (if the kettle is really black) – provided the pot is in the process of scrubbing itself clean.

Wanted – suggestions on solving the public transport predicament

What are your public transport woes, and do you have suggestions on how to make it better?  Working Group on Public Transportation in Malaysia (KKPAM) wants to hear from you! The National Forum on Public Transport tomorrow invites commuters to board the platform to voice their grievances and give their views on how to overhaul the public transport system.

Representatives from the Petaling Jaya City Council, the Town and Country Planning Department and the Land Public Transport Commission (Spad) have confirmed their attendance. Seize the chance to say your piece – the National Forum will be held at the Petaling Jaya Community Library, 3 November, from 8.40am to 4pm.

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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: Claus Rebler/Creative Commons]

Click here for previous issues of REFSA Rojak.

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REFSA is an independent, not-for-profit research institute providing relevant and reliable information on social, economic and political issues affecting Malaysians with the aim of promoting open and constructive discussions that result in effective policies to address those issues. Visit us at www.refsa.org

Posted on 2 November 2012. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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One Response to REFSA Rojak: Crisps of the Week (26 Oct – 1 Nov)

  1. Pepper Lim

    Nice!