REFSA Rojak: Crisps of the Week (1 – 7 March)

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.”

High car taxes = 2 BR1M handouts

Considering the government’s reluctance to reduce the excise duties on motor vehicles, one would think that the revenue gained from car duties must be driving the Malaysian economy far.

In truth, it is probably as far as two rounds of BR1M handouts.

The Edge managing editor M Shanmugam noted that the RM7 billion total duties collected in 2011 was just 4% of the total federal government revenue for the year. Shanmugam opines that slashing duties to make cars cheaper is possible without compromising the economy. Saving just 10 percent from excessive government spending, imposing a windfall tax on independent power producers and tendering out the approved permits (APs) would mean we can have our BR1M and lower car prices to boot.

Cheaper cars would certainly be welcome but they remain a dream for now while we pay through our nose for a necessity. But REFSA dreams also of a Malaysia where cars are not essential. We believe reliable and cheap public transportation is best for social mobility. The duties being collected now can be used to revamp our bus and train services. Fewer cars will lead to clearer roads, and more importantly, clearer, fresher air. Read our infographic on what can be done about public transportation.

RM1 million to run someone down

Following the controversy over BN buying good publicity for itself in the international media, perhaps with taxpayer money, the federal ruling coalition is now caught for buying bad publicity – this time for federal opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

US conservative pundit Joshua Trevino admitted that he was contracted by the government of Malaysia, “its ruling party, or interests closely aligned with either” to run an anti-Anwar propaganda campaign. He received close to $400,000 (approximately RM1.2 million), some of which were used to pay a group of American opinion writers to malign Anwar in the Huffington Post, San Francisco ExaminerWashington Times, National Review and RedState. On top of that, Trevino also wrote for websites like MalaysiaMatters and MalaysiaWatcher.

More than RM 1 million for a smear campaign is pretty steep, seeing as how some politicians in Malaysia can get rotten publicity for free. Engaging writers to vilify an individual is bad enough, but if public funds had been used to fund Trevino’s propaganda ring, the BN federal government has a lot to answer for.

Avoiding the main issue

Even armed intruders threatening our sovereignty cannot curtail our BN federal government’s obsession with spin. Federal opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was in the crosshairs of TV3 and Utusan Malaysia for supposedly instigating the self-styled “Sulu army” to “reclaim” Sabah. Anwar has rubbished the accusations of the two UMNO-linked media organisations, while the Sulu assailants themselves denied receiving any funds from the federal opposition coalition.

Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Najib has ordered an investigation into Pakatan Rakyat’s so-called links with the intruders. If only our good prime minister would be just as keen in probing how the armed militants managed to enter our country in the first place, even more so when it has been reported that Malaysian-trained commanders of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) have now joined the Sulu army.

Command and control missing in action

The federal government has cocked more eyebrows than guns in Sabah. For example, we have the curious case of the Home Ministry leading the defense of our land. The Deputy Defence Minister himself declared that the “Home Ministry is in charge of the situation and the police have the powers to handle it”. What was their basis for the military giving a vote of confidence to our Home Minister’s warfare know-how?

The strategy has puzzled at least two ex-soldiers. Former army chief Gen (Rtd) Md Hashim Hussein says a clear command structure is missing. Captain Hussaini Abdul Karim was surprised that many of our forces were not wearing helmets or bullet-proof vests, and that there were no sand-bagged trenches to protect them.

Why were cops sent to confront the Sulu army when we have a Defence Ministry which, by the way, swallowed RM15 billion of Budget 2013 spending? Could the deaths of the eight policemen have been averted if control of the situation was given to those trained for military combat?

Real mettle is forged in the furnace, and shiny Putrajaya proves to be mere glitter in the heat of war. Brave, poorly-equipped policemen die in the jungle while our army of 68 ministers melts into a bureaucratic muddle.  May wisdom prevail among those in command so that there will be no more unnecessary bloodshed.


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!

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

Posted on 14 March 2013. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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