Pease porridge cold

1Malaysia's high-income juju. Fat lot of good it will do us. (Pix courtesy of Niamah.)

The problem with a comparative advantage is that it is comparative. You have the advantage only as long as someone else doesn’t. Our advantage in Malaysia was for a very long time the ability to keep production costs low through the voodoo of interventionist policy and wage repression.

This particular edge involved mass-producing industrial stuff for export at relatively lower prices than anywhere else; but we were supplanted in the wake of the ’97-’98 crisis with the rise of other low-cost manufacturing exporters like Vietnam and now (increasingly) Indonesia. Economists consequently talk about the middle-income trap from which we can emerge only by way of evolution into a high-income economy.

The Government thinks that it can pull this magical rabbit out of its own arse by fiat, but apparently it can’t agree with itself on whether we are on the threshold of greatness or verging on bankruptcy. It wishes to increase its income through subsidy reduction as well as a new tax, the GST; but at the same time it cannot account adequately for its expenditure or the administration of public funds. Idris Jala would pauperise half the country to what end? To pay Idris Jala’s salary?

We have no business formulating policies for a fictitious high-income economy if we cannot even agree on Syed Shahrir’s request for a minimum wage (pdf). And all he’s asking for is RM900 plus RM300 COLA  . Does the Government mean to tell me that it intends to keep wages ruinously low while taxing those same workers and removing whatever relief they have through subsidised goods and services (such as healthcare and education)?

Does it therefore intend to achieve its high income rubbish for only some Malaysians via the enslavement of others?

And on what does the Government propose to spend our money? I’m not merely talking about aeroplanes without engines, unsinkable submarines, or double-page-spread full colour advertisements in the New York Times. I am talking about the Government’s own abject administrative foolishness on a daily basis.

For example, the Health Ministry would like you to believe that it is serving the public good through its 1Malaysia clinics that effectively deprive low-wage earners of adequate primary healthcare. It prefers to justify its budget through the deeply questionable practice of having medical assistants do the work of GPs while the Ministry’s primary responsibility for district and general hospitals remains unattended. Is this what Malaysians pay taxes for?

High income economies have high per capita incomes because public services like healthcare, education, transport, and social security remain the chief responsibilities of government. People pay higher taxes because they don’t have to pay additional fees for some or all of these services.

On the other hand the Malaysian Government and Idris Jala’s band of clever people seem not to have spent a minute of their precious time studying the social impact of their policies. If they believe the mass of Malaysians earn, as they do, RM20,000+ monthly salaries and live in the wealthy suburbs of Kuala Lumpur then I suggest that they should spend less time in their plush air-conditioned publicly funded offices and more on the street where people are dying because no one gives a shit.

Trigger happiness :)

I am beginning to find this WordPress theme a little difficult to read, but maybe I simply need new spectacles.

I completely missed this story, which appeared almost three weeks ago. In short, a clerk and her then-boyfriend (now-husband) were, well, chatting in the boyfriend’s car. This took place in a housing estate in Klang, at 8.30 on the evening of Aug 19 last year. (For non-Malaysian readers, “housing estate” is our very poetic term for “suburb”.)

Along came some coppers in a squad car who then proceeded to shine a torchlight into the car. If they did this to me “I’d say mind your own $*!@)%^ business” and probably be shot dead for offering violence.

The couple decide to flee; and off they sped. The coppers decide to open fire, and the woman Siti Nasrinda Tumirin, 23, was hit in the waist and back. A third slug clipped her headscarf. They were subsequently investigated (sc., not charged) under the following:

Penal Code, S. 353: Using criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of his duty

Whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any person being a public servant in the execution of his duty as such public servant, or with intent to prevent or deter that person from discharging his duty as such public servant, or in consequence of anything done or attempted to be done by such person in the lawful discharge of his duty as such public servant, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine or with both.

Now, would this have been a defective charge? One wonders a bit at how off in a car possibly constitutes assault or the employment of criminal force. In elementary physics, force = mass X acceleration and in this case the only force exerted was the one moving away from the policemen. Yes I am making a joke.

The couple was also investigated under the Syariah Criminal Offences (State of Selangor) Enactment 1995 (NB. the report cites the wrong enactment) for khalwat, which is defined thus:

S. 29 Khalwat

1. Where:-

(a) Any man is found in the company of one or more than one woman who is not his wife or his mahram (unmarriagable kin);

(b) Any woman is found in the company of one or more than one man who is not her husband or her mahram;

In wheresoever a place concealed or in any dwelling or room in such condition as to raise the suspicion that they are at that moment in commission of an immoral act, shall be deemed to commit an offence and shall be punished with a fine not exceeding three thousand ringgit or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or both.

(My translation.)

Police have no business enforcing Shariah; and in any case the use of firearms in preventing khalwat is at the very least debatable since I don’t believe Shariah enforcement officers are warranted to bear arms of any kind. I think the only justifiable defence is when the case gets kicked back suddenly to the Penal Code (e.g. a suspect attempts to kill a cop).

The now-husband,  Mohamad Fauzi Mohamad Daud, 26, was also investigated under S. 43(1) of the Road Transport Act, i.e. driving recklessly. He was released on police bail the following day, and I assume Siti Nasrinda was in hospital at the time. No charges have been laid and no new developments in the police investigation have taken place.

The couple, as well as Mohamad Fauzi’s father Mohamad Daud Abdul Hamid (whose car his son was driving) are seeking a total of RM4.75 million in damages, costs and interest etc. against six defendants including the Inspector-General and the Federal Government.

This is a test casem and so far, so good. Civil proceedings are necessary because there are no other legal mechanisms in place to investigate and redress cases of  police brutality (I mean, wrongful use of authority).

Criminal proceedings lately have all had more or less the same result: the prosecution fails to establish a prima facie case; which leads me to wonder if the Attorney-General will achieve his prosection quota at all, and whether our investigators and prosecutors need to be summarily dismissed and charged with criminal incompetence (that is a new thing I just made up, but it sounds nice).

However, the Home Ministry issued a letter to the Nut Graph (see this story) in which a very dangerous idea seems to have prevailed:

4. Walaupun tindakan seseorang pegawai polis itu mengakibatkan seseorang yang tidak bersalah terbunuh atau cedera atau tidak diluluskan di sisi undang-undang sepatutnya, dia dikira masih berhak dengan syarat niatnya ikhlas dan penuh yakin mempercayai bahawa nyawanya dan nyawa orang yang dilindunginya dalam keadaan bahaya.

Translation (mine, differs a little bit from the Nut Graph’s, but not substantially): 4. While the actions of a police officer may cause the death or injury of an innocent person, and these actions are not fully sanctioned within the law, the officer is considered entitled [to these actions] provided his intent is sincere and he is fully convinced that his life and the lives of those within his protection are in danger.

I can see three problems with this.

1. “Provided his intent is sincere“: what is the test of intent? There are no provisions for it, nor definitions, nor an avenue for contest. Being “fully convinced” of danger is another matter altogether, and one that I think few people will have a problem with; but sincere intent has no place in law enforcement if it is not publicly unaccountable—and if it is, how do we account for it other than try policemen in such cases for murder. Intent, after all, is central to proving murder. All they would need to do is prove its sincerity.

2. “These actions are not fully sanctioned within the law”: are they partly sanctioned, then? I don’t think they are sanctioned at all, anywhere, in the law, nor for that matter are they expressly prohibited. But the absence of prohibition does not imply sanction. Or does it?

3. The most obvious bit: “the officer is considered entitled [to these actions].” Since when was culpable homicide an entitlement based on “sincere intent”?

I say culpable homicide because the law in this case is very clear, namely the third exception to Section 300 of the same Penal Code I quoted at you earlier:

Exception 3—Culpable homicide is not murder if the offender, being a public servant, or aiding a public servant acting for the advancement of public justice, exceeds the powers given to him by law, and causes death by doing an act which he, in good faith, believes to be lawful and necessary for the due discharge of his duty as such public servant, and without ill-will towards the person whose death is caused.

In the case of Siti Nasrinda and Mohamad Fauzi, should the policeman be relieved of the burden of proving that he acted in good faith and that firing his weapon at them “was necessary for the due discharge of his duty” simply because his intent was sincere and he believed fervently that they were a threat to him? Such is what the Home Ministry’s letter implies.

What was the “due discharge of his duty”? What were the policemen’s duties as public servants when they chased Aminulrashid Amzah and shot him dead in Shah Alam? Or when they fired on Norizan Salleh, hitting her five times, and then allegedly beat her up (with no charges subsequently laid)? Or when A. Kugan and countless others died in their cells?

Is it to protect the innocent? And are we not all innocent until proven (that is, by a court) guilty? Does that even matter now that the Royal Malaysian Police is entitled to shoot innocents?

The problem with the Home Ministry’s letter is that, if it is acceptable in law, Siti Nasrinda and Mohamad Fauzi will have lost their case the moment the policemen who fired on them declare a sincere intention. The same applies to the officers who shot Aminulrashid and Norizan, and every other future contested shooting.

I think I speak for most of us when I say: WTF?

P/S. What about Indonesia’s claims that only a small proportion of her 64 nationals we killed in the past three years were actually criminals?

Save the tigers… again!

The following message is from my twisted sibling who for some odd reason best known to herself hasn’t put it up on her own blog. She has also written about Al-Jazeera’s coverage of some zoos and “animal parks” in Johor here (in Malay) that has made a lot of people angry (the actions of the zoos and parks, that is).

Dear Blogger / Media Friend,

On 18 February this year a disturbing video was uploaded onto YouTube by a concerned citizen. The video, shot at the A ‘Famosa Resort in Melaka, showed an insentient tiger being forcefully postured to pose for a series of paid photo shoots.

Video :

The video, which recently made its rounds on Facebook and Twitter, caused an uproar particularly among Malaysian social media users.

As a result, these social media users mobilised their friends and followers online to write to the management of A ‘Famosa Resort expressing their discontent and demanding explanation regarding the manner in which the tiger was treated. Letters were also sent to the media and some were published.

A ‘Famosa representative, Eric Ong, responded by saying the tiger was simply “lazy” and that it was in the tiger’s “nature” to behave inertly. He also denied any possibility that the tiger was sedated.

By and large, Malaysians who have watched the video find it difficult to accept that the tiger was naturally insentient. They are also disturbed by the manner in which the tiger was treated and that it was exploited for paid photo shoots.

A random group of Malaysian social media users have since established a Facebook Page called “Stop Animal Abuse at A’ Famosa!” to raise public awareness. The Page has garnered support from over 5,000 Facebook users to date. The issue is also widely discussed on Twitter under the hash tag #TolongTigers.

These concerned Malaysians are planning a “Public Awareness Campaign” day-trip to A ‘Famosa Resort on 29 May 2010 at 10:30am to advocate better treatment for wildlife living in captivity. They strongly believe that the livelihood and dignity of wildlife living in captivity is the collective responsibility of all Malaysians.

Page :

Event :

Please help create awareness among your readers by highlighting this issue in your blog / publication. Your support at the A ‘Famosa Resort this weekend will also add great value to the cause. Hope to see you there.

No it’s not a trip to the zoo. It’s a campaign at the zoo. Animals do not exist for human entertainment. Humans do.

Why I oppose the nuclear push

Why can't Malaysia at least ask the right questions before jumping into the fire?

Proponents of the use of nuclear energy in electricity generation argue that nuclear power is sustainable, produces virtually no air pollution compared to coal-fired plants, and, most importantly, helps establish a country’s energy security (i.e. energy independence) because it is not dependent on fossil fuel imports.

Energy independence is an issue of national security: if a country is dependent on an external supply of fuel, the effect of an interruption of that supply on our national economy and physical security is enormous. Countries can be held to ransom on the basis of energy, and this has happened before.

Peter Chin, the Minister for Energy, Green Technology and Water, has argued in favour of nuclear power from the perspective of security. He has argued separately that nuclear power is “sorely needed to meet the country’s accelerating energy needs and ensure its energy security, an issue high on the agenda of most Asian nations now living with high oil prices,” and that “the government is aware that various aspects such as safety, human resources, technology know-how and location have to be taken into consideration seriously.”

What no one addresses is the fact that nuclear power plants also depend on an imported fuel source, i.e. natural uranium. Sixty-three per cent of the world’s uranium supply is produced by three countries—Kazakhstan, Canada and Australia. This fact alone should make us think about how far the energy security argument takes us even in as apparently unrelated a matter as foreign policy. The whole point of security is independence and the implications should be pretty obvious.

The destructive consequences of uranium mining is borne by other communities in other countries, but should we let that blind us to the fact that we bear responsibility for these communities if we become uranium consumers? Ask the Belgians about that.

Australia possesses the world’s largest uranium reserve at 23 per cent, but yet possesses not a single nuclear power plant and a very strong anti-nuclear lobby. Before Malaysia runs headlong into nuclear power generation, we should ask one of Australia’s leading rock-star environmentalists, Peter Garrett, about Australia’s power-generation policy. Garrett is, after all, the Federal Minister for Environmental Protection, Heritage and Arts.

Prime Minister Rudd has repeatedly ruled out nuclear power generation, most recently in February this year, despite pushing for increased uranium mining and exports. And despite growing support for nuclear power, at least one state National Party chief has defied his own party because “when it comes to a nuclear waste dump, I’ll be indicating to my parliamentary team that that is electorally unpalatable.”

And what precisely does Malaysia intend to do with spent fuel rods? No one has answered this question. The Insider article that I referenced earlier indicates only that:

The handling of spent nuclear fuel is also more critical compared to fresh fuel, as after nuclear fuel rods are spent, they will be stored for about five years in a spent fuel pool on site.

The spent rods will then be stored in another on-site dry storage, before being transported elsewhere for storage or recycling. There are bigger risks when transporting or storing nuclear fuel rods because they will still be radioactive for more than a hundred years.

Paragraph two: “transported elsewhere for storage and recycling”. Where exactly? We might think of making a fast ringgit by exporting spent rods to places that buy them, and since it is NIMBY, this would conveniently relieve us of any further moral obligation to think about it. So, it really doesn’t matter if someone else has to deal with the environmental timebomb we set ticking? It doesn’t matter if some of these rods end up as radiological weapons?

That is a shameful way to conduct ourselves and we should think twice about complaining when it comes to other ASEAN pollution issues. Shouldn’t we?

And there is of course the Chernobyl factor. How often have we heard the complaint of “first-world infrastructure, third-world mentality” applied by Malaysians to Malaysia? Can we really expect the highest levels of nuclear safety from a company that has a track record of exploding substations and even electrical poles that catch fire, as well as lousy billing?

Are we even aware of the generation of thermal pollution, let alone understand how it will affect the tropical ecosystem on which so much of our heritage and biodiversity depends? What about other radiological waste issues?

At the very least we should debate our future needs for additional power generation before concluding that a nuclear reactor is the most sustainable way of meeting our (as yet unknown) needs. We should then debate what constitutes sustainability, and prove clearly that alternatives forms such as solar power are less sustainable and more hazardous than nuclear power generation. We must also prove that we have so urgent an immediate or medium-term need for electricity that nuclear power is the only option available to us.

The reason why I bring up solar power is this: just  few days ago the International Energy Agency reported that solar power could represent up to a quarter of global power generation by 2050. If you have a mind to read the IEA Concentrated Solar Power Roadmap, click here (pdf).

Melt down your own neighbourhood please

The Minister for, of all things, Energy, Green Technology and Water disclosed today that Pahang, Johor, and Terengganu have been idenfified as “possible states for a proposed nuclear power plant due to availability of remote locations that are close to water sources, in line with international rules.”

Seeing as these three states hold much of our forest reserves, I believe this is a superior location. It is remote, is close to water sources, and best of all will not have much impact on the existing natural environment as the environment there is entirely man-made. I have taken steps to inform the relevant authority of this. I apologise for the typos… the screen was too small and I couldn’t see what I was typing. Perhaps you could help me out by doing the same. Here is the Prime Minister’s blogpost.

Also, in the event of an accident or toxic waste spill, we can ensure that those most at risk are most able to afford being at risk, since they volunteered for public service in the first place.

Here is where you might want to put it:

No way to behave

This picture expresses an intention.

A friend, S. Tamarai Chelvi of theSun, says she was threatened by two municipal councillors yesterday while she was in court reporting on the Anwar trial. The language used was sexist, vile and racist—all because she asked them to quiet down in court.

The demand that she “wait till she was outside the courthouse” is the language of uncivilised thugs. “Dog”, “black monkey” and “dark-skinned girl” cannot be misconstrued. They may have been “joking” (and I hope they were), but that is no excuse in an adult.

If this is true—I have no reason to doubt Tamarai’s word, but an allegation is not proof itself—then I should like Khalid Ibrahim to do what he must to ensure that they are given a fair hearing. (One of them sits on the Klang Council.)

There is no excuse to use that kind of language on another person, whether or not that person is a journalist. Councillors are civic leaders and as such must set an example; and when they fail do so, let alone set bad examples, public examples must be made of them commensurate with the trust they have betrayed.

If they are found to have done as Tamarai says, they should at least be summarily dismissed.

“Friends and family”? My arse.

My friend Laych, with whom I worked at the New Straits Times has just posted a story on The Nut Graph, where she now works, detailing an investigation into who placed that ridiculous “congratulatory” message in the NYT, thus dragging that venerable publication to the level of the, well, NST. (NYT’s own fault for accepting the ad and the money, in my view.)

I strongly recommend that article, and I also strongly recommend The Nut Graph as one of the few agencies that actively tries to be fully independent and non-partisan in its editorial objectives and reporting (edit: or at least they seem to try). Please support it if you can.

Yes, I know Rosmah Mansor is fugly but if you feel compelled to comment on this issue either on Laych’s story or this post, I ask that you avoid the argumentum ad hominem, i.e. Rosmah is fat. Rosmah is ugly. Etc. That kind of thing is acceptable if you’re three years old; and I hope you’re not three years old because the internet, like public roads, is a dangerous place for unsupervised young people.

If you like I can post a crash course in recognising syllogistic fallacies like the ad hominem thinggie. It’s fun and profitable. I shall see if I can find my College books on it.