Thursday, July 31, 2008

LEADERSHIP

Full text of Raja Nazrin Shah's speech at the 17th Tun Ismail Ovation today

Introduction

Sir Isaac Newton, one of the most influential scientists to have ever lived, once remarked: "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Tun Dr Ismail bin Abdul Rahman was a giant on whose shoulders an entire nation stands.

We see further, and are more, today because of the legacy that the good doctor, and others like him, left behind. He was a man who was hugely talented and unswervingly committed. Yet he was also utterly humble and selfless in his service to the nation. I am glad his memory lives on, and I am delighted to deliver this oration that bears his name. Today I want to talk on the subject of leadership. I hope that what I have to say is worthy of the man and would have met with his approval.

The subject of leadership is something that mankind has struggled to understand for at least two and a half millennia. Around 500 B.C., for example, Lao Tze and Confucius laid down guiding principles for rulers to administer their kingdoms. Among Confucius’ many leadership precepts, he is perhaps best known for the Golden Rule: "Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself." Two centuries later, the Greek philosopher, Plato, wrote The Republic, in which he conceived the idea of the philosopher king. According to Plato philosopher kings had to undergo fifty years of intellectual and physical preparation to lead the state. A thousand years later, the Florentine diplomat and political philosopher, Machiavelli, penned The Prince, in which he introduced pragmatism and realism as essential elements of leadership.

The search for what makes good leaders continues to this day. Politicians, captains of industry, management gurus, psychologists, academics and, of course, the general public, all have their take on what makes some leaders bad, others good, and yet others great. I do not intend to summarise the vast and varied literature on the subject. Instead, I would like to do three things. First, I would like to suggest three leadership qualities that I think the world will need in the 21st century. Second, I would like to make three observations about common leadership challenges and weaknesses. Third, I want to suggest that these imperatives and challenges of leadership are relevant to Malaysia.

Imperatives of leadership in the 21st century

Leaders and leadership are as relevant today, as when man first organised themselves into tribes and later nations. One has only to open a newspaper, turn on the television or connect to the Internet, to see that the individuals who lead other individuals are a constant source of fascination. Their words, thoughts and actions are diligently studied. Their character strengths and flaws are carefully scrutinised. On this basis, we collectively express admiration or heap scorn. Sometimes we do both, as leaders, in the beginning, please us and, thereafter, disappoint. Or vice versa, when leaders earn our approval despite low expectations at the outset.

A great deal of serious scholarship has been invested in the question of what the qualities of a good leader are. The result is that we now have a mountain of information but no clear-cut answers. Charisma, for example, is often regarded as one of the necessary traits of leadership. Charismatic leaders are ones who can create feelings of intense admiration, confidence and loyalty among followers. But even charismatic leaders are not immune to being challenged or abandoned by their followers. If they do not fulfil their promises or if they do not act in honourable and morally correct ways, they too can quickly lose popular support. Some of history’s worst leaders have been described as charismatic. By playing to his followers’ basest needs and fears, Hitler’s charisma and vaulting ambition brought his nation to disaster.

More than charismatic leadership, I believe what the nations of the world today need is what the leadership theorist James MacGregor Burns calls "transformational leadership" , which strives to achieve higher ideals, nobler values and superior behaviour among followers. It encourages followers to rise above narrow self-interests and to work in the service of others towards the common good. It mobilizes people to face, rather than avoid, tough realities; to tackle difficult problems and to make hard decisions. It does not turn away from the difficulty of problems by offering fake remedies. It elevates followers to a higher moral level. One example I often refer to is that of Europe. At the turn of the 20th century, many European countries were still devastatingly poor and a large number of their citizens had to migrate in order to survive. Their tendency to regularly go to war with each other also did not help matters. By the end of the 20th century, however, these same countries had become prosperous and advanced. More importantly, they had not only disavowed violence as a means of solving their problems, but had become instrumental in creating the conditions for world peace and stability.

In contrast to transformational leaders, transactional leaders tend to focus on their interests, and the interests of those on whom they depend. Not surprisingly, they are realists and pragmatists by nature and use threats, punishment and reward to achieve their ends. Such leaders can use their power for both legitimate and illegitimate purposes. In democracies, opposing political parties pitch themselves at each other to ensure public accountability and responsiveness. When global conflicts have to be resolved or international business deals concluded, transactional leadership is called for. But transactional leaders can also exploit greed, fear and hatred to advance less desirable agendas. Racists, separatists and extremists of every stripe believe in the use of raw power to achieve their ends, even if it means depriving others of their rights, happiness and even lives.

We need more transformational leaders in the 21st century. By extension, we also need leaders who are much more capable in the exercise of what the political scientist Joseph Nye calls "soft power". Hard power is what we are all familiar with. For governments, it includes the ability to direct, punish, defend and invade. For companies, it is the power to hire and fire and to acquire and dispose of companies. Soft power, on the other hand, is non-coercive. It sets agendas, persuades, shapes preferences and harnesses voluntary actions. It is marked by participation, delegation and networking, not command-and-control. In short, soft power is about working with and through people. While both may be needed, there is a greater need for soft power in today’s complex information-based world.

The reason why soft power is required in increasing measure is that people today are becoming increasingly empowered, and countries are becoming too interdependent, to be ruled by hard power alone. Many societies are assimilating liberal democratic values. Mass education has made people more knowledgeable and discerning. They are less compliant and more distrustful of those in authority. Problems such as global warming, the spread of infectious diseases, disaster relief require collective and co-ordinated actions. Their solutions require the implicit consent of people who are switched-on and plugged-in.

The third imperative for leadership is that it must be moral and just. Good leadership in the modern age cannot operate in a moral vacuum. International law today makes it harder than in the past for leaders to get away with genocide, corruption and abuse of power. Countries also organise embargoes and apply diplomatic pressure. These are the hard power elements. In addition, however, there is also the power of international public opinion. As mentioned earlier, the fates of countries today are intertwined as never before. The attitudes of the citizens of other countries therefore also matter as never before. When countries are perceived to behave in an immoral or unjust manner, global opinion will be marshalled against them. The fact is that international opinion, influenced by a 24-hour-7-day-a-week media, is a prime shaper of international politics, economics and business.

Leaders today are held up by the public to a much higher standard than in the past, when there may have been no choice but to accept them. They have to have a high degree of personal integrity if they are deemed to be suitable to carry out public responsibilities. If they do not, there will be the nagging fear that these personal compromises will carry over and affect the conduct of public duties and responsibilities.

Common leadership challenges and weaknesses

Leaders must exemplify the values they want their followers to have. As Mahatma Gandhi famously said, "You must be the change you want to see in the world". It is difficult, if not impossible, to persuade people to be idealistic and highly motivated when leaders are self-serving and interested only in retaining power and control. Indeed, when a world leader extols the virtues of democracy, human rights and respect for the law, and then proceeds to act in a manner that is contrary to them, he or she makes an utter mockery of them. Only when leaders show themselves to be driven by higher order goals can their followers feel fully assured that they are not somehow being deceived and manipulated into serving illegitimate or self-serving causes. Otherwise conflicting values and clash of interests will give rise to widespread civil apathy or, even worse, open disobedience.

Walking-the-talk is therefore more than just a nice maxim. It is integral to what good leadership is about and what being a leader means. Tun Dr Ismail lived out the mottos "leadership-by-example" and "clean, efficient and trustworthy" long before these phrases gained currency. He demonstrated uncompromising integrity in all his dealings. Such is the measure of the man that we still speak of his leadership qualities and achievements 35 years after his passing.

Another common challenge for leaders is in the area of listening. Listening establishes a number of things simultaneously. It says that the leader values people. Leaders who are not people-oriented will generally find it very hard to lead from the top, front or middle. By showing themselves to be open to feedback, leaders also establish a basis for trust. Leaders who listen are less likely to pursue illegitimate goals or actions. By having their ideas and perspectives considered, followers feel that they have a stake in the decisions made by their leaders. Finally, consultation is essential because without it, leaders cannot make informed and objective decisions. Instead, they fall victim to the dreaded groupthink.

Listening, of course, is never easy. There are not only the views of electorates to consider, but also those of independent analysts, non-governmental organisations, media, financial markets and the blogosphere. On just about any issue of importance there will be differences of opinions due to dissimilar interests and values. Diversity, however, is a fact of life and engaging diversity is one of the leader’s main tasks. There is, of course, a limit to how much leaders can discourse and take into account. At the end of the day, they will have to make and be held accountable for decisions that they think is right. Their lives, however, would be easier if those who are affected by their decisions believe that they have been heard.

A third common challenge for leaders is to deliberately surround themselves with the best and most capable people, ones who can bring different talents and insights to bear and who may not necessarily be the most compliant. True leaders know, however, that they do not have all the answers and they must seek out those who are more competent and capable and delegate duties and responsibilities to them. If they do not, bad and poorly executed decisions can result, and this may end up eroding popular support for them. In order to be effective, they must have their eyes firmly fixed on achieving results.

Naturally, there are downsides to choosing highly capable and motivated people for one’s inner circle. For one thing, they may not see eye-to-eye on many issues. It can take time a great deal of time and effort to forge a consensus. Occasionally, agreement may just not be possible. For another, second-tier leaders quite often end up challenging the leader. This makes many first-tier leaders wary about those they appoint to positions of responsibility. They may be tempted to offer important positions to loyalists who are unsuited. Leaders, however, have to be more confident about their positions. They have to remember that they have a duty towards those who support them and that they should be uncompromising in discharging their responsibilities.

Implications for Malaysia

The general observations I have made about the imperatives and challenges of leadership in the 21st century are, I believe, relevant to Malaysia. One of this country’s enduring strengths has been its almost obsessive focus on effective leadership, that is, one which has to deliver the goods to the people. This has been one source of legitimacy for leaders apart from personal popularity. The leadership process has also, to a degree, been open and inclusive and resulted in Malaysia emerging as a shining model of development. Other countries may have had as much, if not more, than Malaysia but they were able to accomplish very much less.

As a result of its successes in human development, Malaysian society has changed. I believe that this has also made it necessary for the type of leadership to also undergo a transition from the transactional to the transformational. The Malaysian development ethos today is no longer framed in purely materialistic terms. Malaysians, especially the younger generation, are empowered and energised. Their demands are for more moral, open, representative, equable and equitable forms of leadership. They want leaders who can courageously cross sectarian boundaries and who depend on their intellectual and moral integrity and gravitas to attract and retain support, not just on political power and patronage.

Leaders today need to be masters of soft power because hard power, though still required to maintain law and order, is not well adapted in dealing with today’s complex and interdependent world. As with any change, there will be tensions. Progress may advance and, at times, retreat, in line with changing circumstances. The pressures for transformational leadership, however, will be incessant and unremitting.

Such leaders will emerge in the future but it is necessary to remember that they have been around also in the past. Tun Dr. Ismail was one in the first wave of leaders who demonstrated an integrity that was beyond question. He passionately believed that Malaysia was a country that could accommodate the hopes and dreams of all its peoples. He envisaged a Malaysia for all without colour lines, without ethnic borders and without any one group feeling a sense of inferiority. He was Malay and a nationalist but he firmly opposed racism of any kind. Instead, he celebrated diversity.

Nor did he have the inflated self-importance that so many, on reaching his position, might have had. On being conferred an honorary doctorate of laws by Universiti Sains Malaysia on 9 June 1973, he said:

"…Saya berdiri di hadapan saudara-saudara bukan sebagai seorang pemimpin negara, bukan sebagai seorang politik, bukan sebagai seorang tokoh dalam masyarakat, tetapi hanya sebagai seorang hamba Allah di tengah-tengah orang yang berilmu, sebagai seorang manusia yang telah lewat umur, tetapi telah banyak menjalani hidup yang penuh dengan kisah-kisah suka dan dukanya."

Such was the humility of the man. He passed away just 55 days later.

In the person of Tun Dr. Ismail, we are offered a glimpse of a gallant leader who exemplified everything that he advocated. He showed us that it is possible to hold steadfastly to one’s beliefs and yet not deprive others of theirs. History shows that many have been given the chance to lead but only a few have excelled at it. This is because leaders often lose their values once they become besotted with power. Let us hope and pray that there will be many more giants like Tun Dr Ismail on whose shoulders we can stand to continue to undertake Malaysia’s transformation into a modern democratic society.

Thank you.

Monday, July 28, 2008

WHY DID THE LATE TAN SRI MEGAT JUNID CRIED TWICE BEFORE ME?

Matthias Chang
Future FastForward, Sunday, 27 July 2008 13:24

Where The Buck Stops!

A great leader never claims glory all to himself and ducks behind subordinates when ghastly mistakes are committed.

It came as no surprise to me when Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in his recent posting in his Blog – Che Det - assumed total responsibility for the ghastly mistake of appointing Abdullah Badawi as the Deputy Prime Minister, following the disgraceful exit by Anwar Ibrahim upon his conviction. Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad had on a previous occasion, in his interview by BBC’s HARDTalk, admitted that he had made a mistake in choosing Badawi as his successor.

But on this occasion Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was more explicit.

Notwithstanding the admission, the events leading to the appointment of Badawi as Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s successor is not as simple as Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad unilaterally picking Badawi as the next prime minister.

The Greatest Political Mistake

I have decided to make this exposé for two reasons, namely: (i) I want to dispel the myth that Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was solely responsible for the ghastly mistake of appointing Badawi as the Deputy Prime Minister and therefore his successor and (ii) I believe that the late Tan Sri Megat Junid had entrusted the responsibility to me to reveal the truth regarding the circumstances of the appointment of Badawi as Deputy Prime Minister.

Tan Sri Megat Junid confided in me that the greatest political mistake in his entire career was his pivotal recommendation that Badawi be appointed as Tun’s successor.

I was stunned by his revelation as the purpose of my meeting Tan Sri had nothing to do with that issue but to get Tan Sri’s perspective and further background information on the Anwar Ibrahim episode in the history of UMNO’s internal struggles in my research work for Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.

In the course of our conversation, he interjected and asked, “Matthias, as a former political secretary to one another, and having served the same boss, would you like to know what was my greatest political mistake?”

I was dumbfounded by the question! In the history of Prime Minister’s political secretaries, he was a giant and a superb political craftsman. I was embarrassed by the question as I was not his confidante and tried to evade the question.

But Tan Sri repeated the question and with tears welling in his eyes, said, “My greatest mistake in my political career is to recommend Badawi as successor to Mahathir. Pak Lah was not his first choice. I was told by those who wanted Badawi as successor that if anyone could convince Mahathir, it would be me. At that time, I believe Pak Lah was the correct choice. So I recommended Pak Lah to Mahathir.”

Tan Sri then exhorted me to be “loyal to Mahathir and defend his legacy” as there were ongoing efforts to destroy that legacy. His voice breaking, Tan Sri said that he cannot do very much in the circumstances, as he is getting old and had “retired from politics”.

Seeing the pain and the anguish, I sought Tan Sri’s indulgence to be excused from continuing with the meeting and hastily departed.

The second occasion was equally painful, if not more so. Tan Sri was suffering from cancer and was at the Perdana Leadership Foundation for one of its events. While waiting for Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to officiate the event, Tan Sri took me away from the crowd and unashamedly said:

“I just don’t know what to say to Tun. I am having treatment for my cancer and God willing I will recover. But right now I can’t do much. I never expect such attacks on Tun. I regret asking him to appoint Pak Lah….”

Again, tears were welling in his eyes and rolling down his cheeks. His lips quivering, and voice breaking Tan Sri said, “Take care of Tun. We are the front lines. You take care and be vigilant.”

I clasped Tan Sri’s hands and could not help the tears welling in my eyes as well and in that one special moment, sealed a promise – to fight together to the very end, come hell or high water!

This is the Tan Sri Megat Junid that I want everyone in UMNO to remember. Tan Sri could not right the wrong that he had committed but he has entrusted us that duty and responsibility. Although Tan Sri is no longer with us, it is his wish that you go down to the trenches to fight and restore the true glory of UMNO.

UMNO is being destroyed from within and only members of UMNO can restore UMNO and this can only come about if the present leadership of UMNO is changed right now, not in 2010.

God willing members of UMNO will right this wrong!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Every Breath You (Bernanke) Take

Columbia Business School's Dean Glenn Hubbard sings about wanting Alan Greenspan's job that went instead to New Fed Chair Ben Bernanke.

Parody created by Columbia Business School students.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cracking the whip at Umno

Karim Raslan
Thu, Jul 10, 2008
ASIAONE / NEWS / THE STRAITS TIMES / STORY

MOST Malaysians have been appalled by the succession of press conferences, statutory declarations, accusations and counter-accusations that have hogged headlines for the past two weeks.

The mud-slinging has made Malaysia the laughing stock of Asia. But Malaysians can't just turn their backs on what's happened because there are important lessons to be learnt from the experience.

First and foremost is the need to proceed with the stalled reform agenda. In 2004, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi promised change. He failed to deliver and suffered the consequences on March 8, after which he reiterated the same promises.

Now, more than ever, amid the debris of numerous scandals, the entire nation can see the extent to which crucial institutions - the police, the judiciary and the prosecution in particular - have been weakened and politicised.

Malaysians cannot wait for the Umno leadership battle to be resolved and the Prime Minister cannot disappoint them again. Malaysians will forgive neither him nor his party. He must act and push the conservatives within the Cabinet to move forward.

Second, the government's credibility must be safeguarded. As Mr Shabery Chik, one of the more open-minded Cabinet ministers, says: 'Credibility is something you build up. But once it's lost, it's very difficult to regain.'

Given the current pathetic levels of trust, the government has a lot of work to do.

Third, Umno needs to be brought to heel and disciplined. Many of the current problems faced by the nation are due to Umno's overwhelming influence within the administration and the inability of its leadership to control prominent party members, especially the all-powerful division chiefs.

There is a web of relationships linking the party, the civil service, business and the security apparatus. This network needs to be opened up and subjected to scrutiny. Backroom deals have to be exposed to the light of day.

For decades, Umno has presented itself as the saviour of the Malays and arbiter of the national consensus. Past party leaders such as Tun Dr Ismail and Tun Abdul Razak were wise and pragmatic.

But Umno has since become middle-aged and lazy. Its cikgu or teacher ethos of the past has been usurped by the wheeler-dealer businessman in his black SUV. Now, as the Malay proverb says, pagar makan padi - the fence devours the rice, the guardian has turned on its charges.

Umno chiefs, warlords and their financial backers - rumours suggest the party's upcoming leadership contest will involve hundreds of millions of ringgit - must be accountable to the Constitution and the institutions of state. If they break the law, they should suffer the consequences.

This is where the reform agenda - the calls for a more open, fair and law-abiding Malaysia - is important. Malaysians need Datuk Seri Abdullah to remain focused on this agenda. Get it right and the reform agenda will be his legacy. Get it wrong and nothing else will save him.

But many in Umno don't consider this to be a priority. For them, it's secondary - the kind of issue only liberals, spoilt middle-class journalists and noisy lawyers are interested in.

Whenever I discuss such matters with Umno types, they'll reply: 'Karim, the voters in my kawasan don't care about these things.' I have to disagree: Umno's poor showing in the March 8 elections was due to its refusal to acknowledge and address core issues of justice, fairness and equality - issues that Malaysians directly experience when 'enterprising' Umno leaders suddenly acquire large houses and countless expensive cars and go on lavish foreign holidays.

Still, there are those in the Cabinet like Zaid Ibrahim and Shahrir Samad who do recognise these weaknesses and have tried to convince their colleagues that restoring trust in institutions is a top priority.

Mr Shabery, for one, says refreshingly: 'We need to realise that we do have a track record and culture of service. We needn't be afraid of openness.'

The ugly face-off between opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak can be directly attributed to the current imbalance of authority - on the one hand, a severely compromised security and legal apparatus and, on the other, a pumped-up executive beholden to no one but the party and its warlords.

This has created an environment riddled with corruption, slovenliness, self-importance and racism.

The credibility crisis is eating away at the Malaysian consensus. It is undermining its capacity to move forward at a critical juncture economically when leadership and focus are required to guide the nation through a period of inflationary turbulence.

Malaysians do not trust the security apparatus to act fairly and impartially. And this lack of trust has emboldened opposition leader Anwar to play to the gallery. He knows that in the absence of a credible legal forum, the court of the public becomes the ultimate arbiter of his innocence or guilt.

Umno, the party of Merdeka, must come to terms with modernity. The party has lost all sense of propriety and service. It is focused on serving its own needs. The mass of Malays and Malaysians has been forgotten.

The writer is a Malaysian columnist.
______________________________________________________________________

SPUN OUT OF CONTROL

Umno needs to be brought to heel and disciplined. Many of the current problems faced by the nation are due to Umno's overwhelming influence within the administration and the inability of its leadership to control prominent party members, especially the all-powerful division chiefs.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Political power wrestling - who is the biggest loser?

The Star Online: Business - BizWeek
COMMENT BY ANITA GABRIEL

INFLATION is roaring, consumer confidence cratering, world economies cooling, commodities skyrocketing, currencies weakening, equities on the bleeding edge and businesses turning cautious. Meanwhile, sodomy/sexual allegations are being hurled all over the place.

That pretty much wraps up the perfect storm over the past week, correct?

Nope. It actually describes what happened in 1998.

For Malaysians, it’s the potent combination of political and economic crisis deja vu. It’s time we decoupled economic crisis from snarky politics. No, really.

As Malaysians grapple with the rising temperature in the political climate and their sentiments swing like ping pong on the mud-sling machine politics, pocketbook issues may hop on to the back seat. But if that’s true, then it’s a dangerous distraction. For all’s not that rosy on the economic front.

Crossroads

Some parallels may be striking (between 1998 and now) but truth is, the political and economic dimensions are starkly different today. For one, the Malaysian economy is a lot more resilient today to withstand external shocks.

Still, record high commodity prices and the unprecedented rise of world oil prices are pounding the pressure on inflation and creating some hardship among the general populace. A tottering US economy has also heightened the vulnerability of economies all over the world.

Also today, Malaysia has arrived at political crossroads. The political scenario has been fluid since the outcome of the general election. Key projects announced earlier have been delayed while some others under the Ninth Malaysia Plan and development corridors have been scrapped.

Businesses are finding it difficult to lure foreigners in and investors remain wary against the backdrop of such uncertainty.

Amidst all the scurrilous and demonising political posturings, Malaysians can be forgiven if they are finding it a tad hard to grasp the scale of the economic anxieties they potentially face.

The bigger worry really is this – can our leaders/policy makers transcend these distractions and formulate policies to help us ride the economic uncertainty or will they be afflicted by a bad case of “policy paralysis” as an analyst aptly puts it?

Triple whammy

Clearly, there are doubts and with that, it turned out to be a week of perfect storm in Malaysia on so many levels. For the stock market, it suffered a dramatic eye popping sell off on a triple whammy of factors –political mud slinging, rising oil prices and weaker external environment and lastly, and most – unexpectedly this – Bursa Malaysia had to halt trading on Thursday due to some major technical glitch.

(Key world indices had also performed dismally over worries of rising oil prices and weak US data that dogged the market throughout the week).

The trading halt on the Malaysian stock market due to a technical glitch was an extraordinary coincidence as share prices have been plunging dramatically since the start of the week. And while it is understandably a major beef for market participants and the exchange deserves flak thrown at it for the system error, major exchanges such as New York, London, Australia, India and key Asian exchanges have also faced similar software glitches in the past although halting trading for the whole day appears unprecedented. A repeat of such performances would be far too testing for investors.

Foreigners have been gradually slashing their exposure to Malaysian equities since March. A local research house points out that many foreign favourites have suffered severe beating; Gamuda Bhd, SP Setia Bhd and Air Asia Bhd have seen their value halved year to date. Stalwart stocks like Genting Bhd and Resorts World Bhd have plunged by almost half from their 2007 peaks and valuations are even below the SARS level.

Even so, the analyst points out that foreign shareholding in the local bourse and their persistent selling is an “overhang against any big rebound”.

The flipside – the analyst says – “the depressed share prices of stocks with high foreign shareholding is an opportunity to accumulate positions gradually”.

Oil shock

At the epicentre of the world’s economic dilemma is the persistent rise of oil prices. World oil price hit a record high of US$145/barrel late in the week. It has more than doubled over the past year over a multitude of reasons – weak US dollar, overzealous speculation, surging demand and lower oil inventories and concerns on conflict in the Middle East.

The oil shock continues to reverberate throughout world economies and even as “bourgeois” analysts churn out mind bogglingly bold predictions that oil may reach US$200/barrel, there are not many who dare scoff at such predictions, cognisant of the fact that oil prices over a year ago stood at US$65/barrel.

The US “credit crunch” which begun in the summer of 2007 continues to be a threat to global economies. The housing crisis and financial losses suffered by the US system has yet to show any signs of abating.

Just over the week, Malaysia cut its forecast for export growth from 7% to 6% citing slowdown in US, its largest trading partner.

Malaysia’s GDP growth has also been cut twice in a span of 12 months. The official 2008 real GDP growth forecast stands at 5%-6% and the authorities have recently admitted that it may come in at the lower end of this range.

Tide shift

More significantly, the tide of fiscal policy appears to be shifting as global inflation gathers steam.

Up until recent weeks, central bankers were eager to stave off cooling economies by adopting a loose monetary policy at the expense of a possible inflation breakout.

And for as long as the world’s largest economy US under the stewardship of the Federal Reserve was ‘slash happy’ (the Fed has cut rates by 325 basis points from 5.25% to 2% in seven consecutive meetings between September 2007 and April 2006), it seemed like an acceptable strategy.

The turning point arrived not too long ago. At the June 25th Federal Open Market Commitee (FOMC) session, the Fed left the federal funds target rate unchanged at 2%. It sent a clear signal that the Fed was getting ready to do battle with inflation.

The neutral stance by the Fed that it may reverse its pro-growth policy, sent echoes all over. Central bankers in Vietnam, India, Indonesia and the Philippines recently raised interest rates while China’s central bank did not ruled out raising rates to fend off inflation.

On Thursday, the European Central Bank raised interest rates by a quarter of a point.

Inflation creeping up

In Malaysia, like in many other parts of the world, creeping inflation is a major fret factor on the back of rising fuel and food prices .

Bank Negara governor Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz recently said Malaysia’s inflation is likely to hit 6% to 7% in June (it rose 3.8%, a 22-month high in May). Most expect July’s inflation to spike up by 8% as the higher electricity tariffs kicks in this month.

Malaysia’s June headline inflation is worrying, but some of its South East Asian peers are worse off even if the gap is somewhat narrowing. In June, Indonesia’s inflation rose 11.3%; Vietnam by 26.8% and Thailand by 8.9%S.

With that, analysts who only two weeks ago seemed noncommittal on the direction of interest rates, have suddenly seen the light – there is wider consensus now that Bank Negara may tighten the screw a little on its accommodative monetary policy by raising the Overnight Policy Rate (OPR) by some 50 basis points this year. (note: a rise in OPR will likely cause banks to increase the rates for deposits and loans.)

“It is a question of when, not if. Rates will be heading higher” says TA Research.

Will higher rates hurt or help?

Central banks tinker with interest rates to prop up a sagging economy by slashing rates or root out inflation by raising rates.

Higher interest rates strengthens the currency and curbs inflation by raising the cost of borrowing, thus restricting rapid credit growth that has increased the money supply.

The downside of higher rates is that it slows economic growth as cost of borrowing for businesses and individuals goes up. Central banks have to constantly juggle these priorities depending on which is a bigger threat but eventually, something has to give.

With that, concerns over a possible stagflation – inflation and stagnation – has resurfaced. Stagflation, a central bank’s worst nightmare, is a combination of sliding demand and rising prices.

Even if Bank Negara has historically not raised interest rates in a reactionary manner, Malaysians would do well to prepare themselves for such an eventuality. “Higher rates mean more hardship as it increases the cost of servicing our debt.

We have to be prepared for that, over and above the painful rise in food, electricity and fuel prices,” says an analyst.

Higher borrowing cost will crimp loans growth and lead to a weakening in asset quality in the banking sector, which in itself poses another major headache.

But there are mixed views on whether rate hikes is the way to go. Recently, Second Finance Minister Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop pointed out that if inflation is driven by consumption, reducing rates would have the desired effect. On the other hand, raising rates to root out cost-driven inflation - which is what we are facing currently - would be ineffective.

Given the “commodity cost-push” nature of the present inflationary episode, Aseambankers says it is more likely that “non-interest rate” measures will be used to deal with inflation.

The question is ...

Is it time to work the worry beads?

Can we dodge the bullets thrown at us by the global economic dilemma?

Or will politicking and internal strife leave Malaysians staring down at the barrel of economic woes a little too late to cushion its staggering blows?

Bottom line - we need someone to connect the dots for us, not throw them out of whack.

Friday, July 4, 2008

A Malaysian Private Eye Recants an Explosive Statement

Asia Sentinel
04 July 2008

Complete reversal on charges against Malaysia's deputy prime minister raises questions of political pressure

In a stunning turnaround that raises as many questions as it answers, the Kuala Lumpur-based private investigator who set off a firestorm Thursday by alleging that Deputy prime Minister Najib Tun Razak was involved in the 2006 murder of Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu today retracted the entire contents of his statutory declaration and said he had made it under duress (Note: Both declarations can be found here).

Media in Kuala Lumpur reported that P. Balasubramaniam, a private investigator who once represented accused murderer Abdul Razak Baginda, said everything he had alleged in his July 1 statutory declaration was wrong, then rushed off without taking questions. Local media also reported that he had come under severe pressure after releasing the declaration in the company of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim Thursday.

The investigator did not say who pressured him to issue the initial statement, but his action today raises the inevitable specter that powerful political forces are at work over the sensational murder. The allegations against Najib have already undermined his standing as the heir apparent to the leadership of the powerful United Malays National Organization. Opposition leaders denounced the retraction as the result of political pressure and called for an investigation.

The ongoing trial has thus far avoided questioning Najib or bringing his name into the proceedings, with both prosecutors and defense attorneys challenging attempts to have him brought into the proceedings.

Anwar, who himself faces recent allegations of forcibly sodomizing a 23-year-old man who works in his office, was excoriated by pro-government loyalists from the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition led by the UMNO after he released the initial declaration. Najib and Anwar are bitter rivals for power who were once allied in UMNO before Anwar was booted out of the Deputy Prime Minister’s job in 1998 before being jailed on sexual perversion charges. Building on opposition gains in the March elections, Anwar has declared his intention to unseat the BN by September.

Najib called the private investigator’s statement “a desperate move by Anwar Ibrahim to divert attention from the sodomy allegation he is facing.”

For some, the episode reveals rot inside the political system. “They are all damaged, it doesn’t matter, really,” said a disgusted lawyer and political insider in Kuala Lumpur. “I think new leaders will emerge after this mess.”

In the new declaration, a sworn statement made in writing as was his first declaration, Balasubramaniam said: "I wish to retract the entire contents of my statutory declaration dated July 1, 2008. I was compelled to affirm the said statutory declaration under duress.

"I wish to expressly state that at no material time did (Abdul) Razak (Abdullah) Baginda inform me that he was introduced to Altantuya Shaariibuu by a VIP and at no material time did Razak Baginda inform me that Datuk Seri Najib (Tun Razak) had a sexual relationship with Altantuya Shaaribu and that she was susceptible to anal intercourse. At no material time did Razak Baginda inform me that Datuk Seri Najib instructed Razak Baginda to look after Altantuya Shaaribu as he did not want her to harass him since he was the Deputy Prime Minister."

Balasubramaniam’s previous statement was extraordinarily detailed, accusing the deputy prime minister of having had an affair with Altantuya and introducing her to Razak; he also recounted SMS conversations between Razak and Najib on the night of her murder. The statement described the cars that came to take the woman away, related conversations with the accused and described his disappointment at the fact that a detailed statement he had given police about the matter had been censored so completely that nothing of the relationship between Razak and Najib survived.

Razak went on trial in June 2007 for Altantuya’s murder along with two of Najib’s bodyguards, Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar of the elite Unit Tindak Khas or Special Police Action Unit. The 28-year-old Mongolian woman was shot twice in the head on October 19, 2006 and her body dumped in a patch of jungle near the suburban city of Shah Alam before she was blown up with explosives.

Balasubramaniam wrote in his first declaration that he wanted the “relevant authorities to reopen their investigations into this case immediately so that any fresh evidence may be presented to the Court prior to submissions at the end of the prosecution’s case.”

In that declaration Balasubramaniam, who was hired to help Razak deal with the woman, said he repeatedly tried to get Razak to have Altantuya arrested for harassment, but that he refused to do so.

The July 1 statement described in meticulous detail a series of visits by Altantuya and two friends from Mongolia to Razak’s office and home, seeking to corner the political analyst about their relationship and demanding US$500,000 for her services as a translator in a questionable transaction involving Malaysia’s purchase of French submarines.

The document also purported to confirm long-reported rumors that Najib, Razak and Altantuya had been at a dinner in Paris during the time when the submarine transaction was being negotiated. It described conversations with Altantuya, in which she told the private investigator that Razak had even bought her a house in Mongolia.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

ABDULLAH BADAWI, THE POLITICAL CHAMELEON AND THE ANWAR SAGA - WHAT EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE REAL BADAWI!

Matthias Chang
Future FastForward, Wednesday, 02 July 2008 03:17

Recenty, Justice Datuk Ian Chin, a High Court Judge in Sabah made some wild and speculative allegations against Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad which have been rebutted and refuted by me in several articles posted to my website. I have also lodged a police report and given a detailed statement to the Investigating Officer, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Jude Pereira at the Brickfields Police Station.

Notwithstanding such wild, unfounded and highly subjective speculations, the idiotic de facto Law Minister, Zaid Ibrahim as reported in the mass media, said that there were no grounds to investigate the judge’s misconduct and that the said judge had performed well as a judge.

If a judge can indulge in speculation, I suppose I am entitle to make a few suggestions as to the implications and consequences from the present political situation – the scandal of the murder of the Mongolian girl and the recent police report against Anwar Ibrahim for sodomy.

However, I leave it to you to be the judge, whether what I am writing is pure speculation, the spurious kind of wild suppositions associated with Justice Datuk Ian Chin and or the kind of stupid nonsense so typical of the Law Minister, Zaid Ibrahim.

Before elaborating further, I would like to pose the US$ Trillion question - Who stands to gain most from the spotlight on the various allegations made against the Deputy Prime Minister and Anwar Ibrahim?

Main Threat Within UMNO

One need not have a PhD in political science to conclude that the main threat to Abdullah Badawi is the Deputy Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak, notwithstanding that Badawi has announced that Najib is his chosen successor.

I have stated previously that this was merely a tactical move to neutralise Najib in the short term from making any moves to challenge for the Presidency at UMNO elections in December 2008.

It is obvious that should Najib make any moves in the meanwhile, Badawi’s spin doctors will work overtime to accuse Najib of being “ungrateful and power-crazy” when Badawi has already indicated that he would be the successor. These spin doctors would go to the length and breath of the country crying, Why is Najib so impatient? Is he power hungry?

But the reality on the ground is such that the rank and file members are absolutely flabbergasted and angry with Badawi and his theatrics and are already making moves to nominate Najib for Presidency during the branch and division meetings in July.

This is the greatest fear of Badawi and his advisers. They do not want to see a repeat performance master-minded by Anwar Ibrahim when he took on the then Deputy President Tun Ghaffar Baba. Anwar's boys were able to gather enough nominations, that Ghaffar Baba had no choice but to concede defeat, even before the battle commenced.

Khairy, Kamaluddin, the 4th Floor Boys and the baggage of spin doctors from UMNO's controlled-mass media were having sleepless nights and they knew that having chosen Najib as the successor, there is no way for Pak Lah and his band to attack Najib directly.

How can they plunge a dagger to Najib and not be accused for the crime?

Simple!

Launch a false flag operation. This is a time-tested operation of Intelligence Services all over the world. They plant an idea that there is a Deep Throat who is in possession of critical intelligence and evidence. This Deep Throat then leaks some critical intelligence and evidence to a reliable source for public consumption.

[Recall how Bush and his band of crooks outed and destroyed Valerie Plame’s credentials as a covert CIA agent, just so to discredit Ambassador Wilson’s exposé that Bush was lying about the Yellow cake (Uranium) supposedly purchased by Saddam Hussein from Niger. Valerie Plame is the wife of the Ambassador. These crooks were willing to sacrifice National Security in order to have their war of aggression on behalf of Israel.]

The information was leaked to a journalist who then published it. The journalist becomes the innocent victim of the false flag operation as is always the case!

A dark cloud now hangs over Najib’s integrity and no one can point a finger at Badawi, so they think. Badawi’s spin doctors were confident that the general public would not and could not fathom this false flag operation. If anyone were to question the circumstances, they had a ready-made answer. Why would Badawi want to destroy Najib when he has chosen him as a successor?

Some of us are seasoned political strategists and we can smell a rat a mile away.

Badawi’s smile may disarm some people, some of the time, but he cannot disarm all people all the time with his smile. We have seen his smile enough to know that soon after he smiles at his enemy, he plunges a dagger behind the enemy’s back. So beware if and when he greets you graciously.

When was the dagger plunged into the heart of Najib?

This is the US$ Multi-Trillion question. No one noticed it. It was an almost perfect plan. But they did not count on me seeing through their scheme. Hence my delay in writing this article, as I wanted to see if anyone else noticed this insidious plan!

The dagger was plunged immediately after Anwar Ibrahim accused the government of having conspired in getting a young man to lodge a police report against him for the crime of sodomy.

What did Badawi say about the matter? He denied any involvement but went on to say that he did not think that Najib had any intention to do that.

Anwar never accused Najib. No one did. So why did Badawi, for no rhyme or reason and out of the blues mention Najib in his denial?

This is the time-tested method of intelligence propaganda – you plant an idea by asserting the negative – in this case, the statement that it was not Najib.

By so doing, Badawi is in fact suggesting that Najib could be the culprit for the alleged conspiracy. Hence, the denial by Najib as reported widely in the newspapers. The denial was front page story!

"Mr. Clean” was perceived as “Mr. Clean” when the stupid Wan Azizah, wife of Anwar Ibrahim gave credence to this ploy when he pleaded with Badawi to ensure security for Anwar and a guarantee that Anwar would not be harmed. It follows that the entire PKR did not even consider the probability that Badawi could be involved.

How freaking stupid can one get in the circumstances?

To put himself in a better light, Badawi went so far to say that what happened in 1998 would not be repeated. The Sun Newspaper reported Badawi as having said:

“The government will not do anything to frame or make baseless accusations against any party, so to say that the government will repeat what was considered as a conspiracy, this is not true …”

By implication, Badawi is saying that he will not repeat the conspiracy. He is indirectly accusing the previous administration of conspiracy. This is but another attempt to plant an insidious idea and buttress his so-called “Mr. Clean” image by the use of another negative – that he will not repeat a conspiracy! He has cleverly planted the idea, that what happened before was in fact a conspiracy!

But “Mr. Clean” will not get away with this kind of cheap and dirty propaganda!

The Main Threat Outside UMNO

It is obvious that it is Anwar Ibrahim. Badawi on taking power as prime minister used the Anwar factor to his advantage to further project his so-called “kind and clean” image. The release of Anwar from jail after his acquittal by the Federal Court on the charge of sodomy was exploited to the fullest by Badawi’s spin doctors. PKR went for it - hook, line and sinker!

Having neutralised Najib with the planted intelligence that he was somehow implicated in a criminal case (so they believe), the next target must be focused on the threat outside UMNO.

Another US$ trillion question – Why now this police report on sodomy against Anwar?

Already PKR boys are accusing Najib of the conspiracy, and the mass media by carrying the denial by Najib seem to lend credence to the allegation first hinted by Badawi, the prime minister.

Now the spot light is focused on the two persons who pose the greatest threat to Badawi’s power and access to the national money-making machine!

The modus operandi and the strategy is that the public’s attention will be diverted from the financial mess as a result of Badawi’s mismanagement and negligence of the economy and the rampant corruption. Hopefully, the disaster of the March General Elections will also be forgotten!

Fat hopes!

To muddy the waters further, Badawi and his spin doctors are preparing the next phase – to provoke and instigate a feud between Najib and Anwar so that they will be so engrossed with each other and so exhausted by the exercise, that the two will not be able to focus on overthrowing Badawi.

Phase 2 is the Second Dagger that will be plunged into Najib! This is a given. And unless Najib sees through Badawi’s ploy, he will end up as dead meat before July is over!

Other Beneficiaries

There are other beneficiaries in this once-in-a-lifetime “Bollywood Drama". Suffice to say at this stage, they are waiting for the outcome of this slug-fest.

I have no wish to distract the public by revealing the beneficiaries. We should and must focus on Badawi.

This is the ultimate culprit. He is the mess!

He is the political chameleon and he will bring this country down!

Focus on him first and at all times. He is the number one problem. Period!

Badawi has ruined the entire nation.

To the Malays, he has destroyed all your hard work and stolen and or destroyed your community’s crown jewels.

If the Malays want to survive as a community and as a race, you have only one choice.

GET RID OF BADAWI ONCE AND FOR ALL!