Would You Believe It?


spoon-boy

(Still remember the “no spoon” scene in The Matrix? You understand the meaning of the scene? I had always thought of it as something not real and yet you see it with your own eyes. Image source: Matrix Fans)

I was reading this one morning last week:-

A consultant for a township in Kuala Nerus, Terengganu under fire for planting a RM180,000 tree has explained that the cost had also included its transportation from Brazil. Zaini Ibrahim, director of Perunding Irzi Sdn Bhd that is the lead consultant for the project, also said that the second Ceiba chodatii tree also known as silk floss tree, will be planted at another entry point to Bandar Baru Kuala Nerus.

“There is no mention of the tree in the contract. What was made known were two iconic landmarks,” Zaini was quoted saying by The Star daily in a report today.

The contractor thought the tree would be a great landmark and he went out of his way to choose the type of the tree.” Zaini said the rest of the 100-hectare land would be planted with local trees and plants.

(Source)

I think they spent almost half a million ringgit for the “iconic landmark”

The State Government said that they did not use the taxpayers money and so also the Public Works Department. Both had denied use of taxpayers money since the news went viral.

But if you think about it and ask yourself this question – does it make sense that a contractor who is doing a commercial business would spend half a million ringgit (mind you, not a small quantum) and bring trees all the way from Brazil and does not get paid anything for the expenses?

Perhaps they have factored that in the overall cost – which means the contract had been inflated to include the expensive trees. Perhaps they had managed to save enough in the contract and instead of returning the saving back to the taxpayers, they decided to spend it on expensive trees. Or maybe they had misinterpreted the requirements but had screwed the execution – then it is too bad, they should not be paid anything.

Anyway, if you ask me, the whole story does not add up – just the story of an elusive Arab prince giving away billions of ringgit to some politician as a donation. That’s bending the spoon a bit too far.

Then we have this “hey look, it is cheaper compared to XYZ country!” statement from one honorable Minister:-

The recent increase in petrol price should not be made an excuse for traders to increase prices of their goods, Minister of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism (MDTCC) Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin said today.

He said that despite the increase, the fuel price in Malaysia is still the lowest in Southeast Asia, with the exception of Brunei.

Malaysia is among 15 countries with the cheapest fuel price among 180 countries in the world, he said in his speech at a Chinese New Year dinner organised by Giant Supermarket for the less affordable Chinese community here tonight

(Source)

Reduction of subsidies is good in the long run and there are other things that we need to focus on – read here for details

However to say that despite the increase in the petrol price, there should not be any increase of price of goods is ridiculous. Wasn’t the honorable Minister aware of the past incidents of goods price hike because the price of raw materials like petrol, sugar, flour, etc had gone up? Of course, it is now made worst with the introduction of GST and even the smallest of the small traders started to sell things at an insane price.

The comparing of “price” with other countries should stop – there are some who will simply compare the price as if it is an apple to apple comparison but easily ignores all other factors such as availability of raw material, location, currency foreign exchange, population demand, level of income & living standards, etc. And oh yes, how educated and informed politicians in managing the affairs of the country..

Rest assured that with the increase of petrol price, some of the traders either having no other choice (due to increase of transportation cost) or on purpose (using high petrol price as an excuse) will increase prices of their goods. There is no escape about this. And if the Government keep reducing the petrol subsidies, the petrol price will keep increasing and so does the price of goods (and even services).

So what the Government intends to do about it? Instead of just saying that the traders should not raise prices, can the Government be more proactive with increased actions and change of policies such as these?

1. Stricter enforcement against unscrupulous price increase?
2. Setting aside the key goods as controlled item?
3. Reduction of direct and indirect taxes (GST is one) to offset the increase in price?

But please never say because the price of petrol goes up, it will not have a cascading effect on other items that dependent on the price of petrol. The cost transportation is not going to remain the same with high petrol price. It is akin to sweeping the problem under the carpet – you don’t see it any more but the problem remains unresolved.

Expensive trees but no taxpayers involved?

Increase in petrol price but no increase in price of goods?

Sometimes don’t you feel like you are living a Matrix, right?

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In the Year of the Monkey


Frankly speaking, I had Part 2 in mind (had half way drafted the content) but over time, the passion for one subject fades away and another subject grabs of one’s attention.

Read these first:-

 

(One good way to damage the sidewalls but modern tires is designed to absorb such sudden shocks)

Last month – on the month of the CNY – had proved to be a rather very expensive month for me as an owner of a car.

Firstly I accidentally scrapped my left back tire against the kerb and caused a small portion of the tire sidewall to be sliced off. I know for fact that whilst you can abuse the main tread and still drive safely, the same cannot be said for the sidewall. And it was painful because the tire was still new – barely a year since I last changed it. I took it to 2 different tire shops – the first one looked at it and said it was nothing to worry. The mechanic went back into the shop, brought back a bottle of super-glue and simply glued the sliced piece of the sidewall back into the tire. Feeling unconvinced, I went back to the shop where I first changed the tires a year ago. Unfortunately there were too many cars at the tire shop and the mechanics were busy. I managed to convince one of the them to check the tires. He came over and very lazily said it was nothing to worry as well.

But deep down, I was not happy or feeling safe, driving around with a sliced sidewall. As far I can remember, I never had damaged sidewalls before this and this was the first time I encountered this. It was time to do some goggling on the net and find out from the experts out there if I am feeling worried for nothing. Unfortunately for me, it looked like I had a very unique situation and generally most experts do not suggest driving around with a damaged sidewall (mine was not damaged but sliced). A few days had passed and for a moment I had forgotten that I was driving around with a sliced + patched up sidewall but that notion of not feeling safe kept bugging me, more so when I have my kids in the car. And one day, somewhere in a motoring forum, I finally read what I was looking for – someone had commented that no amount of money saved can come close to the safety of the people in the car.

That caused my mind to be made up but I had to wait for few more days as most of the shops were closed for CNY. But once the shops were opened, I headed to the nearest shop and talked to the owner. He too said that the tire were still driveable but the point is, the sidewall strength is compromised. So one need to be very careful when driving. I pondered on his statement – I do drive fast in the morning and I am the one who send my youngest to school in the morning. I could not imagine the carnage if the tire decides to blow out.

I decided to change the tires and considering the old tires were still new, the owner decided to give good discount for my new tires. But lesson well learned and I have now become more careful and patience when I am driving – another sidewall damage is the last thing I want.

It was not the only problem I had with the car and interestingly I only discovered this second problem by chance. My wife wanted me to check her car engine bay and to check the water level. Since I was doing that, I decided to check my car as well. When I opened the engine bay, I noticed that black oil splashed all over the place. I have seen this before – the engine gasket worn out and the engine oil was leaking. I had the same problem once with my old car. That probably explains the loss of power when I am driving to work in the morning.

Good thing was my car’s scheduled service was coming up and despite a last minute call to the service centre, I managed to get an early appointment at about 8.30 am. I don’t want the leak to continue and damage other components. At the service centre, despite making appointment at 8.30 am, I had to wait for other cars (from previous days) to be done first and only at 10.30 am, the car was brought into the service bay. I knew the mechanic from previous visits, so standing next to him whilst he worked on my car was not a problem and he was also explaining on what he was doing. The engine oil was indeed leaking and it was time to replace the sealants and cleanup of the leaked oil.

Another cost to the car so soon after I had changed the tires. It was another costly affair but once again, it was necessary. The service took almost 3 hours to complete (partly because they had to order some of the parts) and as I chatting away with the mechanic, he asked me if I had changed the timing belt. It was time to change based on the mileage but as I checked my car service records, I don’t see any indication of the manufacturer had changed the timing belt but I can guarantee that I have adhered to the service schedule to the dot.

And I was very tempted to allow the mechanic to proceed to change the timing belt. I decided to call the other service centre to check their records and was relieved when they confirmed that the timing belt had been changed and I had nothing else to worry. The car is back to it’s perfect state and it is great to be driving again, feeling safe and confident and with a set of good music in the background, the morning traffic was not so bad and somehow and surprisingly I can find a sense of calmness to allow the morning queue jumpers, road hoggers and other morons on the road to do what they do and don’t get angry so easily (unlike the previous time).

Two incidents involving the car and it burned my pockets very badly but the fact is that no amount of money can replace one’s life and that should be the case all the time.

Damn Those Shoddy Roadworks!


Pothole_Repair_Image

(The right way to do a patch for potholes – instead of covering only the hole, cut a bigger area and patch in the right way and follow up on the patch work. How many times you have seen this in the Bolehland? Image source: http://www.gallagherpaving.com)

Read these stories back in 2011:-

Whether in residential or commercial areas, travelling around the city often means a bumpy ride because of the potholes and badly patched stretches of roads. In many places, roads in good condition are dug up by utility and telecommunications companies for the laying of pipes and cables. They are then badly resurfaced.

In April, Segambut MP Lim Lip Eng had highlighted at least six places in his constituency where roads were dug up without a permit. A spokesperson from the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) corporate communications department confirmed that there have been cases where contractors operate without approval from DBKL.

“If we find out that they have no permit, we will contact the respective companies. If the dug-up areas have not been patched up or resurfaced, we will do it for them and issue them the bill. “We have also found out that many contractors appointed by the companies have no expertise in resurfacing roads,” he said.

(Source)

And

Most councils require a deposit from companies before they are allowed to carry out any roadwork. If the council finds the resurfacing job has not been done properly, resulting in sedimentation on the road, the deposit is then forfeited. It has been reported that RM500,000 per kilometre is needed to carry out road resurfacing.

Segambut MP Lim Lip Eng said the two causes for the bad road conditions in the Klang Valley were the old method of patching the holes as well as underground water leakage. “There are also contractors who take the easy way out to save money,” he said. However, there is not enough enforcement to check on the quality of roadworks. In his constituency alone, there are holes from digging work that have been left as they are for months, especially in Segambut Dalam, Mont Kiara and Hartamas.

Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Seri Ahmad Fuad Ismail said 80% of the potholes and uneven roads were caused by utilities and telecommunication companies digging up the roads to install and repair their cables. He said there were so many of such roadworks that it had become an embarrassment to DBKL because the blame was often laid at its door.

(Source)

The road near my workplace was bad so much so that I was even contemplating of buying a 4 wheel drive vehicle for my daily commute. It was a similar case with another stretch of road near my housing area. It gets worse – certain part of the road gets flooded once it rains. Then one day, a couple of days before the general election, a “miracle” happened and it happened overnight – it could have been one of the pre-election goodies. The road was resurfaced and to a quality that all Malaysians can be proud of. And the level of the road has been raised to ensure it does not get flooded whenever it rains. And it was so for a couple of weeks until some bastards decided that they need to dig up the whole stretch of the beautifully resurfaced road to do some piping work and they decided to do this at peak hours. They closed one part of the road, causing the already terrible traffic jam to be even worse. And then they started digging and that lasted for few days. Then they do the worse kind of patching work ever once done. The patch work was not the same level of the road and ended up as mini bumps all over the place. Some started to form into mini potholes. And after a couple of days of rain, it went bad to worse.

Potholes and bad road work is not new in Malaysia – as far as one can remember, this has been so for many years. Whenever I see the excavator digging into the beautifully laid road (resurfaced with taxpayers’ money), it pains me greatly. And it has been a norm in Bolehland to see some buggers digging up the road just after it has been perfectly laid on and not before that. Don’t these idiots plan before they do things? Don’t they check first with the relevant authorities and get their approval to ensure that whatever roadwork to be done is done before the road is scheduled to be resurfaced? Don’t they realize that they causing the taxpayers some serious money to resurface the road again? Probably they are the same idiots who queue up at the express lane at the supermarkets with more than 10 items despite a large notice at the counters.

Never mind, let’s assume that they are digging up all over the place in the “best interest” of their paying consumers. After all, wouldn’t we all be making a lot noise when our internet gets disconnected or the water supply breaks down unannounced? And let’s assume that that they are unable to plan the digging before the road is resurfaced due to some unavoidable circumstances, red-tapes at the local authority or to some serious emergency (where they could not afford to wait). The next question in mind is why these buggers can’t resurface back the road in a proper way and without the bulging patch all over the place or the sink-holes (due to insufficient top soil, heavy traffic or bad weather). Can’t they put themselves in the shoe of the long suffering road users who have to ply the same road and risk serious damage to their vehicles after that shoddy patch work?

After all, if they know how to dig, they also should know how to patch, right? No excuse of them not being well-verse with road-work or their sub-contractor not doing job to the right specifications and quality (it’s alright if it looks ugly or messy but at least it need to be strong enough to take the usual stress and not turn into a bigger pothole). No excuses of the weather (the usual sorry excuse) or heavy traffic on the road – it is already known fact, so whatever patch work done must take this into consideration. Unfortunately instead, we get the usual quick fix of placing back the content dug out and then pouring the bitumen on the pothole and simply patch it to cover the hole – some to the same size of the hole instead of a bigger area and leaving plenty of spaces for water to seep in and make it worse.

Why the shoddy work? Is it because someone is trying to make that extra bit of profit from saving up money to be spent on a proper patch work? Or is it because it has been sub-contracted to less competent contractors – one who has less experience, skills and the know-how but formed just to milk the lucrative Government projects? And what happened to the enforcement aspect of the local authorities inspecting the patch work and to ensure that it is up to mark and if it is not, to force the contractors to redo the patch work or fine them left right center for the poor patch work (and then use the fine to do a proper resurfacing later or to reimburse motorists who suffered damages to their vehicles). Do that and they will think twice of short-changing the taxpayers when it comes to doing a good job – can we?

And since potholes have been with us since the creation of the roadways, are we also looking on whether we need to improve on how we tackle potholes with new technologies. Or are we still far off from this kind of long term solution for a long outstanding problem. In the meantime, we should be up arms against anyone who dig up the roads but don’t bother to take the time and proper care to do a professional repair work. After all, this is eating up into the taxpayers funds in the long run and creates unnecessary danger to all road users.

Is Malaysia Really Flushing with Money?


Read these first:-

budget-trends-2010-2013

(It does not matter whether it is from Barisan or from Pakatan – it is unfortunate that we still have budget deficits by the billions. Why it is so? Is it because we are biting more than we can chew? We been spending more than what is in our pockets? The real challenge for a good Government would be to balance the income with the expenses and reduce the deficits to a zero. Image source: Malaysian Insider)

If you have read the news last week or so (in between the on-going police investigations on the death of young William and the recent Thaipusam), you probably would have read this:-

The Government has approved a RM50mil allocation to the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry for the Hati Rakyat (People’s Heart) programme beginning next month. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said the funds were to assist single mothers, those with special needs and senior citizens.

Najib said that the funds could be used to provide training for senior citizens or buying adult diapers or wheel chairs. The programme would be combined with the 1Azam programme that enables the poor to do small business, he said, adding that he hoped the funds would reach the expected target groups.

(Source)

And this:-

Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Mohd Yassin today ticked off the opposition’s defacto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim for alleging that the country was on the verge of bankruptcy.

“We are in fact flushed with funds. Last year for example the Inland Revenue Board managed to collect RM125 billion as income for the country. This has never been done before. “We are thus in a very strong financial position. We also manage our finances very well. None of our civil servants have yet been denied their salary,” he said when addressing over 5,000 people at a meet-the-people session held at the Civic Centre, here, today.

Muhyiddin said no Malaysian had died of starvation but rather obesity is the norm because of too much good food available, so much so that it has turned into a major problem among students in schools nationwide. He said at the national level, poverty rate was only three per cent while in Sarawak it stands at only four to five per cent.

Muhyiddin said the BN government would continue with the agenda of helping the people and ensuring the country becomes prosperous, united and stable with the support of the people, regardless of race or religion. “The general election is the best opportunity for the people to say they want it to continue and to achieve more.

“The choice is in your hands. Please once again give your full mandate to BN under the leadership of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak,” he said.

(Source)

If you can read in between the lines, that is a BN politician talking to you with your own money in his hands and saying that he will give you this money if you vote them lot into power again. But given the fact that this has been going on for some long donkey years and no one in the authority sees this as an implicit way to buy votes, it is alright– throwing money to buy votes to help the poor people is expected to happen on a more regular basis as we move nearer to the general elections.

But the thing is ask yourself, whether it worth for the Government with not-so-deep pockets to spend millions of ringgit on short term plans rather than on a long term one. Take for examples of the BR1M 1.0 and 2.0 and other “dumbest of the dumb” ideas like throwing money to youth to buy smartphones:-

For the hard-core poor, RM500 is indeed a large sum that will go a long way to reduce their financial burden. It may even feed them and their family for a month. To the large majority of other recipients the sum, as a one off payment, is just an additional bonus and does not significantly help them out financially.

In fact many use it to spend it on items that they really don’t need. The amount that runs into tens or even hundreds of millions is hard earned taxpayer’s money which could be used more beneficially for the people than be given out freely to “enjoy” themselves for a few days.

What the people really need is not a one-off payment during election time but a better planned scheme to help them in the long term to cope with the difficult times ahead. They need to be given the opportunities to acquire the skills and knowledge to improve themselves.

They need more job opportunities and better wages, easier accessibility to quality and cheaper health care, better and more affordable tertiary education and more affordable housing especially in urban areas. They need a better, cheaper, more convenient and safer transportation system. Most of all they need a system that recognises them as legitimate citizens whose constitutional rights are safeguarded regardless of race or creed.

The present practice of giving out money on and off, as carried out now, is an election gimmick that capitalises on the people’s inherent “greed for free money”, which is becoming a prevalent culture today. It should be strongly discouraged as it is a form of corruption, which should not be tolerated by the people.

(Source)

And there is a big question of whether the Government is indeed flushing with money and can afford to make these one-off payments now and then without bleeding the limited funds available for other more important sector of the economy?

But there is a difference. A big one. Selangor and Penang, both Pakatan-led states that provide financial aid for senior citizens, children and the disabled, have far surpassed their predecessors’ financial performance. Selangor increased its cash reserves to RM1.9 billion in 2011, its highest in 28 years while Penang successfully reduced its state debt by 95% from RM600 million to RM35 million in the same year.

This is not the case for the federal government, which has run a fiscal deficit since 1997. Although it has fallen slightly from its 22-year high of 7% in 2009 to 4.5% in 2012, our fiscal records aren’t very stellar. Our debt to GDP ratio is at 53%, just below the statutory limit of 55%.

Both BR1M packages will cost the government an estimated RM2.6 billion and RM3 billion respectively. Najib stated that because the economy continues to expand, this results in increased tax collection and therefore the reason for which BR1M can be dished out.

In reality, a huge RM13.8 billion supplementary budget was tabled in June 2012, forming almost 5% of the original budget. Out of this, RM7.5 billion was for cash aid and oil and gas subsidies.

(Source)

And especially when the source of income is limited to taxpayer’s money and of course the golden money from stated owned Petronas:-

The primary problem is one of numbers. In a global policy environment rightly wary of ballooning budget deficits, the fact that the Malaysian government has been in DEFICIT EVERY YEAR since the introduction of the NEP in 1971 (except for a period from 1993 to 1998) is troubling. This is particularly the case since Kuala Lumpur spends much less on social services than do Western governments.

The economic numbers look even more troubling when one considers that around 40 percent of the government’s revenue comes from the state-owned oil and gas giant Petronas.

(Source)

So until the general election passes over and BN regains a sizeable of the votes that they lost in the last general election, do expect more generous gifts from the politicians. But beware of the Pakatan fellows as well who promises a subsidy laden Government if they are chosen. Be mindful to vote for those who work on a long term plan for the people instead of one-off payments to satisfy the masses for quick gains for the next elections.

Happy Chinese New Year and Happy Holidays to all!

Millions for Schools


Seriously, do we have that much of money to toss around or is Christmas simply early this year?

(Think of it as an investment for the future – schools that does  not have enough money to run is going to greatly impact its students and their performance in education. Image source: http://www.connectmidmissouri.com)

If there is one thing I take with great concern, it has to be on the direction of the education system in this country. And in the last few weeks, there has been major development in regards to this – one was the unrevealing of the national blueprint for 2013 – 2025 and the other was this:-

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has announced an allocation of RM30mil for the development of Chinese national-type secondary schools (SMJK) in the country. During his address at the MCA annual general assembly here Sunday, Najib said he had discussed the matter with Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also the Education Minister, and they had agreed to grant RM30mil for the schools.

Earlier in his presidential address, MCA chief Datuk Seri Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek had appealed to the Prime Minister for assistance for these schools, saying there was currently no allocation for them. “There are 78 conforming schools with more than 125,000 students. They should be given an allocation of RM50mil next year,” he said.

(Source)

It is not the first or last time we have heard of this kind of “sincerity” from the Government especially when the general election is coming up soon:-

For how long more we can keep giving away the money when source of fund is truly limited?

In the first place, we have yet to see any concrete plans from anyone to merge the various “types” of school in this country into one common type where it will be easier to manage them under the same policy and consolidated funding. What we have seen so far is perpetuation of this segregation and any attempts to introduce any form of integration of schools) are often met with passionate, angry response from certain community leaders and compounded with undue political pressure. Sometimes illogical reasons like quick diminish of the mother language & culture with the younger generations feeds the fear of change, sometimes the grave concern of the difference of quality between the various types of school makes the segregation sounds valid (argument that Chinese schools teachers are more responsible and more concerned about the students’ development, an argument to keep the Chinese schools still relevant, on the other hand is utter rubbish).

Why we have not been able to integrate the schools after 55 years of independence? Is it a question of emotion or actual concern? Tony Pua in 2007 wrote this:-

The recently launched National Education Blueprint 2006 by Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein focuses purely on “strengthening the national schools”, with vernacular schools representing just a statistic in Malaysia’s education landscape. Vernacular schools are often neglected or treated with suspicion due to their ethnically Chinese or Tamil nature. There are widespread fears that the strengthening or even the presence of vernacular schools in Malaysia is antithetical to achieving national unity.

Chinese and Tamil educationists on the other hand, fear the strengthening of national schools will erode the future character and viability of vernacular schools. For many of them, every facet of the existing vernacular education must be protected at all cost. Otherwise, they fear detractors will pounce on any signs of weakness to destroy vernacular education in this country.

As a result, parties on both sides of the equation treat the issue of national versus vernacular schools as a zero sum game — one party’s gain is the other’s loss. However, such views are certainly flawed and works against the interest of a multi-racial and multi-cultural country like Malaysia. They are bred through mistrust and hardened by years of negative experiences.

Vernacular school educationists are also, understandably, unconvinced by the “national unity” argument because the government has taken steps to build and expand MRSM secondary schools which are almost exclusive domains of ethnic Malays.

Rita Sim in August 2012 also talked about the strength and weaknesses of Chinese schools in the country. And one of her argument for the existence of Chinese School is this:-

From the economic perspective, the rise of China puts a global economic superpower in our immediate neighbourhood and we would be foolish not to harness Chinese schools to enhance cultural and linguistic capital for our national professional, commercial and diplomatic advantage. Every Malaysian has the opportunity to benefit because our Chinese schools are not discriminatory.

Are you saying that if Afghanistan becomes the next global economic superpower (let’s run with our wild imagination, shall we?), we should drop everything and start Pastho/Dari schools? We have yet to put our foot down on ensuring good command of English (p.s. the language of many economic superpowers in the world – Japanese, French & Spanish is another) in our national education biosphere and here we are only focussing on the Chinese language. And if we apply the same argument for Tamil schools, then why we are not learning Hindi? So why not just address the reasons to maintain the vernacular schools – come up with the best win-win solution for students, teachers and students whilst still maintaining the high standard of education all around with good emphasis on the issue of language (let’s have Chinese & Tamil classes on the daily basis & on extra hours if we still insist on equipping ourselves with language of the economic superpowers) and force all to be converted into national school where it can be fully funded by the Government?

It is a fact that not all Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools are fully funded schools; they need to apply to the Government for the additional funding and this is where the problem usually starts. The schools have to rely on the Government and by some extension, politicians to get the necessary funding for schools and this has not been easy for some schools especially Tamil schools. And those who have decided that they will remain as vernacular schools despite these improvements and resists all attempts for national integration should be left standing on their own. And in the end, we will only have 2 types of school in this country – fully funded public and self funded private schools.

Of course, announcing millions of ringgit for the vernacular schools is one thing (after all anyone can announce anything under the sun), the vernacular schools seeing the actual dough (or sometimes land) for its expansion & non-Government funded operations is another thing all together. It takes too long for these schools to get the money but the problems facing them simply compounds on daily basis especially for the students. Sometimes the actual disbursement of the funds – the final amount and the time it is finally disbursed is made slightly complicated with the presence of “middleman”. There is a high chance of the money is passed from the Government to middleman to be managed and only trickles are passed on to these schools at the end of the day.

Giving away money to school is just a short term fix to a long term problem – yes, it provides an immediate relief to the problems that the school are facing but it does not really provide the long term solution to long term problems. It does not really address the issue of sustainability of money for schools. The Government does not have deep pockets to keep giving away money to schools on yearly basis and there are other areas of the administration that the Government need to look into as well (healthcare, defence, crime-fighting, etc but not the plans like BRIM which simply gives out money but does not really address the issue of low income in the long run). The state of the country’s economy and management of the money that we have also dictates how much these schools is going to get its share of the pie in the future and one cannot guarantee a high performance economy all the time.

There is only so much that the schools can do to self-manage funding for schools – the yearly school fees, donations from parents & other individuals (many prefer to donate to temples than to schools), fund raising activities and perhaps (to those who have the right infrastructure) rentals collected from booking of school halls for other functions & sports activities. Some even advise automation & going green as part of the cost cutting measures. Those schools with the right connection can look into additional funding from State Government and perhaps sponsorship from some private organisations on land, equipment and money but it does not apply to all schools especially those tucked away in deep rubber estates.

The more viable option would be to convert themselves from partially funded schools to fully funded schools and that means to change from vernacular type school to national type school where the main language of the day is Bahasa Malaysia and English with high importance to Mandarin & Tamil. This will also resolve another factor that contributes to dwindling number of students in some of the vernacular schools (and thus directly the funding for schools). When all are national schools adhering to the same standards and policies, it will be easier to distribute the students as well (some schools are now overcrowded, others barely have regular students).

One must remember that at the end, the one who truly suffer due to inconsistent funding and difference in policies are the students. Not the Minister, the Ministry, the politicians who is looking for an opportunity or community educationalists who insist on priority of language & culture without looking for a long term solution especially when it comes to funding to schools.

No To Cheaper Cars?


(The latest Toyota Camry 2.5 is priced RM180,000 in Malaysia whilst the premium model only costs RM91,000 in US. So why is the huge difference in the car pricing in this country? Imagine source: TheCarGuys)

Folks, the general elections are coming soon and as I mentioned in my blog in the past, we must insist on voting for politicians who are able to see the bigger picture and be more intelligent enough in ensuring the issues that they raise in the public arena are of public interest and shapes the general policy and direction of this country.

One of the recent issues that were raised is the Pakatan Rakyat’s proposed plan to reduce price of cars in this country.

The proposal to reduce the prices of cars in this country by Pakatan Rakyat (an issue where a proper closure has been long overdue) if they are voted into power has sent a rather disturbing ripple among BN politicians. The reasons and the benefits to reduce car prices obviously works in good favour of the ordinary citizens and yet, we have not seen any BN politicians (except perhaps this guy) who had come out in the open with full support of this proposal.

Why? Is it because the proposal was initiated by the opposition and thus the support for the proposal is seen as a support for the opposition?

In argument against the said proposal, some argued that it will put the local automotive industry at a disadvantage once foreign cars were made cheaper. Valid argument no doubt but then again, how long more the local automotive industry needs to be able to compete on a global sense after almost 30 years in existence? Others try to stir racial issue by saying that the majority employed in the industry from a particular race and the impact of cheaper cars means a challenge to the race’s rights, which is rather nonsense as all races in this country are also involved in the industry one way or another.

Then we have this argument:-

Dalam keghairahan Pakatan Rakyat untuk menurunkan harga kereta, mereka terlupa untuk memberi maklumat kepada rakyat Malaysia apakah impak cadangan tersebut terhadap kualiti alam sekitar dan kenaikan sisa karbon serta kesesakan lalu lintas di jalanraya.

Ramai orang merasakan cadangan mengurangkan harga kereta ini bercanggah dengan tindakan kerajaan untuk menubuhkan Suruhanjaya Pengangkutan Awam Darat (SPAD) yang dipertangggungjawabkan untuk mereformasikan sistem pengangkutan awam di negara kita.

Seperkara lagi, orang kampung di luar bandar tidak akan mampu untuk membeli kereta walaupun harga kereta diturunkan. Tetapi mereka akan merasa implikasi dari cadangan ini. Besar kemungkinan mereka terpaksa berkorban kerana sekolah dan klinik di kawasan pendalaman terpaksa di kurangkan akibat kekurangan peruntukan pembangunan disebabkan cukai kereta berbillion ringgit yang dipungut oleh kerajaan sudah berkurangan.

Ini belum lagi membicarakan tentang komitmen negara kita untuk mengurangkan intensiti karbon negara sebanyak 40% sepertimana yang diperakui oleh Malaysia dalam Protokol Kyoto.

(Source)

The MP for Kota Belud raises two key issues in response to Pakatan Rakyat’s call to reduce the price of vehicles in this country. One is the impact on the environment due to more vehicles purchased (since it is cheaper acquire them now) and two, the expected increase in traffic jam. He also said that the call for cheaper car is going against the on-going reformation of the public transport by the Government (although I don’t see the direct implication of cheap car on the reformation process as public transport still need to be reformed regardless whether cars are made cheaper or not) and the Government would lose a sizeable income and will cause the country unable to meet the carbon intensity by 40% as dictated by the Kyoto Protocol.

Before that, let’s ponder why Pakatan Rakyat is calling for reduction of car price in the country in the first place?

High taxation is the reason why cars are so expensive in Malaysia. Currently, according to Rafizi, Malaysians pay 70% in taxes when they buy locally-made cars of below 1,500cc.

“Buyers end up paying almost RM16,500 in excise duties and sales tax for a car worth RM40,000,” he said. “On top of that, car owners also pay about 4% in interest for the loan.” According to his estimation, a typical car owner in Malaysia pays nearly RM600 a month towards settling his car loan. Toll charges and the cost of petrol would take up another RM400 of his monthly income.

Rafizi said Pakatan would phase out excise duties on cars to reduce household debt and increase disposable income.

Citing the Statistics Department’s Household and Basic Amenities Survey Report 2009, he said 53% of Malaysian households earn less than RM3,000 a month. “The report also shows that 71.9% of Malaysians own a car,” he said. “High car installments have become one of the reasons Malaysians are burdened with huge debt.”

As of May 2012, car loans repayment ranked second highest in household debt, standing at a staggering RM134 billion, he added.

(Source)

It is not a big secret that Malaysians are paying ridiculous price for cars in this country compared to other countries. And a bulk of the price is attributed to excise duties and sales tax. And seriously I am in favour for cheaper cars – the benefits are just too obvious – more people will be able to drive in cars that are safer, more economical, environmental friendly and equipped with better technology. And with car price cheaper, the hire purchase amount would be lower and Malaysians would have more disposal income for their family, education and healthcare. If you think about it, a good portion of the hire purchase loan is now being used to pay off a bulk of the excise duties and sales tax which has incorporated into the overall car price. This means we are in high debt to pay taxes to the Government.

Let’s leave aside the issue of the impact on the local automotive industry (there will be some impact no doubt but what is more important is how the industry plans to address the current shortcomings and go head to head in the global market) and on how Pakatan intends to make up the loss of a sizable income for the Government due to reduced excise duties and sales tax.

Let’s focus on the Kota Belut MP’s 2 main argument’s against the lowering the cost of cars in this country.

Impact on the Environment

(The standard that we use for emission evaluation – the European Emission Standard which started back in 1992. Where is the Malaysian version of this? Image source: Wikipedia)

We must recognize that modern cars are far more efficient than the cars that we drove 10 – 20 years ago. With the influx of hybrid cars and cars that meet the European emission standards (with EURO 6 coming up soon in 2014), the impact on the environment is low and in general sense, is improving with a more stringent emission standards put in place.

If we still insist on meeting the reduction of the carbon intensity by 40% as dictated by the Kyoto Protocol, then we should not only address the emission from vehicles on the road but also holistically, greenhouse gas emission from other industries (such as the energy industry) as carbon dioxide is just one of the greenhouse gas identified in the Protocol. And if we are only looking at emission from vehicles, then shouldn’t we insist on a stringent emission standards for all vehicles in this country? We don’t have our own emission standards but often rely on European emission standards and how many vehicles in this country meet the latest European emission standards? Only the very latest Proton models (running on Campro CFE with CVT) seem to meet the latest EURO 5 emission standard but what about the rest?

Average Car Carbon Emission in European Union Countries = 160 g/km
Target for 2012 = 120 g/km
Target for 2020 = 80 g/km

Proton Gen-2 Carbon Emission = 157 g/km (ranges from 131 to 192 g/km for other models)
Proton Waja/Impian Carbon Emission = 167 g/km (manual transmission) 172 g/km (auto transmission)
Proton Satria Neo Carbon Emission = 177 g/km
Proton Savvy Carbon Emission = 134 g/km

Proton Waja and Proton Satria Neo beat the average car carbon emission in Europe. Seems like Proton Savvy is the greenest of all (not so green though) at 134 g/km considering that it is only a 1200 cc.

If you drive your car 10,000 miles per year and have an average polluting car (i.e 160g/km of carbon emissions) then every year your car will emit 2.6 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide. If you wish it offset this amount by planting trees you would need to plant at least 4 trees for every year you spend driving the car.

Proton’s cars are not so green. In fact, there are no information regarding carbon emission in Proton’s official website or Proton’s brochure. It is only mentioned “Low carbon emission” in the sales brochure. Well, not so low after all!

(Source)

We still have “tonnes” of older Proton models on the road, still emitting greenhouse gases year in, year out. Why not we enforce the emission control on them and other older models? By making the price of new cars cheaper, aren’t we accelerating the change of the older fuel guzzling, higher greenhouse gases emitting vehicles to newer fuel saving, lower greenhouse gases emitting vehicles?

Impact on the Traffic Jam

Even with the current high cost of car ownership, there is no positive improvement on the traffic jam especially in the Klang Valley and other major cities.Perhaps the situation is all rosy and well in Kota Belut but not so here – just try to drive during the peak hours and see how fast you can go.

This is because we have to come to a situation where having a car is no longer a luxury but rather a bare necessity. It is also safer and more convenient compared to one using the public transport (which is still in the process of revamping itself). Most household these days have at least 2 cars as it is also necessary for housewives to drive for daily shopping and to send & pick up their kids from school, etc. So before we can argue that cheaper cars means worsening traffic jams, we need to see the condition of traffic movement at the present and what is being done to elevate the situation.

Just look at Klang Valley with it’s all road infrastructure and public transportation integration at the very best, the traffic condition is still bad. Number of cars on the road is obviously a reason for the bad traffic jam but there are other factors as well. Queue jumping at key bottlenecks chokes the overall traffic system and gets cascaded all over. Another is the lack of feeder roads to the main roads especially from one residential area to another. The traffic jam is made worse due to high number of vehicles with low occupancy rate (just check and see how many people in most of the cars) and a lack of coordinated travel time similar to the one deployed during the festive season (or based on registration number which will force a greater use of public transport) for day to day travel to and fro workplace.

If cars are made cheaper, it will not necessarily means that the traffic jam will get worse (it already is) by a very drastic rate. There will be some increase (perhaps by those motorcyclists who now can afford to buy cars) but how much the increase will be is highly dependant on other factors as mentioned above. And there are others costs need to be considered as well – maintenance charges, parking, toll and fuel which will play crucial role on those who wants to drive around in a car on a daily basis.

Final Say

It is easy to say that all of Pakatan’s ideas are bad ideas and throw-in the usual arguments towards it but we need a solid solution for the existing problems as well. In the case of Pakatan’s call for cheaper cars in this country, one would strongly agree that there will be a major impact on the local automotive industry and the revenue for the Government (which Pakatan said is manageable if the general expenses are well managed) but then again, does that mean we should keep the car prices arbitrarily high and keep the people in high debts and away from better quality, safer & a more environment friendly cars?

If the Government is not agreeable in reducing the car price down, then what would be the alternative measures to increase the household disposable income of those who need to use a car for their daily routine and yet a bulk of their income is tied to high car price & loan? A more flexible hire purchase arrangement (like using monthly rest and not Rule 78 or multi tier hire purchase rate) or perhaps some kind of long term cash rebate or sales tax relief for those who drive a more eco-friendly (remember we need to address the targets under the Kyoto Protocol) cars? Or perhaps some staggered tax policy that based on the capacity of the vehicle and net income of the car owner?

Can we have this now? No, not the cheaper price for cars but rather, a better focus of the issues at hand.

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P.s. The problem of drafting a blog late at night – instead of clicking the “Save Draft”, I accidentally pressed the “Published” button. This explains why you may have seen half completed post in your RSS feeder. Sorry about that.

(2011 seems to be a very slow year for blogging. It is not that I am having a writer’s block – I have almost a dozen posts in my mind now but rather, does not seem to have the “urge” to put things down on “paper”. One such example is this post below which I have been thinking about for sometime now)

(How many of us keep a budget? How many of us spend more than we earn? It is not too late to learn the fine art of financial planning – keeping budget, ensuring that our income is enough to cover the expenses, keeping up saving for rainy days and when hard days are in, to learn to cut down on unnecessary expenses and tighten our belts)

This is rather personal but it is a situation we have been in before…

I am pretty sure we have been on both side of the spectrum at some point of our life. We would have borrowed from someone when times are bad or lend someone when they were in a tight situation. I recall accidentally leaving my wallet in the house one day and I had to rely on my good friends for cash for the day.

Lending money to close friends or relatives is nothing new and is not wrong. It is different from lending money to total strangers on commercial basis – you don’t usually impose any of the exorbitant loan shark interest, repayment period is very flexible (that money sometimes ends up as free gifts) and no hard feelings when you face them during family gatherings or go out for lunch. This is because you know them and their family members very well and you trust them deep enough to part with your hard earn money and sometimes forget about it.

Long before I got married and was still young, naive & ignorant, I had to help one of my relatives out on his financial problems. I was still single with very few commitments and made enough to have a reasonable savings at the end of the month and I knew about the problem that my relative was facing. So when he asked me to take a huge loan on his behalf as he was facing problems getting loans himself, despite major alarms going off all over the place, I did not hesitate much in agreeing to it. He promised that he will pay the repayments once the loan has been approved. It did not take long for me to find out that I have been duped. He came out with thousand and one excuses and dishonored his promises that he made before I agreed to take up the loan for him. Ya, I was that naive and to some extent stupid.

A couple of years after that was a little mess indeed but thankfully it was resolved in good terms by the same relative. It was a good wake up call for me too – it made me a bit more wiser and more alert and give the due consideration when someone starts asking for a big load of money. It made me a bit paranoia but that’s ok as there were other positive changes as well (I will post about it some day)

The reason why I am recalling this old story is that couple of months ago, I got a call from a good buddy of mine. He needed some cash very urgently – I know he was doing some part time business and he was facing the usual cash flow problems. He called me several times before but having been in “getting-in-someone-else’s” financial mess before, I always found some good excuses to say no.

But the last call for money seemed urgent and desperate. I know this ex-colleague very well – we worked together for long years and he helped me at work before. I have been to his house several times and know his family well too. So, when he called me one late night with no other options left, I had to think hard. On one hand, I had the spare money at hand and I know things were serious indeed and I was ready to give that money but on the other hand, I know my good buddy rather well. He was well known to delay things, don’t usually plan well ahead and somehow I know I have plenty of chasing to do to get back the money. Deep down, I know where I was getting myself into – I gave the money that he requested.

History seems to repeat itself but thankfully this time, the amount is very small and manageable. My friend promised to pay back in a “couple of days”. That “couple of days” however was many months ago. But since I know what I was getting into, I was not really pushing him hard to  pay me back. But at the same time, I don’t want him to just “forget” the money that I gave him in good faith, so I do give him a call occasionally just to refresh his memory (as I said, I know him very well).

Now, the real reason I am posting these stories is not because I had to lend someone some money – a friend calls you for urgent cash and being a good friend, you help him – that is fine and admirable. And you allow the flexibility and time for him to pay you back the cash – in part or in whole. I am doing the same thing but what I could not tolerate is the change of attitude after you have helped your friend with his/her problems – you will encounter the “silent treatment”.

He promised to pay me back in a couple of days later but when the day came, he did not call back. A week after that, I called him – he did not mention anything about repaying back. He was telling me about his problems which I silently listened and consoled him. When I called him one day, he then told me that he is getting a loan from the bank to settle his other debts which included mine. It’s seems positive but I was not giving it much hope. More than a month later, when pressed for a solution, he said the loan has approved and pending disbursement. Lately he simply been unreachable.

The matter is money when it comes to close friends and close family members is secondary (by nature, it is) but it would have been the worth if my friend could have been more honest on his financial situation and do not give the round about. By giving that silent treatment and act as if nothing had happened is an abuse of the trust and understanding of a good friend. I just hope that he realized that.

It is ok if he did not have the money to pay back but he should not giving excuses after excuses. Tell me what are his plans to get back on his feet – if he needs more time – I would have been happily granted his request. I may even assist to look for means to settle his problems. And when he promised something, he should at least keep it – or call up earlier to say that he had tried his best but unable to meet his commitments. That is what I had expected to get but did not in the end. In reality, it is not helping his situation especially if he need to ask for another favor in the near future.

That is all…

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