Monday, 31 December 2018

Ways To Misunderstand ICERD

So it turns out that there is this Turkish UN representative who is flabbergasted that Malaysia chose to abstain from ratifying ICERD.

Gün Kut questioned how ICERD could become extremely politicised in Malaysia when it is for the protection of individuals against racial discrimination.

"Racism and racial discrimination is everywhere, so no state, country or government can claim there is no discrimination," he rightly explains. Interestingly, there is plenty of racism in Malaysia, but not even propagated by the Malays, who are the majority race in Malaysia.

Frequently, there are ads in the newspaper saying, "Chinese preferred" and "Indian only".

Gün said Malaysia now found itself facing more pressure than ever because it seemed as if it did not accept non-discrimination.

A lot of the people opposed to ICERD claimed that it violates the position of the Malay sultans and that of Islam. Again, I don't know where that fits in with discrimination or where they got that idea in the first place.

Initially, I thought they were trying to protect their privileges like their allocation for property purchase. But it turns out that they aren't even buying them in the first place.

Their allocation rather substantial, as the requirement in the state is for 40% of all property units to be set aside for Bumiputera (which also include Eurasians, and east Malaysian ethnic minorities). Properties reserved for Bumiputera are also given a 15% discount for units worth RM1 mil and above.

And yet:
According to the National Property Information Centre’s (Napic) Property Overhang Report for the second quarter 2018, there were 40% more unsold new residential units during the first half of 2017 than in the first half of 2016.

The number increased to 29,227 units, valued at RM17.24bil as of June 30, 2018. A year ago, it was 20,876 units, valued at RM12.26 bil.

The other privileges are like the Amanah Saham savings etc, but even those never get filled. As of today, Amanah Saham 1Malaysia (AS 1M) for example is "Fully Subscribed for Non-Bumi" but not for Bumiputera.

I don't think the Malays actually understand what ICERD is all about, but they fear losing privilege and being sidelined. Those are legitimate concerns, regardless of where in the world one lives.

The non-Malays are not happy either, because they realise that they are not being recognised for their efforts in nation-building and they aren't being treated fairly. Especially when they wish to buy homes or invest their money but aren't being allowed to do so because of quotas.

Again, not all Malays are the perpetrators, and not all non-Malays are victims. The world isn't a fair place and people's rights frequently get trampled upon.

Both sides have legitimate grouses, but they are never addressed because Malaysians believe that confrontation will lead to conflict and they fear another May 13.

Friday, 21 December 2018

What We Knew Then And Now

It's curiously funny when you go back in time and read about things that are crystal clear today, but were murky and uncorroborated back then.

Kee Thuan Chye's opinion piece about Arul Kanda is seemingly prescient for back in 2016: Will it be checkmate for Arul Kanda?

An excerpt here:

What was it that Arul allegedly lied about?

In February 2015, he said in an interview with the Singapore Business Times that 1MDB had redeemed US$1.103 billion from its offshore account in the Cayman Islands and parked it in a Singapore-based branch of Swiss bank BSI Bank.

“The cash is in our accounts … I can assure you … I have seen the statements,” he attested. Note his confident tone.

But it turned out there was no cash. In May, the Government admitted that the redeemed US$1.103 billion was actually in the form of “units”.

In June, 1MDB laughably sought to get Arul off the hook by stating that he “never said he ‘saw the cash’” and that he was “on the record as saying he had ‘seen the statements’.”

That was stupid. Anybody could see that Arul and 1MDB were trying to twist words. After all, he also was on record saying “the cash is in our accounts”, so how could he wriggle out of that?

Anyway, in October, Sarawak Report published on its website minutes of a 1MDB board meeting that took place in January 2015 at which Arul gave “detailed assurances to board members that there was indeed cash in the so-called Brazen Sky company account at BSI Bank”.

This cash-but-no-cash episode is very telling of what Arul’s mission amounts to. Even more telling is the refusal of 1MDB under Arul’s watch to provide details of the company’s foreign banking transactions to the PAC and the Auditor-General. Such information is crucial in determining, for example, whether a US$700 million transfer made by 1MDB to an account belonging to Good Star Ltd was legitimate.

More significant than that are the billions of dollars of unexplained payments – totalling at least US$3.51 billion – made to Aabar Investments PJS Limited registered in the British Virgin Islands.

According to the PAC report, 1MDB has not clarified whether this company was linked to the Abu Dhabi-registered Aabar Investments PJS that is a subsidiary of International Petroleum Investment Corp (IPIC), which actually declared to the London Stock Exchange this month that the Virgin Islands Aabar “was not an entity” within IPIC or Aabar Investments PJS.

If the Virgin Islands Aabar is not a company that 1MDB had legitimate business dealings with, then it is incumbent on Arul to provide the essential information to set the record straight.

Why hasn’t he done it? Why did he not furnish the PAC with the required foreign banking information? What is he trying to hide?

We now know what he was trying to hide.

Today we have made the connection to Goldman Sachs, and the ridiculously poor business practices they had with dubiously corrupted leaders in Asia.

Most recently, Malaysia is seeking US$7.5bil in reparations from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. I hardly think this is enough considering we were defrauded since 2013 and the funds, well-invested, would have greatly enriched our nation.

It annoys me that a greedy fool like Najib was allowed to remain in position for so long before finally getting removed. Even today, he still has ardent supporters who claim that he is being framed "for political reasons".

It also makes sense that Attorney General Tommy Thomas, when confronted about reports of him filing a suit in New York claiming US$5.1 billion from Goldman, said that those reports were “premature”; simply because it wasn't the full sum that they were claiming at all.

I don't agree with everything that Pakatan Harapan stands for, but when it comes to the 1MDB case, I am glad that they are on the ball.

Related: Malaysia seeks $7.5bn damages from Goldman over 1MDB scandal

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Goldman Sachs' Criminal Charges

Goldman Sachs gets massively sucker-punched (though I suspect they were actually bracing themselves for it) as they get criminal charges filed against them.

It wasn't just Goldman Sachs International (UK) that took the hit, Goldman Sachs (Singapore) Pte and Goldman Sachs (Asia) LLC were also charged with omission of material information and the publishing of untrue statement in the offering circulars for the bonds.

Individuals charged were: Jho Low, ex-1MDB general counsel Jasmine Loo Ai Swan and former Goldman executive Timothy Leissner.

It's amazing. Timothy Leissner has already pleaded guilty in the US to charges of misappropriating 1MDB money and bribing officials in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi and is awaiting sentencing.

Finance Twitter doesn't seem to think that any of the Goldman Sachs bankers would actually go to jail. I think it has a point.

The US has cultivated a reputation for saying one thing and doing another. Barack Obama has, in the past, criticised bankers for their part in the recession - and then gone on to appoint them to his administration!

Trump, at least, is not a hypocrite. His administration is full of ex-bankers who have done nothing for the country but enriched themselves. In other words, a mirror of Trump himself.

Given that Trump has made a business of bankrupting himself to avoid paying his debts, and is not above paying bribes (and not just to strippers that he has had affairs with) to get his way, I cannot believe that his administration would take this seriously.

Still, I don't think Leissner was expecting another load of bricks to be thrown in his direction. I look forward to discovering what his sentence would be.

Roger Ng (Leissner's deputy) is fighting extradition to the US to face the same charges as Leissner, and will be charged later this week. It's not looking pretty for him either. As Finance Twitter says, he is not a US citizen and he is likely to be thrown to the dogs.

These are criminal charges. I expect that a civil suit would follow, where I hope that the $5.1bil rumoured to affect Goldman Sachs would be claimed.

We do have Goldman Sachs to thank, though. Because I personally believe that if this fiasco had never happened, BN/UMNO would still be ruling the country today.

NOTHING could be worse than that.

Related: Wall Street Bankers Need To Understand What Corruption Does To The People Of Our Planet

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Environmental Issues In 2018

If you live in Greater KL / Klang Valley, you would know that we have had our share of flash floods. This is frequently due to plastic and other rubbish clogging our sewers and inhibiting smooth flow of water.

We have ignored it for long enough.

In fact, it seemed like the previous administration under Najib Razak did nothing about it. There are bicycle lanes in the city, but that seems to be the extent of their "green' credentials.

The Pakatan Harapan administration has made rather unpopular rulings with regard to single-use plastics, and hopefully, this will reduce both production and usage.

Not everything is bad news these days; Malaysia is being recognised for its efforts in cleaning up the world in 7 countries that shook up our planet in 2018:

In September, Malaysia announced that it aims to eliminate single-use plastic by 2030, making it the first country in Southeast Asia to take bold action against plastic pollution. Its weapons in the plastic battle include a nationwide charge on plastic bags and a market for environmentally-friendly alternatives. A month later, the country moved to restrict imports of plastic that had led to the rise of illegal recycling plants across the region after China’s waste ban in January.

The new government also has the region cheering for its appointment of Yeo Bee Yin, Malaysia’s newly minted Minister of Energy, Green Technology, Science, Climate Change and Environment. A few months into office, she exercised her power to bust the country’s long dependency on fossil fuels, cancelling four independent energy contracts this year that would have otherwise gone to coal companies. The country’s youngest female minister in cabinet is also ready to take legal arms against Australian company Lynas for their accumulation of radioactive waste within their Malaysian operations.

I am glad we have reduced our dependence on coal. It's dirty fuel, and the pollution from emissions has to go somewhere.

The difficulty of being an oil-producing country is that we probably use a fair amount of it ourselves. That would be step two in improving the environment, reducing its use if not eliminating it altogether.

Most readers know what I think of Lynas. It needs to go.

But things are looking up. We can preserve this planet.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Anti-ICERD Rally

No, I haven't gone down to ground zero to cover it.

It's probably the first rally that I haven't attended despite being in KL - for obvious reasons. Haha.

I am, though, unpleasantly surprised to note that the participants number 30,000 approximately (Update: Turns out it was closer to 80,000 people). That's a huge number of unhappy customers, much bigger than I was expecting, if I was completely honest.

It's about 0.1% of the Malaysian population.

It's a big number of people who are that insecure about their future.

I am not sure which part of their Bumiputera privilege is what they're fighting for.

Property ownership - reduced price and allocated percentage; despite that, most property developers have disclosed that this allocation never gets fully utilised by the Bumiputera. There is, after all, a financial limit to the number of houses you can buy, even if you are one of those professional property buyers with 20 loans in your name.

University placement - those who have the brains pass their exams and graduate and those who don't, they just pick up an unfulfilled student loan debt and a low self-esteem.

Jobs - if they're good, the headhunters lure them abroad, if they're not, they just work for a lousy salary. Often some of these members of the workforce belong to the group that really should not have graduated university. In which case, they live in a lot of fear as they do not want to be identified as under-performers in the job scene. Frequently, they work for civil service.

As always, I have never believed in placating people by giving them something they don't deserve. That's how America became so ... lembap.

Not the booming tech sectors that are frequently populated by migrants, mind you, but the sectors soon to be taken over by robots. Also, industrial workers, shop assistants etc. Basically the people who are expecting Trump to improve their lives.

I have met loads of Malays (who are Bumiputera) who are willing to work hard, given sufficient mentoring and encouragement.

I really hope they don't feel compelled to join a rally that does nothing to improve their quality of life.

Related: The anti-ICERD protest is a chance to show this government is different from the past administration

Friday, 7 December 2018

Goldman Sachs And 1MDB

It is difficult to have any sympathy for a financial company like Goldman Sachs as they frequently screw up and get bailed by their governments/banks, but this time it looks like Goldman Sachs has bitten off more than it can chew.

Aseef Shameen rightly sets the tone on Goldman's impending doom in the Edge Singapore piece, Goldman Sachs' 1MDB cover-up is bigger than the scandal:

Malaysia wants all of the US$600 million in fees 1MDB paid to Goldman and restitution of a big chunk of the US$3.5 billion it lost. Attorney General Tommy Thomas said recently that reports of him filing a suit in New York claiming US$5.1 billion from Goldman were “premature”.

Of course, it may be premature to be discussing this as investigations are still underway but one does suspect that this Pakatan Harapan government had this task in mind when it appointed Tommy Thomas to the role of AG. Tommy Thomas works extremely quietly and efficiently. Given his very recent track record with securing the yacht Equanimity and his progress with Abu Dhabi's IPIC, this man will save Malaysia millions, if not a billion.

You may be wondering how Goldman has a hand in this 1MDB scandal. This is why it's in trouble:

It raised US$6.5 billion for 1MDB. The DOJ alleges that over US$3.5 billion was misappropriated from those funds by Jho Low, a close confidant of Najib. In pleading guilty to money laundering and bribery charges, Leissner blamed the 1MDB shenanigans on Goldman’s “culture” of working around internal legal and compliance controls, as it was highly focused on consummating deals. Jho Low has been charged in absentia with money laundering and violation of bribery laws by the DOJ. He remains on the run and is reportedly in hiding in China.

A lot of people are dying to get their hands on the Whale.

Given the excesses detailed in the book and judging by the calls to BFM over the issue, Malaysians are livid.

Predictably, Goldman Sachs have denied knowing Jho Low.

They're not the only ones.

Najib Razak now claims that he was cheated by Jho Low, and more ludicrously, claimed he was not aware that anything was wrong because he was not told about it.

Tong Kooi Ong of the Edge Media spills the beans and sets the story straight on what really happened in You didn’t know Jho Low cheated us? I showed you evidence and you showed me the door:

He put the blame solely on Goldman Sachs and 1MDB’s lawyers and auditors for allowing wrongdoings to take place.

“They should have informed me if something was not right,” Najib said. “They clearly failed in carrying out their responsibilities.”

While Najib plays the victim for the peanut gallery, it's rather intriguing how he appears to have such a close relationship with Jho Low.

Tong Kooi Ong describes it:

I then proceeded to tell Najib that Jho Low must be held accountable and be prosecuted. This upset him. He immediately stood up, walked to the door and asked me to leave.

I was taken aback that he was so sensitive about Jho Low.

While The Edge’s reporting was focused on 1MDB and Jho Low, [Paul] Stadlen [(Najib's media adviser)] made it very clear that any attack on Jho Low was an attack on Najib, and that he was conveying this message from his boss.

If you choose to read just one article this coming week, I urge you to make it Tong Kooi Ong's expose. If this piece does not go viral, Malaysians are not worth their salt.

Najib wants you think that he was cheated and that he is innocent, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Do not be fooled.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

GM Lay-Offs Extremely Depressing

I don't know if these are the stirrings of a tide that is to turn against Trump. It probably may not though, as his steadfast supporters haven't exactly been those who take thoughtful deliberation over emotion.

General Motors make a lot of cars, albeit not always well. They own a lot of brands. They diversify their operations and they certainly diversify their product.

Most of their American operations is based in the midwest, specifically in Michigan and Ohio. If you have ever lived in the US or met any midwesterners, you would know that these places are called the rust belt, i.e. there used to be quite a bit of industrial activity in the past, but that has largely waned - mostly because the jobs went east.

As Robert Reich writes in the Guardian:

Last week GM announced it would cut about 14,000 jobs in the politically vital swing states of Michigan and Ohio.

This doesn’t quite square with the giant $1.5tn tax cut Trump and the Republicans in Congress enacted last December. Its official rationale was to help big corporations make more investments in America and thereby create more jobs. Trump then told Ohio residents “don’t sell your homes”, because lost auto-making jobs “are all coming back”.

GM got a nice windfall from the tax cut. The company has already saved more than $150m this year, according to GM’s latest financial report. But many of those Ohio residents probably should have sold their homes.

What did GM do with the money that they got from the tax cut and the wages they do not have to pay anymore? They bought back their own shares!! - this is frequently done to boost the share price.

Reich continues:

In 2010, when GM emerged from the bailout and went public again, it boasted to Wall Street that it was making 43% of its cars in places where labor cost less than $15 an hour, while in North America it could now pay “lower-tiered” wages and benefits for new employees.

So this year, when the costs of producing many of its cars in Ohio and Detroit got too high (due in part to Trump’s tariffs on foreign steel), GM simply decided to shift more production to Mexico in order to boost profits.

In light of GM’s decision, Trump is also demanding the company close one of its plants in China. But this raises a second reality of shareholder-first global capitalism that has apparently been lost on Trump: GM doesn’t make many cars in China for export to the United States. Almost all of the cars it makes in China are for sale there.

In fact, GM is now making and selling more cars in China than it does in the United States. “China is playing a key role in the company’s strategy,” says GM’s CEO, Mary Barra.

Even as Trump has escalated his trade war with China, GM has invested in state-of-the-art electrification, autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing technologies there.

I don't know what to say. America is shooting itself in the foot on a rather consistent basis.

There's a part of me that agrees with Robert Reich. The emphasis on keeping shareholders happy while depressing workers' wages is wrong.

But I lived and worked in the US as an engineer for 5 years. During that time, I was always looking to prove my worth (yes, I know, typical Malaysian inferiority complex) and add value to whatever I was doing.

The unfortunate part was that my American co-workers were less keen on going the extra mile. It was always assumed that they were entitled to the job they had and the key thing was to keep to themselves what they knew, lest someone steal their job from them.

The problem with that is, this sort of defensiveness suppresses innovation. It only encourages complacency. Americans think that their nation is (and to be fair, it once was) successful because they are an inherently successful race of people.

It may not be quite so obvious to the average joe, but if you think carefully, this is White Supremacy 101. This is also something that Malaysians are frankly unable to understand and digest because they have been shafted over by Malaysian politicians too many times.

From the Malaysian perspective (and understandably so), the brown guy is every bit as bad as the white one. No Malaysian really thinks that Malaysians are exceptional to other races, regardless of what our slogans may regurgitate.

But bear with me when I say that American Exceptionalism is actually a novel and unassailable way of expressing white supremacy - which is why when Trump dog-whistled, they came running.

This is why they are comfortable sharing technology with the Chinese, because deep in their hearts, they cannot come to believe that the Chinese would have equivalent ability to take over the industry, learn their skill better than themselves and one day have economic and socio-political dominion in the world.

I don't know why Chinese people like American cars. I have never owned one - preferring Japanese cars myself, having owned two of them in my lifetime.

Perhaps it's because Chinese have been deprived of Western culture having lived under the heavy-handed rule of Communism for so long. Maybe American cars, which in my personal opinion, are neither aesthetically appealing nor exceptional in performance, are a symbol of freedom to the Chinese.

One day the Chinese will acquire a sense of entitlement and superiority, just like the Americans today. It's the circle of life, after all.

But for now, they are slowly but surely plodding ahead, and the Americans, once the people who were gung-ho to achieve anything, are blissfully oblivious.

Trump’s Broken Promise to General Motors | The Daily Show