A Malaysian Lunch

By Zairil Khir Johari

While everyone spent the last weekend mulling over the recently announced Budget 2011, I spent mine immersed in chocolates and experiencing a brief moment of notoriety on Lim Kit Siang’s blog.

It was back to business on Monday as I met up with two old friends over lunch. In true Malaysian fashion, our conversation flirted with everything from the erection, oops, election budget to matters of national (un)importance and just generally anything that came into mind. All this over banana leaf and lots of (burp) curry. The following is a parable of our discussion:

Friend A (special officer to a certain executive in a certain GLC): Service is so slow. Why does it take so long to make one iced Milo?

Friend B (self-employed IT entrepreneur): Nothing new about that…

Me (chocoholic): Yeah, what do you expect? We don’t get first class service on private jets like you.

Friend A: Hey that’s not fair! Just because my bosses like to lap it up in luxury doesn’t mean I enjoy any of it. You know, the amount of mis-management I see everyday, it’s no wonder we’re in such a big mess. Don’t even get me started. You think you’ve seen cost overruns?

Friend B: Haha, that’s Malaysian accountability for you. Plenty of meat for those in power, but hardly any bones for the likes of us. Speaking of cost overruns, have you seen the progress of our new National Palace?

Me: Hah. Another mega-project that has gone out of control. Did you know that from an initially budgeted RM400 million, it’s now gone up to RM800 million? And counting!

Friend B: RM800 million? That’s enough to build at least 50 schools. Or a couple state-of-the-art hospitals.

Me: Yes, it seriously shouldn’t cost that much to build a house, not when 40% of households in our country live on less than RM2,000 a month. That money could have been used to supplement nearly 80,000 low-income families with an extra RM1,000 a month for one whole year!

Friend A: Exactly. I think the government really has its priorities confused. A successful economy should be measured by the economic conditions of its people, and not purely by its gross developmental value or output, because income differences are not reflected. Mega projects that enrich a few but neglect the population at large bring no real economic value.

Friend B: What are you complaining about? Your company gets most of these projects…

Friend A: Haha, that’s true. But I tell you, more can be done with these new economic schemes, like the ETP and er, NKRAs and what have you. You know, those programmes run by the Kopi Minister’s colleague, that former MAS fellow.

Me: Ah you mean Idris Jala, the Minister of Acronyms. He’s got yet another acronym now, called KIJA. Do you guys know that this ‘Kementerian Idris Jala’, as it were, has been allocated a whopping RM12.59 billion for the next two years? This isn’t even taking into account various consultancy fees and salaries to be paid out for contractual work on their projects. For that kind of money, I pray there will be sufficient return on investment, or it’ll be another story of cost overruns on nonviable projects, like the Bakun Dam. *winks at Friend A*

Friend A: Very funny. But honestly, there’s one more thing that really upsets me. All this business about our highways. Isn’t it the responsibility of a government to build roads for its people? It’s a basic infrastructure….

Friend B: Spot on. Privatising the highways is a bad enough idea, the worst part is the totally lop-sided agreements. To make things worse, they’ve just announced 6 new highways, all without open tender! Again!

Friend A: *shakes head in despair* And we didn’t even get one of those contracts!

Me: Haha! I think the really frustrating part is how the government is trying to pull a hood over our eyes by putting on a show about how toll hikes will be frozen for the next 5 years. What wasn’t mentioned was the astronomical amount of money that has to be paid in compensation! RM5 billion over 5 years, and that doesn’t include RM2.5 billion already owing to PLUS. That’s RM7.5 billion my friends!

Friend A: That’s just ridiculous! In fact, it makes less sense. Tolls are paid by users of the road, whereas the compensation will mean the whole country will be paying for something only a few people use! Whoever negotiated these agreements must have no common sense!

Friend B: Sigh. So much inefficiency. If I run my business like our government I’d have declared bankruptcy a long time ago. We’re lucky we still have oil, though it won’t last forever. Speaking of inefficiencies… where is my Milo?

Our conversation didn’t end there, but let’s not venture into unsuitable print material…

Nota Bene:

I returned from lunch to learn that the federal government has approved an additional RM147 million for the new National Palace, bringing total costs to a ballooning RM935 million!

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Thursday, 21 October 2010 - 1:25 pm

    Lunch? Najib is talking about dead bodies and ruined lives and families and we are talking about lunch?

  2. #2 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Thursday, 21 October 2010 - 1:33 pm

    New Palace @ RM935 million? Wow, just a wee RM65 million shy of a record-setting RM1 billion for 1 MALAYSIA!

    Malaysia Boleh!

    Guess who is the Main Contractor? Anwar Ibrahim said BN government doesn’t even insist on a licence for the contractor.

    Why is there need for so many other licences for plain Joe Rakyat then?

  3. #3 by yhsiew on Thursday, 21 October 2010 - 2:21 pm

    ///Guess who is the Main Contractor? Anwar Ibrahim said BN government doesn’t even insist on a licence for the contractor./// – #2 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL

    Don’t know how many votes BN has secured through the help of this contractor even before GE 13 is due!

  4. #4 by k1980 on Thursday, 21 October 2010 - 2:44 pm

    New Palace @ RM935 million

    Why not build one for each of the 14 states?
    Cost only RM935 million x 14 = RM 13.09 billion
    Slighty more than PKFZ’s stolen RM 12.5 billion

    Since melaka has declared itself a developed state, the federal govt should stop channeling funds to it and concentrate on the less developed states. Also promote the melaka cm to detupy pm since he is so capable at developing backward states into ‘developed’ ones

  5. #5 by cintanegara on Thursday, 21 October 2010 - 2:47 pm

    //Other speakers on the first-night Wisma Penang DAP fund-raising dinner were DAP Secretary-General and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, Deputy Chief Minister and MP for Batu Kawan, Professor P. Ramasamy, DAP Penang State Chairman, State Exco and MP for Tanjong Chow Kon Yeow and DAPSY chief and MP for Rasah Anthony Loke//

    Wow!!!how can we be sure DAP is a multi racial pary and fights for every Malaysians…

  6. #6 by Loh on Thursday, 21 October 2010 - 4:14 pm

    From the Star: Queen Elizabeth II was not spared the budget cuts.. Total spending would stay at around 30 million pounds for the next two financial years.

    UK is not known to have built any new palace since Malaysia gained independence in 1957. How the queen wishes to be Queen of Malaya instead. RM 935 million is just the bare structures, furnishing might take RM 539 million. I suppose the new palace would also be tourist attraction. Tourists should be made to pay entrance fees. Then the investments would have produced unintended results.

  7. #7 by Loh on Thursday, 21 October 2010 - 4:16 pm

    cintanegara :
    //Other speakers on the first-night Wisma Penang DAP fund-raising dinner were DAP Secretary-General and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, Deputy Chief Minister and MP for Batu Kawan, Professor P. Ramasamy, DAP Penang State Chairman, State Exco and MP for Tanjong Chow Kon Yeow and DAPSY chief and MP for Rasah Anthony Loke//
    Wow!!!how can we be sure DAP is a multi racial pary and fights for every Malaysians…

    DAP does not have to fight for every Malaysians. There only need to fight UMNOputras, and every other Malaysian would have benefited..

  8. #8 by Loh on Thursday, 21 October 2010 - 5:03 pm

    The ASEAN Charter which Malaysian has signed and obliged to act in accordance to a set of principles includes the following two principles:

    1. Adherence to the rule of law, good governance, the principle of democracy and constitutional governance.

    2. Respect for fundamental freedom, the promotion and protection of human rights, and the promotion of social justice.

    If Malaysia fails to act in accordance to the set of principles prescribed in the ASEAN Charter, then she fails to live up to the expectation of members of ASEAN countries, and is thus a pariah state.

    The constitution of Malaysia does not allow government to set rule which charges different price for housing based on the ethnicity of the purchasers. So Malaysia violates the constitution, and hence does not observe constitutional governance.

    The rule that forces non-Malays to pay more for the same housing facilities causes injustice. That goes against the ASEAN charter which demands that the government promote social justice. Injustice to a class of citizens in government policies goes against the principle that demands the government to promote social justice.

    The original Article 153 included in a provision for review after 15 years. But the important provision that it was subject to review was removed after 14 years of implementation, through constitutional amendment in 1971. The constitution allows amendment to itself with 2/3 of the MPs in agreement. Why should Rais Yatim suggest that the government disallow discussion on issue that could be taken up by the parliament? That suggestion violates the principle of democracy and thus the ASEAN Charter. Rais Yatim is an embarrassment to Najib’s administration. How come the senile man is still around?

  9. #9 by Dipoh Bous on Thursday, 21 October 2010 - 5:38 pm

    …our so-called ‘leaders’ never cease to amaze me…..( sorry, off topic..)

    I wonder what other readers’ reactions are when they read SFC’s chief regarding the recent log-jam along the Rajang river.

    ….”investigation has shown that logging has played a minimal part in that disaster” ( SFC boss )

    Even my child ( 10 years of age ) cannot agree that the disaster was a ‘natural disaster’ as claimed by that SFC boss !!

    I wonder why no one has made any comment on that.


  10. #10 by Loh on Thursday, 21 October 2010 - 5:53 pm

    ///Malaysia has enjoyed decades of amicable race relations, but unease has risen in recent years amid complaints by minorities that they endure discrimination because of the affirmative action program that benefit Malays in business, jobs and education.

    The Malay privileges stem from a “national social contract,” drawn up by various races at the time of independence in 1957, which put the majority community on a higher footing in exchange for sharing political power with minorities and giving them citizenship.

    Najib said Malays made a “huge sacrifice” by agreeing to share the country with minorities, most of whom are descended from immigrants who sought work here during British colonial rule in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Malays make up 60 percent of the population, while Chinese account for 25 percent and Indians 8 percent.

    Malaysians should stop arguing about Malay and minority rights, Najib said, adding that history showed how grudges between communities triggered the Holocaust, the Palestinian conflict in the Middle East and killings in Bosnia and Rwanda./// –Najib

    We should ask whether the unease was cause by reaction to complaints made by minority groups who endure discrimination, or was the complainants who threatened to make the situation unease. A country cannot be founded on the basis that some people walk slowly that others could catch up, but persons enjoying handicaps pretend that they have not been able to catch up when in fact they have gone ahead of those who slow down. If the unease is caused by the reaction to complaints then the government in power has not been able to uphold rule of law, since no body directly ask them to give up their personal possession. With regard to a change of government regulations, every citizen has a right to voice his preference. The unease that Najib talked about arises because UMNO who depended on Malays votes chose to play race cards. Najib now extends to Malays his promise that he would be unfair to non-Malays and on the other hand he turn to non-Malays and threaten that there could be racial incidents if those who suffer discriminations are not willing to take it lying down. Najib’s statement is political in nature and it does not amount to democratic governance.

    Nobody in the government now was involved in the preparation of the Malaya constitution. If that was called a social contract, or official contract, or whatever name one chooses to give to signify agreement between parties, any discussion on how it was entered into cannot change the contents of that agreement. The content of Article 153, as stated by the Reid Commission, included a provision for review after 15 years [in 1972]. That whether Malays gave up more to get the agreement was moot. What was certain was had there been no agreement, Malaysia would not have been given independence in 1957. It is unbecoming of Najib to insist that there should be different citizenship in the country when the world do not recognise race as the basis for discrimination.

    Mamakthir’s grandfather only came to Malays in the 19th century. How is it that he could be called bumiputras while others who came then or much earlier to Malacca or Trengganu eight or more generations ago have their descendants called pendatang. Najib’s ancestor came to Malaysia from Indonesia not that long ago, at least not up to eight generations compared to some Trengganu Chinese. Najib is bumiputras as if he formed the so-called 60 per cent. The constitution did not recognise the citizens differently based on the time their ancestors came to this place. Yes, it recognised that somebody needed crutches for 15 years.

    The May 13 was caused by political opportunists impatient to await their turns, and the whole incident of coup d’etat was blamed on community jealousy. If Najib’s reform is on creating seeds of distrust, he needed no effort, after his practice run in 1987.

  11. #11 by johnnypok on Friday, 22 October 2010 - 3:23 am

    Why not use the money to upgrade the living standard of the Orang Asli and all the indigenous people in Sabah and Sarawak?

    Sabah and Sarawak = Fixed-Deposit states, but are treated like prostitutes.

  12. #12 by waterfrontcoolie on Friday, 22 October 2010 - 8:53 am

    To the so-called “Oppositions”, you have been given so much bullets for the coming GE, my only fear is you all will screw it up even befire the battle begins! As much as you are given the “bullets” to fight the battle, so many ” naive leaders” are acting as if this is the one and only opportunity of the “gravy train coming your way”?????? If that is the basic thinking among many of you, well then the cancer permeating through the country for the last 30 years has really done its job. The nation is doomed no matter who leads!!!!Malaysia Boleh!

  13. #13 by passerby on Friday, 22 October 2010 - 10:38 am

    What social contract is he talking about? The nep is supposed to be ended in 1990 but was extended without the consent of the non-bumi. So what social contract is he talking about if the non-bumi is not consulted?

    Go ahead start another May 13 like what your father did. As long as we live, we will never forget the atrocities committed by your father.

  14. #14 by dagen on Friday, 22 October 2010 - 11:36 am

    Jib upped his ante. Kerismuddin bin lembudin waved the keris yrs ago but now his older cousin jib threatened the nation with deaths and bloodshed and crushed bodies and ethnic cleansing if umno should lose in GE13. How irresponsible. How savage. How un-statesman-like. And above all, how very stupid. What a way to shame the nation in the eyes of the world.

    The allah-church firebombing instigation for trouble which jib supported did not take off. The spark was created but no explosion followed. The lost of 2/3 majority in 308 too did not trigger any racial riot, like what dr mamak predicted back in 1999. The scenario is now very unlike 1969. A repeat of may13 (another umno created incident) is very very remote indeed.

    So what we have is a ruling political party who believes in bribing the people for votes, taking full advantage of the people’s plight (e.g. unbearable yearly flood in sibu) to bargain for a deal to remain in power and threatening the people with deaths and bloodshed.

    Wrong move jib. Gravely wrong move.

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