Monday, 30 June 2008

Fascinating Malaysia

The last few days have probably seen the most political activity since the March 8th. First the SAPP drama. Followed by Anwar's latest sodomy allegation, and his sensational 'refuge' in the Turkish Embassy. Then we have the MIC Youth sideshow.

Somewhere in between, we have an undeserving wakil rakyat in Perak whose insulting racist statement leaves little doubt that her intellectual capability is somewhere between that of a block of wood and belacan.

I shall not comment on any of the above for now, let's wait and see what gives. I'm staying glued to Malaysiakini. They seem to be the first to break the story.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Rising Cost, Rising Crime.

Yesterday, I witnessed a snatch theft. I took my car to the workshop, and as I was waiting outside, a customer who had just collected her car, got in, started the car and was probably sorting her stuff when a bike stopped alongside the car. The rider remained on the bike as the pillion rider hopped off, opened the passenger side door, grabbed the woman's bag, hopped back on the bike and they sped off. the entire incident happened so quickly that most people only realized what was happening when the woman screamed. I could not even get a glimpse of the bike's registration plate in time. It was that quick.

The owner of my workshop (near Jalan 222 in Petaling Jaya) informed me later that this was the third time in a week such an incident happened along that road, although the first time one of his customers was affected. So rampant is snatch theft nowadays that just about everyone has been a victim, or at least knows someone who has been a victim.

My mother was the victim of a snatch theft, not once but twice in the span of about a month, right outside our house. Both times, the robbers snatched her jewellery, leaving her scarred and scared of going outside our own home.

I understand that the police cannot stop this crime alone. The public need to be cautious and alert at all times. However, the police do have a larger role to play. They simply have to do more. Increase neighborhood patrols! Install cameras! Perhaps our Rela units can also be re-deployed to neighborhood patrols, reducing their current role in harassing foreign workers, regardless of them being legal or illegal.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

100 Days in Power

The newly elected federal and respective state governments marked their first 100 days in power recently. On one hand, the government of PM Dato Seri' Abdullah has been bogged by questions of defections, internal squabbling, component party problems and most recently, a threat of a no-confidence vote. Well, at least the last one fizzled out to be nothing eventually, for now at least.

On the other hand, many Malaysians were looking eagerly at the Pakatan Rakyat state governments. Quite frankly, in my personal observation, nothing much has changed. A lot was spoken, but few things translated into action. Yes, we have an indian Deputy Chief Minister, an indian State Assembly Speaker, but so what? Has there been any benefit to the indian community so far? How many temples have been allocated land? How many Tamil schools given funds?

Instead, we have our first case of alleged corruption, right here in Selangor. Wow, and it has only been a hundred days! We have pre-election promises quietly shelved in the filing cabinets. Where is the money promised to Selangor residents? Is the free water deal on or off? Has the Kampung Jawa temple been rebuilt? Pakatan Rakyat promised a whole lot of goodies before the elections. Now, when it is time to deliver, all seems quiet.

Yes, I know I will get the usual rebuke that the previous government was also corrupted. I know some will say the indian community didn't get the things mentioned above previously anyway. But THAT is the point. Pakatan Rakyat came to power promising change. What change? Change in the identity of cronies? Change in the bank accounts for corruptions? Talk is cheap.

Monday, 23 June 2008

A Week in Singapore

Dear friends, I apologize for the ten-day break in updating this blog. I was in Singapore attending the Communicasia 2008 Exhibition. Apart from a terribly hectic schedule, I had little access to the Internet. Now to clear the email backlog. Will post new articles soon. ;)

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Price Hikes, Paychecks and Phuket Holidays

The effects of the oil price hike are starting to burn in. Transport companies are charging more. Bus companies are demanding for an increase in charges. Taxi operators are threatening to hike fares, with some already going against the rules and doing it. An increased transport cost means groceries will cost more. Traders start charging more for goods. Food stalls and restaurants charge higher prices. Just about everything will cost a little bit more.

As usual, we will have statements from leaders warning traders not to increase prices. 'Enforcement teams' will conduct 'spot checks' and 'operasis'. The press usually play along. Officers from the Ministry of Domestic Trade will be photographed checking the prices of onions in pasar malams, inspecting mamak restaurants to check on the price of maggi goreng. "Traders who increase prices unreasonably will be punished" the minister in charge would often be quoted saying. In reality, few people know that these enforcement teams can only check on two things. First, the price of controlled items, i.e. rice, cooking oil, etc. Second, they make sure restaurants properly display the prices. That's all. So the nasi kandar shop next door can actually charge you RM100 for a piece of fried chicked, and nobody can do a damn thing, as long as that green board on the wall, usually above the cash counter displays it correctly. Ayam goreng - RM100. That's all they need to do. No minister and no enforcement team can do a thing about it.

So as transport charges increase and traders jack up grocery prices and restaurants charge us more, one thing remains. Our salaries. Most Malaysians, work for a paycheck at the end of the month. Government servants or corporate employee, from engineers to drivers, teachers to policemen, office boy to executive, the salary we receive every month is used to pay for a house, a car, groceries, bills, children's education etc. Hopefully there's a little left at the end of the month for some savings, and perhaps a treat or two. It's this little extra that's always the first to go. But prices will continue to increase. So what happens? Belts tighten. People look for ways to cut expenses. Others try to increase earning. I read with both interest and concern, when the government gave the nod to government servants to take up part time jobs over the weekend. Well, that's one way to cope with increasing prices, sure, but what about quality of life? What about spending time with families? Is that not important too? As I write this article from Sydney, the Australian way of life really impresses me. Even a driver or security guard here would earn enough to lead a comfortable life. Can we say the same for Malaysians? People having to work two jobs to feed themselves is a sign of severe inflation. It's not a sign of a progressive economy, an Asian tiger knocking on the doors of developed nations, aiming to be one among them. No, we have not 'arrived'. In fact we're going backwards.

The Minister of Tourism was quoted in the press saying that Malaysians should consider holidaying locally and not overseas to cut expenditure. We spend billions abroad she adds. Hello, Datuk Seri, people don't have enough money to eat lah, what holiday you talking about? More often than not, those who could afford overseas holidays before the price hike, will still afford overseas holidays after the price hike. They don't belong in the low income category. It's the urban poor, the lower middle class who are hit hardest by increasing prices, not the jet-setting businessmen and holidaying millionaires.

Speaking of holidays, Datuk Seri Azalina asks that we holiday in Malaysia but she as a Minister qualifies for a paid holiday in any Asean destination! That too, only after her perks as a minster have been 'cut'. Before it was anywhere in the world, mind you, when all along we have been promoting Cuti-cuti Malaysia. I don't know if it's just me, but the Prime Minister announcing the reduction in ministerial perks appears to have angered more than pacified the people. Few people probably even knew before this that we've been paying for our ministers to holiday first class in Paris. Now we're only paying for them to holiday first class in Phuket apparently. What austerity! What a sacrifice!

Monday, 9 June 2008

JPA Scholarships - Same story every year!

Year in, year out, same old problem. The scholarship dished out by the Public Services Department, PSD or JPA as more commonly known, is much sought after by top-scoring SPM leavers, to pursue their higher education overseas. There is one serious problem though, the chances of a top scoring Indian student getting the scholarship is just about the same as winning a game of roullete. Every year, it's the same story. Applications sent in, rejections sent out, appeals sent in, politicians make noise, JPA throws some bones, everybody forgets and gets on with life, only to replay the whole thing the following year.

To quote Datuk M. Saravanan, Deputy Federal Territories Minister and MIC Information Chief, and fellow blogger, "Do we have to beg, year in, year out? Do they get pleasure in seeing us beg, then throw us the bone?"

Seriously JPA. Get your act sorted out. 90% Bumi, 10% Nonbumi. Then apparently, 55% Bumi, 45% Nonbumi. Can someone please tell me where the quota system for this came from? When even local university intakes are now supposedly on merit, nevermind that it's our own definition of merit (that's material for a whole different post altogether), who came up with the rule that JPA scholarships are based on a quota system?

Well, I'd like to see one of two things. Either we abolish the quota system, and award the scholarship purely on merit, with a well-published evaluation criteria, OR we stick to the quota system, but since we're at it, split the quota to Bumi, Chinese and Indian. Give 250 places a year to Indian students to study overseas. No need to beg anymore!

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Fuel price hike... Give the rakyat an alternative.

I read it first on Malaysiakini yesterday evening. Well, I guess it's stale news by now. It's going to cost more to fill up. RM 2.70 per litre. As usual, there is the usual 'we're still one of the cheapest in the region' disclaimer. Yes, we are. Not forgetting, 'the new price of fuel is still only half compared to developed countries'. Yes, it is. But then again, not all the countries in the region are net fuel exporters, are they? And the developed countries argument, seriously, our public transportation is hardly third world standard, let alone developed country standard.

I know the hike was inevitable, what with the skyrocketting of global oil prices. I understand the need to reduce subsidies. But at the very least, protect the poor. Don't burden them further. A rebate of RM650 translates to getting to fill up at the old rate for 800 litres. I'm very sure the average Malaysian family uses about double that. So we will almost definitely have to spend more for fuel. The urban poor, will be badly hit, and more often than not, it's these people who have to use more fuel, as they stay further from the city to save on house ownership or rental cost.

An increase in fuel price is only the tip of the iceberg. Absolutely everything else will inevitably cost more due to increased transportation costs. Diesel, mind you, is a whole ringgit more now per litre. More for groceries, more for consumables, more for this, more for that. What I really want to see from this, is more effort to cushion things for the rakyat. Improve public transportation, and do it quick. More busses, more trains, extend the LRT network. Improve feeder bus service. Encourage people not to drive to work, and reward them for not doing so.

I stay in Petaling Jaya and work in the city centre. Getting to work, on time, means having to either drive to work, or take the sardine-packed LRT. Busses are out of the question, as it simply takes too long, having to change busses and all. The infrequent service doesn't help either. To take the LRT, ideally, I walk to the main road, take the feeder bus to the LRT station, and take the train. But I have waited up to an hour before for the feeder bus, so that's a no. So instead, I drive to the train station, park my car in a paid parking area, and take the train. While the train service is frequent enough during peak hours, they simply can't cope with the number of people who have to board them. The result, sardine-packed trains and snaking queues.

Since I have to drive to the LRT station anyway, more often than not, I just prefer to drive to work. It costs more, fuel, tolls, parking and what not, but it's easier. It's going to cost even more now, and while I, like other Malaysian, have the option of taking public transportation, it simply isn't convenient enough. That has to change. The government should not force people to take public transportation simply because of cost. I believe the onus is upon them to really make public transportation a viable option, and I, like many Malaysians will WILLINGLY leave the car home.

Perhaps it's also time to make Petronas' books public. I for one, want to know why as an oil exporting nation, I don't seem to see us reap rewards from high oil prices. I'd like to see Petronas profits used more for the benefit of the rakyat. After all, as tax paying rakyat, we own Petronas.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Multi-racial Acceptance is a two-way street.

The very term 'Racial tolerance' is one that I do not agree with. 'Tolerance' means 'to put up with'. In my view, you only 'put up' with problems or discomforts. I don't see living together in a country with other races as a discomfort or a problem, and I'd hate for others to view living with me or my community in that light.

I would prefer using the term 'multi-racial acceptance'. We accept one another as fellow Malaysian. We live side by side with acceptance of the ways of one another. Or at the very least, that would be the ideal scenario.

That said, reading an article in today's NST disturbed me. Last Monday night, there was a Bharatanatyam performance in Taman Budaya, in Ipoh. Having attended countless bharatanaytam performances, and accompanying my sister to many of her dance performances, I know a thing or two about this art. I definitely know the importance the dancers place to the worship of Lord Nadarajah before beginning their show. It's a very simple pooja, sometimes just a mere offering of flowers, but one deep in meaning and importance.

On Monday's event however, the owners of the venue, the state Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Department, refused to allow this integral part of the performance. Adding insult to injury, they actually showed their 'tolerance' by 'allowing' the prayer ritual to be done backstage, 'to respect the sensitivities of the audience, who also comprised Chinese and Malays'.

Come on! I have attended thousands of fuctions where a 'doa selamat' is said. Is that any different from this? If I went as far as to claim that the 'doa selamat' does not 'respect the sensitivities' of others, would I not be public enemy No. 1? But no, that is not what I have been brought up to say. Because I, ACCEPT the way of others around me. I for one, believe that God is one, and all religions lead to Him.

Sometimes, one cannot help feeling that even if the majority of Malaysians can rise above the trivialities of race and religion, there will always be the one government employee, stuck in the past, who throws the wrench in the works.

An Introduction


My name is Premnath Agamutu. I am the National Information Officer of Putera MIC, the newest wing of the Malaysian Indian Congress.

While I have been blogging for some years now, using an assumed name, I feel it is about time I pen my thoughts, be it political, social or just random rants, and sign off with my own name. Perhaps that would increase the credibility of what I say, and force me to be responsible for what I write.

In a sense, this is a new beginning. In another sense, somewhere, a blog expressing the views of a second-class-citizen comes to a close. *wink wink* ;)