Author Archives: wcw

Think hard before we act

Moderation is key to good sense and judgment. It is always easy to make angry and emotional responses but it doesn’t make Malaysians, especially the misguided ones, any better. 

ON the day when videos of an altercation outside a mosque in Austin Perdana, Johor Baru, went viral, The Star Online quickly reported the unfortunate incident, in a factual manner.

My colleague, a senior editor and a Malay, called me up and asked if it was wise to publish the news online, expressing concern that it might lead to racial disturbances.

I assured him nothing of that sort would occur as I believe most Malaysians are peaceful people and they would not be easily provoked. One thing’s for sure – they will not take to the streets and cause mayhem.

In any case, this is the age of social media and the days of ignoring an incident like this will not work as the video had gone viral.

In this incident, a ruckus broke out after a man in a white car was said to have honked repeatedly outside a mosque during prayer time because his car was blocked by vehicles parked on both sides of the road.

After prayers, a group of men emerged from the mosque to confront the driver. In videos captured by bystanders, some men are seen kicking and hitting the car.

The panicked driver reverses the car in an attempt to escape the crowd, almost hitting a man standing near the car. The men shouted at the driver and then started to bash the rear windshield with a helmet and orange road cone, breaking it.

My Malay colleague – a friend I have known for more than three decades – is an old school journalist and who, like most of us in the less sunny side of our 50s, lived through the May 13 racial riots, although we were in primary school then.

To be honest, this tragedy has not haunted us but it’s a baggage to us journalists, nonetheless. Two-thirds of Malaysians didn’t live through it, which is a good thing really.

The occasional May 13 threat by racist groups no longer work. No one pays any attention to them although their remarks are irritating and downright offensive.

Most of us are more upset that their statements, often bordering on sedition, escaped the consequences of the law. Even more upsetting is perhaps that national leaders are not rebuking them and this gives the impression they are endorsed.

But like my colleague, I, too, take a very cautious stand when it comes to matters of race and religion because they need to be handled with care and sensitivity.

Social media like Facebook and YouTube, and the emergence of news portals, has made it difficult for better approaches in dealing with such issues.

Some younger Malaysians blindly, if not stupidly, post comments on their Facebook page without much thought to the feelings of others.

They, sometimes, assume that their views are just read in private, forgetting that they have in fact opened their accounts to the public in their eagerness to gain followers.

So, after the recent altercation, we read of accusations and offensive remarks being hurled against Muslims, in a sweeping manner.

As much as the driver’s girlfriend was angry and emotional as he was assaulted, she ought to have restrained from making it worse. As the saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right.

Likewise, there were some defensive Muslims who reacted in an equally outrageous manner, accusing those who sent out the video as wishing “to tarnish the image of Muslims” and of course, they too, called the Chinese names, also in a sweeping manner.

To be fair, many other Muslims expressed bewilderment at how their fellow Muslims could go berserk and attacked others, when they should be calm and reflective after having just spent time with God. Surely, pious Muslims would not resort to violence outside a place of worship.

And non-Muslims would know by now that on a Friday, it is wiser to avoid the mosque areas because of the traffic congestion. In the case of the non-Muslim driver, he may have forgotten. But this was a very unfortunate incident.

He had simply acted unwisely as continued honking is highly provocative in any place and often leads to anger from others.

He could have waited, or asked for help via the mosque.

Muslim worshippers have themselves told me how they had faced difficulties in leaving the mosque area after prayers because of vehicles double parking next to theirs.

And some inconsiderate double parkers even go for meals after prayers, leaving the others fuming.

This happens not just in areas where places of worship are located. Most of us have even seen how some car owners end up stranded when the pasar malam opens.

Some Christian devotees face the same parking problem. Places of worship, especially the old ones, were built without providing parking lots.

If parking summonses were to be issued outside these places of worship, it would help if the police and council enforcement officers carry them out fairly.

The minority must not be given the perception that the majority can get away when they flout the laws. The rules apply to all and no one, regardless of their race and religion, is spared.

That will surely instil a sense of fairness and justice. These are common values upheld by all faiths and as Malaysians, we believe in fair play.

We must give credit to the police for their professionalism. Immediately after the incident, police arrested four men, aged between 21 and 55.

The police said the case is being investigated for rioting under Section 147 of the Penal Code. It has been reported that the police are arresting more people.

The Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, correctly called for calm, noting that “the people must remain committed to their principles and they should not be easily threatened and swayed by incidents that do not reflect the majority”.

Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed also called for calm, saying that a little tolerance would have gone a long way.

The driver should not have honked although his way was blocked by vehicles, he said, while the congregation should not have acted violently.

“The men who attacked the driver could have talked to the driver instead of attacking him,” he added.

I have followed some of the comments posted on a popular news portal and I wonder how these remarks can help in any way, especially in dealing with race relations.

It is always easy to make angry and emotional responses, in its ugly negative form, but it doesn’t make Malaysians, especially the misguided racist ones, any better.

At the same time, our politicians must be mindful that their statements and remarks have a major impact on Malaysians.

The play of racial cards, especially those trumpeting communal rights and making scapegoats of the minority races, will harm the social and political fabric of this country.

It is bad enough that Malaysians have to deal with race concerns but now, we have to deal with those wanting to tear up the Federal Constitution and Rukunegara with demands, in the name of religion, which divides the country further.

Any form of challenge to these religious politicians is turned around and deemed as an affront to Islam, to shut up critics.

I am an optimist. As much as we often get demoralised, and even angry, by certain remarks and actions, I believe most Malaysians are upright, restraint, considerate and moderate.

We shouldn’t let politicians set the agenda. More advocates of moderation must speak up.

Most of us believe in Malaysia and Malaysians.

Malaysia belongs to all of us

THE announcement by an unknown, newly-set up Malay group challenging the citizenship of 1.75 million Malaysians granted between 1957 and 1970 failed to get any traction and rightly so too, as most found it ridiculous.

Most media organisations ignored this racist group, with one writer describing it as being part of a lunatic fringe but it was given a breath of life by online portals and before long, it was discussed on social media.

Frankly, they should not be left unchallenged because what the obscure Barisan Bertindak Melayu Islam (Bertindak) has proposed is downright seditious – the tone of its proposal smacks of racism. Surely, they must be called up by the authorities, including the police.

Obviously, it needs to be reminded that under the definition of sedition and seditious tendency in our legislation, anything uttered which upsets a group of people along racial or religious lines is seditious. The term may be broad but that’s how it goes, people.

Mohd Khairul Azam Abdul Aziz, the secretariat head for Bertindak, reportedly alleged that granting the said status had violated stipulated terms under the Federal Constitution, warranting a review.

And what’s their logic (or the lack of it) here? A flimsy technical argument that “Schedule 1 of the Federal Constitution stipulates the taking of an oath of loyalty before citizenship is granted to a person here”.

He alleged that this procedure, however, was bypassed between 1957 and 1970, enabling 1.75 million people being eligible for Malaysian citizenship during that period.

Oh, come on, please. This body can do better than that, surely? Mohd Khairul Azam further claimed that as this was not done, “we will check whether this process is in violation of the Federal Constitution, and we want to review the granting of citizenship to non-Malays, which were given at that time”.

“This is a legal issue which needs to be brought to court and we want the court to decide,” he reportedly added.

Let’s be honest and upfront here. We know this is complete nonsense. This is undoubtedly a frivolous case, if the group actually manages to bring this matter to court.

What this group is doing is subtly questioning the loyalty of the Chinese and Indians of this country, the people who have contributed enormously to the building of this nation.

The aim is to create uneasiness among Malaysians. It cannot be denied that the suggestion was an insensitive, highly disturbing and provocative one.

Together with their Malay brethren, the Chinese, Indians and those in the minority groups have made Malaysia prosper. We are all Malaysians. Yes, our forefathers came from China and India, and others from Indonesia and the Philippines.

It’s tiring to argue or even to remind some feeble-minded racists of these historical facts as they are completely ignorant or blind to this as a result of their bigotry and racist nature.

Some of them choose to close their eyes to reality, preferring to stoke racial flames to fulfil their ugly agenda at the expense of race relations and the nation’s future.

And all this angry response was over a foreigner – none other than controversial Indian preacher Dr Zakir Naik, who was given a permanent residence status by the Government.

And in an incredible and almost childish response, equally controversial Datuk Ibrahim Ali, who heads the recalcitrant Perkasa and who was present at the press conference, reportedly said: “If you disturb us, we disturb you la,” seemingly as a warning to the non-Malays.

It is amazing how groups and individuals, who thrive on racism in the name of defending their race and religion, could set aside so much of their time and resources on such unproductive activities. They seem to be well funded and given the background of these doltish personalities, surely they can’t have been driven by commitment to some lofty principles.

In an article on the same subject, retired Malaysian diplomat Datuk Dennis Ignatius eloquently wrote that “this is a country where racism and religious intolerance has run amok, where morally and intellectually bankrupt racist and extremist groups masquerade as patriots and righteous men and get away with it.

“It’s easy to dismiss them as part of the lunatic fringe but sadly, they are the cheer-leaders of a deeper malaise that stains our nation’s honour – the acceptance, adulation even, of racism and discrimination as an organising principle.”

He lamented that 60 years after independence, and more than 100 years after the last significant wave of migrants came to Malaysia from China and India, “there are still groups that are offended by their presence, unwilling to accept the ethnic, religious and cultural diversity that has defined our nation from its genesis”.

“They think nothing of welcoming newer migrants from Indonesia, the Middle East, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Bangladesh by the thousands, make them “sons of the soil” and even vote them into high office but cannot find it in their heart to accept the dwindling Malaysian-born minorities in their midst.

“They wholeheartedly defend the granting of PR status to foreign extremists but harden their hearts to those who were born here and have lived here for as long as many of them have.”

Irritated as we may be with such groups, I believe most Malaysians still believe in Malaysia. It’s simple. This is our country. Our ancestors may have come from different parts of Asia but we don’t belong there. We are simply not like the nationals of China, India or Indonesia.

The continuous attempts to make non-Malays the bogeyman, giving the illusion that the majority Malays risk losing their grip on political power is pure hallucination and quite frankly, merely a scare tactic as the general election approaches.

Most Malaysians including the Malays can see that the Chinese and Indian population is dwindling – and fast.

In 2014, the Department of Statistics reported that the ethnic Indian population as at the end of Sept 30, 2014, stood at 1.98 million against the over two million registered foreign workers. There are no Indian majority state or parliamentary seats in Malaysia.

Another report stated that based on current trend, the population of migrant workers may overtake the number of ethnic Chinese.

In 2034, the migrant population would have overtaken the number of Chinese by 7.5 million to 7.4 million. According to the reported projection, the migrant population will make up 24.2% of Malaysia’s population by 2040.

These figures suggest that the Chinese population, the second largest ethnic group after the Malays in Malaysia, will drop to third place after the bumiputra and foreign migrant workers.

The Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute’s (Asli) reported prediction is that the number of ethnic Chinese would drop to about 19.6% of the Malaysian population by 2030 if their emigration trend and low birth rates continue.

The Department of Statistics, however, projected that the Chinese proportion would drop to 20% of the population by 2040 from 24.5% in 2010. The ethnic Indian proportion is expected to reduce by 0.9 percentage points to 6.4% of the population by 2040.

The Bumiputra population, however, is expected to grow by 4.8 percentage points to 72.1% by 2040 from 67.3% in 2010.

The likes of Ibrahim and Bertindak shouldn’t rejoice at such a scenario, if they are rational.

Analyst Khoo Kay Peng has rightly said that the trend of ethnic Chinese emigration from Malaysia will result in a smaller private sector, less tax monies for the Government and a reduced professional workforce.

But there is still reason to be optimistic. The fact that Bertindak’s proposal went nowhere says a lot but as Ignatius noted, it would be appropriate if the national leaders speak up in defence of the minorities when such ugly incidents surfaced. After all, many of these Malay leaders say they represent all Malaysians and not just Malays.

But the stand taken by the Malay ground was not the only regrettable episode. A video went viral, purportedly showing a group of supposedly Indian rights activists inciting a crowd and making clearly racist slurs.

If the translation is correct, inflammatory overtones were clearly made and they, too, deserve to be hauled in by the authorities.

Racial overtones by any Malaysian, regardless of their race and religion, must not be allowed, condoned or allowed to go unchallenged as it would set a dangerous trend.

As we celebrate our National Day in August, we must not allow issues of pre-independence days to dominate national discourse.

These are settled issues and not to be rekindled for political expediency. Malaysia has no place for racists.

Malaysia was founded and built by founding fathers who were all moderate forces and they believe in power sharing because Malaysia remains multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-religious. Let’s keep it that way. This is our country, full stop!

Earn money the old-fashioned way

Scheme or scam?: Multi-level marketing companies often conduct presentations to potential members promising financial freedom and a better lifestyle.

There is no fast track to getting profits or income. Nothing can replace hard and honest work.

IT’s now called the money game but it has been around for awhile, only that it was referred to as multi-level marketing (MLM) or pyramid scams.

There seems to be a resurgence of such scams recently probably due to the economic slow down. While it may be safer to put one’s money in the bank, the reality is that the interest is not that great. It’s the same with unit trust investments.

So, there’s little surprise that many people are attracted to MLM scams, with its huge returns, although they know there’s always a risk behind these schemes (or scams).

These people are seemingly prepared to take the plunge.

New recruits are told to just deposit RM5,000 and stand to gain RM1,000 every month. That’s so attractive – and that is also how one gets sucked into the game.

Imagine this – if there are over 20,000 members and each of them places RM5,000 in the scheme, that works out to a whopping RM100mil collected. The numbers get higher with more members recruited.

And we wonder why there are not many reports made by the victims to the police or Bank Negara Malaysia against these con artists.

I have a relative who pours scorn on his father who works very hard to put food on the table but this arrogant young punk thinks he can make a huge pile of money without selling anything or working for anyone.

Another friend, who declared himself to be mentally-challenged to escape the bill collectors, used to laugh at those studying hard for their exams.

He said although he was illiterate, he would soon make millions and hire graduates to work for him. Of course, he didn’t see his millions.

These people were driven by pure greed, really. Social media is filled with stories of young people making tonnes of money, often living in Dubai, or driving around in gold-plated luxury cars.

Sometimes, famous personalities are dragged in to be part of these advertisements – without their consent, naturally.

Of course, Google and Facebook are not responsible for these fake news and fake advertisements.

The scams include binary option trading which is essentially an unregulated, and sometimes, fraudulent, mainly offshore activity.

Binary option trading involves predicting if the price of an underlying instrument – shares or currencies, for instance – will be above or below a specified price at a specified point in time, ranging from a few minutes to a few months in the future.

Those involve in it receive a fixed amount of money if the prediction is correct or lose the investment otherwise. It is essentially a “yes” or “no” betting, hence the name binary, according to one report.

But that’s another story.

The one that is hitting Malaysians – particularly those in Penang where many scams seem to surface – is the straightforward MLM.

To be fair, there are legitimate MLM businesses. These actually sell products. Members have to sell real products to earn their income, and not sell membership.

You know you are getting into a pyramid scam when they tell you to just put your feet up and get more people to join in.

The MLM is simply about finding new members – or rather, new victims. It is as good as paying you some silly fake gold coins. In some cases, even so-called virtual coins.

You are told that the more members you recruit, you will double or triple your income. The pyramid will come crashing down once no new members are recruited anymore.

But some dubious MLM have gotten smarter. They sell products but they are mostly “worthless” goods like accessories, stones, cosmetics, health and beauty products, among other things. Some sell low-quality health gadgets with unproven scientific claims.

Come on, don’t tell me your home is filled with air purifiers and magic water dispensers? Or you have some lucky charm? Or stones?

According to Mark Reijman, who advocates financial literacy, these MLM use cheap products to hide the fact that members are actually investing in a pyramid scheme,

He said the products are there simply to hide the truth. Members are investing in a pyramid scheme!

“If the MLM cannot explain the source of profits or give details about the technology of the products, or do not permit you to show your contract to outsiders, they are hiding the fact that their product is useless and the profits come from new recruits and not from product sales.

“Be wary when you are asked to buy a large inventory of the product. Don’t fall for ‘patented’ or alleged ‘US technology’ or secret recipes. It’s all smoke and mirrors.”

He advised the public to be on the alert if the product is not sold through regular channels that have served societies for millennia, such as stores and (online) market places.

“If it is such a great product, why can it not be sold through other channels? Perhaps because those channels don’t allow you to recruit new members and they want to protect their reputation against fake or low quality products?”

There is a lesson here – nothing can replace the old fashioned values like hard work and having honest earnings. Greed should be kept at bay.

In short – pyramid schemes are unstable because at every new level it will require more recruits in an exponential manner, as Reijman warns.

Soon, the scam will run out of people who fall for the scam, at which time the payments stop and that’s when press conferences are called by the victims.

Millions lost because of a hacking job? – now that’s something new.

Mind your words, please

The colour orange: Oren refers to the orange colour of the T-shirts that those arrested by the MACC have to wear when they are brought to court.

THE Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has been in the news almost daily with its arrests of politicians and businessmen, many carrying the Tan Sri and Datuk Seri titles.

This has become the subject of conversation among Malaysians.

To help foreigners, especially those doing business here in Malaysia, below is a compilation of terms that are often used to denote corrupt practices. To the clueless, these words could easily be misunderstood.

Worse, it could land unsuspecting expatriates in serious trouble with the law, especially with the MACC, if they use these seemingly innocent terms without realising their implications.

Here’s a list of everyday words and how they are used.

Jalan – this is a Bahasa Malaysia word for “road”. On the surface, it sounds simple and straightforward. Every road sign begins, mostly, with this word to denote, well, road. If only it was that simple. In reality, it could be the beginning of a corrupt offer.

If someone asks you: “You got jalan ah?” It doesn’t mean seeking assistance for a road direction. In the Malaysian context, it probably means “is there a way to resolve a complicated situation?” Some may argue the word need not necessarily be “illegal” as it could also mean finding a clever way out of a problem.

Kabel – the Malay word for “cable”. Cables are strong, thick wires, which are usually twisted or braided together. Well, in Malaysia, it also means someone in position – a very powerful person, often a politician in high office, or a senior government officer, who is able to help secure a big contract or deal. So, if someone asks whether “you have kabel?” you shouldn’t look puzzled or confused.

It simply means you need to have the support of an influential figure who is as strong as a cable. It’s no longer good enough to “pull strings” but you must be able to “pull cable” for your plans to get off.

Lubang – it literally means a hole. Most Malaysians grumble about lubang or the numerous pot holes along our badly maintained roads. The vulgar ones uses this word with a sexual connotation.

But in the more sleazy world of bribery, lubang means an opportunity, usually an illegal way, to make money. It has nothing to do with holes, as the word suggests.

Kau tim – this is a Cantonese word, which has actually become a Malaysian word, used by all races. It means finished, done or resolved. As simple as that.

But it is also a way of expressing agreement, or to settle a problem with bribery. For example, if you are stopped by a traffic cop for a traffic offence, you may say “boleh kau tim ah?” or the policeman may suggest “macam mana mau selesai, mau kau tim kah?”

Lu tak mau kau tim, mesti susah punya. Nanti kena pi balai, pi court.” (If you do not wish to settle, it can be difficult. You may have to go to the police station or even the court.)

Ta pau – I always thought that this Chinese word means to pack food or a take-away, but it has come to mean a greedy corrupt person who wants to take away the entire loot all for himself without sharing with anyone, as in “he wants to ta pau everything, how can? So greedy one.

So, no expatriate who has just arrived in town should go around telling everyone that he wants to “ta pau” everything he can lay his hands on. He can be sure of getting strange, hostile stares.

Selesai – it means to end or the end. It could be the end of a movie, the end of a meal or the end of a relationship. It’s a really simple word but in the Malaysian context of corruption, it means “how to resolve this?” or “it has been settled.”

Usually, the act of corruption will begin with a simple question – “So, macam mana mau selesai?” or “how do we settle this?”. For sure, it won’t be a challenge to a fight or a gentlemanly end to a problem with a handshake. Don’t be stupid. It’s an invitation to begin negotiation for, errr, a bribe.

The English version is also often used, as in “can settle ah?

Lesen kopi – This has to be the Corruption 101 lesson for our young drivers. It is the first step into the world of corruption in Malaysia. Nobody wants to admit it but going by hearsay and unsubstantiated remarks, many Malaysians taking their driving test believe that they need to bribe the examiner in order to pass the very first time. Lesen kopi means bribing to get a driving licence.

So, they earn what is known as “lesen kopi” or licences obtained via corrupt ways, or duit kopi. Small gratification for “coffee” for the testers. Coffee, not tea. Strangely, there is no such term despite our fondness for teh tarik.

It may sound terribly confusing to tea drinking foreigners but please don’t think that this is the reason why so many Malaysians kill themselves or each other on our roads.

Ikan bilis – it refers to anchovies, those tiny fish, usually fried, found in our national food, the nasi lemak. But it also means small fry. So when low-ranking government officers are arrested for corruption, the MACC is often criticised for just going after the ikan bilis and not the bigwigs, known as sharks in the Malaysian context.

Makan duitMakan essentially means to eat. There’s no way, literally, that a person can eat a ringgit note. But it is synonymous with taking a bribe. It may be confusing to a foreigner as it may seem impossible to eat stacks of ringgit notes but this is Malaysia. We are versatile as well as adaptive. Many people will tell foreigners that they are able to, well, makan duit. Can one, who say cannot?

Oren – It’s not orange juice. It refers to the colour of the round-collared T-shirts that those arrested by the MACC have to wear.

This is the dreaded colour for all suspects, in handcuffs, being led to court in full view of the press.

You can be in red or yellow but orange is a no-no. The new term now is “jangan oren” or “don’t be in orange.”

Did the media really misquote you?

BLAME the press – that’s what some squirming politicians do as they fumble after putting their foot in their mouth.

It’s an occupational hazard that journalists have to put up with.

After all, politics does not necessarily draw the most honest, righteous and noble individuals although almost all politicians would put up their hands and vouch that they possess all these values and more.

But anyone without a Machiavellian streak and a tinge of cunningness (a more polite euphemism for dishonesty) is unlikely to survive long in the job. Not even at branch level for most major parties.

Thanks to US President Donald Trump, easily one of the most unpopular persons on Earth, the words “fake news”, which he has made popular, are now being copied here by some of our own politicians or some of their spin doctors.

These words were used in a recent press statement by an Umno politician against the media although the whole thing didn’t sound like it came from him. It was just too “polished”.

Tasek Gelugor MP Datuk Shabudin Yahaya issued a statement which read: “In their reports and headlines, both the local and international media had given the perception that I condone rapists being allowed to marry underage victims to avoid punishment. This is inaccurate and misleading and borders on fake news.”

He went on to say that “it is regrettable that inaccurate media reports had misled the public and caused an unnecessary outcry.”

The media reports he was referring to involved his verbal fiasco while he debated the Sexual Offences Against Children Bill 2017.

This lawmaker, perhaps to save his own skin following the storm he created, tried the age old, tested formula – deny, deny and deny. Blame and intimidate the press.

He caused the outcry and then blamed the press for causing “unnecessary outcry.” Brilliant.

Well, unfortunately for Shabudin, most people have watched the video and could clearly hear and understand what he had said.

For some reason, some of his fans decided to pick on The Star and the reporter who wrote the news item, forgetting that other news organisations, both online and print, all carried similar news.

Of course, that press statement completely omitted the fact that Shabudin spoke about how nine-year-olds who had reached puberty were ready, physically and spiritually, for marriage. To be blunt, ready for sex.

In a face-saving gesture, he also said he was “mulling” taking legal action against the media. He should really thank the media for making him an international news sensation because prior to this, most Malaysians didn’t know of his existence.

We won’t be wrong to suggest that most of us cannot remember a single sentence he uttered at the Dewan Rakyat before this.

But Shabudin has company. He isn’t the only one who has committed such a faux pax. The latest is former Selangor DAP state executive councillor Ronnie Liu.

He posted on Facebook following the open support by Selangor PKR for PAS’ Private Member’s Bill to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act or RUU355, asking “apa ni” (what is this) and that “it is hard when there are friends like this.”

He went on to say that he expected the MCA, SUPP and MIC to bash PKR and that the DAP, Amanah and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia will be “shot.”

It is a predicament that the Selangor DAP and PKR face in the state – the relationship with PAS is strained and the Islamist party is already on the verge of severing ties with PKR now.

But the irony is that, despite the hot air, PAS continues to sit with DAP and PKR every day to run the state government.

It is business as usual. Every week, they all sit together, probably pat each other in the back, in cozy company, as they deliberate the papers at the state executive council meeting.

The crux of the news issue, however one might interpret it, is this: why is PAS still in the state government and why did the DAP support PAS in the 2013 general election?

Liu, in his FB post, said he backed the late PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat then but not the current leader Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang. But is there any difference?

Nik Aziz was committed to setting up an Islamic state and to be fair to PAS, it has consistently stated its goal, and that is the reason for its existence.

Now, Liu is upset with Selangor PKR information chief Shuhaimi Shafiei’s open support for the controversial RUU355.

Liu’s party has a big problem concerning this issue, and he’d better work on this hot potato than distract attention and again, blame the press using Trump’s favourite two words – fake news – against The Star.

The media is not his problem. PAS is, and now PKR is ready to side with PAS and they are all in the state government. No other state has this problem.

And, as what most politicians like to say, Liu is also “reserving his right to take legal action.”

He musn’t forget that the media too has the right to act against politicians who make defamatory statements against it.

Accusing the media of publishing fake news is defamatory.

One Penang journalist did just that recently by suing Lim Guan Eng for defamation over a Facebook post criticising the Penang Chief Minister.

Guang Ming Daily senior journalist Ong Beng Siang filed the suit at the Penang High Court last month, seeking damages and an injunction to stop the Penang lawmaker from making further defamatory statements against him.

Once, a senior Barisan Nasional leader accused me of “deliberately misquoting” him but when I challenged him by playing back the recording of what he said, he put on a straight face and replied: “I may have said it but I didn’t mean it.”

We also know of a political leader, who eloquently champions the freedom of speech and press freedom but openly uses his assistants to bully and intimidate reporters, particularly those from the Chinese media.

He is fond of putting reporters down at press conferences, seemingly irritated by any form of questions that challenge his authority. Yet, he made a career of criticising the Federal Government.

Well, if we were to believe Trump, let’s not forget that prior to the US elections, he repeatedly said that the “system is rigged” and that he was preparing to face the possibility of being defeated and he could not state if he would accept the results.

Well, that rigged system had him win the elections and of course, he accepted it. We have heard similar claims of cheating in the Malaysian elections too but all the accusers have happily kept their seats and states, in some cases.

It’s a love-hate relationship between the media and politicians. Both need each other but sometimes, they loath each other.

Well, the silly season has started and the press is trying to avoid being caught in the crossfire.

YBs, please lend us your ears

IT’S disturbing, to say the least. We have economic issues that Malaysia needs to deal with seriously like the continuing uncertainty in the price of oil, market slowdown and slide in the value of our ringgit which is affecting our country’s coffers.

The cost of doing business has shot up against the backdrop of declining revenue and profits, which worries most Malaysians.

All of us, especially those in the middle and lower income groups, are grappling with the increasing cost of living. The worst hit are the wage earners living in major cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Johor Baru and Penang.

If our elected lawmakers have any idea of what the rakyat is going through, they should be focusing on ways to help ease the cost of living.

Never mind if they have to talk in the Dewan Rakyat till 5am. And to our Yang Berhormats, don’t expect us to sympathise with you, because get this – no one pressured you to be a Member of Parliament. You chose to stand for elections yourself.

But sadly for us, instead of having the chance to listen to top quality debates on ways to help Malaysia find new sources of revenue and not just depend on oil and palm oil, again, we find some of our legislators preferring to channel their energy into religious matters.

Not that religion isn’t a priority for us. It is, but the reality is this: we will never reach common ground.

So, PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang has managed to table the controversial Private Member’s Bill to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act or RUU355, but the debate on it has been deferred. That’s the furthest he gets.

He can keep saying that it will not affect non-Muslims, but the majority of non-Muslims know this to be untrue.

We are a plural society and no one community lives in isolation. Our lives are intertwined and entangled as Malaysians. There’s no such thing as laws that do not affect the entire community.

Abdul Hadi says it isn’t hudud, but hudud is written all over the Kelantan Syariah Criminal Code (II) Enactment (1993) (Amended 2015) and if Abdul Hadi’s Bill is passed, it will only give life to such laws on a national level.

Remember, even a poster of a Bollywood actress pinned up at a watch shop in Kelantan resulted in a non-Muslim shopkeeper being fined because the authorities thought the photograph was sexy. And not to mention the unisex hair salons which have long been penalised.

Abdul Hadi expects us to believe him when he says that non-Muslims will not be affected. And if we go by his “logic”, non-Muslims have no say over the matter.

The majority of Barisan Nasional component parties do not want this Bill – it is that simple – and we are glad that the Prime Minister understands that the coalition operates on consensus.

The fact is that the MCA and MIC have stood by Umno, even when it was at its lowest, since our independence. These are proven friends of more than six decades and not newfound pals who got together because of common political expediency.

Let’s get real. Umno isn’t going to move aside and allow PAS to contest in any constituency in the general election, nor will PAS allow the same for Umno.

Malaysia is a multicultural country founded on the principles of moderation. This is not a Middle East nation, even though the Muslims make up the majority of the population. We should be proud of our unique Malaysian way of life.

I studied Malay Literature for two years in the Sixth Form, sat for the examination (and passed) and when I entered university, I signed up for the Malay Letters Department courses at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

I wanted to deepen my understanding and appreciation of the Malay arts. Not Arab arts. Malays are Muslims, not Arabs.

Over at the august House, even as Abdul Hadi became the focus of attention after tabling the Bill, we had to put up with Tasek Gelugor MP Datuk Shabudin Yahaya, who at one point suggested that rapists be allowed to marry their child victims as a solution to social problems.

He can keep blaming the press, claiming that he was quoted out of context, but there are certain basic remarks he made that he cannot run away from.

You can watch the video recording of what he said a few times and pause at certain parts of the video. It is pretty clear.

A girl who is nine years old may have reached puberty, but is she old enough to have sexual intercourse after she marries? A rational person would say that she is a child and should be in school or the playground with her friends.

This YB has put Malaysia in the international news for the wrong reason yet again (shame, shame) …. and so soon after the Beauty and The Beast fiasco too.

We can only cringe when we imagine what the world thinks of Malaysia. This is not to say that we wouldn’t readily refute any suggestion that our beautiful country is swamped by paedophiles or nutty lawmakers who are apologists for child marriages.

So, in the end, when Parliament found itself running out of time, we will remember this meeting as one where religious issues were the main concern.

As far as I recall, at least from media reports, no one talked about how we could take advantage of our weak ringgit to get more tourists to come visit us and how we could carry this out with limited funds for international promotions. We also didn’t hear how we could boost the soft economy after two years.

Maybe financial and economic matters are just too complicated for some of these MPs, with their limited knowledge. And these are YBs we have entrusted to speak up for us. After all, we put the future of Malaysia in their hands.

For the love of titles

AT the rate some titled Malaysians – especially those with Datuk and Datuk Seri – are getting into trouble, the Prisons Department may have to build a new wing just to accommodate these VIPs.

Over the past two weeks, the number of Datuks implicated in triad activities has also increased and this does not include those nabbed separately by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

The hottest news over the week was undoubtedly the arrest of a businessman, with a Tan Sri title, who allegedly offered RM2mil to the Sultan of Johor.

He purportedly tried to bribe Sultan Ibrahim ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar to secure a recommendation to the King. With the recommendation letter, it would make it easier to get a Tan Sri title for someone.

After all, a recommendation from another brother Ruler would be taken more seriously than that from a politician, who would have to put his signature to lend support to all sorts of requests.

But the Klang-based businessman went to see the wrong Sultan – His Royal Highness certainly doesn’t need the paltry RM2mil. It was downright offensive and insulting to the Tuanku.

What has been happening over the past few weeks only suggests that awards are easily available, at least from one or two states.

Right or wrong, perception is everything. It may not even be factual but many Malaysians believe that titles can be bought. This is certainly not a good thing as it demeans these very prestigious awards.

Malaysians read about other Malaysians who are bestowed such awards and they question if these individuals have contributed anything towards the country or state.

We could argue that these individuals may have contributed quietly in various ways, without publicity.

Then again, we wonder how those with criminal records or those who have been occupants of the infamous Simpang Renggam detention centre for hard core gangsters could still become titled persons.

Surely, a background check is a requirement for vetting purposes or has the police been bypassed in some cases? I’m very sure the police would have been able to carry out these checks effectively and quickly as it merely needs a simple click of the button.

It has reached a point of incredulity or to put it bluntly, a state of scandal. We all want to protect the sanctity of the royal institution, which is so unique to Malaysia.

How would deserving Malaysians who have earned their awards feel when dubious characters secure these awards with ease? After all, respect and honour must be earned.

The Sultan of Johor is right when he said that if one threw a stone, it will hit a Datuk, but the stone will rebound and will hit yet another Datuk.

The Tuanku has done the right thing by bringing to MACC’s attention the case of the individual who attempted to bribe him.

It may be hard to prove the case but the point is this – anyone who is thinking of trying this trick better think twice.

In fact, it is a concern that over the past few years, the number of Malaysians with Tan Sri titles has gone up.

And the media is now receiving the roll of honour late into the night, sometimes just hours before printing time for newspapers. This is pretty unusual.

As trained journalists, it is our responsibility to raise questions as this is unprecedented. Questions like: What could possibly be the complications over a simple list of awards to individuals?

The individuals with the Tan Sri title are also becoming younger. There was a time when such titles were reserved for retired civil servants and these were esteemed individuals who were in their late 60s or early 70s, when they were conferred the titles.

But now, some individuals in their early 50s are holding such a high-level honorific.

None of us concerned Malaysians can do anything about the glut of Datuk and Datuk Sri except the Conference of Rulers.

Malaysians, and even the media, have lost track of how we should distinguish the various honorifics Dato, Datuk, Datuk Wira, Datuk Seri, Dato Sri, Datuk Paduka and Datuk Seri Panglima.

The press has standardised it by simply using Datuk or Datuk Seri but there are increasing calls from recipients to use their titles as given by the respective states.

That’s easier said than done because if this was to be carried out, the media will be carrying daily corrections. The best way is to simply cut down, if not momentarily stop giving out these awards. In reality, the damage has already been done.

Perhaps the media should just consider dropping these titles altogether and refer to commoners as Mr, Mrs or Ms. Just a thought.

Now, it looks like even in the afterlife, there are Malaysians who believe that the Datukship matters – it was reported recently that the paper effigies of a Lamborghini luxury car with a “Dato11” number plate, with ceremonial uniform, medal and sash, were burnt as an offering during the current Chinese All Souls Day (Qing Ming) for a deceased person.

Our young talents, our assets

Filepic: SPM top students in Sabah celebrating their excellence in SPM examination results after the announcement in Kota Kinabalu.

We should treasure our up-and-coming bright minds instead of confusing them and making them feel unappreciated. We want to keep our brains in this country, remember?

IT’S ridiculous, to say the least. Something isn’t right when rules are changed abruptly and top SPM students are not given prior notice. One wonders whether proper thought was given before the decision was made.

It took a Cabinet Minister – Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong – to step in and resolve the hotly talked-about matter with the support of Chief Secretary Tan Sri Dr Ali Hamsa and Public Service Department Datuk Seri Zainal Rahim Seman.

Something isn’t right when a simple education sponsorship programme has to be put right by those at the highest levels.

Rightly or wrongly, the deduction is this: Little Napoleons are at play here, wielding their clout and letting their prejudices and beliefs sneak in, even if it means changing the rules erratically.

Last week, the MCA deputy president successfully got the department to withdraw its new sponsorship programme for SPM students that required them to get straight A+.

This means that if a student took 11 subjects for SPM and scored 9A+ and 2A- or 2B, he is not eligible for the programme. He is only eligible if he scored 11A+.

Dr Wee, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, later noted that the PSD had reverted to its previous bursary eligibility of 9A+ or more.

“The matter was highlighted to me by many … that the JPA had suddenly changed its requirement for the bursary programme, which would only allow those who scored all A+ to be eligible,” he said, using the Malay abbreviation for PSD.

“Thank you KSN TS @AliHamsa & KPPA (Zainal) for taking immediate action in amending the bursary legibility,” he tweeted.

Under the now defunct 9A+ Sponsorship Programme, bursaries were only allocated to students with full A+ for all subjects they sat for in the SPM examination.

At a glance, it seems innocuous but it was totally illogical.

It would have meant that a student who scored all A+ in nine subjects taken would have qualified for a scholarship, another student who took 11 or 12 subjects but scored only 10 A+ would not stand a chance.

Instead of encouraging SPM candidates to sit for more papers and secure more distinctions, PSD would have ended up punishing students for pushing the limits.

The sudden change in rules was announced recently on the PSD’s Human Resource Development web portal called eSILA.

It was a departure from the original condition that full sponsorship be given as long as a student scored A+ in a minimum of nine subjects.

As expected, the surprising move caused an uproar among students, parents and teachers, as it affected the 2016 SPM scorers who thought that their application would be subjected to the condition in the old programme.

No proper or convincing explanation was given for the sudden change and because of that, there was suspicion, speculation and even allegations of foul play.

The new condition, if it had been carried out, would have affected the number of students taking up Chinese and Tamil language, and also Bible Studies subjects in future examinations due to fears that their chances of getting the scholarship would be affected.

Chinese language and Bible Studies are regarded as the most difficult subjects to score an A in.

In the long run, it would discourage students, parents and even schools from allowing candidates to sit for these papers.

Can anyone be blamed if they suspected the plan – to only allow SPM students who obtained straight A+ to be eligible – smacks of discrimination?

Many students are relieved and grateful that the new programme has been scrapped for now.

But the entire episode has also left many feeling let down by a system where fair play is seemingly overlooked.

The latest SPM results for students who sat for the examination last year were released on Thursday.

It was reported that there were fewer candidates who achieved straight A+, with only 102 getting full scores compared to 163 the year before.

It is not immediately known how many of these students took more than the minimum nine subjects.

Dr Wee revealed that the change in condition was never discussed by the Cabinet.

In short, it was the decision of some bureaucrats who took it upon themselves to implement this new plan.

Such flip flop decisions, which Malaysians are now quite familiar with, put the civil service in a bad light.

One needs only to do a little research on Google to understand the pattern of decisions on bursary programmes.

In 2012, the Government announced that all 1,609 students who obtained 9A+ and above in the SPM examination in 2011 will be automatically offered the Education Ministry bursaries for local pre-university courses.

The students were clearly told previously that they would be eligible for local or overseas scholarships for their tertiary studies from 2014 onwards if they met the required criteria.

Malaysia needs to encourage, recognise, support and keep our best young talents in this country. Make the best rule work to keep the best.

Much ado about a moment

Unkind cut: With Disney refusing to allow a four-minute snip to its adaptation of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, Malaysians aren’t sure if they will get to watch the movie on the big screen. — AFP

Seriously, we should be more worried about having dangerous criminals, IS wannabes, racial bigots and the corrupt in our midst who are more likely to tear this country apart than a scene in a movie.

HERE’S a piece of surprising news: Disney’s latest release, Beauty and The Beast, is currently showing in Brunei, a conservative country which has imposed strict Islamic laws. Yet, the movie, with its much talked-about “gay moment” was actually approved without a snip over there.

It is unlikely that the authorities in Brunei were not aware of the controversy over the purported “moment” in the movie.

The film is currently showing at the tiny kingdom’s Cineplex in Times Square while the 3-D version is being screened at Empire.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim majority nation, has also allowed the movie to be shown without cuts with the condition that it is only for those above the age of 13. This is apart from Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey, Bangladesh and Dubai.

But over here in Malaysia, we have to cringe in embarrassment over a decision to snip the scene, which has again propelled Malaysia in the world news for the wrong reasons. The latest news is that Walt Disney has filed an appeal with the Home Ministry over the decision.

Till now, Malaysians aren’t sure if they will get to watch the movie on the big screen.

If there is any consolation, a cinema in Alabama, the United States, has refused to screen the movie and has also made international news.

Disney has chosen to pull Beauty and The Beast from the Malaysian cinemas rather than comply with the request to cut four minutes of footage that supposedly involves the “gay moment.”

News reports have quoted Malaysian Censorship Board chairman Datuk Abdul Halim Abdul Hamid as saying that the film was approved with a P13 parental guidance classification with a “minor cut.” That classification means that an adult must accompany any viewer under the age of 13.

With due respect, if it involves four minutes of editing as reported, then it is hardly a minor cut. Four seconds is minor but four minutes isn’t, let’s be real.

The board may just be doing its job but it’s an exercise in futility, really. It is absurd and a complete waste of time in the digital age, to put it simply.

Even a seven-year-old knows how to download a movie or look for these gay moments on YouTube and adults who are computer illiterate will just buy a pirated DVD.

Surely, no one is convinced that moments in the film which depicts homosexual characters or emotional confessions are enough for Malaysians to embrace the gay culture.

If the board’s logic is to be believed, then the cinema audience would emulate the violence they watched on the screens. We should then ask if we should just ban these movies as it would have influential impact.

In the 130-minute long film, the character LeFou, sidekick to the villain Gaston, is said to have expressed affection for his macho and egoistic boss and also dances with a man at a ball.

Honestly, most of us will get to watch any part of the movie in private and really, there is nothing anyone can do about it.

And now, those who had no intention of watching this remake of the classic cartoon will want to watch it. Thanks to the decision of a few powerful people on the board who decided what we can or cannot watch in our cinemas.

It would have been better if the movie was approved but with an 18+ rating, which is suitable for only the mature audience, applicable for movies with elements of violence, horror, politics or counter culture.

Even in Russia, a country known for its strong, even violent actions against gays, the authorities have allowed the screening of the movie albeit with a 16+ rating.

Singapore has also approved the movie by giving it a PG rating, meaning it is deemed suitable for all ages, with the caveat that parents are advised to accompany their children.

Against this backdrop of incredulity in Malaysia, there was a voice of reason from Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz.

Not many of our ministers dared to speak up against the tide of religious conservatism that seems to be affecting the country.

Nazri plainly described the blanket ban on movies based on a character or scene as ridiculous, saying that the movie had to be looked at in its entirety before a ban could be imposed against it.

He reportedly said that the presence of such characters in the film would not influence young children to consider delving in homosexuality.

“All these years, even without the homosexual character in the Beauty and the Beast, there have been homosexual people in the world. I don’t think it is going to influence anyone.

“We need to think, we must allow people to decide for themselves. There are stories about murder and by law, that is wrong, but do you ban it in a film? Where do you draw the line?” he told the press last week.

Nazri expressed support for Disney for being firm in wanting to screen the entire movie without edits.

Malaysia does not condone the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) culture but we should be more worried about having dangerous criminals, religious extremists, IS wannabes, racial bigots and the corrupt in our midst who are more likely to tear this country apart than gays.

For most of us older Malaysians, the word “gay” simply means “happy” and it is definitely not a word to describe a sexual preference although it is commonly and universally used for that these days.

And given the horrendous decline of the English language in Malaysia, we hope no one gets offended if many of us say we choose to be gay most of the time.

Stand up for our Malaysia

Prickly ties: The North Korean flag flutters in the concertina wire fenced North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. — Reuters

This is the time to put our differences aside and let North Korea know that it has no right to trample on our national integrity – or our kindness

IT is important for Malaysians to stand together as a people and a nation in the current diplomatic stand-off with North Korea.

This is the time to put politics aside. This is the time for all of us to stand up and let the North Koreans know that we will not accept an open murder, even if it involves one of their own, in our country.

They have openly trampled on our national integrity and spat on us following an insane, high-profile murder in a country which has been nothing but extremely friendly to them.

No country has given them free visa entry. They, however, used it as a loophole to gain easy access into Malaysia to commit a murder instead. And one involving Kim Jong-nam, the exiled half brother of the regime’s leader Kim Jong-un.

They showed how much they didn’t value the long friendship with Malaysia and instead chose to violate it. Surely, this is not a friend we need. And if this friendship were to continue, it could no longer be the same. This is not a country we can trust anymore.

While we have patiently put up with the bizarre plot, they crossed the line when they decided to keep our Malaysian Embassy diplomats, staff and family members under house arrest in North Korea.

House arrest is an understatement here, really.

To put it bluntly, they are holding our fellow Malaysians hostage. Obviously, they want something in return.

There are 11 Malaysians in North Korea – two United Nations staff members, three with the embassy and the rest their family members.

But on Friday, the North Koreans allowed two UN workers to leave the country. It looks like a change in tone, in yet another case of their yo-yo style diplomacy.

It appears an olive branch of some sort has now been extended with a diplomatic note sent to Malaysia but no one can tell what is next.

As nothing is unconventional and unpredictable, as far as dealing with North Korea is concerned, should we even be surprised that no family member has come out to claim the body? Presumably, it is out of fear on the part of his next of kin.

It’s already been a month since the murder at the KL International Airport 2 and the body still lies at the mortuary.

Although the Indonesian and Vietnamese women have been charged with murder, (they were said to have used a deadly substance to smear Jong-nam’s face and it killed him almost immediately) the North Koreans who plotted the murder have fled.

There has been suspicion that one or two others could be hiding in the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

Earlier, a high-level North Korean delegation arrived in Kuala Lumpur with three objectives – retrieve the body of Jong-nam, secure the release of their citizen from police custody relating to the murder and develop friendly relations with Malaysia.

The approach taken by the delegation was a far cry from the harsh stand taken by North Korean ambassador Kang Chol, who accused Malaysia of colluding with Pyongyang’s enemies in investigations into the murder.

But just as we thought the case was winding down following the decision to expel Kang, the reclusive communist country retaliated by doing the same. Fortunately, we recalled our Malaysian ambassador earlier but now, they have decided to bar our staff at the Malaysian embassy in Pyongyang from leaving the country.

Like most Malaysians, I find this very disturbing and insulting. We cannot accept such fabricated stories against our police force – their tales of threat to make sure they remain alive when they return home.

This is the time we need to stand up, support our government for what they have been doing and are doing.

Yes, we could have handled things better, coordinated better and avoided contradicting statements on this issue but I support the statements made by our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, his deputy Datuk Seri Dr Zahid Hamidi and Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman.

Now is not the time to look for faults with the “we should have done this” arguments.

We have now entered a delicate situation where we need to re-assess our way of dealing with them, with the well-being of our Malaysians there in mind.

Malaysia is dealing with a country that does not respect human rights.

No, I rephrase – we are dealing with a country that does not respect human lives.

This is a ruthless regime headed by a leader who did not even blink when he had his own uncle executed in a most unimaginably brutal manner.

This is a man who ordered the murder of his half-brother and a month later, fired off ballistic missiles across the seas.

Do not expect North Korea to understand the meaning of gratefulness.

In August 1997, The Star launched a campaign to raise funds when the hermit country was struck by widespread famine.

As winter approached, it became even more imperative to provide food to the 2.6 million North Koreans who were slowly dying of starvation.

The Star stepped up with the North Korean Sall Fund, a three-month fundraising campaign to buy food for the famine victims before winter (sall means rice in Korean).

From August 1997, the newspaper spearheaded a campaign that reached out to both members of the public and corporate bodies, with articles highlighting the urgency of the crisis.

The campaign inspired a series of donation drives and fundraising events, the collections from which were channelled to the Sall Fund.

By October 1997, Malaysians, via the campaign, raised over RM12mil which was handed over to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to buy food for the North Koreans. It was a record sum.

But when we asked to see how the funds would be disbursed, together with the Red Cross, we were denied permission to even travel to North Korea.

They didn’t want The Star to be there after all we had done for their people. What The Star did was done in the true Malaysian spirit of giving, something which comes so naturally to us.

It was a painful lesson for most of us – and a grim reminder that the North Korean regime lives in a world of its own.

This is the time to keep the Malaysian flag flying high and to stand united to face this crisis as one people.