Sunday, May 30, 2010

Last Word on Subsidies

Today’s newspapers continue to talk about the subsidy issue. We have been told that Malaysia is one of the world's highest subsidized nations, spending RM74 billion last year. We were also told that the government has been giving the subsidies to the wrong income group. The poor, the target group for the subsidies, only got RM1.7 billion of the RM74 billion. Subsidies for fishermen were the smallest at RM200 million. Now, tell me, as I cower in severe embarrassment, whose fault is it? Shouldn’t the government shoulder the blame for not doing anything all these years?

Contrast this against other beneficiaries – students (RM30.8 billion), consumers (RM22.9 billion), companies (RM18 billion) and other groups (RM400 million). Okay, I can accept that we may need to assist students – education is important after all to develop and grow human capital – but what about the other groups? Do you realize that consumers and companies’ subsidies add up to a massive RM40.9 billion – these represent 55.3% of the total subsidy bill?

But at the risk of repeating myself – my fourth, actually – let’s not solely look at subsidies. There are leakages where hidden costs lurk that we should eliminate first.

Government bailouts between 1970 and 2007 totaled more than RM100 billion, the most recent being the RM4.6 billion Port Klang Free Trade Zone (Webpage
http://cpps.org.my/resource_centre/Corruption.pdf, accessed May 30, 2010).

The authoritative World Bank had estimated that the cost of corruption to Malaysia could be in the vicinity of RM10 billion per year, an amount that is equivalent to 1% or 2% of GDP (Webpage
http://biz.thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2010/5/17/business/6265327&sec=business, posted May 17, 2010). You'd better believe this! Even the always-under-fire MACC had once claimed that up to 60% of government allocations – running into billions of ringgit – meant for vital infrastructure projects in Sarawak between 2002 and 2008 have been misappropriated (Webpage http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2009/11/29/nation/5204180&sec=nation, posted November 29, 2009).

The annual Auditor-General’s Reports typically overflow with startling accounts of gross mismanagement of government funds. Kindly permit me to narrate just three examples and they are by no means, unusual or even remarkable. The 2002 report highlighted Yayasan Melaka, a foundation fully-owned by the state government to provide scholarship for poor students, purchased a door for RM25,000, toilet and floor mats worth RM11,000 and 25 designer briefcases worth RM38,750 among many others without calling for tenders or supporting quotations. Altogether, the foundation was found to have breached financial procedures in spending a total of RM639,423 (Webpage
http://www.malaysianbar.org.my/index2.php?option=com_content&do_pdf=1&id=11432, accessed May 30, 2010). The 2006 report highlighted the National Youth Skills Institute (under the Youth and Sports Ministry) project where a car jack that cost RM50 was bought for RM5,700, a digital camera that cost RM2,990 was bought for RM8,254 and RM1,146 was paid for a set of technical pens with a market price of RM160. The ministry was alleged to have spent RM8.39mil on equipment for its National Youth Skills Institutes (Webpage
http://omong.wordpress.com/category/sauditor-generals-report/, posted October 12, 2007). The 2008 report highlighted Kolej Kemahiran Tinggi Mara Balik Pulau in Penang paying RM42,320 for a laptop (Webpage
http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2009/10/22/nation/4953964&sec=nation, posted October 22, 2009).

Please, let’s get our facts right! Don’t just blame it on subsidies!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Let's Get Talking

The Shaklee Family Toastmasters Club celebrated their tenth anniversary today and I went to their Anniversary & Installation Nite. Nine tables in total, with good attendance from their members, other Toastmasters and even non-Toastmasters guests. It’s great to know that my friend, Vincent Soon is the incoming Vice President Public Relations 2010-2011. And there are also the familiar faces that came to this bash: SK Ratnam, Emil, Jamila, Choi San, Zaharah, Francis Ng, Ramdas and others. Not forgetting our District 51 Governor, Ritchie Chong came too. And what’s more, a band was playing and I found out that they were students from ICOM (the music college I was working for before I joined HICT).

I was reading today’s Star and came across this interesting article titled “Let’s get talking”. There’s this growing belief today that the most widespread and pervasive learning in an organization doesn’t happen in a training room, conference room or boardroom, but in the hallway, by the water cooler or at the hawker stall across the street.

Alan Webber wrote about the importance of conversations in his Harvard Business Review article: “The most important work in the knowledge economy is conversation”. Where information is the raw material and ideas are the currency of exchange, he explains, good conversations become the crucible in which knowledge workers share and refine their thinking in order to create value-added products and services.

Most organizations don’t think this way. There is still a subtle expectation for leaders to tell everyone what they need to know in a formal meeting and view other conversations as idle time.
It is not unusual to hear a leader say, “stop talking and get back to work”. The underlying belief is that conversation takes time away from the more “important” work of the organization.

According to Matt Rawlins (The Star, Metro Central, May 29, 2010, p 1), research on communication has discovered that talking – the network of conversations – actually catalyzes action. Healthy conversations are vital for good performance in the long run.

We could say that an organization is nothing more than an ongoing conversation among those who have agreed to work in a common direction. The growth, health and maturity of the organization could then be gauged by the quality of the conversations going on in it.

With this in mind, a leader’s responsibility is to develop core processes and infrastructure that facilitates and develops the capacity of those in the organization to have healthy conversations. Besides, the art of conversation is a skill shared by most successful people.
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Now this should be a good topic for conversation!

Can the BP Chief Executive Survive?

Idris Jala has certainly woke Malaysians up! I don't think even the dead will be resting in peace! But his clarion call to cancel subsidies will not be heeded unless we look at the big picture of how this swelling national debt came about in the first place.

Already, I am hearing murmurs of discontent. Even The Malaysian Insider yesterday drew our attention to Malaysian economists expressing disquiet over this subsidy issue. As I have said, it’s not just subsidies, but other concerns that need to be effectively addressed: odious corruption, cavalier government spending, ruinous government inefficiencies, crippling cronyism.

Former Finance Ministry deputy secretary-general Dr Ramon Navaratnam said “It will be a big mistake if the subsidy issue is regarded in isolation of overall planning and management of economic policies and management”. He called for a review of the whole structure of the economy and not look the reduction of subsidies in a piecemeal manner.

RAM Holdings chief economist Dr Yeah Kim Leng came out to say that subsidy cuts will only work if government implements them as part of comprehensive fiscal reforms to ensure efficient and effective government spending. “[There will be] a substantial reduction in our outlay if the government can exercise more prudence and less wasteful... spending,” he said. “That has to be included as part of these subsidy reforms”. He argued that if subsidy cuts were implemented outside of broader fiscal reforms a “big portion” of the public will believe the government administration had prioritized wrongly.

Lee Heng Guie, chief economist for CIMB Investment Bank, also said spending reforms are needed if the government intends to manage public expectations. “Tackling subsidy alone is not good enough... What we require is greater openness in the government expenditure program including plugging leakages in expenditure,” he reiterated. “Expenditure leakages (are) a progressive problem that has an impact on the overall economy”.

And he offered us a good suggestion too. He said the government has to be “holistic” in tackling debt and suggested the government implement a more broad-based consumption tax as part of revenue reform.

I don't want to be smug about this, but I know this would happen sooner or later. But isn't it weird that it is a non-politician in government, Idris Jala, who raised this bankruptcy issue? Where is Koh Tsu Koon? Or Ahmad Husni? Muhyiddin is infuriatingly silent. Najib made some small noises, but that's about it. Let's hope Idris won't be the fall guy! Hahahaha, that would be really funny!

I am reproducing today’s story taken from UK’s The Independent:



When the 'Today' program presenter Evan Davis picked up the line to a Florida-based oceanographer yesterday, he only wanted to get the latest on the environmental effects of the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. But in an astonishing display of public contempt for one of the energy industry's biggest players, his interviewee stunned Davis with his own line of enquiry.

"Listen, now that I have a knowledgeable British person on the line, could you just clear something up for me?" Professor Ian MacDonald asked. "This Tiny Hayward person, this head of BP, is he a lord or a duke or a knight? My knowledge of aristocracy is pretty vague".

MacDonald went on to suggest that "Tiny" must be "very important" because of his "astonishing" attempts to play down the true scale of the spill and its effect on the Louisiana coastline. "So where does he sit in your firmament, Lord Tiny Hayward?" MacDonald asked.

The exchange, and MacDonald's willful mispronunciation of Hayward's name (he persisted with “Tiny" even after a shocked Davis put him right), revealed the growing volume of scorn being poured on a man suddenly cast as US enemy No 1 – the boss of an oil giant that stands accused of complacency in the face of ecological disaster.

The Gulf of Mexico crisis began on 20 April when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, operated for BP by a contractor, suffered a catastrophic blowout that killed 11 men. The accident has since led to a spill that may go down as the worst in history.

Corporate crises don't come much worse than that facing BP after this titanic oil spill, and now everybody’s asking the question, Can BP chief executive Anthony Hayward survive? Your guess is as good as mine.

Image credit: The Huffington Post: Louisiana Oil Spill 2010 Photos

Friday, May 28, 2010

Another Suicide

Coming back to Idris Jala’s reckless statement about Malaysia's potential to going into a financial meltdown – he had said that the government would focus on big ticket items such as fuel, electricity and toll to achieve the savings. DAP’s Lim Kit Siang was right to point out that Idris failed to focus on the biggest ticket items – corruption, mismanagement, extravagance and lack and accountability.

“When corruption, mismanagement, extravagance and lack of accountability cost the government from RM10 billion to RM28 billion a year, what credibility has the government to talk about slashing subsidies affecting the rakyat when it has nothing to show to end the rampant and worsening state of corruption, the gross abuses of power and public funds like indiscriminate issue of APs and various forms of ‘piratisation’ in the name of privatization?” (Webpage http://blog.limkitsiang.com/2010/05/28/najib%e2%80%99s-qualification-instead-of-endorsement-of-idris-jala%e2%80%99s-warning-that-malaysia-could-become-next-greece-and-go-bankrupt-unless-it-saves-rm103-billion-in-next-five-years-to-reduce/).


Photo credit: http://www.spiegel.de/fotostrecke/fotostrecke-55314-7.html

Taiwan labor activists today staged a protest against Foxconn, with dozens of demonstrators rallying outside the Taipei headquarters of the parent company, Hon Hai, unfurling white banners and laying flowers to mourn workers who fell to their deaths at factories in China.

"We urge Hon Hai to respect life and to stop its inhuman and militarized treatment of workers aimed at maximizing profits," said organizer Lin Tzu-wen

Foxconn workers spoke of long hours, harsh supervisors and very low pay. One 21-year-old employee from the southern province of Guangxi told the South China Morning Post how she worked 12-hours a day, six days a week. "The atmosphere inside our workplaces is so tight and depressing that we're not allowed to speak to each other for 12 hours or you'll be reproached by your supervisors," the employee was quoted as saying (Webpage
http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia-pacific/2010/05/201052685433973378.html, posted May 26, 2010).

These deliberate deaths are continuing. On Wednesday, another Foxconn worker fell to his tragic death at the Shenzhen plant – the eleventh suicide this year – just hours after Foxconn chairman Terry Gou said he would do what he could to save lives (Webpage http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20100528/wl_asia_afp/chinataiwantechnologyfoxconnsuicidedemo_20100528120100, posted today).

Malaysia in Financial Distress?

Yesterday, I made my first visit to the Ireka Toastmasters Club and at their meeting, I took on the riole of a speech evaluator for their third speaker. Thanks to Soo Ling for the kind invitation. For an in-house club, their members are certainly enthusiastic, enlivening and effervescent. By the way, I also emerged Table Topics winner, even beating G Sivalingam, District 51 Table Topics first runner-up champion! I was delighted. Anyway, a great meeting was had here.
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Idris Jala, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department had ominously predicted that Malaysia would become bankrupt by 2019 if the Government debt continued to grow by 12% per year – meaning that unless we do something, our debt will equal our GDP (The Star, May 28, 2010, p N4). With our national spending unabated and a debt situation that is alarming, isn't this a possibility? Hmmm, didn't I said something to that effect some time back?
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Of course, what he was also trying to say was that Malaysians must learn to live without subsidies. Malaysia will save RM103 billion over the next five years if we do without subsidies now. This has a hollow ring to it because it was the Government that liberally gave out subsidies in the first place. And Idris Jala is right – if the Government makes this decision to do away with subsidies, it will be “the most unpopular decision the Government has made since Independence”.
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I bet that in the end, the Government will not eliminate subsidies totally – instead they will reduce them gradually, but there will be some subsidies still in place. They don't have the guts to quit subsidies altogether.
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Another point to note is that it is not only subsidies that we should eliminate. More worryingly, it is Government expenditure that has ballooned tremendously. Wasteful projects contributed much to this debt situation too. Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua also referred to subsidies to "crony companies” like independent power producers (IPPs) and toll concessionaires (ibid). The debts are coming to haunt us, and we should thank BN for what they have given us.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Suicide Factory


Certainly, things must be gravely amiss when I learn of the suicides of 10 young workers at Foxconn plants in China this year. Media reports have sensationally referred to this super-secretive Taiwanese company as the “Apple suicide factory” although Foxconn Technology as the world's largest contract maker of electronics, counts among its products Apple iPods, Dell computers and Nokia phones.

Last Tuesday (May 25), 19-year-old Li Hai became the latest victim of the suicide surge, jumping to his death from a Foxconn building. Police said Li killed himself after working at the plant for only 42 days, the official Xinhua News Agency reported (Webpage
http://www.timeslive.co.za/world/article470276.ece/Apple-suicide-factory-opens-to-press, posted today).

This particular suicide is the ninth at Foxconn's gargantuan plant in Shenzhen, which employs more than 300,000 people. Another suicide occurred at a smaller plant in northern Hebei province in January.

And don’t forget those who jumped but didn’t die! Foxconn had admitted that it managed to prevent a further 20 attempts this year thus far (Webpage
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/china-business/7763699/Protest-at-Chinese-iPad-maker-Foxconn-after-11th-suicide-attempt-this-year.html, posted May 25, 2010).
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Labor activists say the string of suicides back up their long-standing allegations that workers toil in terrible conditions at Foxconn. They claim shifts are long, the assembly line moves too fast and managers enforce military-style discipline on the work force.
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But Foxconn insisted that workers are treated well and are protected by social responsibility programs (I wonder whether they actually know the meaning of 'social responsibility') that ensure their welfare. The Shenzhen factory is perennially a popular place to work, it seems. Around 8,000 people apply to work at the factory every day, Foxconn spokesman Liu Kun told the state-run China Daily newspaper (Webpage
http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/i-promise-not-to-kill-myself-apple-factory-workers-asked-to-sign-pledge-20100526-wddd.html, posted today).
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Stung by persistent media scrutiny, Foxconn was compelled to take extraordinary measures – I would perhaps even consider them bizarre. Workers had reportedly been told to sign letters promising not to kill themselves and even agree to be institutionalized if they appeared to be in an "abnormal mental or physical state for the protection of myself and others". Nets were also reportedly being hung around buildings to deter suicidal employees.
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This technology company, part of Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. has defended their practices and founder Terry Gou who arrived in his private jet on Monday said he was not running "blood and sweat factories". How does he know? Perhaps, he should roll up his sleeves and spend a full day at one of his factories?

Anyway, to me, there are only two ways to look at this issue. First, that Foxconn attracts suicidal workers. Or second, workers become suicidal when they work at Foxconn. Now when I put it this way – it is easy to see things in the proper perspective. Therefore, Apple and the rest should know what to do to stop this “lemming syndrome” before more deaths occur. I am not holding my breath for Foxconn to do anything right since their indifferent management has permitted this to happen in the first place. Don’t we value the lives of our fellow human beings? Or are their lives not worth anything at all? What have we come to that we allow these to manifest in this day and age?

Najib's Bribery Attempt

Last evening, HICT Toastmasters met but again, I did not attend. This was the second time I missed their meetings. Regrettably, I had meetings too – but not with Toastmasters – that take precedence!

Najib Razak’s “I want to make a deal with you” pronouncement – promising millions in community aid in return for votes for BN candidates – is not hearsay. Hear Najib yourself! Is there no shame?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bear Hug

I was reading The Sun’s editorial today and I quivered with embarrassment to know that Hasmy Agam, the executive chairperson of the Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations (IDFR) had disclosed that Malaysian diplomats abroad “are often rendered tongue-tied and speechless when they come face to face with foreigners” (p 12). Then how to represent Malaysia? Malaysia’s cause in this globalized world is certainly not well served by sending officers of the type described by Hasmy abroad or even to interact with foreign representatives in the country. Malaysia can talk with other countries only through its officials but if its officials cannot talk because of poor command of the foremost international language – English – or because they are shy how can it find out important unpublished details about another country. My recommendation is to enroll these fellas in Toastmasters Clubs immediately – for sure, they will improve!

I received this photo that explains why Malaysia’s No. 1 badminton player Lee Chong Wei lost to China’s Lin Dan in the recent Thomas Cup 2010 Finals! Rosmah Mansor (Najib’s wife), who is the BAM patron had given Lee a (suffocating) bear hug – just before that crucial first singles. No wonder the latter lost in straight sets (17-21, 8-21), all because of severe oxygen deprivation!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

38-minute AGM

This evening I was at the Joint Meeting between Taman Indrahana and Crystal Toastmasters Clubs and I was the speech evaluator for KK Ng, who was doing his first Advanced-level speech. It has been something like 7-8 years since he last made his prepared speech and I salute him for his stellar courage and newfound determination.

Taman Indrahana DTMs Dominic Joseph and LeAnn Tang were teasing me for daring to mount a challenge against Irene – they said they wished they had been in Miri to witness this momentous event. They were surprised that the votes I had garnered were more than respectable. Today's meeting also saw the club organizing its AGM and the quorum was happily fulfilled when twenty-three members attended. At exactly 38 minutes, it was the fastest AGM I had seen in a long, long time – and I was elected Vice President Education 2010-2011.

Youth Entrepreneurship Questionnaire

Yesterday, I returned from Miri – knowing I have made friends from Penang, Miri and elsewhere. And looking forward to the District 51 Semi-Annual Convention in October.

This morning, I had a meeting with the others and we finalized the questionnaire, which we will begin to distribute from tomorrow onwards. This is for our research paper for Singapore’s SMU conference on Entrepreneurship. I commit to work toward getting at least 100 completed questionnaires. In my future postings, I will just refer to this group as Sheila Cheng's Research Group.

The Sun heralded more gloomy news about Sime Darby. Shares of the Malaysian conglomerate fell as much as 6.2%, hitting a 10-month low, on fears Malaysia’s No. 2 company by market value may have to set aside more money for potential losses at its energy division (May 25, 2010, p 15). And share prices are likely to stay depressed for as long as the internal probe is continuing.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Stephen Fernando

On all three days, the Convention unveiled a host of activities – some were really interesting and some were just plain boring. Of course, besides the elections, the highlights were the International Speech and Table Topic contests.

For the International Speech contest, it was a strong field of speakers – and in the end, Stephen Fernando (left) won. I thought he deserved to win because his message was simple yet meaningful. I could relate to him. Still, I thought first place was a close fight between Stephen, Shanker and Christian – in the end, the first two speakers came first and second respectively. Christian wasn’t placed though – I suspected he was disqualified. Dennis Wee spoke well if I compared his performance to his practice speeches, but he just wasn’t good enough. Perhaps, I heard the speech so often that it didn't affect me at all.

The Table Topics contest was won by a non-KLite. I had to admit that she was a class above the rest.
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I actually found the dinners (on Friday and Saturday) to be yawn-inducing – I am not into big functions, but I put on my best smile nevertheless. Well, except for the Welcome Nite, where there was an interesting Toastmasters version of the Hairspray musical – I was content to just focus on the food. At least, there was also good company – Toastmasters friends from KL Advanced, Taman Indrahana and others. And I met Chan Weng May whom I have not met for quite awhile – she evaluated many of my CC speeches when she visited HICT Toastmasters meetings last year – and Foo Kit Lian, who was my student from Nilai College, and now a Toastmaster.

Whatever my misgivings, I did believe the Convention was a memorable experience.

Vote for Change, Vote for Victor Ong

On the morning of May 21, 2010, after registration – I moved around and introduced myself to as many Toastmasters as I can. Lots of people I didn’t even know. I was really uncomfortable with being a “politician” – doing my rounds to fish for votes. And I didn’t quite know who the delegates were and who weren’t. After twelve minutes, I decided to just forget it. I wanted to enjoy this convention – why should I spoil my fun? This was to be the last time that District 51 existed as a grouping of Toastmasters Clubs from 3 countries: Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. Once the convention was concluded, there will be two groupings: District 51 consisting of just Peninsular Malaysia and District 87 consisting of East Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. And in the end, I decided to put aside my campaigning, and went ahead to get to know fellow Toastmasters.
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The AGM was held on that afternoon itself, and I had Lorna Fisher (KL Advanced) to propose me as the floor candidate and Ismail Omar (IEM) to second the proposal. I was nervous and tensed. Anyway, when my turn came to give the 2-minute speech – I gave voice my aspirations and hopes for Toastmasters Clubs in Division B and telling the audience that I represented change. My poster said it all: Vote for Change, Vote for Victor Ong.



When the vote counting took place, I trailed Irene by a mere 5 votes – but since Irene secured only 122 votes – a second round of voting was called. She needed 123 votes to win. In the second round, I could only muster 103 votes against Irene’s 116 votes – she needed only 113 votes to secure victory. And so I lost. Well, it was a good fight; I had nothing to regret. Yes, I was disappointed but I was determined to enjoy the rest of the programs in this 3-day Convention. And so I pushed this loss out of the window of consciousness and let it plunge into the deep recesses of my mind, hopefully to stay permanently hidden. It was an unforgettable Saturday – for me anyway!

By the way, Hakim easily beat Mandy (the nominated candidate) for the Division P Governor position. Good for him!
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And by the time I went to bed, I was already mentally and physically exhausted. Still, I could recall that I dreamed. A happy dream.

Miri Toastmasters Club Meeting

On the 20th evening (i.e. Thursday), Geoff Andrews, Henry Fu and myself attended the Miri Toastmasters Club meeting. As is the norm for Toastmasters meetings anywhere – we got to meet great people and we immensely enjoyed the meeting.
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One particular person whom I was delighted to meet was Yusuf from the Maranatha Toastmasters Club in Bandung, Indonesia – and believe me, he was frank with his remarks as the General Evaluator. I also happened to believe that an honest evaluation is important in a Toastmasters meeting and we should not attempt to sugar-coat our feedback – in case, we become obese with the many sweet words being generously offered to us!
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I took the opportunity to meet up with members of the Penang delegation to seek their support for my candidacy. If I was to win, I knew I had to have the support of Toastmasters delegates elsewhere, as I could not just depend on KL delegates. I already knew that two of my Clubs would not support me – this fact alone illustrated that I faced an uphill battle for votes.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Miri Convention

Today, I left for Miri, the venue for the District 51 Annual Toastmasters Convention. It has been close to ten years since I last stepped foot into Miri. This is my first ever Toastmasters Convention and I am filled with much enthusiastic excitement. I am really looking forward to this event. What's giving me a big adrenalin rush is the fact that I am going to challenge Irene Lee as the floor candidate for the Divison B Governor. Many have said it is foolhardy for me to contest against this lady, who supposedly had a formidable cadre of loyal supporters – but I want to go for it! I do believe that it is time we see a change here in KL, specifically in Divison B. And I am that change agent.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Change or Perish

This evening, I went to attend the MSCPMP Circle Quarterly Forum 2 – organized by Asia ICT Project Manageemnt – where I gave a 20-minute talk titled 'Change or Perish" to a dedicated audience of about 185 Certified PMPs (or Professional Management Professionals). It took me two days to develop the PowerPoint slides but it was worth it! I must thank SK Khor for inviting me to this forum.

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And in Bangkok, the government finally resolved to act. They brought in the firepower. Troops stormed the barricades. And the Red Shirts capitulated.


Email Bombardment

I am grateful that Foong Weng Tuck, Chan Siew Peng, Francis Chiong, Lee Sai Keong, Shireen Ng, Nancy Liew and other Toastmasters for making statements of support. This evening, a fusillade of emails were directed at the same targets. And early tomorrow morning, the last cannonade of emails will be launched. This rapid-fire burst of electronic messages over an intense four days will hopefully turn the tide in my favor. I am keeping the faith and I am upbeat.
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Najib who received a slap in the face by the Chinese community in Hulu Selangor, was also obliged to turn the other cheek as the Chinese in Sibu abandoned SUPP. Yet, Chua Soi Lek, MCA President had the cheek to say that BN is still relevant to the Chinese (The Sun, May 19, 2010, p 2). Gosh, this guy is really deep in self-denial! Why don't the MCA just go away or better still, just disappear permanently? They don't seem able to take hints!

Email Blitzkrieg

Again, yesterday, I was at the PJ Hilton Toastmasters meeting and two HICT Toastmasters (and their friends) joined me. Vincent Tong did his CC speech # 3; as for me, I took on the role of a Table Topics evaluator. In fact, this meeting was well-attended – there were 21 of us there to ensure that this meeting was another resounding success..

Also a second email blitz took place late last night, followed by a third bombardment early this morning. I am earnest about giving my best shot. Special thanks to Mathew Varughese and Mike Cheang for organizing a determined assault on the District 51 electorate. I am serious about wanting to bring change in Division B.
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On the left is a photo of another candidate whom I had the privilege of meeting at last week's D'Utama Advanced Toastmasters Club meeting. She spoke well and she impresses! Her name? Sue Chan, DTM from Penang. She will be up against Francis Ng, DTM to vye for the position of LGET. Yep, Francis has got a fight on his hands, a tough fight at that!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Floor Candidate

Last evening, I was at the KL Advanced Toastmasters meeting, and it was nice to have notable Toastmasters like Jon Tan, SK Ratnam and Hakim Hamzah in our midst. Also, we had 3 non-Toastmaster guests – whom I believe will all sign up to become members. As is usual, I played a role, and I was the Ah Counter this time around. Oh yes, I must not forget Dennis Wee who was again making his contest practice speech for the umpteenth time – we all wish him well, of course, given that he has been putting in loads of time and energies to "perfect" that winning speech. But I was already bored stiff with listening to his speech. This time I gave him feedback – since we did have an open evaluation – and I told him that his oft-rehearsed speech lacked spontaneity in the delivery. I also told him that I could not feel his message and that he was unable to reach out to me, to engage me, to "awaken" me. Anyway, that was how I felt – but, then what do I know? For the International Speech contest, I didn't even make it past Division level, so I shouldn't comment!
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Yesterday, Mathew fired the first broadside by sending emails to groups of Toastmasters (notably the Presidents and VPs Education) to let them know that I will be declaring myself as a floor candidate for the Division B Governor in the upcoming Miri Annual Toastmasters Convention. I am really an underdog because I will be pitting myself agaisnt the well-oiled machinery of the sole nominated candidate - but if I am doing this for democracy, and in the process, rejecting elitism –well, we shall see how I fare in Miri! I suppose I should not worry too much about the outcome – it is not about winning or losing – but rather, the TI values that I subscribe to, that compels me to participate in the District 51 elections. I will fight the good fight!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Well Done, DAP!

The DAP won the Sibu parliamentary by-election, when their candidate Wong Ho Leng won the three-cornered fight with a 398-majority vote. Wong, who is also Bukit Assek state assemblyman, garnered 18,845 votes against BN's Robert Lau Hui Yew, who polled 18,447 votes while independent Narawi Haron only collected 232 votes. Despite the small margin of win, at least DAP is able to wrest this seat from BN.
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In the March 2008 general election, BN's five-time MP and Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Robert Lau Hoi Chew won with a 3,235-vote majority in a three-cornered fight beating Wong and Lim Chin Chuang of PKR. He obtained 19,138 votes against Wong's 15,903 and Lim's 812.
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While many of us are happy with this win - this is only the beginning of a long journey to win votes in Sarawak. Still, it demonstrates that the BN use of the checkbook will not impress unhappy voters!
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Oh yeah, I forgot to thank those who sent their Teachers' Day greetings to me today! Nice to know students remember this day.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Strange Bedfellows

Politics makes strange bedfellows. So are we surprised that after five days of talks, the Tories and Lib Dems consummated a power-sharing deal at Westminster? I wouldn’t be surprised if many people are choking on their own vomit! Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader and now Deputy Prime Minister had urged his voters to "keep faith with us". Ah-huh. Clegg had also said that since joining Tories in Government, he had found a ‘core set of common assumptions and aspirations’ which the two parties shared. Now that’s a load of bull.

The parliamentary arithmetic supposedly made a Lib-Lab coalition unworkable – but did the Lib Dems try hard enough? Did they try in the first place?

I predict this UK government will not last long. Unless the Lib-Dems sacrifice their ideology. After all, power can corrupt!
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When heavyweight Sime Darby broke the story of their troubles – this has the immediate effect of spooking Bursa Malaysia when their shares traded broadly lower Friday, May 14. Market breadth stayed mostly in the red while the headline index, the FBM KLCI was also in negative territory throughout the trading day before ending nearly eight points lower at 1,339.3. Sime Darby’s own stock dropped 4.6% to RM8.25 on active trade. What to do lah – we are talking about a whopper of a company that is Sime Darby!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Malaysian Economy Rebounds Strongly

Newspapers here have been making a big deal about the Malaysian economy recording a 10.1% growth in the first quarter of the year – it was the highest quarterly growth in a decade. Well, I am also pleasantly surprised with this breathtaking performance. But I must also express caution. It’s only one quarter – even though International Trade and Industry Minister, Mustapha Mohamed said he was confident that the high economic growth could be sustained (Star, May 15, 2010, p N16). Well, we shall see. It is worth remembering that this stunning growth is also because the economy contracted last year. So when we compare year on year, we will surely see a cyclical rebound. And The Star is being very patronizing when it headlines on page N16 – “Full marks for Najibnomics”! Oh, please!!!! Don’t cheapen your newspaper! Oops, I forgot. The MCA owns this paper – no wonder lah! Every chance they get, they will cozy up to Najib. Kindly spare us this silliness lah – it’s not appreciated.

And the latest news on Benjy. He was again charged in the Magistrate's Court here on May 12 with two additional counts of possession and self-administering of methamphetamine or "syabu" two months ago. Magistrate Hafizza Sauni had set August 18 to 20 for trial. Benjy pleaded not guilty.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Sime Darby Bleeds

Today’s The Sun has this for a front-page headline “Sime’s RM964m headache” referring to the shocking and profuse bleeding of this Malaysian conglomerate. I wouldn’t even call it a headache – more like a brain hemorrhage! In any case, Sime Darby Berhad’s board had asked their president and group chief executive Ahmad Zubir Murshid to take a leave of absence – nearly 6 months before his contract expires on November 26 – following massive cost overruns and project losses at their energy and utilities (E&U) division.

A work group set up to review the losses (arising from its oil and gas projects in Qatar and Sarawak’s Bakun hydroelectric dam) at the division estimates a negative impact of RM964 million on Sime Darby’s results for the second half of the current financial year ending June 30, 2010 (FY10). Assuming the entire amount is provided for in their books, it would mean that Sime Darby could potentially chalk up a marginal loss in their third-quarter results to be announced on May 27.

The Sun also mentioned that there could be a potential additional cost of RM450 million attributable to the group in the results of the current financial year (p 1).

Against the backdrop of RM1.113 billion of profits for the first half of FY10 chalked by Sime Darby, this is bound to have an unwelcomed impact on the Malaysian economy.

Interestingly, is Ahmad Zubir the only fall guy to take the rap? I would venture that the entire board, including group chairman Musa Hitam should take responsibility for this colossal spread of red ink, and that they do the honorable thing and resign.

I am sure as more news unfold – the public will be properly entertained with dark and delicious tales of managerial incompetence and negligence.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Zeal and Zest

This evening’s Toastmasters meeting was exceptionally well-attended. Thirty-eight Toastmasters and guests came to the meeting, bringing along with them lots of zeal and zest. Certainly D’Utama Advanced Toastmasters Club is well-recognized for almost always organizing energizing meetings.

But I wish we do not have invited speakers to come – unless they are of direct relevance to members. Besides taking away the Table Topics slot, these speakers invariably tend to begin marketing whatever it is that they are involved in. Take this evening. A Denise Tan was supposed to present a 30-minute talk on “We know we have to be creative, but HOW?” As far as I was concerned, only one slide addressed this topic – and even then, with little explanation on the points raised. The rest of the time was spent on showing us the same video clip three times and to get us to participate in two exercises merely to illustrate this concept of creative mathematics. Obviously, she started this company and so, her talk was a sales pitch – well, it sure sounded like one! About the only thing that I remembered was the claim that kids are smarter than adults - this program that she was promoting was actually meant for primary schoolchildren.

And the Toastmaster of the Evening, Ken Wang was lackadaisical in the performance of his duty. He didn’t introduce the role players, he didn’t inform the meeting of changes in the agenda, he didn’t have the speech titles, and he didn’t even invite the evaluators to read out the objectives. I could only wince with embarrassment.

Perhaps as he said, he had been away for far too long – five years, he claimed – the prolonged absence produced a poor performance that didn't reflect well of an Advanced Club.

I was the General Evaluator and I couldn’t save him even if I had wanted to.

On a brighter note, I discovered this gem of a video clip that captures a Sixth Grade recital performance of “Paparazzi” by an extremely talented Greyson Michael Chance. His stunning piano performance could even “teach Lady Gaga a lesson”, it was purportedly said. Anyway, anything that is even remotely related to Lady Gaga and I will surely feature in my blog! And so, this boy wonder who bangs out the piano ballad while his classmates look on in shock and awe, mouths agape – has even gone viral. As at the time of writing, this YouTube video clip has gotten more than 8 million views!

Christmas Comes Early to Sarawak

It is noteworthy to mention that in the Star yesterday, a BN component party leader, Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) president Dr James Masing was lamenting the fact that the interests and welfare of the bumiputras living in the outskirts of Sibu in particular seemed to be neglected. Any sensible person can see that Sarawak suffers from unequal and lopsided development. Masing had highlighted this longhouse that is about 150 meters from the Sibu-Selangau trunk road, which was lined with electricity cables, but did not have electricity itself (p N6).

Then today, it was reported by The Malaysian Insider that Najib had handed RM15 million in financial assistance to Chinese schools as part of his attempt to win the Chinese votes. Wah, we got so much money for him to give away meh?

I just don’t get it! Rural Sarawak urgently needs investments in infrastructure – yet in this particular by-election campaign, the urban voters (read, Chinese) are set to benefit! When we consider that in Election 2008, the late Robert Lau Hoi Chew of Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) retained the seat for BN with the help of Malay/Melanau and Iban voters who form about 33 per cent of the constituency’s 54,695 voters – it clearly demonstrates that the non-Chinese vote has now been taken for granted, and that BN is shamelessly wooing the Chinese. Obviously, this is vote-buying at its most vulgar – it is no longer about sincerely giving aid to communities that are in genuine need. Is Najib so desperate to win? Cannot the Chinese in Sibu see beyond this obscene hypocrisy? Will they stand firm on the salient principle that votes are not for sale? Shouldn't the MACC go after the bribe giver?

West Side Story in KL






I was fortunate to be invited to catch West Side Story – The Original Broadway Musical at Istana Budaya yesterday evening. This is a gritty modern-day retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – actually the setting is in the mid-1950s and the musical explores the romance between Maria and Tony, members of two rival, race-based gangs (one representing native-born New Yorkers, and the other immigrant Puerto Ricans) in New York City. It supposedly boasts a New York cast and crew of more than 70 members.

This world-acclaimed award-winning production has been described as a musical with a “soul-stirring storyline, riveting choreography and unforgettable soundtrack” – having played to sold-out houses all over the world. And for the very first time ever, it is making its only Southeast Asian debut in Kuala Lumpur as part of its 50th Anniversary World Tour.

So did I enjoy the show? Yes, a resounding yes! And the company was super-fabulous too!
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But if I attended West Side Story, it also means that I would have missed another much-anticipated show, "Legacy" in our very own HICT Auditorium! So, Zechariah, I am sorry for being absent yesterday, but I am sure the show went spectacularly well.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

In the Year 2300

Today, Sheila Cheng (now with Asia e University) submitted an abstract for presentation at the Fifth SMU EDGE Conference in Singapore. Organized by the SMU EDGE Interest Group-Lee Kong Chian School of Business, Singapore Management University, this conference embraces the subject of Entrepreneurship, and the theme is “Bridging the Gap: Entrepreneurship in Theory and Practice”. Like last year’s conference paper that I was involved in, this is also a collaborative effort involving Dr. Cho-Cho Wai, KY Leong, myself and of course, Sheila.


A solar eruption is captured from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory – AFP Pic

Well, it would seem that sooner or later, we will have to pay a heavy price for the longstanding abuse that we have inflicted on our planet. Climate change could make much of the world too hot for human habitation within just three centuries, research published in the US-based Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and released May 11, 2010 showed.

The study conducted by scientists from Australia’s University of New South Wales and Purdue University in the US – which examined climate change over a longer period than most other research – looked at the “heat stress” produced by combining the impact of rising temperatures and increased humidity.

Researcher Professor Steven Sherwood said there was no chance of the earth heating up to seven degrees this century, but there was a serious risk that the continued burning of fossil fuels could create the problem by 2300.

For a person like me who cannot take the heat (and I mean this in a literal sense!), I am glad I won’t be around then!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Penang's Speaker's Square

I was the Grammarian at this evening’s Taman Indrahana Toastmasters meeting. I was delighted that the word of the day that I had chosen (i.e. ‘rejoice’) was used by 50% of the 24 attendees present – which is something to rejoice about!

The Speaker’s Square at Penang’s Esplanade is a great initiative! The Penang government deserves to be congratulated for promoting freedom of speech. Still freedom is not absolute, and one has to be responsible. In any case, the police have already armed themselves with video cameras to record the speeches of those who air their views there. I don't think it is for posterity, but whether it is intimidating or not, that is something else, I suppose. Hey, this is Malaysia and not Hyde Park, London! Speaking days and times are every Wednesday and Sunday from 6 PM to 10 PM. Penangites are so fortunate, are they not?
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But I am thinking that Penang-based Toastmasters should seize this opportunity to do their speeches here – perhaps a speech a day? Wouldn't that be great? Any Toastmaster who is up to the challenge? If I am in Penang, I would!

Japanese Commercials

I am covering Lesson 5 The Global Cultural Environment this week with my INT/MKT433 class. And I am highlighting to my students that Japanese advertising is well… different! And culture has got a lot to do with it! Here’s a sample:

Don't you agree that these commercials are funny, weird, or even off-the-wall?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sarawakian Crocodiles


I was just reading this Malaysian Insider report and started to imagine crocodiles running amok all over Sarawak – well, they have been running wild all this while actually! DAP’s Lim Guan Eng said to laughter from some 50 Iban villagers who attended his talk at the Rumah Rassau longhouse that “this state has timber, oil but unfortunately there are a lot of crocodiles also,” – as the Penang chief minister toured two rural Melanau villages and an Iban settlement an hour’s boat ride from Sibu. “You see for yourself who catches the crocodiles, who have been protecting them,” added Lim in reference to corrupt government officials. Lim has been busy campaigning in the Sibu parliamentary area in a valiant effort to thwart the might of the BN election machinery. We will see if the Chinese in Sarawak are in sync with the Chinese in peninsula Malaysia – I don’t see why not!?


And finally the last of the EPL matches were played – and Arsenal and Liverpool produced mixed results. The former beat Fulham 4-0, while the latter drew 0-0 with Hull.

So now that the football season is over – all my three teams that I support didn’t fare well at all. Celtic is first runner-up, Arsenal is second runner-up and Liverpool, well… the less said the better! Dare I hope that the next season is going to be better for these three clubs? Yes, I do! I DO, I DO, I DO!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Hishammuddin's Sexist Blooper

On Saturday, Hishammuddin Hussein was in London and telling Malaysian students there that “chit-chat” among women have exaggerated the level of street crime in the country and caused fear among the public! Now is this brilliant or what? I am very tempted to borrow his brains – my arse is on holiday, that’s why! Hishammuddin has just proven to all of us that he is a real dumbass!

As Women’s Aid Organization’s executive director, Ivy Joisah said: ‘To downplay street crime to women’s idle chatter is infuriating and demeaning. Perhaps the minister needs to take a bus, walk to the shops and cross a street to understand how frightening it has become”.

PKR’s Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar said the minister’s utterance was an insult to women in the country, and that it “…showcases that (the) government is at a loss of the real issue which is the problem of trigger happy police and structural reforms that needs to be implemented. These are serious issues which needs to be considered and is no joking matter”!

The Malaysian Insider reported this today – Mother’s Day, of all days! – for sure, this Hishammuddin statement is a slur on all Malaysian women! Is the Minister of Home Affairs always this stupid or is he making a special effort?

Celtic scored a 2-1 victory in their final SPL encounter of the season against Hearts. Robbie Keane, wearing the captain's armband on what was surely his last match for the club, netted with a trademark strike after 23 minutes. Marius Zaliukas leveled in the 37th minute for Hearts, expertly turning in a Craig Thomson corner, and China midfielder Zheng Zhi sealed the win for Celtic with a superb 61st-minute volley from 16 yards out.

Sibu By-election

The impending Sibu by-election – May 16 – will be a battle for the Chinese vote (making up 67 percent of the electorate), where politics revolves around people and development, but also about big business and family connections. Many political commentators have been saying that Sibu will be the sounding board for the bigger battle ahead (i.e. state elections due next year). Additionally, BN is banking on Sarawak as its “fixed deposit” in the next general election. Besides, the outcome in Sibu wil have implications for other Chinese-majority areas like Miri and Kuching.

This by-election pits SUPP’s Robert Lau Hui Yew versus DAP’s Richard Wong Ho Leng. I shall overlook the third candidate who is standing as an independent. To be sure, Lau’s campaign is going to be one well-oiled machinery. Besides getting the overwhelming BN support, Lau belongs to one of the wealthiest families in Sibu. His family’s business, KTS Trading began with timber and has since diversified into all kinds of investments from hotels and travel agencies to speedboats and instant noodles. Of course, the DAP is the underdog, given the firm grip on power that BN component parties (PBB, SUPP, PRS, etc) have over Sarawak.

This is not to say that DAP doesn’t stand a chance! SUPP is seeking to regain the Chinese mandate after a less than stellar performance in the 2006 state polls when Sarawakians “sent six rockets to make noise” in the State Legislative Assembly!

Let me permit Muhyiddin Yassin, our Deputy PM to put in the last word(s). He was quoted to have said in the Sunday Star today (p N4) “I admit that Barisan Nasional still needs to do much more (for Sarawak and Sabah)”. Enough said!

A Traffic Light Coalition?

UK is going to be in a state of flux in the next one week or so because of this hung parliament predicament. If the Tories still cannot clobber a deal with Nick Clegg (and the Lib Dems), the latter already urged by senior figures in his party on Saturday to back a "traffic light coalition" with Labor, Green and smaller parties, will have a much better chance with Labor and the others, I should think. I find the Lib Dems interesting because they have been advocating electoral reform by insisting on proportional representation rather than the present ‘first past the post’ system. First-past-the-post systems are often criticized as being unrepresentative as they do not necessarily represent the choice of a majority of voters only the highest polling candidate(s).

Given that I am also looking to become a responsible Toastmaster club officer – I have started to go to the Toastmasters International website to learn as much as I can – and under “club elections: annual”, it is clearly stated that “A quorum (51 percent of active members) is needed to conduct business (including electing officers). Proxies or absentee ballots are not allowed at the club level” : (Webpage http://www.toastmasters.org/Members/OfficerResources/ClubOfficerResources/ClubOfficerList/ClubElectionsAnnual.aspx, accessed May 09, 2010). I hope what happened at MIMKL Toastmasters Club is an exception – the rule is clear, no creative interpretation is allowed! But then, there will be those who will subject the word 'active" to a different interpretation!
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After all, the AGM is serious business. Below, find photos of the D’Utama Advanced Toastmasters Club AGM held last Friday:


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Scottish Labor Wins

MIM Toastmasters Club of Kuala Lumpur had their regular meeting today – but the meeting was relatively short since it did not have speeches, just table topics only – to accommodate the AGM. There was some concern whether there was a quorum given that officially there were 45 listed members (or as Sai Keong, the President mentioned, "in good standing"). Still, only 16 members turned up and this reflected poorly on the membership – but the meeting agreed that they should use “regular attendees” as a yardstick rather than the official membership total. Here, the meeting defined ‘regular attendees” as members who regularly attended meetings – in this case, the number given by Sai Keong was 20. Hence, a quorum was deemed to exist for the AGM to proceed. I suppose, it is necessary to be creative! Of course, the members kept silent when halfway through the AGM – another two members left. Anyway the President and Vice President Education for the incoming 2010-2011 Exco are Geoff Andrew and Grace Chan respectively.

The 2010 UK elections saw a hung Parliament – no party has the majority. I am more interested to examine the situation in Scotland. Here, Scottish Labor recorded their best general election result, capturing 42 per cent of votes cast and winning 41 seats. It is remarkable that Labor could hold its own in Scotland, despite falling back everywhere else.

The SNP won six seats, taking 20 per cent of the vote. The Lib Dems took 11, capturing 19 per cent. And the Conservatives are in fourth place when they took a 17 per cent vote share or just one seat. Despite their money-no-object campaign, the Tories were massively rejected.

Even the Scottish National Party went backwards. It’s fairly clear that Scotland turned its back on the SNP and Scots Secretary Jim Murphy was being brutally frank when he pronounced that “they have no mandate to claim to speak for Scotland”.
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Scotman’s Gerry Hassan wrote of the significant reverse suffered by the SNP. “The party showed no real strategy” – see how important strategy is! My students had better pay attention in class when I teach Strategy!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday the 13th AGM

D’Utama Advanced Toastmasters Club has got class! As far as I can remember – they have been having their AGMs and Installation Dinners in fancy venues. So this 13th AGM was held in a private room at the Summer Palace Restaurant in Damansara Utama this evening. A delectable 8-course Chinese meal was served and members occupying the three tables were surely well-fed. As for the election of club officers for 2010-2011, the top 2 positions, President and Vice President Education went to Nancy Liew and Peter Siew respectively. Congratulations to these two and may they lead the club to greater success.

Since the other day when I mentioned that frogs’ legs were considered as delicacies, I had become unsettled because I kept conjuring up images of these legless amphibians trooping out of the kitchen door in wheelchairs and on crutches. And then I discovered this cartoon and it struck a chord with me! Talking about coincidence...

The Greek Crisis

I am reading Jagdev Singh Sidhu’s article “Learn from the Greek crisis” in the Star (May 06, 2010, p B2) with much interest. Certainly, Greece has been on the verge of near-collapse – although, personally, I don't believe the EU people will let this happen – because of excessive debt build-up that has grievously impacted the economy of the country. This is something most people, companies and countries would prefer to avoid if possible. Unsustainable debt levels have broken homes, bankrupted companies and crippled a number of countries worldwide.

He writes that “continued debt build-up without finding a solution to minimize and eventually reverse the piling up of debt, no matter for what reason, will extract a high price in the future”.

I am thinking of Malaysia – it is something that the government must also deal with before our financial position gets really out of hand. Our budget deficit is already high. As the columnist highlights, “public debt as a percentage of GDP is now 54%, which is much higher than Indonesia’s 28%”. And to make it worse, we are closing in on the Philippines' 62% – yes, I do believe this is a real possibility!

Of course this scribe is making a case for trimming the subsidy bill. He should know that the government had created this subsidy monster for a broad range of stuff – electricity, petrol, flour, cooking oil, healthcare, education, and the list goes on. It is not something that you can just delete at the strike of a key. As Jagdev puts it correctly, “the removal of such subsidies will have a huge impact on every strata of society”. The fact that with 40% of Malaysian wage earners having an income of less than RM1,500 a month – any price increase or any elimination of subsidies “will evoke the most volatile reaction” (again, Jagdev’s words!). And this is at a time when the cost of living is still tirelessly pushing upward.

And then with Najib being extra generous during by-elections – things are certainly not going to look too good for the country because our money is being spent unwisely, to bribe the electorate.
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Let me end this opinion piece by repeating what Jagdev has said, that “the situation needs to be addressed because continuing the path we are on will spell trouble at a later date”. For me, it will be sooner, if the government is stubbornly reckless, lavish, indulgent, wasteful!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Frogs’ Legs, Anybody?


Live frogs hanging from the ceiling of a kitchen in a street restaurant in Saigon, Vietnam. Photograph: Christine Kokot/dpa/Corbis

Barack Obama eating frogs' legs. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
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Here’s something interesting that I picked up in UK’s Guardian (August 07, 2009): Every year, the French nibble away at 4,000 tons of frogs' legs. But that's nothing compared with the vast number being eaten in Asia, South America and even the US – sorry, no statistics given! Jon Henley wrote here that it's pushing the world's frog population towards extinction and that is why we shouldn’t be eating frogs’ legs at all.

Some foodies insist that frogs taste like a cross between fish and chicken. Henley disagrees, and as he had written: “they taste of frog: in other words, precious little bar the sauce they are served in”.

Talking about frogs’ legs – okay-okay, I will stop eating them – here’s another fascinating news that by chance, I also came across today!


Ecologists have discovered evidence that normally herbivorous water voles, which usually only eat plants, have been gorging on their fellow water dwellers and discarding the chewed up remains in neat piles on river banks – which these scientists use to monitor their eating patterns.

It is thought that the furry rodents, immortalized by Ratty in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, are eating frogs’ legs to boost their protein intake.

The unprecedented trend has been observed by experts from British Waterways – which is responsible for maintaining the 2,200-mile canal and river network in England, Wales and Scotland – during a survey of the Kennet & Avon Canal in the southern English county of Berkshire.

Robert Randall, who carried out the survey with fellow ecologist Oda Dijksterhuis, said: "We found a number of typical water vole feeding areas that were littered with dead frogs, minus their legs.

As a water vole's diet is normally vegetarian, this rather gruesome scene isn't what we'd expect to find at all.

We're not really sure why it's happening, but as the evidence coincides with the water voles breeding season we think it may be that pregnant mothers are snacking on frogs' leg as they lack protein in their diet.

This is incredibly unusual behavior and as far as we know this is the first recorded evidence we have of them eating frogs' legs, so it's a really exciting discovery” (Webpage
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/7681426/Water-voles-develop-taste-for-frogs-legs.html, accessed today).

Celtic Saves Face

Celtic triumphed in their final Old Firm game of the season when they emerged with a 2-1 victory over Rangers in a fiercely-contested match yesterday. Lee Naylor's deflected free-kick (8) contributed Celtic’s first goal, after which Kenny Miller leveled for Rangers (43), followed by Marc-Antoine Fortune's header for Celtic's second goal (45). This is a small consolation to a poor season!

The Sun (May 06, 2010, p 7) reported that the High Court here has dismissed a harbeas corpus application filed by the actor that sought his release from detention. Judge Mohd Sofian Abd Razak said on Wednesday that Benjy's re-arrest on March 25 under Section 3 of the Dangerous Drugs Act (Special Preventive Measures) was valid.

The court was also informed by Senior Federal Counsel Najib Zakaria that Benjy was sent to a rehabilitation centre in Muar, Johor on Wednesday morning under the (indecently hasty) directive of Deputy Home Minister Abu Seman Yusop.

And so, it would seem that Benjy is both a drug addict and a drug dealer after all! But is this the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Sometimes, I really wonder. This latest report is a follow-up on my own blog posting on Benjy on April 03.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Faster than a Speeding Bullet

Yesterday, I met Hakim Hamzah, Area P1 Governor and he had kindly invited me to the UEM Toastmasters meeting this evening. It is actually a joint meeting of two UEM Toastmasters Clubs, i.e. UEM Group and UEM Academy. Fancy meeting both Stephen and Rohijas there! Anyway, the members here are very “new” to Toastmastering and they need lots of guidance and support. Although they have a mentoring system in place – perhaps they should consider external mentors to help out, given their “inexperience”. But then again, this is only my personal opinion.


On May 03, in the Star, there was a photo of Najib holding a couple of cards – one card in particular came from 10-year-old Angela Kong from SJK Tung Hua, with the request “My Beloved Mr Prime Minister, we dream to have a university in Sibu”.

Whatever we may say about Malaysians – at least we know they are fast learners. From Hulu Selangor, to Sibu – the message “Christmas will be early this year!” travels faster than a speeding bullet! And it’s true! I read in the New Straits Times Online today about Najib having already announced that Kolej Laila Taib (formerly United College Sarawak) here would be elevated to university status by 2012 (Webpage http://nst.com.my/Current_News/NST/articles/8wsk/Article/index_html). Wow! I am impressed! Najib deserves an A for positively and quickly responding. If like this, BN will surely win the Sibu by-election, hahaha!