Saturday, July 26, 2014

Israel’s Other War

In the past week I’ve seen and heard the popular statement “let the I.D.F. win” more and more frequently. It’s been posted on social media, spray-painted on walls, and chanted in demonstrations. Lots of young people are quoting it on Facebook, and they seem to think it’s a phrase that arose in response to the current military operation in Gaza. But I’m old enough to remember how it evolved: first formulated as a bumper sticker, and later turning into a mantra. Of course, this slogan is not addressed to Hamas or to the international community—it’s intended for Israelis, and it contains within it the twisted world view that has been guiding Israel for the past twelve years. 
The first erroneous assumption it contains is that there are some people in Israel who are preventing the Army from winning. These supposed saboteurs could be me, my neighbor, or any other person who questions the premise and purpose of this war. All these weirdos, daring to ask questions or raise concerns regarding the conduct of our government, tying our military’s capable hands with nagging op-eds and defeatist calls for humanity and empathy, are allegedly the only thing separating the I.D.F. from a perfect victory.
The second, much more dangerous idea that this slogan contains is that the I.D.F. actually could win. “We’re prepared to receive all these missiles non-stop,” many southern-Israelis keep saying on the news, “as long as we can finish this, once and for all.”
Twelve years, five operations against Hamas (four of them in Gaza), and still we have this same convoluted slogan. Young men who were only first-graders during Operation Defensive Shield are now soldiers invading Gaza by land. In each of these operations there have been right-wing politicians and military commentators who pointed out that “this time we’ll have to pull all the stops, take it all the way, until the end.” Watching them on television, I can’t help but ask myself, What is this end they’re striving toward? Even if each and every Hamas fighter is taken out, does anyone truly believe that the Palestinian people’s aspiration for national independence will disappear with them? Before Hamas, we fought against the P.L.O., and after Hamas, assuming, hopefully, that we’re still around, we’ll probably find ourselves fighting against another Palestinian organization. The Israeli military can win the battles, but peace and quiet for the citizens of Israel will only be achieved through political compromise. But this, according to the patriotic powers running the current war, is something that we’re not supposed to say, because this kind of talk is precisely what’s stopping the I.D.F. from winning. Ultimately, when this operation is over and the tally is taken of the many dead bodies, on our side and theirs, the accusing finger will once again be pointed at us, the saboteurs.
In 2014, in Israel, the definition of legitimate discourse has changed entirely. Discussion is divided between those who are “pro-I.D.F.” and those who are against it. Right-wing thugs chanting “death to Arabs” and “death to leftists” on the streets of Jerusalem or Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s call to boycott Arab-Israeli businesses protesting the operation in Gaza are considered patriotic, while demands to stop the operation or mere expressions of empathy about the deaths of women and children in Gaza are perceived as a betrayal against flag and country. We are faced with the false, anti-democratic equation that argues that aggression, racism, and lack of empathy mean love of the homeland, while any other opinion—especially one that does not encourage the use of power and the loss of soldiers’ lives—is nothing less than an attempt to destroy Israel as we know it.
At times it seems that there are two wars going on. On one front, the military is battling against Hamas. On the other, a government minister, who called Arab colleagues “terrorists” on the floor of the Knesset, and hooligans who intimidate peace activists on social media, jointly  persecute “the enemy within”: anyone who speaks differently. There is no doubt that Hamas is posing a threat to our safety and to our children’s safety, but can the same thing be said about entertainers such as the comedian Orna Banai, the singer Achinoam Nini, or my wife, the film director Shira Geffen, all of whom were vilified in hateful and menacing ways when they publicly expressed dismay about the deaths of Palestinian children? Do the extreme attacks against them constitute another defense necessary for our survival, or are they merely a dark outburst of hate and rage? Are we really so weak and scared that any opinion that differs from the consensus must be muted, lest it provoke death threats against not only those voicing it, but their children as well?  
Many people tried to convince me not to publish this piece. “You have a little boy,” one of my friends told me last night. “Sometimes it’s better to be smart than to be right.” I’ve never been right, and I must not be too smart, either, but I am willing to fight for my right to express my opinion with the same ferocity that the I.D.F. is now showing in Gaza. This war is not about my own personal opinion, which may be wrong or pathetic. It’s for this place where I live, and which I love. 
On August 10, 2006, near the end of the Second Lebanon War, the writers Amos Oz, A. B. Yehoshua, and David Grossman held a press conference in which they urged the government to reach an immediate ceasefire. I was in a taxi and heard the report on the radio. The driver said, “What do those pieces of shit want, huh? They don’t like the Hezbollah suffering? These assholes want nothing more than to hate our country.” Five days later, David Grossman buried his son in the military plot at the Mount Herzl cemetery. Apparently that “piece of shit” wanted a few other things than to hate this country. Most importantly, he wanted his son, like so many other young men who were killed in those last, superfluous days of fighting, to come home alive.
It’s an awful thing to make a truly tragic mistake, one that costs many lives.  It’s worse to make that same mistake over and over again. Four operations in Gaza, an immense number of Israeli and Palestinian hearts that have stopped beating, and we keep ending up in the same place. The only thing that actually changes is Israeli society’s tolerance for criticism. It’s become clear during this operation that the right wing has lost its patience in all matters regarding that elusive term, “freedom of speech.” In the past two weeks, we’ve seen right wingers beating left wingers with clubs, Facebook messages promising to send left-wing activists to the gas chambers, and denunciations of anyone whose opinion delays the military on its way to victory. It turns out that this bloody road we walk from operation to operation is not as cyclical as we may have once thought. This road is not a circle, it’s a downward spiral, leading to new lows, which, I’m sad to say, we’ll be unlucky enough to experience.
A version of this piece appeared in Hebrew in Yediot Ahronot. Translated by Yardenne Greenspan.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Majalah i Julai 2014 : Fajar Arabia - Dubai Terus Mara ke Hadapan




Kolum : Fajar Arabia
Oleh: Mohd Fudzail bin Mohd Nor
Penulis adalah ekspatriat Malaysia yang sudah 15 tahun menetap di UAE. Pernah bekerja dengan tiga GLC Dubai dan terlibat secara langsung dengan pelbagai projek pembangunan mega seperti Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City, Palm Jumeirah dan 10 projek lain. Kini seorang usahawan, perunding bisnes dan pengarah beberapa syarikat. Juga penulis profilik, dengan 7 buah buku, puluhan cerpen, sajak dan banyak memenangi hadiah sastera termasuk Hadiah Sastera Perdana Malaysia

Tajuk: Dubai Terus Mara ke Hadapan.
Sebagai seorang ekspatriat yang sudah lima belas tahun menjadi penghuni UAE, semenjak dari permulaan pembangunan dalam tahun 2000 dan melalui krisis ekonomi dalam tahun 2009 yang menelanjangkan banyak perkara disebalik tirai, ternyata Dubai tidak pernah berhenti dari mencorak warna dan wajah baru Arabia.
Kejaiban Dubai dalam masa sedekad menjadi satu jenama global dengan pembangunan pesat dalam pelbagai bidang dan mengembangkan sayap ke merata planet memang menakjubkan. Walau apa pun ukurannya, Dubai telah melonjak ke persada dunia.
Oleh kerana itu, saya begitu bertuah kerana diberikan rezeki untuk menjadi salah seorang yang terlibat mempelopori projek mega seperti Dubai Internet City dan Palm Jumeirah.
Dengan pengalaman dari peringkat perancangan, perlaksanaan hingga siap sepenuhnya lebih kurang 15 projek mega, dan melihat perubahan mendadak sekeliling sebuah gurun, ternyata kejayaan Dubai bukan sesuatu yang mustahil untuk sebuah negara Arab dan Islam yang tidak mengamalkan demokrasi.
15 tahun lalu, sewaktu menyertai projek Dubai Internet City antara yang terus menjadi inspirsi, adalah kegigihan Putera Mahkota yang kini menjadi Emir Dubai, juga memegang jawatan Naib Presiden dan Perdana Menteri UAE, iaitu Sheikh Mohammad in Rashid Al Maktoum.
Baginda seorang yang sentiasa mengikut projek secara peribadi dan ‘hands on’. Tidak mengherankan baginda selalu muncul bersendirian bila-bila masa sahaja untuk meninjau secara dekat. Baginda dikenali umum kerana sentiasa memandu kenderaannya sendiri tanpa pemandu dan pengawal keselamatan.
Pernah baginda muncul di tapak projek Dubai Media City hampir jam 12 malam tanpa memberitahu atau pun membawa pengawal. Sewaktu itu saya menjaga pemindahan sebuah syarikat penyiaran terbesar dunia Arab iaitu MBC dari London ke Dubai.
Saya terus dihubungi kerana baginda mahu bertanya beberapa soalan, ketika itu juga saya terpaksa bangun dari tidur dan bergegas ke tapak pembinaan. Rutin baginda adalah untuk mendengar sendiri daripada mereka yang berada di bawah, bukan sekadar mendengar dan membaca lapuran semata-mata.
Baginda mempunyai wawasan yang bernas, jelas dan fokus. Pemikirannya juga tajam dan soalan-soalan yang ditanya selalunya boleh membawa ‘maut’ kerana kalau tersilap jawab, boleh sahaja kehilangan kerja. Baginda tahu apa yang penting, tidak suka dibodek dan akan membuat keputusan segera sekiranya perlu.
Kerana itu tidak heran, Dubai dalam masa sedekad berjaya membangun secara komprehensif dalam pelbagai bidang. Mengubah wajah gurun kepada sebuah kosmopolitan bertaraf global dan negara maju.
Dari prasana utama seperti lapangan terbang, jalanraya, pelabuhan, pengangkutan, pelancungan kepada kemudahan awam, Dubai telah jauh kehadapan berbanding mana-mana kota lain di Arabia.
Dengan pemerintahan yang mesra bisnes, baginda yang dikenali sebagai Sheikh Mo meletakkan anak-anak tempatan yang berbakat di tempat sewajarnya. Baginda cukup bijak  dalam memilih siapa diantara anak-anak muda Emirati yang sesuai untuk peranan berbeda dalam pelbagai bidang.
Hari ini jenama global kelahiran Dubai seperti penerbangan Emirates dan syarikat hartanah Emaar, selain syarikat hospitaliti Jumeirah, pengusaha sukan kuda Godolphin  dan Dubai Port berjaya berkembang dari hasil kerja kuat dan pengurusan agresif baginda sendiri.
Setelah krisis kewangan dunia yang telah melanda dan turut merudumkan ekonomi Dubai dalam tahun 2009, ternyata tidak mematahkan semangat Sheikh Mo.
Beliau pernah berkata, “Failure is not falling to the ground; it is remaining there once you have fallen and the greatest failure is when you decide not to stand up again.”
Apa yang telah terjadi memberikan pengajaran dimana baginda segera membuat perstrukturan semula kerajaan Dubai. Pelbagai perancangan dikaji semula dengan lebih terperinci. Banyak projek mega yang kemudiannya dihentikan, pemimpin korporat ditukar dengan tenaga baharu dan dalam masa tiga tahun selepas itu, Dubai kembali bangkit semula.
Hari ini menara tertinggi di dunia, Burj Khalifa yang siap sepenuhnya dalam tahun2010 menjadi tanda aras kemuncak pembangunan Dubai dan tarikan utama pelancungan. Sheikh Mo melonjakkan nama Dubai sekelip mata biar krisis ekonomi turut memberikan persepsi negatif. Banyak lapuran negatif seperti penindasan terhadap pekerja buruh yang pada keseluruhannya disebabkan oleh ketamakan dan kebobrokan majikan.
Pada tahun 2012, Dubai melangkah berani untuk menawarkan diri sebagai tuan rumah Ekspo Dunia 2020. Proses pembidaan diletakkan dibawah seorang wanita Emirati muda, Reem Al Hashimi akhirnya berjaya dengan penawaran yang berani dan terkehadapan.
Ekspo itu bertemakan, “Menjalinkan minda dan Men cipta Masa Depan”
Ini adalah satu strategi Sheikh Mo untuk terus merancakkan aktiviti ekonomi dan pembangunan yang memerlukan katalis baharu. Kerajaan Dubai dengan segera mengumumkan pelan induk tapak ekspo dan bajet keseluruhan ekspo sebanyak Dhs31 bilion. Ini termasuk kos penambahan pelbagai prasana awam seperti peningkatan laluan keretapi Metro.
Ekspo 2020 juga dijangkakan menerima kunjungan seramai 25 juta pelawat dan akan membawa pulangan kepada Dubai sebanyak Dhs89 bilion dari pelbagai kegiatan ekonomi selain menaikkan hasil kasar UAE dan pendapatan rakyat seluruhnya.
Sebanyak 277,000 pekerjaan baharu akan diujudkan dan tentunya memberi impak ekonomi yang positif dan komprehensif untuk  SKS.
Semua ini turut memberi peluang baharu kepada produk, syarikat, usahawan dan tenaga pekerja dari Malaysia dalam pelbagai bidang dan industri. Tenaga pekerja mahir dan separa mahir sentiasa diperlukan kerana warga tempatan UAE adalah kecil jumlahnya, hanya 10 peratus dari penduduk. Manakala kerajaan UAE juga dalam usaha mahu mengimbangi jumlah warga ekspatriat dari  negara tertentu untuk keselamatan dan mengelakkan masalah sosio-ekonomi serta pencemaran budaya apabila sesuatu bangsa luar menjadi majoriti. Kerana itu ada sebuah bandar di barat Abu Dhabi yang mempunyai penduduk dari nusantara yang ramai.
Dengan konsep hijau, mesra alam dan sustainablity, Ekspo ini memerlukan produk dan teknologi berasaskan hijau sepenuhnya. Peluang adalah terbuka kepada mana-mana syarikat untuk turut serta sebagai pembekal, kontraktor, dan perunding. Dengan hubungan baik yang terjalin antara kerajaan Malaysia dan UAE melalui pemimpin negara, memberi banyak kelebihan.
Dalam masa yang sama, Dubai telah mengumumkan untuk menjadi ibukota global untuk  kewangan, industri dan ekonomi Islam. Antara inisitif adalah majlis shura Shariah untuk kewangan Islam, pusat arbitrari untuk menyelesaikan permasalahan kontrak Islam,  dan pembinaan dua kluster industri produk yang besar.
Permintaan untuk barangan halal sedunia meningkat kepada USD2 trillion menjelang 2020. Sekiranya syarikat Malaysia dengan produk menepati Shariah memandang jauh, Dubai adalah  satu lokasi terbaik untuk mengembangkan bisnes untuk pasaran Timur Tengah, Afrika dan Eropah timur.
Setelah berjaya sebagai  destinasi pelancungan dan bisness paling popular, termasuk lapangan terbangnya yang kedua tersibuk di dunia dengan lebih 100 juta pelancung setahun, Dubai tidak berpaling lagi dengan Ekspo 2020 dan ibukota global Islam.
Prasana yang sedia ada dan pelbagai projek baharu akan meneruskan legasi Sheikh Mo yang antara kata-kata popularnya, baginda mahukan rakyatnya menikmati pelbagai kemudahan dan prasana terbaik pada hari ini, bukan 10 atau 20 tahun lagi, sebab itu baginda bekerja keras untuk menrealisasikan semua wawasannya secepat mungkin!

Kolum ini akan terus menyampaikan dan berkongsi maklumat dan berita terkini untuk para pembaca melihat dan mengambil peluang yang sesuai.

 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Is another constitutional crisis brewing in Johor?

Johor Sultan Issue in story image Final










Even though Johor Menteri Besar (MB) Mohamed Khaled Nordin has pared down the Sultan of Johor’s proposed executive powers in the controversial new housing bill, many observers wonder if this is just the lull before the storm.

Could there be another constitutional crisis in the making similar to the one in the 1980s?
Although the constitutional crisis in 1983 that led to the diminishing of the monarchy’s powers occurred under different circumstances, compared to the current uproar over the Johor housing bill there are basic underlying themes.
In both cases, the executive and monarchy are trying to exert power and control over one another.
Although the previous constitutional crisis in 1983 was at a bigger national scale, it is not entirely inconceivable that a wider tussle between royals and state government could develop following the current situation in Johor.
Wong Shu Qi
Wong Shu Qi
“I wouldn’t call it a constitutional crisis just yet, but we have to keep monitoring the situation closely,” said Senai state assemblyperson Wong Shu Qi.
Another observer says that there are very slim chances of it happening only because the current Prime Minister (PM) Najib Razak is not likely to go against the royals.
“In the previous crisis in 1983, there was Mahathir Mohamad (former prime minister) who campaigned aggressively against the royalty. I don’t think Najib is strong enough to do that,” said an observer.
Nevertheless, with or without the new bill the Sultan is a powerful figure in the southern state that has the second highest number of parliamentary seats of 26 after Sarawak’s 31 seats.
The original Johor Housing Property Board 2014 Enactment would have given the Sultan unprecedented executive powers.
The initial proposed bill including, among others, allowing the Sultan to appoint board members, determining allowances and remunerations, approve the appointment of the CEO (chief executive officer) of the board, scrutinize accounts and dissolve the board.
It caused a commotion in both ruling and opposition parties, worried that the Sultan’s formal powers would usurp the state administrative function.
The new housing board is touted to be critical to solve the issue of affordable housing in the southern state. The Sultan has commented on the issue, assuring that he will not stand in the way of state administration.
“I shall not interfere. My priority is my subject. I want them to be happy,” said the Sultan of Johor in an interview with New Straits Times (NST).
However, the Sultan made no reference to other related issues such as the sale of state land to foreigners that had been brought up by both ruling and opposition parties.
Mahathir Mohamad a vocal critic
One of the most vocal critics of the new Johor housing law is former PM Mahathir.
“I heard that much of Johor’s land is sold to foreigners. This is not good and is not done by the state government,” said Mahathir.
Mahathir - CopyMahathir could have been alluding to the Sultan of Johor’s RM4.5 billion sale of 116-acres of prime land in Johor Bahru last December to China developers Guangzhou R&F.
Other China developers have flocked to the Iskandar region in Johor and bought land for development projects. Major Chinese developers in Iskandar include Country Garden, Guangzhou R&F, Agile Property Holdings and Greenland Group that have invested a combined US$6 billion (RM20 billion) so far.
There has also been growing unease with the increasing Chinese ownership and presence in vast tracts of waterfront land in JB.
The Sultan of Johor’s increasing participation in big money business deals combined with his immense influence in state matters presumably played a strong part in the stiff opposition to his formal inclusion in the state administration through the new housing law.
Although the amended bill has eliminated royal provisions except for the recommendation of four board members under the advice of the MB, most people still believe the Sultan will have a lot of say in the housing board.
“I am very cynical. They seem to have changed it, but the Sultan is a very powerful man. He will push the envelope and still get his way,” said a legal adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Sultan of Johor thumbHowever, Mahathir is adamant that the Sultan of Johor should be kept out of the state administration completely.
“A constitutional monarch has no executive power. This means that he may not be involved in the administration of the country. This was considered necessary because in the past the Malay states were ruled by rulers with absolute power and the people were forbidden from being involved in politics. The result was that tracts of land were given to foreign countries, concessions given to foreign businesses, and finally independence was surrendered to the British under treaties lasting for as long as there is the sun and the moon,” said Mahathir in his blog.
The former PM adds that it would be dangerous for the royalty to disregard the limitations imposed by the constitution.
Mahathir is no stranger to skirmishes with royalty. He was a central figure in the 1983 constitutional crisis when he was PM. It was just before Sultan Iskandar (the late father of the current Sultan Ibrahim) was declared the Yang Dipertuan Agong in late 1984.
During the crisis, Mahathir introduced a Constitution (Amendment) Bill 1983 to curb the powers of the royals. Among others, the new law would proposed to remove the need for royal assent in passing federal and state legislation.
Even though there was initial resistance by the monarchs, the bill was passed in early 1984 with some concessions. The Agong could only delay a legislation for only two months before it became law automatically. Nevertheless, state bills still need royal consent before becoming law. The Agong also retains the power to declare a state of emergency.
A legacy of controversy
The Johor royalty are also no strangers to controversy.
Tuanku Zanariah Tunku Ahmad & Sultan Mahmud IskandarThe late Sultan Iskandar was known to have strained relations with Mahathir leading up to the constitutional crisis. In 1992, the late Sultan Iskandar allegedly assaulted a hockey coach. Subsequently, Mahathir introduced further constitutional amendments to remove royal immunity from criminal prosecution.
“The second amendment created a special court to hear charges against a ruler. This was made necessary after a ruler assaulted a citizen,” said Mahathir.
Most recently, Johor’s Syariah courts declared that Tuanku Zanariah Tunku Ahmad was divorced from the late Sultan Iskandar, although the court proceedings took place after the late Sultan Iskandar’s death in 2010 and was backdated to 2009. Her Sultanah title has also been revoked.
Tuanku Zanariah is the late Sultan Iskandar’s second wife. His first wife was British Josephine Ruby Trevorrow @ Kalsom Abdullah, who is the current Sultan Ibrahim’s mother. After years of living in England, she is believed to be residing in JB now.

Is the Sultan of Johor too powerful?

Johor Sultan Issue in story image Final










With Johor’s contentious new Housing and Real Property Enactment 2014, the Sultan of Johor seems to have formally inserted himself into the state administration, despite widespread protest.
____________________________________________________________________
How will the Sultan of Johor fit into the state administration now that the controversial new housing bill has been passed?
Even though the Johor Menteri Besar (MB) Mohamed Khaled Nordin has since backed down on the original bill, the prevailing perception is still that the Sultan is still an immensely powerful figure in the state administration.
Johor Mentri Besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin
Mohamed Khaled Nordin
An observer who is a practising lawyer in Johor points out that even after the original bill was whittled down to contain only the provision for the Sultan to appoint board members (under the MB’s advice), it  is still fraught with potential conflicts of interests.
According to the Johor lawyer, the composition of the housing board consist of seven permanent members that includes the MB as the chairman, the local housing executive as deputy chairman, office of state secretary, state legal adviser, state director of rural and planning department, state financial officer and finally the state director of the economic planning unit.
These seven people hold permanent positions, are all appointed government servants and do not hold political office. In addition to these seven members are the four additional board members that the Sultan may now appoint, under the advice of the MB.
“This is where the trouble comes. The CEO of the board will come from these four Sultan nominees. Practically speaking, if they are the Sultan’s nominees, can the MB override him? It’s impossible. No way. The ruler will take control of the board through the CEO. It makes a mockery of the clause,” said the Johor lawyer.
The original bill that caused an uproar proposed giving unprecedented executive powers to the Sultan, including appointing board members, determining allowances and remunerations, approve the appointment of the CEO (chief executive officer) of the board, scrutinise accounts and dissolve the board.
After intense pressure from both ruling and opposition parties, Johor Menteri Besar (MB) Mohamed Khaled Nordin replaced most of the references to the Sultan in the original bill.
Now, the only royal provision is for the Sultan to appoint members of the board, in accordance with the advice of the MB. Even that has been met with widespread scepticism because the monarchy could still indirectly influence state administration.
According to the lawyer, the MB’s amendments were just to appease the public and a formality to give the impression that the MB is still under control.
Sultan of Johor Sultan Ibrahim Ismail Ibni Almarhum Sultan Mahmud Iskandar Al-Haj
“It’s a question of the horse or the cart coming first. These four members of the board appointed by the Sultan shall not hold office for more than two years but are eligible for reappointment, unless they resign or if their appointments are revoked by the ruler. This gives the Sultan great influence over these appointees,” explained  the Johor lawyer.
Johor Pas (Parti Islam Se-Malaysia) commissioner and Parit Yaani assemblyman Aminolhuda Hassan urges federal intervention in the new law.
“Federal involvement has been somehow sidelined in the new legislation. We are talking about the state land that is one of the most important areas of economic development. We need more check and balance, and that includes the participation of the federal government,” says Aminolhuda.
The Pas commissioner also states that although the opposition leaders support the legislation in the spirit of improving the housing problems in Johor, the legislation needs to be improved.
Another observer adds that the whole issue is purely political and has nothing to do with the law.
“It’s a political problem, nothing to do with the law. The whole legal debate misses the point. Regardless of the law, the Sultan is getting more influential and the MB’s position could be reduced. We need strong action by the prime minister and the federal government before things get worse,” said the observer who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Many are sceptical that the Sultan of Johor can be a neutral bystander in the state administration and see the amendments as nothing but cosmetic changes to ease the political pressure on the MB. Even without formal executive powers, most political observers feel that the Sultan of Johor wields wide-ranging power in the state especially in land matters.
According to Senai state assemblyperson Wong Shu Qi , there are a also few clauses in the bill that was passed that cause concerns.
Wong Shu Qi
Wong Shu Qi
“Clause 39 gives the board power to acquire land whenever it is in the public interest to do so. Although it says it must be in accordance with recent law, why don’t they just stick with the existing national land code? This would only complicate the decision making process,” said Wong.
Another contentious clause that worries Wong allows the board to enter any premises under the instruction of the CEO.
“Clause 41 of the legislation gives the power to enforcement officers, under instructions by the CEO to enter any premises regardless if the property is managed or built by the state housing authorities or not, even they are private property,” said Wong.
Skudai assemblyman and state opposition leader Boo Cheng Hau says that the opposition is satisfied with the removal of the provisions giving executive powers to the Sultan and are concentrating on other clauses that could be problematic.
“We will focus on other amendments such as clause 16 in relation to conflicts of interests among board members. For example, if any board member or their relations tenders for any state project and fails to disclose the fact, the decision to award the project remains and will not be reviewed. Even if the non-disclosure is found out, the board member will not be punished. This will encourage corruption,” said Boo.
Johor state leaders from both ruling and opposition parties seem to have backed down on the Sultan of Johor issue after the bill was amended and are wary of rattling any more cages due to the sensitive subject matter.
However, discontent about the Sultan’s growing administrative powers still bubbles beneath the surface. Many are now scrutinising the Sultan of Johor’s role in the state administration in relation to the role of the monarchy as stated in the constitution.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

UMNO vs Sultan – The Rush For Goldmine Johor Land

From Financetwitter blog:

UMNO vs Sultan – The Rush For Goldmine Johor Land



Beside being crowned as the world’s most expensive city, Singapore is also a top financial hub, trading port, tourism, tax haven, and has the world’s highest percentage of millionaires. The country which alreadyhas 21 billionaires is expected to have 4,878 people with US$30 million or more in assets by 2023, according to Knight Frank LLP.

In a nutshell, Singapore has everything you can dream of. But the country is a crowded place, so much so that it’s a common sight to see Singaporeans reserve their tables at food court with anything they could get hold of – newspaper, umbrellas or even packets of tissue. Yes, despite being the most expensive country on planet Earth to own a car, there’s one thing this country is lacking – land.

Singapore’s population density rose to 7,540 per square kilometer in 2013, closing in fast on New York’s 10,425. Shopping markets are slowly but surely expanding downwards – into the ground. The Ion Mall in the famous Orchard Road shopping district is already four stories underground.

READ : SULTAN OF JOHOR'S BUSINESS EMPIRE
Singapore Crowds at MRT Station
The economy of globalization and urbanization enable Singaporeans move across borders, currencies and cultures. Hence the birth of “SIJORI” – an acronym refers to Singapore, Johor (Malaysia) and Riau (Indonesia).Thanks to this triangle economy, Singapore population ables to surge by almost a third in the past decade to 5.4 million. Add in Johor and Riau, and you’re looking at 10 million in 2010 alone.

So, is this the main reason for the current controversial Johor Housing and Real Property Board Bill, which supposedly would give Johor Sultan absolute powers to appoint the board members, decide on the members’ remuneration, oversee its accounts and dissolve the board? It seems the fight is over who controls precious vast amount of Johor land, at least on paper.

It is a known fact that foreigners particularly Singaporeans have been snapping properties in Johor like hot cakes. A RM3.5 million (S$1.36 million, US$1.1 million) for a five-bedroom, two-story home with private pool in Johor would cost about 15 times more in Singapore Sentosa district. Singapore has invested at least RM11 billion (S$4.3 billion, US$3.4 billion) in economic zone Iskandar.
Johor Iskandar Economic Region
Interestingly, China-based developers have also been buying land crazily in Johor. Guangzhou R&F Properties, Agile Property, Country Garden Holdings, Greenland Group have so far invested a staggering US$6 billion (S$7.5 billion, RM19.2 billion). Guangzhou R&F deal raised the most eyebrows when it acquired 116 acres in Johor Baru from the Sultan for a whopping RM4.5 billion.

Ten days later, Johor Sultan acquired 20% stake in Berjaya Times Square, a company controlled by tycoon Vincent Tan, at a mind-boggling 37% discount. The rumour mills were churning out speculations that Vincent Tan’s 18 acres of prime land on Johor Baru waterfront would be “approved” for entertainment center and even casino.

Beside Johor Sultan, UMNO via Khazanah Nasional Berhad owns one of the largest development land in Johor. And UMNO is selling land at equally crasy rate to foreigners, disguised under the name of “joint development”.Interestingly, after Selangor and Penang fell to the opposition, Johor is the only state where UMNO makes fortune by selling land and launching joint-development projects.
Johor Sultan Ibrahim
Surprisingly, the only person who has the balls to criticize Sultan Johor’s latest invasion into the state executive pillar was none other than former premier Mahathir Mohamad. Understandably, during a 1992 special Member of Parliament session, it was Mahathir administration that disclosed past criminal records of Sultan Iskandar (father of present Johor Sultan) and his two sons.

It was Mahathir’s ferocious administration that forced 6 out of 9 sultans to agree to the removal of legal immunity enjoyed by the members of the royal families. Although many believed this was the only good thing ever done by Mahathir, the fact is it was a hidden agenda to clip the power of sultan and magically “transfer” the power to the prime minister. Prime Minister is now the most powerful person.

While the current PM Najib doesn’t have the balls to raise a finger on the controversial Johor Housing and Real Property Board Bill, the same cannot be said about Mahathir. If Johor Sultan is allowed his hand into executive jurisdiction, there’s no telling what type of damage it would do, should the sultan does not do UMNO’s bidding. What if Johor Sultan “misbehaves”and supports the opposition?
Johor Sultan Ibrahim - WWW1 Plate
Additionally, Johor has the second highest number of parliamentary seats of 26, after Sarawak’s 31 seats. Was it a brilliant political manoeuvre by Johor Sultan in having Khaled Nordin as Johor’s Menteri Besar, knowing the latter would “kowtow” to him? Besides, Johor Sultan is no ordinary sultan as he is the only sultan in Malaysia that has his own Johor Military Force.

As expected, due to pressures from his own UMNO party, Khaled Nordin says the controversial bill has been amended. Still, why amends something if it “really” doesn’t affect anything? Why not just throw the bill into the dustbin? Perhaps the answer can be found by Mahathir’s outburst on the fiasco. The former premier warned of foreigners having a hand in the controversial Johor bill.

Obviously Mahathir was targeting Singaporeans who are slowing chipping Johor land away. But most importantly, this business model of foreigners dealing directly with Johor Sultan will upset UMNO’s coffer in long term. Developers prefer dealing with Sultan Johor directly instead of going throughUMNO Multi-Level-Parasites who ask for never-ending “commissions”.
Mahathir - What is UMNO Cannot Controls Sultan
Only time will tell if Johor Sultan was doing this for the greater good of the people, controlling and balancing precious land for Johoreans and foreigners. Needless to say, equipping the sultan with executive power is a double-edged sword. It’s a scary matter when the bill grants the “Board” power to acquire land not owned by the state as well as power to search properties and to call owners to be questioned.

Nevertheless, the most troubling part is this – there is nobody who dare to criticize royal families, with the exception of Mahathir Mohamad. And knowing the past bad records of the royal family, who can blame Mahathir for voicing his displeasure? Without Mahathir’s ball of steel around, can you rely on ball-less Najib to protect the normal citizens should their land be snatched away?