Monday, May 05, 2008

Waiting in vain for change

Citizen Nades - By R. Nadeswaran

THE TELEPHONE in the sports minister’s office has been ringing incessantly ever since he was appointed. Some call to extend their congratulations, others to touch base, but some with ulterior motives, One caller, a former minister’s son is desperate. He had a contract to undertake some projects, but with the changing of the guards and more importantly the policies, the money-making machine has come to a standstill. Another, from Singapore, wants to seek an appointment to “sort out matters”. ESPN wants to continue its lucrative arrangement in which the ministry pays millions for “Sports Centre Malaysia” – a 30-minute programme aired on weekdays. In short, the ministry has been buying airtime so that footages of power-hungry people can be seen by a selected few, and someone can collect hefty fees as the middleman in such deals. Has anything changed?
Back in the Selangor State Secretariat, members of the executive council walked into bare offices, save for a table, after they were sworn in. Everything was missing – from staplers to fax machines. So, they all got new ones. The state government paid more than RM1,500 each for the fax machines. You could get the same model for one-third the price at any electrical shop. But then, the purchases had to be made from “registered contractors”. So, what the contractor does is walk to the shop, pick it up for RM500 and sell it for three times the price. No questions asked. Despite all the publicity given to the Auditor-General’s annual report, no one is bothered about getting quotations or seeking the cheapest possible price. By the way, who cares what he says in the report? After all, for a few days, all kinds of statements will be made and then, it’s business as usual. And don’t blame the exco members. They make their requisition and the civil servants do the procurement. It’s not their money and what is the incentive for practising prudence? Has anything changed?
In Putrajaya, the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) has taken umbrage to my comments on its efficacy even after it is granted “commission” status. The director-general was quoted as saying that with such a status, the ACA will be “really independent”. He let the cat out of the bag by implying that all the while, the agency was not independent! The telephone call from the agency was flattering indeed. “You mould public opinion. You cannot write about us like that ...” Sorry sir, you took six months to investigate and close the files on attempts to cheat the government. Yet it took five days after media reports on extravagance by the Women in Sports Fitness Foundation Malaysia to close the case and issued a statement.
Part of the statement read: “ACA investigations revealed that the Minister of Youth and Sports at that time acted only as the patron of the foundation and was not involved in any expenditure.” Well, who ever said or accused the minister of wrongdoing? So, why go out of the way of your terms of reference? Is it the new “really independent ACA” or the old “independent ACA”? Did anyone bother to check on other aspects of the expenditure, including conflict of interests and the RM800,000 on rental of equipment? No, the investigators were ordered to wear blinkers when carrying out the probe. Will anything change?
In Shah Alam, an unemployed dentist is occupying a bungalow at a rental of RM25,000 per month. His last drawn salary was RM12,000. He is now drawing a couple of pensions not exceeding RM9,000. But he needs to feed himself and the family, maintain a fleet of cars and pay for treatment to look “fair and lovely”. So, how does he balance his budget? But this chap has come a long, long way from the days of selling ice cream … Has anything changed?
Comments and feedback: citizen-nades@thesundaily.com

Memanusiakan Penjara dan Banduan

Dalam tahun 2003, saya pernah memasuki penjara besar Dubai yang lama di Satwa. Bukan sebagai banduan tetapi sebagai tetamu istimewa. Istimewa kerana membawa artis tersohor, Yusuf Islam untuk mengadakan ceramah khas sempena Hari Raya Haji.

Dalam kunjungan itu, kami dilayan sebagai VIP dalam penjara termasuk bertemu ketua polis Dubai dan bos No.1 penjara.

Kami dibawa ke seluruh penjara dan dalam pemerhatian saya, penjara Dubai nampak lebih seperti asrama. Pesalah tidak dipanggil banduan dan slogan penjara ialah, "Manusia Lebih Penting Dari Tempat". Penjara 'terbuka' dengan banduan bebas bergerak kecuali yang menerima hukuman tertentu.
Kami ditunjukkan model besar penjara baru yang sedang dibina ketika itu dan dianggap paling canggih di dunia. Rekabentuknya berdasarkan 'keselesaan' dan 'kemanusiaan'. Malah secara bergurau, ketua polis berkata, penjara baru di Al Awir itu mungkin lebih baik dari hotel empat bintang.

(Begitulah realitinya dari cerita mereka yang pernah menumpang di penjara baru tersebut dan ada yang rela menjadi banduan. Bercuti di hotel empat bintang dengan makan dan masa lapang yang cukup. Ada kawan orang putih yang dimasukkan ke situ kerana mabuk sewaktu pemandu menganggap penahanannya sebagai percutian yang damai!)

Kami dibawa ke perpustakaan yang lengkap dengan kebanyakan buku mengenai pemahaman dan dakwah Islam dalam pelbagai bahasa, termasuk bahasa Indonesia. Tercari-cari buku dakwah dalam bahasa Melayu tetapi tidak terjumpa. (Masa itu ada banduan Malaysia, tetapi bukan Islam)

Memeranjatkan kerana ada banduan yang dibenarkan membuat urusniaga melalui telefon dan Internet. Kami melihat sendiri mereka kesibukan dalam sebuah bilik khas untuk urusan bisnes. Mereka adalah kebanyakan banduan kolar putih seperti cek tendang. Penjara membenarkan mereka membuat urusniaga supaya punca pendapatan mereka tidak tergendala!

Salah satu insentif kepada banduan Islam ialah kelas menghafal Quran diadakan. Bagi setiap banduan yang dapat menghafaz Quran sepenuhnya, antara 'hadiah' ialah dibebaskan sepenuhnya bergantung kepada kesalahan. Kalau dapat menghafaz jumlah surah tertentu, hukuman juga dikurangkan. Usaha ini menerima sambutan hebat dan ramai yang sudah dibebaskan sebagai hafiz dan hafizah!

Manakala kepada banduan bukan Islam, pencerahan kepada Islam dilakukan kepada mereka yang berminat dan secara sukarela mengikuti kelas dalam memahami Islam.

Banyak aktiviti lain termasuk untuk banduan wanita seperti kelas senaman dan kemahiran.

Pihak penjara Dubai telah menghubungi saya beberapa bulan sebelum itu untuk mendapatkan Yusuf Islam berceramah kepada banduan bukan Islam. Menurut pegawai, boleh dikatakan inisiatif penjara dalam dakwah memang berhasil dan hampir setiap hari ada yang memeluk Islam.

Memang penuh dewan ceramah yang bersebelahan dengan masjid penjara. Yang hadir termasuk orang putih dan kebanyakan adalah warga India.

Seperti biasa, Yusuf berjaya memukau hadirin dengan cerita pengalaman beliau dalam mengenal dan memeluk Islam. Soalan-soalan yang diberikan juga agak kritikal dan sinis, terutama dengan peristiwa September 11 yang berlaku.

Beberapa hari selepas ceramah itu, pegawai penjara menelefon dengan tersedu tetapi membawa kabar gembira.

"Ya Akhi, hasil dari ceramah Yusuf, ada tiga orang menjadi Muslim!"

Sememangnya Yusuf Islam mempunyai aura dan karisma sebagai pendakwah. Bertuah saya untuk mengenali beliau secara dekat dan menjadi pengurus beliau di Dubai.

Usaha penjara Dubai berterusan ke hari ini dalam memanusiakan penjara dan banduan dengan roh Islam agar mereka yang bakal keluar diberi peluang kedua dalam kehidupan!

MPs on both sides of the House : Shape Up or Ship Out

Unparliamentary behaviour of the worst kind
By : Tunku Abdul Aziz

A DISORDERLY house perhaps best describes Parliament on its first sitting on Wednesday. What an unedifying spectacle.
It was nothing if not absolute mayhem as some members tried to outpoint their colleagues in outrageous behaviour before the television cameras. Given the propensity of some members on the opposition benches to disrupt proceedings as a matter of principle, the decision by the Cabinet to televise "question time" was, in the event, ill-advised.
It was clear from the outset that two of their leading lights, Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh, were feverish with excitement at the almost heaven-sent opportunity to do something they were particularly good at -- attracting attention to themselves. The Treasury-financed nationwide live telecast of the parliamentary proceedings was the answer to their prayers.
It would have been totally unrealistic to expect them not to put to maximum effect their well-known and well-rehearsed confrontational politics. On this occasion, they outshone even their normally obstreperous behaviour and outdid themselves by the havoc they succeeded in creating.What principles, I wonder, were they defending that could justify turning what should have been a celebration of a changed political landscape and climate into a boisterous Petaling Street Peking opera?
I hope those viewers who voted for them in the recent general election were impressed by the performance of these two politicians. Their antics were more suited to pre-election hustings than the debating chamber of democracy.
Such behaviour is getting a little tiresome when all we wanted was to watch the prime minister take questions and to assess the answers.
The DAP, in its present state of political rebirth, must leave its shrill ideological class war cries and its accompanying doctrinal backpack outside the main entrance. Instead, they should try to integrate with the social and cultural norms of Malaysian society where good manners still command a premium.
There was no need to play to the gallery because they are both respected politicians who are well known for taking up causes in the public interest.
It was a great disappointment to see these role models, who should know better, trivialise what was intended to be a solemn occasion. The lack of respect for the most sacred of our national institutions is appalling, to say the least.
I fervently hope that this lapse will not rub off on the members, many still wet behind the ears, now in the House for the first time. The parliamentary culture of decorum, respect for fellow MPs, and above all else your own sense of self-respect must be preserved at all costs.
The Speaker of the House must use his considerable powers to discipline, to the fullest extent possible, wayward, recalcitrant members who bring the system of parliamentary democracy into disrepute. He would otherwise be failing in his duty.
I have long been their great admirer, but I have to say this: if they had expected rapturous public adulation for that stroppy behaviour of a most unparliamentary kind, I urge them to think again.
What, may I ask, were these two battle-scarred and slightly long-in-the-tooth honourable gentlemen hoping to achieve? Had it not occurred to them that by their action, they were denying their fellow-citizens a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of Parliament at work?
Such boorish and loutish behaviour is out of place in Malaysia where we still believe that good manners count a great deal in and out of Parliament. Even Taiwan and India, known for their "scuffling lawmakers" and used to such behaviour, would baulk at the idea of their MPs replicating the ploy used by our two senior opposition members to gain notoriety, the only word I can think of.
Lest I be accused of bias, let me remind my readers that the same disapproving label was used by me to describe the behaviour of the two Barisan Nasional parliamentarians, Datuk Mohd Said Yusof (Jasin) and Datuk Bung Mokhtar (Kinabatangan) who savaged the honour and dignity of womanhood in the infamous "leakage" affair involving the member for Batu Gajah, Fong Poh Kuan. They have since apologised for their action and I trust are duly repentant.
In that article in May last year, I had used the word "behaviour" pejoratively when I said, "A person's behaviour in and out of public life says a great deal more about his personal values and standards than all the external trappings of office he surrounds himself with".
For now, all that remains for me to say to MPs on both sides of the House is shape up or ship out. Grow up, do your duty in a way that adds personal commitment and meaning to your sacred oath of office, thus bringing respect to yourself and honour to an institution which is a proud national symbol of our evolving democratic values.
Two other matters deserve comment. The first was a written reply by the prime minister to Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang (Pas-Marang) who wanted to know how much was incurred by the government for the use of the executive jets by the prime minister and his deputy, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, between Feb 24 and March 8. The government spent RM792,325.20.
The dates are significant, and I can guess what the good Pas leader had in mind when he requested the information. This is really the purpose of question time in Parliament.
Let us be charitable and regard the DAP-aided fiasco as an aberration. In future, if it is decided to continue the live telecast, which I hope will be the case, allow viewers to listen to the questions asked and answers given without interruption.
To return to the use of the government executive jets for other than strictly official and not party business: in order to avoid any allegation of impropriety, government ministers should desist from using government property once Parliament is dissolved.
Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting is concerned that because of the preponderance of Malays, and those who claim they are Malays, in the judicial service, there is the perception according to him that "our judges will not be able to adjudicate fairly and impartially on sensitive issues, particularly relating to religion if a person's faith becomes an issue before a panel of judges whose religious faith and belief may differ from his or hers".
Based on these sentiments, does it not worry the good datuk seri that it is the Malay-dominated police and the armed forces that are providing the security and protecting Chinese lives and property?
Perhaps to overcome the problem, we should introduce national service, not the Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye fun-and-games summer camp variety, to redress the situation. I cannot tell you how much I really detest anyone playing the race card to justify an argument.
The writer is a former special adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on Ethics. He can be contacted at tunkua@gmail.com

Introducing....New AJMAN

The red dot is Ajman, the smallest emirate of 7 emirates in the UAE


This is Ajman from above

Nowadays, every friday morning together with my wife (and some time accompanied by other Malaysians), we go for fresh seafood shopping at Ajman Fish Souq. The prices are bit cheaper than Dubai.
It is only about 20 minutes driving from our home in Twar 3 Dubai and traffic is clear on Friday morning. The souq is smaller compared to the ones in Dubai and Sharjah but all of them on the creek side. Seafood is abundant here and enjoying the freshness and quality. Their sizes are also bigger than those the same ones in Malaysia.
We have two Malaysian families that we know living there and been going there since 2000. It was and still sleepy town with haphazard kind of city planning. Until recently, the roads were in poor conditions and the road sides were terribly maintained or not maintaned at all. It was like Dubai 20 years ago!
However, with Dubai is thriving endlessly and fast developing into a world-class city full of supertowers and mega cities within city, the northern neighbouring emirates like Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwaim (UAQ)and Ral Al Khaimah (RAK) are the real beneficiaries of economy growth.
RAK and UAQ have surged ahead last two years and now Ajman is rebranding itself into another mega city.......welcome to new AJMAN!


Located on the northern coast of Ajman, the venture is estimated to be
able to support a resident and working population of 200,000.

Ajman unveils Dh220b project

Ajman's largest-ever real estate initiative, a Dh220 billion mixed-used freehold development was launched on Thursday by Al Zorah Development, a joint venture between the government of Ajman and Solidere International.
Located on the northern coast of Ajman, the venture is estimated to be able to support a resident and working population of 200,000, with residents making up about 85 per cent.
"The project will take five to seven years to be completed, with work starting in a few months," said Dr. Nasser Chammaa, chairman and chief executive, Solidere International.
It will be a self-contained community comprising residences, offices, retail, schools, clinics and leisure facilities including five marinas and a number of five star hotels and resorts.


Features


"Al Zorah combines both natural and urban environments in one; it is an ambitious project, intended to transform Ajman into one of the region's most sought-after places to live, work and play, in an urban environment that also ensures energy conservation and sustainability for future generations," Chammaa said.
An area of 12 square kilometres will be covered, with a built up area of 22 million square meters.
Residential buildings will make up 52 per cent of the built up area, offices 22 per cent, retail stores 11 per cent, hotels eight per cent, with warehousing, storage and infrastructure making up the remainder.
"The maximum limit on the high rise is 50 floors, with an average height of 10 storeys," Chammaa said.
Chammaa said the development company will only work on 30 per cent of the project, focusing on strategic buildings. For the rest of the 70 per cent, he said, "We are in discussion with international contractors and suppliers. Tenders are under discussion and we will take the best."
He added that the project has already attracted a 'huge number' in investments and that the cost of inflation has been factored into the overall estimates.
Officials refused to comment on sales price of plots, residences or offices, but they said the details will be announced soon.
Al Zorah will also house a retail mall spread out over 200,000 square meters, along with villages, golf course, parkway development, equestrian centre, hospitals and other community healthcare facilities and three schools. It will also have large areas of water and green public spaces, as well as 20 kilometres of canals and waterways. There will be a total of 16 kilometres of sandy white beaches and waterside walks.
The whole development will be linked to the Emirates Road with a new 8.5-kilometre access road.
The project is focused to preserve the natural environment, with the buildings and infrastructure designed to be energy-efficient. Construction methods will cut energy use by up to 50 per cent, officials said, keeping Al Zorah's ecological footprint to a minimum.
The new city will encourage people to leave their cars at home with an integrated network of walkways, canals, waterways, bicycle paths and public transport facilities.




And New AIRPORT!

A masterplan for the 12 billion dirham ($3.3bn) Ajman International Airport was handed to the emirate’s ruler for approval on Sunday, with work expected to begin by the middle of next year.

The UAE’s fourth international airport, located near Al-Manama, will serve one million passengers a year, handling a minimum of 400,000 tonnes of cargo, which will account for 70% of airport services, an official told UAE daily Gulf News. The Spanish Groupo Inmobiliario Whitelake is to lead the 60 million square feet project, spending 2 billion dirhams on the airport itself, and a further 10 billion to develop adjacent residential and commercial properties.

"Initial investment of Dh1.5 billion has come in from Spanish companies looking to develop the property and another amount was financed from local banks," Whitelake’s director of finance Alex Mond told Gulf News. Letters of intent for landing rights had been received from 25 airlines so far, Mond added, but said that nothing had yet been confirmed.