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.

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?

Sultan of Johor's Business Empire

Has Sultan Ibrahim of Johor’s succession of big money deals over the last six months caused the tide of public opinion to turn against Johor’s royal palace? KiniBiz examines the roots of the public backlash in a three-part series.

A quiet storm has been growing over the Sultan Ibrahim Ismail’s   increased commercial dealings and business interests.
It looks to have come to a head with strong public and political opposition to Johor’s new Housing and Real Property Board Bill that was initiated to give the Sultan of Johor sweeping executive powers in the property industry. KiniBiz will examine that issue further tomorrow.
Many observers cite the Sultan’s sale of 116-acres of prime land in Johor Bahru last December to China developers Guangzhou R&F last year as a major turning point.
BN upset with royal housing bill too 01The deal pocketed the Sultan RM4.5 billion. Although scant details have been released, unconfirmed sources told KiniBiz that much of it is prime land in the Johor Bahru (JB) city  centre and seafront designated as development zones in the Iskandar region.
Sources also told KiniBiz that the land was alienated to the Sultan of Johor by the state government for a lot less than the sale price. KiniBiz has not been able to verify this independently.
It is not known whether the Sultan has any stake in the mixed developments to be undertaken on this land bank.

The China angle
The special economic zone of Iskandar has been buzzing with big Chinese mainland developers such as Country Garden constructing projects on a massive scale that has dwarfed other local developments.
The Sultan’s RM4.5 billion land sale to China developers clearly ruffled some feathers, not least among local developers who are worried that the local market could be swamped with units made by China developers and cause a property glut.
Ironically, only last July Iskandar Investment Bhd or IIB announced that it was limiting the sale of land in Iskandar through a “controlled release” strategy.
The move was deemed necessary because Iskandar “is still a relatively small and fragile region” and to “allow investors to make money”, said IIB president and CEO Syed Mohamed Ibrahim then.
There were also concerns that selling prime state land to China was a politically insensitive move. Nevertheless, there was little vocal opposition at the time when the RM4.5 billion land sale was announced, although there were grumblings on the ground.
Fear factor
The Sultan of Johor is often treated with a mixture of respect, awe and even fear especially among Johorians. Open criticism of the Sultan is seen as social taboo. Local professionals and businessmen keep their lips pursed for fear of repercussions.
“Yes, there definitely is a fear factor,” said a local Johor businessman who did not want to be named.
Things could slowly be changing with the furore over the housing bill.
“With all due respect, he (the Sultan) shouldn’t be involved in business. This is the first Sultan known to Malaysians to sell land to China. And it is prime city land. It is unprecedented. Even the previous late Sultan Iskandar (Sultan Ibrahim’s father whom the  Iskandar region was named after) did not engage in such public business dealings,” said a practicing lawyer in Johor who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In theory, the RM4.5 billion land sale to Guangzhou R&F alone could place Sultan Ibrahim among the richest men in Malaysia.
Vincent Tan Chee Yioun
Vincent Tan
Business dealings
Based on the latest Forbes Malaysia’s 50 richest list, the Sultan of Johor would rank just behind Vincent Tan (a businessman that the Sultan has been closely linked to) who is at number 10 on the list with an estimated net worth of just over RM5 billion (US$ 1.6 billion).
The Sultan could have slipped quietly into the background after the mammoth land sale, but subsequently he made several other eye-catching moves in the corporate world. He has been acquiring shares in other existing businesses in deals worth more than RM600 million.
After the RM4.5 billion land sale, the Sultan of Johor bought a 15% stake in MOL AccessPortal (MOL) for RM396 million and 20% stake in Berjaya Times Square Sdn Bhd (BTS) for RM250 million.
Interestingly, both companies that the Sultan of Johor bought stakes in are linked to Batu Pahat-born Tan who is chairman of Berjaya Group and owner of Cardiff City football club.
Most recently, the Sultan of Johor made waves again, this time in the energy sector.
A consortium of SIPP (SIPP) Energy Sdn Bhd, YTL Power International Bhd and Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) was conditionally awarded the development of Project 4A, a new 1,000 megawatt (MW)–1,400MW combined cycle plant in Johor.
The project is reported worth approximately RM6 billion, according to a CIMB report.
The Sultan of Johor owns a 51% stake in SIPP with the balance shareholding split between two company directors — Daing A Malek Daing A Rahman (24.5%) and Anuar Ahmed (24.5%).
Sultan of Johor's recent business deals 100614 updatedWith such high-profile business acquisitions, many have questioned whether it is appropriate for a sitting ruler to be so conspicuously involved in the business world.
Legal implications
“The constitution says that they (the royals) should be ceremonial bodies and above politics. They get a lot of remuneration and grants from the state government. These are all from public funds. They don’t need to be in business. It is also not right for a Sultan to be in competition with the rakyat for businesses. How can they compete? It is the Malay “adat” not to go against the Sultan, ” said the Johor lawyer to KiniBiz.
The lawyer is also concerned that the Sultan’s various business dealings could expose himself to potential lawsuits.
“If the Sultan is involved in companies and business entities, he is liable to be sued in court if anything goes wrong. That could tarnish the royal family’s image and bring the country into disrepute,” said the lawyer.
This is not the first time that the Sultan of Johor has been linked with prominent local businessmen. Previously, he was heavily linked with Lim Kang Hoo, majority stakeholder of Ekovest and Iskandar Waterfront Holdings (IWH).
Lim Kang Hoo
Lim Kang Hoo
Property tycoon Lim is ranked number 19 in the latest Forbes Malaysia’s 50 richest list with an estimated net worth of over RM3 billion (US$ 975 million).
During the 1997 financial crisis, Lim took over RM200 million debts of state investment agency Kumpulan Prasarana Johor (KPRJ) in return for land reclamation rights. With the value of land skyrocketing in Iskandar in recent years, so has Lim’s fortunes.
IWH is a public-private partnership between the state of Johor and Lim, with KPRJ having a 40% stake. Lim holds the balance 60% through his vehicle Credence Resources Sdn Bhd (CRSB). Lim is also executive chairman of public-listed property company Tebrau Teguh.
Lim owns vast tracts of land in JB’s waterfront especially in Danga Bay. Last April, Shanghai-based developer Greenland Group paid RM600 million to IWH for 13 acres of land in Danga Bay. IWH and Greenland will be in a joint venture (JV) for a mixed development worth a gross development value (GDV) of RM2.2 billion.
Previously, IWH sold 58 acres of land to Country Garden for RM900 million to develop its Danga Bay project that includes 9,000 units of high-end condominiums units and commercial development with a RM18 billion GDV.
IWH is also planning an initial public offering (IPO) later this year that could be worth up to $300 million (RM960 million).
Sultan of Johor confirmed that billionaire Lim is his business partner in a 2012 interview with a few local bloggers, including Ahirudin Attan (or Rocky as he is more popularly known as).
During the interview, the Sultan also angrily dismissed allegations that he is a “30% man” based on rumours that he was asking for a cut of major business dealings in the state. The Sultan explained that the “30% is for the state”, according to the 2012 interview.
Chinese companies have been investing huge sums of money and contributing to Iskandar’s growth substantially.
Iskandar Tebrau Coast smallFeeding China’s love for property, land
Major Chinese developers in Iskandar include Country GardenGuangzhou R&F, Agile Property Holdings and Greenland Group that have invested a combined US$6 billion (RM20 billion).
In 2013, Chinese institutional and retail investors poured US$1.9 billion (RM6 billion) into Malaysia properties.
However, there has also been growing unease with the increasing Chinese ownership and presence in vast tracts of waterfront land in JB.
“Technically, it could compromise the security of the nation and is not in the best national interest. The Chinese have bought land all along Danga Bay up to Tanjong Pelepas. They are developing all sorts of projects without any restrictions such as the bumiputera quota that are imposed on local developers,” said the Johor lawyer.
The cocktail of big business, land, politics, royalty and foreign ownership could be a political time bomb for Johor. Both sides of the political divide are already up in arms over the Sultan of Johor’s potential involvement in state administration via the Housing and Real Property Board Bill.
Major developments and investments in the southern state such as Iskandar and Pengerang could be placed in delicate positions in light of these recent developments in Johor.

Monday, June 09, 2014


In 1968, while studying at the Mons Officer Cadet School in the United Kingdom, I needed to visit a hospital. There I met a doctor who, to my surprise, spoke fluent Arabic. I learned that he was new to the UK, so I asked if he intended to stay long or return home. He replied with an Arabic saying that translates as: "My home is where I can eat.”

That doctor's words stayed with me for many years, because they underscored the contradiction between our idealised view of "home” and the harsh realities of life that push talented people to leave.

The doctor was a classic case of the "brain drain” phenomenon that has afflicted developing countries for decades. These countries spend scarce resources educating doctors, engineers, and scientists, in the hope that they will become engines of prosperity. Then we watch with dismay as they migrate to the West, taking with them the promise of their talent.

It is, of course, everyone's right to choose a better life, wherever in the world they wish. We understand why they go. Talent is drawn – like a magnet – to opportunity.

For the countries left behind, however, it feels like an endless vicious cycle: they need talent to create opportunity; but without opportunity, talent gravitates to the bright lights of the West. Indeed, the United Nations and the OECD report that migration for work has risen by one-third since 2000. One in nine university graduates from Africa now lives and works in the West. Many will not return: skilled workers are six times more likely to stay away.

But now something remarkable is happening: in some countries, the brain drain has reversed its flow. The causes are fascinating, and there is reason to be optimistic that the vicious cycle can be broken, transforming the balance of hope and opportunity between developing and developed economies.

A new study by LinkedIn, the world's largest online professional network and recruitment platform, has measured the net international movement of talent among its members. Topping the list as a destination for talent is my own country, the United Arab Emirates, with a net talent gain of 1.3% of the workforce in 2013. Other net "talent magnets” include Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, South Africa, India, and Brazil.

Most interesting, fewer than one-third of net talent importers are developed countries. In fact, the top talent exporters in this study are Spain, the UK, France, the United States, Italy, and Ireland. Rich countries that until recently had been tempting away our brightest minds are now sending us their own.

Of course, this is only one study, and many poor countries still suffer from a chronic talent exodus. OECD data show that many countries in Africa and Latin America have migration rates for graduates above 50%.

We do know that brain drain is often a function of safety and security as much as economic opportunity. Part of the tragedy playing out in Middle Eastern countries beset by conflict and instability is that if only their most talented sons and daughters could apply their skills at home, they would become part of the solution: agents of peace through development. This makes it all the more important to examine how some developing countries succeeded in reversing the outward flow.

The basic ingredient is opportunity. Talent flows naturally to countries that create an environment for economic growth; that make life easy for enterprise; that attract and welcome investment; and that nurture a culture of achievement. Skills are attracted to challenge and possibility.

Opportunity on this scale is becoming a scarce commodity in many parts of the West. Not so in the developing world – at least among countries with the appetite and determination to deploy strong governance and continually raise their competitiveness.

Second, quality of life matters greatly. A generation ago, many talented individuals would consider working outside the West a "hardship posting.” Today, standards of living in the U.A.E., for example, are among the highest in the world. We have shown that the business of reversing the brain drain is also the business of creating a better life for citizens and residents. Building happiness is, after all, the primary business of good government everywhere.

Ours is a story of great hope for the Middle East in particular, where generations of conflict and despair have driven high levels of outward migration. I have always argued that, besides good governance, the best solutions to the divisions and strife of the Arab world lie in grassroots development and economic opportunity. Now, we have shown that it is possible to reverse the forces that had driven away our most talented young people.

Another source of hope: this turnaround can happen remarkably quickly. Research shows that small countries suffer disproportionately from brain drain. But we have shown that even for a small country like the U.A.E., and even in a region divided by conflict, it is worth building an island of opportunity.

But let me be clear: reversing the brain drain is about more than plugging a leak. It means flipping a vicious cycle into a virtuous one. By attracting the best talent from around the world, we can create a vibrant and diverse society that fuels innovation and prosperity – which in turn attracts still more talent.

To make this work, we must believe in people. Human beings – their ideas, innovations, dreams, and connections – are the capital of the future. In this sense, the "brain regain” is not so much an achievement in itself as it is a leading indicator of development, because where great minds go today, great things will happen tomorrow.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is the Vice-President and Prime Minister of the U.A.E. and Ruler of Dubai. 

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Dari Mingguan Malaysia 8 jun 2014 - Cerpen Psiko

Namanya Baba Joy. Seorang alim bertaraf ulama dari Pakistan. Itulah yang diberitahu oleh Mehboob. Ada ribuan anak murid serata dunia. Termasuk ramai bertaraf pemimpin negara. Kalau pergi ke mana-mana sahaja, pasti ada pengikutnya, hatta di Amerika Syarikat. Walau dia hanya berbahasa Urdu, pengikutnya berbilang bangsa dan bahasa.
Hebat sekali dan Bahaman terasa pelik kenapa Baba Joy, lelaki tua berjubah putih itu mahu bertemunya. Dikatakan oleh Mehboob, Baba Joy bermimpi bertemu Bahaman sejak berapa lama. Hanya apabila dia singgah di Dubai, terasa Bahaman mahu bertemu setelah Mehboob memberitahu tentang ceramah Baba Joy di sebuah pusat perkumpulan warga Pakistan.
Bahaman dipanggil oleh Baba Joy yang tidak berserban atau berkopiah sebaik ternampak dari ribuan berpakaian taliban yang hadir. Rambutnya dan janggutnya masih lebat tetapi uban sepenuhnya. Seakan Sai Baba. Wajahnya nampak tenang. Memandang dengan sepenuh perhatian. Tidak langsung mengerdip mata.
Berpaling ke arah dinding. Mengangguk-angguk.
Kemudian berkata sesuatu. Mengangguk dan berpaling kembali.
Dengan suara yang bergema dalam bilik tetamu pusat itu, dia berkata dalam bahasa Urdu dengan perlahan.
Mehboob, anak Pakistan dan kawan sekerja Bahaman yang duduk disebelahnya lantas menterjemah ke dalam bahasa Inggeris.
“Siapa nama ibu kamu!”
Bahaman menarik nafas.
“Aishah binti Jamal!
Baba Joy berkata sesuatu lagi, kemudian terdiam seakan mendengar dari dinding. Terus memandang Bahaman secara sipi. Memastikan Bahaman dalam pandangannya.
Sekali lagi, Mehboob menjadi penterjemah.
“Kamu hanya ada seorang bapa saudara sebelah ibu yang masih hidup. Dia sedang sakit kuat sekarang!”
Bahaman terkejut. Tidak semena-mena berdebaran. Jantung berdenyut.
“Untuk pastikannya, kamu boleh hubungi keluarga di Kuala Lumpur!” Ujar Mehboob.
Bahaman segera menelefon ibunya. Yang terdengar bersuara gementar.
“Ya, Pak Uda baharu dimasukkan ke hospital, baharu sangat, masih tidak sedar diri kerana diserang strok! Mana kamu dapat tahu? Kami baharu juga mahu menghubungi kamu di sana!”
Tergamam Bahaman. Seakan dalam sebuah filem fiksyen seram. Sungguh menyeramkan.
Sebaik menutup telefon pintarnya, bercerita apa yang dimaklumi kepada Mehboob yang terus memberitahu Baba Joy dalam bahasa Urdu.
“Bapa saudara kamu itu tidak panjang usianya. Lebih baik kamu balik sebelum dia menghembuskan nafas terakhirnya!”
Bahaman menelan air liur. Ilmu mistik dan ghaib apakah yang dimiliki oleh orang tua yang seperti dirinya, tidak berkahwin ini? Pelik. Ganjil. Absurd. Ada unsur metafizik yang menyeramkan, menakutkan dan menggerikan. Seakan lontaran imaginasi yang menjadikan situasi kejutan Bahaman begitu sureal di pinggiran kotaraya kosmopolitan Dubai.

Masjid Bangsar selepas Isha. Tunggu di tempat duduk di bawah pokok. Begitu pesan Nahmar. Pesan yang sedikit sebanyak menganggu fikiran Bahaman. Mengapa lokasi itu yang dipilih. Bukan di kafe atau restoran mamak tempat biasa kalau mahu bersembang dan melepak. Lagipun dia tidak suka pergi ke Bangsar malam minggu dengan kesesakan jalan dan kegamatan manusia.
Sebaik tiba di bawah pokok, Nahmar sedang menanti. Tidak pula Bahaman ternampak Nahmar sewaktu berjemaah Isyak yang hanya dua baris saf jemaah. Ada dua orang lain yang tidak dikenali. Wajah-wajah yang kelihatan berseri.
“Dr Hasni dan Juhari adalah kumpulan kita yang aku ceritakan kepada kau semalam!”
Mereka bersalaman dn berpelukan seperti  kumpulan Tabligh.
Bahaman hanya kenal Nahmar dua hari lalu, selepas pulang dari tanah perkuburan Kota Damansara dan menghantar ibu dan kakak-kakaknya ke rumah aruah Pak Uda di Shah Alam. Singgah di sebuah restoran mamak untuk mengisi perut. Kelaparan.
Tiba-tiba seorang lelaki yang tidak dikenali datang dan menghulur tangan, sebaik mengenggam tangan lelaki itu, terasa ada adrenalin yang menyentap degupan jantung.
“Apakah kamu rasakan kejutan elektrik itu?”
Bahaman mengangguk. Jantungnya berdenyut kencang.
“Kamulah antara ahli yang dicari-cari! Kalau bacaan bismillah saya menyentap jantung kamu. Tidak silap lagi!”
Terfana Bahaman seketika.
“Saya Nahmar! Kita antara rijal yang terpilih!”
Begitulah pertemuan ringkas tetapi kompleks yang membawa Bahaman ke Masjid Bangsar. Yang memperkenalkan perkataan ‘rijal’ dalam kamus perbendaharan kata Bahaman.
“Masjid Bangsar ini antara masjid yang paling banyak kekuatan kerohanian kerana dikelilingi banyak tempat maksiat. Ada banyak malaikat yang menjaga, sebab dikelilingi setan dan iblis. Lokasi terbaik untuk bertemu dalam kerohanian!”
Suara deruan dan kekadang hon kereta, helai ketawa manusia dan bingit muzik, selain bau alkohol dari pub serta restoran berhampiran menjadi penata latarbelakang yang sedikit merimaskan.
“Dr Hasni dahulu CEO sebuah syarikat awam besar, dia tinggalkan semuanya setelah menerima panggilan jihad untuk bekerja dengan Tuhan. Juhari pula pegawai tinggi sebuah jabatan kerajaan, masih kerja tetapi bila-bila masa akan bersama sebaik lengkap pasukan rijal!”
Bahaman mengangguk. Seperti yang diberitahu, Nahmar sendiri pernah menjadi ahli perniagaan yang berjaya dan kaya raya. Sekelip mata Nahmar membuang semuanya kerana diberitahu oleh suara membisik, ada palitan riba dan perkara-perkara haram dalam urusan bisnesnya. Kini dia menjadi usahawan kecilan, menjual takaful dan tinggal disebuah flet, berpisah dengan isterinya dan  anak-anak yang tidak dapat menerima hakikat untuk hilang kemewahan. Hidup sederhana tetapi tiada hutang, kais pagi makan pagi, kais petang makan petang.
Tiba-tiba angin menderu. Bergoyang pokok. Nahmar mendongak, dan mengangguk. Dr Hasni dan Juhari tunduk diam.
Bahaman terasa telinganya berdegung.
“Kau dengar itu?” Tanya Nahmar.
Bahaman menggeleng. Dia tidak mendengar apa-apa selain deruan angin dan asakan gegendang yang menusuk.
“Deruan angin itu adalah suara Rijalulghaib, dia memberi salam dan menegur kamu!”
Berderau darah Bahaman. Pucat muka dan tubuh menggeletar. Naik bulu roma satu tubuh.
“Kata Rijalulghaib, kaulah rijal yang dicari-cari untuk melengkapkan kumpulan jihad kita!”
Kata-kata Nahmar seakan panah yang menembusi jantung.
“Kata Rijalulghaib, kau ada simpan rahsia yang besar. Sesuatu mengenai seorang kawan!”
Ah! Bahaman mahu menjerit. Rahsia yang disimpan sekian lama. Cerita kawan baiknya, Lamin yang telah berkahwin dua di negara jiran dan tidak pernah memberitahu isterinya.
“Rijalulghaib bertanya, sebagai seorang rijal yang terpilih, apakah kau telah bersedia untuk menyertai kumpulan yang bekerja, berjihad hanya dengan Tuhan ini?”
Bahaman masih gementar. Menarik nafas dan memandang ke arah pokok. Tiba-tiba terasa fana, suasana sunyi dan masa seakan terhenti.

“Kamu ini dalam halunisasi kah? Mengarut, merapu dan tidak masuk akal!”
Mehboob tidak percaya cerita Bahaman. Beriya-iya Bahaman meyakinkan Mehboob mengenai peristiwa di Masjid Bangsar.
Dia memandang ke arah Baba Joy yang sedang berbual dengan seorang anak muridnya yang terbang dari Australia. Semata-mata mahu bertemu Baba Joy yang datang melancung di Kuala Lumpur, kebetulan sewaktu Bahaman masih bercuti kerana menziarah aruah bapa saudaranya yang terakhir.
“Tidak perlu cerita pada Baba Joy. Pasti dia sudah tahu!” Bisik Mehboob yang menjadi setiausaha peribadi tanpa gaji kepada Baba Joy. Baba Joy boleh tahu semua, itulah mantra Mehboob yang fanatik sepenuhnya. Walau dari pengamatan Bahaman, Baba Joy tidak juga solat, mungkin seperti kata Nahmar, ada peringkat manusia yang solatnya dalam bentuk berbeda, hanya dengan niat sudah cukup.
Ada ketukan di pintu bilik suite hotel lima bintang yang di diami Baba Joy. Kabarnya segala perbelanjaan dibayar oleh jutawan Cina terkenal dari Singapura yang juga anak murid Baba Joy.
Mehboob membuka pintu. Muncul seorang tauke Cina dan seorang Melayu yang keduanya amat dikenali wajah oleh Bahaman. Terutama lelaki Melayu sebagai  salah seorang tokoh politik dan korporat  terkenal. Selalu muncul di media, sama ada dipuji atau dikutuk.
“Selamat datang Tan Sri Vito dan Tan Sri Teuku Aliman!”
Mehbob segera bersalaman dan membawa keduanya ke ruang tamu.
Bahaman terkejut besar melihat Tan Sri Vito, yang terkenal sebagai tauke judi dan usahawan kelab malam yang kontroversial dengan pelbagai skandal, memeluk dan mencium tangan Baba Joy seperti anak murid mencium tangan seorang tok guru.
“Dia juga pengikut Baba Joy? Cina tauke judi dan kepala gangster?”
Bisik Bahaman kepada Mehboob yang hanya tersenyum.
Kemudian Tan Sri Teuku Aliman sama memeluk dan mencium tangan Baba Joy, kali ini lebih lama.Seperti menyedut-nyedut semua darah dari tangan Baba Joy.
Terlopong mulut Bahaman. Sungguh-sungguh dia terasa dalam satu dunia selari seperti mana dakwaan Nahmar, bahawa ada planet lain yang manusia ujud tetapi dalam dimensi berlainan. Berlawanan dari karektor kepada untung rugi kehidupan. Kalau di bumi jahat, di planet itu dia baik.
Begitulah mungkin, apabila Bahaman melihat ahli politik panas baran, samseng, mulut celupar yang banyak skandal rasuah, penyelewengan dan seks luar tabie itu seakan begitu tawaduk, zuhud dan rendah diri apabila bercakap dengan Baba Joy!
Bak kata orang, pijak semut pun semut tak mati.

Bahaman keliru.
Semuanya berlaku dalam masa seminggu. Dari Dubai ke Kuala Lumpur, rentetan peristiwa aneh dan ganjil menyentap kedamaian lelaki bujang yang selama itu, penuh keseronokan. Makan. Minum. Tidur. Buang air. Menunggang Harley Davidson. Melepak di Starbucks. Berhiburan di kelab malam. Menjelajah tempat-tempt eksotik.
Pendapatan besar sebagai penggodam profesional dan penganalisa sekuriti sistem menjamin simpanan hari tua. Seharian, dia sentiasa di atas talian dan hadapan skrin komputer, iPad, dan telefon-telefon pintar yang bersilih ganti mengikut model terkini.
Di mana kehidupan maya dan realiti bertindih. Lebih kepada layar yang screensavernya mengikut mood dalam penggodaman. Turun naik keberhasilan membolos tembok pertahanan sistem dan mengebom dengan ledakan bait-bait nuklear dan virus.
“Aku rasa kau sudah psiko!”
Terburai ketawa Mat Jenin, nama samaran, Wan Jamak, penggodam antarabangsa, mentor Bahaman yang nama penggodamnya Badang. Seperti Badang, Mat Jenin ada di mana-mana. Dia menjadi penggodam upahan mana-mana syarikat untuk menguji sekuriti sistem komputer sendiri atau merisik kehebatan sistem pesaing korporat. Sudah bertaraf jutawan tetapi reklusif sebagai pelarian protokol Internet (IP). Hidup nomad berpindah randah mengikut nilai upah yang ditawarkan. Apa sahaja boleh, asal berganda duit yang masuk. Matlamat menghalalkan cara.
Sebenarnya, mereka berdua seakan tebusan dengan kemahiran yang semakin hari, menjadi bom jangka. Dijejak oleh badan-badan perisikan negara besar dan mafia ganas yang sama ada mahu khidmat atau melupuskan daripada menjadi ancaman agenda masing-masing
“Dari semua karektor yang kau ceritakan, Baba Joy, kumpulan Rijalghaib, malah Mehboob sendiri, ada satu persamaan terserlah!”
Suara Mat Jenin bergema dalam set pendengaran telinga Bahaman.
“Apa yang sama?”
Mat Jenin ketawa sekuatnya. Bagai dirasuk. Lebih kuat dari ketawa apabila Bahaman memberitahu, kumpulan Rijalulghaib bergurukan Nabi Khaidir. Sama kuat apabila Bahaman percaya yang Baba Joy adalah ketua ramai jin Islam.
“Mereka adalah kumpulan gay! Membawa kau ke dunia LGBT dan liberalisme!”
Tersintak Bahaman yang rajin ke gym untuk bertubuh sasa seperti Badang dalam imaginasi kanak-kanaknya dahulu. Kebetulan Bahaman sedang juga membaca pelbagai gosip para selebriti lelaki Melayu popular, glamour, kaya raya yang bergaya lembut dari whatsapp. Yang juga kebetulan dan suratan, dibawah sedar, diminatinya dengan penuh selera.

Semuanya tidak dijawab Bahaman. Apa sahaja yang datang dari Nahmar dan Mehboob
Panggilan, mesej, whatsapp, Facebook dan emel. Malah dia telah menukar identitinya  buat kesian kali. Memadamkan apa sahaja dari jejak IP.
Tidak mahu lagi menggunakan Badang yang semakin terasa unsur gay seperti dakwaan Mat Jenin. Maka Bahaman kini adalah Tok Bahaman, pahlawan Melayu yang nama asalnya Abdul Rahman bin Tuanku Imam Nuh. Pahlawan hebat dari negeri kelahirannya. Entah mengapa dia tiba-tiba bersemangat untuk menjadi diri sendiri, anak Melayu yang sudah lama tidak menjadi Melayu dengan identiti mitos semata-mata. Bukan seorang Melayu yang mengamalkan cara hidup dan budaya Melayu seperti dalam perlembagaan negara.
Tok Bahaman tidak peduli yang Nahmar banyak kali meghantar mesej, permintaan dari Rijalulghaib untuk bertemu kumpulan rijal terpilih di Bogor. Manakala Mehboob, membawa pesan Baba Joy untuk memperkenalkan Bahaman kepada kumpulan tarikat Ya Banana di Karachi.
“Jangan layan mereka, semua itu konspirasi. Aku sudah dapat bukti setelah berjaya menggodam dan mengakses maklumat dari pengkalan data perisikan Mossad!”
Itulah pesan terakhir dalam komunikasi secara tindihan kod dengan Mat Jenin yang membawa Tok Bahaman dalam penerbangan ke St Petersburg.
“Kau sedang diperdaya oleh cabang Zionis dan Illuminati jahanam, para dajjal yang membawa yakjuj makjuj untuk memusnahkan penggodam seperti kita kerana kita boleh pecahkan tembok rahsia agenda celaka mereka dalam mencaturkan kerosakan dunia!”
Teringat kata-kata Mat Jenin yang sedang menanti di kota kedua terbesar Russia itu yang kebetulan pusat KGB. Tergiang-giang suaranya amat serius hingga terasa bergetar. Malah nada marah Mat Jenin yang tiba-tiba membuatkan Tok Bahaman terlontar ke dalam seribu cermin yang retak.
“Kita akan bertemu Edward Snowden di sana!”
Entah mengapa Bahaman sungguh teruja apabila mendengar nama itu. Terus membeli tiket penerbangan pertama ke St Petersburg. Kelas bisnes seperti biasa.
Nama Edward Snowden seperti nama mahaguru dan hero penggodam yang boleh dicium tangannya kerana hebat melawan gergasi dunia, Amerika Syarikat demi kebebasan rakyat dan warga siber seluruh alam. Menjadi ikon anak muda seperti Tok Bahaman.
Bertemu dengan Edward Snowdon sama bertemu Ghandi dan Martin Luther King yang terkenal dengan petikan, “I have a dream!” Tok Bahaman juga ada mimpi yang mahu direalisasikan walau masih tidak pasti sama ada mimpi itu berasas atau sekadar dari jiwa yang keliru. Keliru oleh asakan propaganda dan keliru oleh sentimen kebencian daripada ilmu yang kurang.
“Tetapi kau mesti bersedia, mungkin itu penerbangan terakhir kamu, tiada jalan kembali!”
Dan kata-kata yang terus menghantui Tok Bahaman dalam penerbangan yang agak bergelora oleh gangguan cuaca. Sentiasa terpasang lampu kecemasan. Sesekali ada kebimbangan kalau penerbangan itu tiba-tiba hilang, menjadi misteri dengan pelbagai teori konspirasi.
“Tiada jalan kembali, hanya satu jalan yang lurus!”
Berpeluh Tok Bahaman yang tiba-tiba rasa ketakutan, hilang segala semangat kepahlawanan Melayu yang sanggup syahid untuk mempertahankan tanahair. Apakah ini jalan yang lurus?
Lantas bertanya pada kewarasan yang dilambung kapalterbang, dia mahu mempertahankan apa? Dan apakah musuh itu benar-benar ujud?
Imej-imej Rijalulghaib dan Baba Joy memenuhi pandangan dan ruang yang semakin berbalam oleh kemabukan udara. Suara-suara kanak-kanak menangis dan para orang tua berdoa membingitkan. Keributan menambah ketegangan minda.
Ketika itu, dalam sedar dan tidak sedar, tertanya dalam diri Tok Bahaman, siapakah yang psiko? Apakah dia sudah jadi seorang psiko?
Dan dalam kapalterbang yang terhoyong-hayang, wajah Mat Jenin tiba-tiba bertukar menjadi setan merah bertanduk dan berekor panjang yang berdekah-dekah ketawa!