Thought of the day

I thank whatever gods may be / For my unconquerable soul. / I am the master of my fate / I am the captain of my soul. ~William Ernest Henley, Invictus

Government's promises are like the Ringgit, they depreciate with time.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Letter to the Prime Minister

Dear Najib,

Aren't you the Malaysian Defence Minister back in 2007? Shouldn't you at least care to explain to the rakyat on the disappearance of the RM50 million jet engines now since the cat is out of the bag?

Instead, what I observed is that you are shedding all responsibilities like nobody's business, stepping aside in apathy while poor Ahmad Zaid Hamidi, our current Defence Minister is trying to wipe the shitty asshole in helter-skelter. Where is your accountability and integrity?

As a Malaysian, I am deeply saddened that we have an irresponsible and scandalous premier heading the regime. To me, you failed! So we can forget about the KPI and NKRA bullshit altogether.

Yours sincerely,

Mama, I failed my KPI and NKRA:(

Come clean, Najib!

鄭丁賢‧皇家空軍人才濟濟 (RMAF full of talents!)

Ayam Penyet Ria ~ Hot

CY and TK brought us once to Lucky Plaza for this remarkable Indonesia cuisine - Ayam penyet. Don't really know what "penyet" means, but from the pronunciation I reckon it must be related to something being smashed. Anyway, who cares as long it is sinfully delicious, right? From the menu, we realized that other than chicken, we can have promphet penyet, sotong penyet, catfish penyet,...,penyet...penyet...penyet. Wonder why the Indonesians like to smash their food:p

There are two Ayam Penyet Ria restaurants at the plaza, on the 1st and 4th floor respectively. My Indonesian friend told me that he prefers the one on the 1st floor, somehow the dishes there taste better. Frankly, I can't tell the difference, especially after you spread the bud-numbing belacan on the chicken and shovel it into your mouth. Trust me, the belacan do give you the kick to go back for more!

Location: Lucky Plaza, Orchard Road, Singapore.
Opening Hours: 11.00am-9.00pm (Daily)
Contact: +65 6235 6390

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

No Signboard

Best chili crab in town, no signboard. I prefer the branch at The Esplanade!
Just order one Sri Lankan crab, some bun for a light meal.
Add Malay-style fried noodle to eat till full.
Steamed bamboo clam with garlic is fabulous, too!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times

Mahathir: "Wah piang! It's only RM100 billion lar!!"

Book Review: Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times

Written by John Berthelsen
Friday, 04 December 2009

by Barry Wain. Palgrave Macmillan, 363pp. Available through Amazon, US$60.75. Available for Pre-order, to be released Jan 5.

In 1984 or 1985, when I was an Asian Wall Street Journal correspondent in Malaysia, an acquaintance called me and said he had seen a US Army 2-1/2 ton truck, known as a "deuce-and-a-half," filled with US military personnel in jungle gear on a back road outside of Kuala Lumpur.

Since Malaysia and the United States were hardly close friends at that point, I immediately went to the US Embassy in KL and asked what the US soldiers were doing there. I received blank stares. Similar requests to the Malaysian Ministry of Defense brought the same response. After a few days of chasing the story, I concluded that my acquaintance must have been seeing things and dropped it.

It turns out he wasn’t seeing things after all. In a new book, "Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times," launched Dec. 4 in Asia, former Asian Wall Street Journal editor Barry Wain solved the mystery. In 1984, during a visit to Washington DC in which Mahathir met President Ronald Reagan, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and others, he secretly launched an innocuous sounding Bilateral Training and Consultation Treaty, which Wain described as a series of working groups for exercises, intelligence sharing, logistical support and general security issues. In the meantime, Mahathir continued display a public antipathy on general principles at the Americans while his jungle was crawling with US troops quietly training for jungle warfare.

That ability to work both sides of the street was a Mahathir characteristic. In his foreword, Wain, in what is hoped to be a definitive history of the former prime minister’s life and career, writes that "while [Mahathir] has been a public figure in Malaysia for half a century and well known abroad for almost as long, he has presented himself as a bundle of contradictions: a Malay champion who was the Malays’ fiercest critic and an ally of Chinese-Malaysian businessmen; a tireless campaigner against Western economic domination who assiduously courted American and European capitalists; a blunt, combative individual who extolled the virtues of consensual Asian values."

Wain was granted access to the former premier for a series of exhaustive interviews. It may well be the most definitive picture painted of Mahathir to date, and certainly is even-handed. Wain, now a writer in residence at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, is by no means a Mahathir sycophant. Advance publicity for the book has dwelt on an assertion by Wain that Mahathir may well have wasted or burned up as much as RM100 billion (US$40 billion at earlier exchange rates when the projects were active) on grandiose projects and the corruption that that the projects engendered as he sought to turn Malaysia into an industrialized state. Although some in Malaysia have said the figure is too high, it seems about accurate, considering such ill-advised projects as a national car, the Proton, which still continues to bleed money and cost vastly more in opportunity costs for Malaysian citizens forced to buy any other make at huge markups behind tariff walls. In addition, while Thailand in particular became a regional center for car manufacture and for spares, Malaysia, handicapped by its national car policy, was left out.

Almost at the start of the book, Wain encapsulates the former premier so well that it bears repeating here: Mahathir, he writes, "had an all-consuming desire to turn Malaysia into a modern, industrialized nation commanding worldwide respect. Dr Mahathir’s decision to direct the ruling party into business in a major way while the government practiced affirmative action, changed the nature of the party and accelerated the spread of corruption. One manifestation was the eruption of successive financial scandals, massive by any standards, which nevertheless left Dr Mahathir unfazed and unapologetic."

That pretty much was the story of Malaysia for the 22 years that Mahathir was in charge. There is no evidence that Mahathir himself was ever involved in corruption. Once, as Ferdinand Marcos was losing his grip on the Philippines, Mahathir pointed out to a group of reporters that he was conveyed around in a long black Daimler – the same model as the British ambassador used – that the Istana where he lived was a huge mansion, that he had everything he needed. Why, he asked, was there any need to take money from corruption? Nonetheless, in his drive to foster a Malay entrepreneurial class, he allowed those around him to pillage the national treasury almost at will, which carried over into Umno after he had left office and which blights the country to this day.

Wain follows intricate trails through much of this, ranging from the attempt, okayed by Mahathir, to attempt to rescue Bumiputra Malaysia Finance in the early 1980s which turned into what at the time was the world’s biggest banking scandal.

In the final analysis, much as Lee Kuan Yew down the road in Singapore strove to create a nation in his own image and largely succeeded, so did Mahathir. Both nations are flawed – Singapore in its mixture of technological and social prowess and draconian ruthlessness against an independent press or opposition, Malaysia with its iconic twin towers and its other attributes colored by a deepening culture of corruption that has continued well beyond his reign, which ended in 2003. Mahathir must bear the blame for much of this, in particular his destruction of an independent judiciary, as Wain writes, to further his aims.

Mahathir, as the former premier said in the conversation over his mansion and his car, had everything including, one suspects, a fully-developed sense of injustice. He appears to this day to continue to resent much of the west, particularly the British. Wain writes exhaustively of Mahathir’s deep antagonism over both British elitism during the colonial days and the disdain of his fellow Malays (Mahathir’s parentage is partly Indian Muslim on his father’s side), especially the Malay royalty. That antagonism against the British has been a hallmark of his career – from the time he instituted the "Buy British Last" policy for the Malaysian government as prime minister to the present day.

Robert Mugabe, in disgrace across much of the world for the way his policies have destroyed what was one of the richest countries in Africa, remains in Mahathir’s good graces. Asked recently why that was, an aide told me Mugabe had driven the British out of Zimbabwe and was continuing to drive out white farmers to this day, although he was replacing them with people who knew nothing of farming. That expropriation of vast tracts of white-owned land might have destroyed Zimbabwe’s agricultural production. But, the aide said, "He got the Brits out."

For anybody wishing to understand Mahathir and the nation he transformed, Wain’s book is going to be a must – but bring spectacles. The tiny type and gray typeface make it a difficult read.

And a disclaimer: Wain was once my boss. -asiasentinel

Couldn't wait to grab a copy:)

Run, Forrest, Run!

Joined the 10km marathon, fortunately did not collapse at the finish line like what happened to me during the penang marathon. Clocked 1h32min this time. Target next year is 1h15min.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

PLUS: Drastic Improvements Needed

Every fun festive seasons, it is a consuetude for those residing far away from home to return to their hometowns. In a place like Malaysia where the public transportation system is far from comfort and efficient, almost everyone needs to own a private vehicle. And all this conjures up into an incubus for all travellers who are coerced to travel via the "sometimes 2 lanes, sometimes 3 lanes" North-South Expressways (NSE).

Two lanes ain't enuf lar, brader!

How can I convince PLUS Berhad that it's time to expand the NSE from the pathetic dual-lane into at least 4 lanes?

Source: Department of Statistics, Malaysia.

Currently, Malaysia's population is estimated at 28.31 million, where 80% are residing in West Malaysia and 63.6% of them age between 15 to 64 year-old (14.4 million). Assuming that every seven individuals from this set make up one family, so we have about 2.057 million families who are going to pack and buckle up and hit the highway every peak seasons, balik kampung to visit the old folks (4.6%). And assuming each family travels in our esteemed Proton Exora, which is 4.592m in length, it totals up to 9,449km if we line them up bumper-to-bumper. So how many lanes do we need on the 966km NSE to fit all these MPVs?

10 (5 in each direction).

Ok, I may be exaggerating too much.

Let's cut 1.5 million Malaysians off the road, say they stay close to their hometowns and do not need to use the expressway. Now, let's remove another 1.5 million from the initial sample size because they can't afford to own vehicles, instead they take public transports like express buses or flights or for some sad cases, unable to secure a ticket home.~boohoohoo Another 1.4 million citizens fled the country for no reason. Finally, we are left with 10 million loyal NSE users, 1.4 million Exoras on the NSE. So, how many lanes do we still need?

6.79. Nose to nose.

See! Three lanes also jam lar, brader!

So, with the rough model with the pictures supplemented above, isn't it evident enough that PLUS Berhad should commence the expressway expansion, like 10 years ago? As a mainboard listed company on the KLSE, PLUS Berhad definitely acts like a goofy which lacks in strategy and planning to promote growth, only to execute its shrewdness in splendour to increase the toll charges based on a "mysterious" undisclosable contract endorsed by the government.

Why should we pay first class fee, only to get third class facilities?

Why should we accept the toll hike y-o-y, when the travelling time increases likewise?

Why call it the expressway, when my speedometer can only clock less than 50kmph half the journey?

Shouldn't the Transport Ministry look into this for the sake of the rakyat?

And why are the people tolerating this injustice?

Sometimes, I just don't understand.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ong Cheng Huat Seafood Restaurant (王清发)

This is one of my favorite restaurant up north at Butterworth. EC introduced this place to us during one of our makan-makan trip when I was working in Penang. Subsequently, I'd revisited this place for couple of times with my colleagues and friends back then, and now with my family whenever we visit our sis:)

The restaurant is situated quite secluded off Jalan Bagan Lalang. One may easily miss the turning if he/she does not pay enough attention to spot the restaurant sign board along Jalan Bagan Lalang. And even if you do swerve in in time, it is quite a challenge to manoeuvre your vehicle through the sharp and narrow corners (only two) to reach an opening to the destination. Nonetheless, when there is a will, there is a way. Here is a short description on how to get there:
  1. After exiting Juru Tol, continue to drive along the North-South Highway.
  2. Exit left at Sungai Dua, exit to Bagan Ajam and go up flyover.
  3. Keep left to exit to the left at the traffic light, it says Mak Mandin/Bagan Lalang on the sign board.
  4. The restaurant is on the right hand side.
It is famous for its signature dishes: fried quail (we called it 小鸡), steamed red snapper, prawn crackers, coconut tuak (an alcoholic beverage made of fermented coconut flower dew).

Fried quail. Must try!

Oooo Lala

Fried mee.

Fried mee hoon

Prawn crackers

Steamed red snapper. Must try!

Some say that you have never been to Butterworth if you didn't patronize this restaurant.

Location: 2004, Bagan Lallang, 13400 Butterworth.
Opening Hours: 11.00am-5:30pm (Close on Monday)
Contact: +604-331 4782 / +6012-453 5188 (Always better to call beforehand)
How to get there: map

Duck Egg Char Koay Teow

Sis brought us to this famous duck egg char koay teow stall at Jalan Kulim, Bukit Mertajam, a shabby hawker center under a huge banyan tree. As can be seen from the picture, the char koay teow is fried with charcoal, which is deemed the BKM (best known method) to fry koay teow. This is of course coupled with the formidable combo of duck egg + lard + cockles. The duck eggs undoubtedly yield richer taste and thicker texture compared to regular chicken egg while the lard really heightens the fragrance of the dish.

Mom and dad went there twice on previous trips only to return in despair as the stall was not open. So this time we were really lucky and when we probed further, the boss revealed that he would take a day off whenever he feels like it. But worry not, two of his siblings are running similar stalls nearby, one near the taxi station and another one near the BM railway station.

Nice to look, good to eat!

Location: Jalan Kulim, In between of Taman Kuari and Taman Jaya/Sentosa
Opening hours: 8pm - 1am (Sunday - Thursday), 8pm - 2am (Friday & Saturday)
How to get there: map

大山脚 鸭蛋猪油炒更香


价格:大RM3.00 、小RM2.50、荷包蛋RM1、加料另计。






The taste of my childhood

The breakfast set served at Gecko Cafe reminds me of the times when my dad brought us to Port Dickson so many years back. Remember the breakfast at the Guthrie service apartment?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My Photo of the Week: Greenery

This is a nice spot right outside the NUS library. The landscaping is soothing and never fails to capture my attention for a second or two whenever I pass by. Again, always too lazy to bring my D-lakchap to school for a deliberate shot until now. CM was having her exam for the past two weeks, and we had breakfast at Gecko Cafe almost every morning. This is something which I want to experience with CM and hence, it's something worth to commermorate. Coincidently, I was "arrowed" to be the event photog for my department. So, here it is, my favourite spot in campus.

Monday, November 23, 2009

In the middle of a Trading Day

Who would schedule a maintenance and cripple the entire online stock trading system during an active trade day, market active hour?

Maybank would!

And the "meowbank" has done it again, today! While the users of OSK, HLBank, Public Bank are happily trading, we could only stare blankly at the following screen, and ask our dumbfucked brain, "why?"

Brilliant! Malaysian mentality, indeed. Loud applause please...

Friday, November 20, 2009

ADV: 55 - 200mm Lens for sale!

Own this baby for about 1-year plus. Produce good quality picture. In extremely good condition, mold-free.

AF-S DX VR Zoom-Nikkor 55-200mm f/4-5.6G IF-ED

Some specs:

  • A compact telephoto zoom lens featuring VR and SWM at an affordable price
  • Vibration Reduction (VR) offers the equivalent of shutter speeds 3 stops faster for more flexible hand-held shooting
  • A wide 55-200mm (picture angle equivalent to 82.5-300mm lens in the 35mm format) 3.6x zoom range offers high quality images
  • An ED glass element helps minimize chromatic aberration, providing superior contrast and higher resolution
  • Compact SWM (Silent Wave Motor) for quiet autofocusing
  • Optical performance highly complements Nikon digital SLR cameras

Selling Price: SGD390 (RM936) SGD270 (RM720) - Negotiable

1 year worldwide warranty included.

Free UV filter.

Interested party please contact: +6581114885 (Ngo) or email to

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The courage to repent

Uncle Lee admits his mistake, graciously, and fast to rectify.

When will Dr. Mahathir Mohamad admit his mistake for changing the media from Bahasa Malaysia to English to teach Science and Mathematics overnight since 2002?

And, will Tun Razak's son apologize graciously for his father's shortsightedness to change the teaching media for every subject from English to Bahasa Malaysia since 1969? Najib, do you have the balls?

The Great Malaysian Brain Drain

JULY 11 – There is a boy I know who scored 10 A1s. His mother is a primary school teacher and Andrew has two younger brothers. His father, a civil servant, had already passed on by the time the son sat SPM in 2006.

Armed with his excellent result, Andrew applied for a scholarship to study mechanical engineering. The government rejected his application. Petronas rejected his application too. Can you imagine how disappointed and frustrated he was?

As soon as I learned of Andrew’s difficulty, I offered him financial assistance to do accountancy in Utar. He has been scoring top marks in every exam to earn a scholarship from the university. Although Andrew is now exempted from paying fees, I still bank him RM400 a month to cover cost of living.

I have given assistance and allowances to more than 40 poor students to study in Utar in Kampar, Perak. Andrew is typical of their calibre; he prefers to get what is his due on merit, and his university has seen fit to waive his fees.

On my part, I expect nothing from those that I’ve supported except for them in future to help young people in similar circumstances, and to hope that they will all stay back in Malaysia so that they can lend their talents to building up our nation.

There are others with deeper pockets who have extended a helping hand to our youngsters. One of them offers the cost of school and exam fees, hostel accommodation, RM5,800 a year for expenses, RM1,200 settling-in allowance, and transport/air ticket. Furthermore, the recipient is not bonded. In other words, the giver asks for nothing back.

I’m talking about the pre-university Asean scholarship extended to Malaysians by ‘the little red dot’ Singapore.

Of course, Singapore is not doing it for purely altruistic reasons. The country is giving these much coveted Asean scholarships to build up her national bank of talent.

Some Malaysians accuse them of ‘poaching’ the creme de la creme of our youngsters. I don’t look at it as poaching. Their far-sighted government is doing it in their national interest.

And why not? Singapore can afford it. It has three times our GDP per capita. On another comparative note, the GDP per capita of Taiwan and South Korea are 2.5 times and double ours respectively. Before the NEP’s introduction in 1970, the four countries were at parity.

The big question is why are we surrendering our assets which Malaysian parents have nurtured but the state neglected?

Tens of thousands of young Malaysians have left our shores on the Asean scholarship. I am not sure if Singapore is willing to give out the figure.

But I am pretty sure the Malaysian authorities do not give two hoots about this, whatever number they may have arrived at. If they do, there seems to be no policy change to stem the outflow.

Malaysia is optimistically indifferent to the continuous brain drain, little caring that it is detrimental to our aspiration of becoming a developed country (I hate to say this) like Singapore.

Behaving like a failed state
Consider this startling statistic: There are more Sierra Leonean doctors working in hospitals in the city of Chicago than in their own homeland. More Malawian nurses in Manchester than in Malawi. Africa’s most significant export to Europe and the United States is trained professionals, not petroleum, gold and diamond.

The educated African migration is definitely retarding the progress of every country in Africa. Today, one in three African university graduates, and 50,000 doctoral holders now live and work outside Africa. Sixty-four per cent of Nigerians in the USA has one or more university degrees.

If we carry out a study, we are likely to find a very large number of non-Malay graduates emigrating to Singapore, Australia and other countries that is proportionately similar to the African exodus.

However the compulsion is different, seeing as how some African countries are war-torn and famished, which is certainly not the case with Malaysia.

The push factors for our own brain drain lie in NEP policy and this needs to be addressed with urgency.

State Ideology: Be grateful you’re Malaysian
Try putting yourself in the shoes of an 18-year-old. This young Malaysian born in 1991 is told that Umno was very generous in granting citizenship to his non-Malay forefathers in 1957. Thus as a descendant of an immigrant community – one should be forever grateful and respect the “social contract”.

Gratitude is demanded by the state while little is reciprocated. Under the NEP – and some say this policy represents the de facto social contract – every single Vice Chancellor of every single Malaysian public university is Malay.

Promotion prospects for non-Malay lecturers to full professorship or head of department are very dim, hence we have the dichotomy of non-Malays predominant in private colleges while correspondingly, the academic staff of public institutions proliferate with Malays.

The civil service is staffed predominantly by Malays, too, and overwhelmingly in the top echelons. The government-linked corporations have been turned into a single race monopoly.

Hence is it any surprise that almost all the scholarships offered by government and GLCs seem to be reserved for Malays?

Youngsters from the minority communities see that Malays are the chosen ones regardless of their scholastic achievement and financial position. Some are offered to do a Master although they did not even apply (but the quota is there to be filled, so these disinterested Malays are approached).

Our lesson today is ...
How the government apparatus conducts itself and the consequences of its policy implementation will upset an individual’s innate sense of justice.

The government pays about RM1.8 billion in annual salaries to teachers. A child is taught moral studies in class but he learns in life that adults condone and conspire to immorality by perpetuating the unfairness and injustice which impacts on Malaysia’s young.

On the other hand, the favoured group is given more than their just desserts without either merit or need. When one is bred to think that privilege is only his rightful entitlement, we would not expect this young person to pay back to society in return.

Our Malaysian education system has been flip-flopped, pushed and pulled this way and that until standards dropped to alarming levels. The passing mark for subjects in public exams have fallen notoriously low while the increasing number of distinctions have risen fatuously high with SPM students notching 14As, 17As and 21As.

With top scorers aplenty, there will not be enough scholarships to go around now that the Education Ministry has decided to put a cap on the SPM, limiting takers to 10 subjects.

The human factor
It’s unrealistic that the education system can be effectively overhauled. Even tweaking one aspect of it, such as the language switch for Math and English, created havoc.

It’s not that our educational framework is so bad as, after all, a lot of study and planning did go into it.

It’s only when the politicians dictate from on high and overrule the better judgment of the educationists – Dr Mahathir Mohamad being case in point – that we slide deeper into the doldrums.

The politicisation of education and the hijacking of the country’s educational agenda has clearly cost us heavily in terms of policy flip-flops and plummeting standards, and the loss of a good part of our young and talented human resources.

Matters become worse when Little Napoleons too take it upon themselves to interfere with teachers. For instance, the serial number assigned candidates when they sit public exams. Why is a student’s race encoded in the number? What does his ethnicity have to do with his answer script?

There is further suspicion that the stacks of SPM papers are not distributed to examiners entirely at random (meaning ideally examiners should be blind to which exam centres the scripts they’re marking have originated from).

A longstanding complaint from lecturers is that they are pressured to pass undergrads who are not up to the mark, and having to put up with mediocre ones who believe they are ‘A’ material after being spoilt in mono-racial schools.

Letting teachers do their job properly and allowing them to grade their students honestly would arrest the steep erosion of standards.

And, unless we are willing to be honest brokers in seeking a compromise and adjustment, the renewed demonising of vernacular schools is merely mischievous.

Either accept their existence or integrate the various types of schools.

But are UiTM and its many branch campuses throughout the length and breadth of the country, Mara Junior Science Colleges and the residential schools willing to open their doors to all on the basis of meritocracy if Chinese, Tamil, and not forgetting religious schools, were abolished? Not open to a token few non-Bumiputera but genuinely open up and with the admission numbers posted in a transparent manner.

Finally, there are teachers genuinely passionate about their profession. There are promising teachers fresh out of training college who are creative and capable of inspiring their students. It’s not only Form 5 students who have been demoralised. Teachers are human capital that we seem to have overlooked in the present controversy.

Conclusion: Ensuring fairness for the future well-being of our young
A segment of Johoreans cross the Causeway daily to attend school in Singapore. Many continue their tertiary education in Singapore which has among the top universities in the world. Eventually, they work in Singapore and benefit Singapore.

Ask around among your friends and see who hasn’t got a child or a sibling who is now living abroad as a permanent resident. I can’t really blame them for packing up and packing it in, can you?

It’s simply critical at this juncture that we don’t let our kids lose hope and throw in the towel.

The system might be slow to reform but mindsets at least can be changed easier.
It starts with the teachers, the educationists and the people running the education departments and implementing the policies.

Please help Malaysian youngsters realise their full potential. Just try a little fairness first. –

Note on the Author
I am a 76-year-old chartered civil engineer and one of the founders of the three larger construction companies listed in Bursa Malaysia. These are Gamuda Bhd, Mudajaya Group Bhd, and IJM Corporation Bhd.

I was a member of the Board of Engineers, Malaysia for three terms. I was also on the Sirim Board responsible in writing the Malaysian standard specifications for cement and concrete. In addition, I was the Secretary General of Master Builders Association, Malaysia for nine years.These days, I am completely retired. My intention in writing this article is honourable. Many people may not like reading what I have written and the truth may be difficult to accept. Nevertheless, this is my considered analysis for the benefit of my country, the Bumiputera contractors and the construction industry.

Bumiputera contractors: A wasteful national mission to date

Written by Koon Yew Yin
Wednesday, 18 November 2009

It is an indictment of our system that IJM is able to compete internationally for contracts but yet is required to work as a sub-contractor to Bumiputera companies on the North-South Highway in Malaysia.

On Oct 25, 2009 our Second Finance Minister Ahmad Husni Mohamad Hanadzlah said that government has vowed to cut down on wasteful spending to lower its budget deficit and all major public projects must go through the open tender system.

Earlier, the Auditor-General’s report for 2008 revealed continuing financial management weaknesses at every level of the government. Delays in project completion seem to be a perennial problem and the lack of oversight by various ministries and departments in the procurement of goods and services continue to cost the government hundreds of millions of ringgit.

These statements indicate perhaps that our Prime Minister Najib Razak may want to reverse his announcement on January 9 in Kuala Teregganu that the government would always look after Class F contractors. (Non- Bumiputeras cannot register as a Class F contractor).

The government had in fact already set aside RM900 million, which was RM300 million more than last year, for works to be undertaken by Class F contractors this year.

Producing competitive Bumiputera contractors
As reported on May 1, 2005, Malaysia had one contractor for every 614 persons. Most likely there are more contractors by now. This ratio is again likely to be amongst the highest in the world and is obviously costing the public a significant amount of money besides affecting our overall economic performance.

I would like to pose a few questions which may appear unkind or insensitive but nonetheless need to be asked.

Out of hundreds of high-rise buildings in Kuala Lumpur does anyone know of any Bumiputera contractor who has won any of the building contracts through an open competitive tender process? Out of hundreds of kilometers of highway in Malaysia, can any Bumiputera contractor who won any part of the highway contracts through open tender be identified?

The answer to the above questions unfortunately is in the negative. The evidence is that all the government’s well-intentioned efforts in trying to produce competitive Bumiputera contractors since 1957 have failed.

Why this has happened needs to be openly discussed rather than swept under the carpet. In this note, I share my experiences as a contractor and my knowledge of why Bumiputera contractors have failed in the past and what needs to be done by the government to correct this unhealthy situation.

Facts of life in the contracting business
Contracting is a very difficult business yet it is so easy to register as a contractor.

To register as a Class F contractor one has only to show that he has RM5,000. He does not even require a pass in Lower Certificate of Education (LCE). But it will take at least 10 years to learn how to overcome all the inherent difficulties and become competitive and efficient. Continuously giving out lucrative and over-priced contracts without open tenders will only make the recipients less competitive.

Secondly, studies have shown that there are more failures and bankruptcies in contracting than in any other business, and also almost all construction projects are NOT completed within the original scheduled time.

The delay will cost the contractor more and that is why you can often see uncompleted buildings and abandoned projects which have been undertaken by inefficient contractors. There are many reasons for this peculiar phenomenon.

1. Open tender system
Although this system is the best way to ensure completion of any project/contract at the lowest price, it is the most difficult obstacle any contractor has to face in the real competitive world. He must know his business very well and be efficient to face the open competition all the time. Like a good athlete, he has to keep fit and constantly be aware of the market conditions and his competitors.

There is a classic saying, ‘a cheap thing is not good and a good thing is not cheap’. But contractors always have to produce good work at the cheapest price.
In order to submit the cheapest tender, the contractor must be very optimistic in all his assumptions to get the cheapest rates. He must assume that he will not encounter any cash flow difficulties and that he will always get his progress payments on time to pay his creditors.

He must also assume that he will not encounter any difficulty in getting all the required materials on time to avoid any delay and also that there are ample workers for him to pick and choose from.

Furthermore, he must also assume that the heavens will be kind to him and he will not meet any inclement weather during construction. Invariably, many of these assumptions are proven wrong and thus completion delayed, and the infrastructure will cost more to complete than provided for in the contract.

2. The importance of teamwork
Teamwork is important in all business endeavours. It is more so in the contracting business. Every contractor must realise that his success is not going to be determined by his own knowledge, talent or abilities. It is going to be determined by his ability to develop a great team. Those who are closest to him will help determine the level of his success.
Every efficient contractor must have a reliable team comprising managers, sub-contractors, material suppliers, foremen and skilled workers. All the team players must cooperate with one another, bearing in mind that the main contractor’s survival depends on their contribution. Their main goal must be saving cost. If they cannot complete the contract within the tender price, all of them will also be affected.

3. Construction material pricing
There was no material price escalation clause in the conditions of contract before I became the Secretary General of the Master Builders Association. During the unprecedented oil crisis, building material prices shot through the roof. As a result, many contractors could not complete their contracts for schools and other projects. After several appeals the Public Works Department (PWD), now known as Jabatan Kerja Raya (JKR), eventually allowed only cement and steel for price variation reimbursement.

This was only a partial solution as hundreds of other items were excluded.

Without a protective price fluctuation clause for the other items, contractors are exposed to risk. At the same time, knowing that they have to undercut their competitors during the tender process, contractors would normally under-price to achieve the lowest tender. Invariably, most materials would increase in price due to inflation and other reasons. Contractors require many years of experience to be able to anticipate such price changes and to make adequate provisions for them whilst at the same time not overpricing their tenders and losing the bid.

4. No contract is exactly the same
No two high-rise buildings in KL are the same.

Construction of a building, a bridge or a stadium is always akin to making a prototype. The process is much more difficult than manufacturing any product where there is repetition. For example in making cars, the first prototype and the initial few cars may be more difficult to make but once everyone gets used to the routine, the manufacturing process will normally proceed smoothly.

However, in the construction of buildings or any civil engineering works, there is very little repetitive work. Every construction site is different and most of the people involved have never worked together before.

On top of this, there may also be inexperienced supervisory staff that can create a lot of difficulties for the contractors. Invariably, by the time all parties get used to the routine, the scheduled time is over.

5. Financing
Most contractors do not have sufficient capital to finance their undertakings.

Contractors generally do not have fixed assets like most manufacturers. They usually do not have land and buildings but, instead, they have construction equipment. Unfortunately, banks do not accept these moving assets as collateral for a loan. Without bank financing, contractors will obviously find it more difficult to undertake their business.

Beginning at the bottom: The key to success
I have provided some insight into why contracting is not a business that is as easy or profitable as it is commonly perceived to be.

There are other factors explaining why or how some of the most successful tycoons associated with the building or construction industry have managed to get where they are.

Firstly, it should be noted that the majority of listed companies were started by Chinese merchants most of whom incidentally did not have tertiary education. For example, Lim Goh Tong of Genting began his working career as a scrap iron dealer and a contractor; and Yeoh Tiong Lay of YTL Corp. started off as a small contractor.

Generally, Bumiputeras are not interested in working long hours in managing small businesses earning marginal profit. Because of the NEP, many have hopes of securing permits or concessions for big deals so that they can become instant millionaires. There are relatively few Bumiputeras involved in small and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs).

More Bumiputeras should follow the humble footsteps of the Chinese to become traders and merchants for building materials and similar goods. The business skill they can learn from these humble beginnings will carry them a long way. I am very sure some of them will eventually become good contractors and successful businessmen if they learn the trade at the bottom and not try to parachute into the contracting business.

The importance of skilled workers
Although there are already many Bumiputera engineers unable to find employment, most of the universities are still producing more and more engineers every year. But without a sufficiently skilled workforce, all the engineers in the world would not be able to complete a single project.

There are so few Bumiputera construction foremen, carpenters and other skilled workers. If you were to go into any building construction site, you would see the truth of what I am saying. How many Malay carpenters have you seen in KL?

Without skilled Bumiputera workers, it would be more difficult for Bumiputera contractors to succeed. In fact, most of the Chinese contractors started as apprentices and rose from the bottom to become successful contractors. More Bumiputeras should be encouraged to work as apprentices in construction sites. This is a necessary good practice to produce really good Bumiputera contractors.

The role of trade schools
There should be more trade schools and more Bumiputeras should be encouraged to learn construction skills like carpentry, welding, plumbing, bricklaying, etc. Very soon, skilled tradesmen will be able to earn more than degree holders as is the case in Australia or England.

The government should build more trade schools and not hesitate to offer scholarships to Bumiputeras to be trained in these trade schools. Presently, the construction industry is not short of engineers but it is very short of skilled workers and supervisors. If more Bumiputeras are properly trained in various crafts and blue collar skills, some of them will go on to become good contractors.

Time and more time
They say Rome was not built in a day. It is easier to produce engineers, doctors and other professionals than to produce efficient and competitive contractors who do not need government financial aid. Just giving out lucrative contracts to Bumiputeras is not the answer; in fact it is counter-productive as it simply makes them more inefficient and less competitive.

IJM Corporation Bhd has taken more than 40 years to attain a competitive level of competence. The record shows that IJM has secured on competitive tenders five toll road concessions in India. Three are currently in operation and two are under construction. The total length of the roads exceeds 1,000 kilometres, longer than our North-South Highway.

In addition, IJM completed a toll bridge in Kolkata and sold its interest for RM65 million profit after a short period of three years. IJM is also a very reputable LRT builder, having to date completed 15km of the elevated sections of the New Delhi Metro and it was recently awarded another 8km.

Based on open competitive tender, IJM won the contract to build the tallest building, a prominent future landmark for the Delhi Municipality, in New Delhi.

It is an indictment of our system that IJM is able to compete internationally for contracts but yet is required to work as a sub-contractor to Bumiputera companies on the North-South Highway in our own country.

Conclusion: Half-baked contractors are not in our national interest
Contracting is one of the most, if not the most, difficult business and it takes a very long time to produce competent contractors.

It is very dangerous to quickly produce half-baked ones as they will soon find themselves in financial difficulties and require bailouts. The bankruptcy record shows that a large number of debtors are Bumiputera contractors with many of them unable to pay back the loans given by government-controlled financial institutions. The government must change its methods and policies which have proven unworkable. There is no urgency in producing more Bumiputera contractors as many of the key industries e.g. the banks, plantations, motor vehicles, taxis, rice etc are already under the control of Bumiputeras.

Our government must not be narrowly communalistic and should make use of all the groups, irrespective of race, that are more efficient in the contracting business.

Giving out contracts without a full tender process is akin to corruption. I urge the government to stop this corrupt practice and to utilize the savings from these enormous sums to implement the options suggested above.

Note on the Author:
I am a 76-year-old chartered civil engineer and one of the founders of the three larger construction companies listed in Bursa Malaysia. These are Gamuda Bhd, Mudajaya Group Bhd, and IJM Corporation Bhd.

I was a member of the Board of Engineers, Malaysia for three terms. I was also on the Sirim Board responsible in writing the Malaysian standard specifications for cement and concrete. In addition, I was the Secretary General of Master Builders Association, Malaysia for nine years.These days, I am completely retired. My intention in writing this article is honourable. Many people may not like reading what I have written and the truth may be difficult to accept. Nevertheless, this is my considered analysis for the benefit of my country, the Bumiputera contractors and the construction industry.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

ADV: Corner Shop Lot to Let (吉店出租)

Double-storey Corner Shop Lot
Location : 1, Jalan Hang Jebat 13, Taman Skudai Baru, 81300 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
Area : 1247 sf (29 x 43)
Rental : RM4,500 - RM5,000/month (Negotiable)
Recommended Commercial Purpose: Restaurant, Cafe, 24 hrs Mamak, Tyre Shop, Car Accessories Shop

地点: 1, Jalan Hang Jebat 13, Taman Skudai Baru, 81300 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
面积: 1247 平方英尺(29 x 43)
月租: RM4,500 - RM5,000 (可商量)
意向商业用途: 餐馆、咖啡店、24小时印度饮食店、轮胎店、汽车配件修车店

Spacious side and front lanes for parking and commercial purposes.

Surrounded by highly populated residential areas such as Taman Seri Orkid, Mutiara Rini, Tun Aminah, Sutera Utama...etc.
店面地点适中,被多重住宅区环绕着,如Seri Orkid、Mutiara Rini、皇后花园、五福城。

T-Junction in front of the shoplot bustling with busy traffics all day.

Bird's eye view of the location.

Interested parties, please contact Mr. Ong at +6019-7773888.
有意者请致电给Mr. Ong (6019-7773888)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Photos of The Week: Peony Jade, Clark Quay

TK and CY invited us to Peony Jade, Clark Quay for buffet lunch over the weekend. Peony Jade (玉河畔) is a Sze Chuan Cantonese restaurant where the couple had their ROM. The buffet starts at 11.30am and ends at 2.30pm, $28.80 per pax. I find it pretty affordable and worthy after the meal, the food is simply délicieux and the ambience, swish.

Glad to see Jenny again. Intend to meet up for mahjong sessions in near future but we will need to wait till Jenny & CM's exams are over.

Be patriotic, Don't buy Proton

Met my parents at JB for the weekend and my dad told me that the car's power window has malfunctioned. This time, it's the driver's side. Normally, I would respond with the following expression:


Yes, dumb-fucked. I know there ain't words like this, as such I really have to make up something, anything just to express my complex feelings as a Bolehland citizen. This is what the Chinese would referred to as 非笔墨所能形容(inexpressible by words). But this time, I was pretty calm as I could still remember vividly the first day when my dad brought the car back. The whole family was so excited until we found out that the front passenger door was dead-locked and wouldn't budge no matter what we did. Oh ya, and the time when the electronic board went haywire and the engine died abruptly on the road. Imagine what would happen if we were on the highway and there is a truck or bus on our tail? And the door that we have to slam really hard to close...etc.

I believe most Malaysians have experienced similar incidences as Malaysians are a bunch of cheap asses, so cheap, that they are willing to tolerate 4 defects per car as "promised" by the manufacturer - Proton!

"No, we are patriotic. That's why we buy national cars!"

National car? Let's define the term "national car". First, it must be built in locally with more than 80% of the parts manufactured locally. Second, it must be cheap! If I can buy any Proton car with only USD2500 (RM10,000), then screw me, I am willing to tolerate 4 defects or more per car. And I can stop my lament right away. My friend, take a look at Tata Nano in India, that's what I would call a national car!
Why buy Proton Waja at RM60k ++, when you can get a reliable Toyota Vios or Honda City when you top up another RM10k ++? Or if you really can't afford those highly taxed imported cars (which is a sordid act by the government to protect Proton), feel free to switch to Perodua series anytime! I urge all Malaysians to stop buying Proton products, if you are patriotic! For my foreign friends, for your safety, please select wisely. Let it hit the brink of bankruptcy again and be taken over by some foreign entity like Volkswagen. Am pretty sure that in 5 years time, all Malaysians will be able to own a cheap yet defect-free national car.

Reformation is desperately needed for most GLCs like Proton! And unless I see satisfactory improvements from the local car manufacturer, I am willing to go for imported rides, albeit there is a higher price to pay.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Zhengzhou Trip


对酒当歌,人生几何? 譬如朝露,去日苦多。
慨当以慷,忧思难忘。 何以解忧?唯有杜康。

青青子衿,悠悠我心。 但为君故,沉吟至今。





今年七月,小弟有幸赴河南省郑州及周口两地。此行不如之前与家人一起到中国的七天江南游,没有所谓的地陪小姐为我们说故事、行程没有旅行团般紧凑、所到之处也当然远远不及江南游时来的多姿多彩。 但是,感觉上这次看到的中国更真更实。回到新加坡时有一位上海的朋友问我到了周口,感觉怎样。我觉得还好,虽然当地是落后了一些,百姓比较穷困,但是风土人情还算纯朴。

“对了,就是穷和落后!没有文化!这就是真实的中国!” 朋友斩钉截铁的说。我不以为然,毕竟朋友持有上海户籍,说话时难免会对外省的人存有些许偏见。虽然他说的不尽然对、但多少也是有根据的。只能说见仁见智吧!













Rewind to Oct 3

Got a call from the company for last minute assignment. There goes my sweet weekend and my mood to celebrate. My initial intention was to go home and be with my family. Last minute meetings to finalize the presentation on Friday, met up again on Saturday afternoon. Digesting the MOU and the CBs gave me butterflies in the stomach and I realized age has finally caught up with me.

Called home and told mom I was not going home for the weekend.

Slept soundly, for the first time after many late nights. Needed the rest desperately. CM closed in to wake me up at 9pm and asked if we want to go to West End, the western restaurant which Calvin brought us before he left for KL. Why not? Work is not everything in life. And so, we took a cab to Pasir Panjang Village and had a sumptuous dinner.

Thank you, baby.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Saturday Night Fever

It's been a long time since CM and I chilled out.

And after a romantic dinner at a place without signboard beside the Singapore River and a leisure stroll in Marina Square, we ended up in K-Box for 4 hours straight. The sad thing was that we realized that we were really outdated as there are many contemporary songs which we didn't know how to sing.

The interface to search for songs is pretty cacat and so we have to enlist group of songs that we were keen to sing by different singers and it was not surprising the Faye Wong era lasted longer than any other Tom, Dick and Harry. And I basically sang most of the songs from a customized album compiled by my secondary schoolmates in a cassette.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

152 billion is not enough, overspent 1.4 billion!!!

《2008年总审计司报告》揭露 马政府部门贪腐等弊端普遍

  总审计司安比林在报告中说,人资部属下在砂拉越州美里的一所工艺训练中心,以每座3万零510令吉购买6座立柱平台(pole platform)工具,其他还包括人资部在沙巴州山打根一所工艺训练中心,以480令吉购买市价90令吉的1GB记忆笔(thumbdrive),与市价相差达433%,以及教育部以3万7450令吉的价格,为吉兰丹州一所中学购买89棵市值5885令吉的树。

- 摘自联合早报(2009-10-21)

Monday, October 19, 2009




连续忙碌了几个月,没有好好休息的铁人媚,终于病倒了。今早去看的诊所很KNS,还好老子我有的是时间,不然可能当场就要发飚开演一场“天龙八部”。此帖是趁秋媚正在酐睡时随兴所发。希望妳早日康复,爱人。 老妈老爸这几个月也奔波劳碌了不少,希望他们多买一些补品和保健产品来保养身子,不需要为老姐、老妹和我这个书生客气。


Sunday, October 18, 2009

真善美的旋律-Melody of the True, the Good and the Beautiful



More melodious buddhist songs can be found here. Please enjoy and share the site:) If you like the songs, kindly order a copy via this email: Omi to hoot.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

One Ire Maybank Customer


Since I am on it, let's strike the iron while it's still hot.

Malaysian Standard of Customer Service

Was trying to take position this morning at 8.30am, half an hour before the market commences. So as usual, I intend to access but the page took a long time to connect and couldn't load. I closed the tab, open another one, still can't load the page. I restarted my lappie, opened up Explorer, made another attempt and the problem persist. Well, normally I would shrugged it off and wait for an hour later an retry, but I had a very important deal to execute and I need to do it soonest possible. So I called up the securities branch in JB.

Operator: Good morning, Maybank securities.
Me: Hi, I can't access the Maybank2u website. Is there any problem on your end?

Operator: You can try to logout and re-login.
Me: Sorry, I can't access the Maybank2u website, can't even login.

Operator: Ok, is your password correct?
Me: No, I can't even load the page. The page is blank. It's taking forever to connect, so I was thinking if there is any problem with the server on your end.

Operator: Oh. Like that. I think no problem. (Pause for 5 seconds.)
Me: You sure?

Operator: Yes, because other customers also didn't complain.
Me: Are you accessing the website in the office now? (So I am not customer lar? Never mind, put on my blue hat, trying to debug the situation.)

Operator: Yes. (Lying.)
Me: And you can login? And access to the online stock trading interface?
Operator: Yes. (Lying again.)
Me: (Starting to think it's my connection problem.) Then I have a problem.

Operator: Ya, because no other customer call in to complain about the website this morning.
Me: Ok, can you direct me to the technical support, probably they can help me troubleshoot my problem.

Operator: There's no technical support.
Me: (WTF?) You have no IT engineers to assist when there is a glitch with the system? What if other customers have the same problem?

Operator: Oh, there is no customer calling in on this issue. You can wait and try again later.
Me: Ok, I will try again and see. I will call back if the problem persist.

Minutes later, I tried to access the page and the HTTP 500 Internal Server Error showed up. Ok, not my problem. So I called in again.

Operator: Good morning, Maybank securities.
Me: Hi, I called in earlier. I retry and it's an internal server error.

Operator: Yes, we have a problem with our server.
Me: So how? Cannot trade today?

Operator: You want to check price is it? What counter?
Me: No, I want to execute my trade!

Operator: Oh, now cannot-lah.
Me: ......Salam 1Malaysia.

No wonder in Singapore, when the media report on the daily performance of the Asian bourses, normally they will leave out KLSE. Why? How can your indices be influential to the financial realm when your system is so inefficient and inconvenient to the investors?

Not sure if this is true back in 2007, if you deal with Maybank, you might want to check it out.

The inefficiency and the lacklustre attitude of the authority is one thing, what irks me is that how the public is accepting all these with apathy. It is similar to what the rakyat has been doing for 5 decades, swallowing the bitter pill in silence, granting the government to exploit us all this while and for many more years to come.

On the newspapers every now and then, I read about students from Chinese schools going to the public soliciting donations for their new classrooms, canteens, hostels, school hall, computer laboratories...etc. And I wondered why students from the Sekolah Kebangsaan never need to ask for donations barefacedly?

I read about Tenaga giving out green packets to the bumiputra orphans during Hari Raya and can't help but wonder when will Petronas give out ang pao to the Chinese during Chinese New Year or any other GLCs to dish out free gifts or muruku to the Indians?

The JPA scholarship issue, universities entry quota issue, hike in expressway toll...etc are bound to haunt us continuously, indefinitely. Occasionally, there will be some startling scandals like the Altantuya's murder, Lingam's tainted judiciary case, PKFZ defalcation, Teoh Beng Hock's death. But worry not, because all these cases will remain unsolved. At times, some jokers will pull out the keris, kiss and wield the weapon in some very important meetings, crying out loud for Malay lordship, some would use a cow's decapitated head as a soccer ball in order to disgust the Indians. Worry not, as no one will be held responsible or punished.

Because after all the ruckuses, we are still 1BigFamily. We are 1Malaysia. Because before Najib popularizes 1Malaysia, I thought we have multiple Malaysias. Thanks for the consistent reminder over the media with "Salam 1Malaysia", dude! But under the 1Malaysia exoderm, I don't really think that the flesh and blood will bond well if the dna is genetically handicapped. Change will surely come, but don't forget that evolution takes time and each and every seconds it takes is at the rakyat's expense.

So why not "bend the bamboo while it's still a shoot", albeit the bamboo is now mature and the culm has hardened. Nevertheless, it's better late than never, don't you think?