Recently when I asked somenone what he thought of the Kelantan royalty issue, he remarked: "Oh, she's gone home to huru-hara in Indonesia."
He was joking, of course - a rare trait in a lawyer - as he knew I was referring to the other royalty issue: the oil money allegedly owed by PETRONAS to Kelantan.
But I suppose one has to maintain a certain level of lightheartedness to see the two issues with a degree of levelheadedness.
The Kelantan Prince's alleged abuse of his estranged Indonesian wife Manohara, initially sensationalised by the media, is slowly losing its appeal even in her home country, especially when bits and pieces of what look like legitimate and credible information about her mother and her possible motives keep surfacing.
Personally, I have always maintained that no one would really know about what goes on behind closed doors, be it of a palace boudoir or of an ordinary folks' bedroom. And there are always, always, always two sides to a story, any story.
One should hope that given due time and appropriate perspective, a clearer picture would emerge to cast away doubts and unhappiness so that the Prince and his bride could re-build their life (if they choose to) and live happily ever after.
The same degree of levelheadedness should apply when it comes to the Kelantan oil royalty claims. One needs to question the basis of the claims. Are they based on sound legal ground, or are they politically manipulated?
The lawyer with the sense of humour said the claims do not hold water, much less oil. He said it has been legally established that all states in Malaysia are only entitled to royalty payments if oil and gas are found and produced within their land and water territories. Their water territories are only up to three nautical miles from their respective shoreline. The areas beyond the three nautical miles from the shoreline are under the jurisdiction of the Federal Government.
Now, it is also factually known that there's no producing oil and gas fields within the three nautical miles from the country's shoreline. The producing fields offshore Kelantan are in the waters jointly claimed and owned by the Thai and Malaysian governments. Another area is jointly claimed and owned by the Malaysian and Vietnamese governments.
But what about Terengganu, and Sabah and Sarawak, which are enjoying the oil and gas royalty? Terengganu, it seems, received some sort of ex-gratia payments until these were disputed a few years ago. This dispute is still being resolved in the courts of law. Sabah and Sarawak are another story, I was made to understand, as they had long receivid the oil benefits even before the country came into being.
To those who are quick to say that Kelantan has been robbed of what is rightfully hers, I would suggest that they should do a bit of research. Learning about the history of your own country would also help.
And those listening to these people should take the claims with a cupful of salt.
PHILISTINE LEADERS VS FIFTH GRADERS
A friend sent me this quote today, which I think aptly describes part of our country's state of affairs today. Well, at least when it comes to the way some of our elected leaders think and behave.
"Welcome to our land of philistines. Here we devalue the intellect, engage in trivial pursuits, encourage dumbing down and embrace a culture of flattery. We treat people like children.”
Case in point? Some MPs are bent on making themselves sound very stupid and uninformed just to play to certain audience, not unlike contestants on Fox's "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader".
Why do they keep doing that is beyond me. I mean, I do understand the concept of taking populist positions to advance political careers. But to what extent?
If by making uninformed statements only make them look and sound stupid, I don't mind so much. That's after all their decision.
But what about the rakyat that voted for them and hang on to their every word? In what way would stupid and uninformed statements help the rakyat?
None! They will continue to be misled, and their children will grow up misinformed. Life is after all a cycle. Good begets good, and vice versa.
So grow up. Be the leaders you promised to be. The rakyat are your paying audience. Give them what they truly deserve.
Bursting conspiracy bubbles
Petronas is neither hiding accounts nor squandering assets; central bank chief quit Khazanah board to head off conflict
And the latest, going by remarks uttered over television, relates to Petroliam Nasional, or Petronas.
There are two distinct themes here. The first, echoed by First Son-in-Law and Umno deputy youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin is that the oil corporation isn't transparent because it allegedly does not publish its annual accounts. In short, by being deliberately obtuse, Petronas could be playing fast and loose with the people's money.
The other alleges that the national oil company is making obscene profits at a time when the ordinary people are reeling from a 41 per cent hike in fuel prices.
Both themes are incorrect, although the first could have been true back in the 1980s when Petronas seemed very secretive. Not any more.
The national oil corporation is an international borrower, having raised money through both Yankee and Samurai bonds and international bondholders expect nothing less than complete transparency from issuers.
Petronas bonds have always been snapped up and generally held until maturity. Its accounts are also lodged with the Companies Commission and can even be downloaded from its website. As a former investment banker, Mr Khairy should have checked before shooting from the hip.
There is no denying that Petronas is making record profits - which have risen to RM46.4 billion (S$19.4 billion) for the year ended March 31, 2007 from 2003's RM15 billion.
Out of that amount, however, it gave RM20 billion back to the government in dividends. It has over RM102 billion cash and investments and it will probably make net profits of over RM70 billion for 2008.
But the company should not be attacked for using some of that money to forage for new supplies here and abroad. New investment is the key to its survival so it should be commended for doing so, not pilloried.
On another matter, we might want to consider the sudden resignation last week of Bank Negara governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz from the board of federal government investment agency Khazanah Nasional, an event that set tongues a-wagging in the capital because the central bank governor has traditionally sat on the agency's board and, indeed, chaired its audit committee.
Actually, Ms Zeti resigned from the audit committee more than a year ago and her resignation from the board was always just a matter of time given the potential conflict of interest following Khazanah's increasing investments in the banking sector, both locally and abroad.
Ever since Azman Mokhtar took over as the agency's head in 2004, Khazanah has expressed its intentions to increase its exposure to the financial sector.
Indeed, it immediately went about this by increasing its interest in the Bank of Commerce to over 25 per cent from 8 per cent and then engineering the consolidation of that bank with Bank Bumiputra to form CIMB, Malaysia's second largest bank.
One can only imagine Ms Zeti's discomfort when CIMB set about its hostile takeover of Southern Bank almost two years ago. The latter had even appealed to the central bank for help at one stage.
And now that Khazanah is beginning to eye foreign takeovers, it is best that Ms Zeti leaves lest her foreign counterparts in central banking look askance at her position.
I LOVE MY COUNTRY. I LOVE PETRONAS.
I guess a lot of Malaysians caught PETRONAS’ Chief Tan Sri Hassan Marican on RTM1 last night, doing his bit to help explain where the national oil company fits in the complex jigsaw puzzle that led to the steep rise in global crude oil and fuel prices.
All in all, it was quite a good effort. A lot of things were explained and made quite clear -- its role and responsibility, its contributions to the Government as part of this responsibility and its commitment not only towards its own growth and sustainability, but also towards the future of the industry so that PETRONAS and the industry could continue to generate optimized income for the country. If you happened to watch Bernama TV's Helo Malaysia immediately after the show, the two panel members – the ex-KLSE chief and the FOMCA Sec-Gen –- who discussed the same issue made good arguments for PETRONAS.
Now that we know that PETRONAS had contributed RM336 billion of its accumulated profit to the Government over the past 33 years, logically we should now be questioning how this money was spent and allocated by the Government. I mean, this is a huge sum by any standard. PETRONAS says the amount is 65% of its accumulated profit. That means, for every RM1 profit that PETRONAS made, it gave back 65 sen to the Government. How this money is spent by the Government is not PETRONAS' responsibility.
What touched me the most was Tan Sri Hassan’s last word on the show, where he conveyed the message from his 30,000 or so employees who don’t understand why they are being attacked left, right, front and centre, when they work so hard for the country. I feel sorry for PETRONAS’ staff because I know they work their behinds off for the company, especially in the current scenario where all oil companies are competing for access to oil reserves that are increasingly limited and harder to find.
As for their personal performance, I was told that each of the PETRONAS’ employees has to sign an individual performance contract at the beginning of the company’s financial cycle stating his or her performance target for the year and what he or she has to deliver. If by the end of the year he or she doesn’t deliver, there’ll be no salary increase or bonus.
I would think this is rather stressful. On top of that, they are required to cut operational costs in their own areas of responsibility by at least 30% a year. I guess this is one of the reasons why when other oil companies record minimal rise in profits, PETRONAS continue to perform excellently, because staff helped keep operational cost down while the costs for equipment, drilling etc rose exponentially.
Now that PETRONAS has explained, I guess it’s the Government’s turn now to do its bit. It has been doing a poor job at trying to educate the public on why fuel subsidies have to be reduced so much and so drastically. But judging from what I have read and heard, I’m not sure how many of our so-called elected leaders (both from the BN and Opposition camps) understand enough about the industry to accurately explain the situation to their constituents.
The past few days, we also heard and read allegations made by the Penang Chief Minister YAB Lim Guan Eng about PETRONAS. Personally, I feel most of these allegations are incitement or “hasutan” in nature. He claims that PETRONAS has private jets and helicopters, and PETRONAS’ officials live lavishly like kings in huge mansions.
I don’t know which PETRONAS’ officials he is talking about. A lot of people know that Tan Sri Hassan and his family stay in a modest house in a not-so-posh area in Ampang. Even some taxi drivers who have had to drive staff to his house expressed their disbelief that he actually lives there.
Yes, he does travel for business by a leased jet. But I guess I wouldn’t expect him to fly commercial – with various flight connections, potential delays or cancellations – when he has meetings, negotiations and billion-dollar deals to make. Time is of the essence, so is safety.
Looking at Mr. Lim’s continuous attacks, I’m led to believe that he might have a personal agenda against Tan Sri Hassan. A little bird told me that the two of them used to work together in an accountancy firm long ago. Could there be old grouses at play here? I don’t know.
Like I said in my previous posts, I expect a lot from my elected political leaders. When they promise they would bring about change, I thought they would behave differently from their counterparts, they would be fair, they would tell the truth to the rakyat and so on. I forgot politicians are politicians -- they are not accountable for anything.Naïve me.
It's been exactly a month since the masses spoke and elected their leaders: the men and women they believe would effect change and create some kind of impact on their lives -- at least for the next five years or so.
Yet, what have the leaders done? Not much.
The newly empowered opposition coalition is faring better, if only slightly. At least the component parties are showing some conciliatory efforts towards meeting the expectations of their respective constituents. Although some of the stuff they said and the statements made left me quite disappointed.
In this new order of things I am hoping for a much better deal -- more informed, learned and honest leaders way above those whose BS we were so used to having.
If you a Chief Minister and want some company to come finance a project, let's say a bridge, in your state you'd better spell out a proper commercial mechanism of how this company could come in, because in the end, the company (like any other profit-oriented entity) would only enter into something on a commercial basis. After all, it is a company.
You just don't go and say, "Hey, I know you have loads of cash, so you should use some of it to finance my bridge."
And if you're a newly elected MP and want to show that you know stuff, you'd better make sure you do know stuff. Making claims that the cost of producing oil has not changed much from donkey years before does not make much sense, especially when operating expenditures have skyrocketed to the heavens above. So you'd better make sure you have your calculations right when you speak.
I find it really frustrating when people in the position of power position themselves as experts in something they don't know crap about. And the sad part is, what they say -- how political or politicised -- becomes gospel among the misguided masses.
I am so very happy nowadays. In fact, I have never been happier. And yes, the results of the recently concluded general elections have a lot to do with my current state of happiness. They were exactly what I had wished and hoped for.
Some of the candidates who won really deserve the votes, including the MP of my constituency, who was re-elected with a "thumping" majority. Yes, she has been doing a good job. I am happy for her, for me, for everyone in the constituency.
Yes, I am happy. Blissful? Not really. Euphoric? Far from it. It's only been a few days since the votes were cast and counted, but there are already some disturbing developments. Not that these were totally unexpected.
Statements and suggestions have been made by our newly elected leaders. Some are really misinformed, some irresponsible, and some presented as the absolute truths without any corroboration. Which makes one wonder over the wisdom of one's choice for one's leader.
When we vote for a leader, we vote for his ability, his aspiration, his wisdom, his foresight, his vision, his passion, his compassion and his honesty, humility and sincerity in wanting to lead us to a better place, to better things.
We don't want a leader who promises us the moon and the stars but never tells us how he would bring down the moon and the stars to us. We don't want a leader who makes bold demands and claims but doesn't really understand the rules and reality of things.
Leaders must lead, not mislead. They must be informed, not misinformed. We've had enough of those.
It's time we changed. For real.
Note: Wetbenang had been temporarily indisposed, which explains why this site was dormant for a while. He apologises for his long absence, but promises a gradual comeback.
The mobile rang. It was 1.45pm, Saturday, August 4. “Salaam, Abang. Are you still on the way? Oh, that’s about 45 minutes to here already. I just wanted to tell you that Uncu has passed away. Ten minutes ago. Drive safely, and see you here soon.”
Ayong, ever so polite, ever so calm, hung up. Many more people to call, many things to arrange for.
My heart sank, and sank, and sank. I had so wanted to visit Uncu again, but duty and travel had not permitted. And that Saturday, I resolved to go see him.
The three-hour ride to the hospital felt like forever. It's always like that, isn't it? Time seems like an eternity when you want less of it, but flies by in a blink when you desperately need more of it.
Three years ago, I promised myself that I wouldn’t turn into this person who’d put work and everything else before family and loved ones.
I kept that promise for two years. This year, the promise was broken. And with that, several hearts as well.
Sorry I am. Shame I bear. Regrets I live with.
And a season for every activity under heaven
A time to be born and a time to die
A time to plant and a time to uproot
And a time to kill and a time to heal
A time to weep and a time to laugh
A time to mourn and a time to dance
A time to embrace and a time to refrain
A time to search and a time to give up
A time to keep and a time to throw away
A time to love and a time to hate
A time for war and a time for peace– From the film "Two Brothers" by Richard Bell
CAR THEFTS: TERRORISTS CONNECTION?