Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Gordon Brown's sister-in-law behind Radio Free Sarawak

This is the hottest news to hit the political battle-ground in Bolehland!

Brown provided the group with moral support
Radio Free Sarawak, an independent radio station that has been critical of Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, is being broadcast by former British prime minister Gordon Brown’s sister-in-law, Clare Rewcastle Brown and a Dayak, Peter John Jaban from London, according to a report by the London Evening Standard.

Hatta Wahari's blog Salak carries the story: S.I.L bares all | Radio Free Sarawak

Mariam Mohktar has it on Malaysia Chronicle: The battle for Sarawak begins: Angels and Devils show hand

Free Malaysiakini also has one: Anti-Taib website, radio run by ex-PM Brown's sis-in-law

Malaysian Insider also has one:

Gordon Brown’s sis-in-law behind anti-Taib campaign, says report

 And I am reproducing the news from London Evening Standard:

Gordon Brown's sister-in-law tackles corruption in Borneo

by David Cohen
IN a flat above a restaurant in Covent Garden, an investigative reporter called Clare and a tribesman from Borneo covered in tattoos prepare to transmit their daily revolutionary radio broadcast deep into the Borneo jungle.

They make for an unlikely double act - she is a white, middle-aged Englishwoman, and he the proud grandson of a Dayak headhunter who broadcasts under the pseudonym Papa Orang Utan. Their aim is no less outlandish: to expose the alleged corruption of Taib Mahmud, chief minister of the Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo 6,500 miles from London, and bring an end to his 30-year rule.

"This is Radio Free Sarawak," begins Papa Orang Utan, donning his headphones to interview a village headman who has been forcibly removed from his land and who, quite remarkably, speaks to them on a mobile phone from the edge of the Borneo rainforest. Clare briefs Papa: "Make sure you ask if he knows that it's chief minister Taib who has stolen their land? And get who he'll be voting for!"

Until now the identity of the "pirates" behind Radio Free Sarawak has been a closely guarded secret - and for good reason. Scandal-plagued Taib, 74, is one of the world's most ruthless and wealthiest men - richer allegedly than the Sultan of Brunei, whose independent country lies alongside - and locals who oppose him can feel the full force of his retribution.

But today is a watershed: the duo have bravely decided to out themselves ahead of the upcoming Sarawak elections, expected in April. Indeed, the Evening Standard can reveal that the mystery Englishwoman who set up Radio Free Sarawak four months ago and who brought out the tattooed tribesman - real name Peter John Jaban - to front her broadcasts is in fact Clare Rewcastle Brown, sister-in-law of former prime minister Gordon Brown.

The last time she was in the public eye was in May 2009 when she published a letter defending the then prime minister's cleaning arrangements in the wake of the expenses scandal. Her piece, "The true story of Gordon Brown, the cleaner and my husband", laid out their "very ordinary shared cleaning arrangements" and explained why The Telegraph's front page "scoop" was groundless.

"My poor husband Andrew," she recalls, "was the face on the front page on the first day of the expenses scandal, which was pretty damn unfair given that Gordon's arrangement with the cleaner was later judged wholly legitimate. The reporters arrived on our doorstep thinking they'd 'got Gordon' but they hadn't done their due diligence and when we presented them with the truth, they didn't want to hear it."

Today she sees less of her husband's older brother, "Gordon and Sarah being mainly up in Scotland", but they are "a close-knit family" and "Gordon is hugely supportive," she says.

Rewcastle Brown, 51, born in Sarawak to British parents in the days before the former British colony was handed over to Malaysia, lived in the region until the age of eight, and she is the author of the hard-hitting Sarawak Report, a hitherto anonymous blog that gets 18,000 hits a day.

"English is still the unifying language in Sarawak and I use my blog and broadcasts to expose the outrageous deforestation which has seen 95 per cent of Sarawak's rainforest cut down and replaced by logging and palm oil plantations which have enriched Taib and his family," she says. "What's more, my investigations indicate some of the Taib family money is right here in London and includes a lucrative property portfolio in the heart of our capital."

Her work, she adds, is also about "giving the 2.5 million oppressed people of Sarawak a choice".
"The leader of the opposition party, a charismatic human rights lawyer called Baru Bian, inspires hope of real change in the upcoming election, but scandalously only one-third of the electorate are registered to vote and the corrupt Malaysian government turn a blind eye because Taib always delivers them Sarawak, their richest state."

She says their decision to go public was prompted by death threats posted to the Sarawak Report website and by the mysterious fatality of her chief whistleblower in America. "Before Christmas, Taib's disaffected US aide Ross Boyert was found dead in a Los Angeles hotel room with a plastic bag around his head. The inquest is still pending but there was a sense that Peter and I could be in danger. Rather than hide, we've decided to come out fighting."

She kicks off her leather boots and laughs. "The irony is that Taib and his people think we're a huge operation but there are just five of us with a couple of laptops and a mixer. Advances in MP3 technology mean that these days shortwave radio is cheap and easy to do. We've been so effective that Taib's people believe we're funded by George Soros, whose foundation funds Radio Free Burma."

Her outfit - started in October from the dining room of her loft in Victoria where she lives "in shabby dilapidation" with Andrew and their two teenage children - costs less than £10,000 a month, she says. Initially she funded it herself but she's since roped in some "better-off friends" who help out "anonymously". "Not Gordon," she hastens to add. "His support is strictly moral!"

Her passionate dedication to a cause 99 per cent of Londoners have never heard of sometimes causes strains, she admits, with friends and family. "But I honestly believe that Taib is probably one of the worst environmental criminals on the planet and that he has taken huge amounts from the country of my birth."

She smiles. "He never saw me coming. When he set up his property companies in 1982, he could never have imagined that some mad woman sitting in her kitchen in London would unravel his property empire simply by scrutinising company reports online."

As an investigative journalist who started with the BBC World Service in 1983, she is better equipped than most to uncover the wealth of the Mahmud family.

"My investigations have indicated that Taib and his family have a property empire in Canada, the US and the UK. Funds have been generated by Taib selling off rainforests with some of the money going through the British Virgin Islands."

The Evening Standard put these allegations to those who are behind the companies and they were denied.

Rewcastle Brown's passion for the rainforests of Sarawak was kindled as a child when she accompanied her mother, Karis, a midwife, into the jungle. Back then, Sarawak had the most biodiverse rainforest in the world with 3,000 species of trees, 15,000 plants, 420 birds and 221 mammals.

"My mother would drag me to remote clinics to show the indigenous Dayaks what a healthy baby should look like," she recalls.

"Everyone in those villages sleeps in one long-house and my mother frequently saved the lives of their sick babies. As a kid, my first friends were the local children and we used to climb trees and run barefoot, dodging the odd scorpion."

The family came to the UK when Rewcastle Brown was eight and she attended a private boarding school and later finished her masters in international relations at the LSE. It would be 38 years before she returned to Sarawak on a media trip where the degradation of the rainforest - so evident from the air - shocked her to the core.

In 2008 she went back to report on a by-election and secretly film companies clearing rainforest for oil palm. That was when she "fell into a peat bog and nearly died", and it was also when she met Jaban, 46, an election monitor fired from Taib's state-controlled radio for allowing callers to criticise the chief minister.

Last year she invited Jaban to become the voice of Radio Free Sarawak in London. It was a drastic step because it meant that while Taib stays in power, Jaban can never go back.

"I miss my four children, I miss my home," he says, tears streaming. He looks vulnerable, like a fish out of water, but he suddenly straightens. "I am prepared to die for this cause," he says. "In the days of my grandfather, you had to bring a decent clutch of heads as a sign of your masculinity when you got married. Today things have changed but you still have to be a man."

What are their chances of success? Rewcastle Brown ponders for a moment. "People say our man hasn't got a prayer in the election and that Taib will intimidate voters as he always does but I think our reports are having a huge effect and that there's a groundswell for change."

She smiles thinly. "You've got to take heart from what is happening in the Middle East to rulers who seemed equally immovable until just a few weeks ago."

Related info:

Monday, February 21, 2011

Escape from Jakarta (part 3)

This chapter discuses the causes of Indonesia's dwindling or stagnant economy. Is it due to the weaknesses in its leadership or the social-political instability that plagues Indonesia and the Jakarta administration in general?

Thirteen years after the fall of dictator Suharto, one wonders why Indonesia has not risen after the political unrest in 1997 to be one of Asia's economic powerhouse, in the same breadth as China and India (or at least Malaysia and Thailand).

But had not Indonesia been a country with an abundance of natural resources and the fourth largest country in the world (or 4th largest democracy? as one blogger questioned) it would have been a long gone conclusion for the demise of its economy.

Read how a writer Michael Schuman described Indonesia: For a country of 225 million population, with an abundance of natural resources and a large consumer market, the country has slipped in status from the once roaring economic tiger to chronic underachiever. Source: A Failed State?

In 2009, in an effort to support Indonesia face the worsening economic turmoil, the World Bank announced a $2 billion standby loan. The facility, which is the largest loan ever granted to Indonesia by the World Bank, is unique for its precautionary and leveraging features, said Joachim von Amsberg, the Bank’s country director for Indonesia, who was in Washington, D.C. last week for the announcement. Source: Unique Loan to Help Indonesia Avoid Financial Crisis

Even the current president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has admitted that due to “illnesses" and other internal factors have caused the Development in Indonesia to ‘Fail’, singling out Indonesia’s inefficient bureaucracy, which is resistant to implementing decisions.

According to the government, the percentage of Indonesia's population living below the poverty line in 1996 was 17.1%. By July 2008 (after 12 years) there was only very little improvement -- 15.4% of the population lived in poverty.
During the thirty two years of president Suharto's "New Order" government, Indonesia's economy grew from a per capita GDP of $70 to more than $1,000 by 1996. Through prudent monetary and fiscal policies, inflation was held between 5%–10%, the rupiah was stable and predictable, and the government avoided domestic financing of budget deficits. Much of the development budget was financed by concessional foreign aid.

High levels of economic growth from 1987–1997 masked a number of structural weaknesses in Indonesia's economy. Growth came at a high cost in terms of weak and corrupt institutions, severe public indebtedness through mismanagement of the financial sector, the rapid depletion of Indonesia’s natural resources, and a culture of favors and corruption in the business elite.

Corruption particularly gained momentum in the 1990s, reaching to the highest levels of the political hierarchy as Suharto became the most corrupt leader according to Transparency International's corrupt leaders list.

As a result, the legal system was very weak, and there was no effective way to enforce contracts, collect debts, or sue for bankruptcy. Banking practices were very unsophisticated, with collateral-based lending the norm and widespread violation of prudential regulations, including limits on connected lending. Non-tariff barriers, rent-seeking by state-owned enterprises, domestic subsidies, barriers to domestic trade and export restrictions all created economic distortions. Source: Wikipedia

On the contrary, the writer puts the blame of Indonesia's economic regression not on Suharto, but his successors.

Schuman wrote: Indonesia's relatively sluggish performance can be traced to the fall of Suharto — an autocrat who repressed political dissent but who, like other Asian strongmen of his era, was able to guide the country toward prosperity. After he was forced to step down in 1998 amid an economic meltdown, a new government set about erasing his dictatorial imprint; in 1999 an effort began to decentralize the once all-encompassing power of Jakarta, giving provinces and cities more influence over local affairs.

Source: What's Holding Indonesia Back?

How Suharto got into power and then lost it
In August 1966, following endemic violence and social unrest, Sukarno, the charismatic independence leader was forced to grant Suharto executive powers that would eventually lead to the general succeeding him. Suharto was formally elected in March 1968, and would rule until 1998. On May 20 1998 Suharto was forced to resign due to violent protest over accusation of plundering the nation's wealth, corruption and cronyism.
Suharto (left) and President Sukarno. Source

But it is unfair to put the blame on Indonesia's dwindling economy wholly to the leaders who succeeded Suharto as it is intertwined with so many factors, including the global economic rise and fall.

Lets look how the presidents after Suharto had fared after Suharto's downfall.

When Suharto was forced to resign in May 1998 there were 3 presidents who succeeded him -- B.J.Habibie, Abdurrahman Wahid aka Gus Dur and Megawati Sukarno Puteri. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is still in power, so it is better not to be judicious on him as he may later come out a better winner.

An aerospace engineer by training, President B.J.Habibie was previously the Minister of Technology and Research in Suharto's cabinet from 1978 to 1998.

But B.J.Habibie's tenure as president, can be considered a transitional period from a dictatorial rule to a more democratic and politically stabilize Indonesia. During his 17 months as head of state, he pursued steady course toward democracy, dismantling dictatorship that Suharto had put in place during 32 years in power. Habibie freed press, labor unions and political parties, and began the slow process of pulling military out of politics.

But, as far as the economy is concerned, B.J.Habibie has done almost nothing to bring Indonesia out of the doldrums after the 1997-98 Asian Economic Crisis except to come to terms with IMF's bailout suggestions.

However, in the history of modern Indonesia, B.J.Habibie was considered the father of Technology and Democracy: Bapak Teknologi dan Demokrasi Indonesia.

Then, in what he calls one of his proudest achievements, B.J.Habibie became the first Indonesian president ever to be voted out of office -- replaced in October 1999 by an equally eccentric leader (as compared to Suharto), the voluble, half-blind Muslim cleric Abdurrahman Wahid.

During his less than 3 year presidency, Abdurrahman Wahid (or fondly known as Gus Dur) was regarded an incompetent leader. But even before he became president it was apparent that there was nothing outstanding about his former administration (Suharto and B.J.Habibie) but a ruined wreck  — an enormous foreign debt, an economy in disorder, social injustices, conflagrations and accusations springing up everywhere.

Wahid was alleged to be involved in 2 scandals - the misappropriation of 35 billion rupiah ($US3.9 million) from the State Logistics Agency (Bulog) and misusing a $US2 million donation from the Sultan of Brunei (source: Indonesian president's future increasingly in doubt).

He was finally impeached from presidency for the alleged corruption in February 2001.But his downfall was not only for the alleged financial improprieties but on the inadequacies of his performance as president. He is accused of being erratic, of traveling too much and being disrespectful to parliament.

Megawati Sukarnoputri, the vice-president who succeeded Abdurrahman Wahid, after the latter was removed from office in 2001, was Indonesia's first woman president.

Megawati is the daughter of Indonesia's first president, Sukarno, and also the first Indonesian leader to be born after independence (Sukarno, had declared Indonesia's independence from the Netherlands in 1945).

Megawati is said to be the least talkative of all Indonesia's rulers, a firm holder to the rule that "Silence is Golden". Her lack of outspokenness on issues and her quiet nature were sometimes read as serenity, but others saw these qualities as signs of being uneducated, unprepared, and uninteresting.

But she will generally be roused to speech by matters such as gardening, cooking and food, and shopping, but not affairs of state. On serious issues, she tended to lose her concentration very fast. Source: Megawati Sukarnoputri.

In the 2004 presidential election Megawati ran for re-election but was defeated by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. In the 2009 presidential election, she sought a rematch, but lost again to Yudhoyono.

Indonesia's current leader, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, also known by his initials SBY, who succeeded Megawati as the 6th president is known as a man of integrity, a strong communicator and firm leader in times of crisis. But critics say the former military commander is surprisingly indecisive, tending to consider all perspectives and opinions before making up his mind.

The man dubbed "the thinking general", wasborn in 1949 in East Java. His father is a retired army lieutenant.

In 1973 Yudhoyono graduated from Indonesia's military academy, joined the army and rose through the ranks. But he never quite achieved the highest levels in the military to which he aspired. His four star General status was an honorary award given to him when he left the army to join the government of Abdurrahman Wahid in 2000. He started as minister for mines but was soon promoted to chief minister for security and political affairs.

Under two successive presidents (Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Sukarnoputri) he was forced from office for not coming to terms with their decisions. However, those spats seems to have enhanced Mr Yudhoyono's reputation as a man of principle, willing to sacrifice his own ambitions for the values he believes in.

But one fact about the 'mentality' of Indonesia's population fascinates me: That - and the fact that he (Yudhoyono) looks good on TV - could also have proved an important factor in his election win, according to Denny Ja. "You have to remember that 60% of the population only graduated from elementary school, so they don't investigate candidates too closely," Mr Ja said.

Denny Ja is executive director of the Indonesian Survey Institute. Source: New era as Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono takes office

So, I guess that determines where the basis of Indonesia's underlying problems are from: Education as the development thrust and its main priority or the imbalances in the distribution of the economic cake.

However, the crux of the matter I believe lies within its economic-development policies, which are vague and represents an imbalance of interest in its power sharing. Some political analyst said Indonesia's policy of decentralizing of political power from the central government to the provinces has created an unpredictable business environment rife with corruption, competing interests and confusing regulations.

How true! This not only thwarts FDIs and would-be investors but also tends to hold back ordinary Indonesians, who can do little but look with envy upon their more prosperous neigbouring countries like Malaysia and Singapore.

No doubt its foreign direct investment (FDI) has increased in recent years as the economy has improved gradually. But more reform is required, economists say, if Indonesia is to become more competitive regionally and globally. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Escape from Jakarta (part 2)

Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier World Tour 2011 poster
The British heavy metal legend IRON MAIDEN first concert tour of Indonesia kicked off Thursday night (February 17) at Pantai Karnaval, Ancol, West Jakarta.
The original venue as printed in the poster (left) - STADION UTAMA GELORA BUNG KARNO SENAYAN, Jakarta Pusat has changed. Another show will showcase in Bali at Garuda Wisnu Kencana on Sunday, February 20.

This poster was also alike the billboard display that greeted us when we landed in Jakarta on 13 February 2011. Any visitor to Jakarta would not have missed it as the posters and billboards can obviously be seen along the road leading into the city.
Roadside stall, a common sight in Jakarta

Despite the hype on TV and on the internet, we however did not notice any excitement amongst the locals here.

When I pointed out to the large billboard to my wife, the taxi driver did not give any hint that the locals were excited about it although all along we were talking about Jakarta, the transport system and how to move around in the city.

In the news we also read that the Majlis Ulema of Indonesia (MUI) had condemned Valentine's Day by saying it is haram (forbidden for Muslims).

However, different chapters of the MUI are divided on the edict or the type of prohibition on the V-Day celebration. MUI branches in North Sumatra, West Java and West Nusa issued the haram edict while the branch in Yogyakarta said it was not haram (as per the printed version of Jakarta Post).

A Valentine Day gift service advertisement in Jakarta
On 10 February the Dumai chapter of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) in Riau also agreed that the celebration of Valentine’s Day is haram but the news report on 12 February has the MUI backtracked on its earlier decision:

MUI backs down on Valentine’s Day ‘haram’ call

MUI's edict department chairman Ma'ruf Amin (pic below) said that Valentine's Day, which falls Monday this year, should be received as an "ordinary get-together", or silaturahmi.
Ma'aruf Amin

And it so happens that the second day we were in Jakarta, Monday 14 February was when the locals celebrated Valentine's Day.

No, this was not the reason why we were in Jakarta. We were here just for our holidays which coincided with our anniversary (or the other way around).

The Ibis Mangga Dua Hotel, Jakarta
And it was a really busy day for most of the locals. In central Jakarta where we stayed (Ibis Mangga Dua Hotel) it was 'macet' on all nearby roads leading to everywhere. "Macet' is the colloquial term for traffic jam.

In Denpasar, Bali on the same day, it was reported that thousands of youth in the city flooded souvenir and flower shops to buy Valentine’s Day gifts, causing traffic congestion on main thoroughfares all over the capital city.

The Jakarta Post report: Valentine’s Day fever hits Denpasar youth

Me, in front of the tour bus we boarded to Kota Wisata
It rained cats and dogs in the morning when we set upon our journey to Kota Wisata Cibubur on a tour bus. Kota Wisata Cibubur is a suburb of Jakarta, a new residential area and a tourist destination located south of the city, near Bogor. 

The bus driver told us there are many Malaysians (and Singaporeans) owning bungalows, villas and investing in real estates in Kota Wisata.

For context read a local blogger's concern about foreigners owning strategic assets in Indonesia: Kapan ya Indonesia Punya Perusahaan Negara Sekuat Temasek dan Khazanah?

It took us an hour to travel to the place. The co-driver kept pestering us to have our meal at his friend's stall and even stop us in front of 'Pak Amir's', convincing us that the stall is halal. 

Breakfast at Ali's nearby Kg China in Kota Wisata Cibubur

We had our breakfast there and my wife did some shopping or 'belanja' for about an hour at Kampung China. As it was raining quite heavily we also shop for umbrellas.

On the way back, the traffic was again at its usual 'macet' situation. The journey back to Jakarta took us almost 2 and a half hours and all the roads leading to the city were flooded heavily. 

We wanted to stop by WTC Mangga Dua to do some more shopping or just browse around, but the bus went straight to where we boarded it earlier in front of ITC Mangga Dua. We tried asking a Bajai driver if he could take us to WTC but he refused and said the road leading to the place is flooded.
My favorite Nasi and Sup Buntut

Feeling a bit disappointed we settled for lunch at the food court in ITC Mangga Dua, located on the 7th floor. I had my favorite nasi and sup buntut and my wife had her usual lontong. The sup buntut was okay, but she complained that the lontong was not as tasty as the ones we usually had in Malaysia or Singapore. 

After lunch, we gave another try to get a Bajai and on the third attempt the driver agreed. After some swifts, turns and emergency braking ordeal, we arrived there in one piece about an hour later. 

I told my wife we could have reached there 30 minutes earlier on foot (for context read my earlier posting) but the water level would not make it easy for us to walk with our shoes on as we were not wearing slippers or sandals. 

Bajai driver in action
Before reaching WTC we alighted and paid the Bajai driver 15,000rp as requested. On a normal day, the ride could only cost us 5,000rp the most.

But WTC Mangga Dua was also a disappointment as the products traded there were about the same as Mangga Dua Square. Even ITC Mangga Dua was better, my wife said. 

We were at Mangga Dua Square the night before and we found that the place to shop for quality materials here was only at its Factory Outlet store where my wife bought some shirts for the kids. We wanted to see and buy some branded products like Adidas, Nike, Sketchers, Gucci, LV, Coach and the like. But we were later told that the nearest place these 'barang asli' or original products can be found at Plaza Indonesia or Grand Indonesia Shopping Town.

The shopping queen from Penang
So we tried to flag a taxi to go there, but to no avail. The traffic was moving at snail pace and it was unlikely we could get a taxi to stop as they were all occupied. 

Feeling tired and restless, we opted to walk to Mangga Dua Square opposite WTC. Here my wife had another lunch at the lower level food court beside Carrefour as she said she did not finish the lontong she had at ITC earlier (...duh!).

Feeling unsatisfied with what Mangga Dua Square has to offer, we again tried to flag a taxi from there. One taxi driver stop at its parking bay, but when we wanted to board it, he pulled the windscreen and muttered 'capek' and told us to wait for the next one. 

No 'Coaches' in Jakarta
Another one stopped and we got into it. However, the driver persuaded us not to use the ARGO meter as he said it could take 3 to 4 hours to reach to our destination as the roads are 'macet'. He spoke in a very dialectic way and it was not easy to comprehend. But we understood that he was persuading us to pay more than the usual charge. The reason -- the roads are 'macet'

We did finally pay him more than the usual charge of 10,000rp (as we had paid for the night before for the same distance). But we gave up as we were also 'capek' and instructed him to instead send us back to our hotel. 

I gave him 20,000rp but he asked for more. I added another 4,000rp and he thanked us. To tell you the truth, I do not like it when after I have given or paid a person more than the usual intended price of a service or product, he/she asked for more.  

The reason I relented was because I was traveling with my wife and she is somehow the 'kesian' type who would give in to people who she thinks is genuinely poor. I consider it good to feel 'sorry' for other people's misery, but I feel really bad if I think the person has used his/her persuasion to make us feel sorry for their sometimes deliberated or overacted desolation.

On the next day, which I will tell present to you in the next episode (part 3), I had concluded that most Indonesians I see toiling their sweat on the overcrowded streets of Jakarta, Cisuara and Bogor are really hard pressed for money, making them what I call desperados, whether they try to show it in their faces or not. 

But being desperados doesn't mean they are bad. They are just hard pressed for jobs and money to pay for a better living, which they can hardly find in their own country. Willfully, many Indonesians took the trouble to find enough money needed to come to Malaysia to find jobs in the intention to endow themselves and their family a better living in this world.  

All this to satisfy this hard-pressed desire to be better off than they already are. 

But to satisfy this desperation (as being desperados), we can choose to do it the noble way or by hook and crook (persuasion, begging, cheating, robbing or manipulating)....

But when we come to a psychological point of desire like a need for a philosophical belief to satisfy our conscience, we will then search aimlessly...(now I'm rambling) like a lonely soldier fighting in a bloody hopeless war...for reasons we ourselves do not know the lyrics from one of Iron Maiden's song, "Mother of Mercy".

....I'm just a lonely soldier fighting in a bloody hopeless war

Don't know what I'm fighting, who it is, or what I'm fighting for

Thought it was for money, make my fortune, now I'm not so sure

Seem to just have lost my way...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Escape from Jakarta (part 1)

Heavy traffic queuing at the toll booth at Cililitan 2, Jakarta
Indonesia is very prone to environmental problems and natural disasters.

Tsunamis, earthquakes and volcano eruptions are a normal occurrence in many parts of the country, some of which erupt and torment its people without warning or mercy.  

In many parts of Indonesia, these environmental disasters has taken away many lives and many more are left poor and homeless.  

Flash floods, landslides and widespread flooding also happen regularly during the rainy season which usually strikes from December to March.

Even in cities like bustling metro Jakarta, Bogor and Bekasi where incessant heavy rains usually hit the hilly terrains of Bogor (known as the city of rains), the upstream downpour would strike the low lying areas around the river basins and flood the whole valley in a day with ease.

Traffic jams in Jakarta are worse than Kuala Lumpur
Couple that with the bad drainage system and the traffic woe infamy in central Jakarta, the matter would get even worse. The real problem to many city dwellers is, whenever these flash-floods occur, the ever increasing traffic gets into an almost standstill.

But be that as it may, the people of Jakarta are a patient and likable lot. Many seems to be casual about the matter and carry on with their everyday lives as if nothing unusual is happening.

When we were in Jakarta last week, my wife and I never thought that the Jakarta traffic could be that bad. Never had we experience a standstill traffic for so long that we could even walk faster than the vehicle stuck in the jam.

Flash flood is a common occurance in Jakarta
Quoting It is a sheer test of patience and heat. You are literally sitting in your motionless vehicle; waiting for what seems like hundreds of vehicles ahead of you to move forward. You are sandwiched between cars, trucks, buses, motorbikes and street peddlers. The only way out is to follow the herd in front of you, moving slowly in a timeless motion till you are out of this vicious traffic congestion.

We initially thought the traffic jam in Kuala Lumpur was the worse in this part of the world.  Or maybe in Bangkok, but I am not sure as I have only been there once, sometime in the late 1990s.

But wait till you get to experience Jakarta and its infamous 'jamming session'.

Bajais waiting in line at the Jakartakota Train Station

You can even get a full-days sleep in this terrible jam if you are traveling in a comfortable air-conditioned 'Kijang' or taxi. You can even get roasted in the hot sun or bring home a 'royal' back cramp if you're traveling in a lesser comfortable vehicle.

Worse still, you can even get a heart-attack if you travel in one of those 'Bajai' or 'Angkutan' and are not accustomed with how these drivers 'mencilok' around the slow moving traffic.

But on a hindsight (and considering that you are brave enough), moving around on the Bajai is faster and more practical in the congestion. And that's what we did, when we were caught in the rain and flood in Jakarta on 14 February.

Wife & me braving the Jakarta traffic on a Bajai 

Well, maybe that is why many Indonesians do not give much bother about traffic jams, torrential rains or flash floods when it happens. The side-walk stalls and street-peddlars would carry-on their business as usual as if nothing is wrong with the weather or traffic.

Jakarta street-peddlers showing off their products in the jams
For example, read what this blogger commented on why Indonesians do not bother much about the jams: Indonesians blame the current traffic woes on many factors - red tape, corruption, poor implementation and controls, poor urban and development planning, etc. Many people just don’t care anymore and simply adjust their lives to this misery.

Heavy rains, flash-floods and the ever increasing traffic jams are to them a mundane, everyday matter that they have to live with, whether they like it or not. To some of them, like the street-peddlers and beggars, it is where their business and living rely upon.

I can't imagine, how these people would conduct business in a jam free city.

So, to them the irony of a standstill traffic means it is good when people stuck in the traffic would have no choice but to look and consider buying what they are offering.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Click on pic for bigger view
The 2010 CORRUPTION PERCEPTION INDEX measures the perceived level of public sector corruption and integrity in 178 countries around the world.

Find out how Malaysia performs as compared to previous years and how the other countries measure up to one another.

The results and colored map of comparison: here (for an interactive view) or click pic above.

Of all the religions in the world, I wonder why many Islamic countries (as portrayed here) is being badly perceived as corrupted. Whereas countries in the northern and southern continents where many Christians reside, are very clean as far as the corruption index is concerned.

We know very well Islam forbids corruption and the Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) strongly detest it, yet in the 21st century, many Muslim countries are perceived as corrupts. The Prophet once said: One who takes bribes and the one who gives bribes will both dwell in hell.

Even Singapore, which is our nearest neighbour (which we also share many similarities in politics, culture and values) was viewed as a very clean country (at a score of 9.3) in this index. Singapore is at top placing, together with Denmark and New Zealand.

How come we are ranked at number 56 (at a score of 4.4), together with Namibia and Turkey?

Even South Africa and Kuwait are better than us at number 54. In comparison, last year we are at the same spot, albeit with a better score of 4.5. In other words, we have not improve as far as the ranking (or perception) is concerned. In fact we have glided from the 44th ranking in 2006 when the CPI score was 50.

This also means corruption is becoming more (perceived or otherwise) rampant in this country.

And please, if you think this index is just a sham to degrade or shame developing and underdeveloped countries or even Islamic countries for that matter, then read how they derived to the conclusion: here

Perceptions are used because corruption – whether frequency or amount – is to a great extent a hidden activity that is difficult to measure.

The CORRUPTION PERCEPTION INDEX is one of the many TI measurement tools that serve the fight against corruption.

Related article: Ethics and Corruption in Muslim Countries: Fact vs Fiction

Thursday, February 10, 2011

LGBTs - Are we flogging a dead horse?

The term LGBT is used to emphasize a diversity of "sexuality and gender identity-based cultures." It is also used to refer to anyone who is non-heterosexual instead of exclusively to people who are homosexual, bisexual, or transgender.

Flogging a dead horse?
Flogging a dead horse is an idiom that means a particular request or line of conversation is already foreclosed or otherwise resolved, and any attempt to continue it is futile; or that to continue in any endeavour (physical, mental, etc.) is a waste of time as the outcome is already decided.

It is not the first time for the NST to come out with this challenging issue of defending LGBTs in its spotlight page. It is a perennial issue, especially when suddenly some scholars wanted to present a new conclusion of a social study or research they had just published.

And as usual, it is always with a controversial statement that the trans or LGBTs are not what they appear to be -- challenging the conservative views and misconceptions, and that transsexualism are in fact a biological occurence.

Some five years ago, I read a similar story of a research done by a woman lecturer from Kedah who higlighted (in the NST) the plight of the transexuals and that she insisted the government do something to help improve their existence in society or find ways to reduce the stigma they are facing from the community.

Today the NST gave a two-page highlight on this matter with a screaming title: Looking at the other side of Mak Nyah. In Malaysia, there are between 10,000 and 20,000 transsexuals and more than 60 per cent of them are involved in the vice trade.

In this first part, ELIZABETH ZACHARIAH and FARHANA AB RAHMAN look at the Mak Nyah or transsexual community and the problems that plague them. For those who are yet to be enlightened of the plight of this segment of the community, it's an eye-opener. For me it's a refreshing read.

And don't forget tomorrow (11 February 2011), the NST for the second part. It should be more revealing.

Also read how the PINK Triangle (PT) Foundation, funded by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry, helps the Mak Nyah community by focusing on self-empowerment, human rights, personal development and health concerns related to HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted disease (STD).

Centre helps give Mak Nyah sense of belonging

And finally the debate on whether it is inborn or affected by the environment (nature vs nurture again!). Also read my year end write-up: Homosexuality - to accept or not?
Prof Teh Yik Koon

I'm not sure whether it is the same lecturer that I had read about 5 years ago, but this Professor Teh Yik Koon of National Defence University of Malaysia has been studying transsexual issues for more than a decade. She believes the issue is more than the individuals entertaining their alter egos.

She says various research findings have shown that transsexualism is a medical condition, citing a scientific article titled: Male-to-Female Transsexuals Have Female Neuron Numbers in a Limbic Nucleus.

Read the whole article:'It's a medical condition.

But if it is a medical condition, then it can possibly be cured. Or at least the sufferer of the 'medical condition' (Mak Nyahs la..) makes an effort to admit (himself or herself) as a patient. 

But many people also argue that transsexualism is a choice.

Also read: A Critique of the Brain-Sex Theory of Transsexualism

Anyway, in this country with Islam as the official religion, the conservatives who constitute the majority and the people who helm power prefer to stick to the original idea that transexualism is prohibited. 

While non-Muslim can decide for themselves whether they want to accept transsexualism as their way of life, it's up to them. But to the Muslims, it is strictly a no-no (no other way). Even cross-dressing is not allowed, what more a transgender surgery or sex-change.

So what are the alternatives for these Muslims transsexuals?

No alternatives -- dead end road -- no middle ground -- accept it as it is or you burn in hell...! cruel can the religion of Islam be?

I am sure you've heard of Zulkiflee Ahmad, the singer who won second place Bintang RTM in 1974, recorded two EPs after that, went to do his bachelors degree at Newcastle University and then came back and transformed into Yasmin Ahmad,
film director, writer and scriptwriter (died in 2009 at age 51). 

Liberty League director Leslie Lung
How come he can become a she, and was also accepted into the fold of society and became a very famous and celebrated movie producer and director?

The answer, InsyaAllah: in my next posting (if I am still around).

So, meanwhile try reading about this group from Singapore called the Liberty League which claimed they can help the trans to liberate their transsexuality in a natural way. Liberty League says it conducts weekly group sessions where participants speak about their sexual preferences and dilemmas. 

Group offers 'liberty' from same-sex attraction

Why is there's no similar group exist in Malaysia, apart from PINK Triangle, which we know mostly offers counselling and care services relating to HIV/AIDS and sexuality? What about helping the trans to liberate themselves from their 'confused' sexuality if they desire so?

So, with all these facts and links presented, can we say we are flogging a dead horse or reaching a dead end with the LGBT issue?

Watch this space.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What does the future hold for Egypt?

Protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square 4 February 2011
What does the richest man in the world and the poorest people in the Arab legion have in common?

1. They fear and loath each other
2. They wait for every opportunity to pounce (or plunder) at another
3. They come from Egypt

Asian News International (ANI) news report yesterday claimed that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is likely the richest man in the world with an estimated fortune worth about 70 billion dollars

All this wealth made by the President while he was in power for three decades, while the people of Egypt suffer in poverty and fear of being harassed or arrested.

The 70 billion dollars would put the 82-year-old comfortably ahead of Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim Helu, who is worth about 53.5 billion dollars, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the richest American with 53 billion dollars.

According to the Guardian, Mubarak had access to investment deals that have generated hundreds of millions of pounds in profits, most of which have been taken offshore and deposited in secret bank accounts or invested in upmarket homes and hotels.

Gamal and Hosni Mubarak
As reported last year in the Arabic newspaper El Khabar, Mubarak has money stashed in several Swiss and other foreign bank accounts, and has shadowy real-estate holdings in Manhattan, London and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

His sons, Gamal and Alaa, are also billionaires. A protest outside Gamal's ostentatious home at 28 Wilton Place in Belgravia, central London, highlighted the family's appetite for western trophy assets.

Compare that to what the ordinary people in Egypt has.

According to news report here, President Hosni Mubarak's track record with regard to empowering his subjects is abysmal :

Egypt's landless have no love for Mubarak

Small farmers were forced into becoming sharecroppers. 
More than half (57%) of Egyptians who live in the countryside are poor farmers.

Under Mubarak's watch, one in ten Egyptians lost their farms. Almost two decades ago, families who had been self-sustaining farmers became landless sharecroppers or migrant labourers with a stroke of Mubarak's pen.

Between 1992 and 1997, about 1 million heads of tenant households (about 6 million people, or close to one in ten Egyptians) went from being secure, moderately prosperous farmers, who enjoyed owner-like status and paid a low fixed rent, to being traditional insecure sharecroppers.

Subsequent research by Professor Ray Bush (2002) Counter-revolution in Egypt's countryside: land and farmers in the era of economic reform, found that this policy reversal caused widespread eviction of former registered tenants, increased rural poverty and indebtedness, and spurred an increase in urban migration by the young. Average rents eventually quadrupled.

Like their city cousins, Egypt's rural landless see no way to improve their lives, save for one – bring down the man who took their land and their livelihood.

Even in Malaysia, where many Egyptians reside, their account on how underprivileged and deprived the people are in their own land attest to all the grievances made.

On the right is a screen capture of today's theSun report entitled: Egyptians in M'sia have their say. Click on the pic for a bigger view.

So what does the future holds for Egypt and its people if Mubarak is still around?

Related news:  Egypt protesters call for push to eject Mubarak

Wael Ghonim relaunches the revolution

Monday, February 7, 2011

When in Malawi, do not fart

There's wind blowing in a far away country that stipulates this in their legislation: it is illegal to fart in public!

The Local Courts Bill of Malawi, introduced earlier reads: "Any person who vitiates the atmosphere in any place so as to make it noxious to the public to the health of persons in general dwelling or carrying on business in the neighbourhood or passing along a public way shall be guilty of a misdemeanour."

Actually, the law was first introduced in Malawi in 1929. But nobody in Malawi has been arrested nor convicted for farting under the old law, as police did not enforce it. 

Meanwhile, I have a few questions here:

Will there be a NO FART police section/department in charge of arresting people who blew away in public?

BTW, will it be farting with or without sound? and what about the element of odour? Will the charge for farting with a less stinking odour be lesser or what?

For example: Charge A - fart with sound and high stinking level. Charge B: fart with no sound with lesser stinking level. Charge C: fart with less sound but with very high stinking level...and the list goes on.....

And what about people farting in public swimming pools, where you can't hear sounds...but only see bubbles coming out....can it be considered an offense too?

What if the person who is caught farting says he/she did not fart? How do you present the facts in the court of law? How do you determine the enforcement personnel words against the accused (farter)?

And what if the person admits he/she did it before being convicted or brought to court? Can the person enter a plea bargain like by paying half the amount of fine, like we have it here in Bolehland?

Or is it just a saman ekor or 'saman kentut' in this case? Sekali kena saman, mesti bayar fine! No reviews, even though orang lain yang kentut!

Hahaha...what a windy joke...nak kentut pun tak boleh buat kat tempat awam, kena pi lari jauh-jauh...!

But if you think all the above statements are rumours or just dry jokes, try reading the news here:

Malawi row over whether new law bans farting

Menteri 'kentut' George Chaponda
Justice Minister George Chaponda says the new bill would criminalise flatulence to promote "public decency".

Malawian lawmakers will next week debate a law change to criminalise public farting, which a cabinet minister said had been encouraged by democracy.

President Bingu wa Mutharika
Chaponda, a key figure in President Bingu wa Mutharika's government, said that if Malawians cannot control their farting "they should go to the toilet instead of farting in public."

The amendment, which will make farting in public an offense, will be presented to parliament for debate as part of a review by the state-sponsored Law Commission of the country's penal code.

More news on George Chaponda and his 'kentut' law: Chaponda Blunders, fouls the truth

There you are...believe it, the 'kentut' prohibition is going to be fully enforced in Malawi soon. I can't imagine a load of Malawians being hauled up to the courts and be charge for exploding from an over pressure of gas build up in their gut....!

But while they are not enforcing it yet, Malawians can have their load of fun farting away gleefully. Those who have problems of flatulence can have their own way of releasing them in public, these few weeks to come, while they still can -- before the law is enforced.

Some facts about Malawi:

The Republic of Malawi, situated at the south-east of the African continent, bordering Mozambique and Tanzania is a largely agricultural country, with an area of 118,484 sq km (45,747 sq miles).

For the first 30 years of independence it was run by the authoritarian and quixotic President Hastings Kamuzu Banda, but democratic institutions have taken a firm hold since he relinquished power in the mid-1990s. 

Malawi is now making efforts to overcome decades of underdevelopment and the more recent impact of a growing HIV-Aids problem. 

Most Malawians rely on subsistence farming, but the food supply situation is precarious and the country is prone to natural disasters of both extremes - from drought to heavy rainfalls - putting it in constant need of thousands of tonnes of food aid every year.

Malawi has been urged by world financial bodies to free up its economy, and has it has privatised many loss-making state-run corporations.

Since 2007 the country has made real progress in achieving economic growth as part of programmes instituted by the government of President Mutharika in 2005. Healthcare, education and environmental conditions have improved, and Malawi has started to move away from reliance on overseas aid.

Media access:

Radio is the chief source of information for many Malawians. State-run MBC is the main national broadcaster. Television was introduced in 1999.

Privately-owned publications present a range of opinions, although the government has used libel and other laws to put pressure on newspaper journalists.

BBC World Service is available on FM in its major cities: Blantyre (98.7), Lilongwe (98.0) and Mzuzu (87.9).

By early 2008, only around 1% of Malawians were using the internet (ITU).

So what is it about this underdeveloped African country of 15.6 million people (UN 2010) trying to proof with enforcing this 'old' trivial legislation?

Anyway me this whole thing seems to be a silly joke! says the Strollers.

And lastly I present you the sound of my fart for you to consider whether it is "noxious to the public and to the health of persons in general dwelling..."?

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