Friday, November 16, 2012

Just A Thought

Yes, as amazing as it sounds, the Spanker's brain does get into gear occasionally. Here's a new self-explanatory section.

LBGT Champion Dumbiga Sreenevasan's silence was deafening when PAS Youth was screaming for Elton John's head recently. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

PAS Awakes - The Hubbub Over Hudud

“We agree to disagree” screamed the headlines, claiming that the DAP and PAS have sorted out their differences with regards to hudud. However, if you understand a modicum of English, it simply means that you have agreed not to pursue the matter…for now. You are basically only delaying the explosion.

Pakatan Rakyat has been desperately trying to put the lid on their internal dispute over the hudud and Islamic state issue, knowing full well that it will be a decisive factor in the upcoming general election. They are, in essence, lying shamefacedly to the rakyat that everything is hunky dory in fantasy land just to buy time in a desperate bid to attain Putrajaya..  

After all, hudud and the establishment of an Islamic state have been the main agenda of PAS for the past 60 years. It is therefore no surprise that the majority of its supporters cannot accept its shift towards a welfare state, which the current leadership had to compromise the Islamic struggle for political expediency.

The issue has been simmering on the back burner as the elections draw near, although it is considered a taboo subject among the opposition chiefs after PAS shifted its struggle from an Islamic state to just setting up a welfare state.

These simmering frustrations erupted into a fully fledged volcano at the meetings of the Dewan Pemuda and Dewan Ulama at the PAS muktamar recently, highlighting the uncertainties about how it will fare in the general election and unhappiness among conservatives that the party has strayed from its Islamic agenda.

The Youth wing led the charge by being critical of the party and its leaders. The muktamar staged in Kota Baru was to give a boost to the PAS government in Kelantan. However, the feeling persisted that after 22 years of power, Kelantan is no longer a fixed deposit state for PAS.

No doubt PAS is as hungry for power as the next political party but its members rightfully want assurances that their Islamic State agenda and religious principles will not take second place to the interests of their Pakatan partners.

The pent-up frustration of the PAS grassroots over its testy relationship with its Pakatan Rakyat partners has flared out in the open, with the Dewan Ulama reaffirming its hudud agenda while hitting out at leaders who “confuse” members.

So what went wrong? By right, everything should be smelling of roses when the PAS muktamar started, as the party is being led by the “dream team” which it elected last year. The maverick Datuk Dr Hasan Ali has been sacked and the other thorn Nasharudin Mat Isa was not attending the muktamar.

Party president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang had been persuaded to defend his seat in Terengganu and forget about retiring so soon. Mursyidul Am Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat, 82, had been persuaded to stay on to lead the Kelantan campaign despite being in poor health.

Yet, there was general unhappiness all around with party leaders having difficulty trying to shake off that impending feeling that the Malay ground has shifted in favor of Umno. They certainly cannot afford a deficit in Malay support if they want to hold on to the 23 parliamentary seats they won in 2008.

Yet the muktamar took place under a cloud of uncertainty about the party's role and direction in the Pakatan Rakyat set-up. The traditional hardcore supporters are riddled with doubts about the party’s compromise on its Islamic agenda.

PAS has been sailing uncharted waters ever since the non-ulama won big in last year's party election and members are rightfully concerned that the party's focus is now being determined by political expediency rather than Islamic principles.

They are concerned about the way their religion is being vocally and openly questioned, especially by non-Muslims, and they do not like it. Adding to their sorrows is the fact that some of those raising those questions are their own Pakatan bedfellows.

Of course, it did not help matters that this year's theme very boldly declared the party's push for the “Welfare State as the Basis for Unity”.

The ultra-conservative Dewan Ulama chief Datuk Harun Taib offered a fierce defense of hudud law, declaring that the PAS ulama would never compromise on the issue of hudud. He stridently disapproved of his fellow party leaders who have been trying to downplay fundamental issues like hudud for the sake of winning Putrajaya. Neither did he make any reference to the Welfare State which many see as an attempt to rebrand the Islamic State.

As expected, MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek was targeted but rather surprisingly DAP Chairman Karpal Singh who has also been vocal on the issue escaped censure. The leadership of the Dewan Pemuda also came under fire for not taking a stronger stand to defend the party and its policies.

Dewan Pemuda chief Nasrudin Hassan was not spared the whip either. After two terms, he is infamous for opposing Valentine's Day celebrations and rock concerts.
He has failed to create a positive national presence and under his leadership the wing has regressed to its rural base.

Nasrudin’s deputy Nik Abduh Nik Aziz, the son of Nik Aziz, on the other hand has emerged as a worthwhile challenger to look out for. He has strongly independent views and he was unapologetic for the critical tone at the Dewan Pemuda meeting. He is all set to take over and he will lead the wing in an even more conservative direction.

Even party propaganda organs Harakah and its online portal Harakahdaily found themselves in the firing line, being criticized for being slanted towards the views of the liberals in the party and of not giving enough coverage to the ulama viewpoint.

Dewan chief Datuk Harun Taib declared that PAS would be steadfast on its plans to implement hudud law despite the barrage of contrary views from outside the party.

Harun said the championing of hudud was part of the party's Islamic agenda to make it the law of the land.

According to him, Pakatan had agreed that not only hudud but also Syariah law would be implemented if PAS had the majority in Parliament.

Meanwhile Negri Sembilan delegate Mohd Zulkarnain Mohd Zaki rapped the Youth leadership for not setting policies on entertainment, sports, jobs and the economy for PKR and DAP to follow, while Johor delegate Mohd Faizal Khalid also criticized the Youth leadership for failing to speak up against Pakatan leaders “who have erred”.

“The wing is supposed to be a pressure group pushing for change but we do not hear any criticism from them against Pakatan governments,” he said when debating the keynote address of Youth chief Nasrudin Hassan at the 53rd Youth Muktamar

Not to be outdone, the Penang delegate Hasbul Wizar said PAS should be the dominant party in Pakatan and Selangor delegate Sharhan Humaizi Halim agreed, saying that Pakatan-controlled states should be administered according to the Islamic model.

Pahang delegate Fadli Ibrahim said the ulama leadership should be maintained because “they were instrumental in ensuring great victory in the last general election”. He went on to say that “germs, snakes and poisons” should be eliminated from the party.

The Spanker believes that PAS has finally woken up from its sireh pinang kampong afternoon siesta and that it will speak out loud and strong to send a clear message that it will neither bow down to DAP nor PKR in its efforts to pursue its 60 year old objective of an Islamic state. They may even take Anwar head on and challenge his leadership of the leaky PR boat.

And there you have it, folks. The PR has always been a slipshod coalition held together by a band-aid. The cracks have now developed into fissures and craters. Not only is the circus definitely in town but the clowns are leading the parade. I would think and deliberate very carefully before casting my vote.

Bersih Falls Out Of Favor With PKR

The Spanker has been saying this for the longest time. PKR has been using Dumbiga to further their own political agenda, just as Dumbiga has been manipulating emotions to fool gullible Malaysians into supporting her heroic and selfless “cause”. Hello? Which right thinking Malaysian doesn’t want free and fair elections?

If Dumbiga is fighting for the rakyat, she should be smack in the middle - on the rakyat's side, and not in bed with either the BN nor PR. That to me is transparent, free and fair. And oh, the money from Soros didn't help either.

Just this week PAS spearheaded the Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat or People's Uprising Assembly. It is the brainchild of PAS deputy president Mohamed Sabu, who had initially planned it as a PAS show but the other Pakatan parties decided to join in the fun.

The mass gathering will go from state to state over the next couple of months before culminating in a grand finale of one million people in Kuala Lumpur in January.

Mat Sabu, as he is better known, thinks the Prime Minister is going the full distance. He reckons the election will be early next year and the protest will be a Pakatan show of force. It should be quite a sight; it would be like almost all the 1.6 million population of Kuala Lumpur out on the streets. Quite a feat, really, if they can pull it off.

The assembly was launched last weekend in Negri Sembilan which, as Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim claimed to the crowd, would be the “sixth state to fall” or as Mat Sabu put it rather colorfully, “hurricane Sandy is about to hit Negri Sembilan.”

This Pakatan assembly is the clearest sign so far of the massive fall-out between the Bersih group and Pakatan leaders after the violent incidents at the last Bersih 3.0 street protests in April.

The Bersih group has disassociated itself from the Bersih 3.0 protests and has reverted to calling themselves Bersih 2.0, the more successful protest that preceded Bersih 3.0. Bersih chairman Dumbiga blames Anwar and PKR deputy president Azmin Ali for her troubles and now wants nothing more to do with them.

Pakatan leaders are not exactly bothered that the love affair has ended this way. They claim that they were the ones who brought out the crowds that inflated Dumbiga's image and they think she is arrogant to say that she can now do without them.

Many of them felt vindicated upon seeing the embarrassingly small crowd at the Bersih concert last month. Dumbiga's group had held a concert in the Kelana Jaya stadium that was called Konsert 2.0. It was a flop in terms of numbers. Without the support of Pakatan, Bersih really is just another NGO whining and agitating for reforms.

Pakatan has decided it can do without Dumbiga and gang, and the turnout at the Negri Sembilan launch proved them right.

Nurul Izzah’s Personal Hurricane Sandy

Nurul Izzah’s Personal Hurricane Sandy

It’s only been a week since the Oriental Hearts and Mind Study Institute (OHMSI) conducted their talk on “Islamic State: Which Version? Whose Responsibility?” at the Full Gospel Tabernacle church in Subang, featuring PKR deputy president Nurul Izzah Anwar as one of the moderators.

A week in politics is a very long time, and as is widely known by now, Nurul stirred up a bigger storm than Hurricane Sandy when in response to a question from the floor, she said that the Malays have a right to choose their religion.

Since then she has been on a roller coaster ride, unable to get off and careening wildly towards a cliff. No less a personage than the Sultan of Selangor has rebuked her for her statement suggesting that there should be no compulsion on Malays to be Muslims.

To add to her woes, Lawyer Siti Zabedah Kasim, the person who posed the now infamous question to Nurul Izzah has herself expressed disappointment over Nurul’s hasty attempt at damage control over the issue.

Siti Zabedah has been quoted as saying that “I believe Nurul Izzah was just trying to impress the people. She didn’t think of the consequences.”

Nurul Izzah’s vehement denials this past week are testament that she has lost that panache and bravado she exhibited during the talk and woken up to the political reality of what she has done. She is savvy enough to know that she has to get herself out of the corner she has painted herself into.

Taking a cue from both her father and the parachute Chief Minister, Nurul has quickly and loudly blamed Utusan Malaysia for allegedly distorting and twisting her reply to Siti zabedah.

Being well known for its nationalist slant, Utusan Malaysia makes an easy scapegoat, but then pro-opposition online news portal Malaysiakini had also carried the same story on Nov 3. Perhaps Nurul overlooked that damning fact in her haste to deflect some of the heat now on her.

PKR component parties are also in damage control mode, with PAS spiritual adviser Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat saying that if Nurul Izzah had indeed made her controversial statement on religious freedom for muslims , “then something is not right” while PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang has summoned her to hear personally for himself if the media were accurate in their reporting of her statement .

The line-up of usual suspects jumping to defend PR include DAP’s tweet-in-mouth Ngeh Koo Ham who tweeted (what else?) in support of Nurul Izzah, quoting Article 11 of the Federal Constitution which states that every person has the right to profess and to practice his or her religion. Ngeh, who seems not to have learned his lesson on responsible tweeting, understandably did not qualify his tweet to say that it has to be read with other relevant applicable laws.

Speaking of laws, there are indeed laws restricting the propagation of other religions to Muslims. Article 160 of the Federal Constitution clearly states that all ethnic Malays are Muslims. Understandably the majority of Malays want this to remain not only as law but also as practice and convention.

Another victim of the fallout is the Full Gospel Tabernacle church in Subang which has swiftly found itself in the spotlight for hosting the forum. This is on top of another church which hosted a different forum on the elections that found its speakers and the media again disagreeing on the accuracy of reporting the event.

Recently the Catholic Church won the right to challenge the Education Ministry and Pahang state’s move to acquire a piece of prime land in Kuantan, Pahang where the St Thomas Church is located, in what opposition mouthpiece online portal Malaysian Insider calls “the latest legal dispute pitting non-Muslims against the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition” in its attempt to stir up yet another controversy pitting the Muslims against the Christians. 

In the silly season prior to the 13th general election, holding forums on political issues, even in churches, has sadly become fairly common. Granted that most churches would be cautious about allowing local politics into a house of worship, but there are always the gung ho maverick politicians masquerading as theologians and the converse theologians masquerading as politicians that are prepared to not only organize also play host to such events.

Pitting Muslims against Christians is a very dangerous game - thank God most of us are rational and reasonable adults who can see through such spiteful inciting. It seems nothing is sacred when it comes to furthering PR's political agendas.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Does an alleged crime repeated often enough become the truth?

With the elections looming large, there is simply too much politicking today. This has trickled down to involve everything that occurs now, including crime. The catalyst for this phenomenon is social media, which has enabled everyone with a smartphone to scan the news and pass instant judgement on current issues.

However, social media has a Jeckyll and Hyde personality. If you are constantly aware and use it consciously, you are safe. Overstep the boundaries and you pay dearly.

I am referring to my previous article “What is wrong with our judges” where I highlighted the unhappiness and anger expressed by many Malaysians via social media channels (including MARAH) over the lenient sentences for rapists with “bright” futures in contrast to the death sentence meted out to two Indonesian brothers who killed a violent burglar, R Khartic, in self defense.

You now have Khartic’s father VP Rajah emerging to say that he is a licensed money changer, a plantation business owner and a mini market operator who paid his son RM10k a month in salary and commissions.

He is very upset that his son has been labelled a burglar and has defended his son as a good man and a registered organ donor.  Despite eyewitnesses claiming that Khartic entered the shoplot unit through an opening in the ceiling, Rajah is accusing investigating officer ASP Zaiharul and the deputy public prosecutor Yusof Rahman of working in cahoots with the shop operator to pin the blame on his son, and has counter claimed to have witnesses including his brother-in-law who saw Khartic being dragged upstairs of the shophouse by four men.

Here are the obvious questions. If there was a fracas of sorts and Khartic was dragged upstairs, why didn’t anybody (including the brother-in-law) come to his aid or call the cops? The Indonesian brothers were the only ones who testified in their own defense. Why didn’t any of these witnesses step up to vouch for Khartic?

Here’s another question. Who do we, Joe and Jane public, believe? Clearly, there is manipulation of social media channels to form public opinion. Whilst Malaysians are quick in assuming that there are always hidden hands in every picture, we are also quick to judge on issues. A scan of the comments section indicates an outpouring of sympathy for the father and hate for the designated bad guys – the police.

Have we had all the complete facts of the case to mull over and evaluate before commenting?
I personally believe that a democracy should allow vigorous debate. The debate we want is the voice of reason, not the strident arguments that reverberate with dissent for the sake of automatically dissenting with your opponent or automatically agreeing to everything “your” side says. Apparently today you must take a side, otherwise how are we know which team you are playing for? The diplomatic art of agreeing to disagree is dead today’s sociopolitical climate.

Today complicated issues can be summarized by a short phrase. A radical idea can be propagated by a rallying call. Truth be told, how many of those who willingly respond understand the overall facts of what they’re fighting about?

Very few decisions are a straightforward black or white. Is there room for an individual who questions your motives, and asks for depth in debate? Is there room for truly making an effort to understand the other’s point of view and then search for common ground? Or do we simply respond according to our emotions?

It is quite the norm for both sides to have made up their minds on the matter and neither to be interested in listening to the other’s view.

Unverified facts, badly chosen words and phrases were a pitfall in the infancy of social media even back in the early days when there was only blogging; but now with the mushrooming of online portals and microblogging sites like facebook, twitter, whatsapp and viber, the resultant chorus of condemnation is unprecedentedly savage.

Digital media literacy is not simply the ability to own a smartphone and post comments. It is also about being able to discern what not to post. My original story today was supposed to have been from taken MARAH, about a 14 year old boy who was allegedly handcuffed and sexually assaulted by a “cop”.

Despite directly contacting the parties involved, I could not verify the facts in time for this article. I was also told that the distraught victim’s family requested for space to deal with the matter. You have to respect other people’s wishes, so no article on that today.  

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Fool's Gold Or Genneva Gold?

It looks like Bank Negara Malaysia is bearing the brunt of the victims’ anger over the raid on Genneva Malaysia Sdn Bhd on 1st October. This seems rather strange when it was actually a joint operation carried out by the Police, Bank Negara, the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry and the Companies Commission of Malaysia.

Perhaps it didn't help that the authorities were initially purposefully vague on the reasons for the raids. In its press statement Bank Negara said it was for “suspected offences under the laws administered by the respective enforcement agencies”.

It was only four days later that the central bank offered more details of the suspected offences as illegal deposit taking, money laundering, tax evasion and avoidance, false description (including misrepresentations), appointment of agents without license and failure to lodge statutory documents.

“Relevant assets and documents of the companies seized from the raid will be preserved for the purpose of facilitating the investigations. The relevant enforcement agencies have mobilized the necessary resources to expedite the investigations,” added the statement.

An extensive and detailed analysis is now being made on the assets and liabilities of the companies. This should address customers' concerns that their gold and money held by Genneva Malaysia will be frozen for an unduly long time while the investigations are pending.

However, the perception still persists among customers and consultants that the authorities were wrong to suspect Genneva Malaysia in the first place, and that the raids may have ruined a good business and the healthy returns the customers had been enjoying.

Supporters of Genneva Malaysia praise the company's business model and deny that it's a Ponzi scheme or a get-rich-quick scheme. Some have even gone as far as to say the company deserves recognition for its innovativeness and for its ability to expand abroad.

In the current sociopolitical climate it’s really very difficult to be a regulator. When there's enforcement, complaints of heavy-handedness and unfairness will promptly arise. When things go wrong and the rakyat suffer losses because somebody didn't play by the rules, then its “Why didn't the authorities prevent this?”. Damned if you do and equally damned if you don’t.

A multi-agency strike like this in Malaysia is rare and impressive. It's difficult to miss the point that the Government is putting in a lot of resources in acting on the suspicion that Genneva Malaysia has broken the law.

Shortly after Genneva, Bank Negara and the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism also conducted joint raids on three other companies - Pageantry Gold Bhd, Caesar Gold Sdn Bhd and Worldwide Far East Bhd.

The trio are classified as gold investment companies on Bank Negara's Financial Consumer Alert list, which identifies companies and websites that are “neither authorized nor approved under the relevant laws and regulations administered by Bank Negara”.

On its website, Genneva Malaysia describes itself as “the leading gold bullion trader in Malaysia” and claims to have more than 50,000 customers and 6,000 consultants in the country, whereas investigations by Bank Negara show that some 35,000 people were affected, involving RM10bil worth of investments.

The fracas over Genneva Malaysia is strange because the enforcement agencies acted to protect the interest of investors and the public. Yet the regulators and the very people they want to help are the ones attacking them.

Genneva consultants and customers surely should have no problem understanding this. After all, if they're right about the superiority and legitimacy of the company's business model, Genneva will bounce back bigger and better. There will be no charges brought against the company and it will be allowed to resume operations.

It should be able to bounce back with a reluctant endorsement from the authorities. What can be a stronger endorsement than having cleared high-profile investigations by several regulatory agencies?

There has been significant progress since Oct 1. The Attorney-General's Chambers has joined the enforcement action against Genneva Malaysia and the three other companies. This probably means that the Government is already evaluating the possibility of going to court as the next step.

“Based on surveillance and examination conducted on these companies, it has been discovered that these companies are operating schemes that are believed to be not sustainable to provide the promised high monthly returns, nor would they be able to provide the buy-back guarantee of gold,” the agencies said in their joint statement recently.

“Such schemes are not sustainable because the returns promised are not funded through gold trading, but from the monies invested into such schemes. The investigations have also revealed that the amount of assets and monies held by these companies do not commensurate with the amount collected from their investors.

“Prior to the joint raids, it has been noticed that these companies have delayed in returning gold or money to the investors within the stipulated time as promised. Such signs are early warning indications prior to the collapse of such schemes that would result in significant losses to investors.”

The hard facts are that given what the Police, Bank Negara and the Attorney-General's Chambers have said to date, it's hard to imagine Genneva returning to business as usual.

After wrapping up their investigations, the agencies will decide whether there's any wrongdoing and if so, whether there's sufficient evidence to initiate prosecution.

That decision must be made soon. The agencies have twice assured that they are “mobilising the necessary resources to expedite the investigations”. If Genneva and its officers are dragged to court, it's up to them to contest the charges.

The immediate issue now is the consultants and customers' anxiety that they may not get their money back will of course hinge on the conclusion of the Government's enforcement action. Such uncertainty is understandably stressful and painful, particularly for those who have at stake money that they simply can't afford to do without.

There's little solace for these people as long as they have no access to their funds handled by Genneva. The freezing of assets and accounts is an unfortunate but necessary part of such investigations.

Swisscash investment programme

This is a good time to review the Swisscash investment programme, an Internet-based scam that drew civil action by the Securities Commission in 2007. Swisscash-related websites had been flagged by the SC as unauthorized investment websites before the action.

In September 2006, the SC and Bank Negara issued a joint press release to warn Malaysians against investing in the Swisscash programme, which claimed to have invested in equities, commodities and foreign exchange, and offered returns of up to 300% within 15 months of investment.

To stop the defendants from holding out as fund managers and investment advisers without a license, the SC filed a civil suit in June 2007 against three Malaysians and four companies controlled by one of the three individuals.

The regulator also obtained a worldwide injunction to prevent the Swisscash operators from disposing their assets, and to compel them to disclose details of their assets, companies and bank accounts.

In September the following year, the SC obtained judgment against the defendants in the amount of US$83mil and such further amounts as may be traced for payment.

A November 2009 settlement between the SC and two Malaysian defendants paved the way for the compensation of Swisscash investors, using the eligibility and payment criteria and payment ratio approved by the Kuala Lumpur High Court.

These criteria were recommended by the SC and PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory Services Sdn Bhd, the Administrator appointed by the SC to manage the restitution from a pool of funds amounting to RM32.7mil.

One criterion was whether the investor was actively involved in recruiting others, in which case he was considered as abetting the scheme. “Any investor who was also involved in the scheme as a recruiter or an upliner would not be eligible to claim his money back,” the SC stated on its website.

The Administrator received 22,780 claims from both Malaysian and foreign investors, totaling approximately RM188mil, According to the SC's Annual Report 2010, RM30.53mil was paid to 19,625 eligible claimants. The payout rate was 20 sen to the ringgit. By the end of 2010, the Administrator had effected restitution to 99.1% of the total eligible claims.

Considering the above numbers, the Swisscash case is not exactly a source of comfort and optimism for the Genneva consultants and customers. The SC's actions here show that it's a long, hard road towards getting back money albeit merely 20% of the original sum invested in a too-good-to-be-true scheme.

Swisscash ought to be a cautionary tale about the need to truly be sure about the transparency and regulatory aspects of an investment scheme. Sadly, not many people see it that way even now.

According to the Gold Bullion Entrepreneurs Association of Malaysia, there are no clear guidelines regulating any aspect of gold trading in the country. It said the trade had been unregulated since the 1980s. Therefore customers have limited recourse when such companies go bust as their activities were not regulated.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) also does not accord consumers any protection when they deal with such entities,

Bank Negara has always stressed that enforcement agencies would act against illegal financial schemes “to protect the interest of the investors and the public at large”. Of the 87 companies on Bank Negara's consumer alert list, 18 are involved gold investment activities.