Some questions on the palm oil issue

If you’ve been paying attention to the palm oil industry recently, you would note that the minister in charge Teresa Kok has been adamantly screeching at Norway for stopping the imports of biofuel.

Apparently France is also going about doing the same thing as well.

But at the same time, why the noise? Personally I think it is a bit too much concern of a “domino effect” cascading throughout the European Union.

If we look at the data found on the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) website, the statistics show that the export to the EU has actually been increasing year on year.

To quote the site:

During the period of Jan-Nov 2018, Malaysian palm oil export to the Europe region increased by 66,282 MT or by 3.58% to a total of 1,916,118 MT from 1,849,836 MT registered during the same period of 2018

You would also note that both Norway and France are in the list of importers at 18 and 22 respectively, sorted by volume.

Looking at the list, what should worry everyone is not Norway or France, but the fact that there are new suppliers getting into the game – as noted by the MPOC about countries in Latin America taking over the exports to the Netherlands here:

Additionally, the EU has significantly been importing its palm oil from the countries in the South and Central America such as Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala and Ecuador. These countries have emerged as important palm oil suppliers into this region. Increasing competition from animal fats and recycled vegetable oils as feedstocks for biofuels also led to the total marginal decrease of MPO export into the Netherlands.

However, it does not explain how Latvia went from importing 29,000 metric tonnes to a mere 173 metric tonnes in the span of a year. It also does not explain the shrinking demand in Belgium (71 percent), Germany (44 percent) and Bulgaria (31 percent).

What happened here?

Yes, by all means go yell at Norway and France for saying that palm oil is not “green” enough for them. I’m sure the latter tried to be “greener” by taxing petrol to the point of riots in Paris which cost him dearly.

However, if we are talking purely from a market standpoint, the shift of France and Norway are minor compared to the shifts in others – and these shifts are not being explained.

We are literally, yet ironically, missing the forest from the trees. Thus, if the Malaysian government is truly concerned about the exporting of Malaysian palm oil lagging, they should be asking why are some EU nations preferring Latin American imports rather than our own.

Why are Belgium, Germany and Bulgaria shifting away from our imports? Are they also going for Latin American palm oil, or is it merely a market driven decision to switch?

And, of course, how can a country like Latvia which imported some 29,000 tonnes in 2017, suddenly see a 99.4 percent drop?

If Latin America is starting to cut into the Malaysian palm oil market, then that is something for Malaysia to consider for future competition, not lament and decry how countries want to remove palm oil entirely, but that there is another player in the game.

Simply put- why cry over the person who doesn’t want to buy from you at all, rather than cry at the lost customer who decided to change suppliers?


Why merit isn’t about merit

I had a discussion recently regarding the topic of meritocracy and affirmative action, and how the two can go hand in hand or end up all balls up wrong.

After multiple shots of coffee and even a few sessions 3-metres away, this question comes up from one of my friends.

“So, if we go by merit, then the person with a first class degree regardless of whichever university should be considered of the same level, should they not?”

It’s an obvious question, so I nod my head and take another puff.

“So if I put two candidates in front of you, one from Universiti Malaya, and another from let’s say UCLA, which would you choose?”

I kept my mouth shut, of course. Primarily because I am wondering why the hell anyone graduating from UCLA would end up working in Malaysia.

“Or how about we take one from Juilliard compared to another from Aswara?”

I gulp.

“Or let’s take one from London School of Economics and compare that with…Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. They all have the same degree, same qualification, and even the same results, probably even spoke well in their respective interviews. Which would you choose?”

And this is the point he made – that it was no longer about merit, now it was about prestige. Thus, if we were truly in a meritocratic society, why does the prestige of a school play a role in hiring?

That right there is the problem with the so-called mentality of those touting “meritocracy”. The fact that in the end, it goes down to hiring the person who might have had enough connections and money to go to a better ranked university or school, for the prestige.

This is the same problem we get here in Malaysia when people insist on just touting merit – and looking at affirmative action as “racist” or “unfair” because it discredits this ideology of prestige in hiring.

Well at least, 30 percent of the hiring anyway here in Malaysia.

Thus, when yet another businessman and renowned engineer believes Malaysia can only advance due to merit, I disagree. For the simple fact that corporate Malaysia on many levels have confused the concept of merit and prestige for a very, very long time.

In fact, I would not be surprised if the prestige of the school overtook the very merit of others, even if the prestigious candidate took a course that had no link whatsoever to the job he/she applied for. But with such a mismatch, lies another tale.

There are plenty of discriminatory acts in hiring in Malaysia these days, and if we really do want to venture down the line of basing it purely on “merit”, then we should have an AI to vet through all applications without any discrimination.

And even then, the discrimination would turn up during the interview process, where the interviewer will have a pick for their suited gender, race, and even age depending on what they are looking for.

This, in turn, will lead to continued spiralling of good candidates not getting hired as more and more candidates go for prestigious colleges and such names, while letting the others without such avenues go for lesser jobs.

So, unless you can tell me you would hire a UM first class degree grad over a second class upper Harvard grad who both have the same communicating skills and aptitude, let us not even bother talking about what you define as “merit”.

Because if you did hire the Harvard grad, you made yourself a hypocrite for prestige.

Malaysia and Sedition

It was a running joke a few years back that anything bad said about Najib Razak and his entire cabinet could lead to a Sedition Act charge. With the so-called election of a “New Malaysia” government, the calls are already out regarding the disappointment for this law still existing.

With 4 cases now under the Sedition Act regarding the recent resignation/abdication of the Yang DiPertuan Agong (YDPA) as well as one arrested for accusing the government of covering up the death of a fireman killed subsequently during the Seafield Temple Riots, outrage over this existing law is heated.

Meanwhile, employers are also getting shorn by two sides of the argument for suspending, firing or even accepting the resignations of those who went on social media and voiced their personal opinions regarding the YDPA’s resignation/abdication.

Of course, the one piece of missing information from all of this is that the media will not highlight what each and every case said in verbatim because…well, then the media would be charged with Sedition.

And in this sense, Malaysiakini had a stroke of luck when the day the YDPA resigned and the news was published just so happen to coincide with “technical issues” that barred its subscribers with anonymous names (so many Anons you’d think it’s Shakespeare) to comment freely and openly as they do.

It led to one subscriber writing a letter to voice out his ire. And one Jocelyn going to each and every commentable news piece on that day to voice her frustration of “Malaysiakini disallowing comments”.

Thank God for “technical issues” then. If not, the Sedition act would have compelled Kini to out their commenters via their payment records, which would lead to an even larger group of Malaysians getting fined or the gaol.

Although perhaps, having not faced “technical issues”, the comments would have led to a critical mass situation which would have then triggered the Sedition Act to not be used at all?

However, with the Malay Mail openly explaining of a “doxxing” movement on social media for those criticising the King to be reported to PDRM for sedition, it would be pressure on the police in both acting or not acting out.

Unfortunately, the only solace granted was that the PM will define what is seditious to the police, and the Law Minister saying that even if there is a repeal of the Sedition Act, a new law will be compiled to protect the royal institution from criticism.

But is the problem here, with sedition and criticising royalty, simply that? You can’t criticise royalty or the government, and this is seditious?

Perhaps it is something more than that. Perhaps it has to deal with Malaysians and their inability to gauge how something should be said. Perhaps it is because Malaysians believe that anonymity and social media means they can be tactless and vulgar in how they say things to anyone without restraint.

And perhaps Sedition has more to do with how you say something rather than what you said, especially since it depends on whether what was said had an element of incitement.

What does that mean, you might ask?

It’s pretty much the whole “are you sorry or are you not sorry but saying sorry just because it’s a reflex?” kind of situation. Someone bumps into you on a sidewalk and says sorry.

Are they really saying they’re sorry, or are they just saying it as a reflex?

Similarly with the enforcing of the Sedition Act – are the people saying seditious things like talking about the YDPA’s personal habits and actions from a point of fact, or just to be vulgar, tactless, scornful mockery and narcissistically thinking they can get away for being rude?

This is where we differ with other nations, because we are closer to Thailand when it comes to speaking about royalty, in which we promote minding our tongues and fingers.

However, there is a growing population who believe they should be able to speak about Malaysian royalty as rudely, abrasively and vulgarly as they would the person on the street or, to put it in a clear context – like how Malaysiakini’s commenters comment about anyone and anything.

Although to be fair, Kini seems to be filtering out comments recently.

Why Khalid Samad is right about closing nightspots on time

If you haven’t read or heard, Federal Territory Minister Khalid Samad has been pushing for nightspots to close according to their licensed closing hours in Kuala Lumpur.

This was earlier met by brickbats by certain activists and even the industry. But honestly, if you bought a license that allows you to operate only up to 1AM, then you should adhere by it.

If nightclubs and nightspots wish to open later up to 3AM, 4AM and even 5AM as Khalid said there are such spots, then by all means apply for such a license.

This is not some religious issue or even some agenda to Islamicise the nightspots. It is about Kuala Lumpur City Hall enforcing their regulations in order to make sure that owners of such institutions pay up their licensing fees for opening later or shut down on time.

If anything, it reminds me of hanging out with David Wu in Greenwich last year and having a waiter tell us that they would be closing the outside seating areas at 7PM due to their “license”.

We didn’t even know that London had licenses for alfresco seating up to a certain hour. And perhaps, in a move for DBKL to look into, they should consider how to look at the licenses for entertainment and eateries when it comes to after hours (midnight and beyond) as well as outside seating areas.

By hook or by crook politics of patronage

Patronage politics is not new. It has been going on for some time, particularly if we look at rural areas of the predominantly Malay diaspora. You can even draw the scene to be similar to that seen in “The Art of Killing” – an Indonesian documentary regarding those who carried out the anti-communist purge in the country ages ago.

That said, is it right to advocate doing exactly that for a Malay political party, openly, during their annual general meeting?

Or, should we let this reality continue to be cloaked behind closed doors and just ignore it?

The first question we have to ask ourselves is why does patronage politics or political bribery pretty much exist even now?

Is it because the population does not know any better? Do people not know that accepting cash for their votes is wrong and unethical?

Or perhaps because they are poor and believe – rationally or irrationally, that they deserve the bribe money they receive, that it is owed to them anyway?

The only way to deal with any of these questions, of course, is to look into political and electoral expenditure laws and regulations.

This is where it is important to enforce two parts when it comes to bribery – the ones who offer, and the ones who take it. Unfortunately, the focus continues to be on those who offer rather than the ones who receive.

But then again, would you really like to see hundreds of people in a kampung be sent to jail for accepting RM150 or even RM200 in exchange for their votes?

Plus, how would you prove that they even voted as they were bribed to do so, since votes are secret with no way to trace it, or even with it being a breach of privacy?

Or even more so, how would you look at candidates offering cash, without a single idea of what to add on to regulations in the long run?

Can there be an immediate disqualification and appeal process during the campaigning period, or do you have to wait until they win as what we saw in Cameron Highlands?

On top of this, how long will it be until those who have not filed their electoral expenditure are declared to void their seats, rather than just a fine and a police report as highlighted by the Electoral Commissioner?

Shouldn’t the election be voided, rather than just a fine and a police report?

Furthermore, are personal donations and monies collected from the public accounted for into the campaign funding for a single candidate, or does it just go directly to the political party? Is this dealing transparent and open for public scrutiny?

Why not?

The only reason patronage, by hook or by crook politics work is because there is no transparency whatsoever when it comes to political donations and expenditure, nor is there any move to push for the accounts of each individual politician to be scrutinised either by parliament or having an avenue for such information to be accessed by the public.

Or to make it short – where is the Freedom of Information Act that would allow the public access to each individual politician’s accounts?

The moment this comes into play, where a Freedom of Information Act would compel regulators like the Registrar of Societies, Parliament and even individual politicians and linked companies to disclose the information involved, it would end the ability of politicians to play patron.

Political party divisions, branches and even ministries and government linked agencies would all have to disclose whatever is requested for public scrutiny, and with a thriving media platform, harp on whatever is seen as excessive, or even news worthy.

What is up, Shah Alam?

One can only wonder what the heck is going on in my hometown when a waiter gets slapped for asking people to stop smoking right after the open air eatery smoking ban came into force on Jan 1, 2019.

Couple that with the murder of a PKR Youth candidate in Section 7, and it gets even odder still.

Shah Alam is not a city where people suddenly go overboard without cause and start doing these things.

It gets even worse when you read of the murder of a transgender woman taking place in the neighbouring borough of Klang last year.

Something’s up in the area, of Shah Alam and Klang, and whether it is an increase in crime or hopefully just the perception of it due to the high visibility in the media, I do look at the police hoping they start considering what is going on.

How do you “public transport” a place like Penang?

Gosh. What a loaded question.

If you’ve been reading the news (read: Free Malaysia Today), you would notice that there has been a lot of back and forth between those who want the Penang LRT and those who believe the focus should be on existing public transport.

Both have good points – Penang Island has limited land for more roads, or even widening the roads. Penang Island is crowded enough to cater for the passengers.

For naysayers, an LRT won’t make sense if you can’t get the ridership – even in Kuala Lumpur where you have 10 million people surrounding it, the ridership has only breached 600,000 passengers daily after 20 years of existing. There should be focus on already existing public transport instead – which is true – is there actually a bus that goes to the Penang International Airport?

But then again, having a bus that goes to the airport, coupled with the traffic in the area, would be a no-brainer.

For myself, an LRT for Penang would make sense, if it connected a few areas – the airport to the heritage area, the heritage area to the tourism beach area of Batu Feringghi, Batu Feringghi to Balik Pulau, Balik Pulau to Bayan Lepas airport, and all of this, to the mainland and hopefully link up to Penang Sentral where commuters can then take the ETS at Butterworth station or an express bus.

But then again, if you actually did this, why would you need the SkyCab?

So, perhaps the LRT can stick to the Island, linked to the ferry terminal which will have the SkyCab, and from there take the link to the mainland?

It has to cover such areas and link up with all public transport and people hubs, and that is the largest challenge of all. Unless you link it to the mainland, which can then lower the need for people to cross the bridge on the ferries (which is timely) or even the buses (which depends on congestion), then the LRT won’t make a big impact.

Things Malaysia gets wrong about the smoking ban

A family dinner last weekend coined a new phrase – “heading three metres out” – a term now used for going out for a smoke. For those not in the know, Malaysia has now banned smoking at all eateries altogether, open air or indoors, even roadside stalls.

The distance highlighted in the regulations now pulled into effect is 3 metres from any such establishment – which is quite odd, really.

That said, there is a lot that Malaysia is getting wrong about this ban, so here’s a list.

  1. No designated smoking areas
    1. Biggest problem of all, really. While restaurateurs have in fact abided by the non-smoking law set by the Ministry of Health, there are no designated smoking areas anywhere before the ban was established.
    2. In fact, the recent announcement by Minister Zuraidah Kamaruddin that the government is looking to implement a similar system as Japan, just makes it odder.
    3. Japan allows smokers to smoke indoors at restaurants, even allows restaurants to designate smoking areas or have the entire area indoors allowing smoking – particularly if you go to izakayas.
  2. You can still smoke indoors at home, or even in cars
    1. Smoking in cars has been banned in the UK, because it puts passengers at risk in a confined space.
    2. For some reason, Malaysia still allows this and also to smoke indoors at homes, something you will find hard to do in the UK due to the smoke detectors
  3. You can still smoke in pubs
    1. A medical association actually pointed out that you can no longer smoke in pubs and eateries in the UK. This is actually wrong. You cannot smoke indoors at pubs and eateries in the UK.
    2. In fact, pubs and eateries have since had outdoor areas where you can light up as you wish, in beer gardens or even dining alfresco at a Pret A Manger.
    3. Thus, if this Malaysian medical association has doctors, perhaps you should go seek second opinions to avoid omissions in your diagnoses.
    4. In Malaysia, you can still light up in eateries registered as pubs.
    5. So, maybe, this will lead to more Malaysians opting to dine at pubs with their families and friends? Perhaps.
  4. No ashtrays, nowhere
    1. The biggest problem with the Malaysian smoking ban is that you will not find an ashtray anywhere, not even on a trash can.
    2. Thus, what this leads to is an issue of littering – people are not going to seek out an ashtray to stub out just because they need to.
    3. With that in mind, and the fact that those going to restaurants will now have no outlet to smoke, expect the drainage system and roads to have to deal with the added littering.

If anything, it is clear that the Malaysian government did not think this matter through. What they should clearly have done were the following.

  1. Ban smoking indoors, which would include homes and cars
  2. Allow smoking outdoors, which would have been easier to enforce
  3. Push restaurateurs to close up – no more of this open air nonsense, and have designated areas for non-smokers and smokers alike which are well insulated, well ventilated and regulated.
  4. Provide public designated smoking zones – for everyone, with ashtrays to designate the 3-metre distance if they have to.

Honestly, the Malaysian government needs to keep check on its Ministry of Health, because it seems to be catering to what can only be termed as “Health Nazis” and fearmongers who believe they have to protect their child from cigarette smoke while out to eat, but exposing them at homes and in cars are no big deal.

UEC – Two scenarios

The debate for Malaysia to recognise the United Examination Certificate (UEC) has gone on for some time – probably for the past four years or more. Those proposing that the nation recognise this certificate are mostly from the Malaysian ethnic Chinese communities, from the education collective to non-Malay majority political parties, particularly the MCA and DAP.

Those against, are mostly the Malaysian ethnic Malays – the most recent reason given by the prime minister is that UEC will only be recognised when socioeconomics allow it. Or directly from the prime minister, “when all sensitivities are considered”.

This phrase seems rather…cryptic, does it not?

Proponents of the UEC says that it is widely accepted in foreign universities, on the same level as the Malaysian government’s STPM or translated to the Malaysian High Education Examination.

At the same time, it is also considered on par with the acceptance of the British A Levels or American SATs worldwide, which is recognised by the Malaysian education system for university degrees, both public and private.

Thus, what is the approval of yet another internationally recognised certificate when it comes to university admittance? It isn’t.

So, what is the major concern?

In a utopian society without barriers, it wouldn’t – but let us take the scenario that Malaysia is not utopian and rather racist. After all, we had a Chindian young man being rejected from renting apartments in Penang for being “mixed race” rather than pure Chinese.

Taking that mentality into a scenario, the objection against the UEC is not against allowing it to be accepted for entrances into universities or even to be given scholarships to go overseas.

Instead, it is the concern that this will impact the job market.

Let us be rather frank – there is a rather racist job market in Malaysia, and the scenario is that allowing the UEC will impact hiring for the Malay community with only SPM and STPM level education.

And this is where the Malays against it see the highest impact – that employers will then overlook Malaysian certificate bearers and prioritise the UEC for hiring employees.

With it being an issue to even get an executive level job these days, there is a need for the government to consider whether there is equality in hiring, or is merit being made an excuse.

A similar scenario happened when it came to the new Pakatan Harapan cabinet, in which 30 percent were supposed to be women and this failed to be achieved.

While some women (read: Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz) believed that merit should be looked at instead of gender, I disagree. After all, there are enough women in politics with the same merit to become minister, unlike the age when said woman was a minister.

Similarly, a scenario allowing the UEC to be accepted for employment along with the SPTM, will impact the private sector most of all because if there is a racial bias, it will put the Malay community majority from public schools at an even further disadvantage.

Is it a believable, relevant and even a serious concern?

I think that is up to everyone to decide.

For myself, like I said, it is two scenarios based on perception.

If the perception is that the job market is racially biased, and the mentality of people is still stuck in tribalism on all sides, then having it recognised and official through an exam certificate seems to be a step backwards, not forwards.

Unless, the UEC is then taken by Malays at large and in high numbers, then perhaps we can remove this fear of it being a Chinese bias issue. Until then, it will be hard to convince anyone fighting for so-called Malay rights that this isn’t just another way to push the Malay community out of the running for a job using an exam cert.

The second utopian scenario is that nobody bothers and the job market puts the STPM, UEC and A Levels at the same level without bias. That the best candidate goes through a number of interviews to show that they are the best candidate for jobs, and that employers are not racially biased, gender biased, and threat all including foreign workers at the same level as locals.

It would be the two schizophrenic mindsets well implanted in all Malaysians, even if they won’t admit it.

Do Malays still need a crutch?

The question is still in play after 60 plus years of independence, billions reserved, and even 12 Malaysian Plans, going on to the thirteenth – yes, there has been the same number of Malaysia Plans as The Doctor in BBC’s Doctor Who series.


That being said, are the Malays still desperately in need of a crutch. By “Malays”, which ones do we believe are in need of assistance?


Are we are talking about the coastal fishermen, the rubber and oil palm smallhoders, and paddy farmer?


By all means, these few do need some form of assistance and do require further aid in the form of insurance and loans to get their farming going and mechanised, if there is a push for the Industrial Revolution 4.0.


But, do these “Malays needing crutches” go all the way up to the owners of petrol stations who worry about going broke from floating the petrol price and the Tan Sris, the Tuns, the Datuk Seris and even the Datuks at the age of 26 or older, who ride on a private jet around the country.


I’m sure many can see where I am going with this line, but let’s say there are those gullible enough to say “they all need a crutch” and ask – why?


At this point I think we should ask ourselves why PPBM believes their division chiefs need assistance, when compared to the division chiefs of PKR, DAP and even Amanah.


Or better yet, since the idea is that division chiefs and village chiefs are to provide financial assistance to all those on the grassroot levels in all localities, why limit it to pro-government parties?


Isn’t any Malaysian regardless of politics due to financial assistance regardless of their political following, if any?


You will notice that by now I used the term Malaysian, not a Malay, or an Indian, or a Chinese, or a Chindian, or even a Malaysian of Sumatran, Javanese, Bangladeshi, Filipino or even Orang Asli heritage.


Is it still not time to push this agenda to one without race and only concerning income levels?


Because if not, it truly is the opening scene of The Purge: Election Year, of having someone yelling out that there’s “not enough to go around, some can have, some can not have” – though, I do hope we do not see Pakatan Harapan in the same light as the fictitious New Founding Fathers of America.


Nor should a party AGM sound like a group of mobster family godfathers asking to be allowed to “wet their beaks”.


The operative word that PPBM needs to work on, for their Bumiputera agenda, is justification. Why should the Bumiputeras be the only ones to receive such privileges in these times?


Where does the Bumiputera group stand in terms of equity among the others?


And if there continues to be a widening gap, or even a gap so far with all the privileges in place, why has it not moved towards a favourable income level equitable to everyone else?