Category Archives: The Malaysian Insider

Looks like I won’t be missing the Umno general assembly after all

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Looks like I won’t be missing the Umno general assembly after all
By Zan Azlee

I have never missed attending an Umno General Assembly since 2003. It’s one of the most exciting and fun times of the year for me because of many reasons.

The first time I ever did a live news cross-over on television was from an Umno General Assembly and I remember being so nervous in front of the camera. Ahh.. nostalgia.

I also get to meet a lot of friends. From former journalism colleagues to even university-friends-turned-wannabe-politicians, it’s always a good place to catch up.

The food is pretty good too. The media get access to a dining area that is filled with good Malay dishes that will give you a heart attack in a week if you didn’t control yourself.

And of course, the best part of the general assembly would be all the speeches and statements being made by the members throughout the whole week or so.

There would be all the funny stand-up comedy material that we will all be entertained by, and the racist rhetoric that we will all be annoyed and pissed off by.

And because Umno is the biggest party in the Barisan Nasional coalition, whatever statements or commitments made during the party’s assembly by default almost like national policy.

So the general assembly would definitely be of public interest and the media would all flock to it, from the Malay press right up to the Chinese and Indian as well as the foreign ones.

To be honest, all the general assemblies that I have attended have been pretty open affairs in terms of access for the media, at least for those who are accredited.

Members of the media could walk the hallways speaking to people and also enter the different halls were speeches and debates were going on.

So it is quite a shock for me to hear that the party, through its secretary-general Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, they are considering barring the media totally.

Or maybe the signs were already there. News organisations have been targeted. Several news sites and publications have been harassed through raids and even suspensions this year alone.

More recently, Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) decided to stop having press conferences and would only release written media statements to the public.

It seems that they might be afraid that ‘sensitive’ issues that the party leadership may discuss could end up being reported by the media for the public to to read or view.

Wait a minute! Isn’t that the point exactly? Here is the country’s biggest political party and they are having a general assembly where party (and national) policies are being discussed.

Wouldn’t the need for the media to be there so that the public are more informed be one of the top priorities? Wouldn’t it also be good to have the media there for check and balance?

Or do you suppose that the country’s biggest political party actually have things they want hidden from the media and the public?

After his initial comments, Tengku Adnan made an about turn and has come out to say that there will be no media ban. The grassroots want the general assembly to be carried live.

It looks like the people have spoken and the powers that be had to concede. But after all these years, I’ve learned to not take things at face value too much. So let’s wait and see.

[This article appeared originally at The Malaysian Insider]

Is this all a joke for Hasan Arifin?



Is this all a joke for Hasan Arifin?
By Zan Azlee

Here’s the deal. If you’re a public official who was elected to public office the represent the public who voted for you, then whatever you say is accountable to the public.

This is even more so when you hold a position such as the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, and are responsible for the investigation of Malaysia’s high profile scandal – 1MDB.

I’m just saying because it would be ridiculous to utter something in front of journalists when you are the chairman of the PAC and then get upset if it gets reported.

Datuk Hasan Arifin responded by saying “Janganlah. Saya pun mahu cari makan juga”  to questions by the press on why the PAC wouldn’t be calling up Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

(Translation: “Please don’t. I need to make a living too.”)

Apparently, he said it jokingly and the press decided to report on it. Now if he said it jokingly, what would that mean about the perception people have about the investigation 1MDB?

Then, chairman Hasan said that he actually meant to say that he was referring literally to lunch that was being served after the PAC press conference that he had chaired.

And, what would that mean about the perception Hasan has about the press in Malaysia when he assumed that what he uttered would not be reported?

By doing so, it seems that he is looking down on the press. Does he not respect the press or take them seriously? Does he see it as a big joke that can be laughed about?

I’m just saying.

Now, chairman Hasan has decided that the PAC will no longer hold any press conferences and that all communications with the press will be through formal written media statements.

There goes any opportunity for the press to ask any questions if they have any about whatever investigation result that is being released by the PAC.

Also, there goes any risk of chairman Hasan making mistakes and uttering wrong statements that could be reported by the press and make him look incompetent or stupid.

No more press conferences equals no more extra clarification on issues. No more press conferences also equals to no more screwing up in public.

Although written media statements will still be released, by having no press conferences where the press can interact with the PAC, they really are practicing a form of censorship.

What this really means is that the right for the public to be informed on the investigation of the 1MDB scandal would be stifled and limited. There goes transparency and there goes democracy.

If chairman Hasan cannot even handle the press and the public in a professional manner, how would this reflect on his ability to handle the PAC investigation professionally?

Why should the public be punished and the investigation be compromised by a chairman who appears to be incompetent and unprofessional? That seems to be a little bit unfair.

[This article originally appeared at The Malaysian Insider]

The Muslim supermarket cashier



The Muslim supermarket cashier
By Zan Azlee

There is a small supermarket near my house that I usually go to whenever our kitchen runs out of small items like salt, sugar, dish washing liquid or baby formula at inconvenient times.

During one of those inconvenient times, while I was lining up at the cashier, I noticed that the person in front of me had a six-pack of beer in his hand.

As soon as it got to his turn, he gently placed the six-pack on the cashier counter and slid it towards the cashier, who was a young and pleasant looking girl in a tudung.

She had a slight look of apprehension when she saw the six-pack, but she quickly responded by reaching under the counter and pulling out a small plastic bag.

I was wondering to myself if she had made the right decision, if she had chosen the right size plastic bag to fit the six-pack in for the customer in front of me.

It seem quite small and a large six-pack would probably not fit inside. It was really a small plastic bag that would hold, at most, one box of cigarette and a vaping machine.

But then something funny happened. Instead of taking the six-pack and putting it inside the plastic bag, the young, tudung-clad girl put her hand inside of it!

She then proceeded to hold the six pack, scan it through the cash register and with her other hand, took another bigger plastic bag and stuck the six-pack into that bag.

Ah, that made much more sense, I thought. It did not make sense why she just couldn’t touch the six-pack with her bare hands.

What made sense was why she had taken such a small plastic bag instead of a bigger one. She wanted to use it for her hand and not for the six-pack!

Then all the clicks and whirrs started making noise in my head and I put two and two together even more so it got clearer as to why she took out the plastic bag.

She is a tudung-clad girl and looked obviously Malay. I deduced (or I was just being stereotypical and judgmental) that she would have been a Muslim.

In Islam, beer is an alcoholic beverage and alcohol is “haram” and forbidden to be consumed. Hence, she was using the plastic bag to shield her skin from touching a haram beverage.

As a journalist, I prided myself in my observational and deduction skills (or many would probably say stereotypical and judgmental skills).

But then the clicks and whirrs in my head got louder. If the beverage is haram to be consumed, and it was in a can, wouldn’t she really be touching the can rather than the alcohol itself?

And, is merely touching alcohol without actually drinking it haram and forbidden? Could you get really get drunk and intoxicated if the alcohol touched your skin?

In this particular case, could you get drunk and intoxicated if your skin came into contact with the aluminium can that had alcohol inside of it? Hmm, very complex situation.

Then I started wondering. Would the act not of selling the alcohol itself and actually aiding someone to obtain alcohol to consume it be more sinful than just touching the cans?

Ah, but what do I know about all these things? I am someone whose logic also tells me that having dedicated trolleys for halal and non-halal items at a supermarket is ridiculous.

[This article originally appeared at The Malaysian Insider]

And here’s a little documentary I did about Muslims touching dogs and the special magic soap that will absolve their sin!


What’s with the eggs, Mr Minister?



What’s with the eggs, Mr Minister?
By Zan Azlee

I have always found a majority of Malaysians as being apathetic in many things, and more specifically, regarding the conservation of the environment and wildlife.

It’s as if they know and understand the reasons for it, but are just not taking it seriously and choosing not to do anything about it. I don’t seem to understand this behaviour.

It’s just like racism. Many of us say that we aren’t racist, but then have no qualms about making sweeping racial statements that we say are jokes. Get real!

Anyway, the recent controversy about Rural Development and Regional Minister Datuk Ismail Sabri Yaakob being at a dinner where turtle eggs were served is my point of contention.

Photos of him sitting at a dinner table, apparently in Sandakan, Sabah, with a plate of turtle eggs, which are highly protected and of which possession and consumption is illegal, have been making the media.

Sea turtles are a totally protected species and what the photo purpotedly shows is an offence under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.

Section 41 of the enactment states: One can be fined RM50,000 or even jailed for five years, or both, if found to be in possession of these animals or its products, which include its eggs too.

Ismail has come out saying that he did not consume the eggs because he has high cholesterol and is on medication for it. That’s his justification. Sufficient? I think not.

Does it mean to say that if his cholesterol wasn’t a problem and he was in the height of health, he would have gladly consumed the eggs regardless of it being protected and illegal?

Then there are those who say that the minister shouldn’t be blamed because he was just a guest at the dinner and the real fault is on the host for serving the eggs.

Wait a minute.

So an elected government leader, who is a lawmaker in Parliament, and in a position of authority, does nothing when he sees a blatant abuse of wildlife in his country?

Should he not have spoken out about it to show the importance and seriousness of committing such a crime? Would that not be the right thing to do rather than keep quiet and act normal?

We all know the seriousness of conserving and protecting wildlife, especially those on the endangered list. It plays a big part in the ecosystem, and definitely for the country.

But as I have said. Malaysians are an apathetic bunch. We seem to know and understand but are just not bothered to do anything about it. Sad and annoying at the same time.

So although I agree that the organiser and host of the dinner should be investigated and if found to be guilty of serving turtle eggs, then the appropriate action be taken against them.

But I also believe that Ismail, as a Federal minister, should not be absolved. By being at an event where the eggs were served and not saying or doing anything, he becomes part of the problem.

Just like the saying goes, “If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem”. And what’s worse is the fact that Ismail is in a position to address the problem.

[This article originally appeared at The Malaysian Insider]

Willing to take a lifetime loan to own a home?



Willing to take a lifetime loan to own a home?
By Zan Azlee

The government defines those who earn a monthly income of RM2,537 as the majority 40 percent or the B40. These people amount to 2.7 million of Malaysia’s population.

One of the major necessities of people, Malaysians, is to have a home. A roof over their heads. And that is something that the government has to ensure as well – home ownership.

And as we all know, the issue of affordable homes is something that has been discussed, debated and criticised for many years now. Basically, houses in Malaysia are just difficult to afford.

An average apartment or even a house in the suburbs of the Klang Valley would probably be between RM300,000 and RM400,000 per unit. Let’s take the middle amount of RM350,000.

If it is someone’s first home, then he or she would qualify to take a maximum loan of 90 percent of the purchase price of the property. That would mean he or she would have to come up with a 10 percent down payment.

10 percent might not sound like a lot, but that is actually RM35,000. And don’t forget legal fees and stamping duties for the sales and purchase agreement. That would probably set a person back around RM45,000.

Now if this person is earning RM2,537 a month, how long do you think it would take him or her to be able to save up that amount? Don’t forget that there would be the normal monthly expenditure to think about too.

Let’s say this person saves 10 percent of his monthly salary for the initial payment to purchase the house. That would be RM200 a month. To get RM45,000, that would mean saving for almost 19 years.

And after 19 years, there will be a loan of RM315,000 to service and that would take another few decades to settle. Basically, the home owner will probably never really own his home at all in his entire lifetime.

In the recent Budget 2016, the government outlined a few plans to encourage and increase home ownership among Malaysians. One of it includes the First House Deposit Financing scheme.

What worries me about this scheme is that it will only create more debt for Malaysians. And looking at how just owning an average priced home is already putting people in lifetime of debt, this could be risky.

Instead of creating more debt for the people, a better way to make owning homes more possible is to curb real estate speculation prices so that the appreciation in the prices of homes will be not be so exorbitant.

Another is to ensure the growth of income among Malaysians, be it in the public or private sector so that it reflects correlates with the increase in the cost of living.

As it is, the B40 (and yes even the new M40) is finding it near impossible to be able to own homes today without having to be locked in debt for an entire lifetime.

[This article appeared originally at The Malaysian Insider]