Agenda Daily


Rising crime rates in the country are making people anxious and angry, as epitomised by the recent demonstration by a group of disgruntled Johor Baru residents in front of the Menteri Besar’s residence. Couple this with falling productivity and waning people-friendliness and we are treading on thorny grounds.


By A Kadir Jasin

So it pays to demonstrate, more so if you are associated with a non-Malay political party of the Barisan Nasional, and are wise in the choice of your venue, like the official residence of the Menteri Besar.

That was what a sizeable group of disgruntled Johor Baru residents, led by the Johor Baru Tionghua Federation, did on June 17 in front of the Johor Menteri Besar’s residence.

They were protesting against the rising crime rates in the city. Of course, the police, as usual, moved in quickly to break it up and arrested two of the protestors who allegedly disobeyed the order to disperse.

The Menteri Besar, Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman’s reaction was typical of any ruling politician – defending the police’s action and advising the public not to exploit the recent crime cases for political reasons.

I wonder what political reason could there be when these people’s wives, husbands, sons and daughters are being robbed, raped and murdered!

Pardon me for identifying the demonstrators according to their ethnicity. There is a reason to this. The police and government tend to react to demonstrations differently depending on which race is involved.

Although the MCA initially denied involvement in the protest, I think the party has since changed its stance. There are reasons for this. The movement against crime is gaining momentum.

It was reported on June 22 that the Johor Baru Tionghua Federation had collected 118,000 signatures in less than a week for a petition protesting against the rising crimes in the city.

The federation’s manager, Eric Ku, said 70,000 of the signatures were collected online, with half of it coming from non-Johor Baru residents.

That’s a lot of potential votes and it did not miss the attention of the politicians.

The results of the June 17 demonstration so far have been nothing but brilliant. The Cabinet took up the matter and ordered 400 additional policemen to patrol the streets of the city.

A sum of RM6 million has also been allocated to set up three temporary police ‘centres’ and 200 more police patrol cars have been provided.

‘With these immediate steps, we hope to allay concerns and increase public confidence,’ said Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak after chairing the weekly Cabinet meeting.

As the Cabinet made its decision, two more rape cases were reported in the city, which is priming itself to become the gateway to the Prime Minister’s pet project, the Iskandar Development Region (IDR).

Crime doesn’t pay

THE success of the Johor Baru demonstration, in particular the quick and positive reaction it generated, should encourage residents elsewhere to launch their own community activism to demand greater safety.

This is not about being against or for the government. This is about safeguarding the community’s common interest. In the case of the Johor Baru residents, it is about protecting themselves from crime.

But the Johor Baru residents are not alone in wanting greater safety and assurance. The rise in crime rates is nationwide – a fact acknowledged by the Prime Minister himself.

In a written return reply to Parliament on April 24, he said 198,622 criminal cases were reported to the police throughout the country in 2006, an increase of 41,163 from the previous year. The highest number of reported crimes occurred in Selangor, with a total of 54,270 cases, followed by Johor (28,469), Kuala Lumpur (25,236) and Penang (16,229).

The rising crime rate cannot be blamed on the lack of police patrol alone. Such factors as poverty, the rising cost of living, unemployment, drug addiction and the influx of foreigners must also be considered and acted upon.

But this does not mean that the police should not consider making better use of its manpower and equipment. The sight of scores of police patrol cars parked at police compounds instead of patrolling the streets does not offer confidence to the people and deter criminals.

Understandably, issues related to crime and the people’s protests are having adverse effects on tourism in the state. Deputy Tourism Minister Datuk Donald Lim said although the ministry had yet to gauge the damage, the issues had to some extent affected the tourism sector.

Well, I for one would give Johor Baru a skip until such a time that it becomes safer. It would seem that the crimes are not only increasingly violent but are also senseless, where a simple robbery can lead to rape and even murder.

And with the sensational trial of the alleged murderers of Mongolian woman Altantuya Shaaribuu, our country’s image as a civilised and safe place is bound to suffer a setback, more so when the people on trial are policemen and a former aide to the Deputy Prime Minister.

I dare not go into the realm of sins and punishments, but there are Muslims out there who are attributing these series of unfortunate events to bala – God’s punishment.

Of falling productivity and sensitivities

AN OLD media colleague whom I had not met for some time told me over a cup of teh tarik in Bangsar that many foreign investors and fund managers are finding the situation in Malaysia today a bit confusing.

She said these people hated former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad for his anti-Western rhetoric and his imposition of currency controls, but they appreciated him for giving Malaysia a clear economic direction.

I told her that the foreign investors and fund managers are not alone in harbouring such a feeling. Anybody who is remotely connected with business also feels the same way.

Just take a look at the recent statement by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili that the government wanted to cut down the number of ‘extra’ public holidays to improve the nation’s productivity and enhance the delivery system.

Yet, only months ago, the government was merrily declaring ‘special’ public holidays to celebrate one occasion or another.

It’s okay for the public sector. But closing down operations for whatever reason is a lot more difficult and costly for the private sector where productivity counts. Each time the government declares a public holiday, the private sector loses productivity and incurs additional costs.

This and other unplanned actions lead not only to falling productivity, but also to the general inefficiency of the economy.

Over the years, through good planning and hard work, we had managed to raise the level of our efficiency above the general standard of the Third World. For that simple reason, we have been able to attract foreign investment despite the persistent complaints about the New Economic Policy and other rules and regulations.

We may not have been as efficient as Switzerland or Sweden, but we have been as good as some of the less efficient developed countries. Even our public sector workers have been entitled to occasional praises.

Service-oriented departments like Immigration, Road Transport and National Registration have improved by leaps and bounds. You can now renew your passport in a matter of hours and it takes only a few minutes to renew your driving licence.

Unfortunately, in recent years, as global ratings of our civil service and public sector delivery system took a dip, the service levels of the private sector too are beginning to show signs of deterioration.

Collapsing slopes, broken water pipes, cracking highways and crashing scaffoldings are but a few examples of the falling quality of work and services of the private sector.

A month or so ago, the unit trust management of a major bank made a mistake – ‘typo error’ said its manager — that reduced the value of my investment by 1,000%. Fortunately, the agents who service my account noticed the discrepancy when I enquired about the fund’s dividend and capital gains. With Bursa Malaysia and other regional bourses booming, unit trust investors can now breathe a sigh of relief.

Lo and behold, he repeated the very same mistake that he had attributed to the typing error when he wrote a letter to me to apologise.

Clearly, he had not bothered to check the letter before signing it. To add insult to injury, he sent me three RM50 vouchers for me to have tea at the Shangri-La. I sent them back to him and refused his request to meet me. And I am talking about a unit trust management company that belongs to one of the top-three local banks!

Then, on a recent trip on Malaysia Airlines to Jakarta, I was handed a disembarkation card, which I duly filled. Lo and behold, when I handed it to the immigration officer at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, I was told: Bapak, kartu ini untuk orang Indonesia (Sir, this card is meant for Indonesians).

The MAS female cabin attendant had given me the disembarkation card meant for Indonesians instead of the one for visitors. And since I had not gone to Indonesia for years, I didn’t know that there were two separate forms.

Maybe it was not entirely her mistake. Maybe I looked Indonesian or Javanese to her. She could have made the mistake because I did not use my honorific title in my ticket. I was traveling as an encik and was dressed a little bit like an ordinary Javanese construction worker returning home.

Then there was this telephone call I made to a recently appointed managing director of a government-linked company (GLC) on behalf of a house buyer to complain about unsatisfactory workmanship.

I decided to ask my office to make this ‘high-level’ telephone call because I was responsible for recommending the purchase of the property. I dared make the recommendation because I knew the former managing director of the company fairly well. She is a friendly person and has since been promoted to run a much bigger GLC. I was hoping that she was replaced by an equally friendly, professional person.

But let me not make a hasty judgement of her replacement — who is a man. Suffice to say that only after several days did he call back. He introduced himself curtly and in a somewhat agitated voice said he was returning my call.

In all this time, he kept referring to me not by my name but simply as ‘you’ — you this, you that. Clearly, he was not pleased with my telephone call and he kept saying that his people were attending to the complaints.

I told him that I had no problem whatsoever with his people on the ground. They were very helpful and had gone out of their way to help, but the problem was way beyond their authority to solve.

With the government having renationalised many privatised companies once owned by Bumiputeras and making the GLCs the vehicle for public sector investment, it is imperative that their managers are taught good manners and good customer relations.

If they behave badly and perform dismally, the government will get the bad name and the rakyat will be robbed of their rights because they are the ultimate owners and beneficiaries of these companies.

In my years as a writer and one who was involved in promoting privatisation, I cannot help but notice that some of these corporate entities behave differently when they are in private hands than when they are back under government control — the most glaring being their business philosophy and their approach to public relations.

While their entrepreneur-owners embark on expansion and asset building, their government managers focus on profit-making and asset disposal. For example, when Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Albukhary ‘rescued’ Pernas Holdings, he kept every single hotel the company owned. On the other hand, the government managers of another property-based company have put up for sale hotels belonging to the group.

Many GLCs are neglecting public relations and image building. Yet, when a private-sector upstart like AirAsia Bhd wins the public relations war, the media is accused of being unpatriotic and unhelpful.

They should not allow the public-sector mentality to undermine the goverment's effort to improve the performance of the GLCs for the good of the people.

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