Monday, June 22, 2009

Stark Awakening from a Nostalgic Dream

The fanfare accorded to Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew in his nostalgic journey to Malaysia was nothing short of the etiquette normally accorded to royalty and head of state or government, except in MM Lee's case there was no inspection of ceremonial guards. Whether it went to his head with an intoxicating effect is intriguing but the quizzical description by an adversarial Dr Mahathir Mohamad of a visit of "a little emperor of the little middle kingdom" is certainly not lost on the public.

The exceptional receptions MM Lee received must have intoxicated him to the extent that he could have believed himself to be some kind of messiah delivering his gospels to his believers. In such circumstances he could have been so msemerised by his own irresistable charms that he could be forgiven if he could not see the taboo or sensitive area to be avoided. And so, whether absent-mindedly or otherwise, he pursued relentlessly ad nauseam the sentitive question of the supply of sand to Singapore as a quid pro quo for Singapore's participation in the building of a third bridge to East Johor. MM Lee is an extremely experienced politician and he could not have been so abstruse as not to understand that the question of sand supply is considered as a sovereignty matter by the Malaysians and is taboo. The corollary is that now you have the UMNO Youth chief and a whole host of indignant UMNO leaders up in arms against the supply of sand to Singapore.

MM Lee's Malaysian visit has received not inconsiderable favourable press publicity both in Malaysia and in Singapore. What should have been a feather in his cap has now been marred by his avoidable indiscretion in making irrational utterances. In his hubristic way, MM Lee may think this is a matter he can take in his stride. But it could not have escaped his intelligence to know that this is going to have a serious implication for his son PM Lee Hsien Loong in his relationship with his Malaysian counterpart Datuk Seri Najib Razak. They have established an excellent relationship during PM Najib Razak's recent introductory visit to Singapore and now this faux pas by an ebullient MM Lee is going to put them in a dilemma. Especially for PM Najib Razak. How is he going to smoothen the wrath of his indignant UMNO leaders and followers?

There is a appropriate Chinese saying: Deficient in success but excess in failure.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Journey of Nostalgia

He had just returned from self-adulating trips to China and Britain and was flush with smugness and narcissism. It is quite natural the Minister Mentor is now thinking of exuding his irresistable charms on admiring luminaries across the causeway. It is not unlike in the Chinese parable a village boy made good who returns in brocade garb to his village to flaunt his glory before his village elders. But MM Lee Kuan Yew is decked out in a Chinese national garb probably to emphasize his Chineseness in a sea of Malay supremacy.

He is no doubt flattered by the very distinguished reception accorded to him by the gracious Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, whom he greeted as an "old friend from Johor". Their discussions are merely formal and are a regurgitation of issues gone over between the Malaysian PM and the Singapore PM during the former's introductory visit to Singapore recently.

There are two possible scenarios for the Minister Mentor's visit. The planned revision of Parliamentary consituencies ostensibly to accord more political space to the opposition expounded recently ny PM Lee Hsien Loong could not have not occupied MM Lee's astute mind. His proposed visits to the Pakatan Rakyat-governed states of Penang and Kelantan could not be for the simple objective of social intercourse. They would enable him to have a closer look at what makes the Pakatan Rakyat ticks and whether there is any danger of this remarkable phenomenon taking hold in Singapore in the near or distant future. A tete-a-tete with the dynamic Pakatan Rakyat chief Anwar Ibrahim, if this is on the cards, may provide the inquisitive MM Lee with the invaluable information he seeks.

Another scenario, which borders on the sceptical, is the exploration of a possible merger with the Chinese-dominated Penang. This is not too far-fetched as an idea but is politically untenable. So this is in all probability a non-starter, but is not without interest in Singapore and Penang. Both were former British Straits Settlements.

MM Lee Kuan Yew is probably giving a miss to a possible meeting with his long-time adversary Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad during this visit. Dr. Mahathir may be an unpredictable personality, but is not likely to hold any animosity towards MM Lee now. He may even have a few pleasantries with MM Lee if they meet. There is no permanent friend or foe in politics.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Political Buffoonery

Except for the bizarre phenomenon of Asean luminaries fallen over one another in ingratiating themselves to Myanmar, the pariah nation would have been isolated by the international community, especially the west, like a leper. And so would it not be like a comic opera for the sagacious Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong to make a fraternal visit to this despotic state at a time when the whole democratic world is appalled by its ruthless suppression of its citizenry, including the iconic Aung San Suu Kyi? Quite true, this visit is ostensibly at the invitation of Myanmar's Prime Minister, but the Senior Minister cannot be worth his salt if he is not ingenious enough to find a credible excuse to postpone the trip to a more propitious time. Of course he did not and would have considered it not to be in accord with his stature not to have accepted the invitation, to the dismay of Asean's western allies.

Myanmar rulers, on the other hand, are astute enough to capitalise on SM Goh's visit to enhance their discreditable reputation in the hope that the pariah nation could become more acceptable in the democratic world. So they hide their fangs and turn on their artificial charms on a gullible prominent guest including a diplomatic offensive in the form of a meeting with the egregious General Than Swee, chairman of the so-called State Peace and Development Council.

SM Goh is just human and to say that he is overwhelmed by his host's attention is not an overstatement. How else could one explain his gaffe in stating openly in TV news report that the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi is a domestic affair? When the whole democratic world is furiously attacking the despotic Myanmar regime for the persecution of Aung San Suu Kyi, it is entertained by a comic utterance that this is a domestic affair of the Myanmar government by a no lesser personality than an eminent Senior Minister of the Singapore government. Would it not be sending a wrong signal to the democratic world? Indirectly, would SM Goh not be echoing the warning of Myanmar's Deputy Minister of Defence at the recent Shangri-La Dialogue to the international community to keep their hands off the internal affairs of Myanmar?

Myanmar's military junta will be having the last laugh.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Another parting gift from the gracious Ms Ho Ching

Singaporeans have hardly recovered from the shocking Temasek's colossal loss from its sale of Bank of America shares and are now presented with another no less shocking loss of between 500 million pounds sterling (S$1.2 billion) and 600 million pounds sterling in the sale of its stake in British banking giant Barclays. And a so-called Temasek's spokesman had the cheek to say that they "don't comment on unsourced reports." Such arrogance of Temasek's staff is a sad reflection of the superciliousness of its top management in dealing with the public and the chief executive officer is not without fault. It is amazing that such colonial-minded attitude still exists in Temasek.

Straits Times has performed a chivalrous service to the Singapore public by exposing this gross financial mismanagement by Temasek. By all indications, if not for the Straits Times exposure, Temasek will in all probability be keeping this colossal financial loss under wrap, hoping in this way to escape the wrath of the public. So much for the integrity and transparency of Temasek's honcho. Now that this financial mess is public knowledge, will the public let this pass without any uproar or will it take the Temasek's management to task for this gross financial mismanagement?

There were all kinds of speculations by financial analysts and fund managers on Temasek's sale of its Barclays stake at a colossal loss but not an iota of explanation from the so-called upfront Tamesak about its financial fiasco in Barclays. It has the impudence to suggest that news reports on this sensitive subject do not reflect Temasek's policy and that the public should independently ascertain the veracity of these reports before contemplating any action. Is this all the expanation that Temasek could give and is this its manifestation of transparency? A loss is a loss by whatever name and is a fact in this case arising out of Temasek's injudicious and ill-advised investment.

One thing is certain is that the ebullient Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam will, like a knight-errant, come to the rescue of the hubristic Temasek's management with his usual sophistry glossing over the flagrant financial loss and exaggerating the overall profits of Temasek. This is expected of him as a dutiful minister.

In this connection, Singapore can take a leaf out of the book of Japanese culture. The Japanese have such an excellent civil culture, which Singapore leaders try to emulate in certain aspects, that, in such a situation as the Temasek financial fiasco, the chairman or president of the corporation will publicly apologise to the public to seek their forgiveness. In serious cases, the honchos may even perform "hara kiri" (suicide by cutting open the abdomen) to atone for their mistakes. Can one imagine Ms Ho Ching apologising to the public or performing the hara kiri?

From the secretive way Temasek goes about its business, it would not be surprising if the latest financial fiasco may not be the final parting gift of the gracious Ms Ho Ching considering that October 1, the handover date, is still some time away.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Another parting gift from the gracious Ms Ho Ching

This posting has been overtaken by subsequent events and
it is considered prudent to have it deleted. It is an uncomplimentary
commentary on the sale of Temasek's stake in Barclays.

My apologies.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Apoplexy of ASEAN

Since its formation in 1967 with five founding members, Asean has grown to its present formidable strength of ten countries. It had a modest beginning with the fledgling organisation striving very hard to gain the recognition and confidence of the international community, in particular the United States of America and the European countries and of course lately the titanic China. It is now enjoying an unprecedented renown in world diplomatic relations comparable to any similar western alliances like the European Union.

Whilst it was at the zenith of its development, Asean seemed to have lost its sense of direction by inviting the despotic Myanmar regime to join its rank, to the dismay of its western allies. Of course Myanmar was not alone in being invited to join Asean as there were four other South East Asian countries invited as well. It was unclear who was the smart Aleck whose brilliant thinking initiated this bizarre idea of including Myanmar in the organisation. It goes without saying that he was able to convince his gullible colleagues with his cockeyed argument of a policy of constructive engagement with Myanmar.

Assuming that a policy of constructive engagement was a noble cause in the beginning, subsequent truculent and undemocratic behaviour of the Myanmar military junta should have disabused any would-be diehard dreamers in Asean of the futility of such a policy. Asean is full of sound and fury but has little to show, apart from bombastic talks and vauntings, to bring Myanmar to its senses. In fact, what Asean should now take as a last straw in his patience is the outrageous outpouring of Myanmar's Deputy Minister of Defence at the august Shangri-La Dialogue warning the international community, including the eminent Asean members, to keep their hands off the so-called internal affairs of Myanmar including the trumped-up trial of Aung San Suu Kyi. Quite appalling, but not unexpected, not a single member of the Asean luminaries had the audacity of even uttering a squeak to chastise the egregious Myanmar general who had
flagrantly abused his position as a guest. It was left to the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and British Minister for International Defence and Security Ann Taylor to press for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political detainees.

Well, quo vadis Asean? The whole world is anxiously waiting for some deterrent action against the despotic Myanmar regime including its expulsion from Asean. Can Asean shake off its spineless image? While it is scrambling to restore its confidence, the Myanmar military junta will be cocking a snook at its Asean colleagues and the world.