Sunday, April 22, 2012

Run 350 - 22 April 2012, Sunday

This morning Run350 21km race organised by NTUC Income in support of Earth Day, my first with them was meant to be a gauge prior to the Sundown 42km marathon in May this year. My running mate, Chua who registered for this event much earlier injured badly in a recent bike accident told me he will be running too. I was quite sceptical that he could even finish the 21km race as he has not been running regularly since his operation more than two months. However, in the past weeks before this event, he had started to run on own but it was a struggle to get back to near fitness, needless to say. After some persuasion, his doctor has finally given him clearance to run, rather reluctantly but on condition that he cannot push too hard and also, he has to avoid runners accidentally bump onto his right arm. A slight bump will spell trouble for him. I decided that I should pace him from start to end though at first, he insisted that I should push for my personal best time. Personally, I was hoping for a under 2 hours target, even lower than my last 1 hr 56 mins but never mind, I can always go for another shot come another event.

The race was to flag off at 6.00 am, I got up at 5.15 am and by 5.30 am, I was already on my way. Chua and I had arranged to park our cars at the public carpark opposite Singapore Chamber of Commerce and meet nearby at around 6.00 am. Our arrival was almost the same and we then walked a little distance to the floating platform together. We planned to start on the second wave, around 6.15 am to avoid the bulk of the runners for safety sake. We were one of the last few runners from the second wave, did our warm up and off we went. As Chua right arm is still recovering, he cannot swing his right arm so freely and he had to lock in, to prevent injury. It looks awkward running this way and pace is certainly compromised too. It was a slow start for us. I was just pacing him and also making sure nobody will run into our way. As we increased our pace, we were actually overtaking people. I was concerned as Chua might burn out fast at this rate, given he has not been in action for some two months. I kept the pace with him. Occasionally I will ask how is he coping up and he gave no indication he is stopping anytime.

Our start off took us from the floating platform and onto Nicoll Highway to the direction of East Coast. I must admit we were keeping very steady pace, slightly over 6 mins per km and we continued to overtake more runners who started earlier than us. At the 10km mark, a roll of red carpet was nicely laid on the ground for time-check but I kicked on a protruding object on the floor.  It was my quick instinct to break the fall and instead of face down, I did a roll over.  I managed to esape scath-free and continued the run, almost immediately.  Chua didn't see my fall as he was in front.  A chap behind me saw it all and was amazed, praised me for that stunt.

At 12km mark and back to Nicoll Highway we were joined by the 10km runners and I reminded Chua to be careful as it will get crowded soon.  We were still keeping the same pace, a little 6 mins over per km.  Up till that juncture, I am pleasantly surprised that Chua could keep to that pace though he said his right arm was quite numb and legs are tiring soon.  We walked a bit at the 16km waterpoint for Chua to relax his right arm and a short while later, he was ready to run - impressed.  Finally with the last kilometre to the finish, Chua mustered all his energy to quicken his pace.  I decided to slow down.  Chua was about 20 metres in front of me when he hit the finish line.  We clocked 2 hours 6 mins and I must say it was a creditable time, given Chua has not been running for more than 2 months.  I salute him for his determination, heaps of praises for him and in no time, he will gain full fitness, I am sure.  Once again, I congratulate him for such an impressive run.

Friday, April 20, 2012

PTPTN: We didn’t start the fire

My personal take:
The Malaysia election is drawing near and the opposition is now lobbying for free university education for all if they form the next government. From onset, I feel it is a very irresponsible statement in their attempt to make the masses happy. Where the current situation is concerned, perhaps we should look at what happened then and then judge it for ourselves. This article is written by Prabha Ganesan of The Malaysia Insider and I really find some sense in it. Read on.

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By Praba Ganesan
The Malaysian Insider
Apr 19, 2012

APRIL 19 — When I jumped off the bus at noon to register at UKM (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) not many noticed the scraggly looking teenager with a mega-large bag. It was so large; it had clothes, a chess set and even a typewriter. It was the early Nineties and Kurt Cobain was alive making music.

Every student had about 20 family members coming to send them off. It was that big a deal, going to a public university. There were no private universities and the private “colleges” were only offering twinning programmes at best.

The old ethos: few go to university and many after secondary education join the employment market.

This changed with the great expansion before the millennium, around the time the PTPTN national loan system came around.

Mahathir’s Malaysia was to be a developed nation in record time, and millions of graduates have to line up and march in unison as people in the capital cheered them on with confetti drowning the uninitiated.

This vision required universities opening almost every month, in every state, in every way and many tuition centres around the Klang Valley turning into university colleges. Major government-linked companies were turning their training centres into universities, and Mahathir Mohamad was still riding horses.

The PTPTN answered the money issue. And now on the table sits the proposal to abolish it.

You don’t have to agree or disagree, but you have to realise that the issue is not straightforward. The overdrive the Barisan Nasional (BN) government is in to respond to is the indicator.

The loan-takers

Before reverting back to the loan agency, let’s look at the students, and those who have since graduated.

Some have good jobs and can pay the loan back. This group is the hardest to be defended by policy proponents. They also usually coincide being the first-class graduates who get a waiver on the loan.

On the face of it the basic argument that if you take a loan, then you pay back the loan remains. There are no grey areas, just greyness for being morally reprehensible not wanting to pay.

A bit more on that later.

There is a growing constituency of graduates who cannot find jobs commensurate to their education. The national stats show not high unemployment, but if the numbers were filtered to those having graduate-type jobs paying graduate-level pay, then the numbers will start to frighten.

There are graduates today managing only to become clerks. My local supermarket newsstand is manned by a microbiologist looking for a way out. I know some becoming cashiers at supermarkets. After four years in campus they only let you do counter arithmetic and give you a pay no engineering maths is necessary to spend.

There is frustration, and there is a sense of neglect.

They are tempted to ask, “If the degree does not get me a job better paying than a security guard, why pay for the degree? It seems like I have wasted four years just so I can be more indebted.”

As debtors that may be irresponsible of them, but when the state is the creditor then the dimensions shift somewhat.

Who’s saving who?

The PTPTN was the cash cow for many of these new universities.

This was because the government had promised millions of parents that their faith in BN will be met with higher grades in public schools, and then those with those higher grades excelling in universities, before hitting career peaks.

It was a necessary creature to feed the needs of a population told to imagine a future of grandeur for themselves and their families.

Vocational training, for instance, was not part of the great dream. No more plumbers, just doctors and engineers from here on.

However, university education is more expensive. The new universities were not short of students who met the minimum grade, but they were short of students with the minimum financing. PTPTN became the saviour.

Perhaps Malaysians have to bear some of the blame here. Not many raised their eyebrows when mere tuition centres were made into universities. It was rush, rush and more rush.

I am told there was a university certified to train doctors but there were insufficient cadavers. Abandoned malls, shophouses and even homes were turned into the campus. Buildings were constructed and university presidents were appointed.

The whole exercise had to be paid for with university admission. PTPTN loans filled the lecture theatres.

It is no surprise that these things were running parallel with the declining standards in local universities. Volume took over quality. There were that many teaching staff, that much know-how. All the universities zeroed in to getting students without any care about the students’ finances. They stopped worrying about the quality of the student and were anxious to get them signing their loan documents.

Universities run on admissions.

Questions then. Were the universities screened or measured? How many of the universities were taken off the preferred list after the quality of the education was suspect and their graduates struggling to find decent jobs?

Did PTPTN properly vet candidates? Their initial mandate was underprivileged applicants and overachievers. When they extended it to almost anyone going to university did they factor the candidate’s ability to benefit sufficiently from the loan.

PTPTN are not a purely commercial firm like a bank. They have a social agenda, so when students with borderline grades in an ever-slumping SPM (“O” levels equivalent) are taken in by less than scrupulous institutions just to maximise profits, have they taken the best interest of the student at heart or just appeasing their corporate friends?

Mind you, the PTPTN monies are dispensed through the universities. There is a nursing university in the Klang Valley which fines students for breaking curfew, and just lops off the amount from the loan it holds in trust for the students.

The PTPTN, Ministry of Higher Education and universities were working hand in hand to ensure the number of graduates went up, and the promise to an electorate kept.

It really did not matter if the universities were rundown or were just not able to provide value. Money was taken, time was spent, exams were given and certificates were issued. Unemployable graduates with no skills in their own course of study and missing English skills were just collateral damage.

Entitlement and getting while you can

The literal critic as I mentioned earlier needs to be tackled finally.

A loan is a loan on, hard to shake off that point.

It is now joined by the other refrain, nothing free is appreciated. When something is free then people will get used to it and in time claim it is a natural entitlement rather than having a time cap.

We are all citizens, and students on loan and those on it before are just as much citizens as the rest.

I’ll unsheathe the obvious give-away line, if others who have benefited from the state and theirs are amounts exponentially higher than all these students put together, can the students then claim to the state to go after the bigger players first?

This is one my old debate pal would say (and he has been saying so) that two wrongs don’t make a right.

Fine. But can they remain wrong till those with bigger means, better lawyers and more nest eggs settle first their grossly unfair grabs?

Grab is the right word. Some nations are lucky, others are luckier and then there is Malaysia.

If there is wealth in the state, and that wealth is currently misspent, how unacceptable is it for citizens to also make a play for what they can get while they can?

This reminds of the Umno Raya open house in the ‘80s. There food queues were just monstrous, and the monster in everyone emerged as everyone attacked whatever was brought in. Adults and young teenagers like me were just forcing our hands into the large trays of grilled satay. Every person for himself.

It is undignified, but that probably spells the feeling across the country. People know, as much as they support or don’t BN, that much is being distributed to those of a certain class of people. Human nature kicks in.

Students who have been shoddily trampled on through this conveyor-belt education might have a case.

There is wealth in the country, and unless those in power exhibit a willingness to judiciously manage that wealth, then many things can come unhinged.

So where then

I’ll admit I have not destroyed the “a loan is a loan” line. But even my critics have to concede, not all is straight and narrow in the PTPTN debacle.

The abysmal collection rate as of now underlines it. PTPTN is not just a company, it can even blacklist Malaysians from travelling, that’s not something your local bank can do to errant customers.

Many students have been left in the lurch, the universities have been largely protected by PTPTN rather than regulated and pressed by the government agency to give more value to the students, and in a state where state funds are very arbitrarily and selectively disbursed, then can the rest be demanded to stick to arrangements. What about kepimpinan melalu teladan (Leadership through example)?

PTPTN is a mess, but the kids did not start the fire.
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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Malaysia - A Small Country

Note from me: This article is taken from the blog of Malaysia former PM, Dr Mahathir. If Malaysia is considered a small country by Dr M take, what can we call our Singapore? Tiny or red dot should describe us best, I think? This small country called Malaysia (East and West and sited in between the vast South China Sea while we can only content with our Changi beach) is fortunate or blessed should I say, to have an oil company in Petronas to bill them out each time a GLC is in trouble but in tiny Singapore, what do we have and who do we call for bailout? Yet, some of our own are complaining bitterly...too many foreigners here knowing too well some Singaporeans really choose their jobs, MRT breakdown as if our infrastructure is at the brink of destruction, SBS employing foreign drivers that are deemed to drive recklessly (only Singaporeans are considered to be one heck of a safe driver, true?), high cost of living, and more but choose to forget this tiny country has nothing to start with. If complaint can get us oil and other natural resources which are gift from God, by all means...complain till the cow comes home, Singaporeans.

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1. Malaysia is, relatively speaking, a small country. The population is only 28 million with a per capita income of USD8,000. But many Malaysians have done very well on the world stage. They are big and often they are the biggest in the world.

2. This is especially so in business. These people make their first million in the country. And they grew, prospering in the conducive business environment that Malaysia provides.

3. PETRONAS is a Government company. It is a national oil company like those found in most oil-producing countries. But PETRONAS did not confine itself to merely collecting royalty. PETRONAS went into all the different upstream and downstream areas of the petroleum industry. It went abroad, prospecting, producing, transporting, shipping, laying pipes and building ports and terminals. It is also into natural gas liquefaction and petrochemicals.

4. It is rare for a Government company to do well. But PETRONAS has done well and contributed much to Government revenue.

5. The private sector has not done badly either. Many have grown and expanded. Kuok Bros, building on its sugar and flour monopoly business, expanded into luxury hotels. The Shangri-La Hotel chains are all over East Asia and beyond. Palm oil plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia contributed billions to the corporation.

6. Lim Goh Tong came to Malaysia penniless. A casino license granted by the first Government of independent Malaysia contributed to the creation of one of the biggest corporations in the world. Resorts World operates casinos in Malaysia, Singapore, USA and UK, and elsewhere. Additionally, his Malaysian corporation owns huge palm oil estates and cruise ships.

7. The Genting group has more hotel rooms than any other hotel chain in the Far East.

8. Yeoh Tiong Lay (YTL) is another Malaysian company, which started as a construction company but now owns valuable properties in KL and other Malaysian towns. It owns a profitable power plant in Malaysia and a water supply utility in the UK.

9. Datuk Azman Shah owns a hotel chain, the Holiday Villa, largely in Malaysia but also in London, Sudan and other locations.

10. Vincent Tan has many businesses. He is also a big property owner in KL and in other parts of Malaysia. His most remarkable success in the Cosway chain of stores, with thousands operating in East Asian countries, in the USA and in Mexico.

11. Ananda Krishnan made his first million trading in oil. Coming home he started Astro and Maxis, telecommunication and paid television businesses. He is the owner of three satellites, which provide telecommunication service covering most of Southeast Asia. He owns and operates mobile phone services in many countries, including in India.

12. Eversendai is not a Japanese company. It is a Malaysian company, which has done very well in the Middle East especially. The main business is steel framework for building, including the Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world. The owner is an Indian.

13. And there are many more companies, which had their head start in Malaysia but have grown and expanded to many parts of the world. They may not be as big as the ones I have listed but they have done quite well for themselves.

14. For a relatively small country, still not a developed country, Malaysia can be proud of the successes of its sons. I am sure that these successful people must also be proud of themselves and their achievements. I am also sure that they never forget their small beginnings in Malaysia, the kick-start that set them off to achieve great things.

15. There are many other kinds of successes that Malaysians can be proud of. We were once the biggest producer of tin and rubber in the world. Now we are the biggest producer of palm oil in the world.

16. Malaysians now bought and own brand name companies like Laura Ashley, Crabtree & Evelyn.

17. Yes, Malaysia is a small country but it has provided Malaysians of all races the opportunities to excel and succeed beyond the dreams of its founding fathers, perhaps beyond the dreams of the Malaysian tycoons themselves.
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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Oil

Note from me: ISA, to abolish or not? This is the latest from the 4th PM of Malaysia, Dr Mahathir who posted it on his blog and one can choose to agree or disagree with him.

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1. Oil drives the world. Ever since the invention of the internal combustion engine, the demand for oil has been increasing by leaps and bounds.

2. Today the estimated total consumption of oil per day amounts to 70,000,000 plus barrels. Engines has been made more efficient i.e. consume less oil for a given power. But still the demand for oil continues to rise.

3. In 1973 the price of one barrel of crude oil was just 3.50 USD. The oil producing countries were being robbed. They remained poor and at the mercy of the Seven Sisters – the biggest and richest petroleum companies of the world. They dictated the price. And they paid royalty amounting to only 20% or so of the price of crude to the poor countries.

4. The producing countries would have remained poor but for the anger over the state of Israel being supported by the West. Following the Yom Kippur War, the Organisation of Oil Producing Countries, decided to cut oil supply to the West.

5. Suddenly the producer countries got the upper hand. They could deny supply and therefore they could dictate prices.

6. Within one year the price shot up to 12 USD. From then on the price went up higher and higher.

7. Today the price is USD 120 per barrel. The producing countries had accordingly become extremely wealthy from their production sharing contracts.

8. But it is not just the producers who are pushing up oil price. The Western consumer countries are even more guilty. Their profligate ways and their policy of dominating the world has resulted in sanctions and wars against the Muslim oil producers which invariably affected the supply of oil to the world. The war against terror initiated by the United States has resulted in blockades against many Muslim oil producing countries.

9. In total disregard for international law and the United Nations, the United States is currently blockading Iran, a major oil exporter. In order to make the sanctions effective the United States need other countries to do the same.

10. But countries which source their oil from Iran are naturally unwilling to join in the blockade. To get them to apply sanction the United States is now doing a lot of arm-twisting, making threats against the total trade of these countries. Countries like Malaysia are very susceptible.

11. This great advocate of free trade, of globalisation, of a borderless world seems ever ready to renege on its undertaking on free trade. You get to trade freely if you do as you are told.

12. But the United States cannot force China, Russia and India. No attempt is made against European countries either because without Iranian oil their economies would grind to a stop.

13. This great country which is so dedicated to promoting free trade picks and choose the countries to bully. But then it is also not so committed to the freedoms of democracy.

14. Faced with the threat of terrorism the United States did not hesitate to curtail freedom even for its own people. Having passed the equivalence of the ISA on foreign terror suspects, Obama recently extended detention without trial to American citizens as well.

15. But the United States Congress has done better. It also legalised torture. So there is no need to send prisoners to countries which permits torture.

16. Malaysia should be proud of having the United States and Britain copy its legal system. But while Malaysia rids itself of the ISA, don’t expect the United States to do the same. Guantanamo is now 10 years old. It is set to go on forever.

17. There will be no trial for the detainees. Homeland security means no security for others. At any time they can be bombed and rocketed out of existence, starved through sanctions and failure to cooperate in applying sanctions against Iran will result in denial of free trade.
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