Wednesday, February 23, 2011

‘Heirless’ Taib is afraid to step down

I have regular meetings with the someone whom I would like call the “Oracle of Syed Putra.”  I first started penning my meetings with the Oracle way back in 2008 in my blog.
The “Oracle” is the alter ego of Tun Daim Zainudin. They grew up together. They knew each other’s siblings. They played together and did things normally done by the young and old alike. They were inseparable.
I already had an appointment with the Oracle, when I saw Daim’s picture in The China Press. I called M, the Oracle’s long-time personal assistant, and asked if he could get the Chinese report translated. There would have been a translated transcript for the Oracle. The Oracle must be a keeper of sorts for Daim. He is a treasure trove.
Anyway I got the translated copy on the day of my meeting with the Oracle.
Knowing that I can be fastidious about the written language, M quickly pointed out “that’s the English translation done by the Press people. That’s not the English of the Oracle or Tun Daim.”
I ran through the translated copy. It contained many things that I had written about in my blog sakmongkolak47 since I began my regular sitdowns with the “Oracle of Syed Putra”.
The Oracle once told me that Daim reads my blog.
Anyway, when my time came, I entered into the Oracle’s inner sanctum. I immediately asked about Sarawak.
Question: What is your take about Sarawak, O Oracle?
The Oracle: You know what’s the problem with Toib?  (Incidentally, the Oracle has this peculiar way of pronouncing the name. The Oracle comes from Kedah. The way they pronounced Taib is Toib – the “T” is the “tho” of the Arabic alphabet. Hence “Taw-ib”.)
He (Taib Mahmud) wants to stay as long as possible because he hasn’t got a succession plan. He knows he is breeding an uprising in Sarawak. He wants the son to succeed. But the son seems to have lost all interest since the mother passed away.
You remember the Islamic Fashion Show in Monaco? It was bankrolled basically by Taib’s people. The wholesoirĂ©e was financed by Taib. It was his way of getting into the good books of Rosmah (Mansor).
So he got some Sarawakian fashonista who talked to that Raja Shahreza (organiser) fellow who talked to Rosmah (Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s wife) and who talked to… and they all got to sing along with Prince Albert, the Playboy of Monaco.
And do you remember after that, the PM came back and urged all parties concerned to support Taib. Even though earlier, he thought it was time for the silver-haired one to go.
Now he’s trying to persuade Najib to hold simultaneous parliamentary and state elections. For that he sends his sister to bond up with Rosmah.
Everyone now seems to realise that it’s Rosmah who exerts paramount persuasive powers over the husband. And the husband is the PM of Malaysia.
Taib’s reasoning is, if elections were to be held at the same time, the opposition’s forces and resources will be thinly spread. That way, he can be more certain Sarawak will prevail.
And by suggesting that the fortunes of the federal government are tied to how Taib performs in the state elections, Najib may just be persuaded.
Everyone knows that Najib has got this phobia. Tell some scare stories and he will wilt.
You know, TDZ (Daim) met up with this Taib feller. He tells the latter, it’s time to go. Mahathir has left. Ling (Liong Sik) has left. You may be overstaying. Taib tells Daim that he needs time to plan for a succession.
Why is the right succession important?
It’s essential for self-preservation. Taib practically owns the whole of Sarawak. If some wrong person were to get into office, can his interests be protected? Can the future of his children be guaranteed?
He needs someone who can guarantee safety over his interests and the future of his family.
Succession plan
I went on to the next question. It’s itching and eating me up.
Question: When do you think he will hold the Sarawak election? Will it be done concurrently?
(The Oracle): Not good. Better to have it done separately. Taib will lose many of the urban seats. The Chinese are not going to vote for the BN. Do you think the Chinese will get intimidated by Taib’s warnings that he won’t be able to help the Chinese? Certainly not.
The Chinese help themselves basically. The lesser you interfere, the better they like it. They can run a parallel economy, you know.
The best strategy for Najib is to carry out a containment policy. If Sarawak were to lose more state seats this time, let that losing trend be contained there. Don’t let them get over here in peninsula.
The biggest problem in Sarawak is Taib himself. He has stayed too long and accumulated too much resentment alongside the fabulous wealth that he has amassed. Sarawak can lose more seats based on the public revulsion of him alone.
It’s like the flow of current. You hold hands with a man about to be electrocuted, you get zapped too.
Najib will be ill advised if he holds the general election together with the Sarawak election.
Mohd Ariff Sabri Aziz, a former state assemblymen, is a columnist for Free Malaysia Today. He will, from time to time, share the Oracle’s wisdom with readers.

Facebook phones with instant posting

FACEBOOK phones offering instant posting to the popular social networking site were finally unveiled at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. None of them has an official Facebook logo on the back. But even a casual test shows that the controls revolve around status updates, pokes, likes and other Facebook features.The site’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, has a vision of the entire globe becoming a network of Facebook friends. And these new mobile phones lead that way.
It is already estimated that one-third of Facebook’s 600 million members post or read friends’ updates on phones. Apple’s iPhone and Android phones have had Facebook apps for ages. What is different on the new devices is the phone seems to be a part of Facebook already.
On Facebook phones from HTC of Taiwan, for instance, when the user takes a photograph, the Facebook button blinks, urging the user to post it to the website. When the cellphone plays a song that the user enjoys, it is possible to tag it with an instant "like" and share that with friends. If a Facebook friend phones, his/her profile comes up on screen.
HTC calls the variant with a keyboard the ChaCha and the one with a touchscreen, the Salsa (right).
On a video-conference call to Mobile World, Zuckerberg said more phones with profound Facebook integration are on the way.
Recently, a little-known maker, INQ, launched two phones that are built around Facebook, offering direct access to the user’s Wall. Postings from friends constantly stream into the INQ phones’ news page and invitations and other events go automatically into its calendar. Like the HTC products, the INQ devices run on Android.
A smartcard company, Gemalto, has integrated some of Facebook’s more basic functions into the SIM card instead of the phone itself. The advantage is that the user can then interact with Facebook using practically any mobile phone.
This can be a major money saver, since the user does not have to buy a costly smartphone or subscribe to an expensive data pricing option to send and see status updates, give and receive pokes and invitations, all of which run as texts.
The short message service (SMS) technology does not handle photographs and videos, but this mode of Facebooking could have enormous appeal for budget-minded users. Gemalto’s Facebook for SIM service will not come free, but will be financed by subscriptions. – dpa

Hundreds of thousands of motorists may be blacklisted

Press Digest by Kong See Hoh

PETALING JAYA (Feb 20, 2011):
 IT looks likely that hundreds of thousands of motorists are going to be blacklisted when the deadline for them to settle their traffic summonses expires at the end of the month.

According to a report in Sin Chew Daily today, traffic police, Road Transport Department (RTD) and Kuala Lumpur City Hall issued a total of 20,964,361 traffic summonses from 2000 to 2009, but as of Feb 3, only about 13% of the tickets were settled.

In other words, more than 80% of the motorists issued with summonses have not settled them.

This also means that when the grace for them to settle outstanding summonses expires on Feb 28, hundreds of thousands of motorists with some 18 million outstanding summonses will be blacklisted. Many of the errant motorists are holding more than one ticket.

Although RTD director-general Datuk Solah Mat Hassan has said that the government will not extend the grace for motorists to settle their summonses and urged them to pay up as soon as possible, statistics made available to the press shows that only 13.43% of the summonses issued by traffic police, RTD and City Hall’s traffic section between 2000 and 2009 had been settled as at Feb 3.

Statistics provided by RTD shows that from May last year to Feb 3, the three enforcement agencies collected a total of RM371,481,637 in compound fines from 2,814,989 traffic offenders.

In view of the poor response, the government has repeatedly called on the public to settle their traffic summonses.

Those who pay up before the Feb 28 deadline will not be blacklisted or liable under the Motor Vehicles (Demerit Points) Penalty System.

Under the amended Road Transport Act, those who are blacklisted will be prevented:
>> from renewing their road tax, driving licence and motor insurance coverage;

>> conducting any transaction related to Road Transport Department, including registering new cars or second-hand vehicles; and

>>transferring ownership of their vehicles.

Motorists have largely ignored summonses issued by the City Hall as statistics showed that only 3.19% of such summonses, or 63,871 tickets totaling RM3,202,491, have been settled from May last year to Feb 3.

The report said summonses issued by the traffic police were given the most attention, with 14.61% or RM357,156,598 compound fines from 2,669,495 summonses settled in the same period.

For the same period, RTD collected RM11,122,548 (81,623 summonses), or 11.78% of the total summonses it issued.

For the 10-year period from 2000, traffic police collected compound fines totalling RM3,229,505,651 (18,269,413 tickets); RTD collected RM103,920,450 (692,803 tickets); and City Hall raked in RM200,214,500 (2,002,145 summonses).

>> Don't overlap, Hua Zong tells affliliates
HUA Zong (Federation of Chinese Associations of Malaysia) has criticised the move by four of its affiliates to jointly pursue the “20-Year Plan of Action for Malaysia”outside the umbrella body, the Chinese press reported on Saturday.

It said that all Chinese assembly/town halls should respect the umbrella body’s central committee decision to carry out the plan as a central effort. Any overlap, duplication or over-emphasis in drawing the line by any quarters in implementing the plan would only result in unnecessary confusion, it said.

In a press statement on Friday, Hua Zong said the recent announcement by Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, Negri Sembilan and Johor Chinese Assembly Halls and Penang Town Halls that they had set up a 20-Year Plan of Action for Malaysia pro tem committee left much room for negotiation.

The 20-Year Plan of Action for Malaysia, an ambitious project by Hua Zong, aims to gather civil society views and suggestions on major national issues on social, environmental, cultural, educational, economic and political perspectives.

When completed, the plan was to publish and distribute the report to government and private agencies.

Late last year, Hua Zong dissolved the plan’s secretariat, which was then headed by Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall president Tan Yew Sing, and set up various sub-committees to carry out the agendas of the plan.

In the Friday statement, Hua Zong said the decision reached by the central committee at the Dec 16, 2010 extraordinary general meeting (to stick to its decision to dissolve the secretariat) should be respected by all parties concerned to avoid creating confusion among Chinese assembly/town halls.

It said Hua Zong has set up a committee to study and amend the 20-Year Plan of Action for Malaysia draft report.

Once the draft report is approved by the central committee, it will be published in both Chinese and English, and the recommendations made will be carried out according to the levels of their urgency, said the statement.

It said the recommendations will be carried out by the various sub-committees set up as well as the various Chinese assembly/town halls.

Meanwhile, Tan said the four Chinese assembly/town halls respected the decision of the central committee but it did not mean they could not continue with their efforts to pursue the plan.

Afterall, the various Chinese assembly/town halls are individually registered organisations and can carry on with the project on their own, he said, adding that no one should be pointing fingers.

“What we want is a stage to carry out the project. As the four Chinese assembly/town halls have put in a lot of efforts, we hope to carry on with it.” -- theSun

Govt rapped for losing RM52b Bumi shares

By Patrick Lee, Free Malaysia Today

PETALING JAYA: PKR has slammed the government for losing RM52 billion worth of Bumiputera shares just to bump up Malay equity.
The party found it strange that the government wanted to take credit for raising Malay equity to 22%, when it should have achieved a 30% target in 1990.
“After 21 years and billions’ worth of mismanagement and abuses made in the name of the Malays, Umno-BN (Barisan Nasional) is willing to take credit for any incremental increase in Bumiputera equity ownership,” said PKR secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution.
Last week, International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed said that Bumiputera share distribution through IPOs (initial public offerings) had added to higher Malay equity.
Saifuddin, however, said that the distribution of shares to Bumiputeras had resulted in the loss of RM52 billion out of RM54 billion.
In 2009, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak had admitted that only RM2 billion from the RM54 billion of Bumiputera shares given since 1971 remained in Malay hands.
Saifuddin said the situation repeated itself in 2010 when more than 1.5 billion shares from 18 IPOs were allegedly distributed to Bumiputera investors.
He said the shares in Petronas Chemical Group Bhd and Malaysian Marine and Heavy Engineering Holding Bhd had issue prices of RM5.05 and RM3.61 per share respectively.
Saifuddin said that these shares should be valued at a few billion ringgit.
He urged Mustapa to disclose the recipients of the 1.5 billion shares. He also urged that these shares not go the same way as the lost RM52 billion.
Saifuddin also alleged that the billions of shares given over the years had only benefited a small Malay ruling elite, instead of the greater Malay population in the country.
Hence, he said the government needed to change its focus from the 30% equity target and focus on raising the collective household income of the Malays.
Saifuddin estimated that Bumiputeras made up 75% of Malaysia’s poorest 11 million, with an average monthly household income of RM1,500.
PKR strategy director Rafizi Ramli couldn’t agree more.
“We have made it clear that since the NEP has failed, this 30% equity is not going to work,” he said, adding that only BN’s elite stood to benefit from it.
“But if you can manage to raise the household income, you would automatically see improvements,” he added.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Swiss NGO details Taib's business empire: 49 firms in 8 countries

Written by  Bruno Manser Fund

BASEL (SWITZERLAND) / KUCHING (MALAYSIA) - The Bruno Manser Fund has today released a black list of companies related to the family of Abdul Taib Mahmud, the long-serving Chief Minister of the Malaysian state of Sarawak.
The black list contains the names and company numbers of 49 companies in eight countries which are thought to be worth hundreds of millions, if not billions, of US dollars. A considerable number of the companies is active in the real estate and property sector.

The exclusive black list can be accessed under: 

Taib Mahmud, who has been Chief Minister, Finance Minister and State Planning and Resources Minister of Sarawak since 1981, has an impressive track record of corruption and abuse of public funds.
According to the Democratic Action Party (DAP), Taib has failed to account for a staggering 4.8 billion Malaysian ringgits (1.58 billion US dollars) of Sarawak state funds over the past three years alone.
In 2007, the Tokyo tax authorities uncovered a massive corruption scheme that involved the payment of kickbacks to the Taib family. In return, nine Japanese shipping companies had received export licences to carry logs to Japan, Sarawak's largest timber export market.

The black list names 13 Malaysian companies, 10 Australian companies, 9 Canadian companies,7 Hong Kong companies, 4 US companies, 3 companies on the British Virgin Islands and 1 company in Jersey.
Among the companies listed are Sakto, a significant Ottawa-based property developer, Ridgeford Properties, a London property company active in the high-end market, and Wallysons, the owners of the FBI Northwestern Regional Headquarters building in Seattle. Among the Malaysian companies, Cahya Mata Sarawak (CMS), the state's largest private company, and the Ta Ann logging group are most notable.

The black list's intention is to help the listed countries' anti-corruption and anti-money-laundering authorities identify and freeze illicit Taib assets in their countries. The list will be regularly updated.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Solid-state batteries

Article from The Economist
The power of the press

A new process will make solid-state rechargeable batteries that should greatly outperform existing ones

ELECTRONICS made a huge leap forward when the delicate and temperamental vacuum tube was replaced by the robust, reliable transistor. That change led to the now ubiquitous silicon chip. As a consequence, electronic devices have become vastly more powerful and, at the same time, have shrunk in both size and cost. Some people believe that a similar change would happen if rechargeable batteries could likewise be made into thin, solid devices. Researchers are working on various ways to do this and now one of these efforts is coming to fruition. That promises smaller, cheaper, more powerful batteries for consumer electronics and, eventually, for electric cars.
The new development is the work of Planar Energy of Orlando, Florida—a company spun out of America’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in 2007. The firm is about to complete a pilot production line that will print lithium-ion batteries onto sheets of metal or plastic, like printing a newspaper.
“Thin-film” printing methods of this sort are already used to make solar cells and display screens, but no one has yet been able to pull off the trick on anything like an industrial scale with batteries. Paradoxically, though thin-film printing needs liquid precursor chemicals to act as the “ink” which is sprayed onto the metal or plastic substrate, it works well only when those precursors react to form a solid final product. Most batteries include liquid or semi-liquid electrolytes—so printing them has been thought to be out of the question. Planar, however, has discovered a solid electrolyte it believes is suitable for thin-film printing.
A battery’s electrolyte is the material through which ions (in this case lithium ions) pass from one electrode (the cathode) to another (the anode) inside a battery cell. Electrons prised from those ions make a similar journey, but do so in an external circuit, usually through a wire. That means the energy they carry can be employed for some useful purpose. Push electrons through the wire in the opposite direction and the ions will return to their original home, recharging the battery.
Many sorts of ion can be used in batteries, but lithium has become popular in recent years because it is light. Rechargeable batteries based on lithium chemistry store more energy, weight for weight, than any other sort. In the case of a lithium-ion battery the electrolyte is usually in the form of a gel. It is possible to make such a battery with a solid electrolyte, but until now that has been done by a process called vacuum deposition. This uses complex and expensive machinery to build up atomic layers of material on a substrate. Batteries made this way tend to be small and costly, suited for specialist devices like sensors. To be any use in consumer electronics, and especially electric cars, solid-state batteries would need to be bigger and capable of being cranked out in greater numbers.
What Planar has come up with is a ceramic electrolyte which it says works as well as a gel. It can print this electrolyte (along with the battery’s electrodes) onto a sheet of metal or plastic that passes from one reel to another in a process similar to that used in a traditional printing press. Nor does it have to be done in a vacuum. Once printed, the reels can be cut up into individual cells and wired together to make battery packs.
For the cathode, Planar uses lithium manganese dioxide; for the anode, doped tin oxides and lithium alloys. For the crucial solid electrolyte it turns to materials called thio-LISICONs—shorthand for lithium superionic conductors. Exactly which thio-LISICON is best needs further investigation, but the principle certainly works.
The crucial trick is that although both the electrodes and the electrolyte appear solid, they are actually finely structured at the nanometre scale (a nanometre is a billionth of a metre). This is to allow the lithium ions free passage. Getting the materials in question to settle down in an appropriate arrangement has taken blood, sweat and tears but Planar’s scientists think they have cracked the problem.
The “inks” they use to print their battery cells are waterborne precursor chemicals that, when mixed and sprayed onto the substrate in appropriate (and proprietary) concentrations and conditions, react to form suitably nanostructured films. Once that has happened, the water simply evaporates and the desired electronic sandwich is left behind in a thousandth of the time that it would take to make it using vacuum deposition.
Printing batteries this way also offers the possibility of incorporating other thin-film devices, such as ultracapacitors, directly into the cells. An ultracapacitor is an electricity-storage device that can be charged and discharged rapidly. In electric cars, ultracapacitors can capture energy from regenerative braking and use it for fast acceleration.
Planar says its cells will be more reliable than conventional lithium-ion cells, will be able to store two to three times more energy in the same weight and will last for tens of thousands of recharging cycles. They could also be made for a third of the cost.
Material benefits
These are bold claims, but as Scott Faris, Planar’s boss, points out, a lot of the benefits come from savings in materials. About half of a typical lithium-ion battery is made of stuff that plays no direct part in the battery’s chemistry. This includes a stout casing and what is known as a permeable polymer separator, which stops the electrodes in the cell touching each other and causing a short circuit. Thin-film technology eliminates the need for so much casing, and Planar’s solid-state electrolyte doubles as a separator. The result, says Mr Faris, is that 97% of the materials used to construct a Planar cell are actively engaged in storing electricity.
If the pilot production line is successful, the company hopes to begin operations in earnest in about 18 months. To start with it will make small cells for portable devices. It will then scale up to larger cells and, in around six years’ time, it hopes to be producing batteries powerful enough for carmakers. If, by then, anyone needs a replacement battery for a Chevy Volt, such technology may offer a solid-state alternative that could increase that car’s all-electric range from about 65km (40 miles) to some 200km. Lack of range is reckoned one of the main obstacles to the widespread use of electric cars. If solid-state batteries could overcome such range anxiety that would, indeed, be a revolution on a par with the silicon chip.