Saturday, September 08, 2007

MORE PICS & Video – Day 37 -Altantuya Murder Trial: ASP Zulkarnain: No inducements to Sirul Azhar to reveal her Jewellery & No setting him up

ABOVE: Malaysiakini also came out with a late report (details H E R E) on Day 37 Altantuya Trial due to the demands in the Budget reports

UPDATE: Day 37 Murder Trial

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Officer ‘showed respect to accused’ when searching house

ABOVE: Abdul Razak Baginda arriving in court with the other two hooded accused and BELOW: Daughter Rowena acknowledging her Dad with her left index finger while her Mother Mazlinda watched.


A POLICE officer who led a team to recover Altantuya Shaariibuu's jewellery maintained his courtesy when searching the home of the person who allegedly murdered her.

ABOVE & BELOW: the polite police officer Asst Supt Zulkarnain Samsudin who would take off his shoes when entering someone house.

Asst Supt Zulkarnain Samsudin, the “polite” officer, said he removed his shoes as he entered Kpl Sirul Azhar's flat unit in Kota Damansara on Nov 7 last year. He also instructed his subordinates from the D9 (serious crimes division) of the Kuala Lumpur police contingent headquarters to do the same. Asked by DPP Tun Abd Majid Tun Hamzah why he did that, ASP Zulkarnain replied, “It's a practice for me to remove my shoes whenever I enter someone else's house to conduct a search, more so when the owner is present.” ASP Zulkarnain, 34, is the prosecution's fourth witness in a trial-within-a-trial to determine whether the court should exercise its discretion to exclude two incriminating statements allegedly made by Kpl Sirul Azhar from the trial records.

ABOVE: The counsel Kamarl Hisham (Left) for Sirul Azhar (BELOW)

The witness, who maintained that his team did not conduct any other searches apart from recovering the jewellery from Kpl Sirul Azhar's room, explained that one of his subordinates had picked up a piece of cloth from the floor and placed it on the bed. Kpl Sirul Azhar's defence team had previously argued that a blue cloth, which “suddenly appeared” on the bed in some of the photographs taken by the police that day, was an indication the room had been ransacked. “I ordered my subordinates to respect the owner of the house – Kpl Sirul Azhar – and not to mess up or step on anything in the room,” said the witness, who added that it could be the same piece of cloth.

ASP Zulkarnain also denied that he had set up Kpl Sirul Azhar and made him the fall guy in the murder case. He denied all the allegations Kpl Sirul Azhar made against him when the latter testified on Monday. Kpl Sirul Azhar, 36, had told the court that ASP Zulkarnain promised to help him out in the case if he agreed to point at some “items” and to be photographed with them. He also accused the officer of having tried to convince him to disclose everything he knew during interrogation at the Kuala Lumpur police contingent headquarters around noon on Nov 7. Unit Tindakan Khas (Special Action Squad) operatives C/Insp Azilah Hadri, 31, and Kpl Sirul Azhar, are charged with murdering 28-year-old Altantuya between 10pm on Oct 19 and 1am on Oct 20 in Mukim Bukit Raja, Shah Alam while political analyst Abdul Razak Baginda, 47, is accused of abetting them in Kuala Lumpur between 9.54am on Oct 18 and 9.45pm on Oct 19. The trial-within-a-trial will resume on Sept 17.

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September 07, 2007 20:04 PM

Zulkarnain Denies 'Setting Up' Sirul

SHAH ALAM, Sept 7 (Bernama) -- ASP Zulkarnain Samsudin today denied that he wanted to set Sirul Azhar Umar up and promised to free him if he disclosed where Altantuya Shaariibuu's jewellery had been kept. The 34-year-old officer attached to the Serious Crime Division of the Kuala Lumpur Police Headquarters' Criminal Investigation Department, also maintained his testimony given in previous proceedings that Sirul had voluntarily given information and disclosed to him where the accused kept the jewellery in his house in Kota Damansara. He said he did not threaten or persuade Sirul and did not rise from his seat and bang on the desk when Sirul replied "don't know" to questions posed during the interrogation at his office on November 7 last year.

Zulkarnain said he also had never told Sirul "you should speak the truth, what you know, tell. I know you are a member (of the force) also. So in this matter, we will try to help you, you say it". He also said he did not raise his voice at Sirul when he said "don't make me treat you like other accused". "I did not tell Sirul the matter would not be taken to court and he would be freed if he showed and identified the jewellery so that a photographer could take pictures," he said when examined by Deputy Public Prosecutor Tun Abdul Majid Tun Hamzah.(BELOW)

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ABOVE The trial judge Mohd Zaki revealed that Court would recess fro one week for the Conference of Judges and would resume on Sep 17 2007
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Merdeka, modernity and the Lina Joy controversy

Friday, 07 September 2007, Ailiran
Francis Loh looks at the controversy surrounding the competing civil-sharia jurisdictions in the light of the Lina Joy decision and other recent similar cases as well as the forthcoming 50th Merdeka celebrations. He argues that it is time to push for debate within our own religions and promote a wider notion of unity. Malaysia celebrates 50 years of Merdeka, 50 years of
Independence and Freedom, this year. There is much to celebrate indeed. We have witnessed much political stability and economic development as compared to many of our neighbours. Except during a brief period of Emergency between 1969-71, we have practised a Westminster form of democracy and lived under civilian rule. Rapid economic growth has also led to declining absolute poverty rates.

New challenges That said, we face new challenges as well. Maintaining the same rate of
economic growth will become increasingly difficult - not simply because of a highly competitive globalised environment but also because the quality of our human resources needs to be upgraded, rapidly and comprehensively. Moreover, as the Ninth Malaysia Plan revealed, socio-economic disparities between states and regions have widened. Yet other studies report widening intra-ethnic disparities too.

In part, the disparities are due to the increasing adoption of neo-liberal economic policies, including privatisation of our utilities and services, which has led to rising costs for the poor. Rapid development has also resulted in unprecedented destruction of our environment. Our forests are getting depleted, our cities crowded and noisy, and our waters and air more polluted. In Kuala Lumpur, boasting 'the tallest twin towers in the world', flash floods create havoc every time there is a heavy downpour, even one lasting just a few hours, as we witnessed in mid-June. A heavy stench, the source of which is still unclear, welcomes visitors as they approach the Penang Bridge, 'the longest in Asia'.

A major problem concerns the maintenance of not only our public buses and LRTs, but also highways and high-rises. Indeed, the brand new government complexes in Putrajaya have not been spared, what with ceilings collapsing! So, too, brand new hospitals and schools, which are deemed unsafe, even before they can be used. Other problems include corruption, rising crime rates and abuse of police powers. All these physical, environmental and even administrative problems threaten the well-being of Malaysians as the nation approaches middle-age. But they can be fixed.

Muslim-non-Muslim relations
Tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims have also been rising, most recently caused by a series of controversies surrounding competing legal jurisdictions between the civil court and the Sharia court, highlighted most recently in the Federal Court's decision in the Lina Joy case. It is understandable that many Muslims welcomed the decision while many non-Muslims felt the reverse. The 2-to-1 court decision epitomises this fault-line. In fact, because our religions are embedded in our ethnicities, the Muslim-non-Muslim fault-line reinforces the Malay-non Malay divide too.

The Lina Joy case and other related cases, however, should not be viewed through religious or ethnic lenses - nor even in terms of technical legalism as to the meaning of Article 121 (1A), introduced through a 1988 constitutional amendment. Rather, the Lina Joy case and other recent conversion controversies should be viewed in terms of our rights and responsibilities as citizens, as enshrined in the letter and the spirit of our Constitution. In turn, this Constitution is meant to represent our standing as a free and independent nation.

A living document
In this regard, it is important to remember that the 1957 Constitution, indeed any Constitution, is meant to be a living document. In Malaysia's case, the 1957 Constitution was both a legal document and a political document. The Constitution does provide guarantees for civil and political rights including the fundamental freedom of conscience. It also talks about checks and balances for the Westminster variant of democracy that was adopted, division of legislative and financial powers between the federal and state governments, and how to run elections.

The Constitution also granted special status to the royalty, to Islam as the official religion, and to the Malay language as the sole national language, as well as 'special rights' for Malays. Why, the states of Sabah and Sarawak were also accorded 'special safeguards' when the Constitution was amended to accommodate their interests in accordance with the Malaysia Agreement, 1963. These provisions are actually a recognition of group rights. In fact, it might even be argued that those rights accorded to non-Muslims and non-Malays to learn, use and promote their languages, cultures and religion are a recognition of the group rights of minority groups whose rights might otherwise be trampled upon by majority rule.

Individual versus group rights
Viewed in this light, the Lina Joy and other conversion controversies highlight an emerging problem between the rights of citizens as individuals versus group rights. Any democracy worth its name must guarantee the fundamental rights of individuals. In
Malaysia's plural society, there is also a need to recognise groups rights to ensure multiculturalism and inter-group harmony. (Elsewhere, the poor and the downtrodden or discriminated lower castes are also accorded special rights sometimes).

It is therefore pertinent to ask, where do individual rights end and where do group rights begin? The interface between the two is often blurred not least because it shifts over time. For this reason alone, a Constitution must be a living document. In Lina Joy's case, the Federal Court in a 2-1 decision ruled that Lina Joy does not have the right to move in and out of her religion at her own whim. Apparently, that undermined the rights of Muslims as a group. In fact, Lina Joy had brought the matter to court after she had converted to Christianity more than 10 years ago. She was now seeking removal of her designation as a Muslim in her Identity Card in order to marry the person of her choice, also a Christian. She was not acting on any whim or fancy. Nonetheless, for the Chief Judge, Lina Joy needed to seek the permission of the Sharia court before she could leave Islam to marry a Christian.

The Chief Judge obviously thought that the rights of Muslims as a group superseded Lina Joy's rights as an individual citizen. She needed first to appear before the Sharia court - for technically, she was deemed a Muslim. Put another way, in matters of conversion, Muslims have no automatic rights as individuals. Article 11, which provides for the freedom of religion, therefore pertains only to non-Muslims. However, for Lina Joy, now a Christian by conviction, there was no reason to submit herself to the Sharia to be recognised as an apostate especially since in most states apostasy is considered a crime requiring rehabilitation if not punishment.

Justice Richard Malunjum, the dissenting judge in the Lina Joy case, had stressed this point in his decision. In view of how the matter had generated such strong emotions among Muslims and non-Muslims, it has been suggested that all remain calm and the matter be laid to rest. Some suggest that the authorities ought to strengthen public confidence towards the Sharia courts not only to reassure Muslims that there is no attempt to belittle the importance of these courts but also to assure non-Muslims (or those wishing to leave Islam such as Lina Joy) that if and when they need to come before the Sharia courts, they should not fear recrimination since there is no compulsion in Islam. This is easier said than done in view of the decisions of the Sharia courts in several earlier conversion controversies.

Denial of Justice?
But there is a critical difference between the Lina Joy case and several other recent conversion controversies. Whereas the Lina Joy case highlights the conflict between individual versus group rights, the custody cases involving Shamala Sathiyaseelan and R Subashini, whose respective husbands had embraced Islam and converted their children as well, point to a denial of justice to the two women who had married their husbands under civil law. They were required by the civil court judges to seek redress over the disputed conversions of their children in the Sharia court. Being non-Muslims who feel that they do not need to submit to the Sharia, they have been denied their constitutional right. Then there are the cases involving the burials of Moorthy Maniam @ Mohammad Abdullah and Rayappan Anthony, whose bodies were claimed by the Islamic authorities on the grounds that they were converts.

To reclaim their bodies, their families appealed to the civil courts, which ruled that they had to submit before the Sharia courts instead. In these instances again, there was a denial of justice under the civil courts. More than that, the authorities concerned displayed a complete lack of compassion over the plight of the families, contrary to the teachings of our religions. Given these recent incidents, it will not be easy to instil confidence among non-Muslims in the Sharia. At any rate, it is still unclear whether non-Muslims have locus standi in the Sharia courts, whether they can take part actively and be represented. Contrasting views have been expressed by different Muslim jurists. The latest twist to these conversion controversies concerns the case of Revathi (born Siti Fatimah to Muslim parents but who was brought up as a Hindu by her Hindu grandmother).

Upon the advice of the Malacca Islamic Religious Department, she applied to the Sharia court to confirm her status as a Hindu as she had lived most of her life as a Hindu and had married a Hindu man. Instead, she is now being held in an 'Islamic rehabilitation camp ' to persuade her to return to Islam. Meanwhile, she has been separated from her husband while her Muslim mother has obtained a Sharia court order granting her custody of the couple's 15-month-old baby. Needless to say, the family is now torn apart.

More cases in future?
To a certain extent, the occurrence of these conversion controversies is new. It is likely, however, that more cases will emerge in the future. There are two related reasons for this. First, there has been an expansion of the Islamic legal system and the related Islamic bureaucracy under the auspices of Pusat Islam in the federal government since the 1980s. This followed the launch of Malaysia's Islamisation policy under then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his deputy Anwar Ibrahim. Apart from this, Islamic banking and insurance schemes were established; Islamic values were introduced in administration; and various missionary activities were launched. As a result of the establishment of the International Islamic University and several Islamic think tanks, and the expansion of Islamic studies in the public universities, thousands of Islamic Studies graduates from local (and overseas) universities were produced.

To a certain extent, these are the people who are involved in the expansion and consolidation of the Islamic legal system and the related Islamic bureaucracy. It is only with an understanding of the growth and consolidation of this parallel legal and administrative system, and its fusion with the civil one in strategic areas, that we begin to appreciate why these controversies have occurred and why it is likely that they will occur more frequently in future. In essence, the laws of one religion, namely Islam, have increasingly assumed the authority of the civil state's laws. From this point of view, Dr Mahathir's proclamation of Malaysia as an Islamic state in September 2001 is not that far-fetched.Second, the expansion and consolidation of this parallel Islamic legal and bureaucratic machinery in Malaysia is also related to the Islamic resurgence globally. Initially, this resurgence was related to concern for the plight of the Palestinians, then the Iranian Islamic revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Moreover, during the Cold War, the United States sponsored Islamic groups as a bulwark against communism. Islamic resurgence is also a response to the aggressive assault of western-style modernisation upon Muslim societies. Most recently, with George Bush's invasion of Iraq and his war against terrorism, it has become related to a feeling among Muslims, including in Malaysia, that they are under siege. No doubt, this might appear ironical to non-Muslims in Malaysia, what with these cases of conversion controversies!

Time to act
In spite of all the above, it is our belief that the tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims can also be fixed, just as the environmental, maintenance and administrative problems mentioned earlier may be remedied. Recognising the existence of this problem - rather than declaring it 'sensitive' and sweeping it under the carpet - is the first critical step. The Prime Minister should convene a meeting of legal experts, Muslims and non-Muslims, from a broad spectrum who can empathise with these kinds of dilemmas.

A way forward might be the setting-up of a Constitutional Court, perhaps with representation of judges from the civil and Sharia courts to act as a final arbiter. With this Constitutional Court in place, the civil court judges do not need to require non-Muslims or those who desire to leave Islam to seek a declaration from the Sharia court in matters concerning conversion. At any rate, the law should facilitate the right of all citizens, regardless of religions, to convert from one religion to another (or to be declared an atheist), provided they have reached the age of maturity, are of sound mind, and not pressured by any person or group. The interface between individual and group rights has to shift towards the former, notwithstanding the expansion of the Islamic legal and bureaucratic machinery, if we are to tout ourselves as a democracy.

As for civil society, we have to begin to push for a permanent inter-religious organisation, whatever form it may take. Unlike the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) - with due respect to the work they are doing – this organisation must include Muslims as well. This will provide a forum where issues such as conversion controversies can be discussed and suggestions put forward to the government for action. No doubt the matter can be sensitive. But not acting is not an option either. It is in this manner, with the participation of civil society, that Muslims might begin to understand the anxieties of non-Muslims, and non-Muslims, in turn, understand why Muslims consider themselves as a people under siege globally.

The current modus operandi of conflict resolution behind closed doors has reached its upper limits especially when it comes to matters of religion. As responsible citizens, we must ask for something more formal, effective and efficient in dealing with our cultural fissures and, most of all, our faith-lines. We also need to strengthen our democratic institutions for they offer the best protection of the rights of all Malaysians, including those from minority groups. Judges must be courageous and dispense justice without fear or favour. There is a huge credibility gap vis-à-vis the justice system among ordinary citizens (not simply because of these conversion controversies) these days which must be put right. Likewise, legislators should wake up and challenge all bills which are unjust, not just those pertaining to matters of religion.

Above all, the executive must recognize the seriousness of the present situation and move fast, rather than politicise the situation. As the Raja Muda of Perak commented recently, all Malaysians - especially the political leaders - must defend and promote the integrity of the Federal Constitution and ensure that there is a place for all, regardless of creed, in Malaysia. Finally, there is a need to broaden our understanding of national unity. It is not merely the absence of conflict. "National Unity" must be built on stronger foundations. In Aliran's submission to the Parliamentary Select Commmittee on National Unity in July 2005 (see AM Vol 25, No 8) ,we argued that national unity should be propped up by five pillars: a celebration of our diversity; a commitment to pluralism; respect for democracy; dedication to justice; compassion and solidarity with all in need. In this regard, each of us has the responsibility to promote such values within our own religious communities. As we well know, in the midst of the recent controversies, the common knee-jerk reaction has been to close ranks and erect strong barriers to others when outsiders criticise us, as though besieged. Instead of building walls and trying to preach across faiths, progressive -minded Muslims must reach out to their fellow Muslims, progressive-minded Christians should promote these values among their fellow Christians and so on.

The interpretation of religious texts should bedemocratised instead of being the monopoly of conservative clerics and inward-looking scholars. We need the Malaysian equivalents of Abdurrahman Wahid ("Gus Dur") of Nahdlatul Ulama; Amien Rais of Muhammadiyah; Azyumardi Azra, the former rector of the National Islamic University in Jakarta; and the late Islamic scholar Nurcholis Majid of Himpunan Mahasiswa Indonesia - who have all dismissed the need to create an Islamic state in Indonesia - to speak out. Now, more than ever before, we should allow space for progressive and critical voices to be heard within our respective religions serious discussions on matters pertaining to religion (as narrowly defined) but also analyse and engage the other issues of socio-economic development and democratisation, as outlined in the first part of this article. Above all, progressives need to stress the importance of empathy, compassion and solidarity with the poor, the oppressed and those who are silently suffering for various reasons, regardless of race or creed.

These progressive elements from the various religious traditions can later build networks of solidarity with their counterparts in other religions so that the inner beauty and essence of spirituality - love, justice, compassion, deep peace, and oneness with Creation - can emerge and be the basis that underscores our pursuit of development and democracy. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of our Merdeka, it is time to push for debate within our own religions and promote this wider notion of unity.

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MORE PICS & Video – 500 Protested & Battled (13 Arrested) with Police in Trengganu (Sat 8 Sep 07) - hurled Molotovs & Objects at Police for refusing Ceremah organized by BERSIH; 300 FRU deployed - used Water guns & Tear gas to disperse Crowd by Midnight

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MALAYSIA 2008 ELECTION BUDGET RM176.9b – Goodies to ALL; Enhance nation's competitiveness; strengthens human capital development;Sharing prosperity

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Reactions- (More details) Malaysia 2008 Budget: No affirmative Actions to Address the Weaknesses; Inflation & Cost living high; Leakages Bad; No big policy changes

Reactions - Malaysia 2008 Budget: No affirmative Actions to Address Weaknesses; Inflation & Cost living High; Leakages Bad; No big policy changes

UPDATE: Sep 13 2007

MALAYSIA: Domestic demand is key to growth forecasts
Wednesday, September 12 2007 Oxford Analytica; as pointed out by Neil in Jeffooi Blog (sep 13 07)
EVENT: Economic growth should reach 6% this year even in the context of a US slowdown, the government said yesterday.

SIGNIFICANCE: It last week presented its 2008 budget, forecasting an acceleration in economic growth next year up to 6.5%. However, a deteriorating external environment poses a threat, while the government remains concerned about waning competitiveness and fluctuating levels of private investment.
ANALYSIS: Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, who is also the finance minister, last week announced expenditure of 176.9 billion ringgit (50.6 billion dollars) for the 2008 financial year (starting January), a marked 10.9% increase on 2007. Of this, 48.1 billion ringgit will be allocated for national development, including 20.6 billion ringgit for agriculture, industry and infrastructure. The dominant themes of the budget were:
* enhancing economic competitiveness;
* strengthening human capital; and
* "ensuring the well-being of all Malaysians".

Fiscal focus.
However, while there is a strong social emphasis, the budget lacks the populist thrust expected of a government that will go to the polls within the next six months. Rather, it reinforces a programme of fiscal fine-tuning that Abdullah began in 2006:

1.Tax cuts. A single-tier company income tax of 26% will be introduced, allowing profits to be taxed only at the corporation level and exempting dividends received. In 2009, the corporate tax rate will be further lowered to 25%, from 27% at present and below the 26% announced for 2008 in last year's budget. A range of taxes affecting real estate, fund management, company mergers and acquisitions and business services will also be cut from 2008.

The end result will be an improvement in the investment climate without the revenue losses that would have occurred if the government had taken the anticipated and more popular route of slashing personal income taxes. Tax revenues are expected to rise by 3.7%, reducing the fiscal deficit to 3.1% of GDP from 3.2% this year. A deficit of 3.4% of GDP had been forecast for 2007.

2. Spreading wealth. A total of 15.6 billion ringgit has been set aside for education, social services, health and housing support for poorer families to narrow income gaps, particularly between urban middle classes and less developed rural communities (see MALAYSIA: Northern project poses funding issues - August 14, 2007). School fees will be abolished, there will be higher funding for tertiary education and job training and more money for low-cost housing, while property investment rules will be streamlined.

Public planners have acknowledged that household incomes need to be raised and labour skills improved if Malaysia is to realise its stated goal of achieving developed-nation status by 2020 (known as 'Vision 2020'). The government intends to establish a knowledge-based society with an emphasis on information technology and life sciences and the budget includes public subsidies for investment in broadband telecommunications to carry IT services (see MALAYSIA: Government will miss its broadband target - September 8, 2006).
3. Building trust. Auditing systems will be overhauled to raise the level of corporate governance. A Public Companies Accounting Oversight Board will be established under the Securities Commission to monitor auditors of public companies and encourage greater transparency. Firms with high standards of corporate governance and market conduct will have their regulatory approvals fast-tracked.
Surveys of investors have indicated that poor levels of corporate accountability have been a factor in the steady decline in capital inflows from abroad. Foreign direct investment (FDI) fell to an estimated 3.9 billion dollars in 2006, compared with commitments of 5.5 billion dollars in 2001 (see
MALAYSIA: Prospects for Johor economic zone are mixed - April 20, 2007). However, ownership rules unpopular with foreign investors that favour the bumiputra, or ethnic Malays, including a new requirement for publicly listed companies to disclose their employment composition by race, will be retained.

Growth outlook.

The budget forecasts accelerated growth of 6.0-6.5% in 2008, compared with an expected 6.0% expansion this year, largely on the strength of the higher public spending and a buoyant services sector. To achieve the Vision 2020 goals, the economy will need to expand by at least 7.0% in both years, a level of growth that has not been sustained since the exports boom of the mid-1990s (see MALAYSIA: Plan moves on from infrastructure focus - April 20, 2006).
An expansion of 5.6% was recorded in the first half of the year, after revised growth of 5.5% in the first quarter and 5.7% in the subsequent three months. To maintain this momentum, the government will be relying heavily on domestic demand to offset a deteriorating external environment:

1. Manufacturing. Export earnings rose by a meagre 2.4% in the first six months as demand fell for key electrical and electronics goods. There were signs of a slight recovery in orders for consumer electronics in July, with domestic sales up by 3.2%, but declining exports fell by a further 8.8%, while shipments to the United States were down by 20%. In contrast, FDI reached 13.6 billion ringgit in the second quarter, compared with 2.5 billion ringgit in the same period in 2006.

Manufacturers, who account for 30.0% of GDP, blamed the exports slump for their fragile growth of 1.5% in the second quarter, down from 2.0% in the previous three months. Output is expected to remain subdued during a transitional change to valued-added production and heavy investment in new industries such as biotechnology. Agriculture is also suffering due to flooding and seasonal cuts in palm oil production, contracting by 0.9% in the second quarter and registering an expansion of only 0.6% for the year so far despite stronger commodity sales.
2. Spending. Consumption expenditure increased by 12.6% in the second quarter and 8.3% in the first, driven by growth of almost 12.0% in private demand during the first half of the year, as the economy benefited from a hike in civil service salaries and favourable commodity prices. Public consumption was up 10.2% in the second quarter and 7.1% in the first three months and will continue to expand as infrastructure spending rises under the Ninth Malaysia Plan.

Malaysia has limited exposure to the sub-prime credit crisis in the United States, but business will have to contend with higher borrowing costs as global liquidity tightens. The central bank has said that there are no plans to reduce interest rates to ease the shock, even though it appears to have slack from subdued prices. Inflation continued to ease during the quarter, expanding by a moderate 1.5%.
3. Finance sector. Services -- vital to growth prospects as manufacturing weakens -- could be the first sector affected by the credit squeeze. The sector expanded by 9.2% in the second quarter, helped by the vulnerable finance, tourism, real estate and retail industries. Finance and insurance activities grew by 11.0%, while real estate surged by 18.0%, transport by 9.3% -- largely because of higher tourism arrivals -- and retailing industries by 11.9%.

The diversification of financial services has made the industry relatively insulated against outside pressures, while the government has 93.2 billion dollars of foreign reserves at its disposal to help stabilise exchange markets. However, growth in services and the wider economy will slow if the credit crunch spreads beyond US lending markets, curbing consumption and dampening tourism arrivals. Viewed from this perspective, the reliance upon services income may be difficult to sustain, though the impact may not be felt fully until late in the fourth quarter.

Growth prospects are clouded by the uncertain external economic climate and weakness in manufacturing. Strong consumption will help shield business from a moderate downturn in global demand, but it will be difficult to avoid the fallout from a prolonged slowdown. In that eventuality, growth would likely slow to 5.0-5.5% in 2007, with the impact being felt through weaker export revenues and capital inflows.

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UPDATE: Sep 12 2008
ABOVE: Malaysiakini report (details H E R E) attributing to DAP leader's Lim Kit Siang differing budget figures was first raised in Jeff Ooi's Blog (see details below). Jeff is now a DAP potential MP aspirant and left it to his DAP boss to raise the matter in Parliament. And Bernama's in the face of hard figures put up a brief report on this (see bottom).

The budget figures have been revised umpteen times before they settle on a certain figures with the aid of the powerful computers in MOF. The fiddling of the final development spending figure of RM40 billion figure to give the desire "feel good" budget deficit 3.1% must have been done much earlier as the Treasury's Economic Report was prepared earlier than the final version of the Budget figures read out by PM Abdullah.

Is this the same problem with the Bumi equity percentages that was hotly contested by Dr Lim Teck Chee that cost him to sacrifice his job?

The Cooked-up 2008 Budget Figures that reduces the Budget Deficit to 3.1%

From Jeff Ooi, Posting H E R E dated September 12, 2007

Budget figures & Abdullah's 'magical thinking'

Those who had applauded Abdullah Badawi for further reducing budget deficit from 3.2% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2007 to 3.1% for the next fiscal year should take a re-look.
Singapore business newspaper has unearthed a discrepancy in the allocation for development spending that derails the figures that determined budget deficit. Economists are asking: Is Abdullah's budget deficit actually shrinking or soaring?

SOURCE: Singapore Business Times, September 11, 2007
According to Business Times Singapore, the discrepancy is between figures in the Treasury's Economic Report (2007/2008), read in tandem with the Budget, and Abdullah's actual budget speech.
The Economic Report and Abdullah are consistent in that -- despite the record spending at RM176.9 billion -- they both maintained the federal budget deficit will continue to shrink from 3.3% of GDP in 2006 to 3.2% in 2007, and 3.1% in 2008. But the inputs used to arrive at the budget deficit estimated for 2008 were arithmetically conflicting and glaringly non-aligned.

In the Treasury's Economic Report, the figure given was RM40 billion (see ABOVE), 2.1% lower than the figure in 2007 and indicating a slightly contractionary budget.

SOURCE: Abdullah's actual budget speech

However, in Abdullah's speech, the figure given was RM48.1 billion (see ABOVE), which is a record number and more than 15% higher than in the previous year.

"That's impossible," an economist at a Malaysian bank was quoted as saying by the Business Times. "The Economic Report states quite clearly that a deficit of 3.1 per cent would be attained on development spending of RM40 billion and not RM48 billion." If that mystifies economists, why didn't our business editors alert us? This is probably the first time a Malaysian PM's estimate for the budget deficit has become doubtful.

= = == Bernama's brief report; September 12, 2007 20:34 PM
Kit Siang Disputes Figures In 2008 Budget

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 12 (Bernama) -- Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang Wednesday sought clarification from the government over the difference in the figures for development allocation in the 2008 Budget tabled by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi last Friday.
The DAP MP for Ipoh Timur claimed that Abdullah, when tabling the budget, announced an allocation of RM48.12 billion for development whereas the amount stated in the Economic Report 2007/2008 issued by the Finance Ministry was only RM40 billion. "This shows a difference of RM8.12 billion and the government should explain why this occurred," he told reporters at the Parliament lobby. Lim, who raised the matter during the debate in the Dewan Rakyat today, said a difference of RM8.12 billion was a big amount and could cause the
government to have a deficit budget of 3.1 per cent to 4.6 per cent.He said the difference in the figures was also highlighted in the Singapore Business Times.

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Reactions (& other Details)- Malaysia 2008 Budget: No affirmative Actions to Address the Weaknesses; Inflation & Cost living high; Leakages Bad; No big policy changesABOVE & BELOW: Malaysiakini came out with 2nd batch of late Budget Reports on Reactions (details H E R E & H E R E) by Sub.
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From NTV7 - Budget 2008 Discussion;
Johan, said

"The feel good indirect effect starting from last year since the 9MP was announced to improve the Public Delivery system. We have seen a lot of foreign interest in the market. As a result we have seen the market improved 30% last year and 20% this year and this generated an additional RM165 billion in terms of market Cap. If you assume 50% is due to retail investors and that is RM75 billion in wealth effect – the positive wealth effect. And that is pretty in line with the strength we see in private consumption for the first half of this year"
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“This feeling good should be a little more on the business side by that it make sense because I am rather worry about the behavior of private investment and I do hope that the expansion of investment activity . I don’t think I am too deeply disturbed by that as I have said the government has made a lot of concessions to the non-business side over the last 6-8 months and it’s about time for the business side. I look forward to this in the next 2 budgets”
More opinions coming...

September 07, 2007 22:23 PM
Opposition Welcomes 2008 Budget

ABOVE: Opposition members in Parliament - all unimpressed by the Budget

"It's definitely an election Budget with goodies all around. For those who've expected the government to be serious in fighting crime will be disappointed. The Budget is filled with the usual sweet sounding statements and recycled announcements. I don't feel any Malaysian would feel safe in their homes or on the streets after hearing the Budget. Can the women feel safe from crime just because they are given such big allocation?"
- DAP Leader Lim Kit Siang
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“Twenty five percent of the Budget which is allocated for education is a good move but the huge amount allocated for national defence is worrying. Healthcare allocation is high but we hope there is quality assurance in the hospitals, staff and services. I hope there is progress in public transportation's quality too” - DAP MP for Kepong Dr Tan Seng Giaw (BELOW)
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"The Budget is more like icing than cake. It is an election Budget which is thinly spread out. We can see the pronouncement, but what about the delivery? We can see that the deficit has been reduced completely, but we still need to work on reducing it further. When you talk about goodies, only one-third comes from the government, where do the rest come from? Furthermore, nothing was mentioned about taking initiative to control the leakages in goodies delivery." - Parti Keadilan Rakyat president Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail (BELOW)

More icing than cake: Reaction to the Budget 2008

This is without doubt an election budget, spread thinly to please everyone. But it provides no solution to our deficit or gives us a much-needed competitive edge in the region. In short:- there's more icing than cake in this budget. The Budget deficit should still be cause for concern, even though it is lower, according to the Finance Minister; as we don't seem to have the ability to reduce expenditure significantly and improve our revenues in the past years. There should be some fiscal prudence exercised, considering our economy is supposedly doing well and there is full employment. Federal government revenue for 2008 is estimated to grow at a slower rate of 3.7 percent to RM147.093 billion, compared to the 14.8 percent increase in 2007. There is no explanation for this very significant drop in revenue growth. According to a local analyst house, only one-third of the budget is said to be coming from the government. Where will the rest come from? We have to supplement this by way of loans, the issuance of bonds and through foreign funds such as Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) in order for the budget to succeed. According to the Finance Minister today, our FDI inflows are strong. I beg to differ. FDI is steadily declining. In 2006, it amounted to an estimated USD4 billion compared to USD5.5 billion in 2001 China, India and fast-growing Vietnam are luring away key foreign investments, even though we offer very lucrative incentives. There are two obvious reasons not addressed by the budget: (1) The prevalence of ethnicity-based policies which deter investors abroad, as well as investors from Malaysia. There is increasing outflow of our own capitalists setting up businesses in Vietnam and China, not just because of labour costs, or incentives, but we are plagued by red-tape, rent-seekers and corruption; (2) We cannot discount the effect of serious corruption in this country. The fall in Corruption Perception Index (CPI) is embarrassing and correlated with the fall in FDI of 14 % to RM4 billion.

If we do not reform these two areas, very little FDI will come our way. Then all our money and efforts will fall flat.

There appears to be no change in the economic growth forecast, compared to last year. It is still 6%. We still lagging behind China and India, while other countries such as Vietnam are doing very well. While education is supposedly free now, there is a need to ensure every child to secure an acceptable level of literacy and numeracy. The emphasis should be quality and the evaluation of how we are doing things. We still haven't resolved our serious problem of unemployed local university graduates. I am very concerned about the full implementation of the Full-Paying Patient (FPP) scheme. We are only at an experimental stage previously. I fear, as we have mentioned time and time again, we en route to full privatisation of healthcare.

We cannot just be big on announcement but poor in delivery. No one is averse to "goodies" for the people, especially for the poor. Even with the best of budgets, if we remain weak in implementation and rife with corruption, the people will suffer and bear the burden, which will eventually be reflected in their daily lives.

For example:- Putting more money into MSC and MSC-related project is not the solution, when we do not have a commercially viable operator. Without much to show, it will burden the government with real estate costs and capital expenditure. We can also view at the state of low-cost housing in the country to arrive at this conclusion. Furthermore, there is no evidence of socializing the nation's wealth ("Merakyatkan kekayaan dan ekonomi Negara") to those in need, regardless of ethnicity. The other issue is the ballooning of the budget less than a year after it's been announced. Take for instance, the new Palace. We were informed that it will only cost RM 400 million last year. Now apparently the costs have speculated to be double of the original costs. Or that the Northern Corridor Economic Region, we spent RM 11 million just on the launch. We can do so much to alleviate poverty substantively in that region with just this amount, through micro-credit schemes, for example. We had just debated the Supply Bill (Addition) this week. We have to add on RM 10.8 billion, close to 10% of the 2007 Budget. Those who benefit most, appears to be the corporate sector. Those who need help the most – the middle and lower income groups – do not appear to benefit significantly from this budget. Private sector workers are still not getting minimum wage and Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) even though they are the main contributors to the national economy. There are no real incentives and little relief to offset the rising cost of living, inflation and other daily hardships. Fundamental units of our economy – the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) have little tangible benefit from it. On top of that, it remains ironic that the poorer states, Sabah and Terengganu, do not receive more of the development allocation, considering they are oil and gas producing states that is keeping the nation afloat. We have to review and reform the fundamentals of this country, resolve the scourge of corruption, cut wastage and leaks. These are some of the ways to stimulate economic growth and most importantly, improve confidence in our economy.

Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail; Member of Parliament, Permatang Pauh
President, People's Justice Party (KeADILan)

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= == = ==KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 7 (Bernama) -- The opposition generally lauded the 2008 Budget tabled by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi today but had reservation over several matters. said the budget would benefit the low- and medium-income earners. He was happy with the huge incentive of RM1.3 billion for the health sector and hoped that it would improve the quality of medical facilities in hospitals.

He, however, had reservations over the proposal to recruit 12,000 policemen a year in view that the training facilities could only accommodate 3,000 at any one time. The proposal on public safety also caught the attention of another DAP MP, Teresa Kok of Seputeh, who expressed the hope that the 2,000 police patrol cars to be provided would be made full use of and not left idling because of lack of drivers as was the case now. She also supported the proposal to give three-year contracts to the secretaries-general of ministries, saying that it would improve the service quality but hoped that the scheme would be extended to all posts. Parti Keadilan Rakyat president Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, however, said the budget had side-lined the manufacturing sector, the main contributor to the country's economy. PAS Youth head Salahuddin Ayub said the free textbooks for all schoolchildren and the abolishment of school fees were long overdue.
He said next year's budget gave largesse to the corporate sector but the incentives for the agricultural and rural sectors were vague, citing for example, that there was no tax reduction for agriculal equipment and materials. "We are also sad that no bonus was announced for the civil servants, which means that there will be none for this year," the Kubang Kerian MP said.

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September 07, 2007 22:03 PM

Budget 2008 Achieves Good Balance, Says Khazanah

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 7 (Bernama) -- The Budget 2008 unveiled today has been described as responsible and achieving a good balance on three key axes -- between growth and distribution, between expansion and prudence and between immediate and medium/longer term imperatives. "In spite of a heavier budgetary burden from large ticket items such as the civil service pay hike, the fiscal deficit target has come down further to 3.1 percent without compromising on growth targets of more than six percent," said Khazanah Nasional Bhd managing director, Datuk Azman Mokhtar. "The three key strategies of national competitiveness, human capital and well being of the rakyat are compact and focused. Rather than trying to satisfy too many functions, choices were clearly made which is good," he said in a statement. On the growth front, the government investment arm said measures to drive national and corporate competitiveness were very appropriate and timely, in particular the corporate income tax reduction and the improvements in delivery system through PEMUDAH, civil service reforms and immigration processes. PEMUDAH is an acronym for Special Taskforce to Facilitate Business. "For specific sectors, where Khazanah or our companies operate in, we look forward to the Iskandar Development Region (IDR) specific allocations and measures such as the improved immigration processes, allocations for security and the incentives for the property sector to accelerate development in the IDR in the spirit of public-private partnership."

"In addition, we welcome the emphasis given to several other sectors where we operate in including biotechnology, agriculture, broadband services, information and communications and technology (ICT) and Malaysia International Islamic Financial (MIFC)," he said. He said Khazanah together with the government linked companies (GLCs) would continue to play a leading role in corporate social responsibility (CSR) in line with the government's call. "Benefits from the GLC Transformation Programme have accrued significantly not just to shareholders where some RM129 billion of market capitalisation has been achieved since 2004, but have also been very much extended to all stakeholders." "For instance, in large GLCs such as Tenaga Nasional, Telekom Malaysia and UEM, on average some 70 percent of the procurement running into billions of ringgit a year are currently awarded to Bumiputera suppliers," he said.

In addition, he said that the PINTAR programme to adopt schools especially in underdeveloped areas pioneered by GLCs would continue to gather pace, and GLCs would be ready to further take the lead.
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September 07, 2007 22:05 PM
A Shrewd Budget, Says Nazir Razak

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 7 (Bernama) -- Prominent banker Datuk Nazir Razak described Budget 2008 as a shrewd one as the government has both sustained the expansionary thrust of its spending and reduced its budget deficit. "It focuses initiatives, incentives and spending on key areas that will spur progress and growth such as education, public transport and Islamic finance," said the CIMB Group's chief executive. "Lowering the budget deficit to 3.1 percent of GDP (gross domestic product) places the country in a stronger fiscal position to weather external shocks and challenges for a better sovereign credit rating," he said. Bank Islam's managing director Datuk Zukri Samat told Bernama that Budget 2008 should further strengthen the attractiveness of Malaysia as an international centre for Islamic finance, particularly in areas such as Islamic fund/wealth management, Islamic capital market and takaful. "As widely anticipated, there will be no new licence issued to foreign Islamic banks," Zukri said. "Instead, to encourage Syariah-compliant stockbroking activities and lure more petrodollars from the Middle East, three new stockbroking licences will be issued to leading stockbrokers without specifying whether these leading stockbroking companies are domestically incorporated and controlled or foreign-owned ones," he said. This measure, according to him, could translate into the entry of a significant number global Islamic fund management companies into the Malaysian market. Zukri said the RM7 billion fund from EPF to be managed by Islamic fund management companies could tantamount to releasing more liquidity into the system. He said the income tax exemption until 2016 given to fund management companies on all fees received in respect of Islamic fund management activities will attracting more foreign Islamic funds to start operating in Malaysia. "This is a strong enough incentive for foreign Islamic fund management companies to consider setting up office in Malaysia," he added.

Alliance Financial Group's chief executive officer Datuk Bridget Lai said the incentives for the Islamic financial sector will encourage greater inflow of investments from the Middle East, "They will also spur the development of Islamic funds management and the up-skilling of Islamic banking talents and expertise that will, in the long run, further solidify the country's position as a premier Islamic banking hub," she said. Lai said the exemption of stamp duty for corporate mergers and acquisitions will spur such activities and the investment banking and corporate financing needs. "This exemption will also provide incentive for bank mergers," she said. Public Bank's chairman Tan Sri Teh Hong Piow said Budget 2008 was a major step to continuously ensure timely implementation of projects under the Ninth Malaysia Plan. "This will be good for the economy. We are confident that the new measures to hasten activities in biotechnology, ICT (information and communications technology) and services sectors will accelerate the process of economic transformation up in the value chain so that Malaysia will continue to secure its position in the increasingly competitive global marketplace," he said.

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Stamp Duty Goodie For Husbands, Wives Has Lawmakers In Stitches

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 7 (Bernama) -- Lawmakers (MPs) broke out in guffaws during today's 2008 Budget presentation in the Dewan Rakyat when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi touched on the issue of stamp duty exemption for ownership change of property from husband to wife.Abdullah, when announcing the matter broke out into a smile and stopped momentarily when some of the MPs attempted to tease the Prime Minister, who is now happily married to Datin Seri Jeanne Abdullah. "To further boost the marital relationship between husbands and wives (stops for a while and smiles) and in the interest of family harmony, the government proposes that stamp duty be fully exempted when property ownership is changed from husband to wife. In a situation, where the wife wants ownership of her property to be changed to her husband, the same will apply," he said to roars of approval and thunderous applause from the MPs. Abdullah, who was attired in a blue baju Melayu, took about 90 minutes to present the 2008 Budget themed Together Building The Nation and Sharing Prosperity. Except for Transport Minister Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy who is still on leave and International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri RafidahAziz, who is in Sydney, Australia attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum, the attendance by the MPs at today's budget sitting was very good. Abdullah's announcement of free education in primary and secondary schools from next year also received resounding applause from the MPs. The allocation of RM8 billion for development in Sabah and Sarawak was also warmly welcomed by the MPs who voiced their support in unison each time a project was announced.

September 08, 2007 01:22 AM

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September 07, 2007 22:02 PM

EPF To Announce Details On New Housing Withdrawal In December

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 7 (Bernama) -- The Employees Provident Fund (EPF) will announce details on the new monthly housing withdrawal in December.

In a statement here today, chief executive officer, Datuk Azlan Zainol, said EPF supported the move. "It allows our members, especially the lower income earners, to pay for their monthly housing loans through the new withdrawal scheme. "Currently, EPF allows members to withdraw their savings from Account Two to buy or build a house, and to reduce mortgages. "The new withdrawal, to be implemented in January next year, will enable members to utilse their savings also from Account Two to pay for the monthly instalments," he said.

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Budget 2008 Reflects Govt Committment To Boost Competitiveness

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 7 (Bernama) -- The 2008 Budget reflects the government's commitment to increase the competitiveness of the Malaysian economy, says president of the American Malaysian Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM), Vince Leuser. The single tier tax system, where only profits are taxed and dividends are tax exempted, and the reduction in corporate tax to 25 percent in 2009 reflects the government's commitment to provide a more conducive environment of doing business in Malaysia, he said. "This will also provide Malaysia a competitive edge against neighbouring countries which have a much lower corporate tax rate," he said. Malaysia faces increasingly competitive challenges from its ASEAN neighbours seeking to aggressively attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Malaysia must continue to further promote itself abroad as a business-friendly low cost business destination, and must continue to work to make it as easy and seamless as possible for foreign investors seeking to set up new investments in the country. "The 2008 Budget is a pro-business and investment growth budget which is focused on sustaining strong economic growth, attracting more foreign direct investments into the country and strengthening Malaysia's competitiveness." The proposed policies and incentives will also prepare the economy to be resilient to external risks, stimulate domestic and foreign investments and prepare it to face the challenges ahead, he said in a statement here. He said the association also supported the introduction of a new

category of visa for business travellers which has a longer validity period as this will facilitate easier entry for businessmen coming into Malaysia. The shortening of the processing period for the issuance of work permit meanwhile to seven days for skilled workers and the streamlining process for obtaining professional visit passes for knowledge workers by enabling applications to be made in Malaysian embassies and consulates overseas, will enable them to easily gain entrance into the country. AMCHAM looks forward to working closely with the government of Malaysia in identifying areas of opportunity for investment and strongly supports the outlook reflected in the 2008 Budget, he added.

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September 07, 2007 23:29 PM

2008 Budget Impetus For PM's Agenda To Create Quality Human Capital

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 7 (Bernama) -- The 2008 Budget gives impetus to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's agenda to develop quality human capital to ensure that Malaysia attains its objective of becoming a developed nation. The budget, which carries the theme "Together Building the Nation and Sharing Prosperity", gives emphasis to quality education and training.
In tabling the 2008 Budget in the Dewan Rakyat today, Abdullah, who is the Finance Minister, outlined several measures to empower human capital development -- the second strategy of the budget. Understanding that the moulding of human capital begins at the basic level of education, he announced a RM30-billion allocation to the Education Ministry to empower primary and secondary schools. A portion of the allocation would also help in the implementation of the Education Development Blueprint which incorporates the smart schools programme, upgrading of the teaching profession, and bridging the gap in education between the urban and rural areas. The effort to empower education with the objective of enhancing the quality and performance of schools will see the government establishing 60 cluster schools next year. Each of these schools will be given RM500,000 to undertake co-curricular activities and training and for teaching aids. In a move to provide all children the opportunity to obtain an education and to ease the financial burden on parents, the prime minister

abolished school fees and the fees for the Sijil Tinggi Agama Malaysia examination and extended the textbook loan scheme to all students regardless of the quantum of household income and eligibility in terms of number of children, beginning next year. "The government is committed to implementing progressive measures to step up access to and reduce the cost of education," said Abdullah when announcing these measures, which has made primary and secondary

education totally free. To further reduce the cost of education and encourage the participation of students in co-curricular activities, the government is to provide

free of charge the uniform for any one co-curricular activity to students from families whose household income is RM1,000 or less a month. The prime minister said the active participation of students in co-curricular activities was important in helping to mould character and shape leadership qualities.

In the effort to upgrade the teaching profession, Abdullah announced anincrease in the allowance of special education teachers, from RM100 to RM250 a month, and a rise in the allowance of graduate substitute teachers, from RM85 to RM 150 per day. The government is to also give an allowance of RM60 per hour for degree holders and RM50 per hour for diploma holders teaching Chinese and Tamil languages in national primary schools.

Retired teachers are to be recruited to train teachers and serve as substitute teachers. These measures reflect the government's recognition of the important role of teachers in shaping quality human capital. Primary and secondary schools funded and well-managed by trust and charitable bodies are to be given income tax exemption. This measure will especially benefit Chinese and Tamil schools as well as religious schools. The higher education sector is also strengthened in Budget 2008. As much as RM12 billion is provided for the implementation of various higher education projects and programmes, including stepping up research activities, development and commercialisation at four research universities and increasing allocation to Universiti Teknologi Mara to achieve the target of 200,000 undergraduates by 2010.The allocation is to be used to upgrade and expand Universiti Malaysia Kelantan, Universiti Darul Iman and the National Defence University apart from rebranding community colleges through the offer of courses at diploma level, the setting up of new community colleges and intensifying cooperation with the private sector. The programmes are directed at producing highly knowledgable and first-class human capital as well as to develop world-class institutions of higher learning. Also, from next year, the Public Service Department (PSD) will increase sponsorship for undergraduate students in local universities from 5,000 students to 10,000 annually. Some RM2 billion is to be allocated to various government training agencies to increase the number and quality of trained workers, in line with the needs of the labour market. Of the sum, RM480 million is to be allocated for GiatMARA and Industrial Training Institute (ILP) training programmes, as well as skills training

in the National Youth Training Institute. The prime minister also announced the allocation of RM550 million to upgrade polytechnic and community colleges to enhance the capacity of training institutions and RM750 million for the construction of Advanced Technology Training Centre in Taiping and an ILP in Marang. The scope of the Human Resource Development Fund is to be expanded to provide greater flexibility for employers to choose training and advanced education programmes for their staff. To meet the shortage of skilled workers in the construction sector, the use of the Construction Industry Development Board (CIBD) fund is to be stepped up with the CIBD implementing the Masterskills Training Programme encompassing management skills and physical construction. Among the measures to empower human capital outlined in the 2008 Budget is lifelong learning. "I often emphasise the importance of us always enhancing our value," Abdullah said, and proposed tax exemption of up to RM5,000 on education fees to be extended to all fields at degree level.

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September 08, 2007 00:57 AM
Free Education - Historic Moment In National Education
KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 7 (Bernama) -- Free education in primary and

secondary schools from next year as announced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in the 2008 Budget today is a historic moment in the country's education development, said Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein. He said it showed the emphasis the government paid to the education of children in the country. "It is something everyone should be proud as it marks another milestone in the country's history," he told reporters after the budget's tabling in Parliament today.Abdullah announced that school fees would be abolished in primary and secondary schools while the Textboook Loan Scheme would be extended to all students from next year thus making education at the school level free for its citizens. Besides this, he also announced a RM500,000 allocation for each cluster school (schools of excellence) for the purposes of holding co-curriculum activities, training and purchase of learning tools. On income tax exemption for charity bodies that financed primary and secondary schools especially Chinese and Tamil schools, he said the step showed the government's open attitude towards the variety of education streams.Under the 2008 Budget, a total of RM30 billion will be allocated for education which will also include the implementation of the Education Development Blueprint, the Excellent Schools Programme as well as dignifying the teaching profession and narrowing the education gap between rural and urban areas.

2008 Budget Expected To Be A Boon For The People

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 7 (Bernama) -- The various incentives and exemptions in the 2008 Budget announced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi today is expected to be a boon for people from all walks of life, said Works Minister Datuk Seri S.Samy Vellu. Samy Vellu (ABOVE), who is also MIC president, described the 2008 Budget as "a very simple and lovely budget".
"Its a lovely budget because it takes care of the people, it provides lots of consideration for the ordinary people, it thinks of the family, and the unity in the family, husband and wife, everything boils out to say that it's a budget that unites the people and makes them happy," hesaid. He was also happy with the RM9.7 billion allocation for his ministry saying that it would help ensure more efficient and effective general maintenance work.
Higher Education Minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed advised students to work harder and be thankful to the government for the facilities offered to them in the Budget. "This Budget focuses on the lower income earners to ensure prosperity for the people. The Public Service Department will increase the number of scholarships for students in local universities and also increase the cost of living allowance for students overseas," he added. Under the Budget, more than 90,000 students at local higher learninginstitutions will benefit from the government's move to increase the cost of living allowance (Cola) between 23 per cent and 84 per cent while those studying in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada stand to enjoy an increase in their Cola of up to 97 per cent as of this month.

On the incentives for teachers, Mustapa said it would motivate teachers to perform better and this would further raise the quality of students. "There will be continuation, when there is improvement at the lower level, the standard at the university level will also improve," he added.

Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting (AB)VE) described the budget as comprehensive and fair for all the people, regardless of their race. "I welcome this budget, especially on matters relating to housing, properties and also the public delivery system," he added. He said the incentive on the 50 per cent stamp duty exemption on documents of transfer for purchase of one house costing not more than RM250,000 and for contributors of the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) to make monthly withdrawals from the balance in Account 2 for housing loan repayments, would help spur growth in the property and housing industry. On racial integration, Ong, who is also MCA President, said this would be further boosted with the provision of free school text books for all students and the increase in allowance for teachers teaching Chinese and

Tamil in national schools. "If economy is properly planned, people of all races will benefit and there will be no complaints of others getting more. Therefore, we should all ensure success of the country's economic development withoutthinking who we are as long as we are Malaysians," he added.Information Minister Datuk Zainuddin Maidin said the 2008 Budget was one

which cares about the people's current needs. "This Budget has the strength in terms of strategies which can fulfil the current needs of the people and for a better future for thecountry," he said. "All quarters should welcome this budget because it meets the people's aspiration like efforts to curb crime, increase in allocation for the disabled, increase in scholarships for students abroad and facilities for child care for mothers and welfare homes," he added.
Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Azalina Othman Said said she welcomedthe 2008 Budget for allocating RM217 million for sports, including for upgrading and maintenance of sports complexes and facilities.She also hoped that the people would utilise the RM300 tax exemption for buying sporting goods.
People's Progressive Party (PPP) President Datuk M Kayveas said this year's budget was a special gift for Malaysians in conjunction with the country's 50th Merdeka celebration. "Generally, the 2008 Budget is a development budget which outlines steps and strategies to determine the country's development for the next 50 years which encompasses all socio-economic aspects," said Kayveas, who is also deputy minister in the Prime Minister's Department.

Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri ShahrizatAbdul Jalil (ABOVE) said she was happy with the Budget as it contained issues which the ministry had been fighting for. "Certain aid for women, the senior citizens and the disabled have been increased, apart from the tax exemption for companies which carry out their corporate social responsibility," she added.

On tax exemption for companies which provide facilities for the disabled, Human Resource Minister Datuk Seri Fong Chang Onn said it would greatly benefit disabled workers in various sectors. "We have raised the matter for so long and I am happy that it is taken into account in this budget," he added. Barisan Nasional Club chairman Datuk Raja Ahmad Zainuddin said the 2008 Budget proved the government's seriousness in enhancing human capital and education, especially in abolishing the school fees and provision of free text books to all students

September 08, 2007 01:36 AM

2008 Budget Reflects Govt's Concern For The People, Say State Leaders

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 7 (Bernama) -- Leaders of state governments describedthe 2008 Budget tabled by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi today as a caring budget.

In KUALA TERENGGANU, Terengganu Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh
said the budget focused on development of human capital and that the proposed abolishing of school fees, free text books and increase in welfare aid reflected the government's concern for the people. "We are also very happy with the additional education allocations proposed for the Industrial Training Institute in Marang and also the Universiti Darul Iman," he told Bernama.

In SEREMBAN, Negeri Sembilan Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan described the 2008 Budget as innovative and comprehensive as it took into account the interests of all people. He said it would also help accelerate balanced growth between the urban and rural areas besides reflecting the government's commitment to achieve Vision 2020.

In KANGAR, Perlis Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim welcomed theproposed abolishment of school fees and free text books as it ensure every child would get a good education.

In ALOR STAR, Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid lauded the proposed move to abolish school fees as it would ease the financial burden of the low income earners, especially those with many children.

In KOTA BAHARU, Kelantan Barisan Nasional (BN) chairman Datuk Seri Annuar Musa said the 2008 Budget met the aspirations of all levels of society, including the corporate sector and foreign investors. Generally, the budget was truly people-friendly, he added.

In KUANTAN, Pahang Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob said the 2008

Budget was a people-friendly budget and a gift for the people in conjunction with the country's 50th Merdeka anniversary. He said the people would stand to benefit from from various incentives, especially those pertaining to their children's education.

In KOTA KINABALU, Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman said the 2008 Budget was a wise, holistic and fair budget for all levels of the society. He said the proposed RM4 billion allocation for Sabah would be used to provide balanced development between the urban and rural areas in the state. Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) president Datuk VK Liew said the 2008 Budget was an expansionary budget which took into account the many aspects of the people's lives and the nation's vision towards achieving the developed status.

"Giving free text books to school children regardless of their parents income is a step in the right direction to ensure all children have direct and equal access to schooling," he added.

In KUCHING, Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan said the 2008 Budget, which proposed allocation of RM8 billion for implementation of various projects would help raise the quality of life of the people in Sarawak and Sabah.

Describing it as a generous budget, he was optimistic that theallocation would spur development in both the states. Citing the Sarawak Development Corridor, which would be launched soon, he said it would require federal financial support to spearhead the

revenue-generating energy-intensive industries to be located there. Meanwhile, two Sarawak rural-based parties, the Sarawak ProgressiveDemocratic Party (SPDP) and Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) described the RM4 billion allocation from the federal government as a "surprise and generous gift" as it clearly showed the concern of the Prime Minister over the plight of rural people. SPDP president Datuk Seri William Mawan said it showed that the federal government was keeping to its promise to bridge the rural and urban gap.

In sharing the same sentiment, PRS president and State Land Development Minister, Datuk Seri Dr James Masing, believed that the focus on improving infrastructure projects would allow better mobility for the rural people besides speeding up the implementation of land development projects.

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September 08, 2007 00:54 AM

Cola Increase To Improve Lives Of Overseas Students

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 7 (Bernama) -- The 97 per cent increase in the cost-of-living allowance (COLA) for overseas students will help ease their financial burden in their daily life, Open University of Malaysia (OUM) Senior Vice-President Prof Datuk Dr Ansary Ahmed said today. He said the increase was certainly needed by the students as many of them were living below the poverty line in their respective locations abroad. This has forced some of them to take up part-time jobs to supplement their allowance, he said when commenting on the proposal contained in the 2008 Budget which was unveiled by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi when he tabled the budget in the Dewan Rakyat today. Abdullah had, among other things, announced that effective September 2007, COLA for students in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada would be increased by up to 97 per cent, almost double the current rate. Meanwhile, Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) Vice-Chancellor Tan Sri Nordin Kardi said the government should place all public institutions of higher learning under one ministry as practised in developed nations such as Japan and the United States in the effort to provide more efficient governance.

At present, the institutions of higher learning and training colleges are placed under several ministries, he said. Universiti Malaya (UM) Vice-Chancellor Datuk Rafiah Salim said the tax benefits given for post-graduate studies reflect the government's seriousness on education. On the increase in the Public Service Department (PSD) scholarships, she said: "The increase in numbers and the amount is welcomed as the cost of living is quite high and the students would be able to live more comfortably. But I would also like to remind the students to use their funds wisely and to buy new computers instead of buying the latest handphones in the market." Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Vice-Chancellor Datuk Seri Prof Dr Ibrahim Abu Shah stated that the allocation for UiTM would be fully utilised on research and development as well as in improving the current facilities.

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