Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Great White One

You must give credit to the Malaysian government. After losing Pedra Branca (the Malays call it Pulau Batu Puteh - the White Rock) to the Singaporeans, they have taken immediate action to review the status of about 100 islands that they think belongs to them. But unlike previously when they didn't even bother to station a person (at least from time to time) on the island they claim to be theirs, in spite of Malaysia fishermen frequenting the area near the island regularly, it is taking a long hard look at every rock now and probably to assert their rights in the right way - the ICJ way. Which is simply to care for it.

The Malaysians have learnt to their grief that neglect is a sure way to lose something in international law. That, plus writing ill-conceived letters dis-claiming ownership of anything, even a piece of rock at the mouth of the Straits of Johor on the side of the South China Sea. Now, in spite of what they promised before the ICJ judgement was handed down, they are busy overturning their cupboards and drawers all the way to their former colonial master's to look for a purported document that could get the ICJ fellows to reverse their decision over ownership of Pedra Branca. Those Singaporeans - they think that everything is settled. Think again, man. You are dealing with a 100 pound gorilla in your backyard. It doesn't matter if a 1000lb gorilla half way across the world agrees with you.

Well, you can bet one thing - Singapore is not likely to claim sovereignty over any other island for now. It has better sense than that. So the Malaysians should look askance at the Indonesians. But then again, Indonesia has so many islands already, why do they want to claim some more stoney rocks near Johor? Frankly, those rocks are just not worth the trouble, but tell that to Singapore, who obviously think that their Pedra Branca victory was a significant one.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Taking the guess out of gas

Did Abdullah Badawi really have no choice but to increase the price of petrol? I think nobody will dispute it, not when India, Taiwan, Vietnam, and a whole host of countries recognise that subsidizing fuel prices is no longer tenable, given the skyrocketing price of this commodity. I suppose the only people who are laughing all the way to the bank are the oil producers and the speculators.

But increasingly the prices by about 41% for petrol and 67% for diesel with less than a week's notice? That's mighty strong medicine and obviously very difficult to swallow. In fact, there were long queues at gasoline stations the night before the price increase kicked in (5 June 2008). Motorists were just acting out of economic self-interest by lapping up that last litre of cheap petrol. I wonder if not more had brought along their jerry-cans to get even more savings.

It hadn't dawned on me that Singaporeans have been living off the largesse of the Malaysians, or their foolishness, these many years. You don't realise it until prices of vegetables, eggs, poultry, and even travel and tours into the Malay Peninsula, in Singapore start to rise. That's the inevitable trend and Singaporeans are bracing for another round of imported inflation. Think about it. For as long as the Malaysian government has been subsidizing the prices of petrol, they have been subsidizing the livelihood, and yes, even the pleasures, of the Singaporeans, both the rich and the poor. So its not just the Singapore motorists who fill up their tanks in Johor that has benefitted only.

So Singaporeans are now understandably very disappointed by the removal of the fuel subsidies. I think they will stand together with ordinary Malaysians in lobbying the M'sian government to reverse the drastic increases of gasoline, notwithstanding its obvious wisdom. But people don't like rude shocks and see their money reduced in value so fast.

This latest policy change will likely cost PM AB his premiership. The knives were already out prior to this latest uproar. It now remains for them to be plunged into the gut for the fatal blow. Will PM AB survived? Who will take over? Can he do a better job? The Malaysians are now not too optimistic about the incumbents. Will the Opposition do any better, or will they turn out to be just as disappointing?