YM Raja Petra Raja Kamaruddin

(Originally written on 14 September 2008, reposted)

So Pete got himself busted with ISA again – it’s de javu. The first time Pete went to ISA in 2001 (if I am not mistaken), I was in the thick of things. Now I just pray he will be fine, but he is a tough boy (sometimes too tough for his own good) so he will be fine this time too.

I first met YM Raja Petra from afar in 1992, he was the emcee for the Old Boys Weekend Annual Concert in Hargreaves Hall that year. I remember him commented out loud that Nahar Hakimi (Class of 92) was quite a jambu when introducing the present boys’ band to the crowd.

Our path crossed again because of what happened in 1998. It was a co-incidence really – I was in the UK and was already doing some groundwork contacting MPs etc. to highlight the issues in the UK and Europe, he needed help with Free Anwar Campaign. He needed a writer; someone to feed him news constantly and as he correctly expected – one day he would need a spare webmaster when he eventually is arrested under ISA.

We never met until I came back in 2003, but we were constantly in touch. I called him, he SMS me and when the going got tough for his family here, Pete and Kak Marina decided to send their two sons to the UK to try to make a living. I helped place them with a keADILan supporter in Manchester, a very nice chap by the name of Abang Saufi who tried their level best to make life easy for the two boys, knowing the sacrifice that their parents were doing in Malaysia (and life was tough financially for Pete at the time).

You see, we were the unwanted lot those days – nobody wanted to associate let alone help anyone with a keADILan tag on their forehead; so 2-3 of us had to look after each other.

When he was taken in in 2001, we had agreed before hand that “the show must go on” (maybe in tribute to hockey team’s mantra “Rain or Shine” ha ha). For 52 days I was manning the Free Anwar Campaign website from London, the news kept on flowing despite Pete’s arrest. Until now I chuckled once in a while how it must have baffled them then that there was a back up and Pete’s arrest did not shutdown the website.

Luckily Pete was released after 52 days – it was a great relief. First, because we were all concerned about his safety. Second, I began to fret if he were to be detained under the customary 2-year sentence in Kamunting and I would have to maintain the website for longer than necessary (those days you have to use Dreamweaver to come up with the html page and manually link and upload the files to the internet on a dial up connection!)

But we can only plan and Allah’s disposal is the finality.

Life goes on and I came back without any brouhaha and spent another one year being very close to Pete. Even from the time I was abroad, I had written for Suara Keadilan and Pete was the editor – so we continued writing until we parted ways in late 2003.

There were a few times we went on demonstration together – and after one such demo against the war on Iraq in 2003, Pete and I went for a nasi ayam in Ampang. That was the last time we saw each other until another co-incidence brought our path briefly together again in 2007.

In October 2007, arwah Ben insisted that I joined him for a meeting of concerned activists with YTM Tengku Tan Sri Razaleigh at his residence in Ampang, where I met Pete and Kak Marina again. It took him a while to recognise me since I put on a lot of weight (so he claimed!).

I was supposed to have a berbuka puasa with YB Machang and a few others last Wednesday and Pete was actually there, but had to cancel last minute because things in office dragged on. If I had gone, I would have met him before he got arrested.

After I withdrew from official partisan politics, I kept to myself and concentrated on my work and the boys in MCKK. In politics, rumours dominate the day – there was one time I think Pete must have thought that I sold out.

Some of my batchmates, in the early days, asked me why I foolishly did what I did knowing the risk to myself and family. In public, you would passionately explain your ideals and how what you were doing were the most patriotic thing a citizen should have done.

But the truth is always simpler – it’s the friendship and MCKK. I never met Raja Petra in person but decided to help him nevertheless; because he was an MCKK brother in distress. He needed help and on top of that he was actually doing a pretty decent thing – trying to uphold the truth. If I, a fellow MCKK boy did not help him, then what chance would he have. All the years writing many articles and news for Suara Keadilan and Free Anwar Campaign was simply because the editor for both was Raja Petra Kamaruddin – a fellow MCKK in distress.

And the truth is – it was the same motive that had driven me to my political activism circa 1998 – 2003 in the first place – Anwar Ibrahim was a fellow budak koleq, whom I thought had been victimised.

That is how powerful the MCKK bond in my book – I am sure too if one day calamity befalls me, there are others who will put their neck the way many of us had put for other MCKK boys before.

Pete reminds me of Peter Pan and Wendy. Pete never grows up, I always joke that he is trapped in his hippie youth – still thinking about a crusade against everything. It’s always about adventure and excitement to him I guess. If Pete was Peter Pan, many of us were Wendy. We aged faster than him and after a while craved less and less for adventure – so while Pete continued, we withdrew. But like Wendy, we never turned back on the past and never did once we sell out.

I pray that he will be fine (but he’s a tough boy so he will be fine). I tell myself that I will make an effort to see him and buy him a drink and nasi ayam when he comes out eventually.

We should all pray for him too regardless of what we think of his approach.

The Case for Minimum Wage?

(My column in The Edge Financial Daily published on  17 August 2010. The actual article in the print could contain some editorial changes)

Ordering food in some restaurants in the capital can be tricky nowadays. The best way is to point to a menu – you will get exactly what you ordered. The worst way is to give instructions on how you want your drink made – you are bound to meet with some frustration. With more and more foreign workers taking up waitressing job in restaurants, communication problem should be expected.

A friend once moaned why not many locals want to take up these jobs. Most people know the pay is not attractive enough for locals, hence the influx of foreign workers over the last two decades to take over these jobs from Malaysians.

What we don’t know however is the extent of the problem – how low the wages are; how many people are being paid these low wages and how this phenomenon will have a severe impact in the long run on the economy.

That riddle was partly answered last week when the Ministry of Human Resource released a set of figures that shows 34% out of 1.3 million workers in this country earn below RM700 a month. The statistics may not be of any consequence, if not for the fact that the national poverty line is at RM720 monthly household income.

The revelation is startling – a third of our workforce earn below the poverty line. One has to wonder how our citizens who do not have a steady job survive at all when a third of those in employment earn below the poverty line.

Much has been written about the need to go into higher income economy, the rising cost of living, the dependency on foreign workers and a plethora of other economic problems we are facing. All this relates to one common problem faced by our workers – low wages.

Thus, the discourses on elevating the level of income for our workers and the necessary steps to achieve this immediately and harmoniously (for all parties involved) should take the centre stage as a national agenda and not confined to a small circle of economists and administrators.

The truth is we have been addicted too much to low wages to the point that we attribute our comparative prosperity to this policy. We give too much credit to the habit of keeping low wages as a key competitive edge, so much so we overlooked that it is easily replicable by competitors.

A recent study by World Bank exemplified Malaysia’s addiction and dependency on low wages. As we face more rigorous competition from our neighbours, it is as if we resort to suppressing wages to keep our cost structure competitive.

This premise is supported by the World Bank’s data that puts the average annual salary increase in Malaysia for the last 10 years at an abysmal 2.6%. Contrast this with Indonesia which has seen an average of 10% salary increase for three consecutive years in between 2007 to 2009.

It is unsurprising that Malaysian employers are finding it difficult to get Indonesian workers to work here. It is no longer economically advantageous for skilled Indonesian workers to work in Malaysia when wages in Indonesia are steadily rising to match what we offer to them.

If this continues unabated, the prediction that one day our sisters and daughters may end up working as maids in Indonesia is not far-fetched after all.

Therefore, the introduction of minimum wage should no longer be viewed as an anti-merchant agenda brought by political parties and trade unions. It is true that a promise of minimum wage featured in Pakatan Rakyat’s manifesto for the last general election (and will continue to become one of its top agenda going to the next general election), but the debate on minimum wage is a lot bigger than the political divide.

Minimum wage is still one of the most practical and pragmatic solutions that can resolve quickly the few economic problems the country faces. One big challenge is to manage potential inflationary impact of the introduction of minimum wage; but given Malaysia’s stated aim to become a high income nation by 2015 the threat of inflation is an issue that we have to manage with or without minimum wage. Perhaps a bigger challenge is to convince the employers that it is not a zero sum game – rationalisation that may take place to contain cost due to the introduction of minimum wage can lead to higher automation, better system or even entrance into higher value industries.

Unfortunately the public’s understanding of the pros and cons of minimum wage on the economy and their livelihood is still relatively low. The responses I get on minimum wage range from emotional condemnation of minimum wage as a tool to oppress consumers, to great concerns on the inflationary pressure it might create; and the extreme of complete ignorance of what is the concept of minimum wage. What is more obvious to me is the likelihood that a majority of our workers do not understand that an introduction of minimum wage should cause an upward revision of salary across the board for all sectors in order to maintain the hierarchy of earning levels. Many seem to think that a minimum wage policy will only affect the plantation workers, labourers, operators at factories or pump attendants.

This is where the politicians, activists and unionists should strive more to explain the concept and impact of minimum wage on the economy to the public. It may be one policy that can be debated on bi-partisan basis because our economy is at a stage that requires it to go through the motion.

In my reading, the political grouping that can best explain and champion the issue of minimum wage may have the edge with the voting public in the next election. It will be interesting to see which group can acquire this grouping first.

Satar Ikan!

Ramadhan mengingatkan saya kepada satar ikan. Satar ikan adalah makanan yang berasal dari Terengganu (walaupun orang Kelantan mungkin boleh mempertikaikannya, memandangkan ramuannya hampir sama dengan solok lada).

Dulu-dulu, setiap kali berbuka satar ikan adalah salah satu juadah yang wajib ada. Berbuka tanpa satar ikan rasanya janggal.

Sekarang, sukar untuk mencari satar ikan yang sebaik satar ikan dulu-dulu. Banyak yang tidak kena – ikannya busuk, atau terlalu kurang kandungan ikan (tahukah anda ada undang-undang yang menetapkan berapa peratusan kandungan udang di dalam belacan?), atau kelapa parutnya terlalu keras dan bukan kelapa muda; dan bermacam-macam lagi. Sekarang, kebanyakan satar ikan yang dijual rasanya mirip bebola ikan, cuma dibungkus dengan daun pisang! Kebarangkalian berjumpa satar ikan yang asli seperti dulu-dulu samalah seperti kebarangkalian berjumpa harta karun Jeneral Yamashita di Filipina 😉

Malaysia pun, kalau kita tidak berhati-hati, boleh menerima nasib seperti satar ikan yang menjadi bebola ikan. Kalau dikira kekayaan per kapita hasil bumi dan kesuburan tanahnya, Malaysia mungkin berada tinggi di dalam senarai negara-negara paling dirahmati Allah.

Tetapi selepas 55 tahun, kita makin ke belakang. Banyak perkara yang dahulunya kita mendahului dan dihormati, kita ditinggalkan jiran.

Malaysia kini berbanding dahulu tidak ubah seperti satar ikan yang rasanya sudah mirip bebola ikan 😉

Nota: Arwah Adlan Benan Omar pernah menghabiskan sebakul satar ikan dalam masa setengah jam!


Walaupun saya telah menulis di dunia maya sejak tahun 1995 lagi (di zaman-zaman kita perlu tahu html, css dan sebagainya untuk menghasilkan laman web), ini adalah kali pertama saya menulis di laman web sendiri.

Sebelum ini, penulisan adalah bagi laman-laman web lain (reformasi atau yang berkaitan dengan rakan-rakan).

Pertukaran ini agak sukar, walaupun teknologi maya telah berubah sejak tahun 1995 dan sesiapa pun tidak perlu tahu html atau kod asas untuk menyertai dunia maya.

Pertukaran yang lebih besar bukan laman web atau kod, tetapi titik tolak bahawa dari saat ini sedikit privacy perlu dikorbankan. Sebelum ini saya memandang berat isu privacy dan ruang yang saya ada untuk melalui pengalaman pada kadar yang saya sendiri tentukan. Berblog begini, maknanya ada sedikit ruang yang perlu kita kongsi dengan seluruh dunia maya.

Tetapi ini bukan pertentangan (dichotomy) yang baru. Setiap yang baik perlu selalunya memerlukan pengorbanan dan perubahan. Ini kitaran biasa dan mereka yang lebih bersedia untuk berubah dan menyesuaikan diri dengan peredaran kitaran adalah mereka yang boleh mendepani peredaran itu.

Selamat datang ke laman blog yang tidak seberapa ini.

Seboleh-bolehnya saya berhasrat untuk mengimbangi penulisan supaya menyentuh secara sama rata isu-isu ekonomi, politik, sosial dan pendidikan semasa dengan isu-isu yang lebih peribadi dan ringan. Imbangan ini perlu supaya aspek privacy dan ruang yang saya sebut tadi dapat dicapai.

Mungkin laman ini agak terlambat, tetapi terlambat itu lebih baik dari tertinggal (ha ha).

I run INVOKE Malaysia, a data analytics firm based in KL. Former MP for Pandan