Friday's KINI
UKM Dipaksa Jemput Mahathir
Pada 9 September UKM terpaksa menjemput Mahathir untuk merasmikan Pusat Inkubator UKM-MTDC yang terletak berhampiran Fakulti Kejuruteraannya. Sebenarnya, pusat itu belum siap sepenuhnya. Tetapi Mahathir telah  mengarahkan supaya dia dijemput untuk merasmikannya juga pada 9 September, sama ada siap atau tidak.

Selain dari merasmikan Pusat Inkubator, Mahathir juga akan mengadakan "dialog" dengan pelajar. Akan tetapi soalan-soalan yang akan dikemukakan telah pun ditentukan dan "pelajar-pelajar" yang menyoal pun telah dipilih. Dan jawapan kepada soalan-soalan pun telah disiapkan. Seperti biasa, ada segelintir pelajar dan pensyarah pengampu ditemuduga wartawan dan mereka ini memuja-muji segala kebaikan Mahathir. Sebenarnya, kebanyakan pensyarah, khususnya para dekan dan timbalan dekan, telah dijemput menghadiri majlis yang diadakan sejak beberapa minggu lalu. Namun, kebanyakan mereka telah memberi jawapan tidak akan hadir. Akhirnya, UKM terpaksa mengarah mereka ini untuk hadir. Setiap fakulti dipaksa menghantar
wakil ke majlis yang diadakan.

Walau pun peperiksaan akhir semester akan diadakan pada minggu hadapan, kuliah telah dibatalkan untuk "meraikan" kedatangan Mahathir. Sebelum ini, Mahathir mendakwa pelajar Melayu tidak minat belajar. Kini, apabila dah begini dekat dengan peperiksaan akhir, dia yang membatalkan kuliah!

Makanan pula telah dipesan khas dari Hotel Equatorial Bangi. Barangkali Mahathir tidak percaya kepada penyaji di UKM atau makanan biasa yang di makan pensyarah dan pelajar UKM tidak setaraf dengan darjatnya. Apa yang berlaku di UKM ialah satu adegan yang distage-managed untuk memberi gambaran Mahathir popular. Seperti biasa, pembohongan sebegini hanya diyakini si pembohong.

BN Amalkan Dasar Pecah & Perintah

 Friday's The MALAYSIAN

About turn: UKM receives unfamiliar praise from an ‘unexpected’ quarter
Having insulted Malays, especially Malay academics and students, Dr Mahathir sought to do some damage control at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in the carefully stage-managed opening of the still-to-be-completed
UKM-MTDC Smart Technology Centre.

From the effusive praise -- almost as effusive as that for his capital controls by the IMF executive directors as reported by Bernama -- it was as though there had been no outburst on July 29 in Terengganu. Bernama reported that he alleged if a merit-based system was used, bumiputera would not have been able to go to universities and will not be able to become professors and lecturers.

Coupled with subsequent effusive praise for Chinese, it was evident that this was part of a divide-and-rule
play -- to brow-beat the bumiputera into insecurity and submission, and to attract Chinese support in the belief
that many Chinese would agree with him.

All this was forgotten, at least by Dr Mahathir, as he “expressed amazement over the achievements of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) in the field of technology and felt his prepared speech on research and development for the opening of a UKM joint venture project could be out of date.”

He went on to say the people and local companies should have more confidence in the abilities of local universities in inventing something new and provide ample chance for the use of their research findings and inventions and urged urged local companies to forge closer links and cooperation with local universities. He regretted that there were still many companies which were reluctant to help universities.

Dr Mahathir suggested that UKM and other local universities expand their post-graduate programmes taking into account the needs of the local industry and the expanding sectors in the country.
If only actions matched words
After all the bashing the local public universities have been getting, such words of praise might well be a nice change, except that it would be more believable if the words were supported by real action and commitment. For instance, instead of getting local companies, such as government-controlled Telekom Malaysia Bhd or Tenaga Nasional Bhd, to make endowments and investments in the local public universities, they have been encouraged to set up their own institutions, resulting in a dilution of personnel and facilities so that critical mass not only is not built up, it even gets undermined. It takes, on average, 8-10 years to train an academic from undergraduate through to a doctorate. The expansion of the number of private institutions has thus
resulted in the ‘cribbing’ of staff from local public institutions; this will be even more the case with the currency devaluation which has further rendered academic salaries in local public institutions even more uncompetitive in attracting foreigners.

But, in fact, in at least some private institutions, local staff are paid less than foreign staff even where it is not evident that the foreign staff are any better qualified or capable. Recently -- yet another sign of how this government actually looks up to the foreign and has little confidence in the local -- a purely post-graduate institution, MUST, was set up in some kind of arrangement with the Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT). Originally more ambitious, it has since been scaled down.
Whatever, it appears that it will be run with largely skeletal staff. When initially muted, it was trying to get local public universities to look after their students, thus allowing them to save on infrastructure costs. A case of lembu punya susu, sapi dapat nama?

More, such ‘well-connected’ private institutions are given indirect support from public funds by the directing of some students on government scholarships to them, as is the case with a private medical college on a twinning arrangement; meanwhile, local public institutions have faced cutbacks in the real level of funding. Above all, there is little point in urging people and local companies to have more confidence in the abilities of local universities when they are continually subject to bashing by the authorities.
Spinning the spin: not missing a beat
Last week, there was a sell-down of the Thai baht bringing it to its lowest level in about 11 months. Daim, and his local parrots, didn’t miss a beat to put the right spin to that sell-down in an attempt to persuade us that capital controls was and is our saviour. Jumping upon a news report from Hong Kong, picked up by the Thai English-language daily, The Nation, and repeated in the Australian Financial Review, Daim and the Business Times attributed the sell-down to the Tiger Hedge Fund, and claimed the protection of capital controls for Malaysia. Unfortunately, not so well-covered was the denial by the governor of the Thai central bank. Bank of Thailand Governor Chatu Mongol Sonakul said last Thursday that he is not worried about the recent weakness of the  Thai currency because it wasn’t due to speculative trading. “There has been no speculation on the Thai currency,” he said. “We have always been watching if there is any speculative trading.”
Who’s the parrot, or is it support for friends?
On Wednesday, the New Straits Times reproduced at the top of its front page a part of a report by Clyde Prestowitz, headlining it “US expert: Malaysia the best story in fighting economic crisis”. It was extracted from a part of a report sent by Prestowitz directly to Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin.

The report described Prestowitz as “when Clyde Prestowitz talks about trade, the White House listens” and as the founder-president of Washington-based Economic Strategy Institute (ESI). The institute is described as “a non-profit research organisation specialising in issues of globalisation and competitiveness”. That Prestowitz is seen as friendly is evident from the billing he got from the NEAC.

In the second week of July this year, the NEAC issued an invitation to the media to meet Prestowitz in an interview on July 15 held in the Prime Minister’s Department’s Bilik Gerakan. Evidently, Prestowitz has influence not only in Washington.

A former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce, and Counselor to the Secretary of Commerce in the Reagan administration, Prestowitz was the principal policy advisor to the Secretary on all aspects of economic relationships between the United States and Japan.

Given Dr Mahathir’s views that Japan should break away from American policy, it might have been thought he would view askance a major architect of American policy on Japan.

Curiously, Prestowitz had recently published an article in the Far Eastern Economic Review entitled “The Coming Asian Crisis”. It’s opening sentence: “At the end of a month-long tour of Asia, I sense a resurgence of that good old bubble feeling.”

It went on, “The truth is that the current good feeling is less the result of new prescriptions than of resort to the old witches’ brew.... The difficulty is that none of this is sustainable, nor does it provide the basis for long-term economic health.”

And concluded: “The money now flooding into Asian equity markets is making everyone feel good for the moment, but it can leave at the first sign that public works and easy money or exports to the U.S. are faltering. In fact, Asian economies remain burdened with excess capacity, excess regulation, excessive debt/equity ratios, too many cartels and excessively cosy business relationships. To achieve good, long-term economic health there is no substitute for the thorough reforms that have yet to be achieved.”

Even more curious, the objectives of the ESI are almost exactly counter to what Dr Mahathir has often lambasted in public. Among them:
 - endorsement of a Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) in the WTO, something which has been labelled a ‘bill of rights’ for multinationals;
- a labour rights and trade agreement;
- a multilateral agreement on trade and the environment;
- reassessment of special and differential treatment for developing countries which have encouraged protectionist measures, such as high tariffs and industrial policies, that have contributed to financial crises and global economic instability.

What is going on? Without wishing to be paranoid, are we currently witnessing the Washington establishment providing support to its friends, even those it may not like personally, thus signalling who it wishes to be in power?

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