• The newly appointed Election Commission (EC) chairman should allow Sarawakians living and working outside the state to cast votes as postal voters in the upcoming Sarawak state elections

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 23rd of January, 2016

    The newly appointed Election Commission (EC) chairman should allow Sarawakians living and working outside the state to cast votes as postal voters in the upcoming Sarawak state elections

    The appointment of the new EC chairman, Datu Seri Mohd Hashim bin Abdullah takes effect today, 24th of January, 2016. He replaces Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof. In the handing over ceremony which took place 2 days ago, it was reported that the EC would be asking for a budget of RM181million for the upcoming Sarawak state elections, which is approximately two and a half times the RM78m that was spent by the EC in the 2011 Sarawak state elections.[1] The outgoing EC chairman cited increases in the cost of renting vehicles and of food as some of the main reasons for the budget increase.

    The incoming EC chairman should realize that the cost of going to the polls to cast a vote have also increased especially for the Sarawakians who are living and working outside the state. The transportation costs, whether it is flight tickets, bus tickets or boat tickets, have increased as a result of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).  The price of overnight stays in motels or hotels would also have increased. As has the price of food. It is especially costly for voters who have to travel from KL, Johor Bahru, Singapore and Kota Kinabalu to cast their votes in the interior areas such as Kapit, Hulu Rejang and Bakelalan.

    In order to lessen the financial burdens of such voters, the EC should allow for Sarawakians living and working in Sabah, Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore to cast their votes as postal voters rather than forcing them to travel back to Sarawak to cast their votes. In the 13th general election, Sarawakians (and indeed, all Malaysians) who were living outside Malaysia and Singapore were allowed to register as postal voters. The same option should be given to Sarawakians so that they can cast their vote in the EC office or in a suitable location in every state in Peninsular Malaysia, in Sabah and also at the Malaysian embassy in Singapore a few days before the actual polling day. And just like in the 13th general election, their votes will be considered as postal votes and returned to their respective constituencies to be counted on polling day itself.

    This is not a new recommendation. The parliamentary select committee on electoral reform, which was set up in 2011, listed this as one of their recommendations in its final report which was tabled in 2012. (See below)

    Source: Laporan Jawatankuasa Pilihan Khas Berhubung dengan Penambahbaikan Proses Pilihan Raya, mukasurat 39.

    This should be one of the first priorities of the newly appointed EC chairman in order to ease the financial burdens of Sarawakians who would otherwise have to make a costly journey to cast their votes in the upcoming Sarawak state elections.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

    [1] http://www.thesundaily.my/news/1674119

  • The River of Life (RoL) project has a long way to go

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 20th of January, 2016

    The River of Life (RoL) project has a long way to go

    On the 11th of November, 2015, I organized a kayak expedition down a portion of the Gombak River that is part of the River of Life (RoL) project.

    I wrote about my expedition in 5 facebook postings in December 2015 which were republished in Malaysiakini:

    Part 1: https://www.facebook.com/ongkianming/posts/932720763449651
    Part 2: https://www.facebook.com/ongkianming/posts/933071966747864
    Part 3: https://www.facebook.com/ongkianming/posts/933514563370271
    Part 4: https://www.facebook.com/ongkianming/posts/934347279953666
    Part 5: https://www.facebook.com/ongkianming/posts/934775849910809

    Now, a short 7 minute video of my kayak expedition can be access here:

    The release of this youtube video is a timely reminder of how far the River of Life (RoL) project has to go before the Klang and Gombak rivers can be classified as a Class IIB river that is fit for recreational activities.

    Just last week, on Thursday, 14th of January, 2016, Jeffrey Lim, an avid cyclists and one of the members of my kayak expedition discovered a worrying number of dead fish along the Klang River while he was cycling near Brickfields. (See Appendix 1 below)

    Jeff, who later tried to trace the source of the dead fish, concluded that the dead fish had originated further upstream, past Kampung Pauh along the Gombak River. (The photos shown below are from Jeff)

    The dead fish, which may have died as a result of upstream pollution, is especially worrying given that many people eat and sell the fish they catch along the Gombak and Klang Rivers. It is a common sight to see fishermen using a rod or even fishing nets to catch fish along the Gombak and Klang rivers. (See Appendix 2 below)

    I call upon the Department of Environment (DoE) to investigate the source of the dead fish and to determine if there was and still is serious pollution happening upstream along the Gombak River that may be poisoning the fish in the river. If there is no effort to monitor the level of pollution in the Gombak and Klang Rivers, the estimated RM3.4 billion that will be spend to clean up the river will be wasted.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

    Appendix 1: Photos of Dead Fish discovered on Thursday, 14th of January, 2016

    Appendix 2: People catching fish along the Gombak River

  • Remaining concerns regarding the TPPA

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the TPPA Part 2 on the 15th of January, 2016

    Remaining concerns regarding the TPPA

    In my statement yesterday, I praised Minister of Trade and Industry, Mustapha Mohamed and his team at MITI for their efforts in public engagement and in allowing public access to the documents related to the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). But despite the efforts of the Minister and his team at MITI, there are some key concerns regarding the TPPA which have not be adequately addressed. I will highlight 5 areas of concern here.

    (i)                  Exemptions for Public Private Partnership (PPP) contracts and the BERNAS monopoly on importation of rice

    Malaysia was very successful in negotiating for a number of carve-outs, exemptions and exceptions for itself in the TPPA especially in the areas of government procurement and state-owned enterprises. While some of these carve-outs are useful in providing an adjustment period for the government and Malaysian companies to prepare for the full impact of the TPPA, a few carve outs have a negative effect on Malaysians. Public Private Partnerships (PPP) are not subjected to the government procurement provisions under the TPPA. This means that the practice of awarding lopsided contracts via direct negotiation such as toll concessionaires will continue unabated. The government could have made a stronger argument for Malaysians to support the TPPA if it had subjected PPPs to more open and transparent competition but sadly this was not the case.

    Similarly, the carve out which Malaysia negotiated for Bernas to remain as the sole importer of rice in Malaysia decreases the potential benefits of the TPPA to the Malaysian consumer. The National Impact Assessment (NIA) produced by the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) highlights the benefits of additional food security and access to supply of imported rice via Vietnam which is a member of the TPPA. The TPPA will limit the use of export restrictions on rice by countries such as Vietnam, which took place in 2008 when the price of rice experienced a sudden and significant rise. The ISIS report also highlights the potential huge savings of billions of ringgit by the government as a result of having a more stable supply of imported rice. Sadly, such savings will not materialise as a result of BERNAS maintaining its monopoly on the importation of rice. The “large net welfare gains and a significant reduction in Government expenditures” which “are likely if all forms of Government interventions were to be eliminated and a free market allowed” will not take place.[1]

    When I highlighted these two carve-outs to the Minister at the recent TPPA dialogue organised by MITI, he explained that the reason for these carve-outs is because Malaysia wanted to maintain flexibility in these areas. This is a poor excuse for maintaining policies which are beneficial to a select and politically connected few but which hurt the average Malaysian in the pocketbook. A TPPA which forced BERNAS to relinquish its monopoly position would have been easier to support.

    (ii)                The possible impact of unionization, especially of foreign workers in certain sectors such as the plantation sector

    The Labour chapter in TPPA has a positive impact on the ability of workers to form unions, to organize strikes and to affiliate with international bodies. Indeed, Malaysia was one of the four countries singled out (together with Brunei, Vietnam and Mexico) by a group of senior Democratic senators where protection of labour rights needed to be increased as part of the TPPA. The possibility of the increase in the frequency of strikes by workers were highlighted in both the ISIS as well as the PwC reports. The TPPA will force Malaysia to amend its laws so that we can be in line with the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) best practices.

    The ISIS NIA report states that the following laws will have to be amended in order to comply with ILO best practices:

    1. Employment Act 1955;
    2. Trade Union Act 1959;
    3. Child and Young Persons (Employment) Act 1966;
    4. Passport Act 1966 (implementing regulations);
    5. Industrial Relations Act 1967;
    6. Sabah Labour Ordinance (Cap. 67);
    7. Sarawak Labour Ordinance (Cap. 76);
    8. Private Employment Agencies Act 1981; and
    9. Workers‘ Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act 1990.

    NGOs and political parties which are supportive of labour rights should welcome the provisions of the labour chapter in the TPPA. It is likely that labour rights will be one of the key focus areas in the process of ‘certification’ by the United States, especially if a Democrat wins the White House in 2016, since pro-labour groups which are seen to be closer to the Democrats will continue to put pressure on the President and Democratic Senators to ensure compliance on the protection of labour rights.

    Where there are concerns is the process by which new unions are formed and the composition of these unions. For example, the National Union of Plantation Workers currently represent the shrinking number of Malaysians who are working in the plantation sector. What if the foreign workers who currently dominate the plantation sector decides to form a separate plantation workers union where they hold all the power positions of leadership? Will this result in a situation where non-Malaysian plantation workers are able to negotiate a better deal from their employers than their Malaysian counterparts because of their strength in numbers relative to the number of Malaysians who are still in this sector? Will such a demarcation also apply to other sectors and industries which are currently dominated by foreigners? The officers at MITI said that they will speak to each sector and the relevant ministry to chart out the path towards unionisation but I do not feel confident that there is a clear roadmap ahead in terms of ensuring equal labour protections for both Malaysians as well as foreign workers.

    (iii)               The higher possibility of American corporations using the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) against the Malaysian government

    My concerns regarding the Investment Chapter of the TPPA which allows foreign companies to sue sovereign governments in international arbitration courts is very specific. Many people may be unaware that there are already Invest State Dispute Settlement provisions in a number of Malaysia’s Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and bilateral investment treaties (BITs). For example, Lynas, an Australian company, can bring ISDS proceedings against the Malaysian government if its license to import unprocessed rare earth from Australia is cancelled, even if it was based on environmental concerns or non-compliance. This is because Malaysia is part of the Australia-New Zealand-Asean Free Trade Agreement and we have also signed an Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement (IPPAs) with Australia.[2]

    It must also be stated that ISDS cases are not as common as one may think. Over the past 30 years, there has only been one ISDS case involving Australia which is the often cited Philip Morris plain packaging tobacco case. Recently, an international arbitration court in Singapore ruled in favour of the Australian government.[3] In addition, tobacco has been explicitly carved out from the ISDS provisions in the TPPA.[4]

    It must also be recognized that the ISDS provisions also accords protection to Malaysian companies who have made significant investments in other countries. A former counsel at an international organisation handling ISDS cases refers to this specific point in an opinion piece published by the Malaysian Insider.[5]

    With all this being said, my main concern surrounding the ISDS provisions in the TPPA is the higher likelihood that the Malaysian government will be dragged for international arbitration by an American company. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) involving the US, Canada and Mexico, a total of 35 ISDS lawsuits have been filed against the Canadian government, a total of 22 against the Mexican government and a total of 20 against the US government. Canada has lost or settled six claims with a total payout of US$170m in damages while Mexico has lost five cases and paid out U$$204m in damages. In comparison, the US has never lost a NAFTA ISDS case or any ISDS case, for that matter.

    On the other hand, US companies have used ISDS 132 times or 22% of global ISDS claims since 1987 and US companies have won or settled 48 cases, lost 35 and have 37 cases pending.[6]

    The evidence shows a clear trend that US companies are far more effective in using ISDS in their advantage compared with non-US companies. It is this asymmetry which raises the most concern since Malaysia has very little experience in fighting against the might of the law firms which represent the big US multinationals.

    (iv)              The unknown effect on the future prices of medicines that fall under the ‘biologics’ category

    Again, my concern on the possible impact on the price of medicines as a result of the TPPA is very specific. It would be wrong to assume that the price of your Panadol at the local pharmacy, or other currently available generic drugs, would suddenly experience a significant increase as a result of the TPPA. This is simply untrue since the patent protection for the ‘original’ drugs have already expired. Furthermore, it is not as if Malaysia has no current patent protection for pharmaceuticals.

    Table 1 in the ISIS NIA report summarizes the main differences in terms of intellectual property protection for pharmaceutical products (See below). The main difference is that under the TPP, a period of patent protection of between 5 to 8 years will be given to large molecule or biologic drugs, which is not currently available under Malaysian law. The ISIS NIA report indicates a negative impact on Malaysia in terms of the price of medicines but the type and number of medicines which will be affected by the extra protections afforded by the TPPA remains unclear. The ISIS NIA report cites the figures from the Pharmaceutical Association of Malaysia which says that between 5-10% of total pharmaceutical sales comprises of biologic medicines. It is unclear whether or not the percentage of drugs that fall under the biologic medicines category will grow in the future. If it does, then the effect of the TPPA on the price of medicines could increase over time. More clarification is needed on this point especially from the Minister of Health and officials representing the Ministry of Health who have been very quiet on this aspect of the TPPA.

    Source: ISIS NIA Report

    (v)                Copyright extension from 50 years to 70 years under the TPPA

    My final area of concern is in the extension of copyright provisions from the currently existing 50 years to 70 years under the TPPA. The ISIS NIA report indicates that this will have a negative impact on the country. Malaysian consumers will have to fork out an estimated US$115 million a year over the long term as a result of this copyright extension (Think Micky Mouse, Disney and Hollywood related products!). This is a clear indication of the lobbying power of a small number of powerful US based companies who will reap the bulk of the rewards of this copyright extension.

    There has been a lot of misinformation and inaccurate information being circulated regarding the potential negative effects of the TPPA. Here, I have highlighted 5 concerns using evidence and analysis from the ISIS and to a lesser extent, the PWC report, both of which were commissioned by the government of Malaysia. If these concerns are not properly and honestly addressed by the Minister of Trade and Industry, they would constitute sufficient grounds not to support the TPPA.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

    [1] The ISIS NIA report quoting the study of Vengedasalam, et.,al, 2011, Malaysian Rice Trade and Government Interventions, University of Sydney.

    [2] http://dfat.gov.au/trade/topics/pages/isds.aspx

    [3] http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/australian-government-wins-plain-packaging-case-against-philip-morris-20151218-glqo8s.html

    [4] http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2015/11/10/trade-health-and-tobacco-exceptionalism-the-tpp-tobacco-carve-out/


    [6] http://www.thirdway.org/memo/trade-q-and-a-whats-the-deal-on-isds

  • Tun Abdullah Badawi’s delegation to Paris for the UN Climate Change Conference

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 14th of January, 2015 on Tun Abdullah Badawi’s delegation to Paris for the UN Climate Change Conference

    It was reported[1] earlier today in Malaysiakini that Tun Abdullah Badawi said that his NGO, Landskap Malaysia[2], paid for his trip to Paris ‘with some help’ from other sources.

    For the interest of transparency, Tun Abdullah should answer the following questions:

    • How much did the Malaysian government pay for the flight tickets, hotel rooms and car rentals of Tun Abdullah’s delegation?

    According to records which I obtained, Tun Abdullah’s delegation comprised of himself and his wife, Tun Jeanne Abdullah and 9 other individuals including his personal physician, Datuk Dr Aizai Azan Abdul Rahim, his aide-de-camp, Supt Mohd Khairi bin Khairudin, and two bodyguards. Interestingly, according to the records which I obtained, which gives the rooming list and rental car arrangements for Tun Abdullah delegation, the hotel and car rental payments for two individuals in the delegation, Dzulkifli David Abdullah and Dr Dzaeman Dzulkifli David, were labelled as “personal payments.” These two individuals were also labelled as being ‘personal friends of Former PM’ (Refer to Appendix 1 and 2 below).

    According to the website of Landskap Malaysia, Dzulkifli David Abdullah is listed as a member of the Board of Governors of the NGO and Dr Dzaeman Dzulkifli is listed as an alternate Board of Governor member. This seems to indicate that Landskap Malaysia paid for the hotel and rental car expenses of its two Board of Governor members while the expenses of the rest of Tun Abdullah’s delegation were paid for by the Malaysian government.

    Tun Abdullah’s delegation stayed at Hotel Marriot Champs Elysees, a 5 star hotel in the heart of Paris. According to the records obtained, Tun Abdullah and Tun Jeanne booked a vice-presidential suit while the rest of his delegation booked 5 deluxe rooms and 1 twin sharing.[3]

    A quick search on the Hotel Marriot Champs Elysees indicates that the rate for a Suite is RM3725 per night for the month of January while the rate for a Deluxe room is RM1774 per night. The total rental for Tun Abdullah’s suite for one week would have been RM22350 while the total rental for the deluxe room is RM10644. (This is probably an understatement since the hotel rates would have been higher during the UN Climate Change conference)

    The records also indicate that Tun Abdullah rented a Mercedez Benz S500 for one week and his delegation rented a Mercedez Viano (MPV) for one week. A quick check on one of the car rental websites shows that the rental cost for one week for a Mercedez Benz SUV is Euro3586 (RM16854) while the rental cost for one week for a MPV Mercedez Viao is Euro2523 (RM11858).

    The total estimated cost for hotel rooms and car rentals comes up to approximately RM115,000 (not including flight tickets).[4] Was this the ‘help’ which Tun Abdullah referred to in his remarks to the Malaysiakini reporter earlier today?

    • If the Malaysian government did pay for all or a significant portion of the expenses of Tun Abdullah’s delegation to Paris, what exactly was achieved by this delegation during that one week?

    There is nothing wrong with the Malaysian government footing the bill of Tun Abdullah and his delegation if they were in Paris to participate in the Climate Change conference or a side event in ways that would be of benefit to Malaysia. For example, Tun Abdullah and his delegation may have been in Paris to ask for funding from developed countries or foundations in developed countries to help preserve forests and jungles in Malaysia. For the sake of transparency, Tun Abdullah should disclose the exact purpose of his visit to Paris and the outcomes which were achieved as a result of this visit.

    At a time when many Malaysians have to cut down on their everyday expenses because of rises in the cost of living, the Malaysian taxpayer should not be funding expensive trips or holidays abroad for politicians in ways which do not seem to benefit Malaysia in any direct or indirect way.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

    Appendix 1: Rooming List arrangement for Tun Abdullah’s delegation in Paris

    Appendix 2: Rental Cars for Tun Abdullah’s delegation in Paris

    [1] https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/326782#.VpdXqsCRHrk.twitter

    [2] http://www.landskapmalaysia.org/

    [3] Excluding twin sharing room of the members of the BoG of Landskap Malaysia

    [4] Excluding the hotel and car rental for the two members of the BoG of Landskap Malaysia

  • TPPA Part 1 – Mustapa Mohamed and MITI should be praised for their public engagements

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) on the 14th January, 2016

    TPPA Part 1 – Mustapa Mohamed and MITI should be praised for their public engagements

    On Tuesday, 12th of January, I, together with my colleagues from parliament on both sides of the political aisle, attended a special briefing arranged by Minister of Trade and Industry, Mustapa Mohamed, and his team at MITI on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). As far as I know, this was the first time since the 13th general election that a Minister had arranged for a bipartisan briefing for all MPs for a motion or a bill which we would vote on in parliament.[1]

    The Minister fielded questions from all MPs during the plenary session. He also said that he would propose that a vote be taken on the TPPA during the special parliamentary debate that will take place on the 26th and 27th of January, 2016. He should be commended for organizing this special session especially since the TPPA does not require legislative approval in order to be passed. This special parliamentary session will allow MPs from both sides of the aisle to raise important questions and concerns surrounding the TPPA, of which there are many.

    After the plenary session, MPs were invited to choose from one of the following four workshops on hot-topic items: “Intellectual Property and Access to Medicines, Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), Government Procurement (GP) and State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) and Market Access / Labour / Environment”. I attended the workshop on Market Access / Labour / Environment and I commend the civil servants from MITI and other Ministries for their willingness to answer all of the questions posed to them by MPs from both sides. Their answers were comprehensive and showed a deep familiarity with the issues at hand.

    At the same time, the Ministry should be commended for giving public access to the materials associated with the TPPA. This was the first time that two studies – the PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ (PwC) Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) and the Institute of Strategic and International Studies’ (ISIS) National Impact Assessment (NIA) – were commissioned to evaluate the impact of the TPPA. While these two studies painted a largely positive picture of the TPPA, they also highlighted areas of concern as well as some negative impact that would arise as a result of the TPPA. Both studies were in English but the Ministry recently made available a Bahasa Malaysia (BM) version which is a summary of both studies. The Final Text of the TPPA was also printed for all the MPs and distributed on the final day of the parliamentary session last year (16 volumes in total). Copies of the CBA and the NIA were also given to MPs. A BM summary of the TPPA final text was distributed to MPs on Tuesday. All of this information is available for download from the MITI website on the TPPA.[2] Other relevant information, including past presentations and dialogue sessions conducted by MITI can also be found on this website.

    While I have still many existing concerns about the TPPA, which I will raise in a following statement, Mustapa Mohamed and his team at MITI should be commended for their efforts in public engagement, not just with MPs, but also with state governments, industry groups as well as NGO representatives. It is still a learning process especially for the civil servants, in terms of public outreach, but this is a good lesson and a good benchmark for the government moving forward. Such engagements must continue as part of the process of implementing the TPPA, assuming it receives majority support in the upcoming special parliamentary session on the 26th and 27th of January.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

    [1] I had previously attended a bipartisan briefing on the revamp of the National Service that was arranged by the Ministry of Defense. But this was not in connection with any bill or motion which needed to be passed in parliament.

    [2] http://fta.miti.gov.my/index.php/pages/view/71

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