Debunking Our Denials

Our Prime Minister has been recently caught in some very serious allegations. In response, he has issued an official statement denying such claims and pointing the finger elsewhere instead. Unfortunately for him, his spin masters aren’t very good at their job. The denials aren’t based on fact but spin. Let’s take a look.

Missing Monies

Tun then created a crisis when he recklessly claimed that RM42 billion was missing from 1MDB, when in fact these are audited debts backed by RM51 billion audited assets.

This is the tactic of denying the side accusation without addressing the actual issue at hand.

The actual issue is the mismanagement of 1MDB funds. Everyone wants to know if the monies were mishandled, siphoned or abused. While it may be true that 1MDB holds more assets than liabilites on paper, this does not mean that the funds weren’t abused or misused. Even if 1MDB made a profit on its ventures, it still doesn’t mean that the funds weren’t abused or misused.

When Tun asks where the money has gone missing, he doesn’t mean that the entire RM42billion is lost. In fact, Tun did a very simple calculation to show that there are monies that are known but that there are also monies that are not known where they have gone, potentially due to mismanagement of funds.

As an example, we would like to know why hasn’t the Finance Minister been charged for lying to parliament. It is evidently clear that the so-called 1MDB money redeemed from the Cayman Islands turned from cash into units of some kind. There are just so many discrepencies in the story of 1MDB that it would make an excellent Hollywood film later.

The fact that they were audited doesn’t help when 1MDB changed so many auditors in so few years and has delayed its audited accounts too. 1MDB must have one of the highest turnaround rates – 3 CEOs, 3 auditors and 2 chairmen in 5 years. Something must be seriously amiss since nobody seems to want to stick around even when they are amply compensated.

Using this argument of having more assets than liabilities is very weak when everyone knows that a large portion of those assets are merely inflated due to the prices of the land banks being revaluated. So, 1MDB spent a small sum of RM194million to buy TRX land, which it then revalued to RM7billion. then, it spent another RM1.69billion to buy land that was revalued to RM11billion.

If we merely consider the capital appreciation gained from these two pieces of property, then the assets of 1MDB should be significantly more than RM51billion. Anyone who knows basic finance knows that there are questions to be asked. There are a lot more loopholes in the 1MDB denial that has been reported all over.

So, trying to shut down accusations by claiming that the accounts were audited and that there are more assets than liabilities, isn’t the right way to go. Just completely open up 1MDB’s books for the public to consume if you truly want to convince the people that 1MDB was not mismanaged or misused in any way.

Personal Funds

The latest allegation is that I have taken state-linked funds for personal gain. I believe Tun, working hand in glove with foreign nationals, including the now discredited political attack blog Sarawak Report, is behind this latest lie.

This is the tactic of making up an accusation yourself and then denying it yourself.

Thing is, nobody has claimed that the monies was for personal gain. Sarawak report asked if the bulk of the funds – US$680million – was used as an election fund. (One should actually read the whole article before writing your denial.) This piece of denial is not denying the real allegation but merely denying a made up allegation.

Also, it is clear that Sarawak Report is not the only media making serious allegations about the monies. While nobody will take  Sarawak Report (an admitted blog) as the golden standard of journalism and reporting, the Wall Street Journal is quite another matter entirely.

The WSJ has also reportedly seen documents that traced the funds into our PM’s accounts. This is far more serious because people actually take the WSJ seriously. I doubt that their journalists would make such an allegation without seriously credible evidence in their hands. This is why the WSJ article is the one being quoted by other international news agencies and not Sarawak Report.

I don’t see the PM making the same discredited claim against WSJ even though they were both reporting on the same thing as a primary source. While the Tun may have some influence in Malaysia, I don’t really think that he has much influence over the WSJ or any other major international news outlet.

So, the PM should immediately demand for a retraction from WSJ and issue a stern warning of taking further legal action against them instead of trying to punch holes in their report by making false denials.

Doctored Documents

As we now know, a number of the documents on which recent allegations have been based were reportedly doctored. The person who was leaking these documents is under investigation by authorities overseas for attempting to extort and blackmail his former employer. This says a lot about the reliability of the documents, and those who are using them to damage our government and our country.

The trouble is that, the documents were never reported as being doctored. They are merely reported as being tampered with. There is a big difference between being tampered and being doctored. The choice of words used in the denial is quite telling. I think that someone is trying to spin it the wrong way.

Doctored is defined as, “change the content or appearance of (a document or picture) in order to deceive; falsify”, while tampered is defined as, “interfere with (something) in order to cause damage or make unauthorized alterations.”

These two words have very different meanings. The documents were merely reported as being tampered with. In fact, Sarawak Report has admitted that these documents were tampered with and has stood behind their reporting by claiming that the documents are still true as the tampering did not alter the content of the document, with evidence of the chain of edits to the document.

Now, the trouble is that according to a deputy minister, even the claims of tampering are questionable as these were made based on logical conclusion and not a clear factual assertion. In fact, a report claimed that the party that has originally made such a claim has refused to entertain any sort of confirmation that they had indeed made such a claim, which brings to question the veracity of the entire claim itself.

Furthermore, one should realise that blackmail and extortion only works if the documents are authentic. No blackmail would work if the documents are false, period. You cannot blackmail anyone with a claim that is patently false since such allegations cannot be proven and can be easily disproved. So, if this Justo guy was indeed trying to blackmail PetroSaudi, then there must be some truth in the documents.

So, they should actually release the real documents from 1MDB to show what are the actual details of the PetroSaudi deals. Let us have the real contracts to see if the deal was lopsided or if it was above board.

Unwanted at Home

I just read an article on TMI about Malaysians who give up their citizenship. While everyone has the right to renounce their Malaysian citizenship, I was curious as to why this was happening. One such person was quoted as saying that:

Lim, a single mother in her 40s, said the idea of renouncing her Malaysian citizenship was not foreign. She had grown up being told that as a Chinese, she was not welcome in the country.

What struck me was that, she had grown up being told that as a Chinese, she was not welcome in the country. I truly wondered who the hell told her such rubbish?

So, I thought back on how things were during my time growing up in Malaysia. The only people whom ever repeated such rubbish were the local Chinese community. I have never been told such things by my school teachers, by the government official or by any other random non-Chinese person on the street.

Therefore, I wonder if such a myth has been perpetuated through the generations, within the community, without any real pith or substance?

I can understand how such a myth could have started. When I was young, I used to be told that the local Chinese are unwanted and therefore, we have to work hard in order to survive. There are a lot of rather unkind sayings about the local non-Chinese community that often accompany such statements. So, being unwanted serves as a sort of motivational push to force the kids to excel at school so that we could all go overseas and leave this godforsaken place.

If that was the reason for creating such a myth, then I can understand the reasons for it but it is a myth nonetheless.

The scary thing about this myth is that I often see it spouted by those who have very little contact with the non-Chinese local community such as those who grew up living in local Chinese neighbourhoods, attended local Chinese schools and had friends mainly from the local Chinese community. These are often the people who shout about it the most.

While I have never attended Chinese school, I have heard rumours of their teachers spouting such nonsense. I would think that the purpose was to motivate the kids to study so that they could all go overseas for their education. In the end, I think that many are encouraged to go overseas including to places like Taiwan, where there is an active effort to attract Malaysians.

However, what I fear is that the myth has become self-perpetuating and is turning into a reality simply because everyone believes it to be true. Unlike in the past, today, we hear more and more stories of people saying such things and there are more and more people leaving our country.

While I don’t think that it’s a bad idea for Malaysians to work overseas for the exposure and experience gained, I do think that renouncing our Malaysian citizenship is an extreme stance to take.

In the end, I honestly think that such a myth should not be perpetuated further. Everyone is welcome in their own home. While the local Chinese may feel that we are unwanted in our own country, I think that we have ourselves to blame for the perpetuation of this myth.

Being Whiplash

One of my interns mentioned to me that her internship experience at my company reminded her of the film, “Whiplash”. I wasn’t aware of this film and looked it up – turns out that enjoys a very respectable 8.6 score on IMDB.

According to my intern, I have pushed them quite hard and she has taken it positively as she has also learned a lot during her internship with me. Personally, I do agree with the view taken by the villain in the film, that is a person cannot achieve greatness unless they are pushed to their limits.

That said, it doesn’t mean that I am a villain!

I just don’t treat my interns with kid gloves, especially if they’re already in their penultimate year. I am of the opinion that, in a society that has descended to a state where people are rewarded for simply turning up, it is our duty as part of the industry, to train our interns to produce quality work because an engineer that produces sub-par work can kill.

Well, to give you an idea of the film, here is the trailer:

PS: She has not been physically harmed by me, yet.

Love Me Like You Do

Having seen the film – 50 Shades of Grey – in the cinema, I have to say that the film was kind of under-whelming. The premise was simple enough but I guess that it is a very fine line for the director to walk – to make a feature film that didn’t cross the line into porn.

However, the theme song is another matter altogether. The tune has stuck in my head the entire day today. So, here it is.

Mocking Our Education

Certain parties have accused the “ultra-kiasu” of making a mockery of our education system. While I do agree that certain parties are making a mockery of our education system, I think that the responsibility for doing that lies squarely with our politicians such as our Education Minister II.

As someone who has spent more than a decade teaching in one capacity or another, I have had the pleasure to deal directly with the education system and its products. Let me just put it bluntly – it’s broken.

Now, I’m not interested to point fingers and accuse any party of actually breaking the system, simply because I know that the responsibility has to be shared between many parties. The education system is not a simple system that can be easily broken by any one person. It requires concerted effort (or lack of) from multiple parties in order to break it.

But broken, it is.

The mockery is when our politicians continue to live in denial of the broken system. For as long as such denials exist, any efforts that attempt to fix the problem will be half-hearted. As a nation, we need to recognise that the education system IS broken before we can begin the process of identifying fixes and implementing them.

I also know that the Ministry of Education recognises the problems, even if they will not label it as broken. They are also hard at work in finding solutions to the various problems. However, I do not think that they will succeed in implementing any real solutions because such solutions are going to be painful and will lack political will in execution.

Before any healing can be done, we need to embrace the fact that we’re hurt, which seems to be something that our politicians are unwilling to concede.

In the mean time, I would like to ask that our politicians stay away from education. They have messed it up over the years. More political interference will not save it. What we need is for politicians to just stay away and let the educators do their job of educating the people. Leave it to the professionals.

So, let’s stop making a mockery of our education system by making stupid claims about its superiority and recognise that it needs fixing. Let’s stop living in denial and move on.

Addressing the Data Scientist Glut

BIG data seems to be the buzzword of the year. Governments and corporations all over are rushing either to address this issue, or to capitalise on it.

Even ordinary folk know that big data is going to have a big impact on how we make decisions and choose to run our lives in the future.

My attention was recently brought to the Malaysian Government’s rollout of its big data framework. Among the things highlighted is the issue of talent. According to the article, our Government has taken certain steps to ensure that we will have the necessary talent to deal with big data.

First is the policy to “provide scholarships for government officers to take up postgraduate courses in data sciences at reputable universities so that they can be equipped as data scientists in the country.”

This old strategy has been used to develop talent for fields that are critical for our nation.

However, there are a couple of problems with it. On one hand, some of these people do not return as their skills are equally valuable elsewhere. But we should not stand in the way of personal progress, as long as they refund the tax dollars spent on their education.

But the other problem is that, those who do return to serve are not put in a place to do what they were trained to do. Government scholars have returned with PhDs from top universities, but they were not assigned to work in the areas where they could contribute most effectively.

While sending our people to the best institutions to study data science is a step in the right direction, ensuring that their skills are put to proper use after that is the challenge, particularly for a government that often pays mere lip service to the issue that has resulted in more than a million moving on to greener pastures.

We will need to institutionalise systems that encourage development so that these returning scholars continue to flourish in Malaysia. Otherwise, they will leave just as quickly as they have returned, due to frustration.

Unfortunately, our track record shows that we do not always give scholars the freedom to go where their scholarship takes them.

Big data is going to reveal a lot of things that we may or may not want revealed. That is the true power of big data – to draw inferences and relationships from data that was unrelated.

We have all read of what happened to one professor who merely worked with surveys and polls, not big-data.

Second, the Government is “ensuring universities in Malaysia start offering data science degrees, and not just as electives within their computer science courses.”

My concern is that while we may have good lecturers, they may not be in a position to teach these courses.

Looking at existing data science curriculum, it is a multi-disciplinary programme that spans mathematics, computer science and even engineering. These are separate faculties in a university. Internal structure and politics may be a problem.

But let’s put aside the internal politics.

Accreditation often requires that lecturers who teach in a faculty to have a degree in that field. For example, one needs to have an engineering degree to teach in an engineering faculty, and so on.

This has already resulted in some rather creative hiring practices at universities.

Some lecturers are caught in a limbo. While they teach in one faculty, they are being parked under another faculty. As a result, their work in one faculty risks not being recognised when it comes to promotions and reviews under the other faculty.

We might need to establish a new faculty for data sciences, or to amalgamate these different faculties together.

But the simpler solution would be to change accreditation requirements so that faculty members do not need to be members of any specific field.

Since jobs are becoming increasingly multi- and cross-disciplinary, taking in faculty members from various fields may encourage the cross-pollination of ideas and hybridisation of skills that may just produce inventive results.

Thirdly, the Government wants everyone to “adopt big-data as a first-mover advantage in their own respective industries.”

The Government should really lead by example. While one can make the argument that corporations produce and consume a lot of data, governments produce the most data and can benefit most from said data.

Therefore, our Government needs to make data readily available, and that’s where the biggest challenge lies. Currently, much government data is often classified as secret by default, or released post-analysis.

Ideally, the raw data should be made available, which would allow the private sector to innovate the data into useful products and services.

I hope that our new chief data scientist, whoever he or she turns out to be, will make it a priority to mobilise our Government, at all levels, to produce and release all available data in a machine-friendly format, and not as mere printed matter nor pretty PDF downloads.

Otherwise, my concern is that when all these government scholars return to serve, and the local graduates from these shiny new programmes hit the market, there may not actually be any available big data to crunch.

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