Monday, March 10, 2008

Of Business & Politics in Asia

Straits Times (Singapore)

March 11, 2008

S'pore firms hope business climate remains stable
By Grace Ng & Chia Yan Min

SINGAPORE businessmen are holding their breath amid fears that Malaysia's business outlook could become rocky after the ruling coalition's worst election result in 50 years. Rule No.1 in SCUBA Diving ... never hold your breath ... you may suffer from lung over exapansion injuries in an emergency ... such as a political upset ... then you will suffer from mediastinal emphysema along with drowning in your own blood.

Some local manufacturing companies expressed concerns that the opposition's shock victories in five out of 13 states would cause business uncertainty and delays in investment projects. Why would this be so? Which government does not want more economic growth? Unless ....
But other small and medium-sized enterprises are optimistic that the opposition's greater role in government may place checks and balances on the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.
This may, in turn, spur improvements in governance and lead to more balanced economic policies. Why is it some SMEs are optimistic but the manufacturers are jittery? More to lose so more afraid of uncertainty? Speaks volumes on failure tolerance levels in our soon to be creative society does it not?

Hmm ... 'spur improvements in governance and lead tom ore balanced economic policies.' Should not ALL businesses want that? And if not are business who do not support more balance policies complicit in the efforts of a political party to keep certain segments of the population from reaching their full potential through discriminatory practices? Is this the role of business anyway?

Doubts have been raised about Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi's spending programme under the Ninth Malaysia Plan and the future of infrastructural projects that some Singapore companies are involved in. Aha ... maybe we find the reason here .... there is or appears to be some relationship between an incumbent government and potential sources of revenue that 'some Singapore companies are involved in.' I wonder why the vagueness in reporting this point .... 'some Singapore companies are involved in.' Makes one wonder does it not? Editorial license?

Members of the Singapore Manufacturers Federation (SMF) have 'raised concerns over the weaker influence of the Barisan Nasional', said spokesman Chan Ai Mun. They are 'cautious and apprehensive over their present and future investments in Malaysia', fearing that business will be 'affected by the slowdown of foreign investors in Malaysia'. Should a single political party wield so much influence that it potentially scares investors away? What does this say of both the power generating mechanisms of an incumbent party AND the way businesses have built their operations and relationships around a political party? Is this the true meaning of cronyism? And what of Burma or Myanmar's ruling junta? No problems investing there eh? Wherein does the ethics of business lie? Oh! My sincerest apologies, we are in Asia where ethics is a dirty word it appears ... much like 'welfare' is since they are inextricably linked and stem from most people's sense of natural justice. But hey, I'm not a judge so there, we can now get on with plundering the rest of the world. As you were please. And please ... I am only in contempt of my own behind because it is soo fat from all this sitting down in my cushy chair.

With many key government officials losing their posts, Singapore investors are unsure about the status of economic corridors such as the Northern Corridor comprising Penang, Kedah and Perak. But the opposition coalition in Penang, one of Asia's largest manufacturing hubs, assured foreign investors yesterday that pro-business policies would remain intact. Hmm, so we find that it is not only an incumbent party which appears to hold the purse strings but actually INDIVIDUALS? Is this right in a democracy? Oh yeah ... Asians have a different brand of democracy .... I forget ... must be getting old ... or am I? When key individuals and parties fight so hard to retain their overwhelming dominance like in Malaysia ... does it point to a systemic fault?

Still, the short-term uncertainty is disruptive for business, said Mr Pang Kim Hin, chairman of the Mothercare franchise which has eight outlets in Malaysia. 'My gut feel tells me that most people will err on the side of caution...and leave the house only when necessary. This might lead to some business uncertainty,' he said. Still, it is 'business as usual' for corporations such as OCBC Bank, which has 29 branches in the country. So why do some businesses have fears and others do not? Different bosses with different outlooks? A more westermized boss realising that politics should not impact business so much vis-a-vis an Asian boss who is steeped in tradition and potentially questionable relationships that have helped revenue positions instead of true free open market competition like the rest of us in the world face?

Mr Phillip Overmyer, chief executive of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, said a major concern would be whether the ruling party and the opposition will find common ground on the BN's bumiputera policy - a legalised system of preferences for ethnic Malays.
In the longer term, companies are largely confident that the effects of this election will be positive. But others are more cautious. Mr Steven Tang, marketing and purchasing director for Nico Steel Solutions, foresees that 'it might become more difficult for any policies to be passed as the opposition is growing stronger'. Why more difficult for any policies to be passed due to the opposition? Have previous policies passed been so much in your favour, Mr. Tang, that now you are afraid that it is time to reel in the profit numbers which may have been obscenely obtained at the expense of the people in general?

Ahh ... it is so much easier to write on foreign politics rather then local politics ... there is lesser of an impending sense of doom that the PAP's gargantuan and well connected machinery will come down hard on me. And in commenting on Malaysian issues we do not suffer this sub-judice nonsense so prevalent in the South.

Of course now that some cases are post-judice everyone has forgotten about them .... NKF (and now Ren Ci?) ... SIA's Ms. Then vs uber rich socialite wife? Wherein lies the ethics and graciousness of our society when the high flyers demonstrate so clearly and irrevocably that the way to live life is to run everyone else down with either legal knowledge, power or money or a combination of all of the above? The SIA case would be a crime against human dignity if one were to apply United Nation standards and covenants ... I wonder what kind of punishment that begets?

Use your vote wisely. Every vote matters.