Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Two weeks ago Johor Bahru was awash with rumours about SMS’s which warned that on National Day racial violence would occur in Pasir Gudang. Whatever the initial SMS was, the malicious falsehood sooned morphed into various variations. These SMS’s were enough to cause uneasiness among the public.

The police and particularly Johor Acting Police Chief Datuk Mohamad Mokhtar Mohamad Sharif must be commended for the quick and swift action they have taken and also for arresting four suspects (so far) who allegedly had spread the inflammatory text messages.

It is also comforting to note that Prime Minister Dato Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi views seriously the transmission of racial incitement through SMS and email and warns that punitive actions would be taken against. However concern by itself is not enough.

Last year an SMS made it rounds alleging that Azhar Mansor was going to baptise Malay children at a Church in Ipoh. That SMS was enough for some ignorant groups to mobilize a mob to descend at the entrance of the Church and terrorise the Sunday Catholic churchgoers.

In the aftermath, police took statements among others from the Mufti of Perak who alleged that a woman had met him and told of the baptism. Pursuant thereto a woman was arrested.

Till today the public and particularly the Catholics wonder what has happened to this case and why this woman has yet to be charged.

Thus, the Prime Minister’s warning about stern action against rumour-mongers would remain just mere talk and hollow speak when the woman arrested in connection with the baptism SMS till today has yet to be charged. One has to walk the talk.

Norman Fernandez.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Last weekend when I was in Kuala Lumpur, I did not realise that there was an unofficial strike by taxi drivers demanding higher fares. The taxi driver who ferried me from Plaza Seni (Central Market) to Segambut, told me that he (and other taxi drivers) had received messages asking them to stay away and not drive on Friday and Saturday. Apparently a few taxi drivers who decided to ignore had their windscreens smashed.

Today’s (Mondays September 3, 2007) newspapers reported that taxi drivers are being fined between RM100 and RM 300 by the Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board (CVLB) for not adhering to the code of uniform set by them. The offences among others include not wearing socks, not tucking in their shirts or even wearing dark brown shoes instead of black.

CVLB Chairman Datuk Markiman Kobiran said that the government was serious in enforcing the regulation on uniforms and that there would be a continuous crackdown on errant taxi drivers.

Clearly, CVLB has got its enforcement priorities all mixed up. The truth is that the average passenger is least bothered whether the taxi driver wears brown shoes or if he tucks in his shirt. Instead, what is important to the average passenger is that he expects the taxi driver to takes him to his destination, charge the fare according to the meter and with the least amount of fuss and rant. Of course the passenger also hopes for a clean and odorless taxi and a driver with neat appearance and pleasant personality. But in Malaysia, that’s asking too much.

In New York, Melbourne, London or closer home Singapore, one can flag a taxi, get in, tell the destination, be ferried to the destination and pay the fare according to the meter. It is as easy as that.

Not in Malaysia. After flagging a taxi, one has to pray, ask and hope that it is not too much of a trouble for the taxi driver to ferry you to your destination. Once he agrees, you have to then agree on the fare determined by him. Only after these brief formalities are completed you are invited into the very often weather beaten taxi.

In Johor Bahru one would be hard-pressed to find taxis using meters. Even if it is used, be assured that the fare on the meter is hardly ever followed. Instead a fare which is usually higher than the meter is the norm. On weekends and on Singapore holidays when Singaporeans flock to Johor Bahru, it’s a field day for taxi drivers. They simply ignore the locals and seek out the gullible Singaporeans who because of the exchange rate don’t mind paying the silly fares demanded by the taxi drivers.

What irks most passengers is the attitude of the taxi drivers who keep demanding for taxi fare rises but correspondingly show no sense of professionalism or have any desire to improve their image. It is always about them and their interest. Their usual complaint by the taxi drivers is that they have to pay high rental charges for their taxis. But shouldn’t this be an issue between the taxi drivers and the relevant authorities including the taxi companies. Why should the passengers be the victim and be fleeced of their money?

I speak with experience. In 2000, a taxi drivers association in Johor Bahru appointed me as their legal advisor. Regretfully, their shenanigans disgusted me, so much so that I tendered my resignation.

According to the rules, once a taxi is flagged down, the taxi driver has to take the passenger to wherever he wishes to go. Not so. Instead, it is the taxi driver who makes a considered decision whether to ferry you to the said destination. If he decides not, four standard excuses can be expected namely “tukar shif”, “on call”, “tak pergi sana” or “mau sembayang”. Next comes the fare haggling. Sometimes the taxi driver tells the fare only when the passenger has got into the taxi and after being driven a few metres. Disagree and he simply drops the passenger off there and there.

Hand towels near the taxi meter is not for the taxi drivers to wipe his hands or perspiration but instead used to cover the meter. If hand towels are not available a call card can be used to mask the fare. At the destination, the taxi driver takes a peek at the meter and then demand from the passenger a fare which is higher than the meter.

If you late about town, one would also observe the ritual of the taxis mysteriously going missing from 11.30 to midnight and only to appear after 12 am when the midnight charges have kicked in. Observe how after midnight droves of taxis appear and taxi drivers enthusiastically horn at you or drive close and stop close to the person standing near a sidewalk.

The reason taxi drives are able to behave like this is simply because they know that not only that the average passenger would not be bothered to report them to the authorities but also enforcement by authorities are never continuous but instead “seasonal”. I have made two reports against taxi drivers who demanded and overcharged me. After more that two years and despite numerous letters of reminders I have yet to get a reply from CVLB about my complaints.

So instead of CVLB getting all flustered about the physical appearance of the taxi drivers, it is advisable for CVLB to weed out taxi drivers who do not use meters, who overcharge passengers and who picks and chooses passengers and routes. Until and unless taxi drivers hear and see of licenses being revoked, taxi drivers will simply continue to fleece passengers. CVLB and the relevant authorities should start a crackdown and haul up these taxi drivers and until this is done it is the poor passengers who would continue to suffer.

Norman Fernandez
3rd September 2007


Recently an article appeared in the New Straits Times titled We can learn a thing or two from Singapore. For a moment I was stunned and wondered how an article such as this could appear and be given prominence in the nation’s premier newspaper.

After all what is there to learn from Singapore when Local Councillors on tax payers money go on a junket masqueraded as a study tour and go off to Australia simply to learn how to grow flowers when they could have gone for a visit to Singapore Botanical Gardens. Its always better and money worth spent especially when it is the tax payers money for state government official to go a study tours to Curitiba to learn about effective public transportation when a short trip to Singapore could suffice.

Why this article caught my attention is because of the writer. Had the article been written by a Chinese, in all probability it would have been viewed differently. But here is an article written by a Malay – Fauziah Ismail and without mincing her words saying that we can learn from Singapore.
As a Johorean, we witness much more closely at the way many things are done in Singapore and often it is done much better. Pride prevents us from admitting.

So can we learn from Singapore? I say we can learn many things from Singapore.

Here is the article in full.



The Malays have saying: Kuman di seberang laut nampak, gajah di depan mata tidak nampak - “you can see a germ across the sea, but not an elephant in front of you”.

This is how we treat our neighbour, Singapore. Politics and our troubled relations in the past continue to cloud our feelings towards the republic and its people.

Because of that, we’d rather venture further abroad looking for best practises, when we can find them easily down south.

We look at Japan’s high culture of maintenance, when Singapore practises such high standards, too. Its public toilets are as immaculate as those in Japan. Its pre-Independence buildings are restored and maintained as if they were brand-new.

We eye Singapore with suspicion. We detest any form comparisons between the two countries and their people. We sneer at Singaporeans’ “kiasu-ness” but do not realize that this fear of losing in a highly competitive society is what made Singapore what it is today.

The nation of 3.6 million, which turned 42 recently, has become the most successful economy in Asean.

Community Development, Youth and Sports Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said “kiasuism” was not about being superior but for its own survival.

“ Ask any ordinary Singaporean if they feel superior,” the eye surgeon turned politician and minister said.” No oil, gas, palm oil, rubber, beautiful tourist spots or gems in the earth. What we have today is (the result of) hard work.

“ If anything, we are probably insecure in that if we don’t work hard, we will starve. Our focus on making money is actually survival.

“We are working to put food on our table for ourselves and our children. Any excess is put in reserves. This is security for the future,” said Balakrishnan, who is also the second minister for minister for information, communications and arts.

Asked if it was asking too much of one minister to handle several portfolios, he said:
“ It’s the Singapore way of doing things. If it is proven effective, why not?” (In Malaysia, his equivalent portfolios are handled by three ministries).

Singapore is a small country in hectarage – even with its land reclamation - - but through Temasek, Government of Singapore Investment Corp (GIC) and private companies, it has spread its tentacles far and wide.

While we get foreign manual workers in droves, Singapore gets the best brains from within the region through scholarships offered to student of the other nine Asean countries. While there are no bonds on the scholarships, nothing stops these students from staying on in the republic and working there.

When Singapore gained its independence in 1965, it had to be self – sufficient. Its leaders had to tackle widespread unemployment, raise the standard of living and implement large – scale public housing.

Minister of Foreign Affairs George Yeo, said the three main things the leaders prioritised in forming the structure for the country were education, health care and housing.

“We started by creating the foreign service and the defence force,” he said. “ Being small, we didn’t have the numbers. We had to start National Service. Then we had to give our people some sense of ownership of the country.”

The Housing Development Board (HDB) was formed two years after Singapore achieved independence. The agency has been in the red ever since but continues to build high – rise apartments – space constraints resulted in Singapore having to build upwards instead of sideways – to accommodate its growing population. It receives grants from the Singaporean government for its operational expenditure.

Married couples with a maximum combined income of S$8,000 (RM17,600) a month are eligible for HDB flats. Singles aged 35 and above are also eligible, while those in the upper – income range can buy in the open market.

HDB also offers financing to home - buyers, making it easy for Singaporeans to buy the flats. Now, nine of 10 Singaporeans own houses. “ We have created a structure for the country that over the years saw the government ceding its control and balancing the public and private sectors’ roles in nation building,” Yeo said.

The country has now developed its economic infrastructure, curbing the threat of racial tension through HDB ‘s ethnic integrations policy and independence national defence system, centring on National Service.

Singapore’s leaders and people have made something out of nothing. Take tourism. Last year, the republic received 9.7 million tourists and registered S$13 billions in receipts.

This year, it wants to see 10.2 million tourists and 17 million in 2015. By then, it should be looking at S$30 billion in receipts.

Singapore creates new tourism products every year – the Night Safari ( on good nights, and there are many visitors get to see more nocturnal animals than they would in Taman Negara) and theDUCKTours, which take visitors on an hour – long tour of the city on an amphibious vehicles that can also take to the river, among many other attractions.

Next year, the world ‘s tallest Ferris wheel, with gondolas that can accommodate up to 35 people each, will open on Feb 14. Forget about being among the first to ride it: The attraction’s booked solid for the first six months. Two casinos will also be opening. Construction of a Las Vegas Sand – operated casino near Marina Bay and Resorts World on Sentosa, with the universal Studio theme park, is under way.

Singapore’s been doing all this without a ministry in charge of tourism, just the Singapore Tourism Promotion Board. And up to 90 percent of the workforce in the island’s hospitality industry are Malaysians.

So, when Singaporeans recite their pledge – “ We the citizens of Singapore pledge ourselves as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion, to build a democratic society, based on justice and equality, so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation” – I believes they mean it.

We don’t have to open our hearts to them; just our eyes and ears. We may learn a thing or two.


Oleh Norman Fernandez
Dedikasi buat Sdr Abdul Razak Ahmad
06hb June 1939 – 12hb Ogos 2007

Cecucuk-cerucuk besi di bibir pantai
yang dipukul ombak Tebrau
adalah testamen
angkara dan keangkuhan politikus-politikus
yang tergoda janji saudagar-saudagar impian
sehingga sanggup sekongkol menggadai pantai untuk ringgit

Dimanakah mereka kini
politikus-politikus dan adikara
yang memperlekeh suara-suara kerdil
mencerca mereka sebagai abar-abar.

Dimanakah hakim lagi arif
yang membidas peguam sebagai “busy body”
malah disuruh membayar kos
salahnya cuma mencari pengadilan
Kini siapa yang betul ?

Di bibir pantai
papan iklan yang dimamah mentari
masih degil mendabik
menjaja impian yang sudah lama pudar.
Dibibir pantai
Cerucuk-cerucuk besi yang lama terbengkalai
aib berdiri sebagai mercu kegagalan

Norman Fernandez
Johor Bahru 2002