Sunday, April 27, 2008

A short take

I suppose I should be continuing from my previous blog ‘to be a councillor’ but I just want to do a quick one for now.

A quick one?


A short one?

To Kedahan, water in short depth is cangkat. Or changkat depending on the new or old school spelling. Standard terminology is cetek. In Terengganuspeak its tohor.
So a person who is shallow (superficial, frivolous, insignificant) in thought is changkat, his analysis is cetek. Never heard anyone being termed tohor however. Not even in Terengganu.

And of course there’s the other cangkat.
Cangkat Jering in Taiping or Cangkat Tambi Dolah in KL.
Is it referring to short road or once a water-logged area?

Want to solve English problem among school children? What about introducing English Literature at primary age. Get them all to read Shakespeare.

Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare,
To digg the dvst encloased heare.
Blest be ye man yt spares thes stones,
And cvrst be he yt moves my bones.

….ooops. That was from his tombstone. Not his play.

That kind of thinking is kind of cangkat.

I think.

Monday, April 21, 2008

To be a councilor

PETALING JAYA: Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak yesterday voiced his support for a proposal to have members of the Institute of Engineers Malaysia serving as local councillors.

That is an excerpt from NST yesterday 20th April 2008.

I couldn’t help but smile. At least I can now say proudly, I have been there, done that.

In that same report, IEM President said that his members are willing to serve all states. That means the opposition (now Pakatan Rakyat) states too. Maybe that’s because an engineer is now a state Menteri Besar in Perak.

I had been there as a councilor in Kuala Terengganu once for a short while during the tail end of PAS rules, for about four months. It was out of sincere desire to help and against my better judgement. Come 2004, it was all over. Making up for the ‘punishment’ I had to endure afterward when the state goes back to Barisan, was the exposure to the system, fathoming the depth of problems, learning first hand why things simply can’t get done and more than anything else making friends with the top to the bottom of the municipal power rung. What I could not understand to these days was the blind hatred from the other side of the political divide.

I must say now that I accepted the councilor post innocently, thinking that it was nothing more than a professional seat as allocated in the Local Government Act. The first sign of trouble was when friends started to desert me, saying things like I was being groomed for the higher position in the party. What party? I had not been a member of any party. I was later informed that PAS Youth objected to my appointment saying that I had been an UMNO man. Yes and no. I was quite visible during Dato Seri Wan Mokhtar’s administration, doing some visible projects for the state. No I was not a party member. My father did however without fail paid my UMNO membership subscription but that was in the old UMNO. Post 1988, I was told my application to UMNO Baru was not entertained. Well, I never get my membership card to say the least but it never bothers me. When PAS rule was over I was in turn branded a PAS man. So I was both an UMNO and PAS ‘member’ without even being in membership. That was cool. Anyway that story would be reserved for my autobiography.

This blog article is for me to share my experience.

As a practicing professional, an architect or an engineer can’t be an effective councilor. At least, me. Too often I had to excuse myself from the meeting because it is legally and morally wrong to be involved and worse to decide in meetings where my projects were being discussed. I could participate in technical meetings and seek to be excused when any of my project was up for deliberation. But technical meeting was only at the third level in importance. The way it was structured, I almost couldn’t participate at all in the full council meeting because that one project I was doing is lumped with the rest of the papers and I could not be involved at all. So the few of us professional councilor ended having tea when the full council was in session, practically leaving it to the quasi-politicians.

The councilor post however was powerful enough to move something. I believe I had successfully introduced the compulsory requirement for architects to have an appointment letter from the client before his plan could be accepted. I did that because many architects had complained of clients running away with the approved plan without paying the fee. At least that appointment letter can be used to take them to court later if need be. I too was part of the effort to implement (or was it to continue implementing?) the one day building plan approval and to rightly reinterpret the term temporary building much to the chagrin of the legal advisor. Temporary building could then be built better. Again this is not about self promotion and the fun ended so soon. I will keep the story to another day.

What kind of people were in the council?
The strongest voice I would say was the government appointee by way of their post, District Officer for instance. The Yang Di Pertua normally was the political appointee and in my time the state assemblymen himself. So was the majority of the seats - filled with Ketua Cawangan, Ketua Wanita (or was it Muslimah) and Ketua Pemuda. I was jolted when someone interjected with ‘Yang Di Pertua, ini kawasan saya. Rumah ni rumah orang kita.' (This is my area. The house belong to our people.) The meeting in general was sombre. Few actually raise their voices except when it was about ‘kawasan saya’ or ‘orang kita’. Fewer bother to read the Act and By-Laws depending in turn on every words of the legal advisor, happy waiting for a deadlock and vote by show of hand. That’s power mind you. Agitated, I at least forced the Majlis to provide them with a set of the by-laws and got a nice attache to go with it. And then there were the few loud professionals – us.

How much can you achieve?
How much depended on three things. One, the political willingness. Two, the council’s money and three, the capacity of the officer. Four if I would add is trust. In general, councils are poor and running on tight budget. Majlis in our time could not even afford laptop and projector, much less equip the officer with digital camera and transport. We even had to move a motion in the council meeting for the officers to be well equipped and the budget be found for it. (Fortunately or unfortunately power change happened so soon and we could not see the result. Anyway the Majlis under the new Barisan government seems flushed with new four wheelers it could have been attributed to us too (wink). The lack of fund forced us to be flexible. We introduced a system whereby applicants had to invite and drive the officers from the office to the project site for inspection. This system was almost shot down for fear of corruption. The liberal among us interjected that given our capacity we can’t afford to be choosy at the expense of efficiency. We too had to stress that the law is hard enough and anyone if corrupted can be brought down legally. That was the issue of trust. Trust is also about empowerment. More power could actually be delegated to the technical officers, reducing the load on the council and in the final count tremendously improve the delivery.

What I found heartening was the sincerity and sacrifice of the officers, working within a limiting environment, poorly equipped, badly understaffed and worse, distrusted. The few had to attend the so many meetings and functions leaving them with little time to work effectively. The time is also consumed by the systems of meetings, deliberation of minutes and approval. Some quarters complained that the council is being used to deliberately delay or reject applications despite obtaining technical support and approvals. I must state that I did not find so despite the system working exactly that way. The officers if given trust and empowered could achieve much more. I was very sure of that.

To be continued.

To be branded.
Do I want to do it again?
How professionals can contribute.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Selak spelt with e tanda means lock, both verb and noun. It also means bolt using either keys or some other kind of locking accessories. My favorite one is using a piece of wood laid across the door. ‘Galang’ was the correct term I think. The difference between the two is that selak requires ‘tupai’ on one side while ‘galang’ requires two. That tupai is not a squirrel.

Spelt with e takdok tanda, it became selak, meaning to lift usually of something clothlike – selak kain (to lift the skirt), selak kelambu (to part the mosquito net).

Usop balik rumah lewat malam. Mek Jah isterinya dahpun tidur. Usop selak kelambu. Napok Mek Jah tergolek. Slo, slo dia selak kain Mek Jah….. (Oops. I’m not translating this)

In Terengganuspeak, selak with e tanda can also mean to pass out, shocked or desperate.

‘Mek Ngah selak dengo anok dia jatuh moto.’ (Mek Ngah fainted hearing her son fall off the motorbike)

‘Habih sekapung selak dengo cerita Tok M’ulu kena igak.’ (The whole village was shocked to hear the village headman arrested)

‘Selaklah gining. Jeput orang makang lepah loho. Ning puko dua belah doh. Berah dok basoh agi, api dok ingak agi, ayang dok m’eleh agi.’ (We are desperate now. We invited people to eat after the noon prayer. Now at twelve the rice is not yet washed. The fire not yet lit. The chicken not yet slaughtered)

The a in selak is so uniquely pronounced it is a dilemma to either write with a or o. Some Terengganuan preferred o over a, spelling selok while others a over o, spelling selak. It can only be resolved if written in phonetic which I have no idea of so I would not try.

To spell as selok (with e tanda) in standard Bahasa will bring a different meaning. To selok (also with e tanda) is to dig into something, like into the pocket. Sometimes it is spelt as seluk. Suluk if you come across is further off. Bersuluk means to went away; as of becoming a hermit.

Senyak senyak Usop pung selok dalang kain. Tibe-tibe kain hok sakut di tiang tu jatoh. Usop k’ejuk. Derah-derah dia keluo bilek. Dang ambik pitih sepuloh rial je. Mek Jah tergolek teruh. Nye tido selok-selok kediri. Dok sedo setarang baroh pong.

Monday, April 14, 2008

After a pound of my flesh

In Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, 1596, the insistence by the Jewish moneylender, Shylock for the payment of Antonio's flesh was the central plot of the 18th century play. Shylock insisted that ‘The pound of flesh which I demand of him Is deerely bought, 'tis mine, and I will have it.’ It now carries the meaning of ‘something which is owed that is ruthlessly required to be paid back..’ The figurative use of the phrase refer to 'any lawful but nevertheless unreasonable recompense’ - to quote from Wikipedia.

Imagine being booked by a policeman for a traffic offence. You paid the compound fines and yet you have to appear in court for another round of punishment for the same offence because the law says you have committed an offence and that offence in punishable. I use the phrase ‘the law says’ to denote an interpretation by this one person. Okay, I am not a lawyer. But as I understand the law, an offense once punished can’t be punished again. A compound is a punishment so I should not be hauled to the court again for the same offence. Or was my understanding all wrong?

Last Thursday, EPF visited me. Handed me a summon to sign. I was to appear in Court this Monday 14 April 2008. The offence was for not making EPF contribution to one of my staff in May 2007. That was almost a year ago. I checked my record and proved that payment was made. Late of course but paid all the same. I was willing to pay all the fines and dividends, but the dividend statement is forthcoming. Not my fault fully. Still the EPF guy is insistent.

So I checked the EPF Act.

Clause 43(2) says I’m liable if I fail to pay within time.
So I’m guilty on that ‘within time’ count. But why can’t I resort to the other clauses which somehow accept delay to the contributions provided that I pay the dividends and interest on top of the contributions?

Clause 45(3) says if I don’t pay within time I can be liable to pay for dividends.
Clause 45(4) says if I don’t pay the dividends I’m liable to imprisonment (3 years maximum) or fine (maximum 10K).

Furher down,

Clause 49 says I’m also liable for interest for unpaid contribution.

So my understanding is I can be charged only if I don’t pay the contribution or if I don’t pay the dividend. Repeat, if I don’t pay the dividend! Not for late contributions.

So why take me to court?

‘Well, you have not contributed to the Feb, March and April’ he said.

‘Sir! Yes I was late for Feb and March. But April wasn’t even due till 15 this month, a day after my due appearance in court. Don’t charge me for an offence I was yet to commit. And still you can’t bring me to court for the two months that was not even in the charge sheet.’

That I think is a blackmail. Okay, arm-twisting, if blackmail was too harsh a word.

The fictional episode is one of the many events that we must all face because we had chosen to leave the comfort of withdrawing salaries to one that pay salaries. Migrating from being an employee to an employer.

Most of the laws governing employment, especially EPF Law regards all employers as someone with a deep pocket and an ever flowing fountain of cash. EPF contributions must be made not later than the 15th every month, come hell or high water. Damn you if can’t scrape enough to meet the salary. Damn you too if your salary payment was made after 15th. Pay EPF first. Fill the coffer and leave your staff hanging dry if you have to.

So all of you budding entrepreneur, beware, be afraid, be very afraid. Be not like me. Pay EPF religiously. You have to.

The law as it is, was intended to protect employees from some unscrupulous employers. But not all employers are bad as not all are rich. Many are simply entrepreneur who struggles to make ends meet. Yet they contributed to the socio economy by employing people when these people were otherwise jobless. Not all employees are bad too, not all will willingly kill the goose that lay the golden eggs, not all will haul their employer to court for reason of late EPF contributions. But EPF will; in the name of the employee, haul the employer. The way things are, some quarters in EPF considers all late contributor as bad employer, penalties alone are no longer enough. The way things are, some quarters in EPF will be happy that employers close shop, so that none pay EPF late. Nevermind if the employees end up jobless.

Maybe some explanation is necessary.

Late contribution can be due to several reasons. One, the employee preparing the payment made a mistake or forgotten about the dateline. Two, the money wasn’t there. At least not yet.

The law maker in drafting the law I believe saw that possibility. So they wisely introduced a penalty clause. Any employer who’s late because of some employee inefficiency or was simply broke at that point in time can at least when they can afford it pay the penalties, escape the hassle of court appearance and continue doing business.

For unfortunate employer like me, summoning me to court means punishment not once but thrice. They have taken claim, collected my money and now after my pound of flesh.