Najib’s March of Folly

In 1985 Pulitzer prize-winning author Barbara Tuchman wrote the book The March of Folly  which was a fascinating study of why leaders from Troy to Vietnam acted against their own self-interest.

If she were updating the book today, Unspun thinks she would certainly consider not only adding Malaysian Premier Najib Razak but perhaps promote him to the front line of the phalanx of marchers.

Najib’s march, where his public image was concerned, actually began in 2009 when, critical bloggers began to expose his foibles and questioned his involvement in the Alantuya affair, where a Mongolian model was killed by the Premier’s bodyguards and then her body was disposed using C4 explosives.

There were rumours — all unproven in a court of law controlled by the Malaysian government –  that she was somehow romantically involved with Najib and the bodyguards acted under orders from the highest leadership in the land.

Najib's detractors are begging to have some fun with his appointment of Lim as a PR guru, as seen in this meme over Twitter
Najib’s detractors are begining to have some fun with his appointment of Lim as a PR guru, as seen in this meme over Twitter

Assailed by bloggers, who enjoyed a freedom of expression that the legacy press in Malaysia did not have, Najib made the decision of employ US lobbying and communications firm APCO to pull him out of the mess.

It was a strange choice because Najib’s problems had nothing to do with communications but everything to do with his character, his evasiveness and the decisions he was unwilling or unable to make. He was virtually un-PRable but the fat fees he offered  APCO prompted the company to embark on a March of Folly of its own: It accepted the appointment.

Critics, including Unspun (see link here) felt that it was an expensive exercise in futility and after many months and millions of taxpayer’s dollars were spent, APCO achieved nothing and its contract was not renewed.

That didn’t deter Najib to forge on in his march though. In spite of an absence of results he apparently retained the head of APCO Malaysia, a certain Ralph Stadlen to continue advising him. Consistent with the deliverables of APCO, the results of Stadlen’s work was not apparent to anyone. Najib’s reputation continued to plummet, especially when the 1MDB scandal broke.

The government, in the story below, has denied that it is paying for Mr Stadlen’s elusive services and claims no knowledge of his existence. This is all an old trick. Instead of paying him from official coffers, they must have got a crony to pay him from their own corporate coffers in return for favours. At any rate Mr Stadlen must cost a bomb, considering his rather flamboyant and public lifestyle (see here).

 

A Sarawak Report photo of Stadlen exhibiting his prowress at having a good time in Malaysia
A Sarawak Report photo of Stadlen exhibiting his prowress at having a good time in Malaysia

Now Najib has taken another step forward in his good march. Besieged by crumbling popular support even within his own political party Umno and stinging from the potshots fired by former premier Tun Mahathir Mohamad has taken to appointing former adman Lim Kok Wing to address his reputational concerns.

The tragedy here is that everyone knows that Lim Kok Wing, talented as he is, cannot save nab from his deeds, himself and his wife. Yet the March of Folly is so compelling that Najib is trying once again to classify his problems as communications-based and outsource it to a communications expert.

But the intriguing question here is what Lim to embark on his own March of Folly? Why when he has no apparent need for the money, take on a job with impossible odds – the pundits are now counting the days before Najib exits the national stage. Why take on a mission impossible and in the process tarnish his own image when Najib ultimately falls? Did Najib offer him an irresistible deal? Did Najib blackmail him into taking on the job? Or is Lim such an adventurer that he would march on where even angles fear to tread?

Who has the answer out there?

 

 

 Lim Kok Wing is Najib’s new PR strategist – The Malaysian Insider

 

Advertising man Tan Sri Lim Kok Wing, who has run Barisan Nasional’s election campaigns, is Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s new public campaign coordinator in a charm offensive to win over Malaysians and shore up the prime minister’s flagging popularity.

Lim rode high during Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s administration, but the former prime minister is now Najib’s harshest critic.

It was learnt that Lim, who has been appointed “special programme coordinator”, has drawn up plans for Najib to go nationwide to gather support and listen to the complaints from the people.

Lim, who founded the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, will report directly to the Prime Minister’s Office which already has a string of advisors.

The 69-year-old, who set up Malaysia’s first local advertising agency, has been involved in election campaigns for almost four decades.

In 1994, Lim, on recommendation by Dr Mahathir, was tasked by the late Nelson Mandela in South Africa’s first free elections, giving his African National Congress (ANC) the slogan, “A Better Life for All”.

He also conceptualised and ran Putrajaya’s “Tak Nak” anti-smoking campaign and promoted the “Rakan Muda” and “One Heart, One Nation” programmes.

This latest appointment came months after Lim was first appointed as “Goodwill Ambassador” in the Prime Minister’s Department in a Tolerance Day celebration that his university hosted in November last year.

Now, Lim has to run a fully political campaign for the embattled Najib against Dr Mahathir who has openly asked the prime minister to step down over the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.

In 1975, Lim started Malaysia’s first local advertising firm and went on to start Limkokwing Institute of Creative Technology in 1991, before it became a private university in 2000.

He also sits on the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) consultation and corruption prevention panel.

Lim now joins the list of four official advisors to Najib – Datuk Seri Dr Abdullah Md Zin, Datuk Johari Baharum, Tan Sri Rais Yatim and Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil.

It was also recently reported that  public relations firm Apco Malaysia’s Paul Stadlen, had also served in the prime minister’s National Communications Team.

The status of  Stadlen’s alleged role in the government remains unclear with Putrajaya saying it did not pay any wages to the former Apco Malaysia boss.

“To date, the government did not pay any salary to Paul Stadlen,” Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim told PAS’s Hanipa Maidin in a written reply in Parliament on Wednesday.

Hanipa had asked about the amount paid to Stadlen who was purportedly a member of the communication team at the Prime Minister’s Office.

However, the reply was silent on whether Stadlen was part of the team. – May 22, 2015.

 

The Blogger, the Crowd, and the Prime Minister

One of the early promises of the Net was its ability to democratise, to level the playing field.

Then the Net became ubiquitious, Facebook and others let the barbarians and trolls in to play and many of us got disenchanted with it.

So it is particularly heartening then to read about the power of the Net to level the playing field between Singapore blogger Roy Ngerng in the David corner and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the Goliath corner.

Roy had been asking questions about how the Singapore Government has been using, or abusing, its funds. Lee didn’t like the criticism so he sued Roy.

The legal suit has been the Big Stick that governments and the rick can wield against pesky reporters and writers, who are usually not that well off financially. I remember many years ago in Malaysia when a tycoon took out a suit against one of the big names in journalism M.G.G. Pillay for something he wrote.

M.G.G. spiritedly tried to fight it but the pressure of having to pay something beyond what he could make if he lost the suit took its toll. I think it broke him to a certain extent.

But now, thanks to the Net, we have crowd funding, like what Roy has resorted to. The implications of his action, and his initial success at raising up to S$50,000 with little effort, has huge political implications.

It now means that writers and bloggers need no longer be that afraid of the crippling legal suit, especially if they are writing something critical about a government, institution or individual that is not publicly popular.

Sue me? I’ll crowd fund my law suit. let’s see you in court. Libel laws are still important, as with the principle of the right of the aggrieved party to sue for libel, but in this instance at least the scales of Justice have been tipped to be more even.

Published: 2 June 2014 | Updated: 3 June 2014 3:56 AM

A Singaporean blogger sued for damages by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (pic) said Monday he had successfully raised fees for his legal defence in just four days through crowdfunding.

Roy Ngerng Yi Ling, a government health worker who posts comments on social issues, said 1,104 people had so far contributed more than Sg$72,000 (RM184,900), exceeding his target of Sg$70,000 (RM179,700) when he launched the campaign Friday.

Ngerng published the transaction history of his bank account on his crowdfunding platform. Many of the donors registered comments criticising Lee and opposing the use of libel suits to silence government critics.

Singapore officials have long used defamation suits against printed publications to defend their reputations.

Ngerng was the first online critic brought to court by a Singaporean leader.

“Donations were mostly of small denominations, and ranged from one cent to two thousand dollars,” Ngerng, 33, told AFP.

“It reflects the people’s frustrations with the current situation,” added Ngerng, author of a blog called ‘The Heart Truths’..[continued…]

 

A cautionary tale for expats in Asia

Don’t shit where you live and work sounds like common sense. We all now, however, that common sense is not common. But when this surfeit is combined with the sensitivity of a prat, the mixture is disastrous.

Take the case of Anton Casey, a well-heeled expat banker in Singapore, who has been raising heckles in Singapore lately with his smug arrogance and insensitive remarks.

The story of how Casey almost singlehandedly manages to piss off a whole nation by calling them “poor” because they could not afford a Porsche, and then rubbed salt in the wound by posting a video blaming the Singapore’s parents for raising them as “wusses” is told in the Straits Times story below and other blog posting (see here and here), so Unspun does not need to delve into it.

Flash to yesterday. After, understandably, receiving death threats and wholesale abuse Casey finally wakes up to the fact that he’s done something not too clever. So what does he do?

He hires a PR firm to help him send an apology in the form oaf a press release to the Singaporean people in the Straits Times and, apparently, to do the dog’s work of contacting social media users to take down their postings about Casey.

Not a smart move. Especially when the PR agency can’t even write a proper press  release that sounds anything remotely like a contrite human being. The release apparently quoted casey saying: “I would like to extend a sincere apology to the people of Singapore.” (Italics mine)

Would like? To extend a sincere apology? Who talks like this? Would like signals his intention, doesn’t mean that he’s apologising. Extend a sincere (as opposed to insincere) apology.

How about: “I am deeply sorry” instead?

And what’s wrong with this man, who presumably has had more than rudimentary education, that he cannot write the letter himself and ask the PR company to use their contacts to send it to the paper’s editors?

It looks like Casey’s travails are not over as many Singaporeans won’t see this as enough contrition to forgive him. This is exacerbated by the fact that many Singaporans, except for the very well off, are feeling the economic pinch of escalating prices, limited professional opportunities and the pressure of keeping up with the pristine and success self-image that the Government carefully encourages and nurtures in its citizens.

All this has also bred envy and resentment against expats, euphemistically called foreign talents, in Singapore. The popular local perception is that all expats get lucrative and perk-filled work packages that most of the time are unjustified. This is not quite accurate although all it takes here is for a few rotten apples to spoil the whole basket.

And when rotten, boorish apples like Casey get on social media and trumpet their ignorance, the rest of the expats, many of whom are very professional, totally integrated into local society and very decent people, can only cringe.

Hopefully the rest of us would remember not to shit where we live and work.

British expat, husband of former Miss Singapore, apologises for calling commuters “poor people”.

An expatriate who referred to commuters on public transport as “poor people” in his Facebook post has apologised on Tuesday in a statement sent to the press.

British national Anton Casey, who is married to former Miss Singapore Universe Bernice Wong, added that he and his family had received death threats and that he had exercised “poor judgment” in his earlier comments.

In a statement issued through Fulford Public Relations, he said: “I would like to extend a sincere apology to the people of Singapore.”

Mr Casey, who apparently drives a Porsche, added: “In the past 24 hours due to a security breach of my personal Facebook page and the misuse of an old video by unknown sources, my family and especially my Singaporean son have suffered extreme emotional and verbal abuse online.”

The online roasting started following the circulation of a couple of Mr Anton Casey’s Facebook posts which sported insensitive comments. A YouTube video of him in what seemed like a taunting response to his detractors, was also blasted by netizens.

Indonesian kids don’t know how stupid they are. Really?

Has the ever fascinating Elizabeth Pisani bitten more than she can chew in her latest posting in Portrait Indonesia

In a provocative headline she posits that Indonesian kids don’t know how stupid they are and the supporters and detractors are piling up in the comments section.

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Pisani’s analysis of the PISA tests, the picture that emerges is rather dismal for Indonesia: Indonesian kids are doing very badly in simple maths and science questions but they are blissfully unaware of how the education system is failing them.

So, are Indonesian kids getting stupider, so stupid that they don’t even know that they are getting stupid?

 

Indonesian kids don’t know how stupid they are

Spotted on a classroom wall in South Sulawesi

Spotted on a classroom wall in South Sulawesi

Four cars have different engine capacites:

Alpha: 1.79
Bolte: 1.796
Castel: 1.82
Dezal: 1.783

Which of the cars has the smallest engine capacity?

It’s not a trick question. But over 75 percent of 15 year-old school children in Indonesia do not have the mathematical skills to answer it correctly.

Every three years, Indonesia’s education system goes through the ritual humiliation of the PISA tests, comparing the performance of 15 year-olds in 65 countries in reading, maths and science. Indonesia has more teachers per student than most much richer countries, and an amendment to the constitution guarantees that 20 percent of the national budget is spent on education. And yet the 2012 PISA results, released this week, show that Indonesia ranked at the bottom of the heap in maths and science, and did only marginally better in reading.

For the rest of the article read here.

Jilbab Hitam and Waiting for Godot

Regular readers of Unspun will know that this blog takes interest in journalistic developments in Indonesia and elsewhere.  The interest comes from Unspun having been a journalist for many years before he “sublimated” into a communications consultant.

Readers will know from the two previous posts that Unspun found the Jilbab Hitam issue fascinating since it involves several prominent names, the allegations of a putative ex-Tempo journalist and of extortion of well-known institutions.

That, however, was where Unspun’s involvement with the case ends. Ditto Maverick, the communications firm where Unspun works at.

It was therefore very surprising last Thursday night when the names of Unspun and Maverick started cropping up on Twitter. The head of a research firm in Indonesia (let’s call him Godot), who is also an occasional newspaper contributor and commentator on anything from politics to economics had insinuated that Maverick was involved with a corporation (let’s call it AA), whose name had been bandied about as the possible instigator behind the Jilbab Hitam posting in Kompasiana.

AA was supposed to be involved, so the rumour mill has it, because they wanted payback for a book claiming to expose questionable practices in the corporation.

Now, sometime during the last week or so a blogger, who had almost the same name as one of our employees (let’s call him RF) , had posted an opinion piece in a Detik.com blog criticising the book. In the posting the blogger had said that he was a student of a lecturer  in University Indonesia who had also earlier posted a critique of the book in Kompasiana.

The detik.com posting sent Godot’s research juices flowing and somehow (presumably through something more sophisticated than a Google search, for he is, after all, a researcher) he came up with the allegation that Maverick and RF were in cahoots with AA to run down the author of the investigative boo. Without further ado Godot started to post Tweets about his suspicions.

As with most things that come up out of  the blue, Maverick’s crisis management training has taught us to seek and verify facts before reacting rashly. So we methodologically called up RF’s personnel files and found out that unlike Godot’s insinuations, RF did not go to school in University Indonesia. We then asked RF if he had known the particular lecturer. Negative. Had RF written any opinion pieces and posted them on any blogs, let alone Detik.com? Negative. Curiouser and curiouser.

We then went on the next stage of fact-finding. Going to source is usually the most reliable means of arriving at the truth. So since Twitter seemed the communications channel of choice for Godot, we asked him a simple question : why did he think that the blogger was the same person as our employee RF, since it was a common name and a Google search came up with dozens of RFs. Why did he think our RF was the RF?

That’s when the Twitter conversation turned weird. Godot dissembled and never answered the question. That didn’t stop him from casting aspersions on us and the PR profession though.

Normally, we would dismiss Godot as a troll and ignore him but because this issue was emotionally charged among a community we are close to – journalists – we thought we needed to resolve the matter conclusively and give it a decent burial. In social media, anything that doesn’t get a decent burial can come back to haunt you.

So we asked Godot for a face-to-face meeting so that he can explain how he came to his conclusions and we can set the record straight. By then the Twitter exchange had attracted the attention of some prominent Twitterati, a few of whom are senior journalists. They felt it was a good idea and encouraged Godot to meet with us to clear the air.

In spite of all this willingness to engage though, Godot has not replied. If he felt that he was right there was no indication that he desired to get to the bottom of things. If he realised that he had been wrong there was no hint of owning up and an apology for wrongfully insinuating that Maverick was in cahoots with AA.

So we are now…. waiting for Godot

(Thanks @julianto_irwan for being our muse with the name)

Jilbab Hitam Unveiled?

It appears that the identity of Jilbab Hitam, the nom de plume of a putative ex-Tempo reporter who caused an uproar  in the Indonesian online and journalism communities when he accused Tempo and its editors of trying to shake down Mandiri in a posting in Kompasiana.com.

That posting has been taken down long ago but in another posting in Kompasiana by Sutomo Paguchi  who describes himself as a citizen journalist in Padang, and advocate, a nonpartisan and who writes for recreational purposes, he claims that Jilbab Hitam has been identified as an ex-Detik.com reporter who had been dismissed for shaking down Karakatau Steel when it had its IPO.

The author also posts a press release, apparently from the writer’s workplace IDEA Group, saying that the writer has admitted to being Jilbab Hitam. They said they were not involved in the authorship of the controversial article and that the writer has left its employment.

All very good. But that hasn’t stopped the rumour mill from trying to hunt down what it perceives to be the true motive of Jilbab Hitam. The speculation was that he was paid to do the hatchet job. But by whom?

Nobody is naming any names yet but one or a few will probably crop up soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strange things on the Net: Jilbab Hitam, Tempo, Abraham Samad, SBY

Strange things are happening on the Net in Indonesia.

The latest is the kerfuffle on Twitter yesterday after a putative ex-Tempo journalist with the nom de plume Jilbab Hitam wrote in a blogpost accusing Tempo and the other large newspapers of systematically extorting money and being in collusion with vested powers.

The post was taken down from its blog. It appeared briefly in Kompasiana and then was taken down. A copy now resides in Rima. news (click here). The articles named names, some of which are the most respected in journalism; made accusations and also dragged in a prominent ex-journalist turned researcher as well as a columnist turned researcher.

Reaction to the posting has been mixed but noisy. Some jumped straight away to condemning the accused prominent media and journalists. Others claimed it was an act of fitnah (libel). Others too the cautious time-will-tell route and asked the media houses named to tell their side of the story, even against an anonymous writer.

In an era when the even the highest institutions of law such as the Constitutional Court are enmeshed in allegations of corruption, one does not know what to believe.

Similarly confusing and seemingly improbably was an article in Kabarnet yesterday where the head of the Anti Corruption Commission (KPK) Abraham Samad apparently railed and threatened President SBY with arrest. Kabarnet quoted a Twitter account apparently belonging to Abraham Samad, but the article did not say whether it tried to verify that the Tweets were from Abraham Samad or whether his account was hijacked.

These are strange days on the Net, that was once supposed to unleash an era of openness and transparency now pulls a veil of confusion over its Netizenry. What is one to make of these stories?