Transparent Air Fare Pricing
A couple of months back, I wrote about the need for transparent airfare pricing. This is a reproduction of a news article in the Singapore Straits Times:
Fares from $0? Ads with hidden costs get the chop SINGAPORE, Oct 24 - What you see is what you pay.
From Nov 1, advertisement tag-lines such as 'Fares from $0' or '15,000 seats going for only $0.01 one-way' here will be a thing of the past.
New rules set by the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) will require travel agents and airlines to advertise full fares so travellers know right away how much their air ticket or holiday will cost, The Straits Times learnt.
Despite industry resistance and after over two years of discussions, ASAS - an advisory council to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case), whose members include representatives from various bodies such as the Singapore Medical Association and Media Development Authority - issued a circular to all airlines and travel agencies earlier this week to inform them of the new rules.
They must include the true cost of travel, including add-ons like airport taxes and fuel surcharges, because these can form the bulk of the cost.
Such transparency is much needed in the travel industry and will help give consumers full information, said Mr Seah Seng Choon, executive director of Case.
Last year, Case received 969 travel-related complaints, and in the first nine months of this year that number was 845.
"The feedback we get is that the advertised rates are not a correct reflection of what they pay in the end," he observed of the complaints. "The change will help consumers make better choices."
To ensure airlines and travel agencies comply with the new rules, media giants Singapore Press Holdings and MediaCorp have agreed not to run or air advertisements which do not give the full facts, said Mr Seah.
Meanwhile, the association will conduct random checks and follow up on consumer feedback for online ads.
If necessary, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, which is also a member of the advertising council, will step in to take action against recalcitrant agents and airlines, he said.
They can also be taken to task under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, which is an avenue for consumers to take action in the face of unfair practices.
Among the airlines supporting the move towards transparency are low-cost carriers Tiger Airways and Jetstar Asia, which said they will follow the guidelines.
Independently, since January, Singapore Airlines has also been voluntarily disclosing full fares in all its advertisements, in a bid to deliver what customers want.
The response has been "overwhelmingly positive", said its spokesman Stephen Forshaw yesterday. "Our customers appreciate the transparency and convenience...when booking a flight with us."
From time to time, other carriers like Malaysia Airlines also advertise full fares, but these are on an ad-hoc basis.
Similar advertising regulations already exist within the European Union and in countries like Australia and New Zealand.
Not everyone is happy Singapore is doing the same. Travel agents are upset and insist the system does not need fixing.
Robert Khoo, chief executive officer of the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas), called the new ruling "ridiculous" - and impractical, given that fuel surcharges and other taxes can fluctuate quite a bit.
Besides, full disclosure could call for bigger advertisement space and drive up costs for companies.
He argued: "The advertisement is to attract attention. When the passenger calls, the full details are made known anyway."
If so, then why the big fuss about the new ruling, Seah asked. "All we want is for them to disclose the information which they would give customers verbally over the phone, in the advertisements."
Besides, advertisement space - and costs - need not change, as travel agents have to reflect only the total fare.
Opposing the new regulations, Alicia Seah, senior vice-president for marketing and public relations at CTC Holidays, called for them to be implemented across all industries, saying: "When restaurants advertise,
why are they not required to add the 10 per cent service charge and 7 per cent GST?"
But Seah pointed out these extras form only a small part of total costs. With an air ticket or travel package, however, it can make up the better part of costs. - The Straits Times
Let's end Racial Politicking
The article below is published in Malaysia Today and is a translation from a news article which appeared in Sin Chew Daily. If every politician would think like former de facto Law Minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim does, we could put all this racial nonsense behind us for good.
Every Malaysian should take a moment and think of their friends of other races. Do you think any less of your friends just because of the racial issues a small number of politicians in Semenanjung are stirring for their own political agenda? I know I don't. And you shouldn't.
Those politicians do not represent the overwhelming majority of Malaysians who want to live together in peace and harmony. That's us. The silent majority. It's time we speak up.
KUALA LUMPUR: Former minister in the prime minister's department Datuk Zaid Ibrahim said true Malays need not be afraid, or feel lack of a sense of security.
"Take myself as an example. I'm a pure Malay, but I have a sense of security. I feel proud of my own race and culture."
However he said, the problem is that many people do not understand or respect history. Indians, Chinese and Malays have been participating in the nation-building process since a few centuries ago. The Indians used to work in the estates, while the Chinese and Indonesians have all made valuable contributions and sacrifices for the nation too. But we have all forgotten this.
Zaid Ibrahim quit his Cabinet post because he did not agree to the government's decision of detaining civilians under the Internal Security Act (ISA).
He said during an exclusive interview with Sin Chew Daily that the Chinese used to work here as miners, and they made great sacrifices during the confrontation with the communists, adding that we must understand history and what they have done for the nation.
"We are only talking about Malaysia as the 19th largest export country in the world, and that we have the twin towers and are a developed country... Do you think we have done all this ourselves? You're wrong. This achievement has been made after so many people from different ethnic groups have sacrificed for the nation.
"We are not talking about the positive things, but instead discussing how we should get worried because the Chinese have opened how many more new stores here.
"As a matter of fact, the first feeling we should have is not about worry. We should work harder to keep up with them instead.
"I've never been worried about the Chinese. In my legal firm, my partner is a Chinese, and we trust each other. Do you think I have built up my success all on my own?
"I'm not scared that the Chinese are smart, for I'm also very smart. I'm not scared that the Chinese are hard working, for I'm also very hard working. We have bad guys in every ethnic group, and you're cheated simply because you're not smart enough. We must educate young Malaysians to look at things from a positive perspective."
Zaid said certain people have kept on mentioning May 13 to blackmail the people. However he felt that given our current situation, this thing would never happen again.
"I am thinking, for a better future, all Malaysians should stand up and speak out bravely. The Chinese must defend the rights of the Malays, and the Malays must also defend the rights of the Chinese. Everyone must be properly taken care of here."
He felt that we should not rely on a single political party to take care of a particular community. It should be that the rights of every individual must be respected and taken care of by everyone else.
Melamine and the Chinese Juggernaut
All around the world everyone is worrying about milk and milk products from China. Yoghurt, ice cream, biscuits and chocolate are all affected. I was recently at a mini market and I asked the owner if sales of milk has been affected. He told me that not only milk but the sale of all types of China made food especially canned foods have all dropped.
Even dogs and cats in the USA have been poisoned by melamine in China produced pet food. China made toys have been recalled for safety issues too. It is commonly accepted that chinese products though cheap are unreliable. There is now a double whammy - the products are dangerous to our health.
In my view, the fall out from the melamine scandal is going to seriously slow down the Chinese economic juggernaut. It is going to take many years for the chinese dairy industry to recover from this debacle. The ripple effect is going to affect all other China made goods.
In a country where criminal sanctions are usually very harsh, the people responsible for putting melamine into milk and causing the death of at least 4 babies may well have to face the firing squad. In my view, deservedly so. Their callous behaviour in putting toxic substances in food just to squeeze out an additional dollar is no different than putting a gun to the head of those kids and squeezing the trigger. These people should get nothing less than the maximum penalty available under the law. And in China, I think that means the firing squad.
Bandar Kuching Petition Dismissed
Justice Skinner has dismissed the election petition filed by a voter Kho who sought to set aside the election of Chong Chieng Jen as member of parliament for Bandar Kuching. I had earlier noted that the losing candidate Alan Sim did not take out challenge Chong's victory. Kho, who admitted to having little financial means retained a team of lawyers including well-known West Malaysian lawyer Dato Mohd Shafee as his lead counsel.
It is widely believed that Kho's petition is financially sponsored by others. There is no other way he could have afforded the legal fees to fight the petition. I was asked if I thought an appeal would be likely to succeed against Skinner's judgment. I said I didn't think so.
It was put to me that Chong had clearly promised voters RM6,000 if DAP came to power. I pointed out that the argument missed the point that the promise was part of DAP's election manifesto. If Chong's election could be set aside because of the party manifesto, then every single DAP candidate would have to similarly lose his/her seat.
I also noted that, at election times, all political parties make promises. The government can promise tax cuts. Anwar promised reduction of petrol prices. All such promises have the same effect, putting more money in the voters' pockets. If the DAP election manifesto can nullify Chong's election, the BN promise to reduce tax or other such benefits can nullify BN candidates. So, no, I don't think Skinner was wrong when he dismissed the allegations of "bribery" based on the election manifesto.
In fact, I think that Skinner should have dismissed the election petition in limine, that is to say, at the threshold. Kho was not a candidate and should have no legal standing to take up the petition in the first place. The courts should take a firm stance here or the next election, we will see a flood of such petitions by voters. If the courts will not reject such petitions, then the government should amend the laws to stop this kind of legal proceedings. Condoning petitions by voters is a double-edged sword. DAP may be on the receiving end of this one but the next time, it could be BN candidates.
The Quality of Service on Airlines
A friend of mine just told me that she had booked to go to Bali in December with Air Asia. As we all know, Air Asia has stopped all direct flights from Kuching from 26 August 2008. She has paid for her hotel so what is the airline going to do about it? Who's going to be responsible for the loss? My guess is that it's not going to be the airline. If you book an airticket and cancel, you are going to pay through your nose for it. But if they cancel, you are not even going to get much of an apology. In fact, in my friend's case, she tells me that she has not even received the sms from Air Asia about the cancellation. She had to go down to the airline's office to find out for herself.
What Air Asia does not seem to appreciate is that not all its passengers are budget travellers. Some of them (including this friend of mine) are frequent business class flyers on MAS. We fly Air Asia because it is the most convenient and sometimes it is the only one (as in this case for direct flights between Bali and Kuching). It is extremely frustrating when we are treated with such disdain. Surely budget travel does not mean budget service?
In fact, I had to call a senior manager in Air Asia myself to verify that my flight to Bali on 16 August was still on. I happened to get his handphone number and called him in the middle of the afternoon. When he answered the call and heard my query, he immediately asked me to call his office and not bother him as he was in the middle of meeting "some Very Important Persons". I wanted to tell him "Hey, I am a Very Important Person - I am a customer!".
You know what that tells me? We need more competition in the Malaysian airlines industry. At this time, the customer is not king yet. In fact, the Malaysian air traveller is very low on the totem pole. Someone oughta tell Idris and Tony that if we had a choice, we won't be flying with such poor service. Good airlines service does not start when the wheels leave the tarmac. It starts from the moment you make your call to the airline to book your ticket.
Transparent Airfare Pricing
I am pretty fed up with the misleading ads by our airlines. It is high time that the Government steps in and implement a policy of transparent pricing in the advertisements of airfares. We all know that zero fare does not mean we get to fly for free. But we don't know exactly how much we have to pay for the fare. There are fuel surcharges, taxes, and whatever else they wish to charge. So let's make the airlines advertise fares that are all inclusive so that we can make a fair comparison between competing airline fares.
I am told that Australia has already made it the law that ads for airfares must have no hidden charges. In the case of Malaysia, it's like an ice berg. What's hidden is usually much more than what is advertised. So let's start a campaign and get all your friends to write to the Transport Minister and tell him to change the law.
Floating Fuel Prices
The government has announced that, with effect from 1 September 2008, the price of a litre of petrol at the pump will float according to the world oil price. The bench mark is USD 125 per barrel. If oil price goes above that, our pump price will correspondingly rise and if it falls, we will get the benefit of any fall. It's a smart move on the part of the government. In doing so, it has fixed and limited its subsidy to 30 sen per litre. The government has promised no further fuel price rise in 2008 but if oil price should break well above USD125 in 2009, the public will be conditioned to a floating price and will not be likely to complain so vehemently.
Removal of the fuel subsidy is not a bad thing. Afterall, the ones who drive the biggest fuel guzzlers are the upper class. If they can afford a fancy car, they can afford to pay for the petrol. But the windfall to the government's coffers from these savings should be spent well - priority should be given to eradication of hard core poverty particularly in rural areas. Health and education must also benefit. Dont' waste the money on sending another Malaysian into space or building another tallest building in the world. Let's take care of our lower income people first. Their primary concerns in these difficult times are putting food on the table and educating their kids, not fancy projects that make us look good to the world but does nothing to fill hungry stomachs.
Should Sodomy remain a Crime?
A commentary by leading Malaysian constitutional lawyer Tommy Thomas has just been published in the Malaysian Bar website. The main issue it raises is whether it is in the national interest to prosecute Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim for a second time on a charge of sodomy. The interesting commentary can be found at http://www.malaysianbar.org.my/opinions/comments
I am not going to wade into the Anwar sodomy debate. There are enough blogs on the political aspects of the prosecution of Anwar. But I would just like to say that it is high time that our laws be amended to decriminalise sodomy between 2 consenting adults. The law is archaic.
As Tommy points out, no one other than Anwar has been prosecuted for sodomy since his infamous trial a decade ago. Surely it cannot be that no act of sodomy has been committed in Malaysia in the last 10 years? The truth is that this is a crime that the public prosecutor would be loathe to prosecute under normal circumstances if the act was consensual between 2 adults. Indeed, proof would be well-nigh impossible if the participants are consenting.
On the other hand, if the act is by force and without consent of the sodomee, then there are other provisions under the Penal Code to prosecute the sodomer.
Other countries have decriminalise sodomy. Whether the act is morally right or not is another issue altogether. I am not attempting any moral justification here.The very thought of sodomy may be entirely repugnant to many people. Sodomy probably offends against their religion too. But it should not be an offense against the State. In this day and age, it is a moral issue but it should not be a legal one. That is where I am drawing the line.
Where's the Economy Heading?
The price of a barrel of oil has practically tripled in a year or so. Where is it headed? I read an article a few weeks ago that predicted oil at USD200 a barrel by the end of this year. That kind of price would be unimaginable a year ago. Today, it is a distinct possibility.
But I am predicting that the recent high of about USD150 is the peak. With the world wide economic slowdown (led by the US) and increased output by oil producing nations, prices will come down to a sub-100 level. Not immediately but certainly by the middle of next year. Even the seemingly unstoppable China economic juggernaut is slowing down. The rest of the world (save for the oil exporting nations) are all feeling the pinch.
Inflation is rearing its ugly head everywhere at a time when income is stagnating for almost everyone. Inflation has been the bogeyman for economists in every capitalist country. As the price of everything goes up, everyone becomes poorer. The traditional weapon in a central bank's amoury against inflation is interest rate. Inflation goes up, central banks will raise interest rate (I read last week that Bank Negara is mulling a rate rise). By increasing the cost of borrowing, demand for goods and services is expected to go down. Demand falls, and prices will follow (usually).
The problem this time round is that we are facing 'cost-pushed inflation' and not 'demand-led inflation'. That is to say, prices are not elevated by excessive demand which can be dampened by a rise in interest rate. Prices are being pushed up by the increasing cost of goods, in particular, commodities like oil, rice, steel, copper, aluminium - you name it. Almost all commodities have gone up by leaps and bounds in the last one year.
Increasing interest rates is not going to bring down inflation this time. It may lead to more mortgage defaults, it will certainly hasten the slump in the housing industry which is already teetering (according to my lawyer friends who do conveyancing which I don't). My friends in the real estate brokering also tell me that buying and selling has practically dried up. Any sharp rise in rates is also going to be bad news for the financial sector, particularly for their non-performing loans portfolio.
It's going to need some delicate touches and a fine balancing act by Bank Negara to see us through this economic storm. The difficulty this time round is that the bad news is not limited to just South East Asia (unlike the 1997 economic crisis) - this time round, the doubling and tripling of commodity prices is a world-wide phenomenon. No one is spared. I reckon things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.
Election Petition by a Voter?
In America, everyone sues everyone else at the drop of a hat. You have consumers suing McD because the coffee they serve is too hot. Burglars suing homeowners when they get injured in the course of housebreaking. No, we are nowhere near that bad yet. But some recent litigations make me wonder. Just an example.
I have followed with some considerable interest the Kuching election petition where a voter is trying to set aside the electoral victory of DAP member of parliament Chong Chieng Jen (inset). The Bandar Kuching constituency saw a straight fight between Chong and Alan Sim Yaw Yen, both lawyers, both friends of mine. Chong won with a big majority.
What I found most intriguing was that Alan did not challenge Chong's victory. He accepted it. It was this chap Kho who petitioned the court to nullify Chong's victory. If Kho had any valid ground (I am not saying he hasn't - I haven't read his petition), surely Alan would have filed the election petition?
So why did Kho file his election petition? It costs a lot of money to retain lawyers these days. And Kho did not hire just any lawyer. He retained a team of 3 lawyers headed by Datuk Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, one of the most well-known lawyers in Malaysia, as his lead counsel. I met Shafee recently in Kuching when he appeared in the Federal Court . Though I have never worked with him, senior counsels of his stature do not come cheap. Having briefed other West Malaysian senior counsels before, I would guess that his usual fees would at least be in or around the six-figure bracket.
That is a lot of money for a petitioner who is reported to have said that he used to have RM20,000 in his savings account but now only has RM1,000. It was also reported that he has paid his lawyers fees of RM1,000. I can tell you that that is not enough to pay Shafee's business class return air ticket from KL to Kuching.
I will make an assumption (an entirely reasonable one) that Kho's lawyers are not doing the work pro bono (the petition doesn't qualify as a charitable cause). So who is footing the legal bills? Who is spending a very substantial sum of money to try to unseat Chong?
Will this question be answered by Justice Datuk Clement Skinner, a judge from Sabah who is hearing the election petition? I would imagine the bona fides of the petitioner would be an issue the judge would have to decide at the end of the day. Connected to this issue would be the question whether Kho is a genuine petitioner or whether he is only fronting for someone. A finding by the court would surely be interesting news.
The election petition in Sibu which is also being heard by another Sabah judge (Ian Chin J) has made headlines recently. I have a feeling that there is a headline or two lurking in the Kuching petition too, just waiting to erupt. We certainly live in interesting times.
Continuing Saga of Judge v former PM
On 7 July 2008, when the election petition in Sibu resumed hearing, Justice Ian Chin continued his battle of words with former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir and his supporters who have leaped to the defence of Dr M. A copy of Chin J's latest statement made in open court can be downloaded from the section above tabbed "Articles".
I have appeared as counsel before Chin J many times while he was high court judge in Kuching. I have disagreed with some of his decisions both on substantive law as well as on procedure that he had adopted for proceedings in his court. Such disagreements are par for the course because the law is not an exact science.
What I can say without any reservation whatsoever is that I believe Ian Chin is an honest judge. I believe that, as a judge, he has acted without fear or favour. I say this in respect of the cases I have handled before him as well as from my own reading of judgments delivered by him, including even his judgments which have been reversed by the appellate courts.
Let me reiterate that this does not mean that I agree with all of his decisions or that I agree with everything he says. In fact, I commented adversely on one of his earlier statements in open court, decrying his choice of words which I considered intemperate and unsuitable for judcial proceedings.
But let us look beyond the emotions or the emotional choice of words. Let's focus on the substance of what he said. And let us not be distracted by the accusations that Chin J was allegedly biased in 2 of the cases he decided in Sabah. They have been distracting but, really, they have no relevance to what he said regarding alleged interference in the judiciary by the former administration. Even if Chin J was biased against Datuk Syed Kecik in the 2 cases as alleged by Dr Mahathir (and there is no evidence that Chin J was), that does not mean that we should then disregard what he said about the attempts to interfere with and influence the judiciary.
Is there any truth or substance to what Chin J said about veiled threats and 'boot camps'? Who were the judges who attended the camps? Was attendance voluntary or were they made to do so? What do they have to say about it? Were there attempts at indoctrination? Was it seen as a punishment for overly independent judges? What did other judges remember Dr M said at the conference of judges where Chin J alleged he made the veiled threats?
These and numerous other questions could be answered by a Royal Commission. And it would put a close to yet another sorry episode in the chequered history of our judiciary (since 1988).
Disclosures of scandals like these are actually very unfair to the many overworked and underpaid judges in Malaysia. The number of cases filed in all the courts have exploded in an exponential curve over the last 20 years. Yet, the number of judges have increased only marginally.
I have seen firsthand the pressure the judges in Sarawak work under. Their position is not an enviable one. I can tell you they work a lot harder than most of the lawyers I know. It is really unfortunate that recent headlines have only shown the ill in the judiciary. Maybe it's time to focus our attention on the vast majority in the judiciary who toil daily to keep the wheels of justice rolling but who, unfortunately, get tarred with the same brush as a few bad apples.
A Tale of 2 Conflicting Statutory Declarations
Over the past couple of days, I have been asked, "Can a person sign 2 conflicting statutory declarations?" Obviously they are referring to the man of the moment, the most famous private eye in Malaysia, P Balasubramaniam. Unless you happen to be living in the most remote interior of Sarawak, you will have heard of the tale of the 2 SDs.
In the first one, Bala made a number of extremely serious allegations against Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak. Barely 24 hours later, Bala signed another statutory declaration in which he withdrew and retracted all his allegations against Najib. Much has been said in the mainstream media and even more said on the internet about the 2 SDs with intense speculation as to Bala's overnight 'about-face'. You have probably read all the conspiracy theories on the blogs and websites like malaysiakini, malaysianinsider, malaysiatoday as well as numerous personal blogs.
What is your legal position if you are ever tempted to swear and then retract a statutory declaration or affidavit or any evidence given in court? You would be bound by 2 laws - the Statutory Declarations Act 1960 and the Penal Code (F.M.S. Cap.45).
Section 3 of the Statutory Declarations Act 1960 provides that "Declarations made by virtue of the provisions of this Act shall be deemed to be such declarations as are referred to in sections 199 and 200 of the Penal Code (F.M.S. Cap. 45)".
Section 199 of the Penal Code provides as follows:
199. False statement made in any declaration which is by law receivable as evidence.
Whoever, in any declaration made or subscribed by him, which declaration any Court, or any public servant or other person, is bound or authorised by law to receive as evidence of any fact, makes any statement which is false, and which he either knows or believes to be false or does not believe to be true, touching any point material to the object for which the declaration is made or used, shall be punished in the same manner as if he gave false evidence.
The punishment for giving false evidence is covered by section 193 of the Penal Code:
193. Punishment for false evidence.
Whoever intentionally gives false evidence in any stage of a judicial proceeding, or fabricates false evidence for the purpose of being used in any stage of a judicial proceeding, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine; and whoever intentionally gives or fabricates false evidence in any other case, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Bala clearly made 2 contradicting statutory declarations. One has to be false. If he did so intending that the false SD (we can't say which one it is) be used in judicial proceedings, then he faces a maximum sentence of 7 years jail. In any other case, he would face a maximum term of 3 years. He would also be liable to a fine but no amount is specified under the Code.
Given the seriousness of his allegations, the penalty for making a false statutory declaration is surprisingly light. A 3-year jail term is only a maximum. If he is a first offender, he might get a sentence of 1 to 2 years. Take off the usual one third remission for good behaviour and the reality is that the jail term might only be 1 year or less. That is hardly anything when you consider that the allegations in Bala's SD could derail the future of a Deputy Prime Minister.
It is time for the legislature to enhance the penalty for giving false evidence. A statement made under oath is supposed to be sacrosanct. Mr Bala has, unfortunately, shown that his statutory declarations are not worth the paper they're printed on. He should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law (little though it is) but, from last reports in the media, he and his family have apparently disappeared. Is that how this intriguing episode will end? With a whimper rather than a bang?