ACCEPTED (May 29): The Prime Minister accepted Datuk Seri Dr Ling Liong Sik's resignation as Transport Minister. Dr Ling, 60, who has held the post since January 1986, said that Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamed had also approved his 30-day leave, effective from Thursday, and that Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting would be the acting Transport Minister until Dr Mahathir announces the new minister. Dr Ling also resigned as MCA party president last week with Ong succeeding him.
RM50b TARGET (May 27): The Inland Revenue Board will go after everyone, including those carrying out illegal businesses, to increase its collection to cushion a drop in revenue following tax rebates and exemptions given under the government's stimulus package. Its chief executive officer Datuk Zainol Abidin Abdul Rashid said the new target had been set at RM50.5bil, an increase of RM5.6bil from last year. He said his officers used the most modern investigative methods, like forensic auditing and tracking of black money.
GDP GROWTH (May 29): The Government is maintaining its GDP growth forecast this year at 4.5% on the back of an expected stronger performance in the manufacturing and service sectors, particularly in the second half of the year. Bank Negara Governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz said that despite the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in the region, which had dampened economic activity in sectors like retail, travel and tourism, the economy as a whole had not been severely affected.
NO FAKE LIPITOR (May 27): There is no counterfeit Lipitor – a cholesterol-lowering drug – in the Malaysian market, said its maker, Pfizer. The assurance was given following an alert issued by the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) on counterfeit Lipitor that resulted in about 100,000 bottles of the drug being recalled in America. Pfizer medical director (Malaysia/Singapore) Dr Wong Kok Seng said the problem was limited to the United States and that supplies in Malaysia were sourced from Germany.
PROPOSAL SUPPORT (May 27): The Bar Council supports the MTUC proposal that there be automatic referral to the Industrial Court if the Industrial Relations Department is unable to resolve dismissed workers' complaints within six months. Both the union and the council had submitted extensive memoranda to the Government last year, listing problems that had plagued the industrial relations dispute resolution mechanism for many years.
FLIGHTS RETURN (May 28): Flights are returning to the country as confidence is restored following the effects of the SARS outbreak in the region. To begin with, Gulf-based airlines will re-instate their flights to Malaysia beginning the middle of this month. The move followed the Government's tourism promotion efforts to allay fears among Middle Eastern tourists over SARS. Culture, Arts and Tourism Minister Datuk Paduka Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir said some airlines would resume normal flight frequency while several others would have additional flights.
TOUCH 'N GO (May 31): Highway concessionaires have been given a two-month extension to install the Touch 'n Go electronic toll collection system, said Works Minister Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu. He said there would be no more extension after July 31 and all concessionaires had to comply with it. The extension was to enable the concessionaires to calibrate their machines for the Touch 'n Go cards. He said the extension would allow some of the concessionaires to finalise their agreements with Rangkaian Segar Sdn Bhd, the operator of the Touch 'n Go cards.
STAYING ON (May 28): Primary school heads who have obtained degrees will be allowed to remain at the primary level while drawing a graduate's salary in a move to ensure that their experience and expertise is not wasted. Education Minister Tan Sri Musa Mohamad said the ministry's policy of allowing graduates to remain in primary schools would begin with headmasters. The decision to place graduate teachers in primary schools was in line with the ministry's objective of having 50% graduate teachers in primary schools by 2010. Secondary schools were expected to reach the target of all graduate teachers by 2005.
IMPROVE ENGLISH (May 30): All government departments and agencies have been directed to conduct English courses for their staff. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamed said the Government was worried about the 190,000-strong civil servant workforce's language proficiency, as it posed a serious threat to the country's competitiveness. He said Malaysia interacted with over 150 countries and needed a workforce that could communicate efficiently with people from other countries.
HAZE CONTROL (May 29): The Government will work with Indonesian local authorities to better control the sources of haze in that country so that the rest of the region will not be affected. Science, Technology and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Law Hieng Ding said he had proposed the new approach because it would be more effective than working with the Indonesian federal government. So far, Law said, the Indonesian authorities had notified the ministry that there were 17 spots in Sumatra and Kalimantan found to be prone to fires during this season.
WIPE OUT ORDER (May 30): All state police chiefs have been ordered to wipe out the sale and distribution of pirated and pornographic VCDs within two weeks. Federal CID director Datuk Seri Salleh Mat Som said the police commercial crimes division and the special branch had been ordered to work together to curb these activities. He also said state police chiefs had been instructed to put a stop to slot machine activities and check the influx of illegal workers into the country.
COMMON QUARANTINE (May 31): Malaysia will consider setting up a quarantine centre for foreign students, as proposed by private higher learning institutions in the country. Health Ministry Disease Control Division deputy director Dr Hassan Abdul Rahman said a common centre would help the quarantine order to be carried out uniformly.
QUAKE IN JAPAN (May 27): A powerful earthquake hit a broad swathe of north-eastern Japan, tangling communications and rocking buildings as far away as Tokyo, about 450km to the south. At least 90 people were injured, five of them seriously, in the disaster. The earthquake hit an area that had several large cities and some high-tech factories but the area was largely agricultural. The Meteorological Agency said the earthquake measured seven on the Richter scale, about the same strength as a devastating earthquake in Kobe eight years ago.
ACEH TOWN ROCKED (May 26): A series of explosions rocked Lhokseumawe in north Aceh as the death toll continued to mount at the end of the first week of a massive government operation to crush separatist rebels in the province. At least five people were killed or found dead across Aceh by noon, witnesses and police said, while a delegation of five government ministers arrived to assess the situation. Brig-Gen Bambang Darmono, deputy chief of the Aceh military operations, said the three explosions were caused by bombs dropped from air force aircraft.
PEACE PLAN APPROVED (May 26): Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon won Cabinet approval for a US-backed road map for peace in a breakthrough that formally committed Israel for the first time to the establishment of a Palestinian state. The decision was accompanied by re-affirmation of Israeli reservations about the plan, which the United States had said would be addressed as it was being implemented, and rejection of any right for Palestinian refugees to return to Israel.
PEACEKEEPERS KILLED (May 27): An airplane carrying Spanish peacekeepers back from a tour of duty in Afghanistan crashed into a lush mountain slope in north-eastern Turkey and exploded into flames, killing all 75 people aboard in Spain's worst military incident. The Russian-made YAK-42D was flying from Kabul, Afghanistan to Zaragoza, Spain with a refuelling stop at Trabzon, Turkey. The plane went in to land at Trabzon but was too high, and turned towards nearby fog-shrouded mountains where it crashed, about 760km north-east of the Turkish capital, Ankara.
VISITING IRAQ (May 30): US forces vowed to destroy the “scumbags” attacking them in Iraq as British Prime Minister Tony Blair became the first Western leader to visit the country after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. Blair's lightning visit to southern Iraq came as the US military, stung by persistent disorder here and attacks that killed six US soldiers since Sunday, reshaped its forces to deal more effectively with the twin threats. Blair, who gambled his political career on the Iraq war, brushed aside growing controversy at home over the justification for ousting Saddam as he flew to Basra to laud the conduct of his troops.
MARS MISSION (May 31): Mars, the planet that has enthralled, frightened or exasperated Man ever since he gazed at the heavens, may be on the brink of surrendering its most tantalising secret. A billion-dollar volley of space missions, due to start tomorrow, may at last answer the question, “Does life, or the potential for it, exists on Mars?” But the planet's mission record is littered with disasters, and those few that had succeeded only seemed to have swollen the great Martian mystery with each turn. Before the probe Mariner landed in the 1960s, the public was expecting another Earth, “a green, inhabited planet full of oceans”, the European Space Agency notes.
END OF AN ERA (May 31): Plagued by flagging demand and rising costs, Concorde took off from Paris for the last time on Friday for a final supersonic round-trip to New York. Watched by crowds wielding cameras and binoculars, the passenger jet favoured by the rich roared into the sky at Charles de Gaulle Airport outside Paris. The five slender, needle-nosed Concordes in the Air France fleet are now destined for museums.