Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Political Forecasting: Anybody Can Do It; That Doesn’t Mean Everybody Should

I hadn’t intended to write on this topic, but my boss pulled me aside yesterday and said he’d been inundated with emails over the weekend – some asking about the controversy, and some asking if we could do the same type of forecasting!

In case you missed what I’m talking about, here’s a snippet (excerpt):

In tea leaves, economist sees slender Pakatan win

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 11 — Pakatan Rakyat (PR) will notch a slim victory over the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) in Election 2013, according to calculations by Bank Islam Malaysia’s chief economist Azrul Azwar Ahmad Tajudin.

In a report by The Straits Times of Singapore, Azrul’s computations found that BN was likely to win only between 97 and 107 of the 222 parliamentary seats — insufficient to reform the next administration.

But the result would also mean that PR will only gain a shaky hold over Parliament and far from the supermajority once enjoyed by its rival.

The outcome was considered the most probable during the banker’s presentation at the Regional Outlook Forum in Singapore yesterday, and took into account factors such as race and demographics.

Later, Azrul forecast that fallout would result from the PR win, with the stock market set to respond in “knee-jerk” fashion as well as an extended period of perceived instability.

He also did not rule out the possibility of “economic sabotage” by businesses and the civil service that are aligned with BN...

I’ve just read that Azrul has been suspended from duty by Bank Islam pending further inquiry, which was about the only course I would have expected the Bank to have taken.

I’ve met the man (crossed words with him too, at a recent panel discussion) – he’s obviously sincere in his beliefs and firm in his convictions. I won’t knock someone for standing by his principles. But I do have a few things to say about what’s occurred.

First and foremost, Azrul’s first duty is to his employer. Whether the Bank was aware he was in Singapore for the forum; whether he was there on an official or a personal capacity; by virtue of his position as Chief Economist, he represents Bank Islam at all times and at all places and should conduct himself appropriately.

This would be true of any management level officer in any company, never mind a GLC. To take a political stand, and especially one detrimental to the Bank’s image and standing, is solid grounds for dismissal.

It’s ok to be critical of government policies, as Azrul has been in the past. We’ve all done it at one time or another, because it can be done objectively and on the basis of learning and knowledge. Potentially embarrassing to his employer maybe, but still within bounds.

But by making an overtly political statement, Azrul crossed the invisible line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Toeing the company line is part and parcel of corporate life, like it or not. And if you don’t like it, there’s always the option of leaving.

Secondly, there’s nothing in an economist’s training to allow him/her to make election forecasts, unless he/she specialises in political economy (and even then what you get is more along the lines of the political viability of government policies, rather than election outcomes). Azrul’s specialisation by the way is in finance.

Thirdly, few economists have formal training in forecasting – ok, I’ve let the cat out of the bag. This is most definitely true at undergraduate level, and mostly true even at postgraduate level. Most private sector economists do forecasts not because they have any particular competency in forecasting, but because they are expected to.

Same goes for many equity and fixed income analysts – they issue forecasts not because they know how, but because their clients demand it. As long as it sounds plausible and can be backed by data and logic, most get away with it, even if the forecasts bear little relation with what actually happens.

In my previous job, I used to resist making any kind of forecast, because I didn’t feel I knew enough to be credible or remotely accurate. Even now, whatever forecasts I do issue both officially and in this blog, are typically accompanied by range forecasts to provide an idea of the level of uncertainty (a salve to my conscience) and backed by statistical models and historical data. Frankly, I’m probably as bad at it as everybody else.

To provide an ostensibly “scientific” forecast on 1) something almost completely out of your area of competency and 2) is theoretically shaky and fraught with uncertainty, is at best unprofessional, at worst unprincipled and unethical.

As much as I admire Azrul for having the courage of his convictions, his sense of timing, appropriateness and choice of venue are atrocious. If he couldn’t stay silent on politics, he should have left Bank Islam.

65 comments:

  1. Hisham

    I agree with your views.

    Like the adage says - there's a time and place for everything.

    By the way, do you see some parallels with the And Xie case in Singapore some years ago?

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  2. Sorry, Hisham - it's "Andy Xie".

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  3. Seems like a rerun doesn't it? I think the main difference is that Andy's "sin" was an internal email that leaked - he didn't go on a public forum and shout it out to the world.

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  4. Thats not the way to treat another being without finding out the context and background. His explanation says it all. Damage control to save BI face.
    “Hai orang-orang yang beriman, jika datang kepadamu orang fasik membawa suatu berita, maka periksalah dengan teliti, agar kamu tidak menimpakan suatu musibah kepada suatu kaum tanpa mengetahui keadaannya yang menyebabkan kamu menyesal atas perbuatanmu itu”. [Al Hujurat : 6].

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    1. Ah, but why do they need to do damage control? That implies damage has been done. The fact remains Azrul had no business talking publicly about election predictions.

      Delete
  5. Thanks to a friend, I've just seen Azrul's presentation. The economics part is innocuous enough.

    The political part starts off well (includes the disclaimer: "While acknowledging that economists are in no way political analysts..."), but then descends into a PR manifesto in the last few slides.

    The Bank Islam logo is prominent on every slide, along with their 30th anniversary catchphrase.

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    1. Any chance that I'll get to see it?

      For everyone else, it seems like an unspoken rule in Malaysia for us (economists) to attempt to report without a political bias. In fact, I'm planning to take it a step further and channel my political apathy into my future writing.

      Going by your commentary, are blog posts here a representative of the views of your office? Are blog posts by economists in general representative of the institutions that they are employed in? And just when I thought I should be setting up a Twitter account...

      Also, what do you think happens to pariah economists in Malaysia? I'm thinking NGOs or 'independent' research houses, but that's about it.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    3. Sorry, shouldn't have said that. To the one who emailed, thanks for the reminder.

      Delete
  6. As long Malaysia doesn't have any robust measurement-based methods of district by district polling and bias eliminations along the lines of what Nate Silver is doing I tend to ignore all the punditry in the papers and blogs.

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    1. Roger - got that right mate. This is a job for pollsters and survey specialists.

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  7. I fully agree with you and indeed it is sad that people do sometime descend into this.

    Have a nice day, by the way the first sentence of this article contain a typo error.

    Zuo De

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    1. Thanks for the catch, its been amended.

      Delete
  8. What if Azrul had made a prediction that the ruling party will likely prevail in the coming election would he been subjected to the same treatment by the bank ?

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    1. In all honesty, probably not. That's obviously not fair, and I would be the first to say so. But I imagine that PR would then be the ones making noise about the appropriateness of his conduct. And I would still have been just as upset with him.

      Delete
  9. "Going by your commentary, are blog posts here a representative of the views of your office? Are blog posts by economists in general representative of the institutions that they are employed in?"

    Unfortunately some institutions think so. And that's why we've had some of our writers pull out, even with disclaimers everywhere. :/

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  10. Definitely ethic in this and like Jasper said ... - there's a time and place for everything.

    Zuo De

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  11. Hi Hisham

    Two issues here:

    (1) Mainstream economist both in the private & public sector regularly praise BN (or the Malaysian government) even when they are patently lying.

    Economists from INGOs and private firms regularly tell me that they suppress their professional thoughts about government policies for fear of retribution (even organisations such as WB and IMF are very careful on what they report).

    So, if economists and academics can praise BN (without proper evidence), and not get sacked, is it not then fair that economists and academics can also critique the government.

    (2) How exactly is making an electoral prediction about (no matter how accurate) detrimental to a GLCs unless you equate the GLCs to be similar to the ruling party?

    Azrul's comments as I understand it was what were the implications to the Malaysian economy under three different scenarios.

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  12. A more fundamental point:

    What I am asking is basically is it fair for a person to be sacked for expressing his political affiliation?

    Assume that he told publicly that he is a PR supporter at the conference?

    Is that grounds for dismissal?

    What does the Federal Constitution say about freedom of association?

    Does Bank Islam belong to Barisan Nasional? Is it a private entity?

    Should all Malaysians who support PR resign from our public sector or GLC jobs in order to express their own views freely?

    I think you've made a serious error of judgement my good and honourable friend.




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    1. Greg,

      Azrul's political affiliation are not the source of contention here - BIMB knows very well what they are, and Azrul has never made a secret of it. This has not been a problem in the past.

      The issue here is that his presentation (the political part) did not deal with the economic effects of three different scenarios, rather the political effects of only the base case he presented, which was a PR win. That's not on.

      Delete
    2. I'm not sure, if that's an issue to me. Presenting a base case scenario and ignoring the others is fine for presentation work especially given time constraints.

      To me it's a bigger issue that he's presenting his personal views on slides which were clearly labelled "Bank Islam".

      Presumably his employers took offence that he presented views which were contrary to theirs (begs the question: did he really know their views about the material before the presentation?).

      Probably if it were an empty slide template, he'll get a lot more sympathy from me if he had a clear disclaimer label or if all the participants knew from the start that the intention was to present his personal views.

      But I know I'll get a earful from my employer if I say things out of sync with any of my superiors to the public (especially on slides) regardless whether its politically charged or not.

      Delete
    3. Jason - what do you mean personal views?

      Have you actually read the materials. He discussed Malaysia's outlook, and then answered the "elephant in the room" question - what could happen if PR takes over.

      He set the parameters (which he made known,), inputed data, and ran the regression, reported the results and interpreted it?

      He is their Chief Economist for God's sake.

      Delete
    4. @Jason,

      Tell me about it...I got an earful this morning for even writing about this subject.

      @Greg,

      Yes he has, I emailed it to him yesterday.

      And I don't see any evidence of modelling those scenarios out and just reporting the results (slide 31). It looks like plugged in figures to me.

      Delete
    5. What I meant is that if his views are contrary to his employers, he should make it known that it was different (it's obviously different or it wouldn't have resulted in this).

      It's a bit unfair to whoever his employers are if he - regardless whatever position in the company he is in - is putting words in your mouth (implicit by using a very obvious Bank Islam logo there). It's almost as if bank had stamped its seal of approval without knowing it.

      I mean I'm all for voicing out the views in the open but there has to be a drawn line somewhere that grants the employer a certain degree of protection for any presentation of views that doesn't sync in line with the company by the employer.

      Delete
  13. I have with me Azrul's presentation. I do not see anything wrong with it.

    True he focused on the scenario of what would happen - but that was the focus of his presentation. - Domestic Political Landscape: What is the Unexpected Happens

    After all, is that not the key issue:- that is what Malaysians and the international community is interested in.

    We all know what would happen if BN wins - it would be business as usual either under Najib or Muhyiddin. None of them have what it takes to reform their party, the government or the country.

    Here in Canberra - what is the question that I get most often - how would a PR government be. And my answer is - that they would be no different from BN in policy (despite the rhetoric).

    So, the interest is in what happens should PR take over. And Azrul was balanced - he did not praise PR blindly. (He did not criticise the BN government at all but merely to state what could happen.

    E.g. He noted that there were no assurance that govt policies would continue, there would be economic sabotage (which is what BN has done, and continues to do in opposition controlled states)etc.

    But you've not answered my two other points - does Bank Islam belong to BN, do all Malaysians working for GLCs or the public sector have to resign to make our views that are counter to the ruling party's "interests"

    It appears that its ok to praise the government, but not to criticize it.

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  14. I'd like to correct the last statement - Azrul's presentation did not critize the government (would you agree with me Hisham?). He merely provided his expert opinion that appeared to be unfavourable to the ruling party (because Azrul discussed the possible positive outcomes to Malaysia should PR be in power).

    Does that warrant a sacking?

    It would be great if Azrul's presentation could be made public. People can then evaluate for themselves if this is blatant propaganda that we often get from organisations like PEMANDU or an actual considered opinon.

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    1. Greg,

      My problem with Azrul's presentation is contained in your first paragraph above - this isn't "expert" opinion, but its passed off as if it is.

      Second, you are absolutely correct that Bank Islam is not a political organisation nor is it owned by BN - but that's precisely the point.

      Third, it's ok to present your private political views, but not when you're representing your company and in a public forum. And I would say the same if the shoe was on the other foot, and he was predicting a landslide BN victory. You just don't do that in the corporate world.

      Delete
  15. We're probably going in circles but don't think Azrul was out of place. You can challenge his theory, method, etc. but entirely within his scope of work to predict the political impact on the Malaysian economy.

    Malaysia's corporate world?

    The bastion of good governance and professionalism?

    Where business is done with high ethical standards?

    Where corruption is not not the norm but the exception?

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    1. Greg, I would expect this kind of reaction in any corporate milieu, not just Malaysia's.

      But you're right, we're probably go around in circles on this.

      Delete
    2. I'll try to get Azrul to comment about this in article if possible. If you have access to him, maybe you could also ask him to write it out.

      We can then provide a more comprehensive commentary.

      Delete
  16. Greg, i have to support Hishamh on this, and if i dig hard enough in the internet, i am sure in US, England, even in Australia, the same has happen and people got fired for expressing their own view during company time. Once you are working for someone, or in any organisation, one has an obligation to that someone or organisation, period. Call me old fashion but try that on Rupert and you might get Wendy Dang.

    Zuo De

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    1. Hi Anonymous,

      Your right that when you work for someone, no matter how corrupt or unethical the person is, if you want to jaga your periuk nasi (rice bowl) - you follow your boss.

      Agreed.

      But this is precisely the type of shyte that has got Malaysia into the mess it is in now.

      Private sector - what bloody private sector is there in Malaysia.

      Yes, we may have a vibrant SME private sector but the bulk of what makes up the Bursa Malaysia are a bunch of parasites linked to the ruling party supported by policies and very little in entrepreneurship.

      No politics in Malaysian private sector - Lord where have you been. Are the appointments of GLCs senior management based on merit or on being the correct race and the correct political affiliation.

      Are government procurement based solely on merit (or commercial decisions)?

      Can any of the Chinese towkays survive if the don't kiss the correct ar** in UMNO?

      I really don't care what they do in other countries, but I, and I believe many others have had enough of this shyte in Malaysia.

      What really pisses me off is when tax payer funded corporations (GLCs) are considered to be private property of the ruling party.

      Rupert Murdoch can do any damn shyte with his company and tell his staff what to do - there is ultimately a responsible body that will regulate it.

      But Bank Islam is funded by Malaysian tax payers. When that bank goes under as many GLCs often do, its bloody tax payer monies that goes to rescue it - not some private individual.

      And we justify Azrul's sacking for not being professional - what bloody nonsense.

      Delete
  17. I've probably been not academic, so here are some academic reference in lieu of my own research (I apologise that I am unable to reveal my own research on this as they are commissioned works).

    Searle, Peter, 1999. The Riddle of Malaysian Capitalism - Rent-seekers or real capitalists, Allen & Unwin.

    Bowie, Alisdair, 1991. Crossing the industrial divide: State, Society and Politics of Economic Transformation in Malaysia, New York: Columbia University Press.

    Crouch, Harold, 1996. Government and society in Malaysia, Ithace (New York) and London: Cornell University Press.

    There are classics from Edmund Terence Gomez and Jomo KS - but you'd probably think, like Azrul, they are not professionals for their frequent forays into the political arena.

    You may wonder why these books date mostly before 2000. I do not know for sure, but having been at the ANU for the past five years, I think one of the reason is that Malaysia has lost its importance after the financial crisis 1997/98 - both as a destination for investment and also as an area for academic research.

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  18. And my final word (I hope) is that I encourage Malaysians to voice their views in a polite and considered manner(apologies for strong language used - I used bloody to emphasize the seriousness of the issues).

    A blog that I am associated with previously has a nice article by Hisham.

    http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2011/08/12/malaysia-s-economic-transformation/

    I really wish all Malaysian professionals would wade into the discourse on Malaysia. After all, its our country and our civic duty to be responsible for its future.

    Let's not allow politicians alone to make the decisions that affect all of us.

    Salam hormat.

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  19. Greg, you haven't addressed the issue of the appropriateness of attaching Bank Islam's trade dress to the presentation. If he hadn't I would agree with you, but attaching his employer's name to the presentation opens him up to a level of accountability to the employer that wouldn't exist if he'd been acting purely in a private capacity.

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    1. Johnleemk - I think this is the key point and we have different views (and that's why we're going in circles).

      Hence my question remains - what is inappropriate about what he said or what is inappropriate about this behaviour (or what exactly does it mean to be accountable to his employer).

      I have read his presentation. There was nothing in it that condemned Barisan Nasional - nothing at all. So, he has not being unprofessional

      He merely stated what could be the effect of PR taking over.

      Let me give you an actual scenario:

      When analysts from various international risk analysis firms call me to ask my opinion on the impact of PR taking over - I would say the same thing.

      That there would be a short period of uncertainty.

      PR is unlikely to change any policies ...

      Now, if I were an academic in Malaysia - I would not go far and in fact risk being penalised. But if I wanted to move ahead, I should praise the government even if my research shows the contrary.

      There are more than enough evidence of this. Does anyone jump up and down. Do public institutions such as universities belong to Barisan Nasional.

      Remember the UIA constitutional expert and the Sultan of Selangor?


      When international firms, analysts and media take my views serious despite knowing what I think of BN (which I do not hide), and if my university believes that it is entirely within my competency to comment on these issues - why is it wrong for Azrul to state what he stated.

      My question remains - does Bank Islam belong to Barisan Nasional or UMNO. If it does, then JohnLee you are right that Azrul is not being accountable to his employers because it has threatened his employers well-being.

      But if Bank Islam is a public institution which it legally is then you are entirely wrong. Because in the interest of transparency, we need to know what are the likely impact of PR ruled government if not for one reason - the government, led by the Prime Minister regularly informs business and international leaders and investors that a PR led government would be disastrous.

      Now how about that - the Prime Minister - in his official capacity - condemning the opposition (rightfully elected by the people of Malaysia). Where is the accountability or professionalism there?

      Also from a theoretical point - what about efficient financial markets relying on completeness of information and the accessibility of these information.

      How are market players going to make decisions on allocation of resources (and hedge their bets) if they do not have these information.

      I say to everyone - nothing will change in Malaysia. PR is not going to make Malaysia better because the rot in Malaysia is so deep that unless the Malay-Muslim mindset changes (about the role of government), nothing will change in Malaysia.

      Delete
    2. The last point is for those who believe that a PR government will somehow be a panacea to all of Malaysia's problems.

      We're a feudalistic society with a poor understanding of what it is to be a liberal democracy.

      And a key part of being a liberal democracy is the freedom of expression.

      Delete
    3. The point I am making is that if you make yourself out to be acting as an agent of your institution (and I think attaching that institution's trade dress to your presentation materials meets this bar), your institution needs to approve of what you are saying.

      The point about GLCs not being property of Umno or whatever, or the point that Azrul didn't say anything critical of BN, is immaterial. Even taking that for granted, it's misrepresentation if you suggest an institution endorses your views when that institution doesn't. It would have been just as wrong for Azrul to suggest that his employer endorses a scenario of catastrophe if PR wins (although as Hisham points out, Bank Islam would probably have not made such a big deal of it if Azrul said this).

      Even if Azrul had said "BN is awesome and everything is going to be great because they will win big", it would be just as big an ethical and legal problem in principle if he'd suggested that Bank Islam endorses this view without authorisation to speak on Bank Islam's behalf expressing these views.

      I realise as per Hisham's comment below that Azrul's official reason for suspension may not have been his comments. It certainly would be impolitic for Bank Islam to admit that that is why they are suspending him, even if that were the reason why. But any institution is perfectly within its rights to discipline its employees who purport to be presenting the official views of the institution when they are actually acting purely in a private capacity. It would certainly be within its rights to *sue* a non-employee who made the same sort of misrepresentation.

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    4. In other words, if you take the politics out of the scenario, it's exactly the same thing: if he'd said "if palm oil prices fall next year, XYZ will happen" and implied Bank Islam stands by this analysis when he was purely acting in a private capacity, he'd be just as subject to internal discipline. The fact that Bank Islam is a GLC or that this analysis might be useful to the public is immaterial to the question of misrepresentation.

      It's one thing for you to say "I think this". It's another thing for you to suggest "I think this, and my employer stands by this too". A personal opinion ought to be fine -- but it's not difficult to see why a personal opinion + an implied endorsement where none exists might be a problem.

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    5. Bank Islam is an entity (a legal person). but it is represented by actual persons - its officers.

      If he is their chief economist - then he speaks for Bank Islam. From publicly available information, he was at this conference, representing Bank Islam (Correct me if I'm wrong)

      Maybe we can ask Nurhisham - when you speak at a conference, where you are invited because of your position in you company - do you speak on your personal capacity or as an officer of the company?

      Now there maybe an unwritten rule in Nurhisham's company where he is not supposed to criticise the government or say anything that makes the government look bad - i don't know.

      Now unless Bank Islam has specified that to Azrul and Azrul still went ahead, then Azrul should be suspended or even sacked. But Bank Islam must make it clear.

      As to the validity of the analysis - I belive all research house has a disclaimer at the end of their analysis freeing them from liability. (You can read any report - its at the back page)

      John - I'm not sure what your getting at frankly.

      But a personal opinion would be something like this - "I think PR would be good for the Malaysian economy."

      A considered & professional opinion would be along the lines that Azrul has made.

      But why not you do this - I believe your an analyst. Why don't you undertake a professional exercise to evaluate the outcomes of the GE13 , report and analyse the results.

      Let's see how far you would be from Azrul's analysis. In fact, I'd like Nurhisham to also venture into analysing the impact of a PR or a BN win to Malaysia.

      After all, at some point investors will be (if they have not already) asking these questions.

      Salam hormat
      Greg




      Delete
    6. "If he is their chief economist - then he speaks for Bank Islam."

      All the more reason to be careful about delineating which opinions are issued in one's personal capacity and which are issued in one's official capacity. Even the CEO of a company does not have carte blanche to say "My company believes XYZ", unless said chairman is the primary/sole shareholder and controls the Board.

      My understanding is that Bank Islam has made clear that Azrul's analysis here is his own private one and they do not stand by it. It would be just the same as if tomorrow the CEO of, say, Goldman Sachs said "Bond yields will fall over the next year", and the Board of Directors later issuing a press statement clarifying that, no, the CEO's statement was just his personal view and not the company's. (It would be a completely different thing if they knew what Azrul was going to say and are only now walking back their earlier decision. But if they were in the dark and Azrul put this out there without letting anyone else at the company know, that is *at best* extremely irresponsible.)

      (BTW I think it's extremely generous to assume that top executive officers shouldn't be responsible for carefully delineating the personal and the institutional. One can safely assume that if it is reported the Chief of [Anything] says something, even if he only did so in a private capacity, some idiot somewhere might assume that it means the institution stands by that opinion. Top officers have even more of an obligation to ensure nobody construes a personal opinion to be that of their institution's.)

      "A considered & professional opinion would be along the lines that Azrul has made."

      So? I can issue my own professional opinion of what will happen to the economy if XYZ happens. That doesn't mean my employer will or should stand by that opinion, no matter what the professional quality of it may be.

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    7. We seem to be going in circles. Anyway for the last time (if you don't agree, we'll just leave it as it is).

      "...So? I can issue my own professional opinion of what will happen to the economy if XYZ happens. That doesn't mean my employer will or should stand by that opinion, no matter what the professional quality of it may be..."

      This is interesting - why would they employ you if there did not trust your work.

      If you've done sloppy work - that should be the only grounds for not standing by you and infact should lead to your terminantion. But if you've done good research - what other reason is there not to stand by your opinion(research).

      So this is my point - Hisham notes that Azrul was commenting on area not within his purview.

      But all analysts are asked to comment on the economic impact of certain political actions (Anwar's sodomy charges, new government policies, etc.).

      Depending on who you are the government reacts, If you are somebody, if you make a strong statement - you get a call from BNM, or MITI, the High Commission or EPU - suggesting that maybe in the future you should not make those kind of statments or to tone it down.

      If your even higher up, it could lead to business deals rescinded, etc.

      However, if your a nobody - or a bit player - you can say whatever you want.

      Azrul obviously was somebody.

      The key question which we need to determine is that whether:
      (i) Azrul was allowed to represent Bank Islam (all indication is that he was, note that he is now suspended for abusing the office email ( - sending confidential materials - so nothing to do about his presentation.)

      So, if he was officially representing Bank Islam - the question then becomes whther Bank Islam has a policy (explicit or implicit) that its staffs should not say anything that is detremental to the Bank's relationship with the ruling party/government.

      That's really the question. All your other questions are in my opinion irrelevant.

      Delete
  20. We get angry with Azrul for stating his opinion.

    It is now revealed conclusively that Mahathir gave out Malaysian citizenship for the purpose of electoral gains in Sabah. Is that not treason - an act of treachery to the state?

    I really want to see how many people will get angry at this.

    I really want to see how many Malaysians especially Muslims will demand that the Agung revoke Mahathir's citizenship, or be jailed for treason, if not executed?

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  21. Everybody,

    Apparently we're all talking hot air.

    Azrul wasn't suspended for the presentation or his views, but for "abuse of office email". The scuttlebutt has it that this also involves leaking of internal confidential documents. This is now far more serious than I ever imagined, so I'm going to shut up about this subject until the facts emerge.

    BTW Greg, suspension is not sacking - it's really, really hard to fire someone in Malaysia.

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    1. Sorry - yes you are correct Hisham - suspendend pending domestic inquiry. But don't you find the timing a little odd - after he has made a presentation. hmmmm

      But your right - I'm venting a lot of hot air. It just pisses me off that something as trivial as this leads to such drastic action but the scale of crime in the police, in the immigration, - and you get promoted.

      Have a friend from uni who started as an ASP and deals drugs - untouchable even when caught red-handed (with amount enough to be sentenced to death) because has all the right connections.

      Lots more stories - ex-IGP Musa is not telling tales, nor is RPK. Just ask lawyers or better still court clerks on how to get away with murder, and they'll tell you.

      Delete
  22. what about the many foreign economist and consultant that do prediction as part of outlook forecasting? many predict bn win election, issue here is azrul predict pr win. does bank islam have a clear policy that disallow their economist to do prediction on politics as part of outlook? i would only fault azrul if he openly support pr during the presentation. did he do that? i dont know.

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  23. "I say to everyone - nothing will change in Malaysia. PR is not going to make Malaysia better because the rot in Malaysia is so deep that unless the Malay-Muslim mindset changes (about the role of government), nothing will change in Malaysia."

    everyone especially the malay muslim has changed, and change much much more than the non malay non muslim, how long u never back to msia?

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    1. You'll be surpirsed about how much Malaysians who are in Malaysia all the time actually know about Malaysia (because they are too busy cari makan, taking care of the family, fighting traffic jam, etc.) then someone like me who spends all his time observing and doing actual systematic research on Malaysia.

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  24. "abuse of office email"

    ha, what a joke. i believe 90% abuse office internet. so how?

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  25. Morning Greg,

    As you agreed, it is within Bank Islam (whether a GLC or not is beside the point) right to suspend (not dismiss) him. Ok shall we all stop here than.

    As for all the other points you passionately brought up, thank you for sharing.

    From your comments, i take it you are in Australia. You are there, i believe, is based on your personal choice that i respect.

    But do come back to fight for the liberal democracy that most Malaysian want or seem to want but do not know how or do not know what they want.

    Sincerely,
    Zuo De

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    1. Zuo De,

      Believe me, I am far more useful to Malaysia here than I could ever be in Malaysia ( i just would not have the freedom, the resources, and the institutional backing in Malaysia to do the kind of work I'm doing.)

      All the same, I salute each and every Malaysian for your struggles, and do miss being in Malaysia in this historical time.

      Delete
  26. Sorry, it should be then and not than.

    Zuo De

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  27. lol i dont know how to reply in the same thread!

    johnleemk

    how do you know the bank endorse or not endorse azrul view? just asking.

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  28. what if i work in pr statesor pr control entity and make such remarks about PR ,i think it will be worst

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  29. I think Azrul must declare his conflict. His personal forecasting is purely partisan. We unlike developed countries don't have studies or polling to objectively determine how the people feel. Political forecasting in Malaysia is pure partisan based on feel. Take for example the case of Lembah Pantai represented by nurul izzah. To pr it's a clear cut case she'll win. To bn they are capitalizing her absence and on the service RNC gave that they will win. There's no objective assessment. Wawa most likely rely on pr sources to conclude the likelihood. This is where he failed to declare his conflict. He is partisan. He should have declared as such and does not represent the bank as chief economist. He is wrong here to represent its the banks view while he took a partisan stand.

    Now he is charged for using confidential information to outsiders. This is a wrong itself. Though it may appear harsh and unjustified, he played with fire using the employers capacity. he shouldn't complain thinking his employer wouldn't react like in all companies all over the world. He has cut across the sacrosanct line.

    On freedom of expression, I don't believe bn or pr makes a different. All pro pr bloggers (save very very few) and news media like tmi censor contrarian views. (I've recorded this at hakbersuara@wordlress) To Malaysians a free media is a media which publishes their views and censors contrarian views. This is the sad part.

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    1. Ellese, I agree with your views. For the last part, I've noticed the same thing myself. I've never managed to get any of my comments past TMI's moderators.

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    2. Ellese, if you have read Nurhisham's earlier comments, his political affiliation is not the problem:

      -----------------------
      hishamhJanuary 17, 2013 at 12:44 PM
      Greg,

      Azrul's political affiliation are not the source of contention here - BIMB knows very well what they are, and Azrul has never made a secret of it. This has not been a problem in the past.

      The issue here is that his presentation (the political part) did not deal with the economic effects of three different scenarios, rather the political effects of only the base case he presented, which was a PR win. That's not on.

      ---------

      Also, Bank Islam has made it clear that they are taking action against him not because of his presentation but for passing "confidential material."

      You and Hisham note that this (political forecasting) is not his area of expertise. There is a convention on how one makes criticism on the work of ones peers. None of you are doing that. Your merely obfuscating the issue. What would be good is if you can actually provide a substantive critique of his presentation.

      Hisham also notes that he should not comment on political issues. This has merit (i.e. you don't talk bad about BN). But Bank Islam states that this is not why they have suspended Azrul.

      Can you see the inconsistencies in the statements your making?

      Hisham, I've written to TMI to ask if its true they have blocked your comments, and why - expect to hear from them soon.

      One thing we should not do is to restrict discussions, no matter how absurd or inconsistent it maybe.

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    3. Dear Greg,

      I think the sequence is straightforward. I don't know whether bimb knows he's partisan. Now assuming bimb does, I think if he keeps to himself ie not on official capacity it's fine. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. But he blatantly without disregard represent his own partisan view in an official capacity knowing full well bimb cannot support it. he used partisan information on politics which were not privy to the bank. He has breached his trust.

      Now once Wawa breaches the trust and confidence they dig back all his past. At this juncture in all companies in the world you the management can't tolerate any mistake at all and in wawa's case they found out he breached confidential information. I think Wawa should not be naive to expect to get off Scott free. He not only failed to declare his conflicted partisan stand to the public, but breached that trust of the management.

      On censoring, I repeat tmi often distorts headings pictures mix facts and opinions and when I point out this they censored big time on me. I have a grind on jahabar sidek proclaiming he fights for free media. He condemns utusan but practice utusan style. Rubbish tmi. Contrarian views are always censored.

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    4. Greg, you're absolutely right. I've been both incoherent and inconsistent, and definitely not following the form as far as critiquing Azrul's actions - for that, apologies all round. My actions and manners over this little saga haven't been fully rational.

      The fact of the matter is, this issue leaves me a little emotional as it touches on the credibility of the profession here in Malaysia, which matters a great deal to me. My first instinctive reaction was that election forecasting is/was not possible in Malaysia due to methodology and data issues.

      Polling for instance, is barely in its infancy here. Public data on Malaysian general elections is sparse beyond the aggregate numbers (if you have a good source please let me know). The overall sample size is so damn small. Fitting an accurate, well-specified, quantitative forecast model within these and other constraints would be a Greek tragedy - a heroic but ultimately futile endeavour.

      So to me, Azrul seemed to be publicly claiming to be able to do what I thought couldn't be done with any objectivity, and thus raising local expectations of what economists are capable of, irrespective of local data constraints. We're not fortune tellers, and we can't and shouldn't spin substance out of thin air, which is what Azrul's approach looked like to me.

      I haven't written a specific critique of his presentation, and I will not do so now - this issue has moved past that and is now in the hands of the police and BNM.

      I have, however, written a more reflective (and less emotional) examination of the whole Malaysian problem, including the specific methodological and data issues involved. Suffice to say, a lit review was very illuminating, and in my mind at least, lends more than a little support to my viewpoint.

      I will not publish this either. Azrul has enough problems without me piling on. At this stage, I feel more pity than anything else.

      As for TMI, don't trouble yourself. I haven't bothered trying to comment there for a couple of years now.

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    5. Hisham,

      I respect your wishes, views and actions. This is after all the hallmark of individual freedom.

      I think we should not pity Azrul but respect him.

      Imagine this:

      Azrul provides his analysis.

      And members of the profession provide their expert opinion.

      Members of the public are able to have a expert analysis of a key issue affecting Malaysia from different perspective.

      Financial markets are better informed through this debate.

      And if Azrul is wrong, he can learn from his peers why he is wrong, and will have space to provide respectful rebuttals.

      Forecasting and prediction are very difficult - no doubt and all your points about Azrul's presentation should receive proper treatment.
      {You know the story of whether monkeys or experts were better at picking stocks - but has that stopped analysts or economists from predicting the future]
      http://www.investorhome.com/darts.htm

      We have 5 year plans, 20 year plans, masterplans - all based on projections. Never achieving any of the targets has not stopped us to continue churning out useless plans. Now we have PEMANDU to predict growth down to the sectoral levels.

      Really, you do Azrul, Malaysia and the international community by providing a substansive comment/critique.

      Instead, we are now debating issues that are a given in any civilised society - freedom of thinking, the freedom of voicing that opinion, and the freedom to reply to that opinion.

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    6. Greg, I'm not going to do a full post on this, but I'll summarise some of the arguments:

      1. Azrul's analysis appears to be a based on the scenario analysis approach. While this may be useful for decision making, it is usually conducted with a subjective assignment of probabilities of the likelihood of the various scenarios under consideration, which could incorporate bias on the part of the researcher, knowingly or unknowingly.

      So irrespective of Azrul's motives or his objectivity, this is something that can be fairly challenged on methodological grounds. He can't disprove a charge of data-mining, and this undermines the whole credibility of his analysis.

      2. There are in fact standard election prediction models to draw upon in the economics literature (Google Scholar is your friend). Scenario analysis is not one of them, largely because by construction it is impossible to estimate the relevant evaluation metrics (standard errors, confidence intervals and so on).

      3. Note that the spread of seats Azrul predicts has an implied standard error on par with that of the best statistical models used elsewhere, which isn't plausible given the relative lack of supporting data that we have, and the large variances in votes and seats data (implying large standard errors). In fact, any regression model fitted to the popular vote or seat ratio data would tend to forecast an implausibly large swing back to BN for GE13 (try it), which is not what Azrul's analysis shows. The implication is that no regression analysis lies behind Azrul's results. Again, hard to fight off any accusation of data-mining.

      4. There's a host of other data issues which I won't get into, but would seriously undermine any confidence even in a quantitative model using accepted economics methodologies, most notably a lack of basic data that covers the whole sample (mainly polls and economic data). My feeling is that we're at least 30-40 years away from being able to have a fully objective predictive model with any level of statistical confidence.

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  30. But I think you should. Your views have been not only balance but focused and issues based. Eg the status on the debt. Because of the spin many think our debt is reckless and thus will support pr. But pr has for years issued budget that will only increase our debt. We are simply not thinking and decide what is right or wrong on who you support. And media of both sides take partisan views censoring contrarian views. This is where your views are needed. I need not agree with you all the time. But this style of thinking is the only way forward in our country. Make people focus on issues and determine what they want. Otherwise we will face pure partisan gridlock which will be worse than the US. In US there's semblance of objectivity in media which the middle ground can assess. But here it'll be all hate / unthinking partisanship. We need more people like you who writes everywhere. :) sorry bro, don't mean to jack you up but seriously think we must have more issues based write.

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    1. Ellese, I will certainly keep trying.

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  31. Morning All,

    Ellese A, i support, yes Hishamh your writing is balance, keep it up especially for people like us who are not economist or the like.

    As a newcomer to social media, sorry for my ignorance, what is TMI

    Zuo De

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    1. Zuo De, TMI is The Malaysian Insider

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