Saturday, October 31, 2009

Nanyang Siang Pau: Topple Singapore?— Chen Jun An

Topple Singapore?— Chen Jun An
The Malaysian Insider
Saturday October 31 2009

OCT 31 — During an investment promotion trip to Singapore, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng was surprised to learn that 40 per cent of specialist doctors in Singapore's government hospitals were from Malaysia. He was amazed that Singapore valued talent that much and even suggested to the Malaysian government that if it wished to topple Singapore, it only needed to convince and attract Malaysian talent in Singapore to return home.

Tan Chia Yong, a columnist, had opined that if the government wished to attract talent to return home, it must not take short-cuts. Instead, it must assure them that they could expect a bright future if they were to remain in the country. However, he eventually lamented: “Singapore and Malaysia are separated by only a strip of water, while the Causeway is just 1.8 kilometres long. The geographical distance between the two countries is very short, but the psychological distance between these people and their motherland may be very great.”

For the moment, let's not talk about whether there is a great psychological distance between Malaysia's talent and their motherland. Lim's provocative suggestion to “topple Singapore” has left a bad taste in the mouth.

Lim had assumed the post of chief minister after the opposition became the ruling party following the March 8 political tsunami. It was thought that Lim's political thinking would be different, visionary and fluid.

Who would have thought that he remained trapped in the “Malaysia-Singapore Cold War mindset”? Remember former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's remarks about skinning a cat? He had said: “There are many ways to skin a cat. There are also many ways of skinning Singapore.”

But any talk of “toppling Singapore” is a manifestation of an arrogant and antagonistic “Cold War mindset”! Would Singapore simply collapse if Malaysia were really to formulate various preferential policies to entice Malaysian talent to return home to serve their own country?

Don't forget that apart from Malaysia, Singapore has also recruited talent from China, India, Europe and other parts of Asia. Moreover, Singapore is about to build its fourth university, which goes to show that this tiny island state has spared no effort to cultivate talent.

During his investment promotion trip in Singapore, Lim only met people from the business and political circles, such as doctors, engineers and lawyers. He probably did not get to meet the Malaysian workers who have to ride across the Causeway early every morning to make a living in Singapore.

If Singapore were to collapse, what will happen to these people? Regardless of whether his aim was to provoke or ridicule, Lim should not cling to the “old mindset” or follow Dr Mahathir in wanting to “skin a cat” or “topple Singapore”.

On the contrary, he should firmly suggest that the two countries actively establish more mutually beneficial “economic zones”. This will help to rejuvenate their economies and attract more foreign investments so that talent from both countries can give full play to their expertise, while unskilled workers can also make a living.

It is true that there are many ways to skin a cat. But wouldn't such rampant “skinnings” result in streets strewn with cat carcasses? It should again be emphasised that the old “Cold War mindset” must not be tolerated! — Straits Times

This article was translated from a Chinese commentary published in the Frankly Speaking column in Nanyang Siang Pau on Oct 29.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Singapore Public service satisfies... Straits Times

Straits Times, Oct 30, 2009
By Jessica Lim

MORE than 80 per cent of Singaporeans are satisfied with public service here, according to a recent study conducted research company Forbes Research.

Of these, 37 per cent are very satisfied and 63 per cent were somewhat satisfied - which means that while these respondents had given positive ratings, they think improvements can be made.

The survey, conducted through face-to-face interviews with 2,140 randomly selected individuals between the ages of 16 and 65, was conducted between March and June.

The survey looked at three categories: Accessibility, consistency of service quality and reliability as well as the level of engagement prior to and in the early stages of policy engagement.
The survey, which was developed with Spring Singapore, aims to offer an insight into the general masses' view of public service in Singapore.

Where public service trumped: government agencies' staff achieved high ratings for their services. The public felt that staff is knowledgable in subject matter, able to understand customers' needs and provide accurate information accordingly.


Dato' Dr Ronald S. McCoy

If current trends continue, by the end of the twenty-first century, it is likely that the world’s population and the world’s demand for energy will have doubled. Even if there are major improvements in energy efficiency technologies and renewable energy supply, there will still be an overriding need to control population growth, reduce consumption and energy demand, and fundamentally transform the global economy into a low-carbon, ecologically sustainable system, that will totally discredit the god of economic growth.

Despite the machinations of the fossil-fuel-industrial-political complex, it is now undeniable that greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion are the principal cause of global warming and climate change, which increasingly threaten planetary and human survival in the twenty-first century. This has spurred governments to find ways to reduce carbon emissions without undermining their economies, although many are still hesitant and will have to be dragged screaming to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen this December.

The Malaysian government is absolutely right to be concerned about climate change and to take measures to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate global warming, but opting for nuclear energy is not the right answer to climate change and energy supply security.

Our last speaker, Dr Mark Diesendorf, has presented convincing evidence and argued that nuclear energy is not a viable option for Malaysia. He has highlighted the numerous negative features of nuclear energy - the risks of nuclear weapons proliferation, nuclear terrorism and reactor accidents; the inability of the nuclear industry to safely dispose of high-level nuclear waste and to contain escalating costs and delays in construction of nuclear power plants; and finite global uranium reserves.

At present, with Malaysia’s consistent record in nuclear disarmament initiatives, there is no danger that Malaysia will develop nuclear weapons, even if it does opt for nuclear energy. But one cannot be certain about future political and social changes in the country and region, which may lead to weapons proliferation in the future.

No case for nuclear energy
So, what is the government’s case for introducing nuclear-generated electricity, when national electricity reserves are still substantial and nuclear energy is not cheap, clean or safe. We in civil society believe that Tenaga Nasional Berhad (the National Power Company) has initiated plans to commission its first nuclear power plant by 2025. Surely, TNB and the government have no grounds to assume that it is a done deal.

On 21st June 2009, then Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said that the government was willing to consider the use of nuclear energy, but not before exploring alternative renewable energy resources, such as biomass, solar, wind and hydro power. There is still no clarity that the government has formulated a national green energy policy. Any attempt to paint nuclear power as green technology will indicate environmental colour-blindness. The 2006 report of the International Energy Agency has indicated that greenhouse gases can be reduced, without making a Faustian bargain with the nuclear industry.

As citizens, we are extremely concerned that there has not been a national debate over such a critical issue as nuclear energy, which has the potential to wreak havoc and destruction. We must adhere to the Precautionary Principle and heed Murphy’s Law. I have been hearing the argument that accidents are part of everyday life and that a plane crash cannot justify abandoning air travel. It is facetious to compare a plane crash with a nuclear accident, just as it is naïve to consult with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has a vested interest in promoting nuclear energy.

Realities of nuclear energy
Good intentions on the part of the government and TNB are not enough. Proponents of nuclear energy must avoid generating disinformation about its virtues. Instead, they must face up to the realities of nuclear energy and answer serious questions:
• What is the urgency in embarking on a nuclear energy project in Malaysia?
• What are the realities of nuclear power economics and time-frames for nuclear reactor deployment, relative to other means of reducing carbon emissions and generating electricity?
• What quantum of subsidies will be required to make nuclear energy economically feasible?
• What are the health, environmental, and security dangers associated with a reactor accident or a terrorist attack on a nuclear power plant?
• Will it be possible to prevent the diversion of nuclear materials to nuclear weapons production or to a terrorist group?
• How do we cope with the depletion of global reserves of uranium?
• Most importantly, how do we manage the safe disposal of lethal radioactive waste that will remain radioactive for thousands of years?
• Is it wise to embark on nuclear energy when there are alternative renewable energy sources and energy efficiency technologies?
• Is it not time for the Malaysian government to join with other governments in committing itself to holistically addressing climate change and opting for sustainable energy?

By far, the most objectionable feature of nuclear energy is the production of high-level nuclear waste that remains radioactive for several hundred thousands of years. The long-term management of waste only exists in theory. The world’s growing accumulation of nuclear waste continues to pile up in casks, along nuclear power plants in 31 countries, not one of which has yet been able to build a safe, functioning, geological repository anywhere in the world. The nuclear industry might have a case if and when it can provide a fail-safe method of waste disposal.

The half-lives of uranium and plutonium isotopes are virtually unending:
* U-238 : 4.51 billion years
* U-235 : 731 million years
* Pu-239 : 24,400 years

Such radioactive longevity goes far beyond the time horizons of any human institution, including governments and nation states. In other words, we will have to contend with life-threatening nuclear dangers from nuclear waste forever. This totally disqualifies nuclear energy as a feasible form of energy. In the long-term, nuclear energy must be phased out, not given a new lease of life.

If medieval man had resorted to nuclear energy, today we would still be burdened with managing his nuclear waste. This is not a legacy we should leave future generations of Malaysians. It would be morally wrong to embark on nuclear energy and subject them to nuclear dangers, when climate mitigation can be achieved through developing energy efficiency technologies and harnessing renewable energy.

Energy efficiency and renewable energy
Malaysia would do well to emulate Denmark, where a range of new technologies have made energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy feasible. Denmark, which derives most of its renewable energy from burning biomass, including biodegradable waste, aims to increase the proportion of renewable energy to 20 per cent in 2011 and to 30 per cent in 2020. It also derives a fifth of its electricity from its five thousand wind turbines, another renewable energy source.

Denmark has taken on the greatest share of the burden of achieving the total emissions target for the European Union under the Kyoto Protocol. Its energy policy focuses on research, energy saving, and decreasing dependence on fossil fuels. As early as 1990, Denmark set concrete targets, aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8% between 2008 and 2012.

Denmark serves as an example of how a country can secure a high level of growth, without a corresponding increase in energy consumption or greenhouse gas emissions. Although Denmark does not have any hydroelectric power or nuclear power, it tops the world in having the most energy-efficient and climate-friendly economy.

Denmark has achieved this by having a strong political focus on energy policy. A large part of its success in the field of renewable energy and sustainable energy technologies is based on a unique cooperative relationship between researchers, businessmen and politicians. Danish industry also has a long tradition of embedding the principle of sustainability into the development of its products.

Denmark’s focus on climate, which has impelled traditional industrial companies towards sustainable technology, is virtually a national endeavour. The best example of this is probably the development of wind turbines from pioneer projects, located in small machine shops, into a billion-dollar international industry. Wind turbines represent one of the most realistic possibilities for a renewable alternative to fossil fuels.

Both the Danish government and business sectors have shown a strong commitment to saving energy, as well as developing and implementing energy-efficient measures, such as insulating houses. The rules for new buildings promote energy efficient construction. By 2020, regulations for energy consumption in new buildings will be tightened by a further seventy-five per cent. The Malaysian government should encourage and reward architects who design energy efficient houses and buildings which are well ventilated and require little or no cooling.

Other energy-saving initiatives in Denmark range from carbon dioxide-neutral fuels in public transport to intelligent electricity meters, which give consumers greater control over electricity bills. Denmark has designed an electricity supply system that is capable of competitively handling wind turbines, which periodically swing from supplying more than 100 percent of energy requirements to no energy at other times. In 2009, Denmark has emerged as a dynamic, working laboratory, which combines new energy technologies with old fashioned common sense in its relationship with the environment. Malaysia should emulate Denmark’s dynamic and innovative approach in mitigating global warming.

A Nuclear-free Malaysia
So, how do we remain a nuclear-free Malaysia? I have singled out Denmark, not only for its vigour and commitment to the environmental cause, but also for its ethos of social solidarity, transparency, accountability and common purpose. Denmark could be a beacon of light for Malaysia which is on the verge of making a momentous decision on energy. The wrong decision could have the most serious consequences. Nuclear technology is not to be trifled with. It’s not as inconsequential as purchasing a submarine that the country does not need. The worst it could do is to sink.

This conference was organised in order to inform public opinion and clarify the many serious issues associated with nuclear energy, so that decision-makers will learn about the realities of nuclear energy, understand that carbon emissions can be reduced significantly without resorting to nuclear energy, and discover that nuclear energy does not deserve to be considered as the last option in the country’s energy supply mix.

Deliberative, participatory democracy and public involvement in decision-making are not robust concepts or practices in Malaysia, ruled for more than fifty years by the same authoritarian government, which has not only not nurtured public debate, but also punished dissent.

My concept of decision-making and decision-makers will not coincide with the government’s concept. Who are the decision-makers? Are they the politicians the electorate elects to office? Or are they the voters who vote the politicians in?

In many ways, the question of nuclear energy defines the relationship between the government and civil society. In many countries, nuclear energy would be an issue of great national importance, that would merit wide consultation, free discussion and open debate at all levels of society. The time is late, but it is not too late for Malaysians to claim back their country from those who would usurp their right to choose. The issue of nuclear energy must be above partisan politics and business interests. It must not be turned into a money-spinner for some politically-connected company or a career-builder for those connected to the nuclear industry.

If the people of Malaysia seriously want a nuclear-free Malaysia, then they must be prepared to clearly voice their views and stand by their convictions. The stakes are extremely high, particularly for future generations.

The prime minister has recently talked about “engaging” with the people. This has not happened, certainly not with regard to nuclear energy. It is not good enough to hold predetermined seminars and meetings among pro-nuclear groups with vested interests, including analysts, industrialists, and business people, or superficial interviews broadcast on television or published in newspapers.

I hope this conference will succeed in ringing alarm bells and making it clear that nuclear energy is not the answer to climate change or energy supply security. It would be foolish to try to resolve one problem by replacing it with another problem. .

Let us also not gloss over the huge economic cost of nuclear energy, which is difficult to determine. The nuclear industry does not follow transparent methods of accounting. Costs, such as accident insurance, waste disposal and decommissioning, are often buried in opaque government subsidies or conjured into debt legacies for future generations. Cost is rightly a problem with any public project, but the high cost of building a nuclear reactor would not become a key issue, if nuclear energy were the only option for mitigating climate change and addressing energy security. But it is not the only option.

Instead of a huge investment in nuclear power, it would be more productive for Malaysia to commit its limited resources to research and development of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. As recent as 29 May 2009, two financial reports in the Business Section of the New York Times highlighted the incredible economics of building a nuclear power plant. The reports revealed two fiascos: the construction of a new reactor in Olkiluoto, Finland, by the French company, Areva, and the virtual collapse of the once touted global flagship, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. Both companies were overtaken by cost overruns amounting to billions of dollars and by long delays in completing construction schedules, extending into decades, not years.

This bodes ill for the nuclear industry, whether in France, Canada or South Korea, which is rumoured to be the country favoured by the government and TNB to build a reactor. After more than 50 years in business, the nuclear industry cannot get private funding or liability insurance, cannot deal with its radioactive waste, and now cannot demonstrate its ability to build new reactors within a contractual time-frame and budget.

The energy path to a sustainable future lies elsewhere. First, we must harness the massive potential of solar radiation, bioenergy, hydropower, wind energy, wave power, tidal
energy and geothermal energy, by investing in and advancing research and development in renewable energy.

Second, we must develop policies and technologies in energy efficiency, such as reducing energy use in buildings, increasing automobile efficiencies, expanding mass public transport, designing compact communities, and creating practices of industrial ecology that recycle materials and energy.

Third, we must redefine development in terms of human well-being and sustainable living patterns, not unfettered consumption and economic growth.

Malaysia must reject nuclear energy and not be deceived by trends in other countries. Nuclear energy will subject future generations to the grievous dangers of nuclear devastation and radioactivity that will last for thousands of years. This is tantamount to unintentional genocide on a grand scale in slow motion. Malaysia must not take such a path. It would be immoral and unethical to leave future generations with such a legacy.

Dato' Dr RS McCoy is past president of the MMA, past co-president of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) for more than 10 years, and is currently founding president of the Physicians for Peace and Social Responsility (PPSR), soon to be renamed Physicians for Social Responsibility of Malaysia.

Paper presented at PPSR/CETDEM Conference on Nuclear Energy: Does Malaysia Need Nuclear Energy? 10 October 2009

Unemployed graduates: Who prospers? — Dr Lim Teck Ghee

Unemployed graduates: Who prospers? — Dr Lim Teck Ghee

Malaysian Insider, OCT 29 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s 2010 Budget is called “1 Malaysia, Together we prosper”. Before the advent of the Prime Minister’s multi-million ringgit public relations sloganeering, his predecessor Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had already introduced the “Prosper” theme.

Abdullah in his Oct 30, 2005 budget speech announced “Prosper” or Projek Pembangunan Usahawan dalam Bidang Peruncitan to assist graduates venturing into business. Under Prosper, Perbadanan Usahawan Nasional Berhad (PUNB) would finance 200 graduates up to RM50,000 each; that easily amounts to RM10 million.

Prosper is an ongoing programme and this year, its attachment training will allow participants to intern in PUNB investee companies. The cost of ensuring this prosperity is, however, not open to public knowledge.

Nonetheless, the RM10 million allocated in Abdullah’s 2006 Budget is clearly a drop in the ocean compared to the RM700 million set aside in Najib’s March 10, 2009 mini budget. The latter’s stimulus package planned to create 163,000 training and job placement opportunities for retrenched workers and unemployed graduates.

Of this number, 50,000 will be absorbed into the civil service, adding to its already obese size and bloated payroll. It is important to note that under the RM191.5 billion 1 Malaysia Budget, 72.2 per cent is for operating expenditure, out of which RM42.2 billion is for emoluments. Furthermore next month, a “special financial contribution” (announced earlier) in the form of a year-end bonus totalling RM400 million will be paid to public sector employees from Grade 41 to Grade 54.

Khazanah — “treasuring” human capital
It is true that other parts of the world are similarly facing the problem of workers getting laid off and school leavers unable to find jobs due to the depressed global economy.
However the numbers in Malaysia are simply staggering. Based on estimates, about 60,000 graduates might find it difficult to seek employment at all times, said Najib when launching the Graduate Employability Management Scheme (GEMS) on March 13, 2009.

Unemployed graduates
Year                Numbers affected
2001-2002     10,000 (incl. diploma holders)
2008-2009     163,000 (incl. retrenched workers)

GEMS is run by Khazanah Nasional Berhad under the aegis of the Finance Ministry. The precursor to GEMS is the Graduate Employability Enhancement (GREEN) programme, also tasked to Khazanah in co-operation with GLCs.

We can safely assume that a proportion of these targeted graduates have not been able to find work in the fields in which they hold the requisite paper qualification. Meanwhile the government continues to fail to address the longstanding lack of relevance of the courses taught in the public universities and the low standards of graduates produced.

Instead of getting it right from the get-go through structural reform of the higher education system (and better still the entire schooling system), our authorities are attempting to fix the shortcomings of graduates who flounder in the competitive marketplace by pouring money to correct their mis-education.

It is all the more worrying when Khazanah’s director of strategic human capital management Azman Mohd Hussein reveals that the unemployed graduates have to be given remedial and practical training for a whole year to improve their communication skills and increase their level of confidence.
And similar to the “Prosper” scenario, the public is not cognizant of Khazanah’s expenditure breakdown either.

Hitting rock bottom soon?
Something’s very wrong when the situation goes keeps getting from bad to worse with no light at the end of the tunnel.

Retraining for graduates and youth
Year                 Programme                             Estimated cost (RM)
2001                Graduate Training Scheme        150 million
2004-2005      Graduate Training Scheme         265.2 million
2006               Khazanah – GREEN                   unknown
2008               Najib stimulus package #1          600 million
2009               Najib stimulus package #2          700 million
2009               Khazanah – GEMS                      unknown
* The outline table above is incomplete as information is unavailable in  the public domain.

As early as Sept 25, 2001, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, speaking from the Prime Minister’s Office, had unveiled an economic stimulus package which earmarked RM150 million for 10,000 degree and diploma holders. This allowed them to learn IT, brush up on Mathematics and English, in addition to providing RM500 monthly allowances on a temporary basis until end-2002.

“Temporary” appears to have been a misplaced optimism because the chronic problem has persisted for nearly a decade now. Between January 2004 and June 2005 alone, the government’s human resources development fund paid out RM265.2 million in training grants to individuals.

From November 2001 until mid-2006, the Graduate Training Scheme had retrained almost 22,000 unemployed graduates, then Human Resources Minister Fong Chan Onn disclosed in his paper “Developing human capital” delivered on Aug 21, 2006.

Nonetheless, on Dec 27, 2007 in a paper presented by the government-sponsored Institut Kefahaman Islam Malaysia, Ikim quoted a comment from the Human Resources Minister on the inadequate success rate of the retraining.

Ikim research officer Nor Hartini Saari said “roughly RM500 million” had been expended in retraining. “However, according to the minister, only 1,400 graduates have been employed after participating in the aforementioned training scheme.”

Two years down the road on Oct 20, 2009, Higher Education Minister Mohd Khaled Nordin still talked about RM48 million spent in university partnerships with corporations “in strategic sectors that could improve innovation-based industries and guarantee graduates of job opportunities”.

Unless our public coffers are replenished by King Midas, the government may soon go broke from the “guarantees”.

It is just not sustainable to have the next generation depend on the nanny state even after they have been provided with ample tertiary education opportunities, with generous financial assistance and babysitting after graduation, and eventually bailouts every step of the way.

Raiding the public treasury
Various ministries and entrepreneurial agencies have set up their own graduate retraining programme and this makes the tracking of fiscal allocations difficult.

For example, the RM7 billion stimulus package revealed by Najib on Nov 4, 2008 allocated RM300 million for a skills training programme fund (with focus on tourism and “business process outsourcing sectors” among others); RM200 million for programmes by private training institutions and RM100 million for youth programmes at various levels — we see here three intersecting areas.

Then there is “another RM70 million to facilitate employment of retrenched employees and graduates seeking jobs,” a special allocation approved by Cabinet as announced by Human Resources Minister S. Subramaniam on Jan 21, 2009 in Putrajaya.

The aforementioned RM70 million could well be a tranche from the RM600 million infusion for skills training under Najib’s RM7 billion package a year ago. Or then again, maybe not ... who knows. In any case, the RM600 million was augmented by another whopping RM700 million barely four months later under Najib’s second stimulus package.

When so many quarters are involved in the overlapping effort between government agencies, GLCs, and the private sector, only the “special committees” established to manage the funds know the full details.

Even the Auditor-General’s office probably does not have the complete picture of how much money is being poured into remedying incompetence in the public universities. And what the results have been. If it does, it would be very important for the public accounts committee to put this information out in the public domain.

It may be argued that the fact that these public funds seem to be going towards so many “facilitators” and “consultancy” companies shows a primarily liberal and laissez-faire approach used by the government to tackle the problem.

Also of some relief is that no monopoly seems to have appeared in cornering the market.
The crush of agencies, ministries and private agents seeking participation in this fast-growing industry of “enhancing graduate employability” should reassure us that there are droves of Malaysians who are driven by patriotism to help our hapless graduates. The unkind amongst us may suspect that making a quick buck — or rather making buckets of bucks — is more the real motivation.

No solution in sight
Considering that many of our young adults are no surer of securing jobs after graduation today than they were in 2001 and three prime ministers ago, the public and the current undergraduate population have a right to demand a full accounting of the huge sums of taxpayers’ money spent.

We also need to know the outcome of independent impact studies that can provide empirical data on how effective or ineffective this massive injection of public funds has been.

In the current parliamentary debate taking place on the “1 Malaysia, Together we prosper” Budget, there needs to be an explanation on where the total RM1.3 billion appropriated over the mere span of the recent year for training and retraining purposes went to. And who has prospered from the money. — Centre for Policy Initiatives

Friday, October 9, 2009

Ku Li: Malaysia-The challenge of the present

Malaysia: The challenge of the present — Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah

Malaysian Insider, OCT 9 — I wish to thank the Perak Academy for giving me this privilege to address you at a time when the State of Perak is at its defining moment to claim its right to constitutional democracy. Malaysians who are committed to making constitutional democracy an indivisible part of our political culture are watching your unfinished journey.

The Perak constitutional crisis tells us that democracy is not a ready-made formula or a predestined political system which will fall automatically out of a written constitution. It must be written in the hearts of citizens, promoted by their understanding of it, and safeguarded by their commitment to defend it. That is the forewarning provided by the Perak constitutional crisis. Our challenge is now the future of democracy in Malaysia.

Over the last decades we have seen a decline in public morality and democratic values. We have been sleepwalking through a general economic prosperity while our public and democratic values have declined. We have let the crass pursuit of the symbols of development blind us to real losses in the institutional foundations of our country.

Ethnic interest, corruption and money as a means of maintaining power make a very dangerous mix. This combination poses a threat more dangerous than any other form of subversion to our nation's cohesion.

Recent history, from Bosnia to Sri Lanka, are examples of what can happen if we politicise ethnicity above national cohesion. The more each ethnic group tries to maximise its own benefit, the wider we are separated, the greater is the tension. The question we all need to seriously ask as we contemplate the future of democracy in our country is whether there can be a future for democracy if we maintain the politicisation of ethnicity as we have done in the past.

This is not to say that as a result of our history and of colonial political economy, that we do not have serious imbalances in our economy that can cause ethnic tension. The economic division along ethnic lines, the income gaps, the lack of confidence in entrepreneurship, and an unequal sense of well-being and empowerment are partial consequences of our political and economic history. However, these problems, perceived or factual, cannot be solved by applying policies in a way that further ethnicises our political economy. I believe the causes and consequences of these economic imbalances must be addressed and legislation can and should be introduced to eliminate unfair trade practices without politicising ethnicity.

In 1971, when democracy was restored, there was an earnest search for a new political economy initiated by the then political leadership. This effort was encapsulated in the 2nd Malaysia Plan:
“National unity is the over-riding objective of the country. A stage has been reached in the nation's economic and social development where greater emphasis must be placed on social integration and more equitable distribution of income and opportunities for national unity.”

It went on to state: “The quest for national identity and unity is common to many countries, especially new and developing countries. This search for national identity and unity involves the whole range of economic, social and political activities, the formulation of educational policies designed to encourage common values and loyalties among all communities and in all regions; the cultivation of a sense of dedication to the nation through services of all kinds, the careful development of a national language and literature, of arts and music, the emergence of truly national symbols and institutions based on culture and tradition of society.”

The basic point is emphasised in the Rukun Negara: “... from these diverse elements of our population, we are dedicated to the achievement of a united nation in which loyalty and dedication to the nation shall over-ride all other loyalties.”

We were inspired by the conviction that out of our diversity we would have the flowering of the Malaysian genius.

The same political parties but a different leadership were in power then. Those that succeeded them, for whatever reasons, appear to have lost sight of this pledge to the peoples of Malaysia. Meaningful debate in political parties, Parliament, and the media shrank while the moral authority of the democratic process declined.

We saw reversals to democracy such as the widening of the Official Secrets Act and the Printing and Publications Act. The public values that underpin the rule of law were replaced by authoritarian rule by law. Democratic means of challenging this legislation were closed off as we began to lose the separation of powers, and we lost the freedom of the press envisaged in Article 10 of the Constitution. A free press and an independent judiciary are necessary elements of a healthy democracy. Power over the party, Parliament, the judiciary, the civil service, the financial institutions and the media became concentrated in the hands of the Prime Minister.

We must be worried that a generation after these words were spoken in Parliament we have not put a stop to the politicisation of ethnicity. It is now an institutionalised part of our political culture, and there are those who think, contrary to the spirit of the Rukun Negara, that it should be permanent. We shall never attain true cohesion, our constitutional democracy shall not attain its full flower, and will continue to fail to attain our economic potential, so long as we cling to an ethnicised politics.

We need a new politics. We must stop the politicisation of ethnic differences that makes us forget our shared past, present and future. We need national unity based on a new politics. I do not mean unity under the dominance of one party or subservience to any group class or caste, but unity that each Malaysian can stand up and own, promote and defend. Our unity must be based on a national ethos strong and open enough to support unity and genuine democratic process. This can only be based on universal principles.

I am not proposing anything new. We need a rebirth of the ideals of the Rukun Negara. However at this stage in our history the very thing that stands in the way of that rebirth is our system of political parties. It is clear that our entire system of political parties has had its day. Weak and tainted leadership on all sides is but a symptom of a system-wide failure. The parties have become increasingly irrelevant to our young and vibrant population. Much as some of us would just like to forget about these tired parties and carry on with our lives, however, we cannot leave them to their own devices. We are in our present troubles because of a failure of our parties, and reform must begin with those parties.

Constitutional democracy relies on a healthy system of political parties alongside independent courts and free newspapers. We cannot build an advanced economy and a prosperous society on a swamp of morally and intellectually bankrupt political parties.

Our political parties will not reform of their own accord. The people must demand it. In the spirit of the Rukun Negara, we need a movement embraced by people at all levels and from every quarter of our rakyat, to establish a national consensus on how our political parties should conduct themselves from now on. That consensus should include the following:

1. All political parties are required to include in their constitutional objectives the equality of citizenship as provided for in the Federal Constitution.

2. An economic and political policy that political parties propagate must not discriminate against any citizen.

3. All parties shall include and uphold constitutional democracy and the separation of powers as a fundamental principle.

4. It shall be the duty of all political parties to adhere to the objectives of public service and refrain from involvement in business, and ensure the separation of business from political parties.

5. It shall be the duty of all political parties to ensure and respect the independence of the judiciary and the judicial process.

6. All parties shall ensure that the party election system will adhere to the highest standards of conduct, and also ensure that the elections are free of corrupt practices. Legislation should be considered to provide funding of political parties.

7. It shall be the duty of all parties to ensure that all political dialogues and statements will not create racial or religious animosity.

8. All parties undertake not to use racial and communal agitation as political policies.

9. To remove and eradicate all barriers that hinder national unity and Malaysian identity.

10. To uphold the federal and state constitutions and their democratic intent and spirit, the rule of law, and the fundamental liberties as enshrined in Part II of the Malaysian Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah delivered this speech at the Perak Academy in Ipoh last Friday.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

US will still be No. 1

OCT 7 — On Nov 9 1989, the world watched the fall of the Berlin Wall with amazement. The fall of the wall led, in turn, to the re-unification of Germany, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. After half a century, the Cold War had come to an end, and the bipolar world, with the United States and the Soviet Union as the two superpowers, was replaced by a unipolar world, with the US as the hegemon.

The unipolar world, however, was short-lived and has given way to a multipolar one with the US, Europe, Japan, China, India, Russia and Brazil as the major powers.

Until recently, no one doubted that the US was the world's sole superpower and the unquestioned leader of the world. A series of reverses and self-inflicted wounds have, however, caused thoughtful individuals, in Asia and elsewhere, to ask whether the US is a declining power. At a recent meeting in Japan, a respected Japanese public intellectual asked whether we were witnessing the end of Pax America and the beginning of Pax Sinica.

I would argue that such scepticism about the US is mistaken. In my view, the US will remain No. 1 in 2039, 30 years from now. My optimism is based upon the following reasons.

First, I believe that the US economy will bounce back from the current downturn and remain the most vibrant and competitive economy in the world in 2039.

The US economy was on the brink of disaster last year. Decisive action by two consecutive administrations as well as Congress saved the economy from collapse. It is in the American tradition to face up to problems, accept the painful medicine of reform and bounce back.

The US was prepared to allow two American icons, Lehman Brothers and General Motors, to fail. Post-crisis, I expect that Wall Street will be better regulated, that Detroit will produce more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly automobiles, that the US will become a world leader in clean and renewable energy technology and businesses, and the American people will spend less and save more.

Economic competitiveness in the 21st century will be increasingly driven by innovation, creativity, design, marketing, information technology and talent. These are areas in which the US excels. It is likely to continue to do so in 2039.

Second, the top American universities and research institutions are among the best in the world. They serve as magnets for some of the world's most talented students. This will likely remain so in 2039 and America will continue to benefit from a brain transfusion from the world to its top universities.

In the global war for talent, there is no country in the world that can compete with America. It has an unmatched ability to attract, retain and assimilate foreign talent. For example, over half of the tenured professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are foreign-born.

American universities are the best endowed and resourced in the world, with outstanding faculty and students and a culture of learning that balances freedom and discipline, encourages risk-taking and is tolerant of failure.

Competition between nations in the 21st century will depend more on brainpower and less on material factors of production. America will continue to win the global war for talent.

Third, America has the world's most attractive soft power. The young of the world listen to American music, watch American movies, wear American fashion and enjoy American food. The founders of Microsoft, Apple, YouTube and Twitter are all Americans. At a deeper level, there is great admiration for American ideals and values. The three American values that resonate most with Asians are equality, meritocracy and opportunity.

The election of Barack Obama, as the 44th president of the United States, has done more to restore the world's faith in American values and ideals than any amount of public diplomacy could have. His eloquence, his humble tone and inclusive attitude, his appeal to the Islamic ummah and his willingness to adopt fresh diplomatic approaches to seemingly intractable problems, have greatly strengthened the appeal of American soft power.

Fourth, America's hard power or military power is unmatched. Its defence budget is the largest in the world. Its military technology — on land, at sea, in the air, in space and in cyberspace — is probably a generation ahead of its nearest rivals. America continues to lead the world in research and development, and in revolution in military affairs. I expect the US will remain the world's No. 1 military power in 2039.

A country's total power can be either greater or less than the sum of its parts. In the case of the US, I would argue that it is greater than the sum of its parts. Why? Because the US, as a country, is blessed with the “X” factor.

It has an allure that adds to the sum of its military, economic, intellectual, diplomatic and cultural power. It has a youthful, optimistic and joyful attitude towards life that inspires admiration. For all these reasons — and in spite of its present travails and challenges — I believe that the sun is not setting on America. — The Straits Times

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Falling Standards, Malaysia’s Debilitating Competitiveness…

Falling Standards, Malaysia’s Debilitating Competitiveness…

Oxford University’s Said Business School recent survey of Global Broadband Quality has dealt yet another blow to Malaysia’s fledgling pursuits to be a world-beater come of age.
While Malaysia aspires to and continues to talk about our cyberspace prowess and ICT leadership, this does not appear to have been translated into reality. 
Indeed, despite loud proclamations about our multimedia super corridors and our multi-billion ringgit initiatives at creating more content and first world infrastructure for web-based applications to bring us smack into the ICT-enabled global stage, Malaysia has done far worse than expected, emerging 48th out of 66 countries surveyed.
And to think that we jumpstarted our ICT ingress as far back as in 1996, when the world’s internet age was just being born… What happened in between now appears inconsequential. We appear not to have advanced as much as we could have done. If only we had had that little extra edge, that little more drive, perhaps a greater determination to excel and to exceed!
Except that most of us are oblivious as to where we truly stand. We appear to have been locked within a time capsule of our own self-congratulatory image that everything is hunky-dory and well, acceptably 'perfect'! 
We seem to think that we just need to dream, to start something and all would have been well. But we appear to have forgotten to work towards real gains… We just marked time, or so it seems!
We appear to have taken small baby steps of tokenism as if these would be sufficient in this dog-eat-dog competitive world. Clearly, this is not enough!
Instead, the harsh reality is one of decrepit decay, which many of us are beginning to suspect and dread with some blush, some despair even. Where have we gone wrong? Why is this happening? Aren't we Malaysians supposed to be world-beaters who 'can' or "Boleh"
Well, apparently this has now been glaringly exposed when more independent surveys show us for what we are, warts and all. We should not kid ourselves any longer. We often pride ourselves far and above the underdeveloped basket cases of failed nations—we brandish a façade of a somewhat confident middle income Asian tiger, well on our way to a fully developed status. Wawasan 2020 and all that! But, as a young child would ask, “are we there yet?”
This broadband ‘laggedness’ exposes and demolishes the much vaunted efficiency and productivity beliefs that are so ingrained in our parochial psyche, especially those within the establishment. 
Importantly, it sadly reflects the common practices and administration of our bloated and often reality-disconnected civil service, right up to our senior managers, directors and policy makers.
So much so that the administration’s own self-importance and its narrowly circumscribed remits allow policy makers and shapers, the warm glow of self-satisfied feel-good complacency—well-meaning, but sadly uninsightful and cocooned in a mediocre mindset...
While it cannot be denied that we have had some excellent and highly-capable administrators, there are probably many others who do not come up to scratch. Worse, many of the better officers are weighed down by inept and underachieving subordinates whose levels of competence are sadly, just not good enough! Perhaps there have been other considerations, other administrative or political wastage and leakages…
This broadband quality survey should be seen in the context with other similar surveys, which had earlier put our tertiary educational facilities and universities right through the middling rungs of world academia, where we seemed to have slid further down the slope of prestige and standards. 
Time and again, we have with disbelief and child-like tantrums, scrambled for some vindication, some rationale as to why we have faired so passably below par!
But wait, the bad news is not over yet. The most recently released (UN Development Programme) Human Development Report 2008 has ambiguously placed us as the 66th nation in livability, out of 182 nations. We are informed that we did third best within ASEAN after Singapore (23th) and Brunei (30th). Other Asian countries ranked as having “very high human development” are Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE.
Malaysia is ranked as a “high human development” nation, lumped together with other nations such as Romania, Costa Rica, Mexico, Cuba, Hungary, Bahrain, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. This dubious rank is 3 rungs down from last year’s 2007 report, when we were in 63rd position—yet another drop from our middling position—not much to crow or gloat about.

Malaysia’s life expectancy was estimated at 74.1 years, compared with Japan’s 82.7 years. Our literacy rate was 91.2%, compared with Indonesia’s 92%, and Georgia at 100%. Our GDP per capita was US$13,518 (RM46,495), comparable to Botswana’s US$13,604 but way below the highest, i.e. Liechtenstein’s US$85,382. Singapore’s life expectancy was estimated at 80.2 years, its literacy rate was 94.4 per cent and GDP per capita was US$49,704.

But such modest rankings of indices and so-so perceptions from outside bodies and authorities are not benign. They hurt. Because, they form the bases from which ultimate decision makers rely on, to decide who they can trust to work with, which nation to invest in, or where to usefully establish more productive enterprises with the best returns and with the best potential for reciprocal interchangeable benefits, i.e. win-win experiences for all parties.
Malaysia is sadly but surely losing that competitive edge. We may already have lost all that attractive package, which has endeared the world to our carefully constructed cultural diversity, our ‘veneered’ unity, our possibly skin-deep charm even.
Sadly, once again we have to rework our image, dented as it continues to be by our own lackadaisical approach to nation building. Like encrusted barnacles on a sunken Titanic, we have allowed entrenched racism, partisan politics and lacklustre administration to corrode the very foundations of our beloved nation.
We have allowed corrupt practices, patronage rent-seeking politically-connected business practices, slanted laws, misguided policing and expedient judiciary, to fester like termites gnawing and eating into the very innards of our society and nation, so much so that we have become emaciated from within, with less and less ‘glow’ to show for it!
We have inadvertently suppressed our better instincts, our collective innovativeness, by imposing artificial armour-glass ceilings. We have allowed our homegrown talents, our creative ideas to fritter, indeed to fly away, despite our occasional head-start—we just could not sustain our momentum of excellence. We have acknowledged that we seem to possess third world mentality when it comes to maintenance or even achievement!
We allow petty insular considerations to cloud our preference for the best, accepting in its stead, pedestrian or second-rate choices which ultimately lead to less than stellar outcomes, sacrificing excellence at the altar of timorous ethnocentric prejudice.
We chauvinistically accept the fallacy of the Peter Principle where we continue to promote poorer less-qualified candidates to all levels of management and administration, which clearly showcase their ceiling-limited capacity and thus their truncated heights of self-actualisation and personal achievement.
Shortsighted venal interests and political expediencies seem to soar way above all other interests! It is said that Malaysians now place “race, religion and nation” in that sad order of importance.
It is time to recognize that these entrenched outlooks are not simply protecting our narrowly circumscribed political turf (UMNO/BN), our ethnic supremacy (Malays), or our arrogant supercilious pride (Chinese).
We cannot simply latch on to craftily reworded jingoistic unity of purpose, “1 Malaysia” notwithstanding. We have to learn to live it and truly accept one another: all our strengths and weaknesses, and harness our collective wisdom and vigor. Mere tolerance and token lip service is no longer enough.
Our debilitating conflict-ridden core values must be seen for what they really are; they must be laid to rest as mindfully as we can. They are certainly not benign and have now come home to roost. Our divided nationhood is as glaringly disruptive as it continues to cast its ominous fractured shadows.
Sustained ineptness and unlearned mistakes will be punished more and more with our globally connected world. Our ICT-empowered and enlightened global audience, including our more and more vocal and freshly enfranchised citizens, will ensure that this will no longer be acceptable or tolerated. There may be no second chance!
Wake up Malaysians, before we languish further and fall into the ranks of failed nations! 

Also Published in malaysiakini (7 Oct 2009) as "No second chance as standards fall."

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Oxford Global Broadband Quality Study shows Malaysia Lagging far behind leaders--48th place!

Oxford Global Broadband Quality Study Shows Progress, Highlights Broadband Quality Gap

While Malaysia aspires to and continues to talk about our cyberspace prowess and leadership, this does not appear to have been translated into reality. 

Indeed despite loud proclamations about our multimedia super corridors and our initiatives at creating more content and first-world infrastructure for web-based applications to bring us smack into the ICT-enabled global stage, Malaysia has done far worse than expected.

This broadband laggedness exposes and fritters away the much vaunted efficiency and productivity beliefs that are so ingrained in our parochial psyche, especially those within the establishment.

This must now be compared with the other surveys which put our universities right through the mediocre rungs of world academia, where we seemed to have slid further down the slope of prestige and standards.

Wake up Malaysians, before we truly become another basket case of failed nations!






Full paper on Oxford Broadband Quality Survey