Friday, April 30, 2010

malaysiakini: Lost in Hulu: Lessons for Pakatan--Bridget Welsh

Lost in Hulu: Lessons for Pakatan
Bridget Welsh
malaysiakini, Apr 30, 2010
Nationally people are wondering why a widely-respected candidate such as Zaid Ibrahim lost the Hulu Selangor by-election to a MIC unknown.

Yesterday, I described part of the story - the factors shaping the BN. Below I lay out the issues that undermined Pakatan Rakyat, drawing again from the campaign messaging, logistics and political dynamics.

Due to the size of the constituency and national political firepower they faced, this election tested Pakatan like never before. It showcases some deep weaknesses within the opposition that have to be addressed in order for Pakatan to win national power.

Ultimately, the real test will be whether Pakatan learns the lessons of strengthening cooperation and adapting to the new political environment. The fact of the matter is that they held their own, but underperformed. Underperformance is something that the opposition cannot afford to do if it seeks to take over Putrajaya.

On the back foot

From the beginning of the Hulu Selangor campaign, Pakatan was on the defensive. They did not set the tone of the campaign, having to respond to attacks on Zaid's link to drinking and gambling, the Selangor Pakatan government and more.

NONEMuch of campaign, including the visit by PAS spiritual leader Nik Aziz Nik Mat in the last days of the campaign was tied to addressing the attacks on morality waged on PKR leaders. Rarely does a defensive posture engender a positive outcome.

This was exacerbated by a slow start to the campaign. Of the three component parties in Pakatan, PKR has the weakest machinery in Hulu Selangor. It took a few days for the party to sort out a productive working relationship on the ground internally and with the component parties in the opposition coalition.

Part of this had to do with resolving the issues of multiple sovereignty - the role of the state government and the role of the parties. The slow start was further enhanced by long-standing personality differences in style and outlook within Pakatan, and the opposition had to work to address these differences.

The election showed that the parties can work together effectively as they gained ground towards the latter part of the campaign. The DAP and PAS delivered effectively and all the parties worked well together - eventually. In a tight contest, however, every day counts.

Pakatan was slow off the mark and was unable to fully bridge the gap as it gained speed towards the finish line.

Stale and splintered messaging

Listening to the ceramah and observing the campaign paraphernalia, Pakatan seems locked in a time warp. The posters followed the same model of 2008, with the slogan “Hope for Malaysia”. The messages are two years old and resonated with the party faithful, not the swing voters.

Many voters asked what was new. The fact is that as Pakatan is in power in Selangor, the call for change or even reform has less political traction. In government, it is not adequate to use an anti-incumbent campaign. The cry of “reformasi” only served to strengthen the party faithful, not to secure new voters that Pakatan needed to assure a win.

hulu selangor by-election voting day 250410 pkr posterThe campaign also lacked a central theme. While some campaigners focused on contemporary issues such as the rival candidate, P Kamalanathan, others addressed concerns with Apco and even Altantuya Shaariibuu - the issue that was prominent in the Permatang Pauh by-election in August 2008.

The messages were all over the place, and, as such, it was not clear exactly what Pakatan stood for. Multi-ethnic inclusion? Reform? Anti-Umno? New leadership? The voters lacked an anchor to identify with. For some voters, particular messages did connect, such as the poster of Teoh Beng Hock, which was particularly present in the Chinese areas. For others, it was confusing and uninspiring.

This was reinforced by the fact that the opposition was hampered in getting its message out. In Hulu Selangor, the alternative media had limited impact, particularly in Ulu Bernam. The challenge of communication exacerbated the problems of messaging as Pakatan was disadvantaged in its ability to connect with the voters.

The state newspaper, Selangorkini - with only a few thousand copies - was a drop in the bucket to reach this large constituency. Pakatan nationally has the disadvantage due to its lack of access to traditional media, and in this type of constituency - semi-rural and diverse - this disadvantage is particularly acute.

More broadly, this speaks to a real need to improve how Pakatan communicates with the public.

Burden of wearing two hats

Even more challenging is the dual roles that Pakatan has - in government and opposition. It is very difficult to wear two hats politically, especially when the roles are the exact opposite of each other.

This election provided the first real opportunity for Pakatan to showcase its record at the state level and they failed this test. One main reason involves the failure to develop new messages for the new context and move beyond March 2008. Pakatan has yet to develop a new identity that is tied to its role in state governments post-March 2008. No one person can be blamed for this since it is a matter for the entire leadership of Pakatan.

Even more difficult is showcasing the successes of the state government in a constituency where the state government has made minimal impact. Hulu Selangor was a neglected constituency. This has to do with the fact that all three representatives for the state are in BN. Pakatan did not effectively engage this area before the election, especially in the Felda areas.

This was driven home as the campaign progressed and state politicians learned firsthand that many did not even know that Pakatan was in government. Some voters lived in a 'BN bubble'. This illustrated serious shortcomings on the part of the state government.

There were exceptions such as Selangor excos Elizabeth Wong's work in the Orang Asli areas or Ean Yong Hian Wah's work in the Chinese new villages, which contributed to gains for PKR in these areas, but overall, particularly in Malay areas, the state government had limited engagement and deliverables that it could showcase effectively.

hulu selangor by-election 100410 pakatan dinner ulu yam baru 
khalid 02While Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim was highly popular and respected, the actions of the government as a whole did not come across to the key voters.

This was compounded by the fact that many problems in this constituency were associated with land. Traditionally land is a state matter, but on the ground it was difficult to resolve these issues since the jurisdiction of issues was not so clear cut.

Many problems had occurred in the previous BN state government - housing scams, land speculations, unfair land allocations, limited land rights, shoddy development - to name but a few. They remain unresolved and require the cooperation of the private sector, federal government and state government.

Sadly, the failure of these actors to work together to resolve issues for Selangor has hurt development in the state, and in the semi-rural parts of the state in particular. In the campaign, blame was cast largely on the new Pakatan state government unfairly to address these problems.

Come next election, Pakatan will have to address the concerns over land effectively in order to secure votes, and this will require working more effectively to accommodate the different actors involved. This only points to the serious work ahead that Pakatan needs to address as a state government to win votes.

Party of defectors, not leaders

Convincing voters that it can govern effectively is vital for the opposition's future. This starts with the leadership of the opposition. Nationally, Pakatan has to come to terms that the attacks on Anwar Ibrahim have had their impact.

The opposition leader does not have the same level of popularity of 2008. In part, this was the product of his loss of credibility over the Sept 16 affair that lingers in the minds of voters. In part, this has to do with questions associated with the Sodomy II trial, although the majority of the electorate see this as a political ploy.

NONEIt nevertheless has cast a shadow over the future direction of the leadership of Pakatan. Voters want to be assured that the coalition they vote for has clear leadership and direction.

The major issue in this campaign was the impact of the defections. People supposedly loyal to Anwar, such at Hulu Selangor's Dr Halili Rahmat, people who were touted by Anwar to be important PKR leaders and personal friends openly joined the other side. This raises questions about Anwar's leadership that have to be addressed in order to win the confidence of the electorate.

PKR is becoming perceived as the party of defectors, not leaders. The defections also affected campaigning as they spilled over into weakening the local machinery resulting in the party relying heavily on outsiders to run the campaign.

Are the rats leaving a sinking ship? Or is the party finding out who is willing to commit to real reforms in government and stick with the fight? While these may be true, the impact of the defections was especially damaging in Malay areas, and had broader resonance.

Pakatan needs own identity

More fundamentally, Pakatan needs to come up with a programme for the future in government. Malaysian voters are pragmatic and want direction on the part of their leaders. Nationally, Prime Minister Najib Razak has adopted economic reform as his own platform. He has usurped the position as the reformer, at least symbolically.

Pakatan has yet to showcase a new set of ideas to address the current challenges. It has yet to engage with how the Najib leadership in BN has evolved and is evolving. Personal attacks on Najib are not adequate to win votes. They need a clear programme and direction, based on being in government at the state level and as a potential government nationally. It is no longer enough to be different from BN. Pakatan needs its own identity that voters can connect to.

Pakatan may have lost in Hulu Selangor. The bigger challenge is to make sure that it has not lost its direction. The by-election showed that the opposition is learning - it gained ground towards the end - but faces challenges in communication, leadership and identity.

If it wants to win power nationally, it has to take bold steps to engage the electorate and current political conditions. To avoid getting lost and further losses, Pakatan has to avoid internal blame and recognised that voters want change to be more than symbolic.

DR BRIDGET WELSH is associate professor of political science at Singapore Management University. She can be reached at

Malaysian Insider: Did we kill Aminulrasyid?-- Nathaniel Tan

Did we kill Aminulrasyid?-- Nathaniel Tan

Malaysian Insider; APRIL 30 — Some  friends of mine were once robbed at the cybercafe which we frequent (yes, still addicted to Dota). The men came in with parangs, threatened everyone, collected the goods and tried to make their escape.

One man wasn’t able to start his getaway motorcycle quickly enough, and this cost him dearly. Most of the cybercafe came out, descended on him and, well, beat the crap out of him.

This, I understand, is not an entirely uncommon fate for robbers and thieves who are caught by a mob.
Apparently, it is not an uncommon fate for those caught by the police either.

When I first blogged about the death of Kugan, more than a few commentators wrote and said things like: “He deserved it”, “Why should you care about a car thief?” and so on. Oddly, this debate still takes place on said blog post, well over a year after it was written.

Some of my loved ones have also expressed certain sentiments about how justice for these petty criminals cannot be served within our sluggish judicial system, and that sometimes what they really need is a good box around the ears that no one else really needs to know about. Maybe nothing too severe you know? Just rough him up a little?

Well, I posit that we have seen this last week just how and where this line of thinking ends.
With the possible exception of Datuk Seri Sharizat Abdul Jalil, who seems to think once again that this is all the parents fault, everyone is disgusted at the shooting of Aminulrasyid Amzah.

John Lee and I have literally put together a whole book on the subject of police brutality, and I think for me to continue such a critique here would be to flog a near dead horse.

I hope today to discuss public attitudes instead.

Everyone hates crime. I hate crime. An attack by snatch thieves left my mom immobile for days, and traumatised for much longer.

A lot of us want revenge. Inspired perhaps by movies like “Taken”, where Liam Neeson “heroically” puts a bullet in the head of dozens of men who stand between him and his daughter, we want to see an eye for an eye type of justice.

It’s an understandable sentiment, it really is; but we have to go beyond it.

The simple truth is the minute we start sliding down that slippery slope of “it's OK to rough up the ‘real’ bad guys just a little bit”, it won’t be long until we create the type of police force that shoots and kills unarmed 14-year-olds.

Can we say the signs weren’t there?

I have this feeling the Hindraf gang will ask why no one kicked up a fuss with the near hundreds of cases of Indians being victims of extrajudicial killings — most of them shot in the same way Aminulrasyid was?

No one likes racial thinking either, but the facts in such a contention remain. No one can deny that our police force has a reputation (among those who care and pay attention at least) for being a little trigger happy.

As recently as in Hulu Selangor, a victim of police shooting — whose experience is remarkably similar to Aminulrasyid’s and the other person in the car with him — was trying to seek justice from BN politicians too busy peddling promises and bribes.

Norizan Salleh — a slightly built single mother — said that in October last year in Segambut, similar to Aminulrasyid and his companion, the car she was in was shot at and pushed off the road. She was then dragged out of the car, kicked and beaten, after already being hit five times by gunfire. Unlike Aminulrasyid, she managed to escape with her life.

Perhaps if we Malaysians made enough noise about Norizan’s case, it may have given the cops who shot Aminulrasyid a little pause for thought before they did a near re-enactment of Norizan’s scene in Shah Alam, fired at will and took away that young boy's life.

I wish I could say for sure that had I been there that day, I might have tried to stop those cybercafe patrons from beating that robber; but I don't know if I would have had the guts.

If I had — if we had — that kind of guts, maybe we can save the lives of the next few Aminulrasyids, Kugans and Teoh Beng Hocks.

Nathaniel Tan believes this world is full of people, he was born to love them all. He blogs at

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

Malaysian Insider: Politics and the death of a schoolboy--John Lee

Politics and the death of a schoolboy--John Lee

Malaysian Insider, APRIL 30 —

Aminulrasyid  Amzah is barely buried, and already the political knives are out, with both Umno and Pakatan Rakyat clamouring for the right to champion justice for him and his family. Naturally, the ostensibly non-partisan folk are coming out of the woodwork to sternly warn against “politicising” the death of this 14-year-old boy.

That, frankly, is a load of steaming cow crap. As ugly as politics is, there are far worse things for political parties to fight over than being the flag-bearer for justice.

Really, who do the police answer to anyway? The answer is simple: they answer to politicians. And for this reason, when you have cops gunning down 14-year-old boys, you can bet your butt it’s going to be a political issue.

One might be tempted to ask why we cannot sit back and let the government handle the issue. Why does the death of an, as far as we know, innocent boy have to become a political football? Because unless someone keeps the authorities on their toes, this case — like so many before it — will wind up as just a historical footnote.

How many people remember Francis Udayappan? The police claimed he escaped from their custody — even though the charges against him were already withdrawn, and he was due to be released. They claimed he jumped into the Klang River to escape, even though he couldn’t swim.

When his body was recovered, there were bruises on his legs, thighs and back. The police were outright hostile to his mother’s inquiries, and the government could not care less about his case. Even though the police contradicted their own version of events several times, the courts declared that there was no reason to suspect foul play in Francis’ death.

What about Kugan Ananthan? The police tell us he asked for a drink of water during questioning and then suddenly keeled over, completely dead — a fishy story, if I’ve ever heard one. His body was clearly bloodied and battered when his family claimed it from the morgue — and yet it took an official Health Ministry report, after much prodding and pushing, for the authorities to concede that yes, Kugan was tortured.

Even after this, the authorities have been unco-operative in investigations about Kugan’s death — to the point that they even confiscated medical samples just to prevent his post-mortem from being completed. It took a court order to force the cops to co-operate.

Now in the case of Aminulrasyid, the police claim he was trying to reverse his car into the officers pursuing him, so they had no choice but to fire. They say he had a parang in the car, which they suspected he had used in a robbery. What proof do they have of any of this?

Lest people forget, the police said Kugan was under investigation for carjackings or robberies. A lot of people immediately concluded he was a criminal (as if somehow torture or the death penalty is an acceptable sentence for car theft).

What not many realise is that the police recently told Kugan’s family they could not find any evidence at all that Kugan was complicit in any car thefts. Now the police expect us to believe a 14-year-old student is a hardened criminal?

As always, we get the same old promises from the government that Aminulrasyid will get justice — even though the authorities have fought tooth and nail to prevent cases like Kugan’s and Francis’ from ever coming before a court.

Nat Tan and I edited “Where Is Justice”, a book on custodial deaths, and the Home Ministry has simply swept it off the shelves —  because apparently scrutiny is a threat to national security. How can we trust the government to uphold its promises, when it has consistently refused to take the cause of justice seriously?

If the government won’t come down hard on the people responsible for these deaths, who is going to hold it accountable? There is no other option but the political process. Somebody needs to tell the law minister and the home minister to get their act together, because when it comes to investigating suspicious deaths, the government is clearly not meeting its KPIs.

There is no worse abuse of power than murder. Corruption is one thing, but it seems that the authorities do not even take human life seriously — and that is unconscionable. The police cannot be judge, jury and executioner. The government cannot sit idly back and promise more “investigations” that go nowhere.

When we have innocent men dying in police stations, and young boys being shot on our streets, something has gone terribly wrong — and we owe it to these innocent people to demand justice from our government.

John Lee is a third-year student of economics at Dartmouth College in the United States. He has been thinking aloud since 2005 at
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

Malaysian Insider: All you hybrids, emerge from your closet — Ooi Kee Beng

All you hybrids, emerge from your closet — Ooi Kee Beng

Malaysian Insider, APRIL 30 — By ethnocentrism is not the opposite of multiracialism. For some reason, we tend to suppose it to be so. The truth of the matter is, the contradistinction between the two is political, not logical.

Like all terms that lend themselves to political polarisation, these two result from a rationalising process through which constituencies are formed, ready to be manipulated.

And so, while an ethnocentric policy favours a certain prescriptive community, a multiracial perspective involves or acts on behalf of various races. What both postures do in common, however, is entertain — though to different degrees — an essentialist view of ethnicity.

While the ethnocentric bluntly champions his or her own self, the multiracialist admits that other groups are equal to his own group, at least before the law of the land. The strategy is that since we are different from each other, we have to circle each other like wary dogs. We have to tolerate each other.

Multiracialism, being a political expedience, therefore harbours one fatal weakness. It does not give due acknowledgement to how we as individuals are endlessly changing, even culturally. As a result, we merely aim to tolerate each other, and not enjoy each other’s evolving selves.

Instead of just adopting multiracialism as the political opposite of ethnocentrism, we should instead seek the latter’s conceptual opposite, which I argue, is the acknowledgement of individual hybridism.

We live and we learn, and in this learning of facts and developing of social behaviour, we evolve. Individually, we mature culturally and emotionally in unique directions, and in time, we gain confidence to consider ourselves as being distinct in inherent ways from other members of our ethnicity or gender or class or family.

To acknowledge our evolving selves therefore, is to acknowledge this individual hybridism.
What politics does is to encourage hybrids to think of themselves as group creatures, and their individual differences, born of unique fates, meetings and experiences, are subordinate to a collective essence. This is understandable, because without that type of consciousness, professional politicians would be without a constituency.

Appealing to superstitions such as race and the like is the easy route to power for the charlatan. Imagine if they had to debate definite issues and discuss complex matters with their fellow men and women. Most of them might come out sounding like unelectable idiots.

For the rest of us, professing multiracialism is not enough. Taking delight in human pluralism must extend to the self’s experience of its own hybridism and that of other individuals.
Hybrids need to stand up and be counted.

* This article is taken from the May issue of “Penang Economic Monthly”, published by the Socio-economic and Environmental Institute (SERI), Penang, now out at all good bookshops and newsagents.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Malaysian Insider: Why Khairy’s election analysis is worrying by Suflan Shamsuddin

Why Khairy’s election analysis is worrying

by Suflan Shamsuddin
The Malaysian Insider APRIL 28 — Yesterday, an article by Khairy Jamaludin (Thoughts on Hulu Selangor) setting out his thoughts on the recent by-election was posted in The Malaysian Insider.

It left me tickled, not just by the inclusion of the traditional words of thanks offered to the Umno big-wigs for their contribution to the campaign (so old school!), but by his attempt to present a well-argued analysis of what the results mean.

I am tickled because I think that such an article is audacious, given the readership of The Malaysian Insider, and yet I am worried because it tells me a lot about Khairy and his journey in politics, and I hate to see good talent go to waste.

The analysis he makes, based on extrapolating what the statistics means, fails to address key questions which are on the minds of most right-thinking Malaysians.

And that is this: To what extent did underhanded campaign tactics by way of character assassination of the PKR candidate, and wrongful use of tax-payers money to provide incentives to the constituents of Hulu Selangor to vote BN help secure the victory?

The answer is obvious. The low-blow character assassination campaign was carried out with no shame nor remorse, in total public glare. The same is true of the efforts to hand out presents worth many millions of ringgit, all of which is money held in trust by the Federal Government on behalf of all taxpayers, but given away by the Barisan Nasional (BN) machinery, as though it was theirs to give. Without the use of these tactics, Barisan would have lost.

Does the BN machinery not understand honour and dignity? Does it not understand why conflicts of interest must be managed to safeguard the interests of the people. Does it not understand the fiduciary duty of government to the Malaysian citizenry. Does it not understand how propaganda poison retards the development of society, especially the Malays? And where does Khairy stand on all of this?

Everybody is focussing on the fact that the Chinese did not vote BN, unlike the Malays and Indians. The Hulu Selangor victory is not about a BN campaign that succeeded because it offered answers to the concerns of the Indians and Malays, whilst leaving out the Chinese. It is all about deploying thuggish tactics at all costs, regardless of the morality of such tactic, to hit at the weakness of each community,  where the most gain can be made. It’s as simple as that. Surely it would have been better for BN to fight a fair fight and lose with honour than to win this way?

But why is this analysis worrying? Because Khairy remains a talent to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, he is a part of a virtual machinery that will ultimately destroy his talent and whatever remaining goodwill he has with the people. Perhaps he hopes to succeed in changing this machinery from the inside; so he has told us.

My fear is that he will fail, and it will be he who will become the victim, and not the victor.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

Suflan Shamsuddin qualified as a barrister at law from Middle Temple and has been called to the Malaysian Bar. He is currently working in a Fortune 500 company as a senior counsel and is based in London. He is also author of the book “RESET: Rethinking the Malaysian Political Paradigm”.

Monday, April 26, 2010

malaysiakini: Educational absurdity in Hulu Selangor - Azly Rahman

Educational absurdity in Hulu Selangor
Azly Rahman
Apr 26, 10
"If we win this by-election, you can come to Kuala Lumpur the next day to look for me. I will write a personal letter to approve the money and it will be transferred to the school board's account. If we lose, don't have to come." - Najib Abdul Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia

selangor pakatan convension 070310 lim kit siang
If these words quoted in Lim Kit Siang's ( left) blog were uttered and they were true, we have reached the highest level of idiocy in charting the future of Malaysian education. How much shame must we parade in our desperation to win this or that election that is a theater of the absurd anyway?

The essential question is, how dare we use education - the only means for social and economic progress for ALL races - to bribe voters!

We hear all too often now that education is being prostitutionalized in the name of political gains. That gentle profession and a noble enterprise, from the Latin educare (drawing out the potentials) have been overused in election campaigns. From rice to roads, credit cards to cruises, youth facilities to new universities - all these have been used as political baits throughout our history.

We are in a pathological condition. Education and the building of educational institutions must be a non-partisan endeavor. As the philosopher John Dewey would say, education is the only means for social and educational progress and the teaching of thinking will bring the child to any dead places, so we must take heed of this notion of education for all. Education must become a vehicle for the development of a critical citizenry, regardless of who is in power, as the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire would say.

Have we no shame when we say that only if the people vote for this or that party, money will flow to the children of that community? Have we no sense of understanding of human rights and dignity when we deliberately create apartheid system of education through preferential treatments by virtue of who votes for us?
Denying children's rights
We are denying children the right to be intelligent when we use programs of the gifted and talented as political tool and as means to punish electorates. We are denying at-risk youth alternative educational settings that will give them hope and vision when we are merely interested in their potential as paid hooligans during election campaigns.

ronald reaganIn the United States it does not matter which government is in power, the approaches to educating the future generation differ only in the emphasis towards making the schools perform better. Whether it is Ronald Reagan's (right) NCEE report of "A Nation at Risk," Bill Clinton's Goals 2000, George Bush's No Child Left Behind, or Barack Obama's Race to the Top - all these have the goal of grand scale inclusiveness, the ideology and modus operandi might differ. In them, these are the mandate given to each state to implement standards of excellence to make society better. Never have I heard, as an American educator myself, this or that school denied of funding by virtue of the community's political leaning. It would be a Supreme Court case if a school district is denied money due to the teacher union's endorsement of this or that candidate in the gubernatorial race, for instance.
If we continue to see, at every election campaign money is being promised only if votes are being given, we have become an immoral nation of peoples that do not care for the next generation of children.

sekolah menengah high school girls uniformAlready we have educational institutions entrenched in race and the propagation of racial superiority - at a time when we trumpet to the outside world our "Malaysian-ness". We not only have elite schools for one race, expensive gifted and talented schools for one race, universities for this or that race only, and grants and scholarships for only one race - when all these are supposed to coming from a '1Malaysia' government in which the taxpayers are of all races.

Already we are seeing more seed of racialization of education and the apartheid-ization of schooling planted in order to further the agenda of race-based politics. The "one-school-fits-all" ("satu sekolah untuk semua") movement/campaign is also deeply suspect - which ideology will hegemonize, which culture will be made dominant, and what will be the nature of "nationalism and patriotism" shoved onto the minds of the young.

These are serious questions we need to ask ourselves as a nation - how have we politicize and prostitutionalize education? What will be the political, social, and cultural implications of this game we are letting politicians play? - game that reflect out pathological state of mind as we continue to see our institutions crumble; no longer able to withstand the weight of our contradictions.

What then must we do?

We do not have time to entertain ethnocentric politics anymore; our society has been fragmented into classes of rich and poor, marginalizing people of all races to newer character. All forms of race-based politics in this century of postmodernity, flux, and shifting ideologues - is racist in nature, racism for the convenience of control and the furtherance of unseen violence masked as 'progress and civility'.

We must go back to the study of educational philosophies rather than advance the practice of educational prostitutionalization.

DR AZLY RAHMAN, who was born in Singapore and grew up in Johor Bahru, holds a Columbia University (New York) doctoral degree in International Education Development and Masters degrees in the fields of Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies, and Communication. He has taught more than 40 courses in six different departments and have written more than 300 analyses on Malaysia. His teaching experience spans both in Malaysia and in the United States and in a wide range of teaching context; from elementary to graduate education. He currently resides in the United States.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Reuters: Sovereign debt maths show risk of vicious circle — Hugo Dixon

Sovereign debt maths show risk of vicious circle — Hugo Dixon

APRIL 10 — How can a country support debt of over 100 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for many years and then suddenly start spiralling towards insolvency? That question of sovereign debt maths is not merely academic. It is highly relevant to the likes of Greece and Italy.

The answer is that size of the sovereign debt burden is not everything when it comes to keeping up with interest payments. No matter how high the ratio of debt to GDP may be, it does not need to increase as long as the government has two factors going its way: the “primary” budget balance — the balance before interest payments — and the growth rate of nominal GDP.

To see how these play out, consider two countries. One has a moderate debt load, 50 per cent of GDP, which carries a four per cent average interest rate. If the budget is in primary balance, the government will still run a deficit of two per cent of GDP, which is four per cent (the interest rate) of 50 per cent (the debt). As long as nominal GDP grows by four per cent, the ratio of debt to GDP stays the same.

The other country is highly indebted, with a debt/GDP ratio of 100 per cent. Assume it also pays an interest rate of four per cent. With a primary budget balance, its fiscal deficit is four per cent of GDP. However, as long as nominal GDP keeps growing at four per cent a year, the ratio of debt to GDP stays the same — 100 per cent.

In effect, the highly-indebted government doesn’t pay a penalty for its profligacy, as long as growth
keeps up and interest rates stay low. Greece and other heavily indebted countries benefited from such a happy environment for years.

But the equilibrium is fragile. It can be disturbed in three ways: nominal GDP growth can decline, interest rates can go up or the country can start running a primary deficit. The pain is much worse for highly indebted countries like Greece, which has managed all three at once.

Start with growth. Imagine nominal GDP growth drops to zero. If nothing is done, the debt/GDP ratio will rise by two percentage points in the moderately indebted country, but by four percentage points in the highly indebted one.

Countries can keep that key ratio from increasing, by running compensating primary surpluses. That means moving from balance to a surplus of two per cent of GDP for the moderately indebted and from zero to four per cent for the heavily indebted. The higher the debt level, the more the government’s belt will have to be tightened.

But such budgetary squeezes tend to put further downward pressure on GDP — making the debt burden even heavier. Imagine that actual GDP falls by a quarter of a percentage point for every budget surplus increase of one percentage point of GDP. The four per cent fiscal squeeze would then knock GDP by one per cent in the profligate country, while the modestly indebted country’s GDP would fall half a per cent.

Next, interest rates. Investors jack up interest rates to compensate for the risk that the population will not stomach a humungous budget squeeze. Foreign buyers are likely to be more demanding than patriotic domestic ones. As the proportion of expensive debt increases, the government’s interest bill rises, potentially starting a debt snowball.

Finally, the government’s budget. While the state would ideally be aiming for a budget surplus, recessions normally lead to higher deficits. As business activity drops off, tax revenue falls and more people qualify for government benefits. This is the worst moment for markets to turn hostile.

When all three factors — economic contraction, higher rates and rising deficits — come at once, they easily start fuelling one another in a vicious cycle. If the profligate country has to pay a six per cent interest rate instead of four per cent and recession and belt-tightening have cut nominal GDP by two per cent, a primary surplus of just over eight per cent is required just to keep the ratio of debt to GDP stable.

That is a huge move, and may be too much to bear politically for the sort of country which has historically run big deficits. Investors have good reason to fear some sort of debt work-out. They then don’t push up the interest rate they are prepared to lend at — they stop lending completely. — Reuters

Bernama: Government debt at RM362b as at Dec 31, 2009

Government debt at RM362b as at Dec 31, 2009

KUALA LUMPUR, April 22 — The government’s overall debt as at Dec 31 last year was RM362.4 billion or 53.7 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP).

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak (picture), who is also Finance Minister, said a major portion of the debt was domestic debts amounting to RM348.6 billion or 96.2 per cent while the remaining RM13.9 billion (3.8 per cent) was external debts.

“The small amount of external debt is in line with the government’s current policy which prioritises domestic borrowings to finance the country’s development projects as the cost is cheaper and there is less exposure to foreign exchange risk,” he said in a written reply to a question from Liew Chin Tong (DAP-Bikut Bendera) at the Dewan Rakyat sitting here today.

Liew had asked on the direct financial obligations of the government in the form of financial guarantee for debt instruments.

Najib said the debt instruments were subscribed by financial institutions, insurance companies and social security institutions.

On the borrowings for projects, he said the financiers were multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and Islamic Development Bank while the bilateral institutions included Japan For International Cooperation (JBIC).

He said the interest rates varied and depended on the tenure of the loan and the prevailing market conditions when the bonds were issued.

Najib said the government’s contingent liabilities meanwhile were in the form of guarantees for the borrowings of statutory bodies and government companies.

As of Dec 31, 2008, the contingent liabilities of the government stood at  RM69.2 billion comprising domestic borrowings of RM59.3 billion (86 per cent) and external borrowings of RM9.9 billion (14 per cent),” he said.

He said the guarantees involved two statutory bodies and 16 government-linked companies.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

malaysiakini: Detainees the world's forgotten - Jo Baker

Detainees: the world's forgotten
Jo Baker
Apr 21, 10
As the UN's top investigator into torture and punishment prepares to end his term later this year, he has focused on a group people whom he has long called the globe's "most vulnerable" to discrimination and to neglect. Detainees, says Dr Manfred Nowak, have become the world's forgotten.

The theme has become central to the Austrian professor's six-year tenure, and in the most recent session of the Human Rights Council this March he strongly reiterated his call for a new convention to protect them.

Where other forms of discrimination are strongly represented in global social movements, the plight of those considered "criminal" tends to raise much less interest and certainly less sympathy.
abu ghraib prisoner abuse latest photo 170206 squats 
Media coverage is sporadic. While it took sexually explicit photographs to raise interest in US-led abuses in Abu Ghraib, and a steep increase in suicides a few years ago in France (which remains infamous for its shabby prisons), headlines are even harder to make in many Asian countries.

Here, accountability remains low and the death count in prison is generally high and poorly documented.

In Indonesia the issue flared up last year when a corruption task force discovered wealthy VIPs in a Central Jakarta prison who had been living in air-conditioned comfort for years, complete with LCD televisions and queen-sized beds, despite overcrowding in many of the country's facilities.

The Minister for Justice and Human Rights acknowledged last year that there are up to 130,000 prisoners in prisons built for 80,000; audits are now being undertaken across the country. Indonesia has featured on watchdog lists for its treatment of the incarcerated for decades, as noted in Caveat, an Indonesian human rights e-journal in a January 2010 article calling for transparency.

"Many of Indonesia's prisoners are stripped of their rights," it notes. "[They] are consequently forced to live in filthy unsanitary conditions; become subject to disease; are placed under sever levels of stress due to overcrowding".

Widespread tolerance 
Cries for attention from prisoners in Sri Lanka have been less successful. One last year - in which inmates held a five-day hunger strike on the roof of Bogambara Prison, Kandy to demand that they either be tried or allowed bail - was covered by just one news outlet. The strikers are reported to have since been charged with violating prison rules.

Many of Sri Lanka's pre-trial inmates are housed along with convicted prisoners and can wait for a trial for years, often under the draconian (and with the war over, arguably redundant) Prevention Against Terrorism Act.

"In general there is a belief or a mentality, even among judges and lawyers here, that the detainees deserve bad conditions as a kind of punishment, particularly those accused of being connected to the LTTE whether they've been convicted yet or not," disclosed one Sri Lankan who works on humanitarian programmes in prisons.
prison jail remand centre banduan penjara 290108 
In short there is a widespread tolerance of the closed, often-murky machinations of prison systems that, in many countries, has encouraged standards to creep towards and beyond the inhumane. "As soon as they are behind bars, detainees lose most of their human rights and often are simply forgotten by the outside world" Novak reiterated this March in Geneva.

A similar point was made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in 2008. 

"Some rights (such as the right to liberty) are necessarily restricted by detention," she wrote during a campaign to highlight the issue.

"But regardless of the reasons why they have been deprived of their liberty, individuals in detention are more vulnerable to human rights violations. The protection of the rights of those in detention is often not deemed a priority by the public, which in turn can dampen government efforts to increase protection."

Novak's recent reports to the UN have been drawn from his missions to 15 countries, including encounters with detainees in Nigeria who had been penned in cells with more than a hundred other inmates and tortured in front of one another, and in Nepal and Sri Lanka where cells were so crowded that inmates couldn't lie down to sleep at the same time.

Inhuman conditions
In Uruguay Novak found conditions inhuman for both prisoners and guards, particularly in the maximum security Libertad Prison. Small metal containers had been built there as a tool of punishment for one person, yet were penning in three with barely any light or air (on his recommendation they were dismantled).

Also significant was the evidence that staff in some places of detention such as police stations don't provide inmates with the basics for survival. In Asia the role of feeding or clothing remand prisoners often falls to family members, with countless cases documented of the 'trades' that result, involving goods from families being `taxed' by police or prison guards.

The family of Bangladeshi NGO director and journalist Abdur Razzak, in a case reported and meticulously tabulated by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) in March last year, was obliged to provide Paikgachha police officers with nearly BDT30,000 and one goat, over 40 occasions during his 12-week detention, sometimes to allow in food and mosquito coils, others as protection against beatings and torture. Since his charges had been falsified he was later released, but not compensated.

Reports from social workers in Cambodian facilities speak of prisoners who must pay to shower, and from India, of those who must either pay staff to be produced in court or be detained indefinitely (if they don't have access to a lawyer). Without money or family support inmates can simply die, Nowak said, unless they abase themselves by performing 'services' for other prisoners or staff in exchange for provisions.

insein prison burma 210509In Burma, where the military junta still bars the Red Cross from its prisons, this situation is systematically exploited. According to the AHRC and journalists at Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, political prisoners are nearly always placed in prisons that are hundreds of kilometers from their home towns and thus from any form of support.

In the Philippines the question of detainees' right to health came up in 2008 and 2009 with the deaths from tuberculosis of two remanded labor rights activists. Melvic Lupe, 29, and Leo Paro, 25, had been fit two years ago when they were remanded in Cainta City Jail after striking against Karnation Industries and Export Inc, a home décor company.

Their families accuse the prison authorities of criminal neglect, and say that they have been unable to find out whether the men had been medically treated, or to obtain a copy of the medical report. Like many in their situation the men had been essentially sealed away, though they had not yet even been convicted.

Indeed, thanks to immense delays in justice and widespread corruption, many of those imprisoned in developing countries have either not been subject to fair trial or been tried at all.

According to the latest World Pre-trial Imprisonment List 2.5 million people were known to be held in pre-trial detention (and other forms of remand imprisonment) throughout the world in October 2007 (and about another quarter of a million are held in the countries on which such data can't be gathered).

In Bangladesh the WPIL has documented that 68 percent of its prison population is such. In Thailand it put the pre-trial population at 33,000, and this number rises through Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines to India, where it rests at about 250,000 (though a decline is imminent now thanks to a initiative, announced in January 2010, to release 135,000 'under-trials in prisons across the country). Figures are hard to come by for China but the organization estimates that it may be holding as many as 100,000 untried prisoners.

Untried persons can be inside for years. Thailand's Somphon Dechanuphap and Nen Mahavilai were in remand prison for seven years of a 15-year trial; they were convicted for a further 16 each in 2008 on allegedly trumped-up charges.

During his missions Nowak also discovered people being held for weeks without toilet access in police cells in Equatorial Guinea: they would defecate and urinate in the lunch bags and bottles sent in by their families.

Cells in the backs of police stations may be equipped to keep suspects for a few hours but they are widely used to hold them arbitrarily for much longer.

"If more than 50 percent of all detainees, and in some countries up to 80 percent, are in pre-trial detention, something is wrong," the March report noted. "It usually means that criminal proceedings last far too long, that the detention of criminal suspects is the rule rather than the exception, and that release on bail is misunderstood by judges, prosecutors and prison staff as an incentive for corruption".
Many detainees, Novak found, did not even know whether or not they had already been convicted by a court.

Holding governments responsible
The rapporteur's call for action this year therefore extends to the judicial systems - to the funding and political will needed to get them functioning credibly - as a way of ensuring that prison conditions are checked and challenged regularly.

But his request for a convention is more specific. Unlike many of the existing international principles and guidelines for the treatment of prisoners, a convention would legally bind countries into a communication channel with experts on the issue; it would hold states regularly and comprehensively accountable if signed, and even if unsigned would encourage a measure of state self-reflection and review.

As Novak's five years or so of reports have shown, prisons tend to bring out the worst in people on both sides of the bars. Those who have lost their right liberty - validly or not - need their remaining rights protecting with even more vigilance.

This article first appeared in Asia Sentinel on Monday, Apr 19, 2010.

malaysiakini: I am 'pendatang' first - Yeo Yang Poh

I am 'pendatang' first
Yeo Yang Poh
Malaysiakini, Apr 21, 10, 2:31pm
I confess.

Put away the electrodes and the peacock feathers. I am allergic to torture. I will readily confess.

Yes, I am pendatang (a Comer) first.

I am pendatang first, homo sapiens second, agnostic third, Chinese fourth, Teochew fifth, spoiler of women sixth, and so on. Don't worry, being Malaysian is definitely somewhere down the list.

Being pendatang first does not mean I am less of a Malaysian.

azlanHow can I say I'm Malaysian first and pendatang second? If I do that, all the pendatang will shun me and say it's not proper. Yes, I know they will. How do I know that?

Oh, I rely on very high authority. I learn it from the wisdom of our DPM, who is reported to have said (and his sombre voice still rings in my ears): “How can I say I'm Malaysian first and Malay second? All the Malays will shun me and say it's not proper” (as quoted in The Sun, April 1, 2010; no April Fool's joke).

And if all the Comers shun me, God forbid, I will become the only Comer who will have to go.

Nor can you expect me to say that I'm Malaysian second, and homo sapien third. Why? Come on, if I do that, all the homo sapiens will shun me and say it's not proper. And if all the homo sapiens shun me, my social status will drop a few notches, from a proud pendatang to a bespectacled binatang (animal). I wouldn't want that, because it could affect my credit limit with American Express.

And how can I say that I am a Malaysian third, and a ... ... ... You wouldn't want me to carry on like this, I'm sure. And let's not go anywhere near the part where all women might shun me.

Have not these issues of needlessly competing priorities been put to rest by that new and exciting concept called 1Malaysia? Again I confess; I do not understand the concept, the ga-ga-san (pronounced either with finesse or not at all).

At first I thought it was a pretty good idea. I figured it meant that we ought to embrace the only 1 race that mattered - the human race.
But, alas, that was before I witnessed the number of 'we must change' leaders leaping to the defence of that not-so-extreme group called Perkasa, whose motto is apparently not mi casa es su casa; but whose zealousness curiously does not appear to have energised them enough to go to Hulu Selangor to champion their 'go away, all ye ungrateful comers' cause. What a letdown.

It was also before I watched the impending spectacular comeback to BN politics of that 'I'm-Malay-first, once-suspended, quickly-restored' Penang politician who gave obscure, ungrateful taxpaying Malaysians like me the beautiful name of pendatang, and catapulted us into national limelight. Who says ordinary folks like me have no chance for a place in history?

So now I am confused as to what a complex, homegrown concept such as 1Malaysia might mean. Could it be the Freudian result of a subconscious desire for Malaysia to be forever ruled by 1 party?

Or could it signify the commitment to the principle that Petronas, that reservoir of resources that belongs to all Malaysians (including, by the grace of extraordinary generosity, pendatangs), shall always be answerable to 1 and only 1 person for all eternity? Or perhaps that 1 race should always be Number 1 in Malaysia, until the mountains shall turn to salt?

Conscious choice made

Whatever it is and whatever you do, if you speak the word 1Malaysia in public, do it as gently as a nightingale would a new tune and never attempt to illustrate the concept with a hand gesture; for there is nothing more unfortunate than a wrong finger in a wrong direction at the wrong place.

Now, now, for those of you quick to jump to conclusions (especially journalists in the habit of misquoting politicians when what was said has already been captured on tape), twist not my pure intention. No need to be cynical. Mine is a genuine call for help here. I need assistance, to understand the true concept of 1Malaysia.

For, judging by what goes on around me, it seems obvious to me that if someone is Malay first, another pendatang first, a third Kadazan first, a fourth neurosurgeon first, and so on, being Malaysian can never come first; and 1Malaysia will never occupy the Number 1 spot. Why would first-class Malaysia want a second-class gagasan? Eh, am I missing something?

There are those who insist that I am not a pendatang, which is a story for another day. But I don't mind the label at all. I am proud to be a pendatang. A pendatang knows where he came from, how he came, why he stays behind, and where he will go.

A pendatang realises, eventually, the right way to vote (oh, now I have your attention). A pendatang understands her roots (important), the human genome (humbling), transcontinental migration (enlightening), and many more things.

That seems pretty all right to me, compared with the people who do not know whether they are coming or going, or those who think that 21st century human relations are pinned to geographical boundaries the same way it had been in 2000 BC; even though Astro has already made it so easy for anybody to get basic education on human and genetic history via the Discovery Channel.

I am convinced that pendatangs should be given 'special rights' that must not be questioned by others, ever. Why? Because people who claim they did not come from anywhere must have been placed here without choice. They are here because they can't help it.

Pendatangs, however, are people who chose to come and who choose to remain. Surely they possess and exhibit a higher level of commitment and patriotism to this land. Surely they deserve special rights. Case closed.

Now comes my final confession of the day. Yes, you are right, I am a racist. I give greater importance to that race called the human race, than to any other species and living things on Earth.

That, well and truly, does not make me less of a Malaysian; though it might get me into a tiny bit of trouble with animal and nature lovers.

And on second thought, keep the electrodes, but give me the feathers. I could put them to amazing use.

YEO YANG POH, a senior lawyer, is a former chairperson of the Bar Council.


Comments (DQ):
Brilliant tongue-in-cheek discourse on how all of us "pendatang" since the time of Eve from Africa must feel, if we decide to be fair and rational. If only one can be a simple human being (slightly higher than a 'binatang' (animal)) and a "nationalist" from our arbitrary delimited boundaries, forgetting our artificial appendages that serve to divide us, how much more productive and sane we can all be (?). Must we always collapse within our petty parochial interests, so that we can hope to attract the basest instincts of our tribal nature and simple minded mob, to get ahead? Alas, we do have a long way to go to grow up...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Malaysian Insider: The cost of Malaysia-US relations by Tunku Aziz

The cost of Malaysia-US relations

by Tunku Aziz
Malaysian Insider, APRIL 17 —
And so it has finally happened. What a great honour for Malaysia. Datuk Seri Najib Razak, the prime minister of 1 Malaysia fame, was thrown a few crumbs, a few brief moments to savour, exchanging pleasantries with US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit.

Naturally, it was not quite the same as being driven down Pennsylvania Avenue to be welcomed at the portal of the White House, but I am being churlish as usual where Najib is concerned. Najib did get to see Obama via the tradesman’s entrance.

What irks me about this non-event meeting is that we had to resort to employing a very expensive public relations firm, for which read grubby Washington lobbyists, for close to US$25 million (RM80 million), give or take a million dollar here and there. Small change I suppose when it is not your hard-earned money.

We maintain, for a small country, far too many embassies, all the result of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s megalomaniac years when he developed a special interest in trafficking with some of the vilest and most violent regimes particularly in North and Sub-Saharan Africa that others would not have touched with a long barge pole. For maverick Mahathir, that was his regular breakfast fare.

Maintaining diplomatic missions abroad requires a huge budget, and ours in Washington DC must cost us an arm and a leg. So Malaysian taxpayers have every right to expect to get value for money, especially when we were assured by Prime Minister Najib that his choice of our ambassador to the US was based on the gentleman’s credentials, whatever those might be.

One of his qualifications, so we were told, was that he had developed extensive networking, Washington DC style, into a fine art, and could be reasonably expected to pave the way for getting Malaysia into the inside track. Our man in DC could not, on this occasion, even arrange a fleeting “hello and goodbye” meeting without resorting, in the time-honoured Malaysian culture of corruption, to that offensive practice euphemistically referred to as “chequebook diplomacy”.

The prime minister could not have picked a better candidate for the job, and I wonder if there would ever be an end to the perceived sleaziness, rightly or wrongly, that has come to be associated with Najib. For the all our sakes, the prime minister has to be a little more circumspect and open in his dealings.

What has this visit achieved for the money and time expended? A photo opportunity at most for Najib, but for Malaysia, toeing submissively the American/Israeli policy against Iran. We decried Junior Bush’s attack on Iraq because we were not convinced that the claimed weapons of mass destruction really existed. Why are we so quick off the mark this time to believe the Israeli-inspired conspiracy against Iran? Where is the incontrovertible evidence that Iran is building nuclear weapons? What have we done to urge the Americans to dismantle Israeli nuclear warheads?

On this issue, there has to be a great deal of soul-searching to be done on our part if we are to remain true to our sense of justice and if we wish enhance our standing among the morally decent nations of the world. I am not suggesting that we should oppose every American policy that impacts on global peace and security. We have to resist the temptation, however, of living in each other’s pockets in our relations whether with mighty America or pinhead Singapore.

I am not against Israel, per se. I admire the energy of the country and its people, many of whom are friends of mine. With one, I went on two holidays, shared kosher food and enjoyed many hilarious moments. They are as honest and decent as the rest of humanity, and they, like us, want the best for their country and the Jewish people.

That having been said, anyone familiar with the workings of the American system on the international policy level will realise that no matter how often you meet Obama, nothing will happen unless the very powerful pro-Jewish congressional committees want it to happen.

Rather than swimming in circles in the murky Potomac inhabited by totally disreputable money-grabbing grey-suited lobbyists just to pay homage to the White House, it would be easier and a great deal less costly to recognise, yes, recognise Israel.

It is there; it is not a mirage in the desert. All this pretense that it does not exist has to make way for a pragmatic new policy. We have to exorcise the ghost of Mahathir’s rabid anti-Jewish ghost or we will get nowhere. We are not helping the Palestinians if we do not talk and walk with the Israelis. That does not mean we agree with their inhumanity to the Palestinians.

We will get all the support and backing of the very influential American Jewish interests, and will be able to engage Israel on a number of critical international and humanitarian issues, including the Palestinian conundrum. I think we should give this serious consideration. The Jews are anxious to cultivate us.

I recall in 2006 while serving with the UN in New York I was invited to deliver a talk at a conference in Jerusalem. Despite attempts to deny that I was a Malaysian official, they saw me as such, and not as a special UN adviser who I really was.

They were delighted that for the first time in history that they had a ranking “Malaysian official” addressing a public meeting in Israel. They were not particularly interested in what I had to say about good governance, and the vital importance of fighting corruption.

They wanted to know why Malaysia did not recognise Israel and, yet at the same time our government leaders saw nothing wrong in depositing huge sums of money in Israeli banks. I had to tell them I could not answer their questions as I was not a member of the government of Malaysia. Mahathir may care to comment when he chooses to remember this bizarre aspect of his glorious administration.

By all means get close to Washington, Najib, but not at any cost.

The Malaysian Inisder: NEP crutch cannot be undone yet, says Dr M--by Debra Chong

NEP crutch cannot be undone yet, says Dr M

Dr Mahathir said Malaysia’s affirmative action policies were a British creation. — file pic
By Debra Chong Malaysian Insider, KUALA LUMPUR, April 16 —

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today berated the Malay community for being rent-seekers, but pressed for the retention of affirmative action to “correct” the country’s wealth imbalance among the races.

In a keynote speech to commemorate the 44th anniversary of Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara), a government agency set up boost Bumiputera participation in business and education, the former premier said the Malays must not be proud of always getting aid from the government.

“Aid is like a crutch... to be given when we are weak” he told an attentive Malay audience, which packed the ground floor foyer of Medan MARA, the agency’s headquarters here.

“It is better if we can stand firmly on our own feet,” he added.

“Do not be proud with such aid. In truth, we are not masters because of aid,” he chided, lamenting the general attitude among the Malay community which frequently looked for the easiest way of getting rich.

Dr Mahathir, a strident anti-colonial critic, told the crowd that many of the affirmative action policies they regarded as their natural rights were actually created by the colonial British, who viewed them as a backward race in need of handicaps, drawing parallels to the “Red Indians” who continue to reside in Native American reserves in the US.

The author of “The Malay Dilemma” pointed out that the New Economic Policy (NEP) drawn up 30 years ago was never meant to be a permanent policy.

“The NEP was a temporary crutch,” he reminded the crowd, and added that the real Malay fight was not to preserve affirmative action but to spur the community towards better economic opportunities.

He added that Mara, as a government agency, provided such opportunities and urged them not to waste the chances.

“I think we don’t have to rely on aid forever,” he added.

But Dr Mahathir later told a press conference that he did not think the time had come to fully dismantle NEP-style policies.

“The exact time, I can’t say but we must see the result first. You fix the time, [but] you don’t know what your achievement is like. You have to give it more time, have to be patient,” he said, when quizzed on a suitable timeframe for the policy to be phased out.

Dr Mahathir also said he did not see the other ethnic races as having lost out much in terms of economic opportunities as a result of the government’s policies favouring the Bumiputeras.

“In this country, if you study the distribution of wealth, it is still unequal so we need to correct that. And we have been doing this thing for so many years, for almost 50 years.

“It’s not like it has hampered the growth of this country nor have people run away from this country because of injustice or unfairness from the government,” he said.

Dr Mahathir conceded that there were statistics showing an increase in the number of Malaysians leaving the country, but defended this as a natural process that other countries also faced.

“One has to take the good with the bad,” he explained.

The former prime minister seemed to suggest that the brain drain was not critical and that Malaysia was not losing talents as such.

“Of course there will be people who will leave. They feel they are in this country to enjoy the benefits but not to make the sacrifice.”

Monday, April 12, 2010

Malaysian Insider-Matthias Chang: Martyr without a cause? — NH Chan

Matthias Chang: Martyr without a cause? — NH Chan (

APRIL 11 — In the Sun newspaper of Friday, 2 April 2010 I came across this story:

Dr M’s ex-aide starts jail term for contempt

KUALA LUMPUR: Matthias Chang, former political secretary of ex-premier Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, was sent to prison after he refused to pay a RM20,000 fine for contempt of court.

Chang was served the committal order by the High Court before he was taken to Kajang prison.
The lawyer was cited for contempt of court on March 25 when he failed to apologise to the court during cross-examination in his defamation suit against American Express (Malaysia).

The committal order stated: “At about 2.30pm to day (March 25) … when the court refused your request to address the court as a witness, you lost your cool and walked out of the witness box and thereafter left the court during the proceedings. Your conduct is a contempt in the face of the court by virtue of Order 52 (1A) of the Rules of the High Court.”

Judge Noor Azian Shaari had ordered Chang to pay a fine of RM20,000 within seven days, in default [to serve a] month’s jail sentence.

The judge says that Chang had committed contempt in the face of the court.

I will first tell about how the law of contempt came into being. Then I will tell about how it had evolved into what it has become in modern times. But before that you may wish to know,

What is contempt in the face of the court?
If you have read my book How to Judge the Judges, 2nd edition, Sweet & Maxwell Asia, you will come across this passage on page 61:
Contempt in the face of the Court

If you attack the character or conduct of a judge it could be termed a contempt by scandalizing the judiciary. If you make the same attack in court or if you disrupt proceedings in court it is called contempt in the face of the court.

This was what the judge Noor Azian Shaari meant when she told Matthias Chang “Your conduct is a contempt in the face of the court.” Chang had disrupted court proceedings as a witness when he walkout in a huff.

The difference between contempt by scandalising the judiciary and contempt in the face of the court is that the latter is dealt with summarily, that is to say, done or made immediately and without following the normal procedures — this is the dictionary meaning. And this is how Lee Hun Hoe CJ (Borneo) put it in Cheah Cheng Hoc v Public Prosecutor [1986] 1 MLJ 299 (SC), at p 301:

The power of summary punishment is a necessary power to maintain the dignity and authority of the Judge and to ensure a fair trial. It should be exercised with scrupulous care and only when the case is clear and beyond reasonable doubt. As Lord Denning, MR said in Balogh v Crown Court [1974] 3 All ER 283, at 288:

“It is to be exercised by the judge of his own motion only when it is urgent and imperative to act immediately – so as to maintain the authority of the court — to prevent disorder, to enable witnesses to be free from fear, and jurors being improperly influenced, and the like …”

This power must be used sparingly but fearlessly when necessary to prevent obstruction of justice. We feel that we must leave the exercise of this awesome power to the good sense of our judge. We will interfere when this power is misused.

Now that we know what is contempt in the face of the court better than any other uninstructed person, we should not listen to a non-lawyer, like Che Det, giving pompous legal advice and telling-off the judge that “no one should be the prosecutor, the judge and the executioner.” Doesn’t our former prime minister know that summary decisions are part of living in a civilized society? The umpire in a badminton match does it all the time, so does the referee in a soccer match and other sporting activities, but most of all, and he should know as he was a parliamentarian, the speaker of the House of Representatives or Legislative Assembly does it all the time at every sitting; they are all, to use his own words, “prosecutor, judge and executioner.”

Contempt in the face of the court means “the power of summary punishment to be exercised by the judge of his own motion only when it is urgent and imperative to act immediately” so as to prevent – as in the case of Matthias Chang — disruption of the court proceedings. This is a necessary power to be exercised only in the most pressing cases so as to deal with the circumstances or situations stated by Lord Denning in Balogh v Crown Office.

The history of this awesome power of the judges
But first let me relate the historical evolution of this awesome power of a judge at common law. I won’t say it is a draconian power because nowadays, that is, ever since 1936 – since Ambard v A-G for Trinidad & Tobago, a more tolerant attitude is taken by the common law towards critics of the judiciary.

On how the law of contempt came into being
At the beginning, before 1936, it was an excessively harsh power; one could say it was a draconian power. But why was it so? Because during the time of despotic kings of England, the king’s judges were lions under the throne of the king, and they were wielding the power of the king in the administration of the king?s notion of justice – do remember that the common law of England is entwined in the history of England. This was how Mr. Justice Wilmot (in an opinion which was not delivered because the prosecution was dropped) explained the purpose of this law in R v Almon 97 ER 94, 100 (1765):

The arraignment of the justice of the Judges is arraigning the King’s justice; it is an impeachment of his wisdom and goodness in the choice of his Judges, and excites in the minds of the people a general dissatisfaction with all judicial determinations and indisposes their minds to obey them; and whenever men’s allegiance to the laws is so fundamentally shaken, it is the most fatal and most dangerous obstruction of justice, and, in my opinion, calls out for a more rapid and immediate redress than any other obstruction whatsoever; not for the sake of the Judges, as private individuals, but because they are the channels by which the King’s justice is conveyed to the people.

In 1788 in the case of R v Watson 2 Term Reports (Durnford and East) 199, 205 (1788) Mr. Justice Buller expressed similar sentiments:

Nothing can be of greater importance to the welfare of the public than to put a stop to the animadversions and censures which are so frequently made on courts of justice in this country. They can be of no service, and may be attended with the most mischievous consequences. … When a person has recourse … by publications in print, or by any other means, to calumniate the proceedings of a Court of justice, the obvious tendency of it is to weaken the administration of justice, and in consequence to sap the very foundation of the Constitution itself.

And how from such beginnings the law of contempt had evolved to what it is today
Despite the demise of the reign of despotic kings where it ended with the flight of King James II from the realm (James II was the last of the Stuart Kings of England, 1603-1714) – “the grandiloquent fear that criticism of the courts may endanger civilization” had continued right up to the early twentieth century. “The branch of contempt of court known as ‘scandalising the judiciary’ served to inhibit criticism of the courts by laymen. To a limited extent it remains a fetter on freedom of expression about judicial performance.” — see Pannick, Judges, page 109.

In R v Gray [1900] 2 QB 36, 40, Lord Russell of Killowen CJ laid down the law of contempt in this way:

“Any act done or writing published calculated to bring a Court or a judge of the Court into contempt, or to lower his authority, is a contempt of court.”

This is nicely summed up by David Pannick in his book Judges, at page 110:

“The grandiloquent fear that criticism of the courts may endanger civilization has, in the twentieth century, continued to lead to the punishment of persons who have insulted members of the judiciary or impugned their impartiality.”

The book then goes on to say, pp 110-112:

English law remained unwilling to leave it to public opinion to assess whether criticism of the judiciary had any basis.

Mr Justice Darling was the presiding judge at the Birmingham Spring Assizes in 1900. Before the start of a trial for obscene libel, he warned the press that they should not publish indecent accounts of the evidence. After the conviction and sentence of the defendant in the criminal case, Mr. Gray wrote and published in the Birmingham Daily Argus, of which he was the Editor, an article [in which he described] how Mr. Justice Darling,

“ … filled in a pleasant five minutes yesterday. … Mr Justice Darling … [warned] the Press against the printing of indecent evidence. His diminutive Lordship positively glowed with judicial self-consciousness. … He felt himself bearing on his shoulders the whole fabric of public decency. …

There is not a journalist in Birmingham who has anything to learn from the impudent little man in horsehair, a microcosm of conceit and empty-headedness. … One of Mr. Justice Darling’s biographers states that ‘an eccentric relative left him much money.’ That misguided testator spoiled a successful bus conductor.”

This splendid piece of invective effectively punctured the vain pretensions of Mr Justice Darling whose injudicious behaviour on the Bench was frequently a disgrace. …

Mr Gray’s prose was not appreciated by the courts. He was brought before the Queen’s Bench Division
charged with contempt of court. He swore a groveling affidavit of apology, no doubt on sensible legal advice that otherwise there would be even more serious consequences for him. …

Lord Russell, the Lord Chief Justice, … gave a solemn judgment, noting that it was “an article of scurrilous abuse of a judge in his character of judge – scurrilous abuse in reference to the conduct of a judge while sitting under the Queen’s Commission, and scurrilous abuse published in a newspaper in the town in which he was still sitting under the Queen’s Commission.” He concluded that there was no doubt that the article amounted to a contempt of court. … he was fined 100 pounds and ordered to pay the costs.

The above case was reported in the Law Reports series as R v Gray [1900] 2 QB 36, 39-42. This is the case where Lord Russell of Killowen had laid down the draconian law of contempt which had stifled criticisms of the judiciary in the early part of the twentieth century until the judgment of Lord Atkin inAmbard v A-G for Trinidad & Tobago ended it in 1936.

Here are a couple of examples of those pre-1936 cases:

i) In R v Vidal, The Times 14 October 1922 a dissatisfied litigant who believed that the President of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division of the High Court was a party to a conspiracy against him walked up and down outside the Law Courts with a placard accusing the judge of being “a traitor to his duty.” He was sentenced to four months’ imprisonment.

ii) In R v Freeman, The Times 18 November 1925 another dissatisfied litigant sent a letter to Mr. Justice Roche, who had decided a case against him, accusing the judge of being “a liar, a coward, a perjurer.” He was held of being in contempt of court.

But the tide of the pompous attitude of the judges in their own conceit and self-importance changed abruptly in 1936
At page 114 of David Pannick’s book Judges: “More recently, courts have emphasized that only in very exceptional cases will charges of contempt be brought against those who criticize the judiciary.”
Lord Atkin explained it in the Privy Council case of Ambard v A-G for Trinidad and Tobago [1936] AC 322, at p 335:

… whether the authority and position of an individual judge, or the due administration of justice, is concerned, no wrong is committed by any member of the public who exercises the ordinary right of criticising, in good faith, in private or public, the public act done in the seat of justice. The path of criticism is a public way: the wrong-headed are permitted to err therein; provided that members of the public abstain from imputing improper motives to those taking part in the administration of justice, and are genuinely exercising a right of criticism, and not acting in malice or attempting to impair the administration of justice, they are immune. Justice is not a cloistered virtue: she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful, even though outspoken, comments of ordinary men.

This case was decided in 1936, so it is embodied in our common law of contempt by virtue of section 3(1) of the Civil Law Act 1956 which says:

(1) Save so far as other provision has been made or may hereafter be made by any written law in force in Malaysia, the court shall:

(a) in Peninsular Malaysia or any part thereof, apply the common law of England and the rules of equity as administered in England on April 7, 1956;

(b) in Sabah, apply the common law of England and the rules of equity, … as administered or in force in England on December 1, 1951;

(c) in Sarawak, apply the common law of England and the rules of equity, … as administered or in force in England on December 12, 1949, …

But tragically, to the many who have suffered at the hands of the judges, the blame has to be placed on our Supreme Court for being under the delusion that the common law of England on contempt was that as stated in R v Gray[1900] 2 QB 36 and they have applied it as the common law which applies in this country by virtue of section 3(1) of the Civil Law Act 1956. They were oblivious of Ambard v A-G for Trinidad and Tobago which was decided in 1936 and which has since then completely changed the way the common law world looked at the law of contempt of scandalising the judiciary.

The result that Ambard v A-G for Trinidad & Tobago has brought about is that all previous Supreme Court cases that depended on R v Gray were decided per incuriam (by oversight, failure to notice). The effect is that all those cases of contempt mentioned in the judgment of the Supreme Court in Attorney-General, Malaysia v Manjeet Singh [1990] 1 MLJ 167 have failed to apply the common law of England on contempt as it stood in 1956 – in other words, our courts by applying R v Gray, a 1900 decision, have consistently applied an obsolete law.

The judgment of Mohamad Yusuff SCJ at pp 177, 178 belies the mediocrity of the judgment itself. He said:

The Supreme Court has this far consistently applied the common law principle of contempt of court as seen in the judgments of these cases, viz: Arthur Lee Meng Kwang v Faber Merlin (M) Bhd & Ors [1986] 1 MLJ 193, Lim Kit Siang v Dato’ Mahathir Mohamad[1987] 1 MLJ 383 and Trustee of Leong San Tong Kongsi (Penang) Registered & Ors v SM Idris [1990] 1 MLJ 273. All these cases dealt with contempt in scandalizing the court. … the common law, as has been expounded, applied and decided by our courts after April 7, 1956, by virtue of the Civil Law Act 1956, has become part of our law. … On the law applicable to this case … as mentioned earlier, the principle of common law of contempt as stated in R v Gray [1900] 2 QB 36 still applies in our country.

This judge and all the other judges who have decided the cases of Manjeet Singh, Arthur Lee, Lim Kit Siang and Leong San Tong Kongsi did not realize that R v Gray had been superseded by Ambard v A-G for Trinidad & Tobago. This judgment of the Privy Council as to the obsolescence of the offence of scandalising the judiciary has demonstrated that R v Gray is no longer good law.

Therefore, the common law of England on the law of contempt of scandalising the judiciary as it stood in 1956 is Ambard v A-G for Trinidad & Tobago; the judgment of the Privy Council by Lord Atkin allows for criticism of the judiciary even in the ferocity of the language used. The common law of England on the law of contempt as administered in England in 1956 is not R v Gray (which is obsolete) but Ambard v A-G for Trinidad & Tobago.

Poor Arthur Lee, and poor Lim Kit Siang, and poor Manjeet Singh and poor Murray Hiebert (Murray Hiebert v Chandra Sri Ram [1999] 4 MLJ 321), they have all been convicted of the offence of scandalising the judiciary on an obsolete law.

Tragically, the obsolescence of the offence of scandalizing the judiciary has escaped the uninspired minds of our judges.

Mr Martin Jalleh has suggested that I be charged with contempt of court. I think it was an unreasonable request because such an event would put the entire judiciary in a quandary. Those cases, such as Arthur Lee, Lim Kit Siang, Manjeet Singh, and even Murray Hiebert are over, bar the shouting, ? the phrase is used when any controversial event is said to be technically settled but arguments about the outcome continue, albeit with little effect on the result: see Red Herrings and White Elephants, Albert Jack, Metro Publishing Ltd, London, 2004. I would suggest that it is best to let sleeping dogs (or should I say, lions) lie.

Even our former prime minister Tun Mahathir admitted in Che Det that when he gave his opinion that the judge should not be prosecutor, judge, and executioner in Matthias Chang’s case — he did so with trepidation. Actually, he has nothing to worry about. We are both on the same boat. Our defence is this:
By virtue of section 3(1)(a) of the Civil Law Act 1956, the common law of Peninsular Malaysia is the common law of England as administered in England on April 7, 1956. The common law of England on the law of contempt of scandalising the judiciary as administered in England in 1956 is Ambard v A-G for Trinidad & Tobago which allows for criticism of the judiciary even in the ferocity of the language used.

This briefly tells the history and evolution of the law of contempt up to the present time.
We can now proceed to look at Matthias Chang’s case with a broader and better understanding.

How does the law of contempt in the face of the court apply to Matthias Chang?
As far back as in 1527 there is this tale of Sergeant Roo, “a great lawyer of that time, more eager to show his wit than to be made a Judge,” who had composed a satire on the abuses of the law for which Lord Chancellor Wolsey was responsible. The satire was delivered in the presence of the King. Roo was summarily dispatched to prison — see Judges by David Pannick, Barrister; Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, OUP, 1987, at page 105 to which he has also included the rider:
Nowadays a more tolerant attitude is taken towards critics of the judiciary. Nevertheless, lawyers and non-lawyers remain reluctant to emulate the critical approach of Sergeant Roo.

In times past — as I have explained in the history above — lawyers, “If they have suggestions for reform of the judiciary, or comments to make on judicial performance, they whisper them to each other over lunch in the Middle Temple or in professional journals remote from the public gaze. Such heresies are expressed cautiously, in deferential language.” – see Judges, pp 105, 106 where it also said:

In one case, after Lord Mansfield (Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, 1756-88) had given judgment for a Bench of four judges, he asked Sergeant Hill, who appeared for the unsuccessful party, to “tell us your real opinion and whether you don?t think we are right.” Hill replied that “he always thought it his duty to do what the Court desired and … he … did not think that there were four men in the world who could have given such an ill-sounded judgment …

More often, it is only in fiction that the conventions of politeness to judges are defied. The judges before whom John Mortimer’s Rumpole appears are perverse and malign. They are ignorant of the ways of the world. They are differential or rude to witnesses depending on the social status of those who have the misfortune to give evidence in their courts. … Only a barrister of Rumpole’s experience (and lack of ambition) can afford to reply in kind to the discourtesy emanating from that fictional Bench.

Ever heard of the expression “truth is stranger than fiction”? In this country we have experienced for real perverse and malign judges, not the fictional ones experienced by John Mortimer’s Rumpole.
In 1680, Nathaniel Redding accused two judges of “oppression” and was condemned in Court to pay the King 500 pounds and lie in prison till he paid it, seeNathaniel Redding’s Case, Sir Thomas Raymond’s Reports 376 n. (1680). Later that term the court remitted the fine and the sentence of imprisonment.

In the Matter of Thomas James Wallace (1866) LR 1 PC 283, a Nova Scotia lawyer wrote a letter to the Chief Justice complaining that “I can’t help thinking that I am not fairly dealt with by the Court or Judges.” He added that he “could also recall cases where the decision was, I believe, largely influenced, if not wholly based, upon information received privately from the wife of one of the parties by the judge. Is this justice?” Lord Westbury, in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, remarked that this “undoubtedly was a letter of a most reprehensible kind … a contempt of court, which it was hardly possible for the Court to omit taking cognizance of.”

I have found a case after 1936, it is R v Logan (1974) Crim LR 609. A man on being convicted shouted from the dock, that it was “a carve up”, was held to be a contempt of court.
But why am I telling this?

Was Matthias Chang charged with contempt for discourtesy to the Bench?
I should think so too. It was crass impertinence of him to behave in such an unruly manner towards a judge. As a lawyer he should know better than to be discourteous to the court.

If I remember correctly he was charged with disrupting the court proceedings while giving evidence as a witness by stomping out of the witness box in a huff and left the court because the judge refused to allow him to deliver a submission or speech from the witness stand.

The only modern case (post 1936) of disruption of court proceedings that I am aware of is the case of Morris v Crown Office [1970] 2 QB 114 where the English Court of Appeal allowed an appeal against their sentence of imprisonment imposed on Welsh students who had disrupted court proceedings. Davies LJ said, at page 127:

On occasions one has the misfortune to encounter someone who makes a disturbance in court. Usually when that happens it is a case of a disappointed litigant who, from a sense of rage or disappointment at the result of his case, loses control of himself and gives vent to his feelings by an outburst either by word of mouth or physically.

In Balogh v St Albans Crown Court [1975] QB 73, a young man was sentenced by Mr. Justice Melford Stevenson to six months’ imprisonment for contempt of court by planning to release laughing gas into the court to disrupt proceedings. He was released by the Court of Appeal because his conduct was not a contempt as he had not disrupted court proceedings. His plan was foiled by the police.

So now we know that the atrocious behaviour of Matthias Chang in court is a contempt in the face of the court. As he did not appeal against the sentence, could it be assumed that he was happy with the sentence of one month’s imprisonment?

Had he appealed, who knows, he could have succeeded following Morris v Crown Office.
I suppose he wants to be a martyr without a cause. —

* Datuk Chan Nyarn Hoi is a retired Court of Appeal judge.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.