Saturday, October 30, 2010

CORRUPTION: The Pass Mark Eludes Malaysia... by Tunku Abdul Aziz

CORRUPTION: The Pass Mark Eludes Malaysia

by Tunku Abdul Aziz

Judged internationally, by almost every performance indicator known to man, Malaysia is a duffer, and that is putting it charitably. Our report card is drowning in a sea of red ink. The 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index just released shows Malaysia scoring 4.4 points at number 56 out of 178 countries surveyed.

Many have questioned the methodology used and have gone so far as to suggest developing our own index. But let me just say this. Whatever we may think, the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index enjoys a reputation second to none as the world’s most authoritative index of its kind.

A similar sentiment has been expressed about the world’s top universities index. Shoot the bearer of bad news and retreat to hide under our tempurung and croak our lungs out for the entire world to hear about our version of Malaysia’s achievements. We have become a nation of bad losers.

When Datuk Anwar Fazal, Raja Aziz Addruse, Datuk Param Cumaraswamy and other like minded men and women of the highest integrity met in the Royal Commonwealth Society one night many years ago to discuss forming the Malaysian Chapter of Transparency International Malaysia, they had seen enough, and had become greatly concerned at the speed with which corruption in national life had destroyed the moral fabric and consumed the very soul of our people. It was not the easiest of undertakings to operate an anti-corruption non-governmental organisation during Mahathir’s corrupt and repressive regime.

The Registrar of Societies in this case was helpful, and much to our delight, approved our application. TI owes its existence to Tan Sri Hassan Marican, then President of PETRONAS a highly principled servant of this country. He invited me to lunch in my capacity as President of TI and said, not five minutes into the meal, that he would like to support our work, and how much would I need? I responded by saying I was not interested in a one off grant, but long term support. I asked for very little, not wanting to be greedy. He agreed. I understand the PETRONAS support continues today, with no strings attached.

In the years since the TICPI made its appearance in 1995, two years after Transparency International was founded, Malaysia has very rarely achieved the minimum pass mark of 5 points. We used to be ahead of South Korea regularly, and in Asia were for years only behind Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan. What all this shows is that we have regressed to a point that corruption in our country is no longer just a fact of life, but it has graduated to become a way of life.

When we look closely at the countries that are perceived to be among the least corrupt, we find they are invariably well governed and that there is a correlation between good governance and competitiveness. These countries realise only too well that corruption if unchecked will distort and destroy their moral values and value systems and, sooner rather than later, their economies.

The symptoms of moral decay is everywhere in this country. It never ceases to amaze me at the naivety of our government leaders that they think that mere rhetorical expressions of good intentions to fight corruption could camouflage the unbridled systemic subversion of the country’s mechanisms of checks and balances and other institutions of government as part of our constitutional arrangements to protect the rights of our citizens.

Mahathir’s had a cynical view of his stewardship, a concept totally alien to him. He set about destroying, like a man possessed, what he saw as constitutional or legal impediments to his personal and political ambitions. His legacy to Malaysia is best described as a lasting and deeply entrenched culture of corruption that this country will be saddled with for all time unless we, the citizens, take matters into our own hands and vote the corrupt government of the day out of office. Do it before it becomes a case of too little, too late.

In the meantime, my advice to Najib is to stop playing the silly games much loved by Abdullah Badawi, the keeper turned poacher. He put up a slew of anti-corruption showpieces such as the National Institute of Integrity, the Royal Commission inquiring into the Royal Malaysia Police, and new anti-corruption laws to support the work of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, all nothing more than a sleight of hand that has fooled no one, with predictable results. Badawi’s exercise was both dishonest and costly, and as the latest TICPI shows, corruption has the last laugh.

In a speech I made in 2001 at the Asian Development Bank-organised conference in Phnom Penh, I reminded my audience that “Even before we contemplate any action against corruption, it is important for us to recognise the special and complex circumstances that give rise to it.

Studies show that a common cause of corruption is a lack of strong and unsullied government institutions, such as the judiciary, the legislature, the office of the auditor-general, the police, the office of the attorney general, the media, civil society organisations and the private sector.”

In Malaysia, sadly, Mahathir has succeeded brilliantly in doing his foul deed. None of these important institutions can any longer even justify their existence and they have become part of the problem of corruption. “The main purpose of developing strong institutions is to prevent corruption from occurring in the first place rather than relying on penalties after the event” according to Jeremy Pope in his TI Source Book 2000.

The Executive can change the hitherto negative international perceptions and at the same time exercise greater legitimacy to govern by making it mandatory for all holding elected public office, including the prime minister, to declare their assets and those of their wives and immediate families to an all party parliamentary commission.

Other areas of concern relate to issues of integrity of the various key national institutions. Public procurement as practised in our country breeds grand corruption and is one of the reasons why we score badly in overall terms.

The Official Secrets Act protects the corrupt and must be replaced with a Freedom of Information Act. It would be extremely important to bring new, intelligent and untainted blood into the MACC which at the moment seems to have run out of steam before the whistle to commence play is blown. It must report to an all party parliamentary commission.

While we want those who commit corruption to be suitable punished, this must be done within the scope of the existing judicial practice. The idea as suggested by TI Malaysia President that for the MACC to operate effectively, it must be given the power to prosecute is dangerous as it shows a lack of understanding of what constitutes justice. What is implied in this preposterous idea is that we abandon all principles of fairness and fair play so that the MACC could trample on our justice system with impunity. Enough is enough.

Early next month I will be speaking in Sydney, Australia at the annual conference of the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association on, no prize for guessing, my favourite subject, Overcoming Corruption: A Regional Challenge. I will have a field day calling a spade a spade. I hope I will not be accused of disloyalty to my country, but if telling the truth is treachery, so be it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

malaysiakini: Malaysians ready to discuss 'social contract'... by Lim Teck Ghee and et al

Malaysians ready to discuss 'social contract'
Lim Teck Ghee and et al
Oct 28, 10
We would like to provide some feedback to the speech made by Prime Minister Najib Razak on Oct 21 to the Umno general assembly in which he gave the impression that there is a 'social contract' whose terms are set in stone. He also told the delegates that no Malaysian should question it.

It is necessary to note that there is a range of views amongst us on the social contract issue and on how to respond to the prime minister's advice. One colleague has argued that it is not yet time for an “organised effort” of civil society to make such a statement as it may provoke negative reactions that may be harmful to our common pursuit of a fair and united nation.

Another has expressed concern that we must not play into the hands of politicians who will mobilise Malay support by trying to show that the non-Malays have reneged on their so-called promise to accept Malay political superiority in exchange for citizenship.

A third colleague has noted that there is really no need to contest what is 'written' in the social contract. Rather, we should question where a copy of the social contract is to be found so we can verify and discuss its contents and meaning.

Despite our different points of view, we are in agreement on three key points.
  • It is important for Malaysians not to be gagged into silence on what is perhaps the most contentious issue standing in the way of better inter-communal relations in the country. The quicker we can reach consensus on what the social contract means – not only in terms of what was agreed by the nation's early leaders in the past but also, more importantly, on how this agreement should be understood by Malaysians today – the less divided and more hopeful will be our future.
  • For us to reach this consensus, it is important to have the facts on what took place during that critical period of our history fully disclosed and available for public discussion. In particular, we will need to have the relevant reports of the Reid Commission so that Malaysians have the opportunity to read and understand the logic and wisdom of our early leaders and do not have to depend on politically skewed interpretations of what is supposed to comprise any agreement or social contract for that period.
  • At the same time it is necessary for constitutional and legal experts, historians and other scholars to lend their expertise to the public understanding. Professional organisations such as the Bar Council, the Malaysian Social Science Association, and other bodies should organise talks, seminars and forums to ensure that the best minds on the subject can have their opinions disseminated to the public.
We believe that the Malaysian public has reached a level of political maturity so that we can have a rational and public debate on the way forward in terms of any inter-communal accord or understanding arrived at, and on what needs to be honoured and respected.

For that reason, we are opposed to the position of Umno and MCA which is tantamount to decreeing a ban on public discussion of the issue.

The danger is that in not debating the issue openly – which is what the two main BN parties seem to be driving at – there is a real danger not only of driving that debate underground but also of reinforcing or entrenching ethnocentric interpretations that do not reflect the true intent of the constitutional agreement reached more than 50 years ago.

The above statement is signed by Dr Lim Teck Ghee, Dr Mavis Puthucheary, Dr Azmi Sharom, Dr Toh Kin Woon and Dr Wan Zawawi Ibrahim.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Lim Kit Siang Blog: We all grieve for a Malaysia that could be!... by Romerz

We all grieve for a Malaysia that could be!

by Romerz
October 22, 2010

In his presidential address to the 61st UMNO general assembly, a lot of things said by PM Najib could be argued against simply on the basis of logic, history, proper understanding of Malaysia’s federal constitution, democracy and a host of other things. But I will not argue against Najib’s fallacious arguments because I’m tired of warped views and I believe my readers are of a higher mentality than those he was addressing.

Instead I will focus on only one thing he mentioned in the speech. Najib said “the Malays were hurt when the social contract agreed upon by the forefathers of various races who had agreed to make sacrifices to gain the independence, was now being questioned.”

In the first place I know of no such social contract as after 53 years of independence, no one can show me a written copy of this contract nor explain to me what was it that was agreed upon specifically by our forefathers. Even assuming that such an agreement exists (possibly and perhaps reached privately by the leaders of UMNO, MCA and MIC then, which may explain why we know so little of this often touted social contract), hadn’t this preceding social contract been documented and articulated in the Constitution of Malaya 1957?

In essence, isn’t Najib implying that the non-Malay citizens of Malaysia reneged on an agreement made by our forefathers by questioning certain provisions of the federal constitution? But what is it that we are questioning of the constitution? From the context of Najib’s speech, it would seem to refer to article 153 of the constitution. But he seems to forget that article 153 only allowed four areas of discriminatory practices when the rest of the constitution is about equality and freedom for all Malaysians of whatever ethnicity and religious inclinations.

Frankly, I do not think any rational, fair thinking and peace loving non-Malay Malaysians would dispute the original intent of the constitution. It is by this paramount piece of document (nor the inclusion of article 153 into the constitution), which we cling on to, that we hope can safeguard our existence.

All we question is how far article 153 had been taken away from its original intent by UMNO for political self-interests. Are these questions an attack on the Malay race which warrants threats of reprisal? How can Najib say that non-Malays intentionally hurt the Malays simply by asking for the “social contract” vis-a-vis the federal constitution be restored to its original intent?

If the Malays had been hurt, what about the non-Malays being cheated by a changing constitution, eroding at our constitutionally guaranteed rights, to suit those who had control over it for 50 years? If there existed a social contract (which required sacrifices as Najib put it), why is UMNO now reneging on an agreement made by his father and forefathers as well (by using the constitution above what it was originally intended)?

After the riots of 1969, the NEP was formulated by Najib’s own father. When Tun Razak first put forward the the intent and concept of NEP to parliament, he had to convince MCA and MIC and even the opposition to go along with affirmative action with the objective of bringing all Malaysians on par economically which hopefully will prevent another 1969 from happening again. This I do not dispute that it was needed then and even now. Today a large segment of Malaysian society still needs affirmative action but wouldn’t it be better if it was based on needs?

Documented history (parliament hansard) tells us compromises were made, promises declared and at the end of the day, most Malaysians of whatever ethnicity then allowed it to happen through an act of parliament.

But are these promises being kept today? What was supposed to help poor Malaysians then had now become a tool to garner support for UMNO by playing one race against another so is it any wonder that we question how article 153 had been used by our ruling elites?

So who is grieved more?

The answer is Malaysia the country is grieved the most! Not only the Malays or non-Malays but ALL citizens of a greater Malaysia are grieved! When our beloved country could have stood tall amongst the greater nations of the world but instead wallow amongst the wannabes simply because UMNO/BN do not know how to leave racial and parochial politics behind.

And for that, ordinary Malaysians suffer with threats of our well-being politically, economically and safety! Isn’t about time after 53 years on nationhood that we stop comparing race sacrifices, who is the bigger enemy of race and who is the greater defender of our nation?

Why can’t we simply move on and create a better country for all 27 million of humanity? Is it that difficult when all the majority of ordinary Malaysians want is to live in peace and help each other prosper so that our country can once again stand tall?

Shouldn’t we be Malaysians first (which can be proven with our legal citizenry documents), race second (which is subject to the interpretation of race when we cannot ascertain fully our bloodlines except that our blood is red), and religious inclinations third (when faith is a personal matter of the heart which keeps its secrets to itself)?

I will end by going to bed grieving for us all when we allow UMNO/BN to continue dictating the future of this country! But I will not simply go away grieving and instead do my little part for a better Malaysia. Are you one of the 3 million Malaysians who are entitled to vote but are not yet registered to do so? If you grieve as much as I do about the current state of affairs, then register to vote and get as many other non-voters to do likewise.

Let us give our beloved country some chance to survive and possibly prosper come the next GE!

Friday, October 22, 2010

malaysiakini: Consensus on 'social contract' imperative... by Prof. Clive Kessler

Consensus on 'social contract' imperative
Clive Kessler
Oct 22, 10
COMMENT The nature of the current disagreement about “the social contract” should be clearly identified.

Nobody is seriously suggesting that “the social contract” be repudiated, set aside, rejected. Nobody is arguing that it is fictive, a pure fantasy, an illusion. On all sides, everyone in their own way is arguing that it should be honoured, respected and upheld.

People just need to be clear, and find a way to agree, what its terms were, what “upholding the social contract” means and entails.

malaysia indepence merdeka tunku abdul rahman declare 290806People are broadly agreed that in the years between 1955 and 1957 certain basic inter-ethnic or inter-communal understandings were reached. Through them a national “accord” was solemnly affirmed and politically “enshrined” that made the nation possible.

Known informally in earlier times as “the Merdeka agreements” or “Merdeka understandings”, these were subsequently, in the 1980s, relabelled, or as people now say “rebranded” with a new identity as “the social contract”.

Embodied within the constitution, these agreements - this national “accord” or inter-communal “compact” - became the foundation of Malayan, and later Malaysian, nationhood.

Within the current debates, people on both sides of this question broadly agree on this.

There is basic disagreement, however, about what those agreements were, what they provided, what their terms precisely specified.

malaysians 050905In retrospect, different parties have construed them differently and have, at times, enlarged or “inflated” the import of those parts of the agreements, or their preferred notions of them, that they found congenial, that seemed to their sectional political liking.

There is now an urgent need for people on both, indeed all, sides of this question - and all Malaysians generally - to understand what exactly those agreements now designated as “the social contract” in fact were.

Malaysians need to reach a historically well-founded consensus concerning “the social contract”, what its terms were at the nation's formative moment and in its founding experience, and what it means today and for the future. The coherence, strength and political sustainability of the nation require no less.

'Ketuanan Melayu' not part of the deal

It needs to be widely understood that, whatever they provided and mandated, “Ketuanan Melayu” was not part of what those agreements enshrined.

Any suggestion that Malay political domination in perpetuity, continuing Malay “ethnocratic” ascendancy over other Malayans (and now Malaysians), was any part of those foundational agreements now designated as “the social contract” is simply wrong.

Those who argue to the contrary that Ketuanan Melayu is a constitutionally guaranteed “foundational” component of Malaysia's national sovereignty and international public identity are disingenuous, mischievous, or simply ill-informed.

The attempt to “read back” subsequent notions of Ketuanan Melayu into ideas of “the social contract” and in that way to embed them within newly fashioned but quite dubious views of the constitution is simply an exercise in anachronistic revisionism.

It is the duty of serious historians and legal scholars to say so.

CLIVE S KESSLER is emeritus professor of sociology and anthropology at the School of Social Science and International Studies at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

malaysiakini: Lim Guan Eng: Brain drain has swelled to tsunami levels

Guan Eng: Brain drain has swelled to tsunami levels
Oct 20, 10 3:08pm

Top Cambridge University law student, Ipoh-born Tan Zhongshan, is lost to Malaysia due to the consequences of the country's 'failed economic policies'.
Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said today that the country's economic policies stress on material growth such as the proposed 100-storey Warisan Merdeka Tower over human capital formation.

Lim (right) said it not clear how Malaysia's Talent Corporation, slated to start operations in January, will be able to succeed in attracting back 750,000 Malaysians working overseas, if the federal government is more concerned about spending tens of billions on mega-projects that do not build human capital.

He added that Tan's departure from Malaysia is not surprising as he is part of the alarming brain drain that has swelled to almost "tsunami levels".
"The number of Malaysian migrants rose by more than 100-fold in a 45-year period, from 9,576 Malaysians in 1960 to 1,489,168 Malaysians in 2005, according to the World Bank, which warned that a lack of human capital is a "critical constraint in Malaysia's ambition to become a high-income economy," he added in a statement today.

Recently, Deputy Foreign Minister and senator A Kohilan Pillay (left) said that 304,358 Malaysians had migrated since March 2008 to Aug 2009 compared with 139,696 Malaysians in 2007.

Nearly two million have left

It is learnt that a total of 1,942,798 mostly bright and talented Malaysians have left over the past 50 years since 1960 until August last year.

Najib told Parliament this month that less than one percent of 784,900 Malaysians working overseas have returned to the country during the past nine years.

He added that Singapore has the highest number of Malaysians with 303,828 people, followed by Australia with 78,858.

Tan recently won several prizes in becoming the top law student in the Cambridge.

However, he will not be returning to Malaysia but will heading to Singapore to join its Legal Service commission.

Lim said that not only non-Malays were leaving the country for better employment opportunities, as Malays are also doing the same.

"When I went to Dubai nearly two years ago, I was surprised to learn there were thousands of Malay professionals there who left Malaysia due to lack of promotional opportunities as they were not politically connected to top Umno leaders," he said.

"Clearly stressing other considerations such as race or political connections over merits and needs not only drives away top talents, but also depresses standards and encourages a culture of mediocrity over excellence," he added.

Malaysiakini: Khairy J: a moderating new voice for BN?

Khairy: Relying on the Malay vote alone will lose us seats
Regina Lee
Oct 20, 10
Relying solely on the Malay vote will lose Umno and BN seats in the elections - that is the reality, said Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin.
khairy jamaluddin pc umno agm 191010 01This was demonstrated in the last polls in which Umno almost lost due to the loss of support by non-Malays, he told the wing's annual general assembly in Kuala Lumpr this morning.

“If we hope to rely on the Malay vote alone, we should be mindful that there are only 73 parliamentary seats with a dominant Malay majority of 70 percent and above. Such is the reality.

“We must learn from the results of the last general elections, where we almost relinquished power due to the loss of support from non-Malays.

"If we still subscribe to the illusion that we can win without their support, then 50 seats currently held by BN are in grave danger.

“If there is no concerted effort to practise an inclusive and moderate leadership, Umno's Malay leadership will disappear come the next election,” he added.

Khairy also said that Umno Youth should stop dreaming of uniting all Malays within the party, as no Malay-based political party can claim to have the support of all Malays to vote the same way in the elections.

“There is no Malay party – be it Umno or PAS – that can secure a hundred percent of Malay votes. In many areas, the Malay political split is such that 50 percent are on one side and 50 percent on the other.

“This means that any side wanting to win, must win with the support of all Malaysians, regardless of race and religion,” he said.

In the 2008 general elections, BN lost two-thirds majority for the first time since 1969, with five states falling to the hands of the Pakatan state government.

Many of the BN candidates lost, with many attributing it to the loss of non-Malay support among the electorates.

Empathise with the non-Malays

Khairy, speaking in his second year as the movement's chief to the 795 delegates gathered at the Putra World Trade Centre, also urged Umno Youth member to empathise with the grievances of their non-Malay fellow countrymen.

“Are we in any way less Malay if our struggle cuts across race and religion, without sacrificing basic principles of our cause? Are we heretics for condemning attacks perpetrated by certain parties on people of other faiths?

“Are we traitors for disagreeing when non-bumiputeras are labeled as settlers and squatters? The answer is a resolute no!” he said.

“In the midst of us calling for Malays to be big-hearted and embrace the politics of moderation, the sensitivities of the bumiputeras must also be recognized and respected.

“... When they are referred to as pendatang or told to return to China or India - what of their feelings?

“This, too, is their country. This is their country of birth; in fact that of their parents and grandparents. What of the feelings of the poor non-Malay student denied government scholarship despite achieving outstanding results?” he said to muted response.

Calling for more understanding between the races, he said that prejudices and barriers will only foster when people fail to appreciate the feelings of other races.

“Young Malaysians live within the confines of their own ethnic communities. The young Malay who attends religious school, a Middle Eastern university and watches Malay programs on Astro Ria is alien to the young Chinese attending a vernacular school, a Taiwanese university and entertained by (cable television channel) 'Wah Lai Toi'.

“Each perpetuates mutual prejudices because of these barriers that exist,” he said.

'Wanting NEP reviewed is not treachery'
While defending the New Economic Policy which took effect in 1970, Khairy also said it was time to take a step backwards and face objectively the reality that the implementation of the affirmative action policy had shortcomings, leakages and loopholes.

“During that (rapid economic growth in the 90's), we saw many Malay millionaires given great opportunities and brought to the fore through privatisation programs and ownership of shares via 'pink forms'.

“Unfortunately, the shares allocated to Bumiputeras to increase the community's equity position were sold because some wanted a quick buck, the luxurious bungalow, the Mercedes, the young wife more becoming of their newfound status.

“With the sudden riches that fell on their lap, they could not remain grounded,” he said.

“This reality demands that we make changes. We must be clear that the New Economic Model does not sideline the Malay agenda. What it does is update the implementationmethods to overcome the weaknesses of the NEP.

“Why should we be afraid of an economic agenda based on merit? Why should we be concerned when those who have the capabilities, who are genuine, are given the opportunity to move forward?” he asked.

“Let it not be that simply wanting to reexamine an approach of the agenda for Malays invites the charge of being a traitor,” he said.

Reporters without Borders: Lowest press freedom ranking in nine years

Lowest press freedom ranking in nine years
Oct 20, 10 4:39pm

Malaysia has plunged 10 notches to 141 in the 2010 World Press Freedom Index - the lowest in nine years - putting it firmly in the bottom quarter of 178 countries.

The country failed to capitalise on last year's improvement where it moved up one notch from 132 to 131.
The issues which have perhaps affected Malaysia's poor ranking include the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission's investigation into Malaysiakini's cow-head video, the arrests of bloggers and the ban on a number of books by cartoonist Zunar.

Interestingly, Singapore (136) outranked Malaysia for the first time since Paris-based press watchdog group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) began releasing its ranking in 2002.

azlanAmong the 10 Asean countries, Malaysia is ranked higher than two countries which are deemed to have freer press - Thailand (153) and Philippines (156).

RSF has attributed this to political violence.

"Thailand - where two journalists were killed and some 15 wounded while covering the army crackdown on the 'red shirts' movement in Bangkok – lost 23 places," said RSF, which issued its ninth annual index today.

“The Philippines lost 34 places following the massacre of over 30 reporters by partisans of one of Mindanao island's governors.”

Repression not diminishing

Meanwhile, Finland, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland share the No 1 spot. The United States remains at No 20.

Sitting at the bottom end of the ranking are North Korea (177) and Eritrea (178).

Apart from North Korea, Asia's three communist regimes - China (171), Vietnam (165) and Laos (168) - are among the 15 lowest-ranked countries.

"Also in South-East Asia, Indonesia (117) cannot seem to pass under the symbolic bar separating the top 100 countries from the rest, despite remarkable media growth.

"Two journalists were killed there and several others received death threats, mainly for their reports on the environment,” said RSF.

"In short, repression has not diminished in Asean countries, despite the recent adoption of a human rights charter."

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Participant’s Perspective Of Kursus Kenegaraan (BTN)... Letter By A Disappointed Civil Servant

A Participant’s Perspective Of Kursus Kenegaraan (BTN)

By A Disappointed Civil Servant

It amuses me to note the rapacious back and forth regarding the Kursus Kenegaraan organised by the Biro Tatanegara. However, i notice that remarks defending the program have so far been based on perspectives of certain Government officials, who may or may not have been subjected to the charms of the program. As a serving Government professional of non-Bumiputera descent, I feel it is pertinent that I share my experience of this program, so that some objectivity may be achieved in understanding the isssue at hand.

It is compulsory for all Govt. servants to attend this course once during service. I attended the program in 2006, in a group of 80-odd Malays and 9 non-Malays. We were a mix of doctors, dentists, pharmacists and teachers. On the first day, we had to listen to a series of 4 lectures, all delivered by lecturers from the local MARA University campus. I vividly remember the 1st lecture on Kerakyatan, for it was delivered with such fervour by an obviously inspired lecturer. At times he seemed to go off his script and made several references to ‘other’ races being ‘pendatangs’ and forgetting their ‘place’ in society, and not being grateful for the citizenship ‘awarded’ to them, and other remarks of a similar vein.

However what shocked me was when this lecturer, in a frenzied fit of rage, asked the audience whether they knew that ALL Indians who migrated here were from the PARIAH caste, and similarly all Chinese who came here were also from the lower classes in their country of origin. I was livid with rage that this supposed university lecturer had the unabashed temerity to tar all Indians and Chinese with the same brush, and make such an unsubstantiated sweeping statement that may have been lapped up by the ill-informed as the gospel truth. From that moment I was mentally tuned off from listening to further garbage being spewed by this obvious racist. After ranting and raving for a good forty minutes more, he mercifully concluded and invited questions from the floor.

I immediately got up and proceeded to enquire on what basis the lecturer made his sweeping statements, and if he was aware that aside from indentured labourers, the British had brought educated Indians and Ceylonese Tamils to serve in the civil service in pre-independence Malaya. I then informed him that I was a 3rd generation civil servant, and the last time I checked, I wasn’t a PARIAH. By this time the lecturer was squirming in discomfort, especially as the crowd assembled there started to cheer me on. I sternly told the lecturer to check his facts before he confuses others with blatant untruths.

The Chinese dentist that stood up after me was in no conciliatory mood however. She blasted the lecturer outright by saying ‘Saya berasa amat tersinggung dengan apa yang dikatakan oleh penceramah tadi (I am offended by the remarks made by the lecturer); ianya sangat tidak adil dan amat mengelirukan para hadirin di sini (it is an unfair statement and can confuse the others assembled here).’

Probably stung by the truth of those comments, the lecturer tried to weasel out of the messy situation by defending his statement which was made in a particular context. But none of us were fooled, and we realised that this course was an attempt to stereotype and racially profile the citizenry for the benefit of a certain group to assert its ‘ketuanan’ on others.

Suffice to say, i was least interested in the ensuing activities, especially the drill parade where we were forced to pray with arms outstretched to maintain ‘conformity’, despite my usual method being the traditional hands clasped in supplication.

Ultimately, the course made me despise the way the non-bumis were treated, and served to reinforce the belief shared by many that it is a brainwashing and indoctrination exercise to target the ill-informed and the gullible. I am sure my Malay friends would (mostly) have cringed in shame at the way their fellow citizens were humiliated and made a mockery of.

Bottom line is, stay away from this course. It does no good and can serve to divide the population.

Good Comment

#1 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 17 October 2010 - 8:46 pm

It is natural and inevitable logic for BTN to indoctrinate Ketuanan precepts if it were to serve an effective tool to buttress and perpetuate UMNO’s political power.

In the communal structure of our politics, the raison de etre of UMNO, MCA & MIC is to fight for its/respective communal constituencies’ interest but owing to historical reasons UMNO is naturally the big brother whose agenda takes precedence over the rest.

To garner Malay votes it is important for UMNO to be viewed continuously as champion of Malay interest. To this end, it is necessary to keep Malays as original definitive people apart from immigrants both in the period immediately after independence – and in decades after, their respective descendants separate as well by the Bumi-Non Bumi dichotomy.

The rationale for keeping separate is to correct the injustices of colonial powers done to the definitive people and to honour the so called “Social Contract” between them and the original immigrants and their descendants..

The injustice is supposedly derived from Colonial powers bringing in the “pendatangs” in pre-independence times without the definitive people bing able to do anything about it. And when leaving, the colonialists make amends to immigrants by negotiating on their behalf citizenship based on “Jus soli” notion – ie the principle that the country of citizenship of a child is determined by its country of birth, irrespective of the nationality of its parents. Hence all who were born in the country as citizens without taking into account their ancestors, from where they came, will become citizens…In quid pro quo trade off and exchange for the “Jus soli “ concession, the definitive people are accorded special privileges enshrined in Article 153 of the Constitution, amended from 15 year reviewable to perpetual.

This constitutes the bases of thought of the famous “Social Contract” which the constitution mentions nothing about expressly but apologists for the concept and defenders of its perpetuity argue it’s implied.

For so long as the bumi/non bumi dichotomy – first class and rest of citizenry – remains relevant, so the reason of existence for a communal party like UMNO remains – to champion Malay interests to rectify historical anomalies and injustices and enforce compliance of the Social Contract!

With each other communal parties like MCA & MIC also fighting for their respective communal interest, the theory is that any tendency on UMNO’s part towards extremity of Malay agenda when pursued by it will be balanced & moderated by competing claims of and bargaining by the other component parties (MCA & MIC) having so called power sharing with UMNO within the BN. This is only theory. In practice, UMNO controls political appointments in govt and the patronage strings/goodies in gravy train and soon, consistent with ketuanan, all the component parties defer to its leadership and dominance, thereby causing them to underpresent if not neglect their respective communities’ interest thereby driving their traditional supporters to switch support for the more inclusive and non communal platforms of the Opposition. BTN is therefore another face of UMNO serving to further its political agenda of perpetuating hold on power based on the precepts of Ketuanan and Social Contract.

Bottom line, to criticise BTN’s lecturers as racist and to ask UMNO dominant govt. to disband BTN for indoctrinating race based ideologies amongst civil servants contrary to 1 Malaysia, it is, as usual, putting UMNO on the spot of being unable to reconcile its 1 Malaysia platform with that of BTN’s work, which is basically to serve as tool to advance UMNO’s traditional raison de etre of keeping races separate and apart in order to play champion to the majority one whose voting support is considered pivotal and decisive. It’s like asking it to shoot its own foot, a very painful task.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Team Obama's Economic Malpractice... by Richard Rahn

Economic Malpractice

From the desk of Richard Rahn on Wed, 2010-09-08 20:02

If a medical doctor prescribed a treatment for a patient that only worked in theory, and the patient did not get better, the doctor could rightly be sued for medical malpractice if tried-and-true cures were known. When members of Congress and a president engage in economic malpractice, the patient's (i.e., the American public's) only recourse is to vote them out of office.

The Obama administration claimed that the unemployment rate would not go above 8 percent and that both the economy and job growth would be strong by this time if Congress passed the "stimulus" bill. Instead, the economy is barely growing, and the unemployment rate is rising.

How did they get it so wrong? It is because they have an economic theory, which did not and does not work in practice. If Team Obama had known American economic history, it would have known there was no case where a big increase in government spending - correctly measured as a percentage of gross domestic product - led to both higher private consumption and significant job growth (including World War II, when private consumption by necessity was severely restricted).

There are almost no key members of Team Obama who have ever started or run a real business. If they had, they would understand that a prudent person responds to tax and regulatory uncertainty by taking fewer risks, such as expanding the business rapidly or hiring new people. 

The Obama administration and Congress have spent two years dithering about what tax rates will be for both individuals and businesses in a mere four months from now, so it is only prudent to assume the worst. Higher tax rates mean less money to hire new workers or buy new equipment. This is not rocket science but, as simple as it is, Team Obama doesn't get it.

The Obama administration, while recognizing that small business creates most of the new jobs, argues that most small-business people make less than $200,000 per year. But these are not the small-business people who create most of the jobs; many are just one person part-time or even full-time businesses run out of homes. The big job creators are a small subset of all businesses that are innovative in creating new goods or services or doing it better than their competitors - i.e., the most successful small businesses.

People making less than $200,000 do not have the income to create many new jobs. Team Obama's tax-increase proposals are not aimed at the mega-wealthy like Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, who have inherited or married into major money and create few jobs, but instead are aimed at the entrepreneurial class who creates most of the wealth and jobs. Punishing these people with higher taxes is nothing more than economic masochism - and malpractice.

The administration is now proposing that businesses be allowed to deduct the cost of new investment made in one year (but for only one year) rather than depreciate it over time. This would be a good idea if it were made permanent rather than temporary, because businesses still will not have a strong incentive to invest as long as demand and their income is down. 

In sum, Team Obama wants to increase tax rates largely on the same people to whom it proposes to give certain tax benefits, thus choosing a more complex and cumbersome procedure, in contrast to the simple and readily understandable solution of just extending the current lower tax rates to everyone.

To fund the stimulus spending, Team Obama is forced to sell an extra trillion dollars or so in government bonds. To whom does the government sell these bonds? The buyers are U.S. businesses and individuals (often through funds), and foreigners. When businesses and individuals buy these government bonds, they have less money for productive investment (government bonds primarily fund transfer payments, not productive investment) or private consumption. 

Less productive investment and/or private consumption means fewer private-sector jobs. Government can create government-sector jobs at the expense of private-sector jobs, but not at a higher real wage - which is one reason why a growing welfare state and/or a socialist economy always fail. Team Obama seems to have missed these basic historical lessons.

It is possible to keep domestic investment and consumption high and also expand the size of government, as long as foreigners invest in the U.S. economy. But again, the Obama administration seems to have missed a few key points. 

In March, Congress passed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which President Obama signed into law, with the goal of trying to snag a few Americans who were attempting to evade taxes by investing in the U.S. through foreign financial entities.

At most, this act will raise a few billion dollars in taxes, but it might cost the U.S. economy a trillion dollars or so in lost foreign investment, which will result in hundreds of billions of dollars in lost tax revenue - a true act of stupidity and economic malpractice.

The U.S. Treasury and Internal Revenue Service could have partially mitigated the problem by coming up with a few simple, clear safe-harbor rules for foreign financial entities so that they and their officers would not be at risk by investing in the United States. But that would have been too sensible. 

So now, the United States is suffering a decline in foreign investment when it is most needed and increasing numbers of foreign financial institutions are refusing - for good reason - to invest their clients' money in the United States.

Team Obama persists in passing and implementing legislation and regulations that are obvious job-killers, yet it seems to be surprised when other countries that are not engaged in self-flagellation and economic malpractice are growing more rapidly and creating many new jobs.

Comments (DQ):
Has Obama got it so wrong, under the harsh economic downturn since September 2008? Has the financial crisis finally exposed the excesses and profligacy of the American and first world free market system? Or is this writer purely right-wing seeking to demolish whatever merits or lack thereof, of the Obama response? Some food for thought....

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Anti-Extremism Begins at Home... By Kee Thuan Chye

Anti-Extremism Begins at Home

By Kee Thuan Chye

I TOTALLY agree with most of what Prime Minister Najib Razak recently said at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, especially about the attempts in some parts of the world to demonize Islam and spread Islamophobia.

I find it alarming to see so many e-mails and videos being circulated warning people of the dangers of Islam and propagating the fear that, with the Muslims multiplying at the current rate, they would one day outnumber people of other faiths and take over the world.

This kind of fear propagation reminds me of that practiced by Mahathir Mohamad when he warned Malays that they would lose power to the non-Malays, especially if Pakatan Rakyat takes over the government. It’s destructive.

It appals me that even Malaysians are instrumental in spreading Islamophobia by forwarding these e-mails. When I get one, I often reply to the sender to tell them not to disseminate such hatred. I tell them this problem has arisen because of misunderstanding of history, and that these e-mails don’t tell the other side of the story, which is the plight of Muslims who have suffered because of the historical events fashioned by imperialists.

Some of the e-mails reek of ignorance and bigotry. One that irked me no end was of an American serviceman answering questions about whether a Muslim could be a real American. These are just some of his answers:

Religiously – no. Because no other religion is accepted by his Allah except Islam.

Socially – no. Because his allegiance to Islam forbids him to make friends with Christians or Jews.

Philosophically – no. Because Islam, Muhammad, and the Quran do not allow freedom of religion and expression. Democracy and Islam cannot co-exist. Every Muslim government is either dictatorial or autocratic.

These answers are so distorted, blinkered and untruthful that they are not worth rebutting. The danger lies in e-mails such as this being received and accepted as the truth by millions of people who don’t know what Islam is about.

I am not a subscriber of organized religion, but I believe in the right of all religions to exist. I also believe no religion should throw mud at another and claim to be truer than any other.

The only way to resolve the differences in the world today is to get all sides to sit down at the table and discuss. Perhaps the US should even sit down with al-Qaeda and thrash it out, peacefully. Why not?

These two are the major causes of the mess the world is in today. If they can talk, instead of fight, we might get some peace.

This is the same line taken by Najib at the UN when he said: “We must choose negotiations over confrontation. We must choose to work together and not against each other.”

He also said, “We must choose moderation over extremism”, which I readily agree with. But then why doesn’t he deal with the racial extremists that exist in his own country?

Nothing has been done about the school principals in Johor and Kedah who allegedly made racist remarks despite the calls from several quarters, including the MCA, for action to be taken immediately. Hasn’t the lack of action dragged on for too long?

Ironically, as Najib was calling for moderation at the UN, a Biro Tata Negara (BTN) assistant director named Hamim Husin was reported to have made racist remarks at a meeting with Puteri Umno members.

He now claims he did nothing wrong because it was a closed-door meeting, but any sensible mind would figure out that this is not an excuse. He was not talking to friends. He was talking in an official capacity in an official situation. In any case, it’s not a matter of closed-door or public. He has to be responsible for what he says. Racism is racism, whether it is in the public sphere or over the dinner table with your family members. So, what action will be taken on this matter?

Of course, we know that Najib was talking about religious extremism at the UN, but, outside that, and to be consistent, he should hold the same standard for racial extremism. Especially in his own country.
He said we should “work together to combat and marginalize extremists who have held the world hostage with their bigotry and bias”. So why doesn’t he apply this to the extremists who hold Malaysia hostage with their bigotry and bias? Why does he let an NGO like Perkasa oppose what needs to be done for his New Economic Model (NEM) and Economic Transformation Programme (ETP)? Why does he accommodate their objections even when he knows that they stand in the way of a brighter Malaysian future?

At the UN, he also said the world had “allowed the ugly voices of the periphery to drown out the many voices of reason and common sense”. Isn’t that what is happening in Malaysia as well?

Almost every day, we hear “the ugly voices” of Perkasa denouncing this person or that person for saying something it dislikes, including people like MCA president Chua Soi Lek. Every now and then, Perkasa would run to the police station and make a report against someone for making a seditious statement. And the odd thing is, the police would usually take follow-up action and call that person in for interrogation.

But when Perkasa says and does anything that could be deemed seditious, no action is taken against it. A week or so ago, some Perkasa members protested outside the venue where the Chinese rapper Namewee launched his debut album. They also burned posters of the artist. They challenged him to come out and meet with them. They said they just wanted to talk.

If all they wanted was to talk, why did they burn those posters? And why did they call themselves “hulubalang Melayu” (Malay warriors) and “panglima perang” (commanders of war)? And why did they vow afterwards to hound Namewee wherever he went?

This was obviously a racially motivated act calling for “war”. If it wasn’t a threat to public peace, what is? But the police did nothing about it.

Well, so much for Najib’s call at the UN to “reclaim the centre and the moral high ground that has been usurped from us”. When he comes home, he’ll have to get down to the ground and reassess his moral position. Or he might find his own position usurped by forces going out of control.

Why Islam And Democracy Are Destined to Coincide... by Anwar Ibrahim

Why Islam And Democracy Are Destined to Coincide

by Anwar Ibrahim
First and foremost, there is essentially no problem in terms of compatibility, not a foundational problem at least that would make it impossible for a country with a majority of Muslims to be governed according to the requirements of a constitutional democracy. In other words, the notion of Islam being diametrically opposed to democracy and its principles is a fallacy.

Islam enjoins the faithful to uphold equality, justice, and human dignity. If violence and terror are being spread by Muslims in the name of Islam then it is an aberration reflective of such people and the focus should rightly be on the underlying causes of such actions, not Islam. Blaming Islam won’t solve the problem as long as the underlying causes are not addressed and resolved.

But detractors say that Islam not only condones but urges the faithful to commit acts of violence in the name of jihad. This is nonsense. But they cite chapter and verse to support this view. Yes, but it is only by extreme distorting of the textual interpretation. On the contrary, the truth is that Islam prohibits violence and terror by virtue of the principles of moderation and the protection of life, limb and property.

This is subsumed under the doctrine of the maqasid al-Shari’ah, a most crucial and significant tool for the progress of Muslim societies, a tool which unfortunately has been much ignored. By virtue of this doctrine for example, jihad is a call to the faithful to fulfill the tenets of the religion by doing good and averting evil, establishing justice, promoting charity and helping the weak and the marginalized. It is not a battle cry for war, let alone one to justify mayhem and murder. Above all, jihad enjoins Muslims to maintain peace and harmony and safeguard the sanctity of life and property. These are ideals completely in consonance with the dictates of democracy.

But what about this incarceration/liberation dichotomy? The answer lies in debunking the school of ideological rigidity which is largely responsible for making the religion very rigid and exclusive. The fact is that Islam is amenable to adapting to modern times with its defining feature being its inclusive nature. Empirically, we know that Islam in Southeast Asia is a case in point. So is Turkey though the same may not be said about the Islam of the Middle East but that ought to be seen in the context of the geopolitical situation there.

The modernity of Islam in Southeast Asia is reflected for instance in the adoption of the principles of freedom and democracy for the establishment of an independent state. In this regard, the region’s transition to democracy debunks the notion of incompatibility between Islam and democracy.

As for equating Islam with intolerance and violence, that again finds no basis in reality. Muslim rule for centuries in Spain remains in the history books as clear testimony to the tolerance and spirit of convivencia among Muslims, Christians and Jews. In Southeast Asia, traders and Sufis spread the religion through their accommodative style of proselytizing which attracted adherents who have also kept some significant aspects of their pre-Islamic cultures. This explains why multi-cultural and multi-religious societies evolved in Muslim majority countries.

Today, those who call for violence and terror in the name of jihad can find little traction for their brand of Islam. A case in point is Indonesia two elections back when the people overwhelmingly rejected the radicals who rode on the jihad ticket. This is significant in debunking the notion that democracy in a Muslim majority nation can be easily hijacked by extremists and radicals.

Turkey is a fine example of what a Muslim nation can achieve if its leaders remain steadfast in observing the basic tenets of Islamic statecraft: modernist, moderate, progressive and tolerant with justice and the rule of law as a motto for governance. The recent referendum of the Turkish people in favor of fundamental constitutional changes to further strengthen democracy speaks volumes. In this regard, Turkey’s leaders stand in sharp contrast to the autocrats and dictators in some other Muslim countries who continue to deny the people democracy by raising the hijacking by extremists’ spectre.

The question arises as to whether there has been any real progress in political reform in the Muslim world apart from Turkey and Indonesia? Isn’t it true that certain states continue to be under one-man or one-party rule despite the trappings of reform? And even though certain states appear to moving on the path to real democracy, the rhetoric often exceeds the reality. There must therefore be greater resolve for Muslim countries to embrace constitutional democracy and translate that into reality: hold free and fair elections, ensure the separation of powers and guarantee fundamental civil liberties including allowing the full participation of women in political life. Vindictive prosecutions, arbitrary arrests, and the use of the state apparatus to silence political dissent must be a thing of the past. Unless and until such reforms are in place, the convergence of Islam and democracy will only be a mirage.

As for the process of democratization itself, there is the troubling question of the real intention of certain Western powers. You cannot turn a blind eye to blatant human rights violations in some countries and condemn these practices in others. You cannot say to one country, give us your support in this current war we’re waging, and we won’t interfere in your administration. The “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” diplomacy may be good realpolitik but it is a betrayal of the cause of democracy and freedom.

Unfortunately, however, it is partly because of this hypocritical approach to democratization that we still see many Muslim societies languishing under sham democracies. These are governments with the trappings of democracy but are in fact masquerades perpetuating injustice, human rights abuses and corruption. These ‘democracies’ employ the entire state apparatus and exploit the people’s hard earned money to promote their personal and vested interests. They plunder the state coffers, parcel out vast tracts of prime commercial land to relatives and cronies, and expropriate millions of hectares of virgin forests transforming them into wasteland.

So, the truth is that the assault on freedom and democracy is not from Islam, though the bulk of the perpetrators are Muslims. Indonesia and Turkey have demonstrated that democracy is not only acceptable but essential to Islam and that the enemy of Islam is not democracy but injustice, corruption, tyranny and greed. Indeed, freedom and democracy is part and parcel of the self-evident truths that would set mankind apart from the rest of God’s creatures.

The real issue is not whether Islam and democracy are destined to coincide but whether those in power in Muslim majority countries will uphold freedom and democracy, respect the rule of law and fulfil their duties to the people. If that doesn’t happen then it is incumbent on us to make it happen. And that is a cause worth fighting for.

(Keynote address by Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader at Brussels, 28th September, 2010)

Najib’s Pastoral Picture of Malaysia... by Asia Sentinel Correspondent

Najib’s Pastoral Picture of Malaysia

Asia Sentinel | Correspondent
Despite the prime minister’s speech to the UN, his country is facing serious racial tension

Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak, made an eloquent speech to the United Nations earlier this week, telling the assembled body that, among other things, Malaysia “is a multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-cultural and democratic society that has benefited from the positive interaction and synergy between the various communities. Mosques, temples, churches and other places of worship co-exist in harmony.

“Although Islam is the official religion, we honor other religions – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism – by making their religious and cultural celebrations as national holidays and celebrate them as national events. It is this equilibrium that leads to moderation or wasatiyyah in the Islamic tradition of mutual justice.”

That picture of Malaysia, thought to have been crafted by the giant US public relations firm APCO Worldwide for delivery in New York, is badly frayed, however. Many people in Kuala Lumpur say racial tension is higher than it has been since 1987, when former Prime Minister Mahathir cracked down in the so-called Operation Lalang and threw lots of top opposition politicians in jail under the Internal Security Act, which allows in effect for indefinite detention without trial.

Political events since the 2008 general election have led to ever-rising tension, particularly between Malays and Chinese although there have been strains in the Indian community as well. It is unclear today how far down into the society that racial bitterness extends. On many occasions, the two races have worked together to attempt to calm racial tensions. Last year, when unknown vandals firebombed a Christian church in a Kuala Lumpur suburb, urban Malays went to the church to attempt to calm anger.

Najib’s attempts to unify his country are facing deep problems, many of them caused by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has taken on the question of special rights for the Malay majority and played a major role in the development of a Malay superiority NGO called Perkasa, whose fiery leader, Ibrahim Ali, has been perceived as a Mahathir ally although he is an independent legislator.

“Perkasa’s vocal spokesmen Ibrahim and Mahathir seem hell bent – through such vociferous bickering – to stop Prime Minister Najib Razak from implementing his New Economic Model which is supposed to liberalise the economy from the clutches of the economically stifling, much corrupted and skewed New Economic Policy that heavily plays on ‘Malay rights,” wrote Raja Petra Kamarudin, the editor of the influential blog Malaysia Today.

“The problem is a segment of the Malays fear what is needed to revive private investment, especially domestic private investment, could cause Najib to lose the general election,” said an analyst with a Kuala Lumpur-based think tank. “This assumes that the Malay electorate would be hostile to policy measures to ameliorate the NEP’s re-structuring objectives. Najib has said this will now be applied on nationally rather than on a company basis while continuing the focus on reducing poverty. Perkasa’s strength comes from its linkage with Mahathir who still commands some support in Umno and among the Malay community. Undoubtedly, Malays who feel threatened by prospect of less contracts etc from the Government will be hostile to Najib’s economic plans.”

The Sept. 27 death of another lawmaker, Parti Islam se-Malaysia state assemblyman Che Hashim Sulaima, will kick off the 12th by-election since the 2008 electoral surprise that gave the opposition control of four states and shocked the ruling Barisan Nasional. The United Malays National Organisation is expected to pull out all the stops in going after the Kelantan seat. With the Islamic fundamentalist PAS in the unanticipated role of positioning itself as a moderate party seeking to attract non-Malay votes, it remains to be seen if UMNO will attempt to appeal to voters by emphasizing Malay superiority.

Mahathir has been fanning the flames of unrest by his continuing demand for the continuation of special treatment for Malays, a cause he has espoused ever since the publication of his book, The Malay Dilemma. In that book, Mahathir argued that because Malays were rural and backward and because the economy was controlled by urban Chinese, they needed special treatment. After disastrous racial riots in July of 1969, the government agreed with Mahathir and created the New Economic Policy, in affect an affirmative action program for a majority race. For 40 years, they have been given that special treatment but they have advanced relatively little vis-à-vis the Chinese. Today, social scientists argue that affirmative action to help the Malays has been a crutch that has cushioned their lives and kept them from healthy competition.

But changing that policy is messing with a powder keg. Rallies against changing it have drawn thousands of angry Malays. Mahathir fanned the flames considerably by lending his public support to a Malay superiority rally in Terengganu on May 13, the anniversary of the 1969 race riots that took hundreds of lives. The octogenarian former leader has not broken with Najib, partly out of his loyalty to Najib’s father, who reinstated him in politics after he was expelled from UMNO following publication of his book. But he continues to demand special treatment for Malays. In his blog, Che Det, on August 30, he wrote that the leader of the Chinese Economic Congress was racist for calling for a meritocratic society.

“It is racial because he was advocating taking away the protection afforded by the NEP and quotas from the bumiputeras (native Malays) and not from any other race,” Mahathir wrote. “I am not proud of the protection afforded the bumiputera. It implies weakness. I don’t think Malays and other bumiputera like to think that they are inferior in any way. But the reality is that in Malaysia the bumiputeras need new skills and a new culture even. These cannot be had by them in a mere 20 years. The original planners of the NEP were too optimistic.”

Najib hired the US public relations firm APCO to come up with a US$40 million program to seek to pull the races together as well as to seek to burnish his own image overseas, tarnished as it has been by a long series of scandals. The program, called 1Malaysia, is considered by most people to have failed.
Despite the fact that the special rights have become a millstone around their neck instead of moving them into a higher income bracket. Especially, critics say, it has created a rentier class of so-called “Umnoputras” who skim off contracts through government–linked companies to enrich themselves and that little of the benefit trickles down to the rank and file

When Najib took office in April 2009, he started seeking to modify the program, called the New Economic Policy. That has led to continuing tension. In May, some 1,500 members of the Malay Consultative Council, a group of 76 Malay-rights organizations, summarily rejected Najib’s plans to replace it with what the premier called his New Economic Model.

At the forefront of the protest against Najib’s plans has been Ibrahim Ali, who has not only threatened non-Malays but launched a series of attacks on moderates. Among other things, Ibrahim has sought to have top officials including Chua Soi Lek, the president of the Malaysian Chinese Association – the second biggest component of the Barisan Nasional after the United Malays National Organisation – arrested for sedition, basically for talking back at him. He has demanded also that shariah laws be amended to prohibit non-Muslims from entering mosques and prayer rooms – which they have done traditionally. He has also demanded that Nurul Izzah Anwar, an MP and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, be jailed as well after Nurul accused Mahathir of inciting racial animosities.

“Biro Tata Negara: An Incubator of Bigotry and Intolerance”... by Din Merican

I recommend Din Merican’s blog entitled “Biro Tata Negara: An Incubator or Bigotry and Intolerance” for reading:

The Biro Tata Negara (BTN) or National Civics Bureau has been hogging the limelight lately for all the wrong reasons. Ostensbily created for the purpose of fostering patriotism and “commitment to excellence”, the BTN has become an incubator of bigotry and intolerance. It turned out to be nothing more than “communal brainwashing” and is anything but civic.

It started off as an obscure agency in 1974 with an innocuous-sounding name: Youth Research Unit. It mutated into BTN at the time when Mahathir Mohamad had just assumed power. And unbeknownst to the public, the devils in the BTN had been subtlely and at times blatantly poisoning the minds of scholars, public servants, university students and youths sent there for training over the past quarter of a century.

For decades, BTN had been training and producing “graduates” to become future leaders who would come out well-rounded intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. The courses they studied had noble objectives: enhancing patriotism, strengthening self-reliance, building character and discipline, promoting excellent work ethics, and fostering a spirit of camaraderie “regardless of race”.

The goals were fine on paper but it appears they were not put into practice or had become totally irrelevant. Once shut up within the four walls of BTN, it is a fact that the “students” were subjected to racial and political indoctrination.

The products of the BTN system were there for all to see: A school principal in Johor reportedly said “Chinese students should go back to China” and likened Indian prayer strings to dog leashes. A special officer openly said that “Indians came to Malaysia as beggars and Chinese, especially women, came to sell their bodies”. A high-ranking BTN officer shocked the nation when he allegedly called Chinese “slitty eyed” and Indians “alcoholic”. These are the tip of the iceberg: more muck will float when incendiary remarks made in public or in private functions see the light of day.

The courses were also political in nature, emphasising Malay supremacy and loyalty to national leaders. According to one BTN alumnus, a song was taught with the lyrics: “the land that you walk upon is owned by others”, insinuating that the non-Malays have grabbed all the land and that it was time the Malays asserted their rights and reclaimed lost ground.

Another alumnus was put off when the trainers tarred the Chinese as the “Jews of Asia” who were engaged in a conspiracy to topple the government. Yet another participant was shocked when one lecturer blatantly declared that the Malays “were the most supreme race in the world… while the others were insignificant”. The opposition was mercilessly flayed to bring home the message that it did not pay to vote for the other side.

The BTN continues to exist in its monstrous form. Apologists like Ahmad Maslan, deputy minister in the prime minister’s department, and Mahathir were quick to defend the ogre. Maslan dismissed the whole hullabaloo as a mere slip-up by one lecturer, while Mahathir had nothing but high praise for the BTN for “inculcating the values of discipline and hard work in public servants and scholars”. Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin came out from the dark to say BTN programmes “inculcate nationalism and unity… in line with the 1Malaysia concept”. These are weak responses. Even the recent directive to all heads of government departments to check their officers from making sensitive statements is an exercise in futility. It does not address the glaring abuses in the system.

Undoubtedly, BTN has failed to discharge its duty responsibly. It has created at taxpayers’ expense and released hundreds, perhaps thousands, of bigots into the civil service and other sectors, who will continue to spew racial slurs and undermine the very concept of patriotism.

Love of country cannot exist in a cauldron of hate and spite. Moral and ethics cannot take root when public servants themselves do not show exemplary conduct. Team spirit cannot be built on the mucky soil of racism. Unity in diversity is a lost cause when the doctrine of Malay supremacy is worshipped as a national ideology. BTN is an antithesis of everything that is good, unifying, principled, decent.

BTN was recast largely in the image of Mahathir. When the aging doctor took it under his wings in the Prime Minister’s Department, the creature underwent a series of operation. Drastic changes were introduced to ensure that all who attended the courses would come out with the look of the devil in their eyes.

BTN had turned into a Frankenstein that has gone berserk and done harm to millions of people who call Malaysia their one and only home. There is only way to strap down the monster and put it to sleep: abolish the detested BTN. This calls for firm, decisive action. BTN aka Frankenstein must be consigned with all haste to the dung heap of history.

The last farewell to my wife — by Lee Kuan Yew

The last farewell to my wife — Lee Kuan Yew

October 06, 2010

Oct 6 — Ancient peoples developed and ritualised mourning practices to express the shared grief of family and friends, and together show not fear or distaste for death, but respect for the dead one; and to give comfort to the living who will miss the deceased.

I recall the ritual mourning when my maternal grandmother died some 75 years ago. For five nights the family would gather to sing her praises and wail and mourn at her departure, led by a practiced professional mourner.

Such rituals are no longer observed. My family’s sorrow is to be expressed in personal tributes to the matriarch of our family.

In October 2003 when she had her first stroke, we had a strong intimation of our mortality.

My wife and I have been together since 1947 for more than three quarters of our lives. My grief at her passing cannot be expressed in words. But today, when recounting our lives together, I would like to celebrate her life.

In our quiet moments, we would revisit our lives and times together. We had been most fortunate. At critical turning points in our lives, fortune favoured us.

As a young man with an interrupted education at Raffles College, and no steady job or profession, her parents did not look upon me as a desirable son-in-law. But she had faith in me.

We had committed ourselves to each other. I decided to leave for England in September 1946 to read law, leaving her to return to Raffles College to try to win one of the two Queen’s Scholarships awarded yearly. We knew that only one Singaporean would be awarded. I had the resources, and sailed for England, and hoped that she would join me after winning the Queen’s Scholarship.

If she did not win it, she would have to wait for me for three years.

In June the next year, 1947, she did win it. But the British colonial office could not get her a place in Cambridge.

Through Chief Clerk of Fitzwilliam, I discovered that my Censor at Fitzwilliam, W S Thatcher, was a good friend of the Mistress of Girton, Miss Butler.

He gave me a letter of introduction to the Mistress. She received me and I assured her that Choo would most likely take a “First”, because she was the better student when we both were at Raffles College.

I had come up late by one term to Cambridge, yet passed my first year qualifying examination with a class 1. She studied Choo’s academic record and decided to admit her in October that same year, 1947.

We have kept each other company ever since. We married privately in December 1947 at Stratford-upon-Avon. At Cambridge, we both put in our best efforts. She took a first in two years in Law Tripos II. I took a double first, and a starred first for the finals, but in three years.

We did not disappoint our tutors. Our Cambridge Firsts gave us a good start in life. Returning to Singapore, we both were taken on as legal assistants in Laycock & Ong, a thriving law firm in Malacca Street. Then we married officially a second time that September 1950 to please our parents and friends.

She practised conveyancing and draftsmanship, I did litigation.

In February 1952, our first son Hsien Loong was born. She took maternity leave for a year.

That February, I was asked by John Laycock, the Senior Partner, to take up the case of the Postal and Telecommunications Uniformed Staff Union, the postmen’s union.

They were negotiating with the government for better terms and conditions of service. Negotiations were deadlocked and they decided to go on strike. It was a battle for public support. I was able to put across the reasonableness of their case through the press and radio. After a fortnight, they won concessions from the government. Choo, who was at home on maternity leave, pencilled through my draft statements, making them simple and clear.

Over the years, she influenced my writing style. Now I write in short sentences, in the active voice. We gradually influenced each other’s ways and habits as we adjusted and accommodated each other.

We knew that we could not stay starry-eyed lovers all our lives; that life was an on-going challenge with new problems to resolve and manage.

We had two more children, Wei Ling in 1955 and Hsien Yang in 1957. She brought them up to be well-behaved, polite, considerate and never to throw their weight as the prime minister’s children.

As a lawyer, she earned enough, to free me from worries about the future of our children.

She saw the price I paid for not having mastered Mandarin when I was young. We decided to send all three children to Chinese kindergarten and schools.

She made sure they learned English and Malay well at home. Her nurturing has equipped them for life in a multi-lingual region.

We never argued over the upbringing of our children, nor over financial matters. Our earnings and assets were jointly held. We were each other’s confidant.

She had simple pleasures. We would walk around the Istana gardens in the evening, and I hit golf balls to relax.

Later, when we had grandchildren, she would take them to feed the fish and the swans in the Istana ponds. Then we would swim. She was interested in her surroundings, for instance, that many bird varieties were pushed out by mynahs and crows eating up the insects and vegetation.

She discovered the curator of the gardens had cleared wild grasses and swing fogged for mosquitoes, killing off insects they fed on. She stopped this and the bird varieties returned. She surrounded the swimming pool with free flowering scented flowers and derived great pleasure smelling them as she swam.

She knew each flower by its popular and botanical names. She had an enormous capacity for words.
She had majored in English literature at Raffles College and was a voracious reader, from Jane Austen to JRR Tolkien, from Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian Wars to Virgil’s Aeneid, to The Oxford Companion to Food, and Seafood of Southeast Asia, to Roadside Trees of Malaya, and Birds of Singapore.

She helped me draft the Constitution of the PAP. For the inaugural meeting at Victoria Memorial Hall on 4 November 1954, she gathered the wives of the founder members to sew rosettes for those who were going on stage.

In my first election for Tanjong Pagar, our home in Oxley Road, became the HQ to assign cars provided by my supporters to ferry voters to the polling booth.

She warned me that I could not trust my new found associates, the leftwing trade unionists led by Lim Chin Siong. She was furious that he never sent their high school student helpers to canvass for me in Tanjong Pagar, yet demanded the use of cars provided by my supporters to ferry my Tanjong Pagar voters.

She had an uncanny ability to read the character of a person. She would sometimes warn me to be careful of certain persons; often, she turned out to be right.

When we were about to join Malaysia, she told me that we would not succeed because the UMNO Malay leaders had such different lifestyles and because their politics were communally-based, on race and religion.

I replied that we had to make it work as there was no better choice. But she was right.

We were asked to leave Malaysia before two years.

When separation was imminent, Eddie Barker, as Law Minister, drew up the draft legislation for the separation. But he did not include an undertaking by the Federation Government to guarantee the observance of the two water agreements between the PUB and the Johor state government. I asked Choo to include this. She drafted the undertaking as part of the constitutional amendment of the Federation of Malaysia Constitution itself.

She was precise and meticulous in her choice of words. The amendment statute was annexed to the Separation Agreement, which we then registered with the United Nations.

The then Commonwealth Secretary Arthur Bottomley said that if other federations were to separate, he hoped they would do it as professionally as Singapore and Malaysia.

It was a compliment to Eddie’s and Choo’s professional skills. Each time Malaysian Malay leaders threatened to cut off our water supply, I was reassured that this clear and solemn international undertaking by the Malaysian government in its Constitution will get us a ruling by the UNSC (United Nations Security Council).

After her first stroke, she lost her left field of vision. This slowed down her reading. She learned to cope, reading with the help of a ruler. She swam every evening and kept fit. She continued to travel with me, and stayed active despite the stroke. She stayed in touch with her family and old friends.
She listened to her collection of CDs, mostly classical, plus some golden oldies. She jocularly divided her life into “before stroke” and “after stroke”, like BC and AD.

She was friendly and considerate to all associated with her. She would banter with her WSOs (woman security officers) and correct their English grammar and pronunciation in a friendly and cheerful way. Her former WSOs visited her when she was at NNI. I thank them all.

Her second stroke on 12 May 2008 was more disabling. I encouraged and cheered her on, helped by a magnificent team of doctors, surgeons, therapists and nurses.

Her nurses, WSOs and maids all grew fond of her because she was warm and considerate. When she coughed, she would take her small pillow to cover her mouth because she worried for them and did not want to infect them.

Her mind remained clear but her voice became weaker. When I kissed her on her cheek, she told me not to come too close to her in case I caught her pneumonia.

I assured her that the doctors did not think that was likely because I was active.

When given some peaches in hospital, she asked the maid to take one home for my lunch. I was at the centre of her life.

On 24 June 2008, a CT scan revealed another bleed again on the right side of her brain. There was not much more that medicine or surgery could do except to keep her comfortable.

I brought her home on 3 July 2008. The doctors expected her to last a few weeks. She lived till 2nd October, 2 years and 3 months.

She remained lucid. They gave time for me and my children to come to terms with the inevitable. In the final few months, her faculties declined. She could not speak but her cognition remained.

She looked forward to have me talk to her every evening.

Her last wish she shared with me was to enjoin our children to have our ashes placed together, as we were in life.

The last two years of her life were the most difficult. She was bedridden after small successive strokes; she could not speak but she was still cognisant.

Every night she would wait for me to sit by her to tell her of my day’s activities and to read her favourite poems. Then she would sleep.

I have precious memories of our 63 years together. Without her, I would be a different man, with a different life. She devoted herself to me and our children.

She was always there when I needed her. She has lived a life full of warmth and meaning.

I should find solace at her 89 years of her life well lived. But at this moment of the final parting, my heart is heavy with sorrow and grief.

* This eulogy by Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew was delivered at the funeral service of his wife, Madam Kwa Geok Choo at a private ceremony at Mandai Cremetorium today.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Nut Graph: The Benefit Of Being Malay First... by Jacqueline Ann Surin

The Benefit Of Being Malay First

by Jacqueline Ann Surin
The Nut Graph  4th October 2010

ARE you Malay first? Or Malaysian first? That is the current rhetoric in some parts of our political landscape and is spurring some Malaysians to engage in a contest over what it means to be Malaysian.

For certain the question is not a new one. The DAP has for the longest time been brandishing the motto of “Bangsa Malaysia” in an attempt to dismantle the Barisan Nasional (BN)’s race-based politics. DAP advisor Lim Kit Siang, for one, is nowhere close to letting up on this issue. He has demanded repeatedly for, especially, Umno politicians to declare if they are Malaysian or Malay first.

And while Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin seemingly failed the test question, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz recently scored some points by declaring he was “Malaysian first and Malay next”. But is the question really about which should come first? Why does it seem to matter so much? And which of the two labels — one about race and the other about citizenship — is more profoundly important to us as Malaysian citizens?

Asset vs liability
If there’s anything that we’ve learnt from our series of Found in Malaysia interviews, it’s that our identities are far more complex than, first, the British colonialists and now, the BN government would like us to believe.

Just read some of the stories from the Malay Malaysian personalities we’ve featured. Chef Wan has Japanese and Indonesian ancestry in him, national squash player Mohd Azlan Iskandar is European, Indian, Malay and Chinese all in one, and Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz who is featured exclusively in the Found in Malaysia book is, in her own words, of pendatang stock since her ancestors were from Sumatera.

And so, one wonders why someone like the deputy prime minister, who is also Umno deputy president, feels compelled to respond to Lim’s challenge by making his Malay identity more important than, in this instance, his national identity. Why was it not possible for Muhyiddin to have replied that he was both Malay and Malaysian with neither one identity being more important? After all, our racial identities are far more complex than the tightly contained boxes we are expected to tick.

But this isn’t just about Muhyiddin although what our deputy prime minister, who is also education minister, says has implications on politics in Malaysia. It is about a larger issue of why being Malay to some is far more critical in Malaysia than placing equal or more importance on being Malaysian.

This is where I find a commentary by Deputy Education Minister Dr Puad Zarkashi and the remarks by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak at the end of September at the United Nations rather disingenuous. Our racial diversity, we are told, is an asset, not a liability, that is cherished.

These claims, however, belie the fact that it is really far more advantageous to be a Malay citizen than a non-Malay citizen in Malaysia. From quotas for education and housing to promotions in the civil service to becoming prime minister, it cannot be denied that the system in place clearly favours Malays over non-Malays primarily on the basis of race.

And so if it’s clear that there are two classes of citizens in Malaysia — Malays and non-Malays — it is only logical to expect the growing incidence of name-calling of non-Malay Malaysians whether in political rallies, Biro Tatanegara programmes or in schools. In order to maintain the paradigm of ketuanan Melayu that is repeatedly used to justify continued Malay privileges and dominance, one must not ever admit that regardless of race, we are, as citizens, all actually the same and hence deserving of equal opportunities and treatment.

No surprise then that the likes of Muhyiddin are not about to declare they are Malaysian first. Similarly, that would also explain just why Puad, who is an Umno supreme council member, would so quickly label the likes of Nazri as suffering from “Malayphobia”. Those who declare themselves as Malaysian first, Malay second, are dangerous because they are violating the constitution and Umno’s raison d’etre, charged Puad.

Herein lies the weak link to the BN’s claim that it believes in the vision of 1Malaysia. How can citizens believe that the government, especially Umno, cherishes our diversity if it consistently favours one racial group of citizens over others?

Inclusive instead of exclusive
Any attempt to reframe the equation so that all of us are the same — from a citizenship point of view — would of course be seen as a threat. After all, such thinking could just dangerously lead to changing the equation of privilege and superiority to one of equality.

And that’s why Nazri‘s remarks made him such an instant hero in some circles. No matter the actual motivation for his remarks, this is what I suspect many people heard him say. That it was more important to him to belong to a group of people (“Malaysians”) where everyone was the same than it was to belong to another group of people (“Malays”) who enjoy exclusive privileges at the expense of others.

For many Malaysians, including me, saying “I am Malaysian first” is not about denying the cultural heritage of our respective ethnic groups. It is about reclaiming an identity that is inclusive instead of exclusive. It is about contesting the equation of Malay privilege so that no citizen needs to feel disadvantaged because of their race.

For certain, our identities are not one or the other, and cannot be limited to just race or nationality. Class, gender, sexuality, and religion are other aspects of identity that have been sidelined in this debate about being Malaysian. Indeed, depending on context, one aspect of our identity may be far more important than another with no contradiction at all to who we are. When Malaysians are overseas for example, it’s the most natural thing to say, “I’m Malaysian” instead of “I’m Malay/Chinese/Indian/etc”.

Still, if Umno politicians, or any other politician for that matter, want us to believe that 1Malaysia is for real, they best start talking and acting in ways that demonstrate they believe in an equation of inclusivity instead of exclusivity. The sum result, after all, is in the proof.