Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Reversing Brain Drain

Change our mindset not just the equipment

It was earlier reported in the Star that most of the 300 scientists who returned to serve the country under the government initiated 'brain gain' programme had opted to rejoin the 'brain drain' programme after a year here.

Some may have quoted the lack of research facilities as their main frustration, I have personally spoken to a number of them at one of our top local universities on the real reason behind their departure. It is the mindset of the local administration. These researhers are used to working in a merit based and professional environment.

At our local universities, meritocracy is still a dirty word. Until and unless we implement a system which recognises merit and performance, we will not go far in attracting the real brains.

In the Star, Dr Fong Chan Onn said that the Government will embark on a programme to provide high-tech research facilities, in a move to attract foreign-based research experts to return home. He said the programme, which will be carried out under the 9th Malaysia Plan, would include providing research facilities with state-of-the-art equipment and government grants to conduct research.

Spending on state-of-the-art equipment must come with a mindset shift.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Team Work or Compliant II?

In my previous post, I narrated my conversation with a respected Penang leader on the issue of team work. His position is this - if one is not on the same page with the party leadership it is best for the person to quit the party.

I disagreed. Granted, on many similar occasions the person would not have survived in the party if he is not on the same wavelength with the party leaders. But we should be surprised by the stand taken by the respected Penang leader. In this era, ideology is dead. Might of the majority is the ideology of survival.

Yet, in a few instances we have witnessed uprising against party leadership when some members felt that the leadership had swayed away from the party's interest and main struggle. We saw it happened in UMNO, MCA, DAP and now SUPP.

The results of the uprisings are mixed; some are for the better and some are not. But which is more important? Support your party leadership regardless or stay true to the party's struggle and ideology (if there is still any meaning left) regardless?

We have to ponder on this.

Welcome to Mob Rule!

The Zakaria's controversy is getting hotter. Opposition politicians who saw it as an ammunition to stir up public's displeasure have taken their campaign to the front gate of Zakaria's 'Palace of Shame'.

But their action was met with a fierce challenge from the assemblyman's supporters. Some of his men, who jealously defended their boss, came equipped with iron rods. Perhaps this is business as usual for Zakaria. He did the same to his business rivals didn't he? Other satay stalls were compounded or closed down on small flaws but his was able to stay open without an operating license.

Selangor MB has asked his man to resign from the council's post, knowing that his term has ended anyway but allowed his son and daughter-in-law to keep theirs. No wonder Zakaria can afford a grin when he was whisked away in his luxury car.

His dynasty will survive. Thanks to UMNO's party politics. Screw morality and good public governance. Who needs it? It's mob rule!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Feud Must Stop!

Malaysians are the biggest losers

The spat between the ex-prime minister and the current prime minister has worsened. In Malaysia, a number of personalities have dominated the country's scene for far too long and at a great expense to the nation.Here, personality is everything. For example, a banner promoting tourism in Malaysia must portray the PM's face. Any event or programme must be graced by a VIP politician to enhance its publicity in the mass media.

In a recent bloggers' forum, I have said that if a person aspires fame but cannot dance or sing, can try politics. Another unhealthy trend which is perpetuating is the importance of party politics over public governance. In the recent controversial surrounding the Port Klang assemblyman, Zakaria Mat Deros, is a good example. The appointment to public office is made a reward for party electoral triumph. Public perception of nepotism or power abuse is not important.

Similarly, the Dr Mahathir and Abdullah Badawi’s feud is another good example of an excessive politicking in the country. So far, Dr Mahathir has not been able to convince Malaysians that the scrapping of the crooked bridge project is a bad idea. Not scrapping it is a bad one. Moreover, he has failed to convince Malaysians that the national car project i.e. Proton is a viable one considering how poorly the company is being managed.

The irony is he will not spend his own money to buy a Proton car. Then, why do Malaysians have to buy a car which is not value for money in order to keep the company alive? Consumers who shunned the national car maker are merely heeding the government’s advice to buy smartly.The people are not interested in the personal part of the feud between the two personalities. Whoever son is given a bigger contract is not going to make anyone of them look like a worse leader. The most important thing is for patronage politics to stop before it destroys the society.

As for Abdullah, the people are upset of his empty promises more than what he has done. His major problem is he did nothing significant to fulfill his election promises. The reforms he started are almost grinding to a halt or frustratingly slow. Moreover, the spat will almost certainly divert the nation's attention away from the things that Abdullah should do e.g. drive the economy into a higher gear, end nepotism and patronage politics, combat corruption, implement the IPCMC, restructure the education sector, create a truly Bangsa Malaysia, get rid of racism and many more.

It is not too late for Abdullah to leave behind a legacy much bigger and significant than Dr Mahathir. I am sure he will be remembered for ending racial politics in Malaysia. In the 21st century, it is unimaginable for us to continue with this outdated form of political structure. By ending the reign of racial politics, we can better focus on the real issues and challenges at hand without being drawn into an emotional and senseless racial rhetoric and politicking.

I am sure that the poorest 40 percent of the society will thank and remember the prime minister for putting an end to the abuses of patronage politics which was created and perfected by none other than his nemesis, Dr Mahathir. Hence, instead of squabbling over the statistics e.g. 18.9 percent versus 45 percent of Bumiputera corporate equity ownership, we can implement an affirmative policy which truly helps the poorest.

However, in order to preserve political power and influence it is very tempting to disguise patronage politics via various financial ‘handouts’. Speaking as a Chinese Malaysian, I am not upset if the government is really helping the poorest Bumiputera community to enhance their capacity to move up the value chain and consequently improve their living standards.

In fact, the only possible way for the poorest Bumiputera community to advance is via the access to good quality education, skills development and a start-up capital (not ‘handout’). They must be taught good entrepreneurial skills and ethics. The focus of the programme must be on self-sustainability and a real commitment to hard work and tenacity to succeed.

As a Chinese Malaysian too, I would advice the prime minister not to repeat the frustrating statement that the government has given many opportunities to the Chinese community here. It is only humane to allow us to learn our mother tongue and to practice our own culture. These activities are almost self-funded. For a record, almost 30 percent of all primary level students are attending the vernacular schools but these schools received less than 4 percent of the total financial allocation given to the education ministry.

Many Chinese Malaysians are successful because they have inculcated the right human spirit and ethics into their culture. They know that the only way to fill their rice bowl is through hard work and being thrifty. I am sure many of us are more than glad to pass on some lessons learned to our fellow Bumiputera Malaysians.

For the good of the nation, both Dr Mahathir and Abdullah must not perpetuate their squabble. Whoever is more right, let history be the judge. If not, Malaysians of all races will be the biggest losers.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Dr M versus Pak Lah = Malaysians Are the Biggest Losers!

Personalities are not important

The spat between the ex-prime minister and the current prime minister has worsen. In Malaysia, a number of personalities have dominated the country's scene for far too long and at a great expense to the nation.

Here, personality is everything. A banner promoting tourism in Malaysia must portray the PM's face. In a recent bloggers' forum, I said that if anyone who aspires fame but cannot dance or sing, he can try politics.

So far, Dr M has not been able to convince Malaysians that the scrapping of the crooked bridge project is a bad idea. Not scrapping it is a bad one. He has failed to convince Malaysians that the national car project i.e. Proton is a viable one considering how poorly the company is being managed.

As for Pak Lah, the people are upset of his empty promises more than what he has done. His major problem is he did nothing significant to fulfill his election promises. The reforms are almost grinding to a halt or frustratingly slow.

This spat will almost certainly divert the nation's attention away from the things that Pak Lah should do: combat corruption, implement the IPCMC, restructure the education sector, create a truly Bangsa Malaysia and many more.

For the good of the nation, we must get rid of personality centric politics. These fellows are acting like maharajas!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

What is Cultural Preservation?

I attended a graduation ceremony at the Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi last year. The 'Pai Choh' or paying respect to our anchestors' ceremony is held every year to enable graduates from the Khoo clan to pay their respect and gratitude to the anchestors. This is a Confucius tradition.

In an interview with the Star, I mentioned that it is essential for us to keep our tradition alive so that the clanhouse will not only survive as a historical site. The Khoo clan's culture and traditions must survive with the current and future generations of Khoo families.

An article in the Star on the Khoo Kongsi

Wednesday July 19, 2006
Forensic officer to help clanhouse

HOW could forensic work be relevant to the operations of a clanhouse?

Universiti Sains Malaysia graduate Khoo Lay See, 26, said forensic investigation does not only concern dead bodies but also documents and signature examinations to ascertain authenticity or forgery.

Examination of documents and cheques is perhaps one way that I could contribute to the Khoo Kongsi, she said while welcoming the formation of the Khoo Graduates' Association.

The scientific forensic officer at Kuantan's Hospital Tengku Ampuan Afzan said through the graduates' association, younger clansmen could start learning about clan management as they would eventually take over from the senior management.

Political analyst Khoo Kay Peng, executive director of Sedar (Socio-economic Development and Research), said networking via the graduates association would keep the clan dynamic and alive.
"A clan is about people and should not just be turned into a historical artefact for tourists to come and see," said Kay Peng, 32, who obtained his Masters in Inter-national Relations in 2004 from Warwick University.

Chinese Malaysians Marginalised?

MCA's Rakyat Malaysia Launch

When the issue of Chinese Malaysians being systematically marginalised was first mentioned by MM Lee Kuan Yew, many MCA leaders jumped to the defence of their BN counterparts in UMNO. Both the President Ong Ka Ting and its youth leader Liow Tiong Lai denied that Chinese Malaysians are being systematically marginalised.

Ironically, MCA has launched its Rakyat Malaysia programme to "promote respect, understanding, openness, goodwill, fairness and caring for one and another." Liow added, "We have witnessed how individuals, with their interpretations and polemics threatened the very existence of our nation by creating uneasiness and resentment amongst the Rakyat." I am not sure if he was referring to his colleagues in UMNO, both Khairy Jamalludin and Hishammudin Hussein. Khairy said that the chinese lobby groups will take advantage of a weak UMNO to demand many things from it.

If there has been no discrimination of Chinese Malaysians, it must be very ironic for the MCA to launch its spirit of rakyat Malaysia programme which reminds all Malaysians that "Our Constitution guarantees equality for all irrespective of race, creed or religion and Article 8 clearly states that all Malaysians are equal before the law and there shall be no discrimination against any citizens."

To whom is this reminder directed at?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A Malaysia for All Malaysians

Social contracts must adjust to developments

The process of history is central to the understanding of social construction and development of a society. As a student, I was keenly interested in the study of history. Reading about the sacrifices made by our forefathers during the formation an independent Malaysia gave me a sense of duty to continue striving for the growth and success of my motherland.

While appreciating importance of history, I am also aware of the tendency to distort the facts and process of history. It is a well-known fact that the process of documenting history is never apolitical. The (mis)interpretation of history is a viable tool to promote and pursue political and ideological domination or colonisation.

We have heard arguments that the mainstream version of history should be adopted and accepted in toto, without question. In contemporary term, this practice is known as absolutism which is unfortunately a distortion and manipulation in itself.

Post-modernist thinkers posited that there are truths within truth and histories within history. The most dominant version of history may not necessary represent absolute truth but it is merely a viewpoint or an opinion presented by the majority. In this regard, I find that is it necessary to debate and debunk some of these arguments which try to use the process of history as a convenient tool to disrupt and distort our efforts of nation building.

Firstly, let us examine the historical process leading to the formation of an independent Malaysia. This milestone is critical to the understanding of the social contract purportedly made between the three main communities in Malaya at that time. A version of history promoted as a dominant viewpoint argues that the contract was primarily about the exchange of Malaysian citizenship for the two immigrant (Chinese and Indian) communities and in return they recognise the rights of the Malays as the natives and the masters of the land. Hence, proponents of this viewpoint argue that other communities, especially the present generation particularly those of Chinese descent, must accept these rights - both political and socio-economic - unquestionably.

A journalist from Bernama even quoted the first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman who told Lee Kuan Yew that "... if you refuse to accept that, then we will no longer accept Malaysia". Obviously, we are aware of Lee's reaction and the unavoidable historical outcome. Seeing history through this lens has one problem.

The function of history is to record events and not to interpret the future. A political outburst is not a decree. Any social contracts or agreements made between communities in a particular time period cannot continue to bind generations to come without adjusting to the transformations and developments of a society.

Proponents of the dominant viewpoint have some serious questions to answer. Are those who are born and bred in Malaysia, especially non-Malays, still considered as immigrants? Since they are born as Malaysians, the social contract is not relevant to them. Furthermore, Malaysians of all races, post-independence, have contributed significantly albeit through their own ways and means to the country's progress and development. All races have had a hand in the making of a modern and developed Malaysia. Surely this means more than a mere exchange of citizenship. What is the worth of a citizenship if it does not come with equal rights?

Second, how does one to reconcile the master of the land's perspective with the so-called national unity policy which is being promoted by the Malay-led government? The creation of a truly Bangsa Malaysia (Malaysian race) cannot be achieved through a master-servant relationship model. What is obviously needed is a condition where a shared common identity can be fostered through the existence of socio-political equality and justice.

Third, the hollow definition of democracy a la Malaysia which invites more problems than solutions to the management of a multi-ethnic society ought to be reconstructed to ensure that if justice exists, it must be a justice for all regardless of race, religion, gender or class. Our doggedly communitarian democracy model, which promotes the might of the majority over the interests of the minority, only seeks to enhance the power of dominant ruling class to the extend that it breeds power corruption and abuse.

In a thriving democracy, even a single voice must be given a right to be heard if it is meant to seek justice and fairness. Communitarianism habitually turns a deaf ear to the weak voices of the society, often in the name of the majority interest. In a global village, all communities in Malaysia are minorities. Our experiences in facing the forces of globalisation or in trying to make ourselves heard on international platforms where our presence is dwarfed by much bigger and dominant countries should have taught us well that the above concepts or misconceptions are not suitable for us.

We need to adopt a new paradigm. We need to promote a new and all-inclusive national agenda to foster greater unity and to capitalise on our rich diversity in order to stand up to the challenges of globalisation. This can only materialise if we can discard our old mindset and destroy these dormant perceptions of majority might and master-servant relationship.

While an unscrupulous interpretation and adaptation of history is dangerous, taking a stubborn and dogmatic position on the process of history may turn us into a historical artefact.

Team Work or Compliant?

Yesterday, I had a conversation with a Penang BN state leader who is widely known as a conscience of his party. He related to me his political experience in the past which compelled him to make critical statements against the ruling coalition. His party is a member of the ruling coalition.

In those instances, he was asked to toe the line and to tone down his criticism or face stern disciplinary action. And in those instances too, he did not cross the line. He argues that he had chosen to work within the ruling coalition to effect change and to implement his projects for the benefit of the people. Granted, a dead politician is not an effective politician. It is a widely used reason for outspoken politicians in the ruling coalition to justify their stay in the front.

Recently, he has spoken out strongly against the government's intention to silence discussions over the controversial NEP issue. This time, he is prepared to face any action. He said, "the government cannot shut out the people!" Very well said.

In return, I told him I noticed that politicians who are retiring tend to be more outspoken and not too risk averse. Perhaps there is nothing more they would need to do to ensure their own political survival. Suddenly, the throat clears up. The desire to speak the voices of the people returns.

Bravo! This is what a political struggle is all about. One should join politics to effect change in the society - a change for the better. But more than often personal interest outweighs the public interest.

Back to our discussion, he told me party politics is a team work. His idea of team work is communitarianism. If one cannot agree with the team (the party leadership) on the fundamental direction of the party, then one should pack up and leave. I agree partially.

Team work is essential but the party ideology and basic struggle is even more important. If the leadership is not willing to embrace and practice the ideology and lost sight of the struggle then they must make way for a more committed new leadership. Otherwise, right minded members of the party have a duty to persevere for a leadership change.

Similarly, any Malaysian who refuses to accept Malaysia as a Malay dominant and an Islamic state cannot be asked to pack his bag and leave the country, just because the ruling elites think that it is a Malay dominated country and an Islamic state.

It is time to review the practice of communitarian politics (or the herd mentality).

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri

Make this a celebration of multicultural Malaysia

To our Muslim friends, this is the holy month of Ramadhan. Marking the end of the holy month is the celebration of peace, forgiveness and love. We hope that Malaysians will take this opportunity during the Raya festival to ponder on the fate and direction of this country.

Do we want a country polarised by racial innuendos and policies? Or a country where all Malaysians can embrace one another and where there is a real sense of unity, loyalty and love for the country?

Our choice will dictate our path and the path will lead us to our end destination. Let it not be a racist one.

Friday, October 20, 2006

NEP: Marginalisation of the Poorest 40%

The plight of the orang Asli

When the Asli memorandum was first submitted to the government in February 2006, one of the most important messages in the report was the marginalisation of the poorest 40% in the country.

It is a sad and obvious fact that something is blatantly wrong with the implementation of the NEP. In my conversation with a top foreign diplomat yesterday, he commented that Malaysia is the only country in the world which has a race-centric public policy.

In the NST today, the plight of the 106 Penan boys and girls at Sekolah Kebangsaan Long Lellang is highlighted. The report stated that their boarding school is lacking in many physical aspects, the students have also been attending classes on an empty stomach for almost two years now.

Kudos to the newspaper for highlighting this story but it is quick to defend the government as well ..."it not the government which has neglected them but the failure of the delivery system that has forced these students to survive on a single meal of porridge and boiled young papayas and jungle shoots".

The greater flaw is the failure of those concerned to monitor the contractors who have been given the responsibility of supplying food to the school.

My say: the government is equally at fault. It has chosen to give contracts to parties who are not able to deliver. It is time for the government to open its procurement policy and insist that it is not willing to pay for non-performance.

Passionate researchers such as Prof. Lim Tech Ghee have voiced out their concern of the marginalisation of the poorest. However, instead of engaging these researchers on the possibility of formulating better intervention strategies to uplift the living conditions of the poorest, the government has chosen to reject, trivialise and criticize the intention of these researchers.

The nation and particularly UMNO must make a choice, to embrace these displaced poorest or the reckless 'Mat Rempit'?


Old Wound Still Hurts

MCA is in the limelight again. This time for the sale of 21.02% of its share equity in Nanyang Publications Berhad. Nanyang publishes Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press. Both of the newspapers were quite critical of the government especially after the Anwar Ibrahim saga. After the take over by MCA five years ago, the circulation of both publications suffered. Worse for Nanyang.

On Tuesday, the MCA announced that it had decided to sell off 21.02% of its 41.02% stake in Nanyang to Ezywood Option Sdn Bhd.

Ezywood is owned by Sarawak timber tycoon Tan Sri Tiong Hiew King, who already owns two other Chinese newspapers – Sin Chew Daily and Guang Ming Daily.

The deal makes Tiong the 'Rupert Murdoch' of Malaysia, with his near monopoly of the Chinese print media. However, Tiong is seen as an ally of the MCA President Ong Ka Ting. Rita Sim, a trusted aide of Ong, and a deputy chairperson of INSAP (a think tank linked to MCA) is an executive director of Sin Chew Daily.

PM's Manifesto: Combat Corruption

Why Not Act Now?

The controversy surrounding the Port Klang assemblyman Zakaria Mat Deros is not only embarrassing but also outrageous. Zakaria has come under fire for building his palatial four-storey house in Kampung Idaman, Pandamaran, Klang, without first getting approval of the MPK. His incomplete 'palace' stood out like a sore thumb in a neighbourhood surrounded by humble looking houses.

Dr Mohd Khir said on Wednesday that the authorities should impose the maximum fine of RM24,580 on Zakaria for the construction and seal the house if that is what it would take to settle the issue. Is the chief minister more interested in appeasing the public and at the same time trying to protect his own kind from his outrageous abuse of power as a Klang local councillor?

When contacted, council president Abdul Bakir Zin said a notice had been sent to Zakaria two days ago requesting him to pay his fines and dues for various offences.

If the prime minister stands firm on his election pledge of eradicating corruption and abuse of power, he should immediate suspend Zakaria and launch a thorough investigation on the ineptness of the Klang local council for failing in its duty to keep check on the construction. Fine alone is not enough and the prime minister should know better.

Moreover, both his son and daughter-in-law are recently being nominated as councillors in the Klang Local Authority. Zakaria is also operating an illegal satay restaurant in his constituency.

This case is a stark contrast against the Ong Tee Keat's furore on the misappropriation of repair funds of two chinese schools. Ong was reprimanded by the cabinet for exposing the corrupt act.

Malaysians are losing their patience! This is a classic case of 'harap pagar, pagar makan padi'.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


My Speech at the Young Malaysians' Forum

If you would like to listen to what I have presented at the forum, please visit the www.klstream.com website or this link.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Are You Threathening Us, Mr Prime Minister?

When asked by a Star reporter to respond to Gerakan President Dr Lim Keng Yaik's comment that the EPU should make its methodology transparent, the Prime Minister has this to say:

Q: So you think some parties, groups are taking advantage of the openness now?

A: I don’t know. Human beings always take advantage at any time. When there is a chance (to take advantage) he will take it.

If I make it open, they will take advantage and challenge (the decision). If there is no openness then they will ask why is it like this, why today there is no freedom, why no openness. That is taking advantage.

When we open, there are those who nak kacau (will cause trouble) and take advantage.
But we must face this eriously. What is important is that if there is something constructive (suggested), that we should improve (on the decision), we are prepared to receive their views.

But if the intention is to cause trouble, then let’s see what will happen.

My say:

A government must listen to the people. It is obvious that concerned Malaysians have participated in the debate in a civilised manner. Threats seem to come from UMNO leaders instead e.g. Muhiyiddin Yassin, Khairy Jamalludin and others. Muhiyiddin had asked the government to take action against those who disagreed with the EPU statistics.

Mr Prime Minister, who is causing trouble here? Is there anything in the closet?

Malaysians Must Speak Up

Malaysians have no courage

Malaysians are generally rational, capable, moderate and flexible. During my visits to various international cities, I have met a number of Malaysians who are working, doing business or residing there. They are resilient, adaptable and as competitive as people from the developed countries. Many of us who are residing locally hold similar traits and qualities.

However, moderate and sensible Malaysians give up too easily when faced with challenges on their own home soil. We allow a small platoon of radicals to dominate and patronise us and dictate to us their values promoted through shortsighted racial and religious political rhetoric and sentiment.

Socially, we continue to tolerate attempts to divide us fundamentally through the rewriting of our nation's founding history by promoting the supremacy of one race against the rest. Our children are told that they should appreciate their legal existence in this country because they are bound indefinitely by a social contract collectively adopted by their forefathers.

Why talk about national unity when the intention is to divide the society forever? True unity cannot be achieved through subordination. All human beings are born equal in a democratic and civilised society. No one needs to remind us to love the nation.

Politically, we continue to tolerate extreme ethno-religious practices even though we realise that such a political model is at the lowest denomination. The aspiration of creating a civilised, successful and peaceful multiethnic society is an unrealistic dream in a society where racism and religious fanaticism can be used as political capital.

Again, the majority of moderate and sensible Malaysians continue to throw our support grudgingly to these politicians although many of us do it for the lack of a viable alternative. This can no longer be used as a legitimate reason to keep the present political model.

Proponents of multiculturalism, non-racialism and human rights must demand for a totally new political landscape. To progress, we ought to adopt a progressive and proactive mindset. We must learn to appreciate the wealth of our diversity and celebrate our freedom to practice our cultures and beliefs. We must restructure the current social order. Politicians and policymakers are not political masters but public servants entrusted by the society to represent our collective interests. They must listen to the voices of the people.

The implication of our lack of courage to stand up against these radicals is severe and destructive. Moderate Malaysians, who represent majority of the society, must reclaim their rights and rightful place in the society. Only through a collective rejection of the radicals can we influence fairer policy formulation and implementation in the country.

Otherwise, policies that are motivated by racial and religious fervour will continue to haunt us and retard our progress. Forever, we may never know how far a truly united Malaysian society can progress on the world stage.

Monday, October 16, 2006

PM at the CNN Talk Asia: Government Gave Many Opportunities to the Chinese

Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi in the CNN Talk Asia said that the Chinese in Malaysia are so successful because the government gave them opportunities to be successful. He related the opportunities given to the Chinese as "we allow their people and their children to go to the Chinese and vocational schools to learn Mandarin.

The prime minister should be reminded that the Chinese schools are almost self-funded by the community. About 30 percent of all students in Malaysia attended the vernacular schools but received less than 4 percent of allocation from the government of the total funds given out to the education sector. Anyway, access to mother tongue education is a right enshrined in the United Nations' human rights charter.

Please read my respond to Zainul Ariffin of NST.

Mother Tongue Education

This is precisely the question I would like to ask Zainul Arifin of NST and his bosses in UMNO - Why deny our children a better future? In his over enthusiasm to rebut the Gerakan Deputy President Dr Koh Tsu Koon's statement on the need to evaluate the implementation of using English as a medium to teach Maths and Science subjects in primary schools, Zainul has created unnecessary disagreements over agreements.

First, we agree with Zainul that English language is the lingua franca of international trade and commerce especially when the US and European economies are still the biggest importers in the world. Over the last 500 years, the Western civilisation has contributed significantly towards many scientific and technological inventions, business models, medical advances et cetera. Hence, it is not surprising that knowledge on these fields can be acquired more effective through a good proficiency of the English language.

Second, therefore, we agree with Zainul that it is necessary to address the decline of English language proficiency amongst our students and working adults in order to enhance our nation抯 competitiveness and our ascension into the knowledge economy. To address this, it is obvious that we need a policy change which supports the promotion of English language use in schools and work places.

Emphasis should not rest only on the usage of English but the quality of proficiency of the language as well. In this regard, we should focus on the quality of our education delivery system which includes the curriculum, trainers and facilities to ensure that an optimal level of teaching is delivered to learners.

However, what we disagree with Zainul is on the need to conduct a periodic evaluation on the implementation of the policy. Here is also where we felt that Zainul and his bosses did not demonstrate a clear and concise understanding of the current debate (either unintentionally or intentionally?).

Dr Koh, Dong Jiao Zhong and many other educationists do not dispute the importance of English or multilingualism in the midst of globalisation. But these policy makers and educationists want the current implementation methodology to be reviewed in order to ensure that these objectives are achieved: 1) better fluency of the English language 2) higher achievements in both science and mathematics by world抯 standards 3) a balanced and productive environment for learners 4) proper maintenance of mother tongues education.

The concerns of these policy makers and educationists can be confirmed from several highly established studies conducted worldwide on the use of a second language to teach mathematics and science at the very early stages of primary education.

Studies conducted at George Mason University in Virginia since 1985 have shown that children do better if they get a basic education in their own language. It positively established a direct link between academic results and the time spent learning in the mother tongue[1].

According to another education analyst, Brad Bell, more and more primary schools are introducing English, a second language, as the language of instruction from very early stages. The decision was taken with the intention to boost the students? fluency in English and to promote better academic achievements especially in science and mathematics.

He concluded in his analysis[2] that the use of a second language prematurely may stunt the development of learners? mother tongues, impeding the development of their cognitive/academic abilities, promoting negative attitudes towards the first language and resulting in low achievement in conceptual subjects such as science and mathematics.

Children who come to school with a solid foundation in their mother tongue develop stronger literacy abilities in school language.[3] Children develop concepts and thinking skills faster in their own mother tongue because majority of children抯 early childhood is exposed primarily to their own mother tongue. This is also the case for Malaysia; with the exception of urbanites with access to additional educational support services and facilities for their children.

However, transfer of concepts, language and literacy skills can be two-way if the mother tongue is promoted in school along side the school language. Moreover, encouraging education in the mother tongue, alongside bilingual or multilingual education, is one of the principles set out by UNESCO.

Hence, both implementation mechanism and timing and the quality of education delivery system are key determinants of the success of the policy. Amateurish responses to the call to review and evaluate the policy implementation are not doing us any good. Zainul is correct to say that children have the 搒ponge-like ability to absorb new information? but they do not have a sophisticated analytical mind yet to absorb only the value-added ones and flush out the rubbish?. The learners are only as good as the trainers and the contents delivered to them.

In a Singapore Straits Times report by Leslie Lau on 23rd August 2003, the then Education Minister Musa Mohamed conceded that the complicated bilingual formula that Chinese groups lobbied for to maintain the importance of Mandarin is not working. Teaching the same subject in two languages is difficult due to time constraints. Repeating the same topic in two languages is boring and unproductive especially to the fast learners.

Finally, we agree with Zainul to not politicize this issue. Often the quality of education suffered due to poor political decision. We do not want to reach a situation where there is a crucial need to rehabilitate our local languages and the education system to avoid a total breakdown.

Perhaps Zainul should stick to research journalism and leave sensationalism to his bosses in UMNO.

Is the BN Partnership An Equal Partnership?

I stand by my previous view on the BN partnership model. Over the years, UMNO has grown more intolerant and dominant. Its partners, fearing the wrath of UMNO, have grown meek and weak. Is this a reflection of our society?

BN a model? US should think again

Karen Hughes, the United States under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, hailed the Malaysian power-sharing government as an outstanding model for Iraq. She said that while the BN coalition is led by a party representing the country抯 majority ethnic Malays via Umno, minority Chinese and Indian parties are represented in the cabinet and parliament.

This statement is an apparent attempt by the US government to legitimise its political approach for the Iraqi people by trying to draw support from a seemingly moderate Muslim majority country, Malaysia. The statement by the under secretary is not consistent with the previous US government criticisms hurled at Malaysia for its discriminatory race-based policies and draconian laws (such as the Internal Security Act).

In fact, the BN structure mirrors that of the United Nations. There is a clear dichotomy which exists in both structures. In UN, the Americans dictate the direction of the international body. Any decision taken by the institution cannot contravene the US government's interest. Unilateralism is carefully defended and promoted as a tool to justify the US as the only super power - domination of the international body.

In BN, the dichotomy exists between Umno and the rest of the component parties. Policy decisions are made by the dominant party, Umno, and then it uses the other component parties to legitimise its decisions. Other political parties in BN, which represent the minority races in Malaysia, do not have a direct input in most public policies.

The formulation of the Ninth Malaysia Plan is a good example. Parties such as MCA and MIC have to submit a special memorandum on behalf of the Chinese and Indian communities to the government for consideration despite being part of the ruling government and the power-sharing pledge. Such an irony is a common occurrence in Malaysia.

Second, on the rights to mother-tongue education, cultural preservation and the freedom of religious practice, both the Chinese and Indian communities have to find their own resources to support these activities. Many of the vernacular schools are self-funded by the communities although more than 30 percent of all students in Malaysia attend these national-type schools which conduct teaching in either Mandarin or Tamil. These national-type schools received less than four percent of the total allocation made for the education sector under the Eighth Malaysia Plan.

The Malay domination of the policy-making machinery, of the public sector which implements these policies, of the country's key resources and of other strategic institutional mechanisms in the country is undisputable. Power-sharing and collective governance is superficial in Malaysia. As such, a precursory evaluation of the BN power-sharing model is inadequate in shaping the US decision to implement a similar model in Iraq.

The Malaysian society however, although unhappy with the weaknesses of the BN power-sharing model, does not resort to violence or civil war to resolve the issue, unlike the more volatile and aggressive environment in Iraq. Any marginalisation of the minorities in Iraq will not be taken peacefully. The US government should seek the opinions and views of its large numbers of thinkers before making any decision on Iraq. It may find itself out of the pot and into the fire for making an unscrupulous, politically-motivated decision.

A Fair and Equitable Malaysia

Social contracts must adjust to developments

The process of history is central to the understanding of socialconstruction and development of a society. As a student, I was keenlyinterested in the study of history. Reading about the sacrifices made by ourforefathers during the formation an independent Malaysia gave me a sense ofduty to continue striving for the growth and success of my motherland. While appreciating importance of history, I am also aware of the tendency todistort the facts and process of history. It is a well-known fact that theprocess of documenting history is never apolitical.

The (mis)interpretation of history is a viable tool to promote and pursuepolitical and ideological domination or colonisation. We have heardarguments that the mainstream version of history should be adopted andaccepted in toto, without question. In contemporary term, this practice is known as 'absolutism' - which is unfortunately a distortion and manipulationin itself.

Post-modernist thinkers posited that there are 'truths within truth' and'histories within history'. The most dominant version of history may notnecessary represent absolute truth but it is merely a viewpoint or anopinion presented by the majority.In this regard, I find that is it necessary to debate and debunk some ofthese arguments which try to use the process of history as a convenient toolto disrupt and distort our efforts of nation building.

Firstly, let us examine the historical process leading to the formation ofan independent Malaysia. This milestone is critical to the understanding ofthe social contract purportedly made between the three main communities inMalaya at that time.A version of history promoted as a dominant viewpoint argues that thecontract was primarily about the exchange of Malaysian citizenship for thetwo immigrant (Chinese and Indian) communities and in return they recognisethe rights of the Malays as the natives and the masters of the land.Hence, proponents of this viewpoint argue that other communities, especiallythe present generation particularly those of Chinese descent, must acceptthese rights - both political and socio-economic - unquestionably.

A journalist from Bernama even quoted the first prime minister Tunku AbdulRahman who told Lee Kuan Yew that '... if you refuse to accept that, then wewill no longer accept Malaysia'. Obviously, we are aware of Lee's reactionand the unavoidable historical outcome.

Seeing history through this lens has one problem. The function of history isto record events and not to interpret the future. A political outburst is not a decree. Any social contracts or agreements made between communities in a particular time period cannot continue to bind generations to come without adjusting to the transformations and developments of a society.

Proponents of the dominant viewpoint have some serious questions to answer.Are those who are born and bred in Malaysia, especially non-Malays, stillconsidered as immigrants? Since they are born as Malaysians, the socialcontract is not relevant to them.Furthermore, Malaysians of all races, post-independence, have contributedsignificantly albeit through their own ways and means to the country'sprogress and development. All races have had a hand in the making of amodern and developed Malaysia. Surely this means more than a mere exchangeof citizenship.
What is the worth of a citizenship if it does not come withequal rights?

Second, how does one to reconcile the 'masters of the land' perspective withthe so-called national unity policy which is being promoted by the Malay-led government? The creation of a truly Bangsa Malaysia (Malaysian race) cannotbe achieved through a master-servant relationship model. What is obviouslyneeded is a condition where a shared common identity can be fostered throughthe existence of socio-political equality and justice.

Third, the hollow definition of democracy a la Malaysia which invites more problems than solutions to the management of a multi-ethnic society ought tobe reconstructed to ensure that if justice exists, it must be a justice forall regardless of race, religion, gender or class.Our doggedly communitarian democracy model, which promotes the might of themajority over the interests of the minority, only seeks to enhance the powerof dominant ruling class to the extend that it breeds power corruption andabuse.

In a thriving democracy, even a single voice must be given a right to beheard if it is meant to seek justice and fairness. Communitarianismhabitually turns a deaf ear to the weak voices of the society, often in thename of the majority interest.In a global village, all communities in Malaysia are minorities. Ourexperiences in facing the forces of globalisation or in trying to make ourselves heard on international platforms where our presence is dwarfed bymuch bigger and dominant countries should have taught us well that the aboveconcepts or misconceptions are not suitable for us.

We need to adopt a new paradigm. We need to promote a new and all-inclusivenational agenda to foster greater unity and to capitalise on our richdiversity in order to stand up to the challenges of globalisation. This can only materialise if we can discard our old mindset and destroy these dormantperceptions of majority might and master-servant relationship.While an unscrupulous interpretation and adaptation of history is dangerous,taking a stubborn and dogmatic position on the process of history may turnus into a historical artefact.

One Society One Bangsa Malaysia = Equal Rights

This is my article which appeared in the Star last november. It is time for Malaysians to think of the kind of country they want to live in; a country which continuous to be polarised by racial politics or a country truly for all Malaysians?

Follow Asean's example

MALAYSIA's nation-building project could take a leaf from the direction taken by Asean by building one community, one vision and one identity.?

A clear national identity embraced by all communities is the prerequisite for national unity to become a reality.

Forging a national identity within the context of a multicultural society is not an enviable task.

It takes a careful balancing act of integrating unique sub-national cultures with a shared national culture. The former is not an antithesis of the latter.

National culture can refer to the nation's economic, social, legal, governance and political systems.

Meanwhile, sub-national culture is the way of life or social norms of a community.
Sub-national culture is diverse and not homogenous even within a particular community. Hence, conformity is often not by choice but due to peer pressure.

Nation building and the effort to build consensus on national unity cannot be decreed or regulated through policy intervention alone.

It must be carefully nurtured and the condition of equal political, economic and social rights must exist to ensure that national unity is founded on a broad acceptance of a national identity and sense of belonging.

Although the state cannot foster national unity through its sponsored programmes alone, it can help create the right policy environment to make the nurturing process more conducive.

On the socio-economic environment, the Government can adopt less divisive policies by focusing on class differences instead of clear ethnic divisions.

Hence, it is timely that the Government recognises that the identification of an ethnic group to an economic activity is no longer visible.

Efforts to eradicate poverty, empower the poor and redistribute wealth should focus on class differences, between the haves and have-nots, and not between bumiputras and non-bumiputras alone.

We need to move from a system that celebrates a few winners amid a large number of losers to a system which guarantees success for all through pragmatism, sheer hard work, innovation, persistency and high moral standards.

A true sense of belonging and loyalty to the nation can only be fostered through fair and responsible governance.

We need to create a socio-economic environment where all individuals are encouraged to perform their best.

Moving forward, we need to reassess our education system to find out if it is playing a positive role in nation building.

We should envision and implement a system where students are given access to the best educators, most updated curriculum and most recent and relevant knowledge capital which they can use to become useful and productive citizens.

The education system must not breed divisions or create dichotomies based on ethnicity, gender, religion or any other discriminatory aspects.

Instead, it should teach students about the richness of our diversity and the benefits of living and cooperating as one community.

Politicians must be aware that using a political solution to address an education problem may not be the best solution.

On the contrary, a school is where students are exposed to various elements of the nation and the society they live in.

These make up the information they use to form their own perspective or worldview.
If education issues are often resolved through politicians? racial lenses, the students? perspective of their society and nation will take the same narrow communal perspective embraced by the politicians.

Can national unity be achieved in a multicultural and multiethnic setting?

Yes, if politicians have enough political will to change their own communal biases and adopt a non-racial approach to set a good example for others in the society.

More Liberal Space Under Pak Lah?

It is time to revisit my earlier statement urging the government to reconsider its unconstitutional action in stopping the Article 11 forums. Somehow this action is repeated in the government's strong words against the Asli report on bumiputera corporate equity.

Allow the forums

The recent stop talk order given by the prime minister to the Article 11 forum organisers sends a wrong signal to the international community on Malaysia’s intention to join the ranks of the civilised world. The action is an antithesis to the perception painted by the government to the international community that Malaysia is a modern, moderate and democratic nation which celebrates its religious and cultural diversity. The gag order bears serious constitutional consequences for all Malaysians.

There are a few pertinent questions that ought to be answered: first, are Malaysians legally allowed to discuss issues pertaining to their rights enshrined in the federal constitution even if these issues are related to ethnic relations, religion, cultural and social rights? Who is to decide if the average Malaysians are ready or not to discuss ethnic relations and religious issues affecting them?

Second, is the action taken by the state in stopping a legally constituted forum an act of undermining the rights to freedom of speech enshrined in the federal constitution?

Third, what are the constitutional consequences faced by all citizens in the event that their constitutional rights are usurped by the state? What the recourse available to them to seek protection of their constitutional rights?

Fourth, by stopping any civilised discourse on ethnic relations or religious freedom can the state find an amicable solution to the inherent issues surfaced in the Moorthy, Sharmala and Linda Joy cases or the ethnic biases which appeared in several ethnic relations and history publications?

A democratically elected government is responsible to defend and protect the constitutional rights of its people to freely exercise their rights within the boundaries of the nation’s legal framework. In this case, the anti-IFC protesters can continue their peaceful and non-violent protest against the proceedings of the Article 11 forum but the forum should be allowed to continue. The role of the state is to ensure that the action of the opposing parties is not affecting the rights of the other.

With the control of coercive instruments of power including several draconian legislations e.g. the Internal Security Act at the disposal of the government, it is beyond doubt that the threat from the government to act against the continuation of the discourse is real. The only thing that we can do is to remind the government that its action is a recipe of authoritarian rule. The price is Malaysia’s international standing as the champion of the oppressed nations. We should not preach what we cannot practice.

Khoo Kay Peng

Friday, October 13, 2006

Penang Continues to be in the Limbo

I guess it is necessary to revisit one of my previous articles on Penang written in May 2005.

Penang - a fading pearl

Once touted as the ‘silicon island’ in Asia, Penang is a state in decline. As one of the three most important economic engines and a high-technology manufacturing powerhouse, the state recorded a GDP growth of 6.3 percent in 2004 which is lower than the country’s GDP growth of 7.2 percent.Its manufacturing sector is facing tremendous pressure and competition chiefly from the economic emergence of China and other regional players such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Limited industrial land area and higher labour cost have put Penang in a disadvantage position when competing with other labour intensive economies capable of providing investors with the benefit of economy of scale and cheaper labour force.

Moreover, centralisation of control over the provision of public services in the hand of the federal government left the state government with little jurisdiction and control over many governance instruments and public facilities e.g. public transport system, local councils, public infrastructures et cetera.

Despite being an important economic centre, Penang receives the second lowest development allocation from the federal government after Perlis in the 8th Malaysia Plan. State generated revenue is less than RM200 million annually. Furthermore, the state government controls less than one percent of total land area on the island. This has contributed to its inability to bring overdue development and rejuvenation to Georgetown which is showing signs of worn and torn.

Thus far, three areas – Bayan Lepas, Bertam and Batu Kawan - have been earmarked for IT and high-technology development under the MSC Phase 2 initiative. To complement this effort, the state government has launched its ‘Invest Penang’ arm to lure more investments to the state. While it is necessary to bring development to the mainland, Penang can strive to become a total wireless enabled island to drive e-commerce and ICT adoption.

To make a successful transition from a production-based economy to a knowledge driven economy, Penang needs to invest in its people, IT infrastructure, R&D centres and to formulate proper policy responses. On the contrary, its premier university - Universiti Sains Malaysia - was not picked as a centre of excellence for biotechnology development despite its strong R&D track record in marine biology, biochemistry and pharmaceutical research. Instead of leveraging on the intellectual capital of an existing university, the federal government plans to build a new university in Dengkil to specialise in biotechnology.

Penang’s allure as a tourism destination is also fading. Public transport system is most fundamental to a vibrant tourism destination. It has inherited the minibuses (and all the bad habits) that once ply the roads of Klang Valley. There is a serious need of transformation here. The public transport system must offer quality, consistent and courteous service. By allowing residential development projects in Batu Feringghi, the icon of Penang’s tourism is set to lose its shine forever. Its once beautiful and famous beaches are showing signs of neglect and environmental pollution. Yet, over the last decade the tourism industry was not able to introduce new products and attractions.

Inner Georgetown is also facing a cultural death. The state government can beautify its surrounding amenities and environment but it cannot bring back the cultural dynamism of both Chinatown and Little India. Worse, some of these beautification projects are unnecessary, irrelevant and wasteful. The repeal of the Rent Control Act – coupled with higher rental - has alienated and pushed out its lower income dwellers, turning the inner city into a sleepy town. Penang is no longer the ‘little Hawaii’ which charms many tourists and visitors from East Asia and all over world. As it is, Penang is slowly but surely showing all the necessary symptoms of a third world country.

DAP’s Danny Law attributed the Penang dilemma to Umno’s domination. It should be the effect of Umno’s neglect. Consequently, Umno leaders and members in Penang are the most disgruntled lot. Over the years, many of its divisions have passed resolutions condemning the state government for neglecting their interest and welfare. To straighten the record, other communities do not gain much from the state government as well.

Chief ministership rotation was also proposed as a possible solution to their problem. Is this solution practical? If the Umno-led federal government can only respond to an Umno-led state government, then the whole power-sharing model in Barisan Nasional is nothing but a farce. I would like to reiterate that the Umno-dominated ruling regime could not afford to continue ignoring the plights of Penang people. To compete in a globalised world, we need fully working economic engines and to fully optimise their potentials. Due to constant overlook, the state has developed a new export sector – skilled workers. There is no reason to celebrate here.

As such, bigger development allocation should be given to Penang so that the state could deepen and widen its industrial base especially in the E&E, marine biology, biotechnology, IT and semiconductor industries. The natural experience, skills pool and industrial experience and networks in the state can be further enhanced to benefit national industrial development.

The federal government should:
1) Provide a special RM1 billion development allocation for the state to develop a Northern region hub in manufacturing and ICT (through MSC Phase 2). Funds are needed to solidify Penang’s position in the region as a high-technology manufacturing base, a knowledge economy and an important engine of growth. Penang should strive to achieve the status of a wireless and IT connected state to drive MSC Phase 2 development.

2) Establish a federal-funded Centre of Industrial Excellence to promote high-technology R&D in various areas (collaborating with other state agencies, institutes of higher learning and private sector): marine-biology, engineering design, advanced manufacturing, ICT and others. Results of the centre can be shared with or benefit other states.

3) Address traffic congestion problem in the state. The federal government should endorse the provision of a second-link bridge between the island and the mainland. The second-link bridge which reportedly cost more than RM2.6 billion ringgit could help to easy the over capacity of the current Penang bridge and bring significant benefit to the development of the mainland. It could also help to persuade high-tech SMEs to locate their operation or R&D facility in the newly earmarked MSC IT cyber cities at Batu Kawan and Bertam.

4) Consider giving more control to the state government over the provision of public transport. At present, the public transport system in the state does not meet the expectations of the people and visitors to the state. Penang which is also highly dependent on tourism, the second biggest sector, needs a highly dependable, efficient and courteous public transport service to support social, commercial and tourism activities in the state. A good public transport system is essential and consistent with the state government’s initiative to reduce inner city congestion and pollution.

Meanwhile, it is equally perilous for Gerakan to neglect its duty and responsibility to lead the state government effectively and efficiently. Penang, as its traditional power base, is key to its political relevance. The party leadership should understand that it is not Umno which determines its political fate and survival but the people of Penang.

The ASLI Debacle II

A Dark Age for Malaysia's Intellectual Pursuit

The way Asli's report on bumiputera corporate equity was rejected, criticized and trivialised by the government has made Malaysia a laughing stock at the international arena. If the findings of the report are not accurate, it is the responsibility of the government to direct its economic planning agency to respond above board on the matter.

Instead the reaction of the government's leaders, especially UMNO politicians, only confirmed our fear that the government is more interested in quashing any dissenting views which are against its own. The people deserved the truth and the truth must be told.

The retraction issued by Mirzan Mahathir, the President of Asli, on the report did nothing to save the reputation of the institute. On the contrary, Asli's reputation will be better protected if it had sticked to its position on the report. Afterall, Dr Lim Teck Ghee, the director of Asli CPPS, was prepared to be corrected and to discuss the outcome of his report with any interested party. From all angles, Mirzan's retraction is seen as a political decision to protect his and his family interests.

I echo Dr Toh Kin Woon's view that "the government's rejection of the report on bumiputra corporate equity published by Asli's Centre for Public Policy Studies, which challenges the official data, has sent the wrong signal that dissent is not tolerated and honest pursuit of knowledge discouraged".

Various questions are left unanswered:
  • What is the real percentage of bumiputera corporate equity ownership?
  • Who are the biggest beneficiaries of the bumiputera equity?
  • What is the real motive of using the par value method of calculation?
  • Why are the lowest 40 percent of the society continued to be marginalised?
  • If the bumiputera corporate equity target is still not achieved after 37 years, can we blame UMNO for its failure to restructure the community?

The questions are not exhaustive but these questions must be answered.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Is UMNO isolating itself?

Umno marginalises BN partners

Umno’s recent brickbats against both Dr Koh Tsu Koon and Ong Tee Keat have shaken the foundation of the Barisan Nasional political partnership. The impact has prompted Najib Razak, the front’s second-in-command, to assure the public and its partners that the BN spirit of cooperation is still intact and alive. Nonetheless, some people, especially a number of the BN leaders, are not amused.

A number of Gerakan and MCA leaders have responded publicly and angrily to the criticisms hurled at both leaders. Although the response is not unprecedented but the magnitude of the reaction against Umno’s racially nuanced criticisms is not a norm either. The usual practice of the BN way is to resolve issues through an official channel which is out of bound to media representatives. In Koh’s case, the displeasure of both Gerakan and MCA leaders is stemmed from the fact that some of the Umno leaders openly attacked the chief minister of an intended neglect of the Malay community in Penang.

On one hand, Umno especially its deputy Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin is trying to justify the criticism as a benevolent act to champion the interest of the Malay community. On the other hand, the non-Malay leaders are accusing some Umno leaders of a selfish act of communal heroism.

Failing in their demands to rotate the chief ministership amongst the main component parties, to place the state administration under federal control and to appoint an additional chief minister, the Umno state leadership had succeeded in grabbing the attention of the party’s national leaders especially Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, his deputy and the movement’s youth chief. Abdullah, at an Umno Tanjung divisional meeting, has demanded Koh to react immediately to the marginalisation of the Malay community. Hishammuddin wanted an unconditional immediate action to be taken to address the issues faced by the Malay community. Najib wanted more executive power to be transferred to the deputy chief minister.

In the end, it was a clever bluff. Umno Penang knew that it was politically not viable to take over the chief minister post. Instead, it had wanted more government projects and development funds under the 9MP to be funnelled to its members. It succeeded in getting several political concessions from the chief minister.

Moreover, Koh, known for his consensual style of politics, has been asked to act as a chief minister of all Malaysians in the most un-Malaysian way. It is yet to be seen if the manner in which the chief minister reacted to these demands by setting up two committees to look into the development of the Malay community in Penang is effective and useful since nothing is being done to substantiate and identify the real problems. In the last few years, similar issues of neglect were directed at the state government.

First, the state of the public bus system is pathetic. The recent attempt by the state government to overhaul the bus route to avoid direct competition between the bus operators has failed miserably and irked many commuters. The state government had hoped for a loan of RM50 million from the federal government to buy more buses. The hope has evaporated in the same manner as the money saved from the reduction of oil subsidy due to global oil price hikes.

At present, the public bus system is still being run by four almost bankrupt and equally pathetic operators. The public bus system plays a key role in facilitating the mobility of the lower income group of all communities. Have the first and second finance ministers, both from Penang, responded swiftly to the SOS call from the state government? Their silence is deafening.

Second, the Tanjung Umno division chief is right to note that poor Malay families are being pushed out of Georgetown. He is right because he is only interested in looking at the problem from a communal viewpoint. The poor from all communities are being pushed out of Georgetown and some parts of the island due to higher property prices and cost of living. Once a thriving financial and business district, Georgetown has turned into a ghost town. The state government blamed it on the lack of development funds and state-owned land to enable it to do something.

The private sector blamed the state government on the lack of policy initiative and strategic direction to help reinvent Georgetown, which has not even achieved a city status. But the Umno Tanjung division can be proud of its spanking new office at the heart of the town. The newly refurbished pre-war building may be an icing on the cake for Umno Penang but the money could have been used to help the ‘marginalised’ Malay instead. What have the state and federal leaders done to address the marginalisation of the poor of all communities in Georgetown?

Third, the island economy is long overdue of a need to reinvent itself. The outgoing Komag CEO TH Tan has fired a recent salvo calling for the dismantling of investPenang, an outfit to promote investment and industrial development in Penang for its failure to do a good job. He alleged that many MNCs (multinationals) are reluctant to invest more in Penang due to the difficulty of finding good SMIs (small and medium-side industries) to outsource some parts of their production. Because of our highly centralised system, the state government is highly dependent on the federal government for economic direction and development aid.

This is by no mean to suggest that the state government is totally helpless on its own. We need both a dynamic state leadership and a forthcoming federal support to move the state forward by creating more economic opportunities to be enjoyed by all communities. The 9MP earmarked for a northern economic corridor. The corridor must leverage on the industrial strength and know-how of the island for it to be meaningful and successful.

In a nutshell, it is clear that the state government by itself cannot succeed in reinventing Penang, a crucially needed step to ensure the state remains as an attractive and competitive industrial hub. The federal government, lead by a Penangite, should respond positively to the challenge of making Penang a shining pearl again.

The state and federal government must address issues pertaining to access of healthcare, education, public transportation, economic opportunities, housing and public amenities of all communities especially those at the lowest strata of the society regardless of race and religion.

While Koh is criticised for his inaction, Deputy Higher Education Minister Ong Tee Keat is flayed for his over enthusiasm in undertaking issues beyond his official jurisdiction. Ong had alleged that funds for renovation of two Chinese schools in Johor were siphoned. The allegation turned out to be true. Lucky that Ong has both a strong heart and steady legs. He was chastised by Education Minister Hishammuddin Hussein for making an irresponsible allegation. Subsequently, Ong was reprimanded by the cabinet and reminded by the deputy prime minister to mind his own official business.

All these were done without an effort to uncover the truth, which is an utter disrespect to the people’s mandate given to Ong as a member of parliament to act without fear or favour. When asked about the double standards practiced by Umno in Koh and Ong’s incidents, Najib reasoned that it was politics in the former and government in the latter. Again some of the BN leaders and most of the political analysts are not amused. Either we have read the wrong books on politics or Najib is misleading. However, both the incidents bear some similarities.

First, contrary to the deputy prime minister’s statement that all’s well in BN, it is clear that other component parties are being marginalised politically by Umno. The more than 50 years of socialisation and cooperation within BN has failed to institutionalise a common code of ethics which ensure a fair treatment of all members in the coalition. Umno sets, defines, changes and interprets the rules and regulations to its own whims and fancies.

Second, the incidents have created public embarrassments for both Gerakan and MCA which may have a political ramification to both parties. Bound by the BN way of solving issues, Koh is seen to have demonstrated a weak leadership in handling the criticism. The treatment he received from some of the Umno leaders, e.g. anti-Koh banner at the Umno Tanjung assembly, is considered as disrespectful of the incoming Gerakan president.

The damage to Koh’s political stature is unsure but this incident is definitely not a welcoming prelude to his stewardship of Gerakan. Meanwhile, Ong was the immediate past MCA Youth chief and a contemporary of Hishammuddin. He is the current party vice-president. The treatment he received for commenting against the abuse and misappropriation of public funds has generated furore amongst some segments of the society especially the Chinese community.

Moreover, Chinese education is seen as a domain under the MCA’s care. The half-hearted support Ong received from his party is seen as an unwillingness of the party’s leadership to antagonise Umno. The ramification: refer to the first point. Finally, these two incidents have amplified racism in the country. Nation building and the creation of a truly Bangsa Malaysia is still a work in progress or regress?

The indication has suddenly become very clear - racial politics is here to stay for a long while despite the promises of Vision 2020. The prime minister has to work harder to convince Malaysians that he is in control and that he is the master of his own destiny to become a prime minister of all Malaysians. The people still believe that he is sincere. An immediate first step he needs to take is to weed out the racial bigots from his administration and his party.

Malaysia For All Malaysians

Value efforts of all M'sians in building nation

We are close to celebrating our 50th year of independence but we are still a nation divided by a false sense of ethno-religious superiority and feudalism. Many societies, including some which used to practice worse racial discrimination, have realised their mistake, repented and erased their chauvinism. Social racism may still exists in these societies but there is a legal avenue for citizens to complain against racial injustice or discrimination.

Moreover, special legislation are created to protect the rights of the minorities. Even in China, minorities are allowed to have two children (instead of the one-child policy imposed on the Han ethnic group), given special access to places in schools and universities as well as positions in governmental agencies. Cultural and ethnic diversity is celebrated as a national strength and a competitive advantage.

Many developed countries are now competing for skilled human resources. These countries are willing to grant citizenship - which come with equal rights and protection - to highly-skilled migrants in order to add greater depth to their knowledge and brain repository. Since 2005, postgraduate students pursuing their PhDs in European Union countries have been granted a PR status to allow them to continue living and working in the region.

Our politicians have not come to realise these realities around us. At a business forum on Monday, a prominent executive told the audience that the international market does not recognise bumiputera special rights or privileges. In order to become a global player, a company, regardless of the creed, race or religion of its employees, must be able to meet or surpass international standards. With less than 15 years to go, our quest of becoming a First World nation will remain a dream if the government does not wake up to these realities fast.

Recently, the government introduced the National Unity Plan to take us a step forward in nation-building. Unfortunately, the UPM's Ethnic Relations textbook has taken us five steps backward. Its narrow-minded historical narration seeks to benefit no particular community. By choosing to reveal half-facts and half-truths, the Umno-led government is surely burning the bridges for social integration and national unity between communities in the country. Higher Education Minister Mustapa Mohamed told Parliament that the textbook contained indisputable historical facts.

One of the most contentious issues is the social contract. Suqiu's election appeals document, which had listed equal rights to all communities as one of its many items, is branded as extreme. Perhaps the government is still in the mood for full disclosure. Full details of the social contract including the actual document, its signatories, points of agreement and other pertinent information should be made public and transparent. Like other contracts, the social contract, if it exists, can be renegotiated to adjust for current developments and for the contributions of all communities in the last 50 years.

The historical narration of the nation should not be silenced with regards to the contributions of all communities over the last 50 years. All races have contributed significantly to the making of a successful and modern Malaysia. The soil of Malaysia has taken the blood and sweat of all Malaysians. This is also an indisputable historical fact. Even former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad agreed and acknowledged these immense contributions.

A Fair and Responsible UMNO

Khairy should focus on personal crisis

It is difficult for political pundits to ignore claims that Khairy Jamaluddin, the Umno Youth deputy chairman and the prime minister抯 son-in-law, is one of the most influential youths in the country judging from the headlines he has received in all major newspapers. His political statements and actions have been closely watched by observers both within and without the country. A number of columnists have hailed him as a future leader who is smart, articulate and confident. In contrast, some of his critics have called him arrogant, naive and overambitious. But his admirers and critics would agree that Khairy has both the influence on and access to the highest echelons of power.

Hence, when Khairy told an Umno Youth division meeting in Kedah that the Chinese Malaysian community is taking an advantage of the current Umno infighting to make demands to advance the community's interest, many Malaysians sat up and took notice of the graveness of his statement.

For me, Khairy has finally emerged as an orthodox Umno politician who is willing to embrace the racialist political game to ascend the leadership ladder of his party. What Khairy has said at that Umno Youth division meeting is not a mere political rhetoric aiming to uplift the spirit of Umno. It is but a dangerous and malicious statement which could worsen the already poor ethnic relations in the country.

He is alleging that the 55 years of inter-ethnic collaboration and partnership in the Barisan Nasional has not created a positive and progressive political and social process to promote national unity. We do not live in a dog-eats-dog world anymore.

In the 21st century, forward thinking Malaysians are urging the government to help promoting inter-ethnic collaborations and partnerships to capitalise on our rich diversity in order to compete more effectively against regional competitors. Moreover, the political dominance of Umno is already an acceptable fact to other component parties in the BN. In fact, most of the non-Malay leaders are concerned of the current spat between several top personalities in Umno which could affect political stability in the country. The ongoing spat is detrimental to our economic performance.

Khairy is correct to note that a weak and unsettled Umno is not good for the country. Most of the public policies, especially the 9th Malaysia Plan, are made solely by the Umno leadership. Hence, we need an Umno that is focused and committed to the country's growth and progress. While a weak Umno may not be able to chart a clear path for the country's progress, we have experienced a strong Umno which destroyed some of the most pertinent democratic institutions in the country, eg, judiciary, civil society, et cetera.

If I may add, we need a responsible and fair Umno and not just a strong Umno. It is obvious that there is no immediate crisis in Umno despite the sporadic criticisms hurled by the ex-premier, Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Umno is not facing any factional feud.

It appears to me that Khairy should spend some valuable time in solving his personal crisis and not drag his party and other component parties into it. He should refrain from making any wild racial allegations to divert away attention from his own controversies. Being media savvy, he should know that making constant headlines may not always be a good thing.

Khairy is lucky and fortunate that his colleagues in the BN Youth are merely slapping him on his wrist. Many are still willing to acknowledge him as a friend. But he has to do more to convince all Malaysians that he is indeed a leader of substance and is able to lead the country in the 21st century. Being an ethno-nationalist is outdated. We have moved on to embrace globalisation and joined the international community.

The ASLI Debacle

Economist’s basis of calculation erroneous

Dr Zainal Aznam Yusoff’s skepticism of Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute’s view that the bumiputera equity ownership is 45% was not supported by convincing counter arguments. His response in the New Straits Times has created doubts about his real motive because a truly professional economist like himself would not have made such weak technical arguments.

Firstly, Zainal argues that Asli’s use of the 1,000-odd companies listed on Bursa Malaysia is not indicative of the actual equity ownership situation. This is linked to his subsequent argument that Asli’s use of market capitalisation is wrong. Instead, he insisted that the calculation should be made on the basis of the number of shares held, or the par value. It is unfathomable for someone who is a leading economic advisor to the government for failing to understand the simple logic of calculating wealth on the basis of market capitalisation, or the market value. In this regard, Zainal indicates that the value of holding a unit of Tenaga share is equivalent to a unit of a small-medium entreprise share.

More than 90% of all companies registered in Malaysia are small-medium enterprises (SMEs). Almost 75% of all the SMEs are either owned or controlled by Chinese Malaysians. However, the SMEs are responsible for less than 10 percent of the nation’s gross domestic products. Using the par value as a basis of calculation is erroneous because it does not indicate the real level of wealth ownership, which is a better indication of economic well-being. Hence, this explains why the stated bumiputera ownership is at a low18.9% although the actual ownership of wealth could have been as high as 45% or more.

Zainal’s argument leads to more questions. What is the real motive of using the par value as a basis of calculation? Is the government trying to hide the fact that the affirmative policy has benefitted and enriched only a few people and left many stranded under the jaws of poverty? Who control the majority of the wealth attributed to the bumiputera community?

If the New Economic Policy (NEP) has been a great success, what has contributed to the contraction of the income pie of the lowest 40% of the society? The drop of almost 2%, from 15% to 13%, is recorded in the Ninth Malaysian Plan. The richest 20% has expanded their wealth by almost the same quantum.

Is the government trying to hide from the fact that it has failed to build a bumiputera commercial and industrial community, to expand the individual/private bumiputera's participation in the economy? Perhaps Zainal is worried that if the market value is used as a basis of calculation, the government may be facing a difficult time in trying to explain to the truly marginalised segment of the society, which consists of largely the bumiputera community, why the 45% of wealth ownership did not help to alleviate their living conditions.

Secondly, Zainal alleges that Asli had included all ownership by government-linked companies (GLCs) into their estimation as bumiputera. The government has removed GLCs from its figures. Asli had estimated 70% of GLCs ownership as bumiputera. The institute argues that this is done from their observation of the procurement contracts and projects awarded to bumiputera companies.

It is a fact that GLCs are used to support and implement the pro-bumiputera public procurement policy. In the recently announced regional economic corridors, the GLCs are tasked with the development of the economic zones with an objective to increase the participation of bumiputera companies in the economic sector.

All GLCs have made it mandatory to deal with only bumiputera majority-owned companies. The boards of these companies are made up of almost 85% bumiputera directors. The employee composition of the GLCs also reflect similar trend. Hence, it is difficult for anyone to justify that these GLCs represent our national interest. I have two additional questions for Zainal.

First, since he supported the use of par value as a justified method of calculation, would he be willing to propose to the government to swap one Tenaga share for two Farlim shares, as an example? This way the bumiputera community will be able to double up their number of share holding almost immediately.

Second, is he willing to propose to the government to restructure the GLCs to truly represent the interest of our multiracial nation? For the GLCs to be truly representative, they should open up their tender process to all Malaysian companies.

Finally, I echo Zainal’s sentiment that the government should come out with a more accurate, credible and sensible method to calculate the ownership of wealth in the country. This must be done with a genuine interest to address the continuous marginalisation of the poorest 40% of our society, which consists of Malaysians of all communities. A clearer picture of the wealth ownership can be used to assist the government to combat corruption and to go after individuals and rent-seekers who have enjoyed the forbidden fruits of nepotism and corruption.

Zainal’s respond to my questions will determine whether he is an apologist of the corrupt elites or not.

Young Malaysian Forum

At the Young Malaysian Forum organised by the DAP last night, I stressed the importance of Malaysians to change their mindset in order to push for a better society, a better governance and a better socio-political environment.

Malaysians should throw away their divisive attitude and focus instead on common values, spirit of cooperation and working together to face the challenges of the 21st century.

On the relationship with politicians, Malaysians need a mindset change. The politician-public relationship should be shifted from a Master-Servant model to a Trustee-Stakeholder model, whereby politicians should be made accountable for the action, performance and public behaviour.

Malaysians must shed their 3rd world mentality. Do not expect a bribe for a vote during election. They should instead exercise their democratic rights to elect the best government which is responsive to their needs and aspirations.

It is timely for Malaysians to focus on a national identity and move away from racially charged political model.

The panelists are: Jeff Ooi, Tony Pua, Sharizal, Nik, Kit Siang, Oon Yeoh and myself.