Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Never Ending Story

Some pundits have published their prognosis for the Machap by-election. Their verdict is similar - it is a foregone conclusion that the likely winner will be the Barisan Nasional. A Malaysiakini columnist, James Wong, argues that the vast resources of the ruling Barisan Nasional alone can overwhelm the Dap. He attributed the next cause of defeat to the Dap’s inability to manage its internal conflicts and to establish a positive working relationship with the opposition parties.

Others pointed to the lack of local issues which can be exploited by the Dap in this by-election. As a new village, Machap is seen as a MCA stronghold. The party would definitely like to claim credit from its contributions to the development of new villages in the country. Of course, the history of new villages can be traced back to the emergency period when the government had to battle the communist insurgence.

Consequently, they expected the Dap to harp on national issues and exploit the anti-establishment sentiments among segments of the Chinese community. An easy episode that can be used to stoke up the voters’ sentiment would be the racist remarks made by certain Umno politicians at its general assembly last year. Other national issues such as corruption, the revival of the NEP, the lack of economic and employment opportunities and others are sure to reverberate in the opposition fiery speeches.

The analysts may have expressed the obvious. However, what is disappointing is the inability of the competing political parties to raise their game and to dish out a mature brand of politics. Instead what we are already witnessing in the run-up to the nomination and election dates is a dogged display of old developmental politics versus a blend of communal and issue-centric politicking.

Neither of them is offering any new hope to us in our nation’s quest to become a first world nation by the year 2020. In our hope to become a first world thinking society, we need our politicians to play by the rule and to adopt more progressive and positive campaigns.

Days ago, the MCA President Ong Ka Ting was pictured laying bricks onto the framework of a new community hall in Machap. The party has highlighted a string of developments initiated and completed by the late Poh Ah Tiam who was the assemblyman of Machap. MCA is confident that his track record alone should be able to secure their candidate a simple victory. In the coming days, I am sure more projects will be announced and more promises will be made to the voters of Machap to induce them to support the ruling coalition. It is without a doubt that the practice of developmental politics is an effective electoral tool.

However, one cannot be faulted for asking what new dimension has MCA brought into their political campaign if they continue to view Machap as a new village and nothing more? With the threat of communism long gone, we would have expected all new villages to be integrated with the other sections of the Malaysian society. Simply, there should not be a category called ‘new villages’ in our social vocabulary.

In order to better represent Chinese Malaysians, the MCA should shed its social welfare mentality and starts to contemplate and strategy on how to integrate the Chinese community into the larger Malaysian social milieu that includes all communities. After 50 years of nation building, how many Chinese Malaysians feel that they are treated as fair and full citizens of this country? In this context, perception is reality. What is MCA doing to help erase the migrant mentality still adopted by many in the community?

Since the May 1969 incidence, the MCA has been on the defensive when they are scrutinized on their political role and contribution. That is why, according to Wong Chun Wai, the Dap is likely to exploit the anti-establishment sentiments among sections of the Chinese Malaysian voters. This anti-establishment sentiment is a result of the perception among some Chinese Malaysians that they are second-class citizens in this country. Their perception is often strengthened by foolish and unnecessary racist remarks made by certain Umno politicians.

On this end, the Dap has not got out from its political mould either. By exploiting the anti-establishment sentiment, the party is probably trying to ignite a sense of communal victimization amongst the Chinese Malaysian community and blame the MCA for not being able to protect and defend the community’s rights. The tagline of “MCA is weak against the might of Umno” may work to a certain degree. But what is the outcome that can be derived from this by-election that can help to move up the level of political maturity in this country? We will end up in the same vicious circle of developmental politics versus issue-centric politics.

Until and unless our politicians put more interest in nation building and change their political approach to take us into the right direction, it will be the same lame and stale contest that we will see in Machap.

The BN will claim a face saving win. The opposition will rejoice at having slashed the BN majority if they ever will and the folks in Machap will get newly tarred roads, a new community hall, funds for their local schools and will look forward to more goodies in the next general elections. We, political pundits, will reuse our analytical template for the next general elections too because it will probably be the same story being retold.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Threat to Federal Constitutions

At about 10.30pm last night, my lawyer friend called up to say 'hi'. I was delighted to receive his call. I thought he is announcing his 'big' day at last - getting hitched! But that was not to be, he shared with me his concern over the R. Subshini's case at the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal, through a majority decision, had refused to hear Subshini’s application to stop her husband's application to the Syariah Court to dissolve the marriage and seek custody of their second son.

A number of Muslim observers opined that the decision was correct because it contravened the Article 121 (1A) of the Federal Constitution, which was introduced in 1988. The article stated that all matters relating to Islam shall be in the jurisdiction of the syariah courts. The legal language is ambiguous.

My friend told me that the implication of the case is serious. It is taking us down the road of theocratic rule. In this case, the civil judges have openly conceded the supremacy of the civil courts to the syariah courts. The two judges in the Subshini's case are Malay-Muslim and it not sure if their judgement is based on the proper interpretation of Article 121(1A) or guided by their religious sentiment.

It is clear that this case and the previous ones have created a legal lacuna for non-Muslim in the country when the other party involves a Muslim.

The only recourse is through legislative amendment. Then again, we need to understand and feel the mood of the present administration. Is the administration supportive of multiculturalism or Islamic values?

I am sure many of us already know the answer.

Denial Syndrome

Based on the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) rankings for 2006, the once Malaysia's premier university, University of Malaya, fell to the 192nd spot from the 89th ranking it received in 2004.

UM vice-chancellor Rafiah Salim refuses to acknowledge that the quality at UM has dropped. She said that no one should base such findings solely on one survey. Funny, yet she was glad to note that UM had made it to the 13th spot among the top universities in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

"It is the first time they have come up with such rankings and the top 10 positions were taken up by Turkish universities. It is an honour that UM is in the 13th position while Universiti Sains Malaysia is at the 29th spot," she said.

When Rafiah first took over the top position at the university, many of the ex-UMers had hoped that she can provide a new direction and vigour to the university. Unfortunately, she did none of the two.

What she did here is rubbishing a ranking survey but embracing the other one. What good is the university going to get out of such an attitude? Nothing. Rafiah is in a thick sense of denial. Maybe she has run out of ideas.

If she insists that UM is still at its prime, we would like to know how many original studies that the university has published? She mentioned that many academicians are interested to come to the university as visiting professors.

What is more important is the output of the university, and not how many events the university is asked to organise, how many visiting professors are coming its way?

When is the university planning to produce a Nobel prize winner? How many of its students went on to become acclaimed entrepreneurs, inventors, scientists, designers, architects etc.? How many top foreign students are knocking on its door?

If the university is at its prime, why are Malaysians would still jump at a chance to study in Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Too Early to Rejoice

In a Straits Times report which touched on the Iskandar Development Region:

The waiver of FIC rules only applies to six areas in the IDR - creative industries, educational services, health care, financial advisory and consulting, logistics, and tourism-related services.

The report opines that it stops far short of Musa Hitam's suggestion that Johor be exempted from Malaysia's affirmative action policy so that IDR could succeed. Although the exemption can be seen as a first step towards the dismantling of the NEP policy, it may yet fall short of investors' expectation of the IDR.

Of the six areas mentioned our Southern neighbour, Singapore, is far more established in these areas - mostly services - than us. If we intend to replicate the Guangdong-Hong Kong model, almost 80% of all HK owned manufacturing and operations are based in the province of Guangdong by 2002. Still, HK maintains its role as a financial, marketing, investment and logistics (for export purposes) hub. Almost 70% of total FDI into the province comes from HK investors.

We have not thought of such complementary synergy with the island republic. It seems that we are more keen to compete with them although some amount of competition cannot be avoided.

There is another dilemma. If the IDR is given an exemption in the six areas, will other states be given similar incentives and waiver? If not, how long is the gestation period before similar exemption and incentives are given to other industrial areas in the country.

The government should focus on distributive growth i.e. ensuring that other states are not discriminated in their efforts to attract FDI into their respective state. What is the government's solution to the issue?

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Choice Is Yours

Last thursday, I was invited to speak to a group of undergraduates from various local universities at a mosque building next to the UIA matriculation centre. About 40 students of all races turned up. The topic was on the state of ethnic relations in the universities.

I told the organisers that it was an irony to invite someone who had graduated from a local university almost 10 years ago to speak on the topic. Nonetheless, I did speak on the topic from my own standpoint on how we should approach ethnic relations in the future.

I told the audience that we must first address our own lack of understanding of our society's history. The misinterpretation or the intentional reintrepretation of our social history does not help either. The common interpretation of ethnic relations in the country is taken from a dominant Malay viewpoint.

The communitarian interpretation does not allow any space for individual view or opinion. We often hear statements which seek to generalise a certain viewpoint e.g. Malays cannot accept the concept of Bangsa Malaysia, eating pork is a Chinese culture et cetera. This sweeping statements strive to generalise and to monopolise opinions.

The statements are hardly accurate. Many Malays are happy to accept the concept of Bangsa Malaysia (without its distortion) as a foundation of national unity. Many of them understand and appreciate the essense of fairness and equality. To our ignorant, many Malays are treated more unfairly than others. While not benefiting from the Malay Agenda promises, they have to suffer from the social stigma which comes with the agenda - dependent and lazy. None of the allegations are true about the Malays. Many prefer to work hard and would embrace a sytem which rewards good work and effort. Not nepotism, not Umno Putraism.

The finer point which I made at the talk was our failure to progress socially although we have had a marked progress economically. Political, we are still at an infancy of a matured society. We continue to hold on to our racially based model even after 50 years of independence. We aspire to become a developed, first world nation by 2020 and yet we know that to become one we need to scrap our racist model. Who is hoodwinking who?

I told the multiracial audience that they must choose which path to take in the future. If we choose to live together, then do not let racism corrupt our social lenses. Do not let racist politicians destroy our social fabric and that we must STOP THE RACISM!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Ikea Business Idea


I attended the Star's Business Networking Series 2007 on 'Accessing A Global Supply Chain' yesterday. The talk was organised by The Star and the Global Malaysians Network, a project initiated by Asian Center for Media Studies.

It is not often that one gets a chance to listen to the home lifestyle retail giant giving a peek into its business model. According to its Southeast Asia trading manager, Mikael Demitx-Helin, Ikea’s success in the furniture retail business stems from its close cooperation with suppliers globally.

He said Ikea took part in every level of the supply chain, right from the sourcing of raw materials, to the transportation and distribution to customers through its stores. It is interesting to note that Ikea has 26 distribution centres around the world and it is an increasing challenge for the company to transport finished products direct to all its stores worldwide.

Ikea's competitive advantage is definitely its business model which strives on continuous improvement, best prices, quality products, self-service, production centric design, proactive partnership with suppliers (1500 suppliers in 46 countries) and an integrated global supply chain.

Malaysian companies who are interested to supply to Ikea can contact their material managers based in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Ikea sets a high standards on its working relationship with suppliers. It has a strict policy against environmental degradation, child labour and shoddy working environment at the suppliers' place.

Inter Ikea Systems business support manager Andreas Otto said this close interaction among the suppliers, Ikea and customers were the main reasons behind the group’s success. The group recorded sales worth 17.3 bil euros last year, up from 14.8 bil euros in the previous year. Ikea's revenue growth in the last 10 years has been phenomenal.

This is obviously one of my more memorable projects.

Tun Musa Hitam is Right!

Tun Musa Hitam proposed that the Iskandar Development Region should drop the bumiputera equity requirement. In today's Star, he said that Umno should have a special briefing to explain to its members why it was time to give up the New Economic Policy (NEP) for the success of the Iskandar Development Region (IDR).

He said that there were already hundreds of Malays who had the capability to do business and on merit. As someone who had been active in Umno for several decades, Musa said, he realised that there was a need to have a change in mindset to draw investors to the country. In my previous blog entry, I had urged the prime minister to abolish the NEP immediately if he wants to make the IDR a success. I argued that for IDR to be positioned as an attractive investment hub in Asia, it has to focus on merit, efficiency and innovation.

Musa said that foreign investors who came to the country were not interested in the NEP, cronyism or nepotism as their primary focus was on making money. This is another notable point. Balancing socio-economic development within and between communities in this country is our domestic matter. Moreover, it is clear that using the race affirmative action to address these imbalances is outdated. Today, we can find rich Malays, poor Chinese and Indians. It is more effective for the government to refocus its policy to help uplifting the living standards of the 40% poor in the country.

Musa suggested that instead of imposing conditional approvals, a more palatable method would be to provide potential foreign and local investors with a list of Malay entrepreneurs who were capable of doing business and leaving it the investors to decide. I would add that these successful entrepreneurs can be roped in as gurus and advisors to help develop other SMEs.

Later, in his keynote address at the Invest Malaysia Conference 2007 here yesterday, the Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi announced that qualifying companies in creative industries, educational services, financial advisory and consulting, healthcare, logistics and tourism related services, would be exempted from FIC rules, and have freedom to source capital globally.

The prime minister hinted that although FIC rules will be exempted, foreign companies are required to contribute to a social development fund to help the Malays. I would like to urge the government to drop the idea. I am sure that the benefits brought in by these investors e.g. more employment opportunities, demands for services and products from supporting industries and rent revenue will benefit chiefly the Malays in Johor.

Already, the Singaporeans are seeing the IDR as a potential competitor to the island republic after the announcement made by the PM to scrap the FIC rules. In my interview with Radio Singapore International, I told Melanie Yip that the complementary synergy will overshadow the competition between IDR and Singapore.

However, other states who are not given such exemption will have to work harder to attract FDI to their industrial zones.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Machap By-Election

The Machap by-election will be used by both the BN and the Opposition as a moral booster for their preparation leading to the next election. Nominations for the Machap state by-election will be held on April 3 and polling on April 12. The election will see a square off between MCA and DAP in a mixed constituency.

According to the electoral roll, Machap has 9,623 voters, of whom 108 were postal voters.
Forty-five per cent of Machap’s population is Chinese, 38 per cent Malays and 15 per cent Indians, while the rest are from other ethnic backgrounds. In the 2004 general election, Poh Ah Tiam obtained 5,487 votes to defeat DAP’s Liou Chen Kuang, who polled 1,285 votes.

For a start, a street has been renamed to honour the late Poh Ah Tiam. Chief Minister Mohd Ali Rustam said the decision to rename Jalan Pandan was made yesterday, taking into account the significant role the state executive councillor for Housing, Local Government and Environment played in resolving the problems of the residents of Taman Aneka and the low-cost flats along Jalan Pandan.

While the move is welcomed, the timing of its announcement before the 12th April by-election showed that the BN is taking the election very seriously. A thumping win by the MCA candidate even by the same margin will boost the confidence of the BN and quash any doubts that the Chinese commmunity is unhappy with the government.

Meanwhile, the DAP is determined to cut the majority by half or more to prove their point that the community took the racist slurs and remarks made at the UMNO general assembly seriously.

However, there not many economic or cost of living issues which can be exploited by the Opposition in the by-election. Machap is a semi-rural constituency which is not facing the full brunt of inflation but enjoying the bullish plantation sector growth.

The verdict:

It should be a walk in the park for the MCA to retain this seat. However, because this is a by-election it will not be easy for MCA to retain the huge majority it won in 2004. Meanwhile, the Opposition appeared to be united in their cause to fight the BN in the next GE by averting a three corner contest. But on whether PKR and DAP will cooperate to campaign for a DAP candidate remains uncertain.

You can listen to my interview with Radio Singapore International here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Zam Catches Foot in the Mouth Disease Again

Quoted in the Star today, Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin again reminded newspapers not to quote websites and give the impression that there is credibility in their stories. He said most websites on the Internet were provocative and run either by those who were frustrated journalists or frustrated in politics.

To his ignorant, many of us who blog are none of the above - not frustrated journalists nor politicians. On the contrary, many recalcitrant politicians are very frustrated of bloggers who are outspoken and have posed numerous tough questions. Instead, Zam should not be worried about the blogs if he and his colleagues are above board and are doing a good job at governing the country.

Zam said “Do not quote them because you are disgracing yourself as you are the authority. Do not give credit to such anarchist websites. Sometimes, some newspapers are unable to choose wisely and accept what is written on the web, which is represented by one person or an organisation with political motives.” Further, he also urged the Government to instil a sense of responsibility among website writers instead of limiting freedom on the Internet.

The minister obviously has a reasoning problem. First, these websites are not waiting to be quoted. No, most of the bloggers merely use their blog to air their views. Second, our mainstream newspapers have been a careful lot, too careful. Most of the facts quoted by the newspapers have either been circulated amongst the Malaysian public for weeks or verifiable.

Zam should be made aware that the government is not a dynasty. It does not tell the people what to do. People are the bosses. They will speak up if they are not happy and the government will have to listen to their grouses. If Zam cannot take the heat, he should stay out of the kitchen and not use the fire extinguisher.

Growing Conservatism

I had lunch with a foreign friend, an Iranian Canadian, who is married to a Korean Canadian. He has been in the country for close to 10 months on work. He told me what he observed from our society. He said that while it is possible for him (a Muslim) and his wife ( a Christian) to live their matrimonial life in Canada, it will not be possible here. He said that it is a misconception to think that it is more conservative in the Middles East than in Malaysia citing his early years in Iran as an example.

The R. Subashini case and other similar cases are testimony to his observation. The Court of Appeal's majority decision in the R.Subashini case on March 13 signals a growing conservatism in our society. In the landmark decision, the Hindu woman was told by the Court of Appeal that she had to seek recourse through the Syariah Appeal Court to stop here stranged and Muslim-convert husband from dissolving their marriage in the syariah court, and converting their children to Islam without her permission. For more information, read Jacqueline Ann Surin's article here. Two Malay-Muslim judges ruled against Subashini while the remaining non-Muslim judge was for her.

According to Jacqueline, this, despite the fact that both Subashini and her formerly Hindu husband, Muhammad Shafi Saravanan Abdullah, were married in a civil ceremony in 2001, and hence, should logically and justly be governed by civil laws in ending their marriage and resolving issues such as custody and inheritance.

The newly elected Bar Council President Ambiga Sreevenasan opines that the syariah court should have jurisdiction over only Muslims "It is the Bar Council's view that where one party is a non-Muslim, the matter must be heard in the civil courts. This is in accordance with the law as it has stood for many years," she said.

I see this judgement as a dangerous precedent. Rightly pointed out by both Jacqueline and Ambiga, the syariah court should have jurisdiction over only Muslims, the recent judgement has robbed a non-Muslim party of her rights to seek a judicial recourse. This legal lacuna is seriously testing our democratic process. This process guarantees justice for all.

Unfortunately, Malaysia is moving from the respect of the federal constitution as the supreme laws of the land towards the empowerment and enlargement of the syariah court's jusrisdiction over non-Muslims.

I agree with Jacqueline's observation:

In Subashini's case, however, the civil court has gone one step further by telling a non-Muslim to submit to the syariah court. Not only is the Court of Appeal abdicating its responsibility to protect a citizen's rights andinterests as provided for by good law, it is also ignoring the Constitution by enlarging the syariah court's jurisdiction where none can exist unlessthere is law to that effect.

Such a judgment not only undermines the Constitution that this nation was founded on, it also fuels the fear that our Constitution is being hijacked by an Islamist agenda. Hence, the need to repeat the obvious. The Federal Constitution is the highest law of the land, and we would all do well to respect its supremacy.

The recent judgement only strengthens the case for an independent commission to appoint judges. There is nothing wrong with the provision of laws in this land but we need judges who are not bias. The judges must be committed to defend and uphold the spirit of the federal constitution.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Print versus Net

Reported in Malaysiakini today, the Internal Security Ministry today denied it had 'ordered' mainstream newspapers not to quote or publish reports found on Internet portals and blogs.

Earlier, the ministry's senior official Che Din Yusof had signed the March 13 letter sent to the country’s top editors warning them against publishing or giving “any consideration whatsoever” to online articles found to be anti-government, have no basis at all, or based on mere speculation. Newspapers were also reminded that condition 11 of their publishing permit required them "to follow and not act against" such directives issued by the ministry.

Clarifying this, a ministry official claimed that the authorities had merely ‘requested’ the newspapers to obtain correct information from the right sources. Che Din said the government’s concern is that newspapers publish “whatever comes from the Internet” and this in turn destroys the credibility of the newspapers themselves.

“Discerning Malaysians would recall that if not for these online portals and blogs, the various scandals that have been exposed would not have seen the light of day,” said media watchdog Charter2000-Aliran .

They were referring to the scandals surrounding Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) chief Zulkipli Mat Noor and Deputy Internal Security Minister Mohd Johari Baharum.

The directive comes at no surprise to most media and political observers. In the advent of the internet era, the internet channel has proven to be a tough arena to be controlled by the government.

While it is able to muzzle and shackle the mainstream media with the threat to revoke their publishing permit, the government will not be willing to subject the internet space with a similar control due to its non-censorship pledge to investors participating in the country's k-economy project, the MSC.

In order to become a matured and developed country, the government should focus on promoting a more transparent and accountable administration. It should not seek to suppress informants if the information given are true and substantiated to expose corruption and abuse of power.

Bangsa Malaysia or Rakyat Malaysia?

Last Saturday, I attended a forum on Bangsa Malaysia organised by the Wanita Gerakan. The 3 speakers who spoke at the forum were Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, Professor Emeritus Khoo Kay Khim and Dato' Dahan of YKSM.

Professor Khoo spoke about the history of Malaya. On the colonial history, he said that the 9 Malay kingdoms were never colonised although the British was responsible for their administration. Only the straits settlements were under the direct rule of the British. He highlighted the importance of history and warned against the distortion of historical facts which may alter our understanding of historical past.

Professor Khoo blamed the way we practice politics as the main cause of racial polarisation. He said that in a true democratic system, the people are the bosses and not the politicians. The politicians must be accountable to the people and the system. If any of them finds it hard to comply with the democratic system e.g. separation of power, accountability and transparency, he/she should resign from the position.

I am a little disturbed by the speech made by Dato' Dahan. He told us that the use of the term 'Bangsa Malaysia' shows that Gerakan does not understand the Malays. He said that to the Malays, the term 'Bangsa' means 'race'. His point was disputed by Professor Khoo who referred the usage to 'Bangsa-Bangsa Bersatu' which is a direct translation of the United Nations.

To me, it is not fruitful to argue on semantics. Many Malaysians who supported the creation of a truly 'Bangsa Malaysia' did not interpret the term as the creation of a new Malaysian race vis through inter-marriages. Bangsa Malaysia denotes two elements; First, there should be political, social and economic justice, fairness and equality to all Malaysians regardless of race or creed. This is a legalistic interpretation which seeks to protect the rights of all Malaysians which are enshrined in the Federal Constitution.

Second, the concept of Bangsa Malaysia takes a deeper and non-legalistic social dimension. It reflects our acceptance of a certain way of life, some parts of our shared cultures, values and beliefs and the love for the country as a generic Malaysian culture. It should be noted that many of us do enjoy the food and culture (music, language, dances etc.) of other communities.

Arguing on rhetoric and semantics are not going to get us anywhere. If we desire the creation of a truly Bangsa Malaysia, then we should work together to fight racism in politics.

SAY NO TO RACISM!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

We Are No French! Phew...

Reported in the NST today, only three per cent of the 887 students who participated in a high-risk female youth profile study had admitted to having had sex, according to the final report of the study commissioned by Institut Perkembangan Minda (Inmind).

Inmind chief executive Norizan Sharif said a report quoting Dr Khaizir Ismail, lecturer at the Psychology and Human Development Centre of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, as saying that all but one of the 887 students had admitted to having had sex was inaccurate.

Norizan said the outcome of the study differed because of a mistake in data entry."The consultant team identified a mistake in data entry from the questionnaire to the Statistical Package for Social Science software," he said yesterday.

So, Dr Khir Mohd. Toyo was right afterall that the results of the survey are not accurate. What is mind-boggling is it takes a team of consultants to find out the mistake. The results announced earlier would have caused many parents a number of sleepless nights and many youths risking a lashing from their parents.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Human Rights Report for Malaysia 2006

The Human Rights Report for Malaysia 2006 was released by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor on 6th March, 2007. I received the report from a contact in the US embassy.

Here, I highlight a summary of the report on Malaysia:

The most recent national elections, in March 2004, were conducted in a generally transparent manner, but the opposition complained of the ruling coalition's exploitation of the powers of incumbency. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.

The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas. The government abridged citizens' right to change their government.

The government maintained no independent body to investigate deaths that occurred during apprehension by police or while in police custody. Other problems included police abuse of detainees, overcrowded prisons, use of the Emergency Ordinance and other statutes to arrest and detain persons without charge or trial, and persistent questions about the impartiality and independence of the judiciary.

The government continued to restrict freedom of press, association, and assembly and placed some restrictions on freedom of speech, including prohibitions of organized public discussions about "sensitive" religious topics.

Violence against women remained a problem. The country was a destination and transit point for trafficking in women and girls for the purposes of prostitution and domestic servitude.

Longstanding government policies gave preferences to ethnic Malays in many areas. Workers' rights were impeded by long court backlogs and limitations on the right to organize unions in some industries. Migrant workers faced some discrimination and exploitation.


Those of you who are interested to read the full report on Malaysia, can access it here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

PM: Malaysians Can Be Among The Best




Malaysians have what it takes to be among the best in the world but they have to work hard for it, said Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

He referred to the Malaysian duo, Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong, who won the All-England men's doubles title in Birmingham on Sunday. I would like to add more names e.g. Nicole Ann David, Jimmy Choo, Michael Wong, Michelle Yeoh and others who have made it to the global stage.

Winners are created through healthy competitions. I am sure the prime minister is able to create more winners if he is willing to promote a meritocratic culture. If the elected representatives cannot perform, ship them out. If the local councillors did not do a good job, sack them. If any civil servants are found to be corrupted, take action against them.

Likewise, we should look beyond the colour of the skin when choosing the right person to do the right job. Reward those who deserved it. We need the right mindset and the right culture to be among the best.
But honestly, can Malaysians be the among the best with our current mindset and culture?

Ethnic Relations Forum at the SCAH

I am invited to speak at the Youth 4 Change forum on the ethnic relations module this evening at the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall. The forum starts at 8pm. Details as follow:

Alternative Course on Ethnic Relationship Module: Effectiveness and Challenges to Establish Close Ethnic Relationship
Topic : Voice of Youth on Ethnic Relations Module
Date : 13 March 2007 (Tuesday)
Time : 8pm-10pm
Venue: Auditorium, Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (SCAH), No. 1 Jalan Maharajarela. (Near Maharajarela Monorail Station)

Panelists:
1. Mr. Khoo Kay Peng
2. Mr. Ramadhan Fitri Ellias (Former President for Student Representative Council, University Malaya)
3. Mr. Mohd. Nazree bin Mohd. Yunus (President of Solidarity Mahasiswa Malaysia (SMM)

Although I am listed as an executive director of Sedar Institute. I would like to clarify that I will be speaking in my capacity as a young and patriotic Malaysian. Obviously, I am looking forward to the talk but I am not too sure if I will be able to present to you something you don't already know.

To forge a better interethnic relationship, we need to end racial politics. This is the first thing that must go. Otherwise, the efforts and money spent on the national service programme and the ethnic relations module will be wasted.

Racial politics is the main cause of racial polarisation in this country. The politicians might not want to admit this but it is a hard fact that we must learn to accept. We cannot hope to become a first world society if we continue with our racial politics.

Back! Been Busy

Just got back to KL from Penang. Went back to my hometown for a few days rest. On my way back on an express bus last friday, an accident happened along the Ipoh to Taiping stretch of highway, after the Jelapang tunnel.

A bus heading towards Taiping from Ipoh went down the slope after the bus driver tried to avoid two colliding cars in front of it. The accident was so unfortunate. Six passengers were killed on the spot and scores of others were injured.

We were supposed to reach Penang at 9pm but only arrived at 1am! But I can't help praying for those who lost their lives.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Transparency International Malaysia's Report

Transparency International (TI) Malaysia, which commissioned the survey, released its report in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

The survey, conducted by Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research, involved 1,025 respondents from members of the public and 411 from the corporate sector. Feedback was obtained through questionnaires and phone interviews between Nov 30 last year and Jan 12.

When asked to list the three least transparent government agencies, both sets of respondents cited the police force as the worst offender. Recent controversies surrounding police personnel have worsen public's perception of the agency.

Overall, the majority felt that levels of integrity and transparency in both the public and private sectors have not changed over the last 12 months. Corporate respondents are the most pessimistic.

About 46 percent of the public were optimistic that public-sector integrity would increase in the next 12 months, compared to a paltry 26 percent of corporate sector respondents. Civil servants had the most faith in change, with the unemployed being the most pessimistic.

On our future goals, the score is less than optimistic. It is obvious that the mood of the people is not as upbeat as many politicians wanted us to believe. There is no 'feel good' factor.

As to whether the goals of Vision 2020 can be achieved within the time frame set, members of the public were more positive with 51 percent saying ‘likely’. However, 57 percent of corporate respondents indicated this is ‘unlikely’.

Some areas of improvement:


  • A massive 71 percent of corporate respondents and 54 percent of the public described the government procurement process as lacking transparency. We need to implement an open tender system here. The government e-procurement system which I worked on in the late 90's was supposed to play this role.

  • 90 percent of the corporate respondents and 88 percent of the public agreed that companies which have failed to deliver on government projects should be blacklisted and prevented from submitting tenders for at least three years.

  • More than 70 percent of all respondents agreed that the Anti-Corruption Agency should report directly to Parliament. We need to empower the ACA independent and recruit better people to run it.

  • They also gave the thumbs-up to enactment of whistleblower legislation and were of the opinion that a jury system would improve transparency.
It will be a disaster if we do not put our house in order soon enough. Dr Azly Rahman warns, "I think we are turning into the Philippines of Marcos and the Indonesia of Suharto. Or into a Colombia. Or a Nigeria. This is frightening. Especially when the system has evolved into a corrupt one."
(Chart courtesy of Malaysiakini)

Monday, March 05, 2007

First World Censorship Board?


Taiwan-based but Sarawak-born director Tsai Ming-liang came home to make a film in Malaysia after being away for 15 years. Now that he is ready to screen it here, the National Censorship Board has banned it.

I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, which was shot around Kuala Lumpur last year, stars Taiwanese actor Lee Kang-sheng and local newcomer Norman Atun. The film premiered at the Venice International Film Festival last year and was also nominated for several Golden Horse awards in Taiwan, where Tsai is based. The film received a seven-minute standing ovation in Venice, said producer Leonard Tee.

Scenes of street brawls, air pollution, poverty and menacing foreigners, as depicted in the film, were deemed to be bad for the image of Malaysia.

According to Tsai, “The film is not about Malaysia. The theme is about human relationship and the need for man to find love, warmth and someone they can depend on.”

For goodness sake, it is only a film. It is a fiction. But cases such as the gruesome murders of Canny Ong, Altantuya Shaaribu, and many other unsolved cases are real.

When can we get our senses right? Malaysia, like many other countries even the developed ones, is not an Utopia.
(Picture courtesy of the Star Online)

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Price of National Unity - 19 Deaths and Counting?


Due to intense racial polarisation in the country, the government has introduced the National Service Programme (NS) in 2003. The compulsory NS programme, approved by Parliament in 2003, was mooted by former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad. The idea was presented to the ex-premier by the current NS chief, Lee Lam Thye.

The trainees are randomly chosen from eligible youths aged 18, although the scheme covers those up to 35-years-old. Absentees are liable to be charged and could face up to six months’ jail, a maximum fine of RM3,000, or both.

Since its implementation, the number of death toll recorded was 19. The latest victim has been identified as P Prema who was placed at the Kisana Beach Resort training camp in Kelantan. Prema, from Kajang, Selangor, was confirmed dead at the hospital. Her autopsy report recorded the cause of death as drowning (by a running tap in the camp's toilet).

It is an irony that young Malaysians are made to go through the programme while politicians can afford to scoot free after making racist remarks and gestures. To end racism in Malaysia and to enhance interethnic relations at all levels, the best way forward is to end racial politics. Deracialising public policies is a step the ruling politicians are not willing to do.

By ending racial politics, we do not need to sacrifice 19 lives and counting.

What an irony! But irony is alive and kicking in Malaysia.
(Chart courtesy of Malaysiakini.com)

My Transition

I met a few fellow bloggers who asked about my transition. Some of them heard rumours that I am joining an opposition party soon. Yo brudders, I am sorry to disappoint you that there is no truth in what you have heard.

Nat, a reader of my blog, who posted a message asking the same would probably welcome my response here. Nat, a Harvard graduate, might be joining an opposition party soon. I will leave it to him to confirm it but I wish him all the best in his new endeavour.

I am a patriotic Malaysian. I love my country and I want the best for her and my fellow countrymen. Hence, it is only natural for people like myself to criticize, to cajole, to motivate and to persuade our politicians on both sides of the fence to fulfill their promises to the people.

I would like to proudly announce that I am a member of the Malaysian Civil Society. If you want our Malaysia to kick ass, to become a great nation respected by the international community and to be recognised as a beacon of democracy, you are welcome to join this movement. No membership fee is needed, no registration form to fill up, no need to suck up to anyone, no need to speak any official line and no need to be pretentious.

All you have to do is to be honest and sincere with your thoughts and intention. Just be a responsible citizen and love your country. Speak up for Malaysia. But speak with a good sense. Thank you.

A spoiler? Sorry la, brudder, at least you hear this from the horse's mouth.

SAY NO TO RACISM!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Promoting a Healthy and Mature Democracy

Responding to the ban of Amir Muhammad's latest film 'Apa Khabar Orang Kampung', Dr Toh Kin Woon commented:

Healthy debate should be encouraged over different interpretations of history. Contradictions with the official version should not lead to films being banned, he said. "Banning would mean dissenting views and differing interpretations cannot be tolerated and only official interpretations can be disseminated," he added in a statement. "This is clearly contrary to promoting a healthy and mature democracy."

The filmmaker, whose earlier movie Lelaki Komunis Terakhir was also banned last year.

My earlier take on the interpretation of history:

Social contracts must adjust to developments
Khoo Kay Peng
Jun 10, 05 2:38pm

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 ‘masters of the land’ 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.

The Virtue Of Honesty

From young, I was told that honesty is a good virtue. However, honesty can be a double edged sword. It cuts both ways - the party who listens and the party who says it.

However, I believe we have come to a point that honesty should be applied to many aspects of our life. From the way we conduct our political discourse, public governance, economic management, interethnic relations and others.

We should honestly ask ourselves if racial politics should continue in perpetual, if our current level of governance and policy formulation is going to make us a first world nation, if the politicians are going to continue to divide us according to racial lines, if there are Malaysians after 50 years of nationhood still feel like migrants in their own country, if our education system is able to create a world-class workforce, if we are not prepared for a diversity of opinions, if we cannot agree to disagree, if women are still to be treated as mere sex objects, if democracy is to be substituted by theocratic rule, if mediocrity is our way of life...?

Without such honesty, we will not be able to find the right solutions to our problems. Progress does not come with a deep sense of denial. Why live behind the veil of ignorance?

Why don't you join the force of honesty? Why not make honesty your virtue?

Speak up for yourself, for the next generation, for our beloved nation! It does come with a cost but it is worth paying.

Try it and let me hear from you.

Market Correction Long Overdue

In Jeff Ooi's blog, he wrote "Think-tank Khoo Kay Peng, who has been having a public spat with a Gerakan deputy minister over the "feel good economic indicators", may feel vindicated. He had reiterated in Malaysiakini that stock market is not a yardstick for economic performance."

I do not feel the necessity to be vindicated. Deputy Minister Ng Lip Yong has his role to play and his duty is to ensure that there is enough confidence in the economy. I reiterated in my response to him that the economy has indeed improved since 2005. In a Bernama report, Malaysia's economy last year grew at 5.9 percent, beating earlier forecasts as the fourth quarter growth of 5.7 percent rounded up a year of increased activities in all major sectors.

The Statistics Department said on the production side, the fourth quarter growth was boosted mainly by the sturdy growth of services and agriculture sectors. Services, underpinned by higher expansion in finance, insurance, real estate and business services sub-sectors, grew by 7.0 percent in the fourth quarter, agriculture rose by 6.5 percent, manufacturing moderated to 4.3 percent, construction rose 0.6 percent and mining 1.9 percent.

However, my main concern was directed at the over speculation in the stock market. The prime minister's statement on the KLCI reaching 1350 points was unnecessary because there are enough signs pointing to an impending correction in the stock market. I heard that many retail investors who went in on the T+3 trading this week had their fingers burned.

The Kuala Lumpur Composite Index tumbled 40.63, or 3.3 percent, to 1196.45 at the close of trading in Malaysia, its biggest loss since Sept. 21, 2001.The main stock index dropped to its lowest this month. The smaller Second Board Index fell 2.7 percent to 98.05 yesterday, while the FTSE Bursa Malaysia Emas Index declined 3.4 percent to 7950.16. Declining stocks beat gainers 919 to 175.

"We were neutral Malaysia at the start of February because it has gone upvery fast,'' said Mark Jolley, Deutsche Bank AG's Hong Kong-based chief Asian strategist to Bloomberg. He is now calling a trade buy.

Other bourses in Southeast Asia suffered similar sell-off followed a near 9 percent plunge in Chinese stocks on Tuesday.

The correction is necessary following a drastic increase of the KLCI since the end of 2006. However, the market is not expected to go on a free fall. A further correction of 3-4 percent can be expected before the KLCI stabilizes.

Instead of focusing on the stock market frenzy, we should focus on strengthening the government's implementation mechanism instead so that projects under the 9MP can be implemented effectively. The expected slow down of the US economy to 2.6 percent this year will have an impact on our E&E exports. Hence, both private investment and public spending are expected to help boost the economy.