Thursday, June 28, 2007

Support Minimum Wage for Workers

The price of fuel went up, the price of flour went up and so are many other daily household items. But the Minister of Human Resources Dr Fong Chan Onn called on MTCU to drop its demand as it would lead to the country losing its competitive edge.

Meanwhile, Deputy Minister of HR Abdul Rahman reportedly dismissed the pickets held on Monday by MTUC as not representing the voice of all union members as only 6,417 of the three million members had participated.

The deputy minister also said that enforcing a minimum wage and giving cost of living allowance was impossible and unfair in certain sectors such as the small and medium industries and domestic helpers as this was beyond the means of employers.

Over the years, the government is undeniably too pro-business and pro-investors. Policy makers have neglected the needs and interests of the workers. In many industries, especially hospitality, basic wages are far too low. As a result, many of the workers have to depend on OT to survive.

With rising cost of living, the government had increased the salary and COLA of public sector workers. It has to be consistent in supporting a similar increase in the private sector. A total of 10.8 million workers deserved to be better remunerated.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Rising Crime (3)

Two cars, one belonged to a friend, lost their wheels to theft. The cars were parked in front of D'Kiara Aparment in Pusat Bandar Puchong. Puchong is slowly turning into a mini Johor Bahru. Lately, a number of apartments were broken into by smartly dressed thieves.

There is a growing number of foreigners in the area too. Many of them may not have the relevant permit to work and live here.

A few weeks ago, a marketing officer from Nanyang Siang Pau was chased by parang wielding men on motorcycles. She was found dead after a collision with another car while trying to run away from the motorists.

These cases happened in Puchong.

NEP, It is Outdated and Outmoded!

NEP and the issue of race-affirmative action has stirred up some uneasy debates. A few months ago, the former director of ASLI CPPS, Dr Lim Teck Ghee, revealed in his report that the bumiputera equity ownership has reached the 30 percent target and can be as high as 45 percent.

His report was immediately shot down. The government promised to reveal its methodology of calculating the equity ownership. A government policy maker even alleged that the method of calculation used is approved by the World Bank. During the parliamentary Q&A, both the EPU and the Ministry of Finance gave conflicting percentages of the bumiputera equity ownership.

Due to intense pressure from the government, ASLI's Chairman Mirzan Mahathir and its CEO Michael Yeoh refuted the report. In defence of scholarly independence, Dr Lim resigned from his post at CPPS. Unfortunately, we have not heard from the government on the methodology. We are still waiting.

On Friday, Rommel was quoted by AP as saying that the NEP was discriminatory and amounted to protectionism against foreign companies.

He added that the Government was using the NEP as an excuse to practise “significant protectionism of its own market,” including the automotive sector, steel, consumer goods, agricultural products, services and government contracts.

The EU's ambassador to Malaysia said he had no intention of meddling in the country's affairs by criticising its policies favouring ethnic Malays as a diplomatic row brewed on the issue. He said he was only thinking of the economic impact of Malaysia's affirmative action policies. .

But his remark has attracted serious criticism from several top Umno leaders including Prime Miniser Abdullah, Deputy PM Najib Razak and others.

Malaysia will send an official protest note to the European Union over the remarks made by its ambassador Thierry Rommel, which Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar has described as an interference in the country's internal affairs.

I think they should try to divert the attention away from the real issue. The statement should not merit an inteference of our national affairs. Malaysian government has issued sterner statements against US and its policy on Iraq, the Palestinian cause and others.

The real issue is whether the NEP is detrimental to our economic progress? Whether the NEP has outlived its purpose?

In the advent of globalisation, it is difficult for us to imagine sticking to a 37 years old policy and make no attempt to adjust accordingly to global changes.

We should conduct a study to find out if Rommel allegation is true - Malaysia's affirmative action policies were "about discrimination and protectionism" which would make trade negotiations with the EU "not so easy."

Many, including BN policy makers, admitted that the NEP has been abused over the last 3 decades and something must be done to address some serious issues which were created due to the misimplementation and abuse of the policy.

Two things must be given serious attention: intra-community income gap and corruption.

If Rommel, a foreigner, is seen as intefering with Malaysian affairs, many of us are waiting for the government to give us a fair and transparent disclosure of the NEP and its abuses.

So, why make us wait?

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Never Ending Story (2)

From the NST:

Michelle Lee (not her real name) had always dreamt of being a pharmacist.
When she received a cumulative grade point average (CGPA) of 4.0 in her Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia examination, she thought it was enough to secure a place in any university to take any course she liked. And, of course, she chose pharmacy.There were only three universities in the country offering the course, so she put all three down in her application, with Universiti Malaya as her first choice. Even with her stellar results, it was not to be. When the public university entrance results were announced on Monday, Lee found out she had been relegated to her fourth choice — human resource management.

"Now I just feel sad and insulted," a dejected Lee told MCA education bureau chief Wee Ka Siong yesterday.

Besides Wee, Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Ong Tee Keat and Youth and Sports Deputy Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai were also present to give direction and advice to the students.

"Currently, we have received six genuine cases of students with a CGPA of 4.0 (including Lee) who did not get their preferred subjects and we will do our best to help them with their appeal," said Wee.

I think MCA and other component parties should stop taking this approach. It has continued for far too long. As long as I can remember. What they should do it to talk to the Ministry of Higher Education, of which Dato' Ong Tee Keat is a Deputy Minister, and urge the ministry to come out with clear and concise guidlines on entry requirements.

Why should we subject students with perfect score to the appeal process? They are not beggars. Although many politicians do not mind playing beggar politics and yet trying to claim credit from it.

These disgrunted candidates have no problem moving overseas for their studies, resulting in perpetual brain drain of our own doing.

Are we practicing 'gostan' (backward) politics?

Picture courtesy of NST.

NEP Outmoded

A European Union envoy, Thierry Rommel, said today that Malaysia's racial quota policy favouring the majority ethnic Malays is detrimental to the country and could hinder a free-trade agreement.

EU ambassador said Malaysia's attractiveness to foreign investors has weakened as a result of the affirmative action policies for the majority ethnic Malays or "bumiputras".

Rommel said the bumiputra policy was detrimental to Malaysia's human capital development due to its "pervasive impact" throughout the public education system.

I met up with another foreign envoy today and he told me that the perception of the IDR is nothing more than 'a real estate development' and that both Khazanah and UEM Land are hoping to turn their Nusajaya project into something more substantial.

Many have pointed out building an economic zone is easy but to turn it into a dynamic industrial hub is not so easy. IDR will have to attract skilled workers from all over the world if it wanted to attract credible investors and high tech companies.

On the other hand, the government is planning to announce the establishment of the Northern Economic Development Region and the Eastern Corridor.

What is obvious is the need to rethink our model of economic development. The NEP, even with its original objectives, is outdated and outmoded. A development strategy must take into account real capacity building, enhancing competitiveness and the flexibility to attract the best brains.

Can our communal centric policy and politics achieve all these?


I told a government policy maker that his party should start thinking about effecting real changes rather than merely interested in self-preservation.

Wonder why we haven't improved that much since the 1997 financial crisis?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Majority No to Dialogue

When asked about inter-religious dialogue in the country, Minister at the PM's Department Nazri Aziz hinted that Malaysians may have to live with the double standard.

Nazri was responding Chow Kon Yeow’s (DAP-Tanjong) who asked the PM to state the reason for the ‘double standard’ (talam dua muka) pertaining to inter-religious and cultural dialogues by promoting such dialogues in the international arena and taking a different stand in the country.

“PM and the Cabinet have discussed and we believe that a closed dialogue is the best way of doing it, instead of having an open debate via the media,” said Nazri.

Nazri also explained to Chow that religious sensitivity in the country prevents the government from holding a dialogue. “Malays make the majority race in Malaysia and they openly oppose a dialogue. We cannot do anything if they don’t want to participate in the dialogue,” he said.

Likewise, Nazri, Muslims are the minority in many European countries and yet we support Muslims call for dialogues to improve inter-religious understanding. We believe that Islam, like other religions, promotes peace and good values. We support the PM's statement in Russia that a small band of extremists are giving Islam a bad name.

It does not take a genius for you to understand the anxiety and hope of other religious minorities in this country in wanting a dialogue with the Muslims. If you can deny us a dialogue by claiming that the majority (Malay Muslims) do not want a dialogue then you should be expected to accept any similar respond from the West.

I see no reason for the Muslims in this country not to engage the non-Muslims and to explore ways to co-exist harmoniously.

Nazri, you are giving Islam a bad name! Right thinking Malaysians should ensure that you will not be returned to the next parliament.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

An Architect of Free Trade Zone (2)

When Tun Dr Lim formed the United Democratic Party (UDP) after his return from England in 1961, the first president was Datuk Zainal Abidin, his former school teacher. Interestingly, another Malay academician, Syed Hussein Alatas was chosen to become the founding president of the Malaysian People's Movement Party (Gerakan) when it was formed in 1968.

Tun Dr Lim, since his Radical Party days, had always adopted a multiracial and a Malayan (later Malaysian) outlook in his politics. Datuk Zainal, a keen supporter of Datuk Onn Jaafar, later became the Penang Umno Chairman.

At the Federation of Malayan discussion, the question of nationality was furiously discussed. The dichotomy between the Malay rulers' subjects and subjects of the British was clear. Only subjects of the rulers can become Malayans.

Tun Dr Lim was one of the youngest legislative councillors in Penang at that time. He established the Radical Party to fight for self-determination i.e. the right to a personal decision to become a Malayan. In Penang, the biggest movement led by Heah Joo Seang did not want to become Malayans. Obviously, his move was not welcomed by them.

He espoused the 'tu shen' (nationality through birth) concept as an attempt to unite all races to create a truly Malayan society. He was dead against the idea that Malayans are exclusively reserved for members of a particular community 'tu chu'.

Astonishingly, Tun Dr Lim made a transition from the Radical Party (he acknowledged that it was a 'one man' party) to MCA. He was invited to join the party through his good work as a legislative councillor in Penang. He was asked to become the first CM of Penang but he declined and eventually Wong Pow Nee was appointed as the CM.

Tun left the MCA because of his disatisfaction with Umno President Tunky Abdul Rahman over his request for MCA to be given at least 30 parliamentary seats to contest. His request premised on the need to get the approval of the MCA if Umno wanted to amend the constitutions.

He formed UDP in 1961 after the Cobbald Commission. The party contested in a number of local councils elections and won a number of seats throughout Malaya e.g Segamat, Muar, Raub, Seremban, Johor Bahru and Kota Tinggi. The party's influence at the local council level formed a core support for them to contest successfully in the 1964 general elections.

The local council elections was stopped by Khor Khai Boh, an MCA Minister of Local Councils. Khor was member of Singapore's special branch before entering politics.

At the 1964 general elections, the PAP were at loggerheads with Tun Dr Lim. PAP's candidate stood against Tun in Tanjong but lost. In return, two UDP candidates stood in Singapore. Tan Chor Yong of UDP won a seat in the Singapore state legislative.

Next...(the Malaysian Solidarity Convention)

Checking Inflation

Reported in The Star, the Government is confident of reducing the country’s inflation rate to 2.5% this year from 3% at the end of 2006, given the current price control measures being adopted.

Under Ops Gaji from May 21 to June 18, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said 99,312 premises had been checked nationwide and goods worth RM214,875 seized, and RM162,530 in compound notices issued.

I am not too sure if the control measure is effective. Yesterday, I had my dinner at the SS2's hawker centre. A plate of rice with a slice of stingray, some potatoes and lady fingers cost me RM6.

Today, at a coffee shop in Bangsar I had almost similar dishes with rice and that set me off by RM7.40.

Can I trust the official inflation rate published? I guess no, it is not reflective of the real inflation on the ground.

If you have paid outrageous prices, share with us here.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Rising Crime (2)

Two cases within a few days have triggered public anger on rising crime rates in Johor Baharu. About 100 people protested outside the Menteri Besar official residence. The chief minister was at another meeting near to his residence.

The police stopped an anti-crime demonstration and picked up two protesters who resisted a police order to disperse.

At a public forum recently, ex-Royal Police Commissioner Dr Denison Jayasooria said that there is no transparency in the implementation of the RPC's proposals on police force reforms. Hence, they are not able to gauge the responsiveness of the police force to the proposals.

Immediate Bar Council President Yeo Yang Poh called for the immediate implementation of the IPCMC and opined that the people should be blamed for the unwillingness of the authority to set up the check and balance body.

In his recent column, The Star's Wong Chun Wai said bluntly, "All these high-profile cases of violent crimes have further dented the city’s image, giving the impression that JB is a lawless city and the police seem unable, even incapable, to combat crime effectively."

Malaysians and/or their family members who have experienced the brutality of crime have a valid reason to be angered by recent spate of criminal cases. Public security and safety has been a major concern over the last 5 years.

Perhaps, the Prime Minister should seriously consider the call by several opposition leaders to appoint a full time minister to manage the portfolio. Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi is also the Finance Minister and Chairman of various cabinet committees including the IDR.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Body Check-up

Woke up at 8-ish, washed up and took a drive to SJMC. Gosh, too many people and my schedule is pushed to next thursday.

Amazing...then again, what to do? Health is important. Weather is so bad.

Will be back again soon.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Mission (Impossible) 2057?

Many Malaysians are happy that Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has found his new marital bliss. He told the nation a happy prime minister makes a good prime minister. We fully agree with him. I am sure the Prime Minister agrees that a good prime minister is one who puts the interests of multiracial Malaysian society close to his heart.

At the recent Umno 60th anniversary celebration, Abdullah touched briefly on his Mission 2057. He said the mission would become the development guideline for another 50 years. Although he did not specifically say how, I believe the document is now being drafted by ISIS to be released just before the 50th independence celebration. The blueprint will be a continuation of the Vision 2020. The verdict is still out there if we can achieve the objectives and targets set out in the Vision 2020.

However, he did mention the government would continue to ensure that culture, harmony, unity, cooperation and tolerance in religion be continued as value-added to the country's achievement. He stressed attention on human capital enhancement and cultural and artistic development too.

I am delighted Abdullah has invited the participation of the people in formulating the long-term mission. To be more inclusive, the government wanted the people including opposition parties, women, youths, professionals and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to discuss and provide views for the country's future. With this invitation, I would like to start the ball rolling on what should be included in the Mission 2057 blueprint to ensure that it represents the interests, needs and aspirations of a fair, just and harmonious Malaysian society.

The most important element in the Mission 2057 would be to ensure the continuous socio-economic and personal development of a truly fair, just and harmonious Malaysian society, assuming that the objective to create a Bangsa Malaysia (Malaysian nation) in Vision 2020 is met. It is very important for the government to address the pressing and growing intra-community income gap which leads to disgruntlement and other social issues.

I acknowledged that any programme aimed at restructuring a society is a long haul process. Hence, the government should start now by recognizing the problem and make necessary adjustment from a socio-economic policy which is race centric to one which is class centric. It takes a stubborn denial syndrome not to admit that the present policy has failed to address the intra-community income disparity.

The government should compute how much wealth is being held by the hundred richest individuals of each community in the country. This will provide a good indication on the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few and to quash the myth that all Chinese Malaysians are rich and all Bumiputera are poor.

Second, the Prime Minister expressed his hope that Umno will grow strength-to-strength for the next 50 years to ensure the rights and needs of the Malays are protected. Understandably, he said this at the 60th anniversary of Umno but the Mission 2057 is supposed to hinge on the extension of the Vision 2020. At the assembly, he was addressing a particular crowd from a particular community. However, the Mission 2057 is supposed to be a public blueprint containing aspirations and hope shared by all Malaysians regardless of ethnicity or creed.

On the contrary, if the objectives of Vision 2020 are met the current political model should similarly undergo a proper adjustment to ensure that political parties by then represent Malaysians and championing the rights of all Malaysians regardless of wealth ownership or social status. I hope the Prime Minister can give us his assurance that a truly united, fair, just and harmonious Bangsa Malaysia can be achieved by year 2020.

Third, Abdullah mentioned religious tolerance as a value added to our material progress. Apart from tolerance, I hope the Prime Minister will call for mutual respect and continuous dialogue between religious leaders of various faiths. To many people, religion is a channel to glorify God and to form a spiritual bonding between them and God. Nevertheless, their methods, interpretations and spiritual approaches do differ.

Here is where a mutual understanding of each other’s religion is helpful. Unfortunately, many of us find interfaith dialogue a dirty word or a ploy to subservient our religion. In a human world, mutual understanding can only be forged through sincere, respectful, open and flexible dialogue. Any party to a dialogue seeking an exclusive position for the faith it represents will ensure the breakdown of a dialogue. Our problem is many of us are seeking for such exclusivity either egoistically or emotionally in the absent of reason.

On this part, Abdullah introduced his version of civilisational Islam or ‘Islam Hadhari’ aiming at interpreting Islam in the modern context of 21st century. He insisted that Islam Hadhari is not a new branch of Islam but merely seek to interpret its values in the right time period. This is a very important point. It is undeniable that the interpretation of Islamic values and lessons in the 14th century has to be different from Islam in the 21st century. Such flexibility is not only good to its followers but to ensure the religion remained evergreen and relevant.

In Malaysia, apart from the communal divide, perpetuated from the colonial era, religious divide appears to be showing a more distinct crack with muslims and non-muslims on the opposite sides. For example, the federal court judgment against Lina Joy unavoidably dragged in both the Christian and Islamic religious bodies and their followers. Some parties alleged that the spirit of the federal constitutions is being interpreted along religious belief. The issue of judicial and legal authority is set to become one of the biggest stumbling blocks in our quest to create a united, just, fair and harmonious society.

The Mission 2057 should address this socio-religious divide and the question of legal authority. Should Malaysia create a dual legal system – one for the muslims and the other for non-muslims? Or should we continue to accept and respect the federal constitutions as the supreme law of the land and the civil courts as religious-free courts where justice is meted out regardless of race or creed? As the world is becoming more pluralistic, the urge to coexist harmoniously must become stronger. Otherwise, peace and harmony will elude us.

Fourth, the Mission 2057 should strive to strengthen the democratic institutions in the country to ensure that democracy continues to flourish. Unless Francis Fukuyama is proven wrong, I foresee us practicing a democratic system beyond year 2057. According to Fukuyama, the state that emerges at the end of history is liberal insofar as it recognizes and protects through a system of law man's universal right to freedom and democratic insofar as it exists only with the consent of the governed. We must ensure the rights promised to us at the birth of the nation and enshrined in the federal constitutions remained protected, respected and dispensed at all times.

Finally but not exhaustive, I fully agree the emphasis put on human capital enhancement. A respected statesman told me that the main failure of the affirmative action is the lack of emphasis on skills development of the Bumiputera community especially the Malays. As a result, many of them are not able to capitalize on opportunities given by the government through grants, subsidies, licenses and projects. Featured almost daily are news about abandoned projects, shoddy constructions, poor management and maintenance works and others. We do not need a rocket scientist to tell us the sign.

Malay entrepreneurs who are able to acquire the necessary skills to capitalize on the opportunities given have succeeded. With the right attitude and skills, they will succeed regardless of the affirmative policy.

Hence, the government should focus on human capital enhancement with the primary focus of uplifting the skills and knowledge level of our human resources. In the advent of globalization, the only way for a country to progress in to actively innovate and create specialized knowledge. Our ambitious projects of the various economic development corridors would be the first to welcome local skilled workers.

With slightly more than two months away before the announcement of the Mission 2057 blueprint, I hope the Prime Minister will launch an extensive dialogue with all stakeholders, as promised earlier. I would like to urge Malaysians to speak out and exercise your rights to dictate the kind of society you want to live in be it in the next 5 years or 50 years.

Politicians must be made to walk their talk.

An Architect of Free Trade Zone

Two weeks ago, I paid a courtesy call to Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu. As a politician, Dr Lim's experience and achievements are broad and impressive.

Born on 28th May 1919 to a peranakan family, Dr Lim started his early education in an English medium school. His scholastic achievement was impeccable. He topped the gruelling Queen's scholarship selection examination for Her Majesty colonies in Asia and subsequently went to UK to pursue his degree in medicine. Until today, Dr Lim is known for his deep thoughts and philosophical assertions.

Soon when he returned to Malaya, the young Dr Lim was attracted by the Chinese struggle against the Japanese invasion and subsequently the World War 2. He left for China and worked as a physician to the United Chinese Front (KMT and CPC). It was in Chungking that he met his other half - Mrs Lim. His contribution to the resistant movement against the Japanese invasion was well recognised and respected in China but little is known about his pre-politics days in his own country.

After the war, Dr Lim returned to Malaya from Taiwan. He was quickly drafted into the Penang state legislation by the British colonial government. It was his role as a remarkable legislator that provided him with a solid foundation to venture into politics.

Leading to 1957 and a trouble brewing in MCA under the leadership of Tan Cheng Lock, Dr Lim who was then the chairman of POEM (Politics, Organisation, Elections and Membership) committee was asked to contest the chairmanship of MCA.

During the intermediate years between his entry into MCA and as a legislator in the Penang state assembly, Dr Lim founded the Radical Party which fought for the choice of all who live in Malaya at that time to call themselves as Malayans instead of a British subject or a Malay (Federated and Unfederated) subject. The idea of a Radical Party originated from his early student days in UK.

Dr Lim played a key role in the drafting of the federal constitutions and remained one of the two surviving persons who participated in the drafting committee. However, it was his dispute with the then prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman on the federal constitutions which led to his resignation from the MCA. Some factions in the MCA accused him of forgering a letter of support (handwritten) given to him by his one-time arch rival Tun Tan Cheng Lock.

Dr Lim left for England for a medical check up and resigned from the party through a letter sent from there. He returned to Malaysia and subsequently established the United Democratic Party - this time in the opposition.

UDP made important inroads into several local authorities in the country. The party even won a seat in Singapore at the 1964 general elections. Dr Lim was elected to the parliament representing Tanjung.

Prior to the general elections, the opposition parties included PAP, SUPP, PPP and others were trying to form a united coalition but failed. As a result, PAP sent its candidates to contest in the UDP stronghold of Penang but lost all their seats.

Eventually, the opposition parties came together after the 1964 GE and organised a mammoth Malaysian Solidarity Convention which was aimed at uniting all opposition parties (most of them were multiracial) to go against the communal centric Alliance Front which many of them saw as irrelevant.

On this platform, Lee Kuan Yew introduced and promoted his 'Malaysia Malaysian' vision which was not very different from Dr Lim's earlier call for a recognition and respect of personal decision for all permanent residents of Malaya to call themselves 'Malayans' .

MSC was seen as a formidable force and competitor to the Alliance. What happened to PAP aftermath is history.

However, a smaller alliance took shape in the form of Gerakan in 1968. Many Socialist Front leaders, Labour Party leaders, academicians, trade unionists and UDP leaders joined forces to form the Malaysian People's Movement Party or Gerakan. The late Professor Syed Hussin Alatas was made the founding chairman of the party.

More later...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Its too Late, Samy!

After more than 2 decades being a federal minister, Works Minister Samy Vellu has finally learned how to feel embarrassed. He said that the Works Ministry will be taking a tougher stance on contractors following the various leakage and ceiling debacles that arose from shoddy “finishing work”.

He said the Public Works Department (PWD) – and by extension, the ministry – were shamed and embarrassed by the incidents. This was because the PWD was always blamed for defective buildings or roads even though it may have been projects not under its jurisdiction or the hired contractors who were at fault, he said.

The minister has a short memory. Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, in his last public statement on the matter, told the veteran minister not to give excuses but to accept responsibility and act to resolve the problems. Samy has started to give excuses again.

“To protect our integrity and safeguard our name, we will come down harder on contractors and boss them around a little,” the minister said.

It might be too late. The integrity and reputation of both the ministry and the minister has been affected, I am afraid.
Picture courtesy of The Star Online.

The People's Parliament

I received a text message from my good friend, Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, urging me to support the People's Parliament. Then again, before we throw our support into yet another initiative we should ask this question: what is the people's parliament?

My initial reaction was to reflect on the parliament - is it a people's parliament? A parliament by the people, for the people is an important clarion of a truly democratic nation. If the elected representatives in the august house are elected by the people to represent their views, interests and hopes, then why should we need another NGO effort to create a People's Parliament unless something is obviously not right here.

I am tempted to ask Harris when I see him again. What is his purpose in setting up a People's Parliament. Not that I am against the idea but I sense a duplication of effort here unless the parliament (lower house) is not democratically elected. Afterall, the lower house is known as Dewan Rakyat (People's Assembly or Parliament?).

Wong Chin Huat, in an interview, said that there were many similar attempts before, including Suqiu, and none of them have succeeded in creating an electoral impact. Wong was the executive secretary of Suqiu.

So, why do need a People's Parliament? Can it work? Aren't the parliamentarians elected by the people? Who are these people? Are they different from the people who formed the NGO-run People's Parliament?

I see it differently. I support any effort to educate our people on the importance of representation in the parliament and that they are the real bosses, not the politicians. Hence, efforts should be focused on educating our people and to make them realise that they can make a change to improve policy formulation, governance and policy implementation if they choose the right people to represent them.

Malaysian politics must move beyond the myopic distinction between races. What it is now is a realist politics. Malaysians of different races are told that their interest are best protected under the current race-centric model. As a result, a recalcitrant politician who beats his chest and shouts racial rhetoric will most probably be hailed as his community's hero. Why make a hero out of a racist? In the end, this culprit is the one who pockets all the goodies at the expense of the people he claimed to protect.

If you have read the exchanges I had with a particular anonymous visitor here, you would have noticed the silly and divisive views posted. Yet, I am not surprised that he may be right that many Malaysians are thinking like him. Not only the Malays but Chinese too.

Coming back to Harris' project. I respect him greatly. And I know he sincerely wanted a change for the better. He told me that he saw himself as a Malaysian first. I support the People's Parliament project but I have this to say. We deserve the government we elected for. To those who think that it is all but hopeless, let me ask you this: what have you done to contribute to the change?

If you are just an armchair critic and the closest you think of making a different is to migrate, then I challenge to act and not just talk. Malaysia needs more Malaysians.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Malaysia: After Lina Joy

I attended a forum organised by the DAP on the impact and implication of the Lina Joy landmark decision at the Federal Court. The forum was very well attended - more than 500 people.

The panel speakers were Ambiga Sreenevasan, Malaysia Bar Council President; Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, PKR Secretary-General; Yusri Mohammad, President of Angkatan Belia Islam (ABIM); Dr Azmi Sharom, Associate Professor, Universiti Malaya; Leonard Teoh, Legal Advisor to Malaysia's Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism (MCCBCHS); Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader and Lim Guan Eng, DAP Secretary-General. It was chaired by DAP's Tony Pua.

I am especially impressed with the presentation from Bar Council President Ambiga and Dr Azmi Sharom who dealt with the issue technically, legally, professionally and logically.

Ambiga voiced out the concern of the legal fraternity on the interpretation of the federal constitutions based on Article 4 (federal constitutions as the supreme law of the land), Article 11 (freedom of religion), Article 121 (1A) and the scope of syariah courts.

Ambiga pointed out that her interpretation of the Lina Joy case was purely legalistic. She said that since 1999, there has been a tendency of the civil courts to imply its judgement on the scope of syariah courts. It is clear in the federal constitutions that the syariah courts do not have provision over non-muslims despite the call by both PAS and UMNO leaders for non-muslims to seek judgement from the courts.

She pointed out the the arguement that muslims are willing to be adjudicated in the civil courts and non-muslims should similarly be able to accept the syariah courts was faulty. Syariah courts are religious in nature while the civil courts are secular (non-religious). Hence, it is not proper to ask a person of a different faith to be judged by a religious court of other faith. Moreover, she insisted that the spirit of the federal constitutions is very clear on the legal direction of Malaysia which is to remain secular.

Dr Azmi opined that since the highest law of the land is the federal constitutions, those who are not comfortable with the secular laws and wanted an Islamic state law should accept current reality. If they seek changes, they must do it through proper and legal admendments of the constitutions. He said that is what democracy is about. Changes to the federal constitutions cannot be implied or done through other indirect ways i.e. administrative, executive or judiciary interference.

Yusri of ABIM argued that all matters related to Islam must be tackle by the syariah courts. He said that there is no concensus on human rights. I told Yusri that I did not agree with his thought.

I agree with Ambiga that the fundamental human rights are well spelt out in the constitutions including the freedom to practice one's religion. Human rights contained in the constitutions are focused on the rights guaranteed for an individual and not the community. The community cannot, by a majority decision, decide to strip his fundamental rights from him.

From my observation, the division on the Lina Joy case is deep and worrying. The question on authority is obvious. Malaysians must quickly decide if they should continue to respect the federal constitutions as the supreme authority and the laws of the land or otherwise. At present, the judiciary interpretation of the Lina Joy case is set to divide Malaysians especially muslims and non-muslims apart - legally.

Khalid pointed out that there are issues of consistency in the syariah courts. He said this issue must be resolved quickly.

I am not sure if more dialogue is going to lead us to a solution soon. What is key is that Malaysia, in its 50 years of nationhood, is at the crossroads.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

What is Bangsa Malaysia?

Today, I had lunch with a friend from a foreign embassy. In our conversation we shared a bit about the concept "Bangsa Malaysia" and he posed a question: "Are Chinese Malaysians more aware of their Malaysian identity now compared to before?"

I admitted that this is a difficult question. Nonetheless, I shall try to answer it from my own observation and perspective an a Chinese Malaysian.

From the early 50's to 80's, the Chinese community was clearly divided between the English educated and Chinese educated groups. For a long while, the main Chinese political party MCA was helmed by English educated (and pro-Western) Peranakan Chinese leaders such as Tan Cheng Lock, Tan Siew Sin and others. The orientation was obvious because these Chinese leaders were closely related to the British administration.

In those days, parents would try to enrol their children into La Sallian schools and other public and private English schools until the nationalisation the English schools in the 70's.

During this period too, most of the Chinese educated students were considered to be leftists (for the lack of a proper terminology). Most of them had a keen interest on the development of China's politics and the new emergence of Greater China as a regional economic zone. At present, there are still 60 Chinese independent schools conducting an independent examination system to qualify students to study in China and Taiwan.

By the late 80's and moving into the 20th century, a new euphoria of economic liberalisation started in China and it attracted a new interest of China. This time round the interest of China is no longer so much related to its socio-political ideology (in which started to wane) but on the capitalist development of China.

During this period and lasted until now, many parents begin to see the importance of Hanyu or Putonghua. Coupled with the poor perception of the quality of national schools and the fear of Malaynisation and Islamisation, most parents started to send their children to Chinese vernacular schools.

It should be noted that the Malaynisation and Islamisation tendency in the national schools is not the government policy. Most of the unnatural practices were done by recalcitrant headmasters. However, the damage is done. By now, almost 95% of all Chinese students study in Chinese vernacular primary schools.

Having addressed the education and social background of the community, the hard question is whether the division in the education system makes them think more 'Malaysian'? My friend noted that the call for the creation of a Bangsa Malaysia is heard louder now.

In fact, the call was made even during the Federation of Malaya days when there was an issue of migrants from China and India and their citizenship status. Those who came and grew to like the country wanted to be given a personal choice to call themselves Malayans instead of Chinese or Indian.

However, the largely communal political framework and formula did little to integrate the communal gaps between communities although a solution was reached on the granting of citizenship. This ambiguity is contested until today in the form of the 'social contract'. The political leaders then focused mainly on the issue of citizenship but did not strategize properly on the aspect of nation building.

After the 1964 general elections, a few opposition political parties headed by the likes of Lee Kuan Yew, Tan Chee Khoon, Dr Lim Chong Eu, Seenivasagam brothers and others tried to form a new coalition at the Malaysian Solidarity Convention. The 'Malaysian Malaysia' idea was floated and it had created a hostile reaction from UMNO leaders which eventually led to the demise of Singapore from Malaysia in 1965.

From the incident, it was clear that for the next 3 decades a concept of a fair, just and equal Malaysian society was not to be tolerated. In the mid 80's, UMNO leaders such as Abdullah Badawi started the clarion of 'Ketuanan Melayu' which focused on the Malay supremacism.

In the subsequent decade, it was obvious that the Malay dominance was definite and unchallengable. The other communities had accepted Malay dominance but hoped for the community growing in confidence and stature to voluntarily embrace the other minorities when it was obvious that the Malay position is strong and definite.

The economic recovery in the late 80's and the outcome of the 1990 general elections pushed Dr Mahathir to introduce an inclusive Vision 2020. The vision which called for the establishment of a fair, just and equal Bangsa Malaysia. Since the announcement was made by the leader of UMNO, many Chinese Malaysians were again hopeful of an eventual acceptance of their citizenship as equal.

Nonetheless, the concept appeared only as garnishing in political speeches. The NEP which is seen as an instrument of race-based affirmative action is being revived. The whole rhetoric of Malay's special position is being relived.

Hence, while many Chinese Malaysians especially generations who are born and breed in the country felt enthusiastic over the Vision 2020 promise to create a true Bangsa Malaysia by 2020, many are not expecting the objective to be met.

I would like to know what you think. How can we inculcate a sense of common identity and a sense of shared destiny?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Freedom of Religion - A View From Azmi Sharom


At the end of the day it is simply quite cruel to not allow someone to believe what they want to believe. It is not a decision made lightly and as can be seen in Lina Joy’s situation, one that can lead to misery and heartache.

Just as I am sure many converts into Islam face misery and heartache from their respective community. It’s hard enough to face being ostraciced from family and friends without having to face legal persecution as well. When faced with two contesting human opinions on the ‘precepts’ of Islam, one which is harsh and one which is merciful, I choose the latter.

Religion is one path towards personal peace and spiritual fulfilment. It is also something which depends entirely on faith. Even if the religion is a ‘way of life’, a term commonly used to describe Islam; it still needs belief and faith. How can one be forced to follow a ‘way of life’ if one simply does not believe in it? Once the element of force comes into the picture, be it in the form of fines, imprisonment or ‘rehabilitation’, then religion ceases to be about the spiritual and becomes instead a matter of power. I can not accept that the religion I was born into and my children are raised in is about anything as crass as power.

And it is my right to believe that.

Read his full article.

Bahasa Melayu to Bahasa Malaysia

In a unanimous decision last April, the Cabinet felt that reverting to the term Bahasa Malaysia would help inculcate a sense of belonging for all citizens irrespective of race, Information Minister Datuk Seri Zainuddin Maidin told The Star.

I was the first batch of students in 1992 who sat for both Bahasa Melayu and Kesusasteraan Melayu (Malay Literature) papers at the STPM examinations (Form Six).

Zam said the term Bahasa Malaysia was introduced by Tunku Abdul Rahman after the country's independence to inculcate a Malaysian identity. “It was generally accepted and no one asked for a change until (Datuk Seri) Anwar Ibrahim became the education minister (in 1986).

“He dropped the term Bahasa Malaysia for Bahasa Melayu and it has remained that way. But now, we feel we should go back to the original term,” he said.

Understandably Anwar may be on the other side of the political divide, but Zam should concede that it was a Cabinet decision then too to rename Bahasa Malaysia as Bahasa Melayu. The decision was not solely made by Anwar Ibrahim who was education minister.

I welcome decision and would like to urge the government to rethink all its Malay centric policies e.g. political, social and economic and to adopt a Malaysian approach in policy formulation and implementation.

The government should recognise that the use of the term Bahasa Malaysia over the span of 30 years had failed to create a better sense of national unity and interethnic relations. More has to be done than just the change of terminology.

Meanwhile, the decision to revert back to Bahasa Malaysia should not jeapordize the emphasis on multilingualism and the rights to receive mother tongue education.