Saturday, July 30, 2011

Rule of Law in Malaysia: A Race to the Bottom?

The foundation for rule of law in Malaysia was cemented when the federal constitution was created and enacted in 1957 & expanded in 1963 (when Malaysia was established), at least that was what we thought.

However, several issues and events which happened in the last 3 years have put the whole foundation through a stringent test.

Fundamental issue such as freedom of speech, assembly and association has created a lot more confusion and controversy that what was supposed to be a straight forward answer. In a democratic country, the rights to speak up, assemble and to form/participate in an association are almost certainly protected by a democratic constitution.

In fact, these rights are the basic pillars of a democracy. These rights should be accorded fairly to all citizens without prejudice. These rights are to be protected by the constitution, interpreted justly by the judiciary and enforced fairly by the enforcement authorities.

Civil society would play a role as a watch dog to ensure that any attempt to usurp or distort these rights is severely criticised and opposed. Even a government is duty bound to govern and function within the democratic and constitutional framework.

There are many benefits for a society/nation which practices the rule of law. A proper adherence to the rule of law does not only provide protection for all regardless of ethnicity, creed or social status but it could dissuade abuse of power and promote accountability.

Any branch of power should always be mindful that there is a check-and-balance mechanism to ensure it acts in accordance to the constitution.

Rule of law helps to promote international trade and investment. Rule of law offers consistency and predictability to the application and enforcement of corporate law. It helps to pacify foreign investors who are not familiar with this country that their investment is safe.

Now, back to Malaysia, why am I suggesting that we might be racing to the bottom in regards to the rule of law?

1. Public institutions losing its credibility and aura of being democratic. In Malaysia, we should ask which public institution is still enjoying a good image for being trustable and credible? If you cannot name me some and do it quickly, then there is a problem with rule of law in Malaysia. Building institutions, credible ones, is a key tenet of a democracy. It is important not to allow the concentration of power in the hands of certain individuals or non-inclusive institutions.

2. Concentration of power in the hands of a few personalities. Public institutions in the country do not function independently of a few personalities. Politicians are in control of these institutions and not their legal and constitutional jurisdiction and role. Many were quick to blame it on Mahathirism but we should admit that a lack of appreciation of democratic values had allowed Mahathir to manipulate these institutions and the system to his regime's advantage.

3. Lack of public awareness on key democracy enablers e.g. rule of law, separation of power, role of elected representatives, individual rights, constitutional rights and nation building. A lack of awareness and knowledge is not only demonstrated by the common public but heads of public institutions who think that they are supposed to be grateful to the government of the day for their appointments.

4. Abuse of power and inappropriate use of state coercive power. This is the worse form of action which could dampen and destroy public confidence in these institutions and their officials. You do not need me to elaborate on examples of abuse of power by public institutions. I am sure you could list me 10 examples within a few minutes. It does not augur well for Malaysia and our global ambition.

It is important for all of us to pause for a while to reflect on what we should and can do for this country. Sadly, this country, a beautiful land blessed with the best of scenery and resources, deserves better. To be listed as one of the top 10 countries suffering worst brain drain is both painful and unbelievable. This country is neither Somalia nor Iraq.

How many of us realize that we are caught in a perpetual decline? Meaning while we remain sluggish, our neighbours are improving very quickly. It means vis-a-vis we are actually suffering from a competitive decline.

What can we do? What can be done? How can we impact change so that Malaysia can reverse the decline?

These questions have become more pertinent than ever if you care for Malaysia.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Barisan Nasional Must Make a Hard Choice

Barisan top leadership must make a hard choice. It must decide to support Utusan's call to punish Bersih (and the newspaper's long list of controversial views) or to take side with moderation and to allow democracy to grow and flourish.

It must decide if it should continue to share the same podium with Perkasa or to walk with the moderate masses.

It must decide to support and promote the rule of law or to continue manipulating the instruments of power for its own political end.

It must make a hard choice to embrace change or to be made irrelevant by it and become a mere footnote of history.

The list of issues and controversies is getting longer for the coalition. Despite whatever the pundits believe, the coalition is losing more goodwill than winning more supporters and fence sitters to its side.

It is time for the coalition to take a pause and measure its own level of goodwill. It does not take forever for the reservoir dry up.

It makes no sense for the coalition to continue treating those with dissenting voices and views as enemies.

No modern government can survive without the popular support of its people unless it decides to rule by force and iron-fisted.

It is best for Barisan leaders to stay humble and practical. They should not continue to believe that Barisan would rule this country perpetually.

By allowing the hawks to dictate the coalition's direction is only going lead it towards swifter destruction.

Barisan leaders need to conduct serious self-introspection. It can continue to act tough, as preached by Utusan, to win a some hardcore votes or act tough and lose thousands of middle ground.

It is a hard choice the coalition must make and make it quick!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Angry Malaysians & Pragmatism

The Star's Wong Chun Wai has a point when he hinted that political discourse in this country can be conducted in a civilised manner and measured tone.

He asked: "Can we stop being angry people and try to make sense of the issues affecting the nation instead? Or better still, just laugh at them? It’s just the run-up to the silly season, as cynical reporters call it."

Unfortunately, readers of Malaysia Today had responded in a manner which justified Wong's call for courtesy in disagreement. It is not nice and appropriate to call him names. Wong has a right to voice his opinion and we have ours to disagree.

I agree with Wong that most of us are too consumed by anger and frustration to be able to stay courteous.

Perhaps, it is partly a mirror or a reaction to the political responses and actions taken by our politicians and ruling elites.

To be able to debate openly and courteously, there is a need of a platform to do so. Sadly, most of the mainstream media channels in Malaysia are controlled by the ruling coalition. I would like to encourage Wong to open up his newspaper and related media channels to provide an avenue for differing views and opinions.

By allowing a platform for us to do so, it will help to moderate voices of discontent in the country. Wong's good suggestions and editorials would not have been rubbished as mere PR exercise for certain political masters. He should persuade his bosses in MCA to not fear direct engagement with the people/rakyat.

He should also use his influence and access to the Barisan top leadership to change their approach towards peaceful public dissent and to start listening to the ground and grouses.

People are angry because their views are not respected but treated with disdain and hostility by the government. There is a general sense of being played out by the politicians who were given mandate by the people to govern in trust.

Wong has made a good observation: "In short, the rules are not consistent. Make it clear and easy for all parties to apply to hold such talks. Let there be fairness. The political and media landscapes have changed but many of our civil servants and leaders are still stuck in a time warp, and seemingly indifferent to it."

I sincerely believe that Wong's hope of a courteous discourse is not Utopian. There is an innate good in Malaysians if not we would have had a hibiscus spring long before the jasmine revolution in the middle east.

Malaysians have been a patient lot. There are not many governments which can continue to govern and rule absolutely despite countless of scandals, controversies and mismanagement.

With inflation skyrocketing, economy in doldrums, job opportunities shrinking and brain and money outflow, we could use Wong's know-how and know-who to start getting the government and politicians from both sides of the fence to focus on addressing these issues.

I am sure we have heard of the idiom, "A hungry man is an angry man..."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

TBH Verdict: A New Low for MACC

A royal commission has ruled that Teoh Beng Hock committed suicide as a result of pressure from aggressive and continuous questioning by Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) officers.

The MACC officers had wanted to pressure Teoh to be a witness in their case against a DAP assemblyman for alleged abuse of public funds.

The royal commission of inquiry also found three MACC officers to have breached standard operating procedures.

It recommended that action be taken specifically against the three MACC officers.

Meanwhile, The Malaysian Insider has called for the resignation of Abu Kassim Mohamed, the chief commissioner of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

Why wait? The government should sack him and put the entire MACC back on review and full transformation.

Note: TMI has posted an apology for their statement.

The problem does not lie in just 3-4 persons but the entire culture and mindset of the institution. What we have seen is something very familiar throughout other institutions. The head of civil service needs to do his part to inculcate responsibility, professionalism and check-and-balance into the whole civil service.

Abuse of power must be curbed before confidence for the public institutions melted completely.

Teoh Beng Hock's case is a new low for the MACC. Nothing less than a total revamp and a new leadership can help to restore the institution.

Again, Minister Nazri Aziz is passing the buck to the police. No wonder Barisan is losing it's credibility by the day.

The death of TBH is a tragedy for the country. The government owes his family an apology and due compensation. Efforts must be done to ensure his wife and child are taken care of financially.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Post Bersih 2.0 & Continuous Follies

Malaysian Insider reported, "Censors have blacked out parts of an article in the latest edition of The Economist which had called Putrajaya’s handling of the Bersih rally overzealous, even as the Najib administration struggles to deflect the barrage of criticisms in the international media about the government crackdown.

Among the parts blacked out are mentions of the heavy-handedness of the police and the accusation that the government withdrew its offer to protesters to use a stadium for the rally.

The article titled “Taken to the cleaners — an overzealous government response to an opposition rally” chronicles the chaos on July 9 when police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse the tens of thousands who took to the city’s streets here to demand electoral reforms.

Although the full article is available online, the Home Ministry still inked out four lines in the article, one of which notably reported on the death of one man during the rally."

This is not the only form of censorship I have experienced since Bersih 2.0. Telekom Malaysia's Hypp TV did the same to interrupt a segment of Channel News Asia coverage on Bersih 2.0 too.

Farish Noor is correct to express his disappointment and astonishment. Yes, there is a full online version available.

Instead of providing a full, credible and transparent report on possible police abuses during the demonstration, the government has chosen to protect and defend the men in blue entirely.

This is an example of another PR boo-boo and a lapse of concentration from the ruling government.

The right action is to engage and conduct a fair and open discourse with affected parties. What is there for the government/ruling coalition to lose by being democratic, civilised and engaging?

The manner some of the state apparatus are behaving, public institutions and media, is going to make the whole situation even worse.

I wonder if the government knows what really is good governance, PR and good political communications?

In fact, if the government is serious about repairing it's image it might want to consider releasing the PSM detainees. There is no reason whatsoever to prolong their detention without trial.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Post Bersih 2.0: Beyond Political Rhetorics

Parties with vested interest were quick to name winners and losers in the aftermath of Bersih 2.0. Are there any real clear winners or losers?

Ironically, a friend lamented to me that Barisan will still win the next general election through rigging. This is a hard accusation. But it draws us back to the point that the electoral process in Malaysia is far from being democratically functional.

To pass the stress test of democracy, it has to meet a few criteria. The weightage of an urban vote has to be the same with rural vote. Otherwise, the balance of power tilts towards less than 40% of rural voters who can determine who rules the country.

Second, it points us to the trust and credibility deficit of the Election Commission which is supposed to be entrusted to run and manage fair and transparent elections.

The serious lack of trust in the electoral process is a serious impediment to a fair and transparent electoral system and puts the entire democratic system in jeopardy.

Aftermath of Bersih 2.0, are there any clear winners?

Arguably NO, because the ruling government and the Election Commission have not responded positively to a movement which they had declared as illegal, hence its demands too! There is not going to be any reform. Period.

Can the Opposition ride on the Bersih 2.0 to create another tsunami in the coming general elections? I hardly doubt so because of an inequitable delineation process which had tilted power base to the 40% rural/non-urban voters. It will probably take another 100 years, if we are optimistic enough, to hope for proportionate representation to be even considered.

Who are the losers? Many. Malaysia's reputation and image internationally has been badly affected. The ruling government's inconsistency and lack of tolerance for dissent is being tested and exposed. Many Malaysians are going to feel more dispirited despite words of encouragement. Reality will set in that it is not easy to change a government, much worse a mindset, after all.

Malaysia is facing a stark reality of what lies ahead. Hard sell abroad to lure investors into Malaysia is going to face futility. Not because of Bersih 2.0 but largely due to a lethargic and sloppy governance.

Vision 2020 is soon becoming a pipe dream. It has lost its magic and sense of purpose. It is best for the ruling politicians to start thinking of what is the next viable and appealing story for Malaysia before they can hope to attract billions needed to help Malaysia achieve its desired developed nation status.

An international report has put Malaysia as one of the least attractive emerging economies, only ahead of Columbia. Graduates unemployment has doubled since 2008. Companies are moving away and foreign companies are withdrawing from the country. I have spoken to quite a number local businessmen who are busy looking elsewhere due to the economic realities in the country. A headline screams, Kuala Lumpur is now more expensive for expats than San Francisco. Malaysia's demand power is only 32% of New York etc. etc.

What about a plate of economy rice costing around RM7?

The government must have gotten the message with the recent establishment of 1Malaysia stores (selling really cheap goods at cheap prices) and the promotion of breakfast/lunch menu for less than RM4.

Are these long term solutions?

Apart from the obvious political struggle between politicians of both sides, what else have they done or proposed to get us out of the rot?

Why has Malaysia's political discourse become so idiotic and silly? Are politicians really stupid or they think Malaysians are dumb?

Those who are putting their ears on the ground should know that the rumblings are not very positive for this country. The only news which got to international press worldwide are the ones which make Malaysia and Malaysians looked silly, low class and inhabitants of a lost world.

What is beyond Bersih 2.0? Both sides of politicians are claiming victory. There is no glory at all to rejoice.

Status quo still rules and Malaysia has become a mere laughing stock worldwide. It exposes the fragility of our public institutions to political abuse and the immaturity of our political system.

It makes more sense for more Malaysians deserting their homeland for somewhere saner.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tung Shin & 3 Idiots

I was at the Tung Shin hospital compound, like hundreds of others, trying to find a dry spot and to avoid the incessant and hostile tear gas attacks by the FRU. Like these hundreds, I was horrified when the FRU shot tear gas canisters into the hospital compound. The effect was felt even at the main entrance of the hospital.

Why did the KL Police Chief, IGP, Health Minister, MCA President & PM Najib deny any attack was ever launched into the hospital compound?

Health Minister even suggested these canisters were swept by gushing wind into the area. There was plenty of water and rain but not wind. Lucky for us! If not the effect of tear gas would have affected even more people.

Who are the 3 idiots in this situation?

(3 idiots is a 2009 Indian comedy film directed by Rajkumar Hirani, with a screenplay by Abhijat Joshi, and produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra. It was loosely adapted from the novel Five Point Someone by Chetan Bhagat. 3 Idiots stars Aamir Khan, R. Madhavan, Sharman Joshi, Kareena Kapoor, Omi Vaidya, Parikshit Sahni and Boman Irani. Upon release, the film broke all opening box office records in India. It was the highest-grossing film in its opening weekend in India and has the highest opening day collections for a Bollywood film.)

1st = the police chief who denied there was any attack ever on the hospital compound.
2nd = the Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai who held a press conference with the Tung Shin board chairman to deny there was any attack. He made the statement and then made a u-turn when was told of photographic and video evidence and live witnesses. Now, he said he was merely parroting the board's suggestion. Worse, 11 doctors are prepared to file an affidavit. We can understand their stand.
3rd = MCA President Chua Soi Lek who suggested that the police shot the tear gas to protect the patients. Should I say more?

Why can't the government just apologize for the excessive use of force especially in the case of Tung Shin?

Is being unreasonable the order of the day?

The way things go, it is better for Barisan to hold the elections in 2013.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I Witnessed the Day the Government Lost the Middle Ground

I was at the Bersih 2.0 rally to witness up close the demonstration process. I am sad to witness how the government has lost the middle ground through the senseless and irresponsible reaction by the police.

Most of the protesters were ordinary Malaysians who took part for various valid reasons. Some were not happy with the state of governance, high inflation, abuse of power, corruption etc. Granted, there were many partisan members too but the government cannot discount the fact that easily as many as 30% of those who took part were ordinary people or the middle ground.

Together with the crowd, we were 'ambushed' by the police in front of Tung Shin Hospital. Tear gas canisters (at least 4) were fired into the hospital compound and some of the crowd got agitated and shouted at the police to be more considerate because they had fired tear gas into a hospital compound, right next to the emergency ward.

The IGP and Home Minister Hishamuddin should not deny that there were no provocation. The police did not try to use a less hostile manner to disperse the crowd. If any, the police and the government should have allowed the use of Stadium Merdeka and avoid the total clampdown of Kuala Lumpur.

By allowing Bersih to use the stadium, the government could have negotiated some ground rules e.g. it must be non-political and a totally NGO event. It could have avoided the opposition parties from taking advantage of Bersih 2.0 as a rally point for their political momentum towards 13th GE.

By allowing a peaceful protest to take place, the government could have helped to boost the country's image and it's own credibility as an advanced democratic country able to accept and tolerate dissent and freedom of assemble and speech. It could have made Malaysia a new spring of democracy and a beacon of hope among Muslim majority countries.

The sight of police chasing the demonstrators like a pack of wolves would have a powerful impact on the minds of middle ground Malaysians. Police brutality should not have happened at a peaceful rally. The force should not have been unleashed on our own Malaysians.

In summary, the government should learn to be more tactful and crafty in managing its political communications. It should have engaged with Bersih 2.0 and the Election Commission. Some of the demands made by Bersih 2.0 are reasonable and if implemented could have given more credibility and legitimacy to the winning coalition.

It should learn that brute force and might albeit through Perkasa, PDRM and other threats are not the right method to win over the middle ground. BN or UMNO's current strategy is both outdated and counter productive. The diehard UMNO/Perkasa members would have endorsed what had been done to Bersih 2.0 but they are not the ones who are going to win elections for BN or UMNO.

By being more skillful and savvy, the PM would have neutralised Bersih 2.0, enhance his own democratic leadership, avoid Pakatan from capitalizing on Bersih and prove to the world that he is a leader who has his ears to the ground.

The way forward, the PM must learn his lesson well and use the right advisers. Otherwise, he might ended up as a casulty of his own outdated political model.

Read my comment on AFP.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

I am Back But Nothing Has Changed in Malaysia

I left blogging for almost two months to allow myself to observe from outside the circle. It is good to be back.

Meanwhile, I was busy with events and traveling overseas to look at how far we have been left behind. I was in Seoul last week and a few Malaysian officials lamented to me that Malaysia is at least 10-15 years behind.

I agree! Not only in terms of physical development but most importantly mindset.

How can this country improve if those entrusted to govern do not embrace the responsibility to do a good job?

How much have been wasted on unproductive projects, white elephants, illogical expenses etc?

Can Malaysia continue its way and become a world-class country by 2020? I call it a pipe dream.

I am back but alas things have not changed at all in Malaysia. I urge you to do the same. Take a break, go for some trips and come back to find the stark difference.

Many societies and countries are racing against time to stride ahead. What about Malaysia?

The last I heard, this country is still full of unreasonable and power crazy people.

Were you caught in the massive traffic jam this morning? Do demonstrators need to bring in weapons from outside Klang Valley? Get real...we need the authority to use some common sense and save us the frustration!