World Bank Brain Drain Report: Useless and Politically Motivated?

April 3o, 2011

World Bank Brain Drain Report: Useless and Politically Motivated?

Report from Shannon Teoh (The Malaysian Insider)

ALOR STAR, April 30 – Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad described the World Bank as “useless”, saying today that it was politically motivated for putting out a report that pro-Bumiputera policies are stunting the country’s economy.

The former prime minister said the World Bank report was politically motivated as it wanted a change of prime minister, seemingly referring to Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, a former chairman of its development committee.

“We have been critical of the World Bank since my time. We said that they were useless. “They dislike us and want to have their good friend become prime minister,” Dr Mahathir (picture) told reporters today.

The World Bank said on Thursday that more than one million Malaysians live abroad as policies favouring the Malays are holding back the economy, causing a brain drain and limiting foreign investment.

World Bank senior economist Philip Schellekens was quoted as saying that foreign investment could be five times the current levels if the country had Singapore’s talent base.

He said Malaysian migration was increasingly becoming a skills migration with one-third of the one million-strong Malaysian diaspora now consisting of the tertiary educated and expected the trend to continue.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has pledged to roll back the country’s pro-Malay policies from the New Economic Policy (NEP) but also told the UMNO assembly last year that the government’s social contract of providing benefits to Bumiputeras cannot be repealed.

According to the Bloomberg report, Najib has eased some rules to woo funds, including scrapping a requirement that foreign companies investing in Malaysia and locally listed businesses set aside 30 per cent of their Malaysian equity for indigenous investors.

Last year, he unveiled an economic transformation programme under which the government identified US$444 billion (RM1.3 trillion) of projects from mass rail transit to nuclear power that it would promote in the current decade.

However, Dr Mahathir said today that while it liberalised the economy, the government should “be fair to the poor and make sure that they have opportunities as well.”

Reversing Malaysia’s Brain Drain

April 30, 2011

Reversing the Brain Drain

by P Gunasegaram* @

Young Malaysians: Take Care of Them without Favor or Lose Brain Power

Unless Malaysia succeeds in developing, retaining and attracting talent, its cherished dream of attaining high income by 2020 may be dashed to bits.

PROBABLY for the first time ever we have had substantial facts and figures on Malaysia’s brain drain – and it has taken the World Bank to come out with this (see our cover story this issue).

The World Bank simply defines brain drain as the migration of talent across borders. It is instructive what it says:

“For Malaysia to stand (sic) success in its journey to high income, it will need to develop, attract and retain talent. Brain drain does not appear to square with this objective: Malaysia needs talent but talent seems to be leaving,” the World Bank said in its report on Malaysia. Let’s look at some of the figures as a gauge of the seriousness of the problem. The worldwide Malaysian diaspora is conservatively estimated at one million in 2010, quadrupling over the last three decades.

Singapore alone accounts for 57% of this with the rest dispersed mainly through Australia, Brunei, Britain and the United States. Ethnic Chinese account for nearly 90% of the diaspora in Singapore and are similarly over-represented in other developed countries. And here’s one frightening statistic: “One out of 10 Malaysians with a tertiary degree migrated in 2000 to an OECD (the club of rich countries, but which does not include Singapore) country – this is twice the world average and including Singapore would make this two out of 10.”

In other words, it is very likely that 20% of our best graduates end up in other countries. The reasons why they leave are also instructive: 66% cited career prospects, 60% social injustice and 54% compensation.

The situation is serious and as Malaysia is wont to do under such circumstances, it is resorting to ad hoc measures such as tax rebates on those returning and a corporation to attract talent into the country.

These will only chip away at the massive outcrops of declining educational standards, a badly implemented social restructuring policy, a poor system of rewards and the unwillingness to move away from low labour costs to high value-added manufacturing and services amongst others. The changes that are needed are deeply structural. First, everything possible has to be put into raising educational standards to improve the quality of those entering the workforce. South Korea had one third Malaysia’s per capita income in 1970 but now it is three times Malaysia’s. Such change would not have been possible without a super educational system at every level.

Developing talent at every level simply has to start with education and we have to put the best talents, facilities and other resources into this. Right now only the most dedicated or those who don’t have other choices go into teaching because it is neither rewarding nor respected as a profession.

Next we need social re-engineering to gear towards giving equal opportunities for advancement instead of a premature equalisation of outcomes whether in terms of wealth ownership or employment creation.

Otherwise the ultimate result might be plain mediocrity and creating a small class of privileged wealthy who have done little or nothing to deserve their wealth. Otherwise too, the talented who get little or nothing face despair and look elsewhere for their rewards.

Then we need too the unfettered opportunities, entrepreneurship and incentive for talent to flourish and to be adequately rewarded. We can’t continue to base our competitiveness on low wages and costs. In this respect, a weak currency and its attendant poor purchasing power is a sure way to chase talent out of the country.

That’s how we can retain talent and attract it too, realising that we must be open and free to import the best the world has to offer in terms of people, goods and services at the best prices. For these things to happen and be sustained what we need is honest policy and implementation untainted by corruption so that the most can be done with the resources at our disposal instead of frittering these away through all sorts of leakages in the system. It is no accident that the least corrupt countries are often the most developed and have the highest income.

If there is a lesson from the World Bank report, it is that we must return to the basics and work ourselves up from there. There is no shortcut, but once critical mass is reached progress grows in leaps and bounds.

*Managing Editor P Gunasegaram believes that an uncompromising stand towards excellent and quality education bereft of political and other pressures will do more towards a high income Malaysia than almost anything else.

Ramon says: Take the World Bank Report seriously

April 30, 2011

Ramon* says: Take the World Bank Report seriously

COMMENT : World Bank reports are authoritative and they are therefore taken seriously by international observers, especially foreign investors.

Malaysia’s own economic estimates and assessments will be compared to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund estimates for accuracy and integrity. Our estimates will lose credibility if they are quite different from international analysis.

The World Bank has estimated Malaysia’s growth at 5.3% for 2011, and 5.5% for next year. These projections are lower than our internal estimates. Our domestic outlook for inflation could also be underestimated as the World Bank stresses the build-up taking place in inflationary pressure that could dampen private consumption and economic growth as well.

Hence the message is clear. We are going through trying times and economic strains, particularly with the continuing global economic uncertainties.

What is more worrisome is the World Bank’s highlighting of the adverse effects of the brain drain on our economy. This is having a significantly more serious negative impact on our economy than we realise, and is undermining our struggle to get out of our middle-income trap.

Interestingly too about 57% of our diaspora have been attracted to Singapore. We know why, but we are doing so little about it. The brain drain is not exclusively due to higher salaries, but the sad lack in practicing “inclusiveness” amongst all Malaysians.

One major point raised by the World Bank Report 2011 is the lack of political will to push the pace of reforms in the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) and the Government Transformation Programme (GTP). In regard to the New Economic Model (NEM), the World Bank mentions the “limited headway on this front”.

Poverty worst in Sabah

The findings that poverty has increased and shows an imbalance within racial groups gives much concern and underlines the need for much more urgent action to be taken to combat the malaise.

Sabah has a whopping 42.9% share of national poverty, Sarawak has 12%, while even Kedah and Perak have dismal shares of 9.8% and 8.4% respectfully. This is unsustainable without some systemic interventions.

All these World Bank findings do not encourage confidence in the socio-economic and even political prospects in the near term for Malaysia. It is imperative  that the well-thought out ETP and GTP should be revised to give much higher priority to overcome the fundamental weaknesses in our economy and society, that the World Bank has honestly but politely highlighted.

We have to answer its “call for action” with a greater sense of urgency or continue to face greater risks of more economic and social decline.

One major source of encouragement, however, is that all Malaysians, except the powerful vested interests and the extremists, will rally around the government for more rapid transformation for the benefit of all Malaysians.

*Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam was an Economist and Senior Treasury Official. He is now Chairman, ASLI Center for Policy Studies

Dr. Zainal Aznam Yusof dies: Al-Fatihah

April 30, 2011

NEAC’s Dr. Zainal Aznam Yusof dies

National Economic Action Council (NEAC) member Datuk Dr Zainal Aznam Yusof died of heart attack earlier this morning, just a few days short of turning 67.

Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) director-general Datuk Dr Mahani Zainal Abidin was reported by TV3 to have confirmed Zainal Aznam’s death at about 10am at the Universiti Hospital’s intensive care unit.

The former Bank Negara adviser (Assistant Governor) was buried at the Bukit Kiara Muslim cemetery near his Taman Tun Dr Ismail home here just after Asar prayers today.

The Late Dr. Zainal Aznam Yusof–The Thespian

The Ballot Box: The Ultimate Arbiter in a Democracy

April 30, 2011

 … Come, my friends,
     ‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
     Push off, and sitting well in order smite
     The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
     To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
     Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
     It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
     And see the great Achilles, whom we knew. (56–64)

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Ulyssess

The Ballot Box: The Ultimate Arbiter in a Democracy

by Terence Netto @

COMMENT Because the ballot box is the ultimate arbiter of distempers in a democracy, Malaysian voters must be anticipating the next general election – the 13th in their history as an independent country – with unusual keenness.

The fact that the number 13 is freighted with an ominous significance because it connotes a tragic chapter in Malaysian history – the May 13 riots of 1969 – renders added frisson to the anticipation.

The thunderheads that have boiled up on the political horizon to set voters on edge present an idiosyncratic mix of issues of personal sexual morality and ones of grave national import.

Just now an issue concerning the sexual morals of a contender for the prime ministerial position, Anwar Ibrahim, has taken centre stage, to the exasperation of legions of his supporters, not because they do not think that it matters, but because they view the rules for adjudicating it as hopelessly rigged against him.

Also, it is of little help to their serenity that they see at least one of his accusers, in the case of the video allegedly showing him in a transaction with a sex worker, as tainted with same brush that is now being used to blacken Anwar. Few things are as annoying as the pot calling the kettle black. Likewise, few things can be more exasperating that attempts to infer an aspirant’s moral credentials to govern from his or her private sexual morals.

One does not have to subscribe to Plato’s dualism of the mind and body to hold that it’s best to keep the spheres of public and private morality separate, especially private sexual morality. But because to the majority of Malaysians religion is a public matter, these spheres cannot be held to be separate.

No precedent in modern history

No politician has done more in the last four decades in Malaysia to make religion a public matter than Anwar Ibrahim. So there is a rough kind of poetic justice to the travails he has now to endure.

It is hard to find a precedent in modern history for the very public and humiliating trials by innuendo and insinuation he and his family have had to endure – in Sodomy I, Sodomy II and now in the sex video controversy – over the last 13 years.

Perhaps the closest comparison one could find would be the hounding of the American civil rights Martin Luther King Jr by FBI director J Edgar Hoover in the 1960s. Hoover kept up a steady stream of pressure on King and his wife by circulating aural evidence of the civil rights leader’s sexual misdemeanors. But, in the main, that pressure was applied away from the public gaze. Consequently, the psychic hell that King and Loretta had to endure was private.

In contrast, Anwar and family have had to endure very public tribulation which the ordinarily decent are loath to justify. The fact that elementary standards of due process have been denied him in this odyssey of public humiliation adds to the repugnance felt by the decent over his and his family’s treatment.

That is why at this juncture the 13th general election is being awaited with mustard-keen anticipation.There are issues of grave public moment that should compete for the public attention’s but right now the manufactured sensation of Anwar’s private sexual morality has taken centre stage.

It makes you want to believe in the truth of the concept of the wound and the bow, the literary principle that the psychic wounds one suffers on the way up in life become the bow that launches the effort at grand rectification.

One hopes that would be true about Anwar. He has had to endure much; would that eventual vindication and rectification be proportionate to his travails.

Congratulations to HRH The Duke and HRH The Duchess of Cambridge

April 30, 2011

The Beautiful and Elegant Royal Bride

Congratulations to HRH The Duke and HRH The Duchess of Cambridge

April 29, 2011

HRH Prince William and Miss Kate Middleton were pronounced husband and wife in a glittering ceremony filled with traditions and history at the Westminister Abbey in London. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge made their vows in front of 1,900 guests and the eyes of the world (over 2 billion people were glued to the television to watch the occasion).  We offer our sincere  congratulations and good wishes to their Royal Highnesses.

Official Wedding Photograph

The  wedding ceremony passed without hitch, with the only moment of tension provided as Prince William struggled to put the ring, fashioned from Welsh gold given to Prince William by the Queen, on his bride’s finger. Otherwise, it was indeed a sparkling display of what Britain is all about–flawless  planning, organisation and execution. It was described by commentators as a fairy tale wedding, not seen since HRH Prince Charles-Princess Diana marriage.

Taking a Leisurely Stroll

After the vows Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, declared: “I pronounce that they be man and wife together, in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

Let their Hands be strengthened

Domestic Politics Fuel Thai-Cambodian Dispute

April 29, 2011

Domestic Politics Fuel Thai-Cambodian Dispute

by Todd Pitman/ AP WRITER

They (the Thais and Cambodians) waged deadly artillery duels for a week across a disputed jungle frontier dotted with ancient temples. But the bloodiest clashes to hit Thailand and Cambodia in years were probably more about domestic politics than territory, analysts say.

Both sides agreed to a tentative cease-fire Thursday, a deal many hope will hold after seven days of fighting that killed 15 people and displaced 50,000. Similar accords in the past have failed to secure an end to the conflict, and many believe it’s not over yet.

“Key constituencies in both nations are benefiting too much from the border dispute to allow it to die out completely,” Joshua Kurlantzick, a Southeast Asia fellow at the US Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on the organization’s website.

Among them: a coup-prone Thai military that could be asserting itself as the country heads toward contentious elections, and a Cambodian strongman bolstered by an upsurge in nationalism who wants to see an ally in power in Bangkok instead of an adversary.

The frontier has been contested at least since the 1950s, when France withdrew from Southeast Asia and its former colony Cambodia won independence. But tensions skyrocketed in 2008, when the crumbling 11th Century Hindu temple Preah Vihear—which an International Court of Justice ruled belonged to Cambodia in 1962—was declared a UN World Heritage Site over staunch Thai objections. The sovereignty of the land around the temple remains in dispute, as do other swaths of land containing other temples built during the Khmer Empire’s reign.

Clashes have erupted six times over the last three years and each skirmish has grown increasingly bloody, with artillery used for the first time during the last battle in February. However, neither Thai nor Cambodian troops have made any moves to capture territory, and residents in the conflict zone have been left wondering what the crisis is about.

“I have no clue why they are fighting,” 56-year-old grandmother Noi Yingcherddee said in the Thai border town of Surin this week. “I just want them to stop,” she said. “It’s not worth it, at least not for us.”

Many analysts believe Thailand’s military, which overthrew former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a 2006 coup, is flexing its muscle ahead of elections expected in June or July. The military fears the Thaksin-allied opposition Puea Thai party may win the ballot, and one theory says top commanders may have been using the skirmishes “to create an atmosphere of uncertainty” within Thailand to derail that outcome, said Dr. Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. “If the country is in crisis,” Pavin said, “the military can ask, is it ready to hold the vote?”

Duncan McCargo, a Southeast Asia expert who heads the school of international studies at Britain’s University of Leeds, agreed. The border war “reflects the military’s determination to demonstrate that only the armed forces can be trusted as the guardians of Thai national interests,” he said.

The Thai military always has played a prominent role in politics, staging 18 coups since the 1930s. However, it denies that it is now intervening in politics and says—like Cambodia’s military—that it has merely been defending against foreign aggression.

In the current dispute, the army has stymied a proposal to station Indonesian military observers at the border, a plan Cambodia agreed to. On Thursday, though, Thai military and foreign ministry spokesmen contended Thailand did back the plan but were just working out the details. Indonesia’s foreign minister also said his Thai counterpart had signed off on the plan.

The fighting has stirred nationalist fervor on both sides, but many believe it also benefits Cambodian premier Hun Sen, allowing him to portray himself as a victim of a “bullying” Thailand.

One editorial in a Thai newspaper suggested that Hun Sen, who has been in power since 1985, was fomenting the border tensions to gain support at home and divert attention away from what it called the “general public’s increasing resentment toward his dictatorship.”

Kurlantzick said Hun Sen’s son, Hun Manet, is taking advantage of the crisis “to play a larger role in military policymaking, potentially positioning him one day to take over running the country from his father.”

Hun Sen is known to have a close relationship with Thaksin, who now lives in exile in Dubai.Both men would benefit if current Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva can be portrayed as an ineffective leader who has brought his country to the brink of war.

A weakened Abhisit could mean the Thaksin-allied opposition Puea Thai movement does well in the upcoming poll, said Charnvit Kasetsiri, a Southeast Asian expert and former rector of Bangkok’s Thammasat University.

It’s not the first time the border dispute has been linked to domestic politics. In 2008, Thailand’s so-called Yellow Shirts protesters used the government’s initial support for Cambodia’s heritage bid to batter then-Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and force the resignation of his foreign minister.

More recently, the Yellow Shirts—though much weaker than before—have waged sit-ins against Abhisit over the temple.

Matt Gertken of the US-based think tank Stratfor said internal politics on both sides are driving the fighting, “whether it be because of Thai factions pushing the Cambodian issue in order to shape perceptions ahead of the election, or Cambodia attempting to take advantage of Thailand’s internal divisions” for its own ends.

“Ultimately, the conflicts here are within Thailand and Cambodia, rather than between” them, said McCargo.

Associated Press writers Grant Peck and Sinfah Tunsarawuth in Bangkok, Thanyarat Doksone in Surin, Thailand, Sopheng Cheang in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

Keep ASEAN relevant to the Young

April 29, 2011

Keeping ASEAN relevant to the Young

by Dr Farish M. Noor*

DESCRIBING the colour red to a person who was born blind is perhaps a difficult, if not impossible, thing to do. The same applies to describing the value of peace to someone who has never experienced the horrors of war. That is precisely the problem we face when trying to describe the merits of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to the present-day generation of Asean citizens.

We have four years to go before 2015, when all the instruments and institutions of an ASEAN community are meant to be up and running. While the clock is ticking, we are faced with another problem altogether: how to emphasise the importance and relevance of ASEAN to present-day ASEAN citizens, particularly the post-1967 generation, for whom ASEAN — as a multilateral tool among states — has little direct relevance and impact on their lives.

This impression, however, is misleading when we consider the benefits of ASEAN and what it has managed to do, albeit silently. The present-day generation of ASEAN citizens take it as a given that we live in a region that is peaceful and where conflict is something that happens far, far away. But the historian would step in and remind us that for centuries Southeast Asia has been one of the most violent parts of the world, with clashes between states that go back to the first millennium.

The same applies for Europe, which was a theatre of war since the age of early Christendom all the way to the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries, the revolutionary wars occasioned by the rise of Napoleon, the nationalist wars of the 18th and 19th centuries and the First and Second World Wars. The soil of Europe has soaked up so much blood that it is satiated.

Yet, since the formation of the European Economic Community and later the European Community and now European Union (EU), Western Europe has enjoyed the longest period of sustained peace and development.

Surveys in both regions — ASEAN and EU — have shown that support for both has been higher among the newer member states. The former Eastern European countries that were once part of the Soviet bloc welcomed entry into EU and their populations knew more about the EU than their counterparts in the United Kingdom, France or Germany.

Likewise, the highest levels of support for ASEAN have come from the populations of countries like Vietnam, who are relative newcomers. Sadly, in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore, ASEAN seems to be something taken for granted by the younger generation.

That this is the case is perhaps understandable, for people often seem less complimentary about what they take as a given. But the younger generation of ASEAN citizens ought to be reminded that they are living in an ASEAN region that is very different from the place inhabited by their parents and grandparents.

Every time I visit Java to lecture at universities there, I am struck by a new phenomenon that was absent three decades ago: young Malaysian or Singaporean backpackers travelling on holiday in Indonesia.

In the 1970s, the only backpackers across ASEAN were Westerners, but today we see the rise of new constituencies, ranging from ASEAN holiday-makers to ASEAN expatriates, travelling freely across a region that is increasingly seen as the common home to all.

As we look to 2015 and beyond, we need to constantly remind ourselves that the ASEAN community is a construct that was the result of protracted diplomacy and political agency, and not an essential or teleologically given fact.

The next (third) generation of ASEAN citizens must renew their interest and commitment to keep the ASEAN idea and ideal alive, in order for it to have continued relevance to our lives and livelihood. The challenges that ASEAN will face are many, and mostly beyond the ambit of speculation.

In the decades to come, ease of movement (with the introduction of a single ASEAN visa, etc) will mean that the circulation of peoples, commodities and ideas will intensify; bringing the region closer together.

Yet, this is a region where local national politics is occasionally prone to bouts of extreme hyper-nationalism, a centrifugal force that threatens the cohesion of ASEAN. In the same way that the EU will fall apart if countries like the UK, France or Germany decide to go their own way, ASEAN may also falter if key members decide to break from the convoy.

Then there is the question of ASEAN’s identity and cohesion as it comes under pressure from external variable agents and actors, which is bound to happen. In the coming decades, ASEAN will have to live with the evident disparity in terms of its military power vis-a-vis countries like China, whose proximity to ASEAN states like Vietnam and the Philippines means that it looms large in their foreign policy calculations.

It is imperative that ASEAN develop a consistent and coherent (though not necessarily homogenous) voice when it comes to dealing with these external factors. Furthermore, Japan, India and, of course, America and Australia will remain as powerful and influential external actors that will likewise impact on ASEAN’s development.

Such considerations may seem academic to most ASEAN citizens, but they are nonetheless important and, in the long run, relevant to us all. The onus is, therefore, upon us — the present-day generation of ASEAN leaders, bureaucrats, technocrats and scholars — to impress upon our fellow citizens the need to keep the ASEAN idea alive post-2015.

Let us not make the fatal mistake of valuing ASEAN only after it falters, for nostalgia and the longing for opportunities missed is merely a reminder of our failures in the present.

Dr Farish A. Noor is senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Government Business?

April 28, 2011

Government Business?

by SakmongkolAK47

The Prime Minister (PM) announced a slew of projects. He said these are part of the great ETP. My first reaction is since when does the PM of Malaysia become the chief spokesman for corporate Malaysia?

Whether private companies have their business plans announced by the PM or not, they will still expand their business. It’s also disturbing to know that the PM is repeating some EPP projects that were already announced before.

So, if the business plans of private companies are all owned and belong to private companies, is it necessary to have them announced by the PM? The answer is no. Each year Shell, for example, has new investments. Each year their people in various departments submit capex expenditures and what not. They do that as a matter of fact and business-like without demanding they be announced with much fanfare.They carry them out unannounced thus far. Its shareholders will come to know of these business plans in official newsletters or published annual reports.

Even if the PM announces them, it doesn’t add any substantial value other than placing the business plans in high-profile mode. The government doesn’t have a hand in the business plans of private companies. It doesn’t spend a single sen on them.

Mr Economic Transformation

I am more interested if the government announces its plans over the spheres it controls directly. People are interested to know the future of the general price levels. They want to know whether government will do anything that will increase the price of RON 95 petrol. Very soon people will be making noises on the frequent increase in RON 97 petrol. It’s as though, you keep RON 95 down by upping the price of RON 97. Then, the price of RON 95 is kept artificially low as a matter of expedience. Very soon doing so will be seen as market unfriendly.

Whereas the PM has been talking about market-friendly approaches. The NEM, for example, is said to be the NEP with market-friendly approaches. Well, in the case of managing the price of petroleum, this administration’s approach is market unfriendly.

I am also puzzled as to why government departments want to pay Tricubes 50 sen per email. You mean to say, despite the millions of investments in IT infrastructure and training, the people manning the IT facilities in government departments cannot hook up to G-mail and Yahoo? Does it cost that much to send emails directly through G-mail and Yahoo? No. It is free.

This emergence of Tricubes and its business plan are very suspicious. Suddenly those trained in computer abilities in government departments appear to have lost their skills overnight. They now want to farm out the sending of emails to a company known as Tricubes. The public will be asking why?

Of course, its voluntary you say. But the government is paying on our behalf for a service that can be gotten free. This simply means creating an artificial business plan to justify spending public money. —

World Bank on Malaysia’s Brain Drain

April 28, 2011

World Bank on Malaysia’s Brain Drain

More than one million Malaysians live abroad, the World Bank said today, adding that policies favouring Malays are holding back the economy, causing a brain drain and limiting foreign investment.

In a Bloomberg news service report today, World Bank senior economist Philip Schellekens (right) was also quoted as saying that foreign investment could be five times the current levels if the country had Singapore’s talent base.

“Migration is very much an ethnic phenomenon in Malaysia, mostly Chinese but also Indian,” Schellekens  told Bloomberg in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday ahead of the report’s release today.

Governance issues and lack of meritocracy are “fundamental constraints” to Malaysia’s expansion because “competition is what drives innovation,” he said.

Malaysia’s growth fell to an average 4.6 per cent a year in the past decade, from 7.2 per cent the previous period.

Singapore, which quit Malaysia in 1965, expanded 5.7 per cent in the past decade and has attracted more than half of its neighbour’s overseas citizens, according to the World Bank.

Malaysia has in recent years unveiled plans to improve skills and attract higher value-added industries.The World Bank conducted an online survey in February of 200 Malaysians living abroad in conjunction with the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

They cited better career prospects, social injustice and higher wages as their main reasons for leaving, the Washington-based lender said in the Bloomberg report. Singapore has absorbed 57 per cent of Malaysia’s overseas citizens, with almost 90 per cent of those crossing the border ethnic Chinese, the World Bank said.

“If Malaysia has the investment environment of Singapore and also had the innovation and skills environment of Singapore, then foreign direct investment inflows into Malaysia could be about five times larger,” Schellekens said in the Bloomberg report.“They need to boost productivity and strengthen inclusiveness.”

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has pledged to roll back the country’s NEP-style policies but he also told the UMNO General Assembly last year that the government’s social contract of providing benefits to Bumiputeras cannot be repealed.

According to the Bloomberg report, Najib has eased some rules to woo funds, including scrapping a requirement that foreign companies investing in Malaysia and locally listed businesses set aside 30 per cent of their Malaysian equity for indigenous investors. Last year, he unveiled an economic transformation programme under which the government identified US$444 billion (RM1.3 trillion) of projects from mass rail transit to nuclear power that it would promote in the current decade.

“If everything is implemented as they say, Malaysia is going to be a star economy,” Schellekens told Bloomberg. “The problem is implementation.”

Singapore Elections 2011: The Key Issues and New Faces

April 28, 2011

Singapore Elections 2011: The Key Issues and New Faces

Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) faces its strongest challenge since independence when its citizens go to the polls on May 7.

Although Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s PAP should easily retain its large majority, his party will be contesting 82 of the country’s 87 parliamentary seats, up from just 47 of the 84 seats in the last parliament.

Candidates representing the city-state’s opposition parties are also of a higher caliber and include a top corporate lawyer and several former high-ranking civil servants.

Singapore’s two long-serving opposition members are not defending their single-member seats and will lead teams to contest multi-seat group representation constituencies (GRCs) that the PAP has never lost.

At the last general election in 2006, the PAP clinched 82 of 84 elected seats with 66.6 percent of the vote. The ruling party got 75.3 percent of the vote in the previous elections in 2001 when opposition parties contested fewer than half the seats.

Key Risks

Should the PAP, which has ruled Singapore since independence in 1965, see a substantial dilution in the share of votes, it could lead to:

- A government that is more susceptible to populist pressure

- Singapore being less welcoming of foreign workers

- Further efforts to cool down property prices, especially in the mass market

Key Issues

- Immigration. Foreigners now make up 36 percent of Singapore’s population of 5.1 million, up from around 20 percent of 4 million people a decade earlier, which is becoming an irritant to many citizens.

They have complained about competition for jobs and housing, the dilution of Singapore’s national identity, as well as increasingly crowded roads, buses and trains.

For the many foreigners who work in Singapore, and firms that use the city-state as their regional base, the key issue is whether the government will continue the open immigration policies that makes it easy for foreigners to work in Singapore if there is a sharp drop in support for the PAP.

- Inflation and inequality. Relatively high inflation and income inequality could also affect support for the PAP.

Despite stellar economic growth in one of Asia’s wealthiest nations, many poorer Singaporeans feel they have fallen through the cracks as government policy is focused on expansion and attracting foreign investment.

GDP grew 14.5 percent last year, but government data shows the city-state’s median household income rose a much smaller 3.1 percent, or 0.3 percent after adjusting for inflation, to S5,000 ($4,022) a month last year.

Singapore’s bottom 10 percent of households with at least one working member had an average monthly income of S$1,400 last year, versus S$23,684 for households in the top 10 percent, according to the Department of Statistics.

Prices are also a worry. Singapore’s inflation rate is currently running above 5 percent and the central bank recently said consumer price index (CPI) inflation will likely come in at the upper end of a 3-4 percent range this year.

- Housing. Many young Singaporeans feel they can no longer afford homes, unlike their parents’ generation, and they feel that government’s immigration policies are partly to blame.

Singapore has one of the world’s highest rates of home ownership at 87 percent, thanks to a home-building programme to provide cheap housing for its citizens that began in the late 1960s. But the government’s Housing and Development Board (HDB) is building fewer flats and charging more for them.

The Workers’ Party, the strongest of Singapore’s small opposition parties, said in its manifesto it would price new government-built HDB apartments at a level such that buyers will take 20 years to pay off their mortgage instead of 30.


- The spread of new media tools such as Facebook and YouTube has allowed opposition parties to bypass the state-controlled media to recruit members and reach out directly to the electorate.

- Top government officials such as former army chief Major-General Chan Chun Sing and former central bank chief Heng Swee Keat have joined the PAP for the election.

- Newcomers in the opposition ranks include top corporate lawyer Chen Show Mao, who studied at Harvard, Oxford and Stanford, and Kenneth Jeyaretnam, a hedge fund manager with double first-class honours from Cambridge. Chen last year advised Agricultural Bank of China on its $22 billion initial public offering — then the world’s largest.

What’s at stake?

- Singapore has been divided into 15 group representation constituencies (GRCs) of four to six seats each, and 12 single member constituencies (SMCs), for a total of 87 Parliamentary seats.

- The party winning the most votes in a multi-member constituency takes all its seats. The PAP has never lost a GRC since the system was introduced in the 1988 election.

- If parties opposed to the ruling PAP win fewer than 9 seats, losing candidates with the largest percentage of votes will be appointed non-constituency MPs (NCMPs), who can speak in parliament but cannot vote on finance or constitutional bills.

- Political parties can start campaigning with immediate effect now that nominations are over. There is a one-day “cooling off” period on May 6 when campaigning is not allowed, and full results of the May 7 election will be available early on May 8.

Reporting by Kevin Lim and Walter Sim; Ed

The Mind of a Future Leader

April 28, 2011

The Mind of A Future Leader

by Dr Bakri Musa
Morgan-Hill, California

It is within us to abandon our personal as well as collective coconut shell.  Of course, with enlightened leadership the process would be greatly facilitated. With skills and ingenuity we could leverage the very elements of our culture that had imprisoned us to instead free us.

Consider our excessive deference and unquestioning loyalty to authority figures.  If perchance we were to be miraculously endowed with an enlightened leader, someone with an open mind and a growth mindset, who accepts and indeed encourages criticism of her leadership, then we would readily emulate her and our society would be transformed in short order.

China: Mao and Deng

Consider China; it long endured the stifling rule of communism under Chairman Mao who led that huge nation from one giant leap after another into the abyss.  It took the diminutive and uninspiring leader in the person of Deng Xiaoping with a different mindset and a free mind to change direction, and the whole nation followed through, in their Confucian tradition of “follow the leader.”  In one generation, that nation was transformed.

This “follow the leader” mentality is typical not just of China but of all developing societies, Malay society included.  I go further and posit that this blindly follow-the-leader mindset is what keeps those societies behind.  It is also precisely with such societies that the role of leaders is crucial in emancipating the people.

If we were leaderless but yearn to topple our coconut shell, that would still be achievable but the path would be less smooth and take longer.  We would also have to endure uncertainties and possible turmoil.  This is where Tunisia and Egypt are now.  They will eventually reach their goal, but the journey will be long and the views not very scenic.

With a competent leader, the transition would be faster, smoother, less traumatic and more likely to be successful, as with the Irish and Quebec’s “Quiet Revolutions” of the 1960s and 70s respectively.  Malaysia is a democracy; we can choose our leaders.  The electoral process may not be pristine but then politics even in the most mature democracies never is.

Patterns of Leadership

Leaders cannot be leaders without followers; thus the leader-follower dynamics is equally crucial.  We can intuitively appreciate that the talents required to be a platoon leader is very different from that of an academic physics department.  Even for the same organization, you can have many successful personality types and leadership styles.  A leader who is excellent during a certain period of time would be downright dangerous in another.  Winston Churchill was a great leader of wartime Britain.  Come peace however, the people rightly rejected him.  Had he continued to lead Britain after World War II, the ensuing Cold War would not have remained cold.  Churchill’s uncompromising stand against communism, reflected in his haughty Iron Curtain speech, would have plunged the world into another great war.

Leaders must have a free mind and growth mindset to adapt, grow and learn with the inevitable changes in society.  This is particularly true with a plural society, or one rapidly changing as a consequence of urbanization and globalization.  And Malaysian society is all that. A leader is to an organization what wings are to a plane. 

Likewise with society; it requires different leaders depending on the stage of development.  It is the rare individual who could successfully make the transition from one pattern of leadership to another.  Most stay put long after their leadership style has proven no longer effective with the changed circumstances.

In my book Towards A Competitive Malaysia I describe three patterns of leadership.  One is the pyramid-type or military style, with one commanding general at the top, followed by a few subordinate generals, then many colonels and many more majors, and sergeants, finally ending with the enlisted soldiers.  This is strictly a top-down, command-and-control organization.

This leadership is best suited for an emerging society where its members are not sophisticated or well educated, or one long oppressed through colonialisation.  This was MacArthur’s leadership of Japan right after the humiliation of World War II; it was remarkably effective and efficient.

In a developed society this leadership is needed during times of crisis, as in America in the aftermath of 9-11 terrorists’ attack of 2001.  This should be the leadership during the Katrina hurricane devastation of New Orleans in 2005.  That it was not contributed to the widespread and prolonged anarchy following that tragedy.

Tun Abdul Razak

This was the leadership of Tun Razak following the May 1969 race riots; it was highly effective.  In the annals of civil disturbances and racial conflicts, that incident was mercifully brief.  This fact is greatly underappreciated. For perspective, compare the Catholic-Protestant “troubles” of Northern Ireland; it is still going to this day.  Then there is the sectarian violence in nearby

The second style is the coaching model.  The coach has almost absolute power over his players.  He is not answerable to them rather to forces outside the team:  the owners and fans.  If the team does not perform, it is the coach who will get fired.

While the coach is the most powerful person in the team, he (or she) is not the most well known or even the highest paid.  The players often get star billing and paid many times more.  The skill of a coach leader lies in her ability to merge the various talents in her team towards a common goal:  beating the opposing team.  Where the military model of leadership is pyramidal, the coaching style is more like a school house block, with a long one or two storey blocks on either side of a central administrative tower only a few stories higher.  It is flat and efficient.

The third model is that of a symphony conductor.  Like the sports team, here too you are dealing with a group of talented and accomplished individuals, the musicians.  As leader you do need to shout in order to be heard; your followers will hear you loud and clear through your performance as leader.

While an orchestra can perform without a conductor, in order for it to shine it needs a skillful conductor.  The pattern is akin to the Ferris wheel, with the conductor in the center connected by spokes to the musicians in the periphery.  They in turn are connected to each other via the rim.  Those musicians have to communicate not only with the conductor but also with each other.  With a Ferris wheel, if the load is not balanced there will be considerable vibrations when the wheel rotates.  Uncorrected it could make the wheel explode; likewise with an orchestra.

This orchestra style of leadership is seen in think tanks, academic departments, and research laboratories.  All the participants (followers) are like the musicians – talented and skillful in their own right, and could perform on their own without a leader.

Malaysians have long emerged from our feudal ways although especially for Malays we are still entrapped by their many elements, as for example, our excessive deference to authority figures.  We are also better educated and more informed today.  We are definitely more open to the world, actively engaged in foreign trade and exchanges.  The authoritarian military style of leadership would definitely push us back.

It is questionable whether are ready for the symphony or coaching model of leadership.  We are in a transition mode; we need to be pushed away from the top-down command-and-control military leadership towards a flatter coaching or symphony model.

My preference is for the orchestra model.  For that to be effective we need to make our citizens better informed and more critical.  I would accept an authoritarian coach model provided that the leader acknowledges and respects our individuality and utilizes and channels our talents towards an agreed goal.  My acceptance of an authoritarian streak in a leader carries a major – and very major – caveat.  That is, if she fails us in our common mission, she ought to be fired right away.  Therein lies the difficulty!

A leader is not a zookeeper, content with keeping his animals healthy, well fed and able to procreate.  A lion penned and has be fed is no lion no matter how loud its roar is; a pampered overgrown pussy, maybe.

Each of us is a leader and a follower at the same time.  I am leader of my family and of my surgical team, while I am a follower in the greater scheme of things.  Today you are a follower; some of you are already leaders of your fellow students.  All of you are leaders, for now only to your younger siblings, cousins and nephews.

As leaders you should encourage your followers to be critical and unafraid to challenge your views.  You should go beyond merely tolerating to actively encouraging and embracing criticisms.  You should never equate questioning and criticism with impudence or disloyalty.  Likewise, as followers you should never hesitate to criticize your leaders.  Do not seek refuge behind some misguided notion of loyalty, politeness, or patriotism.

Today Malaysians are plagued with leaders who are determined to outmatch their predecessors in cronyism, corruption and nepotism, quite apart from sheer incompetence.  Einstein observed that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is insanity.  He was partly right; it would be insanity only if you were to ask the same individuals to do it repeatedly.  Incidentally, that insanity applies both ways; to you as well as those you tasked with the job.  However, if you were to ask someone else more competent, the results may well surprise you, and it would be far from insanity.

The New Economic Policy, the National Development Policy, and now The New Economic Model; they are all essentially the same and executed by the same cast of incompetent characters.  And we expect a different result.  Now that’s insanity!

As alluded earlier and not to be unnecessarily Pollyannaish, our very weakness – lacking a free mind and tendency to follow our leaders blindly – could be ingenuously harnessed as a potential strength.  Imagine if we were to be blessed with a competent and enlightened leader, one self-confident enough to welcome criticisms and appreciate our individuality.  That is a tall order; nonetheless imagine if we were to be so blessed.  Then with our cultural propensity to follow the leader, our society would be transformed in short order:  free minded and open to criticisms.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful!

Just to show you that I am not day dreaming or been smoking something illegal, I will cite examples from our legends and history of such individuals, and how they have transformed our society.

Singapore General Elections: A Point of View

April 28, 2011

Singapore 2011 General Elections: A Point of View

by Eugene KB Tan*

Will the 2011 Singapore General Election (GE) mark the start of a truly competitive, two- or even multi-party democracy in Singapore? Or let’s take the question further — is a “freak” election result possible, with the People’s Action Party losing power altogether?

After all, this GE will see the most number of seats being contested since independence, with 26 out of 27 electoral divisions involved. Not only have the Opposition parties found enough people to field, this slate is arguably their best to date. About 2.2 million eligible voters will make their choice on May 7, and the battle for their votes will be earnestly fought.

It goes without saying that Aljunied GRC will be most fiercely and closely contested. The Workers’ Party (WP) has fielded its “dream team”. The question is whether there will be a marked spillover effect on the other seven constituencies the WP is contesting.

In these contests, how will the WP’s manifesto of a “First World Parliament” be received by voters vis-a-vis the PAP’s long-standing belief that our political system must produce a government with a clear mandate — a strong parliamentary majority that will enable it to lead decisively in Singapore’s long-term interests?

Arguably, the political destination for the WP and the PAP is the same: It is about making Singapore politically secure and sustainable. The key difference between the two parties is how to get to the desired state of affairs. It is one of the gamut of issues, including bread-and-butter ones, that voters will have to decide on.

Ever the shrewd politician, WP leader Low Thia Khiang has upped the stakes greatly by leaving Hougang where he has been Member of Parliament for 20 years to challenge a PAP team with three office-holders and one potential office-holder.

Low has indicated that if he loses in Aljunied GRC, he won’t take up a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament seat. In short, the WP is gunning for a win-big-lose-big. A lot rides on how convincing its alternative parliamentary model is to voters.

This GE sees the GRCs, rather than the Single Member Constituencies — conventionally seen as easier battlegrounds for the Opposition — being the focal points of key electoral battles. This time the Opposition has concentrated its best candidates in GRCs.  In some respects, the potential dividends from winning a GRC are much higher. And the Opposition parties seek to break the forbidding psychological and political barrier of having not won a GRC since the scheme was introduced in 1988.

What are some of the GRCs to watch? While attention will be riveted on the obvious hot seat, there could be “sleeper” hot spots that flare overnight.

One that is already shaping up for a gloves-off contest is in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, where skirmishes have begun ahead of the hustings.

The re-branded Singapore Democratic Party has fielded its “A-Team” including a former top civil servant, that will seek to engage the PAP anchor Dr Vivian Balakrishnan over his ministry’s over-budget Youth Olympic Games.

The SDP’s other GRC contest is in Sembawang, a traditional PAP bastion. In both divisions we can expect the jousting to be hard and fierce. Will we see a different SDP this time, having a distinct identity from that of its leader Dr Chee Soon Juan? Will it hold firm to campaigning on the social and economic issues it has identified in its manifesto – or will it be diverted by high rhetoric, side antics and verbal tit-for-tat?

Compared to Aljunied, the stakes for the PAP in Sembawang and Holland-Bukit Timah are not as high, yet the loss of even one GRC is a blow.

Certainly, in Ang Mo Kio GRC, even a narrow win by the PAP would hurt. The team helmed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is up against a hastily-cobbled Reform Party team and many will see his team’s performance as a proxy barometer of national confidence in his leadership.

Also worth watching out for is the PAP’s performance in what is popularly regarded as its GRC strongholds of Bishan-Toa Payoh, Marine Parade and West Coast. Despite public interest in Opposition personalities like veteran Chiam See Tong and NSP newbie Nicole Seah, the contests are the PAP’s to lose. It remains to be seen how the Jeyaretnam brandname will sit with West Coast voters.

So, how real is the possibility of a freak election outcome?Reform Party leader Kenneth Jeyaretnam (right)  yesterday dismissed the idea; PM Lee did not go down the route of fomenting anxiety over such an outcome, but said it was “good” to have a strong contest to “make Singaporeans realise more what is at stake at this election … it has very serious consequences”.

Indeed, the Singaporean voter has not been callous. In the 1991, 1997 and 2001 GEs, although the PAP was returned to Government on Nomination Day, voters still gave the PAP a credible mandate on Polling Day. Besides, playing up the fear factor of an upset may leave a negative taste with educated voters. — Today/

* Eugene KB Tan is assistant professor of law at the Singapore Management University School of Law.

In the UK, Monarchy is the IN thing

April 27, 2011

In the UK, Monarchy is the IN Thing

By Simon Heffner

With the royal wedding of our future king and queen two days away, it is the perfect time to reflect on the question of monarchy. The republican Left – and, unlike in Australia or New Zealand, our anti-royalists are almost to a man and woman socialist – is nearly bankrupt of ideas in advancing its cause. It is also bankrupt of popular support. There have been times – not the late 1990s, but rather the late 1860s and the early 1840s – when republicanism had a real grip on popular opinion in this country. That is not so now.

Republicans hate this. They tout arguments about the existence of a monarchy being a root cause of oppression, economic decline, and no doubt soon global warming, but still encounter an ocean of indifference among those of their audience who are not (their intelligence insulted) deeply hostile to them. We do not have a monarchy, let alone a constitutional monarchy, by accident. Decisions have been taken at certain times that we shall have one, and that it shall take the form it does. It is there, doing what it does, with the consent of the people. There is no mass movement against the institution precisely because it works, and works well.

No monarchist should fear republicanism, the leaders of which will continue to be boring, chippy and irrelevant until even the BBC tires of having them on for reasons of “balance”. (The “balance” point is interesting. Since most opinion polls show a four to one endorsement of the monarchy, shouldn’t the BBC put up four monarchists every time they ask one of these droning loons on? I only ask.) What we should fear, though, is the grandstanding interference of politicians.

Once, we had prime ministers who understood the constitutional settlement in this country so well that they knew not to play about with it. That is not so today. Even so prominent an example of what happens when you muck about with the constitution as the present state of the House of Lords, which has become a whole stable of Caligula’s horses, does not deter these people. Because Mr Clegg, our struggling Deputy Prime Minister, thinks the monarchy is an institution like any other, he has decided to seek to make it like any other, by demanding various changes in the way it operates. The full force of his ignorance has already met the full force of constitutional reality, and it has not been pleasant for him.

It has been disclosed that his plan to allow the marriage of descendants of Sophia, Electress of Hanover, to Roman Catholics has been vetoed by the Church of England, because of the far-reaching constitutional problems it would cause in terms of the monarch’s being the Supreme Governor of that Church. After all, if a future king married a Roman Catholic any child of that marriage would be required by the Catholic Church to be brought up in that faith. This would cause problems when such a child eventually succeeded as monarch and supreme governor of a different church.

Most of us could have told Mr Clegg this would be the case, had he bothered to ask. Perhaps he thought he would chuck in disestablishment while he was at it. Or perhaps he and the low-calibre people who advise him simply didn’t understand the consequences, any more than they appear to understand the consequences of the AV electoral system that they are seeking to push down our throats.

Nor, indeed, do they seem to grasp the consequences of another glib suggestion that Mr Clegg has tossed into the constitutional vortex, namely that semi-salic law, which dictates the order of succession, should be abandoned and that the first-born child of any sovereign should succeed to the throne. Mr Clegg’s thinking is straightforward, though shallow. We live, thank heaven, in an age of equality between the sexes. He wants this equality to apply as much to the throne as it does to a woman having the right to a job as a hod-carrier. I am told that there are few building sites with women hod-carriers; and, oddly enough, such a monarchy would provide its own, metaphysical difficulties. It is not just that to change this law, which appears to be harming no one, requires the assent of 15 Commonwealth parliaments. It would also require the amendment of any number of our own Acts of Parliament to bring them into line. I am not sure whether these ramifications are understood by Mr Clegg. He did not seem to grasp, in the matter of Catholic spouses, whether he wanted to chop up the 1701 Act of Settlement, or the 1772 Royal Marriages Act, or possibly both. Then there is the precedent set for peerage law, entails to heirs male of the body, and so on and so forth. Pandora’s Box doesn’t even begin to describe it.

The media have often been blamed for creating instability in the Royal Family, and rather a lot of that blame has been justified. I would not go so far as to say that some in my own trade had the blood of the late Diana, Princess of Wales on their hands, but it would not be too much of an exaggeration. The general public certainly have thought so, usually in those intervals between hysterically blaming the House of Windsor for her premature and lamented demise.

The manipulation of public opinion concerning the institution of our Head of State is a dangerous business. Newspaper and magazine editors and others in comparable positions in the broadcast media are not always perhaps so conscious of their responsibilities in this area as they should be. I fervently hope that Catherine Middleton is left alone in her private life in the way that her fiancé’s mother was not. But the media are not the main problem for the Royal family: the Queen’s ministers are.

It should not take too much wit for those ministers to understand two important points. First, there is no threat of the public withdrawing their consent from the monarchy, or showing any dissatisfaction with it as it is currently constituted: so there is no cause for politicians to start to interfere with it. Second, the public do not mind that this unique institution is configured in certain unique ways, such as having a Protestant succession, or following semi-salic law – so the politicians, who appear to have other, much graver issues with which to deal, should perhaps shut up and move quietly away.

Any attempt to change the nature of the monarchy would gratuitously weaken it. That is why the Prince of Wales must succeed his mother when the time comes (abdication either by her, or by him in favour of Prince William, would undermine the whole concept of monarchy); he is in any case far more popular with the public than some can bear to admit, as is his entirely harmless consort.

Would we rather have a political head of state, such as President Obama or President Sarkozy, both of whom now polarise opinion in their respective countries to a destabilising extent? Would we like the opportunity to have Chris Patten, who seems to have the reversion on all top public sector jobs these days, as our own Head of State? Or, better still, Neil Kinnock? That is where monkeying around with the monarchy would take us, and why we should be thankful indeed for what history has so wisely given us.

Singapore General Elections 2011: Lee Kuan Yew returned unopposed

April 27, 2011

Singapore General Elections 2011: Lee Kuan Yew returned unopposed in Tanjung Pagar

(Reuters) – Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of modern Singapore, was returned unopposed to parliament on Wednesday, but his long-ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) faces its toughest ever challenge at the polls from the city-state’s tiny opposition.

Eighty-two of the 87 seats in parliament will be contested in the general election on May 7, state media reported after nominations closed, the highest number ever. The only exception was the 5-seat constituency where Lee and four other PAP candidates were declared elected unopposed.

“I would have welcomed a contest,” said the frail-looking, 87-year-old Lee, dressed in trademark white shirt and trousers. “I assure you I will look after you for the next five years.”

Hundreds of PAP workers shouted and waved party flags as Lee, “minister mentor” in the cabinet, walked back slowly but unaided to his car after the nominations closed.

There is no suggestion the PAP could lose power. The party won 82 of the 84 seats in the last election, but faces criticism from voters over a surge in housing prices and the high cost of living, despite steering the economy out of recession in 2009 to last year’s record 14.5 percent growth.

Lee was prime minister from independence in 1965 until 1990, and his son, Lee Hsien Loong, is the current prime minister. The elder Lee is credited with the transformation of Singapore from a third-world, newly independent backwater into the shiny first-world financial centre it is today.

“Do not rock this foundation. Remember where Singapore came from and how difficult it was that we have got to where we are,” he said in a statement this week. “In the heat and dust of this election, do not risk your assets, property values, job opportunities. Make the right choice.”

Despite its stellar growth, opponents have criticised Singapore’s restrictions on political freedoms and on the press. The PAP’s near monopoly in previous elections has in part resulted from scores of walkovers in constituencies that the opposition did not contest.

This time the Workers’ Party, the largest of the clutch of opposition groups, has said it is aiming to win one multi-seat constituency, or five seats.It has put up its biggest stars — Chairwoman Sylvia Lim, sitting MP Low Thia Khiang and corporate lawyer Chen Show Mao — into the same constituency, which is likely to be the most keenly watched of all the contests.

There was some controversy over the walkover in Lee’s constituency. An opposition alliance filed nomination papers but election officials said they did not do so within the allotted time.

“It’s a feeble effort to show that they wanted to contest,” Lee said. “But everybody knows if you want to contest you go before 12 o’clock.”

(Additional reporting by Kevin Lim and Walter Sim; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Upbeat on Thailand

April 27, 2011

Upbeat on Thailand

by W. Scott Thompson

THAILAND truly is a land of contradictions. Bangkok is by far the glitziest city in Southeast Asia and coming from the moon, one would surely consider it the capital of a very rich country. But on Monday at lunch in the Normandy Grill (coat and tie required) atop the best hotel in the world, the Oriental, some distinguished economists bemoaned the chances the kingdom had to equal Korea or at least Malaysia in per capita income.

Yet Thailand isn’t doing badly for all the trouble it has had. It recovered quickly from the Asian financial crisis in 1997, which arguable it caused, and its growth continues respectably, as it has almost every year since World War 2 — an argument for the inexorability of compounding — when leaders let the bankers keep the country on a steady course.

But the army is now at “maximum alert”. Thai soldiers were killed on the Cambodian border, a conflict that has dragged on for more than half a century. Thailand was too blithe about its prospects in submitting the question of a temple, sitting on the border, and for which its historical claims seemed just, to the International Court, for arbitration.

Cambodia pulled a fast one by hiring Dean Acheson, former American secretary of state, to represent it — who won for Phnom Penh. This is not one of the world’s irresolvable conflicts; but centuries of hostility make it a tough one. They are sparring over whether there should be mediation and some Indonesian-supplied peacekeepers. Cambodia says yes, Thailand says no. The real problem is that neither side wants to drop it. The consequence is the loss of vast tourist spending for both sides.

And there are almost daily deaths in the south, though it is claimed that many rebels have turned in their guns. This one was solvable, but as I’ve written here before, the exiled leader Thaksin Shinawatra deliberately withdrew the intermediary presence of the Democrat Party, his competition, from its southern stronghold and ever since it’s been bloody.

Everyone here is howling about the “double standard” of the Culture Ministry — and the three girls arrested for stripping down a bit during the great water festival, Songkran.

Imagine! In Thailand of all places. Though this misses the point. The Thais think that “anything goes” if the doors are closed. Or rather, they don’t bother to think about it, if the doors are closed. But Thai culture demands propriety in public. The Thais are the greatest sticklers for public propriety, despite Patpong road and all that. Most farang just don’t get that.

So Thailand goes on its merry way; everyone in the capital is smiling, for one reason or the other. And I heard a very upbeat analysis, too.

A former and distinguished student of mine, who has held posts as finance and foreign minister, Surakiart Sathirithai, is optimistic. He’s also the first Thai statesman I’ve heard talking with sincerity about reconciliation, and he has believable plans for it.

Nor is he so frightened of the great transition that will come when the Crown Prince (left) assumes his royal duties. The royal duties themselves are time consuming, especially for one who has so many other “interests” to take up his time, especially abroad. His royal sisters each have a constituency to help fill the vacuum that will be left when the present king is here no longer.

Thaksin, in this narrative, being an astute businessman, can be persuaded to stay out of harm’s way — and the kingdom’s.

It’s of course essential that whatever government comes to power in the elections — with the blessing, of course, of the army and its powerful commander — tends to the needs of those who’ve worn red: more development funds for the poor areas especially in the northeast, better educational opportunities, the usual list. According to one columnist, the Red Shirt attitude is now to tell their “billionaire boss to please butt out, just give us your money, not your pearls of wisdom. Keep shut, will you?”

That should be good news for the prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva,(below right) but he has, not surprisingly, proved disappointing. He loves the politics of his job, but he’s there on sufferance of the army, and unlike Surakiart, isn’t a heavyweight. His programmes for alleviating the acute economic problems in the kingdom just haven’t gained traction.

The kingdom has always had a genius for letting a heavyweight emerge when really needed; one thinks of General Chatichai Choonhavan, who guided Thailand through tumultuous years of rapid economic growth two decades ago. Everyone is wondering who the new heavyweight will be.

But elections there will be. Factions are manoeuvring in age-old style, and politicians are changing sides — one suspects for more reasons than small change.

The Thai are very prone to self-criticism. But for all that has happened here since the economic crisis, from the serious illness of the revered king, the domestic fracas between red and yellow shirts, to the bloody crises on two borders, Thailand isn’t doing all that bad.

I’m not sure how many times I’ve visited or lived here in the past 42 years, but as always, I’d invest heavily in the kingdom if I could.

The writer is emeritus professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, the United States

Dilemma of “Dirty Hands”

April 27, 2011

Dani Rodick on Saif al-Islam el-Qaddafi: Dilemma of “Dirty Hands”

Harvard, CAMBRIDGE – Not long ago, a Harvard colleague wrote to me that Saif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, a son of Libya’s dictator, would be in town and wanted to meet me. He is an interesting fellow, my colleague said, with a doctorate from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE); I would enjoy talking to him, and I might be able to help his thinking on economic matters.

The meeting, as it turned out, was a letdown. I was first briefed by a former Monitor Company employee, who gently intimated that I should not to expect too much. Saif himself held photocopies of pages from one of my books on which he had scribbled notes. He asked me several questions – about the role of international NGOs, as I recall – that seemed fairly distant from my areas of expertise. I don’t imagine he was much impressed by me; nor was I much taken by him. As the meeting ended, Saif invited me to Libya and I said – more out of politeness than anything else – that I would be happy to come.

Saif never followed up; nor did I. But if a real invitation had come, would I have traveled to Libya, spent time with him, and possibly met his father and his cronies? Would I have been tempted by arguments such as: “We are trying to develop our economy, and you can really help us with your knowledge?” In other words, would I have followed in the footsteps of several of my Harvard colleagues who traveled to Libya to exchange views with and advise its dictator – and were paid for their services?

These scholars have been pilloried in the media in recent weeks for supposedly having cozied up to Qaddafi. Sir Howard Davies chose to resign as Director of the LSE, which awarded Saif his doctorate (which some allege was plagiarized) and took money for the school from the Libyan regime.

There is a strong sentiment that academics and institutions that collaborated with such an odious regime – often with the encouragement of their governments, no doubt – suffered a grave lapse of judgment. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s murderous stance during the uprising has revealed his true colors, regardless of his more moderate posture in recent years. And Saif al-Islam’s recent support for his father suggests that he is not the liberal reformer many took him to be.

But it is much easier to reach such judgments with hindsight. Were the moral overtones of dealing with the Qaddafis so obvious before the Arab revolutions spread to Libya? Or to pose the question more broadly, is it so clear that advisers should always steer clear of dictatorial regimes?

Universities all over the world are falling over each other trying to deepen their engagement with China. Most academics would jump at the chance to have a meeting with China’s President Hu Jintao. I haven’t heard much criticism of such contacts, which tend to be viewed as normal and unproblematic. And yet few would deny that China’s is a repressive regime that deals with its opponents harshly. Memories of Tiananmen are still fresh. Who is to say how the Chinese leadership would respond to a future pro-democracy uprising that threatened to undermine the regime?

Or what about a country like Ethiopia? I have had intensive economic-policy discussions with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in Addis Ababa. I must confess to having enjoyed these talks more than most meetings I have in Washington, DC and other democratic capitals. I have no illusions about Meles’ commitment to democracy – or lack thereof. But I also believe that he is trying to develop his economy, and I offer policy advice because I believe it may benefit ordinary Ethiopians.

The conundrum that advisers to authoritarian regimes face is akin to a long-standing problem in moral philosophy known as the dilemma of “dirty hands.” A terrorist is holding several people hostage, and he asks you to deliver water and food to them. You may choose the moral high ground and say, “I will never deal with a terrorist.” But you will have passed up an opportunity to assist the hostages. Most moral philosophers would say that helping the hostages is the right thing to do in this instance, even if doing so also helps the terrorist.

But choosing an action for the greater good does not absolve us from moral culpability. Our hands do become dirty when we help a terrorist or a dictator. The philosopher Michael Walzer puts it well: “It is easy to get one’s hands dirty in politics.” He immediately adds, however, that this getting one’s hands dirty in this way is “often the right thing to do.”

In the end, an adviser to authoritarian leaders cannot escape the dilemma. Often, leaders seek the engagement only to legitimize their rule, in which case the foreign adviser should simply stay away. But when the adviser believes his work will benefit those whom the leader effectively holds hostage, he has a duty not to withhold advice.

Even then, he should be aware that there is a degree of moral complicity involved. If the adviser does not come out of the interaction feeling somewhat tainted and a bit guilty, he has probably not reflected enough about the nature of the relationship.April 12, 2011

Dani Rodrik, Professor of International Political Economy at Harvard University, is the author of The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.