The Fault, dear Najib, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves

January 31, 2012

The Fault, dear Najib, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves

by Terence Netto@

COMMENT Really, there appears to be no such thing as a good time for Prime Minister Najib Razak to call for snap polls. By ‘a good time’, it meant conditions where positive factors outweigh negative ones for the re-election of the UMNO-BN government.

Najib has been trying to formulate and implement policies for this excess of positives over negatives since taking charge in April 2009.najib abdul razak in perth chogm 1But every time he feels he has a surplus of good vibes over bad ones, his government is upset by gremlins that have the effect of stalling the recourse to a new mandate as every new PM who desires validity for his reforms is impelled to.

The latest instance of this imp of misfortune dogging him is the attorney-general’s filing of intent to appeal the High Court’s January 9 decision to acquit Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim on a charge of sodomy.

Najib had begun capitalising on that acquittal the day it was delivered, citing it as a demonstration of the liberal reforms he had initiated under his government.

Ironically, this credit-taking had the effect of confirming that the judiciary had indeed been subject to the whims of the executive. But the opposition was not going to protest this indirect confirmation of their suspicions for obvious reasons: Anwar’s acquittal on a case that was filled with unconscionable gaps was right and fitting.

More expediency than conviction

But the sequel for the credit-taking Najib began to turn sour almost immediately. Right-wingers in his party, already angry that the Police had allowed Pakatan Rakyat supporters to gather in numbers at the judgment’s delivery, now clamoured that the decision be appealed.

anwar ceramah in melaka 040112When the A-G’s Chambers filed its notice of intent to appeal, the PM decided that not only would he have his cake – take credit for the acquittal, he would eat it too – absolve himself of responsibility for the appeal.

It would have been better if Najib had signaled his displeasure with the A-G’s decision. It would have suggested there was more conviction than expediency to his reforms.

But the PM is not a man of conviction so much as convenience. Talk of reform and transformation of the economy and polity trips easily off his tongue.

The jargon of progressive management drips from his government’s public relations vents but because there is no conviction behind it, the exploitative convenience behind the cupcake soon enough becomes detectable.

It would be wishful thinking for the PM to hope for luck with the good fairies of electoral timing. Thus far it appears these good fairies have frowned more than fawned on him. Because of this, the PM has had to resort to munificent measures his deficit-battling government can ill afford, such as the RM500 handout to citizens earning less than RM3,000 a month, to keep on the credit side of the ledger by which, supposedly, the electorate evaluates its leaders.

But even these inducements cannot dispel the fumes emitted by the scandals that almost continually occur on the PM’s watch.

Less than rosy prognosis

The cattle-rearing project undertaken by the Wanita UMNO leader Shahrizat Abdul Jalil is only the most sensational of the lot in that it contains details lurid enough to sustain the buzz among the chattering classes. As if all this were not bad enough, details of his wife’s sybaritic shopping expedition in Sydney on a recent vacation only serve to keep the embers of controversy glowing.

Furthermore, with the economic indices – stemming mainly from the glitz outlooks for the United States and Europe – pointing to a less than rosy prognosis for 2012 than that painted by the government, Najib must be wondering what would it take to create a favourable time for an election.

“I can call spirits from the vasty deep?” says a character in Shakespeare’s Henry the Fourth.To which the protagonist replies, “Why, so can I, so can any man. But will they come when you do call for them?”

Besieged leaders seeking a mandate must wonder at the elusiveness of a propitious time in which to summon electoral spirits from the “vasty deep.” With the clock winding down on his inherited (from predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s) mandate, with the downward draft exerted by recurrent scandals on his watch, and with the glitz of his reforms getting plainer by the month, can Najib avoid the musings of Cassius to Brutus in another of Shakespeare’s plays (Julius Caesar): “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

Dear Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

January 31, 2012

Open Letter to Dr Mahathir Mohamad

by Mohd Ikhram Merican

January 30, 2012
Dear Tun Dr M,

Many years ago, in 1986 or ‘87, I can’t remember the exact year, I had the pleasure of meeting you in a private family dinner. You were the guest of honour and I was a very young boy, excited to be in the vicinity of your towering presence. I had many things I wanted to say to you and when I walked up to where you were seated I could only manage one rhetorical question.

You were very kind. Although in the midst of conversation with my uncles, you stopped and gave me, a little boy, a few minutes of your time. I spoke to the prime minister. It was my two minutes of fame.

For the better part of my life you have been the Prime Minister of Malaysia. In all those years, I saw you as the best Prime Minister Malaysia has ever had. Sadly, I’m not so sure anymore. I don’t despise you or loathe you but I question your rationale for a good many things.

There are so many issues that I would like to raise with you. It is near impossible to cover everything here but let me start with your latest blog post titled “Kaitan Bangsa Dengan Bisnes”. The Malaysian Insider reported this with the headline, “Dr M: Scrapping race-based policies will lead to chaos.”

I find it hard to believe that scrapping race-based policies will lead to chaos. The status quo is more detrimental to the country in the long run. The existing race-based policies have done little to improve the plight of the Malays. In fact it has created a class divide between the Malay haves and have-nots. This WILL split the Malays because severe class inequalities have caused revolutions, even in singular nations.

You believe not everyone has equal capabilities and some people must be given special consideration in business and other areas based on their race. This is an argument that neither makes sense nor justifies special considerations. Let me elaborate. Would you allow an aspiring surgeon to become one via special considerations, even if he is inherently bad at it? And would you trust your life under the knife with this person? This is what you propose.

Allow me to provide a further example. UiTM was founded in 1956 (as Dewan Latihan Rida) to facilitate the creation of Bumiputera professionals. Fifty-six years later, it ranks among the last in the QS World University Rankings. While it is the largest university in Malaysia, and has admittedly created many graduates, it has done little to create world-class professionals.

The IITs of India were created with similar ideals to UiTM. The first IIT was conceived in 1950, a mere six years before UiTM. In the same QS World University Rankings, IIT Delhi ranks in the top 200. The IITs are internationally recognised for engineering and technology with entrance exams that are so tough, candidates use Ivy League universities as a fall back in case they don’t make the cut. Bill Gates has been quoted as saying: “And it’s hard to think of anything like IIT anywhere in the world. It is a very unique institution.”

This happens when you pursue meritocracy. In your blog post you ask if it is true that race consideration in business vis-a-vis the NEP has stifled economic growth. My answer is, yes it has. The NEP’s original intention was noble but it has become a tool to justify and facilitate nepotism, cronyism and, contrary to its original purpose, inequality. The nation’s resources have been unscrupulously plundered to benefit cronies NOT the common man, be he Bumiputera or not. Yes, we’ve had a good run under your stewardship but our fundamentals have been hindering us from the type of progress that Singapore enjoys. In short, a system that does not promote and reward performance is inherently flawed. If you need proof, look at Malaysia Airlines.

I quote the book “Winning in Asia” by Peter J. Williamson (Harvard Business Press):

“Those Bumiputera companies with a continued reliance on preferential treatment and local connections and without a broader set of competitive advantages have been unable to successfully expand internationally. To grow, they have therefore diversified across industries within their home country, often resulting in a loss of focus and an inability to build deep operational competence in particular businesses.”

And so again, yes, the NEP has stifled economic growth. You say that when the distribution of wealth is disparate between the races, there is a high probability of enmity between the poorer and richer races. After 40 years of implementation, and devoid of significant success, don’t you think there is a serious problem with the NEP as a tool to bridge the economic gap? Furthermore, the Malays, Chinese, and Indians have not been at each other’s throats during this period. In fact, it is the ruling coalition that regularly stokes racial fire. The race card has been played to the hilt and it is now a misnomer for economic and social stability. I wish you had more faith in us and our ability to co-exist.

Progress is hindered by fear. It is the fear of change, fear of each other, fear of betrayal, fear of riots, fear of racial tension and fear of so many other things that keep us from progressing. Amplifying our fears by attributing wrong causes to effects is not going to help with nation building. I believe that the socio-economic divide can be closed through prudent management of the economy, a world-class education system, observance of the Rule of Law, and nation-building policies. I ask that you use your influence to condemn corruption, nepotism and cronyism. This is the real problem that undermines Malaysia and stifles its growth. —

Wrong to admire Hang Tuah, says Mahathir

January 31, 2012

Wrong to admire Hang Tuah, says Mahathir

by Aidila (01-30-12)

Former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad today dipped his toe in the ongoing debate over Hang Tuah’s existence by saying it is wrong to admire the Malay historical leader.

Answering a question from the floor during the Razak Lecture Series, he said Hang Tuah is “too loyal” and was described as having done things that was “not admirable at all”.

“Here is a man so servile, so very obedient, so loyal and willing to kill his friend knowing that (Hang Jebat) was condemned to death for something he did not do.

“To kill his fellow Hang is not something admirable at all,” Mahathir told an audience of about 300 in Putrajaya.

Hang Tuah is often used as a symbol of servitude and loyalty for Malays, and his story is often invoked in call for support for local leaders.

On the question of the warrior’s existence, Mahathir said that “there must be some truth in the story” although not everything can be believed.

He said parts of the Hikayat Hang Tuah, like how Hang Tuah defeated everyone in the world, including Turkey, without even remembering how he got there does not gel with reality. “Much of this is fiction,” he said. In response, moderator Razali Ismail said that if the British can believe in the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table then Malaysians should be able to believe in Hang Tuah.

The controversy broke when historian Khoo Kay Khim earlier this month disputed Hang Tuah’s existence. Mahathir was speaking on leadership at the second instalment of talks organised by the Razak School of Government.

In his lecture, Malaysia’s fourth premier said that as difficult as it may be, society must be careful of the leaders they elect as it is difficult to get rid of leaders once they enter office.

“Even in a democracy, (an elected leader) may have powerful instruments to influence public thinking so the majority select him, when you know the majority was hoodwinked by the incumbent,” he said.

Leadership ‘musical chairs’

All the same, he said, society should also know to give leaders time to learn the job before ousting them, or it will be a case of leadership “musical chairs”. He said first-term leaders often cannot implement policies before it is time to worry about re-election, especially under the Westminister system where snap polls can be called after three years.

“There is no perfect leader in the world, no matter how good he is, he will do bad things.Please excuse the bad things and focus on the good things,” said Mahathir, who was PM for over two decades.

Responsibility while Protecting

January 29, 2012

Responsibility while Protecting

by Gareth Evans (2012-01-27)


Ten months ago, the United Nations Security Council, with no dissent, authorized the use of “all necessary measures” to protect civilians at imminent risk of massacre in Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi’s Libya. Those lives were saved – and, if the Security Council had acted equally decisively and robustly in the 1990’s, so might those of 8,000 others in Srebrenica and 800,000 in Rwanda.

I and many others hailed the agreement to intervene in Libya as the coming of age of the responsibility to protect (“R2P”) principle, unanimously embraced by the world’s governments in 2005. Its core idea – countering centuries of treating sovereignty almost as a license to kill – is that states must protect their own people from genocide and other mass atrocity crimes. If they manifestly fail to do so, the international community has the responsibility to act – by persuasion, if possible, and by coercion, if necessary.

Now, ten months later, the Security Council is paralyzed over Syria, unable to agree not only on the extreme step of military force, but even on lesser coercive measures like targeted sanctions, an arms embargo, or referral to the International Criminal Court. That inaction comes despite a death toll of well over 5,000 and an outlook even worse than in Libya early last year.

The hesitation partly reflects the very different geopolitics of the Syrian crisis: potentially explosive regional sectarian divisions, no Arab League unanimity in favor of tough action, a long Russian commitment to the Assad regime, and a strong Syrian army, which would make any conceivable military intervention difficult and bloody.

But there is more to it than that. Security Council consensus about when and how to apply R2P, so evident in February and March 2011, has evaporated in a welter of recrimination about how the NATO-led implementation of the Council’s Libya mandate “to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack” was carried out.

Leading the critical charge have been the “BRICS” (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). Their complaints are not about the initial military response – destroying the Libyan air force’s infrastructure, and air attacks on ground forces advancing on Benghazi. Rather, they object to what came after, when it rapidly became apparent that the three permanent Security Council’s members driving the intervention (the United States, the United Kingdom, and France) would settle for nothing less than regime change, and do whatever it took to achieve it.

In particular, concerns have been raised that the interveners rejected ceasefire offers that may have been serious, struck fleeing personnel who posed no immediate risk to civilians, and attacked locations that had no obvious military significance (like the compound in which Qaddafi’s relatives were killed). More generally, the Western powers, along with Arab states like Qatar, comprehensively supported the rebel side in what rapidly became a civil war, ignoring an explicit arms embargo in the process.

The US, the UK, and France are quick with some answers. Protecting civilians in areas like Tripoli that were under Qaddafi’s direct control, they argue, required overturning his regime. If one side was supported in a civil war, it was because a regime’s one-sided killing sometimes leads civilians (as in Syria) to take up arms to fight back (and to recruit army defectors). Moreover, military operations cannot be micromanaged with a “1,000-mile screwdriver.” And a more limited “monitor and swoop” concept of operations would have led to a longer and messier conflict in Libya, which would have been politically impossible to sustain in the US and Europe, and likely would have produced many more civilian casualties.

These arguments all have force, but the US, the UK, and France resisted debating them in the Security Council, and other Council members were never given sufficient information to enable them to be evaluated. Maybe not all of the BRICS are to be believed when they say that more common ground could have been achieved had a better process been followed. But the Western powers’ dismissiveness during the Libyan campaign did bruise them – and those bruises will have to heal before any consensus can be expected on tough responses to such situations in the future.

The better news is that a way forward has opened up. In November, Brazil circulated a paper arguing that the R2P concept, as it has evolved so far, needs to be supplemented by a new set of principles and procedures on the theme of “responsibility while protecting” (already being labeled “RWP”). Its two key proposals are a set of criteria (including last resort, proportionality, and balance of consequences) to be taken into account before the Security Council mandates any use of military force, and a monitoring-and-review mechanism to ensure that such mandates’ implementation is seriously debated.

Initial reaction among the US, the UK, and France was almost contemptuous: one could almost hear their leaders sneering, “These countries would want all of those delaying and spoiling options, wouldn’t they.” But that attitude has begun to soften – as it must. Brazil, for its part, has indicated willingness to refine its proposals to make them more workable and broadly acceptable.

Renewed consensus on how to implement R2P in hard cases may come too late to help in Syria. But everyone understands that the alternative to Security Council cooperation is a return to the bad old days of Rwanda, Srebrenica, and Kosovo: either total inaction in the face of mass atrocity crimes, or action outlawed by the UN Charter. After all that has been achieved in the last decade, such an outcome would be heartbreaking.

Gareth Evans, former Australian Foreign Minister and President Emeritus of the International Crisis Group, is the author of The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and For All.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2012.

The NST, Professor Emeritus Khoo Kay Kim and History

January 29, 2012

The NST, Professor Emeritus Khoo Kay Kim and History

The NST Editorial

Hang Tuah in History

“There should be no question that we should pursue the truth”–The NST

REWRITING or resetting history can be a tricky business, akin to traversing fields dotted with landmines, especially if it threatens to interfere with cherished memories. So, when historian Tan Sri Professor Emeritus  Khoo Kay Kim said there was no written record that the 15th century Malay warrior Hang Tuah, his friend Hang Jebat, or the princess Hang Li Po, existed, the response to this astonishing assertion was not predominantly academic curiosity.

Rather, various parties hastened to debunk Khoo’s theory by contributing their own assertions of why they believed that Hang Tuah and his friends existed. Malaysian Archaeologists’ Association president Datuk Professor Emeritus  Dr Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman opined that even though the exact era in which Hang Tuah is thought to exist is not really known, that the 15th century tomb attributed to him did not have a specific name on it, and that Hang Tuah and his friends might be mythical figures, this did not mean that studies concerning them could not still continue.

In some ways, although coming from opposing camps, Nik Hassan’s opinion partly echoes Khoo’s, who said that Hang Tuah and company could still be studied, but as mythical figures rather than historical ones. The issue has arisen from work being done by the Education Ministry’s History Review Committee, of which Khoo is a member. The panel was appointed to analyse and review the History curriculum. Khoo opined that school History textbooks should be rewritten so that they contained historical facts and not myths or legends, and that hearsay should not be presented as historical fact.

Although the matter may take some while to resolve, the Hang Tuah debacle is a perfect platform upon which to test how much we value history; more specifically, whether we dare to risk possibly having to give up our sentimental memories for the sake of pursuing and obtaining an accurate and authentic history. From the intellectual perspective, there should be no question that we should pursue the truth.

And, Islamic scholarly culture places the highest value on academic honesty; the complex and technical mechanism for authenticating hadiths (sayings of Prophet Muhammad) are the clearest example of the importance of accurate referencing  — a single questionable link in the chain of authenticity automatically excludes a hadith from being declared sahih (authentic). Ibn Khaldun, a 14th century Muslim philosopher and historiographer, was widely respected for establishing mechanisms by which to authenticate history. In teaching schoolchildren History therefore, we should strive to cultivate in them a scholarly culture that places a premium on honesty and accuracy.

Emeritus Professor Khoo Kay Kim’s Interview

Don’t Ignore Real Heroes

Tan Sri Prof Emeritus Khoo Kay Kim provoked a storm of controversy when he said that there was no evidence that legendary warrior Hang Tuah ever existed. Malaysian Archaeologists Association president Datuk Prof Emeritus Dr Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman has refuted this claim, saying the tomb of Hang Tuah in Malacca proves the legendary warrior’s existence. Literary figure Dr Kassim Ahmad, who compiled the Hikayat Hang Tuah, also stressed that Hang Tuah was a real person. So did he exist or not?
Arman Ahmad sits down with Khoo to find out.Professor Emeritus Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim says there’s a lot about our history that we don’t know about.

QuestionCan you tell us how this issue first came about?

Answer: During a talk at a local university, I posed a question to the audience.I asked why in our country today we tend to play up mythical figures instead of people who really contributed a lot to our country.

Very often, when I ask people who was the first Malay to be absorbed into the civil service, they will say they don’t know. Nobody remembers who was the first Malay doctor, too, for example. Many of these real role models are forgotten. Western society remembers its historical figures and separates legend and history. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said here.

QuestionThere has been tremendous hue and cry from the public after you said that Hang Tuah may have been a myth. Many people disagree with you. How do you feel about this? What caused you to speak up?

Answer: Hang Tuah was made popular through the Bangsawan theatre during the pre-war era. There is no doubt that he was very popular. But at the end of the day, what do you want to learn about in school as part of history? Myth or fact?

It is a bit upsetting that around Kuala Lumpur, you can find streets named after Hang Jebat and Hang Tuah but not named after real historical figures of the past. There is a street name Jalan Maharajalela, but was it named after the man accused of murdering J.W.W. Birch?  That man’s name was Maharajalela Pandak Lam. Maharajalela was just an honorific title.

 We all know Jalan Raja Chulan, but do we know who Raja Chulan was? The whole point is there is a lot of history that people don’t know about.

QuestionYou are an academic, but you now have to deal with a very politically charged topic. How are you handling all this?

Answer:  Times have changed. Once, our society was very particular about the truth, and whenever people make statements, they have to be able to back up their statement with facts. Today, you can say anything you like in public. You can read the writing  of bloggers online and they say anything they like.

In the academic field, you are not allowed to do that . When someone writes a thesis, he is not allowed to say anything he likes. He has to back up his statement with facts. Unfortunately, some people have begun to attack me.

I even learnt that someone asked (Malay rights group) Perkasa to report to the police that I insulted royalty, which is rather absurd really.

The great tradition underlying the Malay monarchy was how they could trace their lineage back to Iskandar Dzulkarnain (Alexander the Great). Hang Tuah was just a “Laksamana” and had nothing to do with royalty.

This is also the first time I’m being attacked by Dr Syed Husin Ali, but he is not a historian . He was never trained in history.

Question: The Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals), which is the primary record of history during the Malacca Sultanate, did mention Hang Tuah. How accurate is it in recording history?

Answer: The Sejarah Melayu is not precise historiography. It is a historical document if you want to know how people used to think in those days. But we cannot confirm how much of it is fact, and how much of it is pure fable. It does not record dates, and has characters that we cannot confirm existed.

For example, it does not tell us when Malacca was first founded or when a ruler ascended the throne or passed away. We have no knowledge when Hang Jebat died. History cannot be like that. It has to be very precise.

On the other hand, Ming records from China are very precise. They recorded the names of the first ruler, second ruler of Malacca, along with the dates of their reign. These facts were recorded at that particular time, and not some time after the incident.

We know from these records that in 1414, Megat Iskandar Shah came to China to report the death of his father, Parameswara. China had close ties and protected Malacca at the time. It is recorded that their first envoy to Malacca left in 1403 and arrived there in 1404. Ming Dynasty records are the best documents on history.

Question In Ming records, was Hang Li Po ever mentioned?

Answer:  Hang Li Po was not mentioned in the Ming records. Sejarah Melayu is not considered historiography. It is a literary text. Hang Tuah was never mentioned in the Ming records.

QuestionWhat does Hang — as in Hang Tuah or Hang Li Po  — signify? Is it an honorary title?

Answer:  This still can’t be concluded from our current body of knowledge.

QuestionCould Hang Tuah and his band of men have been Chinese like some people claim?

Answer: How can we justify that Kasturi is a Chinese name when it’s a common Indian name?

QuestionIf Hang Tuah did not exist, then why is there a tomb that supposedly holds his body in Malacca? Malacca state recognises this as Hang Tuah’s tomb.

Answer:  How come there is a tomb when he did not come back from the mountain (Gunung Ledang)? How come they accept part of the story and not accept the other part?  

QuestionMalacca State Museums Department Director Datuk Khamis Abas said Hang Tuah was a legendary Malay warrior and this was proven in the research. What do you have to say about this?

Answer:  He used the word “legendary”, right?

Question: Heroes like Hang Tuah, King Arthur, Robin Hood or even Braveheart, despite doubts over their historical integrity, have a tremendous impact in uplifting a nation’s spirit. Do you feel bad about deconstructing a national hero?

Answer:  From the time I started studying history seriously in 1956, we never talked about legends. We were always trying our best to find primary sources to write the history of Malaya.

Today, we have great bodies of knowledge at our disposal. There are hundreds of theses written by university students. Most of them are unpublished and in our libraries. Good articles can also be found in contemporary newspapers.

You have to be diligent in going through these sources. We do not encourage historians to sit on a comfortable chair and imagine things. If you are a man of letters, then you can do as you like.

Question:  What other historical figures or facts in Malaysia are myths as well?

Answer:  Not many. But at one time there was a big controversy about whether Mat Kilau was still living. We have British contemporary records that showed he died a long time ago. Then I heard stories, which could not be confirmed, that said this man was actually a Bangsawan actor from Singapore.

QuestionWhat direction will the new history curriculum take after this?

Answer:  It’s not ready yet. They are still discussing it. They have actually dropped him from the school textbooks for some time.  In the last four, five years, we have not seen him in school textbooks.

QuestionWhat other heroes have we forgotten but could be part of the school syllabus?

Answer:  Panglima Awang. He was taken to Portugal from Malacca and actually sailed with Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet. When they came back to Malacca, he had completed the journey around the world. He was the first man to sail around the world.

This is a real hero and his story is proven and recorded in history. It’s worthwhile to bring this back to the school syllabus. Another example is the first Malay doctor, Dr Abdul Latiff Abdul Razak,  from Selangor. In the old P. Ramlee films, you might notice that the doctor is always named Dr Latiff.  

Question: As a work of literature, do you think Hang Tuah the hero was a good role model? 

Answer:  When Tuah lost his weapon, Jebat allowed him to pick it up again. When Jebat lost his weapon, Tuah took advantage. If you want to teach nilai murni (good values),  who is the real hero? But, at the end of the day, it is up to society to decide, not me.

 Of course, for the Malay Muslims,  the Quran will give you the right answer for every situation. Still, Hang Tuah had his good values. But while praising him, it is important that we don’t neglect the real Malaysian heroes of history.

If you have a hero, then a hero must be able to cope with any kind of questions society may ask. Surely, the younger generation, with a scientific mind, must ask many things. You cannot tell them, don’t worry about whether he is real, just accept these values that we put across to you.

QuestionOur people have been very poor recorders of history in the past. Do you think something drastic needs to be done so that we not only record history but correctly interpret it in the future?

Answer:  History in this country has been so neglected. Our history is a jumble   that has not been properly verified by professional and well- trained historians. Our schools must educate the children properly about history. Children must know about their own society as well as country.

Malay history tends to be mixed together with fables. English and even Chinese history had tendencies to build up epics as well. But once they entered the modern age, science and technology became important. It is crucial that young people looked logically and critically at things. A lot of questions need to be answered.

You cannot give answers based on fables. The young people, when they lose confidence, won’t respect their own society.

QuestionHow do we verify the facts of history?

Answer:  We always have to rely on empirical evidence. You can speculate whatever you like, but at the end of the day, you have to admit that it is purely speculation.

In the past, they did not make a distinction between legend and myth when they recorded history. You also have to consider the fact that these hikayat were discovered very much later.

They were not available to the public in those days. One of the first people to collect Malay manuscripts was Sir Stamford Raffles when he came to Singapore in 1819.  If you take Sejarah Melayu, there are no less than about 20 versions.

QuestionDr Kassim Ahmad (left) said that Hang Tuah must have been based on some real person. What is your opinion on this?

Answer: We have no evidence of any kind. That’s the whole trouble. The modern study of history is almost considered a science — you must have proof — without proof how do you draw the conclusions?

QuestionAs a historian since the 1950s, do you think Malaysians appreciate history?

Answer: It is only beginning to be taught in the universities. Universiti Malaya was founded in 1949. The history department was very strong and very concerned about writing history from a Malayan perspective.

Before that, our history concentrated on what British officials did, and neglected the locals. The department of history  began to write the first Malayan-centric history.

QuestionThere are some people who don’t care whether Hang Tuah existed or not. They just want someone who represents their value sets and aspirations. What would you say to them?

Answer:  If we are concerned about studying the values of that period, then it’s a different discipline.

For example, it is very important that Sejarah Melayu and Hikayat Hang Tuah be part of Malay classical literature because they teach the value sets, but we should not confuse them with history.

Wisma Putra: A ‘Wander-ful’ service for Travellers?

January 28, 2012


The article in The Star by Tan Sri Mohd Radzi Abd Rahman (below) is shallow and it shows his lack of understanding of what Wisma Putra should be about. That is disappointing since he is the Secretary-General whose job is to provide much needed strategic thinking in the shaping of Malaysian foreign policy and the conduct of our diplomacy.

The consular service is a minor aspect of the Malaysian Foreign Office. As a former Foreign Service Officer under the Late (Tun) Ghazalie Shafie, I know that Wisma Putra is about the serious business of public diplomacy and projecting and representing Malaysia’s interest to the rest of the world. Certainly, it is not a travel agency specialising in the care of traveling VIPs and the issuing visas for visitors to Malaysia!

When I was living in Phnom Penh in the early 1990s, I was privileged to witness how Malaysian diplomats under our Ambassador Dato’ Deva Mohd. Ridzam’s leadership worked to represent our interests in Cambodia. Our mission was involved in advising Malaysian business investors, and helping then the fragile government in capacity building, providing invaluable intelligence to the Malaysian Government on political and economic developments in the host country, and networking with host country leaders and officials and members of the political opposition.

The Malaysians visiting Cambodia sought useful advice from our Ambassador and his senior staff. I was a witness to instances when Dato Deva intervened to ensure that Malaysians who got on the wrong side of the Cambodian law were given a fair treatment.  I am, therefore, surprised to  read that “many Malaysians abroad do not see the need to contact the embassy unless they are in trouble”.

Does this Secretary-General not understand that Malaysians do contact embassy officials when they are confident that they can get good commercial and personal advice, not because it has a “wander-ful service for travelers.” If Malaysians avoid the embassy, it is because they do not believe that the mission can help them.

Maybe, Tan Sri Radzi is now confirming the reality that Wisma Putra is now reduced to a consular office, post office and a VIP travel agency, all rolled into one composite whole, staffed by over paid, mediocre and incompetent personnel.  And that is indeed a great pity.

The article also reflects the intellectual quality of this top Wisma Putra official. I have yet to see a serious article from him about our foreign policy or listen to or hear of him talking at any public forum on Malaysia’s diplomacy. That is not surprising either since all he can do is to write an article on consular administration, which should posted on the Wisma Putra website, or given to BERNAMA for wide  coverage.

I have also not heard our Foreign Minister, Anifah Aman, speaking in Parliament even with prepared answers on foreign policy issues.  It is, in fact, an open secret that the Foreign Minister is afraid to face his adversaries in Dewan Rakyat. It is indeed regrettable that Wisma Putra is no longer what it was when the Late Tun Ghazalie Shafie was the Permanent Secretary, and Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Today, in public diplomacy, Malaysia is punching below its weight. Our diplomats can neither write nor talk English, the language of international diplomacy and commerce. During the 1960’s, our diplomats were well read and articulate. They were respected by their colleagues in the region and elsewhere for their ability to draft treaties, communiques. and press releases.–Din Merican

A ‘wander-ful’ service for Travelers

By Tan Sri Mohd Radzi Abd Rahman

Although many Malaysians abroad do not see the need to contact the embassy unless they are in trouble, the Foreign Ministry’s consular service is always ready to help.

THE public face of the Foreign Affairs Ministry is the consular service. This is an important arm of the ministry that Malaysians are familiar with.In the past year alone, around 15 to 25 million people entered and left the country. With the increasing number of Malaysians travelling abroad and foreign expatriates making Malaysia their temporary home, consular achievement has now become one of the yardsticks to measure the effectiveness of the Foreign Service delivery system.

Unlike the economic, political, bilateral and multilateral diplomacy the Malaysian diplomat is familiar with, consular service is the “citizen service” that deals directly with the ordinary people, who are treated as important clients.

The function of the consular office at Wisma Putra, or at the 21 Malaysian consulates and 81 embassies abroad, is guided by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 1963.

The consular functions include notary duties, attestation of documents, processing certificates of good conduct, birth registration, extending assistance to vessels and aircraft, and issuing of passports, travel documents and visas to persons wishing to travel to Malaysia.

Paramount among these functions is assisting its nationals within limits permitted by international law.

To many Malaysian diasporas, tourists and students studying abroad, the embassy is the consular office, and nothing more. The other functions of the embassy that deal with the privileged entities such as the palace, president’s office, ministries or people holding high appointments are hardly known to them.

In fact, Malaysians traveling or living abroad do not see the importance of coming in contact with the embassy unless out of necessity – such as to register a newborn, the renewal of passports, or when requiring emergency assistance such as during a tsunami, the Bali bombings, 9/11, the SARS epidemic crisis of 2003 or the 2010 volcanic eruption in Iceland that put air travel throughout Europe at a standstill.

A good number of Malaysians also appear at the consulate or the embassy when they are in distress, in cases where their passports, air tickets and money are stolen or lost and they are stranded with no change of clothes.

When this happens, one has to agree with Paul Theroux that travel is glamorous only in retrospect. Losing a passport through theft, negligence or disasters is one of the inconveniences for Malaysians when abroad.

In the case of a lost passport, the consulate or embassy is not authorised to issue a new passport to replace a lost one; it can issue an emergency certificate, a temporary, one-way travel document enabling one to travel home, but not valid to be used to travel to other countries.

All Malaysian embassies and consulates can facilitate the renewal of a Malaysian passport, but not all of them can issue a new Malaysian passport.

Where it is necessary for the embassy or consulate to forward an application for renewal or for a new Malaysian passport back to the Immigration Department in Malaysia, the process will inevitably take longer.

Within the boundaries of the consular functions, those who come for assistance are expected to be served with the highest level of professionalism.

The consular office can assist in notifying next-of-kin in the event the Malaysian is injured, arrested or detained.

It can communicate with the family or friends to request for emergency repatriation funds or arrange for the return of the remains of a deceased to Malaysia.

The consular officer also identifies bodies at the mortuary, visits those detained or imprisoned should there be a request from them to do so and ensure that due process of the law is accorded to them in the country they are arrested or detained.

To the Malaysian embassies abroad, the contact with Malaysian nationals is a pleasant experience. Especially at the embassies which are located where hardly any Malaysian travels, it is a delight for the Malaysian diplomat to meet another fellow citizen.

With the Government’s diaspora policy in place, a friendly contact with Malaysians working abroad is also useful. These individuals relate stories of their businesses, their expertise and the fascinating researches they are tasked to carry out at their new place of work.

With affordable travel, the world has become a smaller place.This means the consular offices have to be an effective problem-solver. In carrying out this task, the Malaysian diplomat is sometimes swayed by sympathy rather than logic.

On one occasion, a stranded Malaysian girl who was back-packing around Europe was “adopted” by the embassy staff with each one taking turns to provide her with food while waiting for her family to send over money for her return ticket home.

Upon reaching home, she sent a postcard to the embassy thanking them for the “five-star hotel” service and the excellent meals and warm clothes. Such instances are an exception rather than a rule.

There is only so much a consular office can do. Some consular offices are under-staffed and when unable to meet the expectations of the clients, they are sternly criticised and sometimes unfortunate stories get to the press.

What is helpful for the Malaysian traveler is to know what it takes to be in another country. They should come prepared, take pains to know whether a visa is required to enter the country, ensure that their passports exceed the six-month validity, bring sufficient money, have a travel and medical insurance ready, check websites of embassies and consulates in the country they are traveling and — as a precaution in case of emergency or natural disaster — register themselves at the embassy either by e-mail or in person.

The poet Saadi is apt when he said that a traveller without observation is a bird without wings. As a significant contributor to public diplomacy, the consular office assumes an important role in current-day diplomacy but when Malaysians work in tandem with them, the end-product benefits not only themselves but also their country – and not all those who wander are lost (J.R.R. Tolkien).

Ketuanan Melayu is UMNO’s lifeblood

January 28,2012

Ketuanan Melayu is UMNO’s lifeblood

by Salena

“This will be a never-ending game of race and religion orchestrated by UMNO. And you can add in the Hang Tuah card, too, unless the rakyat will put a stop to all these unethical abuse of cards in the coming 13th general election. As it is now, the cards are heavily stacked against Pakatan.”

If both Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat were alive today (alas, they are mere mythical characters!), it would be easy to tell which political party they will support, going by the statements they have made.

This is Hang Tuah’s statement: “Takkan Melayu hilang di dunia” (the Malays will never vanish from the face of the earth). And this is Hang Jebat’s statement: “Aku Jebat, rakyat biasa. Pangkat aku untuk kepentingan rakyat. Bergerak aku untuk membuat jasa kepada rakyat dan aku rela mati untuk rakyat kerana aku mahu keadilan, keadilan. Keadilan!” (I am Jebat, an ordinary citizen. My rank is for the people’s well-being. I work for the good of the people and I am willing to die for the people because I want justice, justice. Justice!)

No doubt about it. UMNO glorifies Hang Tuah in order to cement firmly the support of the Malays to the party as UMNO is all about Ketuanan Melayu or Malay supremacy. And this is clearly epitomised in Hang Tuah. This is the reason why Hang Tuah is glorified in our history textbooks – to imbue young Malay minds to worship Hang Tuah so that these children will grow up thinking that the Malay is the greatest race on earth. This then is the Hang Tuah card played by UMNO.

UMNO and Ketuanan Melayu are Siamese twins. Malay supremacy is the lifeblood of UMNO. Gluing the Malays to the concept of Ketuanan Melayu is UMNO’s trump card and there is no way Pakatan Rakyat can break this stranglehold.

The battle ground is now for the votes of the Malays, especially the rural Malays. But the Malays have always been taught to fear the Chinese while the Chinese have been taught to fear a repeat of an incident which occurred in 1969. The Barisan Nasional federal government thus controls the citizens by using fear as a weapon and what a mighty weapon it is.

Together with the weapon of fear is the weapon of Malay supremacy. So strong are these weapons that even PAS as an Islamic party has failed to counter them. The Malay support for PAS is only about 36 to 38 percent. And not many Malays support PKR either because they think that Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim has given too much leeway to the Chinese and the Indians.

Has UMNO programmed the Malays to be selfish and to only look after their own interests at all costs? There is no way the Malays will let go of Ketuanan Melayu and opt for Ketuanan Rakyat which is all encompassing and all inclusive. And this is also the reason why Pakatan will never win the general election. It is because the concept of Malay supremacy has locked up the Malay votes for UMNO.

Due to Ketuanan Melayu, the Malays tend to view DAP with suspicion and this has led to them to ostracise DAP. MCA does not suffer such a fate in BN as MCA is merely UMNO’s lackey while DAP is on an equal footing with PAS and PKR in the Pakatan coalition.

UMNO’s bogeyman

UMNO uses Ketuanan Melayu to frighten the Malays into thinking that the DAP is a threat to the Malays. This is, of course, untrue as has been proven in Penang but the rural Malays are unaware of this because they only have access to the mainstream media which is controlled by BN. Therefore, DAP is always used by UMNO as a bogeyman to scare the Malays.

Not only does UMNO play the race card against DAP, MCA does it too. And that is why MCA has been labelled as worthless eunuchs by the Chinese. In addition to the race card, both UMNO and MCA also play the religion card against DAP but in opposite methods. UMNO says DAP is anti-Islam while MCA says DAP supports hudud law. The religion card is used against DAP but played differently to different audiences.

To sum up, this is the way UMNO and MCA woo their respective race groups:

  • UMNO says this to the Malays: by supporting PAS, you will make DAP very powerful; and
  • MCA says this to the Chinese: by supporting DAP, you will make PAS very powerful.

Looks as if UMNO and MCA are still sticking to the old ways of communal politics – back to pre-Merdeka era style of doing things. With the existence of these types of political parties such as UMNO and MCA, how is Malaysia ever going to achieve a clean, vibrant and matured democracy? Therefore it goes without saying that BN must be booted out to put an end to the era of communal politics.

However, as the Malay votes are the deciding factor, UMNO is cunning in cornering the Malay mindset. OF course there are goodies for MCA and MIC too in order for them to toe UMNO’s line and get the votes of their respective communities, all for the benefit of UMNO. UMNO channels these goodies to MCA and MIC to keep them quiet.

This will be a never-ending game of race and religion orchestrated by UMNO. And you can add in the Hang Tuah card, too, unless the rakyat will put a stop to all these abuse of cards in the coming 13th General Election. As it is now, the cards are heavily stacked against Pakatan.

The TIME at Davos Debate: Capitalism Under Fire

January 28, 2012

The TIME at Davos Debate: Capitalism Under Fire

TIME International Editor Jim Frederick hosts a panel discussion on the future of capitalism: Can a system that came of age in the 20th century serve the needs of 21st? Joining Frederick tackling this question is:

  • Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Brussels; Global Agenda Council on Employment & Social Protection
  • Brian T. Moynihan, Chief Executive Officer, Bank of America
  • Raghuram G. Rajan, Eric J. Gleacher Distinguished Service Professor of Finance, Booth School of Business, University of Chicago
  • David M. Rubenstein, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Carlyle Group, USA
  • Ben J. Verwaayen, Chief Executive Officer, Alcatel-Lucent

Noam Chomsky–7th Edward Said Memorial Lecture

January 27, 2012

Noam Chomsky–7th Edward Said Memorial Lecture

There will be no entertainment this weekend. In stead, I have chosen to post some serious stuff for our reflection about life and personalities of great intellect.

Here I present to you Noam Chomsky’s Lecture in honour of his  friend, and  renown public intellectual and scholar, the late Edward Said of Columbia University.–Din Merican

Darwin, Humanism and Science–A.C.Grayling

January 27, 2012

Darwin, Humanism and Science–A.C.Grayling

I have posted a number of Prof. A.C. Grayling’s articles on the blog in the past. He is my favorite Philosopher of our generation. In keeping with that, I thought it would be a good idea if we listen to his lecture on Darwin, Humanism and Science. Below is some background that may be useful for us to understand his speech:

A.C. Grayling explores the idea of Humanism informed by Science

Humanism is a positive view of life that roots itself in the natural world and celebrates freedom, cooperation, understanding, creativity and compassion. It is a philosophy that allows people to affirm that they are responsible, ethical members of society, and justify it in a way that is compatible with modern science.

Most Humanists reject supernatural explanations for everything, including the most puzzling and seemingly unexplainable phenomena. We don’t, however, dismiss that some things that have traditionally been in the realm of theology deserve an explanation. Some of these important things include: The origins of the universe, ethics and morality, consciousness, emotion, and purpose. The project that is Humanism is to assemble natural explanations for all of these things into a view of the world that is logical, defensible, and most importantly: awe inspiring.

Doubt, Critical Thinking and the Scientific Method

“Take no one’s word for it”

One of the most core values of modern day Humanism is that it advocates the use of critical thinking and the scientific method in every aspect of a person’s life. Doubt is a feeling that is cherished by a Humanist because it has proven to be the great engine of innovation and progress.

Many say that one of the most important discoveries ever made by humanity was the scientific method. Since it has been adopted, the human species has been lifted out of millenia of dark ages and stagnation, and into a brand new world of understanding and discovery.

The scientific method is a self correcting process used for uncovering the nature of our world. Humanists believe that we are far from understanding the anything in it’s entirety, and only by subjecting all of our ideas to deep scrutiny and experiment will we ever get any closer. To a Humanist, nothing is beyond scrutiny and inquiry, not even the principles of Humanism! The fact that we are always open to being wrong, or not quite right is what allows us to move forward and grow.

Freedom, Cooperation, and Responsibility

“Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.”

Take a moment, and try to imagine your life as a hermit with absolutely no interaction with other human beings on a day to day basis. Think of everything that you would be responsible for, and think of how barren a life in isolation would be emotionally. It is a dark thought, but on the bright side, it would be next to impossible to realize in our modern day world.

There are billions of humans on this planet, and millenia ago we had the collective realization that it would be much better for everyone if we organized ourselves and cooperated in societies. Today we have no choice but to play a contributory role in this massive human adventure. Humanists not only accept this fact but realize that respecting our roles as members of society is crucial in maintaining and bettering it.

Unfortunately we have not yet been able to level the playing field for everyone born into this world, and to do so is a mammoth yet extremely admirable goal to which we strive. Humanists value systems of organization and government that encourage peace, freedom, prosperity, diversity, and sustainability.

And how about Richard Dawkins? He lectures on Charles Dawin and Evolution at The Humanist Society of the United Kingdom:

China-dependent Asia could be catching an Economic Cold

January 27, 2012

China-dependent Asia could be catching an Economic Cold

by Laura Tyson (12-19-11)

As 2011 draws to a close, there are growing signs that Asia is becoming caught up in the global slowdown, dashing hopes that the region’s economies would “decouple” from the prolonged recession in Europe and America’s lackluster recovery.

China’s export growth is slipping, owing to faltering demand in Europe, which has surpassed the United States as China’s largest foreign market. Indeed, China’s manufacturing activity is contracting for the first time in almost three years. Reverberations are already evident in other emerging Asian economies that depend on exports both to China-based manufacturers and to the US and Europe.

Decoupling did not occur in 2008, when exports accounted for about 45% of pan-Asian GDP (excluding Japan) and every emerging country in the region experienced a sharp contraction in growth as world trade plummeted. Nor is decoupling likely today, because exports still account for about the same share of the region’s GDP, and about 50% of these exports are still headed to developed countries.

So the idea of decoupling appears to be a chimera. Even if the euro crisis is resolved, austerity in Europe, along with anemic growth or worse in the US, will mean a slowdown in export-dependent Asia. But Asia’s economies can still grow much faster than the developed West if they respond to prolonged stagnation by rebalancing their growth toward internal demand, especially household consumption. The good news is that these economies have substantial room for such rebalancing, as well as the policy flexibility to accomplish it.

The share of consumption in GDP in these economies fell from more than 60% in the early 1980’s to less than 50% today. In China, it is less than 40% – far below the norm for the world’s major economies and for other Asian economies at a comparable stage of development – despite nearly 7% annual average growth in China’s per capita consumption in recent years.

The Asian economies are home to 3.5 billion consumers, but their share in global consumption remains small – much smaller than their share in global GDP. China alone accounts for 20% of the world’s population, nearly 11% of global GDP, but only 3% of global consumption.

China and most of the other emerging Asian economies have strong government balance sheets – the GDP shares of their budget deficits and public debt are relatively small. As a result, they have the fiscal firepower to boost consumption in order to mitigate the effects of declining exports.

True, many local governments in China are saddled with debt, some of which may need to be restructured. But the central government enjoyed a 28% increase in revenues over the last year, and has more than $3 trillion in foreign-exchange reserves. In addition, the moderation of inflationary pressure as a result of slower growth and cooling global commodity markets will allow Chinese and other Asian policymakers to shift their focus from containing economic overheating to rebalancing growth. In China, where inflation is falling sharply, monetary policy has already begun to ease.

Even with significant policy support, however, most of the smaller Asian economies – Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, and even South Korea – will not be able to replace external demand with internal demand to the same extent that China can. So, even with rebalancing, exports will remain a significant determinant of their growth, and China is already their major export market.

That is why China’s rebalancing is so important not only for its own economy, but for all of China-centric Asia. Intra-regional trade flows have surged during the last decade, but they have been concentrated in parts and components that go into finished products assembled in China for export to developed countries. With depressed markets in the developed world, intra-regional trade in the future will depend more on exports to satisfy Chinese domestic demand. Again, there is cause for optimism: China’s imports from Asia have been growing faster than China’s exports to the US for the last several years.

China responded to the 2009 global slowdown with dramatic fiscal and monetary stimulus, which fueled a rapid investment-led recovery at home and throughout Asia. Investment, mainly by local governments and state-owned companies with easy access to bank financing, soared to more than 45% of GDP, and, consistent with China’s long-run urbanization strategy, was concentrated in infrastructure and property-development projects.

Over time, much of the expansion in capacity will be absorbed, as an estimated 15 million people move from rural to urban areas each year over the next decade. But, for now, many investment projects are not yet generating enough income to service their debts (some of them never will), and there is significant spare capacity.

Confronted with another global slowdown that could depress its export markets for years, China needs to boost consumption even as it cools investment. And it needs to so in ways that do not rely on excessive credit expansion.

China’s 12th Five-Year Plan, which will take effect in 2012, recognizes these policy imperatives and calls for several measures to fulfill them, including wage increases for urban workers; income support for rural households; enhanced access to capital for small businesses, especially in the underbuilt services sector; and more generous social-welfare programs, which would reduce Chinese households’ high levels of precautionary saving. All of these measures are already underway, and Chinese leaders appear committed to embracing a new growth strategy that will benefit both China’s population and Asia as a whole.

The Asian economies should not count on being able to decouple from the economic woes of Europe and the US in the short run. But there are promising signs that, over time, the advanced countries’ difficulties will trigger a healthy, if belated, shift in Asia’s development strategy, with China leading the way.

Laura Tyson, a former chair of the US President’s Council of Economic Advisers, is a professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. She is now with the London Business School as Dean

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.

Get rid of the God Complex

January 27, 2012

Get Rid of the God Complex

A Very Good Morning to you. Listen to Tim Harford’s presentation on the Value of Trial and Error. This video is dedicated to politicians including the Great One  (Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad) and others in Malaysia with “God Complex”, who think they have answers to everything. God Forbid, if they should populate and rule the world. We have seen many of these characters throughout history like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Idi Amin in the 20th century.–Din Merican

 “When a politician stands up, campaigning for elected office and says I want to fix our education system, our health care system, I have no idea how to do it. I have half-a-dozen ideas; we’re gonna test them out; they’ll probably all fail; then we’ll test some other ideas out; we’ll find some that work; we’ll build on those; we’ll get rid of the one’s that don’t. When a politician campaigns on that platform, and more important, when voters like you and me are willing to vote for that kind of politician, then I will admit that it is obvious that trial and error works…”–Tim Harford

Tim Harford (born 1973) is an English economist and journalist, residing in London. He is the author of four economics books (Adapt, Dear Undercover Economist, The Logic of Life and The Undercover Economist) , presenter of BBC television series Trust Me, I’m an Economist, and writer of a humorous weekly column called “Dear Economist” for The Financial Times, in which he uses economic theory to attempt to solve readers’ personal problems. His other FT column, “The Undercover Economist“, is syndicated in Slate magazine.

Harford studied at Aylesbury Grammar School and then at the University of Oxford, gaining a BA and then an MPhil in Economics in 1998. He joined the Financial Times in 2003 on a fellowship in commemoration of the business columnist Peter Martin. He continued to write his column after joining the International Finance Corporation in 2004, and re-joined the Financial Times as economics leader writer in April 2006. He is also a member of the newspaper’s editorial board.

In October 2007, Harford replaced Andrew Dilnot on the BBC Radio 4 series More or Less. He is a visiting fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford.–wikipedia.

Asian Woman Power

January 27, 2012

Asian Woman Power

by Vishakha N. Desai

India’s Indira Gandhi, Sri Lanka’s Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto, Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, Corazon Aquino of the Philippines, and Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia – these women leaders dominated South and South East Asia for much of the past four decades.

Each belonged to a special class of women whose husbands or fathers were their country’s recognized founding father or longstanding political leader. But, while their dynastic links brought them to power, they were not the sole factor keeping them there.

When first elected, none of these women had any serious professional or political qualifications. For some, this “shortcoming” was seen as an advantage, enabling some of them to project an image of innocence and purity, even martyrdom, as they stood in the place of their deceased husbands or fathers. None was particularly focused on a women’s agenda (at least not in their first terms in office), and studies show that rural women did not fare particularly well under their rule.

But something very different emerged in Asia in 2011. We still have women leaders who came to power at least partly because of their family ties. But they now seem to use their positions with far more confidence in putting women and their concerns squarely at the center of their agendas. And perhaps more importantly, a growing number of women are reaching for the highest political echelons in their countries by dint of their political talents alone.

Sonia Gandhi (left), the Italian-born wife of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and daughter-in-law of the late Indira Gandhi, became India’s most powerful woman for dynastic reasons but she has consistently demonstrated that she is a shrewd behind-the-scenes political operator.  For her, the main task at hand is to strengthen the Congress Party, which in early 2011 she was elected to lead for an unprecedented fourth term. But she has also expended considerable energy on promoting women, particularly their representation in politics. Indeed, she pushed hard in backing Pratibha Patil to become India’s first woman president.

Similarly Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh’s prime minister, who carries the mantle of her assassinated father, has become a keen advocate of development issues, with a special emphasis on women and their needs. That agenda, missing in her first term, has dominated her current period in office.

In East Asia, too, women are on the rise politically. Park Geun-hye (right), daughter of Park Chung-hee, President of South Korea from 1961 to 1979, is now one of the two likely candidates to succeed President Lee Myung-bak. While Park derives some of her power from her family pedigree, she has proven to be an astute and seasoned politician – one who climbed the Grand National Party’s leadership ladder over the last two decades to emerge as a national figure. Her role in championing an inclusive agenda for women provides a new lens through which to assess the power of Asia’s new leaders.

Compare Park to Corazon Aquino, who, when elected President of the Philippines, famously remarked that she was simply a housewife, not a professional politician or an experienced leader. It was clear that voters elected her because she was the widow of the slain opposition hero Benigno Aquino. By contrast, no one would deny Park’s professional credentials. She is taken seriously more for her own experience and political power than for her family connections.

Even in Japan, a similar change is in the air, but with no hint of dynastic trappings. Yuriko Koike (left), a former defense minister and national-security adviser, is one of the country’s most powerful figures; indeed, she could become Japan’s next prime minister.

Unlike many other leaders of her Liberal Democratic Party, Koike has no real family connection to any major political figure. Instead, her standing reflects her unique political talents: an academic background in Arabic studies (she studied at Cairo University) and fluency in English, which give her a global perspective that most of her male colleagues lack. Koike is not the only Asian woman without family ties forging a political career that may lead to the top.

Indonesia’s Sri Mulyani Indrawati, a former finance minister and currently a managing director of the World Bank, is often mentioned as a leading presidential candidate in her country. Indeed, a party has been formed specifically to entice her to run for president in 2014.

In Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, is making a sustained and powerful challenge to the incumbent president in the election due in January 2012.  Having helped to draft Taiwan’s special state-to-state act that regulates relations with China, and then having headed the country’s Ministry for Mainland Affairs Council, she is well positioned to manage the thorniest issue any Taiwanese leader will face: the relationship with China.

Another newcomer to political leadership is Yingluck Shinawatra (right), Thailand’s Prime Minister. Clearly, one reason she swept to power this year were her ties to her brother, exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who controls the country’s strongest political party. But she made it clear during the campaign that she is her own person, a seasoned business leader with appropriate professional degrees.

Then, of course, there is the Burmese Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. The daughter of the founder of independent Burma, Suu Kyi is now engaged in perhaps the most delicate task of her remarkable political career – trying to engineer a true democratic transition from decades of military dictatorship.

Unlike the first generation of Asian women leaders, who gained power primarily because of their familial connections, the emerging crop are strong, confident, and ready to take on the challenge of leading their nations on their own terms. Their followers appear to see in them harbingers, unjaded by history, of the change for which their societies are clamoring.

At a time when, despite economic growth in Asia, there is much social and income inequality, as well uncertainty about the durability of peace in the region, the desire to find fresh solutions to problems has given a powerful boost to women leaders. They are poised to take their seats at the top table – and perhaps to change its shape.

Vishakha Desai is President and CEO of Asia Society, which will host the Women Leaders of New Asia Summit in Zhenjiang, China, April 19 – 21, 2012.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.

NFC: A Case of Greed, Corruption and Sheer Financial Imbecility

January 26, 2012

NFC:  A Case of Greed, Corruption and Sheer Financial Imbecility

by  Nawawi Mohamad, Wong Choon Mei, Malaysia Chronicle

Since PKR leaders Rafizi Ramli and Zuraida Kamaruddin blew the lid off the RM250mil NFC debacle with their well-timed series of expose’ and revelations of greed, corruption and sheer financial imbecility, the scandal has morphed from being a mess into a quagmire for UMNO.

Make no mistake, the UMNO elite are watching this case a very wary eye because NFC is also the gateway to UMNO’s Pandora box. If not careful, it can provide arch rival Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan Rakyat coalition with a political weapon of mass destruction for the 13th general election.

But scream and shout it may, UMNO has no one to blame but itself, its own greed and its own infighting for this very critical situation. What a blunder of fireworks for a grand finale of destruction for UMNO!

Even Houdini or David Copperfield could never make NFC and the spectre of the Shahrizat clan, their cows, condos and Super-class Mercedes Benz disappear from the people’s minds! Sad to say, the two magicians could never make the whole RM250mil government soft loan reappear for the people either!

‘Safest’ solution

Firstly, the UMNO elite have not been able to resolve the debacle amicably as they have been able to with past cases. Why? Two main reasons – the 13th general election and UMNO’s own internal polls later this year. Yes, instead of compromising and helping to cover up for each other, different factions are using the NFC debacle as leverage to defeat each other.

The ‘final’ decision – for now that is – is to whitewash the debacle. In other words, let Shahrizat and family squirm away, while Raja Nong Chik (right)- blamed for instigating the scandal because he allegedly coveted Shahrizat’s Lembah Pantai parliamentary seat – may have to wait a while more to get his wish. This is deemed the ‘safest’ solution – again, for now that is!

The whitewash ordered by the UMNO elite is actually what Youth Chief Khairy Jamaluddin had initially planned – which is to deny all wrongdoing and to distance themselves from the debacle. Of course, they would lose credibility and the confidence of everyone. But for the disgraceful UMNO, this is not, and will not be the last time.

So regardless of how flimsy is the explanation, how obvious the lies they produce, Khairy and the NFC other stars including Prime Minister Najib Razak, DPM Muhyiddin Yassin, Agriculture Minister Noh Omar will just brazen it out – like the Shahrizats. Anyone who asks will be told that everything is alright and there is nothing to be concerned about.

Obviously, Shahrizat – the Wanita chief – too likes the ‘whitewash’ option. She had been alarmed when former premier Mahathir Mohamad told her to quit before she was chased out of the party. But of course, Khairy will win her everlasting gratitude for taking her side and trying to clarify and justify the alleged wrongdoings. Even so, will the latest plan work?

Salleh and Datuk Fix-it

Salleh Ismail, the NFC boss, had tried to keep cool and stay quiet for as long as he could. But when the luxury condos in Bangsar, followed by another one in Singapore – which worse still was registered to their personal names – started to splash all over the newspapers, he could not keep quiet anymore.

Shahrizat too tried to disassociate herself totally from the debacle, saying NFC was her family’s concern and nothing to do with her. But to no avail because even her own UMNO women said that would be impossible. Salleh is her husband and she is his wife, and there is bound to be lots of pillow talk shared between the two – like any normal couple.

Then the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission raided the NFC offices, a tad too dramatically, prompting many to accuse the commission of helping to destroy rather than find evidence. As for the police, from initially saying it found no elements of “criminal breach of trust”, the cops U-turned and suddenly found there could be some basis for the Attorney General to prosecute after all.

The next Jack-in-Box to pop out was the unfortunate “Datuk Fix-it”. Initially, speculation was rife that Salleh had been arrested but it turned out to be another real ‘Datuk’, someone who mingles well with the high-and-mighty and does their dirty work for them. This “Datuk Fix-it” could be most fortunate if he plays his cards right.

In the NFC case, he was detained for trying to bribe several Police investigators, offering some RM1.7mil purportedly received from Salleh so as to get the officers onto his side. Of course, the Datuk Fix-it will not be a willing scapegoat for nothing. The Shahrizat-NFC debacle is so hot, many top people could get burnt easily.

RM250million went into NFCorp: How was the money spent?

Unfortunately, Datuk Fix-it was not able to resolve the next PKR bombshell on the credit cards spending binge by the Shahrizats, which amounted to some RM600,000 in 2009 alone. The Malaysian public went livid when they saw the news reports of Shahrizat’s twenty-something-year-old kids drawing huge 5-figure salaries and who were also given similar-sized monthly credit card limits to utilize.

Shahrizat had no choice to to take 3-weeks leave. But instead of cooling off, she roped in PERKASA chief Ibrahim Ali and several Malay NGOs to help defend her and win the sympathy of the Malays. Ibrahim Ali’s trademark racism immediately ruffled feathers when he insisted NFC was “in order” and the whole commotion was due to a disgruntled non-Malay staff who blew the whistle on the project.

Then in true UMNO prime-time drama style, Salleh dutifully telephoned home from Mecca, insisting that it was all a mistake! To Salleh, the Auditor-General audited only the books of the government-owned National Feedlot Centre in Gemas, which is a 2,000 acre ranch and not NFCorp, which is his family-controlled firm that was awarded the job of overseeing the NFC project. According to Salleh, the ranch is is managed by the government itself via the Ministry of Agriculture! But of course, this turned out to be inaccurate.

Apart from extending a most generous RM250 million soft loan, the only government help seen at the NFC in Gemas was the abattoir facility it provided. Additionally, Salleh is involved in both NFCorp and overseeing the state-owned NFC, which is headed by his son and controlled by two other siblings.

NFCorp was also granted a loan by the Badawi administration to run the NFC. So to simply point out the difference in NFCorp and NFC makes no sense at all. Whatever it is, public money in the form of the government loan may have been improperly used, and this must be investigated thoroughly without fear or favor.

Burning questions

Left with no other option, UMNO is now splitting hairs. Like Houdini and Copperfield, they have to yell ‘KAZAM’ to deflect public attention. But sorry to say, no one is blinking.

UMNO is now worse off than before. Its leaders, from Najib to Muhyiddin, to Mahathir to Khairy, are seen as crooks willing to condone corruption, willing even to ‘racialize’ corruption just to get UMNO off the NFC hook.

Salleh has shown himself to be incompetent from the start and he should resign to make way for a probe for negligence and CBT; for not being alert about the set-up and organizational structure of a project entrusted to him to manage; and lastly, for letting the debacle occur right under his own nose. No wonder the RM250 million loan is in a mess, with huge chunks spent on non-cattle related items.

How much is left, how was it spent, how much can be recouped? These are the burning questions but neither Najib nor the Shahrizats will be keen to provide the answers. It looks like NFC is turning more and more into a total disaster by the day. UMNO deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin who awarded the project to Salleh’s NFCorp must also be investigated as to why he selected such an inexperienced person to manage a RM250 million fund.

But the most important questions to ask are why is UMNO taking so long to solve the debacle; why is UMNO working so hard to distance itself from the fallout; and why is it trying to white wash the debacle even though it must know that such a move will leave a huge and ugly scar that can never heal or be hidden?

Even if a private auditor is appointed by the government to probe into NFC, the people will be suspicious, given that the terms and reference of the audit may be skewed to favor certain UMNO parties.

No easy way out – a lesson UMNO can never learn

Be that as it may, the most likely reason for the whitewash is that UMNO does not really have a solution to this debacle.There are just too many inter-connections and to severe some of these may create repercussions that could rock the elite. Yet, by trying to insist everything is fine is equivalent to leaving a time bomb behind and waiting for it to explode, taking UMNO down with it.

The only way to diffuse the political weapon of mass destruction that Khairy, Muhyiddin, Shahrizat, Najib and Nong Chik have built is actually to go in the direction that they are now turning away from.

To save UMNO, corruption must be punished and the perpetrators not allowed to escape. But given UMNO’s record, it is highly unlikely that it can ever bring itself to do this. What next then? Put it this way, whatever new shenanigan UMNO decides on, it will never work unless UMNO owns up.

Malaysia Chronicle

Capitalism is dead; long live capitalism

Capitalism is Dead, Long Live Capitalism

January 26, 2012

FTimes Editorial (12-27-11)

Capitalism is dead; long live capitalism

The market economy is the most successful mechanism for creating prosperity humanity knows. Allied to modern science, it has done more than transform the world economy; it has transformed the world. For the first time in history, the world’s principal states rely on the market economy to develop their economies. Almost as important, they rely on a global market economy. Contemporary states are destined to co-operate with one another if they are to prosper.

Yet the market economy is not as unchangeable as the laws of the Medes and the Persians in the book of Daniel. It is successful not because it stays the same, but because it does not. The driving force is the desire of all human beings to work for the betterment of themselves and their families. The mechanism is the equally natural search for a better deal. But institutional settings and relationships with political institutions have always been open to change. This very adaptability has ensured the survival of market economies.

Two centuries ago there was no limited liability, no personal bankruptcy, little central banking, no environmental regulation and no unemployment insurance. All these changes occurred in response to economic or political pressures. All brought with them new solutions and new challenges. At a time of ongoing financial shocks, this need for adaptation has not ended. On the contrary, it is as important as ever.

What, then, are the challenges that matter today? The libertarian movement in the US, whose standard-bearer is Ron Paul, is clear about the answer: abolish nearly all of these policy innovations and go back, as far as possible, to the capitalism of the late 19th century. Outside the US this current of opinion holds little sway. Even inside the US, it is merely a component of the Republican coalition. It is more than a mere curiosity – but it is not going to shape the future.

More relevant is asking how far the resurgent capitalism that emerged in the 1980s, under the leadership of Ronald Reagan in the US and Margaret Thatcher in the UK, now needs to be reformed. The answer is that it must be, for it has proved not just unstable, but, in important respects, unjust. The result has not only been a devastating crisis, but also a sense that the achievement of extraordinary wealth may not reflect exceptional merit. In societies that rely on consent, this is politically corrosive.

At the heart of the renewed debate are three issues: finance, corporate governance, and taxation. These are the questions raised by the “occupy” movements, which, for all their intellectual incoherence, have altered the terms of the political debate.

The financial sector grew too big, partly because risks were misunderstood and partly because it was encouraged by policymakers to expand. It will need to be better constrained in future, partly by ensuring the risks it creates are internalised. Again, corporate management has too often rigged executive compensation in its own interests, rather than that of shareholders. Finally, a plethora of incentives have allowed many of the most successful people to escape taxation. In all these respects, the modern economy needs reform, to become both fairer and more efficient.

Beyond such reforms, the debate over macroeconomic stabilisation that goes back to the 1930s has been renewed. In the years up to the crisis, the broad consensus was that a monetary policy targeted at inflation was enough. This view has been exploded. After the extended period of desperate improvisation now under way, a new synthesis will be required, one that takes proper account of asset prices, leverage and the role of central banks as lenders of last resort.

Capitalism will endure, by changing. That is the lesson of the past. It is just as relevant today.

Public Accounts Committee delays its deliberations on NFC

January 26, 2012

Public Accounts Committee delays its deliberations on NFC: Azmi Khalid answers Lim Kit Siang

Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chief Azmi Khalid justified the parliamentary body’s decision to delay investigation into problems revolving around the National Feedlot Centre.

Azmi (left with his Deputy who is from DAP) agreed that it was his opinion that the PAC should pause its proceedings until the Police and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), which also initiated investigations at about the same time, to wrap up their probe.

“It is quite normal for PAC to delay inquiries until other relevant agencies had completed their jobs, since it involves the same people and documentation,” he said, in a statement today.

“But it does not mean that we are closing the case…whatever that is being recommended by the PAC to the enquiry, is to the police and the MACC, because we don’t have the forensics facility to go through every document one by one,” elaborated Azmi when contacted by Malaysiakini.

The veteran Padang Besar UMNO MP clarified that there have been cases where witnesses had refrained from giving information on the advice of their lawyers, for fear of being subjudice.

“In any case this code is not cast in stone as any member of PAC can request a hearing by making a simple request to the chairperson,” he said. Azmi was responding to calls from Ipoh Timur DAP parliamentarian Lim Kit Siang, who demanded  the former’s resignation for holding back PAC’s investigations.Urging Azmi to “not be an obstacle”, Lim insisted that PAC should resume its probe and complete its report in time for Dewan Rakyat’s sitting in March.

‘PAC has never been partisan’

However, Azmi refused to counter Lim on a “political level”, emphasising that PAC “has never been partisan either in its deliberations or conclusions”. He proudly stated that the powerful committee comprises parliamentarians who are “professional” in their conduct and fair in their “conclusions”.

PAC had interviewed several agriculture and agro-based industries ministry officers on the weaknesses in the multi-million ringgit cattle farming project, raised in the 2010 Audit Report presented in parliament last November.

Azmi complained then that the government loan was given to the company even before the agreement was signed. Lim, however, raised the issue of conflict of interest as Azmi was the natural resources and environment minister in 2006, when the cabinet was deliberating the project.

He retorted today that Lim had similarly asked him to step down as the PAC chief when the committee was hearing witnesses in relation to Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) scandal.

At the end of the PKFZ probe, PAC recommended, after an inquiry, the persons involved be investigated for criminal breach of trust, an offence that carries a maximum 20-year jail sentence, with whipping and a fine.

“I do not think I need to say more on this as evidenced by the PKFZ case ,and I leave it to the rakyat to judge me in my capacity as the PAC chairperson,” said Azmi.

Likewise, Azmi said that although he was part of the Cabinet in 2006, he “cannot remember the case”. “As far as I am concerned, there is no question of conflict of interest, let alone be a hindrance to any function that is duty-bound on any parliamentarian,” he said.

Sodomy 2 Written Judgment is not yet ready

January 26, 2012

Sodomy 2 Written Judgment is not yet ready


The grounds of written judgment of Anwar Ibrahim’s acquittal, on a charge of sodomising his former aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, are not yet ready.

Anwar’s lead counsel Karpal Singh said he was informed by the trial judge’s secretary that the judgment is not yet ready. He said this to reporters after checking on the judgment with High Court Judge Mohamad Zabidin Mohd Diah’s secretary at the Jalan Duta Court Complex in Kuala Lumpur today.

He, however, said that a trial judge was obliged to provide a grounds of written judgment within eight weeks from the day a notice of appeal was filed, as provided under the Chief Justice’s circular.

On January 20, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) had filed the Notice of Appeal against Anwar’s acquittal from the sodomy charge. The notice which was signed by Solicitor-General Idrus Harun was filed at the Kuala Lumpur High Court Criminal Registry.

Karpal also said the A-G’s Chambers had the power not to proceed with the appeal after perusing with the grounds of written judgment by the trial judge.

Karpal said it was still open to the A-G’s Chambers not to prosecute the appeal further, after reading and being satisfied with the written judgment which contained the exhibits, notes of proceedings and the written judgment.

“We have done it (not to appeal) in other cases. When I get the Petition of Appeal, I found the grounds were not worth to proceed with the appeal,” said Karpal.

He said the A-G’s Chambers had 10 days to file the petition of appeal under the Rules of the Court of Appeal 1994, upon receiving the record of appeal and if the 10-day period had lapsed, it was deemed to be withdrawn (the petition of appeal).

The party who had filed the notice of appeal at the High Court registry would have to file the petition of appeal at the Court of Appeal Registry, if they wanted to pursue the appeal, upon receiving a complete record of appeal.

On January 9, Justice Mohamad Zabidin acquitted and discharged Anwar after the court found that it could not be 100 percent certain that the integrity of the DNA samples had not been compromised and that it was reluctant to convict Anwar based solely on the uncorroborated evidence of Mohd Saiful.

Anwar, 64, had been charged with sodomising Mohd Saiful, 26, at a Desa Damansara condominium unit in Bukit Damansara here between 3.10pm and 4.30pm on June 26, 2008.He was charged under Section 377B of the Penal Code which carries a sentence of up to 20 years’ jail and whipping, upon conviction.

- Bernama