Interim Stay granted to ZI Publications

July 31, 2012

Kuala Lumpur High Court grants Interim Stay to ZI Publications

by Hafiz Yatim@

The Kuala Lumpur High Court has granted an interim stay preventing Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor (JAIS) from investigating and prosecuting ZI Publications and its director Mohd Ezra Mohd Zaid.

Ezra is scheduled to report before the Syariah Lower Court tomorrow as he has been asked by the authorities to do so.Following today’s development, the Syariah Court is not expected  to charge Mohd Ezra tomorrow.

NONEJudge Rohana Yusuf also granted ZI Publications and Ezra leave to initiate a judicial review against the seizure of the book Allah, Liberty and Love by Manji Irshad.

Following the interim stay granted today, ZI Publications has seven days to file an inter-party stay.

This is because the Selangor government, which is named as one of the respondents, in the judicial review application was not represented in today’s proceedings.

It should have been represented by the Selangor legal adviser. The court also ordered the Selangor government to file its full judicial review application as soon as possible.

The court also fixed September 5 to hear the judicial review application of Erza and ZI Publications.

Lawyers Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, K Shanmuga and Nizam Bashir who appeared for ZI Publications and Senior Federal Counsel Nor Hisham Ismail who represented the Federal Government met with Justice Rohana in her chambers.

ZI Publications and Mohd Ezra has named JAIS, its Director-General, its Chief Enforcement Officer, its Syariah Chief Prosecutor and the Selangor and Malaysian governments as respondents.

Unlike the bookseller Border’s case, Ezra is yet to be charged with any offence, resulting in the court granting a temporary stay.

In the case of Borders, owned by Berjaya Books Sdn Bhd, its store manager Nik Raina Nik Abdul Aziz was been charged at the Kuala Lumpur Syariah Court last month for allegedly distributing materials that go against Islamic teachings.

‘Jais had no jurisdiction to enter premises’

In the application filed earlier this month, ZI Publications and Ezra claimed that Jais and its officers had no jurisdiction to enter into their premises on May 29, as it was a company and the authorities could only take action against Muslims.

Furthermore, the warrant is for a search and hence JAIS and its officers do not have the authority to seize the books. Ezra further claimed his arrest violated his constitutional right to freedom of expression, which could only be limited by Parliament and not by the Selangor legislative assembly. He also claimed Section 16(1) of the Selangor Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment was ultra vires the Federal Constitution on the freedom of expression.

NONEAlternatively, Erza and ZI Publications claimed the seizure of the books was a violation of the freedom of religion.

Since there is a federal law limiting the freedom of expression based on the Publications and Printing Presses Act (PPPA), the Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment, a state law, is, therefore, inconsistent with the Federal Constitution.

The two plaintiffs sought a declaration that Section 16 of the enactment is null and void as it violates the federal constitution on the freedom of expression. They are also seeking an order of  certiorari to quash the actions of the authorities in raiding, seizing the books and arresting.

Ezra and ZI Publications are also seeking a writ of mandamus to compel the authorities to return the books and cancel the arrest order. Furthermore, they are seeking a declaration that the Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment and the Syariah Criminal Procedure Code are only applicable to Muslims and not to companies.

They further contend that the Syariah Criminal Offences law does not criminalise acts of book translations and based on Article 121(1), the proper forum to interpret the PPPA on the enactment is the civil bench of the High Court, not the syariah court.

The two are also seeking a stop to any JAIS action until the disposal of their judicial review application and other relief deemed necessary by the court.

They also filed a judicial review seeking to lift the ban on the book and his matter has been fixed for hearing on August 13.

Is China Losing its Plot

July 31, 2012

Is China Losing its Plot

Kishore Mahbubani (07-26-12)

In 2016, China’s share of the global economy will be larger than America’s in purchasing-price-parity terms. This is an earth-shaking development; in 1980, when the United States accounted for 25% of world output, China’s share of the global economy was only 2.2%. And yet, after 30 years of geopolitical competence, the Chinese seem to be on the verge of losing it just when they need it most.

China’s leaders would be naïve and foolish to bank on their country’s peaceful and quiet rise to global preeminence. At some point, America will awaken from its geopolitical slumber; there are already signs that it has opened one eye.

But China has begun to make serious mistakes. After Japan acceded to Chinese pressure and released a captured Chinese trawler in September 2010, China went overboard and demanded an apology from Japan, rattling the Japanese establishment. Read On Project Syndicate: Kishore Mahbubani on China

Sulaiman Al-Rajhi: A Poor Man by Choice

July 31, 2012

Rags-to-Riches Sulaiman Al-Rajhi: A Poor Man by Choice

Saudi Arabia’s rags-to-riches billionaire Sulaiman Al-Rajhi is the founder of Al-Rajhi Bank, the largest Islamic bank in the world, and one of the largest companies in Saudi Arabia.

As of 2011, his wealth was estimated by Forbes to be $7.7 billion, making him the 120th richest person in the world. His flagship SAAR Foundation is a leading charity organization in the Kingdom. The Al-Rajhi family is considered as one of the Kingdom’s wealthiest non-royals, and among the world’s leading philanthropists.

Al-Rajhi is a billionaire who chose last year to become a poor man at his own will without having any cash or real estates or stocks that he owned earlier. He became penniless after transferring all his assets among his children and set aside the rest for endowments. In recognition of his outstanding work to serve Islam, including his role in establishing the world’s largest Islamic bank and his regular contribution toward humanitarian efforts to fight poverty, Al-Rajhi was chosen for this year’s prestigious King Faisal International Prize for Service to Islam.

In an interview with Muhammad Al-Harbi of Al-Eqtisadiah business daily, Al-Rajhi speaks about how he was able to succeed in convincing chiefs of the leading central banks in the world, including that of the Bank of England, nearly 30 years ago that interest is forbidden in both Islam and Christianity, and that the Islamic banking is the most effective solution to activate Islamic financing in the world and make it a real boost to the global economy.

The story of Al-Rajhi is that of a man who made his fortunes from scratch, relying on grit and determination. Al-Rajhi threw away his huge wealth through two windows — distributed a major part of his inheritance among his children and transferred another portion to endowments, which are regarded as the largest endowment in the history of the Islamic world. He had to fight poverty and suffering during his childhood before becoming a billionaire through hard work and relentless efforts, and then leaving all his fortunes to become penniless again.

Al-Rajhi is still very active and hardworking even in his 80s with youthful spirits. He begins his work daily after morning prayers and is active until Isha prayers before going to bed early. He is now fully concentrated on running the endowment project under his SAAR Foundation, and traveling various regions of the Kingdom managing activities related with it. He always carries a pocket diary containing his daily programs and activities and he is accustomed to stick on to the schedule he had prepared well in advance.

Al-Rajhi scored excellent performance results in almost all businesses in which he carved out a niche for himself. In addition to establishing the world’s largest Islamic bank, he founded the largest poultry farm in the Middle East. The credit of activating the organic farming experiment in the Kingdom mainly goes to him through launching a number of farming projects, including Al-Laith shrimp farming. He also established real estate and other investment projects.


Sheikh Suleiman, have you become a poor man again?

Yes. Now I own only my dresses. I distributed my wealth among my children and set aside a portion for endowment to run charity projects. As far as I am concerned, this situation was not a strange one. My financial condition reached zero point two times in my life, and therefore I have had the feeling and understanding (about poverty) well. But now the feeling is accompanied by happiness, relaxation and the peace of mind. The zero phase in life this time is purely because of my own decision and choice.

Why did you choose this path?

All wealth belongs to Allah, and we are only those who are entrusted (by God) to take care of them. There were several reasons that prompted me to distribute the wealth and that resulted in performing this virtue. Most important among them is to foster brotherhood and love among my children and safeguard their harmonious relationship. This is more significant than any wealth in this life. I was also keen not to be instrumental in wasting the precious time of courts in case of any differences of opinion among them with regard to partition of inheritance. There are several examples that everybody could see when children entered in dispute over wealth and that led to the collapse of companies.

Nation has lost many large companies and their wealth that we could have been saved if we tackled the matter in a right manner. Apart from this, every Muslim should work on some endowments that could benefit him in the life after death. Likewise, I prefer my children to work on developing wealth, which they inherit after my death, during my lifetime itself rather than I continue working to increase them.

Are you getting enough free time after the distribution of wealth?

As earlier I am still working on developing endowments. I will donate and give alms from it until Allah takes over this trusted deposit. I have worked out a meticulous scheme for this endowment and developed it with the support of specialist consultants and agencies. This idea struck me long before.

Usually people in the Islamic world set aside one-third or one-fourth of their wealth for endowment and that will be effective only after their death. But in my case, I decided to implement this decision in my lifetime itself. So I invited my children to Makkah during the end of Ramadan and presented the idea in front of them. They readily agreed it and then I distributed my wealth among my children in addition to setting aside a part of it for endowment. I sought the help of consultants to facilitate the procedures for the distribution of all my assets including properties, real estates and stocks, and that was completed in a cordial atmosphere. All my children are now fully satisfied with my initiative and they are now working on these properties in my lifetime.

How much wealth you distributed among children and set aside for endowment?

He laughed without giving an answer.

How do you feel now about your projects?

I would like to point out that there were some factors that prompted me to make investments in certain specific areas. My experiment in money exchange was the temptation to set up a bank. The absence of any Islamic banking was also another factor in establishing Al-Rajhi Bank, which is now the world’s biggest Islamic lender by market value.

I began the experiment with opening an office in Britain where we introduced Islamic banking system at a greater level. The experiment was a success and it had received total backing of the Saudi Islamic scholars at that time. I still recall the application made for getting license for the bank was turned down in the beginning. This was because the concerned British officials did not have any idea about Islamic banking.

Therefore, I went to London and met with the manager of the Bank of England and two of his deputies. I told them that Muslims and Christians see interest as forbidden (haram), and the Muslim and Christian religious people are unwilling to make transactions with banks based on interest and instead prefer to keep their cash and other valuables in boxes at their homes. I tried to convince them that (if we establish Islamic banks) this money would be helpful to strengthen the world economy. These talks were helpful in convincing them and they agreed to open Islamic banks. Then I traveled widely throughout the world in the West and East, and met with the chiefs of central banks in various countries and explained to them about the salient features of the Islamic economy. We started working and achieved success through launching it in the Kingdom and implementing it in London.

When I returned to the Kingdom from London, I met the late Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz and Sheikh Abdullah bin Humaid, and informed them about the plan saying: ‘We would reach, by the grace of Allah, the Islamic banking within a stipulated period of time.’ They praised me for the initiative. We started aggressively implementing the project and that is in the form of Al-Rajhi Bank as you see now.

Regarding Al-Watania Poultry, the idea of establishing such a venture struck me after my visit to a poultry project abroad. I saw that the way of slaughtering chicken was not proper. Then I decided to make investments in the field of poultry after considering it as a duty to my religion and nation. I started the project even though making investments in poultry involved high risks in those days. Now Al-Watania has become a mega Saudi project that is instrumental in achieving food security in many respects. The company enjoys a 40 percent market share in the Kingdom, and Al-Watania chickens are naturally fed and halal slaughtered in accordance with the Shariah principles.

What about your insistence on introducing organic farming through Al-Watania agricultural projects?

As you see, now I am 85 and still enjoy good health. If we pursue organic farming as our healthy food style, we can bring down cost of treatment to a great extent. We made several experiments in the field of organic farming. Our numerous experiments met with setbacks in the beginning. This prompted many engineers and workers to reach a conclusion that it is impossible to have organic farming and profit together. In the beginning, they were firm in their view that this would not at all be successful. But I insisted that it would work and continued compelling them to proceed with the venture. At one time, I took a firm position and told them either to do organic farming or quit.

Now we are reaping the fruits of this lucrative business in line with my vision to provide only the healthiest, safest and most trustworthy food to consumers. Al-Watania Agricultural Company stopped using chemicals and artificial fertilizers and focused exclusively on organic methods such as the use of pest insect repellants and animal manure.

Your austerity and thriftiness on spending are well known. Please comment?

I am not a miser. But I am always vigilant against extravagance. I always try to impart this lesson to all those working with me whether it is in banking or poultry or other projects, and I am more concerned about it when it is coming to the case of my children.

In the past, I never gave money to my children when they were young in return for nothing. When any one of them approached me to give them cash, I asked them to do some work in exchange for it. In our life, we practice some extravagance without being aware of it. But it affects our whole life, exhausting us and putting a burden on our country. For example, there is no logic in putting heavy curtain on our windows and then lighting lamps in daytime when we get sunlight free of cost while electric lamps are costly.

Despite all your wealth, why don’t you still have a private aircraft?

Let me tell you that I have many planes but they belong to various airlines. I have ownership in all of them to the tune of the ticket fare that I pay for each travel. I always travel in economy class with the conviction that Allah bestowed us wealth not for showing arrogance or spend extravagantly but to deal with wealth as a trusted property.

What about the recreation and hobbies of Sheikh Al-Rajhi? How do you spend free time?

I have not any special recreations. However, I find happiness and enjoyment while making a trip to the desert. I never went out of the Kingdom on a tourism trip.

What about your will? What are its salient features?

Regarding my will related with wealth, I have already implemented it in my lifetime. As for the remaining aspect of my will, it is a public matter and also involves certain private matters, besides encouraging my children to maintain their kinship and always reminding them about the life after death.

How do you see your children’s private investments? Are there any directives to them?

A number of them are doing an excellent work in accordance with their knowledge and experience. Most often, I try to guide them when I noticed anything undesirable even if it is in their private investments. Regarding my younger children, I always guide them, especially in the case of their investments. This is purely out of my keenness that they should be honest in their work as well as in spending wealth given by God as a trusted property. I am also eager to hear about my children that they are interacting with the society in the best possible manner, and that they are serving their religion and nation.

In what way you like to spend your time? What are the places that you like most?

I used to travel between Riyadh, Qassim, Al-Jouf, and Al-Laith to oversee my projects there. I always prefer to visit the farms in Qassim and Al-Jouf.

How could you preserve many old and precious things and antiques at Suleiman Al-Rajhi Museum?

A long time ago when I was in Jeddah, I was keen on preserving heritage pieces and gathered them together, especially those related with money exchange. There would be a history with every human being. The museum tells the story of money exchange. I particularly kept registers and cash boxes that were used when I started the money exchange business.

The first cash box was made of wood, and there was a huge treasure box in which we kept our gold and silver. The artifacts kept at the museum tells the evolution of currency in the Kingdom through issuance of bank notes, as well as some currencies and coins that were in circulation among the Haj pilgrims. A major factor that prompted me to set up the museum was the visits made by a large number of officials from various countries to know more about these old coins and currencies.

We have had to exhibit these rare collections in front of them to explain about our history and heritage, especially those related with money. I was keen to furnish the museum with historic and heritage pieces, especially with the same materials used for construction in the past. Hence, the roof of the museum was made of palm branches, and that was the case with the seating arrangements at the museum.

Al-Rajhi’s punctuality

The interview also sheds light on many qualities of Al-Rajhi, including his punctuality. “In the beginning of my business career, I had appointments with several top European company executives and officials. I still remember that I reached late for such an appointment due to an unavoidable reason. My delay was only a few minutes but the official excused himself for the interview. Later, after expansion of the projects, the same official came late for an interview with me so I excused myself for the interview. I always carry a paper to note down the schedule of meetings and stick to the schedule at any cost.”

Al-Rajhi continued: I am always keen to strictly adhere to the Islamic principles throughout my life. Once I received an invitation from an Arab government to attend an investment conference there. On the sidelines of the conference, I was invited to take part in a dinner reception. When I reached there, I found a recreational program, which is contrary to our religious customs and traditions, taking place. So I quit the place immediately and, Abdul Aziz Al-Ghorair from the UAE also joined me. Soon minister plenipotentiary rushed to us, and we explained to him that the function is against our Islamic tradition. So he informed us that the recreational party would be cancelled. When they canceled that party, we participated in the dinner.

Tackling crises

Al-Rajhi said: There was a huge fire that gutted down one of my factories managed by my son. When he came to inform me about it, I told him: Say praise be to God. I asked him not to submit any report about the losses to the authorities seeking compensation.

In fact, the compensation is from Allah and it is essential for us to be satisfied with What Allah destined for us. Assam Al-Hodaithy, financial director of Al-Watania Poultry, said: “When the fire broke out at the factory, we decided not to hurt Sheikh Al-Rajhi by informing about it at that moment. Later, when we met him next morning, he told us to shift the factory to another place and remove the debris until completion of reconstruction.”

There was a similar fire at Al-Watania Poultry project in Egypt. The company incurred losses worth SR 10 million Egyptian pounds. When the concerned factory official contacted Al-Rajhi to inform about the fire, he was surprised to hear an instant reply from him: “AlHamdulillah.”

Time For ASEAN to stand together

July 31, 2012

Karim Raslan: Time For ASEAN to stand together

China is claiming more of the South China Sea as its own. Unfortunately, China’s territorial pretensions clash with separate claims by Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.

SANSHA City is China’s newest municipality. Extending over two square kilometres and with 613 residents, Sansha City has its own mayor, sea and airport, supermarket, as well as a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) garrison.

Established on the Yongxing or “Woody” Island in the Paracel Islands of the South China Sea, the municipality represents a bold assertion of Chinese control.

Sadly in the face of such brute determination, ASEAN has merely whimpered. Indeed, earlier this month at the normally-staid ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Phnom Penh, the grouping revealed its ineffectiveness and lack of unity in the face of high-level lobbying from Chinese and American officials when the association failed to produce a joint communique at the conclusion of the meeting.

In short, we are in danger of becoming passive participants in the new “Great Game” – the geopolitical face-off between China and the United States.

Unsurprisingly, the main point of contention was the South China Sea, with its overlapping territorial claims, historical grudges and energy politics all jumbled up. China claims most of the South China Sea as its own. Unfortunately, China’s territorial pretensions clash with separate claims by Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The contest is heightened because of two factors – the importance of the trading routes and the vast natural resources under the sea itself – estimated to be as much as 213 billion barrels of oil and two quadrillion cubic feet of natural gas.

China, unsurprisingly, has always been quick to assert its rights.It clashed with Vietnam in 1974 over the Paracel Islands and came dangerously close to repeating the experience with the Philippines earlier this year when their navies engaged in a tense stand-off near the Scarborough Shoal.

A more Asia-focused United States has weighed in to support its former Philippine colony.Troop deployments in Australia and improved relations with Myanmar and Vietnam have created a potentially explosive mix.

Meanwhile, ASEAN is little more than the proverbial (and increasingly scared) mouse deer caught between two feuding elephants. In many ways, though, ASEAN’s indecisiveness is perhaps unsurprising.It’s further proof that there’s little holding us together – besides the overly confident boosterism of the business community seeking to establish a unified market of over 600 million consumers.

For decades, we’ve paid lip-service to the grouping whilst pulling our separate ways.Now, when we really need to fend off Great Power interference, we’re confronted by our lack of cohesiveness and disunity.

In short, all the golf and durian diplomacy has floundered and we’re stuck in a veritable “bunker”.On the one hand, Cambodia’s refusal to endorse a joint communiqué at the meeting reflected its near-total economic reliance on China.

According to news reports, the Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong’s manner didn’t help matters either.Meanwhile, Vietnam and the Philippines have been forced to balance their historical antipathy towards China with the reality of the Middle Kingdom’s proximity and sheer might.

Indonesia (mindful of its own size) appears to view the deadlock as an opportunity to demonstrate its regional leadership credentials. As a consequence, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono directed his Foreign Minister, Marty Natelgawa to tour ASEAN in search of a fresh consensus on the issue.

For Malaysia and Singapore, the South China Sea impasse requires extreme delicacy. As multiracial trading nations, both must assert their sovereignty and ASEAN credentials without alienating China.

Still, ASEAN must deal with contemporary realities.Whilst we’ve been a diplomatic backwater for decades, the economically resilient grouping is no longer under the radar screen.

As one of the few economically robust regions, we’re now front and centre – besides which, with China on the rise, we’re geopolitically important.

This is all very dramatic and fun to read about but in reality it’s a painful headache as China and the United States stalk one another warily.

Let’s face it: the “Asian Century” is going to be fraught with danger and insecurity and I haven’t even begun to discuss the increasingly erratic and dysfunctional Chinese foreign policy and military apparatus.

The core issue is – do we “hang” together or go our separate ways? We in ASEAN need to resolve this fundamental challenge. Do we promote and implement “regional integration” as well as the “ASEAN community” or do we cut deals with China one-on-one?

The South China Sea is crunch time for ASEAN, and Malaysia. We can either continue dithering and be reduced to pawns on a chessboard, or band together to show the world that we intend to live up to our geopolitical promise as well.

The choice is ours – but I guess it’ll have to wait until after the General Election. Sigh…

Confiscation of Zunar’s Books and Artwork unwarranted

July 31, 2012

Confiscation of ZUNAR’s  Books and Artwork unwarranted, says KL High Court Judge

by Koh Jun Lin@

The Kuala Lumpur High Court has held that the arrest and detention of political cartoonist Zunar in 2011 was lawful, but that the continued confiscation of his books and artwork is unwarranted.

As such, Justice Vazeer Alam Mydin Meera today ordered that the cartoonist’s works be returned. He also ordered the court registrar to determine the quantum of damages payable to Zunar, whose real name is Zulkiflee SM Anwar Ulhaque. No order was made as to costs.

The zunar new comic cartoon-o-phobiajudge said arresting officer Arikrishna Apparau and investigating officer Marina Hashim had the power to arrest Zunar under Section 20 of the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) and to seize his works under Section 11 of the Sedition Act.

He said the officers had shown that they had reasonable grounds to suspect that the contents of the book ‘Cartoon-o-phobia’ were seditious. Therefore, the two laws allowed the Police to effect the arrest and seizure of the materials without a warrant.

The judge took note of the fact some the cartoons imply that the Judiciary is under the control of the Executive. “(The cartoons) may be considered as political satire by some, but others might regard them as being seditious. (Arikrishna) belongs to the second category – a reasonable conclusion by a reasonable man,” he said.

cartoon-o-phobia 20100924 drawingHowever, he also said it would have only required a “simple determination” to arrive at a decision on whether the confiscated materials are seditious or not. Hence, continued retention of the materials is unwarranted.

“The arrest and seizure was for a reason. That reason was to carry out investigations to ascertain whether the plaintiff (Zunar) had committed an offence under the Sedition Act, or the Printing Presses and Publications Act… Surely it would not take two years to make that determination,” said the judge.

The prolonged retention of the works without further action is tantamount to infringement of Zunar’s right’s to life under Article 5(1) of the Federal Constitution, as selling the cartoons contributes to his livelihood. The items seized include 66 copies of the book and a A2-size collage featuring the Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor.

Justice Vazeer Alam also ruled that it was sufficient for the police officer to have informed Zunar of the grounds of arrest in layperson’s language, instead of citing the specific legislation used.

‘False democrat’

Speaking to reporters later, Zunar’s lawyer N Surendran hailed the decision as a partial victory, but said he would consider appealing the legality of his client’s detention.

NONEZunar urged the government to return 408 copies of his book ‘Gedung Kartoon’ seized in 2009, and to lift the ban on his other books ‘1Funny Malaysia’, ‘Perak Darul Kartoon’ and three editions of ‘Isu Dalam Kartoon’.

“These books are all banned under the PPPA. The prime minister said some time ago that he would revamp or reform the PPPA. So I would like to say to Najib, please ‘tepati janji’ (deliver your promise) and don’t be a false democrat,” he said.

He pointed out that, under Najib’s Administration, cartoonists have been subjected to the most pressure from the government.

“I was detained. This never happened under the previous Prime Ministers,” he said.

Zunar was arrested on September 24, 2010 during a raid at his office in Brickfields in Kuala Lumpur, just hours before he was supposed to launch ‘Cartoon-o-phobia’.

He was taken to six Police stations before being held overnight at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport Police lock-up, and was released on the following day. Zunar then sued Arikrishna, Marina, Inspector-General of Police Ismail Omar, the Home Ministry and the government for unlawful detention.

In Power, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Deals with Reality

July 31,

In Power, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Deals with Reality

Written by Reuters Monday, 30 July 2012 09:51

In decades of furtive meetings in tea houses, mosques and universities, members of Egypt’s underground Muslim Brotherhood spoke ardently of a country governed by Islamic law. Now that their debates take place in parliament and the presidential palace, they must decide how far to go in bringing it about.

Elections held since the fall of Hosni Mubarak have turned the once-banned Brotherhood and its allies into the dominant political force in the Arab world’s most populous country.

That success has left the Brotherhood facing competing pressures – on the one hand, to satisfy the conservative Islamists who supported them at the polling station, while on the other hand to avoid conflict with secular-minded Egyptians and a potent military establishment that opposes radical change, Reuters reports.

For now, the outcome appears to be a compromise, satisfying neither side entirely but avoiding major confrontation, with the aim of giving the Brotherhood the leeway to meet the needs of running a modern state.

“Everything is a subject of compromise and negotiation for the Brotherhood,” said Khalil al-Anani, an expert on Islamist movements based at Durham University in England.

“It realizes that limiting personal freedoms will endanger their political gains,” he said. “At the same time, they will have to satisfy conservative sections of society.”

The Brotherhood’s move into public life frightens secular-minded Egyptians, who fear Islamist curbs could lead to dress codes, kill off music and cinema or force men and women to segregate in public. Christians, a tenth of Egyptians, are particularly worried, despite Mursi’s attempts at outreach.

Businesses fear for the impact on a tourism industry that creates one in eight jobs. A call put out on Facebook for a march in defense of beer – first produced in Egypt in pharaonic times – captured a mood of defiance among some after the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi won the presidency.

While Mursi has promised to protect freedoms, his campaign was also peppered with promises to implement sharia, the Islamic law code.”The fear is of destroying the civil state in which citizens are equal… The reassurance message is valueless, because we are seeing what they are doing in reality,” said Refaat el-Saeed, head of Tagammu leftist Party.

Some Egyptians worry that even without direction from the state, zealots emboldened by the Islamists’ ballot box success could seek to impose their will in the street. Those fears appeared to be manifested in the days following Mursi’s election, when a group of three men stabbed a young man to death for going out with his fiancée in the city of Suez.

Ahmed Eid was killed by three young men who have been charged with forming an illegal vigilante group to “fight vice and promote virtue”.

The Brotherhood denies that it is behind such attacks and has accused agents loyal to Mubarak’s old order of trying to tar it with the same brush by sending youths masquerading as Brotherhood members to threaten hair salons.

There are limits to how far the Brotherhood can go in transforming Egyptian society.

Founded in 1928 by urban intellectuals and run by engineers, teachers and doctors, the Brotherhood says it does not want a theocracy – something which in any case the military council has signaled it will not allow to come about.

“I don’t think anyone, even if he has a 40-year term rather than a four-year term, will have the ability to change society, such that the sharia is implemented with all its comprehensive aspects,” said Ahmad Ahmad, an associate professor of religious studies at Harvard University in the United States.

Judged on ECONOMY

The Brotherhood is keenly aware that Egyptians will judge it first and foremost by its ability to resolve their deep economic problems and alleviate poverty. That provides a strong incentive to avoid measures that frighten off tourists or hurt commerce.

Rather than emphasize the ancient proscriptions of Islamic law, Brotherhood members describe sharia as a pragmatic moral code that can be used by a modern society to promote reform.

“Wherever you find benefit for society, then that is God’s law,” said Sheikh Abdul Rahman al-Barr, a cleric who sits on the Brotherhood’s executive board.

He said Mursi would be applying sharia by ending corruption and cronyism in government, ending police abuses such as torture and eavesdropping, and enforcing traffic laws.

There would be no imposition of dress codes, he said, pointing to the growth in the numbers of Egyptian women voluntarily wearing headscarves as proof that coercion was unnecessary. Tourists need not fear for their beach wear, as resorts would be treated as places with a “special context”.

The Brotherhood has been similarly pragmatic on the imposition of bank interest, which many scholars say is forbidden in Islam but will not be abolished in Egypt.

Even the more hardline Islamist groups, or Salafi movements, that have moved into public life in the last year have started to strike a similarly pragmatic tone.

Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, a Salafi group that took up arms against the state as recently as the 1990s, now speaks of a sharia that brings justice, fights corruption and prevents torture and unlawful detention.

“These are the priorities of the sharia as I see them today,” said Tareq El-Zumor, who spent 30 years in jail for involvement in the killing of former president Anwar Sadat.

Issues of “Pride”

Kamal Habib, a former al-Gama’a al-Islamiya member and an expert on Islamist groups, said Salafi views had evolved as they moved into mainstream politics during parliamentary elections that began in November last year.

“When the Salafis were campaigning in the election, they spoke of sharia as an immediate step, but as they came closer to power they modified their position as they found a lot of serious complications in society.”

Still, Islamists are trying to make substantial changes, especially in areas that are seen as a matter of pride for their conservative followers.

In the first few months of the parliament’s work, newly-elected Salafi lawmakers pressed for an end to a woman’s right to seek divorce, to adjust custody laws in favor of men and to toughen the punishment for insulting religion.

All of those proposals were raised independently of any party and none made it into law.

Barr, the Brotherhood cleric, forecast legislation that would eventually ban Muslims from trading or producing alcohol, while permitting its production and sale to non-Muslims.

The role of Islamic law in Egypt’s new constitution has become a defining issue. “I am afraid of leaving the constitution in the hands of people who think in this way,” said Shahata Mohamed Shahata, a lawyer fiercely opposed to Brotherhood rule who filed a lawsuit demanding the dissolution of the body writing the document.

One proposal would add language making God the source of sovereignty. Another would give Al-Azhar, a religious school founded in Cairo more than 1,000 years ago, an official role as the body that would interpret Islamic law.

“It’s a big step – to put Al-Azhar in the constitution that is supposed to last for generations,” said Anani of Durham University. “What if Al-Azhar’s interpretation is regressive and not in favour of democracy?”

But he forecast more compromise ahead by the Brotherhood: “The Brotherhood will do everything for the sake of power. So they might cross the ideological red lines for political gains.”

Good Governance is the Way Forward

July 31,2012

Good Governance is the Way Forward

Comment by  Awang Abdillah (07-29-12)@

We are now living in politically stressful environment. Since 1981 the scourge of abuses of political power notably corruption has thrived well under the authoritarian governments of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and now Najib Tun Razak.

Not only are these gross malpractices thriving well to this day, they have also established themselves as “the norm” in the Malaysian system of governance.We now have had over 30 years of bad governance and Malaysia has reached a critical stage so much so that it is now considered to be a ‘sick’ nation in South East Asia.

Najib continues to announce unreasonable psychological moves to camouflage his hollow economic models.He tops this up with elements of violence to scare those perceived as his enemies.

It is also not surprising to note that on the many occasions when he floated all kinds of rebranded laws there were little changes to the legal provisions.

Let’s not forget his signature ‘flip-flops’. His indecisiveness has led to conflicting directions.Hence, I believe the Najib, as Prime Minister of Malaysia is incapable of continuing to hold such office.

National debt at critical levels

He must be removed and that also includes displacing him as President of UMNO.The best route now for the people of Malaysia however is to change the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional government to a Pakatan Rakyat administration.

Only then can Malaysians reform the current political system.The change of government will enable an elected Pakatan government to investigate the gross malpractices committed by the UMNO-BN Federal Government  since 1981 until now.

I personally am looking forward to a Pakatan government that will investigate the billions in financial losses suffered by Bank Negara in speculation activities in the London forex market in 1992-1993.

This was done upon the directive of Mahathir, who was the premier at that time.Mahathir had gambled away billions of Bank Negara foreign exchange to buy the British pound with the belief  that the currency would rise. Instead the British pound fell when the British government devalued its currency.

The actual losses were never revealed by Bank Negara.I am also wanting to see a Pakatan government that will curb the escalating national debt. Malaysia’s national debt is now reaching a critical level.

‘Pakatan can do a full audit’

The Pakatan government when elected must immediately draw up a plan to curb further deficits and control future national expenditures or go for surplus budgets.

Voting in a Pakatan government in the coming 13th general election would also be a nod to a full audit investigation into the inflow and outflow of funds of the Employees Provident Funds (EPF) from 1981 until today.

The EPF Board is a government public body that manages the workers’ compulsory life savings fund in the country.Under the EPF Act, the workers as well as their respective employers are required to make monthly contributions into the savings accounts of the former. Over the years millions of employees have contributed billions of ringgit to EPF.

As at June 2010, the total savings deposits was reported at RM407 billion.However the EPF has now become the main source of domestic borrowings by the Federal Government.

And over time the role of the EPF as the traditional primary lender to the government has been abused to serve the personal interests of the UMNO political masters.

Awang Abdillah is a political analyst, writer and FMT columnist

London Olympics 2012: Only Malaysia Can

July 31, 2012

London Olympics 2012: Only Malaysia Can


LONDON (AP) — She’s shooting for two.

A Malaysian woman who is eight months pregnant will compete in 10-meter air rifle at the London Games. She found out she would be a mother just days after she found out she would be an Olympian.

Nur Suryani Mohammed Taibi is due in September. Being pregnant means the 29-year-old Taibi has to get in and out of a special suit and belt for practice, but that is only one challenge: She is also drawing overwhelming attention that threatens her concentration ahead of competition Saturday.

To her parents, the mom-to-be is already a champion.”Whatever happens, I’m satisfied already,” her father, Mohammed Taibi, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Friday from the family home in northern Malaysia.

“I’m proud of her. I’ve told her: If you can compete in the Olympics, that’s such an achievement already — all the more when you’re pregnant. We’re her family, so we support her. We’ll be praying for her,” he said.

He said he and Taibi’s mother would be watching on television.

Taibi is ranked 47th in the world and won two golds at the Southeast Asian Games in 10-meter air rifle and 50-meter rifle in November. She finished fifth in 10-meter rifle at the Asian Championships in January to earn a spot on Malaysia’s Olympic team.

Taibi also reached qualified for the 50-meter three-position event, but she decided against competing in two Olympic events.

Arrest Mahathir and Win GE-13 in a BIG Way

July 30, 2012

Arrest Mahathir and Win GE-13 in a BIG Way

by Mariam Mokhtar@

The solution is simple: If Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak wants to create his own political tsunami, reverse the trend set by the Federal Opposition coalition, and earn the respect of the rakyat, he knows what he must do: arrest former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad for alleged crimes against the Malaysian nation and for abuse of power.

An approaching tsunami may be preceded by a drastic drop in water levels. Many people died in the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 when they went to the beach to see the seabed which had been exposed by the retreating ocean. Experts claim that a receding sea would have given five minutes’ warning for people to get to safety.

Najib faces a discontented public and disarray in UMNO, with divided loyalties and duplicity at the highest levels. Pakatan Rakyat and various NGOs have exposed alleged corruption involving many millions upon millions of ringgit, cases of injustice and the children of VVIPs and ministers receiving unfair business advantages. The exposed seabed before the arrival of the tsunami is a metaphor for all these problems.

Najib will have read the Merdeka Centre survey and seen that his approval rating had decreased, albeit by a miniscule amount, to 64 percent last month, but the decline in approval of his party is more worrying.

He would have recalled that in the 2008 general election, then Premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had an approval rating of 72 percent, but at the time, BN enjoyed a stronger position than it currently does.

Najib has observed the increasing disregard of the rakyat for his administration and with the drop in popularity of his own party, he has effectively been given his ‘warning’ before the tsunami strikes.

To rescue his own party and redeem respect, Najib has to be courageous. By detaining Mahathir, he would achieve many things people thought him incapable of.

First, with the arrest, Najib would steal the thunder from the Opposition and be able to claim the glory of bringing a much despised man to justice. People are tired of the farcical Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), which catches the small fry rather than the big fish. Countries like Iceland, Ukraine, South Korea and Israel have tried former  Presidents and Prime Ministers.

Second, and perhaps this is for Najib’s own benefit, he would show the public and especially his detractors in UMNO, that he is no shrinking violet.

It is an established fact that Najib hates controversies. When asked awkward questions during a press conference (PC) – he simply walks away; but governing is not just about PCs. Mahathir keeps his hands clean but with Umno losing ground, Mahathir’s undermining of Najib has escalated, because the Mahathir political dynasty must continue.

Most former Presidents and Prime Ministers stay out of the limelight and are content to do charitable works or earn big bucks on the international lecture circuit. What does that say about our two surviving former PMs? One does not need the money, whilst the other has little to contribute.

Arresting Mahathir would be in the public interest and Najib should take this risk.

Najib’s timidity

So we come the third point. Najib has always promoted the line of moderation but never, it appears, at home. Mahathir endorsed the extremist PERKASA, claimed that BERSIH would topple the government, suggested that BERSIH was a clash between Malays and non-Malays, and said that Chinese voters would be the deciding factor in GE13.

Najib should have publicly told Mahathir that his comments compromise national security, but he didn’t. Mahathir has gone from strength to strength, because Najib was too timid to confront him.

If Mahathir were arrested, it might silence all of Najib’s critics within UMNO or force them into the shadows. They are vocal because they have Mahathir’s backing.

Then comes the fourth point. Over the past three decades, our judiciary, police and civil service have been compromised. Billions of ringgit in illicit funds have allegedly been spirited overseas. In addition, families are divided by the brain drain from Malaysia. Members of Najib’s cabinet and party still follow Mahathir’s divisive policies. Arresting Mahathir will show the people who the real boss is.

There is one final twist, which is Najib’s own insecurity.  Najib entered politics at a tender age of 23 after less than two years at PETRONAS, following his graduation. He is a career politician. How can he empathise with the common man when he has not experienced life outside the corridors of Parliament and of power?

Despite saying that his administration does not practise populist policies, Najib has failed to see the negative public response to his various handouts such as the RM500 of Bantuan Rakyat 1 Malaysia or deals for petty traders and taxi-drivers.

He has tried unconventional methods to gain acceptance – inviting people home to watch football, he’s done the hip-hop thing, gone on Facebook and taken a bus ride in Ipoh, albeit on a luxury coach.

Mahathir is chillingly ruthless, Najib is not. Both are hungry for power but Mahathir is not ashamed to humiliate Najib by undermining his rule. Mahathir is adept at twisting the truth and is not afraid to take charge, to dominate and to control.

Najib is too lazy and would prefer others to do his thinking and controlling for him, as long as he can enjoy the spoils. He should dismiss all his advisers, especially those responsible for the latest humiliating debacle over the Merdeka Day slogan.

Everything to lose

Najib assumed the reins of control at a time when people breathed a sigh of relief at Abdullah’s impotence. Mahathir does not have the self-control to manage his own personality and tends to force himself onto others.

How can Najib even carve out a political legacy for himself when he has promoted the discredited Isa Samad to head FELDA? Even Mahathir had called Isa corrupt! Perhaps, surrounding himself with the tainted might make him look less tarnished.

As we approach GE13, Najib has no one left to ingratiate himself with.  Najib has everything to lose, but Mahathir has not. Now is the time for Najib to turn the tables on his adversary and arrest Mahathir. He must prove his mettle by riding out the tempest of any blackmail attempts. Mahathir’s arrest could also start a domino effect and plug the black hole called PETRONAS.

If he wishes, Najib could also organise a cull of the known Mahathirists in the Judiciary, the Police and the Civil Service. The rakyat who are engrossed in the closing drama of the mighty Mahathir might even overlook some of Najib’s indiscretions.

They won’t of course, but it would at least buy Najib more time. Then, he might want to consider Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud in Sarawak.

Bad News for Malaysia

July 30, 2012

Malaysia is one of most vulnerable countries in case of “perfect storm”, says Roubini Global Economics

by Lee Wei Lian@

Malaysia is one of the most vulnerable Asian economies should a “perfect storm” of a disorderly debt default in Europe, a slowdown in China and the US, and rising tensions in the Middle East materialise, Roubini Global Economics (RGE) has said in a recent report.

The strategic research firm, best known for its founder “Dr Doom” Nouriel Roubini (left) who predicted the collapse of the US housing market and the 2008 global financial crisis, said that Malaysia had the highest exposure to a pullout of capital as its eurozone and US bank claims amount to more than 25 per cent of GDP.

RGE added that Malaysia was the second most exposed in terms of a demand slowdown in the US, the eurozone and China, making it the most exposed Asian economy overall.

The report also said that the country was among the lowest ranked in terms of monetary and fiscal capacity to respond to a crisis, coming in ahead of only Thailand, Japan and Indonesia.

“Malaysia, Taiwan, South Korea and Vietnam appear to be the most exposed to a perfect storm through their trade and financial linkages, while South Korea, Australia, Vietnam and the Philippines appear to have the most policy space to offset such an external shock,” said RGE.

“Taking these two factors together, Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan and Thailand are the most vulnerable of the 10 economies considered in this analysis, while Australia, India, South Korea and the Philippines are the least.”

RGE said that while Malaysian government revenues have increased, the hole in its finances could grow due to “populist” spending and an expected cut in Petronas’ dividends.

“In the run-up to elections, the government is likely to offer more cash handouts in the 2013 Budget, leaving fewer resources for productive investment,” said the report.

“We see the debt-to-GDP ratio reaching 54.6 per cent next year, leaving little room to manoeuvre in the event of an external shock.” RGE noted that in its most recent effort to boost its popularity ahead of an upcoming general election, the Malaysian government announced a supplementary budget of RM13.8 billion in June, some 80 per cent of which is allocated towards maintaining oil subsidies and raising civil servant wages.

It added that it expects Bank Negara to cut interest rates to 2.5 per cent by the end of 2013 to deal with slowing growth in Europe and China.

Economists and analysts had earlier said that Malaysia’s federal government debt, which nearly doubled since 2007 to RM421 billion, pose a fiscal risk to the country if not managed carefully as it impairs the country’s resilience to the increasing frequency of economic shocks.

They said that while government debt — currently at about 54 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), and the second highest in Asia — has not significantly impacted the country and its credit standing so far, the volatile nature of global markets may cause sentiment to turn with little warning.

Figures from the Federal Treasury’s Economic Reports show that the federal government’s domestic debt almost doubled in the space of less than five years — from RM247 billion in 2007 to an estimated RM421 billion in 2011 — far outpacing its revenues which only grew 31 per cent or from RM140 billion to RM183 billion during the same period.

Government-backed loans rose rapidly as well between 1985 and 2010 — from RM11 billion to RM96 billion — representing a growth of 8.7 per cent per annum.

Investors in recent weeks have reportedly shown a preference for US and Singapore assets rather than Malaysia’s in times of uncertainty despite the 10-year MGS (Malaysian Government Securities) offering a yield of about 3.4 per cent compared to less than 1.5 per cent for both 10-year Singapore government bond and 10-year US Treasury bonds.

Roubini had in May reportedly predicted that four elements — economic slowdown in the US, the debt crisis in Europe, a slowdown in China and emerging markets, and military conflict in Iran — would combine to create a storm for the global economy in 2013.

Brutal Truths About Our Education System

July 30, 2012

Brutal Truths About Our Education System

by Dr. Ranjit Singh Malhi@

The fact that our education system needs immediate and drastic transformation is evident. In the 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) around 20% of Malaysian students failed to meet minimum benchmarks for both Mathematics and Science, compared to only 5% in Science and 7% in Mathematics in 2003.

According to the Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA) 2009+ report, Malaysian students ranked 55th out of 74 countries in terms of reading literacy, 57th in Mathematics and “only marginally better” in 52nd position for Science literacy.

The number of unemployed graduates with either a diploma or degree from local institutions of higher education has risen since the 1980s to a record of 24.6 % in 2010.

Our educational system generally promotes surface and passive learning instead of deep and active learning which is crucial for creating a quality learning environment. The products of our school system are generally ill-prepared either for higher education, work or life in general.

Our students lack critical and creative thinking skills because our education system promotes conformity and uniformity.Worse still, they have been “conditioned” to be spoon-fed.

Our graduates lack soft skills sought by employers, particularly communication skills, a strong work ethic, achievement-orientation, proactivity (initiative), planning and organising skills, problem-solving and decision-making skills, and human relations skills.

Mediocrity has also crept insidiously into our universities. A 2011 World Bank study has found that the academic standards of the Universiti Malaya have fallen due to race-based quotas and political interference in the university’s management.

Based on my recent interactions with hundreds of university lecturers (including numerous professors) from four local public universities through my workshops on effective teaching and graduate employability, the vast majority of them have a poor understanding of critical thinking and lack basic presentation skills.

What we need is to face the stark reality and brutal truths of our education system. We have sacrificed meritocracy and quality teaching for mediocrity, politics and an overdose of social re-engineering.

We have sacrificed “quality” of graduates for “quantity” of graduates. The first step in transforming our education system is to “begin with the end in mind”.

The million-dollar question is to ask what should be the desired attributes of our students and graduates i.e. what kind of knowledge, skills and personal traits should they have to meet the challenges of the 21st century world.

Malaysian students and graduates should possess adequate disciplinary knowledge; self-confidence; be achievement-oriented; persuasive and effective communicators; demonstrate integrity and a strong work ethic; be self-directed, self-reflective and lifelong learners; be resilient; demonstrate good interpersonal and teamwork skills; be good problem solvers with analytical and creative minds; computer literate; and productive and responsible citizens with inter-cultural tolerance.

Towards this end, schools and universities should provide a high quality, broad-based and holistic education with emphasis on cognitive intelligence, emotional intelligence, moral intelligence, spiritual intelligence and physical well- being.

Various measures are needed to transform our education system. First, the main driver of the variation in student learning at school is teacher quality. Research shows that over 30% of the variance of school student achievement resulted from professional characteristics of teachers, teaching skills and the classroom climate.

Indeed, students placed with high-performing teachers are likely to progress three times faster as those placed with low-performing teachers. In this regard, it is crucial to get people with the right competencies to become professional and highly motivated teachers who practise self-reflection, self-correction and continuous improvement.

Next, transformational leadership with a strong focus on instructional leadership (enhancing the quality of teaching and student learning) is the second most important determinant of student learning. Transformational leaders are visionary, inspirational, change-adept. More importantly, they nurture a high-performance school culture which brings out the best in others and transform them into peak performers.

Third, high-performing schools generally have high and realistic expectations of teachers and students; a nurturing and motivating classroom climate; effective assessment (primarily formative) and feedback; a close community-home-school partnership; and adequate funding and resources.

Fourth, it is important to adopt an integrated and systemic approach (and not a piece-meal approach) towards transforming schools.

School transformation efforts must encompass clear educational outcomes, a broad-based and holistic curriculum, competent teacher recruitment and development, effective school governance, varied and student-centric instructional strategies, optimisation of e-learning, appropriate assessment and feedback, and a high-performance school culture committed to excellence and continuous improvement.

May my frank and sincere commentary  stir up a healthy and frank discussion among fellow Malaysians. The destiny of our country lies squarely in our hands.Failure to transform our education system based upon systemic and brutal change will erode our nation’s global competitiveness, organisational productivity and individual well-being.

In Economists We Trust

July 30, 2012

In Economists We Trust

We are a society built on market-based solutions—but should everything have a price?

By Jonathan V. Last (04-20-12)

Economists don’t really like presents. They think they are irrational. No gift giver can know what another person wants most, and any present is just a wasteful approximation. The only gift anyone should ever give is cash. It is optimally efficient.

Michael J. Sandel (Left), the Harvard political philosopher, takes a different tack in “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.” He argues that while giving a present may not make much economic sense, it is perfectly sensible in terms of our cultural values.

There are social ethics that have long marked the practice, maximizing sympathy, generosity, thoughtfulness and attentiveness. The optimal value, despite what the economists tell us, isn’t always the most efficient one.

What worries Mr. Sandel is that, over the past 30 years, economic imperatives have begun crowding out other values. Witness the rising popularity of the “gift card” industry, which substitutes monetary presents for more traditional ones. We are steadily moving toward a culture in which our ideals are being pushed aside in favor of the view that we ought to always be maximizing efficiency. As Mr. Sandel notes: “Some goods we distribute by merit, others by need, still others by lottery or chance.” The particular mode is determined more often than not by custom. And societal customs are built over a very long haul.

“What Money Can’t Buy” is Mr. Sandel’s attempt to shine a light on this quiet revolution. He looks around America and observes all sorts of situations where traditional mores have shifted in recent years, always in the direction of market morality. Today you can purchase your way out of waiting in line for rides at many amusement parks. There are express lanes that allow us to buy our way out of traffic.

Many schools now “incentivize” performance, paying students if they read books or do well in school; some schools now sell ads on children’s report cards. Cities routinely sell advertising space on public property, ranging from parks and municipal buildings to police cars.

In each of these cases, long-held ideas about inherent worth and common ownership have been displaced by the simple morality of the market. There are, Mr. Sandel notes, practical concerns with this shift, affecting matters such as equality: “The more money can buy, the more affluence (or the lack of it) matters.” But the higher concerns are philosophical and spiritual, about how we ought to value what he calls sweetly “the good things in life.”

And it is not just that market values crowd out other values—once introduced, they tend to expand to the horizon. Take the history of “naming rights,” the practice of a sports team selling the name of its stadium. In 1988, only three stadiums in the U.S. bore the names of corporate sponsors. By 2010, more than 100 companies were paying to put their name on an American sports facility. And not just the arenas.

Sports teams now sell advertising for everything from pitching changes to broadcaster phrases. (When Bank One bought the naming rights for the Arizona Diamondbacks stadium, team announcers were required to call home runs “Bank One BOOMERS.”)

The morality of naming rights has trickled down. Companies now pay members of the public to wear corporate advertising on their clothes or bodies. There are examples of cities selling the naming rights to long-established subway stops. Local governments defend the practice by saying that the ad dollars are free money and that ads benefit taxpayers. Mr. Sandel grants the second part of argument but questions the first.

In a grimly entertaining chapter on the history of life insurance, Mr. Sandel shows how a product that was once meant as a safety net for families has become a ghoulish investment vehicle. For centuries, life insurance was prohibited in most of Europe on the grounds that death should not be subject to speculation. In America, it wasn’t until the 1850s that it began to gain legitimacy and then only as a product designed to protect a man’s family in the case of his untimely death.

But the morals of the market slowly overcame the old objections, and today companies routinely take out life-insurance policies on their employees because the policies are an excellent revenue stream, whether traded or held until collection. In recent years there has arisen an entire “life settlement” industry in which investors buy life-insurance policies from the elderly. The quicker people kick the bucket, the higher the rate of return. It is difficult to think of a more ignoble way to turn a buck.

Yet why should life settlement, or other market strategies, bother us? Such practices maximize social utility and are the ultimate expansion of individual freedom. (There’s a reason libertarians and their utilitarian brothers love markets.) But, Mr. Sandel observes, “markets don’t only allocate goods, they also express and promote certain attitudes toward the goods being exchanged.”

“When we decide,” he goes on, “that certain goods may be bought and sold, we decide, at least implicitly, that it is appropriate to treat them as commodities.” Which is why citizens can’t purchase their way out of jury duty or offer their votes for sale. Or why Catholics can’t buy the Eucharist. In many instances, allowing markets to “work” would destroy the “value” of the goods they touch.

Mr. Sandel isn’t a socialist, and his critique of markets is measured. He acknowledges their many benefits and recognizes the broad swaths of life in which the work of markets is both necessary and useful. And he is not a ninny knitting his fingers over the fact that you can buy a fast-pass to get out of waiting in line for a roller-coaster.

What concerns him is that the morality of markets often involves both bribery and corruption: “bribery” in the sense of bypassing persuasion and “corruption” in the sense of corroding the established values they displace.

What Mr. Sandel does not offer is prescriptions for rolling back the clock. He is such a gentle critic that he merely asks us to open our eyes. “Bribery sometimes works,” he writes. “And it may, on occasion, be the right thing to do.” Nonetheless, “it is important to remember that it is bribery we are engaged in, a morally compromised practice that substitutes a lower norm . . . for a higher one.”

Yet “What Money Can’t Buy” makes it clear that market morality is an exceptionally thin wedge. What begins with paying to cut in line becomes betting on death. There are serious concerns—how will market morality eventually influence our thinking about end-of-life decisions?—but the concerns aren’t always so apocalyptic. For instance, if you carry market morality to its end point, why should we have merit-based college admissions rather than a simple auction for university slots? Such a change would be enormously efficient—we could be certain that the people who “value” college the most got their preference. But it would change the meaning of “value” as it relates to the idea of the university.

Mr. Sandel is also pointing out another seemingly small but quite profound change in society. As recently as a generation ago, economists viewed their job as understanding prices, depressions, unemployment and inflation. It was dismal, but at least it was science. Somewhere along the way they expanded their portfolio to include the whole of human behavior. Gary Becker staked the guild’s claim somewhat explicitly in 1976 with “The Economic Approach to Human Behavior.”

Since then, our economists have only grown in their ambition, to the point that the subject “economics” encompasses, well, everything. In the introduction to the smash-hit “Freakonomics” (2005), Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner declared that “incentives are the cornerstone of modern life” and that “economics is, at root, the study of incentives.” Or, as Greg Mankiw explains his profession: “An economy is just a group of people interacting with one another as they go about their lives.”

Proponents of market morality claim that it imposes no belief system, but that’s just a smoke screen. Choosing to place utility maximization at the core of your belief system is no different from choosing any other guiding ideological precept. Every problem has an incentive-based solution; every tension can be resolved by seeking the maximally efficient outcome.

This is a depressingly reductive view of the human experience. Men will die for God or country, kinship or land. No one ever picked up a rifle and got shot for optimal social utility. Economists cannot account for this basic fact of humanity. Yet they have assumed a role in society that for the past 4,000 years has been held by philosophers and theologians. They have made our lives freer and more efficient. And we are the poorer for it.

Mr. Last is a senior writer at the Weekly Standard.

Permandu, what can you really DO?

July 30, 2012

Permandu, what can you really DO?

Posted on 29 July 2012 – 08:45pm
Last updated on 29 July 2012 – 08:50pm

by R. Nadeswaran

IT WOULD be insulting to our readers if we give the dictionary meaning of the word “transformation”. But if you are one of those who keep a dictionary on your breakfast table, a quick glance will tell you that the key operative word in the definition will be “change”.

“Change” is not a four-letter word and it has been used liberally and literally over the past few months, especially in connection to the impending general election.

We will not debate the politicians on their interpretation of the word and instead address issues related to the Government Transformation Programme (GTP) and its movers and initiators – Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) – to explain the meaning of the word and its implications.

In this column last Monday, among others, an important question was raised: “Are government agencies listening and implementing policies and guidelines promulgated by Pemandu?” Today, we have to pose yet a more important question: “Does Pemandu listen to the voices of reason and address the many shortcomings in its system and respond immediately?”

One major complaint from the public is that government departments and agencies do not address issues raised and instead, choose to procrastinate, hoping that the problems will go away. But when Pemandu, being the forebearer of change, does not practise what it preaches – change in the mindset and thinking of people who run these departments and agencies – then Joe Public should not be faulted for concluding that Pemandu’s existence is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

It’s not that Pemandu does not have the resources to undertake the simple task of responding to reports in the media. What’s so difficult in telling the world the nitty-gritty of what it claims to have achieved? The issues that were raised do not come under the ambit of the Official Secrets Act nor do they need extensive research for the answers. Besides, at its beck and call are professionals and experts, public relations and advertising agencies, on whom it has spent millions over the past two years.

To make it simple for the Pemandu bosses to understand, let’s have answers to these questions:

  •  Does Pemandu recognise that corruption has permeated most areas of society and public perception is that nothing gets done without greasing someone’s palm?
  • What can it do to ensure that government departments and their heads comply with policies and guidelines in their procurement system?
  • Can Pemandu ensure that an open and transparent procurement system is implemented when it comes to government jobs?
  • Will we see the end of the Ali-Baba system which has firmly entrenched itself in the procurement system?
  • What can Pemandu do when evidence is presented that contracts were awarded under dubious circumstances?
  • Can Pemandu stop the rent-seekers who are used to shaking their legs and collecting millions of ringgit?
  • Will Pemandu prop-up and support civil servants who stand up to their political bosses and insist on going by the book?
  • And very importantly, will Pemandu as an agency which promotes transparency and accountability, open its books for public scrutiny? After all, it is funded by taxpayers’ money and surely, they have a right to know if their money has been well-spent.

Pemandu may want to argue that answers to some of these questions are beyond its purview but as the agent of change, should it not propose for formulation of policies or for that matter, demand for legislation to prevent such abuse?

It is understandable that Pemandu does not have powers of enforcement or prosecution. But as a government agency under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Department, surely it has enough clout to compel every civil servant (through the offices of the Chief Secretary to the Government, Dr Hamsa Ali, ha!ha!) to comply with reasonable directives. There are sufficient clauses in the General Orders to act against errant officers or those who defy such lawful directives. But will the big stick be wielded?

As much as many who view that Pemandu may have achieved something since 2010, there are many who have negative perceptions. Pemandu has to take the bull by its horns by addressing issues. It cannot hide behind the paid-for TV programmes and commercials and advertorials. It has to come out with its guns blazing failing which, it will be considered an agency trying to sell ice to the Eskimos.

R. Nadeswsaran supports many of Pemandu’s initiatives but it certainly falls short in some areas. He is editor (special and investigative reporting) and can be reached

1Malaysia 2012 Merdeka Day Logo scrapped

July 29, 2012

Another Flip Flop: 1Malaysia 2012 Merdeka Day Logo scrapped

The Malaysian Insider reports

Putrajaya dialled back today on the controversial “Janji Ditepati” (Promises Fulfilled) logo for the country’s National Day celebrations after a public furore and replaced it with the 1 Malaysia logo, a sign of a jittery government in the run-up to national polls.

The move was announced by Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim earlier this morning over Twitter.

“To quell some misunderstanding we only have 1Malaydia (sic) as logo for Merdeka and Hari Malaysia. There will be several promo  hihglights till the big day,” he said on his Twitter account, @DrRaisYatim.

“Tahun ini seperti tahun lalu tiada logo rasmi melainkan logo 1Malaysia. Cuma temanya ialah 55 Tahun Merdeka Janji ditepati. (This year as in past years there is no official logo save the 1Malaysia logo. Only the theme is 55 Years of Independence Promises fulfilled.)

“Bahan hiasan (artwork) kini hanya paparan selingan bukan logo rasmi. Ada bbp bahan promo menjelang Hari Merdeka 31 Ogos dan Hari Malaysia. (The current artwork is only a variation of the illustration and not the official logo. There are several promotional items in the run-up to Independence Day on August 31 and Malaysia Day),” he added.

The reversal is a major embarassment for Rais who had only two days ago defended the “Promises Fulfilled” theme that had received a public drubbing last week when it was unveiled.

He had pointed out in a message on his Twitter account then that “everything can look bad if the mind is closed”.

“Malaysia has truly arrived as an achieving nation after 55 years of independence. Why can’t we say janji ditepati?” he said in response to growing criticisms against the theme for mirroring the Barisan Nasional’s (BN) political campaign theme ahead of the 13th general election due in nine months.

Malaysia marks its National Day on August 31 commemorating the anniversary of the federation of Malaya’s independence in 1957 and celebrates Malaysia Day on September 16 to mark the joining of the peninsula with Sabah and Sarawak.

Rais (picture above) was reported by state news wire Bernama to have said on July 9 that this year’s Merdeka Day theme signified the prime minister’s transformation programmes such as the Bantuan Rakyat 1 Malaysia cash handouts, Kedai 1 Malaysia and others for the benefit of the people.

Past themes have been variations of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s 1 Malaysia agenda, including “Rakyat Didahulukan, Pencapaian Diutamakan” (People First, Performance Now) and “1 Malaysia Menjana Transformasi” (1 Malaysia Driving Transformation).

National Day celebrations before Najib took over in 2009 appeared more focused on the message of unity, with the 2008 theme being “Perpaduan Teras Kejayaan” (Unity is the Core of Success).

The country’s sixth prime minister has also been touring the country under the Jelajah Janji Ditepati (Promises Fulfilled Tour) organised by TV3, the main station of private broadcaster Sistem Televisyen Malaysia Bhd (STMB) that is linked to his UMNO party.

The tour is part of a campaign to remind voters that his administration has carried out its pledges since he took office in April 2009.

Najib is bidding for his own mandate at the polls as he succeeded Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi a year after Election 2008.

The latest electoral survey by independent pollster Merdeka Center conducted among voters in peninsular Malaysia and released last week showed that satisfaction with Najib’s performance had dipped one per cent to 64 per cent in June while satisfaction for the ruling BN coalition dropped six per cent to 42 per cent in the same month.

The biggest slide in ratings was from Malay and Indian voters from 79 per cent to 75 per cent, and from 72 per cent to 69 per cent, respectively.

Pakatan Rakyat (PR) politicians have accused the BN government of hijacking National Day celebrations for its own political campaign.They have also accused BN of using the theme to abuse government machinery for political campaigning purposes.

Rais, who is in charge of the ministry responsible for the theme, has been forced to defend the selection of the theme ahead of what is going to be the most keenly contested elections in recent history.

“A theme, a slogan is open to perception. If the mind is closed n heart hardened (sic) everything can look bad,” he said in his message on Twitter then.

The 2012 National Day logo has also received wide criticism since it was released, with cyber citizens and graphic designers saying it is the worst they have seen and not suitable for the celebration that stretches from August 31 to September 16.

The government eschewed the traditional logo designing competition this year, leaving the Information Department to come out with the logo which comprises words in different fonts, the Jalur Gemilang, the 1 Malaysia logo and the theme “Janji Ditepati”, all using the four colours of the national flag.

To add to the diatribe against the logo, many also made fun of the explanation for the logo.

In social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook, many queried Putrajaya for not having a competition as done previously.

There is even a Facebook group named “Kami Bantah Logo Kemerdekaan Malaysia Ke 55” that questions the tagline “Janji Ditepati”, saying it does not make sense and appears political.




Numero Uno Ampu Minister: Merdeka (2012) Logo is Original

July 28, 2012

Numero Uno Ampu Minister: Merdeka (2012) Logo is Original

Information, Communication and Culture Minister Rais Yatim has defended this year’s Merdeka logo, stressing that it was an original work.

According to a Berita Harian report today, Rais said the logo was not plagiarised and was a manifestation of the 1Malaysia spirit by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

Rais, who is the National 55th Merdeka Celebration chairperson, also brushed aside criticism that this year’s Merdeka slogan themed ‘Janji Ditepati’ was political in nature, the report added.

“In my 10 years as as National Merdeka Celebration chairperson, this year we have received mischievous and scathing criticism which I believe is a result of political perception,” he was quoted as saying.

In the report, Rais explained that the logo and its message this year did not vary far from previous years and those criticising them were out for cheap publicity.

Aside from accusations from the opposition that the ‘Janji Ditepati’ theme was political in a bid by the ruling coalition to garner support ahead of the general election, netizens have also made fun of this year’s Merdeka logo which was deemed as mediocre work.

A video entitled ‘Insanely easy 55th Merdeka Logo Tutorial’ showing how the exact logo could be reconstructed within 10 minutes on Photoshop had also surfaced on YouTube.

Graphic designers, too, have taken issue with the logo and have taken upon themselves to design alternative logos.

2012 Merdeka Theme Song: Vulgar Propaganda

July 28, 2012

2012 Merdeka Theme Song: Vulgar Propaganda

by Aidila Razak@

Already facing criticism from the industry over its logo, the 55th National Day’s theme song, too, has left many cringing.

Yes, CLF , Hosanna is better:

For Buddhi Hekayat, who penned the award-winning song Awan Nano, the National Day theme song has the hallmarks of “vulgar propaganda”.

“The words may be polite but it is just that. It does not reflect nationhood and the meaning of independence, but is a song to showcase a ruling government,” he said.

He added that the line “janji sudah ditepati, kini masa balas budi” (Promises have been fulfilled, now it’s time to pay return the good deeds), is like “holding a knife to the rakyat’s neck”.

“Many people would say I’m saying this because I’m a PKR member and all that, but truly, I’d say the same if Pakatan Rakyat did this,” said the Parit Sulong PKR division chief, whose real name is Hasmi Hashim.

Malaysiakini received a CD with the song and lyrics during the launch of the National Day theme at Brickfields earlier this month.

The lyrics were written by Information, Communications and Culture Minister Rais Yatim while the melody is by Aye, Jasnie and Arman E six.

Buddhi, who commented without knowing the lyricist’s identity, said that the minister who wrote the song failed to differentiate between the concept of nationhood and government policy.

This, he said, is exemplified by the focus on things like Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia and Klinik 1Malaysia.

He added that propaganda songs need not be trite, and can be powerful even in simplicity like the song Anak Kecil Main Api – a song used by National Civics Bureau (BTN).

“It doesn’t come anywhere close to songs like the Indonesian patriotic song Gugur Bunga, which was penned to commemorate independence.

“This theme song is transient, it has no longevity which to me is a real shame,” he said.

‘A political campaign’

Agreeing with him, Bob Lokman, who wrote the lyrics for the hit 80s rock ballad Isabella, said that the National Day theme song “sounded cheap”.

“There is no depth in the words, no poetry nor is there any sense of patriotism. Patriotic songs are supposed to move the people, not teach them how to brown-nose,” said the PAS member.

“The song is telling people they have no choice but to support the ruling government. It is a political campaign and not a National Day song.”

Bob (right) added that the melody of the song, too, did little to boost the song and the rap interlude was unsuitable to invoke feelings of nationhood.

“I believe they intended the rap part to keep up with trends, but when Lionel Richie wrote We Are The World, rock was all the rage and he bucked the trend and that song is still sung today,” he said.

When informed that the lyricist is Rais, the duo said that it would have been better to have left the job to a professional lyricist.

“It’s true that everyone has the right to write, but there must be some respect. You don’t see Ministers trying to be doctors,” Buddhi said.

Malaysiakini had also approached other professional and prominent lyricists who were not members of any political party on the matter, but they declined to comment.

The National Day theme Janji Ditepati has been under fire by the Opposition, as it is also the name of a campaign by the BN which was launched months earlier.

Rais, however, defended the theme by saying: “Malaysia has truly arrived as an achieving nation after 55 years of independence. Why can’t we say ‘Janji Ditepati’?”

The Minister did not respond to the portal’s call, mobile text message and tweet on the lyrics of the song.

Najib’s Approval Rating Fall

July 28, 2012

Najib’s Approval Rating Fall: A Concern for Barisan Nasional

by Nigel Aw (07-27-12)@

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s falling approval rating may spell trouble for the Barisan Nasional (BN), for Najib has spent the past few years trying to rebuild the ruling coalition based on his personal popularity, PKR strategy director Rafizi Ramli said today.

“I believe those in the BN are already worried about Najib’s approach, for he is campaigning as if he’s the heartbeat and saviour of BN, but at the same time, he has failed to prop up the other component parties in BN.

“It is not a team effort. Najib believes it is his personal strength that will pull BN up,” Rafizi told a press conference at the PKR headquarters this afternoon.

He noted that Najib’s predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi went into the 2008 general election with a 72 percent approval rating and when BN was much stronger then. However, the ruling coalition lost its two-thirds majority, five states and Kuala Lumpur.

According to pollster Merdeka Centre, which released its latest survey on the prime minister yesterday, Najib’s approval rating has fallen by one percent point since May to 64 percent in June.

Despite Najib’s relatively higher rating, Merdeka Centre said, for the first time in a month more people expressed dissatisfaction with the government, at 44 percent compared with 42 percent among those who were satisfied.

Fall in support shows a ‘disconnect’

Rafizi said the fall in support, particularly among Malay voters showed a “disconnect” between reality and Najib’s Government Transformation Programme (GTP) and Economic Transformation Programme (ETP).

azlan“And now, with the government setting ‘Janji Ditepati’ as its Merdeka theme, it’s even more dangerous because people will be even more discerning,” he said.

One example, he said, was the continuous slide in the share price of Felda Global Venture Holdings Bhd (FGV) in the past week – an issue close to the Malay community – despite promises to Felda settlers of good returns when it was first listed.

“With such a slogan, if the share prices fail to meet expectations, people will say, Janji tidak ditepati (Promises not fulfilled),” Rafizi said.

The FGV share was RM4.55 when first listed on Bursa Malaysia, before soaring to RM5.41 on a single day. However, the price has been on a steady decline since and stood at RM5.12 today.